Agosia Arts is about celebrating the natural world, fine craft and conscientious recycling. My main goals with this blog are to : 1) provide a peek behind the scenes at how my work is produced; 2) document my problem solving process; and 3) encourage others to try new things. If you have questions, email me at Thank you for visiting!

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January 30, 2015

New In The Studio: Small Rodents

If you are familiar with my work, you may have noticed that, although I recreate most of the mammals of the southwest, I don't have any rodents.  Rodents are the most numerous of mammals, but historically, not in my studio.  I've decided that I really do need to work on this technical weakness and have a selection of rodents for sale - after all they are some of the most beautiful of the region's inhabitants.

The first step is creating a good body.  Most of my figures use one of two basic patterns.  I use an alternative smaller pattern for a few birds, and I decided to alter this one for the rodents.  I knew I wanted larger thighs and shorter legs.  I drew the changes and cut out a sample in muslin.  It is important to put all the parts together to see the final dimensions so I strung some string through the appendages and body and tied a simple bow to simulate the joints.

In the first sample, I thought the thighs needed to be bigger still, the forearms more slender, and the butt smaller.  I pinned out the excess fabric, measured the changes and transferred them to the pattern.  A second muslin sample was much improved.

The next step is making a body with 'real' fabric.  Because this figure will be much smaller than others I make, I have to be more mindful of fabric choices (smaller figures are more difficult to sew than larger ones). The arms and lower legs are narrow, so using mid-weight wools -my favorite- would add some difficulty.  The best choice is light or mid-weight linen or silk. In this figure, the front and inner legs and arms are off-white mid-weight linen, with the back and outer appendages beige handkerchief linen lined with muslin.  The lining is necessary to give strength to the seams and a quality 'feel' in the hand (you can always tell if cloth is flimsy just by touch).  You can see the finished body in the photo.  With a head, it will be about 2/3 the size of my regular figures. 

I played around with the rodent body, and it became apparent that the knee joint was not as flexible as it should be.  When the knee bends, there is too much fabric behind it and it wants to spring back straight.  The solution is to remove a portion of the back of the upper leg to make room for the back of to the lower leg. I will alter the pattern for future projects, but in this case, I took in the fabric with needle and thread.

Stay tuned for more about the new rodents...

January 23, 2015

The Art of Repairing Antlers

I just finished a set of figures and the last thing I do is check for any odd holes or tears in the garments or figures themselves.  Sometimes the tiny rips occur when I'm making the parts and sometimes I'll be careless with scissors.  Everyone was damage free, except for the Rocky Mountain Elk shown here.  Elk have very large antlers and I make mine using the same materials and process as for fingers (see my YouTube video, or previous post).  The difference is that an elk antler is a five inch long, 1/4 inch diameter finger - very difficult to turn right side out.  I nearly always blow out a seam, and this guy's antlers were typical.

Unlike fingers, I don't wire the antlers, again very difficult to do.  They are stuffed very tightly with fiberfill, which surprisingly allows them to be flexible and hold their shape.  The downside is that any holes are stretched open and fiberfill puffs out.  There is no clean way to sew the holes shut.  Instead of trying to be neat, I sew the seams with a strong overhand stitch which would be visible if left alone.

Years ago, I was watching New Yankee Workshop with Norm Abrams and he described something that has stuck with me for years.  He was constructing a piece of furniture that required many boards be joined 'just so.'  Instead of trying to be perfect and hide the joins, he said, "Celebrate the joint" and called attention to the joins by carving grooves along them.  They became a design feature.  So, instead of worrying about tiny repairs, I "celebrate the seam!"  In this case, I add beads on top.

I attached some 11/0 seed beads in a ivory color similar to the fabric used in the antlers.  The additional stitching helps to strengthen the area around the rips and adds interesting texture.  There were 5 tiny rips, so now the antlers have 5 clusters of beads on them - two in front, three in back. In these photos the beads stand out, but the rest of the figure has a lot going on visually, and the eye is not drawn to them right away. 

Thankfully, I don't make antlers very often, so I don't have to use this technique very much.  Mule deer have much shorter antlers and they rarely blow out when turned.  I make Desert Bighorn sheep horns using the finger technique, but they are so wide at the base there are never problems.  Could you use this repair technique for cloth fingers?  Sure, but I never do.  I prefer to have clean hands, so I always make extras in case something bad happens.

See you next week!

January 20, 2015

Technique Tuesday: Working With Circular Ruffles

Although creation of my dolls requires many embellishment techniques, the dolls themselves aren't glitzy.  I try to use methods that create textures and patterns appropriate to the species.  Sometimes it is fun to utilize a form of caricature, highlighting or exaggerating certain attributes and leaving the rest of the figure plain.  I often do this with rabbits.  To my eye, the most overlooked feature of rabbits and hares is the ruff of fur around their necks.

Most of my rabbits have pretty dull costumes - a simple sleeveless jacket or tunic.  Nearly all have a thick, fluffy neck treatment of some sort, usually a scarf.  Years ago, I made a jackrabbit with layers of circular ruffles and I loved the look.  I haven't worked with these ruffles since and had forgotten the measurements.  A bit of experimentation was necessary to try the technique again.

The jacket was already complete and made of linen and silk. I started with scraps of a similar linen and off-white silk.  I thought the height of the ruffle should be about two inches and circles with the appropriate diameters were marked directly onto the linen. The linen and silk were placed right sides together and the layers sewn together.

To cut the inner circle, I cut right across the ruffle and removed the center.  Instead of trimming close, then clipping, I trim the whole thing with pinking shears.  When the ruffle is turned right side out, there is no puckering. 

After turning, the ruffle is pressed and the raw ends turned in.  This is one time I use glue.  Some people sew these ruffles together, end to end, but I attach one at a time to the jacket.  I sew the ends directly to the surface of the jacket, so I don't worry about the glue coming undone.  Instead of getting pins gooey, I prefer to use my favorite tiny clothespins to keep the seams shut till the glue dries.

I pinned the ruffle to the jacket and it was obvious right away that the ruffle was too big.  It wasn't ruffly and it wanted to flop over.  I decided to make another set with the same radius for the interior circle, but decrease the radius of the outer circle by half.  This created ruffles about one inch high. 

After making a new set of ruffles with various off-white linen/silk combos, I played around with them to find a treatment I liked.  Layering seemed to look best.  Each ruffle was pinned to the jacket and I tried a variety of placements around the neck.

The final embellishment has two ruffles nested on the right side of the neck and one tucked around the back.  Each was sewn along the inner edge directly to the jacket using a slip stitch.  To keep the ruffles upright, they needed a bit of weight to pull them down in front.  I used blue glass beads tacked onto the front edges and the jacket was done.  What a handsome fellow!

January 16, 2015

Creating the "Evening Haze" Digital Collage

In my winter newsletter, I included an announcement that I would be creating biweekly digital collages featuring my favorite haiku and images of Agosia Arts figures.  This week I posted the second (all will appear on Facebook, so you'll have to follow Agosia Arts to see them), and I thought a few people out there might be interested in the steps used to create them.

Although creating the haiku collages isn't quick, it is good practice for my skills.  Each requires different steps to achieve the look I want and once I finish the collage, I'm done.  Very different from the books I'm working on, projects in which I find myself bogged down by multiple details.  All in all, creating a digital collage isn't complicated.  Anyone familiar with Photoshop will be able to recognize the process.  I'm using similar techniques for the Pinacate y Paisano books, but those feature more paintings and few actual photographs. 

In this case, I started with the haiku; to my mind a contemplative poem.  I sifted through my collection of woodblock books and my Pinterest collection to find some images that had the visual feeling I was looking for.  Since I had decided I was going to use the Cinnamon Teal figure, I wanted a water or wetland reference.  I found three woodblocks that featured components I liked.  A Boat on the Sumida River by Arai Yoshimuni has wonderful evening haze, although I preferred the moon in Karikachi Mountain Pass by Kawase Hasui.  I liked the autumn/winter feel of the shoreline in the second Hasui print, as well as the color palatte.

With these inspirations, I went to my extensive image collection of NM and AZ.  In this case, all the photos are from NM, but were taken over many years in diffferent seasons.  If you look at the source photos, it is pretty easy to see where the components of the collage came from, but what isn't so obvious are the layers containing adjustments and filters to alter their appearance.  Each image had to be color corrected to create a cohesive whole.  Everything but the sky was subjected to a dry brush filter.  This smoothed out the details and made the photos look like watercolors.  I selected and cut out the parts I wanted to use, then pasted them onto a new template.  I rendered some haze over the river and added a few shadows here and there.  The duck also went under the dry brush treatment, but then the image was copied and a high contrast layer was added to re-create some details.  It is difficult to see in the small sample above, but the duck looks like a hand-drawn or printed image, not a photograph.  The rock gave me a lot of trouble and I had to re-photograph it and add a second image under the duck.   I added a subtle texture to the whole thing, then a border around the edge.  Done!

Stay tuned...

January 13, 2015

Technique Tuesday: New Knees, Revisiting the Original Button Joint

Recently, I took a hard look at my dolls and decided that I needed to change how I make knees.  Structurally, the knee joint will remain the same, but visually I'm going back to basics from 6/0 seed beads to covered buttons. There isn't a difference in the methodology or strength of the joint, but they look quite different.

I've described the basics of button joints, with diagrams and explanations in a previous post, but since then, I've altered how I make knee joints.  First, I don't use a long fabric tab at the top of the lower limb.  I've found it more difficult to sew, so I altered my pattern to remove it.  The basic change is at the top of the limb, which is not rounded, but flat.  The side seams are sewn, leaving the top and bottom (the foot) open.  The 'tube' is opened up, the side seams are matched at the center, and the top of the leg is sewn shut.  The leg is then turned and stuffed thru the foot.

Before starting to string the knee I squeeze and tug at the upper part of the lower leg to create two triangular shaped tabs.  These little bits replicate the larger tabs that used to be part of the original pattern.  At this point, creating the knee is the same as in the previous post.  I start by sinking the knot of the waxed linen on the inside of the knee. 

In this photo, you can see the path of the thread.  Basically, there is one complete loop through the entire joint.  Don't try to sew back and forth - this will make a stiff joint and create knots inside the knee.  If you have concerns about strength, you can double or triple your thread.  In my previous post I have a diagram of a shoulder joint.  This is the same, but I don't knot the thread outside the buttons.

Instead, after completing the entire loop, I go back into one button hole and bring the needle and thread out through the upper leg.  I'll make a tailor's knot in a seam, bury the thread and trim.  Since I use wool, this knot disappears into the thick fabric and I don't have a lump on the exterior.  At this point, all that is left is covering the buttons with fabric.  This takes more time, but allows for additional embellishment. If you want to know how I cover buttons, jump over to my YouTube video.

January 9, 2015

Book Review: The Beaded Edge 2

The second edition of The Beaded Edge is very similar to the first  (reviewed in a previous post).   On the positive side, the crochet diagrams are very good.  Many new oya patterns are included and if you are an experienced crocheter, you can figure out how to expand the technique to other crochet laces, or create your own.  I think the photos and descriptions of the process have improved; there are more of them with easy to follow captions.  Likewise, there is more detailed information describing sewing your completed oya to a garment.  On the negative side, the book reads as if it were translated from another language (my guess is Japanese) and not much effort was made to clean up some of the clunky sentences.  The organization is similar to the first book, with the description/history of traditional oya and the author's travelogue oddly plopped into the middle of the text.

I'm on the fence about which book I prefer.  If you are a beginner to crochet, I would suggest this book due to improved instructions.  If you are experienced, it won't make a difference.  Its a tie for the type/quality of oya included, although I think those in the second edition show a bit more diversity. 

The designs are all straightforward, being made of chains and single crochet. I've tried most of the oya in both books and I strongly suggest experimenting with different weights of thread, and sizes of beads and steel hooks.  After trying many of the patterns, I've found that my stitches are slightly looser than the author's.  To achieve the tight stitches necessary for these trims, I've had to compensate by using a smaller hook, and sometimes by changing the placement of stitches. This is definitely a technique that does not translate well to larger threads/yarns.  In the two examples shown in the photo, the one on the right is made with 6/o seed beads and perle cotton - pretty much as big as you would want to go for sewing something onto a human garment - materials on the small end for most crocheters.  I use a size 10 steel hook, darn tiny, and the smallest I can comfortably use.  My main interest in this technique is making small, interesting trims for my dolls, but there are only a few that I can use for that purpose.  Even using the finest crochet cotton I have (DMC 8), many of these oya are too large-scale.  For my own clothing, everything is temping.

I think it is interesting that there are virtually zero oya patterns available online.  You can find the occasional photo on Pintrest and there is one pattern on Ravelry, but that's it.  These really are lovely trims and although it takes quite a bit of time to string the beads, the results are worth it.  I recommend this book for all crochet and needlework enthusiasts.