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 agosiachrysogaster@gmail.com. Thank you for visiting!

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June 24, 2015

Fiber and Fish in Iceland!

I recently returned from a trip to Iceland.  Although 99.8% of the trip was dedicated to exploring the geology and landscape, I did manage three semi-cultural items. And no, it wasn't buying souvenirs (the pom-pom puffins were everywhere and pretty darn cute).

Before leaving on the trip, a number of people asked if I would be buying a sweater (no, I prefer to knit my own), or a lot of yarn (no, I have tons already). I suspected I would be seeing lots of sweaters for sale, and yarn everywhere (amazingly, it is sold in grocery stores as a normal, everyday necessity). I didn't realize I would be visually bombarded with sweaters - they are everywhere, like slot machines in Vegas. But, really nice sweaters. Better than most knitwear you get here. Some are machine made, but all the steeks are done by hand.  Take a look at the perfect example at right. I was surprised not only by the quality, but also the characteristics of the garment itself.  A lopapeysa (the Icelandic term for this type of sweater) is very lightweight and those made with white wool are almost see-through. Lovely and inspirational.

As for yarn, I did succumb. I visited the headquarters of Álafoss, which makes Lopi brand yarn. Every type of yarn they make was in stock, as well as .... tons of sweaters! The old mill is located next to the small eponymous waterfall and there are a few other old stone buildings dedicated to artisan shops and a fabulous coffeehouse (coffee is pervasive and excellent throughout the country). Alafoss was full of women buying wool products, but all the guys were next door in the knife shop.  Also an amazing place.

I visited Þingborg (pronounced thingborg), which is a workshop dedicated to traditional wool techniques. Every type of woolwork is done here, from shearing to spinning to dyeing.  The workers sell real lopi yarn which is made from a particular type of wool and is not spun. Interesting stuff. A few of the members create felted items, both clothing and toys, and many of the traditional-style dolls I saw for sale were made of felted wool (sorry, no pictures of those).

The last fiber related sojourn was my husband's idea.  He teaches a fish biology class and wanted to visit Atlantic Leather in Sauðarkrókur (pronounced southacroaker). The tannery has won numerous awards for being a green company and is the only one in the world to create fish leather.  Yes, you read that correctly, leather from fish.  We took a tour and bought a number of skins.  What is it like?  Just like leather! Amazing stuff.  Skins are dyed in a rainbow of colors and samples of high-end clothing and accessories were on display.  I bought four beautiful skins and plan to make leather covered buttons - examples of which I saw in the showroom.


Iceland was was wonderful.  I encourage everyone to visit. One of my favorite aspects of the culture is the appreciation of art and handwork. Everywhere you look are items people have made by hand and use everyday.

I took pictures of street art, not just in Reykjavik, but in tiny towns all over the country.  I've posted a selection on Facebook if you want to take a look.

Stay tuned...

May 26, 2015

Attaching Fabric Beetles to... Whatever

If you are familiar with my work, you know that my large figures feature a beetle companion. The beetles are made of fabric, leather, beads and wire and I've provided step-by-step instruction both on the blog (see these previous posts) and a YouTube video. The beetles are usually low key in color and texture, and I do try to select one that is complementary to the costume or clothing of a figure. Even though the insects are large, most people don't notice them right away. When they do, it's either delight or shock at the discovery. Thankfully, mostly delight.

If you follow my blog posts, you know my philosophy towards glue - basically, don't use it unless necessary. This embellishment, like most others I use, is sewn into place. The most difficult part of the process is deciding where to place the beetle. I audition locations and decide which is best based on color, texture and other embellishments; usually I prefer an asymmetric placement relative to other items on the costume.

The first step is to thread a sturdy needle with button or upholstery thread. Doubled sewing thread is acceptable (run it over beeswax if using), but this requires more stitches and increases the probability of tangles. I take a few anchoring stitches in the clothing of the doll, making sure to only catch the outer layer and not the lining. I don't worry much about being neat because these stitches will not show. 

The beetles have a body that is lightly stuffed and has a bit of dimension.  I can take a large stitch through the underside and body of the beetle without the stitch showing on the front. It is important to have the thread go across the entire width of the body so that it is held securely on the costume. The legs are beaded wires and nearly always catch and tangle the thread. It helps to use a shorter thread than normal and hold the loop with my fingers as I'm pulling it through.

As I pull the thread, I place the beetle right side up against the fabric.  If I've folded the legs up, I have to put them back into place while the thread is pulled taut.  There isn't any reason to make more stitches and loops to secure the beetle because it is lightweight and hugs the surface.  I carefully take one anchoring stitch just under the side of the beetle, make a tiny knot, clip the thread and I'm done. Pretty easy!

It doesn't seem like that single stitch would be enough, but I've taken a few dolls apart and had to struggle to undo that stitch. It is quite secure!

Stay tuned for more tips and techniques...

May 5, 2015

Technique Tuesday: Making and Attaching Antlers

Mule deer, elk, pronhorn and bighorn sheep are icons of the American West.  When I make cloth figures of these species, they are always popular.  For many viewers, character of these figures is derived from the antlers as well as the details of the face.  Years ago, I experimented with different materials to make antlers and horns and settled on a variation of the technique I use to make hands.  I've developed patterns for each species, use t-shirt fabric as a base material, and sew them onto headsMaking antlers is easier than hands and fingers because of the larger size, although occasionally I have problems with elk antlers (see this post for my fix).

Shown at right are examples of deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep antlers/horns, before and after stuffing. The process is straightforward.  Unlike fingers which are not filled with anything (but are wired), antlers must be stuffed very firmly.  This takes time because the fabric tube has a small diameter and must be stuffed a small amount at a time.  Some artists use wires, but I don't.  What you see is just cloth and stuffing.
 

 
The antlers are sewn on, not glued. I complete everything else on the head before attaching antlers. It is a good idea to have pictures of your model to assist with placement of ears and antlers because your mental image of a deer head is likely to be pretty different from the real thing.  The first step is tucking the ends of the fabric tube under and making sure the antlers are about the same size.  I don't try to match too much because in nature it is very common for an individual to have different sized or shaped antlers. Use two or three pins to audition positions easily.
On this pronghorn, I've placed the final pins.  The image is a bit misleading, because it looks like the horns are just sitting there, happy, waiting to be sewn.  Not true, they are straining against the pins with a great deal of force.  If you jump back to my previous post about attaching heads onto dolls, you can see images of my pinning technique.  The horns (like the doll necks) are extremely firm and stuffing is on the verge of popping out.  This firmness is what keeps everything sturdy and upright over time.  I'll be honest, pinning the antlers is difficult and you need very strong pins.  Usually I use T-pins, but for clarity I've shown glass-headed pins here. Use as many pins as you need to keep things in place while sewing.


As with heads, I use a slip stitch and upholstery or button thread to sew everything together.  I go around each antler or horn twice, digging deep into the head to catch the underlying wool as as well as the exterior fabric. The completed antlers or horns are firm, but flexible and will hold their shape and position if moved around a bit.

 



The final result looks pretty good.  Quite a handsome fellow! 

Stay tuned for more topics... 

April 29, 2015

New Quilt In the Works: Tree Everlasting

In my last quilting post, I suggested that I was on the fence as to whether I would make a schoolhouse or five pointed star quilt next.  Well, I'm still on the fence about those two.  I'm almost finished quilting a Lemoyne Star, and will need another quilt to put in the frame soon.  In a fit of activity, this week I pieced the blocks for a Tree Everlasting inspired by one I saw in The Quilts of Virginia, edited by the Virginia Consortium of Quilters. 

I liked this particular variation of the pattern because the "leaves" are pointing in different directions; most quilts have the points facing the same way.  The quilt is made of very dark blue and white cloth - a striking combination.  The information in the book indicates the quilt was dated to 1850 and made by Salome Bonsack Whitmore.  "It has gently rounded corners and was hand-quilted "with 18 even stitches to the inch."



My interpretation differs in a number of ways.  First, I'm not using the usual half-square triangles.  I've decided to use Drunkard's Path squares.  Second, I'm using a variety of off-white linens and silks and a mix of black, brown and navy blue wools, linens and silks- this is a scrap quilt.  It won't be large, about 52" square, and I'm including three dark stripes instead of seven.  My stripes are a bit thicker than the norm as well.

I'm hoping the mix of fabrics will still be as visually distinctive as the original.  I think I'll be okay because I've tried to stick to whites and very dark fabrics.  When I laid out a few blocks, the contrast between dark and light was clear, so I think the stripes will stand out and have extra visual  interest from the collection of fabrics.  Curves will change the pattern a bit and the stripes will not be symmetrical.  As you can see from my drawing, the leaves are sketched facing up, but I will follow the inspiration quilt and have the leaves going in different directions on the two sides of the stripe.

You may be wondering why I would use Drunkard's Path blocks.  True, it takes more time to cut out the pieces and sewing curves isn't quick either.  The main reason is that I use mostly white and dark fabrics to create my cloth figures and I have a lot of odd-shaped scraps.  I can use almost every bit of a scrap using the two odd shapes of Drunkard's Path block.  In the end, it is a matter of economy. Nothing goes to waste.

As always, all the thin silks are backed with lightweight batiste or cotton shirting fabrics.  I included some lightweight wool suiting fabrics, which is a bit of a change.  At this point, I'm thinking of quilting my usual concentric circles.  I haven't decided what color thread to use - perhaps a turquoise or light blue.

When I have the quilt pieced and in the frame, I'll post an update.  Stay tuned... 

April 14, 2015

Technique Tuesday: Lining Doll Clothes Part 1

Most of my figures wear clothes.  Most of those clothes are lined.  Your first thought may be that lining tiny garments is a few extra steps and whole lot of extra time.  The reality is that it is the simplest and fastest way to make doll clothes.  And it looks great.

I have a only a small number of patterns for clothes: a few jackets and some coats, a few sleeves and that's it.  I often change the look of a garment by altering its length, but generally the designs are changed most by choice of fabric and embellishments.  If you look carefully at my website galleries, there are only a few garment styles that my figures wear. 

The first step in making doll clothes this way is to think carefully about how the garment is going to be made. A few of my garments are cut and sewn as one piece (a swing coat, for example), but I usually cut, sew and line fronts, backs and sleeves separately, then sew the sections together on the figure.  Even for one-piece garments, a few seams will have to be sewn on the doll - usually side seams. Embellishments are added last, after the basic garment has been completed.

Once you know how to put your garment together, the second step is to create a  pattern.  This is easiest if you have a finished body. The process I use is similar to creating a muslin for a normal sized garment, using a dress form and inexpensive cloth.  Test ideas by making a sample garment. Using a single layer of muslin, cut out a rectangle of fabric and pin to the doll body. 

Cut out a sample garment piece, following the contours of your doll and paying attention to where seamlines will appear.  Try to cut where you want those seams to be. If you are not confident in your cutting skills, use a pair of round-tip scissors. Repeat this process for every garment piece needed (fronts, back, sleeves, etc). Remove your test muslin, neaten up the edges, make sure sides are symetrical (if that is important to the design) and cut out a complete new set of muslin garment pieces.

Pin the test garment pieces to the doll.  At this point, you only have a single layer of fabric, but you're trying to make sure the pieces fit together, cover all the important parts, have the correct size openings for appendages, and give you room for intended embellishments. In this example, I'm making a jacket for a new smaller size figure that has proportionally larger hips than my usual figures.  When I pin the side seams together, there isn't enough fabric to cover the hips.  I pinned some extra muslin to the back of jacket section and cut the combined piece to the correct size (shown in the top photo).


If something needs adjustment, consider if you want to adjust the pattern, or if you can make adjustments on finished pieces.  For example, changes to length, armscye curves and necklines should be made on the pattern, but pleats, darts and gathers can be made most easily to completed garment sections.  This isn't how you would make human clothing, but for dolls, this process is easier.  Mark any changes needed onto the muslin and include where your seams overlap.  This is important because your final pattern and garment sections will not utilize seam allowances.

Next week I explain how I create the finished garment.  Stay tuned...

April 8, 2015

Book Review: Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar by Roderick Kiracofe



I recently read and pored over every picture in this delightful book by Roderick Kiracofe.  He has assembled a unique collection of quilts from yard sales, online auctions & thrift stores.  Although most people wouldn't call any of these quilts traditionally beautiful, most are visually striking in some way.  Included with the plentiful images are essays by various quilt and fiber art experts including curators of museums and well-known quilters Denyse Schidt and Kaffe Fassett.

What makes this book so great is the celebration of quilts that were everyday quilts - the ones we actually grew up sleeping under.  Not the precise patterns and carefully selected color schemes that hobbyists and sewing professionals (like myself) create these days, but the haphazard collection of fabrics from a multitude of sources, sewn together in meager spare time.  Maybe there was no filling, perhaps the backing was something strange, and it may not have been quilted, but it was a quilt we loved.

The quilts of my youth were of this type.  They came from my great aunt, who made them to keep family members warm in the 40s and 50s.  Her husband was a tailor and he gave her old suiting samples.  The wool rectangles were usually 4"x8" and pinked on all sides.  My aunt sewed them up in random combinations as she received them, backed the assemblage with cut up old shirts and always tied the quilt with bright red acrylic yarn.  There was no batting, but these quilts were very heavy and extremely warm.  They were oddly attractive, dark and broody, but with shocking bits of red.  No one else I know had anything like them.

If you had quilts like this in your past, this is the book for  you.  Actually, if you are any type of quilter or artist, this book is for you.  This book celebrates the creative streak that everyone has, wacky ideas made real, recycling (but not upcycling!), tenacity, and personal endeavors of all kinds.  

My favorite essay in the book is by Janneken Smucker. She says, " As a quilt historian I've refuted many times the myth of the scrap  bag quilt, insisting that historical quits typically were high-style objects of the middle and upper classes, rather than utilitarian ones crafted with an economy of means.  An then I see the collection of quilts R.K. has assembled over the last decade, .... exhibiting creative reuse, unconventional design, and an awareness of quilt making traditions ...  These quilts make me think I know nothing about quilts.  These quilts break the rules".  

This is a highly recommended read.