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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August 25, 2015

Technique Tuesday: Lining Doll Clothes, Part 2

In a previous post I discussed how I create patterns for clothing. Today, I'll cover how I actually make the clothes. This technique may or may not work for you. It depends on the size, purpose and complexity of your doll and its clothes. Over the years, I've used this technique because it is relatively easy, fast and creates a clean finish inside and out. It works well for costumes for small dolls (I use this for Barbie-sized clothes), but the clothes shown here are for my standard size figure - about 20 inches high.

 The first step is to layer your main fabric right sides together with your lining fabric. I tend to use medium weight fashion fabrics (linens) and thin linings (lightweight silks). You can use two light or medium weight fabrics ,but don't use two heavyweights; you will have a difficult time turning garment sections. Lay your pattern pieces onto the fabrics and trace around with a marking device of your choice. I usually use a Sharpie and choose to mark on the thicker fabric. Sew on the lines, leaving a small section unsewn. My patterns are designed to leave the shoulder area open.

Cut out your garment sections, leaving a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Trim corners and clip curves. I use a large crochet hook to gently push corners out. If you are a bit nervous about this method, and your sections are tiny, you may want to make duplicates .

Press each garment section, using the appropriate heat setting for your fabrics. I generally use a pretty hot iron with a good spritz of distilled water. In the photo, I've pressed all the pieces for a silk-lined wool jacket: one back, two fronts and a stand-up collar. Now, fetch your doll, pin the main pieces together and test the fit. My patterns are designed with extra fabric on the shoulders and some overlap at the sides to account for my seaming method. The test fit is very important because each doll has a slightly different body. The open shoulder seam is turned inward the amount indicated by the test fit and pressed firmly before hand sewing the front and back sections together at the shoulder. The side seams are easier. I usually just overlap and sew with an invisible fell stitch. This creates vents at the sides which helps ease movement of the hips.

If I'm attaching a collar, pockets or other embellishments, it is important to complete the garment before deciding placement of these additions. Always preview placement of extras with the garment on the doll. I pin into place, then hand sew the small sections. In the photo of the completed collar, you can see that the inside neckline of the jacket looks a bit odd. There is "extra" fabric around the neck. From the outside, you have a clean, elegant collar. The inside doesn't matter to me because most people won't see it, but everything is neatly finished if someone looked- no raw edges. A big plus is that this collar took less than five minutes to sew! Also, I don't have to create a new pattern for each garment/doll. I can adjust easily by adding small pieces.

The completed garment is shown at the top of this post. Looks great! Next time, what can go wrong sewing clothes...

August 13, 2015

The Difficulties of Editing an Art Fair Display

Last year I bought a new tent, and along with it, a set of white mesh sidewalls. I used to display the dolls hanging on bamboo matchstick blinds - which provided a lovely natural background - but this new setup is easier to carry on the road. The downside is the whiteness of it all, especially the lower three feet. So, what to do? Because part of my mission is to inform and educate about the Southwest, I decided people needed to see some natural habitats. I drew and painted a mural on muslin illustrating three life zones in the desert. It looked ok, but I thought it was a bit sloppy.

For this year's shows, I decided to make something nicer. I scanned and edited a variety of my watercolors with the intention of printing the Photoshopped collage onto fabric. I uploaded the image to Spoonflower, selected my fabric and ordered some yardage. I chose their performance knit, with the idea that it wouldn't fray, wrinkle in storage and would be easy to clean. When the fabric arrived, I fell in love! The quality was much better than I expected (I plan to make a dress out of this stuff) and the watercolors looked fantastic. I admit I am now hooked on the idea of printing fabric.

But, how would it look as part of the display? The fabric looks great. When the sun shines through the tent, the watercolors really come to life. I didn't work hard enough to make the images at the seams match, but otherwise it looks very nice. I'm still unhappy about the display, however. I've added and removed burlap frames behind the dolls (shown in the photo), added and removed many things, but I still can't get the look I want. Previously, I had a muted background with various natural materials. Now everything is so white!

You may be wondering what the big deal is. Two things. First, I bought the mesh walls, so I would be carrying less stuff. So hanging something on the walls defeats the purpose. Second, I do indoor shows and there are strict fire regulations for display items. Everything has to be certified fire retardant. As it is, I will have to treat my new fabric mural with a spray. So, the whole thing is still a work in progress.

Stay tuned for display changes in the next few months...

August 1, 2015

Technique Tuesday: Making Felt Heads Video.

Over the years, I've posted descriptions of my head creation technique. Recently, I posted a video showing the whole process.  It is a rather long video, but everything is there, start to finish. The video features rabbits, but an elk shows up at the end. Even I am amazed to see the face take shape at the end.

If you would like to see related blog posts, click on the links below:
A Bird's Eye View shows how I created a Swan head, from sketch to completed bird.
Who Needs A Hole In the Head? describes the process I went through to create a rabbit head with a jaw joint and a mouth that opens and closes.
A New Cast of Characters shows a variety of heads, unfinished and finished, and you can see what they look like inside and out.

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...