Friday, February 23, 2018

Behind the Wheel: Tales of a Pottery Newbie, part 2

wheel-thrown ... shapes ... glazed and ready to fire
We've had two more … not really classes, because classes imply instruction … but sessions with a teacher. In the meantime, we threw a bit more, trimmed a bit more, and I hand-built some things. I mean, we've gotta use up this clay somehow!!!

So last week I took a bunch of things home -- Wil's cute bowls and cups, my floppy saucer-bowls, and my one shining cup. Wil was super pleased -- but I still feel like we didn't get much out of our investment... either of time or of energy.

finished product

My pieces all seem to have spots where the glaze "crawled" -- but I don't really know how or why (especially on a flat surface). I suppose one might consult the instructor...

I also glazed my collection of misfit pieces -- my ugly ducky pitcher, my first slab bowl, my weird slab vase, and my tiny campfire:

Again, when I picked them up this week, I had spots where the glaze had crawled. I was also really surprised that the tall vase, which I brushed with one layer of watered-down blue glaze, and then dipped in white, turned out quite so blue. Still, they're all just experiments. And I don't care -- I love my little ugly duckling pitcher.

Last week I also built a few pieces -- a simple slab bowl -- I like the geometry of it. And the little tea light holders with the snowflake cut out are pretty satisfying. I hope they turn out okay.

This was an off-week; we didn't have class but the studio was open, so I just went at our regular time. I glazed the snowflake candleholders and another slab bowl, and I spent a little while making a bunch of simple pinch pots.

I had this idea -- from a hazy memory the teacher mentioned in week 2 -- that you can decorate your pots with colored slip. So I wanted to try decorating pinch pots with colored slip, and then carving a pattern into the outside. But as I sat in class, with students from lots of different classes bustling around, none of whom are "beginners", I started to feel weird so I just did one and then left. I've discovered how easy it is to make pinch pots, so I can try again next week. And did I mention I have A LOT OF CLAY LEFT. Hell, even if I just make pinch pots and paint them later, I'll be fine with that.

We have three "classes" left ... though I think she said we only have one more week when we can use wet clay? If so, there are a LOT of pinch pots coming soon.

I do, however, want to highlight my favorite project: a tiny white campfire tea light holder, which pretty much turned out EXACTLY as I wanted it to. WINNER!

Hmm... I wonder if I could make a couple more of those, too? I bet I could.... WILL THERE BE TIME?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Fox Stitch-a-Long, part 1

This #101in1001 project -- at least the crafty part -- has been going along really well so far. So now I'm going to start one of the bigger projects on my craft list: the Beth Russell / William Morris "Fox" needlepoint kit.

I've had this kit for several years now -- though, at least, I didn't allow myself to buy it until after I finished the "Hare" kit. It's been languishing in my basement along with more kits than I care to admit (including The Kit That Dare Not Speak Its Name, about which more later... in theory...).

But having found an old yet serviceable needlepoint frame on a visit to our favorite thrift shop in the world, and really wanting to complete the set, well, it was time to get cracking.

I separated my yarn -- a task much easier on this kit than with either Hare or Raven, since the small threads were bunched up on their own. I stretched the fabric on the frame, and then had my usual trepidation about making the first stitch. (Why is that? It's like the first line / page in a notebook, I suppose.)

I've been stitching the foreground flowers first, followed by foreground leaves. Once all of those is done I'll stitch the fox himself, and then the acanthus leaves in the background. Those acanthus leaves in blue and green are stitched in a precise manner; first the veins, then the edging, then the darker shade around the veins, and then the remaining color. Then, finally, the navy background.

Here's where I stand, 4 possibly over-eager, Winter Olympics days into this project:

I've got all the petals of the flowers stitched, and am starting the palest green of the leaves. While it's satisfying to have done "all the stitching" for 6 of the 26 colors -- but I know they're all the easy, little bits.

I expect this project to take me three or four months -- it's a big one -- but in order to have some extra motivation, I'm thrilled to be joining my first ever stitch-a-long. How I discovered this SAL is a story in itself, which I'll tell in a future post, but for now, check out the amazing projects my fellow stitchers are working on!

My fellow stitchers are in a lot of different time zones, so if there isn’t a post when you first look, check later in the day. Fancy joining us for the SAL? Send a message to Avis.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Behind the Wheel - Tales from a Pottery Newbie, part 1

I have long wanted to learn how to throw pottery on a wheel. So as part of my #101in1001 project I signed us up for a beginning pottery class. We had our first session a few weeks ago and, well, it wasn't quite what I expected.

Which begs the question, what was I expecting? Well, I expected a bit more order, and not to spend the first half hour trying to find room for us all to store our clay. And I expected to, well, be instructed on how to do things. And of course I expected that a "Beginner" class would be full of beginners. But now I'm getting ahead of myself.

We arrived, nervous and jangly, at the community center where the class was located. A nice man at the front desk showed us where the studio was, and we went in. Shelves of pottery in various states. Six pottery wheels at one end, a massive sink, a jars full of tools. Big tables, low stools. Clay-stained aprons. Displays of glazes and unknown things in jars.

After several minutes, another person came in, then a few more. Finally, right at 6:30, the instructor arrived.

We gathered around the table … it was clear she knew some of the students already. She asked us to tell her what our experience with pottery was, and what we hoped to achieve. As she went around the room, my sense of … dread? Ire? Panic? … rose. Everyone else had been making pottery for at least a couple of months, if not years.

She got to me and I said, "Well, I'm a beginner … I don't have any experience … which is why I thought I signed up for a beginner class." She said, "You're in the right place." I even thought, for a while, that maybe it would be great -- if everyone else already knew what they were doing, we'd get more instruction.

Then it was time to get our clay. There were choices to be made -- the other students are working with different clay than we are. We're using a clay described as the simplest clay. Whatever that means.

Then we went back to the pottery room and spent a good 20 minutes trying to figure out whether there was room on the storage shelves, and what clay could be removed because the student wasn't continuing, and so on. In the end Wil and I just said we'd share a space at the end of one of the shelves, wrote our names on the sheet, and moved out of the way.

Then, finally, clay. We learned to "wedge" it -- though I was doing it wrong, at first. I was kneading it -- which, with dough, is designed in part to *add* air. But with clay, what you need to do is remove any air -- because air bubbles will explode when the clay is fired. Kaboom.
While we "wedged", the experienced students got on pottery wheels… and the real problem became apparent. Seven students in attendance. Six wheels.

The instructor took a wheel and did a little demo with speed and grace, centering her clay, making first a cone then a cylinder, then a delicate bowl. She repeated the demonstration and made a perfect little pitcher.

I mean, how hard could it be?

Luckily for me, one of the experienced potters decided she wanted to do some hand building rather than throw on a wheel, so I gathered my supplies and got set up. To "center" clay you find the approximate center of your wheel, and then use the pressure of your wet hands to gather and center and start shaping the clay. When watching a master potter do this, it's like magic -- they splat, they squeeze, they make a cone, the push it down, then the open it up and start a cylinder.

I, on the other hand, spent a frustrating 45 minutes just trying to center my clay. I used enough water to completely saturate the clay, rendering it too useless to throw. And I used up each of my three prepared lumps. By the end I was so upset and so frustrated I was convinced we should drop the class.

Except I looked over at Wil and he was actually raising cylinders. Thick-walled cylinders, sure. But still just making things work.

This made me almost more upset -- so I decided to clean up my wheel and try not to cry. I made eye contact with the woman who was hand building. She said, "If you ask her, she'll show you how to do it… I mean, look at what I made last term" -- holding up a small bowl. "Throwing is really hard."

So the next time the teacher came into the room I went over and said, "Well, actually, I need instruction. I need to be shown how to do something -- I can't just learn it from watching. I've just spent 45 minutes trying to center clay. Can you help?"

And to her credit, she came over to my wheel, helped me center the clay, showed me where on my hand I should be placing pressure, where I should hold my arms, how to open up the clay to start a cylinder. And after a few minutes, I had made -- with STRONG DIRECTION -- a passable cup.

So I didn't feel like crying anymore … but I was still frustrated. Shouldn't the teacher have actively been TEACHING? With only two newbies … sitting next to each other … shouldn't she have come by to check on us and offer … INSTRUCTION?

Week 2 we went into the studio early so that we could wedge a LOT of clay, and make sure we got on wheels. Which was good, because we had 9 students in class that night. But again we made a bit of a fatal error -- largely because we didn't know what we were supposed to do next. We got on wheels, threw our clay, made some cups and bowls and plates … but hadn't been taught about "trimming" so we gave our wheels up… so couldn't trim our stuff from week 1. Which meant that at 7:30 we were just twiddling our thumbs… so we guiltily left. Guilty because we didn't help clean up, but we clearly weren't going to accomplish anything else!

Week 3 we actually went into the studio on the Monday night, too -- to do some prep work, and trim our bowls in peace. I did enough work on the wheel that I decided that on Tuesday I would just throw 2 lumps of clay, and then spend the evening working on hand-built projects. Not that we had any instruction on it, but I just decided to stop stressing about the limited wheels. And at the end of class I'd made a nice little "campfire" candle holder and a vase. Oh, and an ugly duckling pitcher I threw before class even started.

However, we also learned that we should have been putting our "finished" projects on the "fire me" shelves … how would we have known that? Really not sure. So we did that at the end of week 3; in theory we should have some bisque-ware that we can glaze tonight.

So tonight I plan on getting there a little early, trimming the ugly duckling pitcher, throwing 2 wedges on the wheel, and then making some hand-built candleholders using my snowflake cookie cutters. Perhaps a couple of pinch pots. Oh, and decorating my campfire.

Monday, February 5, 2018


I started working on this project in January 2017 with the idea that I would make it for my Mom for Christmas 2017. I saw the pattern in Cross Stitch Gold, Issue 133, which I picked up when we were back in Blighty visiting Wil's folks in October 2016.

As you can see, the pattern originally called for natural linen -- but I really liked the idea of a festive red and white version, especially since I know how much my Mom loves red. I knew I had plenty of white floss, so I ordered red linen and a massive 12" embroidery hoop in December.

Getting started was easy -- marking the center lines, putting in the first stitches -- but somehow the project just dragged on and on and on.

I put it aside several times -- I really wasn't enjoying it, for some reason. I picked it up again in November, knowing I wouldn't get it done in time for Christmas. But at some point it felt like I was on the downhill slide -- within a couple of weeks of finishing both my 2017 Temperature Afghan and the Zoëghan, I suddenly finished it.

I love the different stitches, especially on this dove:

and on this heart:

I'm really enjoying working on these projects ... and especially finishing them! That's another one of my #101in1001 projects complete, making 4/101!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Zoë-ghan (shhhhhh)

Some sweet friends of ours are having a baby soon, so I wanted to make a little something.

I had seen a pattern for the "Greyson Baby Blanket" on Moogly (download it for free from Moogly here) and loved how modern and clean it looked.

I adapted it slightly, deciding to use white, silver grey, and black rather than pale grey and silver grey. The pattern was easy to follow, and after a few repeats, I had it memorized. And in a surprisingly short amount of time, I was finished.

why, yes, that *is* the 2017 temperature afghan underneath!
Even the border was simple and clean -- though I switched the order so the white was between the black and the grey. I just didn't want a white-edged baby blanket!

It was easy to weave in the ends (compared to the temperature afghan, especially...), and kaboom, it was done.

Even better -- again, especially when compared to the temperature afghan -- there was very little leftover yarn!

This was another #101in1001 project. That makes 3/101!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

2017 Temperature Afghan

Late in 2016 I heard about something called a "Temperature Afghan" -- where you choose a spectrum of yarn, assign each color to a temperature range, and then stitch one line per day, the color being determined by the high temperature. It seemed like a ridiculous, grandiose project -- and yet one that was "do-able" because, hey, what's one row of crochet per day?

I didn't always get to my rows -- in fact, due in part to our trip to Africa, at one point I was EIGHTY-FIVE days behind. But in the end, I finished the crocheting right on January 1 -- so as to capture an accurate temperature for December 31, of course!

But first, I had to get started. 

I knew I wanted to make my afghan in greyscale -- I love the rainbow effects other people, including my friend Suz, crocheted, but for me I knew it had to be grey. I wanted the shifts to be subtle, which meant I wanted 15 shades from white to black. But would I be able to find them?

I went to Jo-Ann in mid November and walked around and around in the yarn section, grabbing skeins of every black, grey, and white yarn I could find in "worsted weight / 4" and throwing them into my cart. 

With a lot of trial and error, some trips to the front of the store to compare colors in daylight, and some "well, it will have to do" attitude adjustments, I came up with 15 shades. 

I wasn't 100% happy, but I was probably 95% happy with my choices and spectrum. I purchased one skein of each color, and was lucky that I was able to buy additional skeins as I needed during the year, even if I needed to go to a JoAnn that was farther away.

I got home and made a plan / yarn chart.

Just seeing how the yarn was laid out made me happy. It still does. It was a real challenge to wait until January to get started. So I let myself stitch two foundation rows in black, just to give myself a little taste. 

I had decided to do a very simple pattern -- just HDCs across, with the occasional "spike" down 2 rows to add some extra interest. Just that little texture really makes the afghan, I think. I think each row was about 250 stitches wide -- wide enough to cover a queen sized bed, with a little bit of overlap on each side. 

Within a the first week I was completely hooked -- pun intended, I suppose. And by the end of January, I knew this was one of the most satisfying craft projects I had ever done. 

I tried to record most "month end" progress, but didn't always quite make it. Here's January's work, as recorded on February 1, 2017:

And here's January and February, as recorded on March 1:

I loved seeing the different colors, and how pretty they looked together. Here's a close-up of March and part of February, as recorded on April 1, 2017:

New high temperatures meant new colors -- and cause for celebration. On April 4 we hit 63 degrees, which meant using "Red Heart Super Saver - Grey Heather" for the first time.

On May 1 I recorded that we were 1/3 of the way done with the year ... and that the afghan was already 33 1/3" long. #gonnaneedabiggerbed was born.

And a couple of days later we topped 70 -- the warmest day of the year so far -- so I recorded this to celebrate using "Red Heart Soft - Light Grey Heather" on May 3.

On June 1 I showed some of May -- and the "warming trend with some cold days thrown in". January is peeking through behind. Not really sure why I showed the back, buuuut.

June 25 we had a little "hot snap", hitting 93 degrees, and triggering my first use of "Baby Steps - Elephant". Oddly enough, that was the hottest day all year, and we only hit 90 or above three more.

I was a few days behind, but recorded the January - June results. I spread the blanket out and Bubble -- our great big Maine Coon mutt cat -- immediately colonized it to provide a sense of scale.

July didn't have a lot of temperature changes -- I only used three shades the entire month. But when I put it on our bed this time, it's clear how long it's getting. With smaller cat, Squeek, for scale (and our pillows clearly visible...)

Our trip meant I didn't work on the afghan for a few months -- as I said above, at one point I was 84 days behind. But on December 4, I had wrapped up November. Lots of colder days here.

I had given up trying to capture the blanket spread out, so borrowed an idea from Suz and made a very lumpy jelly roll.

Then, finally, I finished the stitching. And with a couple of evenings spent weaving in the ends and stitching a few rows of black border, it was complete. And massive.

I cannot say enough how much I loved this project. I had given myself all of January to wrap up the finishing, but ended up completing my 2017 temperature afghan on January 6, 2018.

One downside -- and I suspect anyone who has done this sort of project has had the same issue -- is that I have a TON of leftover yarn:

That said, I have an idea of how to use it up -- but that's for later.

Finishing the afghan was the one of my #101in1001 projects, and the first I completed. A huge huge win.

Would I make another one? Probably not -- there are only so many blankets I need! But I loved making this and can totally recommend this sort of project to anyone.