Saturday, January 31, 2009

Working in Circles - Part 5, Fractals & Generative Art

A previous post had a gallery of kaleidoscope images from various Etsy artists.  Kaleidoscopes, patterns, and nonrepresentative design have fascinated me since I was a youngster. I loved those Altair Design Coloring Books and would spend hours and hours coloring different designs!

Working with digital images and computer generated graphics looks like it would be a fun change from handwork, but it also looks way over my head. I felt excited just to create my Etsy shop banner and avatar in Adobe Illustrator, but that is child's play compared with the computer generated art that is being created today.

My introduction to this art form happened while on a search for images to share with you, that fit with January's circular theme and which were available through creative commons licensing. My goal was to find circular art that was created digitally as an inspiration with which to end this mini-series on circular art and handcraft.

This search led me to some amazing fractal images created by Martin Latter, known on Flickr as "Stinging Eyes". Mr. Latter claims that he is not an artist or a programmer, but I do proclaim him an artist, without a doubt. 

This is the link to his main page on Flickr.  Visit his great photo galleries of digital art and leave him some comments about his talent. The first four images that you see in this post can be found in his "Chaotica" photo set.

Now about the moniker "Stinging Eyes"--don't you imagine that's exactly what the artist gets after working on the computer for hours and staring at the screen to create these amazing works? 

The next generative image is by a different artist, known on Flickr as Omnos. The piece was generated from a painting by another Flickr artist known as soft_star. If you follow the link to the image's Flickr page, you will find underneath the image a link to the original painting from which it was generated and also links to two other mandalas generated from the same painting. I think you will be impressed and fascinated.

Many thanks to Stinging Eyes and to Omnos for giving Creative Commons Licensing to these images. Your work is an inspiration to us all.

Dear reader, if you have some time and want to wonder off the path to explore more about fractal images, you can read some basics about fractal images in this wikipedia article. A simple Google search for fractal images will illicit enough material for a weekend magic carpet ride.  Flickr alone has some amazing fractal and generative art pools that could keep you entertained for days.

Grab some brownies before you start exploring.  You may be at it a while.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Working in Circles - Part 4, Felt

So Many Felt Circles

A leisurely browse through some Etsy treasuries and shops led me to discover that felt circles can be very interesting and also very practical. The first discovery was this captivating felted centerpiece by Etsy seller Kthurm who makes some beautiful felted table runners and centerpieces that you can see by following the photo link into her Etsy store.

The wonderful color variety in this piece is what initially captured my attention. Then I became captivated by the organic feeling and the sense of movement. It seems like those circle cells are in motion. They may be participating in some special choreographed dance or random exercise. They may be multiplying and increasing in number. Some of them are trying to run off the very edge of the centerpiece.

After the dazzling centerpiece, the next discovery was penny rugs. I had never heard of them, so I Googled and found a good description, along with some history, in this article.

In the olden days you had to painstakingly cut out all your own circles from your scraps of wool that you had saved for years--leftovers from all those clothes you had made by hand or sewn on your treadle sewing machine.

Today you can buy this kit and all the circle cutting has already been done for you! Doesn't that sound like an engaging winter project! For other kits and supplies, follow the link under the photo to the ragamuffin2006 shop.

The penny rug is not just for walking on--it is also a work of art. You don't have to put it on the floor. You could put it on the wall. Take this next piece, for example, by Etsy artist, baumcat.

This work of art, as the artist describes it herself, is very tribal in appearance. To me it has a magical, healing quality and seems to promise the rediscovery of some long forgotten abilities. The artist says in her description that this piece was inspired by Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs for blessings and peace.

Single Circles

I don't know about you, but I am getting more and more inspired by circle work. You don't have to go full out with the myriad circle approach if that feels overwhelming. You can make a simpler felt circle project.

Last year I made some super hot pads for the kitchen by felting some berets that had gone bad. I just took off the rolled brim band and threw the crown of the beret in the washer and dryer a few times. You could also felt up some recycled sweaters and cut them into circles for coasters or hotpads.

Here is a fancier application using just two single circles--Etsy seller, MountainMist, made these two pincushions out of two felt circles and then added some decorative embroidery and wool stuffing. These are both currently for sale in her shop if you follow the links.

This little bird is so cheerful and cute that I think I'd feel guilty using him for a pincushion. I would add a little ribbon loop, and turn him into a cheerful ornament. Then I would hang him up high so that sweet kitty Samba, who loves red things, and loves birds even more, wouldn't go after him.

This second pincushion is also made out of recycled wool. This one has been embroidered with some of MountainMist's hand-spun mohair in a yummy creamy white.

Another great idea for a felt circle is to make a brooch. Just look at this lovely photo of a felt brooch that was made by chimaerashop. The photo has it all--a pretty felt brooch with a spiral design in hand embrodiery, laying on a bed of lovely knitting.

Wow! so many fun things can be done with felt circles. Thanks to all of you great Etsy artists for letting me share your work! Readers, think of supporting these artists by buying handmade.

Next, think of fun things that you could make out of a felted circle:
  • earrings
  • a brooch
  • a coaster
  • a placemat
  • a centerpiece
  • a rug
  • wall art
  • components for jewelry
  • game pieces
  • a badge
Stretch your thinking some more--What else could you make? Leave some brainstorming ideas for felt circles in the comments!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Working in Circles - Part 3, Embroidery

Embroidery--An Enduring Tradition

Embroidery is a slow craft--a way to find a reflective moment in a hurried culture. It is a time-honored tradition and examples of it can be found from many countries, each having its own distinctive style and content.

In the Middle Ages, embroidered clothing was a sign of great wealth primarily seen on court finery and ecclesiastical garments, and in Renaissance times there were professional embroidery guilds that elevated the art form to new heights. An interesting history can be found at this link, a discussion of the history of embroidery in America can be found here, and some information on the exquisitely delicate Chinese silk embroidery can be found here.

In Hungary, embroidery is an enduring folk craft. During a trip to Budapest, we captured this photo of a group of circular embroidered doilies at at a vendor's booth in the Központi Várárcsarnok. This central market hall is a spectacular three-level hall featuring mostly produce, meat and cheese vendors, but also some folk-art/artisan booths and prepared-food vendors on the mezzanine. Here you can find some authentic costumes and linens with the characteristically dense embroidery of florals in bright colors.

You can read more about Hungarian embroidery and folkarts here.

Embroidery--Another Way to Dress Up a Cirlce

Imagine putting your feet upon one of the two decorative footstools in the following photos of embroidery on velvet from the Wikipedia Commons. The first image shows "an embroidered stool with a slip of borage worked in canvaswork and applied to a velvet ground, early 17th century (Jacobean or possibly early Caroline.)"

The second image is a similar stool worked with poppies.

For more information on the source of the two footstool photos follow the image links.

While you've got your feet up you could read a good book and have some tea nearby on this lovely Rose embroidered doily that is on auction at Ebay through today. Like it? Be quick and go bid on it here.

Embroidery--Still in the Hoop

Here is my confession: I have dozens of projects-in-progress, begun as recently as last night or as long ago as thirty years, that I have started and that still reside in my studio.

An ADD type, I am an avid starter of projects. Ideas for items pop into my head, and my hands think they need to start to work on the thing at once. These projects do get occasionally get finished.

It's sometimes overwhelming to have as many works in progress as I have, but sometimes it's a blessing. When you don't feel like starting a whole new thing, you can nudge a project along that will bless you with a reminder of your past. For example, you can whip out a holiday ornament that you started back in 1982.

Or if you want to get even more nostalgic, you can work on that butterfly that is to become the pocket on a denim bag someday and was started in 1974.

There is a nice feeling to picking up the threads from your past and working with them once again. Embroidery is a slow craft and one to be savored.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Working in Circles - Part 2, Crochet

For flat circular items, crochet has always seemed easier to me than knitting--especially for items like doilies. For one thing, you have much easier graphic instructions available if you are working from a chart like the ones found in the Ondori crochet pattern books mentioned in this post from last year. You don't have to read through dense instructional language when you are following a chart.

I haven't crocheted doilies in years, and could only find one stained example of my own to show, but two fine Etsy crochet artists have given me permission to feature their much more brilliant work in this post.

To start, here is a doily that I worked from an Ondori chart.

There are three things that I remember about making doilies like this: they are fun to do, you have to pay attention, and they take a lot of time! It is truly amazing to me that so many excellent thread artists sell their work for prices which do not come close to compensating them for their talent and their time.

Let's move on to the work of some professional thread artists whose work is stunning.

This beautiful doily is crocheted of cotton thread in white, minty green, and peach. It is only one of many gorgeous doilies in the Irish Rose store where you can also find wonderful crocheted afghans. Check out her pretty blog, too--Irish Rose has a great playlist of music that fits nostalgically with her delicate doilies.

You might say that this is not strictly a circle, but it was close enough and I love the item so much that I could not resist featuring it. The maker, Marianne of Crochet by MSA, was voted thread artist of the month in January by the Etsy Thread Artists Team. You can read the post and see more of her incredible work at the Etsy Thread Artists Blog.

Thank you to these two talented women for letting me feature their work.

In the next post, we'll see more ways to dress up some circles.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Working in Circles - Part 1, Knitting

The circle reminds us that things occur in a cycle of renewal. January starts the new year with a promise that a blossom-decorated spring will follow a dreary winter. A circle is also what we call a group in which work is undertaken more joyously and effortlessly than it is done alone.

Mosey with me for a few posts on a tour of this simple shape, which can be elegantly understated or laced and decorated in high style.

Let's start with a project that I have been analyzing. It is a flat circle washcloth that was knitted by the grandmother of one of my knitting students, Jack. It has a simple organic look that reminds me of a sand dollar. Here is the reverse side:

This washcloth is knitted in short rows on two single pointed needles. The circle is started with a cast on row of stitches evenly divisible by three. In the case of the washcloth above, there are 33 stitches in the cast-on row, which is the radius of the circle. You can see the starting point at about the eleven o'clock position in the above photo. It would be even nicer to start with a provisional cast on so that a seamless join could be done with a kitchener stitch at the end.

Sixteen wedges are separated by sixteen spokes in this wheel design.

Each progressively shorter row in a wedge section has three fewer stitches worked than the previous row. In the sample above, no stitch wrapping was done before turning.

When an entire garter stitch wedge is completed, you knit all the way to the end and then purl the complete row back. This creates the spokes of the wheel that can be seen in reverse stockinette on the right side and stockinette on the wrong side of the finished cloth.

A flat circle can be knitted like this along the radius with short rows on two straight needles, or it can be worked with a group of double-pointed needles either from the center out or in to the center from the circumference.

As a learning exercise in reading stitches, I am trying to duplicate this washcloth. If successful, I'll post a photo and the final instructions when I'm finished. I'd also love to show or link to photos of other knitted flat circles, so if you have any, let me know.

Personally, I haven't experimented much with knitting flat circles except in creating the bottom of circular bags or the top of berets. There are some beautiful knitted doily patterns around that I have never tried because crochet always seemed nicer for doilies--but let's save that for the next post.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Wheel of Time, Resolutions, and Advice from Old Bosses

Here we all are again--back to that time of year in which to reconsider old choices and to meditate on new options. The question is whether your life is best planned in minute detail or whether it is best forecast in broad strokes.

This time of year my primary question is always: should I make some resolutions this year or not? There is a reason for my hesitancy that has to do with my ADD nature. I am more of a maker and a doer than a planner or a thinker.

It's not that I never plan, it just doesn't happen often enough. When I was a realtor, in the not so distant past, my broker always said, "Plan your work, and then work your plan." I do just fine with the first part but not so much with the second.

Every year I take stock and make a "Plan". Then I put it away, promptly go about my business, and rarely look at it again. I like to imagine that some of the plan that was created in January sits in my subconscious and guides me throughout the year. This may be a fool's dream, of course.

Oh sure, I follow the advice of smart thinkers and visualize what I want with gusto and relish until I can just about taste what the achievement of my goals would be like. This is usually done while sitting in the steam room at the gym or soaking in a tub full of bubbles on a Saturday night. The rest of the time there's too much to do to stop and think.

The danger in this is that there can be missed opportunities and time wasted running down dead-end streets. Another boss always said, "If you don't take the time to do it right, you'll often have to do it over."

Oh the other hand, one can spend too much time organizing, plotting, calculating, and fretting over the minutiae that little gets done. That's how it used to be for me when I was younger, a perfectionist, and desperately feared failure.

A successful entrepreneur, also a former boss, once explained that in a new business there are a zillion things to do. You can't let it get to you. All you can do is nudge the business along a little bit everyday. This guy's business ran on negative equity for seven years before he made a profit. He just kept up his belief and nudged that business a little every day until it was finally profitable.

This year, I am going to get back to the gym, make that annual plan, and spend the rest of the year nudging my business along. In spite of the economic predictions of gloom, I am going to forge ahead with hopeful panache and focus on the advice of old bosses--especially my favorite one, a ex-Catholic with Jesuit training, who said "It's better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission."

I'd love to read comments about what's up for you. Do you plan? Do you make resolutions? Does it work?

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and successful new year!