Friday, 19 April 2013

sewing : three jersey tops and a new overlocker

After years of trying to justify the expense, I finally took the plunge and bought myself an overlocker for my birthday... it has revolutionised by sewing and was worth every penny.

I justified the purchase by convincing myself it would mean I could make lots of quick, easy and comfy clothes for the boys. But instead all I have done since buying it is make clothes for me, a luxury which I am very much enjoying.

So, here are my first three garments...

Each different but each related - two share the same fabric, a very pale, creamy peach with thick black strips, and the other is a soft and stretchy dark pine green which these photos fail to do justice to. Two also share the same pattern #4 one piece sideways top from the wonderful English translation of Drape Drape 2.

The dark green and the striped top with the shorter sleeves are the ones from the Drape Drape pattern. Tracing out the pattern from the sheet in the book took a while. The patterns have seam allowances a built in (yay) but on are printed in a limited palate of colours which makes the pattern sheets look elegant but tracing the pattern lines a bit tricky (boo).

The other top, striped with longer sleeves, is copied from a top I already own. The original top is comfy, flattering and would be the easiest thing ever to wear, if it weren't for the fact that it gets grease stained from just being near a small child.

All three tops also share the same neckline as the longer sleeved too. Every review of the Drape Drape pattern said the scooped neckline was too deep. And as I've never really got on well with scooped necklines, I knew I'd have to change it to the same as the copied top (which has the best neckline of any top I own).

Of course there has been a learning curve to using my overlocker, but thankfully it's not been as steep as I had feared, particularly with the shared wisdom of the Internet to assist. And my skills have improved with each project.

So, here are the things I've learned so far:

Sewing with an overlocker isn't anywhere near as scared as I feared.

Lots of people use their overlockers to finish seams seven with a regular sewing maching... even when sewing jersey. The two main reasons for this seem to be a fear that mistakes using an overlocker are harder to fix and that serged seams aren't as secure and tended to come undone.

I got round the first problem by sewing with four threads (less stretchy, but more secure) and the second by going slow, using cheep and/or old fabric and making things with enough give in them to now worry about the odd mistake. Tactics that seem to have worked so far!

Using the right needles and threads makes all the difference

Whilst you don't need to finish jersey seams, taking the time to do so, and doing it well, makes all the difference between something 'hand made' and 'hand crafted'. And to do this well, a double jersey needle and a bobbin full of wooly nylon makes all the difference (again, great tips I found out from the ever helpful Internet!).

And be brave

Don't be afraid to try new things and make a few changes along the way... There's nothing wrong with a mistake or two as this is exactly how you learn and improve going forwards.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

reading : on The Browser and decline of the editor


This year I read a thought provoking article, Net Wisdom which appeared in the FT on February 2013 (where it can be accessed with a free login). It was written by Robert Cottrell, the editor and creator of one of my favourite websites, The Browser.

Essentially The Browser is an edited selection of long-form web articles where the common theme is excellent writing that is 'worth reading'. On a personal level, The Browser has had a significant effect on what, where, when and how I read - it is the source of much of my bed-time reading (and a good portion of my daytime reading too) - and is a site I would recommend to anyone who loves intelligent articles on eclectic topics.

I would also urge you to read the FT article itself - it is well written and thought provoking. Its main theme is how reading and writing have been affected by the internet which, surprisingly, is something I have spent relatively little time considering.

For some reason, much of my thinking about digital and creativity has focused on physical making. Perhaps I am just too close to the subject of the online written word to have the necessary perspective to look at it objectively - my day-to-day work involves managing web content for an art and design museum. Whatever the reason, I am happy to say that this article caused me to pause and reflect on how the internet has affected the creative world of reading and writing.

Clearly the internet is a vast place, so when Cottrell says 'only 1 per cent is of value to the intelligent general reader', this still reflects a lot of writing and explains why he considers now to be 'a great time to be a reader' - a fact I had not consciously considered before.

As well as commercial sites such as the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the Financial Times and the London Review of Books, Cottrell explains that much great writing is by professionals 'who find the time, the motivation and the opportunity to write for anyone who cares to read' by blogging.

I had an 'ah-a' moment when he explained that he considers businessmen and politicians to be the worst bloggers because they are afraid to be wrong. He quotes Felix Salmon, Reuters’ finance blogger, as saying 'If you are never wrong, you are never interesting'... something well worth remembering when one is going through a period of writers'/bloggers' block.

The decline in the role of the publisher is concisely explained by Cottrell as due to the publication no longer being the 'unit of comsuption' which leaves the article free to take on a life of its own and the reader free to read it on their own terms, where they choose (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard and my own favourite, Instapaper). Indeed, Cottrell optimistically envisages a world where the reader is free to directly reward the writer, cutting out the middleman and thus removing then publisher from the equation altogether.

Another insight of Cottrell's I had not previously considered is that 'we overvalue new writing... and we undervalue older writing'. He anticipates a possible disruptive force of 'archives editors' bringing less current writing to the fore, of potential relevance to museum digital content. He also explains how the web has created a counter-intuitive move towards brevity with authors no longer compelled to write to fill a set amount of space, allowing for the rise of short digital books.

After reading the article, it stood out in my mind that Robert Cottrell's job title is give as 'editor' of The Browser, a title which I feel has more gravity than the now often used term 'curator'.

Much has been said in recent years of the rise of the term 'curator' in the digital sphere to refer to someone who 'collect[s]... and assemble[s]' material for digital publication. Unsurprisingly this has caused quite a stir in the world of museums and galleries where some staff cling to their traditional meaning of 'curator' and are reluctant to yield to any changes.

Personally love the way words change and morph over time - a process clearly necessary to keep a language living, breathing and relevant - I can't help but feel that there is something wonderful in observing a word in a state of flux as it evolves into something new. And, perhaps controversally, I also think it is a good thing that 'curation' has been embraced in this new way and has become something the 'cool kids' aspire to.

Yet with this rise of the word 'curator', there is a flip side where much of what is called online 'curating' is just good, old-fashioned, editing.

Perhaps being an editor is just no longer something many people in digital sphere aspire to? Tellingly, in this Guardian article, Micke McCue, founder and CEO of Flipboard, even talks about people 'curating' their own digital magazine. Perhaps over time 'curate' will replace 'edit' altogether in the digital realm... but I am pleased that we are not there yet.


Sunday, 3 March 2013

digital art : 'fail fast-fail often' sketching

feet - quick sketch

A short post this week, necessitated by two weeks of colds, teething and not much sleep.

I should say that as someone who needs a good seven hours sleep a night to be on top of things, I seem to have been surprisingly busy these past two weeks despite my relative sleep deprivation. It's just finding that extra time to reflect, photograph and blog about them that has eluded me.

Although I have had no more than five minutes a day, I have mostly kept up with drawing daily on my iPad. I have actually enjoyed these quick sketches of whatever I can see before me - in essence it has been a couple of weeks of warm up exercises. There is something of the 'fail fast - fail often' philosophy behind it. I have arguably experimented more, and developed more, than I would if I had more time at my disposal.

dinosaur - quick sketch

And I have embarked on a few craft related endeavours too - including finishing sewing a 'cheats' pair of jeans (which have worn so much I realise I now need to make a couple more pairs).

I have also finished sewing a couple of baby bibs which I recently found lurking in a draw from way-back-when #1 son was a baby. And I have started cutting fabric for a jersey top for me.

All these things are itching to be blogged about... I just need to catch up on my sleeping backlog first!

And other exciting things for the near future are trying out my brand new overlocker (roll on birthday!) and setting up my profile for the wonderful Kollabora craft site. And that's not to mention the excellent articles I have read rcently and the inspiring and thought provoking books I have started too.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

thinking about : what is craft?

hand knitted jumper

And so I finally get round to a question I should have asked when I started blogging, namely : 'what is craft'?

Of course this is not an easy question to answer - perhaps if it were I would have answered it sooner, in what would probably have been a very short blog post. Nor is this something for which there can be a definitive, once-and-for-all, answer. So with that in mind this post is a starting point - an overview of ideas about craft that are 'out there' on the Internet; and with this I shall consider how these ideas relate to my own personal concept of craft.

Hopefully in this way I can start to gain a deeper understanding of craft which, although by necessity will be in a perpetual state of flux, should act as a pragmatic starting point for another important question for this blog, i.e. : "can there be a 'digital craft'?"

For the sake of simplicity, I will start with the relatively uncontroversial meaning of craft as a verb : 'to craft'.

The Chambers Dictionary describes this as 'to make something skilfully.' Many things can be crafted so here there is little, or no, tension between art and craft. There is nothing controversial to say that art is often (but of course not always) made in a skilful manner.

However It is in considering 'craft' as a noun that the problems start. The definition tends towards fuzziness and questions such as: "what are 'crafts'?", "how do 'crafts' differ from 'arts'?", and "'does this difference matter?" arise.

Here I shall, as I so often do, look fist to Wikipedia which has a simple definition of craft as…

'…a pastime or a profession that requires some particular kind of skilled work.' Wikipedia

This seems a reasonable starting point. I like its simplicity, but I find it lacking. Do all skilled works result in craft? It seems to me that there is some degree of skill involved in most work. But most work involve skill, yet most skills are are not crafts. Craft to me embodies an element of making and creating, eluding to a finished product, which this definition fails to capture.

Next to the V&A which asks "leading figures in the craft world, 'what is craft?". The answers given are short and often personal to the responder. It is interesting and distracting to read these brief thoughts about craft, but I found there to be too many ideas thrown up, and no space to debate and refine them for it to be of particular use to me here.

I found more success at Tate's website who provide several suggestions for the essence of craft, as a starting point for a wider discussion in their Tate Debate blog series, namely: material, skill, usefulness. To me, craft is all these things, and these get me closer to what I belive to be the essence of craft - suggesting a grounding in reality, in the here-and-now.

And it is actually a comment on this blog which gets closest to my current understanding of the essence of craft:

Comparing art to craft is like caomparing [sic] philosophy to engineering: they're two separate ways of looking at the same thing. To me art is communication of an idea or an emotion, while craft is the physical manipulation of material. [Tracy Fiegl]

I guess to me that craft is concerned with the physical realm, as opposed to the world of ideas and metaphor. Craft is real and material, and it is about making and shaping and the skills involved in doing so. In comparison, art concerns itself with meaning, feeling and concepts.

This to me implies that craft can, in a way, be digital, just as there can also be digital art.

Yet digital craft does not strictly lie in the physical realm, it exists in the world of ones and zeros. And what does it mean to handcraft something that can be automated and duplicated? By its nature its very nature digital craft must be different to that of traditional crafts. But my instinct is that there are more similarities an differences, something I hope to explore in future blog posts.

And so with this in mind I will leave this post with a quote from Grayson Perry, from the Guardian, where he touches on the concept of digital craft:

'Nowadays craft overlaps with design and contemporary arts, and there is little territory that is actually crafts. Are websites crafted? Is craft making a TV programme, or writing an article? They all have a craft aspect. To call something craft is just to say it is physical.' Greyson Perry


Thursday, 7 February 2013

sewing : four toddler shoes from one tea towel

running in the Tate Tanks

So I bought a tea towel just before Christmas from the Victoria and Albert Museum shop. It cost £5 - a bit more than I would normally pay for a tea towel, but this one went a long, long way.

By the time I finished it had become six new things — two pairs of toddler sneakers (i.e. four sneakers in total) and two baby bibs.

one tea towel shoe

I only have pictures of the shoes here. My son is a dribbler, a big dribbler, and the bibs went straight into action as soon as they were finished - no time for a photo shoot. Maybe one day, if they stay clean and dry for long enough to get my camera out, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

tea towel shoe and pop stud

The pattern used was I Think Sew's 'Cameron' baby sneaker pattern. Ok, so the name is a bit off-putting for many of us in the UK, but that didn't take away the fact that they were a lot of fun to make.

There's a sculptural, 3D, feel to them - almost adding in a whole extra dimension to my usual flat garment sewing.

I made two sizes. The smaller shoes are actually made from the largest pattern size. They are waiting to be posted to a friend in China. The larger ones are for my number two son.

standing in tea towel shoes

My son is just 15 months and it was clear that I would need to scale up the pattern if I were to make some to fit. I did this the quickest, and laziest, way possible - by photocopying. I scaled them up 120% and the finished sneakers fit perfectly length-wise but, unsurprisingly, they are a bit too wide.

Fortunately they are not so wide as to make wearing them impractical, but wide-enough for me to need to fudge the pop stud position somewhat to get them to stay on. Ah well, with two small children there simply isn't the time to get things perfect and sometimes you just have to let these things go in order to actually get things done.

in the Tate Tanks with tea towel sneakers

Despite this I am very happy with the outcome! I don't want to restrict my son's feet by wearing 'proper' shoes whilst he's so young any more than is necessary, but I want to keep his feet warm during these cold winter months. These fit the bill perfectly.

non-slip soles

The soles are made with non-slip slipper-sole fabric bought on Etsy. Not the most practical colour – I should perhaps have dyed them in advance the grey colour they have ended up after a Sunday afternoon running round the Tanks at Tate Modern. But he's not slipping over, which is what counts.

elephant fabric lining

The elephant fabric is left over from number one son's nursery bag I made a few months ago. And the tea towel fabric is strong and its pattern is, in my mind, perfect for a small boy and quite unlike anything I could find in the shops.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

crafting for gadgets : cross-stitch iPhone cases

cross-stitch iPhone case with thread

This week I discovered the wonderful cross stitch iPhone cases by Leese Design, via the DesignSponge blog.

I love the way they are both digital and craft digital and craft in an obvious, yet somehow unexpected, way.

These covers resonate with the craze for knitted iPhone covers some years back. Yet this, to me, suggests a slicker, cleaner, more crafted/less home-made approach that complement the elegant technology.

cross-stitched iPhone case

These cases are only available at Purl Soho in the USA, but there appear to be other similar cross-stitch cases for sale in UK. Traditional cross stitch, 8 bit computer graphics design or a crafted representation of computer code… I'm not sure which I would choose, but fortunately the PurlBee blog has some inspiring examples of finished cross-stitched cases.


Friday, 25 January 2013

digital art : daily drawing

grey cat sketch

Three years ago I made a New Year's resolution. Each day I was to draw a picture of my four month old baby boy. I remembered my mother sketching me as I played in the garden as a small child and, although as far as I know she did not keep the drawings, I am sure it inspired and encouraged me to create and draw.

It started well and, as planned, most days I produced at least one small sketch. My resolve was still there when in late January 2010 my son was admitted to hospital when a dramatic fall in his oxygen levels bought forward his heart operation by several months. But after nine long and difficult days in intensive care I was no longer drawing - the tubes and wires and stress had got the better of me. And after he was discharged my focus was on helping him with his recovery... and then life in general got in the way. I still wanted to draw, but I could not find the time nor the motivation to do so.

layer cat sketch

Then the start of this year saw a new iPad and a new resolution. Most days I have produced a drawing on my iPad. The subject matter is not as prescriptive as before - most of the time I can only use my iPad undisturbed after the children's bed time so our cat has become the main, but not the only, focus of my drawing attentions.

My iPad is always at hand which makes it easier to pick up, put down and sketch for a short period of time. It has been a while since I drew, my drawing skills are rusty and my hands need time to re-learn what to do. But having all my drawings saved in one place makes it easy to look back for inspiration and to see how they are changing over time.

have been using SketchBook Express and a Magic Wand Stylus. The large rubber tip is not ideal for drawing but at least the lack of precision has produced some interesting results and adds a very human element of chance to a digital drawing.

And each time I sketch I find that I am trying, and learning, something new - I would love to learn to capture some of the awe and excitement in my youngest son when he picks up pens and makes marks on paper (and walls... and doors... and skin... and clothes!).