Prayer Shawl Ministry

If you've been thinking about lending your knitting or crochet skills to charity work, I'd like to recommend one of my favorites - the Prayer Shawl Ministry. There is such beauty and power in these prayer shawls (aka. "comfort shawls") for both the giver and the reciever.

The first shawl I made was for a friend diagnosed with ovarian cancer. As I watched her go through both surgery and chemo, I wanted so desperately to do something, ANYTHING, that might comfort her through that terrible ordeal. While surfing the Net, I stumbled upon a reference to prayer shawls. Googling the term led me to a website where I learned that these shawls are made and given to people in all sorts of life-changing situations (illness, grief, depression, etc.) for comfort, love, and inspiration.

I found a basic Trinity stitch pattern, pulled some exquisitely soft bulky yarn out of my stash, and went to town on size 16 needles. Knitting for only a few hours each evening, it took me about 2 weeks to complete the shawl. When I wrapped that shawl around her shoulders and told her of the prayers and love I put into its creation, we both cried. She later told me that everytime she felt like she needed a hug, she'd wrap that shawl around her shoulders. She fought that terrible disease over nearly five years requiring multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy. When I couldn't be there for her, the shawl was. She died this past June and the shawl continues to comfort her grieving family.

Since that first prayer shawl for my friend, I've made a dozen more that have been given to others through my church's pastoral ministry. Besides being rewarding charity work, creating these shawls has also strengthened my faith and helped me develop a more contemplative prayer life.

If you'd like more information on prayer shawls, you can find it here. The founders of the Prayer Shawl Ministry, Janet Bristow and Victoria A. Cole-Galo have also collaborated to bring aspiring knitters thirty-eight distinctive and lovely prayer shawl patterns to knitters of all skill levels in the pages of:

The Prayer Shawl Companion: 38 Knitted Designs to Embrace, Inspire, and Celebrate Life

Beautiful pictures, easy to follow patterns, and anecdotal personal stories make "The Prayer Shawl Companion" so much more than just another book of patterns. You'll learn the meaning and traditions behind the kinds of shawls showcased, as well as the importance of these shawls to those who make them and/or receive them. Thoughtful, inspiring, and educational - knitters at every level of ability and proficiency will enjoy this book.

I encourage you to start a prayer shawl for someone you love. I'm so glad I did.

Freeform Crochet and Beyond: Bags, Cushions, Hats, Scarves and More

Here's another great new book I just purchased that is a unique addition to my bookshelves.
Freeform Crochet and Beyond is written by Renate Kirkpatrick and offers both inspiration and instruction for this experimental art form. I've posted several articles on freeform crochet and often use these free-style crochet motifs as embellishment for my felted knit purses and more. As the title suggests, there is a "beyond" embellishing with freeform.

I met Renate Kirkpatrick through a terrific Yahoo Group where we exchange tips, techniques and encourage one another to keep pushing the envelope with crochet hook and yarn. Renate is one of the veteran's of the group and a source of inspiration to all of us. It's so exciting to see her works in print.

What is freeform crochet? It's probably best described on the International Free Form Crochet Guild's web site:

"Freeform crochet is like painting. The hook is a brush and the yarn a paint. The result can be abstract or realistic. Freeform is original design, not a reproduction of another person's pattern, it goes beyond the realm of patterns and restrictions that usually apply toward our art. The outcome is a piece of art like no other, not only functional, but beautiful as well. Freeform includes 2-D and 3-D art, clothing and useful items."

Here's a sample of my freeform crochet used as embellishment on a felted purse, but this is nothing compared to the exquisite work of others who create stunning garments and even coral reefs populated with all sorts of sea creatures rendered with hook and yarn.

I encourage you to purchase a copy of Renate's book so you can discover the joys of creating something distinctly your own under the guidance of one of the best in the field. If you'd like to meet other afficianados of freeform crochet, do follow the link to the Yahoo Group above and sign up to be a part of the discussion. I'll bet Renate will be there to answer any questions you might have about the techniques in her book, too.

AntiCraft: Knitting, Beading and Stitching for the Slightly Sinister

AntiCraft: Knitting, Beading and Stitching for the Slightly Sinister
This book by Renee Rigdon and Zabet Stewart is one of the newest and wildest additions to my growing library of knitting and crochet books. I just had to post a word or two about this wickedly different how-to/pattern book of "slightly sinister" projects that will appeal to the teens and young adults who are into the dark, medieval goth look . Not only are there instructions for knitting pirate hats, constructing corsets out of black duct tape, sewing wiccan dresses, crocheting stuffed two-headed rats, and the like, but each project is accompanied by awesome photography. The talent behind the camera is Al Parish.

The writing is off-beat and hysterical, making the book worth the price just for its entertainment value, alone - especially to an old dame like me who wouldn't be caught dead in "double snake thigh-high stockings." There will be, however, two very teenage nieces who'll be happy with their Christmas presents from Auntie J this year - appropriately adorned with skull and crossbones, of course.

For the newbies out there, the book includes a section in the back with step-by-step instructions on how to knit, crochet, bead, and, incredibly - how to make chain mail! Patterns are clear and easy to follow, and accompanied by useful tips. I think what I like best about this book is that it's not exclusively knitting or crochet projects. I think it's great to break out once in awhile to make something that doesn't involve yarn - like making chain-mail earrings. How cool is that? The next time I find myself in a creative rut, this book is guaranteed to give me a laugh and a way to spread my wings.

Take it from me, you just have to buy this book for yourself, if only to see the unbelievable squid-shaped menstrual pad holder...

Outdoor Art Market - End of Season Reflections

Another outdoor art market season is a wrap and I worked furiously last week to finish up, tag, and price those final works-in-progress. I also kept my fingers crossed and hoped for a break in the winds and rain (typical of Pacific Northwest Fall weather) that have dampened the enthusiasm of both buyers and sellers the past few weeks. Vendors did, indeed, get lucky. Saturday was clear and sunny, but jacket-and-gloves-chilly. As I expected, my mittens, hats, scarves, and bulky sweaters drew the lion's share of attention from buyers and browsers.

End of season is a bittersweet time for me. On the one hand, I'm happy over the prospect of once again having my weekends free - and my weekdays, too, for that matter. On the other hand, I miss the social side of life at the market - the other artists and vendors, the old friends and locals who drop by each week to see what's new, and meeting the tourists and travellers just passing through. It's a great deal of work each week, but an enormous amount of fun and camaraderie, too. The icing on the cake for the vendors, of course, is the validation of our talents through the kind compliments and patronage these folks give us. As I've said before, the greatest compliment is when someone is willing to spend their hard-earned cash on something we've created. That's the best validation of all.

This past season was a bit of a landmark for me in that it was my first time exhibiting and selling my needle felted landscapes, seascapes, and abstracts. This is a brand new medium for me and one that is really just in its infancy in the art world. To my very great surprise (and delight) my artwork drew a lot of attention to my booth and, I believe, helped boost sales of my wearables. As a bonus, most of my artwork sold quickly, too. That was totally unexpected and very, very exciting. That encourages me to produce more and emboldens me to ask some of the better galleries for an opportunity to hang my work over the winter. Quite understandably, gallery owners are only interested in hanging pieces that are likely to sell. While they may feign the attitude of being about promoting "art for art's sake," it's sales commisions that pay the bills and keeps their doors open. The artist that can walk into a gallery with a portfolio of sold works in hand is less likely to be snubbed. That's my theory, anyway. I'll let you know if it proves to be true.

Experience and observation during this past season taught me some new things about branding, marketing, booth set up, and display. Each is worthy, I think, of an individual post. I will write a little something on each topic over the coming weeks in hopes that it will help someone else carve out their little niche in the wonderful world of the outdoor art and craft market.

DIY Network Tells Crafters To Take a Hike!

What have the programming gods at DIY been smoking?!? It all began several months ago with the disappearance of Vicky Howell's Knitty Gritty. Apparently, we didn't howl (pun intended) loud enough about losing that show, so the mental midgets at DIY Network decided to cancel the rest of the crafting lineup in favor of more home improvement shows. Are they nuts? I did (count them) ONE home improvement project this year (refinishing my wood floors) and in retrospect, I'd rather have my tits nailed to the table before I'll tackle a horrific job like that again. It was dirty, backbreaking work that took way more money and time to accomplish than anyone could ever imagine from watching a DIY show on the subject. I'm sure the only reason networks like DIY and HGTV continue to get program viewers is because do-it-yourself home improvement is like giving birth. Eventually, over time, we forget just how downright painful and expensive the whole experience was. On average, it takes about two years before we're willing to get pregnant again. That sounds about right. I'd love to remodel my kitchen, but it'll take at least two years for both my bank account to recover and for the miserable memories of the floor refinishing debacle to fade away.

On the other hand, I am an artist and a crafter every single day and enjoy every moment I can devote to being creative. Like you, I'm sure, I spend a good chunk of my discretionary income on crafting supplies...even in lean economic times. Come to think of it...ESPECIALLY in lean economic times, because it's the only relatively inexpensive recreation I enjoy. I'll drive less, turn down the thermostat, clip grocery coupons, and give up every other form of recreation so that I can afford a couple of skeins of yarn, or a few tubes of paint, or some other crafting supply I can't live without. The folks at DIY just don't get it. Which commercial message do you suppose grabs my attention and spurs me to go shopping - a sale on storm windows at Lowe's or a sale at Michael's?

Well, I say, the heck with DIY Network! I'll go back to getting my new crafting ideas and inspiration from fellow artists and crafters on the Internet - uncut and commercial free. And, when it comes time to tackle the kitchen remodel or the landscaping project, I'm sure I won't have any trouble finding all the do-it-yourself advice I need without wasting my time watching DIY or HGTV.

FREE Business Cards, Rubber Stamps, & Magnetic Signs!

...okay, so it's not totally free...we do have to pay shipping cost...but it's darn close. I've blogged before about the great bargains at Vista Print on business cards, rubber stamps, and other business supplies we can't live without, but it certainly bears repeating. The UPS driver just delivered my latest order and I'm so excited and pleased with the high quality and low price of the products, I just had to share the information about this wonderful commercial printing resource for the small business owner on a shoestring.

I was running out of business cards. My last order at Vista was for the 250 standard cards, which they offer free. While I was at it, I accepted their offer of a free rubber stamp, too. Cost of shipping for both items was approximately $7.50, if memory serves. Compare this with the cost of color business cards at one of the big box retailers like Office Depot or the cost of buying the ink for your printer and making your own cards. It's easy to see the incredible savings to be had at Vista Print.

This time around they were offering 250 premium business cards for free. There was a good selection of styles to choose from and I chose one that was the perfect image for my business. I also took them up on the offer of a magnetic sign for my car door - also free - in a design similar to the business cards. Before I finished checking out my purchases, I was offered an additional 250 cards for $7.49 and a 2nd magnetic sign for $5.99. With shipping, the total cost of my order came to $23.43 and here's what I received:

500 of these...

And, 2 of these...

Pretty awesome, no? I chose standard shipping, which they say can take up to 2 weeks. My order was delivered to my little corner of the world in a mere 6 days. That's fast.

You don't need to take my word for it. Shop and compare for yourself. I can't say enough good things about the price, the quality, and the service at Vista Print. I'm sure you'll like them too. For your convenience, here's a quick link to their site:

While you're there, be sure to check out their other free offers - there's always about 10 different products to try for free. By the way, they don't gouge you on the shipping costs, either, so you can take advantage of those free offers without taking out a loan to pay the shipping. As Martha Stewart would say..."It's a good thing."

Updated Website for Irrational Exuberance - Ebony Glen Studio

Whew! Just spent the entire, live-long day on a major revision to the web pages for Irrational Exuberance and Ebony Glen Studio. I decided to show a clearer distinction between those two entities by giving each their own set of pages on the website. Ebony Glen Studio is the name I use when showing/marketing my fiber and mixed media landscapes, seascapes, and abstract art as well as the occasional stain glass creation. Irrational Exuberance is the brand name attached to the felted handbags, knit and crochet clothing designs, and the other wearable art that I create. Both entities are obviously related under the broad description of "fiber art," but different enough to justify giving each its own web presence. I hope you'll make a visit and let me know what you think. Your feedback is important to me and any suggestions on how I can improve the site is most welcome.

Fiber Art Seascape "Heading In" Needlefelt on Fabric

"There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." From Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.

I had the rare opportunity to spend a day sailing with friends. The weather was perfect - sun and 75 degrees, with just enough wind to fill the sails and keep us moving along at a leisurely 5 knot pace. We had no destinations and no time schedules to keep. It was a glorious day of "simply messing about in boats." We lunched on cold cuts, cheese, and crunchy baguettes of french bread washed down with generous amounts of Chateau St. Michelle wine. We found a quiet cove and dropped the hook for an afternoon nap on the foredeck and cabin roof. We looked like a family of harbor seals laying basking in the warm sun. Crab pots set out early in the day yielded half a dozen Dungeness crab that we cooked in sea water with a bit of onion and garlic for our dinner. We cracked it while still warm, sucking the meat right out of the shell, with the juices running all the way to our elbows. It was one of those days you hate to see come to an end. As the sun dipped down behind Fidalgo Island, we reluctantly headed in. I was blown away by the glory of the bright orange sunset and the "welcome home" feeling of the shimmering lights of town as we neared the island.

I think I captured the beauty of that scene in this needle felt seascape I call "Heading In." The size is 13x17" (20x25" matted and framed) and is the largest piece I've created thus far. It (like most of my current body of work) was created with the machine embellisher, unspun wool roving, and metallic hand embroidery. The lights of town were achieved with a glittering novelty yarn and golden glass beads, which catch the light and actually twinkle. It brings the whole painting to life.

This piece is available for purchase. Contact me for a price quote.

Needle Felt Art - Landscape and Seascape

"South Fork Twilight" is another example of my exploration of needle felt artwork using unspun wool roving, yarns, and embroidery threads. It's a reconstructed memory of fall evenings sitting around the campfire on the bank of the south fork of the Skagit River and watching the moonlight play on the water.

I'm delighted to say that it sold at the art market within a couple of hours of opening. Size is 12x14 unframed. Framed and matted it measured 17x20".

I used the Husky embellisher (with its 5 felting needles) to lay down the large blocks of blended color in unspun wool roving. The highlight at the river bank and water shadows were added by hand with a single felt needle for tighter control. The trees are free-form machine embroidery in a blend of black and brown silk threads. The little sparkles on the river were hand-embroidered in silver metallic. I was so pleased with the final result, I was tempted to keep this piece in my private collection. I'm glad that I decided to price it and display it at the market, instead. It was a real traffic-stopper and I received many lovely compliments. I've said it before and I'll say it again, there's no greater compliment an artist can receive than to meet someone who so admires your creation that they are willing to spend their hard-earned dollars to make it their own. THAT is pure joy!

Needle Felting & Embellishing

Am having a ball with the new needle felting embellisher machine. At the last moment, I chose the Huskystar ER10 embellisher by Viking. Functionally, I couldn't find a substantial difference between it and the Babylock embellisher, but I liked the case style a bit better and the price was perfect...$249.00 on sale! I was able to bring it home and immediately start playing with it. Very little to learn. The instruction booklet is ridiculously simple.

Here's a little seascape I started with using some pencil roving and novelty yarn scraps I had laying around (I save everything - all the little bits and pieces I cut off). I started with a base square of green wool felt approx. 10x10" square. It's a somewhat crude landscape since I was just "winging it" - in future I would do a pre-drawing in chalk and pay a bit more attention to composition and color. I'm really excited by the possibilities, however. I've long been a painter and it was fun "painting" with wool as a new medium.

The second project was embellishing a felted handbag. This project is an "upcycled" wool sweater that will become a tote style handbag. I'd been tossing around the idea of adding select silk flowers as embellishments and the Huskystar machine did a splendid job of attaching those flowers as well as creating some nice flower abstracts. I used some scraps of variegated fuschia pink novelty yarn for those.

The embellisher needles did a fine job of securing the large flower, but for extra holding power I used some black/brown novelty yarn as a center. I attached the small pink and white flowers with embroidered French knots. The design is quite secure and I should have no worries about anything coming loose with daily use of this bag. I'm very pleased with the way this is turning out and so, so simple. I'll post a photo of the bag when it's finished.

The new art market season begins the end of May. The embellisher is going to help me add a whole new dimension to this season's creations.

Machine Needle Felting - Babylock Embellisher

Okay, I'm taking the plunge and spending another 300 hard-earned bucks to stretch my creative wings, again. I've decided to purchase a new Babylock needle felting machine to use as an embellisher for the felted handbags and the custom sweaters I create.

Have been searching for a fresh new design twist for the line of custom clothing and felted handbags I sell under the Irrational Exuberance name and, as often happens, I stumbled upon the answer quite by chance. On a visit to my local fabric store six months ago, I was admiring one of those terribly expensive Babylock embroidery machines ($5,000++) that (who am I kidding?) I'll never buy. In fact, it's become a running joke with the whole store staff that as soon as I'm ready for my husband to divorce me, I'll be in to purchase the top of the line machine! Still, the owner of the shop, Joanie, patiently shows me all the whiz-bang features and lets me play around with them to my heart's content. I suppose it's because we never fail to draw a crowd of lookyloos while I ask questions and Joanie demonstrates. If Joanie sells one machine to one of those women, I suppose she figures it's all worthwhile. Anyway, on my last visit, Joanie quickly pointed out the new needle felting machine she'd just received from Babylock and it really started my creative juices flowing. The price was certainly right and I had a blast experimenting with that machine. Unfortunately, the timing wasn't right for me to make the purchase right then and there, but I told myself that I would have one of those clever machines - soon. I'd done needle felted embellishments in the past - by hand - with happy results, but I found the process terribly tedious. The machine promised better results, at a fraction of the time and effort. I was sold.

Unfortunately, Mom's illness put all my creative endeavors on hold for about four months so the whole idea was quickly forgotten...until last week. I'd dropped into the store to purchase some magnetic closures for a couple of handbags in the making and there it was - the needle felting machine - sitting right on the counter by the cash register with a lovely "20%-Off Sale" tag on it. Kismet! I convinced Joanie to hold it for me while I went to my "Bank of The Old Man" to whine for a temporary loan. It took a couple of days worth of favorite meals and sweet talk, but my DH (dear husband) finally gave me the go-ahead. He muttered something about it being a Mother's Day-birthday-anniversary present all rolled into one. Oh, happy day.

I'll post some photos of the little gem and a 1st project, soon. Meantime, if you've been thinking about a similar purchase, you might be interested in reading this product review I ran across while researching these needle felting machines online. You can read it here. It's really informative, fair, and balanced comparison of machines by Babylock, Janome, Bernina, Brother, Husky, and the Fab Felter by Nancy.

Let me know if you answer the siren song of machine needle felting. I'd love to hear from you.

The Real Knitty Gritty - Amazon Bargains

Something new has been added...I've just signed on to be an Amazon Associate store and have put together a hand-picked selection of knitting & crochet books & accessories at bargain prices. There's some really splendid books listed. I own many of the titles & I'm sure you'd find them wonderful resources, too. The rest are on my "wishlist." Check out the knitting needles and crochet hooks, too. The prices are well under the prices at my local yarn shop. If you don't see something that you've been searching for, or if the size knitting needles or crochet hook is not currently listed, contact me via e-mail. If it's available, I'll point you in the right direction to get it.

I'll be adding more products to the store as time goes on, so check back often to see what's new.

The store, "The Real Knitty Gritty" is located at the bottom of the sidebar to the right. Enjoy!

Selling Arts/Crafts: Can I make a living?

I ran across a post on one of the forums this morning that (once again) posed the question, "Can I make a living selling my jewelry (knitting, crochet, paintings...) online?" As you might imagine, the answers from the other posters were all over the ballpark. Some said, "yes." Some said, "no." The vast majority, said, "maybe...", and while I think that's the correct answer, it's not the answer most of us want to hear.

To demonstrate my point, ask yourself whether you would have intentionally navigated to this post if I had titled it, "You MIGHT Profit Selling Arts & Crafts Online." No, of course you wouldn't. Neither would I. Even so, I contend that it is the most truthful & correct of the three. If that's not what you want to hear, I'll understand if you leave now.

A fundamental problem arises with the question, itself. It's a subjective question that seeks an objective (yes or no) answer. Read the question, again, & emphasize the words in bold type..."Can I make a living selling my (blank) online? See the problem? First of all, no honest person can say for a fact that YOU can do this or that without knowing whether you're willing, able, or even know how to go about it. If anyone tries to tell you that, ignore them. They are either a liar or a fool. Secondly, the question begs another question...what is this person's definition of "a living?"

I'd love to be among those cockeyed optimists who say, "Yes you can!" In honesty, I can't do that based on my own experience. I sell my work (fiber arts as well as paintings) through a website, Etsy, and group art shows. Through the spring & summer months, I spend 8 hours each Saturday manning a booth at my local art & farmer's markets. All this effort nets me a very nice supplemental income, but not enough that would allow me to quit my "day job." First of all, because the income can't be relied upon. Some months are good, some are not so good. Secondly, when I actually sit down to calculate my hourly wage, it's below what I'd make taking a job at McDonalds. Seriously! There's an enormous amount of time involved in creating the product, maintaining websites/blogs, making ads for Etsy or eBay, marketing myself in webrings and chat forums in an effort to drive traffic to my website or ads, etc. Last, but not least, self-employment means having the worst boss & the worst fringe benefits in the whole insurance benefits, no sick leave, no vacations, no 401K...

So why do I do it at all? Part of it has to do with the artist's need to have their talent recognized & accepted by peers as well as the larger community. Compliments are lovely, but can't be trusted. The best & most genuine compliment is when someone pulls out their wallet to pay hard cash to own something we've created. The second part of it does have to do with the extra income I can derive from my art which, in all truth, merely serves to keep me painting or knitting without dipping into the household budget. Most of the money I make goes right back into buying more paints, canvas, yarn, needles, etc., which we all know can amount to a pretty sizable expense.

Far be it from me to say that you can't make a living from your arts & crafts. You may well be be the exceptional talent who'll be quickly "discovered" & will rocket to fame & fortune overnight. Or, not. You could be just another "starving artist." My best advice...don't quit your day job until you know what the fates have in store for you.

A Life Interrupted

Apologies, friends, for the long silence. Within days of my last post in September, my mother (pictured here) became ill, which made it necessary for me and my sister to provide 24/7 care so that she might live out the rest of her days in the comfort of her own home. Since there are only so many hours in a day, it was necessary for both of us to put on hold any and all activities that weren't essential to caring for her or caring for our own family household. Regrettably, favored pastimes like knitting and blogging and maintaining websites ranked low on my list of essential activities and, by necessity, were put on hold.

Mom passed away peacefully, at home, surrounded by her loving family two weeks ago. I am grateful I had the opportunity to be with her even to the end.

As I endeavor to pick up where I left off with this blog, I beg your continued indulgence if several days should pass without a new posting. To all of you who took the time to write me and post comments in my absence, be assured that I will make every effort to catch up on my correspondence to you as quickly as possible.

If you have not already done so, I'd like to encourage you to sign up for the RSS feed or e-mail subscription so that you easily receive notifications when something new has been posted here.

I'll be back soon...