Monday, August 25, 2008

How to make a journal

Handmade Journals and the Corps of Discovery
(Originally published January 2, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

When Lewis and Clark explored the northwest from 1804 to 1806, their long list of provisions included ink powder, pens, and numerous bound journals for recording the day’s events and all that they observed. Their journals consisted of numerous small notebooks, approximately 4 x 6-inches, of the type commonly used by surveyors in field work. Some of the journals were bound in rich red morocco leather and others were simply bound boards covered in marbled paper. Lewis and Clark carried their notebooks sealed in tin boxes to protect the relatively fragile journals from the elements.

The pages of their journals combine words (penned in marginless, slanting script) and pictures—maps and drawings of birds, fish, plants, trees, and native peoples, their tools, crafts and dwellings. Other members of the Corps of Discovery kept illustrated journals as well.

I suppose if Lewis and Clark had set out on their historic journey of exploration in 2008, they would have blogged their way to the Pacific Ocean. Their written observations may have been identical (assuming their laptops stayed charged), but significant information would have been lost without their drawings. (Spell-check would have also ruined William Clark’s creative spellings.)

Although a blog may be today’s virtual journal of choice, I believe there is still interest in creating journals of more tactile and visual variety. Two recently published books that confirm my suspicions are, “The Decorated Journal: Creating Beautifully Expressive Journal Pages” by Gwen Diehn and “Visual Chronicles: The No-Fear Guide to Creating Art Journals, Creative Manifestos & Altered Books” by Linda Woods and Karen Dinino.

Diehn’s book also has instructions for creating your journal from scratch, so that even the cover and the binding are expressive elements of the journaling process (much as Lewis and Clark’s were). The project titles such as “The Three-Minute Pamphlet” or “The Thirty-Minute Multiple-Pamphlet Journal” made me smile in hindsight when each took me significantly longer to make. But the books themselves turned out very nice, and perhaps, with practice, I’ll get faster.

All three of the books I made have pages which lie completely flat when the book is opened. This is especially important if you’re going to make entries with any media that could run before drying such as watercolors. This also gives you the option of treating two pages as one large page. I’m not certain how Lewis and Clark’s journals were constructed 200 hundred years ago, but here are instructions for the most successful of the three books I made. (Also see, “The Essential Guide to Making Handmade Books,” by Gabrielle Fox.)

What you need for the multiple-pamphlet journal

  • Nice text paper, thick or thin, 8 x 6-inches or larger (to make pamphlets more quickly, use paper already cut to size)
  • Cover paper about 5 times the width of the text pages (to recycle, you might use an old poster or wrapping paper, or even a shopping bag)
  • Sewing needle with eye large enough to accommodate thread
  • 1 yard heavy thread (buttonhole twist, waxed linen, embroidery floss, or dental floss)
  • Pushpin
  • Telephone book
  • Ruler for measuring and tearing paper
  • Craft knife, paper cutter, rotary cutter and mat—whatever you have on hand
  • Pencil
  • Bone folder and/or paperclips

What you do for a 4 x 6-inch journal

The pamphlet. Tear or cut the text papers into 8 x 6-inch sheets. (The width measurement--8-inches--is double the finished page-width.) The number of pages is determined by the thickness of the paper—for example, 8 for computer printer-weight, 3 for watercolor-weight. Fold each sheet in half widthwise, using a bone folder or paper clip to smooth the crease of each sheet. Then nest the folded papers inside each other to form a pamphlet or “signature.”

The cover. Assemble more pamphlets (an odd number in total) until the pile, when lightly compressed, is about ½-inch tall. Cut or tear the cover paper to 6 ¼-inches x 18 ½-inches. Lightly score to create seven sections with these widths: ½, 4 ¼, 4 ¼, ½, 4 ¼, 4 ¼, ½. Fold at each score, adjusting as necessary, to create the cover. The ½ sections on either end will overlap on the inside of the spine. The middle ½-section will form the outside of the spine.

The pattern. Make a hole-punching pattern with a 2 x 4-inch piece of scrap paper. Fold the scrap paper in half vertically. Open, fold horizontally, reopen. Using the needle, make a hole in the center of the pattern where the two folds intersect. Punch two more holes along the vertical fold, ½-inch from either end of the pattern. Make the last two holes equal-distant from the outer two holes and the center hole, for five holes total.

The pamphlet holes. To punch holes for sewing, open the telephone book to a page near the middle. Center the hole-punching pattern along the crease of one pamphlet and then press the pamphlet firmly into the crease of the telephone book to hold it in place. Using the pattern as your guide, use a pushpin to punch holes in the pamphlet at each mark. Mark holes in the rest of the pamphlets.

The cover holes. Place the cover flat on a page of the telephone book (not in the crease) and place the first pamphlet opened out flat with its crease centered into the exact center of the spine section of the cover, both horizontally and vertically. Using the pamphlet holes as a guide, poke holes into the cover, making sure it still folds nicely into a book shape without any buckling.

The sewing. Cut a piece of thread (I used wax linen and dental floss, alternately) about 36-inches long and thread the needle. Numbering the consecutive holes #1 through #5, poke the needle into the center #3 hole from the outside of the pamphlet. Pull the thread through leaving a 4-inch (or longer) tail. Next, from the inside, poke the needle out the #4 hole, and gently pull the thread tight, being sure to pull each stitch parallel to the plane of the paper. On the outside, poke the needle into the #5 hole and pull tight. From the inside, poke the needle out the #4 hole (this time going from the inside out), then into the #2 hole, out the #1 hole, into the #2 hole, and finally out the #3 center hole. Attach the other pamphlets in the same manner, spacing them evenly across the spine.

The finishing. Tie the tail and the thread of each pamphlet together in a square knot close to the hole. Trim the threads to one-inch or leave them longer for threading beads or braiding. (I left mine long enough to braid across the width of the book and tie together, holding the book closed.)

A final note. Whether you call it a journal, a diary or even a manifesto, recording events or observations can serve a variety of purposes. A journal can be a record of your travels, whether they are literal, psychological or spiritual. It can be an archive of significant events. It can be a cathartic effort to work out personal difficulties and frustrations (see It can be a field journal of notes and sketches for later, more polished literary or artistic inventions. Or, it can be a world-altering historic record, ala Anne Frank, Charles Darwin, or Lewis and Clark.

Lewis and Clark journal photos courtesy of the American Philosophical Society
Lewis and Clark kept meticulous journals of their trip, recording each day's events and sketching items that caught their interest. The drawing of a eulachon, or candle fish, decorates Lewis' entry for Feb. 24, 1806, in one of 30 original expedition notebooks stored at the American Philosophical Society library in Philadelphia, Pa.

How to collage

Collage--Easy and Infinite
(Originally published January 3, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Collage is one of those art media—like coloring with crayons—that nearly everyone has experienced firsthand in school. My 15-year-old carried a stack of magazines to her art class just last week. Although gluing down found images on a piece of paper meets the definition of collage, like most art forms, the creative possibilities of working with collage are infinite.

Although the techniques of collage were first used at the time of the invention of paper in China around 200 BC, the term collage (which comes from the French word coller, to glue) was coined by artists George Braque and Pablo Picasso in the beginning of the 20th century when collage became a distinct part of modern art.

The wide appeal of collage may be that it’s easily produced from readily available materials. And those materials can be virtually anything—from paper (magazines, photographs, newspapers, handmade, etc.), to fabric, to all sorts of flat and not so flat objects. (Collage usually refers to two-dimensional works; its three-dimensional cousin is called assemblage.)

To illustrate the endless list of possible collage materials, consider two illustrations in “Collage Techniques” by Gerald Brommer. The first, an abstract work by Blessing Semler, has the following list of materials: handmade papers, fabrics, old watercolors, photographic negatives, burlap, photographs, and painted paper on canvas. The second, a concept piece by Marlene Zander Gutierrez, uses cast paper, velvet, barbed wire, nails, and plant materials on paneling.

I was recently invited to a meeting of the Contemporary Quilt and Fiber Artists (CQFA) by Brookdale fabric artist Debbie Wambaugh, and was pleased to see lots of beautiful examples of fabric collage in their show-and-tell session. What they might categorize as non-traditional quilting, is also collage in the sense that they are assembling disparate pieces of fabric and embellishments to create a new whole.

I especially enjoyed certain artists’ ability to recreate scenes of depth and dimension—a still-life with fruit or a coastal landscape, for example--using two-dimensional, inherently flat materials. It seems tricky and a challenging exercise to replicate the shape and form of real-life objects, with nothing but scraps of fabric.

After visiting the group, I gave myself a collage assignment using materials I already had on hand—in this case, cereal and frozen food boxes. I saved what my family used for a month and was dismayed to see how much cardboard we throw in the recycling bin in that short amount of time.

Actually, I have long wanted to make art from cereal boxes after seeing a beautifully collaged ancient-Greek-style statue in the San Francisco Airport terminal last year. The entire figure—including the face, hair, toga, and even a broken-off arm--was fashioned entirely from long, layered strips of packaging cardboard to create a phenomenal work of sculpture.

For my project, I decided to collage a hubcap I found on the roadside. I washed all the grease and dirt off, then used scissors to cut up narrow strips of packaging cardboard in varying lengths. After deciding on my design, I applied bookbinding PVA glue with a brush to each strip to glue it in place on the hubcap. (Keep an old damp cloth towel and lots of paper towels nearby to wipe the accumulating glue of your fingers and other surfaces as you work.) Although I like that my creation was no-cost (except for all that packaged food), I could also drill a hole through the center to add a clock kit.

A book that discusses collage techniques with practical craft applications is “Collage with Color” by Jane Davies. She includes instructions for using collage to make book covers, lamp bases and shades, jewelry, gift boxes and greeting cards. When covering non-porous objects such as glass or metal, she recommends first priming the surface to be collaged with an all-surface acrylic paint or primer. If the object to be collaged is a porous material such as wood, cardboard, papier-mâché, bisque pottery, Styrofoam, etc., it need not be primed.

Davies suggests covering the object with lokta or some other strong but flexible paper, and then collaging with similar paper on top of the base layer of paper. (Lokta is a handmade paper from Nepal made from fibrous bark which grows in the Himalayas.) She suggests using a synthetic glue such as PVA which dries clear and does not wash off. Generally, PVA is not archival (Elmer’s, Aleene’s, Sobo, etc.), but it will last years before showing its age. PVA used for bookbinding is a little more expensive, but is archival.

When the collaged piece is finished and dry, apply one or two coats of acrylic gloss or matte medium. Be sure the medium penetrates all the nooks and crannies in the paper, but don’t let it pool. This will give your piece a finished look, cover up some of the stray adhesive, and also make it water repellent.

I would encourage you to think beyond the conventional to come up with a unique collage creation. The same daughter who carried magazines to school last week, came home yesterday with a belt covered in magazine images, themed by scenes from one of her favorite books, Alice in Wonderland.

For objects or materials for collage beyond your recycling bin, try a thrift store for good prices such as the Goodwill Bargain Barn near Costco in Santa Cruz. (I haven’t been there yet, but I hear it’s smart to get there early and bring gloves to dig through their $1-per-pound clothing bins.)

For an introduction to inspired fabric collage, attend a meeting of the Contemporary Quilt and Fabric Artists in Campbell. See their website for meeting and workshop dates, and examples of their work at,

How to make a shoe

Oh my gosh, I actually made a shoe!

(Originally published February 29, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

I just finished my first shoe…and it fits! It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time—ever since I first realized that you could make a shoe. “Crafting Handmade Shoes” by Sharon Raymond first made me think I could, until I couldn’t find retail soling material online. When I again revisited the idea of making shoes from scratch, I tried my local shoe repair shop, where the owner was kind enough to cut and sell me a 12” x 12” piece of Vibram Pyramid soling. What could stand in my way now?

Well, the biggest obstacle in making my first shoe turned out to be the book itself. When I finally had all the materials assembled, the project instructions confused my utterly. I searched for additional shoe-making references, but as one Amazon reviewer puts it, “Go ahead - just TRY to find a book on hand-crafting sandals and shoes on a small scale that wasn't written before 1973.” Apparently Ms. Raymond’s book is one-of-a-kind. I’m still not clear on why shoe-making is such a lost art, because, notwithstanding the hard-to-follow instructions, it wasn’t that difficult.

Although most of the projects in “Crafting Handmade Shoes” are casual leather flats and sandals, I decided to start with fleece slippers (with soles) because fabric sounded more familiar and forgiving than leather. (The slipper pattern is similar in concept to the shoe and sandal patterns, and a good place to hone your skills before working in leather.) Here’s a brief outline of the how-tos, but you may have to find the book (out of print, but still available online) for more specifics.

What you need:

  • Purple and brown fleece scraps (or any two colors)
  • Non-corrugated cardboard
  • Heavy-duty foil
  • Sharpie
  • Two 30-inch shoelaces or ribbon
  • Foam or gel insoles, with flat, unshaped heel
  • Polyester thread, scissors, ruler, straight pins, safety pin, strong needles
  • Sewing machine
  • Fabric glue
  • Clothes pins
  • 12” x 12” piece Vibram Pyramid soling, ¼” thick
  • Stitching awl
  • Artificial sinew
  • Dry-bonding cement (avoid the fumes, use outdoors)

What you need to know:

First, you need to understand that a shoe—any shoe—is basically three layers:

  • the top (upper)
  • the middle (insole)
  • the bottom (outsole).

The upper is usually composed of the vamp—the forepart of the upper—and the heel—the back of the upper. If the shoe has laces, there is usually a tongue underneath those laces. The insole provides a comfortable bed for your foot and is the structural anchor for the upper. The outsole must be durable since it contacts the ground, and can be made from leather, rubber or a synthetic material.

What you do:

1. INSOLE PATTERN: Stand with both feet on a piece of non-corrugated cardboard, and have a friend trace the outline of your feet with a pencil held upright. In front of the longest toe, add 5/8 inch to the pattern, and draw a rounded line in a shape that you like around all the toes. Smooth the rest of the lines. Measure the insole pattern from heel to toe and make a line across it at the halfway point. Create one for each foot, or use one flipped over for the second foot.

2. INSOLE: Trace the insole pattern onto purple fleece and cut out one for each foot. Fabric glue the bottom of each piece of fleece to the top of the purchased foam/gel insoles, leaving a rim of fleece all around. Glue the rim and the bottom of the insoles to another piece of fleece (any color) to hide the foam/gel insole inside. Trim the second piece of fleece to match the purple insole outline. Use clothes pins to hold secure until glue is dry.

3. VAMP PATTERN: Stand with one foot on your insole pattern. Put padding in front and under your toes to elevate them. Fold a big piece of foil in half to make a straight line, and place this edge over your foot, aligned with the halfway line you marked on the insole pattern. Smooth the foil over the front of your foot, then make a crease with your thumbnail where the foil touches the floor around the insole pattern. Draw over the line with Sharpie. Flatten the foil on a table and add about 1/8 inch to the rounded edge before cutting it out. Create one for each foot, or use one flipped over for the second foot.

4. HEEL PATTERN: Measure the perimeter of the bottom half of the insole pattern with a piece of string (or the shoelace). Cut out two paper pattern pieces (see photo).

5. UPPER. The 2” edge of the heel pattern is taped to the straight edge of the foil (see photo), one on either side, right-angles aligned with the edge. Pin the resulting one-piece upper pattern to two layers of fleece—purple for the upper, and brown for lining—and cut out for each foot. Baste the edges with a straight stitch, then zigzag stitch the upper and the lining together all the way around. Baste, then zigzag stitch the back heel seam together.

6. CHANNEL: The shoelace is threaded through a channel along the top edge of the upper, ending at the vamp. Use a 1 1/2” wide strip of fleece, sewn first to the outside (1/2” from the top), then inside with narrow zigzag stitching. Thread the shoelace or ribbon through the channel using a safety pin.

7. TONGUE: The tongue is shaped like a slice of bread without corners (see photo). Use two pieces of brown fleece and one slightly smaller piece of purple fleece, and baste, then zigzag stitch them altogether. Match the indentations in the tongue with the corners on the straight edge of the upper and zigzag in place around the edge of the tongue.

8. SEAM BINDING: Use a 2” strip of brown fleece and baste it along the bottom edge of the upper, overlapping the ends where the foot arches. Pin and baste the insole to the upper, easing the upper as necessary. Zigzag the three layers together all the way around the shoe. Pull the seam binding down to the bottom of the insole and fabric glue in place, making slits in the seam binding to ease the fullness. Secure with clothes pins until dry.

9. OUTSOLE: Trace around each slipper onto the Vibram soling with a pencil (note that the Vibram soling is slightly rougher on one side). Cut out the outsoles with scissors, then sand the edges smooth to fit the insole. Apply dry-bond cement to the smooth side of the outsole material. When the cement is tacky dry, adhere the slipper, and hold in place with wooden clamps, clothes pins or heavy books until secure. Thread two strong needles onto both ends of a long piece of artificial sinew. Use your stitching awl to poke holes ¼” from the outsole edge, and stitch the soling to the shoe in a figure eight pattern, hiding the stitches where the seam binding meets the upper.

Although books on shoemaking are hard to come by, there are several good books on embellishing shoes, including “A Closet Full of Shoes—Simple Ways to Make them Chic” by Jo Packham and Sara Toliver.

In addition, the Peninsula Wearable Arts Group (PenWAG), which meets in Saratoga monthly, will host a workshop on painting and embellishing shoes in March. See and for details.

How to make a rug from recycled materials

From Rags to Rugs—making recycled rugs and mats from plastic bags, twine or cloth

(Originally published April 10, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

If you haven’t heard about the plastic trash vortex, swirling slowly in the Pacific Ocean northeast of Hawaii, you soon will. Some say it’s the size of Texas, threatening great numbers of sea creatures who get tangled in it or ingest it. You may have opted long ago for canvas bags in lieu of paper or plastic when you shop. But to use up any old stash of plastic bags you or your neighbors may have (some supermarkets also collect used plastic bags for recycling) consider making a plastic bag mat.

Plastic Bag Mat

What you need:
· Plastic shopping bags
· 2 or 3 large garbage bags
· Large rectangular piece of cardboard
· Ruler, pencil, scissors

The cardboard serves as the loom and strips of garbage bags create the warp. The finished rug will be about 3” smaller than the piece of cardboard. Cut ½-inch wide by 1 ½-inch- deep notches, spaced 1 ½-inches apart, along the top and bottom of the cardboard. Cut the garbage bags open at the sides, and then into long, 6-inch-wide strips. Knot the strips together, then create the warp by wrapping them around the flaps created by the notches, and up and down the length of the cardboard. Tie the beginning and end diagonally across the back of the cardboard.

To weave the grocery bags, clip the handles, slit the bags down the sides to open them out flat, and tie the handles of first bag to the warp at the top corner of the cardboard. Weave the bag in and out of the warp, alternating the pattern with each row. Tie the handles of the second bag to the end of the first and continue weaving. Be careful not to weave too tightly or the sides of the rug will start pulling in towards the center of the loom.

When the weaving is complete, slip the warp off the loom and push a row or two of the weaving out to the ends of the warp. Cut the diagonal warp on the back and weave the ends into the rug. See for helpful photos of the process. The finished rug is probably not abrasive or strong enough for a doormat, but definitely works as a soft beach or gardening mat.

Hay Twine Rug

I first read about a way to reuse plastic hay bale twine in Craft Magazine—where they described making an outdoor rug with a purchased board loom, such as the Knifty Knitter. Instead of using plastic twine, I made my knitted rug with a roll of medium weight jute twine. (Jute is one of the cheapest natural fibers, and is 100% bio-degradable and recyclable.) There are also several websites ( and others) that give instructions for making yarn from plastic bags, which you can then knit using the board loom or regular knitting needles.

The Knifty Knitter—the oblong version—is a hand-held plastic loom that allows you to knit without needles. The loom length determines the width of your rug, so look for the longest one (18-inches or longer) you can find. It comes with a plastic needle, a hook tool, and directions. With jute or any fiber that doesn’t stretch, you have to knit very loosely. Once you get the hang of it, the rug goes fairly quickly. The finished product has a very loose, decorative weave, suitable for a placemat or small patio rug.

Field of Flowers Rug

To use up fabric remnants (even old clothing) and create a rug without the use of plastics, you may want to consider making a rag rug. Generally, rag rugs are made one of three ways:

· by using burlap (hessian) as the foundation, and pulling lengths of fabric through the weave (hooking, prodding and clipping are various methods—see “Making Rag Rugs” by Clare Hubbard)

· by braiding lengths of fabric, and then sewing the braids together in a round, oval or other shape

· by weaving fabric strips in and out of warp threads, with or without a loom (see “Twined Rag Rugs” by Bobbie Irwin for the myriad ways this can be done)

I was initially inspired to make a woven rug when I came across a rug sample called “Little Field of Flowers” in a San Francisco boutique. (See for a beautiful little promo film featuring the artisans who make Nanimarquina’s extraordinary rugs in India.) “Little Field of Flowers” is hand-dyed, hand-loomed 100% wool felt. My rendition is synthetic felt flowers, woven into a rag-rug on a simple hand-made loom. To make the loom and the rug, all you need is:

· 7/16” doweling
· 2 1/2” x ¾” sanded pine board
· Drill with 7/16” bit
· 1 1/4” finishing nails
· Hammer, ruler and white glue
· Cardboard and string
· Plain black yarn
· Rotary cutter and self-healing mat
· Synthetic felt for flowers (figure 1/2 yard for each square foot of rug)
· Strong knitting yarn for warp
· Non-raveling fabric for weft
· Scissors, paper, pins

“Rag Rug Inspirations” by Juliet Bawden shows how to make a simple loom. Basically, you make the long sides from dowels, glued into holes drilled into pine boards.

Pound nails at regular ½-inch intervals along the length of the pine boards to hold the warp. Add the warp by stringing yarn (or even cloth remnants) up and down and around each nail, from one side to the other. Triple the yarn at the beginning and end to strengthen the selvage edges.

Weave a 3-inch-wide loom-sized piece of cardboard in and out of the warp threads and press it against the lower nails. Weave a doubled length of yarn in and out several times close to the cardboard to hold the rug edge in place when it is cut from the loom.

To speed up the weaving process, weave a 1 ½-inch wide loom-sized piece of cardboard through the warp threads. Fasten string to either end of the cardboard through two small holes to create a “shed stick.” When the shed stick is turned on its side, it will create a larger gap, which makes it easier for you to pass the fabric through the warp in one direction.

Cut lengths of fabric about ½-inch wide—the “weft”—using a rotary cutter and mat. Using the shed stick to raise alternating warp threads, weave the first fabric strip through the warp threads, leaving a 4” tail to be tucked into the next row. Continue weaving in the opposite direction, under and over the warp threads. Use the shed stick to push the weft firmly down into straight, even rows.

Draw 2- to 3-inch flower patterns onto paper, connecting each set of flowers by a short strip of fabric. Wrap the connected flowers around the warp threads periodically to create a layer dense enough to cover the weft fabric, about one set every 8 warp threads.

Finished with a doubled weft thread as at the beginning, leaving about 3” of warp thread. Cut the warp threads from the nails, divide into groups and braid into a fringe, or weave them back into the rug. Add a backing to provide extra strength.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

How to make a diaper cake/ How to paint a mural

Diaper Cake Surprise/Trading Spaces Reprise
(Originally published May 8, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Diaper cake

I will admit I haven’t been to a baby shower in at least five years. So I was amazed to learn that there are more than a few websites dedicated to making diaper cakes—the latest in show-stopping, totally practical shower gifts. One of my co-workers made both a diaper cake and a washcloth bouquet for her sister’s upcoming shower, and shared her techniques with me. If you have qualms about promoting disposable diapers, check out, which sells diaper covers with flushable, compostable inserts—which could still serve as the building blocks for your diaper cake.

For a three-tiered diaper cake you need:

  • 50+ diapers, newborn and size 1
  • Fishing line
  • Silk flowers
  • Cake platter with lid
  • Wide ribbon
  • Wooden skewers
  • Wooden skewers

Using the cake lid as a mold for the bottom tier, pack the diapers tightly together in a circle of diagonal spokes. Fill the center with rolled-up diapers. Tuck a piece of fishing line around the circumference of the diapers and knot the ends, so that when you remove the lid, the diapers stay together. Make the second tier in a medium-sized saucepan and the third tier in a small sauce-pan with newborn-sized diapers and bind both with fishing line. Stack the layers and skewer to keep them joined. Wrap each layer with wide ribbon and a decorative bow. Finish with silk flowers or a bouquet of pacifiers.

Washcloth bouquet

  • 12 washclothes
  • 16 wooden skewers
  • Floral tape
  • Clear packing tape
  • 40 silk leaves
  • Four other small, useful baby care items

Fold a washcloth into thirds the long way. Turn 90 degrees and fold one third. Roll from the crease around the end of a skewer, so that the washcloth resembles a rosebud. Tape the bottom of the rosebud to a wooden skewer to hold it together. Wrap with floral tape from the top of the skewer stem to the bottom, adding 2 or 3 leaves near the top. Make a bouquet of a dozen washcloth flowers, then make more flowers using skewers, tape, and a small tube of diaper rash ointment, baby powder, a pacifier, etc.

Trading Spaces reprise

About 5 years ago, one of my earliest Sentinel columns featured my daughters—then aged 8 and 10—redecorating each other’s rooms behind closed doors. The finale came when each was ushered back into her own room, and un-blindfolded for the big reveal.

Something of a reprise has occurred this month (without the surprise element) when my oldest daughter designed a mural for the wall of her sister’s room. The younger sister approved the design, we bought some paint, and they were off painting, even enlisting visiting friends to help a bit along the way. In the process, we learned a few things about mural-making.

Measure the wall you want to paint. Let’s say the wall is 12 x 8 feet.

  1. Draw the design on a piece of paper measuring 12 x 8 inches.
  2. Make a photocopy of the original drawing and draw a grid of 1-inch squares in pencil over the drawing.
  3. Using chalk, draw a grid of 12-foot squares over the wall.
  4. Using chalk, transfer the drawing to the wall by simply drawing what you see in each 1-inch box to the corresponding 1-foot box on the wall.
  5. Using 8 oz. bottles of acrylic craft paint, or small cans of latex, paint your mural

How to make a gourd instrument

Making Music from Gourds
(Originally published June 5, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

When I attended my college choir reunion in Redlands last month, I had to admit to those who asked, that I hadn’t been singing much in the last 32 years. Since college, I’ve focused much more on visual art than music. While in Southern California, I also took a side trip to the Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles. One modern piece sizzled and buzzed loudly and intermittently in a corner of the museum, drawing attention to itself. I couldn’t help but think, this artist took sound into consideration when creating this piece.

My neighbor, Shirley, let me borrow a great book called “Making Gourd Musical Instruments” by Ginger Summit and Jim Widess. It features a photo of a gourd banjo made by her son Paul Sedgwick—an authority on the West African origins of the banjo—and a wide array of other gourd instruments in all sound-making categories. The instruments are divided up into chapters, which reflect the four basic ways in which a vibrating body creates sound:

  • Idiophones—the gourd itself creates the sound by being struck, rubbed, shaken, etc.;
  • Membranophones—sound is created by the striking of a stretched membrane;
  • Chordophones—the sound source is a vibrating string under tension; and
  • Aerophones—air is the initial sound source, and the instrument body selectively reinforces some of the wavelengths produced.

Idiophones include maracas, rain sticks, tambourines, rasps, xylophones and others you may only recognize by sight (skekere, sistrum, mbria, ulili, caxixi, and ilimba). Membranophones are basically drums. Chordophones include lyres, harpes, zithers, lutes, fiddles, guitars, banjos, dulcimers. Aerophones are flutes, horns, reeds and Aeolian instruments which are powered by the wind rather than human breath.

The great thing about gourd instruments is that they’ve been around for thousands of years, in every culture with a climate warm enough to grow a gourd plant, from the Far East to the South Pacific, from Australia to Africa, from Europe to North and South America. Virtually every instrument played today has a gourd ancestor. Even the acordian has its roots in a 3,000-year-old Asian gourd instrument still played today called the sheng.

Gourds can be grown in your own backyard, purchased at a gourd festival (several festivals take place in California during the year), or through online vendors. Gourds come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, so, if you grow your own, select seeds that will thrive in your climate and create the types (dipper, snake, bottle, etc.) you want.

SHEKERE (African gourd rattle)

“Making Gourd Musical Instruments” has instructions for making various gourd instruments. I chose to start with a shekere (pronounced “SHA-ku-re”), a common rattle originally from Africa, which was brought by slaves to the Western Hemisphere. It is commonly used today in South and Central American and the Caribbean, and can be played by tossing from hand to hand, shaking, tapping, or twisting. While there are several variations of shekere, all are covered by a loose-fitting net, into which are woven hard objects such as shells or beads.

What you need:

  • Dried bottle gourd (you should be able to hear the seeds rattling inside, or it hasn’t dried enough)
  • Twisted nylon medium load mason line, 80 feet of #15 or #18 (seine twine)
  • 250 pony beads
  • Steel wool or plastic pot scrubber
  • Awl
  • Tape
  • Candle and matches

What you do:

Clean any black mold from the outer shell of the dried gourd by soaking the gourd in a large pot of warm water with a mild soap or bleach. Hold the buoyant gourd down with a wet towel and a heavy pot lid. After about 15 minutes of soaking, scrub with steel wool or a pot scrubber until mold is removed, revealing the smooth, mottled gourd shell surface.

Tape the gourd to a plastic container so it stands upright. Cut two 2-foot lengths of twine. Melt all cut ends of the twine so they won’t unravel. Fold the two lengths in half around a tack or nail in a board, and weave a four-part braid long enough to loosely encircle the top of the gourd. (There are various ways to weave four strands—I used the right strand over one, left strand over two approach.) Bring the loose ends of the braid through the loop on the other end and tie an overhand knot to secure. Trim the excess to about one inch.

Cut 25 lengths of twine, each three-feet long. Fold each three-foot length in half and attach to the braid looped around the top of the gourd using a lark’s-head knot. Cinch the lark’s-head-knots and tie an overhand knot to secure. Take one strand from adjacent knots and joint in an overhand knot, using the awl if necessary to place the knot about ½ inch below the one above it.

After one row of knots, add a bead to every other strand and tie more knots using adjacent strands from separate pairs of knots. Continue the pattern to the bottom of the gourd. The last row can be without a bead to echo the top row. Attach adjacent pairs to another four-strand braid looped around the bottom of the gourd. Use “Fray Check” (a clear glue sold in fabric stores) or a candle flame to fuse the knots so they don’t unravel.

ULI’ULI (Hawaiian gourd rattle)

My modified uli’uli wasn’t made using traditional materials like basket reeds and feathers (I used poly-pro twine, watercolor paper and acrylic paints), but it’s made in a similar way. Using a long-necked bottle gourd and a sharp craft knife, cut a wavy line around the bottom of the gourd to remove the “lid” (like you would a Halloween pumpkin). Using a mask, scrape the insides with a spoon and sandpaper outdoors to remove the pulp.

Drill eleven small holes evenly spaced around the shoulders of the gourd (use an awl or a power drill). Cut lengths of twine to be the spokes and secure them to the holes with knots tied on the inside. Wrap the twine around the neck of the gourd several times to begin the handle. Use long narrow lengths of thick, painted, watercolor paper to weave in and out of the twine spokes, all the way down the handle. (I attached an extra piece from another gourd so the handle would flair out at the end, since I used a dipper gourd.) Finish the handle with a few more wraps of twine.

To toughen up the soft insides of the gourd, paint with several coats of sealant, sanding between coats. Add dried beans, unpopped corn, seeds, etc. to the inside of the gourd to get the sound you want, and glue the bottom piece back in place. Paint the outside of the gourd or leave natural.

Go to to see and hear Paul’s gourd banjos and for instructions on making a gourd didgeridoo.

How to make a pincushion

Eye-Catching Pincushions
(Originally published July 10, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

I recently stumbled upon two new craft books featuring pincushions—not a project I would normally think deserved much energy. Let’s be honest. A lot of household items can double as a pincushion—from a retired SpongeBob Beanie Baby, to an old sock stuffed full of dryer lint, to excess garden zucchini.

As I considered the project further, however, I realized that while a pincushion must primarily be functional in design—the right size (small), shape (compact), and density (enough to hold a pin up straight)--it can also be eye-catching.

Besides the two books (“Pretty Little Pincushions” edited by Susan Brill and “Warm Fuzzies” by Betz White), I explored the Web for great pincushion designs. Felt seems to be the fabric of choice, which apparently can be used to make pincushions resembling a wide array of objects: sushi, geodes, tea cozies, snow globes, beehives, and even planet earth (what’s the symbolism there, I wonder?). Some designs feature friendly animals—mice, pigs, deer, teddy bears--that seem way too cute to be sticking pins in. Other designs are more sadistic in nature, featuring food (eggs and bacon, strawberries, pears), body parts (hands, torsos, eyeballs), or dolls resembling ex-boyfriends or unpopular political leaders.

So, I picked three designs to make that were either appealing, or appropriate, or both. I think any of them would make nice little gifts. And the supplies come from things you already have on hand or can buy cheaply at a thrift shop.

  • Wool sweaters, wool socks, and craft felt
  • Needles, pins, scissors, sewing and embroidery thread
  • White glue, buttons, beads, poly-fill stuffing, rice
  • Sewing machine (optional) and green fleece (for cactus only)

Felted Cupcakes

The sweaters are felted (washed in hot water to melt the fibers together) so that they won’t unravel when you cut them up. To felt wool sweaters or socks, wash in hot water on a high agitation setting. Use just enough water to cover the items, and add detergent and an object to enhance the agitation like a tennis ball or a flip-flop. You can wash again and again if you want a tighter, thicker result, but for this project, thinner is better. Shrink further by drying in the dryer.

(Notes: Your pincushions will get more cupcake-like after you’ve made a few, so save your favorite colors for later. Also, keep thinking about the shape of a cupcake as you form the felt.)

To begin, cut two strips of fabric from two different colored felted sweaters, each measuring 5 x 12 inches long. Fold the two strips in half length-wise and roll them up tightly, one on top of the other, folded edges together, with one color starting ½ inch ahead of the other. Roll until the spiral is about 2 ½ to 3 inches across, then trim the excess so that the ends are either together or opposite each other. Sew the ends in place with a whipstitch. Push the center of the spiral up a bit to form a mound on top of the cupcake. Trim the bottom of the cupcake to flatten it.

Cut a strip of ribbed felt from a third sweater or sock. The width should be the height of the cupcake plus ½ inch (about 3 inches total). The length should be the circumference of the cupcake plus ¼ inch. Whipstitch the edges together to create a cuff. Pull the inside-out cuff over the top of the cupcake about ½ inch, and whipstitch in place. Then fold the cuff down over the cupcake, creating a folded edge at the top of the cupcake.

Cut a circle of fabric the same color as the cuff, which is the diameter of the bottom of the cupcake plus about ¼ inch all around. Baste around the circumference of the circle piece, close to the edge, and cinch it around the bottom of the cupcake, underneath the cuff. Sew in place to the bottom of the cupcake and the cuff.

The cherry can be made with a small square of red craft felt, stuff to cherry size, and cinched with a basting stitch to create a ball. Stuff the bottom of the cherry into the center of the cupcake whirls and glue in place along with a small green felt leaf.

Fleece Cactus

From green fleece (or felt), cut two rectangles 4 ¾ x 3 ¼ inches. Cut rounded corners at one end of the rectangles for the cactus body. Cut four rectangles 1 x 1 ½ inches, and sew two together, close to the edge, to create two arms (don’t turn). Baste each arm to the right side of one body piece (the front), facing inward, positioned at different heights.

Cut one long rectangle of fleece for the gusset, 2 x 12 inches. Sew to the front body piece in a ¼ inch hem. Sew the back body piece to the other side of the gusset, and then turn the cactus right side out. Using buttons for eyes, a bead for the nose and embroidery thread for the mouth and eyelashes, add the facial features. Add a flower made from ribbon or embroidery thread.

Cut one more rectangle of fleece 2 x 3 ¼ inches for the bottom. Turn the cactus wrong side out, and sew the bottom in place, leaving one short side open for stuffing. Turn right side out again and stuff ¾ full with poly-fill. Add some rice to weight the bottom (a funnel helps direct the grains) and finish with more poly-fill. Whipstitch the opening closed.

Felt Eyeball

Cut a square of white felt 3 inches wide and trim to a circle. Cut an iris and a pupil from felt and glue the black pupil in place. With embroidery thread, accent the iris. Sew the iris to the white circle with sewing thread. Add red veins with thread if desired. Add a running stitch to the outer edge so that it can be cinch up into a mound.

As you did for the cupcake, cut a ribbed cuff and round bottom from a felted sweater. Sew them together and stuff. Sew the cuff over the cinches edges of the eyeball and add more stuffing as necessary to finish.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

How to photograph art

Ways to photograph your art cheaply, but with a professional flare
(Originally published August 1, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

As a photojournalism major at Fresno State in the late 1980s, I learned to shoot subjects (usually people) quickly, with whatever light was available. Back then, newspaper photos were primarily shot on black and white T-Max film, so it didn’t matter if you were shooting outdoors or indoors, under daylight, florescent or tungsten lights. Whatever enhancement was needed after the negatives were dry was achieved by “dodging and burning” a print under an enlarger bulb in a darkened room.

Fast forward to 2008, where black and white film, darkrooms, and my photojournalism career are relics of the past. I have a decent digital camera and Photoshop 7.0, but my shooting techniques are largely old school and, above all, convenient. To photograph art or crafts, I usually use window light and white posterboard, or open shade on a simple outdoor background, and then clean up the colors (shade creates bluish light) in Photoshop.

So, when I came across “Photographing Arts, Crafts and Collectibles” by Steve Meltzer, I began to think about improving my technique, chiefly because the author suggests ways to do so without working in a studio and purchasing a lot of expensive lighting equipment. I also found a few websites with mini-tutorials on photographing art. It’s not really so difficult or so expensive. And even if you just want to make better photos to sell your eBay wares, why not set yourself apart?


Minimally, to shoot small table-top items you need to have the following stuff:

  • Kitchen or dining room table
  • Digital camera with zoom lens
  • Tripod
  • 18% gray card (buy one or Google “18% gray card”)
  • Off-camera flash or lights
  • Way to defuse flash or lights
  • Way to reflect light
  • White background paper

If you have the first four items you’re halfway there. One simple way to acquire the other four is to purchase two Lowel EGO fluorescent lights with the EGO sweep. For $200 you’ll have two diffused lights, two bounce cards, and a plastic background stand that holds any of 10 colored background papers (the paper isn’t great quality, but it’ll due for a start). There are many other kinds of studio lighting systems, but this one is by far the most affordable, and doesn’t require light stands, umbrellas or a great deal of space.

Know Your Digital Camera

Obviously there is a wide range of digital cameras. Explore the menu on your camera to see if it has:

  • Spot-metering
  • ISO adjustment (set to 100 or 200)
  • Exposure compensation
  • Grid screen
  • Self-timer

Although you may have never used any of these options before, they may come in handy when shooting arts and crafts.

What follows is a very abbreviated summary of the lighting recommendations found in “Photographing Arts, Crafts & Collectibles” and another good--although film-oriented--book, “Photographing Your Artwork” by Russell Hart. Both books are full of detailed instructions geared to lighting two- and three-dimensional artworks in a variety of media.

Photographing Two-Dimensional Objects

Paintings, Prints, Photographs, and other framed subjects

If possible, work in a darkened room with white walls. Remove any glass covering the art, if possible, and decide if the picture’s frame and/or mat are important enough to be included. If you can’t remove the glass, you will have to cover up metallic parts of the tripod and the camera with black paper or fabric to minimize reflections. Hang the artwork as flat against the wall as possible, or set on a table with white background paper behind and underneath the art.

Most two-dimensional art should be lit uniformly, with 2 diffused lights, one on each side of the artwork at a similar distance and angle. Artwork, camera and lights should all be at the same height. Put the camera on a tripod, and make adjustments to square the edges of the view finder or LCD monitor with the edges of the art. (A grid display on your camera may help.) Wide angle will make the edges bow, so set the lens at a normal or telephoto range.

Use the spot meter and telephoto settings on your camera to target an area of the subject that is close to middle gray in tone or meter on an 18% gray card held up to the piece. You can often keep this exposure by pressing and holding the shutter release half-way, recompose and finish pressing the shutter release to take the photo. Or you can compensate for under or over-exposure by using the exposure compensation settings.

If you can adjust depth of field manually, use f8 or greater to be sure that all the corners are in focus.Use the “flash off” setting on your camera and the self-timer, so that there is no jiggle when the shutter snaps the photo. If the final photo isn’t quite square, you can make further adjustments in Photoshop.

Photographing Three Dimensional Objects

Ceramics, Sculpture, Glass and Acrylics, Jewelry

The basic two-light studio lighting setup is a good starting place for three-dimensional objects. It consists of an object in front of a background with a main light and a fill light on each side. A bounce card can also substitute for a fill light.

The lighting configuration you choose must be suited to the shape, texture and materials of the piece. Some objects, such as a tall ceramic vase, may benefit from a main light above the piece. Others, such as shiny, reflective jewelry, might require a light tent to completely surround the piece to reduce unwanted reflections. Graduated background paper, fading from white to black, can also add a degree of sophistication to your photograph.

Obviously I still have a lot to learn, but much of that learning will come by trial and error with each new piece of art posing a new challenge. Having a large, dedicated studio with softboxes, umbrellas, light tents and stands, and a variety of backdrops, would be the ideal. But photographing art can be a great lesson in seeing and discovering ways to convey what’s essential about a work of art.

Originally published at: