May 312014

My big brother celebrated a round number birthday recently, and I wanted to make him something to commemorate the transition from one decade to the next.

You know how some people have a favorite creature or spirit animal? And sometimes you wonder whether friends and family members latched on to the one moment in time when that creature was said person’s favorite, and then it’s nothing but iterations of the same animal year after year, gift after gift? I worry I might be one of those people, having pigeonholed my brother into a love of elephants. And yet he’s always appreciative, and so the uni-creature cycle is reinforced!

Seven years ago I knit this little guy for my brother. He promptly named the elephant and sent me a (long-lost) photo of him and his ladyfriend posing with the newly-dubbed Freddie.

Knitted elephant, circa 2007

Knitted elephant before his cross-country journey, circa 2007

Since I had taken care of the fiber medium long ago, I turned to paint for this gift. I followed this tutorial for creating a watercolor elephant silhouette. Using an exacto knife, I cut around a photo of an elephant and then traced around the cut-out onto canvas. Adding ground for the elephant to stand on gave some weight to the piece.


Pardon my lighting, and the stray dog hair…

The painting felt a little unbalanced, partly because the colors were so subtle, and partly because of the composition. What else could I add? Hmm, maybe the elephant wants to say something…


I printed up a few quotation bubbles with different phrases – using the Elephant font, natch. I enclosed a little packet of quotes and blue painters’ tape so my brother could change the elephant’s message at whim.


Things I’d try differently next time:
-Saturation. This was my first time using watercolor on canvas, so the washes came out much lighter than I anticipated. Next time I’ll use more pigment to try for a saturated effect.
-Attachment method. I’d like to try making the quote attachment a design feature. That way you could have the creature say nothing at all, but still have something of interest in that spot. Like a yellow velcro sun, or a magnet for metallic talkie bubbles. Laminating the bubbles and including a blank one with a dry erase marker would make for great reusable customization, too.

How would you attach the quotes? I’d love to hear your ideas!


Overall, this was a fun quick project, and better yet, my brother reported that he loves the piece (“did you make the whole thing yourself?”). He even took it with him on his birthday trip to Yosemite. Birthday crafting success!

May 182014

Ever since I realized I could make greeting cards myself, I’ve felt strange purchasing them. When I’m pressed for time, every once in a while I’ll buy a hand-crafted card. Despite the fact that I love supporting other crafters, I often feel guilty not doing it myself. The plight of DIY – we can’t make every single thing all of the time! Some days I recognize that and can let it go better than others.

I made a card for Mother’s Day using a sheet of my hand-marbled paper – my first project from this batch. I’m feeling quite precious about several of the sheets, and not ready to commit to a project (especially when there are so many options). As I looked through my small stack, the “second-pull” sheets called to me. Sometimes enough paint was left in the tray that I could pull another print, and the result was a subtle marbled pattern.

Those Hebrew alphabet stamps sure do come in handy

“Mom”: those Hebrew alphabet stamps sure do come in handy

The purple ink needed a little something extra to pop against the purple paper. Enter glitter glue! So glad I found my childhood glitter glue stash in my parents’ house and brought it back to Brooklyn.

Stamping tends to be my default medium for making greeting cards, along with the occasional collage element. I went to Paper Presentation for the first time over the winter…what an inspiring space! Definitely worth a visit if you have even the faintest interest in paper goods and crafts. I stopped by to shop for a notebook, and left with a few new stamps as well – both the oak tree and leaf below, shown on a card I made a few months ago.

Tree stamp, I want to use you on everything.

Tree stamp, I want to use you on everything.

My family has multiple birthdays in early February. While preparing a gift package for my brother this week, I thanked my winter self for having the foresight to make an extra card when I crafted that batch. Time crunch card crafting dilemma solved!

Up next, I’ll share the gift I made for my brother’s birthday – featuring watercolor and an interactive elephant.

Do you ever make your own greeting cards? What’s your medium of choice?

May 042014

My favorite Friday night activity is some variation on the following:

Crafty still life

Crafty still life

Candle lit, notebook out, and crafty supplies at the ready – a lovely way to end the week and start the weekend.

Rounding up where I’m at with my current crafty projects:

-I’m almost done cutting out interfacing for the Dorothy bag. Since moving to NYC and getting rid of our dining room table, I’ve yet to figure out a good setup for cutting fabric. Instead of continuing to avoid the bag project, I remembered that interfacing isn’t nearly as wide as fabric, and so less intimidating to cut. I made do on my cutting mat and sewing/crafty table, which is wonderfully long but not very deep – the 24″ axis of my mat hangs off on both sides. I picked up some heavy washers to act as pattern weights, and am digging this no-pin rotary cutting.

-My cross-stitch phone case is coming along nicely. I’m stitching daily on my commute, assuming I can get a seat or a good “standy-spot” – one where I can brace myself against the subway doors for balance and keep my hands free for stitching. Last weekend I was this far, sharing my work with a friend:



Now I’ve finished the fox face but for the eyes, and am on my third chevron stripe. I’ve decided to leave the black chevrons blank rather than stitching them, both to save time (ohman this grid is tiny), and for textural interest. My progress is going along faster now that I discovered I can cross stitch while watching a show (catching up on Mad Men season 5).

-In crafty dabbling news, I started an advanced papertcut project yesterday while volunteering at Brooklyn Craft Company. Some photos here. Our instructor, Annie of Bmorepapercuts, brought some of her amazing work to show us, including part of a huge piece – practically my height – cut out of Tyvek. My papercut is still very much in the early stages, since I spent lots of (too much) time customizing my design and getting the lettering right (you write it out backwards in this process). Also because I listened to my body and took frequent breaks when my hand/neck/back/shoulders starting aching. I need to learn a less claw-handed knife grip! The tip of my right index finger still feels vaguely tingly. I’m going to pick up a pack of exacto blades so I can continue this project at home.

I’ve been riding my newly-tuned-up bike more often, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom in the botanic garden, most of my sweaters have been put away in exchange for shorter sleeves and the occasional bare legs, and spring looks like it’s finally here to stay. Happy May!

May 022014

Spring fever for me often means starting lots of new projects and not seeing anything get finished for a while. So to switch up the startitis pace, I’m digging into my personal crafty archive and sharing something I made last fall!

One perk of my job is that occasionally I can take one of the art classes we offer. After a few weeks of sitting in on a silk painting workshop, I came away with this:

Silk bonsai scarf

Design: I spent almost the entire first class thinking about the scarf design. The leaf image in our instructor’s templates was one of my favorites, and I wanted an interesting, curvy tree to go along with the leaves. After class I found a stained-glass bonsai tree image online, which I enlarged and modified – adjusting the number and size of the stained-glass panels, etc. The color scheme developed organically, with cobalt blue as the starting point.

Process: First you iron the silk scarf and stretch it onto a square frame, using clips or pins to attach it. Draw your design elements on paper in pencil, and then trace over with black marker (or use existing templates). Then draw the line-work onto the scarf using a gutta resist. Silk absorbs dye reeeeally well, so you need something to stop the dye from spreading if you want to have any defined color sections in your work. The resist creates a barrier so that the fabric will resist taking the dye. Dry the resist with a hair dryer.

Test the “French dyes” on scrap silk and mix colors as desired. To begin with, all dyes were diluted with a 50/50 alcohol/water solution. You can dilute the colors even further, but I skipped this step since I wanted highly saturated hues. Apply dyes to the scarf with paint brushes.

The instructor took students’ scarves to her studio and set the dye for us by steaming. After the silk was steam-set, I washed the scarf in cold water until the water ran clear, washed it again in warm water and mild detergent (Eucalan wool wash), and laid it flat to dry.

Silk bonsai scarf closeup

While I’m usually more drawn to wearing head-to-toe color than a solid black dress, it’s a great blank canvas for showcasing the scarf as a focal point.  I threw in some pops of ultramarine and cobalt blue, to tie it all together and because I can’t help myself. Here’s a shot of the scarf in action:

Silk bonsai scarf

How I usually wear the scarf: folded in half into a triangle and tied around the neck bandana-style

And a silly, blurry shot of me hanging out inside one of the office’s art supply closets:


Materials: 21″ square 8mm silk habotai scarf, Dupont Silk Dyes and Sennelier Tinfix Design Silk Dyes

Resources: Lots at Dharma Trading Co: Silk painting techniques, and learn more about guttas and resists. Check out my instructor’s Etsy shop for silk painting inspiration: Leslie Silk Studio