Painting with Yarn

One of the things keeping me really busy the last couple of weeks was finishing a free form crochet piece for the Fiber Arts Show in Mitchell, Nebraska at the Pinnacle Bank.  The show is running from August 5th thru September 2nd.

Finished Free Form Piece

I had started the beginning of this piece ages ago. I even had created a bag full of small balls of yarn in the colors and textures I was planning on using. These were actually from a Free Form class I took a number of years back with Myra Wood at one of the CGOA conferences.

Trying scrumbles on 12x12 canvas

In free form crochet I often don’t know for sure where I am heading with an idea until I have worked a few scrumbles, that is the name many free-formers call for the smaller pieces created). I started this project with some scrumbles I created in my class with Myra. I knew I wanted to make a small piece that could be hung on a wall. Texture and 3 dimensional shaping were both in my mind as I began to create more pieces and add onto my existing pieces.

Developing design on 12x12 canvas

I had a couple of inexpensive small blank canvases in my art studio, 12×12 and 11×14 inches. Originally I was looking at using one of them for the backing of this piece. I kept adding to the scrumbles and making more to begin to fill the 12×12 canvas. I was over-hanging the canvas in a lot of places and wasn’t too thrilled with that.

Switching to 11x14 canvas

I decided to try the 11×14 canvas. I left the plastic wrap on it so I could move the scrumbles around more easily. Still wasn’t completely happy with the way this looked.

Different Arngmt 11x14

This was my second attempt. Not quite working for me.

3rd try on 11x14

Maybe the third time will be the charm? Liking this a little better.

Filling in 3rd arngmt

I started filling in some of the remaining open space on the piece.

Getting Closer to Final version.

Getting closer to my final choices for the finished piece. Still a number of spots that need more work. At this point I’m feeling the pressure to get this piece finished and sent off to the folks putting together the show in Mitchell, Nebraska. Because the deadline crunch was getting intense I have less photos of the process.

I finished up all the crocheting part and had sewn or crocheted the pieces together. Then I sewed the entire crocheted piece to the backing fabric. At this stage I had decided that I didn’t want to use either of my canvases, instead I cut out backing board in an 14×16 size to stretch my backing fabric around.

Embroidering and beading stage.

The final stage was embroidering with metallic threads and glass beads to further embellish the crochet textures. Once I was finished with the embellishment, I used my hot glue gun to attach the fabric to the backing board.

Angled Close up of middle Left side2.

Close up Right upper corner

Angled Close up of middle Left side.

My boys helped me come up with the name for this piece. It is “Spiral Hills Island”.  I picked the colors for this piece by taking my color cues from a variegated hand-dyed yarn. I used the colors in that to help me select my solid colors and then picked some darker tones of the purples to act as dramatic contrast. I also used some of my collection of novelty fluffy yarns in this project to further emphasis the textural aspect.

If you want to try your hand at Free Form there really are no rules. Find some colors and textures of yarn that you like the way they look together and begin crocheting. It is a meditative exercise and the best bit is there is no wrong or right, though that can sometimes be the hardest part.

I seem to start most of my scrumbles with a circular or spiral motif, but you can start with any shape you like. I do recommend starting small initially and continuing to work on your scrumble until it is about palm sized. Remember to play and have fun with it. I’m hoping to find time to make quite a few more free form art pieces in the coming year. I love painting with yarn.

Playing with Sharp Objects Again

Brown Sheep Purchases

You saw those 2 big bags of fiber that I purchased from the Brown Sheep Company at the Yarn Fest last weekend. I’ve been having a lot of fun with them practicing my needle-felting skills.

When I took the class in January at TNNA with Jackie Huang he handed out thick felt pads for us to use while working on our projects. He said he had begun using those in his own work because the foam pads broke down too quickly when doing lots of needling to create flat pieces. Also the wool is better for the environment than all the plastics used to make the foam.

When I got home from that trip one of the first things I did was work on making my own felted pad. I started with some wool material that I had left over from felting old sweaters. Then I wrapped odds and ends of wool roving that I had in my stash around the square I had made. Didn’t take long before I had used up all the wool roving. That’s when I got the bright idea of asking the Brown Sheep folks to bring 4 pounds of fiber down for me to purchase at Yarn Fest.

Felted work pads

One of the first things I did when I opened the bag was begin to add to my “pad” and felt it with my Clover 5-needle tool. I’ve gotten my big pad quite firm and filled out now, so I’ve begun to make smaller ones that I can bring to share with students when eventually I start teaching.

The little pads are also great for perfecting my needle-felting techniques. I’ve learnt a lot just working on them and it gave me the courage to tackle something different.

Cookie Cutters

I had heard of using cookie cutters as “molds” for needle-felting, and I dug around in my cookie cutter supplies for a few that I could re-purpose. Every since I had to switch to a gluten-free diet I have not been making many cookies. My cookie cutters are plastic and because the needle might scratch or nick the surface of the plastic, I will not be returning these 5 cutters to my kitchen tools.

Bunny Cookie Cutter

I decided to start with the bunny cookie cutter.

Cutter filled with wool fluff


Cutter needling started

I filled it with wool fluff and using my 3-needle tool to secure it once and a while.

Cutter shaping up

Then I switched to a single needle to work more on getting some shaping in place.

Cutter removed from felt shape

Once I removed the cookie cutter you can see the shape I had.

Flat backside of bunny shape

I carefully removed the shape from my pad and you can see how flat the back is.

Bunny Cookie Cutter Reversed

I then had the brain storm of making a reverse image of the bunny so I could join the 2 pieces together to make a 3D bunny sculpture/toy. Puzzled over this for a moment then had an “Ah-ha!” moment when I realized I could use the cookie cutter from either side since I wasn’t needing to actually cut anything.

I filled and formed the other half of my bunny, then placed the two with flat sides together and carefully used my single needle to join them. I was pleased I managed that without poking myself. Things did get a little involved with adding to the bunny to fill out the shape of the body, head and legs. I also cut the ears away from the body and added some wool to soften the cut area.

Needle Felted Bunny 1

Finally I had a little natural wool bunny.

Needle Felted Bunny 2

Next I wanted to add color to my bunny. So I spread bits of colored wool roving on the surface of the bunny, then needled them to secure them. He still needed a nose and mouth.

Finished Bunny face

I added the nose and mouth, as well as a bit more shaping to his head. I also detailed his eyes more.

Fluffy Bunny bum

Last of all was adding more fluff to his cotton tail.

Though this experiment worked out, I don’t know that I would make another using this same method. But it is all a learning process. I think the cookie cutters would be really good for making 3D images on a flat surface like a pillow or bag.

I’ll keep on experimenting and learning. This is definitely getting addictive. I’ve ordered more needle-felting tools and will be sharing my thoughts on them later this Summer.

Everything Moves

I’ve been inspired by and attempted a lot of things in my life. Sometimes people look at me oddly for all the things I’ve done. Of course, many of them I’ve only gotten a taste of.

2 Little warm glass pieces I made in my class.
2 Little warm glass pieces I made in my class.

For example, the “warm glass” class I took one Saturday nearly 10 years ago.  I really liked it, but I found out 2 days later I was pregnant with my 2nd child. It did give me a great appreciation for the work of glass artists though, and I always visit the glass making shops in Estes Park whenever I get a chance.

Once, what seems a life-time ago (in my early twenties), I was inspired to go to college because I wanted to become an animator. Life happened and I didn’t finish that course of study, though I really enjoyed those years in college and was introduced to amazing literature and art.

My love for artistic and interesting animation didn’t wane. In fact, I had a pretty extensive collection of animated films and shorts on VHS long before I had children in my household. Finally, nearly 30 years after that dream of being an animator was left in the dust, I’m brushing off that fantasy and making another try at it.

One of the lovely things about today’s technology is that animation for the hobbyist is far more readily and affordably available. With just my digital camera, laptop and some video editing software I will be able to create my own stop-motion animation.

My set-up in the Design office for filming my first Stop-Motion animation.
My set-up in the Design office for filming my first Stop-Motion animation.

Even better, my first attempt is going to be using crochet and yarn as my “objects”. Nothing I love better these days than combining my “art” and “crochet”.

I’ve been researching on-line what the recommendation is for the number of frames per second. The more frames you use the smoother the motion will appear. I’m a little impatient and have decided to go with 15 frames per second, I also like the “artsy” look of the slightly jerky motion from fewer frames. Will see what I think of it after I create this first short little film.

Even at 15 frames per second (15 FPS) I’m still going to be taking a lot of photographs for a 20 second sequence. That’s 300 photos. Then I have to import those all into my video editor and turn it into a film. This might take a while. I’ll let you know once it is done.

Meanwhile if you want to see a marvelous example of Stop-Motion animation in a feature-length movie, go check out “Shaun the Sheep the Movie”.

Art, Crochet and Healing

April is National Stress Awareness Month, so today I thought it appropriate to share a story that I’ve never told on the blog. Last week was the celebration of my youngest son’s 9th birthday. And it got me thinking about how strange my journey to motherhood was. The short version is 8 years, 7 pregnancies and 2 healthy babies.

I had my boys a bit later than is the national average for motherhood in the USA, and quite a bit later in life for the average globally. Some of that delay was planned and some of it was a surprise.

When my husband and I met I was just beginning to attend school to become a medical massage therapist. So we didn’t want to start our family until I graduated. Once I graduated though, we were ready to begin our family.

I got a job with a local massage therapy office and began to work steadily. Just shortly after Christmas that year I discovered I was pregnant, 4 days later I lost the pregnancy. I had worried about being able to get pregnant, I had never considered the option of loosing a pregnancy. I was devastated.

Unfortunately this wasn’t going to be the only time this happened. I had 3 more pregnancies over the next 2 years that didn’t work out. My husband and I went thru tests and looked at various options for fertility treatment. But after a lot of research and discussion we decided that we wouldn’t do anything other than the diagnostic tests we had already done.

Mixed in among this rollercoaster ride of trying to have a baby was my return to crochet. I crocheted a lot as I stayed up late wondering if I would ever be a mother. I crocheted afghans for friends and family for Christmas, birthdays and other holidays, plus miles of scarves for charity. The hours of simple soothing stitches helped ease some of my heartache and gave me space to just be and not have to explain my sorrow to others.


When I wasn’t crocheting or working at the massage office, I was in my art studio. At that time I was working a lot with polymer clay.  I was interested in doll making and of course primitive fertility images. I hadn’t reached my “Ah Ha!” moment where I would be adding crochet to my artwork yet. I created a number of images that I made molds for and then played with the plethora of color options available in polymer clay.

Flat ornament Goddesses

In the Spring of 2002 I became an Aunt for the 3rd time. My youngest sister had a baby boy and we were excited to meet him. We went to Kansas for his christening in April and I spent as much time holding this wonderful little fellow as I could. I told my sister I would just be the auntie that spoils her nephew rotten, since it looked like being a mother wasn’t in the cards.

We were leaving late that May for a 6 week-long trip to the United Kingdom and France. Part of the trip was for my husband’s work and the rest was for us to play tourist.  I was taking an indefinite leave-of-absence from the massage office.  I had also begun the lengthy process of filling out paperwork to return to college, I was going to tackle getting my pre-med degree to become a pediatrician. If I couldn’t have kids of my own, I would help take care of other people’s children.

Finally I had the house ready for our sitter and all our pets were with their care-givers. I hopped on a plane and flew to Manchester, England to join my husband. He had been there for over a week already. When I got there I was exhausted. Long flight plus very little sleep as I prepped for the trip. 2 days later I was still exhausted and a little suspicion had begun to niggle me. 5 days into the trip I finally caved in and purchased a test kit from the local pharmacy. Sure enough, I was pregnant.

This time was different though. I was the classic ill in the morning and tenderness in my body. A phone call back to the States to speak to my doctor was a big comfort when she reassured me that the symptoms I was having were all positive signs. We still managed to enjoy our trip, but I was a little worried.

When we returned home one of the first things we did was go to the doctors office for a check-up. The nurse did an ultrasound to determine how far along I really was, since my cycle calendar was a mess with all the traveling. They told me I was past 10 weeks and that it would be very rare for me to miscarry at this point.

When we got home that day I went to my yarn stash and took out some cotton yarn that I had been saving to make a blanket for “my” baby. I felt a little superstitious but wanted to make this blanket, plus I really needed a crochet project to calm myself. I think this is the first time I consciously realized that crocheting was my way of maintaining my mental health.


I made a simple oversized granny square for this blanket. I worked on it steadily for about 2 months and when my baby boy was born in January of 2003 I wrapped him up in his blanket.

I continued to crochet after his arrival, though not as frequently and sometimes I only had time for a row or 2 each evening. But I now knew that crochet was a wonderful way for me to manage stress, and I knew I was a happier person when I crocheted.

Crocheting an afghan for my mom

Life kept rolling along and after another miscarriage I had a second baby. By this time though I knew how important crafting and in particular crochet was for taking care of myself. In the picture above I was crocheting an afghan for my mom’s Christmas present, cuddling with my almost 4-year old and the baby #2 (also known as “the Bean”) was sleeping in his basket in front of me.

Even now with my busy crochet design and teaching schedule I try to always have a crochet project going that lets me just relax and unwind. For me lately that is usually hats; relaxing crochet and the joy of finishing a project pretty quickly.

The Craft Yarn Council released a video about the stress reducing effects of playing with yarn called “Stitch Away Stress” in honor of April being National Stress Awareness Month. Their video focuses a little more on knitting, but crochet is in there too. You can check it out here. Visit the webpage at the Craft Yarn Council to find even more fun facts about the stress reducing effects of crochet and knitting.

So how about you? Do you find crochet (or knitting) to be your un-winding activity? If you haven’t learnt to crochet or knit, maybe now is the time to do so. It’s a great way to be kind to yourself at the same time you can make something useful.

The World of FreeForm

As many of you know, I love to create art pieces as well as design crochet patterns. I’m a member of the FreeForm Fiber Artists Guild. Every year we vote on a topic and have a challenge to create a freeform piece that reflects our topic. The last couple of years I’ve not managed to participate. Fortunately this year I was able to join in.

Suspended Jewel - all rights AF Graves
Suspended Jewel – all rights AF Graves

Our topic was “Mother Earth”, which is very inspiring to me. I’ve long been a big fan of images of the earth from space, so that is right where my mind went. After playing with the colors of yarn in my stash, I opted to go with a somewhat simple graphic representation of the gorgeous world we all live on.

This year’s Gallery is available online here. Check out all the wonderful creative works by my fellow guild members.


My newest technology acquisition is my Samsung Galaxy Note II phone. This phone is a bit larger than my old phone, but it is lighter in weight. It is very useful.

Pen View

This lovely new phone has a “pen” that is housed in the phone itself, so it is readily available when needed. Best of all, when I pull the pen out the phone automaticially opens up the SNote app that allows me to choose a page type to write on. I’m still working on the learning curve with this. But am already having lots of fun with it.

There is a little app that I’ve been using for some doodling, Paper Artist. Using it and the SNote app I made a series of Angel drawings.

Sm Ornament Photo

I started out with a photograph of this little Angel ornament.

Sm Beginning Drawing

Then I pulled it into Paper Artist to make some changes.

Sm Angel SNote

After that I brought it over to the SNote app to add color and further refine the image.

Then it was time for the real fun to begin. I pulled the colored image back into Paper Artist and had all sorts of fun with the various effects.

Sm Angel Drawing 1 Sm Angel Drawing 2 Sm Angel Drawing 3 Sm Angel Drawing 4 Sm Angel Drawing 5 Sm Angel Drawing 6 Sm Angel Drawing 7 Sm Angel Drawing 8

It is going to be great having a handy little art studio with me that fits in my coat pocket. I don’t think it will completely replace my beloved sketch pads, but it will be very convenient for quickly jotting down ideas and inspiration when I am on the go.











Candy Shell

And one last photo for you. The hard shell case I purchased to protect my new investment is of course…Hot Pink (like anyone is surprised about that).

A Lovely Rose

Who doesn’t love flowers? Especially Roses?

Unfortunately, despite my love for their beauty, roses make me sneeze violently. Being the artsy creative gal I am, I decided to seek out some way of creating some non-sneeze inducing blooms.

Being Crochet is my main expressive art form these days I first looked to this beautiful “Irish Rose”. I found this particular stitch pattern in my well-loved copy of “The Harmony Guides, 220 more Crochet Stitches, Volume 7”.

I used some Size 3 cotton thread I had in my stash and my D-3 /3.25mm Etimo hook.  I stopped with the 9th round because I liked the way it looked.  It reminded me a bit of the wild primroses that grow up here on my mountain. But I wanted a rose more like the densely petaled beauties in my first photo.

This crocheted rose was quite simple to make. I used a very fluffy wool blend yarn from my stash (Paton’s Soy Wool Solids – unfortunately discontinued).

Leaving a long beginning tail, I chained a length then worked a sc, hdc and dc in the 2nd chain from the hook, then 4 dcs in each chain until I’d reached the original beginning of the chain.

Afterward I flattened the spiral then used the beginning tail to sew the chain into the spiral shape. I think one reason this Rose worked well was I crocheted with a larger hook than usual for the size of the yarn.

I’ll keep experimenting with making more crocheted roses. I want a more ruffled look to the spiraled rose, and I’m thinking there has to be a better way to create the base for it.  Maybe I’ll create a crocheted rose-bush.

Finding Inspiration

One of the groups I belong to is the International Freeform Crochet Guild. Each year the group poses a challenge to its membership. The object being to create a freeform fiberart piece within the parameters of the challenge.

This year it is to create an interpretive piece inspired by a favorite artist or artwork.  Some of my guild friends are choosing to interpret music, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they create.

Last year I was too busy to participate in the challenge, but I am really hoping to participate this year.  When I first heard of this year’s challenge my mind went immediately to 2 of my favorite inspiring artists from the late 1800s early 1900s.  Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald. 

I had known about Charles Rennie Mackintosh before I found this book written by Alan Crawford for the World of Art series by the publishers Thames and Hudson Inc.  But the images of artwork created by his wife Margaret intrigued me even more.

Mackintosh was a Glasgow Architect with such buildings as the Glasgow School of Art and Miss Cranston’s Tea Rooms to his credit.  He and Margaret collaborated on a number of projects and I’ve always loved the melding of Art Nouveau and Art Deco I see in many of the images of their work.

This painting by Margaret has appealed to me for a very long time, so it is my inspiration for this challenge. 

The photos of our challenge pieces are due to the organizer between April 2 & 15.  So hopefully the online exhibit will be up only a few weeks after that. In the meantime you can take a look at previous year’s challenges at the International Freeform Crochet Guild site.

Finding Colors

I love to play in free form crochet for art projects. One of the questions I get most often from crocheters interested in trying freeform is about choosing the yarns for a project.

But often the real key to a successful freeform project is choosing the colors.  I chose the colors for this piece using the advice of the wonderful Jenny Dowde.  She said that one of the easiest ways to get colors that play nicely with each other was to choose a multi-colored yarn. Then you find solid color yarns that pick up tones in the multi-colored yarn.

I choose some Lion Boucle’ in the Wild Berries colorway for this project. Then picked pink, orange and blue yarns from my stash that matched the Boucle’.

If you want to learn more about Jenny’s approach to FreeForm Fiberarts I recommend getting your hands on her books: Freeform Knitting and Crochet; Freeformations, Designs and Projects in Knitting and Crochet; Surface Works.

My Big Black Bag

Everytime I go to a conference or needlearts show I am trying to find a good bag to carry along.  I have a long list of requirements for the best bag to bring and I’ve tried a number of different adaptations.  Since September 2008 I have been to 6 different crochet or fiber-arts type shows.  But I may have finally created the right bag.

It started out as a plain black commercially made bag of a decent size, it had been in my stash for awhile and I’m not certain where I originally purchased it. Unfortunately it was solid black inside. Which is what I what I refer to as “black hole bags”.  For some reason the commercial bag making business seems to think that nearly all bags should have black interiors. 

Light-sucking black means anything going in there may never be found again. Not the end of the world when you are having ordinary daily adventures, but a bit of a drag if you are trying to find your business card case whilst talking with an interested editor. 

The first order of business then was to line the bag with lighter colored fabric.  Though I am a very good seamstress, I decided to have my friend Val sew up the lining for me.  I gave her fabric and measurements and she created the padded pocketed loveliness you see on the interior. 

Once I looked at the lining I knew the bag would need a zipper closure so I could put it thru the airport security machines without everything falling out.  I created the zipper plackets, which would fold down neatly inside the bag when I wanted to use it as a tote.

I wasn’t happy with the plain black exterior, and needed an outside pocket (a great place for the elusive business cards and my phone).  After a bit of digging in my stash of fabric I came up with some black denim that would work.  I decided, since I would be carrying the bag everywhere at the TNNA show, I wanted something that would reflect my artistic style.

I sat down with wool yarns in my favorite blues and purples, plus some black to tie in with the bag itself and began crocheting a free-form piece that I would felt later in the washing machine.  In 2 evening’s work I had finished a wonderful square of felt to decorate my exterior pocket.  When I began sewing it to the bag and the exterior pocket lining I wanted a bit more excitement to it and added beads.  Many of the stitches holding on the beads also anchored the felt in place on the bag.

It was a great bag for the TNNA show and I think I will be taking it to many more shows in the future. Though I had so much fun creating the decorative felt piece for the front, I may have to make some more of those as well.