Learning Something New

Earlier this month I shared with you my efforts to organize my bead stash. The primary motivation for that was because I am playing with designing jewelry again. Sometimes that means using beads and other jewelry components in my crochet wearables. Other times it means getting out the wire and jewelry making tools to create fun and sparkly pieces.


As I’ve been organizing things and working on various jewelry designs, I became interested in metal stamping. This is a great way to add words and even quotes to my jewelry pieces. Which meant acquiring some new tools and supplies.

Yesterday evening I began to experiment with metal stamping. My sons were both very interested in what I was doing. This is definitely not a quiet craft. Both boys actually gave it a try.


Then my oldest decided to be in charge of handing me the letter stamps I needed. This little disc of aluminum was our project we worked on together. Not too bad for a first attempt.


One of the fun things about this craft form is bashing the stamps and metal with hammers. It’s a great way to take out some controlled aggression. I was being a little timid at first, which is why that first piece had some rather faint impressions.  I soon overcame my timidity though and gave the stamps a hearty whack as needed.


I made this little silvery aluminum disc next. I found I’m really not wild about aluminum, especially when it is this thin. It’s surprisingly strong, but super lightweight. I dropped this disc at one point and it practically flew away. I was hunting for it for 20 minutes. These discs would be great for earrings though, as being so lightweight they wouldn’t pull on the earlobe.


Next I played with a brass blank. These blanks were labeled “natural brass” and don’t have that gleaming yellow color that I’m used to. Brass is a harder metal than aluminum, so it took more force to create a good impression on the blank.


I am still figuring out the exact method for placing my stamps before striking them. I actually made a little mistake on this piece, but corrected it. Can you spot it?  Even with the mistake I’m pretty happy with how it came out.

You may be asking, “Are you nuts taking up a new craft during the madness of Christmas?” or even, “Where are you going with this Andee?”

If you have been reading my blog for very long, you already know the answer to the first question. Yes, I’m nuts. That said, I also find learning new things to be a good way for me to manage stress. In some ways this is all an early Christmas present to me.

Where I’m going with this is yet to be seen. I am playing around with the idea of finally getting my Etsy Shop going. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years, yet it hasn’t ever come together.


Or this could just be a stop along my art journey as I keep expanding my creativity. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I find new creative energy for my crochet work by exploring other (sometimes un-related) crafts. For the moment this new craft isn’t taking up a lot of room mentally or physically…. and I’m having a lot of fun playing with hammers.




Picking colors for Free Form Crochet

Pile of Yarn from Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Arts Fair
Pile of Yarn from Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Arts Fair

Remember all that yarn I brought back with me from the Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Arts Fair? I’m putting some of it together with other yarn from my stash to make a free form crochet scrumble.

When I made my first free form scrumble years ago I thought it would be an easy way to use up left-over odds and ends from my stash. That was when I discovered that one of the trickiest things about free form, is picking the colors of yarn to use together. I wasn’t all that happy with my first scrumbles, but I was intrigued enough to persist.



A great short cut for choosing colors is to pick out a multi-colored yarn that appeals to you, then match it with solid yarns in the colors that are in the variegated yarn. This is exactly what I did to begin this project. I used this hand-dyed yarn as my guide for picking the other colors.

If you are like me, a large percentage of your yarn stash is dominated by a couple of colors. In my case I have lots of Purples and blues. I purchased the hand-dyed hank of yarn knowing that I would have other yarns in my stash that would work with it. If you don’t already have a variegated yarn you want to use in your free-form project, look at your stash for color inspiration before purchasing one.


In the end you want a variety of shades as well as colors for your yarn choices. I looked at lighter and darker variations of the colors in my variegated yarn. Like the very deep blue in the furry yarn, that deep color and texture will add some interesting effects to the final fabric. The bright Lime will create contrasting pops.

Hopefully I’ll have some pretty Free Form scrumbles to show you in the next couple of weeks.

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.