Studio Musings

Friday, December 2, 2016

Advent Calendars, a Favorite Holiday Tradition

my hand-painted advent calendar
December 1st marks the start of my Christmas season.  Time to pull out the Advent Calendar.  When we were children, Mom would buy the cardboard calendars with little doors, some had candy, the one I remember most simply had the Christmas story told over 24 days.  As a childless adult, I'd abandoned the tradition until I happened upon the tree-shaped calendar with little boxes I wrote about back in 2013.  I love trying to find fun, new ways to fill each day; ways to awaken my holiday spirit.

The boxes are small, a little over an inch square, so it's kind of tricky finding things that will fit.  I had a great time searching Pinterest for ideas. Some of my favorites:
 *  Krista's Christmas Countdown Activities
 *  Coffee Cups & Crayon's Random Acts of Kindness calendar. 
 *  Idealist Mom - lots of ideas for fun little activities and do it yourself advent calendars. 
All of these blogs have free printables, (and several have links to their Etsy stores).  But one of my favorite pins - a nicely written compilation of the nativity story - didn't link to a current site. So I decided to make my own version - a set of little "books", and while I was at it, I decided to make a separate set for Clement Clarke Moore's, The Night Before Christmas

And in the spirit of Christmas, I thought I would share.

I saved the designs in three separate PDF files:

If you'd like the original Illustrator files so you can do your own editing, let me know and I'll send you a link.

I then trimmed the pages into separate strips

Trimming the pages into separate strips

Then folded the strips into thirds, making sure my first fold fell between the two text blocks, and my second between the text block and the little number (the numbers help me keep the finished books in their proper sequence).

Folding the strip into thirds
Check to make sure all three sections are the same width.  I'd forgotten to trim the left-most edge for several of strips.  So I had to do that next.  The simplest way to mark where to trim is to fold the two ends in towards the center and mark the overhanging edge.

Marking the left edge so I can trim it away.
Next I accordion-folded the left and center sections.

accordion folding the first two sections
I finished the book by wrapping the 'cover' backwards around the book, then gluing it in place.

Wrap the cover around the other 'pages' and glue in place
And that's all there is too it!   You can use this folding technique for all sorts of little projects.  The great part is you only need to print on one side of the page to create a little book and cover.

Finished 'books'.  I used a gold marker to cover any white showing on the covers

I also put together a couple of pages for my Cricut Cutter. 

Want to play with this design?  Here's the link

Here's a link for a full page of ornament-style tags. 

I try to fit as much onto each page as possible.  The chinese-lantern shaped ornaments should be free, whether or not you have a Cricut Access subscription.  The rest might cost something to cut if you don't already have a subscription.  (I renewed my subscription for the holidays, and will cancel in January, because it's really nice to be able to use the stock designs for faster holiday crafting.  I designed the page layouts for 8 1/2 x 11" cardstock (I used white index paper from Office Depot). 

Notice the text in the first file?  It's really fun watching the machine write.  In this case, I used Faber-Castell Pitt Fine Art pens in black and sepia.  They fit perfectly in the machine. 

Cricut 'drawing' Christmas designs on paper
Once I removed the cut designs from the mat, I decorated them with glitter paper, cut snowflakes, and twine.

Decorated ornament tags
And finally it was time to stuff the calendar boxes.  I start with any date-specific activities (picking out our Christmas tree, cookie decorating party, etc.) and then fill boxes from there.  Almost every box had at least two little things in it. 

Last night we opened the first box - it had the start of the Nativity story, and a question ornament "What is your favorite Holiday tradition?".  That started a fun conversation about Christmases past.

And I'll finish this post with two questions.   Do you do any crazy holiday crafting - what sort?  What's your favorite holiday tradition?

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Full to Bursting

Thanksgiving Pies - Almost as good as Beading!
Full to bursting - that seems to be the theme, heading out of Thanksgiving weekend.  Tables loaded with food, homes filled with family and friends, tummy's full of turkey and all the fixings.

And now my Etsy store; overflowing with beading goodness.  More beading goodness than ever before (and possibly ever again), topping out at a grand total of fifty one separate listings.

My focus is in a state of transition. I think I know where I'm going - into larger scale, freeform beaded sculptures.  There are also a couple of book projects I'm mulling over.  In order to clear space (both mentally and physically) for my new work, I've decided to divest myself all of my beading kits, including several that I've made specifically for in-person workshops in the past.  It's time to find new homes my beading kits. Once these are gone, I'm not planning to make more.   Time for a change!

If you've ever wanted one of my kits, this is a great chance, although quantities are extremely limited.  I have one or two kits left in many color ways and designs. Here's a few highlights of what's available:

Catch of the Day Pendant in fiery 'fiesta' colors
Catch of the Day Pendant and Necklace.  This design started with a right angle weave bezel around a flat, oval stone.  You can guess what happened next; I had to see if I could turn it into a fish.  And this pendant/necklace was born.  I particularly love the fact that since the fish lays flat, you have two different 'faces', and they don't have to be the same.  It's a two-for-one design!  I also love the 'fishing floats' made from felted beads with beaded bead caps.  I have kits in bright fiesta colors, in blues & greens, and as a stand-alone pattern.  (If I can find the felted beads which seem to have gone walk-about, I may have a couple kits in the black & silver colors, too)

Fancy Fish:  I have kits in three color schemes, and have also listed some turquoise-blue dyed magnesite and red-dyed magnesite core beads.

Snowflake Chains: I just finished updating this tutorial, and am now offering it as a stand-alone pattern.

I've also updated Snowflake & Stars; cleaning things up, and adding some additional inspiration/gallery photos.  If you've already purchased the pattern, email me and I'll send you the update. 

The Snowflake Collection includes both of my Snowflake patterns at a reduced price.

If you already own my Snowflakes and Stars tutorial and would like the Snowflake Chain Ornament, I'm happy to set up a special, half-price listing especially for you.  You'll also find the last of my Snowflake Kits in Cobalt & Gold, and Peppermint Twist.

Interested in Right Angle Weave beaded beads? 

I've updated my Criss-Cross Lantern Beads tutorial, and am offering it as a digital download.  Or you can pick up a free copy of my Lantern Bead tutorial with purchases of my second paperback, Corsets, Caps and Stays: Elegant Beaded Beads with Right Angle Weave.

I've also listed a number of kits featuring my original Corset Beads right angle weave beaded beads.  You'll find singles in several colors and a couple of sets, including my favorite Yule Tidings Collection, which has everything you need to create six holiday beaded beads, and quickly turn them into ornaments or pendants. 

Prefer my Personal Planets freeform peyote beaded beads?  I have kits in my Quinacridone Summer and Sea Breeze colors.  In my Beading Supplies section, you'll find sets of the 26mm round core beads I use for my beaded beads.

Speaking of freeform peyote,  I have three kits left for my Ocean Currents bracelet.  Please look closely at the second image in the listing as the lampworked beads included in the kit are similar, but definitely not the same as what I used in my original cuff.  I got as close as I could, but....

And if you're interested in freeform peyote ruffles, I have a small number of brooch kits leftover from a workshop I taught a while ago (Dragon Thief and Ocean Shores).  These have the exact beads I used in my Underwater Fantasy Stone Brooch series in Explorations.

Once a kit sells out, there likely won't be any more (maybe an occasional onsie-twosie leftover if I prep kits for an in-person workshops).  Kits will only be available on my Etsy store through Thursday, December 15th.  My last shipping day will be that Friday. After that, I'll still have all of my ebooks and automatic downloads, just nothing that requires shipping. 


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Exploring China - Beijing and the Temple of Heaven

My mother-in-law had always talked about wanting to visit China.  It was at the top of her bucket list, but for one reason and another she had never made it.  So almost two years ago, I started making plans.  And last month they came to fruition as Joe and I joined her on a two-week, Adventures by Disney, tour of China.

Why Adventures by Disney?  The easy answer is Disney knows how to do logistics better than almost anyone else, and that I trusted the Mouse to get me into and out of China safely.  I loved their itinerary - the tour included five internal flights spanning a huge hunk of China.  There is no way, absolutely none, we could have done everything we did in the same amount of time if we'd gone on our own.   I also liked that they offered a tour in October.  October is the off-season for China tourism, but all of my research indicated it was likely the best season in terms of heat, rain, and air quality.  Finally, neither Joe nor I had ever gone on a group travel tour previously, but we had high hopes for the type of travelers a Disney tour might attract.  The tour met every one of our expectations and more!

We technically arrived a day before the tour.  We lost a day during the flight over, so we left Friday, mid-day, and arrived Saturday evening, 27 hours Beijing-time after we left Seattle (12 hour flight + 15 hour time difference).  A Disney rep met us at the airport and drove us to our hotel, where we pretty much fell into our beds, only to keep waking up throughout the night as we tried to adjust to the time zone shift.

Touring cards make taxi rides much simpler
The tour didn't officially start until Sunday evening, but we got to meet our Adventure Guides early that morning.  They gave us several sightseeing suggestions, including the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven.  We decided to visit the later, so off we went in a taxi.

Very few taxi drivers speak any English.  We learned that before you get into a cab you need to have someone translate the destination into Chinese.  All of the hotels we stayed at had special cards with the name of the hotel written in Chinese and English on one side and a list of popular tourist destinations on the other.   These were essential, and made getting around on our own so much easier.  Fred, one of our Adventure Guides who happened to be from Beijing, also wrote a special card warning of my food allergy, in case I decided to eat out on my own.

The Temple of Heaven was the imperial religious complex, where the emporer and his entourage would come to pray (and sacrifice) for beneficence for the coming year - good harvests, good weather, good fortune from the heavens.  Today, it's both a tourist complex, and used as a community park by local residents.

Entry gates to the courtyard surround the main altar

The altar is several stories tall
The main altar is centered in a huge stone plaza.  The altar itself stands several stories tall; concentric rings constructed of white marble.  As you climb the stairs to each ring, you are surrounded entirely by stone. The courtyard is paved in stone, encircled by tall stone walls.  There are no trees or plants and it's very austere, relieved only by the intricate design work and stone carvings.  It's a very 'official' sort of place.

Something I had trouble with was the sense of perspective.  Standing at the entrance to the altar's courtyard, the altar seemed fairly squat - not too tall.  But appearances are deceiving in China.  The courtyard was so large, it made the altar feel small.  As we walked up to it, it grew larger and larger.  I had this same experience over and over during our tour through China, most notably in the Forbidden City.

Fantastic dragon rain-spouts ring the outer edge of the altar at eye level

From a distance, the Temple of Good Harvest looks a lot like the imperial altar, with the obvious addition of the temple at the top of all the stairs.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest combined the altar structure with a temple
Sidesteps leading up to the central Temple of Good Harvest
peering into the Temple of Good Harvest

We exited the temple courtyard into another stone-paved, stone-walled courtyard with magnificent, carefully-tended cypress trees regularly spaced along its length.  Then we spied a round portal in one of the walls, an ancient cypress standing sentinel. 

This portal sentinel is as carefully tended as any bonsai

Walking under the arch of tree's branches and through the gate, we found ourselves in a carefully tended 'wild' space filled with trees, grasses and hundreds of little birds.  It felt a little like walking through the wardrobe into Narnia.  Watching the little birds flitting between the groundcover and the lower limbs of the trees made me think of traditional Chinese paintings that capture a wren or chickadee with a few brush strokes.
the other side of the wall
The dichotomy between the two sides of the wall was tremendous and was something we'd see time and again during our tour of China.  The differences between public and private. The stone austerity of places of authority, of man, and the carefully cultured wildness in the inner courtyards; places for peace, for the healing powers of nature.

The tiny Temple of a Hundred Flowers
Behind the woods lay a series of more formal gardens, which is where we found this lovely little temple. 

Interior ceiling of the Temple of Flowers, 'hidden' among the gardens

That evening, we got to meet our fellow adventurers over dinner back at our hotel.  During desert, a small troupe of acrobats ran into the room and performed for us, flipping and tumbling through the air.  We then got a chance to take pictures with the Monkey King and his followers.

And that was our first full day in China!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Time for a New Start

This has been a very introspective year for me.  I've found it hard to write, hard to bead, hard to do a number of things I used to love to do.  I know that many of my friends in the blogosphere have had similar issues.  For me, some of it has been health-related.  This spring we were finally able to determine what's been causing my autoimmune issues and to find a solution.  Followed by the waiting while the arthritis and tendonitis eased up enough to allow me to bead again.  Much of it was mental.  You know how it is; where you have no trouble coming up with great ideas while laying in bed in the early morning.  But by the time you're up, showered and ready to face the day, those grand ideas have faded into the background, pushed down by the multitude of 'must-dos' that love to crowd in, pushing everything else back into the 'Tomorrow' category.  Why is it that the things we love most seem to be the first to get pushed back into 'Tomorrow'?

I've asked myself a lot of questions, including why I've found it so hard to find the energy to blog, when it used to be such fun, almost a necessity.  Here are some of my realizations. 

It's interesting how good intentions, or at least my intentions to be a 'real', professional, businessperson can twist and turn in one's head.  Back when I first started writing, I posted anything and everything to my blog.  Works in progress, snippets of tutorials I was writing; pretty much anything I was working on or that caught my eye was potential fodder for a blog post. 

Then, as I became more focused on publishing my books and tutorials, I was encouraged to hold things back, to keep them "secret" until publication.  This seemed to make a lot of sense, and most authors do this, so why shouldn't I?  But I'm not good at keeping secrets, I don't enjoy keeping secrets, not about things that excite me.  I started writing because I love the give and play of sharing ideas.  My books and tutorials were and are a direct outgrowth of that love. 

Holding a project back until it's published, (or until it's made its rounds on the the teaching circuit) might make a lot of sense from a professional perspective.  But it's not fun, and by the time I COULD write about it, some part of me felt like I was breaking a taboo by doing so.  I've found it's very hard for me to give myself permission, once that permission has been denied for too long.  When I did finally try to write about whatever project it was in my blog, I felt like I was writing marketing copy.  Many of these posts fizzled and died before they ever saw the light of day.  My blog became more and more random, less and less frequent.  Notable exceptions included my Happy Fish bead embroideries, which I started just for myself, just for fun, with no expectations of tutorials.  The funny thing is, they became one of my more popular classes this past year.  Hmm....

So, what does this all mean?  Why am I writing this?  

As the title of this post states, I've decided to make a new start and go back to the basics of why I create, why I write.  To recover my delight as an artist-explorer, a bead bushwhacker, as someone who's willing to ask 'what happens if' and then dives in, simply because I'm curious, because I want to see what will happen.  To once again become someone who's willing to  embrace the challenge, play and adventure of creating simply for the sake of creation.  Someone who's willing to share whatever answers I might discover.  Just because.

Towards that end, I'm planning to spend November going through my backlog of tutorials.  It's amazing how many tutorials I abandoned in the half-way stage, or simply never published because I was 'saving' them for the teaching circuit.  I expect that you'll see several 'new' tutorials available in my Etsy shop by December. 

I've also decided to stop producing beading kits for the the time being.  This week I'm going to inventory all of the bead kits that I have currently ready, and I plan to offer them first to my newsletter subscribers.  Any that are left, I'll post to my Etsy store by mid-November.  Once they are gone, they may be gone for good.  Right now I only foresee making new kits for specific classes or workshops, but that's something I'll address if and when it comes up. 

And after that?  

Well, November is Nanowrimo and I plan to jump into the fray for the first time in several years.  I still need to figure out what I'm writing about - this year I'll definitely earn the 'Pantser' badge.  Are you planning to write for Nanowrimo?  If you are, let me know.  Perhaps we can become writing buddies and help spur eachother on to victory (or at least 50,000 words)!  :-)

I'm also planning to write about my most recent travels, and some of my play time in other mediums - including my latest designs for my Cricut paper-cutting machine. 

And yes, I'm still beading.  In particular, I'm continuing to work on a 3D, freeform peyote, juvenile Rosy Rockfish (pictures of this project to come in another post).  Once he's done, I have this idea in my head to make a whole series of life-size beaded fish.  It's been swimming around in this head of mine for forever, and it seems like it's about time to dive in. 

So those are my plans.  We'll see how it goes.... 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Lacework Bracelet workshop moved to November 20th

Lacework Bracelets
An update to my Fusion Beads class schedule.  My Lacework Bracelet class has been moved from October 2nd to November 20th. 

This is the first time I've taught this particular workshop in a couple of years, and I'm really excited.  It's an afternoon workshop, with time to talk about different techniques and variations, color blending, and more. 

 The open stitching pattern of random right angle weave is extremely versatile.  I love how you can use the same technique to create a cuff that's softly romantic and feminine, or one that dreams of the ocean's reefs, or has a decidedly steam punk flair.  The choice is totally yours. 

Random right angle weave is one of my favorite beading techniques because it's so organic.  It also pairs beautifully with freeform peyote stitch. 

So, mark your calendars - November 20th, 2:00 - 5:00pm, Lacework Cuffs at Fusion Beads!

You can sign up at the store or via phone  206-782-4595

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Seattle Summer - Touring a Destroyer, Riding a T-Rex and more

August is absolutely my favorite month in Seattle!  Summer often gets a late start here in the Pacific Northwest.  Depending upon the year, it can take until early August for the season to really settle in, but August definitely equals Summer in Seattle.  Along with all sorts of fun.

from Komo TV's website, photo by David Remmem Photography
August kicks off with Seafair's hydroplane races and Fleet Week.  I've never been to the races, and this year I missed the Parade of Ships, but I couldn't miss the Blue Angles soaring overhead.  I got a fantastic view of the fighter jets as they filled the skies with their roar while I pressure washed a driveway.  Most fun I've ever had using a pressure washer!  It's amazing I didn't topple over backwards while craning my neck towards the sky. Since I didn't have my camera handy to take photos, I nabbed this one from one of the local tv station's website.

The Navy managed to make waiting in line fun!

This year, we made it down to the waterfront to tour the Destroyer the USS Gridley. The line was long, but we spent most of the wait chatting with a sailor about his day-to-day experiences living aboard an aircraft carrier.  They even had a band playing!

Before we could step foot on the dock, we had to go through an old-style airport metal detector, at which point Joe realized he'd forgotten to leave his pocket knife at home.  Turns out the Navy is far more accommodating than TSA.  They kept his knife while we toured the ship, and we reclaimed it as we left the secured area.

On the forward deck
Great lunch break listening to the Polecats
Middle of the month, we 'played hooky' the afternoon of my birthday.  Bright blue skies, warm (low 80s) with a cool breeze, it was a perfect day to catch one of Seattle's free, Out to Lunch (OTL) concerts.

The OTL program described the Polecats as a 'blue-grass, celtic fusion' band.  They describe themselves as "five mad scientists who aren’t afraid of rejecting predictability and conformism".  Both are accurate.  While the bluegrass/celtic roots of their music is very clear, it's layered with pop, rock, and at times even a hint of reggae. Most of their set was original work, but they performed a few covers - including a rollicking bluegrass meets calypso version of "Under the Sea", and a thoroughly entertaining "Walk of Life" a lá Dire Straits.

Riding the monorail towards home (sorta)

We finished the afternoon with a ride to the Seattle Center via the monorail.  Before heading home, we purchased mini-cheesecakes from Confectional.  Yum! 

Next followed a couple of quick trips.  First a weekend jaunt up to Bellingham for the wedding of two friends.  Then I got a call from Dawn, one of my best friends from college.  She and her family were visiting Portland from the midwest to drop their youngest daughter off at college.  Did I mention that Dawn and I met the first day of freshman orientation, oh so many years ago? 

Yeah for the Amtrak Cascades!  I was able to catch an early train down and spent the better part of the day wandering around downtown Portland with the two of them, including a leisurely tour of the Portland Art Museum and their Native Fashion exhibit that I'd been dying to see.  And as the sun started to set, they walked me back to the train station and we said goodbye. 

A late birthday present dinner cruise
As a late birthday present, Joe booked a dinner-cruise with a couple of our friends, touring Lake Union and Lake Washington.  I think it was the hottest day of the summer (which means about 90F).  We hadn't been out on the water all summer (unless you count standing on the USS Gridley while it was docked), so it was about time. 

A quiet corner of the expo hall - the screen's bigger than my living room wall
And then, there was PAX.  This year PAX fell over Labor Day weekend, but it's normally in August, so I'm extending August to include it.  What's a little 'month-creep' amongst friends?  We never manage to pick up PAX tickets when they go on sale.  Luckily, we have a number of friends who do.  So, while we were at our friends' wedding, I was able to find other friends with extra tickets to sell. 

You never know what you'll find at PAX - it's a totally over the top gaming convention for everything from the latest console & computer games, to board games and role playing.  Walking though the crowd I spied this:

Yes, I really do see a Tyrannosaurus Rex looming above the crowd
I don't want to tell you how long I waited in line to get this photo
I was really waiting to take this photo. 

The T-Rex was there to promote a video game - I think it was ARK: Scorched Earth.  The huge video screens behind the T-Rex were filled with dinosaurs and other creatures.  If I were a video gamer, I'd probably be interested because the graphics were gorgeous.  Me, I just wanted to have my picture taken riding a T-Rex.  That was cool enough for me. 

Climbing the ladder to get up to the saddle, and swinging my leg over, lets just say that my acrophobia is still present.  But it wasn't going to stop me!   The dino pictures seemed to beg for some comic book styling courtesy of the Halftone ap, but here's one last pic, straight up.

I'm just a little speck, way up top! 

And that about sums up my 'August Summer Vacation' report.   (I did get a little beading in, too, but I'll talk about that in another post.)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

ZnetShows New Sea Glass Arrivals Blog Hop & Challenge

Late last month Hope Smitherman sent out invitations for a mini Blog Hop and Challenge using some of ZnetShows newest cultured sea glass styles.  I love sea glass, so saying yes was really easy.  We were invited to chose from three different styles - two were different types of 'nuggets', and the third were two-hole buttons.

I decided I HAD to work with the buttons, then debated my second choice before falling in love with the central drop pendant in this set.

This blue is one of the rarest colors in my collection of 'natural' sea glass
When the beads arrived, I discovered that the thread holes in the pendant set were large enough that a size 11 seed bead could slip right through.  I was  tempted to find some way to use them so that they laid flat in the design the way they do on my beading mat in this photos, but couldn't quite come up with a solution I liked this time around.  Which is kind of funny, because that's how I decided to use the buttons.

The flat, rounded shape of buttons, with their smooth surface, reminded me of skipping stones, so I decided to make a summer beach cuff where they'd act as the main focal.  Using size 8 seed beads to create a chunkier than normal base, I first stitched a Lacework Cuff using random right angle weave. 

Lacework Cuff Base with two sea glass buttons for closures

 Then it was time to add additional buttons for surface texture. 

Starting to decorate the surface
Adding one button at a time, I then worked several layers of sea-frond fringe around that button before moving on to the next.

The finished cuff, Skipping Stones
In the end, I decided I liked the way the cuff looked with only half of its length embellished.  It's designed for the buttons to be worn on the outside edge of the wrist.  This way, the underside of the wrist just has a flat band; less likely to catch on clothing and such.

It's hard to photograph on my own wrist, but here's the idea.

So I finished the cuff, time to do something with the drop pendant.   I wanted to use for a summer necklace of 'beach treasures' that looked nice enough to wear to a evening out.  I ended up doing some simple bead stringing with size 15 seed beads and a couple different styles of two-hole beads. 

Using the freeform nuggets and pendants as well as more buttons
I used the buttons as links as well as for the closure
Isn't the seaglass pendant pretty?  I wanted a very simple necklace that let it shine.

So that's what I came up with.  Now it's time to see what everyone else made!  Here's the full list of designers:

close-up:  adding fringe behind the buttons
ZnetShows Blog
Amy Severino
Andrea Trank
Becky Pancake
Blanca Medina
Christina Miles
Karen Williams
Karla Morgan
Kathy Lindemer
Shaiha Williams
Susan Bowie
Veralynne Malone