Sunday, December 9, 2018

Candy Wrappers, Broccoli Bags, or Both? Upcycled Polyhedra to Sew

In my last post, I showed off several polyhedron projects from my  new book, "Stitch-a-hedron: English Paper Pieced Polyhedron Gifts and Accessories to Sew." For those projects, I used quilting cotton, or necktie silks.

As much as I love working with gorgeous fabrics, I also get a kick out of working with upcycled materials - aka the trash.

First, we have a half stellated dodecahedron with a message. It's  made with candy wrappers wrapped around cardstock templates, and sewn together by hand. It sits mysteriously on a surface with a peak pointing upward.
When you flip it over and look inside...
...there's a luscious photograph of vivid green vegetation (from a frozen broccoli bag). The message; Eat a balanced diet, five parts chocolate to one part broccoli. Maybe a broccoli executive needs a paperweight? It might also make an educational holiday ornament.

Next, some slightly more practical items, stitched from the same brand of candy wrappers (Two summers ago, at a reunion, there was an industrial-sized bag of Lindt truffles that my friends conveniently demolished. I followed them around as they chewed, snatching their discarded wrappers.) The dish below is a partially truncated cuboctahedron. It's hand sewn, with holes punched using an unthreaded sewing machine. This bowl requires four squares, four hexagons, and one octagon in the middle. All are folded around cardstock templates. 
 The bottom:
The next dish was made from the same brand of truffle wrappers, but with a brown coffee bag covering the hexagonal base:

And finally, unusual winter holiday decor: An icosidodecahedron poinsettia-shaped bowl, made from sides and printed portions of a coffee bag. This shape has pentagons and triangles, and it's machine stitched. 

The polyhedron book includes step-by-step instructions for these projects, using a sewing machine, or sewing by hand. 
More projects are in last week's blog post and on the book's main page.  A PDF edition of the book, for instant download, is sold in my Etsy shop, and paperback copies are on Amazon

Friday, November 30, 2018

My New Book! English Paper Piece a Polyhedron!

I am having an out-of-body experience - after two years in the works, my new book just went live on Amazon! And on etsy, too! It's not about's about the joy of stitching polyhedra! 

What, I hear you asking? Polyhedra? You probably haven't given a dodecahedron or icosahedron much thought since high school (unless you play Dungeons and Dragons).  Neither did I, until last year. So how did I get from quilts to polyhedra? 

Through English Paper Piecing.

If you're a quilter who's tried English Paper Piecing, you know it's a fun, addictive way to make a quilt. It involves wrapping fabric around individual paper shapes, sewing the pieces together along the edges, then removing the papers.
 Voila, it makes tricky quilt blocks easy and accurate. 
English Paper Piecing a polyhedron is accomplished is almost exactly the same way - by machine or by hand. Individual papers are wrapped with fabric, then stitched together.  The paper is then removed. But instead of laying flat like a quilt, polyhedra curl into the third dimension.
Results? Stuffed balls, which make fascinating toys, ornaments, and pincushions. And open forms, which can become bowls, baskets, toys, purses, and decor. 

I became completely obsessed with polyhedra, and once I started, I couldn't stop. Here are some of my favorite projects that are laid out in the book.

- A dodecahedron that includes Spock, Kirk....
...Little Red Riding Hood...

...and, of course, Franklin Roosevelt.

Another dodecahedron, but done in sophisticated necktie silks, with mother-of-pearl buttons:

I fell in love with the truncated octahedron - 14 sides, a fascinating combination of hexagons and squares. One of my pattern testers, the talented Andrea Shlasko of Venice, Florida came up with this awesome "Blah Blah Cats" polyhedron. Her squares are cat fabric, and the hexagons are "blah blah" fabric! 
Here's the same shape  - in an open form, with stiff fusible interfacing inside, turned into a  basket/bowl. It's a beaded planetarium for my husband's desk (he's an astrophysicist.) It's about 6" high. 
 Seated in the planetarium is a tiny baby in a rocking chair: 
Next, a truncated cuboctahedron, with hexagons, squares, and octagons - as a  pincushion....
...and another truncated cuboctahedron, using candy wrappers instead of fabrics (The book explains how to use upcycled materials.)
Here's an icosahedron zip-up purse/basket to wear or place on a table, or even hang from a bush?
Next, an icosidodecahedron - I call this one Jane's Dish, because it's made from Jane Austen text fabric. 

The most complex form in the book is the truncated icosahedron, aka soccer ball. 

  One of the many odd things I learned while making stellated dodecahdrons is that they stack nicely without any additional support.
One of the most fun aspects of writing this book was feedback from pattern testers. Along with the blah blah ball above, Andrea Shlasko made these, some of which she's selling at craft fairs,

And Glenise from Australia made these. 

This 71-page sewing book is available in paperback form from Amazon, or in PDF form for instant download, from my Etsy shop, here. The projects are fairly easy, but you should have some sewing experience. They can be entirely hand-sewn; or mostly machine sewn with just a little bit of hand sewing to finish. More photos of projects from the book are on this page.  Contact me if you have questions!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving! Start Making Paper Dreidels!

Happy Thanksgiving! I don't want to panic you, but it's time to prepare for Hanukkah (starts December 2)! A couple of weeks ago I showed off some freemotion-quilted fabric dreidels. They don't spin well, but they do make good decor, as well as shelter for chocolate coins, dinosaurs....
...and even smaller dreidels...
Now Hanukah looms even closer, making this the perfect project for avoiding stores on Black Friday. If you don't have time to quilt, you can use the same approach to make paper or cardstock dreidels, which spin much better than the button-stem kind if you use pencils with flat sides: 
Above, left to right, they're made out of: an old stationary folder, a box of souvenir Singaporean dried fruit, a birthday card, and a Cheerios box. Closer: 

Alas, with the Cheerios box, I made the unfortunate mistake during construction of ignoring the  Pampers ad on one side....
...Because who doesn't want to think about poopy diapers while spinning dreidels? (or while eating cereal? Cheerios executives: Are you really that desperate?)

Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime...the nicer the paper you use, the better the dreidels. For the next two, I used the 2006-2007 Women of Reform Judaism calendar, with each month a gorgeous cutout collage by Atlanta Artist Flora Rosefsky. 

When I wrote to Flora to ask for permission to show them, she filled me in on the background. The collage series was initiated in 2001.
"...I still enjoy creating new collage work, using the same 'drawing with scissors' method, but now sometimes add mixed materials like fabric, trim, and ephemera (found paper)."
 Find more of her intoxicating work at  

Of course, you can create your own collage, and then turn that into a dreidel. To make cardstock or paper dreidels, create a pattern like the one below (basically five squares, and four equilateral triangles). Score all the interior lines, cut it out, then fold and tape the outside. Or cut extra tabs along the sides of the bottom triangles, and at one end of the squares. Then you can use a glue stick or hot glue the tabs, from the inside, to close it up. (The right and lower tabs are not necessary for fiber dreidels.)
More information about artsy dreidel construction is in my recent blog post, here. And a word from our sponsor - if you don't feel like drafting it yourself, my instant download booklet for stitching fiber art dreidels- including patterns and Hebrew letters in three sizes, and step-by-step instructions - is available for $3.00 from my Etsy shop, here

Wishing you a healthy, happy Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and everything else you celebrate!  

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Textile Hugs: Star Ornaments for Pittsburgh

Handcrafted tokens of love appeared on bushes, trees, lamp posts, statuary, street signs and benches in Pittsburgh last week - more than 2,000 six-pointed Jewish stars. Each incorporated a heart, and they were made from: twigs, or popsicle sticks, or yarn, or felt, or other stuff.  They were crocheted, knitted, stitched and/or glued, by people of all ages, from elementary school classes up. My contribution was made from quilting fabric and a large button. (OK, maybe the button is too large, but I liked that it's transparent).
The back is felt: 
Two articles about the project were just published; one in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, here, and another in the Jerusalem Post, here. The Pittsburgh paper explained the origins:  
...[T]he stars were the inspiration of Hinda Mandell, an associate professor of communications at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. A former Boston Globe journalist, she is editing an anthology titled 'Crafting Dissent: Handicraft as Protest from the American Revolution to the Pussyhats.'
"Ms. Mandell’s determined, energetic handmaiden is Ellen Dominus Broude, a dedicated crafter and saleswoman who lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. After Ms. Broude saw an online post by Ms. Mandell, the two women set up a Facebook group on Oct. 30 called Jewish Hearts for Pittsburgh. That was just three days after 11 people died when a gunman opened fire before Shabbat services at Tree of Life/or L’Simcha. Ms. Broude set up a post office box to accept the handmade stars. Soon, contributions arrived from 12 countries, including New Zealand and Qatar. " 
The newspaper photos, and those on the group's Facebook page, may put you in the mood to make a star heart ornament. The project is continuing; and it's adding  another dimension, inviting participants to make visual representations of community (get details when you join the Facebook page ).

Or, you just might want to make one as a gift for someone who needs a textile hug for whatever difficulties they're enduring. After I posted my star on the group's FB page, several people asked me how I made it. I steered them to a blog post from 2015 that explained how I used a specialized kite-shaped acrylic template, which not every quilter owns. 

But a simpler method that doesn't require a specialized template, is English Paper Piecing.  

All you need is a regular diamond-shape (two equilateral triangles base to base), which you can draft yourself. Print or trace six of them on cardstock or paper, and then trace it one more time onto translucent template plastic.
When planning the star, maximize fun by sliding a double-sided hinged mirror (an inexpensive sewing notion), opened to about 60 degrees, around on the print fabric until you find a location you like. Here's an example of how it looked on my star fabric. (You don't HAVE to have the mirrors to do this project, but it is the most fun part!)

The hypothetical fabric below is much simpler, for demonstration purposes. Once you like the location, place the plastic template there, and with a  pencil (erasable!), trace a few lines from the printed motif onto the plastic. You don't have to trace every line, just enough so you can find the same location again. 
 Cut out six pieces, 1/2" bigger than the template all the way around (the red line above). 
Place a paper or cardstock template on the back of each fabric piece, center it, and baste the raw edges inward.

In English Paper Piecing, "basting" means folding each edge inward, being consistent about which side you fold in first. (Move clockwise or counterclockwise, and stick with that decision for all six pieces.) Some people like to baste with long stitches on the back (and an extra tacking stitch at each fold). I find it's easier and faster to use a glue stick and an iron to turn and hold edges, at the ironing board. Tip tip: my favorite way to baste diamonds is to fold the sharp ends inward first. (no need to do this with the two remaining non-acute angles.)

Then go clockwise, or counter clockwise, to fold in the four edges. I went counter-clockwise in this example.
(Other people prefer not to turn in the sharp points first; they will have dog ears at each acute angle, which they can turn under later.) 

Sew the points together in groups of three. By hand, whipstitch the edges; by machine, sew from the good side, with a zigzag stitch and matching or invisible thread. I start with a middle piece, then attach a diamond to its right and its left side.  
Once you have two groups of three, stitch them together along the midline. 
Now you can remove all the templates. Lay the star on top of a piece of felt. Then straight stitch, 1/8th inch from the edges, most of the way around, leaving a gap along one edge. If there are "dog ears" sticking out from the outer angles, tuck them in just before your needle reaches them.
Cut out the felt carefully, just beyond the edges of the star. Stuff, and hand- or machine-sew the gap closed. 

To learn more about the ongoing Jewish Hearts for Pittsburgh project, see photos of many more stars, and sign up, join their Facebook group, here

Sunday, November 11, 2018

An Afterlife for Vintage Embroidery Mysteries

If you're a quilter, I bet we have a happy problem in common: People bring us fabric. On the one hand, I love it. On the other, I already have too much - if I stuff their offering into my stash, it may never come out!

This problem gets even better when people bring me interesting vintage textiles. So here's one solution: Enjoy processing it immediately, then give it right back, in a form they can use.

That's what a happened a couple of months ago when my friend Marian went to a store closing sale, where she bought some fascinating embroidery fragments, each $5 or less, a price that reflected their not-great condition.

First, there were these three log cabin foundation pieced-blocks. They're silk and so frail  - some of the silk was already shattered. I think they're from the US, but let me know if you know better!
Then there were two thick, sturdy panels with vivid flowers, one of which is below. They look handstitched (from the back), and were marked "Guatamala." I wonder what their original destination was - bags? Shirts? (If you know, please tell me in the comments!)
Next was the following mola-esque strip, which I'm guessing could be Asian, or could be South American?
And this worn, beautifully embroidered strip, with tiny stitches, which I think is Thai. 
What to do? I decided to skip the storage phase, and immediately make something Marian could use. I added two pieces from my own collection. In the photo below, the blue-and-white strip is kantha from India, gifted to me by friends who bought it at a quilt show (thanks, Saraj and Miriam!). On bottom, the pink-and-orange is an elaborately embroidered strip from Thailand, gifted long ago from another friend, Steve, a Buddha dealer. (The resemblance to the strip above is why I think it's Thai.)
I sewed them all together. Then I added strips of embossed gold velvet ribbon to the short ends. I added a hanging sleeve to the back of one short end. Here's the result (lying on my brick patio). It's about three feet long.
I told Marian that if she used it as a table runner, the black silk would probably rip sooner, whereas if she hung it, it might last a bit longer. If I thought any of the pieces were valuable, I would have suggested she frame it. But now she can just enjoy it for as long as it lasts. And after the log cabin blocks fall apart, the sturdier pieces may survive - and hopefully turned into something else!

Thank you, Marian, Saraj, Miriam, and Steve, for your contributions to this international mashup!