This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was provided by my friend Jana. Jana has a way of creating wonderfully curated collages with mixed media elements and lots of visual texture. She produced one such piece as her exemplar for her guest blog post. I aspire to put together collages as wonderful as the ones Jana produces but I am not there yet. I don’t have a collection of ephemera to riffle through either, just random papers. I, therefore, decided to use Jana’s page as jumping-off inspiration rather than strictly adhering to the prompt.
I did technically start the page with a collage but it was just a case of roughly adhering some book page scraps to the journal page and then knocking the whole thing back with a layer of white acrylic. I loved the colour scheme in Jana’s collage so I too opted for a palette that was monochromatic and neutral with a pop of red. What I was really taken with was the use of stitching as a mark-making tool. I am not someone who has much skill or ability with fabric arts or textiles and my sewing skills are limited to hand-sewing and are very basic. I, therefore, would not normally think to add stitches to my art journal pages but that was precisely why I wanted to do so in response to this prompt. I really enjoyed it as a different way to add marks to the illustration and what it contributed in terms of a different visual texture.
Today is my second son’s 11th birthday. One of the many things I love about my kids is that they get almost as excited for each other’s birthdays as they do for their own. They love to celebrate their brothers and to make each of their days special.
They always make each other personalised birthday cards and sometimes some other paper crafted gifts. This year, however, my 9 year old decided to get a bit more ambitious and make more elaborate presents for his big brother. The first thing he made – and which he decided to present in advance of the birthday – was a Vanishing Cabinet from the Harry Potter stories.
The second item took a lot longer to craft. He decided to put his new found love of sewing to the test by making an Ewok out of felt. He designed it and I showed him how to create the pattern for the pieces (a little bit of the blind leading the blind) and then he worked diligently and in secret for a few days in order to stitch it all together. I think he did a superb job, don’t you?
After making sock monsters a few weeks ago, my 9 year old has been well and truly bitten by the sock transformation bug. Every few days he is looking to eke out time to sew a sock and turn it into something cuddly. I may have to create a security system for our socks soon to keep them safe from his scissors and needles. He and I are also making his Halloween costume. My sewing related stress levels are soaring yet somehow I keep encouraging him. Maybe some day he will be doing all of the sewing repairs in the household.
Most of his monsters have just evolved from the meeting of sock, thread and buttons but then he decided that he wanted to aim for a specific outcome. He wanted to make a Cthulhu. Mr Pict is into Lovecraft (and a board game called Eldritch Horror) and I have painted Cthulhu twice, despite not being a Lovecraft fan, so I guess that sewed the seeds of the Cthulhu plan.
He picked out a black sock with which to construct his Cthulhu and then he found a black glove (also in my sock orphanage) for the tentacled bit of the face. Orange and red buttons became the fiery eyes and he used some black felt for the wings. I think he did a fantastic job. The best praise he received came from his brothers who all declared it to be amazing and to wish they had a sock Cthulhu too. He was beaming from ear to ear.
PS If you like monsters crafted from textiles then you should totally check out the wonderful creations to be found on the CrawCrafts Beastie Blog. Helen’s Beasties are a monstrous marvel and an inspiration to my wee monster crafter.
Whose smart idea was it to include making sock monsters as an option in the summer activity box, eh?
Making sock monsters, sock monkeys, sock elephants and sock bunnies is probably super-duper easy for people who are competent at sewing. My sewing qualifications are that I can take up hems with neat little hand stitches and can replace buttons neatly. All other sewing jobs I have to do I do totally cack-handedly. I can only hand sew since I don’t even know how to thread a machine and I find it endlessly frustrating and exceedingly difficult. Sewing on Scout badges makes me grit my teeth, grimace and occasionally swear. I have a box in my bedroom that the kids call the toy hospital. In it they place any cuddly toy that needs a repair. The toy hospital has been overflowing for several months. I procrastinate over any sewing job that is non-urgent because I find sewing to be so trying. I have made sock monkeys, a sock elephant and sock monsters for my kids and those really were labours of love.
Knowing how much they love their handmade sock toys, I must have thought it would be a great idea to add that as an activity for the summer. I also thought it would be to their benefit to learn a couple of basic stitches and how to sew on buttons. Life skills.
The boys were excited at the prospect of making their own toys and trying something entirely new. They ran off to gather their chosen socks and then we settled down to start sewing. Do you know how much patience I have for threading needles? Very little. Want to guess how much patience I have for threading four needles? Zero. My ten year old chose a fluffy slipper sock which provided an extra degree of challenge since the embroidery thread kept snaggling up in all the piled fluff of the sock. I think I rethreaded his needle three times just for stitching the mouth. The boys had found stitching the mouths to be frustrating but they persevered and did it. It was useful that we were making monsters since it did not matter that the lines of the mouths were asymmetrical or otherwise wonky. Monsters are perfectly imperfect, right?
They enjoyed rummaging through my collection of random buttons to pick out eyeballs for their monsters. I have my Gran’s button tin since I spent many happy hours rummaging through them and playing with them. I think it might be a universal kid thing to find boxes of buttons appealing. Sadly very few of my buttons have any personal history. A few have been snipped from old garments but most came from a car boot sale to be deployed in craft activities and educational games I used to play with my kids when they were preschoolers. Eyeballs selected, the boys then sewed them on. To begin with they found aiming for the button holes to be difficult but then they got the hang of it and I could see they were experiencing a sense of accomplishment.
Then it was time to sew the legs up, having turned the monsters’ sock skins inside out, and the boys got to practice a different type of stitching. This they found to be much more enjoyable since, being on the inside, the neatness of the stitching did not matter. We left a gap between the legs – which my boys predictably called a “bum hole” – so we then turned the monsters right way around again. Then it was time for stuffing and they decided for themselves how plump or squashy they wanted their monsters to be. Then all that was left to do was sew up the “bum holes” and the monsters were complete.
I thought the whole activity had been a bit of an ordeal. I had been constantly rethreading needles. My oldest son had complained about me licking the thread to assist it in going through the eye of the needle so I had to contend with his germ phobia. Then there were all the snaggled stitches, the breaking threads, and the pricked fingers to deal with. They also started whining about how long this particular activity was taking. Oh well, I thought, they can’t all be winners. But, wouldn’t you know it, one of my kids had covertly been enjoying the activity all along, despite his outward protestations. The next day, he asked me if he could use another sock and make another monster. I was busy at the time but told him sure he could so long as he was prepared to do all of the sewing, though I would thread the needle for him. And so my 9 year old sat and sewed himself a sock monster with barely any guidance or assistance from me. So skills had been learned after all. The sewing ordeal had all been worth it.
This week’s Documented Life Project challenge prompt had me scratching my head for inspiration. Incorporating fabric onto the journal page seems simple enough but I don’t ever create with fabric (unless you count the occasional sock monkey or sock monster) so not only do I not have much in the way of fabric crafting skills but I do not have a stash of fabric of any kind. Not even any old socks since those have been turned into sock monsters. Being a tomboy mother of four boys, I don’t even have any ribbon or bows or anything. It was suggested that I could utilise a scrap from some old clothing but we emigrated with very few clothes as it is so there was nothing that was not being worn for me to cannibalise. One of my sons has ripped a pair of jeans but they are his favourites so he would not part with them and I also was not keen on the sewing challenge of trying to work with denim. I kill my thumbs enough trying to hem denim jeans. I was not about to put myself through that for fun. My mind was wandering to ways in which I could loosely interpret the prompt and I was all set to produce a watercolour sketch of some crumpled fabrics when my husband announced that he had identified some old clothes that I could chop up and use: his underpants.
At the risk of having my Green Card revoked, I am really not a fan of American washing machines. Since moving here, I have had two top-loading washing machines – one at the rental house and one that came with our new home – and both have been awfully hard on our clothing. Because they spin around a central axis point, it creates a sort of centrifuge (or does it? Because I know even less about physics than I do about sewing) and all the wet garments just stick to the sides of the drum, becoming a tangled mess, straining and pulling against each other. In all my years of doing laundry, I have become accustomed to using a front loading machine whereby the clothes spin around in the drum but also tumble because of the effect of gravity: whatever clothes are at the top of the drum fall down and rejoin the fray, so they are being constantly separated from each other. The problem with the top-loading system is that the clothes pulling against each other leads to misshaping and tears. A button or zip catches against a jumper and gets pulled to such an extent that a hole appears. I have had more holes appear in laundry in the past year than I have had over the previous decades of my laundering experience. Washing machine design is one of the few small differences between my domestic life in Scotland and America that really irks me. When it comes time to replace our washing machine, I am hoping we can do so with a front loader.
Rant over and out but that explains why my husband was able to donate his under garments to my creative project: the blasted washing machine had created a hole in them. So underpants it was.
It took me some pondering time to decide how I could use them on my page. Some ideas were just too ambitious for my sewing skill level and some would have involved creating too much in the way of three dimensions which would make my art journal too difficult to work in. Finally, last night, as I snuggled down to watch some TV while wearing my jammies and clutching a mug of hot tea, I had my inspiration: hibernation.
So this is the page that resulted from a combination of undies and hibernation. Many days in winter I wish I could hibernate and just hole up somewhere cosy with jammies, a hot water bottle, endless supplies of tea and some favourite movies. The undies were in a soft jersey fabric so I adhered it to some thin card stock and then used some embroidery floss to add details to the pyjamas. The bear was painted in watercolour and then outlined in ink. I used gel pen for the lettering and narrowed the size of my page to eliminate some of the white by using strips of colourful, patterned washi tape. I have defaulted to my everyday illustrative style of drawing in order to create my DLP page again this week but using that fabric in a creative way was ample challenge. It is always good to be shoved out of one’s comfort zone and try something new but quite honestly I don’t think I will be in any rush to repeat the experiment of incorporating fabric into my art.
*PS The colours are not as washed out in real life. That’s just my camera phone not capturing the colours accurately enough once again*