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How I Became a Knotty Girl


After my surgery, I decided to take up miniature rug making. But I had a few problems, so I decided to email the “Queen of French Knots” herself,  Teresa Layman.

Check out her Etsy page here: Teresa Layman

And this is Teresa’s response to my many questions:

Woohoo —  another Knotty girl!

First, I would suggest that you tighten the fabric in the hoop. Taut fabric makes easier stitching when it comes to French knots.

Also, my favorite hoop size is a 5″ Susan Bates hoop. I like it, because it fits my hand really well and I can use my fingers on the underside to feel if the thread has made any “birds nests” and with the 5″ size, I can reach across the whole back, so wherever I am working, I can feel that.

That being said, on larger designs, sometimes I will start on a 5″ hoop, work the center (so I can reach it easily) and then switch to a 6 or 7″ hoop for the outsides of the design. I do this so none of the knots will get squashed by being caught in the hoop.

To answer your questions: Outlines first or last?

If by “outlines” you mean a separate color in a single line of knots, then I do it first. The reason being I can see to stitch on that line. That’s what I mean in my instructions by “stitch the details first” (fine lines and dots, etc.). If you mean outlining a section of a colored space and then filling in with the same color, I don’t outline; instead I fill in the color working up to the line. Does that make sense? When my stitching reaches that line, I place my stitches just up to that side of the line, not on the line. Since all those knots have height, width and depth which is larger than the line, when I put in the stitches on the other side of the line, those knots will meet in the middle of that line and the knots on each side will take up about half of the line width. I know that is all really picky and technical, but that is how I get the results I want.

bees and hive rug

My attempt at the “Bees and Hive” rug by Teresa Layman.

Next question: How do you get the dots to line up?

 
If you mean on a line, I am very careful to stitch exactly on the line. I place the knots on a line very close together (but not on top of each other), and if the knots push each other out of the way, that’s ok. You have to think of the finished surface like a big community of knots and they all hold each other up. If you can push them back into line by running your thumbnails along each side of them, that is what the rest of the knots will do when you stitch them in and your line will be held neatly in place as long as you stitched on the line in the first place.

Joanna, I hope you are soon fully recovered from your surgery, and I’m so glad my little knotwork could help you through that! — Teresa Layman

An Herbs and Potions Rack


The kitchen in Miss Wanda’s House for Hapless Haunts was a bit bare. I knew it needed more storage, so I followed a plan given on the excellent blog written by longtime miniaturist Joann Swanson. Except…the rack turned out to be too big.

So I started over and concocted this tiny rack.

The shelves are made from drink coasters, a substance I really like to use. It’s an easy to cut cardstock. The struts are from matchsticks. You have to search for ones that aren’t misshapen.

The tiny sign was cut from a drink coaster. I painted the flower image and used a .005 Micron pen to write the words. I wanted it to look old and shabby.

On one side is a bouquet of dried babies’ breath culled from a RL (real life) bouquet. The labels are from the Internet. You can put “Halloween labels” into Google and find them. I sized and printed them. Most of the tiny glass bottles are from the dollar store, where they held glitter and micro beads to be used to decorate fingernails. The lids are a dab of Elmer’s Wood Putty covered with silver nail polish.

“Reposing Rat” was the item that gave me the most trouble!

I had to find a gray substance that would look gunky. Finally I used a gummy product, a putty. The container is the plastic bubble from a pill pack. It’s seated on a piece of card stock.

The yellow bottle is different. It’s a cut-off piece from a plastic squirt vial given to me by a chef. Fancy restaurants use these vials for lemon juice and such. I sliced it short, glued a bottom on to it, added the label, and painted the bottle yellow. The squat container to the right is a piece of sawed off plastic with a button and two stacked circles of cardstock on top.

I made the green-handled basket from a hollowed out acorn. The top of the nut was filled with air-drying clay. The handle is made from the same clay. I coated it with green nail polish and added plastic plant pieces and a label. The labels really make the scene, I think.

The dried flower arrangement is in a tiny black basket made from cardstock. Although bittersweet is actually too big to be in scale, it still looks cool. I picked it from weeds growing in a lot beside our apartment up in DC. Some of the pod pieces fell off, so I glued them back on.

In situ, the rack is the perfect size. The white color shows up nicely against the orange wall. I’m pretty pleased with it! Now I need to make a small table to go to the right of the sink. I also need to finish up the china set. More to come!

The Bee's Knees–Facts about Bee Swarms


by Joanna Campbell Slan
I couldn’t let my “bee encounter” buzz by without doing a wee bee research activity. Here’s what I learned:
  • The bees that are dying are domestic honeybees, commercially raised. The colonies are collapsing.
  • African bees are mating with wild honeybees, creating a more aggressive strain.
  • By looking at them, a bee expert can’t tell the difference between African bees and native wild bees.
  • A nest that’s bred with African bees might be docile one minute and aggressive the next.
  • Bees don’t move much or fly much when it’s rainy. Heat will stir them up.
  • African bees don’t like cold weather, so the problem is confined to the southern states.
  • The USDA has told licensed bee companies NOT to move wild nests because they might have African bees in them and that would pose a public safety hazard. Unfortunately these nests should be eradicated.
  • Bees rest from five to seven days after swarming.
  • The phrase “the bee’s knees” might have started with the phrase “the be-all and end-all,” but when it was repeated quickly, the new phrase was born. So it isn’t really about bees, but about “B’s.” It means “something fantastic.” 
  • But the first official appearance was in 1907, in a book called Mr. Goggles by Henry Collins Brown: “Bee-raising is a good side line for the farmer, especially since the swell restaurants have made a specialty of fried bees’ knees. Such a beesness!”
  • The Brits seem to write it thusly: bees’ knees.
  • And the phrase also became a fad during the Roaring Twenties, when people crowed about, “The bee’s knees!” This slang phrase deserves a revival, don’t you think?
That’s me, flying off to do my own thing.
Hmmm. I think I need to write a story about these bees. What do you think?
Oh, and if I have any of this wrong, please bee nice and let me bee correct.

Sweethearts–A Miniature Shop for Lovers


Around Valentine’s Day I felt absolutely compelled to create a miniature shop of all things heart-shaped. But I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. Here’s what I wound up with…

The shell of the shop was a paper mache “hatbox.” I cut out the front door, covered it in black and white Contact paper, trimmed it with black Duck Tape, and added a patio. I also bought a cheap Styrofoam heart wreath and took it apart to put the hearts on the top of the box lid. A line of pink quilling tape runs under the edge of the lid.

The topiary bushes are Styrofoam hearts that I painted and covered with sawdust that I collected from the floor of my local Home Depot. (I actually walked in with a whisk broom and dustpan and cleaned up. No one minded!) The gold urns are party favors from the Dollar Tree. They originally were trophy cups, but I took off the handles and painted them. The sign was part of a Valentine’s Day card I gave David and promptly took back from him.

The lights are the most expensive portion of this display. A bar of LED lights was inserted in the lid. I also had a strand of tiny lights that I put around the heart display shelves in the back. The white border around the top of the wall is actually the plastic strapping tape from a box with reams of paper. The flexibility was great, although it was hard to get the acrylic paint to stick. I added the hearts because of that flaking paint–and came to like them.

The joy of a miniature shop is in its clutter. I love having too much for the eye to take in. Here you see the shelf unit that was once a box of chocolates, the table and chairs, and the side walls. The shelves of the shelf unit are actually pieces from the original box of chocolates.

A close up of the shelves. Let’s work our way from the bottom up. On the bottom are linens made from a paper napkin and lace trim. A box of chocolate from a printie. A tiny Oriental book, tied with black string, from the Bas Bleu catalog. Two large heart bookends. On the next shelf is a container of Ferrer Roche chocolates made from the plastic bubble of a gum package and real wrappers. A perfume bottle. A rack of Valentine postcards, a poster, a candle, a container of real bath salts, an envelope filled with love letters. On the top shelf is a flower arrangement from dried blossoms from an RL (Real Life) arrangement in a small plastic piece I found on the beach, and an assortment of chocolate boxes from printies and from paper Valentine’s Day plates. The tiny box on the right is a printie. On the left bottom is a floral arrangement in a basket with a piece of blue plastic I found on the beach. The red mesh is from a bag of oranges. I made the flowers in this arrangement.

To the right of the shelves is a pink birdhouse with a faux license plate roof. A clock made from dressmaker pins stuck into a shaped piece of wood with hands from plastic toothpicks. An original Zentangle piece of art on canvas I bought from Walmart in the crafts section. The red wax candle in cellophane came from a real candle. The cup with succulents was a purchase from a miniaturist named Betinha Murta (http://betinhamurtaminiatures.blogspot.com/) who taught me to make the roses to the left of the cup with cold porcelain. The signs (love) are “tin” from old Coke cans.

One other cold porcelain rose is in this bouquet. I made the chairs, of which this is one. The tie on the bouquet is a re-used twist tie that had a pretty metallic plastic coating.

Here we are looking to the left. I made the tiny black table. The white shelf unit is plastic that washed up on the beach. I think it must have held batteries? The Valentine’s Day card holder is topped by a piece of metal I found on the ground that’s had a tiny picture of a rose and micro beads added. The big red heart is a rock. The small pink heart on the stand was a bead on a bookmark by my friend and author Krista Davis. The small pink books with the black dress are from a sticky note set from my friend and author Penny Warner. The mirror with hearts is a mirror with punched out hearts stuck around it. I really, really love the picture of the tree with red hearts for leaves. The plates are paper.

Here’s a close up of that black table. The candy dish is made from plastic marked “6” in the recycling code. Any plastic that’s 6 can be shrunk. So I used a rubber stamp to stamp a design, cut the plastic into a heart-shape and applied heat to shrink it. The white vase to the right of it and behind it (the candy dish) is a bit of junk found on the beach.

Here is a close-up of that white shelf unit. I couldn’t believe that I’d found something exactly to scale for this project and it was there on the sand! All I did was clean and paint it with a fresh coat of white! The books I made, and the tiny picnic basket to the right on the bottom shelf is a printie, assembled of course. The tiny tissue “box” is a bead with a heart I painted on it. I also made the tiny clock the LOVE sign, the boxes of perfume, the boxes and the hearts stuck into the floral bouquet are from the hangers for Christmas ornaments, shaped, soldered onto a metal stem, and covered with plastic.

I printed out the plates, shaped them, cut them, painted the edges gold, and covered them with clear nail polish. The napkins are bits of paper napkins tied with gold thread. The forks are pieces of metal from the tops of wine bottles. I doubled the metal and glued it together before cutting and shaping it. The cake stand is the plunger from a syringe cut to 1/4″ tall and topped with a button before being painted white.

I’m very proud of the skirt on the table. I soaked the fabric in glue/water before draping it over the table form. I love the way the fabric drapes!

So what did I buy?  The initial paper mache box, the scrapbook paper for the walls, the “tile” for the floor, the lights, the pink saucer and succulents, the tiny dog statue, the cake–and the rest are all raw materials I put together. Most of the expense, where there is any, came from printies, paint, and glue. The purchased finished items probably cost me less than $25 or $30.

I still have a tiny bit of work to do, but mainly, it’s finished! What do you think?

QTR — And Why It Matters


By Joanna Campbell Slan

Last night our dear friend Eric introduced me to a new term: QTR.

I’d never heard of it. So he explained, “It means Quality Time Remaining,” and he went on to say it has to do with how you spend the rest of your life.

Now Eric is as smart a man as any I’ve ever met. Maybe even more important, he’s wise and he’s kind. So when he talks, I listen, and then I think. A lot.

This morning, I looked up QTR and found this reference CLICK

or go to

http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/stories/2003-12-07/a-round-with-wayne-huizenga

The article quotes American entrepreneur Wayne Huizenga as saying, “I have a friend who’s my age [65], and the last thing we say when we hang up is ‘QTR’ — ‘quality time remaining.’ I don’t know how many years I’ll be able to play golf, so I’m going to enjoy every minute of this.”

I’m not interested in playing golf, but I am interested in making the rest of my life matter. Eric’s phrase reminded me to focus on what’s important and on enjoying each day to the fullest. 

None of us know how much time we have left. As we age, and we see others struck down by Alzheimer’s or crippling diseases, we recognize that healthy, productive time is a premium. 

So I’m going to spend more time THINKING about the time I have left, in order to maximize each moment of each day. That doesn’t mean I’m going to work like a fiend. It does mean that I’m going to appreciate each moment and make choices that reflect my values.

I think these questions might lead me to more QTR:

1. Who and what matter to me?
2. What sort of relationships do I want with people who matter to me? Am I actively cultivating those relationships?
3. Who or what take up a lot of time and effort–and are a waste of my time and effort? Who or what deserves more of my time and effort than I’m currently giving him/her/it?
4. What am I trying to change that can’t be changed? What do I need to change that I SHOULD change?
5. What joys do I overlook or under-appreciate?
6. How do I need to re-arrange my life so I can be more fully joyful and present?
7. What do I want to accomplish in the time that I have left?
8. What plans do I need to make–and start working on right now?
9. What am I putting off that matters?
10. What enjoyable activities am I shortchanging? Delaying for a day that might never come?

I’m curious. Have you ever heard of QTR? Do you think about the rest of your life and how you want to spend it?

**

Joanna Campbell Slan is actively pursuing her QTR while writing books and walking the beach on Jupiter Island. Learn more at www.JoannaSlan.com

Sea Trash Brooch


8 MILLION tons of plastic are added to our oceans every year. But we can all do something about it! Next time you walk the beach, pick up that plastic and transform it. I’ll tell you how in a future post.

How I Write a Short Story, Part IV


To review:  

I have these elements…a time frame (St. Patrick’s Day), interesting factoids (people actually DO make their own luck to some extent), a conflict (Clancy hates St. Patrick’s Day), and a mystery (why? because it’s the day her husband left her). 

I need some activities (Kiki’s crafts–I’ll have to come up with these), and a resolution (I’ll think of something).

I also have a cute sidebar problem. Anya loves animals and when she hears that Laurel owns a rabbit’s foot, she goes nuts! (Or course, it’s a fake rabbit’s foot, but Anya doesn’t know that.) 

What else do I need? Well, I need a snappy opening line. Something that sets the stage for my story. It should foreshadow problems, entice my readers, and get the ball rolling.

Now, back to the resolution. I’ll need a BIG ending. Remember, I’ve been thinking a lot about Clancy, and I have a surprise in store for her. To me, a BIG ending would mean a change of luck for Clancy. 

Okay, I’ve got all my ducks in a row! Again, here’s my list for preplanning a short story:

* time frame — often concurrent with a holiday
* interesting factoids — research
* a conflict or problem to be solved
* a mystery or a secret
* a sidebar perhaps, or a link back to an earlier Kiki story or book
* activities 
* a resolution

And of course, I already have my cast of characters because it’s a Kiki Lowenstein short story. Tune in tomorrow, and I’ll get the story started.

How I Write a Short Story, Part III


So Barb H. had a wonderful idea, “Perhaps St Patrick’s day has always been unlucky for Clancy because that is when her father died or her husband left her or she lost a child. I am getting all these crazy ideas and am probably off base. I will be anxious to hear what you say!”

Barb thinks like I do! 

So now I have these elements…a time frame (St. Patrick’s Day), interesting factoids (people actually DO make their own luck to some extent), a conflict (Clancy hates St. Patrick’s Day), and a mystery (why? because it’s the day her husband left her). 

I need some activities (Kiki’s crafts–I’ll have to come up with these), and a resolution (I’ll think of something).

I also need to look back over Kiki’s world and think about possible ways to tie this story into Kiki’s life. One idea comes immediately to mind. In Handmade, Holiday, Homicide, we learn that Laurel has a lucky rabbit’s foot–but it’s fake fur. We know that Anya loves animals. She would be appalled to hear that Laurel has a rabbit’s foot, especially if she didn’t know it was fake! So somehow, I’d like to weave that into my story.

We’re almost at the end of the planning stage…except that I’d been thinking about Clancy, a lot, and I had surprise in store for her and her life. Keep reading to see what that is!

How I Write Short Stories, Part 2


In Part 1, I chose a theme (getting lucky) and did some research. Now I need a conflict, some sort of friction, because conflict drives action.

Since this is a short story, and not a book, I need to keep it simple. A disagreement. A problem. A minor hassle.

Hmmm.

Okay, what about someone who complains that she is chronically unlucky bumping up against the luckiest woman on earth? These words resonate with me because right now there’s a really stupid commercial on local TV where the announcer says, “I’m the luckiest woman on earth because I got to take a three day cruise to the Bahamas!” Her voice is totally annoying.

How would this work?

My readers love to “watch” Kiki teach a class, because so many of them are crafters, too. So what if I have Miss Lucky and Miss Unlucky in the same class? Certainly that could get troublesome. What if they get into a fight? A quarrel?

What if someone bets Miss Unlucky that she’ll become lucky with the right lucky charm?

Okay, I like that. But it seems a bit too easy. I want to bump it up a bit. How about a lot of lucky charms? What if an entire class contributed lucky charms and loaned them to our Miss Unlucky?

Now that sounds kind of interesting to me. How about you?

Kiki Lowenstein and the Life Stories, Part !


By Joanna Campbell Slan
As
the owner of Time in a Bottle, a scrapbook and craft store in St. Louis, I
teach a lot of classes. Sure, it might make sense to delegate them, but
teaching is one of my favorite activities. Besides the joy of putting together
the projects, I learn so much about my customers, their lives, their hopes and
dreams. Usually, I come away from a class feeling inspired.

Now
there are those who say the lives of “ordinary” women are boring. None of us
have super-powers. Most of us don’t run huge companies. Very few of us make
world-shaking decisions. But ordinary women bring new life into this world.
Once a child has arrived, we nurture that life and the lives of everyone we
come into contact with. And very often, we are there to see death when it comes
to claim our friends and family members. Tell me, what’s more important than
all that?

Nothing.
Because life is all that matters. In the end, we hope that we’ve lived a
journey worth celebrating. Scrapbooks do just that. They celebrate our lives,
committing our stories to paper so we can pass them along to the next
generation.

That’s
exactly what I told my eight students on that blustery day in January. “Welcome
to ‘My Journey,’ a class designed to help you record your lives. We’re going to
meet monthly to share our stories. While this is a scrapbooking class, a lot of
our focus will be on journaling. Since it’s often an undervalued part of our
craft, that might seem hard at first, but I’ll be here to help.”

“We’re
going to be writing?” A slight frown marred the perfectly made-up face of Leah
Adagio. Of course, it wasn’t a complete frown because she couldn’t wrinkle her
brow, the result of heavy Botox use. I knew Leah by reputation since she ran
with my mother-in-law’s country club crowd. To say I’d been surprised to see
her was an understatement.

“That’s
right. Although you’ll be making a scrapbook, you’ll also be working to tell
your life story in words.” At that point, I hesitated as my co-worker Clancy
Whitehead slipped into an empty chair at our worktable. I raised an eyebrow to
question Clancy. She caught my drift.
“I
decided to join the class. I hope you don’t mind.”

As
usual, she wore a classically stylish outfit—in this case gray slacks, a
matching sweater, and an ivory silk blouse. Her glossy presence reminded me
that I was struggling with my post-baby weight. Consequently, I was still
wearing my maternity pants and large blouses. Clancy has a touch of OCD, which
makes her quite the perfectionist. She’s the first to admit that she goes too
far in her quest to have everything “just so.” Although we’ve known each other
for three years, and despite the fact I consider her a best friend, she’s still
a mystery to me. There are parts of her life that she won’t share. And now she
was joining a class designed to encourage sharing. Would she really let down
the barriers and let me see what she was hiding?

I
couldn’t help but wonder.  Clancy guarded
her privacy with all the zeal of the Fort Knox security forces.

Rather
than ponder the matter further, I gave my class their first assignment. “I want
you to write about a toy you had as a child, and why that particular toy
mattered to you. Tell us who gave you the toy. How you played with it, and
where it is today, if you know. When you come back next month, please bring
photos of the toy or pictures of you as a child.”

The
words were no more than out of my mouth when I glanced over to see Clancy
frown. 

And unlike Leah, Clancy’s whole face creased in disapproval.

Editor’s
Note:
Stay
tuned for part 2!

Joanna Campbell Slan is a national,
bestselling and award-winning author. 
She has just completed Shotgun, Wedding, Bells: Book #11 in a mystery series featuring ace scrapbooker Kiki
Lowenstein. It’s available at  
http://www.amazon.com/Shotgun-Wedding-Lowenstein-Scrap-N-Craft-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00SURBH7A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425331179&sr=8-1&keywords=Shotgun+Wedding+Bells
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