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

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?

A Year of Daring Greatly Starts Now!

I’ve been reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and
as a result, I’ve decided to dedicate this year to reaching out to other
people. That means putting myself in a vulnerable position, because they might “shut
me down” or reject me. It involves taking a risk, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what
Brown means by “daring greatly.”
Well, so far, the venture has been worthwhile. On a
whim, I emailed Alice Zinn, a renowned miniature artist, who lives just up the
road, and invited her to lunch. 
I’ll let Alice tell you what happened next: I did a little research on Joanna, including
getting in touch with my pal author Camille Minichino. (Margaret Grace to those
of us who read her “M” in Miniature murder mystery series.) Camille
assured me I would have a good time.

We agreed to meet at Riverwalk Caf

Ten Things I've Learned about Glue and Making Miniatures

  1. The glue gun is not my friend. When it comes to miniatures, the glue is too thick and too lumpy. It can make a real mess.
  2. A glue stick is perfect for gluing down fabric. I would have never guessed this!
  3. You can use superglue on wood. Who knew? I always thought it was for gluing plastic and metal. Okay, it can soak in quickly, so you might have to put on more than you’d expect, but it works pretty well.
  4. By adding a little water to superglue, it will “grab” right away. I use a small syringe, fill it with water, and squirt a drop on one of the two surfaces. The superglue goes on the other surface.
  5. But water turns superglue white. So you need to be careful about how and where you use it.
  6. Tacky glue doesn’t dry rigid. White glue or wood glue does. 
  7. You can mix tacky glue and white glue for a hold that’s fast and more secure.
  8. Wood glue is actually stronger than wood when it dries.
  9. You can’t stain over glue, so you should stain your pieces first, and then glue them together.
  10. If you superglue your fingers together, don’t panic and rip them apart. You’ll tear off a patch of skin. 
Yup, that’s my list. As every crafter knows, you have to own a lot of different glues to get the job done. I hope this list will help you make the right decision, one you can stick with!

Love, Crafts, and the Fine Art of Dumpster Diving

Two days ago, I noticed a big red Dumpster behind our apartment complex. It looked to be empty.

That’s interesting, I thought.

Yesterday evening, my husband and I were walking Jax when I noticed the Dumpster had been filled to the brim. Looks to me like the apartment management evicted someone, sending their furniture packing as well. A red sofa extended above pieces of wood, paper, and articles you’d have to examine closely to identify.

That made me sad. Once upon a time, a bank threatened to evict my mother, my sisters, and me. I don’t think that any of us will ever forget that bleak period in our lives.

Then it made me wonder. Was there any good that could come out of this ugly situation? While I was pondering this, thinking deep thoughts, David and Jax kept walking. “Honey?” called my husband. “Come on. Leave it alone.”

He knows me too well.

Because by then, I’d decided to investigate. I climbed up on the ledge surrounding the big red trash container. I’m short so I couldn’t look deep inside, but I did see a piece of board sticking out. A big piece of wood.

Big enough to serve as a base for my dollhouse and the potting shed.

Big enough and sturdy enough that I wouldn’t have to go to Home Depot and buy a piece of plywood and pay for them to cut it to size.

Big and free.

Even freer after I tugged it out.

David, I must confess, was mortified. He started walking in the other direction with body language that clearly stated, “I don’t know that woman!”

I tugged and tugged. I had to reach in and move a couple of other boards around. Luckily for me, I’ve kept up with my tetanus shots, because that big piece of wood had nails sticking out. But once I began to extricate it (classy word for trash-picking, eh?), I was determined that it would be MINE.

David didn’t offer to help. Instead, he said, “Oh, honey…” in that tone of voice that means, “I love you, but right now, I would cheerfully pretend we aren’t married.”

So I dragged it home. I do mean drag, because it’s heavy. I put it in the spare bedroom. I waited until today when David’s at work. I hauled it out. Knocked down the nails. Pried off a half dozen small squares of excess wood that served as braces. Put it up on our kitchen island. And started making plans. BIG plans for my dollhouse.

The way I see it, I saved something from the landfill, I saved money, and I’m moving ahead with my crafts. Next time I walk past that Dumpster, I might just vault over the side and poke around a little more.

Have you ever been Dumpster Diving?

Kit Bashing — A Dollhouse Furniture Bargain

“Kit bashing” is a term miniaturists use, and one that every crafter should get to know. You “bash a kit” when you take creative liberties with a project, putting your own spin on it.

I love kit bashing.

Curiously, I’ve noticed a big difference between miniaturists and scrapbookers. When I took scrapbook classes, a lot of the participants wanted their finished products to look EXACTLY like the teacher’s sample. But miniaturists want to do their own “thang.” In fact, in the Fred Cobbs’ class I recently took, not one single person copied Fred’s model! We all made minor adjustments.

For me, the best part of kit bashing is that you have most of the raw materials at hand. So often when you start a project, you discover you don’t have enough wood or paper or some item that’s absolutely necessary. When you kit bash, you have the basics–and that’s your point of departure.

You can “bash” as little or as much as you like.

Recently I bought the Greenleaf Dollhouse Furniture kit.

 http://www.hayneedle.com/product/6roomfurniturekitset1inchscale.cfm

A lot of dollhouse furniture for the price!

It’s advertised as being 47 pieces of furniture, all in one-inch to a foot scale. Although if you read the reviews, the scale is a bit…iffy. I did read the reviews, so I pretty much knew what I was getting into, although the people at Greenleaf could be more helpful by providing clearer photos and measurements for each piece.

Many of the pieces have no back, just a front. None have hinges and as far as I can tell, none of the doors open. Some of the design is pretty weird. A big much-ish. But that was fine by me. I didn’t want to have to build everything from scratch. I could start with their project and make it mine!

The space between the front and back legs on the side is totally empty on their version. Notice there are no hinges for the door.

What did I bash?

1. I sawed the top off of the curio cabinet. I also added side panels to the open spaces along the bottom legs to make it more realistic. Then I added a paper clay gargoyle head. I also left off the front doors (for now at least) and some of the trim.

Here’s my version (although it needs a coat of polyester shine! Right now the paint is too flat.):

2. The sink in the bathroom was far too big for my bathroom. But the hamper was about the right size–except it had no back and the doors didn’t open. So I turned it around 360 degrees. The front is now the back. I added a shelf inside and a door on the front. (Again, I need hinges! My kingdom for hinges!)

And here’s my version:

The door isn’t really crooked, but when I left it open so you could glimpse the shelf inside, it skews the photo. To make the kick-plate I traced the back onto a second piece of wood and cut it out. The door was trial, error, and sanding. This size works perfectly in my bathroom. I’m now waiting on the sink (white air dry clay molded over a measuring spoon) to dry so I can add the wash basin on the top. I wanted it to be one of those trendy sinks that sits on TOP of the cabinet rather than being sunk into the wood.

These might actually be the only two pieces I use, although I am definitely using the mirrors and frames. Given the cost of dollhouse furniture, I think the kit is a bargain. I paid about $44 with shipping for 47 pieces. That’s less than a buck a piece. If I just use the curio, two mirrors, and the sink, that’s only $11 per piece. See? I’m definitely getting my money’s worth!

How about you? Have you ever kit-bashed? Were you pleased with the results? Would you do it again?