Category Archives: Fiber Arts

Tiny People Made from Eye Drops Vials

As you may remember, I have been having some eye issues over the past three months and they continue to go on. I am getting closer to finding out what may be causing my vision loss and hope to know more very soon as to what the next course of treatment will be and what I might expect in the way of stabilization of my vision.

But, as part of the process, I have been doing intensive rehab of my corneas and eyelids. As part of this I take a LOT of eye drops. I use the single use vials because they have no preservatives, but that means there are a lot of plastic vials to be disposed of.

What to do? Well, when I first saw the shape of the vials I thought they looked like small people figures, somewhat like worry dolls. Immediately I knew I would be making tiny dolls, and what they decided to do for their careers, well, that was up to them – solve worries, live in tiny dollhouses, drive small cars, relax in the lush jungle foliage of a potted fern…

So let’s get going and I’ll tell you how I make them.

Here is a used vial. I take the lids off and let them sit a few days to dry out. Note – You will notice that in the following samples I didn’t do this, since when I wanted to make the demo photos I did not have any vials-in-waiting that were quite ready. But in general I save up a group and make quite a few dolls at a time.

Here are my supplies.

You may be wondering about the pliers. I have two sets – both from my jewelry class. They were very inexpensive.

I take the heads off the dolls while I am putting on their arms.

Then, I untwist a paper clip (I like the larger, stronger ones) and push it through the plastic “body”). This takes a little effort but it gets done.

Then I use the clipping area on the yellow pliers (close up to the hinge there is a sharp part to cut wire) to even up the “arms”. I then use the rounded pliers to form twirls for hands. I don’t try to make a pose with the arms at this time – I wait until the doll is finished.

Next, I get out my assortment of tiny fabric scraps and threads. I think you could also use paper or yarn as well, if you wanted to.

I make these women (they are all always female. Like every other figurine I make) with two basic outfit styles: wrapped thread skirt and wrapped cloth top, or cloth skirt and wrapped cloth top. You might come up with other ideas, it is up to you. For the thread skirt lady, I put some glue on the vial and wrap a lot of thread around and around until I cover up the glue.

For the cloth skirt ladies, I put glue on the vial and stick on a tiny piece of fabric so that it covers the whole bottom section. It doesn’t take much. Here are the two figures with their skirts done.

And, notice that they both have their arms in the air. I flip them to this position while dressing the figures because it gives me more room to work. It also makes me smile to see these tiny figures flexing their muscles or high-fiving me!

Next, the tops. I take a strip of fabric (and it doesn’t have to be very wide at all):

I put a line of glue on the front and back of the figure and begin to wrap the fabric in a figure-8 configuration – around the body, up to the shoulder, around the neck, back down, around the body to the other side and over the other shoulder in the same way. I add dots of glue as I go along to secure layers. Sometimes I don’t have a long enough strip so I just glue on another piece of fabric and keep going.

When the tops are done, the figures are dressed:

But sometimes I want to add more to the outfits. Maybe another fabric detail, or sometimes I use thread to wrap around the bodies in a decorative way. I gave this lady a couple of sashes.

Here are the two figures, all ready to go…

I could stop here, but I think they need faces. This is hard for me to do given my eyesight, so I take my time and if I make a mistake, I wipe the ink off ASAP before it dries and try again. What writing utensil do I use? After trying various pens and so on, I have settled on my cheapie acrylic paint pens.

They are used for painting rocks, and they write on anything, and once they are dry, their marks adhere well to the plastic surface, in my experience. Here are the twosome from above, now with faces:

Now, here are some shots of figures I have made. I have given some away and I’d be happy for anyone who wants three (always at least three, so they do not get lonesome) to let me know and we can work out sending some, maybe.

Or, you could make your own. Look around and see what materials could work for you. If you don’t have eye drops vials, how about twigs or even rolled up paper? No fabric – try paper. Glue? I bet you have glue!

Your imagination will guide you!

Small Fabric Pieces : Four

In August 2021 I put some time into making little fabric artworks. I used the technique I followed for much of the time I made fabric art for sale back inthe 1990’s and early 2000’s. For a full explanation, look here at this post I wrote about a large hanging I created not too long ago.

Short version: I adhere pieces of fabric to a canvas fabric background using stitching, either regular stitching with the machine or free-motion machine stitching. That’s it!

I’ve got several of these little images to show you and I’ll do so in a short series of posts.

These two images are the last in this series of small fabric artworks…for now. More will be coming! Anyway, these two images feature creatures of unknown types, and also there is a lot of blue in each image, too, isn’t there?

They are both about 6″ x 6″.

Small Fabric Pieces : Three

In August 2021 I put some time into making little fabric artworks. I used the technique I followed for much of the time I made fabric art for sale back inthe 1990’s and early 2000’s. For a full explanation, look here at this post I wrote about a large hanging I created not too long ago.

Short version: I adhere pieces of fabric to a canvas fabric background using stitching, either regular stitching with the machine or free-motion machine stitching. That’s it!

I’ve got several of these little images to show you and I’ll do so in a short series of posts.

Sometimes things don’t go right and I end up with an incoherent or just plain ugly piece. But there are always sections I like. The solution? I just cut the ugly parts away and end up with smaller works that now I like to look at all parts of them.

Here are two such images. The smaller one is about 3″ x 3″; the larger one is about 7″ x 3″.

Small Fabric Pieces : Two

In August 2021 I put some time into making little fabric artworks. I used the technique I followed for much of the time I made fabric art for sale back inthe 1990’s and early 2000’s. For a full explanation, look here at this post I wrote about a large hanging I created not too long ago.

Short version: I adhere pieces of fabric to a canvas fabric background using stitching, either regular stitching with the machine or free-motion machine stitching. That’s it!

I’ve got several of these little images to show you and I’ll do so in a short series of posts.

In this pair you can see I used a similar color scheme and some of the same fabrics. This is because I was trying to use up small scraps I have been collecting from other projects. Scraps are ideal for this kind of work – their small size and the sheer number of pieces give a lot of variety and action to the piece, I think.

Small Fabric Pieces : One

In August 2021 I put some time into making little fabric artworks. I used the technique I followed for much of the time I made fabric art for sale back inthe 1990’s and early 2000’s. For a full explanation, look here at this post I wrote about a large hanging I created not too long ago.

Short version: I adhere pieces of fabric to a canvas fabric background using stitching, either regular stitching with the machine or free-motion machine stitching. That’s it!

I’ve got several of these little images to show you and I’ll do so in a short series of posts.

Here are two images featuring people. They are about 6″ x 6″ or so.

A Punch Needle Project Looking at Me

I’m considering doing a larger-sized punch needle project, a small rug. I say considering, because it will take planning – I will need to build a frame, for instance, to work on. And buy supplies. And refine my ideas. And my technique! But I am approaching a time when I think the project may be feasible – I could make a rug that looked pleasing and did not fall apart.

Right now, though, I still need more practice in getting consistent results. Along those lines I recently did another small Barbie rug (as I call them – because to me they are just right for a Barbie doll to put into the Barbie house. A perfect rug to scrunch your toes in).

I made a design and drew it on the backing. Ugh, I hated it, immediately. Why, I don’t know, it looked fine on paper. Anyway, I then drew in some grid lines (to break the image up and to make sure I did not try to follow the pattern) and I decided this would be a free-for-all image. Meaning, I’d just put in a color and then another and wherever it ended up, well, there it went.

I did a couple of colors each night. Along the way, it seemed to become a sort of face. Well, ok, that is fine. Here it is.

The finished project is about 8″ x 8″. I used wool knitting yarn, bulky size, one strand, except for the navy blue around the edges. It was a little thin so I worked with a double strand.

Visit to the Allentown Art Museum 5/30/21

Our weather has been chill and pouring rain and clouds and more rain for this weekend. But my husband and I knew what to do – visit the museum. Off we went to the Allentown Art Museum in Allentown, PA, on this date.

Two new exhibits have just opened and both were of interest to me. I’ll do a quick rundown and then show you how I participated myself into an exhibit. Sort of. Kind of. If you stretch the definition…

But I digress. Let’s go.

The first we viewed exhibit is called Roots. It focuses on art or craft made by community artists and what happens when the mainstream art world discovers it and appropriates it or redefines it.

The exhibit contained quilts, furniture, sculpture, beadwork, and imagery. Pieces made by the community artists were shown along with works inspired by or derived from, or in some cases made by the community artists to fit the tastes of the mainstream art world.

Upon entering the room I imediately saw the quilts at the opposite end and I knew right away what I was looking at – Gee’s Bend works.

It’s the first time I was ever able to see a Gee’s Bend quilt in person and I took plenty of time to examine the artworks from the standpoint of how they were put together, to their composition, to just enjoying the look of them.

Coincidentally, not long ago I used the Gee’s Bend quilt community’s works, as well as a set of Allentown rowhouses, as my inspiration for a painting. Look here for the post, and here is the painting:

The accompanying mainstream works were prints made by professionals in conjunction with the original artists. They did not compare to the quilts, hands down.

The rest of the exhibit was equally absorbing. Shaker furniture compared to works of Nakashima and Esherick. Native American works compared to work produced by these same artists for tourists, or, in an interesting extrapolation, designs taken from Native American works and popular motifs of the time and printed on fabric by outside designers.

It was a thought-provoking exhibit and an interesting juxtaposition of items connected in a way we do not often think of them – how one can lead to another and what does that process mean to all involved?

More photos:

Next we went to this exhibit.

This gallery featured bedcoverings of all kinds and from all over the world, as close as the Allentown area and as far away as Asia. Various time periods from the past were also represented, as were techniques: weaving, printing, embroidery, quilting, and applique stitching.

The exhibit made the point that in the past, especially before the mechanical weaving of cloth was possible, bedcoverings were costly and a family’s wealth could have a significant portion invested in bedcovers and assorted linens and accessories. Take a look:

I was especially taken by this tiny “bedcovering” for a baby, made by a Hmong artist. It’s meant to be a baby carrier (according to the placard long sashes would have been sewed to the top to wrap up and around the baby and secure her to her mother – and I am envisioning my granddaughter in this item, as you can see).

According to the information, the extremely precise and exquisite embroidery and applique pattern was deliberately made to be complicated and elaborate so that evil spirits could not find the baby in all the distractions of the wrapping cloth. Additionally, the pompoms at the head were to make the spirits think the baby was a flower and thus camouflaged she would be left alone.

I found this touching. I resolved that when I next make a garment or item for my granddaughter I will consider these factors in my design. It can’t hurt.

Finally we took a quick trip up to the kids’ area. Since we were at the museum so early, the area had just opened and no kids had arrived yet. We had never been in here since it has always been so busy in the past.

The ramp up into the space has a display of fiber art – Cocoons. There was also a display of felted vegetation-like forms inside the kids’ area. I hear they are having a workshop later on featuring the making of such items. Hmmmm…

What a great spot for kids and families to make art and reflect on what they might have seen in the displays by creating something themselves.

That’s not a man sitting over there, it is a statue. Yes.

On our way out, my husband called me back to look at the…bathrooms. Right. Well, they are a treat. The Mens’ and Ladies’ both feature murals incorporating some of the museum’s well-known works. I saw some friends in each room.

And…here is where I became part of the exhibit myself. Kind of. Look and see if you can find me.

Sure you can! And my husband, too.

Well, that’s it for the visit. I hope to return and take another look at both of these displays this summer.

Finishing the Power-Tufted Rug

You may remember that a couple of weeks ago I attended a workshop on power rug-tufting and I wrote a detailed post on the event. But…I didn’t get to the finish line on this project in that post. Now I have done so and I’ll describe the last steps in completing the rug and show you the “masterpiece” as it now begins its life as a rug fully participating in rug life.

After that build-up I am sure you expect drama. Thankfully for me, there was none. Finishing the rug was easy and pretty quick.

When I came back from the workshop the rug looked like this, on its right (tufted) side. I had trimmed the yarn ends from the wrong side at the workshop before I took it off the frame. Here you see the rug on the backing fabric so you can have an idea of how it looked as it came off the frame.

I trimmed the right side of the rug at home. Then I was ready to glue the back.

If you don’t glue the back, the tufts can just pull out. The tension of being crammed together is not enough, long-term, to keep a rug together.

I viewed a video made by Tim Eads, the instructor, on how to do this glue step. In the ideal world, you would be doing this while the rug was still on the frame and held taut. But, I found it to be no problem doing the process with it spread out flat on a table.

First I steam ironed the rug from the right side (protected by a cloth and using only light pressure). This helped the rug stay flat.

Then I flipped it so that the back side faced me.

Then…I pulled out a specially purchased bottle of Elmer’s Glue. After some guesstimating I chose a 16-oz size. According to the video, yes, this product is perfectly fine for rugs that will be wall hangings or otherwise lightly used. Different glues are recommended for tufted clothing (??!!) or for rugs that will receive heavy wear.

Well, then I poured some glue into a bowl, swished a brush through it, and started lathering it on. In the video it was applied pretty thickly, so that is what I did, even though I felt queasy about applying glue all over the fibers.

Here is a comparison of the back fibers before and after glue:

Ick, is what I said, so it’s ok if you say the same! The next morning the glue had dried and was clear. I prodded the rug and decided more glue was needed in quite a few places, so I put on another coat. Yes, I used up that whole big 16 oz bottle and it was needed, believe me.

The next day, I was happy with the adhesion. I tried pulling out a tuft here and there and could not do it, so I felt things were secure.

I did not like the crunchy hard feeling of the back, now, though. Well, no matter. The glue was just doing its job. The next steps were:

  • trim the orignal backing cloth and fold it under
  • cut and sew by hand a cloth to cover the raw back of the rug.

I chose a light cotton fabric for the covering cloth. In retrospect I would have used a heavier fabric, maybe a light canvas. But it didn’t really matter since the rug is not going to receive hard use. I did not take a photo of the backing, but the result is similar to what I did for my punch needle tiny rugs:

Now the rug is finished. Here it is in its natural habitat on the floor:

I’m pleasantly surprised by the results. My only dislike was the crunchy sound the rug made as I walked on it, due to the glue…but, a few minutes of treading on it and that broke down the glue enough so that the rug was quiet. In no way did it feel lumpy or stiff even before I did this, so now…I think the rug is just right. It’s soft and cushiony on the feet and quiet too.

The cat likes it – he’s already tried it out for a short rest.

I don’t know what I will do with this rug, but…I’m enjoying it just to look at and to wiggle my toes in, for right now. I would like to try another project like this one sometime, that is for sure.

Another Form of Rug-Making: Power Rug Tufting

My art life is slowly taking a turn away from the past and from previous activities. While I don’t plan to give up painting and many of my old pursuits anytime soon, I am not doing shows anymore, and I don’t do art for my work anymore.

That’s led me to examine my art activities; I found I had a lot of “should” cropping up in my thinking. It’s hard to shake the feeling of “I should be painting right now” when for decades that was exactly right – art was work and I should be working because it was the time of my life for working.

Now things have changed and life has moved on. Art is just for fun.

Recently I have taken several online art classes and enjoyed the experience. In the process of finding those classes I signed up for email lists at a number of art insitutions, museums, and art centers. Back when I was focused on art for work, I never would have done such a thing. Now I am seeing all the activities I can try out.

Rug-making has interested me since I was young. I made a couple of knitted rugs long ago, but nothing else until I took an online punch needle class at Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh a few months ago. Since then you may remember I’ve made some Barbie-sized rugs:

I like doing this craft and I have plans for more tiny rugs and maybe someday a bigger one.

But I’m here today to tell you about another foray into rug-making – a class I took at Winterthur, in Delaware, on May 15, on the subject of power rug tufting.

First, Winterthur. (And you say it, Winter-tour. Now you know.) It’s a museum, garden and library located near Wilmington, DE. A former duPont family home (yes, those duPonts), it focuses on the collection of Henry Francis du Pont, a well-known antiques collector and horticulturist. The museum features American furniture and decorative arts. The gardens are extensive and beautiful.

The event I attended was part of the museum’s Sustainable Style Fair, which featured workshops on handmaking, recycling, and using nature in home projects. I read the description of the rug class from the museum’s website:

Learn to use power tufting machines to create rugs by hand with the help of internationally recognized artist and designer Tim Eads. Create and tuft your own simple design for a 20″ x 20″ rug or pillow using post-industrial, recycled cotton yarns. Learn how to cut, glue, and finish a rug for use on the floor or as a wall hanging and about other ways you might incorporate recycled materials.  All supplies are included and tufting machines are provided.

…and I knew I had to try it out. Is it possible to make a rug in one morning? So my husband and I took the one-hour drive to the museum on a beautiful morning. Our plan was that I’d do the class; he would explore the gardens (which he did, walking about 6 miles); and then we’d eat a picnic lunch and go home. 

We arrived a bit early and parked right by the classroom building. We took a very short walk around the location. It’s the height of azalea and rhododendron time in our area.

I was a bit envious of my husband’s anticipated walk when I took in this scene but I got very happy when I entered the classroom and saw things set up.

The class was being given by Tim Eads of Tuft the World in Philadelphia. And now, you wonder, what is power rug tufting?

Basically, you use a power tool, the tufting gun, to apply yarn through a fabric to create a fiber piece. I’d suggest looking at the website to see the tool, but it sort of reminded me of a drill in how it looked, though with a rapidly-moving “needle” that, when you press the trigger and apply it to the fabric, a series of stitches are made that result in either a plush surface or a looped surface (depending on which version of the tufting gun you use). Like punch needle, you work from the back of the rug.

Here are the yarns we will be using.

It’s easier to show you the set up than to describe it in words. Here are the frames ready for the fabric to be attached – what I saw when I came into the classroom.

Here is my station. You see the empty frame and the two dowels upon which the cones of yarn will be set. You use two cones at one time, and you can mix colors for a mottled effect or use two of the same for solids.

Here it is with the stretched fabric, held in place by these strips of carpet tacks attached to the frame. Eek! Those hurt if you brush against them. You can also see I have two colors of yarn, red and yellow, on my dowels.

We learned how to thread the tool. The tool had an on/off switch, of course, but for good measure I unplugged it every time I re-threaded. I know myself and my tendency for accidents with power tools.

Then we learned how to use the tool. Basically, you press it firmly to the fabric, squeeze the trigger, and move the tool upwards in a steady motion.

Yes, that is it.

You can see on my blank fabric I have drawn in the area to be worked. Tim suggested marking a section to be used for experimenting (read: the area where you try things and mess up so you don’t spoil your rug). The other members of the class drew designs on their fabric to follow. I did not do this – I figured I’d just get it as I went along.

As usual I got very caught up in the process and forgot to take many photos. But essentially, here’s how it goes. You can only run the tool in one direction: up. You can go in any direction as long as the tool thinks you are going up – in other words, you can make a horizontal line, but you just can’t scoot the tool sideways. You have to turn it and run it in that direction. Tim suggested that since we are beginners we use the tool only in the up direction.

So, to make a circle, say, the best way is to draw the shape and then make a series of staggered-length lines to fill it. It’s not hard to do this – because of how the tool works.

Somehow it knows how to make the stitches and cut them into individual tufts every single one of them. So when you stop, you just pull the tool away. The mysterious scissors inside this thing has cut off the yarn, of course, ready for another tuft. You just move the tool to where you want to go next and press the trigger and you’re off!

Anyway, I was more interested in all the colors and trying combinations of colors. I just started making lines. Here is a view of the back at some point in the process.

Every so often I would walk around to the front and get a glimpse of what I was making. Here are a couple of process shots.

Why I had so many long tails in front, I wondered – Tim said it was where I had hesitated or slowed down. No matter, they will trim off even. (You’ll see!)

Eventually, I finished my work. I covered not only the “official” part of my rug, but I also incorporated my “practice” area. You really can make a rug in one morning, it turns out.

We took it off the frame (more ouches from touching those darn tack strips) and I trimmed the back. Here are some of the scraps.

We discussed the finishing of our rugs. We will need to put a glue on the back to secure the stitches and then turn under the fabric edges. I don’t plan to use my rug as a floor covering (though I don’t know what I will do with it!) so I think I will also put a fabric backing on it just to make it look nicer. The finishing will take place at home with instructions from a video Tim made.

Now you want to see the rug. OK, here it is. Remember, it still needs to be finished as I said above, but you can now see the plush look of it. I can tell you, it is very soft!

Here it is just off the frame, before I trimmed this side (which I did later at home). I have the rug in the position in which I worked on it.

And here is the trimmed version. The “practice” area in this shot is the 1/3 to the left – I usually did a couple of lines to test out the colors before I went to the “official” side. Later, when I saw I was going to have enough time to cover the whole fabric, I filled in the gaps.

Well, that’s the story of me and my introduction to power rug tufting. Here’s my take on the whole thing: I loved doing this project, and I would sign up for another workshop in a minute. Now that I feel I have a good handle on how things work, I have some ideas I would like to try…

Do I want to have my own tools and set up and so on? No, I don’t. To me this is clearly one of those activities that I’d like to dip into at intervals. It fits right in with my desire to explore new fields without feeling I have to become proficient or dedicated to them. I do see how the craft could grab hold of you, though. There are so many possibilities with color as well as experimenting with mixing loop and plus textures. And I also learned that the tool can be adjusted to make longer or shorter plush or loops…hmmm…

So I would say, what a great experience! And thank you to Tim and my fellow classmates. We had a lot of fun doing this activity. I’ll end with a quote my husband found on a sign out in the garden. I think it fits.