Friday, January 27, 2012

Valentine's Day: Heart Notes

My husband always discounts Valentine's Day as "another one of those Hallmark holidays", but I disagree. Valentine's Day officially dates back to 496 AD when Pope Gelasius  proclaimed February 14 to be a feast day in honor of St. Valentine, a Roman martyr of the third century. The Christian feast was to replace the pagan Roman feast of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration observed annually on February 15. There are many versions of the story of St. Valentine, but most agree that he was a bishop of the early church who held secret marriage ceremonies for Roman soliders who wished to marry after the Emporer Claudius II declared it to be illegal. (History of Valentine's Day) So actually, Valentine's Day is one of the oldest holidays -- long pre-dating greeting cards.

As a child, I loved Valentine's Day. My mom always made it special. She would make special, decorated sugar cookies and buy us beautiful red foil, heart-shaped boxes of Sander's chocolates.
 We would usually get a small gift. For example, I can remember my sister and I each getting a sterling silver charm for our charm bracelets one year. We would get out construction paper, doilies, glue, and crayons and make beautiful Valentines.

Plus, there was always the fun of going to the store and choosing Valentines for classmates, making special Valentine "mailboxes" to hold all our cards, and Valentine's Day parties at school.  Perhaps you can see why Valentine's Day holds a special place in my heart.  I have tried to preserve some of these special traditions with my own children over the years. Even though they are adults now, I still make sure they at least get a special Valentine card and a little gift to celebrate.

Adding to my Valentine's traditions, this year I did complete a couple of new pieces of jewelry in honor of Valentine's Day for my ArtFire shop -- my Hand-Embroidered and Beaded Heart Earrings and a Whimsical Hand-Felted Beaded Heart Pendant.

And on another Valentine's Day note, the ArtFire of Michigan Guild (of which I am a member) is adding to the holiday festivities by sponsoring a Valentine's Day Giveaway Contest!  Many members of the Guild are donating wonderful items they've created. I contributed my Colors of the Heart Bracelet.

 The winner of the Giveaway receives the ENTIRE collection of donated items!  The Giveaway runs from January 29th through February 4th, so be sure to visit the ArtFire of Michigan Guild Blog and enter for a chance to win!

I know Valentine's Day is still two weeks away, but getting ready for it is the best part.  Happy planning and Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Works in Progress

It seems to be that time of year -- a time for projects and plans in-the-works. We all find ourselves doing things like gathering things together to do taxes, getting into new school terms, starting new home improvement projects, and trying to carry out our New Year's resolutions.  Speaking of New Year's resolutions, did you notice that my blog was updated on time this week?  Yes, I made my Friday weekly deadline!

At Gossamer Tangles, I find myself in the midst of working on a couple of new pieces for Valentine's Day.  I am hoping to finish some hand-embroidered heart earrings, a necklace that will basically match them, and a hand-felted wool heart pendant.

I am hoping to finish them in time to get them into my ArtFire store by the end of January.

Another "work-in-progress" that I am very excited about is my son's comic.  He started at Eastern Michigan University this past fall.  Almost immediately, he got a job with the Eastern Echo (EMU's bi-weekly newspaper) producing an original comic strip, "Bleeping Bacon Bits".

I love it!  It always brings a smile to my face.  It's about two "puff ball" guys (as Tony calls them) who are college roommates, Kenny and Gasser, and their weird, quirky and always funny adventures. He's two weeks into the Winter term now and the Echo finally updated their comics archives so I can now read BBB online!  But even the archives update is a work-in-progress.  They only have the first 17 strips archived and online -- but yesterday there were only 14, so they seem to be adding more every day!

I hope that whatever your "work-in-progress" may be, you are enjoying it.  The joy is in the doing!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Common Threads: My Grandmother's Legacy

"No cord or cable can draw so forcibly, or bind so fast, as love can do with a single thread." (Robert Burton)  The "single thread" of love was and is a strong bond between me and my Grandma Smith.  If you've read the "bio" section of this blog, you know she had a huge influence on my love of needle arts.  I doubt I would have have ever picked up a crochet hook, had it not been for her demonstrated love of that art form.  Gossamer Tangles probably would not exist.

But in addition to the metaphorical common thread of love that binds us, my grandmother also left me a very tangible gift of "common thread" when she passed away several years ago.  She left me her thread box. When I create something, not only are my grandmother's love, patience, and inspiration incorporated into the piece, but quite often, a strand of her thread collection becomes a part of the project as well.

My grandmother not only crocheted, but she also loved to sew (as does my mother).  She especially loved hand-quilting.  Whenever she finished a project, she always saved her leftover thread. Garnering a large collection over the years, she kept the spools together in a multi-layered plastic box, which was given to me by my mom when my grandma died.

As you can see, the box is full of a huge variety of colors of thread and I've found that since inheriting it, I have rarely needed to buy new thread for hand-sewn projects.  I can almost always find what I need in my grandma's box.  But not only does the box contain a veritable treasure trove of color choices, it also tells much about the history of thread in its contents.

Some of the spools in the box are made of wood -- something you never see when you purchase thread today.  As you can see below, some spools even featured colored wood (dark green).  My grandma re-used some of the larger wooden spools to wrap and save thread remnants that were too small to save on their own spools. No waste!

Many of the older spools are marked "boil fast" or "will boil", harkening back to a time when laundry was boiled and women needed to be certain that the thread they used for sewing would hold up, in terms of both color-fastness and sturdiness, to repeated washings.

There are a couple of wooden spools of thread from the American Thread Company, formed in the US in 1898 by a merger of 13 New England thread firms.  In the early 1900's, the company became headquartered in a building in New York City, known to this day as The American Thread Company Building.  Later the company became Talon-American thread, but it no longer exists.

Looking at the collection of thread, you can also see a history of the materials used to make spools.  It appears that wood was discarded in favor of plastic, and then styrofoam became the material of choice.

It is also interesting to look at the prices on the thread.  There are several wooden spools with prices as low as 15 cents.  There are a couple of large wooden spools with a price of 29 cents (as compared to a current price of about $2.79 for the same size).  I tried to discover how long ago thread could be purchased at these prices, but was unable to find anything helpful.  I thought it might give me a clue as to how old the thread is.  If you have any information about this, I would love it if you would share it in a comment to this post. 

In addition to the thread, my grandma also kept many leftover sewing notions in the bottom of her box -- snaps, hooks and eyes, various types of needles, eyelets, etc.  

These have also been handy over the years.  I just used one of the metal snaps yesterday to close a crocheted clutch that I made.

Perhaps the thing I love most about my grandmother's thread box is the smell.  Every time I open it, I catch the faint but unmistakable fragrance of the spare front bedroom in her house on Ruth Street where she kept her sewing machine and sewing supplies.  I can't really describe the scent ... but it is pleasant and brings an instant rush of warm feelings, as well as a twinge of sadness. I will always miss my Grandma Smith.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Beyond the Necklace - Unique Neck Wear Ideas for 2012

Sometimes that plain neckline just needs a bit of ooomph, or you just want to dress things up a bit, or go for something truly eye-catching.  Traditionally, the choice is a scarf or a necklace.  But sometimes, a scarf is too heavy or bulky, or just won't lay quite right.  And sometimes a necklace just doesn't have the drape or the coverage that you want.

Is there a third possibility?  I think so. I've featured three creative neck wear pieces in my Gossamer Tangles studio on ArtFire for the New Year that fall into a category that I would call "Beyond the Necklace, Beyond the Scarf".  In fact, I created a new category in my studio listings in which I placed these pieces because I have a hard time fitting them within the traditional scarf/necklace labels.

The first piece is the Hand-Crocheted Colors of the Sea Sequined Scarf/Necklace (I had to call it something).

Over 100 inches long, but only about 2 1/2 inches wide, it can be worn in a variety of configurations.

The next piece is the  Blushing Champagne Silk Beaded Hand-Crocheted Necklace/Scarf.  Like Colors of the Sea (above), it is long (about 100 inches) and thin (about 1 1/2 inches wide).  Because it is made from pure silk fiber, it has a very soft and luxurious feel and drape.

Finally, there is Sea Garden.  So named because it reminds me of the beautiful coral gardens of a reef.  

These are just a few possible options for getting creative with neck wear in the New Year. Try experimenting with options until you find that unique look that makes you feel confident and comfortable.