Sunday, February 25, 2018

Early morning rain

Here in Dallas we've been deluged, drenched, and generally damp for most of an entire week. Early one morning I peered out of a bedroom window to see the street lights reflecting golden on the rain-slicked streets and sidewalks while the sky was just beginning to lighten in the east.  It was a scene worth saving, I thought, perfect for some Photoshop alchemy.

For this picture, my original photo was duplicated several times, and I used the Akvis Sketch plug-in filter on two of the copies. Interspersed with those various layers are three different textures which were bonus content from the Photoshop Artistry course I'm taking, as is the Roman-numeral clock face on the lower right side.  All put together with lots of different blend modes and masks.  VoilĂ !

Early morning rain

Sunday, February 18, 2018

White Rock Lake boathouse

A couple of days of pure Photoshop pleasure enhanced the view of the 1930 Art Deco boathouse on the western edge of White Rock Lake.  

White Rock Lake boathouse

I took the original photo on January 2 last year from the pedestrian bridge across the little lagoon that extends just behind.  The red wing blackbird, not in my photo although common around reedy shore areas there, came from a Creative Commons search of Flickr.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

"Sociable" reading

In a recent New York Times review of The Social Life of Books by Abigail Williams, the reviewer likened the 18th century practice of books being read aloud to a group to the phenomenon of best sellers which millions read more or less simultaneously, a contemporary example of sociable reading. It seems to me that an even better comparison would be with the reading and sharing of books by a book group or club

According to The Reading Group, a UK-based website, book clubs have shed their fusty image and become trendy as well as ubiquitous, meeting everywhere from libraries and living rooms to online. In addition to helping readers sort through the huge mass of books being published today, a primary reason for their popularity is that participants ...are finding being a member of a book club to be fun and rewarding, transforming the personal and private experience of reading a book into a shared one of discussion and appreciation.”

Or as another New York Times article on book clubs elaborates: “Reading is a solitary act, an experience of interiority. To read a book is to burst the confines of one’s consciousness and enter another world. What happens when you read a book in the company of others? You enter its world together but see it in your own way; and it’s through sharing those differences of perception that the book group acquires its emotional power.” Yes, indeed.

Further delving online unearthed an interesting 2015 white paper report on book clubs from A lot of the statistics are no surprise; my long-time book group could be the poster child. A majority of members are women, and they tend to be older, empty nesters, often retired, seeking intellectual stimulation and personal connections. Higher education plays a role but income a bit less so. They also are more likely to use their public library. (Ah, we know it's probably us when all the copies of a relatively obscure book are checked-out or on hold.)

That report also defines the ideal book. “Overwhelmingly, book club participants want to read books that expand their horizons—windows that allow them to see into the lives of others or mirrors that let them reflect on aspects of their own lives. Above all else, books need to have plenty to discuss.

We hope that we have chosen books for 2018 that fit that criteria. So without further ado, here are our selections. I invite you to join us in person if you happen to be in the Dallas area. Or read along with us and send any comments from wherever you may be. 


Friday, December 8, 2017

Embroidered and beaded version B

Although it took me a while to blog about it, I did get right on to stitching up version B of Marcy Tilton's Vogue 8497.  The shady chartreuse cotton interlock that I picked out of my stash almost matches the garment on the pattern photo.  I hope I'm going to like it as well as I do version A.  There's not too much to add to the info in my last post on that short sleeve top with its zig-zag front and back seams.

Once again, instead of overlapping the curved front and back seams, I turned under the seam allowances on the top pieces and stitched them close to the edge and then again a bit over 3/8 inch away. These seams I embellished with a Double Cretan stitch, using two colors of embroidery floss and accenting that with seed beads in a green-turquoise range. The neckline is also simply bound, as I did on the red version, then embroidered and beaded exactly like the front and back seams.

I hemmed the sleeves and the bottom with a double needle.  On the sleeve hems I worked the straight version of the Zigzag Chain Stitch that I used on the neckline of the red top.  I used two strands of embroidery floss in the two different colors of the other embroidery and put a seed bead in each stitch. 

I used the size 12, but did stitch the side seams with a ½ inch seam allowance, rather than 5/8 inch.  One thing to note in construction is to make sure the front and back seams meet precisely at the shoulders, and that the uneven hems meet at the correct place.  There must have been a small amount of stretching or distortion when I cut out the garment, and if I hadn't been careful about matching these up, they would have been off just enough to cause a problem.  Also I used a narrow fusible bias stay tape on the neckline edge which had stretched while I was doing the embroidery and beading. 

I found that the embroidery and beading went fairly fast, as I sat at my sewing table listening to The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles.  (IMO, audio books are one of the best things that ever happened where sewing is concerned.)  Now I've started on something more pedestrian, some olive-y denim pants that I know will be a welcome addition to my wardrobe.  But not as rewarding as making this fun top.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Marcy Tilton meets Alabama Chanin

Yet another pattern that finally got its turn after ripening in my collection for several years. I was a little leery of the unfitted fit and the cut-on sleeves which I have found do my figure no favors. I doubted it would actually resemble the pattern photo on me. But it was calling out to me, and I had just enough left of some ancient red interlock to give it a try. With some modifications, of course.

I cut version A in a size 12 with no changes. The modifications involved assembly, because I am just not a raw-edge sort of person. Instead of simply overlapping the zigzag front and back pieces, I turned under the seam allowances on the top pieces, top stitching them very close to the edge and then again a bit over 3/8 inch away. Similarly, I did a conventional bound neckline, turned to the inside and stitched down. The bottom hem and sleeve hems were stitched with a twin needle.

But what to do to emphasize those zigzag front and back seams which are what the top is all about? Not knowing if I was going to actually like the fit of top, I hadn't really thought much about the decoration. After putting it together enough to try it on, I decided it would do, but it definitely needed something...more. And that was where Alabama Chanin came in.


I first discovered the hand-sewn and hand-embellished knit creations of Natalie Chanin's company, Alabama Chanin, a couple of years ago and immediately purchased the Alabama Studio Sewing + Design book, a complete how-to manual of their processes and designs. I doubt that I would ever want to exactly duplicate anything in the book, but it provides a bounty of inspiration and ideas that could be borrowed and adapted to one's own garments. 

I used the very easy-to-do Cretan Stitch with two strands of embroidery floss on the front and back zigzag seams. On the neckband, I did the simple, straight version of the Zigzag Chain Stitch. 



Both created spaces to stitch on single red seed beads that I bought in a big packet at JoAnn Fabrics. Because the embellishment is red-on-red, the effect is very subtle, even with the slight iridescence of the beads. So subtle that only one person seems to have noticed and commented on it. But I love it!
It's the perfect easy-breezy top for hot summer days, loose enough to be cool and comfortable, and yet not too over-sized or overwhelming on my small frame. If I didn't have a line-up of other patterns clamoring for their turn, I'd sit right down and stitch up another. I'm definitely going to be making version B in the near future, so stay tuned.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Drawing Nature

For the past six weeks I've mostly put aside Photoshop to try my hand (literally) at making art in a non-digital way: with paper and pencils. I was lured by the exquisite drawings of plants and animals in the promo video for the edX course, Natural History Illustration, from the University of Newcastle in Australia. The two lecturers would “demonstrate in a simple step-by-step manner how to record the beauty of the natural world in a realistic way.” The next thing I knew I was clicking the Enroll button. 
Since the course was touted as being suitable for beginners, it started simply with an exploration of drawing materials, the types of lines they would make and ways of shading with them. But it moved on very quickly after that, requiring an observational drawing of three natural objects. Oh, was that ever hard to do! The information on the course said it would require 3 to 6 hours per week. I'm fairly sure my time on this drawing exceeded those 6 hours. 

I had taken a lot of art classes in college, decades (yes, decades) ago but never continued drawing after that, so I was amazed that I was able to do this well. It required a tremendous amount of concentration, and the process hovered between pain and pleasure. After it was finished, I had to open up my drawing pad and admire my achievement every time I went by.

The next drawing was for the lesson on the structure of flowers. About the only thing I have blooming at the moment are bright pink tall garden phlox, so I sat for several more hours squinting and holding a magnifying glass up to a stem of those while trying to get shapes and proportions right. I probably used my erasers as much as my pencils. 


Next up was animals, and since I have an abundance of cats, I drew two of those. Hmm, I'm afraid the proportions are a little off on both of them.


And finally, the FINAL assignment, a fully-rendered drawing of a plant or animal. What to choose? 

Something not too difficult... How about the big American White Pelicans that winter at White Rock Lake not far from us? No complicated coloring or patterning on their feathers; they're just white with black wing tips showing when they're in flight. So I found this great photo on the White Rock Lake Wildlife Flickr group...and a couple of days later wondered how I could have ever imagined that drawing this bird would be easy. I started on Friday, started over on a larger version on Saturday, worked on it more on Sunday, worked on it lots more on Monday, and then spent basically all of Tuesday slowly, slowly filling in feathers inch by painstaking inch. 

 I'm still intending to put some indication of water in the drawing, but all I needed was the bird itself for the assignment, which I duly submitted on time, took the final exam and finished the course. YEAH!

The course was basically an introduction to and a sampler of various types and techniques of natural history illustration, obviously fairly cursory in a six week span. I personally would have preferred a slower pace, as there were suggested tasks that I simply did not have time to do. It was presented via both videos and written material, with links to additional resources, such as You Tube drawing videos which I utilized extensively. I don't think you could learn to draw as a complete beginner by taking this course, but there were students who were attempting to do so, and well as already-accomplished artists. It was especially interesting to see all the different responses to each assignment: the different skill levels, the different styles and the different plants and animals drawn by students all around the world.
So despite the amount of time it consumed, I'm glad I took this course, not the least because it got me drawing again.  And I vow to continue.  But at the moment Photoshop is feeling neglected, as is my dear old sewing machine. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sunburst dart neckline

I have long been intending to try this technique from an article by Marcy Tilton in the October/
November 2006 issue of Vogue Patterns magazine. It's quite easy to do: the side dart on the bodice is eliminated by closing it up and transferring it to the neckline, as you can see from the illustrations I've copied from the article. Measure that resulting space and divide it as you wish into a series of darts of whatever length you want. I used the same pattern as Marcy, Today's Fit by Sandra Betzina Vogue 8151 and made eleven darts total, ½ inch wide at the neckline and varying from 4 inches to 7 inches long. (This great basic pattern is out of print but, of course, you can still find it on online.)


In the example in the magazine, the darts are stitched on the outside, making them more prominent. I stitched mine on the inside, like a traditional dart, so they aren't so obvious. The next time, I will probably do them on the outside, since they are supposed to be a decorative feature. If anyone would like the complete article with detailed instructions, just email me and I will be happy to copy it and send it to you.