Tiny terrariums.

Thursday I teach terrarium building to kids at Kingsbrae Garden’s ARTrageous. This post is to help any new parents of tiny terrariums to take care of their creations.

Wednesday

It’s pretty simple, add a couple drops of water if you notice it’s looking dry in there. This won’t happen very often. The terrarium contains charcoal to keep it fresh, but if you get mold, it probably means too much water.

Keep out of direct sunlight. If you like, you can tie a cord around the neck of the bottle and wear it like a necklace! Just do your best not to shake the little guy up too much. If you want somebody who really likes all that shaking, check out Marimo moss!

If it so happens that the little mossy dies, don’t despair! This is all locally harvested, and sometimes a species just doesn’t take to captivity. Remove the deceased critter, and go for a walk in the woods to find some more! To protect future mossies, only take from a plentiful source, and remember to wash out any bugs with clean, cool water.

Moss_4 copy

If you need to replace the whole thing, or would like to make more for friends, the layers are as follows, from bottom to top. You only need a pinch of each! Try to fill the bottle only half way with the dirt layers, leaving half the space for the moss to thrive!

Terrarium Layer Cake
Mini bottle (Dollar store or online, best to wash with dilute bleach)
2-3 gravel stones or beads (for drainage)
Sprinkle of activated charcoal (from aquarium store, to prevent algae)
Dampened dried moss (optional, keeps dirt from falling through in bigger bottles)
Half and half mixture of sand and potting soil (tamp down with a paintbrush handle or skewer)
Teeny tiny moss baby of your choosing! (dig a little hole for it with your paintbrush)
Spritz or two of water down the sides

I hope you enjoyed creating a habitat for your new friend! You can use the same recipe to make all different sizes. Keep me posted on how you get along!

Lending dimension.

Nothing pleases me like sewing. As much as I procrastinate with most things, when it comes time to sew, I am in there like a dirty shirt. This post will take you through part two of my painted bridge quilt. For part one see previous post. I powered through the machine quilting all in one day, but please, for the sake of your own sanity, allot more time than that.

For this stage you will need:

Painted cloth from previous step, thoroughly ironed
Garden variety sewing machine
Various matching or contrasting threads
Piece of backing fabric same size as painted piece
Piece of quilt batting same size or a little bigger
Spray-baste (or pins if you prefer)
Board or canvas
Staples and staple gun
Wire and nails for hanging

Your painted piece is safe to handle now, don’t worry about smudging it. Get your batting, backing and spray baste and head outside.

The first step is to make your quilt sandwich. I decided to try out spray-baste with this project and found it worked really great. Was a little sticky but you could wash it out afterwards. You start by spraying all over your batting, then positioning your backing fabric. It is in theory re-positionable but try to get it on your first go because it buckles if you try to change it. Then you flip over and stick down your painted piece. Try not to smoosh the whole package too much as the spray when wet will compress it more permanently.
Let it dry for a couple minutes and head to your sewing machine. I think I had my stitch size set at 3 but pick something that looks good to you. With your painting facing up, you are just going to trace each of the areas of colour. You can be as detailed as you like, or not. I went off the lines quite a bit to begin with and I think it just added to the sketched quality, so don’t be too too careful.
I started in the middle with the bigger lines and worked my way out to each side. This tacks your batting into place really well so you don’t get any folds. Then I went back and did all the fine detail work. Working this way also means you are feeling like a pro by the time you get to the fine work. When I got to the VERY fine area in the middle of my piece I balled up the rest of the quilt with elastics so I could work freely without fighting the excess fabric.
I used thick dark brown thread for most of the lines, dark red for the rust-coloured areas, and on the railings a soft purple thread designed for jeans. I used a rust colour for my bobbin thread to make it even on the back. I think the more thread colours you used, the better this would look, so go nuts.
I did a fair amount of hand-embroidery after the fact, to outline the little people and do the loose crosses in the rafters. You could skip that part if you wanted to. The next time I try a piece like this I would like to do quite a bit more hand-embroidery. I think it finishes it off nicely. You could even do the whole thing that way.
Here it is all quilted. I love the way it bumps out all the different elements. I think you could take this even further with trapunto (a sort of selective stuffing method) or a double layer of batting. You could hang it just like this or use it as a centerpiece for a larger quilt.
I chose to mount it on a piece of MDF since it will be sold alongside paintings. I laid the piece face-down and put the board on top. Then I temporarily taped around the edges and flipped it over. I wiggled it around until centered, then flipped back over and stapled it profusely. I stretched it a little so it would hug the board, but not so much that I skewed the image or flattened the batting. Then I put a couple nails into the back and wrapped each end of a wire around them for hanging. It came out to 32″ x 16″.
Very important: Always sign and date your work on the back. I also stitch-signed mine with a free-motion foot, you can see it peeking around the bottom right edge.
Here is the picture I was working with for comparision:
Let me know if you make something along similar lines, I would love to see the outcome! It really is so simple, just a little time-consuming. But isn’t that the way with anything worth doing?

I’m unabashedly happy with how it turned out, haha. Can’t wait to make another one, and I am going to have the chance real soon! The last week of this month I am going to be making art in the window of the M&T Deli (Queen St, Fredericton), for the same people who put on this auction. I think it’s going to be a real experience.

I’m going to play with this sort of subject matter a little more too. I like the idea of “softening” industry. Now more than ever we are trying to marry technology with humanity. We have seen the vulgar results when these two areas are left to their own devices. For me, representing this relationship in cloth is a no-brainer.

Building bridges.

I got to work early last week on my painted quilt piece for the Isaac’s Way art auction. It was great fun, lots of little steps, just how I like it. The outcome is complex but the steps are actually very easy, anyone could do it. It is basically an exercise in tracing. But for the sake of respect, if you try this out, please make sure you took the photograph yourself.

This post will take you through part one, painting, and tomorrow’s post will show you how to do part two, quilting.

For this part you will need:

a digital photograph
a laser printer and/or photocopier
a couple of transparent blender pens
a spoon
a big board or piece of foamcore
a piece of cloth (preferably non-stretchy)
gouache paints
textile medium
your favourite paintbrushes
old plates and water cups
plenty of time and scrap fabric

The first step is to print off your image on regular paper to the size of your finished piece plus a couple inches on each side for wraparound. Keep in mind that those couple inches will mostly disappear so keep all the important stuff inside this zone.

Ideally you could just use Adobe Illustrator’s tile printing function with about a quarter-inch of overlap. This means your image will print off in 8.5 x 11 sections. You want to flip (mirror) your image before you print it off or else you will end up with a backwards finished product (like I did by accident, haha). You could also enlarge and flip on a photocopier.
The printer at my school was being difficult so I ended up with no overlap and little spaces in between my sheets. But no biggie. You line them up perfectly and tape them together on the back with tiny little pieces of tape the size of a fingernail tip. I used black and white because photocopies tend to transfer better than laser prints. You could use laser colour prints I believe, just no inkjet.

Then you tape down a piece of cloth (any old cloth, washed natural fabric works nicely but I think it would be alright either way) to a big piece of board. You could even pre-dye the cloth. In retrospect it might have been easier to dye the linen the white of my background colour. I used chipboard which gave me a funny wood grain on my transfer, but I think you’d get clearer results on a flat base, like foamcore.

Next you place your image face down on the cloth. You want to tape it at the edges so it doesn’t wiggle. Then you get this magic tool called a transparent blender pen (I used Chartpak, and I think you can get it at most art supply stores). You colour on the back of the image, a little area at a time, maybe the size of your hand. Then you rub it with a spoon, being careful not to shift the page. You continue doing this until you have rubbed down the entire image. It’s probably a good idea to practice this step before you start, and you may need more than one pen. And it smells like magic marker, so ventilate your area.
Now you peel up the pages very gently. I found that it took so long to go over the entire piece that it had glued the pages to the cloth by the time I took it off. It might be better to peel up each page as you finish rubbing it, but only if you are doing something fairly large. Voila! Your image is now transferred onto your fabric.

Next I dug out my paints. I chose to use gouache, but I think any fast-drying paint would work. Please test it out on scrap so you can get an idea of how it looks, especially if you are planning on washing it. Things always run more smoothly when I mix my paints in advance. In this case I only needed a handful of colours.
Some other time I will explain the logic behind paint mixing but I’m sure there are many many good guides to colour on the internet. The most important thing I have found is to always “muddy” your colours with their complement (put a little blue in your orange). That keeps them looking more natural and they won’t clash with one another.

Next step is painting. I scoop out a little paint onto a plate, and stir in a bit of this varnishy-looking stuff called textile medium. Probably about six parts paint to one part textile medium, although you should follow package instructions if you plan on laundering. I was going for a more washed out look. It looks so neat when you squirt it into the paint.

Then I used both flat and round brushes to cover the whole image in paint. It took a while to figure out how thick to lay it on. Not very, but enough to look opaque. Use lots of water. With gouache you won’t know what it looks like until it dries. I left the mint green railing areas quite translucent as I wanted the wood-grain transfer to show through.

I switched over to a foamcore backing, and used a ruler to get all the lines really straight. Sounds compulsive, but it ended up being easier and faster that way, especially when it came time to sew.
Right in the middle the transfer was too shoddy to see so I had to line it up and transfer again. This helped more than I was expecting and I was able to eyeball it after that. Here is the completed painting. At this point you should press it for a couple minutes with a piece of parchment paper in between cloth and iron. You could also wash it but I chose not to for lack of time. It took a couple days but worth every second. And much easier than trying to piece a thousand bits of fabric.
It looked really nice with light shining through it. Gave me big ideas for painted curtains and lampshades.

Come on back tomorrow to see it all quilted up! That part is a little more fiddley but still pretty foolproof. I am glad I picked a photo with lots of straight lines, I would definitely recommend that to beginners. This was my first real quilt (non-paper) and I think there would have been a lot more hair pulling otherwise.

Try it out, you’ll like it :)