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Saturday, January 10, 2009

I'm moving!

Well, virtually speaking, that is.

I am so happy that I started this blog back in November. It has been a great outlet for me, and in the process I have met some nifty people. Blog posting has been light here for the last two weeks, as I have been working furiously on a new project. The blog will continue, but I wanted a place to be able to park my writing and other design work that didn't quite fit here. So I am moving to a new site. The DNS entry hasn't propagated yet (nerd!), but in a couple of days, you'll be able to reach the new site at Till then, you can check it out here.

If you have subscribed to the blog using the Blogger feed, you may need to update your RSS reader. If you subscribed to the Feedburner feed, you are probably already being re-directed to the new site.

I am so grateful to everyone who has read the blog and joined in to offer feedback or ideas or encouragement. This is such a happy part of my life. I hope you'll keep the conversation going at the new site!


Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Just. Wow.

I have seen Yulia Brodskaya's work peppered in bits and pieces all over the Internet. But to see it all in one place, you really just have to drop your jaw in admiration:

Yulia Brodskaya

Or, in her native Russian: ОЧЕНЬ, ОЧЕНЬ ЖОРОШО!

(via, most recently, the most excellent paperNstitch)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy New Year

Ok. So I am late greeting you with glad tidings of a new year. If we are going to make this work long term, you should understand that this will happen from time to time. I am totally on fire. Except when I am not. Anyhoo, 2009 has already whispered in my ear to say that nifty things are waiting around the corner. I hope it shapes up for you and yours as nicely as I have decided it is going to shape up for me and my family.

I haven't yet fully unpacked my new office, so I have not really made much use of the new space for craftiness. Well, I take that back. I did recover our dining room chairs last Friday night--just in time for our most excellent house guest to arrive. It was a relatively simple project, complicated only by my atrocious cutting skills. Happily, my atrocious cutting skills were offset by the ease of cutting good upholstery fabric with a smallish geometric pattern. All hail 2-inch repeats! Still, as I was recovering the chairs and google chatting with another most excellent friend, it was brought to my attention that it is a little weird to start upholstery projects at 9 o'clock on a Friday. While typing. But, well, that's me.


Speaking of cutting semi-straight lines, I should report that my lovely husband gave me a most excellent paper trimmer for Christmas. No, not the $400 ream cutting behemoth of my dreams. This might be better. Because, while this 15" cutter does not plow through 500 sheets of bond at a time, it does perforate, score, and scallop like nobody's business! I am totally loving it.


Oh! Also, I have been working on another free printable project. This time I am doing children's valentines cards (though amorous adults will also be free to use them). I have been putting together some non-traditional, cute-but-not-cutesy illustrations, but I would love to incorporate your ideas...Anybody? I hope to have them up by the end of the month so you can print print print to your hearts' content.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hey there, faithful readers...

I am debating moving this blog to a different host. That would mean that my site address and feed address would change.

So, I have a question for my friends who use a news reader or other RSS feed source to keep up with the blogs you read: how often have you had to/been willing to update your feed reader settings to follow a favored blog to a new feed? Just curious.

And, here's another question for my friends who are also bloggers. Have you ever moved your blog from one host to another? Got any tips? Any horror stories? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year, New Studio

2008 has been, well, something, hasn't it? To say nothing of political dramas and global economic panic, for me this year brought a big job change. My new job is emotionally and intellectually challenging, stimulating, draining, and rewarding all at once. And yet, now that I have settled into my new, more demanding job, I seem to have more energy at home for my design and craft projects than I have in years.

Still, I have fretted over the last few months about the ceaseless packing and unpacking of tools and materials that I've been forced to do because my "studio" and my dining room have been one-and-the-same.

It was all brought to a head on Christmas morning, as we began preparing to welcome a most excellent house guest this weekend. I had packed up all my crafty bits and stuffed them into my husband's upstairs office for the umpteenth time in order to ready the house for our families. As I surveyed the damage and the 2 square feet of remaining unspoiled floor space, I realized that in a few short days I would be inflating an AERO bed in the same space. Hm. What to do? But I didn't really have time to think about it, as family began streaming in. It was only the next day, when I thought back on our excellent Christmas Day (the near totality of which was spent by each of us in pajamas!), that I realized not one of us nor our guests had set foot in the sunroom directly off of the living room, in spite of the fact that it had plenty of nice spots for sitting in the sunshine. And I thought some more. And realized that the sunroom has doors that can be closed. I made a silent deal to reclaim the space for myself.

A little while later, I published this silent deal to my husband who was wholeheartedly for it. Score!

I went to work that afternoon space planning, trying to maximize the stuff we already have. And now that tables have been moved, usb ports have been plugged in, sofas have been rearranged, rugs have been swapped, and a piano has been relocated sans hernia, I can't believe we didn't do this sooner.

There are still a few things left to do. We've lived here 2.5 years, and I have still never put curtains or blinds on the downstairs windows (They leak! That's a good excuse, no?). But now I feel like I'm working in a fishbowl, so I am getting motivated. Unbleached muslin is $3 a yard and will make a perfect blank canvas, I think. So that's easy enough. One of our favorite pieces of art, a collage done by a friend's second grade class 5 or 6 years ago, is no longer perfectly centered over the piano, but I think I'm leaving it where it is and will just add some other inspirational bits on its side to balance out that wall. The drop-leaf table that was just sort of taking up space in our living room is now a great, big workspace; and when it's time for company, the front leaf drops down and can conceal about 24 cubic feet of stuff!

Did I mention I get to keep the couch in my office? How fancy is that?

I think I'm gonna like it here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Last Minute Gift: Free 2009 Printable Calendar

**HI, TIPNUT FOLKS! - Since I posted this, my web site address has changed, so if you click on the downloads here, they may not work properly. Come on over to my new site, and you can grab the files HERE!**

So, if you are like me, a couple of things are true for you today. 1) You are committed to giving handmade this year; and 2) you are in a panic because 3) you just realized you forgot about your sister-in-law or your third cousin; and 4) the person you forgot will be at your house within the next few hours.

What to do?! What to do!?

How about a lovely calendar? 2009 is almost here, after all. And though your local Big Box Bookseller™ will probably have loads of very nice ones to choose from, there's still time to make your own.

So here's my gift to you, Internet: A downloadable, totally free PDF calendar for 2009!

Each page features a wee illustration by moi and is 95% likely to have the correct dates on every page--what a bargain, no?

And, hey, even if you are morally and practically superior to me, and you have been finished preparing for the holidays since October, perhaps you've been neglecting yourself. Maybe YOU need a snazzy new calendar for your wall.

Putting this little guy together is a snap:
  1. Print the calendar on nice heavy-weight cardstock.
  2. Cut down the center of the calendar (at 4.25" to be exact).
  3. Fasten the pages together with a tiny binder clip or punch two wee holes at the top and "sew" the pages together with festive yarn or floss.
That's it!

If you print the calendar as a gift or keep it for yourself, I'd love to know--just drop by the comments to this post, and tell me what's what. While you're at it, you could make me feel better by telling me your worst last-minute crafter-disaster!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008


A few people from the Spoonflower Flickr group have asked how I tile my seamless patterns and whether I have any tips for seamless patterns. Well, I do it based on the way other people who have shared their great tutorials on the subject do it; add to that a dash of my own discoveries through trial and error.*

I use Adobe Illustrator for turning my designs into seamless tiles. I would use Adobe Illustrator to cook my food and vacuum my floors if I could figure out how. (I bet there's a tutorial out there...) The Spoonflower folks have also recommended several free graphics programs that may do most or all of the same things I am going to describe here.

Basically, a seamless pattern relies on the same principles that MC Escher used to create his stunning tesselations: if you take something away from one edge, you have to add it back to the opposite edge. So, here's a simple starting tile for a Christmas tree pattern:

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. There may be a speedy way to create seamless patterns, but I haven't found it. I usually decide how big I want the pattern repeat to be BEFORE I have all the designs put together--otherwise, with a set of complex shapes like the concentric circles (below), it's hard for me to backtrack to figure out what the repeat should be (does that make sense?) unless I just make it bigger than what I already have, which means there's a lot more space to fill and a lot more designing to do. And most of the time, when I choose the size, it is in either half or whole increments of inches or in multiples of 50 or 100 pixels. More about this later.

Back to our tile. You see that the Christmas tree on the top over-hangs the edge of the square exactly as much as the tree on the bottom invades the square. And although I have been known to eyeball alignment correctly down to the pixel (I claim to have a laser level built into my brain), I don't leave anything to chance, because even the slightest mis-alignment can lead to yucky seams running through your work.

There are a couple of ways in Illustrator to ensure that the alignment of any objects that extend past the tile shape's borders is perfect. You can use the "Transform" live effect to make a copy of your design element and move it a set distance. This is where having predetermined a nice round number for the size of your tile can make your life easier. If you have a tree on one edge of a 2-inch square and you need to make its twin on the opposite edge, you would just enter "2 in" in the distance box and you're good to go.

That's probably the better way to go--there are whole tutorials about using the Transform effect to speed up your work. Here's one I highly recommend.

Still, that's not how I do it. Once I decide on the size of my tile, lets say 400 pt, I go into the Preferences panel, to General. In the Keyboard Increment option, I put "400 pt." Then I can draw a shape that overhangs one edge, select the shape, click "option-downarrow" (or alt-downarrow for you Windows people), and there's a perfect copy of my shape 400 pts from where it started. Snazzy, no?

I don't think we'll be winning any awards for this tile, but you get the picture, yes?

I don't think there's any right or wrong way (we could have a heady discussion about the file size benefits of symbol instances versus copies, but, um, no thanks). I like my way because I never leave my keyboard for my mouse. I mostly make patterns in a semi-reclining state on my Mac laptop. When I do work at my husband's iMac with the Wacom tablet, I might be more inclined to use the Transform method because the mouse is better. Just depends.

When I'm working on a more complicated pattern, once I have decided how big the repeat will be, I start working in an organic way, placing things where I think they'll look nice, not worrying about the edges of my square. Then I go back and make sure that each overhanging shape has a twin on the opposite edge. This can get complicated when you have a lot of shapes layering over one another as in this loony design:

Finally, a couple of tips:
  1. Did you know that you can make a repeating pattern tile in Illustrator out of a rectangle instead of a square? Makes for a nice change of pace sometimes.
  2. Stand back from your pattern and squint. If all you really see are imaginary square lines connecting your shapes, you probably have more work to do.
  3. Consider designing your patterns for a half-brick or half-step repeat--in these, the alignment of the shapes along the x- and y-axis, respectively is off by 50% of the total size of the shape. So that means that your repeats are more like diamonds than squares.
  4. Consider, without allowing yourself to become obsessed or depressed by the fact that there are, in fact, as many as 17 (SEVENTEEN!) symmetry types upon which you can base a repeating pattern. For most of these, Illustrator's handy pattern swatch will not do the trick without some manual manipulations on your part (you will need to rely on the Transform Effect, which can handle x- and y-axis reflections and rotations, too). There is also a pattern plugin available for Illustrator that can generate all these types of symmetry. But I think that takes all the fun out.
I hope that helps a bit. I'm happy to answer more questions related to seamless vector patterns. Just leave them in the comments, and I will answer them for everyone on the blog whenever I can.

*Also see Rachel Galloway's very detailed posts on designing fabric for Spoonflower at her Mamma Made blog.