Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bead Memories ~ New Bag!

International Bead Conference tote bag, detail
Time line:
  • 1985 ~ started making beaded necklaces and buying a few beads
  • 1987 ~ joined the Pacific NW Bead Society, a small group of researchers and collectors
  • 1988 ~ quit my job and started making my living with beads
  • 1990 ~ attended my first international bead conference and discovered my clan

Not in my make up to be much of a joiner or identify myself with any groups. All that changed on October 5th, 1990 when I walked into the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC to register for the Second International Bead Conference. As I looked around at the milling group of beaded-necklace-wearing registrants, a warm sense of belonging flooded through me and I remember thinking, THIS is MY CLAN! For the first time, I knew, without a doubt, that I was not alone in my beadlust.

Mostly these folks were collectors and researchers... They wore and craved the really ancient beads, wanted to understand trade routes, wanted to know how and where beads were made. A few like me were also interested in more modern beads, the types now considered vintage, in designing jewelry with beads and in seed beads. Yet, we were there together and strongly felt our clanship.

International Bead Conference tote bag
With our registration materials, we received this conference bag, which I immediately adopted as my every-day purse. Being more of an LL Bean type than a Nordstrom girl (not much into fashion trends), I carried this bag around every day since 1990... for 18 years! I added an inside pocket (now frayed) and leather on the bottom (which after a few years had developed significant holes in the corners). But despite my patching efforts, it finally got too shabby-looking even for me to use as a purse. So, with respect for my clan, I am retiring it to grocery tote duties in the future.

In 18 years of using it, I am dependent on its size, strap length and sturdy leather bottom. Nothing I've tried could take its place... Only one solution: make a new, similar bag!

layered quilted fabrics
I twisted my sister-in-law, Julie's arm to give me this hand-dyed fabric some time ago. It's not quite upholstery weight and not stiff; it's somewhat textured and feels like cotton. I wanted the inside of my new bag to be a lighter color. So I took Julie's fabric and some batik and machine stitched them into one fabric.

purse, bag, handmade by Robin Atkins
Here's my new bag!

purse, bag, detail leather binding, Robin Atkins
purse, bag, detail leather binding, Robin Atkins
To avoid wear/fray problem at the top of the bag and inside pocket, I bound both with leather (yes, it's real). I also sewed leather to the bottom of the bag to protect the corners and avoid wear.

Funny how difficult it is to let go of the old and worn, even when I have nice and new to replace it. Maybe grocery shopping will be more fun these days....

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How to Make Your Photos "Click-to-enlarge"

Many times I am asked how to upload photos on a blog so that they will be click-to-enlarge. Today, I will answer that question for all Blogger (blogspot) blogs!

We are talking about digital photos, either taken with a digital camera or scanned and saved as a digital file. I’m going to keep it fairly simple, yet hint at the technical reasons behind my method.

Simple basics

Are you going to print your photos? Or, are you going to upload them to your blog? These are two very different things. Decide before you shoot your pictures!

Have you ever printed an image from the web and it was all pixilated? You could see the little squares (pixels) of color on the print? That’s because to print photos requires higher resolution than the web.

Many of today’s digital cameras offer the possibility of very high resolution. You can get an idea of the resolution possibilities of your camera by looking at the designation on the front. Is it 3 megapixels, 8 megapixels, 11 megapixels? The higher the number, the higher the possible resolution.

Sony 8 mega pixel cameraHigh resolution (or high number of megapixels) is good for printing your photos, yes! But not good for the web. Ever open an email with an attached photo that's so bloated you can’t get any idea of the whole thing, even by scrolling up and down, back and forth? Yes? Me too. That photo might print well, but it has too many pixels for the web.

My suggestion, if you are taking photos just for the web? Pass up those expensive, high megapixel cameras, and get one that offers around 3, which is perfectly adequate for web pictures!

What size images do you need for Blogger to engage the click-to-enlarge feature?

This is the rule:

To upload a photo that will
click-to-enlarge in Blogger,
your image size must be
more than 100 KB.

If it is way over 100 KB or if it is some amount of MB, it will click-to-enlarge, but it will also be gigantic, take a long time to open and begin to fill up your total photo space allowed by Blogger.

If it is under 100 KB, it will not click-to-enlarge.

Note: this is the current Blogger rule... be aware that they change the rules from time to time!

How can you tell the size of your image?

In my documents, find the folder with your image in it. On the top toolbar, click on view and then click on details. You should now see the image name, followed by a number, which is the size of your image. It maybe expressed in KB (kilobytes) or if it’s extremely large in MB (megabytes). Far to the right you will see the dimensions, which are expressed in pixels.

Other important image size considerations.

The size of an image is expressed in both total kilobytes (or megabytes, if it’s huge) AND in pixel dimensions. A third variable is the resolution. It’s nice to understand the relationship of these three variables, but not necessary.

Most digital cameras have a way to adjust these variables. Look for mode or settings. If you are taking pictures for the web and not to print, set your mode as closely as possible to the following:

Resolution: 72 ppi (exressed as automatic in most small cameras)
Size: 640 x 480
Format: jpeg (may be expressed as normal; do not select tiff)

These settings will give you images that are perfectly sized to be click-to-enlarge on Blogger as long as you don’t crop them.


If you crop your images, it will reduce the size. Cropping may reduce the overall size to less than 100 KB, in which case they will not be click-to-enlarge.

After cropping, save your image and check the file size as described above. There are photo editing programs you can use to increase the size of your cropped image to over 100 KB. If you don’t have such software, there is another option.

If you know you will want to crop a group of images to show detail and you still want them to be click-to-enlarge, do this. For these images only, reset the mode on your camera to higher file size. Shoot your pictures, crop and check size. Should be OK. Don’t forget to reset the mode on your camera.

What if you are taking pictures for both the web AND to print?

In that case, you will need a simple photo editing program that will allow you to resize your images. Set your camera mode to a higher resolution and size, suitable for printing. My camera mode is set to the following:

Resolution: 72 ppi
Size: 2560 x 1920
Format: jpeg

This gives photos that are about 2,000 KB each, large enough to print, even in books or magazines. However, they are about 20 times too big for the web! Remember we want them to be just over 100 KB each. I use a photo editing program to resize them.

How to print these directions?

Click on the title of this post. That should open a window which has only this post in it and not the other posts on my blog. Then go to file and click print.

Or, highlight the entire text of the post, go to edit on the upper tool bar and click copy. Open a blank word document, go to edit on the upper tool bar of the new document and click paste. Then save and/or print from the word document.

Hope this helps!
Robin A.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Short Subjects

Feb BJP ~ French knots & Colonial knots

My beading/quilting friends Christy and Lunnette introduced me to Colonial knots, assuring me that they're more secure than French knots. Christy says they're also easier than French knots. Maybe... after you've made quite a few. I agree however that for a consistent look and secure feel, Colonial knots take the cake. So all the knots on my Feb BJP are of the Colonial variety.

embroidery detail on February Bead Journal Project piece by Robin Atkins
The difference? Here is how you make a French knot. The thread is wound around the needle. The more winds, the bigger the knot. Here is how you make a Colonial knot. The thread is passed in a figure-8 around the needle. The size is not variable.

Knots vs. seed beads... I guess one could argue that I could have achieved the same affect sewing a single bead in the same location as each knot. That would work too, although the look might be a bit less soft. I enjoyed the meditative time spent making all the background knots on my BJP piece.


As many of you know, I'm not teaching much right now. The reason I always give is that my mother, who is 92 and lives in Minnesota (a day's flight from me), is not in the best of health. I don't want to promise someone I'll teach at their conference and risk the possibility of having to cancel at the last moment because Mom's health takes a turn for the worse.
Also there's a certain quality-of-life right now that I call being on hold. It's based on the certainty that before long I will not be a daughter any more and will not have any parents... I feel a little in limbo, uncertain and adrift, as though I've stopped living while waiting for the change, even though it isn't really imminent and surely I'll adjust once it happens.
So this year, the second in a row for scaling back on teaching, I have only one definite gig. And that is just around the corner.

I will be teaching at the Bead Bazaar sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Bead Society in Denver, Colorado. Advance registration is open now. I'll be teaching:
  • Woven Treasure Bracelet or Tassel on April 25
  • Techniques of Bead Embroidery on April 26
I'll also be giving a Powerpoint presentation at their meeting located here in Denver on April 23. If you're in the vicinity you may want to come! Here is my topic:
  • Visual Journaling with Beads, Fibers, Threads and Fabric
  • View over 200 beaded journal pieces by 42 artists participating in the 2007-08 Bead Journal Project!
  • Compelling and inspirational, this unique beadwork tells stories, reveals emotions and follows important events in the lives of the artists who create a visual journal each month during the year-long project.
  • In this presentation, you will see some of the best!

Colorado beaders are wonderful! I've taught there previously and been very impressed with the level of skill and artistry. Several BJP members live in Colorado, including:

There's also a possibility that I'll be teaching during the first week of October in Arizona. Stay tuned on that one!

Clues ~ Mystery Beadwork

Here is a post showing beautiful fragments of historical bead embroidery, weaving and smocking that I bought 15 or so years ago. The origins of this 100+ year old beading were unknown by the seller, except that he bought it from a peddler in Mexico City. In the post I asked for help in identifying the origins.

Help arrived! I'll post the complete findings in a later post. But, in summary, the work appears to be from Mexico, probably from the Nahua natives of the central Puebla area. My information comes from two main source books: La Chaquira en Mexico and Costumes of Mexico both of which are well illustrated, fascinating books. (By the way, la chaquira = beads!)

Just as a teaser, here is one of the pieces in my collection.

historical beadwork, bead embellished pleating or smocking
Here is a diagram from La Chaquira en Mexico showing the techinque for bead embellished pleating, as done by the Nahua natives.

bead embellished smocking diagram
And here is a picture from the same source showing a blouse made with this technique. Incidentally, I think this blouse is more recently made and with a slightly different technique than the fragments I have. Yet there certainly are similarities.

bead embellished pleating from central Mexico

Are you familiar with Robert Glenn, the painter who writes a free newsletter about the artistic process, painting and issues affecting artists? I love reading his thought-provoking articles that come to my email once a week and thought I'd share a few words from his latest ~ about choices we make as artists. He writes:
Today I spoke on the phone to several colleagues. We were talking about planning versus improvisation. While many fine artists plan everything in detail and then simply execute, others admit they don't know what they're doing from the get-go, but they start anyway and spend a lot of time fixing up. Both systems work... The nice thing about choices is that they can be changed... The wayside choices we make, however minor or major, determine our signature, our style and our level of personal satisfaction.
So, the ol' improv vs. plan question comes up in all aspects of art, I guess. What do you think of his point about our choices determining our style and level of personal satisfaction?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bead Journal Project - February Finished!

bead journal project, Robin Atkins, bird detail, bead embroidery
Actually, I'm sooooo glad this one is finished!

What is it about some of these pieces that gets under one's skin and makes it so hard to appreciate and like it just the way it is?

I began with a background fabric (rosey-peachy pink with slightly metallic polka-dots) that I like, added some little squares and rectangles of a violet-yellow-orange batik that my friend Christy gave me. Nice... so far.

bead journal project, Robin Atkins, materials
Then I gathered some beads and bought a few skeins of silk embroidery floss (yum!). Still nice, eh?

Valentine for Robin was my working title because last year I did Valentine for Little Robin (here), which I loved. Robin's turn, I thought. So, I drew a heart shape on the back (on the paper stabalizer) and basted along the line. As I began to outline the heart with backstitched seed beads, I skipped the first rectangle and instead sewed flower beads there, which set the way I would do the piece.

bead journal project, Robin Atkins, getting started
I wanted to play around with thread embroidery, so decided to use thread embroidery to embellish the area outside of the heart (beads inside). Here 's a detail picture of some of my thread embroidery.

thread and bead embroidery, Robin Atkins
This piece took quite a lot of time... Once in a while, I experienced that glimmer of being completely satisfied with it! Most of the time, however, I was quite critical of it. Do you suppose our weather has anything to do with my mood?

San Juan Island, snow on March 6, 2009
I took this picture from our kitchen window on March 6th... and we had more like this today. Cold, gloomy, windy, driving rain, hail, snow... [gripe, gripe, gripe...]

So maybe it's the weather.
Or maybe it's my expectations for the piece compared to last year's.
Or maybe my critical attitude is valid.

What do you think of it now that it is finished?

bead journal project, Robin Atkins, February finished, bead embroidery
I believe it's important to give it a place in my heart and the scheme of things. How to do that? Think about what it may signify... The flower beads are so crowded on it... Could they signify abundance? Could the piece represent the abundance of love that flows my way? Yes, I think it could. And, y'know what? That thought helps!