Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Memory Box and How to Make It

Memory Box

memory box, bead journal project, robin atkins, bead embroidery
Stitching my Bead Journal Project piece for July on neckties I had made for my Dad (here), gave me the idea to create a Memory Box I can use to safe-keep letters, photos and other remembrances I have of my parents.

The box, made from scratch using book board, fabric, thread and beads (no glue!), is 10" x 13" x 5" high, which should be large enough to hold most of the dearest things I have.

I'm going to show pictures and write about how I made it.
But first I just want to say that it's not so much a tribute to my parents (although that's part of it). More significantly, this box, with thousands of hand stitches and hundreds of hours in its making, represents a connection with them. In my mind and heart, each stitch binds us together - birth, memories, history, love, good-bad-ugly-quirky-beautiful, death - all that we were and are to each other symbolized by all the stitches in this box. I put me in the box too, in the form of quilted rabbits and hearts all around the inside. You'll see.

Many Ways to Make a Box ~ Here's One of Them
To make the box... I used a rather improvisational or just do it approach, since I've never made one before and didn't have a clear idea about how to do it. One step at a time... do what I know and figure out the rest later. That's one of my guiding lights. The other is: it doesn't have to be perfect.
First I decided on the finished size. Using a box-cutter, I cut the pieces for the box and lid from heavy, dense, book board (Davey board). The lid pieces are about 1/8" larger all around than the bottom pieces.

Then I chose some fabrics that I loved and picked one of them to cover the inside bottom of the box. I happened to be going to an all-day quilting sewcial at our local Sr. Center and needed something to do. So I decided to quilt the bottom of the box. I sandwiched thin cotton quilt batting between the bottom fabric and some muslin and then stitched using embroidery floss.

quilted fabric, bottom of memory box, back side, by robin atkins
Here's how it looks. It's improvisational quilting... I just made a spiral shape in the center and worked my way out using a running (quilting) stitch and some embroidery stitches.
Some of the quilters wondered why I was bothering to quilt the inside-bottom of the box (where it won't show) and with a thread color that hardly shows. I didn't really know why at the time... now I think it's part of that stitching Mom, Dad and me together thing I mentioned above. Seeing it isn't as important as doing it.
quilted fabric, bottom of memory box, detail, by robin atkins
This is a detail.

quilted fabric, bottom of memory box by robin atkins
This is how it looks on the back side.

Quilting the bottom was fun! I enjoyed it so much that I decided to quilt the inside of the sides too!

quilting pattern for sides of memory box by robin atkins
I cut a template of a rabbit (my totem animal) and a heart (my favorite symbol) from stiff paper and drew around them on the fabric with a water-erase marking pen. This is the start of one of the sides.

quilted side of memory box by robin atkins
Above is one of the finished sides. Again, my quilting was fairly improvisational and I added some embroidery stitches as well. Each side is different.

quilted side of memory box, back side, by robin atkins
This shows the back of the same side. To add a little more dimension to the rabbits and hearts (so they would show more), I cut the shapes out of stiffened felt and whip-stitched them to the back as you can see above.

easy felt
Stiffened felt (Easy Felt), such as I used to pad my quilting, is also great for beading - inexpensive, stiff and easy to stitch through. I get it at Michaels.

Now came a part that I didn't photograph... sorry.

I made a tight-fitting sleeve for the bottom of the box and each of the four sides. To do this, I cut the outside fabric, laid the cut out book board on the wrong side and drew around the book board. Then I put the quilted inside fabric and the outside fabric right sides together and sewed just outside the drawn line on three sides. After turning it so the seams were inside, like a pillow case, I slipped the book board into the sleeve.

The fit needed to be snug. One sleeve was too snug and I had to rip one of the seams. Another was a tad too loose and I had to re-stitch inside the previous stitching on one seam. It was a learning process... I got better at it by the time I did the lid. These seams I stitched by machine.

Next, I turned under the remaining edges and whip-stitched the sleeves closed by hand, completely covering each of the box pieces.

picot edge stitch, drawing by robin atkins
To attach the sides to the box bottom, I decided to use the picot edge stitch. Above is a drawing showing how to do this stitch. I first attached one side to the bottom. With each stitch I tried to catch 4 tiny bits of fabric - one from the inside side, one from the outside side, one from the inside bottom and one from the outside bottom. Although this took quite a bit of time, I think it made a strong join.

four sides of box attached to bottom, memory box by robin atkins
Here's how it looks with the four sides attached to the bottom. This is the inside.

sides of box joined with picot edge stitch, memory box by robin atkins
Then using the same method, I joined the side pieces together. Above is a detail showing one corner of the completed box. If you click to enlarge, you can see the picot edge stitch on the sides and bottom. I am satisfied with how this looks and think it will be as strong as any other method. I like it that I didn't have to use any glue.

Making a Lid for the Box

Now the lid! Oh boy, I was terrified that my calculations about the size of the lid would be off and I wouldn't know it until I finished the whole thing... Hours and hours of work! It was only because I wanted to finish the box in time to enter it in our County Fair that kept me going.

Before making the fabric sleeves for the lid pieces, I had to figure out how to attach my two bead journal pages to the top of the lid. First I needed to finish off the two pages. I decided they needed fabric borders made with the same fabric as the sides of the box.

So I cut narrow strips of fabric and hand-stitched them to the sides of my beading. The pictures below show the right and wrong side of two strips sewn to the butterfly piece. This is like log cabin quilting.

bead embroidery, adding fabric borders, by robin atkins
bead embroidery, adding fabric borders, by robin atkins
Next, I thought it would be good to have my beaded pieces slightly raised on the surface of the box lid. So I turned again to Easy Felt, cutting out a piece just the size of the beaded area (4" x 6").

bead embroidery with fabric borders, back side, by robin atkins
Then I folded the fabric border to the back side, so that just 1/2" showed on the front. I tacked it down with running stitches to the Easy Felt on the back side. I finished each BJP piece with picot edge stitch around the outside of the fabric border.

bead embroidery, mom's butterfly, with fabric border, by robin atkins
Here's Mom and Me ready to attach to the lid.

bead embroidery, dad's tie, with fabric border, by robin atkins
Here's Dad and Me ready to attach to the lid.

Next I stitched the finished BJP pieces to the cut out lid fabric (brown batik), using two lines of tiny running stitches - one at the outer edge and one at the inner edge of the fabric borders.

detail of box lid showing quilting stitches, by robin atkins
Before I made the fabric sleeve for the lid top, I decided I needed something to integrate the BJP pieces with the lid. A little quilting might do the trick. So, I made a sandwich of fabric, batting and muslin. I began quilting straight lines of stitches about 1/4" out from the BJP pieces. Nope. It looked too square, too formal. So rip, rip... out came the straight lines and back to improvisational quilting... Ha! Way better... a little spiral, some curved lines, more spirals... It worked!
The picture below shows the quilting, but even if you click to enlarge, it's a bit hard to see since I quilted with the same color thread as the fabric.

stitching bead embroidery to fabric, detail, by robin atkins
Then, finally, I made the lid the same way as the bottom of the box - machine sewn sleeves, whip-stitched closed, sewn together with picot edge stitch.

At last, came the test. Will the lid fit over the box? Will it be too loose? Ah, my lucky day! It fits perfectly. Here is a top view of the finished lid.

memory box lid showing attached bead embroidery by robin atkins
Important TIP!!!

My bead embroidery is very textural and both of these BJP pieces have parts that open to reveal books of pictures inside (see pictures at end of post). Think about stitching around these pieces to sew them to the lid fabric and about stitching the lid pieces together. Can you imagine how many times one could get the stitching thread tangled in the beads, around the butterfly wing or the flap of the necktie? It's a nightmare to contemplate.

So here's the tip! I stitched the butterfly wing closed and the antennae down. And I covered the entire necktie piece with fine netting, basted to the surface, as you can see below.

beadwork covered with netting to prevent snagging with thread while stitching to lid
It really helped! The thread got caught a few times around the crystals in the butterfly wing. (Guess I could have covered that piece with netting too.) Yet all-in-all, I had very little hassle. When finished, I removed the stitches holding the wing, antennae and netting.... good as new!

Ribbons at the County Fair

I finished the box just in the nick of time to get it entered in our County Fair last week. I wasn't surprised that it won a blue ribbon (1st place), but blown away that it took Best of Show in the Needle Arts Division!!! Here it is with the ribbons...

bead embroidery, quilting, memory box by robin atkins wins ribbons at fair

Now it's home again and I get to tie olive-green ribbons around packets of letters and pictures, and find my mother's wedding gloves and other remembrances of my parents to tuck into the box for safe-keeping. I also plan to use more of the green polka-dot fabric to make a fabric case to protect the box.

In case you didn't see these pictures in previous posts, here are a couple pictures of the butterfly piece, my November BJP, about my Mom. She's 92 years old and still doing fairly well in assisted living. She lives in St. Paul, MN. I plan to spend a week with her in October.

bead embroidery, bead journal project, mom's butterfly, by robin atkins
bead embroidery, bead journal project, mom's butterfly, by robin atkins
bead embroidery, bead journal project, mom's butterfly, by robin atkins
And below are pictures of the necktie piece, my July BJP, about my Dad. He died three years ago on July 13th. Although I miss him every day, more than I can say, the beading and stitching help me to feel connected with him in a way that is special and comforting.

bead embroidery, bead journal project, dad's tie, by robin atkins
bead embroidery, bead journal project, dad's tie, by robin atkins

Using Two of My BJP Pieces

Making this memory box required that I take two of my BJP pieces for the year out of sequence. That means I have 10 remaining pieces and can not show them all together in one group as I did last year. I feel a little separation anxiety about this.... But the memory box is important to me, so it's OK.

Now that my BJP set is already in two parts, I may continue with that thought and put the four pieces that have to do with spirituality together (make something with them... haven't decided what yet) and the three pieces that have to do with my relationship with my husband together. That leaves three fairly unrelated pieces... Maybe I'll frame them individually... or??? We have four months between now and when the BJP begins again. Lots of time to see what happens with my 10 remaining pieces!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why Blog? - - - And 3 More Short Subjects!

bead journal project, bead embroidery by robin atkins, detail
Why Blog?

While reading Willow Manor last night, I stumbled on her post (here) about comments and whether they are an obstacle or catalyst to readers. Willow has over 1,000 followers and it's not uncommon for her to have 50-100 comments per post. It boggles my mind, yet I can see why people like her blog. I do too.

Anyway, some of the 125 comments on the post about commenting (LOL) and her more recent post (here) about blogging being a transformative moment for her, got me to thinking (again) about why I blog.

For me, blogging started (3 years ago) as a diary or journal... just a place to keep a written and visual record of my life. My husband partakes and is interested in only part of my life... I needed to honor the other parts in some way (I guess)... and blogging became the way. Besides it was technically challenging and fun.

Somewhere along the way, in a barely noticeable progression, my motivation began to change. Rather than doing it for myself, I began to respond to the blogging community by trying to tailor my posts to my readers, finding subjects and adding images that I hoped would appeal and draw comments. Ah, comments! Yes, I craved them and thrived on them, the more the better.

Now, in the past few months, I'm noticing another shift in motivation. Do you recall my recent post about witnessing (here)? One of the email responses to this post called it deep listening. Isn't that a great term? My recent shift is toward trying to develop a community of deep listeners.

OK, I don't mean that every post and every comment needs to be deep. (Wouldn't that be a headache!) But that the general focus of the community (both me posting and you commenting, or just reading) tends toward witnessing, deep hearing and inner truth. Yikes! That sounds a bit daunting. Yet, I think it's my motivation at this time.

A Few Reader Thoughts about Witnessing

Susan said: Interestingly enough, my online blogging has helped me connect better with my family and friends who choose to read. Those non-stitching friends have begun to understand what I stitch, why I stitch and how important it is in my life. ~Me too, including my husband!~ ...my public witnessing of myself and my own feelings leads to others witnessing not only my feelings but their own as well. Some of my favorite online exchanges have occurred because of my most private, public posts. ~Again, me too... This is what I mean about building a community of deep hearing people!~ If someone is interested in witnessing my life, they comment. If they aren't, they move on. We tend to attract those who have the same values and are struggling with the same issues. We ... tend to group ourselves and that is a beautiful phenomenon. So, rather than us choosing our witnesses, our witnesses choose us. They choose to spend the time getting to know us and writing a meaningful comment -- because they care and they want to -- and those feelings are real and very, very healing, supportive and loving. ~How true, Susan, and well said!

Jacquie pointed out that witnessing for her is a validation of time spent pouring out my heart of hearts. ~I agree and also think blogging can be self-validating.

Penny says: witnessing, when it comes from the viewers heart and spirit, when they are really and truly engaged with what they are looking at - can be a motivating process. It opens not only me up to them, but them up to me and that is a gift that they give to me also. ~That's how I look at it too... as an exchange and as a gift.

Pegnard wrote: Am I willing to share my spirit, in a spirit of aloha, on a blog? I started one, but don't write there too often yet. I hope people will be kind. I've experienced so much joy from reading other blogs, felt such a kinship. I'd like to share back. ~Again, it's the exchange thing... the sharing back... the give and take of blogging that appeals to me now.

Carolyn emailed: ...we only expose ourselves to those we completely trust to like us even after they see/witness "who we really are." And that usually only means one or two special friends and no one else, especially family members. Blogs allow us to safely allow others to know who we really are and safely identify with like emotions and feelings. ~Yes, I think there is an element of anonymity or distance that makes blogging feel safe. The level of safety, developing slowly for me as I wrote and read, is quite high now.

Sabine wrote: Blogs, and especially the BJP have a lot to do with letting people witness through art and thoughts presented, and they have a whole lot to do with trusting people. ~I agree, trust is so much a part of this.

Post, comment, witness, exchange, trust, validate and transform... that's what blogging is all about for me at this point.

Teaching in Phoenix - Bead Museum is there!

Right around the corner... October 1-5, I will be in Phoenix, Arizona teaching bead embroidery and giving two presentations!

Oct. 2nd will be a whole day at the Bead Museum! I've never been there previously, but have heard lots of praise for their huge collection of beads and beadwork and the way it's displayed. This museum is currently the only bead museum in the country (in the world???), since the one in Washington DC closed. A few months ago the economy almost forced our only remaining bead museum to close its doors. Fortunately, various Bead Societies and private concerns around the country donated sufficient funds to keep them going for a little while longer.

I'm telling you this, because IF you have the time and can get there, this may be a good opportunity to see the museum! I'll be teaching a 1/2-day Beaded Button class (great introduction to bead embroidery), giving a slide show about how glass beads and buttons are made and signing books... That's Oct. 2nd at the Museum. The contact information is here, on my website.

If you'd really like to go deeply into bead embroidery, consider taking my 2-day Improvisational Bead Embroidery class on Oct. 3 & 4, also in Phoenix but held at the Farm at South Mountain. More than a techniques class, this one is all about tapping into your original, creative self through beading. A side-benefit of taking the class is that you get to attend my presentation about Visual Journaling with Beads, Fibers, Threads and Fabrics for free! Contact information is here.

Introducing A Friend's Website & Blog

bountiful herbs farm, gayle and dennis hazelton
This is my neighbor, walking-buddy and friend, Gayle with her husband and pupdog. Gayle asked me to build/design a website and blog for her herbal farm business. I'm no website designer, but together we developed a simple site, which is now live!!! At Bountiful Herbs Farm, you will find natural, hand-made soaps and many other wonderful things your body and home will love. Enjoy cooking and gardening??? Gayle likes to share favorite recipes on her blog, Herb Crazed... plus useful gardening tips. Thanks for giving her a visit and a taste of what it's like to receive comments!!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What to Do with 12 Bead Journal Pieces?????

I'm just about finished with my 12th and last BJP (Bead Journal Project) piece for this year and wondering... what shall I do with them? Maybe if I review some of the finishing solutions from the first year of the BJP, an idea will come to me. And, if you're in the same boat, you might want to join me for a look-see!

Books and Journals

bead journal project, book by Terri A
Terri A (Pirate Poem) knew from the start she would assemble her pages into a book, placing them back to back and binding them with cloth.

bead journal project, wheel book by Denise D
Denise D (Farewell) stitched her 12 beaded butterfly-wings to a strip of stiffened felt which she had pre-folded accordion-style. She then joined the inward folds to make a wheel book, each page representing a spoke of the wheel.

bead journal project, book of pieces by Heidi T
Heidi T (A Year of Beading) finished each of her pages by whip stitching the beading to stiff felt. She added grommets to the left side so that she could bind her pages into a book.

bead journal project, accordion book by Jann B
Jann B (Encrusted Pages) attached her finished pieces to stiff, hand-made paper which she had pre-folded into an accordion-style book. She made two of these, each with 6 of her pieces.

bead journal project, accordion book by Sandy J
Sandy J also made an accordion-style book featuring half of her pieces on one side and the other half on the other side. She stitched her beadwork to felt and put a stiffener between the two sides so it can be shown standing.

Framed Work

bead journal project, piece (title: Hope) by Lisa Binkley
Lisa B (Hope) gave her beading a quilt-like fabric background and then framed each piece individually.

bead journal project, exhibition of pieces by Lisa Binkley
Lisa was invited to have a show show (Fabricated Realms) of her framed pieces and sold several of them. Don't they look wonderful hung together like this?

bead journal project, framed piece by Ellen C
Ellen C (Fish) also framed each of her pieces individually.

bead journal project, framed pieces by Karen L Cohen
Karen C (Spiral) designed her pieces to be in the shape of a spiral. She folded back the fabric edges on each of the pieces and stitched them to black upholstery fabric using the picot edge stitch. Then she framed them all together as one piece.

bead journal project, 12 pieces framed by Christy H
Christy H stitched her pieces to fabric-covered foam-core board (see directions here) and framed them all together. She decided to arrange her pieces in chronological order.

bead journal project, framed pieces by Robin Atkins
I grouped my pieces into three groups (not in chronological order, but in groups that looked good together) and glued them to heavy book-board that I had covered with papers I painted with acrylics. This is one group of 4 pieces.

bead journal project, beaded buttons on cards by Lunnette H
Lunnette HH (Priceless) made one beaded button per month and grouped them chronologically in four groups of three, one group for each season of the year. She then made button cards (featuring her own calligraphy), attached the buttons and hung the cards in a frame-case. The frame can be opened and the buttons removed easily should she wish to fasten one to her hat, jacket or purse.

Tapestries and Wall Hangings

bead journal project, wall hanging by Jann B
Jann B (Silk Fusion) made two BJP pieces per month. You saw one set (accordion book) above. The second set is less heavily beaded. These she attached to a wide piece of satin ribbon (6 on one side, 6 on the other) to make a two-sided room-divider wall hanging. (For the above image, a picture of one side is placed right next to a picture of the other side so you can see both sides at the same time.)

bead journal project, 12 pieces by Angela P suspended with chains
Angela P backed her pieces with stiffener and hung them from chains.

bead journal project, one of Carol L's pieces
Carol L (Midday 4) made post-card sized pieces (4" x 6") in the "landscape" format. She used three different color schemes, making four pieces in each scheme.

bead journal project, tapestery featuring 4 pieces by Carol L
Carol then made three tapestries (Shimmering Gardens), one in each color scheme. This one is Midday.

bead journal project, banner featuring 8 pieces by Trish L
Trish L (Casey) used 8 of her finished squares to make a long, narrow banner. You can see more of this piece here.

bead journal project, 12 pieces in a wall hanging by Krispi S
Krispi S, being a quilter, hand-stitched rails between her 12 squares creating a single wall-hanging with all of them.

bead journal project, quilt by Thom Atkins
Thom A (In the Beginning) made each of his pieces as a beaded quilt. Hung grouped together, they make quite a show.

Other Possibilities

bead journal project, pieces on rings by Morwyn D
Morwyn Dow (Elementals) finished each of her pieces with a leather binding and grommets at the top. She bound the pieces together with large metal rings.

bead journal project, box for storing pieces by Morwyn D
Morwyn also constructed a leather box to hold the journals with a 13th beaded piece mounted on the top.

bead journal project, purse and one BJP piece by Morwyn D
Anytime she wishes, Morwyn can remove one of her pieces from the rings and attach it to a leather purse, which she also made.

bead journal project, box for storage of banner by Trish L
Trish L (you saw her banner above) used two of her other pieces to embellish a store-purchased box to hold the finished banner.

bead journal project, exhibition of triptych sculptures by Bobbi K
Bobbi K (Triptychs) fashioned four standing sculptures, each with three of her postcard-sized journal pages. If you click to enlarge, you can see that she made fabric tabs on the sides of her pieces and passed the "legs" through the tabs to form the sculptures. Like Lisa, she was invited to show her work in an exhibition.

bead journal project, barrettes by Becky L
Becky L decided at the start of the year to make one hair barrette each month.

bead journal project, beaded flower pins by Jean U
Jean U decided at the start to make flower pins and to stitch a background for each of them. Each can be removed from the background and worn.

Important Tip!

OK, we've had a look at some possibilities. But you know what?

We do not have to do anything with our journal pieces.
The greatest benefit we will ever have from them is the creative process of making them! We don't have to keep them all together. We don't have to exhibit them. We can simply feel good that we have realized our commitment and have learned more about beading, more about art, more about technique and more about ourselves.

I'm going to take the pressure off my shoulders to do something fabulous with my pieces. Well, I already did something with two of them... You'll see that in my next post. But the other 10 can hang out in a box indefinitely. Maybe I'll get inspired and think of something for them... maybe I won't.

One of our members emailed me a while back in more-or-less panic mode because she had sold a couple of her BJP pieces. She wondered if she should make new ones to replace the ones she sold. My answer to her is this: "You could replace them if you feel you need a full set of 12 pieces for some reason. However, you already fulfilled your commitment and experienced the benefits of making them, so good for you that you sold some! Congratulations!"

My hope is that each BJP member will be gentle with themselves about this. If you have a plan for doing something with your pieces, great. If not, that's OK too.

One More Thing...

Last year, using My Publisher.com, I self-published a printed, hard-bound book with pictures and stories about my BJP pieces. There are several on-line publishing firms that offer this service for a fairly reasonable price. I bought 3 copies of my book and gave two of them away. I think it was about $40 per book , including shipping. You can see my book (virtually flip the pages!) on line, here.

It was challenging and fun to download the publishing program and follow the instructions to layout my book and the dust jacket. And it's really fun to have the book as a physical journal of my first year in the BJP! I'll probably do it again this year.

BJP Begins Again in January, 2010!

Registration for the next (third!) year of the Bead Journal Project begins October 1 and closes on December 15th. We will begin our 12-month commitment in January, 2010 and continue throughout the year.

Registration is open to both returning members from either of the previous years and to new members. This is not a competition. Beginners at beading are welcome. There are no BJP police... It's a self-commitment with nothing to turn in to anybody and no reports are required.

We will have a group blog (similar to this year's blog) and members are welcome to post pictures of their work on the BJP blog or our Flickr page. For more information, see the BJP website.

Past and current members who complete the project say it's a life-changing experience with amazing benefits. That's certainly true for me!

Is Your Piece Pictured Above?

If I've made any mistakes in what I wrote about your piece and you'd like to make a correction or if you have a link you'd like me to add, please contact me and I'll do it! And thanks for being such an inspiration!