December 30, 2009

5 Years in the Making - Longest Project Ever!

It's not that I'm a procrastinator. I have deadlines and I meet them at work (that's for you, Ms. Manager!); I get my Christmas cards done almost completely on time; I'm typically on time to parties even after a rigorous hair routine. So why did this darn project me so long to finish?

I've been doing counted cross-stitch since I was in grade school. My mother would take me to Jo-Ann Fabric stores, and while she would pick out notions for some sewing project, I would wander the craft aisles looking for something more interesting than bolts of clown-printed fabric.I started with small counted cross-stitch projects (stamped cross-stitch is for babies!) that involved cats, or trite sayings, or small holiday images, eventually graduating to larger-scale photo-realistic projects.

Despite the fact that I don't even like most of the traditional American country/old lady images that are used in cross-stitch, I still continue to do it. Yes, the process of repeated movements is soothing, but there's just a certain sense of accomplishment and attachment to a physical piece of product that you spend so much time making. Once, I had my heart broken because someone literally ripped to shreds a little angel sampler that I had made as a gift. Ten years later, I've mostly gotten over it (mostly), but I no longer give gifts like that to people who might deliberately destroy them.

That said, I thought that a complex cross-stitch sampler would be an amazing gift for someone like my mom. Since she has done a fair bit of needlework in her day, I knew she would appreciate the work that it takes to pull something like that together. I chose a floral lily design with a lot of subtle shading and extremely small stitching detail. I always anticipated that this cross-stitch project would take a pretty lengthy amount of time. So, I budgeted a year or two so that I wouldn't have to work on it every waking hour of the day. Surprise! It took me five years.

My original plan was to go to give the finished piece to my mom - aptly named Lily - for Christmas or her birthday a few years after starting the project. Once that deadline blew by and I was still less than half finished, why not her big xxth birthday? (She would kill me if I put her age for everyone to see.) Well, that came and went, and I toiled to get it done for her birthday this year. I'm talking entire evenings, weekend mornings, and lost sleep to pull this thing together.

Well, May crept up on me, and I couldn't quite finish in time. I literally only had another week or two of work to do, so I decided that Christmas might be the magical day for the gift. A few borders and tassels later, things were wrapped up. And taa dah!:

That's my mom holding her fantastic birthday/Christmas gift. Doesn't she look happy?

So, is this really a creative project? No, not really. It's fuddy-duddy counted cross-stitch from a pattern that merely takes time; not creative juices. But given how much time I devoted to this project, I thought it was worth documenting.

Materials used for this project:
  • "Gold Collection" Exquisite Lily Sampler in Counted Cross Stitch from Dimensions
  • An eternity
Below are a few more photos for posterity:

  • The package:
  • The unbelievably detailed instructions (measuring about 24" x 36"):
  • The thread and stupid grid of 27 colors I kept having referring back to to figure out exactly which shade of thread I needed to use. It is VERY difficult to tell the difference between light yellow green and plain old yellow green, so threads were separated into three different bunches:

  • Finally, the finished product. Check out the detailed lilies-of-the-valley in the middle! 28 of those tiny x's per linear inch. That's 784 x's per square inch. I almost went blind:

I hope everyone has had a fantastic start to the new year. See you next week!

December 28, 2009

Ho, ho, ho! - Back After a Hiatus!

Hello, again! It seems that I have gotten lazy over the past few months. My creative juices ran dry after only 5 posts... in June?!

Not really. Let me explain and offer some advice. Never take on a large project in something in which you have no confidence. For me, that's writing fiction. I thought it would be fun to try taking on a new version of a chapter of Pride and Prejudice written in a modern tone. Except that I had forgotten how bad I was at writing fiction. Three weeks later, and totally burned out, I was left with a sucky version of HALF of the chapter and had been sapped of any desire to do something creative. For those interested in the text - too bad. That crap will never see the light of day. Working with physical objects is more my speed.

So, I'm back now, doing the things I enjoy! I've been occupying myself for the last month or two with my all-consuming annual project: handmade holiday cards! Typically, this involves a lot of paper, scissors, and glue - and this year hasn't been any different.

First, the design. This is inevitably the most maddening part of the process. Searching for ideas doesn't always work. I usually look through my little card making book, catalogs, magazines... Usually the idea just comes to me: a flash of inspiration (eureka!) in the middle of the day when I'm working on something totally unrelated to greeting cards.

Having been obsessed with Mad Men (including a theme party earlier this year), I drew inspiration from the show and AMC's "Mad Men Yourself" application. I figured that a little 60's style would be fun for my holiday cards. Who doesn't want a Gimlet, skinny tie, or house frock to brighten up the holiday season?

So, I made pictures of a male and female figure with the suit and dress that I liked:

Then I printed those images out on white paper and then cut out the clothing only so I could get a clean silhouette without the other body parts. I scanned the images back onto the computer so I could print them en masse from Powerpoint directly onto the red paper I was using. (This year's card was designed to be made mostly from leftover paper from previous years. If any of you do arts and crafts, you know what I mean. I am sick of having random paper scraps lying around the house!)

Snip, snip! Dresses and suits in red!

I used organdy ribbon to create a ruffle at the bottom of the dress. Despite my horrific freehand sewing skills, I gathered the organdy ribbon with a needle and thread to make a bunch of little ribbon lengths. I then sewed them onto the bottom of each dress to create a raised "hem." It's surprisingly difficult to create a length of ribbon the same length as a piece of paper unless you're measuring against it every second.

Cut velvet ribbon was used for the trim around the red suit jacket. I glued the ribbon to the jacket and then trimmed with scissors for a custom tailor job. Santa needs to look as slim for the big night!

I freehand drew some Santa hats. I have to tell you that Santa hats can look weird if you don't get the droopiness just right.

Sticking everything to the card and finishing it off with a "Merry Christmas" stamp is where the relief sets in for me. Sadly, I was a little indecisive this year about how I wanted things positioned, so there were a few versions as I have shown below, a few versions where the couple look like they are toasting each other, and a few versions with crooked stamp placement. (I should add that the stamp is totally optional in the case of non-religious friends. Unfortunately, I may have already offended with the Santa theme. Oh, well.)

Voila! It's a swingin' 60's Santa with his Mrs. Claus. Times 40 cards. Equals a lot of time devoted to cards instead of holiday shopping.

This year's design is definitely not my favorite. Aren't we always our own harshest critics? Below is a lineup of my work over the years. I loooove my paper.

The bottom three are "Christmas Surprises:"

Materials used for this project:
  • Clothing design from "Mad Men Yourself"
  • Needle and thread
  • White organdy ribbon
  • White velvet ribbon
  • White pompons
  • Sharp paper scissors
  • Paper, A2 and A4 cards and envelopes from Paper Source
  • Glue
Final note: Until I put together the full lineup, I didn't realize that I have been making these cards for the past eight holiday seasons. Time flies, as evidenced by my long absence. I hope that everyone out there has had a great 2009; cheers to an even better, more creative 2010!

June 28, 2009

Cover Up!

As it may be becoming clear, I am sometimes reluctant to spend money on furniture. Especially if I'm not convinced that I like something, I tend to look for the cheapest solution. Sometimes, I'm stuck in a state of limbo since I assume I'll upgrade in the future; I just don't want to upgrade right now.

This week, it's yet another piece of IKEA furniture that I'm trying to cover up. This time, it's really a cover up. Literally.

I have a television in my bedroom that I would love to get rid of. It's insanely heavy (Sony likes to make 'em solid) and kind of unsightly compared to sleek new LCDs and plasmas. The only problem? It still works great, it's bulky, and it needs something to sit on. Enter the IKEA side table as TV stand:

Blech. Double blech to all the crap that is on the shelves underneath the TV. Crappy DVD player, essential but ugly DVR, old N64 for MarioKart entertainment, and sewing basket for all my stupid odds and ends. Messy, no?

Since all the other wooden furniture in the bedroom is black, I thought covering it up in black fabric might be a good way to make it blend a little better. (Yes, the image above already has the fabric covering on it. The TV was too heavy just to move for the picture.)

I measured the table and bought a length of black duck cloth that covered the entire circumference of the unit plus a little extra for the top. From past experience, I made myself a little diagram to ensure that I didn't screw up the measurements too much:

Then, I marked the cloth with a dressmaker's pencil and cut the cloth along the lines I had marked using a good sharp pair of sewing scissors.

Now comes the hard part for those of us who weren't raised to make clothes for ourselves. I hemmed the bottom and side edges of the cloth with a 3/4" hem by finishing the edge with a zigzag stitch and then hemming a straight stitch hem. Then, I sewed the top cover piece to the side covering leaving one end open. A key move here was basting the fabric. The four images below all show the top fabric basted to the side fabric.

Lastly, I sewed on snaps to fasten the front flap to the overhang I left. I am bad with snaps. See my key lessons below for more on that topic.

The end result doesn't look fantastic, but it looks better than having all my crap exposed:

Plus, there was a huge bonus feature! I built in the snaps because I assumed that I would have to unsnap the cover every time I wanted to use the satellite box/DVR. It turns out that the duck cloth is a loose enough weave that I don't need to unfasten the fabric to use the equipment. Woo!

A few lessons learned on this particular project:
  • Always give yourself a little extra room when working with fabric. It tends to scoot around on you.
  • Basting fabric (pinning two pieces together where you want to sew them) prior to committing needle to fabric is critical. If I hadn't done that, I would have had one very uneven cover since I would have run out of fabric before everything was covered.
  • Snaps are easy to screw up, even though they look simple. Make sure you match up what goes where before you start sewing, because there are a multitude of ways to screw up the orientation. I didn't do this and literally had to resew snaps 6 times. (Quite a feat considering I only had 4 snaps to sew.)
  • Account for the fact that there will be gaps in the fabric unless you plan to cover them up somehow. That's why all shirts are designed with overlap where fabrics connect. I don't why, but I assumed that if every fabric seam was straight, there wouldn't be any wood peeking through. Oops.
Materials used for this project:
  • Tape Measure
  • Black duck cloth: 2 yards
  • Dressmaker's pencil
  • Sewing Scissors (sharp ones)
  • Sewing Machine
  • Black Thread
  • Needle
  • Snaps

June 18, 2009

Profile Picture

As I may have mentioned, I am not the greatest artist. I like being creative, but it's not like I was getting A's in art class. (The blog is called creative dribble, not artistic dribble.)

Once, I sketched a sculpture of a woman at the Art Institute in Chicago. Everything was basically fine until I got to the feet. Picture a 6 foot tall lady with size 3 feet. Proportions are tough!

That's why I love technology, which allows even the worst freehand drawer to achieve a level of accuracy on nose size, eye placement, and lip fullness that may have been completely out of reach before.

This week's project is a project for my guest bathroom. Again, I got my inspiration from that same Martha Stewart Living article that inspired my bench project. There was a small picture above a couch with their silhouettes cut out. A very cute way to illustrate their small family tree:

I loved the idea of the "love sihouette," so I decided to make one of myself and Chris for our guest bathroom. You start by taking a digital picture of your profile against a light background, like so:

Then, I took the intermediate next step of importing the image into MS Paint so I could color in the body of the photo and white out the background to get a preliminary read on what the silhouette would look like. I think that this step is a little unnecessary if you are confident in your profile decisions, but it was helpful for me in order to get the details of exactly how a chin or nose should look, or how the strands of hair should stand on the head.

Then, in order to get the cutout details just right, I cut out a smaller model of the silhouette so I could figure out exactly how the details would cut prior to the final version. Again, probably an extraneous step, but for those who lack confidence, it works pretty well:

Then, I used my scanner and powerpoint to blow up the image to the actual size I wanted:

Finally, I taped the silhouette to a black sheet of paper (from Paper Source, of course) and traced the silhouette to the back of the paper with a pencil. I had to be careful here to make sure the faces would be facing each other when I traced the picture, so I had to tape the sihouette on backwards for one of the images because we were both facing the same way when I took the picture.

I determined the size in part by the space I wanted to fill on the wall. It was tough to imagine life-sized floating heads on the wall, but anything smaller just didn't take up enough room. I found these great 12" x 12" LP album frames at CB2 that were just the right size and simple profile for what I wanted. They also had the advantage of having a glass back so I could have a floating image if I wanted it.

Now, for the mounting. I originally wanted to use a white or very light colored background for the backing, but when I got to the store, a lot of the papers I found were too "cute" or modern. I was looking for a bit more of a retro modern (modernized Victorian?) feel to the bathroom to match the bedroom. I finally found this cool transparent film with a silver damask-like pattern that provided the right feel, and would even let the pink wall behind it show through.

I glued the silhouette to the front of the transparent paper, and here is the final result:

Voila! Silhouette for the drawing challenged. They're no longer just the domain of the artists at Disney. It's a much easier project than I imagined. Give it a try if you have the chance!

Materials used for this project:

  • A willing participant
  • Digital camera
  • Small craft scissors - sharp ones!
  • Pencil
  • Scanner
  • Crate and Barrel LP Album Frame
  • 8.5" x 11" text weight black paper from Paper Source
  • 12" x 12" background paper - transparent with brocade design
  • Glue

June 12, 2009

A Personal Touch

It's never good when you have to start a conversation with your husband, "Okay, don't be mad." Especially when it's your anniversary.

Some of you may know that I design my own greeting cards. This week, I decided to create a card for my dearest husband. We have been married for 5 years, and in addition to the delicious cookie bouquet from Cookies by Design, I wanted to do something a little personal.

My biggest project is holiday greeting cards, and I usually start planning in early to mid-October in order to have everything to created by the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I only had about an hour for this project.

I decided to create a card for Chris that celebrates our five years together with the traditional materials for each of the years. I don't think anyone actually know these things offhand, so I went to look them up on Wikipedia:

1st anniversary: Paper
2nd anniversary: Cotton
3rd anniversary: Leather
4th anniversary: Linen / Silk
5th anniversary: Wood

Luckily, I basically had all these materials on hand. I used the a piece of white copy paper, a little piece of a cotton square, the trimming from a double-sided leather belt of Chris that needed to be sized down, and a tiny piece of mulch. "What about the linen or silk?" you ask...

I thought I had a little piece of leftover silk from a dress that I had tailored. It turns out that you should never count on finding something that you haven't seen in about a year.

What to do?!

I took Chris' favorite pair of linen pants and cut a tiny bit out of the seam. Eek! I'm sure he'll never even notice.

I used a purple card that I had leftover from a prior batch of greeting cards. I pasted all 5 items on the cover of the card to represent the 5 years we've been together.

I made a little engagement and wedding ring for decoration of the inside of the card along with the anniversary wishes.

Lastly, the magic ingredient that gave it a personal touch was the red and gold paper I used for the little plus and equal signs in my design. I used scraps from the paper we used for the escort cards at our wedding.

Here's the result:

Yes, it's pretty amateur looking and obviously homemade. It's certainly not my best design, and I wouldn't even really call it good looking. The plus signs look like they were made by a first-grader, especially since they didn't even end up as the same size! (I can't tell you how difficult it is to cut right angles with plus signs that small.) But I love the fact that I was able to make something for Chris and make it really personal. Maybe he was just lying, but he said that it was his favorite card that I've made. He didn't even mind that his pants were missing a tiny chunk. Mission accomplished.

Materials used for this project:
  • Lavender A4 card and pearlized envelope from Paper Source
  • Silver paper from Paper Source
  • Vellum (for the engagement ring)
  • Office Paper
  • Cotton Square
  • Leather Belt
  • Linen Pants
  • Mulch
  • Scissors
  • A quarter, nickel, and penny to trace the outlines for the rings

June 6, 2009

New Life - Repurposing Old (IKEA!) Furniture

One of the first projects that arose from my new creative spring was to solve a practical problem.

My condo in Chicago is on the 3rd floor with a landing on the 2nd floor. I love having this second floor area because it gives a little rest stop on the way up the stairs and a place to take off my shoes. (Being Asian, I don't wear shoes inside the house.) However, for 3 years, this created a crazy mess of shoes on my landing, and there was nowhere to sit. Disaster.

So, I decided to clean up my act. I stored my shoes in a separate location upstairs. Great! Check!

Now, all I had to do was find a bench that would fit the landing area. You've all gone furniture shopping, right? I browsed a LOT of different online stores, and they were all too big, not the right color, or just downright expensive.

Then I discovered that the solution was right in front of me. I had an old chest from IKEA that I used as my first coffee table right after college that was sitting unused in my office. It turned out to be the perfect size to fit in that area. It didn't really match the area since it's just a plain IKEA maple-colored finish, and honestly, I found it pretty ugly, but it certainly was more appealing than paying $300 for a new bench that still didn't really match.

Then, I thought that maybe since I wasn't paying squat for the item itself, I could just repaint it to suit my color scheme. I happened to have the paints from when I moved in three years ago (a Tiffany blue door with white walls), so I figured I could get my local paint provider to mix some new paint in order to refinish the furniture. But I still had to choose a design.

I combed websites for ideas, but everything I came upon seemed too complicated for a first-time furniture painter (Martha Stewart) or just not quite right for that area (floral stencils). But as I was looking through an old Martha Stewart Living that boasted 75 "Pretty and Practical Decorating Ideas," I came across this image from a woman's home in NYC.

I loved the pattern in what appears to be some sort of fireplace grate replacement. So I decided to replicate that design on my bench.

First, I went and bought the paint. Two quarts of Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo Alkyd Low Lustre Enamel set me back $50. (The guy at the store told me that oil-based was the only way to go for high-traffic areas.) I bought some 3M masking tape knowing that masking off the grid would be easiest way to recreate the look. They had two types of tape - normal blue painter's tape and painter's tape for delicate surfaces. Despite the fact that it was only available in the 1" width (I had wanted 0.75" for a smaller, more delicate grid), I went with the delicate surfaces tape since it was less likely to pucker and allow paint to seep under it.

Next, a prototype of the pattern. If you look closely at the image, the block pattern is a square that repeats. I created a half-scale version of the pattern in order to make sure I could recreate it and so the measurements would be easier when I masked the actual furniture. Each square would be 13" wide, which allowed for 3 repeats of the pattern on the top of the bench, and 2 plus a little extra on the front.

Finally, I started working with the actual furniture. I lightly sanded the furniture to give the paint something to stick to. This was messy - I recommend doing this outside or in a garage or somewhere that's very easy to clean. The dust was really fine and looked kind of like baby powder.

I painted the chest with three coats of paint. I didn't use any primer, which is probably why it took three coats to cover the wood color. For anyone who doesn't paint a lot, a quart goes a REALLY long way, so there was plenty to spare. I didn't sand between coats, which didn't seem to make a difference. I used cheap brushes and didn't clean them with thinner or mineral spirits between coats. That was probably a mistake. Every time I started a new coat, the old, dried paint from the brush would flake off in tiny pieces and screwed up the smooth surface of the paint. Oops. There were two important lessons in here for me:
  1. Don't start with the side that is most visible.
  2. Things will never be perfect when you do them the first time. Especially if you're impatient. But usually, it turns out okay anyway.
Next, I masked off the pattern onto the bench. This was harder than it looked. I screwed it up a few times because I calculated the number of inches incorrectly when I put three of the squares together. It only took one coat of the blue because the white served as a nice base. Plus, I daubed it on pretty thickly. The "don't start with the visible side" lesson also applies here. I forgot to really push down on the tape to seal it the first time.

8 hours later, I peeled off the masking tape to reveal the painted pattern.

Lastly, I used a tiny 8 ounce can of Minwax clear gloss polyurethane to protect the paint job since it's in a high-traffic area. Plus, since a bunch of stuff I own has metal in it, I think this will help with any of those stupid gray marks that always seem to appear when metal and paint come within half an inch of each other. I applied two coats. Now it's super shiny.

Here's the final result in its new home:

So, maybe the size wasn't perfect. It's a little deeper than I anticipated, meaning that my front door won't open all the way. (Good thing that the carpet prevents it from doing that anyway.) It also makes for a pretty narrow area to get up the stairs - you are forced to use the skinny inner part of the spiral staircase. (Good thing there's a banister right there.) But now I have a place to sit and even a little shoe storage space right at my front door.

Stuff used for this project:
  • Old IKEA chest/coffee table
  • Sandpaper
  • 1 quart Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo Alkyd Low Lustre Enamel paint for the base color
  • 1 quart Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo Alkyd Low Lustre Enamel paint for the highlight color (use less if you can - some brands sell sample sizes of paint)
  • 3 paint brushes (or fewer if you're willing to clean them off)
  • Masking Tape
  • Something to protect your floors/walls when you're painting (newspapers, paper grocery bags, whatever)
  • Ruler (for the details)
  • Tape measure (for the big picture)
  • Pencil (for marking off distances on the paint - it erases off)
  • Minwax semi-gloss polyurethane (8 oz)

June 4, 2009


I'm starting this blog as a symbol of my reclaimed life.

For the past year, I have been chained to my desk at work, spending more hours in front of my crappy Dell laptop than I care to admit.

No more!

This marks the beginning of a renewed interest in myself, not just my career. I have always longed to be a creative type. When I was young, I sang, I danced, and I poured my tiny soul into my art classes. But sadly, the only recognition I ever got was that my 7th grade artwork was chosen as one of four patterns featured on the annual Madrigal program. But I've moved on to other creative outlets that aren't necessarily within the bounds of traditional grade school education. There's nothing earth shattering about what I do, but I enjoy it so much that I'm challenging myself to do it much more often.

This is the mantra of one of my favorite retailers, Paper Source:

Every day is a bit much for me, but I'm thinking that once a week is perfectly achievable. With that in mind, I'm starting this blog to share my commitment with anyone who wants to listen.


Besides just helping me fulfill this challenge, this blog, I hope, will also inspire a others who want to do creative stuff to take up those scissors and get to work. Plus, I'll share all my sources and any learnings for anyone who can benefit from them.

And now, a few ground rules for my personal challenge:
  1. My creative endeavor has to be documented on this blog.
  2. The creative thing has to be finished within the week (not just partially complete).
  3. "Something creative" is a loose definition. You'll see what I mean when I start posting.
My first project is a bit of a cheat. I started a furniture painting project three weeks ago and am putting the finishing touches on it this weekend. See you on Sunday!