Archive for the ‘review’ Category

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Gone to the Dogs at SeaStrands Studio

I have just posted a review of Gwen Diehn’s excellent book on journal design, construction and use in the afore-mentioned blog. The link to that review is here:

Review: Real Life Journals: Designing & Using Handmade Books, by Gwen Diehn.

Please swing by and have a look. It’s a book worth getting to know.

Also, please update you RSS feeds and links to reflect my new location!!


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This is probably the closest I’ve ever come to buying myself a Christmas present. It’s mainly the timing of the purchase that makes it so, therefore I can absolve myself of the feelings of guilt that go with spending money on oneself in December.

Meet my Pfaff 2027. Purchased from Joan MacNeill in Springdale, who also kindly repaired by Bernina 130 (more on that in another entry).  I’ve been running through what I typically do work-wise with a  machine and have found that this little workhorse does it at least as well as  Bernie. It handles metallic and sliver threads beautifully (once you remember the trick about loosening the bobbin screw a tad), quilts  like a dream and the dual-feed system (like a built-in walking foot) is actually even more useful than I thought.

Strangely enough, the plastic bobbins are the hardest part to get used to, although I have heard it said that they’re better for a machine than a metal bobbin, as the bobbin will not wear at the machine in the same way if made of plastic. I like the push-in bobbin as I find it gives me better stitch tension than the drop in variety, especially given the fact that I work with a myriad of threads.

John’s reaction? “It’s…. pink.” Okay, I can’t help that part. My defense? Katherine claims “it’s actually magenta,” which somehow sounds less fluffy.

Here’s the machine and what came with it:


It also does some 41 stitches, most of which I admit freely that I’ll never use. There are a few that look  promising, though. Might have to fiddle with them a bit and see.


What it does do extraordinarily well is sew evenly through many various layers of fabric, stabiliser, fusible and batting. It had not trouble puncturing thin plastic for me, either, and  could sew at almost full-speed using metallic thread without snapping.

The electronic interface is fairly easy to use and was one of the deciding factors for me. I knew I wanted a Pfaff and that I liked how the brand handled as a whole, but I wasn’t keen on the dials and knobs of a mechanical machine, already being used to an electronic interface with the Bernina. Frankly, the dials were driving me nuts. I also like being able to precisely replicate settings for certain tasks and the buttons are easier on my poor little memory than dials.

The foot pedal is tinsy, but extremely sensitive. It’s lightweight, too. The size and weight mean that it definitely needs the non-skid mat or piece of carpet or something underneath, as it’s easy to send it skittering with an inadvertent swing of the foot.

It comes with a bunch of different feet, including a free-motion foot and a 1/4″ foot. I’ve never actually used a 1/4″ foot in 13 years of quilting, so it should be a novel experience.

All-in-all, I am even happier with the performance of this machine than I expected to be and am also extraordinarily happy with the Pfaff service people in this area (Joan MacNeill in Springdale and Marie MacDonald in St. John’s). They not only know their stuff, but are non-pushy and helpful to the Nth degree.

Which is definitively more than I can say for the one authorised Bernina service dealer in town, who not only did not fix my machine entirely, but sent it home with a problem it didn’t have when it went in. A second opinion revealed that the screws on the take-up lever had not been tightened properly, making it impossible to align the needle shank (or anything, for that matter). This repair person tried to convince me that I had been the one responsible for the needle being out of alignment, that I had abused the machine somehow by over-tightening the needle screw (something I never do) and that new parts and more service were necessary ($$$). Remind me to write a post on danger signs and dealer warnings to watch for when having your machine serviced. If you want to know who to avoid in machine servicing in St. John’s, let me know.

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My husband (a man of great learning, wit and possessed of an appreciation for good tools) thinks that “Pfaff” sounds like the German onomatopoeia for a sneeze. This has somehow stuck in my mind and I kept having to refrain from saying “bless you” around the dealer whenever she used the P-word. Thanks, dear.

I spent some time yesterday test-driving Pfaffs. After cruising around with a 1523 and a 2023, I have to say that I am impressed. Now I’m a Bernina aficionado and have sewn happily with my machine for ten years. We have a relationship. I don’t make new friends easily and a new partner seemed an impossible accomplishment. Bernina has let me down a bit lately, though, as all service must be through a dealer and, if your dealer is problematic, Bernina won’t help and won’t intervene and won’t find another dealer for you near you. In fact, Bernina won’t even communicate with you.

Though the Pfaff 1523 wasn’t quite love at first sight, (because I’m not that kind of girl) it is clearly speaking to me. It has the IDT (dual feed) system, which is rather nice and does indeed keep fabrics moving at an even rate. The most important features for me, though, were how powerful the machine felt, the smoothness of the stitch, the speed possible for free-motion quilting without snags or problems and the sensitivity of the pressure foot; I need the machine to stop and start instantly and to stitch half-stitches in response to my control.

The other qualities that have become intrinsic to my work include the availability of some sort of extension table and additional free motion feet.

The 1523 did all of that easily and powerfully. It free-motioned extraordinarily well, felt comfortable and easy-to-use and gave the air of intense practicality and competence that I need to feel my machine has. The foot pedal was amazingly sensitive and someone who has a feel for sewing can control the needle incredibly precisely.

To boot, and most people probably don’t know this, the Quilter’s Toolbox (containing feet, a free-motion plate and an extension table, among other things) that is available for the 2000 series machines also fits the profile of the 1523 arm. There’s a 1/8 inch gap at the end, where the table should touch the machine, but apart from that, it’s a perfect fit.

What the 1523 doesn’t have (and the 2023 does) is a needle up-down function and a bunch of other stitches. But you know what? I’ve been sewing without those for 10 years now and haven’t really felt the lack. If I didn’t know about them, I wouldn’t want them, which is reason enough in my mind to take a pass. Also, the 2023 (which has that feature) is $400 more (50% again the cost of the other machine) and I’d rather have a machine with the extension table and whatnot that can do well what I need it to accomplish than one with more bells and whistles that will cause neck and shoulder pain because I don’t have money to spend on the table.

So here’s the current sale (apparently Christmas is good like that):

1523 – $799+tax = $910 (MSRP $949+tx)

Quilter’s Accessory Kit $300+tax =$314

Total = $1224

2023 – $1199+tax = $1366 (with no table and extra feet still to buy) (MSRP $1449+tx)

It seems to me to be a no-brainer. Today’s project includes more machine research and testing and finding out a bit about other sources for Plexiglas extension tables. The one for my Bernina was made by Dream World and is a Sew Steady Portable Table (prices seem reasonable). Off now to find out what turn-around times for one of those would be for a Pfaff….

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If you were thinking I had a table at a little flea market affair, you’ll need to adjust your vision a tad. This fair (held by the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador) allocates booth space and bases the fees on a combination of on square footage, shape and location. Here’s the schedule of fees for the past fair. I had an 8 x 4 aisle booth. The structure of it was originally designed to display my mother’s stock of bears, dolls, fairies, mermaids, rabbits, beavers and other critters, but with a little tweaking, it did a very nice job for my purposes. (Thanks for lending it, Mom!)
Fee Schedule 2006

On the side you can see that each booth has a reasonable wattage available for use.  I used the equivalent of 1100 watts to light my booth, which made is marvelously light and enhanced the vibrant colours tremendously. I used a mixture of florescent and incandescent in order to balance the spectrum a bit. I couldn’t afford all full-spectrum florescent bulbs, but the mixture worked really well. The florescent bulbs also don’t get hot and don’t heat up the lamps, so repositioning them was easy. To boot, if I had a bigger booth I could have used many more lights by using florescent bulbs, as the wattage is low proportionate to the candlepower emitted.

Here’s a diagram of the booth, with the lighting and rough direction indicated in brown:


The panels are four feet wide and seven high. The back panels were navy and the side were off-white, which allowed people to see the work against a dark or light value, depending on their walls at home. The dark background also showed off certain pieces exceptionally well, whereas the light sides bounced the light around nicely. The table was for me to work at while doing demonstrations and also provided customers with a place to mull over which particular purchase they wished to make.

Everything on walls was displayed above waist level. The long table across the back of the booth held beach rocks which were interspersed with products similar to those on the wall, but on stands. Business cards were scattered throughout. Tables and shelves were all draped in light coloured fabrics to reflect light, although the top of the long table in back was topped with silky blue, to thematically go with the beach rocks.

The side panels held large pieces while the back panels held a mixture of medium and small. Groupings were thematically organised.  I switched the layout around a bit throughout, but here’s a rough idea of how things went, flattened out:


The hot spots were the three-panel spot to the right of the middle panels, although the entirety of the right side of the big section (the back, btw) was fairly hopping all through the exhibition.

I placed smaller items on the tables on either edge of the booth and scattered lower-priced items here and there. This worked amazingly well, as people often seemed to see things they like as they were leaving or were pulled into the booth by the first price tags they saw being low. Many bought larger pieces.

All-in-all, this display worked rather nicely. I have some modifications in mind for next year, including hard panels throughout (the side panels were cloth attached with Velcro) and easily accessible storage units. Also, I need better signage. Plans are in place for all of these aspects.

Stupidly, I didn’t take pictures. I should have, I realise, but somehow it escaped me this time. I’ll check around and see if someone else did. I did a few interviews and there were photographers present, so who knows what’s out there?! If I find any, I’ll post ’em.

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foiled birches

I’m not quite sure how many parts this will turn out to be, but “one” seems like an appropriate place from which to start.

The 33rd Annual Fine Craft and Design Fair was this past weekend. It’s a juried fair, which means that your product has to have passed certain standards of quality for you to participate. The purpose of this jurying is to select craft and art that are both aesthetically and technically of a high calibre within their fields. In other words, the playing field is well above sea level and customers and other craftspeople can be assured that what surrounds them is worth purchasing and will not drag down the market for the other booths.

Prep for these events is monumental. I don’t know how other people work, but I tend to put on a super blitz before the fair and make about three times as much stock as I know will sell. This enables me to keep my booth well-stocked with good product and to produce variants on certain pieces for customers who don’t quite see what they’re looking for on the wall. The other advantage to making that quantity of stock is that I can, immediately after the fair, resupply any shops with which I deal in anticipation of the Christmas season.

So I made a gargantuan quantity of stuff, but this year I tried a few new things:

  1. I invested in a few tools that enabled me to do certain tasks more quickly, thus saving time. The Fiskars slicer, for instance, vastly sped up my time for making backings and saved me its worth in time during the first week I had it.
  2. I standardized the sizes of a number of things so that the same sized backings would fit any one of a number of products.
  3. I eliminated gratuitous steps from certain products. Some pieces didn’t need (and in fact were lessened by) stitching in certain places, so I left it out where structurally possible.
  4. The above steps enabled me to shave a bit off my prices while still maintaining my profit margin quite nicely.
  5. I was also able to spend more time on making each piece unique and individually satisfying. The uniqueness of the works made them much more attractive and I had a better time making them.
  6. I honed my work and refined my focus to be more fine art than craft. Partially this was simply changing hanging devices and making more expressive pieces, but it also involved switching to primarily wall-mounted works and displaying them as they were meant to be displayed in a home.
  7. I redesigned my business cards and also designed a brochure that used the same image. That image also appears on the top of this blog.
  8. I used silk for certain pieces and labelled them quite obviously as such. Silk has exotic appeal.
  9. I went into more detail in my labels about the materials and techniques.
  10. I focused on producing a dollar and quantity amount of stock, but also kept a close eye on making sure that there was variety within each category.
  11. Meeting a production value amount was not allowed to supersede making superior product. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in production quantity to the detriment of inspirational quality. Technical quality is always high for my work, but artistic success sometimes takes a dip when production is pushed hard. I suspect this was one of the reasons I had a rough year last year.
  12. I produced a body of work that was highly unique and utilised imagery and techniques that were effective, attractive and gender-neutral. As many men liked my work as women, which is a huge coup as far as I’m concerned, as textiles tend to be female-dominated, both in terms of the producers and the consumers.
  13. While producing the work, I worked in small series. This made for a fabulous display, allowing for the grouping of pieces by theme. Within each theme, I made sure that there was at least one large piece and several smaller, more affordable, works. Not only did all the works sell well as a result, but the visual appeal of the larger ones brought people in to the booth.
  14. One of the techniques I used sparingly, but to great visual appeal, was the foil as shown in the piece at the top of this blog. Not only was this eye-catching when well lit (lighting is another entire post), but it made people stop and ask questions and (if you’ve ever done a trade show or craft event you’ll know how important this part is) it gave me something to explain to people and chat about with them.

I’m sure other things will spring to mind about my product development for this show. I’ll try to write them up as they come to me.

Next stop, the display…..

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Much of my smaller work involves cutting squares, rectangles and strips of fabric, some of which is attached to stabiliser and some of which is not. I also produce my own tags, business cards and custom-fold and trim my brochures. Doing those things by hand, with a rotary cutter and straight edge is not difficult, just time-consuming and ultimately hard on the wrists.

The other day I picked up this little gem:


It’s a Fiskars paper trimmer. It takes the same rotary blades as my larger rotary cutter and works for fabric as well as for paper, card-stock, stabiliser and other flat things. I use it primarily for squaring off my rectangular pieces and cutting the backings. It’s saving me buckets of time and is by far easier on my hands and wrists as I no longer have to put pressure on a ruler or worry about the straight edge slipping. It also works in such a way that my hands are well clear of the blade and there’s no chance of my “missing” the edge of the ruler and slicing my fingers (haven’t done this yet, but have come darned close).

In short, it’s marvelous. The surface area is 13.5″ long (in the direction that the cutter travels) and 12″ wide, which means that I can rough-cut a super-long strip of stabilised 5.5″ fabric and slice it easily into 9″ lengths, the rough-cut sides of which can then be trimmed and tidied without spending endless hours lining things up with the ruler.

The only modification that would be nice is a lock of some sort that could be attached when not in use to keep little fingers away.

If only the Fiskars circle-cutters for paper worked on cottons reinforced with stabiliser. Anyone tried these?

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On March 6th, my sister-in-law Heather sent me an email about a book called "Living the Artist's Life" by Paul Dorrell. Specifically, she sent me an email telling me that they were giving away FREE copies to bloggers and had just extended the offer to locations outside of the continental United States.

A sentence containing the words "free", "book" and "artist" was impossible for me to pass on and I dashed off an email to them, never suspecting that I might actually be among the first seventy people or so to do so. I simply assume that everyone is like me and, upon hearing the words "free book" will start salivating, twitching and frenetically typing an email request. Apparently not everyone has the same reaction. Weird.

So the publisher sent me a copy which I received on my birthday (excellent timing, folks!). I spent a couple of evenings perusing and digesting and have to say that it was a fascinating read. While it left me with few major revelations and told me very little that I didn't already know or suspect, it performed the all-important function of affirming for me that my take on my life and that of others in this profession is close to the mark.

We do what we do because we simply cannot stop doing it without losing a piece of our beings. In persisting as artists, we struggle with money, relationships, self-esteem, other commitments, money, family & friends, public perception, self-esteem, money and feelings of futility. Did I mention self-esteem and money? Dorrell resolves the great paradox that artists face each day; we persist in a life of frustration because we can't bloody stop. (Sometimes it feels like you're whacking yourself on the head so that, eventually, you'll get it right and be able to hit that perfect spot that won't hurt. In the meanwhile.. ouch.) Our work can obsess us, infuriate us, elate us and deflate us. Sometimes the bad feeling outweigh the good. We run this gamut, sometimes monthly, sometimes daily, and constantly question why the hell we do what we do. Then we go back and do it again. And trust me, it's not for the money.

Dorrell writes frankly and candidly, without pulling punches or hiding the unsightly. It was a profound relief to read this, in the way that having any major suspicion about your life confirmed is a relief. Kind of like being told that you weren't imagining things, that you really do have a disease of some sort. At least you know what it is, that you are (within the realm of your abilities and personality) "normal" and, to some degree, what you can do to keep going. Nothing helps misery like knowing that it will end. Trust me. Women who have given birth know these sorts of things. Dorrell's own life, experiences and trials are presented with a candor that allows the reader to evaluate his or her own life and recognise similarities and merciful differences. Don't disparage the, "I'm so glad that's not me," Syndrome; sometimes you'll take whatever gets you through the night.

The business info in the book was written mostly from an anecdotal perspective; Dorrell presents the system that he and his artists use that has evolved from years of trial and error. It's presented as a take-it-or-leave-it pool of experience, in which he gives examples of what has worked for him and tells why. There's info about how to do up a curriculum vitae, portfolio, artist's statement, biography and other forms of material presentation. He covers how to deal with the press and it was interesting to see how much what he said jived with Craig Welsh's excellent four-part series on How to Pitch to an Entertainment Writer.

Dorrell's reflections on art fairs, juried shows and soliciting a relationship with a gallery are good and solid. What is refreshing is how he is able to alternate between his role as a gallery owner and art consultant and his own personal forays into the world of the creative spirit as a writer. When he discusses portfolios, he is able to pinpoint what will draw the eye and interest of a gallery owner. His role as an art consultant allows him to recognise that not all artists are starting from the same point of departure and some will have more content for such a portfolio than will others.

He touches on just about all aspects of life as an artist, from the miseries to the commissions, promotions and dealing with clients. His own personal examples and the examples of the lives of other artists with whom he works serve to illustrate at once the diversity of experience of artists and the sameness of certain facets of life through which all artists seem to pass.

All told, it was a good book and one that I will read and reread periodically for a refresher on the basics and an affirmation that I'm on the right track. Worth a read, especially if you periodically suffer from misdirection, a fundamental questioning of the path your work is taking (or even its basic validity) or a desire to crack a window into the life of artists everywhere.

As an addendum, Dorrell himself is a writer, and recognises that much of what he says about the psychological aspects of the life of an artist extend into artistry with words.

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