Kiln Gods

Mal | Art Therapy,Clay,Media,Pottery | Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Kiln Goddess front view
 by antware

I talked about the Kiln God in the entry on Media and Meaning. In my ceramic training, the Kiln God was mostly mentioned as an abstract concept — a metaphor for the process of letting go and accepting the outcome that is required in ceramics. You offer up your creation to the kiln god, and hope that he’s feeling generous. Many times, I’d spend hours and hours perfecting a clay vessel or sculpture, only to have it mysteriously explode, melt, crack, or wither in the fiery kiln.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit more in the past few days. After all, clay is not the only medium which requires a fiery and unpredictable transformation at some point in its development.

I decided to do a little exploring about the concept of the kiln god. It turns out that there is a tradition of taking this abstract concept and transforming it into something physical, literal, and then ascribing a bit of magic to it. (Right up my alley!) People build actual idols to the kiln god and place them at the opening of the kiln in hopes of appeasing the temperamental god’s appetites.

kiln gods
by jpettit

If you’ve ever felt a higher power taking over your creative process, or held your breath and hoped for the best as you molded, painted, clipped, glued, or otherwise irreversibly altered your creation, you understand why ceramic artists have adopted the practice of creating a kiln god to watch over their creations during such a phase of unpredictability.

More reading on the kiln god:

Please share: how do you let go and trust when it comes to your creative process?

Band Sampler: Running Stitch

Mal | Band Sampler,Media,Stitching | Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

BS: First and Running

Made some progress on the band sampler this week. I decided to start by documenting the stitches I already know — the very most basic, beginning with running stitch.

BS: Daisies and First Stitches

I like this tiny font, and I feel like it’s going to let me narrate the work as I go. The flowers, leaves, and dots were done with some thread I bought from a bazaar in Mexico a few years ago. It’s very fuzzy and textured.

BS: Running Stitch

The first stitch I chose was running stitch — the easiest stitch of all. I was heavily influenced by Mandie’s sampler, and used variegated floss for the first time. In fact, I pretty much used every variegated floss from my collection!

If you’d like to try your hand at running stitch, try these tutorials:

I ended up doing about twice as many rows of running stitch as I originally intended. As I got into it, I got sort of swallowed up into it. Like knitting, it was easy to get lost in the repetitive, meditative quality of this repeating pattern. If you look closely, you’ll see spots where I got off the track and this usually happened if I lost focus for some reason or started to fatigue. I had to decide whether to go back and un-do and re-do. For the most part, I decided not to. After all, I reasoned, the purpose of the sampler is to practice and learn. It’s always good for me to start a project by accepting its imperfections.

How about you? Is it difficult for you to accept imperfections in your work?

Band Sampler: Beginning

Mal | Band Sampler,Media,Sewing,Stitching | Monday, February 16th, 2009

Band sampler detail: header

I finally got a jump on the band sampler and finished a simple header. This picture shows it before I finished cross-stitching my name, but I thought it was neat that I could photograph it to look like my blogging handle, Mal*. When the full name is completed, all of the words are flush right with the “2009” and the “Band Sampler.” Although it looks great finished, I am trying to keep my full name off of this blog for now.

Band sampler detail: spiderweb

I had read that quilters traditionally stitched a spiderweb into their quilts for luck. I thought it might be nice to start off this project on a lucky foot, but didn’t want a cartoon-y, Halloween-y spiderweb. Instead, I studied some photos of real spiderwebs in corners, then used Annie’s spiderweb tutorial to make it all hang together.

Band sampler detail: spider

The spider is made from two beads and I think he turned out pretty well, but a bit cartoon-y and Halloween-y because I didn’t take the time to study pictures of real spiders. I used to be a real arachnophobe, but I started to do art of insects and spiders and it helped me get over the fear to see them more as beautiful and intricate.

Other people doing band samplers who have inspired me:

Intermittent Inspiration: Pieced Quilts Edition

Mal | Intermittent Inspiration,Quilting | Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Weekly roundup: Pieced quilt edition

There’s so much inspiration to be found on flickr. Lots of amazing quilters out there showing their piecing skills — both traditional and contemporary. (Click through to see the list of artists.)

Media and Meaning

Mal | Art Journal,Art Therapy,Media,Sewing | Thursday, February 12th, 2009


Jennifer, over on Craftstylish, posted an essay about the meaning of making. As an art therapist, these are the types of philosophical questions that are on my mind daily, so I was happy to read them as phrased by someone else and Jen did a great job with a focus on the reputation and perception of people who engage in certain crafts. Behold (emphasis mine):


 I haven’t dipped my toe into the world of scrapbooking [. . .] As I ponder the profile of the scrapbooking enthusiast, I think it’s for folks who like to bring order to something and create a perfect world even if their lives are chaotic and messy. Come to think of it, I could use some order. Cue the jones for acid-free paper…

The opposite of pristine and controlled, silk screening seems gritty and radical. I desperately want to try it. It seems counter-culture, very Haight-Asbury in the ’60s [. . .]

After seeing Erika Kern transform a T-shirt in a couple of hours through the magic of embroidery, I view embroidery fiends as not only traditional and elegant but also meticulous with a side of inventive. Or maybe that’s just Erika.


Art therapists are trained to consider the inherent qualities in various art media and use them to their advantage when working with clients. What’s interesting is that I can trace the thread of my own psychological growth through the labyrinth of my meanderings in arts and crafts and media.

I mentioned before that I had a meaningful love affair with pottery when I lived in Boston 9 years ago. At the time I was profoundly depressed, lonely, untethered, and riddled with anxieties. In hindsight, I realize that working with clay, smelling the earth, allowing myself to get messy, and working on the wheel were exactly what I needed at the time. The process of centering — of muscle-ing a hunk of clay into a stable position on a spinning wheel — of finding stillness in the midst of chaos — was a big part of my transformation. Then, once you had crafted the “perfect’ piece, you glazed it and offered it up to the kiln god. The kiln, that paragon of unpredictability, would either accept your offering and bless you with a beautifully glazed bowl, or it would chew up and destroy whatever piece you had devoted your hours to. Dealing with that unpredictability reduced my anxieties; it had to.

I later went through a bookbinding phase. This was sparked largely by my first love: writing. (Writing’s purpose? To incubate my rebellious and revolutionary thoughts quietly, until I could escape my repressive upbringing.) I made journal after journal out of boards and papers and fabrics, as though I were a robin building a nest. The beauty and richness of my current life has hatched from the “eggs” I laid in those journals. There, I questioned, experimented, railed, accepted, cried, destroyed, exulted. And then, at the end of the day, I could close the book — contain it all neatly inside — and move on. It was the only way I could make it through grad school. I would go to the books, make a tremendous mess of things, and then close them up so that I could go about my work.

Other phases have included watercolors (letting go of absolute control, learning to “go with the flow”), screen printing (productivity, planning), self-portraits (body image issues, self-exploration), altered books (questioning authority), and more.

My current phase is very textile driven — sewing, quilting, embroidering. I’ve postulated that there is a sort of healing taking place — a stitching back together after the ripping-apart of a difficult breakup, the physical effects of a traumatic surgery, and a long convalescence. 2008 was a time of yanking and pulling and tearing. I enter 2009 with needle and thread in hand, ready to follow wherever the line of stitches leads.

What about you? What do you gain from the things you make?

Applique tote bags

Mal | Finished Projects,Media,Sewing | Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Bad photos with my old camera. I made these two for gifts — the initials belong to the intended recipients, of course.

L Tote

I love the leaves on this one, and the little bird with its legs all spread out. These aren’t usually “my colors,” but I must say I love how this one came together.

GG Tote

Wish you could see how cute that fabric is on the cursive G — it’s black and grey leopard print, kind of a suede texture, with adorable pink flowers and tiny green leaves. I love it and am using it on all kinds of projects at this point.

Worth the effort

Mal | Band Sampler,Media,Sewing,Stitching,Works in Progress | Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

…all the short, and cheap, and easy ways of doing that whose difficulty is its honour — are just so many new obstacles in our already encumbered road. They will not make one of us happier or wiser — they will extend neither the pride of judgment nor the privilege of enjoyment. They will only make us shallower in our understandings, colder in our hearts, and feebler in our wits. And most justly. For we are not sent into this world to do anything into which we cannot put our hearts. We have certain work to do for our bread, and that is to be done strenuously; other work to do for our delight, and that is to be done heartily. neither is to be done by halves nor shifts, but with a will; and what is not worth this effort is not to be done at all.

—John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture

Getting ready to start a band sampler

Made progress last night toward starting a band sampler: edged the 6″ strip of linen (backed with light cotton), sank a center line for anchoring, got a good night’s sleep.

Knowing is not enough

Mal | Art Journal,Band Sampler,Media,Sewing,Stitching | Monday, February 9th, 2009

Knowing is not enough 

I learned to embroider when I was a very young girl. As a sometime-farm-girl, I learned all of those skills necessary to become a good, midwestern housewife. Most of the skills stuck (though I do still struggle with knitting and tatting, and have never canned produce without an older relative providing guidance) and I go back to them, periodically, in their turn.

My exposure to embroidery, as was true for most crafters in the 80’s, was comprised mostly of cross-stitch. I did learn to do simple backstitch (mostly to define the facial features of my cross-stitched Precious Moments figures) and running stitch. My grandmother taught me to do french knots, and called it candlewicking. But, after completing a large piece at age 14, I burned out on cross-stitch and put the needle down for good.

Well, I put it down until a couple of months ago, when I suddenly became consumed with stitching. I also googled for tutorials, and found blogs like Mary Corbet’s Needle ‘n Thread and Primrose Design (especially her Stitch School). It didn’t take me long to realize that while I had been taught a few embroidery stitches (and I had become adept enough at making my own designs out of straight stitches and knots), there were huge gaps in my actual embroidery knowledge.

Stitch dictionaries

Knowing that samplers in Britain and the US were used to teach young schoolgirls how to stitch, and wishing I could go back and learn/re-learn the basics of traditional embroidery, I decided to seek out a sampler pattern. That way, I reasoned, I could be learning while I make something purposeful.

I found one sampler online that interested me, designed by Mary Corbet.

Then I found Sharon B.’s Pin Tangle and Annie’s Crazy World blogs. These women, real-life friends, each work on a band sampler. In her archives, I read Sharon’s musings about autobiographical textiles — the use of stitching as a journal. Annie does it, too and, are you kidding me? A combination of stitching and journaling? I am in love!


It’s time for me to pull out the linen I bought before Christmas and finally start work on my own band sampler. After all, Knowing is not enough; we must apply. (Goethe)

Embroidered names

Mal | Finished Projects,Media,Sewing,Stitching | Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

I also did a lot of personalizing with names on gifts this year, which was a satisfying and quick way to make handmade objects freel more special. One of the best parts about making all of these gifts during my recovery was that it really helped me to be reaching outside of myself and thinking about other people, without having to overexert or do more than my body could handle.

Yoga Mat Bag Strap

Inside the strap of a yoga mat bag, loosely based on this tutorial. I included eyelets and drawstrings on the ones I made, and they really added that nice, professional touch. Like most of my gifts, these were made with drapes and leftover sheets.

Coffee cozies

And, finally, although I don’t drink coffee or tea myself, I felt this would be an appropriate gift for my employees and coworkers. There are bright, eye-popping fabrics on the reverse sides of these, with names stitched on the outside. Inspired by pink milk and fairycakes’ tutorial.

Tell us — how do you add that little personal touch to handmade gifts?

More personalized gifts

Mal | Art Therapy,Finished Projects,Media,Sewing,Stitching | Monday, February 2nd, 2009

 I finally got access to the photos of my holiday gifts, so here are a few more examples of what I worked on during my early embroidery rush.

Pencil roll

This pencil roll was made as a gift for another friend who was present for me many nights in the hospital. She is also an art therapist and brought me my journals and some art supplies because (as instructed) all I had taken with me to the hospital for my allegedly-outpatient surgery was my cell phone and a pair of flip-flops. I wanted to repay her for her kindness in an art-supply kind of way.

That’s one of my favorite quotes. I sort of love that none of the colored pencils have erasers — just to emphasize Mr. Davis’ point!

True Love Motorcycle

This is a poor picture but I loved this project. A friend of mine has been transferred to a new branch of his job and had to exchange his daily motorcycle rides for a car. This, naturally, had him pretty upset. So, I designed this illustration and made it into a CD Poket to hold music and books on tape. I also bought him a trial subscription to to help ease the hours of carpooling. Of course, I wanted his car to be perfectly clear on where his true affections lie — he will always be a biker boy.

OK — we’re almost done posting photos taken with my awful camera. Stay tuned for the final embroidery installation!

More embroidered aprons

Mal | Finished Projects,Media,Sewing,Stitching | Sunday, February 1st, 2009

I mentioned before that during my convalescence I was drawn to fabric arts and, particularly, embroidery. Fortunately, this coincided with the holidays and I was able to handcraft every single one of my gifts for Christmas and Hannukah. With one exception (a book I bound), all of the gifts were made of cloth (though even the book was bound with a cloth of my choosing), and nearly all of those had some personalized embroidery that I designed.

Awesome apron

This is the first of the aprons that I made — and was given to my older sister. She had rushed to my side from far away to be with me when I was hospitalized. She kept extending and extending her stay until I finally sent her away. I’m sure her family of husband and three kids (including 2-year-old boy!) appreciated having her back. I didn’t know how else to express my deep gratitude and admiration for her after that experience. I sort of hope that when she wears it, her children roll their eyes.

Helpful apron

Another apron — this one mentioned when I posted about its mate — was for my brother. I totally adore the halo and smiley face on this one. All the aprons are reversible with snaps on the neckstraps so they can be adjustable.

Apron gift

Mal | Finished Projects,Media,Sewing | Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Gift aprons

This is a gift I made for my sister-in-law to-be, whose wedding shower is being held this weekend far away. It was made to match an apron I made for my brother at Christmas, whose embroidery announced, “I am being helpful.” Note the snaps on the neckstrap — this is to make the apron adjustable. (And also to satisfy my current obsession with snaps! snaps! snaps!) I guess being a super tall amazon lady (6’1″ tall!) makes me hypersensitive about the fallacy of one size fits all.

Ready to wrap

I’ve developed a method for folding these aprons before I wrap them for gifts, because I want to showcase the embroidery right when it is pulled from the wrapping.

Folded apron

This is the folded apron from the back. Neat! (But please clip that errant thread!)

Experimenting with wrapping

At Christmas, I found Wild Olive’s marvelous wrapping idea to be one of the best time-savers of the season. I haven’t found a better, box-less way to wrap fabric-based and sewn gifts so I’m so glad she shared.

After exhausting the painting/drawing avenue of embellishment, I started pushing the idea in different directions, including the method above. I use a die-cutter that my mother gave me (but which I haven’t otherwise found much use for) and randomly glue the shapes to the paper before folding and stitching the packages together. In my natural state, I wouldn’t be terribly interested in mass-producing dozens of precise and exact shapes. But for a throw-away item like wrapping paper, sure!

At Christmas, I used a snowflake shape. For the wedding shower — hearts, of course!

Quilt finished

Mal | Finished Projects,Media,Quilting,Sewing | Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Rough draft quilt

I finished the rough-draft quilt and bound it off last night. I’m a bit sad to admit that this is the first quilt binding I’ve ever completed. There are imperfections, but overall I think the quilt is adorable and I can’t wait to make a larger version of it to give away.

I’ve decided to make a bunch of rough-draft quilts and hang them along this wall leading to my bedroom.

Cartwheel doll quilt

Mal | Media,Quilting,Sewing,Works in Progress | Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

I wanted to try a “rough draft” before I jumped right in to this quilt project. I hoped it would work for a gift — a friend of mine from grad school is pregnant with a girl and I wanted to create something that was both whimsical and traditional, girly but interesting, and baby-like, not granny-like.

Love these colors

First, the problem of colors. Since I primarily see quilts as cloth color studies, and because I didn’t want to resort to pastel pinks, blues, and greens, I was pleased to hit on this combination of rich pinks, reds, and oranges.

Locking together

I was even more pleased to find that by taking my time, I could make these simple blocks “lock together” and even managed to develop that cute “four patch” seam that Eleanor Burns is always crooning about on the backsides of her blocks. See it in the middle of the block, there? Of course, I had to manually trim all the blocks, because I tend to eyeball things and not work with templates.

Layout 1: Straight on

My original intention was to lay the blocks out straight…

Layout 2: On point

But putting them “on point” definitely added a different kind of liveliness to them…

Blocks in progress

I’m really glad I am doing a rough draft.

What I aspire to be

Mal | Current Events,Media | Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Work in progress

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.

It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

I aspire to be one of those people that President Obama talked about in his inauguration. I want to be known as a risk-taker, a doer, a maker of things. It would be such an honor!

PS: Yes, I finally cracked open my new sewing machine and I am in love.

New sewing machine!

Mal | Sewing,Simplicity | Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Viking Emerald 118

For Christmas, my mother generously bought me a new sewing machine. She had wanted to get me a very fancy machine with a computer and all kinds of embroidery features. But I didn’t want a fancy machine. I had plans to buy myself a new ultra-basic machine. As far as I’m concerned, a fancy computer in a sewing machine is just one more things that can go wrong! (Or, one million more things, depending on how you look at it.)  And I sort of want to work on my hand embroidery this year. I am a single woman living in an apartment. The sewing machine sometimes has to go into storage, sometimes gets bumped around from kitchen table to the back of my car, and generally needs to be, well, a work-horse rather than a show-pony. As with everything else in life, I reasoned, simpler is better when it comes to machines.

Well loved

This attitude has developed over the past 20 years as I’ve sewn on my old Elnita. It was a Christmas gift from my mother when I was 13 years old, and could only accomplish the very most basic of functions. I could, in most instances, crack open the machine and make minor repairs and adjustments on my own. I could count on it to work, day or night, and that’s what mattered.

Old elnita stitch length...

You get the feeling from this machine that even the backstitch function is sort of a luxury. In addition, no matter how many times I had it professionally serviced, I could never get the tension quite right and the variable stitch-length was severely compromised. I constantly sewed with the length set to 4 mm in hopes of getting a stitch of 1.5mm or more. I learned to work around these and other quirks, though.

Elnita presser foot

I’m grateful that my mom let me have some input into the new machine. It’s a solid, basic machine that has every feature I need plus a couple of luxuries (needle up/down control!) which will make my life a lot easier without complicating it unnecessarily. In a nutshell, that’s my life mission.

Goodbye, old Elnita. You’ve been a good girl.

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