That Project Life craze

When I first heard about the Project Life style of scrapbooking, I thought it sounded like it would be a bit of a cop-out for me.  ‘A little too easy’.

Too easy?!  What was wrong with my thinking?!

Well, what has changed was that those were the halcyon, peaceful newborn days where my little baby slept almost as much as a cat, and I had lots of time to play in my craft studio and try to do artistic layouts.

Now, I have a very active toddler running around, getting into all the things, and sharing his opinions verbally.  And in those few months of newborn restfulness, I really never did end up with enough time/energy to get “good” at scrapbooking layouts so that it became easy.  Keep in mind that I didn’t start scrapbooking or paper-crafts until pregnant with my now 18-month old.  So no base skills in how-to-scrapbook.

I recently rediscovered the concept of Project Life, and the philosophy of “getting your photos out of the box and into a book”, and it sounded like heaven!

I loaded up on Project Life branded and knock-off supplies for pocket-page scrapbooking at my local Pat Catan’s (discount craft store), and plunged in, nearly creating a 2-page spread from start to finish in the two hours after my husband went to bed.  What a difference!  What a load off of my mind to think that there is a way to keep up with this memory-craft stuff without losing my marbles!  And I can still throw in an “artistic” 12×12 layout now and then when I have time or inspiration.

Then, reading some blogs about “getting started with Project Life”, I noticed that a lot of people were “quitting” Project Life.  Wondering if there was some quality critique I was missing, or if people were using it as a stepping-stone to more free-form memory-keeping experiments, I discovered the fact that a lot of Project Life scrapbookers out there have somehow gotten the idea that the “point” of Project Life is to do a layout or spread documenting EVERY WEEK of their life.  And then they feel the same burdened, guilty feeling of not keeping up that I had been feeling.

I wanted to laugh!  Or cry!  Or both!  Maybe it was a part of a previous marketing campaign that has since been dropped, because I can’t find the origin of the “weekly spread requirement”, but people sure made it sound like it was the point of the system.  Why do I find it so funny?  Of course, it’s cool if people want to document every week, or every day, that’s great!  I’m not sure my life is interesting enough that I want to recall every single week of it, but I’ve never been a good journaler for that reason.

But what I find funny is that I thought the system was made for people like me who didn’t have enough time to do put together more complex scrapbooks.  I thought the point was EASY.  And here someone figured out a way to make it hard!  It might have even been the company itself in an effort to push more product!  I’m not going to say the company was missing their niche, because I bet being able to crank out a fast spread really is a great idea for those who want to document every week of life.  And it sure would sell a lot of product if everyone challenged themselves to do 52 two-page spreads a year.  And hey, a weekly spread sounds like a neat challenge – I am a sucker for annual challenges (especially those just north of overambitious).

But I guess it says a lot about my life right now: documenting a few big things – one page per month, maybe – sounds like a huge achievement.  Maybe with the cute little pocket pages, I can actually manage to scrapbook our family life.


Knitting machine accessories

I haven’t done much with my Brother KH 800 knitting machine in a while, because having out a delicate machine with fiddly and dangling bits doesn’t seem particularly compatible with having a curious toddler underfoot.  And the craft-room door doesn’t actually click closed, so I can’t keep him out of there mid-project.  But I’m planning some time off for a mitten-knittin’ marathon, and I am considering bringing out the big guns for it.

Thinking of my future knitting machine adventures, I’m probably not going to get around to it soon, but I think a ribber might be a valuable addition to the machine.  How do I find out what ribber is compatible?  There are a couple of really good sites that I like to refer to that have charts about knitting machine abilities and accessory compatibility.

Angelika’s Yarn Store:  http://www.yarn-store.com/knitting-machine-chart.html


Daisy Knits:  http://www.daisyknits.com/bcompatibility.htm

I have used both of these sites to help identify and assess the usefulness of many ebay knitting machine items, and that’s probably how I’m going to find a ribber, if I eventually go for it.  My experience is that most of the time when knitting machines and accessories that show up on ebay, the seller found it at an estate sale or grandma’s attic and has no clue what they are selling.  If they did a little research, the item is better described and the auction goes well (perhaps too well for my cheap tastes!).  If the seller didn’t do their homework, then good deals can be found for the savvy knitting machine shopper.

Until next time, keep those needle beds purring!


Toy knitting machine

My toddler has been taking up more of my time than my crafts and craft-posting lately.  I suppose that’s healthy!  But it means few posts here.

My husband recently discovered a fun item for me at the thrift store that I must share:

Kenner Knitting Machine

Kenner New Automatic Knitting Machine ca. 1967

A Kenner 1967ish toy flatbed knitting machine!  It boggles my mind to think that there was once a market not only for adult housewives to crank out knitwear on these fun-but-fiddly machines, but also that their children might want to imitate them on kiddie-versions thereof.  I seriously wonder if this was a niche-market or considered a mass-market thing.  Sometime I’d like to see some stats on yarn-hobby-industry sales over the decades, and find out what portion was hobby machine knitting.  Because it seems like they were making a lot more knitting machine stuff 50 years ago.

Trying to look up my $7 Kenner thrift-treasure, I did find some posts on vintage/nostalgia boards talking about the hair-pulling experience of trying to use the toy knitting machine as a child.  I’m hoping that my adult-sized knitting machine experiences will make it easier for me to troubleshoot this little machine.

It does use standard-sized knitting machine needles, and the manual says it produces a standard gauge (and to borrow Mom’s leftover “regular weight” yarn).  But it only has 24 or 28 needles (it’s not in front of me at the moment).  It seems to be mostly complete and in decent shape.  The carriage bumpers for the two ends are dry-rotted, and the needles on the far ends of the row seem too sticky/tight, but I think I can loosen some screws to help with that.  Amazingly, all the needles are there and not a single one is bent or broken!  Since most of the original yarn-balls are intact, and there is little evidence of use except for a few remnants of pom-pom cuttings, and some tiny bits of fiber caught in some of the needles, I suspect this toy machine was tried once and given up quickly.

Knitting Machine box contents

Inside the Kenner New Automatic Knitting Machine box

I hope I can get it working.  I think it might be more convenient than my regular machine to keep out of my baby’s way since it’s so small, and it should be big enough to crank out some mittens if it works ok.  Down the road, I am tickled by the thought that my kid might want to try using a knitting machine, and that I’d have a kid-sized one for him to try out.  That is, assuming, he has any interest in crafts… I can only hope.

Until next time, keep those needle-beds clackety-clacking!


Arts and crafts education

My own arts and crafts continue to be done, but in the last couple of months it seems like someone has been sick in my house every week, or big work events are going on, or big papers are due for my husband, or something.  So fun has been had, and a few things have been created, but I haven’t had time to talk about them or take pics.  So we’ll save some of that for a roundup later on.

What I want to ponder now is the state of arts and crafting education.  In my day job, I work at a University.  In the particular division I work in, the importance and value of in-person versus online education is being carefully considered (or hotly debated, depending on who’s in the room at the time).  The catalyst is this – a prominent brick & mortar institution has put forth some foundation courses from one of their signature degree programs in an online, affordable model.  Now the whole educational world is in a tizzy!  Who would pay our institution for online or in-person classes when they can get it from Harvard for such a low cost from anywhere in the world?  I think there are still some very valid reasons why localized and regionalized higher education aren’t going away any time soon regardless of prestigious online models.  But that’s beyond the scope of this blog.

While that’s a debate for the doctorates and bigwigs, it got me thinking about arts and crafts education.  We live in a DIY world, where craft tutorials of varying quality can be found on all kinds of platforms such as Pinterest, Cut-out-and-Keep, About.com, and dozens of other sites both craft-oriented and not.  There is no limit (except equipment cost/availability) to what you can learn to create.

This has profoundly changed the way we learn about crafts.  I still go to the library (or more often, to the library system’s webpage, where I have the book sent to my local branch) when I want to preview a craft book with the thought of buying it, or if I want to look at a book that I think might be generally inspiring, or if I want to get into a whole new craft area that I know nothing about.  But if I need to know how to do a single technique, I google it.  For example, I was looking for double-slide knots so that I could make an adjustable ribbon bracelet.  I found a tutorial, I did the technique, and accomplished a quick project. I didn’t have to try to figure out what book might contain this technique, nor order it from the library and wait for the book to come in to get the instruction I needed.20140410-181103.jpg

This increasing comfort-level and reliance on e-learning for our daily craft needs has led to a proliferation of other modes of teaching and learning online.  Technique-oriented blogs (as this one occasionally endeavors to be!), are everywhere for every craft, and I think some even make money through mini-stores, affiliations or ad space (I need to figure out how that works sometime! Any ads on this site currently don’t pay me but pay WordPress).  Dedicated craft-lesson websites like Craftsy, Online Card Classes, The Big Picture Scrapbooking, and others offer an online class environment for a fee.  Other sites, like KnittingHelp.com offer an amazing amount of online video instruction for free, but also offer a few longer videos for a fee.  I can’t speak to either model for profitability or sustainability, but certainly they are popular.

So with all this learning available free online, or for a fee, do people still go to in-person craft classes?  Big craft industry shows such as CHA (Craft & Hobby Association) and the Knit & Crochet Show have boasted increasing attendance over the last few years.  And there’s plenty of fervent internet buzz generated about the privilege of going to those big shows and experiencing workshops taught by “famous” elite crafters.  Local class or workshop-based shows can also be quite successful if they are supported by a strong local group or culture of crafting, and if they capitalize on internet tools to market themselves.  Classes at local shops, though, might suffer depending on their ability to market their workshops and educators.

And what about peer-to-peer learning?  While the fiber arts still boast a strong network of local guilds, other crafts seem not to attract such structured, open-membership groups for crafting.  Crop-nights or other scrapbooking events seem to be organized ad-hoc either by groups of friends or by home-party direct-sales entrepreneurs.  But peer-to-peer learning is massive and vibrant on the internet, where hugely popular sites like Ravelry (knitting/crochet) and Split-Coast Stampers (paper arts) seem to be thriving based on their ability to connect enthusiastic crafters in supportive and fun sub-interest forums.  Are there other community sites for other crafts?  If so, drop me a line and let me know.  I’m very interested to check these out, because I like to see how the different niche-social sites value different types of tools and visual representations.  Maybe sometime I’ll do a cross-genre comparison, just for fun.

So, in the world of crafting (where informal and non-formal learning are the primary modes of knowledge acquisition), online learning is huge, growing and maybe in some areas eclipsing in-person learning.

I would love to dig into the subject of arts and crafts in formal learning situations like higher-ed, but there is nothing really to compare.  There are very few institutions of higher education that offer art classes online.  For clarity, I’m not talking about digital-arts but arts where the result is a physical object, because obviously digital arts should be more easily adapted to online learning.

While even big dogs like Harvard are dipping their toes into the waters of online, for-credit courses in some subject areas (e.g., business), there don’t seem to be reputable studio art degree programs online.  If I’m missing your alma mater, I apologize, and please drop me a line so that I can expand my understanding.  Will the world of studio art higher-education be expanded beyond the physical walls of brick & mortar?  Or is part of getting an art degree the experience of getting hands smudgy/painty/clay-covered with fellow art students?  Can the classic art-school critique be done in an online forum?  Or is the experience of seeing a fellow student’s 5’x5′ thesis painting necessarily in-person because the sense of scale is part of the work?  And there are even less fine-craft programs in higher education, but I assume that they are also esteemed as necessarily in-person.

It will likely never be up to me, but I would love to see some intrepid teacher try to adapt some of the lower-level undergraduate studio art classes into an online format.  I think it could be done.  Like with other subjects, there are certainly trade-offs when learning in-person or online.  It would be cool to see how higher ed online delivery platforms could be adapted for such a tactile subject.

How do you learn arts and crafts? Let me know by poll or drop a comment.


There are a lot of styles of scrapbooking out there.  Some seem to follow naturally from certain product-lines, like the pocket-style scrapbooks (Project Life, Sn@p Studio, and others) naturally tend towards a similar look because the pockets force the crafter to following the same layout scheme.  I’m not knocking the pocket-style system, May Flaum recently did a nice video on this style and really sold me on how great these systems would be for scrapbooking on a road trip!  So great for gathering ephemera! But the layout is constrained.

I am beginning to suspect other styles are regional.  When I first started following 7 Dots Studio, I thought I was seeing the work of just one designer who gravitated towards single-photo layouts with a foundation of beautiful, soulfully distressed-look papers, fantastic inky-messy splatters, and then the one small square photo encrusted around with embellishments and textures pulled together by ink-washes or distressed paint treatments.  I started to realize that all of the designers who contribute to the blog go for this same style.  I love it, but I started to wonder why it was so prevalent.  I recently started to realize that many of there contributors are living in eastern Europe, when I saw a recent contribution by a scrapbooking Guest Designer who happens to be Russian.

So maybe it’s a regional preference?  It certainly looks different than most of the American scrapbook bloggers that I follow, even those that work in distressed styles.  I’m quite curious about this particular layout and method of scrapbooking, so if anyone knows if this is a 7 Dots Studio-specific thing or a regional thing, I’d be delighted to find out!  Are there other styles of scrapbooking that seem to resonate geographically?

I definitely want to try one or two pages in this “European” style, but I don’t have plans to make a whole album using this small single-photo distressed style.  I definitely want to get my hands on some of the beautiful 7 Dots Studio papers at some point, though!


How do you define art?

I was reading through some of my favorite blogs recently, and I ran across Dina Wakley’s blog post about “It’s ok if you don’t like my art”.  That post, along with an email exchange that she kindly took up with me afterward (which was super nice of her, considering I’ve never met her in person), really got my wheels turning.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of art versus craft in my life.  I have always done a lot of both.  In my life, I think of art as that which I do for myself for self-expression and craft as that which I do for a purpose (gift, decor, wearable, etc.).  But I also have projects that float in between.  I don’t worry about what it is when I make it, I just make stuff.  Not sure where my graphic design fits either – I think it’s something else altogether – if nothing else, it’s the skill that pays the bills!

I’ve been thinking about why it is that I am happy to make crafts for others as gifts.  And in craft, the things that I make are often very flawed, and I’m not ashamed to give them because I know I’m doing my best.  I know the recipients will value what I made because I made it.

But my art hides.  I make my art for me, and most of it, even some of my favorite pieces, I have never even framed to put on my wall.  As an exercise in bravery, I went on a jag of hanging my pieces a few years ago.  So visitors to my house see a little of my work.  But I only ever once tried to get my work into a juried show.  I was rejected and have never tried again.  But what is weird is I KNOW my work is “good enough” for me, and probably for some galleries.  I am tremendously proud of the pieces that were rejected.  But I don’t feel brave enough to put my art stuff on a wall outside my home.  Or on my blog, apparently.  And for the last few years, I haven’t made any time for art, only craft. But somehow, I still think of myself as an artist.

Am I an artist if I haven’t produced anything?  Am I an artist if no one sees what I do?

I think I’m harder on myself as an artist than I would ever be on others.  I want to convince all of the art dabblers and self-proclaimed art-posers that their work is ART too.  That all art is ART, and to elevate some art as “fine art” makes all art less accessible.  And I believe art should be accessible.  I believe that everyone should be able to experience art (like in the wonderful and FREE Cleveland Museum of Art in my neck of the woods).  And I believe that everyone has the capacity to make ART, if they can open themselves up to trying.

The first time I ever wondered “What is art?” was in high school, when my wonderful drawing teacher showed us a photo of Meret Oppenheim’s furry cup, saucer and spoon set called “Object”.  The teacher defined art as ‘that which provokes a reaction from the viewer’.  The furry cup created an instant reaction from me, a shivery revulsion and fascination imagining a furry spoon on one’s tongue or a furry cup wet with milk and tea.  A lasting impression of “art” was formed, and I think that’s when my love of modern art began.

In college, I took an amazing “Art since the 1960’s” class, where we talked about the foundations and progression of modern art.  Although Marcel Duchamp turned the art world on it’s head long before the 1960’s, our class started with his challenging and controversial Fountain because it challenged the very definition of art.  Fountain, in my belief, is most definitely art.  It made everyone think and feel something.  And even today, nearly 100 years later (!), it makes some people angrily say “it’s not art”.  While I want to attribute the following statement to Duchamp, I haven’t been able to google up any corroborating evidence, so whomever I’m paraphrasing, I learned my favorite definition of art in that class:  ‘Art is that which is made by artists’.  It certainly fits with Duchamp’s cheeky sense of irreverence about art.

Fundamentally, Duchamp’s statement in Fountain is about choice.  The act of art-making is the act of making choices.  A photographer chooses what portion of a scene, and what lighting, and what filter to see that scene through, so photography can be art.  A “Readymade”, as Duchamp called the category of art that his urinal fit into, is a choice of an object and how to display it.  The choice of a manufactured porcelain urinal, of course, made a far more provocative statement than the choice of a manufactured porcelain vase would have.  Putting the urinal on the floor or the wall did not make as much of a statement about the nature of art as the choice of putting it upside-down on a pedestal.  Intention makes art.  Choice makes art.

I also don’t believe in “good” or “bad” art, those terms are way too loaded and have as much to do with personal preference as they do with skill or value.  Far too muddy to be useful in discussing art.  But I do believe in effective or ineffective art.  If one’s art is out in the public (as mine, largely, is not), then the art WILL necessarily interact with the public.  Art in the public becomes a dialogue with the viewers.  (Is that why I haven’t put my art out there?  Do I fear the dialogue?  I feel like I have things to say, do I fear that those things are not worth saying in public?  Is it peculiar then, that I’m not afraid to say words about art in the semi-public forum of this blog?)  If art is interacting with viewers, then there is a valid question as to whether that art is effectively communicating what the artist wishes to communicate.

There is a sculpture in front of the building I work in called “Politician:  A Toy”.  I have yet to meet anyone who likes this 2-story semi-kinetic sculpture, and I have yet to meet anyone who understands anything about it without knowing the name.  Most people think it’s a badly-rendered and poorly maintained robot chicken, a few people get the “toy” idea, and absolutely no one gets the “politician” aspect.  There isn’t a placard or a title or any words to identify what it is.  The text on the fence around it seems to be an unconnected poem of some sort.  So while many people visiting my office claim that it’s “bad” art because they don’t like it or think that it is ugly, I argue that it is merely “ineffective”.  Certainly it provokes a reaction, just not the one the artist seems to have intended.

Ugly art can be effective, and art that many people don’t like can be effective.  For me, if my art is ineffective at communicating what I want to communicate, I must either start over, or embrace the unintentional effect or message that I have produced.

So while this post is peppered with my own muddy musings about my own art journey, I think we’ve fully covered the essential question of the day – what is art from my perspective. What do YOU think art is?  Is Oppenheim’s furry cup and saucer Object art?  What about Duchamp’s Fountain?  What about Lawless’ Politician:  A Toy?  What do those pieces make you think or feel?  Do you think they are effective?  Is there a famous “art” piece that you don’t think should be considered “art”?  Or a piece that you think should be called “art” that you have heard people say is “not art” or “bad art”?