Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Zazzy Peacock felted rings even look good on this creepy witch hand  ;-)
This year, I will be missing my very favorite holiday -- Halloween, of course.  I'm a little sad that I won't get to dress up with my kids and greet trick-or-treaters, but I'm pretty sure being a vendor at Vogue Knitting Live in Chicago will be worth it.  

This will be the first time -- I think ever -- that I won't be dressing up for Halloween.  It's also the first time in many years that my house is not the most creepily decked-out for Halloween on our street.  Sure, I put out the life-size mummy on the porch and the giant eighty-foot tall witch at the edge of the driveway, but where are the ghosts, the gravestones, the skeletons, spider webs and rats?  Oh, and the bats!  I have a few giant bats I hang every year, and then there's the fifty or so little bats that I made out of pom poms, felt and pipe cleaners about fifteen years ago.  Oh yeah, and I managed to get a couple of nice pumpkins, but I didn't have time to carve them into Jack-o-lanterns.  How sad is that?  

Well, I will miss all that fun Halloween stuff, but there's always next year!  For now, I couldn't be more excited to be heading to Chicago to sell my Zazzy Peacock felted jewelry at Vogue Knitting Live.  Do you think I could at least wear some vampire fangs on the airplane?  Happy Halloween!  Here's a glimpse of some of my favorite Halloweens past:

Halloween 2002 in Fairfax, VA

Harry Potter Halloween 2005 in front of our house pre-remodel (see remodel post)

Halloween 2009 with our scary witch

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fall, Here I Come -- to Vogue Knitting Live in Chicago!

I am taking Zazzy Peacock Studios on the road this fall... to Vogue Knitting Live! in Chicago!  The show is November 1-3 at the Palmer House in downtown Chicago.  This is a very exciting (and admittedly, overwhelming) opportunity for me.  When I did the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival in May, a few customers told me about Vogue Knitting Live! (note that the exclamation point is part of the name)  and basically insisted that I look into it.  Well, I did!  And although my initial goal was to do the January VKL! show in New York, somehow I'm pushing myself out of my comfort zone all the way to Chicago.  

I'm not a knitter, but I come from a family of knitters.  When my boys were babies, they had more adorable hand-knit sweaters than they could possibly wear before they outgrew them.  :-)  I crocheted quite a bit in college, but I could never quite get the knack for knitting.  At the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, I admired many hand knit sweaters worn by my customers.  I can't wait to see the knitwear at VKL!  

One of my concerns in going to the Maryland show was that the talented wool-savvy crowd would admire my work but try to make it themselves rather than buy.  The opposite was true:  So many customers told me they tried needle-felting and that they knew how difficult and time-consuming it was to do what I do.  Actually, many asked me how I am able to get my felt so tight and smooth.  I was more than happy to share my techniques and tips.  (So fun!)   I'm hoping that the sophisticated knitting crowd at Vogue Knitting Live! will also have some familiarity with needle-felting.  Most people still say, "What's that?"  when I say that I needle felt.  

Needless to say, in preparation for this big show, I've been felting a lot.  I mean, A LOT.  And I've built up quite an inventory of one-of-a-kind needle-felted jewelry.  I've had a great time creating new designs and color schemes.  At first, it was hard to focus on fall and winter colors in the middle of summer, but it has me more ready than ever to welcome cooler days and the warm colors of the changing foliage this autumn.  

So, here's a sneak peak at my latest felted jewelry and accessories in rich, vibrant color schemes for fall and winter:

Even from one color scheme, the possibilities for one-of-a-kind needle-felted jewelry designs are endless. This is one of my favorite color schemes -  great for fall, but also year-round.  My latest designs include Art Deco-inspired geometric and shell motifs.

This autumn color combination includes shades of gold, orange and brown, with a deep, rich raspberry pink. (Ugh, the raspberry color is not showing well!  See, this is why I do better at live shows!)  

My "shell" motif in various color schemes for fall and winter.   While I call this my "shell" design, I've had customers tell me it reminds them of flower petals, feathers, and even a hot air balloon.  That all sounds good to me!  What do you see?

This Art Deco geometric design with the bold two-part felted pendant is probably my personal favorite. 
Thanks for looking!  

All Zazzy Peacock Studios designs and images are © Jill Newman 2013. All rights are reserved.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sneak Peek at My Booth!

Well, the 2013 Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival is only a few days away!  I have a little more packing to do, and I'm making a last-minute necklace and earring set for myself to wear to the show.  I keep  telling myself to stop felting, but I don't seem to listen.  Over the weekend, I made several more new items.  Anyway, here's a sneak peek at my booth for my first big craft show.  

If you're in the area, the Sheep & Wool Festival is free and filled with fun stuff to do -- like sheep dog trials, yarn spinning and fiber arts demonstrations, a fine art competition, live music, and of course, great shopping for wool and unique hand-crafted items.  This festival is huge and attracts people from all over the country and the world.  

The Festival is Saturday, May 4 (9am - 6pm) and Sunday, May 5 (9am - 5 pm) at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship, Maryland.  Visit the website for directions and more information:  I will be in the Farm and Garden Building in booth #4.    If you come, please find me there!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Upcycled Bamboo Jewelry Displays -- Part 2 of Crafting with Bamboo

Zazzy Peacock felt and crystal bracelets
on a handmade bamboo bracelet rack
I have been very busy preparing for the upcoming 2013 Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, which will take place on May 4 and 5 at the Howard County Fairgrounds.  I wanted to have some beautiful and unusual jewelry displays and have made a few out of bamboo -- including bracelet racks, necklace and earring displays (upcycled from bamboo floor mats), and a larger version of the bamboo vase from my last post (Crafting with Backyard Bamboo, Part 1).

I made two bracelet racks -- a single and a triple!  I am really happy with how the bracelet racks turned out, but I must say they were a challenge!  I decided to construct them by inserting vertical piece of bamboo into the horizontal bar, both for looks and strength.  Well, I've gotten the hang of cutting pieces of bamboo on my miter saw, but drilling a one inch diameter hole into the middle of the bamboo was a whole new experience.  Using a crazy-looking drill bit, I split quite a few pieces and never really got a clean circle cut out.  I had to use a file to get the jagged holes big enough to fit the vertical rods.  

Bamboo pieces pre-assembly
Gluing these bamboo pieces together was also difficult.  I needed to use a glue that would hold the pieces in place (perpendicular) quickly and provide a strong lasting bond.  There was a lot of trial and error involved, but eventually I decided the thing to do is use a dab of hot glue to hold the parts in place and then add a lot of wood glue.  (In my experience, hot glue does not hold up on wood over time.)  When the wood glue was dry, I used wood filler to fill in the many unsightly gaps.  Once I applied sealant, both the bamboo and the wood filler took on a nice golden color.

My homemade triple tier bamboo bracelet rack displays
Zazzy Peacock needle felted bracelets available now in
my Etsy shop and soon at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival
For the bases, I used scraps of bamboo flooring left over from our remodel.  I drilled out one-inch holes only part way through the base to hold the vertical rods. I tried to finish the edges with strips from an old bamboo floor mat, but the corners came out so bad that I decided to add pretty french gimp trim.  I also added the trim across the length of the bars because I thought it would help the larger felt pieces to stay up on top of the bars instead of slipping upside down.  I think it worked, and I love that my bracelet displays are unique.

To display necklaces and earrings, I made a few boards out of an old bamboo floor mat.  (This should have been trash, but I tend to hoard stuff that I know deep down was meant to be upcycled.)  The bamboo mat was great to work with because I was able to cut it with a mat knife.  Well, I scored the wood with the knife, and then snapped it apart and sanded the edges.  At least I didn't have to use my power tools for this project!  Then, I sanded the bamboo down and applied a sealant to clean it up and restore the golden color.  

Upcycled bamboo mat displays
Zazzy Peacock felted jewelry

To create hooks to hold the jewelry, I used t-pins from the craft store.  I inserted them in between the strips of bamboo, through the rubber binding on the back.  I bent the pins into position with my jewelry pliers, but I probably should have used something more heavy duty. Those t-pins are SO strong.  For necklaces, I wanted the pins horizontal and fairly tight to the mat.  For the earrings, I opened up the ends slightly (not easy!) and bent them so that they were in a vertical position and about 3/8"  off the mat.  I found this worked well for holding both post earrings and wire hook earrings.  Once I got the pins where I wanted them, I used duct tape to secure the pins to the back, then I covered the whole back with contact paper.  Simple, huh?  I love how they look -- I just hope they hold up!   (In person, the jewelry actually looks great set off against the bamboo, but it's hard to see that in the photo.)

I used my backyard bamboo for two more projects.  First, I took one of the bamboo vases from my oldest son's bar mitzvah and expanded it from just three pieces to twelve.  This made it more interesting and a lot more stable.  I will be using it to hold peacock feathers and a couple of manzanita branches (you know the ones that look like little trees), as well some other dried floral elements.  I hope to dangle some bracelets and/or hair accessories from the branches.

Lastly, I cut a couple of very long, thick stalks of bamboo to use as poles to hold up the banner for my booth.  I added eye hooks to the tops so that I could tie the banner.  I needed to pre-drill little holes to get the eye hooks in (normally, on a softer wood, I can just use an awl).  So far, I attached the bamboo poles to my gridwall using duct tape (boy, that stuff comes in handy!), but I think I will have to come up with a better solution before the show.  For now, I was just so happy to see my six-foot banner actually hanging above my gridwall.  Yay!  My booth is really starting to come together.  Hopefully I will post some photos of the whole set-up in the next couple of weeks, before the festival. If I get too crazy, I'll be sure to post them afterwards.  :-)

Related posts:  Crafting with Backyard Bamboo, Part 1

My handmade bamboo vase displays Zazzy Peacock felted hair accessories hung on manzanita branches

Yay!  My Zazzy Peacock banner is hung on tall bamboo poles attached to a gridwall.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Crafting with Backyard Bamboo, Part 1

I love having bamboo in our backyard.  Sure, it's spreads like crazy if you don't keep it in check, but it makes an amazing evergreen screen.  At over forty feet tall and dense to the ground, there's nothing better for privacy.  And it's icing on the cake that I get to make crafty stuff out of the dead stalks of bamboo wood.  

I know most people think bamboo is a nuisance to control, but I actually think that part is fun too.  In late spring, when the shoots come up, I put on some boots, round up the kids, and we go out back to stomp on them.  I learned the first year we lived here that you have to do this as soon as they start sprouting.  That year, I waited a week, and they were already six to eight feet tall, and way too strong to stomp on.  I had to get out an axe and hack away at them.  That was fun too, just not as easy.  

Ironically, we had a spring snow the other day.  Here is our
bamboo bowing down under the weight of the snow.  
Of course, it's this ultra-fast growth and rapid spread that makes bamboo a "green" renewable resource.  As crafty as I am, I couldn't possibly make enough stuff to wipe out my supply of bamboo.  (I still can't figure out how the Onceler made enough thneads to use up all out the truffula trees.)  When I need some bamboo stalks, I have to squeeze myself into the thicket to find some loose deads ones.  This is not always easy, but when I get in there, I forget I'm in my own yard in Maryland; I feel like I'm an explorer in the jungles of Asia.  

Anyway, the first time I decided to make something out of my plentiful supply of bamboo was for my first son's bar mitzvah.  It was winter, and my son didn't want a theme.  I decided to put together wintery centerpieces of dried floral arrangements.  I was getting ready to buy some glass vases, when we had one of those spring-like winter days that we sometimes get in these parts.  I was outside with the kids when I noticed a bunch of dead bamboo in the thicket.  I started pulling it out and brainstorming things I could do with it.  Each stalk was over forty feet long!  They look a lot longer lying on the ground than they do standing in the yard.  

I cut some bamboo up with a handsaw and quickly realized that bamboo really is as hard as they say.  (I also quickly learned that you do NOT use the pieces with holes -- they have ants in them!  Yuck!!!)  Next thing I knew I was at the Home Depot buying a miter saw.  It turns out the bamboo is hollow except at the nodes.  I designed a vase made of three pieces of bamboo-- staggering heights and cut to be solid at the bottom and open at an angle at the top.  Gluing these together was a pain.  Looking back, I should have screwed them together and/or used a ribbon or cord to hold them together.  

Although we had no theme, my son's Torah portion was about the building of the Ark of the Covenant and the tabernacle, so we took our design cues from there.  I spray painted the bamboo vases gold and filled them with dried floral elements and branches in metallics, crimson and purple.  I made them very tall and skinny (presenting an interesting balance challenge) because we were serving a family-style luncheon and needed room on the tables for food platters.  I also got so excited about cutting up bamboo that I made holders for the table numbers as well as lots of little place card holders.  

All in all, I was pleased with how everything turned out.  The centerpieces looked elegant (without being too feminine), and best of all, I did not hear any grumbling from the Lorax.  Oh, I take it back, the best part is that these centerpieces did not go to waste.  People took them, and they did not die like flower arrangements.  I kept a couple too, and still use them to decorate the sideboard or the dining table.  
Here are some early prototypes on my dining room table.
(FYI, this is terrible lighting -- the walls are not that bright!)

Here are the centerpieces at the party. They were supposed to have pinspots on them.  Oh well.

I used mini versions of the bamboo centerpieces as place card holders.
I printed them on card stock, and then staked them with gold sticks that I used in the centerpieces.

Three years later, these bamboo vases still decorate
the sideboard in my dining room.
(By the way, this photo shows the true color of the walls!)

Next time, in Part 2, I will follow-up with a few bamboo projects I am working on right now for my upcoming craft show -- including a three tiered bracelet rack!  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Be Your Own Personal Color Forecaster

Every time I see one of these Pantone Fashion Color Report "forecasts" come out, I feel a tirade coming on.  For me, color is so personal, that I can't help but think -- who are these people dictating color for the rest of us?  I know they supposedly look at current trends and public moods to somehow predict what colors will be the next big thing -- but who are they kidding?  Aren't they just telling manufacturers what colors to mass-produce and simultaneously telling consumers they have to buy them?  Isn't this a ploy to get us to go shopping and spend money on things we don't really need -- and that we only want because they tell us we should?

I frankly don't even understand how colors can come in and out of fashion.  I think colors are very personal.  Not everyone looks good in the same colors, and not everyone feels good around the same colors.  And when you find the colors that make you look and feel your best, why change them unless you want to?  For me, the only reason to look at the color "forecast" is to see whether it will be fun to go shopping that season.  If I see one of "my" colors on there, great.  If not, thankfully, the fashion industry is not a slave to the predictions, and I can usually find something I like anyway.  I certainly do not go out and buy something in the color of the season just to be trendy.  

Our beautiful golden tabby Siberian cat, Mishka,
looks great on a purple chair with an orange wall 
And the idea that someone would actually redecorate a room based on these forecasted trends gives me hives.  Yes, if you happen to truly love a color on the Pantone "Fashion" palette, and you've been wanting to redecorate your bedroom, then this may be the perfect time to go for it.  But the colors we live with in our homes are too important to be based on current trends.  The colors we use to decorate our living spaces should really speak to us and make us happy for a long time.

I am extremely particular about colors.  When we remodeled our house, I went through an elaborate process* to pick just the right colors -- even mixing a few custom colors myself.   The result is that even six years later, I still LOVE the colors in my house.  My walls are rich with bold colors, including a warm purple in the living room, a  terra cotta orange in the dining room, and a bright celadon green (very close to the latest Pantone yellow-green) in my family room and kitchen.  These colors make me feel good, and they're not a flash in the pan.   So far, I have not gotten tired of them.  I think it's because they are "my" colors.  (See my Zazzy Peacock logo and banner above to get an idea of my favorite colors.)

Our silver torby kitten, Kalista, lounging on a living room chair
upholstered in luxurious fabrics in taupe, purple and oranges

I realize that one of the advantages of decorating with one of the forecasted colors is that it is easier to find matching fabrics and accessories.  But matching is over-rated!  I used my non-trendy colors and had no issues accessorizing my house by using various shades of the main colors and by pulling colors from adjacent rooms.  For example, my dining room has orange walls and deep purple chair upholstery.  The adjacent living room has purple walls, a pale orange ceiling and taupe fabric with various shades (not matching) of purple, rust and orange.  It all works -- I swear.  Sometimes necessity really is the mother of invention.  When it's not easy to just "match," I think you come up with more creative and dynamic design solutions.

Colorful Zazzy Peacock needle felted ring and bracelet 
Another positive thing about the color forecasting is that hopefully it encourages people to embrace bold color.  More color is always better!  As you can see from my art and felting, I love to play with unique combinations of colors.  With paint, there is truly no limit.  And I've acquired so many colors of wool at this point that I enjoy tremendous freedom to use color creatively in my felted jewelry and accessories.  I will not be going out of my way to get more wool in the so-called "hot" new colors, but I'm pretty sure I already use some of them anyway.

So emerald green is apparently the color of the year for 2013.  I'm thinking this has more to do with the fact that this upcoming Oz movie is set in the Emerald City, than any actual trend or the public mood.  I can't even imagine using that color in my home, but I'm thinking I have plenty of that color in my garden already.  So at least my yard is trendy!  Oh yeah, and it just so happens that my non-conformist teenage son's latest hair color was an emerald green.  Ironically, I'm pretty sure when he hears that's the hot color of the year, he won't want that green hair anymore.  Well, now that's a plus. ;-)

 *  My crazy paint color selection process: I painted samples on heavy pieces of leftover sheetrock, and lugged them around from room to room to see them in just the right light.  (It also works to paint big sample swatches right on the wall.)  And I didn't stick with the seemingly unlimited palette offered by the paint manufacturers.  The truth is color is truly infinite, and I wanted just the right shades -- so I mixed some of my own custom colors.  Yes, I would actually take the little can of sample paint and mix in some of my artist acrylic paints to achieve the perfect hue.  Then I would let in dry on a paint stick and take it in to the paint store to be matched.  Did you know they can match anything?  You can bring in a swatch of fabric, a pillow, etc.  

Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Years Goals -- It's Still January, Right?

Am I too late to post about my New Year's resolutions?  Would it be ironic if one of those goals was to post on my blog more regularly?  Admittedly, I did promise myself that I would post at least once a month, so I am getting this in just under the wire.

Now that I think of it, today is actually the first anniversary of my launching this blog and my Etsy shop.  I did start off with lofty goals of weekly posts, but that had proven too hard to sustain.  I have had lots of ideas, just not enough time to follow through.  Then once you let it go a while, you start thinking that  you need to have something "important" to say.  Sorry folks, nothing important here.  I'll just be babbling.

Felted swirl coasters --one of my latest Etsy additions
Seriously, I did write myself a very, very long list of goals for 2013.  They are definitely goals, not resolutions, and they fall into three basic categories:  career, family, and personal -- although not necessarily in that order.  First, I was accepted as a vendor in the 2013 Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, so my business goals are to build up my inventory and to build a fabulous booth to show my felted creations.  Second, my youngest son's bar mitzvah is late this spring, and I've got lots to do to make the event as special as he is.  Lastly, my personal goal is to get back in shape.  I'm a health and fitness nut, but I let things slide last year.  So for today, I'll share what I got accomplished this January.

My First Craft Show

I was thrilled to hear that I was accepted for the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, which will be held May 4-5, 2013.  I got the news in December, and it really motivated me to felt up a storm.  Now I have a booth to build!  My goals for January were to keep felting (check), list a few things on Etsy (check), write at least one blog post (um, check?), and get started on this booth.  I really had no idea what is involved in building a booth for a craft show.  I could just go with a couple of tables and wing it, but I really want to look more professional and create a space that feels like my own little shop.  

My tablecloths match my business cards
At the beginning of this month, I did many hours of online research to see what other people have done.  I didn't want to spend a ton of money, because I don't know whether craft shows will be something that is both lucrative and enjoyable for me in the long run.  Ultimately, I decided that gridwalls were the way to go.  My chrome walls, along with all the legs and hardware, are sitting in my basement, waiting for me to get up the nerve to try to put them together.  I also ordered tablecloths in a variety of colors to coordinate with my Zazzy Peacock logo color scheme.  I got really lucky, and the colors are perfect.  I got purple fitted tablecloths for rectangular tables, a light green round cloth for an accent table, and some turquoise cloths that I hope to hang on the grid walls.   So look for a future post, where I finally attempt to assemble my gridwalls and hang cloths on them!  

I have lots more to do -- including ordering a banner, creating displays, figuring out how to mark prices, lighting, etc. -- but I do feel that I made very good progress for the month of January.  Check!

The Bar Mitzvah

I had done so much to get ready for my son's bar mitzvah over the past two years, only to realize that it was fast approaching, and I was falling behind.  This month, I finally hired a photographer, Josh Barry.  I love his website!  I also got a menu from the caterer.  And I talked to a stationery company about printing the invitations that I designed months ago.  I also made great progress on party favors and entertainment.  Oh, I almost forgot the most important thing -- I found my dress!  It's gorgeous, and I'm so excited to wear it.  The only problem is that the dress fits very well right now, which kind of takes some incentive away from my fitness goals.  ;-)  

I'm not sure how much I'll post about this bar mitzvah before the big day (because, you know, I don't want to spoil the surprise for my guests), but I'll be sure to post all about it after!  For my older son's bar mitzvah three years ago, I made the centerpieces myself and did some other crafty stuff.  So maybe I'll share that in the coming months.

Personal Fitness

Ok, I'm leaving my personal fitness goals for last, because that is not something I would normally write about and I might put some of you to sleep.  Just for background, I love working out at home with exercise videos.  I've been doing it for decades, since the days when they were actually videos not DVD's.  Years ago, I started out with The Firm and then moved on to Amy Bento, Cathe Friedrich, and Jillian Michaels.  Over the past few years, I have done P90X, P90X Plus, ChaLean Extreme, TurboFire (although always as a cardio supplement to other weight training programs), and Jillian Michael's Body Revolution.  Far and away, my favorite instructor is Chalene Johnson.  I have been doing ChaLean Extreme and TurboFire for two years now and don't think I will ever get tired of them.  Her workouts are incredibly challenging, but she is so motivating that you work harder and have fun doing it.  So that's what I'm doing now -- a hybrid of her two programs.  Plus, I throw in some P90X because that's what my husband is doing, and I like to work out with him when I can.  

The other equally important part of getting in shape is eating right.  I am a big fan of Jillian Michael's book, Master Your Metabolism, and I try to eat as clean and organic as I can.  One thing I don't agree with Jillian Michaels about is calorie requirements.  I have found, through years of experimentation, that I actually need to eat more to lose weight.  Yes, you heard that right!  I am a small person, only 5' 1", and my BMR is only 1265.  For a long time, I was eating 1300 calories a day (while training very hard), and although I would lose weight at first, I would very quickly plateau and neither my scale nor my waistline would budge no matter what.  Eating too little clearly slowed down my metabolism.  When I did P90X, the program said I should eat 1800 calories a day.  That didn't work either!  So I experimented, by slowly dropping my calories down from 1800.  And I found, miraculously, that if I ate 1500 to 1600 calories a day of clean, nutritious food, the weight dropped slowly but consistently week after week -- until I actually got six-pack abs for the first time in my life.  When I did that I was carefully counting calories and writing everything down, which drives me a little batty.  So right now, I'm approximating 1500 calories without being totally anal about it.  We'll see if that works.  

One last thing about fitness (since I probably won't write much about this again) is that it is much better to track your fitness my taking measurements rather than getting on the scale.  Right now, I am hardly losing any weight, but my jeans are much looser.  That is because I am gaining muscle weight, while I lose fat.  At this stage, one is offsetting the other.  At some point, once I have gained enough muscle, the fat will start coming off even faster. Part of this is that the muscle itself burns more fat, and part of it is that as you build strength and endurance, you work out much harder and burn more calories during cardio and strength training workouts.  If you get in really amazing shape, who cares what the scale says?  I have to say that I am much calmer and more confident now in my ability to get fit.  Oh yeah, and did I mention that I am much happier and have lots more confidence and energy when I'm exercising and eating healthy?  It's not just about looking good in a dress for a special event, but let's face it, that is definitely a bonus.  :-)