Archive for the ‘Folk Art (mine)’ Category

UPDATE: Free cross-stitch patterns are no longer available on MyCraftivity.com.
If you like to do cross-stitch and haven’t been checking out the free weekly projects at MyCraftivity, you’re missing out on a good thing. Be sure to visit and download this week’s chart — it contains a dozen or so charted motifs perfect for graduation, bon voyage, and other congratulatory occasions. There are also some ideas for how to use the motifs to make neat gifts. Download yours by this coming Monday (July 14); these are weekly projects and I break the PDF link when I put the next free project up.

I used to do a lot of decorative painting, including entering pieces at the county and state fairs. One of my projects was painting a folk art rooster on a canvas apron. Originally I made one for my mother for Mother’s Day, then decided it turned out pretty well, so I made one for competition. So, in the end, my mother wound up with two rooster aprons.

She did use them; over time they became rather washed out. Now she’s found a great use for them. She basically cut the painted portions out of each apron and used them as appliques. I was surprised and extremely pleased when I walked into the kitchen last weekend and saw the gorgeous wall hanging Mom made. A few days later I returned to find a rooster cover on the kitchen table. (I think I like the table cover even more.) Leave it to Mom to be so creative with something others would have thrown out years ago!


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Back in the 1990s, my mother and I had a small booth at one of the local craft malls that was part of the Coomer’s chain. Mom mostly did her own style of decorative painting (original black line drawings filled in with acrylic washes); I did a weird mix of needlecraft, whatever crafts I was moved to attempt (making miniature birdbaths out of tiny terra cotta flower pots and saucers, for example), and decorative painting. My painting started out following actual patterns in books and magazines; then I slowly developed a semi-primitive folk art style, adapting what I’d learned from the more formal projects.

Mom and I both painted on found objects, the more creative, the better. We scoured the flea markets and Goodwill for old graniteware cups and plates and every kind of wooden surface (old salad bowls, recipe and cheese boxes — I even did several small still lifes on wooden soap dishes, sitting them on edge so the dish became a miniature “canvas”).

The Canada goose in the photo above started out as an unpainted wooden shape I found at Goodwill. What else could it be but a Canada goose in flight? And yet, after someone took the trouble to cut out the shapes and assemble the form, the goose wound up on a jumbled shelf of junk at Goodwill. Especially good treasures turned up like that all the time.

I’d followed a pattern to paint Canada geese a couple of times and had the colors and markings pretty well established in my mind, so I “winged” painting the flying wooden form (no pun intended — oh, okay, the pun was irresistible). I forget now whether the goose ever actually made it into the Coomer’s booth. I think it did; and no one wanted it. Eventually, as sometimes happened, I removed the item from our booth inventory and gave Mom the goose. (NO, no intentional pun this time; that one’s just creepy.)

I think the goose hung on the front porch of the small house Mom and my stepdad David shared in western Hamilton County, near Harrison, Ohio. When they moved to Loveland, the goose vanished for awhile. Then Mom started putting together her cabin-style guest room, and the Canada goose became a perfect wall decoration. My painting aside, I think he has a certain grandeur and seems to take great joy in being free to take flight once again.

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I was looking around my mother’s house, getting reacquainted with items that had surfaced after the holiday decorations came down. I realized how many items I’d made with a cabin or lodge look that were on display in the guest bedroom where I sleep when I visit on weekends.

Some of these things were made especially for the room. When Mom decided to redecorate and chose a cabin theme, she bought some decorative pieces (like birchbark switchplates and a rugged-looking soap dish/lotion holder set for the bathroom) and made new curtains out of sheets she found on sale at a trendy lodge-themed shop. She also retrieved items from around the house that looked good in the room, including some craft and needlework pieces I’d made. I added to these with additional treasures I either purchased as surprises or made (I like the lodge look, too).

The cabin in the photo above is my most recent creation. I actually bought the unpainted cabin at Michael’s in November of 2006 and just got around to doing the project this past fall. (Do you know how much space an unpainted log cabin takes up when you’re already crowded in your tiny apartment?)

I wish I’d thought to take a picture of the cabin in its naked condition for a before/after contrast. If you’ve ever shopped at Michael’s, especially in the unpainted wood section, you may have seen these cabins on the shelves.

Here’s the process I used for creating the rustic abode above:

First, I basecoated the logs, inside and out, with chocolate brown acrylic paint. The roof and base of the cabin I painted the same hunter green.

Next, I filled in between all the logs (exterior only) with spackle and let dry. I hot-glued small pebbles (also a craft store purchase) to the chimney, then spackled between those as well. I rinsed the entire cabin with a wet rag to remove the smears and specks of spackle and to take the finish of the paint down a little.

Next I dry-brushed sparingly over the logs with dark charcoal gray, followed by highlights of tan, to give the logs more depth and texture. I created shingles on the roof by side-loading a flat brush with charcoal gray and shaping the outlines of the shingles; then I dry-brushed a lighter shade of green individually over each shingle, followed by a few tan highlights (using a very light touch). Finally, I applied antique gel over the entire cabin and wiped it off, which pulled all the colors together and aged the appearance a bit. It also removed a little of the paint here and there in the process, which was the distressed effect I wanted.

For my landscaping, I hot-glued more of the little pebbles around the base of the cabin, including a flat one in front of the door to serve as a step. My shrubbery was lengths cut from a roll of miniature boxwood, hot-glued into place. (It doesn’t show in the photo, but I also made small trees and groundcover by either twisting the boxwood into a pointed shape or layering it along the base of the cabin, then hot-gluing to the base or cabin wall.) The evergreen is simply a miniature tree from my stash of Christmas trims.

The curtains wound up being more challening than any other part of the cabin. Not so much challening as awkward — even my short fingers had trouble maneuvering those bits of homespun through the openings to glue them along the windows. I used tacky glue, and often the cloth would adhere to my finger instead of the wall. I never did get them to hang the way I wanted, but they look okay.

It was tempting to make this a winter cabin with snow, especially since Christmas was on its was when I was working on this. I decided I wanted this to be a summer cabin instead, a little mountain place above a pristine lake, with a cool, pine-scented breeze billowing those curtains. This way the cabin can stay on display throughout the summer, inspiring refreshing visions of a mountain holiday when the temperature outside is 90+ degrees and soggy with humidity.

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 Every Baby Boomer has their story of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy: where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

I’m a Boomer as well, so of course I must share my story:

November 22 fell on the Friday before Thanksgiving that year. In grade school we had to sell turkey raffle tickets all through October. Actually, they weren’t tickets; we were given cardstock sheets with numbered lines printed on both sides in two columns. When people bought chances, they paid so much per line and wrote their names and contact information in the numbered spaces. At the end of the selling period, we’d turn in our sheets and our money.

I never really knew how that worked. Did someone fill out tickets from our sheets? Often someone would buy several chances, and instead of repeating their information, they would simply “X” through all the blank lines they were entitled to. I remember the thrill of seeing relatives do this, little dollar signs dancing in my head. Hitting up family at First Communion parties was an October ritual (First Communions were an autumn ceremony then). Sympathetic relatives with cash to spare might X out an entire column of numbered lines.

That Friday before Thanksgiving 1963, the students were being treated to their own festival, starting at lunch time. I was in third grade, and there hadn’t been a kids’ turkey festival the year before, my first at St. Cecilia’s. There was an adult festival over the weekend, with games of chance and the drawing of names for the turkeys, but there was nothing there to interest a child.

One of my favorite lunches at St. Cecilia’s was their fish sandwich on Fridays. Somehow, Mom gave me extra money so I could have two sandwiches that day, which just added to the celebratory spirit. After lunch, we roamed the tables set against the walls of the cafeteria, playing fish pond and ring toss.

I was especially pleased because of a prize I won: a small white plastic mouse with a rubber band mechanism underneath. I could pull the elastic string, set the mouse down, and it would go scurrying. I loved it, and I couldn’t wait to show it to Mom as soon as I got home (even though she hated mice).

I don’t know where my first-grader brother was that day; I have a faint memory of seeing him at the festival, but he probably was running with his own crowd. We could leave whenever we’d had enough of the games (i.e., spent all our money), which was another bonus, so it was early afternoon when I left school. I forget now whether I walked home alone or with my school friends. All I remember is that it was a pleasant autumn afternoon and I was happy.

As I approached our house, my mother came out onto the porch holding my three-year-old brother. I ran to tell her about the festival, but she stopped me cold with the words, “President Kennedy got shot down in Texas.”

This is how a child’s mind works (okay, a child with an unusual imagination): I had a sudden mental image of JFK in a cowboy hat, hands hovering above his holster, ready for a showdown. I was rather indignant, thinking, “Why would the President of the United States get into a gunfight?”

Mom’s stricken face brought me to reality, and we went into the living room where the television was showing the empty banquet room where Kennedy was supposed to have spoken that afternoon. Soon we saw Walter Cronkite make his emotional announcement that the President was dead.

My mother broke down. “That poor woman with those babies!” she wept, cradling my brother. I was in shock. The fact that someone had shot the President as he rode down the street was more surreal to me than my momentary fantasy of JFK failing to outdraw an hombre. Assassination was something we read about in our history books, not something we lived. It was unthinkable that we were now participants in the same tragic drama that the people in Lincoln’s time had experienced when he was shot. I couldn’t get my mind around it.

I wandered up the street to my friend Roseanne’s house. It was common to say “Did you hear…” even when you knew the other person had already heard. “Did you hear about Kennedy?” we asked each other, incredulous.

Roseanne’s mother, with her own baby on her hip, was crying as well. She pulled out a prayer book and found a prayer especially for an assassinated President. As she read it out loud, her voice broke. Later, in the kitchen, she declared, “This is exactly when the Russians could attack us, when we don’t have a leader.” Everyone was always on edge waiting for the Russians to attack. It made sense that this might be as good a time as any.

Roseanne and I wandered off on a walk. We sat at the end of a downhill driveway that ended in a kind of drop-off. It was a mild day. The last leaves were drifting from the branches overhead. We talked about how strange it was, to be living the kind of history we’d only studied in books. We talked with some shame, and a little regret, of a pattycake-type playground chant (Went to Washington in a canoe, went to the White House and saw you-know-who. We–saw–KENNEDY!) and how we couldn’t say that chant anymore.

Wall-to-wall, 24/7 news coverage was a new experience. There was saturated coverage for NASA liftoffs and the like, but that took up a limited part of the day. That November weekend saw a total cessation of anything not related to the assassination. Most radio stations ceased to play popular music; only somber, classical music could be found on the dial. (To this day I associate “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” with sitting at the kitchen table the evening of Kennedy’s death.)

It was a long, somber weekend. On Saturday evening there was a memorial Mass at church, which we attended. The parish was debating whether to cancel the adults’ turkey festival out of respect. For some reason, it went on. I forget whether we went on Saturday or Sunday, but I do remember the empty feeling in the school gym, folks milling around with no heart for the proceedings, the rackety sound of the wheels of fortune echoing into the high ceiling.

Jack Ruby shot Oswald shortly after we returned home from Sunday Mass, although we missed seeing it live. We’d been watching a station that wasn’t covering Oswald’s transfer, and suddenly they broke in with a bulletin. It truly seemed the world had gone insane. It was a frightening, confusing spectacle, all the more so because the adults didn’t have any answers, either, and seemed as shaken as the children.

By Monday, life must have been edging back toward normalcy, because I remember watching part of Kennedy’s funeral on the small, snowy black-and-white television at the bowling alley, where my mother was participating in her weekly Mother’s Club league. School had been cancelled for the day and my father was off work from his municipal job. The television was set up behind the counter where bowlers paid for their games and picked out their shoes. I stood with my arms and chin on the glass counter. I couldn’t hear what the announcer was saying, so I just stared at the screen, which was such a fuzzy mix of translucent gray that everyone looked like ghosts.

We’d watched the procession over the weekend as JFK’s caisson was drawn through the streets of Washington. I found the riderless horse with those backward boots in the stirrups positively haunting. My mother pointed out that the rhythmic drumroll was the beat to “Hail to the Chief.”

It was typical of the time that there was immediate talk of sainthood for John F. Kennedy, an American martyr. We schoolchildren knew nothing of his lifestyle, his peccadilloes, the many reasons the Church should not have honored him as a saint, regardless of how he died. We Catholic schoolchildren knew only that the first Catholic President, the one over whom the nuns led us in celebration on election day two years before, had been murdered. And our lives would never be the same.

Note: The sheep box above is something I made from a craft store thin wooden box. The black sheep was actually pried from a napkin ring my mother gave me last fall; she knew I’d like it because the sheep figurine itself was so interesting. I was going to paint it white and antique it, then thought it would be interesting to have an “autumn” sheep box. The box itself is trimmed with antique-looking scrapbook paper, some orange and black crepe paper that used to be the honeycomb limbs of a Halloween witch I’ve had lying around about 20 years, and ribbon trim. The backdrop for the box is a wooden triptych I painted from a pattern about 9 years ago. Naturally, it also has sheep. I used the “poster edges” filter on my imaging software to give the picture more definition.

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My mother and I were talking over the weekend about what was my first Halloween costume.  She said she thought it was the tiger suit she made for me (see photo above, circa 1958). I said I wondered if it was the Mickey Mouse costume my brother’s wearing in this same photo. I don’t remember actually dressing up as Mickey Mouse, but I swear we have a photo somewhere of me wearing the costume (we never got around to digging out the photo to confirm this).

Another reason I believe I wore the Mickey Mouse costume first is because I doubt The Mouse was something my brother would have wanted to be; hence, the costume probably got passed down to him. (I’m four in the photo, so he’s two years old; later, the tiger costume was handed down to him as well.)

I can’t recall why on earth I wanted to be a tiger, but I do remember many details of Mom making that costume: studying the satiny orange fabric, watching her draw on the “stripes” with a marker (they don’t show up in the photo), and trying on the finished product. I also remember her wanting to paint a nose and whiskers on my face, but I wouldn’t let her. That tiger suit was shiny and soft, possibly the most comfortable Halloween costume I ever had.

We were also debating about what I was wearing the first time I went trick-or-treating. Mom thought it was the tiger costume, and maybe I did visit relatives while wearing it. But the ensemble I’m sure I was wearing for my first real beggar’s night was the princess gown Mom sewed, topped by a crown Mom fashioned out of her own bridal veil headpiece. I remember pearls and sequins and netting on the headpiece, but maybe that’s just me embroidering the recollection (no pun in tended).

Mom used to keep journal notes on family events, and here’s something I remember from that first beggar’s night:

She took me, my brother Frankie,  and my cousin Donnie (they were the same age, two years younger than me) to a few trusted homes in our East End neighborhood. There were lots of stairs to the various houses built on slopes under the railroad tracks — maybe elevated because too often the Ohio River reached Eastern Avenue in the old days — and that might be why our trick-or-treat visits were limited. Mom said the script was the same at every door:

Donnie: “Twick-or-Tweat, Twick-or-Tweat!”

Frankie: “Dick-or-Deet, Dick-or-Deet!”

Me: “I don’t think anybody’s home.”

There are home movies of Frankie and me visiting Grandma Mary and Aunt Clara as well as my cousin Charlie, who lived in the same multi-family house. Later she filmed us in Grandma Martha’s dining room at home, eating apples from our treat bags and getting up to waltz for the camera as Grandpa and my father sit sternly in the background, trying to watch some Western on television.

That same home movie also shows two beggars who came to Grandma’s door for treats. Both were African American, dressed in everyday pants and jackets, wearing only masks as costume pieces. One is sporting a mask of Jimmy Dodd from the Mickey Mouse Club; the other simply wears two eye masks — one over his eyes, one over his mouth (both different colors). Costuming was much more casual then, especially in the East End.

Note: The photo above was originally black-and-white; I tinted it digitally for a craft project. I used the photo for this rattle h-party-stick-small-web-view.jpg(although I didn’t put anything in it to make noise; you could also call it a wand or party stick, I guess). I simply painted a paper mache craft box black and glued scrapbook paper to the lid (gluing the lid on the box first), then attached the photo to the lid. I made an accordion fold of checkered paper and tied it in the middle, with one side longer than the other; then fanned the accordion out, glued the end pieces together, and affixed the “ruffle” to the bottom of the box. Next I punched a hole in the side of the box below the photo and inserted a painted dowel, which I glued (stuff something in the hole around the dowel and apply a good dab of hot glue if the dowel wants to pop out). A few ribbons tied to the dowel, and my wand was finished.

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I was born in 1954, so my earliest Halloween memories come from that decade. We lived upstairs of Grandma and Grandpa in a small two-family house in the East End section of Cincinnati. The outside stairs that led to the door of our flat were too rickety to be climbed, so beggars (as they were often called then) would get their treats from the entire household at Grandma’s door.

Since there weren’t snack-size candy bars in economical bags, most treats were suckers, candy corn, apples, hard candy, and candy cigarettes in small cardboard boxes. In our neighborhood, few probably could have afforded to give full-size chocolate bars at 5 cents apiece.  

Grandma didn’t settle for tossing handfuls of loose candy corn into beggars’ paper sacks. She made up her own little treat packages. These consisted of orange Halloween napkins; she deposited loose candy in the middle of an unfolded napkin, then twisted the napkin tight around the candy. (I don’t remember her using any kind of fasteners.) I remember the huge orange mound of treat packages on a tray in the middle of the dining room table–which was in their family room/bedroom/dining room (Grandma and Grandpa slept on a sofa bed, with the television so close Grandpa could have put his foot through the screen).

Sometimes I’m not sure how many of my memories are pure and how many are reinforced by images from our home movies. When I have a memory of something tactile, I trust it. Grandma had one of those German paper mache jack-o-lanterns that go for big bucks in the antique malls now. The paper insert with the eyes and mouth was long gone, but I remember running my finger over the strange features of the jack-o-lantern with grin-ridges on its cheeks, and exploring the rough, unfinished inner walls.

The fact that Grandma had so many “old” Halloween decorations is probably why I love vintage decorations so much. I had a love/hate relationship with the paper mache jack-o-lantern: To my mind (and taste shaped by contemporary styles), a true jack-o-lantern had to have triangular eyes and nose and blocked teeth. That’s how my plastic jack-o-lantern looked (now also considered “vintage”).  I didn’t appreciate the paper mache jack-o-lanterns until I was an adult, but by that time Grandma’s piece had disappeared.

Grandma also had several cardboard decorations that had seen better days.  There was a witch with honeycombed crepe paper limbs, and a jointed black cat with raised claw and arched back. Realistic cardboard skeletons, only about 12 inches tall, hung in the front windows. I think she had others, too (such as the witch and cat in the photo above), but mentally I started claiming all vintage cardboard decorations as hers, so I’m never certain of her actual inventory. Examples turn up on eBay regularly at prices that would have astonished Grandma.

Through the 1960s, the nights leading up to Halloween had their own names (at least in Cincinnati). There was a penny night and a damage night. Penny night was what the name suggests–beggars would come knocking for pennies, not expecting anything more. And on damage night, pumpkins were stolen and vandalized, windows were soaped, and sometimes property got more sinister treatment. I remember looking through Grandma’s front windows at Eastern Avenue through the white swirls and curly-Qs of Ivory Soap streaks.



Note on banner: A couple of years ago I came across several vintage masks in a single lot for a low price at a flea market. I’d intended to alter them individually, but I wound up making this banner with them. In between the masks are medallions I created by scanning vintage designs, printing them out in miniature and cutting them out, then gluing onto a checkered background which was then glued onto black paper and trimmed with pinking shears. (See details in the photo at the top of this post.) I inserted eyelets into the ends of the masks and on each side of the medallions and strung them together with lengths of tied ribbon. If I was making this now, I’d do it differently so the banner would hang straight. As it’s made, the masks and medallions want to twist and the whole thing sags if it’s not pinned in the center.

By the way, the orange mask is pinned to a piece of hardanger embroidery I made over 20 years ago. I also painted floral design on the wooden bucket and made the little Halloween box to the right.

I just had to incorporate vintage decorations with those masks in some way. I love the muted shades of orange and yellow and the antique black of those masks. And the masks are made out of some kind of stiffened gauze, not cardboard or plastic. I’m not sure how old they are, but they make me think of my earliest Halloweens.

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Simulated pumpkins have been around for a few years now, but only recently did I realize you can actually carve them. The idea of a “permanent” jack-o-lantern doesn’t really appeal to me, and I adore real pumpkins; so I’ve been pretty lukewarm toward the proliferation of polyester pumpkins (or whatever they’re made out of).

This year, though, I’ve seen some intriguing creations with “altered pumpkins,” so I broke down and bought two foam specimins when they were on sale at Michael’s recently. 

I’ve seen the vintage and folk art Halloween sites showing resin pumpkins with designs carved on their sides: witches, reproductions of old-fashioned Halloween decorations, autumn scenes, mottos, etc. I wondered if I could do something like that with one of the simulated pumpkins I bought.

My mother collects scotties, and she doesn’t have a single scottie item related to Halloween. I thought some kind of scottie scene on the side of a pumpkin would be unique, and something maybe I could carry off.

I have a diecut scottie gift tag in what I consider the ideal scottie shape. I used that as my template and traced the scottie outline on the pumpkin with a ball point pen. Then I freehand-sketched the other elements I wanted, making things up as I went. (I’d make a terrible artist. I hate to plan things out ahead of time. For me, the creative process is all about the slow reveal as a project develops, with chance and chaos playing their parts in producing the final result.) Naturally, things were a little lopsided and uneven, but generally I was satisfied with the bare bones of the design on the pumpkin’s surface.

I knew I wanted all the lines of the design etched into the pumpkin for an engraved effect, but I wasn’t sure of the best way to do that. I browsed the various electronic tools available at the craft stores, but I wasn’t sure any of them would be appropriate. (Woodburning would have created just the effect I wanted — if these pumpkins were made of wood. However, there’s a big “warning” sticker on the bottom of each pumpkin that says “Flammable,” so applying any kind of heat at all, even with an embossing gun, was too big a risk to take.)

Finally, I remembered I’d gotten a simple linoleum block print kit for Christmas, which I’d never opened. I tried the smallest carving point, and it was adequate for engraving lines of my scottie design.

However, it was MESSY, with flecks of plastic all over the place; and it was time-consuming. It was effective, though, and I was happy to move on to the next step of my project.

Here’s where I learned an unfortunate fact about working with simulated pumpkins: Everything stains the surface. Even a simple line of ballpoint pen ink is impossible to remove. I tried Scrubbing Bubbles, rubbing alcohol, plain old Dawn and water, cleanser, hairspray, and Alcohol Ink solution. All I did was disturb the surface to the point I was afraid the orange would start to flake away. I was stuck with many wayward pen marks and not sure what to do about them.

Instead of worrying about it, I got out a bottle of acrylic craft paint in black. I dabbed it over the lines a little at a time, then wiped away the paint to leave the carved lines filled in. Immediately I learned that acrylic paint also didn’t want to come off the pumpkin’s surface. This time, though, the effect wasn’t so bad. It left just enough darkness behind to create a antiqued effect, including crazing. This also helped camouflage some of my pen marks. (Again, this part of the process was very messy.)

The final step was to paint in parts of the design to make them stand out. This worked pretty well, and it didn’t take nearly as much time to complete as the previous steps. To make the painted sections pop a little more, I brushed a couple of thin coats of matte acrylic varnish over them. (This, I hoped, would also offer some protection to the paint.) I’d thought of coating the whole thing with matte spray, but I could just imagine my entire pumpkin melting before my eyes. (This once happened to me as a teenager when I tried to spray paint some Styrofoam balls to make Christmas ornaments. It was a horrifying experience.)

Mom was pleased with her one-of-a-kind scottie Halloween decoration (although my sister, Diamonqueen, mocked it; and J. Hooligan called it “ridiculous”); and I was pleased with the outcome of my experiment to craft with a fake pumpkin. I don’t intend to try this again, though, unless someone comes up with a better technique than mine. I still have that other simulated pumpkin, and I’ve yet to decide what I want to do with that.


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