The City That Loves You Back

I’ve been missing my friends.  So many of them are on the east coast now.  They moved away from San Francisco in three waves this summer, and many of them ended up in and around New York.  In order to ensure that they all come back someday, I thought I’d make them something to remind them of all the love that’s waiting here for them.

Friday’s thing-a-day was this stencil:

sfhearstustencil

I meant it in the way that says “a lot of people in San Francisco love you,” but the more I looked at it, the more I realized, San Francisco really is a city that loves you back. In all the ways that New York tries to keep you out, San Francisco invites you in.  From the weather to housing (rent control!) to the entrepreneurial spirit, San Francisco makes it really easy to live well on your own terms.  New York requires you fight everyone else with sticks to get your own little piece of anything.

So to stick it to New York a little, I decided to change the stencil lettering to look like the “I heart New York” logo.  I used the first stencil to cut out the skyline, and then used this stencil to carve out the letters:

sfletterstencil

Yesterday I made three stickers for my girls with the Xyron and a security envelope, as well as some stickers from the removed letters, which I put up in my very spare Etsy shop. Doing these San Francisco love projects has given me some great ideas for much larger projects that focus on the Bay Bridge.

sfheartsustickersfheartsulettersticker

Thing-A-Day Progress Report

For the last three days I’ve worked on just one project — a prototype for a fair ribbon.  It’s a project I’m doing for free for a low-key client, but it seemed like an easy thing to start with.  I thought I would be able to finish the whole thing in one day, but it turned out I know less about how to make fair ribbons than I thought.

Day 1: Picked out fabrics from scrap stash and embroidered a piece of blue quilting cotton with white embroidery thread.  Wrapped it around the front of a 1.25” Dritz make-your-own-shank-button, then snapped the back of the button on.

Day 2: Made the rosette for behind the button.  I started by sewing two circular pieces of fabric together.  Then I sewed a small circle in the middle, to create a ring.  I thought that if I gathered the center of the ring, or threaded elastic through it, that this would create a nice rosette effect.

circlerosette

Instead it created this:

circlerosettefail

Then I sewed a long tube of fabric, and threaded the elastic through that with my nifty bias turner.

elasticpull

I tightened the elastic and let the fabric bunch.  Still too messy.  It looked like a scrunchie.

tuberosettefail

Out of ideas, I turned to the Internet for help, and found this post on the Chronicle Books blog about how to make a blue ribbon greeting card for Father’s Day.  I sewed another (much longer) tube, and this time, I accordion-folded the fabric while sewing the folds together to secure them in a circle.

Day 3: Cut and hemmed the bottom ribbons, and glued everything together.  Added a pin and a string to the back.  Covered up the unsightly mess in the back with a blue felt circle.

blueribbon

Each day I completed at least one item, so I feel like I made a small, complete object each day, even though they were part of one project.  Today I worked for an hour on the Amy Sedaris cross-stitch while I was at the DMV.  After posting this, I’m feeling too tired to start anything new.  Four days down, twenty-six to go.

Small Affordable Letterpress Machine?

This fall, Lifestyle Crafts (a division of QuicKutz, which makes scrapbooking stuff) is due to come out with the “L” Letterpress system, a kit that you use with a tabletop die cutter/embosser like a Cuttlebug or QuicKutz’s Epic 6.  The starter kit will come with impression plates, paper, and some ink, and will retail for $69.99.  A kit including both the L pack and the Epic 6 will be available for $149.99.

At first glance, I was thrilled.  I’ve always wanted to try lettterpress printing, but the only way for me to do it is to spend $300 on classes at the Center for the Book in order to be able to rent time on their presses.  Something like the L would eliminate the travel, education and rent required to use a large press.

On the other hand, I remembered how excited I was to get a Gocco screen printer, which only works well for very specific projects (i.e. greeting cards).  The Gocco is also only compatible with its own proprietary supplies, which became a huge issue the last two times they were discontinued.  The L appears to have a very similar setup.  Only small paper can be rolled through the press, and I can’t find any indication of its compatibility with other manufacturers’ plates and inks, or information about printing on surfaces like cardboard.  One of the reasons I’ve never bought a tabletop die cutter like an Epic 6 is that it’s nearly impossible to make your own dies for it, but you can order custom letterpress plates fairly easily.  Though it’s much more competitively priced than the Gocco, I’m still going to wait for more information before I add the L/Epic 6 to my Christmas list.  Besides, there’s probably a way to hack something similar for a fraction of the cost.  Project, anyone?

Ask Biz Miss: Stuffing Techniques

bighamI make and sell some novelty pillows on Etsy but have a hell of a time with the stuffing. The stuffing in your pillows looks so smooth, without any bumps or lumps. I was wondering if you use any sort of special fiberfill or foam with yours?

Stuffing is probably the hardest part of making plush toys by hand.  Though it’s more art than science, here are a few tips that I’ve discovered over the years:

1. Thick knit fabrics (like fleece) or thin woven fabrics (like quilting cottons) are the easiest to stuff smoothly. Thick wovens like canvas or thin knits have a tendency to create voids and lumps.
2. Trimming your seam allowance helps, as does pre-washing your fabric. Make sure to snip concave curves and to notch (cut triangles out of) convex curves. The tighter the curve, the more snips you should make.  This is especially important with stiffer fabrics.
3. Stuffing smaller spaces like arms (especially at the tips) much tighter and with smaller bits of stuffing than big interior spaces (like bodies), where you can use large handfuls of stuffing.
4. If you still get some lumps, you can “massage” them out somewhat.  Massaging the whole toy once it’s finished also helps keep things even.
5. The smoothest stuffing brand I’ve found so far is Soft-n-Crafty, but the brand matters a lot less than the technique.

How To: Make Jewish Half-Sour Garlic Pickles

Apparently it’s How-To Week in my brain, so here’s another….

As a Brooklyn Jew transplanted to California, there are a lot of foods I miss: farmer’s cheese, German cold cuts, bagels, and half-sour pickles.  You can find the Ba-Tampte brand of half-sours in almost any grocery store back east, but they’re virtually non-existent here in San Francisco.  Luckily, it’s kirby cucumber season right now, so you can make your own jar of fresh pickles for less than $1.  I got mine from the Civic Center farmer’s market.

I couldn’t find an accurate recipe for these anywhere on the interwebs, so I invented this version using trial and error to re-create what I’ve seen floating around in those Ba-Tampte jars.  It’s a ridiculously easy process that takes about five minutes to make and one day to be ready.  Here we go:

  1. Combine in a clean tomato sauce jar (28 oz. or so mason jar):
    • four kirby (pickling) cukes, halved lengthwise
    • 3 garlic cloves, halved and crushed
    • a dozen whole black peppercorns
    • 1/4 tsp. mustard seed
    • 1 TBSP kosher salt
    • a pinch of cumin seed
  2. Fill the jar with water to the top, making sure everything is covered.
  3. Screw the lid on tight and agitate the jar for about 10 seconds.
  4. Leave the jar on the counter for 24-36 hours, agitating once more in between.
  5. Eat!

These pickles lose their crispness after another day or so of sitting around, so it’s best to eat them right away, or you can put them in the fridge to extend their life by one or two more days.

Epic How-To: Make a 3-D Plush Pattern from a 2-D Drawing (Starring Mitch from Neon Monster)

I’ve made some 2-D plush monsters in the past.  They can have a lot of character (like Aristocrates here and his little buddy Protegé).  They’re also the best place to start if you are new to making plush.  This, however, is not a 2-D plush tutorial, and it is not well suited to sewing beginners. If you are looking for such a tutorial, try here.

aristocrates plush monster

plushmaterials

Materials:

  • paper or cardstock
  • cushion foam
  • straight pins
  • safety pins (optional)
  • X-acto knife
  • fabric glue
  • paper scissors
  • fabric scissors
  • fabric marking pen
  • pencil
  • ballpoint pen (optional)
  • fabric similar to what you will use on your finished plush toys
  • seam ripper (not pictured)
  • chopstick (optional)

When the good folks over at Neon Monster approached me about designing a plush version of their logo monster, Mitch, 2-D was not going to cut it. In my opinion, most of Mitch’s charm comes from his shape — his long, dangly arms, his hunched back, and his slightly saggy belly — none of which can be adequately expressed in a flat format.

logomitch

Since Mitch has never existed in 3-D, and all I had was this single three-quarter view of him, I needed to start with an intermediate 2-D step, an orthographic projection.

Step 1: Orthographic Drawings

Orthographic drawings (or projections) are a series of 2-D views that give you a complete sense of a 3-D object when taken all together.  At minimum, you need to draw your character from the front, side, and top.  Since Mitch is not my creation, I was lucky enough to get this set of sketches from original artist Reuben Rude.

orthographics

When you make (or in my case, print) your orthographic views, you want to make sure that the dimensions all match up.  The height of the front and side views should be the same (C), as should the width of the front and top views (A), and the depth of the top and side views (B).  You can leave small details like surface decoration out of these.  You just need them for the general shape.  In my case, I erased the eye and the “spinal nodes” from Reuben’s drawings, since I would be adding them on later as separate pieces.

When you’ve got your sketches looking just right, cut them out.

Step 2: Foam Block

My pre-visualization skills are not the most developed, so I drape my plush pieces like garments.  That means needing a base of some kind to drape them on — a “monster form,” if you will.  I made mine from regular density cushion foam (I used the Airtex brand), which you can get in sheets or by the yard from most craft or fabric stores.  It comes in different thicknesses (1 inch is most common), but you’ll likely have to glue a few layers together to get a thick enough block to carve from.

Measure the widest point of your side-view drawing (B) to find out how many layers to glue together.  If it’s four inches wide, for example, you’ll need to glue together four 1-inch layers of foam.  Next, measure the height and width of your front view drawing (C and A).  This is the size of the rectangle each layer will be.  Mitch’s body was 10 inches tall, 6 inches wide, and four inches thick at its widest points, so I glued together four 10” x 6” foam rectangles and let my foam block dry.

foamblock

Step 3: Foam Model

In order to make my foam block look more like Mitch, I needed to do some carving.  I taped the orthographic drawings to each side of the block and traced around them.  For the side view drawing, I traced it on one side, flipped it over and then traced it again on the other side.

foamtrace

I wish I had a foolproof carving method to share here, but I don’t.  Maybe someone can post something in the comments.  I just sort of eyeball it while wielding a regular #11 Xacto knife, removing small chunks so I don’t overdo it.  The nice thing is that you can always glue the foam back on if you make a mistake, and your foam model doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth in its shape.

sideform

Here’s my finished model (see, not smooth).

mitchform

I decided to add on the arms as separate pieces (with straight pins) rather than try to carve them out of the block with the body.  I also made a completely separate piece for Mitch’s eye.  Depending on the number of appendages your character has, you may also want to carve and add these to your model separately.

Step 4: Draping

To me, this is the most fun part of making a 3-D plush, but it can also be kind of tricky. Cut a large piece of light-colored fabric similar to what you ultimately want to make your plush with.  It should wrap all the way around your plush at least 1-2 times.  I used polar fleece because it has some stretch but doesn’t misshape too easily.

Using regular straight pins, pin the center of your fabric to the most important part of your foam model — a part where you don’t want any seams showing.  For Mitch, this was his belly.

startdrape

Working your way outward from that first center pin, continue pinning the fabric to your model.  Start wrapping it around the sides, top, and bottom of your model, keeping it as smooth as possible.

continuedrape

At some point, your fabric will start to gather in folds.  Any place there is a fold in your fabric, there will have to be a seam, so take care in deciding where you want the folds to fall.  You may have to re-pin your fabric and/or stretch it in a slightly different direction in order to get the folds where you want them.  I made sure my folds landed in the least visible places on Mitch: under his arms, under his legs, and straight down his head and back (under the spinal nodes).

Pinch the folds tightly together and pin them as close to the model as possible (safety pins may be helpful for this).  Here is the fold that goes from the top of Mitch’s head down his back (he’s lying on his side here).  You can also see the drape wrapping around his right arm:

pinchfold

Once you have your fabric tightly wrapped around your entire model, cut away any excess, leaving an even seam allowance.  I tend to use a 3/8” allowance when I sew plush, so that’s about what I tried to leave around the edges.

cutseam

Here is a simple, finished drape of just the eye model (side, top and bottom views):

eyedrapeside

eyedrapetopeyedrapebottom

And here is a finished drape of the whole monster, with his eye pieces on top.

When I first draped the monster form, I tried to include his eyelids and his body in the same piece of fabric.

overeyedrape

This made too many folds to be workable, so I marked where the eyelids ended and undid the drape.  Using those marks I then cut a new piece of fabric to become the eyelids and re-draped the body, this time under the the eye piece.  You can see the neatly wrapped and trimmed body and eye here, along with the new eyelid fabric:

fulldrape

Step 5: Tracing the Pattern

Now that you have a finished drape, you can write notes directly on the fabric about any immediate changes you’d like to make, such as making the head rounder, the feet pointier or the arms longer.  Drawing arrows or cut lines in place is also helpful.

markings

Now the excitement begins!  Un-pin your drape(s) so that the fabric lays flat.  Remove it from the model and spread it out onto a large piece of paper (or several taped together).  Trace around it/them with a pencil.  These are what Mitch’s pieces looked like when I undid them — not something I would have been able to visualize beforehand.

flatdrape

**Tip: number each seam as you un-pin it.  Then you will know the (reverse) order in which to sew your plush together.

Step 6: Refinement

Now that you have your general pattern, you can make some adjustments with your pencil.  You can smooth out lines or fold your pattern in half to make sure things line up correctly.  If you’re more tech savvy, you can photograph or scan your pattern and then trace it in a program like Adobe Illustrator.  This is what I did, which is why my pattern is sliced up.  It was too big to scan all at once so I had to cut it into a few pieces.

patternscan

Step 7: Test

To test the accuracy of your pattern, cut out the paper pattern pieces and trace them onto a new piece of fabric.  Cut the fabric pieces out right on the line and sew them together in order (see step 5 tip), leaving your normal seam allowance.

**Tip: use a contrasting color of thread and a wide stitch so that you can easily rip out and re-do seams if you need to.

paperpattern

Cut off any exterior corners, then snip into interior corners and clip into the seam allowance along any tight curves.  This will allow your seams to remain smooth and eliminate bunching inside your plush when you turn it inside out.

snipandclip

Open up a 1-2 inch hole in a central seam with a seam ripper and turn your plush inside out. Poke out any tight spots or corners with a chop stick, a capped pen or a high gauge knitting needle.

poekout

Stuff your plush with your desired material and take a look.

**Tip: Use smaller pieces of stuffing for narrow sections like arms and stuff them tighter than the main body.  Use larger, looser chunks of stuffing for bigger spaces to keep things cuddly.

If you like the way things look, you’re finished.  Sew up the opening with a ladder stitch and rejoice!  (Video here)

If you have additional pieces, you can drape them onto the finished body.  This is what I did with Mitch’s eye.  His “spinal nodes” are regular cylinders and didn’t require a pattern.  I just sewed those on by hand, again using a ladder stitch.

eyedrape

backopt

What happens if your plush still doesn’t look quite right?  In this case, you have a couple of options.  One, you can make slight adjustments by changing the amount and/or placement of stuffing in your toy, or two, you can adjust the pattern.  If it’s an easy/small change, you can make your alteration directly to the paper pattern, either by trimming some off, or by taping more on.  Otherwise, I recommend writing those “cosmetic surgery” notes directly onto the fabric again and ripping out the seams, essentially taking you back to step 5.

**Tip: the type of stuffing you use can go a long way toward helping you choose a desired effect. I stuffed Mitch’s legs, bottom and fingers with rice and everything else with polyester fiberfill.  This made him cuddly yet hefty, with a weighted swing to his long arms and that “dumpy bum” look I find so charming about him.  It also lets him sit upright without support, which is great for something that will live on a shelf.

Epilogue

I noticed that some of Mitch’s features were different in the logo (three-quarter view) image than in the orthographic drawings, so I made one side longer than the other and let the Neon Monster folks decide which one they liked better.

frontopt

They liked the left side features better, and also wanted a few other changes, like darker fabric, an outline behind the pink iris, and for Mitch to be 18” tall.  Glad that I scanned everything into Illustrator, I blew up the pattern by 50% and then cut it down the center.  I deleted the right side of the pattern (which they didn’t like) and replaced it with a duplicate of the left half (which they did).  Then I printed it out and sewed it up into Mitch #2.  Here he is:

Mitch-front-sitting

The Neon Monster crew really liked Mitch #2 (enough that he traveled to toy fairs all over Asia), but they also wanted to try out a version with longer arms and more eyelid folds.  I made another copy of the pattern and added those changes.  This became Mitch #3 (he’s not pictured here but he is on display at Neon Monster).

Mitch #3’s long arms were great for hugging, but they bunched up when he sat, so that idea was ultimately scrapped.  So were most of the folds of his lower lid.  Thus was born Mitch #4, the ultimate Mitch.  He used Mitch #2’s body pattern and Mitch #3’s eye pattern, minus half the lower lid.  Here is Mitch #4, gazing pensively out my window.  For more photos, you can see my earlier post celebrating his creation.

mitchquarter

Mitch #4 is now being reproduced as Neon Monster’s first exclusive limited-edition plush toy.  He is due to be released this October, in time for the holidays.  To cuddle Mitch #3 in person or to sign up for the release, you can visit Neon Monster at 901 Castro Street (on the corner of 22nd) in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco.

Thanks to anyone who made it all the way through this massive tutorial!  I’d love to see what you make if you use the info I’ve shared here.  I will post any photos you send me (with your permission). Also, please feel free to post any questions or comments below.  I promise to respond to all of them.

Making a Cross-Stitch or Needlepoint Pattern in Photoshop

Instead of doing my taxes like I was supposed to, I spent all day Tuesday working on a cross-stitch/needlepoint pattern of Amy Sedaris.  This is the first in what I hope will be a series of “Hipster Hero” patterns.  Amy Sedaris is definitely one of my hipster heroes.  She’s hilarious, ballsy and crafty.  What more could you ask for?

In order to make this pattern my own (since I’ve never gotten to take a picture of Amy Sedaris), I started by making a photo collage in Photoshop.  This image uses pieces from six or seven different photos.  Amy’s face is from one photo, her hair from another, the cake from another and so on.  Most of the body isn’t even hers.  It belongs to a halloween costume model.  The writing is from her book cover which is (I assume) her handwriting, but I rearranged the words and adjusted the letters. I won’t go into the specifics of how to combine images in Photoshop, but this tutorial will give you a basic idea.

amycollage

Once the collage was finished, I checked the pixel count by looking at the image size (788 x 600 pixels) and figuring that about a third of the image would actually be stitched.  That meant 157,600 stitches.  Ouch.  So I shrunk the image by half, which was as far as I could go before things started becoming splotchy and unrecognizable.  The pixels now numbered 118,200.  Still too many.

I wasn’t going to be able to finagle this image much smaller, so I had to zoom in on just a small part of it.  I decided to focus in on just her head and shoulders, which left a little bit of the nice blue color in her dress.  But now I just had Amy’s face, which — while distinctive in it’s Jerri Blank-ish expression — didn’t really capture her domestic side.

amytiny

Back in went the cake, with a new arm that I got from a photo of a waitress.  To add a little more humor, I made the cake slide down the plate, leaving a little trail of chocolate behind it.  Then I remembered that Amy also really loves rabbits, so I put a rabbit on top of the cake.  He is also sliding down precariously and covered in bits of frosting.  Lastly, I drew in sparkles using a star brush in Photoshop.  They reminded me of a 60s magazine ad for cleaning products.

This new image (look how tiny!) requires closer to 5,000 stitches.  Still kind of intensive, but doable.

amysmallpattern

Now it was time to tackle colors.  The more colors a pattern requires, the harder it is to distinguish between them.  This makes the pattern harder to follow and means more skeins of emroidery floss to buy so I was ultimately shooting for as few colors as possible.  After zooming in to 500% so I could see each pixel clearly, I switched to Image — > Mode — > Indexed Color.  I started with a Local (selective) color palette using 24 colors.  This was the minimum number of colors I could use before things started looking weird to me.  I also made sure to set the Dither to “none,” which keeps the colors together in larger blocks, rather than scattering the pixels to imitate shading.  Here are the before (RGB Mode) and after (Indexed Color Mode) screenshots:

amyrgbamyindexed

Not too bad, but I wanted bring down the number of colors even more.  I find that the easiest way to do this is by using the magic wand tool and the eyedropper.  First, I chose the magic wand tool, setting the tolerance to 1 and unchecking the “contiguous” checkbox.  I wanted to select only one color at a time, but I wanted to pick it up everywhere it existed in the image.

magicwandNext, I looked for two colors (usually next to each other) that appeared very similar.  I clicked on one of them with the magic wand tool, then clicked on the second with the eyedropper tool.  I selected Edit — >Fill and chose “foreground color” from the drop down menu.  This filled in all instances of color #1 with color #2, essentially eliminating color #1 from the image.  If the image didn’t look notably different, color #1 was gone for good.

I repeated this process until I got down to eleven colors, which was as far as I could go while still keeping most of the detail in the image.  I made a couple of individual pixel changes using the pencil tool, but then the image was finished. Using the same magic wand, eyedropper and edit — >fill sequence, I made a rectangle for each color, so it’s easier to match and buy thread for it. Here’s the 11-color image with its matching color guide:

amycolorboxes

My last step was to add the grid.  I went to Preferences — >Guides and Grid, and set the grid to “every 1 pixels with 1 subdivision”.  I don’t know why they use this lingo, but it bascially makes a one-pixel grid, separating each stitch individually.  There’s no way to print the grid that I know of, so I took a screenshot of my finished pattern and printed that instead.  Et voila!  Finished Amy pattern, ready to stitch up!

amyfinishedpattern

Mitch the Neon Monster

Yesterday I finished the final Neon Monster prototype, otherwise know as “Mitch 4.”  After four intensive weeks getting this beloved logo monster just right, I sent him off across the ocean to be cloned several hundred times.  I’d love to take the night off to celebrate but Renegade SF starts tomorrow (come say hi!) so there will be no rest for the weary.

mitchfullsmmitchquartermitchrightmitcheye

Next week I will be sharing the whole Mitch process with you in an excruciatingly long and detailed article about how to create a 3-D plush character from a 2-D drawing.  This will not be an Uglydoll-type tutorial, people — anyone can make a fabric sandwich — this is the real deal.  Your plush characters will have real dimensions (like sides!), real 360º forms and real soul.  I may have to split it up over two or three posts, but it’s full of photos and diagrams and riveting text so stay tuned.  It’s going to be a special summer.

Biz Mister: Francois Vigneault Talks about Zines and Small Publishing

This August 22nd and 23rd marks the ninth anniversary of one of the Bay Area’s most anticipated gatherings of small publishers and authors, the SF Zine Fest.  I particularly like the Zine Fest because it’s more laid-back and intimate than something like Comic-Con or A.P.E., and it really celebrates the connection between Zines and other crafts.  I wanted to share some info about this event with you, and about the world of small publishing in general, so I went straight to the source and asked Francois Vigneault, the organizer of the Zine Fest for the past four years.

For those of us who are unfamiliar with the event, what is the SF Zine Fest?

The Zine Fest is a free annual festival celebrating zines (i.e. small-press magazines and other publications covering almost every imaginable subject and format) and other creative works coming out of the DIY ethos. The SFZF has been in existence since 2001, when Jenn Starfiend founded it; I have been involved with the Fest for the last four years.

This year the Fest is on August 22 &23, at the San Francisco County Fair Building (the same spot the Holiday Bazaar Bizarre SF happens in), which is this adorable 70s-style building right in the middle of Golden Gate Park, it’s really beautiful!

Every year we have hundreds of creators and small-press publishers selling, trading, and otherwise sharing their work with the public. Additionally, we always run a pretty expansive slate of workshops and panels on everything from screenprinting to nature journaling, hopefully inspiring the attendees to try their hands at making their own zines, mini-comics, or other DIY creations.

Who might be interested in attending SFZF?

Well, the short answer is anybody! We’ve been growing every year, and now we bring together over one hundred zinesters, cartoonists, poets, crafters, printmakers, and other artists with an audience of well over 1000 attendees. Of course, anyone who’s ever been a fan of a zine or indy comic should definitely come; with our mix of zine stalwarts like John Marr (Murder Can Be Fun), new stars like Esther Pearl Watson (Unloveable), and totally unknown (but totally awesome) first-time creators, you’re sure to come across something that will rekindle your love of DIY expression. But it’s also a great show for anyone who’s just interested in checking out what’s going on artistically outside the purview of the mainstream.

What are some highlights we can expect at this year’s Zine Fest?

As the Zine Fest gets a bit bigger, one of the benefits is that more and more out-of-towners are coming to the show… This year we have a major contingent of creators and publishers from Portland, Oregon, coming in for the show: Theo Ellsworth, Sarah Oleksyk, Sparkplug Comics, Tugboat Press and others… I guess it’s a great excuse to visit San Francisco!

Another new thing for us this year is that our posters will be extra-fancy: Aaron Cohick of New Lights Press and Hello! Lucky will be letterpress printing our Special Guest Andy Hartzell’s awesome zine love-in design! We will be selling them at the Fest and online to help raise money for the show; they are going to be really, really nice.

Oh, and it looks like we will finally get our act together and have an official Zine Fest party this year! We’re still working out the details, but as soon as we’ve got it set in stone, we’ll announce it on our blog.

Where do you see the small publishing/zine movement in the Bay Area going today?  What has it been like historically?

It’s funny, I realized the other day that the Zine Fest started well after what’s considered the height of the zine trend of the nineties, and yet we still grow every year! So I definitely think that any rumors of self-publishing’s demise are greatly exaggerated. I find that in the Bay Area there is a robust artistic community at large, and there will always be new folks making little publications to express themselves. If you just walk into a zine-oriented shop like & pens" href="www.needles-pens.com" target="_blank">Needles & Pens or Rock Paper Scissors you’ll be faced with dozens of titles, from the autobiographical to the political.

San Francisco has a tremendous history of small-press publishing. Robert Crumb, Spain, and other underground cartoonists are almost as symbolic of the City in the 60s as bands like the Grateful Dead, and of course there are the Beats: Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s New Lights Press publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in the 1950s, there were only 1000 copies in that first edition! Of course, there is so much more; the San Francisco Public Library has an amazing Little Maga/Zine Collection with over a thousand titles. Andrea Grimes, who runs the collection, participated in a roundtable discussion at the Zine Fest a few years ago; I’m hoping to have her give a talk on the history of zines at this year’s Fest.

What is the role of craft at the Zine Fest?

A definite trend that I have seen at the Zine Fest is the increasing level of handicraft which folks are putting into their zines, mini-comics, and other projects. It’s become much more common to see zines with screen-printed covers, elaborate bindings, and other embellishments. I think part of the trend can be tied into the rise of the blogosphere; now that there are so many venues to share one’s writing and artwork online, I see a proportional  emphasis in the DIY publishing world on the tangible nature of the zine as object, something which the creator has invested time and love in so that it could exist as a real thing rather than just clicking “publish” and it is instantly on the internet. Of course, some of our creators really take this to the extreme, and their art is in large part about the craft that goes into it; for instance, every year I am just blown away by what Tom Biby and Jonathan Fetter-Vrom of Two Fine Chaps come out with, like hand-cut pop-up diorama books!

We also always have a healthy showing from the broader craft community, from quilts to needle-felted monsters! Although our emphasis will always be on zines and self-publishing, we love to see creative types from other disciplines at the Fest, there is so much overlap between all these different crafty interests.

What advice can you give to people who would like to start small-/self-publishing?

The great thing is that it is a really easy field to try out! There are really no rules in regards to a zine’s content, format, theme, or even quality; everyone can and should make a least one in their lifetime. I personally feel it’s hard to go wrong if you just try and document some aspect of life which you find interesting, even if it seems silly at first. For instance, I’m a bird watcher, and I have a zine I’m bringing out for the Fest that’s called Bird Brain, it’s all the notes and sketches I make while I’m out doing that. It’s not like I’m going to necessarily have anything new to say about the barn swallows and great horned owls I’ve seen, but I think there will be some interest for people in just seeing my point of view on something I care about.

What are your hopes for the Zine Fest and small publishing in the future?

It’s funny, but I think the economic downturn will be good for the world of self-publishing and small press in some ways. During the recent boom, lots of great creators from the small-press world were (deservedly) getting publishing deals for their work in the mainstream press. Now that the economy is in rough shape, a lot of those folks are having their series canceled, unfortunately. But these creators still want to make their art, happily, so I foresee a return to self-publishing for them. It’s a really welcoming place!

As far as the Zine Fest, I basically just want to connect as many creators with the largest public that I can, and hopefully facilitate the development of new artists, too. I’d like to run more workshops; I love to see folks realize that they can express themselves through art and craft, from screen printing and bookbinding to illustration and writing. Everyone’s got a story to tell!

Photos: 1. SFZF 2009 Poster - Art by Andy Hartzell 2. Nicole Bennet from Family Style Jamboree zine.  3. Some of the many titles which have been featured in years past.  4. John Isaacson teaching a Zine Fest 2008
attendee about silk screening.  5.  L-R, Renée French (Micrographica) and Trevor Alixopulos
(Hot Breath of War).

Whoa, Those Are Shrinky Dinks?

That’s what I said at the last Bazaar Bizarre when I saw these earrings by Heidi of Passionflower. She uses a mix of found printed materials and original artwork to make these.  One of the things that makes her work so unique (and not resemble shrink plastic in the slightest) is her sparing use of color and the way she mixes various materials into one piece.

Then I started noticing shrink plastic everywhere.  Apparently lots of crafters are making really useful, grown-up things out of one of our favorite childhood toys.  For example, I think these stitch markers from Karrie at Girl On the Rocks are ingenious.  I especially love the ones that remind you how to do the kitchener stitch as you go.

I also really like the way Erin of Broken Fingers uses shrink film to turn her graphic designs into wearable art.  She draws these by hand.  Yeesh.

Some crafters make really compelling jewelry just by creatively cutting and punching solid-colored sheets like these pieces by Crafic.

Other ingenious projects? You can make custom buttons with shrink film, perfect for when you can’t find the right button you need to finish a project.  Susan Beal at Craft Stylish has a nice tutorial on this. She also has another useful tutorial for making pet ID tags.

“Okay,” you say, “I’m convinced.”  How do I get started with shrink film myself?  Well, first you have to know that your options have greatly increased since we were kids.  Regular shrink film now comes in clear, white, brown and black, which you can draw on with colored pencils or Sharpie-type markers.  If you go the Sharpie route, I recommend protecting your pieces with a spray or brush-on sealant because it tends to scratch off.

BUT, there’s also inkjet-printable shrink film now, which means you can create complex pieces really fast and in multiples.  This is what I use to make the little meat charms and jewelry I sell at fairs and on Etsy, but you can scan, print and shrink virtually any image.  I use the sheets made by Grafix, which you can get online (Blick is the most consistently inexpensive) or at Pearl art stores, among others.  It comes in white and clear.  You can even call up Grafix for a free sample to try it out.  Occasionally I get a wonky pack that doesn’t shrink correctly but they always replace it right away.  Shrinky Dinks brand also sells all the varieties.

No matter which film you use, remember to use colors at about half strength, as they tend to saturate and darken when your piece shrinks.  Expect your finished piece to measure about 40-50% of the original in each dimension.  I set my oven to between 275-300°F so everything shrinks evenly.  For about ten seconds after they come out you can flatten (or bend) your pieces, but use gloves because they will be extemely hot.

I also read recently that you can use plastic from your recycling bin marked #6 as shrink film.  Apparently the clear plastic kind (think clamshell take-out containers) and the opaque styrofoam kind (think supemarket meat trays) both work.  I have also heard that the fumes are not the healthiest stuff to be breathing so I can’t really recommend this.  I assume given the recent CPSIA brouhaha that store-bought shrink sheets are non-toxic because they are designed for kids, but PLEASE correct me if you have info to the contrary.