DIY: Heart Embroidery Sampler (For Beginners)

DIY: Heart Embroidery Sampler (for beginners)

Embroidery is one of my favorite craft mediums. It’s the perfect ‘lap’ project to work on while watching a movie and I love that I can pick up my project, work on a few stitches and just as easily put it down again. I first learned embroidery from my grandmother, who taught me to sew when I was a kid. Since then I have accumulated a big collection of vintage embroidery kits, endless boxes of floss, and have been known to transform my own art into embroidered masterpieces.

In case you haven’t heard, the DIY Craft Challenge is back! This month’s theme is Stitches & Threads, which pairs perfectly with embroidery. I’ve been longing to create a beginner embroidery tutorial for quite some time now, so this month is the perfect opportunity! And since it’s February, I made sure to design a project that can also become a Valentine for someone special in your life!

What is an embroidery sampler?

An embroidery sampler is created as a demonstration or test of skill in needlework. It’s the perfect way to practice different kinds of stitches and make something pretty at the same time.

There are hundreds of different types of embroidery stitches in existence. For this beginner project, I’ve chosen just seven: three basic outline stitches (Running Stitch, Back Stitch and Chain Stitch) and four decorative stitches (Threaded Running Stitch, Cross Stitch, Star Stitch and Fern Stitch). To make these stitches as easy to learn as possible I’ve included both photos with written instructions and a video link for each stitch.

7 Embroidery Stitches For Beginners

MATERIALS:

  • 8-inch diameter embroidery hoop:
    The Heart Sampler pattern was created for an 8” hoop but if you would like to make a different size sampler, you can shrink or enlarge the pattern provided to fit your hoop. I’d recommend not going smaller that 6” for this pattern.
  • Hand-sewing/embroidery needle:
    You’ll want to use a medium sized needle with a sharp point and a long opening, or eye, at one end, for easy threading.
  • Embroidery floss (7 different colors):
    Embroidery floss comes in a small bundle or skein and there are tons of colors available (check your local craft store). A length of floss is made up of six smaller strands or plies that are twisted together. You can use all of them or divide them up and use two, three or four plies for a thinner line. For this project, we’ll be using all 6 plies on all our stitches EXCEPT the star stitch, where we will use only three plies.
  • 12”x12” square of fabric (quilter’s cotton or linen works best):
    The looser the weave of your fabric, the more forgiving it can be when taking out stitches and starting over. A finer weave fabric is more likely to show holes from your needle.
  • Sewing scissors:
    Sewing scissors are sharp and used only for cutting thread and fabric. Avoid using your sewing scissors to cut paper or anything else beside fabric so that you don’t dull the blades.
  • Iron & ironing board
  • Fine-lead pencil (or nonpermanent fabric marking pen):
  • Crayola Light-Up Tracing Pad (or light table or sunny window)
  • Washi tape (or masking tape or pins)
  • Paper cutter (or scissors & ruler)
  • Heart Sampler Pattern

Other Useful Tools:

  • A needle threader (helpful when you find yourself struggling to thread your needle!)
  • Thimble (can prevent you from stabbing yourself in the finger with your needle. Ouch!)

DIY: Embroidery Sampler (For Beginners)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Step One: Prep the Pattern & Fabric

Download the Heart Sampler Pattern HERE and print out onto white copy paper. Then cut 1.25” from both the top and bottom of the page to create a square piece of paper with the pattern at the center.

Cut your fabric to size. I cut mine to be 12”x12” square leaving me plenty of extra. You could also get away with a 10”x10” piece of fabric too. Press your fabric to rid of any wrinkles using a hot iron.

How to use the pattern:

Use the lines of the pattern as a guide for your stitches. You’ll notice that each line has an assigned number to indicate which stitch to use. In this tutorial I will demonstrate how to make each stitch. There are a few stitches that are used more than once (like the running stitch, back stitch and chain stitch). Feel free to fill in these stitches as you go along.

Step Two: Transfer the Pattern to Fabric Using the Light Method

The easiest way to transfer a design onto a light-color fabric is to trace it. Place the square paper pattern face down onto the center of the square fabric and secure with washi tape or pins. Flip over and use a light table or my favorite tool, the Crayola Light-Up Tracing Pad, to transfer the pattern to the fabric using a fine lead pencil or nonpermanent fabric marking pen. You can also tape your fabric/design to a sunny window and use the natural light to trace.

embroidery-sampler-2
embroidery-sampler-3

Step Three: Prepare the Fabric & Floss

Place the fabric into your embroidery hoop making sure the design is centered. To make your fabric taut, spread it over the smaller inside hoop and fit the larger outside hoop over the top with your fabric in between. Tighten the little screw on the outer hoop and gently pull on the edges of the fabric until you have a taut surface to work with.

embroidery-sampler-5

Threading your needle:

Threading the needle can be a little tricky, especially when using all six plies of floss. It may help to slightly dampen your finger and twist the end of the thread into a point, or try squeezing the floss ends flat between your thumb and forefinger. Then slide the needle’s eye onto the floss (instead of pushing the floss through the eye). If all else fails, use a needle threader.

Once you’ve threaded your needle, knot the longer end of the floss by first wrapping it around your finger, then roll it off and tighten into a knot.

Video Link: How To Tie A Knot For Hand Sewing

Step Four: Stitching the Design

running-stitch

1. Running Stitch: To begin stitching the Heart Sampler, let’s start with the most basic embroidery stitch- the Running Stitch. Begin at the center dashed line of the heart pattern. Starting at the bottom, pull the threaded needle to the front of the fabric at A (see photo above). Then return to the back of the fabric at B. The distance from A to B can be as long or short as you want. For this project, I recommend making small, even stitches of equal length. End your last stitch so that your needle is to the back of the fabric and tie off.

Video Link: Running Stitch

Tying off:

On your last stitch, return the needle to the back of the fabric. To tie off, pass the needle under a previous stitch creating a loop. Bring the needle back through the floss loop, and tighten. I recommend pulling the thread gently when tying off to ensure that the knot ends up snuggly next to your fabric (and not half an inch away). Avoid yanking the floss.

Video link: How to tie off a stitch

Embroidery Tip!

Your thread will get twisted up as you make your stitches. To correct this problem, hold up the hoop and let the needle and floss dangle straight down so that the strand can untwist itself. Just make sure not to lose your needle!

back-stitch

2. Back Stitch: Move over to the next line on the pattern (from the middle running stitch). Starting at the bottom of the pattern, bring your needle through to the front of the fabric at A (see photo above). Then go backwards and return your needle to the back of your fabric at B. Next your going to move your needle forward, coming up at C. Repeat this process to create consecutive back stitches by once again working backwards, poking your needle through at the end of the previous stitch, then moving your needle forward. Be sure to make small, even stitches of equal length. Once you reach the end of the line (of the pattern), tie off.

Video Link: Back Stitch

cross-stitch

3. Cross Stitch: Next we are going to try our first decorative stitch! Starting at the bottom of your pattern, bring your needle through to the front of the fabric at A and then back down again at B (creating a diagonal straight stitch). Next make a second stitch from C to D. Make sure each cross (x) overlap is in the same direction. Once you finish your row and tie off, notice what the back or your stitches look like. The back of a Cross Stitch row should look like the image shown.

Video Link: Cross Stitch

threaded-running-stitch

4. Threaded Running Stitch: First make a line of small close Running Stitches. End the floss. Start a second floss strand (in a different color) at the same spot as the first line of running stitches, bringing your needle to the front of your fabric at A. Working on the front only, without stitching through the fabric, insert the needle under the first Running Stitch, then through the second Running Stitch. Continue weaving back and forth under the Running Stitches until you reach the end of the line. End floss and tie off.

Video Link: Threaded Running Stitch (Warning: This video is not in English, but her demonstration of the stitch is all you really need).

chain-stitch

5. Chain Stitch: Start again at the bottom of the pattern and move your way up. Bring the threaded needle to the front at A. Insert the needle back into the fabric at A and then just poke the needle back up to the front at B. Loop the thread under the needle point then pull the thread through to create your first chain. Begin the next stitch in the same way by inserting the needle back into the fabric at B (now under the loop), coming up at C (outside the loop). Bring the thread around and under the needle point and pull the thread through. On your last stitch, end the chain by inserting your needle into the end of the last chain (outside the loop). Pull the thread through to the back and tie off.

Video link: Chain Stitch

fern-stitch

6. Fern Stitch: Fern Stitch consists of three Straight Stitches of equal length radiating from the same central point A. Starting at the top of the pattern and moving your way down, bring the thread through at A and then make a Straight Stitch to B. Bring the thread back through again at point A and make another Straight Stitch to C. Bring the thread back through at point A (for the final time) and make a final straight stitch to D. Repeat this pattern by moving the needle down and coming up through the next center stitch to begin the next three radiating stitches. The center stitch follows the light of the pattern design.

Video Link: Fern Stitch (Note: This demonstration is done differently than described above. Either method works!)

star-stitch

7. Star Stitch: This is an Eight Point Star Stitch. Begin by first making a basic cross stitch. Then make another cross stitch diagonally on top of the first one to form a star.

Video Link: Star Stitch

embroidery-sampler-33

Step Five: Finishing for Display

embroidery-sampler-36

Once finished, turn your embroidery sampler to the back and take a look. My grandma always said that the back of your embroidery project should look just as neat and tidy as the front! But don’t worry. It’s OK is yours doesn’t look so tidy, since no one is meant to see the back of your project anyway (unless you show your grandma and she wants to check your stitches lol).

You can now prep your project for display. If you plan to make your heart sampler into a pillow, for example, you can remove it from the hoop and move on to your sewing machine. Or you can leave it as ‘Hoop Art’ by using the embroidery hoop as a frame for the project. To do this, make sure your Heart Sampler is centered in the hoop and the fabric is nice and taut. Then use sewing scissors to cut away the excess fabric.

embroidery-sampler-38

TOOLBOX: Tips for Sharpening a Grumpy Paper Punch

IMG_3834_photoalbumornaments
I ask a lot of my tools, which is why I forgive my paper punches when they hesitate to punch happily through yet another piece of cardstock.

Instead, I grab a piece of aluminum foil, fold it several times, flatten and…

IMG_3914_photoalbumornaments
punch through it again and again until I have a foil mess…

IMG_3923_photoalbumornaments
and a cleaner punch.

IMG_3837_photoalbumornaments
Tip shared.

 

Do you have any tips we should know about? Email your little tricks to hello@adventures-in-making.com and we might be able to share them with our little community.

TOOLBOX: Fiskars Titanium Rotary Cutter Review

IMG_1530_rotarycutter
I recently decided to treat myself (and my t-shirt rug project) to a 45mm cutter. For the past several years I have tried to make do with an 18mm cutter, but I was a fool. (All those days re-cutting fabric that the dinky little blade didn’t cut through…)

Even though our local craft store carries a limited supply of anything related to sewing, they had a wide selection of hand-held rotary cutters. I could choose between Fiskars and Olfa, and have my pick of safety features, shapes, colors, weights– too many options, really.

IMG_1604_rotarycutter
I picked the simplest looking one- the Fiskars 45 Millimeter Titanium Rotary Cutter took it home, and started cutting.

IMG_1592_rotarycutter

45mm paper cutting blades fit in the handheld cutter. The possibilities!

Things To Love

  • Since it is a simple, symmetrical design it works in my left or right hand, which is important.
  • I have an old rotary paper cutter from Fiskars, and an assortment of awesome 45mm paper blades which all work in this hand-held cutter. I’m excited to try out some of the decorative blades in a more freeform way. (Watch me scallop everything like I round corners.)
  • Cuts through fabric (even multiple layers of knits) like butter. When I put in the paper blades, they cut through paper just as easily. I attribute this amazingness to the blade itself.

IMG_1578_rotarycutter

Things to Hate

  • The blade is quite far from the plastic guide of the holder. It means there’s a bit of excess “wobble” if you tilt your hand. It also leaves the blade even more exposed when open, threatening to cut you or to break.
  • The whole thing feels so light weight and hollow that you have to apply a lot of downward pressure to to cut through a thicker fabric.
  • To replace the blade you remove a basic screw from a plastic nut, but then a tiny washer pops out at you. I’m betting it will work just fine when that little washer escapes for good.
  • The safety mechanism has a child-safe button that you have to push down with your fingertip while sliding the lever. That’s well and good, but the problem is you have to push that same tiny little button to close the guard back up. I have learned the hard way that it should be dead simple to close/cover/or otherwise protect yourself from sharp objects. Bleeding on a project seldom makes it better.

 

Does this seem like an overly complicated safety feature?

Does this seem like an overly complicated safety feature?

IMG_1571_rotarycutter

Things to Be Confused By

  • The screw that keeps the blade in the casing has markings for “light” and “heavy” with helpful directional arrows. But, what does it mean? Light? Heavy? Is there something I’m missing? Heavy fabric? A heavy hand? A setting for those special days when it feels like the weight of the world is upon you?  The heavy setting tightens up the screw, making the blade roll more slowly/difficultly. The light setting lets the blade roll with less resistance, but there is even more play in the blade. I haven’t found reference to this setting on the packaging or online. Anybody know the thought behind it?

To Summarize

Fiskars 45mm Rotary Cutter Blades= great!
This particular blade holder= meh. Functional but meh.

Have you worked with one you like? Or is this just another case of “settle for what you’ve got”?

TOOLBOX: Gingher 4 Inch Embroidery Scissors

IMG_8868
Change is afoot for me, and I’ve been drowning any anxiety of said change by keeping busy every. moment. of. every. day. It’s working for now, but at some point the constant movement and sleepless nights are going to catch up with me.

All of this to explain why I gave myself permission to spend too much money on a pair of scissors.
(Correction, not “too much”. “Just enough.”)

In a fit of productivity I decided to tackle a big project that included a metric ton of tiny snips. (There’s a sneak peak later in this post.) After struggling with my trusty pair or sewing scissors, I pulled up Amazon, and ordered a pair of Ginghers off of my wish list. These Gingher 4 Inch Embroidery Scissors appeared about a week later, and I was very happy.

tshirt_rag_quilt_IMG_8859
First things first. These guys are tiny. 4 inches is the length from the tip of the blade to the end of the handles. They come with a little leather sheath, which is good because they are VERY sharp. (On Amazon, several of the reviewers say they have had major cut on their hands while using these scissors. Most of these are 5 star reviews, showing that people who need embroidery scissors appreciate quality– even if that particular quality is “deadly.”) I have only cut myself once so far, but Safety Husband has been watching me closely.
You can use them to make all sorts of fabric messes:

IMG_8886
narrow, even snips for fringing or other decorative details,

IMG_8892
smooth detailed shapes out of picky fabrics,

IMG_8895
and they cut easily through a thick roll of fabric.

tshirt_rag_quilt_IMG_8807
They made quick work of my project, and I know they will become an indispensable part of my sewing kit.

Things To Love

• Sharp to the very end, which means it’s easier to line up snips.
• All metal with a nifty screw for adjustment down the road.
• Opens and closes very smoothly.
• Simple handle means it’s easy to hold at that weird angle you need to get into that corner seam…

Things to Hate

• Sharp. Dangerous. Use caution when inebriated or distracted.
• The handle is a little small for my fingers, and I have to stop periodically to readjust.

IMG_8911

Want your very own pair? Follow this link to buy them from Amazon. I didn’t get any incentive to post this– just wanted to share something from my toolbox– but if you use our link we could get a small part of the proceeds to further our Adventures (and my tool addiction.)

 

 

Do you have a favorite tool you’d like to share? Tell us all about it!

TOOLBOX: Water Color Masking Fluid

IMG_7722
I love playing with watercolors, I’m going to admit that right now. I love the way the colors run together, the little blotches of pigment, and basically everything else about it. I’m not a watercolor expert, which means that whenever the paint does something unexpected I have the giddy feeling that I just discovered something amazing. (What did I tell you? I love the process.)

My philosophy teacher in high school used to amazing things with watercolor, and I would always try to sneak a look at his paintings before and after class. One day I noticed him using something to cover up portions of the paper while he was working– cut to 15 years later and I finally decide to buy myself a little bottle of masking fluid to play around with. (I bought Winsor & Newton Colorless Art Masking Fluid.)

IMG_7588
Still a little overwhelmed to jump in, I watched this introductory video, decided on a test project; and gathered my brushes, paints, and spirit of exploration.

IMG_7677
A note: the first time I used the fluid, I ruined my brush. It was a cheap brush, granted, but after that I sharpened up and coated the next brush in dish soap before dipping it in the masking fluid. I coated the whole thing in the dish soap, then squeezed the excess out. (This video shows you how.) Trust me. It’s better that way.

IMG_7610
I drew a basic outline of the words I wanted to mask out with pencil. After coating the brush in soap, and gently rolling the bottle of masking fluid to mix it up, I dipped my brush in and saturated it.

IMG_7611
Bit by bit, I covered the words with the masking fluid.

IMG_7612

All the lines are covered in the fluid now. I’ll be able to erase the pencil lines once everything is done.

IMG_7619
I let the masking fluid dry COMPLETELY before I began to paint with my watercolor. (The dry masking compound feels like rubber cement. You’ll know it’s dry when it is only slightly shiny, and your finger does not stick to it.) The watercolor will not stick to the mask, so you will be able to see what you’re working with.

IMG_7685
When I had finished my first layer of paint, I let it dry COMPLETELY, then added a little more masking to what would be the little abstract windows in the buildings.

IMG_7691
Then I let those dry COMPLETELY (do you see a theme here?) before I went in and darkened all the fields of color.

IMG_7703
When I was done working around my masked areas, and everything was dry, I lightly rubbed the masking agent off with the tips of my fingers. (This alone is worth the trouble. I love pulling glue off of things.)

IMG_7708
Once the mask was off, and I did a little erasing, I had crisp white lines to work with.

IMG_7712
The masked areas were pale enough to let me add a little light yellow watercolor. I love the way the white letters stand out.

Tips to remember

• Test out the water color paper you’re going to be using before you start your artwork. Some of the papers I tried stuck to the masking fluid terribly, and I had to tear the paper to get the dried mask off.
• Coat your brush in soap, or you will ruin a brush, and most likely the piece of paper you’re working on. The first brush started to pull the drying mask fluid back off the paper, and it totally ruined one of my projects.
• Let everything dry COMPLETELY before moving from fluid to paint, or paint to fluid. The fluid will cling to wet paper, or your wet paint and make a wet mess.
• Remember to have fun! Let that childish sense of wonder take over for an afternoon… and when you’re done experimenting, send us the outcome! April’s DIY Challenge is Watercolor, after all.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge
After sharing my thoughts on basic watercolor supplies and techniques last week, I thought it might be fun to show you some more techniques to try. There are a lot of fun ways to use watercolor and today I’m going to show you 8 of my favorite techniques that are perfect for beginners (or any skill level).

You can try one or two of these ideas, or make your own page of all 8 techniques. To do this, use a pencil and ruler to measure out 8 rectangles on your watercolor paper. Label each box with each technique as shown in the photo below.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Note before you start: I would recommend allowing each rectangle to dry completely before moving onto the next technique. You can use a hair dryer to speed the drying process along.

Technique #1: Salt

Salt is my absolute favorite technique to use in creating textured backgrounds. I keep a small container of sea salt with my supply kit. To use the salt first choose one or two colors and paint the first rectangle (or area) completely. Then, while the paint is still wet, sprinkle the salt over the top. Let the paint dry completely and then use your fingernail to flake away the salt.

Note: The wetter your painted area, the more your salt will spread. Try letting the paint dry partially (enough that water won’t run when you move your paper but still has a sheen) and notice the difference in texture you create.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Technique #2: Tissue

Fill in the next rectangle with a wash of color(s). For best results you’ll want the surface to be wet and saturated with color.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Crinkle a piece of tissue paper and place it on top of the wet paint. Being careful to cover the entire area, position the tissue over the wash and gently press down onto the paper with the palms of your hands. Allow to dry slightly (but not completely or the tissue could become glued to the watercolor paper) then carefully lift the tissue from the paper.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Technique #3: Alcohol

This technique is sorta fun to do. Fill the next rectangle with a watercolor wash.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

While the paint is still wet, dip a Q-tip into rubbing alcohol and drop it onto the wet paint. For best results let the alcohol drip from the Q-tip (rather than touching the q-tip to the paper).

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Technique #4: Crayon

You can use a crayon to create a ‘wax resist’ technique. First draw your design with a white crayon making sure to press firmly onto the paper.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Using a white crayon on white paper makes it difficult to see what you are drawing. Tilt your paper to the side to get a glimpse of your design.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Next apply your color wash. The paint will ‘resist’ the areas covered with crayon.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Technique #5: Pen & Ink

Another favorite technique of mine. Using a fine-tip permanent pen, draw or doodle your design.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Then, fill in color as you would a coloring book. Remember to switch to a smaller round brush to paint in small areas.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Technique #6: Water Drops

Apply your color wash. Then load your brush with water (or another color) and let the paint drip onto the wash while it’s still wet. You can gently shake your brush down towards the paper to help the dripping along.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Technique #7: Splatter

This technique is a lot of fun, but makes quite a mess. I suggest covering any areas of your paper that you don’t want to be splattered. Load your brush with paint then hold it over the top of your paper. With the other hand, tap your brush and watch the paint splatter onto your paper. Rinse your brush, choose your next color and splatter away.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Technique #8: Transparency

Because watercolors have a transparent quality you can create beautiful layers and density in your work. To play with transparency, it’s best to start from light to more saturated color. I chose to paint some drop shapes.

Using your first, lighter color cover the area with shapes. Let dry completely, then choose a slightly darker or more saturated color and paint more shapes, overlapping first layer. You can repeat this process as many times as you like.

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

I hope this post inspires you to try one or two new techniques. Don’t be afraid to just go for it and have some fun! And stay tuned for more watercolor inspired tutorials and DIY projects on Adventures-In-Making for the entire month of April!

TOOLBOX: 8 Watercolor Techniques for Beginners #watercolor #tutorial #diycraftchallenge

Share your watercolor experiments with us! Join our community and submit your creations to our April DIY Challenge. Your project will be featured in our monthly gallery and you could even win a special award!

Update 4/16/15

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to check out: Basic Watercolor Supplies & Techniques.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basic Supplies & Techniques

Watercolor is one of my favorite mediums and since we are exploring this theme all month with our DIY Challenge, I thought I’d put together an introductory post for anyone interested in trying watercolor for the first time.

Paper

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics
There are three different types of watercolor paper available: hot press, cold press and rough. Cold press paper is what I use most often as it has a beautiful texture to it (whereas hot press paper is smooth). Watercolor paper is much thicker than ordinary paper which is very important to prevent buckling while painting. 140 lb is the typical weight of most watercolor paper. There are thicker options out there if you are planning to use heavy washes, but 140 lb paper works just fine for me.

Watercolor paper comes in single sheets, spiral pads and blocks. I use a Strathmore spiral pad for experimenting and practicing. Then when I’m ready, I’ll switch to my Arches block to create my final painting. I do this because Arches is quite expensive. Plus I like to carry my Strathmore pad with me if I’m painting on the go.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

Block paper is just what it sounds like. An Arches block comes with 20 sheets of paper that are sealed together into one big block. Use an x-acto knife to carefully slice a single piece of paper off the block. Usually, I’ll paint directly on the block and slice it off when I’m finished. But you can also cut it off beforehand. To prevent buckling while painting I recommend using artist’s masking tape to tape down your paper onto a hard surface while painting.

Paper Brands We Recommend:

Strathmore
Arches

Brushes, Etc.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

There are three different types of watercolor brushes: rounds, flats and mops. All are made in a variety of sizes. The best brushes are made of natural fiber, most commonly sable. Kolinsky sable pointed rounds are prized for their ability to keep a fine point, which is very useful for detail work, but they are also very expensive. I’ll admit I tend to stick with synthetic brushes and usually will stock up on cheap student brushes rather than investing in the professional quality options. Maybe some day soon I’ll treat myself to a fancy new brush but for now these cheap brushes suite me just fine.

I use round brushes in a variety of sizes 90% of the time. If I’m doing a big wash, I’ll switch to a flat brush, but otherwise I use round brushes for all my painting.

Tip #1: You will ruin your brushes if you leave the brush end sitting in a glass of water. I’d recommend storing them in a jar brush side up. If you want to store them in a closed container make sure they are dry to avoid molding.

Tip #2: Rinse your brushes under running water after each painting session. If you find any traces of dried paint near the metal band, use a little soap to rinse them clean. Dry gently on a paper towel or cloth and reshape with your fingers.

Tip #3: Sponges, cotton balls and cotton swaps are extremely helpful tools in watercolor. They can be used to apply color or I like to use them to correct mistakes and clean up any extra watery areas. Cotton swaps are especially helpful if you want to create small highlights.

Paint

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

There are two different types of watercolor: liquid tubes and solid pans. One is not better than the other, so it really comes down to your personal preference. I like to use a pan set as my base color palette and then I buy tubes whenever I want to try out new colors. Winser & Newton is an excellent brand that I use often (I love the Artist’s Watercolor Compact Set perfect for traveling). The paints shown in the image above are Schmincke brand which are very pricey but worth it for their amazing quality. Schmincke is my personal favorite because the pigment of their paints is so saturated and vibrant. I was lucky enough to receive this set at a birthday gift. Professional quality watercolors (like Winser & Newton and Schmincke) are expensive but think of it as a one-time investment. A basic pan set will last you a lifetime!

Professional Brands we recommend:

Winser & Newton
Schmincke
Holbein

If investing in a professional watercolor set is not an option for you never fear! Feel free to try out a student brand. I recommend starting with Winser & Newton Cotman. Student brands differ from professional brands in that they can have a lower concentration of pigment, have less expensive formulas and smaller range of colors available. That said, they are still a great option for anyone just starting out with watercolor.

Palettes

Palettes are great for mixing colors. If you have a paintbox set, then you can use the palette included with the box. But if you are using tubes, you’ll need a separate palette or pan. Palettes come in all shapes and sizes. I use a small plastic palette in addition to my paintbox.

Colors

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

You can use as few or as many colors as you like. Some artists use only a handful of colors and mix whatever shades they like. My Schmincke paintbox comes with 24 colors so that’s what I use as my base palette. I also have a few additional tubes I love and use in addition to my paintbox.

Techniques

So you’ve gathered your supplies and are ready to paint. Great! Here are some basic painting techniques to try out.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

Blending

Blending is my favorite part of watercolor. I’d suggest experimenting with blending different colors together. To do this, first paint a shape or squiggle line with plain water only. Then dip your brush into the paint and add it to the watered area. Watch it spread, then clean your brush and choose a second color. Apply this to the opposite end of your watered area and watch the colors blend together. You can move your paper side to side to help the watercolor run together.

Marks

Next I would try out all your different brushes. Experiment with different mark-making and see what you come up with. Draw circles, dashes, lines, and dots. Try mixing lots of water with your paint and then try the opposite by applying paint with a dry brush. Play with different textures, shades and colors.

Layering

My favorite part of watercolor is the process of creating different layers. I’ve painted a simple flower to give you a taste of what layering is like. First use a pencil to lightly draw a flower. I found a photo of a flower for reference. Once your pencil drawing is finished, carefully cover the entire thing in water and then apply a ‘base’ layer. This will be the bottom layer that we will then build from. I blended two different colors to create my base layer.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

It’s very important that you let each layer dry completely before moving onto the next. I use a hair dryer to speed the drying process along.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

Once your base layer is completely dry you can begin adding in more detail. Start with one petal at a time, using your photo as reference for shading and color.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

I hope this post demystifies watercolor for any beginners out there and gives you a place to start. Don’t be afraid to experiment and play! I also recommend checking out a great watercolor series by The Alison Show.

Be sure to share any painting experiments with us by entering our April DIY Challenge!

Update 4/16/15

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to check out: 8 Watercolor Techniques For Beginners

Toolbox: Drawing with Gouache and a Nib

IMG_7509
A while back I took a calligraphy class from Tara Bliven, and it opened up a whole new world of drawing tools. Not only did I get to try out new tools and techniques, it was the first time a pen and nib really worked for me. (Sometime I’ll give my whole “It’s tough being a lefty” rant.) As a lefty I need to use a special Oblique Pen Point Holder to write left to right– but with a little practice I learned to use a plain pen and nib to draw with gouache.

All the dark blue lines on this piece were done with a pointed pen, the rest is watercolor.

What’s so great about drawing with gouache?

• You can draw any color you can mix, for cheap. Instead of buying half a million different markers, buy a primary set of gouache and mix the colors you love.
• Gouache colors are opaque, which means you can do light lines on a dark background.
• Skinny paintbrushes are a pain. Although some people *ahem, Rachel* seem to be able to make magic with a brush, I have no luck doing fine lines with a paintbrush. A pen works much better.
• Gouache mixes wonderfully with your watercolor projects (#diycraftchallenge)
• The quality of line you get with a pointed pen is awesome.
• You look like a total bada** when you’re using a pointed pen. Trust me.

IMG_7205


For this piece, I put down a dark blue background in watercolor, then used gouache to add the white words and flourishes.

IMG_7350
There is a little learning curve when you’re working with a pen and ink, and practice makes perfect. I like to do little doodles on scrap paper to practice my lines, play with color, and generally mess around.

Supplies

• Gouache– like this Winsor & Newton set.
• A pen holder– like this one from Speedball
• A pointed pen nib– I used a Nikko G pen for this project, but Tara also recommends the Brause EF 66 which is better if you’re not as heavy handed as I am.
• A dropper of distilled water.
• A couple of ratty paintbrushes for “ink” application, mixing, and cleaning.
• The rest of your usual painting tools– a paint tray or plate, a jar of water, paper towels, paper, pencil, etc.

IMG_7366
To start, I put a drop little bit of gouache into my paint tray…

IMG_7369
and add a couple of drops of distilled water. I add just a little bit of water to start, because it’s easier to add more water to make the consistency I want.

IMG_7374
I mix my water with my paint until it’s consistent (using a cheap kids paintbrush). I like to play with different degrees of “wateriness,” more water means that the “ink” will be thinner and less opaque. Typically I used a mixture that’s about 3 parts paint, 1 part water.

IMG_7383-2
To apply the paint/ink to the pen, I saturate a paintbrush, and slowly slide it against the backside (concave side) of the nib. The ink will cling to the nib and seem to fill it partially. When it seems full (this part takes some practice) I will gently point and shake the pen downward towards the tray to get any extra blobs of ink out before I start drawing. In some cases (like today), I will actually drop the extra bits of paint onto my paper, for fun.

IMG_7444
Then it’s time to draw. I place the nib gently again the paper, concave side down, at an angle. Then I slowly pull the nib along, rather than pushing like a lefty with a ballpoint. (If you’re having trouble, check out one of the amazing tutorial videos on youtube- like this one.)

IMG_7454
Unlike a normal pen or marker, a nib like this will need to be refilled rather frequently (using the brush method above.) I try to keep an eye on how much ink/paint I have in my nib so that I don’t run out in the middle of a line. When you’re using the nib, you’ll notice that the tip is made up of two pointed pieces. When there is enough ink, it looks like one point on the end, but when they start separating, I probably need more ink.

IMG_7486-2
Periodically, I stop to rinse and scrub my pen. I dip it in my jar of water, and use a clean brush to scrub any dried bits of ink/paint off of it. Then I dry it gently with a rag or paper towel, reink, and go back to work.

IMG_7489
For this doodle, I had both white gouache and blue gouache in my paint tray, and I went between the two when I was reinking.

IMG_7496
Can you see why I like drawing with gouache? The possibilities!

IMG_7503

I was inspired to pull out my gouache today by the April DIY Challenge: Watercolor. We’d love to see what the theme inspires in you, so pull out your favorite medium and tools and share with us!

TOOLBOX: Saddle Stapler Review

IMG_7106
You may or may not have heard of a saddle stapler– but let me tell you, I love this sucker. I mainly use it for binding small booklets, but it’s handy for any project that you need to staple further “in” than the 1-inch you get with a regular stapler. Plus they are heavy-duty, sturdy, and have lovely lines. (I’m not sure why I’m quite so fond of a piece of metal.)

IMG_7120
My journals and booklets typical have about 10 sheets of text weight paper, and a 100# weight cover. I use a bone-folder to fold the inside sheets in half (with the grain) 3-4 sheets at a time for a crisp fold throughout. I like to score my covers before I fold them (also with the grain) to make sure that I have a nice smooth spine.


When I’m ready to bind, I’ll slip one side of the paper into the curved opening of the stapler, and the spine with lay smoothly along the stapling edge.

IMG_7130
My stapler is a little picky about where it staples, so I usually have to hold the paper down with a finger on either side of the spine. Then I staple, trim, and voila…

IMG_7156
Journals! (You might notice I used the corner rounder on these, as well.)

IMG_7161Although my saddle stapler isn’t very old, they have discontinued the model. You may be able to find this exact model online (it’s a Swingline 615 Saddle Stapler) you can buy the very similar Stanley Bostitch Booklet Stapler at Amazon*. Both use standard staples found just about anywhere, so you don’t need to stockpile anything.

IMG_7178

The one feature that appears to be missing on the Stanley version is the measurement guide, a little piece of metal that can be adjusted to line up the staple location if you’re doing multiple books. I typically make a mark where my staples should go or eyeball it, so I seldom use the guide anyways.

If you love journals, or staplers, this is a must-have. If you’re in a pinch, and local, I might even let you use mine.

*Support Adventures-in-Making by shopping from our Amazon store. We’ve selected a few things that we love, and think you will too. If you purchase through us, you pay no more for those items, but we get a small portion of the sales to further the adventures.

TIP: Finding the Grain in Paper

IMG_6799
I’m working on a super fun tutorial for tomorrow, and I thought I would take a minute to share a tip about finding the grain in paper.

What is paper grain?

Very simply- Most paper is made up of long fibers that align parallel to each other, which means that the paper will be more flexible in one direction (with the grain) than the other (against the grain.)

Why is grain important?

If you work with paper at all, you will find yourself working or fighting with the grain of paper. Because the paper will naturally want to flex with the grain, it will behave very differently depending on the way it is cut. This is especially true when you are working with thicker paper or cardstock.

IMG_6808

What direction is the grain of this paper?

I always test the grain of a paper before I start planning a project or working with it. Some people will tell you that the grain typically runs parallel to the long side of a piece of paper, but I’ve found several instances where paper is cut the other way.
To find the grain of the paper:
• Take the paper in your hands and gently flex it one direction, then rotate it 90 degrees and flex it again. Depending on the thickness of the paper, you may want to flex it until it’s almost folded.
• It should flex more easily one way. That way is called “with the grain”.
• Sometimes I will make a light pencil mark along the flex, to show me which direction the grain is running.

Scan-21

What’s the best way to work with grain?

Here are a few activities that you might do with paper, and how the grain should be aligned.
• Book Binding – Book covers and guts should have the grain running parallel to the spine. If the grain goes the wrong way, pages will be difficult to flip, and the cover may warp.
• Folded Cards – You should always fold with the grain, meaning that your fold will be parallel to the fibers of the paper. That way your fold will happen in between the strings of fibers, rather than breaking them.
• Quilling or curling – If you are cutting your own quilling paper, it’s a good idea to cut against the grain, which means you’ll cut the fibers of the paper shorter. The paper will curve more fluidly this way, and you’re less likely to get ugly creases in your curls.
• Resistance projects – conversely, if you want to play with the stiffness of the paper rather than curling it up, you should cut with the grain so you have long strong fibers. (This is the kind of paper I was working with for my paper bird project.)
• Gluing – if you are duplexing, mounting, or otherwise gluing two pieces of paper or paperboard, you want to make sure the grain direction is the same for each piece. When paper is introduced to moisture from glue or even from the air, it will start to curl one direction. You want the grain direction to be the same on both pieces so that they don’t pull on each other.
• Tearing – Paper is always easier to tear along the grain (because you are pulling strings of fibers away from their neighbors instead of tearing them in half.)

What happens if you ignore the grain?

Terrible things! Books that don’t flip! Warped duplexed paper! Rough folds on your cards! Bends and creases where you don’t want them!

Know the grain. Respect the grain. Keep making stuff.

How do you play with paper? Does the grain effect you?