Using Yarn for your Mixed Media Art Projects

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This article was written by Katja Blum

I love yarn!

Imagine a hysterical, yet manly cackle in the background, as my husband marvels at this bold understatement, surveying the yarn-filled tubs and baskets and boxes that are taking over our apartment. I am endlessly fascinated with the colors and textures of yarn. A skein of silk, wool or bamboo yarn is a feast for the senses – even for your nose, if you happen to enjoy the faint whiff of vinegar bath on hand-dyed yarn. But yarn is not just pretty; it is a ball or hank of raw artistic potential. A ball of yarn could become anything – a sweater or hat, obviously, but also a piece of jewelry, a fuzzy pom-pom or a prayer flag woven saori-style. It could be wrapped around a canvas as a textural background or dipped in glue and molded around a balloon or bowl for a yarn sculpture. It can be painted, stitched, knotted, cut, braided … you get the idea.

If there is one thing I like more than using yarn, it would be making it. Spinning is my very favorite craft activity – I spin way more yarn than I could ever knit or weave up. It’s great fun to make the big, crazy, textured yarns that are commonly referred to as “art yarns”. Bobbles and beehives and beads, oh my!

Mixed Media Art Yarn

If you are a spinner, grab some fiber, decorations and a tutorial and start making art yarn. If spinning isn’t your thing, you can find beautiful art yarns from fiber artists at craft fairs and online. If you need just a few yards of a special embellished yarn for an art project, you can make it yourself. No spinning required.

You’ll need:

  • Yarn
  • Craft wire, 28-30 g
  • Fabric strips, paper strips, ribbons, beads, sequins – any embellishments that can be strung or spiked on your thin craft wire
  • A sturdy clamp or vise

Mixed Media Art Yarn

The base for your art yarn is, well, yarn. Ingenious, I know. Any fiber content and thickness will work, but bear in mind that your finished yarn will be quite a bit bulkier than the base strand. You can, of course, combine different yarns for a marled look.

Prepare the wire:

A length of craft 28g craft wire is going to be the “spine” of your yarn. Obviously, yarn is made by twisting fibers, so that they for a long string and hold together. Your no-spinning art yarn is held together by twisting the base yarn with thin wire, which will make it hold its shape and secure the embellishments. For one yard of finished yarn, you’ll need to string about ½ yard’s worth of embellishments, if you want them fairly closely together.

Mixed Media Art Yarn

Paper strips are best spiked on the wire in a harmonica fashion for a firm hold, but with fabric and ribbon, you can just poke the wire through one end and secure the loose length of material while twisting. You should leave the wire on the spool while threading your embellishments. They will be spaced out later, and it’s best not to run out of wire. If you do want to use wire scraps or different colors, you can twist the wire ends together and smooth them into the other materials.

Secure the ends of your base yarn and wire in a heavy clamp or vise. If you don’t have any, that’s fine – just knot and wrap the ends around something stationary. They have to stay in place as you twist. I once duct-taped the ends to the leg of my desk. It worked.

Twist away. Make sure to twist in the same direction throughout. Longer fabric strips tend to wrap around everything else, so take care to have the wire wrap around the outside of all materials. When a length of yarn is completed, move it up in the clamp or vise for a convenient working distance. Don’t crush beads and other embellishments when securing the yarn – ask me how I know this is an issue.

Make as much yarn as you need and embellish to your heart’s content. Obviously, the wire-reinforced yarn is going to be stiffer than regular yarn, but it is a wonderful addition to mixed-media collages, jewelry, sculptures and art dolls.

Mixed Media Art Yarn

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Katja Blum is a writer and translator from Tulsa, OK. As an artist, she started with yarn, fabric and papier mache (rarely together), branching out into collage and other paper arts about ten years ago. Her latest obsession is making soft stuffies and art dolls – to the delight of her toddler. She also likes to find creative solutions for ugly or broken things around the house – to the delight of her husband.

You can see more of her work with fiber, paper and words at www.thewaywardsheep.com

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Making Gift Card Wrappers

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This article is written by Katja Blum 

It took me a while to like gift cards. In my family, gift cards, certificates and all kinds of “pick your own” gift promises were seen as an afterthought, proof that the giver didn’t remember until the last minute or put much thought into your gift. I don’t think that’s true. In my mind, a gift cards says “I think you deserve a treat, please pick exactly what would make you smile right now”. Whereas very sensible and frugal people might use a check or cash to do sensible and frugal things, a gift card is fun. It doesn’t look like “real” money, and it’s perfectly okay to spend it on something entirely frivolous.

Hurray for gift cards – but let’s be honest: Sometimes we do buy them at the last moment. So here are a few ideas for some mixed media flavored presentation ideas for holiday gift cards.

General tip: You shouldn’t glue, staple or otherwise directly attach a gift card to anything, because you might damage the strip on the back. Many cards come with a small envelope anyway.

If you have a day

If you still have a day, anything is possible! How about making a collage or mixed media painting and using the envelope as part of the background? Just affix it to whatever paper or canvas you are using and paint, stencil and decorate right over it. Just make sure you have the flap facing out, so the card can be inserted and removed without ripping the envelope off the painting. And don’t glue the flap shut with gel medium. Or make your own simple card pocket by gluing a piece of paper, card or fabric to the piece on three sides, leaving the top open. While painting, you can slip a piece of freezer paper into the pocket to avoid pasting it shut.

If you have a few hours

I like felt ornaments. They are easy to make – and felt can be decorated with anything. The coffee shop card I’m giving this Christmas is going in a little mug ornament, which I plan to slip on the recipient’s tree, so she can find it later.

Gift Card Wrappers

  1. Cut out the mug shape and oval “coffee”. Use the shape as a template to cut out the mug again, but without the top. This will be the pocket for the gift card. You can do this with any shape. If you want to make a snowman, for instance, just cut out the bottom snow balls. Or you could cut out your ornament and put a rectangular pocket on the back – but I like the card peeking out in the front.
  2. If your ornament is a bit on the big or your felt is on the thin side, you can make it less floppy by gluing a piece of cardstock to the base ornament.
  3. Sew the coffee to the bigger mug shape, also attaching a ribbon loop for hanging, and decorate the front pocket – beads, embroidery, paint, glitter glue … The back of the pocket won’t be visible later, so it doesn’t have to be super neat.
  4. Sew the front pocket to the mug base. If, like me, you are not very good at sewing, thin thread in a similar color and a regular sewing needle works best, as your stitches will not be very visible.
  5. Place the card in the pocket. Give away.

If you have an hour or less

The second item on my art to-do list for 2015 is “Learn origami”. I’m fascinated by the possibilities, especially in combination with fabric. If you are really pressed for time, a simple origami envelope can be folded in minutes. Almost any kind of rectangular paper works for the envelope here – and you can, of course, decorate it as much as time allows. Using a piece of fabric gives an unexpected twist – lightweight to medium fabrics work best, my favorite is quilting cotton.

The fabric needs to be stiffened to hold the creases better. You can spray it with a thin coat of varnish or laundry starch. The one thing I always have in the house is white glue, so I dunked the fabric rectangle in a solution of two parts water and one part white glue. Smooth the fabric out on a sheet of freezer paper or plastic. It will peel off when dry. The fabric is going to be stiff, but can still be decorated with needle and thread, if desired.

I used paper to demonstrate the folding steps – a rectangle of about 8″ x 11.5″ makes an envelope big enough for most cards.

Gift Card Wrappers

Folding instructions:

  1. Fold the paper in half, make a sharp crease and unfold.
  2. Fold the top right and bottom left corners down to the center crease.
  3. Fold the top left and bottom right sides inward so that they meet the vertical triangle edges.
  4. Turn the paper 90° and fold the right side down to meet the bottom edge. Tuck the edge into the flap at the bottom.
  5. Fold the left side to the top edge and tuck it into the flap as well.

Slide the gift card into the slit in the center. The envelope has two layers of folds. Slip the card into the bottom layer, because the short sides are open in the layer above.

Gift Card Wrappers

Enjoy giving a gift card to someone special this holiday season!

(Oh, and just in case this article is giving my family some festive ideas – remember the mantra, guys: books, crafts, coffee!)

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Katja Blum is a writer and translator from Tulsa, OK. As an artist, she started with yarn, fabric and papier mache (rarely together), branching out into collage and other paper arts about ten years ago. Her latest obsession is making soft stuffies and art dolls – to the delight of her toddler. She also likes to find creative solutions for ugly or broken things around the house – to the delight of her husband.

You can see more of her work with fiber, paper and words at www.thewaywardsheep.com

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Artistic Jewelry made from Fiber and Fabric

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This article was written by Katja Blum

Mixed media and jewelry are a great combination – jewelry is a perfect way to take a piece of your art with you in your everyday life, and thinking about the functional aspects and size of jewelry gives you an interesting framework for your creative ideas.

I selected this project to highlight the endless possibilities of mixed media jewelry with fabric and fiber, because you do not need any special jewelry tools or skills to make this pretty bangle. You probably have some pretty fabric scraps lying around, some rope, a few beads … no pliers, hammers and anvils necessary.

You need:

  • 3 pieces of woven or braided rope to fit around your wrist – any thickness, as long as it bends easily. Man-made is fine, but those solid plastic ropes like clothesline don’t work well, because you need to be able to pass a needle through.
  • Duct tape
  • Assorted fabrics, fibers and beads
  • Mod Podge, Fray-Stop or PVA glue to treat fraying fabric edges
  • Needle and thread
  • Thin craft wire, yarn or thread to wrap around the bangle, if desired

Jewelry made from Fiber and Fabric

To cut the lengths of rope to size, measure the inner circumference of a bangle you like. If you don’t have one, here’s how you can measure: Hold out your hand, palms down, fingers together. Tuck your thumb and pinky under, so that they touch underneath the other fingers. Now measure around the widest part of your hand, which is probably close to your knuckles.

Don’t pull the measuring tape too tight. The bangle will have a slightly smaller inner circumference once you wrap the fabrics around. You won’t lose much though, so 1/4 to 1/2 inch (about 6-12 mm) should be enough extra length.

Cut the rope pieces to size, lay them out together and tape them with duct tape to form a closed ring. The three pieces are just connected at the bottom.

Jewelry made from Fiber and Fabric

Cut long strips of fabric or use unspun, dyed spinning fiber to wrap each ring, beginning with the two outside ones, leaving the center one for last. Start wrapping at the duct-taped bottom, where the three rings separate. Don’t worry about the fabric and fiber ends. Just leave them hanging, they will be covered later.

Dab some Mod Podge or Fray-Stop on the fabric, if necessary. If you are using unspun fiber, covering all of the wrapped fiber with Mod Podge or something similar works best. Otherwise the fibers might come apart with use.

Smooth fabric like the batik cotton here works well for the center bangle. Start wrapping in the center of the duct tape at the bottom, tucking in the ends from the other bangles as you go. When you have wrapped all the way around, tuck the end of the fabric strip into one of the wraps. It will be secured with thread later.

Jewelry made from Fiber and Fabric

Jewelry made from Fiber and Fabric

Once you have your triple bangle wrapped in pretty fabric, the real fun starts. Decorate your statement piece to your heart’s content. Wrap it with thread, yarn, cord or thin craft wire (no pliers needed). Add beads to the wraps, if you like, or sew on individual beads. Glue or sew on charms, paper flowers, ribbon rosettes…you get the idea.

I had much more elaborate plans for this piece, but once I saw the colors of the fabrics and fiber together, I loved them and didn’t want to obscure them too much. Remember to begin all wrapped decorations at the bottom and tuck them into the fabric of the center bangle. When you are done, secure the fabric covering the duct tape and the tucked-in end with a few stitches. If you want the rings of your triple bangle to sit close together on your forearm, sew them together in a few places. A little bit of spray varnish helps protect your paper or other fragile decorations.

Of course you are not limited to three rings, nor do you have to wrap them individually. A five-piece bangle wrapped together (just use the steps for the center ring in this project) would make a terrific background for larger mixed-media decorations. The bangles are fun to wear and so easy to make that you’ll have a whole collection of your personal, wearable mixed media art soon.

Jewelry made from Fiber and Fabric

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Katja Blum is a writer and translator from Tulsa, OK. As an artist, she started with yarn, fabric and papier mache (rarely together), branching out into collage and other paper arts about ten years ago. Her latest obsession is making soft stuffies and art dolls – to the delight of her toddler. She also likes to find creative solutions for ugly or broken things around the house – to the delight of her husband.

You can see more of her work with fiber, paper and words at www.thewaywardsheep.com

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Last-minute Gift Card Wrappers

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This article is written by Katja Blum

It took me a while to like gift cards. In my family, gift cards, certificates and all kinds of “pick your own” gift promises were seen as an afterthought, proof that the giver didn’t remember until the last minute or put much thought into your gift. I don’t think that’s true. In my mind, a gift cards says “I think you deserve a treat, please pick exactly what would make you smile right now”. Whereas very sensible and frugal people might use a check or cash to do sensible and frugal things, a gift card is fun. It doesn’t look like “real” money, and it’s perfectly okay to spend it on something entirely frivolous.

Hurray for gift cards – but let’s be honest: Sometimes we do buy them at the last moment. So here are a few ideas for some mixed media flavored presentation ideas for holiday gift cards.

General tip: You shouldn’t glue, staple or otherwise directly attach a gift card to anything, because you might damage the strip on the back. Many cards come with a small envelope anyway.

If you have a day

If you still have a day, anything is possible! How about making a collage or mixed media painting and using the envelope as part of the background? Just affix it to whatever paper or canvas you are using and paint, stencil and decorate right over it. Just make sure you have the flap facing out, so the card can be inserted and removed without ripping the envelope off the painting. And don’t glue the flap shut with gel medium. Or make your own simple card pocket by gluing a piece of paper, card or fabric to the piece on three sides, leaving the top open. While painting, you can slip a piece of freezer paper into the pocket to avoid pasting it shut.

If you have a few hours

I like felt ornaments. They are easy to make – and felt can be decorated with anything. The coffee shop card I’m giving this Christmas is going in a little mug ornament, which I plan to slip on the recipient’s tree, so she can find it later.

Cut out parts of the felt ornament

  1. Cut out the mug shape and oval “coffee”. Use the shape as a template to cut out the mug again, but without the top. This will be the pocket for the gift card. You can do this with any shape. If you want to make a snowman, for instance, just cut out the bottom snow balls. Or you could cut out your ornament and put a rectangular pocket on the back – but I like the card peeking out in the front.
  2. If your ornament is a bit on the big or your felt is on the thin side, you can make it less floppy by gluing a piece of cardstock to the base ornament.
  3. Sew the coffee to the bigger mug shape, also attaching a ribbon loop for hanging, and decorate the front pocket – beads, embroidery, paint, glitter glue … The back of the pocket won’t be visible later, so it doesn’t have to be super neat.
  4. Sew the front pocket to the mug base. If, like me, you are not very good at sewing, thin thread in a similar color and a regular sewing needle works best, as your stitches will not be very visible.
  5. Place the card in the pocket. Give away.

If you have an hour or less

The second item on my art to-do list for 2015 is “Learn origami”. I’m fascinated by the possibilities, especially in combination with fabric. If you are really pressed for time, a simple origami envelope can be folded in minutes. Almost any kind of rectangular paper works for the envelope here – and you can, of course, decorate it as much as time allows. Using a piece of fabric gives an unexpected twist – lightweight to medium fabrics work best, my favorite is quilting cotton.

The fabric needs to be stiffened to hold the creases better. You can spray it with a thin coat of varnish or laundry starch. The one thing I always have in the house is white glue, so I dunked the fabric rectangle in a solution of two parts water and one part white glue. Smooth the fabric out on a sheet of freezer paper or plastic. It will peel off when dry. The fabric is going to be stiff, but can still be decorated with needle and thread, if desired.

I used paper to demonstrate the folding steps – a rectangle of about 8″ x 11.5″ makes an envelope big enough for most cards.

Folding steps for the origami envelope.

Folding instructions:

  1. Fold the paper in half, make a sharp crease and unfold.
  2. Fold the top right and bottom left corners down to the center crease.
  3. Fold the top left and bottom right sides inward so that they meet the vertical triangle edges.
  4. Turn the paper 90° and fold the right side down to meet the bottom edge. Tuck the edge into the flap at the bottom.
  5. Fold the left side to the top edge and tuck it into the flap as well.

Slide the gift card into the slit in the center. The envelope has two layers of folds. Slip the card into the bottom layer, because the short sides are open in the layer above.

Finished ornament and fabric envelope

Enjoy giving a gift card to someone special this holiday season!

(Oh, and just in case this article is giving my family some festive ideas – remember the mantra, guys: books, crafts, coffee!)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Katja Blum is a writer and translator from Tulsa, OK. As an artist, she started with yarn, fabric and papier mache (rarely together), branching out into collage and other paper arts about ten years ago. Her latest obsession is making soft stuffies and art dolls – to the delight of her toddler. She also likes to find creative solutions for ugly or broken things around the house – to the delight of her husband.

You can see more of her work with fiber, paper and words at www.thewaywardsheep.com

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