Practical class: Medieval Manuscript Illumination

You know, I’ve always loved that glowing, golden Medieval manuscript illumination. Each time I’m at a museum I search them out. Something about the illuminated letters just makes my heart sing. Old botanical illustrations or old maps do that for me too. You know, huge books with torn pages and brown stains containing precious paintings.

Have a look at this 15C book page:

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I was thrilled to get into the Medieval manuscript decoration class, not only because it was something I had never done before, but also because here was my chance to learn about this from instructor Helen White, a master artist in illuminated manuscripts, with an amazing three decade long knowledge base.

The old Medieval artists used powdered earth pigments and real gold or silver, and I would have loved to mix my own pigments and use real precious gold leaf, but, again, this practical class was only 1.5 hour long, so had to settle for coloured card stock and metal based gold gouache paint from Winsor & Newton.

So, if you’d like to have a go at making yourself an illuminated letter like I did, then gather your materials, you will need:

Tracing paper
coloured card stock
gold gouache paint
white gouache paint
a hard, precise pencil, (I had an H)
black ink pen
a different colour to you card stock pencil or paint
two very small, very precise paintbrushes
ruler

Putting this letter together was a bit like figuring out Celtic knots. Once someone shows you how, it’s really easy.

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Start with a square of coloured paper. The dimensions of the square I used are in the image above. The letter will sit in the middle of the square, so pick your letter first and them maybe cut your square.

I’m not sure what to advise you for the letter as we were given a printed page with the correct sized font, but for my next adventure, I’ll design the letter myself. Maybe you could have a look on line for a template or write to Helen; she might send you one.

But once you have a font, trace the letter on some tracing paper with a precise, sharp pencil, flip the tracing paper over and trace the letter to the back.

Now put the tracing paper on to the front of your card and go over it again tracing the pencil lead onto the card. I think that, except for an “I”, “T” or an “O”, you just can’t measure the middle and have to eyeball it, but it’s such a precise little painting that you’ll probably get it spot on in that space.

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Here is a breakdown of the steps with Helen’s demonstration, but I’ll take you thru them with my piece just below.

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Measure the central square, either according to the diagram above or according to your own wishes and transfer the pencil letter to it.

Here, if you had more time and supplies, you could use size and gold leaf, but I used gold paint. Outline the letter first and fill it in later. I know that I’m not a precise painter and so, to keep it extremely precise, I had to go slowly. If you are using a gold size and leaf, I would suggest leaving it till the end to apply; just draw the pencil letter on the card so you can do the decorating around it.

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Next, using your ruler and black ink, measure every 1/2 centimetre along the top and bottom, and sides and flip your ruler upside down, (so the flat edge is held a little above the card to prevent the ink from smudging), and draw black ink lines in a grid pattern taking care to miss the letter.

Now colour in each alternate square in the grid. Again, because of the time crunch, I used a pencil, but next time I’ll use some paint.

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Now get some white paint and a fine brush, and paint squares on each alternate square. Go slowly!!! Here, Helen is demonstrating on a large grid to make it easier. She applied the white to the red squares.

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I had a bit of practice on a scrap piece of card and preferred the white on the blue squares.

ARG! I can’t draw precise squares to save my life! This was a lesson in frustration. I joked with the lovely woman beside me that, if I had been a Medieval illustrator, my squares would have literally been the death of me!

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Once the squares are completed, I connected them with lines on the diagonal and used a bit more gold gouache for some dots in the red squares and to do a little golden outlining around the outside of my design.

And look! What do you think? I think it’s such a lovely art form to learn. Now I want to take my time and discover other designs and use gold leaf.

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Wouldn’t this lend itself so beautifully to Christmas cards or to one’s own signature on a piece of art? I think so.

Practical class: Felting 101

It took forever to drive to Waterperry House and Art in Action on the first day, (three stalled vehicles on the highway and crawling traffic.) The result was that the class I intended to take was booked up and so I opted for a felting class instead.

I’ve never felted anything before and I though, why not? Why not go and have some “crafting” fun. And here is the how to of this fun art form:

The tools which are needed are:
- wool felt
- a felting needle (careful, it has four sharp and barbed needles, and they will hurt you!)
- a foam support
- a needle and thread, scissors and, maybe some buttons or beads or other embellishments, (or not).

(What do you think of this cute felted fairy cake pin cushion? Don’t you love it?)

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The craft being made was a felted flower broach and here is the teacher demonstrating the beginning. She took a bunch of wool, formed it into a sort-of circle…

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…and began stabbing it with the felting needle. Her needle didn’t have a protective, retractable plastic cover, the student’s needles did.

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So I chose some colours and here is the beginning of my first flower. It’s really easy and fun actually and I think I had a smile on my face thru the whole procedure. In no time the wool began and to knit together and became a cohesive disk.

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And, in no time, I had three disks and two leaf shapes ready for my broach. I picked out some buttons and some red thread and began stitching it all together.

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And, here is my finished broach! (I stitched a broach pin to the back of it.)

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Look how well it looks on my little purse! I chose these autumnal colours because I’m looking forward to pinning it on my scarves later on in the year.

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This was a simple little thing to learn and I must say that everyone who saw it commented on how lovely it was. I think so too.

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But before you…or I…dismiss it as a “craft” take a look at this award winning Best of the Best Textile piece from artist Eve Kelly! Isn’t it amazing? It’s all felted, just like my flowers, and sold for 390GBP, (that’s over $700!). Here’s a link to another lovely website where you can see life-sized felted birds by Eve O’Neill.

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Happy felting folks. Let me know if you have done this and what you’ve made. :D

Practical class: Silk Painting 101

Here we go with the first practical class from art in action. :D

Have you ever wondered how to paint on silk? Have you ever seen those beautiful silk flags fluttering in the breeze or one of those exquisite silk paintings with the puffy backing and wondered about making one for yourself? Well, read on, because now you’ll be able to.

Painting on silk requires a few special products and a little practice and that’s all there is.

You’ll need special paints. The ones we used were already decanted into the little palette and so I couldn’t photograph the actual paint pot, but I know what they are. They are heat set paints and are called Silkcraft Iron Fixed Silk Paint. They blend like a dream, they rinse and thin with water and act a little like watercolours.

The special solution you need to stop the paints from bleeding together is called Gutta. It comes in a tube with a very thin nozzle for precise application.

The other things you need are:
- a piece of silk…obviously…lol
- a wooden support to pin the silk to, (I suggest going to your local thrift store, buying a tacky .99 cent painting on a wooden support, and tearing the canvas away.)
- and some pins to pin the silk to the wooden support (there are special pins with three sharp prongs that we were using, but I think any thin, sharp pushpin will work.)
- something to act like a palette. This paint is very watery so it has to be in little cup forms.
- a paintbrush or two, a jar of water, a piece of paper and a couple pieces of masking tape.

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So, the first thing to do is to pin the silk on the wooden support.
Then take your piece of paper and fold it in such a way that it fits inside the wooden support underneath the silk, then take the paper out. Now you have the paper the precise size of drawing surface.

Now draw something. :) (I had my robin drawing on my cell phone and so decided to replicate something like that. This class was only 1.5 hours, but you can take as long as you like.)

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE!!!
You will follow your drawing with the Gutta and, when you finally get to paint the colours on your silk, everywhere that lines do not meet, that is, everywhere where there is a little gap in the Gutta, the paint will bleed and mix together. So draw your design with that firmly in your mind.

When you have drawn your design, pour out some of the paints into your palette. A little will do, it goes a long way.

Now flip the wooden support with the silk pinned to it upside down and put your drawing underneath your silk. You will be able to see the design thru the silk. Hold the paper there with a couple pieces of masking tape.

Now flip the silk right side up and take your Gutta and trace the lines on your silk with the Gutta. You may like to have a little practice on a darker sheet of paper first, (newspaper, paper bag, your kid’s construction paper), to get the hang of how the Gutta flows.

You can see in my robin design, I intentionally left a space on the right side of the robin’s red breast area. I wanted to denote the red part, but wanted the colour to blend and bleed thru.

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Now you’re ready to paint your design.

I found that the paint colours were a little sharp for my liking. I mean, fuchsia, turquoise, minty green. lemon yellow…etc…, so I mixed them together to make softer colours and browns and oranges. I had a little practice on my sheet of paper.

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Now be brave!!!

What you need is loads of wet paint and dabs with the brush. For the robin’s red breast I used some red and yellow, and, while they were wet, they blended beautifully.

For his wings and tail, I mixed up a load of brown and, while it was wet, I added some blue.

For the background I mixed up a load of blue, (that wasn’t turquoise or midnight blue) and sloshed it on with the biggest brush there was. You can see how the brush wasn’t big enough for the blue sky and how it dried patchy.

But wait! Here’s a trick: SALT

I wasn’t sure how to describe the feathers on his breast. I wanted a dappled effect of soft brown and white. Our instructor, Julie, suggested I sprinkle salt on the area I want to disturb the paint. I used pickling salt, you know, larger crystals, but you can also use table salt. I presume it would give a bit of a different mottling effect. The best way to add the salt is to dump a generous amount on your work surface and then pick it up in your fingers and place it where you want it. The salt absorbs some of the paint causing a lovely mottled effect.

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I did the same thing with a second layer of blue on the sky background.

You have to wait till the paint dries and then shake the salt off.

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And, TAH DA! Here is my finished little silk painting. I love it and can’t wait to frame it. :D (Also, can’t wait to buy some supplies and paint some more.) This is the company I’m likely to order from here in the UK, but I’m sure that very similar products can be found all over the world.

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Here are a couple of designs Julie had as inspiration:

I’ve added the green arrows to show you how the paints will bleed into each other if the Gutta isn’t completely sealing the spaces.

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However, you can always do a crazy, zany design like this lovely one, and then it doesn’t matter so much at all. :D

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Happy silk painting.

Playing games, (when I should be working)

The other day, when C and I were at the beach, we collected some beach wood and pebbles.

I had it in mind to make a tic tac toe game for the garden with one of the driftwood and the pebbles.

This beautiful piece had three ginormous nails stuck thru it, but I liked the nail heads and so decided to be brave and use my angle grinder to cut the sharp ends off and leave the rest of the metal in the wood.

Boy, you should have seen how brave I was. There were sparks all over the place and burning wood and melting, red hot metal!!! Angle grinders are not for the weak hearted!

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Then I got some inks and water, the pebbles and a brush.

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I picked out the pebbles I wanted and tried them on for size.

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Then I freehand painted circles on half and xs on the others, and I eyeballed some lines for the game board.
(using rulers and pencils would have been just too professional for me and I want people to pick the game up and not worry.)

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And there you go! Hope people will feel free to play. :D

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Beach tote from old paintings

So, I guess I don’t have enough to do with organising the house for Eugenia to take over while I’m in Mexico, and besides, I’m not leaving till this afternoon and I needed an excuse to spend more time with my flowers, I decided to make myself a beach tote to take to Mexico with me.

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Now I’ve been meaning to do this for a while and finally got around to it. I have a collection of old paintings. Either ones I’ve painted which I no longer love, or thrift shop finds, (because I get some idea or other in my head). In this case, because, as usual I have very little idea of what I’m doing or how it’s going to turn out, I used two thrift shop finds and leather straps from a thrift shop purse, (which was bought for the straps and purse was recycled.)

Total cost: seriously under $10.

Ran the paintings past C and we both liked a West Coast mountain one and a rich Mexican colours one. A sort of yin-yang balance.

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I’m sure you all know that my sewing skills are very limited by now, but a basic tote pattern is easy as pie and there are loads of how-tos out there. I winged it somewhat. No paper pattern, very few straight lines, and my wonderful little Bernina sewing machine chugged away straining a little to get thru the thicker parts of the canvas, but I managed.

C and I took turns sewing the handles back on by hand. The wonderful thing about re-purposing leather is that someone probably already made convenient holes in it for you. :D

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And, so here you are, our wonderful new beach tote is all ready.

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I’m glad I used cheap thrift store paintings because all paintings aren’t made the same and all canvas isn’t the same either.

The thick, chalky “Mexican” side is sturdier canvas and a better quality of paint and didn’t peel or crack, (although some of the heavy bits did break off), but the “West Coast” side was probably painted with thin acrylics and maybe not a great quality, and in the turning right side out, a lot of the paint powdered and fell off.

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Not that that bothers us in the slightest. We love the well used/aged/loved to death look, and want this tote to show its wear and tear.

Next stop: THE BEACH! :D

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Ok, one more shot of those amazing flowers before we go. :D

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Silversmithing advanced class…spinner rings

So this was the most fun!!!!

Remember when I took the basic silversmithing course a few weeks ago?

Remember I told you I would be a repeat offender in Walt’s class?

Well, guess what? Walt decided to hold a spinner ring class with slightly more advanced techniques and I jumped at the chance.

Do you know spinner rings? Fun, fat rings with an outside ring which can spin freely around the inner ring. So lovely, so handy when you’re nervous, so dress up unusual when everyone is wearing plain old “rings”…so what I have to make right now. (Below are a couple Walt made for demonstration.)

But you know me…I’m so not colouring within the lines, by the way…lol.

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So come see how these are made, it’s not too hard, I promise. But I would still recommend a class before you try any silversmithing on your own and, if you’re in the Lower Mainland, you can’t do better than Walt’s almost one-on-one, private studio classes, and, he’s running a basic class in a week or two again.

So this ring needs a thicker inner ring which means I got to design, measure and cut out a custom sized piece of silver.

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Silver is pretty easy to cut out using these metal cutting shears at this stage, so a saw isn’t necessary for this step.

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Next, that whole palaver of adjusting the ends so they fit completely smoothly and snugly begins with endless filing.

Remember, if you decide to become a silversnmith, it’s useful to say, “I love filing…filing is my friend!” over and over again. You can also see how badly I cut this piece of silver with one end slightly wider than the other. You guessed it…more filing. :D

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I’m skipping over the basic flux and solder of the inner ring…you can refer to the earlier post…but let’s just say that after the ring is filed and soldered and in the “pickle”, it’s time to begin work on the outer ring, which will spin around the inner ring.

Now let me tell you why Walt is one in a million.

I think I said something like, “Walt, I’d like to make a wavy branch and have a jewel on that branch in a bezel, kind of like a flower, and I’d like some leaves and maybe a bird on that branch, and I know that this class will finish by 4:30pm and I know that this means hours of custom work which I don’t know anything about, and I also want to make a second spinner ring for Clove, which I haven’t even designed yet but it won’t be simple,…but it’s what I really want.”

And Walt said, “sure, go ahead!” And then! He encouraged me in my crazy designs and showed me short-cut techniques and introduced me to new tools.

So my outer ring began with a length of silver wire. I cut it to two sizes larger than my inner ring size and, after soldering it together, I bent it into a wavy pattern. Then I filed a smooth spot on the branch and soldered the bezel cup to it.

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Next I thought about the leaves. I took a little piece of silver, drew three leaves with a sharpie and cut them out with my saw. Then filed them smooth and to the irregular shape I wanted, and used a heavy sort of screwdriver thing and my rawhide hammer to make the leaf veins on the leaves. You can see by the tip of my finger just how tiny these leaves are.

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Then I took the edge of a thicker gauge sheet of silver and drew a tiny bird on it and cut it out with my saw.

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Then the nightmare of soldering all those bits on my “branch” outer ring began. Whew, they took a fair few tries to get that straight remembering to use the solder in the hard, medium, easy and extra easy steps so not to melt the previous soldered piece with each subsequent heat-up and solder.

From such humble beginnings as scrap bits of silver to fitting the little carnelian gem took hours but I was so proud to be using the burnishing tool and doing that almost final step of fitting the gem.

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The very last step to my ring involved slipping the outer ring over the inner ring and gently hitting the ends of the inner ring with a ball-shaped tool to spread them out and keep the outer ring trapped on the band of the inner ring. I’m sorry but I was so excited to do this that I forgot to take a photo. :( My bad.

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For C’s ring I wanted to make her a tree. Not just any tree, a tall, majestic and slim sitka spruce. Walt suggested I learn a new technique or sawing inside a bar of silver, like lace, or cut work. I knew the minute he said that, that this would be the best ring for C. The way to do this is by using this new tool to make a small hole thru the silver and then treading the saw blade thru the hole and gently sawing out the tree shape.

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So C’s ring began the same way with a bespoke inner ring, a bar of silver, shaped, filed and soldered together, filed some more and polished, and the outer ring began the same way as the inner, with a bespoke bar of silver, slightly narrower than the outer ring, shaped to make sure the size was correct and then flattened out again.

As with everything, practice makes…well…a better mess the second time than the time before, and after a prototype on some copper, the bar of silver was relatively easy, even if very time consuming. (by the way, filing silver must be a good work out for your upper arms because mine are killing me!)

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I got home around supper time and gave C her ring and showed her mine. She absolutely loved them both and immediately gave me a big hug and Instagramed it. LOL. I’ll take more photos in the day time so you can see the rings better but if you have any questions at all I’ll very happily find answers for you.

Oh, and by the way, C has asked for a sitka spruce necklace now…lol. A mother’s work is never done. :D

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Sharing with Mary at the Little Red House and with Create with Joy and Amaze me Monday

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A prelude to Valentine’s (aka how to make more work for yourself)

The other day Chloe suggested that we make some heart shaped bunting to help celebrate Valentine’s Day.

“It would look lovely with the big red rose wreath beside the front door”, she said.

But why is it that I always forget when C says “we” she means “me”?!?

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Yesterday at our local treasure trove thrift store, I spied a bit of lovely bit of vintage curtain for $1 and made the huge mistake of saying, “Look Clover, this would be great material for “your” bunting!” And so guess what…yup, I bought it.

I spread the fabric out on the table and cut out a nice, large paper heart and folded it in half, and then proceded to trace and cut out 20 hearts.

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Ironed and right sides together, I got my little sewing machine from the craft room in my studio…

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And sewed the little hearts up.

Now I’m not a very good seamstress, but this basic sewing is really quite easy. Each time I do a bit of sewing I wonder why I don’t do more of it, it’s quite fun.

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Pretty soon I had ten little hearts.

OK, just in case you thought C got away with the royal “we”, she was really great at turning the hearts right side out and making us some tea.

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Then we were a bit stuck as to how to nicely tie them up as bunting, and got the idea that maybe they would look nice stuffed with a bit of stuffing, so I stuffed them all and hand stitched the opening closed.

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Then this morning I got the idea of sewing on some vintage buttons and got a couple done before I had to run out and C finished sewing the rest of the buttons on.

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So how about that! Ten fat little hearts and a length of velvet ribbon. Nine hearts fit the ribbon and the left-over one I tied around the living room door handle.

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Then I sent C up on the railing and she tied our happy bunting to the Christmas light supports. (No, it’s not summer here yet…lol, she was just trying to decide on a dress to wear out tonight.)

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So here we are, it’s tea time and my house is decorated for tomorrow. Now it’s time for me to relax before supper and some friends this evening.

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Hope you all had a lovely day today and are ready for a wonderful Valentine’s Day tomorrow. (Hope you all get/give roses, chocolate, hearts, hugs and kisses, to the one you love and/or for yourself. You deserve it!)

Great big Valentine hugs!
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Painting cookies for Halloween

On top of my kitchen cupboards are two old baskets at either end of my duck decoy collection. These ducks count the amount of times I’ve been in Quebec, because I buy one each time I visit, and the baskets hold my collection of vintage and antique cookie cutters, presses and other cookie tools.

Every time I get these baskets down and open them, they remind me of lovely, special times in my life.

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Ah, here’s the one I’m looking for. It’s a ceramic mold made by The Brown Bag Cookie Company. I’ve had some of these molds for millions of years, but they are still available.

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The recipe is a simple sugar cookie recipe, sugar, butter, egg, flour, a dash of vanilla, and these cookies are rather huge, so only about five from 1/2 cup of butter and 2 cups of flour. (but five is all we need this year for a handful of special friends)

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Painting cookies is really easy, but you need specific food colouring. The kind you need is the kind that colours icing. It comes in little pots and is creamy thick so it doesn’t dilute the icing. You should use a toothpick to put some on a plate because the stuff will stain your fingers like nothing else…lol. I bought a selection of four in a kit. They are green, blue, rose and orange, and, with them, I can easily mix browns, purples and a black, so I find that’s all I need.

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I asked C to join in and we sat down and started painting.

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There have been times when we’ve had several children painting their own cookie and times when we’ve made over 20 for us and our neighbours and taken them to the cabin for a party, but big batch or small batch, everyone has the best time painting cookies. It’s really satisfying.

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Ok, had to show you this photo: C trying to organise her Halloween party shedule, (I think “Scaryoke” is winning out over a private party”, but this is party planing 2.0…have cell phone, will paint cookies… :)

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And here they are, all painted and waiting for our special trick-or-treaters to show up.

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Linking with Kathy, Kim and Katherine

Countdown: Make a special sewing basket

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Most of you, my friends, already know I’d rather make a special prezzy for someone than buy something.

The other day I was at Costco where they had Halloween decorations down one isle and guess what was down the other isle! Yup!!!

So I was thinking, there really isn’t a lot of time before Christmas and maybe we should get going on a few prezzies.

Something I love to do is repurpose something old and vintage into something new and useful. I’d much rather do that than buy something new.
Here is one of my favourite things to make; an old fashioned sewing basket. I’ll show you how I do it.

My inspiration for this project is my grandmother’s old sewing basket. It’s seen better days…lol…but I love it.

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Any basket will do. Here is a lovely, small 1940′s basket.

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Measure down the inside and measure the circumference. Cut some lovely fabric; here I chose a bit of chartreuse velvet.

Cut a strip of the fabric longer and wider than your measurement. Turn a bit of fabric over the top and that will be the top edge. It helps to press it into place.

Sew up the seam, and now you have a tube. Turn the top edge over and sew a seam 1/4 inch from the top to make the seam look pretty and finished.

Cut the bottom into notches to fit the tube into place inside the basket.

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The simplest thing to do now is to glue the tube lining into place with a hot glue gun. The simplest thing to do about the bottom is to cut out a circle of light cardboard, like a piece of cereal box, line it with a little quilting and a circle of fabric cut larger than the cardboard. Turn the edges of the fabric over the cardboard and glue into place.

Do the same thing for the lid. Sometimes I like to quilt a lovely vintage button thru the centre of the top lid lining.

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Now prepare your goodies. One thing I always love to have in my sewing baskets is a bit of bee’s wax. For people who quilt and embroider, bee’s wax is amazingly helpful and it smells soooo good.

Here is a precious little mouse my daughter Chloe hand sews and a little clover my daughter Kerstie makes using vintage fabrics and buttons.

Don’t worry about filling it with whimsical, lovely non-sewing things. Your loved one will cherish everything in this basket, and who doesn’t love lovely things.

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Something I always make for the basket is a special pin cushion. Here I made one from cotton batting and a circle of velvet inside a walnut shell half. (this idea came from a children’s story book from my childhood) It’s a bit tricky but once you get the hold of it, it gets easier to hot glue the velvet ball into the shell.

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And there you go! I’ve made this sewing basket inside vintage baskets with vintage materials and inside new Ikea baskets using store bought fuchsia silk. Any basket will do and the principal is the same. Wouldn’t you love a gift like this? I know I would. :)

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Would you like to learn how to emboss paper? I did, it’s not that hard.

I love paper and paper products.

I love to design, craft, save, collage, draw on and collect all sorts of papers.

Imagine my delight at being able to learn how to emboss paper.

This was a very quick and very fun experiment at Art in Action. Lin Kerr, of Limetrees Studio was on hand with her “light” press to teach embossing.

And I made this lovely card with the letter C for Chloe.

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Here are the steps:

You need a template, the mirror image of the thing you would like to have embossed on your paper. Lin made some fantastic letters to chose form. This template is made from layers of heavy cardstock. Here is the link to how Lin made these templates. Just requires a bit of patience, imagination and a sharp scalpel.

A card of 100% cotton is used to emboss the letter on.

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The press is a “light” press, but don’t be fooled because it still weighs 100kg!

There are three sheets of felt between the base and the roller.

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The press is rolled back, the felt lifted, and the template is laid on a grid to make sure it is straight.

Then the card is sprayed down with water in a fine mist. Not too wet, just dampened and laid damp side down on top of the template. It is very important to get the card and the template aligned just right because, once the press is rolled, there’s no going back.

Then the three sheets of felt are layered on top of the template and card sandwich.

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The press is rolled across the bundle.

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Really, that’s all it takes to make this kind of magic.

Now I know that probably no one is going to run out and buy a press for hundreds of dollars to make these beautiful cards, but I’ve come across a YouTube tutorial for doing this with a rolling pin!!! Hey!!! Affordable. :) I’m not sure how well this works though, but as soon as I make a template I’ll give it a try and report. :)

(but I really want a press like this!)