Hand Hooked Rug by Karen D. Miller

Bird Series: Parts I & II Framed

Bird Series copy

My husband came up with this cool framing idea for the first two pieces in the Bird Series!   I love the look of the birch bark birds with the driftwood frame.  And I think that these two piecesgo particularly well together because of the contrast in colour schemes.

Not sure if I’ll do the same with the rest of the series or not- will depend on how the colours look together which I won’t know until they are all completed.  But I’m very happy with how these two turned out!


A “Giant Ball of Yarn” and How it Has Led to a Ramble on De-Cluttering….


If you recall, back in the Spring I posted about some de-cluttering that I was doing around the house.  I had sketched out a  bigger blog post on the subject but didn’t get around to finishing it and posting it.  Until now….

What motivated me to revisit the topic?  First and foremost was the “giant yarn ball” pictured above.  This yarn pile is the result of finishing different pieces, and if the yarns that I was using were tangled up I would set them aside in a basket to sort at a later date.  Problem was, I never ended up untangling them and kept adding to the pile.  My husband has now decided that from time to time he wants to tackle the pile to get it into some semblance of order.  He thinks that the yarn will go to waste- which it won’t because when I need any of it I delve into the “giant yarn ball” and pluck some out.  But this yarn ball and the organization that I did of my yarns earlier this year made me realize just how much yarn I really have.  I unofficially pledged to not buy any more yarn unless it was a colour or texture that I really needed for a specific project.  I realized that my previous approach of picking up a skein here and there if I liked the colour or if it was on sale, was leading to an unmanageable amount of yarn.  I am pleased to say that I have stuck to this pledge, using only what I have in my current stash.  I hope to continue this in the new year.

My second wake-up call to the excesses in life hit me recently while I was Christmas shopping.  I should start by saying that this year I had already committed to buying only a few presents for the people in my life.  I have long come to the realization that we don’t really need anything.  And I’ve been around kids long enough now to know that within a few days of a Birthday or Christmas, the new toys are tossed to the side never to be revisted again.  Even kids can o.d. on toys.  So this year I bought my daughter only two toys- both of which were things that she really wanted so I am hopeful that she will actually be interested in them.

Ok, so back to what I was saying about Christmas shopping.  For some reason this year it struck me just how much STUFF there is in the stores.  Has that ever happened to you?  Where you look around and are suddenly repulsed by the shelves and shelves of STUFF?  And if you multiply each store by the number of stores around the country and around the world- that is a lot of stuff.  A lof of stuff that will just end up in landfills before long.  I was talking about this with my husband and he mentioned that he  was struck most when looking at people’s shopping carts.  People load up on STUFF because they feel they have to give a present to everyone they know.  You can tell that they are running around desperately trying to find something to buy and inveitably load up on, well, junk.   Junk that the receiver is unlikely to actually want.  And where will it end up?  Being given away or in the garbage.

This feeling of clutter and excess has stuck with me so much that this year I only put out a fraction of my Christmas decorations.  And you know what?  I like it much better this way!  Less is definitely more.

So here, for what it is worth, are the lesons that I’ve learned along the way to de-cluttering both in everyday life and during the holidays:

1.  Develop your own style and stick to it:

I think my home decor style (much like my art) has definitely evolved:  from cutesy to primitive to much more contemporary.  And I like a lot less clutter than ever before.  Our home is by no means minimalist, but I no longer like STUFF everywhere (makes it much less of a pain to clean too!).  It is ok to have a bare surface here and there.

I think I have a similar approach in my art.  I am the first to admit that my pieces are not overdone with lots of detail.  If I have a complex foreground then my backgrounds are much more simple, and vice versa.  I don’t like a lot of clutter in my art and I guess in some ways that is a metaphor for my life.

2.  Get less sentimental:

I think we all hold on to a lot of things because of the sentimental significance behind them.  But if it is the memory and not the thing itself that is important to you, do you really need the thing?  Take a photo, jot down the significance, and let go of the thing that is just creating clutter.  Chances are you will look at the photo more than you would ever bring out the thing to look at.

3.  Stop bringing things into your home:

To accomplish this you have to get rid of “But its on sale” mentality and “Maybe I’ll need it one day.”  Buy things when and if you need them and leave it at that.  Otherwise those purchases add up, leading to clutter.  I have read too  the strategy that if you bring something into the house, something else should go out.

4.  If you haven’t used something since last time you de-cluttered, get rid of it:

It is ok to get rid of things.  I really like the saying by William Morris that you should “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  If you don’t love something or don’t use it, why is it taking up space in your home and cluttering up your life?

5.  Fill your life, not your shopping cart:

Such a strange society we have become where we try to fill our lives with STUFF instead of personal fulfillment.  I like the saying “Collect moments, not things.”   So much better to spend time together as a family doing something fun than to buy a bunch of STUFF.  I’d rather save the money and travel to create lasting memories than to use the money to buy things.  I think a lot of people like the high that shopping and getting new things can give you.  But I think an even greater high comes from setting a goal and achieving it; being proud in your own accomplishments; having purpose in your life.  If there is no purpose to your life, then what is the point?  No amount of stuff can make up for a lack of purpose.

6.  It is ok to let go:

If someone gives you something that you don’t like, or will never use, or which doesn’t coincide with your personal style it is ok to pass it on to someone that will like it or to charity.  There is nothing to be gained with filling your house (and in essence your life) with clutter.  It is ok to let it go.

I feel like I’ve been getting a bit deeper here on the Blog between posts like this and my Bird Series.  This year I’ve been enjoying treating this more like my personal space to get a bit more insightful and share my opinions.  As I discovered this year, not every piece of art will work and sharing the failures is also part of the learning process.  I’m looking forward to continuing to use this space in a meaningful way in the new year.  Hope you are enjoying the ride!


** After writing this, I received my first copy of “Studio” magazine and there was an article on kind of the same thing- over-consumerism and excess and how to avoid contributing to this while making art and/or how to reflect your feelings on this in your art.  Much to give one pause for thought.  Will have to see how or if  I can incorporate how I am feeling now into future art projects.

Ramble over.


12 in 2012- How Did I Do?


 With the holidays and the start of a New Year fast approaching, its time to take a look at the “12 in 2012” that I came up with back in April to see how much on the list I accomplished:

1. Visit a new art gallery

Off to a great start.  This one I accomplished in spades.  In 2012 I visited the  Metropolitan Art Museum  in New York City, the Reykjavik museum,  the Hveragerdi art museum, and the  National Art Museum of Iceland.

2. Take an art course

I’m not sure that this added much to my artistic abilities, but I did do this.  I don’t think this will be on the agenda again for 2013.

3. Do more sketches in my sketchbook

I did a bit of sketching while  in Iceland this summer,  but since then not much.  Hoping to make it more of a priority in the new year until it becomes somethng I don’t even think about anymore and I just do it.  Will likely carry over this goal into 2013.

4. Redo the birchbark piece

You may remember that early in the year I tackled the use of birch bark and then scrapped the piece, vowing to return to the concept before the end of the year.   I can finally say that I did it with the beginning of my ‘Bird Series’.

5. Try at least 3 new natural dye recipes

Well, two out of three isn’t bad.  I experimented with kool-aid (not so natural but still worked well), and  avocado.  This is something that I want to continue to experiment with so will likely carry over this goal to 2013.

6. Keep up “recipe a week” with my sister

This goal started off strong and then fizzled out over the summer when we were both travelling quite a bit.  Then I had a baby and it all fell off the rails.  I suspect that my sister and I will resume the recipe of the week concept.  I’m not sure, though, if I will continue to profile it on the blog.

7. Bake at least 5 new gluten-free/sugar-free fancy desserts

I hit three out of five.  In my defence, there were a few desserts from ‘recipe of the week’ that would have fit this bill but which I didn’t count as they didn’t seem “fancy” enough.  The ones that I did count were:   cupcakes, donuts and ice cream.   With the holidays approaching I will more than likely cross two more off the list but again I may not profile them on the blog.  I’m learning that I have more than enough art related things to say and profile that I don’t have to get into food adventures here.

8. Play catch up on a lot of meals that we owe to various friends

Total fail.  Between the summer holidays, friends having babies and then us having a baby this one fell apart.  This is high on my priority list for 2013!

9. Try rug hooking with at least three new materials

Another fail.  I wasn’t allowing myself to count birch bark either so this was a total fail.  A recent issue of Rug Hooking Magazine, though, got me thinking about attaching different natural materials to my pieces so this is a definite carry-over to 2013.

10. Make a piece using colours that I wouldn’t typically use

As outlined in my Birds piece here I discovered that this isn’t really my thing.  So although it is a fail I’m going to call it done because I’m not going to try it again.

11. Try my hand at another abstract piece

Success.  “Colours of Mud” and “Fungus Adventure” fit this bill.

12. Blog at least three days a week

While not every week had three days, when I look back over the months I definitely upped the blogging and I can safely say that I did as much as I could between baby and making new pieces!

All in all I would say I was successful.  Early in the new year I will outline my new goals.  No, I don’t think there will be 13 of them but there will be enough to keep 2013 interesting!



The Bird Series: Part II



The Piece:   This is the second part of the series.  Again, this is the piece straight off the hoop and unframed.  Will show the pieces again when framed!   This one is also 5 x7 and hooked on rug warp.  I tried out my “blending” technique once again.  This was a good way to try out the technique using transitions between different colours of yarn and I’m pleased with the effect!  The birds are again made from birch bark that has been varnished.  The sky is colourful and playful and the birds are soaring over candy-coloured clouds.

The Story:   To recap, this series is a tribute to the people who are meaningful in my life.  This particular piece is subtitled “I will always be a friend when you need one” and it represents the relationship between myself and my daughter.  What can I say about my girl?  She is awesome.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again- having a daughter totally rocks.  We are super, super close and pretty much have been since the day she was born five years ago.  I cannot wait to continue to grow and develop our relationship over the years.  In fact one of the top priorities in my life is to continue to cultivate a great and healthy mother-daughter relationship with her right through into her adulthood.  I want us to always have fun together, respect each other and stay connected.  She inspires me in so many different ways.

The placement of the birds in relation to each other in each piece is also no accident.  Here we are close together for when she needs me yet there is enough personal space for her to spread her own wings and grow.

What do I most love about my girl?

* She is kind, considerate and caring

* She is incredibly fun to be around, is a total jokester and has an infectious laugh

* She cuddles up to me and tells me I am her best friend

* She is the smartest little person I know

* She’s a brave little thing

* She’s creative, artistic and a total fashionista

Love you my girl!


The Bird Series: Part I

As I mentioned last week, this new, small piece is going to be a part of a series.  The basis for this series is, in a nutshell, to honour the special relationships in my life.  I believe that each of us surrounds ourselves with a sphere- of people that we care about and who bring us happiness.    I anticipate that there will be 5 or 6 pieces in the series and each one will be dedicated to someone that I love and who makes my life better for having them in it.

This was a concept that I have been mulling for some time.  I began sketching out some stuff and then came up with the idea of honouring the people in my life.  Originally I envisioned the piece as being one big piece (and my husband still thinks that at the end of the “series” I should do a larger piece using the same concept).  I also wanted to incorporate the birch bark concept that I tried out early in the year.

So, while I was in Iceland this summer I made this sketch.  Here you can see that I was still stuck on the idea that “birch bark= tree”.  My concept here was that each branch of the tree would represent someone important in my life.  The background colours were to symbolize joy and happiness.

But the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t like the idea- it was too conventional and more than a little boring.  And so much time passed while I tried to think of a new way of showing the concept that I wanted to convey.  And just recently it came to me- use the birch bark to create birds and have the birds represent the special relationships that I have. And instead of making one big piece, have each relationship be highlighted in its own small piece.

So, here is the first piece in what I will call ‘The Bird Series’.  This one is subtitled “I Would Follow You Anywhere” and it encapsulates the relationship between myself and my husband.

To say that my husband is my best friend would be a huge understatement.  We have been together for 19 years now, so for more than half of our lives.  We know each other so incredibly well and it is uncanny how we share the same thoughts and opinions on most people, places and things.  I can’t imagine life without him- as cheesy as it sounds he totally is an extension of me and who I am.  Here are just a handful of the reasons why I love him so:

– he is the best father.  He is totally involved in the kids’ lives.  He took 8.5 months parental leave with our daughter and is taking 9 months with our son.  This time together is so special and irreplaceable.  People always ask me if I can stand to have my husband home with us all day every day and my response is always absolutely.  We have the best times together.

– he is caring, loving, funny (he totally shares my sarcastic, rye sense of humour) and compassionate

– he completely shares my belief that our little family is like a team and he is a huge part of all of the memories that we have made and continue to make

– he laughs at all my memory-keeping (I’m a HUGE documenter of our lives) but I catch him all the time looking through our albums or taking photos of our everyday lives

– he has always been there for myself and my sister through some hard times.  He is also her go-to person for “man-job” advice around her house and I truly think that she thinks of him as a big brother.  I think it is pretty cool that they have such a good relationship.

– he is the only person in the world who completely “gets” me.

– And, he is my biggest fan.  He is supportive of everything that I do and he even often puts aside his own stuff just to help me out on this career path that I am on.

So, this is the story behind the first piece in the series.  I truly would follow him anywhere.


Coming up in Blog Posts soon:

* I’ve finished the second piece in ‘The Bird Series’ and will reveal it.  My husband has also come up with a creative framing idea for them that I hope to share soon.

* I’m going to post a couple of things that I had planned out earlier in the year and didn’t get around to posting.

* I hope to do one more dyeing project before the year is over.

* Time to do a re-cap of my ’12 in 2012′ to see what got done and what didn’t

And, soon will be time to set out my goals for 2013!




One Small Piece…Many Big Lessons

Here is a piece that I just finished- and I envision it as being the first in a series of similarly themed and sized pieces.  It is small (5 x 7) and is not yet framed.  My husband is going to make a driftwood frame for it which I think will set off the birds.

This piece started out as being just a little experimental piece for me to try out several new techniques.  In the end, I think I have created something that will be a part of something bigger and that taught me a number of important lessons!

Lesson #1:  That birch bark can be used for something other than making a tree.

This was a huge rut I was in.  I wanted to satisfy my “12 in 2012” goal of re-inventing my use of birch bark, but every time I had an idea it always involved a tree.  I took a long time to think about it and eventually came up with the idea of making birds out of the birch bark.  I didn’t know if it would work or not, but gave it a try and really like it.  I varnished each of the birds and then sewed them onto the rug.  At first I sewed them straight onto the rug warp and then quickly discovered that they would look much better sewn straight on top of the yarn.  Some of the birds (there were originally six of them) started to split so I have to make sure to choose pieces of the birch bark that aren’t going to peel or split.

Lesson #2:  I should stick to the colour palette that I am consistently drawn to.

Originally I also tried to accomplish my “12 in 2012” goal of using colours that I don’t usually use.  At first I tried purple and orange together in the sky.  That really didn’t work well.  Then I thought about using purple and yellow together- both colours I don’t use much of.  That also didn’t work.  Then I moved to a Caribbean blue palette.  Again, the piece was not working for me.  It was only when I returned to the colours that I am always attracted to that I started to feel like the piece might work.  Lesson learned- don’t force myself to use colours and colour combinations that don’t appeal to me.

Lesson #3:  My new spring proddy tool is awesome for texture.

The whole bottom of this piece was done with the proddy tool.  That bumpy, knotted effect is exactly what I was trying to accomplish in one of my older pieces, “Moss Covered Lava Rocks” but no matter how I tried I couldn’t accomplish it with a hook.  Now, it is simple and quick to get great texture.  Expect to see this often in future pieces.

Lesson #4:  Mixing Yarns can give great colour mixes and gradations of colours.

This was totally my husband’s idea.  It has been next to impossible to get a good gradation of colour in ie. a sky with yarn that I am not dyeing myself.  The thought of doing a lot of specialty dyeing doesn’t appeal to me.  Perhaps it will some time way in the future when I have a lot more free time but right now I want to use whatever bits of time I have to create and hook.  What I have learned is that I can accomplish a pretty decent gradation of colour by “stripping” strands of yarn and mixing them with other yarns.  This works especially well with lopi yarn.  In a current piece I am experimenting with this technique using yarns in different colour families so we’ll see how that works out.

Not a bad amount of lessons learned from one little experimental piece.  I’m currently working on the next piece in this series and then will probably take a break to start on my larger piece.

Next Blog post I’ll talk about the inspiration behind the piece and the theme of both it and the series that I envision coming out of this.