Sunday, December 9, 2007

More embroidered cyanotypes

Based very loosely on the amazing Anna Atkins. Approximately 12" x 14", and a great excuse to make lots of french knots.

Go stone cases

Go, pretty much the best strategy game of all time (and, perhaps relatedly, the only one in which human players can still beat the best computers), has very minimal physical requirements. You just need a grid and markers of two colors. Purists would argue that the materials and precise geometry of both is crucial to the experience, but people have taken the game to extreme permutations of these basic elements (for example, playing on a 3d meshwork)

So I felt comfortable improvising with one of the most popular go accouterments: the bowls from which the stones are taken.
The inside is fully lined so no raw edges are exposed. It's really just one extra-deep pocket of fabric, right side facing the go stones, with a wide "cuff" - the fold of which forms the drawstring casing, and the edge of which is handsewn onto the crochet shell. Notice the teal stitching (pathological, sewing machine threading laziness). Nevertheless, it felt good to crochet something so utilitarian (as a game-playing accessory?) for once.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Erhenberg via BibliOdyssey

The DBF (as they say) pointed me toward this fantastic blog, BibliOdyssey, which is a collection of archival images which are freely available on the web.

One of my favorite offerings is a group of scans from badass microscopist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg, which you can see here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Micro gentleman

Having made quite a few larger crochet prawns, this miniature one (made for a custom design) occupies a place in my mind normally reserved only for the venerable baby tuxedo.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

For tinyshop

Tiny sea urchin pins - crocheted from a big stash of hand-dyed size 10 thread and embroidered, in French knots, with DMC floss. The tag is tyvek. For scale:

They're for a show called tinyshop ( ):
double punch gallery presents tinyshop, a pop-up shop curated by Antoinette Celes, showcasing original art and handmade goods by artists, designers and creatives working in the medium of small.

As the world moves bigger, faster and stronger, we occasionally seek comfort in little things. tinyshop celebrates the preciousness of "mini" --- the shortest distance between 2 points, the space of minutiae, and creative endeavors on a small scale.

tinyshop will run from November 21, 2007 through January 11, 2008, at double punch gallery in San Francisco's North Beach district. Special events will be held throughout the shop's lifespan, pondering the tiny theme. Fun-spirited folks and magnifying glasses are most welcome.
I'm really excited to be involved with this, alongside tons of fantastic artists. The show so far includes Ashley G, Amy Earles, Jill Bliss and lots more. November 24th is the opening night!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Anna Atkins homage

This was embroidered onto muslin I'd bought already tea-dyed - I subsequently stained it blue, trying to balance (with difficulty) flat color with "tie-dye" to get something I though was reminiscent of the type of chemical effects present in the original:
(from the New York Public Library)

I tried to sketch out a faithful representation to start with, but smudging of the dressmaker's pencil encouraged improvisation.

I plan to do a series of 12 or 15 of these...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sea Star Kin Group

A new design for specimens for the Etsy Wunderkammer is shown above. I sold the originals, am working on a trial-run custom order now, and should have patterns up in several weeks.

The construction, as you may be able to see in the picture, is based on individual legs sewn together and embellished with decorative stitches in the same yarn.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Figure 2, in progress

I'm lucky to be occupied by a high number of custom Etsy orders at the moment, but the downside is that I don't have much time to work on other projects.

This is "figure 2" in progress - a fictive anatomy combining elements of cow, clam, and tardigrade. There is still a long way to go, but I plan on leaving the digestive tract plain to allow the osnaburg to show through, emphasizing the TUBE-i-ness of this organ system.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Security envelopes

I am wild for the subtle, printed patterns on the inside of certain envelopes. They're gorgeous, but rarely seen (except though a cellulose address-window, maybe), so it's fun to see what can be done with them by turning the envelope inside out.

A collection of paper butterflies on my wall...
and glassy "blue china" beads.From just two pre-used envelopes, I got almost 100 beads of various sizes. (If you're new to fine art of paper bead-making, there's a fantastic tutorial here) The triangles, which I rolled up around a spare piece of "music wire" I had lying around, were only about 0.5 - 1" wide by about 2" long, so it made for some very skinny beads. I ended up tearing off the last 1/4" of the skinny point since the frayed edge of the paper stayed glued down much better. I used a glue stick for the gluing, and then painted them with a high-gloss acrylic medium. This protects them against moisture, but also serves to make the colors pop a little more.

You can see what I did with these beads at Wardrobe Refashion.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Embroidered figures for fictive science textbook

The first in what I hope will become a series of fictive illustrations of non-existent science pseudo-knowledge. The Balearic really is a name given to a sea near Spain, but I just like the way it sounds, much in the same way that I love how French knots resemble (vaguely) some kind of mote-like krill or plankton, and how woven spider's web stitches look sort of like starfish. Empiricism be damned!

I plan to stretch this puppy over a firm backing as a means of mounting, but not before I add a brown "frame" of bias tape around the diagram, feeding from under the sides of the label.

Vague plans for the future include a detailed anatomy of whatever those predatory things are at the bottom of the food web and diagrams of their courtship habits, bee--honey-dance annotation style.

The Embroiderer's guild is a great resource for crazy new stitches, as is Sharon B's.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sea Urchin

Sea Urchin, originally uploaded by naughton321.

Great photo here - thank you, Naughton...

I'd love to be able to capture some of these textures, but I'd really have to scale my work up in order to get the finer points in.

From Wikimedia

My first experiment with these textures proved this point.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Pattern for Baby Octopus (No. 5)

This mini-pattern is much shorter than most in the Wunderkammer, but will give you an idea of their format and style.

Using a G hook and worsted weight yarn, these take just a few minutes to make and measure in at around 2" long, legs fully extended. They look adorable squished into sample-size jam jars.

You could experiment with adding rows (try duplicating row 3, for example) to make the body longer, or by adding stitches in the early rows to make it wider. It's good to end up with 8 stitches in the last row, however, so that you can easily attach the correct number of legs.


When starting the double loop start, leave an extra long tail - we're going to turn it into a leg later!

1.............Double loop start with 6 stitches.
2.............Increase in every stitch (12 stitches total in this row)
3.............Single crochet in each stitch (12 stitches)
4.............Decrease in the 1st and 6th stitch of row 3 (10 stitches)
5.............Decrease in the 5th and 10th stitch of row 4 (8 stitches)

Slip stitch three times to smooth out the edge of the body.


(Note: the directions below assume you are making your chain stitches pretty loose. If you make them tight, or if you want the octopus to have longer legs, try increasing their length to 6 or 7 chain stitches)

With your hook still in the last slip stitch, chain 5, then tie off and trim the end. Tie an extra knot to secure.

Pull the "tail" from the double loop start to the inside of the body, if it isn't there already.

Insert your hook into a loop from an adjacent stitch on the last row of the body. Pull the "tail" through, and use it to chain 5. Again, tie off well, and trim.

Cut 3 segments of yarn about 2' long. Fold one in half. Insert your hook into the a stitch in the final row of the body, next to the last leg you made. Instead of using the top-most, outermost loop, use the one that is on the interior of the octopus, closer to you. The hook in this picture is being inserted into this interior loop.

Pull a short length of the doubled-up yarn through so that you have a loop, and feed the ends through that loop. You've now knotted the yarn to the body, and you should have 2 tails of equal length. Use these tails to make legs as described in the stitch the knot is made in as well as the adjacent stitch.

Repeat this with the other two lengths of yarn. You now have an eyeless octopus with 8 legs!


There are a variety of ways to make eyes, but I like to use the method that follows.

Cut two circles of felt about 4 mm in diameter. Sew a seed bead to the middle of each, and attach this, in turn, to the last row of the body of the octopus, at a spacing you find pleasing. If you sew only in the middle of the felt, the seed bead will give the appearance of being set deep within the felt.


© 2007 Jessica Polka

Please post a comment to let me know how your baby octopus turned out! If you feel it needs a legal guardian, you can find a full-sized octopus pattern in my Etsy shop.


Saturday, July 7, 2007

Sea grass lariats

From the stash of hand-dyed thread I'd made a few weeks ago, I've been making these strands of sea grass:
They're long enough to be worn as necklaces, tied loosely together in the front.

I'm not sure yet if they should be tagged as specimens, like the rest, but I guess it couldn't hurt.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Karl Blossfeldt

From wikimedia commons: Haarfarn (Maidenhair fern) from "Urformen der Kunst"(The original art)

This bad boy spent his entire career photographing plants at ginormous magnifications. You can see a huge collection (120 images!) here. Just click on "das werk" and then "unformen der kunst." Some of these things look like buildings, others like ironwork, and still others resemble, vaguely, people.

The tip off came from a wonderful Etsy seller, HummingbirdEyes, whose artful shop you can visit here. Take a look at her rad assemblage, "Evolution."

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Barnacle quilt from yo-yos

This is just wonderful. Please visit Sara's blog to see more pictures of her piece.

She's used a neat little gizmo to make the yo-yos, but doing it entirely by hand actually seems to require only one line of stitches rather than two, which I can't argue with. I have a ton of odd-sized scraps lying around that I can't quite persuade myself to discard, so I may have found a suitable way to purge.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


Please, go see this movie.

By a stroke of luck, I'll be moving to San Francisco next year, where the mayor has declared that it will become the first city in the US to provide universal health care. But we have a moral obligation as citizens to provide this basic human right to everyone nationwide.

HR 676 is a bill that would provide a public, universal, national health insurance program while keeping hospitals and clinics private. Get more information about it here, then sign up for the campaign to get it passed.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Wunderkammer at Beklina

I'm delighted to report that some of my work is now for sale at Beklina, a wonderful California-based online boutique with a fair trade and organic focus. You can see the pendants above in the "accessories" section as well as display budding coral in "paper & nest."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Integrity verified

A couple weeks ago, I wrote that I was testing the integrity of a "barnacle necklace" design. I'm happy to report that it seems to be very strong, and I've since developed a new way to attach the bale with is sturdier and less obtrusive.

The knots of the embroidery floss braid and concealed inside two adjacent barnacles. The braid is fed through the back of the base to create the loop which a cord or chain can be passed through.

The more recent "specimens" of this type which I've been making have more widely varied diameters of each individual barnacle. I am starting, in some cases, with a chain of up to 18 stitches....

The particularly huge one you see in the pictures is extremely dense, and took forever to make. I am now using a spacing that would put only about 11 "buds" on a backing of this size, rather than the 17 shown here.

1,000 yards of custom color

Frustrated with working with only two decently ocean-y colors of crochet thread, I broke down and made my own using a dusting of dye from various permutations of three packages of RIT.

This was really an exercise in deriving the basic rules of skein-making. I spent way too much time untangling yarn last weekend...

Now that I have these balls, though, I can start free-forming seaweed gardens which I am planning to attach to pin backs....

Friday, June 22, 2007

"Customer appreciation"

Experimetal, an incredibly talented jeweler and metalworker who was just recently Etsy's featured seller, placed a custom order with me for a 2-foot long coral frond. She made my week by sending this beautiful photo of the finished piece with her dogs - she says they are of the Alaskan Klee Kai breed, which, as far as my lazy internet research can tell, is relatively new and definitely super cute.

Untitled (Head) by selflesh

Untitled (Head), originally uploaded by selflesh.

I love how selflesh uses these cut map fragments to produce a familiar human image - it's reminiscent of an anatomical drawing from a distance. The excellent twist, revealed upon closer inspection, is that all the information (markings, colors, lines) is erroneous as far as knowledge of the "head" goes, like much of what can be seen in very old, speculative anatomical works.

That's not to say the map is meaningless from an artistic perspective, of course!

Please take a look at the rest of her amazing work. She has a very bizarre way of combining crochet thread and wax...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Barnacle necklace

The trouble with making these individual "barnacles" (which are just like the "white coral" I've made in the past, except that they vary in diameter rather than height) is that they tend to collapse when they're very small. I am trying to devise a way to keep them open....

The crochet thread is very slick, and it's difficult to negotiate a stable knot. I ended up weaving one of the "tails" through the wall of the "barnacle" to meet the other, where I tied them in a knot. One of those resultant thread tails was then trimmed off, and the other used to sew the piece of the backing. Unlike the white coral, these little things seem to look better if the last row made is pointing up, rather than down at the backing.

I plan to wear this thing around for a little while before making any more to test the integrity. It's going to be like those Ikea commercials where the chair gets pounded 10,000 times a day with what looks like a battering ram/erotic machine.


...on this ottoman by Constance Swinderman, who just graduated from RISD. I guess I would be worried about the rhinestones...

Via the excellent Design Sponge.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pretty toy ladies, dissected

Stephan Zick, 1639-1715

To see more, read this amazing post at In fact, you could also just read everything tagged with Museum Lust. It will be worth your while.

I love how the makers of these figures, meant as teaching tools, went to a lot of trouble to make these women beautiful - perhaps a frivolous aim, or even a source of potential distraction for the poor students? This ivory one, not so much. But scroll down in the bioephemera post to see what I am talking about.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Crochet jellyfish

Inspired by these incredible ceramic versions, I've been playing around with making crochet jellyfish.

I wanted to do some IFF style "hyperspace" crenelation for the wavy "oral arms" hanging from the bell - but couldn't get them small enough. Instead I had to use a spiral knot I learned during my embroidery-floss-bracelet making days circa 2nd grade. The ends are sealed with a touch of clear nail polish to prevent unraveling.

I'm also pumped about these wearable tyvek specimen tags. This particular stuff came from an envelope I got in the mail - I painted it with acrylic and marked with a Pigma Micron. The tags are surprisingly durable...

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Tiny, tiny thread

I just started experimenting with size 10 crochet thread, done up with a steel hook. Coming from a crochet reference frame of WORSTED WEIGHT, this is totally mind blowing.

Did you ever, as a kid, have weird semi-hallucinations while you were almost asleep? I, for one, had the sense that I was flying, or growing or shrinking, so that my bed felt like an enormous prairie or my room was just a tiny little nest I could barely fit in. (They're called hypnagogic hallucinations, by the way, for the science dorks among us). They were definitely weird, but not scary or anything. As I got older, I had them less and less, and now not at all.

UNTIL CROCHETING THIS. I guess my brain was still telling me that all red yarn is worsted weight, and all hooks are G size, so my hands manipulating this size 10 thread must be huge. It was weird and fun.

I've turned this little branch frond into a pendant, and am thinking of making simpler ones for earrings. They would be great for that for me, since I always find earrings too heavy, but this coral is featherweight.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

2-month pledge at Wardrobe Refashion

I just committed myself to 60 days of acquiring (by either buying or making) only handmade or thrifted clothing, along with tons of other ladies over at Wardrobe Refashion. No new stuff at all.

Everyone is required to post once a week, and you should really check out the stuff people come up with. The current post is on this amazing old viking yarncraft I really want to try called NALBINDING. As if I needed an excuse to buy a weird oversized needle made from an antler.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Vegetable Lamb of Tartary

My new favorite mythical animal:

Ever since the 5th century BCE, travelers made reports of half-plant, half-sheep growths. The lamb would hatch from a melon and was suspended from the plant (or leashed to it) by an umbilical vine. After grazing as much as possible from surrounding plants, the lamb would either die of starvation or gnaw itself free. Its blood tasted of honey!

A convenient explanation for cotton, according to this Wikipedia article, the real-life inspiration for the vegetable lamb turned out to be a fern of the "Dicksonia" genus, which has furry roots/stems. Reminds me of the rabbit foot fern my mom kept in the dining room when I was growing up - though I never made the "sheep" connection.

Read more here.

I heart Haeckel

More textures than you ever wanted to know existed. Read more about him, or cut to the chase and see his work at the Wikimedia Commons.