Creating my first connecting script font

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here! (Although, of course, I post every day over at Holiday Doodles.) I’ve been busy with graphic design school, and work, and not only did we move across the country back in September, but we also then bought a house and moved again in January. So it’s been a busy first quarter of 2016!

As a birthday present to myself, I got some font creation software. There are programs out there that cost upwards of $500, and are apparently the gold standard for font creation. I, however, didn’t want to spend more than a hundred bucks — I wanted to dip my toe in first.

I test-drove three programs: FontForge (free, open source), TypeTool ($47.99 USD), and Type 3.2 ($55 USD). I created a font called Trawll with the free FontForge program, but its pen tool wasn’t intuitive, I couldn’t easily import letters in from another program, and it just wasn’t bonehead-simple enough for me. I tried the demo of TypeTool, but it would only let me open it once; after I closed it, it’d crash when I tried to open it a second time. I had to reboot my computer each time I wanted to use it, which was a total no-go. Shame, because it has a feature where you can copy something in Adobe Illustrator, then paste it directly into TypeTool. (Though its pen tool wasn’t great for me.)

I ended up purchasing Type 3.2 after trying out the demo. Its pen tool is the most intuitive of all of the programs I tried, and it has an image import feature. It lacks the same stroke-drawing capabilities as the other two, but I’m OK with that — I like to draw things in Illustrator. As long as it’s easy to port things over, it works for me.

So after creating an unconnected handwriting font called Cavorting, I decided to try my first connecting script font. The connections are what makes it a challenge — each letter has to be able to fit seamlessly with the next. (Spoiler alert: I haven’t achieved perfect seamlessness, because that would take a LONG time.)

I started by drawing my letters in Illustrator. I’ll use the lowercase E as my example through a lot of this:

Script font - lowercase E strokes

I used two weights of calligraphy brush: a wider, flatter one with an angle, and a thinner one that was almost completely round. I could combine strokes to get a nice effect. You can see on the right, where the strokes are broken apart, how the E is made up of one wider stroke on the left, then finished off with two strokes from the thinner brush. And yes, it’s a little lumpy in spots where the strokes meet. No worries, we’ll take care of that soon.

Script font - full page of lowers

I drew all of the letters at the same time and saved them all in the same large image. This made importing them into Type easier, and it also made it easier to keep things the same size. I grouped the taller letters together so I could compare their scale to each other; likewise the shorter ones.

If you look close, you can see some re-used parts among some of these letters. The spine of the B is re-used in the H and the I. The spine of the D is the same as the spine of the K. And almost all of the spines in the lowercase set were stolen from the uppercase letters, which I drew first.

Script font - my Illustrator file

After completing each set and saving them, I moved the letters outside of my work area. I didn’t delete anything, because you never know when you’ll want to compare heights with a previous character, or steal a pen-stroke. This was my work area in Illustrator after completing everything.

Next up: importing into Type:

Script font - importing into Type

The import tool in Type is pretty cool; you can do all of your letters on one sheet, then just select the part you want to trace. Here I’ve selected the lowercase E, and I’ve told the program that this should be at lowercase height. (All of the uppercase letters were traced at uppercase height, as were the taller lowercase letters like b, p, q, g, and y.)

There are sliders to choose how many points on the curves it traces. The fewer points you choose, the more blobby and weird your letter looks. I opted to trace at a higher number of points, then do some editing:

Script font - refining points

Here you can see the lowercase E as it came in (left), and the final version (right). Lots of points got deleted, lots of points got moved, and things were tweaked so I was able to get the same curvature with many fewer points. This makes for smoother curves, and quicker loading and drawing of the letter when you’re using the font. (I probably could have deleted a couple more points here, but this was just a test font. I tried to strike a balance between good and fast.)

This is also where I smoothed out all of those lumps where the wider strokes met the thinner strokes.

Because this font is meant to have letters that connect with each other, I also had to adjust the end stroke of each so that they all ended in the same place. You can see at the end of the final E, there’s a green line and an orange line that intersect. The green line at the end of each letter will line up with the pink line on the left side of the next letter, so both sides need to be set in such a way that they’ll meet up.

After all of the letters, numbers, and punctuation are imported and refined, it’s time for everyone’s favorite pastime: kerning. For those who don’t know, kerning is the adjustment of space between letters so that they look natural next to each other. In most font creation programs, you input kerning pairs: two letters at a time that might need a little nudge this way or that in order to look right.

Script font - kerning pairs

Kerning is especially intricate in a connected script font, because you need to make sure the letters are connecting correctly. A lot of the work was already done by lining up those pink and green lines (like on the image with the outlines of the lowercase E). But that’ll never be perfect: you have to take those pairs one at a time and do some scootching. My hardest time was getting every single lowercase letter to line up with the lowercase R. Some of them, like this “FR” combo, came out pretty darned well. A few connections aren’t perfect, but (insert balance of good and fast comment here).

Then it’s time to test sentences:

Script font - test pangrams

I start out with pangrams, which are sentences that contain all 26 letters of the English alphabet. A non-surprising number of them mention wizards, quickness, and guys named Jack. (And pangrams are a great source of band names. Who wouldn’t want to go to a concert hall to hear Turgid Saxophones play?)

After enough testing to make sure it looks all right (but not so much testing that it drives me nuts), I come up with a name. (Mostly this consists of figuring out what feeling the font gives me, hitting the thesaurus, and Googling to see if anyone else has used the words I like as font names.) Then I release my fonts out into the world for free. Because I love getting free fonts, so I figure other designers and artists love it too. I also get to create a cover image for the font:

Sprightly font cover image

I do have a few fonts here on this site, but I’m putting the newer stuff in a couple of other places. You can download this font over at:
My new portfolio website, missymeyer.com
My portfolio at Behance

I really enjoy drawing weird things.

The Holiday Doodles continue on, though I scaled them back from 7 days a week to Monday through Friday. It gives me a little more breathing room, and they’ve always felt like a work/school kind of thing to me.

One big change this month is that I’ve gone from drawing them on 4×6 notecards with a pencil and pen to drawing them completely on the computer. Less wasteful of paper, and I can re-do the final black lines as many times as I want, instead of having to get the rough sketch just right, then pray that I draw it correctly with the pen.

Previously, here’s an example from last April of the pencil sketch process:

eeyore-sketch

I also photographed the final drawings, then used Photoshop to lighten them up and boost the contrast so I could then import them into Illustrator. (We do have a scanner/printer, but I hate the scanner. Takes forEVER, when it decides to work. Because it’s an HP machine. NEVER AGAIN, HP.)

Now, I do the rough sketches in blue:

February 20's sketch

February 20’s sketch

This was for Love Your Pet Day combined with Clean Out Your Bookshelves Day. The choice of blue is a throwback to the use of no-photo blue pencils for rough work; you could do the black final art right over the top, and specific camera/scanner settings would make the blue pretty much invisible, so you didn’t need to erase.

After I go crazy with the rough sketch, I throw a new layer on top, switch my pen to black, then do the final drawing. Right hand with the pen on the graphics tablet, left hand with two fingers resting on Ctrl and Z (undo).

February 23rd - a cupcake playing tennis

February 23rd – a cupcake playing tennis

I think it’s really giving me cleaner, more consistent lines. I tried doodling using the computer a couple of years ago, but at that time I found I preferred paper and pen. I don’t know what changed, but something certainly did.

I also believe that doing these doodles is making me a better illustrator. I’ve done Mario a few times before, but this one is by far my best one.

Mar. 10: Mario Day! Also, bagpipes.

Mar. 10: Mario Day! Also, bagpipes.

(Also, I would totally play the bagpipes if they were made to look like a power-up mushroom.)

Photoshop Text Effect Tutorial: Road Stencil

I’ve been learning a ton of new tips and tricks from following Photoshop text tutorials lately. As we were driving to the grocery store the other day, I looked down at the chipped up, grimy, beat-to-hell turn arrow and text on the road and thought, that’d be a cool thing to create in Photoshop! I looked around for a tutorial, but couldn’t find one. So I made one! Note: this is done in Photoshop CS4; things might be in slightly different places in different versions.

sign7-brown

Here are the elements I scouted around for online. Major thanks to everyone who makes these things available!
Font: Boston Traffic
Pattern 1: Seamless Asphalt Texture
Pattern 2: Whitewashed Blue and Beige Grunge Patterns
Brush: Dust Particles Brush Set
Object: Tire Treads
Object: Left Turn Arrow

First, you’ll want to make a pattern out of the asphalt texture. Open that image file and go to Edit > Define Pattern. Done!

Decide how large you want your image to be. For a lot of the tutorials I’ve been following, I’ve been doing them small—around 400×600 pixels. (Then I don’t have to do any resizing to post them here on the ol’ blog.)

Create your base layer and color it in black. Or whatever solid color you like; we’ll be laying a pattern over the top, so you won’t see that color anymore. Go to your layer styles (that little “fx” option at the bottom of your layers window) and choose “Pattern Overlay.” Select your newly-created asphalt pattern, and scale it so that it has a realistic look. I went down to 25% on this 400×600 sample.

sign-1-pattern-overlay

Why not just use the fill bucket to fill that first layer with the pattern? Unscaled, the gravel in the asphalt looks HUGE. It’s like when you see a miniature boat filmed for a movie; the boat looks accurate, but the water underneath it looks wrong. You want to scale the pattern so that whatever you put over the top of it doesn’t look weirdly out of scale.

Next up, type in your text. I found the font Boston Traffic and loved it immediately; it already has jagged, irregular edges, event though we’ll jack those up even more a little bit later. Fiddle with the font size, distance between lines, and distance between letters until you get a look you like. Here are my settings.

sign-2-plain-text

Once you get the type where you want it, rasterize it. (Right-click on that layer and choose “Rasterize Type”.) We’ll be doing some erasing in a moment, and you can’t do that when it’s still type.

Back to the layer styles we go! Here are the settings, applied to the rasterized type layer:

sign-3a

sign-3b

sign-3c

sign-3d

sign-3e

The pattern I used in this part is the blue crème #42 from the webtreats collection, but you could use any pattern that just adds an element of dirty grunginess. Adjust the opacity of that pattern to add as much (or as little) grime as you want. I like it pretty grimy, since I’m also going to dirty things up a lot.

sign4a-layers

Next, let’s erase away some of the text. Not a lot, just enough to show some wear and tear. This is one of the thousands of reasons I love the dust particle brushes from wegraphics: they’re good for a thousand and one uses. Fire up the eraser (at 100% opacity), pick one of the dust brushes you like, scale it to an appropriate size (for this 400×600, I scaled my brushes to around 700 pixels) and just give it one tap.

sign4-pockmarks

Boom! Pitted and aged.

Now, while you’re erasing, you can also take some nibbles away from the sides of the letters, to give them even more wear and age. No need to go overboard—just make some of the straighter edges not so straight.

Now, let’s add in the tire tread. Open up the tire tread image file and select a tread you like. I picked the fourth one from the left, because it has that gross blobby portion in the bottom half. Select whichever tread you want, copy it over into a new layer, then resize and rotate it so that it’s a good proportion to the text. Change the layer’s style to Linear Burn, and bump the opacity down to about 65%. You can also put a little bit of Gaussian Blur on it, to take away some of the sharper edges. (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur; I went with a radius of 0.8 pixels.)

sign5-tread

Now, the pavement itself looks too clean and new. Create a new layer underneath the text, and go to town with those dust particle brushes. Pick a few shades of dark gray and tap the brushes to put down a splattering of grime. Photoshop also comes with a few spatter brushes, so experiment with those. You can play with the layer styles here too; change the style from Normal to Overlay to Linear Burn and see what you like.

sign6-grime

You can also add in some browns, for oil and dirt and dust and coffee spills. I created a new layer for brown and set the layer style to Overlay, then smeared around three or four shades of brown, some stacked on top of each other.

sign7-brown

For some, it’s done. For others, it just wouldn’t be complete with a little gradient around the outside, to give it a kind of hip Instagram-style filtered look. So here’s that, if you want it. It’s a totally optional step. As shown, I created a new layer over the top of all others, filled it with a radial gradient, black to transparent, reversed so that the black is on the outside.

sign8-gradient

I set the layer style to Overlay, and knocked opacity down to 50%. And there you have it, if gradients are your thing! (You could also do that gradient in a dark brown. Or any other color that floats your boat.)

sign9-done

You can also do the exact same thing with objects, instead of text. Here, I took the standard road sign arrow, chopped a piece out of it to give it that stenciled look, and then applied all of the same settings, layers, and whatnot.

sign10-arrow

So there you have it, stenciled road text! Now I’m headed out on the internet to find more tutorials to follow.

More Photoshop Text Tutorials!

So I’ve really started poking around the internet, and it’s amazing the kind of things you can do with Photoshop effects. Why have I only spend all of this time using it to graft people’s heads onto other people’s bodies, and other boring uses?

Previously, I showed my results from following a few tutorials online. Well, I’ve discovered a few more tutorials that I found do-able, and here are the results!

(Side note: I’m using Photoshop CS4. There are a number of tutorials out there for the far newer CS6, which has some new 3-D features and other glitzy things that I can’t do. Sad face, but I’m not about to shell out a gajillion bucks for a few new features.)

A 3-D style sign on the wall.

A 3-D style sign on the wall.

This is the ultra-glossy text effect tutorial from Wegraphics. It felt like a kind of metallic sign hanging on the wall to me, so I adjusted my text accordingly.

Carved wood.

Carved wood.

Here’s the first video I followed, as opposed to a series of screenshots and instructions: using PS text effects to give the impression of letters carved in wood, from Ice Flow Studios. I had to pause and skip backward a few times, but overall the following-a-video experience was a good one. A+, would learn from again.

Yes. Let's.

Yes. Let’s.

Next up was a pretty easy way to put a photo inside your text, from Photoshop Essentials. It’s a good step toward knowing how to do old-fashioned postcards. Although I believe there’s a tutorial out there for that style of postcard, as well.

Yay, sparkly things!

Yay, sparkly things!

This is a tutorial for a dynamic particle explosion from the Photoshop Lady. It includes a link to her free brush set of dust particles, which I can see coming in handy for a thousand and one uses. I’ll admit, this tutorial forced me to look up a second tutorial, because the instructions just said to “add a Gradient Map adjustment layer,” so I had to figure out how that was done. Fortunately, Googling that very phrase got me what I needed.

Scorching hot Mickey!

Scorching hot Mickey!

Last up is the magma hot effect from Tuts+. I figured I’d try a simple object instead of text, and I think it still worked quite well. It makes the mouse even more of a badass than he already is.

Playing with Photoshop Text Effects

I’ve had Photoshop on my computer for years, but I’ve mostly used it for, y’know photos. And doodle-related stuff. If I was using it to put text on something, I might put an outline around the text. Or a drop shadow. That was about the limit of my Photoshop text experience.

Recently, I’ve had my eyes opened that you can do some really cool text effects in Photoshop.

We bought a package of vintage and retro text effects (they were on a hella good sale, which sadly ended a couple of days ago). I took a look, and as is usually the case when seeing something cool and artist, I wondered if I could learn how to do that kind of thing.

Here’s a sample from the package we bought:

Vintage/retro text effects package sample

Vintage/retro text effects package sample

It’s pretty cool. Textured background, textured letters, lots of shading and shadows and groovy crap like that. So since I had nothing better to do with my day off today, I’ve searched around the internet for tutorials and how-to guides for some Photoshop text effects.

There are a ton of sites out there with “50 great text effects” and such. I browsed through those until I found things that looked cool. Here are some of the things I learned to do today:

The letter M. ON FIRE!

The letter M. ON FIRE!

Here’s a flaming letter, from a tutorial over at 10 Steps. You do a bunch of manipulation of the text itself, then you actually put a layer of a photograph of fire over the top, and manipulate that too!

Just call me Ms. Fancy Pants.

Just call me Ms. Fancy Pants.

For a lot of these, I put in text that seemed to fit the style. This is a totally fancy-pants tutorial from Tuts+. (I will confess, I only made it halfway through this one; their final product is way cooler than mine. But I did this one just before lunch, stopped at the mid-way point, then decided to just save it and move on.)

Looks like nail polish to me.

Looks like nail polish to me.

This is a glossy emblem tutorial from Hongkiat — they’re a great source for lots of tutorials. I changed a number of the settings, including the color, and used a different background. But I really like the look of this one; it has a kind of fluid look, like someone filled in the words with wet fingernail polish.

Shiny!

Shiny!

Here’s a really cool light burst effect, thanks to a tutorial from Designer Freelance. I thought it was quite shiny. The shadow of the text stretching along the ground made me extra happy.

I am a mature adult.

I am a mature adult.

Last but not least is my favorite of the lot, this light burst from Photoshop Essentials. And no, it isn’t just my favorite because of the text I used. Although I’m delighted by that, too. What can I say, my inner child is a 13-year-old boy.

I’m excited to try more tutorials, because in each one, I learn about a text effect or filter or other Photoshop trick I’d either never used before, or I’d never used it quite that way. I’m sure I’ll get around to doing more this evening, since there’s nothing else to do today.

So happy Photoshopping friends! Merry Christmas to all, and to all, poopy farts!

Weird Holidays = Holiday Doodles

A few months back, I posted about the daily doodles I was doing at work. And more than one person said that I should be putting them online somewhere, or make a daily calendar, or something.

The calendar thing would be a challenge, only because at this point, I’d have to start researching and drawing 2015. Because that’s how the calendar business rolls. But I did finally build a site where these will be online!

The daily doodles are now at holidaydoodles.com, and I’ve even bumped from 5 days a week up to 7. So now there’s a doodle for every darned day.

The archives are a work in progress, since I’m now colorizing everything in the computer, and a lot of the old ones were colored in with crayon or pencil. So let me show you how I’m building the archives (and the new holidays are done in a very similar way).

copying the archives

I figured that a light table to trace my old stuff on would be prohibitively expensive. But I was wrong! Yes, the big fancy light tables cost hundreds of dollars. But did you know that the magnificent folks at Crayola make a light-up tracing pad for a mere twenty bucks? It fits an 8.5×11 sheet of paper, runs on three AA batteries, and is plenty bright for my needs.

Tracing pad in hand, I started putting five or six drawings on a sheet of paper. I’d copy them over in pencil, then re-draw with my pen of choice: the classic (and cheap) Paper Mate Flair. (I use these at work, too, in a variety of colors.) Bolder than ball-point, not as fat and runny as Sharpie, the Flair rocks my little socks.

photographing the archives

Next, getting the new drawings into the computer. Yes, we have a scanner. It’s part of the printer/scanner/copier device we have. And like all printers, it chooses not to work correctly approximately 42% of the time. Instead, what I’m doing is taking pictures of the drawings with my phone. As long as I’m connected to wi-fi, they upload immediately to my DropBox space, and they’re automatically available on my computer. Much faster than scanning.

computer tracing the archives

In Adobe Illustrator, I run a process called “Live Trace” over the drawings. It takes them from plain old JPGs and turns them into vector art, which can be sized as small or large as you want without a change in quality. Sometimes it takes some tickling in the Live Trace settings, to get things just how I want them, but it’s pretty quick. By the way, this is the same process that Scott uses on his characters, as I showed in my Basic Instructions: Behind the Scenes exposé.

Finally, I color in the drawings using the plain old paint bucket tool. I only learned this week that Illustrator has a huge bunch of patterns that you can paint bucket with, as well as solid colors. You can probably see some of the patterns I’ve added to my bucket fill library there on the right. Haven’t found a reason to use any of them yet, but now I have them at the ready.

before and after

I save the colorized versions, upload them to the Holiday Doodles site, add in a brief commentary, and set them free.

For upcoming days, I’m doing them seven at a time on the weekend, then scheduling them so they post at 12:01 AM Eastern time every day. And I’m learning my lessons about researching before drawing — I had Tom Cruise Day ready to go for October 5, drawn up and everything, then learned that it’s actually October 6. Or maybe October 10, but I’m rolling with the 6th. I try for a minimum of two holidays per day, but I’m happy when it’s three or more. I have a five-holiday day coming up this week, which delights me.

Draw Something on Good Morning America

I’m a huge fan of the game Draw Something, and have many matches going on. (I keep a little gallery over at Facebook of my favorite drawings.

(I also keep a gallery in my cube at work. It brings me joy.)

My Draw Something gallery at work

So last night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jimmy showed special guest Johnny Depp some drawings that people had made of him in the game.

This morning, one of my bosses was watching Good Morning America and saw one of my drawings on a segment THEY did, which talked about Kimmel’s show the night before. Mine wasn’t one of the ones shown to Depp, but GMA is still pretty darned cool.

SO, here’s the segment on GMA, and also a slideshow of the featured drawings on GMA’s Yahoo page. Mine is the first in the slideshow!

What a weird world we live in. And what a strange, localized fame — word passed around my office, and I was given many hearty congratulations.

My Draw Something picture of Jack Sparrow

(Also, if you play Draw Something, I believe you can add me by username [redacted]. I’ll play anyone, anytime!)

Good gravy, I have like 20 new games suddenly! I’ll be rolling in coins in no time! I don’t know if I can take any more right now, but I’ll put my name back up if/when this batch loses interest. 🙂

Restringing a Ukulele with Fishing Line

Having put good strings on my good ukulele, and great strings on my great ukulele, I thought I’d put comically cheap strings on my cheap ukulele. And what better way to get a plinky-dinky cheap sound than fishing line?

One problem is, fishing line isn’t actually all that cheap. Because it’s hard to find it in short lengths. Sure, you could pay a few bucks for a 500-yard spool … but you’ll never use that much line (unless you actually go fishing), and more importantly, you’d have to get four reels, because the strings are all different sizes. So two options seemed feasible: grotesquely cheap fishing line, or better quality fishing line bought by the yard.

My first stop was the Bass Pro Shop, because they’re practically right next door. Unfortunately, despite being huge and intimidating, they didn’t sell any line by the yard, and their cheapest stuff ($5 for a spool) didn’t come in the right sizes. I moved on to Sports Authority, where I found the cheapest of the cheap stuff ($2.50 for that 500-yard spool) in the right sizes. Still, that meant putting down ten bucks for line that didn’t end up sounding all that great. On the plus side, I have fishing line for years now. Anyone want to string some beads?

I used the super-cheap stuff to string my uke (as seen in the previous photodump post, and wasn’t thrilled with the sound, but it was tolerable.

THEN, I happened upon a Dick’s Sporting Goods. Which I’d forgotten about completely, and only noticed because it’s next to the giant new liquor store near our house. So after buying my booze (and sampling a really nice Irish whiskey), I sauntered over to Dick’s.

The fishing stuff is in the same section as the guns. I was especially taken by the little pink one on the top shelf. It’s the kind of weapon Hello Kitty would use.

Not only did they have spools of better-quality fishing line, they also sold it by the yard. For cheap! I totally perplexed the guy behind the counter when I asked for a mere 5 yards in each size, but he was game to go to the back room where they keep the gigantic spools and cut me some.

The four sizes I got are: 30-pound, 40-pound, 50-pound, and 60-pound test. All those mean is that they’re tested to support that heavy of a load without breaking. I did some research and checked the pound-test to the standard measurement of uke strings, which is inches in diameter. And really, having put these strings on and tweaked the tuning a bit, you could probably get away with only two or three weights of line.

Anyhoo, the nice guy at the Dick’s gave me five yards each of 30, 40, 50, and 60, and told me to not even bother stopping by the registers, since it was such a small amount. And truly, going by their price charts, my twenty yards of line would have cost roughly 50¢.

Let’s also take a moment and discuss the material. There appear to be three basic kinds of fishing line. One is more of a braided string, so that’s useless for our purposes. The others are monofilament and fluorocarbon. Monofilament is cheaper, and that’s what I got (although it appears to be a decent quality monofilament). Fluorocarbon is the really good stuff, and will run you $20 or more for a small spool of the really high-quality stuff. So if you can find a place that will sell you fluorocarbon by the yard, jump on it.

Onward! I took off the old strings from my little uke and laid out the various sizes of line.

And yes, that is a cat’s tail in the upper corner.

We had to leave that shelf empty for the cats, so they could saunter between my desk and Scott’s. They love hanging out there, because they can get petted by both of us at the same time.

SO. I used the smallest line for the highest note, and so on down the line. But I started stringing with the second-smallest line (the 40-pound test) because that’s the string at the top of the ukulele. The bottom-most string is the highest note (A), while this topmost string is the G just below that A.

Here you can tell that it’s a cheap ukulele — you put knots in the strings and slot them into holes. (Edit: So apparently, some of the higher-end ukes use that knotting system? But I’ve only seen it on the really cheap ones. Live and learn.)

For the sake of comparison, a higher-quality ukulele doesn’t have those knot-holes; you have to feed the strings all the way through and wrap them back over themselves. Here’s my nicest uke, strung with my nicest strings, so you can see the difference.

So, you put the knot in the hole, pull the string over the bridge, lay it in the little groove up on the nut, and then you have to wind the string around the tuning peg. Again, there’s a difference between cheap and not-cheap ukes. On this cheap one, the hole in the tuning peg where you secure your string is in the middle.

While on my nicer ukulele, the hole is nearer to the top.

At any rate, with either one, you want to wrap the string around the peg a few times, then feed it through the hole. With the thinner strings, I then fed it through the hole a second time, for security. But as you can see two photos up, I didn’t wind the string starting at the very base of the peg; I left about a string’s width at the bottom. That’s so when you tighten the string, there’s still a place for that string to go. I did the same thing with the nicer uke, and as you can see, when it’s fully tuned up the string fills the peg all the way down to the bottom.

I finished with the rest of the strings, which went pretty quick. For the record, G=40-lb, C=60-lb, E=50-lb, and A=30-lb. You could probably do the G and A both with either the 40-lb or the 30-lb; one would just feel a little tighter or looser than the other. But I like the feel of the strings using all four sizes.

Now comes the tedious part — the constant stretching and re-tuning as the strings settle in. I’m tuning everything a little sharp, and pulling gently sideways on the strings to stretch them out.

Also, if I had to do this with a pitch pipe, I’d probably go nuts. Thank goodness for my little tuner. As you can see, I tuned a little bit sharp — by the end of a song, the string ended up on the flat side anyway. But since I have a penchant for playing dour and depressing songs on the uke, it’s kind of hilarious as it slowly gets flatter and more sour during a song. “Famous Blue Raincoat” has probably never sounded quite as chipper, yet quite as bleak.

Crafts: Quick Little Purse / Tote Bag

Goodness, I’ve been remiss in posting. My computer pooped out recently (shiny new one is now in use), and the other person who does my job at work went and broke her wrist, so I’ve been a little busy there. But not too busy for a little weekend crafting!

I was at the IKEA and saw that they had some cool fabrics for cheap, so I figured I’d throw down a little purse.

The plain yellow and blue were on sale for something crazy like $2.99 per yard. The colorful pattern was $6.99 per yard, which seems about average for the IKEA home decor fabrics. I ended up using a quarter-yard of pattern, a quarter-yard of yellow, and maybe an eighth of a yard of blue. So the total cost of fabrics used was under five bucks.

First, figure out what size you want your bag. I opted for a smaller purse size, but you could use the same methods to make a big ol’ tote bag. Note that these aren’t perfect squares — they get narrower toward the top. That’s because when you pinch the bottom corners (where those cutouts are), it’ll make the bottom less wide. By narrowing as you go up, it makes the bag less top-gappy. I cut these pieces (floral for the outside, yellow for the lining) with the fold of the fabric along the bottom. Makes one less seam to sew, and the bottom will be sturdier as one piece without a seam.

I opted to use the yellow for the lining because it’s bright. Ever have a purse with a black lining? Makes it hard to see things and find things. Although you could use a darker color if that’s how you roll. I’m not here to judge.

Next, I cut a long strip, 5 inches wide, for the strap. I also cut a couple of rectangles for inside pockets. You can do pockets, or not — depends on if you like pockets. I made sure that both pockets are the right size for my cell phone.

I took the strap piece, folded it in half, and pressed. Then I folded the ends inward again and pressed. Stitch along the side, and you have a finished strap. I also stitched along the folded side, so I had a line of stitching down each side. I just like the look. For the pockets, I folded in about a half-inch on every side, and pressed.

Stitch the top fold of the pocket down, then pin the pocket to the inside of your lining. Then stitch along the other three sides. Easy peasy. One of my pockets didn’t need its top edge stitched, because I cut it along the finished edge of the fabric. I wish I’d done that with both — it was a happy accident.

Pin the sides of the bag together, right sides together. Stitch the sides. Do the same with the lining, right sides together.

Now, the corners. Grab the inside points of the cutouts and pull — it’ll flatten out your corners in a kind of fish-mouth-looking way. Then, as you can see on the floral piece, stitch across the fish mouth to make a nice squared corner.

Time to put everything together, which means time to figure out how long you want your strap. I made mine of a length that I could sling it over my shoulder, or I could wear it cross-body. I just binder-clipped the strap in place and checked it out in a mirror until I liked the length.

Stuff the lining (right sides OUT) inside the body (right sides IN, so the right sides of the lining and body are touching). Also, stuff the strap inside, between the two layers. Pin everything securely and stitch around the top, leaving two or three inches open. I like to put two pins really close to each other on either side of the hole, as a reminder to not zone out and end up sewing the whole thing. Saves embarrassment, and time spent with the little seam-ripper.

Gently pulling everything through that two or three inch gap, flip the whole thing right-side-out. You can see the hole I left where the outside and the lining are connected. All this while, you’ll be wondering, Did I get the correct sides together? Is this going to work? This is the weirdest thing ever. Then you pull everything through that little hole, and it’s like magic.

Stuff the lining down inside the bag, make sure your seam is nice and neat, then stitch around the top. This both closes up the hole you used to flip it around, and also makes everything neat and tidy.

And there you go! A handy-dandy purse to carry all of your ladythings. Or your manthings, if that’s how you roll. You could also install a snap at the top, if that makes you feel more secure. And what would be better than using some of the scraps of fabric to create a matching sleeve for your tablet or phone?

On a final note, please don’t ever try to lay out anything crafty without a spotter to make sure everything’s soft, cozy, and thoroughly covered with hair.