All you need are scraps. And a sewing machine. It is the kind of thing you could lose yourself in, the next thing you know hours have gone by and there are miles of it. It’s a meandering process and an invitation to happy accidents, there are no mistakes, it is not careful (except keeping your fingers away from the needle) and there is no planning. The perfect thing if you are feeling the need for something spontaneous. Just start and keep adding stuff.
My approach was pretty bare bones and I had lots of fun. What is your scrap situation like? I’ve got tons and lots of it very small. I dumped the whole thing out and started pulling out the tiniest scraps, the un-sewables, the little whispers I can’t let go of.
Start with one piece, add another and another, machine stitching through the whole thing, sometimes bunching or curving the little pieces. I can’t stop. And they don’t need to be lace, I’ve got cotton scraps too and I’ll try those next. And you can add other stuff and get super intricate and detailed – find a tutorial here.
You could use the garlands for packages or hang them (maybe with some twinkle lights and paper mache ships) or stitch them onto doll clothes or your clothes or make a crown for somebody little.
I made a mini one to use as a roiling sea for this little boat. Find the free mouse pattern here and the free little boat pattern here.
I like to think about ideas and where they come from, how they grow, what sticks and what doesn’t. And I find it hugely satisfying to share what I learn. For the past several weeks I’ve been gathering things for my diorama workshop this June and playing with ideas, experimenting in a gentle, open way, thinking about when to hold onto a narrative and when to let it go, exploring the relationships between things.
And I’ve been working on a way to share some of the experience with people who can’t make it to a workshop or retreat. That idea has been percolating since the makerie workshop last fall. Like the diorama workshop it was very focused on experimenting, thinking and trying stuff. I began the 3 day workshop with a warm up exercise called “a mysterious box”. Students got a small box with a collection of materials and a mini assignment, the assignment was the same for everybody and it is top secret.
I had a blast making the little boxes and the experiment was successful beyond my expectations. I’m working on the correspondence version now. Making little boxes and working out a way for people who participate to come together and share what they make.
What do you think?
And the hunting and gathering : I hit the ephemera jackpot a couple weeks ago. A huge box of old paper stuff (some of it very old), someone else’s memories and treasures. The things that were precious and carefully kept right up until they weren’t. I spend time looking through it everyday and part of me just wants to keep it all (those halloween treat bags are hugely nostalgic for me). I will not.
There are lots of newspapers and magazines from around 1880 with magnificent illustrations. Sweet bundles of letters, maps, elaborate certificates and receipts. Wonderful color, text and imagery to play with (you can see more from the box in on instagram).
There aren’t many photos in the box, I love this one. I think this is the one thing I’ll keep. I love the bare trees in the background, the lonely holiday garland on the window, the mood of it all. Long ago Christmas seen through a smokey, scratched lens, the wistfulness magnified by the medium.
The box is full of that feeling and I can’t get enough of it.
The truth is I thought birds had two toes. Some birds anyway. I was aware that many birds had 3 toes but, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I thought that there were also lots of birds with two toes. The actual number is much closer to zero…
I stand by my two toes. I think two is exactly the right number of toes for birds who go camping and put on plays and get married in the forest. Exactly the right number of toes for ballerina birds and pirates.
And I have lately decided that 3 toes is the appropriate number of toes for my more realistic songbirds. How to add the third toe was a puzzle though. I failed again and again, rejecting methods that were too complicated or unreliable. Last Sunday I landed on a simple and elegant solution, a method and a realistic three toed bird foot I am thoroughly pleased with. It’s going in the pattern. PS – I haven’t given up on the cast foot – it is in the works – more on that soon.
And I’ll teach the three toed method at my next songbird workshop, my first ever in NYC, and right down the street from my place! Come to Brooklyn for a two day songbird workshop on June 2nd and 3rd at Brooklyn General.
And if you’ve got questions send me an email, I’m happy to help.
They are such fun to make. I want to put a bicorne on everything. I might start wearing one (kidding). You just need a few scraps and a few minutes. I’ve made you a template in two sizes, one just right for little birds and another that is perfect for mr. socks. He likes to dress up like a pirate once in a while too. Who doesn’t.
You will need:
The template pdf, wool felt, bright fabric scraps, embroidery thread, a couple sequins and/or some metallic embroidery thread, pinking shears and basic sewing supplies.
1. Cut out 2 felt pieces for the hat and 2 accent pieces.Use pinking shears for the curved part of the accent pieces.
2. Whipstitch the accent fabric to each felt piece with embroidery thread and stitch on a little sequin and fabric scrap to one of the pieces.
3. Place the two pieces together and blanket or whip stitch the top together. You can find a video of the blanket stitch here – just make the stitch length much smaller.
There are tips for piratizing birds here and if you make a tiny pirate hat I’d love to see! You can use #putabicorneonit on instagram.
I don’t know who said this (do you?) but I love it:
“Magic happens when you do not give up, even though you want to. The Universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart”
I think it’s true. Letting go of things is part of the equation too. And getting out of the way, letting things happen. It all has to balance. That’s the tricky part. And you’ve got to take care of your stubborn heart.
It has been my experience that ideas are self perpetuating – one thing leads to another. Showing up, having a stubborn heart, keeps things flowing. Working, trying things, failing, asking the second question and the third and wanting to see what’s around the next corner keeps me in motion.
Once in a while that cycle gets broken. The well isn’t empty but the bucket is not reaching. A consequence of too much at once and not enough rest.
No amount of effort or discipline will fix it. It requires another approach. A rest and a reset. I let go of my ambitious day and did what I felt like. Mostly I cleaned. Laundry, serious vacuuming, making space, clearing distractions and removing obstacles. Making this a good place for thinking. A place conducive to ideas. And tomorrow a trip to the shore for a day of mudlarking.
That should fix me. Part of the big tidying today was making my worktable an inviting space and making an appointment to show up. Just to show up, no huge expectations or attachment to a particular outcome.
It’s ready for me and tomorrow evening I’ll spend time experimenting, moving my heart and mind and hands and beginning to wake up the muscle, find my way back in.
I’ll share some of my mudlarking day in an instagram story tomorrow. And if you feel like a project this weekend maybe try a paper mache teacup. They make a sweet mother’s day gift.
I’m in the woodshed with songbirds. Evaluating the pattern and steps, testing and adjusting little things – using what I learned teaching the workshops last month to make the pattern all I want it to be.
My friend Mickey introduced me to the term woodshedding and I love it:
“The ability to conjure up a feeling of wonder in others, to create a sense of awe, has always fascinated me. And while I do believe that magic can just “happen” under the right circumstances, creating magic is a much different story. It involves a lot of hard work, endless study and a constant refining of process and craft. In music, they call these periods of intense practice woodshedding, referring to the time spent honing skills privately out in the woodshed.”
Mick Riad – Creative Director, Fortuny
I think it is my favorite place to be, in the woodshed with something. Discovering, testing and refining. Deep in a learning process.
I’m also woodshedding owls to prepare for the dastardly owl workshops this fall (I think there are 2 spots left). Eventually they will also become a pdf and print pattern too.
What’s going on in your woodshed?
If you have taken a workshop with me then you know I am the seam allowance police. I always mark my stitch line. I think it’s essential for small sewing. I recently came across an easy way to add or mark a consistent seam allowance:
Tape pencils together.
That’s it. If you’re drafting patterns it’s a quick and easy way to make a consistent seam allowance and for marking fabric just put one pencil point on the edge of the fabric and trace around. Also, if you glue a sheet of very fine sandpaper to a piece of cardboard or foam core it makes an ideal surface to keep your fabric from slipping as you make your marks.
While we are talking about sewing tips one of the questions I’m asked most frequently is how to hide knots when adding features and details. I include this trick in almost every pattern I publish (and you can find a video of it here).
1. Make a tiny knot close to the end of your thread.
2. Insert the needle a little away from where you would like to begin and come out where you would like the first stitch.
3. Pull the thread tight to pop the knot through.
4. Insert the needle and use a sweeping motion to grab the thread from the inside and pull the tail in. I’m ready to embroider the little white ring around my bird eye ( I always add one dot to the center too, to give it life).
5. When you are almost finished stitching stop before you are ready to make the last stitch and make a knot in the thread. Before you tighten the knot insert the needle into the loop and pull it down the thread until it is just a little further away from your work than the length the last stitch will be.
6. Make your stitch, bringing your needle out about 1/2 inch away, pop the knot through, pull the thread tight and clip it close to the fabric. If there is still a little tail use your needle to pull it under again.
Finished! And no messy knots. Find another tip for making small sewing beautiful and easy right here.
Most people don’t realize that all of Fortuny’s fabrics are inspected by a tiny Venetian fly. A diligent and thorough fly. It is careful and slow work requiring long hours and true dedication.
It’s a big job for a little and old bug but he has been content in his duties, happy even, for many, many decades (no one knows exactly how long, it seems he has always been there).
Lately someone new has started showing up, a dragonfly, all huge and full of himself and suggestions, the sort that has come and gone before….
I’m making owls from the new Fortuny printed velvets. They are exquisite, the colors, the feel, the patterns, everything. Before I began I spent some time refining and adjusting the owl pattern. Velvet is difficult to sew sculptural forms with and I very rarely use it for shapes. Even with lots of pins things tend to slide around and the weight and pile make it unforgiving, mistakes show and are hard or impossible to adjust by stitching from the outside. It was time to tighten up the pattern anyway because I plan to teach it in the fall (more on that soon). After I had success with cotton and linen prototypes I felt ready to try the velvet.
I also discovered that stapling the fabric together (don’t tell that tiny fly) works magnificently well and does not harm the fabric. I stapled right at the edge, outside the seam line, and everything stayed in place as I sewed.
I’m very happy with the shape, he is round in all the right places, the pattern pieces snapped together perfectly and he already has a bad attitude.
A note on the beautiful pins – they are entomology pins. They come in lots of sizes and colors, the quality is excellent and I love the way they look. You can find them here.
I’ll share finished velvet owls and some other new creatures with you next week.
Why does this stitching, born solely of necessity, produce such compelling and powerful compositions? Does some perfect rhythm, some harmony with the universe reveal itself if we get out of the way?
And intertwined with the aesthetic appeal there is another sensibility about these patched and mended textiles. Stephen Szczepanek refers to Boro as having soulful beauty. I think that’s perfect, their unassuming and utilitarian nature and their absolute integration with life communicate an intimacy and humanity that is exquisite.
I chose some of my favorite examples of patched and mended old cloth to share with you below – click the images for the larger versions (all photos by Sri Threads).
There is beautiful evidence of time and use everywhere. I’ve been photographing my paintboxes for years, to record their transformations.
Like the Boro pieces I love them for their accidental beauty and for inspiration – there are so many things to think about and so many places to begin in them.
Note: this post was originally published in 2015 as part of my big creative year series and was edited and updated with new images on 4/6/2018
We made songbirds and dolls. We stitched and stuffed and tried stuff. We hammered wire bird feet on a tiny anvil and carved beaks from twigs. I repeatedly cautioned everyone not to cut themselves and then I was the only one who did. The days were packed and exhausting and there was a big salad and baked treats each day. French General is a good place. I’ve demanded that they let me come back and we are working on something special for October. Stay tuned or sign up for the mailing list if you’d like to be the first to know when registration opens.
There were three classes – the rag doll once and the songbird twice. Each class was completely full and everybody was a pro. It was like a dream, a room full of serious stitchers. I usually invite beginners too (and will again) but these one day classes were so ambitious I did not.
Sewing, as a group activity, is a lovely thing. I felt at home at FG and with the people who showed up to sew. It makes everything easy. And fun. I had fun. I hope everybody had fun. I can be kind of a slave driver and it was a lot to ask of people. A lot of work and a lot of thinking, right up against the edge of what’s possible to do in a day (by the way – the follow up stuff will be emailed to you in a couple days – reviews of some of the tricky stuff and instruction on a couple things we didn’t get to like very easy shoes for dolls). And big thanks, to each of you who took the time and precious energy to show up and try something.
I was so busy and engaged I took almost no photos. I so wish I had, the more than 50! birds and rag dolls were wonderful and the shop is beautiful and full of fascinating things. Thanks so much Jennifer Serr for the rag doll class photos. And here are some of the songbirds in various stages of blast-beruffled plume-
And a couple in their natural habitat.
(bird by mary stanley)
(bird by jill burgess)
This was a was a big and expanding experience in lots of ways. Teaching is good for ideas, for thinking in general. And for being part of the world which I do enjoy occasionally.
When I get whacked hard by life, this is the poem I read. And this is my favorite part:
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
It always cheers me up and I know what to do, fling my soul hard at the gloom. It is the only thing to do.
I’m back from my teaching trip and It all worked out. But it sure was dicey for a while. There are so many reasons not to do stuff. Trying seems to invite bad luck. It doesn’t, but it seems that way. The more stuff you do the more stuff there is that can go wrong. And when things do go wrong they love to go wrong in a horrifying cascade. That’s what happened in the 2 weeks before I left for Los Angeles. Lots of little things went wrong and a couple big ones. There was plenty of gloom. I rarely feel defeated but I did for a while. The darkling thrush saved me.
I got home at 2 AM on Tuesday, watered the plants and spent the next 30 hours in bed. I am still exhausted. I’m also full of ideas. The first thing I did was ship a ton of orders and then I carved a bird leg from a block of wax.
I’ve been wanting to try this for a long time. The intention is to have molds made and cast legs in brass and bronze and silver. I have no idea if I did this right. I just started hacking away at the wax and did not look up for many hours.
It was a deeply peaceful and immersive experience. I’ll go to a casting place next week and I’ll let you know what happens. If it works out I will start offering them in the shop along with the soon to be released songbird pattern. I’ll keep you posted. And I want to carve more wax – I have all sorts of ideas…
The Aged Thrush
PS – I got the wax blocks here.
Interesting things happen at the intersection of real and pretend. There is a shift, scale becomes playful and there is instant magic, instant enchantment. Nothing is certain and anything is possible.
That intersection is always on my mind when I’m making something, especially the little birds. I love to photograph them in the park or a forest. It is still one of my favorite things to do.
The forest casts its own spell, offers its mystery and magic. And the camera adds to it, it drops a glass dome over the moment and crystallizes the atmosphere.
It creates a world where if you just look a little closer, a little sharper, you might catch a glimpse of little birds exploring or tiny bunnies in joyful procession. Maybe they’ve been there all along and you just never noticed before.
About those bunnies.
My sister made them from the very nice mice pattern (just add long ears) a couple years ago and took the photo. I love their expressions. And it’s bunny season and almost spring, make some bunnies and take a photo! I’d love to see.
It’s March and there is so much to celebrate. The mushroom print pattern and kit are in the shop and it is the12th anniversary of this experiment. To mark the occasion I’ve shared some lovely things made from my patterns by customers, but first I want to talk to you about storage.
My place is small and I’ve got a lot of fabric. It is mostly in one big (ikea) shelf stored in cardboard file boxes. The storage shelf had to be taken apart after the big crash and I never got it back in shape. Besides being depressing to look at it had also become a giant time waster. I pulled it all out and thought about it. The first thing I did was toss the lids. I don’t need them and the boxes fit perfectly without them, like drawers.
Most of the labels got lost in all the moving around. I’ve tried a bunch of stuff, hang tags, clothespins, writing on the box with chalk and have not been thrilled with any of it. I was going to use chalkboard stickers this time but remembered something I bought years ago and never used, little metal book plate labels from Martha Stewart.
They are perfect. How much joy can a fancy box label bring? So much. They are just right and feel so official. I googled them and you can still find them in lots of places including Staples. It’s such a big improvement over the chaos I’ve been working with and looking at.
The doll above is made from the tiny rag doll pattern with wonderful added details and modifications to her wardrobe by Annette (@nessienews). I love everything about her. I want to follow her and spy on her adventures in the forest.
One of the biggest and best decisions I made in my 12 years of experimenting here was to share patterns. It was such a leap and required and requires a giant amount of learning. It has turned my experiment into an almost rational enterprise that continues to grow and I continue to be interested in it and happy in the process of creating the patterns and kits (there are lots more coming). And I love seeing what you make. I selected a few other customer images to share here and If you like you can see more and share your own on instagram using #annwoodhandmade
And you’ll find others under: #annwood #tinyragdoll #mrsocks #annwoodpatterns
As always, thanks so much for showing up,
Enchanted mushrooms made from little bits of fabric and other supplies you probably already have. I’ve just added the new mushroom print pattern and kit! to the shop. And in celebration of the 12th anniversary of ann wood handmade all patterns and kits are 25% off through Monday.
If you make mushrooms I’d love to see! You can use #annwoodhandmade on instagram or email me a photo at info at ann wood handmade dot com.
Vibrant color with some smokeyness to it. Worlds and continents and centuries overlap in this little collection of textiles. Antique garment fragments from Japan, 18th century silk and velvet and shimmering patterns from Venice. And all of them found me. Marvelous serendipity.
I like thinking about all the things that had to happen in the world across hundreds of years for this bird to be, a crimson and scarlet girl who had her beginnings in the 1700’s. What has she seen, what does she carry with her.
I spend huge amounts of time selecting fabrics, lingering in the choices, it slows me down in a way that I need to be slowed down sometimes. I have always loved to do it. Ask my sister, she will tell you that I loved to spend hours in the attic on a rainy day sorting through endless bags of scraps (I come from sewing people) imagining what I might make.
I’m doing lots of slow songbird work still. trying things, taking notes and making tiny adjustments. The part I most look forward to teaching you is transforming the basic shape into a bird, adding layers of feathers and details. There is so much opportunity for happy accidents. An imperfection, one wing a little askew or a tail feather poking out can suggest the funny, expressive little motions of a perched bird. Birdness.
The deep mineral tones are spilling into other work too. I interrupted the bird work to make a toadstool. Partly because I was in need of some immediate gratification. Toadstools are quick to make, especially the minis, this is made from the sewing pattern printed at 75%. And also because I’m trying to add something new to the shop every day.
And The Major, in aubergine, charcoal and graphite with little bits of silver and warm rose. I love him. Especially his fancy bicorne.