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.
It came to me all of a sudden while I was in the bathtub. I wasn’t even thinking about making songbirds, it just popped into my head, a better way to make the feet and legs. I had been thinking (obsessing) about it a couple days earlier. I’ve been thinking about the songbirds a lot and revisiting every aspect of their design and construction. It is interesting to take something I’ve been making for a long time back to the laboratory.
This is the second songbird do-over. The first was because I misplaced the pattern. So painful. I reconstructed it from memory as well as reverse engineering from my photos. I made a couple changes and improvements in that round. I’m revisiting this time to get ready for the workshop and eventual sewing pattern. I want it to be fabulous so I am testing and testing and testing again, searching for anything that can be easier or more efficient and more consistent without sacrificing any elegance or birdness.
It was a hard thing to start. There is lots of resistance in my thinking when I’ve been doing something the same way for a long time. It took a while to get into a truly experimental spirit and find my curiosity.
“ The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”
John Maynard Keynes
It is also a daunting amount of very slow work with lots of failures. I only change one aspect of the design at a time. Sometimes there are several time consuming iterations of a change before I know if it is successful. I was stuck on the legs for a while, stuck on how to make them teachable and more efficient while retaining the expressiveness. There was also one problematic point in the construction where someone could potentially lose an eye. So awkward. A simple solution for all of it just floated into my mind. In the tub.
I’m also examining the body construction and balance. There have been huge improvements in both. Part of this process is digitalizing the pattern (in adobe illustrator) and while I was doing that I saw some possibilities. I simplified the construction a little and the shape is subtly improved and comes together beautifully. And I’ve changed how the legs are inserted and the bird is balanced. The balance, the body language, is so important to the birdness of the finished thing.
And I’m not done. I’m scrutinizing the details the same way now. It is all a massive amount of work but I’m deeply involved in the very best way, the time disappears way. I’m spending the whole weekend with the birds and I’ll show you what I make next week.
I love packaging, the little details of it, arranging things in the box, the string, the tags, all of it. I make most of the tags and labels myself. I probably should not, this is probably an excellent example of something I should outsource but I like doing it.
And before we talk about the best glue stick in the world I want to tell you about a couple other tools I use and love to make my packaging (these are entirely uncompensated endorsements).
When I started making kits I was cutting the image for the box with an exacto knife and it was a very slow process. I was not expecting much from this little paper cutter but I had about 100 labels to cut one night and it was less than 20 bucks (at the Paper Source Shop on the corner of my block) so I thought it was worth a shot. Almost three months later it still works beautifully. I use it all the time now for everything, labels and cutting my watercolor paper too. So worth it.
I also got these die cutting stamps and mini hole punch there. There is something so satisfying about punching out the little shapes. Now I’m curious about other cutting tools, the fancy digital ones like these with software etc. Do you know about these? Have you tried them? They seem so full of interesting possibilities to me. I am intrigued.
And the glue stick. I have tried them all. High end, low end. Everything. The UHU stick is my favorite. I am a heavy glue stick user. In making my packages, flamingo cake topper making, collage and as a temporary hold for fabric ( for some fabric projects I use a washable glue stick).
The UHU stick has staying power, even when I paint over it which I frequently do. It will wrinkle up briefly and then smooths out. I usually hit it with the blow dryer, not sure if that helps or just speeds things up, just so you know.
Have you got a favorite tool or supply?
There are all sorts of new things in the shop today. Ships and owls, captain cormac, small paintings and more.
And what is more perfect for Valentine’s day? Nothing says I love you quite like a giant mosquito.
Cozy is my specialty. I love twinkle lights on pearly gray days, lots of plants and lots of quilts. Three of my favorite old quilts have serious and progressing issues. I’ve been thinking about fixing them for a while and one of them has reached a point that demands immediate attention. It’s a quilt emergency. The other two are technically coverlets, no batting, so their problems can wait a while.
The largest and most seriously forlorn quilt is loosing stuffing all over the place. More of it is falling apart than not. It is probably not reasonable to try to fix it. And I know once I start it is a life long commitment, that it will spring new leaks and eventually be almost entirely repair with just little bits of the original fabric peeking out. I’m fine with that.
I’m motivated partly by my attachment to it, partly by a love for fabric and also because I think it might get interesting. I’m approaching the repair wabi sabi style, boro inspired patching and a meandering stitch. Some patches with turned edges and some with raw edges, an improvisational yes and process embracing happenstance. I started by basting muslin over the big problems and then working in and around those areas with smaller patches. I like doing it and I like what’s happening to it. I will keep you posted as it develops.
In other quilt news the latest issue of Homespun Magazine (Australia) has a pattern for the quilt block on the cover and lots of other projects. They always have an impressive array of projects and patterns in every issue.
And I’m in it too! Thanks so much Homespun. Digital copies are available here.
Sometimes I begin with somebody in mind and go looking. I spend a long time choosing, experimenting and thinking about just the right combination of texture and pattern and color. The indigo for the blue owl is all from Sri Threads. I love the variety in the blues. Some other lovely old cloth from Sri is below, miraculous color and wonderful mending stitches by other hands.
The black and dark greens for another little owl are mostly Edwardian garments. I love the way the blacks fade, usually leaning purple or green as they do.
Sometimes the beginning is entirely serendipitous, a suggestion from the universe. A combination I had not thought of and I was not looking for appears and I get an idea.
I saw a sailboat and mrs. rabbit and made them immediately. They are both quick projects and a good break from some slower work. Mrs. is made from the mr. socks pattern. I added long ears and reduced the size of the head cover by one quarter inch all around.
I’m also working on sewing patterns. I’ve got a bunch in progress and they are all a little stuck so I’m applying a creative sprint to the two that are closest to finished this weekend: the captain charmley doll and the mushroom print pattern. I can’t wait to share my method for creating his head and hair with you. So easy.
I’ll focus on just those two until they are done. After that I’ll start working on others again including a print version of the paper mache ships. It is a massive undertaking.
And pink. A soft, moody pink. Just right. It’s made with avocado dye. I had no idea. This came up in the comments section to last week’s post (thanks Alicia). I made guacamole and then boiled and simmered the 5 pits for a couple hours. I love it. Have you tried this?
5 simple things, that made me happy this week:
1. Sewing in bed. It’s become a regular thing in the morning. I sew by hand for an hour or so and drink lots of coffee.
2. Getting rid of stuff. Lightening my load. I spent a whole day this week making space and letting go of things. I plan to do more this weekend. The spring cleaner in me has awakened early this year.
3. A boston fern. I’ve been walking by it in the supermarket for weeks, watching it get sadder and sadder. I could not take it anymore and shelled out the $12.99 and brought it home. I did not have high hopes for it but it has made a marvelous recovery. I love plants and I’m happy I did this fern a solid, wish I had done it sooner.
4. Finishing stuff. All of a sudden a bunch of things I’ve been working on forever are almost done. I spent the morning (in bed) finishing this little goat, stitching sail edges and adding patches and details to owl captains.
I’ll take the official photos of the ships next week. They just need flags and wind in to their sails.
5. And finally this old iron. So much joy. I have never felt like this about an iron before. It has been a bad year for irons, this is my fourth and I love it. It was free, a serendipitous meeting, and I never would have chosen a cordless iron but it turns out I love the cordlessness. And it gives excellent steam and the surface of the plate is beautiful, it glides.
What little thing made you happy this week? Do you love your iron? What are you making? Do you sew in bed?
The purpose of my daily painting and drawing practice is to encourage free experimentation and exploration, expand my vocabulary, fail often, follow my curiosity, exercise my creative muscle and give ideas an opportunity to emerge. I took a long break from it and re-entry has been rough. I think in large part because I started selling some of the little paintings I made. Lots of them. That is on my mind now each time I start and I’m less inclined to try stuff. I feel all clenched up about whether or not I can sell what I make that day and If I don’t make a painting I can sell I feel like I have failed. I love making and selling the little paintings and I will keep doing that but I’m separating the daily practice. Letting that just be a place for ideas and experiments.
And I’m using a sketchbook from now on ( I was using sheets of water color paper). This was the first week and I like it so far. The page in the book is a commitment, no starting over.
I also like the idea of filling it up and making the practice more portable. I have lots of travel coming up and I’m determined not to take any more breaks. I’ll scale back on supplies when I’m traveling. I’m also making the commitment manageable, 30 minutes and one page every day.
I’ll post all this week’s pages here tomorrow.