And collide in the best way, in the you got peanut butter on my chocolate way.
In the two weeks leading up to the squam diorama class I spent a lot of time playing with old paper and planning for the class as well as finishing up the brand new print version of the large paper mache ship. Old paper is interesting. There was lots of it in France. I’ll tell you about that trip soon, it was a giant experience that has not even solidified as a memory yet, just shimmering images (I’m also super jet lagged and kind of dopey).
My paper interest intensified with the things I collected for the Squam Diorama Class. I love collecting things for that class and happened upon a couple incredible collections of old paper in the last year.
I have mostly dealt with the surface of my paper mache ships in the same way for a very long time. I like soft, often neutral, washes of color with newsprint showing through. I liked the moodiness and spareness of it and still do but I was wanting something different all of a sudden.
I experimented but nothing made me happy. I didn’t land on anything I liked as well or better. There was all that beautiful paper for the dioramas but I loved it too much to use it, you know how that is. And I didn’t think the texture of the old papers would work well for mache. I started playing with little pieces and was surprised how stable the paper was in the paste and how smoothly it layered on the surface, even with a variety of textures and thicknesses. And it works well mixed in with newsprint too.
The more I played the bolder my choices were and color and shapes crept in in a way I had not expected.
Now my eyes are open for paper all the time. It seems like a connecting tool for me at the moment, an invitation to happy accidents and a little push into new territories. I’m working on some figures now that incorporate it with fabric and stitching as I prepare for the Fall Squam Retreat (more on that soon).
P S Thanks so much to all of you who wished me well on my travels. It was a huge, exciting and daunting thing for me, I have not been on a giant trip in decades. Your thoughts were truly felt and appreciated.
If you visit here often you know that June was mostly a traveling and teaching month for me beginning with a diorama class at Squam. It’s a fun class to teach and I always learn a bunch too, in preparing as well as the class experience. There is always magic in that class. The magic in people who show up for it and experiment, magic in that forest, and always in that gathering.
It continues to be one of my most favorite places. Elizabeth Duvivier invented Sqaum and she invented me as a teacher. She was willing to give it a shot so I was too. Teaching continues to change and expand me like nothing else. The students this spring experimented and stretched, were open and willing and supported each other, I loved being part of it.
Gathering things for this class is an adventure and I love having permission to roam around and acquire lots of lovely old things to share. Things I feel some spirit in. And there is also so much to find in that giant oak forest. After class I like to wander around and look for the intersection of real and make believe that intrigues me so much.
P S – I’ll be back at Squam this fall and I’m in the planning stages for 2019 workshops now and will be headed South for the first time. I’m rolling ideas around for that – what would you like Southern friends?
Little projects, for your little bits of fabric:
1. Charming little houses by retro mama. So sweet! And I love her fabric combinations, the natural linen and bright prints. The full pattern and tutorial are both detailed and excellent and you can find them right here.
2. Fabric wrapped hangers. I’m happiest when I have busy hands. Things like paper mache that occupy my hands and relax my mind. Good thinking projects. I also like hangers that things don’t fall off of.
3. For your tiniest scraps darling little flags with a secret ingredient. Perfect for your paper castles and cupcakes and maybe paper mache boats?
4. Paper piecing is perfect summer sewing, something that travels well, beach sewing. This tutorial is great.
And pattern news:
The pdf version of the songbird pattern is just about ready to go. To drive myself crazy I’ve also been working on the print version at the same time and that will be right behind it. It has been a giant undertaking.
The paper mache ship pattern is at the printer as we speak. I’m picking it up next Monday. So pleased to have it in print. It won’t be in the shop for a couple weeks because I’ll be traveling and teaching.
When I’m back I’ll turn it into a kit too. I am bringing the ship print patterns (and some ships) to Squam with me. Come say hi at the art fair next Saturday night, it’s such fun, there are twinkle lights and beer.
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.