I have been bothered by bats for a very long time. They were one of my first stitched creatures. I love them but vowed to never make another. The process was brutal on my hands and had a high late stage failure rate. And they took an outrageous amount of time. But I love them, I love their shape, their curves and the way that shape seems to change as they twirl in the breeze and the lovely shadows they cast.
So lately I started from scratch – a whole new method of constructing them. There have been several dismal failures but in the past week I’ve landed on something good -. It’s much easier hand-wise and the result is reliable and consistent. It still takes forever. Not as bad as the original bats but still problematic. I’m not sure I can get to a place where I can produce them with any efficiency but I’m not done trying.
A blog anniversary snuck past in February – 11 years. When I did remember I thought maybe I didn’t really have anything to say about it. But the comments about the machine on last week’s post changed my mind. I remembered what a part of everything the machine has been. I remembered the serendipity, the sweetness and steadiness of it’s presence in my life and work.
It has been with me for all of it. My mother’s machine. I have sewn on it my entire life. So I want to mark this anniversary with an entirely true and slightly spooky story about it. It happened in the very beginning of this blog – 11 years ago:
In December of 2006 I had just begun my solo enterprise – I had lots of orders and deadlines and on the eve of one of those very important deadlines I was still sewing furiously very late at night. With a long way still to go the machine suddenly stopped and a chunk of metal rocketed past my face. I found it across the room – an essential part of the machine – no sewing without it – and it was broken. I tried to fix it but nothing worked. I have a drawer full of bits and pieces that I saved from my Father’s workshop – bits of metal and rubber, knobs, washers, gears, springs etc. I thought maybe I could cobble some temporary solution together from those. Another hour of frustration and no luck at all. Exhausted, defeated and ready to give up I pushed the drawer closed and it stuck halfway, I pushed again and it stuck again, I pulled and it stuck. I gave a great big angry pull and the drawer flew out and what had caused it to stick also flew out and landed – right in my lap. To my amazement and disbelief it was a replacement for the broken sewing machine part – the exact part – identical but for the color. Not similar, not “good enough” the EXACT PART in perfect condition. I snapped it in and it worked beautifully, that night and all the nights and days that have followed.
And – a little bit of what I’m working on today. New botanical experiments. I think the one above will be a pink cloaked bishop lily and below a seedpod experiment – playing with the idea of honeycomb texture. I’ve got plans for more and I’ll show you next week. I’m also planning on a shop update next week with botanicals and some creatures. You can sign up here to be notified by email when new items are available.
An aristocrat, from the tips of his well manicured hooves to the perfectly coiffed curls of his head. I can see his whole world – the crumbling manor house, stern ancestors glowering down from the walls, the dim and dusty library, his ever-present walking stick and far away gaze. The once stately gardens are a little more overgrown every year but he either does not notice or does not care. All is well, he has his books, his tea, his evening walks and his memories of his youth and the sea.
I will probably not make another like him – his luxurious texture has been tormenting me – it took ages. I’m never doing it again. I might do it one more time. I like the technique and use it often for small things but there was a lot of lamb to cover here. If you would like to similarly torment yourself I took some progress shots along the way.
I start with long strips of light fabric – a cotton voile in this case – and about 1 and 1/4 inches wide. My old White Rotary has an awesome ruffle attachment or you can achieve the same effect (on light fabric) by turning your stitch size to the largest and the tension to the highest setting. I stitched just off center.
Fold the ruffled strip over at the seam, press and start stitching it on – whip stitching over the seam. Row after row, around and around. In the photo below you can see how much space there is between rows. This varies depending on the size of the project and the ruffle – for my fancy lamb it is between 1/4 and 1/2 inch – I get a little closer in curvy places.
And at last the fun part. When he was all covered I gave him a serious haircut. Holding the scissors parallel to the ruffled surface start snipping. You can do a little or a lot – I did a lot.
The ruffle situation on this guy happened by accident – I was working on a lamb rag doll pattern and couldn’t help myself. There will be a sewing pattern for him soon – sans ruffles.
Entirely nude, but for a threadbare whisper of a nightgown.
The gown is made from the sleeve of an Edwardian lawn gown – so simple to make. I just hemmed the top edge – gathered across the front side and added ribbon ties that go around her neck – halter style.
She is offered in the shop – along with a few other new things – as promised I’ve been adding at least one new thing every day and will continue to for as long as seems reasonable. For now she is happy here, she sits serenely, in her nightgown, silently judging that little ant who admires himself so constantly.
And something new on my worktable – an evolving rag doll creature. The texture thing is pretty ambitious and I’m not sure I’ll ever do it again, it’s labor intensive even by my standards. But I do like the effect on him.
Welcome, good people of Denmark! I had an intriguing conversation with writer Katrine Sivkær Pettersen around Christmas last year and the resulting article appears in the March / April edition of Maries Ideer Magazine. We talked a lot about creativity, imagination and papermache – 3 of my favorite subjects and there are lots of photos.
A side benefit of photographing my place for an article is that I have to spiff it up pretty thoroughly – nothing like a credible threat for motivation – and the resulting tidyness has pretty much stuck. There are a few photos from the December shoot below.
The photo above looks like I have ghosts floating around doesn’t it? I would not be surprised – or it might be a smudged lens filter….. Probably ghosts.
And there is a tutorial! For a little paper mache boat – just big enough for a tiny rag doll. It’s all in Danish but each step is illustrated with a photo so I think you could accomplish it without understanding the text. I’m not sure where it might be available in the US – but I will inquire and update here.
After working on something small, detailed and intense I like to give my focus and brain a vacation. One of my favorite ways to do that is something I call recreational patchwork. I started a Fortuny patchwork piece today. I have lots of very small swatches and some longish strips – drapery scraps. It is good daydreamy work. It requires just the right amount of my attention for letting ideas percolate. It’s a peaceful, gentle state.
I work quickly – making strips and then sewing them together – log-cabin-ish I guess. Nothing is planned – I just grab pieces randomly. Nothing is measured, corners aren’t square and seams are less than straight. I bounce between the machine and the ironing board. I love the energy of it, I love the result and it’s such fun to do – to not think or plan and see what turns up – embrace the happenstance, appreciate the happy accidents.
It was a welcome shift after working on a trio of 18th century songbirds for one million years. Songbirds are very slow, very focused, detailed, difficult and fussy work. Lots of ripping out and doing again. Lots of stabbing myself with very tiny, very sharp needles. I want something particular from each of them and I can’t stop until I get it. The prize at the end is I get to photograph them – and that is such fun.
These three birds will be in the shop tomorrow (March 3rd) – you’ll get an email notification if you are on the artwork email list (if you’re not sure if you are just email me – happy to help).
And speaking of the shop – starting on Saturday – 3/4 – I’ll be adding at least one new thing to the shop everyday. There will be ships and boats, mischievous cats, owls, goats, rag dolls (some will be quite nude) maybe paintings – experiments – all sorts of things. The time will vary – and I’ll do it for at least a week – longer if it works out well.
P.S. Checkout some incredible raw edge Fortuny patchwork from Valentino here.
There are things that make my life and brain work better. Sketchbook – painting and drawing everyday, whether I want to or not, is one of them. So my daily practice is back. And I have three hopes for it:
1. That I can be consistent – that I build a solid enough habit that it doesn’t fall apart when I get extra busy.
2. That it leads me into larger work – my original intention was to turn the experiments I like into larger pieces – paintings, illustrations – maybe even fabric, I’ve yet to do that. I find the idea terribly intimidating.
3. And to increase my success rate. Last time I made 511 little squares. When I started I had no plans to sell them but I felt good enough about some of them to offer them in the shop. Only about 10% made the cut. As I begin the practice again I’m doing it with the awareness that I intend to sell some of them and it does change my feelings about making them. I think I’m much less likely to phone it in when I’m feeling lazy or distracted. It’s a little extra pressure I think I need. Series 2 paintings will begin to be available sometime this month. You can sign up here if you’d like an email notification.
After some initial misery and resistance and a lovely mix of self flagellation, anxiety and doubt I’m finding some rhythm and building a routine again. I did a few things to remove obstacles – make it easy for myself to show up. I spend some time Sunday cutting up the squares (hot press water color paper) so they are ready to go. And I make marks on some of them – splatter ink, scribble something or paint a background color – in case the blank paper is too much. So helpful. My paints and other supplies are organized and easy to get to. And ideally I like to start after 10 minutes of deliberate day dreaming – it usually puts me in the right brain place – a receptive place. So does my sound app – still Wind through Pines – it’s magic for me.
You can find my first week back at it here and I’ll post each week on Saturday. So far goats and pigeons are very much on my mind…….
In 1978, Soviet geologists discovered a family of six, in the vast and wild Siberian forest. They had been living there, in a cobbled together shack by a stream in complete isolations for 40 years. They missed World War 2. Geologist Galina Pismenskaya recalled her first encounter with the family:
“The low door creaked, and the figure of a very old man emerged into the light of day, straight out of a fairy tale. Barefoot. Wearing a patched and re-patched shirt made of sacking. He wore trousers of the same material, also in patches”
I wanted to share the story with you because the details of their life and survival are astounding – you can find the article here. And the image of the old man’s clothing grabbed me – I guess you could call it extreme mending. Mending is fascinating and I think so often beautiful.
My policy on possessions is have good things you love, not too many, and keep them for a long time. I almost never buy clothes. There are a just a couple exceptions – every once in a while I buy a smock dress from Cal Patch and wear it relentlessly. First there was this one and then last summer this one. It’s my uniform – I like having a uniform. Most of what I have was given to me and much of it I’ve had for a long time. I mend things, make do, re-use and repurpose. I like the practicality – economy and the aesthetics.
The blue jacket was given to me 15 years ago I think – I wore the sleeve edges ragged and I’m patching them with lovely old cloth from Sri Threads.
The green jacket above I’ve had for about 20 years – it has lot’s of issues but not enough to let it go – I’m patching it with gorgeous Fortuny scraps. I’m partial to flannel shirts and the red plaid above is a favorite – besides the ragged sleeves (I’m hard on sleeves) It had a big hole under one arm. Nothing says success like an underarm hole. I patched it with a 19th century dress maker’s scrap.
And the dress above – also a hand me down – is one of my most adventurous mends. The bottom of the skirt had a big section with glue or something spilled on it. I cut it out and sewed in a section from a cotton camisole. There was a little button loop and I left it at the bottom and added a button to the seam so I could pull the hem up. Pretty fancy.
And Moose – there has to be a photo of Moose and she sort of agreed to participate. She visited here all week – such a good kitten.
In other sewing news – I finished the victorian bird! 9 years after starting – but still – so good to get it done.
All of a sudden I felt a strong spiritual need to make a goat. I thought that I would just print the pattern sheets and get started but I haven’t made a goat or a lamb in such a long time that I had to follow my directions closely. It was a strange sensation – relying on the steps that I wrote and photographed but couldn’t remember. I’m relieved to report that I found myself to be an excellent instructor. In the lamb and goat pattern I recommend quilting cotton ( find the sleepy goat sewing pattern here) but I wanted to make a goat from a fabulous grey wool Edwardian skirt I found last year. It’s a homespun feeling wool and a little fragile – very goatish but not so fun to sew. It took longer and was fussier than cotton but I felt like it was worth the extra effort – and I like how sculptural I could be with the wool. I love him.
I immediatley started another wool goat using a vintage blue pendelton shirt. It’s a lot sturdier than the grey and should be easier. I love the color and texture. I’ve been making tiny things from this shirt for a year or so – but it kills me a little each time – I don’t ever want to run out.
And ships and boats – there is a fleet in progress. I’m in a boat making mood (I think it’s March whispering to me from around the next bend). And I’m preparing for a ship building workshop here in NYC in April. We’ll be making fabric ships in the workshop and I’m testing and refining and rehearsing the steps. It still amazes me what graceful shapes cereal box cardboard can make – so many possibilities.
I’m making some smaller sailboats for my fleet too – they will have bird and owl captains (find the pattern to make your boats own here). I’ll hang them all here and enjoy them for a little bit and then hopefully sell them so I can do it all again.
Following up on last week’s post – I so appreciated hearing your thoughts and comments – I know how hard it is and I wanted to offer you a couple more simple ideas besides the creative sprint (aka the activity bomb) for getting past the stuckness, the overthinking and a little bit of a challenge…… Procrastination has nuances and flavors – I am a lifelong connoisseur of them. And it comes in a variety of disguises. There are all sorts of ways to get passed it – different things that work for different kinds of stuckness and people. For me what matters most is that I take some – almost any – action. It’s a scientific fact:
“A middle aged craft lady at rest tends to stay at rest and a middle aged craft lady in motion tends to stay in motion.”
I constantly have to trick myself into action. The first is the hardest – it’s much easier to keep going than to start. I’ll tell you about 2 first steps I rely on:
Baby steps – gather supplies, or thread the needle, write the first sentence – commit even just 15 minutes. Repeat.
Create accountability – this blog, my business, the work I do all sprung from a need to prod myself into doing my own creative work. You are my accountability partner.
And it’s never over – it’s a life long challenge. Today I’ll commit to two things I haven’t been able to get myself to do. The first is my daily painting and drawing practice. It’s such a hard thing but so good for me – in fact I think it is one of the most important things I have done for my creativity in a decade. But – it is so often a huge pain in the ass to accomplish. I took a break and slippery sloped myself into abandoning it. I’ll begin again this Sunday. Just thinking about it makes me anxious.
Damn. Now I have to do it….. See how this works!
The other is this bird. I started him about 9 years ago. And he’s been hanging around judging me even since. I’m really not sure what happened here – I got stuck on some little detail and then got weird about it. I’ll show him to you all finished on Tuesday.
If you feel like committing to something – to taking some action – it could be as small as gathering supplies in a box or putting in 15 minute a day – state your intention in the comments and I’ll see you here on Tuesday – you can report your progress, share a link- whatever you like.
Update: I accomplished both my tasks – it was painful and I’m so glad i did it – the victorian bird is finished and I began my daily painting and drawing practice on Sunday. I’ll post the sketchbook every Saturday and you can checkout the victorian bird here.
How did you do – did you get something unstuck?
I had such a nice day today. And I wasn’t planning on it, I was planning on having a lousy day. The snow helped – it’s the delightful kind, mostly because there hasn’t been much of it this year and I don’t have to go anywhere or shovel it. I didn’t have any spectacular reason for a lousy day – just frustrated with my pace. Feeling a little stuck on a couple projects.
I am determined to increase productivity this year – in part by being very clear with myself on what that is. It is not busyness, it is not planning, it is not “research” (AKA the internet), it is not perfecting, it is getting things across the finish line: publishing, shipping, completing. All those other things are sneaky – and they trick me into feeling productive when I’m really not. To break the inertia I applied a tried and true method – making a big, messy sprint towards the finish line. Deciding, just for today, to pick up the pace – bypass the over thinker within and make stuff. Jump right over details I’m struggling with and surge ahead. Try stuff. In the simplest and I think most accurate terms:
Going forward instead of in circles.
I’m very prone to getting stuck in sewing pattern prototype creation – it’s so different from making a one- off. The rule for the day was – I’m not going to re-draw her face endlessly anymore – making minute adjustments to scale etc. I’m going to pick one and go with it. I’m not going to try another different hair style or silhouette. I’m going to make a doll.
Because I’m still who I am I can review, revise and refine tomorrow after a full day of rapid prototyping. It always works – the faster physical pace helps shift energy and lifts some brain fog. I can always make a much more reasonable and clear assessment at the end of a sprint day. The “experimental phase” of a project can be a dangerously sticky place – it almost always is for me.
If there is something you’re stuck on, if you are lingering in thinking about possibilities give it a try – for a day or even for an hour – the very least you will get is new information.
Sometimes focus feels impossible. Sometimes your imagination, your creativity and your drive seem to have vanished without warning. Sometimes thoughts and ideas spin so frantically you can’t catch them.
And, there are moments when it all seems to magically work – the better part of a day slips by without notice while you’re completely lost in a glorious flow state – effortless, creative and productive.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have it all at your command, to be able to summon deep focus, motivation and drive, ingenuity, and sparkling original ideas as needed or desired. But our minds don’t work like that. Our minds do what they like and so often just the opposite of what we’re looking for. Practice, training and attention help though and I’m always on the look out for ways to improve – stuff to try – ways to reach the deepest parts of my imagination and creativity.
Something I have come across a lot is the idea of alternating focused work with distraction in an intentional way – one example is The Mac Gyver Method – which I love and use all the time.
And Earnest Hemingway talks about the value of letting things percolate in The Movable Feast :
“It was in that room too that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything.”
Last week I heard the term “deliberate day dreaming” for the first time In this podcast episode (If you are curious about why your brain does what it does you will particularly enjoy this episode). I even like the sound of it – deliberate daydreaming – I like the idea of an intentional, daily invitation to let your mind meander and watch where it goes.
My mind wanders off all the time without permission – especially while I’m doing pleasantly (for me) repetitive tasks. I think it’s part of what attracts me to things like hand sewing and paper mache.
So I wonder what the effect of intention and daily practice will be. I’m test driving the idea for the next month – devoting 10 minutes everyday to “deliberate daydreaming”. I will let you know how it goes and if you feel like experimenting with me I’d love to hear about it.
My favorite textiles have been the ones that find me. They bring colors I could not imagine. These 18th century pieces (a beautiful gift) are mesmerizing and expanded my understanding of what yellow and pink can be.
This is yellow that sounds like trumpets, bright, triumphant trumpets and pink and crimson that sound like weeping violins.
“if a violin string could ache, i would be that string.” ― Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
I’m making songbirds and trying hard to do the colors and textures justice- they have waited such a long time.
Did you know – the larger a list is – scale-wise not length-wise – the more fun it is to check stuff off? I think so anyways. I love a list and at times when there’s a lot to move forward simultaneously (not my best thing) I put it all on poster board in sharpie and find that it helps me stay on task, helps me do the right stuff and follow through. I’ve wanted a chalkboard for this purpose for ages and finally made one for myself last weekend.
I painted a lovely old frame black and the chalkboard part was easy – it’s chalkboard contact paper on foam core. And I love it (PS- I’m not being compensated in any way for this – just sharing because I think it’s useful). I found it online and I was willing to give it a shot – to the tune of about 20 bucks – but wasn’t feeling super optimistic about it. I grew up in the 70’s and contact paper was a frequent and largely unsatisfactory design solution. This stuff is great though – it doesn’t look or feel plasticy and cleans easily with a damp cloth. They also sent a marker you can use – It’s a little harder to clean off but looks good.
I’m pleased with my chalkboards and pleased with the effect the presence of the big list has on my fidgety brain. I’m determined to have a record breaking year in terms of productivity – I’m always busy but I spin my wheels a lot.
Another time waster/ procrstinatey activity for me is looking for stuff. I have all my fabrics and other supplies and projects in file boxes and spent time recently labeling everything accurately. I’ve been using the same boxes for 5 or 6 years and clip clothespins are perfect for labeling- since projects and materials change often.
I’m tackling the computer next – it’s a mess.
What keeps you focused and on task? What de-rails you?
It is a lovely circumstance to have an expanse of days ahead of me that can fully accommodate a current hermit inclination. And the combination of having let go of a lot of things during a fall possessions purge and having a photo shoot for an upcoming magazine feature right before the holidays, I’m unusually tidy and organized. There are twinkle lights and quilts and happy plants – it’s pretty cozy.
With the exception of a dreaded visit to the DMV tomorrow morning I can spend hours and days parked on the couch with happy projects. I’m working on songbirds from 18th century textiles, some mr. socks and tiny rag dolls and lots of other projects including the flamingo kit.
I’ve made a couple prototypes and zeroed in on my paper choice – a combination of German and Italian papers. I may end up offering both options but I wonder if there is a strong preference for one or the other. What do you think – pale pink or all coral?
And the first of the 2017 fleet (find the pattern to make your own here).
I have more paper and fabric ships and boats in progress – some I’m making in preparation for my spring Sweet Paul Makerie workshop and some for the shop (next month I think). Speaking of workshops I’ll be adding a new one for the fall of 2017 – working out the details now.
And there is the possibility for next year (2018) of doing something in France – wouldn’t that be nice…….