building the focus muscle

I’m working on a large project for Fortuny – I can’t show it to you for a couple more weeks but I can show you some of the fabrics I’m working with – their new cashmere velvets – I wish you could feel them – and the colors are glorious.

fortuny velvet

It’s a project I love and one that makes me wish for more hours in the day which of course I can’t have. But maybe I can increase the depth of my focus and attention to make the absolute most of the time I do have. I know the sensation of deep focus but it’s a place that has become increasingly difficult to get to.

I think of my creativity, my imagination, as a muscle – something to be cared for, fed nurtured and exercised.

I think of time as a precious and finite commodity and I manage and protect it thoughtfully and carefully.

I am realizing that my ability to focus needs to be cared for, exercised, managed and protected too. I know it has been diminished by constant connectedness, the myriad of small grabs for my attention that were not there 20 years ago. So I work at it, plan for it and block out chunks of time away from distractions – internet and phone free time to sink into deep focus. I thought that was enough until I listened to this episode of The Unmistakable Creative Podcast :

Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World with Cal Newport

It’s a great episode and I hope you’ll listen. What struck me most was the idea that some habits and behaviors outside of those chunks of protected time have undermining, damaging effects on my ability to focus deeply, to manage my attention.

Newport offered the example of waiting in line at a grocery store – I pull out my phone – and so does almost everybody else. I notice the same on the subway – the train comes out of a tunnel and everybody pulls out their phone. It’s a habit and such a small thing – what harm could it do? Why not fill that little bubble of grocery line time with instagram or email etc.?

“Both our personal and professional lives are increasingly built around these sources of distraction. From a cognitive perspective, that’s like being an athlete who smokes.”

Cal Newport

It’s teaching my mind to run away from boredom – to fill gaps with novel stimulation from a never ending source, It weakens the muscle that resists distraction, the muscle that helps me stay truly present in the moment, the stitch.

songbird work

Since I first listened a couple weeks ago I stopped pulling out my phone in little downtime moments like waiting in the grocery or post office line and it’s uncomfortable – alarmingly uncomfortable. In fact it’s easier not to bring it. I think it’s good practice for pulling my attention back to the present or an opportunity to daydream – that little device steals so much daydreaming time. I am far more likely to have an idea while day dreaming than I am while looking at twitter.

I’m not giving up my phone or the internet – but I am working harder to put them in their place. And I do feel a strong nostalgia for the pre- connected life.

* Further – If you’re interested in this sort of thing you might enjoy another Unmistakable Creative episode on focus and productivity too.

on February 10, 2016 7

advanced beginner : ten years of blogging

songbirds 20016

* shop note: I’ve just added these two new songbirds to the shop – an Indigo Whipple and a Violet Contrarian. I’m adding new pieces every Thursday.

Ten Years!

This February marks the ten year anniversary of my blog. 10 years of trying stuff and sharing it.

Posting my efforts and experiments has made me braver and continues to help me push myself to keep moving, take chances, and get over myself. And I love having a record – evidence of small consistent effort over a long period of time, evidence of growth, a catalog of moments and sensations I would have forgotten. It is also a catalog of missteps. I looked through the entire blog over the last couple days – I never have before – and a lot of it makes me cringe. Not even just the really old stuff. There is a shocking amount of things I felt good about at the time that I see now as terribly flawed or awkward. Part of me wants to edit that all out but that is not the spirit of this effort – the spirit of this effort is reaching and sometimes reaching is flawed and awkward. In all of it that is what means the most to me – I tried stuff and I will continue to try stuff and share it. I’m deeply motivated by the idea that my best work is always ahead of me – I feel like I’ve barely gotten started.

To mark the occasion I chose a photo from each year to share in this post – some are images I loved, or times when I felt like I got somewhere new and some are just little moments I’m glad were preserved. Some of the images remind me of collaborators I was lucky to have and people who have been showing up here for the entire ten years – I am truly touched and grateful for that.

Beginning with 2006 – paper birds.

paper birds 2006

2007  -  the ginger rose

the ginger rose 2007

2008 – snapshots from Camp Wapameo for Birds

camp wapameo (for birds) 2008

2009 – diorama/illustration – theater

diorama 2009

Continue Reading →

on February 4, 2016 22

the brown speckled wingnut and other new songbirds

textile songbirds

Songbirds are slow work – it’s all slow work I guess but songbirds in particular will not be hurried. They are the boss of me.  I know when I start it’s going to take a long time and I struggle with that for a while – try to speed it up – it never works. I don’t make any real progress until I settle in and forget about finishing at all.

textile songbirds

They have evolved over the years into something more realistic than my early songbirds.  And every time I make one I reach for more – more life-force, more curiosity, more birdness.  I want them to seem to have just perched, or as if that are  just about to take off,  or take a step or as if they only discovered you this very moment.   I’ve added the four above to the shop today – from left to right : a Brown Speckled Wingnut, a Mrs. Brown’s Nuthatch, a Bashful Finch and an Ebony Woebegone.  You can see the Edwardian skirt the Mrs. Brown’s Nuthatch is made from here – I’ve been making things from it for years.

textile songbirds

mrs. brown's nuthatch

Continue Reading →

on January 28, 2016 6

songbird work, a spider and a seedpod

songbird work

songbird beaks and legs

I’m working on a little group of songbirds – some made from Japanese garment fragments and 2 from Edwardian garments.  Their beaks are carved from twigs collected over the summer and their legs are paper mache over wire.  Hoping to have all 6 finished and photographed for next week.  The commitment to add new things to the shop every Thursday has been a good push so far – a good sort of pressure.

And a couple newly finished things  - both are in the shop now along with rag doll #1 – a hand stitched botanical experiment and a bustled spider.

botanical experiment : seedpod

botanical experiment : seedpod

botanical experiment : seedpod

bustled spider

bustled spider

Don’t go away mad little spider – just go away.

on January 21, 2016 4

rag doll # 1

Made  of lovely old cloth from Sri Threads. I had such a good time making her – got lost for hours and hours – that’s the prize.  Doll making is like riding a bicycle – both make me feel like I’m 11 again. I’ve already started rag doll # 2 – I have so many doll ideas – it is such a good place to experiment.

P. S. if you like you can join me next September at  The Squam Art Retreat for a doll making workshop.

rag doll # 1


rag doll #1

rag doll # 1

rag doll # 1


on January 20, 2016 6

a scoundrel and an edwardian bird

Last year I focused on creating my first patterns and a couple other large projects and made very little of my own stitch work – the slow sewing I love to do, the creatures I love to make. I’m determined to do more of that this year and to get them into my shop. To build some momentum,  for the remainder of January, and starting today, I’m committing to adding something new to the shop every Thursday. Maybe one thing, maybe several, the usual suspects and some surprises and experiments too. If you’d like an email when new pieces are available you can sign up here.  Two of today’s new pieces are below, a dark bird and haggis ( a scoundrel)  - both made from Edwardian garments.

edwardian bird

edwardian bird





on January 14, 2016 5
Made Happy by Pictalo