* Update – The workshop has sold out but please add your name to the wait list if you were hoping to join – cancellations do happen.
Registration just opened for “Natural History” a three day creative retreat with The Makerie in Boulder – September 22nd to the 24th.
Our assignment for our three days together is to create and document an imagined natural history. We will look for inspiration at the intersection of history, poetry and nature, working collaboratively as well as individually to create and photograph a collection of specimens. We’ll use textiles, paper, found objects and a variety of other tools, techniques, materials and inspiration I’m bringing.
I’ll guide you through improvisational (and fun) exercises designed to spark you creatively, help you dig deeply into your imagination and generates ideas. It’s a spontaneous, “yes and” way of working – each action builds on the previous – you work with what shows up. It’s less about finished works and more about making connections and recognizing serendipity and happy accidents when they appear. We will pull ideas and details from our experiments as a starting point for designing and making our plants and creatures.
On our last day together we will style and photograph our specimens individually and as a group. I’ll share tips for creating compelling compositions and moods, simple lighting hacks and other seat of the pants techniques that I use in photographing my own work.
This is a workshop about experimenting, collaborating, playing and getting out of your own way. That is a life long daily challenge for me and I love sharing what I’ve learned so far. I hope I can help you be a more intrepid explorer of your imagination, reach past the territory you’ve already navigated and expand your skills for sharing that world.
Sounds like fun to me and I hope to see you there! If you’ve got questions please send me a message – I’m happy to help.
*registration has closed but you can still join the wait list here.
Have you ever tried Buckram? It’s a millinery supply. I’m continuing to experiment with bats and for this patched plum bat I’m trying buckram as a substrate – something to give it sculptural form. You can find buckram on Etsy – and it comes in all sorts of variations – black, white, heavy, light, fusible, sheets, rolls etc. etc. I got a big roll of the heavy weight – non fusible – in white. I’m also a big fan of millinery wire – there’s some of that in this bat too.
You can get buckram wet and form it or cut darts and stitch though it – I stitched it both by hand and on the machine. I like the stability of the shapes I made (you can layer it for even more stability) and how easy it is to stitch through. I did need to cover the edges – they are a little sharp and my fabrics were particularly delicate. I’ve been intending to try it for ages – it’s good stuff! And has given me all sorts of ideas. I’m going to add it to the resource list. If you’re curious about it search on google and pinterest – for buckram and hat making – interesting stuff pops up. There is a lot to be learned about shape building from milliners.
I’ve also been working on botanical experiments, revisiting two exotic species I created last year – The Royal Cone Flower and a Cloaked Bishop Lilly. There are colors and color combinations I come back to again and again – deep smokey plums and violets, indigo, and greens with a little acidity to them and little bits of crimson. The plums, violets and indigos are almost always Japanese (courtesy of Sri Threads). The crimson touches on the bat and Bishops Lilly are both very old – 18th and early 19th century. I dye most of my greens and it’s always too dull for me so they get a quick second dip in sunflower yellow. My favorite dyes are Dylon and idye (idye is intended for the machine – but since I dye tiny things in delicate ways I cut the little dissolvable packets open – it’s messy but works and their colors are great.
And toadstools – little guys – mini versions made from the mushroom pattern printed at about 70% (it scales up and down well). I love the mini- ness – just big enough for the palm of your hand or pocket. everybody needs a lucky mushroom in their pocket – especially in the spring.
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 (postponed for a bit) with botanicals and some creatures. You can sign up here to be notified by email when new items are available.
Update 8/4 : Thanks so much for all the great captions for last weeks contest! The winner is:
“Left, right, cha, cha, cha! One, two, cha, cha, cha!”
I love the idea of him practicing his dance steps with the mirror – nice work Lourdes!
I’m working on mostly top secret things right now – holiday stuff, 2 brand new workshops for next year and the tedious parts – formatting, editing etc. – of creating the rag doll and seed pod patterns. Since I can’t show you what’s on my work table it’s the perfect time for a caption contest.
I try to make creatures whose expression and body language imply a history – a definite point of view, a world of their own. And I like to photograph them in a way that invites you to wonder what’s going on outside the frame. This is one of my most favorite photos – taken last year in the Adirondacks. What do you think this dapper rat is up to? What’s on his rat mind?
Make up a caption and leave it in the comments to this post – an esteemed panel of judges will choose a winner to be announced next Thursday. Everybody is welcome to enter – please leave your caption comment before Wednesday 8/3.
And the prize – a Fortuny seed pod! Such a tragic flower – gone to seed – collapsed in a pretty heap.
I’ve been experimenting with new botanical shapes. The flower below is the rare cloaked Bishop Lilly – it only blooms at night. If the moon is full. Once every ten years. And only for an hour…..
There are also seedpods, toadstools and another rare specimen the Royal Cone Flower – valued for the rich crimson bloom as well as it’s medicinal properties – it’s petals make a potent sleeping potion – it is found only in the Black Forest and is nearly extinct.
I love the mystery and strangeness of flowers and I’m exploring them further – playing with the idea of translucency and things gone to seed. I especially love the foresty parts of the botanical gardens here in Brooklyn and I’ve been finding inspiration in antique botanical prints too – for my invented species as well as the photographs of them – I’m thinking of a postcard set of strange new specimens – what do you think? Also – In addition to the tiny rag doll pattern I’m working on a botanical pattern for a seed pod with a root system – that will probably be next out. Have a lovely weekend,
You can find the sewing pattern for the little toadstool above right here – I printed the pattern at 50% for this little guy.
And among all the strange flowers – tiny rag doll #4 – miss lilac.
This big pink flower woke me up last night. It’s one of the new botanical experiments I’ve been working on and it was finished but I didn’t love it- something wasn’t right. The original stem and roots felt too delicate, too fussy for the flower and out of balance – that idea would not leave me alone. My subconscious must have been working on it for me and last night I woke up abruptly knowing exactly what it needed – a bulb, a more substantial stem and very simple leaves. I love the bulb! More botanical experiments soon – there are all sorts of strange new species on my work table.
Have a lovely weekend,
Meet Mr. Cups! My new helper – I found him upstate in a fabulously junky junk shop – he makes a very cheery pin holder. I love the way his details are painted – I looked him up and found out he was made in Japan in the forties and there is a Mrs. – I’m on the look out. He helped me make lots of mini toadstools – pixie size fungi made from Japaanese garment fragments (from lovely Sri Threads). They are made with the little mushroom sewing pattern – it scales up and down well – I printed the templates at around 75% for these little guys.
the little mushroom sewing pattern
They were fun to make in a batch and easy to travel with – just a little bag of scraps and a few supplies – a good summer project. I also added a little extra height to the top for a couple – tracing the template and adding about another 1/2 inch to the top for a pointier cap.
I’m also working on some larger specimens and creatures, in lovely old indigo cloth.
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.
Don’t go away mad little spider – just go away.
What’s better than an October day, so sunny and crisp and warm that a layer of paper mache dries in 20 minutes in the sun? I’m making some teacups for gifts and my tree this year – I usually use two layers of paper over the cardboard and this is the first. These will be extra special because they are infused with spectaular Octoberness.
The color of the sky doesn’t seem real – but it was – what a day. October also means saying goodbye to the forest and that fantastic earth smell so I brought some home with me.
My terrarium perrished towards the end of last winter – the boiler in the old Brooklyn building I live in went south and there was a week of swinging between no heat and oven like temperatures that my little globe of mosses did not survive. I love having a little bit of the forest with me through the winter, it’s happy in there and it smells good.
P. S. The star pattern is almost here but not quite – I can’t get through a pattern step shoot without a big do-over. Maybe it’s because of rushing or becoming increasingly persnicity about images or maybe I just need to do everything twice.
I sew in a little house in the Adirondacks as much as possible in the warmer months. And every year (so far) Eastern Phoebes build a nest under the roof overhang and have little Phoebes – sometimes two broods in a season. I love watching them. This year I got a chance to examine a nest up close for the first time. It is a beautiful, delicate, thoughtfully made thing – one little bit at a time (Phoebe’s are pretty small).
I don’t notice the thread or wool stuffing that floats away while I’m working but apparently they do and there it was, woven into the nest- the soft wooly stuff right on top for warm comfortable babies. And below that there was another nest ( each brood gets a fresh nest) with a bit of tulle from a 19th century gown and Japanese indigo threads. I’m so pleased they found it useful!
I also wanted to share a couple photos from a walk I took in a part of the forest I hadn’t explored before, a long walk off the path and through the wild stuff. The smells were incredible and I saw things I had not encountered before – like this strange pinkish thing – I discovered later it’s coral fungi.
And I ran into a newt – a lovely little red eft who graciously let me take his picture.
The toadstool pattern is just about done. I’ve got a few steps to reshoot and then a little more work on the document and it’s ready to go. I’ve taught this class a couple of times and that definitely helped in writing the steps.
It took two years of experimenting to get the shape I wanted in my toadstools. Two years of almost there but not quite. I am pathologically persistent – relentless. The most difficult part was finding a reasonably efficient way of making the concave shape for the underside, reasonably efficient and reproducible. I tried so many things – some with interesting results – like foam padded bra inserts – but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. What I ultimately came up with is simple and has a lot of flexibility – the shape and effect can be varied with little adjustments – it’s fun to play with.
(photo by Andi Schrader)
I loved teaching the class – the steps seem odd until all of a sudden a toadstool appears. I hope one of the takeaways from my botanical experiment classes and this pattern is thinking innovatively about shape building and materials.
So stay tuned and if you would like to be notified by email when new patterns are released you can sign up here.
I’m in a year of experimenting and shifting and being a beginner. One of my main life skills is being a good beginner – moving forward without a lot of attachment to outcome – being willing to act in uncertainty. From the perspective of feeling confident and comfortable The Squam Retreat is a terrible idea for me. The days are intense and challenge me in so many ways: I’m used to, and enjoy, being by myself. The idea of sharing a cabin with strangers for 4 days seems impossible. Teaching – speaking to a group – managing precious time for other people, all seem like giant mountains to climb. It was all so worth it – and then some. I had wonderful cabin mates and that was a big part of the experience – left to my own devices I would have missed that. Elizabeth Duvivier plans every detail of this experience thoughtfully, insightfully and expertly. I loved teaching- again. It got my wheels turning in new ways. I loved getting glimpses of other peoples imaginations and processes. I think there is a moment in learning a new skill or technique when doors open in your imagination – possibilities emerge and you experience an elusive kind of flow and focus. It’s inspiring and motivating to watch that unfold.
I came home exhausted and charged up at the same time. Four days out of my routine was valuable in so many ways. I did things I was afraid of, learned more about my own rhythms, got a million new ideas and made friends. Real Friends. The experience left me with a New Year’s day kind of feeling – a map of things I need to pay more attention to, ways in which I should be challenging myself more often, ways I need to grow and ideas that I have been consistently resistant to that I don’t just need to consider but should be marching towards. I did as much learning as I did teaching – from students and the class experience and from spending time with women who run creative businesses and run them beautifully.
It was my second time at Squam and the second time I was so engaged in the moment and the experience I forgot to record it. I’m so grateful to Andi Schrader for taking the wonderful photos below. She also made this little house – I love it and it is a perfect token of the experience.
Some glimpses of the botanical class through Andi’s lense:
(more photos after the break)
I’m headed to the Squam Art Retreat tomorrow to teach my botanical sewing class – I can’t wait to get started. I’m bringing a ridiculous amount of stuff with me – it’s like I’m moving. I’ll also be at the art fair with some of my botanical experiments and I’ll have the prototypes for the ship pattern with me too if you’d like to see or have a question, or just come say hi – the fair is always fabulous.
And some new Fortuny pieces – I just sent this group off to Venice.
Francesco and Alessandro
I’ve been taking some time to wander around and pay extra attention to moss and mushrooms and other botanicals in preparation for my class at Squam this year (just a couple weeks away!). On my last excursion I spotted all sorts of mushrooms – most of which I’ve never seen before.
This yellow one with a spotted cap was the biggest- the size of my hand and intensely yellow.
These little yellow and black ( and kind of creepy) guys are tiny – less than an inch high.
I also made a little terrarium with a tiny fishbowl I found at a yard sale.
I’m looking forward to the class and the time in the forest and it also winds up a period of extreme busyness for me – I’m working on the botanical class, 2 new patterns, a special project for holiday 2015 and another for holiday 2014 among other things – all wrapping up in the next couple weeks. The last night of the Squam retreat (9/13) there’s an Art Fair – if New Hampshire is not too far for you I hope you’ll come say hi.
A growing collection of Sri mushrooms.
And whispery silk fiddleheads, in the spirit of the day.
Happy Valentine’s Day!