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
Where do you lose yourself? For me it is often in tiny worlds. I pay attention when time disappears. I think it means a deeper connection is happening. Something is flowing and I’m letting it, I’ve achieved real presence and there is no struggle or distraction, nothing else tugs at me. I unclench. Unclenched is a good place to be.
Last year I created a tiny world inhabited by ants, ants with a taste for mid century furniture. I lost myself completely in the process in the very best way. It woke me up early and kept me up late. I was enchanted and mesmerized by the world as it took shape and deeply engaged in the craft, the process of creating it.
The centerpiece was a fireplace made from cardboard and foam core. I cut flagstone shapes from chipboard and glued them to the structure. The whole thing was covered with spackle (3m – patch plus primer is a great one) sanded, and painted.
The furniture was a trial and error process with help from this website, there are lots of good tutorials and techniques for building miniature furniture mostly from cardboard. I made the credenza above from cardboard, coffee stirrers, balsa wood and chopsticks.
I love exploring little worlds and objects I did not create too, bumping into them in the big world. I came across this miniature village in the back of a huge antique place upstate.
Something about mini speaks to me and always has, especially everyday things presented in detail at a small scale, even more so when it is a working thing like this little oil lamp.
There are other small worlds for me to create and it is one of the things I’m focusing on this year. Something I think a lot about but have not made time for. I want to explore and articulate the world the tiny ragdolls inhabit and follow Mr. Socks up the crooked road to Woebegone Pines and the big black house where the whole Socks family has lived for many generations of mischievous cats.
Unwrapping ornaments in soft, crumpled paper that my mother wrapped and unwrapped one million times, treasures that never lose their magic, the ceremony of their yearly appearance, that is most of the reason to Christmas the tree.
And I love it, my dear norfolk pine, all festooned and twinkling.
I skipped the tree last year. Got too busy, got the flu, and it didn’t happen. It almost didn’t happen this year. The big crash in October left a wake of disruption and chaos that is still not over. But as soon as I got the boxes down and saw familiar things peeking from that tissue (Christmas tissue is not like other tissue, something special happens to it) I felt inspired to do it.
Wrapping paper was next on my Christmas list. I decided to make my own and be super simple about it. I’m splattering plain newsprint paper (I always have a huge roll around for packing and shipping) with red paint. I’m also using plain brown paper and twine, red hemp and baker’s twine and a little green tissue left over from last year.
I like it. It’s simple and sweet and I spent zero dollars. I love an elegant economy and there will be more on that in the new year.
Merry and Happy to you,
The sketch book posts don’t usually get included in the blog page but I made an exception this week for a couple reasons. Mostly because I had a good week – I liked everything I made last week – that hardly ever happens. There’s even a naked lady.
And I wanted to tell you about my current obsession with Staffordshire Pottery and how that came about. I love looking at other people’s stuff. I want to look in your windows and open your drawers. I want to stop by when you are not expecting guests and look at everything. I came across this blog lately: The Bible of British Taste.
And I love everything about it – the houses, the art, the stuff, the textiles- on and on. This house in Scotland is my favorite post. That’s where I came across Staffordshire and there is just something about them – formal, sweet and quirky – all at the same time. You’ll also find some Chinese portraits there that have inspired.
Check it out – I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Also – For the next few weeks any way – I’ll be adding little paintings to the shop each Thursday.
The winner is – number 330 – there will be an email coming your way shortly Annie L!
Janine Vangool (upper case magazine) makes beautiful things. I’m happy to be included in the latest volume of her Encyclopedia of Inspiration series – Stitch-Illo. It’s a collection of artists who tell stories through stitch work.
The stories I tell with the things I make are sometimes very direct – like little birds who camp and put on plays.
More often I think of them as little mysteries – open ended questions – magical possibilities – ships that might float right in your window like a moth or a bit of dandelion fluff. Creatures whose expression and body language imply a history – a world of their own.
It’s a big book – and there is a huge variety of techniques and of the ways narratives are used by the 46 artists featured. There are several pages devoted to each and 600 color photos, some of my favorite artists are included- like Adriana Torres.
I’m also discovering beautiful work that’s brand new to me.
And here’s the fun part – I have one to give away. Everybody is welcome and I’ll make it super easy – just pick a number between one and five hundred and leave it in the comments. I’ll announce a winner next Thursday.
*Update – Comments are closed now – I’ll announce the winner (chosen by random number generation) and the winner will be announced later today.
And just like that I’m a finishing machine.
I haven’t felt this much momentum in a long time. I’m even finishing stuff that was already finished – a little extra. A few days after crossing improvisational doll Matilde off my to do list it was clear she was missing something so I made her an underskirt from an antique wedding dress and added the button bustle and black stitch detail at the last minute – I love the combination of black and ivory.
I finished so much stuff I’m allowed to start new things and I have lots of ideas. Many of those ideas sprang out of a lovely package form Sri Threads that appeared with the usual serendipity – unexpectedly and at a perfect moment. Such inspiring old cloth.
I have more songbirds in progress and I feel like there is a pigeon here somewhere too.
Can you imagine – the hands that wove and embroidered them, the rooms they decorated and moved through? I am mesmerized by these textiles – most from the 1700’s – the vermeer yellow velvets below are 17th or 18th century – the goldenrod piece with gold lame roses is French 19th century.
The colors are intense and I wish you could feel the texture – the weaves are thick and tight. I wondered if they would be sewable and they are – amazing. They came as a complete surprise – I have remarkably good luck in the fabric department – this was an incredibly generous gift from Trish Allen of Trouvais – a collector’s shop of rare and special early textiles – lovely, inspiring treasures – the antique ballet costumes – oh my.
The box has been here for weeks and I take them all out and look at them almost everyday. I only photographed a few things today – I might show you some more tomorrow – along with a new creature I’m working on. I started my first project today – a french blue songbird made from an embroidered 18th century silk. Next will be mosquitos and I think something botanical.
And speaking of songbirds – a new crew of Fortuny birds – here they are discussing some important songbird issues.
It has such a spirit about it. And it even smells and feels like it was just unpinned from the clothesline. A lot of the Edwardian garments I get are formal, often black or brown – somber or special occasion things. The everydayness of this ensemble paints such a picture – the generous side pockets in the polka dot skirt, the wear on the front of the pinafore apron where hands were dried a thousand times or a laundry basket rested.
And that little straw hat – it’s tiny – pure style – not a sunshade – it would have been pinned to her head at an angle for walks in town.
There is another pinafore apron that came with the group that was very stained and is already soaking – I start with just hot water – sometimes that does the trick – then ivory laundry soap and if necessary a mild dose of oxiclean. All the buttons and fasteners are gone and lots of seams have let go but the quality of the fabric is extraordinary and much of it is sewable – the skirt has a bustle and that fabric is quite good. I love it. After pinning it together I did put it all on and swooshed around for a while.
I’ve had a string of good luck lately with garments after a long drought – I’m expecting more soon. The black skirt below turned up about a week ago – it’s ideal in every way. It has a big bustle and the fabric is good. The fades and patina are glorious and the brown lining is excellent – I’m already making dolls and owls.
And tiny doll news – I just added 6 new tiny dolls to the shop : miss rose, miss parsley, miss iris, miss carnation, miss pearl and miss birch. And thanks to everybody who made the tiny rag doll sewing pattern launch a success – I’ll share some customer dolls soon – if you’d like to be included you can email photos to info at ann wood handmade dot com.
I’ve been experimenting with small compositions – making marks and texture with thread, exploring, observing and maybe expanding my vocabulary of stitches. Some are organic feeling marks – spilling out of the botanical things I’ve been working on and some mix with and echo the meandering stitches of mends and intricate darning I find in garments. I’m paying attention to my impulses and habits and challenging them – looking for the rules I’ve made for myself but am not always conscious of – the musts and can’ts that get in the way of being truly expressive. I’m asking myself to be responsive and un-self-conscious – to pick up a thread and follow it.
And P. S – regarding tiny rag dolls – thanks for your feedback and the pattern making is well underway – it will be available in the next week or two!
You know – the good ones- not the messy ones overstuffed with un-filed receipts and mail and pens that don’t work (I have those too). The drawers with good messes – those are the ones I want to show you – jumbles of stuff I use everyday mixed with stuff I like to look at, the things that are part of my process and inspiration – things I love and things I’m thinking about.
For someone who is quite tight on space I am pretty frivolous with easy access storage – for example I keep my paper snowflakes in a drawer right under my sewing machine. It’s not the most practical use of that prime space but there is the significant spiritual benefit of seeing paper snow flakes cut by a friend everyday to consider. And – although it is unlikely – if there ever is some sort of paper snowflake emergency I am ready.
I like looking at peoples stuff – their treasures -what they choose – what they hold onto. If you feel like showing me what’s in your drawers – please use #whatsinmydrawers on instagram – (I’m @annwood there).
Did you know mica comes in black?! Well it does – blackish anyway and it’s lovely ( I got some here). I made a paper mache teacup and gave it a fancy, sparkly interior. The teacup reminds me of the black milk glass on my mother’s little shelf of treasures (P. S. – teacups make sweet Mother’s Day gifts).
Black is the color on my mind right now. I finished this scoundrel last week – he’s made of several antique bodices and a ancient moth eaten shawl – all in shades of black. I love the subtle variety in tones and the effect that limiting the palette has on my thinking and process. It made me wonder – what if I applied that same constraint to other ideas? I wandered around in my mind for a while and looked through my big note book of ideas – thinking about everything through a black lens. It was shockingly effective. That shift gave me lots of new ideas and curiosities and fresh eyes on so many that had stalled and gotten back-burnered. It was a great illustration of the massive creative power of constraint.
The simplest thing – the smallest shift can guide you to new paths, new ideas and new places in your mind – shine a light on something that has been just out of reach in the shadows….. I am on a life long mission to shine a light into each and every one of those shadows.
I think it could be interesting to do a series of color studies (maybe teal next). But here I am so I’ll begin with black. Right now I’m in the collecting, hunting, gathering, percolating phase.
For me percolating means – digging through treasures, making collections, experimenting, taking photos and generally messing around. I’m having an energetic and marvelous time. I’ll share what I come up with soon and if you would like to make your own study of black send me a link – I’d love to see.
I love cloth.
I always have – as a child it was something I had in abundance and I learned to think well in stitches. I especially love old cloth. Lovely old cloth. I love it for it’s simplicity, it’s commonness, it’s possibilities and meaning.
I spend happy hours considering and choosing – today I’m gathering bits of indigo for an owl. I love the textures and patinas that comes from decades or centuries of life and use and I make things that celebrate it as I find it – all it’s scars and mending apparent. And I add my own patches and mends and visible stitching – I love the sewness, the make believe. The fragility and other unexpected qualities of very old cloth send me in new directions, new ways of doing things. I used some of my most treasured scraps from Sri Threads to make these toadstools.
I love the little guy. You can find all three in the shop today.
As I was working on them I was thinking about constructing shapes in cloth and what a fascinating process that is. If you’re experimenting with that kind of sewing, especially if you’re just beginning to play with three dimensional sewing – spheres are a great place to start. When I teach a workshop I almost always give away a pattern for three and four part spheres. You can download that pattern here if you like.
And speaking of patterns – more are coming soon – fabric boats, tiny dolls and the flamingo kit. I’ve hit a lot of snags and complications putting that together, it’s been a bigger mountain to climb than I expected but it’s almost there.
And in other news:
A new podcast interview! My second ever. Find my conversation with my good friend Elizabeth Duvivier (founder and director of Squam Art Retreats) here. I loved our chat – Elizabeth is a smart cookie, a truly curious person and I love her new podacast. Two of my favorite episodes are with Suzan Mischer and Kerry Lemon. I hope you check it out.
I was so happy when this threadbare edwardian bodice arrived – it has so much and I love examining the details and scars of these old things. They feel like time travelers to me – emissaries from a world away. It’s easy to find old black garments (ebay) but rare to find the qualities I love best. There is a particular shade of black I like in garments of this age – it fades in a particular way. This bodice has a fantastic range of tones to work with.
The texture is great too and has variety that is useful and inspiring to me – a few tiny moth holes, worn tissue thin in places and darker and more opaque in others – lovely for layering and feathers.The sleeves are gathered and blousy at the shoulder, that fabric usually escapes a lot of wear – has more integrity for sewing and stuffing. And the velvet details – oh boy. It’s my favorite part – little accents of velvet worn to perfection. Feathers for a raven or other dark bird and I have to make an owl just because of that velvet and the remaining black glass buttons. I love it when I can make a creature entirely from a single garment and I think there are at least three here.
It is such a beautifully constructed and designed thing – every detail is careful, thoughtful and precise. It is impossible to handle it and not think about the woman it belonged to and the world she lived in. I see her in that world – her hands in that familiar, unconscious movement of buttoning all those little buttons – looking in the mirror – thinking of something else.
My first encounter with boro textiles was in 2003 in this article in Country Living magazine. I was stunned – instantly in love with them – the color and the composition were perfect. The mending, the layering, the meandering stitch work all spoke to me in a novel way – I related to them at the time as paintings – as compositions that strike that magic balance, my sewing had been mostly put away for years. I cut out the pages and stuck them on my refrigerator – my percolating thoughts place. When I began this blog in 2006 my focus shifted pretty quickly to stitching and through the magic of happenstance I had the opportunity to visit the Sri Threads showroom. Stephen was an instant friend and ever since packages of intriguing old cloth and garments periodically appear unannounced in my vestibule – it’s a beautiful thing.
So much of my inspiration comes from these things I did not choose. I’ll preserve the hand mending in the pieces below in some new creature. I love that those stitches made so long ago, and that traveled so far through so many thoughtful hands will have a new place and meaning and the energy that went into them will impart qualities I could not.
I think the piece below ( it’s quite large ) is part of a futon cover – the color combination is stunning – that intense textured brown and smokey blues and purples.
This package also had lots of kimonos in various states of undone -ness. Intense red and a variety of unexpected melony pink silks. I’ve had an idea for something rolling around for years, one of the back burner ideas I have not gotten off the ground that these are perfect for – the missing piece.
And pale pink, ivory and melancholy lavender – they will also play a part in my afore mentioned stalled idea and I’ve already started a sheer, whispery and pale ship. Thank you Stephen! For all the inspiration and joy I get from these surprises. The Country Living pages remain on my refrigerator as a daily reminder of the good and unexpected things that are just around the corner.
P. S. If you like this sort of thing Sri has a spectacular instagram feed.
It’s a good thing I like to sew. I brought an ambitious amount of work to the Adirondacks with me, partly because it needed to get done and partly because I couldn’t decide what to leave behind – I wanted to do it all. I’ve been getting a ton done on my favorite porch, sewing for happy and peaceful hours and listening to the wind in the pines – it sounds almost too magical and mysterious to be real.
I love the big old house – it’s falling apart and has just the right amount of charm and creepy. I chose a couple of the things I’m working on and a few more glimpses of the place and it’s haunted corners to share.
And a little personal mending – I just can’t let them go….