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.
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.
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.
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…….
It might snow tonight – I hope it does ( just a little please – nothing crazy). I’m well nested – luxuriating in the post holiday stillness. I’ve taken to my bed with books, magazines, sketchbooks and some therapeutic hand sewing. Mainly, I’m making plans for the year ahead and resting the last of a wicked virus out of me.
There are a million things I’d like to do – my first projects will be new sewing patterns and kits. Kits are definitely going to happen this year – there, I’ve said it.
The first pattern will be a mini – a winter coat for the tiny rag doll (and mr. socks too). I’ve been playing with it for a while and lately got close to what I want: it should be scalable – something that could work for lots of dolls, easy, reversible and pretty quick to make. Look for that pattern next week.
Also – speaking of socks – the print version of the mr. socks pattern is nearly finished. And maybe he’ll be a kit too – what do you think?
I released 3 new patterns last year and feel like it should have been more – I’m hoping to at least double that this year. I’d love to do a collection of botanical patterns – maybe an e-book – with all my techniques for creating shapes and details like fancy root systems and organic feeling textures.
There will also be a naked rag doll pattern coming soon and a collection of clothes for her – including a kimono – for her more modest moods.
And I’m determined to finish a project started last year that I got good and stuck on – the flamingo kit. I’ve made it mandatory – one way ore another the flamingo kit is happening before Valentine’s day. I have to let go of something to make it work and spent a lot of time being obstinate with myself about that. I hand dye and paint the paper and that absolutely does not work for the kit – it’s labor intensive, difficult, challenging space- wise and puts the kit way outside the target price range. Now that I have a little perspective on it I’m not even sure my fussiness was justified. There is another round of gorgeous italian test paper on the way right now – stay tuned.
There are other plans too – for paintings and drawings – and all sorts of ideas that have been percolating for long enough.
What are you planning? What project will you finally dive into this year?
P.S. If you’d like email notification on the release any of the afore mentioned patterns you can sign up here.
I don’t bake anymore- at least not very often – because I can’t control myself around baked goods. At all. So I have to limit my exposure. One of the things I miss about it are the fabulous smells – especially this time of year. Cloves are a favorite and lately I started simmering cloves in a crock pot – I throw in citrus peels too if I have them. I tried adding cinnamon – that was a little too much for me. But the cloves are magnificent – a warm, clean smell – just enough – and I’m surprised at how much it affects my mood. It’s such a simple and pretty much free thing that brings me a lot of happiness.
And if some is good – more is better. I’m experimenting with homemade clove citrus cleaner. I Googled recipes and it could not be simpler to make – add white vinegar and citrus peels to a jar along with optional spices – cloves in my case because of the new clove obsession.
Full disclosure – I don’t know if it works yet. My jar has been sitting for about a week and I’ll test it out in about another. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Have you tried this? I clean with vinegar often but hate the smell – so I thought it was worth a shot. Plus it looks pretty.
Another simple and happy and pretty inexpensive thing that brings me lots of joy – my plants. Potted plants and stuff I pick up in the park and plop in water – sprigs of white pine etc. Most of the potted plants were given to me or found abandoned on the sidewalk in Brooklyn. The one exception is the Norfolk Pine. I spent 30 bucks on it 3 years ago to serve as a christmas tree. It will again this year too – I give it a shower about every ten days and coffee every once in a while – it loves it.
In other news – the mr. socks pattern is getting close – maybe next week or right after Thanksgiving. You can sign up here if you’d like and email when the patterns is available.
There are a couple mr. socks prototypes in the shop right now along with several new green shoed tiny ladies. Also – this is the last time the tiny dolls will be offered at their current price – there is just too much time in the fully wardrobed little dolls so if I do make more there will be a significant price increase.
P. S. If you’ve been making your own tiny rag dolls from the pattern stay tuned for a winter coat pattern coming soon.
I like to sew by hand, early, as soon as there’s a little light. Its quiet, peaceful, reliable and slow and it steadies me.
I make black coffee and I stitch for a couple hours – often little things and usually on the couch, by the windows, keeping the house plants company.
I love it especially this time of year, the old radiators start to clank and moan and make that steam heat smell I love; I stitch and stitch and listen to the world starting up again.
I’ve been seeing pigeons in my dreams for weeks – not real pigeons – stitched pigeons – they insist on being made. You know how pigeons are – always insisting on things. I have to trick myself into starting a new shape – I love the process when I’m in it but there is always anticipatory anxiety – it’s knowing I have a series of failures ahead of me. I don’t mind them as they happen – it feels like process, progress and discovery, I get immersed in it. But still, even though I know that – starting – taking the very first step – is always hard, even for stuff I’m pretty excited about. So I start with a baby step and it’s almost always the same. I give myself the gift of putting it off for one more day but it goes on the list for the next day – first thing. I also gather what I need to start so it is handy and ready to go. I usually wake up ready to dive in. Who knows what magic my subconscious works overnight or maybe just the simple acts of putting it on the list and collecting the supplies gets me past the onerous starting line.
New creatures start with a drawing. I like charcoal on drafting velum – messy and spontaneous. From there I can trace out a profile and start to guess at gussets. Next I sew up and stuff a series of drafts – marking them up with sharpies and making adjustments. The first draft was less pigeon and more small sad turkey with issues….. I made about a half a dozen more, making a little progress on each and eventually getting close to the shape I want – the pigeon shape below.
I’m pretty happy with this shape – it needs a little more fullness in the breast so I’ll probably do one more draft and then try it in good fabric. Hopefully pigeons will appear over the weekend.
One more note on starting – I’ve been doing something new for a while and it’s working well for me. Historically – I have kept things on my worktable – tools, notebooks, fabrics – a perimeter of stuff. As an experiment I got rid of it all – found other nearby homes for everything. I also began emptying the table of whatever I’m working on at the end of the day. It seems counter productive if I’m just going to work on the same thing in the morning but it has a magic effect. Emptying the table ends the day. It feels official. And when I wake up there is just my list and an invitingly empty space. It feels like a fresh start. I make clear and conscious choices about what to do without an overwhelm hang-over from the previous day. I start the day more peacefully and feeling in charge and since I work by myself I am, technically, supposed to be the one in charge. Putting the stuff away is extra work but the benefits have out weighed that.
And please meet Edmond. A contemplative rat – like his brethren the mosquitos, pigeons and spiders – one of the less loved creatures.
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Maybe it’s my favorite – or maybe tied with March – I like the blustery months. It is just so extraordinarily pleasant – perfect days. And I’m sewing a ton – hours and hours of hand sewing every day after a longer than usual phase of other things – planning workshops for next year, teaching, making sewing patterns etc. – there was a lot to swim through so I could sit and sew again. I’m making lots of songbirds- some Fortuny – like the birds below and some from antique garments. I’m also making owls, and rats, building ships and working on a new shape – a new creature.
Most of the finished things above are headed off on a special mission in the UK but I do plan to have lots of things in my shop soon and will be sending creatures to the Fortuny showroom in Manhattan next week.
And check back for progress on the new shape I’m working on – it is another of the often less loved creatures and one I have a complicated relationship with…….
For a brief moment – a while back – I was making hand drawn postcards to include in packages. Lovely to do and they made packing and shipping more fun but not a super rational or realistic time management decision. A good exercise though – it woke up a drawing muscle I don’t use often – simple line drawings. They are quick and definite and it’s a kind of drawing that is peaceful for me and I can get deeply focused pretty quickly.
It started wheels turning in my head about making illustrations for my patterns and getting them in print. The wheels started turning and that was pretty much it – one of those things that felt too big and scary to start – I sat on the idea for a few more weeks. I could and maybe should out- source the illustrations but I wanted to do at least one pattern myself. I have illustrated in an official capacity before – it is a little known fact that I illustrated a cook book – Jasper White’s Summer Shack Cook Book – A Complete Guide To Shore Food. All Jasper’s cookbooks are great and this one is my favorite – it has a gazillion illustrations – all pen and ink – I did the “how to” technical stuff as well as the fun stuff. I ate so much lobster I couldn’t be near it for two years.
Since there is nothing like a credible threat for productivity I decided to take tiny rag doll kits – with full printed instructions – to my doll workshop at Squam last week as an extra for my students (more on that soon). It is amazing how quickly you can figure things out when it has got to get done. I decided very late the Friday before my Wednesday departure and started drawing like a madman – all day – everyday and usually into the night. I formatted the pages in photoshop and figured out how to turn it into a booklet – quickly. The deadline was magic – I brought it to the retreat (so glad I did – it’s a fun travel project) and had a chance to tidy it up and make some adjustments when I got home. It is done. And I am happy with it. There may be a fancier iteration in the future but I kind of love this hand drawn version – hoping to have it available in the shop tomorrow. I don’t have a clear idea what the appetite for printed patterns is – if it’s significant I’ll do them all – probably starting with the mushroom pattern. What do you think – do you prefer PDF or printed patterns?
The tiny rag doll sewing pattern is pretty much ready to go but I’m waiting until next week to release it – just to make extra sure it is all I want it to be. I’ve looked at it so long and so hard I can’t see it any more – you know? I’ll review it with fresh eyes in a day or two. The big challenge of the pattern was the littleness and looking for the easiest and most effective ways to deal with tiny sewing – like turning the little arms and legs right side out after sewing. I included the simple method below in the pattern. Maybe everybody already knows this trick but I didn’t until a couple years ago and it works fabulously well – so just in case you haven’t tried it:
Besides pattern and workshop making work I have some mosquitos on my worktable. Mosquitos are slow, detailed work that involves lots of pins and stabbing myself repeatedly with various instruments – the five below have been in progress forever and are finally in the homestretch.
They suffer such indignities – this poor girl is having her proboscis hammered. I hammer the wire parts on a tiny anvil to stiffen them after shaping and make them a little textured and sparkly. Three of these Edwardian pests will end up in the shop sometime in the near future and the other two are going on special missions. If you’d like to be notified when I have new pieces available you can sign up here.
Sometimes it’s hard to shift out of production work and into true experimenting – really letting go of outcome. Production work is predictable – there is a definite beginning and end and the repetition and familiarity can be kind of comforting. I love to play and experiment, I love the adventure of something new but it takes effort, patience and practice to be able to get my head in that place when I need to. Part of it is the anxiety of all that isn’t done – it interferes with the meandering quality of experimenting. The anxious part of my mind protest the gentle open ended nature of the experimenting.
My sketchbook practice helps – I try to spend my sketchbook time in that place – sometimes I get there and sometimes I don’t but it is always good practice to try – especially in a very unideal moment. I gain more skill all the time at quieting the call of pressing tasks and worries that will absolutely always be there – the perfect moment for experimenting will not ever appear.
A lot of my experimenting lately is around dolls and figures – preparing for my workshop at Squam this September. I want to bring a few things that demonstrate different techniques – like building from the inside out. I began without much of a plan – I had a vague idea of maybe trying to make something similar to an odd figure I like that appeared in last week’s sketchbook.
I started playing and trying things, building a little shape by winding batting over a simple wire form and then stitching fabric on top. I love the spontaneity of this method – one thought builds on another and interesting things happen.
By the time the shape was halfway covered I had shifted direction – the little shape had it’s own idea what it wanted to be and mr. socks began to appear. He is not what I planned on at all – I think my tiny rag doll brain crept in – but I was happy to meet him.
Hello Mr. Socks!
And his posterior. I’ve also been making lots of tiny rag dolls and seedpods while working on sewing patterns for each ( at least one of those patterns will be out next week) and I put a couple tiny rag dolls and seedpods in the shop today.
When I first started making ships I was doing little handkerchief rolled hems on the sails. They were pretty but drove me crazy and took forever. When I put together the paper mache ship pattern I wanted something easier and I found it. It’s super simple and has other benefits too.
I cut two pieces of fabric for each sail (not usually the same fabric – I like the front and back to be different – even just subtly), pin them right sides together and stitch around – leaving one little section open. Trim the excess off the corners, turn it right side out, press and stitch closed. I add a whip or blanket stitch around the edge and layers of patches and lace. You can click here to download the sail pattern below if you’d like to give it a try.
This method is much quicker than the tiny hems and makes a very tidy sail. Also the double fabric helps the sails hold their shape when you fill them with wind.
I’m making an owl to captain the ship I’m working on and used my favorite piece of antique ticking for his front. Putting a horizontal stripe on an owl transforms him instantly into a gentleman sailor. The owl below is the medium size from the little owl pattern.
And ticking stripes are nice for sailing mice too.
I packed up some sewing (including the Sri Threads indigo owl above) this past weekend and headed into the Adirondacks – it’s like going back in time – spring is in full lovely swing in Brooklyn but upstate it’s just begun – it was cold and quiet and wet and lovely. More and more lately I appreciate a vacation from the interwebs and it was my first walk in the big, wild woods since last year. I needed the break – the air and the quiet badly – my pace has been frantic for weeks – not a very nice thing to do to myself. I should stop it. It was perfect- everything there is just waking up – little bits of new green beginning and birds are returning.
You may recall that last year I discovered that Eastern Phoebes collected my little scraps and threads and bits of stuffing for their nest. I did my little bird friends a solid and left out some extra this time – they liked the wool especially.
I brought my songbirds to finish and photograph too ( four are in the shop now – and there will be more next week). I had planned on having 6 songbirds and two owls finished – I didn’t even come close. I should just always multiply how long I think things are going to take by 3. Especially for the songbirds – they are done when they have energy, curiosity and tension about them – and that shows up when it shows up.
And a note on swan orders :
The last of the swan orders went out today – so if you’re still waiting for a paper swan – it will turn up in the next few days.