And just like that I’m a finishing machine (lots of the new things are in the shop today).
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 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.
(you can find part 1 here)
The more time I give myself for play like this the better my thinking, my connection making and idea generating get. While messing around with these dolls I have had one million ideas. This kind of experimenting is like giving my imagination vitamins. It is not an efficient way to make a doll, and I get frustrated in the process sometimes (it takes a while to shift out of expectations and perfectionist thinking and into curiosity) but it never fails to get me to new places. In trying stuff – stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t – I make connections I would not have otherwise made and connections are where ideas come from.
I experimented with a bunch of stuff for making arms and legs and landed on something simple I like. I’ve made her arms and legs in two sections upper and lower from the paper covered wire. Each section gets covered with batting and then covered with fabric.
I left a little extra at the ends so they would be easy to join and nice and bendy. The legs are made the same way and I added a little lace to the top before attaching by whip stitching to the bottom of her torso with sturdy thread.
I like her spidery arms and legs. I’ll leave her for now and show you progress on the other girl who is no longer a girl. Read More
Its good to experiment – but not easy to let yourself, there is a powerful force that wants you to stay on the well lit path. Experimenting generates ideas and makes you ask new questions. It can shift your perspective, reveal connections and intersections. And maybe most importantly true experimentation helps you work with uncertainty and build a tolerance for trying stuff that might not work. There is no creativity without failure.
One way to make yourself experiment is to create conditions that force you to improvise. I’m going to show you one of the techniques I use. I’m making dolls – from the inside out. It’s a method that is imprecise and difficult to control – in a good way – there is lots of opportunity for happy accidents. It’s a spontaneous process – each action builds on the previous – you work with what shows up.
If you would like to try you will need:
* you can click on any of the images for a larger view
I start by making a simple wire form for the torso and head – I made three. Next cut strips of cotton batting and begin to build a shape by winding it around the wire form. A little bit of glue stick will help when adding or ending a strip.
Keep winding until you are happy with the shape – you can also add bits of batting in some areas for rounder shapes – like in the center image above – I’ve given her a substantial bosom by adding a scrap of folded batting and winding over it. I stitch through the shape here and there to adjust it and help it all stay together and finally I cut pieces of batting to stitch over the shape.
Next I begin to add fabric – I’m using a very light cotton to cover her face and the front of her chest. I pull the fabric around – stitch it in place and trim away the extra.
I covered the edge of the face fabric with strips of cotton for hair – I’ll come back to that later – I want to make the top of her dress first. Also – you may notice another doll has appeared – I’ll be working on her as well.
Her face and chest are covered in a light ivory silk, I used black cotton for her hair and stitched super simple features. Now I’m adding a scrap of lace because it’s lovely and will also cover some edges and seams I’d like to conceal. Read More
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.
There are dastardly and debonair creatures on my worktable. I think these three will be the last for a while – there’s new stuff I’d like to try with them and some unnecessarily cumbersome parts in the process to work on. They will remain Rubenesque, ill-tempered and condescending though.
The 2 Fortuny owls below will be going to the New York showroom and the grey edwardian wooly fellow above will be in the shop soon.
I’m also working on new patterns and it is time for a creative sprint in that department. All the way to the finish line. I think this is the longest stretch since I began publishing patterns that there has not been a new one. I got spectacularly stuck – largely because there are too many in progress – I overwhelmed myself, spread my energy and focus too thin. So I’ve chosen one to focus on, to apply a great deal of energy to over the next week (more on that in a minute).
But first I’d like to answer my most frequently asked (lately) question: Will there be a bat sewing pattern? I can answer with a solid maybe. I’d like there to be but as of yet I don’t have them figured out enough to know if they would be a good one. And for me that means:
- something that I can create a linear process with reliable results for
- that this can be done in a workable amount of space – print – pdf wise
- that it can be made with simple materials (ideally repurposed things), in a reasonable – ish amount of time
- and that it demonstrates a useful and/ or unique technique that could generate other ideas
That’s pretty much my criteria – I wonder what you might think – what you prefer?
Something that I think would make a good sewing pattern is rutabagas (and turnips) – that will be the next published pattern. I got a lot of insight into the process last weekend at the Sweet Paul Makerie – I taught it twice as a workshop. Seeing 25 individual interpretations of the majestic turnip was incredibly helpful.
(checkout the makerie instagram for more photos of the weekend – as usual I was having such a good time I forgot to take pictures)
And – I’ve already worked out most of the detail, templates etc. in preparing to teach.
Look for the pattern in the next week or two and I’ll leave you with this little chocolate bunny (forest folk pattern) – have a lovely Easter weekend.
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 (postponed for a bit) 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.
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.
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…….