All you need are scraps. And a sewing machine. It is the kind of thing you could lose yourself in, the next thing you know hours have gone by and there are miles of it. It’s a meandering process and an invitation to happy accidents, there are no mistakes, it is not careful (except keeping your fingers away from the needle) and there is no planning. The perfect thing if you are feeling the need for something spontaneous. Just start and keep adding stuff.
My approach was pretty bare bones and I had lots of fun. What is your scrap situation like? I’ve got tons and lots of it very small. I dumped the whole thing out and started pulling out the tiniest scraps, the un-sewables, the little whispers I can’t let go of.
Start with one piece, add another and another, machine stitching through the whole thing, sometimes bunching or curving the little pieces. I can’t stop. And they don’t need to be lace, I’ve got cotton scraps too and I’ll try those next. And you can add other stuff and get super intricate and detailed – find a tutorial here.
You could use the garlands for packages or hang them (maybe with some twinkle lights and paper mache ships) or stitch them onto doll clothes or your clothes or make a crown for somebody little.
I made a mini one to use as a roiling sea for this little boat. Find the free mouse pattern here and the free little boat pattern here.
I like to think about ideas and where they come from, how they grow, what sticks and what doesn’t. And I find it hugely satisfying to share what I learn. For the past several weeks I’ve been gathering things for my diorama workshop this June and playing with ideas, experimenting in a gentle, open way, thinking about when to hold onto a narrative and when to let it go, exploring the relationships between things.
And I’ve been working on a way to share some of the experience with people who can’t make it to a workshop or retreat. That idea has been percolating since the makerie workshop last fall. Like the diorama workshop it was very focused on experimenting, thinking and trying stuff. I began the 3 day workshop with a warm up exercise called “a mysterious box”. Students got a small box with a collection of materials and a mini assignment, the assignment was the same for everybody and it is top secret.
I had a blast making the little boxes and the experiment was successful beyond my expectations. I’m working on the correspondence version now. Making little boxes and working out a way for people who participate to come together and share what they make.
What do you think?
And the hunting and gathering : I hit the ephemera jackpot a couple weeks ago. A huge box of old paper stuff (some of it very old), someone else’s memories and treasures. The things that were precious and carefully kept right up until they weren’t. I spend time looking through it everyday and part of me just wants to keep it all (those halloween treat bags are hugely nostalgic for me). I will not.
There are lots of newspapers and magazines from around 1880 with magnificent illustrations. Sweet bundles of letters, maps, elaborate certificates and receipts. Wonderful color, text and imagery to play with (you can see more from the box in on instagram).
There aren’t many photos in the box, I love this one. I think this is the one thing I’ll keep. I love the bare trees in the background, the lonely holiday garland on the window, the mood of it all. Long ago Christmas seen through a smokey, scratched lens, the wistfulness magnified by the medium.
The box is full of that feeling and I can’t get enough of it.
I’m in the woodshed with songbirds. Evaluating the pattern and steps, testing and adjusting little things – using what I learned teaching the workshops last month to make the pattern all I want it to be.
My friend Mickey introduced me to the term woodshedding and I love it:
“The ability to conjure up a feeling of wonder in others, to create a sense of awe, has always fascinated me. And while I do believe that magic can just “happen” under the right circumstances, creating magic is a much different story. It involves a lot of hard work, endless study and a constant refining of process and craft. In music, they call these periods of intense practice woodshedding, referring to the time spent honing skills privately out in the woodshed.”
Mick Riad – Creative Director, Fortuny
I think it is my favorite place to be, in the woodshed with something. Discovering, testing and refining. Deep in a learning process.
I’m also woodshedding owls to prepare for the dastardly owl workshops this fall (I think there are 2 spots left). Eventually they will also become a pdf and print pattern too.
What’s going on in your woodshed?
Most people don’t realize that all of Fortuny’s fabrics are inspected by a tiny Venetian fly. A diligent and thorough fly. It is careful and slow work requiring long hours and true dedication.
It’s a big job for a little and old bug but he has been content in his duties, happy even, for many, many decades (no one knows exactly how long, it seems he has always been there).
Lately someone new has started showing up, a dragonfly, all huge and full of himself and suggestions, the sort that has come and gone before….
I’m making owls from the new Fortuny printed velvets. They are exquisite, the colors, the feel, the patterns, everything. Before I began I spent some time refining and adjusting the owl pattern. Velvet is difficult to sew sculptural forms with and I very rarely use it for shapes. Even with lots of pins things tend to slide around and the weight and pile make it unforgiving, mistakes show and are hard or impossible to adjust by stitching from the outside. It was time to tighten up the pattern anyway because I plan to teach it in the fall (more on that soon). After I had success with cotton and linen prototypes I felt ready to try the velvet.
I also discovered that stapling the fabric together (don’t tell that tiny fly) works magnificently well and does not harm the fabric. I stapled right at the edge, outside the seam line, and everything stayed in place as I sewed.
I’m very happy with the shape, he is round in all the right places, the pattern pieces snapped together perfectly and he already has a bad attitude.
A note on the beautiful pins – they are entomology pins. They come in lots of sizes and colors, the quality is excellent and I love the way they look. You can find them here.
I’ll share finished velvet owls and some other new creatures with you next week.
When I get whacked hard by life, this is the poem I read. And this is my favorite part:
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
It always cheers me up and I know what to do, fling my soul hard at the gloom. It is the only thing to do.
I’m back from my teaching trip and It all worked out. But it sure was dicey for a while. There are so many reasons not to do stuff. Trying seems to invite bad luck. It doesn’t, but it seems that way. The more stuff you do the more stuff there is that can go wrong. And when things do go wrong they love to go wrong in a horrifying cascade. That’s what happened in the 2 weeks before I left for Los Angeles. Lots of little things went wrong and a couple big ones. There was plenty of gloom. I rarely feel defeated but I did for a while. The darkling thrush saved me.
I got home at 2 AM on Tuesday, watered the plants and spent the next 30 hours in bed. I am still exhausted. I’m also full of ideas. The first thing I did was ship a ton of orders and then I carved a bird leg from a block of wax.
I’ve been wanting to try this for a long time. The intention is to have molds made and cast legs in brass and bronze and silver. I have no idea if I did this right. I just started hacking away at the wax and did not look up for many hours.
It was a deeply peaceful and immersive experience. I’ll go to a casting place next week and I’ll let you know what happens. If it works out I will start offering them in the shop along with the soon to be released songbird pattern. I’ll keep you posted. And I want to carve more wax – I have all sorts of ideas…
The Aged Thrush
PS – I got the wax blocks here.
Vibrant color with some smokeyness to it. Worlds and continents and centuries overlap in this little collection of textiles. Antique garment fragments from Japan, 18th century silk and velvet and shimmering patterns from Venice. And all of them found me. Marvelous serendipity.
I like thinking about all the things that had to happen in the world across hundreds of years for this bird to be, a crimson and scarlet girl who had her beginnings in the 1700’s. What has she seen, what does she carry with her.
I spend huge amounts of time selecting fabrics, lingering in the choices, it slows me down in a way that I need to be slowed down sometimes. I have always loved to do it. Ask my sister, she will tell you that I loved to spend hours in the attic on a rainy day sorting through endless bags of scraps (I come from sewing people) imagining what I might make.
I’m doing lots of slow songbird work still. trying things, taking notes and making tiny adjustments. The part I most look forward to teaching you is transforming the basic shape into a bird, adding layers of feathers and details. There is so much opportunity for happy accidents. An imperfection, one wing a little askew or a tail feather poking out can suggest the funny, expressive little motions of a perched bird. Birdness.
The deep mineral tones are spilling into other work too. I interrupted the bird work to make a toadstool. Partly because I was in need of some immediate gratification. Toadstools are quick to make, especially the minis, this is made from the sewing pattern printed at 75%. And also because I’m trying to add something new to the shop every day.
And The Major, in aubergine, charcoal and graphite with little bits of silver and warm rose. I love him. Especially his fancy bicorne.
It came to me all of a sudden while I was in the bathtub. I wasn’t even thinking about making songbirds, it just popped into my head, a better way to make the feet and legs. I had been thinking (obsessing) about it a couple days earlier. I’ve been thinking about the songbirds a lot and revisiting every aspect of their design and construction. It is interesting to take something I’ve been making for a long time back to the laboratory.
This is the second songbird do-over. The first was because I misplaced the pattern. So painful. I reconstructed it from memory as well as reverse engineering from my photos. I made a couple changes and improvements in that round. I’m revisiting this time to get ready for the workshop and eventual sewing pattern. I want it to be fabulous so I am testing and testing and testing again, searching for anything that can be easier or more efficient and more consistent without sacrificing any elegance or birdness.
It was a hard thing to start. There is lots of resistance in my thinking when I’ve been doing something the same way for a long time. It took a while to get into a truly experimental spirit and find my curiosity.
“ The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”
John Maynard Keynes
It is also a daunting amount of very slow work with lots of failures. I only change one aspect of the design at a time. Sometimes there are several time consuming iterations of a change before I know if it is successful. I was stuck on the legs for a while, stuck on how to make them teachable and more efficient while retaining the expressiveness. There was also one problematic point in the construction where someone could potentially lose an eye. So awkward. A simple solution for all of it just floated into my mind. In the tub.
I’m also examining the body construction and balance. There have been huge improvements in both. Part of this process is digitalizing the pattern (in adobe illustrator) and while I was doing that I saw some possibilities. I simplified the construction a little and the shape is subtly improved and comes together beautifully. And I’ve changed how the legs are inserted and the bird is balanced. The balance, the body language, is so important to the birdness of the finished thing.
And I’m not done. I’m scrutinizing the details the same way now. It is all a massive amount of work but I’m deeply involved in the very best way, the time disappears way. I’m spending the whole weekend with the birds and I’ll show you what I make next week.
I love packaging, the little details of it, arranging things in the box, the string, the tags, all of it. I make most of the tags and labels myself. I probably should not, this is probably an excellent example of something I should outsource but I like doing it.
And before we talk about the best glue stick in the world I want to tell you about a couple other tools I use and love to make my packaging (these are entirely uncompensated endorsements).
When I started making kits I was cutting the image for the box with an exacto knife and it was a very slow process. I was not expecting much from this little paper cutter but I had about 100 labels to cut one night and it was less than 20 bucks (at the Paper Source Shop on the corner of my block) so I thought it was worth a shot. Almost three months later it still works beautifully. I use it all the time now for everything, labels and cutting my watercolor paper too. So worth it.
I also got these die cutting stamps and mini hole punch there. There is something so satisfying about punching out the little shapes. Now I’m curious about other cutting tools, the fancy digital ones like these with software etc. Do you know about these? Have you tried them? They seem so full of interesting possibilities to me. I am intrigued.
And the glue stick. I have tried them all. High end, low end. Everything. The UHU stick is my favorite. I am a heavy glue stick user. In making my packages, flamingo cake topper making, collage and as a temporary hold for fabric ( for some fabric projects I use a washable glue stick).
The UHU stick has staying power, even when I paint over it which I frequently do. It will wrinkle up briefly and then smooths out. I usually hit it with the blow dryer, not sure if that helps or just speeds things up, just so you know.
Have you got a favorite tool or supply?
Cozy is my specialty. I love twinkle lights on pearly gray days, lots of plants and lots of quilts. Three of my favorite old quilts have serious and progressing issues. I’ve been thinking about fixing them for a while and one of them has reached a point that demands immediate attention. It’s a quilt emergency. The other two are technically coverlets, no batting, so their problems can wait a while.
The largest and most seriously forlorn quilt is loosing stuffing all over the place. More of it is falling apart than not. It is probably not reasonable to try to fix it. And I know once I start it is a life long commitment, that it will spring new leaks and eventually be almost entirely repair with just little bits of the original fabric peeking out. I’m fine with that.
I’m motivated partly by my attachment to it, partly by a love for fabric and also because I think it might get interesting. I’m approaching the repair wabi sabi style, boro inspired patching and a meandering stitch. Some patches with turned edges and some with raw edges, an improvisational yes and process embracing happenstance. I started by basting muslin over the big problems and then working in and around those areas with smaller patches. I like doing it and I like what’s happening to it. I will keep you posted as it develops.
In other quilt news the latest issue of Homespun Magazine (Australia) has a pattern for the quilt block on the cover and lots of other projects. They always have an impressive array of projects and patterns in every issue.
And I’m in it too! Thanks so much Homespun. Digital copies are available here.
Sometimes I begin with somebody in mind and go looking. I spend a long time choosing, experimenting and thinking about just the right combination of texture and pattern and color. The indigo for the blue owl is all from Sri Threads. I love the variety in the blues. Some other lovely old cloth from Sri is below, miraculous color and wonderful mending stitches by other hands.
The black and dark greens for another little owl are mostly Edwardian garments. I love the way the blacks fade, usually leaning purple or green as they do.
Sometimes the beginning is entirely serendipitous, a suggestion from the universe. A combination I had not thought of and I was not looking for appears and I get an idea.
I saw a sailboat and mrs. rabbit and made them immediately. They are both quick projects and a good break from some slower work. Mrs. is made from the mr. socks pattern. I added long ears and reduced the size of the head cover by one quarter inch all around.
I’m also working on sewing patterns. I’ve got a bunch in progress and they are all a little stuck so I’m applying a creative sprint to the two that are closest to finished this weekend: the captain charmley doll and the mushroom print pattern. I can’t wait to share my method for creating his head and hair with you. So easy.
I’ll focus on just those two until they are done. After that I’ll start working on others again including a print version of the paper mache ships. It is a massive undertaking.
And pink. A soft, moody pink. Just right. It’s made with avocado dye. I had no idea. This came up in the comments section to last week’s post (thanks Alicia). I made guacamole and then boiled and simmered the 5 pits for a couple hours. I love it. Have you tried this?
5 simple things, that made me happy this week:
1. Sewing in bed. It’s become a regular thing in the morning. I sew by hand for an hour or so and drink lots of coffee.
2. Getting rid of stuff. Lightening my load. I spent a whole day this week making space and letting go of things. I plan to do more this weekend. The spring cleaner in me has awakened early this year.
3. A boston fern. I’ve been walking by it in the supermarket for weeks, watching it get sadder and sadder. I could not take it anymore and shelled out the $12.99 and brought it home. I did not have high hopes for it but it has made a marvelous recovery. I love plants and I’m happy I did this fern a solid, wish I had done it sooner.
4. Finishing stuff. All of a sudden a bunch of things I’ve been working on forever are almost done. I spent the morning (in bed) finishing this little goat, stitching sail edges and adding patches and details to owl captains.
I’ll take the official photos of the ships next week. They just need flags and wind in to their sails.
5. And finally this old iron. So much joy. I have never felt like this about an iron before. It has been a bad year for irons, this is my fourth and I love it. It was free, a serendipitous meeting, and I never would have chosen a cordless iron but it turns out I love the cordlessness. And it gives excellent steam and the surface of the plate is beautiful, it glides.
What little thing made you happy this week? Do you love your iron? What are you making? Do you sew in bed?
The purpose of my daily painting and drawing practice is to encourage free experimentation and exploration, expand my vocabulary, fail often, follow my curiosity, exercise my creative muscle and give ideas an opportunity to emerge. I took a long break from it and re-entry has been rough. I think in large part because I started selling some of the little paintings I made. Lots of them. That is on my mind now each time I start and I’m less inclined to try stuff. I feel all clenched up about whether or not I can sell what I make that day and If I don’t make a painting I can sell I feel like I have failed. I love making and selling the little paintings and I will keep doing that but I’m separating the daily practice. Letting that just be a place for ideas and experiments.
And I’m using a sketchbook from now on ( I was using sheets of water color paper). This was the first week and I like it so far. The page in the book is a commitment, no starting over.
I also like the idea of filling it up and making the practice more portable. I have lots of travel coming up and I’m determined not to take any more breaks. I’ll scale back on supplies when I’m traveling. I’m also making the commitment manageable, 30 minutes and one page every day.
I’ll post all this week’s pages here tomorrow.
The last time I showed you these ships they were getting their final layer of paper mache, the newsprint layer. Then I abandoned them. I didn’t feel inspired in any particular direction color wise so I left them alone. Weeks later I still didn’t feel inspired in any particular color direction so I started experimenting. I like newsprint and almost always use it as my final layer and I like it to show. I paint in washes (there is a video of this whole process here). I use water color and mat acrylics. I don’t use any clear coats on top, I like the matte quality of the paint, but I do burnish them with a soft cloth when they are dry, it just smooths them a tiny bit and makes a pretty surface.
I also love to splatter them with a fine spray of white or ivory. I found that bristle brush at a flea market, an old toothbrush works too.
Next I add buttons for the rigging. Lately I like lots of buttons and I’m always on the lookout for antique mother of pearl buttons. You should hide yours when I come over… The three ships below are made from the paper mache ship pattern collection. I did modify the sides of the large ship, I do it a little differently almost every time I make one.
Each ship is getting a gentleman sailor owl captain (the small and medium sizes from the little owl pattern).
I love turn of the century fabric and lately I’ve come across some contemporary fabrics that remind me of some of my favortite antique small prints. The fabric I used for this owl’s face is from Cotton and Steel, below on the left and the tiny black and white print on the right is by Seven Berry.
This weekend I’ll finish the sails and rigging and start more paper and fabric ships. I want to begin the year with a substantial fleet, an auspicious and nautical beginning to 2018.
There is nothing wrong with sewing in bed. As long as it is your choice and pins and things are kept track of. I don’t do it often but on a cold snowy day it’s irresistible, the perfect place for sewing tiny things. Plus I got dressed which makes it even more OK. Not exactly going out dressed, more day appropriate lounge wear, but still.
I’m working on small things, mischievous cats, tiny ladies, bundled up birds and lamb folk among them. The lambs are made using the mr. socks sewing pattern with modifications you can find here. Some of these things will be in the shop tomorrow (if you are on the list for new artwork you’ll get an email).
I sure do love a lamb in pants
I’ve also been making some paper mache progress. Paper mache is good for busting out of stuckness. The paralysis and not knowing what to do that creeps in when there is too much to do. When my brain rebels and just won’t work properly. Paper mache has a magic effect. It does not require much thinking activity and progress is immediately apparent. Those little pieces of paper becoming something else. That part is satisfying and just getting my hands moving get’s my wheels turning again.
I always do all the edges first, using the littlest pieces of paper to negotiate the smalls curves. Once the edges are done the filling in takes no time. Each complete layer, the brown paper followed by the news print, take less than an hour to complete. These ships are all made from the paper mache ship pattern collection. I did modify the sides of the large ship. I do almost every time I make one, I like to experiment with the shape. This time I made it higher in the back and lower on the sides at the middle.
This little boat is made from the free boat ornament tutorial you can find here. My plan is to finish all the ships and boats this weekend. And to festoon the Christmas Tree (my beloved norfolk pine). I’ll show you next week.
Little things. The kind of things you can make in an hour or two or over a couple evenings. Something unexpected, something that charms.
If you visit here regularly you know that the holidays are not my favorite thing. But that part appeals to me, making presents for people, especially little things.
And I like Christmas trees, festive, spicy smells, sweet packages (download the free little yellow house tags here) and a manageable amount of snow might be nice.
You can find most of the ornament patterns above in the shop as well as the mushroom pattern ( I reduced it by about half for the minis). And find the free mouse pattern here and the free woebegone pine tree pattern here.
I’m also making doll kits. One million of them. Not really but that’s what it feels like. I’m assembling and shipping kits (and staying hydrated). After a few days I found a rhythm and the assembly part has sped up. It’s a good thing I enjoy repetitive tasks. So far anyway. I am not enjoying all the paper cuts. So many paper cuts.
shop note: Stuff is shipping every day and all current orders (including back orders) should be out by Tuesday of next week. And doll kits will be back in stock by next week too. Send me an email if you want to know as soon as they are available.