Category: on my work table

indiscreet rag dolls, a colonel, two mischievous cats and expressive feet

rag dolls : expressive feet

The five day – doll every day challenge: I was great at starting them. Less great at finishing them.
They still aren’t done. I made the executive decision to go with “substantially, but not quite finished”.

naked rag doll : nora

Here is who turned up – the first was nora who you met last week. She didn’t get any happier but she did get more naked. I decided to give her all the lady details. She is a little smaller than the original immodest dolls and I also made a lot of progress toward turning her into a pattern.

naked rag doll : nora

A steady hearted Colonel. I like his turned out toes and expression – and I found a new way to make hair easily. I think I’d like him to be a sewing pattern too – what do you think?

steady hearted colonel doll

steady hearted colonel doll

rag doll : fancy stockings

rag doll : fancy stockings

Next – a lady with fancy stockings. Same pattern as nude nora. She and the Colonel both have expressive feet. I try to give everybody expressive feet.

rag dolls : expressive feet

And the last two were a mr. socks and a mrs. spots (find the sewing pattern here). I never get tired of making the mischievous little cats.

mr. socks rag doll

It was a good exercise for me in a couple of ways. My brain got moving again – I generated lots of ideas and found some energy. I made things I might not have otherwise – things I like. And containing projects in a day made me see more clearly how long things really take and how consistently I underestimate that. Still. The week ended up with too many things crammed into it- next time I do this I’ll clear some days completely.

I’ll put all the dolls above and a couple others in the shop next week. You can sign up here if you’d like an email when they are available.

onward,
a

PS – there are a few new paintings in the shop:

               

rowing out of the doldrums with a doll every day

nora : hand stitched doll

For the next few days anyway.
Doldrums. Who ever invented the word deserves a prize. It sounds like what it is, what it feels like: a warm inertia, an unpleasant stillness, listlessness. Apparently I am not a summer person –  productivity wise anyway – I always find myself here mid July-ish.

Or maybe it’s coincidental. The mid summer almost always finds me working on larger – longer term projects – christmas – workshops for the fall etc. Projects that it can be hard to feel progress on.
And sometimes the stagnated feeling means I need a break. Not this time though – this is a restless stuckness. So I am busting out. Rowing hard until I can catch a breeze and some beautiful momentum. For the next few days I’m making – starting and finishing – a doll everyday. Experiments and some of the usual suspects like mr. socks and tiny rag doll. It’s the kind of sewing I feel like doing, the kind of thinking I’m in the mood for.

nora : hand stitched doll

I began today with Nora. A mysterious dark eyed girl. Im still deciding on her  degree of anatomical accuracy and outfit.  I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon and evening finishing her.

nora : hand stitched doll

Working on shorter term projects gives me a sense of forward motion and satisfaction. I can feel the shape of the day again. Hopefully I can bring some of that energy into the larger projects in a couple days.

Have a lovely weekend and check back next week to see who else appears.
P.S. There are a couple new small paintings in the shop.

7/7       

a fortuny ragdoll, a little brown owl goes to sea and new things in the shop

fortuny ragdoll : josephine

hand stitched owl

I like this little fellow – amazing what turning buttons a little can do for an expression.
I’ve made him a boat and he is going to sea alone – perfect for him – he seems pretty bossy.

owl and sailboat

He is made from the small size of my little owl pattern and the boat is made from this pattern (both patterns are on sale for subscribers through the July 4th holiday – you can sign up here if you like– you’ll get the code shortly after).

owl and sailboat

I’m making more over the weekend. I want to bring a couple to the Squam Retreat with me in September. I’ll be at the art fair on September 16th with sewing patterns and art work and some surprises. I hope you’ll come say hi. It will be only the third time I’ve done this sort of thing in the 11 years I’ve been in business – I am generally pretty hermity. But it’s the last year for the retreat and the art fair and the first time I have print patterns to sell (there are more on the way – I’m drawing the mushroom pattern illustrations now) so I am showing up. I will kind of dread it for the next couple months and then end up having a good time, proving my wise mother right again – her advice around anxiety producing situations was always “ You’ll be fine once you get there”.

fortuny ragdoll : josephine

And please meet Josephine and some curious birds. Her dress and silver slippers are made from Fortuny and she has Edwardian lace unmentionables.

fortuny ragdoll : josephine

teal nuthatch : stitched songbird

stitched songbirds

Have a lovely long weekend – I’ll be here – making lots of things.

suddenly a billy goat appeared and the space between ideas and action

billy goat rag doll

billy goat rag doll

Suddenly a billy goat appeared. A very distinguished goat. It was not my plan, he is not on my list or schedule and I probably should have been doing something else. But I felt a strong spiritual directive to make a surly goat. I had the impulse and I followed it immediately, that hardly ever happens and I think its a good thing to do. I usually have quite a lot of time between my ideas and when I do something about them. Sometimes they get stale – resistant to action. Maybe too much time lets doubt creep in or I get stuck in an endless circle of overthinking. There is huge value in diving right in, creating the first iteration, maybe making a mess but also getting a feedback loop going. I’m pretty sure there is some actual brain chemistry around this but I haven’t looked it up yet – I was busy making a goat.

billy goat rag doll

I made my gray goat rag doll from an Edwardian skirt. I used the aristocratic lamb pattern with some adjustments to the head. I’m working on another in black now (and I do plan to release this as a sewing pattern).

billy goat rag doll

small art

Goats have been on my mind, turning up in my little paintings often (by the way I’m adding new small paintings every Thursday – including the goat above). And I’m working on some tiny goats for a project I’ll show you this fall. I love their expressive, humany faces. They always look like they are silently judging you.

This goat  be in the shop next week – I’m thinking Tuesday – with some other recently finished things including some Sri Threads songbirds.

You can sign up here if you’d like an email when the new things are available.

bird, hand stitched from japanese textiles

bird, hand stitched from japanese textiles

my new favorite paint and songbirds on my work table

mosquito painting

mosquito painting

I’m particular about paint. I like very flat color. I’ve been using Holbein acrylics for a while and the last time I went to pick some up I discovered something new – or new to me – from Holbein to try – Mat Acrylic.

They come in big tubes and the colors are flatter than flat. Very opaque too. They flow beautifully on paper and the finish of the paint when dry is almost paper-like itself. They are unlike anything I’ve tried before – the closest comparison I could make would be gouache which I find difficult to work with. Also – in case you are wondering – I paint my little squares on hot press watercolor paper. I like fluid 100 and Arches.

And lovely Sri indigos and teals. Teal is the color that is on my mind lately – smokey and mysterious.  I’m working on things for the shop and will add these as soon as they’re finished – possibly tomorrow , more likely Saturday.  I also have some rag doll experiments in the works, including some Fortuny rag dolls I’m excited about.

stitched sri songbirds

indigo sri songbird

Thanks to everybody who entered last week’s book give away – the winning number (chosen by a random number generator) is 330. I’ll be sending an email your way Annie L. for address info. If you would like to order a copy of Stitch-Illo you can find it here.

stitch illo

confronting the pigeon : progress on my city bird

stitched pigeon progress

I like pigeons. I like the city beasts.  And I have an affinity for the less loved creatures, ants bats, rats, mosquitos etc. Pigeons fit right in.  What I love best about them is that they manage to be imperious and goofy – all at the same time.

So I want to make a pigeon. I stalled in the muslin draft phase. Stalled real good. The universe keeps sending me excellent pigeon fabric though. Maybe that’s why I got stuck – couldn’t choose. There is also a little anxiety about when to move out of prototyping – and all the freedom and experimenting that affords – into trying one in beautiful pigeony fabric.

stitched pigeon progress

I ended up deciding to combine a mix of collections in a way I don’t very often. I used Fortuny for the body and will use it for the feet also, an Edwardian pinafore and other garment scraps will be feathers and some beautiful teal from Sri Threads for the head.

stitched pigeon progress

The teal is what finally got me to take a shot at turning out a finished bird. It arrived lately with some other magnificent pieces and I couldn’t resist trying it. I’m happy with the shape and I’ll move into details this weekend and start a couple more too – using more of the exquisite things from Sri.

sri threads textiles

A condescending yet vacant  pigeon or two should be forth coming.

songbird work, treasures from sri and all sorts of new things in the shop

And just like that I’m a finishing machine (lots of the new things are in the shop today).

textile art : birds

textile art bird

ephraim : hand made owl

matilde : handmade doll

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.

sri threads textiles

sri threads textiles

sri threads textiles

I have more songbirds in progress and I feel like there is a pigeon here somewhere too.

improvisational doll making – part 2

soldier doll

(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.

improvisational doll making

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.

improvisational doll making

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

improvisational doll making – part 1

improvisational doll making

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

wire doll forms

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

botanicals, bats and my new favorite supply – buckram

bats and botanicals

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.

buckram

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.

stitched botanical experiments

royal cone flower

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.

mini toadstools

 

 

dastardly creatures, what makes a good sewing pattern (and a peek at the next)

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.

gray woolen owl

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).

fortuny ship and bat

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?

stitched rutabaga

stitched rutabaga detail

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)

sweet paul makerie rutabaga

sweet paul makerie turnips

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.

fortuny bunny

 

 

bats and perseverance

bat work

bat work

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.

stitched bat

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.

stitched bat

edwardian bat

botanical experiments and 11 years of blogging

stitched seedpod experiment

white rotary

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.

The End.

botanical experiment

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.

stitched seedpod experiment

an aristocratic lamb : how to create texture with fabric

lamb rag doll

lamb rag doll hooves

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.

lamb rag doll

lamb rag doll

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.

ruffle fabric

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.

lamb ruffles

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.

lamb ruffles

lamb ruffles

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.

lamb rag doll

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.

 

please meet vivienne and work on a new rag doll experiment

Entirely nude, but for a threadbare whisper of a nightgown.

vivienne : naked ragdoll

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.

vivienne : an immodest doll

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.

ant and ragdoll

ant and ragdoll

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.

ragdoll experiment