And collide in the best way, in the you got peanut butter on my chocolate way.
In the two weeks leading up to the squam diorama class I spent a lot of time playing with old paper and planning for the class as well as finishing up the brand new print version of the large paper mache ship. Old paper is interesting. There was lots of it in France. I’ll tell you about that trip soon, it was a giant experience that has not even solidified as a memory yet, just shimmering images (I’m also super jet lagged and kind of dopey).
My paper interest intensified with the things I collected for the Squam Diorama Class. I love collecting things for that class and happened upon a couple incredible collections of old paper in the last year.
I have mostly dealt with the surface of my paper mache ships in the same way for a very long time. I like soft, often neutral, washes of color with newsprint showing through. I liked the moodiness and spareness of it and still do but I was wanting something different all of a sudden.
I experimented but nothing made me happy. I didn’t land on anything I liked as well or better. There was all that beautiful paper for the dioramas but I loved it too much to use it, you know how that is. And I didn’t think the texture of the old papers would work well for mache. I started playing with little pieces and was surprised how stable the paper was in the paste and how smoothly it layered on the surface, even with a variety of textures and thicknesses. And it works well mixed in with newsprint too.
The more I played the bolder my choices were and color and shapes crept in in a way I had not expected.
Now my eyes are open for paper all the time. It seems like a connecting tool for me at the moment, an invitation to happy accidents and a little push into new territories. I’m working on some figures now that incorporate it with fabric and stitching as I prepare for the Fall Squam Retreat (more on that soon).
P S Thanks so much to all of you who wished me well on my travels. It was a huge, exciting and daunting thing for me, I have not been on a giant trip in decades. Your thoughts were truly felt and appreciated.
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.
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?
Sewing is frequently on my mind when I’m painting and drawing and painting and drawing is frequently on my mind when I’m sewing. Lots of intersections, lots of overlap. I wondered what might happen in the translation process – from paint to cloth. Wondered if it would be interesting – what it might change or reveal. I decided to try some things this week. Make my self start, start before I had it all figured out, before I know what they might be. I chose a couple simple and small designs to begin.
The ideas emerged from my sketchbook work, my little daily paintings which aren’t so daily right now you may have noticed. I’m taking a break so I can work on some other experiments like this.
At first I tried turning, basting and ironing the edges of my sometimes tiny shapes before stitching. It was tedious and awkward and I found I liked cutting shapes and turning the edges under as I stitched much better. And the translation process is interesting. I found lot’s of inspiration there. It is slower and quieter than paint. I think hard about relationships, my decisions are deliberate. And there is an element of happenstance – the cloth brings unexpected details, textures and colors I did not invent.
I never would have chosen a warm red for this piece- but it was all I had so I tried it and I love it. Making those big, bold red stitches was surprisingly satisfying.
And it’s the perfect kind of sewing for the morning – before I’m quite awake. I love having something all ready for stitching, waiting for me when I get up – everything cut and pinned. It is also good traveling work, subway work, sit in the park work.
I have plans for lot’s more of these. Some tiny and some large. I’d love to do a very large stitched interpretation of this swan. It will take me one million years to make.
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I can never remember where I parked my car or what I had for lunch but I have an excellent fabric memory – sort of. I have clear and very distinct memories of the fabrics of my childhood – my whole life really. I think I could draw them all – maybe I’ll try. And now, even if a tiny scrap has bee tucked away for years, it’s cataloged in my head, just not very specifically……. I was absolutely positive that the fabulous little blue scrap in the photo below was here somewhere. Positive. And positive that that blue songbird had to have it. Had to. And it was – that one little piece – in the only place it could be – at the very bottom of the very last box I looked in.
I’ve been working on this group of Sri Threads songbirds for weeks and they are just about ready. I was hoping for this week but I’m still climbing out of a crappy spring cold and everything is in slow motion. Some of these and a few other things will be in the shop next week sometime (sign up here to be notified by email if you like).
I found this great old quilt top upstate a while ago.
Unfortunately a lot of it is too damaged to sew but I love the colors and prints and there is enough for a couple boats and ships.
The pattern for this ship evolved out of my fabric sailboat pattern as I was revising it a little before teaching the boat making class at Squam. It’s just about complete now and I’ll photograph it later this week. There is a little gentleman sailor captain.
I ‘m pleased with the shape and I’ve already begun another ship in a kind of grayish hibiscus color that’s been on my mind lately.