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?
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.
Another thing to love about small sewing, hand sewing, is how well it travels. I’m packing up some projects today and heading out of NYC to water and forests and people who have forgotten what I look like. It’s the first of several upcoming trips.
This blue owl is coming. His indigo wings are all pinned up and ready for stitching. I love the blues, the variety, layered together Boro style. There is also some small blue appliqué work – I’m experimenting with eyes. More on that soon.
I’m bringing lot’s of mending too. The seats of my pants mostly. I’ve been wandering around Brooklyn lately with extra and unseemly ventilation.
Most of my other upcoming travel is for workshops and I’m in serious last minute thinking and preparation mode for both of those – natural history with the makerie and diorama with Squam. I’m spending some time with Joseph Cornell’s boxes and thinking about how things, objects, relate to each other, the moods and atmosphere and ideas those relationships can create and the poetry of things. They are ideas important to each of the afore mentioned workshops.
And I want to sit by the water and make tiny trousers. Tiny trousers for little lamb gentlemen. I find the little pants particularly satisfying – they are quick and there is just something about tiny pants.
I want to come home with a little pile of satchels and pants.
(ps- there is a mr. lamb in the shop).
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
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.
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.
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.
The Beaumonts are ready for the holidays (if you have not yet met fifth avenue’s most stylish anthropods you can learn more here).
Tiny Fortuny stockings are hung, presents are wrapped, cookies baked, hearth blazing and the whole family is trimming the tree – such festive ants.
* shop announcement the new things below and some suprises are in the shop now – Friday 11/4
A heroic root vegetable – the majestic turnip. I love making these – rutabagas and turnips – the stitching is meandering and meditative and I like experimenting with textures and layering. I have found that antique table linens are ideal for making the shape – the cotton is thick and there is a little sheen. I layer sheer cottons – often pieces of antique kimonos and lots of stitching to add color and more texture including the rough edge where the leaves were chopped off. That’s my favorite part.
PS – I’m teaching a class on this very subject in the spring in NYC – at the Sweet Paul Makerie.
And do you remember the wolf? He is among a little group of things started over the summer that finally got finished and photographed this week.
He doesn’t look so bad…. He looks sort of pleasant.
But do not trust him – there is a dark side.
And he is only one of the problems a tiny rag doll can run into around here. I finished 5 new mosquitos too – 2 are going on special missions but the other three Edwardian girls will be in the shop tomorrow. Please meet the ladies:
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Maybe it’s my favorite – or maybe tied with March – I like the blustery months. It is just so extraordinarily pleasant – perfect days. And I’m sewing a ton – hours and hours of hand sewing every day after a longer than usual phase of other things – planning workshops for next year, teaching, making sewing patterns etc. – there was a lot to swim through so I could sit and sew again. I’m making lots of songbirds- some Fortuny – like the birds below and some from antique garments. I’m also making owls, and rats, building ships and working on a new shape – a new creature.
Most of the finished things above are headed off on a special mission in the UK but I do plan to have lots of things in my shop soon and will be sending creatures to the Fortuny showroom in Manhattan next week.
And check back for progress on the new shape I’m working on – it is another of the often less loved creatures and one I have a complicated relationship with…….
The tiny rag doll sewing pattern is pretty much ready to go but I’m waiting until next week to release it – just to make extra sure it is all I want it to be. I’ve looked at it so long and so hard I can’t see it any more – you know? I’ll review it with fresh eyes in a day or two. The big challenge of the pattern was the littleness and looking for the easiest and most effective ways to deal with tiny sewing – like turning the little arms and legs right side out after sewing. I included the simple method below in the pattern. Maybe everybody already knows this trick but I didn’t until a couple years ago and it works fabulously well – so just in case you haven’t tried it:
Besides pattern and workshop making work I have some mosquitos on my worktable. Mosquitos are slow, detailed work that involves lots of pins and stabbing myself repeatedly with various instruments – the five below have been in progress forever and are finally in the homestretch.
They suffer such indignities – this poor girl is having her proboscis hammered. I hammer the wire parts on a tiny anvil to stiffen them after shaping and make them a little textured and sparkly. Three of these Edwardian pests will end up in the shop sometime in the near future and the other two are going on special missions. If you’d like to be notified when I have new pieces available you can sign up here.
Update 8/4 : Thanks so much for all the great captions for last weeks contest! The winner is:
“Left, right, cha, cha, cha! One, two, cha, cha, cha!”
I love the idea of him practicing his dance steps with the mirror – nice work Lourdes!
I’m working on mostly top secret things right now – holiday stuff, 2 brand new workshops for next year and the tedious parts – formatting, editing etc. – of creating the rag doll and seed pod patterns. Since I can’t show you what’s on my work table it’s the perfect time for a caption contest.
I try to make creatures whose expression and body language imply a history – a definite point of view, a world of their own. And I like to photograph them in a way that invites you to wonder what’s going on outside the frame. This is one of my most favorite photos – taken last year in the Adirondacks. What do you think this dapper rat is up to? What’s on his rat mind?
Make up a caption and leave it in the comments to this post – an esteemed panel of judges will choose a winner to be announced next Thursday. Everybody is welcome to enter – please leave your caption comment before Wednesday 8/3.
And the prize – a Fortuny seed pod! Such a tragic flower – gone to seed – collapsed in a pretty heap.
I’ve been experimenting with new botanical shapes. The flower below is the rare cloaked Bishop Lilly – it only blooms at night. If the moon is full. Once every ten years. And only for an hour…..
There are also seedpods, toadstools and another rare specimen the Royal Cone Flower – valued for the rich crimson bloom as well as it’s medicinal properties – it’s petals make a potent sleeping potion – it is found only in the Black Forest and is nearly extinct.
I love the mystery and strangeness of flowers and I’m exploring them further – playing with the idea of translucency and things gone to seed. I especially love the foresty parts of the botanical gardens here in Brooklyn and I’ve been finding inspiration in antique botanical prints too – for my invented species as well as the photographs of them – I’m thinking of a postcard set of strange new specimens – what do you think? Also – In addition to the tiny rag doll pattern I’m working on a botanical pattern for a seed pod with a root system – that will probably be next out. Have a lovely weekend,
You can find the sewing pattern for the little toadstool above right here – I printed the pattern at 50% for this little guy.
And among all the strange flowers – tiny rag doll #4 – miss lilac.
This big pink flower woke me up last night. It’s one of the new botanical experiments I’ve been working on and it was finished but I didn’t love it- something wasn’t right. The original stem and roots felt too delicate, too fussy for the flower and out of balance – that idea would not leave me alone. My subconscious must have been working on it for me and last night I woke up abruptly knowing exactly what it needed – a bulb, a more substantial stem and very simple leaves. I love the bulb! More botanical experiments soon – there are all sorts of strange new species on my work table.
Have a lovely weekend,