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’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.
Why does this stitching, born solely of necessity, produce such compelling and powerful compositions? Does some perfect rhythm, some harmony with the universe reveal itself if we get out of the way?
And intertwined with the aesthetic appeal there is another sensibility about these patched and mended textiles. Stephen Szczepanek refers to Boro as having soulful beauty. I think that’s perfect, their unassuming and utilitarian nature and their absolute integration with life communicate an intimacy and humanity that is exquisite.
I chose some of my favorite examples of patched and mended old cloth to share with you below – click the images for the larger versions (all photos by Sri Threads).
There is beautiful evidence of time and use everywhere. I’ve been photographing my paintboxes for years, to record their transformations.
Like the Boro pieces I love them for their accidental beauty and for inspiration – there are so many things to think about and so many places to begin in them.
Note: this post was originally published in 2015 as part of my big creative year series and was edited and updated with new images on 4/6/2018
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.
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?
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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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.
Can you imagine – the hands that wove and embroidered them, the rooms they decorated and moved through? I am mesmerized by these textiles – most from the 1700’s – the vermeer yellow velvets below are 17th or 18th century – the goldenrod piece with gold lame roses is French 19th century.
The colors are intense and I wish you could feel the texture – the weaves are thick and tight. I wondered if they would be sewable and they are – amazing. They came as a complete surprise – I have remarkably good luck in the fabric department – this was an incredibly generous gift from Trish Allen of Trouvais – a collector’s shop of rare and special early textiles – lovely, inspiring treasures – the antique ballet costumes – oh my.
The box has been here for weeks and I take them all out and look at them almost everyday. I only photographed a few things today – I might show you some more tomorrow – along with a new creature I’m working on. I started my first project today – a french blue songbird made from an embroidered 18th century silk. Next will be mosquitos and I think something botanical.
And speaking of songbirds – a new crew of Fortuny birds – here they are discussing some important songbird issues.
“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 small compositions – making marks and texture with thread, exploring, observing and maybe expanding my vocabulary of stitches. Some are organic feeling marks – spilling out of the botanical things I’ve been working on and some mix with and echo the meandering stitches of mends and intricate darning I find in garments. I’m paying attention to my impulses and habits and challenging them – looking for the rules I’ve made for myself but am not always conscious of – the musts and can’ts that get in the way of being truly expressive. I’m asking myself to be responsive and un-self-conscious – to pick up a thread and follow it.
And P. S – regarding tiny rag dolls – thanks for your feedback and the pattern making is well underway – it will be available in the next week or two!
Quilt is a generous description – it was really more of a duvet and it has come all undone. I made it 20 years ago – the year I moved to Brooklyn. I love quilts and live with lots of them in various states of disrepair. This one has been at the bottom of a trunk for the last ten years. I’m not sure what made me think of it – I’ve been looking at quilts a lot lately – I have some collected on Pinterest and I’ve been making boats with some pieces of old quilt tops. The boat below is made from a tattered top with hundreds of different little pieces – it’s like a library of fabulous depression era small prints.
My old quilt top is missing huge sections so I’m going to take it apart and rearrange everything in a new way and add some sections of pieced scraps. I did some tests and found the freestyle piecing to be way more difficult than I had imagined. I do love the idea though of turning my giant supply of beloved little scraps into something I use everyday. The little and more subdued sample on the right is the beginning of something that might make it into my repair. The kookier experiment on the left might become a doll. It will be a slow summer project and maybe by next winter I’ll be ready to turn it into an official quilt.
In other news – the boat pattern is ready to go and will be in the shop on Tuesday (3/29) and there will be a sample sale too – of boats I made during the epic effort of getting the pattern together, a few french hens and maybe a couple surprises. If you’d like an email notification you can sign up here.