All posts by annwood

the 2019 annual scrap festival : 10 ideas for your scraps

stitched amulets on my work table

stacks of antique fabric scraps

Did you know it is national scrap week? It is not. I made that up. But it should be a thing. I’m making it a thing.  A bag of scraps is food for thought, inspiration, an invitation to happenstance, possibility thinking. It always has been for me.  

January is an organizing month here. I am sorting through pretty much everything but mostly fabric scraps. Choosing what to keep, what to let go of and making what I keep as tidy and orderly as scraps can be. I’m ironing my scraps. I secretly love to iron. Not my clothes, I’m permanently, slightly, comfortably disheveled.  I like to iron scraps. It’s a little ridiculous. Lets call it meditative. Or it could also be called productive procrastination… 

tiny scrap of vintage fabric to patch tiny pants

And sometimes not so productive procrastination. It frequently devolves into spending a lot of time pondering a very small and fabulous scrap. I love this scrap. Now I have to make a tiny pair of pants so I can add this patch to them. And then I have to make a lamb to put in the pants. You see how this goes…

fragment of an antique garment

There are some pieces I can’t call scraps. Some are so exquisite I call them fragments. Something left over from a life with marks from other hands and days.  

If you have found your way here it is likely you have scraps too. In celebration of the inaugural scrap festival I’ve collected 10 ideas for your scraps. Let’s start with 3 projects for your most special scraps, your fragments.  

1. sweet needle books –  for needles and ideas and memories.

2. amulets – little stitch experiments I  started making last summer. I begin with no shape in mind, just layering my favorite fragments, experimenting and playing with compositions. Then I trim them and sew a backing. I find the compositions are more interesting if I approach them this way rather than beginning with the shape. I made a little template of the shapes I use for you – you can download that here.  And for cord I usually use this waxed thread (PS I get a tiny commission if you buy it through that link, you can also find it in craft stores).

stitched amulets on my work table

3. ethereal garlands – for the tiniest scraps, the un-sewables, the little whispers you can’t let go of.

4. string quilts- there is a full tutorial here for this quick and easy flip and sew technique for your longish scraps.

5. Once you have pieced together a bunch of scraps you can make a fabric basket – you know what you could put in it?  Scraps.

specks and keeping stitched compostition

6. marvelous fabric compositions – let happenstance be your guide and find inspiration in these stitched pieces by Specks and Keepings. The left-overs from garment sewing are used as is. I love the compositions. There is magic in those accidental shapes and relationships. 

7. french seam pillow cases – for your larger scraps. This is on my domestic sewing list. 

8. jar opener – so clever – made from fabric scraps and rubber shelf liner. 

9. fabric twine – for your tiny scraps. And netflix. And wine. 

10. And finally – it  is illegal to do a blog post about fabric scrap projects without including fabric bunting. Plus I love it – so sweet to make for little folks.

Find 4 more scrap project ideas here. And if you have a project to recommend please leave it in the comments.

 P S – Do you get my free weekly-ish newsletter? There are tips and tricks, ideas, stuff to try, all the latest news and blogposts and extra stuff, just for subscribers, delivered mostly on Friday. Pretty much.

ann wood : stitch expeiments and stacks of antique scraps

the world’s sweetest needle book : a free sewing pattern

heart needle book sewing pattern

free heart needle book tutorial

This little book will certainly hold your needles. It could also be a repository for the scraps you can’t part with. It could tell a story, mark an occasion, like a birth or anniversary, or be a sort of travel journal, the pages filled with little things found along the way and saved.

needle book and tiny rag doll night gown

I always travel with small sewing and it is always a mess of ziplock bags and other aesthetically unappealing containers with sharp things poking out of them. This started as a practical project and turned into a whole other thing.

I made this needle book for future me. Future me is the sort of person who is packed a week before travel, has extra light bulbs and never runs out of toilet paper.

needle book made from scraps

needle book ideas

I’m in love with my little needle book and plan to take it pretty much everywhere for the rest of my life. There are more of these books in my future, for needles and ideas and memories. It is good winter evening sewing.

needle book : free sewing pattern

pin it for later

I’ve put together a tutorial for you below. And subscribers will have a link to a pdf download emailed to them.

You will need a basic sewing kit and the templates.

download the templates

materials :

  • cotton or light linen 
  • scraps for details
  • matching and contrasting thread
  • button
  • embroidery thread
  • batting or felt
  • light weight cardboard
  • ribbon
  • gluestick

patch and appliques : needle book pages

Cut out two each of the A, B, C and heart pattern pieces. One side of A will be your cover page. Add patches, embroidery, appliqués, and other details to your pages. Also cut out 2 cardboard support pieces from light weight cardboard ( a cereal box is great). Use a glue stick to glue the cardboard to pieces of batting or felt and cut out.

Note: Piecing fabric together before cutting the pattern shapes creates a nice variety in the pages.

needle book : ribbon latch

Cut a 3 and 1/2 inch length of ribbon or trim and fold in half. With the right side of the cover fabric facing you pin the folded ribbon to the center of the left side. The folded edge should extend 1 and 1/4 inches from the seam line.  I’m using 1/4 inch cotton twill tape.

needle book_tutorial : seam lines

Pin The A, B, C and heart pieces with the right sides together and stitch the seam lines. Leave a small section on each open for turning. Be sure that the opening on A is large enough to insert the cardboard supports. Clip off the corners of the rectangles close to the seam. Clip the bottom point of the heart and clip notches around the curves at the top and at the center.

needle book tutorial : stitch pages

Turn your sewn and clipped pieces right side out. Use a chopstick or similar to push the corners and curves all the way out.  Add any additional appliqué or other details.

needle book tutorial : insert support

Insert the cardboard and batting pieces into the cover page. The batting side should be facing the inside and the cardboard facing the outside cover.  Push the cardboard all the way to each side, there should be an empty space between them. Leave the cover open at the bottom.

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domestic sewing : confronting the throw pillow situation, a re-write and little paintings

vinatge and antique fabric pillows

ann wood's brooklyn studio

It’s pretty New Yearsy around here. I’ve got all sorts of plans and aspirations for the year ahead. Before the end of 2018 I made myself finish a personal project, I confronted some domestic sewing.

Like you, I wanted to start the New Year with a solid throw pillow situation. It has been kind of a mess for a while, definitely not bringing me joy. I had a bunch of ideas to make it better but they had been lingering on my someday list. For years. Deadlines are awesome. Making the dawn of 2019 the due date got me motivated to churn out some decorative pillows. Once I got going it was fun.

couch cover from antique grain sacks

And I made a cover for the seat too, from grain sacks I got in France last summer. They got super soft after I (machine) washed and dried them and I pieced my favorite parts together. They have lots of beautiful mending and I love the colors.

vinatge and antique fabric pillows

throw pillows

I made the pillow covers from old fabric from friends (including some glorious and ancient things my friend Ching sent me) and more things I picked up at French flea markets last year. By the way there is one spot open in each of my trips to France this summer  – click here for June 21-28  and click here for July 1-8. Come to France with me! And then go home and make some throw pillows…

ann wood in a mended dress

With the couch in happy condition my first official work project of this year was a long overdue re-write of my about page. Especially if you are a new visitor it’s a good place to start.

And also in the New Year’s department I re-committed to my daily painting and drawing project. So far so good. Daily practice is no joke, it’s brutal sometimes but I know I’m better off doing it in lots of important ways. The positive effects on my thinking, creativity, idea generation and focus are huge. I’ll scale back to drawing when traveling probably but if I flake on this again you should yell at me.

small art, made every day

The holidays were unusually happy and slow and peaceful for me. I spent a lot of it in pajamas eating cookies with a cat on my lap (I regret some of the cookies). It was pretty nice but I’m happy to be back to business as usual now. How bananas are you? I’m pretty bananas. I require huge amounts of time by myself to think and work and I like routine a lot. I’m luxuriating in time and space and ordinariness now, percolating all sorts of ideas….

tiny sewing for good mental health

little rag dolls on my work table

little rag dolls on my work table

There is always something and often someone in my pocket waiting to be stitched. I’d be lost without this sort of thing. When I wander away from it for too long things go badly, when my pace gets too frantic the magic evaporates. It’s the thing that steadies and focuses me, all the tiny sewing. This is a pile of mental health. A little stack of tiny pinafores and nightgowns and satchels and jackets and bloomers.

stack of tiny doll clothes

I’ve been sewing little folks here and there for the past few weeks. I take them with me for the in between times. Some of this little crew is in the shop now and I’ve already started more tiny rag dolls and bloomers and pinafores and tiny satchels to work on over the holidays.

tiny rag doll with satchel

 

tiny lamb rag doll in pants

Wear them high, wear them proud lamb friend. The lambs in pants crack me up every single time. Something about those little trousers and how happy he seems to be in them…

If you would like to make a lamb he is made from the mr. socks pattern with these modifications.
Or you can come to Vermont and sit by the fire making lambs in pants with me. Pretty cosy right? A few spots (with fancy single rooms) have been added to the Sugar House Retreat. I’ve got other workshop news too – find that right here.

onward,

ann

PS – I wish they sold pine bows all year, it is such a magnificent smell.

new 2019 workshops : botanical specimens, sugar house retreat and songbirds

botanical stitching class with ann wood

There are two botanical specimen workshops – you can take either or both (take both – spend the whole weekend stitching strange specimens with me!). Each day will focus on different techniques and projects.  And we are offering the songbird class again.

I’m headed to Vermont in early spring for lambs in pants and stitched talismans and back to Los Angeles in April to teach 3 workshops at French General. Find all the details below and links to registration. I hope you can make it! I’m bringing everything you need including treasures from my antique textile collection and my favorite tools and supplies.  All you have to do is show up. If you have any questions please send me a message.

botanical stitching class with ann wood

botanical specimens 101 – saturday april 6th

fungi, root systems, and seed pods

You will create elegant stitched seed pods  with realistic root systems and invent wild and strange species of mushrooms. We will explore basic soft sculpture techniques including working with spheres and creating and modifying patterns. I’ll share my techniques for creating forms and texture with textiles, wire, paper and other simple materials.  Click here for more info and registration.

 

botanical stitching class with ann wood

botanical specimens 102 – sunday april 7th

bulbs,  rare specimens and fabric printing 

You will learn to create realistic bulb root systems and techniques for creating organic feeling marks on fabric.  We will explore antique botanical prints for inspiration and I’ll guide you through the process of inventing your own rare specimen using traditional as well as non traditional soft sculpture techniques. Click here for more info and registration.

 

songbirds  – friday april 5th

Come make songbirds with me. I’ll guide you through the process of sewing, stuffing and sculpting the basic shape, creating natural looking layers of feathery textures, embroidering features, carving beaks, sculpting feet and giving your creation spirit and “birdness”. I’ll also share my some of my favorite supplies, top secret tips and techniques and some treasures from my collection of antique textiles. Click here for more details and registration.

 

SugarHouse Retreat with Ann Wood and French General at Warm Brook Barn  -March 21st-24th, 2019

Join me in Vermont for a glorious cosy weekend stitching lambs in pants (or dresses) and amulets and making gorgeous sugar drop necklaces (among other things) with French General. The Sugarhouse Retreat is a weekend filled with cozy fireplace warmth, maple syrup treats and friends near and dear – including a visit to one of Vermont’s Sugarhouse’s on the annual open weekend as well as crafting by the fire. Delicious meals and hosting by Meleen Dupre of Warm Brook Barn.   Click here for more details and registration.

gift guide : little things for makers

a collection of sweet little gifts for makers

 

a collection of sweet little gifts for makers

It really is the thought that counts, delight a crafty friend with a new tool. I’ve gathered some favorites for you here –  happy, useful, and thoughtful surprises:

Please note that all amazon links in this post are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I will get a small percentage at no additional cost to you so it works out all around.

Applique pins, I love these little pins for their function as well as their littlness and sweetness, you have probably seen them sprinkled in my photos.

Holbein Mat Acrylic paint, we have talked about this before, I LOVE this paint. It has an almost paper like quality when dry. If you try one I recommend getting beige. I like mixing other  (cheap) paints into it.

Thread Winders from  French General. I only discovered these this year, in fact they were a gift!  How did I live without them?

The best glue stick in the world. I think so anyway. It’s my favorite for collage.

Turning tubes – I got this set recently and it is awesome. If you don’t feel like shelling out to turn your tiny parts you can use this method but the set is worth having, the tubes are sturdy and it’s handy to have 3 sizes.

Mini paper cutter by tonic – I got this last year for a label cutting emergency. I had low expectations. It worked beautifully and a whole year later it still does. Super happy with it.

Doll needles – these long needles are handy for putting in eyes  etc. and for moving stuffing around inside your dolls and creatures.

And while we are talking about stuffing – this makes a great gift:

tiny rag doll print pattern       

And if you purchase them together (wool plus the tiny doll, mr. socks, or songbird print pattern) I’ll include a fun extra to make it an extra special gift.

linen smock by cal patch

And get this for yourself: If you have seen me in the world then you know that the Cal Patch Linen  Smock is the lynch pin item of my middle aged art lady look (I got US size 2). I wear it just about every day.  Or make your own wardrobe with Cal’s book. Sewing garments is on my list of things I’d like to learn to do.

little gifts from etsy shops

I also collected some treasures from Etsy:

Acorn box – for keeping your tiniest treasures. so magical.

Hand stitched semamori amulets – so beautiful and the thought is lovely, a wish you carry with you.

I love Spring Holfeld’s paintings and prints, familiar things rendered in a magnificent way.

The sweetest brush or pen rest.

Tiny handmade ceramic dishes – perfect for spices or pins – I got one for a friend last year and it was delightful.

Have any sweet gift suggestions?  I’d love to know – leave them in the comment section please.

 

squam 2019 : tinder and spark – come experiment with me in the forest

a mysterious box - an idea generating experiment

inspiration gathered on my work table

The Squam Art Retreat 2019 offerings are up and registration is open. I’m already looking forward to teaching next September.

experiments on my work table

There is art and practice in generating ideas.  Come spend a day with me in the forest experimenting and having lots of ideas.

Tinder and Spark – idea generation : experiments, curiosity and constraints

I will guide you through a series of  improvisational (and fun) exercises designed to bypass blocks, spark you creatively, help you dig deeply into your imagination, spot intersections and generate ideas.

We will employ constraints to move our thinking in novel ways and practice approaching assignments laterally.  Sometimes a shift in approach makes all the difference. We will look for serendipity, invite happenstance to guide us and we will play. Play generates lots of ideas.  In idea generation volume matters.

a mysterious box - an idea generating experiment

The day begins with experiment #1 :  a mysterious box…. a collection of materials and found objects. Employing the remarkable creative power of constraint and with a top secret inspiration source in mind you will create a small work of art.  I’ll help you push past blocks and navigate and choose techniques and tools.

One thing leads to another, if you let it.  If the experimenter in you needs some encouragement  please join me for this day of exploration. What will you unearth?  What has been waiting for an opportunity to emerge? Come with that curiosity.

Find all the details here!

the dastardly owl sewing pattern is in the shop

a sewing pattern for a dastardly owl

a sewing pattern for a dastardly owl

Make this owl. This imperious and condescending owl. He measures 9 inches tall  from disgruntled talon to sinister horn. And the pattern scales well if you would like to try a larger owl.

The PDF pattern download is 31 pages long and has more than 130 color photos.  You’ll learn how to construct the basic body shape and talons as well as my system for creating owl-ish layers of feathers and a dastardly expression. Every element is broken down into steps and fully explained.

page form the ann wood handmade owl pattern

a gray soft sculpture owl

owl sewing pattern back feathers

owl sewing pattern : stuffing the legs

The pattern has all the top secret tricks I’ve come up with over 12 years of making ill tempered owls. And I’ll share this one with you here:

When the layers are fully assembled spritz with water or spray starch if you like.

smoothing owl feathers

And run a hot iron over the feathers. I do it to his face too (so rude) to adjust his dastardly expression. It has a magic effect, un-ruffling the feathers and giving the layers extra owly-ness.

I’m so excited to share this pattern with you! I’m so glad it’s done! I can’t believe how much work it was!

And I hope you make owls!

You might like these too:

         

the fruitless search for the ultimate organic dot and the diy solution

The quest for the perfect organic dot fabric for toadstools is never ending, I’m always on the look out for fungal feeling dots, speckles and marks in general and I’m super particular. Shopping in LA a few weeks ago there was lots of nice batik stuff that was close but no cigar. I described my dream fabric to my friend Molly and she said “dude you could totally make that”. That is such a good attitude. Yesterday I experimented a little. And dude, I can totally make that, so can you.

making marks on cotton fabric with bleach

Gather some cotton fabric, bleach, wax paper and tools for mark making. I tried all sorts of things, rubber stamps, pallet knives, brushes, straws, cardboard, spools, on and on. Also put on an apron and some gloves and do this somewhere very well ventilated or outside.

marking with bleach on fabric using a pencil eraser

I had one little dish of straight up bleach (you just need a little) and another diluted about 2 parts bleach to one part water. I put wax paper under the fabric and started making marks. My favorite tools ended up being a pencil eraser, putty knife, a stiff bristle brush, a toothbrush for splattering and a little spool that I glued a piece of wool felt to one end of. A cork would have been good too – just thought of it.

spool with wool felt glued to one end for bleach printing

cotton fabrics printed with bleach for making fabric toadstools

The marks take a moment to begin to “develop”. I let most of the fabric sit for about 20 minutes before rinsing. I have googled/pinterested around and there are all sorts of interesting things you can do with this technique and you can get pretty fancy about it. Find a great tutorial here and another here. 

We will be playing with this process in my botanical workshop in Kentucky next November (at this moment is is wait list only but if you’d like to go jump on the wait list – stuff happens in a year).

toadstools made from fabric

toadstools made from fabric, brown and red with spots

find the mushroom sewing pattern here

I love how they turned out, the bleach prints are so perfect for little fungi.

little projects and percolating ideas

tiny cotton doll with a satchel and linen smock

little sewing projects

The little black wool scrap insisted on being a chicken, a french hen. It’s a good day for small cosy projects, for stitching little dolls and boats, pocket size things.

stitched french hen in a nesting box

There was nothing I would rather do today, nothing more appealing than meandering my way through some little projects. Some for gifts, some for ornaments and a few little things for the shop in December.

I had intended to just sew for an hour or two early in the morning but I could not put it down today and there was no real reason to. I remained happily lost in the little details and all of a sudden the sun was going down.

tiny cotton doll satchel

tiny cotton doll with a satchel and linen smock

And while my hands were busy I felt a steady simmer in my mind, curiosity about miss thistle and the world she lives in, ideas and images floating to the surface, little glimmers of a house in the forest…

bundling up the tiny doll folk and imagining their world

embroidered felt doll hats and jackets

embroidered felt doll hats and jackets

When faced with a stressful situation small sewing is good medicine. This weekend we made some big tech improvements to ann wood handmade that were sort of terrifying. I’m thrilled with the result – especially the speed.

embroidered doll cap

While all the scary work was being done I lingered in the details of tiny felt jackets and hats and slow stitched talismans. Besides needing to distract myself from the website work it has been cold and snowy, all the more reason for cosy hand sewing and bundling the little dolls up. I sure do love to bundle things up.

small stitch experiments

embroidered felt doll jacket

tiny rag doll that fits in the palm of your hand

Find the free little jacket pattern here and the tiny doll hat here.

The folky little winter ensembles make me curious about tiny doll world, the details and history. I’m going to investigate that over the next few weeks. You may recall I explored the world of a family of cosmopolitan ants a couple years ago.

beaumonts christmas

ant family christmas

It was probably the most fun I ever had. I’m looking forward to imagining a world for the tiny doll folk. Stay tuned.

try the star folk pdf pattern for free

Try a PDF pattern for free! Make a sweet crew of moody stars and a peaceful moon. They are super easy and great for ornaments little gifts or a mobile. The disgruntled guy is my favorite. There is one in every crowd…

click here to download your free star folk pdf pattern

stars

shooting star

starfolk ornaments

star folk sewing pattern

You are ready to make moody stars! Suggestion – don’t print the whole thing – You can just select the patterns pages and print only those and read the directions on your screen – that is what I do.

star ornament

Are you new to digital patterns? If you’d like to purchase other patterns here is how that works:

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it’s time to make the squirrels, stitching expressive creature eyes and wool stuffing in the shop

little hand stitched squirrel

little stuffed squirrels and whale ornaments on my work table

It is time to make all the little things, the little gift and ornament things. It is officially time. For those of you less procrastinatey than me it is way past time, I know you are out there, you organized types who start in June. Maybe I’ll turn over a new leaf this year, I would love to be done making my Christmas stuff by Thanksgiving.

little hand stitched squirrel

little stuffed wool squirrel

forest folk sewing pattern

 

Today I’m making very little squirrels, and thoughtful whales. This squirrel is just the right size for somebody’s pocket. He looks very happy in there.

get the forest folk pattern

stuffed wool squirrel in my pocket

He is a relentlessly happy little fellow.

whale ornament eye

For most of my small creatures I make the eyes the same way, a disorganized little cluster of stitches (you can see how I hide my knots here). On wool I use embroidery thread so it shows but on cotton I like the subtlety of sewing thread. And I find the less I think about the placement of the stitches the better, the more expressive the eyes turn out. This little whale has things on his mind.

squirrels and whales on my work table

adjusting stuffing placeement with a large needle

I stuff all the little folks and creatures with the loveliest wool stuffing. I spend a lot of time stuffing things, getting it just right and almost always fine tune the shape from the outside with a big needle.

Have you tried wool stuffing? it is all I use and I’ve added it to the shop in 4 ounce packs – that’s enough wool for lots of little creatures.

Are you sewing for the holidays? What’s on your worktable?

the magical possibilities of cardboard and behind the scenes in the mouse diorama

paper mache ships hanging in my window

Cardboard is all over the place, for free! It has lots of interesting qualities and I’m always curious about the possibilities of things. I’m very interested in transformation, particularly of modest things, discarded things. The thin stuff, like a cereal box, is wonderfully flexible and you can create remarkably graceful curves with a little ingenuity. It is the secret ingredient in my paper mache ships. I think that is quite a transformation, from family size Cheerios box to floating ship, it is a kind of magic.

paper mache ships hanging in my window

It is also what I use for my teacup armature.

cardboard teacup armature

Or even more intriguing, let it be the star of the show, glorified in all its cardboardness. The shapes and tones and textures all observable and celebrated.  And I can’t resist an interesting die cut, they set my imagination on fire. Die cuts figure heavily into this spooky cardboard castle.

yummy fun playhouse

I made this playhouse from cardboard and popsicle sticks ages ago for Clare Crespo’s Yummyfun Cooking.  So many hot glue burns but so much fun.

And speaking of fun checkout this super simple diorama for photographing your continental mice in a make believe French countryside. It is sand and pebbles, a little fake moss (all found at Joann’s) and a sweet print I got in the actual South of France last summer. It’s in a giant plastic container to diffuse the light.

felt mouse in a countryside diorama

This guy seems pretty excited about it. He was made by a student in the French General Mouse workshop last week. Find the pattern to make your own here.

P S – Do you get my weekly -ish newsletter? (there are two great cardboard halloween costume ideas in this week’s issue.

And you can signup for it right here.

a brief history of owls

stitched owl in progress

update : the dastardly owl pattern is available now

Owls and I go way back and they have always been mythic and magical creatures to me. One of the great legends of my childhood was my mother’s encounter with a great gray owl. If you had known my mother none of the things I make would surprise you at all. Sometimes I feel like I’m barely involved, as though they have been simmering in me all along and just waiting for their opportunity to appear. I think everybody has things like that in them.  And the very first film I saw when I was 5 or so was The Royal Ballet’s Tales of Beatrix Potter.  I think Potter’s Old Mr. Brown character figures heavily in the owls that have turned up in my stitching.

owl made from earth colored wool scraps with button eyes

The first owl to appear was Ian (named for Ian McShane whom I love). He is made from scraps and has flinty metal button eyes.

owl stitched from antique wool

Owls continued on in the Mr. Brown vein with earthy tones and scrappy textures for some time until someone much darker appeared all of a sudden.

owl made from black antique garments

Chillingworth was made from a single garment, a victorian bodice, one of the first really old garments I acquired. It had all sorts of textures and interesting stitching and mends, most of them found their way into Chillingworth. I love how absolutely dastardly he is, glowering at you with his perfectly mismatched eyes. I’m not sure I have ever achieved that level of malevolence since. But there have been a lot of seriously bad tempered and surly candidates.

stitched owl in progress

Hundreds of owls and 10 or so years later I’m preparing to share the pattern. I’m working on it as we speak. The pattern templates are finished and tested. In fact I’m teaching an owl workshop in Los Angeles right now. Most of the photography is done so it is just a matter of formatting and editing now. I’m hoping to have it complete by mid November.

30 minute figures : experimenting and generating ideas

guick figure expeiments created with paper and fabric

quick figure experiments created with paper and fabric

Play generates ideas. And constraints make things interesting, they send you in new directions and bypass inhibitions. Find 30 minutes to play. Make a space, gather materials, scraps, paper, cardboard fabric, whatever is around, and tools – a glue stick, tape, paint, the basics. Make an appointment with yourself to show up and set a timer for thirty minutes.

Or even better do it with friends, everybody can contribute materials and that adds a nice element of surprise. In fact you could make it a snail mail challenge if no willing experimenters are nearby, send each other a collection of supplies. The assignment is to make a figure. Any kind of figure. Or more than one. You get extra credit for making more than one.

In idea generation volume matters.

This 30 minute challenge was the warm up exercise for my experimenting with dolls class at Squam in September and it was one of my favorite teaching experiences ever. Watching people engage deeply and freely with their imaginations and embrace real play is fascinating.

figures created from paper and fabric in a thirty minute challenge

Before I experiment on students I experiment on myself. I did several 30 minute figure making sessions. I found that my ideas became more interesting to me as they became less complicated. In fact the thing I liked best was made in about 10 minutes. I also found that my brain really did warm up, my focus got deeper and ideas became more fluid.

paper and fabric figure experiments

cardboard, paper and fabric cat figure experiment

This little cat was a complete surprise. I started wrapping a strip of black fabric around a piece of cardboard, not really headed anywhere and all of a sudden this mysterious little fellow turned up. I love him and I’m curious about him, where is he going? Who are those flowers for? What else is in the funny green room?

mini cat rag dolls in the forest

 

And a couple more highlights from Squam, you never know who you might bump into:

Mr. socks ran into distant cousins and some tiny mice friends in the forest.

Get the mr. socks sewing pattern.

 

felt mice and woolen trees

PS – You can make your own woebegone pines and nice mice with the free patterns below.

very nice mice free sewing pattern     

doll making tips and tricks

dampening the fabric before stuffing a doll

One of the challenges in tiny rag doll sewing is getting a smooth neck. It is challenging when sewing any doll that has a torso and head as one piece, the stuffing wants to sneak out of the narrow part. I always recommend wool stuffing and that helps but stuffing still escapes sometimes. This past week I came across a great post on stuffing small dolls by Beth, author of By Hook, By Hand, that includes this genius tip for getting a smooth result, particularly in the neck. Spray a little water on the fabric before you stuff.

dampening the fabric before stuffing a doll

I gave it a try this week and the result is marvelous. It’s so simple. Also I was impatient so I used a blow dryer to speed things up after I stuffed, not sure if that made a difference or not.

adding stuffing to the doll torso

I stuff most of my figures, owls, songbirds etc. as firmly as I can but rag dolls are different. I like rag dolls to be stuffed just enough to completely fill out the shape but not too firmly.

moving stuffing inside a rag doll with a needle

Sculpting from the outside with a needle helps refine the shape too – I mean moving stuffing into little cavities with a needle from the outside after a doll is stuffed and closed. I almost always do this with any stuffed thing I make. And I find it easier to feel the areas that need to be filled in more than looking for them.

tiny rag doll with a shawl and satchel

While we are on the subject of tiny dolls, find the easy way to turn tiny parts here and tips for hiding knots here.

onward,

ann

PS – the songbird print pattern is back in stock and ready to ship

two mini workshops

hand stitched amulets

Come sew with me in LA in October!  I’ve added two mini evening workshops to my visit with French General, fun nights of stitching, all materials supplied:

hand stitched amulets

colorful fabric pendants on a worn piece of wood

Stitched amulets Tuesday, October 16th / 5-8pm
Spend an early evening with stitching up small, sweet textile talismans. We will provide all of the small bits and pieces, including antique French and Japanese fabric, cord, buttons and charms for you to create a handful of small amulets that can be worn for luck, love or given to a friend.

All materials are supplied for this workshop, but you are free to bring any small special pieces to make your talisman uniquely yours. Click here for details and registration.

very nice mice : sewing pattern

little sailor mouse

Very nice mice – Thursday, October 18th / 6-9pm
Spend an evening making mice with me! I’m bringing everything you need and lots of extras for embellishing and sweet details. We’ll hand stitch adorable little friends and along the way I’ll share some of my favorite supplies, tips and tricks. And while we photograph our creations in whimsical mini sets I’ll offer you some seat of the pants techniques for capturing your creation’s unique personality and charm.
Everything is supplied for this workshop. Click here for details and registration.