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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
There is nothing like a credible threat to get you moving. The unmovable, fixed date of the Squam Art Fair last Saturday was the perfect motivation to push the songbird print pattern across the elusive finish line. Get up a little earlier, work a little later, beg the printer (local and awesome). Make it happen. It was painful. And I’m so glad I did it, the booklet is in the shop now.
I need deadlines. For everything. Even stuff I love doing.
I knew that before but I thought of it as a shortcoming. A bad thing about me I need to change instead of acknowledging how I’m wired and working with that reality. Figure out what I need, identify what motivates me and arrange my life as optimally as possible to support that. Just like time, focus, energy and attention motivation needs to be managed.
I love the booklet, and I love that it is done! It is more than 20 pages and illustrated with over 100 black and white photos. Checkout some lovely birds made from the pattern below and if you like you can send images to me at info at ann wood handmade dot com or use #annwodhandmade on instagram.
P S- By the way I’m thinking of offering wool stuffing in the shop this fall – what do you think?
Labor Day Weekend, the unofficial start of the holiday season. Just kidding. Mostly. It does have a shifting feel to it though, everything starting back up again. It’s going to be a sewing weekend for me. Fun sewing, amulets and mushrooms and Monday devoted entirely to experimenting. I’ll give you the full report on that next week.
I’m still having a good time making amulets, small thoughts, and they are generating all sorts of color and composition ideas for larger or more involved things. They have become morning work for me, hand sewing with coffee before I’m quite awake yet. I love having a little stack ready to go and waiting for me.
Do you pick up handwork first thing? What are you making? Can you give yourself a day or an hour or 20 minutes to play and experiment this weekend?
The bodies are piling up as the owl shape is getting fine tuned. I’m preparing for owl workshops (PS – 2 spots have opened up in the 10/20-21 class) and ultimately a print and pdf owl pattern so every detail and dastardly proportion is being examined. I’ve started with the body shape. There are two construction methods I use for making owls, I created two patterns that produce slightly different shapes, one more rubenesque and another more sculptural and a bit more realistic. I might be the only one who can tell the difference. I tried to choose one to work on but ended up with a hybrid.
The next step is to test and revise again and again until only what is essential is left, the shape is expressive, the pattern pieces assemble perfectly and any fussiness is removed. After each prototype I adjust and resew and if the adjustment is successful it is further refined in Adobe Illustrator.
I arrived at the body shape that feels just right yesterday. And the body pattern pieces feel good too, it snaps together like nobody’s business. Even with difficult fabric like this odd tweedy stuff from mrs. brown’s skirt. I’ve been making things from that turn of the century skirt for 8 years and I’m sorry it’s is almost gone now. It has made lots of wonderful owls and rats and spiders but the weave is loose, thick, ravely and a little slippery, super hard to sew.
I’m ready to move on to the feathers, feet and features. As I finish my little pile of owly bodies I’ll experiment with those details until each is transformed into a teachable technique and or pattern piece that produces reliable results.
And the silly bug club! Thanks so much to everybody who showed up for the challenge. I drew a name from a hat and the winner of the mosquito rag doll is @bonniecapaulgallery ! I’ll message you on instagram for address etc. I hope you keep making and posting silly bugs, this was fun and I’ll offer you another challenge soon. Have a beautiful weekend and I’ll leave you with a few highlights from the posts and you can check out all the silly bugs here.
A great way to get past the musts and shoulds and assumptions that can limit you creatively is to shift your approach. Even temporarily adopt a perspective that helps you follow impulses and bypass reasons not to, shake things up. Try starting with silly. Silly tricks you into trying stuff that might not work which is what it is to be creative. That is also how you get somewhere new. Ask yourself silly questions, mess around, be absurd. Absurdity is rich ground. Just sayin’.
You might end up somewhere unexpected, making a connection that you had not before. It might wake something up in you or push you past a block. Your creative muscle grows and you can apply that strength to all your work.
I spent time playing with the idea of silly bug dolls this week. I’m getting my imagination in shape to teach again in September in New Hampshire. Silly helps me unclench my thinking. I got pretty silly.
Play is creative. Clenching down hard on trying to make something awesome often isn’t and is not usually effective at bringing your personal magic into the world. Nobody is more creative than you. And absolutely nobody has what you have inside you. I’m a firm believer in exercising your mind to develop skills to get to all that. As much as you can. Play is an important part of that.
So I offer you this challenge, make a silly bug in the next week. Why bugs? Because they are a rich place to experiment, the huge variety of weird anatomies can inspire all sorts of possibilities. There are lots of places to start and they are ideal for improvisational thinking.
So buggy in here!
And for a little more motivation let’s make it interesting. Post your silly bug on instagram with this tag: #sillybugclub and I’ll pick somebody at random who wins their very own mosquito rag doll. Who doesn’t need one of those? And you don’t have to sew your silly bug. You can, but you don’t have to, it can be anything. Make it out of post-it notes and paper clips if you like, that would be great, the less you have to work with the more creative you have to be and that is what we are concerned with. Please post your photo before Friday with the hashtag and your name will be in the hat. I’ll announce the winner next Friday.
Do it! Get the benefit of a mini assignment, spend some time playing and trying stuff, and you might win a prize. Plus joy. There ended up being a lot of joy in making silly bugs for me. That’s nothing to sneeze at either.
Life rewards action, give it a chance and it will show up with happy accidents. The minute you do something, take some action, a feedback loop begins. You get information. Begin, listen and respond. This week I accidentally made some necklaces or amulets or talismans or charms or pendants, I’m not sure what to call them yet. I know I like making them and I like how they feel, I like looking at them and putting them on and I’m sure they are lucky. And I know that continents and centuries collide in these saved and assembled scraps. They are a happy accident in lots of ways.
I did not start with the intention to make something to wear and historically speaking I never wear anything extra, anything purely decorative, but as I experimented that idea crept in and they began to remind me of scapulars. If you were educated by nuns you know what those are.
This was also perfect road sewing, they don’t require a lot of stuff so they are easy to travel with. It continues to be far too hot so I did the only reasonable thing and fled NYC. Sewing amulets by the pool was just right.
Plus there was sweet and thorough help, he checked everything. A lot.
I’m making more little experiments and they continue to be an excellent place for letting ideas percolate and surface, they are a good thinking tool. I’m thinking about paintings and preparing for my next workshop at squam which is very much concerned with idea generation and experimenting.
I’ll leave you with my favorite shot of the pool, I like my pools a little moody, a little melancholy. This image makes me think of one of my most favorite films “The Swimmer”. I think I’ll watch it for the millionth time tonight.
Part of the day today was devoted to waking up the experimenter in me. It needs some encouragement so I gave it an assignment, an easy assignment. I’ve been filled with reasons why I can’t do things lately so it’s a baby steps approach: make something small, make something fun, start without knowing.
One thing leads to another, if you let it. But first you need to start. Sometimes without knowing where you are going. If the experimenter in you needs some encouragement too please join me in the little assignment.
Start by gathering things, inspiration, things to think about and things to work with. Arrange and rearrange and look for happy accidents.
And then try something, listen for the whisper of an idea, pick up the thread and follow it. Follow it around corners and into shadows and back into the light. Keep following and keep responding and noticing. Be curious.
There are no mistakes, only information, a yes and, why not, lets see what happens process.
I like what turned up today, my little stitch experiments feel like amulets to me. And they were indeed medicine. I had fun and lost myself in the process. And I’m just getting started, the idea has momentum and there is lots more for me to explore here. If the amulet idea appeals to you as a shape for your experiments I hope you try it and I’d love to see what you come up with.
The ridiculous humidity and a summer cold have left me with a stunning lack of ambition. I aggressively indulged the lack of ambition and it transformed into restlessness. I needed to put on some clothes and do something. Anything.
This is where sewing saves me. As soon as my hands start moving my head starts to work again, I can feel the wheels turning. I spent some time making tiny doll things, little dresses and pinafores and bloomers with sweet little details. Peaceful, happy work.
Spending time on the tiny things with tiny details made me happy. And so did these floss winders. Am I the last person to know about these? Historically, I’ve stored my embroidery floss in the traditional way, in a maddening tangled mess. These solve the problem beautifully, I love the way it looks.
If you’d like to make a tiny doll find the sewing pattern here. I hope you make tiny dolls and if you do you can email photos to me at info at ann wood handmade dot com or use #annwoodhandmade on instagram. And send your songbirds and mushrooms and other things too, I’d love to see!
The songbird PDF pattern is in the shop today! It has more than 100 color photos and detailed instructions. You need basic sewing skills and some patience if you are a beginner.
And to celebrate the instructions for making a realistic bird leg are below. I hope you make songbirds!
How to make a realistic bird leg with wire:
You can use any gauge wire you like, I think that 19 gauge soft annealed wire is the easiest to work with and provides enough stability for the legs. You can build up the thickness of the legs and feet by adding additional layers of floral tape.
1. Gather the wire, floral tape, hammer, pliers and cutters, ruler and a surface to hammer on, I’m using a little anvil but any very hard surface will do.
Cut 2 – 12 inch lengths of wire.
2. Hold the wire with the pliers 1 and 1/2 inches from one end.
3. Bend the wire forming a loop.
4. Hold the loop just past where the wire crosses with the pliers. Bend the long end of the wire so it is perpendicular to the loop.
5. Wrap the long end of the wire around the short end behind the loop. Wrap as tightly as you can, keeping you fingers very close to the wrapping.
6. Place the wire on a hard surface and tap firmly with the hammer to flatten the wire wrapping. This will help the wrap hold in the next step.
7. Use wire cutters to snip the loop in the middle.
Natsubate, I definitely have it. It is a Japanese wordthat can be translated as “summer fatigue”. July is almost always lazy and slow for me. There is no talking myself out of it. I should probably start planning for that. Besides the seasonal aspect, the natsubate, giant projects almost always have doldrums, usually near the end, when the hard part is done. A massive wall of resistance rises between me and the little last details.
That stuckness is cemented by ambiguity. Specifics, specific tasks, specific goals and time frames move things forward and support momentum.
That’s where the songbird pattern has been, trapped in a perfect storm of inertia: July, just the fussy boring details left to do and a lack of structure, a lack of plan to complete those. There is also, I’m sure, an element of brain fatigue, the backlash for having not taken a break for a while, not letting my mind and focus muscle rest. A few days out of my routine being tossed about in salt water helped with that.
And I can fix the lack of plan part while still accounting for my seasonal dip in energy and focus by applying James Clear’s method, reduce the scope, stick to the schedule. I’ll devote a couple golden early morning hours each day to a specific lists of tasks. When I broke down exactly what I needed to do on paper it was suddenly clear that would be more than enough to push this pattern over the finish line and into the shop. That clarity was motivating on its own and to add some accountability to further inspire me I’ll tell you that the finish line is Tuesday, 7/17.
Now let’s talk about France a little bit. France gets a big thumbs up from me. I suspected it would be good but it was beyond my imagination. Good job France, you really brought it. I was so completely engaged in the experience I hardly took any photos but I’ll share what I’ve got below and you can find more on french general’s instagram feed (scroll down a little for Corde Sur Ciel).
I’m planning now for a longer stay next summer. You should come. If you think you might like to let me know – and I’ll keep you informed as plans solidify.
Have a beautiful weekend and I’ll be back on Tuesday to share the songbird pattern. At last.
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.
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