It has such a spirit about it. And it even smells and feels like it was just unpinned from the clothesline. A lot of the Edwardian garments I get are formal, often black or brown – somber or special occasion things. The everydayness of this ensemble paints such a picture – the generous side pockets in the polka dot skirt, the wear on the front of the pinafore apron where hands were dried a thousand times or a laundry basket rested.
And that little straw hat – it’s tiny – pure style – not a sunshade – it would have been pinned to her head at an angle for walks in town.
There is another pinafore apron that came with the group that was very stained and is already soaking – I start with just hot water – sometimes that does the trick – then ivory laundry soap and if necessary a mild dose of oxiclean. All the buttons and fasteners are gone and lots of seams have let go but the quality of the fabric is extraordinary and much of it is sewable – the skirt has a bustle and that fabric is quite good. I love it. After pinning it together I did put it all on and swooshed around for a while.
I’ve had a string of good luck lately with garments after a long drought – I’m expecting more soon. The black skirt below turned up about a week ago – it’s ideal in every way. It has a big bustle and the fabric is good. The fades and patina are glorious and the brown lining is excellent – I’m already making dolls and owls.
And fresh from my worktable : miss rose, miss parsley, miss iris, miss carnation, miss pearl and miss birch.
I love cloth.
I always have – as a child it was something I had in abundance and I learned to think well in stitches. I especially love old cloth. Lovely old cloth. I love it for it’s simplicity, it’s commonness, it’s possibilities and meaning.
I spend happy hours considering and choosing – today I’m gathering bits of indigo for an owl. I love the textures and patinas that comes from decades or centuries of life and use and I make things that celebrate it as I find it – all it’s scars and mending apparent. And I add my own patches and mends and visible stitching – I love the sewness, the make believe. The fragility and other unexpected qualities of very old cloth send me in new directions, new ways of doing things. I used some of my most treasured scraps from Sri Threads to make these toadstools.
I love the little guy. You can find all three in the shop today.
As I was working on them I was thinking about constructing shapes in cloth and what a fascinating process that is. If you’re experimenting with that kind of sewing, especially if you’re just beginning to play with three dimensional sewing – spheres are a great place to start. When I teach a workshop I almost always give away a pattern for three and four part spheres. You can download that pattern here if you like.
And speaking of patterns – more are coming soon – fabric boats, tiny dolls and the flamingo kit. I’ve hit a lot of snags and complications putting that together, it’s been a bigger mountain to climb than I expected but it’s almost there.
And in other news:
A new podcast interview! My second ever. Find my conversation with my good friend Elizabeth Duvivier (founder and director of Squam Art Retreats) here. I loved our chat – Elizabeth is a smart cookie, a truly curious person and I love her new podacast. Two of my favorite episodes are with Suzan Mischer and Kerry Lemon. I hope you check it out.
I was so happy when this threadbare edwardian bodice arrived – it has so much and I love examining the details and scars of these old things. They feel like time travelers to me – emissaries from a world away. It’s easy to find old black garments (ebay) but rare to find the qualities I love best. There is a particular shade of black I like in garments of this age – it fades in a particular way. This bodice has a fantastic range of tones to work with.
The texture is great too and has variety that is useful and inspiring to me – a few tiny moth holes, worn tissue thin in places and darker and more opaque in others – lovely for layering and feathers.The sleeves are gathered and blousy at the shoulder, that fabric usually escapes a lot of wear – has more integrity for sewing and stuffing. And the velvet details – oh boy. It’s my favorite part – little accents of velvet worn to perfection. Feathers for a raven or other dark bird and I have to make an owl just because of that velvet and the remaining black glass buttons. I love it when I can make a creature entirely from a single garment and I think there are at least three here.
It is such a beautifully constructed and designed thing – every detail is careful, thoughtful and precise. It is impossible to handle it and not think about the woman it belonged to and the world she lived in. I see her in that world – her hands in that familiar, unconscious movement of buttoning all those little buttons – looking in the mirror – thinking of something else.
My first encounter with boro textiles was in 2003 in this article in Country Living magazine. I was stunned – instantly in love with them – the color and the composition were perfect. The mending, the layering, the meandering stitch work all spoke to me in a novel way – I related to them at the time as paintings – as compositions that strike that magic balance, my sewing had been mostly put away for years. I cut out the pages and stuck them on my refrigerator – my percolating thoughts place. When I began this blog in 2006 my focus shifted pretty quickly to stitching and through the magic of happenstance I had the opportunity to visit the Sri Threads showroom. Stephen was an instant friend and ever since packages of intriguing old cloth and garments periodically appear unannounced in my vestibule – it’s a beautiful thing.
So much of my inspiration comes from these things I did not choose. I’ll preserve the hand mending in the pieces below in some new creature. I love that those stitches made so long ago, and that traveled so far through so many thoughtful hands will have a new place and meaning and the energy that went into them will impart qualities I could not.
I think the piece below ( it’s quite large ) is part of a futon cover – the color combination is stunning – that intense textured brown and smokey blues and purples.
This package also had lots of kimonos in various states of undone -ness. Intense red and a variety of unexpected melony pink silks. I’ve had an idea for something rolling around for years, one of the back burner ideas I have not gotten off the ground that these are perfect for – the missing piece.
And pale pink, ivory and melancholy lavender – they will also play a part in my afore mentioned stalled idea and I’ve already started a sheer, whispery and pale ship. Thank you Stephen! For all the inspiration and joy I get from these surprises. The Country Living pages remain on my refrigerator as a daily reminder of the good and unexpected things that are just around the corner.
P. S. If you like this sort of thing Sri has a spectacular instagram feed.
She danced right in…..
It’s been almost 2 years since I’ve run into a perfect, ruined whisper of a gown. I haven’t been looking, and none have found me. Interests, fascinations have seasons I guess and I wondered if this particular season had faded away forever. This Edwardian lawn dress, perhaps a wedding dress, arrived last week – it has everything and just like that I am in love again.
There are particular qualities I look for in them – the lace is exquisite and the ideal scale for fancy little wedding birds – some of it is ruined by stains and tears but a great deal is in perfect condition. Looking for just this sort of lace is what sent me in search of a new /old gown a couple weeks ago. And there is so much more, the sheer cotton has worn to a silky sheen – it’s so thin and transparent it looks like it would disintegrate if you blew on it but it has a surprising amount of integrity and it makes the most perfect downy feathers for realistic birds, there is a subtle, lifelike iridescence. I’ve only come across it once or twice.
And then there’s everything else, the sweetness, the romance, the heartache, the mystery, if she made a sound it would be a far away, off kilter music box playing Chopin. She had come all undone but I stitched and pinned her together for her last photo.
You may recall some months ago I was in a frenzy getting ready for a magazine shoot here. I am very, very pleased and excited to be included in Brutus Magazine’s New York Makers feature. Brutus is a Japanese culture magazine – it is always exquisite. It was shot by Yoko Takahashi and written by David G. Imber and Mika Yoshida – who made this happen for me – I’m truly grateful.
Seeing my Mother’s sewing machine in the feature made me think about what a long and interesting life it has had and how much she would have loved that. If you had known my Mother you would understand exactly where all those little birds came from. She collected fabric for me – before I knew I wanted it – and I saved many of her dresses and scrap bags and still sew from them ( she had excellent taste). In honor of Mother’s day I put together a little collection of some of things I have made over the last nine years or so from my Mother’s dresses.
When I’m making ships I spend a lot of time with a big box of pale ruined dresses and parts of dresses, edwardian mostly, and each time I go through it I pull out little bits to save – things too fragile to use but too precious to part with or things I find so interesting as they are I don’t want to change them.
A tattered bit of very old silk lace with tiny bright green beads attached to each point – it was a cuff – it must have been a magnificent garment.
I finished 2 more ships today and photographed them – one similar to The Louisa May and another paper mache.
This style of ship is also one of the patterns I’ll be publishing and I spent some time breaking down the steps today. I would also love to teach a paper mache ship class in person – it’s such a satisfying project to make.
PS – all the new ships will be available in the shop tomorrow (6/5).
It’s really just part of a gown – the lace part. I love the asymmetrical skirt – it would have floated over a longer silk skirt. I’ve already used almost all of it – every little bit. The heavier lace became ring pillows.
I have a little collection of ring pilows made from antique gowns and petticoats available at bhldn now. The rest of the lace became gowns for little brides – also for bhldn.
Last fall the Citizen Watch company commissioned a special piece. My assignment was to “re-imagine” one of their timepieces and to make an object that fits my imagination and personal language.
The watch is called the eco drive- EYES. I re-imagined the watch as an owl and I called my piece ” The Time Keeper”.
He is an expression of the eco-drive watch and an expression of time itself. Focusing on visual and conceptual aspects of the watch, first and most significantly – his face- his eyes specifically, refer in a direct way to to the face of the watch.
Extensive mending was necessary to give the fragile garment structural integrity and that mending is apparent and celebrated, time marks, time transforms. The stitches express the characters and marks of the watch face – stitches sometimes measured and precise ( marking seconds). Stitches and patches expressed as numbers and letters and circles or portions of circles sometimes shifting in scale.
The marks refer to the design of the watch as well as illustrating a passage of time across the owls surface and acknowledging the history and life span of the ruined antique bodice he is made from.
He has gone off to live in the Citizen showroom in Tokyo. Also he is featured in Real Scale Magazine ( a supplement of Ginza) in Japan. The article was written by David G. Imber and Yoshida Mika with photos by Jen Causey.
I think the article will be available on line soon and I’ll post a link when it is.
A sharp eyed friend surprised me with this ruined Edwardian bodice.
In the years that I have been transforming these sorts of things there have only been one or two that were this fabulous. I love the faded greenish black color, the fine wool texture, the extensive wear and it’s personality and presence.
The lining and button holes have unexpected handstiching in bright red and there’s a little pocket on one side for a little watch maybe?
I can’t wait to take it apart and see what other suprises it has.
( thanks so much laura)
josephine and fritz
Inspired by this antique gown – josephine’s gown is made from the white tulle:
The little glass feet it floats on is my favorite part.
Mr. Knickers is made from this pair of wonderful dark and tweedy woolen knickers:
The wool has tiny flecks of purple and green and I used my antique swim bloomers as well as bits of lace and antique glass buttons for eyes. The Mr. N pictured above is the first of a very small numbered edition – 1 and 2 are available now and more soon – as many as the knickers allow – I’m hoping for at least two more.
This was a great dress, it was ruined in such magnificent ways. I’ve been making things with it for almost two years and it still has more to give – transparent silk chiffon, a little more lace and bits of shattered silk – not sew-able but perfect for tiny corsages.
I wish I had spent more time photographing it when it arrived so I’m giving it a last hurrah now – it’s last breath in it’s original form.
I’m not sure exactly what this is. It is old -my guess would be depression era – and it’s home made. The back is shorter than the front and that seems intentional, as opposed to a missing piece – I wonder why.
The fabric is spectacular – wonderful teal flannel with a very fine stripe to it and the color variations where it is faded and worn very thin are shades of soft grayish teal. The little collar is cotton sateen – a fancy little detail on what seems like a plain everyday type garment.
And it had a surprise -when I disassembled it I found the lining was made from a perfectly a preserved printed feed sack .
I started making a songbird with it this weekend.
This antique gown arrived a while ago. I think it’s Edwardian but it was definitely reworked at some point – it has fasteners and hardware and repairs that were added later. I guess it has had many lives.
The peach silk is almost all shattered, it’s torn, stained and many of the seams have let go but the gauze, sheer silk lining and lace are still strong. First I’m making a bird.
Two really – one from each lace and tulle sleeve. And maybe later today a little boat with gauzy sails and little peach silk flags.
Finished! snowflake and ashton
This dress turned up here in brown pieces – I’m not even sure how it really goes together. I soaked it for days and days and then had lots of fun pinning it into a dress shape. The under and over skirts are weighted and the overskirt has a lovely tulip shaped hem.
I’m making some things from it now – I’ll show you next week. I’m also working on a new kind of little boat -they’ll be finished and in the shop next tuesday .
Stephen Szczepanek of Sri Threads sent over another surprise package of magnificent things. Exquisite, inspiring things, thoughtfully chosen and gathered and kept for me that just magically appear on my doorstep. Here are a few highlights.
There are fragments of garments with wonderful surprise linings.
And beautiful wear and eccentric mending.
I already have owls in progress and I’m thinking about using the blue silk bits below for spider bustles and some new flowers I’ll show you soon. Thanks you, thank you Mr. Szczepanek!
I like velvet and have been on the lookout for it lately. This antique jacket came with the bonus of owly eye buttons. Lots of them. There are 6 on the back as well. You can click the image for a better look.
It looks like it has come for a visit – lounging on the couch. My BRAND NEW couch that I will go on and on about later, it’s been a saga ( you can see a bit more of it here). I like the lining fabric too – there is some wonderful mending I will preserve however I use it.