I don’t know who said this (do you?) but I love it:
“Magic happens when you do not give up, even though you want to. The Universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart”
I think it’s true. Letting go of things is part of the equation too. And getting out of the way, letting things happen. It all has to balance. That’s the tricky part. And you’ve got to take care of your stubborn heart.
It has been my experience that ideas are self perpetuating – one thing leads to another. Showing up, having a stubborn heart, keeps things flowing. Working, trying things, failing, asking the second question and the third and wanting to see what’s around the next corner keeps me in motion.
Once in a while that cycle gets broken. The well isn’t empty but the bucket is not reaching. A consequence of too much at once and not enough rest.
No amount of effort or discipline will fix it. It requires another approach. A rest and a reset. I let go of my ambitious day and did what I felt like. Mostly I cleaned. Laundry, serious vacuuming, making space, clearing distractions and removing obstacles. Making this a good place for thinking. A place conducive to ideas. And tomorrow a trip to the shore for a day of mudlarking.
That should fix me. Part of the big tidying today was making my worktable an inviting space and making an appointment to show up. Just to show up, no huge expectations or attachment to a particular outcome.
It’s ready for me and tomorrow evening I’ll spend time experimenting, moving my heart and mind and hands and beginning to wake up the muscle, find my way back in.
I’ll share some of my mudlarking day in an instagram story tomorrow. And if you feel like a project this weekend maybe try a paper mache teacup. They make a sweet mother’s day gift.
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
Where do you lose yourself? For me it is often in tiny worlds. I pay attention when time disappears. I think it means a deeper connection is happening. Something is flowing and I’m letting it, I’ve achieved real presence and there is no struggle or distraction, nothing else tugs at me. I unclench. Unclenched is a good place to be.
Last year I created a tiny world inhabited by ants, ants with a taste for mid century furniture. I lost myself completely in the process in the very best way. It woke me up early and kept me up late. I was enchanted and mesmerized by the world as it took shape and deeply engaged in the craft, the process of creating it.
The centerpiece was a fireplace made from cardboard and foam core. I cut flagstone shapes from chipboard and glued them to the structure. The whole thing was covered with spackle (3m – patch plus primer is a great one) sanded, and painted.
The furniture was a trial and error process with help from this website, there are lots of good tutorials and techniques for building miniature furniture mostly from cardboard. I made the credenza above from cardboard, coffee stirrers, balsa wood and chopsticks.
I love exploring little worlds and objects I did not create too, bumping into them in the big world. I came across this miniature village in the back of a huge antique place upstate.
Something about mini speaks to me and always has, especially everyday things presented in detail at a small scale, even more so when it is a working thing like this little oil lamp.
There are other small worlds for me to create and it is one of the things I’m focusing on this year. Something I think a lot about but have not made time for. I want to explore and articulate the world the tiny ragdolls inhabit and follow Mr. Socks up the crooked road to Woebegone Pines and the big black house where the whole Socks family has lived for many generations of mischievous cats.
Unwrapping ornaments in soft, crumpled paper that my mother wrapped and unwrapped one million times, treasures that never lose their magic, the ceremony of their yearly appearance, that is most of the reason to Christmas the tree.
And I love it, my dear norfolk pine, all festooned and twinkling.
I skipped the tree last year. Got too busy, got the flu, and it didn’t happen. It almost didn’t happen this year. The big crash in October left a wake of disruption and chaos that is still not over. But as soon as I got the boxes down and saw familiar things peeking from that tissue (Christmas tissue is not like other tissue, something special happens to it) I felt inspired to do it.
Wrapping paper was next on my Christmas list. I decided to make my own and be super simple about it. I’m splattering plain newsprint paper (I always have a huge roll around for packing and shipping) with red paint. I’m also using plain brown paper and twine, red hemp and baker’s twine and a little green tissue left over from last year.
I like it. It’s simple and sweet and I spent zero dollars. I love an elegant economy and there will be more on that in the new year.
Merry and Happy to you,
The sketch book posts don’t usually get included in the blog page but I made an exception this week for a couple reasons. Mostly because I had a good week – I liked everything I made last week – that hardly ever happens. There’s even a naked lady.
And I wanted to tell you about my current obsession with Staffordshire Pottery and how that came about. I love looking at other people’s stuff. I want to look in your windows and open your drawers. I want to stop by when you are not expecting guests and look at everything. I came across this blog lately: The Bible of British Taste.
And I love everything about it – the houses, the art, the stuff, the textiles- on and on. This house in Scotland is my favorite post. That’s where I came across Staffordshire and there is just something about them – formal, sweet and quirky – all at the same time. You’ll also find some Chinese portraits there that have inspired.
Check it out – I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Also – For the next few weeks any way – I’ll be adding little paintings to the shop each Thursday.
The winner is – number 330 – there will be an email coming your way shortly Annie L!
Janine Vangool (upper case magazine) makes beautiful things. I’m happy to be included in the latest volume of her Encyclopedia of Inspiration series – Stitch-Illo. It’s a collection of artists who tell stories through stitch work.
The stories I tell with the things I make are sometimes very direct – like little birds who camp and put on plays.
More often I think of them as little mysteries – open ended questions – magical possibilities – ships that might float right in your window like a moth or a bit of dandelion fluff. Creatures whose expression and body language imply a history – a world of their own.
It’s a big book – and there is a huge variety of techniques and of the ways narratives are used by the 46 artists featured. There are several pages devoted to each and 600 color photos, some of my favorite artists are included- like Adriana Torres.
I’m also discovering beautiful work that’s brand new to me.
And here’s the fun part – I have one to give away. Everybody is welcome and I’ll make it super easy – just pick a number between one and five hundred and leave it in the comments. I’ll announce a winner next Thursday.
*Update – Comments are closed now – I’ll announce the winner (chosen by random number generation) and the winner will be announced later today.
And just like that I’m a finishing machine.
I haven’t felt this much momentum in a long time. I’m even finishing stuff that was already finished – a little extra. A few days after crossing improvisational doll Matilde off my to do list it was clear she was missing something so I made her an underskirt from an antique wedding dress and added the button bustle and black stitch detail at the last minute – I love the combination of black and ivory.
I finished so much stuff I’m allowed to start new things and I have lots of ideas. Many of those ideas sprang out of a lovely package form Sri Threads that appeared with the usual serendipity – unexpectedly and at a perfect moment. Such inspiring old cloth.
I have more songbirds in progress and I feel like there is a pigeon here somewhere too.
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.
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’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!
You know – the good ones- not the messy ones overstuffed with un-filed receipts and mail and pens that don’t work (I have those too). The drawers with good messes – those are the ones I want to show you – jumbles of stuff I use everyday mixed with stuff I like to look at, the things that are part of my process and inspiration – things I love and things I’m thinking about.
For someone who is quite tight on space I am pretty frivolous with easy access storage – for example I keep my paper snowflakes in a drawer right under my sewing machine. It’s not the most practical use of that prime space but there is the significant spiritual benefit of seeing paper snow flakes cut by a friend everyday to consider. And – although it is unlikely – if there ever is some sort of paper snowflake emergency I am ready.
I like looking at peoples stuff – their treasures -what they choose – what they hold onto. If you feel like showing me what’s in your drawers – please use #whatsinmydrawers on instagram – (I’m @annwood there).
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.
Did you know mica comes in black?! Well it does – blackish anyway and it’s lovely ( I got some here). I made a paper mache teacup and gave it a fancy, sparkly interior. The teacup reminds me of the black milk glass on my mother’s little shelf of treasures (P. S. – teacups make sweet Mother’s Day gifts).
Black is the color on my mind right now. I finished this scoundrel last week – he’s made of several antique bodices and a ancient moth eaten shawl – all in shades of black. I love the subtle variety in tones and the effect that limiting the palette has on my thinking and process. It made me wonder – what if I applied that same constraint to other ideas? I wandered around in my mind for a while and looked through my big note book of ideas – thinking about everything through a black lens. It was shockingly effective. That shift gave me lots of new ideas and curiosities and fresh eyes on so many that had stalled and gotten back-burnered. It was a great illustration of the massive creative power of constraint.
The simplest thing – the smallest shift can guide you to new paths, new ideas and new places in your mind – shine a light on something that has been just out of reach in the shadows….. I am on a life long mission to shine a light into each and every one of those shadows.
I think it could be interesting to do a series of color studies (maybe teal next). But here I am so I’ll begin with black. Right now I’m in the collecting, hunting, gathering, percolating phase.
For me percolating means – digging through treasures, making collections, experimenting, taking photos and generally messing around. I’m having an energetic and marvelous time. I’ll share what I come up with soon and if you would like to make your own study of black send me a link – I’d love to see.