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.
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.
It was probably the most fun I ever had. I’m looking forward to imagining a world for the tiny doll folk. Stay tuned.
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?
If you give it a try I’d love to see – use #30minutefigures on instagram or email a photo to info at ann wood handmade dot com.
I like to think about ideas and where they come from, how they grow, what sticks and what doesn’t. And I find it hugely satisfying to share what I learn. For the past several weeks I’ve been gathering things for my diorama workshop this June and playing with ideas, experimenting in a gentle, open way, thinking about when to hold onto a narrative and when to let it go, exploring the relationships between things.
And I’ve been working on a way to share some of the experience with people who can’t make it to a workshop or retreat. That idea has been percolating since the makerie workshop last fall. Like the diorama workshop it was very focused on experimenting, thinking and trying stuff. I began the 3 day workshop with a warm up exercise called “a mysterious box”. Students got a small box with a collection of materials and a mini assignment, the assignment was the same for everybody and it is top secret.
I had a blast making the little boxes and the experiment was successful beyond my expectations. I’m working on the correspondence version now. Making little boxes and working out a way for people who participate to come together and share what they make.
What do you think?
And the hunting and gathering : I hit the ephemera jackpot a couple weeks ago. A huge box of old paper stuff (some of it very old), someone else’s memories and treasures. The things that were precious and carefully kept right up until they weren’t. I spend time looking through it everyday and part of me just wants to keep it all (those halloween treat bags are hugely nostalgic for me). I will not.
There are lots of newspapers and magazines from around 1880 with magnificent illustrations. Sweet bundles of letters, maps, elaborate certificates and receipts. Wonderful color, text and imagery to play with (you can see more from the box in on instagram).
There aren’t many photos in the box, I love this one. I think this is the one thing I’ll keep. I love the bare trees in the background, the lonely holiday garland on the window, the mood of it all. Long ago Christmas seen through a smokey, scratched lens, the wistfulness magnified by the medium.
The box is full of that feeling and I can’t get enough of it.
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.
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 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.