Category: on my work table

experiments in paper, lovely old handwork and the last summer special

ships made from antique paper

One of the benefits of being prolific is the mistakes and failures don’t phase you. They are just information. My process is deeply iterative. I try and fail and try again, adjusting and experimenting endlessly. I love being right in the middle of that process and it can go on for years.

ships made from antique paper

The ships are like that, the paper mache ships and lately paper ships. Endless experiments and all sorts of failures and all sorts of discoveries. Discoveries and innovations that can only come (I think) from that kind of process.

antique french paper

I’ve been playing with paper I found in France. I went to tons of spectacular flea markets with French General. My main objective was finding paper for the ship class this October.  These antique booklets are ideal and I got lots of them – the colors and quality of the paper are perfect. Totally worth the schlepping. And Kaari (French General) found wonderful old letters, ghost messages traveling time.

scrap of antique french wallpaper

This antique wallpaper and these gorgeous old pattern tracings were French flea market finds too.  I’m thinking of making ships with the tracings. And maybe framing a couple. The wallpaper I love just as it is.

antique french pattern tracings

My other paper project involves making lots and lots of smaller paper ship and boat experiments. I’m going to hang them as in installation later this year, more on that soon. It’s daydreamy work, I do my best thinking when my hands are busy.

boats mad from antique paper on my work table

And I’m making a ton of them so I feel improvisational and uninhibited about trying stuff. It’s a “yes and” unedited process, one thing does lead to another if you let it. I’ve been working on them every day for a while and like the cardboard horse project years ago the growing fleet is surprising me.  I love looking at them. That was my original impetus for making the paper mache ships – to live with them, to look at them, it was a thing I wanted in the world. There is a full tutorial for the small paper boats coming soon (early September- ish).  They are fast, easy and magic so be on the lookout for interesting paper.

And old linen:

My mother always collected fabric for me, even when I didn’t know I needed it. And apparently she still is, with perfect timing. My sister Catherine sent me this bundle of hand stitched linens she found in our Mom’s things, mostly collected at the flea markets she haunted almost every weekend. They are exquisite.

They even smell good, they smell like they should. I’m keeping almost all of them in tact, making pillow covers, stuff like that. So much beautiful handwork. There are a couple with a lot of damage I’ll make needle books with and incorporate into some applique experiments.

hand stitched beetles and mushroom

PS – Are you making ships and needle books  and mushrooms and beetles with me in LA?  The  antique french paper ship is a weekend class and the others are evening classes. It’s a lovely time stitching with like minded individuals and  I’m bringing all sorts of cool stuff to play with – signups are here.

PPS -There’s more old cloth to talk about and some applique experiments (thanks so much for your feedback on that) but I’m out of time today – come back next Friday and I’ll tell you all about it.

Make a ship or boat – they twirl in the breeze and cast lovely shadows. All the ship and boat patterns are 25% off through August.

traveling stitch experiments, little paint boxes and something to read

slow stitch experiments

slow stitch experiments

The trick is to not have a plan, choose a scrap of fabric and then choose another, a “yes and” sort of process, just see where it goes. Maybe it goes nowhere at all. It doesn’t matter. I like to take these little experiments with me, it’s good road sewing, gentle and meandering summer sewing. It’s also easy to pick up when I don’t really feel like doing anything at all but not doing anything has become awkward… This engages my curiosity very quickly and gets my wheels turning again.

summer stitch experiments

Some of the experiments will become amulets and I think some may be part of a needle book. I can’t stop making needle books. And I can’t believe I didn’t make one for myself until this year. It’s so handy, always ready to go with everything I need in it. Plus the aesthetic appeal, it feels good in my hand and I love to look at it. Have you made one? Here are some more from the workshops in France.

I’m making a bigger version for traveling with larger projects. I used a piece of printer paper as a template for the page I’m working on – adding 1/4 inch seam allowance.

book made from fabric scraps

book made from fabric scraps

It’s ideal for owl and songbird wings, pinning all the little parts to a page. And maybe I need one for my paint brushes and pencils too.

water color travel sets

*FYI – some of the links below are affiliate links – meaning I get a small commission if you purchase through the link.

I’ve held onto my daily painting/drawing/collage habit (it’s mostly painting). Today makes 214 consecutive days. It’s firmly engrained in my routine and still a huge pain in the a** some times. Having a plan for making them while traveling has helped and there are a couple little tools that made a difference. Champagne cocktails did not help (I was pretty much done when the champagne showed up though). I bring a little rag for wiping brushes and a small pad of 140 pound hot pressed paper. And lately I put a little mustard jar in my bag when I go – for water and I can mix color in the little lid.

travel water color set

The pocket water color box is awesome. Historically water color is not my favorite, not by itself anyway. But I also don’t like traveling with lots of tubes of acrylic. So I bring a couple basic acrylics and mix them with the water colors. The box came with a little brush that you can put water in the barrel of. I thought this was ridiculous and gimmicky and almost didn’t try it. It is so good. The water is easy to control and the quality of the brush is excellent. I just ordered a set with different sizes here. And you can get the rectangle watercolor box here for about $12 bucks. I paid almost $30…. I also bought a little round stackable box in Toulouse.  I couldn’t resist the stacked circles. You can find it here.

painting of the arc de triomphe

Having a plan for the bad times is the most important thing. And accepting them. The strength of the habit helps in those times. It helps a lot. It helped in the airport in Paris after flying overnight. I was unspeakably tired and it was unspeakably hot. Being intrigued by the new little box of colors and the fancy water brush helped too. A little novelty in the mix never hurts.

melancholy evening pool

I’ll leave you with the annual melancholy pool photo, a couple questions and a book recommendation.

Questions:

How do you feel about embroidery and applique patterns? I’ve had some ideas swirling around for awhile, bats, houses, botanical designs. I’m thinking of putting together some patterns and kits. What do you think? Leave a comment below please.

And the book:

I just finished The Writing Life by  Annie Dillard (this is an affiliate link too). Magnificent. It’s shockingly beautiful and I didn’t want it to end. Now I’m reading a Room Of One’s Own. What are you reading? What’s on your summer book list?  Please leave a comment if you feel like sharing.

 

 

ann wood painting

Hamish Bowles’ Paris Apartment

PS- There will be lots of new little paintings in the shop on Tuesday 8/6 – noonish – NY time.  If you are on the list for new artwork you will get an email when they are up. If you aren’t sure if you’re on the list send me a message and I’ll check for you.

experiments in garment sewing and the inevitable matching doll outfits

ann wood studio

This was bound to happen eventually… The doll and my blouse are made from a recently acquired vintage dress.  Somebody lovely gave me an awesome bag of depression era dresses.

PS – There is a pattern for the elegant rag doll and soldier doll coming this summer. Really, there is.

elegant rag doll in vintage green silk chiffon

*This post contains affiliate links – meaning I get a small commission if you purchase through the links.

ann wood studio

Do you sew garments? I’ve been wanting to try forever.  My only adult experience was an apron/dress several years ago. It took forever and I immediately spilled bleach on it. I always meant to try again though and I kept seeing a photo of a blouse on pinterest that I loved, loved as in had to have it. It was pattern B from The Stylish Dress Book. I changed the neckline and added that little bow. Really I think my Mother added that bow, asserting herself from the beyond. It’s just the sort of thing she would do.

stylish dress book pattern B

I learned a lot making it. Using fabric from the skirt of the sheer, vintage silk chiffon dress added a ton of difficulty. Slippery…  Never again. And because it was so sheer I had to do french seams. But now I’m totally sold on french seams, so tidy and not difficult. You can find a tutorial for sewing french seams here.

french seams

I loved the simple styles in this book and found the instructions straightforward and easy to follow. The sizing and fit were hard and I had to combine sizes to make it work for me.

I also made top D from another of the vintage dresses (you might recognize the print from one of  the tiny rag dolls new dresses). Again with changes. I skipped the buttons, raised the neckline and added gathering. I love it. The construction of it is super simple and I like the easy sleeve.

stylish dress pattern D (modified)

Here I am. Loving my just finished shirt and feeling deeply awkward about photographing myself in it. Feeling super happy about making a shirt myself won though. Pretty much.

the stylish dress book

I’m working on a dress version of pattern D now.  I’m all lit up with learning and plan to sew lots more garments. There are several more in the book I want to try.

You can get the book here (I get a small commission if you do). If you try it be prepared to make muslin versions first to work out sizing.

Green has been turning up a lot lately. In non-garment sewing I’m making an owl and songbird from an Edwardian bodice and green velvet dress. I’m taking them with me to work on in France. I’ve got ambitious hand sewing plans for that trip, these guys, toadstools, seedpods, amulets – all sorts of things.

green textiles

I’m officially in full on pre-departure frenzy right now and should probably stop sewing clothes. This week I tried watering globes for my plants.  I wasn’t all that optimistic about them but I’m a week in and they’re working out surprisingly well, I’m going to get a bunch more before I leave.

It’s important to saturate the soil and then make a hole with a stick, tamping down the dirt so it’s not loose. The first time I put them in the plants weren’t saturated enough and the water ran right out. I think the globes will get my dear plant friends through the few days they’ll be on their own. You can find the watering globes here (this is an affiliate link – I get a small commission if you use it to purchase). And if you’ve got other automatic plant watering ideas I’d love to hear.

 

PS – The mushroom pattern sale continues until the end of June.  Monday will be the last day for shipping print patterns but you can take advantage of the sale price if you don’t mind waiting until July for shipping. And I’ll still be available for help with digital purchases if you need it while I’m away.

toadstools : a retrospective

hand stitched mushroom pattern

hand stitched mushroom pattern

Sometimes you know. You know you have no hustle in you. You’re all hustled out.I guess the natsubate has kicked in a little early this year. And the warm months are always a simmering and percolating time for me, thinking, experimenting, and meandering explorations. I feel a strong spiritual (irresistible) directive to be exceptionally lazy for a couple days.  For me that means reading and very slow hand stitching. I’m reading about the middle ages and starting some mini toadstools to travel with me. In about a week I’m headed for France to teach and explore again.

mini hand sewn toadstools

I like having lots of little things already begun to work on in the in between times, airports etc. And I love having enchanted toadstools to plop down somewhere new for a photo. It’s the intersection I love, that fairytale, soundstage place where real meets pretend.

hand sewn toadstools in moss

hand stitched mushrooms

When you travel with an enchanted toadstool in your pocket the shift in perspective is remarkable. All sorts of opportunities for magic appear. I can’t get enough of it.

mushroom sewing pattern and wool

a misbehaving beetle, homemade spray starch and 4 more little joys

a guilty little beetle up to no good

a guilty little beetle up to no good

He’s done something. I’m sure of it. It’s all over his face.  More about this naughty little beetle  in a minute. First I want to tell you about some simple things that are bringing me joy this spring. Since you found your way here they might be up your alley too:

sewing in bed

1. sewing in bed

It’s always on the joy list, such a gentle way to wake up. Get something ready to sew the night before and there is nothing at all to think about. Just start sewing. My current bed sewing is sails and needle books (I can’t stop making those little pages). Simple, meditative stitching.

 

tiny rag doll gardening

tiny rag doll sewing pattern

2. the adventures of althea

This is sweet, and beautiful and funny. Dawn Smith has created a magic world for her tiny rag doll  and she photographs Althea’s adventures daily.

Follow her while she has tea and visit friends and gardens. It’s awesome.

 

lilacs in my studio

3. lilacs

It’s such a glorious smell and gone so quickly. When I wake up to the cool spring lilac air I have no choice but to sew in bed. It’s the only responsible thing to do.

 

how to make laundry spray starch

4. homemade spray starch

It’s easy to make, cheap, works beautifully and it is non-aerosol and packaging free. Most importantly I did not have to leave my apartment when I ran out of spray starch for my sails.

I love to iron.  I’ve been sorting through sail fabric for ships, ironing it and making neat little piles. This is also called procrastination.  Productive procrastination but still…  Anyway the homemade laundry starch adds even a little more joy to the ironing party.

recreational ironing

The starch is just cornstarch and water. Add a couple drops of lavender oil (or whatever you like) for a glorious fresh laundry smell. Laundry is right up there with lilacs for me smell wise. Plus I feel super thrifty and oldschool.

make some laundry starch:

  • Whisk 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch into 2 and ½ cups water. You’re already almost done.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, boil for about a minute while stirring.
  • Remove from the heat and let is cool to room temperature, add a couple drops of scent if you like and pour it through a strainer into a spray bottle.

 

5 sketchbook

My daily painting and drawings. It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times, such a huge pain in the a**  when I’m super busy.  But the joy wins. And it makes me a better thinker.

 

yogi tea

and a little bonus joy:

I love this tea! I drink buckets of it all day long. You can find it in most grocery stores I think.

I’m including a teabag in all orders for the next week to help you create an extra cozy sewing situation.

what’s on my work table this week

hand stitched beetle

You have met the guilty beetle, the naughty little fellow is regretting his mischief.  He is made from gorgeous and very old French scraps. I’m working on lots of misbehaving little french anthropods.

so long little beetle

And ships. I love living with them and have been without a personal fleet for too long. This one has a final layer of old paper collage.

paper mache ship collaged with antique paper

PS – There is news on workshops (beetles, ships and more…) and new sewing patterns coming very soon (naked rag dolls at last!) – you can join the mailing list if you’d like to be the first to know when I’ve got new patterns and tutorials or when registration opens for workshops.

PPS – What are you working on? Have you made a doll bed? What smell transports you?

homemade laundry starch

extreme mending, sledding lambs and the 100 day project

patched and mended sleeves

patched and mended sleeves

Extreme mending, that’s what happens when you can’t let go. I can’t let go of this giant flannel shirt. I got it for a quarter at the Herkimer NY Goodwill in 2010. I started mending it a couple years ago, mostly just worn edges. Last winter it had some major sleeve blowouts and other serious issues. It was barely a shirt anymore but I remain too attached to part with it. I spent my 3 hour train ride to Vermont (more on that in a minute) stabilizing it. And now I’m plugging leaks. Besides my ridiculous attachment to it I like the process of this kind of meandering mending. And I like the result, the unexpected layers and combinations that turn up.

I’m mending my linen smock too where I have worn it thin, keeping it mostly pale. I’ll never part with it either and it will eventually be all patches. I’m good with that.

pale patches on a linen smock

100 days of creativity

The Hundred Day Project starts on Tuesday April 2. It’s a free art project that takes place online. Every spring, people all around the world commit to 100 days of creativity. Are you participating? I sort of am. I do a little painting or drawing everyday anyway so I think that counts. All you need to do is commit to a project (big or small or very small) and tag your instagram posts with #The100DayProject. You can do anything, You could mend something if you like.


This blog started with a similar experiment. It was a little different, I committed to making 100 cardboard horses. I made one Monday through Friday and gave myself the weekend off.  Much like my daily practice now, somedays I loved it and some days I most certainly did not. But I know now I need it.

If you decide to participate I can offer you some of what I’ve learned:

* Be realistic about time. The amount of time you commit can be very small and still have lots of benefits.

* Have a plan for the bad days, a minimal but acceptable effort. And accept the bad days. Everybody will have lots of them. I have some very bad days and post some real stinkers.

* It’s helpful to do it around the same time everyday. Your subconscious gets on board after a while and shows up with ideas.

* Think of it as an opportunity to listen to yourself and maybe get glimpses into your singular and powerful imagination that you would not otherwise get. Plus new instagram friends.

And if you feel like making your daily art a cardboard horse feel free – there is a whole tutorial here. And as an added bonus when you’re done you have a stampede.

Back to Vermont.

I took the train up to Warm Brook Barn in Vermont to teach at their Maple Harvest retreat with French General. The group was lovely and intensely creative. We made silk necklaces, talismans, beeswax candles, wax seals and lambs in pants. There was a beautiful snowstorm of almost exactly the right duration and intensity and It was all generally a blast. And I loved exploring all the fabulous details of the old houses.

fabulous dresser at warmbook barn

PS- If you’d like to make a little sled it’s super easy – I found a tutorial here.

And PPS – A rare occurrence – I’m usually like a ninja, a lamb in pants making stealthy ninja. I was captured in the wild in Vermont, caught in the act, sneaking up on a sledding lamb in pants for a photo.

caught in the act

strange specimens and bird work

seedpod and lace fly

hand stitched mushrooms

Spongy and irregular. That’s what I’m looking for, in mushrooms anyway. Strange specimens, just yanked from the earth. I want you to smell the fungal forest air.

hand stitched mushrooms

The fabric on the mushroom with the puffy and stripey undercap was made using the bleach printing method we talked about a few weeks ago. I did one thing differently this time and made the bleach marks with a paintbrush after sewing and before stuffing.

hand stitched mushrooms

A good place to start with sculptural/ 3 dimensional sewing (like toadstools) is by experimenting with sewing spheres. Play with the edges, taper one end, experiment with the number of pattern pieces, cut them in half etc. and see what sorts of shapes you can create.

For a complete guide to mushroom making try the little mushroom sewing pattern.

ann wood handmade sphere patterns

The free sphere template above will help  get you started. This mini seed pod is made from the 3 part sphere template (printed much smaller) and elongated a little at one end.

hand stitched botanical expeiments

seedpod and lace fly

Tiny fly inspected, tiny fly approved.

songbirds on my work table

I’m getting ready for songbird and botanical workshops in Los Angeles in April. There are two botanical experiment classes, root systems, fungus, and rare exotic species and one songbird class. Come make birds and fungus with me!

hand stitched songbird

What are you making? Have you tried the needle book or the tiny dishes? I’m putting together a post of things made from my patterns and tutorials. You can send photos to me at info at ann wood handmade dot com or tag your photos in instagram with #annwoodpattern.

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.

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…

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?

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.

amulets and toadstools on my work table

fabric amulets and mushrooms on my work table

fabric amulets and mushrooms on my work table

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.

fabric amulets and mushrooms on my work table

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.

fabric amulets on my work table

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?

These are the things I want to know.

dastardly owl laboratory and the silly bug club

owls on my work table

lots of hand sewn stuffed owls in progress

Update : find the owl sewing pattern here

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.


owls on my work table

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.

stitched owl shape

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.

hand stitched owl feathers

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.

an argument for silly and a creative exercise for you

mosquito and beetle rag dolls on my worktable

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.

silly bug dolls on my work table

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.

mosquito and beetle rag dolls on my worktable

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.

mosquito rag dolls

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.

silly bug club

So buggy in here!

If you feel like sharing post your silly bug on instagram with this tag: #sillybugclub.

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.

Do it! Get the benefit of a mini assignment, spend some time playing and trying stuff. There ended up being a lot of joy in making silly bugs for me. That’s nothing to sneeze at either.

mosquito dolls in conversation

road sewing, feedback loops and accidental amulets

amulets stitched from antique textiles worn with a white smock

amulets stitched from antique textiles

 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.

colorful fabric pendants made from antique textiles

 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.

colorful fabric pendants made from antique textiles

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. 

colorful threads on an old burgandy table with chipped paint

Plus there was sweet and thorough help, he checked everything. A lot.

cat paws on the sewing table

cat in the scrap basket

misty pool with sea serpent floatie

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.

 

 

pick up a thread and follow it, small stitch experiments

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.

fabric and found things for inspiration

ammonite fossil(P S – the fossil above is an ammonite. It was a gift and I love it.)

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.

hand stitched amulets

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.