Did you know it is national scrap week? It is not. I made that up. But it should be a thing. I’m making it a thing. A bag of scraps is food for thought, inspiration, an invitation to happenstance, possibility thinking. It always has been for me.
January is an organizing month here. I am sorting through pretty much everything but mostly fabric scraps. Choosing what to keep, what to let go of and making what I keep as tidy and orderly as scraps can be. I’m ironing my scraps. I secretly love to iron. Not my clothes, I’m permanently, slightly, comfortably disheveled. I like to iron scraps. It’s a little ridiculous. Lets call it meditative. Or it could also be called productive procrastination…
And sometimes not so productive procrastination. It frequently devolves into spending a lot of time pondering a very small and fabulous scrap. I love this scrap. Now I have to make a tiny pair of pants so I can add this patch to them. And then I have to make a lamb to put in the pants. You see how this goes…
There are some pieces I can’t call scraps. Some are so exquisite I call them fragments. Something left over from a life with marks from other hands and days.
If you have found your way here it is likely you have scraps too. In celebration of the inaugural scrap festival I’ve collected 10 ideas for your scraps. Let’s start with 3 projects for your most special scraps, your fragments.
1. sweet needle books – for needles and ideas and memories.
2. amulets – little stitch experiments I started making last summer. I begin with no shape in mind, just layering my favorite fragments, experimenting and playing with compositions. Then I trim them and sew a backing. I find the compositions are more interesting if I approach them this way rather than beginning with the shape. I made a little template of the shapes I use for you – you can download that here. And for cord I usually use this waxed thread (PS I get a tiny commission if you buy it through that link, you can also find it in craft stores).
3. ethereal garlands – for the tiniest scraps, the un-sewables, the little whispers you can’t let go of.
4. string quilts- there is a full tutorial here for this quick and easy flip and sew technique for your longish scraps.
5. Once you have pieced together a bunch of scraps you can make a fabric basket – you know what you could put in it? Scraps.
6. marvelous fabric compositions – let happenstance be your guide and find inspiration in these stitched pieces by Specks and Keepings. The left-overs from garment sewing are used as is. I love the compositions. There is magic in those accidental shapes and relationships.
7. french seam pillow cases – for your larger scraps. This is on my domestic sewing list.
8. jar opener – so clever – made from fabric scraps and rubber shelf liner.
9. fabric twine – for your tiny scraps. And netflix. And wine.
10. And finally – it is illegal to do a blog post about fabric scrap projects without including fabric bunting. Plus I love it – so sweet to make for little folks.
Find 4 more scrap project ideas here. And if you have a project to recommend please leave it in the comments.
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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.
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.
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.
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).
I love how they turned out, the bleach prints are so perfect for little fungi.
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.
It is also what I use for my teacup armature.
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.
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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.
PS – Find the free patterns to make your own very nice mice and woebegone pine trees right 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.
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’m in the woodshed with songbirds. Evaluating the pattern and steps, testing and adjusting little things – using what I learned teaching the workshops last month to make the pattern all I want it to be.
My friend Mickey introduced me to the term woodshedding and I love it:
“The ability to conjure up a feeling of wonder in others, to create a sense of awe, has always fascinated me. And while I do believe that magic can just “happen” under the right circumstances, creating magic is a much different story. It involves a lot of hard work, endless study and a constant refining of process and craft. In music, they call these periods of intense practice woodshedding, referring to the time spent honing skills privately out in the woodshed.”
Mick Riad – Creative Director, Fortuny
I think it is my favorite place to be, in the woodshed with something. Discovering, testing and refining. Deep in a learning process.
I’m also woodshedding owls to prepare for the dastardly owl workshops this fall (I think there are 2 spots left). Eventually they will also become a pdf and print pattern too.
What’s going on in your woodshed?
Update – the songbird and owl patterns are available in the shop now:
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