My So Charmed Life

So Charmed

Adventures in (polymer) Clay

11.18.14

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I have a love/hate relationship with polymer clay. After shunning it for years based on my perception of the overly cutesy-wootsy suburban housewife crafter (gingerbread men) and psychedelic hippie (cane) aesthetics, I’m here to tell you, polymer has come into its own. This is my second foray into this medium, the beads above were made a few weeks ago. And they got me very excited indeed about the possibilities for this medium.

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As I set about to experiment again with polymer clay, I came up initially with the pieces above. I felt they were okay-ish. But they somehow felt a little safe. The leaves were beginning to have a nice, burnt feeling to them and I went on to create the entire suite of components below (Burnt Offerings collection).

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What you can see here is my experiments in both surface texture and coloration. Do I start with dark or light clay? Paint it? Powder it? Gold leaf it? Smash it, scratch it, etch it, impress upon it, embed into it, bake it, carve it? The answer is yes! All of the above and more! Polymer is a really forgiving and soft surface, and therein lies its beauty and frustration. You can get GREAT results. If you handle it after you do, those results will smooth back out quickly. It seemed like starting with a batch of small components was a great way to experiment without wasting supplies.

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Of course, you know me. Attention span of a gnat. Easily bored. Gotta go over the top. The above/below piece is a focal for a bracelet, entitled Octopus’s Garden. It has holes on either side to attach chain or ribbon, and a nice curve for the wrist achieved by baking it over a soda can. Features some of the burnt leaves poking out of a dark and spooky garden. With a squid tentacle and of course bling/sparkle/glitz. Because I can’t help myself! Darkness and light, people, darkness and light.

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I did not invent any of the techniques you see in use in these pieces… they are out there for the grabbing… all over YouTube. I probably watched about 8 hours of how-to videos over the course of a week while I was working on these pieces and collecting up some supplies. Just go over to the site and search for polymer clay, it will all come up. And you can follow links in the videos for additional blog posts.

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Most supplies are available at any craftstore; I went to Michael’s. I also stood in the aisle and read most of a polymer clay how-to book, so as to not have to buy it. Picked up some valuable tips! It was a full immersion into the medium… and I’ve still got a very long way to go with results. I like what I’ve done, but I’m still working it out.

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Having started with black clay, it was challenging to get any contrast going with the textures/colors. Although it’s even more challenging to photograph these, and they actually have a LOT of coloration. Above you see experiments with a sparkly white clay, as well as embedding a vintage image under a glass dome. I think it’s important to mix polymer clay beads in with other kinds of beads as you see in the curation above (which will be a necklace) entitled For Amusement Only (imprinted on the vintage brass carnival token also pictured).

So, this is as far as I’ve gotten with this round of polymer. I’m pleased and excited to make more things. There are some truly amazing polymer artists out there who make the clay look like everything from metal to raku-fired pieces. I’m no expert, but if you decide to play, feel free to get in touch with me; I’d love to chat! Unless you decide to make ginger-bread men… then I don’t really want to hear from you. JUST KIDDING!!!!

PS: I have not yet bought the requisite pasta machine for kneading and rolling clay. I’m not sure I’ll need one for the small batches of work I’ll do.

Sparkle & Flannel

09.30.14

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Sometimes the thriftstore is just magical. Often, as I’m driving over I’m thinking about the things I “need” and all too often, those items are there for the finding. You guys know I’m on a big grunge kick, and that means old flannel shirts. The above, scored for $6–which truthfully, I feel is a lot at Value Village–has a dirty 70’s vibe I could not resist. Foolish? Well folks, you can pay $6 or you can head over to Urban Outfitters and pay $49. I left at least 7 other flannels on the racks, and I’m sure they’ll be stocking ’em all winter so go grab one, or two, or three. Take that UO!

I was also longing for jewelry supplies.  The knotted vintage double-strand choker above features heavy white glass beads and gorgeous rhinestone rounds. Cost: $2.99. You can pay that much and more for a single rhinestone bead and there are six of them on this necklace. Since I’m into these vintage sparkles in my recent work, my intention was to pull this apart.

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Grunged tribal Talhakimt earrings–Write Yr Story–with black diamond vintage rhinestones above would look great with this shirt and necklace combo.

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Amazing necklace above is a strand of Czech glass beads in the sweetest delicate shade of pale blue givre, with a little iridescent pink flash. Between each bead, a rhinestone rhondelle! Price: $3.99. Again, I intended to release this strand into my supply stash until I tried the damn thing on. Both necklace finds: definite keepers. Oh, and these rondelles, purchased new, are at least $1 ea, sometimes more. I think there are about 40 on this strand.

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The Titanica earrings incorporate rhinestone rondelles, except these are SQUAREDELLES… and how cool is that?! With the best bead caps I’ve ever found–0nce shiny gold brass, they now display a great crusty hand-applied patina.

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The ombre flannel above was brand new with tags and thusly priced through the roof at $10. Since these vintage-styled flannels (let alone actual vintage ones) are harder to come by, I bit the bullet and paid. It’s gorgeous, perfectly oversized, super soft. The necklace above  ($3.99) has a great industrial romantic look. I immediately thought about pulling it apart to make earrings. But yeah, you got it. I tried it on… and… CRAP! More jewelry for me! Just what I don’t need. (sigh)

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The Rose Garden earrings would be sweet with the ombre flannel with just enough grunge and sparkle. The large glass beads (Czech) are really the bomb. With irregular hand-cut facets, soft rosy coloration and a splash of iridescence… bohemian gypsy chic. The earring collection will be updated weekly for awhile, so I hope you’ll check often.

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Also this weekend, a little denim repair a la boro and sashiko with some lovely red flannel. I hope to do a post about my obsession with Japanese stitchery soon.

Grunge Was a Thing

09.19.14

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You know, way back in the ’90’s. Nirvana, Marc Jacobs, flannel, old boots. Well, it became a thing, but I’m old enough to tell you it was there long before Vogue mag declared it a fashion thing. I think by that time, I’d been shopping for clothes primarily in thrift stores for 2-3 decades, favoring girly dresses with combat boots for awhile. And I wasn’t the only one before this was co-opted by the media machine.

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The preference for things worn, used, tattered and torn–objects with a previous life, a history, with distress, destruction, and survival felt natural to me as a form of escape from mall-ified suburban America. So, what does it mean when we MAKE things that are new appear very old (above)? Thrifstores–once filled with glamorous 40’s gowns and beaded cashmere sweaters–are palaces of polyester these days. There are crusty jewelry parts coming out of Russia and Afghanistan these days, rather than Value Village… the cost is a bit prohibitive on most of it.

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This is shiny new brass. Un-grunged. It’s soaking in dish soap to remove oils so that the chemical agents can do their job. This does not always work, but it’s a good place to start. I can’t imagine using it in its glittering raw state for much of anything. But transforming these pieces is a metal adventure.

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Above are bits and pieces in the process of destruction. It’s messy and sometimes stinks like rotten eggs. It’s incredibly unpredictable, which is both a frustration and a huge part of the allure. Without knowing the exact composition of the metal you are trying to distress (copper? brass? nickel? steel?)… it’s impossible to predict which chemical might have an effect, and just what that effect will be. There is a lot of scrubbing and soaking, wiping/sanding and re-soaking to achieve a great patina (the professional term for grunged out metal).

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I use chemicals made by a company called Jax. They are hazmat so I order up a few bottles have them all shipped at once. It’s hard not to think of the chemicals as precious, so when I start patina-ing, I run around my studio throwing everything in sight into the soup. Jax makes many different solutions for many different metals… I stock about 4-5 of these and use them interchangeably, sloppily, and without any prescription or recipe.

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I’m really loving the verdigris patina lately. After a long while of this not seeming to work, I’ve got it DOWN, getting awesome results. Again, not predictable, with verything from pale blues to deep turquoise, to weird shades of green appearing randomly.

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Brass bits are cheaply procured, but I think most of these pieces use very old dies. Using patina brings out the original workmanship, missing entirely from a glaring gold surface. Just look at those tiny swags… SO CUTE! But they just look crappy in gold.

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Not to be contradictory about the gold, I sometimes throw gold leaf into these designs, furthering the look of a decayed gilded age. These Belle Epoch earrings also have  RAW ruby dangles… raw stones are grunge, tumbled are not! So yes, I’m removing gold, then adding it back in. Seems insane, but is really just so much fun.

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So, back to grunge. Since the 80’s, I’ve never stopped loving tartan; this is a dress I made last summer from the softest flannel and a daisy chain of feedsack fabric yo-yo’s (30’s-40’s).

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And I’ll admit, I loved the Jacobs collection in the 90’s; I didn’t resent the elevation of streetwear to high fashion. It’s what always happens and sometimes the results are truly great. Above is another dress I made this summer… the delicate very sheer plaid voile fabric is by Marc Jacobs, a self-referential nod, don’t you think? Plaid looks great with florals and lace.

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The September earrings would look so good with that dress! Should I keep them? The bead caps on these things are RIDICULOUS. Very medieval or something. And yep, they were super shiny gold, now covered with crusty soot. The beads are palest blue lace agate and Picasso-finished Czech glass beads.

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This bangle stack was made for a client this summer, a gift to someone special. I do these mostly by commission, so email me if you’re interested. They feature tarnished bangles from India, reclaimed sari silk, and lots of other beads and elements. Grungy, bohemian cool.

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Here’s a recent photo I’m very taken with. Bratty children can be extremely grunge. Their hands sticky, their hair chopped. Their ragged mismatched clothing. The colors above are my palette of teal, rose, gold. You can find images like this over on my Pinterest boards.

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I’ll be rocking my grungy jewelry in massive layers this fall. I’ll wear too many necklaces (including this one that features a destroyed Cadillac hood ornament! The other is an old Afghani treasure that was falling apart and I sort of patched it back together), WITH earrings AND bracelets. Yeah, grunge was a thing. I’m glad it still is.

 

 

Inside the Designer’s Studio

09.14.14

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I never (ever) let people into the jewelry studio. If you’ve been inside (and you know who you are) consider yourself mightily privileged. It’s not that there are secrets, but it is just a crazy mess of supplies, with ideas crowding out the space and threatening to use up all the available oxygen. I’m afraid if you see it, you’ll know just how insane I really am. And with that, Our Lady of Beads welcomes you to this rare peek.

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With detours into many techniques and stylistic persuasions, in the end it’s all about the beads. A sick sort of addiction to beads.

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Areas of the studio are covered with random weird shit that may or may not make it into a project and that I find simultaneously stimulating and at times completely suffocating. Like… WHERE’s THE WHITE SPACE??? There simply isn’t any.

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Anything here is likely making it into the most recent work… sort of in development and getting closer to actually becoming wearable.

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Area devoted to patina. It’s filthy, gross and wonderful. And stinky.

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Gold leaf station and minor-league soldering. Crossstitch in the background by Julie Jackson of Subversive Crossstitch.

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It’s not all chaos; the vast majority of beads are filed into fishing tackle boxes. Now numbering about 80 (boxes) each with 30 +/- compartments, and pretty much full to capacity. Two baker’s shelves hold the boxes and although I don’t have anything resembling a photographic memory, I can put my hands on any of the specific beads, charms and findings herein. Really.

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Work surface where the tiniest of beads won’t go rockin’ and rollin’ onto the floor. I admit to being crazy-jealous of the beautiful studios pictured on Etsy, but you know, in the final analysis I’ve accepted that in order for me to create anything–jewelry, sewing, a life–things just gonna get MESSY! And that’s… Ok. Isn’t it?

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Tools. I do like tools.

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And finally, when an actual piece of jewelry emerges from this chaotic mess, it will be photographed here in my super fancy high-end photography studio, where I just pray for decent lighting and take my best shot. Harhar, get it??

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So yeah. Pretty stuff does come out of all this. Pictured above, Everlasting earrings. I love the verdigris I achieved on these, combined with all those precious beads and rough rubies. Find these and the rest of the fruits of my labor over at So Charmed.

Would you share your studio spaces with the world? Go on, I dare you! Comments welcome…

Don’t Fear the Knits!

07.12.14

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A key quality for making things is a certain fearlessness around one’s tools and supplies. I don’t know where this comes from, for me it has something to do with time (decades of making) and age (being ancient and just not caring). Many women I know confess to owning machines but being scared to use them… I was also that woman, so I understand!

Now that I am over my fear of the machine, I’m left with other anxieties… putting in a zipper! Sleeves! And until yesterday… knits! Not t-shirt knits… sweater knits.

And that’s when I ran into O! Jolly!. Olgayln is a master knitter, with a really fascinating history of working in theater and music. And, she has been making, selling, and CUTTING UP gorgeous machine-knit textiles for quite some time. Her blog, Crafting Fashion, about working with knits was the key to unlocking my fears, and I’m so grateful.

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I created the little grunge dress above by cutting up a very open-knit sweater (terrifying) and, thanks to Olgalyn using bias binding tape to seal off the cut end. Below is a shot to show you how this looks.

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I thought that the whole sweater (thrifted: $4) would unravel before I had time to walk ten feet from my bed cutting table to my machine. This did not happen.

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The body of the dress is Indian cotton, very light and airy, about $6 a yard. Suffice to say, whole worlds of stitchy fun have opened up. As soon as the thrift stores start stocking sweaters again, I’ll be off and running.

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If you are a Blythe-ette (and I know some of you are) you will want to dress like your dolly and she of course is wearing Cangaway. When you hit the link, be sure to visit her SOLD section. These fabulous dresses (about $30 ea) sell immediately upon listing, and I’m talking MINUTES. You can get on her “first to know” list and receive an email a few moments prior to her listing and then you’d better strike fast. Pictured is my Sophronia, decked out in Cangaway, plus Mad Hatter top hat by yours truly.

Last but not least, if you are or will be in New York on 7/22, I’d highly recommend a workshop Olgalyn is giving on making a shrug from knit fabric. I hope to make it to one she might schedule in the fall if any local ladies would like to consider caravanning to Brooklyn.

When an abandoned scarf became a glamorific shrug…

07.11.14

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I was delighted to find this gorgeous scarf at my local thrift, buried behind about 100 of her ugly stepsisters. Although I don’t wear scarves, I couldn’t pass up this fabric which put me in mind of a 70’s super-glam brand called Sweet Baby Jane for the Plain Jane clothing company. I used to scour the High Street boutiques on the OSU campus in Columbus, OH looking for these rock-star boho retro fabulous garments. If you remember this brand, check the link above to learn what well-known company it transformed into during the 80s.

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And with its angelic cherubs, the fabric also puts me in mind of iconic 80’s Italian clothing brand, Fiorucci. I remember squeezing into a pair of the skinniest Fiorucci jeans ever by lying on the dressing room floor in order to zip the zipper. I think they were gold. Metallic.

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If you look closely at this delicate, crinkly, sheer rayon, you can see that some of the little stars in the print are covered with actual gold glitter. Yeah, for $1.99 this was going home with me and I’d figure something out.

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Making this really could not be simpler.The bulk of this “project” is in locating a great scarf to use. It should be an elongated retangle, not a square, and in flowy fabric. Measure to fit, sew two seems and voila!

Feel free to share this idea and the instructions above by linking back to this blog. Larger photos can be seen on my flickr. Thanks! xoxo

Sewing Hands are Happy Hands

07.06.14

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Friends on Facebook know that I’ve been obsessively sewing again; this post gathers together images and ideas, a greatest hits of the allure of this activity for me.

1. Textiles. Probably the number one reason I sew is a deep, enduring love for textiles. My passion for fabric seems to know no bounds and each time I get back to sewing there is a literal world of discovery awaiting.

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The love of textiles takes me adventuring to Africa, India, Japan, Europe (without leaving home)… crossing decades and centuries (without a time machine), exploring history, industry, technique (sans a classroom). Textiles invite anthropological inquiry and ultimately make me feel connected to societies I can never really know, particularly societies of women. And, thanks to the Worldwide Web, sewing takes to me to Mood, NYC. True, Tim Gunn isn’t around to soothe my nerves, and Swatch the dog is but an on-screen image. Still! Mood!

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Above are textiles from Mood that I managed to match from online images only, remarkable, really. I’m having a huge 90’s grunge moment and the plaid is by Mr. Grunge himself, Marc Jacobs, a delightful, sheer voile fabric. The floral is fine silk and a complete bitch to sew. The lace is antique from a yardsale, as is the ribbon.

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Front of this dress is shorter than the back.

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Ties make it fit nicely for sizes 2–8.

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The dress pictured center is made from the sheerest bone white cotton voile from India, block printed with a lovely pattern just begging to be a sari babydoll dress. These textiles can be had for about $6-$12 a yard (and up), via a handful of dealers on both ebay and etsy. I have never been disappointed with this yardage, colors are bright, patterns run from traditional to sweetly off-kilter interpretations of Western themes. And how fun to receive packages from around the world!

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2. Analog. To be fair, my sewing machine is a sophisticated computer…

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CLICK IMAGE ABOVE TO PLAY VIDEO.

…but that isn’t at all what I love about it… and for the most part I ignore this aspect in favor of the older school functions that have been performed by machines since sometime in the 1700’s. The 10 second video above shows my machine in action, overcasting (which means I don’t need a serger) a length of delicious cherry silk polka dot fabric, also by Marc Jacobs. I love the visuals, I love the sound! And you can’t have enough ruffles, right?

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3. Mad Skills. Sewing requires many skills that I do not currently have. I learn at least one or more new things with each project I undertake. As with other challenging activities, the knowledge is cumulative and improvement takes practice, over time. A few tips if you are, like me, an impatient novice:

Make something simple that you will honestly love and that falls within the current limits of your ability. Then make it again in another fabric. And again, with a slight variation. Each time, push yourself just a little. You will end up with three cute garments that aren’t perfect but are perfectly wearable.

The right tool for the job… i.e., know your needles, cutting implements (and keep them sharp), measuring tools, markers, etc. Build your tool library slowly on an as-needed basis… learning as you go. Have your machine serviced bi-annually once you really start using it.

Watch YouTube videos! There is NOTHING you can’t learn on YouTube from sewing bias tape to working with bitchy silks. The sewing videos are often funny. You can pause, rewind, watch them dozens of times late into the night….

Make mistakes, then fix them as best you can and MOVE ON. Nothing handmade is perfect. If it is, it’s boring.

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4. Relationship to day job. Sewing is very different from graphic design; my day job. But there is a lot of overlap and I take advantage of this. There are applicable skills; color sense (and nonsense!), measuring, constructing, and the joy of ideas or concepts combined with the tedium of production.

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It feels great to access 30 years of art and design experience in service of wearable creations, all while pushing myself to learn more. The piece above, a swingy tunic (or very short dress) was created from a pattern I made myself, copying a tee shirt from free people. The learning opportunities are endless with sewing.

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5. Upcycling, and the romance of need. Sewing your own clothes is not a choice to make simply to save $$$. In today’s world of H&M &tc, fast fashion can be had for dirt cheap. If you purchase NEW yardage, there are bargains to be found… but there are many delicious fabrics you will lust after that are trés expensive. You’ll also need a lot of auxiliary supplies and will be running to fabric stores constantly for matching thread, picking up MORE yardage that you really don’t need… just ’cause it’s there.

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And then, there are curtains. The two most influential films of my childhood, “The Sound of Music” and “Gone with the Wind” feature heroines rising to the occasion of style-over-means. Remember the VonTrapp children frolicking through those oh-so-alive hills in their shameful, adorable garments made from the Captain’s living room curtains?! And Scarlet, OH SCARLET! Who can forget her fabulously rich green velvet curtain ensemble???

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When not busy searching out bargains on Mood.com, I’m combing my local thriftstore for textiles. Curtains, tablecloths, bedspreads and sheets… the most amazing vintage fabrics, at pennies-per-yard can be found on almost any trip. The bloomers above and below were made from curtain yardage, two panels at a total cost of $4.

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The three fabrics came SEWN TOGETHER. All I had to do was cut. Oh, and I patterned these for a perfect fit by copying a pair of pajamas, also scored at the thrift.

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The ruffle trim on this flirty dress was also once a curtain. Dotted swiss in a spicy mustard shade, probably circa 1970-something.

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6. Collage of disparate elements. In all of my creative pursuits, from jewelry to sewing, I lean toward bringing together things that may not belong in the same project. Below, I trimmed a super soft ombre flannel dress with a length of handcrafted yo-yo trim made of 1930’s feedsack fabric. Feedsack is a collectibles world unto itself, but the yardage has become quite expensive… and is mostly available in smaller pieces (duh, feedsacks). This was a fun way to incorporate the wonderful patterns and textiles without spending a small fortune.

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I’m currently obsessing over Japanese textiles and techniques. Below is a babydoll tunic that features very vintage Kimono silk as a ruffle, with the main fabric a “homespun” from JoAnn’s. If you go to JoAnn’s, ALWAYS print out the week’s 40% off coupon… it’s good on yardage! If you forget, email it to your phone from the Web when you get there.

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Vintage Komono fabric, much like feedsack, is dear ($$$) and generally available only in smaller pieces b/c it is loomed in the right amount for making Kimono–no waste, making it perfect for trim. The colors and textures are gorgeous. I very boldly tea-stained the dress body after completing it as the stark white wasn’t working with the vintage fabric. Scary, but worked great.

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I’m itching for a larger, more involved project after all of these simple dresses, and am about to embark on a piece that will use new and vintage indigo textiles and will incorporate Japanese Sashiko and the boro aesthetic.

Watch the flying fingers in this video as she creates rows of Sashiko hand-stitching. You’ll also see this technique in India, on Kantha quilts. The effect is lovely.

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I may incorporate some of these quilt y0-yo’s made in the 1940’s from men’s necktie silk into this upcoming project.

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And here are my first practice stitches, done on my old jeans in a doctor’s waiting room. The point is to make all the stitches uniform in size and spacing. But I have seen loads of ancient cloths where the stitches–made perhaps in haste to get a farmer back into the field–don’t look so far from my own wobbly and inaccurate attempts.

Stay tuned! xoxo

PS: Big thanks to Molly for showing me a) how to send a JoAnn’s coupon to my iphone and b) how to get a video off my iPad, into iMovie, and embedded in WordPress… with a thumbnail!

 

Large v. Small, Left v. Right

02.27.14

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In my work as a designer, both my professional communications design and jewelry design, one of my very favorite aspects has always been the toggle between big picture thinking and small detail management. I’ll assert that having a love and capacity for both aspects of design is a rarity for the creative soul. For me, it took decades to reconcile the fact that I feel most deeply satisfied when both left-brain (creative) and right-brain (reasoned) thinking come into play. I like to make a mess, but I like to clean it up too. I love big ideas but I love tiny little decisions as well. I believe this series of new necklaces exemplifies what I’m talking about. Click on the images to see them much larger or visit with them on my flickr.

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My strategic communications work is always in service of a story; whether about meetings for healthcare professionals or the annual findings of a trade association… a narrative unfolds in words and pictures, often with an actionable objective: Enroll, donate, attend. With jewelry, I’m up to the same kind of storytelling, although it tends more toward abstraction. Nothing compares to the excitement of ideas and meaning. I believe this is what we think of when we talk about design. What is the story we are telling, and, importantly why, and to whom?

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Making connections is part of this concept process, in communications I connect text with images in creative ways and with jewelry, I make, source, and bring together disparate elements… often from countries thousands of miles apart, and decades that now fall across two or even three different centuries. An early plastic button from the 1940’s or a glass Victorian one, beads from Africa, tassels from Asia, mid-century American toys, the tin lid of an oil can from India… how can these things possibly tell one story? With jewelry, the stories are sometimes gathered over years and finally come together unexpectedly. This is the part that seems magical (but isn’t, imho).

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Once the elements are selected, located, obtained or made, the right-brain engages as I work out actual construction issues. Whether I’m creating style sheets in InDesign, or linking fine threads to metal… problems must be solved at a more micro level. I find this to be the most challenging place in the process; the place where I may want to turn away from the project and find something new to conceptualize, because that’s just so much more fun and flows more fluidly for me. That said, this construction place is also the land of greatest reward (soldering, for example!). When I stick to it and make something impossible work, I am so damn proud of myself! the storytelling comes easily and readily, like breathing. Am I lucky or cursed?

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The final stage, or production, is the most micro of all. This is the time where most of the big picture problems are solved (though sometimes these can change even at this point) and where I buckle down to wrap tiny strands of thread around and around for hours, detangling as I go, or sit quietly and sew on minuscule beads one at a time, perhaps I’m styling text for hours on end, bold, italic, larger, smaller. I generally and truly delight in the zen of this work, though too much of it becomes boring and my mind will start to itch. This is why it’s great to have several projects going at once, a brochure being designed, another being produced… necklace concepts coming together, materials arriving from distant lands, pieces being made and photographed and shared.

Which stage(s) of design and making do you love most? Where do you have to push through difficulty or boredom? How does it affect your work? I’d love to hear from you!

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