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Sewing Hands are Happy Hands

07.06.14

textiles

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!

My Reconstructed Life

11.16.13

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As the weather turns cold, I seem to turn to textiles as my preferred art form. Pictured above and below, a recent construction. The beautifully embroidered top was found as-is, been trying to find a way to work with it for YEARS. Ancient tattered and be-sequined black tulle/lace affixed. Worn as an apron (ties in back) over a very vintage cream slip. I love the way my bones necklace looks with it and will probably wear this all together.

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Made this a little while ago, a fairly simple deconstruction of a thrifted vintage black wool jacket, with some very pretty very old lace. Beneath it is an Antik Batik dress purchased at a consignment shop in the Marais Distric, Paris. Most divine thing ever.

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Another decon jacket with children’s scissors affixed. Has weird red velvet reverse patches and several men’s ties, one of which hangs down like a long strap from the bottom. For some reason, I’m always narrowing the sleeves down to being very skinny and fitted.

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The back has more of the strange and surreal shapes. I think this one is sort of Schiaparelli inspired.

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Another (and very moody!) shot of two pieces from last year… very tribal 80’s fusion, with neon and animal print and vintage Afghani jewelry for sytling.

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I shall leave you with this, a dress you may have seen many times, The Broken Teacup. I still delight in this piece and am always amazed to see it linked and pinned all over the Internet. You can visit all of these photos in larger sizes over on my flickr.

And now… back to sewing, dears!

About a Doll

03.25.13

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Blythe. Where to start describing the love affair with this plastic doll whose head is 10x too large for her body, whose eyes bulge and boggle, and whose history is one of mass rejection turned crazed global obession? To get the basics of the story hit this wiki link.

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Pictured above is my first Blythe doll, a Veronica Lace, issued by Takara in 2009. I fell in love with her romantic look but once she arrived, I have to admit… I was somewhat terrified of her. I named her Sophronia, took just a few photos (one of them below) and put her away in a vintage trunk. For four years.

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During a recent time of particular sadness (and maybe it is always during such times that grown women turn to dolls), I fell in love with Sophie again. And this time, it was different. Although she was still the intimidatingly expensive, freakily proportioned, strange little toy from Japan, I lost all fear of engaging with her. Suddenly I had to dress and photograph her in environments I carefully handcrafted and curated toward some particular vision or another.

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She had to be a Factory Girl, hanging out with Miss Sedgwick…

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She became a gypsy perched upon a tiny handmade ottoman of the finest silk sari trim from India…

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She absolutely needed a set of papier mache rabbit ears, Day of the Dead style…

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And she needed a friend (recent Takara doll release called Simply Lilac). She might well require more company before all is said and done, as well as rooms and things and shoes… and, oh my. Blythe!

You may be looking at these dolls and thinking… what the heck?!Or maybe, like me, you’ll be drawn into their crazy allure, feel repelled, be drawn in again. Be warned, once you are hooked… it’s bad. Real bad!

As a Blythe addict you may spend the grocery money irresponsibly but also you are lucky. There are people way more obsessed than you ALL OVER THE WORLD! You will hang out on flickr and “meet” them. You’ll troll etsy for the best handmade clothing, accessories and furnishings, learning quickly that there are trends, and sub-sub-cultures, all about a doll named Blythe.

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You might even begin to dream about a customized Blythe… with crazy curly hair (!), a lovely matte face with special gothy make up, and an outfit you could only dream of wearing. And while you are having all of this fun, you might just begin to think about this doll from a social or intellectual perspective: What is it about her that has gangs of smart, creative girls and women enthusiastically collecting, making, photographing, and connecting with one another through blogs and Web sites? That’s another post for another time.

WIP: Tassels, Not Hassles

02.08.13

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The completed necklace above is fashioned from an Afghani artifact, a heavily beaded tassel, probably used to decorate a camel. This is unlisted due to my complete inability to part with it.

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Here then, is another gorgeous tassel I’ve been trying to work with, this one is African and made of leather. The colors are amazing, both dirty and brilliant in perfect combination. The beaded ring is my addition but I can’t seem to properly finish this WIP.

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Above is the most recent tassel experiment, made from an upcycled plastic Winchester rifle bullet casing that is insanely rusted and distressed, then gilded (of course). I have a batch of these in the most wonderful desert-faded colors. This is all very unfinished, just playing right now with materials and thought you’d enjoy seeing the influences leading to the design.

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I know I will be using these Indonesian blue glass beads; amazing color against the red.

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And the Indian sari silk fiber is working for me. I love how all of these tassely objects are related to one another, coming from arid deserts and plains, the recycling and repurposing, how in some cultures even the animals are adorned to the hilt… but the humans too. I don’t know what I’m saying, I’m just…. all jazzed up about… tassels.

These pics are over on flickr in case you want to ogle them larger.

Lastly, I am planning to donate a portion of proceeds from any/all jewelry that utilizes bullet casings to a US gun control organization, so if you want to recommend one, please comment or email me.

WIP: Rocking Out

02.01.13

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Suddenly. In. Love. With. ROCKS!!!!!! Pictured above, from the top: fluorite, blue calcite, citrine (but suspiciously looks like calcite and am contacting dealer about this), raw garnets (!), amazonite and quartz points. Gemstones are MUCH cheaper by the strand, and ebay is a good bet for locating best pricing.

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Big batch of Rocking Rings made yesterday, now being varnished to protect the gold leafing and patina work. As soon as they’re dry I’ll start listing. They are really and truly beautiful, if I do say so, and although chunky, very wearable. Earrings are coming next, can’t wait to play with these stones in that context. As always, larger photos up on flickr for your viewing pleasure.

WIP: Gilded Age

01.27.13

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Have discovered gold metal leaf.

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Am in the process of gilding pretty much everything in site, including this amazing piece of Russian military surplus, a small metal tube that will become a necklace focal. I’ve got a batch of these babies to play with.

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And this simple pair of vintage brass findings… I love how the metal leaf clings to and shows the fine detail of the… metal leaf(s).

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A big-ass ancient glass chandelier crystal gets the gilding treatment, creating a weird world-within-a-world effect as you can see the inside of the other side through the front side. Yeah.

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Here’s a finished piece, a ring holding 2 raw crystals, citrine and amethyst. Then goldified, oxidized, and totally effed up. In a good way. I hope. Ring section coming soon over at So Charmed. Lots of these beauties will be for sale at rock bottom prices. harhar.

Bigger pics for better examination of the (charmingly) rustic and pathetically unskilled job of gold leafing of which I am capable: flickr.

A great gold leafing video, watch and learn and then go make your own mess!

WIP: Odd Pairings

01.22.13

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I like to fool myself into thinking that anyone could possibly be interested in my creative process, the inner workings of my designing mind at the earliest stages of making things. Hence, WIP (work in progress). Everything here represents an idea in formulation, not remotely finished.

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This is how it begins with earrings. Vast supplies in my studio. Many little things scattered on every available surface. One day the things… they start making their way toward one another as if by some poetic pull. At the top of the post, an Afghani coin finding with brilliant emerald glass, a gear with verdigris patina, an ancient crystal bead and a piece of industrial trash. Above, a newer finding paired with a Mexican milagro.

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More Kuchi coins above (these are used in traditional costume including belly dance) with lovely glass rubies, being riveted to a pair of seriously rusted bottle caps scavenged from some American desert. Fiber may be added at some point.

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How do these tiny objects — a old discarded button, an African Vaseline trade bead, a bumpy middle Eastern bead, a tiny verdigris sparrow — come together? Some ways might be: color, form, content, texture, juxtoposition of cultures and histories. Things that resonate as similar or opposite, or both. The rule of chance encounters. The joy for me is that I don’t think much about any of this.

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Part of it is the trained eye, the practiced hand, designing for years, decades, a lifetime. Part of it might be something inaccessible; dreams, associations. Above, an ancient glass button, possibly 1920’s, likely European, paired with a Mexican heart milagro charm. A tiny visual poem begun, beauty, an adornment.

Making Pretty Pictures

01.06.13

Making (and attempting to sell) wearable art is an incredibly multi-faceted endeavor. From the creative aspects of designing work that meets my vision to the artful execution of that work, to techy stuff like digital photography and building web pages, the skill-set required would seem daunting if I weren’t just smack in the midst of it daily.

Clothing is challenging to shoot and if there’s one thing to share with you, it’s this: Clothing photos are most effective when brought to life. I’m so lucky to have a beautiful muse living under my very roof.

Even in close-up to show detail, clothing is best photographed on a living being. The photo above was repinned quite a bit over on Pinterest.

I tend to prefer jewelry photos on a white seamless (just a large “press sheet” from my graphic design day job taped to the wall and draped down across a small table). Props can be an asset (or a terrible distraction); I choose mine pretty carefully. Just forget trying to photograph jewelry against black unless you have mad skills and a sophisticated set-up.

Vertical images can be a problem on Web sites, but occasionally it’s useful and fun to provide a wider context.

Once you’ve made something gorgeous and have set up a little photo area, remember that lighting really is everything. I shoot mostly in natural light, no flash, and unless I just can’t wait, in the morning when the sun is not shining into the studio and casting harsh, warm shadows. Correction (both lighting and color) is still always necessary in Photoshop. I prefer bright, cool whites and under the best circumstances in my decidedly unprofessional studio, I must color correct to minimize the warm yellow/red tones and I always must brighten and beef up contrast to get closer to the reality of the goods as they will be depicted onscreen. And it’s true what they say, monitors vary. Greatly. Mine is high end and callibrated but I actually have no idea what YOU are seeing.

Here is a very old thrifted hardback of A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. A most beautiful story. When I saw this image in PhotoShop I decided I had to title the earrings Yonderways. Happy accident.

With necklaces and longer earrings, the challenge is to show the entire piece but also to capture some of the amazing work in the details. Nothing wrong with a little bead porn.

Then there’s textiles. Sigh. The Snow Dress is a LARGE object to show in very small Web images, so a range of shots is best, as above detailing the vintage lace and neon ribbon, and below in the glamourous model shot.

Photography is such a delight for me. Despite a lot of time studying the subject in college (pre digital, darkroom work, etc.), I still made/make a LOT of very bad photos in order to get to the better ones. The bottom line is this: I don’t believe you need a high-end camera (I use a relatively cheap, old Canon Powershot), nor is a fancy lighting booth required. You do need Photoshop and some basic skills there, so maybe that’s the stumbling block for so many people. Don’t fear the PhotoShop!

Thanks for reading this, and if you have any photography questions, please feel free to comment; I’ll try my best to help! I’ve thought about teaching a little seminar in my studio… maybe one day. Images by yours truly, model: Molly Bess, everything copyrighted but feel free to Pin!

Charming Shadowbox

11.28.12

A comment from the mom of the baby whose bracelet is pictured in the below post mentioned that she was considering making a shadowbox to contain the bracelet for display during the years prior to her daughter being able to wear it.

This jogged my memory of creating just such a box when I designed a wedding gift charm bracelet for a friend who I wasn’t sure would be able to wear the chunky bangly thing too often… but might want to display it in her home rather than keeping it in a jewelry box hidden away.

The photos aren’t great, but I hope you get the idea. The raw pine box was purchased inexpensively at Michael’s crafts store and has a glass front door. I stained the box and lined it with pretty craft papers, including a scrap from the actual printed wedding invite, installing two small nails on the back wall for hanging the bracelet.

I then added a few treasures to the bottom floor of the box, a miniature cake and some dried rose petals. I honestly can’t remember if I ever resolved creating a way to hang the box on a wall, or if I just left it as something to display on a shelf or tabletop (probably the latter). I had a moment’s thought to offer these custom boxes for sale along with my charm bracelets, but ultimately decided that the amount of work involved was just beyond what I could probably charge. It isn’t hard, and you CAN do it yourself! If you have any questions or want support with your own shadowbox project, drop me an email any old time! xoxo

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