I’m sure you are all familiar with one of my favorite children’s stories, the one about Joseph’s overcoat. Versions of this story, based on an old folk tale, have been written into many books, such as Phoebe Gilman’s Something from Nothing, or Simms Tabak’s Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. The story is about an item (a coat, a blanket or something else, depending on the version) that Joseph’s grandfather, a tailor, sewes for him. The boy outgrows/tears it, and so the grandfather keeps transforming it into smaller and smaller objects. In the end, the last one is lost and a story is written in its stead, hence the making of “something out of nothing.”
I find this to be a beautiful, touching story about love, cross-generational connections, resourcefulness and frugality, amongst other things. Joseph’s grandfather expresses his love for the boy through the things he sews for him. He keeps coming up with new creative ideas, all for perfectly useful items. He literally turns trash into gold over and over again, by re-purposing, up-cycling, and recycling. In that, he is, of course, being completely eco-friendly (although the story is set at a time and place where poverty, not green ideology, was the main incentive).
When I work, I often think of this story. I feel a kind of kinship with Joseph’s grandfather, and not only because we both share a love for sewing. Like the grandfather, I, too, express affection through making, especially when I create something for people I care about, be they family members or friends. I know how the grandfather felt because I also derive much satisfaction from seeing people use my creations. And, like the grandfather I, too, am passionate about turning useless materials into useful items, and about constantly coming up with ideas for new products. Likewise, I eschew waste and enjoy finding innovative ways to use every little scrap of fabric. Finally, I suppose that this blog itself could be seen as a way to “make something out of nothing” 🙂
I work with many beautiful fabrics, each a piece of art on it’s own. The things I make usually call for big pieces of cloth. Yet, inevitably, the creative process leaves me with many scraps, sometimes very small bits, that I just don’t have the heart to throw away. I collect them all, and every now and then try to find ways to use them. Over the last few months I’ve been using small cotton pieces to make notebook loops, and small fragments of upholstery fabrics to make pouches or bookmarks. Right before Valentine’s Day I used some of my scraps to make fabric greeting cards, and I just LOVE how they turned out!
The card above was born from my treasure pile of tiny fragments:
I picked the pieces I found suitable, and cut one into a heart shape:
I appliqued it, added another heart in the middle, and appliqued that one, too. Then I embroidered all around with a gold-colored embroidery floss that matched the background fabric:
When I finished the embroidery, I sewed the entire piece onto a cardboard card:
Voilà! A beautiful, original and entirely useful piece of art!
Creating these fabric greeting cards was so much fun, that I proceeded to make a few more:
Working on cards is somewhere between painting and quilting. There are endless possibilities for combining colors, patterns and textures. At the same time, however, the medium is also limiting, for the pieces are quite small (all my cards were 4”x6”), which can make cutting and sewing difficult.
I later scanned my cards, loaded them onto Zazzle, and created a print-on-demand collection. Then I ordered a few for myself, to see what they looked like. I couldn’t be happier with the result: the first picture in this post shows me holding one!
Since then I made yet more greeting cards, and enjoyed every minute of the process. This is surely something I’d like to keep playing with! If you have ideas about what kind of cards you will find useful, I will love to hear from you!