3D Textile Beetles

You might recall the Amazing Beetle quilts I made back in the spring, at the beginning of the Lockdown. I knew then that I wasn’t quite done with beetles yet. I find them absolutely fascinating, with their varied, interesting shapes and huge array of colors. They are beautiful and alien and truly wondrous.

After spending the entire summer in my garden, I was eager to explore beetles a little more once back in my sewing room. I was wondering how it would feel to make 3D textile beetles. But I had a few quilts to finish first…

Materials that Inspire

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that my sewing room is in a constant state of disarray. The room is small, but my fabric stash isn’t. I also have a growing collection of treasures, things I rescue from the trash knowing they will be useful someday. The only advantage to having a messy studio is that every now and then you come across things you collected a while back and completely forgot about. Every time you see those things you get excited all over again…

Well, I recently came across metal spirals.

At the end of last school year, as we do every year, my kids and I went over their school stuff. We kept what we thought important, and recycled or threw the rest. We took apart notebooks with spirals to make it possible to recycle the paper. Once separated, I couldn’t help thinking that the spirals themselves might be of use. So I took them to my sewing room. And now I found them again. I pulled on one, and as I did so I realized it would make excellent beetle legs!

Experimenting with 3D Textile Beetles

I printed a picture of a beetle, and dove into my scrap boxes. I picked a blue floral fabric, and began to experiment. I drew, sewed, cut and stuffed, then twisted the wire. Viola! A small, 3D textile beetle!

Using an already-bent wire wasn’t ideal, I realized. It was very hard to work with, and had a lot of twists that couldn’t be removed. I didn’t mind it much–it has its charm, I think, but I wanted to try using other wires.

I had different wires left over from my troll, birds and owls. I now used them to make more beetles.

Each type of wire felt very different, and resulted in a different look. I learned that:

  1. I have a lot more to learn about wires
  2. There are endless ways to make 3D textile beetles!

I’m still not done. I want to try more techniques, more patterns, more colors and more wires. Alas, my brain is already wandering on to the next project, so I might have to do that, first. I will get back to beetles later, I promise!

In the meantime, can you help me decide what to do with the beetles I already made? 

 

Ainu Textiles

 Discovering Ainu textiles in Hokkaido was the greatest surprise of my 2018 trip to Japan. I knew a little about Japanese textile traditions, but never heard of Ainu fabrics. Once in Hokkaido, these textiles captivated me with their bold geometric beauty.

Who Are the Ainu?

The Ainu are the indigenous people of the island of Hokkaido. Originally from Russia, they populated the island for over 20,000 years. For centuries, they were hunter-gatherers who lived off the land, relying mostly on fishing and hunting.

Ainu Beliefs

The Ainu see themselves as a part of the natural world. They believe that spirits dwell in every thing or being in this world. They regard animals, plants, and things like fire, water, clothes or tools, which are essential for everyday life, as well as things like diseases or weather that are beyond human control, as kamuy (gods).

Bears have a special importance in Ainu culture. There are over eighty words in their language to describe bears. The Ainu saw bears as gods in animal form and as gifts of the gods.

The Ainu collected bear cubs born during hibernation. They hosted them in their homes, treating them as honored guests or as one of their own children.

After a cub turned two, the Ainu performed a ritual called iyomante. The ritual lasted three days and three nights, during which they separated the cub’s spirit from its body, helping it return to its real mother in the realm of the gods. The bear’s fur and meat were considered a great gift from the divine.

Japanese started interacting with the Ainu as early as the 7th century. With time, Japanese immigrated to the island and started settling it, restricting the Ainu more and more. In the Meiji period (beginning in 1868), the Japanese fully annexed Hokkaido (for more on the Ainu and the fraught relations between the two people see Wikipedia).

Ainu Clothes

Materials

Historically, the Ainu made their clothing out of the natural materials that were available to them. These included fish skins, animal hides and fibers woven from tree bark (especially of the Japanese elm and linden trees) or various grasses. The Ainu had clothes for everyday use, and outfits for special occasions such as religious ceremonies or festivals. When the Japanese arrived, making cotton available by trade, the Ainu began adding decorative cotton motifs to their ceremonial garments. They carefully decorated them with applique, reverse applique and embroidery.

Later, when cotton was more readily available and cheaper, they started making clothes entirely out of cotton.

Symbolism

Clothes-making and embroidery were women’s work. Girls learned textile work from their mothers at a young age. The ornamental patterns they used varied by lineage and region, though some motifs were recurring. Some of these included “moreu” (spirals), and “aiushi” (thornes). Women added patterns to areas of clothing considered vulnerable, such as collars, cuffs, hems and backs. They believed that the patterns warded off evil spirits, and protected the wearer.

“Ainu women insert their feelings toward their intended recipients into the cloth itself, ‘Stitch by stitch as the embroidery is sewn, the heart of the seamstress is inserted into the cloth of the garment. When the wearer puts the garment on his or her body, the sentiments of the artisan are said to be transmuted, and the wearer is protected by this passion, woven into the cloth itself, through the protective motif embroidered on the coat.'” (see this article).

The clothes thus carried political, spiritual and symbolic meanings. The Ainu saw the cloth itself as both sustaining and helping constitute personhood. They considered clothes to be divine, and also used them for medicinal purposes. Making clothes, appliqueing and embroidering them were deeply spiritual acts. 

Although I didn’t necessarily understand the symbolism behind the Ainu garments I saw during my trip to Hokkaido, I could certainly feel their raw power.

If you’d like to learn more, there are several books about Ainu textiles, as well as many articles. The quotes above are from this article. You can see another example here.

“Interdependent,” My Lockdown Quilt

Everything about this quilt took forever. It is the second instalment in my Hands Series, made almost four years after the first piece, Give a Hand. It took six months to make, start to finish, mostly because I left it untouched for long periods of time in between.

Give a Hand kept me distracted during the November 2016 election. The idea for Interdependent came to me during the first week of Lockdown, in mid March 2020. It slowly evolved from there, both in my head and in the real world. I guess the Hands Series growns in times of crisis…

Stage One: A Strange Kind of Euphoria

When the Covid 19 pandemic started spreading around the world at the beginning of the year, there was a lot of anxiety, but also some hope. People all over the globe went into quarantine together. It was the first time in history that the whole of humanity shared a common experience in this way.

Pictures of death and despair were intermingled with reports about shows of solidarity. Italy had some of the highest death tolls at the time, but the news also highlighted Italians singing on balconies. Videos from Hong Kong circulated on social media, showing sports and dance teachers giving lessons from rooftops. People shared pandemic-related jokes and memes on all communication channels, in all languages. There was a feeling of oneness, a perception that we were all in this together. Scientists from different countries collaborated to find cure and a vaccine. There was hope that human intelligence will overcome the virus quickly.

That was the original idea behind this quilt. This connectivity of all humans, regardless of skin tone, religion, or nationality. That is why I chose different shades of the same color.

And why I thought to depict a circle of hands holding each other.

Stage Two: A Sobering Reality

As the Lockdown dragged on, however, more sinister tones began creeping in. It slowly became clear that a vaccine will not materialize that fast, that this will take longer than anyone had expected. Rivalries between nations resurfaced. Racial tensions and inequality in the US came to the surface with a powerful, emotional Black Lives Matter movement. Economic inequalities between people and nations became more pronounced as economies strained. Political tensions grew all around.

Meanwhile, the Earth protested, too. Massive fires. Record-breaking heat waves. Melting glaciers. Floods. Locust. Powerful storms. The planet showed us who was in command. For centuries, humans took and took and destroyed, exhausting the natural resources of our habitat. Now, without leaving our homes, we acutely feel the result of our accumulative actions.

The quilt wasn’t about hope and solidarity anymore. It became more complicated, more malevolent. Dark, like the grays of its background. Yes, we are interconnected, but in intricate ways, both good and bad. Because in a super-connected world like the one we live in, with people moving about widely and quickly, viruses that emerge in one part of the earth spread worldwide within days. Polluted air or water originating on one side of the globe travel quickly, too. As do pests, species which then become invasive, ideas, protests, corruption. And now–wildfire smoke…

The things that threaten humanity became a part of the quilt. As did the self-inflicted threats. I started embroidering some of the major ones all around, on the outer borders of the quilt. First, in black and gray, the natural threats, including the ones influenced by human activity. Then, in red, some of the threats that are entirely self-inflicted, caused by human shortcomings, stupidity and limitations.

At that point, working on the quilt became emotionally difficult. Instead of being distracting and meditative, the embroidering process started taking me to bad places, to pull me down.

I couldn’t work on it for long periods of time. I had to take a lot of breaks. Then, when summer came, I took one very long break.

The massive wildfires that engulfed California in August brought me back indoors, into my sewing room and back to this quilt. I forced myself to finish it. I put in the last stitches under the strange, orange light of a smoke-filled air.

Stage Three: The Good and the Bad

Interdependent highlights the connections between all humans, connections made stronger by the things that threaten our existence:

Climate change. Mega eruptions. Pandemics. Environmental degradation. Global warming. Asteroids. Mass extinction. Deforestation. These are some natural threats, that include the damage that humans brought on the environment. And yes, I know that climate change and global warming are almost the same thing, but I wanted to stress this further, as I believe this to be the most prominent danger of our time.

There are many self-inflicted threats as well, caused by human shortcomings and shortsightedness. I only had room for four: Racism. Xenophobia. Antisemitism. Sexism. Imagine a world without those!

There is hope, too, however. In the form of the things that make us uniquely human to begin with. The things that have been holding us together and pushing us onward. I embroidered these on the inside, at the heart of the quilt, since those are the things that lie at the heart of humanity.

Kindness. Compassion. Empathy. Benevolence. Dignity. Resilience. Love. Creativity.

These, and other unique qualities I didn’t have room for, are the hope of our spices and the planet we olive on. These are the things that might help us overcome the existential and self-inflicted threats we’re all facing. The things that make us human and unite us. These are also the things we desperately need more of.

The Summer That Wasn’t

And, just like that, the summer vacation is over. The kids are getting back to school, each on their own schedule. Except … this time these first back-to-school days are no different than any other day. We’re all still at home, all day every day, changing from night pajamas to day pajamas and vice versa.

Six months into the Covid 19 pandemic and counting.

Did the summer ever start? It doesn’t feel like it has. If it did, I can’t say where the time went. I certainly don’t have much to show for it…

We had so many plans for spring and summer 2020, so many things to look forward to.

The pandemic cancelled everything, of course.

For the first couple of months of lockdown, while the kids were busy with Zoom school, I managed to find solace in my fabrics and art. I composed textile poems, had fun with textile insects, and finally found the time to play with Ann Wood’s bird and owl patterns to create textile sculptures. I even made three pieces of tapestry with the Jewish Blessing of the Child, one for each of my children, just in case…

But when the school year ended, I put art aside. Together with my family I embarked on house and garden projects. We started with The Big Cleanup, a family tradition that got a bit neglected in the last few years. We did the usual deep cleaning, but also something new. Realizing that school will be remote in the coming school year, we also re-organized big parts of our house to accommodate everyone’s new needs. It was a lot of work.

By the piles of stuff my neighbors left on the curb, I could tell that many of them were doing the exact same. Later, newspaper articles confirmed that organizing/decluttering was, indeed, a pandemic side-effect

Like the house, our garden suffered from some neglect in the last few years. Perhaps because I put more time into art than into gardening. Not this summer! Once we聽 finished organizing the house, I put my kids to work in the garden. Together we weeded, pruned, pulled, planted and painted. We even started a Victory Garden.聽

Then, a surprising thing happened. Once I started gardening, I didn’t really feel like doing anything else. Not even art.

It was an emotionally difficult summer, to say the least. The news went from bad to worse. Sickness, rising numbers, fear, despair, death. Political turmoil, civil unrest, racial tensions. Economic upheaval, unemployment, homelessness. Heat wave after heat wave, record-breaking heat. My mood went up and down. Then a little deeper down. Some days were good. Some OK. And then there were days in which I couldn’t do much at all.

The garden took me away from my phone, the news, social media. The flowers made me smile. The lush green allowed me to BREATH. Surrounding myself with plants felt healing. So in the garden I stayed.

There was always more to do out in the yard. For the first time ever, I saw the full cycled of spring and summer. Flowers bloomed and faded, others took their place. There were daily little changes. I became more aware of the wildlife my garden supports: the many kinds of pollinators, the birds, the visiting mammals. My garden hummed with LIFE.

I was confined, but an entire little world awaited right outside my door…

Yes, it turned out gardening was another side effect of the pandemic.

Like half of humanity, I was also busy with pandemic domesticity. Although our vegetable garden ended up being a complete failure, refusing to produce a single vegetable, our fruit trees were quite prolific.聽

We gave some fruit away, but I also made a year’s-worth of jam.

And baked numerous apple pies. And cakes. And muffins. And more pies. They didn’t last very long.

In mid August, we experienced聽another heat wave, one that raised the temperature in Death Valley, CA, to 130 degrees, “setting a world record for the highest temperature ever observed during the month of August.” This led to a freak thunderstorm, which ignited over 600 fires all around California. The wildfires literally smoked me out of the garden and back into my sewing room. It’s been over two weeks now, and the air quality is still poor, keeping me inside.

I miss my garden, but it did feel good to reunite with my fabrics. So far I finished my pandemic quilt (more on that next time) and composed a wildfire-inspired Textile Poem:

I also made a larger art quilt influenced by the wildfires. I call it Ashes.

The weather forecast for this coming weekend predicts yet another record-breaking heat wave. I guess I’ll just have to stay in and keep creating…

Small Fabric Owl Tutorial

Boredom is the mother of all creativity. With everything having been cancelled this summer, my kids had plenty of time to get bored. One of my daughters chose to amused herself with crafts. She made an array of beautiful creations.

At one point she asked to use my fabric scraps. I let her choose whatever she wanted, and a while later she returned with a cute little owl, which she turned into a brooch for me. It made my day and put a smile on my face!

She was inspired by a keychain she saw at a boutique in Japan a couple of years ago. The idea is simple and cute, and a great way to use small fabric scraps.

Here’s a step by step Small Fabric Owl Tutorial for making your own scrappy owl. Try this project with kids, or just enjoy creating your own creature! You can use a sewing machine, or make everything entirely by hand.

What You’ll Need

A piece of paper

Pen

Scraps from two different (but matching) fabrics

Fabric scissors

Thin thread and needle

Embroidery floss in beak color

Embroidery floss in leg color

A thin white fabric, interfacing or felt

Two black seed beads

Polyester or wool filling (or tiny fabric scraps!)

A thin twig from your garden, neighborhood or park

Step by Step Small Fabric Owl Tutorial

Draw a tear shape onto a piece of paper, about 3″ tall and wide.

Cut the shape out.

Choose two scraps of fabric in matching but different colors.

Lay the fabrics right sides together and pin the pattern on top.

Cut the shape out, both layers at once.

Sew around, with a 1/4″ seam, leaving about an inch of the bottom open.

Cut notches along the curved seams.

Turn inside out. Gently push along the seam from the inside, to make sure it is fully turned.

Decide which side you want as the front, and fold the top bit over. Secure with a tiny stitch (just make sure you don’t catch the back fabric by mistake).

Use a hole puncher to punch two circles out of thin white fabric or interfacing. You can also cut circles out of felt.

Prepare a threaded needle, and two black seed beads.

Put the thread in the needle, tie a knot, and insert the needle from the inside of the owl out, where you want the first eye to be. Stick the needle through one white circle, and then immediately through a black seed bead.Insert back into the fabric (so that the thread comes out from the back, where it started).

Stitch in place. Repeat for the second eye. Leave the remaining thread and needle dangling out from the bottom of the owl–you will need them shortly.

Take an embroidery thread, and make three stitches to mark the beak. Tie the thread at the back and cut off.

Return to the thin thread you left dangling. Make simple straight stitches all around the bottom opening (front and back).

Fill with filling.

Pull the thread to close the opening, and stitch shut.

Prepare a twig and embroidery floss for the legs.

Cut the twig to the size you want (at least as wide as the owl’s body).

Put the twig on the bottom of the owl, and make two stitches for each leg. Make sure to connect the body securely to the twig.

That’s it! A cute little fabric owl!

You can use it in whichever way you’d like. Turn it into a keychain, glue on a card, or glue a magnet on the back to put on your fridge. Alternatively, you could hang it on a necklace, or sew a brooch pin on the back and gift to your favorite person 馃檪 If you make this a bit bigger, just add a loop on top for a cute tree ornament!

Do you have more ideas for what to do with this owl? If so, comment below!

Lockdown Diary: Bird Sculptures

A Beautiful, Empty Cage

When I lived in China a long time ago, it was very common for elderly men to carry pet birds in beautiful wooden cages. I never liked the idea of caged birds, but it was touching to see how tender these men were towards their feathered companions. Over time, I grew quite fond of the cages themselves… Shortly before I had to return home, I went to a cage market an purchased one. I took it with me on a long plane ride, to my parents’ house a world away. Since I didn’t yet have a permanent home of my own, I ended up leaving it there. And the decades passed. A few years ago, after visiting my parents, I carried it on another long plane ride, to yet another continent, where I put it unceremoniously in my sewing room.

I was planning to make a textile bird to live in my cage. I bought 聽Abigail Patner Glassenberg’s The Artful Bird book, and made a feeble attempt at a songbird. It didn’t turn out quite the way I was hoping, though, and I never found the time to try again. Later, I purchased Ann Wood’s Songbird pattern, but never got to that, either. The fabric bird project joined many others on my long to-do list.

When You Shelter In Place, The Wildlife Comes to You

A few weeks ago, when I was working on my owls, a very persistent bird kept knocking on my sewing room window. It came and went for about two weeks, knocking, leaving, returning and knocking again for hours each day.

I was working on Ann Wood’s owl pattern, and the bird reminded me that I have the Songbird pattern as well. And so, once I finished the owls, I shook the dust off the songbird pattern and set to work.

Making Textile Bird Sculptures

I used leftovers from my purple owl to make a purple songbird.

It was fun, but the finished bird was smaller than what I had in mind.

I also wasn’t quite satisfied with the way the wings looked. So I decided to play with the pattern a bit, the way I did with the owl pattern, to make it closer to what I wanted. I made three bigger birds, and am quite happy with how they turned out:

I tried putting the purple bird into the cage, but even a fabric bird looked too sad and trapped inside. So I decided to put it next to the cage instead, leaving the cage door open. It seems much happier now.

As for wildlife, I’ve never been a bird watcher, but since the beginning of the lockdown I’ve been spending long hours in my garden. I never knew it hosted so many different kinds of birds! Although I don’t know what most of them are, I’m very much enjoying their company, not to mention their songs! I even bought a bird feeder to attract more of them over…

If you, too, are interested in watching birds at this time, you might find this article helpful 馃檪

As for my little textile flock, they are now ready for adoption in my shop.

Lockdown Diary: The Jewish Blessing of the Child

My eldest daughter is graduating from high school next week. This is what I thought will happen: my mom and sister will cross the ocean to celebrate this important milestone with us. We will all dress up in our finest to attend the graduation ceremony. My daughter will receive her diploma in her new gown and cap. I will give her a special gift I stealthily prepared while she was at school.

High School Graduation Gift: The Jewish Blessing of the Child

For months I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to think of a meaningful graduation gift for my firstborn, a second before she flies out of the nest. For months I couldn’t think of anything special enough. Until one sleepless night, that is. One of those many nights on which my brain swerms with thoughts, bursting with creative ideas. Sometime between 1:00 am – 2:00 am it hit me: The Jewish Blessing of the Child.

I didn’t grow up in a religious family. My parents never recited the Child’s Blessing. I never heard it growing up. But when I had kids of my own, I learned about it through their school. When my daughters got involved with theater, one of the first plays they participated in was Fiddler on the Roof. One of the scenes that touched me most in that musical, and still makes me cry time and again, is the Shabbat Prayer: The Jewish Blessing of the Child. Perhaps because the blessing touches on every parent’s deepest fears, and expresses their deepest wishes: the desperate hope that their children will always be safe.

That night, it occurred to me that it would be meaningful to make a textile wall hanging with the Child’s Blessing for my daughter. Something to remind her of my love. A gift light enough and packable enough for her to take with her when she moves out of our home and into her college dorm. Something that will symbolically protect her when I’m not there to do so myself.

The Blessing

The Jewish Blessing of the Child is actually the Priestly Blessing. Originally, the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem used it to bless the people. After the Romans destroyed the Temple and exiled the people of Israel to the diaspora, Jews continued to recite the blessing in synagogues. Many still recite it daily. In some communities, it became a custom for parents to bless their children on Friday night, the eve of the Jewish Sabbath.

Here is the blessing, first in the original Hebrew, then the transliteration in Latin alphabet, and finally the English translation:

讬职讘指专侄讻职讱指 讬职讛讜指讛聽讜职讬执砖职讈诪职专侄讱指

Yivarechecha Adonai v鈥檡ishmerecha

May God bless you and protect you.

讬指讗值专 讬职讛讜指讛 驻指旨谞指讬讜 聽讗值诇侄讬讱指聽讜执讬讞只谞侄旨讱指旨

Ya鈥檈r Adonai panav eilecha vichuneka

May God show you favor and be gracious to you.

讬执砖指旨讉讗 讬职讛讜指讛 驻指旨谞指讬讜 讗值诇侄讬讱指聽讜职讬指砖值讉诐 诇职讱指 砖指讈诇讜诐

Yisa Adonai panav eilecha v鈥檡asem lecha shalom

May God show you kindness and grant you peace.

In other words: May you always be protected, safe from all harm, and at peace.聽

Pandemic and a Slight Change of Plans

Assumptions and expectation are one thing, reality quite another. Or, as the Yiddish saying goes: we plan, God laughs. This is what is actually happening in spring 2020: Covid 19 is raging around the world. Flights are unsafe/cancelled. My mom and sister will not be coming any time soon. The school cancelled the graduation ceremony. We will all stay in our pajamas. My daughter will wear her cap and gown only for a short photoshoot. I made her gift at the beginning of the lockdown, while she was taking remote classes on Zoom in a different room. Unable to wait, I already gave it to her, weeks in advance.

I had a vague picture of how I wanted this wall hanging to look. On my last visit to Fabmo I picked fabrics for it: a grayish blue for the background, a festive silver for the fonts. I even found matching tassels to go with it. I brought them home and hid them in my sewing room, so my daughter doesn’t see them.

The pandemic hit before I started working on it. Those first few weeks of quarantine were quite emotional. Like many others, I was scared and worried. I confronted my own mortality, and felt a deep existential fear for my children’s safety. I tried to stay positive, keep a routine, work on happy things. But I also had this feeling of helplessness. There was little I could do in the face of the universe. I could only protect my kids that much. Suddenly, the Child’s Blessing wall hanging seemed more urgent.

The Making Process

And so, one morning when my kids were busy online with school, I gathered my materials. I had the ones I brought from Fabmo, of course. But in a corner of my sewing room I had another pile of fabrics, one that was sitting there untouched for three years, ever since my mother in law passed away. This was the pile of textiles I rescued from her house. In this pile were some white linens belonging to my children’s great-grandparents from both my mother and father in law’s families. For three years I was unable to touch them. They seemed too precious, not because of what they actually were, but because of who they once belonged to, their sentimental value. Now their time has come. The Jewish Blessing of the Child, sewn during a global pandemic, seemed like a great use for these precious fabrics.

I started by printing the Hebrew letters and cutting templates.

I ironed interfacing onto the back of the silver fabric, and traced the mirror image of the letters.

For hours, I cut each one out carefully until my hands ached.

I arranged them on one of the cloth napkins.聽

Then carefully sewed around each and every letter. This took many hours.聽

I attached the napkin to the background fabric, framed it in between two halves of an ancestral doily, decorated with couched ribbon to tie it all together, and sandwiched it with batting and a backing (also from the ancestral pile). I quilted it all together and, at the very end, added the tassels.

When I finished, I was too excited not to give it right away. And so I did. True, the school year hasn’t yet officially ended, but the last day of school was already behind us.聽

Making Two More

You might recall the three symbols of maternal love that became a tradition in my family. I originally expected the Blessing of the Child wall hanging to become a fourth, a high-school graduation gift for each of my three children. But that was before the pandemic. Once Covid 19 was here, I started thinking that maybe it would be a good idea to get the remaining two out of the way now, just in case…

And so, in the following weeks, I made two more. I already had all the materials, after all. They turned out similar, but not identical. Three pieces of cloth hangings that carried history and traditions from both my husband’s and my families. A symbolic hug from generations of ancestors, at a time when most hugs are only virtual.

Jewish Child's Blessing

Now, to wait for a vaccine…

Lockdown Diary: Soft Owl Sculptures

My daughters got upset with me the other day because they decided that my Instagram feed was too messy. They’re probably right. I can’t ever stick to a specific color palette, or have a consistent theme. That’s partly because messiness is intertwined with my work. My head is exploding with ideas, you see. The world around me keeps providing endless inspiration. I want to try new things, experiment with different techniques, learn new skills. Even in normal times, I always work on several projects simultaneously. I start new pieces before I finish old ones. My UFO pile is huge. My sewing room is a mess.

To make things worse, the Covid Lockdown put my creativity on steroids. I usually sew mostly in autumn and winter, and much less so in spring, when end-of-school activities pick up. I hardly ever sew in summer. Not this year. Sheltering in Place with my family, now going onto week nine(!), has put me under a new routine. I divide my days between gardening and sewing (oh, and a few other domestic chores…). There are the bad days, of course, when I hardly do anything at all. But then there are the days on which I start several new projects all at once. Someone suggested this might be stress-related, and maybe it is. Better than a few other stress-relieving habits, I suppose. Still, the result is messy.聽

That’s why I don’t often show my work in real time. Instead, I’m trying to show it in more organized batches. Like when I shared all my insects together, and all the Textile Poems, even though some were created around the same time and out of order.聽

Soft Owl Sculptures

First Try

A short while after the pandemic hit, I decided this was a great opportunity to try new things. One of the projects that have been on my to-do list for years was making Ann Wood Handmade’s dastardly owls. I’ve been a great admirer of Ann’s soft owl sculptures for years. I loved their scruffy air and spunky attitude. I bought the pattern shortly after she published it, some two or three years ago, but despite great intentions, never found the time to try it. Not until now, that is.

A few weeks ago I pulled it out of my pile and shook the dust off of it.

I then dove into my scrap pile, and started working.

So far, with the exception of bags and other functional pieces, I’ve mostly made two-dimensional art. Oh, and the one troll, of course. But I have little experience creating three dimensional dolls. That might explain why, on my first try, I ended up with two tails instead of one. One was on the back, where it should have been, and the other … on the front… Or perhaps I should just blame it on Corona stress… Either way, I did manage to fix it, somehow, luckily.

Here is my first try. I’m quite happy with how he turned out.

My son adopted him less than five minutes after I put in the last stitch, by the way, so I consider him a success.

Second Try

Of course, I had to try again, to figure out what went wrong the first time and correct my initial mistake (the one with the tails, that is). This time I chose my favorite color, because what can be better than a purple owl??? I paid closer attention to the instructions, and ended up with a single, perfect tail.聽

Introducing Sherlock Wallace!

I am keeping him for myself.

Here’s what I learned about making soft owl sculptures:

  • They take much longer to make than you’d expect (several days each!).
  • Owls are composed of LOTS of pieces.
  • They require a ton of hand stitching.
  • Even a small body swallows unbelievable volumes of filling (I was really shocked by how much filling went in, and I didn’t even stuff them as much as I could!).
  • Making the tealons is an involved process in itself, and adds lots of extra time to the making process.
  • It seems that I don’t really like working with wire that much. Making wire legs, for me, is a chore that I want to keep postponing…

Putting My Own Spin on Faux Taxidermy Owls

I liked my first two owls, but one thing disappointed me about them. When I saw pictures of Ann Wood’s owls in the past, always photographed on their own, they seemed quite large-ish. But the pattern made for rather small beauties (about 8.5″ tall). Unsatisfactorily small.

So, for my third try, I had to make a few changes. I enlarged the pattern considerably, and put a little boro spin on it (if you look carefully, you might even recognize some of the fabrics). I used unusual vintage buttons I once took from my parents’ stash. The result? 12″-tall Yoshihito, Shogun of the woods. A benevolent fella who could be quite fierce when crossed!

Yoshihito is available for adoption right here on my website, and also in my Etsy store.聽