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

Lockdown Diary: Writing Poems in Textile

Our seventh (!) week of lockdown is coming to an end. Like many of you, I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions… Some days were good. The weather was nice, I enjoyed having my family around, I felt productive. Other days were tolerable, and I managed to do some things. Then there were the hard days, on which I just couldn’t ignore the news. Close friends started losing loved ones to Covid 19. I missed seeing family and friends in person. I wanted to go places and couldn’t. Foods or products we needed/wanted were unavailable. I started realizing that the normal life we knew will not return any time soon. That this will be long. That the world, in fact, might never be the same again… On those days little things irritated me. I felt sad, despaired, frightened. I couldn’t get myself to do much at all…

So I’ve been taking it one day at a time. Doing as much as I could on the good days. Trying to be kind to myself on the not-so-good. I found that spending time in my garden helps a lot. Once the weather improved, I’ve been going outside daily, doing some garden work or just sipping coffee among my plants. Spring is still happening, and nature is beautiful. The flowers are blooming, the pollinators are working diligently. One morning we even had ducks visit our backyard.

Art, as always, continued to be a lifesaver, though I still don’t have patience for hand stitching. And then there’s yoga.

Those of you who practice yoga know that Child’s Pose is a pose that allows rest and recharging. In the last few weeks I started to realize that abstract is my artistic equivalent of Child’s pose. I find myself going back to it in-between other projects, and it helps me stay creative and centered.

Textile Poems

After I finished working on textile insects, I felt the need to return to abstract. I started a series of small fabric collages, 8″ x 11″ in size. Improvised and intuitive, they allowed me to keep playing with colors and textures. Some came together quickly. Others took days or even weeks. They are each composed of many fragments, and the placement of each of those had to feel “right.” Sometimes getting the fragments to where they should be took a lot of trial and error, moving around and looking at the piece with fresh eyes, over and over again.

From the very beginning I thought of these pieces as textile poems. They combine slices of fabric instead of words, but each captures a moment in time, a mood. They reflect the weather, my garden, my fluctuating emotions.

The green ones are the colors of fresh plants and blue sky. The blue poems are the colors of rainy days and sadness.

The warm-colored ones reflect the colors of spring flowers and content. Of happiness, even.

Most of these poems don’t have names yet. Except for this one, which I call “Silver Lining.” It’s as dark and gray as the times we live in. But it has some hope, too. Because even the worst of situations has a silver lining.

For me, right now, slowing down and getting to spend more time with my family is a silver lining. What is yours?

Colors of the Day Art Quilt Series

A few weeks ago (or was it a lifetime ago?) I described the design process behind Lavender Morning. Only briefly did I mention the series it is a part of, the Colors of the Day Series.

When I worked on my first-ever quilt series, the year-long Calendar Quilt Series, I realized that I enjoy creating a series of quilts more than I do working on a one-of piece. Stand-alone pieces are great, but a series gives me more structure, and allows me a wider range of exploration. It’s a deeper study into a design challenge or an idea.

After I completed the Calendar Series, a year-long project, I was left with the great emptiness that follows the completion of a big project. It took a while to come up with the next idea. I wanted to continue working with abstracts. I hoped to further explore colors, shapes, textures and compositions. So I started working on a series I tentatively called “Color Explosion.”

As I was working on it, however, I realized that the name was wrong. Although colors, shapes and textures were a central part of this series, other images came into my mind as I was creating it. Associations related to the colors I was using, or even to the fabrics themselves. It also brought up memories from related trips I took, which in return influenced the final outcome. I changed the name to “Colors of the Day” instead, and it all clicked together.

The Colors of the Day Series includes four quilts representing different parts of the day, each influenced by memorable places the colors reminded me of. These quilts are bigger than those of the Calendar Series. Most of these are 16″ x 20″, except for Berry Twilight which is 21″ x 24.”

I did not create these quilts in a chronological order. Actually, I made the last one first. But the best way to view them is from morning to nightfall.

Lavender Morning

Lavender Morning was the fourth and last quilt I made in this series, thought it should be seen first. I described the design process of this quilt in a separate blog post.聽 Earlier projects influenced the color palette of this work, and the fabrics themselves dictated the final composition (as they do in most of my work). However, as I was working on it, I kept thinking of spring, and of the sprawling fields of lavender I saw in Tomita Farm in Hokkaido, Japan, two summers ago. We visited the farm early in the morning, to avoid the crowds, and so these colors remind me of the freshness of morning.

Autumnal Afternoon

I made this quilt in the autumn, my favorite time of year (and usually also my best sewing season). The colors of fall were all around me when I worked on it. I enjoyed hand stitching this piece as I sat by the fire, on the first cold evenings of the season. This quilt made me think of the maple tree outside my sewing room window, and how it glows when the sun hits it in the afternoon. It also reminded me of an afternoon trip I took one fall, many years ago, to the enchanted autumn forests of New England. This was the third piece I created in this series.

Berry Twilight

This quilt, the second I made in the series, is also the largest. It incorporates some of my favorite colors. Working on it gave me great pleasure, and reminded me of some of the fantastic sunsets we’ve seen during a month-long RV trip we took to the US Southwest a few years ago. Nothing beats the beauty of desert sunsets! They are truly breathtaking. The pictures below don’t do the real desert sunsets justice, but will give you some idea of what I had in mind.

Indigo Night

I created Indigo Night as the first piece in this series. The inspiration for this came from Asian-inspired scraps I had lying around my sewing room, remains from quilts or bags I made earlier. This quilt gave me an excuse to play with indigo colors, and juxtapose them with bright orange-reds. It was also a wonderful reason to incorporate some of the Sashiko stitching I’ve been enjoying using in the last few months. From the very beginning, it made me think of the night markets I saw in Asia. Many years ago I lived in Asia for several years, and visited night markets often. More recently, I took my family to聽 visit Taiwan and Japan, and was happy to introduce them to these amazing places. Night markets are full of life, colors, smells and tastes, and this quilt reminds me of them all!

When I made these quilts life was still normal. But now I am writing this post while Sheltering in Place. What a difference can a few weeks make! Looking back at the pictures and places that inspired this series fills me with great sadness. Travel of any kind is currently impossible. The night markets, farms, campgrounds and trails are closed. The ordinary is now threatening. The world has shrunk to the space we’re confined to. Nothing is as it was, and won’t be for a long while. At least the memories are forever, though, and the beauty of nature is still there, humans or not…

Here is the complete Colors of the Day Series:

Let me know which one you like best!

Lockdown Diary: Textile Insects

My husband says that he’ll be really worried if one day I won’t have something to worry about. I’m a worrier, there’s no denying. I worry about things small and big. In the last few years more and more big worries have occupied my mind. Climate change. The insect apocalypse. The great current mass extinction. The accumulation of plastics and people’s indifference to the massive amount of garbage we’re creating. Fast fashion and its effect on the ecology and the lives of people in third-world countries. Our steady destruction of the planet we live in. Things like that.

Numerous pessimistic thoughts filled my mind regarding the future of humans and the earth. But a pandemic that will shut the world down and send all of humanity home? That one I didn’t see coming. Not in my wildest dreams.

But here we are.

Art Under Quarantine

The second week of Social Distancing (or is it the third? I lost track…) is coming to an end. Like everyone else, I had to change and adapt. The first few days were disorienting. I kept thinking this was a dream I will soon wake up from. It wasn’t. Since then I’ve been spending way too much time online, reading news obsessively and browsing social media. This isn’t great for my emotional well being, but I can’t seem to stop. Like many other people, I’ve had bouts of anxiety and sadness. It’s really easy, under such circumstances, to stop creating. But from Day One, I forced myself to make some art, a little every day.

Over the years, art has been many things to me. When I was a kid, it was a way to pass time and ward boredom off. In my teenage years, at an arts high school, it was a means of self expression and a way to be different and “cool.” Now, as an adult, I see it as an instrument to convey ideas. My art is an adventure: an exploration of existing materials, colors, and textures, and also a way to explore the world around me as well as my inner world. In the last few years it’s also been a small effort to help the planet by upcycling and reducing waste.

Last year, after my father passed away, art took on a new role. It became healing soul medicine, helping me deal with bottomless grief. Now, amidst the first quarantine of my life, it is becoming something new altogether. Corona Art is a way to insert the illusion of control back into my life. It helps me stick to a routine. It keeps the news away for a short time each day, and helps me keep sane in a seemingly crazy world.

Art to Honor Spring and Highlight the Plight of Insects

Before the Shelter in Place order, I started to do a bit of spring gardening in my backyard. I worked for several days, and was startled by the lack of insects where they should have been buzzing. In the many hours I spent in my garden, I saw a few spiders, a few rolly-pollies, and one scissor bug. That’s it.

When the quarantine started, the weather turned appropriately gloomy and wet. I felt a strong need to bring spring into my studio. I wanted to make happy things to take my mind off everything else. At the same time, I also wanted to increase awareness to the plight of insects. People often see insects as a neaucense, and think nothing of killing them. The recent collapse of the insect population has mostly gone unnoticed, and is easily forgotten amidst a crisis like the one we’re currently facing. But the Insect Apocalypse is as big a threat to humanity as the other bug we all fear. Insects are at the bottom of the food chain. Without them, we won’t have fruits, vegetables or any of the other foods we eat. Our very survival depends on the survival of insects, and therefore we really should care.

Textile Butterflies

I had trouble concentrating during those first few days of Sheltering in Place. My entire family was home. Housework was accumulating. There was more cooking, cleaning, dishes, mess. And there was always the news! I needed to work on small projects that I could start and finish in one morning. This was not the time for big art quilts. Surprisingly, the hand stitching that helped me tremendously after my father’s passing wasn’t appealing now, either. I simply didn’t have the patience it required. So I started my sewing quarantine with making textile butterflies. I haven’t sewn butterflies for a few years, since finishing my Dare! art quilt in 2017. They seemed like the perfect project now. A butterfly (or two) a day to keep the doctor away, or at least the shrink.

Textile Beetles

On the first official week of spring, I decided to highlight insects on my Facebook Page. I shared (mostly upcycled) insect art, as well as my own butterflies. That week I looked at a lot of pictures of insects, and was struck by how beautiful they were. Beetles, especially, captivated me. Beetles are very interesting visually. They have complex, symmetrical shapes with lots of compelling details. Beautiful colors, too. Enlarged, they look like sophisticated pieces of art.

After I finished making ten butterflies, I was ready to move on to something else. By then our family established a kind of quarantine-routine. The kids had Zoom classes in the mornings, and Zoom after-school activities in the afternoons. I was able to get a bit more studio time while they were busy, leaving the majority of the housework for the afternoons. It was time to move on to more involved projects.

This week I embarked on a series of four 8.5″ x 11″ beetle textile pictures. For these, I relied on pictures of actual beetles for the shape, but took full artistic liberty with the colors. These pictures are meant to be framed and hung on a wall.

Although this series is finished, I don’t think I’m quite done with beetles yet. I’m pretty sure they will come up in some of my future work.

This worldwide quarantine will undoubtedly have long-lasting effects on anyone living through it. Once it is over, I hope we humans learn some lessons. Taking care of each other is important and worthy, but we must also take care of the creatures that share this earth with us, and of the planet itself. If we don’t, worse trouble than the coronavirus will await us in the very near future.

Art is helping me plow through this unsettling time. Gardening, cooking and baking help, as well. Now, if I could only be as disciplined about exercising daily as I am about creating…

What are you doing to stay anchored?

Stay safe and healthy, everyone! Remember that spring is still happening outside, so make sure to go out every now and then and smell the flowers!

The Making of a Boro-inspired Jacket

My boro-inspired top was my first-ever attempt at making a jacket. It was both easier and harder than I expected.

I already wrote about why I wanted to make this jacket, and what it means to me. Many people asked me about the making process, however, so today I want to share the technical details: the steps I followed, the many mistakes I made along the way, and what I learned from them. I hope this post will inspire you to make your own jacket!

The Pattern

I knew I wanted to make a kimono-style jacket, so I started by combing Pinterest for inspiration and patterns.

I quickly realized that classic kimonos are made out of simple rectangles sewn together. Some have narrowing sleeves, and that’s what I decided to go for. For the body, instead of the regular, straight rectangle cut, I chose an A-shaped one (also typical to classic kimonos), hoping it would be slightly less boxy.

The Measurements

For measurements, I took a few of my store-bought jackets out of my closet and measured them with a measuring tape. I was surprised to discover that although they were all the same stated size, their actual measurements varied greatly. Yet, they all fit, somehow. So I settled on a specific width somewhere in the middle (measured from underarm to underarm), and spent some time calculating the rest. My daughter suggested making the sleeves extra long, so they could be folded. I therefore added a few inches to the sleeve length.

The Foundation

I cut and sewed the entire piece out of a pretty flannel-like fabric I had in my stash, to create a foundation layer. That was my canvas.

The Patching

My sewing room wasn’t big enough for this project, and therefore for the next several days I took over our living room floor. I lay the foundation piece down, and started arranging patches over it, much like I did with my artsy pouches. I used mostly pieces from tattered pants belonging to family members, but also added a few vintage Japanese fabrics I bought in Nara, as well as matching bits from my stash. For the back, I chose a central panel I found at FabMo a while back.

When organizing the patches, I tried to balance the colors, tones and patterns as I do with a quilt or bag. Once I was happy with an arrangement, I pinned the pieces down.

I went on doing this for several days, arranging, moving, rearranging. Finally, I finished covering the entire foundation, and was satisfied with how it looked.

I moved the entire mess out from the living room and back into my sewing corner, to my family’s great relief!

The Sewing

The next stage was machine sewing the patches down onto the foundation fabric. That was when I realized my first mistake. I secured most patches on with one or two pins. When I tried to put the large mass of fabric on my sewing table, I had to fold it into a bundle so it would fit. The patches folded and moved, and the pins caught other pieces/layers creating a huge, uncontrollable blob of very heavy fabric…

Untangling the whole thing took quite some time, and was accompanied by words unfit for print…

If I were to ever do this again, I wouldn’t sew a foundation for the entire garment. Rather, I would cut and patch each individual piece separately, before putting them together in the end. Also, I would probably use safety pins, and more than one or two per patch…

I sewed and zigzagged around every single patch, much as I did with the artsy pouches. When all the patches were securely fastened onto the foundation, I embarked on the fun part of the project: hand stitching.

Hand Stitching

I used both pearl cotton thread and embroidery floss, and covered the patches with a web of Sashiko-style stitches. I took my time with this, doing a bit each day. My hands still hurt from stitching through the thick fabrics of my latest art quilt (and from lots of spring pruning), so I didn’t want to over-do it. I stitched for about a week and a half, enjoying the quiet moments, the meditative nature of the slow work…

The hard part was deciding when to stop. Which patches needed more stitching? When is enough enough? Can there be too many stitches?

The Lining

When I started this project, I wasn’t planning to make a lining. I thought that the foundation layer would function as the inside of the garment. That’s why I chose a nice fabric for that. But as I was working, I realized that the inner fabric doesn’t go too well with the outer layer. Also, it didn’t look great with all the stitches visible. So I decided to add a separate lining, and happened to have the perfect fabric for that: a beautiful red cotton with an Indian-like pattern.

Taking a break from stitching, I cut and sewed the lining. I tried it on, and … nearly had a heart attack! When my arms were up, you see, it was absolutely perfect. But when I put my hands down, the sleeves under the armpits scrunched terribly!

I calmed down only after consulting with fellow-sewists in some of my Facebook groups, when I realized that that’s just the way it is with kimonos…

Were I to do this again, I would consider a more fitted, Western-style sleeve, to eliminate some of that bulk. This is less noticeable with thin fabrics such as silk, and more so with thicker fabrics.

Putting It All Together

I could hardly sleep the night before I sewed it together. I was excited and anxious all at once. In the morning, I drank enough coffee to make sure I’m fully awake, then pinned everything together with shaking hands. I didn’t stop to take pictures. Putting the outer layer and lining right sides together, I sewed as if this were a bag. With lots of experience attaching bags to linings, I thought I knew what I was doing… I left a “birthing” space as I would in a bag, and turned the entire thing right side out.

That was when I discovered that jackets can’t be sewn like bags, and that I made a big mess out of it… I almost laughed, it was really quite ridiculous! Except I was too upset and almost cried…

Were I to do this again, I wouldn’t assume a jacket can be sewn like a bag… I would do my homework first, and learn how to attach a lining to a jacket BEFORE actually trying it…

Seam Ripper to the rescue. He was my best buddy that morning. We spent a LONG time together, he and I.

I ended up sewing the sleeve ends together by hand. I just couldn’t figure out how to do it right on the machine, and it was quicker that way. It also felt like I had more control.

Were I to do this again, I would certainly make sure I know how to do this correctly BEFORE I actually start… Spending a little time on research would have saved me the LONG time I spent unpicking…

Still, I finished my new jacket! It feels solid and heavy. The lining feels great on the skin. It’s warm! And it has long sleeves I can fold, to give it the cute look my daughter wanted it to have.

Things I’d Improve

Were I to do it again, I would change the shape of the collar to a straight line or a “v.” The collar as is sits a bit strange. I would also add a pocket or two. I decided against pockets as I was designing it, mostly because I didn’t want to detract from the patches and the Sashiko stitching. However, I regretted that decision the very first time I wore it… Lastly, I would make the jacket a little bit wider (underart to underarm). It fits me perfectly, but is too small for my daughters, who are just slightly bigger than me, eliminating future hand-me-down options…

This jacket took almost two weeks to make, but I really enjoyed the process, not to mention the end result. I hope it inspires you to make one for yourself! If you do, make sure to show me a picture!

 

My Father’s Jeans: The Story Behind My Boro-inspired Jacket

The last time I visited my father, in January of last year, I noticed a pile of folded jeans in a corner.

It turned out that these were worn-out jeans that my dad kept around just in case. He loved upcycling, and always found good uses for torn jeans. He used them to patch other pieces of clothing, for example, or to bind books. These jeans were one of many types of raw materials he kept around, for as-need-arises future use.

I had some free time that visit, and my hands felt empty. So I asked if I could have a piece of one of those jeans. I wanted to have some fabric to stitch on, to keep my fingers busy. My father gave me the entire pile.

I started working on a boro project, and kept working on it after I returned home, too. I decided to make a boro-style tote bag, and got as far as this:

Then, in March, my father passed away without warning. Just like that, the tattered pants he gave me turned from useful raw materials into sacred relics.

The boro project I began working on while visiting him moved to my Unfinished Project Pile and stayed there. The yet-unused pile of my father’s jeans remained on my cutting table, untouched, for several months.

I couldn’t look at them. Definitely couldn’t touch them. I could barely do anything at all anyway. Eventually, I exiled them to a far corner of my sewing room.

Several months later, my mom asked me to make her a small essentials pouch. I was happy to oblige. Once I started, I decided to add a small piece of my father’s jeans, one I had already cut out for the boro-patch project. I thought my mom would like to carry something of my dad’s with her. Even though I knew perfectly well that he was always with her anyway, as he is with me.

My mom was happy with her bag, and let me borrow it a few times when I visited her. That got me thinking…

As the year anniversary of my father’s passing drew near, I embarked on the most ambitious boro project I have ever attempted.

I cut and took apart some of my father’s jeans.

For color variation, I added darker pieces from my husband’s and son’s torn pants, as well as pieces of vintage Japanese fabric I bought in Nara when I visited Japan a couple of years ago. I also threw in some fabric from my stash.

I started to think of it as a family-love project, and wanted to add pieces from my daughters’ jeans as well. As it turned out, however, all the worn-out girl pants I had contained stretch, and were therefore unsuitable for a jacket. So I stuck with fabric salvaged from clothing belonging to my three favorite boys (I would have added something from my brother, too, except I didn’t have any).

I sewed and stitched for days on end. Since my hands still hurt from stitching Lavender Morning (as well as from a lot of spring pruning I did at the same time), I made sure not to over do it. I stitched a bit each day, measuring my work not in minutes or hours, but rather in stitches and patches. Hand stitching is a quiet, meditative work. It is medicine for aching hearts. In the year that passed since my father passed away, it really helped me grieve and restrain the pain. I savored every moment of it.

The anniversary of my dad’s passing drew near, and with every passing day my boro jacket was a bit closer to completion. Then, just on time, it was finished.

I don’t need a jacket to remind me of my father. He is in my thoughts constantly, every single day. But it will be nice, on the anniversary of his death, a few short days from now, to have something physical to cuddle. To have something of his embrace me.

Heavy and warm, this jacket will wrap me in a big hug. A big hug from the three most important men in my life: my son, my husband and my father.