Two Really Big, Giant, Oversized Totes

You might already know that I draw much of my inspiration from the textiles I find. When I choose fabrics, I only pick ones that appeal to me. Those include textiles with pleasing colors, interesting designs, and, just as importantly–nice textures. The way a piece of fabric FEELS really matters to me because some fabrics are just … not that nice to handle…

I have a room-full of beautiful textiles (as you probably know if you’ve been following my uphill battles to keep them tidy). I like them all (or most of them, anyway), but every now and then I find a piece that is really extra ordinary. Sometimes I know what to make out of it right away. Other times it sits there, waiting, for months or even years.

This is what happened with these two beautiful pieces I purchased from FabMo over a year ago:

They seemed to have come from the same design line, so I knew I’d have to use them in similar ways, but I just wasn’t quite sure what to use them FOR. They were rather large: 18″ x 18″, had a Persian-art feel, and told the story of a hunt. As a vegetarian, I’m not a supporter of hunts, but as a historian I am just a sucker for stories… And I could still appreciate the aesthetics of the fabric…

So there they sat, in one of my piles, waiting patiently. Until I re-tidied my fabric cabinet last week, and re-discovered them once more. This time I had just spent a week sewing totes.  When I saw them again I just knew that the only way to show their true beauty would be by making them, too, into totes.

I didn’t have the heart to cut them up, though, because that would have cut parts of the story off. So I set out to sew the biggest totes I have ever made.

I first found complimenting fabrics to frame them with:

Then made sure the back would compliment the front:

I found matching linings in solid colors that would not compete with the center-pieces, and made sure to put in many pockets, thinking that whoever needs such big bags could probably use the pockets to organize their things in.

People have been asking me to add zippers as tote closures, so I did that with the first tote:

But the zipper didn’t allow the tote to fully open. Also, I found it made the inside, already pretty deep, look rather dark:

And so, even though I already made a top zipper for the second tote, I decided to leave it off, for now:

The result are two beautiful totes (in my opinion, at least :-)), but they are really, truly GINORMOUS. 14″ wide x 21″ high x 6″ deep, to be exact.

They will be great for people who need oversized totes. Whether such people will come to my next craft show remains to be seen 🙂

The Nagamachi Yuzen-kan Silk-Painting Museum in Kanazawa, Japan

During our summer trip to Japan we visited many of the country’s famous attractions. Every now and then, through, I dragged my kids a little off the beaten pass to see some textile-related wonders. This is how, during our visit to Kanazawa, we ended up in the Nagamachi Yuzen-kan Silk-Painting Museum.

Housed in a modern, indistinct building in the Nagamachi district, the museum was a bit hard to find. Although not big, it was very informative, and is a worthy stop for any textile-loving tourist. The first room in the museum depicts the process of silk painting, describing each stage of the process in both Japanese and English (!). The second room displays some spectacular samples. The museum also has a small gift shop that sells some hand-painted items.

Hand-dyed silk is a work of art that requires many hours of work by several highly-skilled artisans. Since I assume some of you might not be able to visit the museum, I thought I’d give you a virtual tour. All the explanations  below are based on the signs in the museum.

Room One: The Stages of Painting Silk

The Kaga Yuzen designs combine traditional design elements with the artist’s observations of nature. Each design starts with a pencil sketch on paper, in the same size it will eventually appear on the finished product.

Once finished, skilled artisans trace the design onto white silk. They do this with fine brushes and blue ink, and use a steady hand to draw flowing, evenly-thin and quick lines.

Then, artisans apply a thin line of rice paste onto the sketch. They put the paste into a Japanese paper tube with a brass tip, and squeeze it out (similar to how many of us decorate cakes). After they cover all the lines with paste, they spray the silk with water and then let the paste dry.

Once dry, specialized artisans paint the design with fine brushes. It takes seven years to learn the technique, ten years to refine it, and a hundred (!!) kimonos to practice it on…

When the design in all painted, artisans carefully cover it with rice paste before moving on to dye the background color. They have to do this with great precision, so that no white patches are left.

After they cover the design with paste, the artisans dip the silk into soy bean juice to prepare it for absorbing the background dye.

A day later they use large brushes made of deer hair to evenly apply the background color. They let the color dry slowly, and repeat the dyeing several time to achieve an even dye.

Then, they put the silk in a large steamer for about an hour to set the colors. This, too, requires skill and experience.

After steaming, people immerse the cloth in water to wash off the remaining paste and access dye.

And the fabric is finished!

Artisans use the painted silk to make screens or sew kimonos.

This first room had a little staging area for visitors to make-believe and take pictures. I couldn’t resist 🙂 My kids love it, too!

Room Two: Some Amazing Finished Examples

The second room in the museum, as I mentioned above, has some exquisite samples of both painted screens and kimonos.

Japanese buy a hand-painted kimono for several tens of thousands of dollars (!!), mostly for special occasions like weddings.

2018 Pacific International Quilt Festival

I love seeing exhibitions of quilts in museums, and enjoy visiting quilt museums. Those  usually provide contemplative, intimate experiences, by allowing the visitor to examine quilts up close while surrounded by a peaceful quiet.

Quilt shows, however, are an entirely different beast. Crowded, noisy, brightly-lit and packed-full with amazing works of art and an array of booths, quilt shows are a sensual overload.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the 2018 Pacific International Quilt Festival at the Santa Clara Conventions Center. I came out exhausted and energized at the same time. The show displays a huge array of quilts of many different kinds and techniques, made by people from all over the world. It gives a glimpse of human creativity that is truly inspiring!

I was awed by many quilts at this show, and wish I could shown you all of them. Sadly, I can only share a few here. Choosing which ones was not easy!

Some quilts had elaborate patterns and intricate quilting. This is “Majestic Mosaic” by Joyce Payment:

And this is “Marie’s Treasure” by Marilyn Badger:

And up close:

Karen Eaton Garth’s “Reborn” had truly impressive quilting as well:

“Exploring Colour” by Catherine McDonald had beautiful stitching with a different flavor:

And up close:

Sandi Stone’s “The Thread and Nothing but the Thread” was a very different kind of quilt. Hers was made not of patched fabric but .. of quilted thread!

As you can see up close:

Kimberly Lacy’s “Sunset on Coyote Buttes Mosaic” truly did look like a mosaic, and probably incorporated fabric paint:

Some quilts were magical. This is “Do Dragons Like Cookies” by Tanya Brown:

There were many impressive quilts of animals, such as Leigh Layton’s “Jag,” which included a lot of machine embroidery:

“Sisters/Best Friends” by Sandra L. Mollon:

“Keeping Up Appearances” by Jan Reed:

Or “Heron’s garden” by Susan Smith:

I also liked the shredded fabric that Hiroko Soeta used to create “Peacock:”

There were quilts that used traditional imagery from other parts of the world. This is “African Sunset” by Claire Wallace:

Some were modern, like Ziva Keidar’s “Movements Catalog:”

Pat Archibald’s “Hong Kong:”

Or Kristin Shields “Rhythm of the Rails:”

There were even political quilts made by high school students:

Some quilts were fun and whimsical, like “Strut Your Stuff” by Sheila Collins:

“Portrait: Holiday Relatives” by Lynn Dinelli (who was even there!):

“Face by Ahni” by Eleanor Balaban and Marina Baudoin:

And there was even a quilt of a quilt show: “Show Time!” by Cynthia England:

One of the quilts that impressed me most was “Reflections of Cape Town,” which took Cynthia England a year and 8,400 fabric pieces to make! This is me admiring this quilt:

And the quilt itself, which could be mistaken for a photo from afar:

And up close:

Even the back of this masterpiece was pretty!

Did I give you enough reasons to go? If not, perhaps mentioning the many vendor booths might help: quilt lovers, you can find everything here, from thread to fabric to patterns to machines to finished artworks, and even clothes and accessories!

The show runs through Sunday (Oct. 14th), so if you’re in the Bay Area and have time to spare this weekend, make sure to go!

ANY Texture’s Gray and Red Period

It’s that time of year again… Teachers are rejoicing, school kids are elated, and parents … well, parents are flooded with mixed emotions, I guess. Yep. The last day of school is upon us!

Next week my kids will be home full time. I’m looking forward to spending the long summer days with them. I’m old enough to realize how fast the years go by, and to appreciate every moment we still have together. But that also means I need to wrap up my sewing, which makes me a little sad. My many partially-conceptualized, half-started, unfinished, and almost-completed projects will all have to wait for fall. Sewing Season is over. Summers are for family.

So this week I’ve been busy finishing up one last thing: my throw pillow series. When they were all completed, I noticed a recurring pattern.

If you’ve seen my work, you know I love colors. Strong, vibrant colors in non-primary hues. I love purples, maroons, magentas, mustards and teals, to name some. But lately, it seems, I also started liking the combination of black, grays and terracotta-reds.

I think it started with my Dare! quilt:

Dare! My New Moths and Butterfly Quilt

Then I made a mini-messenger bag in that combination:

This was followed by a cross-body bag in those same colors:

A while later, I found a beautiful piece of textile in … you guessed it: black and red!

I sewed it into a Renaissance Tote, and really loved how it turned out!

Slowly, small scraps in blacks, grays and reds, leftovers from all of the above projects, started accumulating on my sewing room’s floor. Consequently, I started playing with them. I just couldn’t help it:

They ended up as cute, small artsy messenger bags:

When I made my unisex messenger bags, I realized I was still enjoying the same combination:

The pile of scraps kept growing. All the accumulated pieces gave birth to my latest new collection of gray-and-red patchwork throw pillows, the ones I finished this week:

I suppose you could call the first half of 2018 my “Gray and Red Period” 🙂

Wishing you all a wonderful, restful summer!

Unisex Urban Messenger Bags

When I first sojourned into the bag-making world, I mostly enjoyed sewing messenger bags. Over the last couple of years, however, I found myself making less and less of them. Earlier this year, I finished some messenger bags as part of my efforts to reduce the piles of Unfinished Projects (UFOs), but those were designed along with my early work, and were already cut and ready for sewing. I haven’t designed new ones in a while.

Well, a few weeks ago I set about to tidy up my sewing room. I found a piece of sample fabric swatches that I really liked. Their pattern and colors stood out to me, so I started playing around with them. I realized that the best way to do them justice will be by making them into messenger-bag flaps.There were four flaps in the end, all made from the same fabrics, but in different color combinations. I then set them aside.

This week, winter returned with a spell of gray days accompanied by downpours of rain and even some hail. I was in a gray mood. It was the perfect setting to work on some gray messenger bags!

The flaps were mostly finished, but didn’t have closures. To me, their pattern felt very urban, modern and edgy. I sewed them to be rough on the edges, with a somewhat unfinished look. To match that city look, I decided to give them swivel-hook closures. I also added some top stitching, to make the underside of each flap a little piece of abstract art:

Each flap I matched with a solid fabric for the body, in a color that made its own colors pop out. I sewed the outer shells:

Then the linings:

Before I was about to connect the outer shells to the linings, I realized, to my horror, that I was very low on black thread…

Amazon to the rescue! But I still held my breath as I was stitching them together…

The thread barely lasted through the last stitch!

There still wasn’t enough thread to finish the straps, however, so I had to wait a day for my Amazon parcel to arrive. But the wait was worth it, as I’m very happy with how this collection turned out 🙂

And since I was already in a gray mood anyway, and had a brand new spool of black thread to boot, I went on to make a couple of gray and red artsy sling bags as well:

I plan to put them all up in my Etsy store over the next couple of days, so make sure to check it out!

Off Track, Again… But Isn’t It Fun?!

The days are too short. Or maybe it’s that the weeks aren’t long enough. Either way, I seem to blink, and it’s Friday again… My to-do lists never get shorter. My project piles never shrink. And the many, many ideas in my head just keep accumulating, waiting for a right moment that never comes.

Can you tell I’ve been busy? Both in the sewing room and out. There are kids to drive around, school events to go to, groceries to buy and meals to cook. And then there’s a house, a garden, and always, ALWAYS laundry… Despite it all, I managed to sew quite a bit in the last couple of weeks, and that’s the part I want to tell you about today.

Cleaning up my sewing room a few weeks ago turned out to be somewhat problematic. It’s true that I greatly enjoy the extra space and added cleanliness. However, allowing myself to bend my New Year’s resolution got me off track. I am really happy with how my Peruvian Tapestry Totes turned out. Working on them, though, cracked the dam that held my creativity at bay. The result? A flood of new ideas, unchecked excitement, new experimentation and a bunch of new projects… I just can’t help it! So, sadly, I made only a tiny dent in my original UFO piles, but then added quite a few new projects to make them significantly taller…

When you sew, you see, there are scraps. And when scraps accumulate, they start giving you ideas… For me, there is nothing better than sitting on the carpet surrounded by fabrics. Beautiful fabrics, in different colors, shapes, and sizes. And when this happens, I start playing, matching, designing…

Don’t these pieces look great together? They will make a gorgeous new sling bag.

And these, I just HAD to sew into a flap (for another cute, spring-colored sling):

These are flaps for messenger-bags-to-be. They started their journey as a sample that caught my eye on FabMo’s wall. They looked so amazing together that I just couldn’t resist… And yes, I will sew the rest of them, eventually…

Then I made a cross body bag for a friend, and happened to notice a few other pieces that also wanted to become cross body bags. So I let them. I love them all, but especially this one:

I DID work on some linings for previously-sewn shells (i.e.–UFOs), but these require many steps and take a while to make:

In the midst of all this, I also took a couple of days’ detour to make a custom tote for a special lady:

Ah, and there’s the troll. But he deserves his very own post, another day 🙂

My New Peruvian Tapestry Totes

As you might recall, at the beginning of the year I resolved to finish all the many half-started projects that clogged my sewing room. I decided not to allow myself to sew anything new before I reached that goal. At first, I stayed on course, and slowly tackled one pile after the other. But then my family guilted me into cleaning the room up. In the process of doing that, I found some treasures that turned out to be irresistible. Without really wanting to, I got sidetracked…

In one corner of my sewing room, you see, I found a little plastic bag containing five pieces of hand-woven tapestries I bought in Peru. On the other side I stumbled upon a pile of beautiful, vividly-colored velveteens I got at FabMo. The two piles just happened to match perfectly. How could I not do something about that?

When in Peru, I was blown away by the beautiful hand-woven and naturally-dyed tapestries I saw everywhere. I bought a table-runner or two, but was having a hard time finding tapestries to use in my own work. Most of the pieces I saw were quite big, and I wasn’t sure whether I could cut them without completely damaging them. They were also very pricey. Using such costly textiles would have required hiking the prices of my own bags to more than what most people can afford. So I didn’t buy anything to sew with.

Until, that is, I visited the most amazing Christmas market I’ve ever been to. The Christmas market in Cusco had a mind-boggling array of booths, with some incredible handicrafts. Several of these booths sold small tapestries in the size I was looking for. Unfortunately, most were made of commercially-dyed acrylics. Although some were pretty, I decided to pass them over. Then I stumbled upon a booth with some naturally-dyed woolen tapestries that stopped me in my tracks.

The seller showed me a handful of small tapestries, the likes of which I haven’t seen anywhere else (you can see them in the above picture, on the very left, right above the shoes). Of those, I chose five that I found the most appealing (yes, in hindsight I DO regret not buying them all!). I purchased them without knowing what to do with them. When I came home, I put them in my sewing room for future use.

I re-discovered them while tidying up.

When I saw them, I immediately thought of the bright-colored fabrics I got at FabMo, piled on the other side of the room. Together, they were just begging to be turned into totes! So I started playing around.

Since the tapestries were gorgeous works of art all on their own, I wanted them to be the focus of the work. Because they were very colorful, I decided to match them with solid-colored fabrics that would frame and highlight them.

I’ve never worked with wool before (since I’m actually allergic to it!), and have never sewn through tapestries. I wasn’t sure how this would work, or whether my sewing machine will like it. It turned out not to be a problem. The tapestries acted like some of the thickest fabrics I’ve worked with, but were unremarkable in any other way.

I made the five outer pieces, then selected matching solid colors for the lining. For those, I chose rough-ish textures to go with the feel of the outer layer.

After some deliberation, I decided to sew wide black straps. These I made from a fabric that felt like a cotton-raw-silk blend.

I worked on these totes on and off for about two weeks, and am quite happy with how they turned out!

Of course, once I gave myself permission to work on new things, the flood gates opened. Especially with new scraps lying on the floor, suggesting all sorts of new possibilities… My mind has been working overtime! I think going back to working on my UFOs might prove somewhat difficult…

Looking Back On My Second Year of Art-Making

Another year sneaked by, busy, eventful, and quick. “The days are slow yet the years fly by,” a book I once read noted. How very true.

My first year of art-making was consumed by a sewing-frenzy and the excitement that came with tapping into my long-hibernating reserves of creativity. The second year was characterized by more experimentation, and was filled with lots and lots of learning.

My family, which two years ago found it difficult to adjust to my new passion, has since accepted my work as a part of life. My kids already forgot what it was like to look out onto a neat garden, get their laundry back in a timely manner, or dine daily on home-made dinners. They now help more, eat less, and wear mismatched outfits. They are also experts in unloading and loading boxes, pretending to be interested in ANY Texture news, and setting up fair booths.

Over the last year I completed the conquest of our guest room. I now deter those who try to venture in not only with threats, but also with ginormous piles of various treasures. Some claim I’m a hoarder. I say every pile has a purpose, and every little rescued item will be useful some day…

And useful indeed have these items been!

Learning the technical skills of bag making excited me the first year. By the second year, I was already proficient in that. This gave me the freedom to be more creative with my designs. I played with new combinations and experimented with additional types of bags.

True to my decision to pursue a zero-waste policy in my sewing room, I started to think of useful and beautiful things to make from my smaller scraps (I told you all those piles come handy!). I began making eyeglass cases, textile hearts, fabric greeting cards, bookmarks, and much more. Discovering the beauty of textile jewelry, I have been greatly enjoying making necklaces and bracelets as well.

I wanted to create more art quilts this year, but ended up making only one (though I did start another…). My Dare! quilt took a while to create, and called for researching the looks of moths and butterflies, and experimenting with sewing textile butterflies. Looking back, I am quite happy with how my three art quilts turned out, including the two I made at the end of last year:

This year I also familiarized myself with the other aspects of being an artist: selling online, venturing into social media, participating in fairs and joining professional associations.

Last year I opened an Etsy shop, but didn’t quite know what to do with it. I uploaded a few items and let them sit. This year, I spent more time reading and learning about what it actually takes to run such a shop. I began implementing some improvements, but realize I have a lot more work to do going forward.

I stated this blog on Blogger, but wasn’t quite happy with how it looked. So in March I opened my own WordPress website, and moved the blog over. I like the new look, and am also happy with my newly-opened independent e-commerce shop 🙂

When I opened a Facebook account last year, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I found it quite overwhelming at first. I’ve learned a lot since then, and grew to enjoy the platform’s discussions. My Facebook Page now features my own work and news from my studio, as well as interesting and inspiring works by other artists. I also use it to highlight the importance of up-cycling and reducing waste. The best part of being on Facebook, though, has been my discovery of fun groups of like-minded people. I met a lot of interesting artists online, as well as people passionate about sewing, bag-making and recycling. People’s creativity amazes me on a daily basis, and their passion inspires me greatly.

This year I discovered Pinterest, and have spent a lot more time than I should have surfing its great trove of treasures (hence the completion of only one quilt!). Check it out at your own risk! Finally, a couple of weeks ago, at the urge of my teenagers, I also joined Instagram, and am still trying to figure it out.

During my first year of making bags, I participated in two small crafts fairs. Since then I also tried a big street fair, a church holiday fair, and a handful of small school fairs. I learned a lot, but realize that I have yet more to learn. Some of it simply by doing, by trial and error.

Earlier this year I was honored to be accepted to the Textile and Fiber Art List, and become acquainted with some of the beautiful work created by other TAFA members. Check it out for some textile art inspiration!

Finally, a couple of days ago I received an exciting end-of-the-year gift: one of my sling bags was featured in the December issue of the British No Serial Number magazine (check p. 74). It felt great to see my work in print!

I am looking forward to 2018, and another year of creating, experimenting and learning. I am already drowning in ideas for new textile products, new quilts, and new designs.

Wishing you all Happy Holidays and a great new year!