My First Art Troll

Last week I wrote about the amazing Christmas market in Cusco, and mentioned the beautiful trolls we saw (and bought) there. Well, while at the market I made the mistake of telling my family something like “I can make those!” My kids (and my husband) have a tendency to remember such things, and so, as soon as we came home, they started nagging: “When will you make a troll?”

I had lots of other things to do, however. But every now and then the question came up again: “Can you make a troll?” After a while, they even started doubting: “Can you make a troll?” Ah. Now THAT was a challenge! Of course I can make a troll!

The thing was, I never made an art doll in my life. And although I played with polymer clay as a kid and sculpted as a teenager, I haven’t really touched much clay in decades (except for a short wheel-throwing class, which was an entirely different beast altogether).

So I did some research. I even learned some new vocabulary: words like armature for wire skeletons, for example. And then, one day, when the kids had no school and I couldn’t sew, I decided the time has come to try making a troll.

I started by drawing the approximate size on paper, then made a wire armature according to that.

Using a ball of crumpled aluminum foil as the base, I sculpted the face, with glass eyes I found on eBay.

I bulked the body up with aluminum foil, as in the tutorials I found online, then with whatever other materials I had on hand.

Choosing some of the more earthy fabrics in my vast collection, I dressed him up in rustic-style clothes. I made him a cape from a Viking drape I made for my son’s fourth birthday. Then I gave him some hair, using fake fur that was left over from decorative pillows I made for my daughter a couple of months ago.

Some nice folks on Facebook helped me choose a name for him. Let me introduce Sir Howard Fergus Ghingus Troll The Magnificent!

I was especially happy with how detailed his hands turned out:

And here he is, getting acquainted with our Peruvian Troll (nameless as of yet):

I think I’m almost ready to make him some new friends 🙂

Cleaning Up a Sewing Room Has Its Dangers…

After writing last week’s post, I decided it was time to sort through my sewing room. I took advantage of it being a long weekend, and hired my teenage daughter to help with this daunting task. I didn’t expect her to be enthusiastic to the point of waking me up at dawn on a Sunday morning. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. My day thus started on the wrong foot. Luckily, a few cups of coffee miraculously brought it back on track…

We began by moving everything from the sewing room’s floor out into the living room. This truly-tedious work took a few hours. It resulted in a huge mess on the living room’s floor. It also exhausted my daughter. So much so, in fact, that she had to take a long break from which she never recovered. Yes, I’m afraid she abandoned me mid-way, leaving me to deal with the rest of the cleanup all on my own…

Once all my treasured were out, I took some of the furniture out as well, and gave the room a good vacuuming. Gone were all the bits of thread and fabric snippets! The carpet suddenly looked so very bright!

Then I sat down for hours of sorting. It felt a bit like doing laundry: sitting amid piles of textiles, and sorting them by kind and size:

When I was done (a day later), I put everything back where it actually belonged: inside a cabinet, on a shelf, or in a bin. I then put the furniture back in, except I changed its placement a little, clearing up space I didn’t realize I could have. All of a sudden the room looked a lot more spacious, and working in it became significantly more pleasant!

I managed to reduce my UFO piles to two. I put them where I can clearly see them, so that they don’t disappear under future clutter:

Those, by the way, don’t include the almost-complete Renaissance Totes of which I wrote last week (these are waiting patiently on the bed).

Tidying up the space, however, had some dangers. It allowed me to see all the bits and pieces I almost forgot I had, and reminded me of things I wanted to make but didn’t get to. In addition, it also opened some brand new possibilities!

It so happened that in one part of the room I found a bag containing a few pieces of Peruvian Weaving that I bought at a Christmas Market in Cusco on my last trip to Peru:

On the other side of the room I came across a pile of beautiful velveteen fabrics I found at FabMo:

It’s not my fault that the colors happened to match…

I found the vivid colors absolutely irresistible. So yes, I admit I let myself get sidetracked this week. Instead of plowing ahead finishing unfinished projects, I started a new series of Peruvian Weaving Totes. I’ll try to finish those next week, so I can get back to the Renaissance Totes now waiting on the bed 🙂

On Creative Clutter and Productivity

I admit that the clutter in my sewing room is a bit out of control. Getting in and out requires acrobatic maneuvering. Various projects in different stages of completion are piled everywhere, sitting next to piles of fabric and boxes of zippers, hardware and buttons. There are only narrow lanes in between, to give me access to my sewing machine, the cutting table and the ironing board–the three essential stations for any sewing activity. Things are so bad, in fact, that I’m actually ashamed to post a picture of the room for you to see.

That was why I made a New Year’s Resolution to finish all the unfinished items before I start any new ones. It’s been incredibly difficult, but I’ve been working hard to meet that goal. I’ve been fighting a flow of new ideas, and resisting strong urges for new experiments. Instead, I’ve been tackling one pile after the other, even when a pile calls for the less-exciting aspects of creating. So far I’ve been making slow-but-steady progress. And that despite the many distractions that life keeps throwing my way, such as mid-winter gardening, sick kids, or a never-ending array of school vacations.

I already finished most half-started messenger bags. I spent a couple of weeks ironing heavy interfacing onto new market totes, even though I strongly dislike that particular task.

When the market totes were done, I spent another workday or two hand-stitching the corners of the outer shells to the lining (another tedious task), so that everything remains stable.

I was happy with the results, however, especially with this one:

And seeing the finished pile gave me much satisfaction!

Once the market totes were done, I moved on to the pile of unfinished Renaissance Totes. These are my most luxurious items, and the ones I like making most. I keep my most lavish-feeling fabrics for them, and line them with the most beautiful silk-blends and brocades I can find. Collecting the right fabrics for each takes months, sometimes. The last time I sewed those was over a year ago, and in the meantime I collected beautiful textiles to construct several new ones. Over the last week I pieced together a few outer shells, and matched some with lining:

I also started sewing the outer shells of some:

Sewing the pocket-rich linings will take a couple of more weeks, along with the final completion.

So, as you can see, definite progress. However, a funny thing keeps happening as I work on all these: the more piles I tackle, the more new piles emerge. I don’t quite know how this happens. It’s a true mystery. Magic, perhaps; or wicked sorcery…

It is possible that my love of fabrics has something to do with it. Last week, for example, my daughter asked me to go to FabMo to get something for her. She didn’t have to ask twice! I went to get this:

And returned with that:

And since my fabric cabinets have been full for a while … Well, needless to say that most of it ended up in piles…

My kids claim I have a fabric addiction. I say I need a palette to work with… They say my studio is a disaster. I agree with the following:

Often, seeing a couple of fabrics randomly lying next to each other gives me new ideas. Seeing my raw materials out in the open opens up an entirely new array of possibilities… In the clutter I find combinations I haven’t thought of. I get ideas for new designs, or even new products. Thus, although I find the mess distracting, it is also inspiring all at the same time.

Yesterday we had a little family conversation, and I ended up getting an earful from my children. They suggested putting a quota on the new fabrics I’m allowed to bring in (!!). The kids argued I should not buy any new fabrics unless I get rid of old ones. They even brought up the idea of imposing a tariff on fabrics!

So maybe it’s time to be a good parent and lead by example. Perhaps I should take time off sewing and tidy the room up instead… As for limiting new acquisitions … well, that might be a wee bit more difficult…


A New Year in My Studio: Trying to Finish Partially-sewn Projects

I’m not quite done writing about my trip to Peru, but I thought I’ll take a break from that to tell you a little about what I’ve been up to in my sewing room.

Transitions are always hard for me. It usually takes me a while to get back into a routine after going on a trip. Especially a trip as exciting as the one I took this winter. So after coming home from the Andes in early January, I warmed up my sewing muscles by making a few new toiletry bags. Zip pouches are relatively simple to make, and are a quicker sew than my more complicated bags. They were a great project for getting my creative juices flowing!

This time I decided to experiment with using foamed-filled fabrics for some of the bottoms. I love the result, as the foam gives the bags a nice shape in addition to fun textures!

Since valentine’s Day is approaching, I then went on to make new original fabric heart-cards. These are always fun to create. This year I made them in three different colors: red, blue, and my favorite purple!

Here are the red ones:

The fabrics I used for the cards inspired me to make a wall hanging, too:

When this fun part was over, I was ready to tackle some less-pleasant tasks. Over the past couple of years, you see, I accumulated big piles of partly-finished projects. These are now taking up a lot of space in my small, messy sewing room. They make moving around hard, and concentrating even harder.

I began working on these projects at various times, and didn’t finish them either because guests arrived before I got to it (my sewing room is also our guest room), or because we went on vacation, and I never got back to them upon return. I usually have so many ideas for new things I want to make, that unless I finish something right away, I never do…

But a new year just started, and I thought that this was a good reason to try and finish these partially-finished things. In the past, I started the year by cleaning up my sewing room, but this time I can’t do that unless I move the unfinished piles into the finished-work bins…

I started with a couple of messenger bags and a tote. The bag on the upper left is my very own long-awaited-for summer purse:

I still have a few more messenger bags to finish, as well as market totes and my absolute-favorite Renaissance Totes. There is also an eclipse-inspired art quilt that I started last year, and a twin-size bed quilt for my daughter that has been waiting, sandwiched and ready to quilt, for at least four years (!!!).

I guess I have my work cut out for me for the next few months… It’s hard to keep disciplined, because a million-and-one new ideas are calling. But I will do my best to keep on course. Wish me luck!


A New Year in My Studio: My Renewed Studio Organizing Efforts

I returned from my travels energized and ready to work. So after a few days of unpacking and many loads of laundry, I eagerly walked into my sewing room … only to be overwhelmed by the mess:

Messy studio before reorganizing

As I mentioned a while back, I sew in our guest room, which only a little over a year ago served many family functions. At that time, it was good enough for occasional quilting, but, as I quickly discovered, was completely unsuitable for more intense sewing. In the ensuing months, therefore, I did my best to make the room more sewing-friendly. First, I evicted my daughter’s’ piano. Then I raided IKEA and purchased perfectly-sized cabinets to hold my growing stacks of fabric. I built them and painted them together with my kids, and was very happy with the result. Before long my studio organizing efforts bore fruit: I turned the room into a me-only zone (except for when we had guests), and warned the kids  against treading on anything important. It worked. For a while, anyway.

In my defense I must note that the room is rather small. Or at least–the portion of it that I can actually use. The bed alone takes more than half the space. The rest of the room accommodates my sewing table, cutting table (which is also a guest desk), my sewing/desk chair and the rocking chair, which our guests like using when here. When I set the ironing board up, I hardly have any space to move.

When I look at pictures of other people’s spacious studios, I get somewhat envious. But this little room is all I have, and all I am going to have in the foreseeable future. And I actually like it, really, with its warm, cozy feeling and it’s big windows overlooking the garden. I just have to make it work.

Over the last few months I realized that I don’t only need places to store my raw fabrics and materials, but also places to put the different projects I’m working on. I tend to work on several things simultaneously, and so almost all the time have products in various stages of productions. When I work on journal covers, for example, I work on a few at once. I have some that are cut and ready to sew, others that are partially sewn and ready to iron. I have those that already have interfacing, but which need a button. Others already have buttons but are waiting for loops. And each of these stages requires a little pile of its own. Over time, the piles multiply, my kids add torn things for me to fix, and in no time there is, once again, a ginormous mess.

Alas, there is no space for more cabinets or shelves in this room. In the last couple of weeks, therefore, I chose the next best thing. I ventured to Target, returning with a few clear plastic boxes and some plastic drawers. Normally, I don’t like plastic, but these seemed to be the best solution. I spent many days tidying, sorting, organizing and labeling. As a result, I managed to utilize every tiny space in the room. I put matched-and-waiting-to-be-cut fabrics in plastic boxes under the bed :

Underbed storage bins

Cut fabrics waiting to be sewn I stored under the cutting table:

New undertable plastic drawers to organize fabric

When I was done with my studio organizing all my materials had a permanent home, and the room looked a lot neater. Granted, I will still need the floor for bigger items, but at least I will have a place to put things when necessary. And I am working on some work-related New Year’s Resolutions, to help keep it all under control… For now, I can see the carpet again, and have space to breath. And that alone feels great! A new year, an organized studio!

Finally organized! Installing and Stocking My Fabric Cabinets

It took a while, but I am happy to report that I finally finished my new fabric cabinets!

After building, staining, and letting them dry, we finally moved them into my sewing room. We set them up in the alcove, where the piano used to be, and they fit perfectly! Since I put them together stair-like, they don’t feel bulky, and don’t suffocate the narrow entrance. Their light color matches the other furniture in the room, and helps keep the space airy and bright-feeling.

I spent a couple of days loading them up with all my sewing materials. My different-sized pieces of fabric all fit in nicely, as if the cabinets were custom-made just for them:

I couldn’t be happier!! Thank you, IKEA! Finally, a well-organized studio 🙂

Now, Knowing myself, I’m sure the room won’t stay tidy for long–when I sew, I need too many things all at once. Furthermore, there is hardly any space in my sewing room to put partially-sewn projects. As a result, there is no better place than the carpet to lay out my work-in-progress. But at least now I will not have to move everything out of the room (which is also our guest room) once guests visit again. One hour of tidying up should do it.

Almost There… Finishing my Fabric Cabinets

We really need rain here in drought-stricken California. It was wonderful to get a few days of good precipitation last week. The plants in my garden are happier than I’ve seen them in years! Still, it was nice to get a break from the rain over the weekend. My new fabric cabinets were already put together, so I was able to take advantage of the dry weather to take them outside and paint them with three layers of a transparent coating.

Painting my fabric cabinets

I was hesitant to leave them out overnight. In the morning, however, I found only a couple of Kamikaze-bugs glued to the veneer.

Staining my fabric cabinets

I managed to scrape them off without causing too much damage 🙂 My fabric cabinets are almost ready to go back to my studio!

Cabinet Building! Creating Fabric Storage

The mess in my sewing room got out of control. I realized I had no choice but to add adequate fabric storage. This was the only way to get rid of all the piles, and turn the room into a functional textile art studio. After some internet research (more like MANY hours of internet research, actually), I found OK-looking (and affordable) cabinets at IKEA. These were exactly the size I was looking for–wide and deep enough to hold all my different-sized fabrics, yet still small enough to fit into my sewing-room’s alcove. I raided the store this last weekend, and returned home with my loot: three large IVAR cabinets!

My kids and I spent the weekend getting them ready. As it turned out, all those lego sets I bought over the years proved to be a great investment. The children were well prepared for the real-life challenge of putting IKEA cabinets together! In addition, I’m quite sure that that carpentry camp a couple of summers ago didn’t hurt, either 🙂

It was heart-warming to see the children working together and cooperating instead of squabbling, for a change. A shame we don’t need to build furniture every week…