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!

 

The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca, Peru

Lake Titicaca is the largest fresh-water lake in Latin America. It is located on the border of Peru and Bolivia, with Peru owning the larger part. The meaning of it’s name is unclear. The locals like to joke that Titi is for Peru, and Caca (or kaka) for Bolivia. The formal explanation is that the name possibly meant “Gray Puma” in an old local language, after the animal that used to roam the region (or maybe after the shape of the lake, which, with lots of imagination, reminds one of a puma).

Like many other tourists, we visited Lake Titicaca on our recent trip to Peru for its unique floating islands.

Why Floating Islands

According to our tour guide, the ancestors of the people now living on the floating islands, members of the Uru (or Uros) ethnicity, were fishermen living on the lake’s shores. These people realized early on that the reeds growing in the shallower parts of the lake (totora) are very buoyant when dry. They harvested them and used them to make boats.

After the Incas conquered the area and started taking men to the army, some families escaped on their boats to the middle of the lake, where the new rulers could not reach them. They began living on these boats, sustaining themselves from whatever they could get from the lake. Here is a model of one such boat:

The community grew with time, but remained in boats even after the Incas fell, to avoid suffering in the hands of the Spanish conquistadors. After several hundred years living on boats, they began building floating islands in the middle of the lake. They moved closer to shore fairly recently, in the 1980’s, with some communities remaining in the more remote parts.

How the Islands are Built

When the reeds die, their root balls detach from the bottom of the lake and float to the top. The Urus collect these root balls, and use them as the base for their islands. They put sticks in the middle of each root ball, and then use a rope to tie the different root balls to each other:

After the men tie many root balls together, they use saws and long-handled knives to cut reeds:

They pile reeds on top of the root balls, then keep piling them in different directions:

Once there are 2-3 feet of reeds covering the root balls, they use more reeds to build bases for huts, and then build reed huts to put on top, as in this model:

And there it is, a finished island:

The men add new layers to the top of the island as needed. This is what the ground looks like:

When you walk on them, the islands feel squashy and wet! In fact, the bases built under each hut are meant to keep the water away from the huts themselves.

Life on the Floating Islands

Generally, the Urus live in communities, with many islands gathered close together, around an open space of lake. There are several such clusters:

People drag and move the Islands as needed. If families in neighboring islands quarrel, for example, one of them can take their island and move it elsewhere.

Each of the islands is the home of a few families. Usually, every nuclear family has its own hut:

As you can tell, they now have solar panels to charge their cell phones (!).

There is a communal kitchen:

Men hunt and fish. The women care for the children, and cook meals, usually together. The meals consist of roots bought from the shore, as well as of fish and fowl caught on the lake:

People also eat the reeds. We were told they keep people’s teeth healthy, strong and white. The locals believe that one particular potato-like root, oca, protects them from skin cancer:

It is common for young men and women to live together before marriage. If either decides they don’t like their partner, they are free to leave and choose another mate. Once children are born, however, they usually get married.

When a young couple decides to establish their own household, the father of the family takes a saw and cuts off a chunk of the island for them to take away. They are then free to drag their new island anywhere they want.

The Uru And Tourism

A minority of Uru people still live in the middle of Lake Titicaca, far from the peering eyes of tourists. The majority, however, moved closer to shore, to make tourist access easier. In fact, it seems as if nowadays most Island People rely on tourism for a living.

As in the case of the weaving communities, what we want to believe and what actually is are not necessarily the same thing. Today, the Uru no longer need to fear Inca recruiters or conquistadors. They no longer have a real reason to stay on floating islands, save for the fact that they do not own lands on shore, and that the world seems to want them to stay there.

An entire economy relies on the existence of the islands: tourists are excited to see this different, exotic lifestyle. Numerous tourist guides, boat operators, tour agencies and so on make a living off of visiting them. Even the Peruvian government benefits from advertising their uniqueness. In fact, it feels as if the entire setting exists for the sake of tourists.

There are many islands, with many families living on them. We were told that there is a limit on the number of boats that are allowed to visit each day. The islands supposedly take turns hosting these boats. This ensures that the income that tourists bring is divided equally and fairly among the different families. We were told that each family hosts tourists once a month or so.

However, that didn’t seem to necessarily be the case. For one, we saw quite a few tourist boats scattered around the islands. This, for example, was ours:

The locals are warm and hospitable. They are also very used to guests. As our boat neared, they were waiting for us on shore, singing and dancing:

The islands are very small. Yet, props for tourist explanations take up a large, central space:

There was also a permanent-looking craft booth:

When we went to see the inside of a hut, it was too-tidy. Items for sale filled it up. Local costumes waited for tourists to try them on. I wondered whether anyone actually lived there:

At some point, our hostess began embroidering:

Within minutes of picking up the needle, her husband showed up with finished works we could buy:

Needless to say, we couldn’t really leave without getting something, another addition to the pile of textiles we will never actually use:

We paid extra to take a ride in a local “Mercedes Benz,” nicknamed that because it’s a money-maker. The “Mercedes Benzes” are reed boats, redesigned for tourists. They consist of two boats put together, often shaped like pumas, with a platform built between them. A motor boat pulls them. The locals, for their own needs, only ride motor boats.

While riding our “Mercedes,” two little boys entertained us by singing songs in foreign languages, obviously without understanding the words. When they finished singing, they walked around asking for money.

I felt as if us tourists replaced the Incas as far as keeping the Uru people on their islands. This didn’t feel good, because life on the floating islands did not seem healthy. The residents, especially the women, did not seem to be getting much exercise. There is hardly any room to walk. Women cook and embroider while mostly sitting. To leave the islands, people have to ride boats. Life is quite sedentary, and many adults are over weight.

The high elevation and glare from the water make avoiding the sun impossible. People get very tanned. The ova might not be enough to protect them from skin cancer. And the reeds didn’t seem to keep everyone’s teeth healthy, either: sadly, it seems that the younger generation doesn’t chew enough of them. The kids that sang for us, for example, had many rotten teeth, perhaps another side effect of too many tourists giving too much candy.

Cusco, Peru with Kids: Things to Do in the Capital of the Incas

Thinking of visiting Cusco, Peru with kids? I would strongly urge you to do so! The city itself can easily entertain families for a few days, and it can also serve as a comfortable base for traveling to other, nearby attractions. The following list is but a selection of what the city has to offer, and can serve as a starting point for your own explorations.

**If you plan to go and would like some tips about packing, click here.**

Things to Do

Walk Around, Get Lost, Explore

Most tourists visit the old city of Cusco, and this is the part of town I will concentrate on. This area consists of narrow lanes built around several squares. The biggest of these squares is Plaza de Armas, which once housed the palace of the Inca, as well as the palaces of the nobility and a few important temples. 

I was surprised by how similar this square was to the the one in Quito, Ecuador, which we visited last year. Except in Cusco the main square has not one, but TWO cathedrals. It is also more up-scale and tourist-oriented than the one in Quito.

As in Quito, many of the plain-looking facades along the city’s alleys hide rich and interesting interiors. There are numerous inner courtyards, now hosting boutiques, stores and restaurants. Make sure to walk into some–you never know what you might find!

As you walk down the streets, take a moment to lift your eyes from the cobblestones (only when it is safe to do so!) and look at the walls, doors and windows. They all have character, and probably many stories to tell, too! There are numerous naturally-occurring works of Arte Poverta / abstract art..

Visit Museums

There are several small museums in Cusco. They are fairly modest, but are a good place to start if you’re interested in local history. Before you visit, make sure to buy a Boleto Turistico, a pre-paid ticket which gives you access to the most popular sites in Cusco and surroundings, and which is valid for ten days (plan accordingly). Children under 12 get in for free.

Museum-visiting is a great, slow activity for your first few days in the region, when your body still acclimatizes to the elevation. On our first day we stopped by Museo de Historia Regional, which has some pre-Incan as well as Incan artifacts.

The Inca Museum is not included in the Boleto, but is worth a visit. It has mummies that might impress (or scare) your kids, interesting artifacts, and a video presentation showing the fate of the last Inca (hint: it wasn’t pretty). For the textile lovers among you, the museum also has a room dedicated to Incan weaving:

There are also live weavers working in the courtyard for you to watch. You can buy their work on the spot, too.

Finally, the museum has a store with some beautiful, unique woven textiles that replicate pre-Inca designs. No cheap finds here, though, but some really amazing stuff.

The Chocolate Museum is a fun place to visit when you need a break from all the other museums. It is not really a museum, but rather a fancy tourist trap where you can learn about chocolate-making, as well as taste different chocolates and chocolate jams (!). You can also take classes, and buy pricey chocolate bars and other products. The museum also has a small cafe, where you can sip hot chocolate and dine on chocolaty comfort foods. As you might imagine, my kids loved it, and I bet yours will, too!

Climb Up Saksaywaman

High above Cusco lies the impressive fortress of Saksaywaman, fondly known to tourists as “Sexy Woman.” A pre-Incan culture built it around 1100 AD, but the Inca expanded and rebuilt it. Reaching the site required a steep climb, so give yourself a couple of days to acclimatize before you try it. Once there, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the city, as well as with an introduction to some impressive Inca architecture.

If your legs haven’t turned into jello by the time you are done visiting this site, you might wish to go to  the nearby hill to get a closer look at the White Jesus statue overlooking the city:

Visit Convento Santo Domingo

After you learned a bit about Inca architecture and seen a few ruins, go visit the Church of Santo Domingo. The Spanish Conquistadors built this church on top of and around Qurikancha, the most prominent Inca temple complex. By doing so they wanted to both benefit from the spiritual power of the place and erase/symbolically suppress the earlier Inca legacy. Nowadays the structure is a strange mash of Inca, Spanish and modern architecture.

Ignore the later two, and concentrate on the Inca structures. The reason I suggest going there only after you’ve seen other Inca ruins is that you will not be able to appreciate the finesse of the temples otherwise. The complex housed the Temples of the Sun, Moon, Thunder and Rainbow. The Inca-period builders built them with stones so closely put together, that some of the seams are hardly noticeable (even a sheet of paper will not fit between the stones). The walls are very smooth, and were once completely covered with gold and silver (which the Spaniards stole).

When still a working temple, the complex housed the mummies of several Incas, as well as life-sized gold statues of lamas and other animals and plants. An onsite model helps you understand what the complex looked like at the peak of its glory.

Visit the Textile Museum

When you’re done visiting Convento Santo Domingo, walk a couple of blocks down Avenue El Sol. This will bring you to the Center of Traditional Textiles of Cusco. You don’t need to be a textile lover to enjoy this little museum. A few days in Cusco will be enough to convince you of just how central textiles are to the local culture. The museum will give you a deeper understanding of what making Peruvian textiles involves.

The Center has a nice showroom showcasing the process of spinning, dyeing and weaving. It also displays examples of weaving from different regions (sadly, picture-taking was not allowed). The museum is attached to a store piled high with beautiful pieces of woven cloth from all over the Cusco area. Several weavers work inside the store, allowing you to glimpse the process at work. Prices are very reasonable.

Shop

Cusco is full of shops and boutiques selling Peruvian handicrafts in all price ranges. High-end boutiques surround Plaza de Armas, selling alpaca clothing and silver jewelry. Lower-end shops loaded with many kinds of colorful items fill every alley and courtyard. You and your kids might enjoy browsing this huge array of shops. San Blas, another city square, is known for its artisan workshops, and is a fun place to look around.

It is true that after a while many stores start looking alike. It’s also true that not everything is handmade, or even made in Peru (think China). But every now and then you might come across something special. One day, for example, I found a beautiful, unique piece of tapestry in a store hidden inside an out-of-the-way courtyard:

On our last day, we delighted in finding Ceremonias Ayahuasca San Pedro at the back of a courtyard on 338 Triunfo St. This store was filled to the brim with what appeared to be genuine, locally-made handicrafts of various kinds. Prices were pretty high and no bargaining was tolerated, but many of the items on display were high quality and truly unique. We couldn’t afford the stone dragon, carved from one piece of stone, with each link of its chain moving separately:

But we absolutely loved the huge array of unique masks, and were able to buy one of the smallest ones for our collection:

Go to Mercado Central de San Pedro (San Pedro Market)

This covered market, located a couple of blocks from the central square, is a bustling center of commerce. It caters mostly to local shoppers, and has anything you can think of. A visit there will stimulate all your senses. There are food stalls of all conceivable kinds, flower stalls, chocolate stalls, household-goods stalls and souvenir stalls, to name some.

There are also aisles filled with fresh juice stalls, and aisles dedicated to mom-and-pop stalls cooking fresh food on the spot. Here you could get an entire meal for less than 5 soles ($1.5). And if you want to shorten your pants while you eat, or alter your skirt while you shop, local tailors are waiting right there to accommodate to your needs:

Eat

Cusco is bustling with restaurants of all kinds. Numerous eateries serve tasty, fresh food in huge portions. You can easily find tourist-oriented restaurants that will cook familiar foods from home, but it will be more fun for you to try some local dishes.

Pachapapa Restaurant on San Blas Square offers some genuine Peruvian foods alongside Western staples such as pasta (in case some family members are not in an adventurous mood). This is a good place to try cui, the local specialty:

This is what it looks like when actually tried (no, I didn’t eat it. I’m vegetarian!):

It’s also a good place to sip pisco sour, the Peruvian national drink. I did try that 😉

For vegetarians, Greens–right off plaza de Armas–is a culinary heaven (though not so much for local dishes).

Finally, Know About Local Clinics

Clinics and hospitals are not places you want to see while on vacation. If you’re travelling with kids, however, you should at least know about them.

Rest assured that Cusco has at least a couple of medical centers whose mission it is to help tourists. These centers are open 24/7, every day of the year, and provide good, Western-standard medical care. Their doctors speak English for those of us whose Spanish is not up to par.

As it happened, all three of my kids ended up using those medical services. And on the two least-convenient days of the year at that: Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Local doctors treated them for an ear infection, a sever travelers’ diarrhea, and a laceration that required stitches. They all returned home safely.

Your hotel is most likely to be able to help in case of a medical emergency, but keep the number of Oxigen Medical Network handy just in case:084-221213 / 225407.

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!

 

The Place That Makes FabMo Possible: A Salvaging Trip to SF’s Design Center

Every Monday morning Hannah Cranch drives from Mountain View to San Francisco, a forty-mile drive. Hers isn’t a leisure drive. It is more of a weekly hunt, a quest, a mission. Hannah, you see, is one of the founders of FabMo, an amazing Mountain View non-profit organization. Her weekly drives are what make FabMo possible. Hannah has been making this routine track for well over a decade.

FabMo, short for “Fabric and More,” is a California Bay Area non-profit organization that rescues discarded fabrics and other materials, and makes them available to teachers, artists and other creative souls. Each year FabMo helps divert over seventy tons of such materials out of the landfill. The source of FabMo’s riches, and Hannah’s weekly destination, is San Francisco’s Design Center on Henry Adams St. There, Hannah collects beautiful materials that the different show rooms no longer need, and brings them to FabMo’s headquarters in Mountain View.

Hannah is a smallish, delicate-looking woman, yet she drives a big, monster pickup truck. Jonathan, Hannah’s husband and FabMo’s co-founder, bought the truck especially for this purpose, over Hannah’s protests. She now admits that it has been very useful in more ways than one.

Hannah's monster pickup truck

Early last spring I had the honor of accompanying Hannha on one of her Monday-morning hunts. I went to help, but also to see first hand where the fabrics I use come from. Once at the Design Center, I witnessed how one woman can–literally–move a mountain. Following the trip, my admiration for Hannah, her husband Jonathan, and what they do grew many fold.

The Design Center, for those of you who don’t know about it (I certainly didn’t!) is a Mecca for fabric lovers. Or it should be! It is composed of two separate buildings, both several stories high, built as squares around central courtyards. The buildings are oldish, and look very industrial and somewhat unappealing. Yet, they are full of every imaginable kind of gorgeous furniture/tile/home decor stores, carrying beautiful designer good that are hard to find anywhere else. Most of these showrooms are open to the public, but sell only to designers (apparently there are resident designers available for hire if you want to buy something and don’t have a designer of your own).

Hannah comes to the Center well prepared, with meticulous lists of showrooms to stop at. She takes a bagful of large, black garbage bags from her truck. As she enters each building, she first picks up a ginormous trolley from the bottom-most floor. She then starts making her rounds, following the list, going around one floor and then up to the other.

This is what one of the showrooms looks like. And this is Hannah, showing me some of the beautiful textiles on display. Sadly, FabMo rarely gets these large fabric pieces, but looking through them was a real treat!

This, for example, is but one beautiful piece. The birds are embroidered, and I was salivating all over them (and over the other fabrics, too!).

Here is another showroom. The small pieces on the right, rather than the large swatches on the left, are more likely to end up in Hannah’s bags.

A showroom in the Design Center

When Hannah walks into a showroom, she knows all the salespeople by name, and has something nice to say to each. In some of the showrooms people hand Hannah whatever fabrics/other materials they no longer need. Sometimes they have nothing, or just a miser piece or two. Sometimes they have more. In some showrooms, Hannah makes her way to the back rooms, through hidden doors that normal visitors won’t even notice. There, in the behind-the-scene storage rooms, she often has a special bin dedicated just for her, where people deposit discarded items all week long.

Hannah puts all the fabrics, rugs, and wall-paper samples she collects, both big and small, into a garbage bag. Whenever a bag gets heavy, she ties it up, loads it onto the cart, and starts filling another.

After a while, the bags start piling up, forming a mountain of fabric-full garbage bags. Pushing the trolley becomes ever more difficult!

Things get even worse in the second building, where Hannah picks up tile samples. Now, those get incredibly heavy!

By the time Hannah is done, a  trolley or two are full. She then loads all her collected treasures into the truck. This, too, is no small feat. It requires much planning and elaborate packing skills, which Hannah seems to have mastered over the years!

The collection takes the entire day, and is hard physical, back-breaking work. I was utterly exhausted by the time we were done, but Hannah soldiered on without complaints, working with good humor, full dedication, and a genuine love for what she does.

Hannah drives the truck back to Mountain View, where she unloads everything into FabMo’s facility. This is where the FabMo chapter of the fabrics’ story begins. It’s not where it ends, however. More work needs to be done before these treasures can go on to their next adventure.

A Tablecloth With a Bit of Mystery

My great grandmother Gele was a distinguished member of the Jewish community in Jerusalem at the turn of the twentieth century.

As such, she was involved with several charitable organizations. One of those was The Jewish Institute for the Blind. My great grandmother  was a member of the Institute’s board, as well as one of its big donors.

The Institute was established in 1902 inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Its mission was to provide education and vocational training to blind members of the community, mostly children, to prepare them for an independent life. Later, after Jews started building neighborhoods outside the walls, the Institute moved to the new part of the city. In 1931 it settled into a spacious new building in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood.

The Institute trained the blind in many different kinds of crafts. Here, for example, is its basket-weaving workshop:

Every year, before the Jewish New Year, the directors of the Institute used to send handmade gifts made by the residing blind to members of the board and to its big donors. The gifts were different each year, and came with a request to renew the financial support.

One year, at the end of the 1930’s, my great grandmother received this handmade tablecloth:

She gave it to my grandmother, who used it on special occasions for many years.  Later, my grandmother gave it to her sister, who kept using it. Before she passed away, my great aunt decided to give the tablecloth to my father. She knew my dad was sentimentally attached to it, associating it with hosting guests and important gatherings throughout his childhood.

By the time my father received it, the tablecloth was already old and fragile. My parents never dared to use it, but they still keep it folded in one of their closets.

To my parents, the tablecloth is somewhat of a mystery. They know where it came from, but not who made it. Most of all, however, they would like to know how it was made. Parts of it look to be crochet , but other parts are nothing like any crochet we’ve ever encountered.

If you’ve ever seen anything like this and know the technique that was used to make this, we’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Making Textile Butterflies: Experiments, Challenges and Tutorials

I recently needed to sew a butterfly for Dare!, my Lepidoptera (moths and butterfly) quilt. I’ve never made one before, and wanted to create the best one I could. It had to be pretty, three dimensional but not free-standing, and about hand-sized.

In the past, while browsing Pinterest and such (i.e.–in the many hours I’ve procrastinated in front of a computer), I’ve encountered some beautiful textile butterflies on the web. I’ve long admired the work of people like Yumi Okita, for example, or Mr. Finch, both of whom make large, three-dimensional moths and butterflies. When I browsed for inspiration for my quilt, I discovered some other fabulous textile-butterfly artists, such as Laura Jacquemond of Blue Terracotta, and Abigail Brown (whose fabric butterflies you can see on Pinterest, or in this blog post). Both of the latter artists make smaller, two-dimensional textile Lepidoptera, mostly for brooches.

I needed something in-between. Not quite a soft sculpture, but not a flat, two-dimensional piece, either. I needed a butterfly with presence. So I started experimenting.

For my first try, I used upholstery fabrics, since these are the fabrics I like using for most of my work, and these are also the fabrics that the rest of the quilt is made of. I also added some cottons, embroidery thread and beads. The result was rather crude:

This was too two-dimensional, and not what I was looking for. So I tried again, this second time attempting to give the wings some volume:

For this experiment  I used upholstery and silk. I didn’t even try decorating this one, however. It clearly wasn’t what I had in mind. Besides, both these first attempts were small studies, much smaller than what I actually needed.

So I browsed the internet for tutorials and ideas. Turns out that there are numerous ways to make textile butterflies, and many generous people who were willing to share their techniques with the public.

There are tutorials for fabric butterflies that don’t require any sewing, like this one: http://wonderfuldiy.com/wonderful-diy-beautiful-fabric-butterfly/

Some were rather simple, and might be a good place to start if you’re a beginner:

Here, for example, are two tutorials for fabric origami butterflies:

http://www.molliemakes.com/craft-2/make-fabric-origami-butterfly/

http://www.fabartdiy.com/diy-fabric-origami-butterfly/

And two tutorials for simple fabric ones:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/306878162083360262/

http://www.cucicucicoo.com/2016/04/diy-scrap-fabric-butterfly/

But none of these were helpful for my needs.

In the meantime, I also browsed the internet for pictures of real butterflies, because I wanted to find one I liked, and also wanted to see what their veins actually looked like. I settled on one, and printed it out in the actual size I needed:

Then I made a template for myself by copying the real butterfly wings on a thin, hard, clear plastic sheet (that used to be the cover of one of my daughters’ no-longer-needed notebooks). I cut one top and one bottom wing from the plastic:

Then, I kept browsing the web for more sewing ideas.

I found a few more complicated tutorials:

Like this one by Blue Terracotta: https://blueterracotta.com/blogs/news/fabric-butterfly-brooch-in-5-easy-steps

Or this one, which is rather similar, except it uses separate wings and a stuffed body: https://www.livemaster.ru/topic/438689-tekstilnaya-brosh-motylek

Both require top-stitching the wings, with a zigzag stitch.

I loosely followed a combination of both, using my own template, and mimicking the veins on my real-butterfly picture. I abandoned upholstery fabrics because they were too stiff, and went for finer textiles, such as linen and silk, instead. In between the front and back I used quilting batting, to give the wings some body. For my experiments, I picked fabrics that I didn’t actually like too much. I didn’t want to “waste” fabrics that I cared for.

The tutorials call for cutting the wings out before top stitching them. By trial and error, however, I found that for me, it worked better to stitch before cutting:

Once the wings were stitched, I carefully cut around the stitch, trying to stay as close as I could to the zigzag, without cutting into it. Once the piece is cut, you can do another round of zigzag all around, to get a more solid edge.

For the antenna,  by the way, I used a wire saved from my daughter’s said notebook (did I tell you I sometimes love saving things that might, one day, be useful? Dad, this comes directly from you :-)):

This is what I got:

And the underside:

A lot better! Much closer to what I was looking for. However, it was too droopy. The wings didn’t hold:

Still not exactly what I needed. But a good way to make smaller pieces that can remain flat (for a brooch, for example).

I kept looking. I found this tutorial, which requires sewing, turning inside out and stuffing:

https://pinthemall.net/pin/55cfad3d6f105/

Again, I used my own template. The turning inside-out part turned out to be difficult. The long, narrow areas of the lower wings of my template were too narrow to turn inside out, and got stuck mid-way, no matter how hard I tried to push/pull on them. I got this:

I actually liked it. A lot. Even though the shape didn’t quite look like the butterfly I printed. It also held its wings a lot better, since the inside seam helped with the stability:

However, since I cut holes for turning inside-out in the middle of the wings, like in the tutorial, the underside looked scarred:

This method would look better if you use valor, like the tutorial does. The valor would hide the stitches.

So, for my next experiment I decided to combine both methods. For the upper wings, which I needed nice and stiff, I used the second, turning inside-out method, except that I left the opening for turning on the side of the wings instead of cutting a hole in the middle. I simply stitched the opening close by hand. For the lower wings, which I wanted long and trailing, I used the first, top-stitch zigzag method:

That fifth experiment turned out perfect, with stiff upper wings and trailing, if droopy, lower wings:

I was ready to make the real butterfly, the one I was going to put on my quilt. I was actually quite nervous when I sewed and cut it, but it turned out exactly the way I envisioned it. Here it is, perfectly lined up on top of the real-butterfly print I was working with:

And here it is finished, ready to go on the quilt:

Finished textile butterfly

I later framed a couple of my practice butterflies, and like how they turned out:

Making textile butterflies was so much fun, that I continued to play with smaller, brighter ones. I decided to make them into barrettes, but they could also be used as brooches, or put onto stakes in the garden. I’m sure you can think of other uses as well:

If you want to make your own textile butterfly, you can start by trying one of the tutorials I collected here. There are many others as well. This one, for example, looks complicated (as it requires a soldering iron), but seems to produce stunning results: http://eiloren.blogspot.com/2012/09/organza-butterfly-using-soldering-iron.html

There are many tutorials on YouTube, as well.

Textile butterflies can take a long time to make (my final one for the quilt took an entire work-day!). They require patience, attention to detail, careful workmanship and some hand-sewing. They are really fun to make though!

Dare! My New Moths and Butterfly Quilt

I’ve been working on my moths and butterfly quilt for the last few weeks, and I finally finished it yesterday! Today I wanted to share not only the final result, but also the process that went into its making.

I call this quilt Dare!, and it is a tribute to anyone who ever took a stand, both big and small.

Thought Process

The idea for this quilt has been brewing in my mind for many months. It changed over time, of course, as most ideas do.

It first sprouted during my visit to the Natural History Museum in Bern, Switzerland over a year ago. There is a very large display of Lepidoptera at the museum. The moths and butterflies there are arranged neatly in rectangular glass displays, old-fashioned way. Seeing them all together, beautiful and diverse, is striking. At first, I just wanted to make a quilt to convey that beauty. The composition that formed in my mind mimicked the glass displays.

With time, however, this imaginary quilt gained more meaning. Instead of a random array of pretty butterflies, I started thinking of many moths, all dreary and the same, going in one direction, as opposed to one gorgeous, colorful butterfly going the other way. I wanted to proclaim that some things are worth being different for, standing up for, fighting for.

These can be mundane things, like opposing an illogical school rule that everyone else obeys (mom, you know what I’m talking about!), or liking and wearing colorful clothing when everyone around you wears black. In a way, this is what I do with ANY Texture: I make bright and colorful accessories even when the prevailing trends call for a lot less color, only because I like colors and think the world needs more of them. That is one reason why my butterfly is colorful and the moths aren’t.

Of course, there are more meaningful things that call for resisting trends. We each have our own list of those. Here is but one example from my own, long list: I live in Silicon Valley, where being a tech person is valued, but being an artist isn’t. I still chose to be an artist. My choice, although right for me, came with consequences and a price. It also resulted in constant pressure, sometimes explicit and sometimes less so. That is one reason why there are many moths, going in one direction, but only one butterfly, going her own way.

Then there are the really important issues. Again, we each have a personal list of those. One of the issues important to me is the global struggle for women’s rights. Signs of gender inequality are all over the place, unfortunately, even in our twenty-first century. Take the tech industry, for example, which is close to home here. Women in the tech world are still a minority, and are still payed less. Only recently, when we thought it was all behind us, there was a fresh challenge to women’s place in the tech world… Some of my good female friends are computer scientists. I wanted to tell them, my daughters and women around the world that it’s OK to be a woman and choose your own way.

The glass ceiling women are facing on all fronts has cracked a little, maybe, but is still far from breaking. You need not look further than the results of the latest elections to realize there is yet a long way to go, even here in the Western world. Things are a lot worse for women in many other parts of the globe. That is why my butterfly is female, as opposed to the male moths. She is also strong, daring, and pushing her way. She has to.

Although I’ve been planning this quilt for a while, I started working on it obsessively only recently. This happened mostly because of what I’ve been seeing in the news. Some things, you see, are SO important, that they brush everything else aside. Current events seem to assail us from all directions. Bad news are pouring in from all parts of the world. We can’t do much about natural disasters, but there is a lot we can do to fight some people’s assaults on human dignity. Each and every one of us must stand up to hatred, bigotry, prejudice, racism, antisemitism, homophobia and all other types of human narrow-mindedness and evil. We must all work together to ensure the survival of humanity and keep the planet on which we depend healthy and safe.

This is what this quilt is about. It is about having the courage to be different, to stand up to pressure, to resist. It’s about finding beauty, color and positivity amid ugliness and negativity. It’s about soaring above pettiness. Most of all, it’s about hope.

When I started planning this quilt, I was thinking of making the moths in shades of blue and the butterfly in purples and magentas, my favorite colors. But recent events changed my color pallet. They turned the moths black. And somewhat military-looking.

The Making Process

I started the quilt by selecting fabrics. I chose an increasingly brighter spectrum for the background, to indicate that there is light at the head of the tunnel, hope:

Then I selected fabrics for the moths, all in shades of black, gray and gold. The colors of authoritarianism.

I stitched the background fabrics together, then went on the internet to do some research on moths.

I didn’t know much about them, really. In my mind I had a picture of drab winged creatures, like the ones you see when you turn the lights on in the middle of the night. I wanted to see what they looked like exactly, the details of them, so that I could recreate some convincing-looking ones. It didn’t take long for me to stand corrected. Some moths, it turned out, are absolutely glorious! Some are large, beautiful creatures, prettier than many butterflies. In fact, the differences between moths and butterflies are minor. You need to be an expert to sometimes tell them apart. Thus, in my effort to fight prejudice I was confronted with some prejudices of my own!

This changed my plans somewhat. I now had to make my moths a lot nicer than I had originally intended to, and more diverse! So I sketched some out on a scrap of paper, and proceeded to cut the moths out and pin them onto the background:

I then stitched them on, both by machine and by hand, and manually embroidered some of the details:

I slowly completed eight moths:

Once that was done, I needed to turn this into a quilt by sandwiching the top to a batting and a backing:

I quilted the piece together by hand, since my machine cannot handle such a thick sandwich. It’s been a while since I completed my last upholstery quilt, and I forgot how taxing quilting thick fabrics by hand can be! Once again, I forgot to use thimbles, and boy, did I feel it later!!

The quilting was solely utilitarian. It had to hold all the layers together, not to give visual interest. Upholstery fabrics are too thick, too stiff, and too textured to enable detailed quilting… Finally, I finished by pinning the border and stitching all around:

You will note that I left one space open, for my butterfly. So now I started practicing making three-dimensional textile butterflies. That took a while, and several tries. When I finally knew how to make her, I needed to settle on a color. Purple and magenta didn’t seem to go with the blacks, grays and golds of the months. They were also too mild. I wanted something more outstanding. More DARING.

I contemplated this for a few days, comparing different colors and fabrics. In the end, I decided to go with silk, to make my butterfly more majestic. The silk’s smooth texture also stood in contrast to the moths’ mostly rough, upholstery feel. I chose a deep red for the upper wings and orange for the lower. The red seemed the most contrasting to the colors of the moths. The orange gave the creature more color, life and vitality. It also made it more conspicuous. The orange silk came from one of the fabrics I recently saved from my late mother-in-law’s estate. This made the quilt more personal, as if by doing so I was able to weave a piece of my mother in law into it…

Once finished, I sewed the butterfly onto the quilt:

And there it was, my finished quilt, a call for action, intended to empower and provide hope at the same time.

Since she’s already a part of this work, I dedicate this quilt to the memory of my late mother in law, a strong, willful woman who did things her way all the way to the end.