Lockdown Diary: Soft Owl Sculptures

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

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

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

Soft Owl Sculptures

First Try

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Try

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

Introducing Sherlock Wallace!

I am keeping him for myself.

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

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

Putting My Own Spin on Faux Taxidermy Owls

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

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

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

Doll-maker Aya Furuta and a Missed Craft Show in Matsumoto, Japan

On the second day of our family trip to Japan, we toured Matsumoto. We spent a fun day exploring the famous castle and the nearby Matsumoto City Museum

In the afternoon we strolled down the alleys of the old part of town, looking for a restaurant. We passed by a big building with open doors.

I kept walking, but my husband, to my great horror, went in to explore. Soon, he chased me down the road and told me I must go in. It felt a bit awkward, but I did. Inside I found people packing what turned out to be the exact kind of textile craft show I was hoping to see in Japan.

It turned out that the show was a once-a-year event showcasing local textile artists. It was open for two days, and just closed shortly before we arrived. The artists were in the midst of packing the artwork, but they were kind enough to let me walk around and drool over everything that remained visible.

I saw gorgeous dyed and printed fabrics for doors, windows or for the wall, as well as some interesting woven art involving twigs:

 There were beautiful room dividers and impressive textile fish:

I caught a glimpse of some table cloths and cushions:

And possibly some scarves, that the artists were putting away…

And then I saw some of the most beautiful dolls I’ve ever seen:

The artist who made them was there, too. 

In the 1970’s, Aya Furuta traveled extensively in South East Asia. At that time, Japan experienced an economic boom that quickened the pace of life. The life in the countries Aya visited, on the other hand, remained slower and more sane. Aya felt drawn to to that slower pace. During her travels, she collected a vast assortment of antique, traditional handmade textiles. She appreciated the great care that went into weaving and embroidering them. Later, she started making dolls using these textiles. She has been a doll maker for over thirty years.

Dressing her dolls with her collected South-Asian textiles fills Aya Furuta with pleasure. She feels that the textiles connect her to the prayers and joys of the people who created them. The dolls are her way to preserve the spirit of a different kind of life, to point to a slower way of living that modern people have forgotten.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to purchase one of Aya Furuta’s dolls, but I gladly bought her inspiring doll catalog.

I was hoping (expecting?) to find other, similar textile craft shows in other places in Japan, but to my great disappointment this never happened. Despite my lingering sense of missed opportunity, I feel very fortunate to have meet Aya Futura and her dolls!

 

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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 🙂