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!

 

Looking Back at 2017, 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, (TAFA), and become acquainted with some of the beautiful work created by other members. 

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!

 

News from My Sewing Room: Getting Ready for Holiday Fair Season

I noticed that since I shared my Dare! quilt several weeks ago, I haven’t written anything about my work. Truth be told, I haven’t been as productive as I would have liked. The Market and Renaissance Totes I cut out in the spring are still patiently waiting to be sewn. We had a rough summer, and somehow I found getting back into routine a little harder than usual. In addition, I’ve been suffering from bouts of back pain that really pulled me down for several weeks. When I did get myself into the sewing room, I had so many ideas all at once, that I often didn’t know where to start. I spent a lot of time staring at fabrics. When I finally began one thing, I often left it unfinished, and then, the next day, started something new. As you might imagine, it didn’t take long for my sewing room to get messy again, with piles of unfinished projects all over…

Somehow time flew by, and, sooner than I expected, Holiday Fair Season is upon us. My first fair for the season is only a little over a week away. So in the past couple of weeks I forced myself to sit down and finish some of those unfinished projects. Here is a peek at some of the the things I managed to complete:

Butterflies

If you read the post about my above-mentioned moths quilt, you might remember that it took a few tries to perfect the butterfly. Those practice butterflies weren’t exactly what I needed for the actual quilt, but they turned out quite nice nonetheless. I wanted to use then for something, and eventually decided to frame them. Here is one:

After the Dare! quilt was finished, I remained a little obsessed with butterflies. I found them fun to make, and wanted to try some in happy colors. And so, I sewed a few more in blues and purples, and added some colorful wooden beads to brighten them up. I had a little pile of them sitting around, and couldn’t quite decide what to do with them. This week I bought a few barrette pins, and glued them to their back. The result: bright and cheery textile hair pins!

Necklaces

Last year I made a textile necklace for myself. So many people asked me about it, that I decided to make a few more. I made three a few months ago, but over the last few weeks played with several more. I’ve been experimenting with different combinations of fabrics and beads, and created several statement pieces.

So far, I’ve been working on two kinds of necklaces. Here are some of my tassel ones:

And here is an example of a pedant necklace, which is a miniature collages/quilt:

Handbags

The butterflies and necklaces got me into fabric-and-bead-combining mode. I thought it’ll be fun to try doing this with purses as well. So over the last few weeks I’ve been playing with fabric collages that incorporate some beads as well. These resulted in several asymmetrical, funky small cross body bags, that I like very much:

Fall Inspired

Finally, the cooling days and the turning trees inspired me to make some textile fall leaves. I made these of a combination of smooth silk and rough upholstery textiles, with a few glass beads for an extra pop. I think they, too, will end up as statement barrettes:

If you’re in the Bay Area, come see everything in person at the FabMo Textile Art Boutique on October 29!

Why Everyone Should Consider Hosting an Exchange Student

At the beginning of this school year my daughter’s high school sent a school-wide email, asking families to volunteer to host an exchange student from Japan for one week in March. We thought this sounded like fun and signed up. In August, March seemed a long way off. Yet, it snuck upon us before we knew it. Our international exchange student arrived last week, and yesterday we sent her off in a cloud of hugs and tears.

Despite the language barriers, cultural differences and early-morning drop-offs I would encourage all families to consider hosting an exchange student. Here’s why:

1. Hosting a student will provide a great motivation to tidy up your house. Unlike visiting friends or family, an exchange student is a stranger who will be a part of your family for a short period of time. While you might tolerate some mess with close people around, you will probably feel a lot less comfortable doing so with a stranger.

A fellow host mother I met at school the night the students arrived told me she’s been scrubbing her house for two weeks straight. I didn’t go to such extremes, but I did clear all of my projects out of my sewing room, a week-long endeavor. My family and I returned the sewing room to its original manifestation as a guest room, and meticulously cleaned it up. I suddenly remembered how beautiful it could be. The kids, on their part, were amazed by how big it looked. And so, like in the story of the Rabbi and the Goat, we all felt as if we had more space in the house:

2. You will appreciate other people’s courage. When our exchange student arrived, I was impressed with how courageous she and her classmates were. These young teenagers left their homes and everything familiar, to travel to a faraway country, with a different language, different customs, and different foods. They did come as a group, true, with teacher escorts, but shortly upon arrival they were paired up with their host families, and driven off, each alone with a bunch of strangers, into the dark and the unknown… I’m sure they were all quite nervous at that point. I, too, traveled alone to faraway lands, but I was a lot older. My own experiences helped me respect my young guest’s bravery.

3. For a short period of time, you will gain one more child. I’ve always been curious as to what it feels like to have four children. This week gave me some idea 🙂 It was interesting to see how fast mothering instincts take over when you suddenly become responsible for a child. When our exchange student arrived, I immediately wanted to feed her, make sure she’s warm, and take care of her in other ways. Somehow, it seems, by caring for other people you make them your own.

4. Your children will learn that the basic fundamentals of humanity cross all cultural and linguistic barriers. My daughter and my Japanese daughter had some difficulty communicating, but they quickly found ways to connect despite their differences. The two girls traveled on school tours together and had a lot of fun. They attended classes together, and learned a little about how schools in their respective countries compared. The girls taught each other some basic words in their own languages. They bonded over a shared love for everything Harry Potter, and spent a few evenings watching the movies together. And they realized that their mutual passion for piano-playing and music erases all differences. Our Japanese child turned out to be a piano genius, and we all greatly enjoyed hearing her play.

5. You will get to see your surroundings with fresh eyes. Our entire family took pleasure in introducing our guest to our world. We soon realized how refreshing it was to see things through her eyes. When we took her to visit places we took for granted, these familiar spots suddenly seemed a lot more interesting and exciting. A nearby office building revealed itself to be a fun playground. Our downtown appeared as an exciting, opportunity-filled hub. Even our familiar neighborhood trail all of a sudden seemed amazing, covered as it was with spring blooms.

6. Mundane, everyday activities will become more appealing. Making dinner, for example, can often feel like a chore. But if you’re teaching someone from another country to make a dish that is new to them, it no longer feels this way. We taught our guest to make pizza from scratch, for example. Preparing the dough felt more special when done together, and putting toppings on personal pies became an activity that all the kids enjoyed.

7. Family dinners might become a bit more nutritious. It’s not always easy, with everyone’s busy schedules, to make room for daily dinner preparations. And although I really try to cook a fresh meal every day, and to make sure it’s as nutritious and healthy as could be, I sometimes find myself slacking. I also tend to get in a rut, repeating the same five or six dishes over and over again. But when our guest was here I found myself thinking about dinner more. Suddenly I wanted to make something different every night, so that she could taste a variety of new foods. I also made sure to include several dishes in every meal, to give her options in case something wasn’t appealing.

8. You will become more conscious of what you eat. We enjoyed introducing our Japanese child to different foods. By doing so we realized just how international our daily cuisine actually was! We had Italian food one day, Mediterranean goods the next, some European dishes another time, and then some Mexican cuisine. This is how it usually is, except we we haven’t paid attention before!

9. You will realize that sharing a meal connects people. There is something very basic in eating together. Food bridges gaps and creates bonds.

10. Everyone will learn that giving unconditionally feels good. Giving gifts is an important part of Japanese culture. In the school’s parent orientation we were told to expect to receive gifts, as well as be prepared to give presents. But while it was really nice to get Japanese tea or origami paper, we all found that buying and gifting our own gifts felt even better. My kids excitedly thought of what things to buy our guest, and aimed at items she might really like and use. They enjoyed wrapping everything nicely, and derived great pleasure from handing them over. Making another human being happy was all the reward they needed.

11. A nice bonus: kids tend to fight less when a new person is around. I got one week or relatively-few quarrels. Priceless!

12. Everyone will have lasting memories. Experiences, not material things, are what happiness is based on, or so researchers say. By hosting a child from abroad for one week we created memories for everyone that will last a lifetime. We forever became a part of someone else’s life, and she became a part of ours.

Our week of hosting was over in a flash. As expected, it was hard to say goodbye. We are hoping to someday get a chance to see our exchange daughter again, but even if not, her stay with us has made the world a little bit smaller.

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!