Two Really Big, Giant, Oversized Totes

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

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

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

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

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

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

I first found complimenting fabrics to frame them with:

Then made sure the back would compliment the front:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Room One: The Stages of Painting Silk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the fabric is finished!

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

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

Room Two: Some Amazing Finished Examples

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

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

2018 Pacific International Quilt Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

And up close:

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

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

And up close:

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

As you can see up close:

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

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

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

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

“Keeping Up Appearances” by Jan Reed:

Or “Heron’s garden” by Susan Smith:

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

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

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

Pat Archibald’s “Hong Kong:”

Or Kristin Shields “Rhythm of the Rails:”

There were even political quilts made by high school students:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And up close:

Even the back of this masterpiece was pretty!

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

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

Boro: The Japanese Art of Mending That is Hard to Find in Japan

On my recent trip to Japan, I found art where I didn’t expect it, yet didn’t find the art I expected to see everywhere.

Boro, the Japanese art of mending, and its twin art of Sashiko (decorative stitching), are very popular among textile artists in the West. Many non-Japanese artists throughout the world, myself included, now incorporate the art of patching and restorative hand-stitching into their work.

I made this journal cover, for example, using some simple Boro-style patching and stitching:

Nowadays, clothing using some elements of Boro and Sashiko are making a comeback into the world of high-end fashion. Boro-style items are selling for hundreds of dollars. Original antique Japanese pieces of patched cloth can go for thousands of dollars.

It was only natural, therefore, that, before going to Japan, I assumed I will see Boro everywhere. That did not turn out to be the case.

When we arrived in Japan, we had only one day in Tokyo before heading out to other destinations. I vaguely knew there was a museum dedicated to Boro in Tokyo, but assumed there would be many such museums in other parts of the country, too. We therefore used the few hours we had in the capital to visit other sites. I later realized, that one of them was painfully close to the museum…

Sadly, for the duration of our subsequent nearly month-long trip, I did not come across any other Boro museums, nor could I find any on the internet. Not only that, but I haven’t seen Boro anywhere. I didn’t see it in any of the numerous big and small museums we visited, including several crafts museums. Nor in gallerias, tourist shops or artisan villages. Certainly not on the streets, on any of the thousands of well-dressed Japanese we encountered.

Only in our very last stop, in the tourist-oriented part of the old capital of Nara, did I see a hint of Boro. It appeared on the outfits of two delightful Oni (=demons) that decorated (or maybe guarded?) a high-end clothing boutique:

(Despite what the sign says, I did ask–and received–explicit permission to take pictures of these dolls :-))

On the same street, by the way, I also found the only artist atelier that sold patterns and clothing using Sashiko:

So, why isn’t Boro more prominent in Japan, it’s birth place, despite being so popular in the West?

I believe the answer is that Boro was the child of poverty, and as such is still associated with destitution in Japan.

The imperial family and the upper classes never wore patched clothing. They cloaked themselves in expensive silks and exquisite textiles. The lower classes, on the other hand, not only could not afford silk, but, in the Edo Period (1600-1868) were actually banned from wearing it.

The poor could barely afford even the cheaper fabrics, which were still expensive. They had to make the rare garments they had last long. When clothes or blankets started wearing thin, they had no choice but to mend them with any bits and pieces they could put their hands on. Winters in Japan are cold. Poor families had to make do with what they had, passing valuable patched garments from one member of the family to another, sometimes from one generation to the next.

The people who created Boro didn’t use silks and high-end textiles. They used the cheaper hemp, linens and, later, cottons that were available to the working class and the poor. Most of the fabrics they had came in shades of indigo. This is why we now associate Boro with that color.

The word “Boro” itself means “tattered” or “ragged.” Wearing Boro-ed clothes wasn’t the result of aesthetics. It was a necessity. And as such it marked the wearer as a member of the lower, poor classes.

Japanese today don’t wear Boro (unless they can afford some of its high-end, modern-day manifestations). Museums don’t show it because it’s not a traditional art form that the culture is proud of. Modern artisans are more likely to practice Sashiko or Shibori (textile dyeing), which they see as more “artistic.” And so, although Boro is all the hype among textile artists and consumers in the West, it is mostly absent in its homeland.

Which doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t appreciate it. The authentic, old Boro clothing were made over a long period of time, and were often a collaborative effort. People added patches and stitches whenever they needed to fix something. Sometimes a garment passed through several hands and even several generations, with many people adding to it. And even the poor did their best to mend beautifully, resulting in artistic stitching. Many of these old garments are, indeed, works of art, even if their makers didn’t see them as such.

This jacket, which I found on pinterest, is but one example:

If you’re interested in Boro and are planning to visit Japan, do go to the only Boro museum in the country. If the rumors I heard are correct, you should hurry, as the museum might be shutting down soon… I now know that you can also find Boro in flee markets throughout the country. Regrettably, I didn’t get to visit any, but perhaps you will have better luck!

ANY Texture’s Gray and Red Period

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

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

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

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

I think it started with my Dare! quilt:

Dare! My New Moths and Butterfly Quilt

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

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

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

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

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

They ended up as cute, small artsy messenger bags:

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

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

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

Wishing you all a wonderful, restful summer!

Unisex Urban Messenger Bags

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

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

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

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

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

Then the linings:

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

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

The thread barely lasted through the last stitch!

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

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

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

Off Track, Again… But Isn’t It Fun?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My New Peruvian Tapestry Totes

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

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

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

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

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

I re-discovered them while tidying up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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