Art in Times of Corona: Textile Insects

My husband says that he’ll be really worried if one day I won’t have something to worry about. I’m a worrier, there’s no denying. I worry about things small and big. In the last few years more and more big worries have occupied my mind. Climate change. The insect apocalypse. The great current mass extinction. The accumulation of plastics and people’s indifference to the massive amount of garbage we’re creating. Fast fashion and its effect on the ecology and the lives of people in third-world countries. Our steady destruction of the planet we live in. Things like that.

Numerous pessimistic thoughts filled my mind regarding the future of humans and the earth. But a pandemic that will shut the world down and send all of humanity home? That one I didn’t see coming. Not in my wildest dreams.

But here we are.

Art Under Quarantine

The second week of Social Distancing (or is it the third? I lost track…) is coming to an end. Like everyone else, I had to change and adapt. The first few days were disorienting. I kept thinking this was a dream I will soon wake up from. It wasn’t. Since then I’ve been spending way too much time online, reading news obsessively and browsing social media. This isn’t great for my emotional well being, but I can’t seem to stop. Like many other people, I’ve had bouts of anxiety and sadness. It’s really easy, under such circumstances, to stop creating. But from Day One, I forced myself to make some art, a little every day.

Over the years, art has been many things to me. When I was a kid, it was a way to pass time and ward boredom off. In my teenage years, at an arts high school, it was a means of self expression and a way to be different and “cool.” Now, as an adult, I see it as an instrument to convey ideas. My art is an adventure: an exploration of existing materials, colors, and textures, and also a way to explore the world around me as well as my inner world. In the last few years it’s also been a small effort to help the planet by upcycling and reducing waste.

Last year, after my father passed away, art took on a new role. It became healing soul medicine, helping me deal with bottomless grief. Now, amidst the first quarantine of my life, it is becoming something new altogether. Corona Art is a way to insert the illusion of control back into my life. It helps me stick to a routine. It keeps the news away for a short time each day, and helps me keep sane in a seemingly crazy world.

Art to Honor Spring and Highlight the Plight of Insects

Before the Shelter in Place order, I started to do a bit of spring gardening in my backyard. I worked for several days, and was startled by the lack of insects where they should have been buzzing. In the many hours I spent in my garden, I saw a few spiders, a few rolly-pollies, and one scissor bug. That’s it.

When the quarantine started, the weather turned appropriately gloomy and wet. I felt a strong need to bring spring into my studio. I wanted to make happy things to take my mind off everything else. At the same time, I also wanted to increase awareness to the plight of insects. People often see insects as a neaucense, and think nothing of killing them. The recent collapse of the insect population has mostly gone unnoticed, and is easily forgotten amidst a crisis like the one we’re currently facing. But the Insect Apocalypse is as big a threat to humanity as the other bug we all fear. Insects are at the bottom of the food chain. Without them, we won’t have fruits, vegetables or any of the other foods we eat. Our very survival depends on the survival of insects, and therefore we really should care.

Textile Butterflies

I had trouble concentrating during those first few days of Sheltering in Place. My entire family was home. Housework was accumulating. There was more cooking, cleaning, dishes, mess. And there was always the news! I needed to work on small projects that I could start and finish in one morning. This was not the time for big art quilts. Surprisingly, the hand stitching that helped me tremendously after my father’s passing wasn’t appealing now, either. I simply didn’t have the patience it required. So I started my sewing quarantine with making textile butterflies. I haven’t sewn butterflies for a few years, since finishing my Dare! art quilt in 2017. They seemed like the perfect project now. A butterfly (or two) a day to keep the doctor away, or at least the shrink.

Textile Beetles

On the first official week of spring, I decided to highlight insects on my Facebook Page. I shared (mostly upcycled) insect art, as well as my own butterflies. That week I looked at a lot of pictures of insects, and was struck by how beautiful they were. Beetles, especially, captivated me. Beetles are very interesting visually. They have complex, symmetrical shapes with lots of compelling details. Beautiful colors, too. Enlarged, they look like sophisticated pieces of art.

After I finished making ten butterflies, I was ready to move on to something else. By then our family established a kind of quarantine-routine. The kids had Zoom classes in the mornings, and Zoom after-school activities in the afternoons. I was able to get a bit more studio time while they were busy, leaving the majority of the housework for the afternoons. It was time to move on to more involved projects.

This week I embarked on a series of four 8.5″ x 11″ beetle textile pictures. For these, I relied on pictures of actual beetles for the shape, but took full artistic liberty with the colors. These pictures are meant to be framed and hung on a wall.

Although this series is finished, I don’t think I’m quite done with beetles yet. I’m pretty sure they will come up in some of my future work.

This worldwide quarantine will undoubtedly have long-lasting effects on anyone living through it. Once it is over, I hope we humans learn some lessons. Taking care of each other is important and worthy, but we must also take care of the creatures that share this earth with us, and of the planet itself. If we don’t, worse trouble than the coronavirus will await us in the very near future.

Art is helping me plow through this unsettling time. Gardening, cooking and baking help, as well. Now, if I could only be as disciplined about exercising daily as I am about creating…

What are you doing to stay anchored?

Stay safe and healthy, everyone! Remember that spring is still happening outside, so make sure to go out every now and then and smell the flowers!

The Making of a Boro-inspired Jacket

My boro-inspired top was my first-ever attempt at making a jacket. It was both easier and harder than I expected.

I already wrote about why I wanted to make this jacket, and what it means to me. Many people asked me about the making process, however, so today I want to share the technical details: the steps I followed, the many mistakes I made along the way, and what I learned from them. I hope this post will inspire you to make your own jacket!

The Pattern

I knew I wanted to make a kimono-style jacket, so I started by combing Pinterest for inspiration and patterns.

I quickly realized that classic kimonos are made out of simple rectangles sewn together. Some have narrowing sleeves, and that’s what I decided to go for. For the body, instead of the regular, straight rectangle cut, I chose an A-shaped one (also typical to classic kimonos), hoping it would be slightly less boxy.

The Measurements

For measurements, I took a few of my store-bought jackets out of my closet and measured them with a measuring tape. I was surprised to discover that although they were all the same stated size, their actual measurements varied greatly. Yet, they all fit, somehow. So I settled on a specific width somewhere in the middle (measured from underarm to underarm), and spent some time calculating the rest. My daughter suggested making the sleeves extra long, so they could be folded. I therefore added a few inches to the sleeve length.

The Foundation

I cut and sewed the entire piece out of a pretty flannel-like fabric I had in my stash, to create a foundation layer. That was my canvas.

The Patching

My sewing room wasn’t big enough for this project, and therefore for the next several days I took over our living room floor. I lay the foundation piece down, and started arranging patches over it, much like I did with my artsy pouches. I used mostly pieces from tattered pants belonging to family members, but also added a few vintage Japanese fabrics I bought in Nara, as well as matching bits from my stash. For the back, I chose a central panel I found at FabMo a while back.

When organizing the patches, I tried to balance the colors, tones and patterns as I do with a quilt or bag. Once I was happy with an arrangement, I pinned the pieces down.

I went on doing this for several days, arranging, moving, rearranging. Finally, I finished covering the entire foundation, and was satisfied with how it looked.

I moved the entire mess out from the living room and back into my sewing corner, to my family’s great relief!

The Sewing

The next stage was machine sewing the patches down onto the foundation fabric. That was when I realized my first mistake. I secured most patches on with one or two pins. When I tried to put the large mass of fabric on my sewing table, I had to fold it into a bundle so it would fit. The patches folded and moved, and the pins caught other pieces/layers creating a huge, uncontrollable blob of very heavy fabric…

Untangling the whole thing took quite some time, and was accompanied by words unfit for print…

If I were to ever do this again, I wouldn’t sew a foundation for the entire garment. Rather, I would cut and patch each individual piece separately, before putting them together in the end. Also, I would probably use safety pins, and more than one or two per patch…

I sewed and zigzagged around every single patch, much as I did with the artsy pouches. When all the patches were securely fastened onto the foundation, I embarked on the fun part of the project: hand stitching.

Hand Stitching

I used both pearl cotton thread and embroidery floss, and covered the patches with a web of Sashiko-style stitches. I took my time with this, doing a bit each day. My hands still hurt from stitching through the thick fabrics of my latest art quilt (and from lots of spring pruning), so I didn’t want to over-do it. I stitched for about a week and a half, enjoying the quiet moments, the meditative nature of the slow work…

The hard part was deciding when to stop. Which patches needed more stitching? When is enough enough? Can there be too many stitches?

The Lining

When I started this project, I wasn’t planning to make a lining. I thought that the foundation layer would function as the inside of the garment. That’s why I chose a nice fabric for that. But as I was working, I realized that the inner fabric doesn’t go too well with the outer layer. Also, it didn’t look great with all the stitches visible. So I decided to add a separate lining, and happened to have the perfect fabric for that: a beautiful red cotton with an Indian-like pattern.

Taking a break from stitching, I cut and sewed the lining. I tried it on, and … nearly had a heart attack! When my arms were up, you see, it was absolutely perfect. But when I put my hands down, the sleeves under the armpits scrunched terribly!

I calmed down only after consulting with fellow-sewists in some of my Facebook groups, when I realized that that’s just the way it is with kimonos…

Were I to do this again, I would consider a more fitted, Western-style sleeve, to eliminate some of that bulk. This is less noticeable with thin fabrics such as silk, and more so with thicker fabrics.

Putting It All Together

I could hardly sleep the night before I sewed it together. I was excited and anxious all at once. In the morning, I drank enough coffee to make sure I’m fully awake, then pinned everything together with shaking hands. I didn’t stop to take pictures. Putting the outer layer and lining right sides together, I sewed as if this were a bag. With lots of experience attaching bags to linings, I thought I knew what I was doing… I left a “birthing” space as I would in a bag, and turned the entire thing right side out.

That was when I discovered that jackets can’t be sewn like bags, and that I made a big mess out of it… I almost laughed, it was really quite ridiculous! Except I was too upset and almost cried…

Were I to do this again, I wouldn’t assume a jacket can be sewn like a bag… I would do my homework first, and learn how to attach a lining to a jacket BEFORE actually trying it…

Seam Ripper to the rescue. He was my best buddy that morning. We spent a LONG time together, he and I.

I ended up sewing the sleeve ends together by hand. I just couldn’t figure out how to do it right on the machine, and it was quicker that way. It also felt like I had more control.

Were I to do this again, I would certainly make sure I know how to do this correctly BEFORE I actually start… Spending a little time on research would have saved me the LONG time I spent unpicking…

Still, I finished my new jacket! It feels solid and heavy. The lining feels great on the skin. It’s warm! And it has long sleeves I can fold, to give it the cute look my daughter wanted it to have.

Things I’d Improve

Were I to do it again, I would change the shape of the collar to a straight line or a “v.” The collar as is sits a bit strange. I would also add a pocket or two. I decided against pockets as I was designing it, mostly because I didn’t want to detract from the patches and the Sashiko stitching. However, I regretted that decision the very first time I wore it… Lastly, I would make the jacket a little bit wider (underart to underarm). It fits me perfectly, but is too small for my daughters, who are just slightly bigger than me, eliminating future hand-me-down options…

This jacket took almost two weeks to make, but I really enjoyed the process, not to mention the end result. I hope it inspires you to make one for yourself! If you do, make sure to show me a picture!

 

My Father’s Jeans: The Story Behind My Boro-inspired Jacket

The last time I visited my father, in January of last year, I noticed a pile of folded jeans in a corner.

It turned out that these were worn-out jeans that my dad kept around just in case. He loved upcycling, and always found good uses for torn jeans. He used them to patch other pieces of clothing, for example, or to bind books. These jeans were one of many types of raw materials he kept around, for as-need-arises future use.

I had some free time that visit, and my hands felt empty. So I asked if I could have a piece of one of those jeans. I wanted to have some fabric to stitch on, to keep my fingers busy. My father gave me the entire pile.

I started working on a boro project, and kept working on it after I returned home, too. I decided to make a boro-style tote bag, and got as far as this:

Then, in March, my father passed away without warning. Just like that, the tattered pants he gave me turned from useful raw materials into sacred relics.

The boro project I began working on while visiting him moved to my Unfinished Project Pile and stayed there. The yet-unused pile of my father’s jeans remained on my cutting table, untouched, for several months.

I couldn’t look at them. Definitely couldn’t touch them. I could barely do anything at all anyway. Eventually, I exiled them to a far corner of my sewing room.

Several months later, my mom asked me to make her a small essentials pouch. I was happy to oblige. Once I started, I decided to add a small piece of my father’s jeans, one I had already cut out for the boro-patch project. I thought my mom would like to carry something of my dad’s with her. Even though I knew perfectly well that he was always with her anyway, as he is with me.

My mom was happy with her bag, and let me borrow it a few times when I visited her. That got me thinking…

As the year anniversary of my father’s passing drew near, I embarked on the most ambitious boro project I have ever attempted.

I cut and took apart some of my father’s jeans.

For color variation, I added darker pieces from my husband’s and son’s torn pants, as well as pieces of vintage Japanese fabric I bought in Nara when I visited Japan a couple of years ago. I also threw in some fabric from my stash.

I started to think of it as a family-love project, and wanted to add pieces from my daughters’ jeans as well. As it turned out, however, all the worn-out girl pants I had contained stretch, and were therefore unsuitable for a jacket. So I stuck with fabric salvaged from clothing belonging to my three favorite boys (I would have added something from my brother, too, except I didn’t have any).

I sewed and stitched for days on end. Since my hands still hurt from stitching Lavender Morning (as well as from a lot of spring pruning I did at the same time), I made sure not to over do it. I stitched a bit each day, measuring my work not in minutes or hours, but rather in stitches and patches. Hand stitching is a quiet, meditative work. It is medicine for aching hearts. In the year that passed since my father passed away, it really helped me grieve and restrain the pain. I savored every moment of it.

The anniversary of my dad’s passing drew near, and with every passing day my boro jacket was a bit closer to completion. Then, just on time, it was finished.

I don’t need a jacket to remind me of my father. He is in my thoughts constantly, every single day. But it will be nice, on the anniversary of his death, a few short days from now, to have something physical to cuddle. To have something of his embrace me.

Heavy and warm, this jacket will wrap me in a big hug. A big hug from the three most important men in my life: my son, my husband and my father.

 

Lavender Morning Art Quilt

My quilts design themselves. In a way, all of my creations do. That’s because much of my inspiration comes from the fabrics themselves. Well, sort of. 

I make both functional and fine art, and the two often influence each other. This was certainly the case with my latest quilt, Lavender Morning.

A while back I showed you the stitch meditations I made during my jury-duty wait. One of them was a small olive and lavender piece. I really loved the way it looked.

Creative Challenge: Textile sketch in purple and green

When I went on immediately afterwards to make fourteen artsy pouches, I made one in a similar color combination. That was when I realized that I really needed to make a bigger art quilt using the same palette.

Last year, I made three quilts in a series I tentatively called “Color Explosion,” but later renamed “Colors of the Day.” I wanted to add one more piece to that series, and this color combination seemed just right.

I gathered the fabrics I had in those colors, and started playing. I lay them on my recently-excavated design carpet (did I mention cleaning up my sewing room at the end of last year?). Then I moved them around until I found a composition I was happy with:

I tried to listen to the fabrics. The ikat-like stripe on the bottom wanted a design companion, so I added a fissure on the left.

I then added one on the right, too, for balance. The light green fabric with the circles stood out to me, so I decided to make circles a central motif in this work. I played with filled and empty circles, trying to balance both the composition and the colors. Moving circles around took quite some time. 

I settled on this:

For the previous quilts in this series, I mixed machine quilting with hand stitching. Choosing embroidery floss for the hand stitching part is always one of the activities I enjoy most!

When I hand stitch, I like incorporating Sashiko stitching. I often enjoy combining different kinds of stitches in my work. I don’t try to be perfect. I’m not a machine, and believe that it’s the imperfections of the human hand that give a piece character.

Some parts of the quilt, though, require machine quilting. Mostly parts where I want the fabric itself to shine, as machine stitching doesn’t “steal” the show the way hand quilting does.

Sometimes, though, things don’t work out the way I want them to. After thinking long and hard about how to stitch the upper part of this quilt, I decided to go with wavy lines, to continue playing with the circular theme. I used a dark purple thread, but it just didn’t look right…

And so, I spent an entire afternoon undoing the machine quilting (I don’t recommend doing much of that if you can help it! Tedious work…):

I replaced the wavy lines with zigzag stitches, in a lighter-colored lavender thread. Now the quilting was much less dominant:

At that point, the flowery fabric above asked for design companions, too. So the stitching on the left-most panel involved uneven flowers in three different greens:

It just so happened, that I had similar flowers blooming in my garden right then!

I used felt as batting for this quilt, and the top and back fabrics were rather thick. I also did a lot of spring fruit-tree pruning right around then, and ended up with rather sore hands. But I think it was worth it. Finally, the quilt was complete!

 

Looking Back at 2019

2019 just ended. For me personally, it wasn’t only the end of a year or of a decade, but also the end of an era.

My year started well, with a fun trip to Cambodia and Thailand followed by a happy celebration of my mom. Then, in March, my father passed away unexpectedly.

The death of a beloved parent is a life-changing event. For months, it didn’t seem real. It still doesn’t. Everything I did before my dad’s passing came to a screeching halt. For a long while, I could hardly function. Simple tasks were overwhelming, with grief sneaking up in the most unexpected moments. I didn’t find the energy to be creative.

My father passed away exactly half-way through my Calendar Quilt project. I started this self-imposed challenge in October 2018, with the intention of making one mini-quilt for every month of the year. In the few months following my father’s death, those monthly minis were the only creative thing I did. Every month, I forced myself to design one small quilt. Getting started was hard, but once I began sewing I miraculously felt better. It felt good to touch textiles, with their soft, comforting textures. Hand stitching slowly and quietly was meditative. Concentrating on the simple act of pushing needle and thread through fabric made me forget other things, if only temporarily…

By working on these mini quilts, I slowly stitched my soul back together.

Once this series was done, I didn’t want to stop stitching. I started working on a new quilt series, which I tentatively called the Color Explosion Series (a name I later changed). This new series allowed me to play with colors and textures to my heart’s content. No excuses needed. And it allowed me to stitch until my fingers hurt.

The more I stitched, the more my creative juices started flowing. I was finally able to get back to some of the projects I started before my dad passed. I finished a batch of bags, then a bunch of journals. A family of noisy raccoons inspired me to make a small raccoon quilt.

Then, at the end of October, I was called for jury duty. For one week my life was put on hold, as I had to go online every few hours to check my status. In that week I decided to use up two large ziplock bags full of small, oddly-shaped scraps. I started a series of 5-inch-square stitch-meditation sketches.

On the last day of that week, one fuchsia pile of scraps refused to become a sketch, and forced me to create a zipper bag instead. That was the beginning of a magical month of creativity. It resulted in fourteen artsy pouches, which I gave as holiday gifts to women I care about.

My piles of unfinished projects haven’t shrunk at all in 2019. I haven’t finished most of the works I started in 2018 (or before). In fact, I haven’t accomplished a whole lot. I really needed time to mourn, however, and the mental space to rearrange my shattered world. Along the way, my priorities shifted. I had a lot of time to think. Where this will take me remains to be seen…

I ended the year with a major cleanup of my ever-messy sewing room. Although I didn’t go into every shelf and drawer, I managed to bring it back to a functional condition. It’s now ready for a new year of creativity.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year! I hope 2020 will bear only good news, to each and every one of us, and to the fragile world we live in.

A Dragon Quilt for My Beloved Boy

Prologue

I took my first quilting class while pregnant with my first child. Her baby quilt was finished before she was even born. Shortly after she turned one, I made a beautiful album summarizing her first year of life. Then, when she was about four years old and all into princesses, I sewed her a flowing magenta princess cape.

Her little sister got her own cape (but in blue) at the same time. She was barely two years old, and wanted everything her big sister had. Caring for two toddlers didn’t leave me with much free time, however, so my second daughter only got her baby quilt when she was about two and a half and much too big for it. I didn’t get to make her baby album until after she turned three, when my parents came for a visit (giving me some free time). 

My third child turned five without getting any of the above-mentioned markers of motherly love. By then he understood what getting the short end of the stick meant, and so he pestered me about it continuously. “When will I get my own cape?” (although he fit into his sisters’ old ones); “when am I going to get an album?;” and “what about MY quilt?”

I suspect he might have overheard me confessing my guilt to whomever was willing to listen, and that his words reflected my own bad conscious. But there is was, nonetheless.

So I finally sewed him his own cape–a knight’s cape, complete with sword and shield. I pieced a baby-quilt background, and took an applique class to learn how to applique the vehicles I wanted to put on it. But I never got to the actual appliqueing… Several months into his kindergarten year, I spent my free mornings combing through his numerous baby pictures, carefully selecting the best ones. For over a month I lovingly printed them, glued them, wrote nice captions beneath them. I kept thinking of how happy he will be to finally have his own baby album.

Then, on his sixth birthday, I asked him to close his eyes and put his arms out. I carefully placed the wrapped album in his hands, holding my breath to see his reaction. He tore the wrapping, glanced at it, and … burst into tears. This was not the birthday gift he wanted. He much preferred a set of Legos…

Needless to say, I never finished that quilt. It still lies buried, to this day, somewhere deep in my Unfinished Project piles… My son doesn’t even like vehicles any more, and yet that quilt has been sitting silent between us, all those years…

Fire-spitting Dragons

A few weeks ago my son, now in fifth grade, came by to show me a drawing he made:

I loved the composition, the lively colors he chose, the meticulous details. I immediately sent a proud picture of it to my mom and siblings.

And then I kept thinking about it, and thinking some more…

Finally, I enlarged his drawing, and printed it on four sheets of paper:

I taped them all together to form a bigger version of his creation:

My sewing room is pretty low-tech, but sometimes necessity is the mother of all inventions…  I put the enlarged print against the window, and traced the outline of the drawing’s different parts with a pencil:

Now I had all the elements separated:

I cut each piece out:

Then, I selected a fabric for the background. I had several light-blue swatches that seemed perfect, but they were all too small. There were less options among my bigger pieces, but I finally found something suitable. I went on to choose additional fabrics from my scrap boxes in colors matching his work (they do come handy, those scraps!):

Putting the paper outlines on top of the fabrics, I carefully cut the pieces out:

I laid them all on the background fabric, then pinned them down:

Two of the clouds proved problematic: the cloud behind the wings, and that behind the head. Somehow, they just didn’t look right when translated into fabric. So I exercised some artistic freedom and moved them elsewhere…

I zigzagged all around the pieces, using black thread to mimic the drawing’s outline:

Then came the exciting part… When my son was a baby, I once took a free-motion quilting class. That was very long ago. I wasn’t good at it then, and I haven’t practiced since. In fact, I haven’t even used my free-motion foot in all those years, and barely remembered where I put it. But now I had to fish it out and use it to draw the scales. So I did.

It was nerve-wracking. I was so tense, that my arms started shaking after a while. But I kept at it. I put scales on the tail, on the body, on the head. Even on the legs. But I decided to leave the wings unscaled, diverting from the original drawing, because the fabric I used already looked scale-like. I was pretty happy with the result, and quite proud of myself, too! This is how it looked from the back:

I decided to add a border, since the blue alone looked too pale against the wall. My son loves red, and red matched the fire. So I added a red frame. I sandwiched the quilt, using a checkered fabric for the backing:

Then I started quilting. I used wavy horizontal lines to quilt the background since they gave it a bit of movement, and also somewhat mimicked the lines of the folder paper my son originally used. Finally, there it was: a dragon quilt for my beloved son!

At first, I though I’ll wait until my son’s birthday to give it to him. Turned out I was too excited for that… So I decided to give it right away instead, as an early birthday gift. I could hardly wait for my son to come home from school. When he finally did, I asked him to close his eyes and put his arms out. I carefully placed the quilt, back-side up, in his hands. My heart was pounding hard. I didn’t know what to expect. I held my breath…

My child opened his eyes and read the dedication I wrote on the back. Then he turned the quilt over. His eyes expanded in wonder. “How did you do it??” he asked once, and then again. “How did you do it?”

For a split second I felt like a magician, with textile art as my magic. How did I do it indeed?

My son ran to his room and brought his original drawing. He put the two side by side, drawing and quilt, and looked them both over. 

My work passed the test. He absolutely loved it!

And me? I loved being a magician, if only for a little while…

Quilt debt paid.

 

A Creative Challenge for a Jury-Duty Week

I was recently called for jury duty. The postcard I received told me to check my status on a Friday evening. On Friday, the website said to check again on Monday morning. And so it went. For an entire week I was on call, checking my status every few hours. I couldn’t make any plans, and didn’t want to start working on anything big. So I looked around my sewing room and noticed my scraps.

Out of principal, I use only upcycled textiles. I’m passionate about  zero-waste and reducing textile waste, which means I tend to keep every little scrap. I store all of my rectangular scraps in plastic bins. But I also have some very small and oddly-shaped scraps, which I’ve been collecting into two large zip-lock bags. That week I decided to use the latter.

I gave myself a creative challenge: I decided to create small, 5″ square fabric studies. Each were to use my tiniest scraps, pretty much as they were. I could cut them to fit, but I wasn’t allowed to alter their shape. My idea was to try to make interesting compositions out of existing shapes.

I started by sorting the scraps into color piles:

Then I chose a purple and blue color palette, and worked on creating the first composition. Since composition and color were what this piece was about, I took my time moving fabric scraps around to find just the right balance. Once I was happy with how it looked, I machine stitched the patches in place. I proceeded to add some hand stitching with embroidery floss. I love the look of hand stitches. To me, they add character and life to a piece of art. At that point I decided to add some yellow to give the piece more spark:

I expected this work to be a quick sew. Surprisingly, it actually took a few hours start to finish. But I was quite happy with the result:

The next day I chose a blue, red and orange palette, and created another piece:

In my work, I try to let the fabrics speak for themselves. I see fraying, loose threads and imperfections as a part of the work, something that adds interest and character: 

On the third day, I settled on some narrow strips, about 0.5″ wide, in purple, magenta and olive. The evening was cold, and so it was very relaxing to stitch this piece in front of the fire!

This is how it turned out:

On the fourth day I was intent to start a fourth piece, but the scraps had other intentions. As I was about to plan a new composition, they forced me into designing a zippered pouch instead… That was the beginning on a zip-bag extravaganza (albeit one that followed my original creative challenge) that continued long after my jury duty ended. Alas, this is a story for another post…

Kyoto Textile-Lover’s Tour

During our family trip to Japan I managed to carve out one day for a solo Kyoto Textile-Lover’s Tour. I combed through our guidebooks and the internet, and came up with an itinerary that seemed promising. Then I ditched my family and went exploring. As it turned out, some of my destinations ended up being great fun, while others … less so.

The Kyoto Shibori Museum

My first stop was the Shibori Museum, which happened to be within walking distance from my hotel. This small but pleasant museum has two floors. The bottom floor has a small shop selling books about shibori as well as hand-dyed fabrics and finished artwork. It also has space dedicated to classes.

The second floor features a detailed exhibition explaining different dyeing techniques, mostly from Japan but also from other countries. There is an English brochure, and the display has English signs making the dyeing process clear.

When I visited the museum, I was the only guest there. The staff was very helpful, and I got to have a private, English-speaking tour guide who took me through the exhibition and answered all my questions. Then I had my own, private shibori lesson, resulting in a beautiful silk scarf (that the director of the museum himself helped me unravel!):

Needless to say, I greatly enjoyed my visit and highly recommend this museum! To learn more check the museum’s website.

The Nishijin Textile Center

After I finished my scarf, I headed over to the Nishijin Textile Center. Nishijin was Kyoto’s traditional weaving district. When I learned it had a Textile Center, I couldn’t be more excited! My excitement died down when I got there, however. Although informative, the Center felt like a big tourist trap. Tourists arrived by the bus-loads, and were swarming throughout the displays and shop. Coming from the amazing-yet-deserted Shibori Museum, I was very surprised to see so many people at a textile center…

The ground floor of the Center had an old-fashioned display, with fading posters explaining the Nishijin weaving process. 

The second floor was mostly a huge shop. It had beautiful fabrics for sale, as well as traditional Japanese clothes.

There was a weaving demonstration:

A wall display explaining the different kinds of fabrics:

And some other small displays:

The Center also offered an array of classes in different textile arts (such as weaving, or making your own hat or purse). Had I not just taken a class at the shibori museum, I would have surly done so here. 

The Center also featured a fashion show, showcasing different styles of kimonos:

To plan your trip to the Center (and maybe take a class there), check out their website.

Aizenkobo Workshop

From the Textile Center I walked a few blocks to the Aizenkobo workshop.This family workshop (or atelier), is located in a traditional wooden house on a small alley. It specializes in indigo dyeing, and the making of Japanese and Western-style clothing. The front room of the house is a shop selling functional (but rather old fashioned) pieces. 

When I got there, the place was very quiet and I was the only visitor. Eventually an elderly man came out to greet me. He showed me to the work area at the back of the house. In very broken English he explained that his son, the artist, wasn’t there. I understood that the family wasn’t making the indigo dye themselves, but rather bought it from other parts of Japan. Their expertise was the dyeing itself. The language barrier made it difficult for me to understand much, and my host didn’t want me to take any pictures. Sadly, the visit ended up feeling rather awkward. 

If you wish to visit the workshop but can’t speak Japanese, I suggest coming with an interpreter (or possibly the artist himself speaks some English?). You can also check their website for more information.

Orinasu-kan

A rather long walk in scorching heat then lead me to Orinasu-kan. Established in 1989, this small museum is dedicated to preserving Kyoto’s traditional dyeing and weaving culture. It is housed in a beautiful (but dark) old building that was once an obi (kimono belt) shop.

When I entered the museum, I realized that, once again, I was the only patron. A grumpy receptionist who spoke no English reluctantly greeted me. He then got really upset with me when I didn’t understand where he wanted me to put my shoe-less feet…

The ground-floor display was interesting, but with sparse English explanations. It had some beautiful Noh costumes, as well as fabric-pattern books.

The small upstairs gallery had some coarser woven fabrics:

The receptionist asked me something about a tour, and I said yes. He then showed me into a darkish side room, gave me some tea, and left me there alone for half an hour. I must admit that I was a bit nervous at that point, not sure what was going on. I regretted not bringing my family along (though I knew my kids would not have enjoyed any of it).

Eventually, the receptionist told me to go back up to the second-floor gallery. Once there, a door I haven’t even noticed opened in the far wall. A man came out and motioned for me to follow. I did, although I wasn’t at all sure if that was the right (or safe) thing to do. The man told me not to take any pictures. Then he showed me into a room-full of weaving looms. The room was very hot, humid and crowded with looms. There were only two weavers present, however, each working on a different type of fabric. Seeing how they wove the intricate designs was interesting.

If you want to visit this museum, I suggest to take someone along, to make it less awkward. I couldn’t find a website for the museum, but you can read more about it here. And do expect to be yelled at as you attempt to take your shoes off…

Nomura Tailor House

By the time I was done with the Orinasu-kan Museum I was rather exhausted, but there was still one destination on my list: the Nomura Tailor House, a large fabric store. I took a bus and then walked some more. When I got there, melting and thirsty, I found this:

I almost burst into tears. Luckily, the second branch in this chain was only a couple of blocks away, and I made it there safely.

My family joined me as I was shopping, and we all went to a cafe. There, I cooled down with a well-earned iced matcha latte.