Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fiddling with Fall Leaves

A fun pastime I've done in years past whenever I find myself amidst colorful fall foliage or when I'm in the company of a couple of bored kids in need of a project. This maker activity has it all, from the thrill of the hunt as you search for the leaves, to the zoned-out delight of creating an artful collage, to the giftable end result.


Glue stick and index cards (or any stiff paper cut to approximate size of index card

Fall leaves of different colors, shapes, sizes

The Process:

Play with the leaves, arranging them on the card in different configurations

The goal is to create a semi-abstract fall landscape. Once you have something that pleases you, glue the leaves down to the card and then trim leaves so they are flush with the edge of the card.

Glue down framing strips on top of leaves

Cut strips from one of your blank cards lengthwise and make a number of strips about 1/2" to 1" wide. The final step is to use those strips to create a frame. Arrange the strips on top of your leaf collage, making sure the outer edges are flush with the card. Glue the strips down to create a frame.

The Final Product:

Assortment of leaf cards

Close-up of card

Close-up of card

Close-up of card

And yes, you can send these through the mail. Your chances of them arriving intact at the other end are enhanced if you add a layer of clear plastic (get self-adhesive plastic shelving material from the hardware store, sold by the foot).

Friday, October 19, 2012

Extreme Mending (Uber Boro)

Extreme mending

The traditional Japanese approach to mending called "boro" (which literally translates to "rags" or "scraps of cloth") means mending for life, with garments repaired throughout the owner's lifetime and beyond. Peasant clothing fashioned from hemp and cotton, often in shades of indigo, was repeatedly patched and extensively repaired for generations. Multiple layers of fabric were sewn together with "sashiko" stitching - a simple stitch that runs in parallel lines and may also be cross-hatched.

Sashiko stitching on my travel vest

While I am an avid mender and have invented mending techniques of my own (see Mend Writing), I always assumed that at a certain point you simply have to give up, until I encountered the art of boro and started applying it to my travel vests. While boro is usually shades of indigo, my travel vests are usually shades of green and are made of linen. Hard wear around the world eventually results in rotting fabric which I gamely try to patch - and patch and patch and patch.

Old vest with multiple patches and extreme rot

Close-up: multiple patches on pocket, which continues to distintegrate

The vest above lasted for a decade or two. Patching techniques included the clever strategy of snipping material from the inside pocket (which was then replaced with another fabric) and using the snipped material for patches.

Inside of vest, showing where inside pocket panels were removed and replaced with other fabric. Fabric from the inside panels was then used as patching material

 I grew so attached to this vest that even after I thought it was no longer salvageable I couldn't bear to throw it out.

My current travel vest, also green linen, has also begun to rot at an alarming rate. This vest was created by converting a thrift store linen jacket, which involved cutting off the sleeves and the collar. Material from the sleeves was then used to create a V-shaped panel in the back, and to create an inside security pocket (absolutely essential in a travel vest). Leftover material from sleeves and collar became patching material as the vest began to go the way of all travel vests.

Travel vest from a converted linen jacket

Back of jacket with added V-shape panel and textile art

This vest includes a panel of textile art on the back by artist Paul Nosa, which was a gift from a friend. Unfortunately, my clever strategy of salvaging yet more patching material by cutting away fabric from underneath the textile art backfired when the fabric edges began to fray as seen above.

The use of boro has changed everything, including my tendency to want to hide the patching by using identical material. Boro has taught me that the patching itself is beautiful, particularly when highlighted by sashiko stitching, and different shades of fabric can enhance the end effect. My poor old wreck of a vest that I couldn't bear to throw away has now been cannibalized into patches for my current vest. 

Boro in progress


I am learning that boro is like gardening; it requires ongoing maintenance. I hold the vest up to the light and can see where the fabric is so thin that it is about to give way and I add another patch. There is joy in knowing I will never, ever have to give up this travel vest. I will maintain it through my lifetime and it will then go to whichever grandniece seems the most adventurous. By then it should be absolutely gorgeous.

Back, with sashiko stitching in progress

For more about the history of boro cloth in Japan and to see some lovely examples, visit Kimono Boy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Found: Glass Landscapes

I usually find this glass-on-top-of-walls business ugly, upsetting and/or depressing, but for some reason this time around I was struck by how beautiful it is. All of these were discovered in various alleyways in San Miguel de Allende.

And a final glass landscape with a mixed message: "Peace and love to all mankind, but if you try to get into my house I will cut you to ribbons. . . love, Mary."

Friday, October 5, 2012

Creating Embroidered Ex-votos

Many are familiar with Mexican retablos - folk-art images painted on tin or wood thanking god, the virgin, or one of many saints for a miracle related to surviving a health crisis, accident, natural hazard, animal attack, or other misfortune. During a recent visit to San Miguel de Allende I encountered the regional custom of embroidering rather than painting these ex-votos (offerings of gratitude), which are called milagros. While I normally think of milagros as small tin depictions of body parts, people, and possessions that the devout buy and pin to the garments of statues of holy figures in the church, in this case the term is being used to refer to these embroidered pieces.

Two examples of these ex-votos, on display in the house where I was staying, are shown below.

Thanks to the virgin (senorita) for assistance in an encounter with a coyote

Thanks to the Virgin of Guadalupe for watching over the sewer's mother

Itchy fingers and an urge to create my own ex-voto led to a trip to a fabric store for supplies (always an adventure in Mexico involving a somewhat baffling, multi-step  purchasing process). As for the miracle, no problem; one was delivered right to the tranquil little plaza of San Antonio where we enjoyed hanging out in the evening. One night a throng of people were on the steps of the church of San Antonio, surrounding a couple who were dishing up ice cream. A little kid I'd made friends with came up, cone in hand, and told us we should go and get some ice cream for free. I asked why it was free and he said it was a gift from the virgin (or for the virgin?). We got our two, free, absolutely delicious lime ice cream cones. Later investigation led to the finding that the ice cream incident coincided with citywide celebrations to commemorate the day of Our Lady of Loreto, one of the patron deities of San Miguel de Allende.

Images of the Our Lady of Loreto appear throughout San Miguel de Allende. She is intriguing because she has no arms, though there is some dispute about just why she has no arms. More about her and how and why San Miguel celebrates her can be found in the local paper, Atencion.

Statue of Lady of Loreto over doorway

Lady of Loreto above Institute de Allende

Note how, because she has no arms, Jesus sort of sticks out of her side or rides on her shoulder. In my embroidered ex-voto, I thanked the Virgin of Loreto for her gift of lime ice cream.

Offering of thanks to the Lady of Loreto

Thanks to the Virgin of Loreto (without arms) for the lime ice cream.

Go back to the photos of the statues above and note how Our Lady of Loreto resembles an upside-down ice cream cone.

Lady of Loreto (shown upside down to reveal startling resemblance to ice cream cone)

I found the stone patterns in some of the walls in San Miguel de Allende intriguing and replicated that pattern in the Lady's ice cream cone garment.

Wall of the Institute de Allende

Replicating the stone pattern in the ice cream cone

Because the Lady of Loreto has no arms, I decided to embroider some floating alongside her. They look like the little tin charms most of us think of when we hear the word "milagro."

 And finally, a little detail from the ex-voto:

Inspired? Go out and make an ex-voto of your own.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Contrary Toddler Couture

Here's a solution for using up leftover sewing notions, getting rid of yet another used t-shirt, and ending up with a very artsy and vaguely Parisian outfit for your favorite toddler. Step one involves scoring a cheap romper pattern for a couple of dollars. Then start cutting up a t-shirt, mixing in some random fabric scraps, and tossing unrelated notions onto the garment.

Romper displayed on child's wicker rocker

This romper starts with a t-shirt from the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. as the base. Shoulder straps are scraps from an upcycled man's shirt. Four buttons from a vintage button collection allow the straps to be adjustable. Notions include silk roses and scraps of lace, contributing to the "ooh la la" look.

Adding buttons makes the straps adjustable

Oooh la la!
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