Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Craft book review and giveaway: Vintage Made Modern by Jennifer Casa

Yay a free book!
Roost Books contacted me recently about reviewing a new craft project book they were publishing, Vintage Made Modern - Transforming Timeworn Textiles into Treasured Heirlooms by Jennifer Casa. I don't normally do book reviews but I had to say yes to this opportunity because making new things out of vintage textiles is my current passion!


Wait, this is scary!
OK I'll be honest, my very first thought when I heard about this book was "Oh no! I haven't even started selling the things I'm making from reclaimed textiles and now a book is coming out that will show everyone how to make everything and no-one will buy my new stuff!" Which is totally self-centered but, I think, a kind of common worry that makers might have in this age of copious tutorials, Pinterest, and thousands of up-and-coming makers getting online every year. 

Phew!
But, like most narcissistic worries, this one was unfounded and easy to cast aside as soon as I opened the book and read the introduction. I realized I'm not in competition with Jennifer Casa, we just happen to be on the same wavelength. And that's a great thing to discover and rediscover and remember and re-remember. There is room for ALL of us makers and even if we use similar materials and/or techniques as someone else. We bring our own unique eye and hand to each piece we make and that is the key. Being inspired alongside someone else who really gets why you are so excited about something like say, a tattered quilt, is really fun! And it feels good, not scary. So I settled into a comfy chair with a hot cup of tea and devoured the book in an afternoon.

Yes!
I loved her words about finding that first vintage unfinished hand-sewn quilt top. I had experienced the very same heart thumping joy at realizing I was holding the careful hand work of a woman from a long time ago. Like Jennifer, I appreciated the beautiful result of an unknown person's sewing. I wondered who that person was and wanted to honor her efforts today, to take her forgotten work out of drawers and storage boxes and make something new for people to appreciate now. I wanted to collaborate with strangers from the past. 

"Making pretty things from vintage treasures is a way to write yet another chapter in stories composed long ago, with you becoming part of the narrative." -Jennifer Casa, Vintage Made Modern


Eye candy!
This book is very pretty with gorgeous, evocative photographs on almost every page. The pictures in this book give me the same feeling of contented joy as my own vintage textile collection does. The projects are sorted by which type of vintage textile you will be using such as quilt blocks, vintage pillowcases, kitchen linens, etc. The projects are mostly small and accessible to every skill level including some that kids can do. They cover the gamut from housegoods to wearables to accessories. The book includes some no-sew items as well. 

Free project!
The project instructions are carefully described in detailed lists. I only wish the sweet instructional illustrations were more detailed and more numerous. The publisher provided me with a PDF of a free project from the book for you to try out. I was going to make this circle scarf myself before real life intruded and I ran out of time, but I do still intend to try it soon. It's just the kind of thing I would enjoy making and wearing.

Book giveaway!
I also have free copies of the book to send to two interested readers! Leave me a comment below and tell me if you have a love affair with vintage textiles and how that manifests itself in your life. I'll choose two winners at random by 5 PM eastern time on Friday, October 24th, 2014. Please be sure your comment links to contact information so I can get a hold of you if you are a winner!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Vintage feed sack quilt top


In July Dell and I went to Martha's Vineyard to stay with my folks and have a nice vacation, which we totally did! I'm so grateful we were able to do that. I used to vend at the Chilmark flea and though it is in a different location these days, I wanted to go through and see how it looked, maybe see an old friend. 



As my current interest is in vintage hand-sewn textiles, I stopped at the booth of my favorite lace vendor to see her wares. I was so excited to see she had this gorgeous, hand-sewn, vintage, feedsack, patchwork quilt top! It fits beautifully on our double sized bed and only had a few tiny holes. 



I bought it! When I got it home I soaked it in Retro Clean then in Soak. After I press it, I'll figure out how best to finish it so we can use it. Here are details of some of the patterns:


 

 

 


Have you ever finished a vintage quilt top from this era? How did you decide to do it? I've read lots of blog posts but I'm interested in your solutions too. Did you back it with quilting cotton? Flannel? Modern fabric or vintage? Did you use batting or were you too concerned with bearding? Did you quilt it? By machine or by hand? Or did you tie it? Let me know in the comments! 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Creating the Cover Art for Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter by Robin Smith-Johnson

A few years ago we got the good news that my poet sister-in-law, Robin Smith-Johnson, was going to have a book published! It would be a collection of her poems. Everyone in my husband’s family is a writer so being published is a goal for all of them. We were very excited and happy that Robin would have her hard work compensated and a dream fulfilled!

I was humbled and honored when Robin approached me to produce the cover art for her book. I am trained in the fine arts of painting, drawing, and printmaking but I make my living now producing mostly small 3-dimensional works. I have done some invitations, brochures, and other graphic design projects over the years but never something like a book jacket. Still, I wanted very much to be a part of this exciting event.

Robin didn't specify what kind of cover she envisioned. She told me the title of her book, Dream of the Antique Dealer’s Daughter, and I instantly pictured a pencil drawing.  It was Wendell and Moo, Robin’s parents, sitting in front of the antique shop the Smiths ran for years, The Incredible Barn. I imagined myself drawing the scene depicted in an old black and white photo we had in our collection, it depicts the last day of the shop being open and evokes a melancholy feeling. I knew I could produce this drawing and do a good job. I said yes to Robin.


She asked if I wanted to read the title poem. I admit, sheepishly, I was distracted at the time and I said it wasn't necessary, I thought I had all I needed just from the title! Later, I reflected further on the question and realized it was foolish not to read the poem so I emailed her and said of course, yes, please send me the poem.


Well. The title poem is not about the kind of dream I had assumed. It was not “dreamy” and nostalgic. It was powerful, intense, and dark. The dream was more like a nightmare. My heart skidded to a lurching stop. I immediately realized I was completely wrong about the art I had planned to produce. I realized I should read the whole book and start from scratch.

Robin sent me her manuscript. I stayed home, I put soft Brazilian jazz from the 60s on repeat and read all the poems. The collection Robin assembled is a journey through her life. Observations about emotions, life situations, are met with a clear and steady eye. She does not shy from the dark things, she appreciates beauty as well. The two extremes play off each other in many of the poems.

As I read, a new image slowly formed in my mind. And to my dismay, I realized it was emerging in a medium I was not expert in. I knew the cover had to be mixed media collage, I could already see it! I read the poems again and this time I wrote down all the keywords that represented the essence of the book to me. I wanted the artwork to be specific with imagery but also abstract, like the poems, to represent a dream state anchored by real objects.


The next thing I did was research mixed media collage techniques. I looked at tutorials online and downloaded e-books. I talked with textile and mixed media artists in the building where I have my studio. I bought books, I borrowed magazines. I studied.

Then I started collecting materials and images. I borrowed a photo my husband snapped of a mannequin and made that the focus. I printed her on fabric. I had an old atlas with a map of Moldova which I copied and painted a wash over. I scanned a pastel that Wendell had made of the seashore. I used fabrics from my vast stash, including some vintage calicoes from my mother’s collection. I used real sand and shells I had collected on Cape Cod beaches. I added magazine clippings, a drawing of books my mom had made, lace, and more. I assembled the whole collage with acrylic medium on vellum and canvas paper then I drew on it and sewed and embroidered right through the whole thing by hand.



didn't get it right the first time, it took several tries. But I knew when the last shell was glued on that I had echoed, at least for myself, the feeling I had when reading Robin’s powerful poems. I wanted a person picking up Robin’s book to get a feeling from the cover about what was inside, I wanted the cover to evoke an overall feeling that accurately represented the contents. A close reading would reveal the correlation between certain poems, individual lines of poetry, to the various symbols used in the cover image, like a little treasure hunt, a puzzle solved.


Now that it’s published and out in the world I feel nervous and excited. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. I hope I was successful. I want to be worthy of the trust Robin placed in me to create the face with which her book would greet the world. And I hope you pick up a copy of the book, it’s an amazing collection that won’t fail to leave you moved and thinking about life, about both the darkness and the light. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I started a Tumblr

If you enjoyed the last blog post, I wanted to let you know I started a Tumblr where I will continue posting the odd/silly/sweet things I find as I go through all the things I own.

This kind of thing:

Nooo!! Take it back, 1991, take it back!!


Journal my mom published in the Vineyard Gazette some years back about wrens nesting in her clothespin bag on Martha’s Vineyard

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Some things I ran across while clutter busting

I've been clutter busting in 3 locations; my condo in Lowell, my studio, and in my childhood home. The stuff I left behind in my old bedroom is the hardest because before I met my husband, things were pretty emotionally fraught in my life. I was young and, like most young people, full of angst and not great at making life decisions or navigating complicated relationships. That is unfortunately extensively documented in the papers and items I am going through and it's no fun to rehash.

Since I learned how to bust using Brooks Palmer's methods, I have been able to do it, and continue to do it without being thwarted by emotions that would have stopped me in the past. Don't get me wrong, the weird feelings still arise, they just don't stop me now like they used to. But I still have to feel them and work through them. Luckily, the freedom and energy that come from busting are stronger than the ickiness of revisiting a painful past.

One of the unexpected things perks of clutter busting is coming across fun/interesting things too! Here are some items I've found while going through my high school and college papers:

A conte crayon selfie I did, probably in the late 80s. Check out that rat tail and that men's blazer!
 
Thank goodness I found this! 

Apple's first attempt at the iPad 1993. Too soon!

Wherein I find out there is a bias against craft in the art world and vow to work to erase it.
   
Kicking myself for not investing in this treasure!! (early 90s) 

Early mission statement. Still true. (1989?)

Lino print of my converse, I'm thinking this is  from high school era (mid eighties)


In college I drew my Doc Marten & printed it lithographically. Shoes were important to me!

Then I sculpted my Converse by soldering wire. My fave part is the worn tread.
 
Just to let you know where I stood on the matter. 


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Clutter Busting for artists, an interview with Brooks Palmer

In my last post I talked about my recent success tackling clutter at home and in my studio using Clutter Busting, by Brooks Palmer. I emailed Mr. Palmer and he agreed to answer some questions specific to artists. 

Liz Smith: Hi Brooks! Thanks so much for answering some questions related to your book, Clutter Busting. I’ve found your book, blog, and videos very helpful, life-changing in fact, and I’m excited to spread the word so others can purchase your products and services and experience the benefits I’m enjoying as well as support your business so you can keep doing your helpful work.

A lot of my readers are like me and run small creative businesses. I know you are also a creative person; an artist, musician, and stand up comedian. I've found your clutter busting principles very helpful in my home where it’s fairly easy to discern which objects and papers are clutter, but it’s a little harder when it comes to my studio.

I read in your book where the first glimmer of your abilities came from finding truth in an art teacher’s suggestion to start with a clear work surface so that ideas might have a place to come in.

A clear work surface is the aspirational goal of pretty much every artist I know! But it sometimes feels unattainable. Making art is messy! I have a studio where I can walk away from work in progress and close the door. When I come back it’s there, ready for further work. How can an artist tell if they need to start with a clean slate and when leaving supplies out is inspirational?

Brooks Palmer: Every artist will have different things and ways that support the art that they do. Some artists love to have their materials out and ready to go. Others like to have them put away. It’s figuring out what works best for you. I encourage people to go with what supports them rather than what would be ideal. Follow your nature. What I found works best for me is to have a clean and open space to work. Excess distracts me. Someone else works best with supplies around them. 

As far as a clean slate goes, sometimes the work an artist has been doing changes. Sometimes the style of what they do changes. Other times they change to a completely different medium. I would ask yourself, “Do I like to still do this work, or not?” Sometimes we don’t want to admit that we are tired of an old way of creating because we are scared of change. But it helps to respect the change. It will make your art more powerful.

LS: I think a lot of artists are magpies, collecting shiny bits that excite us. I know I get a thrill when I see the hidden potential in discarded or found objects where others might see only trash. Of course this leads to a studio filled with boxes of other peoples’ trash. What advice do you have for folks who actually do use found objects in their work but might have collected too much?

BP: I would encourage the artist who likes to work with found art to go through each object and ask if they still like it, do they want to create with it, or not. It’s okay to say, “No” to something. You want to thin out whatever doesn't inspire you. When we are overwhelmed with things that don’t serve us, part of us shuts down, and we are less effective in our creativity and art.

LS: When I was younger the possibilities of what I could make seemed endless. I felt that addictive high shopping for art supplies, any creative path was possible. Now I’m older and for instance, I know I am not going to be a soapmaker so I got rid of all the soapmaking supplies I collected.

On the other hand, my sewing interest lay dormant for decades and seems recently to be coming into full bloom. The fabrics I've been collecting may have seemed like clutter before but now seem relevant. How should artists make decisions about collecting art supplies so they aren't spending too much, going from exciting purchase high to exciting purchase high, or drowning in unused materials, but still leave themselves open to the possibility they may one day work in a different medium?

BP: When we collect things that we don’t use, it creates a stagnant effect in our living space. There’s a dullness in the air that affects us. I encourage people to let go of what they don’t use. You don’t want to live in a warehouse. When you let go of what you don’t love, it makes the space more vibrant and alive and makes for better creativity. If and when you need new things, there are plenty of places to get it. Even cheaply.

LS: So many artists have told me stories about how they kept something they “Might use someday” and then they did! This is a powerful reason a lot of them cite for holding on to everything. What would you say to them?

BP: When you hold on to everything, there is going to be a moment when you end up needing something in your pile of things. But when hold on to everything, you live in a very distracting environment. The silence that you need for creativity is dispelled. That doesn't mean you live with nothing. Everyone is going to have a certain amount of things that suits him or her. When you take an honest inventory of your things, and let go of the things that don’t serve and inspire you, you live and create in an environment that supports you.

LS: I know you give the excellent advice that a home should not be a warehouse, that it is a space for living, but art studios do sort of become storage spaces for art supplies. Is there a way to balance storage and workspace all in one room?

BP: Again, that’s going to be a personal thing for each person. One person can creatively live with more art supplies than another person. It’s figuring out what way works best for you. That’s why I encourage the honest inventory. By looking at how you work, you see what things support you and which don’t.

LS: Except for pieces I've sold or given away, I pretty much have all the artwork I've ever made from kindergarten through today. How do I let go of art that shows my progression throughout my lifetime? Isn't this important information I should keep and learn from?

BP: There are no shoulds. You’re looking to see which things support, encourage and inspire your creativity and which distract and get in the way. Some people get inspired by seeing their old work, others get overwhelmed. I remember a documentary on the painter Francis Bacon. He was feeling stuck and uninspired with his work. So he destroyed all his old paintings. Out of that came a fresh and strong period of new work.

LS: In your opinion, is holding on to old artwork detrimental to creating new work?  

BP: It depends on the person. From my own experience, when I let go of art that I don’t care about anymore, I end up creating a fresh new batch of work. Take an honest look at your art and see if it fits and supports your creative life or not. Sometimes something that once made a positive difference in your life doesn't anymore. You’re not putting down the art by letting it go. It had a positive place in your life, and now it’s time to move on.

LS: Thanks, Brooks! I appreciate you taking the time to apply your Clutter Busting method to the artist's life. I hope people will take a look at your book and blog to learn how to do the things your suggest. For me, the most important thing I learned in your books is to approach all of this with kindness and compassion.


In his fourteen years of Clutter Busting in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City, Brooks Palmer realized the intense emotional connection most people have with material possessions, and that internal clutter must be addressed before external clutter can be discarded. He created his Clutter Busting method to help people let go of those things they no longer need and to open the doors for new possibilities.

Brooks Palmer's Clutter Busting business took off by word of mouth when people began calling, usually out of sheer desperation. He has since been featured on the TV show Raising Whitely on the Oprah Winfrey Network, in The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Business Journal and Daily Candy, and on Living Live, Chicagoing and the CBS Channel 2 Nightly News. Brooks travels between Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City, working with clients and offering seminars on getting rid of the clutter in our lives. He lives in Chicago.

Brooks speaks regularly to diverse groups around the country, including: businesses, women's groups, Rotary Club, health expos, senior citizens groups & yoga centers. Brooks also enjoys writing cartoons, drawing pastel paintings, and performing comedy at live venues. Brooks is also a singer-songwriter. His alternative folk albums, Brooks Takes His Time, and Shake the Sun are available on Amazon MP3 downloads.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Learning to manage clutter at home and in my studio

My studio crammed with great stuff and also CLUTTER
I've been reading Clutter Busting by Brooks Palmer and it’s changed my life. Seriously. I have always been what I consider a pack-rat. I knew I collected too much stuff, but I didn't understand how living with so much stuff that I didn’t love or use was crushing my spirit, quietly, daily.

I admit I have been in a bit of a lull these past two years. Things have been status quo in my business and life, not unpleasantly so. I figured that maybe after going on Martha Stewart in 2010 I had already peaked and my best days were behind me.

I have wanted to “Do something about the clutter” in my studio and home for years. I kept saying, ‘My thirties were for acquiring and my 40s will be for divesting!” Then I found myself 44 years old, galloping toward 45 and still not making major changes. In January 2014 I started cleaning efforts in my 434 sq foot studio, but it felt painful and like a miserable task. I worried I might be making mistakes letting some things go. I gritted my teeth through it and kept at it, but it was no fun.

My studio in 2007 when I started moving in
When I first moved into this space in 2007 I brought art supplies from my home in Lowell, MA and from my old home where I grew up in Newton, MA where my parents still live and where I had been storing things. I threw everything into the studio and said “Now it’s all in one place finally. Now I can go through everything and sort it!” But I didn't, I put it up on shelves in boxes and covered it with curtains and instead dealt with the day to day needs of my creative business.

Our condo view Lowell, MA
In 2000 my husband and I moved into a 736 sq ft condo in an old mill building. I love it. It’s got so much potential, nice open spaces, huge windows, and impressive 4th floor canal views of handsome downtown Lowell. Nothing has been updated since it was built out in 1988. I took to calling it “The before picture.” We never seemed to have the finances to start renovations. Plus we had so much stuff in there, it was a daunting idea even thinking about moving everything to redo the floors or paint the walls.

Some of my vintage fabric scraps
I make things out of felt and polymer clay in my studio. I knit and crochet at home. Then in the past two years I started hand sewing as a hobby, also at home. I collected box after box of beautiful designer quilting fabric scraps from other makers. I bought little pieces of gorgeous fabrics at Gather Here. I unearthed my vintage fabric collection from my studio. I sorted them all by color into clear plastic boxes with lids. These boxes started to take over the living room. I wracked my brain: “How could I find better storage for these fabrics in my home??” No area, no furniture seemed to work for the purpose.


Then I read Clutter Busting, and busted a few pieces of clutter unrelated to my art supplies. I was inspired by his anecdotes of working with actual people and their struggles. I started with the junk drawer in my kitchen. Brooks tells us that when we start to let clutter go, any amount, it creates room in our heads for new ideas to come in. That clutter, even clutter hidden away in boxes or closets, emits a low distracting hum that fogs our thinking, saps our energy, and makes decisions difficult. With clutter gone we can think clearly again. But what I find so amazing is that you don’t have to finish clutter busting to get the benefits! You just have to start.

The biggest relief for me is that deciding, and actually letting things go is not upsetting like it used to be. I used to get rid of things but it felt awful and at the first difficult decision I would abandon the task and never return. I still have feelings associated with my belongings, but the emotions move through and don't leave me traumatized. I am able to return to the task day after day with more and more energy and purpose. Making decisions about EVERYTHING has become easier, even what to make for dinner! If something I'm trying to bust proves too tough to deal with, I set it aside and work on something easier, then I go back to the difficult thing later and it's usually doable.

With my new clutter busting vision switched on, I could decide which items I loved and/or found useful in my life right now, and which items I could let go. I knew I loved those fabrics! I wanted to keep them and make things from them. But not in my house. Suddenly I thought “I have a STUDIO, for MAKING things. Why aren't I sewing in my studio??” That’s when I realized what anyone else could have seen from miles away: my studio clutter was making me reluctant to create there. Now I knew my fabric wasn't a storage problem in my home, my reluctance to make things in my studio was a clutter problem in my studio.

So begins my journey! I've emailed Brooks Palmer and asked if he would be willing to answer some questions about clutter busting issues specific to artists. I'll post that interview later this week. In the mean time, check out his blog and see if the information and methods he uses are helpful to you. If so, let's support his one-man business and buy his books! He even does phone consults at very reasonable rates. 

Note: I'm not receiving anything for this endorsement, I'm spreading the word all on my own because I'm so excited about my new improved life!

I’ll see you soon, I gotta go bust some clutter.