There are many ways to cope with mistakes or the unexpected. Sometimes you just have to plow through, even if the end product is disappointing. Like a batch of sugar cookies that are just slightly misshapen or a little too brown on the edges. It’s OK. They will still taste good. Sometimes, you have to back up a bit and fix the error because a crooked seam means a misfitted garment. In rare moments, a total do over is the only choice. And still other times you find a way to create something totally new from a bad moment.
I had a favorite pair of flannel pajama bottoms. I wore them often. And one day as I was shoveling snow from our driveway, the rear seam ripped. I was so disappointed. And grateful there was no one, but the cold wind, to witness my exposed behind. Back inside the house, I discovered the fabric itself had failed, leaving me no easy option to restitch the seam. I did not want to just toss my favorite pajamas bottoms. In an instant, I had an idea – to make an infinity scarf.
I cut off the waistband, leg hems, and side seams and salvaged two long pieces of flannel. I further cut the irregular edges to create two even rectangles. Then I stitched them together along the short edges to create a loop of fabric. So simple.
What can you imagine and make from the unexpected?
Jeans are a staple in almost everyone’s wardrobe. I have about 8 pairs – all different styles and colors. Denim is versatile and rugged, outlasting many other fabrics. But when it is time to say goodbye to a pair of jeans, do you repurpose them? Send them to thrift? or toss them away? Hopefully not the latter. If repurposing is not within your means, then consider donating to thrift. Even if they are damaged beyond repair, most thrift stores send clothing elsewhere for recycling or reuse. (But always ask to make sure they don’t just send it to the landfill.)
I pick up bags of unwanted thrifted jeans from a local thrift store for 20¢/lb. I’ve made denim yarn for weaving, and used bits for patching other jeans. There are literally hundreds of ideas online for how to repurpose jeans. My projects tend to be a modern or minimalist interpretation of a traditional design idea. Most recently, I was inspired to make floor pillows. Modern, durable, easy to clean – they will be perfect for using outside this summer at SouLodge Medicine Gathering
Cutting off all seams, cuffs, zippers, and pockets, I used the best denim pieces to create a 20″x20″ pattern. I incorporated a scrap of orange upholstery as a complementary color accent to the modern design. Stuffed with a 24×24 thrift pillow, the jeans case is removable via a hidden orange zipper. Since the inner pillow was rather soft for a floor pillow, I open the seam and added leftover jeans scraps to the inner pillow to create a more dense fill.
Have you repurposed jeans? What has been your favorite project? Feel free to share ideas in comments below. Maybe your project will be inspiration for my next modern, minimalist project.
Using leftover pieces of leather from the wall hanging I created for a school auction, I fashioned a small pouch to carry the essentials like an ID and credit card. The body of the pouch is one long piece folded onto itself and handstitched with artificial sinew. The tri-color macrame that adorns and lengthens the front flap uses two colors of natural alpaca wool yarn and a dark brown cotton embroidery floss.
But that is not how I first envisioned this project, of course. This is another blog post about working with frustration, changing or releasing expectations, and, in the end, not giving up. Because creativity is finding the work around when you think you have failed.
The macrame was an idea that came to me in a moment one day after seeing some modern macrame images online. I’ve done a little bit of macrame before, but never anything like a friendship bracelet – which is what this most resembles. Eight year olds make friendship bracelets all the time. I actually thought it would be easy.
I found a pattern I liked, but decided to double it to 36 strings to fit the width of my pouch. My first mistake. Not drawing the wider pattern on paper – second mistake. I tied all the strings onto the short leather flap and just charged ahead, thinking I’d be able to figure it out as I went along.
I spent as much time undoing knots as I did tying them. I almost gave up on the project. I definitely put it aside for many days. Then yesterday, I decided to undo everything. I considered maybe starting over using different strings since the natural alpaca yarn was irregular in thickness and would sometimes unravel or fray in the process of tying knots. But in the process of undoing, I slowly worked back to a row of dark brown and stopped. The simple chevron seemed just right, imperfections and all. I trimmed the strings as tassels to match the length of the pouch. The thin leather strap was attached by threading the ends through two small slits cut in the crease of the leather flap and simply gluing the ends to the inside of the pouch.
I am pleased, relieved actually, to have completed this project rather than tossed it aside. Giving up or quitting lingers on as regret. Creativity is the bridge between the vision and the actual execution; between giving up and trying again – and finishing.
The weather is warmer. The days are longer. New buds are showing on the trees. Spring Equinox is upon us. But with nights still near freezing here in Central Oregon, flowers are not quite ready to sprout. So I thought I’d make some felt blooms. It’s my way of manifesting what I hope to see soon outside. Color. Color. Color. And a bounty of sunshine.
I’ll be teaching a felt flower workshop at the end of April. If you are near Bend, Oregon consider joining me in celebrating spring by learning how to make flowers by combining the processes of wet felting and needlefelting. Details can be found on my Workshop page.
Collaboration, like solo creation, usually starts with an idea, vision, or concept, that is then altered as the process unfolds. But unlike solo creation, collaboration affords many more opportunities for unexpected outcomes. When collaborating with young children, I like to set parameters for success by limiting color choices, size, and shape. In this class art project for the school auction, each Pre-K student made a circle-ish piece of flat felt using three colors of alpaca roving donated by Flying Dutchman Alpacas. A dinner plate set the size limit as they laid out the layers of roving in one main color. Two other colors of roving were added in the final layer in whatever design they chose.
After the student’s felt pieces were finished, I spent about a week just exploring different wall hanging ideas. I even worked with the children a second time to create felted wool balls that I thought would be a part of the final piece. My original wall hanging concept just didn’t seem right anymore. Then a conversation with a friend sparked the idea of using leather as a backdrop for the felt.
Although I had never worked with leather before, I was up for the challenge. The leather was generously donated by Maverick Leather, and Warpony Saddlery punch all the holes for stitching, saving me countless hours. Each piece of leather was hand cut in an irregular circle to highlight the raw, organic shape of felt. A hand sewn saddle stitch in artificial sinew creates a contrasting border. Unseen are dozens of holes that I hand punched into each circle of leather so the children could easily hand stitch their felt piece onto the leather using wool yarn and a large eye needle. Their unique, individual stitches add more texture and personality to the wall hanging. Finally, a juniper branch was cleaned and sanded by a friend with all the right power tools.
The culmination was a large, colorful felt and leather wall hanging – a collaborative creation, made with love for the school auction.
I’ve always considered myself to be spontaneous and flexible; a lover of change and newness. The only habit I’d claim was breaking them.
I have evolved in the last decade. And the change includes a great deal of love and appreciation for habits, structure and routine in my life. They create the mental and physical space within which creativity flourishes. Ironically, although I have been slow to adopt structure in my life, I have always appreciated structure in my making; from architecture and furniture to origami and geometric Himmeli.
Understanding the basic structure of something allows for elaboration and invention. Most Himmeli are based on the aggregation of triangles of different proportions. A 3D diamond gem-like shape is the simplest form. So creating a heart is just a matter of tying together a bunch of triangles – smaller ones on top for the humps, and longer ones for the point. For my Himmeli heart, I made tubes by rolling up old magazine pages, and then tied them together with silver floral wire. The final piece is almost 18 inches tall and is a beautiful adornment for our living room wall. I also made some smaller Himmeli with the leftover paper tubes.
For me, this Himmeli heart has become a symbol for the relationship between structure and creativity; that the spontaneity and flexibility I love and crave are best supported by a structure of routines and habits.
About 8 months ago, I created a set of wet felted nesting dolls; minimal, modern, matryoshka. I always knew I wanted to embroider faces on the dolls, but I kept avoiding the project. Embroidery requires an attention to detail and precision, and I am unpracticed in needlecraft. I was worried I’d mess up and ruin the nesting dolls. Avoidance was easier. The time has now come for me to face the uncertainty and discomfort.
Recently I’ve been giving much thought to what I do and how I do it. Unlike an artist who becomes an expert in a certain medium or method, I have always been a dabbler. Certainly, I have built up enough experience (not expertise) in using various materials and tools that I have developed a comfort in making almost anything; much like a multi-lingual person might feel comfortable learning yet another language. But this experience does not preclude me from occasional insecurities and doubts which boil down to the same basic mantra “I am not good enough.”
Which brings me back to the matryoshka. I didn’t feel I was skilled enough to add the faces. I tried to see them as finished in their minimal, faceless state. But that was just avoidance. They needed personality and detail. So I thought about those times when I feel successful working with unfamiliar materials or methods. And it occurred to me that the key is to “pay attention.” Amazing things can happen when you give all of your attention to one thing; focus in and let all else fall away. The skill you thought you lacked may blossom when you spend the time to look and act with care. So I took the blank felt dolls off the shelf and researched embroidery stitches on the internet. With a pencil, I lightly sketched the faces on each doll, and then just started stitching; slowly, carefully, trying to keep stitches as even as possible. And by simply allowing myself the time and space to pay attention to my work, I was able to create personalities for the matryoshka.
I encourage anyone who feels “I’m not creative” to think about those times when you make the time and space to pay attention. Our best creative thinking and doing occur at those times. I posit that creativity is less about the skill and more about the attention. My own making is proof of that.
With cooler weather finally arriving in Central Oregon, I was motivated to finish some sweater alterations. Both were originally large men’s wool sweaters from thrift that I felted by washing in hot water and drying at the highest temperature.
The gray sweater had a zipper and mock turtleneck collar that I simply trimmed off, leaving a scoop neck with a u-shaped cutout. The beauty of working with felted wool is that you can cut it without the edges fraying or unraveling. With my sewing machine, I narrowed the sleeves by a couple inches so they are fitted. Then I cut the bottom hem on an angle. Hi-low hems may be passé but I like the look of this sweater.
The mustard color sweater was first altered a few years ago; the modern flower pattern added by needle felting. But the original turtleneck collar and rolled sleeve hems never seemed quite right, so the sweater was forgotten in my closet I simply cut off the turtle neck and sleeve hems, and added a small notch to open the neckline. The end result is a simple sweater with three quarter length sleeves and a scoop neck collar.
Are there unworn wool sweaters in your wardrobe? Consider simple alterations by felting and cutting to create a new look!
These modern felted necklaces are an experiment in simplicity and purity of shape. The circle is symbolic of renewal and regeneration and continuity. In my creative work, I am focused on trying to create closed loop products; locally sourced, renewable, recyclable, reusable. These necklaces use locally sourced alpaca wool roving, natural deerskin lacing, and recyclable steel washers.
Inspired by the DIY necklaces found in Urban Scandinavian Sewing by Kirstyn Cogan, these necklaces are relatively simple to make. Working with circles in various sizes, materials and colors creates a near infinite number of combinations. Using handmade wet felted sheets cut into circles of various sizes, I created layered combinations. using the opposite colors on either side. The edges are hand stitched with a blanket stitch, and a washer reinforces the hole for threading the deerskin lacing. I searched for used washers with a naturally aged patina but was unable to find any. I also think it would be interesting to use heavy jewelry wire hammered into a spiral as an alternative to the standard hardware store washer.
Why not make your own version of this necklace? A simpler alternative would be to use store-bought felt which comes in all sorts of colors. Since the typical polyester felt is quite thin, I suggest gluing two layers together so each circle is thick enough to hold its shape. It makes a perfect handmade gift.