Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Fabric Art Book Inspired by "The Merchant of Venice"

fabric art book inspired by The Merchant of Venice, Renaissance art book
Fabric art book with the theme of Venice. Ultramarine blue velvet stamped with design in gold ink, gold thread outline stitch for title, and a pair of heavy gold and white bead earrings. Small metal flower shapes covered with gold beads.

After writing the previous post about not being as creative as I used to be, I thought I'd show some pictures of something I made years ago that still pleases me. At that time, I'd just bought the movie "The Merchant of Venice". It was so well acted and beautifully filmed in authentic-seeming settings that I was immediately inspired to create a fabric book incorporating the lush fabrics and jewels of one of my favorite time periods, the Renaissance.

Using my huge stash of fabrics, old jewelry, and trims of all kinds acquired over years of  collecting, I had pretty much everything on hand that I needed, so could set to work right away. But first, I sketched out some ideas for page layouts, then searched for bits of poetry with a theme of  Venice, Renaissance, or beauty. Next step was finding images to illustrate the poetry. That was fun, but the best part was sitting down with needle and thread to stitch it all together. So many hours of beading were involved, but I loved it. It actually turned out much simpler than I'd originally envisioned it, but overall I'm pretty happy with the results.
This book took over a year to complete because I could only work on it an hour or two here and there in between other obligations, in the evenings, or sometimes a whole Saturday! What bliss. :-) 
Technical notes: Each page is approximately 9-1/2" wide, 8-1/4" tall. The pictures are printed on home-printer-compatible paper, and the poetry is handwritten on cotton fabric. Each page was made like a little quilt, with the main fabric placed on a piece of flannel and the beads, lace, etc. added. Next, two pages were glued on either side of a strip of canvas covered with a silky fabric and stitched together around the other three edges to make a double thickness page. Once all the double thickness pages were made, I added grommets along the length of the canvas strip. A piece of sheer fabric was folded in half and a picture stitched back to back on either side of it, grommets added to the edge, and inserted between the quilted pages. Finally, it was all laced together with a length of chenille yarn.

fabric art book with a Renaissance theme, inspired by movie The Merchant of Venice
The Golden Age of Long Ago

The poetry for this page is by Madison Julius Cawein: "To seize the soul with beauty: hold the heart with love: and thus fulfill within ourselves the Age of Gold, that never died, and never will, as long as one true nature feels the wonders that the world reveals."
This poetry is by Percy Bysshe Shelley: "Spirit of Beauty, that dost consecrate with thine own hues all thou dost shine upon of human thought or form."

Again, the poetry here is by Madison Julius Cawein: "Come, oh, come and partake of necromance banquets of Beauty, and slake thy thirst in the waters of Art, that are drawn from the streams of love and of dreams."

Finally, the words of the great Michaelangelo Buonarotti: "My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth's loveliness." 

And the back cover, made to resemble the pretty sleeves of a Renaissance woman's dress.

I have a vintage suitcase filled with other fabric books I've made, though only one other is this elaborate. The early 2000's were some of the most creative years of my life, making so many things in a variety of mediums, and though most of those things were made for sale, the books were just for my own pleasure. Who knows? maybe the spark is still there, waiting to be reawakened. Have you ever gone back to an old hobby or interest, and what brought you back to it?  

 Here's a link to a YouTube video of the movie trailer: .  Now I'm inspired to watch it all over again! :-) 

Friday, November 10, 2017

A Dream About Finding A Treasure, And A New Direction

sketchbooks filled with drawings, journaling, lists, poetry
My sketchbooks filled with ideas of things to make, poetry, bits of journaling, and lists.
This morning, early, I had a vivid dream that's stayed with me all day. A friend and I were walking along a canal off to the side of a large parking lot, like that of a shopping center. At the end of the parking lot were large metal containers for collecting cardboard, newspaper, etc. I looked up at one and on the top, someone had placed many large albums filled with pictures pasted in them from old children's books. But next to one of the stacks was the most marvelous thing: a thick, medium-sized, old leather notebook - an ancient sketch book filled with wonderful drawings. I only took a quick look inside, recognized what it was, and remember my heart leaping in joy at finding such a fabulous treasure. I held it close and couldn't bear to think of losing it. We went through the rest of the albums and my friend said she'd walk back and get the car so we could take them home. I was frantic after she left, worried that someone else would come along and take them in the meantime. And then I woke up, longing for it to have been real, to truly have such precious books for my very own.

As I was getting ready for the day and still thinking about it, I realized that before bed last night, one of the last things I'd done was to look through my sketch books as I do sometimes, just for the pleasure of it, and that's what inspired the dream. I realized that these books filled with so many ideas, not only drawings, but also bits of journaling, poetry, word pictures of things I wanted to make... these really are the treasures, maybe not to anyone else, but they are to me.  


I certainly never made all of the things contained in the books, though I did make a lot of them, and many of the sketches or words inspired other projects. But about ten years ago, substantial changes in my life disrupted the routine and order that had allowed that creativity to flourish. It felt as if the imaginative part of my brain had faded away, and though I kept trying to recapture it, it just wasn't there.

At first, of course, I was really bothered by this loss of ability and identity, felt actual grief at the emptiness. It's taken many years to make peace with the fact that things will never be the same. After spending most of the last ten years floundering, feeling lost and bereft, continually wondering "now what do I do?", I've finally accepted that I don't have to make things anymore to feel creative, and it's felt as if a huge burden has lifted. So now I use that energy in a variety of other ways: journaling, photography, spending as much time as I can outdoors, and doing in-depth research on topics that I've always been interested in. The important thing is to enjoy the activity for itself, not for the results, and that's been a very hard lesson for me to learn.
(I think this is a common feeling many people experience as they get older -  losing the identity you've created through decades of work, parenthood, hobbies, or whatever roles you've had in your life. You become so entwined with those aspects that once they're gone, then what? Then who are you?)
Things are ok now, and it feels as if this was an experience I needed to go through at this time, at this age: to let go of who I've been for most of my life and discover what else I should be doing, which new direction to take, and who this new person will be. If nothing else, I feel happier now, and that alone is a wonderful thing. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Winter Wardrobe - Fashions and Hats from 1925-26 Fashion Service Quarterly Winter Issue

Fashion Service Magazine Instruction Quarterly, Winter 1925-1926
Fashion Service Magazine Instruction Quarterly, Winter 1925-26
Because it's the time of year for warmer clothing, and also to be thinking about what to wear for winter social occasions, I've included a selection of pages from the Fashion Service Instruction Quarterly for Winter, 1925 - 1926.  The dresses shown are illustrations of patterns available from McCall or Pictorial Review, and ranged from  30¢ to 45¢; instructions and suggestions for making them were included on other pages in the magazine, which I've not shown.
Gift ideas are also included in this issue, simple things to make for friends and family for Christmas giving. Most of these garments (negligees and tea gowns) aren't made from patterns (except model 4T, a Pictorial Review pattern) because the shapes are so simple and unfitted.
Of course, no ensemble would be complete without a hat, and there were glamorous bandeaux, also known as "headache bands", for evening.
There are so many reasons I'd love to have a time machine - going back to people watch is one of the main things I'd like to do. To see the clothing and hats in person would be so much fun. But until then, I'll have to be satisfied with vintage magazines and the internet.
Fashion Service Instruction Quarterly, Winter 1925 - 1926
daytime hats with brims, milinery fashions for daytime 1925 1926
Daytime hats, millinery fashions with brims, winter 1925-26.

crystal and jeweled bandeaux for evening wear, chaplets for young girls, winter 1925 1926
Evening headbands, bandeaux of crystals and beads, chaplets of leaves and roses.
Simple to make tea gown and lingerie, bandeau, chemise mid 1920s
Pretty, simple to make tea gowns and lingerie for Christmas gift giving.
chemise, negligee, lampshades and pillows from 1925 Christmas gifts
Simple to make chemise, nightgown, lampshades, pillows.
long sleeved dresses daytime mode for winter 1925 1926
Long sleeved dresses, the daytime mode for winter, 1925-26

low waisted, long sleeved dresses for winter 1925 1926 Fashion Service Magazine

I love that so much attention was paid to the details not only of making the garments, but also the decorative bits that made them truly individual. Surely not everyone put this much work into spiffing up their clothing, but it wouldn't have looked out of place if you did.
The language in which the articles are written is also interesting. Who now talks about Dame Fashion? Or the paragraph which describes the enjoyment of having something new to wear in the kitchen? "When we go into the kitchen, to make the Christmas candy, the gay cretonne smock, that useful garment so recently invited into the kitchen, goes with us and cries aloud of our joy in the task." A bit over the top, maybe, but it does whip up a little more enthusiasm for kitchen work, doesn't it?
I think we could all use a little more of this pretty, poetic pep talk in the gray days of winter: "...browns that are like winter woodlands, and blues as bright as the Christmas sky when the first star comes out."  To look at it this way makes your new brown jacket or blue sweater just that tiny bit more special.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Storybook Aprons

Several years ago I found this darling Sunbonnet Sue apron in a thrift store. It's missing one of the straps, but that can be easily replaced. Because of its size, I think the owner may have been an older girl, maybe about 11 or 12. It's very clean, with just a few small brown spots, so possibly it was worn "for best", and wasn't an everyday type of apron. In any case, it's a wonderful example of personal expression.
Handmade vintage Sunbonnet Sue embroidered apron
Handmade vintage Sunbonnet Sue embroidered apron.
Sunbonnet Sue embroidered apron bib.
Children's apron patterns show up often in vintage women's magazines.  They were worn over everyday clothing, especially at play, so mothers would only have to wash and iron these simple pieces, not the more time consuming ironing of shirts or dresses with sleeves, etc.
The following pictures are from Needlecraft Magazine, October 1925.  I've included the text just because the words are so whimsical and charming. It's too bad modern magazine articles have lost this imaginative touch.
Children's embroidered aprons 1925 Needlecraft Magazine October 1925
Apron patterns from Needlecraft Magazine, October 1925

embroidered children's aprons 1925 Needlecraft Magazine October 1925
These aprons are so simple to make, you'd hardly need a pattern at all. Hot iron transfers for embroidery are still available, too, with cute storybook designs. Even if modern clothing is easier to wash and care for, without need for extra protection, I never knew a little one who didn't need coverage at mealtime!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Remembering Ghosts of the Past

Today is the day when the veil between worlds is supposed to be at its thinnest, when the spirits are about, and can interact with us.  Lately I've been going through old photos - and remembering the past, thinking of those who've gone on ahead.  I'm now part of the oldest living generation in my family, and I have to say that it feels very strange - to not have those elders who formed the foundation of our family will never seem right.

1960 - my grandparents, me, my sister and mother, an uncle and cousins.

My mother died in 2001, and I've never stopped thinking about her. She'll randomly pop up in dreams or my daytime thoughts, sometimes with happy memories, but many times I'm burdened with guilt for all the things I didn't or couldn't do for her because of the way circumstances were at the time.  And I've wondered - is this a haunting? Does a ghost have to be a thing you can see or hear? Or does it also take the form of a memory? A memory that carries unresolved emotions, that continues to be a part of your psyche until you can finally put it to rest?  Since our bodies are made up of energy, it must be that our spirits are, too - it's the animating force that allows us to interact with the world.

1965 - my mom and me

There are so many theories about what happens to our spirits when we die. I know what I hope will happen, but it's only a hope, a belief, not a certainty. What I do believe, though, is that there is spirit in everything and that it  manifests in a variety of ways. People talk about a place in nature having good energy, a person having a vibrant, happy spirit, the uneasy spirit/feeling that resides in an abandoned, decaying building, or any number of things. And why shouldn't it be so? Why shouldn't we all be sensitive to that awareness of the energies of life?  I'm positive it's a part of us for a reason, but unfortunately the way most of us live dampens that awareness because we're surrounded by too much other stimulation. In the quiet moments, though, we can still be gifted with the feeling of communion with all of life.

The change of seasons is upon us, and we must adapt. It can be exciting for some, a melancholy time for others. As I get older, the weight of experiences and memories from the past carries forward and influences the current year. But this year, I've resolved to try and shed the ghosts of the past, to release the spirit of those memories that are unhappy or negative. They will no longer have power over me. I want very much to set them free, and to move into a future free of the chains that bind me to those haunting memories.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Light and Shadow

Nature's beauty often leaves me struggling for words to express all of the feelings it evokes. Especially at this time of year. I'm primarily a visual person, and the long shadows of autumn, the clear but softer, warmer quality of the light, the silhouettes of the bare branches against the blue sky of evening seem to inspire a feeling of homecoming - I feel more in touch with my senses in the fall than at any other season. It just feels right, that sensation of drawing in and bringing the energy closer.  

crescent moon and Venus taken on a clear October morning
Crescent moon and Venus, taken 10/17/17 at 7:10 a.m., and the silhouette of bare branches.
Crescent moon, morning of 10/17/17, with the bright edge highlighting craters, and the faint body in shadow.

At any time of the year, though, I'm enchanted by the play of light and shadow. I especially love dappled light, the movement of leaves that flutter and dance on a wall. It's easy for me to get lost in the movement, the constantly changing light, and the calming, otherworldly feeling. It feels like a meditation. Sitting at our dining room table on summer evenings is especially nice, since it's next to a window and the moving light makes it seem as if we're eating dinner in a watery grotto, with the leafy shadows fluttering over the walls, our faces, and the food, the flickering beams of sunlight sparkling on the glasses.

Afternoon light shining through ash tree outside the dining room window.
For me, the quality of light at any time of day can trigger memories, or merely feelings and impressions of past experiences, just as powerfully as scent does. But late afternoon or evening, especially when the shadows start to fall, that's when the light creates a feeling of nostalgia, a homesickness for other times and places, a sweet yearning for the security of belonging, of being at home ... it always means home.
The light late yesterday afternoon was so lovely that I went around the house and tried to capture some of it, with a few earlier photos added in. 
A late afternoon sunbeam shining into the living room, warming our dog in his favorite chair.
Ivy plant on the kitchen counter, backlit by the sun.
Sparkles on the kitchen ceiling from a small disco ball ornament on the counter.
Disco ball ornament that usually hangs in the kitchen window.
Afternoon sun shining on the sideboard, with red and yellow spirea branches, and rose hips, yellow willow leaves, red burning bush leaves arranged on a carved wooden platter.
Spirea branches, rose hips, yellow willow leaves, red burning bush leaves on a carved wooden platter.

Sun shining on the car windows and reflecting through the vines outside the window.
Morning sun shining through the window over my desk, silhouettes of things hanging in the window and the lamp on the desk. Silhouette of decorative wrought iron piece attached to the old-fashioned wooden screen door.  August, 2013, 6:51 a.m.

Here's to enjoying the beautiful bright days of autumn while they last!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Grandma Was A Housewife

My Grandma was a housewife. She and Grandpa were married during the Depression, in 1932, when she was 17 and he was 21. I know they met at a dance held at a pavilion on the small lake in her hometown, but unfortunately not much else about their courtship and early years. How I'd love to talk with them again.
My grandparents in the early 1930s.
I'm not sure why Grandma looks so unhappy in this picture, because she did smile quite a bit. Grandpa always seemed to be smiling and happy. They were both such loving people, always with time to visit and a helping hand for their family. I was blessed to live in the same town as them and the rest of my family as I was growing up - it was great to have been part of such a big family.
Grandma and Grandpa in the 1960s.
Grandma seemed to be happy in her role as a housewife, but maybe it's just because when I was a child I didn't know any better, and to me, that's what a grandma was supposed to do. I do remember asking her to tell me stories about herself, the way you ask to be told a fairy tale, but unfortunately I only remember tiny bits of them now.  She would have been 103 this month, but sadly, died in 2000 just a few days before her 86th birthday (Grandpa died at age 69).

I thought I'd go through my vintage magazines and see if I could find some comparable pictures of house dresses from this time period, and came up with a few. Back in the 1960s I remember them dressing up and going "out on the town", but in later years, Grandma always seemed to be in a house dress or slacks.  It would be fun to see the other clothes she wore in the '30s and '40s, though.

Chipso soap ad, December 1930

Sewing patterns from Needlecraft Magazine, September 1930

Dress and apron patterns, Needlecraft Magazine, June 1931

Jonquil Wash Frocks ready-made dresses, Your Thrift Guide, February 1932

Dresses you could buy at Thrift League Stores, from Your Thrift Guide, February 1932
Dress patterns from Needlecraft Magazine, February, 1932

Women's and children's patterns, Needlecraft Magazine, June 1932
Dress patterns from Needlecraft Magazine, August 1932
There's so much I could write about this wonderful, warm woman and the effect she had on my life. I always knew she loved and was proud of me, just as she did my sister and cousins, too. Her life wasn't easy, with many burdens over the years. But she never stopped loving us. Happy birthday, Grandma - I love you, and miss you so much.