Guest Blogger

Sonya Philip is a fiber artist who likes to nestle down in the space between art and craft. You can find more of her work here. Sonya lives in San Francisco, with her husband and three children.

In spite of the relatively uneasy relationship I’ve had with sewing in my past, I started the project, 100 Acts of Sewing, with the goal of making one hundred dresses. Even though there always seemed to be too many rules dictating the “right” way of doing things, I never stopped sewing. I lugged my mother’s old Singer Fashion Mate with me through many moves; Halloween costumes were made, as well as baby blankets, and quilts with corners that didn’t meet. But I wrote off sewing clothes when I had to cut my then 3-year-old daughter out of a dress that I was able to get on over her head, but not back off again. Time passed, I discovered knitting and my textile-creating urges were satisfied for many years. However, there are only so many sweaters, scarves, and other wooly things one person needs, even in foggy San Francisco.

Something about being older and somewhat broader in the hips made me crave simplicity in my wardrobe. I didn’t want to put a lot of energy into getting dressed each morning. I wanted a uniform. I discovered lagenlook or layered look, along with the clothing of Krista Larson, Flax, Cynthia Ashby, and others. It wasn’t in my budget to spend several hundred dollars on a single item and I spent many hours watching eBay auctions. I scourged thrift stores and found some lovely items, but also bought a lot of things that would never be worn. I started refashioning long linen jumpers by chopping off the bottom, ripping out the side seams, and inserting the extra fabric to create shorter, A-line dresses. Then I took a pattern making class at A Verb for Keeping Warm with Cal Patch. I’m not sure if it had to to do with my being older and more patient, or an improved understanding of garment construction due to sweater knitting, or that Cal was such an amazing teacher, or if it was the desire to use all the beautiful fabrics at Verb. It was probably all of the above. But I made a dress. And then another. In one week I made four dresses. With this eager excitement, 100 Acts of Sewing was born.

What was conceived as a personal challenge, has developed into a larger exploration of making versus manufacturing. These days we buy more clothes and wear them for less time. Clothing companies, chasing higher volume and cheaper production costs, have largely moved manufacturing into sweatshops, maquiladoras, or overseas. Because of this, we don’t often think about the real costs of cheap labor and lax environmental control. When we know how to sew our own clothes, we can become more discerning consumers and put more consideration into what we purchase. Sewing clothes is an investment of time over convenience. It provides a welcome way to slow down. Compared to other crafts, like knitting, sewing on a machine is less social. There’s more concentration required so you don’t sew through a finger. But sewing on my mother’s machine or hearing stories from women whose grandmothers made favorite pieces of clothing are reminders of a rich legacy of wisdom and expertise. Learning how to sew is a way to reconnect with this tradition.

Sewing is also a way of reclaiming personal style. By making your own clothes you can make things that fit and flatter your body type instead of fighting against it. Although, many of my dresses are made with patterns I drafted, I also sew with commercial sewing patterns. Even using someone else’s designs offers choices, from the color or fabric type to print. Sewing clothes enables a way to truly express individuality. I am personally drawn to a flared silhouette and most of the dresses I make reflect this. They tend to be on the shorter side, cut to the knee, and usually worn layered over pants. I mainly incorporate comfortable and easy to wear natural fibers like cotton and linen into most of what I sew. As much as I am captivated by the beautiful prints of new fabrics, I also try to use vintage yardage when possible. Readers might notice how pockets are often an important feature in my dresses. They provide practicality and often act as a focal point to showcase some great fabric. The best part, is you only need small amount to make a big impact.

One aspect of 100 Acts of Sewing is encouraging others to sew for the first time or to give it another try. I put this into practice by teaching workshops on how to make dresses from my designs. These are very minimal in their construction, some having no more than four pattern pieces. It’s true that sewing can be unforgiving. Even the most deft hand can make wonky seams and there’s no way to un-cut cloth. But like many things, skill in sewing comes from practice as well as care. By making a garment simple yet very wearable, sewing becomes truly accessible. A person can then build upon the foundation of each successful project. I know the more dresses I’ve made, the more I’ve found myself following those rules I once resisted.

Many of the dresses in the project were made for me and I wear them on a regular basis. I also made dresses for friends, as well as several that act as size models for workshops. None of them are for sale, as the plan is to display all of them in an end-of-project exhibit. I am currently almost two thirds of the way towards my goal and on track to finish in December. In the coming year, I plan on developing a sewing pattern to sell based on the workshop dress. I will also continue to exhibit and teach, locally here in the San Francisco Bay Area, around the United Sates, and hopefully farther afield. Through this project, my aim is to inspire people to use their sewing machines, as well as value the skills it takes to create the garments they wear.

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Kathryn Vercillo is a San Francisco based writer and crafter. She is the blogger behind Crochet Concupiscence and has recently written and self published Crochet Saved My Life: The Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Crochet.

There I am … a doubled-over heap of empty sobs balled up onto the bathroom floor, rocking back and forth trying to calm away the palpitating pain. My mind keeps racing around and around, exploring the tempting (but frightening) options for suicide. I could take some pills, I could slice my wrists … but I don’t really want to die. I just want to end the constant pain of living. I pull myself to my knees, then to my feet. I make my way back to my bedroom, crumple down onto the bed, and reach for a shiny G-size crochet hook. With hook in one hand, and a ball of soft merino wool in the other, I pull loop through loop until the thoughts of dying fade into the background and become less and less of an option.

Fast forward to January 2011. I have, more or less, survived a depression that had lasted for more than fifteen years. There are a lot of reasons for this, including a good therapist and the right medication, but I also know that crochet played its important part. The meditative qualities of the craft allowed me to relax when anxiety threatened to push me over the edge. The tangible act of making something from nothing allowed me to begin to believe once again in the possibility of creating a new life for myself in the years to come. The beauty of the things I made gave me a reason to feel a bit of self-esteem in a time when depression had made me feel worthless. I was healing, and I was ready to start something new, so at the beginning of that year I launched my crochet blog, Crochet Concupiscence.

Through Crochet Concupiscence I explored, and continue to explore, all aspects of crochet. I profile crochet artists working in the streets and in the galleries. I review crochet books, discuss new types of yarn, interview crochet designers and find as much crochet news as possible. But the one topic that kept resonating with me and wanting more attention was the topic of crochet and health. I knew deep inside me that crochet had helped me heal and I sensed that I was not alone. I had a story to tell and I wanted to hear the stories others had to share, so I started opening up.

Research

By the summer of 2011 I had decided that I wanted to write a book about the topic. I began drafting the first chapter, about my own battle with depression and how crochet had come to help. I put out a few calls for stories on my blog and received an amazing response. Women I’d never heard from before came out of the woodwork to tell me the most personal and intimate details of their health problems. Liza told me how she struggled with the anxiety of intermittent blindness from an undiagnosed medical condition. Fran told me of the difficulty of trying to cope with PTSD after a traumatic, violent rape. Aurore explained how she had battled with hallucinations her entire life and had a serious break with reality not that long ago.

I used the stories that these women told me to guide my research for my book, Crochet Saved My Life. It helped me to create an outline for the topics that I wanted to cover in the book, topics related to the way that crochet (and crafting in general) helps people heal from both physical and mental illness. I knew that it was important for me to share the stories these women had trusted me with in addition to sharing my own so I shaped the book in such a way that I was able to include each individual story.

I continued with my research. I read about the history of art therapy and occupational therapy. I explored studies that have been done into the benefits of crafting. I looked at the books that exist on why people are drifting more and more towards a handmade lifestyle in the 21st century. And I continued to ask people to share their stories with me. The result of all of this is my book Crochet Saved My Life.

Self publishing

I chose to self-publish this book for a number of reasons, but ultimately because I believe that self-publishing is often the right choice in today’s world and is certainly the right choice for me. I like the option of retaining creative control, which allows me to tell my story and the stories of these other women in the way that is best for me. I utilized many different resources and collaborated with some great people. I’m sure that there are little things here and there that make it obvious that it’s a self-published work instead of a work from a big publishing house but I’m okay with that. In the end, as professional as I try to be, I’m very much a member of the DIY movement who got her literary start publishing in ‘zines that got sent to pen pals via snail mail!

Although this book is about crochet, and my own story is about depression, I believe that it will appeal to a wide variety of crafters who are dealing with a diverse array of illnesses. Crafting heals us. Somewhere inside, I think we all know that, and that is why we are driven to do it.

Photography by Julie Michelle Photography.

 

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Today I am very pleased to welcome my dear friend Maya Donenfeld to Whipup. Maya is currently on book blog tour for her first book Reinvention: Sewing with Rescued Materials (published by Wiley). This book is a wonderful extension of everything Maya does so well on her blog: maya made. The thing that I love so much about Maya, her blog and now this book, is how natural and close to earth she tries to live. Her natural authentic living, down-to-earth philosophy and lifestyle is in everything she does, from craft to cooking and to her children. Today Maya joins us with discussing how and why she ‘rescues’ materials.

Maya Donenfeld is a green crafter and eco designer. She’s a frequent contributor to books and magazines with projects focusing on creativity, mothering, and natural living. She just published her first book: Reinvention: Sewing with Rescued MaterialsVisit her blog, maya made, to find endless projects, tutorials and recipes for your home and family.

I enjoy working with salvaged and recycled fabrics so much that I wrote an entire book about it! Here are my top 5 reasons for rescuing material:

  1. Earth friendly. Something that already exists doesn’t create more waste and pollution. The energy and resources used to create a single item are compounded by toxins that then are dumped into our water systems and soil. Ultimately, thrifting also keeps stuff out of the already overflowing landfills around the world.
  2. Saves money. That one doesn’t need much explanation, but I would add that it’s more inviting to experiment and make mistakes if the materials used didn’t take a chunk out of your wallet.
  3. Incorporates history and soul into stitching. Using items that already have a story creates a connection between the past and present.
  4. Inspires creativity. Working with odds and ends stimulates us to problem solve and think about the inherent qualities of materials. This gives focus and many “light bulb moments”.
  5. Pride in being so clever and a sense of resourcefulness. There is a universal sense of satisfaction in making something out of nothing.

I am frequently asked about how to store and organize salvaged pieces of fabric. Having all of your materials visible is a wonderful way to remember what you have when it’s time to get making. However, deconstructed clothing and small scraps from previous projects do not fold into neat stacks for pretty display. So what to do with all of the piles? I keep much of it in open baskets, hampers and buckets. The structured fabric hamper I designed for my book was based on one of the first scrap bin baskets I ever made. It’s oversized and its internal frame ensures that it stands up tall and ready to be filled.

I also sort and organize everything by material, size and color. The more specific the category can be, the easier it is to find just what you might need. For instance, I have a category called little white linen scraps and another that’s just small floral patterns in cotton.

What about all of the pieces that just aren’t workable or desirable… do I save everything? No not everything, but I try to find homes for even the clipped corners and thick seams cut out from a pair of jeans.

I use these unwanted scraps for stuffing new items. Wool sweater scraps are soft and lofty and make great interiors for stuffed toys, whereas denim is dense and heavy- perfect for floor cushions. The pouf project, in Reinvention, is a wonderful vessel for all fabric odds and ends… just open the zipper and stuff it with every frayed and unwanted scrap you’ve got!

Happy reinventing!

reinvention: sewing with rescued materials blog tour

Photo credits: Deborah Donenfeld
Project excerpt: How to portfolio

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After a five year wait, Megan Reilly returns with her new album The Well, out April 24 (Carrot Top Records). Megan is a mother, artist and musician, her new record is inspired by these three facets of her life. Website :: Tumblr :: Sew the Threads into Your Heart – from her latest album.

When I was younger I was a visual artist. It wasn’t until about the age of fifteen I began playing guitar, writing songs and taking singing seriously. Music always inspired art for me. Many drawing and sculpture assignments were finished late in the night listening to the music that inspired me, eventually convincing me to drop out and pursue it. I was a Photography major in college. I loved sculpture and painting. I learned how to weld, gesso a canvas and think conceptually about what I was making. I studied Art History and I took every art elective possible until I had nothing left but Geology and Speech left to complete my degree.

When music took the place of art, I always felt something was missing. It felt difficult to balance them. Now that I’m a mother I’ve not only figured out how to juggle all I want to do (caffeine) but most importantly art has come back into my life. I made my kid a dollhouse and a puppet theater out of cardboard boxes, painted chalkboard paint on the walls of our apartment, learned to sew and I see how all of these things inspire me in a new way. And there’s no pressure. I feel productive and satiated. I thought it was just a distraction for a while. But the older I get the more I realize that who I am is someone that needs art to function. And having other creative outlets aside from music takes the pressure off songwriting.

I am not disciplined and that’s fine. Or maybe I’m disciplined to work like someone with attention deficit. I realized when making my most recent record with a 3yr old in the house, I worked whenever I could. I wrote a line of lyrics when she watched tv or was in preschool. Sitting down to make a quilt or puppet theater kept my mind busy and thinking creatively. I let go and the whole enchilada worked out and I made the best music of my life so far.

Years ago a teacher showed me Grandma’s Bottle Village-The Art of Tressa Prisbey. A lady in a moomoo digging through the junkyard to make art. She’s my inspiration.

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Barry Friedland is the owner of Thumbtack Press, a curated, open edition art print store with top lowbrow, illustrator, and character artists from around the world. Read the TTP blog and the Tumblr.

Day Dreams by RICK BEERHORST

It’s possible that, thanks to technological advances in printing, we’re living in an age with as much change and new potential for culture as the generation of the printing press, or the steam engine. Aside from online stores that allow artists to reach and sell directly to fans and collectors without middlepersons taking a cut, digital printing has reached a level so advanced that the whole notion of art editions has exploded.

Limited editions, at one point, meant that an artist created some kind of print or carving or cut or type, etc., and used a press to literally press different editions of the work onto another piece of paper. These presses could only churn out a handful of prints because eventually the cut and the ink would wear away. Hence limited editions, with the first prints in a limited edition valued higher because they were closer both physically (with fresher ink) and in reproduction to the original piece.

Enter digital printing. With digital printing, high quality cameras can scan any work of art, no matter its materials, and high quality printers use high quality inks to create a print. These digital reproductions are still called prints because that’s what they are, and they create an entirely new set of possibilities.

Kill Me If You Can CHRIS LYLES

Now, there are three levels at which you can buy art:

Level 1: The original. The original work of art can run in the tens of thousands in the genre we’re concerned with, which is a pretty penny for most of us. There’s also just one original! So, you know, good on you if you manage to own only originals, but it’s simply not feasible for most of us.

Level 2: Limited editions. Limited editions are replications of originals, produced in limited numbers. So whereas there is only one original, there may be some 25, 50, or 200 limited edition prints. These are often sold with their number in the print written somewhere in the margins (a habit picked up from the days when the lower numbered prints were closer to the original than later prints). When limited edition prints are printed digitally instead of on a press, they are usually less expensive than physically printed prints (and the original), but can still often price in the hundreds of dollars.

Level 3: Open, or unlimited, editions. Open editions are literally unlimited. Because of the digital printing technology that prints the 5,000th print with the same quality of reproduction as it prints the first or second print, artists can sell an infinite number of open edition prints. Because there are so many of them, their price is decidedly the most affordable of the three. Thumbtack Press sells open editions.

Cycles #2 by Colin Johnson

Because you can print infinite prints, and because they are so much more affordable than limited edition prints, it suddenly became obvious to me that artists could reach a much bigger base of collectors if they sold open edition prints. And what’s more – think of all the young people who, with limited budgets through their university years, for example, can now afford a high quality print of great art that was previously unattainable for them.

That’s what Thumbtack Press is now. It’s a curated community of artists and art lovers, people who love a particular aesthetic, yes, but also people who appreciate having access to art at affordable prices. Our various paper, canvas, and framing options are just a bonus. The key tenet is a shared passion, amplified by the technology of our age.

Moths LIZA FERNEYHOUGH

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