Thursday, October 24, 2013

Stuffed Animals and Quantum Physics

Hobbes (right) and boB

I seldom take requests, but when the request comes from a four-year-old I sometimes give in. In this case, the project involved making a Hobbes doll, an undertaking made far easier by a talented young maker called "seamster," who figured out the pattern and posted it as a free download on Instructables: Generally I find sewing someone else's pattern a little boring, and in this case the drudgery involved hand-sewing 29 stripes. In the process, I figured the four-year-old's sister, age two, also deserved a doll, so I made one out of Hobbes scraps.

Meet boB, a stuffed animal with a back story involving parallel universes, string theory, a palindrome, the quantum theory of superposition (via Shrödinger’s cat), and a twist on sub-equatorial folklore. Clearly I don't believe in talking down to two-year-olds.

Meet boB

boB's back pocket (note string)

Since the Hobbes doll has its own comic strip, I decided to create a little spiral-bound boB booklet to accompany the doll, a quick-and-dirty process that took about two hours. What does all of this prove? Hand sewing is an ideal realm for letting the mind roam free. Consider making your own nonsense animal and in the process, figure out its story. All of the images used are copyright-free pictures from the Web, except the photos of boB.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Upcycling Fabric Sample Books

Window valance made from designer fabric samples

For those who love textiles, particularly previously used textiles, and are fond of free or very cheap materials, fabric sample books are a bonanza. These are bound books containing a line of fabric, generally used by interior designers and upholstery shops to show clients the possibilities. They look like this:

Fabric sample books

Savvy makers can occasionally pick these up at white elephant sales and thrift stores, and the determined may visit local upholstery, drapery, or design studios and simply ask for sample books that are being thrown out to make way for the new season. The books I just scored at a Carmel thrift shop cost just fifty cents each for an entire book, and contained particularly tempting fabric. However, as anyone who has tried to salvage fabric from these books knows, the paper and glue "frame" backing the fabric is almost impossible to completely remove. The usual solution is to cut out a reduced square from inside the frame, sadly bidding all the wastage around the edge adieu. 

A happy alternative to all of that waste is to use the entire piece—paper, glue, and all—to create a colorful banner or window valance like the one below. The paper backing becomes an asset instead of a hindrance, and helps maintain the shape of the valance or banner pieces.

Fabric sample valance

This particular fabric sample book was comprised of beautiful, transparent fabric in a variety of patterns. 

Pages from fabric sample book.

After cutting pages away from the cardboard binding, the first step was to trim the paper frame border around each sample to 1/2".

The next step was to measure in 1.25" from the edge of two opposite triangle points, and then fold and cut the fabric at those points to create two separate triangles, one larger and one smaller.

Triangles were then arranged along a stretch of wide ribbon matching the window measurement, alternating and overlapping large and small triangles and artfully mixing patterns. Since it's unlikely a stretch of alternating triangles will exactly match your window measurement, stop whenever you can't fit another triangle and allow an equal length of ribbon at either end to complete the window measurement. Stitch everything into place.

Arranging and stitching triangles along the ribbon
Attach the valance to outside of existing curtain hardware. I used Scotch mounting tape, which is sticky on each side, easy to work with, and removable.

Valance in place

If you're curious about the metal mesh screens on the windows full of translucent objects, check out these earlier posts:  Window Fantasies and  Window Fantasy Close-Ups.

This wasn't the end of this round of fabric sample books. Other sets included embroidered silk from China, some embellished with insects, frogs, polka dots, and spirals. I culled through those, cutting the usable fabric completely away from the paper frames, and ended up with a rich assortment of fabric patches.

Fabric sample patches

I've started using these, along with other pleasing fabric from the sample books, to continue the endless patching on both a vintage quilt originally stitched by my southern grandmother and now an evolving crazy quilt, and a quilt I stitched myself that has started to go.

Fabric sample patches on quilts

Time to go out and score some fabric sample books of your own...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fiddling Around with Mrs. Fitzherbert's Eye

The eye of Mrs Maria Anne Fitzherbert, c.1786

I've recently been drawn to the fascinating realm of miniature paintings on ivory featuring a lone, mysterious eye, known as a "lover's eye" or "mourner's eye." The origin of "a lover's eye" dates back to the illicit marriage of a twice-divorced Catholic, Mrs. Fitzherbert, to the future George IV. The marriage had to remain secret or he'd be forced to forfeit the throne. Mrs. Fitzherbert commissioned artist Richard A. Cosway to paint just one of her eyes. The portrait was done on ivory, placed behind glass and set within a locket. George could wear the locket without anyone being able to positively identify the owner of the eye, and was found with it clutched in his hand on his deathbed. The idea of the lover's eye became a fashionable rage. Today these tiny portraits of eyes are rare and expensive collectibles.

Examples of lover's eyes (for sources see end of this post):

My first pass at creating a modern take on a lover's eye involves a pin sporting the eye of four-year-old AJ, a girl who sports gauze fairy wings at all times, practices flying off couches and beds on a regular basis, and wants to be an astronaut. She may be following in the jet stream of her great-grandfather, who won the Distinguished Flying Cross in World War II. Here is a lover's eye depicting this fearless four-year-old flyer.

Materials: old watch casing, broken jewelry, miniature medal, photograph

Over time, the lover's eye became used for another purpose, that of remembering the dead. What had been known as the lover's eye became the "mourner's eye." This version frequently includes a tear falling from the eye, and may also include clouds (to reinforce the idea that the dear departed is looking down from heaven).

Two examples of mourner's eyes appear below (again, sources appear at the end of this post). Note the clouds surrounding the head of a departed baby, and the tear falling from the woman's eye.

For my take on a mourner's eye I focused on my grandmother, one of many females in my line who was accomplished at delivering looks that could kill, as she appears to be doing in the source photo. Her favorite motto was, "Things are never so bad that they can't get worse." Below are two different renditions of A Mourner's Eye for Margot, both drawing on an old photograph of my grandmother at age 20.
The source photo

In this first example, the eye is displayed inside of a vintage Lady Hamilton watch my grandmother casually gave me years ago when she realized my assemblage work at that point frequently used old watches.

A Mourner's Eye for Margot #1


A Mourner's Eye for Margot #2 is a diminutive wall hanging. Auto glass stands in for diamonds around the edge of the pin, and for tears inside the dangling little collection bottle. The innards of the watch become part of the assemblage in the upper right corner.

Materials: tin can lid, broken auto glass, lab specimen bottle, recycled paper bead, pop-top tab

broken auto glass "tears"

 To learn more about Mrs. Fitzherbert and the beginning of this tradition visit the website below.

To get more information about lover's eyes and mourner's eyes and see dozens of fascinating examples, visit either of the websites below.

Related Posts with Thumbnails