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New Year’s Doll 2019

 

Bethan Bear at the only service station she will deign to visit: Gloucester Gateway

Every year I make a doll on New Year’s Day.  I have a few rules.  It must be made from scratch and it must be completed in a single day.  It also has to say something about the year that I have had or the year I want.  This year I broke the rules a bit, because they are my rules for me and I can’t see much point in giving myself a hard time in our current climate.  The doll was finished in one day, but the clothes took me a lot longer.

This year I have been making bears for sale in my Etsy shop so I decided to make one for myself.  I also wanted to make a doll based on a photograph I saw in House and Garden of Bethan Laura Wood who is a textile designer.  She is a walking work of art and I particularly love the way she does her make-up with two spots of rouge and then two extra dots on top:

This was my starting point.  I made the bear out of wool felt with boiled wool features.  Once I put the eyeliner on like Ms Wood, though, the bear suddenly looked like a lioness or a puma, which was a bit of a surprise.

I really enjoyed doing the stem stitch round her eyes, which was done with three strands of embroidery thread.  I made her with long legs in order to make it possible to dress her.  The little squat bears are lovely but their bandy legs are hard to get into trousers.

I took the decision to stitch the clothes by hand which was a debatable choice, but does give them an artisan feel.  I started with trousers and a tunic:

The fabrics are by Amy Butler because I love her joyful use of colour.  The little cotton scarf, however, is a piece of IKEA furnishing fabric which I had dyed for another project.  Then I made the duster coat to go over the top, and started on the accessories.  I made her a shawl from mustard yellow yarn which is pure acrylic but produced a lovely drapey texture.  The colour is also apparently one of the hot looks for 2019.  I appliquéd a felt artichoke on it.  I don’t think it particularly looks like an artichoke but I do like it as an appliqué piece:

For her hat, I used the rather ropey knitting I did on four needles.  It was my first ever piece of tubular knitting.  I crocheted an edging to try and make it a bit more appealing as a wrist warmer or something.  It remained stunningly unattractive, but came into its own as a hat from Bethan.  I added two tassels and appliquéd a rose in a finer wool and acrylic mix felt:

I made her some jewellery and finally, I made sure to add some pompoms on her shoes to echo the fantastic ones on Bethan Laura Wood’s pumps.

I absolutely love her and she is definitely not for sale.

 

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What can we learn from Tyger?

I have been blogging for a while now and so I don’t quite remember if I have blogged before about taking joy in our work.  Joy in work has been a big thing for me for years.  I have long been interested in William Morris.  I am fascinated by his contradictions.  He was a life-long socialist dedicated to the production of exquisite craft which he believed would lead to the improvement of the masses.  Beauty will save the world by making people more civilised and so on.  But the craft he produced was so exquisite and so labour-intensive that the working classes could not possibly afford it.  I do admire him, though, for his insight at the height of industrialisation that the world of work is a much better place if people experience joy in what they are doing.  We need to find meaning in what we do, and if we enjoy the physicality of doing it, so much the better.  This is a real challenge today when so much work is virtual and an endless stream, so there is little prospect of a tangible end product.

This is a long preamble to the point I want to make about end products.  In my culture with my upbringing celebrating the work of my own hands is really frowned up.  It is labelled showing off, showing pride, being big-headed and full of oneself, and yet, to have finished something that pleases you is a brilliant sensation.  We do not allow ourselves that phase in the work process where we sit back and admire what we have done.  I have taught creativity for years and I don’t recall coming across a single creativity process in which the final phase wasn’t along the lines of going back and seeing what you could have done better.  Constantly finding fault in your work, in effect.

I think we need to allow ourselves time and opportunity to say, and please pardon the coarseness of this: I MADE THIS AND I BLOODY LOVE IT.  It’s brilliant.  Look at the skill that went into it.  Look how it adds to the joy of nations.  Look how it makes us see the world slightly differently.  Look how it fills me up with delight to think I knew how to do this and now I have done it.  Look at this thing I made which came as a surprise to me as it resolved itself, but now I am overjoyed to have it in my hand.

I mention all this because I recently experienced it myself when I made Tyger here.  I have been making bears recently as you will see from other posts, and they have been from fabric I used to make some party decorations and wanted to recycle.  When I came to a batch of orange fabric I knew I wanted to make a tiger – so this is Tyger, the bear who wanted to be a tiger.

I start the pieces by making a piece of cloth, boro style, from which I then cut the shapes for the bear.

I have been collecting fabric to make a tiger rug quilt for a while now.  So off I went and it soon became clear that this one was not destined for my etsy shop.  There is just too much work in it.  All the stripes are appliquéd on and then strengthened with hand stitching.

 

You can see from the photo below how much work there is in this by how much the worked side has shrunk:

Charging for time is impossible.  And so I realised that I was going to be keeping Tyger.  This is a bit liberating because it meant that I could do what I wanted.  I experimented with the stitching on his tummy:

This is a lovely white wool felt, because why spoil something you love with the tacky nylon stuff?  It was sheer delight to work with, and the experiment was in stitching it with a pale yellow-y cream thread rather than white.  I think it worked really well.  It gave texture which was tactile and visual.

The final element was the face.  I had some reference material, but one big inspiration is the fabulous markings around my dog’s eyes.  We joke at home about how early she must get up to get her eye makeup on:

We are looking at the foxy one at the front.  I was probably also channelling Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra a bit.

This is Tyger:

These Trimmit cat’s eyes are perfect.  Now I know that tigers are big cats and bears are more or less big dogs and so Tyger wouldn’t have eyes like this, but if we can believe a bear would dress up as a tiger we can believe he would buy some special effect contact lenses.

Once the eyes were in he was irresistible to me;

I

His eyes are really widely spaced and big rather than small and placed low down so that he is cute like Belle:

And this makes him slightly more menacing.  I also think he has an illustrative quality, and I can see him starring in a children’s book.

I think he is gorgeous.  He is solidly stuffed so he feels good as well as looks good.  I am in love with him, and am going to find him a great spot in the studio so he can be inspirational in the coming year.

Endnote; the photos in this post are not brilliant.  Hold tight.  I am hoping that Santa will bring a technology update.

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Brave Bear Belle

My bear making exploits continue.  This Belle.  She has a guilty secret which is that her body is not made of old patchwork too tatty to do anything with other to be cut up.  It is actually a printed, commercially produced quilt which I bought for a fiver in a charity shop.  Now, I, in common with most quilters, disapprove of women in sweatshops making cheap quilts for sale in big department stores and the like, so I have qualms here.  But the quilt is fantastic.  It looks old and faded and pre-loved and all that.  Plus it is soft to stitch through.  And there is a lot of it.

Otherwise the bit tummy and muzzle and ears are made with considerably more expensive and ‘luxe’ fabric, a boiled wool from a very classy knitting wool shop.

Belle was one of those projects which just fell together.  I was musing on where the variegated ribbon was in my stash (= oddments shoved in a plastic bag inside another plastic bag) and dreading the excavation to find it when a card of fancy stuff I had bought on a whim in Liberty literally fell on my foot as I moved the first plastic bag.  The button also floated to the top of my button box, along with two black buttons which I used for the eyes having risen to the top of my mother’s.  She is a very sweet bear, and this is her story:

Brave Bear Belle

The other day Belle was sitting quietly in her well-appointed cave when she heard a hiker in the woods crying out,’Help, stop thief’.  She dropped what she was doing (sudoko), and rushed out to help.  She couldn’t see what was happening at first, but it soon became clear that someone had stolen the hiker’s rucksack and made their escape through the forest.  Quick as a flash, Belle climbed the nearest, tallest tree and spotted the robber.  She leapt to the ground, and following secret ursine paths through the trees, she caught up with the robber and came to a halt right in front of him.  ‘Put that down,’ she roared, ‘and put it down now’.  The terrified robber dropped the bag and the park ranger soon arrived to congratulate Belle and apprehend the villain.  Belle received the Ursine Valour Medal, first class, which she proudly wears here.  She keeps it in a box on a very high shelf well above the reach of burglars in her bijoux dwelling.

She’s about to go into my Etsy shop which you can find under PomegranateByAnn.

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In which commerce raises its ugly head

A couple of weeks ago I had a small, experimental, try-out stand at a tone-y sort of textile fair to promote my workshops at Pomegranate Studio.  I am still not sure if it generated any business, but it was a good source of feedback.  I was advertising my Blinged-up Boro workshop and took along a lot of examples of the sort of things we would make.  The two small boro-inspired plushie bears I made proved to be very popular:

I blogged about this pair earlier if you would like to know more about them (https://pomegranatestudio.co.uk/2018/06/14/little-boro-bear-and-big-boro-bear/).

As they generated interest, I thought I would make a few more and develop some patterns.  This is fine but there comes a time when you only have so much room for samples.  My mother has a wonderful phrase for this, ‘I’d rather have their room than their company’, which is a line which rings through my head when I am sorting stuff out for the charity shop/thrift store.  In addition to this, I retired from my teaching job just over a year ago, taking very early retirement, and frankly, I need to generate some cash.  And so, much as I love the bears, and so much else of the things I make, I am going to have to learn to sell them.

And so I have decided to revive my ailing Etsy shop.  I started it in 2014 but have never really got going with it.  There is a thriving community of Etsy makers in Bristol and so I have been much encouraged by the bright, enthusiastic, talented young people who are using Etsy and making some sort of return on it.  My bears are going to be my first items in this relaunch.

The two little boro bears are already up there, and so now is the first of my bigger bears, Arturo.

Arturo, of course, is a variation of Arthur, which means ‘bear’.  It was also my grandad’s name.  I know that means this chap is called Bear Bear which is daft, but I like the play on words.  All the bears in this series are going to have stories to go with them.  I realised at the textile fair that one of the things that people loved was when I told them stories about my workshops and products.  This is his story:

Please, please will someone give a home to Arturo, or I won’t be able to part with him. He is such a character. He claims to have danced in Paris with Maya Angelou and to have had cocktails with Jackie O on her yacht. Given his very dapper demeanour and witty conversation, I can well believe it.

Arturo is hand made from pure cotton patched together boro-style. Boro is a Japanese mending technique. His natty beret and foulard are hand-crocheted.

He is 30 cm/11.5″ tall and 33cm/13″ from paw tip to paw tip.

He is not intended as a child’s toy and children should not be allowed to play with him unsupervised. He would, however, be perfect as a commemorative Christening/Naming toy for a lucky child.

Bear made from 100% pure cotton, hand-dyed, with safety eyes and safety stuffing. Hat and scarf 100% pure new wool.

I will include a pattern for these bears in a subsequent post, as there are more to come.  They are not that hard to construct, and all the skill goes into the decoration.  Arturo was made from IKEA fabric which I dyed in a batch using Dylon machine dye so that they all toned together.  His muzzle is a piece of old charity shop cashmere sweater with some embroidery and a scrap of boiled wool.

I also really enjoyed making his accessories.  The beret, in particular, was a lot of fun and really satisfying as I worked out for myself how to get the shape of the hat in crochet and, even more rewardingly, how to make the little stalk thing in the middle:

If you want to visit my Etsy shop you can go to www.etsy.com and search for PomegranateByAnn or have a go with this link; https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/PomegranateByAnn.

Thanks for reading to the end of this one.

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Little Boro Bear and Big Boro Bear

I haven’t posted much recently because I am so busy trying to get my business ideas off the ground or preparing to give talks to groups.  I really don’t want this blog to turn into one of those thinly disguised sales pitches, so I am trying to avoid writing too much about upcoming events and workshops.  However, I have really loved making my boro-inspired pieces and wanted to share a bit of the work which is delighting me.

I have made a couple of boro bears, following on from the popularity of the boro dog.  I tend to make these stuffed toys in the same way.  I start by making a piece of fabric and then cut out the shapes.  Where possible I draw round a template and stitch and then cutting them out as this is much less fiddly than trying to machine stitch round little pieces.  Here, though I drew round my template with chunky felt tip pen and then cut inside the thick ink line.  I have used all sorts of things to mark with, but I get really irritated if I cannot see the fine pencil line I drew thirty seconds ago, and that is not good way to feel if you are stitching.  So, this was my big piece for the big bear in the photo:

There was plenty left over after cutting the bear out to make other things such as little brooches or key rings.  Then I sewed him together.  He is all hand stitched, whereas the little bear was the result of an experiment to see if I could do some approximation of boro on the sewing machine.

I added the red tassels on little bear’s ears and a bit of hand embroidery just to finish him off.  Big bear got a ruff:

If I were making them again, I think that I would make the body a bit longer and remember to slant the cut at the top of the arms so they point down more (little bear is better in this respect).

This is a leftover.  I like it because I think the blue crosses with the bit of yellow capture the spirit of boro a bit more than some of my work.

One thing that helped here, I think, was putting a layer of wadding on top of the cardboard template and under the face fabric before drawing up the thread around the cardboard.

Picture pinched from the internet

This is the easiest way I know to appliqué a circle, although I would need a considerably larger turning than the one shown in the photograph above.  I like the slightly raised and padded feel the addition of the wadding gives.  Another idea worth considering would be reverse appliqué as no bear’s face is slapped on top of its coat; it should come from underneath.  I might try this if I make another.

I was making a sample playing with the cross shape which is very common in boro, and found that it made a perfect-sized blanket for little bear:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lots of fun just trying things out and experimenting.

 

 

 

 

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Red-eared Celtic dog

One of my morning rituals is to listen in In Our Time on Thursdays on BBC radio 4.  I start out full of optimism that I will understand the science-y ones, but really I prefer the history and culture subjects.  Last week it was about the collection of Welsh folk stories, The Mabinogion.  I knew a little bit about this, but not much, and I know a lot more now.  I recommend a visit to the podcast, as it was a brilliantly clear exposition of the the collecting and content of the stories, and made me want to read them.

The point of this preamble is that I learned from the programme that in Welsh mythology there is an Other World, Annwn, which is a sort of parallel world to this one.  In the Other World you lose your memories which only come back when you return to the everyday.  I discovered that there are very subtle signs that you are in Annwn which are a bit puzzling to the modern reader, but were well-known to the contemporary audience.  One of these sign is that dogs have red ears.  I couldn’t resist making one.

So here is my boro version with red ears:

I made the boro fabric up in a piece and the cut the dog out of it:

Boro is a Japanese technique for mending work garments, usually indigo dyed, and often with white thread.  My version is a very westernised version, and I love to make it because I like the way that it textures the fabric so well.

I couldn’t stop his head bending to one side which I think was a combination of my stuffing technique and the way the grain was running over so many fabrics in so many directions.  I think it gives him a bit of character, so I didn’t try to fix it.

One note is that I decided to use safety eyes rather than beads.  Went up to Hobbycraft to buy some and discovered that they only sell them in packs of 25.  Interesting challenge to find something to do with that spare eye.

Advance notice: there will be a boro workshop coming up at Pomegranate Studio very soon.

 

 

 

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Sources of Inspiration

I have been teaching various creativity techniques for years, and am interested in where we get our ideas from.  It seems to be a difficult process to map.  For me it really does feel like a spark in the brain: I could do that.  Then it’s followed by: well, what if we did it this way?

One thing that lots of us do to find that initial inspiration is to look through magazines.  In my case, I like some of the quilting magazines, I love Uppercase and Selvedge.  I am getting to the point, though, where, lovely as they are, magazines about stitching fabric together in geometrical designs are just getting flicked through rather than poured over.  I have started to like the very glossy house magazines such as World of Interiors and House and Garden.  In my last post about my pheasant/phoenix piece I described working from this photo in House and Garden:

Pheasant2

An advertisement for the coming month’s issue led me to buy it as it promised a feature around a man holding a massive stuffed fish.  Imagine my delight when it had a whole run of beautiful photographs of the new season’s fabrics made up into outfits for sailors and several fabric sea creatures including this chap with some lovely lobsters:

Fabric lobsters

All the photos are glorious, and here are a couple of fish:

Two fabric fish

I really liked the feature because the other pieces are so brilliantly done using the fabric, but also the tongue-in-cheek of the photographs.  The Penzance Sailing Club, it seems, were persuaded to wear ludicrous outfits and to play it absolutely straight for the camera.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a credit for whomever made the glorious fabric artefacts.

In World of Interiors, there was a feature using the new fabric ranges photographed in Portugal.  This one also had some wonderful sea creatures including this moody and misty shot of a giant fish:

Big fabric fish

Again, sadly, no credit is given to the maker.

The upshot of this is that I think I will be changing my reading habits a bit, and sinking more often into the fantasy world of the glossies.