Tuesday, July 15, 2014

From the Collection: Children's Hats from SW China - 2nd Entry

Another child's cap from the Bai people in SW China.  The first in this little series is here. Gorgeous embroidery & details on this scary face.  Not sure what's in the nose--it's quite hard, and feels like it might be wood?  I am especially partial to the teeth! I also love the mouth & eye details, including super eyebrows, which reminds me...

You'll be glad to know the Roommate & I try to shop in threes...so another one is coming (and I've saved the best for last)!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

From the Collection: Children's Hats from SW China!

The Roommate & I will be on a big trip thru Finland & Iceland to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary (yes we are proud!), so the next few weeks I'll be sharing a few items From the Collection. I hope you enjoy these lovely examples of folk art.

Think about this: you're a parent in pre-science culture.  You see the high death rate of children, especially babies.  Even if you have a clue about clean water or immunizations, you have no way to put that knowledge into daily use.  So you might try other methods to ensure the health & success of your baby.  These children's hats, richly embroidered & decorated, are an attempt to ward off evil spirits, while also ensuring luck, wealth, happiness & longevity. 

The scary face would definitely give an evil spirit a fright, don't you think? 

This hat is from the Bai people, an ethnic minority in
SW China (we purchased this cap in Dali in 1994). 

The exquisite embroidery, along with the fake fur, and a little trapunto (for the nose), give this cap a distinct personality.  I imagine a little boy or girl would be thrilled to wear such a scary cap, the equivalent of the superhero capes Western children wear.  The row of Buddhas will bring luck and wealth.  

Lotus embroidered on corduroy
used for the back of the cap. 

The lotus flower (above) endows purity on the wearer while the bird may mean a messenger or a shaman.  I can guess, but really, will never know what the mother or grandmother or aunt or sister was thinking when she made this treasure for a new member of the family. 

I'm a librarian, so compelled to include a bit of reading in case you'd like to find out more:
Symbolism in Chinese Children's Hats & Baby Carriers (2007)
and even more reading (on the Bai & Miao, but other ethnic minorities, too)!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

English Paper Piecing + West African Prints = Super Cool Clock!

Piece By Number
I really don't like doing handwork, and save up any hemming or button reattachments into a group...then do all the torture at once, usually while watching a DVD.  However, a post on SewMamaSew inspired me to give English Paper Piecing a try.  If you'd like some history, or more info, please check out this PDF from the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.  

I knew I wouldn't have the patience for a very big project, so what to do? 


Inspired by a Japanese folded paper technique (kanzashi) I saw in the book, Fabric by Fabric: One Yard Wonders, I decided to make a clock face.  (See Erin's using kanzashi here!)  I also wanted to use my dwindling supply of West African fabrics. The Roommate collects clocks, and our sun room has 5 on different time zones. So I had the idea and the fabric, but wasn't interested in trying kanzashi, so what to do?

A bit of googling found the Piece by Number site, where I found a pattern called Circle of Geese.  The pattern is here (another PDF). You can see her example up there to the left; isn't it pretty?  


A close-up of mine in the photo to the right. So many tiny stitches!  Almost can't believe I did that... 

Paper piecing is a real hassle: sew everything to a piece of cardboard, stitch them together, unsew to get the pieces of cardboard released and do it again.  I was thrilled I only had to repeat the block 3 more times!  I thought it would get easier with repetition, but it didn't! Honestly, it was just as much of a pain the 4th time as the first.  However, you can see that it's a great way to make little pointed pieces all come together.  

I finished it, but the Roommate & I decided that the hands didn't show enough, especially from a longer distance away. So I took the hands off and traced them and tried to fashion some triangles with interfacing.  I think buckram would have been better, but here's what happened...

I think it looks great!  It will be a striking addition to our clock collection & a fun way to use up some of my fabric scraps from a great shopping trip!

What do you think?  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

I'm Sewing Away on a Vintage Pattern Pledge Item, But...



The title above is true, I swear! However, I'm using Hug Snug & lining it with silk as I go along...which means it won't need much finishing when it's done. (Hug Snug tutorial here.)  On the other hand I spent a lot of time on it yesterday & didn't even finish the top.  So it's slow going.  

But just to give you a glimmer, here are a few photos of what I'm working on...
Hug snug & silk lining! 


Couldn't resist this ethnic-y fabric, called Tropic Traveler.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Special Guest Blog Post! On Seamstress Erin's Blog...

I was quite fortunate to be asked recently to write a guest post (as an overeducated seamstress) on Seamstress Erin's blog, so I wrote about what I love most (besides the Roommate & Bella): travel & textiles!  

In honor of Erin's recent completion of her PhD, she's asked a bunch of other overeducated sewists to blog. My post is about textiles we collected in Ghana, Japan, Thailand & Ladakh.  

Congrats to Erin; thanks for the honor...and my apologies for being a bad sewing blogger right now.  The weather is amazing here (eternal spring!), and we have been spending a lot of time working on our yard (after 3 years of doing almost nothing).  We're building a rock wall now!  

Finally, if you liked my country music clothing posts (after a trip to Nashville), you might enjoy this article about a new photography exhibit in LA (Country Music Icons).  Of especial interest is a photo of Gram Parsons in his leather suit, along with Nudie Cohn, the tailor who designed many of the amazing outfits seen in these photos & in my older posts. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It's Always a Quetzal Kind of Day...


Bella & I both like birds.  So when we're traveling (me & the Roommate, not me & Bella), I'm on the lookout for any natural history included on artwork. Especially birds!  This beautiful huipil from (probably) San Miguel Chicaj, has lots of quetzales.  All overlapping in what is quite an intricate geometric pattern.  Did she embroider by rows, swapping colors?  Or by color?  In knitting I know it would be by row, but I'm not sure about embroidery.  

Here's what I love about handmade art: Take some basic elements such as simple repetition, color change, concentric shapes, parallel lines, etc., none of which are difficult to embroider, or to imagine.  But in the right hands, WOWZA!  


Border detail; love the zig-zag & suns!

Overlapping quetzales
(Note: The photos are small on this page, but click on them to see the full-sized versions & admire the detailed handwork.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It's a Quetzal Kind of Day!

Unless you're an avid birder, or into punk-rock hairstyles, you may not know what a quetzal is. Well, for one thing, quetzales are the national bird of Guatemala.  The money is also called Quetzales--I love that!  
Source
I haven't ever seen one in the wild...not for lack of trying.  The Roommate & I have spent lots of times traipsing in rainforests, following a guide, trying to see through dripping leaves & damp binoculars.  
Source
They are well & truly amazing, and are a common icon for all types of artwork, whether it's for a Mayan ruin, or a huipil, a woman's tunic.  

I've mentioned before that styles of huipiles are fairly useful to determine the wearer's hometown.  

Here another from our collection of 7 (never enough!), both with quetzales as the extremely amazing subtle, repetitive, interlocking embroidered icon.  I cannot think of enough adjectives to describe my feeling of wonder when I look at these works of art!  

(Note: The photos are small on this page, but click on them to see the full-sized versions & admire the detailed handwork.)

From Quetzaltenango (place of the quetzales), here's a masterpiece.  BTW, I'm not 100% sure of the origin of this item.  If you know better, please leave a comment for me!  If you want a glimpse into the complicated world of Guatemalan geography & huipile art, check out Huipils, for their list of towns, each with distinctive embroidery & weaving styles.  


Embroidered quetzales--perfectly kerned!  

 The mini zipper at the neck is so charming.

Each shoulder has a band of velvet.

What's fascinating to me about this particular huipil is that it looks to be made of a basic cotton rice or potato sack, then heavily embroidered with the kerned quetzales in multiple colors. THEN, a completely different design & type of embroidery was applied with finer thread.  At first I was sure that this was machine embroidery, but after some thought, I don't think it's very likely on a huipil that is a at least 25-30 years old.  
From reading about these vertical bands, they were apparently first used to disguise seams when narrow bands of fabric had to be pieced together.  Because they were so beautiful, when wider base fabric became available the decoration was retained, though it was no longer needed.  

Stay tuned.  I'll have another huipil up next week.  Comments/Questions?  Let me know.