November 30, 2007

Shichi-Go-San for Sumina

Beautiful little Sumina celebrated Shichi-Go-San this month.  Upon reaching third and seventh birthdays, parents take their daughters to a shrine for a ceremony to chase bad spirits and welcome good health and good fortune (sons go at three and five).  Sumina is the niece of my girlfriend Masami.  Although I have not met Sumina, through Masami's photographs she grows up before my eyes.

Two months in my new office location and only today did I visit the ever-inspiring La Jolla Fiber Arts gallery.  The quality of their hand-worked pieces are extraordinary.  A new discovery for me was the work of Michael F. Rohde.  Primarily a handwoven tapestry and wall rug artist, his newest work includes three-dimensional vessels.

November 29, 2007

Nine-Fingered Seamstress

Hey, it's difficult to sew with one less digit!  Have you ever done it?  I have and it ain't no fun.  Sewing is far less pleasurable.  When I nearly sliced off my fingertip on Thanksgiving, I was SOooo angry at myself for being clumsy because I knew this would slow me down.  What you see represents an hour and a half of work.  How will I finish this doll?  I can hear the griping I'll do this weekend when I begin cutting and sewing small lavender pillows.  I refuse to let down customers who ask for little ones.

November 28, 2007

Field of Flowers

I'm back to doll making.  Actually, I am working on one doll, although five others remain.  Oh my, it's slow going...  Each flower takes time to finish:  cut, seal edges, running stitch, gather, knot, push raw edges into center, seal center, bead, knot, and cut thread; begin again.  Truly, I cut and seal ten "ribbons" at once, then sew.  A lot more little flowers will be needed to cover that skirt form!  I'm still on a blue and orange kick.  I love it!

There is a store one block from my office called Needle Nook.  They have a lucious inventory of threads, yarns, ribbons and floss in wool, silk and cotton, plus beads, books and notions, all necessities for my work, and the ladies are friendly.  I have been looking for excuses to go in every day, like today when I spent $1.62 on two hanks of shiny floss to wrap a gift.

November 27, 2007

Sometimes It Takes Some Time

Boy, am I slow.  Productive, but slow.  Eventually, I get around to it.  This is a wool shawl purchased in Egypt in 2005.  We were sailing on a felucca on the Nile and a vendor in a nearby boat tossed a few examples into my lap.  Of course I chose red (for good luck).  The edges of the shawl had been serged but needed finishing.  Tonight I turned under the edges and stitched them down.  Voila, a new piece of clothing to wear!

November 26, 2007


I have nothing to show for the past several days.  As today's title suggests, that's about all we did:  EAT.  Wednesday was Dad's 82nd birthday and Trattoria La Siciliana served a family-style meal to us.  After the plates were cleared, the lights suddenly went out.  The waitstaff got the entire second floor of the restaurant singing Happy Birthday To You, including Dad, who didn't realize it was in his honor until the candle-lit tiramisu was placed before him.  Thursday was Thanksgiving with a delicious spread contributed by everyone while Tien and I were in the emergency room (see previous post).  Friday had the extended Chong family gathering at Aunt's and Uncle's home in SF -- so much fun but abnormally quiet for a change.  (Are you getting the gobble-gobble picture yet?)  On Saturday my baby brother Mike turned 40 which required more food and fun at his home.  I offered to bring a selection of cheeses for an appetizer and my thinking-ahead sister Janine suggested I bring the pre-cut variety, hahaha!  Okay, now that I've consummed all that turkey, I'm going to curl up with the kitties and take a cat nap.

Last thought: my fingertip wound has no pain -- how lucky is that?!

November 23, 2007

A Stitch in ME

Tien and I are having a long Thanksgiving weekend with my family in the Bay Area.  Today my sister and I began organizing her garage.  We made good progress but "closed up shop" about mid-afternoon to help Mom prep for dinner.  In my rush to peel parsnips, I sliced into the tip of my left index finger.  It bled profusely and Tien drove me to the emergency room for a stitch.  Yes, that is correct, one stitch in the tip of my finger.  I had to laugh, even when it hurt, because I'm usually the one doing the sewing, and on a doll who doesn't wince with pain.  The treatment was more excruciating than the accident!

November 18, 2007

Dear Customers

Dearest Customers, it was fun to meet you this weekend.  I'm grateful for your appreciation of artwork and the time and energy that someone like me dedicates to her craft.  Our discussions, however brief or lengthy, bring something extraordinary to my life.  What I love is your interest and questions, and listening to my ramblings.  Thank you to those who took home handmade textile treats, whether for yourself or as a gift to someone you care about.  Through our chats, I'm happy knowing they have been given homes in states I haven't yet visited, that your life is calmer because of lavender pillows, and that dolls are part of the collections of others.  Thank you especially for supporting an independent business.  I am grateful.  With love and peace to you, Lauren

November 17, 2007

The Talmadge Show

Sunday, tomorrow, is the second of three shows.  The Talmadge Show is held twice yearly in the auditorium of The San Diego Women's Club in Hillcrest.  It used to be in the home of the producers who live in Talmadge (neighborhood), hence the name, but participating artists grew to 35+ and required a larger venue.  I love doing this show.  For the last several shows I have been next to a window which blows a breeze across my table to scent the room with lavender.  Hours are 10a to 4p and a map is on my website.

This is my table at Artisans Studio Show & Sale held in Doria Goocher's lovely home today.  She made chili for the 18 artists -- yummy!  Customers did not "get" the rag baskets, however, they were intrigued once I pointed out they had been made from kimono linings.  I'll try again tomorrow.

November 16, 2007

Artisans Studio Show & Sale

After months and months of dedicating stitching, our car is packed and ready to roll to the first of three shows.  As a sort of "good bye" ritual, I photographed a few items so I'll remember them.  I nearly changed my mind about letting go of the kimono silk rag baskets and a few of the dolls.  I worked so closely with them for such a long time they have become a part of me.  Today my basketry teacher, Nadine Spier, sent a link to her website where my basket photo and credit now appear!  I feel honored, to say the least.  I know I can make more thanks to what I learned from Nadine.

Tomorrow, Saturday, I will be at Artisans Studio Show & Sale
held in the home of master quiltmaker, Doria Goocher.  Her quilts will take your breath away.  The first time I saw them, they were displayed with well-deserved blue ribbons.

Last words:  I love to sew.  I sew to sell, then sell what I sew, so I can sew more.  See you at the show!

November 15, 2007

Chatav Ectabit

I can be a leetle pushy.  Tonight I insisted Tien's cousin Clifford sit with me at a family meal.  First, a little background as I know it.  Two of Cliff's previous employers were Fred Segal and Maxfield in LA, giving him access to the best of the best, most gorgeous clothing one dreams about or sees only in fashion mags.  Over the years, Cliff let slip he was at so-and-so's birthday party or designed interior space for so-and-so or, while discussing actresses, that so-and-so is actually a very nice person, using names we commoners merely read about in gossip rags.  Don't get me wrong, Cliff is not boastful; it's just he really does hang out with these folks.  Anyhoo, sitting with Cliff was a treat for me (and you know how easily I thrill).  He and his business partner established Chatav Ectabit and produce, at every step of the way, a limited line of clothing.  What's more, their clothing is (gasp!) HAND SEWN by highly-skilled Indian artisans, sometimes with vintage bits in hidden places.  How cool is that if you love hand stitching and secrets like I do?!!  I told him about my newest interest, tambour work (embellishing with a hook from the wrong side of the fabric), and his exclamation, "That's what we do!" was the feather that knocked me over onto the Chinese restaurant's filthy carpet.  When he invited us to travel with him on his next overseas trip, I began reaching for smelling salts.  Okay, so we also talked about his last relationship, his new Great Dane and recent travel, all the usual stuff, but it's the stitching that always turns my crank.  Take a looksee at his website -- it's marvelous.  Admission of guilt:  the image was stolen from cousin Peter Fong's blog...  Please excuse my hyperventilating, as I've married into an equally creative family, to be sure.

November 14, 2007

What Is It Worth?

I learned this from my teacher Nancy Wang:

How much can you afford to pay? (ability)
How much do you want to pay? (willingness)
How much should you pay? (value)
How much are you prepared to pay? (reality!)

If only I could ask my customers... but the answers would be different for each person.  Setting prices causes me some anxiety.  It takes countless hours, days, and sometimes weeks to make an item, so how do I factor that into the price?  Or do I?  Sometimes I'm daydreaming about a concept, shopping for the right color, considering construction, taking classes...  Should I ask for the moon?  What was the cost of materials?  How little can I afford to accept?  Will it sell for that amount?  Have I made enough to sell?  Have I made too many?  Who would buy it at this price?!  Needless to say, there is a lot of angst to be had on this subject.  These are my price tags which, you see, are blank.

UPDATE! Click here.

November 13, 2007

Best Laid Plans

I was going to wear this during art shows as my uniform.  "One size fits all" does not include me because the neckline falls too low, so removing up to an inch from the strap would have made a big difference.  At 5'1", I'm so short I can play handball against the curb.  Oh well, this can go into inventory.  After shows are over, I see a lot of studying to come in my fitting book.  This happens frequently when I get excited about sewing -- I don't think about it first.  My mantra should be like that of a carpenter:  measure twice, cut once.

November 12, 2007

Holding Out

Oops, I made something a week ago Sunday and forgot to share.  It's from this 1990 pattern which has been in my collection for a long, long, LONG time.  Aprons seem to be in vogue again, plus they give the appearance of being busy, and relaxing about my wardrobe is a welcome relief.  My idea of a uniform is both practical and lazy.  I'm hand-stitching the binding, so once done I can show/tell properly.  There will be a clear pocket on the front for my name tag.  "Hi, my name is..."

November 11, 2007

Knitting an Octopus

I guess this is what an octopus would look like if it were knitted, and this is how it came about:

Cast on 20 stitches, bind off 15 (4 stitches remain on left needle; 1 on right); knit 4 remaining; turn and cast on 15 (20 stitches on needle); repeat.

Many thanks to my pal Anita who provided the white yarn from her stash.  Hey, Anita, get busy knitting again!

November 10, 2007

Yo-Yo Girl's New Coif

This is better, softer and less severe than the previous model.  I love putting grey hair on my dolls.  Part of that comes from trying to get used to the idea, with my own personal look, of my once-black hair turning grey too, because I refuse to color it.  Age is providing this natural procession of change, like fall colors on trees, and I will do my best to accept it.  However, if my hair starts shedding like leaves, then I'm in big trouble!

November 9, 2007

Feeling Pretty Good!

Elegant Cow Girl got her up-do in two tiers.  Brass beads were sewn into the hair around her face.  She also got a mo-haircut.  Little bits of fuzz stuck out everywhere, as is the nature of mohair yarn, and it looked much neater once the fuzz was clipped  Yo-Yo Girl's bob is kind of severe, so she may get a new look before going out into the world.  The original Yoruba "guinea pig" is my favorite so far because of her dreamy expression and her big silvery-grey locks.  She doesn't have shoes and her dress looks rather like an upscale peasant's.

This is a bonafide sewing mess.  It's terribly messy!  It will take several hours to straighten the room, but that will come later.  I love being in the middle of it all -- everything at my fingertips, but sometimes things get lost.  I'm feeling pretty good that my work is nearing completion.  I will be ready for my shows.

November 8, 2007

Struggling with an Up-Do

Elegant Cow Girl's hair has not been going smoothly.  This blog is supposed to be about failures too and I see it affects whether I feel like writing.  It's only natural to want to show my best work.  I knitted three wigs to no satisfaction.  They don't work for this particular doll, but may suit one of the others.  Then, I found a half-finished hairpiece, pinned it on, played with it, and I gleefully know what to do next.  Heehee, I thrill so easily!

November 6, 2007

Beading on White Silk

Tien heard my exclamations to no one in particular while embellishing a doll.  He wanted to know what I was excited about, so I showed him.  He asked, "You can't have this much fun if you're working."  Oh, yes I can!

November 5, 2007

Art Shows and I'm a Child Again

One of my BFFs is my maternal cousin Jodie.  She and I go waaayyyyyy back.  An early memory is hearing her really-cute-laugh when I'd say, “Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, all the way down the railroad track.”  One day it didn't work, “That’s not funny anymore,” she told me.  So I stopped.  Hmm.  I tell her this tale now, and she thinks this is funny.  Haha, me too.

I used to spend parts of summer in Sacramento with my grandparents and Jodie’s family whose duplex was separated by a laundry room.  Jodie and I used to play store.  We would set up our respective inventories outside in the heat:  she on her family’s doorstep and me on our grandparents’s doorstep.  My store had a jasmine vine that Grandpa had planted.  It climbed a post and the only flowers we could smell were the ones above our heads.  Jodie used to pluck them and slurp the nectar from inside the white and yellow blossoms.  Don’t ask me what they tasted like; there were never any left when I wanted to try.  Back at the store, we didn’t have much money, only small change, although sometimes Jodie had quarters.  We would try to sell things to each other.  I don’t remember what.  Maybe little note pads, tiny boxes, comic books, seashells... things like that.  I knew Jodie was coming to my store when I heard wagon wheels rolling down the street.  Everything was priced at a few pennies, except for real treasures, and I think we may have had a deal where we returned the item after being called inside for dinner.  When participating in art shows, I’m reminded of playing store like when Jodie and I were little.

November 4, 2007

Blue Haired Old Lady

I have always liked the color blue.  I have never liked orange (such as cooked carrots), but now it's one of my favorites (the color; not the carrots).  What's new for me is using a lot of blue and orange together.  This blue mohair-hair is a controlled mess with one strand of grey yarn to represent aging and bits of blue and gold eyelash yarn for fun.  There are three pieces of blue yarn that reminds me of shoe laces -- a wonderful knitter named Carolyn Simpson gave me her stash of yarn scraps and this was one of them.  She's on my mind whenever I pull from the bag.  I put upholstery weight thread through the shoe lace yarn, pulled it and it looked like a scrunchy.  The gold beads on the edge of the bolero vest are lined in 14k gold (according to the label).  I used them to hem my wedding gown.  Each stitch had a gold bead in it, exactly like the edge of the bolero vest.

November 2, 2007

I Love Brocade

The light at the end of this tunnel has a shadowy figure of unfinished dolls.  Well, until my path reaches them, I'm keeping company with these gorgeous fabrics.  The green pillow is new Chinese brocade, a silk/rayon blend.  The vivid blue one is vintage silk.  I enjoy them both and most hand stitches disappear into the rich fabric.  I love brocade.

My paternal grandmother was from southern China.  She arrived in the U.S. in 1923 accompanied by her husband.  Grandpa had already been in the U.S. for 13 years, but returned to his homeland to bring his wife to "Gold Mountain."  He had been making a living as a cook to wealthy San Franciscans, sending money home to his wife.  When she was a young girl, Grandma's feet were bound – they were tightly wrapped to stay small, and it was a painfully handicapping tradition that made Chinese women more "marriageable."  She hobbled about in her long Chinese dresses.  When I knew her, Grandma was already in her seventies and her eyesight was failing.  During visits she'd ask me to thread her needles.  I didn't have hand sewing skills then, yet I clearly recall turning over the seams of the silk brocade cheongsam which she wore to view tiny, even stitches.  I insisted that she didn't need me to thread these needles, for these were clearly done on a machine.  I was wrong -- her garments were sewn entirely by hand.  It made sense; I remember notions kept a 12" square cardboard box from the White House department store, but no sewing machine.

After Grandma stopped sewing, she gave me a length of red and black brocade from the back of the closet.  It was enough for a Chinese dress.  Over the years I cut into it, making various things, a square pillow or two, a heart shaped sachet for a friend who lost her eyesight.  There was more, but I can't remember what happened to the rest.  I still have one small piece left in my collection.  This was the beginning of my love for brocade.

November 1, 2007

It Goes To My Head

Sure, it smells great, but it's a bit more than heady when one is surrounded by sacks of the stuff.  Hack-hack, cough-cough, ah-choo! Sniffle, sniffle.  Start all over again.  This is what I sound like while stuffing lavender pillows.  It helps to wear a mask to keep dust out of my throat and lungs, but I should probably wear a fully-enclosed positive pressure suit, or "moon suit," the required gear for researchers who work in maximum containment labs, hahaha.  By end of evening, I began to stitch pillows closed.  Yippee, progress!