Thursday, October 11, 2012

Crafty Roots: Finding my Heart & Soul in the Walk of Life

Duck Dynasty: me sporting some vintage '80s 'Aerobics Duck Fonda' applique made by my mom!
The hum of a sewing machine....the scent of UHU glue.....the glow of a lightbox.....and mounds of fabric scattered atop a large craft table teetering upon sawhorses....memories of these things take me back to my crafty roots.  During my early childhood, my mother, a talented seamstress, ran a small cottage industry making crafted items out of calico fabrics.  My mom and her business partner sewed their wares to show & sell on the local craft show circuit.  It was Wisconsin, the early 1980s.  Surrounded by farming communities, they made all sorts of quirky, animal-inspired creations out of fabric: reindeer-heads (resembling their taxidermy cousins) made from poplin fabric stuffed with poly-fil to hang on your wall and baby bibs appliqued with smiling cows with daisies on their heads & real mini-cowbells stitched around the neck, were just a few of these creations that I recall.

My mom and her sewing partner finally struck crafty gold with a simple duck applique design idea.  A request for an applique of a white duck dressed up as a cleaning lady spurred an entire franchise of profession/ personality-themed appliqued ducks. Soon my mom & her business partner were crankin' out all sorts of ducks:  chef ducks, nurse ducks, teacher ducks, doctor ducks, fireman ducks, and whatever the duck you wanted.  It was a bit of a 'quacker factory' at my house.  My mom enlisted my dad, a talented industrial designer who could sketch anything from his head, to draw each themed duck.  After my dad made the master-drawing, my mom would trace it with the lightbox and make templates to use for her applique.  She'd trace the templates onto poplin fabrics fused with interfacing and cut stacks of each applique piece from the fabric.  She'd apply all of her applique pieces together using UHU glue sticks.  Once the applique was glued down to whatever was being duck-orated- a totebag, sweatshirt, apron, mother would stitch everything down using a satin stitch on her sewing machine.  She'd stitch and stitch all day long, down in our basement, with Huey Lewis & the News or a Dire Straits cassette tape blaring out of the boombox.  My journey began here:  finding my 'Heart & Soul' on the 'Walk of Life' (ooo-woo-hoo!).

I wish I had more of her original pieces or pictures of her creations, but I did manage to hold on to this photo below.  In lieu of ducks, my mom appliqued this creation to suit my ever-growing childhood obsession with frogs.
Frogger in Pigtails:  Me at age 6, sportin' a crafty creation drawn by my dad & stitched by my mom!
Creativity has surrounded me since birth.  It's what I'm used to seeing and what I'm used to doing.  It runs in my blood and it's part of my makeup.  My roots go back to those early days of my mother and father collaborating together & creating appliqued duck designs.  As I grew up, I pursued my love of creating & chose to study fashion design in college.  My mother's trusty New Home sewing machine came along with me, so that I could sew all of my school projects (It's the machine pictured in the right side of this blog).  I learned sewing and construction techniques in my college fashion design courses, and sometimes my applique crafty roots would turn up in my projects.  Example-- my first fashion design project- Childrenswear.  Inspired by none other, but another childhood favorite...Legos!  I used applique for the lego bricks in this project below:

Lego Maniacs!  Sophomore year, Summer Qtr in 1998.  My first crit in front of a panel of judges. Check out her purse...I made it from Legos!  The shoes are also hand-painted to resemble Lego bricks.  My dad specially cut the Duplo blocks in his shop, that I used as fasteners on the coveralls.  
Upon graduating with a degree in fashion design from college, I immediately started working for a major corporate fashion retailer of little girls clothing.  It was quite an experience that taught me many valuable lessons about life & work, and also finding the right life & work balance (which was a challenge most of the time).  Being so young; so bright-eyed & bushy-tailed; and my skin so thin, I had burned out on this job.  My mind, heart & soul were in a major state of disarray.  I had lost touch with my creative soul and had turned into a zombie.  It was no bueno.

Lucky me, I had the opportunity to quit that job and move across the country to gain a better perspective on life.  Plenty of nurturing, fresh mountain air, healthy salmon dinners, fresh veggies, cleansing misty rain, long bike rides, salty-scented ocean air, and the best damn coffee in the U.S.of A helped me recover my creative inner child.  What better place to move, but Seattle!  I was so burned out from corporate America that I decided to take a job in a small, boutique-style fabric shop that had just opened a month after I landed in town.

Being surrounded by beautiful fabrics & a like-minded crafty crew of folks nurtured my damaged artist child & brought me back to my crafty roots!  I'd be working in the shop, inspired by the fabrics, and would go home that night to create something spiffy with my sewing machine.  Excitement, ideas, & dreams filled my heart, mind, and soul.  The sewing machine became an extension of my hands and arms, bringing these ideas to life!  I made some clothing, but most of the time, I created appliques.  I realized that I was blessed with both my mom's seamstress abilities and my dad's artistic talent and could combine these skills into my own craft- conceptualizing, drawing, and appliqueing.  And then I cranked out as many ideas that came into my brain:

Just a smattering of my appliqued pieces that have come into my brain and then off of my sewing machine!
Instead of personality-themed ducks, my inspiration was dogs.  I love dogs, grew up with a dachshund, and sometimes would rather be in the company of dogs, than humans. One of my most popular dog designs incorporated a pug dog and my favorite band, Devo, from my adopted home state of Ohio.  The Devo Pug design, or as I like to call it, the 'Pug U Want'.  I read somewhere that Mark Mothersbaugh had a pet pug dog, and thought it would be nifty to personify the pug as Mark.  You can see him above- the middle picture.  The pug is wearing a classic Devo 'Energy Dome' headpiece with geeky glasses- inspired by the Devo frontman, Mark Mothersbaugh.  The pug is even rockin' out on a this case, a 'mini-poog'.  I made several versions of the applique- a few on some totebags, made some wall-hangings, some pillows, and even appliqued it on a dress.  One of my shining moments in life was meeting my inspiration, Mark Mothersbaugh, while wearing my dress:

See the resemblance?  The maker meets her inspiration.....Me in my applique 'Pug U Want' dress with my idol, Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo.
When I heard that Devo and Blondie (2 of my favorite bands!) were coming to town for a concert at the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in September, I just about peed my pants!!  I had to make a fun appliqued piece of clothing to wear to the show.  Although I didn't meet up with the bands after the show this time, I did have a lot of fun designing and making my shirt.  I was inspired by some fabric I bought from the discount bin at JoAnn Fabrics- a poppy red/ white cheetah print on french terry knit.  The fabric pattern was perfectly punky mod and just right to use as the base fabric for my applique shirt.  I stuck with dogs as my applique subjects- a Pug for Devo, and a Japanese Chin for Blondie ( I read somewhere that Debbie Harry owns a Japanese Chin).  Below is a brief photo pictorial of my process from start to finish:
Clearance Fabric from JoAnn's, My Applique Sketch, and the actual Applique pieces

Clockwise from bottom left:  Applique placement, Appliques, Garment pattern selection and layout- McCalls M4835,  and me posing in my creation!
My sewing diva friend, Cheryl of Paradiso Designs, accompanied me to the concert.  We picnicked under the beautiful September sunset, and danced our booties into the night.  It was so much fun!

Another applique project that I recently finished up with was a totebag for my former co-worker, Lyndsi.  I worked with her at the giant corporate girls clothing headquarters back in the Midwest.  Lyndsi is an amazing artist and loves her puppies!  She saw some of my work that I posted on my instagram site and asked if I could make her a Sheltie applique on a totebag.  I said...Certainly!  I asked Lyndsi what her favorite colors were and when she said orange, purple, and turquoise, immediately I thought, 1980s!!!  And sew it goes:
Jazzy fabric selection, plotting out my applique sketch, stitching the applique with my mom's trusty sewing machine (which I stole)

Sheltie Applique Creation reminds me of a Duran Duran album posing with the final creation- a totebag!

My roots may be steeped in crafty applique creative goodness...but you can tell from my designs, I've never quite shaken my crazy love of the New Wave '80s.  It makes me go Bow-Wow-Wow-Oh-Chi-Wow-Wow!!

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