Hunting Inspiration for New Designs in Andalusia, Spain: Traveling With My Son on the Eve of Becoming an Empty-nester

I was in southern Spain with my son Julian for 10 days, starting on the 16th of August.  My son is now 20 and I have just delivered him to the California College of the Arts.  We got off the plane from Spain on the evening of the 26th and got back on a plane for California early on the 27th. With the help of a friend living in California, I moved Julian into his housing that afternoon and now I am an empty-nester.  As a single mother for the entirety of his life, this represents a significant adjustment. I have no idea yet what the texture of that adjustment will be like. As a result of the timing, this trip with Julian to Spain has taken on a significance I am sure you can empathize with, even if you are not facing or have not faced this particular life-change.

Julian photographing Alcazar

Image above: Julian photographing the ornamentation on a door in Alcazar in Seville, Spain.

The purpose of the trip was originally just business – to hunt inspiration for new JUL designs, both knitwear jewelry and accessories as well as the new line of body jewelry I am now developing.  I had to change the dates of the trip from April to August in order to participate in 10,000 Small Businesses.  I invited Julian to accompany me as a way to mark his departure from my home and his entry into a new phase of his life.  As Julian is an amazing young designer, (headed off to study Industrial Design), working with him on a new jewelry collection (or collections), based on Moorish architecture and ornamentation in southern Spain, was a perfect collaboration – a project we could work on together, the product(s) of which will be artifacts of this special time.

You will see them in the coming year.

Here are some examples of the shapes and motifs we encountered and which will be our inspiration and source material as we develop designs together.

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Image above: Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain.

My son and I became fascinated by the Mezquita in Cordoba for several reasons.  The building is massive, built on a site that had seen other religious structures for centuries. The exterior of the building is simple, high stone walls with massive reinforced doors.  It looks like a fortification. The interior is astonishing.  The columns and arches you see above just seem to recede to the horizon, creating a sense of magnificent, awe-inspiring infinity.

The columns that you see, which at first appear uniform, are varied in material and form, the cornices sometimes corinthian, based on the curving, elegant lobed leaves of the Acanthus plant. But some of the cornices are much simpler, depicting very different carvings and motifs. This variation impressed upon us the history of cultural and religious transformations that happened on this spot, and the ancient salvaging and repurposing that happened each time there was a change.  Why not use what was already there to create your own very different statement about the shape of the cosmos and the relationship between humans and the divine?

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Image above: Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain.

Much of the ceiling in the Mosque were flat, carved and painted wood.  By contrast, some parts of the ceiling opened up into astonishing and exquisitely ornate domes upon domes that are breath-taking. This combination of arches with areas of flat and carved and painted wooden panels making up the ceiling was dramatic and fascinating.

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Image above: Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain.

The repurposing and transformation in ideas about the universe is so gloriously represented in the combination of Islamic and Christian shapes and designs in the Mezquita’s interior.  How surprising and spectacular that inside the Mosque, Catholics built a church!

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Image above: One of the Christian areas that made up the church within the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain.

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Image above: Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain.

Here you see carved motifs based on the Acanthus leaf, a form that recurs in Roman, Islamic, and Christian ornament over and over.  The Acanthus plant is one of those plants that has an unusual range of powerful uses for early peoples and so it shows up again and again in recognition of its potency as well as the beauty of its form.

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Image above: Alcazar in Seville, Spain.

The Alcazar in Seville is absolutely stunning and was the first of these Moorish buildings that Julian and I visited.  The scale is smaller than the Mezquita as it was a residence.  Its carvings are elaborately painted as they were at the time when the palace was built.  In this way the experience of the space is very different from that of the Palace of the Nazaries in the Alhambra complex in Granada where the carvings are without color.  While the Palace of the Nazaries allows you to see the naked motifs clearly, the Alcazar offers a different kind of impression and visual power – inspiring with the ornamental carving, the exquisite combinations of one color and another, and color in relation to the ornaments it adorns.  I just wept at its beauty and I wept at the fact that I had the precious opportunity to experience such a place with my son.

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Image above: Alcazar in Seville, Spain.

Alcazar doorway detail small file

Image above: Alcazar in Seville, Spain.

The gorgeousness of these spaces is amazing and becomes even more so when you abstract the ornament using frames – as in a camera or cellphone – that isolate particular relationships between the ornamentation and architectural form.  What we isolate in the frame is closer to the way we focus our eyes on specific juxtapositions we find fascinating and beautiful. And these juxtapositions are far more complex and varied, and personal, than the vistas in the photo book of the place.

I discovered on this trip how similar my son’s ‘eye’ is to mine. We frequently chose the same juxtapositions to photograph, though one or the other of us might execute it better.

How gratifying is that, to see your values and all of the lessons in being a person and viewing the world through a lens of art and design emerge, distinct and personalized, in your child after 20 years of eldering and asking “where does your eye go?”

Anti-selfie Selfie

Image above: Julian’s and my anti-selfie selfie at Medina Al Zahara, Cordoba, Spain: we are not blocking the view of the monument!

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Image above: Julian and me at Medina Al Zahara, Cordoba, Spain.  We just can’t seem to produce a conventional selfie no matter how hard we try!  Here Julian caught me rubbing my eyes.  I find it funny that it looks like I am covering my eyes so as not to see something.  So not the case!

And we have not yet gotten to the Alhambra part of the journey . . .

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Hunting Inspiration for New Designs in Andalusia, Span with JUL Designs

 

 

 

Making Your Magic Carpet Bag . . .

This is the first of several installments that take you through the steps of making a magic carpet bag out of an old textile.  The ingredients list below assumes you are using a textile but the same steps are applicable to a wide range of other fabrics and materials.  Your ingredients list will change with your chosen bag material.

Old textile

Muslin (for interlining)

Buckram (for reinforcement / structure)

Lining material

Thick sewing thread – buttonhole twist or quilting thread

Chenille Needle

Safety pins

Zipper with double sliders

JUL Forager 16 inch screw-in leather handles – 1 pair

JUL 36 inch sling handle with screw-in tabs – 1 handle

6-8 half round bag feet in nickel

Dimensions – Cutting the Material

The finished dimensions and cutting instructions offered here are for the pictured bag.  I started with the native width of the material as I don’t like to cut hand-woven fabrics any more than I have to.  The only cut I made was to establish the length of the material, which in turn determined the height of the bag and the depth of the bag bottom.

Carpet Bag fabric: 32 inches wide x 44 inches long.  Interlining fabric should be cut to the same dimensions as it will be sewn together with the bag body fabric.

 

Finished dimensions for my structured Magic Carpet bag will be approximately 29 inches wide at the bag opening, 18 inches high and 8 inches deep. Finished dimensions for an unstructured bag will be 29 inches wide at the bag opening, 22 inches high on each bag face and 18 inches high at the side seam with an 8-inch wide perpendicular bag bottom.

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Width of the bag measured at the bag opening after the bag has been sewn up
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Height of each bag face – 22 inches – measured from the bag opening to the widthwise fold. Depth of the bag – 8 inches – measured with a centering rule at the perpendicular seam.

Making the Bag Body

Please Note: If you are using an alternative material and want to machine-stitch an interlining fabric to your bag fabric, you will need to do that step prior to sewing up the bag.  If you are hand-stitching your interlining to an antique textile, you will want to sew up the bag first.

Fold the material in half widthwise together with your interlining fabric and put right sides together with the fold at the bottom (the interlining will be visible on the outside as you sew up the bag but will move to the inside of the bag when you turn the bag right side out). The textile edges parallel to the fold will be the bag opening and will not be sewn together.  The other textile edges, perpendicular to the fold on the right and left sides, will become the sides of the bag. Leave a generous seam allowance (1 – 1.5 inches) and sew up the two sides.

To create the bag bottom, after sewing up the sides (working on the wrong side), open the bag up, putting the side seam face up and centered. Create a triangular point at the tip of each side seam as in the photograph.  Find where the width of the ‘base’ of your triangle measures 8 inches (or another width if you are doing custom dimensions) and mark a line perpendicular to the side seam.  Sew at your mark.  If you are using an antique textile, I suggest you not cut the triangular excess off as you may wish to preserve the possibility of taking the bag apart at a later time. Makers using other materials will likely choose to cut off the triangle of excess.  Make sure to tack and finish your stitching lines so they remain stable.

Turn your bag body right side out.

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Interlining

The textile I am using is very heavy and floppy and has damaged areas.  Without reinforcement and strengthening, these areas of damage would continue to deteriorate. By wedding an interlining to my textile, I create a stable fabric as much of the stress of use will be on the interlining, not on the textile itself. You can see where I have hand-stitched along the textile’s woven patterns.  With each stitch I have wrapped my sewing thread around a single warp thread.  When my sewing thread is pulled snug, it disappears amidst the weft threads of the textile.

I wanted my stitches to be invisible, but if you are interested in creating a secondary pattern of stitching lines, you can do a running stitch on top of the textile either by hand or by machine like that used in quilting.  Please note: Machine stitching should be done prior to sewing up the bag body.

The relationship of outside and inside material changed when you created the bag body. That is, the inside material now has to be slightly smaller and curve to accommodate the shape of the textile that forms the exterior. The following technique persuades the two materials to behave as one as you are working to stitch them together. Working on the right side of the material (interlining on the inside) and starting from the center of the bag bottom, start to pin the textile and the interlining together using safety pins. Working up each side, place your safety pins equi-distant every 6-8 inches until you have pinned the entire bag body.

 

 

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Textile and interlining pinned together with safety pins.

You may develop a different technique for doing the stitching to connect the textile to the interlining.  This is how I do it.  With the bag right side out, I put my left hand inside the bag and work on top of the textile.  I pass my needle over a warp thread, down under the interlining material, back up on the other side of the warp thread, repeat. In sum, I catch the warp threads in between where the colors meet in the tapestry weaving process, which is similar to intarsia knitting.

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Hand-stitching used to marry the textile to the muslin interlining.

You can see this process in action in my Instagram post of August 8: @jul_designs. In the stitching on the interlining, therefore, you can see the shapes of the ornaments.  In the image below you can see that this results in a virtually invisible stabilization.

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Area of damage stabilized by invisible stitches connecting the textile to the stabilizing interlining.

Once the entire bag has been stabilized in this manner, the interlining fabric is tucked under the textile at the side seams and the edges of the textile are tacked down.

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Then the triangle of excess material at the base of the side seam on both sides is also tacked down neatly, creating a crisp shape at the sides of the bag bottom.

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At this point, your textile material has been fully integrated with your interlining and you are ready to move on to the next steps of structuring, adding closures or a zipper, lining and bagfeet, and adding handles, all of which I will address in the next several Magic Carpet posts.  In the meantime, if you are starting to work on your own Magic Carpet Bag, you will have time to get these steps completed before the next instructional post.

FOR FULLED AND FELTED BAGS:

The sewing instructions above offer some interesting creative possibilities for you to try new things with your fulled and felted pieces.  Stitching together your exterior fabric with an interlining becomes a way to add surface interest and texture, especially if you make your stitches visible and/or use them to create an intaglio or light-relief effect.

Just a few fulled bag patterns that represent fantastic canvases for the handle and finishing techniques we will be getting to in the coming posts are as follows:

Noni – Metropolitan Bag

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No matter what scale of bag you are interested in, the Metropolitan Bag pattern gives you options for beautiful foundational shapes that are perfect for experiments in ornamentation.

Noni – Harmony Bag

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Noni Harmony Bag becomes a beautiful canvas for exciting finishing with easy-to-attach JUL Screw-in leather handles.

Noni – Adventure Bag

Noni – Bedouin Bag

Noni – A Week in Venice Satchel

Debbie Bliss – Felted Bag

Lucia Tedesco – Knitting Basket

Marilyn King – Fulled Afghan Carpet Bag

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Making a Magic Carpet (Bag)

I promised on my Instagram (@jul_designs) that I would begin a series of posts with video instructions on how to make a carpet bag. This post is a prelude, the back-story.

Though my example carpet bag will be sewn together, I will be providing resources for those of you who don’t sew and prefer to work in other media – knitted and fulled, felted, crocheted, quilted – who want the easy finishing and style of our JUL screw-in leather handles made right here in the USA in our Studio in Catonsville, Maryland.

In this first post, I want to tell you why my demonstration piece is a flat weave indigenous textile. I think it’s a story worth telling because it lets you know why it’s not a knitted/fulled bag – of which I have made many when I was working with my sister and knitwear designer Noni – and it lets you know why I chose this particular medium even though it entails some special challenges. Why I’m not knitting this bag is a very short story: I have arthritis and can no longer knit. Why I’m sewing the bag out of an antique textile is a longer story:

My most important and prized possession as a kid was a flat weave rug – a kilim. I don’t know where it was made – perhaps Turkey. Below is a picture of the rug in my home today. This is the story of how it came to be mine.

actual kilim

I must have been about 16. I was in the car with my mother and we saw a guy by the side of the road selling rugs. My mother had a kilim and several other oriental rugs that we both loved and so of course we stopped. I picked out the most vibrant and largest of the rugs and my mother bought it as a gift for me. It was only $150 because the guy who sold it to us was watching the rugs for a friend named Angel who hadn’t told him anything about how the rugs should be priced. We knew we were getting something wonderful for virtually nothing. My mother later said we should have bought them all.

Throughout middle school and high school I wanted to be an artist. I drew all the time. One of the things I drew was the rugs.  I drew them over and over.  Some of these drawings are lost. I have no idea what happened to them. But I still have a few, including two etchings I did. This etching is of the kilim rug my mother had (right) and a Swedish blanket (left) that I still have.

first kilim etching

I would pile up the wooden dining room chairs on top of my bed and arrange the rugs over them to get draped forms. The ways the patterns changed and swooped when draped fascinated me. The rugs felt alive, dynamic.

Below is my second rug etching, this one of my rug.  I turned the form upside down to create a disoriented feeling of suspension and called it “Dragons and Fire in my Carpet.” Can you see the modification I made to the pattern?

second kilim etching

This third image is a drawing, rather than an etching.  Here I have all of the textiles together: my mother’s (right), mine (center), and the Swedish blanket returns (left).kilim drawing

The next is in colored pencil and graphite and was near the end of the series. This drawing is twice as big as the others, as you can see from the fact that it’s on two pieces of paper.

I left parts of the pattern as line-drawing without shading/color. I was trying to push the sense of distortion that is already part of the design, the edges of the diamond motif woven so they appear to ripple even before they are draped over a pile of chairs. You will notice that same sneaky modification to the pattern in this one. I remember now that those modifications felt like a gesture toward self-portraiture. By the time I finished this series I felt like the rugs protected me and mine hung on my wall for years as I moved from place to place. Only recently has it gone on the floor, in part of the bedroom where it is rarely stepped on, and only in bare feet.

color kilim drawing

This final image is the rug from which I am making the carpet bag. By draping it over a ladder, I’m evoking the series of drawings I made in high school but also revealing to you the infrastructure that creates the draped form. I would be inclined to call this something like: Portrait of a Turkish Carpet with Madurese Door and Step Ladder.

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All of the items in this image have a social life that preceded my encounters with them. The step ladder is old and I’m not sure where it came from, someone in the family, maybe grandparents. And the carved wooden door was part of a house in Madura, an island off the eastern coast of Java in Indonesia. The windows are at home but the door is too tall to live in my house so it has to live at the studio.

The rug had a history before it ever came to me, as evidenced by damage and wear in the fibers, fading in the color. This means that part of the task of making it into a bag is stabilizing it, repairing it in ways that don’t cover up the evidence of its past lives, but instead preserve the detail of the damage. To me, what emerges in the patterns of wear and weakness is beautiful, the vestiges of social life somewhere else – living in another time and space.

 

Starting over after 25 Years . . .

My first job, at the age of 14, was in a little fabric store called L.T. Henry fabrics, which was owned by a man from New York who sent things down that he couldn’t sell in his main store in the garment district.  It was one of those stores that was tidy but packed with things, some of which had been there for a long time because they were so unusual.

I used to wander around the store, when there were no customers, hunting, finding new things, hiding the ones I like behind and under the other bolts.  The store had the conventional broadcloths, tweeds, double-knits, seersuckers, light suit wool, tulle, flannel (in the days before fleece), interfacing, bias tape, thread, zippers.  But there were also extraordinary silks, brocades, designer fabrics in a little fabric store in a shabby strip mall with a KMart and a People’s Drugstore.

I used published patters at first and then I started cutting my own patterns, winging it really.  I habitually skipped the pressing and the interfacing.  I always wanted to wear it the next day so I cut corners.  But over time I got better and eventually got a job in the costume shop at the Arena Stage repertory theater in Washington DC.  There, I learned couture and custom tailoring techniques.  I learned to measure the body to make slopers and how to manipulate a sloper to make flat patterns. I got really good.  Before I left the theater I made a beautiful custom tailored blue brocade silk jacket.  It still fits magnificently.  This is not a good picture.  I’ll take a better one.  It doesn’t convey how beautiful it is.  It took a long time – all those tiny, invisible stitches to marry the interfacing to the fabric on the underside of the lapel that I shaped over a ham to create a sensuous rounded fold.

And then I stopped. I went to graduate school. The independent fabric stores had already begun to close by then. I stopped for 25 years except for the odd, exquisite, custom-tailored Halloween costume (remember the beautiful, green, full-length coat in The Little Prince?) for my son when he was a little boy.

A few summers ago I took a class at the Haystack school of craft.  It was supposed to be about designing your Uniform.  I had long found that idea incredibly appealing and was so excited to go out and buy fabric for the Uniform I imagined – a series of long, fitted jackets and coats in wools and linens in a grey to black palette.  Fitted collarless blouses in linen, long skirts, flared pants.  The class was a disaster.  The instructor led us astray by starting with industry blanks instead of measurements to make our slopers.  The blanks, of course, didn’t fit anyone so they needed to be fit and made again.  No one had experience fitting so the students waited to be fitted by the instructor, moving the alterations onto paper, cutting muslins again, repeat.  The instructor had advised the students to add seam allowance to the pattern, rather than have the edges of the sloper pattern represent the stitching line, as I had learned in the theater (I ignored the instructor and my patterns edges represented the stitching line so I added my seam allowance every time, which was very slow).  If a student failed to add seam allowance to her pattern, the muslin wouldn’t fit.  Because there was so little seam allowance (students were advised the garment industry standard of 3/8″ rather than the custom tailoring standard of 1″, which allows for alterations on the muslin or the finished garment), the entire muslin would have to be made again after trying to figure out where the muslin had gone wrong.

And the problems go on like that.  I had to stop what I was trying to do for three days (the course was only 2 weeks!) to read a book on fitting so I could interpret correctly what the drag lines and drapes in the muslins meant and how to fix them.

Needless to say I never got to fabric.  I kept wishing I could remember everything I had known so well 25 years ago when I was at the theater.  I was so angry after the course that I didn’t continue to work on any of the projects I had set out for myself.

This week I’m starting again.  I’m going to cut two linen skirts, one short in grey, and one long in black.  I hope to wear the black one to my 10,000 Small Businesses graduation on August 2. I’m starting with a commercial patterns that I am tweaking. I will keep you posted!

 

 

 

The Secret Menu

I never knew Chinese restaurants have secret menus until a Chinese colleague took me to a restaurant that on the surface looked like all of the others I have ever been to.

sign for chinese restaurant
This menu of specials was outside of a Chinese restaurant next to the Korean grocery where I do my shopping, as it’s so much cheaper than the conventional grocery stores. The second item – Pork Intestines and Blood in Spicy Sauce – reminded me of two things:
1) A Chinese restaurant a Chinese friend took me to once in Champaign, IL when I was a post-doctoral fellow there. She said it was ‘pretty good.’ We were given the predictable huge menu full of the standard dishes. She handed that menu back and spoke to the waitress in Chinese and we were then brought a single sheet of white paper with about 8 things on it. My friend turned to me and explained that the chef is from Szechuan and this small menu was made up of authentic regional dishes, which were spicy and distinctive. She ordered for us, including several things that she explained were not on the menu but which were specialties of the area. The dishes were brought in courses. I have never had Chinese food like that Chinese food. I had never known there was a *secret* menu. The fact that pork intestine with blood and spicy sauce is on this menu tells me that the secret menu is on display. How exciting!
2) At Balinese ceremonies of a certain size, roasted pig is always on the menu. Every part of the animal is used. Communal meals are made in which a pyramid of rice is place on a square woven bamboo mat that is covered with banana leaves cut to size.  This mat is then put down on a wooden, table-like low platform on which a circle of guests sit in same-sex groups (never mixed). Around the rice are arrayed different parts of the pig, including a minimal amount of meat, and vegetables cooked in ways that you rarely see except at ceremonies because they contain ingredients like cubed pig fat mixed with steamed long beans cut in 1 inch segments, shredded fresh coconut, and a paste of turmeric, garlic, shrimp paste, and salt, and minced shallot, and chiffonade kaffir lime leaves. It’s the presence of the pork that makes them rare in other contexts as pig is ceremony food.
After everyone is seated and the food has been placed in the center of the group, one of the women takes her fist and punches a well in the rice. Then a bowl of spicy warm pig blood is poured in the well. Everyone eats together with their hands from this common platter, taking rice and small amounts of meat and vegetables onto the tips of the middle three fingers of the right hand. Once you are ready to put the food in your mouth, you push it off with your thumb while sticking out your tongue just enough to catch the food and at the same time ensure that your mouth and hand do not make contact. Using this technique, there is no ‘double dipping’ even though everyone is using her hand.
It’s the specific technique for eating with your hand that is is key, not just at ceremonies but always. No licking fingers. Food doesn’t go in your palm. It’s a bit tricky at first if you have never done it before (and people will laugh at you for your inept initial attempts) but you get used to it.
This ceremony food always made me mildly sick for a week, gurgling stomach, vague malaise. I finally gave up on it and said I wasn’t allowed to eat pork. Then I was relocated to a pavilion with the priest and other ritual specialists who also are not allowed, for religious reasons of purity, to eat pork. So we ate duck and never from a common bowl. No stomach problems ever again.
Though I appreciate the secret Chinese menu coming out of the closet, I will not be trying the special! Not because I’m not brave enough or find it disgusting. Indeed, I’m confident it’s tasty. But experience has made me wary of this dish.

A Past Life in Bali

We all have our past lives.  I used to have a dream – which I haven’t had in a long time – in which I was walking through the rooms of a magnificent house, room after room, each leading to the next.  They went on and on.  They didn’t repeat.  I think about the episodes of my life like this – like a series of rooms.  I entered the room. I was in the room for awhile. And then I left the room. My PhD fieldwork in Bali, Indonesia between 1998 and 2000 was one of those rooms.

I left the United States when my son was just one and a half.  I had funding from three different academic institutions: Fulbright, Wenner-Gren (specifically for Anthropology), and the Asian Cultural Council.  Between the three grants, I had enough money to conduct research in Bali for two years.

My Bali is a difficult place, full of magic, envy, meanness, sickness, inter-village warfare, marriage by rape and abduction, poverty.  And it’s also beautiful. It is undeniably a physically beautiful place with exquisite rice terraces, spectacular ceremonies, gorgeous people, astonishing music and dance.

But none of this is the most beautiful part of Bali to me. What is most beautiful is the unseen meanings behind ceremonies, offerings, dance, poetry, stories, music.  The ways in which people put into practice and embody a cosmology that articulates a relationship between the universe and the human body – those are the aspects that, to me, are breathtaking.

I studied those things in various ways, through an investigation of dance, in which the dance movements and postures are gendered – male, female, ambiguous.  I studied Balinese life crisis rituals: tooth-filing, marriage, mortuary, birthdays for people and temples, and calendrical ceremonies in which the gods are ritually bathed and entertained.  I studied Balinese esoteric texts written in Old Javanese, a Sanskrit-based language used for religious and ritual books and incantations during ceremonies.

The works I studied ranged from anatomies, which began with the glance of lovers eyes (wonderful, no?), love magic, meditation maps, ethnobotanical treatises on the characteristics of plants and plant parts, instructions for how to die, and erotic instruction manuals similar to the Kama Sutra.  I learned how to cook.

I learned how to dress appropriately, how to move differently, how to bargain in the market, and what not to do.  And I lived in a village and learned how to be a person by hanging out with other women, listening to their gossip, watching them work, absorbing their lessons for me.

A big part of learning how to be a person was watching how my neighbors taught my son to be Balinese and how I came to understand their cultural instructions. I will share them with you and if you are a parent, you will find some of it very useful.

Below is a picture of my son when he was 3 and we were on a vacation from Bali to Borobudur in Java. – 1999

What an amazing place it was to raise him for some of those first critical years.  It’s true that it takes a village.  We were lucky to have one for awhile.

This Course Changed My Life & How I Think About My Business

I want to tell you some news that I am so proud of. I just finished a business course called 10,000 Small Businesses. It’s run by the Goldman Sachs Foundation and has support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The curriculum was developed by Babson College which has one of the most respected MBA programs in the country. Warren Buffet is on their Board. In fact, at our graduation on August 2, Warren Buffet will be present, along with: Catherine Pugh, the Mayor of Baltimore: Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman-Sachs; Michael Bloomberg; and a representative of the Harvard Business School. Are you getting the message yet? It’s a big deal. And: It’s free!

I found out about it by chance. I am on an email list for Baltimore small manufacturing businesses and get updates about courses and opportunities and this was one of them. I actually didn’t know what it was. I imagined it was a weekend workshop and figured I would just apply, clicked the link, wrote the essays, and then didn’t think much more about it. Little did I know.

You have to make at least $100,000 gross, have 2 employees, and they are especially interested in businesses that are minority and women owned. Getting in is competitive. You write essays, submit your financials, write more essays, have an interview, and then hope.

The course has 9 modules and runs over five months. We didn’t have class every week, but usually had two back-to-back in one week from 8am – 5:30pm. (Breakfast, lunch, and snacks in the afternoon were catered and were healthy and delicious with salads, whole grains, vegetables, several protein options, fruit, and dessert. As you can see from the list, vegetarian options were available at every meal and all of you paleos would have been just fine too.)

We covered money, marketing, personnel, leadership skills, negotiation skills, bankability, funding, operations. And unlike many business courses that focus on developing a business plan, this course focuses on what they call a Growth Plan. You have to develop a new opportunity and come up with a feasible and actionable plan for engaging that new opportunity in order to grow your business.

10,000 Small Businesses emphasizes that if you are doing what you have always done you are shrinking, you are dying, slowly going out of business. All businesses have to keep innovating in order to grow and in order to do that you can’t do it part-way. You have to be all in.

This course talked about the difference between a good idea and a growth plan, research-based decision making versus emotions-based decision making, business decisions based on the financials, not gut feelings.

I didn’t know what inventory turnover rates were. I didn’t know what break-even points were. I didn’t know how to figure out my shop rate. How do you know what is cost of goods sold versus overhead? Now, those of you with business backgrounds may judge me. Please don’t. I ended up doing this business by accident. I never planned to be here.

I have learned on the hoof. I was trained as an anthropologist. I’m a designer. I never had any training in accounting or business and have berated myself over the years for being a bad business woman until I decided I didn’t have to take up brain space daily by castigating myself for not being up to date on the books. I decided I could do better. Now my books are up to date (and they need to be if you are going to apply for 10,000 small businesses because it’s part of the application). Despite winging it, I have been able to make a living and support myself as a single mother with sole responsibility for my son – no child support ever. I have a house. I have a beautiful studio space. I have 2 full-time people in Indonesia who the business supports. I work with many artisans there, Fair Trade, and they rely on the business we do together to support their families. I have a half-time person here in the United States.

I have survived. But survival is always only just enough. And right now it’s not quite enough.

So I have developed my growth plan – which is to create a line of ‘affordable luxury, branded silver jewelry for a broad customer base that extends beyond the niche market of home knitters and needleworkers I currently serve.  I have begun to implement it, as you can see from my last blog post, and for the first time I can see past survival. I can imagine JUL as a bigger design company (and they say being able to visualize it is the first step). We did visualization exercises in class it’s so important! And I now have the tools to make that vision a reality. I have to admit I’m scared right now. But I’m also excited and exhilarated.  The new design work I’m doing with Agus (in the picture below) is what I really love about what I do.  And as we go along in this new direction, I will add more categories of designs – housewares, wearables, and bags again once it’s financially feasible and I have the right infrastructure to make you beautiful bags at an affordable price without losing my shirt.

I am so thrilled to be entering this new phase!  And I’m so excited I can share it with you through the new designs we are working on!

Below you can see me with my creative partner in Bali, Indonesia.  His name is Agus.  I have worked with him for 10 years as my co-designer and collaborator.  Since Agus’ father died suddenly of a massive heart attack a year ago, he has been the head of the family, responsible for taking care of everyone and for most of the income that supports the household.  His wife assists him with his work on JUL by sharing management of production and overseeing quality control and book keeping.