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?

Mezquita churchy dome

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.