For those of you who have purchased a JUL Designs shawl pin (and have read the information on the packaging), you know that most of them are “Handmade Fair Trade in Indonesia” in White Brass (the rest are made in the USA). But what does this really mean? In this first installment of a biography of a shawl pin I start to tell you, and more importantly, to show you by sharing with you videos and images I took during a month-long trip to Bali, which is the location in Indonesia where I have JUL knitwear and body jewelry designs made.
The objectives of this month-long trip in July were three-fold. First, I had product-development goals to launch with Agus, my Balinese collaborator and a critical partner in the creation and production of JUL knitwear and body jewelry designs.
Second, I wanted to meet our new artisans, whom I had not yet met given that the last time I was in Indonesia was five years ago! And third, I wanted to document the product development and production processes for you as I worked with my son and my creative partner and artisans.
I want you to be able to see how many hands touch each piece you purchase. And I want you to be able to see the relationships I have with my creative partners and artisans. I speak the language(s). I understand the culture. I have deep connections to the place going back over 20 years. I have dear friends and family there. I don’t just broker through a third party.
For JUL, Fair Trade is not a vague notion of doing business directly with producers. For us, Fair Trade is specific. It means we are committed to people we care about. We have collaborative relationships with artisans we have been working with for years. Having such long term working relationships means they understand our designs, which are mostly not conventional jewelry, and can work with us to develop creative solutions to the production and design challenges we encounter. Fair Trade means we know exactly how our products are produced, under what conditions and by whom. It means our artisans determine what we pay them for the products we ask them to make, based on how complex the designs are, how much time and effort each one takes, and what they need to support their families. Fair Trade for us is truly fair.
So how do I show you these relationships, these production processes? We tracked production of one product – the Runa Penannular Brooch – from start to finish using photographs and videos.
This mosaic of images above gives you a sneak peek at what I will be describing to you in some depth over the next few posts. In the upper left is the wax for the ring part of the Runa. Upper right shows flasks of plaster molds for the Runa being vacuumed to remove air bubbles that can damage the casting. Lower left shows metal being heated to pour into one of those molds. Center shows raw Runa components after they have been cast. Lower right shows a Runa ring component being cleaned up and smoothed during the finishing process before the stick has been added and soldered in place.
This production process takes the Runa Penannular Brooch through twelve pairs of hands just to come into being, and ultimately to adorn your knitwear.
In my last post I told you about my knitting experiment. I wanted to re-create my first scarf. So I did. It had its challenges like any new project and required me to develop new skills. Being random, or at least appearing random, intentionally requires effort and control. I developed a technique. I got better at it.
In this image you can see the uneven quality of the knitting:
Not only did I vary my stitch length and tension. I varied the number of stitches in the rows, adding and subtracting to create a varied profile. It was simple knitting. No purling. No rib. This sort of knitting-every-row knitting can boring. Instead, it was interesting and I started to to control the inconsistency. I know this goes against the stated project but I did want to achieve the look of the child-knitting I sought to re-create.
Then I styled it. The first styling I did (and which I show you here) I have used before with a long rectangle. I think I love this one in particular because it transforms the long rectangle so completely that it is often a revelation to the knitters I talk to. There is a kind of knitting epiphany that can happen on multiple levels. First, that a plain old long rectangular scarf could take on such a dramatic shape. And second, that my screw-in pedestal buttons and closures can take you out of the button box, so to speak. This one unique styling of a simple shape can lead to the realization that these styling tools can take any simple shape to a different level. Simple shapes can become dramatic, sculptural shapes that show-off the knitting (why would you hide it after working so long) and show off you!
To follow is a series of images of the first styling from different angles. What can you do with your simple rectangles and a little JUL? I would love to see your images on Instagram.
Tag @jul_designs / #juldesigns so I will see your images.
Use the coupon code FIRSTSCARF for 15% off pedestal buttons and the Cordoba Series closures.
Don’t forget: I want to know what you can do with your simple rectangles and a little JUL? I would love to see your images on Instagram.
Tag @jul_designs / #juldesigns so I will see what you are up to.
Use the coupon code FIRSTSCARF for 15% off pedestal buttons and the Cordoba Series closures.
I was seven when my mother taught me how to knit. She learned from her aunt Elma. I don’t know exactly what the kinship arc was that connected my mother to Elma and made Elma my mother’s aunt and for this story it doesn’t matter.
I don’t remember the learning-to-knit part. I remember the first project once it was done. It was white wool, a short scarf, and very uneven and badly shaped in the way first knitting projects can be – wide at the start and loose, narrowing to the center and way too tight, then widening again as I tried to rectify the tightness in the center. Some stitches were too big, others too small. It didn’t look like my mother’s even knitting.
I gave it to my father as a gift. It was soft and I guess I must have been proud enough to have made it that I could give it to my dad even though, when compared to fine knitting, it was clearly no good.
My father wore it. That amazed me. That he wore that no-good first-knitting little white neck warmer totally amazed me. He would fold one side over the other to cover his neck. The narrow part fit at the back of his neck. The two wide ends came down to the top of his chest. Then he’d put on his coat. As I remember it, he wore it alot. And even if that is a bit of hyperbole my amazement wrought, I’ll take it.
I decided to re-create that first scarf. My motivation was simple enough. I thought about how, if it is sufficiently inept, a first project can alienate one from trying again. When we face real difficulty in achieving a goal of mastery, we may decide we are no good at it, are lacking in some fundamental talent that other people clearly have but which to us is inaccessible or elusive. We hold our first-starting-out selves up against those with years of experience and find ourselves so lacking that we lose hope and lost interest. The thing is no good. It’s no use. It’s unwearable.
The fact that my father wore that badly-knit scarf his little daughter made gave me the confidence to execute the next project, which was better. Even if the scarf was unwearable to me, it was not unwearable to my father.
But I contend that an unwearable scarf -from the perspective of even tension and a consistent number of stitches – can become wearable if it is styled well. The unintentional can be wrestled into submission to intention with the right approach and good tools. The first scarf can take us from ambivalent about the issue of our first efforts to more than proud: stylish.
This transformation is what I work for. It’s my job. I design and produce accessories. The justification for my work, my company, is my need, your need, for tools to turn handmade fabrics (knitted, crocheted, handwoven) and purchased garments into beautiful wearables that show the fabric off and make the wearer feel beautiful in addition to looking stylish.
My closures should make your life in fiber-wear easier. I want the same things you want. I want to look good without thinking about it too much. I want to go about my days undistracted by difficulties with my clothes. I don’t want my scarves falling off and catching in drawers when I bend over. I don’t want my shawl to slide off one shoulder and require re-arranging many times a day.
I felt sure that I could take a first scarf, of the kind I made when I was 7 years old, from wonky to wonderful with a few screw-in closures. So I cast on.
It’s hard to return to a pre-control moment when you can’t achieve an even tension, have trouble discerning where a stitch begins and ends, and haven’t yet learned to purl. I got better at inconsistency and wonky as time went on. Well, that’s not quite true. Because I was working toward inconsistency, in a sense I became more consistent in my achievement of inconsistency. Even naive execution contains the possibility of mastery.
So I finished it. The end with the cast-on yarn trailing, is where I started. The increase of stitches to make the scarf slightly wider was fairly subtle. I wanted it to be more extreme. My inconsistency in tension was not enough. I pushed it harder. By the time I finished, I felt I had begun to master the first scarf. If I make another, I’ll do even better at bad knitting.
Now comes the interesting experiment – adorning the first scarf so it becomes an enviable style piece, a fabulous example of hand-knit art you might expect in a high-end chic boutique. This is my goal.
What is your first-knitting story? I would love to hear it. You are welcome to tell me about it in a comment.
The approach of my birthday, Mother’s Day and making room for my son to return home from college became an occasion for reflecting on family and creativity.
My twin sister Nora – of Noni Designs – and I were born at the beginning of May in 1967. Our poor mother thought she was having one big boy. Instead she got two tiny girls born six weeks early. We were incubator babies, supposed to be Gemini (the doctor predicted a delivery date of June 12) but instead born Taurus. Did that change everything?
We would have been Daniel if we were a boy and Nora if a girl. So my sister, who was first, is Nora. May name Laura was hastily selected; I am named after my mother’s maternal grandmother.
This is what we looked like when we were born. Nora is on the left (I think). I always look at the lips if I am in doubt.
In later pictures it’s easier to tell us apart.
I have no idea who made these matching sets of ponchos and tams. Maybe it was my paternal grandmother, who was an avid knitter in the English style. But they could also have come from one of the aunts on my maternal grandfather’s side, who all knitted continental, having emigrated from Sweden. (UPDATE: Since I wrote the above, my mother has commented that she thinks they were made for us by our Auntie Jo. Jo was fictive kin and an important creative figure in my life, and probably for my sister too. Auntie Jo was the first artist I knew. That is, she did more than knit and sew like the other women in the family. Auntie Jo painted. She made wood carvings. She was in gallery shows. And she made phenomenal pecan pie. She was not a pretty woman. She would tell you this herself. But she was beautiful to me and she had black hair until she died.)
My sister was a cherub. I often appear mischievous. In the picture below, knowing that, you can guess I am on the left. We must have been about 3.
PART OF THE EXTENDED FAMILY
You can pick out my sister easily if you look for the cherub. She is on the right in my uncle Al’s lap (father’s brother). To the left of him is Nancy, his first wife. My mother is to Nancy’s left next to me. And I’m on my father’s lap looking sullen. I like this picture. It was taken in Boston before the family moved to Maryland when we were four.
And here are just the two of us during that same visit:
Me less intense, my sister distracted by one of my parents?
STARTING TO REFLECT
I started looking at these photographs because I had to empty the beautiful creative space I made for myself and about which I wrote some months ago. The reason: Julian is returning home but I’ll tell you that story in a different post. The room was spare but full of treasures and I took my time compiling and moving, looking at each thing, letting the objects evoke past adventures, most of them with Julian. And I found an old book of photos, from which came most of the pictures here. The moment for reflecting on them was perfect because it was only days away from my sister’s and my birthday. So I thought about my sister and our mother. I thought about our father. I thought about my son and what it has been like to be his mother and to mother him differently than I was mothered, to raise him without a father.
And I thought about my first knitting project, which I gave to my father.
The first time we visited the Shinshoji temple we only got a little taste of the rich ornament that has now become the inspiration for the Shinshoji Collection – JUL’s first collection of sterling silver jewelry.
My son and I first visited the Shinshoji temple in Narita, Japan almost 16 years ago when he was just five. We were on our way back to the United States from Australia so I could defend my PhD dissertation and had a long layover in Japan. The airline put us up in a hotel near the airport, close to which there just happens to be a very beautiful and old temple complex. Rather than take what we were warned was an arduous and long train ride into Tokyo, we opted for the short trip into Narita and followed the route on the photocopied map. We walked from the little station down the old main street of the town to the entrance of the temple where a huge lantern hung over the gate.
It was raining that day but my intrepid son had (at 5!!) researched where the shuttle stopped in front of the hotel and learned we could borrow umbrellas for the day from the concierge. If it had not been for his persistent game-for-anything personality we might have stayed in and had a very boring day. But instead we went out and had a wonderful multi-course adventure. Thankfully it was only our first encounter with the Shinshoji. The next time we went the weather was fine and we spent many hours investigating the temple’s old and new buildings and their magnificent metalwork, some of which you see on the roof-line of this amazing building below.
When we visited the temple again some four years later, I focused my attention on this metalwork and took many photographs of the pierced and chased metal panels on railings, eves, lintels, and columns. I’ll tell you much more about that second visit in my next post as I have many more images and some videos from that visit which I would like to share with you. Because of the rain on our first visit to the temple, and limited time to explore, I don’t have many photographs of our initial foray. We didn’t get very far past the main gate and didn’t have any idea until later how extensive the complex is. But our curiosities were aroused and so when we next had the opportunity on another day-long layover, we went straight to the temple, determined to spend as long as we liked there.
Building the Shinshoji Collection Out of Three Elements
My aesthetic meditation on the Shinshoji metalwork and its ornate botanical motifs, juxtaposed with simple profiles, became the three foundational components from which the Shinshoji Collection is compiled: the roughly 50 pieces of handmade, satin-finished sterling silver necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and pendants were created by combining these three architecture-derived shapes – Pierced Acanthus Lantern, Lotus Window, and Peony Door – in different combinations using silver chain and links of different sizes.
Above: Acanthus Earrings No. 2 – show the Pierced Acanthus Lantern component
Above: Peony Necklace No. 2, in which the Peony Door is the weight at the bottom of the drop and the Lotus Windows form ornaments that fall at the collarbone and create the transition from the necklace to the drop.
The Shinshoji Collection is an Opportunity to Create a Personalized Ensemble
What we have sought to achieve by combining three components to create an expansive collection of silver and blackened silver pieces is a range of jewelry items that can be assembled into hundreds of individualized ensembles for a range of aesthetics.
Because the collection is so big, we have decided to release it in stages while the first production run is underway. We know you will want to put together individualized ensembles. That has been the whole point behind offering you such a range of different and related pieces. But you will also not be able to select your whole ensemble right away. You will have the delicious pleasure and deferred gratification of pulling together your total look slowly during our special pre-order period.
Pre-Ordering Your Personal Ensemble
While we are the pre-order phase, during this first production run, we are offering two special opportunities to our retail customers.
We will have free shipping on all the jewelry during the pre-order period so you will have no penalty buying your ensemble in stages. It will ship as a single wonderful look when the jewelry arrives from Bali in about a month.
Every time you make a jewelry purchase, you will be entered in a drawing for a free pair of earrings of your choice to be given away at the end of the pre-order period when all pre-orders ship.
With these opportunities in mind, we have two different proposals for how you can take advantage of the pre-order period to build your individualized look.
Purchase the pieces you love as they appear. Each purchase, remember, will enter you to win a free pair of earrings of your choice.
Start a wishlist to keep your favorites together as you build your look. We will give you the heads-up a week before our inventory is ready to ship from Indonesia so you can purchase your ensemble(s) all at once and still qualify for the pre-order free-shipping offer and be entered in the drawing for a free pair of earrings.
Start picking out what you love from our Stage I release right now at juldesigns.com.
If you look closely at the metal work on this building, you can see the pierced designs of the Acanthus Lantern. In my next post, I will delve deeper into this metal work and how it inspired a series of metal pieces that I pictured in my Instagram quite some time ago now, and which have now become part of a broadly accessible jewelry collection, no longer consigned only to my private collection of handmade-for-myself pieces.
It is thrilling to be able to share, with you, shapes, that have so long rolled around in my mind’s eye.
Coming Soon . . .
Images and videos of my son’s and my second visit to the Shinshoji temple will accompany the release of Stage II of the Shinshoji Collection later this week.
It takes commitment to forge a creative lifestyle that is intentional. I’ve got the creativity and a creative space. Now I need to get out the calendar and schedule the time for it.
As you can see, my magic carpet bag is languishing on the sewing machine. It has clearly not received additional stiffener (several of you offered me great solutions for stiffener that I have not yet investigated . . .) nor has it received a treatment for the bag opening that will make it look more like a classic carpet bag and less like a tote. I have the purse frame I want to try. I have a strategy for shaping the opening to fit the frame. I have some types of stiffener in the studio and I have your great suggestions. And yet the project has stalled. What is going on? Why?
So many reasons. And I will tell you about them so you don’t think I’m a complete slug (at least I hope not). I know many of you also have unfinished projects that you put to the side because other things demanded your attention, so I am confident most of you will understand my frustration with the stasis on the table next to the sewing machine. I, too, have had many demands on my time and attention since the last time I worked on the bag.
THE TOPOGRAPHY OF AN EMPTY NEST — As you may have read in previous posts, I went on a wonderful trip to Spain with my son. We returned home on the 26th of August. We got back on a plane on the 27th and I delivered him to his dorm in San Francisco to begin his first semester (as a Sophomore; more on that in a postscript) with the help of a dear friend I have known for 16 years, but hadn’t seen for 4, and who heroically drove up from Los Angeles to fetch Julian and me from the airport and help us get his things into his new dorm apartment – which you can see below.
And there is an amazing roof deck (Julian on the left checking his phone):
After I got home, I lost my assistant and went back to doing everything for the domestic side of JUL myself, just as I did when I first started almost 10 years ago.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE BUSINESS WHEN MOUNTAINS START EXPLODING? — At the end of September, I went on a trip to Toronto to conduct styling parties in two stores that buy JUL from me – The Purple Purl and Spun Fibre Arts. While in Canada, I learned that Mount Agung in Bali, Indonesia – where my Balinese creative partner, Agus, and my wood and metal artisans are – was showing unusual seismic activity, a sign that it was going to erupt. The news of the eruption, which was described as imminent for some months before it actually began, terrified me for two main reasons. First, I feared for my friends and teachers because where I lived and studied during my field research in Bali is right in the exclusion zone at the base of the mountain, which is the dominant feature in the landscape in the eastern part of Bali (Karangasem). Second, I felt afraid not knowing how an eruption would affect JUL and the people in Bali who depend on JUL for their livelihoods. This story is still unfolding as the mountain has begun to erupt and ash covers the landscape in some places, has disrupted air traffic, and is having an impact on the economy resulting from a drop in tourism. Based on location, the impact of Agung on my business is minimal as Agus and my artisans are in the central south of Bali, not the east. But when the airport is closed and commerce shifts to trucks that have to leave Bali and head north to Java before they can put their loads on planes, it affects our ability to ship product with speed.
MOVING — Then in October I began to pack up my studio to move my business into my house! For the months of October and November I worked on selling excess furniture and getting rid of things I no longer needed at work and at home.
I packing up my living room to make way for a cutting table and leather-working space (strangely enough, I never used my living room as a social space anyway, just walked through on my way from the first to the third floor).
I shifted inventory into bins and set up the computer in what had been my son’s bedroom, and before that my study (hence the built in bookcases holding all of my anthropological theory, ethnography, poetry, and art books).
I shrank the physical and financial footprint of the business by shifting to a new way of storing inventory and developing a different workflow and could not be more delighted with the result. Where my studio was huge and noisy – with an illegal left turn on the corner that had people yelling obscenities at one another all day, and a fire station down the road that was engaged in mitigating tragedy and despair all day – my home is intimate and quiet, an old mill-worker house in an historic mill town right on the banks of the Patapsco River. My studio window in the back looks out on woods where all I hear are wrens bickering. My studio windows in the front look out on the river, where sometimes I see herons and bald eagles flying.
This process of moving, compressing, and re-organizing the business has taken a lot of time and energy and is not only a streamlining process for JUL, but represents an opportunity for reinvention as an empty-nester for me.
CREATIVITY AS A LIFESTYLE —
Here is where real honesty and openness is required. I have to confess to you that if I had truly committed to getting the Magic Carpet Bag in the air, it would be farther along by now. I have had another struggle that is harder for me than moving. I am struggling to forge a creative lifestyle. This idea might seem odd. I’m a creative person. Creativity has been part of me since I was a little girl. But the life-configuration I have now, and where creativity is located in it, needs re-assessment.
I have found myself using the word ‘intentional’ lately. Maybe many of you have too. We want to be conscious of the choices we are making when we are making them and not regret an unintended life-arc in retrospect. I have had plenty of unintended life-arcs. JUL is an unintended life-arc! Here I am and I love what I am doing and want to do it better. I want to do more. I want to get the Magic Carpet Bag moving again. I want to write more. I want to be more productive in my design work. I want to work on my leather applique and return to making most of my own clothes.
Intention will only get me so far. I need commitment and that is where I have been weak. I’ve been waiting for something to shape my choices – perhaps the vestiges of being a parent herding a young cat who now doesn’t need my herding. He just needs money for transport, food, and school supplies, a plane ticket home on the holidays, to borrow my car, and most of all acceptance and love and I am up to those tasks. The task that is challenging me is committing to my creative self, giving that self the opportunity, every day, to expand and take up time and space.
So what makes ‘doing more’ a creative lifestyle? My uncle says it’s a matter of routine, working the activity into your daily life so that it feels as natural as getting up at 6, walking at 8, working until 12:30, then breaking for lunch. If you don’t do it something is missing and as a result your body hurts, or your mind hurts, or your heart aches for lack of work.
In college, my poetry workshop leader advised us not to wait for inspiration. He said that if we were only to write poems when we were inspired, there would not be so much poetry around. Poetry is work, he said. You have to set aside time for it everyday. You write no matter what. That is intentional and committed. That is a poetic lifestyle. I have given myself the space. Now I need to give myself the time.
I have been confronted by a problem that has stymied me and delayed the next installment in the Magic Carpet Bag tutorial as I have been trying to figure out what to do. I finished stabilizing the textile with the muslin interlining. Following that process I stitched buckram into the bag to give it body and stiffness.
When I first started, it looked like it would work brilliantly. I had pinned the buckram to the inside of the bag with safety pins, same as the muslin.
The bag stood up on its own. Fabulous! This was the precise behavior I was going for. I then attached the buckram to the textile with long basting stitches so that the buckram and the textile would act as one piece of material in the same manner as the muslin.
As I worked on the bag in this way I found that the buckram softened up and became more supple. When I finished, the bag no longer stood up on its own. It just slumped.
I have been trying to figure out what to do about the bag’s slumping ever since inserting the buckram in order to write the next steps in the tutorial. Then a serendipitous conversation happened and a colleague to whom I was describing this dilemma asked – why not share the challenge you have encountered?
It had not occurred to me to narrate the problem. I am working through this tutorial on the hoof. You are getting my process almost in real time, and that process includes this disruption in my expectations for how the Carpet Bag would work. This disruption has raised a whole series of questions for me. My first response was to think about the bag’s behavior as my failure: my approach to stiffening didn’t work. I obviously used the wrong material. What do I do now? Because I didn’t have ready answers, the Carpet Bag has languished in a soft slump.
But I can tell myself a different story about the Carpet Bag and ask different questions. When the young people I work with in my studio encounter a new task demanding new skills, they have the tendency to say – “I’m no good at that. I always mess things up.” I have forbidden this script in my studio and substituted an alternative script. Instead of “I’m no good at that.” I have instructed them to say “Wow, that is a technique I have never done before. Instead of “I’m no good at that.” I have offered the alternative script “I’m looking forward to building that skill.” They won’t actually say it despite my coaxing. They’re too cool for that. But I have seen a change in attitude that I think indicates they have internalized the message that never having done something before does not constitute bad skill. It just indicates no skill yet. It indicates an exciting journey not yet begun.
I now realized that, in response to my Magic Carpet Bag’s very unmagical slumping, I have been guilty of the “I’m no good at that” mindset I have tried to exorcise from my young students’ thinking. Instead, I am now choosing to see the Carpet Bag’s slump as an opportunity to think more expansively about what I expect from this bag and to respond to its characteristics in creative ways. Rather than view the bag’s behavior as my failure, I can view the bag’s behavior as an invitation to find success in an unanticipated guise. What am I going to do now? This becomes not a defeating question but an exciting one. How do I approach this design opportunity? What are my options? Which of them will I pursue?
As I have begun to change my thinking, I realize that the potential next steps I have rolled around in my mind as I have looked at the Magic Carpet Slump on a daily basis are all still assuming that I am grappling with the bag’s bad behavior which I have viewed as representing my failure. In this view, slumping is bad; I need to rectify the slump with a better stiffener approach – plastic mesh, another type of synthetic, non-woven stiffener, a stiff haircell leather lining, a stiff canvas lining, boning at the side seams, cardboard in the bag bottom, etc.
But what if I decide slumping is not bad? What if I decide that a soft bag is an excellent bag? What if I surrender to the characteristics of this particular textile, which is not stiff but rather heavy with beautiful drape. Upon reflection, I suspect stiffness in this bag would elude me without extreme interventions. It would get heavier and heavier as I added material to combat its resistance. It could easily become a Sisyphusean task that no one wants to live through by way of a tutorial, and I wouldn’t want to be the one to try to execute tasks the bag wouldn’t cooperate with. I don’t want to set myself up to give up. Our projects have to match us, our temperaments, our styles of learning and work. A Sisyphusean Magic Slump does not match me.
I began my Magic Carpet Bag project loving the social story of household use we can discern and imagine in the textile’s damage, celebrating its handmade-ness, preserving it. I carefully married the weaving to its interlining weft thread by weft thread. Adding the buckram gave it more body and strength, but not the stiffness I sought, and there my acceptance and excitement faltered.
If I choose to accept the Slump’s slump and to see its heavy drape, like it’s damage, as its beauty rather than its deficit, the next step in this tutorial is a combination of two things – discernment and order of operations. I’ll save order of operations for the next tutorial and just tackle discernment here. What I mean by discernment is charting the next steps in alignment with the project’s acknowledged characteristics. What does it want to be and do, and how do I work with that as I make the next series of necessary choices – lining material, closure type, handle treatment? Given what the bag wants to be and do, what is my range of options for making it mine?
Each of you, whether you are working with a handmade textile, a felted or fulled bag body, or some other found or handmade fabric out of which you have begun your Magic Carpet Bag, will need to recognize how your bag is behaving and figure out what materials and processes will work with that behavior. If you have a stiff fabric, you won’t necessarily need or want a stiff material for a lining but you may. Figure it out using visualization – imagining the bag in use, on your body, in your space – and simulation – by pinning different lining fabrics into your bag body and observing how the materials behave together and whether that behavior supports your vision. If you have a soft fabric, a stiffer lining will give it a bit more body and strength while a soft lining will retain the sensuality and hand-feel of the bag body. If your material is heavy like mine, stiffening may prove more trouble than it’s worth. If your material has alot of drape, that you really love, then choose a lining with drape rather than body so the drape of the finished bag retains the characteristics you enjoy so much.
As for my Magic Carpet Bag, I’m going to take another stab at stiffener but reserve it for the bag bottom, the most vulnerable part of the textile. The buckram I put into the bag body I have not yet extended to the bag bottom. I plan to try 2 or 3 layers. I don’t expect this to give it stiffness, but rather a bit of shape and greater strength. I have also decided to try out a lining of some tightly woven, thick, unbleached canvas I have in the studio. It’s not stiff but it’s also not soft. It’s somewhere in the middle. It will not make the bag stand up. The bag will still slump. But it will be strong enough to withstand puncture by pencils or knitting needles and will not herniate in the existing areas of damage when the bag is full.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
Image above: One of the Christian areas that made up the church within the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain.
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.
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.
Image above: Alcazar in Seville, Spain.
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?”
Image above: Julian’s and my anti-selfie selfie at Medina Al Zahara, Cordoba, Spain: we are not blocking the view of the monument!
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 . . .
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.
Muslin (for interlining)
Buckram (for reinforcement / structure)
Thick sewing thread – buttonhole twist or quilting thread
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.