Isabella Stewart Gardner

Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840 – 1924) was one interesting women. Intellectually curious, she loved to travel and with her husband Jack, they visited Europe, Egypt, Turkey and the Far East to learn about foreign cultures and expand her knowledge of art around the world. She was one of the per-eminent art collectors of her time managing to purchase several Rembrands, a Vermeer, Manets, several beautiful 16th century tapestries, furniture and more.  (A good thing to do when you have a lot of money.)

The press was both fascinated and scandalized by her. Isabella Gardner did not conform to the traditional restrained code of conduct expected of Boston matrons of her era. Instead, she lived an engaging, exuberant life including frequent travels, entertaining, and adventure. In 1912 at a formal concert of the Boston Symphony, she wore a white headband emblazoned with “Oh, you Red Sox”.  It was reported to have “almost caused a panic”, and still remains one of the most talked about of her eccentricities in Boston.

Times have changed. Now we have Lady Gaga, who wears a dress made out of meat to get a mild reaction from the press.

After her husband died, she started to build a museum, modeled after a Venetian palace, which opened its doors in 1903.

When Isabella passed away, her will stated that she would leave all her artwork for the world to enjoy forever, on the condition that her museum was left exactly the way it was. That means you enter the building and it’s 1924.

With my camera charged I wanted to invite you to come with me for a stroll, but there was a strict looking woman who said it was very much verboten to take pictures. Oh, that was so disappointing, because even with my small crappy camera I could have captured some of the Edwardian atmosphere.

The museum has a phenomenal tapestry room with wall hangings dating from the 16th century. They are just amazing; full of detail and I wonder how they dyed their threads in 1550. Plants, yes?


There is no point in showing more tapestries on this small screen, but here is a painting I love by John Sargent Singer:

Although depicting a scene in Spain, for me the painting reflects the museum’s mood: dark, romantic and full of life.

The romance is further enhanced by one of the biggest art thefts in history in 1990, when two men tied the guards to pipes in the basement and walked away with 13 major works of art including a Rembrandt, one of the only 43 existing Vemeers in the world, a Manet and others. The FBI is still looking for the thieves. My daughter was so intrigued that when we came home, she immediately started writing a story about the crime.

If you are in the area, a visit is highly recommended. If you are not, a virtual visit is always the next best thing.

And that my friends was my day in Boston.

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Wear and Tear

Manon Gignoux makes clothes, soft sculptures, accessories and jewelry using pieces of fabric to create soft colored faded beauties. (Manon Gignoux’s website is under construction, but you can download a pdf presenting her work on this page.)
She studied at France’s Duperré School of Applied Arts where she worked on a photographic study of the clothes worn by workers in the early 20th century. She focused on exploring the “traces of wear and tear” on clothing. She is very versatile. Below are examples of her soft fabric sculptures.Which brings me to my own fabric manipulation. Below is my homage to the beauty of the impermanent. Are you tired of the leaves yet?You probably guessed it, the leaf in the center is actually made from yesterday’s handkerchief linen.
I cut out a leaf shape, sewed some small pleats, colored it with coffee and rubbed it with a bit of carbon from a burnt match. It was late last night and the linen leaf looked indistinguishable from the dried ones under my yellowish kitchen light. With morning light it’s a bit pale, but there’s always more coffee and carbon to make it look even more authentic. The shape is quite passable, no?
It was a LOT of fun playing with the idea to make something impermanent permanent to have a reminder of the passing of time. I’ll make more of these and tape them to a wall in the future….

….But, I’ll show a totally different take on fabric manipulation this coming Sunday!

Mara Baldwin is in Mimi’s Attic

How to remember your dreams 100" x 75" disarticulated fitted bedsheet 2010

Mara Baldwin is an artist I met this weekend at Mimi’s Attic, my favorite local thrift store. She’s a graduate of the Californian College of Fine Arts (CCA) and works with textiles, drawings, watercolor and sculpture. Her art is phenomenal, not only aesthetically, but intellectually as well.

Look at the bedsheet she artfully – and painstakingly – deconstructed in the image above. Can you believe that it is really one of these flowered fitted sheets, the ones the local thrift shops sell? Below is how I saw it this weekend: hung in Mimi’s Attic where it blends and stands out at the same time:

That was not the only bedsheet hanging. Below she took the time to cut our hundreds of small flowers from another sheet:

This is fabric manipulation at its best. I loved that all the cut pieces were scattered underneath a set table, as if the flower petals had fallen of the bedsheet after a spring breeze.

Here is what Mara says about the exhibit:

This has been an interesting project for me as a way to recontextualize many pieces that I’ve hung only in gallery spaces previously.  Since most of my works are made with second-hand materials it has felt, in a way, like I’ve released them back into their natural habitat.  My current studio practice engages with and intervenes upon objects from domestic life and the narratives of women, both real and imagined.  The installations at Mimi’s Attic reflect an interest in the palpability, previous ownership, and narrative potential of thrift.

I like the “narrative potential of thrift”. I always wonder why certain objects exude “power”, e.g Boro textiles, while others, no matter how carefully crafted feel lifeless and dead. Mara’s work clearly has power.

The top image is her Möbius strip and below is one of my favorites:

How to remember something quickly (with detail) installation varies pillow, 300-1000 hand-rendered geese, silk pins 2010

Find more information about Mara’s work here.

Alabama Studio Sewing + Design

When Natalie Chanin’s latest book “Alabama Studio Sewing + Design” arrived at my mailbox yesterday, my heart skipped several beats (don’t worry, I’m fine now). It’s her third book about hand-sewing and creating a sustainable wardrobe; and although I said this about her last book, this one is my all time favorite.

It features an entire wardrobe in all of my favorite non-colors: neutrals, grey and black.

The book is well organized with an infinite number of techniques and styles, a feast for the eyes and wonderful inspiration for any fabric manipulation.

I would wear any garment in this book, they are all beautiful, comfortable and can be dressed either up or down.

She offers essentially 2 patterns which can be transformed into skirts and dresses of various length. Her t-shirt pattern can be sewn with long, short or cap sleeves. Accessories include long fingerless gloves, a hat, poncho and wrap.

This book is more focused on sewing a wardrobe than her previous ones. For more images, see the preview here.

Alabama Chanin is also offering a give-away (enter until Sunday, Feb. 19), to win a unique Anna Sui dress, sewn “Chanin-style”.

It is not very likely that I will ever make an exact copy of any of her incredibly time-consuming garments. However, there are many ways to include elements of her designs into smaller projects. A seam on a skirt, a t-shirt hem, gloves or one of her simple wraps.

A fantastic addition to any library:

Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: A Guide to Hand-Sewing an Alabama Chanin Wardrobe
ISBN-10: 158479920X
ISBN-13: 978-1584799207

“Money is the Cheapest Thing…”

“If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do. Money is the cheapest thing. Liberty and Freedom are the most expensive.” Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue once said that “we all dress for Bill”.  Bill is Bill Cunningham, an 82-year old street fashion photographer for the NY Times, who bicycles [...] Read more »

Foreclosure Quilts – Amazing Series by Kathryn Clark

Before becoming a full time artist, Kathryn Clark spent several years working as an urban planner and architect. Through this work she became aware early, that the onset of the foreclosures during the last decade would have enormous future impact on cities, towns and neighborhoods throughout the US. And boy was she ever right. In her [...] Read more »

Stitched Words: Agnes Richter and Rosalind Wyatt

While thinking of stitched words, two remarkable examples of embroidered garments came to mind. The  linen jacket above was made by Agnes Richter, a seamstress and patient in an Austrian asylum during the late 1800′s. She constructed the jacket from cloth typically used in the institution and embroidered her story onto the jacket. There is [...] Read more »

Inspiring People: Lotte Reiniger

Lotte Reiniger (1899 – 1981) was a German (and later British) silhouette animator and film director. She was most well known for “Prince Achmed”, a stop motion movie completed in 1926 and the oldest surviving animated feature length film. The movie featured a silhouette animation technique which Reiniger invented involving manipulated cutouts made from cardboard [...] Read more »

Liu Bolin or "The Art of Being Invisible"

This week is a somewhat unusual. My friends from Germany are visiting and they keep me wonderfully busy. This means 2 things. First, blogging and stitching time is sparse and I miss that. Next week, I’ll resume as normal. Second, I’m paying attention to things usually taken for granted. My visitor’s curiosity inspires me to [...] Read more »