Friday, May 1, 2009

The Artist Grandmother

Now that I'm a grandmother, I have been making baby clothes again. When my own kids were babies and my husband was still in college, I had to make do with what we had. I recycled sweaters, coats and usable cottons to make all of their clothes. I started making quilts in earnest about the same time. The first Christmas we were married, I got my first sewing machine, a $99 Singer. I still have it. It's the machine I use to stitch paper.

When I was still living at home, I sewed on my grandmother's converted treadle machine. Having come very close to getting kicked out of Home Ec. in Junior High for making a bikini instead of an apron, it should have already been clear to anyone who knew me that I was going to follow my own path.

When my first granddaughter was born last December, I was thrilled. Although I have sewn several things for my grandson, I admit that making fancy baby dresses for little girls is a lot more fun than a Thomas the Train pillowcase. I made her this dotted dress outfit for her first Valentine's Day. I now own more baby patterns than I ever had when my own children were small. Of course, I never follow the pattern instructions. I prefer to use them as a suggestion, and proceed as I do when making my artwork: do something, respond, do something else; collage and layers upon layers.

Unfortunately, there is only so much time in any given week. Because I work at home, it seems I am always at work. Right now, at this particular moment in time, I am finishing a manuscript, updating my website, trying to get my etsy store up and running, watching my grandson two days a week, and trying to get artwork done in my studio. Add in the everyday duties like grocery shopping, paying bills, cleaning, laundry, and, well, my head is already spinning. I find it difficult to juggle it all sometimes.

I have two studios in the house, both upstairs. One is a writing room, with all of my research materials, files, reference books, and two desks next to the windows. The walls are painted my favorite blue, and the futon gives me a great place to sit and read. My friend Susanne loaned me an awesome square and very tall bookshelf. It is a life-saver; it holds a ton in a few square feet.

My art studio across the hall is another thing. It's too small and too crowded. With all the projects I have in progress, I have simply run out of space to store it all, let alone find anything.

My grandmother was very artistic. Even though I was still little when she died, I remember how she always encouraged my artistic efforts. And when she was able to finally have the time, she started making art and craft pieces for the sheer enjoyment of it. She was the only grandparent I knew, and I absolutely adored her, even though I only saw her a few times a year.

As a grandmother of two, with a new baby girl due in the world this summer, I cherish taking some time away from work to make special things for my grandchildren. With the new line of baby clothes I am in the process of designing, the hardest part is not making everything for them. I have told their mothers that the baby girls will be the recipients of my learning curve process; the prototypes go to them, or, as in the case of Baby E's Valentine dress, are designed for them. Some patterns are just too intricate and detailed to try to make and sell.

I finished this dress this week. Well, it still needs buttons and a label, so it's mostly finished. Look for it soon in my etsy shop. To avoid internal conflict, I purposely made it in a size that will not fit my granddaughter. Alright, yes: I have enough scraps to make another dress for Baby E.
My latest attempt to solve my space dilemma involved cleaning the garage, and setting up a workspace there. My husband's band-mate, David, loaned me a spare tabletop from his stash, and voilĂ , a work table.

I added another of my glass-topped desks, which will be a good place for a second cutting mat. I spent the day moving my paints and collage papers, tools and non-fabric work in progress there today. I hated to take the time to move it all, but it really was time well spent.

Now that spring has arrived, I have several warm months ahead. I will soon be good to go for cyanotype and seta prints, hammering, and messy atomizer painting. Can't wait!


  1. I -love- the cute new dress! Was that style easier to make than the Valentine dress you made for baby E? If so, maybe that's one you can semi-regularly make available to your etsy customers...?

  2. Yes, this is a great pattern, especially because it can be made completely reversible. I already have a new one in the works!

  3. This past winter I redid the basement into a small wet studio, with paint and paper and collage elements down there. I, too, hated taking the time to DO it, but was so excited with the progress as I went along I did not mind it afterward. I love the space; you'll love your garage space too! Above my paint studio is my real *sewing* studio, and with the little sewing I have been doing, I am thinking the two should be reversed! (just not right now...)
    I remember my mother *recycling* clothing for me; Embroideried flowers over stains on dresses that were otherwise good, little simple things made out of other clothing---I think it is one of the greatest things to know how to do. I still like finding vintage clothing and redoing them, or just wearing them and saving them from oblivion.
    Love the baby dress---so pretty and bright! That ought to fly off the shelf at Etsy!

  4. Oh, I am so jealous that you have a basement! Well, I have to make do, and you're right, the garage will work just fine for now. I know what you mean about reversing rooms; my writing room is much roomier than my art studio, but I need the space in there for the futon, since it doubles as a guest room on occasion.

  5. I love discovering your blog and website -- how lucky you are to have baby granddaughters to sew for! And how lucky they are to have such pretty little dresses! My 4 granddaughters are ages 9-20, and none of them wear dresses. Two of my daughters were born in Cleveland, and I was using my tiny portable Singer to sew for them. I learned on a treadle machine in 7th grade, like your grandmother! Stop by my blog when you get a chance -- Best of luck with your beautiful work, Sally

  6. Thanks, Sally, and welcome to Uncommon Threads. Will check out your blog as well when I have a minute.

  7. Thanks, Gayle, for your good comment on my blog. Looking forward to reading more of yours.