I just recently finished a project I started thinking about, in an offhand, abstract way, years ago. Back then, I bought a black velvet shawl on clearance at Dillards. This was when I would still occasionally shop, and it was marked way down, and I thought, “I can do something with that.” Those are, of course, the words that are at the core of every new project: I can do something with that. Those are the words that often get me in trouble and have me sitting in the studio with stuff piled all around me, going, “What was I thinking with this?”
I had no idea what I was going to do with it. I don’t work with velvet because I don’t wear velvet and because, embedded in my brain, are my mother’s words: Velvet crawls. And indeed it does: the few times I’d ever tried to do anything with it, it appeared to have a life of its own, crawling out from under the sewing machine needle and preparing to leave for Kansas all by itself.
Plus this shawl was black, and I don’t wear black. It was a shawl, and shawls are bothersome to wear because they slip off your shoulders and slide around. So why, then, did I even bother bringing it home? Oooooh, *soft*! Yep, the fabulously soft nap of the velvet reeled me in, and I ended up with a thing I had no idea what to do with, since, you know, I probably wasn’t going to sit around petting it all day long.
It sat around for a couple years, and then finally I decided I was either going to Make It Fabulous, or I was going to get rid of it. Long story short: I made it into a totally funky thing I call The Janis Joplin Shawl. I hand stitched all over it with strips of silk and velvet, beads and sequins. I figured out how to cut silk and velvet ribbon on the bias from scraps of fabric, and I taught myself how to make roses out of those ribbons. Since I’m not exactly a silk and velvet kind of a person, this was a big deal: I’ve always loved the way those roses look, but I’ve never had any reason to make any. It seemed like a good challenge.
And there were other challenges: I didn’t like the slick, slippery lining of the shawl, so I added another layer of hand dyed cotton jersey. Because the velvet did, indeed, crawl, the lining is
a little really lumpy in places, and this is far, far away from how I like things to be (neat, smooth, edges even and corners lined up). I used up a bunch of rayon/silk velvet scraps and some tassels that have to be decades old (the price tag said they cost 21 cents, so you know it was a while ago).
I worked on this shawl for many, many hours, doing every bit of it by hand, learning to work with velvet (sort of) and to make velvet roses that actually look like velvet roses. I finally called it finished when I realized it was getting so heavy that I would need to do bench presses to prepare myself for putting it on. Here’s how it ended up. So far: because the truth is that I had fun with this, and doing stuff I wouldn’t normally do turned out to be fun. While I doubt I’m going to make myself a wardrobe of funky silk and velvet creations, I’m thinking I could go back and do maybe a little bit more and that there *are* things in the closet that could use some sumptuous roses, maybe some pettable ribbon.
So, yes, taking a trip outside my comfort zone was a good thing. Were there lots of frustrations? Of course there were (crawling, raveling, puckering). Was it rewarding? Indeed: I taught myself to do stuff that I would otherwise never have bothered to learn. Do I recommend the journey? Oh, yeah. I do. Pack a little snack, and have fun!
For inspiration about how to work outside of your comfort zone, try The Declaration of You! by Jessica Swift and Michelle Ward.
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