Author Archives: Calaveras and Corazones

My Owls and the Today Show…

Sooo… a wonderful friend wrote to me not long ago to suggest that I enter my embroidered owls in a contest being held by the Today Show. They were looking for the best in “Made in America Style.” The winner was announced and it’s fair to say that my little owls never stood a chance. They’re just in a different category of “hand made.”

Not wanting the 1,000 word essay that I wrote in the hour before the application was due go to waste, I’m  posting it here for your reading enjoyment. Hope you like it…

Rainbow Owls custom ordered for two lucky little girls.

My “American Maker” Story:

First, a little family history. My grandmother is a seamstress. Not in the way that most people’s grandmothers are seamstresses, though. She worked for Bob Mackie and Nolan Miller. So while my friends’ grandmothers were making dresses for their Barbie dolls, my grandmother was making dresses for Cher and Carol Burnett.

My abuelita came to this country as a Mexican immigrant with very little. And, like most people who grew up poor and having to do without, she was (and is) very careful not to waste things. So it really bothered her to watch scraps of beautifully beaded lace swept up with the trash at the end of every work day. In fact, it bothered her so much that she would collect these scraps and bring them home. To this day, she has dozens upon dozens of tiny jars filled with beads that she cut free from these scraps and then sorted in her limited free time.

As a child, I marveled at these little jars of “jewels” and would watch fascinated as they made their way onto Christmas ornaments and delicate table runners. My Abuela can make magic with other people’s “trash.”

When I picked up a needle for the first time since childhood, I was a graduate student in need of a hobby to help me unwind (and give me something to do during Minnesota’s brutal winters). I was far from my home in Los Angeles and terribly homesick. I think that sewing made me feel a little more connected to my home and my family.

Picking up a needle wasn’t easy. My grandmother had tried to teach me how to sew when I was a kid– but I wasn’t very good at it and she wasn’t very patient. So I abandoned the trade and, in the subsequent years, forgot almost everything she’d taught me. Now, more than twenty years later, I found myself buying a “how-to” book to teach myself some basic stitches and wishing that I’d had more perseverance as a child.

The first projects I remember being really proud of were felt sugar skulls. A friend of mine liked them so much that she offered to sell them in her boutique candy shop during the Halloween/Day of the Dead season. They were a hit. I couldn’t believe that people were actually willing to pay for something I had made with my hands.

Feeling gratified and encouraged by my modest success, I opened up a little Etsy store and started selling other pieces of my artwork. Everything I made was a reflection of who I was and of my family’s immigrant experience.

The felt owls that I have submitted for your review are inspired by the brightly painted owls crafted in Southern Mexico. Many of them boast a “sugar skull” tummy panel in homage to their Mexican roots. They are cut from 100% wool felt and are completely hand stitched and embroidered. Best of all, they are embellished with the beads and sequins that my grandmother “rescued” from Bob Mackie’s studio floor.

I like to think that these owls represent what can be done when you don’t give up on learning. I hope that you like them.

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Corner #1 (Part 1 of 4)

I think I may just do a little office/studio tour as a four part series. One post for each corner. It’s a tiny office but it’s crammed to the rafters with “stuff” so there’s a lot to look at.

So… without further ado: Corner #1

Click to enlarge

There have been some new additions to my little office these last few days. The first of which had me doing little happy dances when he arrived. Please allow me to direct your attention to the handsome little guy gracing my top shelf. I’m told his name is “Wolfgang” and he was made by the insanely talented Lisa of “Stuffed Silly.” I don’t have enough words to express just how very much in love I am with my little Frost Monster. I would tell you to go get one of your very own, but I think he was the last one in the limited edition series. Lisa tells me that she has other “monsters” planned, though. So I encourage you to check back in to her store later on to see what she’s been up to.

The second “new” thing to spring up is right under him and above the bottom shelf. Up until yesterday, I had a poster hanging there for a band that I was friendly with in L.A. but, if I had to be honest, never ever listened to. They were all very talented musicians and really nice people—their music just wasn’t my particular cup of Celestial Seasonings.

I ordered this gocco print from Jose Pulido’s shop a few months ago and never found a place for it. So, when I caught myself wishing that I had more wall space yesterday, I realized that “nice people” or not, that band poster was taking up valuable space and had to come down. I couldn’t be more pleased with the change. Pulido’s calaveras never fail to bring a smile to my face. They all have such a wonderful sense of joy and humor about them. These are qualities that I struggle to bring into my own work. It’s funny, I’m always so drawn to things that are whimsical and light-hearted and so much of my own work is so… (for lack of a better word) “serious.” I’m hoping that Pulido’s gocco print will inspire me to bring some of that whimsy into the things I make.

Let’s see—what else?

At the top right of the picture (sitting on the door frame) you can see a modified Little Odd Forest “Treeling” made from the pattern featured in Therese Laskey’s “Softies.” The original eyes were Freaking. Me. Out. so I gave him a set that weren’t quite so… ah… “intense.” The pattern is also available as part of The Softies Kit. If you’re just starting out, the book is a nice resource to have. I found it really useful in some ways.

To the left of Wolfgang, you will see “Brie Boy” (another Tim Burton toy), a photo of my mom at about five years old, a vintage camera brought back for me from Indonesia by my dear sweet cousin James and a handful of books designed to help me research a dissertation, edit a dissertation, write a dissertation, format my dissertation, etc. You can see that they are all collecting dust.

Below Señor Wolfie is an area of the office that sees a lot of traffic. I jump up to grab scissors, pens, pencils, or paintbrushes from this shelf several times a day almost every day. This shelf holds two more Tim Burton toys—“Staring Girl” and “Robot Boy.” They’re everywhere. I sort of get a kick putting them places where they blend into the background.

Framed, at the top left of the photo, is a menu from Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles. To this day, I have no idea who had the idea to pass it around, but it was presented to us (Glen+me) at our going away party [Held at Canter’s Kibitz Room, natch]. I doubt it contains a single sober signature. (Please don’t tell the nice folks at Canter’s that we have this. It’s been years, but I’d hate to get anyone in trouble—or get myself 86d. Hi, Bella!).

Cantinflas. If you don’t know, you’d better learn.

The Big Bird lamp has been with me since I was three or four years old. When the lampshade ripped in a college-related move, I was heartbroken. I found a replacement on Ebay six or seven years ago. So, two things: (1) What can’t you find on Ebay? And (2) Why do we get so attached to artifacts from our childhoods?

Remember when IKEA carried these great little chests of drawers? They were part of the Moppe line and they’re gone now. I love mine. They hold all of my paints and miscellaneous office supplies. Glen asked me for a Sharpie not that long ago and I directed him to the appropriate drawer. His eyes almost fell out of his head when he opened it. “Have these been here this whole time?! You have… so many.” [Sharpies are useful, yo. Besides, it could be much worse. I could hoard cats. And, when compared to cat hoarding, a drawer full of Sharpies is really no big thing.]

I painted the two chests that are visible here over ten years ago. I keep thinking that I should repaint them one day—but I’ve never quite gotten around to it. In the meantime, let’s pour one out for IKEA’s Moppe line. It was gone too soon. [P.S. If you’re reading this from the U.K., never fear! You lucky ducks can still buy them at local IKEA outlets.]

As long as I’m plugging IKEA [I swear that this isn’t a sponsored post], the shelves on the wall are IKEA, too. I have no idea what they were called. I only remember that they were lightly lacquered and required a fair bit of sanding (grrr). And, because I am Head-Chicana-in-Charge of details that no one but me will ever notice, I painted roses on the underside of each shelf.

You may think that it was a big old waste of time to do this—but I assure you that when I am sitting at my desk and I look up, those roses are right in my sight line. I enjoy them Every Single Day. Totally worth it.

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Bi-annual Blog Post!

I have a new respect for makers/artists/crafters/designers who find the time and energy to make things and then write about making things. I can’t believe that I actually used to grumble a bit when I visited a favorite blog in anticipation of new content only to find that it hadn’t been updated in a few days. “Uugh! It’s been almost a week! Write something new already!” What a brat I was. Veruca Salt had nothing on me.

So, allow me to take this time to offer a heartfelt apology to every person who (albeit unknowingly) bore the brunt of my bratty frustration. I am sorry. Truly. And, from now on, I will be grateful for every inspiring update/tutorial/recipe/photograph you all post. I promise. There will be no need to cast me off as a “bad nut.”

I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to what I’d like to do with this space and done my best to figure out why I’ve been neglecting it as badly as I have. Here’s what I’ve come up with (A partial list of sad little excuses and hopes for the future to follow):

Writing about working takes very real time away from doing the actual “work.”

My thought process went a little like this: Wait. I’m supposed to stop what I’m doing, light my workspace, take photos, transfer those photos to my laptop and then edit them, and then get back to work?! Who has time for all of that?!

Well… it turns out that a lot of dedicated artists make the time for all of this. Maybe I need to step it up a bit. If I were someone who worked quickly, this might bother me less. But alas, this is not the case. I work really, really slowly. This is due in almost equal parts to a lack of confidence in my own skills and my insistence that things be as close to “perfect” as I can get them before I let them out into the world. (This sort of thinking presents very real problems in my academic life, as well.)

I find myself thinking things like: “Why would anyone want to read about what I’m sewing this week? (Or drawing, or what music I’m listening to, or…” Well, you get the picture.

I’ve decided that I’m just going to let this one go. After all, if readers aren’t interested in what I’m writing, they’ll choose not to read. It’s as simple as that. Moreover, that type of minutia makes up so much of what I love about other people’s blogs.

You made a cake today? Cool! I want to see! Was it good? Do you have a recipe that I can save (and probably never, ever make myself)? Even better! You cut flowers from your garden? Awesome– post a photo. I want to see! You’ve got a tutorial for something I may not even be remotely interested in making myself? I’ll read it anyways. Why? Because I love knowing how things work– how makers and designers problem-solve and put things together. Besides, I usually read other blogs acknowledging that even if don’t find the information being shared particularly useful or compelling, there are probably a thousand other people reading the same post who do. So… who’s to say that someone out there won’t find my ramblings interesting?

Oddly enough, these self-defeating patterns of thinking also extend to my academic life. Who would want to read anything I’ve written? I don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute… etc. I think I should just “get over it” in that realm, too.

In case you hadn’t already caught on, I am an academic. Specifically, I am a doctoral candidate in the final stages of dissertation writing. So, at this point in my life, writing = work. In other words, I’m not exactly racing to my laptop to write if I don’t absolutely have to.

And there’s the biggest roadblock, really. Writing produces anxiety. What’s more, writing something non-dissertation related when I really should be working on the dissertation makes me feel guilty. I’m doing my best to get over this, too. We all need a break from work. And to be honest, I could really stand to sever the association between writing and stress. I need to (re)learn to enjoy writing. Maybe this space will give me that.

So… here goes nothing.  In honor of the the celebration of minutia, I bring you a little corner of my office.  The photo below is just a slice of the bulletin board that hangs above my desk and a partial shot of the collection of oddities and sentimental ephemera that sit above my (hacked) ikea chests.

If you look closely, you will see:
– A  framed photo booth picture of my abuelitos from back when they were dating

– A small stack of $2 bills

– Tim Burton’s “The Girl With Many Eyes”

– Alma Lopez’s “Lupe and Sirena in Love” peeking out from behind El Chapulín Colorado

– A dry cleaning ticket marked “cat vomit”

If you have any questions about any of these items (or anything else, really), please feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.


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Happy New Year!

I won’t begin the year self-flaggelating by saying that I am the “worst (craft) blogger in the world”… but I will admit to perhaps not being the most attentive. I’m glad that blogs aren’t people with feelings because this one might start to feel a little neglected. And the less said about my Twitter account the better. If Twitter were a person, @AndCorazones would be dying of loneliness and talking to itself while rocking in a corner.

It should go without saying at this point that I’m not the most media savvy person around.

That said, it should also come to no one’s immediate surprise that I managed to travel 1,933 miles home for Christmas WITHOUT A CAMERA. “Surely,” I reasoned, “someone at home would have one that I could borrow.” Alas, in this age of cell phone cameras, that turned out not to be true. And really, what’s a craft-blog without pictures? So there you have it folks: my sad, pathetic reason for not updating this space in so long comes down to my inability to pack even the smallest of digital cameras into my suitcase.

Luckily for me, my good friend Renata showed up with her trusty, blinged out, Hello Kitty iphone (iphone cameras are NO JOKE) and took a few pictures for me so that I would have something to share with the two people who read this blog and here they are:

1. I never get as much done as I think I will when I go home, but one of the things that I DID finish was this little blue and white owl. He (She? I think Renata might have decided that it was a girl-owl) was a New Year’s gift for the aforementioned lovely with the iphone.  The body was constructed entirely out of 100% wool felt– which was really a pleasure to work with– and trimmed with vintage beads and some new sequins.

On her way to her new home...

And 2.

Go ahead and laugh if you like, but I Love (with a capital L) the thing I’m about to show you after the cut:

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Shop Updated!

The Morrissey Nicho is (finally) in the store and so are LOTERIA FRAMES. I don’t know why those little frames are making me so happy, but they are.

I sent a bunch of packages out today and did some surprise gift wrapping for my customers. I feel more Christmas-y already.

Looks good enough to eat! Little tins are leaving the shop looking like hard candy. Yum!

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I lied.

There has been NO sun today. None.

I haven’t been able to get a single good flash-photograph of the new things for the shop update. Fingers crossed for some sun tomorrow…

Shop Update Tomorrow

Had an exciting week in the shop. Thanks to friends tweeting and reposting, the old storefront had its busiest day ever. This little guy (girl?) was especially popular. People were linking to him from countries with alphabets I don’t recognize.  You never know what people are going to like. I was sure that people would be all over that little grey owl that my Glen has been drooling over, but no… the red owl has gotten all of the love. It sold in less than an hour. I’m thinking of making another one…  We’ll see.

If everything proceeds on schedule, I’ll have some new things in the shop tomorrow. This “craft blogging” thing is a lot harder than I thought it would be. Who has time to make things AND write about making things? Well… I guess lots of people do. These people clearly have far better time management skills than I do. Obvio.

I’m hoping to finish a Monarch Nicho for a customer today so that it can go in the mail on Tuesday and I’m working on simple little frames for the shop while things dry. The “Sweet and Tender Hooligan” nicho will be ready by tomorrow, too. That sucker’s been on my desk for over a month now. It’s time it found a new home… hopefully with someone who has a penchant for  pompadours and obscure literary references. I’ve already said too much.

Some peeks into what’s to come:

Sneak Peeks

Owls are finally in the shop. Three of them to be exact. I’m not sure if three owls qualifies as a parliament or not… Perhaps I could call them a punk band of owls. You definitely only need three to be a punk band. But I digress…

A bright red owl should be joining his compatriots shortly and I’ve got a few more that are in the cutting stages that I’m really excited about. I purchased the loveliest felted wool last week and the stack is sitting on my desk just waiting to be turned into something special.  I’ve never embroidered on anything with that much stretch, so I may have to invest in some stabilizers… can’t wait to see what happens!

Waiting for eyes while the parliament observes...

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Hoot, hoot, hoot! Owls are on the way!

I bet that you already knew that a group of owls is called a “parliament”… but did you also know that you could call them a “wisdom?” A wisdom of owls… sounds very Harry Potter.

Owl pelts

I’ve had these little guys cut out for quite some time now and I’ve finally gotten around to sewing them up. I’m always surprised by how much the things I make change from initial cut to final stuffing. What works in the planning and plotting stages doesn’t always feel right once you start adding embellishments, etc. The lovely Joni at Sugar Sugar was kind enough to carry my sugar skulls in her shop this October and she asked me if the skulls told me when they were “done.” The question took me so off guard I didn’t know what to say at first.

How did she know?

Before you call the men in the white coats, let me assure you that I don’t actually hear these little scraps of felt talking to me. But, when something I’m working on starts coming together, it lets me know whether or not I’m heading in the right direction with it. And if I’m heading off in the wrong direction… well… let’s just say that I have two or three unfinished skulls that have been sitting on a tray for the better part of the last four months. They’ll let me know when they’re ready, I’m sure.

Back to the owls…

These owls are coming along nicely and should be ready for the shop any day now. They each take about two full days to complete as they’re fairly labor intensive (and I sew painfully slowly), but I’m hoping they’ll go by a little faster after I’ve made a few more… and they become a little more vocal about what they want to look like. Hoot!

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