amateur sewing as self-care

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Several months ago, I sold off a good number of dresses through Poshmark so I could afford to buy a starter-level sewing machine and its assorted accessories. I considered it an investment – a reliable way to repair the garments I already have at present, and, eventually, a way to make my own elaborate Edwardian costumes…I mean, normal clothes for everyday life! 

Under the present circumstances, I am so glad to have sewing as an escape. I am fortunate enough to be able to complete my job remotely, but I’m busier at work than ever before, so the few moments I can seize in the evenings or on weekends to get off my computer and make something are precious to me (and, to be bleakly honest, one of the only positive things I am doing to manage my anxiety at the moment).

The thing is, though, as you’ll see from these photos – I’m not skilled at sewing. I haven’t done it for very long, and I stumble through patterns and techniques. Quite frankly, it’s not even something for which I have a natural knack: my loved ones love to joke that I’m notoriously “bad at shapes,” and the meditative philosophy of “measure twice, cut once” is antithetical to my fast-paced way of approaching projects.

But I’m learning, and letting myself learn something new without a huge concern for quality is liberating.

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This bunting in particular challenged me in ways that I didn’t expect. Sewing up the little triangles was easy enough, but the binding tape I had bought months ago was too thin for this purpose, so I had to improvise with leftover ribbon from my wedding that was tricky to sew flat.

I love the colors of this cheerful pastel fat quarter set, though, and messy as the finished decoration is, it makes me happy whenever I see it hanging over the mantelpiece! 

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Before I say farewell this morning, I wanted to share some resources and tutorials that have helped me – though I had to rip a few seams here and there, all of these are guaranteed to be easy enough for an amateur sewer like me to complete with relative satisfaction!

♥ How to Make a Fabric Bunting from Glorious Treats

♥ Gathered Skirt for All Ages from Purl Soho

♥ How to Sew a Zipper Pouch Tutorial from Melly Sews

floral chords

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Dear friends,

Last year, for Christmas, my sister-in-law graced my life with a flower press – which is an unimaginably perfect present for me! (I aspire to practice the art of gift-giving in such a way that one gives people those particular items that they can’t understand why they don’t already have.)

Over the summer, when we started living in our new town, I began collecting what little blossoms I could find in our backyard and stashing them away in a sandwich of newsprint and card and wood. When we had to move house once more, I carried the still-full flower press with me, and a few months later, finally examined its brittle and beautiful contents.

I have never enjoyed the opportunity to look at flowers quite in the same manner as these photographs allow me to. There is something so familiar yet peculiar about the way the pressing has reduce their myriad layers and forms into something I could easily slide into an envelope. I hope taking a look at these blooms gives you a moment of calm today!

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I enjoyed arranging these botanical specimens on squares of sheet music and scrapbook paper for these photos, but there are many projects that can be enlivened by a little dried flower art. Seal them up in contact paper for a transparent bookmark, book jacket, or extra-special envelope! Mount them on a bit of card and frame them!

Imagining what I might do with next summer’s flowers has given me a wonderfully distracting thought to look forward to in a time during which I find it very hard to escape day-to-day concerns.

4 Hyper-detailed Fairy Paintings Into Which To Escape

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Dear friends,

How are you doing today? That’s not just a rhetorical blog-post-opening flourish, by the way – if you feel like you needed someone to check in with you at present, consider me that someone.

As for me, I’m really struggling to keep control of my anxiety at the moment, especially as day-to-day life in my own neighborhood changes dramatically with each new morning. I imagine that no matter where you are in the world (and whether or not you are a fellow anxiety disorder sufferer), you might be feeling similarly, given the present circumstances. So I’m dusting off this blog again to do what I do best: sharing weird and meticulously painted Victorian fairy art as a form of escapism in these difficult and terrifying and troubling times.

Years ago, when I first started blogging, I initiated (and subsequently failed to complete!) a series of “art history and anxiety” posts in which I hoped to offer up my personal practice of looking at art as a grounding/calming mechanism. I haven’t spoken much about it since then, but when I get the sense that I’m spiraling out of control, it still does help me to immerse myself in a painting and occupy my senses with its details.

And who loves microscopic details quite as much as that odd bunch of nineteenth-century artists who adored painting winged nudes and the mystical glens they inhabit? (I’ve included my favorite thumbnails from each painting, but please click through the hyperlinked titles to view the entire work!)

Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by John Simmons 

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John Simmons, Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1873. Watercolor. Private collection.

Victorian fairy painting protip #1: as long as you put some vaguely Shakespearean subject matter in the center of your composition, it’s fine to insert whatever other weird stuff you can possibly invent around the edges.

If you need a creative self-care break, perhaps try imagining what stories are unfolding in each of the miniature peripheral scenes that frame the border! (This “youth ponders squirrel” encounter is my personal favorite.)

The Dream After the Masked Ball (The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of) by John Anster Fitzgerald 

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John Anster Fitzgerald, The Dream After the Masked Ball (The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of), 1858. Oil on canvas. Private collection.

I struggled to choose just one work by the hilariously-nicknamed “Fairy Fitzgerald,” but the wealth of ghostly figures (and the beautiful detail on the textiles!) makes this painting the obvious choice.

Dancing Fairies by August Maelström

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August Maelström, Dancing Fairies, 1866. Oil on canvas. Nationalmuseum Sweden.

It’s rare that I find a new-to-me fairy painting (I did spend upwards of a year hunting them down for my M.A.), so encountering Dancing Fairies on Google Arts & Culture this week was a true delight. How wonderful to spend some time examining the glowing “mist” at the center of the composition and realizing it’s woven of a procession of fay spirits!

Titania Sleeping by Richard Dadd

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Richard Dadd, Titania Sleeping, 1841. Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre.

Perhaps this list I’ve constructed for you has been too tame so far. If you’re a Hieronymus Bosch fan, you might prefer Richard Dadd’s visceral, bizarre, and haunting miniature worlds. Though it’s certainly tempting to focus on the living arch made of strange goblin musicians playing their own flute-noses as instruments, I urge you not to neglect the glories of the bronzed bat trompe l’oeil frame.

What next?

I don’t know if anyone still reads this blog routinely (especially since I tried to resurrect it earlier this year and then rather failed utterly), but if you’re out there (hello!) and would like to escape into some art – give me some requests! I’ll happily curate a collection of images just for you in a future post. In my own hyper-introverted way, I would love to make this isolation more bearable for anyone who needs a little joy.

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Dear friends,

The little town in which I now reside happens to be home to one of the most fantastic and well-equipped public libraries I’ve encountered in my adult life. (It’s hard to judge and rank fairly the public libraries of my youth, because I think of them all with such nostalgic fondness!) Over the weekend – a pair of grey, dull, wet winter days – my husband and I stopped by the library’s annual book sale, where we found ample rewards for our braving the weather.

This biography of Charlotte Brontë, published in 1877, is now the most exciting book that I own. It is in deplorable condition – but considering I paid $1 for it and that it is 143 years old, I can’t complain! Acquiring this book (and another late Victorian volume of King Lear) may prove thrillingly useful for me: as throughout this past year of blog-neglecting, I have occupied myself with attempting to write a fantasy novel that involves some elements of nineteenth-century publishing.

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Have you seen the most recent Little Women film – and – a more important second question – were you also blown away by the jewel of a scene in which Jo watches eagerly as her words literally take physical form and become a gorgeous book? It is the splendor of this period of publishing that I want to understand as best I can, and this biography is a fine example. I wish I could download the typeface used for the cover text!

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Another even more relevant and fascinating aspect of these nineteenth-century books I hope to collect: personal annotations! Let us generously assume that in this case, ” ’78 ” refers to 1878, the year after this was published…

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The copy of King Lear from 1888 that I purchased lacks an elaborate cover, but I do enjoy the design and composition of the pages.

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To return to the theme of a few paragraphs ago – as someone who notoriously abandons half-finished novels and never finishes them, trying to stick with this draft has been one of the greatest challenges of my creative life. My “book” (how odd it seems to use that word to refer to an excessively large Word document!) is nearly 90,000 words long, and I would say that every thousand words or so I am tempted to jettison the whole thing altogether and start anew.

Perhaps I can channel that desire for novelty into writing new blog posts instead?

Sincerely,

Mailbox Mermaid

January 2, 2020

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Dear seafaring friends,

How have the past three hundred and seventeen days treated you? I hope so desperately that you’ve been well throughout at least a good percentage of them! It is difficult to resist the blogging-monologue temptation to tell you exactly what manner of misadventures and magic have colored my past year – but in the spirit of the newly-arrived “twenties,” I will strive to dwell upon the future instead of the past.

I want to start blogging again. No, that’s not quite right – rather than simply returning to form, I intend to change the way in which I share words, pictures, and history with you.

In the five years in which I have “maintained” (a word I use loosely here) this blog, I must have attempted to reshape its overall image and identity at least ten times. I strove to keep up with the times and to adhere to changing design trends, aspiring to a digital minimalism that does not remotely reflect my fondness for visual excess.

When I considered returning to Mailbox Mermaid once more, I decided to search the depths of the British Library’s public domain historical images Flickr for inspiration – and found the perfect late nineteenth-century illustration that captured the frantic and overcrowded coral reef of ideas and whims that has emerged in my mind of late.

“Coral Bank in the Red Sea,” featured in my new blog design, hails from Robert Brown’s 1893 monographic Our Earth And Its Story: A Popular Treatise on Physical Geography. The vivid colors and intricate textures transport me to a stunningly saturated underwater fantasy, a pelagic paradise in which an endless spectrum of pictorial delights compete for the viewer’s attention – here a scattering school of fish, there a distant yet watchful shark.

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What is to come on this blog (if I indeed manage to remain true to my intentions) will involve a similar ecosystem of the imagination. I fancy writing posts that sound like letters more than articles, and sharing stream-of-consciousness musings inspired by the books I read, the natural wonders I observe, and the things that I make by hand.

I aim to cultivate a collection of one-sided correspondence and create a virtual place that feels like a tranquil tidepool tucked at the edge of a halcyon lagoon. May I write to you, and share some of my maritime dreams? I do hope you’ll say yes – at least for one more post! 

Sincerely,

Mailbox Mermaid

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A note: like all my “pin reviews,” this is not sponsored in any way and merely reflects my desire to share my whimsical adventures in collecting small metallic works of art. Onward! 

I remember a brief period in my preteen life when all “friendship”-themed accessories – handmade bracelets, necklace pendants that matched, and of course the quintessential “broken-in-half” charms – absolutely transfixed me. Considering that I am now more than a decade away from being twelve, perhaps it’s a little unusual that I, a grown adult woman, wanted to share this set of pins with my grown adult sweetheart for Valentine’s Day…but I suppose I am more than a little unusual by nature.

And I can’t resist a good cetacean-themed accessory.

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stamps & sundries: last unicorns

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Though I’m usually not one to read too many analyses of the state of the internet, I seem to be prone, at the moment, to stumbling upon articles that bemoan the death of blogging. As I have seen more than a few of my favorite blogs from past years vanish into obscurity – often replaced by a robust Instagram account instead – I sense a degree of truth to this blogging-eschatology.

I don’t want to start singing an influencer-inspired version of “The Last Unicorn” yet, though, because I still find this medium the most compelling vehicle for sharing stories. So here I am, with my Instagram private (and honestly less appealing to me these days):  attempting to keep my own little virtual storybook alive instead!

Here ends this unnecessary set of musings: onward to envelopes! 

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The animated unicorn-and-bunny pair above arrived in mid-January in this beautiful conservatory of an envelope.

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As someone who finds winter to be the most challenging and dispiriting time of the year, I usually prefer colorful, summery stamps: but even I must admit that the “Winter Birds” have captured my heart, and I have a booklet of them awaiting me in my craft room.

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More than one elegantly decorated brown-craft-paper envelope appeared in my mailbox over the past few weeks – I adore them! – and they inspire me to reminisce about my snail-mail-crafting habits of about four years ago. For a while, I loved embellishing brown envelopes with a few artfully placed stickers or cut-outs: perhaps it’s time for me to resurrect that pretty style again? Something like that unicorn, I imagine, would look particularly enchanting on a neutral backdrop!