Wednesday, December 21

not a beetle, a buffalo

Lavinia Hanachiuc and I are working on a collaboration.
I can't even tell you what it is: I don't know.
I don't think she does either. So far, this is perfect.
I sent her some fabric, she sent me this video. 

me: I can't chop that up! I never should have given you anything canvas-shaped.
lavinia: you'll have to deal with it. bullfighter's cape. supervillain. you can do this Helen!
me: Oh I like bullfighter's cape.

When we know what it is, we'll let you know.
There might be beetles. There might be buffalo. There might be a bullfight. Or none of the above.

Friday, December 16

synchronicity, plastic and small

Elise, the model in our last photo shoot, makes dolls and collects dolls. She brought a few favorites for props. And a goose.

When we got to the vacant warehouse room, hauling our clothes and equipment and dolls, there was a teeny plastic baby doll there waiting for us in the dust.

Saturday, December 10

The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Mr. Lentil rounded the end of the aisle pushing a cart ... "I know you don't want any more vintage sewing machines but I think you'll want to see this."

Oh heck yes. It's a 1961 Singer Slantomatic. Slant. O. Matic. And, my dear people, it. Is. Stellar. Shiny, virtually scuff-free, with all-metal gears and a bakelite pedal! It came complete with its manual, some bobbins, original cleaning brush, screw drivers, etc. - spare bobbins, and feet - oh the feet! Zipper foot, ruffler, bias-tape, free-from embroidery foot. I can't even remember all of them. Oh, and cams for fancy sitches.

It is so nicely designed. Everything fits in your hand. Everything turns just so. A good machine is so ... good. It didn't need cleaning but I oiled it up, adjusted the bobbin winding gizmo, and un-seized one of the cam-adjusting knobs and it is ready for action. In fact, it has already seen some. Oh and it can sew with double needles. Okay I'll stop now. Deep breaths. This is good. I am ready to plunge back in, more deeply ...

Wednesday, November 23

Americrab: the dress of former battles won and lost

I'm a little bit obsessed with the way crabs, crayfish and lobsters can grow back appendages they have lost in battle. And then, especially, in that awkward stage when they have one full-grown claw that has seen it all, offset by the other small, new, tender one on the other side. I guess it's because I feel that awkward and vulnerable in real life, but also proud and feisty at the same time.

I wanted to name this dress "You Win Some, You Lose Some" because it has mismatched sleeves in different stages of growth and regrowth. But then I thought - maybe it would sound fancier in French or Spanish. So I asked my resident multilingual friend. She furrowed her brow and said: "That  -- that is a peculiarly American phrase."

Of course it is! The whole "pick yourself up, dust yourself off" thingie. Rebirth, re-invention, the eternal frontier, the great rebuilding. Oh silly us. So here it is, the Americrab.

Sunday, November 13


Monday, November 7

up my sleeve: black

up my sleeve: black. i'm soaking in it. black linen. black jersey. vintage black buttons. sheer black netting. black threads. raw seams. folds upon folds upon folds of undulating black, tamped down with top-stitching, chopped, cropped, rough. gaping holes that beg for a back story ... a hint of hidden agendas, trap doors that go nowhere, secret pockets, handwritten notes in unknown handwriting, questions that are never answered ... coming soon.

Monday, October 17

once more, with salt

"Syracuse" is Latin for salt lick of the gods.

Well okay, no, I made that up. But it's the Salt City for historical reasons too dull to repeat at the moment. Industry, potatoes, etc. The important thing is Secret Lentil Clothing will be at the Salt City Urban Art and Craft Market this Saturday. October 22nd. It's the only show I'm doing all year. I prefer to live on the internet where everyone is gorgeous and the humidity is low.

I've got clothes. I'll have scarves in colors that I've never had scarves in before. I've made a veritable ton of hand warmers. And pods. Ornamental pods what dangle.

Tuesday, October 11

I like tea in my tea.

I enjoyed a lovely visit today from Grace. She's working on an independent project on fashion - writing and designing a book - for her high school senior project, and she came to interview me. In general the more questions someone asks, the more circular and flighty and rambly I get so I hope I made sense. And need I mention, everything about her outfit was amazing.

She made me choose the one piece of clothing I would take to an island ... that was tough. I had to pass and come back to it at the end. But I picked my Grandpa Bartlett's overalls. He was a farmer and I never saw him wear anything else. I inherited them a few decades after he died. They were hand-patched by him and for a few years they were my uniform, with a rotating cast of things layered over and under. If I could someday be one sixteenth as calm and thorough and thoughtful as he was I'll be doing alright. Plus he could scrape gravy out of a bowl so well that you could probably just put the bowl back in the cupboard when he was done. When I was about 13 and feeling adult for having tea with him in his farmhouse dining room, I scooped sugar and dumped milk into mine then asked him if he wanted some. "Nope" he said firmly. "I like tea in my tea."

In other news, that building I'm having knocked down is almost out of my way.

Friday, October 7

wool pods

Friday, September 30

and here they are

Linen Schminth scarves in new colors.

Monday, September 26

making scarves today

mmmm linen.

Thursday, September 15

intimate witness: julie persons

intimate witness is a series of clothing I'm making inspired by the nature photography of Julie Persons. I love her subject matter, but it's more than that.  These aren't cold scientific macro shots of beetles, moths, toads ... for one thing, they are just simply more gorgeous than that.

But there's something else: I can feel that Julie is there.  In each picture she is saying "Here is a moth that landed on my screen."  "I found this bug in the woods this morning." She is an intimate witness, directly connected and willing to share - just as some of our mutual favorite witnesses (Mary Oliver, E.B. White) have shared nature and their natures with us.

Friday, September 2

space monkeys and jackhammers

I have been showered with onderful surprise gifts today for no apparent reason! There was a knock at my door early this morning - my friend Karen stopped by with a super lovely space monkey pillow I had been admiring on etsy recently. Now I know why it disappeared, she bought it for me! It's from bonspiel whose work I have admired for a long time.

And then this afternoon my friend Shaerie came to visit. She's in town from the other coast and is the owner of the magic fabric / sewing space Sew L.A. She is a proper sewist who follows rules and teaches other people how to as well, but somehow she manages to be friends with this old scofflaw.

It turns out that the photos of me using my cheap crappy scissors have been irking her to no end so she brought me a pair of Ginghers. My first real pair of scissors! They're spring loaded and so precise and wonderful to hold.

I am grateful for my wonderful thoughtful friends.

In other news,

construction out my studio window is in full force. I can't pick my nose or run around naked in here, there are men out my window! I'm not saying I ever did, I'm just saying, now I can't.

Saturday, August 27

story of the schminth scarf

the schminth scarf
I used to snip decorations out of construction paper and decorate my sister's room when she was coming home from college, even for a weekend! I was eight when she started school. Even though she kept in touch and sent me letters and funny stories in the mail (soap operas about oysters!) I missed her so much my heart hurt. Our mother had died the year before, and I was bereft and lonely, a small plastic boat lost at sea. So I would decorate her room, hide in it and "surprise" her every time she returned. 

When I sat down last week to design this new scarf I found myself cutting kraft paper in the same style as the decorations that filled her room. An old pattern, so familiar, revisited by my hands before my brain knew what it was making. So the schminth scarf is named for my sister Cynthia, who was generous enough to accept her fated role as surrogate mom and remains one of my best friends.

Thursday, August 18

cheap shots, morning thoughts

quick morning thoughts:

sometimes the cheap camera phone is best, mostly when the real camera is at home.

working in white wool this morning, sculpting something like a barnacle moth? what is that? there is new construction going on next door, lots of clanging fences and idling diesel things, and somehow, a very strong wafting of suntan lotion.

taking a picture is a great way to get started on my day.

also, i'm plotting everything in Notebook right now and loving it ... collecting photos, planning collaborations, keeping my daily lists, hoarding my favorite quotes, organizing notes for my imaginary book ... i'm letting it hold the obsessions of my brain. so far, so good. i like having a brain repository.

Friday, August 5

secret lentil lookbook #1

Secret Lentil lookbook number one ... one abandoned building with every kind of decay you could hope for. this one is all black. Enjoy!

Monday, August 1


Friday, July 29

big stuff

Today, I became an artist. Extra comma intended for dramatic effect because, today, I became the owner, of a flat file. *Cue the reverent hush* thank you very much.

It was just a great day for good karma and moving big things. I might even say perfect, but for the humidity that made the atmosphere feel alien and unfriendly. I bequeathed 35 large boxes of fabric to a sweet family who will put it to good use, and somehow as soon as we packed it up Mr. Lentil and I were off to pick up a giant wooden (cough, heavy) flat file, a gift from a friend. A gift!

All this change comes just in time for a massive reworking of my studio. I have this idea that somehow people who went to art school learned how to use a studio, that they have secret knowledge of how to get things done that they won't tell me. (Okay, you caught me. Actually I have the idea that somehow other people, in general, learned something about getting through each day that they won't tell me.) It's probably not true, but suffice to say I'm pretty sure that 1. I flounder more than I need to and 2. I've set my studio up more for a job than a creative space. Let's face it, this isn't really a job.

So I'm out to remedy that. I want more secret notes, sketches and lists on my wall. I want my collection of heads (buddha, styrofoam, and cement doll head with horn) to each have their own teeny shelf high up on the wall. I want separate work stations for each kind of work I do, all set up so I can flit (flit I say, flit!) back and forth on a whim. I want lots of trash cans. I want color swatches and pictures of turtles and twigs and more of my favorite quotes and a place to roll my yoga mat out to nap and regroup. I want a making nest. Big stuff. I'm going to figure this out even if no one will tell me their secrets.

Sunday, June 26

so it goes

Getting today's photo shoot together has been a long dragged out ordeal, somewhat because of my own brain, of course, but then a cavalcade of other stupid little things. How can simple things get so complicated? We ended up doing it without a live model, which is fine enough, but oh dear the weather has been a drag. It's either been sweltering hot or pouring rain - mostly pouring rain. We set up by some new "so it goes" graffitti and shot a few pieces before we had to seek cover.

And Vonnegut fans will appreciate what I found on the ground in front of it:

I know! I know!

Tuesday, June 14

"It is better to deal with the people who have intuition, now. You see, they don't know what they are doing. The ones who do know what they're doing haven't proven anything." - Sun Ra

My best music for creating:
  • Robert Wyatt / old Soft Machine. Well I guess it's all old

  • classical Indian music. Sometimes I dance involuntarily

  • free jazz, but today, specifically: Sun Ra
I guess the theme is churny, open, rambling, breathing, never-ending.  

How I Got Through Yesterday, by Helen Carter
So here is this week's trick for getting work done. It is also non-linear. I have some super cheap graph paper that I love. It smells funny and I suspect it is made from plastic and glue. I fold diagonals so I have a square section and a list on the right. Okay you're right, so far it's still linear. But then in my square I make a cloud of things to do, so that there is no hierarchy and I can leap, ADHD-bliss-style, from thing to thing throughout my studio time. When I get distracted by something else I need to do, I add it to the "later" list and move on with my day. It works this week.

Monday, June 6

true confession: Big Fig Newton

This is embarrassing. I count the Big Fig Newton among my inspiration for clothes-making - he was such a pleasing shape!

Well I was just eating a black mission fig and realized that he is shaped like ... a fig.

Sunday, June 5

serious trash and fandom among the stars

I just found out that John Waters is a superfan of Rei Kawakubo. Okay, this makes me giddy. Yes because I like them both. But also because her clothes are so wonderfully dark and serious ... but John Waters understood, inherently and instantly, in that way he has of cutting through to just what matters, that they are also hilarious.

There is a chapter devoted to her in his book Role Models, but I also found a story from a 1998 Papermag where he said:

I am scared of her because I respect her so much. She never smiles. She always looks like she's sitting in a cell thinking about hemlines for two years like a catholic saint who gave up everything to think about how to deconstruct clothes. You don't see her sense of humor when you meet her she always wears leather and black and seems to be surrounded by bald-headed women. I think, of course, she has a great sense of humor. No one could design clothes that witty who didn't. I think you can be very serious about your work and have a sense of humor, too. I am very serious about my work and I try to make good trash.

Some of my favorite things in the world are dark and hilarious at the same time. Keith Moon's drumming. The faces that Bill Murray makes. Almost any Robyn Hitchcock song.

Friday, May 20

it works

It Works!

A friend stopped by the studio this week with the gift of a mini toy sewing machine from the 60's.

It got me thinking about icons. I avoid representation in my work but oh, sewing machines ... it's hard to resist the lure of adoring them, isn't it? I do love them. They are so simple and good. Danny Mansmith gets it, of course. 

Danny Mansmith's "The Waiting Spirits"

The mere act of lashing one slice of fabric to another with thread is small and large at the same time, the stuff of metaphor and art and I don't think I'll ever get sick of it. What else would the daughter of a machinist and a home-ec teacher do? Well, after trying everything else first, ha ha.

Tuesday, May 10

"This is my life's work." - Andy Goldsworthy, after a pile of rocks fell over, again.

staring at the studio ceiling
Studio morning so far.
Wasted time on facebook, drank coffee.
Stared at the ceiling for a while under the premise of stretching my neck.
Why I need a premise when I'm here alone is another story.
Now I turn to this:
folds and stitches, in black
I'm not really sure what it is.
Well it's a dress, and it's black.

But I've draped and carved it in a way I've never worked before,
using seams and pleats and paring it down from a large piece of fabric, just like I used to carve fish out of bars of Ivory Soap when I was a kid. It's spare, refined, minimalist, stark, mysterious. I like it.

It's almost done. I don't know yet if it works. It's scary and exciting, in the way that our work scares and excites us: everything is on the line. Nothing is on the line.

Sunday, April 24

we also saw a snapping turtle in the park but i didn't get a picture of it

hole in the park road that will have a speedbump anchored to it soon.
"Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don't do that by sitting around wondering about yourself. - Katherine Hepburn

Friday, April 22

otoshiana and the hovering

Please appreciate that I don't have my camera. This is me taking a picture by hovering the laptop over the cutting table. Thank you for your consideration.

At this moment I'm making my first otoshiana from Pattern Magic.  That's a fancy word for a sculpted hole. And when I say "from" what I mean is, I didn't read the instructions or measure anything or do the prep part by making one out of paper, I just stared at the pictures then started cutting out my own. If I have my way it will end up in a skirt. If I don't you'll never hear about it again.

Speaking of never, and never saying it, I picked up my copy of The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron yesterday - not to read, but to toss into the giveaway pile. Then I opened it up and read this line: "Artists love other artists. And part of what we love is their courage." Of course I instantly thought of all the wonderful support other artists have offered to me this week, just because I opened up enough to talk about my petty struggles. And this courage has been, in a way I didn't quite have words for, what I love about so many other makers (of all sorts) and what they do - their willingness to show up, and to not only make, but to actually push their creations out into the world. Once you start taking these chances yourself, respect for others and humility blooms in all directions. Yay. I need to remember this connection.

So ... I'm going to read it! I never quite clicked with The Artist's Way. When I found it it didn't address my resistance enough to keep my attention. I never like saying that out loud because so many other people dig it, but I'll start with this book and who knows, maybe back slowly up to that one too.

This was not an ad for Amazon dot com. It just came out this way.

Monday, April 18

so I thought, I've already embarrassed myself on the internet, why not share a poem I wrote?

Around The House
by Helen Carter

with thanks to Billy Collins

While Mr. Collins sails alone around the room
I chase myself through my house.

Growing larger as I run - I only inhale -
from room to room I plod,
duck through doorways, careen off shaking walls,
flat feet pounding the worn wooden floors,
the ceiling fan now a garland in my hair.

Once I thought I had myself cornered
in the dust behind the furnace.  And once I lunged at a blur of light
behind the shower curtain.  Both times I fell.

I pass the baton to my other hand and pick up pace,
now even the dog, who will chase his own tail until he falls over
sees no point in this race
and lies down on the futon, idly counting laps.

I know what the buddha said
about the ten thousand things:
they are as they are.
But he has never been over to my place,
let alone climbed the stairs to my attic.

There he would find me,
fully inflated, finally still, exhausted,
sneaker filling the stairwell, neck bent oddly,
one giant pouting eye
blinking out through the louvered window,
noting the weeds in the garden, thinking
I’ve never been as cute as Alice,
thinking my head has grown too large to rest in his hands,
still thinking I will win next time ...
almost tired enough to exhale
before inhaling again.

His fingers find the hanging string and he puts out the light,
squeezing past my foot and silently down the stairs.
In the hall, the dogs thunk their tails as he passes,
not even bothering to lick his knees;
they know he is only walking over to my desk
as he does every day
to sit by the lamp and wait for me to wake up.

Sunday, April 17

helen doesn't work here any more.

paper pods in the studio
It's a clear gorgeous morning and I'm in the studio, with fresh crisp air coming in the window, and I'm drinking cold leftover tea. I made some paper pods yesterday from a ream of cheap crummy graph paper that I just got from a scary store full of crap. I really like it. It smells like glue. I have to remind myself to play. How sad is that? I continue my fight against treating myself like an employee - how long will it take to undo this? Can it be undone?

Tuesday, March 29

do not disturb

Today in the studio ... I spent the day blissfully sculpting a wool vest - and I used the first precious roundrabbit stoneware button.

Saturday, March 19

cutting black

"For something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty." - Rei Kawakubo

Thursday, March 10

.... from the "I have the best customers in the world" department

Carole H. just let me know she's going through the Panama Canal this morning wearing her Secret Lentil skirt, and gave me the link to the live webcam so I can look for her. I love my people.

Friday, March 4

today in the studio ... wool pods

Felting wool sweaters isn't a science ... well - if it is, I am not a scientist - and sometimes the poor dears turn out so thick that there's no way I can run two layers of them through my serger. So I've been collecting these orphans - first unwanted and then altogether too shrunked-up - and today I'm carving some into a few pod-shaped bags.

It's satisfying work to piece these together and do a little freeform stitching - and the near silence of the old Adler is a nice change from the constant hum of the commercial serger motor.

Mr. Lentil is taking some pictures later, after he makes lunch for us, so I should have some new work up on the website tonight ... or tomorrow if time won't bend to our will.

Tuesday, February 22

peacocks and progress

1. My feature in Syracuse University's Connective Corridor newsletter came out today.
2. I've been busy and productive. No, they aren't always the same thing! It's a banner moment when I need to refill the tag jar and order thread in the same week. Good times.
3. I just made a Peacock skirt. Here's a sneak preview.

Thursday, January 20

husk redux

Return of the Layering Husk - back by popular demand! I got sick of them after a while but apparently other people didn't. So I gave the design a bit of an overhaul: lowered the dropped waist a bit more and shortened up the petals, flattened all the seams on the top half and added bias tape trim (oh, bias tape, how I love thee) to the neck and arms.

Now I like them too and we can all live happily ever after ... until I get bored again.  This one is made from deep charcoal wool suiting - lightweight and floaty but an austere color - pretty much perfect in my book.

This one is on my website. More shall follow.