Saturday, December 29


"Oh my! My gorgeous dress arrived today ... really unique and beautiful.
Thank you Secret Lentil." — Liz

Friday, November 30

You want me to WHAT?

today in the studio: my wrist with pincushion.
I subscribe to The Writer's Almanac so that every morning when I check my email I can say "Oh for fuck's sake I don't have time to read a POEM." Then I read it anyway. Then I think, oh, that wasn't so bad. It's a little ritual I enjoy - it really sets the pace for the day.

Saturday, November 24

viva la fickle-fest

I made the piece on the left about six months ago. I sold it. Then lots of people asked me to make them another. I said no. I'm kind of a jerk ... or maybe just stupid. But I'm always propelled forward by the next work that wants to emerge from that tenuous combo of my brain and the materials - I can't help it. Back-tracking is a drag. It feels like trying to recapture a moment we should have just savored, and I can't get energized by that. Bear in mind that you're talking to someone who didn't have pictures taken at her own wedding - see I'm not just a jerk to you, I'm a weird purist who is interested in experiencing without sentimentalizing.  It's nothing personal.

(I just watched this TED Talk on the different ways we account for happiness, and how much of it hinges on the difference between how we experience things and how we remember things. Daniel Kahneman explained this in a way that made so much sense to me. It also explained why I don't like vacations. And also, he talks about colonscopies and happiness! I recommend it.)

My point is:  look, I made another one! More or less. Does this make me more of a jerk? Don't answer that. A few days ago I looked at the purple one and suddenly another version made all the sense in the world. The new red one has a sculpted collar but it's pretty much the first of cousin of the purple one. And no, I won't make you another one. Unless I do.

Sunday, November 11

Secret Lentil Holiday Sale 2012 - is coming

So, this is happening! I'll be opening up my studio and the teeny Superette shop down the hall for a holiday sale. I'm in Syracuse New York. I'll have lots of clothes, tons of handwarmers to fill out your gift list, snacks, gift certificates, and hopefully there will even be some oddities to pick through in the sale bin.

And it's not just me - a bunch of other artists and makers in my building will have their doors open too. Painters, photographers, sculpters, beaders, surface design people, printers, glass workers ... plus there's an art gallery downstairs. Come in and walk the creaky floors of the Delavan Center.

If you want to you can rsvp on my facebook event page. It's optional but if you do it I get to squeal and say "Oooh! Someone's coming!"  I hope to see you there - helen

Saturday, November 10

capricious hamster

Hey I made a new fairly repeatable design. It's called the Flounce. Viva la Flounce!

Repeatable for me means each piece has the same basic details but is still made without a pattern. Plus they're made from different fabrics in different colors. I have to keep the hamster brain engaged or else nothing happens. It is a capricious hamster.

So, I made ten of these! In all different colors. I'll be listing them tomorrow here.  They will be 99 dollars each. The whole idea was to make nine at ninety-nine, but then I made ten. The hamster told me to.

Friday, September 21

twitterpated, plus moles

secret lentil on twitter

I've decided to love twitter. It only feels a little bit like an arranged marriage. Finding this helped:
"David Lynch @DAVID_LYNCH

Dear Twitter Friends, a mole came to visit & can't seem to get out of the cement area. We're feeding the mole almonds, oats, water & celery. "

"David Lynch @DAVID_LYNCH

Does anyone have any suggestions for additional food for our mole? Thank you very much. "

So, you know, follow me and I'll follow you. Even if you don't like moles.  But they do have cute noses, and apparently sometimes some things deserve a second chance.

Wednesday, September 12

did you ever REALLY LOOK at your hands?

Wow, Photoshopping little shadows out from between your own fingers can get surreal pretty quickly. And as you can see I lost patience and a bit of my forearm as well. But, you know, PRODUCT. Focus on the product. I've made a few pairs of brown gauntlets - they're a mix of new and recycled fabrics, with some linen and plenty of panache.

I have also cut out more pairs in black and olive that I'll have done sometime soon. The brown ones will be in the next update, which should be any day. I also have a few more reconstructed cowl shrugs, a black lagenlook sweater, and ... the Psychotropic Pub Wench tunic, whose current working name is now St. John's Wort Girl. (see previous post)

Saturday, September 8

psychotropic pub wench

uhh, yeah, not much more to say. I made this today.

Thursday, September 6

new website + $20 off

It's done!
The new website is ready.
I'm supergeekily excited about it. This is exactly the site I've been pining for, for years.
I've been slumped over it for weeks, tweaking and primping code.
It's up and running now, plus I'll be adding a new batch of work to it later today.

On the new site you can:
shop! — pay with a credit card or Paypal
save things — keep favorites for later, on your own wishlists
buy gift certificates —  or redeem them — they're digital, easy to give and use
pay exact shipping — or opt out if you are picking up your purchase at the studio
connect — with an account (optional) you can checkout quickly, track the status of orders,
keep multiple shipping addresses, all that good stuff

Also - I want to give you $20 off your first purchase.

Here's the dirt:
Take $20 off your first purchase of $50 or more from

use discount code NEWLENTIL when you check out
one per customer — good only on — expires 9/20/2012

p.s. it runs counter to my entire being to say things like "Take $20 off your first purchase of $50 or more -" even if I'm just typing them quietly. What I do is send a shell of myself out to do the dirty work while the real me curls up in a ball, further inside, and waits for it to be over.  Until I've found a better way to tell you about a sale this will have to suffice.

Friday, August 17

fall comes in on little pig feet

Just as the robin portends Spring, a freshly packed order of handwarmers on its way to The Flying Pig must mean Autumn is due. I'm not quite ready to think about wool yet though it has been cool the last few nights ... ehh, I'm sure I'll come around. This has been the most Summery Summer I can remember - when I put on socks once last week I felt oddly compressed and strange, like maybe it was time to pack lunch in a brown paper bag and go wait for a schoolbus.

Monday, July 9

today in the studio ... same womb, different eggs

fraternal lentils
I'm working on batches of pieces that are similar but not identical. A studio neighbor stopped in and dubbed them "fraternal lentils." Fair enough.

Sunday, May 20

secret lentil dwarfs the mcdonald's arches in times square

I wouldn't make that up would I? Could I?

Customer / patron / mentor San-D sent her picture into Dove, who featured her, wearing her Secret Lentil jacket, on a gigantic billboard on Times Square. Look once, then look again and take in the scale.

That's right, We're crushing the golden arches. rawr.

Here's a better view of the picture:
San D wearing Secret Lentil

And here is the jacket, before it knew how wonderful a life it would have with San D:
Secret Lentil Maid of the Moss Traveling Jacket
Maid of the Moss Traveling Jacket

Wednesday, May 16

today in the studio ... periwinkle, olive, and, uhhhh –

I can mix whatever colors I want.
So there.
*folding arms, looking tough*

Tuesday, May 1

today in the studio ... stripes!

I've been soaking in linen, and that's been great, but I felt the need for some goofy Spring fun so I ordered in some stripes – they arrived today. Stripes = instant fun. I'll be making a batch of reconstructed pieces with snippets of stripey goodness worked in ... and bright contrasting thread ... good times.

Friday, April 13

limeadus camisolia in captivity

Carmen just sent this shot of her wearing her new bright tunic limeadus camisolia, in her lush back yard. And if I'm not mistaken I made that shrug too.

Thursday, April 12

eat, number 4

eat, issue 4

 My friend Dan and his friend Jazz make a zine called eat. I know, isn't that adorable? It really is.

So, what happens is this:  I post a weird meal I made on facebook, Dan gently cajoles me about submitting a recipe to eat, I claim there is no recipe, I just made it up, nothing comes of it. (I cook the same way I sew, rarely the same thing twice.)

Finally he wears me down and I send a few recipes. Months later, my copy of eat arrives in the mail. IT IS FULL OF AWESOME. It is fun. It includes my recipe for Wasabi Deviled Eggs and some chicken dish with a clever name I can't remember any more (It's spicy, with orange sauce and fresh spinach) plus a screenshot of the aforementioned cajoling. I'd forgotten so much of it by the time it arrived in the mail that I got to guiltily enjoy laughing at my own jokes, but don't tell anyone else, because that isn't proper.

Apparently there are other people in it too. You can get your copy of eat right now from their Etsy shop.

Tuesday, March 20

yay, she likes it

elizabethish frockatoria: black linen babydoll dress
This just in from the new owner:

"It's so so comfy and I love, love, love all the linen tiers and the wildly fantastic sleeves. They're perfectly sculpted and not too tight. It truly is a piece of art that I will love wearing!" – Bridgette

I admit it, even after all these years it's still a tad bit scary to put clothes in a box and ship them to a stranger. Or a friend. Or someone in between. Like going on stage, it gets easier over the years but there's still always a tension there. I don't mind it really, I want to care and I want people to be pleased ... but still,  it's good to know when everything's good at the other end of the mail. Yay!

Saturday, March 17

you do it backwards.

It's one of those things ... you know - makers, writers, musicians, lots of us have those little entry rituals that get us rolling - the traditions, or superstitions or obsessions - the things that help us enter into the process of making. For me it's getting my hands moving - not sewing, but folding or cutting paper or even just writing a list for the day. But it can't be any paper. Limp printer paper doesn't do it. It has to be heavy card stock, thick, unforgiving, sturdy. I need to feel the weight of it in my hands. So today I cut a dress out of thick gray letterpress stock, a favorite, wrote some ideas and sketches on it, and I'm off, into the wilds ...

For a long time I wanted to make up a ritual that would work for me - the favorite black-inked pen and square notebook for writing, the perfect cup of coffee before commencing - and I think a lot of people get stuck there, in the blank book aisle, panicked and wanting to attach the magic pre-emptively. But now that I've done this for a while I get that you don't choose it. You find your ritual by trying things, through flailing crazy trial and error, then you figure out what works and keep it. You do it backwards.

Friday, March 16

today in the studio ... plus-sized draping

It's a lovely gray and rainy morning, warm and delightful. I'm listening to Bill Evans and looking forward to a day of sewing but also plotting out some new patterns. I'm just finishing up a one-off navy blue linen dress. It's one of my best drapey plus-sized pieces so far, I think - with an asymmetric neckline and big floppy collar, and lots of curvy sculpted-ness.

Wednesday, February 29

mutual admirations: Karen Thurman, Karen Thurman Designs

about mutual admirations:
After plunging into this life of making for a while I had an epiphany: the point of my job is to make clothes for remarkable people as a great excuse to meet them. I don't know how this happened, but everyone who wears Secret Lentil is nice. And many are also makers. They cut, glue, write, they stitch, paint, hammer, file - they connect things to other things, they make meaning through making. I'm grateful to know them (even when it's virtual) and I want you to meet them too.

Karen Thurman of Karen Thurman Designs makes gorgeous wet-felted wool table runners, scarves, pillows - and the colors! They are always refreshing. There is something tender about her design touch that I find moving. Let's just sit quietly and look at some:

pink grapefruit dotted mini table runner

dotted pea pod shaped scarflette

chartreuse pod pillow

Tuesday, February 28

today in the studio ... black linen

Ahhhh, it's good to have black linen back in stock. Just staring into makes me happy. Is that wrong? No.

ye olde Adler
I just finished and mailed away a black Parachute Something Husk that someone ordered on Etsy. I forgot to have Mr. Lentil take a picture of it to add to the listing choices so I made the olive one black and white in Photoshop as a consolation prize to myself.

pretend this is a black one
At least I make myself laugh.

I also worked on the destroyed / distressed sweaters (see yesterday) and OH my goodness am I having fun.

Monday, February 27

today in the studio ... distressed sweaters

If there's one thing I've learned in my years of making clothes and selling them online, it's this: nothing is more boring than a picture of a heap of fabric.

See? But in this case I dyed it myself so I'm forcing the issue. It's a very lovely wool-blend jersey that I'm turning into a handful of lightweight drifty hole-filled distressed layering sweaters. That's the plan anyway. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, February 26

i'm a flip-flopper, or, decorum!

I go back and forth.

Well, I could stop right there.

Of course I won't.

I go back and forth. I am at once a candid and protective sort, in an uncannily odd mix. Once a person I had just met referred to me as "a log cabin on stilts." I'm fine with that. I prefer self-deprecation to boasting, and don't mind telling the story about how I peed my pants when I was 16, (because it's funny!) but I also really, really like protective boundaries and keeping them and keeping company with people who also have their own. Decorum! Decorum, people, it's not the same as shame, or secrecy, or anything nasty like that.

But sometimes my quest for balance is just stupid. There, I said it. Stupid. A while ago I started a second blog. I had this idea that I wanted to write about making things and and the making life, and that I would somehow benefit from keeping it separate from Secret Lentil. Well guess what? Secret Lentil is basically my child. I love it and even when I don't it's still hanging on my ankle dragging across the kitchen floor, screaming something about "Wrong cookies! Wrong cookies!"

I think I just wanted what the mother of every toddler wants: a few minutes alone in the bathroom. Well, people, there is no such thing. So I'll be okay with that too. The handful of posts that follow have been moved over from there to here. All eggs, one basket. Enjoy.

ps: I can barely keep bean sprouts alive for 3 days and am not even qualified to use motherhood as an analogy, but I did it anyway. I claim poetic license.

it gets better, the angst-ridden edition

we can experiment with how to do work

It occurs to me that there is a bigger picture even when I can't feel it. And that I am figuring out how to do this. I get glimmers now and then.

Do you know what helps? I've started talking to / pestering any full time established artist who will share details of their process with me. I think full time is key because they are pushed in ways that others aren't: their plates and houses and pants are on the line. They can't afford to be romantic. (whew)

And oh boy, do I ever recommend it.

Yesterday i joked to my painter friend P. about how I dream up a new scheme every week for what will work for me. His eyes lit up. Without taking a breath he said: We don't have security. We don't have someone writing a check for us every week. But we can experiment with how to do work. In fact, it's the one precious thing we have that no one can take away from us.

It's a thing we have. Not a fatal flaw! My curse is his blessing - and it all spun around for me.

Still I wish I had some sort of "It Gets Better" campaign for artists. I want to know if this all works out. I want to know if my struggles are worthwhile, if I'm planting seeds or just ensuring I'll be an unemployable freak after all of this .... Yup, of course, as soon as I write that I know I don't want that. I just think I do. Carry on. As you were. Onward into the murk.

humble pie

The caveat is: I had a big wedge of fruit pie this morning - warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, along side a gorgeous mug of espresso ... so when all this buzzy brainy hovery goodness wears off this might not make any sense but here's what I'm thinking right now:

Well first I'm thinking everything should start with a caveat. It loosens things up nicely.

Then I'm thinking: staying calm is my job.

That is it. That is all.

This is not a new thought. I've had it before - that being calm is Job Number One. Things don't go well when I am a spastic mess or an internet zombie or a crying heap. But what I didn't do before is remove everything else from the list.

Nothing else is my job. I'm using a lot of italics so I think I really mean this. The dreaming, the sketching, the magical act of creating, the customer service, the web design, the blogging, the bookkeeping, the learning new skills - these are all a hobbies I will do in my spare time, after I'm done doing my job.

And what did I say that is? Staying calm is my job.

This is the trick that will get me through today. It might even work tomorrow, if I add some pie.

the unwindening

Yohji Yamamoto
I did more than a few wonderful things for myself this week.

First I went on vacation. And by that I mean I stayed home from the studio for the last four days, which is pretty much unheard of for me, and didn't think about making things, or cry and threaten to quit, or draw any elaborate charts that might plot The right way to do everything, or even make any big battle plans for my return.

I did ask my co-conspirator if he would spend a good part of today cleaning the studio with me as part a fresh start, so that will be good, but mostly ... mostly I sat around. I unwound. We had some big talks about the world. I napped. I was so relaxed on Monday that I was surprised to hear the thump when the mailman came - by then I thought it was a holiday for everyone.

Secondly, I completely changed my diet. I know. I know. I feel great. Maybe more on that later, but for now, this. For a long time I've been stewing on the idea that I really can't move forward with my work without caring for my body too. It just isn't right. It is an imbalance. I'm dragging the whole Helen on this path.

Then last night, because the mailman somehow got it to my door, I watched Notebooks on Cities and Clothes, a Wim Wenders movie about fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto.  (It was super frustrating to watch because of the editing and loud background noise. Sorry, Wim Wenders. But it was like watching concert footage shot by someone who obviously isn't a musician - no - I don't want to see the grimaces of the bass player while the drummer is soloing.) But ultimately, it fed me. There are so few people who do the same work as me whom I count as heroes. Yohji Yamamoto understands that fashion is nothing and everything, simultaneously and seamlessly. I'm envious of the world he has built, in the best possible way. I feel better positioned in the world when I see his position. Plus the man has a black pincushion, could he get any cooler? He's a homing beacon for me, a shy, chain-smoking homing beacon in black.

helen doesn't work here any more redux

When I go to the studio I no longer say I am going to work. I say "I am going to go make some work."

It is taking me years to unwind my status as an employee. And as a boss. I look forward to being able to say "It has taken me years" but it's still with me, I'm not there yet. It's still painfully present tense. Of course I have to do work that falls in both boxes (worker bee/manager) but why am I still using the language of boxes?

I still waiver between idealized versions of working. I think I am choosing between a fantasy stress-free idyllic blissful field of meandering creativity and a clamped down turn-on-the-timer and churn-out-some-product mindset. Of course it's a false dichotomy but somehow naming it doesn't help.

The truth is that I've never been an idyllic blissful field of anything. Even as a 5 year old I felt the weight of the world on my slight bird-bone shoulders. Yes I have been engaged, curious, super-focused, in the flow, yes, all of those things, but idyllic? Stress free?  Has the world and all of its needs fallen away? No. I have been a good little worker bee (for other people and only for a while!). But honestly that stopped working for me the moment I became self-employed. Thankfully creativity doesn't thrive under the whip.

These extremes are just another guise of perfectionism, versions of a mythic age of innocence to get back to or a heaven to look forward to, and I don't believe in either. There is nothing to get back to. There is today. There is me and the materials I work with, my tools, my hands, my eyes ... and there is a vein of curiosity to tap into – heck, there are several to choose from – and all I need to do is pick one and follow it and make the work that needs to be made today. It's simple: I am going to go make some work.

the loneliness of the hard-working dung beetle

I like dung beetles. And I mean really like – a dung beetle pushing a ball of dung is on my short list for tattoo number three. (If that seems gross to you just refer to it as a scarab – oh yes, it's suddenly so noble!) They are a nice shape. They represent intense transformation. They seem sincere and comical at the same time, and I relate to that. And then there's the whole without them we would be drowning in poop factor.

I just watched a documentary about insects. It showed a lone scarab earnestly bumbling her large perfect sphere of dung over hard dry terrain. Could she get it over that bump? Could she? Eventually, yes.

But then she shoved it soundly onto a barbed thorn protruding from the ground, and it stuck. It stuck real good. (Please, producers, tell me you didn't place it there. Isn't life hard enough as it is?) She pushed. She pushed again. She came around and pushed from the other side. No budging. Then she came back around and dug into the ground, giving her more leverage to shove, and yes, eventually, again, she was on her way.

Her plight made me think: Sometimes it is good that our work is lonely. Not the panicked bottomless pit of despair kind. There is a good lonely, the kind where you know that no one else can solve your problems so you don't waste any time hoping or fretting. You just keep switching positions, nimbly, without drama or pity, strategizing and doing the next thing that might work. The world surrounds you, neutral to your plight, throwing up the occasional thorn but mostly just waiting to see what you will do with what you've got. Good lonely still has sadness but it is containable.

And of course there is no guarantee that we'll get our proverbial dung balls un-wedged from our thorns. But when we are immersed in the good lonely we create results (finished work, processes, connections, inventions, etc) that could only have come from us. And those results, even when they are failures, move us forward in ways that cannot be measured or taken back. I'll repeat that for my own sake: even when they are failures they move us forward. The solo undertaking that connects us to the state of good-loneliness can keep us on our path. And where else do we want to be?

idiot savant inspiration #585: king of the hill

I've been watching some old King Of The Hill episodes on Netflix. Some of the first ones are super raw – especially the animation – when Hank's eyes move his whole head stays static except for a clearly discernible portion of his cheek, eyes and forehead.

I didn't dislike it, it was just interesting to see the older episodes right there with the more recent ones. Sometimes I can get obsessed in my head (well, that's where it happens, right?) with having a visual united front for my work, even though I know it changes with each piece I make. It was humbling to see the evolution all laid out at once and remember that as a viewer I have much more latitude and compassion for a changing body of work than I do as a maker.

It's more than compassion though – I crave these changes. Isn't that the way with any artist you follow? There are musicians, potters, painters, designers, whose work I have loved for years and part of the love is following their path and responding to their choices – being amazed, disappointed, fed, reassured – it's like the best parts of getting to know a friend without the burden of having to talk on the phone.

And it reminded me that we always start where we are and end up somewhere else. Of course. (Didn't I say idiot savant right in the title?) Our work changes just like we always change. That's where some of the fear in getting started comes from isn't it? It's that attachment, the tenacious barnacle of time clinging to our bow. Once you start creating a body of work it changes with you – it's a constant reminder that we're being propelled forward toward the inevitable. (Although instead of feeling propelled I tend to picture us winding in a graceful spiral, which helps me feel more calm about the whole deal.) But here's the thing: you're going to keep changing anyway, so start making stuff that thrills you. Now.

p.s did I really just say "tenacious barnacle of time?"

Saturday, February 18

snowy, glowy

View from the studio last night as it got dark, with giant fake-looking snowflakes, glowing lights, and the never-ending construction site.

Sunday, January 29


Elise models for us because she's nice. She's also an amazing artist, ardent music and film aficionado,  knowledgeable and dapper vintage clothing wearer, collector of eclectic things (see the dolls and taxidermy she brought to the set) ... and she makes gorgeous handmade dolls as zippypops.

This is Gertrude. I think I love her. I think I love all of them. In person, I can't stop gawking / tugging at their clothes. She makes outfits for each one, often using vintage materials, and they are handsewn with the teeniest lovely details, including French seams! love love love.

p.s. She also (just today) started a facebook page too: zippypops on facebook

Friday, January 20

onward, upward, sidewaysward, spiralward

It took me a little while to start this new year. My work has taken a shift, a bigger one than usual, the kind that required me to come to a complete stop before it would budge again. I had to hold still. I had to just sit there - literally just sit in my chair in my studio - and ask myself what I am doing. Do I still make clothes? Why? Where does this wanting to make things come from? From a void or lack? Or from grace and spaciousness? Or does it come from something more complex and murkier, some precious balance of everything that I am? What do I want to bring into the world next? With whom do I want to share it? I was totally willing to walk away. I was without fear.  I sat there until it made sense again.

So. I have re-started - with fresh eyes and ears and hands - and I'm focused and in love with what I'm making. Of course I hope you are too. I archived my first five years of work and I'm not looking back. I know, I know, it's just clothing, right? What's she going on about? Well it is and it isn't. It's clothing and it's also my art. It's my way of making a path through the world and my way of connecting to it (and you) too. Making clothes for you is both a responsibility and a delight. I won't have it be one without the other. Onward, upward, sidewaysward, spiralward - I'm ready for whatever direction is next.