"Everything should be made as simple as possible..but not simpler." Albert Einstein

abstract map making

My younger son LOVES office supplies.  They are his favorite thing ever and first thing on his birthday wish list.  And out of all office supplies, tape is right at the top.  He has amassed quite a stash of colored tapes and one day I was looking at them all stacked up on his worktable and thought they would be really easy to use to make a great map.

In kindergarten he made a map of his classroom and so was beginning to understand the concept of map making.  For this project I wanted to limit the variables to make it easy for him to produce something beautiful in the end so we talked about making up an imaginary map, rather than mapping something existing.  This would eliminate the measuring as well as the scaling and transferring of reality to drawing.

We looked at some subway maps for inspiration, talking about the need in a map to simplify and to show only the information that is needed, in this case lines going from point A to point B.  We also talked a bit about how how roads (and public transportation lines) need to be simple themselves, to all for efficiency.  So the straighter the better.

We got a large sheet of bristol board, some scissors and all of his tape and spread out on the floor.  Then he just stared at the paper, not sure where to start.  That big blank sheet is intimidating to all ages, I guess.  I told him to choose a color and make a line going from one place to another on the paper, thinking about how that line is a line of travel for someone on a bus or train.  Once he had the first line down, it was easier for him, and he started thinking about all the places he wanted the lines to go.

I had him extend the tape over the edge of the paper onto the floor, to help keep it in place.  I also showed him how to take a roll of tape and hold it next to a line he had already put down to test out the color and placement.  He wanted to use his favorite colors over and over again so we discussed how using the same color in more than one place would be confusing on this type of map.

As the paper started to fill up, I asked him if he thought he was done.  He indicated one corner that was pretty blank and said he felt that there needed to be something there.  He added a few more lines and then we talked again about how maps shouldn’t be too confusing, or show too much information.  And then he decided that it was “done”.

In the end this became more of a lesson in color and composition than map making.  But mapping is such a complex idea I think it is difficult for young kids to grasp all at once.  I like the fact that we were able to talk about very basic map making concepts in relationship to the art he created and that he was able to end up with something beautiful in the end that he absolutely loves.  Personally I think it’s important to set these limits early on, to allow kids to be successful in creating something beautiful.  That way they will want to continue exploring.  Maybe for our next project we’ll walk around our neighborhood and make a map based more on reality.

You can get some colored tape like my son’s here. He also used some japanese washi tape.

Two previous art lessons we embarked on:


Learning to see

studio visit with Annie Larson

Yesterday I visited Annie Larson from ALL knitwear in her beautiful Minneapolis studio.  She is lovely, and kind, and was so generous to give me a demonstration on her knitting machine.  Annie creates the most amazing knits I have ever seen, and the craftsmanship and attention to detail is wonderful.  I came away feeling so inspired.

April color inspiration

I was racking my brain for some spring color inspiration for the SCARFSHOP color of the month and coming up empty.  It is still full on winter here in Minnesota.  And then one day as I was watering my new indoor garden, admiring the subtle blush color on the edge of this succulent, I realized that would be the perfect color.

Coral Chalk in the shop tomorrow, April 1st.

Happy Spring.

Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent

“Nothing is original.  Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.  Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows.  Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul.  If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.  Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.  And don’t bother concealing your thievery-celebrate it if you feel like it.  In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” -Jim Jarmusch

Last fall I received an email from a designer who said she had been alerted to the fact that a piece of clothing I had made and posted images of on flickr was a copy of a piece she had designed.  I was shocked.  I did not know this person or her work.  I took a look at the item she had designed and it was very similar in style and construction, although the two garments looked quite different.  Hers was hand knitted, mine was sewn.  I had not, of course, copied her.  This just isn’t in my make-up.  I told her I hadn’t copied her and apologized profusely for any misunderstanding and pain this had caused her.  I’m not sure she believed me.  Then I wondered what to do.  This item was meant to be part of my fall collection and I had made several of them already.  Ultimately I decided not to make any more.  I sold the ones I had made and moved on.  I think about it though from time to time.  What if I had seen her piece first?  Would she have been the one that had “copied” and had to pull the item?

In architecture school I was taught that criticism was about “the work”, not the designer, and this was very valuable in that it allowed the critique to be very professional.  It wasn’t you, the person, who was being judged, it was the work.  In the case of having your work copied, or being accused of copying someone else’s work, the discussion all of a sudden becomes personal.  It’s about values and morals and people, not about the work itself.

Yesterday I received another email, this time from someone alerting me to a designer who is making something very similar to some work I did last year.  I paused, thinking about my experience.  With the tables now turned, what do I do?  I am assuming that she isn’t aware of my work and this is just a coincidence.  But do I say something, thus coming across as accusing her?  I have no idea how I want to address this.

I have sketchbooks full of sketches, ideas, notes, images and inspiration clippings.  My head is so full of ideas for projects, things I’d like to research and to make, so full of stuff that I wake up at night thinking about it, worrying that there just isn’t enough time for it all.  I don’t want to waste time wondering whether someone copied my work.  I just want to make new things and see where they will take me in my process.

In this time of the internet we are all immersed in images and ideas.  It’s easy to see things, forget them and then have them come back subconsciously.  It’s imperative as a designer to be authentic.  To feel good about yourself and your process, to push boundaries and most of all to create beautiful, interesting and stimulating work.  To take those ideas and inspiration somewhere new and amazing.

setting up shop

Almost a year ago, I started thinking about setting up an online shop to sell my hand dyed scarves.  I had been making a few colors each season to go with my clothing collections and they were always quite popular.  Customers would inquire about past colors and different sizes and I thought it would be great to have an array of colors, all available in several sizes, and all in one spot.  SCARFSHOP opened this past September and I have to say that despite the huge amount of work that went into the planning and preparing, I have enjoyed every moment.  Since I love documenting process so much, I thought it would be interesting to describe the process of setting up the shop.

The Beginning
One of the first things I did was develop a color palette.  This was probably my favorite part overall.  It might seem strange, but I envisioned early on a mosaic of color to display the collection and settled on 16 as a number that was big enough to have a presence as a mosaic but also a manageable number of colors to develop.  I came up with the initial palette based on colors that were popular scarf colors in past collections of my clothing line, colors that I personally love and colors that seemed to be missing once I put the mosaic together.  I posted this to flickr and twitter for feedback and I also created an online survey asking people to rate their top favorites.  The survey was invaluable, not only at this stage but later in stocking the shop.  It allowed me to see at a glance which colors were most popular to least popular in a graph.  From this I changed a few colors and then came up with the final chart.

Then I started developing the dye recipes.  This was the most time consuming part overall.  I initially ordered a small quantity of dye in many many colors, anticipating what I would need to get the colors I wanted.  But Dyeing is very complex.  Some colors didn’t work out how I expected and I had to order more dye.  I won’t go into the technique, but it took hours and hours (really weeks and weeks) to come up with each color mix.  Each color in the collection is mixed from several dye colors and the temperature of the water, dyeing time and fixative can really alter the results.

From the start I was trying to come up with a name for the line of scarves.  This was probably the hardest part of the whole process.  I didn’t want something too cute, or obtuse or clever.  In the end I settled on SCARFSHOP because it seemed the most direct – a shop to sell scarves.  This would also allow for other types of scarves to be added to the line.

During this time I was also thinking about photography, styling and the overall look of the website and brand.  By nature I like things that are quite minimal and modern.  In graphic design I tend to use a sans serif font and lots of white space.  While this type of design would have worked well, it didn’t seem quite right and maybe a bit too safe.  The scarves themselves while simple, are quite organic.  The color is slightly mottled, the edges are raw, and they have a lot of uneven texture.  I started thinking that a serif font, although still a very cleanly designed one, might be a better fit for the product.  After quite a bit of searching, and asking other designer friends on twitter for suggestions, I settled on Didot.

Originally I had thought the logo would just be the name SCARFSHOP, written in the font I chose.  No “logo” to speak of.  But again, it didn’t seem quite right.  A bit too stark.  I started playing around with some simple ideas of incorporating the name into a logo.  One idea was to have the word SCARFSHOP written on a rectangle or circle of color.  Simple but also something that could easily change by changing the color.  When I integrated it into the site design I had started though, the color seemed to fight with all the colors of the scarves.  Grey was the only one that seemed right.  Then I tried a simple sketchy line drawing of a scarf, very tiny on each side of the scarfshop word.  This seemed too busy, but I liked the idea of somehow incorporating a drawing of a scarf.  I decided to really abstract it, making a simple rectangle that could be viewed as a scarf but really just became a geometric that complemented the simple serif font.  I also like the idea that it could change slightly, by filling it in with a color or multiplying the triangle.

Website Design
The idea I had for the design of the website was to have a gallery of images that would change or be added to seasonally.  The gallery would be the main page.  I didn’t want something that seemed slick or “big company” like, but rather something that was down to earth and a bit quirky.  I imagined some images of people wearing scarves supplemented with still images of the scarves, process shots, sketches and inspiration images.  Overall the gallery is to act like a sketchbook or inspiration board might work.  I wanted the images to be viewed all together as well, rather than as individual images, like an inspiration board.  I tried a mosaic layout at first but the images were quite small.  Then I started thinking about a horizontal scrolling site.  I had seen a few of these types of sites lately and they allow for larger images while also letting several images to be viewed together.  I like the dynamic quality too – it gives you an idea of an overall atmosphere rather than focusing on just the product.

I designed what I wanted the site to look like in illustrator, adding a simple collection and about page to the main gallery page, and then asked my friend Mari Huertas to code it for me.  She took this on as a freelance project and was a dream to work with.  Even though the site was simple, I had a not so simple thing I wanted it to do: I wanted the logo to always be centered on differently sized screens, while the images scrolled beneath.  I love how it turned out -simple and dynamic at the same time.

For the main photographs on the website I didn’t want model shots, but rather real people wearing the scarves in different situations.  I have a number of friends who have my scarves and one friend in particular has many of the different colors. I particularly like the fact that she and her boyfriend both wear them.  He happens to be an architect and the two of them travel quite a bit, often taking quirky photos of themselves in different locations.  I asked her if she would be game for taking some photos in different locations wearing the scarves and she agreed.  I supplemented these with still product shots, sketches and inspiration photos.  Since the site launch in the fall I have added a few winter photos and I plan to keep updating each season.

Shop and payment services
Initially I chose Big Cartel to use for my online shop.  I had been using Big Cartel for my clothing line and liked how simple it was to set up and add products to.  It also has a clean design aesthetic that appeals to me.  I looked briefly at another shopping cart platform called Vendr, which has now changed it’s name to Wazala.  I really liked Wazala for the simple fact that the shop page can be integrated as an overlay to your own website.  At that time I decided not to use Wazala for a number of reasons, mainly because I was more familiar with Big Cartel.

Recently I switched to Wazala as they have some features that Big Cartel doesn’t have that I really like: They automatically categorize all your orders into an exportable page, w/ customer name and contact information, they allow multiple options on products (for instance you can offer a product w/ different sizes AND colors, and you can input a change in price for each option) and they offer multiple types of coupons: percentage off, dollar off, coupons for just one product, etc.  The design is also quite simple and easy to integrate into your own website.  I imagine as they grow they will also offer more options for customizing the way the shop looks as well.

I chose Paypal for my payment service provider as customers have the option of paying with a paypal account, a credit card or an e-check.  Paypal also makes it easy to manage and ship orders.

All the extras
Before launching the site I had to make sure I had all of the little details taken care of.  I designed tags that had the logo on one size and fabric content and care on the other and had them printed.  I ordered string and small safety pins to attach the tags to the scarves.  I ordered recycled tissue paper to wrap the scarves in and designed and printed stickers w/ the SCARFSHOP logo on them to fasten the tissue.  I did alot of research into mailing envelopes until finally finding ones that I liked and were relatively economical.  Shipping labels were another research project.  And I chose the good old US post office for shipping, as they are the most economical, will pick up at my door (except international) and you can easily pay and print labels using Paypal.

Once the site was ready to launch, and I had the shop stocked, I set up a mailing list on Mailchimp and started a twitter account.  Then I wrote a simple press release.  This was just one page describing the scarves, the process of how they are made and a few images of the collection.  I sent this out to a few friends and a few design bloggers and then I launched the site.  The response was pretty incredible.  A few design blogs wrote about it and from there word just spread around the internet.  People started signing up for the mailing list and following @scarf_shop on twitter.

To make sure that it doesn’t become stagnant I plan to add to the collection as time goes on.  Over the winter holiday I introduced a wool jersey scarf and that will return next winter.  I recently introduced the “color of the month” which is a special color inspired by that particular month and only available for that time period.  Linen scarves will be coming soon, as well as a line of very light, square sized printed scarves.

Thank You
I have been steadily busy with orders since the site opened in September and I have to say I have loved every minute.  I really enjoy the dyeing process, I love getting emails from customers telling me how they wear their scarves and I smile as I pack up orders going to places all over the world.  I am really grateful to everyone who has purchased a scarf, loved it and told their friends about SCARFSHOP.

I wanted to show you

I love small books and murky dark colors.  And of course polaroids.  I purchased this little book a while back and fell in love with not only the images inside, but the book itself.  It’s such a simple format -the small, square shape, nice textured paper and simple pamphlet binding.  I am currently teaching a portfolio design class at the U of M and plan to show this to my students.

Along with the book, Tara sent me this original polaroid of tall trees, showing mostly their trunks.  I love the proportion of dense stands of trees with really tall trunks.

You can purchase your own copy of the book here.

wool wood and leather

Corten Dress + wood facet necklace(fir) : U N f/w piece collection

For my fall collection I’ve been working quite a bit with different kinds of wool: wool jersey, wool fleece and roving.  I’m also working with leather (belts!)  and wood!  It’s been exciting trying out different materials and techniques.  Feels a bit like alchemy with all the dying and felting (and even some burning) going on.

I will  have some of my new fall collection in the U N shop in the next few weeks.  And my annual fall trunkshow with the entire collection at Gallery 360 here in Minneapolis will be the third week of October.

Also,  SCARFSHOP is set to open this coming Tuesday, September 28th.  finally!


I’ve had textile and pattern design on the brain lately for another project I’m working on.  I thought I would compile some of the patterns/textiles I’ve designed to see how they look as a group and to see if I can see any cohesion.

I’m really enjoying seeing the fabric patterns Jennifer from Ermie has been developing, especially the magic marker print.

Karen Barbe is a textile designer from Chile whose blog I recently stumbled across.  I really like the range of materials she is exploring.  These woven bands are really beautiful.

slowing down

This weekend we went camping with some friends just north of Stillwater, MN along the St. Croix River.  I got home from teaching about 7pm on Friday evening, we loaded up the car and headed out very early Saturday morning.  My head was still full of projects at home and the assignment my students were working on.  I had some readings I needed to review for class.  I felt agitated to be leaving my work.  The camping spot is just an hour away from home so there was no period of adjustment.  We were in the city and then we were in the woods.  Luckily it feels very remote.

There is something very calming about camping.  It is so controlled.  You bring the minimal amount of things you will need: one fork, one plate, one cup, one pot.  You set everything out in it’s place.  You build a fire to cook on, you cook your meal, you eat it, you clean up.  And all of this becomes the major activity of the moment, not something that needs to be done before you can go on to the major activity.

Saturday evening I was washing the dishes and I had one of those moments where you are very aware of what you are doing.  I had to heat the water, mix it with some cold in a tiny basin and then wash each dish individually, rinse it with a spray of water from my water bottle and set it on a towel before starting the next dish.  It was slow and methodical and I realized I didn’t feel annoyed by this.  I wasn’t thinking about anything except the beautiful evening light on the water in the basin and how the colored spoons looked as I wiped them.


handknit (wool, alpaca, acrylic, cotton) fawn + rust hat from UN f/w 2010 piece collection

piece -one of the parts that, when assembled, form a whole.

Where a collection begins for me is always different.  There might be a color palette, photograph, or piece of fabric that sparks an idea and then the collection builds from there.  At a certain point there is a more defined idea, sometimes with a title, that helps me continue developing the overall body of work.  This fall I had been planning on scaling down the number of items that I normally produce for a collection because I wanted to focus on getting a season ahead -working on a more developed collection for next year so that I could align myself better for the wholesale market.

I had a few ideas of pieces I wanted to make, but not an overall concept.  I kept thinking about these individual pieces, and leftover materials I had, and the idea of “using up” and zero waste.  I tried to look at what I had and let it dictate what I would make.  And also, most importantly, I pushed the process of just making and responding to what I made and moving forward from there.  I decided to have faith that everything would come together to form a “collection”.  So that is how I’ve been working.  And I’m excited about these “pieces” and this way of working.

I hope to show you rest of the collection soon.

loop vest from UN f/w 2010 piece collection

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