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My Weekend With the Clothespin People

This has been a busy, busy week. Actually, its been work work work since I returned from Quilt Market in Houston (I was there to promote my book, due out in March) working on two new fabric lines set to launch in the spring, both of which were due before I left. I had finished the first (for Kokka) and was well on my way to submitting the second (for Westminster) when I decided to tweak it just a tiny bit, to add a print or two more that would really "pull it all together", promising myself it would only take a few extra hours of my time, and now here I find myself,  five days later, with guests on their way and nothing done.

How, you might be asking, did I wander so far off track? Simple. I was led astray by an odd and dandy tribe known simply as the Clothespin People. My diary of this cultural experience as well as some insight into what I like to think of as my productive if not alarmingly tangential creative process reads below. 


My Birthday! large box of incredible swiss chocolates have just arrived by morning delivery from C & J, am so quick to start inhaling them that I assume they are from TC and do not read the card. Must focus and tweak Westminster line, which is looking like it wants to be developed from a "sewing and crafts" theme into a full blown "Odd Church Basement Craft Bazaar Upstate" collection, but must make it quick as it is due. Will try adding a sheep print (rare breeds bred for their wool) and maybe something simple and tiny. knitting needles aren't working. maybe I will try clothespins. Must Google clothespins. Vintage or modern? Plastic or wooden? Colored or not? Eat more chocolates and call my sister, who is also having a birthday today and is therefore the only one in the family that I remember to call. I am halfway through my first draft, which is so boring that I have to go back upstairs and get one more chocolate. see for yourself:


O Dear, so dull. Maybe I should look to vintage clothespins? OOO, this is nice:

TC calls from train on his way back from Washington, and when thanked for the chocolates he tells me they are not from him, which means I have to rummage through the recycling to find the card (the beautiful packaging is already on my inspiration board, those swiss sure know how to get the color green right) that came with the chocolates, but on my way past the computer I see that my search has turned up these two images:


Out walking the dog in the freezing a.m. and begin thinking of clothespin people. Would it be gettable? Confusing? Tacky? Craft Bazaar, certainly, but what would you do with it? The fabric I mean... Am so distracted by voices in head that I leave the leash on the dog when I get home because I go straight to my drawings and only realize it when I hear him coming down the stairs loudly dragging it behind him.  I spend five minutes untangling him and pondering my potential as a fit parent, then get distracted again and go back to drawing little outfits on my clothespins. 


A day off from drawing and spent at the newish Elizabeth Peyton show at the New Museum and lunch with Alli and Denyse trying not to think about clothespins. Still, I realize during my day away that I have become quite attached to my little clothespin people, and look forward to coming home to them. I have begun to think of them as a band of pluckish little pioneers, all full of hope in their long skirts and braids and startled smiles. I can picture them carrying water and driving oxen, knitting warm hats as they move westward in their little wagon train, towards the arduous mountain passes that have tested clothespin people before them, until they huddled cold and shivering, eyeing one anther's brittle little legs as the last of the firewood is exhausted... OK wait stay on a cheerful track here... Perhaps dancing in groups, swinging one another around on those little cocked pipe-cleaner arms. I and am determined to finish them and to introduce them to everyone as a part of my little collection of new prints, which I can see now has been rounded out because of them. I already love them. I am prepared to defend them. And to dress them. Now they look like this:


Sent clothespin people to those who will really tell me what they think, my sister and Brooke, and also to my husband, who will likely think of something funny to say about them and tell me that I am a genius, which usually counterbalances whatever honest critiques I get elsewhere. Also to Denyse because they will make her smile and its Monday. My first response is from Brooke, who thinks they look like little naked mannequins. I am almost ready to defend my little nude clothespins against her obviously extreme views when an email comes through from my sister. She thinks they look like "little nude wooden people". Now I really have to consider this. Westminster is pretty liberal with its designers in terms of creative license, but I am pretty sure nudity is out. A third and R rated email from TC confirms the success of my foray into clothespin _orn. Not since my first day in life drawing am I blushing like this. I also need to rethink the layout and remember loving Andy Warhol's shoe print.... which I am able to find online and compare. Yes, that's better. Here is my next try:

Emails from the council agree, its better, but almost everybody thinks its better without the people. Brooke suggests killing them. I know she means it as an editing term but I am suddenly fiercely protective. I get the attention of my little clothespin family and yell at them to gather up their little prairie skirts and circle the wagons, because we have six months of uncharted territory ahead of us, and as usual, not everybody will know what to think of us. Plus we have to convince Westminster that they should allow me to make this one a border print, with the little people along the selvedge (see top image). This means that the sales reps will have to drag around a sample that is the extra big and cumbersome. They are going to love that.

Am nowhere near done, one year older, and not at all prepared for Thanksgiving.

And somehow, during my accidental process, I managed to miss the loveliest example of clothespin civilization out there, which is led by Sarah Neuberger at  The Small Object. I have seen her cake toppers before, but did not make the clothespin connection! Here are a few of my favorites, but I highly recommend going to get some chocolates or a coffee and looking at each and every one of them. She has a blog too. And look! KITS!

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Reader Comments (28)

Oh my.....that is so cute! I don't know how you come up with these ideas! I'm incredibly jealous! :)

November 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKristin

Love! And your tale of obsession is hilarious. What if you had the people hanging up clothes on a line to dry? Is that too meta? I'm also seeing a laundry-flappin-in-the-breeze print with nice swoopy widthwise lines.

Happy late birthday Heather!

November 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKim

I'm so happy that you have a blog! Could you please go back and write something about each and every one of your previous designs? Pretty please? No?
This is like thumbing through an artist's sketchbook, but with her standing there and explaining every page. Heaven!
Happy belated birthday!

November 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterkelly

ohhh, i like the clothespin people, but I LOVE everything you do.

November 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commenternettie

I love reading your blog - it is so funny and always creative. I love the little "naked" clothespins :-)

November 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Now when I said "kill them".. I meant it in the nicest way possible!

I think a border print would be amazing.. the best of both worlds.

November 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke

I know, Brooke! It was such an editor moment, though, no?

November 27, 2008 | Registered CommenterHeather Ross

What a great post - I loved the unfolding story of the clothes pin people. And how an idea can consume us so much! For me, I love the clothes pin and clothespin people designs and can't wait to see them in fabric. You have an exceptional talent for taking a small every day image and creating wonderful textile designs with such a playful spirit. I just knew you would be inspired by Sarah at The Small Object - maybe one day you could create something together! Happy Days! Denise.

November 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

you have the most adorable way to describe the highs and lows of inspiration. :)

November 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdelphine

I read the WHOLE post and it was great! I am loving the little people and am having new project ideas. UH OH.

Happy belated Birthday!

November 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPatricia

Happy birthday. What a great little peek into your genius mind! I love the people and the clothespin _orn!

November 28, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlynne

I didn't see them as naked wooden people, but perhaps that's my lack of imagination. I am in love with them too! I want the fabric, especially since it's a BORDER PRINT! I also want to know the whole history of the clothespin tribe. Can't wait for that book, Heather...

November 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDenyse

Interesting and beautiful post! And Happy Birthday!

November 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLecia

We love creativity. Never thought clothespins could make us so happy! Wonderful things, aren't they?

November 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWeddings on the Strand

I love your clothespin people. Would it work for you to do a striped print design, maybe alternating clothespin dolls and just clothespins?

November 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteralison

I loved this post - totally cracked me up! I'd love to send one of our Clothespin People kits your way if you'd kindly forward a mailing address.
Kind regards,
Robert Mahar

December 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Mahar

What a wonderful laugh I had reading this post.

December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen

Heather! this is a wonderful story and what an adorable print! Can' t wait to have it at purl!

December 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjoelle

I didn't see the naked people either. :)

December 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

don't kill the people completely!!!!!!!!

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Elizabeth

this is such a fantastic story... by the end i too am terribly attached to the clothespin people, and am hoping for their survival in border print form or elsewhere!

December 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteramisha

how cool are you? I've seen people selling your fabric on Etsy, and decided to Google today. I'm a NorCal girl myself, and the Mendocino line is amazing. You totally captured it! We're having a baby in December, and don't know the gender yet. We'd already decided on a maritime feel if it's a little boy, but were so stumped if it's a little girl... we wanted water/ocean themes, and I'm going to use those mermaid prints! I've already decided, just like that.

It is SO cool and refreshing how you post about your lines, and the ideas behind them. You're linked on my blog for sure! (Not that a whole lot of people read it, but you know. It's the thought that counts.)

June 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChelsea

I hope you kept the sheep... My sister raises rare and ancient breed shetland sheep. It will be great to have a chance to use soem of that in a quilt for her. Or make her a knit holder thingy!
Can't Wait!

September 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrachel

Oh, I laughed until I cried about this one.

October 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

Here I am on my own search for clothespin people and finding this! My task is different but also critical. Did you do it- keep them alive and dancing? Worth circling the wagon for no doubt!

October 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRae Grant

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