Defining the Essential

Defining the Essential

When I was a little girl, we used to go shopping at this one department store. In those days, going shopping with my mother was a special occasion of sorts, and for times such as these, we dressed up. Mary Jane party shoes and party dresses were the attire...Dresses with petticoats and wide bows behind the back, hair curled and fastened with with satin or grosgrain ribbons. I remember even now how beautiful my mother looked to me back then when she dressed to go shopping.

Visiting the fancy department store also meant going out to lunch in the store’s upstairs "Lotus Tea Room".  Upstairs was also where they had special events and activities, and I think this was where we assembled each year for the beloved Santa photos, as well. This one below was before my sister was born as I clearly remember her crying through the ones of us with her with us in later years.

I can barely recall being upstairs one time at a very young age, and having to stand very very still, while a woman, delicate sharp scissors in hand, carefully cut a silhouette of my brother and my four year old self, creating a lovely papercut image of that place and time, and so perfectly encapsulating those faint memories into something visible and tangible in a way even more perfectly than simply an old photograph.

I look at this image now and I think how amazing it was how the artist was able to just cut it freestyle right then and there on the spot as we stood before her eyes, capturing the essence of my brother and I, side by side, as well as the elements of the clothing such as the smocked dress with its starched white PeterPan collar and puffy sleeves that  I remember oh so well.  It is evident even now, that this portrait artist was a skilled craftsperson with a perceptive eye as well as precise cutting skills. 

I remember liking these hand cut images, as well as the childhood silhouettes of my mother and her brother in my grandmother’s home. My mother also loved Scandinavian papercuts and would hang them in our windows. There was a Danish shop in our town that had a lovely selection of them which were made from a heavier paper with images of flowers and birds each packaged in a cellophane envelope.  I loved visiting the shop with my mother, and seeing the array of them displayed in the windows. She would carefully choose one and we would enjoy the sight of it hanging in the window for some time after as they brightened the view.

I continued to fancy silhouettes, and in high school I used to frequent the tiniest little shop that hardly had room to walk around called Tomnoddy Fair, filled to the brim with all sorts of little treasures. I especially liked the little packages of gummed stickers, as well as sheets of antique seals you had to cut or tear apart. I remember being excited in this little shop when I spotted packets of little miniature silhouette seals. 

Thinking on this, I managed to find some of those old seals in a covered cigar box in my collections of keepsakes that have endured the years.  I also found some of the treasured little squirrel seals that I also remember finding at Tomnoddy Fair, which I used to save and use quite sparingly as I only had a small handful of them that had come in a teeny tiny box. I recollect having an ample supply of the silhouette seals and using them profusely on letters and in my camp photo albums which I loved putting together, predating what we now call scrapbooking.

Silhouettes continued to capture my interest, and eventually when back east visiting my husband’s relatives, I spotted a large papercut in a little shop in Pennsylvania. I hadn't ever seen anything quite like it. It reminded me of the silhouette paper cuts that I had always liked, but it was larger, cut from parchment and tinted with watercolor, and filled with elaborate images of animals and wildlife.  They referred to the framed pieces as examples of Scherenschnitte, founded in Switzerland and brought to the United States in the 1800’s. Below is an example by Pamela Dalton that reminds me of the ones I saw that day long ago in the Pennsylvania gift shop.

A few years later, after The Net Loft was started, I spotted some paper crafting booklets at a trade show. Some were similar to the Danish Designs like the ones my mother used to hang in the window, and others were simplified versions of the style of images I had spotted in the shop in Pennsylvania.  I started carrying them in the shop, and learned how to create several pieces. I found paper cutting to be a calming craft amidst my growing family of small children, but as life got busy, although I still loved the craft, there was only so much time, and my cutting time fell by the wayside. I found an old one of the window hangings I had made, stained and faded, wedged between pages of an old cookbook, I am guessing to be from twenty five or so years ago, a simple, yet sweet design, in thoughts of my older son Matthew who loved climbing and spending time in the treetops. 


A few years ago, when I began a pinterest page, I began seeing some wonderful paper cutting images, and it brought back my paper cutting memories. It was exciting to see how the designs had evolved and I was fascinated by the beauty and artistry, often multidimensional.  I began following some of the artists on instagram and enjoyed watching the photographs of their work appear in my feed.  

As I first began brainstorming for FisherFolk, one particular artist, Annie Howe, released a photo on her instagram feed with a fishing boat off in the corner and forested mountains in the distance, and it set me thinking.

I thought to myself that I wished I could have a papercut image with boats and fishing, but mixed up with yarn, plus I also loved the floral images she integrated, and some  mushrooms and ferns, as well as fish that I liked, so I thought, why not mix in my favorite Cordova woodland and seaside surroundings into a composition that would reflect our region and our knitting.

As stated in my previous post, for every idea, there is a person.  It is one thing to have an idea, but it takes a person to bring an idea to life.  I began reading and viewing more of Annie's work, and the more I saw, the more I knew she was potentially the right person.  The key would be if she took commissions AND if she would be interested in taking this one on AND if we could fit into her full schedule and have it done in time.

In January of 2015, I wrote to Annie, proposed my idea, and waited to hear back.  Her answer was yes, and she gave me the information on commissions.  Life got busy, and a year later I was ready to initiate the commission and she was willing to take on the project after she finished some other projects. We went back and forth with ideas and plans, including her rough sketches, and then, one day in March, I received an email with a photo of the image and I was so happy. She sent me a quick view of the cutting, unframed and laying on some planks of wood.

The image was beyond my expectations.  It had combined all of the elements into one cohesive design. Lupine, blueberries,  Queen Anne's Lace, knitting needles and yarn, ribbons, rope, ferns and forests, fish and fishing boats, and of course, our dear gansey.

My hope was to take the image and use on totes, and there was no time to lose, I quickly sent off the image to be screened on bags that would be ready in time to have for FisherFolk. 

 The image also made it in time to be made into a knitting needle gauge which was hung on the waxed canvas tote bags of the FIsherFolk attendees and we had more made up so they would also be available for purchasing in our online store, HERE, also a great gift and includes the smaller sizes and half sizes, perfect for the gansey knitter.

Printed copies would be used to generate funds to help finance the Moray Firth Project. I was able to use the negative and positive images to create two different versions.  The light image version may  be tinted for those interested in hand coloring before framing. These and the bags are available for purchase on our online store and make wonderful gifts as well.

My papercutting silhouette history had found a home with Annie Howe's Cordova, Alaska design. If you look closely there are many elements that reflect our local environment and lifestyle.

Annie also cut for us these sweet little pair of sheep, that Melina Meyer used for creating the hand cut stamp which we used to print on the linen bags filled with our Shawn the Sheep project, but that is another story for another day... and until then, thank you Annie Howe for your contribution and paper cutting skills that came to fruition in your Follow the Fish, Follow the Knitting  piece. You were the person who brought this idea to life in a most wonderful way, and for that I am grateful. I would love to have Annie come to Alaska one day and teach some classes. We'll have to see about that....

I had this one last thought....

I think it is interesting that in papercuts there is this intentional process of elimination that eventually unveils the design, and the taking away of that which is not important reveals that which defines the essential,

and in doing so,

the loveliness appears.

A thought to ponder.

Until next time... Hope you are having a pleasant season of holiday favorite part of this time of year. After reminicing, I may even be inspired to do just a bit of papercutting again.  That would surely be fun, don't you think?


LINK to next Chapter.

For more information on Annie Howe Papercuts, her website is:

Pamela Dalton - Scherenschnitte Designs

Brother/Sister standing Silhouette by Merle Prince Silhouettes

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1 comment

Thank you Dottie for this back story. It makes my special bag from the Net Loft all the more meaningful.

Carolyn Wuttke

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