Bits & Pieces

Exploring the Need to “Assemble” 

Strange how I love to sew pieces of fabric into quilts, glue scraps of paper into collages and weave bits of writing into a whole. I even love the idea of cementing colorful tiles into mosaics, which is on my list of things to try. Oh, and there’s the way I draw objects broken out into segments when “painting” with metallic gel pens. This gathering/curating and assembling brings me great joy. The feel of scissors cutting out the intricate lines of a gorgeous flower or Dior embroidered gown makes me smile. Content.

In 2006, when Brent and I were planning to move, I looked at my stack of Architectural Digest, Traditional Home, Southern Living, and Oprah magazine, and realized it’d be easier to save only the articles that interested me. So I spent hours going through the magazines, cutting out articles and graphics and photos.

I tossed the pieces into a cloth bound box until it filled up. I then sorted the pieces into categories (background, furniture, florals, family, text, art & architecture, smalls) and dropped them into plastic sleeves in ring-three binders. When the collection continued to grow over the years, the pieces went into more cloth-bound boxes.

Cloth-bound boxes and binders for sorting my collage cut-outs.

I soon fell in love with glue tape by Scotch. You just run the glue around the edges of your image and lay it down. No mess, no fuss. I buy refills when they’re on sale, or buy other brands when they’re on sale.

A peek into the box of  “Furniture” clippings.

Charlotte Moss extolls the benefits of collaging in her book Charlotte Moss A Visual Life: Scrapbooks, Collages, and Inspirations. The book is over-sized and includes examples of her collage pages, built from tidbits picked up in her travels around the world, plus photographs she’s taken. Charlotte includes a resource section at the back of the book and she reveals her source for the gorgeous books she fills: Vogel Bindery in East Hampton.

The books look impressive, lined up on shelves in her home, as shown below. How expensive can they be? Maybe I could splurge a little.

Charlotte Moss’ bespoke collaging scrapbooks.

So I emailed Paul Vogel through his website, asking about the process of putting the books together, and the costs. Here’s his emailed response, dated 12/31/14:

Hi Cindi,

The full leather 14 x 11 bindings are approx. $1000 each, this includes the gold tooling. Personalized images are additional, the brass dies can be made from any black and white artwork you supply.

Please contact me with any additional questions. Happy New Year, Paul

Vogel Bindery, 30 Blue Jay Way, East Hampton, NY 11937, Tel. 631.329.3106,

Well, $1,000 per binder is quite a splurge. So I went to Jenni Bick Bookbinding and ordered the antique leather Italian library journal below with ecru pages, 10 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches. 

Jenni Bick’s Italian leather journal (10 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches).

It’s not a ring binder so pasting in  paper causes the book to bulge, but I started constructing collages across the 2-page spreads, enjoying the exercise of fitting and layering them into visually interesting patterns.Most intriguing to me is that they hold no real purpose except to please my eye.

2-page spread: Red/Blue/Gold-themed collage.

2-Page Spread: My daughter’s family after Ella’s birth in 2015: Jaime, Sven, Dylan & Ella.

2-Page Spread: Lime green-inspired collage.

Another fun book devoted to collage is Gloria Vanderbilt Book of Collage published in 1970. Most of the interior pages are in black and white, but that’s okay, you still get a feel for the composition of the collages. Photos of the old rambling home they bought and restored in East Hampton show long curtains made of crazy quilts. Quilts were everywhere, even on the ceiling and hanging behind headboards. Even made into long skirts.

We learn much about Gloria and her family written in her own voice. And even in the words of her husband, Wyatt Cooper, a Mississippi-born writer, who wrote the foreword. Gloria’s story of being the poor little rich girl riveted the American public in the 30s when her aunt fought her mother for custody… and won. Plus, I love Anderson Cooper and miss him terribly now that we no longer have television.

Gloria’s projects with gingham and lace are dated, but maybe that’s why I like it. It reminds me of the crafts my mom did when I was a child.

I’ve even tried collaging using Photoshop. My son James is a semi-professional skateboarder living in St. Pete, FL, and his Facebook posts feature unique images he takes while on the street (or from his magazine features like the one in the top right corner) and his own funny sayings. He also has a tendency to piece things together, as illustrated by the snippet of his bulletin board in the lower right corner. Below you can see how I digitally mashed up his FB images.

Photoshop collage of James’ street photos, his own collages and magazine spread.

As for quilting, there’s not enough time! Last year I made a cathedral quilt. It was mostly folding and ironing each white segment into shape, then hand-sewing the colorful “window” into each segment. A couple of Christmases ago, I made lap-sized quilts for my Mom and Dad with photos of all the grandchildren transferred on. My work is not professional, that will come with time and practice… which means after I retire, most likely!

I recently completed a lap-sized quilt of flannel for UMOM, a non-profit that houses homeless mothers and children and assists them with getting back on their feet.

Have I ever tiled anything? No. But I want to. Back in 2008, Brent brought home many large sample boards with tiles affixed to them, the kind you find in tile stores showing the various designs and patterns, edges, corners, etc. He found them next to the dumpster behind his office where their neighboring business, a home decor company, had disposed of them.

A sampling of varied tiles for future mosaic projects.

I spent several hours prying each tile piece, no matter its size, from those boards using a screwdriver and a hammer. Some broke, but most came away intact. I sorted them into boxes and tubs according to material and size. There were stone, terra cotta, glass, ceramic, porcelain of every shape. I was in heaven dreaming of the table top mosaics or flower pot mosaics or frames for mirrors, etc., that Brent and I would make.

We’ve been in our new house for nearly two years and haven’t done anything with the tiles, though boxes with my favorite tiles are safely tucked into the bottom of my studio closet. Last summer, I pulled them out and spread the tiles over the floor, checking first one composition then another, much like compiling shapes and colors for paper collages, or pieces of fabric for a quilt. Brent wants to make mosaic items, too, so experimenting with designs is definitely in our future.

Something compels me to draw objects broken out into pieces. Love using metallic gel pens with fine tips (Pentel Slicci .8 mm are the best, though the colors are limited). Here’s an example of a gel pen “painting” inspired by Van Gogh’s Irises and Mattise’s colorful interiors.

Van Gosh-inspired gel ink pen drawing/painting 18″ x 24″.

Pieces of fabric. Paper cut-outs. Decorative tile. Alone they’re fine, but when assembled with thought, they can express beauty and enlightenment. I wrote my book Poverty and Promise: One Volunteer’s Experience of Kenya as blog posts while living in Kenya. My goal was to write every week, posting as many topics as possible, and including photos. People would say, “You should write a book,” and so I did. Piece by piece, post by post.

In fact, many posts weren’t included in the published book, simply because they didn’t fit into the narrative thread. Those posts have been sitting on a CD, stored in a CD holder for 10 years now. I’m going to unwrap that gift from the past and see if/where those words can be used today.

Pieces. When put together thoughtfully, they can add up to something mighty.

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Cindi Brown


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