Close-ups (mittens)

Mitten (n.) A covering for the hand, worn to defend it from cold or injury. It differs from a glove in not having a separate sheath for each finger. 

 Even though Spring is around the corner, we still have cold snowy weather. Here are some mittens that have appeared in some of my pictures, starting with a detail from the tempera painting “Laplander”, which you can see here. Then there’s a boy with red mittens holding a kitten from You and Me:Poems of Friendship. The cozy father and daughter scene is from In the Heart, where red mittens as well as hearts show up throughout the book. The balsam pillow and felt purse projects are from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: Enchanting Projects. Last is a boy dressed for winter from Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, which will be published in September. 

detail from “Laplander” 1977

detail from “You and Me: Poems of Friendship” 1997

detail from “In the Heart” 2001

detail from the balsam pillow in “Felt Wee Folk” 2003

felt purse from “Felt Wee Folk” 2003

detail from “Pocketful of Posies” 2010

Note: See other posts in the Close-ups series archive here.

Costume Party!

This story was first posted on Beth Curtin’s wonderful blog, Acorn Pies. She has some great project ideas for children. Beth asked me to be a guest contributor and write something on the subject of encouraging creativity in children. I decided to focus on play acting as a way for children to use their imaginations. Here, I share some memories and photographs of my sons’ pirate-themed birthday parties. Thank you, Beth, for the invitation to talk about children and creativity!

When I was a child in the 1950’s, we had a wooden chest full of “dress-ups” that included old clothes and costumes that my mother made. I remember different colored Snow White dresses that she made from this McCall’s pattern.


I continued this tradition with my own children and our dress-up box was a hit when friends came over to play. We had an eclectic pile of capes, belts, scarves and head-gear that would go together in any number of combinations. The children would spend a long time adorning themselves and then run around playing inside and out. When they were three years old, my son Ian and his friend Sam made monster masks. They would pull them down over their angelic faces, scream and growl, and then lift them up and laugh.

For the boys’ birthdays, we had our share of bowling parties and trips to the go-cart track, but the most memorable birthdays were the themed parties that were linked to a familiar story. In the late 80’s, we had several costume parties when the boys were ages 5 to 8, when kids are willing to dress up and engage in fantasy play.

Legendary characters, like Pirates were the inspiration for our parties. The stories surrounding these compelling characters could easily be translated into party activities and their exciting outlaw image was an added attraction. The boys would draw and write out their own invitations, asking their friends to come in costume.

It is advantageous to have a warm weather birthday for these parties, although we did have a Pirate party in February, complete with a make-shift pirate ship in the yard. We devised a raised, plywood floor, propped up on tree logs and added a boarding ramp. All it needed was a mast to fly a pirate flag.

For another pirate party, this time in July, the children came ready to participate.


Here they are, waiting for the pirate ship, with their cardboard telescopes.

They arrived at the island, where a bottle washed up into the shallow water off the beach and inside was a treasure map!

They followed the clues on the map and found the treasure chest full of goodies, including water pistols.

Looking back at the pictures, the life of our children looks so much simpler and not as commercial as today. We did work hard to keep our home life uncomplicated and creative. I’m sure that my mother would say the same thing about my childhood 30 years earlier. Young children are developing their imaginations and we as a society need to nurture this, but at the same time be aware of how impressionable they are. I think that being exposed to the same commercial images over and over, no matter how compelling or beautiful, stops children from seeing in their mind’s eye what something or someone looks and acts like. Even the McCall costume pattern, which was copyrighted 1938 by Disney, shows a clear connection to the animated movie that we have come to think of as the classic rendition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, even though the story is centuries old. As for pirates, the brilliant Johnny Depp has forever imprinted his depiction in our minds. I’m not sure how to keep a child’s imagination alive, but I think that giving them an opportunity to create characters of their own, whether through art or play acting can make a difference for some and help them imagine new possibilities in the future.

In an earlier post, I’ve shared pictures of our Robinhood Party, here.

Treasures (red hat couple)

This eccentric pair belonged to my grandmother. The butterfly catcher and the lady with the mushroom hat are about 4″ tall, with hollow crocheted skirts to make them stand. I have no idea where they were made, but they look German or Scandinavian. His glasses and butterfly net and her wood-handled umbrella are remarkable details. I love their sculped fabric faces, even ears on the man!

Lithographs 1977

In art school, I took printmaking classes and especially liked lithography. I can’t remember all the details of how the process works, but this printing technique involves drawing with a greasy crayon or painting an oily black liquid on lime stone. Then the stone surface is treated somehow so that when ink is rolled on, it just sticks to the drawing. Then wet paper is placed on the stone, which is put through a press.    

"One More Year" hand colored lithograph 1977

During this period, in 1977, I was experimenting with my drawing style and intentionally trying to move away from realism, toward a more spontaneous and playful way of working. I wanted to make images that were as fresh and uninhibited as a child’s drawing. This print of a birthday party was  drawn with my left hand so that I wouldn’t easily slip into “trained artist” mode. The lithograph was printed in black and then I hand painted each one. Unable to stop the urge to collage, I added dot stickers to the table-cloth.    

detail of "One More Year"

I made a series of play themed prints in black and white, enjoying the ability to make shades of gray on the lime stone. I didn’t continue with more advanced classes, where I would have learned about color printing and registration.   

"Playing" lithograph 1977

detail from "Playing" lithograph 1977

'Life Drawing" lithograph 1977

detail from "Life Drawing" lithograph 1977

I tried a new image transfer technique using xerox copies and incorporated some pictures of musical instruments. Looking at these prints, I can remember the feel of the cool, smooth lime stone and the satisfaction of peeling back the damp rag paper, revealing a mirror image of my work.  

detail from "Music Play" lithograph 1977

detail from "Music Play" lithograph 1977