08 March 2011

Ida Pearle: Mary Frances of This is Marzipan

When I first had this idea for Once Upon a Thread, I began approaching fellow bloggers whose work I admired to see if they would be interested in joining.  When I told Meg of Elsie Marley about it, she thought I ought to ask Mary Frances, who had already made some children's literature inspired clothing items, such as this picturesque little suit:
Oh, I knew then that I wanted her to come play.  Her style is simple and understated.  I love how she dresses her two boys, it makes me think we need to add one of those to our giggling gaggle of girls over here.  Her photo styling is also a pleasure to look at, sometimes a blurry shot of her boys racing by, or the unique angles, or simple, yet stunning subject matter.
She also does more than just boys clothes.  
Hop over to her blog and take a peak, after, of course, 
you enjoy her project here.  
Welcome, Mary Frances:

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Hello, no big dill readers, and thanks so much to Katy for having me here for Once Upon a Thread!

I am a big fan of artfully illustrated alphabet books. And Ida Pearle's A Child's Day: an alphabet of play (Harcourt, 2008) is just that: a work of art--and an inspiration for my sewing, to boot!
The 26 letters are each represented by a single, joyful, word and one of Ida Pearle's well-loved cut-paper collages. Children dance through the pages in different forms of creative play: Catch, Dance, Yell, and more. 

ida pearle pages.

My mind buzzes every time I page through this book--the combinations of pattern and color, the simple-yet-creative “cut” of the clothes, the implications of texture and light all draw me toward my sewing machine with ideas for bringing paper to life in my kids' wardrobe. Below, I'll share some of the outfits I've made inspired by particular pages of A Child's Day, but I want to emphasize that you can take an “Ida Pearle-esque” approach to making clothes for your kids without needing to replicate her works exactly. In fact, it would be impossible to do that, since her materials--Coloraid and origami papers--don't have exact analogues in fabric. So, this is a good way to exercise your own creative muscles even as you draw a “feel” from a particular book or artist (other amazing sewists have taken this kind of approach even farther: check out Blair's quilt the in mode of Goodnight Moon). Remember that the name of the game is play--“winging it” can only lead to flying, right?

ida pearle pages.
Start with a simple template
There are scores of great tutorials and inspirations for making simple children's clothing running around the crafty blog world. Here are a few of my favorite sources; page through the kids' clothes categories of any of these blogs for the starting point for your own play with one of Ida Pearle's scenes:
  • MADE : I use the 90-minute shirt method for Catch below; Dana also has great basic pants tutorials--and loads more!
  • The lovely Katy Dill! I think her pants-to-jumper refashion (full tutorial guest blogged here) would be an excellent match for an Ida Pearle-esque project.
  • Meg at elsie marley is a big source of "must copy that!" for me--her Once Upon a Thread submission, the Dot tunic reminds me a lot of the front cover dress for A Child's Day, don't you think?
  • Trula, light blue grey, and Made by Rae are other faves; vintage kids' patterns can also be a good template for this kind of clean, cleassic look.
  • Finally, pop on over to this is marzipan, where I share a tutorial for the boy's bias tape tunic I use in the shots below!
Combine colors and patterns creatively
Like a lot of us (I think?), I have a hard time dressing myself in a way that won't embarrass my husband, let alone combining fabrics for sewing projects. So studying Ida Pearle's work has been really eye-opening: I would never have thought of combining light blue and yellow with orange, as she does so beautifully in Skate, or putting pink into an outfit for a boy, as she does in Catch (see my interpretation of that page below).

  • The solids from these pages could be drawn from any number of fabric sources: knits, wovens, linens, corduroys. I am big fan of repurposing old adult clothes (again, the MADE tutorials are a great place to start if you've never done this before).
  • After spending some time studying Ida Pearle's collages, I feel like the best analogues for the patterns she uses are geometric/striped, Asian or other ethnic, or “modern” fabric prints--although you could certainly use florals or novelty/kid-type prints, you won't find many of these in An Alphabet of Play. Check out Moda's designer lines and the basics/stripes at Superbuzzy for some starting places. 
  • And, I have "Experiment with fabric prints and paints" on the to-do list for future alphabet of play projects--doesn't Yell just beg for it?
Wear them everyday
The beauty of these outfits is that they are the kind of clothing your kids can wear to play in every day. No one will stop you on the street to ask you breathlessly “Is that the letter J outfit from the Ida Pearle book??”, but hey, you aren't in it for the glory, right? Instead, you'll get to enjoy watching your kids wear these outfits over and over again, and with any luck, you'll all remember the playful and loving spirit behind their creation.

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Here are a few pages of Ida Pearle's book we've had fun bringing to life.

ida pearle: an alphabet of play.



Though Ida Pearle's illustration is all solids, I made the "Toss" top from my own tunic design and a Moda print that uses a traditional Japanese Seigaiha motif. My origami booklet tells me that this pattern "represents waves lapping the seashore. Since the sea is a source of life and its waves never change shape nor stop repeating, it is a lucky pattern that will bring good fortune and prosperity to all the family many time over." Let's hope for that!

boy's bias tape tunic: zigzag neck.

I made the pants for this outfit previously--just your run-of-the-mill traced pants on some lightweight denim, with the addition of some rickrack and dotted rear pockets for fun.

kids' clothes week: inspired by books [ida pearle's alphabet of play].

kids' clothes week: ida pearle's alphabet of play
Letter C, Catch, was my first Ida Pearle outfit--made last year during Meg's kids' clothes week challenge. As I mention above, the shirt is refashioned from a men's tshirt using the  90-minute shirt tutorial at MADE.

kids' clothes week: ida pearle's alphabet of play

ida pearle: back cover art.


I have wanted to make this outfit from the back cover art of A Child's Day for a really long time--I'm so thankful Katy finally motivated me to do it! The top is, again, my boy's bias tape tunic design (and also again, I'll have a tutorial up at this is marzipan if you'd like to make your own!).  Although there's no blue in the original, I ran across this vintage, toothpaste-colored, bias tape in my stash and had to use it.  The pants are linen, made from one of my husband's old button-down shirts; the photo below shows a little better how I was able to use the chest pockets from the shirt as rear pockets on the pants. 

boy's bias tape tunic: slip-stitch neck

back cover art.
Thanks so much for reading--I had so much fun putting this together!  And be sure to check out A Child's Day: an alphabet of play next time you are at a bookstore or library.  If you have time, I'd love to have you stop by for the tunic tutorial--and I am also hosting a giveaway of my sister's kids' music EP, Hands Up Clap! this week! 


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Great tips and pointers, Mary Frances, I especially love "wear them everyday," as our hard work needs to be utilized, after all.
She has the full tutorial over at her blog, this is marzipan, as well as another giveaway!


  1. lovely. you can tell she put lots of work into those basic pieces. Love the bright fabrics for boys! I am enjoying your series! thanks to This is Marzipan!

  2. I love this! This is Marzipan is so fantastic. I love this whole series, I'm a book addict myself and always find the beautiful books inspire me to create. Good catch "No Big Dill"

  3. back in Feb when you announced your project for March, she was the first one to come to mind. i've been enjoying your series katy :)

  4. hey, thanks everyone! This really was super fun to put together--I am loving all the book projects and I'd love to see others' spins on Ida Pearle's illustrations!

  5. Thanks some wonderful ideas here love the use of your patterns.


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