Archive for August, 2009

I am a graphic designer, toy maker, and self-proclaimed “jazzknitter”. I’m no fashionista but have always loved buttons and printed fabrics and am appreciative of (and take great pleasure in) the wonderful world of fashion. I have a new series of a dozen different paper dolls. Some are classical Victorian, sure to please miniaturists and scrap book lovers alike, while others draw on earlier periods of art and fashion history. I get inspiration for color and pattern from the world around me. One bit of useful color that tends to catch my eye, is the print on the magazine and catalog covers that constantly pile up around my house. A particularly vibrant cover called out to me this summer and even announced what I should do with it, “RIPPED!”. It was bright yellow with huge pink letters and a shiny black New York Times Magazine logo. Without much ado, it became fodder for a first paper doll fashion. What would happen if I made clothing from every magazine cover The New York Times dished out over the course of a year? What fun! I could be like a contestant on Project Runway, scissors poised, ready to take on my next design challenge!

Welcome to my blog….

My name’s Ilisha Helfman. My husband, Joe Freedman, and I have a laser design studio in Portland, Oregon called LEAF display. We make customizable pop-up cards for paper appreciators and corporate clients. We also make paper pop-up toys and optical toys and have a new store in Portland called LEAFpdx (http://www.leafpdx.com) where you can visit our wares. In addition, I have another site for my miniatures and jazzknitting (http://www.hestiahouse.com).

I offer my paper dolls in kits with exuberantly patterned paper beds (I used to be a textile designer), templates to get started and enough snips and scraps to inspire budding fashion designers to let loose, have fun and create fabulous things. As a collage artist I can’t help but appreciate the beauty of everyday papers: candy wrappers, shiny foils, plastic produce netting…. and  hope to encourage others to collect and use similar bits of refuse in their masterpieces as well.

paper doll kit


After getting the idea of seeing what The New York Times would have in store for me in subsequent weeks, I decided to make a formal runway collection. Unfortunately, I realized a little too late that I should document my materials before I use them and should be a little more disciplined and designerly with my methodology (photograph the covers while intact, limit my toolset to a scissors, scotch tape and a glue stick, and limit my model choice to just one, not all twelve).

Here’s the first dress with what’s left of the cover. For this one I’d added a ribbon and gold thread, which I thought better of for the garments to follow that I’d actually count in my year of fashion.

first_nytimes paperdoll2

OK, now to start my fashionable year! I looked through the piles for New York Times Magazines and collected a nice little stack and proceeded to unceremoniously rip the covers off. The ones that made a consecutive run started with Frank Bruni surrounded by a rainbow of sweet treats for July 19th.


I looked at that cover and thought immediately of Betsey Johnson (didn’t you?). If there’s ever been a woman who has fun with her design it’s Betsey, so with a few snips I went off to celebrate her career. As I was working, I was reminded of the two blouses I had of hers in the ’70’s. One was a fantastic conglomeration of a bunch of related prints, all rendered in differing amounts of similar colors. I had great fun wearing it in high school, and not soon after, acquired a slimly fitted black blouse of Betsey’s with enormously huge mutton sleeves sporting about a thousand little black plastic buttons. Both these tops were woven cotton, a fabric I was particularly enamored with, especially when you consider my interest in making cotton quilts in the ’70’s and ’80’s. I think you know where this is going. Here’s what’s left of my Betsey Johnson shirt today (I’ve never been as appreciative of black as other designers, so who knows what happened to the other one), and here’s her celebratory paper doll.



The next New York Times Magazine cover was from July 26th. Hello Valerie Jarrett, welcome to the White House!! This cover has an amazing purple and pink cast to it which is a little strange. She’s wearing a suit that’s screaming Chanel, in fact, it might even be Chanel… (did she do collars like that though?). I think looking at it that I should focus on other elements for my creations, that turning fabric into fabric is a little too easy. I’m reminded of the episode of Project Runway where everybody is set loose in Gristedies for unusual materials and a bunch of them head straight for the tablecloths. Not cool, or anyway, not cool enough. The thing is though, I’m in love with her blouse. This is about the time I decided that you can’t have a fashion show without a crowd of admirers so this is where the other eleven dolls and all the extra scraps of NYTimes Magazine covers will have their day. First though, let’s get through these first few weeks. Here’s the lovely Valerie Jarrett.


Now, if I disregard all the fabric what do I have left and what does it have to say to me? Somehow I’m thinking of vintage Norma Kamali and a fur coat which she may or may not have made. I don’t know for certain if she ever did a fur coat, but I’m picturing a short one she might have done in the ’70’s with a hood. I know Kenzo did a fabulous one later (the ’90’s?) in bright orange that maybe didn’t have a hood (and also maybe it was down). Anyway, I’m thinking Norma Kamali and I’m thinking fur and I’m also thinking of some short high heeled cowboy boots I wore in graduate school in 1980 (I can’t believe I actually wore those, but here they are again). Also, while I’m at it, I think I’ll add a chunky leather satchel with a big brassy name on it, the likes of which I’ve never owned in my life.


August 2nd, Michael Pollan. Probably Michael Pollan has no memory of me, but we both lived in the same tiny town in Connecticut before both our families moved out west. I think his writings are really terrific, from the yellow fingerling potato, to the cow, to the ear of corn. Now, yes, we watch people cook on TV which somehow doesn’t inspire us to cook at home. It’s hard to argue with that. This cover’s going to be fun to work with. It’s very designerly with all the rounds, the rich dark colors and the slim white type. A little black dress comes to mind, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or maybe Julia Roberts at the horse race in that hooker movie. Maybe her dress was actually checkered, but anyway, I think there was a hat involved.



Whoa, the next NYTimes cover, August 9th, has some gorgeous elements to work with. Again, there’s an incredibly tempting fabric, actually two, the plaid silk and the Persian carpet. And then, Oh my gosh, the beautiful curling metalwork on the gate. I think I’ll start there….


That green and blue plaid is so obvious, I’ll have to save it until the end. The carpet is much more subtle and I think will just give a rosy texture. The metalwork for a dipping back (yumm), a hat, shoes, a broach…..

This silhouette is reminding me of the House of Lanvin.


Here we are at August 16th, guitars, the Beatles, and some early Diana Ross gold lame´. This is a fabric I’m not sure I want in my collection, so I definitely want to look elsewhere in the photo for material. This is kind of tricky and I’m feeling both moderately stumped and mildly concerned.



“Yes Tim.”

“Make it work.”

“Thank you Tim, I will.”

Ok, the guitars…. I’m starting to envision an interestingly paneled short skirt with exterior seams. I’m going for biker punk chic with the microphone boots and  guitar neck studs, but end up a little more Scottish with a Glengarry hat, kilt and gaitors. Hmmmm.


Right about now I’m noticing that we’ve had a fair number of dark covers, one after another. I know we’re in a recession and I know you New Yorker’s like wearing your black, but please a little color never hurt anybody….  Then, Oh my goodness, a bonus magazine! Check out this Style cover. Thank you Jeff Koons!!


I hardly know where to start with this one but then, I’ve always been a sucker for flowers. I love the idea of a big floral collar, and the rest of the dress can just flow from that. I think I’ll dedicate this one to Uli in honor of her  floaty Florida fashions. She had a patterned blouse on in one of her Project Runway sessions, something she had designed herself, I’m sure of it, and I just loved it. It was green and brown maybe on white, in the kind of print she loved to use on the show. Man, I wanted to wear that!


Catching up to the present here, we’re at August 23rd. This is a great issue on women guys, thanks very much. I am very fortunate to have different groups of fascinating women in my life. We’ve met at our Smith College book club, The Yale Women’s Conference, the magnificent Sock Summit, and various international miniature events. We learn together, share ideas and support each other. I’m also very lucky to have a host of gentle men in my life, some of whom take part in these varied activities. There is a power that comes from banding together and it does seem that our energies can’t help but sooth the world around us.


Is it possible that $2 worth of fertilizer was enough to pull this woman and her children out of desperation? What on earth are we waiting for?

I did use a little bit of the print here, it was just so fabulous, but I didn’t want to mess too much with the type. It’s just too important.


This entry was posted on August 25, 2009 at 6:53 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Read Full Post »