Braided Rag Vessels

Braided Rag Vessels

By Jordan Kushins
Ever since I got my hands on a copy of Meg Mateo Ilasco's latest book, Crafting a Meaningful Home, I've been flipping through trying to decide what to start working on first. Calling upon creative folks from across the country to share projects with a personal tie, Meg's hardback not only offers a wide-ranging array of 27 things to make, but a lovely portrait and background of all the contributors, too, who range from Lisa Congdon to Billie Lopez and Tootie Maldonado from ReForm School to Derek Fagerstrom and Lauren Smith of Curiosity Shoppe fame. I was drawn to Brooklyn–based Sian Keegan's braided rag vessels when I had a chance to check them out in person at a show at Congdon's Rare Device and, as luck would have it, found all the necessary materials already kicking around my apartment (yesss!).

It's not everyday you have the chance to chat with someone who's described as "owning an eponymous company that creates stuffed animals," so I got in touch with Sian to hear a little more about her unique occupation.

(note! :: the instructions are from the book, and I took the accompanying snaps of my vase-in-progress)

Materials (for one 6 x 3" vessel)

-Scrap fabric (such as old clothing, sheets, leftover pieces from other projects, etc.)

-Matching sewing thread


-Measuring tape

-2 safety pins


-Hand-sewing needle

-Straight pins


1. Tear fabric into strips, 2" wide x 36" long. Tie the three strips together into a knot at one end.


2. Braid the strips together. The final braid will need to be about 10' long, but it is best to work in 36" segments. Sew additional strips to the end of braided strips as you go until you achieve the total length.

Meet Bette, a pretty damn adorable 3-D pet made by Sian Keegan.

Not many can list their occupation as stuffed animal maker (!). How did you establish yourself in such a niche field? And how would you describe what you do?

3. Undo the knot and braid the remainder of strips at that end. Attach a safety pin securely to either end of the 10' braid. With scissors, trim each end at an angle. Using your needle and thread, sew each end of the braid to secure it and remove each of the safety pins.

I started making the stuffed animals in 2006, but they didn't really take off until a couple of years later when I began offering custom pieces. I make custom three-dimensional portraits of pets based on photos sent in by their owners. I mainly do stuffed dogs and cats, but I've also done rabbits and couple of pet rats.

4. On a work surface, lay the braid flat. Take one end of the braid and coil the braid around itself in a circular motion to create the base of your container. Create a 3" base. Pin each row of the coil into place.

You use almost exclusively recycled fabrics. Why are you drawn to them?

5. Using your needle and thread, make small stitches between the braided rows of the coil to secure. Remove the pins when complete.

Mostly out of concern for the environment, but also I enjoy working with a limited range of materials. It can actually make things easier to have fewer choices, and you end up with a more interesting product when you use vintage or found fabrics. Sometimes I'll have a piece of fabric for years before I find the right use for it.

And the Sian-made Wally, who literally could not be any cuter. Literally.

Most rewarding part of the job?

6. When the base is secure, you will start building the vessel upward. Holding the excess braid so the flat side is facing out and is uniformly flush, coil the braid on top of the base, pinning each row into place as you go.

I love making my 3D Pet Portraits. Its a lot of fun to receive photos from pet owners and hear about their dogs' and cats' little quirks. They all love their pets so much, and many of them are ordering portraits of pets they have lost. It feels great to be able to give them a little something tangible they can hold on to to remember their pet.

7. Using a needle and thread, stitch between each row. Remove the pins when complete.

Most challenging part of the job?

8. Tuck the top end of the braid into the vessel, making sure the top of the vessel is flat, and sew in place.

Everything I make tends to take a really long time! Budgeting enough time for each project and being honest with myself about how long something will take is definitely a big challenge.

And here's my little mantle tableau. I put some twigs wrapped in embroidery floss in there for a bit of color, and surrounded it with some wooden bud vases that my grandpa made. Lookin' good! This project was seriously perfect for a drizzly afternoon indoors. The next one I make I'll try with a softer knit that might have less strays threads to trim away in the end, and it's tilting a little, so I will make sure that when I'm pinning it up it stays straight. Loads of fun, though, and I'd very highly recommend trying out your own textile vessels.

Who are your favorite designers?

Another festive fabric from Sian.

It's not everyday you have the chance to chat with someone who's described as "owning an eponymous company that creates stuffed animals," so I got in touch with Sian to hear a little more about her unique occupation. Click

here to read the interview and see more from Crafting a Meaningful Home.

I've always loved Alexander Girard's work. I'm also inspired by the many young artists/designers I've met while living in Brooklyn the past several years. There are so many talented people here!

Here's a selection of Sian's digitally printed fabrics, available for purchase here.

Favorite project that you've completed or are working on?I recently had some of my patterns digitally printed onto fabric to sell in my shop, After doing freelance textile design work for clients over the past few years, it's great to finally see my personal work on fabric! I can't wait to start making things with it.Favorite music to work to?I like to listen to something fun and upbeat while I'm working. My favorite recent album is "Age of Adz" by Sufjan Stevens. Lately I've also been listening to Kanye West's and Nicki Minaj's new albums--they are great!Where do you turn for inspiration?I love pretty much all fashion magazines, especially Lula and Teen Vogue. I read a lot of blogs, but my most visited are Design*Sponge , Oh Joyt, Lena Corwin's blog, and Jeana Sohn's blog. I also spend a lot of time watching movies on Netflix streaming while I'm working. The most inspiring I've seen lately is "I Am Love" with Tilda Swinton.How did growing up in such a creatively rich home influence your current work?It was great having an artistic mother and grandmother to help and encourage me with craft projects. We spent a lot of weekends going to antique and thrift stores and flea markets, so I guess that's where I got my start working with used materials. I definitely got my appreciation for all things cute from my grandmother. She used to keep a scrapbook full of pictures of cute dogs she clipped out of magazines!Words of encouragement for newbie makers and crafters? I would say it's important to have patience. It took me a long time to figure out the best way to sell my work (i.e., which shops, craft fairs, websites) and to find the most efficient way to create it.

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