Welcome to ARTeries where we lead you to broader interpretations of “embroidery”. In the dictionary, it’s defined as “Embroidery: the art or handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn,” but in our lexicon it means everything from “classic” embroidery to art quilting, mixed media, sculpture, book and paper arts, with new methods, old techniques revisited, and the weird and wonderful.
And now for something completely different from the usual ARTeries fare! Fibristas and Fibristos, i introduce to you: SARUBOBO.
I’m not one who’s much for cute or plushie, quite frankly, but when i saw these, i fell in love. The scope for ornamentation, storytelling and possibly odd materials really had me thinking.
Sarubobo (baby monkey) are Japanese good luck charms, tiny simplistic figures that symbolize good fortune, happiness and fertility. Newly wed couples are given baskets of them for luck and babies, travellers carry them as safety amulets and children are given them as gifts of love.
They couldn’t be easier to make either! A circle and a rectangle, and some tiny scraps of fabric and you can tell a tale. Group them, pose them, frame them, fun and funny, sweet and silly, trade them, give them as prezzies. Scale them up for pillows and soft furnishings!
How Do You Make Sarubobo?
- All you need is a 5cm (2”)circle, and a 5x6cm(2x 2 1/2”) rectangle, add a seam allowance as well. This is the basic size of most of them, but scale up if you have difficulty with tiny pieces–these are hand sewn because of the diminutive size. (I sized up by half an inch as it seemed so small to sew on even by hand!)
- Gather the edges of the circle and draw tight, stuff and sew closed to create a puff ball head.
- The body is created by sewing the points to themselves making tiny arms and legs, with a small opening in the belly to insert stuffing.
- Sew the belly slip closed, sew the head on–Sarubobo in seconds!
There’s a quick pictorial tute here on Mairuru’s blog.
I’ve seen them strung on ropes like acrobats, attached to keyrings, with elastic on their bellies for use as napkin rings, large as life for costumes(!), sewn to pincushions and as mascots.
What do Sarubobo colours mean?
- Blue – for luck in study and work
- Pink for luck in love
- Green for luck in health
- Yellow for luck in money
- Black to remove bad luck
- Red for protection from bad things, for luck in family life and childbirth
- White for luck with property
- Purple for banishing evil spirits
Thought I’d try my hand at a couple too:
First, a very weird baby: couldn’t resist using the rust marks as eyes and then needle-sculpted the mouth. Looks like there’s been surgery on the belly recently!
Then a cat:
Triangular sequins for his ears! I also found that if you stuffed the head very firmly and drew really tight with the gathering thread, that the head would be better formed and easier to attach to the body: use a strong thread for this step and more stuffing than you think you need.
And sometimes despite your best efforts, something will go wrong:
The fabric stretched, one leg was too small and the body contorted. SO, forget the head part: it’s a one armed alien or bug!
Tips for making Sarubobo:
- If you want a certain motif on the fabric to be a “face”, set it slightly off centre on the circle. Though traditionally they have no features, it’s fun to add a little extra personality here.
- If made larger, you could probably sew on a machine if you are dextrous and patient.
- Embroider, cross-stitch, add hair and features, make them into little animals! They won’t be traditional, but they will be yours 🙂
Each one of these took half an hour to make, mostly because I fiddled with details. You could probably get them down to 20 minutes and create herds, gaggles, flocks, crowds! Have fun!
Arlee Barr is a Canadian artist, working primarily with textiles. She describes herself as “curious, eccentric and just a little opinionated“. Surrealist in thought, Fauvist at heart, Arlee likes the eclectic, explorative and absurd. Sprinkled around the interwebs, she can be found hanging around her fantastic blog.