It Pleases Me: A Personal Aesthetic

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You walk into a furniture showroom, packed with sofas, and walk right up to one and say, “This one. That’s my style.”

You flip through the pages of a clothing catalog and stop short on one page, with one outfit, and say, “There. That’s my style.”

You get ready to start your next project—quilting or weaving or knitting or gardening and, in a world full of options, you know just what you want to do because you know “that’s my style.”

You probably can recognize your style, or your personal aesthetic, when you see it embodied in home furnishings or clothing or craft, but have you ever tried to articulate it?

In my ongoing attempts to explain what pleases me in terms of the making I do and, conversely, what leaves me cold, I’ve been thinking about my style.

I don’t mean style in a fashion sense, like “she’s so stylish.” If pressed to describe my fashion sense, I could tell you, quite honestly and without apology, that I have no style. Or it’s the sort of anti-style of LLBean, Orvis, and thrift shop, apparently based on a desire not to stand out in a crowd.

I’m talking more about what makes us tick, visually.

What motivates us and guides our choices, choices in what to make, how to express ourselves, what to wear, how to live?

I know I tick and you tick but what makes us tick? And what makes us tick so differently, so uniquely, so one-of-a-kinded-ly?

So, in this latest installment of craft-related navel gazing, let’s talk about our personal aesthetics, shall we?

Here’s a rundown of what I see as my style:

  • Head, not heart
  • Reason, not emotion
  • Practical, not precious
  • Traditional, not trendy
  • Timeless, not au courant
  • Nostalgic, but not sentimental
  • Understated, not flashy
  • Geometric, not organic
  • Old, with a patina of age, not shiny and new
  • Clever, not cutesy
  • Craft, not art
  • Patchwork, not appliqué
  • Solids, not prints
  • Twills, not overshot; rep weave, not lace
  • Dishtowels, not scarves
  • Saturated and low-key colors, not pastels
  • Natural fibers, not sparkly or shiny or fussy
  • Silver, not gold
  • Semi-precious stones, not diamonds (but, mostly, no jewelry at all)
  • Flats, not heels
  • Denim, not velvet
  • Wood, not plastic
  • Arts and Crafts, not Victorian
  • Art Deco, not Art Nouveau
  • Et cetera . . .

I could go on all day like this. If I got stumped, I could go to my Pinterest boards and get new, but consistent, examples to add.

My aesthetic is consistent to the point of providing humor for people who know me well. They laugh when I choose another navy blue crewneck sweater. They nod knowingly when my husband shows up in bright prints and I wear that navy crewneck and jeans—the peacock and the plain little peahen . . .

This house is full of elderly, sturdy denizens of the farm . . . and I’m not just talking about my husband and me. The furniture comes from attics and sheds and barns, not Pottery Barn. The colors do not change to reflect the Pantone color of the season. Practical trumps pretty every time—frugal Formica that doesn’t show dirt and there’s not a bit of stainless steel; dark leather furniture because the cats seem less likely to claw it.

One other aspect of my aesthetic that’s a little harder to put into words is the extent to which I am moved by the symbolic appeal of an item. I really like things that have a story behind them, a personally-meaningful provenance. If, somehow, words can be brought into the bargain, then I’m really happy! So, I can walk around my home and tell you the story of most of the items of furnishing and décor that we keep around.

In large part, the story is what makes the thing beautiful to my eyes.

My craft choices undeniably reflect my aesthetic.

I made jewelry for years, and the one thing I liked best was making these classic loop-in-loop chains. I like the fact that, originally, chains like these were made by ancient people years ago, in the same way I make them in the 21st century–the earliest examples are from 3000 B.C.! I like that they are simple, sleek, and understated. I like that they need to be made of pure silver, not sterling. I like that they are woven!

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Other jewelry I made often had a connection with the past or something with symbolic appeal. I’ve written about this brooch before—it contains a scrap of a quilt with my great grandmother’s signature.

Banker quilt pendant-8

This charm bracelet was made to communicate my feeling about summers at “camp.”

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The quilts I’ve made are consistent with my aesthetic, too. They’re all patchwork quilts, made with traditional blocks, blocks that were chosen as much because I liked the name of the pattern as for any other reason. The quilts have been, almost always, bed-sized, because that’s what quilts are meant to be in my world—bed covers. They are made of colors that appeal to me.

Having said all this, my favorite quilt is still the 1812 Cot to Coffin quilt.

In spite of not being bed-sized, it reflects, perfectly, my aesthetic—the colors, the simplicity, the focus on hand work, the story behind the words of the song, and the story behind why the quilts were originally made. The symbolic appeal of this one, for me, is huge.

Already, as a weaver, I can see my aesthetic playing a very large role in my choice making. You know I love to make utilitarian items in “homespun” colors. I am happiest, it seems, working in patterns that focus on texture and straight lines, like twills and stripes. I know that one direction I want to move is into what’s called “rep weave”—done with blocks of color in bold geometric shapes.

I am already choosing weaving patterns based on their names! I did a scarf from a pattern called “Wall of Troy” mostly because I had to read all that ancient Greek history for graduate courses in rhetoric.

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It tickles me no end that my husband weaves an overshot pattern called “Mary Ann Ostrander” because Ostrander is a family name—I might be related to Mary Ann! Although it’s too complicated to explain quickly, there’s even a technique called “name drafting,” where the weaver encodes words into a woven work—can I tell you how that possibility thrills me?!

Here again, I could go on and on. But the point is not to catalogue every detail of my aesthetic life in (more) mind-numbing specifics.

The point is that I’ve learned a lot about myself in this exercise, both about the aesthetic rules I abide by and the ways I step outside those rules sometimes.

I’m wondering if you’ve been thinking about your own style or aesthetic as you’ve read along. My style is not right or better—it’s just my style. Your style may be incredibly different and I could find it beautiful and impressive and I might envy it . . . but it wouldn’t be my style.

So, what makes you tick? What’s your aesthetic? If you’re a blogger, maybe you’d consider writing a blog post about it, so we could all know you that much better? Or just give us a hint, here, in the comments . . .

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57 thoughts on “It Pleases Me: A Personal Aesthetic

  1. This will have me thinking about my style for a while. I have never tried to put it down in words. I think you need to add historian to your list 🙂

  2. So much talent! You continue to impress me with your boundless creativity. My personal mantra is: “less is more.” Solid colors, nothing flashy or bold, lots of white at home, accent pieces with meaning to family and travel. Special pieces in my home and wardrobe, but no clutter. If it isn’t functional or beautiful, I don’t want it.

  3. It’s scary how similar we are…except for the two top ones. I’m heart not head and emotion not reason. Can’t help it, it’s just the way I am.

    • Yes, and I can’t help it either. Obviously, I used extremes here and I do “feel” as well as “think” but I recognize that I lean one direction more than the other.

  4. Kerry you have given a very thought provoking post. I’m about the most unfussy person you will ever meet. Although I admire fashion and trends I walk a fine line and if you were to open my closet you would probably say simple. I’m attracted to a more neutral palette and I prefer less to more. My house is a curation of old and solid. I’m very sentimental hence the old. I like things handmade and unique. I think I would coin myself as comfortable.

  5. Food for thought, for sure, Kerry. Your comment about choosing furniture and linens with a story really resonated with me. And my style gravitates toward the tactile, and so I work with textiles – I adore the feeling of linen, cotton, wool, silk in my hands. And comfort is a part of my style: what I wear and what I live with, above all has to be comfortable. Thanks for this post, Kerry.

    • And thanks for the thoughtful response! I hadn’t articulated the point about tactility but it’s a great point! When I go to a department store and walk around, I am always trailing my fingers over the clothes. And I’m finding that I like winding warp better now that I’m thinking about the feel of the threads more.

  6. It’s been a while since I’ve had time to visit, and I’ve enjoyed catching up on the colors of blue, am sorry that you’d been sick (and glad you are better!), and thoughtfully perused your style list.
    Despite your #1 thing, I’d say you’ve got a whole lot of heart in your style, too 🙂

    • Well, that’s nice to hear! I was using that dichotomy to make a point about inclinations, I guess. My heart does come into play, of course, but I tend to follow the Hercule Poirot dictum to “trust the little grey cells.”

  7. hmmm. . . this makes me think about my personal style. When it comes to decorating “eclectic” is one of my favorite words. I also sometimes use the word “curated.” I like everything in my house to have personal meaning to me, but as a result the furniture, pictures, and other items range from rustic to post-modern.

  8. Like others who’ve agreed with you here, I like my things – whether clothes, furnishings or knick-knacks – to have a story. If they have, I’ll find it hard to discard them, even if I’d never have chosen them in the first place. So ‘eclectic’ just about covers it …..

    • Isn’t it interesting how these stories grab us? And how many of us, here, share this? Maybe that’s how we choose the bloggers we really follow . . .

  9. No surprise, I’m sure, but most everything on your list applies to me. However, I tend to buy green sweaters rather than navy. 🙂 Thanks for the post. I’ll chew on this for a while.

  10. I chuckled my way through this post Kerry – swing it round 180 degrees and you’d have me……. There’s a few places where we sit comfortably side by side: silver not gold; semi-precious, not diamonds; flats, not heels; solids, not prints; natural fibres not sparkly or shiny or fussy ………. but for the rest 😀 I’ve never thought about describing myself in terms of my preferences and now you’ve got me wondering – I might get it together to do a post based on this one. I’ll let you know if I do 🙂

    • I have to admit, I thought of you as I was writing this, knowing that your aesthetic would be very different! It’s a great example, though, of how I can admire a different look, even though it isn’t my style. When I saw the photo of how you’d changed your hair, I gasped! It was so striking and so you and so perfect . . . but so not my style!

      • Yes, but also not my style! It has all gone now and I feel a little closer to being me again. I like my hair long and one colour 🙂 I must get the Official Photographer to take another photo ………..

  11. I found this post fascinating! I have never thought to describe my style before but many of the points on your list resonated with me too. I can’t abide frills and flounces though a little lace I find appealing. I love good strong colours but not necessarily primary colours. Flat shoes (through necessity), silver – yes, and semi-precious stones – yes again. Very interesting! This will keep me thinking for some time to come. Thank-you Kerry.

  12. I agree with several of the comments so far: very interesting post, great food for thought. I love that you chose the specific items and photos you did to bring up. And the revelation that your husband is the peacock and you’re the peahen. My husband’s wardrobe consists of 17 pairs of khaki pants and 12 white oxford shirts and 5 blue oxford shirts. I like to sew clothes that I’d never be caught dead wearing; I usually hang around in the same clothes I wore to the gym. If I was forced to evaluate my style, it could be described as “Evolved Sharecropper.” Thanks for an entertaining and thought-provoking post!

  13. Very thought provoking post! Oh my, I’ve really never thought to think out what really makes me tick. There’s lot of differences in our tastes.. I like cute,florals,and pastels,…. Head and reasoning,what’s that.😀 I do love traditional, patchwork,flip flops, aprons and practical living.

  14. The other day, I pulled out my latest quilt out of the dryer. I held it for a minute relishing that freshly-washed, bumpy comfort and realized that this one of the reasons I do what I do. Reading this post – a great one by the way – makes me think that this is part of my style, something I’ve been trying to pin down for a while. Thanks for the prompt – this should be interesting!

    • Thanks, Pam! I know exactly what you’re talking about with that feeling of comfort–it’s hard to put into words but anyone who has had that experience, of wrapping themselves in a handmade quilt, knows the feeling!

  15. I like your style! I like your talents and your tastes. I expect I would covet a lot of your stylish belongings. 😉 Do I have a style? I guess I do. But most of my house furnishings are about making the best of what I have acquired or been given. I have bought a few things along the way but a substantial amount of my ‘stuff’ is second hand, if not 3rd or 4th hand. But as long as everything has a story I’m happy. 🙂

  16. A wonderful, thought-provoking piece about what fuels our sense of style. It’s a post I will read again! I’m with you and Gallivanta on things that have a story and when my good man and I were first buying furniture, I bet the antiques dealers sniffed us out a mile away and made up provenance stories by the time we approached their stalls!
    Kerry, you are wonderfully talented. That silver jewelry is very fine. And your camp memory piece – so original.

    • Thanks, Cynthia, for your consistent kind words! And that’s funny about the antique dealers–I’ve always wondered the same thing! Is that what sets a successful one part? His ability with appealing fiction?

      • I suspect you’re right. I’ve never forgotten some of those stories, and have relished sharing them with family and friends – true or not!

  17. At this point in my life, I think there are two words – earthy and comfortable. I guess I love traditional things because I have no interest in replacing based upon trends. I also like soft earthy colors both at home and in clothing. I was concerned about trendy and fashionable clothes when working but now it just has to go with my jeans and comfortable shoes. Since we downsized, I’m not a ‘stuff’ person, but I do have a soft spot for something that is hand made for me and always find a spot for that. 🙂

    • Earthy and comfortable sounds very good to me, too! Even when I was working, i had a very low-key approach to fashion but, then, I was in academe and they’re not known for strutting the runways!

  18. I’ll have to think about this one and write about it on my blog! I loved seeing your style through the things you create. I could draw your picture by seeing these things!

  19. This is such an interesting post – it certainly did get me thinking about my own style! I love that you’ve described your aesthetic not purely in visual terms but as a general extension of different aspects of your personality. I suppose style and personality are closely connected in that way. I definitely choose style over practicality, although I like things to always be comfortable. I prefer organic shapes to geometric ones and I like patterns and mixing textures – I’m a maximalist! I like my surroundings to be beautiful and interesting and nostalgic. I think that’s why I love vintage – I like to be reminded of another time.

    Jessthetics x

    • A maximalist! I like that and I think it describes you very well! Your style and mine probably couldn’t be much different, Jess, but we can still appreciate each other!

  20. My style for living quarters is uncluttered spaciousness that leans heavily on a pared down Shaker aesthetic. My style for clothing is jewel colors and comfort, comfort, comfort. My style for quilts that I make is color first. I think we have some commonalities in our styles, though you have much more vintage stuff than I do. The chief decorations in my house are quilts and books.

    • I think have a lot in common but I can;t claim a pared-down, uncluttered space. I wonder if the difference is the extent to which nostalgia factors into my life. I have so much trouble getting rid of something with a story (even if it’s a story I have imagined!) . . .

    • I love Eastlake furniture but am not sure I could live with it–a little dark and imposing for my taste. Now, if I’d inherited it from my family? That would probably change everything!

  21. Years ago the weaver’s guild I belonged to did name drafts! Thye are a lot of fun and I did placemats for many (unappreciative) relatives. And I am wanting to do rep weave as well. I find I change my mind a good bit. I feel like I’m crafty and earthy and then I buy a fabulous capiz shell chandelier for the diningroom – and I adore it. I feel 50/50 about many things. Perhaps that’s why I can’t concentrate on just one craft….

  22. Cotton, not polyester; prints, not solids; improvised, not planned, colorful, not muted; variety, not sameness, and comfort above all! This is an interesting question to consider, and I love the beautiful variety of things you’ve made in your style.

    • Thanks! I have found it interesting to go back and look at some of these things, made in such different mediums, and see how consistent my preferences are!

  23. Pingback: For All It Represents | Love Those "Hands at Home"

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