Saturday, October 03, 2015

Beware the Offhand Comment

Dip, Dip and Swing (2015) embroidery on birch bark, mixed media
So, I dropped off the above piece to the Hive Emporium as my token artwork for "Tour Central". All the artists on the tour are supposed to put in one piece so potential studio visitors can plan their rounds. I have shown this work before, and wrote about it a few months back. I admit it's a bit enigmatic without the artist statement, but the last thing I expected the curator to say was, "How sweet."

I could have whacked her.

#1 on the list of things not to say to artists should be "How sweet." It's even worse than "Interesting."

If I had my wits about me I should have responded, "Well, no, actually it's about the way the English and the French exploited the First Nations people to make money for themselves."

But, I was polite (it's still the Canadian way, in spite of that ass of a Prime Minister we are burdened with for the next sixteen days). I just went, "Mmmnn" and forgave the curator on the grounds that she was probably  overworked and overwhelmed at having to fit 59 pieces of art into 40 feet of wall space.

And maybe if the art doesn't speak for itself, it's the problem of the artist. I usually err on the side of the obscure. Maybe this should be a lesson to me.


As if.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Pink is Just a Colour

I wasn't waiting to post just so the anticipation would grow. You can all exhale now and be reassured that I have just been busy trying to get ready for the studio tour. My Maiwa workshop report may not be the showstopper I would love to give you, but I have the feeling that the slow and subtle approach is better anyway.

First off in the Memory Cloth workshop, Beverly Gordon gave us a lovely welcome and began with an invocation, a blessing that created a nurturing, safe space for us to work in. It felt very warm and genuine, and as I'm not surprised as I look back on those two days and I realize that of all the Maiwa workshops I have taken, this was the only one I felt no competition or defensiveness with or from the other participants. (That may sound a little weird, but in the past I have felt like a token country mouse amongst the apparently wealthy, well-traveled matrons of exclusive suburbs. But that's another post.) ( And I have to clarify here, I'm sure that attitude was much more of a problem from my end than theirs.) It was a lovely, varied group of women with a high-level range of skill and experience.

Beverly showed lots of slides of the many ways people from around the world have commemorated, celebrated or found catharsis in expressing themselves through cloth. From the South African Truth and Reconciliation embroideries to the arpilleras of Chile to contemporary "Passage Quilt" making workshops led by Sherri Lynn Wood, people have found healing in stitching. It was an inspiring slide show. Beverly then had us do a few writing exercises to help get the vivid details of memories flowing.

It wasn't until after lunch that we finally got to work. Beverly and Maiwa had supplied all the materials and tools we would need. Some of us had brought materials of our own to work with as well. I had brought a little handknit dress that my mother alleged I had worn as a one or two year-old. I have no memories of wearing the dress and there aren't any old photos to back up her story, but it has resided in my cedar chest for the last twenty-odd years,  ever since she had been going through some things and decided the dress could live with me.
Sorry, this story is getting long. I'll cut to the chase. Turns out that when I had been visiting Val Galvin at her rug hooking studio last June, I saw this list of "97 Ways to Encourage and Praise a Child" on her fridge door. Val was retiring from twenty-five years as a daycare provider and I could just imagine how much her kids would have loved her relaxed, open-hearted, cheery way of being. At the same time my heart sank a little when I though how much I would have loved to have heard a little more positive encouragement as a child. It just wasn't done back then. Too much praise would spoil a child, give them a big head, and make them think too well of themselves. No one had ever heard of such a thing as self-esteem, and if you had a time machine to go back and explain the concept to them, there would be nothing but derision.

So in the days before the workshop I took the little pink dress out of the cedar chest and printed out the photo of Val's list that my friend Roberta snapped for me. I thought I might embroider some of the positive words on the dress in an offering of love and support for the wee Heather still inside me.
It went pretty much as planned. I decided on the shiny perle cotton in a variety of lipstick-y colours as I thought it would contrast well with the slightly felted pale pink wool. What surprised me was the memory of the Raggedy Anne doll my mom had made me that had a red heart over her chest, embroidered with the words, "I Love You". I needle felted a red heart and appliqued it over the bodice of the dress.
I also felt rather sheepish embroidering the positive words, reminded of Stuart Smalley's affirmations on SNL. Wasn't this all a little silly? I noticed myself thinking, "I can't embroider "Super Star!" Maybe I will say something more neutral like, "How imaginative", without an exclamation mark. Then I felt a little sad, thinking, "My God, if I can't even stand up for myself! Who the hell else is going to?"
For all the talk with interesting table mates and nicely paced check-ins by Beverly to see how we were doing, it was a fairly internal process. I didn't get as much done as I hoped, and it took several more hours on my own before I finished. I chose to stitch it at work (I have a part-time job at a neighbourhood liquor store. It's pretty slow, and I'm allowed to stitch. To ally my concerns about working in an environment that may play in to my co-dependent tendencies, I use needlework as a means of balancing the forces of good and evil.)
Anyways, stitching on the little dress created the opportunity for me to engage in non-alcohol-related conversations with my customers about "What was I working on now?" One guy, a talented artist who has battled the elements, was visibly moved by the dress. "Yeah, you've gotta say those things to yourself," he murmured.
Only tonight, as I was lucky to be in the audience listening to the mind-boggling artistry of John Kameel Farah, did I realize that my latest bout of insomnia had eased. Awake, during those 3 AM rounds of self-flagellation, I couldn't sleep, going over my various transgressions of life in excruciating detail. Since finishing the dress, my wakefulness has diminished. My ruminations, if they occur, are mostly about recent events.

Well, I've gone off on quite a tangent. Hardly anything at all about the wonderful things my fellow participants shared. And they say bloggers are narcissists.

P.S. Looking at the dress, I think of it as "She". I have a relationship with her. The words are directly about relationship: "You mean a lot to me", or observational: "You tried hard". There is always an implied relationship contained in encouraging words -  the inner/outer, the parent/teacher/child, the subject and the object. I like that.

Friday, September 25, 2015

It Seems Like It Was All a Wonderful Dream

I peeked behind this beautiful curtain and what did I find?
The cloth of my fantasies...
...booty from faraway lands...
...patterns as far as my eyes could see.
Precious objects...

...books galore...
...glorious stitching.

Where else would one be unsurprised to find museum quality textiles adorning even the humble hot water heater in the bathroom?

I'm at the Maiwa Symposium, of course!

Taking the Memory Cloth workshop with Beverly Gordon, author of Textiles: The Whole Story, a book I raved about when it came out a couple of years ago.
She's a bit of a fairy godmother, sharing her wisdom and magic with a lucky few.
I'll show you what I made next post.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mug Shots

I need a picture for the website I have been trying to put together for the last couple of years or so. James took this one but the light is too contrast-y, I think.
This is what I imagine I will look like when I'm a crazy old lady. (What!?! You mean I already qualify?) I gave myself a haircut only minutes before snapping this selfie.
 And this one I kind of like. It has that surveillance camera feel to it.
And what has to be the worst driver's license photo of all time. As I said to the guy who took it, "Well, I suppose that probably IS how I'd look if I got pulled over."


A few closeups to see all the differents stitches I have used. Above I see couching, outline stitch and rope stitch.
Here is some cretan stitch and satin stitch, a bit of chain and some outline.
Braid stitch, a kind of double chain stitch worked backwards. It makes a nice raised effect.
Good old buttonhole, outline and some zigzaggy stab stitches.
Backstitch, outline and some long straight stitches.
Whipped chain stitch and lots more outline stitch.
Another view of the same section as the photo above this one, with some rope stitch used for shading on the letters.
And the beaver's tail is a couched scallop stitch that I made up, with simple straight stitches for shading.
This is how far I have got with less than three weeks to go. I take heart in the encouragement several of you have given me, to not worry if I have to show it unfinished.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Problem Solved

One of my problems anyway. If only they were all so straightforward! I had been having a ridiculous amount of difficulty with the flourish part of the motto banner. There were problems in the initial drawing (copied from an old Hudson's Bay coat of arms), and then I must have unpicked it three times in the stitching before I reconciled myself to the fact that I had to redraw it.
As you can see (I hope) in the closeup, I have a lot of pencil marks to remove. The arcs of the flourish above the banner didn't connect with the ones below. Even though this is a minor element of the whole image, my eye kept wanting to connect the lines. They still don't do it perfectly but as much better than they were.

What this little exercise made me very aware of is that Louis Nicolas's lines are so organic, expressive and quirky compared to the  formal, stylized arcs based on geometry. Who could really tell if I made a mistake on one of the animals, since the images I am working from are so individualistic ?

But it all has to work together. I am very pleased with the way the top, bud-like forms of the flourish echo the shape of the space between the elk's hind legs.

Now, my next problem is that I am rapidly running out of yarn and I have a whole elk and the rest of the banner to go!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Five Weeks to Go

I just finished the right hand elk/moose critter on the Skin for Skin piece. It's going to be a race to see if I can get it done for the upcoming Thanksgiving Studio Tour. (The Arts Council has used one of my images on the cover of the tour brochure and posters. It's rather unnerving to see it everywhere, especially with a weird magenta colour. All the free publicity is one of the reasons I want to get this new piece finished in time.)
He was a joy to stitch. Hope his mirror image will be as much fun. I used a lighter brown for the shading in the antlers, as I had used quite a lot of it for the beaver and it would have seemed odd to just have a different shading in one place. This also frees me up to use lighter browns elsewhere in the piece.
I think I will pick out the shading on the beaver's front teeth though, and replace it with an even lighter shade. Wool tends to darken up when stitched because of the shadows cast by the texture. The beaver was one of the drawings that Louis Nicolas painted with watercolour. Although it has also been speculated by a scholar who examined the original document that a child may have coloured in some of the pages sometime in the book's 300+ year history.
detail from Plate 37 of the Codex Canadensis. Source: Gilcrease Museum
© Public Domain. Courtesy of the Gilcrease Museum of Tulsa, OK.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Great Site to Visit

In case you're looking for the perfect site to browse on a Sunday afternoon, check out Maharam.  Maharam is a New York based-design company that started off doing textile design for theatres and now does many more interesting things. They still produce some amazing fabrics for the interior design trade, including some classic patterns from the last century. (Click on the images to see them in more detail.)
This design is by Josef Hoffman of the Weiner Werkstatte, 1913
Alexander Girard's Names 1957
Charles and Ray Eames design, Circles, 1947
I Morosi alla Finestra, 1930 by architect Gio Ponti
 There are some very unusual patterns from contemporary artists such as Ai Weiwei as well.
Ai Weiwei's Finger, 2010
And some that are from uncredited designers, but full of charm and personality nonetheless.
The Story of My Life, no designer credit given
I especially liked the very creative and weaverly designs of Dutch artist Hella Jongerius.
Colourwheels by Hella Jongerius
I'm showing you some of the more surprising designs, but most of the collection is comprised of subtle and sophisticated textures and patterns, often woven with novel fibres. Maharam is committed to environmentally responsible production and business practises.

There is also a wallpaper department, with incredibly varied and unusual images for the wall, many created by contemporary artists. The one below is by Phoebe Washburn.

Wood Wall as Safari Vest, Phoebe Washburn
Maharam also designs print publications, and produces small goods such as bags and pillows.
Small Dot, by Charles and Ray Eames, 1947

Cutwork design by Hella Jongerius
But the section that I enjoyed the most, and it is packed with interesting articles, is the Stories section.
I was fascinated to read about Anni Albers' Hardware jewelry designs; the vivid embroideries of Elisabeth Tomlin, Holocaust survivor, designer and art therapist; and the Suffragette Colours of the women who fought for the right to vote.