Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Caution! Stash Busting in Progress (or Not Waving, but Drowning)
The Stash. It lurks in the basement, in the backs of closets, under the bed. Its creative potential is matched only by its unwavering patience. It is rumoured to be able to breed within the deep recesses of totes and storage shelves. Stash management is a hot issue amongst textile artists. Does one cull ruthlessly on a biannual schedule? Does one enlist friends to intervene in weak moments of "I might need it one day" purchases? Does one make provisions in one's will for the safe distribution of the treasure hoard, or leave it to uncaring relatives to dump at the thrift store?

In may case, I move house so often that stash management doesn't usually become a problem until I've been in one place for too long. After two years or so the piles of fabric, the jumble of wool, the midden of buttons and bobbins start to become oppressively obvious, muttering dark criticisms about the failings of my character as I pass by. Eventually the muttering becomes a clamour until I am finally compelled to take action.

I'm in that mode these days. Trying to organize, and when that fails, asking myself if I really am ever going to do anything with that stack of perfectly good wool blankets that once I envisioned making penny rugs with. Or considering whether two huge totes of exquisite vintage linens is too much, and maybe I should release some of them back into the wild. How about that bag of silk neckties? Seriously? A couple of hours of fruitless conversation with myself and the totes are no more orderly, and I have to go sit on the deck with a cool drink.

I am familiar with the stages of change model in treating addictive behaviours.
I am at the point where I realize I need help. Dear readers, I look to your wisdom and experience. Have you successfully dealt with a stash that left your dining/work table clear enough to eat from again? Can you open your studio door and make your way to the sewing machine without having to move more than three totes? Have you developed a management strategy that fosters creativity without sacrificing sanity?

Part of my problem is that I feel responsible for each and every piece of cloth that passes through my hands, and also for the environment. I carry with me the idea that I must not add to the world's problem, but instead try to solve it. I feel good about saving felted sweaters, wool remnants or outdated linens from the landfill because I can turn them into something beautiful - at least in my mind. In external reality there are not enough hours in the day, and hence the totes multiply.

 Help! I can feel myself being sucked down again!

P.S. Swaps and guild sales do not work. I only go home with more stuff.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


"I'll remember that." Hand embroidery on katazome, vintage kimono fabric.
My dear friend Jean-Pierre commissioned me to stitch three pieces in memory of his mother, Constance. I was lucky to meet her a few times before her untimely passing -- she was a vibrant, kind, lovely woman.
"There's a lot of work in that." Hand embroidery on vintage katazome. (This one was tricky, I wanted the viewer to actually have to struggle a bit to make out the words. It's much easier in real life.)
She had a few favourite sayings, and these were the words that Jean-Pierre gave me to work with, along with some beautiful Japanese fabric.
"I'm saving it like gold." Hand embroidery on boro cloth.
Constance had beautiful penmanship, and I tried to replicate it as best I could. I think her words are representative of heartfelt appreciation, perhaps where she might have felt a bit out of her depth, but intended to convey encouragement and caring. Such a lovely woman, she is missed.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Wheel Keeps On Spinning

My days as a spinster have come to an end. Yesterday I sold my stalwart Lendrum wheel. She had about a million miles on her, and may yet get a million more, but I have realized that my stockpile of beautiful handspun yarn will keep me knitting for my foreseeable lifespan. Pictured above is the last batch of yarn: 35 skeins from a Romney raw fleece, from an ewe named Bea who lives in Errington. I must thank Bea for growing such lovely, easy to spin wool, and her shepherd for keeping her happy and clean.

Some of my friends couldn't believe I was giving up the wheel, but I really felt it was time. And it felt very appropriate for me to use the money to fill up the ferry card so we can visit our loved ones, old and new. Spinning taught me that its not just about producing yarn, but about a calm centre that holds together all the bits and pieces whirling round.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lost in the Forest

Today while walking with Gracie on the well-traveled trail behind the medical clinic, I took a detour up a side path to have a pee. (I love peeing in the woods, a habit formed while living on Lasqueti.) In the interests of discretion, I went a little farther up the path than I had in the past. I noticed that it seemed to continue through the forest, which surprised me since I was sure I had gone up that way before and the path just petered out into thick salal.

So I followed the narrow trail and found myself in another world. It was almost like falling through the looking glass. The unfamiliar path, the light slanting through the trees in a different way, the birds chirping  and swooping. I remembered how much I had enjoyed walking with the dogs up old logging roads when I lived in the Kootenays, going where we hadn't been before, getting a bit lost. I love that feeling. I never felt at risk in any way, even though I may have been many kilometers from other humans, and I rarely told anyone where I was going. Yet I am not an adventurer, I just feel safe and protected amidst the trees, and trust the dogs will eventually get me back to "civilization".

But I am probably the odd one out. The fear of being lost in the woods is a foundational myth in many cultures, particularly that of Canada. For years I have carried with me the clipping below. The story captured my attention because it seemed so preposterous. In August of 1909, the Governor-General of Canada, Earl Grey, got completely bushed in just a few hours. I loved how the formidable wilds of British Columbia got the better of him. I pictured someone like Lord Downton being plopped down on the north shore of Jervis Inlet, thinking he would bag a couple of grouse before returning home in time to dress for dinner. The arrogance of the British aristocracy, asserting their privilege to raise a ruckus in the woods and prove their dominance over the land (and Nature).
The small clipping has grown into many pages of notes. I have visited the BC Provincial Archives in search of more detail. I have found photographs of Earl Grey performing many official duties on this tour of the west coast, such as opening Vancouver's Granville Street Bridge and being made an honourary member of the Arctic Brotherhood in Dawson City. The story seems a natural segue from the Codex Canadensis work, and so I am about to begin a new piece. It will be an embroidery, on linen, quite big. I'm thinking of something along the lines of a page of the Illustrated News, from the time before photographs were used in newspapers, a precursor to the News at Six.
Earl Grey, in the back seat, visits the hollow tree in Stanley Park.
 Am I being disrespectful in making fun of the Queen's representative? Would I fare any better myself in the same situation? Yes, and probably not. But I forge ahead anyway. 2017 marks 150 years of Canada as a nation, yet the celebrations are muted in the wake of Truth and Reconciliation hearings regarding the residential schools that were part of a concerted governmental effort to destroy indigenous cultures. Rightfully, many of the touring exhibitions and commissioned works focused on the sesquicentennial are created by First Nations artists. It is not a time to celebrate our colonial past, but to question it.
Official portrait of Earl Grey.

Monday, May 08, 2017

A Modest Mat

Thanks to everyone who commented on the previous post, you are kind and wise. Someone shared this practical advice on how to keep from going insane in these modern times: nothing radical but it's  good to know that others are in the same boat. And, as Facebook keeps reminding me, I was in a similarly bleak mood last year at this time, so maybe it's spring fever.
It needs to be bigger, Mom!
One of the silly projects that I have been working on is this braided mat for Gracie. I have made just one braided rug before, and the recent retreat on Thetis Island was a chance to improve my skills. Diane Tobias, braided rug expert, and Val Galvin of Renditions in Rags generously lent their advice and encouragement.
I braided along, using up three skirts, a pair of pants, and part of a tweed jacket, all wool. Other participants in the retreat remarked on how flat my rug was - I guess buckling can be a problem for beginners. I didn't mark my increases, just judged my progress by eye and feel. A small revelation that came to mind was that having skill in other fibre arts (knitting, weaving, spinning, hooking, embroidery) gives one the sensitivity and awareness to understand the structure of a piece and make small modifications in tension, count, grist and other technical aspects to produce something that "works". In other words, transferable skills!
The mat is not yet done. I will be adding an edge of darker greys and black, and doing a butt join!

A nice edge to finish it off, and the butt join went very smoothly. Now I just have to round up that cute dog to lie on it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Not to Be a Downer, But...

Well, that last post was something of a barn-burner, in that I am left feeling that I have nothing more to write about. I considered re-posting the first post I ever wrote, The Blazing World, as a bookend and calling it done. Just looking at the date of that first post, May 17, 2006, makes me realize I passed my ten-year blog-o-versary without even noticing. I have spent the last month pondering what has changed since I started writing this blog and what future use it might have.

Right off, I have to consider the possibility that I am mired in depression. I take my meds, but it is SO hard to get out of bed in the morning, and engaging with anybody other than my dogs leaves me cranky and exhausted. Maybe I am over serotinized? I asked my doctor and she was non-committal. "Just stay on this dose and we'll check again in a few months."

It could be the weather. It has been an unusually cold, wet, late spring in this part of the world, and I haven't been able to get into the garden, which always makes me feel better. I also haven't made another serious piece of work since December, although I have been busy with various small pieces and other projects. I have a new idea in the works, something different, that I am eager to get going on but it needs further gestation.

I have also been thinking about posting earlier work, looking at stuff from the 90's that has been languishing away on slides, and seeing how it connects to my current work. Using the blog more as a place of reflection and documentation rather than showcasing the latest new thing. (The taste for "new" is so wearying.)

But it is hard to take the possible value of my own work seriously when the world is in flames. We are closer to nuclear midnight than we ever have been since the clock started. Climate change is real, accelerating and the evidence is all around us. There is a vain, arrogant, madman in the White House. How is is possible to carry on as if things are normal? As an artist, I have always felt a responsibility to engage with the world around me, but now I find myself questioning whether anything I can make or do will change anything, even in myself. And is spending hundreds of hours patiently handstitching something that could get blown up next week the best use of my time? Is it an act of resistance or blind stupidity?

I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way. Banding together with other bleak souls doesn't seem like the answer. Beauty is all around me but I mourn for its fleetingness and vulnerability. I long for peace, both for the world and in my heart.
Heron at dusk on Thetis Island last weekend. He turned and flew away seconds later.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

There's No Place Like Home

View with a room.
I try to be a low-maintenance sort of human being. I realize that I have won the jackpot already, being a white Canadian, and have privilege virtually oozing out of every pore. I don't mind living below the poverty line, I don't fantasize about marrying a rich man, I happily wear second or third hand clothes. I feel I have an extraordinary life: I live in a wonderful, enlightened community in a beautiful part of the world, I can grow my own food and share with others, I can express myself creatively, I have people to love and care about, not to mention the best doggies ever.

So when my mother arranged an all-expenses paid family vacation at a spa resort (Tigh-Na-Mara, in Parksville) I was willing to go along with it because it was a rare opportunity to be together with my brothers and sister, not because I felt the need to be pampered like the Queen of Sheba. It was nice to see my Mom so thrilled and excited - she usually runs at a pretty high level of joie de vivre anyway, so this was really something to behold.

So it was surprising to hear her be the first one to voice the feeling of being out of place as we arrived on a lovely sunny day last week, and were shown to our over-the-top-de-luxe rooms. "Do you feel that we might actually be inmates in an insane asylum?" she asked. Not that we suddenly were having delusions, but we were definitely in an alternate reality. My room alone could have housed a family of four - complete with kitchen, dining area, jacuzzi in the living room, king-sized bed, widescreen TV, fireplace and gob-smacking ocean view. It was bigger than my whole house!

Since the tide was out, I decided to go for a restorative walk on the magnificent beach, a true natural wonder. All was lovely and peaceful, until two young lads wearing matching red hoodies - all the better for the Coast Guard to find them when they get swept out to sea, I murderously thought -  proceeded to run screaming at the flock of migratory birds taking advantage of the herring run at the water's edge. "Huh", I mumbled to myself, "they don't allow dogs because they might bother the wildlife, but they let nasty, over-privileged brats run free."

In that disgruntled frame of mind I made my way to the mineral pool of the Grotto Spa, where I joined my family under an artificial waterfall of warm, soothing, lithium enhanced droplets. The pool was designed to look like something one might encounter in a remote tropical island and was truly lovely. After about ten minutes, I began to worry that my thickened layers of proletarian skin might start to slough off and create disgusting debris-ridden vortices in the pool, prompting a whistle to be blown and everyone ordered out. I wished that I had paid more attention to exfoliating during my twice weekly, Aussie-rules home showers.

From there we slipped into our identical, spa-mandatory robes and flip-flops and made our way to the lounge, where we sipped on cucumber, lemon, or plain spring waters and nibbled tropical fruit. A bell chimed melodiously and a bevy of beautiful young aestheticians glided in and escorted us to our various appointed spa treatments. I broke out laughing, it was just too surreal.

Mom and I had chosen to have pedicures. As I reclined in my massage-o-matic chair (an unnerving sensation) I chatted with Sarah, my aesthetician, about very little of importance, although I did manage to glean the interesting fact that the resort has a dedicated 24/7 laundry to handle the huge amount of linens and towels that are required to maintain the spa experience. I also found out she sometimes listens to heavy metal on her way home from work, to counteract the ethereal music of the pan-pipes that wafts like a perpetual mist through the resort.

It was only the second professional pedicure of my life. I chose sparkly blue nail varnish to commemorate this memorable event. It looked beautiful, and exotic. Mom and I were presented with special disposable flip-flops to keep our polish from smudging, and I asked if they were recyclable. Apparently such a prosaic question was rarely asked, since none of the aestheticians knew the answer.

They serenely led us up to a private room adjacent to the rooftop tapas lounge, where endless plates of elegantly drizzled bites of smoked salmon and miniature tartlets were served to us by a very patient and polite young man, Curtis. (Later, as it became apparent that the Camerons were going to take advantage of the term "endless", my talented actor brother and sister-in-law performed a choreographed version of  Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" as a perk-up for the wearying Curtis. He appeared stunned and managed to say, without sounding sarcastic, "No one has ever done that here before.")

The dinner was lovely and it truly was nice to spend time with my whole family (nephew Andrew joined in via Snap Chat), although I did at one point have to go into the bathroom and rest my forehead against the glass, steeling myself against the overwhelming feeling that I didn't belong in such a place.

Eventually we all retired to our rooms, where I paced the unfamiliar spaciousness, fiddled with the fireplace, and found nothing to watch on the big-screen TV except for Rachel Maddow exhorting Trump to release his tax returns. I read a bit of Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere", couldn't focus, and left it in the bedside table for a future guest. I snuggled into a corner of the huge bed and tried to sleep, dreaming fitfully of the vintage British drama "The Prisoner", being surveilled by golf-cart driving housekeeping staff and pursued to my doom by a giant inflatable ball.

Next morning, we met for breakfast in the dining room. I ordered waffles, and was overwhelmed by the stack of beautifully grilled pastries that arrived, bedecked with candied pecans, out-of-season strawberries, whipped cream and a chocolate caramel drizzle. "Could I please have a bowl of thin gruel instead?" I whimpered to the waitress, who thought I was joking.

Thankfully, we checked out soon after. It felt like I had been away from home for a week, which is probably the intended effect of such a deluxe getaway, but maybe I'm just not cut out for the spa experience. If I ever have another vacation I want it to be spartan, maybe involving manual labour or community service. Just like being at home!