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.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Still Here

Lots more has been done on this piece, but this is what I am currently seeing in the hoop. The elk/moose is a great critter to stitch, lots of different textures. Yesterday I put four hours in and completed most of the face, but that was a rare opportunity to concentrate for a good chunk of time. These days I am lucky to grab a few minutes here and there. You know what it's like!

Now I must run for my weekly volunteer stint at the Gabe Shop, our high end local thrift store. Yes, it is a little like letting the wolf in with the sheep. Oh well, at least they're not paying me!

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Little (Empowering) Summer Reading

I have been meaning to post about a couple of excellent books that I read this summer, but, as you may have noticed, I have been particularly lax about posting lately. This morning I read Maureen Daly Coggins' essay,
Threads of Feeling: Embroidering Craftivism to Protest the Disappearances and Death in the "War on Drugs" in Mexico and was reminded about a couple of great books that I would like to share with you.

But first, the essay. It's quite an academic read, but well worth plowing through the occasional unfamiliar terms (heteroglossic?). It's about the movement in Mexico to stitch handkerchiefs with the names of the dead and missing - over 150,000 up to this point. People of all social and economic stratas have come together to create something positive and healing in the midst of fear and grief. I wasn't aware of the extent of the human toll caused by the drug wars, and after reading some of the stats felt yet more despair for the world. But the author's focus is on the positive, hopeful, life-affirming power of stitching and making. So, I would highly recommend reading the article - it's just twelve pages, not a light read, but a very worthwhile one.
As it happens, Coggins makes several references to David Gauntlett's Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, From DIY and Knitting to the YouTube and Web 2.0. This book seems to be quite the hot number these days - I have seen it referenced all over the place. Although Gauntlett is an academic, his writing is very accessible and the ideas he communicates are important, and most relevant to us as bloggers and makers. I got the book through an inter-library loan, but it is available through the usual mail order sources.
One of the writers that referenced Gauntlett is my fellow Gabriolan, ethnographer Phillip Vannini, whose book Off the Grid: Re-assembling Domestic Life is fantastic in so many ways. It's also a movie, and a website, but most importantly for me was an introduction to the concept of "Doing It With" rather than "Doing It Yourself". The acronym DIW threw me off for a bit until I figured it out, but Vannini, like Gauntlett, explores the phenomenon of how the internet allows us to connect with others, all over the world, to share ideas and methods of doing things that are creative, innovative and out of the main stream,

Friday, August 14, 2015


One of the reasons you haven't heard from me lately is that I helped organise our Gabriola Hookers biannual event that happened last Saturday. It was held at the Commons, our collectively owned community centre.
Thirty-five hookers from southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands joined us for the day. We also had a show and sale that had over 200 members of the public coming through.
There was lots of catching up and meeting of old friends.
Gretchen Markle, on the left, brought her amazing hooked hat collection for us to model.
Here's Gretchen again with her eyes open, but mine are closed. Too giddy to care!
There were several areas to work in.
The range of hooking to be seen was incredible, from the above perfection ... the wild and wooly expressive.
We gave out party favours of Gabriola-grown walnut-dyed wool. Maia used the leaves and green hulls from her heritage walnut tree.
Heide used a combination of hooking and braiding for this bathroom mat.
And Gil used up odds and ends in this runner.
Colleen Wike, visiting from Chemainus, had some real beauties for sale.
She said every year she has a special word, and hooks a mat to express that word.
Above and below are also Colleen's.

The variety of mats truly boggled my mind.
This mat was hooked on a burlap coffee sack, and the maker used some of the printing on the sack in her design.
Very painterly.

And that's all Blogger will let me do for now. More to come!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

I'm Still Stitching, Really I Am!

Slow progress is being made on the new Codex Canadensis piece. The beaver was tricky to stitch as the Louis Nicolas drawing was shaded with a dark watercolour, making it hard to see the lines. I still have more to do in this section, but I'm going to work on another area for a bit, then come back to it.
For the first time, I am using a beautiful Belgian linen for the background. It is so much nicer to stitch on than the cotton duck canvas. It costs almost ten times as much, but I think it is worth it.

Randomly in August

Time is going by so quickly.
There are beautiful salads to eat.
One would almost think they were in California.
Fresh tomatoes, straight from the garden. Pure bliss.
I even wrote a haiku: 
Inquiries made 
over the simmering
of just-picked tomatoes.
There was a blue moon last Friday. Smoke from the forest fires give it an amber glow.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Nothing to be Alarmed About, But...

I am officially as old as dirt. I got the black flag* yesterday at 1:25 p.m., while meeting the doctor who was filling in for my regular doctor. He was young, but then they all seem young now. His last name was common in the small town in which I grew up, so I commented on that. He said that is where his family is from. Banal chit chat, right?

But suddenly, out of left field, I realised this kid was probably the grandson of people I had gone to school with. No, wait - given the early age at which they married in that community, he could even be, is it possible, a great-grandson?

I'm 56. I'm out of the race. The body work is loose, and the bumper is definitely dragging.*
Thank God! Now maybe I can get some work done!

*Wikipedia says: The solid black flag is used to summon a driver to the pits. It is usually associated with a penalty imposed on the driver for disobeying the rules, but may also be used when a car is suffering a mechanical failure, leaking fluid, exhibiting damage such as loose bodywork, loose hood, dragging bumper, or any other damage that could potentially become a hazard to the driver or other competitors.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Image, From A to B and Back Again

One of the themes inherent in my work with the Codex Canadensis is the questioning of the veracity of the image and the mutability of truth. Louis Nicolas's drawings are his best effort at presenting the flora and fauna of the New World. But to the jaded eye of a person in the 21st century, they are laughable in their inaccuracy. We have the benefit of cameras, and rigourous scientific methods, and the conclusions of experts to aid us in knowing what a buffalo is, for instance. But Louis had never seen a buffalo, only heard verbal descriptions of one, and did the best drawing he could based on his only visual source - the books of engravings by Gesner and his contemporaries.

Detail of Plate 35. Source: Gilcrease Museum via Library and Archives Canada
The timeline goes something like this and begins in prehistory:

A. First, there is an actual creature, living in its natural environment.
B. Human eyes are laid upon the creature. Perhaps the direct sensory impression enters memory, and the human attempts to share the remembered image with others, as in a cave painting.
C. More likely, the creature is found dead, or hunted and killed by predators or humans. Its lifeless form may be simulated in clay, or pigment on rock walls, and as as graphic technology develops, drawn with ink on paper, or painted on canvas. These images are available to a few.
D. With the development of printing, ie. etching or engraving or wood blocks, multiple copies of images can be made. These images are primarily available to the rich, religious or scholarly. The general public still relies on first hand experience, or the stories of people with first hand experience to know what a buffalo is, for example. It is difficult to confirm accuracy.
E. Taxidermied animals, zoos and menageries are marvels of exotica. If a person is lucky enough, they may get to witness such a rarity.

This brings us to the time frame in which Louis Nicolas found himself. Caught up in the spirit of the age of discovery, he did his best to catalogue the creatures of the New World through vivid verbal description in the Histoire Naturelle and with pen and ink in the Codex. He drew from books, as confirmed by Francois-Marc Gagnon. If there was no image in the books that matched some of the new creatures encountered, he would simply copy the closest thing to it. That is why what looks like an ox is labelled a buffalo, and Louis declares, "This is exactly how it appears!" (I'm leaving out any discussion of Louis's idiosyncratic drawing skills).

Now, 350 years have passed. I have the benefit of all the amazing technologies developed in the meantime to assist me in knowing what a buffalo is. I have actually seen Plains buffalo in the wild, while on a camping trip, and been able to photograph them. I have been close enough to smell them and experience their enormous physical presence. To want to stitch their image on cloth is kind of bizarre. What can I hope to offer the viewer that will add to their knowledge of what a buffalo is?

My answer to that question shifts, depending on which shadowy and subterranean path my brain has followed into the maze. Sometimes I think my work is about the medium, how translating a pen and ink drawing into wool stitches on linen changes what an image means. Sometimes I think it's about process, or communication, or trying to understand another person from the evidence they leave behind. Other times it's about the impossibility of knowing truth. The usual big, unanswerable art questions.

Today, I am thinking about all the steps between the original drawings, in that actual document that resides in the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the stitched cloth that hangs on my wall. To continue the timeline from the original living and breathing creature I'll pick up at "F".

F. Louis Nicolas creates the Codex Canadensis sometime around 1675.
G. The document is photographed or digitally scanned to produce the images found in the 2012 edition of the McGill-Queens University Press publication.
H. I enlarge images from the book on a drugstore/library/copy shop photocopier. Depending on the quality and service record of the photocopier, distortion may be introduced at this step.
I. I arrange the photocopies to create a new composition. Sometimes I will edit the image by drawing in missing parts of ears or tails, but I endeavour to be as faithful to the original as possible. More distortion is inevitable.
J. I trace the composition onto the cloth, using graphite transfer paper. Again, I try to be as accurate as possible, but the fallibility of the human hand will enter in.
K. I stitch the traced line, trying to convey the energy, texture and spirit of Louis's original drawing as well as is possible in such a foreign medium as wool thread. I refer back to the drawing as I stitch.

I view the work as a co-creation, primarily between Louis Nicolas and myself, but also to some degree involving the technology of photo-mechanical reproduction (camera lenses, photocopiers, digital reproduction, printing and engraving). And it all started with that long-ago critter in the woods.

I'm tracing the image onto cloth today. Then the stitching will begin!