Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Mystery in Lace

Dear Sarah Fincham of Small Offerings sent me a beautiful drawing in a trade for linen pajamas. As a surprise, she included this piece of silk lace that she had found in a flea market. She said that perhaps it was meant to be a doily or jar cover, but I suspected she knew better, and had sent me this little beauty as a test of my textile detective skills. (She knows I love mysteries.)

After marveling at its fragility and identifying the dry, somewhat crunchy texture as a sign of real silk, I gave it a long look. Something was off. See the outer edge, alternating points and rounds? But check out the far right. There are two points together, with a rather crude seam in between. Aha! The piece of lace had been re-purposed from its original use. Due to the small circumference of the centre round my first guess that it was a cuff.
Very, very carefully I removed the silk thread that attached the lace to the centre bit of chiffon, and unpicked the seam. Freed from the chiffon, the lace relaxed, and I could see it was in fact a collar, maybe for a child or a lady with a very slender neck.
Since the lace had several dark spots on it, I thought I should give it a bath. A soak in a bit of cool water and a drop of  dish soap, then a rinse and another short soak in diluted lemon juice. Several rinses later, I rolled it in a towel to remove excess water, then carefully laid it flat to dry, coaxing the picot edge into position with my fingertips.
While it dried, I Googled, and quickly identified the lace as Maltese bobbin lace, probably from the 19th C. Here's another example:
It is interesting that traditional Maltese lace had almost died out until an Englishwoman, Lady Hamilton Chichester, was responsible for reviving the craft, and Maltese lacework became quite popular in England after being exhibited in the Great Exhibition of 1851. Which explains how it eventually turned up in an English flea market. Why someone decided to re-model it in the interim remains a secret - even if no longer a fashionable collar, as a doily it wouldn't lay flat, and as a jar cover it would be too precious for raspberry jam. I think I will frame it, and hang it alongside Sarah's drawing.

Oh, yes, that drawing! I bet you want to see it. Here it is, as yet unframed. Wonderful, huh? For more of Sarah's work, check out her Etsy shop.
And an update on our Vicky - she is still in hospital and hasn't yet been given an idea of when she may be released. The possibility of infection is still a big concern, but she has been making steady progress and has even been taking a few steps unassisted. The outpouring of love and support for her has made a huge difference, she says - so thank you!

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Brits Do It Best

I have gone hopelessly Anglophile these last couple of weeks. First, my rug-hooking friend Mary Anne was swooning so much over the British series Call the Midwife that I finally gave it a look. And promptly succumbed to its many charms.
This review of Call the Midwife sums up most of why I like the show. The main reason I never clicked when Netflix suggested it to me over and over was that I thought it would be all about babies. Now, I am probably one of the few women in this world who aren't smitten at the sight of a newborn, but Call the Midwife shows them in all their gucky glory and even I have to admit they are somewhat miraculous.

But what really captures me is the strong writing, note-perfect art direction, fabulous performances and unflinching camera work. As James, who is also enamoured with the show, says, "This is what TV can be!"
And then my request for the Merchant & Mills Sewing Book finally came through at the library. It is, of course, British. Finally, a sewing guide that I can recommend! (I look through all the new ones that come in to the library, and most of them are absolute junk. I was beginning to despair for the future of home sewing - how could anyone learn, or even be inspired to, by the trendy, superficial, dumbed-down books that are out there?)

But Merchant & Mills reads like it was being narrated by one of the nuns from Call the Midwife - brisk, practical, uncompromising, faithful and loving. It begins: "We love sewing and believe in it. It provides the invisible thread that literally holds together the world we know. It is everywhere, from the clothes we wear to the sails that enabled the discovery of America. It is in our shoes, the seats on the bus and lurks quietly all around the home. It is best friend to the upholsterer, the seamstress and tailor, the diva and the surgeon and is as ancient as time itself."

The book is packed full of information - even I, often accused of being a know-it-all, learned some interesting things about the history and use of sewing tools. The chapter on pressing echoes the words of my Bauhaus-trained high school sewing teacher, Elly Pucher: "You must press it beautifully!"
The design and writing style of the book are consciously nostalgic, but perfectly underscore author Carolyn Denham's approach to the art of sewing. The words on the inside front cover (above) sum it all up. I am impressed by her emphasis on quality and durability and that the word "cute" never once makes an appearance. The projects are both classic and utilitarian, with the possible exception of the Inside Out bag. This would be a fabulous book for a new sewer, and I have to admit that I have dropped some heavy hints about this one to Santa myself.

I would be remiss not to mention that Merchant & Mills has a lovely website.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


The thrift store yielded up an incredible stash of treasure. Embroidered cloth and ribbons...
...mother-of-pearl buttons...
...Czechoslovakian glass buttons...
...James played with the buttons on the scanner.


A walk at the beach with the dogs, after a torrential storm. Dazed and blinking in the light, we checked to make sure everything was still holding on.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Road to Recovery

Photo by Mike Swallow
This photo of Vicky was taken yesterday. What a girl! Her smile shows her optimism and spirit. We can't see the bandages that cover her lower body but she is on the mend. She was able to sit in a wheelchair for ten minutes before becoming dizzy, which is great news because it means (sorry sweetie, personal detail) she will be able to use the toilet. That seems to be one of the milestones hospitals look for before sending a patient home. There is still no word of when that will be, but there is hope that no further surgeries will be required at this point. The shrapnel that remains in her legs will continue to work its way out for years to come though, just as if she was an old soldier.

And the really good news is that a friend of Mike and Vicky's who works for the Red Cross has set up a fundraising page that makes it super easy to donate. You don't have to worry about all those wire transfer codes I gave you in the previous post, just one click and you can help. Here's the link:
Our goal is to raise $2500 by the end of the weekend - we're already at $900 after just half a day! People are so generous and kind - thank you, thank you, thank you!

Sunday Update! The fund just passed $3,650  - brings tears to my eyes. That, combined with $2500 in the trust account and over $1000 in sales of Mike and Vicky's artwork at the craft fair yesterday is so awesome, a stunning and heartwarming response.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

It Could Happen to Anyone

***UPDATE added at the end of the post.***
My plans for uninterrupted stitching came to a roaring halt on Sunday when I heard that Vicky, my lovely assistant, had been in an accident. Frantic phoning around ensued, and awful news of what had happened. Vicky, kind and generous soul that she is, had been caretaking for a neighbour. She lit the wood stove as usual - but she did not know that there was a water jacket on the stove, and that the pipes had frozen overnight. The safety mechanism, a release valve had also frozen. The ice in the pipes rapidly turned into steam and became the equivalent of dynamite. The stove exploded. Vicky was thrown three meters across the room.

Oh so fortunately, her brother-in-law Dave was just outside the house. He rushed in and pulled an unconscious Vicky out from under some burning debris. She was bleeding seriously from her leg so he used his sweater for a tourniquet. He yelled for a neighbour to call 911 and ran back in to the house to grab all the coats hanging by the door and tucked them around Vicky. The first responders arrived in 20 minutes -remember, this is a rural island.

We are lucky to have a emergency centre at the small clinic here on Gabriola. The doctor on-call made a quick decision and soon Vicky was being helicoptered to Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. She underwent an 8 hour surgery to remove shrapnel (pieces of steel and cast iron from the stove) from her legs. Her husband Mike, brother-in-law Dave and Australian shepherd Tazi drove down to Victoria in the car - a two hour trip.

James, I, and the girls made that same trip the next morning to visit the hospital. Vicky was in bandages from the waist down, and her hands were also heavily bandaged. Miraculously, her face, neck and upper body were okay. No bones were broken except a couple of fingers. Her spine was okay. She was conscious and amazingly herself. "I got blown up", she said and laughed her gentle little laugh. Dave and Mike were pale and visibly shaken, rare for a couple of cool British lads. (The kids - I think of them as kids, even though they are in their early thirties) - are recent immigrants from England.)

We hugged and chatted and listened, and then Mike and Dave went to take Tazi for a walk. James did some reiki for Vicky, and I washed her face and cleaned the soot from her ears and hairline - she said she had been told she looked like a coal miner just come up from the deeps when the ambulance arrived. The nurses in emergency had wiped most of it off but a more thorough job needed to be done. It felt good for me to be able to offer a little care for this sweet girl.

The nurses at Royal Jubilee seemed to be the best - and as James, the eternal flirt, said to one, "Do they only hire beautiful nurses here?" Vicky had a private room, with sunshine pouring through the window. Thank the heavens for universal health care and that Vicky was covered.

She is possibly facing another surgery to remove more of the shrapnel and repair tissue damage. Follow up care and rehab, transportation and accommodation costs will add up, as well as lost time from work for Vicky and Mike. Our fabulous community has already started filling their freezer with home cooked meals and baked goodies. We have set up a trust account so people can donate money. Help is being offered to dogsit and walk Tazi, and to manage Mike and Vicky's table at this Saturday's craft fair. In less than a year, this kind, generous, talented young couple has made many friends on Gabriola - they may be far from their families home in England, but us islanders are doing our best to surround them with love and care.

You can find out more about Mike and Vicky at their websites:  Little Blue Dog Designs, Vicky Bowes Illustration, and their organization Ocean Roots.

James has seen Vicky again at the hospital and she is steadily improving. No estimate yet on when she will be home. The information for wire transfer donations is a little long and complicated but bear with me - I'm trying to do this so you can copy and paste the info and take it to your financial institution. The info is different depending on the country you are in so here goes:

BRITISH (Pound Sterling)
  Correspondent Bank
Deutsche Bank, London UK
  Beneficiary Bank - Field 57
Central 1 Credit Union
  Beneficiary Customer - Field 59
0809 15210 100022348757
Bowes Victoria In Trust For
315 Hemlock Ave
Gabriola, BC V0R 1X0
  Payment Details - Field 70
Coastal Community Credit Union
#7 - 580 North Road
Gabriola, BC V0R 1X1

Pay Direct to:
Central 1 Credit Union - Vancouver
  Beneficiary Bank -  Swift Field 57
0809 15210
Coastal Community Credit Union
#7 - 580 North Road
Gabriola, BC V0R 1X0
  Beneficiary Customer- Swift Field 59
Account #100022348757
Bowes Victoria In Trust For
315 Hemlock Ave,
Gabriola, BC V0R 1X1

US Dollars
Pay Direct to:
ABA: 0210001033
Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas
New York, USA
  Beneficiary Bank - Swift Field 57 or Fedwire Tag 4100
Central 1 Credit Union
Deutsche Bank Account No. 04459732
  Beneficiary Customer - Swift Field 59 or Fedwire Tag 4200
0809 15210 100022348757
Bowes Victoria In Trust For
315 Hemlock Ave
Gabriola, BC V0R 1X1
  Payment Details - Swift Field 70 or Fedwire Tag 6000
Coastal Community Credit Union
#7 - 580 North Road
Gabriola, BC V0R 1X1

I also have transfer details for Australian $ and Euros so please let me know if that's what you need.
And thank you, thank you, thank you!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Wild Beasts

 The stitching continues. I have finished the ferocious wild boar...
...and the ravenous lynx.
Here is the version of the lynx from the first codex piece I did. They are both the same size, but stitched with different yarn. There actually isn't much difference between them, although the latest one is a little more detailed.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Stitching For Social Change

Sima Elizabeth Shefrin is my guest artist for the Round the World Blog Hop. We're bending the rules a little bit as, even though Elizabeth has a had a couple of websites for several years now, she has only just started a blog, and we are having some technical difficulties. So I am happy to introduce Elizabeth to you here, and hope that you will visit her websites to see more of her socially conscious work.

Elizabeth says: 
 I’m a fabric artist, a community artist and a children’s book illustrator, and have been for many years. My main website is called Stitching For Social Change and my other web site is called Middle East Peace Quilt. The titles alone should give you an idea of the kind of projects I enjoy.

  Right now I’m working on two major projects. The Embroidered Cancer Comic Book will consist of fabric wall panels and accompanying comic books, depicting my husband’s and my journey following his prostate cancer diagnosis in 2011. My plan is to create 16 to 20 fabric comic strips each consisting of four 20 inch square embroidered line drawings. These will be sewn together in panels of four.

 The second project is called Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies, and is inspired by a face book page with the same name.  On this page, members of the Face Book community post pictures of themselves holding signs, with the name of the site handwritten on them. The people in the photos pose, Jews with Arabs, Israelis with Palestinians, sometimes in couples, sometimes family groups, or groups of friends, individuals who are stereotypically in conflict with each other.
I am creating fabric applique and embroidered portraits from the self-portraits people have sent to the site. If you live in Vancouver check out the 2015 cover of the program guide for the Roundhouse Community Centre as soon as it’s available.

I love working in fabric and I love working with my hands. I get antsy if I don’t have a project on the go. One of the great things about fabric art is that as a traditional women’s art form, it is largely outside of the male-dominated western European art forms.
I am storyteller and an activist, and the work I create tells my stories. I particularly like it when an art form can build bridges between peoples, or help create a better world. 

 I have almost no formal training as an artist, and I tend to make things up my process as I go along. For the Embroidered Cancer Comic images I work from small sketches which I enlarge on the photocopier and trace onto fabric. For the Jews and Arabs pieces I trace the photos people have posted on the Face Book page and enlarge the tracings to make pattern pieces. The most fun part is embroidering the faces which I do by looking at them very carefully.  Truth to tell, I’m less interested in them looking like the photo and more interested in them having an integrity of their own.

 I am trying to get my blog page going but I’m having some technical difficulties, so thank you to Heather Cameron for letting me post on hers. In the meantime please write to me through either one of my websites. I’d love to hear from you. 
Find me here: