Monday, November 20, 2017

Stitching with the Stars

I'm sure many of you are familiar with Maiwa's annual Symposium and their School of Textiles. I have attended many Maiwa workshops and they have been quite wonderful. The ones with Dorothy Caldwell here, here, and here, and Beverly Gordon stand out in particular. This fall, I took one with the famous Dutch embroiderer, Tilleke Schwarz, and I am sad to say it was a dud. Thinking about why it didn't work for me led to these thoughts:

  1. The instructor of the workshop needs good teaching skills.
  2. The participants in the workshop need to have a shared intention, and have left their neuroses at home. The focus of the participants is at least as important as how good the teacher is.
  3. The location of the workshop should be accessible, with good light and enough space for the group. 
  4. The participant herself should be realistic about how compatible her skill level is with the material to be covered.

So, what went wrong in this particular workshop? I was thrilled about the chance to learn from Tilleke, who is a justifiably famous star in the stitching world. Her lecture the night before was inspiring enough, but then she just repeated it for the class. That would have been okay if a number of participants hadn't heard the lecture already, but most had and were eager to get on with it.

The really unfortunate thing was that right off the mark Tilleke said she wasn't there to teach us how to stitch like her. Fair enough, but she also was not forthcoming with any instruction. Instead, she waited until we had stitched something to critique it. I wasted a lot of time using the tracing paper design transfer method she recommended, and, after a couple of false starts over the two days, ended up with nothing to show her. So my interaction with the instructor was pretty limited.

I'm willing to take my share of the blame for that, but what had me really annoyed was that a couple of participants chose to talk throughout the whole thing in loud voices about themselves and Tilleke did nothing to get them to quiet down. Midway through the second day, my friend and I picked up and left because she sensed I was getting ready to blow. (I think I reached my breaking point when the lady from Texas proudly said they had "Open Carry" gun laws in her state.)

The workshop took place in the Net Loft on Granville Island, which is incredibly fabulous. No complaints there. The staff at Maiwa are pros at providing all the amenities.

In the final analysis though, of course, the biggest problem was probably me. I already knew everything Tilleke had to show us. (Which wasn't much, but still...) My style is already quite developed. I was there just to rub shoulders with an art star, and nothing much was rubbing off Tilleke. She was a very nice lady but what I hoped for just wasn't happening.

Workshops aren't easy to dial in, so much depends on the group as well as the instructor. But when a workshop has an elite reputation, and costs over $300, it's hard for me to write off a bad experience.

I didn't even take any photos. There really wasn't anything to show. But I did have a great visit with my friend Barb, so all was not lost.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Dare I Say Truth?

The zeitgeist of the past year has given me pause to reconsider the name of this blog. Supposedly we are now living in a post-truth era, a time when it is apparently up to whomever to decide whether some incredibly important piece of data or news is true or false. Saying something is true invites doubt. The ground has shifted.

It was in 1984 (somewhat tellingly) when I first conceived of calling my various pursuits "True Stitches". I was living in Toronto and supplementing my income as a graphic artist by doing dressmaking for a select few. I made up a business card and called my enterprise True Stitches. Truth actually had nothing to do with it, it was a play on the old pulp fiction magazines like "True Crime" and "True Confessions". I was merely being witty and ironic, hot commodities at the time. (Well, hell, when does being witty and ironic ever go out of style?) I even had a rubber stamp made up that emblazoned TRUE STITCHES on the cards, combining the nostalgic with the handmade. I long ago threw out the cards, but I still have the stamp. The original logo, such as it was, featured these guys,
with my stamp emblazoned on top in red.

Fast forward to the mid-noughts. I was in a program for building one's own business, and I had chosen True Stitches as the name. A few years earlier, I had used truestitches as an email address. I actually had as a domain name until a few years ago when I let it lapse because it was under my ex-husband's account. Now I see the name coming up on Etsy - I am merely a now.

So I return to the beginning. What does the name mean? I feel very sincerely that my stitches, my expression, my actions, must be true, whole-hearted and verifiable. It's kind of the essence of what I  do. The subtitle of this blog: "To make, to mend, to decorate." This is the part that is the definition of the word stitch, and also what I strive for in my daily life.

To make: I am a maker, I like to make things. This connects me to the divine. It is what I do, my life's purpose.

To mend: As humans, we fail, we cause trouble. But we have the potential to mend, to once again make whole something that is torn apart. This gives me hope.

To decorate: And why not? We have the capacity for joy, for play, for frivolity. Beauty is possible.

I was fooling around the other day with a new logo.
I used my old stamp with the line "Since 1984".

I think I am getting too old to be ironic. I still think truth is something important. Even if it isn't fashionable these days.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Settling the Land

Seigneury, 2017 Hand embroidery, wool and cotton on linen, 114"(w) x 24"(h)
It's hard to make out all the detail in the image above, you really should be here in person. But then again, this piece was finished hours before the show it was in opened, and then it sold. I do hope the buyer will lend it when I have my big retrospective. (Don't hold your breaths, there is no retrospective in sight.) (But I'm working on it.)
Louis Nicolas included a section on the domestic animals in his Codex Canadensis. Oddly enough, there was no pig, which, according to my friend Gaetanne who is descended from the earliest French settlers in New France, was often the only meat animal a family could afford. Anyway, I first thought of arranging them in a kind of crazy quilt or mosaic.
Then it was pointed out to me it made more sense for them to be in a row, and indeed, the long strip of land granted to the early settlers suggested a horizontal format. Blocks of land were granted to the seigneurs, who usually had done something notable in service to the French king, with the provision that the land be cleared and made "productive" so that the colonial claim on the land would be more established. The seigneurs divvied up the land into long strips, each with frontage on the river, as that was the main source of transportation in those days. Working class French men were allotted a strip each, and they paid rent in grain to the seigneur. They couldn't do it alone, so filles du roi ("daughters of the king") were imported from France to marry the men, produce children, and further establish the colony's foothold.
The critters fit obligingly into the long strip of cloth, and were traced on with my usual graphite transfer paper method.

Interestingly, while the wild animals of the Codex were notable for their feverish eyes, snarling teeth and fearsome claws, the domestic animals are quite benign looking. Some even smile.

The turkey took quite a long time, with all his feathers.
The ram is a very obvious copy from Conrad Gesner.
It's not every day that one can say, I stitched the horse's ass!
The dog and cat were especially bizarre in Nicolas's rendition. Although the stitching did help me realize that the dog doesn't have one giant foot with six claws, but that his front paw is on top of his back paw.
The meek donkey is just lovely.
Since in the middle of stitching this I was offered a show I had to seriously pick up the pace. The quote was the last piece. There were 121 letters, I think, and I had ten days to stitch them. They were done on a separate strip of linen and sewn to the main piece. Then the whole piece was backed with another piece of linen with hanging strips pre-sewn into place. The piece was hung over the stairs leading up to the gallery. (Barb Mortell, who I shared the space with, had one of her quilts hanging below. It made for a very attractive entrance to the show. I'll post more pictures next time.)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Back to It

Well, it's not exactly a return from the wilderness, but here I am. Summer lasted its normal amount of time in spite of the temperature yesterday being a tropical 18 C., scary for the end of October in the Pacific Northwest. No, I dragged my heels getting back to the blog for all kinds of reasons. I moved and am still unpacking, I had a show, I was spiritually drained by work at Ye Old Liquor Shoppe and worried about the state of the world. But most of all, I needed to reconsider my relationship to the internet and figure out if blogging is still relevant.

Things have changed since I started True Stitches back in 2006. Blogging then was an exciting and seemingly liberating way to contribute to the whole human discussion. Suddenly I could connect with people like me (and odd ducks we are), people whose talents were inspiring and whose words were encouraging. Over the years the blogging world became monetized and more of platform for selling one's stuff or blowing one's horn - even corporations had blogs. And then there came Instagram and other short and sweet ways to connect. My favourite bloggers kept on, bless you all.

I happen to enjoy writing and taking photographs, and True Stitches was a great place to document my work and thought processes, and hopefully entertain my dear readers along the way. Creating the posts gave me great pleasure and satisfaction, and I certainly missed that over this (extended) past summer. So many times I found myself staring at the computer, clicking in vain hope that I might find some amusement or earth-shattering revelation. I had become a mere consumer of the internet, passive and overwhelmed. My mind became duller, my thoughts uninspired.

I did spend (probably too much) time on Facebook. Like a magpie, I posted all kinds of shiny  thoughts and poorly edited photos in a superficial effort to stay in touch (and amuse my brother Dave, whose wit and word crafting powers far surpass my own.) Facebook is fine for such stuff, and you are certainly welcome to be my friend there, but I need something more in depth.

So I have to get back to it. My posts may not be as frequent, but will hopefully be a bit meatier. I need the discipline, and I need the connection. I need to feel that I am creating, not just consuming. Hope you will pop in for a visit whenever you like.

And one last thing: here's the piece I did this summer. It's called Seigneury, and measures 9 1/2 feet wide and 24" high.
Featuring the domestic animals of the Codex Canadensis, and a quote from Proverbs, it reflects the strategy of  the 17th C. French empire to colonize the New World. I'll post more detail next time.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Not Done Yet

Mare's tails and vapour trails , taken from my chaise longue on the deck.
Hmmn, it would appear that I am taking the summer off, at least from blogging. Don't worry, I'll be posting again soon. A new piece is almost done.

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.