Wednesday, July 20, 2016

On Hold

Just as things seemed to settle down a bit - the guests out the door, new housemate moved in - my dear Gracie has had a health crisis. Within one day she went from happy go lucky pup to complete paralysis. She has been at the vet's for two days and there is still no diagnosis but the likely culprits are a neurotoxin (possibly picked up from eating compost), a spinal embolism, or atypical Addison's disease. The good news is she is increasingly alert, eating, and peeing again. We're hopeful that she will recover.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

My Summer Read

I am midway through a ravishing read: Edmund de Waal's "The White Road." Oh, if only I could write as eloquently as he does - I recognized so much of my own passion about the Codex Canadensis project in de Waal's obsession with porcelain. I have recommended this book to everyone I meet, gushing: "It's all about white, believe it or not, and the most fascinating book I have encountered in goodness knows how long!"

I was surprised to find reviews ( i.e. from the Guardian and the Globe and Mail to reference a couple of the more positive ones) were somewhat ambivalent. But then again, those reviews were for a general audience. I think what de Waal does so brilliantly is actually capture the approach of an artist who thinks deeply about materials and process, and has spent a lifetime learning, developing and refining that approach. This book will resonate with artists and craftspeople in particular - anyone who has not devoted a good chunk of their life to making things may be bored stiff, and wonder what all the fuss is about.

You might imagine my delight when it turned out the first section of the book features a French Jesuit missionary, Pere d'Entrecolles, who traveled to China 300 years ago! A contemporary of my dear Louis Nicolas! And there is much to be learned in the comparison.
 "The imperative to write was central to the Jesuit's mission... .Writing was an act of self-reflection, a catechising of yourself before God... . You are God's spy abroad in a new world. You are a witness. Write it down. Write it down with exactitude."
d'Entrecolles appears to be a much mellower and more diplomatic missionary than Nicolas, though. He ended up staying in China for the rest of  his life, converting souls, but mostly researching Chinese porcelain production. de Waal brings d'Entrecolles to life by retracing his path through modern-day China, guided by a photocopy of the Jesuit's original notes. He mixes past and present as a metaphor to illustrate the transcendent beauty, lightness and fragility of porcelain, and its enduring ability to enchant through the centuries.

This book has bolstered my faith in my own work, and offers renewed inspiration. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in how things come into being, both philosophically and materially; who loves lush, poetically elegant writing; and/or who makes things themselves.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Back to Normal

 Okay, the census job is finished, the convergence of guests has dispersed, and the moving of boxes and re-arranging of furniture is almost done. I am looking forward to breathing again. And stitching. The poor marine mammals have been in the hoop for so long I had to spread the cloth out to see where I'm at. The great whale is nearly complete, then just a sea lion, a porpoise and a seal to go. And the windrose or navigational lines.
It is nice to sit out on the deck and stitch. Jasmine, heliotrope and sweet alyssum wafts in the breeze, and hummingbirds dart and hover.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ever the Outlier

Well, blogging for ten years has finally paid off. I received a package in the mail last week that contained three balls of yarn (gratis) for me to test and report on to my faithful readers. No, it's not Habu or fair-trade, ethically harvested cashmere. It's pure polyester yarn, "Scrubby" from Red Heart, intended for knitting, you guessed it, dishwashing scrubbies.
Now, those of you who know me know that I'm pretty much an old hippy treehugging environmentalist, so it was definitely a long shot as to whether I would think polyester yarn was worth my investment of time in trying it out. Odds would be on a total thumbs down review.

And, yup, that would be right. In my opinion, this is the most seriously evil yarn I have worked with since Phentex back in the 1970's. It's like everything a yarn shouldn't be packed into one fibre. Rough and unpleasant to touch, impossible to rip out, uncompliant, harsh, catchy in a bad way. Perfect for the intended use however. I suppose.

This yarn made me so crazy that I began concocting fantasies about how it was created. I imagined a failed experiment to make some kind of biotoxin that some marketing genius looked at and said, "How can we find a use for this toxic waste, now that we've spent so much money developing it?" "It looks like some kind of supersnarled thread. Maybe the knitters would like it." "And it will erode microscopically into the oceans every time you wash it! Disposal problem solved!"

I see that many whimsical patterns for this yarn have been developed by the online knitting community. Obviously there is a market for this stuff. It has a cute name and there are many bright, synthetic colours named after things in the natural world. It has been marketed well.

I did ask the nice Red Heart rep who offered me the yarn if the yarn was virgin or recycled polyester. She didn't know. (There is a huge issue with recycled polyester microfibers coming off in wash water and entering the food chain.)
(And here's another good article.)

The yarn is made in Turkey, a country with an incredibly long and noble tradition of producing fine textiles. I found a PDF of a report on the Turkish synthetic fibre industry published by the Swiss company Oerlikon:
"Growth in the Turkish textile industry exceeds expectations
The Turkish textile industry, full steam ahead!"
Sorry I couldn't make the link work, but if you google that headline you will find it. Lots of corporate bafflegab but they do acknowledge the problem of the high relative cost of the petroleum used to manufacture virgin polyester.

I have sent an email directly to Red Heart asking if the fibre is virgin or recycled. It matters because recycled polyester fibres are more likely to break down into micro fibres. But either way, I am the person who had a dream once wherein I shouted, whilst brandishing a Phentex purple poncho, "Polyester equals Death!"

Probably the wrong person to do a fair review.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

By The Sea, By The Sea

First off, maybe you can help me decide which of these three shots is the best. They are of a beautiful cast paper bowl made in 1998 by Canadian artist Janet Moore, with wasp paper and bone insertions and a whale vertebra base.

The sun was setting as I took these photos. Just as I was leaving I caught this shot of a fisherman on his way home.
And slow but sure progress is being made on the whale.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Plenty of Fleece

A couple of Sundays ago, my rug-hooking friends and I went on a field trip to Coombs, BC, for the annual 100 Mile Fleece and Fibre sale. I was feeling flush with all that money I have piled up from selling my time. I thought I might just go wild, relive the past, and get a good ol' stinky raw fleece. Just for old time's sake.

White for once, instead of the coloured fleeces I usually fall for, so maybe I could dye it and have more options.

I found a gorgeous Romney (named "Bea") -- silky white fleece, fantastic crimp -- and snapped her up.

It could have ended there, and I would have saved myself a lot of heartache.

But wait, my friends had to look around at all the sumptuous top and roving for sale at the 30-odd booths. I loitered outside, I ate my lunch in the sun, I tapped my toe. Finally I went back in to look for them.

You know what happened.

A raw Icelandic fleece the colour of caramel started winking in my direction, rendering me weak-kneed and handing over $20 before I could think straight.
 I took him home.

In the light of day, he wasn't so good-looking.
 And he had scurf.

So why am I letting the beautiful Romney languish in the basement while spending time I don't have in lovingly washing and combing the Icelandic in the hopes that he will be spinnable? Have I learned nothing?

Once teased, he even looks like something I would find under the chesterfield during my twice-yearly vacuums.
Uh huh.

Let this be a permanent record of my repeating folly.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Not Dead, Only Resting

It doesn't take long to get out of the habit of updating the blog. Ten years of building it up and maintaining it and then, poof! It's off the radar. No excuses, I've got a lot of catching up to do.
Nice wooden floor in a Victoria restaurant.
I did get in to Victoria for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. Here I am with two of the panels dealing with the Selkirk Settlers, from whom I am descended. (Great-great-something-or-other Robert MacKay arrived in Canada in 1815.)
 The show was very impressive, although I had been expecting a single long banner like the Bayeaux Tapestry. The single panels are a practical solution to the problem of shipping the exhibition around the world, though, and make the installation more flexible for the hosting venues.
 The panel below, from India, was probably my favourite. The stitching was exquisite.
 There were a number of panels concerned with the Scot's contribution to textile production around the world.
 This one had a particularly nice rendition of lace. Apparently the different embroiderers had free choice as to the filling stitches.
And the Christ Church Cathedral was a glorious venue.