Friday, December 28, 2007

On Commitment

Until one is committed there is always hesitancy,

the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness,

there is one elementary truth,

the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision,

Raising to one’s favor all manner of unforeseen accidents and meetings

And material assistance which no man could have dreamed

Would come his way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

-W.H. Murray, often misattributed to Goethe

I came upon this today and felt it very relevant, particularly for the New Year. The lovely photos are by my friend Jean-Pierre Antonio.

Best wishes to you all for 2008.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Year in Review

2007 has been a particularly eventful year for me. I realize I have a fairly eventful life in general (some would call it a soap opera) but this past year has been a standout.

Probably the most exciting thing has been Swap-O-Rama-Rama. I produced two of my own here in Vancouver, and as well travelled to Maker Faire in both San Mateo and Austin to help produce Swaps there. But the events themselves are but one aspect of the most radically creative and generous community you could ever hope to find. I have met amazing people through Swap-O-Rama-Rama, made some good friends, and also found a life teacher in Wendy Tremayne, the visionary creator of SORR.

I got married in June, to the wonderful Ian Gregson. We had a beautiful small wedding on Bowen Island, at the foot of a 1000 year old Douglas Fir. The day was the second full moon in the month, making it a "Blue Moon", as I like to say I only get married once in a blue moon.

Our honeymoon was to be at Burning Man, but two days before we were going to leave I had a terrible bicycle accident that left me with fractured C-1 and T6-7-8 vertebra. I spent the next three months in a back and neck brace, taking it very easy. This time was particularly frustrating for me because I couldn't do any work, no sewing or knitting or even reading, due to the immobility of my neck and my general fogginess and pain. I would love to say I came to some great insight during this time, but I really didn't, other than life is short and precarious. But then I think I already knew that!

(I look kind of grumpy in this picture. It was taken right after I got out of the hospital - guess I was still in pain!)
There were many lovely kind people who sent cards, made phone calls, and passed on good wishes throughout my healing process. Big thanks and much love to you all! There were also some people who shared their care whose names I don't even know - the young man who comforted me right after the accident as I was lying on the pavement waiting for the ambulance to come, the people who would offer their seat on the bus, the artists in my studio building who took up a collection for me. Knowing such goodness exists in the world does help give hope in times of helplessness and despair.

And speaking of goodness - some lovely blogging friends I have made this year! It is heart-warming to feel that I have connections all over the world. No longer do I feel like a solitary fibre obsessive. It is motivating to make something and know I have someone to share it with - other than my always supportive family! Thank you to all who visited the blog and especially those who made comments. I really believe this is the power of the Internet - to create community that transcends geographical boundaries.

This was also the year that my beloved Casey died. I do miss her gentle, patient presence and hope she is bounding happily through fields of daisies in that place that good dogs go. And there were some frightening moments when my dear friend Helene became very ill. She has shown exemplary grace through a long struggle, and I am very hopeful that she will be healthy and well in the new year.

I have lots more up my sleeve for 2008 - trips to New Mexico and Japan, possibly buying a business from a friend, more Swap-O-Rama-Ramas, maybe a book, and lots and lots of art! I'm sure there will be a few surprises thrown in along the way too.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thriftin', thriftin', thriftin'...

Last week I was in New Westminister for my last appointment with the neurosurgeon. He was running late, so I took advantage of a rare sunny West Coast day and went for a walk. I came across the Royal Columbian Hospital Thrift Shop - it felt like a discovery - a real thrift store in the increasingly expensive world of second hand retail. How big did I score?

This big! For $20 I brought home all kinds of yardage, including a metre of teal ultrasuede and 4 metres of silk, cotton knits, zippers, naturally dyed cotton yarn, bright red knitting needles and a crochet hook, a linen sweater (worn in the picture below), and 2 boxes of vintage Christmas tree ornaments!

Today, I tried out my new serger on the stack of assorted colour cotton knit ribbing (25 cents a piece, $1.50 total) seen to the left of the top picture. In two hours I had three scarves. I think I'm pleased! The new toy might just pay for itself one day!

And in another of the ongoing thrifty moments that highlight my life, I unravelled the lovely blue sweater that I made for the SD. (It was found in a heap at the back of her closet with smears of icing hardened onto the front. I made an executive decision that it was foolish to knit for ungrateful 12 year olds, and as penance, I would frog it and make something for myself.)

Skeins washed and relaxing on a towel. I tried to capture the unusual combination of aqua and dusky blue.

And here's a swatch. I am making Anna Bell's asymetrical sweater from Knit Knit.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Have I Gone Over to the Dark Side?

In the midst of all the very interesting discussion on Sharon B's blog about slow cloth, I went and bought a serger. Other than the fact I have wanted one for years, what on earth prompted me to do such a thing?

Well, in a suspiciously convenient rationalization, I think if I can go faster for some things maybe I'll have more time for other, more fun things, like hand embroidery. I do a fair bit of garment making, where the overlock stitches could come in very handy, but I also do a lot of quilting. A serger is darn near useless for quilting, although if I'm wrong, I hope some clever reader can enlighten me.

I must also confess to being slightly terrified of the thing. It goes so fast, has sharp blades, and an alarming number of unfamiliar parts. (Sounds like my first husband!) However, I did have a lesson with the lovely and patient Evelyn at the Pfaff store and I feel somewhat more confident - at least I know how to thread the machine, which sounds like half the battle.

But strangely enough, now that I have this powerful new toy, I just want to do a little handstitching. The above image is a detail from a piece I made a few years ago, called Falling Leaf. I embroidered maple leaves on an old, worn wrapping cloth. I remember the process as being very warm and fuzzy: sitting by the wood stove, watching movies on TV, with no deadline as to when I needed to be finished. So satisfying making all those hundreds of little stitches, watching the leaves take shape, each with their own unique character.

I can't imagine my new serger fitting in to such a cozy scenario. I hope I will discover its special talents and capabilities and learn to love it for itself. And if it gets me home from the studio an hour or so earlier each day, I won't complain a bit!

And as an effective antidote to the seductions of the serger, I need look no farther than Spirit Cloth, Jude Hill's beautiful and inspiring blog. If you don't know her work already, do pay her a visit - her words as well as her stitching are unfailingly wise, thoughtful and from the heart.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A New Look

I was just as surprised as you were when I looked at my blog today and saw the new look. David Montie has been redesigning my website and I now have a complete visual identity! The blog was the last thing to change. Let me know what you think, it's always a bit of a shock to see an old friend in a new haircut!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bits and Pieces

A medley of odds and ends today - probably each one is worthy of a post, but I'm in a flurry of excitement and can't focus too well!

Why am I in a tizzy? Cause I just booked tickets for a trip to Japan!!!

I came into a bit of money and figured this might be my one chance to visit my dream destination. I have wanted to go for years. I'll be going in late February - the austerity plan starts NOW so that I will have a good wad of yen. Luckily the Canadian dollar is in a favourable position these days. Oh, I booked my ticket online, and Air Canada helpfully provided a link that allowed me to purchase carbon offsets so I don't feel like a horrible person flying.

And then I saw that the new Knitty is up! Haven't actually been able to look at it just yet, since it seems massive numbers of eager knitters have crashed the site. But I did catch a glimpse of the cover shot - an absolutely perfect photo of a mohair? qiviut? beaded lace hood. Have a look - you'll see! But wait until the stampede is over.
*Later the same day.* The photo is from RomiDesignz Flickr group. I still can't load this page from Knitty - there must be a zillion others trying to see it at the same time.

And one more thing - today's No Impact Man posting led me to this terrific little video: The Story of Stuff. Check it out - it's a very accessible, funny and positive look at the problem our planet faces and how we can make things better.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Pornography for the Hand Sewer

Back when I was in the remodelling phase of home ownership, I used to watch shows like Bob Vila and This Old House. (We didn't have cable, thank god. If I had be able to watch HGTV I would never have gotten off the couch.) I called these programs "Pornography for Home Owners" in respect to the fantasy world depicted therein. I knew that in real life, my husband and I didn't change into our fresh new LL Bean khakis and re-plaster the ceiling without getting a speck of dust on us or maintaining cordial, expletive-free conversation.

Now, I live in a co-op and don't have to worry about the resale value of my home. I am blissfully reno-free. But I still live in a fantasy world! I have a nasty little habit of living vicariously through Japanese craft magazines.

Check out this soft focus image of a woman peacefully sewing in an immaculately clean and elegantly decorated room!

Or this one - she's got a Juki! Sigh...

I could probably make a perfectly pieced quilt too if my sewing room was this well organized. Did they oil up those machines or are they just naturally glowing?

Look at these rolls of cloth! Hey, wait a minute - have they been airbrushed?

How stacked can you get ...Oh, okay, I'll stop with the bad jokes.

Seriously, this just makes me weak in the knees.

My friend Jean Pierre, who got me hooked on the sordid world of Japanese craft magazines, tells me this alternate universe really exists. He said in a recent email,
"Craft is generally a very female world out here. There are lots of cooking/craft programs on NHK (national station) and it's always women, except for a famous male sweater knitter. Men in Japan go to the office and women live in their own worlds. It seems quite segregated but it satisfies the women I think. The coffee shops and restaurants and stores during the daytime are full of women plotting the education of their children and how to spend the retirement bonus once the men are finished working."

Hmmmn, doesn't sound very 21st C. Ah well, to each his (or her) own. My fantasy world remains captured between the pages of magazines I don't even know the name of - since they're all in Japanese kanji. If anyone is interested in checking out this world, try googling Japanese Craft Books - there are lots of links. And if your credit card can stand it, try Amazon Japan - there is a button you can click for English translation.

I haven't even mentioned that if you get past the typically gorgeous photography of these books, the project instructions are excellent. In graphic form, they are clear, detailed and quite possible to follow even if you don't read Japanese. I tend to go for the more traditional books on embroidery and quilting, but there are oodles on arumigami, soft toys, bookbinding, flower arranging, knitting, you name it.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Simpler Handmade Holiday

I guess I broke my own self imposed rule yesterday with the post about the crinoline Christmas tree. Usually I resolutely avoid anything to do with Christmas until we're safely into December. Maybe this post over on Whip Up had me thinking...

Kathreen talks about how it's wonderful to shift from buying commercial, anonymous, sweatshop-made goods as gifts to either making your own or buying local, handmade gifts. But she also recognizes the hidden pitfall of investing so much your heart in making something for someone who just doesn't love the handmade aesthetic.

I ran into this situation a few years ago, when I was fortunate to not have to work. I used all my time joyfully spinning yarn, learning to weave, knitting, dyeing - basically indulging in all things fibre. One Christmas I made hand-spun, hand-dyed, hand knit or woven items for everyone in my family. They were properly gracious and all, but I think a little overwhelmed. Of course these are GIFTS we're talking about, given freely with no expectation of an equivalent gift in return. But it was a bit much, and soon after that our new family gift policy was initiated.

Since we are all adults and have most of the stuff we need, it was decided that instead of exchanging gifts we would each draw a name from a hat around Thanksgiving, and then make that person a handmade card. Just that person. Non of this multitude of gifts under the tree stuff. The first year, my brother Dave made me this amazing carved card containing a chestnut from the tree that used to stand in front of the house in which we grew up (now long gone.)

There have been some awesome and creative cards over the years, and we don't seem to have suffered for lack of presents!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Frothy Christmas Tree

My friend Wendy sent me this picture of a Christmas tree made from crinolines! It's from a vintage store in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico called Dust and Glitter. I'm not a girly type really, but harbour a secret love of crinolines, probably a remnant from my childhood when I would put on my crinoline and pretend I was a ballerina.
(Wow, I'm glad today is almost over. I'm being entirely too confessional!)

You, Cute Brunette, on the 135 Wednesday Afternoon

I saw the cutest boy on the bus yesterday. I recognize that it's a bit unseemly for a 49-year-old woman to be talking about cute boys, and also that the young man in question would probably be horrified to know that the middle-aged lady in the raincoat across from him was entertaining thoughts of him at all. But I have passed into the age of invisibility and can discreetly ogle the lads without them noticing (I hope!)

So what was it about this guy that caught my eye? His Converse low cut runners and neo-Rasta hand knit toque tweaked the radar first off, then his decidedly Value Village plaid jacket. He was in his early 20's, I think, although my age guessing skills are getting unreliable. Any one under 40 is "young". Lovely brown eyes, on the skinny side, but what really sealed the deal for my were the glasses. So unfashionable that they were cool Clark Kent horn rims, with (swoon) TAPE on one of the temples!

So, yeah, I guess the jig is up. I like geeky cool boys. George Clooney, get your ass outta here!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fall Colours

Just a quickie today. I notice that I'm really loving these rich, muted colours for fall - purple, bronze, burnt orange.

And here's a sweater that I finally finished - I had completed all the pieces before my accident, but only now that I'm out of the brace have I been able to stitch it up. I'm still not sure about the deep scoop neckline - very Tudoresque, which I like, but it's hard to find the right top to wear underneath. Pattern can be found here.

And speaking of The Tudors, that series (which is currently being shown on CBC, but is also easily found as a download) has got to have the most gorgeous costumes I have ever seen. Total eye candy. The guy who plays Henry? Nahh...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Books of the Month

In my quest for less material stuff in my life, I have a couple of fatal flaws. One is fabric and art supplies - I have enough for ten lifetimes of making things. The other is books - even though my many moves have necessitated frequent purges, I have a huge collection of nonfiction, mostly art and textile books. It's shameful, I know, but at least, so far, my bad habit hasn't hurt anyone else.

Here's a few of my recent favourites:

Reconstructing Clothes for Dummies, by Miranda Caroligne Burns. Miranda Burns is a brilliant artist and terrific human being. I know her, like so many of the wonderful people I have met in the last year, through Swap-O-Rama-Rama. I love this book because it embodies her personality and philosophy of life - it's more than just a DIY book, it's a guide to a way of life that is more creative, fulfilling and easier on the planet. Very inspiring! And the projects are great too... Congrats to the publisher, Wiley, for NOT dumbing down Miranda's unique voice.

Just because this one has a bigger picture doesn't mean it's my favourite (although it's pretty darn good). I just was lazy sizing the images. The Crafter Culture Handbook by Amy Spencer introduces the reader to many of the big names in the craft field, and offers simple projects to make yourself. I enjoyed the stories of the makers, and like how there are lots of links and references if I was inclined to find out more. This book gives a comprehensive explanation to why young artists have begun making things as a form of resistance to many of the wrongs in the world, and why DIY is not just a quirky trend. Nice balance of text and project instruction.

Knit Knit by Sabrina Gschwandtner has been on a lot of people's lists, and for good reason. It's a marvelous book with exciting projects (there are several I want to make, and I hardly make anything for myself anymore.) The knitters featured in this book are uniformly amazing - I actually went into a mild downward spiral of inadequacy after reading about some of the truly multitalented people here. But that's just me being neurotic, and no reason to avoid this book. I love how conscious the artists are about their process and their politics - this is serious work. It's great to see knitting valued and honoured in this way.

I was lucky enough to have not only Sabrina, but Purl and Notorious N.I.T. from Knitta sign my copy while I was at Maker Faire in Austin. Sabrina has been doing quite a book tour, so check her website to see if she will be in your town anytime soon.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

More Pictures From the Swap

Our DIY tables at the Swap-O-Rama-Rama were organised by Cari Morris, who also took these photos. Cari is an amazingly kind, generous and creative person - in addition to running a home daycare for the sweetest kids you ever did meet, she is a designer with the label Tag Along Sally.

Our sewing machines are from Janome Canada - our sponsor who graciously lends machines for all Swap-O-Rama-Rama events. Thanks to Darren, the Western Canada manager, for making it so easy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Another Vancouver Swap-O-Rama-Rama

I survived a very busy weekend! Not only was my studio open for the Eastside Culture Crawl, it was Swap-O-Rama-Rama on Sunday. I think it was our best yet!

We had about 350 people through the door, close to previous events, but this time people stuck around longer, trying out the crafts and sewing machines.

Bill shows off his modded shirt. There's a lovely screenprint on the back too, courtesy of Inkspoon Print Syndicate.

The stencilling table was very popular. Thanks to Jacquie for the pic - check out her posting on the Swap here.

DJ's Rockerbiff and Sunny Boy provided ska and soul beats - people even danced!

Gretchen Elsner told the stories behind her creations. Her environment has such an influence on her work - one jacket was inspired by the 1000 Parker studio building we both work in. A gorgeous patchwork dress reflected Gretchen's experience of taking a pee in the woods (of all things!) She has got to be the most creative person I have ever met! (And you can tell from the photo that we went with a totally spontaneous approach, didn't even tidy up the stage.)

Our volunteers were once again heroic and so generous with their time and energy. I can't thank them enough.

To my great dismay, the hall (Grandview Legion) is not wheelchair accessible and one lady was not able to get up the long flight of stairs. I feel so badly about that. It's one of those things I just assumed the Legion would have - being veterans and all.

So, the next Swap starts with a list:
1. Book hall with access for everyone!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Emerald City Rocks!

Ian and I went off to Seattle for a spontaneous weekend trip. Well, as spontaneous as one can be knowing there will be arduous lineups at the border! (One hour going down, 1 1/2 hours coming back) We went not to shop, but purely for the culture - the exhibit of quilts from Gee's Bend at the Tacoma Art Museum for me, and the Rare Soul Weekend for Ian. (I did also buy a few books - I am helpless inside the Elliot Bay Bookstore.)

The Gee's Bend quilts have been a major influence on my work, so it was a total thrill to see them "for real". I probably spent more time in that room than I have in any museum since I spent an afternoon in the textiles section of the V&A ten years ago. The work clothes quilts are probably my favourites but there was an abundance of pieces using all kinds of materials, even one of basketball jerseys.

My only criticism would be the cramped installation. The quilts were hung salon style, which made it hard to focus on individual works. I don't know if this was simply due to lack of space in the facility or if quilts STILL don't merit a professional installation in the eyes of museum curators. Would a similar installation been given to the work of Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell or Barnett Newman? Unfortunately the ultimate effect was a little too eye-boggling, even for me.

We also took advantage of the clear sunny day to visit the Glass Bridge by Dale Chihuly. That was eye-boggling too, but wonderful, and a real treat, with Mount Rainier in the background.

I accompanied Ian to one of the Northern Soul events. It was exciting for him to meet some big names in the (somewhat) obscure world of Rare Soul DJ's. It was fun for me to see the dancers, especially the young men and women all dressed up 60's style, showing off all the moves.

We also had some great food at the Malay Satay Hut at 12th and Jackson, and the Grand Central Bakery on Pioneer Square.

Stopping in at Bellingham on the way home, we parked in the unfamiliar downtown, only to find that we were right in front of Spin Cycle Yarns, a lovely studio of handspun and dyed yarns. I met the delightful Rachel, who had a dyepot going, filling the studio with the intoxicating (really!) aroma of wet wool. We explored a bit of the area as well and vowed to return - Bellingham seems to have quite the artsy community, and lots of cool old buildings.

We sat in the lineup at the border, listening to the Smiths of all things (I guess Ian finally had enough of the soul music) and eating our delectable sandwiches from the bakery. All in all a wonderful trip!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Sensual Genius of Gretchen Elsner

I would like to introduce you to a friend, Gretchen Elsner, who has brought me so much delight and joy in the year I have known her. She is quite possibly the most brilliant and original person I have had the pleasure of associating with. The following text comes from her website, which I insist you must visit, as it comes close to capturing the energy and unique vision of her work.

"Gretchen Elsner is an American artist and designer currently living and working on a small island on the western coast of Canada. She is a performing artist in presentation of her book works, and has traveled widely across North America giving theatrical readings and giving her audiences encounters with the universes contained in her clothing, costumes and book arts.

She has served as the fashion director of The Ayden Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in Vancouver, and a researcher at Simon Fraser University working in the development of electronically active textiles and "soft-wear" able arts and garments. Her ready to wear recycled clothing pieces are each distinct and unique, signified by her hand knitted labels."

"She believes our clothing is an intimate language, and the clothing work is meant to engender enjoyment of the perfection of the nakedness of the body inside. We need one another, our bodies and our minds do, but there is also a part of ourselves that needs solitude, and our arts in many cases allow us to interact with our sensual, ephemeral selves so personally as to show us the way into such alone-ness as we cannot find when we are isolated."

"To be arrested before a painting, to be naked inside ones clothes, to have the neck relax and disappear into the darkness of the theater or the printed word with so many others all around, ahead and behind, to touch the something, or to feel the bass notes through the floor or walls, to be lead on a journey or an encounter, to surrender and teach or be taught; these experiences are the richest foods of our highest intimate selves, engendered through our arts."

"Sometimes these experiences live on nothing but air, but sometimes live with a fiercer passion for the quiet that appreciation and creation of our arts instill in us as we see and experience through the mind's eye of our fellows, and as we are beside ourselves in our own inspiration, in our own ways, moments in time: mind at large, roaming, free."

Here is Gretchen in her home studio. I am looking forward to sharing my studio with her on the weekend of November 16-18 as we take part in the Eastside Culture Crawl and of course, Swap-O-Rama-Rama!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Power of Panties

I loved this story that came up today. As someone who has worked with underwear as an artform, I know that panties are a surefire attention getter. (One of my pieces, Seven Deadly Sins, is pictured at the end of this post.)

Thu Oct 25, 5:48 AM
BANGKOK (AFP) - A campaign is underway to chastise Myanmar's military regime, not through dialogue or sanctions, but by flooding the country's foreign embassies with women's underwear, an activist said Thursday.

A pro-democracy group based in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai is urging people all over the world to "post, deliver or fling" their undergarments to Myanmar's international embassies.

"The Burma military regime is not only brutal but very superstitious. They believe that contact with a woman's panties or sarong can rob them of their power," the Lanna Action for Burma group said on its website.

The generals who rule Myanmar, previously known as Burma, provoked international outcry in September when they violently cracked down on peaceful protesters, killing at least 13 people.

Europe and the United States led the chorus of disapproval, announcing new sanctions against the regime.

Despite the outcry and a United Nations statement deploring the crackdown and urging dialogue, the junta has shown little sign of moving any closer towards democracy or freeing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Those behind the so-called "Panty Power" campaign hope that lingerie can succeed where international diplomacy has so far failed.

"We want to raise awareness first, and we want to target the Burmese government officials, letting them know we are against them abusing their power," said Tomoko, an activist with Lanna Action for Burma.

Tomoko, who goes by one name only, said she had heard that Myanmar embassies in Thailand, Australia and the United States had been targeted by the Panty Power campaign, which began last week.

"We are sending (the generals) panties as a symbol of putting their power down," she told AFP.