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!