Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Fates

Finally, finally, finally. I have finished The Fates piece at last. Here are a couple of quick snaps to give you a general idea.

This is the first time I have worked in a tondo format. It definitely appeals to my desire for symmetry. I was also very happy with the brocade border - a piece of fabric that I got at the Swap-O-Rama-Rama in Seattle last spring. And the stretcher it is mounted on was found at the hospital thrift store in Steveston - just the right size and only a dollar! The piece measures 20" square.

My embroidery skills are fair to middling, but working this piece helped improve them. And as far as what it all means, I will have to ponder it a bit. I know what I had in mind when it started but inevitably time and the process of working changes things.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wendell Castle's 10 Adopted Rules of Thumb

Wendell Castle is quite an extraordinary furniture maker. I have been carrying around the following list of his 10 Adopted Rules of Thumb for several years. Since I am currently without an internet connection, and must make do with the jittery computer the local library has to offer, I thought I could offer Wendell's list as an alternative to a regular post. I think they are applicable to any creative pursuit.

1. If you are in love with an idea, you are no judge of its beauty or value.
2. It is difficult to see the whole picture when you are inside the frame.
3. After learning the tricks of the trade, don't think you know the trade.
4. We see and apprehend what we already know.
5. The dog that stays on the porch will find no bones.
6. Never state a problem to yourself in the terms it was brought to you.
7. If it's offbeat or surprising then it's probably useful.
8. If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it.
9. Don't get too serious.
10. (And my personal favourite...) If you hit the bullseye everytime, then the target is probably too near.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tidal Pool Scarf

This scarf was whipped off in a couple of hours, using a wrap and drop garter stitch, and multiple strands of yarn.

I was inspired by the beauty of the tidal pools of Lasqueti Island.

Not included in the time taken are the little purple starfish beads I made out of Fimo. But they didn’t take long either, and were fun to create. I attached them by threading all the beads plus starfish on the thinnest strand of the yarns I was working with and knitted them in randomly as I went. This was the first time I had knitted with beads and I didn't particularly enjoy the fiddliness. But I ascribe that to just not being very practised at bead knitting.

One thing I like about this project was that it was a great stashbuster. The yarns used had been traveling around for a LONG time. And they are a pretty international bunch too: light blue viscose from France, multi-coloured slubbed cotton and viscose from Holland, a Merino woven tape from the odd ball bin in a San Francisco shop, lime green cotton and rayon from a thrift shop in Tsawwassen, and a purple Cotswold (from England) single handspun by me about 15 years ago. Beads from Japan and Czechoslavakia round out the medley.

I would have used more beads and starfish for total galoptious-ness*, but they added quite a bit of weight and I like a scarf that’s light on the neck.

* Galoptious is a great word I thought was unique to our family, but I found it in Finnegan’s Wake, so it must have Irish origins. It means over the top ornamentation.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Resurrecting A Sweater

I started this sweater back in the early days of 2008. It originally was a hoodie I made for my ex-step daughter. She wore it once and got chocolate on it, so, as 11 year olds do, threw it to the back of her closet to languish indefinitely. I found it while cleaning her room (achh, why, oh, why do I do these things?), decided that an 11 year old couldn’t be responsible for a handknit sweater, unraveled the whole thing, washed the yarn, and set about knitting Anna Bell’s Bridie sweater from Knit Knit.

I quickly managed to finish front, back and sleeves. Then it was summer and all the shit with the prince happened. The sweater waited forlornly in the bottom of my knitting bag until a couple of weeks ago, when I pulled it out, realized that it was almost done and I just had to finish the button bands.

Easier said than done, due to the odd angles. I knit and ripped, knit and ripped. Luckily I was quite enthralled by the multi-coloured, multi-layered buttons (which seem impossible to photograph) so they kept me going until, finally, the bands fit.

I do like the finished product, even though it may not be the most flattering shape for me. It looks better with the bottom three buttons undone, but it any case is cosy and has already garnered a few compliments. I love the colour, probably my favourite blue.

Now I am at work on Wendy Bernard’s Yogini Bolero in AllHemp6. Like knitting with string, a bit hard on the hands, but luckily it’s a small garment.

And just for the dog lovers out there, here’s a totally UNphotoshopped picture of Keiko in mid shake. I wish I could do that!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

'Tis the Season

I returned from a week on the island to find that Vancouver was suddenly deep in the throes of Christmas season. Twinkly lights, advertising, schlocky music in the supermarket, gaggles of teenagers getting on the bus laden with shopping bags from the Gap. Buy Nothing Day came and went with nary a blip on the radar.

Needless to say, the whole scene horrifies me. I usually make my Christmas gifts anyway, and for the last several years Christmas has been a much scaled down event for my family, so I'm not feeling any particular pressure to run to the malls and participate in the "joy" of the season.

This year is a bit different as not taking part in the consumer frenzy of Christmas is less of a choice and more of a necessity. I am living on a severely curtailed income these days. It doesn't feel like a terrible deprivation, and I am very glad to be as resourceful in terms of skills as I am. I love going to the thrift store in search of a pair of shoes and scoring a barely worn pair of Fluevogs for $4. I love making my own bread, and thrive on beans and rice (and the delicious variations thereof). I need to find a way to get some physio, though, and will probably be needing some dental work done in the New Year.

I draw great inspiration from my friend Wendy Tremayne, who, in 2001-2002, lived with no money for a whole year. She not only managed to cover necessities, but found all the services and health care she needed as well. Guided by the gift economy philosophy she discovered at Burning Man, she did not just receive, but shared her abundant abilities as they were needed. A gift economy is different from barter, where a trade is made one for one.The energy of a gift needs to be kept moving, and is not a simple transaction between two people, but is part of a chain of community and culture.

Wendy says that her money-free year was the richest and most fulfilling of her life. She made connections and friends that continue to this day. Her need for clothes during that year led her to found Swap-O-Rama-Rama, which has created an international community of people who don't just swap clothes, but share skills and discover the true joy of making.

And so, a month ahead of New Year's Eve, I am making a resolution to enter 2009 with a heart open to the riches and abundance of creative living. Naive and idealistic, perhaps, but comes with a feeling of lightness and freedom that money can't buy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

As the World Turns

There used to be a soap opera called "As the World Turns", lampooned by Carol Burnett as "As The Stomach Turns". I can't deny that my life at times resembles a soap opera but that isn't what I'm talking about today.

I happen to be a spinner (or spinster), although I haven't done a lot of interesting work lately. But I have sat in front of the wheel for countless hours, the whirling motion embedding itself in my brain, leading me to ponder this fundamental truth of our existence.

We are beings living on a spinning world. In fact, the reason we don't float off into space is because the earth spins. Although it is possible to go through life without being consciously aware of this, I believe we know, down to a cellular level, that we are intrinsically connected to this circular motion.

There are probably zillions of examples of how the spinning of the earth manifests itself in nature, chemistry, physics, etc., but from my little corner I see how it is part of what we make. As the potter's wheel allows clay to be shaped, or the lathe allows wood to be turned into symetrical form, the spinning wheel imparts strength (twist) to fibre so that it can be used to weave, knit, stitch.

I might have returned to this thought because I am finally nearing the end of the Three Graces piece (pics soon). But while walking down on the beach today, I saw how the action of the waves (of course influenced by the gravitational forces of the moon and the spinning of the earth) had spun the seaweed into giant coils. It looked like yarn of the ocean.

I have been interested in Lexy Boeger's art yarns for awhile now, and had been planning to spin something evocative of tidal pools. Now, with this latest inspiration, I know how I'll be spending December - cozy in front of the fireplace, transforming piles of fluffy green mohair, purple silk, wiry brown nylon, tiny purple starfish beads and turquoise sea silk into a yarn that might whisper to all who will listen for a clue to the meaning of life.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Comin' Clean

Photo: Bri in Michigan
I was once told by a therapist, who understood the cloth metaphor, that when you've stitched something, even if you remove the thread, the cloth has been forever altered, even if the evidence of the stitch can barely be seen.

And so it is. I am reminded of this as I move out of my studio, and have to sort through things and decide what to keep and what I can discard. And although I claim to be anti-consumerism, my complete failure at achieving this was made clear by the the walls of books and piles of cloth. I even had 5 sewing machines!

I successfully got rid of about a third of the stuff. I put armloads of books (mostly lovely hardcover art, philosophy and craft)out in the hall of the studio building, with a FREE sign, where my fellow artists quickly scooped them up. I still ended up with about a dozen very heavy boxes of books, and the same (at least) of fabric. I noticed that what I hung on to were the books on textiles and Japanese design.

And although it was with a bit of regret that I sent the art history and postmodernist theory texts off to a better home, I can't deny that they didn't have an impact on me that has changed the way I look at making things. I have a conceptual framework with which to approach why and how I create things. I see no reason why I shouldn't bring the same professional standards to stitching as I would to painting. And as I clear out the studio, and come across the supplies and tools that I have used over the years, I am reminded of the learning curve, the skills developed and the successes and failures along the way.

Even though it is hard to part with all my treasures, I think of the wise words of a yoga teacher I once had who said, while teaching prana (breath) work, "In order to inhale (or inspire) there needs to be space." I have to exhale, and excise,(and maybe even exorcise!) in order to create the space for the next phase of my life.

And in keeping with the title of this post, I am making a personal disclosure. You may have noticed my postings have been a little erratic and that I have had a lot of life changes in the past year. After the events surrounding the end of my marriage, people would say to me you don't seem affected, you're so strong. Well, I was able to pull that off for a while, but eventually one needs to process the anger and grieve the loss - a fact that has kinda sideswiped me in the last several weeks. I have been overwhelmed with anxiety and depression and am not functioning very well. Being with my new guy Shaun has helped create the feeling of safety that I can at last deal with all the emotional shit. And although it's certainly not fun, doing the necessary personal housecleaning will open up the space for my new life.

PS: I updated the previous post a bit re: stumpwork.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Guilty Pleasure

I confess! I made these little Christmas ornaments. From a kit.
As someone who really, really prides herself on designing her own work, it was with a little bit of guilt that I embarked on making these birds. I found this kit in the local thrift shop, unopened since its 1983 copyright date. Designed by the former reigning goddess of stitchery, Erica Wilson, and published by Columbia-Minerva, it turned out to be quite pleasurable to complete.
The bird outlines were stamped on a good quality wool felt, and there was a very generous supply of thread and sequins. Even needles were included. I was in a frame of mind where I just needed to keep my hands busy, so this little project fit the bill.
I especially enjoyed the 3-dimensional aspect of the ornaments, and am now thinking stumpwork is something I might explore a bit more.
Added a few days later:
This little project must seem like a bit of a contradiction to my previous post, but I did notice a few things. Each bird took about 4 hours to complete, so it was not a quickie. Although I chose it because I needed something fairly mindless, the gold metallic thread did not pull smoothly through the felt, so I had to work the stitches with care. The sequins were fun.
And the inspiration to explore stumpwork was a gift. I agree with Jude's comment, I never quite knew how I might use it in a piece. I also always used to think it was contrary to the drapey fluid nature of cloth. But there is the potential for me - how can I play with that space of in-between two and three dimensions? I had a teacher at art school who once suggested that that space was hitherto unexplored (and dominated) by old masters, and thus a new frontier for women artists to explore. In my early work, I did a number of piece that I considered sculpture (3D) but were actually flat, and used layering and light to give the sense of depth.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Bee-yoo-ti-ful Links

You might notice that some of my links have changed or been deleted. Although it works for me, I have a (probably) awkward way of checking my favourite blogs - I go to my own page and then just click on the links I have pasted in. I know there are all kinds of other sleek and streamlined ways of keeping up with other people's postings, but I have too much information in my head right now to figure out an RSS feed.

I have deleted ones I found I just wasn't reading anymore. The changes reflect how my own interests have become more focussed. (Or contrary, depending on your point of view.) I notice that I have become adverse to the indiscriminate use of the word "sweet" to describe just about anything. Bye bye Craft and Whip Up. I'll still drop by occasionally, but you're no longer on my A list.

I also cut No Impact Man, which used to be one of my favourites. Don't quite know why I found myself avoiding him - but I did leave a comment once that asked how he could be so relentlessly upbeat when the world was going to hell in a handbasket. I guess I like a wee bit of despair now and then.

I have added a couple of links to people who have done me the honour of commenting and who do some lovely work.

And lovely work is where it's at for me these days. I find myself increasingly frustrated with the products of the DIY movement. Yes, I'm all for learning to do things oneself (in fact, I think it's fundamental to existence) but I am tired of simplistic, poorly conceived projects that will fall apart or cease to give pleasure in a short time. The words of my high school sewing teacher ring in my head, "You must press it bee-yoo-ti-fully, dahling!" She was, of course, referring to ironing, but I took the concept to heart - if you are going to do something, do it with full attention, skill, and love.

I am re-reading Mary Thomas's Embroidery Book right now. (Available from Dover, a re-publication of a 1930's gem.) She is better known for her knitting book, but the one on embroidery is jam-packed with techniques and charmingly stated directives such as:
"Good materials inspire good work, and if these are really "embroidered" and not just covered with thoughtless stitchery, the result is one of lasting joy and satisfaction."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Things to Make and Mend

A quick little book review.

I picked this up off the deeply discounted shelf in Chapters. Initially attracted by the cover (of course), I flipped through a bit to discover the protagonist was a capital N Needlewoman. That clinched the deal for me.

Ruth Thomas doesn't disappoint. The story is full not only of textile references but the actual act of stitching is integral to the plot. It's a tale of two childhood friends who suffer deep hurt and misunderstanding but find each other again many years later. Sally, the Needlewoman, thinks that is what she became because
"There is nothing more tangible than threads sewn through cloth. She is happiest with something that is stitched down, not given the chance to slip or unravel or change."

It's a sweet story, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves to stitch.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Talking 'Bout My Baby

- can speak Zulu?
- is descended from Robin Hood?
- can discuss Noam Chomsky and do a perfect impression of Julia Child in the same conversation?
- knows what a "reduction" is (and can make one)?
- rescued a sheep from being swept out to sea on our second date?
- owns a tuxedo AND a sewing machine?
- sings to me in the morning?
- can get a wireless signal with an old wok and a couple of elastic bands?
- is the most honest person I have ever met?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hades in a Saucepan

I had some lovely organic beets that I was going to make borscht with. Unfortunately, after setting them to simmer on the stove, I went out to the garden and got distracted. Two hours later....

Eszter Haraszty, Needlepainter

I found this book at the Free Store on Lasqueti. Published in the mid 1970's, it documents one woman's obsession with embroidery. Eszter Haraszty was a glamorous Hungarian who moved to Los Angeles and found she needed to express herself in ways that hobnobbing with Hollywood stars just didn't satisfy. (Sorry, the picture is on its side as I am without Photoshop at the moment.)

As you can see, she was quite the dish. The oversized shades and knee socks are a stylist's dream. (Click to enlarge.)

She gets an endorsement from none other than Mary Tyler Moore! Talk about a 70's icon. I particularly like the blurb from Rudi Gernreich, creator of the topless swimsuit. "Dreamflowernatureartenchantedgardenhouseworld", indeed!

As you can see, Eszter has covered practically every surface in her home with needlepainted flowers. As far as I can tell, her term needlepainting basically describes crewel embroidery. But I enjoy the bold colourful textures, quite a different aesthetic from today's self-consciously cute minimalism.

Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

Autumn has come to the island:

The garden is full of garter snakes making the most of their last chance to bask in the sun.

The tree frogs would probably mate with anything that moved at this point.

Keiko is getting as much swimming in as she can.

The sumacs are magnificent.

The light in the forest is getting softer.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Finally, A Bit of Stitching

I am well aware of the irony of calling this page a stitching blog when it is painfully bereft of any evidence of actual stitching. Even though it's not finished, I wanted to show you what I have been working on this summer.

I seem to have bogged down on the word "pleasure". Suddenly, my eyes have lost the ability to focus at the necessary distance to see what I am doing. Bright light helps, but I fear a magnifying lens is in my near future. Working on a fine linen cloth, trying to do a counted satin stitch over 5 threads doesn't help either. But soon it will be done.

The text reads: "The object of their labours may have simply been the pleasure of the work itself." It is a quote from the weighty anthology "The Object of Labor", which I wrote about several months ago. It was referring to the possible reason behind the huge output of tea cloths, pillowcases, doilies and such that women produced in the 30's and 40's.

I have been thinking about the words in the context of this big project I have taken on, using text fragments and old cloth to explore ideas of impermanence, life and death, fate and faith. It amuses me to think of the Three Fates enjoying their work of spinning, measuring, and cutting the threads of our existence. Why shouldn't they take pleasure in their acts of creation? Every artist knows the need to be able to look at a piece of work and say, "It's done."

This piece of text will be one element in a larger cloth that more directly reference the Fates. I look forward to showing the finished work to you SOON.


I have been enjoying sitting under this large maple during the summer. Its leaves are now starting to shift in colour - autumn is only a day away.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Once Upon a Time (The Story Continues…)

I turn 50 tomorrow. Here is a tale that I hope may reassure those who read it that magic, romance and true love can come to us at any age.

The girl and her dog journeyed over land and sea, and found themselves on a magical island. There was a little house for them to live in, and a garden full of fruit and vegetables. They spent their days in happy companionship, walking on the beach and working in the orchard, accompanied by hummingbirds, ravens, and the occasional feral sheep.

The girl kept a blog to let her friends know what she was up to. One day she received a message signed “A Secret Admirer”. She was perplexed – who could it be? She had so many sweet friends who had helped her through difficult times. Most of them were women – how many men read a blog about sewing? But the girl was clever, and soon guessed who it might be – one of the prince’s courtiers, a steadfast, kind-hearted knight who had been loyal in spite of the prince’s ineptitude.

The girl and the knight began a correspondence and soon discovered that they shared many things in common. One day, with butterflies in her throat, the girl decided to invite the knight for a visit. He set out the very next day, more scared than he cared to admit, but he was courageous, and ready for adventure. When his boat touched the shore, the girl was waiting.

The island’s magic swept over them. Their middle-aged skin became smooth and glowing, their near-sighted eyes shone like stars, and they fell into each other’s arms like long lost lovers who had finally found each other again. They lay in the light of the full honey moon, marveling that such a gift should be given to them at this late stage in their lives.

Days passed, each one bringing the girl and the brave knight closer together. They slept like puppies, curled together, warm and gentle. The sun blessed their bodies as they bathed in the sea, and the green fronds of the cedars sheltered them as they rested underneath. The knight told stories of his adventures, making the girl laugh merrily, and he cooked ratatouille and patty pan squash with maple syrup. The girl tended the garden and made the little house a cozy home, and the dog (we mustn’t forget the dog) was overjoyed to be adored by two people instead of just one.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Lingering on Lasqueti

Other than a childhood dream of being a lighthouse keeper, I've never had much of a chance to explore maritime life. Now I find myself falling in love with the rugged, timeless rocks, driftwood and even boat moorings.

Keiko and I have been blissing out in the late summer sun.

The beaches on Lasqueti are endlessly fascinating. The rock formations are very organic, resembling the work of Henry Moore on acid. They offer lots of opportunities for play.

Pebbles are embedded in sand, which over the years becomes stone. Waves and tides create erosion, and eventually loosen and release the pebbles.

The colours of a tidal pool are echoed in the garden.

This little tree frog paid a visit.

This giant, gnarled old maple shares the same water we drink. Our well is at it's foot.

Two sunsets. Every evening a spectacular canvas unfolds. (Completely un-Photoshopped!)

Friday, August 22, 2008

One Year Ago

August the 23rd will mark one year from the day I had my accident. I nearly died that day, and looking back, I think it was a pivotal moment in changing my life. Today, everything is different - I have a new home, a new love, a new dog, a new job, even new teeth.

I may have become more philosophical. My mother commented on a recent blog posting, "Good grief, I think Heather is getting spiritual!", which may be more revealing about the low ranking given to spirituality in my family than a real indication of any enlightenment I might have achieved. Indeed, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about my existence in this world and how to make the most of it.

One thing I do know for sure - striving for money and material gain is a dead end street. Learning to give and receive love - on both personal and universal levels - is a open road.

I am so grateful to all the lovely people, both friends and friends-to-be, who have left inspiring and supportive comments over the past year. I hope that in the next few months as my life settles down, I will be back to making more art, more quilts, more embroidery that I can share with you. For a blog that is supposed to be about stitching, it has gone off on some wild tangents. But if we can look at the definition I give at the top of the page: "To join, to make or mend, to decorate", in a metaphorical sense, maybe everything can be seen as stitching.

Love, health and happiness to you all!