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."