Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Splitting Up and New Directions

As the new year approaches, it is usual to reflect on the one past and make a list of what one would like to do differently. My blogging has become a little haphazard and lost its original direction. Hmmn, somewhat of a reflection of my life!

I've decided to split up the behemoth and hopefully better stay on topic. I will keep "True Stitches", and actually write about stitching! Then, I will begin a blog, "Resting in the Grace of the World" about the experience of trying to live sustainably (and on a very low income) on this enchanted isle. And finally, I will start a third, "You Are One With Them", specifically about the community quilt project I have been participating in.

So look for that in the New Year. As probably my final stitching of 2009, I finished the little samplers that I started during Dorothy Caldwell's workshop, "The Expressive Stitch". I added some border stitches and embellishments and the eagle feather found after my cat's altercation with a young golden eagle.

The end of this year (and, concurrently, the period between two blue moons) has been particularly sad and dramatic and stress filled for me. I may talk more about this in time, but for now I simply wish peace, simplicity and calm for myself, and for you, my readers and friends.

And, as my beautiful friend Helene said to me the other day, "Let it rip!"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

First Egg

I trudged out to the chicken coop this morning, ready to clean it as I do daily. What a total surprise to find this tiny perfect egg waiting in the nest, next to the golf ball that had been sitting there for a month (supposed to give the hens ideas).

I don't know which hen was the prodigal layer, but they all got a nice plate of porridge and berries to celebrate.

Unfortunately this welcome arrival was counterbalanced by the sad, bedraggled appearance of the one hen the others gang up on. Everyone says she's got to go to the stew pot. This is the one aspect of caring for animals that I've always found so difficult - the death factor. I don't have the same kind of emotional bond with the chickens that I have had with my pets, but that doesn't seem to make the thought of one of them dying, let alone at my hands, any easier.


Angus is a music lover. How many cats get to enjoy a private serenade from their human? He also likes to hang out at the Sunday jam sessions. His own vocal stylings range from a throaty rumble to Chinese operatic arias, as anyone who has ever met him can attest.

I have added a security level to the comments since for some bizarre reason I have been deluged with spam from a Japanese robot. Sorry for the annoyance.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Hey, Good Lookin'

The ladies still aren't laying, but this guy has started to cock-a-doodle-doo. He looks quite startled whenever he does. However, in spite of his adolescent quaver, he has started courting the girls, so eggs can't be far behind.

He seems to be a good rooster. He makes sure the girls are in at night, flaps his wings at any intruders, and the house is far enough away from the chicken pen that he doesn't really bother us in the morning.

And, my, he is a handsome devil.

Friday, November 27, 2009

+ Marks the Spot

I am intrigued by the concept of the simple cross. As beings in a world that is defined by three dimensions, we are intimately familiar, right down to the cellular level, by horizontality and verticality. I think this is why a cross is one of our most universal and fundamental symbols or marks, of an importance only equaled by the circle.

I like making crosses in my stitching. (This form is known as an upright cross stitch.) The piece I just finished gave me the opportunity to think a lot about why crosses feel so natural to make.

Here is a bit about the meaning of the simple cross (+) in other cultures. In ancient Greece, it represented the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. In the ancient Middle East it represented the four cardinal directions as well as the four winds. In Buddhist tradition it represents crossed thunderbolts, which show the power of Buddha's wisdom. In Aztec mythology it represents a meeting place or sacred crossroads. In Japanese sashiko, it represents me, which means "eye", carrying protective powers. (And I like the pun on "I".) The symbol can be a medicine wheel or a mark denoting place or a universal sign of healing. And of course it is a connection between heaven and earth.

It is also very interesting as a stitch. Since a regular X stitch crosses the warp and weft threads at an angle it tends to sit more on top of the cloth, while the + meshes more evenly with the fabric. It requires a bit more effort to sew, but I'm not sure if that is just from being more used to regular cross stitch or if the motion of the hand is just more naturally suited to a diagonal motion.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Tale of Two Sleeves

The odd piece of cloth I started right after the workshop with Dorothy Caldwell surged into the lead and crossed the finish line way ahead of all the other UFO's. I found it so comforting to work on. The finished size is 14.5" x 29" -- perfect for picking up and carrying around to work on during random moments. The burgundy kasuri at the centre came from a kimono, and the solid burgundy cotton was used to line the same garment. The fabulous worn gold bars were facings on the sleeve linings, and they are silk -- probably a poor choice for a part of the kimono that receives a lot of wear, but so gorgeous in its fragile decrepitude.

I worked very intuitively on this piece. I wanted to do crosses, but not the usual cross-stitch. I worked the bars of the cross in horizontal and vertical directions. I found out later that this is (confusingly) called diagonal cross-stitch and also upright cross. I wanted a very hand worked look, which I got, perhaps more than I am comfortable with. The light catches the threads in one plane or the other, resulting in a texture that is rougher than regular cross stitch.

I am also very fond of the reverse side.

The colours were quite impossible to capture accurately with my camera. The sewing thread I used for stitching on top of the gold was actually a gold-green, but the intense gold of the fabric just swallowed up the difference in shade. And I used a green floss for the running stitches around the edge, but they too look gold. All these phenomena are due to the complementary contrast of the colours burgundy and gold. Quite fascinating - and I am sure it is no coincidence that much of our theory of colour was developed by tapestry weavers. Fibre, threads and fabric are so varied in texture and reflectiveness that colour on them behaves more subtly and elusively than any other medium.

This piece is destined to return to its place of origin, a trans-Pacific journey of mending and metamorphosis. It's for my dear friend Jean-Pierre, who sent me the old kimono in a bundle of cloth he picked up from a temple market in Kyoto.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Perfect Surprise

Today we have been wrestling with the solar system and dealing with flooding from all the rain, so finding a little package in my mailbox from France was a totally delightful surprise. A very sweet and thoughtful gift from Francine who just had a birthday on the 14th. Drop by and wish her a belated Happy Birthday.

She says the doily is made by an old woman in a Cypriot mountain village. It looks tatted, but apparently it was made using just a thread and needle. Very interesting and beautiful. I do have quite a collection of handmade doilies and lace that I go through and fondle every so often - I love them but my "decor" is a little too rustic for displaying them. One day I will figure out a project to suitably show off this lovely lace.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Cozy Season

Things are wrapping up in the garden. I knit a cozy hat for the "grounds keeper". (It's adapted from this design on Knitty.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My New Favourite Book

A very interesting book has been occupying my attention the last few days. Weaver of Worlds, the story of Carolyn Jongeward's "journey in tapestry", is one of the most accurate and poetic accounts of the creative process that I have read. First published in 1990, and written by her husband David (he is so sensitive and supportive of her art it brings tears to my eye), it describes a long period of time starting in 1969 when the young couple first visited a Navajo settlement in New Mexico.

Carolyn was taught to weave in the Navajo tradition but this approach encompassed so much more than technical instruction. And this is where the book is so fabulously meaty with ideas that I think would be helpful to any artist, but particularly those who work with thread and cloth. The loom and the "loom space" become profound metaphors for the world and one's place in it.

Here is a passage that translates how an elderly Navajo weaver describes the loom-space:

" A weaver must watch out for the enemy. Every weaver must watch out for the big enemy Anger. When the weaver gets angry, the threads go wrong. The weaver forgets her way."
" What the old ones say is that a good weaver must find the harmony place. That is the white people's word for it. The place of harmony. Weaving is a way of sitting still within the harmony place. In the harmony place there is no room for the enemy."

I was quite wary of the story at the beginning as I feared it would be too new age-y, but in fact the rich swirl of mythology, psychology and history that Carolyn and David explore grounds them. Their mutually supportive relationship seems enviable - he an anthropologist, she an artist, their paths in tandem, each enriching the other. (I did a Google search and it appears that they are still together after 40 years. She is a practising artist with a doctorate in education, and he is a Visiting Scholar in Asian Studies at the U of T.)

This quotation seems so relevant to the concept of "slow cloth":

"The process of weaving inspires a special relationship to time. The rhythmic drumming of thread over thread produces a sense of movement, or flow, quite unlike usual perceptions of time. In tapestry time, a woven design emerges. The design is like a woven net cast out to catch a fleeting image: fluttering moth, a splashing rain drop. The image, idea or dream caught in the net is held in time, out of time."

Sometimes It's Simple...

Here on the island there is no electrical grid. People have everything from solar to windmills to waterwheels to gas generators to provide electricity, but whatever the source, most have to drastically scale down their usage.

Being conscientious about the use of power is a always a good thing, but one electrical appliance has been the bone of much contention in our house. I sew, hence I use an iron. And you wouldn't believe how much power the average electric iron draws - usually 1200 - 1400 Whs.

After a particularly unsatisfying episode of trying to construct a Mariner's Compass quilt square without the ability to press the seams, I thought I would have to resort to using old fashioned sad irons. These are big hunks of cast iron with a handle that one heats up on the wood stove - but fairly hard to come by these days. I told someone who grew up on the island about my problem. He said his ex-wife used to use regular old clothes irons with the cord removed.

Aha! I went to the thrift store over in Parksville, and scored a lovely heavy iron that probably dates from the 1960's. Expensive at $5 - it was verging on the collectible side of things. But last night I used it for the first time and it worked like a hot damn. The heavy steel plate absorbed and held the heat from the top of the wood stove. With mist from a spray bottle it flattened seams in a way I haven't experienced since the days of my beautiful old Rowenta.

These days we have the stove going most of the time for heat, so ironing can be done without drawing a scrap of precious battery power. I feel so smug!! (And in the summer I guess I just won't sew - oh wait, there's lots of sun then - solar galore!)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Punkin Head

Since I am currently facing a backlog of stories and projects that I can't gather the energy to post, and since my dear buddy Gretchen just sent me this picture of her Hallowe'en outfit, I thought I would share it. I think it perfectly captures her whimsical/surrealist/sexy aesthetic.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Taking Apart, and Putting Together Again

The other day, I unstitched two cotton kimonos. Like all the Japanese cloth I have seen, these simple everyday garments were handsewn with meticulous care. I always feel somewhat destructive when I take a kimono apart, even though I do it with respect. And I hope to put back something of what I take away by remaking the cloth.

Here's a view of the clothesline after I washed the pieces. There are two kimonos and their linings here.

I like the perspective from the other side, with sunlight defining the weave structure.

And how am I re-making this cloth? I'm not sure, but have started with the two fabulously worn sleeve linings and a slice of the outer cloth. Buddhist colours. Let's see where it goes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Knitters Considered Security Risk

Check this story out. It might seem like just another bizarre human interest story, but I see it as proof positive that VANOC (the organizers of the Vancouver Olympics) will stop at nothing to have their little corporate wankfest happen with no public dissent. This event is SO not about the athletes.

I would love to see the entire route of the torch relay lined with people proudly wearing authentic Cowichan sweaters. Or perhaps some yarn bombing is in order.

For more on the story check out this link from the Times Colonist.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thoughts from The Expressive Stitch

Here are a couple of quotes from the workshop. Those three days continue to resonate for me - I having a feeling a spell of good work is at hand!

"Time is paramount, precious, fleeting - never there when I need it. So to stitch, especially by hand is time-consuming, everlasting, forever. Therefore, I have to use the moments, any moments, to stitch. There are never ideal studio days. Like the embroiderers of Bangladesh or Panama, I have to use the moment to work. I always have a collection of materials ready to work on if there is a minute. These minutes become a kind of visual journal. I can return to a piece and remind myself of how I was thinking and feeling on that particular day."

"The simplest of stitches worked by hand, runs in and out through a fabric or whips back and around to grip the material and form a small ripple. This is an ancient technique and seems passe in the world "scan the image into the computer and watch it embroider on your sewing machine" Who after all had time?" - Julia Campana

"Hindu mythological tradition states that all arts and crafts are of divine origin. Artwork was a sacred ritual, other worldly, magical and divine. Leisure time was seen apart of creativity. In the religious texts of India, the universe is envisioned as a fabric woven by the gods. The ordered universe is one continuous fabric, the warp and weft forming a grid pattern."

"Uncut fabric is a symbol of totality and integrity. Rags also have symbolic importance. They are offered to the gods at certain shrines. It is said that the lord of tatters returns a whole cloth if a rag is offered. There is also a lady of tatters. The word kantha means rag." - Dorothy Caldwell

And I do promise to repost the pictures from the previous days. I was downloading them straight from the camera so they are not properly sized and could do with some editing.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Expressive Stitch - Day 3

The third and last day of the workshop flew by. Dorothy showed slides of both her work and that of other artists whose work incorporates patching and darning. Here she shows off a found apron that is mended to an incredible degree, telling a story of hardship, thrift and care.

Most of the group had finished two or three samplers by day's end. They were all mounted on the wall as a group. It was quite interesting to see how everyone had their own style and vocabulary of mark-making, all working with quite limited materials. I love the dog portraits on the top row.

These are mine. The above image is almost finished, and is a document of the news that I got yesterday of my cat Angus having a run-in with an eagle. Apparently both are somewhat the worse for wear, and I am eager to get home to tend to my tough old kitty.

And this one I completed yesterday - a simple lotus design. Apparently it is traditional to begin a kantha in the centre, with either a red dot or a lotus.

There were a lot of inspiring quotes and philosophy shared over the course of the workshop, and I promise a post on that soon!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Expressive Stitch - Day 2

Today we stitched blindfolded. Dorothy guided us down this path gently, but we definitely had to put our trust in her.

First, she had us make five French knots along the edge of our cloth and have ready five threaded needles. She also asked us to remove all the clutter from our workspace. Then we put the blindfolds on and she gave us thematic words to focus on while we stitched a line, using the Frenck knots as a starting point. Words like "gesture" and "dialogue". It was quite discombobulating, like reading a book upside down.

But when all the little squares are put together, it's quite interesting and textural. Both the quilts above and below were made by previous workshops that Dorothy led in Australia. After piecing the blind stiched squares, the whole piece was heavily quilted, one with white and the other with red thread.

Tenting Couture

There is an amazing artist named Angelika Werth, who is German by birth, trained in Paris (at Yves Saint Laurent, I believe) and who now lives in Nelson, BC, where I knew her. When I passed by Circle Craft on Granville Island and saw these wonderful gowns made out of tents, I knew only one person could have created them - Angelika. Check out her website to be truly astounded.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Expressive Stitch - Day 1

This will be quick, since I'm just back after seven hours of stitching and I have homework! No complaints, though - time just breezed by. Dorothy (Caldwell, our teacher) started off with a slideshow of her travels to the region of India where traditional narrative Kantha cloth is made.

Then we got to look at piles of gorgeous Kanthas. I was thinking of Jude the whole time.

We will be making three samplers. The first one is supposed to be white thread on black. Here's mine.

We were supposed to come up with a simple image that's meaningful to for ourselves. The first thing I thought of was one of "the girls".

I peeked ahead through astack of forgeous shibori silk cloth that are stitches Katha-style. Can't tell you their provenance yet but, ooh, the ideas are a'flowing.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Textile Bliss

I'm off to a three day stitching workshop with Dorothy Caldwell! It's part of the Maiwa Symposium, which I have had the joy of attending in the past. I highly recommend that every threadhead amongst you make the journey at least once if you possibly can.

I wanted to link to my post of the Ralli Quilt workshop I attended and was a bit shocked to realize that it was three years ago. Here is the post, and I hope it stirs your desire!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Eating Local

My breakfast the other day was just so beautiful I had to take a picture. French toast and a selection of tomato jam, salmonberry and red currant jelly, blackberry jelly and greengage jam. All from no farther than the back yard. (Well, I guess the flour came from Saskatchewan. Forgive me.)

We had a Fall Fair on the island last weekend. One of the categories was "Homestead Display". (I didn't enter, having spent all my energy hanging quilts the day before. And as it turned out, I wasn't even close to this league.) It was so inspiring to see the displays.

Karl not only had bigger parsnips than mine, his display included some of the maple syrup he made from the big leaf maples on the island, and home smoked salmon. Karl even grows wheat!

This display was a true cornucopia of produce. The quilt in the background was made in the early '80's by the Lasqueti Quilters. Each square features a local wildflower, each rendered in a different technique.

This beautiful display includes superb blackberry wine and gorgeous grapes.

The fair was a true celebration and a thanksgiving for the abundant blessings of this place.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Saori Weaving

I may be way behind the pack on this one, but I recently came across a very intriguing book about Saori, a Japanese (of course) approach to weaving that is very organic and improvisational. The above image "Waterfall" is a piece by Terri Bibby of Saltspring Weaving. (The photo is hers as well.) She has a great website and blog with oodles of information and images of this weaving style.

She offers a great series of workshops from her studio on Saltspring Island. The philosophy of saori is one of non-judgement, self-discovery and accessibility, which results in wonderful freeform, spontaneous weaving. Here are "The SAORI Slogans":

1. Consider the differences between machines and people.
2. Let's adventure beyond our imagination.
3. Let's look out through eyes that shine.
4. Let's learn from everyone in the group.

Check out the earth loom on the blog. I can't wait to run out and make one myself.

Monday, September 21, 2009

And the Winner Is...

The lovely Joanna from Poland is the winner of the birthday gift. But because all the responses were so sweet and I met a couple of new bloggers, I would like to send party favours to all of you. If you would like to receive a pretty little handmade giftie, send me your mailing address at truestitches {at} yahoo {dot} ca. And Joanna, too, please send me your address. The postmaster at our little PO will be so happy to see packages going from Lasqueti to far off destinations.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cream of the West Update

Through the long summer of gardening I have been grabbing spare moments to work on this piece. Remember the faded flour sack I found and chose to embroider over? Here. And here. I have been pretty faithful to the printed design, but some of the colours, especially the red, had all but disappeared.

In the space below the "MAPLE LEAF", I could tell there had been some printing but really couldn't figure it out, so I decided to make a bit of a statement and inserted "Non GMO". This amuses me because at the time the flour sack was made, there certainly wouldn't have been any GMO foods - a more innocent age. Now, a bill to make labeling of GMO foods mandatory in Canada failed to pass, in large part due to the lobbying efforts of Monsanto and other producers of GMO seed.

Obviously, I'm still not done yet. I tend to work here and there on a piece, rather than upward from the bottom. It will be a challenge to figure out the Maple Leaf Mills logo in the middle, and some fun awaits me with the wheat stems. The massive red oval at the top will no doubt get a bit tedious but sometimes that's what's needed. Fortunately I have a couple of long ferry rides ahead of me in the next couple of weeks, should be able to get lots of sewing done!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Birthday Gift

Today is my birthday, and since I have been so abundantly blessed by life on this little island, I decided to offer a little gift for a reader of this blog. (I think the odds of winning might be pretty good on this one.)

The gift is a nice stack of Japanese wools, silk and cotton in autumnal colours, plus a skein of persimmon dyed thread, also Japanese. Just leave a comment and the winner will be randomly selected on the fall equinox, September 22.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Harvest 2009: Top Crops

Crop with a Mission: Parsnips. Giant parsnips with the sweetest creamy taste imaginable. Parsnips that converted me into a true believer of the humble root.

Crop That Never Quit: Tomatillos. Grown from seed from the New Mexican town of Truth or Consequences, these sprawling vines grew undaunted through wind, rain , drought and cold nights. Each plant must have yielded 15 pounds of tangy sweet fruit.

Crop That Dropped in and Stayed for the Summer: Roma tomatoes. The six plants that came up volunteer ended up yielding a wheelbarrow full of fruit after a summer of TOTAL neglect. I didn’t water them, weed them, prune them or stake them. They can come back any time.

Crop That Made Me Weak in the Knees: Black Krim Tomatoes. The juiciest, most flavourful taste sensation in the garden. The erotic highlight of the summer was spent in the greenhouse, suffused with the heat of the afternoon sun, the smoky purple flesh filling my mouth with wave after wave of sensory delight.

Crop That Defied Conventional Wisdom: Kutenai Tomatoes. 10 year old seed germinated like it was last summer’s. And went on to produce rich meaty fruits that weighted almost a pound each.

Crop That Failed to Live Up to Its Early Promise: Spinach. Young , tender and succulent, it quickly bolted into tough, sour old age. Maybe next year…

Crop That Laughed in the Face of Death: Broccoli: The seedlings were attacked by cabbage root maggots, but many still managed to hold on and develop strong stems with abundant heads.

Crop That Never Made It Onto the Plate: Sugar Snap Peas. Fat green pods that went straight from the vine to the mouth in seconds flat. Also Winner of the Miss Congeniality Award.

Crop With a Riddle: What is not a crop but has a crop? A chicken, of course! Six Cuckoo Maran chicks came to stay, and although they have yet to lay, have won my heart with their charming ways (and oodles of poop.)

Crop That Made Me Cry: Zucchini. I thought I had picked every last one and when I checked the next day there was a huge two footer lurking under a leaf. Any fantasies I had about having the garden under control vanished at that point and I burst into tears.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Crazy Parsnip Woman

If I look a little maniacal, it's because I just dug up the first parsnip from the garden and it's frighteningly large.

I don't even really like parsnips. And I have a 10 foot row of them.

Guess what I'm bringing to the fall fair?