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.