Friday, December 31, 2010

The Immediacy of the Idea

"Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." Rainer Maria Rilke

Given the sieve-like status of my memory, I keep trying to make the effort to keep a sketchbook. The effort usually wanes. I end up with odd jotting on random pieces of paper that make no sense to me later. This blog, for better or worse, is the most sustained record of my creative life that I have been able to keep going.

Almost in spite of myself, I still seem to manage to hold on to some ideas. Does the thought get re-filed into long term storage through the process of writing things down? Or does simply asking "What if?" start things cooking in the back of the brain?

Jude Hill at Spirit Cloth has posted a thought-provoking piece on capturing an idea. Equally interesting are the comments by her readers.

I guess, in the last few hours of 2010, I have arrived at my resolution for the New Year: "Live the questions now."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Quilt Revival

"Whaddaya mean, you're trying to mend this quilt? It's perfect as it is."

Angus, of course, forces preemption of all needful activities to accommodate his own comfort. This one is a quilt made by friend Bob Bickford's mother Isabel as a present for his 52nd birthday. In the eleven or so years since, the quilt has survived a backwoods existence, and was in need of some repair.

One particular fabric had rotted away. I cut replacement squares and hand stitched them over the tattered bits. It didn't take too long.

The worst part of it was the griminess of the fabric. I didn't wash it first because that would have eroded the torn bits even more.

Here you can see the difference between the soiled fabric and where it was covered by a second layer of the blue calico. Isabel evidently knew that quilts receive the most wear on the top and bottom edges so she whipstitched an additional layer over the edge. Luckily it was easy to remove and the cloth underneath was undamaged.

It's a simple nine-patch, with the fabrics looking much older than the date it was made. I suspect the fabrics themselves may date from the sixties. Since there are identical patterns in different colourways, I am guessing it was made from a kit. I vaguely recall such kits being offered in the back of craft magazines from the sixties and seventies - maybe someone out there has more information?

A run through the washer (front loader, on the bulky cycle) made the most rewarding difference. The delightful patterns and colour combinations now have a fresh outlook, and I will speak to Bob sternly about the proper care of handmade quilts. Hope his mom, now passed away, approves.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spring Chickens

It's a very blustery day today. Our little ferry can't make it across in such weather so many people are stuck on one side or the other. A good time to finish the portrait of Zelda and Thurston (above) and remember that spring will come, eventually.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Another UFO, Full Moon and Solstice Fire

It must be an auspicious night. Another UFO bites the dust - I managed to coax a pair of gloves from two moth eaten skeins of thrift store cashmere. That's the full moon between my thumb and forefinger.

Morgan and Kathy hosted a solstice bonfire/stone soup party. The bonfire was amazing, and the soup delicious. (Everyone brought something to add to the soup, except me. My forgotten fava beans sat at home, defrosting forlornly on the counter.)

Morgan received his jacket, and I think was very pleased. Guys don't squeal and jump up and down, so it's sometimes hard to tell.

He did wear it all night.

Friday, December 17, 2010

UFO's Are Landing!

And they look like chickens! Here's an Un-Finished Object from early this year. I actually started it right after losing my cuckoo maran chickens to a mink. I think I managed to get the daffodils done, then the piece sat on top of the TV enjoying some quiet time until I got a little quiet time of my own.

I was rather unenthused until I started filling in the greenery. Now I'm adding little flowers in the front and hope to be finished before Christmas!

One of the reasons for my lack of excitement over the front was because I liked the back so much. The way the colours pop out against the walnut dyed cloth is something I'm going to try deliberately on the next piece...sometime next year!

I'm thrilled by Sherri Lynn Wood's post about discernment and mending.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

From One Tiny Remote Island to Another

My friends Marie-Ange and Andrew have just welcomed seven little bundles of joy to their farm. After much patient waiting and applying for permits, they were able to import a flock of Soay sheep. Soays are tiny - this picture shows them on the ferry on their trip here - four ewes fit in a dog crate!

The rare Soay sheep is a primitive breed of domestic sheep descended from a population of feral sheep on the 250-acre island of Soay in the St. Kilda Archipelago, about 65 kilometres from the Western Isles of Scotland. It is believed to be a survivor of the earliest domesticated sheep kept in northern Europe, and it remains physically similar to the wild ancestors of domestic sheep. It is much smaller than modern domesticated sheep but hardier, and is extraordinarily agile, tending to take refuge amongst the cliffs when frightened.

There's the older ram, Rochdale, enjoying shelter from the rain. Soays are not sheared, but their soft wool can be plucked or "rooed".

And here are the ewes: Walsham, Sudbury, Roughton and Cromer. They did seem shy on my visit - perhaps the presence of Gracie made them nervous.

Here's more about Soay sheep(and some lovely photos). And check out the incredible, thrilling tale of how the sheep came to Oregon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Hardest Working Jacket in Punk Rock

There was a song by the Seattle punk band Presidents of the United States of America called Jennifer's Jacket. Seems that Jennifer's jacket was falling apart, was held together by safety pins and string, and it needed a hundred dollars in alterations. Morgan's jacket came to me in much the same state. I think it's quite a lot better now...

Perhaps unbelievably, above is the after picture.

This is what it looked like when it came to me.

There were heavy duty holes in the neck, back and sleeves, caused not by slam dancing as one might think, but by battery acid. (Morgan has a backhoe now. And a bulldozer. Always had a chainsaw.)

My repairs included inserting denim patches in most of the holes (I could get away with darning the smaller ones), adding a leather collar, cuffs, and front placket trim, and patching the holes in the lining. Faced with the impossibility of restoring the garment to a "like new" condition, I focused instead on just making the jacket wearable again.

I left the ragged edges on the holes. Hey, the kids are paying big bucks for factory-shredded jeans these days - at least these rips and tears are authentic.

I mostly hand stitched the repairs, saving the machine just for the leather pieces. I re-sewed the buttonholes with waxed heavy cotton thread.

And I know it might not look like it, but the jacket was soaked and washed before I began the mending. Thirty years of ground in dirt does not release easily (and I suspect was holding the fabric together in some places.) One might ask, "Why bother?" By rights, this jacket should be in the Vancouver Punk Rock Museum - but I think it might have another decade of guitar playing and automotive repair before it retires.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Movies, Books, and Cloth

First, thank you to all who left your caring, thoughtful comments on my previous post. I really appreciate your words.

It is the season, here in Canada, for slowing down, keeping cosy and warm, and catching up with reading, movies and indoor projects. I have a few favourite titles to share with you, and an amazing piece of everyday stitching.

The Fall (image above) is a visually rich and fantastical film from Tarsem Singh. To me, it felt like being in a dream. The performance of Catinca Untaru as the little girl is remarkably natural and free of Disney-esque cuteness.

Last night, I watched Travellers and Magicians, directed by a Buddhist monk (Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche) from Bhutan. It's a special treat for textile enthusiasts as it contains (literally!) seductive scenes of traditional Bhutanese weaving and lots of gorgeous images of cloth, including prayer flags.

Korean director Ki-duk Kim's Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring is a visual poem, as well as an inquiry into the nature of violence. It is set on a remote floating Buddhist temple, which instantly became my dreamhome.

The exotic nature of these films hasn't extended into my reading. Non-fiction titles are stacked at my bedside, as I have been brushing up on dog-training, salivating over recipes that I will never make, and investigating, ahem, the Kama Sutra. God knows what the librarian who processes my loans thinks! (The Kama Sutra is not for my personal education, but research into a series of stumpwork embroideries I have planned.) Muriel Baker's out-of-print book has been very helpful.

I would also recommend Riches from Rags: Saki-Ori and other textile recycling traditions in Japanese rural clothing by Shin-Ichiro Yoshida and Dai Williams. This is a gorgeous, fascinating and extensively researched book, published as a catalogue to accompany the 1994 San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum exhibition of the same name. Sadly, it is almost impossible to obtain in North America - check your public library. I got my copy via Jean-Pierre, who found a stack of them in Gallery Kei, in Kyoto. He says the store's owner speaks English and is very nice - will do mail order.

But the most influential book I have read recently is Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things. Very sobering reading for someone with a "wall of fabric", boxes upon boxes of potentially useful cloth, thread and other ephemera. I immediately cleaned out my closet and sent several boxes of clothes, books and kitchen utensils to the Free Store. Although the authors only touch briefly on consumerism as a national ideology and focus more on the pathology of collecting, this very readable book deepened my understanding of our human relationship to things.

One of the things I have stacks of is wool kimonos. I take them apart and use them in other projects. Almost always marvels of hand stitching, this particular one featured a Hong Kong finish on its hems. Shown here with a billiard ball for scale, the silk binding was so tiny and exquisite I haven't been able to bring myself to unpick it just yet.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Personal Ads and Obituaries

I have long had a curious habit of reading personal ads and obituaries. I find it fascinating how people represent themselves, how a life of dreams and experiences and sorrows can be condensed into a couple of paragraphs.

Although it's the rare personal ad that isn't written by the person themselves (I have come across a couple written by a well-meaning daughter for their single mother), I know to take them with a grain of salt. Of course a person looking to embark on a relationship is going to phrase things in a positive light, and reading between the lines can be more revealing than the ad itself.

Obituaries are another matter, although they may require a similar reading between the lines. My father died last week, and his obit was a marvel of things not mentioned. Somehow I never realized that obituaries are usually written by the family of the deceased - I guess I assumed that the person carefully crafted their own words of remembrance. I recognize that people would generally want to be remembered in a favourable way, and that survivors would want to focus on the happier moments, and that the choices that are made in times of difficult emotion tend towards what gives comfort.

But I think the best words I have heard in the aftermath of my father's death were, "Well, his struggles are over now." That feels the most true to me.

Peace to you, Dad.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mercy and Security

This weekend, I participated in the Veteran's Day Sewing Circle, a project created by Sherri Lynn Wood. (The photo above belongs to her.) I used to actively participate in the peace movement, but became discouraged and cynical, particularly since 2001. For the last nine years I have felt that any efforts of protest that I could make would be meaningless. Sherri's project is the first thing I have seen in a long time that spoke to me. Simply, names of U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq war, as well as those of Iraqi civilians killed during the same conflict, are embroidered on coffin shaped patches, which are then assembled into memorial banners.

These were my patches. Sherri supplied the pre-cut cloth, embroidery floss and five names. The Iraqi names were in Arabic. I embroidered them in an afternoon, freehand. It was a good time to reflect on what my contribution might mean to the families of who died. Although seeing their loved one's name on a little scrap of cloth is infinitely small compensation for the loss of that person, perhaps knowing that strangers care helps just a bit. As a Canadian, whose country did not participate in that war, I felt sorrow for the young lives that had been lost, and renewed anger at the stupid, criminal futility of war.

In the 1990's, another Canadian, Barbara Todd, created an amazing series of quilts on the theme of militarism. She was one of my big influences while I was at art school. Below is Coffin Quilt.

And this is a detail from one of the pieces in her Security Blanket series, which incorporated images of missiles, weapons, jets, and bombers. I wish I could find more images and information for you, but a quick Google search didn't come up with much. Try the collection of the Saskatchewan Art Council and Barbara Todd's gallery.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Sun is Out Today

(The above image of the island was drawn by the lovely and talented Skye Marker when she was a teenager. She's all grown up now, and making a successful design career in Vancouver. She has given me permission to make a quilt based on her drawing.)

Our recent snowfall has been and gone. It's back to being balmy here on the rock. The chickens seem especially happy, and I have a new resolve to make the best use of these short days.

I made a list of my current projects - there were over fifteen things for other people, and I didn't even attempt to make a list of the stuff that is just for me. But I do realize that if I DON'T do the stuff for me, I will eventually become gray and miserable, and useless to do the stuff for other people. There is a Christmas art show in three weeks at our local art centre, so I think I will try to make some quick, small pieces to put in.

I am inspired by Arlee Barr's thoughtful, beautifully written article on the aesthetics of working with rags here. And I am thrilled by Ann Wood's owl. Thank you, Arlee, for introducing me to a new (to me, at least) artist.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Best wishes to my American friends for a Happy Thanksgiving. Here in Canada, I am thankful for the flashes of colour in my snowy surroundings.

We'll need more than fig leaves to keep warm in this northern Eden. (This is the sign marking our driveway - E-Den is my brother's B&B.)

I picked rosehips for syrup and marmalade yesterday.

There won't be any fishing today. A good time to curl up in front of the wood stove and do a little stitching, or power up the laptop and read Bicycle Buddha - Carmen has written another inspiring chapter in her series on Karmic Economics.