Sunday, January 31, 2010

Two Vintage Kimono=One Birthday Quilt

I finished a quilt for my brother's birthday present.

I took apart two old kimono last summer. (See here). The cloth languished through the fall, until I took a good look at how the plums and blues complemented each other. I was struck by the weaverliness of both fabrics, how they achieved their subtle effect through simple squares of warp and weft. I cut them into blocks, thinking this would be quick and easy.

I got distracted by other things and ended up taking forever. The bold plaid presented a challenge, as there wasn't enough fabric to centre each block. I ended up just aligning the centre purple strip so that they all ran in the same direction. The backing is a length of ikat that I have been hauling around for a few years.

I chose to put a lighter blue square at the intersections of the sashing. I like how it lights up the whole quilt.

The whole thing was machine pieced and quilted. The only hand stitching was where I joined two pieces together, having run out of fabric for whole cloth squares. I would have loved to hand stitch the whole thing, but time was a'wasting. I promise I haven't gone over to the dark side, the next project will be by hand.

Friday, January 29, 2010


I think I'm done.

It was very therapeutic.

And I learned a few things.

1. A sewing machine can be a stalwart friend.
2. Sweetness and sourness can co-exist.
3. A free motion foot is a tricky thing.
4. I see better without my glasses.
5. Pushing my comfort zone was very satisfying.

I think I will call this piece "Verbatim", because all the words were written down unedited.

Added January 31: I shouldn't be so flippant about what I learned. I think I was avoiding the truth, which would be contrary to my primary directive, which is to be truthful.

It's just that I have learned a lot of painful things this past month (some good things too, like friends that I can trust are worth their weight in gold.)My powers of observation, which I have been rather proud of, are totally fallible. I was bamboozled by words of adoration. I wouldn't treat my worst enemy the way I allowed myself to be treated. I tripped all over myself in a rush to forgive a certain person, when I should have been forgiving myself.

Anyway, enough of a wallow. Onwards and upwards.

It's not all black and white of course.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Weeding the Garden

The linen patchwork has turned into quite the therapy piece. I was trained as an art therapist, but for a still deeply buried reason, I have avoided dealing with some of my own life events through this process. However, a counselor has been encouraging me to use the non-verbal language of cloth to explore some recent happenings.

Floral motifs have always been a popular for household linens, symbolizing beauty and fertility. Gathered together in this piece, they form a garden. The varied cloths, created by unknown hands, also form a community of their makers - kind of a hovering presence of support, of connection to other people.

But weeds can appear in the garden. Technically, weeds are just plants in the wrong place, but left to their own devices they will choke out the flowers. The "weeds" in this piece were deliberately planted by another person into my own psyche, then transplanted by me into this cloth. The cloth can "hold" them - when I see the poison they contain, I can't believe I let them take root in my mind.

But now the cloth is infested. The next step is to apply another layer, this time with healthy, strong, nurturing words that other people have said to me (including words from some of you!) These words inoculate the soil (fabric) of my life and help the flowers flourish.

There! Enough of the gardening metaphors.

A couple of notes on my process: I gathered the "weeds" from a series of tirades that I was subjected to. Rather than try and defend myself, which never seemed to help, I started to write the words down, like a stenographer. Afterwards, I could clearly see the lack of logic or truth in them.

More importantly, why did I choose to infest this beautiful cloth with such nastiness? Well, in spite of my passion and love for all things textile, and my belief in cloth's ability to hold and convey meaning and metaphor, it IS external to me. My cloth is not me, it safely and gently allows me to express myself. That is what I mean by "holding".

And, oddly enough, this is not a slow cloth. I decided to use the machine to piece it, and to embroider the words. I felt like I had to work quickly to get it out, and hand stitching is such an act of love I didn't want to give the "weeds" the pleasure. I kind of like the crudeness and ineptitude of the machine stitching in this case, the puckering and pulling are like scars.

Finally, I wish my photos were better. White fabric is so difficult to photograph, it seems.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

More Quilt and Chicken Update

I am happy and relieved to report that Zelda seems to have survived the surgery and healed up nicely. I will try to take the stitches out today. Yesterday I went into town to try and pick up a few suture needles to have on hand in case of other emergencies. Not only did the pharmacists I spoke to looked shocked at my request, when I told them about sewing up Zelda's neck they looked downright horrified. I guess home surgery is not practised much on the mainland! I didn't tell them about my friend Jay (who successfully performed an operation on a crop bound chicken) and my plan to offer a mobile chicken repair service on Lasqueti.

(I found out a good tip on suturing. Apparently one is supposed to practise on a pig's foot or gnarly cut of meat, or, get this, a banana peel!)

Here's more quilt: This classic land/seascape by Terry Thompson refers to many aspects of Pat's life - the school where she taught, her garden, the ocean. The lighthouse doesn't actually look like the one at Sister's Island, but perhaps is more a metaphor for the role of Pat in the community - that of a guide and a beacon - and of protection.

Susie Lironi created this cream puff of a hat, as Pat is a woman of many hats. Apparently she enjoys a good practical joke as well, since a tiny whoopee cushion gives the hat its volume. How many quilts have you seen that incorporate a hidden whoopee cushion?

Celia King lent her masterful needle to this depiction of the first school on Lasqueti where Pat taught. Her stitching is just awesome, and creates a lasting image of a building that no longer stands.

Joy, her mother, Sophia and Maia jointed produced this fabulous image of Pat in her garden. There are certain elements that were repeated throughout the blocks - Pat is renowned for her wonderful garden and she always wears a hat to protect her skin from the sun. Most comments on this block, though focussed on the beautiful embroidery which highlights the, er, contours of Pat's figure, and the fabulous bullion stitches for her hair.

You might also notice I have been trying to manage my posts by actually using tags, and also trying to restore my blogroll. Ah, organization!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Stitching Up a Chicken

This morning I went to let the chickens out of their pen and walked into a scene of carnage. Apparently a raccoon or mink had finally found their way to the coop - I had been warned about them by the locals, but up til now there had been no sign of the pesky varmints.

But this morning there were feathers everywhere, bits of flesh, and only 4 chicken instead of 5. The missing girl was one of the purebred cuckoo marans, and a good layer too.

The remaining birds were all in a tizzy, acting very skittish. The poor rooster looked dejected at his failure to protect. I couldn't figure out how the vicious killer got into the pen, but spent my afternoon reinforcing the fencing and putting on a new door.

Meanwhile, I saw that one of the hens (let's call her Zelda, as I call all the chickens, except for the rooster, whose name is Thurston) had a big gash on her neck. She seemed lively enough, but wouldn't let me get close for a look. After they went to roost in the evening, I went and got her from her perch, brought her inside and let her rest in a cage. There was a hole about an inch in diameter on the back of her neck, right down to the neck muscles. Yikes!

I assembled a kit of saline wash, hydrogen peroxide, scissors, tweezers, Q-Tips, a sewing needle, and dental floss, and then, following the excellent instructions on Backyard Chickens, cleaned Zelda's gaping neck wound, packed it with antibiotic cream, and sutured her up. My able assistant held her quiet on the table - with her wings wrapped close to her body with a towel and her eyes covered, she stayed very calm.

She's back in her cage, resting comfortably. I think I will keep her separated from the others for a few days so they won't be able to peck at her.

I don't think I've ever felt quite so emotional making a stitch. The sutures I made were awkward and untidy and hardly correctly done, but I pray they do the job. Tomorrow morning I'm going to practice making proper ones until I can do them blindfolded. Hah, and I thought I knew how to sew...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Household Linens

I am one of those people who have a huge stash of rescued embroideries and linens. They have mostly been retrieved from the anonymous wasteland of the thrift store doily bin, often priced at 25 or 50 cents. I inherited a stack of such linen from my Great-Aunt Margie, and I treasure it, but it seems that many heirs and heiresses out there just don't know what to do with these decorative cloths, so they drop them off at the thrift store. The stores don't seem to want them either, and so the hand embroidered tea towels, pillow cases, serviettes and doilies are priced to clear.

As I have said before, it breaks my heart that all that dedicated stitching gets tossed aside. Somebody's aunt or grandmother spent hours with their needle, dreaming of finer things for their home, of a life just a little more elegant and beautiful. Then, so often, the results of this work are considered too good for everyday, or perhaps too fussy to wash, so they get stored in a drawer until their maker moves to a care home or dies, and then a stressed and/or grieving person must deal with all the things left behind.

But my own drawers are now overflowing with my well intentioned linen salvage operation. I feel a little like one of those ladies who has too many cats - loves them all, can't bear to part with any, can't afford the vet bills, quite possibly a little bit nuts. It's time to actually consider an act of transformation, reparation and resurrection.

This works both ways. The cloths get to emerge from the shadowy confines of the cedar chest, and I receive the therapeutic benefits of touching old cloth. My fingertips can trace the path of stitching made by needles of long ago, my heart can absorb the hope and good intentions imbued in the thread. The fabrics contain space to add my own story, a story that might belie the sunny, flower-filled landscape of embroidery. A story of the other side of domesticity.

The title "Airing the Dirty Linen" comes to me, but is probably too obvious and punny. We tend to look on these kind of household linens as evidence of a gentler, kinder bygone era. That may well be, but I have considered that perhaps the makers embroidered as talismans of protection, that sitting still and stitching quietly was one way to avoid simmering conflict, that pursuing a womanly art presented little threat to a husband's manhood, that fine sewing was one way to achieve recognition during a time when work outside the home was not an option. I have myself found a lot of comfort by immersing myself in a stitching project while my heart was breaking, or my voice not being heard.

Hmmmn, there's more there...

In any case, to begin I chose the least precious pieces from my collection, the ones with stains and discolouration, and laid them in a pile. The pillowcase hems became borders - that was easy. Fill in with tea towels. Overlay with delicate bits of lace. Add those flower appliques I have been hoarding. This will become the base. I haven't worked much with this spontaneous method, being such a control freak, but it feels right this time. This cloth will be about process, not product.

Learning From Non-Quilters

The Lasqueti quilt is finished. I prepared a wool batt from genuine Lasqueti sheep (processed off island by a carding mill in Alberta) by sandwiching it between layers of cotton scrim and hand basting it together. The group had originally thought it would be hand-quilted, but when I found I could fit it through my machine they enthusiastically agreed that it should be machine quilted - a simple stitch in the ditch.

The loss of character was unceremoniously traded for convenience and a desire to be done with it. Easily understood since people were suffering from post-Christmas exhausted and recovering by browsing the seed catalogues, and compounded by the fact that few were confident about their hand-quilting skills. But, personally, I think that a more dense hand worked stitch would have given more texture and evened out the puffiness. It is a community quilt however, and the will of the group prevails.

And here is where my inner bossy perfectionist had to just sit down and shut up. With this quilt, participating was more important than technical finesse. And, ultimately, it all worked. Quirky, improvisational and resourceful - a true Lasquetian.

One of my favourite blocks is the classroom scene by Bonnie Olesko. I like the expressive stitching and her use of unconventional materials - the letters on the blackboard are worked with sparkle glue. Don't know about the archival quality there but it's an example of how someone without indoctrination in the "proper" way to do things finds a solution.

One of our island businesses is Wildwood Buttons. Fallen yew branches are collected and sliced into beautifully finished rounds. With great imagination, Kathy and Lawrence Fisher created a tree of life with their distinctive buttons. (As a side note, Lawrence was the only man to contribute to the quilt.) As non-sewers they can be forgiven for not knowing the heaviness of the square would make it difficult to join to the rest. (Hey, I love a challenge!)

Dazy Drake's humorous portrayal of Pat's garden is another standout. Working without a hoop caused a lot of puckering, but what would have caused my inner critic to scream bloody murder turned out to enhance the design.

More squares to follow...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sign or Omen?

I found this shrub starting to bloom in my garden yesterday. I think its a spirea. Good grief, it didn't even lose all its leaves in the fall.

While I am thrilled by signs of a coming spring, at the same time I am worried by what blossoms in January indicate vis a vis global climate change. Is the Wet Coast going to become the new tropics?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Fragment Restoration

I found this scrap at the free store. A sumptuous little piece of embroidery, which looks like it was cut from something larger and very ineptly hemmed.

I cleaned it by dusting gently with a soft clothes brush. Then I used an old toothbrush to clean around the glass beads, which are not round, but square on the bottom with a half dome on top. The heavy cotton threads wraps around and keep them secure - there is no hole to go through. Very unusual!

After removing the orange backing cloth I used a strip of an old black linen shirt to bind the edge. Then, with perle cotton, I did a buttonhole stitch followed by a row of unattached buttonhole to create an edging. With a purple embroidery floss I stitched the piece through all three layers of block printed border, cotton batting, and the original backing cloth, which I had washed and pressed.

Then, I hand quilted the circles in the border print. I wanted to create a stable backing, but didn't want to introduce a directional line.

To finish, I tried binding the edges with a burgundy cotton that once lined a Japanese kimono. I stuffed the binding with an upholstery cording to give added dimension. I didn't like the effect so made prairie points for the first time, and was happy with the lively edge they create.


ATTN: Please Disregard Last Memo

Okay, I won't try any radical re-thinks on the blog until I actually have a plan. Somehow I thought if I organised the blog, my life would follow suit. Apparently (Hah!) it doesn't work that way.

Above are the skeletal remains of the tomatillo plants that I have yet to put on the compost pile. They have collected raindrops in the most jewel-like manner.
The chickens like to hang out under the old rose bush when it rains, or when an eagle is in the vicinity.

Monday, January 04, 2010

I Can't Help It, I Live on the West Coast

The bulbs I planted last fall are starting to poke out their noses.

In Canada, it is traditional for us smug Lotus Land-ers to show off the signs of spring in their garden to our fellow Canadians shivering anywhere east of the Rockies.

Go ahead. Hate us. We can take it.

(Oh, and by the way, my crazy three blog scheme may have a major flaw. Nobody knows I'm there. I guess I need buttons or something to take my dear readers from one to another. Will links do? Quilt or Life. Take your pick.)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Mrs. Miller

The title of this blog comes from a conversation I had with Frieda Miller, an 80 year old resident of Tantallon who had not worked on the quilt but knew some of the Homemakers. She has seen the quilt when it was first made, and remembered that although the ladies were proud of it, it wasn't seen as anything special. She said it was just something that was done - that living in a small community meant caring for your neighbours. She said "It was like you were one with them."

I loved that line and made a small quiltlike sculpture featuring those words. (Yes, I have a picture of it somewhere.) I have the same feeling living on Lasqueti, and Mrs. Miller's apt description has become the guiding principle of this blog.

The Quilt

I may be eliminating some drama and anticipation, but here is the pieced top. I will probably go back and do some staged photos of the individual makers working on their square, but alas, my brain didn't click in to the potential of this project until I was given the basket of finished squares to piece.

My own contribution is the Mariner's Compass in the centre. How did I manage that, being the johnny-come-lately to this group of sewers? Well, at the last minute, the ladies decided that the quilt should have a star in it. (Haha, that sounds funny - they meant a fabric star shape, not a celebrity, which I am assuredly not.) I volunteered and downloaded a paper foundation for the compass, merrily sewing along until I was was halfway through and realized to my horror that it was twice as big as it should have been. (All squares are 12"). I finished the thing, 'cause that's what I do, and thought it could perhaps be used for a pillow.

But when I sheepishly showed it to the group, they wanted to use it for the quilt. Which meant a juggling operation and a major revision to the planned layout. The half panel ABC and 123 were chosen because Pat was an elementary school teacher for many years and in her own words, teaching was her proudest accomplishment. Her friend Charlotte, also a former teacher, appliqued the felt letters and numbers the night before leaving for a three month trip to southern sunshine.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

You Are One With Them

Ooof, I have begun 2010 labouring over an unfamiliar laptop keyboard, creating the first post of my new blog, "You Are One With Them". This blog will document the making of a community quilt. I promise to try and get my links cleaned up on this blog so it will be easy to visit the other ones. I know it seems a bit crazy to try and simplify my life by adding more blogs but well, there I go.

It All Began in Tantallon, SK

In 1993 I was asked by the curator of Regina's Dunlop Gallery to enter into a collaborative relationship with a quilt from their permanent collection. The quilt had been made 55 years earlier by the women of the tiny town of Tantallon, located in southeast Saskatchewan. It was a charming piece, each square delightfully embroidered with a rendering of the maker's home or one of the notable buildings in the town. It had been presented to the wife of a departing church minister, and apparently never used, but stored carefully in a trunk before donation to the gallery.

It had been made by the Tantallon Homemakers Club. All the documentation the gallery had was a partial list of the makers. Mrs. George Ormiston. Mrs. Fred Brown. Mrs. Paynter. There was a contact number for one of the women's daughters. And that was it.

The story goes on - I did lots of research to discover the full names of the makers, culminating in a gallery exhibition featuring the Tantallon quilt and my own creative response to it. The show was reviewed and received a fair bit of attention from the media. An article about it was published in The Craft Factor magazine and re-printed in Craft, Perception and Practice, Volume II.

What was incredible to me was that on the day of the opening, a bitterly cold prairie winter day, carloads of the descendants of the Homemakers traveled for two or three hours to come see the quilt. People wanted to have their picture taken with it; buttonholed me to tell me stories of their mother or their aunt who had worked on it; reminisced about the town and the old buildings that were no longer standing, but preserved in the pastel threads of the quilt. It was clear that this quilt was very meaningful to these people, but it also garnered a powerful response from people of 12 other Saskatchewan towns to which the exhibition eventually toured.

The story contained in the quilt, and my contribution of honouring the makers by "signing" it, evoked many emotions and memories of a period in history which was only half a century past. Still, given a few more years of languishing in an acid-free tissue lined drawer in a temperature and humidity controlled room, and that quilt could have been totally cut off from the people who made it and the community that had fostered it. It would have been simply a charming artifact of simpler times.

All of this is a rather long winded introduction to my current project. I have been asked to participate in making a quilt honouring one of this island's matriarchs who has just celebrated her 80th birthday. Many of the women (and one man) of this community have contributed a square, either embroidered or pieced, with an image that connects them to Pat. As Pat has lived here all her life, this quilt is also a history of this place.

I'm not going to let what almost happened to the Tantallon quilt happen to this one. I will be assiduously documenting each aspect of the making of this quilt and the people involved. What I hope will emerge will be a story in cloth and a story in words of a very unique, eccentric and beautiful island perched on the north west edge of North America.

(Sorry for the dodgy images but I had to photograph them from the pages of a magazine, so they have those little dots all over. C'est la vie.)