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.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Snowed In

A rare event on the balmy Gulf Islands. It's a good thing I picked the kiwis a couple of days ago. The poor chickens don't want to come out of the coop.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Sophia brought this luscious pomegranate over the other day. Each seed is like a jewel.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Seven More Sleeps 'Til Buy Nothing Day

Pretty much every day is Buy Nothing Day here on the old homestead. Even if I had a disposable income, there really isn't anything to spend it on, other than local produce or an evening at the pub.

Over the last couple of years, I have been living on what I thought was very little money. About $900 comes in each month, and $600 goes out for rent and phone. The remaining $300 buys groceries, dog food and the occasional chocolate treat. God forbid there be an emergency, but most months I manage just fine.

But recently I met a guy who has been living for the last 14 years on $2000 a year. That works out to about $160 a month. Now this guy does own his own home so he doesn't have to pay rent, but that still means awfully meager rations to live on. How does he do it?

A lot of scrimping and saving, mostly, but I have to say he is pretty much the happiest person I know. He plays a great Spanish guitar and has a charming sense of humour. He has many friends, some of whom do indeed look out for him with offerings from the vegetable garden. He does have a bit of an unusual interest in sungazing, which apparently can be so nourishing to the soul that one doesn't need to eat food, but perhaps in his case it is a purely practical quest.

I read a while ago about Heidemarie Schwermer, a German woman who has been living without money for fourteen years. She also speaks of the positive effects of opting out of the economic system: “Life became much more exciting. More beautiful. I had everything I needed and I knew I couldn’t go back to my old life. I didn’t have to do what I didn’t like, I had a more profound sense of joy, and physically I feel better than ever. Living without money was just the first step. I realised that I wanted to change the world and I wasn’t going to do that by looking after someone’s cat while they were on holiday.” More can be found about her inspiring approach to life here.

Several years ago, my friend Wendy Tremayne lived without monetary exchange for twelve months. She told me that it was the richest and most fulfilling year of her life, and the experience prompted her to move from New York to New Mexico, and immerse herself in a more sustainable way of living.

Both Wendy and Heidimarie used swapping of skills, or barter, to obtain the goods and services they needed. But they also mention a phenomenon that I have experienced as well - that when living a conscious life, with a focus on genuine human interaction, what you need appears as you need it.

Another brilliant spark, Carmen Mills, has written a thought-provoking piece about money and our relationship to it here. She draws from her Buddhist practice as she says "Lend it, spend it, give it away. But keep it moving, because it is always an exchange, energy for energy, as the wheel goes ’round."

And especially for artists and creators, one last reference if you desire any more inspiration to re-examine your relationship to the material world: Lewis Hyde's book The Gift. It describes the concept of a gift economy, and makes for a very exciting afternoon of reading, especially if you're not the sort to hit the malls on November 26th.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Text in Thread

Deb asked a great question in response to my last posting. "How do you get your lettering so crisp?"

Well, it may be that I have a slight advantage in that I originally (back in the very early 80's) trained as a graphic artist. This was in the days before computers did it all. I learned to render type by hand, a skill that I never really used in my work pasting up ads and magazines, but might have needed if I had advanced to the exulted status of an art director.

But the fast pace of technology intervened, and my ability to hand draw half point rules and perfectly paste up columns of type became obsolete. Since I had gone into design partly as a way of avoiding typing, which I saw as a dead end street, I decided to forgo the whole computer aided publishing business and went back to art school, where I learned to do really useful things like discuss the semiotics of breakfast cereal and such.

Of course, it was impossible to avoid typing. Computers, as it turned out, were quite a useful tool. And I developed a method for combining my loves of typography and embroidery.

Once I have chosen the text I want to use, I enter it into a word processing program, and play with various fonts, point sizes and line breaks until I have what I want. My background in type is very useful here, as I am familiar with how various typefaces communicate different moods, direct the eye, and underscore the message.

I then print out the text. The printed sheet becomes my template. I transfer it to the fabric in various ways. If the cloth is a smooth, finely woven cotton or linen, I might tape the template to a window and then tape the fabric in position and just trace the lettering with either a HB or 2B pencil, or my new favourite, a Faber-Castell pigment brush marker. (I wouldn't normally extol one brand over another, but Faber-Castell has made artist quality drawing tools for a very long time, and their line of pigment markers has an excellent range of colour, and a choice of tips, including the very versatile brush tip.)

Sometimes if the fabric is dark colored or textured, I use dressmaker's carbon paper and a ballpoint pen to transfer the lettering. Either way, the letters must be traced very accurately. It may be possible to begin embroidery at this point, but I have recently gone an extra step and drawn in the whole letter with the Faber-Castell marker in a matching colour to my chosen thread. This way any small irregularities in my stitching are minimized. This technique can be seen here.
You can also see more of this process and read a bit more of my thinking about it here and here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I added a boro cloth border. My friend Jean-Pierre sent me some beautiful shreds of cloth from Kyoto, and I cut (Yikes!) and pieced them with a scrap of kasuri (lower right corner) and some katazome (upper border) that I got from Britex in San Francisco several years ago.

I found a tiny shell to add to the beach scene. (EARTH and WATER)

The patinated brass disk I found on the beach became a sun image. I embroidered a twelve-rayed, whirling solar fire around it. This element was stitched and pulled out twice because I wasn't satisfied with it. (FIRE)

The flowing tail of the horse echoes the flames of the sun.

The wind horse (AIR) carries prayer from earth to heaven.

Just be.

There has been a series happening, so slowly that if you are new here you might have missed it. The other pieces can be seen here, here, and here.
*Now that the piece has been delivered to its intended recipient, I can tell you how it began. It was commissioned by Jean-Pierre Antonio as a house-warming gift for our mutual friend Jacqueline Pearce. The piece contains fabric sent to me over the years by J.-P. and the yellow of the sun is from a small piece of antique cotton Jacquie bought on her first trip to Japan.

Before and After

From this... this.

The colour is not a perfect match, but I am quite happy with the final result.

The finished, mended quilt. It took me a total of 42 hours to restore it. I hope it continues to give Dazy, its owner, many years of pleasure, beauty and warmth.

Random Friends and Animals

This arbutus branch reminds me of antlers. Gracie obviously doesn't think so, although she is always happy to chase deer out of the yard when they come to visit.

Here is what the inside of a baby crab shell looks likes.

Friend German Robert came to visit. Angus had much to tell him.

Even in November, the sun streams through the glass. Gracie caught a rainbow on her nose.

And every day, we walk on the beach. Every day, it is different.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Day of the Dead

It's one of the few days of the year I can wear my dancing skeletons fiesta skirt.