Monday, January 31, 2011


Oh, to be a frog on the wall at Maiwa's Master Class in Bengal.
Photo is from the article.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Identify the Technique

Please, somebody help me. What is this applique/embroidery technique called?

It seems to have been a popular form in the mid-20th century. I have a number of vintage tray cloths and teatowels with similar floral motifs.

I can't find it in any of my books or online, although that's probably because it's hard to search for something for which you don't have a name. The fabrics seem to have shading pre-printed, and applique shapes are stitched down with a tiny blanket stitch. Thanks for any clues my dear readers may be able to give.

My current quilt project is pictured above. Definitely not my usual style - I was given a number of vintage hand embroidered linen squares and have put them into a quilt for a community fundraiser. I tried to cut the sweetness with the dusty green edging. It will have a scalloped linen border - something I haven't done before so it will be fun to take on a challenge.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Universe Unfolding As It Should

There has been an unseen framework behind my recent posts. Odd as it may seem, too much fabric, a visit to a fellow weaver and lace collector, natural dyeing and possibly even accordion playing are linked together in this great Web. The common factor is the wonderful news that I am being gifted a 60" Glimakra loom!

I sold my 36" Leclerc a few years ago and have regretted it ever since. Flora, one of the senior ladies of the island, and a fine spinner and all round textile enthusiast, decided her loom should be used rather than packed away - so she has given it to me. A few small strings are attached, the most important one being that the first items off the loom shall be rugs for Flora's house. She has asked Marie-Ange and I to collaborate on this project. I'm really looking forward to working with Marie-Ange and I think we're both hoping to learn from each other.

I am also thrilled because I will be able to transform some of the fabric spilling out of the cupboards and closets into some beautiful and practical rag rugs. I hope to begin a study of saki-ori (Japanese weaving with rags) as well.

My large collection of plant dyed yarns will become blankets - one of my favourite ways to use odd lots of yarn is to doubleweave plaid mixed warp blankets. Yeah! More cupboards emptied out. I love how weaving quickly uses up LOTS of yarn.

And to celebrate stash-busting, warmth, comfort, and friendship, I just might play the accordion.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Saving Lace

I visited my friend Marie-Ange today. She is the shepherd of the little Soay sheep of a few posts ago. In addition to being a shepherd, she is also an archeologist, a weaver and from Belgium. So it wasn't a surprise when she asked if I was interested in seeing her grandmother's collection of lace. I just kind of expected that such a magical person would come with treasure chests.

I wasn't prepared though for the astonishing collection it was. Marie-Ange's grandmother was an incredibly skilled lacemaker, and had awareness of the value her samples held. She saved not just samples, and finished garments, but also the patterns she worked from.

Luckily Marie-Ange's training as an archeologist, as well as the advice of a textile conservator friend, gave her the ability to properly sort, clean and preserve the many delicate pieces of cloth. It took her over a year to mount them in archival albums - next will come labeling and cross referencing with printed patterns - a real labour of love.

I hope to get some pictures eventually, but in the meantime I can briefly list what I saw. There was bobbin lace of course, and there was also knitted, crocheted, filet, needlewoven, eyelet and Valenciennes laces. Incredibly, there were quarter-inch wide handworked insertion laces, as well as collars and cuffs. There were bold counterpane squares and the sweetest little crocheted bobble fringe. There was black lace, apparently often made by children, as the keenest eyesight was required to work it.

My mind boggled. The laces were of such fine quality that I couldn't imagine being able to create them myself, and I LIKE fiddly repetitive work. I couldn't even imagine anyone today having the patience, skill and time to create such fine work. I was reminded by the fact that our hands are capable of such incredible things, and how these days the most intricate thing many people do is type.

The question that came to my mind was "What does one do with such a treasure as this collection?" It was museum worthy, certainly, but the only place in Canada that might appreciate such a gift would be the Textile Museum in Toronto or possibly the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. It was created as a study collection, so it would be lovely to actually be used as such, but sadly we may have devolved over the last 100 years to the point where such handwork can only be marveled at - certainly not used as an example to copy.

What do you do with your textile treasures? How would you like to pass them on to successive generations? As creators it is something to consider...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fun With Colour

I am once again late to the party. Everyone else has been having great fun with India Flint's ecologically conscious dyeing techniques, but my library has yet to get Eco Colour on the shelves. I was in a Nanaimo bookstore yesterday and when I saw a copy I snapped it up, making excuses all the way to the cashier..."Well, I haven't bought a book in over a year."... "I can share it with others on the island."..."I deserve a treat."

I had a couple of hours to kill waiting for the ferry on the way home, so ensconced myself in the corner booth of the pub, with a mug of Merridale cider and my shiny new copy of Eco Colour. A treat indeed! It was so refreshing to encounter new information, rather than the same old formulas that have been retread every couple of years since the '70's. (And, yes, I did recently get Jenny Dean's Wild Colour from the library.)

I really appreciated India's lively, opinionated writing style and the emphasis on how local plant materials and water vary so much that colour is not predictable. For me, that is the real downside of most books on nature dyeing - they say: "X plant and Y mordant give Z colour", as if that will work every time and for every person. I think the disappointing results such recipes achieve are why many of us left the onion skins and goldenrod behind for the more predictable results of synthetic dyes. India gives an approach rather than a book of recipes, whereby one becomes their own authority through experimentation.

The book is, of course, gorgeously designed and chockful of delectable, inspiring photos. I was thrilled to find a chapter on hapa-zome, a method of directly infusing plant colour into cloth. The bundling and clamping techniques look like so much fun, too.

I must have been making audible yummy sounds as I attracted the attention of the fisherman at the next table. "Whatcha got there, a cookbook?" he asked. He looked shocked when I said it was about dyeing, so I had to explain that it was about putting colour on cloth, not Davy Jones' Locker. I guess that was still a bit too weird for him, as he raised his eyebrows and returned his gaze to the hockey game.

And while on the subject of colour, but from a completely different perspective, I have also been enjoying Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey, an amusing and very imaginative novel about a future society where the perception of colour determines status, career and relationships. Lots of fun.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

And So It Goes...

Today I went looking in my sewing room for some metal snaps that I knew I had...somewhere. It was like wandering in a jungle. A frightening, overwhelming accumulation -- and I had done a major purge just a month ago. Not only could I not find the snaps, I started getting that panicky, anxious feeling of not knowing where to start tidying up.

So, because it was a nice day, I went out to the garden and did a bit of pruning and weeding to give myself a sense of being in control. Hah! It's the middle of winter of course -- if I think I'm in control, just wait til June. The garden will be in full jungle mode. Then, I suppose I will do the same thing in reverse: go into my sewing room and sort my fabric collection.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Keeping the Beat

My accordion teacher was having trouble getting me to keep time and especially to follow the downbeat. He analyzed my problem as thinking the rhythm rather than feeling it in my body. He tried various games to overcome my too-dominant brain: chanting, clapping, dancing.

Nothing worked for long, until he asked what I was most passionate about. Fibre, of course. So he made up a song about silk and cashmere, linen and wool. Worked like a charm!

A friend commented recently that he never knew what I was going to blog about next. Maybe I have gotten a little off topic lately. But my musical lesson reminded me that it's all about fabric, one way or another.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nui Project

The Nui Project is one of the most wonderful things I know about. Keith Recker's article is a lovely introduction to a place and people who transcend so many boundaries.

Thanks to Hand/Eye for the link.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Whirlygigs and Joy Buzzers

It was a night that I'd rather forget, one of those evenings of personal excess that left me wanting a good hot shower and lots of soap. My excuse is that there is darned little entertainment on the island and I was needing a night out with the girls.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. My good friend and chicken mentor, Miss Jay, phoned me on Friday afternoon asking if I wanted to accompany her and some of my other favourite people to a special ladies evening at our one and only nightspot. Seems the proprietress of Sexcessories, an adult shop on the "other side" (across the water) was coming over to host a party for us sex-crazed but accessory-starved hippies. The first thing I said to Miss Jay was, "Doesn't she know we whittle our own sex toys?" but agreed that it sounded like it might be good for a laugh.

The first sign nothing good could come from this was when I informed my boyfriend where I was going. "Do you need money?", he asked instantly. Since I have never known him to part with a penny without several hours of careful deliberation, I should have seen his suddenly open wallet as a sign of trouble a-brewing.

However, I blithely joined my friends at the "Blue Roof", and found out that each of their husbands had enthusiastically handed over their wallets as well. I imagined an island of middle-aged married men, all sitting at home in eager anticipation of a rare night of romantic action. (Apparently there is some sort of gender inequity in the the ratio between desire and fulfillment here on the island, but I'm much too busy to figure it out just now.)

Anyway, our hostess for the evening, Sheila, and her assistant Carmen, were just setting out their wares when we arrived, so we ventured over to the bar side of the establishment. It was unusually full, even for a Friday night. Nervous guys milled about, making anxious jokes about being made redundant by a couple of AAA batteries. Still, my little gang was confident we were going to have a good laugh and go home early (and empty-handed.)

Which just goes to show how woefully naive we were. These sex toy parties are run more masterfully than Tupperware or Mary Kay ever dreamed. They are designed to move product, lots and lots of product. First, they started late, meaning we had more than one drink at the bar before going in. Then, they started off with the more innocuous products such as the lotions and honey dust, knowing they could lull us into a false sense of comfort. I kinda hoped we were going to give Sheila a run for her money when the first question asked was "What are the health risks?" We're sensible island women after all, more used to chopping firewood than dressing up in skimpy lingerie.

But no, as the evening went on, and the laughing and giggling of the audience got ever shriller as more and more exotic items intended for intimate pleasure were passed around the room, Sheila just kept up her spiel. She could barely be heard above the clamour, but by that point it hardly mattered what she was saying. When the tray of champagne appeared, a "gift" from the bar owner, just as she finished her presentation and opened her order book, chaos erupted. The atmosphere in the room was charged, and it wasn't just because of all the batteries. You couldn't tell the difference between us sensible gumbooted island women and a crowd of stiletto-heeled city girls. Everyone, older and younger, coupled or not, seemed to be in need of items of a strawberry-flavoured, sparkling, twirling, silicone-based and wired or wireless nature.

Well, except for me. I do read Dan Savage, I know what kinds of kinky stuff us humans can get up to, but I don't want to know if my neighbours are doing it. I guess I'm the shy type, blogging to the contrary. I've never been the sort to share secrets at pajama parties.

I retreated to the bar, where the men were all (relatively) calmly watching the hockey game, and where the bartender gave me a glass of water and patiently listened (or at least seemed to listen) to my incoherent rambling about "too much information".

The girls very kindly drove me home. I didn't ask, and I sure as heck don't want to know, what was in those opaque pink bags they were carrying.

More Aprons, Anyone?

Seems that everyone loves a good apron. Rosa's comment on the previous post mentioned that Japanese shopkeepers wear aprons similar to the one I have. That reminded me of this book that I picked up when I was in Japan, full of apron patterns. There are bib aprons, waiter's aprons, and even artist smocks.

Although it might seem a little nutty to buy a pattern book in a language I can't read, Japanese instruction books are renowned for simple, clear, easy-to-follow diagrams that ensure a successful outcome for even non-Japanese speakers. I have a stack of books on sewing, embroidery, crochet and other crafts, all in Japanese.

The things to watch out for are that measurements are in metric, and you often (but not always) read right to left, bottom to top.

This page covers fabric prep and seam finishes.

Here's a bit of Japanese I do understand: the badly sewn seam is "boro boro" which in Japan means "rubbish". Of course we stitchers in the West (and particularly those of us who are fans of Jude) know boro cloth to be a thing of aesthetic beauty. I guess it's a translation thing.

P.S. My pictures are boro boro in the rubbish sense. I hope my camera isn't dying. It seems to be harder and harder to get sharp images. (I know, I know, it's probably the camera operator.)Anyway, I will try scanning the pages to see if I can get a better result.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

My New Apron

My mom gave me a beautiful apron for Christmas. It is from Japan, indigo dyed, and simply but beautifully sewn. A bit of "coals to Newcastle", as it were, but I do love it.

Given the hyper-domestic nature of my daily activities, I should wear an apron all the time. But I rarely do. Until this arrived, all the ones I owned had a neck strap, which I find uncomfortable. And my usual wardrobe is very much work wear, so it hardly needs protection.

There are a couple of small shibori patches as a decorative touch.

I put on the apron this morning and instantly went into pie-baking mode. Then I took advantage of a warmish day to hang out some laundry. Very Suzy Homemaker-esque.

I know cute little cocktail aprons are trendy these days, but a nice roomy bib apron with pockets can't be beat for practicality. I'm thinking of making a couple more for myself, actually.

My mom also sent me this little blurb that has been making the email rounds. (If you aren't one for nostalgia, feel free to move on now.)

I don't think our kids
know what an apron is.

The principal use of Grandma's apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few and because it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons required less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing
hot pans from the oven.

It was wonderful for drying children's tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.
From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.

When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.

And when the weather was cold, Grandma wrapped it around her arms.

Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.

Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.
From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables.
After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.

In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.
When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.

When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men folk knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.

It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that 'old-time apron' that served so many purposes.

Send this to those who would know (and love) the story about Grandma's aprons.

Grandma used to set her hot baked apple pies on the window sill to cool. Her granddaughters set theirs on the window sill
to thaw.

They would go crazy now trying to figure out how many germs were on that apron.

I don't think I ever caught anything from an apron - but love...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Weaving Bread and Avoiding Panic

It seems like everyone has snow. (At least in North America, that is. Not to be geocentric or anything.) Even our balmy little island has a dusting of white. A good day to stay inside and make Woven Sweet Potato Foccacia. I use Penny Nickel's recipe, and was inspired by Jude Hill's woven pizza.

I've been doing lots of mending (for other people) lately. Nothing too exciting to show off, mostly replacing zippers and taking up hems. I'm always amazed at the simple fixes that are brought to me with the comment, "Oh, I should probably do this myself, but I hate/am terrible at sewing." While I don't doubt that they speak their truth, I can't imagine a life where picking up a needle and thread is something to panic over. I guess I need to get out more...

And, just in case one of you out there has a spare $550,000 or so, and are looking for a gorgeous small farm on a remote Gulf Island, the property where I live (rent) is for sale. It will probably not move too quickly, but I am looking at the eventuality of finding another home in the near future. Speaking of panicking, I am trying not to...but it is hard to make plans.

Monday, January 03, 2011

All Quiet on the Western Edge

It's been cold for the last few days.

Hoarfrost delineates the eye of a swirling cosmic storm. (Well, driftwood, really.)
Could this be coral, out of place and out of season? (I looked it up and it's actually an orange finger sponge. Favourite food of the leopard droid. Who knew?)

Waves etched in sandstone.

Moving from the beach to the garden.
Elvis, the barred rock rooster, could use some socks.


Artichoke husk.

Liquid amber seed pods.