Monday, February 28, 2011

A Good Time Was Had By All

We might not have paved roads or an electrical grid, but we sure do have spirit! (Hmmn, maybe there's a correlation.) This past Saturday saw a great community celebration on our little island, and the unusually winter-y weather just made us more appreciative of all the good things we do have here. Above, baton twirlers practice for the parade.

Our community arts group was fortunate to receive a grant to create a number of murals. They were painted collaboratively over the past two months. The unveiling was combined with a parade, dubbed the Gumboot Stomp. Handpainted gumboots were the order of the day.

More practise seemed to be needed. It's hard to twirl in mittens!

The Bolting Brassicas, our local marching band, led the way.

Oooh, I wouldn't want to be a brass player in this weather!

And, drum roll please, the murals! First, a mosaic for the Arts Centre.

The Farmer's Market will have this for a backdrop next summer.

This mural will be sited in the trees so that it is glimpsed from the road.

Homesteading is the theme of this mural, which will hang on the fence in front of the cemetery.

And the mythical Lasquetia will grace our Community Hall.

More music, a bonfire, a wonderful supper of soup and homemade bread, and storytelling rounded out the evening.

Hippy Dippy

I'm getting caught up in the vibe of peace, love and understanding.

Sam came to Canada in early 1970, right after Woodstock. I couldn't resist including a line or two of the song.

Which leads to the working title of the quilt: Back to the Garden. Corny, I know, but true. (I used a rainbow metallic machine embroidery thread, and sewed a tiny chainstitch. It wanted to kink like crazy, making the process v-e-r-y s-l-o-w.)

The sheep are groovin' right along with me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


These beautiful windows are from More Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, a gorgeous blog from Ojisanjake, a very interesting fellow. I like to browse his site when I am in need of a bit of peace and quiet.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


My second attempt at painting with Procion dyes worked much better. I think I was able to control the dyes more successfully and the cloud is less of a disaster. I know the bright colours are not so popular these days, but I think they work for the "storybook" quality of the planned quilt. BTW, I used "Good Glue", a vegetable starch based archival glue for the resist. It worked quite well as you can see, as long as it had time to dry. I squeezed it directly from the bottle, which led to some serious carpal tunnel pain the next day.

I am doing some embroidery before quilting over the white lines of the drawing. (The machine stitching you see is basting, don't worry, it will be removed.) The little sheep are in bullion stitch - which I only yesterday realized I was doing incorrectly, but it works anyway - and I did the ears in raised buttonhole stitch. My first attempt at stumpwork techniques!

I finished the other wind directions a while ago, but am just posting now, so you know I haven't been sitting on my hands.

And I would love to see this exhibition of recycled textiles at the Textile Museum. The quilt from Uzbekistan just makes my heart go pitter pat.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Where 20th Century Art Began

This quilt that Sonia Delaunay made for her baby son in 1911 is thought to have been the inspiration of cubist painting. Sonia was an very versatile artist and designer, but it was her husband Robert that got most of the credit. More of the story here. And here's her Wikipededia article.
I have always wanted to make a replica of the Delaunay quilt.

Stone Circles

I have been noticing a number of unusually perfect circles in the sandstone I pass on my beach walks. I assume they are formed by the action of the tides, but who knows? Maybe they are some kind of alien communication.

This one is about four feet across!

Hmmn, almost flying saucer-like.

The rock forms are endlessly fascinating. Maybe I missed my true calling as a geologist.

One lone huge boulder stands sentinal.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ranting and Rolling

I could be setting myself up for a lot of comments about how shallow my thinking is and how I completely misunderstand elementary philosophy, but here goes...

A comment from Drucilla Pettibone on my enthusiasm over Betsy Greer's ideas a few posts back really got me thinking. We had been talking about the "baggage" art carries and Drucilla wondered what sort of baggage might be laden upon the shoulders of craft. Of course, any creative endeavour has all kinds of historical, cultural, ideological and philosophical weight attached, so I set the back burner of my brain cooking on this topic and here is what I have arrived at.

Endless amounts of discussion have arisen during the last half century or more on the division between art and craft, with craft often being considered the poor cousin of art. Various theories have been offered as to why this might be, with gender politics being the leading culprit, at least when I was in art school back in the 80's. Rozsika Parker's The Subversive Stitch was our text. The general opinion seemed to be that as women were devalued, so was their creative work, which primarily fell into the region of craft. A significant artwork examining why craft was marginalized, along with the women who made craft, was Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party.

The Dinner Party happened to be in Toronto in 1980, at the same time I lived there, but I never went to see it, even though I had a friend who worked at the AGO and who could get me in for free. I was put off by the hoopla surrounding the installation, and the "artstar" behaviour that my friend said that Chicago had exhibited towards the gallery's staff. And I, being young and not well attuned to feminist thought, felt that the images I saw of the work, particularly the plates were a little, well, unsubtle. So I missed my chance.

But last year I picked up a copy of Embroidering our Heritage: The Dinner Party Needlework at the local Free Store. I figured I owed it to my own work to at least be familiar with such an iconic piece of art, which The Dinner Party has come to be. But I still didn't read it until just recently. I was amazed at the whole project and particularly impressed with the quality of the needlework (39 embroidered runners and three altar cloths) that were created by unpaid volunteers, often art students who were unskilled in embroidery to start with. (Much controversy was created by Chicago's supposed treatment of her workers, who were mainly uncredited. Perhaps this book is an attempt to correct that, but I still came away with the idea that Chicago had a pretty overwhelming ego. The workers are listed in a small chapter at the back.)

My point, which I do have somewhere, began to formulate after reading the part of the process where the workers, after spending hundreds of hours of volunteer time creating really magnificent embroidery, had to cut HOLES in the runners to accommodate the bolts that would securely attach the plates to the tables. (Theft and security issues take priority over the integrity of the object.) Apparently this was quite traumatizing to the workers, but Chicago says that "in typical Dinner Party fashion, everyone became involved to make the slits as attractive as possible, even though they knew that they'd never be seen."

What I see here is the subordination of craft to the greater glory of art. And hence the voluminous baggage. Chicago knew early enough on that the plates would need to be secured, and could have designed the runners so that the holes were included. The workers saw cutting into their embroidered cloth as a violation - and I see it not just as invalidating their time and skill and ruining the integrity of the cloth, but as fundamentally shifting the role of the cloth from a functional, stand-alone object to becoming a representation of itself to serve a larger purpose.

And here I defer to Philosophy 101, and Plato's Cave. Plato describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Socrates, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not constitutive of reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.

In the Dinner Party, I suggest that the embroidered runners held their true form until the moment a hole was cut in them, and they then became a representation, a shadow. Of course this is part of the baggage art has been struggling with since Plato's time, of how to be "real."

Craft, I believe, is inherently real. It is made with our hands, and has purpose in our lives, as of course does art. But craft begins and ends as itself, whereas art functions in a more ephemeral way. This is not to say that craft cannot transcend boundaries, because of course it can. But it doesn't have to.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wall of Shame

Yesterday I did everything you're not supposed to do. I didn't follow instructions, I kept on going in spite of all signs telling me to stop and think, and even when I found myself in a place I didn't much care for, I told myself everything was fine. And I ate too much chocolate...

Actually, I probably didn't eat enough chocolate. But the other stuff is sadly true.

This is what I did:

What was intended to be the centre panel for the quilt started off well. I reworked Skye's drawing a bit, then scaled it up to 24" by 32" using the ancient hand drawn grid method. I initally thought I might applique the panel, then had the brilliant (ahem) thought that I could paint all the colours with fabric dye, and embellish as needed with embroidery.

I pre-soaked my cotton fabric with soda ash, let it dry, and transferred the design with dressmaker's carbon paper. All good. I mixed my dyes and added sodium alginate to thicken them in preparation for painting.

Oh. Did I mention that, whilst I did a fair amount of playing with acrylics and brushes at art school, I have never painted with fabric dyes before? Well, how much different can it be, I thought, and barged on ahead.

Sample?? Hah, my arrogance had no patience for such minutia. My brush was already in the colour - it seemed a little dark, but then it always dries lighter.

Oops! It seems to be bleeding. Well, the book suggests using a resist - white glue will do. Hmmn, it seems to be taking a while to dry, I'll just work on a different section.

Damn!! I put the wrong colour in that part. Oh well, I'll cover it up with a piece of cloth later.

And so it went, for at least six hours. I wrapped it in plastic, to let it batch (fix) for 24 hours, as the book said.

I had some leftover quinoa and lettuce for supper. That's not a dish. It was quinoa out of the pot and a chunk of lettuce in the hand, not even with any dressing. As I chewed I eyed the plastic-wrapped bundle.

You know it, I couldn't wait. Rinsed it out and surveyed the results.

I was so caught up in the excitement of creation that the obvious flaws were piffle to my eye. It would just take a little stitch here, a patch of fabric there - I would make it work!

Maybe it was the day's poor nutrition, but I actually auditioned several different cloud fabrics, chose one, and spent the next hour stitching it into position. (With crap Chinese embroidery floss, which shows you how far gone I was.) 10:30 p.m., and I had less than half the cloud done. I held it up to look at it, and the blessed angels stepped in.

"Heather," they said. "It will take much more time to fix this than to just do another one. Consider today practise."

And in my only wise move of the day, I listened. Soaked another piece of fabric in soda ash solution, and hung it up to dry overnight.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rainy Day Beach Walk

There was a heavy downpour today, followed by a qualicum (westerly wind) that blew the clouds away and let the late afternoon sun bathe the beach in iridescent light.

The driftwood, rocks and seaweed were clearly delineated and seemed to glow from within.

I got a bit carried away.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Blowing From the Southeast Today

I wasn't up so late last night, but I did finish another square.

This post from Betsy Greer at Craftivism really got me thinking. What she says about her experience of being taught that one had to suffer to make art, and finding out that craft has no such baggage, resonates with me. I went through the whole art school thing, and although we had a Marxist slant and identified as “cultural workers”, not tortured artists, there was still often that lack of authenticity that Betsy mentions.

I was more successful in the career sense than many of my classmates (had shows, got grants, made sales) but, in retrospect, I hated it. I have sewn since I was a kid, knitted since my early 20’s, and that is what has persisted, has always been there. I still work with craft in an art context (or maybe I should say I work with art in a craft context.) I don’t know where the dividing line is.

But if I wasn’t a knitter or quilter, I would probably be like Agnes Martin, painting orderly line after line. The repetitive, soothing action of making stitches helps me feel whole. It is real, concrete, tangible evidence of my being here in the world. And at the same time, ephemeral.

Just like life.

And for something really amazing, check out this article on healing with cloth.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Four Strong Winds

Have you ever been so excited about beginning a project that you stay up way past your bedtime, sewing into the wee hours? That happened to me last night - I so much wanted to see my first block finished.

This quilt is in honour of a very special father and daughter, Sam and Skye, and in celebration of Sam's fortieth year in Canada. He was a single parent, and raised an intelligent, beautiful and capable girl, all on a remote little island. Her drawing (done as a teenager) was the actual starting point for the quilt, and will be the centre portion.

I am planning on using a combination of applique and embroidery for this panel - part of why I asked the question a few posts back about the mystery applique technique.

The outer portion of the quilt will be Sam's story, which is almost an archetype of the time and place in which he lived - coming to Canada from the U.S. in 1970, living off the land, experiencing adventure, adversity and love. The first block is one of four - representing the heavenly winds of cosmic power and vital spirit. Each block is a little different, and will be placed on the four corners of the quilt. They are guardians and guides. The first one, pictured above, is Southwest.

The faces are based on a very old map of the world, that personified the various winds as well as unknown territory. When one begins a journey, it is helpful to have a map!

I began stitching with split stitch and four strands of DMC floss, and hated the way it looked. It was slow going too, as the thread obscured the line I was trying to follow. I switched to stem stitch with three strands, and liked that better, although getting a smooth line on inside curves still eludes me. I sense there is a sweet spot between stitch length and angle of curve - one day I'll find it. Running stitch is a no-brainer for the breath of wind.

One last observation from my stitching marathon - I usually strip the thread, which is separating all six strands in a length of floss and then combining them in the number desired, using the fingers to smooth and release tension from the thread. (Nataline Chanin calls this "loving the thread.") A couple of times I lazily just used three strands in a bunch straight from the skein, and I could feel the difference as the thread moved through the cloth. It felt a little rougher, and the individual strands didn't lie as smoothly on the surface of the fabric. Small point, to be sure, but revealing as to the sensitivity of touch and the way thread reflects light.

I can't wait to begin the next square. It will be a long process, as I plan twenty border squares, plus the large centre panel. My goal is to be done in time for Artsfest on Canada Day weekend (that's July 1, 2011).

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Another Day, Another Quilt

I finished the quilt I was making for a community fundraiser. I'm quite happy with it, even if it is a little too dainty for my taste. The scalloped border took a good seven hours of work! Fiddly, but worth it, I think.

The embroidered linen squares were made at least thirty years ago by a friend of Sue's grandmother. She was glad to donate them so they would no longer be lurking accusingly in her workbasket. The squares were pre-stamped with the patterns, and quite nicely embroidered.

The border is of linen from a beautiful but stained sheet. It feels so lovely and smooth. The sashing came from Charlotte's stash, and contains a percentage of polyester, as I ruefully discovered a bit too late. It had an annoying tendency to slither around the table as I was piecing the top. The backing was a thrift store sheet that I had bought to use on my bed as I liked the colour. But I found the very high thread count made it too soft and clingy, so quilt backing it is!

Of course Angus had to get in on the action. He provided a useful weight to keep the fabric from slipping to the floor as I drew the scallops on the border. If you would like to know the fine details of scallop making, I found Linda Franz's tutorial a great help.