Friday, July 29, 2011

The Faint Praise Department

We've all experienced it. The uncomfortable smiles, the "Umm, interesting"s, the "Wow, that must have taken a lot of work"s. I tend to give the hapless would-be critic a generous leeway, knowing that most people don't have the vocabulary to respond to a piece of art, and are all too aware of their inadequacy. They mean well, and that's enough.

I have had a few notable backhanded compliments in my, ahem, career. One of my favourites came when the mother of a young intern said to me, after inspecting the premises of the newspaper office where we worked, "You know, you put out a pretty good little paper. It's almost professional." I choked on my coffee - after eight years in the field, at much more prestigious publications, I'd better damn well be professional. I still say, when I know I've done something really well, "It's almost professional."

I once had an artist friend who thought he had it figured out. His standard, one word fits all, response to art he didn't like was "Congratulations." Sincere enough to convey respect that the person he was addressing had managed to get a show, mealy-mouthed enough to convey no opinion. A neat dodge.

Yesterday I received a new contender in the faint praise department. A man whose father is a nationally recognised poet, step-mother a novelist, and a creative professional himself (so he should have known better) said, upon seeing the hippy-dippy quilt: "Wow, that would look great in my kid's room." Unable to control himself, he followed that zinger up with: "You should sell those."

Urghhh. I don't expect expert critical analysis, I don't require unconditional praise, I don't even really need to know if you like it or not. Positive comments are lovely when they come, but the most precious of all are the comments that reflect a moment of attention, maybe even a moment of connection or communication. To be understood is the most meaningful gift an artist can be given.

What about you? I would love to hear your favourite responses to your art. What words have brought tears to your eyes (of laughter, amazement, frustration or pride)? Does it matter to you what people say?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

They Don't Call It "La La Land" For Nothing

The tragedy in Norway has prompted the usual calls for increased security and vigilance. Worldround, we have all dealt with how that (dubiously justified) paranoia has impacted on our personal lives and privacy.

I suggest a different approach. Instead of suspicion, how about kindness? Get to know your neighbours. Build community, not walls. Greet the stranger at the door with a plate, not a gun.

I know, it sounds airy-fairy. But I have had the benefit of living in such a world for the last three years. My community is small, so we all know each other. If someone needs help, it's there. In the rare occasion where there has been a transgression against person or property, the person responsible is told to leave and not come back. We have no police here, and no apparent need for them either.

Yes, I know that it's much harder to do these things in a city. But even the biggest city is just a collection of smaller communities.

I do believe there is evil in the world. Bad things do happen. But most people are essentially good, regardless of their race, culture or political persuasion. I would love to hear our media and leaders calling for open hearts and helping hands, rather than locked doors and security cameras. Put money into community services and health care instead of weapons...

You might think I'm being naive, but believe me, I started out as one of the most cynical, defensive people you could meet. I have not led a sheltered life, although I do recognize how lucky I was to be born in a peaceful, prosperous country. Living here, on the fringes of the world, amongst some of the best (and quirkiest) people I have known, is a culmination of a long journey of patience and acceptance from all sides.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shifu or Not Shifu?

As promised, pictures of a vintage obi woven with what I was told was shifu. But a closer examination of the tails on the edge tells a somewhat different story. It is paper but hardly twisted. What is really interesting is how it is plied with silk, both a rich orange colour, and a light cream. The silk sits almost at a 90 degree angle to the paper, which results in a subtle but intriguing effect when woven.

This had me confused initially. The cross-wise coloured ply on the weft makes it look like part of the warp at first glance. But if the coloured thread was the warp, how could the solid stripes be solid?

Indeed, the warp is the same light cream as the light weft. And the orange stripes aren't really solid, but tweedy.

Very clever. What I first took as simply a piece of rough weaving is much more sophisticated than I thought. And until I had spun shifu myself, I probably would never have caught on. There's the value of hands on experience in a nutshell.

I also had a closer look at a couple of skeins of yarn that my friend Jean-Pierre sent me from Japan. They have the dry crunchiness of paper, but J.-P. tells me that they are silk.

A burn test confirmed the fibre as silk. Looking more closely at the structure of the yarn, though, showed no individual filaments of fibre. Instead, it seemed to be mushed together like felt. Perhaps it was made from silk paper?

I'll have to get out my magnifying glass and look for more clues. I love a textile mystery!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Shifu! Shifu! Shifu!

I have long been intrigued by shifu, the Japanese paper thread. It seems to be all the rage right now - for a look at what's possible see Heather Sauer's experiments (including a miniature knitted lace dress) and Lizz Aston's incredibly smooth, fine yarns. Velma Bolyard has posted about an awesome looking class on shifu she taught last month. There was an article in the Spring 2011 Spin Off about spinning pattern tissue paper that made it seem quite possible. But it was the weaving of Jean Betts that finally pushed me over the edge into the realm of "must try".

So, having (typically) misplaced the Spin Off article, I barged ahead, working with my vague recollections. I tried cutting strips from the folded pattern tissue of a free store find - first with an X-Acto and ruler (PITA) and then with a rotary cutter (much better).

I didn't dampen them, as the current humidity is so high that moss could grow indoors. Spinning was surprisingly pleasant and easy - I used my lowest ratio whorl, treadled slowly, and used a wee bit of spit for joins. My strips were quite coarse - about 1/4" - but not bad for my first attempt.

I have an obi woven with shifu weft that I will dig up to show you next post.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cat's Cradle

I set up my old knitting machine, which of course Angus immediately had to check out.

I quickly remembered why cats and knitting machines do not go together.

Friday, July 15, 2011

"Back to the Garden" is Done

From this... this.

What began as a quick sketch several years ago generated an idea for a quilt last fall, changed as it grew, and is finally complete.

The four winds blow...

...the sun shines through the clouds...

...and the waves sparkle.

I put the geographical co-ordinates of the island in the space after the Alden Nowlan quotation. The quote starts in the lower left: "For those who belong nowhere," and continues across the top "and for those who belong", down the right side "to one place too much to belong", finishing upside down "anywhere else." I know it's a bit of a puzzle to figure it out, but I think words in a piece can be so dominant that I am always trying to soften or blur them.

I am happy with the way the multi-coloured thread of the blanket stitch blends and integrates the cloth letters.

I added the second part of the Joni Mitchell verse to the ground beneath the rainbow. I was actually thinking of her voice singing. "We are stardust, we are golden" is all light and sparkly, while "and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden" is more earthy and deep. The threads I chose echo that contrast.

Those of you who are regulars will be familiar with the stages that this quilt took. If you are new here, the previous posts are under the quilting tag.

This quilts incorporates a few firsts for me:
1. First completely hand-stitched quilt.
2. First time painting with dyes.
3. First time using metallic thread and beads (conservatively, yes, but they are there.
4. First time using stumpwork techniques (on the sheep.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My New Hero

Kai Nagata has nothing to do with textiles. But he has everything to do with integrity, vision, and action. I encourage you to take the time (allow a good hour) to read both postings on his blog Freedom 24, and to delve as well into the comments.

Kai, a 24-year-old journalist who just quit his plum job in Canadian media, has sparked a remarkable discussion that resonates far beyond his own personal circumstances. The response he has received goes far beyond side-taking, no matter how much the trolls are trying to make it about politics. The really inspiring effect of his posting is how his his words and actions have helped so many people re-discover hope within themselves - and from the overall content of the comments, his message has sparked the hearts of thousands of intelligent, caring people who want to see change happen.

How that change might happen is up in the air. But I think I can truly say that I have not encountered such a passionate, optimistic outpouring of voices since, well, maybe ever. That it happened on a lazy summer weekend, completely via the Internet and alternative media is astonishing. It heartens me to hear so many young people who are articulate and committed to making the world a better place. It is, after all, this bleeding piece of earth that they will have to contend with once we're done.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"We'll Be Open at Eleven"

I had a request to make a doorway curtain for a restaurant. It has an open kitchen, so in the summer the staff opens the front door early just to keep the place from getting too hot while they are baking and prepping for the day. But they are getting tired of people ignoring the "Closed" sign and walking in, asking to be served.

Rather than getting nasty, sometimes all that is needed is a gentle physical or visual barrier to make people think twice. I hope this curtain will serve the purpose. Based on something I saw in Marie Claire Idees several years ago, this noren-style curtain is pieced together from cheery tea towels and a vintage embroidered tablecloth. The restaurant's logo appliqued to a doily finishes off the custom look.

(Hope to have a better picture in situ soon.)

Friday, July 08, 2011

Men and More of Their Pants

Last year, I made what, surprisingly, became one of my most popular blog postings of all time. Maybe it was the provocative title, Men and Their Pants that led hapless Google searchers to me.

John, the owner of the much mended pair featured in that posting, recently brought another pair to be mended. These ones have got to be the grand champion of mended pants. They weight almost as much as three new pairs, so many patches and stitching have gone into them over the years.

Perhaps Calvin Klein would like to purchase them for his museum?

Sorry, Cal, John says he wants to be buried in these pants.


I've been crossing the water a lot these days.

On board the Bowen Queen, traversing Active Pass between Tsawwassen and Long Harbour, Salt Spring Island.

She's a bit of a shabby vessel.

I was glad that we didn't need to use the escape hatch.

The next day I crossed from French Creek to False Bay with Carson, on his fossil-fuel-free sail transportation service, Sailing the Salish Sea. What a lovely, if leisurely, way to travel.

Carson is my favourite surrogate nephew, and a mighty fine sailor.

Our destination off in the distance.

Gracie loved the ride.

Well, I guess sailing does have quite a connection with textiles, for those of you who are getting frustrated with my inability to stay on the alleged topic of this blog.

And how many ferry services offer the delightful feature of a naked captain and first mate? Granted, I haven't come across too many ferry workers that I would want to see naked, but then federal regulations probably prohibit them from stripping down and jumping in for a swim enroute anyway.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Back to the Fibreshed

There is a lovely article by Rebecca Burgess over at Fibershed. Beautiful pictures and the story of the alpacas of Renaissance Ridge in Northern California.

It reminded me of a book that I finally bought: Working with Wool by Sylvia Olsen. Subtitled "A Coast Salish Legacy and the Cowichan Sweater", it genuinely breaks some new ground in the documentation of the most distinctive garment from my own region. I had hesitated when it first came out, as I already own the books by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Marg Meikle, thinking "Who needs another book, however interesting and well-intentioned, by a person from outside that culture?" Olsen, however, married into the Coast Salish nation at nineteen, and lived and worked with the knitters of Cowichan sweaters for thirty years. She avoids most of the romanticizing that Europeans often bring to the subject, and allows the voices of the Coast Salish knitters to tell their own stories.

There are no patterns here, which pleases me. I know I'm being knee-jerk politically correct here, but really, if it's not knit by a Coast Salish person, then it's not a real Cowichan sweater. After many years of fighting the marketers of inferior knock-offs, the Coast Salish have won the legal right to the exclusive use of the label "Cowichan". How sensitive they are to this issue arose a couple of years ago in connection to the sweaters marketed by the organizers of the 2010 Winter Olympics. If you want to make your own version, the Gibson-Roberts book gives all the details, but why not just save up and support the knitters by buying an authentic one? But maybe I am just being pedantic.

Olsen recently won the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing. The media release says:
Blending her own experiences working with knitters and sweaters from the late ‘70s to the early ‘90s, her desire to learn as much as possible about how government and business intersected with knitters and purchasers, the stories of the knitters themselves, and more than a hundred archival photographs, Olsen has woven a fascinating narrative, a cross cultural story that involves all British Columbians, First Nations, settlers, governments, and churches. “We have all been touched by, or involved with the sweaters in one way or another,” she says.

Jean at One Small Stitch has an interesting post on Peruvian mummy dolls, which is very relevant to this discussion. Sometimes it does take a caring, educated person from another culture to ensure that traditional ethnic techniques are preserved.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Canada Day on the Rocks

Today is Canada's birthday. In spite of our prime minister's jingoistic attempts at rousing national ardour, most Canadians prefer to take it easy and spend time relaxing outdoors. The royal visit has added a bit of glamour to the day for those back east, but here on the west coast it's just another day on the beach.

This beach is on top of a midden over 1200 years old. (In comparison, Canada is just 144.) The shells, mostly clam, scallop, and mussel, have been crushed by the waves into a fine sand.

The rocky shoreline of this particular beach shows how dramatically the earth heaved in the island's creation. Apparently the rock dates from the Cretaceous period of about 3 million years ago.

Barnacles covered the rocks - most were what I take to be a normal size, about 5 to 10 millimetres across, but these ones were huge.

These are a more usual size. I like the lacy clusters they form on shells.

A heron fishing at low tide caught Gracie's attention.

Ah well, she wouldn't be a dog if she didn't try.