Monday, December 31, 2012

What Goes Around

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 — Wendell Berry

 The bulbs I planted in the fall are peeking out.

 Three years later... I posted the above on December 31, 2009. How different the surface details are, yet once again the crocuses are pushing their noses up, and Wendell Berry still says it best. Happy New Year to all of you.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sharing the Stitch

Pieced and stitched by Jude Hill
Several years ago, I was blessed to receive a work of Jude Hill's in the mail. It was, amazingly, a gift, in response to some precious bits of Japanese cloth I had sent her. Since that time, I have followed Jude's well-deserved rise in the blogging world, and I know that many of my dear readers have found their way to me via her blog Spirit Cloth. This piece of Jude's stitching has always had a place somewhere in my house, either welcoming guests in the front hallway. offering solace by my bedside or currently, a celestial backdrop to the laughing Buddha. I just wanted to give public thanks to Jude, artist, friend, and generous, open-hearted inspiration to so many.

The Christmas Bird

The first thing I saw when I opened my door on Christmas morning was this turkey on my deck railing. I don't know how he got there but suspected he might have come up to celebrate not being on a plate today.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

This Is My Brain on Fibre

I have written before about my recurring dream in which I find myself amidst a treasure trove of beautiful textiles,  and told I can take whatever I want. When I go to leave my armload of fantastic stuff turns to dust, or is misplaced, or taken by someone else. There is a feeling of loss.

Well, last night I had the complete opposite of that dream. I was taken to visit some distant relative who gave me a bag of her unused knitting and sewing things. When I opened the bag I found a lot of junk - tail ends of balls of crochet cotton, nasty acrylic yarn, yellowing plastic baggies filled with polyester. And at the bottom of the bag was a bill for $100 - it wasn't a gift at all! I was angry and grabbed a handful of shiny purple polyester fibre and held it into the air and yelled: "Polyester equals Death!" I was asked to leave, which I did quite happily.

Where is Dr. Freud when you need him?

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Bower of Bears

Not only did the world not end, I finished the bears. Well, almost. I think I will rework a couple of small areas, and I still need to sign it. But I stretched it on the frame so I could assess it as a whole for the first time. Up until now, I had only been able to view it spread out on the bed, which gave me a skewed perspective.

Last night, I was working on it until the power went out. (The inverter gets shut off around 10 p.m. as my landlords have sensitivity to electro-magnetic fields.) I was on the last little clump of leaves, so I put on my Pezl headlamp and finished it by LED. To be true to Louis Nicolas, I suppose I should have done it by candlelight!

I'm not sure how I feel about it at this point. I was in love with it while stitching, but now I need some distance. I'll live with it lurking in the background while I devour Hand Stitch, Perspectives, which arrived today from England. It looks fabulous - juicy and meaty and really smart.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snow Day

Hard to believe after Friday's gorgeous day, but I woke up this morning to snow. The view above is from my front door, looking toward the vineyard. A good day to be inside stitching. I am almost finished the border on the bears so will have a picture for you soon.
In the meantime, here's the Appalling Food Stuff of the week. My grocery order arrived (it gets sent over on the ferry) with a substitution - a sweet potato instead of the jewel yams I had ordered. This one might be organic, but it comes wrapped in paranoia. Why oh why would someone decide that shrink wrapping a potato would make it more appealing to consumers? It's already been triple washed for god's sake. And, as can be seen by the bad spots showing through the plastic, the wrapping serves as more of an incubation chamber than any kind of protection. I puzzled over the ready-to-eat statement too. Was it pre-cooked? No, just an ordinary raw vegetable. The small print gives preparation instructions: Microwave for 5-7 minutes. Then it issues a warning to beware, the cooked potato may be hot! Not only does it give the consumer no credit for being able to cook, it implies they may be complete idiots as well. Why bother spelling it out? The intended customer probably can't read.
If this is indeed the organic food of the future, count me out. I'll stick to growing my own.

P.S. I wrote a letter to the grocery store complaining about this item and asking them not to stock overpackaged produce. For more on the company Tomorrow's Organics, check the comment by Anonymous (my friend Jean-Pierre) in the comments below. Thanks for your research J.-P.!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Best Day Ever #471

Guest posting by Gracie McGoober
Today was the best day ever! Even better than yesterday! I took Mom for a walk up to the top of the big hill. She's always getting lost  and so clumsy on her two legs that I took the lead.
I showed her the trail then I saw a deer and chased it away. That's the best!
By the time I came back she still hadn't got very far so I ran ahead very quickly, feeling the wind in my fur. That's the best!
Then I climbed the mountain, very nimble on my four legs. I was higher than Mom! That's the best!
There was moss all around, so soft on my paws. The ground was like stairs, so easy to jump up. Mom was slow, even slower than she is at dinnertime. She told me she was afraid to fall. Hah! Hah! Doesn't she know if you fall you just jump up again, lick your rear end and pretend nothing happened?
When we got to the top I saw a dangerous shadowy creature and barked very loudly so it wouldn't come near. Mom said it was Ronaldo's inukshuk but I don't know who Ronaldo is. I will bark at him too! Barking is the best!
There was a nice pool of cool water for me to drink. The best water ever!
Mom didn't have water, she just pointed the square boxy thing with the big eye into the air. I can't figure humans out sometimes.
Then I showed her the way down the hill and ran home and had a sleep on the porch in the sun.
The. Best. Day. Ever!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Forest Walk With a Focus

Gracie and I went for a hike up the hill behind the farm today. We were told of a lookout at the top, and since it was promising to be a clear day we started making our way up. But the clouds moved in, and my focus turned to the forest around us. The bark of the trees was strikingly textured and gray next to the lush green of the moss, and it was all bisected with massive planes of granite. I started taking pictures paying attention to composition.
The horizontals and verticals made me think of warp and weft, of the forest being woven.
Here are two shots of the same rock outcropping, taken from vantage points a few feet apart. The one above emphasizes the vertical crevice between the two rock faces, and there is a fallen alder that adds a horizontal line to the lower half.
The shot below hides the crevice and adds the twisty form of the arbutus. I think it is weaker compositionally, but perhaps truer to the lively tangle of the forest.

Farther up the path, here are two shots from the same vantage point. One horizontal, which to me feels calmer and more balanced. And below, the vertical, emphasizing the upward energy of the trees and the leafy salal foreground. I think I like this one better.

And I'm always a sucker for a diagonal. This one carries the eye from the upper left down to the lower right, which our Western eyes tend to do habitually, mimicking the way we read. 
Brightly coloured surveyor's tape marking a boundary is a jarring element amidst the green.
We never made it to the lookout, getting lost and stumbling onto someone's property. Their two pit bulls made sure we beat a hasty retreat. But it was still a very rewarding walk. On the way home I took a few closeups of the mosses and lichens, whole worlds unto themselves.
Thanks for coming along.

Reading List

In case you are concerned that I might be going all academic here, don't worry. My creative process is sort of an ebb and flow between immersion in the non-verbal world of working with my hands, drawing and stitching intuitively, and then emerging back into the shared space of words, trying to communicate what happened while I was off and away. Like trying to remember a dream. Sometimes seeing how other people do that is helpful. A good example is Judy Martin , who I think is great at talking about her work in a clear way.

There's a new book out called Hand Stitch Perspectives, edited by Anne Kettle and Jane McKeating. So far it seems it is only available in the U.K., but I have ordered a copy sight unseen, so intriguing is the premise. A list of the authors and their topics can be found on the Bloomsbury web site.

And if you have any interest in perusing some academic papers that are trying to decode the meaning of embroidery in different cultures, here are the links to three papers that I recently downloaded:

Finally, some of you have expressed alarm at my recent posting about getting rid of my books. Don't worry, I only gave away a portion of them. I still have a ton, which are safely on Salt Spring and still accessible. I just don't have them close to hand, which, yes, has already been an issue for me. Maybe that's why I have been searching on-line for information.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Universe Giveth

Picture from the International Quilt Study site, well worth a visit
Yesterday I found a number of interesting articles and academic papers discussing the semiotics of embroidery. Yeah, I know, instant brain freeze, but it's a subject that intrigues me and my art school immersion in post-modern mumbo-jumbo has mostly been forgotten, and I have felt the new to re-acquaint myself with a language for what I do. (Leaving aside the fact that embroidery IS a language for the time being.) 
One paper, a graduate thesis by Ruhee Das Choudhury, is titled Semiotic Study of the Motifs in Nakshi Kantha, and it is very readable (in spite of the poor grammar). She discusses the symbolic significance of the motifs in the kantha cloths stitched in Bangladesh and East Bengal. Early on there is this amazing story which I just had to share with you:
Dr. Stella Kramrisch has described a mythical story to indicate the origin of this art form. According to this story, there was a guru by the name of  Kanthalipa(plastering guru). By caste he was a sweeper. He used to collect old rags and torn cloth which he found while sweeping. One day a needle pricked his finger; it hurt so much that he started crying. Hearing his wailing a dakini (witch or spirit) appeared before him. She reproached him: “If you cry at such little pain, how you would be able to bear the pathos of rebirth over and over again?”  Kanthalipi answered to her “That is true but I do not know what I should do.”  The dakini advised him:
“The sky is nothing but a great void in endless space. Between the earth and the sky is also a vast emptiness. While sewing the pieces of rags you should achieve unity of spirit and purpose with all living creatures in the world. The sewing of rags symbolizes the use of all discarded things. To do this you need to consolidate your deep feelings and knowledge. Sitting in the void you will have to combine your thoughts and knowledge with the help of the needle of kindness. The pieces of rags sewn together to make a new cloth of new Kantha will turn into a complete piece. Similarly all the universe's living things will be able to create their own entities.” (Stella Kramrisch, 1983)
Ah, there's a concept I can live by.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Rainy Day Stitching

Well, it's a poor picture but the grey day doesn't allow for much better. I wanted to share the progress of the bear's border. It's happening a little slower than I had hoped, but it's half done and entirely possible to finish before 2013.
I am mostly working in outline stitch, straight stitch and double running stitch, but not being too particular about conforming to regulations. I am using a cottolin weaving thread which has the same matte texture as the tapestry wool of the bears, but is a bit thinner. It also tends to shred a little so I am using shorter lengths, which means more stops and starts, but overall the stitching is going well.

Yesterday I saw a barred owl perched on a fencepost, so I will take it as an indication of where I will go next. I haven't decided yet which pages I will use. This?
Source: Gilcrease Museum
© Public Domain. Courtesy of the Gilcrease Museum of Tulsa, OK.
 Or this? What do you think?
Source: Gilcrease Museum
© Public Domain. Courtesy of the Gilcrease Museum of Tulsa, OK.
Both pages can be found on the Library and Archives Canada site which shares the Codex Canadensis with the world.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Java Biscuits

Thank you Jean for requesting my dog biscuit recipe. They would make a great Christmas gift for any dog-lover. Your comment came in just as I found my recipe folder. I was given this recipe by Sylvia Oates, a Vancouver painter who had a wonderful hole-in-the-wall coffee bar in a artist's studio building. She provided fuel for artists and treats for their dogs. Java was the much loved dog of one of her customers, and Sylvia created this recipe in Java's honour. It can be easily adapted to what ingredients are on hand.

Java Biscuits

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 egg shell, crushed to powder
1 cup grated carrot, chopped fine
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 egg
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup water

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients, add veggies, and mix well.
In a smaller bowl, beat egg, putting shell in a 325 F. oven to dry out for next batch.
Add oil and water to beaten egg and whisk together.
Make a well in dry ingredients, pour in wet, mix together. You will have a stiff, but workable dough. Spray with water if too dry and knead in.
Roll out on floured surface 1/2 inch thick and use a sharp knife to cut into squares, or cookie cutter for fun shapes. The classic Java Biscuit is shaped like a bone.
Place on non-stick cookie sheets - you will need two.
Remove egg shell from oven and turn up to 375 F.
Place cookies sheets in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Check for crispness and if still very moist in the centre  bake a few minutes longer. Turn off oven and allow to cool in oven.

Makes 3 dozen bone-shaped biscuits

- A mixture of different flours and even a bit of cornmeal can be used.
- The original recipe called for 1/2 cup of milk powder but since I never have any in the cupboard I leave it out.
-You can use whatever oil you have: olive, safflower, or even the oil from sundried tomatoes.
- For an especially tantalizing biscuit use leftover bacon fat, meat drippings, or finely chopped leftover meat, potato, or squash from the family dinner. I have even been known to put chicken bones in the blender and buzz them into powder - homemade bone meal!
- This recipe also originally included 1 tsp.garlic powder, but apparently onions and garlic can be toxic for dogs. They will happily eat it though, and of course garlic has health benefits, so do your own research and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Corporate Plot to Hook Dogs on Sugar!!!

Please forgive me for interrupting our regular programming for a short rant on behalf of our canine friends.

I was grabbing some groceries before heading to the ferry, and made a classic impulse buy of the above product, Milk-Bone Essentials Plus "Everyday Healthy Dog Treats". I knew Gracie was out waiting patiently in the car and thought "She deserves a treat. And could use a little oral care." When I got out to the car I gave the list of ingredients a quick glance, and was shocked to see sugar listed as the second ingredient, after wheat flour, and before a long list of multi-syllabic chemicals. Yikes!

So I phoned the customer care number listed in tiny print at the bottom of the bag, and reached Adam, a nice enough sounding young man. I told him that I thought I had been bamboozled by the packaging, and that to the best of my knowledge, sugar was not an essential or healthy part of a dog's diet. He politely responded saying they were intended as a treat, something that tastes good, and that vitamins were added to make them healthy.

Well, dogs will eat anything. It doesn't have to taste good. Why add an ingredient that has no nutritional value? That might promote diabetes and tooth decay? Adam didn't have an answer, so I told him I would be returning the product to the store and asking for a refund. He said he would forward my comments to DLM Foods research team.

Hmmph. Nobody said being a conscientious consumer would have immediate results. I'll go back to my stitching now.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Fairytale Forest Walk

Gracie and I took advantage of the beautiful day to explore a little in the neighbourhood. We took a road through Crown land (owned by the government). As you can see by all the foliage, not many people come this way.
The low sun filtered through the forest. I could almost see the fairies and gnomes hiding behind the trees.
As we ascended the hill, the deep greens became more intense as moss took over from the salal.

The road opened out onto a moss and lichen covered outcrop. Arbutus, fir, and pine have taken root deep in the crevices of the rock.
There is a glimpse of the ocean through the leaves.
The rich textures of the tree bark, lichen, moss, and rocks intermingle in the sunlight.
The moss is deep and cushy. I think Gracie approves.
Yes, the fairies are definitely about.

Elderberry Lane

Yesterday's storm passed overnight, and today was a rare sunny winter day on the West Coast. I took a stroll around the farm. Aileen's winter garden is pretty impressive. Check out this Romanscue broccoli.

 Gracie (left) has a couple of pals to hang with. Max (top) and Lhasa (right) are American Farm Dogs, a heritage breed ideal for small acreages. They are serious working dogs, very smart but gentle and companionable. They will have Gracie whipped into shape in no time.
 A blue heron sits in an old fir. I think I strained my camera trying to get a shot of him enjoying the sun.
The turkey are catching some rays too. On a day like today everyone seems to want to bask.

The Story of MY Stuff

Sorry for being incommunicado for the last while. After a fairly easy transfer of some of my stuff to Lasqueti, I returned to Salt Spring to help the chef move his stuff, and the rest of mine, to the lower suite of the duplex. It was like an M.C. Escher print: endless trudging up and down stairs, laden with boxes and armfuls of books.

Then cleaning the upper suite in preparation for the new tenant, which took far longer than it should have, since I was determined it wouldn't be draped with cobwebs and teeming with dust bunnies, the way it was when we moved in. It is amazing how one can think they are living in a clean house, and then once all the furniture and knick knacks are moved out, discover enough cat hair to build several new cats.

I'm back on Lasqueti again now, trying island hopping for the winter. As I carried yet another box of stuff up the ramp from the ferry, I reflected on a lifetime of moving house.

I have moved over 40 times in my adult life. I've never hired movers, an unthinkable luxury, although I have usually been lucky to have volunteer help. I've moved in snow and torrential rain, back and forth across Canada and into the States. I've used moving conveyances of every description. I consider myself a reluctant authority on moving. I can even almost carry furniture not like a girl. But, most emphatically, I hate moving.

If I hate moving so much, then why do it so often? Many people would see this as a sign of some kind of domestic dysfunction, or a pathological inability to settle in one place. Let me plead my case.

Looking back, it has been rare for me to move simply because I didn't like where I was living. Other than a ten year period of home ownership, I have rented, so some of the moves were due to leases being up, rents being raised beyond budgets, or the landlord's daughter wanting to move in. In Toronto, I once lived in a series of nice houses that the owner was flipping like dominoes in a hot housing market. Often I was trading up, or being offered a great deal for a short period of time.

When I was younger, I didn't mind all the moving. I had a great team of friends who didn't seem to mind hauling all my stuff up three flights of stairs.(Granted, I had fewer books then, although I did have a set of free weights.) I didn't think it odd that my friends always seemed to stay in one place, while I moved regularly. Maybe they had too many books, cheap rent, a great location...

Then I hooked up with a mathematician who was going through the requisite post-docs and career-building moves to various cities. Those were serious moves requiring ever bigger U-Hauls, and at one point, because we were crossing into the U.S., a complete inventory of all our stuff, down to the number of pieces of cutlery. The border guard shook his head and said he had never seen such a thorough inventory, making me feel like I had wasted weeks of counting and itemizing. I guess not that many Virgos went through that crossing!

Later, the mathematician got tenure and we bought a house two blocks from where we were renting. This is where I can see that my years of transience were starting to show. Thinking I would be practical and save money, and get some exercise in the process, I borrowed a shopping cart from the grocery store and moved much of the small stuff in the cart. No wonder my biggest fear is becoming a bag lady.

A major move west to Nelson, BC had my new partner (a good-looking ne'er-do-well) driving a 27 foot truck jammed so full the wheels were bowing inwards. I followed behind in the Toyota, also jammed full, with Angus perched on my lap, paws resting on my left forearm, looking out the window and meowing the whole way. Another indelible memory of that move: 27 crates of vinyl LP's. Uh huh. I did say ne'er-do-well, didn't I?

Several years later, leaving him and his record collection to enjoy each others company, I made my first major purge of possessions and moved further west to Vancouver, where I discovered Craigslist and its magical "Free" category, where I could post that huge china cabinet that didn't fit in my apartment and have it disappear in an afternoon. This marked the beginning of my awareness that there is such a huge pool of unwanted/unneeded stuff in the world that it is possible to avoid monetary transactions altogether. Unfortunately for the pack rat in me, it can be easier to acquire free stuff than to get rid of it, but gradually I have been able to distinguish between wants and needs, and the pile of stuff has gotten smaller each move.

Finally, I moved to Lasqueti by barge and wrote about it here. Re-reading that post, I'm surprised there were just five pickup trucks loads. I remember I had hardly any furniture, but there were still an awful lot of books. And boxes and boxes or fabric.

Living on a small remote island where everything has to be carried by hand up and down ferry ramps makes one very conscious of how much stuff weighs, and requires careful consideration if it is really needed or not. I am happy to say I am now down to one pickup load of stuff. No books! ( I made a large donation of my best textile books to the new Salt Spring Library, gave a couple of boxes of art therapy books to a grad student, donated a stack to the Literacy fundraiser, and left several bags at the Recycling Centre free store.) Only a couple of boxes of fabric.

Have I learned anything from these many moves? Besides to bend at the knees when lifting? Primarily this:
Material possessions can be a burden, both physically and psychologically. I've already made my New Year's resolution: to end 2013 with less stuff than I start it with.

Friday, November 23, 2012


It’s true that working in an atmosphere free of distractions makes one much more productive. The first day I got the huge blackberry bramble border transferred to the cloth. Sorry, Saskia, (who asked how that is done) I should have taken a picture. I use a sheet of graphite transfer paper between the paper design and the cloth, and just trace it out with a pencil. Easy enough, but it did take four hours.

And then I managed to get all these brambles, maybe a tenth of the design, embroidered the next day. That means that I might possibly be finished the bear piece, already titled Bower, in just two weeks! I was kind of anxious that it might start running into the New Year, and am so glad that may not happen.

Remember when I first started this Codex series, back in January, and I thought this work might take two years? Well, three pieces completed in 2012, and hopefully four or five more next year, and I will have enough for a show. That’s the plan!

And here are a few pictures from the deck where I am staying. A bit of winter garden, the turkeys that wake me up in the morning, and off on the far side of the pasture, a couple of Berkshire pigs rooting around in the mud. It’s a gray, chilly November  in the Pacific Northwest , perfect for being inside stitching with a cup of tea.