Thursday, January 26, 2012

Weaving Hand

Once a week, Hand/Eye sends four or five articles to my inbox. Always interesting, but one this week really hit the mark for me on all levels. Annie Waterman's article about a Brooklyn weaving studio called Weaving Hand, that brings together community, culture and art therapy. Check out the Weaving Hand blog and website for some amazing images and stories.
What a wonderful logo!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mid-Winter Colour & Creative Crisis

What every January in the Pacific Northwest needs: crocuses on the windowsill. A friend gave me the bowl of bulbs in November, I moistened the soil and kept them in a dark place 'til just before Christmas, when they looked like pale fingers pushing through the soil. I thought they were paperwhites, so was surprised and happy to see simple crocuses. And Mani-Neko is happy too, I think.

I have been pondering on a project. Ever since seeing the amazing drawings in the recently published Codex Canadensis, I have been wanting to render the images in thread. One thought led to another, and possibly since I was simultaneously reading Joan Edwards's book on Crewel Embroidery, it seemed perfectly logical to put 17th C. embroidery techniques together with 17th C. drawing, and to create large panels similar to 17th C. bed curtains. Bed curtains of that time were often worked in crewel-stitched tree of life motifs, and the Codex is a collection of the flora, fauna and peoples present in Eastern Canada when the European missionaries arrived, something similar to a tree of life itself.

There's lots more going on conceptually, and I think it could be a fabulously exciting piece, but I have had to get a hold of myself and think about the sheer logistics involved. It would probably take a couple of years to complete, working on it every day. Because of my back and hands, I could probably only work on it about four hours a day total, and it would be the only project going, with any of my other interests falling by the wayside. Could I keep up my interest and energy for that long?

And then there's the whole issue of what I would do with the finished work. I think it's a natural for exhibition in the public gallery realm, but I have been out of the trend-conscious straight art world for such a while now I really can't be sure. I used to get grants and exhibit professionally, but since my accident I thought I had left that world behind. I don't know that it's possible to re-enter that easily - it looks as though I didn't take my career seriously, whereas I think what happened was a shifting of priorities.

In any case, it's not like I have room in my house for a set of 17th C. bed curtains. Most of the art I have produced over the years is either sold, or left behind in the attics and basements of places I have lived. I have even been known to dumpster artwork. (Somehow what I trashed always seemed to be removed before the garbage collectors came. I smile to think there might be people out there who have rescued or re-purposed my work, and may be enjoying it in one way or another to this day.)

But maybe I am just getting ahead of myself. When I create a new piece I usually can "see" it complete in my mind's eye, and most of the process is simply production. I don't usually change a piece much as I go, although I have been trying to loosen up in that regard. Perhaps I should start with a sample to see what happens. How can I resist an image like this one?

Image from Library and Archives Canada. See a virtual exhibition here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Philadephia Fiber

I had a nice note the other day from Diane Savona, an artist and curator who is putting together a show called Mending=Art as part of FiberPhiladelphia 2012. Diane was very kindly asking me for permission to include one of my mending posts in material that will accompany the exhibition. I said "yes" right away, and then went exploring the FiberPhiladelphia site.

Wow! I was impressed to see that FiberPhiladelphia is a city wide series of events and exhibitions focusing on the fiber arts. It looks like it will run from now through May, with many different events - check the calendar. And it happens every two years. It strikes me that Philadelphia must be a very enlightened and progressive city to feature the textile arts in such a way.

And Diane's gallery page is wonderful to browse through. Her work uses found textiles and objects to create evocative quilt-like pieces. In one recent work she has incorporated bits of debris from last year's Japanese tsunami in maplike patchwork, and in another series, "Fossil Garments", she layers deconstructed lace garments with embedded sewing tools and notions, viewing clothing as a kind of archeology.

A Gem Indeed

I have been reading Crewel Embroidery In England for the past few days. I was going to do a review, but Mary Corbet's Needle'n'Thread has a wonderfully illustrated review already done, and I agree with pretty much everything she says, so go read her thoughts first, if you like.

If you are wondering how such a book, printed in 1975 and with many fewer colour illustrations than are customary these days could hold my attention, I have to say the text was downright ROLLICKING! Vivid, opinionated and thoroughly knowledgable, Joan Edwards's words create the liveliest descriptions of embroidery I have ever come across. She lectured and taught embroidery for the Inner London Education Authority and the V&A Museum, and I bet her lessons must have been a treat.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is the timeline at the back, which parallels the history of British monarchs, events, artists and architecture, and embroidery, tapestry and lace. One can clearly see how trends in textile design followed breakthroughs in technology and exploration over the centuries. Edwards also includes a generous bibliography titled "The pleasures of reading about embroidery."

I love the book's epilogue.
"From time to time there comes to every embroiderer moments of the purest possible pleasure. The particular piece of work on which she has been engaged is finished. She removes it from the frame and spreads it out between her hands, examining every detail with minute attention. It is as though she is seeing it for the first time. Out of her own skill, initiative, and invention she has created something that pleases her. Briefly she allows herself to savour her sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.

Maybe, she concedes, it is not of quite such surpassing excellence as she had hoped to acheive when she made the design, chose the threads, and decided exactly where to place the first stitch, but on balance as good as or even a little better than her previous work.

Will anybody else, she wonders, realise how much thought and care has gone into it? Will it by some happy chance be miraculously preserved, forgotten but not destroyed, eventually to become a treasured family heirloom, and even perhaps to find its way into a great museum, where scholars will document it and embroiderers study it as an interesting example of historical needlework? Surely, she reflects, it is not asking very much to be remembered as a woman who was clever with her needle.

Even as she plays fondly with her pipe dreams, she knows in her heart that its chances of survival are minimal; that although it is here today, pretty, fresh, and colourful, by tomorrow it will be faded and grubby, the threads worn and the colours faded; and that because the present sets very little store by its immediate past, the next generation is as likely to destroy as cherish it. Perhaps she will comfort herself with the thought that, like a garden, much of embroidery's charm lies in the fact that it is completely ephemeral.

But to finish one piece of work is only an excuse to begin another, the idea for which she has been turning over in her mind for a long while. She cannot wait to get on with it for she is irresistibly fascinated by the art of working intricate stitches and by the variety of decorative effects she can obtain with them; by watching a design develop along the lines and in the colours she has chosen for it; and by the knotty little problems she is constantly being called upon to resolve.Absorbed in bringing into focus all her technical expertise, taste, and ingenuity, and balancing them on the point of her needle, she has neither regret nor hesitation. The past and the future may take care of themselves. Time becomes meaningless. Only the embroidery she is engaged upon at the present moment is important."

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Spinning the Unspinnable

This is really interesting...
Spinning the unspinnable is an article by nanotechnologists at The University of Texas at Dallas. They have invented a "broadly deployable technology for producing weavable, knittable, sewable, and knottable yarns containing up to 95 weight percent of otherwise unspinnable guest powders and nanofibers. A minute amount of host carbon nanotube web, which can be lighter than air and stronger pound-per-pound than steel, confines guest particulates in the corridors of highly conducting scrolls without interfering with guest functionality for such applications as energy storage, energy conversion, and energy harvesting."

The yarn structure is based on "Archimedean and Fermat spirals and spiral combinations found in nature and revered by diverse cultures for thousands of years." Amazingly, the yarns are thinner than a human hair, and have applications in things like lithium-ion batteries and biofuel cells, as well as clothing that could store or generate energy.

I've always said that spinning infuses yarn with energy, but I had no idea it could go this far.

Saturday, January 07, 2012


I finally got the beast of a warp onto the loom and am now at the satisfying, soothing stage of weaving it off. I couldn't believe how difficult it was to thread and wind on, but given that it has been 15 years since I was last weaving seriously, and even then I never used such a fine yarn (16/2) and so many ends (614), I guess I should have known. But I probably wouldn't have started it if I HAD known, so I'll just consider it an exercise in patience and give myself a gold star.

It is to be a traditional butcher's apron for my sweetie. He could buy a perfectly serviceable one from a chef's supplier for under $20, but this is a slow cloth for a slow foodie. It has already taken me about 20 hours to wind the warp and dress the loom, and will take about the same length of time to weave off the six yards of cloth. I at least had the presence of mind to wind enough warp for two aprons, thereby getting two for the time of one.

But working with black thread at this dark, gloomy time of year is a real challenge. It's hard to see with the middle-aged eyes. Happily, next month I am signed up for a weaving workshop with Jane Stafford that focuses on colour and design, so I hope to get a good fill of bright colour then.

Meanwhile, the pile of grey yarn is growing. I figure it takes about 2 hours for each skein, from fleece to finished yarn. I have sixteen skeins now, and will probably need another sixteen. Too late, I remembered Stephanie complaining about knitting for a big man in one of her Yarn Harlot postings. Wish that had come to mind before I decided to knit a sweater for the chef! It will probably take over 100 hours of spinning and knitting - good thing that's what I like to do.

And, thinking about the endless hours of repetitive handwork and how soothing and centering it is for me, I realize I would probably be stark raving mad if I didn't have the textile arts in my life. Not only are they therapeutic, I have something to show for it at the end. Positive all round!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Following Feathers

I just checked out Jude Hill's Magic Feather project slide show. I clicked on it, not knowing what to expect, and discovered that each of the 639 stitched feathers are shown. I wondered if I would see my contribution, and as the amazing variety of feathers wafted by, found myself making comparisons and finding favourites. My little brain also started to wonder how Jude is going to put them together - where to begin? When my eagle feather showed up 2/3 of the way through, I felt a warm glow of participation, of being part of something special.

A truly lovely project. Magic, indeed!

I actually saw the sun rise today - a rare event for me as I am usually quite slothful in the morning.