Friday, February 24, 2012

Just When I Thought It Couldn't Get Worse...

Excuse me while I go off the deep end.

I didn't vote for Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister. Neither did most other Canadians. However, due to the archaic first-past-the-post political system we have here, Harper got to be our nation's leader. I admit, I was choked when he won. But I thought, as I'm sure most Canadians did, "How much harm can one man do?" And "He'll never get re-elected anyway."

I stayed quiet, apathetic even, as Harper has laid waste to many of the things I think Canada has done pretty well in the past. Environmental stewardship - gone. International reputation of moderation and peace keeping - gone. The dear old CBC - gutted and all but gone. In fact, Harper has done so much damage it makes me nostalgic for the days of Brian Mulroney, notorious for being Canada's most despised Prime Minister. Lawrence Martin puts it well here.

But what has knocked me off my rocking chair, where I am busy sewing a duvet cover, (oh yes, I am such a dangerous radical) is the news that Transport Canada thinks it's just fine for oil tankers to cruise the treacherous, environmentally sensitive waters off of B.C.'s north coast. The story is here.

Amazingly, all relevant government agencies have signed off on the project. But, since Harper won't allow any dissenting individuals to speak out, (oh yeah, that's another thing he did, muzzle government employees, including scientists and researchers) it's not like those agencies had a choice.

For those of you who haven't been following this, Harper desperately wants to allow a private company, Enbridge, to build a pipeline through northern B.C. that will carry bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands (another horrible environmental disaster) to Kitimat, where it will be put onto tankers who can sail their merry way to China, where it will be refined and used to manufacture cheap consumer goods for the rest of the world.

This cannot be allowed to happen. It is wrong on so many levels my head spins. Seriously, I am thinking, "What have I got to lose?" If there were some kind of militant rebel forces here I would sign right up. I'm a middle-aged lady, and the future looks like crap anyway.

I have been working hard the last few years, cultivating inner peace, patience and tolerance. That's another thing Stephen Harper has destroyed. Although I have never believed the Devil, that personification of evil, exists, I am starting to think that he does indeed walk this earth, in the body of Stephen Harper.

It's Hard to Compete with a Giant Rutabaga

Yes, Louisa, I think the chef was pleased. I still can't get a good picture to save my life though.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wretched Excess Sampler

The chef has been joking to his dinner patrons, as they swoon over his latest over-the-top dish, that I am going to embroider a sampler that says "Wretched excess is only the beginning." He's been saying that for so long now that I thought I had better get to it. I started with a vintage whitework tray cloth, in keeping with the culinary theme. I found an elaborate capital "W" online (can't remember where, sorry), downloaded it, and traced it onto the cloth using dressmaker's carbon paper. Then I went to town with padded satin stitch, outline and seed stitch. Lots of fun!
I wanted the rest of the text to be very simple in contrast to the baroque "W", and I felt that cross stitch would be appropriate. But the cloth was too fine to do counted cross stitch, and I didn't think I could draw little "x"s accurately enough, so I tried waste canvas for the first time. I simply drew my letters on the stiff canvas and embroidered over my lines. The colour below is more accurate on my monitor. The thread is DMC 518, what I would call a French blue.
Removing the canvas was a bit of a trick - I had to soak the cloth in water to remove the starch, and then use tweezers to unravel the threads. But in the end it all worked just fine.

I stretched natural linen cloth over an artist's canvas stretcher, positioned the blocked embroidery, and used a curved needle to couch the fine linen to the backing. As I quickly realized, using a curved needle also required a a bit of dexterity since they are hard to hold properly. It's interesting to encounter little problems like this, since they remind me how foreign it can feel for a beginner to take up needle and thread for the first time. Tomorrow I'll hang it in the restaurant and take another picture for you. Sorry for the odd colour and lack of sharp focus in the above pictures - I fear my camera is dying.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Seedy Saturday

This is the month for Seedy Saturdays, which is basically a seed exchange event, but that doesn't begin to hint at the joyous energy it encompasses. The one I attended this past weekend on Salt Spring was a full on celebration of spring, as only a gathering of farmers and gardeners eager to get into the dirt can do it. The optimism in the room was phenomenal - I can honestly say I have never experienced such genuine, positive energy before.

I did buy some seeds (there must have been 25 tables of  local growers offering heritage seeds), mostly winter greens, but consciously held back because I do collect and save my own seed for tomatoes, beans, herbs  and peppers. I picked up a couple of books, both of which I enthusiastically recommend. The Zero-Mile Diet is the latest from Carolyn Herriot, a Victoria grower who shares her abundant knowledge of growing food year-round. Yes, we are in Canada's most balmy climate here, but Herriot's infectious enthusiasm, solid information, organic philosophy, and delicious recipes make this book one I would highly recommend for any region of Canada or the U.S.

The real surprise, and a book that should be in every library if not on your shelf, is All the Dirt, by three Saanich Peninsula farmers: Rachel Fisher, Heather Stretch, and Robin Tuncliffe. They each contribute a chapter on their personal experience as farmers, which encompasses such a compelling range of emotion, practical information and political perspective that I stayed up late reading the whole thing from cover to cover. This book brings into focus very clearly the crucial importance of small family farms, organic growing, local economies and conscious consumerism. (I bought it on the recommendation of Elizabeth May, our Member of Parliament and the Leader of the Green Party of Canada, who was at Seedy Saturday, being her gracious, dynamic and brilliant self. I was introduced to her, she shook my hand, chatted a bit and then said "You have got to check out All the Dirt, it's amazing." She was right, and I'm pretty sure she wasn't getting any kickbacks!)

Saturday, February 04, 2012

It's All in the Touch

I think it's official: I have started to feel old. It's not the achy joints or the memory lapses - those I attribute to my accident a few years back. No, it's the sense that technology has zoomed past me and is not even checking the rear view mirror to see if I'm alright.

I don't think I'm a technophobe - hey, I have a blog! That must put me in the modern spirit of things. Shouldn't it? But I saw a cartoon in the New Yorker recently that depicted a big pie chart categorizing people who blog. There was one-third people who make stuff, one-third people who self-promote, and one-third people who engage in conspiracy theories.

You might share my mystification at why this cartoon is funny. I thought making stuff was a good thing, certainly not on a par with egomania or conspiracy theorist ranting. But I have been vaguely aware that blogging is not cutting edge, and why should it be? I consider it a useful format to record and store pictures of my work and life, and I am delighted that some people find it interesting enough to check in on from time to time. Blogging has brought me friends and opportunities, and expanded my world.

Yet, that's about as far as I go in the realm of technical innovation in communication. I don't have a cell phone, I don't Twitter, I don't have one of those tablet thingies, I don't read e-books. In fact, I am so far behind that I don't even know what I don't have. And don't want. Even if I could afford to update gadgets at the rate the fast lane demands, the whole concept appalls me. (Which shouldn't surprise you, given that I plan to interpret Canada's first natural history document in 17th C. needlework.)

What it ultimately comes down to, for me, is touch. It creeps me out the way people stroke their little electronic devices. It's far too intimate an interface, in my opinion. While that may suggest I have unresolved issues of a personal nature, I prefer to see it as a sign of how important touch is. Our hands are incredibly sensitive and dexterous beyond what any machine can achieve. My work relies on the skill of my fingers. The expressive nuances of texture have meaning for me in the way the slick surface of an ITouch can never match.

I type this blog on an old Dell laptop. I use a mouse, never the touchpad if I can avoid it. I love the slight resistance of the keys as I press them. (I don't long for an old Underwood typewriter, that's too steampunk even for me.)

Maybe it goes back to the days when I first worked as a graphic artist, manually drawing perfect lines with pen and ink, cutting galleys of type and pasting them on boards in preparation for mechanical reproduction. It took meticulous skill and a trained eye, endless patience and  a professional touch. I hope these traits have stayed with me years after that particular job description has gone the way of medieval manuscript illumination.

The bygone ways are not all good, of course, as surely as the new ways are not all bad. The main thing is communication. As the old phone company ads used to say, "Reach out and touch someone."  I would only add, "And, if you can, knit them a sweater."

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Groundhog Day Prognostications, Cats and Knitting

One of my favourite movies of all time is Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray. I love its story of experience, insight, acceptance and transformation, and see it as an allegory of the psychological healing process. So, in that spirit, and with Sherri Lynn Wood's new quilt-along in mind, I consulted the I Ching as to whether there will be six more weeks of creative winter, or if the new projects of spring are about to begin.

I got a great reading. Apparently now is an auspicious time for me to act with insight and embark on an empathetic voyage. I also will be offered an excellent opportunity for self-improvement, and to act with generousity will bring great rewards. I'll take that as a "Yes", and plan to begin working on the Codex Canadensis on a small scale to start. Thank you, Oracle.

Meanwhile, I have been working on the Hitchhiker scarf that people are making these days. I'm not much of a Ravelry person, so as usual, am way behind the pack. I first saw the scarf on Louisa's blog, and thought it would be the perfect use for that silk and merino I spun up a while back. It's quite fun, although I am now on the second half, which people report is awfully tedious. Angus of course sat on it as I was trying to take a picture - he always brings the proper level of feline priorities to any project.

I added a green bead to each point. I have never used beads in knitting before, and I wish I had used slightly bigger ones here, but they were on hand, and what else is one to do at 9 p.m. at night on a small island?
I also finished spinning the gray fleece, and have begun sampling.