Friday, July 27, 2012

Everything Changes, Nothing Stays the Same

I just discovered that the manufacturer of the dark brown Paternayan tapestry yarn that I was so delighted to find the other day has gone out of business. Early this year, JCA closed its doors. For all the troubles in the world, I feel really sad about this one. Paternayan had a reputation for being the highest quality needlepoint and tapestry yarn on the market - it was developed 75 years ago by brothers Harry and Karnick Paternayan who repaired Persian rugs. It was spun from New Zealand lambswool that was sheared at 18 months, resulting in an extra long, soft, strong fibre that dyed beautifully.

I can't really fault a business for closing because they were no longer profitable, but it is another small loss of skill and technology, of fine workmanship. Although there are still yarns made that can substitute, what also saddens me is the story on the consumer end of the equation. There just aren't as many people interested in doing needlepoint and crewel work these days, and although they may have taken up other skilled crafts such as knitting or cross stitch, I suspect there is a net loss of knowledge in the general public about the textile arts.

I think of all the small businesses that have sprung up with the recent revival of interest in knitting, the artists who dye small batches of unique fibre for quilting and embroidery. What will happen to them when the winds of trend shift direction? To some extent the skills of needlework are transferable - if you have the patience to learn the stitches and follow a pattern for knitting, you can probably also learn to crochet, or cross stitch more easily than if you had never learned to knit. One's hands develop a "thread sense" over time,  a sensitivity to tension and the way a particular thread wants to behave.

But true mastery of a craft takes time, and good materials. Think how frustrating it is to try and stitch with cheap Chinese thread. it is not worth one's time, and gives poor results. My left-leaning heart wishes that manufacturers of high quality materials could be given more support so they don't have to just rely on a capitalist market economy. At the very least their methods, tools and machinery should be documented and preserved so that future generations might be able to learn from them, or even start them up again. We have all heard about the fineness of ancient Eygyptian linen, that it can't be reproduced with today's equipment. That's a loss, maybe a tiny one in the grand scheme of things, but a loss nevertheless.

P.S. I see that Alan Getz, the owner of JCA died and that is why they have closed their doors. They also distributed Reynolds Yarn, and I'm not sure what has happened to that line, surely a much bigger one than Paternayan.

P.P.S. I may have jumped the gun. The Chilly Hollow blog posted a month ago that a company called Suripaco has purchased what's left of Paternayan and perhaps will continue manufacturing it. The Suripaco
blog is quite interesting, they sound like good people.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Yesterday I received word that my massive embroidery Arbor Vitae has been accepted to the Cambridge Galleries Fibreworks 2012 show. Special thanks to Judy Martin for encouraging me to apply - it was a last minute job to meet the deadline and if it hadn't been for her supportive words I probably wouldn't have done it. Three cheers for blog friends!

Now I have to solve my shipping dilemma - the gallery does pay for shipping but I don't know yet if UPS will even handle a 56" x 60" stretched canvas. I might roll it and ship it in a tube with the stretcher bars and have a preparator mount it at the other end. At least I no longer work in sculpture and installation - that was a monster for shipping!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Vancouver Day Trip

I was able to sneak in to Vancouver for a quick visit yesterday. It's been over a year since I was last there, and I quite enjoyed being an anonymous hick from the sticks. My first destination was the Museum of Vancouver's Art Deco Chic exhibit. So, so fabulous! My experience was enhanced in the most lovely way by a pair of female voices, English accented, exclaiming over "The colours!" "The beadwork!" "The drape!" I could have sworn it was part of the installation, and I imagined that it was the mannequins chatting amongst themselves, until I rounded the corner to see a pair of older ladies, discussing each dress in detail as if they were choosing outfits for their next soiree. Their best comment was "Those shops today that sell clothes from the 1970's as vintage...hmmph. Now THIS is vintage!"

While I was there I also snuck round to the "Revolution" gallery for a nod to the Smilin' Buddha neon sign. The Smilin' Buddha was a famous nightclub that had devolved to dive status by the time I spent some fabulously wasted evenings there punk rock dancing, back in the '80's.

From there I bussed over to Homecraft on West 4th in search of crewel thread. Homecraft has been there as long as I can remember, a jumbled, overstuffed yarn store. I was surprised to discover that they are going out of business, since the owner has retired and none of her kids are interested in taking it over. They had the thread I was looking for, and I took everything they had left in dark brown. Now no one else in Vancouver or possibly the Lower Mainland will be stocking this yarn. Sad. The sales lady told me "There's just no money in it." All their knitting yarns are half price, so if you are in Vancouver it is worth a visit. They are scheduled to close their doors as of August 15th.

Of course my next stop was Dressew, the treasure chest of sewing supplies and unrelated bargains. (Chocolate? Fright wigs? Fake papier mache fruit? They've got it.) I limited myself to a package of chenille needles and a purse-sized retractable measuring tape. Total cost: 56 cents.

On the bus back to Horseshoe Bay, a striking looking woman wearing the most gorgeous mohair shawl sat next to me. I commented on her beautiful wrap and she told me that it had been her pram blanket when she was a baby - her mother had bought it hoping she could wear it throughout her life - and she had! It was from Derbyshire, England, and striped in varying widths of plum, grey, black and yellow - an unusual and sophisticated combination. The lady said she was now 61, and the shawl was still soft and lovely. She wore it like a queen - and was the most stylish person on the bus by a long shot.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Time Out

I am on Bowen Island for a couple of weeks, housesitting for my brother and his wife, who are off in Winnipeg performing her play "The Jackie Show". They tell me it has been very well received, so I am happy for them. They are lovely talented people. My brother built the house that I am sitting, and it reflects his thoughtful and whimsical spirit.
Above is looking out from the deck over to his workshop, which happens to have a sod roof. Various mosses and hardy succulents have self seeded themselves over the years.
He has a place to sit and look out towards the ocean. The sun is just setting here, and the warm light makes the plants glow.
This is looking towards the back of the property from the deck. When he bought the land it was just a mess of blasted rock. Over time he built pathways and walls from the rubble, and the cleared rock face turned out to have enough water trickling over it to form a pool at its base. A miraculously placed piece of circular stairway was one of my brother's inspirations.

I am spending my time in the garden, weeding and playing ball with Gracie. Her favourite game is to drop the ball in the pond and stick her face under the water to retrieve it. If the ball is too deep she looks forlornly at me until I roll up my pant legs and go wading to fetch it, which she finds particularly amusing. Ah, the simple pleasures of a dog.

I have also been filling in for my brother on his daily visits to a lady with ALS. Her illness is quite advanced, and she communicates by blinking her eyes, not being able to speak or move any other part of her body. I read to her and rub her feet, and am learning the communication system used in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". I would say she is very patient with my bumbling way with the alphabet, but it is arrogant of me to assume and really, impossible to know. I can tell she is deeply sympathetic - yesterday the TV news was on, and a couple of awful stories brought tears to her eyes. She is very pretty and still quite young, having just retired to Bowen when her illness was diagnosed. I found it hard to get to sleep last night thinking of her. It is quite humbling to spend time with her and makes my own little travails seem quite insignificant.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer Reading

My summer reading list is pretty random. I tend to read whatever comes to hand, (or eye), even cereal boxes, but lately I have actually ordered a few titles through my local bookstore. In the list below I link to other reviews of the books, which I hope you find useful.

One that I first heard about on the Tyee's Summer Book List was the gruesome sounding  My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, a collection of forty reworkings of classic fairy tales by various authors. Definitely not for children, these often bloodthirsty stories are great fun to read, and it is marvelous how the writers play with familiar plots. There is an ample portion of textile business here, what with all the spinning and weaving and sewing that goes on, as in The Swan Brothers or Rumplestiltskin.

Another winner is Anne Carson's version of the ancient Greek drama, Antigone, here called Antigonick. It is basically an artist's book, hand lettered and drawn, bound with the illustrations on vellum interleaved with the text. This provides an amazing experience for the reader, somewhat similar to watching a play unfold in the theatre. The book functions in time and space and with a tactile quality that could never be captured on an e-book. And, coincidentally, it's another bloodthirsty story, but I'm not on a kick here.

I finally got my hands on a copy of Jessica Hemmings' The Textile Reader. I was very excited by the sound of it, and was a little disappointed at how academic it is. I should have expected that though, as the publisher Berg IS an academic press. It would be fantastic as a textbook for an upper level course in material culture or textile art, or as a year long book club project, if there are book clubs for thread heads. Since some of the articles are fairly dry and dense, I think being able to discuss them with others would help bring them to life. It is indeed meaty, though, and great to see such depth of thought devoted to textiles.

More Feathers

I said it would never end. But now I have a border that I am not just happy with, but thrilled about. I will still use the feather and egg motif somewhere, in another piece, but as soon as I held it up to the birds, I knew it was too busy. I traced the feathers again, cut them apart, and arranged them as a garland. They were starting to look a little too much like just feathers, so I lengthened the quill end a bit, straightened it slightly, and reduced the feather just a titsch. I drew out a quarter-oval to the size I need, and traced the feathers to fit along the arc. It's just a tiny bit too small, so I will photocopy it at about 102%, and that will be my final design.

Stitching is just the half of it!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Designing a Border

The trio of birds I've been working on need a border. I had an idea for one based on feathers, or more specifically, quill pens, which of course are made from feathers, and would have been used by Louis Nicholas to both write his Histoire Naturelle and to illustrate the Codex. I like the connection between nature and civilization that is suggested, this doubling.

I first turned to my reference books to see if I could find a feather border. Nothing came to light, although the arabesques of classical Greek and Roman design suggested feathers. The book Crewel Embroidery has a couple of Jacobean era curtains with plume motifs, notably Mrs. Lewis F. Day's curtain on the left. (Her husband was an authority on pattern and design in the late Victorian era.)

Missing is an earlier sketch I did with feathers only, playing with rectangular and oval borders. When J.P. left a comment on an earlier post, comparing the embroidery hoop to an egg, I knew I should do an oval. Then I went a little farther and thought to combine the feathers and ovoid in the border pattern itself, again playing with the way Greek architecture would use an egg shape in border details.

I then found a thumbnail of a quilting pattern online that had the abstract, feathery look that I wanted. I enlarged it to 400% and actually traced it by hand off my computer screen. (Momentary freak out: Am I violating copyright? )

My tracing, done with a soft felt pen, is in the lower centre of this picture of my work space. (Note the archeological-style strata, some might call it a mess, that I create as I go.) On top of the Scrabble box is a sheet with my little thumbnails of how I might arrange the feathers. I traced the feather shape several times, streamlining it as I went. Then I mirrored it, and added an egg shape in between the pair. The completed motif is on the left. (On the far left is a page from May Morris's teaching notes. She advises not to make lines too "ballooning".)

Now I will use a photocopier to reduce the design to about 25%. It may need a little more simplification at that point, but should be about the size I need to trace repeatedly to form my final, full size border design. Only at that point will I transfer it to cloth, and stitch.

There are a lot of steps in this process, and I draw upon a lot of reference material. This is the method I learned when I was in design school, and is quicker for me than drawing something from scratch. (And I do think I'm safe as far as someone else's copyright goes. I have altered the image substantially, and it is for my own use. I'm not selling it as a pattern.)

P.S. I just thought I should try flipping one of the feather top to bottom. it might make the repeat flow better. It never ends...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

My 15-year-old ginger tabby, Angus, has been bringing in bunnies this summer. Somehow, he drags them through the cat door, half dead, then lounges in the front hallway grooming himself while the poor bunny thrashes around trying to escape. Then, he carries the hopeless creature into the bathroom, where he delivers the death bite. As you can see in the above blurry picture, he leaves the carcass on the bathmat, while washing down his meal with a drink from the great white fountain.

He then retires for a restorative snooze on the bed. I don't know how he does it. He's nothing but skin and bones, suffers from kidney ailments, has only three teeth, and I am glad he's no bigger than he is otherwise I'm sure he could take me down with a single crafty and well-timed pounce.

He knows I'm writing about him. I'd better be careful.

P.S. In case any animal lovers out there are concerned, the island is overrun by rabbits. Angus is a hero in my neighbour's opinion.
P.P.S. Angus's exploits have featured in this blog before. I documented his run-in with an eagle in Dorothy Caldwell's Expressive Stitch workshop a few years ago.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Tres Beau Plumage

I think these guys will need a border. There is an idea cooking away in the far reaches of my brain of something that plays with the way feathers can also be pens, echoing the quill pen that Louis Nicolas would have used in the original drawing. Feathers, or stylized plumes were also a typical motif in Jacobean era crewelwork.

And, by the by, I have noticed that some time ago I made my 500th blog posting. I suppose one should celebrate. I have been doing this for awhile, but reminiscing makes me all too aware of how much has changed in my life since I began this back in 2006. I'm almost a completely different person! Maybe that is something to celebrate.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

All Aflutter

The group of birds is coming to life. I'm actually farther along than this picture shows, but I finally got a new (secondhand) camera, and it's taking me awhile to get used to used to it. I promise the next post will contain brighter, sharper pictures!
The composition of this page is so odd. None of the other groupings of animals in the Codex have such a painful looking overlap. Was Louis Nicholas trying to express his internal fear of the wild and vicious creatures of Canada, or was he simply short of paper? The round eye of the woodpecker is the focal point of the composition, and the art therapist in me would say nothing is accidental. But we have no way of knowing.