Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wherein I Recognize My Folly

So, after yesterday's meltdown, I decided it was a fool's errand to approach the quilt as if it was simple, because nothing ever is. I slowed down, pulling threads and cutting the white linen on grain, rather than using a rotary cutter. I abandoned the pattern, and instead went with an improvisational approach, asking "What does it need?" rather than "What the %&*#!" I told myself it didn't have to be a queen-sized bed covering, but could be a wonderful throw for cuddling up on the couch.

Soon, things mellowed out considerably. I even found my measuring tape.

What have I learned? What has the divine all-seeing, all-knowing guiding spirit of quilting taught me? Wisdom that also might apply to a couple of young newlyweds?

1. Work with what you've got.
2. Nothing is simple.
3. What works for other people may not work for you.
4. Don't try to do everything in one afternoon.
5. Work around the bad bits.
6. Adapt, modify, improvise.
7. Be patient.
8. Be willing to laugh at yourself.
9. A little luck always helps. (The damask linen is patterned with shamrocks.)
(Reader Advisory: I have been married three times and still don't have a clue about the secret of wedded success. But I have made a lot of quilts.)


That's me. Certifiable.

Last weekend, caught up in a wave of oblivious confidence, I decided to make a wedding quilt for a young couple that work for the chef. Forgetting that I have vowed, publicly, never to make a queen size quilt again. I was awash in the happy glow of young people in love.

So, thinking I would make it easy on myself, I chose something from the stash that had "Fun" written all over it - a lovely bunch of fat quarters from Marcia Derse. I had seen the very same fabrics made up in the pattern pictured above at my local fabric store, Stitches, and thought it would be a nice simple project. It's by Yoshiko Jinzenji, who I have always thought was pretty cool.

Ha! Segue to this afternoon, where I wander from room to room, looking for my measuring tape (I own at least five - can I find any? Nope.) Then I put my scissors down some where and can't find them, because I have also put my glasses down somewhere and I need my glasses to find my scissors. Then, too late, I realize the upcycled linen tablecloth I am using for the background (chosen since it's supposed to be a white background and I didn't want the newlyweds not to use it because it was white and might get stained, but the table cloth has a few little stains on it already, so I thought it a brilliant choice) flops around like a just-caught trout, and I can't get a straight edge to save my life.

And that pattern? So simple I put it together upside down and backwards.

As I sit trying to figure out if I am stupid, senile, or both, Angus strolls in and starts walking all over the sewing table meowing for his mid-afternoon snack.

I decide I should take a break.

Gracie notices that I have gotten up from my work and thinks its time for a walk. She gives her trademark optimistic little "huff", not quite a bark, and I turn and glare at her: "Don't you dare huff at me!" She gives me a baleful look and skulks out of the room.

Take me away. Now.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"Sometimes you eat the bear..."

 I am much happier with the bear at this size - about 32 inches long. The thread seems to more closely match the weight of the original pen strokes, and I can get better detail. Louis Nicolas was really pushing the medium when he did this drawing, trying to depict a white bear. It appears he diluted his ink and did a rhythmic sketchy zig zag  shading all over the area of the bear to try to give the effect of fur. It's pretty odd looking, and so I had to make the choice of how I would handle it in my "translation". I decided to use a pale shade of brown yarn, and I am quite happy with the effect. I'm not planning to start using a variety of shades in any future pieces, but the light and dark bear need to balance each other in terms of texture and weight, and I think the lighter background does the trick.
I am looking forward to spending time with this bear, and thinking about my various associations with bears. There's Winnie-the-Pooh, of course, and Yogi and Boo Boo, and the time I was walking the dogs in the bush and they froze, while I stupidly walked ahead only to find a steaming fresh pile of bear shit on the path in front of us. There's the Werner Herzog movie Grizzly Man, and the news story last week of a BC woman who got lost in the woods overnight and said she could feel bears come up to her in the dark and sniff her face. And there's Suzy the bear in John Irving's Hotel New Hampshire, and Marion Engle's Canlit novel Bear. And of course who could forget Sam Elliot's immortal lines from the Big Lebowski ?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Needlecraft & Psychology: Review

I mentioned this book a few posts back. The dear chef took note and look what I got for my birthday! Pretty cool, since it is very hard to find.

So, Margaret Swanson co-wrote Educational Needlecraft with Ann Macbeth. Both women were closely affiliated with the Glasgow School of Art in the early part of the 20th century, the period when it was a hotbed of influential Arts and Craft Design, led by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. That book is fairly available and can be downloaded here.

 Needlecraft & Psychology builds on the approach used in the first book, that is, a progressive program of introducing stitches and projects to build a child's skills not just in needlework, but in practical logic, aesthetics, and conceptualizing. The child's emotional and intellectual development is also considered in depth. There would seem to be an awareness of  Jean Piaget's theories of childhood development, even though they would have been very new at the time this book was published (1926.) There is also evidence of Swanson's familiarity of Freud's theory of the unconscious, but this is just touched on.
The projects, (which are also assessment tests) are set to follow a child from kindergarten through to the middle teens. Much emphasis is placed on allowing the child freedom to make what he or she chooses, and simple materials such as plain muslin and colourful threads are recommended. The illustrations are of actual projects completed by the children Swanson worked with, and appear to be faithful records of every knot and stitch.

Each chapter concludes with a compilation of the stitches used. What is quite fascinating is that there are not necessarily the usual outline, buttonhole, satin etc., but stitches developed naturally by the child in experimenting with simple running stitch. Consequently, the rhythm and repetition of the stitch leads to different juxtapositions and groupings of stitches of different sizes and angles to form decorative and functional patterns.

The style of writing is a bit quaint and hard to follow at times, and there is the unfortunate use of the terms  "high intelligence", "normal intelligence" and "inferior intelligence". I take it that Swanson is referring to intelligence as a developmental level, not a measure of the child's ability to learn and create. She does make note of how a particular child will catch up to her peers over time, so it doesn't appear that being categorized "sub-intelligent" at the age of 5 led to streaming or being grouped with others of that level.
This is a lovely book for teachers of children, especially those of Montessori or Waldorf schools. Some of the projects are dated, but because the emphasis is on free play, that doesn't really matter. It's the process that's important. Textile lovers might also enjoy this little treasure, for its charm and Swanson's obvious passion for cloth and sewing. There is still a book to be written on the clinical psychological aspects of sewing, but anyone interested in educational or developmental psychology will find this one fascinating.

If it sounds like I'm doing a sales pitch, well, I am! The dear chef was so excited in his haste to order the book he accidentally bought BOTH copies for sale on Abebooks. I am keeping the one with the sticker of Reading University on the cover and offering the other for what he paid: $55.00 Canadian, including postage.  I know, a shocking amount for an old book, but since the publisher lost their entire inventory in the Blitz, and subsequently went out of business, this is an old, RARE book. If you are interested please leave a message in the comments, and we will go from there.  A lucky person snapped it up!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bits and Pieces

I started off this post with the words "Not a whole lot has been happening, but I figured I should post something," but realized all that would do is induce a big yawn so I will try to make it more exciting. The Arbor Vitae piece has been shipped off to Cambridge. Here it is in my tiny dining room to give some idea of scale. The gallery didn't want me to ship it on a stretcher, so I lined it and made pockets top and bottom for hanging rods. I don't like it as much unstretched, but c'est la vie. There was an article about it in our local paper, which was nice, but I realized too late that the reporter was actually writing down what I was saying and totally missed the opportunity to give her intelligent sound bites.
The invitation for the show includes a detail from my piece! That's very exciting, although I must always temper any chuffedness with the knowledge that next month someone else will be featured and I will be in the recycling bin. We're all grist for the mill, it's the art that lasts.
I have been attempting to get back to my yoga practise. Gracie didn't think much of my lack of flexibility, and  got on the mat to demonstrate "Hindlegscratchfaceasana."
"That's how you do it Mom! Now if you don't mind, I'll stretch out on this comfy mat for my nap."
Oops, I'd better be careful. Gracie and I have kind of a mind meld thing going on. She puts words in my mouth. I'm obviously not spending enough time with humans.
I have been enjoying the cooler evening to clean up the garden. The tomato harvest this year was for nought - one really needs a greenhouse in this part of the world. But I have been digging up and dividing overgrown perennials, and tucking them back in with composted cow manure. I like September more than any other month, and it's not just because it's my birthday month. It feels like the beginning of a new year, time to get back to routines and sitting cozy by the wood stove, stitching. Next post I hope to have something to show you!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Bear Season

Source: Gilcrease Museum
© Public Domain. Courtesy of the Gilcrease Museum of Tulsa, OK.
The image I chose for my next embroidery of the Codex Canadensis is that of two bears - a black bear and a white bear. I liked the juxtaposition given the rich symbolic meaning of the bear. It is Jung's symbol for the unconscious, it is a shapeshifter, almost human and supernaturally powerful.

It appears that Louis Nicholas had more trouble than usual depicting the white bear. Given the extent of his travels in the New World, it is unlikely he would have seen a polar bear, but then again, he didn't do much drawing from life. His odd shading of the white bear has given me quite a challenge in choosing yarn for stitching. He may have been using diluted ink, as the lines are paler than most of the other creatures he drew. I tried dyeing a white tapestry yarn, but the dye struck unevenly and I got a rose pink mess.

I did trace the bears onto canvas at what I thought was a reasonable size - about fifteen inches high. I started stitching with the dark brown Paternayan yarn, after first sitting quietly for a few minutes praying to the divine bear spirit to guide my hand. (I am not very familiar with the animal spirit world, but figure it doesn't hurt to invoke whatever help I can get.) I stitched teeth and claws, and was unsatisfied with the result. I pulled out the yarn, and restitched. Still no good. Then a message came to me loud and clear. "The bear needs to be bigger." There was no denying that the message was absolutely right. I pulled out all that I had done, and will scale the drawing up even more. It might need to be really big. I'm thinking  at least three feet high. That's a hell of a lot of stitching, and yarn.

Why would I persevere with this image, given the technical trouble it has caused me? It's not one of the most immediately compelling images from the Codex. But bears had a special attraction for Pere Nicolas. It's a story that I have avoided so far in my telling of the rather unorthodox missionary. Apparently while in New France Nicolas had two bear cubs that he tried to tame and teach tricks, hoping to bring them back to Europe with him, which did not please his Jesuit superiors. Worse, and this is the part that really makes me cringe, part of his taming technique included removing the bears' teeth and claws. I don't imagine it was done humanely.

So, no wonder Pere Nicolas seemed to overemphasis the fierce fangs and talons of every animal he drew. Whether he was fascinated or afraid, or a combination of both, his drawings exemplify the age-old dissonance between man and nature, between nature and culture, between light and dark.

My choice of this image feels like I'm being taken deeper into a realm where somehow time dissolves and I  am sitting with Louis Nicholas as he draws. This is not unlike the role of the art therapist as she sits with the client. Making art in the presence of another. Having empathy and compassion, hopefully gaining insight.

We shall see...

"Bears are not companions of men, but children of God, and His charity is broad enough for both... We seek to establish a narrow line between ourselves and the feathery zeros we dare to call angels, but ask a partition barrier of infinite width to show the rest of creation its proper place. Yet bears are made of the same dust as we, and breathe the same winds and drink of the same waters. A bear's days are warmed by the same sun, his dwellings are overdomed by the same blue sky, and his life turns and ebbs with heart-pulsings like ours and was poured from the same fountain....."
- John Muir