Tuesday, October 30, 2012

To Mend

I wanted to pass along a couple of links to recent articles about cloth and mending. Gracie (I don't know if that is her real name or a nom-de-plume) at Grace and Mending is working with discarded cloth she finds on her daily walks. She has been thinking deeply about how and why the cloth she finds is left behind, and how her reclamation of that cloth intervenes in a culture of disposability.
And John Hopper at Design, Decoration, Craft has written an insightful, fascinating piece on repair and sustainability, with lots of video links for further exploration. The title Repair, Reimagine, Responsibility points to the need for us as consumers to consider the whole life cycle of objects in our possession.
And here's a blast from the past: A piece I wrote several years ago when I was involved with Swap-O-Rama-rama on Stewards of Materials. The book I mention, Susan Strasser's Waste and Want is still on my "Highly Recommended" list.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Getting Serious

I read Sandra Reford's archived post about some textile artists that exemplify creative professionalism. One thing I was really struck by was the number of daily hours they put into their work. I am a total slacker in comparison. Granted, I have chronic neck and back pain, but I realize that the first step towards being taken seriously as an artist is to take myself seriously, and putting a block of time aside to just work is a reasonable goal. That means time for stitching, not getting up to make tea, or check my email, or throw the ball for Gracie.
With the new regime in place, I finished the black bear in jig time. The piece hasn't been blocked yet, and of course there is still a border to design and stitch, so it's not done, but it's satisfying to gaze upon his little beady eyes and know he he's there.

And what is up with the white bear's back? I rendered it as faithfully as possible, but Pere Nicolas had some real problems with his drawing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bears in the Autumn Light

 I have been steadily working away on the bears. They are sucking up the thread, so I'm glad I have lots and don't feel I have to skimp. I'm also glad I did the black bear's behind first, because I have his delightfully snarling face to look forward to. On these long projects one has to build in motivation!
I have been enjoying the gorgeous photos of autumn that so many of you have been posting. It is my favourite time of year. The rains have started here, but the sun poked through the clouds long enough for me to catch the light on the dairy farm below.

And thanks to everyone who sent condolences about my cat Angus. I keep expecting him to stroll in and jump up on whatever I am working on, demanding attention. And it was funny, for the first few days after he died I kept hearing a cat meowing. Gracie heard it too, and would run to the door. We know that it's not going to happen, but in Angus's honour, here's the NFB classic The Cat Came Back.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Angus Macduff R.I.P.

Angus, the fearless warrior, died this morning of kidney disease. He was a real character, personable and very chatty. He was a great hunter and an ardent textile enthusiast, favouring the softer, cozier cloths, especially if I was working on them.
Nothing much fizzed on him.
He had great adventures, travelling across Canada and retiring, as every Prairie boy dreams of, on Salt Spring Island. He lived 15 very active and love-filled years.
I stitched this portrait of him fighting an eagle a few years back. 
He will be missed.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Opening a Treasure Chest

A friend gave me a plastic tote filled with stuff that had belonged to her mother-in-law. "It will be a treasure chest for you", she said, and she was right. The mother-in-law was Dutch, and an exemplary needleworker.
There were a number of embroideries, mostly counted cross stitched. scenes of traditional Dutch life.
Some were not quite finished, but reveal the meticulous way she worked. In the picture above, you can see the overcast edges and marking of the centre lines.
This one is a very large, colouful winter scene.
And this is the reverse, showing the neatly finished thread ends. I am old school enough to admire such carefully finished stitching, as I so rarely achieve it in my own work.
This is an example of a typical style of design found in the stacks of patterns in the chest; scattered motifs of landmarks, family, flags and industry. I particularly liked this one, as I am descended from Frieslanders on my mother's side. Alas, I don't know what the motto says.
How could I not be entranced by an envelope filled with bits of embroidery floss attached to their original DMC tags? 
She kept careful notes on the colours needed for each pattern.
These two DMC booklets are real beauties. I plan to share more of them later.
There was a shoebox filled with an orderly array of embroidery floss and pearl cotton.
A stack of fascinating pattern books from the 1980's. I was struck by the intricacy of the embroidery designs in particular, and wonder if the standard of skill in needlework was higher in Europe as compared to North America (probably), or if people just favoured more elaborate patterns. 
 There wasn't just embroidery, either. These three doilies show she also knitted and crocheted. In the bottom of the chest were dozens of straight knitting needles and crochet hooks.
And, surprisingly, tucked away in a small paper bag was a mass of odd bits of thread. Maybe she saved them out of thrift, which could be expected from a lady who lived through WWII, but I like to imagine that perhaps she secretly enjoyed the chaos of colour as a counterpoint to the perfection of her finished work.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

100 Monkeys

Where the hell does this stuff come from?
tortures of the rack and to smile amid the flames. But a blonde girl, moth that bears a death's head on its back, forces its way into the [url=http://www.eurovore.com]eurovore.com[/url] 
said: "I have often thought of going to see Randi, but have never done hours of reading and talk with Uncle Alec, and, best of all, the old [url=http://www.eurovore.com]link eurovore.com[/url] "'I do,' replied the king. man to show a woman's love-letter to another man?" . 
It's almost poetic.
I removed the annoying captcha thingy from my Blogger design a while ago. A lot of spam rolls in but occasionally there is junk that's almost good. My guess is that it's written by a robot that has been programmed to select phrases from online content that contain words with some emotional weight, so that the reader subconsciously lingers over the message. I of course did not click on whatever "eurovore" is, some evil purveyor of viagra or stock market tips, no doubt.


 I have been embroidering since I was about 12 or 14. I learned from a book, maybe even a pamphlet from the yarn store. My Mom was capable and creative in many ways, but she did little needlework, so I don't think I learned much from her other than how to knot the thread. This is my excuse for not knowing that there was even a difference between Stem Stitch and Outline Stitch until this very afternoon.

I knew there was some variation in the way the stitch looked if I worked in different directions, but  thought it had something to do with the way the yarn was plied. (And that may indeed have something to do with it, but not in the way I thought.)
I pulled all my stitch books and looked up both Stem and Outline Stitches. Out of fourteen books, only two depicted them as being distinctly different. Another five noted a difference but said it didn't matter as long as you were consistent. Five more had just one or the other, and two had neither!

 One was very strict and said only working with the thread on the left was correct, anything else was WRONG!
 Some worked from left to right, and some worked from top to bottom.

 A couple also called it Crewel Stitch.
 Erica Wilson, the grand doyenne of modern needlework, said that Stem Stitch was very useful for outlining, but never suggested that there might be something else actually called Outline Stitch.
And oddly enough, the usually comprehensive Mary Thomas didn't even mention it at all, perhaps since she classified her stitches by genre rather than method.
It's no wonder I was in the dark all this time. Making a sample helped me see this difference. When worked with the thread above, the stitch is a little more full and irregular. With the thread below, it's a little smoother. But if someone didn't spend half their life in front of an embroidery hoop, they would never notice.

It's clear than there is a huge range of opinion where even the simplest stitches are concerned. And in seeing the many different ways the instructions are worded and illustrated, I don't think one is any clearer than another. It's a difficult thing to depict a kinesthetic action in words or diagrams. Video or even learning in person should be better, but might not be depending on the individual involved.

And of course,in the end the name doesn't matter a bit. What's important is that you get the effect you want, however you contrive to achieve it.

I got caught up in all this minutiae whilst working away on the bears, and thinking that what I am doing is mark making, not crewel embroidery. My stitches are really quite willy-nilly, and although I consult stitch directories for inspiration, I don't actually follow them that closely. My process, what I consider one of translation, is based more on the material I am working with than formal technique. It might sound banal, but is actually kind of a revelation for me.

Friday, October 05, 2012

News Flash

My Mom just phoned me from the gallery where the opening for Fibreworks 2012 is happening tonight. She told me the show looked great, and congratulated me on being one of the Honourable Mentions, which I had no idea of, and then said casually, "It's lovely they bought your piece." Shock. Total shock. I had no idea, since I haven't heard anything from the gallery yet. I promptly burst into tears and must have cried for a good 15 minutes, feeling unworthy (pathological, I know) and overwhelmed.  Francois-Marc Gagnon and Louis Nicolas: this is for you! Thank you God, for guiding my hand. Thank you dear readers, for your support and encouragement. And thank you, Chef. Couldn't have done it without you.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Honeybee Party

The artichokes in the garden are blooming. I have been delighted by the honeybees attracted to the giant purple flowers. As you can see here, the bees are covered with pollen, but I think what they are really going for is the nectar deep in the blossom. They dive in  head first, pollen-dusted tails in the sun. I used to keep bees, when I lived in the Kootenays, and I would love to again. In the meantime, I am glad that I was able to provide some late season excitement for my neighbourhood hive.

Surprise! Finished in Record Time

And on the third day, I quilted. The pattern called for horizontal lines every quarter inch, which would be insane to do on an ordinary sewing machine. The sample at the shop was sent out to be done on one of those huge professional machines. I quilted every inch, and it turned out quite well, even if some lines are not perfectly even. 
It is, however, the perfect size for a picnic or wrapping around oneself while lounging on the couch. And I think the grid design lends itself to creative play for little ones - the lines could be streets for toy cars, or rooms of a house for dolls, maybe. The newlyweds are expecting.
The damask linen got all soft and cushy after being washed. The shamrock design hardly shows, but that's okay. My main hope is that the quilt is used and loved, not stored away because it's special.