Friday, November 23, 2012


It’s true that working in an atmosphere free of distractions makes one much more productive. The first day I got the huge blackberry bramble border transferred to the cloth. Sorry, Saskia, (who asked how that is done) I should have taken a picture. I use a sheet of graphite transfer paper between the paper design and the cloth, and just trace it out with a pencil. Easy enough, but it did take four hours.

And then I managed to get all these brambles, maybe a tenth of the design, embroidered the next day. That means that I might possibly be finished the bear piece, already titled Bower, in just two weeks! I was kind of anxious that it might start running into the New Year, and am so glad that may not happen.

Remember when I first started this Codex series, back in January, and I thought this work might take two years? Well, three pieces completed in 2012, and hopefully four or five more next year, and I will have enough for a show. That’s the plan!

And here are a few pictures from the deck where I am staying. A bit of winter garden, the turkeys that wake me up in the morning, and off on the far side of the pasture, a couple of Berkshire pigs rooting around in the mud. It’s a gray, chilly November  in the Pacific Northwest , perfect for being inside stitching with a cup of tea.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Gracie and I are off to the enchanted island of Lasqueti for a week of rest and repair. I won't have internet, at least for the first bit, so don't worry, I will have lots to show you when I'm back.

And the aprons did turn out beautifully, and Susan and Julia were very happy. But the loom has found a new home, with a lovely weaver to dance the treadles.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Eternal Thread

My guiding spirit is hard at work. Remember the mystery illustration that inspired my blackberry bramble border? I was browsing at the local bookstore and my eye caught a book on the gardening shelf titled "The Naming of Names: Searching for order in the World of Plants". I picked it up, gave a quick flip and immediately decided I had to have it. Got it home and sat down to go through it more carefully. And there, leaping out of the pages, was my blackberry bramble. Actually, turns out it was Dioscorides' blackberry bramble, from an ancient codex known as Juliana's book or the Vienna Dioscorides.

Dioscorides was a Greek physian, pharmacologist and botanist who did some early work on the classification of plants. A bound manuscript, based on his text and drawings, was presented to Byzantine princess Juliana, daughter of the Emporer Anicius, in 515 AD. It apparently stayed in Constantinople for over a thousand years before being moved to Vienna, where it still exists. In fact, it has been inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World list as one of the world's essential documents that is of such significance that it transcends the boundaries of time and culture.

What is fascinating for me is this common thread of our human need to understand the world around us that runs  from the ancient Greeks, through the Dark Ages, to the Renaissance and voyages of exploration, that brought Louis Nicolas to the New World, and eventually, his book to my doorstep. And then, of course, this humble little blog posting is being read by you, and who knows where it might go from there!

There's lots of directions my wee brain could run off in, but the aprons await and I must have them finished today. More anon.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Creating the design for the blackberry bramble border is a bit of a convoluted process. I went back to working half size as it's not so unwieldy. When I photocopy the final design I will enlarge it by 200% so that it will should be the right size for the embroidered bears. Inevitably there will be a bit of tweaking.

Anyway, I decided to make my border more of an arch than a rectangle, so while the bottom part has roots, the top will curve up with berry-laden vines. And it's also not quite symmetrical, because the bears are slightly different shapes. But I think that makes the design more dynamic and interesting.

I eliminated about a third of the vines and leaves in my tracing so the whole tangle wouldn't be so overwhelming. They are still very sinuous and thorny. Even though it might seem like a lot of time with the pencil, doing repeated tracings really helps perfect the design. What you see above is the tracing overlaid upon the original photocopy, so it's a bit hard to see what has been eliminated, but I will hopefully get it transferred to the cloth in the next couple of days and will have a clearer picture for you.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Keeping All the Balls in the Air

Looking back at my last couple of posts, I realize I must seem like a crazy person. (Not that that's a bad thing, one of my favourite fridge magnets says, "So this is what insanity must be like, I thought... and I could kind of see its appeal." Amy Rubin at Pinwheel designs ) One minute I'm crowing about taking myself seriously and working to a schedule, and the next I'm tearing my hair out over a completely different project. But I know most creative people have more than one project on the go at any given time, so I'm hoping you will understand and not be making any third-party referrals for me to check in to the loony bin.

And as it happens, yesterday's weaving was a relative success, with only four broken threads and a full yard of fabric woven. I have had to slow down and pay attention to each shot of thread thrown, and beat both before and after changing sheds. Mindfulness is a wonderful thing. I think the thread may have been a little old, and combined with a fairly closely spaced warp, it is a bit sticky. But still, in an effort to simplify my life by removing obstacles, as soon as the aprons are done I am going to put the loom on our local freecycle list and say goodbye.

But what might this all have to do with blackberry brambles, you ask? The illustration at the top of this post was found on the internet, with no attribution given, so I have no clue as to its original author. The text is in Greek with a few handwritten notes in Arabic. The thorny brambles have just the look I am after for the border of the bears, and I am using it as the source for my design. The chef suggested blackberry vines as a border, and I agreed they would be appropriate. I looked at hundreds of images before I came across this one. I traced the illustration, simplifying and modifying as I drew, and then, by mirroring and reversing on the photocopier, I came up with a rectangular border. I am now re-drawing it so it twines around the bears in a pleasing way.

One of the reasons I thought blackberry brambles suited the bears is that Louis Nicolas wrote about them in his Natural History that accompanies the Codex, and goes off on a long tangent about how the native people call missionaries like him "black robes". (I just watched the movie Black Robe again for the first time since it came out back in the last century. Kind of inaccurate about First Nations people, but gave a good feel for what life must have been like for Louis Nicolas.)

I also like the menacing claw-like thorns and the rampant, uncontrolled, vine-y nature of the blackberry brambles. I plan to embroider them fairly simply in stem stitch with french knots for the berries. Hope it all works! With the new schedule in place to keep things moving along...huh, we shall see...

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Warp That Gave Dogs a Bad Name

Please bear with me. I've spent the last five days wrestling a warp that was so nasty I'm calling it a wolverine, no dog could be that bad. I finally got a clear shed after umpteen rethreadings, so I'm celebrating with a wee glass of Irish whisky and hopefully clearing my karmic deficit with an honest confession.

I suck at weaving. I love cloth, I love thread, I dream of being Ariadne in another life. But God knows, in this  life, I am blind, unable to count, impatient and have no short term memory to speak of. These traits do not a weaver make. Please remind me of this next time I talk about starting a project.

My dear landladies, Susan and Julia, asked me to make them some aprons to wear when they do demos and cheese tastings. (They are the proprietors of Moonstruck Cheese, a fabulous artisanal cheese company, with lovely gift baskets perfect for Christmas giving, by the way.) They wanted black and white striped aprons aprons just like I made the chef last year.

"Oh", I sighed. "Do you really want handwoven aprons? You could get commercial ones for twenty dollars." They assured me handwoven aprons would be just the ticket. "Well, okay. Are you sure you want black and white? You could have any colour combination imaginable." No, black and white is just fine. With a pocket." I guess there's no arguing with the classics.

So, 500+ ends of 2/8 cotton later, I remember why I don't weave anymore. My back is screaming, I feel like an imbecile, and I am swearing like a sailor. Having always been a warp from the front sort of person, I thought I would try Jane Stafford's superior warp from the back method. Only I forgot to wind the stripes in the warp as I went. So I had to warp from the front anyway. For some reason only the weaving goddesses know, the four white ends I have crammed in one dent have decided to intertwine themselves in a dense cord. I got the whole mess through the reed and heddles and tied on before I realized that I somehow missed a 12 thread section right in the middle. So I made hand-tied emergency heddles and re-threaded. Then there were half a dozen broken threads as I wound on, and a truly evil number of crossed threads.

Obviously, I am not up to the task. But I have got this far, and I am going to make two of the most beautiful aprons you have ever seen, and Susan and Julia will sell a lot of cheese wearing them. If it kills me.

P.S. For the non-weaver's amongst you, a nasty warp is called a dog in the weaving world. No disrespect to the joyful, loving creature that is a dog in the rest of the world.