Sunday, October 27, 2013

So Sad

Lou Reed has died. I am in shock. I guess this is my "John is dead" moment. The Beatles never meant much to me, but Lou Reed offered hope that there was room in the world for disaffected, outcast teenagers such as myself. I remember reading a quote of  his once: "It's good to be on the edge. You can see a lot farther from there."
Me in 1977. I embroidered "Sister Ray" on the t-shirt to denote my outsider status. ("Sister Ray" was a Velvet Underground song.) See! I knew I could bring in sewing somehow to this posting!
I have been lucky to see him perform live several times over the years, once actually doing spoken word poetry. He was the coolest of the cool.

Patti Smith wrote this piece in the New Yorker.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Mist is Lifting

It has been very foggy here for the last two weeks - and I'm talkin' whole island, not just my particular neck of the woods. But gradually, the skies are clearing.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I May Be Losing My Mind

I suppose this is the kind of thing that one has Facebook forums for, but I got that monkey off my back several years ago, so I will ask my question here.

How is it possible to take a square, on grain length of fabric, cut it in half, hem it, and end up with one piece an inch longer than the other? All my hems are identical.

Could it have been the building frustration of the water delivery guy not returning my calls after I discovered the cistern is dry? And so is the well? Luckily I have lived on Lasqueti, so I am comfortable peeing in a bucket and not washing for a few days in a row (news flash: it's not as bad as you'd think!), and here on Gabriola I can actually buy drinking water from the store. And who wants to wash dishes anyway? But what if the water delivery guy is out of water and that's why he hasn't returned my increasingly desperate messages? What if I never have water again?

I may have put a little too much tension on the second piece of fabric as I stitched. Do ya think?

Colour and Fog

 It is definitely autumn. My giant hosta is putting on quite a show of colour before it retreats into the earth.
It has been very foggy here for the last several days. As a former yoga teacher of mine used to say, "At this time of year the veils between the spheres become very thin."
There are mushrooms everywhere - mostly giant boletus and something that looks like portobello. I hadn't seen this kind of shaggy toadstool before, but it popped up yesterday beside the driveway.
And yes, I replaced the cord on the pincushion with something that works a little better. Took out the dark blue and replaced it with a lighter hue. And I glued it on, instead of whipstitching.

Did anybody think it odd/perverse of me to feature such a quotidian  little project after my extended rant on the perception of textiles/craft by the fine arts folks? It only occurred to me last night when I was lying in bed: "How the hell I am going to make my case for the equal status of fibre as a fine art medium when the next thing I do is go all Martha Stewart and build a pincushion?" 
To be clear, I don't consider this pincushion art. But I will use it to make art.
So there.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Re-Constructing a 1970's Classic Pincushion

You might remember that I posted about my favourite pincushion a while back. This large pincushion is a workhorse: fantastic when machine stitching long seams, removing the pins as I go, as I can blindly stab the pins in the general direction of its commodious surface and they hit home. It also can accommodate the large number of pins and variety of needles I use in various projects. I decided to try to re-create it, using some fabrics printed with sewing motifs and do a tutorial of my process. Here goes:
Collect seven tomato paste tins. For me, this step took the longest since I rarely use tomato paste. Of course, any small tin will do, but they need to all be the same size. Since the fabric I intended to use was fairly thin, I covered the tins with scraps of cotton quilt batting, cut to size with a small overlap, and glued on.
These were my fabrics, from the stash. I cut them to measure the circumference of the tin plus a 1/2" overlap, and the height of the tin plus two inches.
Before gluing, I ran a line of machine gathering along the top and bottom of each piece. Since I didn't want glue marks to show on the surface I just glued the overlap. Then I pulled up the gathering threads to snugly fit the tin, and tied them off.
Just six need to be covered with the fabric, since the centre one doesn't show.
I grouped the tins snugly together after running a line of glue along each seam and where they touch. Careful, not too much glue is needed. The seams face in towards the centre tin. Also, I aligned the tins so the open ends were all facing in the same direction. On the original, the open ends faced down, but I don't know that it actually makes a difference. I then wrapped a strip of paper around the bundle and used a couple of rubber bands as clamps until the glue dried.
I traced around the bundle twice onto some thin cardboard retrieved from the recycling bin. I cut both out approximately 1/8th of an inch inside the line. The cardboard is only a reinforcement, and will not show, so it doesn't have to be perfect. I attached these pieces to the top and bottom of the bundle using lots of glue and then weighted it with a book and let it dry overnight.
 I then traced and cut out a piece of felt to fit the bottom of the bundle. (The original cushion on on the right.)
 And stitched it to the fabric using matching thread and a curved needle.
There was then quite a dilemma deciding what to use for stuffing. I think ideally that cleaned carded wool batting would be the best, but all I had on hand was polyester fibrefill, so I used that, mounding what seemed like an appropriate amount on top of the cans, draping a scrap piece of cotton sheeting over it, and pinning and trimming to fit, adding bits of additional stuffing as needed to create a nice cushy, evenly rounded shape.
Pinned and ready to stitch. The cotton is just an underlayer that holds the stuffing in place so that stitching the "fashion" fabric on the top will go more smoothly.
Once again, I used a curved needle. It sure made getting in to those tight corners easy.
Repeat the process of draping, pinning and stitching with the fashion fabric. Here I used part of an old linen tablecloth.
Here's a closeup of the needle. You can see I just catch a bit of each layer with each stitch.
The final step requires a trim or cord to be applied, covering the edge. If you have a glue gun, go for it. I hand-whipped my homemade cord, and think I could have done a better job. I'll probably take it out and do it again. I made the cord by rummaging through my collection of odd bits of yarn, choosing several strands, and running them through the spinning wheel to add twist, then letting it double back on itself. I only needed about 14" worth, so I could have just as easily done it without the spinning wheel.
Et voila! The finished product! I don't know what the weird golden light behind the pincushion is, but it could well be a reflection of my head on fire.
Worst photo ever posted in blog-dom.
Finally, I strongly recommend that you do as I say, not as I do. This is what my dining room looked like after I was done. Tidying as I go is not my strong suit. Add to that my simultaneously having to pee and having a hot flash, whilst the dog noisily licks her rear end just to the right of the chair, and you can be very thankful you are viewing this tutorial from the safety of your computer screen.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

One of My Heroes

From Karen Reimer's website

Karen Reimer is an artist who I have always liked, yet whose work is so close to my own that I consciously avoid looking at it too much for fear of either being too influenced by it, or neurotically just giving up because I will never do anything as good as hers.

But I did look her up today and found this interview with her on Mr X Stitch. It's great.

I especially love how she describes her work as "craft-based, concept-driven, and labor-intensive". That sure does it for me.

Friday, October 11, 2013

An Internet Search for Meaning

Mike Bruce, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery
Edmund de Waal's "Atemwende, I" (2013), 476 porcelain vessels arrayed on an aluminum and plexiglass cabinet, at Gagosian Gallery.
As I have just read, with great pleasure and moments of surprising sorrow, Edmund de Waal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes, I was interested to find out more about a show of his ceramic work at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. Today, after finishing the NYT online kenken puzzle, my eye strayed to the sidebar where current articles are listed and there was a review of de Waal's show, Atemwende. I clicked. Critic Roberta Smith is obviously no fan of his work. She doesn't mince words:
"Time spent with Mr. de Waal’s work can teach a lot about the nuances of ceramics, but his work is ostentatiously precious and ultimately naïve. It forces a pastiche of received art ideas through the sieve of a different medium, gaining a physical distinctiveness, but little more. Too bad he found ceramics itself so deficient." 
Ouch! What a slam! It hit me personally, as my own work might be described in the same way, substituting "stitching" for "ceramics". (I am my own worst critic, and Ms. Smith's words seem cuttingly familiar.)

Seeking some balance, I looked up the meaning of the German title of the exhibit. Atemwende mean "turning of the breath." Oh, how beautiful. Google also provided me with links to some ways the term is used, and led me to a quote from Paul Celan, poet, translator, essayist, and lecturer, influenced by French Surrealism and Symbolism. (Who I had never heard of before...)

“Poetry is perhaps this: an Atemwende, a turning of our breath. Who knows, perhaps poetry goes its way—the way of art—for the sake of just such a turn? And since the strange, the abyss and Medusa’s head, the abyss and the automaton, all seem to lie in the same direction—is it perhaps this turn, this Atemwende, which can sort out the strange from the strange? It is perhaps here, in this one brief moment, that Medusa’s head shrivels and the automaton runs down? Perhaps, along with the I, estranged and freed here, in this manner, some other thing is also set free?”

Whoa! Celan was obviously given to some deep and dark thoughts. Not surprisingly, since he was born between wars in Cernăuţi, at the time Romania, now Ukraine, he lived in France, and wrote in German. His parents were killed in the Holocaust; the author himself escaped death by working in a Nazi labor camp. 

I kept searching and was led to Keith Harvey's blog. He discusses  his reading of Celan's book of poetry, also titled  Atemwende, concentrating on the first lines:
Du darfst mich getrost/ mit Schnee bewirten (You may confidently/entertain me with snow.)
"The image of snow is an allusion to the time of the camps where there was little or no actual nourishment, only ash and snow to fill the mouths of the starving prisoners. So, perhaps, he is saying that he will allow himself to be celebrated through snow, an icy nourishment but nourishment nevertheless."
All of which leads me to believe that Edmund de Waal knew exactly what he was doing in his installations. Ash and snow? Rows of white and black vessels, each one unique, yet on first glance indistinct from its shelfmates? I can't help but see a direct reference to Celan and his poetry dealing with his experience in the camps.

As his book reveals, deWaal is a deeply thoughtful artist, a researcher with the heart of a poet, and whose Jewish family suffered irreparable losses during the Second World War. All that is left of his family and their fortune is a vitrine filled with tiny netsuke, Japanese carvings, inherited by de Waal, and the inspiration for his book.
In this context I see de Waal's ceramic work as deeply personal. Wish I could see the show in person.

I'll end with another quote, this one from author Willa Cather. I don't know the context of this line, but I have carried it around with me for several years. It seems fitting here:
"The irregular and intimate quality of things made entirely by the human hand."
P.S. The title of this post is, of course, a play on Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. Which is, of course, relevant. I'm no dummy. But I do have to get off the computer. I could be following this trail of crumbs forever.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Brief Moments of Beauty in the Harbour City

Cross stitch design from the Janlynn Collection. All that's missing is the street guy with the funny t-shirt panhandling out front.
When I was last in Nanaimo I walked past a rather rough looking guy who was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the line: "My train of thought has left the station." Now, I am so far out of the loop that could be the name of the Rolling Stones' latest tour for all I know, but I did think it was quite a witty shirt for a grizzled street guy to be wearing. I smiled at him, and he asked me for change. I gave him a loonie ($1), and now I have a new mantra. "My train of thought has left the station"...I love it.

I stopped in at the wonderful needlework store, The Stitcher's Muse, and was interested to see that they now have an area for people to donate their surplus embroidery tools and supplies for re-sale, with the proceeds going to the local women's shelter. What a good idea! There were some nice frames there, lots of pieces of linen and aida cloth, and lots of patterns and yarn. It was nice to see the items displayed neatly and with care, as opposed to the jumble similar goods end up in at the thrift store - makes them more saleable and in keeping with the gorgeous displays in the rest of the store. (They do have an excellent mail order service, and I would even consider the shop worth a special trip to Nanaimo if you are on Vancouver Island or nearabouts.)

As I was browsing, I overheard a quiet conversation between a customer and the salesperson who was helping her find what she needed. The customer, a sixty-ish woman, was saying that she was recently bereaved. Her husband just didn't wake up one morning, and she said it was a complete shock as he hadn't been ill. She said she hadn't been able to do anything since, and thought that maybe stitching would help. It was all I could do to stop myself from either a) giving her a hug or b) congratulating her on choosing such a fine mode of self care.

Nanaimo is not usually a city that offers such an afternoon of lovely moments. At least, that has always been my assumption. Now I wonder if lovely moments are always happening in odd and quiet places, when one might least least expect them. I must try to be more receptive.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Orion Magazine

My lovely local public library carries Orion Magazine, which is a true blessing because it's very hard to find otherwise - not too many newsstands seem to carry it. (I know, I know, I should subscribe. There, I just moved that task to the top of the list!) Orion is a beautifully produced, ad-free journal about nature, ethics and art.

The online edition has several of the articles, including this one: Coffee in Jail by Sandra Steingraber. It's wonderfully written and really, nothing at all like Orange is the New Black.

Bee Still in Bonnet

I haven't quite been able to let go of my frustration over the juror's response to Colleen Heslin's award-winning painting. But I have been trying to articulate why their comments put me into a tizzy. It's not that I have a beef with Heslin's work, and I do think it's great to see young artists exploring cloth and its meaning.

There was an article in the Vancouver Sun this past weekend that quoted Ian Wallace, a Vancouver artist and one of the nine judges from across Canada, who said: "It's just a very excellent painting, and original technique." All the judges issued a collective statement that said the painting "suggests a stepping-off point for where painting can go, a formally elegant update on the medium's perennial questions."

I have been through art school, and was heading along the trail of career making - exhibiting, writing, getting grants - early on, only to opt for a less clearly defined path along the boundary (that may or may not exist) between art and craft. I remember taking a wonderful painting intensive one summer which I thoroughly enjoyed, even if all it did was bring me to the realization that I was not a painter. I did paint a lot of images of cloth though, while at the same time creating quilted and stitched works which explored the same themes as the paintings. To me, it was all one. But to many of the people who saw my work, the painting was more serious than the stitching.

Reams has been written about this, mostly by critics and curators leaning to the craft side. Fine arts types have generally avoided the discussion. Of course, at art school someone would usually pipe up and say, "Well, if the work is good enough, then it can be called art." The implication being that the reason the medium of textiles falls into the realm of craft is because it just isn't good enough. Even though the school I went to had large departments of ceramic, wood-working, glass and textiles, they were considered completely separate from the fine arts stream. It was a very hierarchical environment and that attitude lingers today.

Which brings me to the question of why a painting that uses techniques that have long been practised in the textile arts would be considered so fresh and original. Were the judges simply not aware of what is going on in other fields? Do painters have such a narrow focus that they don't look beyond the canvas for inspiration? I sincerely doubt it. Given the general dreariness of the other entries in the competition, my guess is that it's just one of those slow times for painting. Maybe we are about to see a wave of textile influence crash upon the shores of oils and acrylic.

Never forget, it was a textile piece by Sonia Delauney that is credited with inspiring cubism and abstract art. Maybe we just can't help being ahead of our time when we work with cloth.
Blanket by Sonia Delauney, 1911

"It's just a very excellent painting, and original technique," said Ian Wallace, a Vancouver artist and one of nine judges from across Canada, of Heslin's painting.
"It's one of those things that just grew on you as you looked at it."
A collective statement from the judges said the painting "suggests a stepping-off point for where painting can go, a formally elegant update on the medium's perennial questions."
- See more at:
"It's just a very excellent painting, and original technique," said Ian Wallace, a Vancouver artist and one of nine judges from across Canada, of Heslin's painting.
"It's one of those things that just grew on you as you looked at it."
A collective statement from the judges said the painting "suggests a stepping-off point for where painting can go, a formally elegant update on the medium's perennial questions."
- See more at:

Wednesday, October 02, 2013


Almost young and wild and free by Colleen Heslin
It has been announced that Vancouver artist Colleen Heslin has won the RBC Painting Competition. Her painting was a standout for me when I looked through the glossy booklet with images from all the finalists, but probably only because it was so "textile-y". Overall, I felt the selection of paintings was unimpressive, even banal. My opinion was further coloured by my subsequent leafing through the latest issue of Canadian Art. I felt so depressed and unengaged by the articles and images, and slumped home from the library feeling that my last several years of art-making were so out of touch with the zeitgeist that I should just end it all now. Today, I read the juror's rationale for choosing Heslin's work.
Created with ink, dye and acrylic on cotton, Heslin’s winning work was praised by the jury for its fresh approach to the painting tradition. The artist was praised for moving beyond convention by using stitchery and staining as well as for her allusions to “mending and making” in the medium of textiles.
I am speechless.

Well, not quite. I wonder where the jurors have been all these years. I guess they have never stepped beyond the boundaries of "real" art galleries, never gone to a show of textile art, and never Googled "allusions of mending and making".

I better stop now. I might say something very un-lady-like.