Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Characaro=Red-Winged Blackbird

Photo from Red Orbit
The mystery of the characaro may just have been solved, by none other than the artist himself - Louis Nicolas! The Queen's-McGill edition of the Codex is accompanied by Nicolas's Natural History of the New World, in both modernized French and translated English. There has been some debate over who was the actual author of this document, but through the scholarship of Francois-Marc Gagnon, Nancy Senior and Real Oullet, as well as Germaine Warkentin, it now seems pretty clear that it belongs to Louis Nicolas. His text is both studious and idiosyncratic, much like the drawings, and it roughly follows the order of images in the Codex, but not exactly.

Anyways, in the section of the Natural History where he is describing the other birds on the page in question - the grey jay, the blue jay and the American robin - he also mentions the starling, which he describes as being of two kinds, the first black with all the varieties of colours seen through a beautiful glaze; "and the second, much more beautiful than the first, for in addition to the beautiful plumage it has on the back of both wings a heart that is so distinct that there is nothing more precise, nor of a more beautiful golden colour, set off by a very fine bright red like a golden glaze on the whole surface of the heart, which is almost as large as the French double or liard coin on each side, in the place that I have indicated."

As is his custom, he also goes on to say that the flesh of the bird is tough and not very good to eat, while in the next sentence he says they have a beautiful song and he thinks they could be taught to speak.

Now, as you can see, the red spot on the wing doesn't really look like a heart. It certainly inspired quite a rhapsody from Pere Nicolas, though, so perhaps, as Jean commented, he had fallen in love. Not proper Jesuit behaviour, but then again he wasn't exactly a proper Jesuit.

Where the term "characaro" came from could be anybody's guess. My friend, artist, poet and bird lover Sue Wheeler suggests that it sounds like the name of a South American falcon, so maybe common names of birds were not as fixed as they are now, and certainly not as they were before Linaeus created his system of classifcation.

And finally, I discovered the other day that I am not the only fan of Pere Nicolas. A PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Merideth Beck Sayre, has posted an article about Louis Nicolas. After my excited communication with her, she has also posted a lovely article about my work and the similarity of my process to her own research. Such a wonderful surprise for the Internet to bring to wrap up the year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

With Heart and Hand

It's time to wrap up the blog for another year. I look back with a mixture of exhaustion and exasperation - Did I really accomplish all that? And how come I didn't do more? I always have more projects in mind than are possible to achieve, so I am constantly feeling both slothful and overextended. Who needs enemies when I have myself? It's amazing that my creative spark continues to thrive.

In anticipation of the New Year, I have put another panel of the Codex embroidery into the frame. It's the page of the four little birds that always makes people exclaim, because Louis Nicolas gave one a red heart. It's so unusual in the context of the rest of the document, both for the rare use of colour and the sweetness of the symbolism amidst all the sharp claws and gnashing teeth of the other creatures. What the heck was going on in Louis' mind?
Image from the Library and Archives Canada
The bird is labelled "characaro", which I couldn't find a translation or reference of anywhere on the web, other than the original source. So it is a mystery, but if anybody has some insight into the meaning of this name, I would love to hear it.

I also have a pile of five kangaroo style jackets that I have to turn into zip-front cardigans for a walking club, looming large in my sewing room. The dread of such a job is much worse than actually just sitting down and doing it,  and so I shall.

But I am also excited and hopeful that Sherri Lynn Wood will choose me to try out one of her quilt templates for her new book The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters. Sherri Lynn has been so inspiring to me with her heartfelt, holistic approach to pushing the boundaries of contemporary craft practise.

And what do I wish for 2014, other than world peace and the reversal of climate change? I would like to nail down a show for the Codex work. And although I won't stop working on the other two, that third wish just might be achievable .

Thank you, dear readers, for dropping by over the past year, and may all your wishes come true in 2014.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Blast From the Past

The sad little junk store on the island is closing. Even though I am a thrift store devotee, I do have standards, and I'm sorry to say this particular establishment had all the cons (weird smell, crappy stuff) and none of the pros (hidden treasures!)  Everything is going for a dollar or less though, so I did stop in the other day after my neighbour said she had spotted a gorgeous christening gown there. Alas, the christening gown was polyester, but I was through the door and felt obliged by the shopkeeper's brave smile to buy something, anything. I picked up a few sewing notions and some vintage craft magazines, even though I have been trying to divest myself of the box of vintage craft magazines that is taking up some valuable real estate in the storage closet.

But a look through the pages of the Fall-Winter 1971 McCall's Needlework and Crafts did deliver up some clues as to why the whole handcraft sector crashed and burned so badly later in the decade. Women returning to the workforce may have had nothing to do with it.
Not only were the projects hideously ugly and unwearable, the recommended yarns were as well, albeit machine-washable. No wonder, look at where they came from. (Faithful readers will know that I have a bee in my bonnet regarding Monsanto, who has since switched from making yarn out of plastic to making terminator seeds and toxic chemicals that poison the Earth.)
I think this perky model looks a bit like Gwyneth Paltrow. But I'm sure lovely Gwynnie wouldn't be caught dead in such garments - although she might go for those groovy red lace-up knee high boots. (Sorry for the glare on the image, my fault entirely.)
Just the right little numbers for lounging around house! It's easy to make fun of such outfits now, but I do wonder how many got made at the time. Such investments of time and energy! Who could ever toss such a garment? And, since they are made out of acrylic, they would never wear out on their own.

The Editorial in this issue has some fascinating information about the magazine's readership. They surveyed 50,000 readers and found that 85% were married with children, 48% were under 35 years of age, and a whopping 94% sewed for their family or home. Incredible how things changed in a short time.
Could the decline in knitting and sewing be caused by such projects as cable-knit trousers? The horror...!
On the other hand, the paper crafts look remarkably current.
Knitting for Barbie and Ken - check out the shoulder shaping on Ken's jumpsuit and the fitted bodice on Babs' one piece. You'd have to be a very skillful Grandma to make these.
And the back of the magazine is filled with small B&W ads. I think Charm Woven Labels is still around, and their designs haven't changed a bit.
Here are a few booklets from the glory days of Canadian knitting and crocheting. The mills that produced these yarns and patterns are long gone. But then again, so have his-and-hers travel sweaters.
The choices for women at the time were fairly limited. Career Girl or Club Woman, what's it to be?
And, I have to admit, I am glad the well-dressed home no longer requires chair sets. But Evelyn Vance valued this leaflet enough to put her name on it. Ah, Evelyn Vance where are you now? Your name befits an Alice Munro story.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Envelope Please

It looks like everyone is a winner! I just had six entries in last week's contest, and I know I was only offering three prizes, so how can I choose? I was able to rustle up a few more wee gifties so there is something for everyone. Could Arlee, Deb , and the blogless Debby and Stephanie please contact me with your mailing address? I can be reached at true(underscore)stitches(at)yahoo(dot)ca. (Vanessa and Jean, I already have your addresses.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Time is a construct, in reality everything flows, no past or present, only the now.

In a strange confluence of words and images, I seem to be focused on the subject of time these days. Maybe it's just that all my library requests over the last several months appeared at once, but it has made me wonder if time is on everyone else's mind, too. But then again it is something we all have experience with.

I listened to the audiobook version of Kate Atkinson's  Life After Life while I was doing all that sewing. Her ingenious structure of the story of a woman who lives her life over and over again was as pleasurable as watching one of my all time favourite movies, Groundhog Day.
“Time is a construct, in reality everything flows, no past or present, only the now” is a quote from Life After Life, but it could have just as easily come from Ruth Ozeki's wonderful  A Tale for the Time Being. I particularly appreciated Ozeki's note-perfect descriptions of Gulf Island life, which helped make all the other threads of the story seem just as credible and real.
And Claudia Hammond's non-fiction exploration of our perception of time, Time Warped,  is quite fascinating. You might want to save it for January, when you will have more of that precious commodity to savour it.
I do like the Yarn Harlot's idea for the Christmas gift of a time machine. From her December 16th post:
Gifts for knitters: Some Sort of Time Machine.

You've probably noticed that your knitter likes to knit. You might even have noticed that they like it a lot better than all of the other stuff they're supposed to be doing (see above re: bathtub scrubbing.)  I could be projecting here (but I am pretty sure I'm not) when I say there's nothing your knitter wants more than a few more hours in a day to knit - and I know what you're thinking. "Hey Crazy Lady who watches too much Dr Who, there's no such thing as a time machine", but you'd be wrong.  You can be the time machine for your knitter.  An awesome gift, as we come down to the wire, or you run out of money, is your time, given freely to your knitter.  A written commitment to doing some of the things that your knitter likes less than knitting to give them time to knit is an amazing gift.  A little note that says "I will be YOU for six hours" or "This coupon entitles the bearer to four undisturbed hours of knitting while I do chores they hate" or "This magic note can exchange 1 hour of cleaning for 1 hour of knitting" is going to be make you a rock star of gift giving.  Don't forget to use your best handwriting, and wrap it. 
And of course, speaking of Doctor Who, I have been catching up on the Matt Smith incarnation of everyone's favourite Time Lord on Netflix. Can't wait to see Peter Capaldi in the role - I loved him in another one of my favourite movies of all time: Local Hero.

And hey, time is running out to leave a comment on my Call it Karma post. Either I have very few readers or you are all too busy but the odds of winning a lovely prize are very, very good!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Mark Making in Textile Art

I just borrowed Helen Parrott's Mark Making from the library and it's definitely going on my wish list. Her approach has developed over 20 years of quilting, embroidery and textile art, inspired by landscape and nature.
The cover of the Batsford (UK) edition actually reflects Parrott's work a little more accurately than the very colourful, ingeniously diecut Interweave edition, as her style is very much about repetition and texture.

The book would be an excellent text for an art school embroidery course, as it builds skills from the very basics, including the elements of design as per Bauhaus. It would also be interesting to use as a guide for a guild study group. Parrott makes some wonderful recommendations on tools and materials, and has a very warm, supportive writing voice. She is not aiming to turn her readers into imitations of herself, but encourages the development of a personal style. She also offers some solid ideas for keeping one's studio practice fresh and strategies for getting unstuck if felling caught in a rut.

It's a winner! And you could be too if you leave a comment on the Call it Karma Contest post I did a few days ago.

And, for another take on texile mark-making, do check out Judy Martin's latest masterwork .

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Westjet 1, BC Ferries 0

I got this email from my Mom this morning. She had been visiting my sister in Kingston, Ontario when she discovered she had made an uncharacteristic boo-boo regarding her flight home to Chilliwack, BC. Here's her story: 

Just wanted to fill you in on a lovely happening that started out as a mini disaster.  Spread the word - Westjet is a wonderful airline!!!!   Yesterday, the 10th, I asked Laura to see whether I had an email from Westjet letting me know I could prebook my seat, etc.  When she pulled up the email, the letter said my flight was the 10th!  I looked at my pocket calendar which said the 11th (I couldn't print out my flight schedule as I usually do from my hotmail - the new system or???? - so I didn't have that for referral).  I felt very annoyed at myself for making such a stupid mistake. 
So Laura said lets phone Westjet.  She did, explained the situation, asked the agent to see if there was another flight leaving about the same time for today - the 11th.  The agent looked, said yes, (actually a better flight, with only 1 stop instead of two that my 10th day flight had) and that it would cost $545 or so.  Laura asked if she could book it for me and asked her to ask her supervisor if some discount could be made for me.  The agent said she would do that, it would take about 6 minutes - could Laura wait on the phone.  Laura said yes.  6 minutes later the agent said the flight was confirmed and the total cost would be waived.  WE COULD NOT BELIEVE IT!!!!   I got on the phone to thank the agent who just said I was a special lady who was visiting her daughter.  So, pretty amazing eh????

So, home tonight, only a few minutes later than yesterday's flight.

Laura says I walk on star dust!   I believe her - I am so blessed in so many ways!!!!

love and hugs,

Isn't that sweet? Talk about a corporation acting in a human, compassionate way! And here's another amazing Westjet story.

So unlike BC Ferries - I attended their "public consultation" meeting last night, supposedly set up to get input about their latest round of cuts. Four cardboard cutout consultants representing BC Ferries versus 300 very passionate Gabriolans. I don't think the consultants listened to a word that was said - they just gave shrugs and stock responses to the questions put to them. Truly shameful.
Phillip Vannini wrote a really clever article about the evening over here at the Tyee.
Photo by Scott Cunningham CTV News
P.S. Don't forget to comment on the previous post for a chance to win a lovely wee giftie.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Call it Karma Contest

What the heck was I thinking? Setting up a shop on the blog? Forgive me for even considering such heresy! It must have been my recent foray into the seductive realm of the craft fair that had me thinking of dollars and cents. Picture this: Heather as automaton, repeating endlessly "Must make money." The need of which of course, I suppose, factors in there somewhere.

But hey, 'tis the season of generosity and gifts, so here's the plan:
Send me a comment telling me of your favourite seasonal non-commercial sharing. Perhaps you spend Christmas Day cooking dinner at a homeless shelter or maybe you have a huge Solstice bonfire with your friends and family. Maybe you do random acts of caroling, or shovel the snow from an elderly neighbour's front walk. Or maybe you have one of those 1000-piece puzzles that you put out on your dining room table and everyone who comes to visit can take part in putting it together.

Let me know and on December 18th I will blindly draw from the comments and send three lucky, generous people a gift of their choosing:
a lovely hot water bottle cosy, complete with hot water bottle;
  a fabulous pincushion,

 or a teeny-tiny jewel box for a special treasure (treasure not included).

Come on, let me know! Let's share the joy!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Selling My Wares

Here is my display at the Craft Fair: pillows, books, pin cushions and hot water bottle cosies. I thought of adopting a persona for the day: a little old blue-haired lady, selling off her treasures before moving to the care home. I even bought the blue hair dye, but decided in the end that it might clash with all the pastels.
The "Speed" pencil box is a re-make, using a vintage label found at the Lasqueti Free Store, pasted onto a beautiful cloth-covered box that I just learned how to make from one of Sage Reynolds's fantastic videos.
Here is a linen-covered coptic bound sketch book with one of my favourite vintage potholders on the front. It was hard to let this one go.
I was recently given a pristine copy of Mme. Therese de Dillmont's Encyclopedia of Needlework, and so I made a slipcase for it, again following one of Sage Reynolds's tutorials. ( I am so impressed with Sage's technique - I found his videos even more riveting than the latest George Clooney movie. But then again, I am a nerd for bookbinding.)
This was the scene across the aisle. The St. Martin's ladies totally cleaned up, selling almost every last crumb of their baked goods.

How did I do? Well, I sold about a third of my stuff, which was pretty good, I guess. And I think everything went to a good home, which is important to me. But I over-estimated my social skills, as I felt seriously overwhelmed by the crowds. I would have felt a lot more comfortable if I had known more people - it seemed like everyone there was having a good chat with some long-lost friend. Oh well, it's a small community, next year will be better, if I do it.

And what is happening with the stuff I didn't sell? I am thinking I might put it up for sale on the blog - I used to have an Etsy shop but have let that lapse. But if I can work out the logistics, there might be some goodies here the next time you drop by.