Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I Can See!

I got new glasses! My last pair had progressive lenses that my eyes had evolved out of, and I could see better without them, up close anyway. I was constantly misplacing them because I would take them off to stitch or read or do a crossword puzzle, and then of course couldn't see to find them again.

Not that the new ones will prevent such absent minded blindness. (Please, don't suggest idiot strings.) But I do think they make me look more intelligent. (Now, if I could just refrain from posing in front of empty beer cans, the illusion would be complete!)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Le Brilhand


Deuteronomy I (in progress)
May I present to you Le Brilhand, more commonly known as a gyrfalcon. Beautiful plumage, n'est pas?

I am worried that I may be getting a little too fiddly. It's hard not to with source material like Louis's!
Codex Canadensis, p.49 Source: Gilcrease Museum
© Public Domain. Courtesy of the Gilcrease Museum of Tulsa, OK.



Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Favourite T-Shirt

I have had this t-shirt for over 20 years. I got it while living in Kingston, Ontario, which at the time was home to the notoriously decrepit P4W (or Prison for Women). The local Elizabeth Fry society was very active and sold these shirts as a fundraiser.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Elizabeth Fry, she was an Englishwoman (1780-1845) who did a tremendous amount of work to improve the lives of women and children who were held in prisons. Since her death, the Elizabeth Fry Society has continued to uphold her principles and advocate for the rights of women in the justice system.

I haven't had any involvement with the justice system, but I do knit. I loved this shirt the moment I saw it, and I still love it today. But it's a lot harder to explain than it used to be.


Twenty years ago, knitting was definitely not the wildly hip and popular activity it is now. A ladies knitting circle signified all that was quaint and sedate, and so it would be most unexpected for those ladies to be involved in anything political or controversial. Elizabeth may have been a bit of a radical, but was also reportedly admired by Queen Victoria. And twenty years ago "terrorist" was not the charged term it is today. Back then, this was simply a witty, slightly provocative image to wear on a shirt.

I still wear it, but try to stay out of airports when I have it on.

P.S. Blogger tells me this is my 600th post. Unbelievable! Here's my first...

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Into the Stitch


The last panel of Deuteronomy has been started. This one is a group of four raptors: a young bald eagle, a night hawk, a sparrow hawk and a gyrfalcon. Louis Nicolas seemed to have a particular fondness for hawks, devoting a long passage of the Histoire Naturelles to the art of falconry. He had his own names for the birds though, calling the nighthawk "Le Turc", the sparrow hawk "Le Taugerot" and the gyrfalcon "Le Brilhand". Great names for characters in an opera!

I've been working on this project more or less continuously for the last year-and-a-half. Over that time I can see a change in my stitching vocabulary. When I started out with the Arbor Vitae, I think I was interpreting Louis Nicolas's drawing in embroidery stitches, whereas I am now more into making marks in the spirit of the original. This means my embroideries are not quite so pretty, and are more "sketchy" rather than relying on the rhythm of pattern that develops as the stitches repeat.

This feels like I am getting deeper into the nature of the stitch, working with the inherit limitations of what is basically a line between two points. Think of it: the needle goes in at point A and comes out at point B. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so whatever loops and twists and variations we introduce between these two points to create different stitches are just embellishments on that straight line. This fundamental truth about how a stitch behaves has led to a vast array of techniques, some of which exploit the straight line (cross stitch), and others that push the limits to create the illusion of realism (Japanese silk embroidery), and others that just play with the possibilities of needle and thread (crewel).

I don't know quite what to call my own technique with the Codex Canadensis. I guess it is just freeform, based on a few basics such as outline, double running, fly, and chain stitch. I do some couching too, but all of this is done while referring to Louis's drawings. I am becoming more familiar with his lines and almost automatically translate his marks into my stitches. I have no idea at this point how successful I am in achieving an accurate translation, but I continue to find the process mesmerising and deeply satisfying.
With the nice weather, I have been working out on the covered deck. It's very pleasant, and my two studio assistants are at the ready to greet anyone who comes by. The little black cutie is James's dog Mischa. She and Gracie have become the best of friends, which is so nice to see.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Swan, Pelican, and Very Odd Duck


Deuteronomy VI, 2013, hand embroidered wool and cashmere  on canvas,  18"x26"
Well, the fourth panel of Deuteronomy (actually the third to be stitched) is complete. Now I just have to stitch the first panel and the whole series will be finished, if that's not too confusing. I've confused myself quite a bit with this one. The second and third panels are in their new homes and I discovered that not only had I failed to make a note of the colour and number of strands used for the Latin text, I had also neglected to save a detailed photo of the other panels before I sent them on their way. Since they are intended to be viewed all in a row, they will only make sense if the text matches. (And just for those of us who don't read Latin - the text at the bottom basically says: "Don't eat us.")

I did finally figure it out, but that will sure teach me to trust my sieve-like brain to retain anything important. Why, oh why can I instantly remember the name of the actor who portrayed Colonel Klink in Hogan's Heroes (a recent crossword puzzle clue) and at the same time completely forget the password for my bank card? I am going to turn into one of those people who carries a little notebook with them at all times - wait, has anyone seen that little notebook?...It's a lost cause.

Meanwhile, have a look at this pelican compared to the one from Arbor Vitae. The new guy is about 2/3 the size, and thinner yarn was used. Check out the difference in the stitches, and the choices I made in rendering the same image - in both cases I worked from a photocopied enlargement of Louis Nicolas's original pen and ink drawing. (But I obviously couldn't remember what I did before!)
Pelican from Arbor Vitae
Louis Nicolas's original image


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

May Morris: Decorative Needlework


I've been reading about William Morris's textiles, and so came across the work of his daughter, May Morris, who ran the embroidery workshop for her father's firm. She was an extremely accomplished needlewoman and designer, as well as a teacher. Her book Decorative Needlework can be downloaded from the link. It is a little gem, including a history of embroidery, a selection of stitch techniques, and an excellent introduction to the elements of design and the specifics of designing for textiles. May's style is very readable, if somewhat quaint. She is quite passionate and opinionated about what constitutes good design, but is also trusting of the reader's common sense as to the best approach of working a piece.

P.S. John Hopper has a lovely article about May Morris on The Textile Blog.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Inspired Summer Reading


Not for me, lying on the beach with a kink-lit paperback. In fact, I'm happiest staying out of the sun altogether, and soaking up good ideas instead of some rays. Here's a few treats I've recently sampled:
Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman, and designed by Chip Kidd, is a inspiring, motivating and delightful kick in the pants. Stop making excuses and make good art. World got you down? Make good art. It's even better revenge than living well. I can't say it enough: Make Good Art. (But Gaiman says it better.)

Feeling more in the mood for scary, uplifting, dystopian fiction? I read Timothy Taylor's The Blue Light Project three days ago and am still vibrating.  What an intense, authentic, juicy read! And so smart. packed with ideas. Best of all, Taylor manages to pull off a written description of a visual art experience that felt real! So often visual art as depicted in other media comes off as lame. I'm recommending this book to everyone I know.

I would also be raving about The Last Nude, but I read it before The Blue Light Project and I'm afraid it seems a bit light and chick-lit-ty in comparison. (But then, most books would.) But it too, portrays the creative process and act of making great art in a completely believable way. The story blends fact and fiction as it follows the Art Deco-era painter Tamara de Lempicka and her relationship with her model and muse, Raphaela. Very sexy and good fun, probably best read with an absinthe martini in hand.