Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Wager

I have started another panel in the series I have been working on sporadically since my accident. All the quotations refer, more or less, obliquely, to fate and infinity and their relationship to textile work. This new one is a quote from Blaise Pascal. "The last proceeding of reason is to recognize there is an infinity of things beyond it." I think he said it in the context of his famous Wager, and for me it does reflect a search for greater meaning in life.

Here are the previous works in the series:
Infinity (2009) This is really big, 14"(h)x56"(l)

Fate (2010) 20"x20"

Warp &Weft (2010) 24"x30"

I have written before about my method of rendering Text in Thread. For this piece I chose High Tower Text, a version of Baskerville, a commonly used typeface in Pascal's time (1623-1662). I have traced it using graphite paper onto a found linen cloth. I'm not sure what colour thread I will use for the embroidery, and I think I will be adding more lace to the border. But we shall see, things may change as I go, a metaphor for my life if there ever was one..

Looking at what I have done previously, I shake my head. Why do I hand embroider when I could achieve perfection by having it done by machine? A heretical question on this blog, for sure, but one I have often been asked. The answer, of course, is that the process is so important. As I stitch, time slows down, and I allow myself the luxury of carefully considering the statements that I have chosen. And the fact that it is MY hand guiding the needle is an assertion of creative autonomy, at least in the realm of this small piece of cloth.

It's just a short break from the Codex works, there's still lots to come there.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Sew Like the Wind

Photo by Felix Clay, from The Guardian
Irish poet Seamus Heaney died yesterday. The New York Times has a nice obit. Here is a line from it that really struck me as being great advice for anyone in the arts:
In the 1984 collection, “Station Island,” he wrote: “The main thing is to write for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust that imagines its haven like your hands at night, dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast. You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous. Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest.”
As my favourite time of year for working approaches, I think I should pin that up above my sewing table.

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Want to Die in Ruby Red Tap Shoes

I got a new pair of red shoes the other day. Two bucks at GIRO, the local recycling store. Hardly worn! Fit perfectly! I don't think I have mentioned it, but I made a vow a couple of years ago to only wear red shoes. My life has been much more fun ever since. I now own eight pairs of red shoes, all from thrift stores, with the best score being a pair of coral-red Fluevog heels. I'll have to take a picture of my closet some day.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Good Life Lab

*Full Disclosure: Wendy is a friend of mine, and she actually gives a link to my blog in the back of the book. I would be a bad friend and terribly ungracious not to like her book, so it's a good thing I do like it!*

Wendy Jehanara Tremayne's new book, The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living is part memoir and part how-to manual. I had heard Wendy's story before, and it's remarkable and inspiring, so I was pleased to read it again. She writes just like how she sounds in person: warm, wise, humourous, generous, empowering. The story of how she and her partner Mikey Sklar came to their urban homestead in New Mexico is quite thrilling for anyone who has wanted to get escape the soul-destroying drudgery of day jobs and city life, and I think it's the strongest part of the book. It gives testament to the belief that anyone can become more self-reliant and have a richer, more fulfilling life out of the mainstream of consumerism.

Having lived such a life myself, in the lush Pacific Northwest where you'd have to be a complete idiot to starve, even with no money, I can't help but compare the challenges that Wendy's and my completely different environments present to us. The first chapter of the book opens with her peeing into a bucket so that the (diluted) nitrogen rich urine can be used to fertilize the garden. This might be a shocker for the daintier souls amongst us, but is customary on small islands with limited septic systems. For more on this topic, see Doug Hamilton's definitive guide How to Shyte on Lasqueti.

But living in the arid desert presents a completely different array of challenges from B.C.'s rain forest. Wendy and Mikey need to build shade to protect themselves and their garden from the powerful sun and can run multiple appliances on their solar system, while Lasquetians struggle to make do with the 150 watts their micro hydro generates in the winter, and don't see the sun for months. Every person who takes on the responsibility of living more sustainably will have different circumstances to deal with, and so the Good Life Lab serves more as inspiration than a precise recipe. The key, wherever you live, is to do research, talk as much as you can with long-time members of the community, and not be afraid to experiment.

Wendy and Mikey have, between them, a vast array of skills, both inherent and learned. They are young, smart and strong, and able to take on everything from physical projects such as building with papercrete or more domestic crafts such as cheesemaking. I am reminded of the cautionary advice given to every newcomer who dreams of living on Lasqueti: "It takes at least three solid days a week of work here just to maintain the (solar, water, and heating) systems, manage your garden, and feed yourself. A regular job feels like a luxury in comparison."

The recipes for herbal remedies, all kinds of fermented goodies, and biofuel are a good starting point for those who might want to adapt them to what their own region offers. There's lots of solid references suggested, too. And I particularly appreciated Wendy's spiritual and philosophical take on this approach to creating a life. This book is definitely worth a read, and will share a place on my shelf with Sharon Astyk's books on a similar theme, Making Home, Depletion and Abundance, and Independence Days.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Don't Eat Us


Deuteronomy I (2013) hand embroidery, wool, cashmere and cotton on canvas, 18"x26"
The Latin text says: "These are they ye shall not eat:". I can't imagine these birds would be very tasty anyway, probably like fish-flavoured rubber bands! They are, from the top down: a young American eagle; a nighthawk; a small hawk (maybe a sharp-shinned); and a gyrfalcon.

This panel completes Deuteronomy. The four panels are meant to be viewed as a series, which I hope to present to you via the magic of Photoshop. Maybe tomorrow, if all goes well.

Pretty hirsute for a bald eagle! I just stitch them as I see them, or rather, as Louis Nicolas saw them.
The nighthawk, which isn't really a hawk, so technically doesn't belong on this page, feeds mainly on insects. I love his long tongue and the alien-looking bug.

I'm not yet done with the Codex. No rest for this wicked one. But I do have a couple of sewing jobs for other people, so will have a wee break.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Knowing and Not Knowing

One of the risks of taking on a long term project such as my work with the Codex Canadensis is that I find myself losing track of why I am doing this. I begin to wrestle with doubt. I ask myself: "What is the point?" And "Who cares anyway?" And I flounder with the answers I feel I must provide to an audience that isn't even there. Yet.

I do hope to show this work some day. And, having previously had public exhibitions of my work, I feel I must be prepared for the inevitable duties such an honour requires. There will, hopefully, be reviews. The local paper may want an interview. There might even be a spot on CBC radio, or, if it's a really slow news day, TV. I have learned that, in order not to appear a complete idiot in public, one should come prepared with sound bites and easily understood capsule descriptions.

I remember my first TV interview and the host repeatedly asking me the same question: "So, what makes a quilt art?" It was all I could do to stop myself from asking him if he was understanding impaired. To avoid such frustrating conversations, it helps to be really clear going in - to be able to do an "elevator pitch" if need be.
*****
The other day I woke up at five A.M. thinking that I knew what I was doing after all. By transposing Louis Nicolas's flowing ink lines into painstaking stitch, I had to look closely at each and every mark. I don't think it's a stretch to say I have looked closer at these drawings than anyone, ever. Even Nicolas probably completed one of his drawings in a hour or so. It takes me 20-30 hours to reproduce a page.

Slowing down the process of image-making to such a degree affords insight, I believe. I have commented before on the preponderance of lolling tongues, gnashing teeth, fearsome eyes, and dangerous claws in Nicolas's images, and how that may reflect his fear of the wild, threatening New World he was encountering. That seems to be a fairly reasonable assumption, but what else can his drawings tell me?

I was trained as an art therapist and spent a couple of years working with a boy who had autism. It was too intense for him to draw outdoors, so we drew inside, from photographs. He particularly liked drawing animals, so we did lots of that. He was quite a skilled copyist and was very careful to make things the right shape and to include the exact number of whiskers or spots of a particular animal. But he had trouble relating the individual elements to each other, which gave his drawings a distorted, somewhat whimsical quality.

I see something very similar in the drawings of Louis Nicolas. Considering that it is believed that he drew, as was commonly done at that time, from books of engravings, and that as a Jesuit he was well-educated, and certainly had instruction in drawing, it is surprising that his drawings in the Codex Canadensis are so inept. And I doubt that the clumsiness of his drawing is stylistic choice. Perhaps he had trouble with his eyes, but my thought is that he was somewhere on the autistism spectrum. This might explain a lot of things: his trouble with his superiors; his facility with languages (he wrote the first lexicon of Algonquin grammar); his fascination with categorizing (see this piece on Brain Pickings for an example); and the detached emotional tone of his writing.

Of course it is impossible to make a diagnosis from a drawing alone - equally important is what the artist says about it. But I do wonder.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Diary of a Crabby Old Lady


The downside to living on a beautiful Gulf Island is that people, damn them, come and visit. They clog the roads, buy all the eggs, and wander randomly into traffic. And why not - they are on vacation after all, regular rules don't apply!

Last night, after midnight, Mischa sounded the alert. Irregular activity in the neighbourhood! It seemed someone was camping at the property across the road, and they were enjoying a campfire. I guess all the "Extreme Fire Danger" and "No Fires" signs posted everywhere on the island didn't connect with the carefree holiday makers. The Fire Department was called, the chief aroused from his slumber, the fire doused. Thankfully, the whole island didn't burn down: tinderbox doesn't begin to describe how dry it is here.

When I'm not busy spoiling someone else's fun, I'm dodging the sun that beats down day upon day upon day. Most people would probably consider it perfect weather, but I am much more of a mushroom than a sunflower. I can't wait for the grey, drizzly quiet of November.

We have a wonderful farmer's market here, but I just can't bring myself to fight for a parking space and be jostled by the hordes of visiting fresh produce lovers, who fill their huge baskets with baguettes, zucchinis and stupendous heads of lettuce. Bless the local farmers and craftspeople who benefit from the off-island dollars, I truly wish them great success, but meanwhile I'm staying home on Saturdays.

I suppose it could be worse. At least I don't live in Port MacNeill, whose poor citizens were threatened by an invasion of Rainbow People. I'm seriously considering going somewhere less desirable next summer. Perhaps Tierra del Fuego - it would be the off season there.

P.S. The Next Day
God took pity on me and offered up a lovely, deep soaking rain. I picked blackberries, appreciating the sounds of tourist-filled SUVs zooming off to the ferry to return home. Bless them.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Onwards and Upwards

Deuteronomy I, in progress
I wish there was a grand and glorious reason for why I have been absent from Blogland, such as the Yarn Harlot's heroic fundraising bike ride, but all I did was move house, for the forty-second time in my adult life. May I never have to move again. I'm wrung out - and it was even a pretty simple move. Just around the block to a somewhat bigger, nicer cabin. I still have too many books and cartons of fabric and art supplies, so I need to get ruthless and edit it all down some more, but some patches of open space are beginning to appear amongst the stacks of boxes, bins and totes as things find their place.

I made it a priority to get back to stitching as soon as I could. It keeps me sane, or so I am told. I finished le taugaret (possibly a sharp-shinned hawk) before the move, and le turc (nighthawk, not really a raptor) just the other day. He was so much fun to stitch, with those little crescent shaped spots. Now I am working on the last bird of the series, a young bald eagle.

These raptors have been haunting my sleep. I had a dream last week where a baby eagle hatched itself out of my thigh just above my knee and flew away. Eagles are such powerful, mythic creatures - I have no idea what one was doing in my thigh - so I took it as an auspicious sign.

I'm at the stage when I can start thinking about the next set of critters - I'm leaning towards the aquatic mammals. I have to do a beaver of course, and Louis Nicolas drew some fairly funky looking ferrets and otters as well.