Monday, April 28, 2014

A Place to Lay My Head

It was a very busy week. I hope to tell you more about the workshops I taught, but for today I just want to lie out on the lawn with this pillow for my head. I found it at a vintage consignment store in Nanaimo. I was charmed by the tidy, careful stitches worked on thin cotton - I don't even mind that the stamped pattern shows around the edges.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Every Day Should Be Earth Day

When I was a kid I used to complain to my parents on Mother's or Father's Day that there was no Children's Day. My father would growl to me, his wretchedly ungrateful child, that "Every day is Children's Day."

Well, today is Earth Day. I feel like turning my father's words around and suggesting that "Every day should be Earth Day." One day a year is hardly adequate to honour our beautiful planet.

This morning, over our morning tea, I read aloud to James the chapter from Braiding Sweetgrass titled "Allegiance to Gratitude", about the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address. It seemed appropriate. I agree with author Robin Wall Kimmerer that if we began each day with such gratitude, the world would be a better place.

Afterwards, the dogs and I walked through the forest near our house to a place where I could look out over the farmland below and to the Salish Sea beyond that. The mountains of the North Shore loomed on the edge of the horizon. It was a lovely sunny day, and as I looked up into the blue sky, there was an eagle soaring overhead. (I am blessed to live in a place where it's rare NOT to see an eagle overhead.) Perfect, and yes, I gave thanks.

But there is work to do, as always. After I post this I am going to have a to write a letter to Canada's Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, and express my dismay that she has decided the humpback whales in B.C.'s northern waters no longer need protecting. Seems that protecting their environment might make things difficult for the oil tankers that our government is keen to launch. This comes after I received a letter from Ms. Aglukkaq in response to my expressed concern about the transport of coal through the Salish Sea. Here is part of her response.
"All the evidence Environment Canada is aware of shows fugitive coal dust
emissions from rail shipments pose a negligible risk to wildlife, and there is
limited evidence of increased risks to water or air quality."
Weasel words, that first line. The reason Environment Canada is not aware of any risk to wildlife or the water and air quality is because they laid off all their scientists! No news is good news, apparently, at least in their books. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Threads From the Past

 Yesterday, the thrift store yielded up a hoard of old thread on wooden spools. Greedily, I grabbed as much as I could hold in two hands. Such pretty colours - made me think of the garments that may have been sewn with them - maybe a prom dress, or a ruffled blouse. Perhaps someone's first mini-skirt was sewn with thread from these spools, or a home-ec project that was never worn. The clothes, and the stories that went with them, are likely long gone, but the leftover thread was saved for "just in case."

Wooden spools haven't been made for at least 30 years, so the thread is mostly too weak to use. Cotton perishes over time, especially if stored near heat or light. I tested its strength as I unwound the dusty outer layer, revealing the pure colour beneath. Some broke easily, while other threads were still strong.
I took a picture of the little pile of thread - later, I will cut it into shorter lengths and hang it on the trees outside for birds to use in their nests.

Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass finally arrived from the library, and I am loving it, as Jean predicted. Such beautiful writing, and such an illuminating perspective on life. It inspires me to think more carefully about the relationships between humans and all the other beings in this world, and to keep an open heart.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


 A new day and hopefully my head is back together. I'm sorry for publicly announcing my frustration and anger, cathartic as it was.

Later yesterday evening, I undid the hem for the third time, and also removed the inner crinoline, which was just getting in the way when it wasn't wrapped around the middle of the dress like a gigantic poufy bandage. You will be relieved to know that, even though I sewed the hem for a third time, and it still ended up resembling a satin Moebius strip, I stayed calm. (Well, calm-ish.) I went for a walk to look at the lunar eclipse with my friend Ranza and the dogs, came home, ripped out the hem yet again, and began stitching once more. This time I just did the back section, and it seems okay. I'll try doing the shorter front section this morning, after my second cup of tea. And then I'll put the crinoline back in.

But I think some sort of cleansing ceremony must be performed so the dress doesn't carry all the negative energy I have invested in it into the poor bride's future. In fact, now that I think of it, she did find the gown at Value Village. Maybe it came already cursed - how else would such a lovely pure silk satin dress, with the original $2000 price tag still on it end up at a thrift store? Unloved and unwanted. I'll have to smudge it with sweetgrass, have it blessed by the local priest, AND invoke the great Goddess, calling upon her to cleanse it of sorrow.

And since the wedding will take place barefoot on the beach in Uclulet, on the farthest western shore of Vancouver Island, maybe the dress will be happy again.

There is a second dress however. For dancing in after the ceremony. Strapless silk chiffon, with boning in the bodice. That one needs to be shortened and taken in at the sides. I promise to hold my tongue. Blogger only allows one rant per year.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Today My Head Exploded

This may look like an ordinary wedding dress, but it actually exists in a different universe.
Yes. Well. I have met my match. My next door neighbour's daughter-in-law-to-be needed a vintage wedding dress shortened. "Of course", I said. "Easy peasey."

Several hours and much foul language later, not to mention my sudden realization that my loved one spends his days sitting on the couch with his computer looking at cute cat videos*, I admit defeat. The wedding dress, which had a shaped hem requiring a seam on the edge of the hem, has not just a lining but a crinoline, and it does not seem possible given the limits of the known universe to hem such a thing without it suddenly becoming a theoretical object that exists in only two (or maybe four) dimensions. I opened up a side seam to turn it inside out and suddenly all laws of physics were open for discussion.

The first time this happened ( yes, I tried it more than once), I simply grabbed the seam ripper and undid the twelve yards of hem, repositioned the layers, and tried again. The second time, my head exploded. I'm now nursing a dry cider and weeping. I chose, at the last minute, not to attend a very important protest against Metro Vancouver barging its garbage across the Georgia Straight and burning it in an incinerator a kilometer from my home. I didn't trust myself to stay polite. There may have been headlines: "Middle-Aged Woman Throttles Nanaimo Mayor, Shouting "Breathe This, M*!#%$%^&er."

Thank you for listening. I feel a bit better now. But I have told James that if any one calls, asking for alterations, tell them to go away. Quickly and quietly. It's safer that way.

* I have been corrected. Apparently he was just watching a single cute cat video, he says that he doesn't make a habit of it.
P.S. Nanaimo City Council voted unanimously to say "No" to Vancouver's garbage! Hooray! Things are looking up!

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Pascals' Wager, 2014. Hand embroidery, cotton on found linen cloth, 18" square.
After three tries, and two trips to town, I finally got the right size of stretcher bar for this piece. Apparently there was some kind of gap between the measuring tape and my brain. But the piece is properly mounted now - I used a curved needle to stitch each picot point to the backing linen cloth.
Detail showing three dimensionality of stitch.
The quote comes from a translation of Blaise Pascal's Pensees (one day I will figure out how to type the accents in French), first published in 1669. That's about the same time as Louis Nicolas, which is mostly coincidence, but does indicate the lively intellectual environment of the day.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Eez Hamster, Not Rat

For scale only.
A flurry of photocopying later, the hamster wheel is much bigger. I love it. Last night I taped it onto my closet door and gazed upon it for a while. "Gazing upon" is a very important part of the process, just letting the mind drift through the image. I am so keen to get started on this piece, but must finish altering two wedding dresses before I can allow myself to begin something new.

And yesterday I got word that I had been selected to participate in the Field Trip Project at the Maritime Museum in Victoria. It should be fun - I am one of ten West Coast artists asked to alter/modify/transform a Japanese child-sized backpack that was used in the Fukashima emergency relief efforts. Here is my proposal:
I envision covering the hard plastic shell of the backpack with a layer of stitched, patched and embroidered Japanese cotton fabric. Called “boro” cloth, which literally means  “trash”, this distinctive cloth has become highly collectable in North America. Made with handwoven, indigo-dyed cotton that shows the evidence of its history and retains the mark of the human hand, boro bears witness to a time (post W.W. II era) where cloth was precious and every scrap was mended and reinforced to extend its life. 
As well, I will include a child sized quilt, similarly made from discarded, mended and patched cloth. This quilt will be revealed when the backpack is opened out. 
I will produce the backpack cover and quilt from cloth sourced from my personal collection of antique Japanese  and vintage North American cloth, and will further stitch and embellish it with maps of the North Pacific Gyre – the body of water that lies between Japan and North America that will eventually bring debris from the tsunami to our shores. The currents that form the Gyre have resulted in a huge floating garbage patch consisting mostly of plastic. This is an international concern, and a shared responsibility, as all Pacific Rim countries have contributed to it.
The deadline is the beginning of June, so I must hop to it! (Here's a link to a photo set from the Cambridge Galleries edition of the project. )

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Chasing the Tail

I have been playing with layouts for the next panel of the Codex Canadensis. I wanted to use the page with a number of small rodents on it, but I didn't want to copy the design literally this time, even though I kind of liked Louis Nicolas's layout.
Source: Gilcrease Museum
© Public Domain. Courtesy of the Gilcrease Museum of Tulsa, OK.
I thought of a mandala of critters, so cut the little guys out of a photocopy and started playing with the arrangement. The idea of a hamster wheel immediately came to mind, so I first had them all chasing each others tail. But three of them are facing in the opposite direction, I reversed them on the scanner and tried it that way, which looked weird because the ones on the lower half were upside down. So I went back to the original squirrels, then reversed the big mole, so they are all going in the same direction, but it's a little more pleasing to the eye. I tucked the little vole (with the giant pointy nose) in at the top to help balance the composition.

Which left me with a big open centre. I thought of various things, a plant perhaps, but soon came to the coiled snake, from another of Nicolas's drawings, which I also had in the pile of images I wanted to work with. I think the snake works perfectly, on many levels. The spiral shape is elemental and dynamic. Both the snake and the rodents are sometimes considered base creatures, of the lower realms, and they have a bit of an "ick" factor. The snake is important symbolically in many cultures, and of course has huge theological baggage in the Christian tradition. But both the rodents and the snake are part of God's creation, and contain sparks, as we all do, of the emanation of the divine. And, thinking of what is edible, as Nicolas was always commenting about, the rodents would be the prey of the snake, so it puts the frenzied expressions of the little critters into a different context, that of hunter and hunted.

I'm not sure yet if I will add another ring of creatures - probably not, as there is plenty going on. I may add some text, or a border of some sort. First I am going to enlarge the layout 200% on the photocopier, which will make the embroidery more feasible, and produce a good size - about three feet square.

P.S. I just realized that in Louis Nicolas's original, he put a bit of red on the critters's eyes and tongues. Whoo hoo! Colour!