Friday, June 27, 2014

Treasure Trove

James came home today with a big cardboard box full of old sewing notions. It had belonged to a friend's mother and had been in storage forever. The friend thought I might be interested. Boy, did she have my number! I spent the next hour removing petrified rubber bands from bundles of thread saved for "just in case". Such thrift! But there were treasures to be found too.
Wow, a vintage needle book with a design perfect for this weekend's Canada Day celebrations.
I love the spiderweb embossed foil papers. So colourful, like a box of chocolates! And I see the few remaining needles are indeed rust-free, as the caption promises.
Then I found what looks like an even older needlebook.
But it too has the same spiderweb embossed foil papers. Not only are these needles protected against rust, they are made of Swedish steel!
Now, what could be in this tiny felt pouch?
Diamonds!!! James tested them for hardness, and alas, they turned out to be acrylic. But I will save them for a party favour, so fun.
And what does this wee box of French Perfume contain?

 Red plastic beads, of course.
Check out the letter opener with a nattily dressed Fuller Brush man. I'm sure my mom had a couple of these in the desk drawer, they were probably a freebie. Who gets so much mail these days that they need a letter opener?

There was also a little wooden ruler from the American Pencil Company, and seven feet of Corticelli ribbon. (There was also quite a stash of thread, seam binding, elastic, snaps, etc., that were all made in either Canada or the USA. Most of those manufacturers are long gone, or relocated to overseas. I'll do another post featuring some of the wonderful old labels.)
But the sweetest find of all was this little handmade etui, just about 2 inches wide.
Doesn't it just make your heart go pit-a-pat?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sunshine and Shadow

Yes, I am still working away on the hamster wheel. No, it won't be ready for the show on Friday. Oh well. I do really love it, and the snake is going to be totally awesome when it's done!
I have been stitching away out on the deck, where the sunlight reminds me of the dimensionality of thread. Look at the shadow this casts!
Whereas in shade, it is totally flat.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Tale of Two Tapestries

My Mom's friend Edith died recently. She was able to live in her own home, here on Gabriola, almost up to the very end, surrounded by the art and books she loved. Every piece had a story - Edith would recount how she came by each artwork in her delightful Dutch accent, filling in all kinds of details about the circumstances in which she knew the artist, even sometimes giving a little kiss to the work.

Her bedroom was filled with textiles - a Chilean arpillera, some of her own excellent cross-stitch pieces, her daughter Saskia's tapestry weaving from art school, and, I am honored to say, an embroidery of my own. She bought it about five months before she passed away, and I went through a bit of a dilemma in selling it to her. What kind of person sells work to someone with a terminal illness? Would her family think I was taking advantage of her? Did she really like the piece, or was just buying it as a kindness to my mother (who was asking herself similar questions)? Mom and I tried to put Edith off, but she persisted. She said she intended to leave it in her will to her daughter, an artist who now lived in France, but in the meantime she wanted to enjoy looking at it as she lay in bed. So be it.

I gave her a low price, and when I went to deliver it she didn't have all the money, but I said it didn't matter. It was an awkward transaction on my part - I felt guilty taking any money at all, but knew that it was one of  Edith's great joys to support the arts. When I went to visit her later she made a point of showing me where she had hung the piece, and emphasized how much she appreciated the words, which cryptically reference The Fates, who spin, measure, and cut the thread that is our life. The quote in the centre comes from an essay on needlework in the mid-20th century, wondering why women persisted in creating objects of beauty by hand, when there was no longer the necessity to do so. It is telling of Edith's character that she would choose to contemplate these words at the end of her life.
Heather Cameron,The Fates, 2008 Hand embroidery, cotton on linen, silk brocade
Now, yesterday I was making my usual Saturday morning visit to GIRO, the island recycling depot and thrift store. What did I see immediately upon entering but the weaving that had hung on the wall above Edith's bed, the work of her daughter Saskia?! I seized it up as if whisking it out of harm's way. All my previous thoughts about how treasures end up in the dustbin leapt into my mind. Had someone clearing out Edith's apartment decided this weaving was no longer important? Maybe they didn't care about it, or had never liked it, or thought it might make someone else happier than it made them. Maybe it brought back painful memories. Maybe it didn't fit into their decor. Who knows?
Never mind - the tapestry had made its mysterious way to GIRO, and it was now calling my name loud and clear. I would have paid anything, but, and it kills me to say this, it was priced at two dollars. My heart pounding, I gave the cashier a toonie and raced with it back to the car. It was a completely different feeling than if I had just scored a great find at a yard sale. This was the exhilaration of a successful rescue. I felt like a pearl diver, rising up from the depths with treasure in my grasp.

Saskia's tapestry has a meaning for me much greater than the skill of the weaving, or the pleasing Warhol-esque design. It connects me to, and is rooted in, the life of a person, a lovely person who was kind and thoughtful to me, for no other reason than I was the daughter of her friend. It was meaningful for her, I presume, because it came from the hands and heart of her own daughter, who now lived far away.

It seems fitting that Saskia and I now each have a piece of each other's art. Two works that once hung on adjacent walls are now on opposite sides of the world, linked in memory and spirit. It's a story that Edith would love.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bumblebees, Honeysuckle and a Field Trip

The honeysuckle next to my deck is blooming. I can't believe how lucky I am to be able to sit and stitch outside with the sweet scent of honeysuckle wafting past.
Even on a cloudy day, the nectar is flowing. I missed a shot of the hummingbird who was feeding, but caught this bumblebee diving headfirst into the blossom. See how much pollen she has on her legs!
And I didn't go to the opening, but dear Jean Betts went and caught a few shots. She reported that several groups of children were there - and it was quite crowded. Above, my piece is on the table next to a very handsome looking button blanket backpack.
Such a diversity of approaches! I look forward to seeing the show a bit later this summer.
If you happen to be in Victoria, B.C. you can catch the exhibit at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia, on until September 8th.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Backpack Video is Up

The Boro Backpack Video Click here to link!
James laboured long and hard acquiring new skills. And dealt with somewhat primitive technology with aplomb. Here it is, a video shot on a little digital camera, edited with IMovie.
I have to give my great and heartfelt thanks to James, who shot the video and figured out all the logistics.

The Web of Connections

Last week, I went to Victoria to deliver the backpack to the museum, and first dropped in to visit Jean Betts and her beautiful studio. I got to see her incredible kesa, which began with a few scraps of cloth that I sent her. Check out her blog, One Small Stitch, to see more of the kesa's story.
Jean and I thought we would try an experiment: a tandem posting. We'll both write about the visit and post on our respective blogs, so that you will get two different perspectives on a shared event.

I first met Jean about three years ago, via her blog. Even thought I have been delighted to make "blog friends" all over the world, finding someone in my neck of the woods who was into many of the same things as me felt quite special. When Jean offered a workshop on dorset button making at Victoria's Craigdarroch Castle, I made the trip across the water to meet her in person. The workshop was fun, Jean's a super teacher - knowledgeable, lively and, well, look at that great smile!

It was only a matter of time before my friend Jean-Pierre (the one who lives in Japan) became caught in the net. First, he sent me a couple of skeins of an unusual silk yarn, which languished in my stash until I passed them on to Jean, who wove them up into a beautiful silk scarf, which came back to me in a trade. Then Jean-Pierre sent me a box of bits of Japanese fabric, a gift from his friend Mrs. Mandu. (I know, the circle keeps expanding.) I used some of the cloth in the backpack, but there were a couple of standout pieces of vintage cloth that I knew Jean would be able to do something beautiful with, so I sent them along to her. Now they are part of her kesa.

I am hoping that next time J.-P. comes back to Canada to visit his dad in Saanichton, he will be able to meet Jean as well. I think it would be such a pleasure for my two friends to meet, and I know that Jean serves a lovely cup of green tea. We can all talk about art, and Japan, and beautiful cloth. And maybe plan a trip to visit Mrs. Mandu, and her friend Fujii-san... . one day the whole world will be encircled with our web of connections.

Okay, now go visit Jean at One Small Stitch!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Where It All Began

I started stitching the above sampler when I was about twelve - I was a Girl Guide, going for my badge in embroidery. I remember buying the kit mail order through a little ad in the back pages of one of my mom's magazines. It was a stamped piece of linen (off grain as I see now) and I somehow taught myself how to do the cross stitch, the lazy daisy, the buttonhole, and French knots! I don't remember anyone showing me, I may have learned from a book, although there is a vague memory of a printed instruction sheet that came with the kit.

Like most twelve-year-olds, follow-through was not my strong suit. I got about half done, then the cloth ended up a drawer of other misbegotten projects. I quit Guides and moved on to other things as I entered junior high. I was a good student, "a pleaser", cautioned by my father who taught in the senior school that I was not to be an embarrassment to him. I was a teenager now, and eager to fit in, be accepted. I made what were, in retrospect, some serious errors in judgement, to put it mildly.

Long story short, I ended up one Friday night going to a dance in town with my best friend, Diane, and she had a mickey of rum that she had someone older buy for her. We proceeded to get drunk in very short order, got separated, and I ended up in the back of a van in the Safeway parking lot where a number of older boys proceeded to have their way with me. The cops arrived, chased off the boys, and took me in to the police station. They called my father to come pick me up, taking the opportunity while waiting for him to arrive to show me some photos of what could happen to "girls like me".

Yeah, I know, crap story, but it happens all the time, and worse. Thank god there weren't cell phones and the internet back then, but the news got around the small, conservative town I lived in pretty darn quick. I arrived at school Monday morning to whispers in the hallway, knowing glances, people I didn't even know asking me if it was true. I felt such shame, but oddly triumphant that I was no longer the boring good girl. My pleasure in my new notoriety was short-lived, as soon my friend was transferred to a different school and nobody else was interested in hanging out with me. I was, of course, permanently grounded.

And so it was on one of those endless lonely weekends that I found that forgotten sampler in my drawer. I took it up again, and completed it. You might notice that the light green block of cross stitch at the bottom has two different shades in it. The skein that came with the kit had disappeared somewhere and I remember going to Stedman's to get another and being boggled with all the choices. I think that was the first time I realized how many shades of green there were.

Looking at the sampler now, all I see are the flaws, but at the time I finished it, it received great approval. My mom framed it and hug it in the upstairs hallway. I started getting more into art, and found it was something I was good at. In Grade 11, I took Applied Design in Textiles, and started designing and stitching my own wall hangings. Embroidery had shifted from being a means to show how quiet, diligent and obedient I could be to a means of expression.

Ever the dilettante, I took up other media, studied photography and graphic design, worked in advertising and publishing, and eventually went back to art school where I majored in sculpture and video, and encountered feminism. Always, somewhere in the background, was sewing, which was considered a bit quaint by my cool Toronto friends. But the pleasure and solace of stitching endured, and nurtured my soul, and grew to become something where I could lose myself and find myself again.

So here am, finally recounting my secret, shameful story in this, my 700th blog post. I woke up early this morning with the feeling that I should tell it. Why now? Who cares what happened 40 years ago? I have cried over the recent stories of Amanda Todd and Rehteah Parsons, so sad that the same shit keeps happening to young women, only now on a much more public and tragic scale.

I might say that stitching saved me, and maybe it has, many times over. But really, it was the kindness and caring of multitudes of people over the years: professionals, friends, and family. At the time, stitching was just a way of showing that I was a good person. In the long term, it has brought me redemption and atonement and possibly the positive regard of others. A psychologist might say it is evidence of my neurosis, as is this blog. Ultimately, being able to share and connect with others, with all of you, is what keeps me writing and making art. Thank you, 700 times over.

I know my stitches.

P.S. I was going to disallow comments on this one, because I am fine, this has all been dredged up for years, and I'm not needing comfort - (no more than usual anyway!) But then I thought if feelings were aroused in people because of anything I've said, this could be a space to share those feelings so feel free.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Going Around in Circles

Two of the critters from the hamster wheel are finished. Both the mole and the yellow squirrel look downright maniacal. Interestingly, in his Histoire Naturelle Louis Nicolas deems to have a great affection for the little creatures, especially the chipmunk. He even trained a pair of them to eat out of his hand, and says that he brought them back to France and presented them to the King himself.
I have put myself on a schedule to finish the whole piece by June 25 so it can be included in a show of local artists, with a theme of "The Wheel". That means a couple of other projects are a little bit behind schedule, but the long days mean I can get lots of work done.

And on the housing front, it looks like the circle of yearly moves has become more of a sphere. A geodesic dome, in fact.
It's a very funky little hobbit house in the woods. We will move in a couple of months. It is amazingly spacious and bright inside, and according to the landlord, doesn't leak! (Domes are notorious for leaking, a bad thing when one lives in a rain forest.)
It has two levels and wraparound decks.
And a nice backyard with the original "hippy killer" stove. What a hoot!