Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Politically Incorrect Petit Point

Today I bought a pair of beautifully stitched, matted and framed petit points, identical to the pattern above. I bought them because every time I passed them on the wall of the thrift store, I cringed. I bought them to get them out of circulation, not because I have a secret collection of cringe-worthy needlepoint stashed away in the vault.

What do such images mean in today's world? Just yesterday, Canada's Miss Universe contestant was raked over the coals for wearing a dress reminiscent of a totem pole. The Truth and Reconciliation report was recently tabled, prompting hopeful talk for the beginning of a new phase in the relationship between First Nations and non-indigenous Canadians. In conjunction, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has unveiled a powerful installation by artist Carey Newman. (And, thank you Jean-Pierre for suggesting this, Kent Monkman certainly says it all better than I ever could.)

The above petit points are stereotypes at best, reprehensibly racist at worst. How can one make sense of them? After all, they exemplify one of the things I am always going on about, the skillful labour of the human hand. What baffles me is how someone could work so long and carefully with such imagery. The patterns date from the 1980's, not that long ago, and certainly a time when they would have been considered kitsch, if not recognised as politically suspect.

It is possible, I suppose, but highly unlikely, that they were stitched by a First Nations person. Petit point is a technique of white Europeans, a showpiece to beautify the home and a sign of refined cultural sensibilities. Maybe the lady who stitched it had a fondness for indigenous people and sought to honour them with her time and stitching talents, but I find that hard to swallow. Even if her intentions were well-meaning, how could she reconcile the cartoonish imagery with the real people she knew? Most likely she just didn't think it through. It's not like embroidery was considered a moral or intellectual undertaking at that time.

I also have a pair of petit point images of a little Dutch girl and boy, and a matched set of 18th C. French aristocrats, all gleaned from thrift stores. It's a trope of popular needlework patterns, the male and female figures, probably going back to Adam and Eve. They are easy to make fun of, and lend themselves readily to subversive intervention. But the Dutch and French figures aren't as weighed down with such political baggage.

What the heck am I going to do with my new acquisitions? My urge is to deconstruct them somehow, to respond to and transform their meaning. But, as a white person, do I have the right to say anything at all? Maybe they require a ritual burning, or would that be censorship, an unwillingness to acknowledge the ugliness that lurks beneath the surface of even the most innocuous seeming objects? Right now, I'm struggling with their very existence. Does that seem all too academic and PC to you?

It's hardly a subject for the holiday season, I suppose. Or maybe it's an apt one for a time when we're all talking about peace, goodwill to all, and new beginnings.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Word for the New Year

At our "Monday Matters" rug hooking get together yesterday, we celebrated the winter solstice and shared our "words" for the new year. This practise seems to be fairly popular these days, and I can see how choosing an apt word sets an intention, or a direction and can lead to a fruitful outcome. I usually throw myself to the Fates, and my life probably reflects that!

About mid-way through 2015 I realized that a word had chosen me, and that word was path. It's a pretty obvious word - after all, everyone is on a path, right? ( I wrote about it here.) My revelation was that there are always paths in front of us, and they are created by others who have gone before. (Just as great minds might create paths of philosophy or art, deer in the forest create paths down the hill to the water.) It was a comforting thing to realize.

The other day, while transferring the Louis Nicolas map of the Mississippi to linen, I noticed there were two dotted lines connecting rivers over some distance of land. These were labelled chemin du retour and chemin de l'allee, which translates as "return path" and "outward path". (Thank you Blandina for correcting me!) More paths! I take it as a sign I'm on the right one.
I've been spending a lot of time with this map, wanting to understand it, not simply transcribe it. Interestingly, it appears to be a fairly close copy of the map drawn by Louis Jolliet on his 1673 trip down the Mississippi to find its mouth. Accompanied by Jesuit  Jacques Marquette, they made it as far as the Arkansas River before encountering indigenous people with muskets, indicating there had been contact with the Spanish, who the French wanted to avoid. The expedition turned back at that point, and Jolliet made it all the way home to Quebec where he could present his map (with great fanfare) to the Jesuit administration. And guess who else was likely in Quebec at that time? Our dear Louis Nicolas, who must have been very excited about this epic journey.
And so, he drew a version of the map, in his own inimitable style. The mouth of the rattlesnake and the many toothed fish parallel the mouth of the Mississippi. (Coincidence? I don't think so. Undertaking a journey into previously unmapped territory might have felt terrifying.)
Which is kind of a roundabout way of telling you what my word is for 2016. Chemin. French for path. I think it's apropos, as Canada is a bilingual country. I may be a dunderheaded anglophone, and a westerner to boot, but somehow I am being beckoned a la Francais. Who knows where it will all lead?

PS: The first order of business is to figure out how to get the French keyboard to work. It bugs me that I don't know how to put accents in the proper places. Is that nerdy or what?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ode to a Lost Art

Q: What's that weird thing on the left?
A: A Letraset burnisher! Remember Letraset?
 I finally got the vintage drafting table I bought last summer cleared off and sat down to do some cutting and splicing of the artwork for my next Codex Canadensis piece. The feeling of being at the board was so familiar and comfortable, it was amazing to realize that the last time I worked as a graphic artist was back in 1988. The olden days, I call them, before the whole industry went digital. For a fairly accurate and amusing account of what that work entailed, check out this link to Design Before Computers Ruled the Universe. I didn't exactly foresee that my trade would soon be obsolete, but the clues were there, and I chose to return to school to study "real art". (Yes, a brilliant career move, I know! I've never earned more than I did at that last graphic design job.)

If I had stayed in graphic art, I would have been working on a computer in short order. I would have hated it. One of the things that I loved about doing paste up the old fashioned way was the skill involved. I had mastered my tools, and although the content of what I was assembling was often of dubious value (I was putting together ads and flyers for a large department store chain), I was confident in my skills and the controlled physicality of the work was very pleasing to me.

And that feeling came right back the other night as I wielded my X-Acto knife and straight edge, cutting and splicing a patchwork of photocopies together. My eyes, wrist and knife worked in unison. I could feel by the way the knife sliced through the paper if the blade was getting the tiniest bit dull. I realized it's all about tactile sensation. I remembered how I could tell by the delicate pull of the ink if my Rapidograph had a clog or was running low, and how I could lay down Letratape with just the right amount of tension so it would sit on the board perfectly straight, without stretching.

There is no demand for such skill these days. Even though there has been a revival of letterpress and other antiquated processes of the printing trade, I can't imagine anyone continuing to do paste up the old fashioned way. The camera-ready artwork I prepared was called a "mechanical", and in retrospect I can see that I was part of a machine. The same end result can now be achieved by a silicon chip.

And, really, it was not often creative work. That would mostly be done by the art director or designer. Some of my freelance jobs allowed me to come up with concepts and layouts for which I would also order the type and do the paste up. But the people I worked with were usually smart, funny and interesting, the pace was fast, and it was satisfying to hold the finished product in my hands.

Although the trade may be obsolete, the skills have not been entirely lost. I notice a similar sensation of hand and tool moving as one when embroidering a piece of cloth - I can feel the intersection of warp and weft with the tip of my needle and dive the thread through the opening in one smooth gesture. When cutting cloth, I can feel if my shears are running true along the grainline. It is a kind of communion with the material that requires patience, attention and practice to become second nature.
Above is Louis Nicolas's map of the Mississippi that I am re-creating for an Arts Council fundraiser. Twice the size of the original, the images top and bottom will be embroidered, as well as the rivers and coastlines. I will render the lettering in ink as a concession to time, accuracy and the inevitability probability that it will be auctioned for a price much lower than I would normally ask.

But then again, it's a chance to re-awaken some more of my old graphic skills. An art director once told me he only hired people who could render 4 point type with a brush! Those were the days...

Monday, December 07, 2015

Fringe It Is

A Skin for a Skin, 2015 48"(w) 60"(l) Hand embroidery on linen; wool, wood, leather
Yes, I went with the fringe. I am very happy with it, for a few reasons. First, and most obvious, is that the fringe is leather - skin. Even though I have been using wool thread, an animal product, for the embroidery, leather is directly connected to my subject. The piece is full of references to the fur trade of early Canada, and the title is a translation of the Hudson's Bay Company motto, "Pro Pelle Cutem". Leather gives the cloth a much more visceral quality. The fringe visually balances the piece. And the fringe moves beautifully in the breeze, as you can see in the video below.
My search for leather was not easy. I couldn't find any leather suppliers on Vancouver Island, and didn't want to do mail order. There is a leather bag maker on Gabriola, who would have sold me a piece, but she was away on vacation. Then, during my volunteer shift at the Gabe Shop, I noticed a small, very fitted, leather jacket on the rack. Perfect! There was enough material in the sleeves to splice together the needed length, and I cut the strips with my rotary cutter, leaving a half inch or so at the top edge to hold it together. I machined  the leather to a length of twill tape, and hand stitched it onto the back of the hem.
It was such a grey day flash had to be used when taking these pictures. The colours go together much better than it would appear.
My only concern now is the drape of the piece. I interlined it with cotton flannel, which gives heft, but it seems like the linen wants to stretch more than the cotton. I'm hoping gravity will even it out over time, but I may have to go back in there and adjust the interlining.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Downton Abbey Was Never Like This

I should have taken a before picture. I found her in the back room of the thrift store, with her legs unattached, wearing a limp, faded Little House on the Prairie get up. Her hair was frazzled and matted in the way nylon doll's hair gets. I borrowed her as a mannequin for a photoshoot of that little pink dress, only to not use her. Those pale staring eyes were just a little too Village of the Damned.

Somewhere along the way I got it into my head to dress her up for the Christmas display at Ye Olde Thrift Shoppe. There was never any question as to what the outfit would be. A Downton Abbey maid's costume, of course! It would be easy and fun I told myself. (Cue Bernard Hermann on the ominous background music.) The wise amongst you are chuckling already, I am sure.

My plan was to use up some old linen hankies for the undies and apron, make a simple black dress, and voila! A couple of hours max, right?
The background music swells to a thundering climax as we find Heather in the midst of an impossibly messy kitchen, sewing the wrong sides to the right sides as bits of black silk waft through the air on the blasting current from the heat pump just over the sewing table. The dogs swarm around her feet, demanding walks and dinner. Her cup of tea is balanced precariously on a stack of books at the end of the ironing board. She trips over the open boxes of sewing notions on the floor as she staggers, bladder clenched, to the bathroom, having avoided the call of nature far too long, the making of tiny apron strings having taken precedence.
Yes, I grossly underestimated both the amount of time and the ingenuity required to make quarter scale clothing. When I was a little girl, I used to wake up in the morning to find Barbie outfits at the foot of my bed, that my mom had apparently sewn during the night. I guess somewhere inside I still thought that doll clothes were as effortless (on my part, at least - my dear mom never let on how she must have laboured).
Anyway, the wee ma'amselle is almost finished, and I have a whole new respect for doll makers. I made bloomers out of a handkerchief, the little corset (with stays!) from a linen napkin, the dress from a remnant of gorgeous black silk, the apron from an old linen shirt. The stockings were nylon knee-highs straight out of the package, no alteration necessary. I pinned up her hair into a tidy Juliet roll. Now I just have to find some shoes for her. There's got to be a free online pattern for size 0 lace up granny boots!
I find it rather ironic that I created a miniature, non-functioning maid as the space around me got messier and messier. A psychologist might suggest that I was projecting my fantasies onto a transitional object, or simply avoiding reality. Perhaps I should hot glue her feet to a Roomba and set her off every morning to vacuum the house. No, too many stairs. I'll donate her back to the thrift store for the Christmas display as planned, and maybe she can be the prize in a fundraising raffle. Hopefully she'll find herself a new position in a lovely tidy home where she can lounge decoratively, and unironically.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Et Voila!

A Skin for a Skin (2015) hand embroidery, wool on linen 48"(w) 54(h)
And here it is! Four hundred and fifty hours later, I think I'm done. As Ursula Le Guin says in Steering the Craft:
The judgement that a work is complete- this is what I meant to do, and I stand by it - can only come from the writer (artist), and it can be made rightly only by a writer (artist) who has learned to read her own work.
Well, maybe I'm not QUITE done. I'm debating about whether to add fringe. (I can just imagine you recoiling in horror, "No! Not fringe!") I know, it's probably too home ec-y. Just that gonfalons - the ceremonial banners that I have taken the shape from - usually have fringe, and I think the right fringe would add some weight to the bottom edge, which maybe it needs. I photographed it outside, and it does catch the breeze. I could always use drapery weights in the hem, I suppose. Comments yea or nay much appreciated.
 Here's a couple of details. I re-embroidered the treeline with coral stitch, which adds more heft and I think works well in the overall design.
The left elk and fox sharing a perpetual moment. I decided I wasn't too bothered by the unsupported hind foot of the fox, so it is unchanged.

The wooden pole from which the banner hangs was a dead balsam fir tree in my yard this morning. Yesterday I found what I thought was the perfect branch, a windfall alder, but once I peeled the bark off I discovered rot in several places. The dogs and I looked for another suitable branch on our walk this morning, but couldn't find anything. (Yes, I am that crazy lady who talks to the air, saying "No, that one's too curved, that one's too thick, that one looks rotten.") Then we returned home and I saw the perfect straight narrow stem over by the fence, so I got my saw and cut it down. It had already died so don't worry, no trees were harmed in the making of art.

Now I just need a place to show this off! I'm still trying to get an exhibition.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Still Here

I know it must seem like I haven't been doing anything this month, but actually, behind the scenes, lots is going on. One rather remarkable experience has been facilitating a memory cloth workshop here on the island. We started with a day-long session on November 1, and then met weekly for an afternoon of stitching and sharing. I'm not going to show you pictures of what was made, since a key element of the group was that it was private, just for the six of us. Trust me that the magic dynamic of a group of creative and supportive women resulted in some powerful and inspiring work. I owe huge thanks to Beverly Gordon for offering the wonderful Memory Cloth workshop at Maiwa that I was so privileged to attend back in September. I took what I learned from her, and added my own experience as an art therapist, brought in boxes of cloth and needlework supplies and books and settled in to the Twin Beaches Gallery for a month, which was a lovely space to work in. Crossing my fingers that we'll have another round of workshops in the New Year.

And yes, the latest Codex Canadensis piece is finished and I'm just hand stitching on the backing. Pictures coming very soon. I have gone with a different way of presenting the work that I'm quite excited about.

And, last but not least, what does one do when the house hasn't been cleaned in a month and there are stacks of fabric everywhere, and boxes of apples waiting to be turned into sauce? Make a Downton Abbey maid's costume for a doll, of course. Uh huh. Who knew there could be such fun in making little bloomers out of linen handkerchiefs and small corsets for a body that isn't going to have a waist no matter how tightly I lace. I'm even thinking of making my own wee high button shoes.

The doll will be going for a fund raiser. My craziness is all for a good cause. (I keep telling myself.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Out of the Hoop

Work in Progress, 2015, 54x66 inches
There's still much to be done, but here is the first glimpse of the whole image. I'm not sure yet just how I will tweak it - that will require a good amount of sitting and gazing upon the piece. I'm overall pretty happy with it but I'm not sure about the tree line - maybe it needs more emphasis. I might also adjust the top of the Cap of Maintenance so the fox will be a little more comfortable, and maybe do a little more work on the scroll.

Last week I was off following a wild thread about the sublime, as I feel it applies to Louis Nicolas's work. Sublimity is the mixture of fear and fascination that one experiences in the presence of the divine. In the words of Edmund Burke, a philosopher who was 100 years after Louis Nicolas, the sublime is "dark, uncertain and confused". The concept is found in almost all cultures. The Zuni saw it as a relationship between beauty and danger. Another philosopher, Rudolf Otto  compared the sublime with his newly coined concept of the numinous. The numinous comprises terror, Tremendum, but also a strange fascination, Fascinans.

I'm still playing with this idea. We'll see where it leads. And I'm still undecided as to how the piece will be shown. I could stretch it as I have done previous works in the series, or I might mount it on a poleas a gonfalon. (A medival form of displaying a banner. I had no idea there was a name for such a thing. Wikipedia is so smart!)

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Bit of a Potluck

Map shawl, woollen embroidery, Kashmir
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Apparently, the Fabric of India show at the V&A Museum is incredible. Even the folks at Maiwa, who are used to being surrounded by fantastic cloth from the sub-continent, seemed impressed. Ah, such stuff as dreams are made on. I'll hardly be getting there anytime soon. Although, I hear there is a worthy volume that accompanies the exhibition. Santa, anyone?

I've spent the last several weeks on my own. It's been great. What is really unusual for me is how I am suddenly taking more of an interest in how the house looks. I've lived here for over a year without caring particularly about what's on the wall or whether the pillows match the chesterfield. Not that I have taken any action, mind you, I still have half an antler to go on the elk before I can start anything else. But I am thinking about fixing up the place a bit.

I once had an apartment that I had decorated as if Great-Aunt Margie lived there. I loved its "little old lady" charm. I think I might revisit that - get the chenille bedspread and lace curtains out of the cedar chest, start using the floral pillowcases again. Maybe even start drinking my tea out of proper teacups.

I've got a whole new take on life. And today our surprisingly impressive new prime minister announced a moratorium on oil tanker traffic on the North coast of B.C. I'm doing a happy dance in my living room!
seen on Tiggy's Rawlins's blog
And to top off the day, a little embroiderer's humour.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Closing in on the Finish

Almost there, just an antler and the rest of the head to go.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Speaking Truth, with Buttons

I just read about this exhibition and it looks quite incredible. If you're in Vancouver over the next five weeks, do pop into the Gallery Gachet, 88 E Cordova St, and have a look.

Image and following text  from Gallery Gachet's website

The Talking Cloth: Speaking Truth

Opening – Saturday November 7th 6-9pm
Sunday, November 8th – December 13th, 2015

WISH Drop-In Centre Society operates an overnight drop-in for women in street-level survival sex trade. In addition to a broad diversity of programmes, WISH also offers an Aboriginal Women’s Button Group. Having developed considerable pride in their cultural textiles, the women involved in the Aboriginal Women’s Button Group expressed interest in finding a way to display their art, explain what it has meant for them, and to be able to show a different side of themselves and their community.

The whole Gallery Gachet website is worth a browse. They are one of the bright lights of hope on the Downtown Eastside, traditionally the poorest postal code in Canada. Check out this powerfully expressed posting from Bruce Ray, speaking out against cuts to the gallery's funding.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Because Some Days Are About More Than Stitching...

Justin can even do a pretty solid tree pose. Photograph by: Sean Kilpatrick , THE CANADIAN PRESS
I just wanted to share this article about today's swearing in of Canada's new prime minister and his cabinet. Even though I didn't vote Liberal (Canada's moderate middle-of-the-road party), I am feeling happy and even hopeful. Justin Trudeau's cabinet has gender parity, racial diversity, people with disabilities and most importantly, lots of intelligence. We have an aboriginal woman as Attorney-General! We have an astronaut as minister of Transportation! The name of the Environment Ministry has been changed to Environment and Climate Change! A 30-year-old woman who came to Canada as a refugee from Afghanistan is the minister of Democratic Institutions! Once again, here's the link.

Such a refreshing change from the previous government's string of over-fed white guys in shirts that appeared too tight.

Elizabeth May
Sheila Malcolmson

am also very happy about the election of Sheila Malcolmson
as my local MP and the re-election of Elizabeth May as MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands. Wonderful representation for the BC coast.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Oh Joy! Oh Joy!

Erica Wilson in 2005. NY Times photo
I found an almost full skein of old stock Paternayan 460 stuck in between the pages of my Erica Wilson Embroidery Stitches book! Dear Erica, helping stitchers out from beyond this earthly realm. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Still Here

Well, that was a painfully long absence. Not, I'm sure, for any readers I may still have left, but for my lazy, procrastinating, and very sorry self. There are a few mitigating factors, such as working extra shifts, having stomach flu, visiting relatives and such, but I have blogged through worse. I have no excuse.
But, thankfully, I do have a few things to share. Last Friday, I attended Barb Mortell's Improv Quilting Class at the Denman Island Creative Threads Conspiracy. What fun!

 It was held at the Denman Community Hall, a great big space that was divided up beautifully by free-standing quilt hangers. The organizers had hung fabric bunting, too, so the whole place looked welcoming and festive. There were, amazingly, six workshops going on at the same time, and it made for a great feeling of energy.
The Round Robin approach (based on Sherri Lynn Wood's concept) to creating our quilt tops was fun, but we were all very tired by the time 3:00 rolled around. Each of the eleven participants had brought a basket of cloth to work with, and began by creating their own first block. Then, the block would be passed to the next person, along with the basket of fabric. We were to engage with the block, and respond to it as we would if it was a conversation, only with fabric instead of words.

This process continued until we had all worked on each other's quilt top. It was quite exciting to see the results.

One the way home, it was interesting how I started seeing quilt tops in everything, even the gate to the ferry ramp.
And I haven't forgotten about the Codex Canadensis embroidery. I have half an elk to do and I will be almost finished. Wouldn't you know it though, I ran out of yarn. I have been using Paternayan crewel yarn in one particular colour (shade 460). As I wrote about a while back, Paternayan is now being produced by a new company, with the same master dyer, and I didn't anticipate any significant difference. But the new batch arrived and I hate to say it - there is a noticeable difference. The yarn is almost half the thickness of the old stock. It may be due to the kind of fleece they are using - a bit softer, finer - but combine that with a different dye lot and whoa! The yarn is still very nice, and totally usable for other projects, but I can't have half an elk looking kind of weird.
Of course, it's the kind of difference I am very sensitive to since I have gone through at least 40 skeins since starting. My fingers told me there was something off before my eyes did. It could be that nobody else would notice. But I am the captain of this particular ship and IT MUST BE DONE RIGHT. So now I am using a mixture of old stock shade 470 (slightly redder than 460) and one, sometimes two strands of the new stock 460 in an attempt to get the same overall colour and texture. Urrghh.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wet Coast Mandala


Studio Tour Flyby

Here's the set up before we opened. We had almost 100 visitors a day for three days. I'm still exhausted. When one works quietly with only the dog for company it's a bit of a shock to suddenly interact with so many people. But I had very positive conversations and people seemed interested in my work.
 Siki McIvor very graciously asked me to share space in her home studio. Siki is an amazing felter and dyer.
 She had a table of gorgeous reversible fingerless gloves and gauntlets. Check out her website for more lovelies.
 She had a delightful assortment of hats, scarves, tops and even a seamless felted jacket. Many of which sold.

Words fail me. Catch ya next week!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Mercedes of Measuring Tapes

So, I confess to having been caught up in the thrill of the Maiwa workshop and the very generous 20% discount coupon included with the registration. Even though my shelves and bins are bursting with supplies, I thought maybe there might be a few things to stock up on. Off to Maiwa Supply I went.

Oops. They are now carrying the Merchant and Mills line of notions. Pure fetish objects for the textile enthusiast. I was able to convince my swooning brain that I really didn't need a $60 leather needle case, no matter how understatedly elegant. But I couldn't resist the $10 measuring tape. Goodness knows, I have a house full of measuring tapes and can I ever manage to find one when I need it?

After I returned home and the fever dream had worn off, I looked inside my shopping bag to inspect the measuring tape. It is indeed the finest measuring tape I have ever laid hands on. That being said, as long as it's accurate, what's the real difference between the M&M and the 99 cent Fabricland model ?

Well, it's made in Germany rather than China. The metal tabs on the ends are particularly nicely finished. The tape is a little bit wider than the discount version, but oddly, it's not quite as long (150 centimeters or 59 inches as opposed to 152 and 60). Both are made of heavy plasticized material. Accuracy? Identical. I like the white on black look of the M&M Imperial side, but I can't say it's any easier to read than the Chinese cheapo.

Conclusion? I feel a little sheepish for having been seduced into such an extravagance, but I suppose there are worse impulse buys. And you can bet I'll be measuring the bejesus out of things to make sure I get my money's worth. That is, as long as it doesn't migrate to the mysterious drawer where all the other measuring tapes live.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Beware the Offhand Comment

Dip, Dip and Swing (2015) embroidery on birch bark, mixed media
So, I dropped off the above piece to the Hive Emporium as my token artwork for "Tour Central". All the artists on the tour are supposed to put in one piece so potential studio visitors can plan their rounds. I have shown this work before, and wrote about it a few months back. I admit it's a bit enigmatic without the artist statement, but the last thing I expected the curator to say was, "How sweet."

I could have whacked her.

#1 on the list of things not to say to artists should be "How sweet." It's even worse than "Interesting."

If I had my wits about me I should have responded, "Well, no, actually it's about the way the English and the French exploited the First Nations people to make money for themselves."

But, I was polite (it's still the Canadian way, in spite of that ass of a Prime Minister we are burdened with for the next sixteen days). I just went, "Mmmnn" and forgave the curator on the grounds that she was probably  overworked and overwhelmed at having to fit 59 pieces of art into 40 feet of wall space.

And maybe if the art doesn't speak for itself, it's the problem of the artist. I usually err on the side of the obscure. Maybe this should be a lesson to me.


As if.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Pink is Just a Colour

I wasn't waiting to post just so the anticipation would grow. You can all exhale now and be reassured that I have just been busy trying to get ready for the studio tour. My Maiwa workshop report may not be the showstopper I would love to give you, but I have the feeling that the slow and subtle approach is better anyway.

First off in the Memory Cloth workshop, Beverly Gordon gave us a lovely welcome and began with an invocation, a blessing that created a nurturing, safe space for us to work in. It felt very warm and genuine, and as I'm not surprised as I look back on those two days and I realize that of all the Maiwa workshops I have taken, this was the only one I felt no competition or defensiveness with or from the other participants. (That may sound a little weird, but in the past I have felt like a token country mouse amongst the apparently wealthy, well-traveled matrons of exclusive suburbs. But that's another post.) ( And I have to clarify here, I'm sure that attitude was much more of a problem from my end than theirs.) It was a lovely, varied group of women with a high-level range of skill and experience.

Beverly showed lots of slides of the many ways people from around the world have commemorated, celebrated or found catharsis in expressing themselves through cloth. From the South African Truth and Reconciliation embroideries to the arpilleras of Chile to contemporary "Passage Quilt" making workshops led by Sherri Lynn Wood, people have found healing in stitching. It was an inspiring slide show. Beverly then had us do a few writing exercises to help get the vivid details of memories flowing.

It wasn't until after lunch that we finally got to work. Beverly and Maiwa had supplied all the materials and tools we would need. Some of us had brought materials of our own to work with as well. I had brought a little handknit dress that my mother alleged I had worn as a one or two year-old. I have no memories of wearing the dress and there aren't any old photos to back up her story, but it has resided in my cedar chest for the last twenty-odd years,  ever since she had been going through some things and decided the dress could live with me.
Sorry, this story is getting long. I'll cut to the chase. Turns out that when I had been visiting Val Galvin at her rug hooking studio last June, I saw this list of "97 Ways to Encourage and Praise a Child" on her fridge door. Val was retiring from twenty-five years as a daycare provider and I could just imagine how much her kids would have loved her relaxed, open-hearted, cheery way of being. At the same time my heart sank a little when I though how much I would have loved to have heard a little more positive encouragement as a child. It just wasn't done back then. Too much praise would spoil a child, give them a big head, and make them think too well of themselves. No one had ever heard of such a thing as self-esteem, and if you had a time machine to go back and explain the concept to them, there would be nothing but derision.

So in the days before the workshop I took the little pink dress out of the cedar chest and printed out the photo of Val's list that my friend Roberta snapped for me. I thought I might embroider some of the positive words on the dress in an offering of love and support for the wee Heather still inside me.
It went pretty much as planned. I decided on the shiny perle cotton in a variety of lipstick-y colours as I thought it would contrast well with the slightly felted pale pink wool. What surprised me was the memory of the Raggedy Anne doll my mom had made me that had a red heart over her chest, embroidered with the words, "I Love You". I needle felted a red heart and appliqued it over the bodice of the dress.
I also felt rather sheepish embroidering the positive words, reminded of Stuart Smalley's affirmations on SNL. Wasn't this all a little silly? I noticed myself thinking, "I can't embroider "Super Star!" Maybe I will say something more neutral like, "How imaginative", without an exclamation mark. Then I felt a little sad, thinking, "My God, if I can't even stand up for myself! Who the hell else is going to?"
For all the talk with interesting table mates and nicely paced check-ins by Beverly to see how we were doing, it was a fairly internal process. I didn't get as much done as I hoped, and it took several more hours on my own before I finished. I chose to stitch it at work (I have a part-time job at a neighbourhood liquor store. It's pretty slow, and I'm allowed to stitch. To ally my concerns about working in an environment that may play in to my co-dependent tendencies, I use needlework as a means of balancing the forces of good and evil.)
Anyways, stitching on the little dress created the opportunity for me to engage in non-alcohol-related conversations with my customers about "What was I working on now?" One guy, a talented artist who has battled the elements, was visibly moved by the dress. "Yeah, you've gotta say those things to yourself," he murmured.
Only tonight, as I was lucky to be in the audience listening to the mind-boggling artistry of John Kameel Farah, did I realize that my latest bout of insomnia had eased. Awake, during those 3 AM rounds of self-flagellation, I couldn't sleep, going over my various transgressions of life in excruciating detail. Since finishing the dress, my wakefulness has diminished. My ruminations, if they occur, are mostly about recent events.

Well, I've gone off on quite a tangent. Hardly anything at all about the wonderful things my fellow participants shared. And they say bloggers are narcissists.

P.S. Looking at the dress, I think of it as "She". I have a relationship with her. The words are directly about relationship: "You mean a lot to me", or observational: "You tried hard". There is always an implied relationship contained in encouraging words -  the inner/outer, the parent/teacher/child, the subject and the object. I like that.