Monday, March 30, 2015

Tongues and Tails

Tongues and Tails, 2015 Hand embroidery on linen, 52"(w) x 31"(h)
C'est complete. Signed and stretched. Except now I think it needs a wide, deep frame. This is the first piece I've done that goes right to the edge and it feels a little float-y to me. It's more imposing than it looks on the screen. But I will live with it for a while and see.

A few stats:
  • Time: 275 hours
  • DMC Perle Cotton #5, shade 935: 17 skeins
  • Paternayan Wool Yarn, shade  460: 12 skeins (3 strand yarn split and used as singles)
  • Value: priceless (but negotiable)
If you commented last week when I announced that it was finished, (thank you so much!) don't feel that you need to comment again. I just thought you might like to see the whole thing. The big moment was when I took the last stitch in the image, but it still needed to be blocked and stretched. I guess there's several stages of being finished.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Back on the Wagon

Although hardly on the scale of the Yarnharlot's epic spree in Texas (she writes about it here), I too went shopping at a fibre fair this past weekend. I'm still queasy.

I went with two of my favourite rug hooking people. I thought I needed to be more social, so here was a nice opportunity to hang out with kindred spirits and look at yarn, fleece and other textile-y things. We arrived at the community hall just as the doors opened and it was a FRENZY! I should have known and prepared better - not had any money in my wallet, taken a beta blocker, maybe even waited in the car.

"What's the problem, Heather?" you ask. Excellent question. We can all agree that fibre is a good thing. And everyone loves a bargain. Put the two together and what could be better? I'll tell you: Space in my cedar chest. Money to buy food. Not having to hide balls of 21 micron merino top behind the cans of paint in the garage. Not having to face the accusing piles of once-loved yarn in the closet. I could go on.

I was doing so well with the program, too. Not buying anything. Working from the bottomless stash. Trading materials with other fibre people. I thought I had my problem beat.

But I got sideswiped by the contagious energy of about 100 other fibre fair enthusiasts. All these women, I'm sure with closets just as full as mine, dropping cash like it was candy wrappers. Running out to their cars with armloads of silk/mohair/merino roving and running back in again for more. Before I knew it the caramel toffee coloured alpaca was winking at me, and I could not resist. I joined the throng of shoppers, touching, feeling, caressing, caught up in the fantasies that only luxury fibre can offer.

Our trio was only inside for half an hour, but as we emerged into the pale spring sunlight, I was seized with panic. What did I just do? My friends were giddily untroubled, why couldn't I have fun like they were? Why did I feel so freaking guilty? My stomach churned, it was hard to get a breath. I swore at that moment, "Never again."

And I'm not exaggerating for dramatic effect (well, maybe a tiny bit). The thing was, it was like my life flashing before my eyes. Copies of books and magazines I once owned were there for sale; a whole table of beautifully spun sample yarns of every fibre type, ply, grist - obviously the results of a master spinner program, priced pitifully low; earnest, hopeful looking young women hawking their lovingly hand-dyed multi-hued sock yarn; used floor looms going for $25. The air felt heavy with the unrealized dreams and thwarted ambitions of my past lives.

One thing was missing in all this plenty. Of all the fibre fanatics in the room, I only saw four people wearing the result of their creative efforts. A nuno felted scarf, a crocheted bag, a hand knit lace shawl and a hand spun, hand knit sweater. Now there may have been more things that I didn't notice, but this phenomenon isn't unusual. I have gone to lots of fibre events, guild meetings and workshops in various cities over the years, and it is rare to see people actually wearing their own work. (And I am hardly one to talk, I usually go stealth in a black tee shirt and jeans.)

So here I am with renewed resolution: Stop shopping and start wearing what I make. If I'm going to be a crazy grey-haired fibre lady I might as well look the part. And dog hair on my clothes doesn't count.

Oh, all right, I'll show you what I bought.
 Totally not my colour, but irresistible.
 Already spun up in penance for my sins. Plyed with a shiny spaced dyed machine embroidery thread.
And a rock. I actually bought a rock. Covered with waxed linen needle lace. Somewhat like waking up after the night before with a strange tattooed man in my bed. But much less troublesome.

Update: Check out Betsy Greer's thoughts on this topic.  She has some great ideas on how to share our bounty.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Strange Jumble

“Art makes the familiar strange so that it can be freshly perceived. To do this it presents its material in unexpected, even outlandish ways: the shock of the new.”
I presume the title of Leanne Prain's new book, Strange Material, is a reference to the above quote from Russian writer literary theorist and critic Victor Shlovsky, in that the familiarity of textiles in our lives makes them an appropriate medium to convey unexpected ideas. But she doesn't say that anywhere, at least that I could find. The book is such a jumble of concepts, projects, interviews and ideas that twenty people could open up the book at random, read the page, and each come away with a completely different idea of what Strange Material is about. The author acknowledges her shotgun approach is deliberate, but for me, it makes for a frustrating read.

Complicating matters is the same slapdash design and editing that marked her last book, Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery. (I gave that a slam too.) Captions are mixed up on photographs, there is sketchy instruction for some of the projects, many of the questions in the Q&A interviews are actually statements that the interviewee is left on her own to expand upon. Prain shares the advice given to her as a creative writing student that "stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end," as if this is earth-shaking news.

Strange Material tries to show that textiles are a great medium for telling stories. This is a given, and there are many important contemporary artists out there who have been exploring the narrative possibilities of cloth since at least the 1970's. But the work shown here ranges from inspired to banal. It cries out for some editorial direction. I hate to say it, but I would be embarrassed to have my own work included in this book.

But then, I am definitely not a fan of the crowd-sourced books that are so popular these days. I appreciate the singular voice, especially if it is knowledgeable, accurate and brings new ideas to the table. Strange Material is not for me. I would recommend checking it out from your library to see what you think first, before shelling out the cash.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Gift Exchange

I whipped off this little mat over the weekend. It's the same image as the frog on the "Home Sweet Dome" mat (still in slow progress). I needed a gift in short order for Mrs. Mandu, my elegant and generous benefactor in Japan. When she heard that I had started hooking, she sent some lovely pieces of wool fabric for me to use. Now I must reciprocate with a thank you gift. We have been engaged in this endless cycle of gift-giving for over ten years!

I chose the frog image because apparently the Japanese word for "frog" is a homonym for the word "return". Frogs are good luck symbols for travelers, I read, but I think this one is more of a "I return your favour" kind of guy.

And yes, I got my hair cut. It was getting noticeably thin around my face, so I have now joined the legion of women with short gray hair and glasses. (On Gabriola, we have a distinctly senior population - I will find myself describing someone as having short gray hair and glasses, and then realize that could be almost anyone.) When the stylist turned me around to look in the mirror my first reaction was "Oh my god, I look like my mother!" But my mom is still kind of a dish, so I guess that's okay.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


 As the last stitch is taken, it feels the same as the first.
And so it goes.
Signatures and stretching still to do. This piece will be called "Tongues and Tails". I will post a nice picture of the whole thing soon.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Melancholy Drawer of Unfinished Masterpieces

What a title for a blog post! No, I am not talking about my own work here. (I keep my unfinished work out in the open, all the better to flog myself with.) But Olivia Pass uses that line in her opening paragraphs of Dorset Feather Stitchery, in the context of  "Dorset stitchery is so pleasant and quick to do it will never end up in the melancholy drawer of unfinished masterpieces."
I found this sweet little book several years ago and never read it. Hah!! There's a clue! I suspect Ms. Pass would have some sage advice for me about dealing with my bookshelves full of unread but promising books. Anyway, I took it down from the shelf last night for some mysterious reason and the book fell open on that page. Such a charming line could not be wasted, so I decided to do a little book review in advance of the Glorious Final Stitches of the latest Codex Canadensis piece (due later this week).

The book was in print through several editions, and was promoted through the Women's Institutes, so it's not too hard to find through used booksellers. I like AbeBooks myself.
Dorset feather stitchery uses very simple stitches that are then whipped to create a more textured, intricate look.
The piece of waxed paper was used to trace the design by the book's previous owner, and she thoughtfully left it between the pages.
 The book has clearly drawn patterns for projects ranging from aprons to hats to sewing kits (hussifs).

The Dorset button instructions bring back fond memories of the workshop I took with Jean Betts.

It looks like my copy of the book was well used, as these scraps of paper interleaved within the pages show.
I love her acknowledgements, especially "together we made things and sent them around the world as gifts". I think she would have been a blogger - if only she had been born fifty years later!

Projects by Jane  reviewed the book last year. Do check out the link, she has some great pictures. She used her sampler to make a colourful doll quilt.

I am tempted to try a small project or two myself. Maybe as a little holiday when I'm done the Codex (so close my heart is beating faster just thinking about it.

Well, back to the hoop. See you soon!

Friday, March 06, 2015

Dammit Jim, I'm an Artist, Not a Housekeeper!

Scary, isn't it? I told James that he should do a portrait of me in my chair, with just the top of my head showing above the piles of stuff. Wherever I go I seem to create a midden - there's a pile of books beside the bed, interleaved with crossword puzzles and odd bits of paper with important (at the time) thoughts scrawled on them. The area around my computer is the same, only more so. And the kitchen table has been officially declared a disaster zone.

We live in an earthquake zone here on the west coast. I have a feeling the big one could happen and my house wouldn't look a lot different.

Oh well, first things first. Have to finish the codex piece, it's getting close.