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!