Monday, December 18, 2017

A Holiday Quickie

Yesterday I made a pile of plump little pincushions for my rug hooking group's solstice gift exchange. Simple biscornus, made with recycled wool fabrics and wooden button's from Lasqueti's Wildwood Button Factory.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

No Mud, No Lotus

Thanks to all of you who offered helpful advice on keeping organised. It`s good to know I am not alone in a messy studio. But I have also given a bit of thought to what might be behind my untidy habits.

First of all, the whole wide world could be considered a messy studio, where things are created and destroyed and loved and fought over and nobody really knows what the hell is going on.

Then I thought about where my awareness that I am messy began, and remembered that as a child our house was often untidy (with four kids, whose house wouldn't be a mess?) My father, who, as I recall, never lifted a broom or ran the vacuum cleaner, was always complaining about this, and no doubt gave my mother lots of grief about her un-housewifely ways. His line was "What if the Queen comes for tea?" Which seemed to be a perfectly reasonable possibility to my eight-year-old self. I internalized his concern that others might think badly of a messy house, and by extension, of the people living in that mess. As an adult, knowing more about my father`s history and his probable PTSD and other issues, I can take a different perspective.

My art has a lot to do with looking for things beneath the surface, with layers of meaning, with valuing the unlovely. Would I have the ideas I have if everything was neat and orderly? That could be a rationalization, I know, giving permission to the mess. But the pictures of my drawing table are not an inapt metaphor for my thinking processes and the odd connections I make. The trick is making it all come together, which might explain the patient, repetitive, tight little stitches that make up my embroidery.

Last night, on that cluttered table, I came up with three new ideas for pieces that will, hopefully, when they are done, look like they were created in a logical, coherent, skillful and patient way. And I shall do my best to answer the ghost from the past, when he starts to complain: "No mud, no lotus."

Oh, and here`s the finished, unsteamed rug.
I`ll do a properly lit shot later, but just wanted to show off the piece. I whipped the edges with a medium brown wool that just blends perfectly. I`m chuffed as can be.

Monday, December 04, 2017

How Do You Stay Tidy and Organised? (And not go crazy!?!)

Pic of my room circa 2008. The file is named "Squalor".  Apparently, not much has changed.

So, I was hooking away on my rug and couldn't find my scissors/hook/fabric I just had in my hand two seconds, and it occurred to me that maybe it's possible that every other hooker/stitcher/knitter in the world might have the same problem occasionally, and maybe instead of cursing my own name for the zillion-th time, I could just ask my fibre friends for tips and pointers on keeping one's working area (diameter of an arm's reach) tidy and organised.

And, judging from my feverish sentence structure, it's an urgent problem.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Cultivating the Inner Critic

Dealing with critics. It's unavoidable, especially as the most pressing and persistent are usually within us. These phantom-like entities have often arisen in my recent sessions with a therapist. I was somewhat surprised to discover that in addition to my internalized stern elementary school teacher who likes to discipline with the sharp side of a 12 inch ruler, I also am dogged by a shadow of excessive weight, an ogre who catches all that Miss Reidegar misses, and more.

My therapist and I have developed a very good therapeutic relationship. (And I think I speak with some authority, having had much more therapy over the years than the average bear.) She has a somewhat different approach than the usual -- CBT, ten sessions or less -- that our health care system prefers. Instead of heading for direct integration of my psyche, she has instead teased out different aspects, or guardians, of my somewhat conflicted self. What I have learned may be useful for others.

If we think of inner critics as trying to protect us from something, what would that something be? Failure? Embarrassment? Shame? Ridicule? Financial or creative ruin? Is it possible to thank the critic for their concern, to appreciate how hard they have worked to keep us safe? To let them know they have been heard, and to suggest their energy might be better appreciated if they waited until a later phase in the process to voice their concerns.

I was in a writing workshop once where we were encouraged to just write in an intense flurry, and tell the critic to wait until we were ready to edit, when what they had to say would be more useful. This is helpful when the nagging negative voice prevents us from actually getting started. If we can just get something down on paper or cloth, then there is something tangible to respond to - and, interestingly, that other internalized force, the creative one, is so chuffed after making something that it can meet the critic as an equal, rather than subordinate to the overpoweringly protective role the critic needlessly takes on.

Design is closely based on a photo from Tiggy Rawling's blog, "I'd Rather Be in India".

Prolonged, careful contemplation is an essential stage in the creative process. I have been working on this hooked rug for the longest time. I just did a couple of hours a week usually, and didn't feel especially invested in it. Now that it's getting near the end I am keen to see it finished, yet I find myself ripping out more than I put in. Even though I have been following a photograph of the Indian embroidery that inspired this piece, the translation to hooking means I have had to make many choices in the interpretation. I finish a section, I throw it down on the floor and assess how it works within the context of the rest of the rug. This means I can't be attached to a section just because I've done it and I want to get to the next bit.

Here is where the critic shines. In fact, this can be the part I enjoy the most - gazing upon the work, asking "What does it need?" For me, this feels productive, engaged and open ended. The rigidity of the critic relaxes and makes interesting suggestions. The sharp ruler is put away and sometimes the gold stars even come out. Because critics can also see good, if they are given a chance.

In art school, critiques would happen regularly, where the whole class would comment (constructively, hopefully) on each person's work. This was probably the best aspect of school for me, and the one I miss most. Criticism need not be discouraging or despairing, it can be thoughtful, helpful and kind - as well as pointing out bullshit when need be.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Stitching with the Stars

I'm sure many of you are familiar with Maiwa's annual Symposium and their School of Textiles. I have attended many Maiwa workshops and they have been quite wonderful. The ones with Dorothy Caldwell here, here, and here, and Beverly Gordon stand out in particular. This fall, I took one with the famous Dutch embroiderer, Tilleke Schwarz, and I am sad to say it was a dud. Thinking about why it didn't work for me led to these thoughts:

  1. The instructor of the workshop needs good teaching skills.
  2. The participants in the workshop need to have a shared intention, and have left their neuroses at home. The focus of the participants is at least as important as how good the teacher is.
  3. The location of the workshop should be accessible, with good light and enough space for the group. 
  4. The participant herself should be realistic about how compatible her skill level is with the material to be covered.

So, what went wrong in this particular workshop? I was thrilled about the chance to learn from Tilleke, who is a justifiably famous star in the stitching world. Her lecture the night before was inspiring enough, but then she just repeated it for the class. That would have been okay if a number of participants hadn't heard the lecture already, but most had and were eager to get on with it.

The really unfortunate thing was that right off the mark Tilleke said she wasn't there to teach us how to stitch like her. Fair enough, but she also was not forthcoming with any instruction. Instead, she waited until we had stitched something to critique it. I wasted a lot of time using the tracing paper design transfer method she recommended, and, after a couple of false starts over the two days, ended up with nothing to show her. So my interaction with the instructor was pretty limited.

I'm willing to take my share of the blame for that, but what had me really annoyed was that a couple of participants chose to talk throughout the whole thing in loud voices about themselves and Tilleke did nothing to get them to quiet down. Midway through the second day, my friend and I picked up and left because she sensed I was getting ready to blow. (I think I reached my breaking point when the lady from Texas proudly said they had "Open Carry" gun laws in her state.)

The workshop took place in the Net Loft on Granville Island, which is incredibly fabulous. No complaints there. The staff at Maiwa are pros at providing all the amenities.

In the final analysis though, of course, the biggest problem was probably me. I already knew everything Tilleke had to show us. (Which wasn't much, but still...) My style is already quite developed. I was there just to rub shoulders with an art star, and nothing much was rubbing off Tilleke. She was a very nice lady but what I hoped for just wasn't happening.

Workshops aren't easy to dial in, so much depends on the group as well as the instructor. But when a workshop has an elite reputation, and costs over $300, it's hard for me to write off a bad experience.

I didn't even take any photos. There really wasn't anything to show. But I did have a great visit with my friend Barb, so the trip to Vancouver was not completely in vain.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Dare I Say Truth?

The zeitgeist of the past year has given me pause to reconsider the name of this blog. Supposedly we are now living in a post-truth era, a time when it is apparently up to whomever to decide whether some incredibly important piece of data or news is true or false. Saying something is true invites doubt. The ground has shifted.

It was in 1984 (somewhat tellingly) when I first conceived of calling my various pursuits "True Stitches". I was living in Toronto and supplementing my income as a graphic artist by doing dressmaking for a select few. I made up a business card and called my enterprise True Stitches. Truth actually had nothing to do with it, it was a play on the old pulp fiction magazines like "True Crime" and "True Confessions". I was merely being witty and ironic, hot commodities at the time. (Well, hell, when does being witty and ironic ever go out of style?) I even had a rubber stamp made up that emblazoned TRUE STITCHES on the cards, combining the nostalgic with the handmade. I long ago threw out the cards, but I still have the stamp. The original logo, such as it was, featured these guys,
with my stamp emblazoned on top in red.

Fast forward to the mid-noughts. I was in a program for building one's own business, and I had chosen True Stitches as the name. A few years earlier, I had used truestitches as an email address. I actually had as a domain name until a few years ago when I let it lapse because it was under my ex-husband's account. Now I see the name coming up on Etsy - I am merely a now.

So I return to the beginning. What does the name mean? I feel very sincerely that my stitches, my expression, my actions, must be true, whole-hearted and verifiable. It's kind of the essence of what I  do. The subtitle of this blog: "To make, to mend, to decorate." This is the part that is the definition of the word stitch, and also what I strive for in my daily life.

To make: I am a maker, I like to make things. This connects me to the divine. It is what I do, my life's purpose.

To mend: As humans, we fail, we cause trouble. But we have the potential to mend, to once again make whole something that is torn apart. This gives me hope.

To decorate: And why not? We have the capacity for joy, for play, for frivolity. Beauty is possible.

I was fooling around the other day with a new logo.
I used my old stamp with the line "Since 1984".

I think I am getting too old to be ironic. I still think truth is something important. Even if it isn't fashionable these days.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Settling the Land

Seigneury, 2017 Hand embroidery, wool and cotton on linen, 114"(w) x 24"(h)
It's hard to make out all the detail in the image above, you really should be here in person. But then again, this piece was finished hours before the show it was in opened, and then it sold. I do hope the buyer will lend it when I have my big retrospective. (Don't hold your breaths, there is no retrospective in sight.) (But I'm working on it.)
Louis Nicolas included a section on the domestic animals in his Codex Canadensis. Oddly enough, there was no pig, which, according to my friend Gaetanne who is descended from the earliest French settlers in New France, was often the only meat animal a family could afford. Anyway, I first thought of arranging them in a kind of crazy quilt or mosaic.
Then it was pointed out to me it made more sense for them to be in a row, and indeed, the long strip of land granted to the early settlers suggested a horizontal format. Blocks of land were granted to the seigneurs, who usually had done something notable in service to the French king, with the provision that the land be cleared and made "productive" so that the colonial claim on the land would be more established. The seigneurs divvied up the land into long strips, each with frontage on the river, as that was the main source of transportation in those days. Working class French men were allotted a strip each, and they paid rent in grain to the seigneur. They couldn't do it alone, so filles du roi ("daughters of the king") were imported from France to marry the men, produce children, and further establish the colony's foothold.
The critters fit obligingly into the long strip of cloth, and were traced on with my usual graphite transfer paper method.

Interestingly, while the wild animals of the Codex were notable for their feverish eyes, snarling teeth and fearsome claws, the domestic animals are quite benign looking. Some even smile.

The turkey took quite a long time, with all his feathers.
The ram is a very obvious copy from Conrad Gesner.
It's not every day that one can say, I stitched the horse's ass!
The dog and cat were especially bizarre in Nicolas's rendition. Although the stitching did help me realize that the dog doesn't have one giant foot with six claws, but that his front paw is on top of his back paw.
The meek donkey is just lovely.
Since in the middle of stitching this I was offered a show I had to seriously pick up the pace. The quote was the last piece. There were 121 letters, I think, and I had ten days to stitch them. They were done on a separate strip of linen and sewn to the main piece. Then the whole piece was backed with another piece of linen with hanging strips pre-sewn into place. The piece was hung over the stairs leading up to the gallery. (Barb Mortell, who I shared the space with, had one of her quilts hanging below. It made for a very attractive entrance to the show. I'll post more pictures next time.)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Back to It

Well, it's not exactly a return from the wilderness, but here I am. Summer lasted its normal amount of time in spite of the temperature yesterday being a tropical 18 C., scary for the end of October in the Pacific Northwest. No, I dragged my heels getting back to the blog for all kinds of reasons. I moved and am still unpacking, I had a show, I was spiritually drained by work at Ye Old Liquor Shoppe and worried about the state of the world. But most of all, I needed to reconsider my relationship to the internet and figure out if blogging is still relevant.

Things have changed since I started True Stitches back in 2006. Blogging then was an exciting and seemingly liberating way to contribute to the whole human discussion. Suddenly I could connect with people like me (and odd ducks we are), people whose talents were inspiring and whose words were encouraging. Over the years the blogging world became monetized and more of platform for selling one's stuff or blowing one's horn - even corporations had blogs. And then there came Instagram and other short and sweet ways to connect. My favourite bloggers kept on, bless you all.

I happen to enjoy writing and taking photographs, and True Stitches was a great place to document my work and thought processes, and hopefully entertain my dear readers along the way. Creating the posts gave me great pleasure and satisfaction, and I certainly missed that over this (extended) past summer. So many times I found myself staring at the computer, clicking in vain hope that I might find some amusement or earth-shattering revelation. I had become a mere consumer of the internet, passive and overwhelmed. My mind became duller, my thoughts uninspired.

I did spend (probably too much) time on Facebook. Like a magpie, I posted all kinds of shiny  thoughts and poorly edited photos in a superficial effort to stay in touch (and amuse my brother Dave, whose wit and word crafting powers far surpass my own.) Facebook is fine for such stuff, and you are certainly welcome to be my friend there, but I need something more in depth.

So I have to get back to it. My posts may not be as frequent, but will hopefully be a bit meatier. I need the discipline, and I need the connection. I need to feel that I am creating, not just consuming. Hope you will pop in for a visit whenever you like.

And one last thing: here's the piece I did this summer. It's called Seigneury, and measures 9 1/2 feet wide and 24" high.
Featuring the domestic animals of the Codex Canadensis, and a quote from Proverbs, it reflects the strategy of  the 17th C. French empire to colonize the New World. I'll post more detail next time.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Not Done Yet

Mare's tails and vapour trails , taken from my chaise longue on the deck.
Hmmn, it would appear that I am taking the summer off, at least from blogging. Don't worry, I'll be posting again soon. A new piece is almost done.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Caution! Stash Busting in Progress (or Not Waving, but Drowning)
The Stash. It lurks in the basement, in the backs of closets, under the bed. Its creative potential is matched only by its unwavering patience. It is rumoured to be able to breed within the deep recesses of totes and storage shelves. Stash management is a hot issue amongst textile artists. Does one cull ruthlessly on a biannual schedule? Does one enlist friends to intervene in weak moments of "I might need it one day" purchases? Does one make provisions in one's will for the safe distribution of the treasure hoard, or leave it to uncaring relatives to dump at the thrift store?

In may case, I move house so often that stash management doesn't usually become a problem until I've been in one place for too long. After two years or so the piles of fabric, the jumble of wool, the midden of buttons and bobbins start to become oppressively obvious, muttering dark criticisms about the failings of my character as I pass by. Eventually the muttering becomes a clamour until I am finally compelled to take action.

I'm in that mode these days. Trying to organize, and when that fails, asking myself if I really am ever going to do anything with that stack of perfectly good wool blankets that once I envisioned making penny rugs with. Or considering whether two huge totes of exquisite vintage linens is too much, and maybe I should release some of them back into the wild. How about that bag of silk neckties? Seriously? A couple of hours of fruitless conversation with myself and the totes are no more orderly, and I have to go sit on the deck with a cool drink.

I am familiar with the stages of change model in treating addictive behaviours.
I am at the point where I realize I need help. Dear readers, I look to your wisdom and experience. Have you successfully dealt with a stash that left your dining/work table clear enough to eat from again? Can you open your studio door and make your way to the sewing machine without having to move more than three totes? Have you developed a management strategy that fosters creativity without sacrificing sanity?

Part of my problem is that I feel responsible for each and every piece of cloth that passes through my hands, and also for the environment. I carry with me the idea that I must not add to the world's problem, but instead try to solve it. I feel good about saving felted sweaters, wool remnants or outdated linens from the landfill because I can turn them into something beautiful - at least in my mind. In external reality there are not enough hours in the day, and hence the totes multiply.

 Help! I can feel myself being sucked down again!

P.S. Swaps and guild sales do not work. I only go home with more stuff.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


"I'll remember that." Hand embroidery on katazome, vintage kimono fabric.
My dear friend Jean-Pierre commissioned me to stitch three pieces in memory of his mother, Constance. I was lucky to meet her a few times before her untimely passing -- she was a vibrant, kind, lovely woman.
"There's a lot of work in that." Hand embroidery on vintage katazome. (This one was tricky, I wanted the viewer to actually have to struggle a bit to make out the words. It's much easier in real life.)
She had a few favourite sayings, and these were the words that Jean-Pierre gave me to work with, along with some beautiful Japanese fabric.
"I'm saving it like gold." Hand embroidery on boro cloth.
Constance had beautiful penmanship, and I tried to replicate it as best I could. I think her words are representative of heartfelt appreciation, perhaps where she might have felt a bit out of her depth, but intended to convey encouragement and caring. Such a lovely woman, she is missed.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Wheel Keeps On Spinning

My days as a spinster have come to an end. Yesterday I sold my stalwart Lendrum wheel. She had about a million miles on her, and may yet get a million more, but I have realized that my stockpile of beautiful handspun yarn will keep me knitting for my foreseeable lifespan. Pictured above is the last batch of yarn: 35 skeins from a Romney raw fleece, from an ewe named Bea who lives in Errington. I must thank Bea for growing such lovely, easy to spin wool, and her shepherd for keeping her happy and clean.

Some of my friends couldn't believe I was giving up the wheel, but I really felt it was time. And it felt very appropriate for me to use the money to fill up the ferry card so we can visit our loved ones, old and new. Spinning taught me that its not just about producing yarn, but about a calm centre that holds together all the bits and pieces whirling round.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lost in the Forest

Today while walking with Gracie on the well-traveled trail behind the medical clinic, I took a detour up a side path to have a pee. (I love peeing in the woods, a habit formed while living on Lasqueti.) In the interests of discretion, I went a little farther up the path than I had in the past. I noticed that it seemed to continue through the forest, which surprised me since I was sure I had gone up that way before and the path just petered out into thick salal.

So I followed the narrow trail and found myself in another world. It was almost like falling through the looking glass. The unfamiliar path, the light slanting through the trees in a different way, the birds chirping  and swooping. I remembered how much I had enjoyed walking with the dogs up old logging roads when I lived in the Kootenays, going where we hadn't been before, getting a bit lost. I love that feeling. I never felt at risk in any way, even though I may have been many kilometers from other humans, and I rarely told anyone where I was going. Yet I am not an adventurer, I just feel safe and protected amidst the trees, and trust the dogs will eventually get me back to "civilization".

But I am probably the odd one out. The fear of being lost in the woods is a foundational myth in many cultures, particularly that of Canada. For years I have carried with me the clipping below. The story captured my attention because it seemed so preposterous. In August of 1909, the Governor-General of Canada, Earl Grey, got completely bushed in just a few hours. I loved how the formidable wilds of British Columbia got the better of him. I pictured someone like Lord Downton being plopped down on the north shore of Jervis Inlet, thinking he would bag a couple of grouse before returning home in time to dress for dinner. The arrogance of the British aristocracy, asserting their privilege to raise a ruckus in the woods and prove their dominance over the land (and Nature).
The small clipping has grown into many pages of notes. I have visited the BC Provincial Archives in search of more detail. I have found photographs of Earl Grey performing many official duties on this tour of the west coast, such as opening Vancouver's Granville Street Bridge and being made an honourary member of the Arctic Brotherhood in Dawson City. The story seems a natural segue from the Codex Canadensis work, and so I am about to begin a new piece. It will be an embroidery, on linen, quite big. I'm thinking of something along the lines of a page of the Illustrated News, from the time before photographs were used in newspapers, a precursor to the News at Six.
Earl Grey, in the back seat, visits the hollow tree in Stanley Park.
 Am I being disrespectful in making fun of the Queen's representative? Would I fare any better myself in the same situation? Yes, and probably not. But I forge ahead anyway. 2017 marks 150 years of Canada as a nation, yet the celebrations are muted in the wake of Truth and Reconciliation hearings regarding the residential schools that were part of a concerted governmental effort to destroy indigenous cultures. Rightfully, many of the touring exhibitions and commissioned works focused on the sesquicentennial are created by First Nations artists. It is not a time to celebrate our colonial past, but to question it.
Official portrait of Earl Grey.

Monday, May 08, 2017

A Modest Mat

Thanks to everyone who commented on the previous post, you are kind and wise. Someone shared this practical advice on how to keep from going insane in these modern times: nothing radical but it's  good to know that others are in the same boat. And, as Facebook keeps reminding me, I was in a similarly bleak mood last year at this time, so maybe it's spring fever.
It needs to be bigger, Mom!
One of the silly projects that I have been working on is this braided mat for Gracie. I have made just one braided rug before, and the recent retreat on Thetis Island was a chance to improve my skills. Diane Tobias, braided rug expert, and Val Galvin of Renditions in Rags generously lent their advice and encouragement.
I braided along, using up three skirts, a pair of pants, and part of a tweed jacket, all wool. Other participants in the retreat remarked on how flat my rug was - I guess buckling can be a problem for beginners. I didn't mark my increases, just judged my progress by eye and feel. A small revelation that came to mind was that having skill in other fibre arts (knitting, weaving, spinning, hooking, embroidery) gives one the sensitivity and awareness to understand the structure of a piece and make small modifications in tension, count, grist and other technical aspects to produce something that "works". In other words, transferable skills!
The mat is not yet done. I will be adding an edge of darker greys and black, and doing a butt join!

A nice edge to finish it off, and the butt join went very smoothly. Now I just have to round up that cute dog to lie on it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Not to Be a Downer, But...

Well, that last post was something of a barn-burner, in that I am left feeling that I have nothing more to write about. I considered re-posting the first post I ever wrote, The Blazing World, as a bookend and calling it done. Just looking at the date of that first post, May 17, 2006, makes me realize I passed my ten-year blog-o-versary without even noticing. I have spent the last month pondering what has changed since I started writing this blog and what future use it might have.

Right off, I have to consider the possibility that I am mired in depression. I take my meds, but it is SO hard to get out of bed in the morning, and engaging with anybody other than my dogs leaves me cranky and exhausted. Maybe I am over serotinized? I asked my doctor and she was non-committal. "Just stay on this dose and we'll check again in a few months."

It could be the weather. It has been an unusually cold, wet, late spring in this part of the world, and I haven't been able to get into the garden, which always makes me feel better. I also haven't made another serious piece of work since December, although I have been busy with various small pieces and other projects. I have a new idea in the works, something different, that I am eager to get going on but it needs further gestation.

I have also been thinking about posting earlier work, looking at stuff from the 90's that has been languishing away on slides, and seeing how it connects to my current work. Using the blog more as a place of reflection and documentation rather than showcasing the latest new thing. (The taste for "new" is so wearying.)

But it is hard to take the possible value of my own work seriously when the world is in flames. We are closer to nuclear midnight than we ever have been since the clock started. Climate change is real, accelerating and the evidence is all around us. There is a vain, arrogant, madman in the White House. How is is possible to carry on as if things are normal? As an artist, I have always felt a responsibility to engage with the world around me, but now I find myself questioning whether anything I can make or do will change anything, even in myself. And is spending hundreds of hours patiently handstitching something that could get blown up next week the best use of my time? Is it an act of resistance or blind stupidity?

I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way. Banding together with other bleak souls doesn't seem like the answer. Beauty is all around me but I mourn for its fleetingness and vulnerability. I long for peace, both for the world and in my heart.
Heron at dusk on Thetis Island last weekend. He turned and flew away seconds later.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

There's No Place Like Home

View with a room.
I try to be a low-maintenance sort of human being. I realize that I have won the jackpot already, being a white Canadian, and have privilege virtually oozing out of every pore. I don't mind living below the poverty line, I don't fantasize about marrying a rich man, I happily wear second or third hand clothes. I feel I have an extraordinary life: I live in a wonderful, enlightened community in a beautiful part of the world, I can grow my own food and share with others, I can express myself creatively, I have people to love and care about, not to mention the best doggies ever.

So when my mother arranged an all-expenses paid family vacation at a spa resort (Tigh-Na-Mara, in Parksville) I was willing to go along with it because it was a rare opportunity to be together with my brothers and sister, not because I felt the need to be pampered like the Queen of Sheba. It was nice to see my Mom so thrilled and excited - she usually runs at a pretty high level of joie de vivre anyway, so this was really something to behold.

So it was surprising to hear her be the first one to voice the feeling of being out of place as we arrived on a lovely sunny day last week, and were shown to our over-the-top-de-luxe rooms. "Do you feel that we might actually be inmates in an insane asylum?" she asked. Not that we suddenly were having delusions, but we were definitely in an alternate reality. My room alone could have housed a family of four - complete with kitchen, dining area, jacuzzi in the living room, king-sized bed, widescreen TV, fireplace and gob-smacking ocean view. It was bigger than my whole house!

Since the tide was out, I decided to go for a restorative walk on the magnificent beach, a true natural wonder. All was lovely and peaceful, until two young lads wearing matching red hoodies - all the better for the Coast Guard to find them when they get swept out to sea, I murderously thought -  proceeded to run screaming at the flock of migratory birds taking advantage of the herring run at the water's edge. "Huh", I mumbled to myself, "they don't allow dogs because they might bother the wildlife, but they let nasty, over-privileged brats run free."

In that disgruntled frame of mind I made my way to the mineral pool of the Grotto Spa, where I joined my family under an artificial waterfall of warm, soothing, lithium enhanced droplets. The pool was designed to look like something one might encounter in a remote tropical island and was truly lovely. After about ten minutes, I began to worry that my thickened layers of proletarian skin might start to slough off and create disgusting debris-ridden vortices in the pool, prompting a whistle to be blown and everyone ordered out. I wished that I had paid more attention to exfoliating during my twice weekly, Aussie-rules home showers.

From there we slipped into our identical, spa-mandatory robes and flip-flops and made our way to the lounge, where we sipped on cucumber, lemon, or plain spring waters and nibbled tropical fruit. A bell chimed melodiously and a bevy of beautiful young aestheticians glided in and escorted us to our various appointed spa treatments. I broke out laughing, it was just too surreal.

Mom and I had chosen to have pedicures. As I reclined in my massage-o-matic chair (an unnerving sensation) I chatted with Sarah, my aesthetician, about very little of importance, although I did manage to glean the interesting fact that the resort has a dedicated 24/7 laundry to handle the huge amount of linens and towels that are required to maintain the spa experience. I also found out she sometimes listens to heavy metal on her way home from work, to counteract the ethereal music of the pan-pipes that wafts like a perpetual mist through the resort.

It was only the second professional pedicure of my life. I chose sparkly blue nail varnish to commemorate this memorable event. It looked beautiful, and exotic. Mom and I were presented with special disposable flip-flops to keep our polish from smudging, and I asked if they were recyclable. Apparently such a prosaic question was rarely asked, since none of the aestheticians knew the answer.

They serenely led us up to a private room adjacent to the rooftop tapas lounge, where endless plates of elegantly drizzled bites of smoked salmon and miniature tartlets were served to us by a very patient and polite young man, Curtis. (Later, as it became apparent that the Camerons were going to take advantage of the term "endless", my talented actor brother and sister-in-law performed a choreographed version of  Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" as a perk-up for the wearying Curtis. He appeared stunned and managed to say, without sounding sarcastic, "No one has ever done that here before.")

The dinner was lovely and it truly was nice to spend time with my whole family (nephew Andrew joined in via Snap Chat), although I did at one point have to go into the bathroom and rest my forehead against the glass, steeling myself against the overwhelming feeling that I didn't belong in such a place.

Eventually we all retired to our rooms, where I paced the unfamiliar spaciousness, fiddled with the fireplace, and found nothing to watch on the big-screen TV except for Rachel Maddow exhorting Trump to release his tax returns. I read a bit of Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere", couldn't focus, and left it in the bedside table for a future guest. I snuggled into a corner of the huge bed and tried to sleep, dreaming fitfully of the vintage British drama "The Prisoner", being surveilled by golf-cart driving housekeeping staff and pursued to my doom by a giant inflatable ball.

Next morning, we met for breakfast in the dining room. I ordered waffles, and was overwhelmed by the stack of beautifully grilled pastries that arrived, bedecked with candied pecans, out-of-season strawberries, whipped cream and a chocolate caramel drizzle. "Could I please have a bowl of thin gruel instead?" I whimpered to the waitress, who thought I was joking.

Thankfully, we checked out soon after. It felt like I had been away from home for a week, which is probably the intended effect of such a deluxe getaway, but maybe I'm just not cut out for the spa experience. If I ever have another vacation I want it to be spartan, maybe involving manual labour or community service. Just like being at home!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Studio Tour of the Damned

I don't think I will ever be featured in the glossy pages of "Where Women Create". Welcome to my nightmare/kitchen corner studio. I willingly open myself to public humiliation in the hopes of empowering my fellow artists who don't have the perfect studio yet still manage to make amazing things!

The basement cavern where the totes of fabric are stored is not seen here, nor the living room which is stacked high with materials of all sorts. I don't want to scare you too much.

Well, There Ya Go

Upwards (2017). 21" (h) x 26" (w), linen and cotton, hand quilted
I hand quilted the thing, then bound it with ancient bias tape. (How ancient? The price tag on the package said 29 cents.) The tape was heavily starched, so I had no idea how it would end up after a trip through the washer and dryer, but it was the perfect peach-y orange colour so I barged ahead. I am delighted with the results - the binding is soft and the batting shrunk quite a bit so piece is very textured and three-dimensional.

Sometimes things turn out just fine, even if you don't know where you are going.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Doctor is In

Work in progress.
It's a veritable self-portrait. Two days ago, in the midst of finishing a commission, I was suddenly seized by the desire to play with colour. (There is a spring quilt show coming up on the island that I was asked to participate in, but it wasn't at the top of my "to do" list.)

The urge to create was so strong I didn't even bother to choose fabric. I grabbed the box of scraps left over from the round robin quilt workshop I did with Barb Mortell a couple of years ago (and untouched since then.) I pulled out two piece at random, cut them with a rotary cutter, stitched them together and then proceeded to ask "What does it need?" The result is pictured above.

It's a mess, right? But it contains a lot of energy, so I decided to treat it as a therapy cloth, and figure out what it might reveal of my inner psyche.

The first thing that catches my eye is the vertical red line that splits the work in two. Off setting the line would have given a more interesting composition, and I did try, but it kept wanting to be right in the centre. I also rotated the piece as I worked, so the line could have been horizontal, or at an angle. The red line was insistent. The questions are, "Do I feel split in two, or in conflict? Are there two sides to the story? Is there a before and after here?"

Lots to chew on there, but probably boring for anyone but me. I did feel whilst working that there was a strong vertical tendency, one of growth, which would be appropriate for spring, if that's what I was thinking of. The last piece I added was the bottom strip of red, to try and ground the vertical line. Red is a very energetic colour, particularly this one, which is a pure vermillion. Positioned at the bottom, it gives a sense of something roiling beneath the surface. The question is, "What lies beneath my surface?"

Hmmn. The career, having just had a shot in the arm with the show at the Nanaimo Art Gallery, is feeling the need to build on the momentum, such as it is. As I described in my post about the opening, I did feel very conflicted about my right to be there. It takes a tremendous amount of positive self-talk for me to put myself out into the public realm. I am torn between the need to protect myself and the desire for others to see my work.

Going back to the messy, chaotic quilt piece, is it possible to read it as dynamic? Can I pull the pieces together and move forward? The yellow and grey stripe-y pieces remind me of ladders, the middle one does go to the top. Is there some comfort or a safe space to be found? It's all grist for the mill.

There should be a photo of my workspace. It was like a fabric and colour bomb had gone off while I was putting this piece together. No surface was clear. There was a box of fabric stacked on top of something else so I had to do a John Cleese-style silly walk to get over it on my way to the ironing board. I really had no space to lay anything flat. Maybe this piece reflects something of that.

Which leads me to look around my house with a familiar sense of despair at the bags and boxes of fabric stacked everywhere, the skeins of yarn I spun over the winter that have no place to go, the rug hooking project blocking the doorway. The fear grips me that I have become a hoarder. And what is the psychology behind hoarding, that one will never have enough, or that all that stuff can insulate against the world?

Maybe I need to do some therapeutic cleaning and organising and weeding. Could taming the chaos around me control the chaos within?

Ahh, our time is up. See you next time.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

Distorted Realities

Virginia Woolf's Tea Towel, 2016. 16"(w) x 24"(l) Hand embroidery on vintage linen.
Here's a little piece from last month. The Gabriola Arts Council was holding its annual fund raising gala, with the theme "Tempest In a Teacup". Artists are asked to donate a work incorporating the theme. I knew right away what I wanted to do, but getting there was a battle.

I had a vague recollection of a vintage tea towel in the stash that had tea cups embroidered on it. Following my usual strategy, I thought I would just embroider some pithy saying on it and voila! I found the Virginia Woolf quote quickly enough, but could I find that damn tea towel?

My stash is highly unorganised, to say the least. I burrowed through totes in the crawlspace, emptied trunks, upended my cedar chest, even checked the random plastic bags in odd corners. Finally, after days of searching, I found the piece I was looking for.

Only it wasn't what I remembered. It was more of a serviette than a towel, on thin cotton, and sloppily made. No way it would work.

So I found a plain linen tea towel that I had used last summer while making blackberry jam. Of course there were a number of purple stains on it, but after several soaks with lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide I managed to remove the worst of it. 

I redrew a vintage iron on embroidery transfer featuring teacups and traced it onto the cloth. The embroidery was a breeze, reminding me of how effective a few lazy daisy stitches and french knots can be. At last, my canvas was ready!

Embroidering the quote went fairly smoothly, after I realised the letters were too small on my first attempt. I picked out the threads, redrew it, and finished stitching during a slow shift at work.

A lot of effort for something that is basically a one-liner! I didn't attend the gala, but heard that there was a mad bidding war for the piece and it ended up going for $185!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Pussyhat Brigade

This is from last month, but the pussyhat knitting has been continuing apace. A few days before the Women's March on the 21st, James and I made a pop up photo booth at his studio, and put out a call on Facebook for Gabriolans to come on down and have their picture taken wearing a hat. It was very last minute, but twenty intrepid souls made their way over and we had a blast.

Who guessed that 100,000 pussyhats would show up in women's marches around the world? (That's the estimated number of hats, of course there were many more marchers.) Every single hat made by hand, with intention and care. Woe to the Trumpstiltskin lawyer who asked if they were made in China.

I made six hats before the march - one even went to Washington, DC. I have made several more since, and currently have orders for another four. At first I was just using yarn from the stash, but now I ask people to supply the yarn. Other than that, I am not asking for any compensation, financial or otherwise for the hats. They are my contribution to the resistance.

I was even commissioned by the Gabriola Institute for Contemporary Art to make a tiny hat for the hood ornament of its Mobile Response Unit. Yes, we have some serious fun here!

Friday, January 27, 2017


I think the opening of Landfall and Departure:Prologue at the Nanaimo Art Gallery was a great success. In spite of an attack of imposter syndrome, I got through the evening without apologizing for my presence. There is something about openings that brings out my neuroses full force.
I am in very good company. Curator Jesse Birch did a wonderful job putting together artists from the past and present working in diverse media. Great representation of gender and culture as well.
Although this photo doesn't really show it, the gallery was crowded and abuzz with lots of young people with stylish haircuts and groovy footwear. Thank heavens for art students!