Monday, July 17, 2017

My Studio in the Woods

 I am only just home from a week of camping. 
Beautiful sunshine, and life pared down to its essentials -
a comfy bed, good food, and good company.
 Looking through the trees to the lake,
watching the squirrels and listening to the birdsong.
 And looking way, way up to the trees whispering overhead.
 Collecting new leaves to press, and later to print,
 Noticing the dappled light on alders along the shore,
Marvelling at the unique shape, not only of each leaf, but also of each branch.  
 Taking a little time to hand-stitch an indigo piece in progress,
And to jot down some of my ideas for possible future work, as well as getting back to my early morning journalling practice.
Sometimes I forget how important it is to get outdoors and live amongst the trees for a time.
So sweet. Such a gift. So thankful.

Monday, July 10, 2017

What Makes Me Happy?

The review that started with last week's blog has come about as part of Lisa Call's Masterclass (which is most excellent, by the way), and continues in a slightly different direction this week. Last week I chose some of the work I've made that I am most pleased with I should be concentrating on, based on those pieces.  I was really looking at what subjects they were about. Since then, though, I've realized that although the subject matter may change from one piece to the next, the story I am telling with my work remains the same. I remember hearing Valerie Hearder say some years ago, that we all really only have one story to tell. At the time, I mulled that over, and wasn't sure I agreed with her but now I think I understand the wisdom in her words a little better. So I re-visited my own work, those pieces that please me the most, and this time I asked myself if there are commonalities in the way they're constructed, or in what materials are used. This is what I came up with:
I love working with bright, saturated colours - mostly commercial fabrics, although I do add hand-dyes to the mix when it seems right.
I am happiest when I am stitching random strips of brightly colored fabrics together, making a new "something" from scraps, watching to see how it evolves.
I am attracted to multiples of shapes.
It makes me happy when I find a way to add hand-stitching to my work.
So although the subject matter may be different in each of these pieces, there is a common thread running through them all. Both the story behind the pieces, and the process by which I made my story known, are the same in each piece. Now I feel I'm really getting somewhere, in deciding on the direction for my work. Each time I contemplate embarking on a new project, I might ask myself these three questions:
1. Is this piece telling the story I have in me?
2. Am I going to be able to use the fabrics and the techniques that I most love to work with in making it?
3. Does it make me happy to think about making this?
If I can answer "yes" to all three questions, then I will carry on with the work at hand. If, on the other hand, I'm making it because it's something I "should do", or something that I'm only undertaking because I've signed up to be part of a challenge/ an exhibit/ a group show that is planned by one of the organizations I belong to - well that simply isn't going to cut it. I want to be a little bit more discerning in what I spend my life working on. And at this point in my life, I want to to make what makes me happy by intention, and not just by happy accident (or not). There's no time to lose!


Monday, July 3, 2017

The Value of Review

Sometimes those of us who are creative types are so busy following up on new and exciting ideas we have, that we forget to take the time to review what we've already made. OK, I confess - I fall into this category. This has come to my attention again this week. Before I know the way forward, I want to spend a little time reviewing what has gone before. Specifically I am asking myself - "Which of the quilts you've already made resonates with you as being most true, most pleasing, most heart-felt, most 'I don't care what the rest of the world thinks of this, I am happy with it'?" These are some of the ones I chose that fit this description:
"A New Beginning"
 "Conversations with Kente"
 "In the Presence of the Elders"
Detail (sideways) of "The Night Garden"
"Rosetta's Hope"
"Windows on my World"
 "There's an Elephant in My Garden"
"Abundant Life"
In reviewing these, the overwhelming thing they have in common is their use of colour. But after that it's less clear. One has to do with trees, two are inspired by Africa, two are Art Deco inspired, and one is abstract. Clearly I've got several subject areas that I'm interested in. Are any of them worth re-visiting? Well, the one that shouts out loudest to me is Art Deco. I felt I was only just beginning to touch the surface of this, before I veered off mid-stream to do something totally different. But trees and leaves (this would include my traveller's blanket) have sustained my interest for a very long time. And African experiences continue to provide me with untold material. Wisdom from experienced artists is that one has to choose one focus, and then stick with it. Does anyone else out there find this very, very hard to do? Perhaps I need to pose another question - "If I only have time to make one or two more quilts, what would they say?" Ah, this cuts to the meat of things. It helps me narrow my options. And it might be something that I haven't explored yet, that I have only touched on here or there, and which would be a culmination of all the attributes of favourite quilts from the past. Time to do a little more journalling and see where it takes me . . .

Monday, June 26, 2017

"A Fine Line"

I think I blogged quite some time ago about an upcoming theme for an exhibit of work made by the Fibre Arts Voices group to which I belong. We decided on "A Fine Line", which could be interpreted in any way we wanted. I was excited by this idea, and having always had a special fondness for washing lines, and being dismayed at how quickly they are disappearing from the landscape of our Canadian neighborhoods, I decided that this would be my focus. Sketches were made, photos I had taken in various locals were reviewed, and fabrics were pulled. But I couldn't seem to get any further than that.
So I began working on another idea - the fine line between joy and pain, between living life to the full and giving in to despair. Heavy, I know, but it's something I have lived and something I have observed, and I felt it would give me the opportunity to work more abstractly. Which I did. The upper portion of the quilt was mostly grey, and the lower portion was mostly black, with a line of colourful almost-windows dancing across the horizontal division between the two. I pieced it, I hand-quilted it, I bound it and labelled it. And then I stood back and had a really good look at it again, and it just didn't do what I wanted it to do. So I withdrew from the group's proposal, and moved onto something else.
But then a few members of the group extended some gentle encouragement to me, and graciously extended the deadline, so that I could still be a part of the group's exhibit. I decided to try one more time, this time focussing on an Africa-inspired piece. I thought about the line between the sky and the earth - the horizon line - that magical place we watch on clear evenings as the sun goes down, and again the next morning as the sun rises again. I thought about our years living in Lesotho, which is also known as the Kingdom in the Sky, and about the sunrises and sunsets I saw there. I thought particularly about the sunset I saw on the day of South Africa's elections in 1994, which saw Nelson Mandela elected as president and scores of people voting who had never before had that privilege. And I decided that it was this feeling that I wanted to capture in fabric.
This image was taken before the squares were stitched in place and before the machine quilting was added, but it gives you an idea of the piece. The colours are pure-Africa, inspired by Lesotho, while the setting was inspired by the work of Heather Lair. It's called "Where Heaven Meets the Earth" (30" X 40"). I then made two much smaller companion pieces (10" X 10") that will hang on either side of the main piece. When all our work is hung, each of us having made one large piece and two much smaller companion pieces, there will be an implied and continuous line from one work to the next.

The first of the smaller works shows two women walking home together at the end of the day, while the second shows a shepherd boy, watching and waiting - a fairly typical sight in Lesotho. Both are pictured against the backdrop of the Maluti Mountains, in the arid and dusty red-earthed landscape. These three pieces, and the work of eight of our group, will be part of our August exhibit at the Ladysmith Art Gallery - an exhibit that will showcase both our A Fine Line pieces and our Indigo pieces. I have so enjoyed making these, and wonder if they will end up as part of a sub-series of Africa-inspired work. I rather hope there are more to come . . .

Monday, June 19, 2017

But Wait a Minute . . .

I finished my last post so full of optimism. Having completed the process of de-cluttering my studio, I was ready to get right to work on my African collage pieces. Well I'm here to confess that all that's happened so far, is that the background black wool felt has been cut to size. I had just finished doing that when I remembered (or was reminded - that's more truthful), that I still had two small indigo pieces to be completed in time for our fibre group's exhibit at Whyte's Gallery. Which opened on Saturday. So before I could begin, I made these:
"Thinking in Blue", and

"Slowly, slowly"

And once I had all my indigo fabrics spread across the table top, I began thinking of other possibilities for them, such as greeting cards:

These use the smallest of the cyanotype prints I made of tiny ferns when I was in New Zealand.

And then there was the log cabin quilt that had been hanging around waiting for a binding before I could call it finished - the perfect thing to have in hand for ferry rides to and from Hornby Island. And then there was LIFE - that ever-changing and ever-unpredictable set of circumstances that we deal with every day. It's that part that you can never predict, despite all your detailed planning and your careful organization. It's that thing that keeps us supple and flexible, as we adjust to new realities in our respective worlds. And for me, this week, it's meant huge changes in our household as we hunt for the antigen that's been causing my respiratory problems. Go figure! But how marvellous to have this thing called quilting to come back to. It's given me comfort and support before, and it will do it again. I feel so fortunate to have something that gives me such pleasure, and continues to excite me and hold my interest. So I will get going on those African collages - I promise! - I just had a few things to attend to first.


Monday, June 12, 2017

The Merits of De-Cluttering One's Studio

The last two weeks have been spent de-cluttering my studio. Challenged by Lisa Call to give away, dispose of, or pack away anything not to do with the African collages which will be my focus of work for the next few months, I have cleared the studio of everything else. Yes, some went in the garbage, and there were two big boxes labelled "Quilts in Progress" and "Quilts in Planning" that went into my storage cupboard, and a few were given away. At the end of this process, which took way longer than I thought it would, I felt totally liberated. Now all those things I might use in this present work are easy to access, and I am no longer distracted by other possibilities. I have my African sketchbook open and ready to record the progress of work I'm making, as well as ideas for future work, and my fabrics are ready and waiting.
I managed to make this 12" X 12" quilt - "Teatime Under the Baobab Tree" - in time to donate it to the SAQA auction, and a block for the Hornby Island Community quilt, but apart from that my actual making of things has been pretty limited. But I'm ready to get to work, and focussed in a way I wasn't previously. The thing is, I like to keep my options open, but in this case, keeping my options open has been preventing me from doing the work I want to do. And as challenging as it was to follow up on Lisa's suggestion, it has proved to be the very thing I needed. At least I believe so. I am excited as I anticipate what will come into being in the coming months. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Women of Uganda

Last Friday, my DH had a fund-raising event in aid of the Widows Garden Project that he's currently involved with. It was great. Lots of laughter, wonderful singing by the Panache Choir from Nanaimo, competitive bidding on the many silent auction items, and a sales of Bitengye crafts, along with a short presentation on the project. Which has lead to me thinking about the women we worked with in Uganda - through the Kitambaa Sewing Project, at Alice's school, and at Recheal's Clinic.
Lydia and Stella
 Anna in foreground, Kamidah, Knight and Alice in background
Alice working with the women at the cutting table
 Lydia and Dorothy beading
 Alice and I discussing pricing
The Bitengye Designers - October '15
Things have not been going so well for these ladies lately. Despite their best efforts, the school uniforms they had hoped to sell have not been sold, the order they thought they had received from an organization that purchases crafts for tourist agencies has fallen through, and the small orders of crafts I've been able to place with them are not enough to sustain them. The last photo I saw of the group showed discouraged faces, and I am not sure what to do. I can't travel to Uganda any more, for health reasons, but even if I could, I no longer have the opportunities to sell Bitengye items as I did before I retired from teaching. 
On a brighter note, the director of a retreat house in Nanaimo asked me at the fund-raiser, if I could send her photos of the items made by the Bitengye Designers. She is hopeful of being able to place a small order. And the Christmas craft fairs we attend in several local communities are another venue where we sell their goods. But the real problem is with a lack of knowledge of in-country marketing, and this is something I can't pursue. I am left with a feeling of having let these women down. I haven't forgotten them - I just don't know what to do to help.
I wonder if this is the natural way to feel at the conclusion of a project. In the development world, there is a great deal of emphasis on "sustainability". But in poor countries, how realistic is it to think, even after eight years of involvement, that something like the sewing project is sustainable? How do women sell the goods they make in an economy that is hand to mouth, where people purchase only the essentials?  I wish I knew the answers.