Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fibre Art Voices

I consider myself fortunate in belonging to a local group of fibre artists known as Fibre Art Voices. We are fairly diverse in our backgrounds and in the ways we like to work, but we come together regularly to share what we've learned, to experiment with new techniques, and to challenge ourselves in our creative endeavours. We have just put together an exhibit called "Oceans", and are now applying to various venues in order that the public can see what we're up to. Each of us created one large piece and two or more supporting pieces, and here are a couple of photos of them on display in the context of the recent mid-Island garden show. (Thanks to Marcy's parents for inviting us to hang them in their Ladysmith garden house!) The benefits of being part of a small group like this are enormous - lots of encouragement, opportunities for critique, challenges as to "what if . . .?", and the camaraderie of like-minded friends. Oh yes, and good food and drink shared along with lots of stories and laughter.

Yesterday we had an indigo dyeing day in the backyard of one of our members. Hands-on help, the ability to ask pertinent questions, and the sharing of resources resulted in some wonderful indigo pieces being created. The magic of watching a green piece of fabric gradually change to indigo as it's exposed to the air always amazes. And experiments with tie-dyeing, folding and clamping, scrunching pole-wrapping yielded such a variety of results. The challenge now will be incorporating some of these gems into the pieces we make. Hey, maybe that should be our next group challenge? A collection of work based on our indigo fabrics . . .
Margaret with a piece of fabric freshly dipped in the indigo vat.

Some of the first pieces made. In no time at all the washing line was full.

So then we spread the pieces on the grass.

June preparing a piece of shibori.

Marcy looks on as June and Margaret work their magic.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Collecting of Treasures

I have been thinking a lot lately about why we collect things. I have been an intrepid collector for most of my life - gathering bits of beach or forest, or artifacts from travelling, not to mention textiles, wherever I go. I have stones from all sorts of places - mostly rounded, weathered stones - in bowls and little piles all over my house. And sticks and leaves from trees, and beads and carved bone from Africa. And I'm wondering why they're so important to me. I think it has something to do with remembering, and about guarding against the loss of that memory. But also something to do with touching and holding what I experience, thus making it a part of me. Below are a few photos of recent gatherings:


Often the things we want to hold onto cannot be kept - like the seaweed in the middle picture. This "collection" is one that occurred naturally, in this case the assortment washed up on a nearby shore after a week of high winds. A photo is all that can be retained, which is a "keeping" of a different sort, but still serves as an aid to remembering. Recently I have been looking at ways to incorporate some of these found objects and treasures into my work. The small African pieces I've previously shown you are examples of this. The two small works I made as companion pieces to "Swiftsure" are attempts to do the same thing. In these I used the strip pieced sea and beach as a background for a piece of dark green silk, and then mounted shells and a piece of driftwood on these. I like the juxtaposition of the finish of the fabric and the rawness of the objects. I called them "Beach Treasures".

Each measures only 12" X 12". They're mounted on a painted canvas, to aid in hanging them on the wall. I have a feeling there will be more of these in days and weeks to come.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Reflections on Human Mark-Making with Dorothy Caldwell


Attending a workshop this last week was a gift. It was a week-long workshop with Dorothy Caldwell, renowned textile artist from Hastings, Ontario. I have long admired Dorothy's work, but to be privy to guided explorations into some of the ways marks can be made, to editing these images until they become their own story, and then collecting them together in a small book, was a remarkable journey. We made marks with finger and thumb prints, with extended paintbrushes, with smoke and with burning incense, with batik and bleach resist dyeing. We came to know our materials and how they might be altered and collected, in pursuing a particular way of interpreting our world. And yet it was not a "how-to" workshop, but more of a process workshop. I'm home now, and still mulling it all over, and will be for some time to come.



These are a few of the things I came away with. First of all, the importance of working with your own found materials. For example, in making a piece about leaves, it would be important that I collect the leaves, and that I experiment with how leaves interact with the materials with which I choose to record those leaves. Photos, even those that I have taken, remove me from the rawness and immediacy of the very thing I want to get close to. For Dorothy, that has meant walking the land, in places like Australia and Baffin Island, with the work coming much later. Next, I am confirmed in my love of collecting things. And when I collect, I needn't know how these materials will be used. It's enough to begin with gathering those things that are peculiar to my own travels. And thirdly there is being open to exploration and where it takes me. Not needing to know the end at the beginning. Enjoying the journey. One quote she gave us was particularly apt  for me:
     "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You see only as far as your headlights but you can        make the whole trip that way." E. L. Doctorow
I have come home from this entire experience profoundly thankful, feeling that I have had the honour of spending time with a remarkable woman, not to mention a number of gifted fellow travellers. Sometimes life gives you something so unexpectedly grand, that's all you can do - give thanks.



Sunday, May 31, 2015

Parksville Quilt Show

Going to a quilt show is a wonderful thing. I am just excited to do so these days as I was when I attended my first quilt show, quite by accident, in rural Ontario sometime in the 60's. And the Parksville Quilt Show was such a feast of colour and design and expertise. Such variety. Going to a quilt show is always an educational thing too, and I was surprised that it was the traditional appliqué quilts that I admired the most. This first one - Baltimore Voyage made by Paulette Cornish - was my favourite. Each block is so perfectly made, and the hand quilting showed it off in a way that machine quilting can never aspire to. The second appliqué quilt is Buds and Berries, made by Charlotte Hitchin. The stipple quilting around the nine motifs in the centre block is exquisite. 

It probably comes as no surprise that Village Life won a special place in my books. I love the layout, and all the activities going on in the centre of the huts. The fabric scraps are familiar to me - in fact come from a scrap bag of African prints I sold through Kitambaa - but the arrangement is Pat Louie's original design. Beautiful! And below that is Fireworks over Vancouver, made by Brenda Wilson. The threads she's used capture the fireworks perfectly. Such skilled machine quilting.

This tumbling blocks pattern, with an added vine border, is called Dragons - Bikes - Now Vines, and was made by Giselle Brewster for her son. It took a few years to bring to fruition, hence the title, indicating how her son's interests changed, as did the border treatment, as her son grew up. I love the way the blocks tumble onto the border, and are incorporated into the flowers. And there's always something quite special about a quilt made lovingly and over time for a family member. Last but not least, is Late Winter Sunset, made by Florence Labreque. I love, love, love this piece - surely my favourite art quilt of the show.

I think it's amazing that these works of art can be displayed like this, for all of us to enjoy. I wish I'd had the opportunity to go back a second and third time, as I'm sure I missed things. But what a joy to spend a day surrounded by the fruits of such creativity. Thank you, thank you to everyone who took part in the show. I so enjoyed it, and feel enormously proud to be part of such a community.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Seeds of an Idea for an Indigo Quilt

Last summer I took my first steps into the world of dyeing with indigo. There's something timeless and so appealing about this colour. Ever since I've been wanting to find a way to incorporate these fabrics into my work, and the opportunity came this spring with an idea of a piece I wanted to try to make. To begin, I selected three of the hand-dyed fabrics and then chose about 10 different batiks and prints of blue in different values to add to those. Some of these I combined into strip units, as seen below - just sewing them together randomly in varying widths was my first step.

Then I pulled out these delicious perle cottons from Colour Complements (find them on Etsy). Lorraine lives on the Sunshine Coast and her work, especially the variegated cottons, are marvellous. They look so striking with the blues, don't you think? Then I added in a piece of hand-dyed cotton I'd purchased from Ricky Tims eons ago, and started making some tall skinny units, and some "blossom" units.

All the while, I was thinking about the joy of winter gardens. I'm not much of a gardener myself, but I am most appreciative of flowers grown by others. And at no time is this more true than in the depths of winter, when it seems as though it's been raining non-stop for 700 days or so. Then by some miracle, right about late January or early February, when I'm beginning to wonder if spring will ever come again, these riotous bouquets of tulips appear in the grocery store. And I for one, never even try to resist the urge to buy these living, glowing, harbingers of spring. And that's what this quilt is about.

 The fun part comes when you try to put all the units together into a harmonious whole, and that's what I'm doing right now. It's a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle. I will have to wait until sometime in the summer to show you the completed piece, as I hope to enter it in a juried show, and can't reveal it until after that's happened. I thought you might enjoy learning about the process I use, for those who are not so familiar with improvisational piecing. And for those that are, I hope you enjoyed reading about how one quilt began, all the same.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Murder of Crows

A Tribute to Ana Miriam
How delightful it was to stumble upon these crow quilts when I dropped into a small bakery on Cliffe Avenue yesterday. All made by friend Jessie Schut, they are made with a gentle blend of seriousness and humour. Each one celebrates a different aspect of life, or a person, or a time. Jessie has been writing her blog - Crow Day One - for almost two years now. In it she continues to tell her stories and to reflect on life with the same wisdom glimpsed in these small works. I had seen photos of the crows on the website, but not in person until yesterday, and I was charmed. Jessie also enjoys playing with unusual fabrics, often with bits of bling, and is unafraid of using all sorts of embellishments. If you live anywhere near the Comox Valley, I would encourage you to drop into "Sweet Surprise" to see them for yourself. And if not, I hope you enjoy them vicariously via this blog.

Easter Morning Alleluia

Self Portrait at 65

Love Birds
Coming home after seeing Jessie's Crows, I was thinking about how important it is for those of us who work in fibre to get our finished pieces out there for the public to enjoy. How great that shops like Sweet Surprise are willing to act as a gallery for us. And how wonderful that Jessie was ready to share her creations. Thanks to you both.

Aesop's Crow

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Blue Birds and Indigo


Over the years I have collected all sorts of indigo prints. Some of these are African, some Japanese, some batiks, and there are even a few North American prints in there. From time to time I've sewn these together into blocks, using improvisational piecing. The centre blocks are all African indigo prints, most of them birds, I cut these into different sizes, and then surround them in strips of different widths, always ending up with a 12 1/2" square. The time finally came this month to put them all together into one quilt - a queen-sized quilt for my sister Sara - and to do it, I used that most traditional of settings - sashing with tiny squares. Making it has made me realize that improvisational piecing or improvisational quilting really is something that's on a continuum. This quilt is closer to a traditional quilt, with only a few characteristics moving it towards improvisation. Other pieces I've made have strips that are different widths along the length of them, or are cut out with scissors, and end up in blocks that are "wonky". But sometimes a more formal arrangement seems appropriate, as happened here. However one describes the process, it still had lots of variation to keep my interest going (I seem to get bored by making the same quilt block over and over again), and gave me great pleasure to make. Now on to something just a little more daring . . .