Monday, January 23, 2017

Fifty Years of Words

I have been a journal writer for most of my adult life, and recently realized that if I didn't do something soon with all the pages I'd written over the last fifty years, my children will be left with a dreadful job when I "leave this mortal coil". There is so much "blah, blah, blah" in them, along with quotations I've gathered over the years, and cuttings I've carefully pasted in. But mostly I have used writing as a way to get a handle on my many thoughts, and as a place where I could pour out my feelings as I tried to sort how to live this complicated life we're given. 
A few weeks ago I read in Judy Martin's blog, that she was re-reading her own journals then wrapping them up when she finished them, and I thought this was brilliant. So beginning with the journal I wrote when I was sixteen, I am beginning this process. I couldn't throw them out, because in some way they measure and mark my life. So instead I'm going to package them up with fabric (silk?) and yarn after I read them, and pack them one by one into a suitcase. Inside there will be instructions for my children - that they are under no obligation to read them, and would likely get very bored very quickly if they tried, but instead that once I'm gone, they should have a big bonfire and burn them all at once, a celebration marked with good food and good wine (will I provide a budget for that, I've been asked!). Now you can see the reason for me beginning this post with the quote about being weird.
In the last twenty or so years, many of my entries have been about my creative life. When I see something that strikes a chord with me, I write it down. Or when I'm struggling with what to do next on a certain piece, that might get written down too. There's often repetition of certain ideas, and when that happens, I know to pay attention. Sometimes by writing things down I am taking the first step towards them becoming a reality. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by a situation and need to work my feelings out on paper. And sometimes I'm just taking the time to be still, to observe the world around me, and to reflect on it. Then the writing becomes more of a meditation.
The small fibre art group I belong to has taken on the challenge of making work with "Words" being the theme. I made quite a few African proverb pieces, but now want to make some more small pieces that incorporate some of the quotations I have found helpful over the years. These are changing all the time, and what strikes me as deep and meaningful today may not do so in a few years time, but the practice of collecting the words of others is now a huge part of me, and making small works which incorporate words will be one more way to do this.  I'm looking forward to getting started.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Winter and Wool Stitching

The Comox Valley typically has mild winters, but we're just coming through the third cold snap of the season, with snow staying on the ground, the sound of plows clearing it in the wee hours of the morning and the crunch of it underfoot, and are dealing with the ice that results when it freezes again, making everyone a little less confident than usual in leaving the warmth of their homes for the great outdoors. No better time methinks, to settle down and do a little more wool stitching.
I finished stitching the ivy leaf I showed you last week, using blanket stitch, chain stitch and back stitch, and then moved on to a leaf coming from a shrub in our front yard. I will have to find out the name of it when next I go to the nursery. I was thinking of spring while I was stitching - yes, I know it was a little premature - and ended up adding a few daisy stitches down at the bottom. I also tried out fly stitch for the first time, down the centre vein of each leaf, and am pleased with the result. 
Another terrific source of suggestions as to what stitches to use is Sally Mavor's book "A Pocketful of Posies". It's not a how-to book, but a good visual reference, and would make a wonderful gift for a little person in your life (and perhaps for yourself). She created the illustrations for the entire book with her hand-stitched scenes - an incredible accomplishment.
Here's just one page to show you what I mean. Sally creates all of her figures and leaves first, and only attaches them to the background when the stitching is completed. What an imagination, and what patience! I admire such work, but for now am content continuing with my little collection of
wool leaves. It is noticeable that many people are travelling down this "Slow Stitching" road at the moment, at least I get that impression from various blogs and Facebook postings I've seen recently. Maybe we're getting tired of the quick and easy, and beginning to realize what we lose when we abandon handwork. Maybe the comfort of seeing what we can do with just our hands and some thread and some fabric is what we need right now.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Tutorial #1 - Hand-Stitching Wool Leaves

Happy New Year to each of you! I've started the new year with my leaf-stitching project, and it occurred to me (now that I'm back in the rhythm of blogging once a week) that although  I've retired from teaching, I can still share some of what I've learned and am learning with tutorials. Many other quilters and stitchers have already done this, and I've been most thankful to be able to access their knowledge and learn from their experiences. So here is the first one:

Hand-Stitching Wool Leaves


1. Walk around your garden, or through the woods, and pick leaves from half a dozen or so plants. Look for shapes that appeal to you, and leaves that won't overwhelm the background size you've chosen. These are from the ivy which climbs up the chimney on the side of our house.
2. Place two or three leaves between each double sheet, folded, of paper towel. Write the name of the plant or tree and the date you picked it on the paper towel - you'd be amazed how quickly you forget where they've all come from - and photocopy one of each leaf as well, just for reference. When all the leaves are folded, press them under a stack of heavy books, and leave them there for several days.
3. After a day or so until they'll usually be flat enough to trace, but will take longer to dry more completely. Trace around the each leaf outline (including the stem) onto freezer paper.
4. Press the freezer paper pattern onto the wool you've chosen for the leaf shape. Cut around the leaf on the marked line and remove the freezer paper.
5. Place the wool leaf on the background you've chosen, and use a few dabs from a glue stick to hold the leaf in place. (It doesn't take much.) If you decide to add a stem from a different piece of wool, this is the time to do so, adhering it to the wool leaf in the same manner.
6. Now comes the fun part. Using photos you've seen of stitching you like (there are tons of examples on the internet), or a reference such as the one above (my current favourite) begin stitching the leaf to the background and the stem to the leaf using stitches that appeal to you. Two or three strands of embroidery floss or #8 or #12 perle cotton work very well for this. Keep stitching, using a variety of stitches, until you feel happy with the result.

I find I don't know quite how I'll stitch a leaf until I get going. I make it up as I go along. But for others who like to plan in advance, you might want to add another step at this time, and make a little sketch for yourself of what you plan to do before you get going. I stick to pretty basic stitches - Blanket stitch, Chain stitch, Straight stitch, Backstitch and French knots - so you don't need to be an expert to get good results.  It's amazing how many variations of each of those listed above is possible. Most of all, enjoy the process. It can become quite addictive!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Last Week of the Year

When my children were small, I spent the last few weeks and days before Christmas madly making little dresses for them right up until the last minute. In fact on the Christmas our twin girls were 2 1/2, I was still hemming their dresses in sub-zero weather, as we drove from Elgin to Souris (Manitoba) to attend the Christmas morning Church service. And the wrapping of gifts often kept me up past midnight on Christmas Eve. But these days are different, and it gave me great pleasure to make my grandson his Christmas stocking slowly and thoughtfully.
The hand-dyed wools I used for that project were from my sister Sara - a rug hooker. I so enjoyed stitching them - the ease with which a needle goes through the wool - that I've decided my 2017 weekly project will be to make one leaf square a week, using the pieces of wool pictured above. The width of the strips is as little as 4 1/2", so they will be 4 1/2" squares. I'll add in a couple of larger brownish pieces I have as well, which should give me good variety, and use embroidery floss for the stitches themselves. I think I'm going to enjoy making these.
In a departure from the traditions of other Christmas holidays, we joined our Vancouver Island family at a chalet up on Mt. Washington for a few days. Pictured here are my daughter Jessie, my son Ben, my daughter-in-law Emily, and grand-daughters Nora and Molly. The little girls had their first ever skiing lesson, and loved playing in the snow up on the mountain - only forty-five minutes from home, and it's a totally different world. (You probably can't tell from the photo, but Nora is licking an icicle about 3 feet long!!) Now we're home again, exhausted but happy, and by tomorrow I'll be back at my stitching once more. I'll be tidying up the studio, taking stock of the year that has been, and making plans for the year to come. I want to wish all of you a very Happy New Year, full of all the things you enjoy most, and lots of time for your creative endeavours whatever they are!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Merry Christmas from the Bitengye Designers


Kamidah, Anna, Lydia, Justina, Knight and Alice - the six Bitengye Designers who live in Rubingo - are photographed here in the office of Alice's Sewing School. They're looking pretty pleased, as I've been able to place a new order with them. We just about sold out of their products at the three Christmas Craft Fairs we attended this fall, with the proceeds from the sales all going to the Widows Garden Project. So we used some of the proceeds to re-order the most popular items.
The letter I wrote to them was read aloud at the meeting, and they sent their greetings back to Canada. So I am passing them on to you, thanking all of you who purchased their products at the local fairs, and giving the rest of you a heads-up that soon some of these will be available on Etsy. Yes, I am going to open an Etsy shop, and will be selling some fabrics, some beads, and some finished products. Stay tuned . . .
I wish I'd thought about it in enough time, but what I really would have liked to do, was to make a Christmas card from this quilt, or a couple of others I've made, and to sell those too, with proceeds going to these women. That might be something to remember for next year. In the meantime, I'll be making more African pieces and posting them as they're finished, with a portion of all the sales going to the Widows Garden Project.
Here's another that might work - of Alice teaching the women how to thread a treadle.
I found this card quite by accident recently - one I made for my Mum and Dad when I was six - and thought you might enjoy seeing it. Some of the fluff (snow) has fallen off, but I still quite like it. Must be the bright colours! I wish all of you a very Happy Christmas, and a New Year full of possibilities and creative pursuits!


Monday, December 12, 2016

The Lure and Wisdom of Multiples

You may remember that in January of this year, I set myself a little project - to make a luggage tag each and every week of the year, using only the scraps I had popped in my small desktop garbage that week. Well, we're nearing the end of the year, and I have just a few left to make. The thing that I've learned, more than anything else, is that I find it easiest to work when I've set myself very specific limitations. Those limitations - in size, in materials, and in time - can be incredibly liberating! Doing one little thing every Monday morning has not been difficult, precisely because of those limitations, and yet it adds up to a "big something" in time. What I am going to do with 52 luggage tags I'm not quite sure yet, but I have loved committing myself to something small, and watching the results appear almost as if by magic.
These are the luggage tags from October and November - altogether different. Some work better than others as small compositions, but they all record what I was working on for one of the weeks of 2016. I'll be sure to share the whole collection with you at the end of the year.
"Turning 65" was another week by week project this year (with a few extra blocks thrown in along the way). And now I've begun hand-quilting it. The quilt itself is going to be quite large, but making one improvisational block at a time was not in the least overwhelming. Could it be that breaking down a project into smaller components makes it more do-able? You've probably known this for a long time, but I seem to be a slow learner, and have to keep reminding myself that doing a little bit every day, or every week, makes the seemingly impossible possible.
The same held true when I worked on my "African Proverbs". If I had decided to make twenty small pieces it would have seemed huge, but to make one tiny piece and then another was manageable. In fact,  it had the added bonus of giving me repeated injections of pleasure each time one of the pieces was finished.
"Indigo Tiles" is a quilt I made last year. I made one block but couldn't seem to stop there. I wanted to see what a whole quilt made up in this pattern in blues would like. The problem was that it was a fiddly block to make and I became disenchanted with the process early on. The only way I could figure out how to get it done was to make one block a day until I had twenty blocks made. I wrote out a list so I had a visual to go on as well, and each time I finished a block I crossed it out on my list - with red ink! And so this quilt too was finished by breaking it down into smaller steps.
A project that gave me much more pleasure to work on was my traveller's blanket. And yet it too was completed by working on one embroidered square at a time. Once again, I numbered and wrote about each leaf as I finished it. I'm wondering now if it's just me that thrives on this way of working, or if it's something other people experience too? I even find the finished work more pleasing when it is made up of many small things. And now I'm wondering about carrying this observation one step further, and have purchased tiny canvases on which I plan to mount tiny works. The trick will be giving myself other limitations or boundaries for what kind of works I will make, or I know I'll quickly be overwhelmed by the myriad possibilities and grind to a halt. Sometimes I consider myself the most fortunate of people in having so very many ideas of what to make, and I am, but getting these wild things corralled and into something I can handle ( a bit like hearing sheep, I would think), is sometimes problematic, and remembering the wisdom of working in multiples could go a long way to making it easier, don't you think?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What Am I Working on Now?

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that I am back working with African fabrics again. The new ones David brought home from Uganda in October have been added to old favorites - such a riot of colour - and cut into rectangles.
Then I added squares in a variety of warm-coloured neutrals. Can you guess where I'm going with this?
And before you know it I have rows of flying geese. There's still more work to be done before the quilt top will be complete, but it has been such a pleasure working with these fabrics again. I've brought out my African beads and bits and bobs of all sorts too, and anticipate working with all of these in the months to come.
Because I am still getting requests for African fabric for sale, I've decided to make some of these items available on my own Etsy shop - Kitambaa Studio - which will be up and running shortly. Here's a peek of the first bundle of fat quarters being offered. 
On another note altogether, and with the help of the Hornby Quilters, my "Turning Sixty-five" quilt has now been thread-basted. I love it when I'm able to join this amazing group of women, when sewing machines are set up and tables are raised,and work is done on both community and personal quilts until tea-time. Then Heinz Laffin's pottery teapots are filled and home-baked goodies are put out on a plate, and we share a story or two before heading home again. Now I will be thinking of them, as well as mulling over all sorts of other things, while I sit and slowly hand-stitch the layers together.