Monday, May 9, 2016

Words and Fabric

I love words almost as much as I love fabric. I enjoy writing and reading, and have collected quotations that inspire me or interest me for longer than I've been stitching. In fact my first collection (which I still have in my possession) was made when I was fourteen years old. So putting words together with fabric is a natural pairing for me. When our small Fibre Art Voices group came up with the theme of "Words" for a future exhibit, I decided that it was time to make some small fabric pieces that featured some of these quotations. Several years ago I made a large piece which contained some of the African proverbs I've collected over the years, so it seemed quite right and natural to return to these pithy sayings. for this project.

I have had a wonderful time retrieving scraps from my basket to make up the backgrounds for the proverbs. Pieced from leftover bits and bobs, each one is different. They're pretty small - about 4" x 6"- but once mounted on a small painted canvas and displayed on a wooden stand, they're quite lovely, I think.  All are being made in readiness for the Mid-Island Studio Tour our group will be part of at the end of this month. And yes, they'll be for sale. If you're anywhere near Deep Bay on Vancouver Island when the tour takes place, please drop by and see us. There are 9 fibre artists in our group, so there'll be lots and lots of variety in what you'll see on display.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Little of This, A Little of That

April has been a month of endings and beginnings. Most notably, an end to the colder, darker days and the arrival of spring. It's been a month of blossoms in our neck of the woods - beginning with forsythia and apple blossoms, then cherry and magnolias, followed by dogwood and rhododendrons. And the greens of spring everywhere never fail to delight me. The trumpeter swans that winter in the Comox Valley have now departed for their nesting grounds in Siberia, while songbirds in abundance can be heard in the trees in our yard. And my stitching has seen an end to one thing and a beginning to another too. My Indigo and Bluebirds quilt went off to its new home in Nelson, my Traveller's Blanket is just waiting for its binding, and a series of small African Proverbs pieces was started.
I have spent good chunks of time over at our cabin on Hornby Island, and made new blocks for my "Turning 65" quilt using the scraps I store there in an old pine trunk from Quebec. My friend Joan was able to accompany me on one of these occasions, and began work on a Jacqueline de Jonge quilt she's been wanting to make for some time, while I stitched away at my improvisational blocks.
And in a total departure from my usual colour palette and ways of working, I made a block for the Hornby Island Community Quilt. This year's theme was community radio, and the block harks back to the years when I was quite small, before there was TV, and I used to listen to stories about Wiggly Worm on a BBC radio show called Listen with Mother. The story always began with the words "Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin." Fabrics were provided for the block, with each of us adding our own to the mix. 
I've also done a little experimenting with cyanotype this month, with mixed results, but will share those another time. Now back to work on my African Proverbs . . . and perhaps a few other things besides. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Where Has the Time Gone???

I am finding it very hard to believe that it's the end of March already - a full month since I last blogged about my creative pursuits and thoughts about them. It seems I have only been able to keep my resolution to blog every week for the first two months of this year, but I am resolved that I will pick myself up by my bootstraps (whatever those are!) and get back on track. Writing about my work helps me keep track of what I've done and where I'm going. So does the notebook I keep - as is seen in photo above. Every month I make a list of my goals for that month, and then as I complete them, I cross them off with a red pen and write "completed". Some months I'm only able to cross off two or three of the items, but this was a pretty good month, with only one item that will be carried forward into April. I also make an annual list of "Quilts under construction" and "Quilts I'd like to make". And another list for my creative goals for the year. I've been doing this for six years now, and I find it really helps me stay on track and less likely to fly off "madly in all directions".

You may remember that at the beginning of the year I made another resolution - to make a small "luggage tag" creation every week, limiting myself to using only the scraps that accumulate in my rubbish bin that week. The tags are another means of giving me a sense of where I've been and what I've been doing.  One thing is abundantly clear to me at this point - that my love affair with bright saturated colours shows absolutely no signs of abating! I have bought a couple of marvellous books lately on natural dyeing and slow stitching using more earthy-coloured fabrics (Eco Colour by India Flint and Natural Processes in Textile Art by Alice Fox), but my own work seems to reside at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Also at the beginning of the year, I began making small improvisational tiny works, and I now have 24 of these. Recently I added grey print borders to the sides of each, and I like the way this sets them apart from each other. I think of this as my "Turning 65 Quilt", and plan to make a total of 65 blocks in total, before layering it and quilting it.  So while I haven't been writing about it, I have certainly been happily stitching. I must say that I'm very glad to be back in my own home and getting into my own routines again after a fall and winter spent mostly away from home. Thanks for dropping by, and especially to those of you who take the time to add your comments. Happy quilting everyone! 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Slow Stitching

I arrived home from New Zealand the day before yesterday, and along with unpacking and doing the laundry, I had the task of going through all the mail that had arrived in my absence. In amongst all the  bills and bank statements and other less-than-exciting mail was the Spring 2016 issue of Canadian Quilter. Marcy Horswill, who is now the editor of the magazine and also a good friend, had watched me working on my Traveller's Blanket and had suggested that I might like to write an article on Slow Stitching for this publication, which I was happy to do. 
I turned to page 42 and there it was, including some photos of recent work that has included hand-stitching. I must say that it's always a bit of a rush to see one's work and words in print, and I quickly read through the article to see if I'd managed to say what I'd wanted to say. As is often the case, I recognized that I could have improved on a thing or two, or possibly added to the content, but overall this reelection on the joys and merits of working more slowly, more intentionally, and thus connecting better with both the process and the materials used in handwork still holds true for me.
A couple of weeks after I'd submitted the article, I came across a review of this new book - "Slow Stitch", by Claire Wellesely Smith. I had ordered it from Amazon (oh how I love to get books in the mail!), and so it was waiting for me too, and yesterday I began to read it. In it, Claire says:
     "I see a slow approach as a celebration of process, work that has reflection at its heart and skill that takes time to learn. By slowing down my own textile practice, I have developed a deeper emotional commitment to it, to the themes I am exploring, and to the processes I use."
So well said, and in a volume that's lavishly illustrated with both her own work and the work of other artists, I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about this way of working.
Many of those who quilt and stitch are also knitters, and so you will appreciate the third "welcome home" surprise I received - a hand-knitted scarf made for me by my friend Trudy. Knitting has the same sorts of rhythm to it as slow stitching .- the same sort of meditative quality and intentionality. There's something about working with your hands that cannot be replicated by any machine. I so appreciate the colours in this scarf, as well as the work and the thought that went into it. Not to mention that it's keeping me warm as I adjust to late winter/early spring after two months of summer. So all in all, it's been a great time of home-coming. I will miss our New Zealand family, but will hopefully be able to return again next year. In the meantime, it's time to pick up my stitching . . .

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Looking Back

Some years ago, I heard someone suggest the value of taking the time to look back over your work, from time to time, to identify those pieces you've made, and to see which work stands the test of time and still rings true to yourself. This last week, after receiving a request from the Australian publication Patchwork and Stitching, for them to feature me in their magazine, I did just that.
The Red Door 
The photographs they chose to include in the article were selected from my website, and included some old favourites, as well as some newer pieces. There will be more in the issue than I can include here, but seeing their selections, and then thinking of those pieces I would have included but they did not include, gave me the opportunity to review my work over the last twenty years or so.
No Worries
The two things that stand out the most for me are the frequency with which I use a log cabin format in my work, and my signature use of colour. Perhaps I could add to that that I like using strong contrast, and that both line and shape are important to me  And if I dig a little deeper,  I would dare to add that many of the pieces I make have a strong narrative quality to them, having to do with finding the joy in life, and of finding a way through darkness to light. Windows and doors are recurring themes, and trees and leaves appear with regularity. 
A New Beginning
I think, perhaps, that looking back is one way to see how to move forward. There will always be a place for experimenting with new ways of working, and some of these may become ours too over time. But it's also important to identify those things that make work your own. Some would call it "finding your voice". 
Windows on My World

Monday, February 8, 2016

Filling the Well - Doing the Work

Walking through Wellington's Botanical Gardens again this week, I am reminded of a concept I first heard about in Julia Cameron's well-known book, "The Artist's Way". She talks about "filling the well" - exposing oneself to all sorts of experiences, and the probability that they will encourage creative ideas to flourish. Sometimes I feel that my well is almost too full, and that the ideas outstrip my ability to flesh them out. Sometimes I feel that ideas are cheap - a substitute for doing the work. But I only have to spend time deep in the woods or walking along a beach to be reminded of how important these occasions are to my sense of well-being, and to the creative process. 

The improbable shapes of tree trunks, the gnarled mess of roots trying to find purchase, the flash of brilliant colour against the grey of the trunks, the myriad shapes and sizes of deciduous leaves - my eye takes these in, records them, and percolates them. In some mysterious way, some of them will inform the work I do. My job however, is not to figure out the connection between the two - filling the well and the work that results - but to just get out there and experience as much of it all as I can.

Julia Cameron talks about taking yourself on an "artist's date" once a week, and an outing such as this one fits the bill. However it could be something else entirely - a trip to the stationery store, to a gallery, to a museum, to a second-hand shop. Because there's just no telling where the next inspiration will come from. For example, I was at the Te Papa Museum here in Wellington last week, where I saw short clips of immigrants to New Zealand and their stories. They weren't flashy, but a wonderful compilation of the diverse experiences, speaking of when people came here, and why they left their own countries, and what they made of it all when they arrived. It spoke strongly to me, and I found I had tears in my eyes, hearing of these tales of brave individuals, going out into the unknown in the hopes of a better life for themselves and their families. Now the idea will simmer for a good long time, as I wonder if there is a way to express this concept in fabric.

But what happened back in my "studio" after all this "well-filling"? The piece I've been working on needed to be stitched, and I've been working on that. Soon it will be completed. I've called it "It's a Fine Line", and it's my response to an invitation to make a piece for the Fibre Arts Voices group exhibit "A Fine Line". The quote that inspired it is by Charles Hazelwood, a conductor who in describing Mozart's music, stated that "Mozart, in his music, captured this something that is the human condition . . . the fine line that we all constantly dance between joy and pain, between absolute happiness and absolute heartbreak."
So there it is in a nutshell - the cyclical dance between experience and response, between inspiration and creative ideas, and between feeling deeply about something and then trying to express it in fabric. A series of circles really, overlapping and unending.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Movable Studio

Last week I moved to a new abode, still in Wellington, New Zealand, but time I have a room in someone's home. Jenny co-owns a gallery, and is away for chunks of time. Which is when I take her up on her invitation and convert her dining area and kitchen into my studio-away-from-home. The house is old,with only one electric outlet in each room, so I gently move the table so it's close enough for me to be able to plug in my sewing machine. And a towel-covered tiled countertop becomes my ironing surface. Bring out the fabric, the scissors and cutting mat, and I'm ready to go.
I have so much less in this temporary space than I've become accustomed to at home, and yet really and truly, it's all I need. In fact I might go as far as saying that I'm as content in this set-up as in my usual location. Less sometimes really is more. Maybe it has something about boiling down what I actually need to the basics. I know that having less fabric choices is actually helping me stay focussed. I'm sticking to working with the selection of brightly coloured fabrics I brought with me. Maybe there's a little wisdom in working like that at other times - to limit my choices, thereby freeing 
me up from being distracted by too many possibilities. Something to think about.

Jenny's home has her collections of books and of art, and interesting items like this cube, discovered today, each side featuring a different quotation from a different artist. This one's my favourite - "Go on working freely and furiously, you will make progress." Paul Gauguin. I'm taking his words to heart. 

And interspersing time spent sewing blocks together by machine with time spent hand-stitching a piece I showed you a couple of weeks ago. It should be nearly finished by the next time you hear from me, when I'll be ready to show you a full-on photo of it. A piece I've been working on for an upcoming Fibre Art Network exhibit has been completed, all except the binding, but I'm not able to show that to you just yet unfortunately. And new ideas are being jotted down in a visual journal I bought at the beginning of this year. just for this purpose. So lots of happy creative pursuits this week, interspersed with time spent with my now 6 week-old grandson. Life is good.