Monday, February 28, 2011

Quilts made by Judy Morningstar

I have long been a fan of quilts made by Manitoba's Judy Morningstar. I was first introduced to her colourful creations while reading an early 80's issue of Quilters' Newsletter Magazine. Since then I have had the treat of seeing several more, as well as meeting Judy some years ago. I'd like to share a few of them here with you. The wall-hanging was made a couple of years ago, and features tiny screen printed batiks enclosed in wonky African huts. The "poverty piecing" she has used as her background works so well with the wonky huts. The two bed quilts were made more recently, and combine African impala fabric with other fabrics,
so that the impalas are shown to best advantage. I love the sun in the centre of the first quilt, and the red and orange bordered blocks. (The blocks themselves were actually made by Sheilla of the Bitengye Designers, and never made it into the tablecloth for which they were intended. Judy purchased these scrappy wonders from me, and in her inimitable way, incorporated them into the quilt. What a creative imagination she has!) Both of Judy's bed quilts were made on commission, for two children whose lives must be enlivened by such beautiful additions to their bedrooms. Many of you will remember a photo I previously posted, Judy's rendition of the Bitengye Designers. It's
fantastic. After the mid-March Victoria event which showcases the entire collection of quilts made by the North Island Quilters for Community Awareness, to raise funds for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, some very fortunate person will be hanging that particular quilt in their own home.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Where we were Two Weeks ago

What a difference two weeks can make!! Two weeks ago we were half a world away, moving slowly in almost 100 degree weather and high, high humidity, in order to meet some of Ghana's Kente weavers, and to learn more about how Kente is made. In the first photograph, Eric Boateng sits at his loom in the craft market in Accra. Kente weaving is something done primarily done by men, and traditionally the craft is handed down from father to son. The bright strips you can see behind Eric are examples of Ashanti weaving. The strips are sewn together to make larger pieces of cloth, traditionally worn for important ceremonies. The other weaver we visited is Bob Dennis, who has made it his life work to keep Ewe Kente weaving alive, and who employs 20 other weavers at his workshop. Ewe colours are a bit softer than Ahanti colours, but the method of weaving is the same. See the threads of the warp extended over many metres, then carefully woven into traditional patterns was fascinating. The weavers' hands move so quickly that it's hard to catch the pattern of them. The last photo shows Bob Dennnis adding
up the total for my purchases. I've brought quite a few strips home with me, and am presently working on ways to incorporate them into my quilts. Soon I will be putting some of these up on my website, in case there are others of you out there similarly interested in this aspect of African art. I also brought home a book written by Bob Dennis on the craft of Kente weaving. Here is a man doing much to keep this art form alive. He tells me that he will be at the Smithsonian in the near future, to give demonstrations there. How wonderful! As for Joan and I? We have now been home a week, where we were greeted by SNOW and COLD and ICE. But in the humidity and heat of Accra, I promised Joan that I wouldn't complain if it was cold here. And I won't. I'll just put on another wool sweater and crank up the heat until I've adjusted to life at home a little better.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Ghana is the first country in West Africa that I've ever visited. It has the same flavour as many countries in Africa, and yet is very different. We came here to explore the crafts, textiles and art found in this place, and have not been disappointed. From meeting Hawa selling her beads, to Esther making magnificent batik fabrics, to the Kente stalls, it has been as much and more than we hoped for. The evening after we arrived, we were fortunate enough to go out for dinner with Trish Graham, a long term Ghana resident originally from Canada, and Maggie Relph and her husband, from the UK-based African Fabric Shop. They gave us the names of
some wonderful contacts, and their phone numbers, and we have been following up on these ever since. It is hot, hot, hot and steamy, steamy, steamy here, so we are drinking gallons of water and placing ourselves in close proximity to any fans we can find, but it is all worth it. Internet connections are very iffy here, so I probably won't be posting again until after we fly on to London on Sunday, but wanted to let you know that all is well, and we can't wait to show you the glass and painted beads, and the cloth we have purchased here. Stay tuned . . .

Friday, February 4, 2011

Exploring Kampala's Craft Shops

We had such a terrific day with Alice on Thursday, exploring the craft markets and craft shops of Kampala. The first stop was the National Arts Council "Container Village". Each shop is a container, all of them placed side by side in a semi-circle. Resty (in shop #31) is Secretary of the National Arts Council, and part of her role is to help new artists market their work. We had left items for sale with her last year, most of which had sold, and she took most of what we brought this year, on consignment. Even more importantly, she offered to take Alice to the weekly wholesale craft market that takes place every Friday, so Alice can see where she might go
to market her crafts in the future. The next stop was Exposure Africa, another collection of craft shops, and connected with the management there. Their mandate is to help disadvantaged women by connecting them to the market place. But they seemed more interested in having me come back to teach them how to make the same things I've taught the Bitengye ladies than in being of help to Alice. But they did place an order with her. Then we took her to two up-scale craft shops in shopping malls, both carrying the best of Ugandan crafts. "I have seen so many new things" said Alice, at the end of the day. "I have so many ideas for new fashions." After picking up
the "filler" (batting) we have finally sourced out, Alice headed back to Rubingo. She and the Bitengye ladies are going to be very busy over the next weeks, filling orders from several different sources. And I'm pretty sure she'll come up with a few new fashions of her own after her trip to Kampala. I can hardly wait for the first shipment to arrive. And I must confess that we did a fair bit of shopping for Kitambaa Designs too, mostly beads and batiks, that we look forward to showing you on our return to Canada.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mihingo Lodge

To celebrate the end of our third workshop, and Ben's imminent departure, David, Ben, Joan and I went to Mihingo Lodge in Lake Mburo National Park for a couple of days. Perched high up on rocky outcroppings were our safari tents, looking out over the acacia-covered landscape. Down below was a salt lick, and various animals came and went during the day - mostly impalas, waterbucks, warthogs and zebras - still, it was just about perfect to unwind and debrief in such magnificent surroundings. It provided space and quiet in which to think about all that had gone on, and the challenges which still await us. After a couple more days in Mbarara to pack up the
sewing supplies and our belongings, we have come in to Kampala, bringing Alice with us. Today we will introduce her to some of the craft markets where we have made connections in the past, hoping that they will be willing to take some of the Bitengye items on consignment, or better yet, to buy them outright. We'll keep you posted.