Monday, December 31, 2012

Art in Public Spaces

I have been intrigued by installation art - things like yarn-bombing and flash mobs - ever since I was first introduced to it. It has to do with making art accessible to everyone by displaying it or performing it in public and often surprising places. So here is a baobab tree in London, decorated with coils of fabric. Just beautiful. I would love to see in in situ. Flash mobs take on various forms, but it's the dance numbers performed in places like a Tokyo subway station or a Chicago airport are the ones I most enjoy. I love the look on the faces of those who thought they were just going about their business, and then get caught up in something so delightful. There is joy in this art, all the more so because it is unanticipated. When I see something like this, I find I want to rise up and affirm that yes, this is a beautiful world. In spite of everything. The corners of my mouth turn up in a smile, and a kind of tingly warmness engulfs me. I have to confess that I have a secret desire to create something like this myself. Not for any reason except "because", just because I want to. Am I becoming a little unhinged? Maybe. But I'm not really worried about it. Seems like a good way to deal with a world full of crazy uncertainty and a good measure of pain. Make art.  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Different Christmas Story

Sarah wearing an Alice bag
I have just finished reading a collection of short stories about Christmas-time - some of them sad, some of them bitter-sweet, and some of them heart-warming. The Christmas story I'd like to tell you here falls into the latter category. It's about an inspiring group of young people - mostly twelve year-olds in grade 7 - who have all sorts of ideas about how they might make the world a better place, and who set about doing so. Last year I spoke to them about the Bitengye Designers and about Alice (the Coordinator of the group), and her efforts to build a new sewing school. They sold quite a number of items last year, which provided the money for flooring materials and paint and other necessities. So I was thrilled when Sarah Nuez asked if Alice still needed bags sold to raise money for her school, and if they could sell these at their school. Indeed, Alice still needs finishing materials, for cupboards and tables and chairs, and other equipment. So Sarah and Gabby and their friends determined to sell the bags before the two performances of their school concert. You can imagine how excited they were, as was I, when they returned with the proceeds of their sale -
Sarah and friends selling Alice bags at the school concert
$1000, which will go directly to Alice to do the work that remains to be done. After they left me, I had time to think about what they'd done - so eagerly and so happily. With the support of their teachers and their parents, they have learned very young that they CAN make a difference. What a gift! And what a gift it will be to Alice, when I write to tell her. And I hope that just hearing about it is a gift to you too. Merry Christmas Everyone!
Gabby and Sarah present me with $1000 towards Alice's school

Monday, December 10, 2012

Finishing Edges with a Facing - a Tutorial

I have been working on my next two African improvisational pieces, and am so liking finishing the edges with a facing rather than a binding, that I thought I'd show you how it's done. These instructions are also written up in Jean Wells book - Journey to Inspired Art Quilting - which I highly recommend.

1. Piece the quilt top. Layer it with backing and batting and machine and hand quilt as desired. (The fish will be added at the very end, as embellishment can only be done once the facing has been finished.)
2. Trim the edges of the backing and batting so that they line up exactly with the edges of the quilt top, and so that the whole of it is squared off. Using narrow grosgrain ribbon (I found this on rolls at Fabricland - mine is 1/2" wide although Jean Wells recommends 1/4" wide.) Working on the back of the quilt, stitch the ribbon to the back of the quilt, lining up the ribbon edge with the raw edge of the quilt. This reinforces the edge.
 3. Cut two lengths of facing fabric 2 1/2 - 3" wide and the exact length of your quilt. Place these on either side of the quilt. Measure the distance between the two inner edges of the facing.
4.  Cut the top and bottom facings 2 1/2 - 3" wide and the measurement you determined in #3 above, plus 1 inch. So if there is a distance of 4" between the two inner edges of the side facings, you would cut the top and bottom facings 5" long.
5. Place one of the long side facings right sides together with the short top facing. Stitch 1/4" seam allowance from the top edge, stopping and back-tacking 1/4" from the bottom edge of the top facing (as indicated by the lime pencil). Repeat this for the bottom facing. Add the second long facing in the same manner. In other words, all the inner seam stop 1/4" from the inside edge of the facing.
 6. Place the completed facing right sides together on the top of the quilt. All raw edges should be even. Pin in place.
 7. Stitch from the wrong side of the quilt, that is, with the backing facing up, and just inside the grosgrain ribbon. When you have stitched all the way around, trip the corners, being sure to leave a couple of threads after the corner stitching, and turn the entire piece to the right side. I have a chopstick with rounded ends that works well for this.
8. Press the edges. Pin the facing flat and hand-stitch in place. Add the hanging sleeve, if there is to be one, and the label. Add any embellishments.

This method is definitely more labour intensive than a regular binding, but I like the look of it. On my tree pieces, I did this twice - once on the quilt itself and once on the backing quilt, then stitched the two together by hand. Again, more labour intensive, but there are occasions when this kind of binding is just the ticket. If you'd like to see further applications of using facing, again, I would highly recommend Jean's book.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Africa-Inspired Wall-Hangings - Kits on Sale

At Home in Africa
I have had a lot of fun making small wall-hangings that feature different aspects of life in Africa. Some of these have been made up into kits, and these three are examples of ones available to you - At Home in Africa, No Lion in Sight and Life in the Village. As with Birds of Rubingo, the wall-hanging could become the centre of a much larger quilt, or it might be perfect for a small wall space all on its own. All three are on sale - 20% off - between now and Christmas. By using the Kitambaa website - - you will be able to use a shopping-cart and to pay with Paypal. Couldn't be easier. It might make the perfect gift for your very own self!
No Lion in Sight

Life in the Village

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Grandmothers and Widows of Africa

I wonder how many of you were watching the news a few days ago, when it was announced that CIDA - the Canadian International Development Agency - is going to drastically reduce the money it gives to the NGO's (non-governmental organizations), that do humanitarian work in some of the poorest countries of the world. CIDA is going to put money into the private sector instead - mining companies were singled out - this is how they see us helping the poor countries most effectively.
Bringing clean and potable water to communities that have no access to this most basic of human needs, is no longer a priority for CIDA. They are taking a long view, and see money given to mining companies and other private enterprise, as improving the countries' economy and so eventually, having a positive impact on the women, the children, the grandmothers and widows, who make up some of the most disadvantaged people of this world. So even in the "focus countries", in which CIDA has focussed its energies over the last few years, even in situations where projects have clearly and demonstrably improved the lives of the people living there, there will be no more money from the Canadian government.
My husband has worked in East Africa for close to twenty years now, and the NGO of which he is Director has brought clean water to community after community. Mutual Benefit Societies - support groups for the grandmothers and widows due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic - have been started in almost every community in which there's been a water project. CIDA has provided a large part of the funding for these projects, but that door is clearly closing.
So communities in which the girls and women have to walk miles to get water, and filthy water at that, will have little hope of it ever being any different. Unless the people of Canada - ordinary people like you and like me - dig deep into our own pockets to help. This plea comes at a time when many of us are facing our own financial crises. I know I sound like I'm having a good rant (check out Rick Mercer's "rant" on this very topic, if you want to hear an articulate expression of this news), and I am, but I feel desperately sad that our leaders no longer see the poor of the world as a priority. They only seem to count when there's the possibility of some kind of economic return.
 In light of this news, I am profoundly thankful to those of you who have been so generous in making donations to the women we work with in Uganda - the Bitengye Designers - and to those of you who do other work to help with the task before all of us. Every little bit helps, even more so than before. I hope those of you who are able, will think about giving to a charity of your choice this Christmas season. Somehow my life has become wrapped up with these women in Uganda, but your involvement may be somewhere else entirely. The main thing is for you and for me to help those less fortunate than ourselves. God help us, if we forget to do that.
The women in these photos are all from Uganda. They thank you for the goats you have given them, and the sewing machines; for access to clean water and gardens in which to grow their crops; for sponsoring their children in school and giving them work to do. But most of all, they thank you for the hope you've given them, that things can be better.
When we left the women who make up the Bitengye Designers last year, they asked us not to forget them.  And I can't help but think that this is what is being asked of all of us as individuals, in a country that is choosing to go in another direction. I hold out little hope of being able to influence our Prime Minister, but I do know that I can still make my own choices, for the good of the people I have come to love.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Barkcloth Paintings and Improvisational Piecing

Woman carrying baskets
I'm long overdue in sharing these gorgeous barkcloth paintings with you. I found them in the 'Container Craft Market" in Kampala, last year. Each design is individually painted, and depicts an aspect of life for the people of Uganda. They measure about 5" X 7". I think it's a natural fit to combine these with improvisational piecing, and at the bottom of this entry, I've included a photo of a small piece I made using one of these pieces, with strip pieced borders. You could also make a larger wall-hanging including several of these, much as I've done with

Men with spears
the screen prints of animals, in other work. I'll be adding all of these to the website in the next day or two. At $5.95 each, they're a bargain - truly. They're light as can be, so I'll make the shipping free of charge from now until the end of the year. Sadly you will still have to pay the HST, but there's not much I can do about that! If you'd like me to set some of these aside for you, you can also email me directly, at

Dancing women and drummer

Man with bananas

Two women carrying pots

Two women carrying pineapples

Three warriors

Woman at market stall

Woman with baby

At home

By the way, the barkcloth is made from the bark of a certain kind of fig tree that grows near Lake Victoria. It's pounded to a pulp, much like paper is when it's being made, and then it's spread in a thin layer to dry. It's easy to stitch through, so in this piece, I made a black square ready to receive the barkcloth painting as soon as the rest of it was finished. I was very happy with it, and hope you like it too.