Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

A Chorus in Cathedral Grove

My entry in "Canadiana" - a Fibre Art Network Exhibit making its debut in New Zealand in January 2015

The present year is drawing to a close, and I am looking at the quilts I managed to complete this year and wishing there were more of them. "A Chorus in Cathedral Grove" was made for the Fibre Art Network show - "Canadiana" - that will debut at the New Zealand Quilt Symposium in Palmerston North in January 2015. Next week I will fly off to NZ myself, and help hang the show and be present to answer questions posed by Symposium attendees. I am so looking forward to this. Meanwhile I am looking at the New Year just barely approaching and wondering what it will hold. It is a year of great significance to me, as I reach one of those monumental birthdays that cause one to re-evaluate what one is doing and whether it's in sync with what one is passionate about. I have decided to take on a private challenge, to record the specifics of this year in small works, one a week. I will share some of the results of this with you here on my blog. I am determined to finish more of my unfinished projects in this year, but also to limit myself to working only on those things that are closest to my heart. I'll let you know how this goes. While my teaching days are behind me now, I am as immersed in fabric and in quilting as ever, and would like to share some of my journey with you. I hope that each and every one of you who connects with me here on my blog, that you too would find your own creative path in the coming year. May it be rich with new insights and new work. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Logan Lake and My Last Class

Earlier this fall I drove to Logan Lake in the interior of BC, not far from Kamloops. It was a gloriously sunny weekend, and I had the pleasure of spending the time with most of the members of the Logan Lake Quilters' Guild. Little did I know that this would be my last class, but what a wonderful last class it was. I was teaching The Joys of Improvisation - what had quickly become one of my favourite classes. I love the way each person's quilt is so distinctive - how when given a few simple techniques and guidelines, it then becomes a conversation between the fabric and the individual as to what comes next. The photos here are evidence of that. Aren't they wonderful!   It wasn't very long after I got home that I ended up in hospital, and was told I'd had a heart attack. It turns out that I haven't, and that is great news, but I do have a lung condition which limits how much I'm able to do, and which has emphasized for me that taking care of my health has to become a priority. I had already decided to close my business - Kitambaa Designs - but now have now decided to retire from teaching as well. I have had a terrific time these last eight years, but it's time to step aside and to spend more time creating my own work. Already I've made great progress on a commission quilt that I never quite seemed to get to, and I've been able to work on two new pieces for local upcoming textile art shows. I work at a slower pace than before, and retire for a wee nap in the afternoon on most days, but I'm happy as can be giving voice to some of the ideas that have been dancing around my head for the last months and years. I'll be posting some of the results to this blog, so stay tuned. And in the meantime, a big thank you to all those who have sent me get well wishes over the last weeks. I am alive and well and doing what I love. What more could I ask for?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Best Laid Plans

Today was the day that Joan and I were scheduled to leave Comox and fly to Uganda, where we were to hold a workshop for the women we've been working with for the last 6 years. But unfortunately our plans have had to be cancelled, due to various health issues, mine and Joan's. So I'm thinking about these marvellous women today, hoping that they are doing OK, "somehow by all means". I know they will be disappointed, and I can't make any future promises. Too soon for that. But we have placed another order for various items they make and will do "our level best" to sell these and the stock that we have on hand, in order to give them some income. We will be making appearances at Christmas craft fairs on Vancouver Island in the coming weeks - in Courtenay, in Victoria and in Campbell River - to sell their wares, and hope that any of you who are around will visit our booth. For all of you who have supported both the Bitengye ladies and Recheal's Clinic - a huge thank-you. More details on the latter will be coming soon, but for now I just wanted to let you know that we've met and exceeded our fund-raising goal, and building of the clinic and planning for its management will soon be underway. Others of you have supported students at Alice's school, and she is presently in the process of choosing these young women. And for all of you who have been encouragers, thank you too. For now I'll be posting more about my quilting journey on my blog, than news of our friends in Uganda, so stay tuned. And happy quilting everyone!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thinking About Uganda

In less than a month, Joan and I will be returning to Uganda once more. It's almost 6 years since our first workshop there, working with the women who are the Bitengye Designers. And they have been a huge part of our time there. But then there are all these other people we've met along the way. Lots of children and many old grannies too. And somehow they've become a part of us. They're no longer facts or figures, they're real people with real stories, of how they live and how they triumph in spite of all manner of difficulty. This has had a profound impact on us. Look at this woman with her arms crossed across her chest. She's a survivor. She hasn't let the world defeat her - you can see it in her face. And these children observing their elders. They're on their way from fetching clean water from a tap stand, and looking at other children nearby who are attending school. School may not be for them, but they'll get by. They'll make it. They're just working out how it's done. Other children, even younger than the first, take up their place in the order of things - minding goats, transporting bricks, hauling bananas. They have a job
to do and they'll do it well, with skill and with dignity. They won't let it defeat them. They too will survive. A gathering of women harvests beans. Another harvests sorghum. There is laughter as they work, there is a sense of purpose and also a sense of strength that comes from them. Young and old, they have something to teach us, of endurance and joy in the midst of hardship, and most of all, of hope for the future. I am so full of admiration for these people, and have learned so much from them. I am delighted I will get to spend time with them once more.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Journal Page Exchange

Right now I'm in Edmonton, at the annual retreat of the Fibre Art Network. We're an 80+ member strong cooperative of fibre artists from western Canada, looking for ways to encourage one another in our growth as artists, as well as in finding ways to promote fibre art in our part of the world. Good to be spending time with like-minded individuals - sharing information and planning for upcoming shows. So wonderful to see the work done by each other on this yearly basis, as we're largely working away on our own most of the time, in the solitary way that artists do. The gathering began yesterday, with an exchange of "Journal Pages". I made the one at the top, which will be going home with Thelma, while I am now the proud owner of one of Terry Aske's pieces of art - a still life in vibrant colours. There are a number of activities planned for the 4 days we're together, but I often think that it's the informal conversations that mean the most to me at these events. Someone tells me about her struggle to find studio time and we wonder together why it is so hard for us to carve this time out from the rest of our lives. At the dinner table last night we talked about how difficult it is for us to say those few words that define our very being, "I am an artist". And we commiserate on the ways we balance family life with making art. Often there's not a whole lot of support at home for what we do, but still it's what we want to do, what we have to do. And somehow through this time together, we gain a little more strength in our conviction that it's important. We bolster one another up in some sort of sisterhood. And this is a good thing, indeed.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Small Works

Where has the summer gone? Here on the west coast of Canada, we have enjoyed, and are still enjoying, endless days of sunshine and warm breezes. There is now a nip in the air in the early morning, and the Canada geese are practicing their V-formations as they fly overhead - sure signs of fall - but the weather is still glorious, and I for one, have spent much of my time outdoors over the last couple of months. Add to that a mini-family reunion, and visits from friends, and there has been little time left in which to quilt. But I don't want to make excuses, just to take note of there being "a time to be outdoors and a time to quilt". I have worked on a several smaller pieces, however, and thought you might like to see them now that they're completed. I began with sun-dyed fabrics from Langa Lapu in South Africa, and added borders in an improvised manner, facing rather than binding them to finish them. The hand-stitching has become a renewed favorite way to add texture and detail, and I anticipate doing more of this in the future. The other thing I've done recently is to spend three
months as part of Lisa Calls "Greenhouse", for graduates of her Working in a Series workshop. How amazing to be part of a community of fellow art quilters for this time - to take part in a monthly critique session with others, and to have valuable input from Lisa in continuing to produce work that is part of my Tree Series. But now it's time to set that aside for awhile, as I prepare for a last trip to Uganda, departing on October 23rd. (More on that later). So there we are - an update from me after a summer hiatus. Happy quilting to each of you, as we look toward another year of adventure!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tree Bathing on Vancouver Island

This was the view, or part of it, as I sat in my camp chair next to my tent trailer at Little Qualicum Falls for the last three days. I've made it a goal to get out in the woods, to surround myself with the trees, that have been the subject matter of some of my recent work. There's something that happens when I'm in close contact with these trees that is missing when I'm working with photos alone. I need to get back out there and remember why they intrigue me so, and to listen to the stories they have to tell. It doesn't happen when working from images on the internet, or from my own images, or from my sketches. I have to soak in the essence of these trees, to feel them around me, and to be still enough to hear their whispers. I went on walks around the falls and through other forests, in particular visiting Cathedral Grove, but as I drove home, it was these three that I gazed on several times each day that seemed to reach me most deeply. And so tomorrow, when I go back down to my studio and begin to work again, it will be these trees that I'm thinking about.
Not too long ago I discovered that in Japan, going out into the woods is known as tree bathing. And the benefits of this are so widely recognized that tree bathing is often prescribed as an alternative treatment for things such as stress. This delights me. Of course, I thought to myself, of course. Even without this nomenclature, I know in my being that being out in the woods is good for me. And coupled with being in touch with my source material for my tree series, it is a marvellous way to spend a few summer days.
I hope you too are enjoying this summer, wherever you are.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Spring in the North Woods

I mentioned in my last post that I'm now involved in an online workshop for graduates of Lisa Call's Working in a Series workshop, and will be sharing my successes and failures with you on my blog. Affectionately known as "The Greenhouse", this group 14 participants, from places as diverse as Sweden, Thailand and the UK, has each of us working on our own series. Subject matter and the techniques used vary tremendously, as was evident when we had our first group critique session on Sunday. So exciting to see everyone else's work. I was not so happy with my own piece - something too regular about the spacing between the trees and the branch intervals - but am pleased to be back working with trees again. I achieved the depth I wanted, and the feeling of spring, but need to go back to the drawing board for the rest of it. And why I ended up fusing my trees when I had intended at the outset that I would be piecing my work, I do not know. What I do know, is that it's important to keep doing the work. To get up again after falling down (or maybe just bruising my knees), and make another piece. And another and another. As Maya Angelou so wisely said "They're not all going to be masterpieces, but the rest of the time you're just stretching your soul." Happy stretching everyone, and Happy Canada Day too!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How Time Flies . . . !!!

It's true what they say about time speeding up the older you get. Not that I'm "OLD", just a little older than I once was. Somehow this month has been lived and now we're almost at the end of it, and it's been a very good month indeed. Quilt Canada was hugely successful. I had wonderful classes of students, and saw tremendous work being done and on display in the various exhibits, then returned home to the busy-ness of unpacking and preparing for my husband's retirement from ACTS. It was a terrific event - extremely moving - and now it's behind us and the next chapter of our lives in underway.
We began by spending this last week at our cabin on Hornby Island, together with family and friends. Sadly I don't have photos of any of it to show you. All the time I thought I was taking photos it seems my memory card was failing to record them. So I am left with lots of good memories, but no pics to remind me of these last days. And nothing to share with you.
So what comes next? Well I am just beginning a new course with Lisa Call - Working in a Series Community and Greenhouse. I am back to work on my Tree Series, and will post photos (taken with my husband's camera!) of my work as it is created. This is a 6-month largely self-directed course, with monthly goal setting and assignment writing, phone calls with Lisa and critiquing our work in an online classroom-like setting. And there will be lots of sharing amongst us too. I am looking forward to spending time in my studio working in a more focussed way. Other time this summer will be spent camping in various spots on Vancouver Island, and attending arts-related events.
What about you? Care to share what plans you have for your own summer - quilt-related or not? I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Quilt Canada - The Countdown in On

One week from today I will be winging my way east from Vancouver Island to Southern Ontario. I am delighted to have been invited to teach at Quilt Canada, being held this year in St. Catharines in the Niagara Region. My suitcases are already bulging with fabric kits and class handouts, and I'm not quite sure how my clothing is going to fit in too. Good thing it's summer and time to dress for warm weather!
I will be teaching three different classes - The Joys of Improvisation, African Sunshine, and The Gratitude Tree. Very different classes in many ways, but each giving participants the opportunity to express themselves creatively, to play with some of the gorgeous fabrics available, and even more importantly, to meet up with other quilters from across the country.
I first taught The Joys of Improvisation in Prince Rupert, and thought you might enjoy seeing a few of their creations from this class. What an amazing group of women - full of spunk and daring - the perfect combination for a class in which there are only guidelines, and no rules. Diane and Lou and Jenny - Debra and Dolly - all of you - I will remember you for a very long time to come. Thanks for agreeing to let me post your work here on my blog - just to give the students in St. Catharines a taste of what's in store for them.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Trees, and Improvisational Quilting

Over the last year or so, I have been looking over the work I have done and thinking a lot about what works best for me. And the conclusion I've come to is that improvisational piecing is the technique that fits where I'm at right now, and what I want to develop further in the next couple of years. I have had the opportunity to be in so many wonderful classes, and been exposed to many possibilities in terms of my quilting. It's very tempting to sign up for yet one more class. But instead I am choosing to narrow my options and improve as much as I can, in working with in this one area.
You will also notice that I've decided to pursue my love of trees. Vancouver Island is such a marvelous place to be to study them. I've bought a little tent trailer so that I can get out and meet more of them in person, and to expand my collection of photos

from which to work. Douglas fir trees are what captivates me right now, and are the basis for both these recent pieces. The first is called "In the North Woods". These are near my home, and where I can be found most days walking my yellow lab, Charlie. The second is called "Windows on My World", and is a reflection on how important these trees are to me.
In coming weeks I will be working on several new pieces - the fabrics are already being gathered for two of these - and invite you to visit my blog, where I'll share how they develop. Basically improvisational piecing means making it up as you go along. When I start, I really have no idea where I'm going to end up. I just begin with sewing little strips together, and take it from there. But more of this in future blogs.
And in case you're wondering, I am still very much involved with the Bitengye Designers in Uganda, and will continue to use this blog for updates on them too.
Talk to you again soon.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

African Attire for Traditionally Built Women

Not long ago, I told you about the workshop that the Bitengye Designers had with Alice, learning how to make dresses as well as jackets, aprons and yoga mat bags. The shipment containing all these items arrived this week, and some friends offered to model some of them for you. The dresses are either a straight cut with short sleeves and rounded neck, or "butterfly design", in which the sleeves are fashioned from fabric at the side of the garment. Joyanne and Hennie (photos 1 and 2) model the straight cut design, while Anne (photo 3) models the "butterfly dress". Nerissa and Jessie are our models for the jackets, based on a Japanese "Happi coat" design. Lastly there is Anne, modeling one of the very popular aprons.
This weekend the Comox Valley Schoolhouse Quilt Guild is holding a Quilt Show in Cumberland, and yes, we have a booth there. In addition to dresses and jackets and aprons, we're selling many of the other items made by the Bitengye Designers. And this is our challenge. We need to find ways to get the amazing times they make out there where the public can see them (and buy
them). Business acumen and marketing are not my strengths, but I feel confident that the product these women now make is of a quality good enough to be of appeal to the general public. The challenge is how to reach them.
Another thing I'm not very good at is modern communications media. (I can barely manage to write a blog with any regularity!) But with a bit of perseverance and lots of determination (read, stubbornness and bloody mindedness), I hope to have items such as these up on Etsy before too long too.
If anyone out there knows of individuals who might be willing to offer their skills and their time to get this ball rolling, I would be most grateful to be put in touch with them. Just email me at
What I would really like you to notice, is how striking and how universally appealing these garments are. Just the sort of thing to change into at the end of a long day taking in a Quilt Show. Cool and comfy - put your feet up, and sip on a glass of wine, while reviewing your impressions and your purchases. Doesn't get
 much better than that!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Alice's Sewing School Hosts a Workshop

Earlier this month, a two-week workshop for the Bitengye Designers was held at Alice's Sewing School in Rubingo. Recheal from Kikagati, Dinah from Mbarara, and Tumushabe from Lake Bunyoni joined the Rubingo women as they learned how to make garments and other items. The problem of how the women will earn sufficient income in the slow times between Kitambaa orders was one of the things we discussed last fall. The women felt that if they could make simple garments to sell to local customers, it would supplement what they earn through the sale of other Bitengye craft items. These wonderful photos of the event were sent to
me by Athens. Recheal and Tumushabe are modeling the aprons they've just learned to make, Rosette (a young woman from Kikagati sponsored by other Canadians) has learned how to make yoga mats, and all the women made dresses and jackets. You can't really tell from the photo, but these are the cool cotton dresses for "traditionally built women", made from high quality African wax fabrics. A shipment of these items is on its way to us, and they will soon be available for sale online.
Also newly arrived from Uganda is a new supply of luggage tags. Recheal has been working hard on these, and we are selling them for $5 each,
with 100% of the funds going to her clinic. If there are any readers who would like to purchase some of these to give or sell to your friends, please let me know, and I will waive postage in getting them to you. I'm also hoping to interest a few travel shops in carrying them. As someone who has pretty standard luggage, I've always been glad to see these tags come toward me on the carousel - totally unmistakable.
The funds for Recheal's Clinic are gradually growing, and of course one-time donations are always welcome. Soon to be available is a new product being made and sold to help her realize this dream. More of that to follow. But I will tell
you that we'll be selling these and other wonderful items at the Comox Valley Quilt Show being held right here at the end of May. "Slowly by slowly", as our Ugandan friends would say.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Recheal's Clinic and Shelter - An Update

This series of photos was taken when we visited Recheal in Kikagate last November. You may remember that Recheal is one of the Bitengye Designers, and that last year she was sponsored in obtaining her "nurse's training". She is also a leader in her community, having started the group "Living Positively with AIDS", which performs instructional dramas and songs to surrounding communities. This year she told us that the next thing she wants to do is to build a shelter for HIV positive orphans (she has 17 in her care at the moment), and a counseling centre and clinic for adults who are HIV positive. A huge dream, but she believes it will happen, and when she told us all about it, we committed
ourselves to helping her raise the money to make it happen. Just like Alice's school, which is now finished. At one time it too seemed an impossibility.
So . . . once again we have an "Opportunities to Own" quilt which for which we are selling tickets - just $5 each. We are selling as many of the luggage tags we make as possible - if you or your Guild would like to order some of these, please let me know and I'll mail some to you - and we're accepting donations to this end. They're also $5 each. It seems that our time in Uganda is not over yet, that we are connected with these women we've come to know in a deep way, and we cannot forget them now.

P.S. Just a couple of notes about the photos - Recheal is in the brown skirt and brown top in the top photo, Joan is see holding Davita's hand - she's Recheal's youngest, and the grey-haired man with beard and baseball cap is my husband David. I don't think I have to tell you who the traditionally-built woman in the red dress is!

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Long Overdue Update

It has been far too long since I last updated you, both on what's happening with the Bitengye Designers and other widows in Uganda, and on my own work. I am going to blame it on major computer problems (I am now starting to get used to my new Mac) and getting well and truly sick in early January, and staying sick for weeks. But it really is inexcusable. Especially as so many of you have been so generous in donating to several of the women I've told you about, since my fall visit to Uganda.
So before telling you about anything else, I want to let you know that there was a terrific response to my story about the widows in Rubingo, who
didn't have savings enough to rent land on which to grow their food for the coming year. Many of you sent donations for this, and the result is that ALL of these women now have land for the coming year. Thank you so very much.
Another situation was that of Robin Zayanga. In the second photo, she is standing in front of her present house, made from banana leaves. But thanks to the generosity of a number of Canadians, construction is now underway on a new house for her. No more rain dripping on her
in bad weather.
And then there are the Bitengye women, six of them here at Alice's Sewing School, at which they are presently attending a two week workshop, led by Alice, on how to make garments. What they were finding was that in between orders for the other items they now make, they had no income. We talked over possible solutions, and came to the decision that if they knew how to make dresses for the local women, they could make these when there were no orders for crafts. Again, it is thanks to the generosity of so many Canadians that all of these things are happening. I promise to update you further, in the next blog post. I promise it won't be long before you hear from me again!

Friday, January 3, 2014

It Isn't All Sunshine . . .

I wonder if there's a song by that name? It seems to fit where I'm at right now. I felt so positive on January 1st, but I've come down with a wicked head and chest cold and cough, and have spent the last two days climbing in and out of bed, unable to do much besides blowing my nose and heating up my Kitambaa Cosie (my version of a "magic bag") along with drinking lots of fluids and using up lots of kleenex. I know, I know. This is a "first world problem", and yes, I'm the same person who has written to you very recently about widows in Uganda needing the money to rent land so that they're able to eat, and about Recheal starting her own shelter and clinic for those affected by HIV. But this is also part of my life. My best laid plans get swept aside by illness, family commitments, or just plain practical errands that can't be put off any longer. It occurs to me that sometimes we need to hear that other people share these woes and are similarly thwarted in their efforts to "live the creative life". Today I read the post from Robert Genn, author of the Painter's Keys who posts a newsletter on the web twice weekly. He's a man who is full of a world of wisdom, but today he was writing from the bed in his bedroom, as he learns to live with pancreatic cancer, and to realize that his life as an artist is going to end sooner than he might have hoped. But it's what he wrote about that really touched me. He described the view from his window in loving detail, and reflected on his life lived making art. So I have something to learn here. Instead of moaning and groaning, it might have been smarter for me to head to the local coffee shop, and then armed with a wonderful latte (and my kleenex), and then to have driven down to the beach to enjoy the sunrise. It came up in glorious colour at 8:30 a.m. today, but I was so busy feeling crummy that I missed the opportunity to see a part of that world described so eloquently by Robert Genn. But as I wrote on New Year's, the important thing is to pick myself up when I fall or when I miss these golden moments, and to carry on trying to do better tomorrow. So there are no photos today - just mumblings and ramblings as I share the shadow side of my creative life. I will talk to you all again soon.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy, Happy New Year!

January 1st of the New Year - a time to look forward and a time to look back. Last year - 2013 - was a wonderful year. And there is much to look forward to in the coming year, but when I tried to think of one word to focus on for 2014, "NOW" is the word that came to mind. As someone far more poetic than me once wrote (or words to this effect), yesterday is gone and tomorrow is but a dream, but today is the day we have to live in whatever manner we choose. Which doesn't mean we can't take the lessons from yesterday forward with us - things like learning the value of working in a series, or that time spent with family and friends is the richest of times, or that the important thing is not whether you succeed in your goals, but whether you have the courage and strength of character to pick yourself up when you fall down or change direction when it's shouting at you that change is needed. THIS is today and "now", and in this coming year, I want to put aside my multitude of excuses and "just do it", which means being open to whatever presents itself, whatever lies ahead. On
a more practical note, this means that I am slowly down-sizing Kitambaa Designs, so that I have more time to do my own work. And it means that my commitment to the Bitengye Designers is stronger than ever, and that I will do whatever I need to do to help their cooperative and business grow. It means that the time to become more active is "now", and the time to pay more attention to heating healthily is "now". It will see me blocking off chunks of time to work in the studio and making those times inviolate (unless, of course, there's some dire emergency). It's already meant shedding myself of so much stuff, in recognition that living in the "now" is so much more successful the simpler my life is, and the less clutter surrounds me. These are some of the things I'm pondering this New Year's Day. Thanks for listening. And thank you especially to those who have kept in touch via email of Facebook or by commenting on this blog over the past year. It has meant a great deal to me. To each of you a Happy, Happy New Year, full of adventure and quiet times, creative times and times of "moodling", full of friends and family and all there is to experience in this wonderful world in which we live!