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.