Monday, June 26, 2017

"A Fine Line"

I think I blogged quite some time ago about an upcoming theme for an exhibit of work made by the Fibre Arts Voices group to which I belong. We decided on "A Fine Line", which could be interpreted in any way we wanted. I was excited by this idea, and having always had a special fondness for washing lines, and being dismayed at how quickly they are disappearing from the landscape of our Canadian neighborhoods, I decided that this would be my focus. Sketches were made, photos I had taken in various locals were reviewed, and fabrics were pulled. But I couldn't seem to get any further than that.
So I began working on another idea - the fine line between joy and pain, between living life to the full and giving in to despair. Heavy, I know, but it's something I have lived and something I have observed, and I felt it would give me the opportunity to work more abstractly. Which I did. The upper portion of the quilt was mostly grey, and the lower portion was mostly black, with a line of colourful almost-windows dancing across the horizontal division between the two. I pieced it, I hand-quilted it, I bound it and labelled it. And then I stood back and had a really good look at it again, and it just didn't do what I wanted it to do. So I withdrew from the group's proposal, and moved onto something else.
But then a few members of the group extended some gentle encouragement to me, and graciously extended the deadline, so that I could still be a part of the group's exhibit. I decided to try one more time, this time focussing on an Africa-inspired piece. I thought about the line between the sky and the earth - the horizon line - that magical place we watch on clear evenings as the sun goes down, and again the next morning as the sun rises again. I thought about our years living in Lesotho, which is also known as the Kingdom in the Sky, and about the sunrises and sunsets I saw there. I thought particularly about the sunset I saw on the day of South Africa's elections in 1994, which saw Nelson Mandela elected as president and scores of people voting who had never before had that privilege. And I decided that it was this feeling that I wanted to capture in fabric.
This image was taken before the squares were stitched in place and before the machine quilting was added, but it gives you an idea of the piece. The colours are pure-Africa, inspired by Lesotho, while the setting was inspired by the work of Heather Lair. It's called "Where Heaven Meets the Earth" (30" X 40"). I then made two much smaller companion pieces (10" X 10") that will hang on either side of the main piece. When all our work is hung, each of us having made one large piece and two much smaller companion pieces, there will be an implied and continuous line from one work to the next.

The first of the smaller works shows two women walking home together at the end of the day, while the second shows a shepherd boy, watching and waiting - a fairly typical sight in Lesotho. Both are pictured against the backdrop of the Maluti Mountains, in the arid and dusty red-earthed landscape. These three pieces, and the work of eight of our group, will be part of our August exhibit at the Ladysmith Art Gallery - an exhibit that will showcase both our A Fine Line pieces and our Indigo pieces. I have so enjoyed making these, and wonder if they will end up as part of a sub-series of Africa-inspired work. I rather hope there are more to come . . .

Monday, June 19, 2017

But Wait a Minute . . .

I finished my last post so full of optimism. Having completed the process of de-cluttering my studio, I was ready to get right to work on my African collage pieces. Well I'm here to confess that all that's happened so far, is that the background black wool felt has been cut to size. I had just finished doing that when I remembered (or was reminded - that's more truthful), that I still had two small indigo pieces to be completed in time for our fibre group's exhibit at Whyte's Gallery. Which opened on Saturday. So before I could begin, I made these:
"Thinking in Blue", and

"Slowly, slowly"

And once I had all my indigo fabrics spread across the table top, I began thinking of other possibilities for them, such as greeting cards:

These use the smallest of the cyanotype prints I made of tiny ferns when I was in New Zealand.

And then there was the log cabin quilt that had been hanging around waiting for a binding before I could call it finished - the perfect thing to have in hand for ferry rides to and from Hornby Island. And then there was LIFE - that ever-changing and ever-unpredictable set of circumstances that we deal with every day. It's that part that you can never predict, despite all your detailed planning and your careful organization. It's that thing that keeps us supple and flexible, as we adjust to new realities in our respective worlds. And for me, this week, it's meant huge changes in our household as we hunt for the antigen that's been causing my respiratory problems. Go figure! But how marvellous to have this thing called quilting to come back to. It's given me comfort and support before, and it will do it again. I feel so fortunate to have something that gives me such pleasure, and continues to excite me and hold my interest. So I will get going on those African collages - I promise! - I just had a few things to attend to first.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Merits of De-Cluttering One's Studio

The last two weeks have been spent de-cluttering my studio. Challenged by Lisa Call to give away, dispose of, or pack away anything not to do with the African collages which will be my focus of work for the next few months, I have cleared the studio of everything else. Yes, some went in the garbage, and there were two big boxes labelled "Quilts in Progress" and "Quilts in Planning" that went into my storage cupboard, and a few were given away. At the end of this process, which took way longer than I thought it would, I felt totally liberated. Now all those things I might use in this present work are easy to access, and I am no longer distracted by other possibilities. I have my African sketchbook open and ready to record the progress of work I'm making, as well as ideas for future work, and my fabrics are ready and waiting.
I managed to make this 12" X 12" quilt - "Teatime Under the Baobab Tree" - in time to donate it to the SAQA auction, and a block for the Hornby Island Community quilt, but apart from that my actual making of things has been pretty limited. But I'm ready to get to work, and focussed in a way I wasn't previously. The thing is, I like to keep my options open, but in this case, keeping my options open has been preventing me from doing the work I want to do. And as challenging as it was to follow up on Lisa's suggestion, it has proved to be the very thing I needed. At least I believe so. I am excited as I anticipate what will come into being in the coming months. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Women of Uganda

Last Friday, my DH had a fund-raising event in aid of the Widows Garden Project that he's currently involved with. It was great. Lots of laughter, wonderful singing by the Panache Choir from Nanaimo, competitive bidding on the many silent auction items, and a sales of Bitengye crafts, along with a short presentation on the project. Which has lead to me thinking about the women we worked with in Uganda - through the Kitambaa Sewing Project, at Alice's school, and at Recheal's Clinic.
Lydia and Stella
 Anna in foreground, Kamidah, Knight and Alice in background
Alice working with the women at the cutting table
 Lydia and Dorothy beading
 Alice and I discussing pricing
The Bitengye Designers - October '15
Things have not been going so well for these ladies lately. Despite their best efforts, the school uniforms they had hoped to sell have not been sold, the order they thought they had received from an organization that purchases crafts for tourist agencies has fallen through, and the small orders of crafts I've been able to place with them are not enough to sustain them. The last photo I saw of the group showed discouraged faces, and I am not sure what to do. I can't travel to Uganda any more, for health reasons, but even if I could, I no longer have the opportunities to sell Bitengye items as I did before I retired from teaching. 
On a brighter note, the director of a retreat house in Nanaimo asked me at the fund-raiser, if I could send her photos of the items made by the Bitengye Designers. She is hopeful of being able to place a small order. And the Christmas craft fairs we attend in several local communities are another venue where we sell their goods. But the real problem is with a lack of knowledge of in-country marketing, and this is something I can't pursue. I am left with a feeling of having let these women down. I haven't forgotten them - I just don't know what to do to help.
I wonder if this is the natural way to feel at the conclusion of a project. In the development world, there is a great deal of emphasis on "sustainability". But in poor countries, how realistic is it to think, even after eight years of involvement, that something like the sewing project is sustainable? How do women sell the goods they make in an economy that is hand to mouth, where people purchase only the essentials?  I wish I knew the answers.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Legacy in Wool - The Quilts of Eleanora Laffin

Today's mail brought not one, but two copies of the Summer edition of the Canadian Quilter. The editorial staff at the Canadian Quilter kindly send out two copies of the publication any time that an article you've written appears in their pages. So I turned quickly through the pages, and sure enough, found what I was looking for - "A Legacy in Wool - the Quilts of Eleanora Laffin" - an article I'd submitted some months ago about this remarkable quilter from Hornby Island, BC. It was terrific to browse the magazine and see large photos of some of her incredible work spread over three pages of the magazine.
The thing is, that long before recycling was part of our everyday vocabulary, Eleanora was searching for wool at the Hornby Island Free Store, as well as other thrift stores, and washing it and working it into her quilts. She loves the richness of the colours of wool, with a depth with which cotton can't compete, she feels; and she works these into her unique quilts in an unending variety of ways. She's now completed 52 (or perhaps even more!) quilts, and I for one, think they're deserving of an exhibit of their own. Perhaps the organizers of Quilt Canada might even be persuaded to show them when their National Juried Show comes to Vancouver next year. 
I first saw Eleanora's quilts at the Hornby Quilters outdoor quilt show in 2011, hanging under the apple trees. So rich! She's taken so many traditional quilt designs but worked them in wool with her own personal touch. When you see them, you know that no-one except Eleanora could have made them. More recent quilts are looser, more improvisational, but still with her signature style in evidence.
As well as creating these distinctive mostly wool quilts of her own, Eleanora has been the life blood of the Hornby Quilters for many, many years. I try to make it to their weekly gatherings as often as I can, and always wonder what I will find underway when I arrive. Sewing machines are brought out and cutting equipment and make-do design walls are set-up, and the business of making quilts for the community as well as helping one another with our own projects is soon underway. The afternoon ends with tea and goodies, and loose plans are made for what comes next. Being a part of it all, of the Hornby Quilters, has enriched my life enormously, and it's Eleanora who keeps us all organized and (somewhat) on track. So here's a toast to a remarkable woman, who I feel fortunate to call a friend - a quilter par excellence - with a heart of gold, and a creative spirit and freedom that are uniquely hers. To Eleanora!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Researching New Work, or, A Journey Back in Time

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that in March I embarked on a Masterclass with Lisa Call. As part of my desire to focus in on the work that means the most to me, I have narrowed my current work to pieces inspired by Africa. In response to Lisa's challenge, I have brought out much of the ephemera I have collected over many, many years, and packed away everything that doesn't relate to this work. Loosely, I'm thinking of it as a series called "My Africa" (that is, Africa as I experienced it), and I expect there to be a number of sub-series within it.
Along with thumb pianos and carved gourds, woven baskets and all sorts of jewelry, are children's balls made of banana leaves, and a carved wooden bird mobile; barkcloth in various colours, and of course the fabrics themselves. Two tables are now covered with my collections, and gradually I am imposing some sort of order on them, so I can at least see what's there. Now when I begin a new piece, or wonder in which direction to take a piece in progress, it's all there at my fingertips.
Which has lead to a mental journey back in time - remembering when we first arrived in Lesotho in 1991 (lots of photos in my albums to help me with this, as well as the journals I kept during that time). So memories of rain falling on the hard-baked Lesotho soil during thunderstorms of epic proportions (there are more people killed by lightening in Lesotho each year than any other country in the world, David once told me), and being freezing cold inside cement block houses, and driving up into the mountains to visit tiny and remote villages, all come tumbling back.
And I remember the skies - huge and open - scenes of spectacular sunrises and sunsets, deep blue and cloud-filled, or thunderously black and oppressive. Or once so full of the red dust of the earth blowing up in a dry season that the sun was obliterated and it looked as though the end of the world might be coming.
I found an image of the first Lesotho quilt I made, using Shweshwe cloth in traditional indigo - a simple representation of the Basotho huts I saw all over the country, and the Maluti mountains, and the cosmos that bloomed so wildly and prolifically every Easter. (I was still using the very sedate colours of my Canadian home at this point in time!)
And now, up on the design wall, is my newest piece made remembering Lesotho, called "Where Heaven Meets the Earth". I first started using bright, saturated colours when we returned home to Canada in 1994, and really haven't stopped. Somehow these colours say more about the heat and the place than indigo and pale pink, to put it quite mildly! There will be two companion pieces to accompany this large work, and when they're all completed, I will post a better photo of them together. The thing is, that these years spent living and working in Africa, were some of the best years of my life, and of of our life as a couple and a family. I experienced so much while I was there, that even now I can still hardly believe it. So I have decided that this is what will inform my quilts and assemblages in the near future. It feels freeing to have narrowed my options and chosen this path for the time being, and I can't wait to see what lies ahead.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Weekly Leaves in Wool - The Year So Far

Back in January, when I began my weekly leaf project for the year, I wasn't quite sure where it might lead me. But I've been enjoying making these squares as much as my traveller's blanket from three years ago. While attending the first ever SAQA Western Canada Conference in Kamloops last week, I began stitching some of them onto a background. I chose a piece of black wool felt, mostly because it was what I had on hand. I then chose 15 of the 18 squares finished by the end of April (the length of the piece of felt determined the number of squares) and using blanket stitch, began stitching them in place.  As frequently happens to all "best laid plans", I discovered almost immediately that when you sew wool to wool they stretch again one another and even with careful pinning, they all listed to the right. Not a happy outcome. So I will remover this stitching and try again on a different background, maybe a fused and backed raw silk next time. What am I going to do with the 3 leaves left out of this collection? Well, that's a good question, and I don't quite know the answer right now. 

What I enjoyed most in choosing the leaves I used, was what a plethora of shapes leaves come in.
My favourite shapes here in this grouping are the eucalyptus and the geranium.

Here the gingko (from our backyard) and the arbutus are faves.

See on the top row how the squares shifted! Not what I intended.

I like the simplicity of the camellia (bottom left) and the three global shapes of a different eucalyptus (plucked from a bouquet in my daughter-in-law's kitchen), but I must also say that choosing the colours for the leaves was as much fun as choosing the leaves themselves.

I hope the detail shots (please forgive the repeat blocks - hard to come up with 4 detail shots without the repeats when the entire piece is 3 blocks wide by 5 blocks long!) show a little better which stitches I used.
Finally a snap of this week's stitching underway. No it's not wool, in fact it's an upholstery sample,  but I was ready for a small change in direction so have switched to these for the time being (thanks to Eleanora Laffin from Hornby Island, who passed these luscious reds on to me some time back.) And how will I incorporate these into my work? Another very good question. Lots to think over while I stitch.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Cyanotype Leaves

Last year I was introduced to cyanotype - another means of making impressions of leaves, this time on specially prepared sheets which are exposed to sunlight. The area on which the leaf is lying remains a blueish-white, while the surrounding fabric becomes an intense indigo. The first piece I made using this technique was called "Eucalyptus", and was entered in the FAN exhibit, "Botanical Reflections". This is the second piece - "Willows".
The process that's used is the same as used to be used in producing architectural blueprints. The prepared fabric sheets can be purchased in a package of ten, made by Jacquard, or yardage can be purchased. Sylvia Pippen sells this online.
Pressed leaves are laid on the grayish-green fabric under glass, preferably in the summer noonday sun. This will give you the sharpest images, although other lighting situations will also work. The leaves are exposed for 20 minutes to half an hour, and then the fabric is rinsed in cold water. This is when the magic happens.
The fabric becomes a lovely deep indigo blue, leaving an imprint where the leaves have been lying. You can see here how fine the lines are that are left where the leaf (or fern) is removed. As it is allowed to dry, and over the next 24 hours, the blue becomes even stronger.
These ferns were all printed in New Zealand, and may or may not be embroidered (as was the willow and eucalyptus) before being incorporated into my work. I have found that yellow and red, and even lime green, work beautifully as accent colours with the indigo.
This close-up shows how I have combined African wax fabric, Japanese fabric, batiks, and Shweshwe into the piece as well, with the hand-stitching on the African wax fabrics complementing the yellow strips found elsewhere in the piece. I look forward to making more in this series, having found that cyanotype is yet another wonderful way to make a record the leaves I have collected both at home and further afield.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The End of My "Sabbatical"

Today - May 1st - marks the end of my "sabbatical" from writing my weekly blogposts. Traditionally, sabbaticals are times away from one's usual paid job, time spent studying, travelling, and generally regrouping. And mine pretty much followed that same pattern. It began with a month spent in New Zealand (February). This was a time spent "filling the well", to use Julia Cameron's language. Time to  see and to explore many new places, to gather more leaves (more about them in a later post), and most important of all, time with family.

But time away is also gives one the opportunity to assess where you are and where you'd like to be. With the distance from usual responsibilities, there is more clarity, I find. And by the end of February, I had decided to enroll in Lisa Call's Masterclass in Studio Practice. It began on March 1st, so the timing couldn't have been better. And that's what I've been busy with for the last two months. I have worked with Lisa before when I took the online class, "Working in a Series" with her, and knew from that experience that  I would be challenged and that I would learn things I had never anticipated. This has definitely been the case so far. One of the first things she asked us to do was to decide what our three top goals were for the coming year, and one of mine is to develop a body of work that is uniquely mine. It will come as no surprise to many of you, that I've returned to my experiences living and working in Africa, and to the textiles and artifacts I've collected over many, many years, as a source of inspiration. For the time being, I've packed away all the other pieces I've been working on, in order to focus on my African work without distractions. Starting with a piece of work I began two years ago, "On the Road to Dar es Salaam" (see below), I am collaging together stories of my experiences there. 
This piece is built around a necklace I bought from a Masaii woman on my way to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. She was making her way to market with her friend, carrying a basket of her wares on her head. The Tanzanian friend I was travelling with agreed to stop the vehicle so we could talk to these women. I was delighted by this chance encounter, miles and miles away from any town or settlement, and especially pleased that she allowed me to purchase two necklaces from her. A wonderful memory. To this I added porcupine quills from Namibia, buttons from South Africa, mudcloth from Mali, barkcloth and beads from Uganda, as well as some Ghanaian and North American fabric and some locally made paper. I completed it by mounting it on black wool felt and hanging it on a Ugandan spear. Each of the pieces in this series will be composed in a similar way, and to the same size specifications (17" X 35"), until I run out of spears.
The next two pieces in the series are "By the Shores of Lake Victoria" (above), and "Shopping in Maputo" (below). All three were exhibited in the Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery last month, and "On the Road to Dar es Salaam" was sold, and is going to its new home today. 
I am so enjoying this new work, and will post photos of more pieces in this series in the coming months, but first I need to finish a couple of other pieces that are long overdue. Then I will be free to hunker down and spend my studio time on these Africa-inspired works.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fifty Years of Words

I have been a journal writer for most of my adult life, and recently realized that if I didn't do something soon with all the pages I'd written over the last fifty years, my children will be left with a dreadful job when I "leave this mortal coil". There is so much "blah, blah, blah" in them, along with quotations I've gathered over the years, and cuttings I've carefully pasted in. But mostly I have used writing as a way to get a handle on my many thoughts, and as a place where I could pour out my feelings as I tried to sort how to live this complicated life we're given. 
A few weeks ago I read in Judy Martin's blog, that she was re-reading her own journals then wrapping them up when she finished them, and I thought this was brilliant. So beginning with the journal I wrote when I was sixteen, I am beginning this process. I couldn't throw them out, because in some way they measure and mark my life. So instead I'm going to package them up with fabric (silk?) and yarn after I read them, and pack them one by one into a suitcase. Inside there will be instructions for my children - that they are under no obligation to read them, and would likely get very bored very quickly if they tried, but instead that once I'm gone, they should have a big bonfire and burn them all at once, a celebration marked with good food and good wine (will I provide a budget for that, I've been asked!). Now you can see the reason for me beginning this post with the quote about being weird.
In the last twenty or so years, many of my entries have been about my creative life. When I see something that strikes a chord with me, I write it down. Or when I'm struggling with what to do next on a certain piece, that might get written down too. There's often repetition of certain ideas, and when that happens, I know to pay attention. Sometimes by writing things down I am taking the first step towards them becoming a reality. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by a situation and need to work my feelings out on paper. And sometimes I'm just taking the time to be still, to observe the world around me, and to reflect on it. Then the writing becomes more of a meditation.
The small fibre art group I belong to has taken on the challenge of making work with "Words" being the theme. I made quite a few African proverb pieces, but now want to make some more small pieces that incorporate some of the quotations I have found helpful over the years. These are changing all the time, and what strikes me as deep and meaningful today may not do so in a few years time, but the practice of collecting the words of others is now a huge part of me, and making small works which incorporate words will be one more way to do this.  I'm looking forward to getting started.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Winter and Wool Stitching

The Comox Valley typically has mild winters, but we're just coming through the third cold snap of the season, with snow staying on the ground, the sound of plows clearing it in the wee hours of the morning and the crunch of it underfoot, and are dealing with the ice that results when it freezes again, making everyone a little less confident than usual in leaving the warmth of their homes for the great outdoors. No better time methinks, to settle down and do a little more wool stitching.
I finished stitching the ivy leaf I showed you last week, using blanket stitch, chain stitch and back stitch, and then moved on to a leaf coming from a shrub in our front yard. I will have to find out the name of it when next I go to the nursery. I was thinking of spring while I was stitching - yes, I know it was a little premature - and ended up adding a few daisy stitches down at the bottom. I also tried out fly stitch for the first time, down the centre vein of each leaf, and am pleased with the result. 
Another terrific source of suggestions as to what stitches to use is Sally Mavor's book "A Pocketful of Posies". It's not a how-to book, but a good visual reference, and would make a wonderful gift for a little person in your life (and perhaps for yourself). She created the illustrations for the entire book with her hand-stitched scenes - an incredible accomplishment.
Here's just one page to show you what I mean. Sally creates all of her figures and leaves first, and only attaches them to the background when the stitching is completed. What an imagination, and what patience! I admire such work, but for now am content continuing with my little collection of
wool leaves. It is noticeable that many people are travelling down this "Slow Stitching" road at the moment, at least I get that impression from various blogs and Facebook postings I've seen recently. Maybe we're getting tired of the quick and easy, and beginning to realize what we lose when we abandon handwork. Maybe the comfort of seeing what we can do with just our hands and some thread and some fabric is what we need right now.