Monday, August 14, 2017

How I Spent My Summer Holidays - Part I

This week, I came home from two weeks of camping and travelling. First I joined a friend in driving the loop from Duncan to Cowichan River and then over what used to be logging roads to Port Renfrew, then south almost as far as Victoria before turning north and homeward again. The weather was glorious, and we camped first by the ocean and then in the rainforest of the west coast of the island.
Look at all the shapes of those leaves. So many in such a small area - all turning their faces up to catch what sunlight they can. Specimens were gathered and pressed and will find their way into my work at some later date.
The fireweed at the side of the road reminded me of my growing up years in Ontario, and that it's now August.
The beach at Port Renfrew, just in front of our camping spot. And no, we weren't tempted to swim. Way too cold!
We hiked up into an old growth forest - Avatar Grove - where many of these giants live. Amazing!
And noticed how small the ferns were on the forest floor, and spread out to catch the light. So different than in newer forests.
                            
Until we came upon this tree, reputed to be the gnarliest tree in Canada, and is found at the end of the trail. Well worth the climb. It was so good to get outside in enjoy these warm summer days, to live simply and to take time to notice the world around us. Good too to be away from the internet, in fact we didn't even have phone reception. I couldn't have been happier. And while I didn't get any work done, I did have some hand-stitching with me, and more importantly, I'm learning not to feel guilty about what I'm not getting done when I have these opportunities. The work was here waiting for me when I got home, and I feel immeasurably energized by all I experienced. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Choices, or You Can't Do It All

This week I've been thinking about choices, about how there isn't just one right direction to go in, much as there's not one right partner for you or one right friend for you. It's more about reaching a crossroads - in relationships, in careers, in adventures, in artistic direction - and having to make a choice. I can go this way or that way. The only thing that's certain, is that I can't stay exactly where I am. Or if I do, I'm going to have the most boring, but safe life ever. I think that's why I like this small work above - The Red Door - there are nine possible doors, and which door am I going to choose. I really have no idea where any of these doors are going to take me, but must still make a choice. And then I must walk through the door (this is where courage is needed!) and see what happens.
I have often included both doors and windows in my quilts - they are such a wonderful metaphor for the path to discovery and adventure. Which door indeed?
Back in my twenties, I spent the better part of a year back-packing around Europe. I didn't have a list of places I must go, destinations that I needed to check off on a list, although I had some notion of what might appeal to me. I headed off from New York city on a Greek freighter, only because I wanted to experience first-hand how big the ocean is. And the only reservation I made for myself in that year was the very first one, in Athens. After that, I chose where I went depending on who I met, and what they told me, and what I discovered on my own. It was a wonderful, wonderful time. Sometimes I stayed in the same place for 2-3 weeks at a time.
Yes, this is me, on the ferry to Mykonos. Where I soon met a fellow Canadian and a Kiwi, who became my travelling companions for a month or so. Where I learned about ancient history for the first time - touching stones that had been carried into place three thousand years before. Where I felt what it's like to run across a bed of sea urchins with bare feet, and then have the caretaker at the youth hostel painstakingly remove them one by one. Where I first tasted baklava. None of these things would have happened if I hadn't chosen the Greek freighter door. I couldn't possibly have guessed at all that would follow that, but that choice, the first of many, led to so many amazing experiences. And so it is, perhaps, with the creative life. We need to make choices about which direction we'll go in. We need to take that risk. And then we can open up to see what happens. How marvelous!




Monday, July 17, 2017

My Studio in the Woods

 I am only just home from a week of camping. 
Beautiful sunshine, and life pared down to its essentials -
a comfy bed, good food, and good company.
 Looking through the trees to the lake,
watching the squirrels and listening to the birdsong.
 And looking way, way up to the trees whispering overhead.
 Collecting new leaves to press, and later to print,
 Noticing the dappled light on alders along the shore,
Marvelling at the unique shape, not only of each leaf, but also of each branch.  
 Taking a little time to hand-stitch an indigo piece in progress,
And to jot down some of my ideas for possible future work, as well as getting back to my early morning journalling practice.
Sometimes I forget how important it is to get outdoors and live amongst the trees for a time.
So sweet. Such a gift. So thankful.

Monday, July 10, 2017

What Makes Me Happy?

The review that started with last week's blog has come about as part of Lisa Call's Masterclass (which is most excellent, by the way), and continues in a slightly different direction this week. Last week I chose some of the work I've made that I am most pleased with I should be concentrating on, based on those pieces.  I was really looking at what subjects they were about. Since then, though, I've realized that although the subject matter may change from one piece to the next, the story I am telling with my work remains the same. I remember hearing Valerie Hearder say some years ago, that we all really only have one story to tell. At the time, I mulled that over, and wasn't sure I agreed with her but now I think I understand the wisdom in her words a little better. So I re-visited my own work, those pieces that please me the most, and this time I asked myself if there are commonalities in the way they're constructed, or in what materials are used. This is what I came up with:
I love working with bright, saturated colours - mostly commercial fabrics, although I do add hand-dyes to the mix when it seems right.
I am happiest when I am stitching random strips of brightly colored fabrics together, making a new "something" from scraps, watching to see how it evolves.
I am attracted to multiples of shapes.
It makes me happy when I find a way to add hand-stitching to my work.
So although the subject matter may be different in each of these pieces, there is a common thread running through them all. Both the story behind the pieces, and the process by which I made my story known, are the same in each piece. Now I feel I'm really getting somewhere, in deciding on the direction for my work. Each time I contemplate embarking on a new project, I might ask myself these three questions:
1. Is this piece telling the story I have in me?
2. Am I going to be able to use the fabrics and the techniques that I most love to work with in making it?
3. Does it make me happy to think about making this?
If I can answer "yes" to all three questions, then I will carry on with the work at hand. If, on the other hand, I'm making it because it's something I "should do", or something that I'm only undertaking because I've signed up to be part of a challenge/ an exhibit/ a group show that is planned by one of the organizations I belong to - well that simply isn't going to cut it. I want to be a little bit more discerning in what I spend my life working on. And at this point in my life, I want to to make what makes me happy by intention, and not just by happy accident (or not). There's no time to lose!


Monday, July 3, 2017

The Value of Review

Sometimes those of us who are creative types are so busy following up on new and exciting ideas we have, that we forget to take the time to review what we've already made. OK, I confess - I fall into this category. This has come to my attention again this week. Before I know the way forward, I want to spend a little time reviewing what has gone before. Specifically I am asking myself - "Which of the quilts you've already made resonates with you as being most true, most pleasing, most heart-felt, most 'I don't care what the rest of the world thinks of this, I am happy with it'?" These are some of the ones I chose that fit this description:
"A New Beginning"
 "Conversations with Kente"
 "In the Presence of the Elders"
Detail (sideways) of "The Night Garden"
"Rosetta's Hope"
"Windows on my World"
 "There's an Elephant in My Garden"
"Abundant Life"
In reviewing these, the overwhelming thing they have in common is their use of colour. But after that it's less clear. One has to do with trees, two are inspired by Africa, two are Art Deco inspired, and one is abstract. Clearly I've got several subject areas that I'm interested in. Are any of them worth re-visiting? Well, the one that shouts out loudest to me is Art Deco. I felt I was only just beginning to touch the surface of this, before I veered off mid-stream to do something totally different. But trees and leaves (this would include my traveller's blanket) have sustained my interest for a very long time. And African experiences continue to provide me with untold material. Wisdom from experienced artists is that one has to choose one focus, and then stick with it. Does anyone else out there find this very, very hard to do? Perhaps I need to pose another question - "If I only have time to make one or two more quilts, what would they say?" Ah, this cuts to the meat of things. It helps me narrow my options. And it might be something that I haven't explored yet, that I have only touched on here or there, and which would be a culmination of all the attributes of favourite quilts from the past. Time to do a little more journalling and see where it takes me . . .

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.