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.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Tutorial #1 - Hand-Stitching Wool Leaves

Happy New Year to each of you! I've started the new year with my leaf-stitching project, and it occurred to me (now that I'm back in the rhythm of blogging once a week) that although  I've retired from teaching, I can still share some of what I've learned and am learning with tutorials. Many other quilters and stitchers have already done this, and I've been most thankful to be able to access their knowledge and learn from their experiences. So here is the first one:

Hand-Stitching Wool Leaves

1. Walk around your garden, or through the woods, and pick leaves from half a dozen or so plants. Look for shapes that appeal to you, and leaves that won't overwhelm the background size you've chosen. These are from the ivy which climbs up the chimney on the side of our house.
2. Place two or three leaves between each double sheet, folded, of paper towel. Write the name of the plant or tree and the date you picked it on the paper towel - you'd be amazed how quickly you forget where they've all come from - and photocopy one of each leaf as well, just for reference. When all the leaves are folded, press them under a stack of heavy books, and leave them there for several days.
3. After a day or so until they'll usually be flat enough to trace, but will take longer to dry more completely. Trace around the each leaf outline (including the stem) onto freezer paper.
4. Press the freezer paper pattern onto the wool you've chosen for the leaf shape. Cut around the leaf on the marked line and remove the freezer paper.
5. Place the wool leaf on the background you've chosen, and use a few dabs from a glue stick to hold the leaf in place. (It doesn't take much.) If you decide to add a stem from a different piece of wool, this is the time to do so, adhering it to the wool leaf in the same manner.
6. Now comes the fun part. Using photos you've seen of stitching you like (there are tons of examples on the internet), or a reference such as the one above (my current favourite) begin stitching the leaf to the background and the stem to the leaf using stitches that appeal to you. Two or three strands of embroidery floss or #8 or #12 perle cotton work very well for this. Keep stitching, using a variety of stitches, until you feel happy with the result.

I find I don't know quite how I'll stitch a leaf until I get going. I make it up as I go along. But for others who like to plan in advance, you might want to add another step at this time, and make a little sketch for yourself of what you plan to do before you get going. I stick to pretty basic stitches - Blanket stitch, Chain stitch, Straight stitch, Backstitch and French knots - so you don't need to be an expert to get good results.  It's amazing how many variations of each of those listed above is possible. Most of all, enjoy the process. It can become quite addictive!