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.