Sunday, January 07, 2018

Let the Stitching Begin

Whew, a very busy holiday season is finally over. Some computer problems held me back from posting, but I think I have a handle on it now, so here goes.

The big news is that I have begun work on my next piece of the Codex Canadensis series. This time it will be a real crowd pleaser, the unicorn.
Louis Nicolas has done quite the number with this drawing, splitting the critter into two. It would have fit whole on the page if he had only turned the sketchbook sideways, or he could have drawn over onto the next page, as he had done elsewhere in the book. So it's a mystery.

The really wild thing is how he has considerately provided helpful A and B tabs to aid in putting the unicorn back together, and they are a perfect match! So how he managed to do that when the rest of his body of work is pretty wonky is another mystery.

I wasn't able to find a potential source drawing either. (I thought maybe he had seen a drawing or had a template that was split. But no sawn-in-half unicorns on Google.) Gesner had a nice unicorn, of course. And there were lots of unicorn illustrations around in his time. The creature was still believed to exist, although quickly accumulating scientific knowledge would relegate it to myth before too long.

In his text, Nicolas says that he has known men who have seen unicorns in the Red Sea area, and they are reputable men, so therefore unicorns exist. There is also any early map of Canada, showing unicorns in the area of what is now Northern Quebec and Ontario.

The wildcat that he has labeled "un tigre" is in fact a leopard, since it has spots, not stripes. Both creatures were known in the 17th C., but I can see how they might be easy to mix up. Again, I could find no source image for the critter. The closest one I could find was a from a 19thC. encyclopedia, but of course could have been based on an earlier image.

And this painting by Titian has quite a similar pose.

Working in my usual way, I enlarged the drawing by 400% so that the finished piece will be about 36 inches wide and 48 high. I also decided to add a drawing from the preceding page in the Codex, of a granadilla, or passion flower. The passion flower was an important piece of evidence to the missionaries in convincing the indigenous people that the story of Christ was real, and to convert them. (The various parts of the flower are said to resemble the instrument of the passion of Christ.) Although not native to Canada, the plant can be found in the southern part of North America.

And this time, Bingo! I found the drawing that Louis copied. Frei Cristavao de Lisboa (1583-1652) made the lovely engraving below.
I thought it relevant to include with the unicorn image, because both the passion flower and the unicorn are important in Christian symbolism, and they occurred in the Codex on successive pages. And I like the way the shapes echo and repeat throughout the composition.

Let the stitching begin.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Holiday Quickie

Yesterday I made a pile of plump little pincushions for my rug hooking group's solstice gift exchange. Simple biscornus, made with recycled wool fabrics and wooden button's from Lasqueti's Wildwood Button Factory.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

No Mud, No Lotus

Thanks to all of you who offered helpful advice on keeping organised. It`s good to know I am not alone in a messy studio. But I have also given a bit of thought to what might be behind my untidy habits.

First of all, the whole wide world could be considered a messy studio, where things are created and destroyed and loved and fought over and nobody really knows what the hell is going on.

Then I thought about where my awareness that I am messy began, and remembered that as a child our house was often untidy (with four kids, whose house wouldn't be a mess?) My father, who, as I recall, never lifted a broom or ran the vacuum cleaner, was always complaining about this, and no doubt gave my mother lots of grief about her un-housewifely ways. His line was "What if the Queen comes for tea?" Which seemed to be a perfectly reasonable possibility to my eight-year-old self. I internalized his concern that others might think badly of a messy house, and by extension, of the people living in that mess. As an adult, knowing more about my father`s history and his probable PTSD and other issues, I can take a different perspective.

My art has a lot to do with looking for things beneath the surface, with layers of meaning, with valuing the unlovely. Would I have the ideas I have if everything was neat and orderly? That could be a rationalization, I know, giving permission to the mess. But the pictures of my drawing table are not an inapt metaphor for my thinking processes and the odd connections I make. The trick is making it all come together, which might explain the patient, repetitive, tight little stitches that make up my embroidery.

Last night, on that cluttered table, I came up with three new ideas for pieces that will, hopefully, when they are done, look like they were created in a logical, coherent, skillful and patient way. And I shall do my best to answer the ghost from the past, when he starts to complain: "No mud, no lotus."

Oh, and here`s the finished, unsteamed rug.
I`ll do a properly lit shot later, but just wanted to show off the piece. I whipped the edges with a medium brown wool that just blends perfectly. I`m chuffed as can be.

Monday, December 04, 2017

How Do You Stay Tidy and Organised? (And not go crazy!?!)

Pic of my room circa 2008. The file is named "Squalor".  Apparently, not much has changed.

So, I was hooking away on my rug and couldn't find my scissors/hook/fabric I just had in my hand two seconds, and it occurred to me that maybe it's possible that every other hooker/stitcher/knitter in the world might have the same problem occasionally, and maybe instead of cursing my own name for the zillion-th time, I could just ask my fibre friends for tips and pointers on keeping one's working area (diameter of an arm's reach) tidy and organised.

And, judging from my feverish sentence structure, it's an urgent problem.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Cultivating the Inner Critic

Dealing with critics. It's unavoidable, especially as the most pressing and persistent are usually within us. These phantom-like entities have often arisen in my recent sessions with a therapist. I was somewhat surprised to discover that in addition to my internalized stern elementary school teacher who likes to discipline with the sharp side of a 12 inch ruler, I also am dogged by a shadow of excessive weight, an ogre who catches all that Miss Reidegar misses, and more.

My therapist and I have developed a very good therapeutic relationship. (And I think I speak with some authority, having had much more therapy over the years than the average bear.) She has a somewhat different approach than the usual -- CBT, ten sessions or less -- that our health care system prefers. Instead of heading for direct integration of my psyche, she has instead teased out different aspects, or guardians, of my somewhat conflicted self. What I have learned may be useful for others.

If we think of inner critics as trying to protect us from something, what would that something be? Failure? Embarrassment? Shame? Ridicule? Financial or creative ruin? Is it possible to thank the critic for their concern, to appreciate how hard they have worked to keep us safe? To let them know they have been heard, and to suggest their energy might be better appreciated if they waited until a later phase in the process to voice their concerns.

I was in a writing workshop once where we were encouraged to just write in an intense flurry, and tell the critic to wait until we were ready to edit, when what they had to say would be more useful. This is helpful when the nagging negative voice prevents us from actually getting started. If we can just get something down on paper or cloth, then there is something tangible to respond to - and, interestingly, that other internalized force, the creative one, is so chuffed after making something that it can meet the critic as an equal, rather than subordinate to the overpoweringly protective role the critic needlessly takes on.

Design is closely based on a photo from Tiggy Rawling's blog, "I'd Rather Be in India".

Prolonged, careful contemplation is an essential stage in the creative process. I have been working on this hooked rug for the longest time. I just did a couple of hours a week usually, and didn't feel especially invested in it. Now that it's getting near the end I am keen to see it finished, yet I find myself ripping out more than I put in. Even though I have been following a photograph of the Indian embroidery that inspired this piece, the translation to hooking means I have had to make many choices in the interpretation. I finish a section, I throw it down on the floor and assess how it works within the context of the rest of the rug. This means I can't be attached to a section just because I've done it and I want to get to the next bit.

Here is where the critic shines. In fact, this can be the part I enjoy the most - gazing upon the work, asking "What does it need?" For me, this feels productive, engaged and open ended. The rigidity of the critic relaxes and makes interesting suggestions. The sharp ruler is put away and sometimes the gold stars even come out. Because critics can also see good, if they are given a chance.

In art school, critiques would happen regularly, where the whole class would comment (constructively, hopefully) on each person's work. This was probably the best aspect of school for me, and the one I miss most. Criticism need not be discouraging or despairing, it can be thoughtful, helpful and kind - as well as pointing out bullshit when need be.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Stitching with the Stars

I'm sure many of you are familiar with Maiwa's annual Symposium and their School of Textiles. I have attended many Maiwa workshops and they have been quite wonderful. The ones with Dorothy Caldwell here, here, and here, and Beverly Gordon stand out in particular. This fall, I took one with the famous Dutch embroiderer, Tilleke Schwarz, and I am sad to say it was a dud. Thinking about why it didn't work for me led to these thoughts:

  1. The instructor of the workshop needs good teaching skills.
  2. The participants in the workshop need to have a shared intention, and have left their neuroses at home. The focus of the participants is at least as important as how good the teacher is.
  3. The location of the workshop should be accessible, with good light and enough space for the group. 
  4. The participant herself should be realistic about how compatible her skill level is with the material to be covered.

So, what went wrong in this particular workshop? I was thrilled about the chance to learn from Tilleke, who is a justifiably famous star in the stitching world. Her lecture the night before was inspiring enough, but then she just repeated it for the class. That would have been okay if a number of participants hadn't heard the lecture already, but most had and were eager to get on with it.

The really unfortunate thing was that right off the mark Tilleke said she wasn't there to teach us how to stitch like her. Fair enough, but she also was not forthcoming with any instruction. Instead, she waited until we had stitched something to critique it. I wasted a lot of time using the tracing paper design transfer method she recommended, and, after a couple of false starts over the two days, ended up with nothing to show her. So my interaction with the instructor was pretty limited.

I'm willing to take my share of the blame for that, but what had me really annoyed was that a couple of participants chose to talk throughout the whole thing in loud voices about themselves and Tilleke did nothing to get them to quiet down. Midway through the second day, my friend and I picked up and left because she sensed I was getting ready to blow. (I think I reached my breaking point when the lady from Texas proudly said they had "Open Carry" gun laws in her state.)

The workshop took place in the Net Loft on Granville Island, which is incredibly fabulous. No complaints there. The staff at Maiwa are pros at providing all the amenities.

In the final analysis though, of course, the biggest problem was probably me. I already knew everything Tilleke had to show us. (Which wasn't much, but still...) My style is already quite developed. I was there just to rub shoulders with an art star, and nothing much was rubbing off Tilleke. She was a very nice lady but what I hoped for just wasn't happening.

Workshops aren't easy to dial in, so much depends on the group as well as the instructor. But when a workshop has an elite reputation, and costs over $300, it's hard for me to write off a bad experience.

I didn't even take any photos. There really wasn't anything to show. But I did have a great visit with my friend Barb, so the trip to Vancouver was not completely in vain.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Dare I Say Truth?

The zeitgeist of the past year has given me pause to reconsider the name of this blog. Supposedly we are now living in a post-truth era, a time when it is apparently up to whomever to decide whether some incredibly important piece of data or news is true or false. Saying something is true invites doubt. The ground has shifted.

It was in 1984 (somewhat tellingly) when I first conceived of calling my various pursuits "True Stitches". I was living in Toronto and supplementing my income as a graphic artist by doing dressmaking for a select few. I made up a business card and called my enterprise True Stitches. Truth actually had nothing to do with it, it was a play on the old pulp fiction magazines like "True Crime" and "True Confessions". I was merely being witty and ironic, hot commodities at the time. (Well, hell, when does being witty and ironic ever go out of style?) I even had a rubber stamp made up that emblazoned TRUE STITCHES on the cards, combining the nostalgic with the handmade. I long ago threw out the cards, but I still have the stamp. The original logo, such as it was, featured these guys,
with my stamp emblazoned on top in red.

Fast forward to the mid-noughts. I was in a program for building one's own business, and I had chosen True Stitches as the name. A few years earlier, I had used truestitches as an email address. I actually had as a domain name until a few years ago when I let it lapse because it was under my ex-husband's account. Now I see the name coming up on Etsy - I am merely a now.

So I return to the beginning. What does the name mean? I feel very sincerely that my stitches, my expression, my actions, must be true, whole-hearted and verifiable. It's kind of the essence of what I  do. The subtitle of this blog: "To make, to mend, to decorate." This is the part that is the definition of the word stitch, and also what I strive for in my daily life.

To make: I am a maker, I like to make things. This connects me to the divine. It is what I do, my life's purpose.

To mend: As humans, we fail, we cause trouble. But we have the potential to mend, to once again make whole something that is torn apart. This gives me hope.

To decorate: And why not? We have the capacity for joy, for play, for frivolity. Beauty is possible.

I was fooling around the other day with a new logo.
I used my old stamp with the line "Since 1984".

I think I am getting too old to be ironic. I still think truth is something important. Even if it isn't fashionable these days.