Saturday, September 13, 2014

art can connect us to something that is lost

take my heart like a hand and its fingers, Judith e Martin stitched collage (detail), 2005
At times, I wonder what is worth posting about on this blog. 
What am I comfortable with showing?
My work is so large and slow that it seems to stand still when I post about the progress I make with it, day by day.  
And anyway, the blog is not my art.
This blog is just a journal.
It actually takes time away from my art.
Why then, do I carry on with it?
Newfoundland's northern tip, September 2014
I want my art to communicate who I am.
I also want my art to help my viewer access something unnameable within themselves.    
Artist Ann Hamilton believes that "art can connect us to something that is lost."   
By this, I think she means those ideas, dreams, and loved ones that we carry around inside us.

Maybe the blog writing helps me to connect with you in that way. 
Maybe it is my art.

Monday, September 08, 2014

nine patch

Over the past few months, I have been hand piecing indigo and muslin nine patch blocks during visits with my father in the manor, and during airplane trips.  They save me.  I love stitching them.
Even the solid white areas in this 9 patch quilt top are pieced by hand.  There is a net of hand sewing. In the photo above, notice the round thread cutter that I use on airplanes instead of scissors.

I am making a large white quilt with a dark blue and white checkerboard center.
We are in Newfoundland for our forty first wedding anniversary.
Above,  a photo of the receding tide near the top of the great northern peninsula of Newfoundland.
Life is wonderful.  Don't waste a second of it.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

nui project

hand work by Keisuke Nomaguchi (born 1976)  nylon-wool yarn, cotton thread, hand stitch
embroidered ready made shirt by Keisuke Nomaguchi
His stitches cover the surface, and the shirt shrinks by more than half, becoming very thick.
embroidered ready made shirt by Setusko Mori (born 1955).
Her stitches overlap themselves,and she repeats them to achieve dot-like shapes.
detail of above   (cotton shirt, cotton threads, hand stitch)

These images are from the Nui Project books, documents of the embroidery work made at a rehabilitation facility for mentally handicapped people in Kagoshima Japan, Shobu Gakuen.   The Nui Project uses ready-made shirts as a base for embroidery. That the shirts become impossible to wear as they become distorted with embroidery stitches that have no names adds magic.  Or nature.

"The work is composed within the constraints of the extremely narrow scope of the immediate visual field.......Staying within that narrow scope of the field of view, without a plan for the composition as a whole, generates an emergence, an unfolding, that evokes the beauty created by nature."   Shin Fukumori, director of Kobo Shobu

The content in this post is taken from two books, Nui Project and Nui Project 2.  The books were published in commemoration of the exhibition held at the creative growth art center in Oakland California in 2003, Fabulous Fabrics: Made in Japan, Yukiko Koide curator.

The books were recommended to me by Sandra Brownlee and by Karen Thiessen.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


 I believe that there is a mysterious and graceful and miraculous coherence stitched through this world.
 I believe that everything is prayer.
I believe that love is our greatest and hardest work.
text :  Brian Doyle
images:  indigo dyed damask and artist's coat.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Artist book by Beth Lindner

detail from artist book by Beth Lindner
A few weeks ago, Beth Lindner brought over the book she made about her mother's youth so that I could see the finished product.
I asked her if I could photograph it, perhaps share it here...and she was pleased.  I hope that you enjoy having a peek.
Beth began the book in the Art Quilting class I was teaching in 2010.  One of the techniques was photo transfer, and Beth used photos of her mother.  She had them in her possession because her youngest had needed copies for a school project.
Early on she decided to make a book of the transferred photos and give it to her mother for her birthday.  The text would be a complete poem by Anne Morrow Lindberg.
I don't think she intended it to take four years, but what a gift for her mother's recent 80th birthday.
above, one verse from Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg
Beth transferred the photos to fabric she had on hand - a cotton twill, and embellished them with stitches she learned in that class.  French knots.  Couching.  Cross Stitch.  Beth's talent and creativity took those humble stitches to a very personal and beautiful level.
This past spring Beth brought the pages to me for mentoring help.  I advised her on threads, taught her a new stitch (bead stitch), loaned some books, and showed some ways to put the book together.
Beth is a mother of two active boys and teaches special education in a primary school.  She has painted watercolours and acrylic paintings for most of her life.   She told me that she loves stitching, probably better than painting and is eager to begin a new fabric book.  I look forward to seeing what she does next.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Husband and Wife

Quilts more than paintings carry baggage and metaphor with them.  Think about the bed and the life passages that happen there,  birth, death, sex, cuddling, holding, sleeping, dreaming, taking care of someone.  Margaret Atwood has termed quilts flags for the bed.   What better medium to use for the subject of Husband and Wife? "  Judy Martin
The front of the quilt has been made from a single 10 meter piece of lightweight cotton fabric that was hand-dyed a rainbow of colours.   It was then cut up and stitched back together.  The long tall panels have been roughly divided into warm and cool colours.  The left panel signifies the husband, while the right panel signifies the wife.  While working on the piece the artist discovered that it was a feminist project.  She wrote in her  journal at the time that she felt "a rage against being ignored, silenced because I work in craft media.  I am a woman and my work is silenced by my gender.  The heart shape is so feminine and the colours are so vibrant.  The tall narrow shape is phallic.  the feminine heart shape is trying to fit in with those tall columns.  each heart began by encircling personal journal text that was later removed. "  
"In designing their quilts, women not only made beautiful and functional objects, but expressed their own convictions on a wide variety of subjects in a language for the most part comprehensible only to other women.  In a sense this was a 'secret language' among women."  Patricia Mainardi

The language of the quilt goes beyond passing on knowledge of quilt making skills between women, it also provides women with a space to voice their own opinions and sort out their own stories, for themselves and for each other.  As Janet Berlo argues "quilts represent a counter-discourse, a covert female language that says the unsayable in a form of silent public oratory"  Janet Berlo
 "I am a Canadian heterosexual woman living in Ontario.  I'm part of the baby boom.  I am the most ordinary specimen.  I feel like I represent hundreds of women.  I gave a lecture to a group of women on Friday and everyone cried.  All that I'm doing when I make quilts is talking about my ordinary life and how much I love it. I don't know why I seem to have a need to tell personal stories, but I'm from a generation that believes that the personal is political.  What I do is give a voice to the ordinary Chatelaine-reading woman who is trudging along . I feel that I am a feminist speaking for many women in a beautiful way that they might not be able to.  I want to be a poet for a whole generation of women."  Judy Martin
 The hand stitching of this piece is a very integral component.  as the artist says, "It shows that the work has been touched.  Each stitch takes one second.  Stitching becomes visible time; you can tell that this woman spent two hours on these six inches.  Time spent has a certain weight to it, and I haven't taken that casually."  Judy Martin

Martin is very concerned with the fact that in earlier days, women had to spend their whole lives making cloth, while in the late Victorian age stitching was just something to keep women busy and out of art school (Chadwick and Berlo) .  She sees this as debilitating but at the same time she wants to show how powerful women and their hand work can be.  These quilt objects will become heirlooms because the work that went into them will not be taken casually and will last.  Quilts are like the nurturing work that women do such as raising a family but they are visible, unlike those invisible tasks such as meal preparation and cleaning.
On the back of the quilt there is a large yoni shape.  This large female shape exemplifies the immense power that shapes can hold.  Inspired by Mark Rothko's use of both shape and size, Martin embraces the traditional large rectangle for her quilts.  Like Rothko, she believes that due to their large size, quilts speak to the viewer on a profoundly intimate and spiritual level.  When the quilt is displayed, viewers are able to stand either four feet away and be enveloped by it, as well as standing twenty five feet away and seeing it from a distance.  Both are important.  Martin wants her work to be "large enough to not only cover a bed but to be large enough to at least metaphorically, cover a family.  Using traditional size and pattern helps my work to be understood by both women and men because their grandmothers spoke this language.  It's not foreign, it goes deep into a subconscious level.  It's reassuring."  Judy Martin
Using bleach, Martin has hand-written quotes taken from a press release she found in an article that discussed the intimacy of cloth and its increasing use in fine art.  Amongst the magazine text, anecdotes of the artist's intimate sex life were also interjected into the sentences, coyly hidden by other words.
"If you can glimpse a little bit of the maker, than their spirit or soul has come through and touched you.  That's the inner thing and is why I use so much handwork.  People can feel me breathing, and then they realize that they themselves are breathing and there is a connection to their own lives.  Their inner self connects with my inner self because there is this visual language for which there are no words.  They are touched by my touching.  When they understand me and subsequently themselves, it is a direct communication.   I want to communicate to my viewer."  Judy Martin

All text in this post are from our daughter April's essay that she wrote for her McGill  university art history course in 2008.   The quotes are from phone and email interviews about a quilt I made in 2004.

All images are of the quilt, Husband and Wife, which I am gifting to her this week as she leaves to study at the graduate level at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dyeing with plants on Manitoulin Island

Over the summer I have been harvesting and processing natural dyes from local plants.
The cloth I am using is blanket weight wool sourced from rug hooking supply houses.
As I connect with this ancient skill, I notice the abundant plants that grow wild here.   
I trust others who have made records, but this year I am not afraid to experiment.
golden rod before it flowered - just the leaves made a clear yellow
roadside willow - the leaves made  warm rusty tans
queen anne's lace, the entire plant top chopped gave me green-yellows

I have to dye in the summer.
That's when the plants are here.
Dried plants also work well if one is over whelmed with the abundance.
Above, dried St. John's wort without flowers. 
Below, blackberry vine gathered in 2012 and kept dried in a paper bag until this summer.
Beautiful cool greys come from blackberry when iron mordant is added to the bath.

Usually the aroma of these plants while they simmer is very sensuous.
Blackberry vine smells like jam, dried horsetail smells like mown hay.
Connecting with the inner workings of the natural world.
Above, some of the wool cloth I've dyed this summer.

golden rod
queen anne's lace
st. john's wort
onion saddened with iron
willow saddened with iron
golden rod saddened with iron
horse tail
(the list does not relate to the photo)
Careful to treat the plant with respect,
I only take 10-20% in any given area and leave 80-90% behind.
Continuing to learn,  I keep notes of everything I've done.

I count on advice from Rebecca Burgess, Jenny Dean, Judy McGrath, Sasha Duerr and India Flint.
Tip for today:  allow the plant matter to steep.

In the above photo:
top shelf - indigo (most left from April's wedding cloths)
middle shelf - variety of silk and wool fabrics dyed with local plants over the past two years.  
bottom shelf - the blanket weight wool that I have been dyeing this summer.
I think my colours are getting richer, don't you?
second tip:  learn to love brown and grey.