Tuesday, October 06, 2015

beautiful blocks of time

"I can no longer look at nature and stay calm.  
 It sweeps me up, embracing me, swirling and moving in one continuous breath.
 Everything is connected: the forest, life, and myself.
 I wanted to paint these enormous feelings in a way that was big and free.
But painting in oil is slow and expensive, and watercolour is not intense enough, so I invented a new mixture: oil paint and gasoline.
 The oil paint goes further and the colours stay clear and bright.  Can you feel life and movement quivering in every brushstroke?  " emily carr
Before I wrap up my journals with cloth and threads,  I open them randomly one more time and read whatever page opens up.  Today, it happened to be this clipping of Emily Carr's text and painting (see below) in a journal from 2000.
I have seventeen journals wrapped now and it has taken me nearly a year to get this far along.  I spend half an hour every day going through one, reading it as I type very quickly to enter the family story and my art making into my laptop in chronological order.  Occasionally, I come across a gem that still resonates and I re-write or sketch it into my current journal.  
It pleases me to wrap up these books and not look at the words and clippings and drawings any more. Now I just see them as beautiful blocks of time.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

weighed down

The whole fabric field needs to burst wide open.
We are all inhibited somehow by certain nice standards.
I don't know how such a break through can be accomplished.
We are weighed down with such a preconceived idea about what is acceptable.
We are in a new time when fabrics are suddenly relieved of all science, of all utility,
of all function other than aesthetic.
We still don't know what to do with the new freedom.  It's an exciting time.
This is Ed Rossbach's text - published in Beyond Craft: The Art Fabric 42 years ago.
It's October, and I put a heavy linen quilt over me.  It helps.
(I've shown the front of this quilt many times).

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

the archetypes

the archetype of the circle
Lenore Tawney
Waters above the Firmament 1976
linen, manuscript paper, liquitex  156  x 145 inches  collection the art institute of chicago
the archetype of the cross
Loretta Pettway
four block strip quilt circa 1960
cotton twill and synthetic material from men's clothing  78 x 73 inches
a Gee Bend quilt
the archetype of the dot
Alice Fox
Found rusty metal, hand stitch with cotton/silk, rust dyed with tea  2015
linen, 55 cm square
More photos of this piece here.

In my Newfoundland meditation panel workshop, I will be showing images of how other textile artists have accessed the archetypes for inspiriation.
An archetype is a term used to describe universal symbols that evoke deep and sometimes unconscious responses in a reader. In literature, characters, images, and themes that symbolically embody universal meanings and basic human experiences, regardless of when or where they live, are considered archetypes.  (google)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

string piece with foundation

 I'm teaching the string piece on foundation technique in Newfoundland next month.
This is the technique used in Mended World, one of the Manitoulin Circle Project panels. (detail shown above)
The 'strings' in this technique are long and narrow strips of fabric.  These yellow ones (and the ones in the Mended World panel) were cut with a rotary cutter and a ruler.  However, one could use scissors, or a cutter with no ruler.
Claire Wellesely-Smith wrote about Mended World in her new book, Slow Stitch.  She says:

"Using a sewing machine, four or five long narrow strips of a variety of textured damasks (from recycled tablecloths) were sewn together along their long edges to create a new striped fabric. This fabric is then re-cut several times and sewn back together to make a wide piece of new fabric."
This striped fabric is then cut with scissors to make new strings that have many seams.
These new strings are then stitched into a new sheet of tiny squares using the stitch and flip method on foundation.  The light weight foundation used in this yellow sample is harem cloth.  The foundation used in Mended World was cotton lawn.  
Daughter April used this string piece on foundation method for her multi coloured quilt.  A difference is that she worked from scrap and made each of her strings all by hand.  She used the flip and stitch method to attach her unique strips together, her foundation cloth is a thrift store cotton sheet.
How to sew:
Begin with two strips right sides together laid in the center of your foundation.  Sew them together along a seam through three layers.

Open the two strips out. Flatten with your hand.  Lay a third strip face down along one of the strip sand sew along that seam line through all three layers.   Open out.  Repeat.  Work your way with alternate sides towards the edges of your foundation cloth.
I wrote more about the book Slow Stitch here.
Also, may I direct your attention to Karen Thiessen's blog, Day In & Day Out where she has begun a series of reviews about the meditation panels.  The first one is here.  The second one is here.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

dream cloths

Tom Sach's mother raised him to love beauty and well-crafted things.  "If your art doesn't look good, when you die they're going to throw it away" she told him.
I think I agree with her.

Lately my quilts have not been bed-sized.
Have I abandoned the rich metaphoric language attached to the bed that I relied on and loved?  So much life (and death) happens in bed.
The two quilts I'm working on now are odd shaped.  The black one (above) is really tall and thin, while the beige one (below) is small and soft.
Look at it.  It's all about soft.  I want to put my face on it, close my eyes, put my cheek next to it and let it kiss me.  I reach out and pet it because I can't help but do so, and the touching triggers so many memories and dreams it makes me dizzy.
These pieces are not made to do what a quilt usually does.  (keep the body warm, protected and covered with symbols that women used to understand about fertility and safety)

Instead they refer to that other thing that happens in bed when we abandon control and fall asleep. When we enter our dream world place.

I have to take chances and do things I don't fully understand because an artist's best work lies just beyond his understanding.  I live for finding the place and the confidence to do that.  Tom Sachs

Monday, September 14, 2015

Remembering the opening of Hard Twist 10: Memory

Icarus,  found lottery tickets, dental floss, by Rebecca Siemering
Memory one:
The traffic in the city was thick and intense, it took an hour to drive from the Riverdale area in East Toronto where we had family over to the Gladstone Hotel on Queen West.  It was also the opening night of the Toronto Film Festival - maybe that's why.
Rebecca Siemering collects scratch lottery tickets on her daily walk
Rebecca considers the hope that is held in those tickets, discarded with disappointment
Memory two: the lovely old manual elevator.  The friendly operator greets us as if we are old friends
Red Moons, vintage wool blanket, mended Judith e Martin
Memory three:
The crowd on the 4th floor where daughter and I search for my piece and don't find it. We go down to the 3rd floor where there are even more people because that is where the bar is.  We find my piece in a side hall.
Memory four:
My work doesn't look as proud as it was at the home studio.  It is across from Andrew McPhail's sequined bed sheet and that pleases me because our two pieces converse well with each other.
 Memory five:  Looking for art work I can respond to but so many people stand in the way, talking.
Jamie: Trousers on wood stretcher by Jamie Ashforth

Deconstructing these utilitarian objects exposes subtleties like stains, fading, smudges and tears, unintended marks that organically build composition and depth and embody memory.  Jamie Ashforth

Memory six:
Introducing myself to Jamie Ashforth and telling her that I appreciate her work.  The worn clothing and found textile objects that she has stretched around wooden frames make a simple and powerful statement.   Jamie introduced me to her aunt, grey haired like I am, who spoke about textile art "back in the day" when we were young too.
Susan: Poncho and wooden stretcher by Jamie Ashworth
Memory seven:
Finding one of the curators, Chris Mitchell, and speaking with her about the show.  Ms Mitchell told me that she felt that this 10th edition of the Hard Twist exhibitions was the strongest so far.  She said that there is a real need for venues for conceptual textile art and that the galleries don't give this genre enough space.  She thinks that this hotel space works well.
Chapter 2 page 1, silkscreen and hand painted pieces of mylar and discarded embroidery punch cards by Anu Raina
"This is a tribute to my beautiful mother to whom I had to bid good bye at the tender age of ten:  Anu Raina
Memory eight:  needing to go down a level to cool off.  It was really hot and crowded.
Memories nine and ten:
Looking at the art and photographing just a few.
Realizing that I need to go back.  I need more reflective time and space.  I need to not be so concerned with the networking aspect of being at an opening.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


I blocked the stitched work that I did last month.
meditation folder blocked
Q  How to you block a stitched piece?
A  Wash it in the gentle cycle with cold water.
     Pin it with a zillion pins to a wall made from ceiling tiles  
     pulling and tugging and flattening the work as you go along.
     Allow to dry in position 24 hours.
meditation folder not blocked
Blocking usually works to square up my work and make it hang flat.  In this case I will be happy if it just takes away the lumpy parts.  (see photo above for those)
This work has changed from being a long narrow wall hanging into a folder that I will use to contain smaller meditation panels.  This folder (and those smaller pieces) are all samples for the workshop I'm teaching next month.
I like that by making the stitched cloth into a folder that will sit on a table and be opened up (handled), I am inviting my viewer to touch and examine and caress my hand work.  Both sides of the piece are interesting and that will be made evident as the folder is used.
note the pins used for blocking
I'm showing it hung on a wall in this post.  In future, I will show it as a folder.
meditation folder reverse side
"it is the totality of our body and its sense operations
 that makes our ability to perceive and construct a world possible"
                                                            Maurice Merleau Ponty   

Sunday, September 06, 2015


Memories are valuable.
They give us a sense of who we are.  They are true.
Those that recur and recur are told out loud and become legends.
So many others fade out and disappear.
Memories are valuable but they are also vulnerable.

This is why I believe in artifacts.
Maybe it is why I make quilts.
Because artifacts hold the memories for us.
I have my grandmother Anne Niskala's floor loom.
I have the portrait of my great grandparents in Finland.
But the memory those objects hold for me
is of my kind uncle Henry when he gave them to me.
He passed them on to me in 2011.

I felt his generosity, friendliness, and kindness.
I felt his love

and I remember that.
I'll always have that.
He wanted me to have them
and so I have that.

I began a new nine patch while traveling up to the funeral.
R.I.P. Henry Niskala 1929-2015