Monday, June 21, 2021

tell us your story

the journals I'm working in now

How did you end up on this path?

After years of stumbling, pushing branches out of my face, tripping over holes I didn’t see, I am finally on an open road, with daylight and a breeze, that continues and continues, not cluttered.  

I’ve pared away many things so that I can spend my time doing the things I love.  I no longer knit, I no longer sew clothing, I no longer paint, I no longer play the piano and no longer teach it, I no longer teach art or quilting, I no longer have young children because my four have grown into adults, I no longer travel although I would if I could.

I do still read a lot of fiction and non fiction, I still write in my notebooks daily,  I try to walk every day on my country road.   I love to have flowers in the house, I love and am married to the same man for whom I cook and bake, but I spend most of my time making hand stitched textile art.  I collect cloth and dye it with plants.  I arrange it and stitch it in place very simply and slowly.

journals 2013 -  2021
How did you end up on this path?

I knew I wanted to be a textile artist when I was in my early twenties.  My new husband and I were making plans to return home to Canada after a year on bicycles in Europe.  We were deciding what we wanted to do next, what job?  He would return to Forestry he hoped, but maybe he would rather be a consultant to government, someone who might make a difference but not in starring boss type role, more in the back rooms.

For me, I had come to realize how important it was for me to have thread in my hands.  I longed to be able to spend my life stitching, and tried to figure out how I could create a position where that would be part of my day.  Even then, I realized how healing it was to sew things together, or wrap things, or mend, or just plain stitch.  Perhaps I could teach needle arts to children.  I was a teacher, I was a musician, but I wanted to stitch.  And although I have, over the years, taught both art and music and made quilts and stitched art while mothering the four babies, I wanted to do the stitching full time.

Now I’m here.  Now the road is clear for me.  I’ve been working on just doing it rather than teaching it for about 10 years, and I am not finished yet.  I’m not yet at the top of the hill.  

journals in my dye studio  
How did you end up on this path?

I started dyeing cloth and creating art from that dyed cloth when I was a young mother, using dyes that I could buy at the grocery store.  These were hot water dyes and disappointingly dull.  I learned about fibre-reactive chemical dyes soon after and became an expert in overdyeing.  I was able to create subtle colours for the story quilts I made in the 80’s and 90’s. 

I switched to natural plant dyes in the 2000’s beginning with onion skins, golden rod and indigo.  I am self taught in dyeing, relying on my own natural curiosity and also books by Jenny Dean, Indigo Flint and Rebecca Burgess.  The quilts I make now are very simple, with the subtle colours of nature arranged in archetypal shapes like circles, dots, squares, triangles arranged with a lot of empty space.   I hand stitch everything.  It is rare when I use a sewing machine or an iron, but occasionally I will. 

I have been helped to find this path because I keep journals.  My journals and notebooks are part of my daily practice and have helped me to find this path and to stay on it.   

journals in the bedroom closet
How did you end up on this path?

I grew up in a rural area in middle of Canada.  I spent a lot of time alone and took piano lessons.  My father was 100 percent Finnish, my mother was 100 percent intense.  

I grew up with art supplies and a sewing machine.  I learned how working with cloth and thread of all kinds made me go into my inner world and feel at peace.  

More than anything, more than Bach, I loved repeated stitch.  I think I might have been a bit strange.

journals in the laundry room cupboard

Tell us your story:

Once upon a time there was a princess who lived in a dream world.  She drew outfits on sheet after sheet of paper, imagining that they were already sewn into clothing that she would wear for wide variety of occasions, such as working in a big office with a tight skirt and high heels, or going to a ball in a strapless dress with huge puffy skirt, or riding a horse off into the distance, plaid shirt and tight pants. She never did any of those things in the real world by the way.  She is now a queen and still lives in a dream world most of the time.  Not all of the time, just most of it.  

a box of wrapped up journals

more journals and wrapped journals in downstairs bookcase

How did you end up on this path?

I have pared away many creative activities to arrive at just three.  Every single day, I stitch and do journal work and then usually three times a year, I also dye cloth.  I hand stitch about 6 hours a day, and the journals pile up around me.  I surrender to them.  Journals are very important to my artistic practice because thoughtful writing brings the inside me out into a safe place.  I re-read parts of a journal or two each day as a ritual.  My journals help me to stay on my authentic path.  


Mo Crow said...

(((Judy))) thank you for this deep sharing of how your quiet stitching makes such beautiful Art!

Liz A said...

I very much appreciate that you also give time to your blogs, and so to us … they are a window into your artistry and the processes that undergird it …

grace Forrest~Maestas said...

your relationship to your journals is very interesting to me....
i'd like to say more but i am not sure how.
Love to you and your works of Beauty and Love

Julierose said...

I also journal everyday--but I have shredded most pages...I feel they are too personal to be left here if I should leave this space...

I wish I could stitch for longer hours, but my hands won't allow me too--so I cherish the few times I can sit and stitch...slowly...and meditatively...
thanks for sharing your thoughts...hugs, Julierose

R's Rue said...

Thank you for sharing. I need to journal each day.

June C said...

Perfect time for this beautiful meditation on deliberate paring down. I am at a personal crossroad in art making as I am away from home and studio with just a tote bag (and my journal).

Janice Turner said...

I love hearing about your journey to pare down your life to the essentials, creating a beautiful, meaningful practice.

carol said...

Thank you for sharing your process of journaling and how they have helped your development and arrival as an artist. I too have always journaled and probably have as many as you do. I have found committing thoughts to writing really directs my growth. I worry about storage these days and down sizing and so I journal on the computer with photo inserts ,as I am a painter , but the hand written books have much more appeal only no images. A quandry.

Deborah Minter said...

I loved reading this today with my cup of coffee. I am also paring down what I create. My husband has always called me a mixed up media artist because I was always learning and sharing something new. I’m in the process of culling out all but what I absolutely love, and needle, fabric, and thread is at the very top of the list. Thank you for sharing your story with me❣️ 😊

Maja said...

I, too, have pared down my love of making to just stitching. I find it hard to keep a written journal, but I have a journal blanket - a hundred year old hand woven white wool blanket - that I stitch on most every day. The stitches represent my emotions- how I feel from day to day. Interpreting emotion into stitches is an interesting process, and the stitching is a form of meditation. Your blog has inspired me for many years now. Thank you for sharing your pathway with us.


Susan said...

Thanks for sharing. So much to ponder. I want to journal but when I am with paper and pen I am without words.

I started sewing in home Ex many many years ago. In my forties I started quilting and now do more embroidery.
Your work and your words speak to me.

gladiquilts said...

I enjoy your blog immensely. I love your transparency, your thoughtfulness, and your sharing. Your insights into the creative process are inspiring. Thank you!

Joanne S said...

I used to journal every day- they are packed away in a cupboard.
but today- after reading this- I am going to pull them out. Some are blank but they won't be for long....
I also have drawing books. I jot down ideas and draw things I see.
I have been here reading your posts for years. Thank you.

Judy Martin said...

Thank you for these beautiful and generous comments. I am currently trying to pare down the journals themselves, and perhaps gather some kind of story mixed with the art I created into a chronology....
yes, storage is a problem
yes, some things are too personal to be left behind
if you want to write but suddenly have nothing to say, pick up that needle and go back to stitch and suddenly what you need to write will come alive in you...keep your journal beside your stitching chair

I am so grateful for these comments. Fewer and fewer people are reading blogs these days, and for a while I considered not writing it. However, this blog is another one of my journals. It sorts things out for me, and I can come back to it and see what I was thinking.

Many of you have said thank you. I would like to say You are welcome. xoxo

maggie said...


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the very interesting backstory. As someone who has done many handcrafts for over 60 years, doing only one is something to ponder. If I had to pick one it would be working with cloth, fabric, blankets as they have such stories to tell. While I do occasionally do work in a journal, they have not been a constant.


Nancy said...

Judy, Thank you for this very thoughtful post. I've been back to it a few times today, considering each aspect, each photo...hearing your story. I'm grateful for your "strange"...for you and the quiet creative you bring into the world.