Monday, June 19, 2017

But Wait a Minute . . .

I finished my last post so full of optimism. Having completed the process of de-cluttering my studio, I was ready to get right to work on my African collage pieces. Well I'm here to confess that all that's happened so far, is that the background black wool felt has been cut to size. I had just finished doing that when I remembered (or was reminded - that's more truthful), that I still had two small indigo pieces to be completed in time for our fibre group's exhibit at Whyte's Gallery. Which opened on Saturday. So before I could begin, I made these:
"Thinking in Blue", and

"Slowly, slowly"

And once I had all my indigo fabrics spread across the table top, I began thinking of other possibilities for them, such as greeting cards:

These use the smallest of the cyanotype prints I made of tiny ferns when I was in New Zealand.

And then there was the log cabin quilt that had been hanging around waiting for a binding before I could call it finished - the perfect thing to have in hand for ferry rides to and from Hornby Island. And then there was LIFE - that ever-changing and ever-unpredictable set of circumstances that we deal with every day. It's that part that you can never predict, despite all your detailed planning and your careful organization. It's that thing that keeps us supple and flexible, as we adjust to new realities in our respective worlds. And for me, this week, it's meant huge changes in our household as we hunt for the antigen that's been causing my respiratory problems. Go figure! But how marvellous to have this thing called quilting to come back to. It's given me comfort and support before, and it will do it again. I feel so fortunate to have something that gives me such pleasure, and continues to excite me and hold my interest. So I will get going on those African collages - I promise! - I just had a few things to attend to first.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Merits of De-Cluttering One's Studio

The last two weeks have been spent de-cluttering my studio. Challenged by Lisa Call to give away, dispose of, or pack away anything not to do with the African collages which will be my focus of work for the next few months, I have cleared the studio of everything else. Yes, some went in the garbage, and there were two big boxes labelled "Quilts in Progress" and "Quilts in Planning" that went into my storage cupboard, and a few were given away. At the end of this process, which took way longer than I thought it would, I felt totally liberated. Now all those things I might use in this present work are easy to access, and I am no longer distracted by other possibilities. I have my African sketchbook open and ready to record the progress of work I'm making, as well as ideas for future work, and my fabrics are ready and waiting.
I managed to make this 12" X 12" quilt - "Teatime Under the Baobab Tree" - in time to donate it to the SAQA auction, and a block for the Hornby Island Community quilt, but apart from that my actual making of things has been pretty limited. But I'm ready to get to work, and focussed in a way I wasn't previously. The thing is, I like to keep my options open, but in this case, keeping my options open has been preventing me from doing the work I want to do. And as challenging as it was to follow up on Lisa's suggestion, it has proved to be the very thing I needed. At least I believe so. I am excited as I anticipate what will come into being in the coming months. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Women of Uganda

Last Friday, my DH had a fund-raising event in aid of the Widows Garden Project that he's currently involved with. It was great. Lots of laughter, wonderful singing by the Panache Choir from Nanaimo, competitive bidding on the many silent auction items, and a sales of Bitengye crafts, along with a short presentation on the project. Which has lead to me thinking about the women we worked with in Uganda - through the Kitambaa Sewing Project, at Alice's school, and at Recheal's Clinic.
Lydia and Stella
 Anna in foreground, Kamidah, Knight and Alice in background
Alice working with the women at the cutting table
 Lydia and Dorothy beading
 Alice and I discussing pricing
The Bitengye Designers - October '15
Things have not been going so well for these ladies lately. Despite their best efforts, the school uniforms they had hoped to sell have not been sold, the order they thought they had received from an organization that purchases crafts for tourist agencies has fallen through, and the small orders of crafts I've been able to place with them are not enough to sustain them. The last photo I saw of the group showed discouraged faces, and I am not sure what to do. I can't travel to Uganda any more, for health reasons, but even if I could, I no longer have the opportunities to sell Bitengye items as I did before I retired from teaching. 
On a brighter note, the director of a retreat house in Nanaimo asked me at the fund-raiser, if I could send her photos of the items made by the Bitengye Designers. She is hopeful of being able to place a small order. And the Christmas craft fairs we attend in several local communities are another venue where we sell their goods. But the real problem is with a lack of knowledge of in-country marketing, and this is something I can't pursue. I am left with a feeling of having let these women down. I haven't forgotten them - I just don't know what to do to help.
I wonder if this is the natural way to feel at the conclusion of a project. In the development world, there is a great deal of emphasis on "sustainability". But in poor countries, how realistic is it to think, even after eight years of involvement, that something like the sewing project is sustainable? How do women sell the goods they make in an economy that is hand to mouth, where people purchase only the essentials?  I wish I knew the answers.

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.