Tuesday, August 31, 2010

india flint - BODO cloth

Old Indian pouch close-up.
A travelling friend brought me a wonderful old Indian pouch. I do not know what it would have been used for.  I look at the stitching, the thick thread, the regularity and detail. Who was it for? Why was it made? What conversations, hopes and hurts does it whisper? Then I contemplate the unravelled stitches. Like unravelling another history I wonder who, among my ancestors, stitched, hoped and dreamed for me? Who, long, long ago, prepared the world for my soul? Can I meet them through these Indian stitches? It seems some cloth is quite explicit in the history it carries. An example of this is the traditional Japanese BODO cloth.

I'd like talk further about india's fantastic posting on BODO cloth as I believe it has consequences that go to the heart of my creativity. When presented with such a rich and evocative article it is easy to feel bereft of tradition within our western culture. I have commented that I believe in order to have depth of understanding, empathy, rapport with (women) from diverse cultures, we, in the 'west', need first to plead our own traditions to ourselves. We need to seek them out and wear them as a badge of honour - our own identities. Even in a consumer driven culture we enact significant things that women have done for eons. Yet we feel we have no traditions. Or worse, shallow traditions. But are we really that skint?

It may be exceeding difficult, at first, to find depth of tradition within consumerist society. However, I am sure it is here.  Our own pearl, for each of us to find. I write this because my conviction that we need to uphold our own traditions, whether they be the way our table is set, or the how and why of gift giving, directly impacts creating storycloth. All we believe and do seeps into storycloth.

I see a political aspect to creating storycloth. I cannot avoid it. Through my creations I am making  political comment. The raven as trickster is not unlike consumerism where we are 'tricked' into thinking our existences are so shallow that we need to constantly replenish our souls with some tacky piece of plastic which promises to assuage our emptiness. Consequences meted out by Spirit Bear could be construed as political events. To varying degrees, each of us who makes cloth, creates with cloth, is stitching a testament to tradition and status, western or otherwise.

When faced with the rich, intriguing, seeming unattainable traditions of another culture I ask myself what portal of understanding can this open for me about my own traditions. What can I glean from this that will strengthen my ability to communicate my own depths of ancestral wisdom. As with the BODO cloth, I too, have a long, long unbroken chain of wisdom bearers from which to draw succour and strength. I, too, struggle to remember this truth. Yet I seek it further with each new stitch I make.

Happy stitching, Gilly

Monday, August 30, 2010

Janet Bolton Exercise

Simple, small and beautiful.
I will need to choose more colour fragments for this.
This morning I have chosen to make this Janet Bolton exercise from her book 'Patchwork Folk Art ' (2009). The piece is titled 'Bluebird in the Early Morning ' and has dimensions of 9 x 3 and a half inches. I want to work through this small piece for several reasons, the main one being that I want to experience making something so small, to see if it suits me better than consructing larger pieces. I am also so taken with Bolton's designs that I thought perhaps some of her gift might rub off on me if I do a copy. Ha ha. Another reason is that if I can discipline myself to match fabric and tones with her choices then I could almost be guaranteed of having one decent present to give at Christmas time. To these ends, I have selected, washed, and ironed a small range of fabrics I had at hand which may work for this picture.

At close of weekend needle yesterday, I am happy to say, I had almost completed 'How Raven Wrecked a Wedding'. Not sure what day exactly, but some day this week I will post it.  Overall, I am glad I continued through to the final embellishing stage as I enjoyed it very much. It really has not ended up as I had imagined. But if truth be known I didn't really have an imagination about its finality. I just have a small amount of embellishing left to do. I also have to adjust to moving on to another story. I am wondering whether it may not be better to have several storycloths on the go. Less intense perhaps, and that way there is always something in process when one construction ends.

Happy stitching, Gilly

Friday, August 27, 2010

Still Center

Bark Beetle

Last weekend we walked past this tree whilst hiking through a dry forest area. A recent wind storm had felled several trees, including magnificent twin cedars, though the tree photographed above perhaps toppled for other reasons. Maybe the trails of bark beetle larvae indicate why it is no longer facing the sky.  On a hike in nature, or in the city, or anywhere really, it is possible to see beauty. One could fill a camera with images every day. The dilemma I have at times is to choose what to pause the hike for in order to photograph. There is balance to walking, stopping, photographing - three separate aspects of a hike.

As I said we walked past this tree and I then had second thoughts and we re-traced our steps and took this photograph. I was initially attracted to the organic, purposeful rambles of the larvae. I think these patterns are marvellous. However, on closer observation the central area from which the larvae tracks emanate is discernible. It is this area which has captured my imaginings.

A mother beetle lays her eggs in a spot under the bark. The eggs hatch into larvae and eat their way onwards, through, and outwards, drawing nourishment from the tree, eventually pupating and flying off to lay their eggs in another tree. Cycles. Many metaphors can be extrapolated from this process. I have thought about it in several ways, for example, motherhood, friendships, words, cloth making. I have wondered if underlying all these aspects of  life there is a word that best fits the still centre deep inside, for a woman, anyway. If there is, perhaps that word is 'fertility'.

Fertility is a beautiful word. Over-full with bounty, promise, hope, progeny. Often I have visualised the still centre inside myself as calm, tranquil, strong. Imagined it as a vast lake on a day when the wind is not low enough to jiggle the surface - still, deep, without a ripple. Seamless. But I wonder if my still centre is not better described as a burgeoning place where an infinity of action, propogation, cycles and strength exalt in life together. Maybe my still centre is more a seed centre - fertile, vibrating, generative.

At close of needle yesterday I was about halfway through joining the backing cloth to the main cloth. I am using about one centimetre invisible basting. I feel I need to do this for the layers to adhere well and so I can see more clearly what to do next regarding final embellishment. Some time was taken up with some adjustments I realised I wanted to make to the main storycloth before adding the backing.

I anticipate that the whole storycloth of 'How Raven Wrecked A Wedding' will be posted next week.

Happy weekend stitching, Gilly

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One Hand

Gead's hand, which, to this day, can be seen in the Land of Many Suns.
It had been decreed before Time began that Gead must marry the fair Glorious who shimmers with all the colors of rosy dawn over Big Lake on a perfect Spring morning. Raven tricked Gead's father, Spirit Bear, into thinking Gead had married the wrong person. Spirit Bear was so angry at what he thought was his son's disobedience that he punished both Gead and his new wife (who was really Glorious in jester form). Spirit Bear held Gead's wedded hand, and blew an ill wind, a whirly-whirly of red dust over the shamed couple.  Gead's hand was instantly removed and flung to a far rock in the Land of Many Suns, a parched and magical land overseen by Old Mother Emu. The wedded couple also vanished on the wind, transported to the Land of Many Suns, where they remained inert as rock for three hundred years.

The backing cloth is finished and ready to attach. I can imagine completion now. Well, almost. I am finding it difficult to know what stitching to do as a final embellishment. The design is busy and I want to tone it down rather than rev it up. First things first though, and that means today is the day for attaching the backing to the main storypiece.

Happy stitching, Gilly

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Home without Walls

Rainbow Bird bringing the key to release Gead and Glorious.
I found it curious yesterday, whilst commenting on jude's page, that I referred to this blog as 'over home'. It seemed so natural for these words to tumble out. Many years ago I read somewhere (and so cannot reference unfortunately) of a visitor to Virginia Woolf's residence, writing that he/she felt physically prevented from entering Virginia's study, so strong was the emanation of Virginia's spirit. I remember at the time, I was only young, wondering at how a person could so suffuse an environment with a sense of themselves that others perceived a physical barrier to entry. Over the years I have developed some strengths in  relaxing into myself, submitting to myself, knowing myself. In fact, relatively recently I recognised a desire to have my very own workroom, both for study and storycloth. Maybe one day that will happen. So, perhaps it is unremarkable, it is certainly with delight, that the words 'over home' tumbled out yesterday. Writing this blog, organising my thoughts, documenting my storycloth, sharing with a wonderful community, feels really, really good. It feels like home.

Cloth-wise, yesterday was great. I had one of those arcs in a creative cycle where things seem to fall into place. By this I refer to more than putting this particular cloth together. I also made progress laying down some foundations from which I will draw principles in future design work. At close of needle yesterday the backing cloth was almost ready to attach. Today, I have an inclination to add a little more in a couple of areas.

So the process takes longer than I have estimated each day. The fun in expansion, contraction, meditation as I 'hop-scotch' along the path the cloth takes me, is another story in itself. A long drink of mountain water. Storycloth.

Happy stitching, Gilly

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Backing Cloth Breakthrough

Old Mother Emu

I am very glad I decided to continue working on 'How Raven Wrecked a Wedding' because, after trying several different backing cloths, I found one that seems to tie in all the disparate elements of the storycloth. It makes such a huge difference, I am amazed. Old Mother Emu is one of the reasons for my enlarging the cloth, in order to incorporate her. The story moves from Deep Dark Forest to a hot, dry land, you can guess where.  I am an Australian living in Canada and it feels good to have a story that spans both lands.

Today, I am going to attach the backing fabric. I will think about final touches such as stitches, small pieces of cloth that I might add. I am hoping that with the backing cloth added it will become clearer what more I need to do. It is not an ideal composition but it is eye catching and, I hope, not for all the wrong reasons. I will post the whole cloth soon.

Time permitting today I am also hoping to construct the background of a much smaller cloth and see how that compares to working the current raven storycloth. Can't wait.

Happy stitching, Gilly

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sizing It Up

Glorious after Raven's trick changed her appearance.
This weekend I thought about the size of cloth with which I work. After reading Janet Bolton's book (last post) and noting that her finished works, unframed, are small, I realised there must be good reason for this. Afterall, she is an acclaimed artist in the field. I also realised anew that many of Jude's works are of small dimension too. Likewise, she is an expert in her field. So why is it, I asked myself, that as a novice, I tend to become entangled in much larger cloth?

There are clear advantages to a smaller cloth: less stitches, less to undo or discard if necessary, and less 'loss of face' to oneself if ending up scrapping the whole project, easier to change little bits of colour, a stitch here or there, alter a section of border, less waste of fabric trying things out. There is psychologically less risk with designing smaller cloth - especially for a cautious beginner. So why would it be that when the psychological cards seem stacked in favour of small cloth I lean towards the larger, unwieldy cloth? Just the fact the results are quicker, one would think, would be incentive enough to learn with small cloth. I think the answer lies in a deeply rooted drive towards clutter that plagues my creativity. Small cloth limits clutter and that is scary.

I see it like this: a small cloth, say 6 inches by 6inches, immediately restricts. The designs I have in my mind have several main characters and because I am not yet making one or the other more main (in my mind and design plans), I want to spatter each of  them respectfully all over the cloth. Physical spatial necessity dictates that I gravitate to a larger cloth, which I guess, makes an unwieldy attempt at story expression certain of achieving unwieldiness in cloth form.

This is what has happened to my current work - "How Raven Wrecked a Wedding". Furthermore, to ensure that all characters are included, I have added cloth, thus making it even bigger. While it is not huge at approximately, 20 x 15 inches, it feels that I have lost the plot, so to speak. These things in themselves are not bad - they show flexibility, awareness of design, and desire to communicate.  However, I wonder if I would be able to project the essence of a story on a much smaller cloth? I wonder if tending towards bigger, more difficult cloth is in a way self-sabotage because there is less chance of being successful (balance, hue, projection, eliciting of response). Perhaps I am scared of success.

I am going to work on this cloth, as it is, today, then leave it for awhile and try a few experimental small pieces. Some exercises in design. See what I can find out about myself.

Oh, I have so many things to say, I am busting. I'll get them out in good time though.

Have the best stitching day, Gilly.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Raia, Keeper of Gead's Heart
Raia has prominent placement in this storycloth, which now has a title: How Raven Wrecked a Wedding. The consideration of composition is foremost in my mind today. I have completed all the characters and realise the competing pressures for what /who is included, where and how they are placed on the storycloth. I have three main influences to balance and counterbalance: the told story, the visual impact, and my propensity towards clutter.

In this regard I received a timely gift yesterday, Patchwork Folk Art by Janet Bolton (2009). Bolton takes the reader through her creative process step by step. I am very attracted to her work which is steeped in innocence of form and comprises simple, quality cloth. Her designs have great impact, perhaps similar to that of a haiku poem. In a chapter titled 'Composition - Arranging Your Shapes'  Bolton writes:

" Working around themes has real advantages, for as you are arranging your compositon many possibilities will present themselves, and the temptation is to try to put them all in the same picture. This can make your work too complicated and overcrowded. If you are working on a number of pictures within one theme, it leaves you relaxed knowing that you will probably find a home for all your ideas. With many ideas in store, your work will develop in a purposeful way".  

Today I will be thinking about this a little more, and if need be, I will put this cloth away for awhile. I like the idea of not panicking if I don't cram everything on one cloth - but that is hard for me. Removal of certain items is like pulling a tooth. However, overriding all other considerations, is my desire to communicate story with cloth. So I am motivated to explore, progress and make the best storycloth I can. Grace, over at Windthread, is also working on placement.

Fantastic book - thanks Mum.
Happy stitching,

Thursday, August 19, 2010

New Story Begins

Gead of the Deep Dark Forest

Meet Spirit Bear's son, Gead, bravest warrior in the Deep Dark Forest. Long before time began it was decreed that when the time was right he would marry the beautiful Glorious. But, of course, Raven has other ideas...

I am showing a close-up here of Gead's face and importantly his tear, which ultimately saves him from being fixed in rock forever. The story will emerge over the ensuing days as I post more characters. Then I will post the whole cloth, which is nowhere near completion yet.

The cloth for Gead's face is a lovely piece of canvas that I must have had in the compost bag. It has a beautifully marked area that naturally formed his eye. The remains of his battle helmet is embroidered cheesecloth that is wonderful to use. It, too, was composted and washed.  It became very soft and pliable. It is very easy to manipulate whereas the canvas face was quite tough to get the needle through. You can probably see that I have tried some of the stitches jude recommended from her beasts class. It was great fun developing this character as he just fell into place. In fact this whole storycloth so far has been wonderful fun.

Happy stitching, Gill

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Acknowledgement ( a bit formal I know)

Welcome to Storycloth.
This opening post is dedicated to all women, from every time and culture, and their teachings. In this I must acknowledge my Anglo-Saxon heritage: my mother who still teaches me, and my grandmothers who, from the other side of life (so to speak), continue to teach me love of creation. How to make something beautiful, useful, precious. How to find what I need. How to seek the story of cloth.
I acknowledge the process of teaching cloth with this excerpt from bell hooks’ “belonging: a culture of place”(2009). bell writes to give voice to the quilting stories of black women. She speaks here of her grandmother, Baba.
“Baba did not read or write. She worked with her hands. She never called herself an artist. It was not one of her words. Even if she had known it, there might have been nothing in the sound or meaning to interest, to claim her wild imagination. Instead she would comment, “I know beauty when I see it”. She was a dedicated quiltmaker – gifted, skilful, playful in her art, making quilts for more than seventy years, even after her “hands got tired”, and her eyesight was “quitting”. It is hard to give up the work of a lifetime, and yet she stopped making quilts in the years before her dying. Almost ninety she stopped quilting. Yet she continued to talk about her work with any interested listener. Fascinated by the work of her hands, I wanted to know more, and she was eager to teach and instruct, to show me how one comes to know beauty and give oneself over to it. To her, quiltmaking was a spiritual process where one learned to surrender. It was a form of meditation where the self was let go. This was the way she had learned to approach quiltmaking from her mother. To her it was an art of stillness and concentration, a work which renewed the spirit.”
Having been brought up in Australia and now living in Canada, I acknowledge the creations of all indigenous women who weave story cloths with ancient truths. I express my gratitude to these women for every stitch, every spindle, every woven reed, every care taken with the environment.
I hope through ‘Storycloth’ to learn well my own truths, explore my understandings, contribute to the fertile garden of women creating cloth.
And a thanks to Grace, Penny, Kate and Nandas who have encouraged me, and to jude hill and all in her fantastic 'beasts' class. Not sure how to do links yet - or to transfer photos from the camera. So - soooon I will post a pic or two.