Monday, December 30, 2013

Back, and With Good Fortune

In each of the past two years, I have had a single big year-long project. The hybrid boro yogi/dragon robe which now hangs on the wall in the guest room (formerly my sewing room, until we needed a place for someone to stay).

And last year, I undertook to mend a found quilt. And following up on the dragon from 2012, I picked the Year of the Snake as the theme of the 2013 project. That project is still underway, and this is the newest snake made of turquoise silk satin on the winter side of the quilt:

I've been wondering about the next year's project, which would be some kind of cloth for the year of the Horse, if I decided to proceed along in this pattern of having a year's theme. I like this idea, mostly because looking ahead for years and years of projects is somehow cheering; it makes me chuckle. But I don't know what to make of a horse; dragons and snakes already had places in my imagination, but horses don't seem to. Except for the windhorse, which I think of as always a vessel for hope, good wishes and good fortune.

But how to represent 'good fortune', as something you hope for others and that falls upon you unbidden? It struck me this morning, after many morning walks with the dog wondering, that the answer was that cloth, itself, is for me this good fortune. A found cloth is like a blessing for me, good fortune, a bit of good luck, a spur to think and hope. And so are these, two damask table cloths dropped on my porch Christmas morning in a bag, along with a pound of home made cookies. A gift from a neighbour.

And so one of these cloths is where I'm going to start on my Year of the Horse cloth, a cloth about celebrating the good fortune of finding cloth, the good fortune of having a neighbour who walks her dog down here to drop off cookies and cloth, the good fortune I wish for this kind of place where we live.
And this is the finished little altar cloth I made to commemorate the good will of the bird rescue I wrote about earlier this summer. I guess I was starting on the same path, celebrating good fortune, and so this 2014 cloth will continue that thinking.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Update on the Altar Cloth; Layering Interactions

The little altar cloth, inspired by Grace as a way to remember an event I discussed a few weeks ago. I realize I've made no notes about how it has progressed, haven't really been putting it into words. So I am making a stab at it here.

I have a lot of 'masters' here; plans, frameworks, ideas, thoughts that determine each step. Plots, I suppose. One is the kasaya or kesa or okesa, a ritual garment worn by Buddhists. In its ideal form (which is sometimes also it's literal form) it is a whole cloth made of collected, washed and assembled rags. It is also commonly assembled of sumptuous cloth, brocaded silks, damask. Sometimes sedately coloured cotton or linen. As long as it is built in a patchwork, following a fixed pattern, it can become a proper garment. So I collected a bundle of the smallest scraps of found cloth.

The basic idea of composing something from rags of course appeals to me. The idea of a pattern to fit these into adds something I need for this. The plot, a kind of pattern, drives the composition. The pattern I settled on, below, is to build nine sections, three by three. The process then is to fill three large panels diagonally from top left to bottom right, where the centre panel is the bird, her nest and a bee; the corners on the left bottom and right top are made up of small patches. The panels on either side of and above and below the centre panel are bars.

I wanted the little story of the bird, her nest, the compassion of her helpers, at the centre, because it is a singularly important moment. But I also wanted this piece to fit within, to be as much a part as each other part. The logic of the kesa, of a fixed plot which brings singular parts together, helps me. This singular story belongs within a story of building a life and understanding in relation. In interactions, experience. Within context. And from there, once I had started working on this cross shape, I started to fill in the other fields. Some of them with little, tiny bits of cloth.

And just as soon as I was filling up these sections, maintaining their boundaries, I didn't like it. So I started to let these filled in spots start to leak, extend beyond those boundaries. Here these impossibly small printed leaves flicker out of a piece of blue cotton into a white section.

I'm responding to the shapes of the tiniest scraps.

I'm responding to things that are already falling apart, but also coming together. So now I've collected these little scraps of abrasion and wear.

These are things that show interactions, with wind, rain, sunshine. With insects and roots.

With objects the cloth was lost with, or that was on the ground where it was discarded.
 Below is the bottom of the lining of a pair of pants, where stitches in the hem left wear, and where the back of the cuff dragged on the ground.
 This is from the same piece, at the knee. So maybe this is a record of a skinned knee.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dying Experiments: Pattern and Chaos

Following up on Grace's experiments with dying, and inspired by her use of a tin can which made this magnificent mark, I went looking for a tin can. From a distance of a few feet, in the evening light, under a tarmac-locked black walnut tree, this thing looked like a tin can.

It wasn't a tin can, it was whatever this is, heavy, threaded on the inside. I suppose it is a coupling of some kind. But for what and from where I just can't imagine. Since it was what I found, when looking, I decided to try to use it. So I wrapped it with a 6" x 36" strip of second hand linen, pleated until it was just long enough to cover the outside of the coupling. I dyed it with a fresh walnut dye pot, made in a small (4 cup) crock pot.


And it made this mark:

A beautiful mark, what I just at first welcomed as a kind of happy accident. But a comment from Heather on my last post here made me notice that it wasn't just an accident. Yes, I didn't know it was going to look like x-rays of teeth (?) when I prepared the cloth. But I did plan something of it, pleating, tying. A ha. So I keep making them. I'm up to five, two on linen, two on what I think is unbleached diaper cloth, one on part of an old tea towel:

They are weirdly similar to each other, but also quite unique. Each bundle was tied differently, of course, a kind of randomness.

Each one I tied in the same fashion, but not in the same places or the same ways. Each set of pleats was uncounted, just enough to shorten the cloth, make a stack of pleats I could handle easily enough to tie.

The dye in the pot changes a bit each time, as well, as it interacts with the iron coupling. Today when I dropped in a bundle there was a crystalline rind on the top of the pot. The pot dyes some parts of the cloth black, some parts are still brown.

And so. It occurs to me that there are interactions here, between me and the 'stuff'- the walnuts, the water, the heat source, the metal thing-  and among those things themselves. These interactions aren't unknown, I could even investigate each further. These interactions are possibly not uncontrollable, but can I just let them be uncontrolled? There is something in the 'unknown' that I want to hang on to now, for now.

So that's the update; I am thinking about these uncontrolled interactions as productive. Thank you for stopping by.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Altar Cloth, a new little thing

Inspired by Grace of windthread, and wanting to make something small and easy to carry around to work on, I have started to make a little cloth. An altar cloth, I guess for me meaning a something meant to concentrate thought, a focal point for reflection. The story that I have bonded to the image is the story of the robin rescue, when I was offered the chance to be part of other people fulfilling their own commitment to compassion (it is two posts down if you are interested). Sticking with this core notion- of being bound up with the life around you- I am sticking with the tiniest bits of found cloth, and gifted cloth. This is the beginning. 
The base is a gorgeous, well worn linen napkin, a brocade and a gift from my neighbour up the street. The yellow block is a gift that came from Jude Hill, just like this. It seems right for it to be whole here. Directly beneath the nest is a piece of blue jacket (found at the traintracks), again, found just as it is here, layered under a fragment of netting. I think this netting is what is left when broadloom rots away, I can't imagine anything else it could be. Beneath that is a pink cloth from a found quilt layered under a piece of gauzy cotton. And so on.
I realize making this as well that I am no longer just fascinated by found cloth, by gifted cloth, by the way these ways of getting cloth are not just 'outside of' a system of commerce. I can't quite put it into words, but there is something to composing something like this just as the cloth appears. I guess I am imagining a cloth that just keeps getting bigger, thicker. Where each new piece just fits in where there is room. Piecing itself as a kind of record of time passing, seasons changing, people coming and going. Not stopped. No fixed pattern?

I included these two images, the above is a decaying finished cement floor from a factory that was torn down years ago. The surface is fragile and crumbling, you can kick it apart with your shoe. But in places this network of rifts is visible. And it seems to me always to imply motion.

And another kind of pattern, the sun streaming in the window and reflecting on a mirror-tiled lantern my mother found in the garbage and brought to me. This only happens for about a week every year when the sun comes in the west window just right, but it reminds me of the image above, of things kind of flinging themselves apart.  Is the sense of motion I get because there is no easily perceptible pattern?

I will continue to think about this, thinking about the kind of 'pattern'- or avoidance of pattern- that I am working into this new cloth.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Jude's Stones on the Year of the Snake Blanket

An update on the Year of the Snake Blanket. In the Fall/Winter/Resting section of the blanket, I decided to replace one of the lost plate appliques with a circle of stones. I learned to make these from Jude Hill. If you search for 'stones' at Jude's blog Spirit Cloth, you will find them.

When Jude first showed these, I loved them. I loved that they looked like stones, not symmetrical, but  neither are they just randomly shaped lumps. I loved how much the cloth I've dyed myself is really the right colour for stones. How rusted cloth is the right colour for stones. To make them you have to THINK about the shape of a stone, a river stone, polished by the flowing and just going of water. To make them you really have to THINK about the colours of stones, how different each is.

The circle of stones on the rest/stillness part of the blanket is the hibernaculum we built for the snakes- a deep hole filled with stones, mounded up, a large part of it covered with a bed of flowers. This is what it looked like when we started it. The snakes can overwinter in here if they choose, we cover it up with layers of brush.

Each of the stones one of us carried here, found at the river, by the train tracks, at one or another abandoned building, some from the lake. The biggest stone above, with the rings around it, I found on the Albany River where it meets James Bay in Mushkego, also known as northern Ontario. Each of these stones was chosen. I hadn't thought much about this, about picking the stones, until I decided that I could use Jude's stones for this blanket. I had thought about most of them getting here on foot. These below are a couple of weeks' worth collecting on the porch. With the rock searching companion's white toes.

So it's a circle of stones on the blanket, thanks to Jude. I can't imagine figuring out how to make them without Jude. Thank you Jude.

As a bonus, and thinking of stone, I want to share a true mystery. This is a photo of the base of a tombstone in the rural cemetery where my grandparents (and so on) are buried. This portion of the stone was underground until sometime last year. For some reason the stone was removed, and because the proper, once visible, portion is now so worn it is illegible, it seems no one knows where it goes. So it rests among some other monuments.

Comparing the carving here to the carving on the proper face of the stone (above the soil), this is quite inexpert; as an 'inexpert' myself, I fill up with wonder looking at these sketches, graffiti, experiments, whatever they are. But they are funny and charming and full of some kind of spontaneity.   
Thank you for stopping by- and thank you to everyone who stopped by and spoke to my previous post. I am still thinking about that project....

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Little Something New

A couple of months ago I pulled this out of the regular rotation of dish towels. Hanging it up to dry after a launder, I felt how thin the base cloth was becoming. Rather than letting it fall apart, I decided to save it, to save this little scene. This is an inherited hand towel, from my Mom's side, made almost certainly by one of the many, many women who populated her rural small town childhood. And probably from an iron-on print. And it's lovely.

I didn't have any particular reason to use this little scene. I have been considering putting it on the Year of the Snake Blanket, as a kind of symbol on the border that represents the spring/summer/active side of Snakes' lives. But now it might actually just become some kind of journal entry to capture the story of a day earlier this week.

We've been part of the heat wave this week, with high humidity, high heat and clear afternoons full of searing sun. After a day of paper work, we had ventured out, to water the plants in containers. The guy who lives here was on the front porch, I was at the side of the house. I looked up and saw a former student walking up to the house. I called to her- what was she doing here? How nice to see her! Out of my sight was another neighbour from up the street, her dog chums around with our dog. And here's what happened.

My student was on her way to the library, walking by the house, when she saw a nestling on the grass underneath the new sycamore tree on the boulevard just up the street. The neighbour up the street happened to be walking by, saw what was happening and said "My friends [us] will know what to do", and so the two of them came, because WE would know what to do.

I ran to the get the ladder. My student stood to shade the baby, helping the mother who was valiantly trying to shade his featherless body from that hot sun. Mother Robin hopped off, and watched from a few feet away. The neighbour took the dogs into the yard to keep them busy. In minutes we had him popped back in the nest. Mother was back immediately. All day every day since, she was back and forth between our yard (lots to eat, lots of places to catch insects, lots of water) and her nest.

And what did I learn. I am old enough now to know it is a myth that a parent bird will reject a baby handled by a human. I am also old enough now to know that little rescue missions of this kind don't always work. I know that some bird parents are just too young to parent their first nestlings. I know this tree is barely strong enough to hold this nest. I know.

I made a crazy fool of myself, running up the street with my creaky old ladder, climbing dangerously high on that ladder, in full sight of rush hour traffic, and (it turns out) a half dozen neighbours, wearing muddy sweaty old clothes, hair a bushy fright, not to save a bird. I did it to honour the deep compassion of these two young people, my former student and my neighbour, standing there in front of my house, who wanted to do something.

Every day I should be so lucky. This little scene can now maybe remind me of the incredible ways that being in your place, on your street, in the life around you can give you chances to do things as wonderful as this thing we did that day.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Found Quilt: The Year of the Snake Cloth

Last summer I found this entire Dresden Plate quilt in the leftovers of a late summer camp that a homeless woman and some of her friends had taken up in a park in my neighbourhood. This kind of temporary housing is common enough in the summer around here, a fall out of all of the usual problems that leave people homeless, but mostly because the nearest legal campground has become too expensive for poor families to live at all season. This quilt was truly left behind, no one was coming back for it by the time I got it.
As you can see, I am mending it by reinforcing the worn parts- the top and bottom edges- with applique and cloth woven into the surface. I am adding reverse applique where I need to pull out lumps of unsecured cotton batting- those are most of the dots you see below. The cotton batting is mostly gone about half way up each plate applique, and so I am resurfacing both the front and the back.

This is my year's project, and it struck me in January that last year's project- the hybrid boro dragon robe I wrote about in earlier posts- ended up featuring the year's animal, the Dragon, because I found a shirt with dragons on it. So I decided to continue the pattern, making this year's project the Snake Blanket. A colleague who was born in a Year of the Snake confessed that where she grew up in China, people prefer to be identified as 'Late Dragons'. The first two snakes (or 'late dragons') are silk strips, appliqued.

I have a real love for snakes. We have a lot in our yard, because when we began to naturalize the plantings throughout the yard we were also creating good habitat for them. We added a lot of flat rocks in safe sunny spots. Soon we found them overwintering in piles of brush we created for birds/bugs, and so built a hibernaculum- a pit full of scavenged rocks, covered in logs, brush and leaves. So snakes are part of the web of life that just appears here with the slightest little bit of ecosystem restoration. Maybe the Snake Blanket is a map to a mended landscape.

In this blurry photo you can see the mix of bits from the original maker and my own, which are, today, probably more 'exotic', certainly more eclectic, than the quilt's creator had access to. The easy mingling of these types of cloth, each with a very different history, fascinates me as always. It is a trace of time I guess. Continuity and change all at once I guess.

And so I am busy learning about and pursuing stories of snakes. They get a rough ride in a lot of mythology, but are also important. I so far only know one story where the happy ending is that all the snakes were gone. Or so they say.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Rag of the Day Special Edition: Alluvium

Alluvium is a mass noun that refers to soil components deposited by the movement of water. Maybe I'll extend the meaning a bit to include 'stuff', like cloth.
Small pant leg, wool? Lots of mud still. April 3, 2013, Weekend Park. Same cloth from the photo below and in the previous post.
As spring flooding has receded here, all of the cloth I have found is alluvium, either caught up in branches on the shore, deposited on the ground where the water slowed, or partially exposed by bank erosion. This last type was deposited in some earlier flood and then sealed into the river bank by successive deposits of alluvium.

Cotton blend sleeve; Weekend Park Early May 2013.
Sort of 'seersucker' hexagon. Maybe polyester? Necktie Beach, May 2013. Just improbably laying there on the sand like it had just dropped out of the sky. It has been buried at some point, because it was heavily caked with clay. How does a patchwork piece appear washed up on the river bank?
What makes this group of small cloths remarkable to me is that I found none like them last year. Because we experienced a year-long drought: too little snow to produce a spring flood, too little spring rain. Nothing to spur annual alluvial deposits.
The disaster of this failure is evident to me in these little cloths themselves, because? Because they are remarkably difficult to clean: they are covered in sand that (most important) is glued onto and into them with the finest clay silt. The first soak in a bucket releases the sand. The second bucket softens the clay. And then the cloth will just continue to cloud the water of many buckets of water.

White cotton rag; cut on one edge, torn on the other. Poking out of the steep river bank by Ridout Street bridge. May 2013.
White cotton rag; cut on one edge, torn on the other. Neck tie beach, poking out of the sand. May 2013.
Of course all of this sand and silt are components of healthy soil, and without a flood they don't make it to the soil. And so the failure of the spring flood last year has me thinking more about water and how important it is in shaping life here, in the nearby spaces I enjoy everyday. And as a result, I'm experimenting with other ways of cleaning these bits that uses less water.

First step was 'wind cleaning'. I just hung them up for a few days in the windiest spot in the yard. This largely loosened the sand, and made it possible to rub a lot of it off. Next step was a long soak- three days. After a bit more scrubbing, another three day soak with a little soap. And then a scrub and rinse. And now I'm going to let them dry again, and then give them another scrub while dry, then I will rinse them again. And all this water is in buckets so I can put it in the garden after.

Brown medium weight cotton sleeve; had an elastic in the cuff at some point, but the rest of the sleeve is cut with no marks from stitching. Sitting in a little bundle on the bicycle path near Neck tie beach, washed up there. April 2013.
Obsessing about these links between the water that shaped the fate of these cloths and the larger question of how much water I use cleaning them might have to be a framework for what I end up using these specific bits for. I don't know yet, but some morning strolling around with the dog by the river I'll probably think of it.

And finally, these are two little finds that have been waiting to be cleaned up and documented.

Crinkled cotton, about 4" on the long sides. Train tracks, February or March 2013.

Poly-Cotton blend sleeve. Has been on fire. Edges are beaded with melted thread. Weird CN Triangle February 2013.
Thank you for stopping by.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Rag of the Day April 3 2013

A terrible photo with the phone's camera, but hopefully shows just how it was. Blue mid-weight woven cotton that was carried along by the spring flood up over the bank. The cloth is about six inches wide and eighteen inches long. Tangled between two branches about two feet off the ground. It caught on the branch to the left side of the photo and twisted around before the other end caught another branch. Just a lovely little blue cloth from who knows what.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Weaving a Community Economy

Gift from my friend up the street; March 16 2013.
Walking the dog this morning, we were coming upon a pair of evangelists. They were going door-to-door the way they sometimes do. As they were leaving my friend's house after a brief exchange and flyer-delivery, we were in front of the house. I called 'good morning' to my friend. She called me over with "I have something for you". By the time we bid goodbye to the departing visitors, my friend emerged with a clear plastic bag with these four tablecloths and three napkins. The two floral prints are cotton, the right size for the special table we live at under the arbor all summer, the red is linen and huge. The white is gigantic- as long as a bedsheet- and very worn Irish linen damask (the napkins match). It is festooned with ribbon shapes and clover.

This little event happens a lot, and today it cemented for me the grandness and yet invisibility of an entire 'hidden' or invisible economy, and my place in it. My friend and her son buy things at auctions and re-sell them, or in my case, give them away.  There was time when she could have become kin- decades ago my brother dated her niece; I didn't know her then, she had small kids, but now I turn to her for information about the neighbourhood (her family goes "way back" here), advice about my dog, we always work together when neighbourhood things need to be done. And when she's at an auction and buys a box with cloth in it, she gives it to me.

She and her son use the income from this enterprise as a tiny supplement to their wage jobs. Both are employed, and I don't really know the role of their income from this enterprise in their overall household, but I expect that when she retires in the near future it is going to be 'a bit extra'. But key to me today is that this enterprise of theirs produces more than cash. That she comes upon things that friends and neighbours she knows can use, it is also producing bonds and ties within a network. I hardly reciprocate with any finesse, but that doesn't matter. It's just a bond. One that makes us part of 'a community'. And that is grand.

Waste cotton fiber from woven cloth, hand-spun into yarn. Fair Trade from Julie Northcott-Wilson.
Which leads me to the next manifestation of such a grand network on my mind today, which is the magnificent yarn above. It is made from cotton waste from industrial manufacturers and spun into yarn by a women's collective and produced for a Fair Trade buyer in the United States, Julie Northcott-Wilson. The production of goods like this provides steady cash incomes for women, which means of course a steady source of income for a family.Women's production everywhere in the world is core to household economies, whether that production is for wages or unwaged labour to provision the household or most likely both.

Today I'm thinking about the collision and interweaving of the economic ties represented in these sets of objects. These are economic forms that stretch and strain notions of 'economic activity', that force human concerns and human relationships to the forefront, that short circuit the cycle of production/consumption/disposal. The women in Nepal and I will never share a breezy evening delivering flyers to the community picnic door-to-door, but when I show my friend up the street this yarn, she will immediately understand it. She will recognize their economies as similar.

There is something in this all today for me....