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.