Friday, June 20, 2008
Its hard to know how far to go back to get to the root of my interest in creating with fiber. I could talk about sewing Barbie doll clothes at age 8, or making quilts for a local gift shop at age 21, or putting together the Canadian goose quilt for my community's library just as I was ready to leave my first husband. Sometimes projects like that really help to take your mind off your problems.
The beginnings I want to touch on are when I started to see myself as an artist. I was a special ed teacher by profession, yet always had this hands on approach to everything...making whatever I could imagine, dyeing my fabric for sewing, teaching students to create fun things, etc. etc. But, when asked, I was a teacher.
My last two years of teaching in Fairbanks, Alaska, were in a job share position with another teacher at a nearby middle school. My son had just graduated from high school and was off on his own, and I was thinking about retiring but wasn't ready to take the big plunge. So the job share thing was perfect. We would spend our summers in Refuge Cove, head to Mazatlan for a few months, and then I'd return to Fairbanks in the dead (I mean dead!) of winter for 5 months of teaching.
My classroom was out of this world: 3 double sinks, washer/dryer, 3 large worktables, a refrigerator and stove. I had a very busy job but usually found time each weekend to dye up a few pieces in my classroom for sewing at home. Often times I would stop by my neighbor's house to show her what I had made. One day Christine asked if I would show her how to dye fabric. I have to say I was a bit surprised as I hadn't seen a hint of sewing interest (knitting yes!) and I always saw her as one of those intellectual types (legal and school administration background), and I didn't think she was into messy things like dyeing fabric. Yet I was always eager for company so I invited her up to school one Saturday afternoon. Lo and behold - she loved it. That summer she e-mailed me pictures of dyeing sessions with friends, etc. She was hooked. AND her mother's old Bernina was now a fixture on her kitchen table. I knew the hook was set deep!
So before I knew it, I had come and gone from my summer and fall journeys, and was returning to my last half year of teaching (2004). Who should the school counselor be that year? Yes, Christine. She also was on her last year, and I should have known that she had other ideas about what we'd be doing together in those few months before retiring.
That very first cold, dark Saturday in January found us in our transformed "dye studio", and we never looked back. It wasn't long before friends joined us and it became a Saturday happening! Teenagers loved to pop in and try some tie-dye. Marge started dyeing scarves. Joanne hauled in tubs of second hand clothes to "spruce up". It was an exciting time for us and made the year fly by.
Around the end of April, Christine and I would ponder about "what's next?". We both were selling our homes, and leaving Fairbanks (she to Ashland, Oregon; me to the BC/Mexico connection). We had become such close friends and partners in our fiber quests. It saddened us both to think that this great Saturday experience would have to come to an end so soon and we'd each be taking off in different directions.
I remember the question arising one day: "So what do real artists do?" Followed by, "For one thing, they have shows. " And the next natural response,"Let's do one!" After all, we had a wealth of product from our weekend sessions. The next step for two retiring school employees was to exclaim "artists teach classes."
On that note, we planned a two day class (with 7 students) at the end of the year, and followed it up with a fiber arts show the following Friday night. We advertised in the newspaper under the First Friday Gallery Tour section, and invited all our fiber friends we had worked with or taught to also exhibit with us. Christine and Rick had already sold their house so they had lots of open space for displaying our creations. We named our show "Fibers of Friendship" which said it all. We served wine, cheese, and crackers for friends and neighbors on a beautiful June evening in Fairbanks. It was more than memorable.
Two weeks later, we both drove off into the sunset, leaving our lives and careers in Fairbanks behind. We both had gone from teachers to artists with the blink of an eye, and we never looked back.
And what became of the fiber of friendship I wove with Christine?
That's for another post.
Here it is...My new dye studio! Before you make a judgment call here, let me give you a little background.
This is our old woodshed/shop. Last year Tom built a new shop for himself and I immediately had my eyes on this space. (Until now I have been dyeing in my kitchen.) Neighbor Corrine had an old double sink and counter top she was going to take to the "free store" on Cortes, until I saw it and said "HALT!...It's mine!" Tom installed it for me and put in a couple of shelves for dyes, yogurt tubs, sodium alginate...you know, all that good stuff. I have to drain my water into a bucket for awhile until we get a drain line hooked up, but that's not that big of a deal. I also will be covering up the floor boards because there is an inch crack between each board, and I'm just waiting to drop my measuring spoon or some other item down into the vast abyss underneath, never to be seen again. I saw some old carpet at the "free store" last week and that may be the perfect solution.
I've been christening my new studio all week long. Today's work was 7.5 meters of beautiful palette work. Tomorrow's project will be a sign for the "dog poop compost station". Yep, you heard it right! Gotta manage all those boaters' dogs somehow.
This dye studio may not look all that great from the outside, but it suits my needs perfectly. And, check out the view!
As that old saying goes - Never judge a book by its cover! This is a case in point.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I just bought a new box of canning jars. Of course I used to have MANY of them but gave them away because I thought I'd never use them...you know how that goes. So now, in the last year, I have purchased three sets : one dozen wide-mouth half-pints to dye pieces 1/8th meter in size, one dozen wide-mouth pints to dye 1/4 meter pieces, and one dozen wide-mouth quarts to dye pieces 1/2 meter in size. I don't know why it took me so long to figure this canning jar thing out. It's efficient, neat, easy to break up the entire process into small time blocks, and I can control the color much easier. I always snug down the lid and ring and shake, shake, shake for a more even color. OR I turn them upside down/right side up for 5 or 10 minute intervals. For uneven color, I put the dye solution in the jar, then the wet fabric followed by soda ash. After snugging the top, I gently flip it ONE TIME, MAYBE TWICE. I love to watch the liquids mix. Some awesome pieces result from this and also are perfect for overdyes.
I also received a dozen white labels with my new set of jars. They are perfect for labeling with the red-yellow-blue formula for each color. I like to dye up a 10 piece pallete so this time I labeled each jar with the specific color formula. TYPICALLY I stretch out a long piece of masking tape on my work surface, line my 10 jars up along the tape, and then write the formula in front of each jar. Either way works fine, but since I had the labels, I decided to use them.
Another reason I love this method is that I can measure out the dyes, one color at a time. I twist off the squeeze top and just pour the correct number of spoonfuls into each jar. Easy and neat.
Once the tops are on and they have been shaken or turned to perfection, I can pack them in the original box until I'm ready to wash them out. The color range and gradation are fabulous.
I just can't get Tom to quit asking "Didn't we get rid of a bunch of those?"
Monday, June 16, 2008
Just talked to good friends Mo and Sharon today...all the way from Mazatlan. It brought back warm feelings of my friends, neighbors, home, favorite haunts, the incredible beauty of those ocean sunsets, and of course, my fiber life there.
Since 2002, Tom and I have been spending significant time each winter in Mazatlan. Building our home in 2005 was a dream come true! And of course I was sure to include a good size fiber art/dye studio in the plans. Now our home has evolved into a mini-gallery where I can show my wares during the First Friday Artwalks held during winter months, and a space for classes in dyeing, quilting and other areas in the fiber arts realm. I have met a wealth of wonderful folks through these events.
Another project I'm involved with is volunteering with a group of Mexican women who sew for a living. They use donated fabric and sell their variety of items to tourists at local venues, golf tourneys, at hotels or at the cruise ship terminal, etc. Their skills are very good and the livelihood they provide for themselves with these sales makes a significant difference in their lives and the lives of their families. I am honored to be a part of this group.
Mazatlan is a coastal city with charm! The historical district where my home/studio is located, has beautiful old buildings, quaint streets, friendly people, good food, lovely beaches, exquisite vistas, and on and on. Plaza Machado is centrally located and a seat of culture with the Angela Peralta Theater and the Arts School right there. Chatting on a park bench, dining at one of the local restaurants, or just strolling around the plaza midst the activity of the night (or day) leaves one with a warm feeling of the area.
Many activities are available in Mazatlan. Walking along the miles of beachfront sidewalks is a great way to get some exercise, enjoy the ocean views, and see this part of the city. Yoga classes welcome all to experience the wonderful benefits of this practice. Hiking to the lighthouse, picking up a good book at the gringo library, or taking a Spanish class are also ways to enjoy your time in Mazatlan. And nearby Stone Island has pristine beaches that will capture your soul.
For individuals with artistic interests, there are opportunities to explore your creative side. I have workshops in a variety of fiber arts areas in my studio, and other artists also offer classes throughout town.
Come to Mazatlan for a great vacation or for a wonderful place to spend the winter. And don't let me forget to add that IT'S WARM!
Sunday, June 15, 2008
I have resolved to keep this blog as fiber arts focused as I can so I was searching for a way to connect this garden tour with what I do. YES! It's the inspiration for another piece. I will use this memorial marker for the BC poet Gilean Douglas in a future piece. It appeals to me very much.
And now to the tour. It was inspiring! The gardens were unique (and beautiful of course), the people friendly (Cortesians? always!), and the weather exquisite. And my companions, Sudie, Hanne, and Corinne (who we picked up at the dump), were a super group.
We didn't get to all of the places, but did visit the museum, Chamadaska Nursery, the home of an ex-neighbor's parents (wow! 38 years of loving gardening!), and Channel Rock. This is the property and home of Gilean Douglas who died in 1993. She is a legend in coastal BC. What amazed me was that I never knew this place existed. It's a 20 minute hike through an old cedar forest (a spiritual place) and then you enter the ocean vista/garden/residential part. The property is now a part of an educational foundation that promotes sustainable business. We ate a delicious vegan lunch there and walked the gardens. A special place. We ended the day seeing a brand new baby garden (90 days old)...it is a new landscape job that is very impressive. At least I liked it...hope to see it on the tour in a few years.
Back at Squirrel Cove, we 4 women hopped in our boat and headed back home to Refuge Cove. Such a sweet day!
Next weekend is the Quadra Garden AND QUILT Tour so I'll have another garden report. Can't get enough of them.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Ever since we moved to Refuge Cove in 2001 (summer only), I've been involved with the Cortes Island Craft Cooperative. This is a small shop located in the tiny berg of Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island located one island away from ours (its about a 15 minute boat ride for us). The Cooperative has approximately 40 members each year who produce amazing work in a variety of genres: pottery, watercolors, photography, a wide range of fiber arts, jewelry, soap, woodworking, writing (books by local authors), etc. Since this area (Desolation Sound by name) is a boater's mecca in the summer, the Craft Shop has developed a fantastic reputation for having unique, quality items for reasonable value. I believe we are topping the sales at about 50K for 3 months of sales each year...not bad. Being a cooperative, members who display are able to decrease the 30% commission by working in the shop. Typically I work 5 days each summer.
Cortes is such an interesting place (and with a fabulous website!). It is natural, funky, enlightened, feeling, spiritual, lively, organic and the like. Don't forget beautiful! Tom says its like stepping into the 60's! Its our stepping stone to civilization as we have to travel to Cortes, then ferry to Quadra, then another ferry to Campbell River on Vancouver Island where we have highways and shopping and all those other things which we try not to frequent. Once a month is just fine!
So today was a workday for me. I have been slow to add my product to the inventory this summer as I am busy with other projects, but I do have dyed napkins, hand-dyed bundles, and some of the silk scarves I've been painting. When I arrived, I had to work on displaying my scarves on a small ladder type piece that Tom made for me. The day being a bit chilly, I was surprised when a rush of customers came in - both browsers and purchasers. Once everyone left, I took a fiber arts photo tour of the shop to share on my blog. What an array or items!
There are many sewn bags and the like from commercial fabric, felted items, table runners, cloth birds with emu feather tails, wool (natural and dyed), woven items and other lovely treasures. The wealth of talent in the fiber arts is amazing, and I am proud to be a part of this group.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
A year ago, I created a large quilt that consisted of thirteen 6" wide x 80" long strips of my hand-dyes. I call the method of dyeing to create these strips"dip and flip". I folded the long strips in half (the long way), then carefully rolled them to look much like a gauze bandage. I placed each roll into a cup (only half way up the roll) of either blue, green, or violet dye. After 30 minutes, I carefully picked up each roll and flipped it into a cup of black. When finished, these strips had fabulous mottled colors which reminded me of the ocean. I pieced the strips together, sandwiched my batting and backing together and proceeded to free-motion an ocean scene over the entire piece. The main characters were rockfish (thanks to Laura Lee Fritz for her continuous line drawing), crab, octopus, and jellyfish. It was one of the most difficult quilts I have done because it was directional. I used my trusty old Bernina, and fitting this quilt (about 7'x7') into the throat was fine until I got to the left side of the quilt. It was way too bulky! So I had to flip the quilt upside down and now had to free-motion the sea creatures upside down too! Does that ever mess with the old brain! Anyway, a true labor of love BUT quite disappointing as the background strips were so busy that the figures didn't show up. The backing was a semi-solid hand-dyed gray, so fortunately the figures were easily seen from the wrong side. I heard many comments that mentioned how the back looked great, impressive stitching, etc., etc., but I knew deep down that the front of the quilt just didn't work.
So, after living with what I thought was a finished quilt for about 3 months, I finally got up the courage to continue on...this time with discharging. I knew if could pull out the color inside each object, that it would then be seen. Using a small, stiff, angled brush, I hand painted the thickened substance from Clorox bleach pens (don't use directly from the pen...it blobs!) inside the stitching of each fish, and continued on with the other objects too. Yes, they popped out and I was much happier! But what I noticed was that the colors left behind varied dependent upon the base color. Because I had such a blend of colors on the original piece, I was getting some amazing colorations. Where I stitched a fish on two strips of different colors, the discharged piece left a complexity of colors that could not be predicted. Or could it? I put it into my "idea bank" to try a similar but smaller quilted piece using a palette of dark hand-dyes as the base pieces. Here's the steps I went through:
1. I mixed up a set of red, yellow, blue and black dyes. In this case it was my bright group: lemon yellow, fuschia, turquoise, and better black (Dharma colors). I wanted a palette of 10 colors from these so measured and mixed my RYB's into 10 cups to get a beautiful spectrum of colors. Since I wanted dark colors, I added an equal amount of black to each.
2. Now I set to dye up my 10 fat quarters, and from these I pieced together a 20"x24" piece that had a combination of 2" squares, sashing pieces, and a central square with a circle in the middle. The piece was DARK but at this stage I was very happy with it as the colors went so well together.
3. After sandwiching together my batting and backing, I free-motioned one of my typical leaf scenes using a dark thread.
4. Instead of painting on the bleach pen substance (labor intensive!), I decided to put it into one of my tiny bottles with a metal tip (5mm) and squeeze it into the enclosed leaf shapes. (Always work in a well-ventilated area when using bleach!!!) This still was a bit labor intensive but the piece was much smaller, so only took about an hour.
5. Ahhhhhh! The base colors were coming through and it was like light, in different shades, was popping through the cloth. My eyes couldn't decide what to focus on...the colors, the leaf shapes, or the quilted pattern behind it all.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot...Last winter I did this process on another piece too. I have featured it as the headliner on my blog. It was all in grays and blacks, with people stitched throughout, and I later bleached out all the people. It loved how it turned out and it now resides in the home of my brother and his family!
I know I will be doing more pieces with this process and hope to share it others!
Friday, June 6, 2008
Bugs can be good or bad, depending on your point of view or circumstance. Here in Refuge Cove, we have bugs of all kinds. There was the large cluster (that’s putting it mildly!) of carpenter ants we discovered on the beam just above our bed five days AFTER our arrival here…that discovery was not a treasured moment! Then there was the world’s largest spider (I’m sure of it!) that I found late last night, close to the size of a golf ball with legs! A work day in the garden set me as a target for the tiny black flies who found their way along my entire hair line, full circle, depositing their poison and leaving me with a ring of horribly aggravating bites. These are some of the bugs on my black list.
But we have bugs here who reside in the coastal waters at our doorstep. “Sea bugs” is the term one of our locals has for prawns. Yes, prawns. Lovely, delicious prawns. Perhaps it’s their big eyes, their long antenna-like extensions, or insect-like legs that brought on the bug title.
We set prawn traps on a regular basis, and up until this year Tom has hand-over-hand hauled up the 400+ feet of line to discover what our catch of the day is inside each trap. Oh, the anticipation in those last 10 feet. 72? 44? 17? Or skunked perhaps. Once beheaded and brought home, they usually find their way to the table that night. Served with garlic and butter, a zesty seafood sauce, or made into a spicy curry, they are well loved in our household and all throughout the Cove.
Much of my art is inspired by the ocean I am so connected to. Tide in, tide out; I watch it from my window. I travel by boat to shop. I walk the shoreline in search of treasures (usually old pottery or interesting driftwood) or starfish for my garden. It’s only natural that these “sea bugs” and other ocean influences have found their way into my work. Years ago, I created a series of potholders hand-painted with thickened Procion dyes. A photo of my dear friend, Sharon, (emptying out her prawn trap while wearing a big blue glove) became the subject of my second attempt at fabric collage. (Great class taught by Ionne McCauley of Qualicum Beach!) And now I am including prawns in my silk paintings of local sea life. The wealth of inspiration surrounding me far outweighs those bad bug experiences.
Got to run…time to pull the prawn trap…wish us luck!