Friday, November 03, 2017

Order Out of Chaos

It is not the subject that makes art religious or sacrilegious, but the impulse behind it.  You sometimes get an artist who is spoken through despite his own professed atheism, because it's the creative impulse to look at the seeming chaos of the universe and then to express this chaos in terms of pattern and of order and of love and -- perhaps most important of all -- joy.
"From Chaos to Pattern", from Madeleine L'Engle: Herself, Reflections on a Writing Life -- compiled by Carole F. Chase, Shaw Books, Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2001.

Now...I'm not an atheist (as anyone who's read this blog for some time has undoubtedly realized!) it's not really the first part of this reflection that captured my attention, but the last part: the part about "the creative express...chaos in terms of pattern and of order and of love and -- perhaps most important of all -- joy."

Since I began my art practice in a serious way, I've sensed a tension between those whose creative impulse seems to express terms of pattern and order...but also of fear, anger, darkness and a distinct lack of joy -- and those who include in their expression of chaos that love and joy, and...a certain light and hope.  Sometimes, yes, the former is needed to jolt viewers out of their determined complacency in the face of such chaos.  To make a point.  To inspire action.  And often times, putting those expressions "out there", sharing them with the world, can heal and restore peace and order within those creators.

But I believe that too much of it can lead to a diminished ability to see hope and light in the chaos around us.  Joy can become eroded and may even be belittled as naive and unsophisticated, in favour of cynicism and pessimism.

My 'statement' pieces and participation in such projects as Threads of Resistance and the Social Justice Sewing Academy have come about because I felt compelled by the issues at hand -- and I've learned a great deal from those experiences, from making that work.

But I can't live there.  I cannot dwell in the realm of despair, righteous anger, ongoing fear and anxiety.  Even as I resist the dull, grey wintry days with injections of "those little birds", I resist the temptation to be drawn into a permanent home in the sturm und drang of current events...

And so I find myself returning to colourful piecing and to making more of those little canvases of which I am becoming particularly fond.

Here's my latest offering...finished on Monday of this week...the first in my "Inspired by Scotland" series. (And yes, it will be put in a 'floater' this one.)

Highland Hills I - (C) 2017
5" W x 7" L (unframed)
Mixed media on stretched canvas:
acrylic paint, wool, wool roving
Needle-felted, machine quilted

The fun of this came at the end when I actually followed a "what if...?" to its conclusion (instead of ignoring it or dismissing it as silly or impractical)...

Side view -- see the clouds of roving?

Front detail

Another close-up of those misty hills ;-)

There will be more of these -- and some in other sizes (though not, I expect, larger than 12" x 12").  But these take time.  Despite the myriad of photos from my trip and the ideas swirling about within me like those misty clouds swirling on those hills, the ideas take a while to coalesce, a while for me to figure out how I want to express the loveliness, the light and the joy of being in a beautiful landscape -- whether it is in a far-off land or outside my own back door.

So, Gentle Readers, I leave you with my answer to Nina Marie's question this week, even as I'm linking up with her Off the Wall Friday.   She's written about 'creativity exercises' and wondered aloud what sort of 'calisthenics' her readers might practice when feeling 'creatively challenged'.  

My challenge, creatively, is of having too many ideas pulling at me all at once, without a clear way to sort them and get them out into the world.  My 'creative calisthenics' in this in this case is more akin to stretching, rather than jumping jacks!  As I mentioned in my last post, when I find myself 'tectchy' and at loose ends, in between specific projects, or 'coming down' from a major project (like this), I often turn to piecing and/or fabric cutting, or re-organizing my sewdio.  Creating order and pattern out of the chaos of fabric and scraps enables me to bring order to the swirling thoughts in my mind while bringing colour, light and joy to my world.

May your weekend be full of that same colour, light, love and joy.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Into the Mystery

I'm out of sorts, "tetchy", at loose ends.  The weather, unlike yesterday when it was clearly miserable, is uncertain.  It's by turns snowy and less snowy, and the roads are unpredictable.  The wind rises and falls.  There are ice patches on the highway at the edge of town.  I had some errands I wanted to run (because I couldn't, yesterday) and just when I think I might risk the highway, the snow and the wind both pick up.  😣  Sigh.

I've worked on some knitting (gifts-in-the-making); I've stitched on the third SJSA block; I've sorted some more of my Scotland photos.

I shovelled (including my driveway), commiserating with my neighbours and Miss Pookie, who pranced delicately about in the footsteps dented in the snow, rather than risk an all-out gambol.  I went to the Post Office (no mail).  I ate some lunch, and caught up on blog reading.

Bless Bonnie Hunter!  As I was reading her latest post -- and commiserating about her late night at the Emergency Vet's with her beloved pooch (all shall be well now but it was a long evening!)...I remembered.

The annual Mystery.

It's that time of year again -- and she's recently posted the introduction to this latest quilt-along.  Why not take a look at it?

Who am I kidding?!  I didn't participate last year (the use of templates is just not my idea of a good time), but maybe this year...?  My current commission is stalled -- temporarily.  I need more of one particular fabric, and while my LQS is holding some for me pending inspection, I can't get there because of the questionable road conditions.  A Quiltville (Facebook) Community colleague in the U.S. is putting some in the mail today with the hopes that it's a between those two sources, I am hopeful. 

But while I wait...I'm antsy.  I finished another small canvas yesterday...but I don't want to do another today.  Yes, I'm an art quilter, but my hands want to piece -- so I printed off the 2017 Mystery intro and took it into the sewdio.  Cutting and piecing is rhythmic for me; it might just relieve the tension of waiting for the weather to clear.  Why not at least audition the fabric?

It didn't take me long to notice, though, that there in a series of Styrofoam trays on the floor under my ironing board Unfinished Mystery: "Grand Illusion" from 2015.

Well, then!  I could hardly start a new one when that one was in pieces on the floor, could I? (rhetorical question! 😉 

"Grand Illusion"
Clue #2 units finished
Clue #3 units finished
I did a quick check of where I was -- counting out finished units -- and realized that I'd finished up through Part III of five "clues".  Two more, and I could put together full blocks.  I can do this! 

And I've just enough time to work on it today and to pick it up over the coming weeks, even as I (finally) finish that commission, and those knitted gifts, and perhaps a few more canvases.

The realization was just enough to reignite my Quilting Mojo -- and that, Gentle Readers, is the blessing, the miracle and the mystery of the creative process.  Onward and upward!

Linking up to WIP Wednesday at The Needle and Thread Network, and gettin' back into the sewdio.  I've fabric to cut!

Friday, October 27, 2017

It's All About the Math

Time and time again I hear a groan from customers at The Shop -- usually when I begin to explain 'gauge' (aka 'tension') and how to calculate how much yarn you might need if you're substituting one brand for another.

"You mean I need to do math?!  But I hate/am no good at math!"

I've heard this before from quilters too.

It may be tough to swallow, but it's true.  Knitting, crochet, sewing, quilting, cross-stitch...all involve math at some time or another, but most particularly in the planning and/or design of whatever the project.

In my recent art piece, Oh! Those Highland Hills!, in addition to figuring out how to fill a 10" square space, I needed to get 'right' the proportion of the sky to the foreground.  On the left side (below), you see the full 10" of the edge of the piece...and on the right, the sections split into painted background (sky/mountains) and fabric foreground.

These proportions were intended to mirror those in the original photo -- which I first had to convert from a rectangle to a square...

...but as you can see from the above photo, I decided to play with that a bit, and the foreground is a bit "deeper" in the final piece than it is in the inspirational photo. Yet I think it still "works"! 

This week I turned my hand to the commission to which I referred in my last post -- a set of large pillow shams -- and as a result got myself involved in a whole lot more math. 

The inspiration for the work was found in this quilt that I came across (done in a couple of different colour-ways) at the Sylvan Lake Quilt Show this summer:

"His and Hers"
Made by Wendelynn McCutcheon
Quilted by Howell

The pattern is entitled "Labyrinth", which I tracked down to Janet Wickell at a post from "The Spruce".  The pattern released me from the need to call on the Team at Math-Net to solve the mystery of how it was assembled, and boy, am I grateful!  😉

As an adjunct to the pattern, I printed out the photo of the inspirational source as a full 8" x 10" and then focused on translating the centre square into the size I'd need -- before borders. 

The 'centre square' is actually composed of a centre block -- which I calculated would have to finish at 12" -- and two outer borders. 

I broke that block down into its components per the afore-mentioned pattern, thus:

Preparing the centre block

I then added the first Labyrinth border...

The centre block + First Labyrinth Border

And then the second...

The centre block with both borders
= the Centre Square

Altogether, the Centre Square is 24" x 24" (not including seam allowances).

This now needed to be converted to a rectangle to complete the top of the first sham of the pair, measuring 36" W x 26" L (not including seam allowances):

Sham #1 -- before quilting

This needs to be quilted before the back and decorative "flanges" are added.  I have enough batting on hand, but need to get a light-weight fabric for the back of the quilt sandwich.  (Regular-weight quilting cotton would make the sham too bulky.)

Thus, this weekend, I'll assemble Sham #2, and next week, go in search of that backing fabric!

For today, though...well, I'm due to limber up with a brisk jog, and then will spend some more time on my contribution to the SJSA project.  Block #2 of seven is just about finished! 

While stitching, I think I might just pop over to Nina Marie's "Off the Wall Friday" to see what everyone else is up to.  Won't you join me?

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Yes, as I mentioned last week, I'm "Back at It" in the Sewdio, and enjoying the variety immensely.

While ideas for a 'Scottish Landscape' series fill my head, I've been working on prior commitments and gifts.

One of the gifts is (yet another) hedgehog...which I presented today to my friend J, on the occasion of her 87th birthday...

Ain't he (or she) cute?

Another is a set of pillow shams for a client to give as a gift.  For now, let's just say that the pattern has been drafted (a traditional quilt block as the focus) but it's complex enough that I may do a mock-up in miscellaneous fabric before I dip into the fabrics for which the client's paid!

And then there is a Very Special Project.

By this, I'm referring to a series of fabric blocks that have been created by students at the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA), publicized on the SAQA Blog a couple of months ago.  Young people are being encouraged to engage in discourse and activities to support civil justice...and a number of them are involved in creating these blocks that will become art quilts.  Volunteers were needed to add embroidery to the prepared blocks. 

I learned to embroider around age 11, just a few years after I learned to knit.  I love it almost as much, and use these skills frequently in my art work.  I even took a Certificate in Contemporary Hand Stitch from Gail Harker in La Conner, WA,  a decade ago.  AND  I have a huge healthy stash of embroidery floss with which to work.

It only made sense that I would volunteer with this project!

But...I was going away for most of September.  Could it wait till I got back?  Of course!

So...a week ago a package arrived in the mail...from the U.K.  I have no idea why that happened, as SJSA is based in the U.S., but there you are.  In the package were seven (count 'em!) large (15" square) blocks, each with images applied to them...with some sort of glue....and with a 30-day turn-around time!!  I managed to get that changed to six weeks, thank you -- and set to work.  Here's some of that Work in Progress...

A's Block (1)

A's Block (2)

A's Block (3)

U's Block (1)

U's Block (2)

Each block comes with the first name of the artist, a short statement about the work, and if desired by the artists, any special requests.  Above you can see that in U's block, there are grey clouds that have been applied in the sky, opposite the image of the sun.  I put those clouds in, as this is one of her requests, as was the red stripes on each flag in the photos.

I am being very careful to work on one piece at a time so that I can absorb what each artist is saying in his/her work...and plan my stitching accordingly.  While I have complete freedom to select the colours and type of stitches I make on each piece, I am trying to use materials and stitches that will enhance quietly the work and thought behind them.

I know that I have probably never experienced any of the challenges that these young artists have faced in their short this has given me a glimpse at their personal journeys and a great admiration for their courage, as well as gratitude for those who work with them to bring to our consciousness important issues, while providing a means of creative therapy that comes from the expression of ideas, thoughts, experiences and feelings through the realm of art.

I thank the organizers of this project at SJSA, and hope that my modest contribution will be of use and benefit.

To find out more about SJSA, or to take part in this work, click HERE...

Linking to Nina Marie's Off the Wall Friday, where this week she's been talking about picking a colour palette.  (Note that in the SJSA pieces above, there is a distinct palette selected to convey the message of the work.  As I'm not sure these young artists have been especially taught this concept, I'm proposing that some of our colour selections are intuitive -- they "just make sense"...But a little knowledge can work even more artistic magic, don't you think?)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Back at It

It seems that blogging has become a 'Sunday-kinda-thing' for me lately.  ;-)

I've been home from Scotland just over two weeks now and finally -- for the most part -- I seem to be 'back to normal' (what 'normal' is for me, that is).  The jogging has been a challenge -- sluggish and slow -- but I persist!  The weather's been pretty good this past week, so I've pushed myself to go out and plod along.  There are a few 'Scottish pounds' that have to be removed!

I must admit I took it slowly and started back in the Sewdio with a commission I wanted to finish by Thanksgiving (Oct. 8-9 here) so I could save shipping costs.  My sweet sister has a dear friend (I know her too) who's becoming a Young Great-Grandma in November, so sis commissioned me to make a crib quilt in a rail fence -- in a selection of blue fabric because, apparently, the baby is to be a boy.

Here is the top when I finished it just before my trip:

Here it is just after my return -- sandwiched and ready to quilt:

And here it is, finished -- full front and back, followed by detail shots:

I really lucked out with the backing, which I also used for the binding, because I found it at Wild Flower Creations, the LQS in Lacombe -- on the 50% off table!  And doesn't it echo the Rail Fence motif perfectly -- in 4 shades of blue, no less!

Primed for the Next Step

Once I had the quilt finished -- using my trusty back-up machine, a Pfaff 1222E -- I was ready to move outside my Comfort meet a deadline.  I picked up my Husqvarna Lily 555 from the "spa" (Red Deer Sewing Centre), put her back into her sewing table and moved forward...

This past year I joined the Alberta Society of Artists as an 'Associate Member'.  I have no idea how many textile artists there are in this fine organization, beyond two SAQA colleagues -- Barbara J. West and Ilse Anysas-Salkauskas, both of whom have BFA degrees and are Juried Members of both the ASA and SAQA -- but I figured it would be an interesting group to join.

It's been a while since I surrendered my position as a Co-Rep with SAQA, and I was ready to do a tiny bit of volunteering, so I offered to participate in a fund-raiser: "100@100" -- where 100 artists volunteer to produce a piece of work on a 10" square wood panel, to be sold for funds to support the organization.

You may recall that I picked up my panel from President Mail Doktor just before I prepared to leave for Scotland.

Thank goodness for the trip, but...when I got back, I had to think about it.  Get back to the idea of trying to do something with an 'artist's panel' or 'artist's board'.

My dear provender of mats and frames, Andrea Hatch at Cabinet of Curiosities in Stettler, got me a large piece of 'board' which I cut in two (badly, because I don't really have the right equipment), and upon which I began to play.

I knew I needed to prepare the wood with gesso so that it would be sealed, and not damage the fabric I planned to apply to I painted one coat on an almost 10"-square section of the board.  I was inspired in part by the work of the wonderful Louise O'Hara from Northumberland, UK, whose work I first discovered in a tiny shop at the ferry dock at Malaig, Scotland.  I bought a card with this image:

By the Fireside - (C) Louise O'hara
She does work with textiles and paint on board and canvas...which thrilled me to the core...and so I persisted.

On the bus -- near Inverness

Inspirational photo (above -- the second one I'd tried) in hand, I tried painting with acrylics on the sample board I'd prepared...and failed miserably.  It was stiff and stylized and not at all what I wanted.

I did some more internet research and found I should prepare 'board' by applying at least three (3) coats of Gesso, sanding with fine paper in between each application.  So I did -- both on the sample board and on the board Mali had given me for the final piece.

I still wasn't all that thrilled.  Then it dawned on me: I've always felt more comfortable with watery acrylic on canvas -- or with water colour altogether.  Perhaps I could try water colour on 'board'?  What did I have to lose?  In the immortal words of my first art quilt teacher, Anna Hergert: "It's just a sample."
So...I sampled:

Water colour on board (sample)

Whoa!  It worked!

Now, you need to bear in mind that the 'sky/mountains' is only the background.  I also had to fill up the foreground.  And that...that was being done as needle-felting.  The base was a piece of wool felt I bought from a vendor -- Quilter's Quarters of Longridge -- at the Scottish Quilt Competition, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.  I bought 3 pieces all told, for 7.50 GBP (about $12.75 CAD).  I got three shades of earthy greens, which work just right for this work.

And in the end, after auditioning and auditioning and adding wool roving bought at Fibre Week (Olds, June 2017) and fleece self-dyed over the last couple of summer, in jars in the sun...and using my embellisher...

This is what I got:

Oh! Those Highland Hills!

Detail (1)

Detail (2)

It will go into the mail in the next few days, once I get a box that can fit it.  I hope it brings in a good price for the ASA fund raiser.

As a sort of  'palate cleanser' after this...I painted a wee canvas (more on that later) and finished another that hadn't had its foreground done.  This time, instead of needle felting, I went with quilting:

Fifty Shades of Green (C) 2-17

I'll have this one put in a 'floater' frame like the others of its kind...and keep going.

Now you're pretty well caught up with the I will leave you linkin up to Nina Marie's Off the Wall Friday...and wish you a wonderful week!

Sunday, October 08, 2017


For living in this land

Field on the edge of Mirror, AB

For being able to travel to this land

From the train - Glasgow to Edinburgh

For creatures great and small

Hebredian (L) and Cheviot (R) sheep

Don't forget the donkeys!

For friends, far and near

Artist Gillian Cooper & I
Hill House, Helensburgh, Scotland

Travelling buddy, Mary, and I
visiting Hill House

For new experiences

Tartan weaving - Locharron Mills, Scotland

For family history

Where my G-G-G-Grandfather's farm once stood
Kilsyth, Scotland

And family now

My kids!

My son and his Uncle L share a laugh.

Me and my sis!

And for all of you, Gentle Readers...
Happy Thanksgiving from Canada.

I wish you a blessed day, and as I link this up to Nina Marie's "Off the Wall Friday", I'll leave you with this poem from British poet, Malcolm Guite, who wrote it in 2010 following a visit to Canada...


Thanksgiving starts with thanks for mere survival,

Just to have made it through another year
With everyone still breathing. But we share
So much beyond the outer roads we travel;
Our interweavings on a deeper level,
The modes of life embodied souls can share,
The unguessed blessings of our being here,
The warp and weft that no one can unravel.

So I give thanks for our deep coinherence
Inwoven in the web of God’s own grace,
Pulling us through the grave and gate of death.
I thank him for the truth behind appearance,
I thank him for his light in every face,
I thank him for you all, with every breath.

*To listen to Mr. Guite read this aloud, click HERE.  Note that, as do many Brits, he refers to us  "American"...meaning North American.  

Friday, September 08, 2017


I was hoping to coordinate my "65" (birthday) with "1500" (blog posts)...but it didn't work out that way, and I'm out of time.

I work tomorrow at The Shop.  I finish packing for Scotland on Sunday a.m.  I drive to Edmonton avec le chat (that's "with the cat", Miss Pooks) on Sunday afternoon...and fly to Glasgow (via Amsterdam) Monday evening.

No time.

Or, rather, what little time there is will pass too quickly to be captured in a "#1500" blog post.

So -- it shall wait till my safe return (God willing)...and perhaps be better for it.  By then I might have actually figured out a way to celebrate it!


Trio - (C) - 2012

In the hour-and-a-half that's left, I'll mark the end of my 65th year with a poem from one of my favourites...Mary Oliver. 

Here in Mirror, all the streets end in trees.  Most streets are gravel.  It is "Aspelund" (Aspen Land).  My art is shaped by trees.  Much of my work depends upon trees.  They shape me, they hold my attention, they shade and comfort me.

So...this gift from Ms. Oliver to me...and back to you.

When I am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myelf,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world,
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves,
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."

And to hear it read aloud, the loveliest way to read poetry...

Please "read" and savour and walk among those trees nearest you.

Celebrate their lives and yours...till we meet again.

P. S. Linking this to Nina Marie's "Off the Wall Friday".  This week she's talking about 'focal point'.  Artwork -- or at least, a piece thereof -- might have one.  Lives have one too...or two, or three, or four...sometimes vying for dominance, but ideally one at a time.  Wishing you all a smooth and easy journey to discovering YOUR 'focal point' -- that place in which you can rest a bit, knowing (for the time being) your Purpose in Life, or adjusting and adapting to What Lies Ahead, or simply loving Those Around You, and/or The One Who Created You to Start With.  Thanks again, Gentle Readers...I love you all!