Sunday, January 27, 2008

linen amour

There is just something about linen.

I think this post at 6.5 stitches inspired the apron, though I suspect visiting Angry Chicken may have had something to do with it too. Whatever it was, last weekend I imagined an apron, pulled out an "S" transfer that Julia had sent me a while back and started embroidering. On the day I got married my mom gave me an "S" embroidered handkerchief that had belonged to my great grandmother Sarah Lamb. Old linens are wonderful to begin with, but having a piece of family handed to me was even better. My mother is also an "S" - Sandra - and the handkerchief was given to her on her wedding day by my father's mother (my grandma May). My brother is also an "S", and of course, so is Sadie. So although I felt a little vain embroidering my own initial onto an apron, my hope is that someday Sadie might take it with her as her own piece of family. And somehow I think a linen apron will stand the test of time (and get better looking with age). The style is simple, a basic rectangle with ties. I always wear my other aprons folded down around my waist so this seemed like an obvious choice.

To further the linen love, I followed a link to this online shop - Linnet - and I am positively smitten by their wares. The link came from 6.5 stitches and I don't even know where to begin. Linen ribbon? French lace? This wonderful mulberry colour? Really, I need discipline. As it is, I ordered the Shinzi Katoh fabric and it should be on its way, so for now I should keep my linen dreams on hold. Really. Unless weathering the awful "takeover transition" last week at work deserves some kind of reward? Ahh justification - it's a slippery, slippery slope.

P.S. The not-so-good photos of the apron are from today's baking-with-Sadie event; we made Chocolate Jam Thumprints from my newest, favourite cookbook Vegan with a Vengeance (thank you Mom!). We took the yummy treats over to a perfectly girly visit with Ragdoll, Nadine and baby Lucine. I love Sundays.

Monday, January 21, 2008

winged thing

For the last LONG while I've been forgetting to check the Month of Softies theme, but I'm pretty glad I did for January. As soon as I read "Winged Things" I was in, especially since birds have quietly made their way into all of my work lately. I've been trying to figure out ways of capturing the silent words and messages of women - the ones kept hidden and unspoken as we face our daily struggle with multiple (and demanding) roles. The bird, graceful and delicate, just seems like a suitable choice to carry away these words of weight.

Which leaves me to explain this bird in particular; made of linen, he is based on a simple Swallow shape. He carries the message "Hear Me" in his belly, one word on either side, the embroidered line running over his beak connecting the two. And yes, sometimes I admit to being terribly obvious - I mean, I've got him swallowing words and he's a Swallow...but I'm okay with that for now. The words are stamped on pages from a book because I've also been using common stationary materials to work these ideas out with.

In the category of inspiring embroidery, check out this work. What a great idea, and I can't wait to see more. Plus, this may not be embroidery, and I'm not sure who the artist is, but I could look at this cut paper piece for hours.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

the other me

Once upon a time, I went to art school. Moved to the city, spent hours in a rundown studio space, had a few exhibitions. Then I made a responsible decision: pay off my enormous student loan by taking a creative job in television. That was in 1998, and it sounds totally old-school to say, but I still work for the same company now.

Of course, throw paying off said student loan, buying a house, getting married and having a kid into that same decade. What gets completely lost in the shuffle? That would be the other me, the one I once (though somewhat hesitantly) called the artist. It's not that I gave up making, it's just that in the little time I had, most of my energy went into more functional, purposeful making. Here and there I would find the effort to travel out of my comfort zone and start on something with no end goal in sight, and truthfully over the ten years I have created some work I'm happy with. It's just the quantity - or lack thereof - that is significant.

So what am I trying to say? Not much, and I certainly know I'm not alone in this situation. To be a woman in my thirties, with a family counting on my income it's just the way things are. I always tell myself there's time later, that I've never fully walked away, that I'm just taking a break from being focused on the world of exhibiting (or perhaps, being beside Jay while he travels that road is experience enough). But I am starting to find more time these days, and the ideas and desires are falling into place, and the moments I have spent on that "other" work is satisfying me on quite a deep level. And so, to keep this momentum going, I had two pieces framed last week; the first one (shown above) is from a few years ago, but has been tucked in a portfolio for far too long, and the second, a recently finished piece which was chosen for the Framework Foundation Timeraiser event.

Seeing your work presented always makes a difference, and it's the kind of perspective I needed to keep going. I'm not sure how much of this work I'll share here - it never photographs as well as my knitting and sewn stuff, and the details are quite subtle (capturing an ivory stitched line on ivory paper through the lens is a lesson in frustration) but I just thought I'd start with a peek.

And here I said I would write less about me this year. Oops.

Monday, January 14, 2008

reading challenge #2

Same photo, second book. Though, to be honest, this is the first book I read, and since time has passed I'm a little foggy about it. But here goes, Consumption by Kevin Patterson. An excerpt:

"You act as if you've never had an unfortunate outcome before."
"No. I'm not inexperienced in losing patients. Especially Victoria's family members. I don't know what's got into me."
The priest smiled ruefully. "If you had faith, I could prescribe a penance."
"You make it sound tempting, somehow."
The priest looked at the kettle. "It is a kind of egotism, self-flagellation such as this. The time for fervour is in the approach to God, not in response to his reversals."

It's hard to know where to begin. The characters? The relationships? The tragedies? The landscape? There is so much to sink into with this novel - as long as you can keep your head above the tragic waters. One thing is for sure: the story is epic, but that's why it is so hard to describe.

Consumption is such a wonderful title, and the lingering thread of this insidious disease is clever. I read somewhere that TB could be characterized by "long, relentless wasting" and in many ways this description fits certain characters and storylines perfectly. And I don't mean to make the novel sound relentless, quite the opposite - the story is riveting, sweeping and tragic in all the right ways.

The relationships, brought out through dialogue and key character insights, were powerful. The excerpt above is between two of my favourite characters, the doctor and priest of the remote Nunavut town the entire novel stems from. Their exchanges over the years while listening to jazz recordings were always profound, opening a window into the growth of friendship between an unlikely pair. But even small characters have intriguing relationships, such as the high school teacher and her estranged husband, whose infrequent phone calls spoke volumes, not to mention their ravenous sex scene that left me, quite frankly, breathless. I could go on and on, because there is no shortage of compelling characters and I never once tired of their stories, even as the novel spanned decades.

As for the knitting equivalent: Consumption is like a pieced and cabled sweater, something I have never knit but know would take commitment. Every new stitch would excite and engage on a deep level and there is no easy finish to the sweater - just as much effort would go into seaming the pieces together. In the end, it would be wholly satisfying, as both an experience and for its' lasting usefulness.

And come on, the first line is "Storms are sex." Bring on the tundra! (and thanks to Ragdoll for the recommendation).

Friday, January 11, 2008

raspberry dreaming

Sewing with raspberry fabrics was another holiday vacation staple of mine. I've had a to-do list for Sadie's bedroom for quite some time and it felt great to get through most of it. First, a quilt for her bed. This was started many, many years ago when my dear friend Kristen and I had a sewing business (called Red Needle Design). This quilt top was one thing I kept and it's been on my shelves, un-quilted, for years. The inside fabrics are fuschia dupioni silk and dark red velveteen, bordered with an upholstery weight dot and then backed and bound with a cotton gingham. I tied every corner with raspberry embroidery thread and overall it's the measurements of a throw - or the perfect size for the end of a little girl's twin bed. Oh, and although it wasn't raspberry I also made her duvet cover. After many failed attempts to find a cover I could just purchase, I gave up and just made her one. I had enough fabric laying around and you just can't beat MOP button closures.

This closet has been doorless forever, so I took the gingham theme and made a girly curtain to hide the mess. Happy with how it turned out, I picked up another tension rod and did the same thing on her window (not shown). Suddenly, her room really is a space for a little-big girl. My one last idea - as hinted at by the paint chips taped near the door - is to paint that one wall raspberry. Both Sadie and I are leaning towards the top chip, and I figure that if we agree, it must be worth doing...right? After that, her list is done.

For now, anyway.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

the year for words

And, hopefully, a little less me. After a real stalemate with reading, this post seemed to kickstart my book appetite. Since then I've been devouring novels. So with a healthy dose of inspiration from Ragdoll I've decided to join the Canadian Book Challenge. That means 13 books by July 1st, one from each province and territory. It started in October, so my reading of Consumption by Kevin Patterson counts (phew!) and last night I finished my Quebec portion, The Extraordinary Garden by Francois Gravel. Now the daunting task is to actually say something about it. First, an excerpt:

"I thought about Josee, about life, which is always improvising, which doesn't know how to do otherwise. That there are errors and blunders is unavoidable. For one successful love story, how many others start up again and again, and always bump into the same obstacles? How many are abandoned along the way, after a promising start? Why get attached to something that may have been just a rough draft?"

The narrator, Marc-Andre, lives the perfect suburban life. He manages his marriage like a business and his wife is a formidable partner. But although things are perfect, solid and, dare he say, happy, he meets a neighbour, Josee, and spends the next seven years in love with her, and then another seven trying to forget her.

Sure, infidelity is a common theme, but even if you take away the suburban setting I found the honesty of this story wonderfully compelling. Marc-Andre simply fell in love with another woman and struggled to live with such a love while trying to maintain the perfect life he had with his family. For seven years he did not indulge his desires, but still they never waned. Josee was a woman he felt he had known forever, a woman who just "got" him, a woman who made his own wife feel like a stranger to him. He hadn't asked for such an obstacle to be put before him and he tried his best to do what he felt was right.

I adored Gravel's descriptive handling of physical intimacy, which suited the frankness of his prose (though as a note, this is a translated version). And I was intrigued by his characters' responses to both guilt and infidelity. Nothing felt preachy, no judgements were made and I felt relief in my position as an objective observer.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this novel and once I reached the halfway mark, I couldn't put it down. For this reason here is how it rates in my personal reviewing system: The Extraordinary Garden was like knitting a basic hat, from a tried and true pattern, but using an indulgent wool. You think it will be a steady, practical knit but the wool keeps it exciting and you finish it in one afternoon, more pleased with the final product than you expected.

And now, it would seem that I have some more reading to do.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

colour therapy

Tomorrow I go back to work after a two week, super-productive and yet entirely relaxing vacation. There is some trepidation though; the place that I left two weeks ago is no longer the same. The company I work for was bought by another last year and the deal became official just before the holidays. I hear that our company logo was taken off the building already last I will be stepping into something changed, something different, something I may or may not be ready for. But hey, that's just the way things go.

To help stay positive through this transition, I'm thinking about colour. The blog got a small update (I mean really, I've had the same colours for over two years!) and I knit up a colourful hat to wear tomorrow. I was totally inspired by this baby hat (and what a photo!) so I rounded up scraps of Misti Cotton, Fleece Artist Merino and Louisa Harding silk to make the above. Adding the pompom was key, and so much fun to do. The hat was completely experimental, so I'm pleasantly surprised by the good shaping and when I asked Sadie what we should call it, without hesitation she said "Perry Hat". Okay, so Perry Hat it is. And at the very least, whatever happens tomorrow, my head will be plenty warm.

Next up - painting the living room red. Seriously.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

family knitting

Just a quick catch up on some knitting projects. First, a scarf for Jay. I think I've finally convinced him he can wear light gray (we're stuck in a black thing around this house...even gray counts as infusing colour into our wardrobes). I used Lion Brand Cotton Ease because Jay's beard tends to wreck more natural fibres, and hey, it's totally cheap and pretty nice to work with. Next, the great bag my Mom crocheted for me this Christmas. It's sitting there in the photo packed full of wool she found for me and I love how stretchy it is. It's a great pattern and she did a fantastic job. Inside it is also a needle holder from Honeycake Designs, a lovely gift from Jay who was following my "Buy Handmade" pledge. Then, straight from the mother/daughter telepathic zone, here is the bag I knit my Mom for Christmas. I used Araucania wool, lined it with black denim and used handles found at Knitomatic.

Click clack, click clack.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


And by housework, I mean the good kind. Sure, we could be cleaning our bathroom this week or maybe pulling out a vacuum, but we're way more motivated to finish up some lingering projects. The back "cubby" off our kitchen was a god awful thing when we moved in and when I was on maternity leave Jay and a dear friend started to renovate it. Hilariously, we never squared anything up, but we sided it with cedar, drywalled the inside, painted the exposed brick and put a bunch of shelf brackets up so it could become our little Alice-In-Wonderland pantry. Unfortunately, we had a blocked eavestrough directly above and so sustained water damage soon after I painted the interior, and then raccoons took to eating the insulation Jay had put under the floor on the exterior. Fixing these two annoying problems became our numero uno procrastination reason for never getting back to the project. Fast forward to this fall; my Dad suggested Jay take the floor out and insulate above a masonite surface (take that raccoons!), we remembered the black and gray linoleum tiles sitting around (originally meant for our kitchen) which would really make the Alice thing work, and I had an urge to paint...anything. So now we're almost finished. As I type, Jay is working on more shelves (made from the tongue and groove floorbaords he salvaged from our attic - have I ever mentioned how industrious and talented my husband is?) and I have some quarter round to finish painting so the baseboards can get the final touch. The Shinzi fabric I've been coveting would be for me to make a curtain panel for the door. Even though it's not quite done, Jay spent some time this morning putting things on the shelves (he's a strange combination of skills - the handyman who also art directs). I'm so excited to have somewhere to display dishes we never get to see, like the polka dotted teacups and the Circa Ceramics bowl, and although you can't see it, the real highlight is that the microwave is on the other side and totally out of sight. All in all, we're pretty happy with it and feel like we almost have a real kitchen. Finally.

The last shot is just our table. With the new functionality in here we're going to try and keep the table empty so that it feels like a place people would actually sit and eat. The other night Jay gave the surface a sand, a new coat of stain and then I waxed it (which is suddenly our new favourite finish). Man, see how obsessed we are? And Jay suggested replacing the curtains with a roman blind of the Shinzi fabric...if I can get the Shinzi fabric. Anyway, that's how we spent our holidays and in a weird way it was relaxing. Though I have to admit, we're not the best at celebrating. There's always next year.