Wednesday, August 29, 2012

think less. do more. allow the possibilities.

it seems a lot of people are taking stock of our tendencies toward overthinking what we do. i know i have mentioned it before here on manhandled threads. but that doesn't always mean that we are good at following our own advice!

recently, dee mallon wrote a post called "don't think too much" over on her blog. it caused me to stop and take a look at how i've been overthinking my art once again. worrying about whether i'm creating too many unfinished projects. thinking about which ones i should complete next. should i finish them all before starting another...or create a well-thought out schedule to balance old and new project completion? as a wise bear once said: "think.... think.... think. think. think." and "oh bother!"

i really liked dee's idea of living with one's unmanifested art. or rather...with one's ongoing art. and her gentle way of allowing the piece to make suggestions even when you are not looking for them, like how her beautiful woven cloth spoke up and wanted to be an apron while she was taking a break from her stitching to allow a movie to end! while i don't have a lot of wall space in my tiny home, and what i do have is filled with art, folk instruments, antique masks from the ivory coast and the congo, and the like...but i do have a plethora of surfaces! it's time to dig some of those ongoing pieces and live with them on a more daily basis, rather then the odd stolen moments while digging through my project baskets or when i actually take the time to sit in my studio and gaze at my design wall. not that utilizing a design wall is a bad thing...but i am curious to see how taking a more active roll in actually living with my art will make a difference in its culmination.

if nothing else, it will be an interesting experiment in seeing how i function...


Tuesday, August 28, 2012


i thought i would take a little departure from the norm today and try posting an audio file.  i've received requests for a sample of some of my guitar playing and if this works out, then i will most likely start murmuring every now and again about my clothwork as well. hope y'all don't mind sittin' back and playin' the guinea pig for me...


Monday, August 27, 2012

sometimes found...

i've been thinking a lot about this ragged cloth lately. well, perhaps not immediately about the cloth itself, but about the emotion that seems to emanate from its fibers. there isn't anything particularly amazing about it. no fabulously wonderful fabrics were used. the crazy stitching is decidedly lacking in the "crazy" department as the creator used only two different stitches. even then, they were executed with a quiet innocence, not masterful skill. the backing is a dark flannel with little outstanding character. the batting too thick. rather than being beautifully quilted, it is plainly tied. there are chunks missing here and there as it was obviously used by someone else as a cutter. it is not an ugly cloth...but a decidedly...average...cloth.  marked  by its journeys and tribulations. tired. lost in a world that reveres youth, blind beauty, and skill.

oh, i'm sure that along the way this tattered cloth was was sometimes found by a kind heart or two. loved. allowed to embrace someone and bring comfort. provide warmth. just as it was also clearly used. abused. tossed on the floor. dragged about by uncaring fingers. put away in a musty trunk. forgotten again. later to be discarded. elated to be found once again by adoring eyes, only to find out those eyes harbored different ideas before cutting into its flesh with shears. tearing bits away from the cloth's filament to be repackaged into something else. distorted. the admiration aborted now that it was no longer whole.

truth be told, even i cast a speculative gaze upon this cloth with thoughts about how i might chop it up and utilize its lingering simple grace in something new. different. had given thought to what might not be salvageable for my own ends and what to do with the remains. but found this cloth to be filled with a gentle whispering. and, listening to these murmurings, can no longer bring myself to malign its nature further. this cloth deserves love and honor for its own sake. not for what i or anyone else can turn it into. there are plenty of other cloths about that would...and will...rejoice at being re-imagined. re-invented. re-purposed. but not this cloth. this cloth has integrity and wishes to continue to love and provide warmth.

i will listen closely. divine its yearnings and allow it to be what it longs to be. help it realize these dreams where i can. honor its life and will be simply be.

i understand this cloth more than you might know. as we travel through this life, there is an affinity residing between those things that wind their way into our lives and our own hearts... i wonder if i will some day be afforded a similar place in someone's life? honored. loved. allowed to be as i am. cherished for who that is...

isn't it odd where hope can be sometimes found...


ed. note:  8/27 - 9:30 a.m.:  

gah! obviously, i need to stop watching romantic comedies and listening to adelle while working these long, lonely night shifts! ha!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

buddhist moon?

i've been playing around with a minor mixture of free-motion machine embroidery and hand embroidery on some scraps intended to become a greeting card for a friend with wildwood affiliations, and since there is a blue moon mounting in a few days, it seems to have become a focal point in this little dalliance. why the coneflowers decided to join the party in deep indigo frocks is beyond my understanding. ha!

meanwhile, another friend was asking me why i have such a strong affiliation with lunar cycles and with full and new moons in particular. she seemed to be under the misunderstanding that this sort of "stuff" was for pagans and so forth. but to buddhists, there is special "religious" significance especially on full moon days as many important and outstanding events are said to have occurred on these days. the buddha (referring to the gautama buddha) was born on a full moon day. his renunciation took place on a full moon day. his enlightenment, the delivery of his first sermon, his passing into nibbana, and many other important events associated with his 80 year lifespan all took place on full moon days. because of this, buddhists around the world tend to look more intently at their own spirituality and practice on full moon days. in many buddhist countries, full and new moon days were once declared to be public holidays. in some, this practice is gaining popularity once more.

of course, i live in a country with a very diverse spiritual and cultural panorama so i doubt i shall be getting a day off work every 14 days anytime in the near future. ha! but i still enjoy marking the cycles of the moon and the moon has a prominent place in my art and consciousness. perhaps it's time for me to revisit rabbit moon for the next few days...


Thursday, August 23, 2012

rediscovering my surroundings

for the past several months, i've realized that i have been nowhere except the cottage where i work and home. for fourteen to sixteen hours a day, i've been inside at work, and the rest of the short days have been spent either travelling between home and work, or in bed, attempting to catch up on my sleep. it is no small wonder why i have been creatively blocked lately.

this week i am seeing for the first time in months, my regularly scheduled work hours...without overtime or team meetings! this means i actually have three days off in a row!! having spent yesterday catching up on much needed sleep, i decided to take a ride around town and share with you the wonderful place in which i live.

billings is the largest and most populated city in montana. it serves as the regional trade center, transportation base, and medical hub. billings is nestled in a valley at the foot of four mountain ranges and is sheltered by a sandstone rim that runs pretty much straight through the entire town and nourished by the yellowstone river.

these views are from the top of the rims, alongside the airport. as you can see, the city stretches out for what seems forever under the big sky of montana. though our idea of a "big city" differs, i'm sure, from what most people think of as one, seeing as our population hovers around a meager 84,000+ residents. fortunately for us, this gives billings a wondrous small-town sense of safety and country friendliness not available in what most folks think of as a "big city." it's a place where vast ranches and lush farmland mix comfortably with tall office buildings (granted, there are only a few), and where horse trailers can be seen as frequently as diesel buses. we boast the finest of medical facilities in the four state area, museums, landmark attractions, symphony, opera, local theater, fine dining and more.

as beautiful as all this is, i have decided, however, to live outside the city's limits. in all my travels, i've had my fill of big cities and enjoy living on the outskirts...affording me the opportunities of a big city, but the quiet of the country at the same time. fifteen miles outside of town, just a short stroll down the road from my house, the countryside opens up into vast farmland, currently planted predominantly with corn.

jumping on the back of my vintage kawasaki and the short ride of a mile or two and these farms begin to give way to ranches...

though, closer to home, you are more likely to find small farms and pastures...

so i am surrounded by natural beauty, gorgeous countrysides, and innumerable opportunities for inspiration! i only have to get outside and soak it up! somewhere, i lost this focus. i used to spend countless hours walking along side the yellowstone river. riding the old bike out into the country, exploring roads that i had not yet been down. walking downtown, watching people and soaking up the historical offerings of an old western town. recording thoughts in spoken word on my ipod and sketched ideas in my art journal. or just taking my guitar up on the rims or out into the countryside and noodling around on the strings while the dogs romp and play without fences to hinder them. instead, i've allowed myself to be boxed in by walls. but today, with you along for the journey, i've begun to break out of those walls and rediscover my surroundings!

thank you for joining me...


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

10 things you don't know about me

i have been rather quiet this past week.  not because i felt like neglecting all y'all...i've just been really focused on the restoration and modification of my kawasaki and didn't realize i haven't blogged in several days!
i know i've got some new readers, so i thought it might be fun to share 10 things you probably don't know about me.

1.  aside from fiber art, i'm also a woodworker. i used to turn lacemaking bobbins (mostly east midlands style) on my mini-lathe. i also like to whittle and carve...and i enjoy making rustic furniture from salvaged barn and other wood!

 2.  i collect and play musical instruments. i have 16 mountain dulcimers, 4 guitars, 3 ocarinas, 2 doumbek drums, a german zither, a lyra harp, and a chord organ (not including various assorted indigenous african and east indian percussive instruments such as rattles, chimes, etc.). i am currently focusing on blues style guitar. i was also given a lovely harmonica by my father on my last trip home, which i do not yet play, but intend to learn some day.

 3.  i spin and have recently reduced my spinning wheel collection down to one 114 year old swiss castle wheel, one 100+ year old oversized prairie wheel, one 6 year old custom charka wheel made by my ex, and several assorted drop spindles. i really love spinning, though have not had much time lately to do so which is why i have sold off my 4 other wheels. i hope to have time to spin again in the future.

 4.  i love to weave and have several looms. my favorite forms of weaving are rug-weaving and tapestry. i have recently divested myself of several larger looms and will be selling some of my table looms shortly due to space constrictions. one day i hope to have a full-sized garage again so i can begin weaving scandinavian rag rugs again on my old union no.36 rug loom.

5.  i am an avid wool-gatherer. not so much as in one who goes out and gathers wool that has been snagged on shrubs and bushes...but as in one who spends a tremendous amount of time thinking...gathering thoughts and pondering upon them. yes. it's true...i think. a lot.

6.  i *adore* all things japanese! you wouldn't guess it by my home at the moment as most of my japanese treasures are tucked away in storage. though you can find bits and pieces of my collections scattered throughout the house. a kimono here. a kwan yin there. a vintage cricket cage or two over yonder ( those are chinese!). japanese paddle puppets on the wall in the sewing room... you get the idea. wondrously odd little snippets of my passion mixed in unexpectedly amongst a house full of rustic cottage decor!

 7.  i absolutely *refuse* to go out in public without first taking at least a shower, shaving, brushing my teeth, and putting on cologne.  not so much because i'm trying to impress anyone or because i'm prissy. those who know me, know i'm far from that! but because it makes me feel good. finished. ready to "meet the world".  i'm hardly a coiffed and manicured type...i tend to be a bit more rough around the edges rugged...but i do like to be clean and presentable. given my interest invintage motorcycles and tattoos, this frequently surprises people.

 8.  i really detest talking on the phone. i prefer texts, emails and tweets to talking on a phone. and more often than not, if i do use the phone and get voicemail, i'm highly unlikely to actually leave a message! i detest talking to machines even more than i do on phones!

 9.  if i could live anywhere in the world, it would be somewhere high in the mountains of japan in a small village overlooking terraced farms of one sort or another. i love ancient japanese architecture and the quiet, respectful culture of outlying villages that have not been westernized beyond recognition.

 10.  i am ambidextrous. admittedly my handwriting as written by my left hand is not as neat as my right, but mostly because i don't write left-handed very often and so my left hand is out of practice. however, i eat, use tools, open doors, play tennis, fence, shoot, and so on, with both hands equally.

 so, there you are. i hope this provided a little window or two into my world and helped you to know what makes me tick a little better.  or perhaps just to present you with that elusive "aha!" moment as you read my blog and suddenly realize why i do things the way i do!


Monday, August 13, 2012


i've been pondering over the subject of this new venture. sketching ideas. entertaining the possibilities. unfortunately, this is where i usually find myself going astray. possibilities are limitless. a world without limitation may as well be a vacuum for the mind boggles and quits the task at hand in favor of watching ants toiling away at leaves...or any other simple scene that will take away the enormity of choices presented to it. to this end, i have chosen a buddha as my subject for this first large piece. it seemed fitting as the primary smaller piece i've been continuing with is the modern thangka, mind flowers (here).

it has been easy for me to observe my own tendency to become stricken with fear whenever i begin a new project. first there is the spark of inspiration. a moment that is filled with promise and joy and wonder! this, naturally, is my favorite moment in creating art. next is the exploration of the idea. here is where i begin to get bogged down. sometimes even abandon all hope of ever manifesting my original thought. but when i am able to muddle my way through this stage, the road begins to open once again and space is created for the inspiration to manifest. of course, this is an oversimplification for there are many other pitfalls along the way: boredom, overthinking, derailment by other ideas, etc.  i think i have come through that first hurdle with this particular project...

i have decided upon the blue sketch in the middle. i would love to say that there were cheers from the peanut gallery, or more grandly, symphonic strains of violins in the clouds, heralding a miraculous choice... and perhaps there were, somewhere in my imagination. but in a more consensual reality, i decided that i liked the simplicity of line and the quiet mood of the sketch. i know there is nothing spectacularly different about this sketch...but i want to be able to explore the foundation of this piece and allow the personality of salvaged cloth to define this element. to not lose the character of the cloth to the subject, so to speak.

now to begin burrowing through cloth and thread. here is the second pitfall to which i alluded. unfortunately, i have seemingly limitless choices in this department as well...and so i must keep my wits about me and make definitive choices so as not to get lost in the sea of salvaged cloth in my studio. ha!


Thursday, August 9, 2012

contemplating toes

maybe it's the strange weather we've been having in these parts...or maybe i'm just growing restless for change of some kind. so i've been contemplating my toes a lot lately. letting the thoughts ebb and flow as they will. amongst these thoughts have been those of the many cloths that i have floating around the studio. do i hold fast to my self-pledge to finish them up before moving on to another? this has been a question that has plagued my mind for some time now. the anal-retentive bit of my brain is screaming in agony at the thought of what i might do in that arena. ha! and scream it may...

another perspective on this issue, which i know many of you struggle with as well, is whether it serves our creative need to shackle ourselves to these whims. through many hours of toe contemplation, i have found a different vantage point from which to look. it seems to me that these cloths will get done. some day. but i need to let go of their insistence and allow them to be what they are. exercises in technique and idea. from this place flows a quiet knowing that seems to allow the creative flow more latitude. i can feel an opening. a spaciousness that was not present whilst chained to the notion that these exercises...these studies...must be completed before progress can be made. i can almost hear the masters chuckling as sheaves of incomplete studies of form and design are tucked into drawers and folios to be forgotten until generations to come drag them out and tack them up on studio walls, exclaiming "genius!"

listening, then, to the creative muse whispering within, i find myself digging through the studio. closets. storage bins. exploring. hearing. and i am beginning to put together a few ideas. i feel the need to work large. perhaps even LARGE! to incorporate skills and techniques culled from years of exploration. paints. paper perhaps. dyes. metals. ephemera. beads. threads.

the seed that is germinating is suggesting some form of figure study. on a grand scale. in cloth and pigment. defined in thread and stitch. augmented with other media. perhaps a single piece. or a series. it all sounds so lofty and ambitious. too ambitious? let's hope not. but i am gathering. formulating. will begin sketching and planning. or not...and allow it to simply manifest. does this all sound too mysterious? i do not mean to be...perhaps it is just that an idea is much more difficult to convey than the manifestation of that idea. so we will just have to wait and see what begins to rise from this mist...

meanwhile, there is time for contemplating toes...and allowing.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

a treadle and a crank

i've been asked to whisper a little more about my treadle  machine and why it has such a prominent place in my heart when it comes to sewing machines. if you know me at all, then you know that i have too many sewing machines. ha! is there such a thing? actually, it isn't as bad as it sounds. i know people who literally have hundreds of machines and don't think twice about it. however, i prefer to live smaller than that and would have no place to sleep if i had that many machines. at last count, i believe it was only 6 or 7 machines, ranging from a high-end, newfangled computerized pfaff on down to a little toy singer lock stitch machine!

one of my "go to" machines is an old treadle singer machine that has travelled half way across the world to live with me.  i purchased it at a yard sale in duarte a couple decades or so ago from a woman who purchased it in cairo several years before immigrating to california.  it was originally made in england, according to serial number records and has a lovely sphinx decal set. when i purchased it, it had been set into a reproduction treadle stand as the previous owner had to replace the original after it fell over in one of many earthquakes in that area and had become damaged. i have since acquired a wonderful, vintage oak cabinet and relocated the treasured machine into happy new digs!

i really enjoy sewing with my treadle machine as there is something nearly mystical about it. the rhythmic rock of the treadle is soothing and the hiss hiss of the leather belt turning the wheel is near hypnotic.  this machine and i have a long history together as it first came to live with me back in the 80's when i was making artist teddy bears. many a bear has come to life under its wondrous needles. since then, it has helped me create dolls, quilts, rugs, costumes and clothes. now it focuses on slow cloth and salvage re-invention garments.

one of the benefits of sewing with a treadle machine is that thicker, tougher fabrics can be sewn in many layers! since you are basically stepping on the needle by stepping on the treadle, so long as you have a good strong needle in place, you can really push through some of the thickest layers of denim, duck and canvas!

yes, yes. i could sew more quickly with the computerized machine. i could incorporate several hundred decorative stitches. my studio could be filled with the brassy beep beep of electronics. in truth, it is...but usually only when burning out a baby quilt or other gift that needs to appear post haste!  but my heart stays with the treadle. as i rock its gears into play, i can almost hear it whisper stories of past dressmakers and designers it and its forebears has known... there really is no substitute for this sort of connection, and this way i get to utilize the tool known as a sewing machine, but still feel a close tie to history.

however, if you would like to meet my deepest desire when it comes to sewing machines...then you want to shake cranks with this little gem! this baby is a treadle machine that has been mounted into a bentwood portable cabinet and fitted with a hand crank. now...i can already hear the groans as you begin contemplating the nature of this machine and its operation. coordination?!? you mean, you have to be coordinated?!?

yes. you do need to develop a little coordination to work this machine since you must crank the wheel with one hand while directing the cloth being sewn with the other hand. but it really isn't as complicated as it sounds. believe me...i am not one who can pat his head and rub his belly at the same time...but this machine truly is a breeze to operate!

why would i want to jump through so many hoops to sew with a hand cranked machine? it is as near to hand stitching as one can get with a sewing machine. it is extremely accurate as you have complete control of the machine. as well as it speeds the sewing process up a bit...

ever wonder how the kuna indians of panama turn out so many wondrous molas? yes, a great many of them are done as they have been traditionally created...each painstakingly hand-stitched!

however, they are not always stitched by hand. hand cranked sewing machines have been around for over 100 years and they have been put to good use by the kuna indians, chinese, malaysians, indonesians, europeans, eurasians and more!

lest you think that reverse applique by hand crank machines is an anomaly, the treadle machine has a long, time honored tradition of being used by masterfully skilled hands (and feet!) of embroiderers across the globe! i have seen amazing examples of traditional clothing bathed in embroidery that would boggle the mind when one stops and realizes that it was all created by hand....on a machine!

read one woman's recollections of her grandmother's "precision, control and skill in manouevring her embroidery hoops back and forth under the steady up-down-up-down of the [old treadle] machine needle" (and see other examples along with examples of hand-manipulated cut-work embroidery done on treadle machines) on her blog here. i dream of one day developing a fraction of the skill her grandmother had!

still can't believe it? watch a treadle machine in action here!

i hope now you may understand my passion for remembering and re-incorporating sewing machines into the process of cloth-making. when we are able to shift our perception and realize that the machine is merely another tool, then all sorts of possibilities open up to us! i personally tend more toward manually operated machines such as the treadle and hand crank machines since i feel i still have total control over the stitches i am making with the machines. however, i am open to the possibility that more modern, electric and computerized machines are simply another extension of these tools. but for now, i am loving my treadle and hand crank machines all over again!


Monday, August 6, 2012

of two minds...

we've been having a very hot summer this year, with temperatures in the upper 90's day after day. then, unexpectedly, we had one day of mid-60's temps and rain showers. it was a wondrous day...and now safely tucked away in memory as the temps have climbed back into the stifling upper 90's once again. but this dichotomy in the weather brought to mind another dichotomy, only in a different arena.

my style has changed drastically over the years. i have listened, and even participated in, many discussions as to the superiority of hand stitching vs. machine stitching in art cloth. i have seen countless examples supporting either argument. digested thousands of explanations for each. have even found myself sharing one side's...then the other's point of view. then this odd shift in weather got me to thinking... is there truly any reason why the two can not exist in harmony together?

yes, the majority of my cloth work these days have been generated in "traditional" slow-cloth the result of innumerable hours of painstaking hand-stitching, with only occasional dips into the guilt-ridden use of  one of my sewing machines to cobble together long seams more quickly. and while it is true that i really like the extra texture and element of a hand-stitched seam in much of my work, there really is no reason why i can't slough off the guilt of incorporating machine driven stitches into my cloth. after all, most of the fabrics that have been harvested for my creations have been machine loomed in a factory somewhere. machine sewn to create garments. many of these salvaged machine-made seams and elements find their way into my art cloths.  so why am i so hesitant to form my own machine-made stitches? guilt? most likely....but guilt over what? it seems silly and naive to feel guilt for using a tool at my disposal. would i feel guilt for using a vacuum to clean my floors rather than the time-honored tradition of gathering fallen branches and sweeping what dirt i can from my floors with twigs? of course not!

one of my new focus points in cloth-making is now going to include being mindful of the tools that i use in their creation. this includes the sewing machine! this being said, i am still more likely to use the machine more often for long, tedious seams and so forth as i truly love handmade stitches. but i am going to not hide machine made stitches as though they were the work of some evil entity attempting to corrupt the purity of my art!

besides, it is not as though i don't have a variety of machines to choose from, including everything from a treadle and a hand crank machine on up to a newfangled computerized machine that does everything for me but brew my morning coffee! granted, my passion for the past and the history of things leads me more often than not to the treadle machine in my studio...or out under a shady branch with my hand crank singer than to the computerized pfaff purchased in a fit of machine envy back in my days of working in quilt shops...but i am in need of finding myself being more present in the choices of my tools. more present...and less judgmental... and hope that this might inspire others to look more closely at irrational beliefs they might be holding close to heart and find peace in their dissolution...