Tuesday, July 31, 2012

un nœud très vertueux

virtue is not left
to stand alone.
he who practices it
will have neighbors.

whenever someone watches me making french knots on a cloth, i am presented with either amazement or disdain. both responses leave me perplexed. i am told they are unstable, difficult to make, lack uniformity, and a host of other aspersions. but i believe that the humble french not is a very virtuous knot: un nœud très vertueux.

contrary to apparent popular opinion, the french knot in not unstable, is easy to make, and can be made quite uniformly. not to mention that, in my opinion, when you want to add a delicious texture to the surface of your cloth, there is no other embellishment that can compare to its bead-like appearance and soft, tactile sensation!

as in all things, you must practice a skill to acquire it, and you must continue to practice a skill in order to master it. fortunately, the french knot is actually quite easy to master. (remember, you can click on any of the photos to see an enlarged version of them and then use your back arrow on your browser to return to this page.)

to begin, make a knot at the end of your thread and bring the needle out at the chosen position.

hold the thread down where it emerges with the left thumb and encircle the thread twice with the needle, creating two wraps of thread around the needle working away from the place where the thread exited the cloth.

holding the thread firmly with your thumb, twist the needle back to the starting point and insert it right next to where the thread exited the cloth (do not go back through the exact place or you will simply pull the thread and knot back through the cloth) and pull the wraps snugly against where the needle is entering the cloth.

now, pull thread through cloth while still holding it firmly with your thumb until you are left with a small knot sitting gloriously on top of your cloth!

from here, you can continue making french knots for as long as your heart desires. just remember to secure the tail of the thread on the back side once you have made your last knot so it, too, will stay in place.

i hope this little tutorial helps those of you who might like to try making french knots. for inspiration, a quick google or flickr search will show you the endless possibilities is which they may be used!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

a thought or two on needles

while i love sewing all year 'round, i especially love sewing on long, sultry summer days. there is nothing quite like finding a shady spot down by the river and mindfully stitching away on a story cloth. the drowsy buzz of honey bees in the back ground, serenading the burbling shore side water. while i have a very sympathetic method of stitching and choosing materials, i have found that if you plan to do any hand stitching, you are going to want to cultivate an understanding of threads and needles and how they interact with cloth. this might sound silly and simplistic...but think about it. have you ever gone to the local sewing shop and been undeniably overwhelmed by the vast selection of threads and the arcane labeling of needles? i know i have.

i, personally, love to stitch with vintage needles and have virtually thousands of them to choose from (being an ardent collector). since i am not shy about describing the wonders of these coveted gems, i am frequently asked why i prefer vintage needles. are they stronger? made better? cheaper?

actually, they tend to cost more than modern needles...and i have not found them to be any better or inferior to new needles. however, i enjoy *connecting* with the tools of my trade every bit as much as i do with the salvaged and vintage cloths. they bear with them a mysterious history. a warmth of tradition. the imagination soars with the possibilities of what they may have seen before coming to my hand. what shelves or sewing baskets they may have resided in. what life's stories they may have bore witness to. for me, modern, new tools and cloths are cold and sterile by comparison. but, of course, i am a hopeless romantic...

for basic stitching, i prefer sharps of one size or another.  as the name implies, they have a very sharp point and are of a medium length (compared to other needles). they come in various sizes, notated from 1 to 10 with the larger the number being the thinner and smallest of needles. when choosing your needle, consider the cloth you intend to sew upon. the lighter the fabric, the smaller the needle you will want. you will quickly discover which needles are your favorites for which cloths.

for those of us who have trouble seeing, and thereby threading, sharps, a suitable substitution would be an embroidering needle. these are basically the same as sharps except that they have a much larger, elongated eye for threading, and come in sizes 1 through 10 as well. i nearly always choose these when stitching embroidery threads and salvage threads. unless, of course, i don't. ha!

about the only time i stitch with something other than vintage needles is when i am working an applique or stitching the binding on a quilted cloth. then i prefer a good straw (or milliner's) needle. of course, when i find a vintage one, i'm all over it...but more often than not, they are more difficult to find and so i use jeana kimball's straw needles. i get mine at the local sewing shop, but you can find them online as well if yours doesn't stock them (admittedly, you can usually find just about anything online...and probably cheaper...than locally...but we must remember to shop local whenever possible since it would be sad to see the demise of small, local businesses).  while these new needles are lacking any intriguing history (aside, perhaps, for being traditionally used for making hats rather than hand sewing cloth), they are quite long by comparison to sharps and embroidery needles, making them much easier to handle and to maneuver quickly through many layers of cloth. if you have never tried sewing with a straw needle, you owe it to yourself to experience them at least once!

i realize i have only covered a few of the many types and styles of needles available to the hand stitcher, however, these are the ones that i have the most experience with. i am not averse to trying other needles, and  do so quite regularly...but for my style of sewing, sharps, embroidery and straw needles are the most often found between my fingertips.

i hope this little discussion might have introduced you to new possibilities, new ways of thinking, or, at least, sparked a tiny intrigue of interest... for me, i'm going to head down to that river just as soon as the sun begins to rise this morning...


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

in the right light

in the right light,
at the right time,
everything is extraordinary.
-aaron rose

just continuing with yesterday's thoughts...and observing my surroundings. i am amazed as i watch them under the growing light of early morning...again in the bright light of mid-day...still again in the twilight of the setting sun...

in one light, the subtle nuances of an object is lost. in another light, the brightest colors are washed out and details are obliterated. but the change of light does not reflect a change in the object itself. the object remains the same. i think this holds true not only in art, but also in life.

my focus today is to look at my art...and life around me...with a new eye. one intent upon seeing what is there to see in all of its guises, regardless of the light that illuminates it. not with a goal towards judging the conditions...but merely to observe. and delight in all the facets of my environment! will you join me?


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

reverse sides

the reverse side
also has a reverse side.
-japanese proverb

i have been down with a very nasty cold this past week since returning from the burning plains of idaho. i don't know if it is because of all the smoke and ash in the air, or simply the unlucky exposure to some virus or bacteria that proved stronger than my immune system. either way, i have been provided some time between coughing and sleeping to contemplate. while thinking about the drawbacks of being ill for a time, i remembered this japanese proverb and began looking at the situation from a different vantage. one that is not necessarily viewed as being anti- or negative... not wrong or evil. simply *different*!

 i don't know why i hadn't thought of this before. "the reverse side also has a reverse side." of course! i use this to my advantage all the time in my art. using the reverse side of fabrics for a different shade or texture. discharging color from cloth and fiber with bleaching agents to reveal the reverse side of colors. studying the reverse side of embroideries to see what different shapes and avenues may be suggested. placing such things as knots on the side reverse to what is ordinarily thought of as the "usual" side to introduce new textures and designs. and so i am now looking at this cold, now slipping away, as the reverse side to my being healthy and  running about, sometimes aimlessly, and forgetting to be mindful of each step along the path of my life...

i see so much more right now. paths not taken that are waiting to be explored. activities that have pleasing reverse sides of non-activity. where i had originally sat down at my computer to apologize for not being around and actively posting this past week, i now find myself sharing an idea that was born in that inactivity and challenge you, gentle reader, to see the reverse side of your own reverse sides more often, and to be present to what you may find therein. you may be surprised!


Saturday, July 14, 2012

so long - hello again

i said "so long," to smoky idaho after a delightful two week stay with my folks. the state saw many a smoke-filled day and night as so many fires raged about the countryside, filling its skies with smoke and ash during my stay. by the end of my stay, both the saint and i were hacking and coughing...

such sights as these riddled my afternoon and evening drive across the state as i headed home.

the sights grew more fearsome as night fell across the land...and fires in the eastern part of the state still raged very close to the interstate. i wondered on occasion if the highway would be closed as there were several areas that had obviously been closed earlier in the week where the highway was scorched as badly as the countryside flanking it on both sides!

you can imagine how inviting the sunset was back home in montana this morning. the big sky was filled with crimson tinged clouds...but thankfully, notably absent of smoke and flame! the news was hopeful for idaho's fires today as rain began to fall. hopefully, it will not bring more lightening along with it... my parents are safely tucked in their little burgh outside of boise...though no one seems safe from the smoky fall-out of so many fires burning across the countryside. my thoughts and prayers are with all those in idaho (and in so many other places, such as parts of montana, colorado and others) who have been affected by these wildfires. too many have lost their homes and more...


Saturday, July 7, 2012

an amazing gift

my parents presented me with this most wonderful gift today! it was a custom, hand-built fly tying cabinet that my dad had bought some years ago from an elderly fisherman in washington on one of our trips. i believe he had the thought of using it for pursuing fly tying of his own. or perhaps to house his extensive vintage fishing lure collection. mom and i both fell in love with it. she thought to use it for organizing her art supplies on top of her table, but found it to be much too large for her use. as you can see, i am only too pleased to see it next offered to me!

as you can see, i've wasted no time whatsoever in putting it to use! of course, i only have a small amount of my stitching supplies along with me...but they've all found a drawer, ledge or nook to tuck themselves into and have left plenty of room for their cousins to come join in the fun when i get back home next week.

this is going to be awesome on my design table in the studio and will be extremely useful on trips and treks where my cloth-making projects tag along...


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

revisiting old roads

"only he that has traveled
the road knows
where the holes are deep."
-chinese proverb

these past several weeks have been filled with activity...but little creativity. a lot of cleaning, organizing and extra shifts at the cottage. now that i have started my much needed vacation, i find myself turning inward. contemplating life, art and the directions being taken in each...

i have realized that i am very good at starting things...but not necessarily so diligent about finishing them. this is not a new observation. but one that i have visited and revisited before. i have always believed this is because i enjoy the process most of all. and perhaps this is still true. but i have also found that there is a certain sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in actually finishing something as well. to this end, i have decided to focus on finishing things.

i'd like to say that i won't start anything until all incomplete projects are finished. but i know this won't happen. not because i am lacking in dedication...but because i know it is impossible to stopper the creative flow long enough to devote myself entirely to finishing every project in my work basket. besides, isn't it really about the act of creating and manifesting? it is in my studio. so i have decided to at least attempt to finished two projects before starting something new. in this way, i may find more cloths being fully realized.

one of the first i'd like to finish is this contemporary thangka. i had thought of incorporating it into a winter kimono but, after bringing him out to play again, i have realized that he wouldn't stand up to repeated washing as well as he will end up being rather stiff from the intense embroidery that is continuing to manifest. and really, i wanted him as a thangka in the first place and really have no reason to redirect that original vision... i've been sitting out by my parents' waterfall and stitching on mind flowers and can't think of a better way to spend quiet mornings while relaxing with family...