Friday, December 31, 2021


as for everyone, it's been busy days here...

I do love this time between Christmas and New Years though, the days slip by in a relaxed, easy kind of way

the first few are spent tidying away the remnants of  wrapping and decorating: snippets of paper and ribbon, ornaments that have lost their hangers, stacks of books that needed to be moved to make room for company, etc. etc.

the last two have been spent organizing my studio, preparing for what comes next

I'm still working on my Christmas ledger, snatching moments of time here and there, laying out page compositions only to sweep them aside and try again

the latest one was a title page for the trees... Christmas trees, of course, but also trees of the winter forest 

I found a vintage Christmas card, one of a half-dozen I bought in an antique store in Burnaby about ten years ago - they will all find their way to these pages eventually, but for now, this one has found a home

I also sorted out all the green embroidery thread I use the most and have been grouping them and wrapping thread cards to add in the days and weeks to come as I do yet more stitch samples

in the meanwhile, I had a few samples I had begun of poinsettia's that I wanted to work on... thinking about greenery, inspired by this small tag...

plain outline sketches, templates, ideas for stitching petals and leaves - I can't stitch as fast as the ideas come but at least I'm creating a place to record them

the challenge is not to get too precious about the samples but once I start one I have this notion that it has to be "right"... so I ask myself,  is this meant to be a record of the development of the idea, or the culmination? 

for the one above, the plan is to stitch a different piece of greenery in the spaces between the petals to illustrate varying options... below is a sample where I want fabric leaves but the linen/cotton fabric is too dark of a green for my liking and the leaves, too "predictable" so I am going to remove them... the next choices are below - pale sage greens, right side or wrong? 

these are the decisions, and ultimately, the samples, that I am continually revising

what I know for sure is I love the petals done this way and I'm pretty happy with the centre though I think it needs to be more open - I want to sample a variety of threads for centres so I'm working on a plan for that, both the doing and the presentation

I'm enjoying this work very much, it's a nice way of easing back into making but it is also nice to finally be continuing on with some of these stitched samples that have been kicking around for many, many years 

I'll be working on it all through the year I think, getting what I already have safely attached and developing some of the ideas further

I'll leave you now, with best wishes for the year ahead...

so many of the struggles of the old year will be continuing on into the new, there's no magic re-set button for any of it or any of us but I look forward to it just the same... optimistic, realistic, accepting, and determined to do better... seems like a lot of contradictions in terms but I suppose I'm like that

peace and goodwill to all of you

and a heartfelt thank you for being here

Saturday, December 4, 2021

ever present

for as long as I can remember, making things for Christmas has been my favourite 

I love everything about it and every year I am inspired anew

a grey folder has been home to various templates and a pile of drawings, lists of thread colours and stitching notes... in another basket is a small stack of stitch samples

the other day, sifting through it all, I thought it might be nice to gather it all together and put it into a book... 

a Christmas ideas book

I began with the snowflakes

a stitch sample I made a couple of years ago

threads I've used for them plus this year's woad

several months ago I bought a journal made of khadi paper 
 I had been wanting khadi paper for a different stitching project but it was sold out on every website I looked at except one that had journals... the price was comparable to a package of paper of the same size so I shrugged and thought why not? 

easy enough to take apart 

but then it arrived and was far too beautiful to do any such thing

glad of that now as it's the perfect book for this

below, a page from the book torn into four pieces, one each for sampling stitch, sketch, script and watercolour

I've only ever stitched on khadi paper so I need to test my paint and pens to see what works and what doesn't 

more stitching and samples of cardstock

next is sketching, a pattern page and some quotes and phrases

planning has begun on the pages for trees

there are so many ways to stitch them - these are just a few of the ways I've done them over the years

looking at them, thinking about what it would look like if I stitched them as forest, had me remembering these words from the poem by Robert Frost, which led me to a notebook of Christmas and winter quotes, phrases, and poems, copied out in calligraphy twenty-two odd years ago whilst taking a course in calligraphic writing

I'm tired of having things scattered around the studio, having to search here and there to find them when I need them

the inspiration pile is growing by the minute as I remember bits of stationery, vintage Christmas cards, gift tags I've saved for years

it'll be nice to have one place for all of it

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

a change of pace

a change of pace in more ways than one... I'm moving pretty slowly these days, 
keeping pace with a chatty 2 1/2 year-old boy... 

our little grandson

mommy and daddy are working from home, and with another little one arriving soon I'm in Calgary to help out

these are indeed the best of times

whilst he power naps for two hours in the afternoon I'm amusing myself with making things like this...

a giant pom-pom

lighter than air, fluffy white yarn to make this pom-pom that will sit astride this:

0 - 3 months size knitted hat with tiny pink hearts
(thank heavens for jumbo yarn!)

I've never been a great knitter but thanks to YouTube and some well written patterns I'm doing OK and actually enjoying myself.

Next up is one with a little blue truck for the little man...

I did bring a stack of art supplies with me so will have other things to post as time allows but for the next month I may not follow my usual routine of posting on the weekends - there are stories to read and games to play, towers to build and trucks to crash!

Sunday, September 26, 2021

what you want and what you get...

running along a narrow woodland path, feinting left and right and left again, dodging tree roots and the child that was chasing me, I slipped in the red-brown mud and landed on my knees... in my brand new white pants

I was eight and my best friend was chasing me and my mom was... well, I'm sure you can figure that part out for yourselves

then there was the time I got grass stains on my nearly new blue pants

colours of the earth that would not let go

I think of those two anecdotes every time I hear people talk about natural dyes and the challenges of getting permanent colour that cannot be washed away... I say ask a child

when I learned plants can be used for natural dyeing I was most intrigued and have experimented over the years

I do it in the most unscientific ways... reading books and searching information on the internet, my approach tends to be along the lines of whatever seems simple

mostly I follow the instructions but I don't let details hold me back - if I don't have something I try and figure out a substitute
sometimes it works, sometimes not

and I rarely write down what I do

mostly because I'm too busy doing it, then I have to adjust it, usually a second time, and then fiddle with something else unforeseen and by that time I've either forgotten the order of things or it's been such a hassle I'd never want to repeat it regardless of the results

usually though it's because I would rather start new each time and discover something different

my latest adventure with woad falls into the process being too long and convoluted to ever want to repeat

it all started on Monday afternoon when I picked the woad and began the pigment extraction, my goal being a nice pile of dark blue pigment to make watercolour paint with

when I got to the point of pouring the mixture into large jars to let the pigment settle I was pretty pleased with the initial results - it was a beautiful dark indigo blue and had a thick feel to it which made me hopeful

two days later there was no pigment at the bottom of the jars... none

I hadn't tested for the acid/alkali level as I had no litmus paper so the next day I went to the drugstore but it was almost $40.00 so I left it there thinking I would just add a bit more soda ash and see what happened 

I did that to all but the one small jar I had already been working with - it was out of sight so got missed... you know where this is going right???

anyway, soda ash added, nothing

Thursday I dipped paper in the beautiful blue liquid and got what you see below

pale green...

I gave up on that and added a chemical that you can use for dyeing with woad if you don't want to do a fermented vat (which I did not)

now darker green on one paper, pale blue on another... same pot, same dye - in fact, I only had one dye-pot and everything you see here came from it except the paper in the very first picture and the last two

then multiple dips of the paper used that yielded the green above

now I had mottled blue and green

(I have an additional 8 - 10 pieces of dyed paper ranging from pale to deep blue)

 on to thread

the one in the middle was one dip, the one on the left, two dips and the one on the right was three dips

same dye-pot, done one after another, stirring between each dip

the three on the left below were one dip, the one on the right two dips

then they were put in water with rust-vinegar added 

after the thread came fabric...

the one on the left was one dip, cotton

the right is two dips, linen

the next two are pale, green on the left and blue on the right
(the colours of these are all darker than they appear here - it's the dullest, most drab day here so hard to get a good photo)

these were the last as it seemed the dye was exhausted by then

I poured the contents of the pot back into the jar, just to see what happen and by morning there was 1/4" of grey-green pigment at the bottom of the jar

I decided to "wash" it (siphon off the dirty water and add distilled water, repeating through the course of a day or two until the water you siphon off is clear)

it was then I found the first jar, pushed to the back of the counter, hiding behind the mixer

clear water with a little bit of dark blue pigment at the bottom

I'm still shaking my head

today I made watercolour paint with both

greyish green and dark blue

if I'd not mucked around I would have got exactly what I wanted and this post would have one image and I'd have a nice tidy pile of dark blue pigment but thanks to a dyeing misadventure I have a pile of papers, fabrics and threads in many colours along with two colours of paint

I'm amazed at the colour range that came out of that one pot, how some things took it so differently from others

and very, very pleased that it's all colour-fast

this kid's still got it!

Saturday, September 18, 2021

more or less

I had an idea a while ago to make books

and from that came another idea -  make boxes for said books

and because whenever I make two things that have to work together, and that never works out as it should, I spent a bit of time thinking about what should come first, the box or the books?

in the end I thought it would be easier to make the books to fit the box - books I know, boxes not so much

the box first then

I pieced together fabrics for the box cover and am now adding some stitch - not a lot, a few additions to plainer pieces of cloth, texture only

I began with feather stitch, thinking how lovely that would be but as I stitched the rows, I got about half-way through one of them and began to think it might look better done differently

something not so dense - actually, something not so complete

I sat and looked at it for a long time, not sure exactly what I wanted, a few ideas floating around, far enough on the horizons of my mind they were just too vague to make sense of at 9:30 in the evening

the next morning my thinking, though still rather vague, began to expand

I thought it would be a good idea to do some sketching, and perhaps even some stitch sampling to try to sort out what it seemed I might be thinking so I found a small sketchbook that had empty pages still

in flipping through it I familiarized myself with some work I had done last year that was centred on a theme of weathered wood

as I had progressed through various design ideas I began to think about how you can see a whole tree in a branch, in a leaf, in a pine cone...

the drawing below came from that

weathered, worn wood that was once a tall green tree

water and wind take their toll

the strips below developed from that thinking, the form taken from the wood, the embellishments, the sky and the earth... and of course the water

below, a page of tiny drawings extracted from the marks on two pieces of driftwood from the Yukon

I was thinking that in a way these marks form tiny maps of the wood's journey from a tree or branch, complete with bark and leaves, to what I held in my hand

a form of subtraction

I turned back to my stitching, picked up a pair of scissors and made a cut... pulled out some stitching, when I liked how it looked I stopped and tied off the ends

and then I did it again

and again

there are so many ways I could take this... my mind overflowing, fragmented images flowing through one after another, how to catch them before they slip away

I've got paper for sketching and linen for stitching and I'm ready to start

it's the strangest feeling, standing on the edge of excitement

Saturday, September 11, 2021

this week...

this week was a week of lists

I have list issues... some days my ambitions are too grand for the time available and I get frustrated with seemingly accomplishing very little - other days the lists are too "thin"; either not enough tasks or not thought through...  whatever it is, I find I'm busy all day but there's hardly anything to cross off 

then there are the days that I write a list, thinking it through in a fairly detailed way and then I ignore it completely and get into something that occupies me for the rest of the day

yesterday was that day

whilst moving things from my work table so I could make said list I noticed my brand new pen nibs, just arrived from England

they came as an "assortment" so I needed to identify each and search for the description online so I would know whether it was for drawing, calligraphy/script, flexible or not, fine or extra-fine, and so on

but then how to store them? 
I wanted a system that would not be cumbersome, easy to get one out and put it away, and they definitely needed to labelled

I thought an envelope system might be ok but a chance image on Google that popped up whilst doing my searches led me on a website hop that finally ended with a very ingenious idea for pointed (dip) pen nib storage so that's where yesterday and today went, regardless of any list

a few pieces of cardboard and paper later...

a 3" x 4" flip "book" storage case

the cardboard is cut so the corrugation openings run vertically - they are perfect for sliding the end of a nib in

taped together, they flip easily to reveal each layer labelled with the number/name of each nib along with the category and manufacturer

I'm so thrilled with it - it takes up hardly any space at all and makes identifying and accessing the nibs a breeze 

it's perfectly clever! 

I've already decided I need a mini version for travel so I'm working on that design now but it occurred to me as I was writing this it might be a good way of storing paint brushes while travelling as well


the other thing that has impacted my list-discipline these days pertains to book-binding

I am making pages for books - I have several ideas but am beginning with pieced pages sewn together with the sewing machine

so many bits and pieces of paper tucked away here and there... I bumped into all of them whilst searching out cardboard and paper for the nib holder and decided something had to be done

not every page in a book will be a "manufactured" one, just a few tucked in here and there, almost like dividers in a way - that's the plan today anyway

I began with stitched strips

thinking about cattails, again

and again

one simple strip - debating...

more strips with lots of tiny hand-stitches... 

right now I know I'm over-thinking them but I'm hoping eventually I will make the decisions in a quicker more intuitive, less dithering kind of way

to make it easier on myself I'm going to make pages based on themes, the first being water, hoping that will give me direction and a guiding light to follow, especially needed as there somewhere in the vicinity of 300-400 scraps of paper spilling out of drawers and cupboards

it's either use them or figure out how to store them

there goes tomorrow's list...

Saturday, September 4, 2021

it's always something...

it seems one thing has always led to another in that studio of mine,

over and over and over again...

within the ink-making workshop I took recently, there was some discussion about writing set-up and ink safety, of the spillage kind

one suggestion was to put your ink bottle in the centre of a decent-sized ramekin - that way, if the bottle was inadvertently knocked over, the ink would be contained 

I thought that a very clever idea, which led me to wonder about other suggestions, knowing full well there would most likely be some very creative ideas

before I could even type that in to a search engine, I wandered up to my studio to have a look at some vintage ink bottles I bought many years ago

the first has a nice wide base and a narrow neck, hard to tip and a nice controlled area for dipping the nib... it just looks too nice with beads stored in it, and then what would I put them in?

the next doesn't seem like it would be quite as stable

and then of course, it holds my special buttons...

when I finally did do an online search a number of images of antique inkwells appeared, some on eBay and Etsy... an hour later and I'd found myself a beaten and battered wooden tray with two "broken" crystal ink bottles

it arrived in short order, most definitely looking a little worse for wear

the crystal bottles themselves weren't broken, it was the brass lids that had issues

I think originally they were a hinged lid - but all that remained was the rings around the neck, one of which was no longer attached and disintegrating... the image below is from the Etsy listing

an hour of polishing the brass, removing the broken neck-piece and a lucky find of the perfect sized cork stopper and it looked like this...

the bottle on the left holds tiny salt spoons, the perfect size for stirring my pigmented inks

the one on the right contains iron-gall ink

indentations at the front and back are for pen holders and/or nibs

if you look very closely at the base of the bottles you'll see brass holders - they're about 1/2" high and there are four, the perfect way to prevent spillage

making ink and using a dip pen have been two of the most thought-provoking things I have done in a long, long time

a deep connection to what came before, a time when the act of writing was both an experience and a privilege 

I find I pay more attention to how I write, the forming of the letters, noticing nuances of line like never before

the sound and feel of the paper also have an impact on the experience but the very best part, my most favourite thing is at the end of the page, before turning to the next, is carefully pressing the last few lines with blotting paper

 this paper could perform many more blots but I see such possibilities in these marks as they are, the remnants of words not yet hard and fast on the page 

a metaphor of sorts?

 a lightening of the intensity, of words that have tumbled fast and furious from the pen

after all, that is what my morning writing practice is meant to do

could the act of blotting be the final release?

on the other hand, this paper represents fragments of words, snatched from sentences, page after page of thought and musing...  tangled thought, layered over time

it is as much of me as the filled pages in the book 

I feel the stirring of something, a shift in perspective... I'm still knee-deep in making books but now with the added layer of their relationship to the act of writing 

and the words they contain

and with that shift, a new body of work beginning to take shape 

Monday, August 30, 2021

a coming together

slowly but surely things are happening

you cannot rush book-making, not if you want a good result; a book that is flat with neat, even pages takes time... every step of the way the components have to be pressed under weight until they are perfectly dry or warping will happen

the first one here is a new structure for me, one I learnt in a course on Domestika, an online learning site with myriad courses, very reasonably priced, though often in a foreign language

this one is in Spanish but there are subtitles and terrific camera angles

and by the time the class finished I was developing a good command of Spanish terms for book-binding... to the point where I even turned up the volume when a work truck outside started beeping!

anyway, this course teaches bookbinding without sewing so it's perfect for showcasing art, especially pieces that stretch across both pages

as this was my learning piece I was more concerned with putting the book together properly than with what I would put on the pages - still, I wanted it to be something I would happily keep out and look at from time to time so I decided to use some thumbnail photos I took at McGuire Lake over the past few years

here they are, arranged in a grid format

the book opens to this as the title page... words to come

below is the only two-photo spread but you can see how it extends smoothly across the centre fold with no obstruction to the flow of the image

the cover is made from watercolour paper, three layers laminated together (glued under weight) with decorative paper for the spine

I'm very happy with this one and am already at work on the next in this same format 

another book I made recently is this one: a simple fold over cover made from cardstock with an overlay

a variety of fabric and papers were cut to resemble cattails, then collaged in layers with stitching added here and there to add definition and interest 

I like doing these kind of collages and have more ideas for other versions

it's an enjoyable but messy process and the results are never quite what I expect them to be though they are almost always much better than I had hoped for

there is a bagful of bits and pieces like this in my studio...


odds and ends of this and that, too good to toss...

 nothing on their own really, but in a coming together with other bits and pieces, they're transformed into little works of art