Sunday, February 27, 2011

Final Project: The Heritage Scarf

Crafts make us feel rooted, give us a sense of belonging and connect us with our history. Our ancestors used to create these crafts out of necessity, and now we do them for fun, to make money and to express ourselves.
~Phyllis George

Natural dyes from Maiwa. Okay, Small confession. I started this natural dye project before I got the final term project, but it was taking me so long to complete and it was more expensive than I thought it would be, so I decided it should be handed in for something worth bigger marks.

Our textiles teacher gave us our final term project uber-early so we could think about what it was we wanted to do. It was to be a conceptual project in the shape of a scarf; Not a literal scarf, but a translation of what we felt a scarf did. (In my case I see scarves as a fashion accessory and for warmth.) It was to be linear, poetic, and a reflection of our heritage. Instead of waiting for April, I went to town on it.

This project began as a perplexing one to me: How to create a piece that reflected my heritage when I know very little about where I come from? Without going into too many personal details, I have a very scattered family background and really know very little about it. So I decided for this project to focus on my immediate nuclear family.

This is a trial run of my original idea which looked much better in my mind. Block printed henna designs on naturally dyed squares of cotton- All the natural dyes I used can be found in India, which really has nothing to do with my heritage but has everything to do with my present!

A scarf is warm and protects the wearer from the outside elements. It envelops and holds the heat against the wearer’s skin. A scarf protects you. Whenever life gets too difficult for anyone of us in our family, we know that we can always retreat into the family unit where there is a home, and three other people to protect us from the elements. Most of our time is spent centered around the dinner table so I felt it appropriate to make a household item that would be put in the centre of the table.

We are a close family, the four of us, so my piece reflects our small family history.

At first I was disappointed that the dyes looked so pastel- When we'd used the same dyes in class they were much richer and darker. But in learning about natural dyes I found out that animal fibres (wool) take to dying much better than plant fibres (cotton).

I chose to work with naturally dyed cotton, embroidery thread, stamps and fabric ink. I liked the idea of using natural dyes to represent the naturalness of a family unit. I hand stitched the squares because I want this piece to have an heirloom type feel to it, something that is special enough to be handed down and not discarded. I also chose black ink and stamps to stamp the letters out in a typewriter font to give the feeling that these events are being recorded and it also gives a contemporary feel to an otherwise old-fashioned looking piece.

Natural Dyes! Believe it or not, The turmeric was so bright it looked awful next to the other dyes. So I threw them in with the red madder to tone it down a little.

The written lines, which may not make sense to the outside viewer, are all stories and situations that my immediate family would recognize, a kind of poetry and story that makes up the uniqueness of our immediate family. This is because textile pieces and crafts done by women are generally for the audience of the family only and these things generally never leave the home. (As opposed to ‘art’ where the audience is a stranger in the gallery.)

This was the longest part of the project- block printing all of those letters separate from each other. Somehow in all my moving this fall I lost Z and K so I filled those in myself with a permanent marker.

Also, as my parents age, they are beginning to forget these family special moments as I am sure my sister and I are too. This is a way of jogging our memories as we get older as I am aware that there are plenty of memories we have already forgotten because they were never recorded. The asymmetry of the colours and the stamped squares reflects that although it may be beautiful, no family is perfect. The empty squares are left for memories that haven’t yet happened.

My sister helped me brainstorm the family memories!
The finished piece out in the snow.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wee Beady Beads!

"America is a place where Jewish merchants sell Zen love beads to Agnostics for Christmas."

~John Burton Brimer

One thing I've really become aware of in exploring these textile studies is how little we as a society value craft. Beading is no exception though beads have been with us from the very beginning and are still a big part of our spiritual and decorative lives today.

Beading started when the first caveman picked up a sharp tool and put a hole in some natural found object and strung a piece of fibre through it. Think of Ceremonial tribesman of any culture- usually they have beaded necklaces of teeth, bones, seed pods, or shells. These beaded head pieces, necklaces, belts, bracelets etc. Were worn as decoration, as religious symbols or as protection. Animal bones were worn to either protect the wearer from that beast as a kind of amulet, or to invoke the spirit of that beast in battle or in Religious ceremonies.

Egyptian beaded necklace. Almost worth a curse just to touch it! Faience beadwork.

The Egyptians (of course!) were the first to create glass beads, and even discovered how to add pigments to the glass. They mixed up their beads with semi precious stones, gold and silver, and these beads were traded like currency and exported around the ancient world. They also made clay beads that were mixed with silica sand, lime and soda, wrapped around a piece of straw and fired in a kiln. These kinds of long beads are called faience beads. Some of these beads have been found in masks and beaded nets laid over mummies bodies for spiritual protection.

The Vikings also had a strong history of making beads and were quite prolific in making beads, bracelets, amulets and necklaces. The Romans traded beads like currency.

In Europe, there was a strong glass bead making factory in the centre of Venice, which thrived until the Ventians stated to worry that the kiln could blow up and destroy the city. So they moved the factory to a small island called Murano, and this as the birth of Murano glass. Murano held the monopoly on glass beads for 600 years before the demand became too high. In the past few years there has been a resurgence of interest in Murano glass beads.

In the early 20th Century, Victoria and Edwardian aristocrats began beading their gowns and all of their accessories, as illustrated by Queen Mary who had a penchant for pearls.

Okay, I could have found a 20's flapper dress, but I wish I was skinny enough to pull this dress off myself!
(But not as skinny as Kate Moss. Promise.)

In the 1920s, the flapper girls also beaded everything from head dresses to fringed on dresses and a long string of pearls ties in a knot was the ultimate accessory. At this time, inexpensive plastic beads were created and the bead world exploded!

We couldn't talk about beads without mentioning the hippies, Thank you, Janice.
When I was a wee child, Macrome beading was a national sport!

North American Natives also have a strong history of beading and this traditional beadwork is still fashionable in parts of the USA today. Young girls were recruited into the quilling society, and trained on the traditional methods of bead work. However, the training was not so focused on the finished product but rather on the sacredness almost meditative, spiritual journey of the beading process itself.

African tribes also have a strong history of beading, and though it's too much information to post here, I found this page on Zulu beading to be super interesting; the designs are designed to give information to the opposite sex: the colours all have meaning, The geometric designs have meaning, and the pieces people wear transmit the information the public needs to know about that particular person. If you are interested, you can read all about it (Click here!)

Even Baby Jesus loved his beads.

Two for one deal: Ottoman Tespih prayer beads, and Turkish evil eyes to ward off jealousy and general badness.

And through history beads have played an important part of religious and spiritual ceremonies as we still see today: The catholics have rosaries, the Muslims (in particular the Turks) have Ottoman Tespih beads, the buddhists and the yoga practictioners of the world have mala beads- they are even found on the cover of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love book if you don't believe me. And beads worn on the body are still used for protection today, just look at the Evil Eye most often found in Turkey but found through out the Middle East and Greece as well. It has the power to ward off the evil eye and no mother in her right mind would let her children out the door without one somewhere on their body.

Mala beads in the word "pray." I've noticed lots of yoga practitioners with mala beads wrapped around their wrists in class. Some Traditional Tibetan ones are made with skulls.

So enough history and one to my beading project. I asked my Dad to make me a beading loom around Christmas, and he happily obliged. We looked at a few pictures on the internet and came up with a very basic loom of a u shaped construction made out of scrap wood with some nails fired into each end. I wasn't sure it would work, but I gave it a try.

I first looked on the net for beaded bracelets to give me some inspiration. I found a beautiful design, and using graph paper, I made my own design, the width of twenty six tiny beads side by side. It was going to be stunning! Designer! But then I went to string my loom with beading wire. It was kinky and unruly. Worse yet, when I went to put my first grouping of beads across, some of the wire kinked and I would have to abandon the strand. This is where I learned that Nylon chord is much better for beading bracelets like this. So I ripped out all of the wire and replaced it with extra strong sewing thread. I didn't have any nylon chord and was itching to get the project started.

I also realised that 26 tiny beads across was a greater width than my beading needle. This would be a nightmare. I also realised that I'd be counting coloured beads like a mathematician and not really enjoying the process. And this would take me forever. I've also recently been told by my physiotherapist that I'm spending too much time hunched over projects and my shoulders are starting to complain bitterly. So I decided that like the Indian Quilling Society, this project would be about the process and not about the finished product.

So I cut it down to ten. I also spent a lot of time separating all these little beads into different beading containers. I listened to music and beaded, and though I wasn't really sure what I was making, or whether or not I would like the finished product, I really did find the process meditative and relaxing. I was going to make another bracelet, this time with a more daring design, but whenI took this picture I knocked over all of the little beading jars, thus ending my beading career for the immediate future!

Dad's impromptu bead loom.
Considering neither of us knew what we were doing, it worked pretty well!

So here is how you do it. You put your beads on a string, one bead between each of your warp threads.

Next, you slide the string of beads under the warp threads, and push them up as far as they will comfortable go.

Next, you slide your needle through the beads but this time trying to keep your thread above the warp threads. Essentially you've got a string running through the bottom and another on the top inside the beads. Don't worry if you miss one or two, because you sew back through them all at the end anyways to give it added strength. Repeat until finished!

When the beads are ready to come off, you tie them just like you would a weaving, by tying two warp threads together.

Almost finished beading!
If I were a Zulu girl, I wonder what my beading would tell the boys?
Probably that I like to read, considering it's destined to become a bookmark.

When I was done, I hand-sewed the whole thing to the back of a velvet ribbon, added a tassel to each end, and now I have a fancy beaded bookmark.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I'm on the Verge: Verge Travel Writing Contest Shortlist!

I'm on the shortlist for Verge's travel Writing Contest!

Chinese bicycles, Beijing.

From my email this morning:

"This is a note to let you know that your article Shanghai Rides was selected for the shortlist in our writing contest. Congratulations! We received hundreds of submissions, and the competition was quite stiff, so this is quite an achievement."

Last June I entered a Two-Minute Travel Tales contest sponsored by Verge Magazine. I was allowed to enter three stories and luckily one of them, my story about my experiences riding a bicycle in Shanghai was chosen for the shortlist! I just got the news today!

DongTai Lu Bicycle and Bell, Shanghai.

However, I need your vote to win the grand prize of a thousand dollars. Sadly, with this kind of contest it's the person with the most reach that wins and not necessarily the best piece of writing. However, I'd still like to win it, and congratulations to the other short-listers for also reaching this stage of the game.

Here are a few photos and a very raw-footage video at the very end I found in my Mainland China Collection. Sadly, my hard drive crashed when I left China and I lost thousands of photos. But at least I have these ones!

Moving Shanghai Style!

This is Three-death Bicycle, when the ball bearings fell out of the front wheel.

Bicycle Fix it Guy.
I bet he's sitting out of the road right now, waiting for bikes as I write this an ocean away.

A typical sight of parked bikes in Shanghai. Seriously.

Bikes and Buddhas!

I just snapped this one off my hip as the man went riding by.

This photo was taken across the street from the school I worked at.
Even rain doesn't stop cyclists in Shanghai.

Cardboard collection recycling bike.

I've peddled in rain like this. Where the bottom foot is submerged in rain. It's not a particularly good idea to ride holding an umbrella in that much rain, but the Shanghai ladies fair well. I almost ended up in the drink when I tried it!

Typical Shanghai Intersection on a less busy road. Boy do I miss Shanghai now!

Thanks and wish me luck!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Death by Cross-Stitching!

This person had the right idea. Nice and simple!
Original picture here.

So the next textile project I decided to tackle is cross-stitching. Truthfully, I wasn't really fired-up about the idea because I'm not really interested in the final cross-stitching product. There is something about the tiny, anal little stitches that seem too- dare I say it- Colonial American. Little pictures of Holly Hobby, bunnies and kitties, bible verses and messages about what makes a house a home. Not really my thing. Cross-stitching to me, is something little old ladies do to pass time on the gambling bus to Reno. But if Im going to be an art teacher, I ought to give it a try, right?

Subversive cross stitch! Original picture here.

So I hunted around for ideas in the internet before I started, and I discovered that like knitting and Yarn Bombing and Stitch-and-Bitch meetings, Cross- stitch is also finding it's way into Post-Modernist thought. Just google 'Subversive Cross Stitch" and you'll see that the potty-mouths of the world have picked up some Aida cloth, needles and thread and have expressed themselves beyond anything their grandmothers ever dared attempt! Though there are some clever cross-stitched pieces- ETSY is full of cross-stitched buttons with contemporary designs, people have subverted the idea of the cross-stitch sampler by stitching computer keyboard icons or subversive sayings instead of the sampler alphabet. Some of it's pretty funny stuff. But I wasn't really interested in stitching swear words or the like, personally.
Okay, I'm just throwing this in here, but if I can find one piece of cross-stitch work that excites me, I only have to look at Cocoon in Turkey. (Have you guys decided to hire me yet? I'm your biggest promoter!) This is an Uzbek hat. If you'd like to see more of Cocoon's tribal collection, you can join their facebook group.

How to cross stitch: Original picture here.
This is pretty much all you need to know about cross-stitching. A row of diagonals one way, and an opposite row of diagonals in the other direction.

My stash of embroidery thread.

So I went to pick up some Aida cloth. This is kind of a cross between mesh and cotton- a little bit stiff with holes to guide you in perfect cross stitched X'es. And the stuff wasn't cheap either. Twelve bucks for a quarter meter!

"What kind would you like?" We've got about twenty different types of Aida Cloth." The clerk ran her fingers along packages of Aida cloth.
"Does it matter?" I asked?
The clerk lifted her eyebrows. "Yes, it matters. A lot, actually. You don't actually know what you are doing, do you?"

"Not at all! Give me whatever's easiest." I confidently told her. "I only really want to spend an afternoon or two on this." IF the clerk laughed out loud or guffawed at me at this point, I don't remember. But she would have had every right to, I was about to find out.

My Design on the Aida cloth. Shouldn't take too long to stitch up, right?
It's not exactly the Mona Lisa.

So I took out all the Embroidery thread I had and laid it out to help me decide what to do. I decided to go with a simple Islamic geometry. I drew that on the Aida cloth and got to stitching.

What you see here, is actually about ten minutes of work, and I'm not talking about the design.
I'm talking about how long it took me to get the stiff Aida cloth into that rubber hoop.

And then the stitching began:

This is the first hour or so. Looks pretty good! Looks pretty perfect at this stage.

Three days later. Three days of aggressive cross-stitching and not much else.

Two weeks later.
I had to try to cut down the amount of hours I cross stitched, my back was beginning to hurt.

Two and a half weeks.
I decided here than if I continued with the same colours it would be super boring.
So I switched it up a little.

Three weeks-ish.

A month later, this is where it's at.

I thought about cross-stitching it into a square and one day making it into a pillow or something, but for now it's going to sit in my textile book. You can see how dirty it got during all the handling of sewing it. I'm afraid to wash it though because the embroidery thread is cheap and I'm not sure how colour fast it is. After all this time, why risk it?

In the end, If I were to do this again, I'd probably take more care in choosing a design. Though mine doesn't look bad, it's a little on the boring side. If you are going to put the time in, go for something fancy or less time consuming.

I am completely humbled by the cross-stitchers of the world. It's an amazing amount of work and this kind of blood, sweat and tears isn't truly appreciated and recognised. If I were to sell this little cross stitch according to the time I've put into it, it would be worth a thousand bucks at least.

But I'd rather be painting. So If you'd like any of the Aida cloth I didn't use, you are welcome to it!