Tuesday, 23 June 2015


     In my previous post, I mentioned about colour names and the vast number of colours available to us.  Fifty Shades of Grey is just a drop in the old bucket!  Perhaps because I work with colour so closely on a daily basis, the massive number of colours and colour names does not phase me that much. Matching them up is another story!   However, quirky colour names has long been a topic of discussion ( bone of contention for some) in our household.  The senior male in the household is flummoxed if one specifies a colour such as " salmon pink" because as far as he is concerned  "pink is pink" and that is all there is to it!  A trip to the paint store is just a giant headache for him, not to mention for myself when he returns with dozens of colour chips and drawls out the names derisively to me.
    Mystical Blue, Crystal Springs, Herbal Escape, Marry Me Pink, Old World, Candlelit Dinner, Potters' Wheel, French Beret and Showtime ( which rather interestingly is a kind of harvest gold?)  Just how do these companies come up with these names and we have often wondered just WHO is responsible for the task?
     Some colours one can identify with immediately and others - like the above named " Showtime" leaves me pondering.  In my search to find out more, I came across an excellent article in Slate magazine where the writer interviewed a popular paint company director, who shed a little light on the subject for us:

    So it would seem that history and emotion play a large part in the process. I can certainly identify with emotion in colour choices can't you?
   The very talented NewYorker staff cartoonist, Roz Chast summed it up nicely I think:


Now - let the fun begin:  Downpipe, Science Experiment, Stretch Marks, Old Mould,  Meh.........see how many new names you can conjour up!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

FIFTY SHADES - A Fantasy in Fabric


     In mid November 2014, I was invited by Virginia Spiegel to be one of the chosen artists to participate in the "100 Fiberart for a Cause" 2015  fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.  It is always a pleasure to work with Virginia and due to the high calibre of fiber artists selected it is also a fun challenge for me to create something special for the campaign.
      I have recently been working on a series based on an industrial theme and consequently I am inundated with grey fabrics and lots of off cuts. With the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy in the fore and a subsequent movie forthcoming, I thought I might have a bit of a lark creating a textile piece hinting at the theme.  Now this was more challenging than it initially appeared , the main reason being that the recipient patron was a mystery person.  In past FFAC campaigns, artists have designed pieces of work, the public get previews and can choose a piece they wish to bid on at auction.  This time was VERY  different!  One hundred artists creating one hundred art works for 100 patrons who would pay $100 each BUT there would be no auction involved.  The patrons' names and matched artists are to be selected via a generated number system which means the  patrons could risk getting any one of the 100 pieces offered with no choices involved.  Now that alone should indicate the high quality of the work on offer ! My concern was WHO would end up with Fifty Shades so of course, I had to create something fairly tasteful and if people wished to read more into it, well, the clues would be there.
     First and foremost I had not read the book and after seeing the reviews had no real desire to do so. However, my muse was leading me along the path of creating paper beads out of words from the book, so I collared a cheap second hand copy. Cheap was more than just the price as the thin paper was crappy and more than a bitch to work with. I guess you could say I sped read the book in order to find some interesting words/phrases that would fit on a bead without making people blush. A friend said she had grand visions of me thumbing the book for appropriate words but I hate to shatter her illusions by having to admit it was more a chore than a thrill! I was seeking the more " vanilla" variety!
      Of course there HAD to be a stylish grey tie involved and the search was on.  None to be found in the male closets in the household (at least none they would relinquish) so I had to hunt further afield.  Was every Fifty Shades fan putting them to good use?  What an arduous journey to find  the right grey tie!  Eventually in a completely unexpected moment, an appropriate Perry Ellis designer silk tie presented itself and I snapped it up toute suite!
     The colour grey is of course, complemented by the colour red and also refers to " The Red Room" in the book, so it was a natural and symbolic choice to balance the myriad of greys I had before me.  By the way, do you realize just how many shades of grey there actually are?  I will cover that in a separate blog post another time!
     One of the underlying messages in my piece is " manipulation " and it is evident in the pleating, folding, crushing, tucking, ruffling, applique, darting - well you get the idea - the hints are in there.



The tie is tastefully " knotted" with a gorgeous Czech button and of course.........

... every good tie requires a tie tac, notably here, the beautiful silver nude lady ( formerly brass) and now drilled - thanks to my beloved millwright).

I have an amazing Canadian charm supplier with an astounding selection at her fingertips but even I drew some raised eyebrows when I requested handcuffs, kinky shoes and masks for a "special project".
YES she did have some in stock for policemen, fashionistas and Venice carnival lovers but NO she was not going to ask for further details and went a bit quiet on me. Canadian EH?? I think I am rather suspect from hereon  :-)  but I have big shoulders and a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.  The quality charms perfectly enhance four interesting ads from the personal classifieds, which I thought were fun additions to the piece.

Here's some detailed photos on that front:

   The red silk shibori ribbon that cascades down the right side of the piece was a lesson in patience and the art of manipulation.  It was my first attempt at using this type of ribbon and it was definitely enough to turn a purist's hair shades of grey! Threaded through the ribbon and securely tacked are four silver word circles: Respect, Discipline, Imagine and Passion. The grey pearls were from a family necklace I have had stashed away in my personal jewellery box for many years and never worn.  No matter how big a bead wall I have in the studio, it seems there is never the right bead for the job when working to a deadline. White pearls, cream pearls, tinted pearls but no greys and this demanded GREY pearls. It may sound silly to some, but it was rather a spiritual moment as I held the necklace in my hand for about five minutes, laying the beads on the ribbon and thinking these are the ones, while debating the deed. I know my Aunty, the former owner,  who was also a textile artist was looking down on me with her equally talented sister, my Gran,  and both nodding " YES" - do it!! It came to a point when my courage rose and I just grabbed the scissors and cut the string. The remainder of the beads I will use in a tryptich I am creating for my family.

The " tassel" at the lower end of the ribbon was created from a drinking straw, a button with a wonderful ridge in it that cradled the straw,  dyed hemp, silk threads and beads and was a fiddily little two-fold addition but one I was eventually pleased with.

The black and grey roses were tinted, appliqued and beaded to give them dimension.

At the bottom left corner are three vintage Mother of Pearl buttons -   larger editions perhaps but a little like Christian Grey might have on his shirts or his silk boxers.
Of course there had to be a wee key for those hand cuffs.

The locked heart in the gloved fist in the upper left hand corner I will leave to your vivid little imaginations.

Having fussed with all the details and innuendos, Fifty Shades was then overlaid, wrapped, lashed, knotted and interlaced over a foam board. Rather a fitting ending methinks.

                                   Fifty Shades:  A Fantasy in Fabric

Post Script:

   On February 4th,  Fiberart for a Cause came to a sweet conclusion after approximately five  years of campaigns,  love and labour from Virginia Spiegel and her associates.  Our goal of TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS was reached, not just in a day, BUT in just under 2 and 1/2 hours! We were all stunned and delighted at the speed it was reached and the final tally for the overall years and labour of love for the cancer society came to a QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS.  Never underestimate the power of a group of people with a goal! Thank you to all the amazing patrons who put their faith and their dollars in 100 fiber artists.
Congratulations to everyone involved and a special shout out to Virginia, whose brainchild this was and who has my deepest admiration and respect.
I salute you my friend.

PPS:  On a late night visit, my son, the librarian, came up to the studio to commiserate and offer his support and critique, which is always appreciated.  After viewing my progress and chatting, his eyes fell on the infamous BOOK which was sitting out in a box of " rejects" from the project. He asked if I had " finished" with it.  I replied " of course" - not much of a read there. No literary threat or thrill either.  He then announced" Well, as a librarian, it is probably my duty to read it - you know - if library patrons should ask about it?  Well, of course, I replied. You are welcome to it.   And as he descended the stairs, I wonder if he heard me shout out - well there are about twenty pages missing you know!  Ha! Ha!  Mothers - gotta love 'em !


Monday, 1 December 2014

100 Amazing Artists are going to do what??

WOWSER - Virginia Spiegel is at it again!  This woman is not just a creative soul who makes beautiful art but a compassionate, hard working whirlwind who has once again rallied the troops in aid of the American Cancer Society.  I am delighted to announce the kick off to the current 100 Fundraiser for Fiberart for a Cause and  I'm pleased to be among the one hundred artists Virginia has invited to participate in the current FFAC event.  I am in very good company and you can bet the art that will be created is going to be amazing!

One hundred artists are donating 100 works of art to raise $10,000 in ONE day to reach our goal of donating a quarter of a million dollars to the ACS over the past few years.  You will find out all the details here as Virginia reveals just who is participating and how this FFAC event will be run:


In the past I have been asked as to why I participate in the American Cancer Society benefits when I am a Canadian?  Well, that is an easy one to answer to. The fiberart community is international and with the aid of the internet we artists have become an ever increasing closeknit group. There is not one of us who has not been touched by the scourge of cancer. Many of us have lost loved ones, supported them through the dark days of the illness, or faced our own personal battles.  Research and support is ongoing in all our communities and several participating artists in FFAC also make contributions to local cancer charities and international events.  I have created many pieces for several campaigns here in Canada not least was the infamous corset piece I designed along with my trusty confidante and advisor Joan Hartley ( aka Mum). We had such great fun as it  took off  with a flourish and became the poster child for The Quilt campaign in Stratford, Ontario.


No matter where or who we donate our creative work to, we know that with funding, someone, somewhere is going to find a breakthrough for a cure and that people suffering with the disease are also going to get support and quality care. How can we not offer our talents to such  worthwhile causes wherever they are staged and support our friends world wide.

I am proud to participate in yet another Fiberart for a Cause campaign. Please join us in the run up to the February 4th, 2015 event.

Virginia will not be showing photos of the art on the FFAC site but the artists will be sending out "teasers" to you all in the form of works in progress, suggestive hints as to titles, themes, etc. via our social networks, blogs and web sites. So please stay tuned as we entice you with our offerings.

For my part, I am looking out my window as I write this and the skies are early winter grey.

GREY/GRAY - that colour of detachment, indecision and compromise?  Oh really?
In it's darkest forms it is mysterious and dramatic and in it's lightest forms it becomes more lively and illuminating. What comes to mind when you picture grey? Subdued, quiet, conservative, boring, drab, depressing, reserved, stifling?  OR elegant, smoky, sultry, practical, conventional, formal, calming, mature, responsible?  Oh my - the possibilities -I think I will play with grey :-)

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Boro - the Original Recycled Textile

       In today's world, the words reuse, recycle and repurpose have become increasingly common and in recent times, there has been more emphasis placed on the recycling of textiles. But in Japan, in the 19th and early 20th century, the reuse of textiles was more of a humble nature, emanating out of necessity and a societal effort to avoid waste rather than dealing with environmental issues and energy saving.

 The mended and patched textiles of Japan were referred to as " Boro" which literally translates to "rags" or "scraps of cloth" and is used to describe clothes and household items that were repaired or patched many times over. Frugality and poverty necessitated these textiles, in particular bedding in the form of futons, to be passed down through generations of families.Hence boro was basically utilitarian in nature, although it proved to be practicality at it's finest and eventually the repeated repairs became a cultural legacy.

      These textiles, which were used daily, often featured highly skilled weaving and patching. Unique stitching techniques and the use of Sashiko ( or running stitch) was featured prominently. The items were usually created by the poor, rural population of Japan - farm workers, labourers, lumberjacks and fishermen who could not afford to buy new clothing or bedding and so added inserts and patches to repair, strengthen and extend the life of their existing domestic textiles.  


 Cotton was at a premium and not cultivated in Japan due to the cold climate and it was most expensive to import and transport. Boats would arrive in the northern ports bringing discarded cotton and remnants from the central coastal cities and these would be traded for fish, oil and seaweed. The remnants were only available in shades of blue, black, brown and grey due to the harsh sumptuary laws in effect at that time, which restricted the poorer classes to wearing these colours. The richer, more opulent colours were reserved only for the aristocracy. The newly acquired fabric remnants were treasured and taken home to patch and repair worn workwear and frayed futon covers.

     Japan's society eventually began to move towards industrialisation in the early 20th century and the practice of patching and repurposing slowly declined and died out. Many boro items were discarded or destroyed as they only served as a reminder of a poverty stricken past.

     In 21st century Japan, boro is still not looked upon in a favourable light and regarded with a certain amount of shame. However, it has become highly collectible in Western cultures and revered for it's patterns, free form hand stitching, varied hues of indigo dyeing and the combination of same in the patchwork. Boro continues to escalate in price at auctions and in galleries and is highly sought after by collectors.                               

The photos accompanying this blog post are of boro pieces in my private collection that were purchased from a reputable dealer in New York some years back when the prices were definitely more affordable.



Wednesday, 17 September 2014


 While I am still on a bit of a Japanese textile kick, I was fortunate enough to be able to photograph some wonderful examples of sashiko stitching while at the Textile Museum in Toronto.  I will give you a bit of an introductory primer on sashiko for those of you who are unfamiliar with the technique.

Sashiko is a form of Japanese hand embroidery using the basic running stitch to create a pattern, more often than not geometric and with many designs representative of nature and rural life. Many sashiko patterns have charming names such as " Rising Steam" ,"Mist"  Pine Bark" " Water Wells" and so on.  Sashiko literally means " little stabs". Originally, sashiko stitching was used as a form of repairwork or darning to worn clothing and futons. It was so beautiful and durable that it eventually became an art form unto itself. The thread used for sashiko is a tightly twisted heavy weight cotton and needles are very long with a large oval eye. The fabric is cotton or linen. Traditionally the thread is white and the fabric is usually indigo blue, however today there are a myriad of thread colours available and several new creative versions have emerged based on the technique.


In the hallway of the Textile Museum hangs a huge Sashiko quilt created by the volunteers, staff and friends of the museum who joined together in 2012 to embroider 150 squares for inclusion in this magnificent quilt.


One could stand for hours inspecting the designs and details in this quilt.  There is just so much going on in there!  I was able to photograph segments of the quilt - at least those I could reasonably reach and  I picked out some squares that were particularly interesting and/or intricate for close up shots.

I particularly liked the strip pieced border in various Japanese prints which really did offset the sashiko squares very nicely.



There are several books available on the subject of Sashiko and for anyone wishing to try the technique I might recommend the book " Japanese Country Quilting"  Sashiko Patterns and Projects for Beginners.

 There is also a very basic tutorial online if you wish to try your hand at it:

 I would like to thank the Textile Museum for it's policy in allowing respectful photography of many of their in house exhibits.

Monday, 15 September 2014



Note, in particular, the third statement above.  " it is taken apart to be
laundered".  Something most people have not given thought to but yes,
the kimono is totally dismantled, laundered and then stitched back together.


                                                 The disassembled kimono
                               ( silk with gold thread, embroidered and painted)

For cleaning purposes, a kimono would be disassembled and it's standardized narrow panels sewn together into one long strip up to eleven metres long.  After cleaning, it would be stitched back together by hand.


                                                        Kimono stitching

The amorous skills of a geisha were highly valued along with their sophisticated conversation and beauty. They learned their skills from " pillow books" called makura-e that constituted part of their formal education. The images in the books were called shunga or " spring pictures" and were often quite explicit.



                                                      Hairpins and Combs
                                             ( paper, lacquered and painted)

Formal Kimono known as a Tomesode
Silk crepe fabric with hand painted cranes
The crane is associated with long life and used often as a motif in Japanese culture. The crane motif on the tomesode is carried on to the inside of the garment's opening.  This particular tomesode has five kamons on it which signifies extreme formality. The word mon means crest and kamon means family crests.  

                                   Three of the five kamons on the tomesode

The emblems are used to decorate and identify an individual or family.  It can be likened to a badge or coat of arms in European heraldic traditions.
The origins of the kamon go back to the eleventh century. High ranking officers of the day began using the designs on their formal wear to be worn at the Imperial court.
When a roll of fabric is dyed for a kimono that will have a kamon on it, discs of fabric are masked with rice paste, to be left undyed (white).  The mon design is then stencilled onto the white disc.  Kimonos always have a centre back seam, so the roll of kimono fabric has half circles left in the correct place at the edges so that, when it is sewn together it forms the mon at the centre back.

Not all of Ichimaru's wardrobe consisted of traditional dress. Pictured below is an over kimono coat made of machine lace.  It is not a traditional haori jacket for it has neither the haori-like collar nor a typical front opening.


This garment belongs to contemporary kimono fashion that has been influenced by Western styles. It is made of machined lace with an overall pattern of stylized leaves on a background of black tulle.  The entire coat is lined with fine gold coloured gauze.  I was able to take a very close look at the construction techniques on this jacket and it was amazing. The photo below shows the detail and you can clearly see the black tulle background. It is an intricate and delightful piece of work.

The final display in the exhibit was a wig made of human hair and elaborately arranged in a traditional style. It was a very important part of the geisha's outfit.

Although the wig was displayed in a glass case, which made it awkward to photograph, you can clearly see the individual hairs and lacquer.  The wigs
were combed and reset once a month and great care was taken to ensure not a single hair was out of place.  Dressed with wax or camellia nut oil, the wig was built on a framework of Duralumin ( an aluminum alloy) and lined with netting. Underneath the wig, the geisha's own hair was plastered down with tight bandages.  An uncomfortable thought indeed!
I discovered in my forays into kimono research that there had been a book written called " The Kimono of the Geisha-Diva Ichimaru".  It was collaboratively researched and co-authored  by Barry Till, Michiko Warkentyne and Judith Patt, all of whom are from the curatorial department of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the source of the above exhibit. Not only is it a photographic and biographical compendium of the life of the fascinating Ichimaru, but it also contains detailed information on kimono construction, materials, dyeing and stitching techniques along with styles and cultural connotations.  I believe it is now out of print and it is also like hen's teeth to find.  However, after a great deal of legwork, I have managed to find a used copy and it is currently winging it's way to me.

Another book which might interest you ( and much easier to obtain) is The Asian Mystique ( Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls and Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient) by Sheridan Prasso.  It is a compelling read and an education in itself. In the book, Prasso challenges cultural and political stereotypes of Asia that have dominated Western thinking for centuries.....our impressions from Western literature, the stage and screen icons, the submissive, sexual geisha, the dragon lady dominatrix and the portrayal of Asian males as effeminate and asexual. She interviews Asian women from all walks of life and we see how they are usually very different from the fanstasies and stereotypes we've been indoctrinated with. This would also be an excellent book for anyone who is involved in or interested in gender studies.



Monday, 8 September 2014


My ongoing research into restoring/repurposing an old family kimono has taken me down many paths and resulted in several distractions!  Close to five years alone have been invested in a fabric search! The distractions, however, have been fascinating and taken me on a journey into new worlds of discovery and learning.  I have finally reached the point where some preliminary
 hands-on work has begun and I am approaching it with some trepidation yet much excitement.

In recent months, my search for information took me, once again, to the Textile Museum in Toronto. I arranged my trip to coincide with a timely exhibition  " From Geisha to Diva, The Kimonos of Ichimaru ".  I thought it might be inspirational and found it to be that and a great deal more.

The exhibit, which was organized and circulated by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria,  explores the fascinating life of Ichimaru ( 1906 - 1997).  This beautiful lady with a very strong sense of self, was one of the most famous geishas of the 20th century and was reknowned for her nightingale-like singing voice. Her story is told via this collection of splendid kimonos and other personal effects.


Ichimaru left geishahood around 1930 aspiring to a career as a full time recording artist.  She elevated her new musical career by studying music with the best teachers from Tokyo's " floating world" otherwise known as the pleasure district. Diva that she was, she continued to perform in full geisha regalia.  Combining her talents as a vocalist and musician with her experience as a geisha, she went on to international fame and distinction whilst becoming an icon of Japanese popular culture. Adept at adapting to changing mediums, Ichimaru easily transitioned from a popular radio star in the 1950's to a frequent television guest in Japan from the 1960's well into the 1980's.

The magnificent hand crafted kimonos on display revealed her unique style and taste.  It also showed her strong sense of identity and daring, in that she broke many traditional rules regarding the culture of wearing specific clothing items. The exhibit also included ephemera, documentary materials and personal accessories which gave insight into this fascinating woman's life and Japanese culture in general.

Let's take a walk through the exhibit:


                                         This group display was featured in the  
                                     opening room of the exhibit. It was delicately
                               roped off without impeding one's view of the kimonos.


                                A semi-formal kimono known as a " Homongi "
                                       Made of silk crepe with gold threads


                                        Young Ichimaru playing the shamisen


                                                        Four obis on display.

 An obi is a sash for traditional Japanese dress, both for men and women
and worn as part of the kimono.  There are names for specific types of obis and there are many of them.  In addition, there are ten ways to tie an obi and different types of knots suited to specific occasions and the type of kimono being worn. The most colourful obis are usually worn by unmarried women and a fancy occasion obi can cost more than a complete outfit.

                                                   Close up of the wisteria obi
                                                made in a Tsuzure weave with silver
                                            thread. The technique is from the Kyoto
                                                      region of Japan.                      
                                                 Semi Formal Kimonos


                                         Semi formal kimono called a furisode,
                                  which literally translates as " swinging sleeves "

 The furisode is distinguishable by it's long sleeves which range from 85 cm to 114 cm and the garment dates back to the 1500's.  Traditionally, long sleeve kimonos were meant to be worn by young unmarried women. By wearing a furisode, a young woman signified that she was both single and a legal adult, thus available for marriage. This rule was not followed by
Ichimaru who wore them well into her '40s.


                                       Close up of silk and goldwork embroidery
                                                     on the above furisode

                                           This dramatic semi formal furisode
                                           had to be my favourite in the exhibit.
It is even more stunning in reality than in the photos. It was the most beautiful quality silk festooned with peonies, phoenix, paulownia and cherry  blossoms, all exquisitely hand embroidered.  It is to be worn with a
bold red obi with a bird design ( which did not accompany it in the exhibit).


                                             Detail of the silk embroidery work.

                                             Close up of the goldwork phoenix

                                           This picture shows the fine gold cord
                                           in more detail and you can see the tiny
                                           stitches used to couch it down.

 There's a great deal more to share so I thought it best to cover this exhibit in two posts so as not to overwhelm my readers with too much visual overload!  Part two will be up within the next day or so. More beauty and information to come!