Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Under the weather

I had all intention to write at least once week, but I haven't been feeling all that great in the last few weeks. First a tummy bug and then some problems with my eyes. Anyway I don't want to talk about my ailments and there has been enough talk about the weather lately, especially with my mother-in-law in Guernsey. For having been snowed in on a island that far south is a bit more unusual then snowed in sheep in Cumbria and Scotland. Although I do feel genuine sorry for all those sheep and people affected by this cold and snowy weather.

 A view of the park near our house.

The good news is it will not stay forever like this, because nothing stays the same, as everything is always in the process of change, which brings me to some textile talk.

I am in a small group of textile artists, which comes together once a month, rotating at each others house.
We haven't got a name, although I call it the Wednesday Stitch group. We stitch, chat and network, drink coffee and tea, eat biscuits and cake and set ourselves some challenges every now and then.
One of our current challenges is to make an unfinished piece of work about the weather, which is then passed on to the next person who changes it by adding, taking away, cutting up, reassemble and so on. It will then move on to another member and so on until it comes back to the one who started it. The idea is to become more flexible and 'let go' of what we consider to be our creation. Accept the change, go with the flow and be not so precious about what we think we own.
It's a damn good exercise, even more so if you take it further into your life and apply it to other aspects of your existence......

Anyway for my piece I wanted to create some fabric design which not only evoke the weather but also uses the weather in creating it. So I decided to use the Cyanotype, a photographic print method using the sun. I had a packet of already impregnated fabric, so all I needed was a sunny day, work out a design, lay it on the fabric under a glass plate and leave it outside for the recommended time. Rinse and voila.

I used plastic snowflakes from a cut up Christmas tree decoration ( I use to rummage in stores after Christmas for any possible 'finds'), feathers to present the wind, small wooden shapes of the sun, moon, and stars - think sunny days and clear starry nights, wooden cloud shapes and a raindrop, a carton leaf stencil to indicate autumn and some starry sequins for seeds blowing in the wind.

I had no idea what the next person could do with it and although curious I didn't really care what would happen to this piece of fabric, possibly because I didn't spend much time on it, so I didn't feel a strong connection to it.

But then I passed it on to Gina and this is what she did with it:

The weather (vane) pigeon

I know it is not finished but I absolutely love it and because of my love for the bird as a symbol I felt immediately strongly connected to it - which means, I know, I have to 'let it go' one day.
Gina obviously knew about my interest in the symbol of birds and wanted to honour that. It did however strike me that she told me beforehand what she wanted to do with the fabric as she wanted to be sure that I was OK with it. I experienced a similar  hesitation working on her weather piece, a beautiful winter veil.

For much better pictures look at her blog here.

I didn't want to cut it up, certainly not after reading the comments on her blog. I also didn't want to alter or add to it directly as it felt like I would dishonour her work by doing so. So I took the very safe option of creating a 'new' piece as a background and attached it to the back of her veil.
I used a bit of commercial dyed fabric, which looks like sky, a piece of hand dyed linen and some commercially dyed purple.

It was all a bit boring and not very creative but I didn't know what to add, so I left it for a few days. By then I had bought the Stitch magazine, which had a project article to make this wall hanging with a tree by Sam Packer. I know it is cheating, not drawing my own tree, but why spend more time when someone created a perfect tree template which fitted exactly on my piece of fabric?

As it was (and apparently still is) winter, I left out the leaves and the birds, which had not flown back yet from warmer climates.

But I had seen the first snowdrops, little white bells ringing the message that Spring it on its way. It was just before my birthday when I was out with my daughter, Ilana, for a museum visit, lunch and a spot of retail therapy in Great Missenden. She told me that she remembered that her dad used to tell her when she was very young that when the snowdrops were out it would be mummy's birthday soon. So I thought the snowdrops would present a bit of me and a message of new beginnings for Gina, waiting beneath her Winter's veil.

The single buttonhole stitch in a thick white thread seemed to lend itself well for these little bells.
The temptation was great to keep on adding things to it, but I was mindful that there there are 3 more people who need to put their mark to this work. So here it is:

Now, go and visit Gina's blog, read her side of the story and enjoy some better photographs.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Coffee, cakes and other taboos

There is so much happening in my life that I want to blog about that I can't seem to keep up with the pace. The last week in particular was unusual busy with lots of social interactions, communications and lavish consumptions of coffee and cakes  - no regrets at the time, but oh I do need to address some health (read weight) issues before summer.
So I attended some interesting lectures, one by the artist Cas Holmes for the HVA and one by Hilary Hollingworth for the Embroiderers' Guild. I met up with my textile art friends for our monthly stitch morning, had a very belated yummy X-mas diner at Jamie Oliver's with the members of the HVA Textile group and started my first new yoga class. 

But for now I want to talk about the other taboos...

Sunday, a week ago, we went to visit the last day of the exhibition Death: a self-portrait at the Welcome gallery in London. Not particular inspiring - lots of skulls and skeletons and for me, personally, far removed from any emotional connection to death. The highlight of the visit was meeting up with people of the Society of the Natural Death Centre, whilst drinking coffee and eating cake!

The  Natural Death Centre (NDC) is a charity with a 24 hour helpline, which gave us tremendous inspiration and support in organising Kiama's funeral and life-celebration. They are also working very hard to make people aware of the rights and wrongs of the funeral industry and highlight the importance of talking about death, funerals and our wishes for a 'good' death and funeral. There has been several occasions in the last year that I became painfully aware of the awkwardness some people experience when they try to avoid the subjects of Kiama's death and our grieving. I know people are afraid to upset us, but for me it is so much more upsetting when they even avoid speaking out her name, as if she had never existed. To me there is nothing wrong with openly expressing our emotions, it shows we are human. Also to me, crying and laughing are part of the same coin, so to speak, yet for some reason they are in our western societies not treated as equal acceptable expressions. So through these experiences I have become quite passionate about talking about all kind of matters surrounding the subject of DEATH and volunteer some of my time to support the NDC charity.

Through the Natural Death Centre I learned about a 'new' movement of 'pop up' Death Café's. It sounds a bit morbid and personally I would have preferred a different name, perhaps even keeping the original French name of Café's Mortels. Although, having said that, the English name goes extremely well with the 'Death by Chocolate' cakes, like this gorgeous looking chocolate heart cake by my friend, Gina.

Anyway the idea came from the Swiss sociologist, Bernard Crettaz, who found that several problems in Western societies are attributed to a taboo of talking about death. So he started these café's to help breaking the silence about a subject, we all sooner or later have to deal with.
The Brit, Jon Underwood, who also works for the charity Dying Matters read about this and introduced the English speaking world to the concept of Death Café's, the first of which was in London, in 2011.
Since last November I  have visited 3 Death Café's in London and met all kinds of people from different backgrounds, different ages and with different reasons for attending a Death Café, but we all shared a need and curiosity to talk about death, bereavement, funerals and more.

Some of the interesting people I met was the Australian artist Pia Interlandi who makes Garments for the Grave. She works at a Natural Burial site near Guildford and we are starting to exchange and share some ideas. So who knows where that will lead.
And then there is Sophie Marsden, a final year student in multi-media journalism. She filmed one of the Death Café's I visited and keeps a blog about her project, 'Dying To Talk'.

The atmosphere at a Death café is quite relaxed, respectful and I dare say, even inspirational. I was able to share our story of how we organised Kiama's funeral and life-celebration and also tell people about the poster of her 'My Bucket List' (see my first blog post), which echo's in part the objective of the Death Café:

 "To increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives".

So all this led up to my announcement that I am organising and facilitating 2 Death Café's.
The first one will be on the 7th of April in Hemel Hempstead for which you can find all the details on the Death Café website here.

The other one will be on the 2nd of June at Global Tribe Café in Leeds. Global Tribe Café is a lovely vegetarian/vegan café in the centre of Leeds, which opened 2 months after Kiama's death, on what would have been her 23rd birthday.

It is owned by some very dear friends, who also own the Global Tribe Crystal shop in the same building.
Details for the Death Café there will be announced next month, but if you happen to visit Leeds in the meantime, do go in and enjoy your meal - leaving some room for coffee and cake...