A postcard

Back of She Wanders, 2021, DMC #8 thread and printed postcard, by Laura Wythe

Stitching up a memento to summarize a whole year on the back of a postcard is a challenge even in the best of years. This one is for 2020.

In January 2021, the embroidery guild I belong to invited members to create a postcard to swap. The theme is “What 2020 meant to me.” It’s been a remarkably full year, where babies were born and died, teaching became a technical vocation, friends celebrated decades of life without fanfare, a grant was written, stories collected and this writer/artist learned what self-care really meant.

We are currently in another tight lock down, making the swap idea a very appealing way to connect. The postcard has a physicality that needs time to make, send, receive and savour. And perhaps bring love and a smile to someone.

The size is small, though honestly, it just means I stitch smaller! Like many, I searched through what I have at home for inspiration. There was enough left of a fat quarter with a street print, a place I’d love to walk. As well, I have a bunch of postcards for The Bones designed by Chazza. Using one seemed very appropriate as we hear of the pandemic coming and going in waves.

This postcard goes to an unknown guild member, but if you are interested in a swap, let me know.

She Wanders,
2021, floss on printed cotton, cotton fill on printed postcard, by Laura Wythe
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The last of 2020

I’m done with disasters for now. And yet, there is still work to done, both personally and as part of the collective that lives on a shared planet. If there’s one thing that has remained true in 2020, it’s the connection to earth and the precious air we share. How visible that space is now! I work through electronic media, I visit and take courses in the same way. People I see in person are masked, with all that evokes. The trees, rivers, lawns, gardens, birds, critters, bugs, sky and weather remain immediate and true to form. One of my favourite “earth” connections this year is the food that a CSA farm delivers to my doorstep.

My novel, The Bones and the art show that followed its publication needs to wrap up one last thing before I move on to the next large project. I would like to finish sharing with everyone the rest of the work from Text to Textiles, the display of illustrations I made for The Bones. Some are sold, others are nested safely for another day.

Text to Textiles was based on the idea that the main driver of the plot in The Bones, Catherine, is the head textile curator at the Royal Ontario Musuem. She goes back to her family farm which is inundated with flood waters to gather textile artifacts and also to search out for the bones of Tecumseh. One is a great motive, the other rather obsessive, patriarchal, colonial, etc., etc..

There seemed no better way to illustrate The Bones than through stressing common Ontario Loyalist textiles after they are embroidered with traditional stitches. Less traditional materials are used to highlight Catherine’s daughter’s views. And then there are emboideries on silk with somewhat Gothic representations that link to another character and the silk memorial embroideries that would have been popular with Loyalists after the War of 1812.

I will make individual posts with the text below to carry on where I left off, but for now, enjoy the slide show!

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Missed Call

detail of Missed Call, paper coming though silver mesh fencing; a bar "Call the Office" in the background

We whisper a message and it gets passed along. It’s never the same in the end.

This piece started in a paper stitching class, with picture hanging wire coiled to run through a press to emboss a square of paper. It looks like an old-fashioned telephone cord. Later, I treat green cotton rag paper with konjac paste, and fold and crumple the paper. It is quite sculptural. The feel is of old paper, like matchbooks, kept and folded until they become more than paper. Like memories. once fragile, but oddly more permanent through repeatedly turning them over. I take the coiled wire from the embossing and pierce this paper. A telephone connection is made. I list telephone ideas and choose 2 for a conversation that didn’t quite happen. As I stitch, I ask why not? Why didn’t they connect?

Embroidering on cotton paper treated with konjac
Laura Wythe

I remember this colour of green: Call the Office. The paint trim around the tired old windows of this London establishment matches the paper perfectly. Like the paper, it is crumpled but stands up well despite much abuse. It’s where you might meet someone and promise to call.

The fencing is a chance encounter in a craft store, looking for something else. Shiny aluminium mesh to go with the picture wire. Jagged edges.

Missed Call is phone tag, is the whispers game, but on a visual level. Thanks for starting this round of the game — Jan Taylor and Canadian Embroiderers Guild, London

Missed call, complete photo of multimedia relief, fabric, aluminium mesh, wire and paper on linen
Missed Call by Laura Wythe
12″ x 12″
fabric, wire, aluminium mesh, paper and threads on linen
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The Bones Illustrated 16

Dominion of Catherine by Laura Wythe

Everything had worked out, but she still had nothing. Even Thomas, her heart and soul, was determined to deny her. Worse, he had seen how small she really was. He wasn’t from here, he wasn’t one to be attached to such a mundane place. She’d always had this place and the stories. It was the foundation of her life, and her life might fade, she believed the place would remain tangible and whole. She’d dedicated her life to elevating the settlers of Chatham County, who wrapped the land around them like a quilt, the best bits bound together—farms and fences, families and friendships—each patch filled with the hues and textures of homes and fields and businesses. Yes, some pieces were covered with new bits of cloth—oil and energy, chemical industries. Some lines had changed, but she appreciated the layers and handled them skilfully with her curatorial gloves.

The Bones: Fulfillment, Chapter 14 by Laura Wythe (available on Amazon)

The Bones Illustrated 15

A Great Void by Laura Wythe

She carried a tray with tea to the front porch, tapping on the door of the good parlour to let TinTin know it was ready. To call him out from the wired madness and to have another human being sit with her before the great void. Clem stared out at what she knew was a landscape only because a horizon line hovered in the distance. It had not been visible in earlier in the day, blotted by a mist rolling off the river, and just recently withdrawn. The horizon line, she noticed, might be fat or thin, far or close, depending on how dense the air was, how the sunlight struck through this veil between heaven and earth. Without the horizon, there was no landscape, only a void to be filled by the imagination. There was nothing to draw upon but sadness or fear. Her fingers gripped the tray for a moment longer, then she set it on the table.

The Bones: Fulfullment, Chapter 5 by Laura Wythe (available on Amazon)

The Bones Illustrated 14

Thomas Waits Where Highway 3 Has Fallen off the Map by Laura Wythe

The clouds over the shore were rent apart like a cloth, and the west-tracking sun burned through. A goddamned rainbow sprung from the gully to the south of him. It arced out over the lake as though painted with a sponge. The colours were brilliant. He shivered, wondering if it was a cruel harbinger of destruction, like the rainbows two weeks ago. But what if it was portent of incredible good fortune? Thomas patted his pockets and found a camera. Leticia’s. He could delete the photo later if things didn’t work out. Quickly, he snapped the photo as dark clouds from the west closed in on the rainbow. He almost teared up. The sunlight still shone through the cracks with the strength of a god’s finger. Brilliant, angelic light.

The Bones: Crossing, Chapter 12 by Laura Wythe (available on Amazon)

The Bones Illustrated 13

Crossing the Great Lake by Laura Wythe

Passing through the white fog gave the impression that the canoe stood still. There was no receding shoreline for Leticia to judge the speed or distance. Her shoulder and neck ached from the tension of holding the compass out for Rebecca to navigate. She couldn’t imagine how badly Rebecca and Miles would hurt by the time they reached the Canadian shore. The needle swung as they hit incoming swells and crossed the shore currents. Once out in the cooler deep water, the fog finally lifted. Wraiths of mist swirled around them.

The Bones: Crossing, Chapter 10 by Laura Wythe (available on Amazon)

The Bones Illustrated 12

Drawn into Catherine’s Orbit by Laura Wythe

“His life, it was too short, so short.”  Catherine closed the file, waved it in the air, as if she could conjure him back. He wished she had that magic, to bring back lives just as she brought life back to her artifacts. “He was the dearest soul I know, and never had a chance.” She looked to Thomas, and snuffed with her emotions. Clem and Thomas curled like brackets on either side of her, handing out tissues, murmuring kind words. Under her lashes, she looked his way, and TinTin knew she wasn’t looking for comfort. Like him, she was looking for those bits of Pi that she could carry forward. His work, his life, his thoughts—curated and alive because she bothered, and knew he would too. Shit, he’d finally been drawn into Catherine’s orbit, and from the looks of it, his first job was to rescue her.

“Look,” TinTin said, “you guys are staying for the night, so let’s forget this until the morning. The project is good. I say we order in beer and Chinese food and work our way through the vintage games. Pi would like that.”

Catherine lifted her head. “Vintage games?”

“Yes.”

Thomas laughed out loud. “He means video games.”

“There are vintage video games? I love them already.”

The Bones: Crossing, Chapter 7 by Laura Wythe (available on Amazon)

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The Bones Illustrated 11

Death of Simple Pi by Laura Wythe

“The GPS says the phone is here. That Pi should be here.”

“This is weird, even for Pi.” Clem looked at the GPS location, then around the area. She dialed Pi’s phone to hear the ring. It came from above, from the branches of the great tree. TinTin boosted her up to get it. It was still ringing, and he reached out for it, hung up on his call. 

“We don’t want to know how it got there, do we?”

“In the name of science we do, so let’s see what he’s done.” TinTin scrolled through the functions, found the most recent date stamps. “He was recording, so he wouldn’t have paid attention to our texts.”

They looked at each other. “Better play it.”

Crackles, pops. It’s ozone man, coming from the ground. It stinks like a bad connection on an electric streetcar. Violent pops. The unmistakable sizzle of electricity. One, two, three explosions, like artillery. Four, five, six. Seven. A hit, no warning whistle to proceed it.

TinTin felt ill.

The Bones: Crossing, Chapter 7 by Laura Wythe (available on Amazon)

The Bones Illustrated 10

Woven into the Fabric of Chatham County by Laura Wythe

“The town hates me.”

“It would be the same if I went to live with you in Gaza. A newcomer waltzes in and they think she wants a share of the pie she hasn’t earned yet. I will spend my life fitting you into my arms, my heart, my life. But the town has to work you among the many into its fabric until you’re seamless. Only recently has Dad been that pliable, or willing to spend the time.”

“Your parents do realize that the whole area is sunk after the bicentennial.”

“Mom says there’s some kind of programming that makes her return like a spawning salmon and that’s why she won’t give it up easily.”

Clem sighed and pretended to scoop up sunlight by the handsful, let it trickle through her fingers onto the covers.

“The fabric of Catherine’s childhood is unravelling,” TinTin said, sighing, as Clem rubbed her warm hands on his arm. “This social fabric of which you are a thread, would it perhaps be another kind of Net worth studying?”

“I think it’s been studied enough. There’s never been a culture more documented and headstrong than my mother’s.”

The Bones: Crossing, Chapter 7 by Laura Wythe (available on Amazon)

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The Bones Illustrated 9

Indian Territory, 1774 by Laura Wythe

He didn’t think the town was racist. They had their way of sorting people, of keeping them honest. The Wests had Indian blood from the frontier days and the genes popped up in random generations–two in a row with his dad and his sister. It wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t something the town let them forget. Even with his fair colour, he got his share of teasing. Rebecca, well, she got teased about everything and maybe the link to Tecumseh was just the last straw. The Galloways, they’d climbed the social ladder and right on up into the early government. The link to Tecumseh stuck but the family had always taken a hard line that nothing happened between old Rebekah and the Shawnee. None of their generations had come out brown-skinned like his father and his sister, so maybe it was true. In the end, Miles believed what mattered most was how people treated one another.

The Bones: The Crossing, Chapter 3 by Laura Wythe (Available on Amazon)

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The Bones Illustrated 8

Rain Whisperer by Laura Wythe

People all over the world claimed to be in touch with the rain, but Clem believed the whisperers who gathered the most media buzz were liars. Sure, small miracles did happen. Some prayers were answered, how many out of millions? The genuine survivors told how it felt like they’d died and only when they had given up all hope and struggle, only then, had the water, or the weather itself, carried them to safety. They had submitted.

Clem stopped asking for data. She surrendered to the rain.

The Bones, Wooing, Chapter 19 by Laura Wythe (available on Amazon)

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