Tag Archives: inspiration

Stitched Illustration

I’ve always sewn clothes, made pictures, sculptures–tactile, physical objects that I could share with others pretty easily.

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The lakeshore, formerly at 76.5 metres above sea level had risen by 15 metres and was lapping at Queen Street West. From The Bones, Chapter 2, by Laura Wythe

For a number of reasons, writing has become a great creative and personal outlet for me.  But how to show and share words? Contests, blogging, writing plays and joining writing groups have worked for short fiction.

Recently I finished a novel, inspired in part by a street in Wortley Village. Tecumseh Avenue is the only native name among so many traditional English names. It took a lot of research to find out the story behind the name, and I used the presence of this First Nation man in The Bones.

The main character is Catherine Blackwood, the textile curator at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. She grew up on a farm next to the battlefield north of Chatham where Tecumseh died in the War of 1812. She heads back to the farm, now in Flood Zone 4, obsessed with making one last search for Tecumseh’s bones. (I’ll blog more about the Tecumseh story.)

I’m used to showing and telling what I’ve been up to. The logical thing — for me — was to make a series of illustrations and launch a book with pictures! Catherine, the textile curator, came to mind as having the perfect point of view for the illustrations.

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gathering materials for The Bones Laura Wythe

For more than 2 years, I have collected textiles–table linens, threads, and other bits and embellishments. I have pored over maps and charted the travels of the characters through a flood ravaged land. I have joined London branch of the Canadian Embroiderer’s Guild to bone up on my stitching techniques.

I have 4 months left to finish the illustrations, and literally thousands of stitches to go.

 

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Indie Publishing

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A long time ago, in the town I grew up in, I had my first Indie publishing moment in Mr. Smith’s Canadian Lit class. I wrote the story, drew the pictures, hand printed the words, and bound the pages with red electrical tape. Pretty cool. An excellent teacher, Mr. Smith went through the pages with pencil and pointed out my not-too-numerous spelling and grammar mistakes. He whispered to me (I was a class-slacker) that I should get this book published. I thought it was.

Little did I know at the time “nurd” would be become a part of our vocabulary, and have a different spelling!

Now with online printing platforms, I can go beyond a short children’s story and print out a whole novel, and many copies! In my case, I used CreateSpace, and being a pencil and paper girl, I had a hard time until I just followed the instructions. Oh yes, and I enlisted a friend’s help!

Talking out design problems and getting the book just right was a great experience, and now it’s done. I have a BIG book.

Mind you, I also booked a venue to hold an art show in 2018 — can’t resist illustrating a novel. Deciding how to include illustrations is still to be decided. I’d like it to have some of the charm of an “old-school” book, maybe with colour plates pasted onto blank pages opposite the text, or scattered through more randomly. It won’t be hand printed, but the illustrations will be hand-made.

I’m proud to announce the release of The Bones, and will be among the small presses and indie authors at London Ontario’s Wordsfest — Southwesto Book Expo — held November 4 and 5th at Museum London. A cool start for a book.

Meet local author_landscape

 

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Colours of the Garden: colour wrapping

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thread wrapped basket/Laura Wythe

Many of the fibre artists I meet dye their threads to make their own pallet. I haven’t tried it, except the once when I sank a skein of pearl cotton into a brew of black walnut juice.

In the cold of winter, I went to a workshop led by Nancy Latchford. She’s a fibre artist who specializes in baskets, and her baskets are amazing in size and range. We met in a workroom in the Jonathon Snell-Bancroft Gallery where we had a view of Nancy’s fibre-based work, as well as many, many amazing ceramic pieces.

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Base of basket by Laura Wythe

We started making our little baskets, first wrapping a washer for the base, then wrapping more threads over a cotton and wire core to make our coils. I’ve made slippery coils for clay for pots before, but this was new, and quite a challenge to juggle the pieces.

A huge part of the project was to choose the colours, or in my case, let the colours choose me. There was a boardroom-size table before us filled with hand-dyed cotton thread of all colours and tints. Impossible to include them all, but I tried. Red is always my favourite, but then violet, purple, orange, yellow, greens and blues took up the bulk of the project. In the dead of winter, I was thinking about June gardens.

The wrapping technique was new to me. You choose 2 or 3 colours and wrap them together around the core materials. It’s blending colours, and then as Nancy pointed out, they become further blended when the coils are bound together with yet more blends.

The basket is still a work in progress, palm-sized. The gardens, however, are in full bloom.

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Thread-wrapped basket in progress, Laura Wythe

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Joy of colour

It’s been a grey monotone winter, and I’ve been working on a large project with a theme of rain. More greys and damp and sombreness. Every now and again, there’s a tiny break in the grey blanket of sky, shadows, even a bit of blue. It doesn’t matter if it’s morning or night, it’s all a progression of grey.

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Detail of Sari Splendor square by Laura Wythe

Into the grey came a workshop called Indian Splendor led by Donna Funnel, hosted by the London branch of the Canadian Embroiders Guild. Step by step we were led to a guarantee of colour harmony and wonder. It really is important to trust the instructor, especially when they say, choose your colours, any colours will work.

Sari ribbon is a new material for me, and of course, the ribbons came in brilliant colours and textures. Donna also had some sari silk yarn that matched the silks but brought another layer of texture when all was done. We created a base with the ribbons, then cut and embellished. Of course, I bling-ed my project up with shiny yarns, sequins and beads–and some variegated silk thread.

So, here’s the finished project.

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Full size Sari Splendor square by Laura Wythe

Donna has used the squares in an entirely different way to create a stunningly detailed wall hanging. Simple structure, amazing results.

What a riot of colour for a dull winter’s day.

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Song of experience

A lot of my life is spent wondering. And I wonder at my mom, how she manages living deeper and deeper in dementia. A while ago, her older sister, who also had dementia, passed away.

I wondered how a person with dementia would respond to the news that a loved one had died. I wondered how dementia might have affected the sisters in the first place. Would they still have a relationship, each in their own world?

This playful drawing came after writing a short bit of fiction about this. Sometimes drawing helps with the wondering where words fail.

Sketches for the garden gate for Song of Experience by Laura Wythe

The style of the drawing is based on  William Blake’s work and this poem:

THE GARDEN OF LOVE

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

 

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Out of Africa quilt show

Volunteering for Out of Africa quilt show arranged by the London International Quilt Festival was really cool.  My friend and I spent more time with quilts than we normally would have, and with the other volunteers and the circle of vendors around the room.

Tent hanging hand sewn by the Men of Cairo, approx 14' x 14'

Tent hanging hand sewn by the Men of Cairo, approx 12′ x 12′

A quilt, apparently, can be broadly defined as a fancy top and a back, with a batting sometimes in the middle.  At this show, there were very few, if any, quilts like the traditional ones my grandmother would make.  Almost all of these quilts from the African continent were meant to hang on the wall.  Stunning “quilts” from the Men of Cairo collective were actually tent walls, and resembled Persian carpets or mosaics. African animals, cultures, traditional and everyday life were celebrated with brilliant colours, sombre desert hues, embroidery and embellishments.

Salamander Quilt, Out of Africa show in London ON, 2013

Salamander Quilt, Out of Africa show in London ON, 2013

Detail of salamander quilt, Out of Africa, London ON, 2013

Detail of salamander quilt, Out of Africa, London ON, 2013

I didn’t get to the lecture on the African quilts, but I did meet a volunteer, Hasebenebi Kaffel who knew the subject in broader terms.  I mistook him for a member of the Men of Cairo collective.  He really works for the UK-based ACORD and has been to Cairo many times, he said.  Also a member of ACFOLA, he was at the show to volunteer his knowledge of Africa.   He told me how long ago he fled his home in Eritrea with nothing, and then ended up in front of the World Bank to deliver a paper on the importance of gender in the economics of developing countries.  Very interesting!

Alas, I did not make any purchases.  There were vendors from all over the world, but instead of getting into something new, I vowed to finish the quilt that I started 30 years ago.  I know, I’m amazed at how quickly time has passed. “The Wedding Plate” is pieced bits of fabric from projects that my sisters and I made in our teens–dresses, PJs, blouses, pot holders, whatever–and I need to finish the quilting and bind it.

It’s good that Africa came to London, for the education, inspiration, and the joy!!

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Never Cry Wolf, another model, a lot more love

The reference to Farley Mowat was right, and I must have liked the workings of Mowat’s anti-bureaucratic mind enough that his philosophy and a bit of his wisdom has stuck.    Never Cry Wolf is about a young, naive, biologist flying into the north tundra, and his literal face-to-face meetings with the wolves.  His openness to what he really saw, a de-bunking of the myth of the wild, and of wolves beyond self-serving human narratives like Jack London’s, has become a model for wildlife management.

The best descriptor of the Never Cry Wolf relationships can be found in the Duluth Model of Equality, the changes needed to encourage a shift to non-violence in an abusive relationship.  Mowat would encourage us to give up our violence and learn a more peaceful way from the wolves.  I learned about the Duluth Power and Control Wheel through volunteer training with the London Abused Women’s Centre.  It describes the use of violence to exercise control, and I have posted them below, with love.

A great guide for any relationship.  Wish business/government culture would adopt it universally.

A great guide for any relationship. Wish business/government culture would adopt it universally.

Call of the Wild approach, so old-school.

Call of the Wild approach, so old-school.  No need for aggression.

And so Mowat does pee out a boundary and you’ll have to read the book to see if it really does work.  And so my short story was built on the wisdom of an elder, who offered a great alternative to the violence of conquering.

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Parts of Canada we seldom see

My friend Charlotte and I went to the opening of the medium gallery (yes, it’s all lower case) in the Old East business district on Saturday night.  In 2011 a photographer, Johan Hallberg-Campbell, had flown into the bush of northern Ontario with the Canadian Red Cross to photograph their efforts to supply Attawapiskat with sleeping bags, heaters and winter clothing.

Attawapiskat

This poster photo is the least representative of the exhibit, a romantic, christianized image, and it was placed next to a photo of a beautiful but very sad young woman living in the crawl space beneath the floor of a house, her arms marked by cutting.

Hallberg-Cambell said, to paraphrase, that while he was in Attawapiskat, he didn’t want to traumatize the citizens there.  He found them to be gentle and kind people, and he knew the general media was using images for articles that would result in misunderstandings, or misrepresentations, that would further politicize the situation.  The images he chose for the exhibit were personal and sincere. It was well worth the visit.

Years ago I lived on another northern Cree reserve in housing that was trucked in, just as the housing is being trucked into Attawapiskat.  The 3 months I spent at the Red Earth IR have had a huge impact on me.

The newly built high school and two 4-plexes for used offices and teacher housing on the Red Earth IR, Saskatchewan.

The newly built high school and two 4-plexes for used offices and teacher housing on the Red Earth IR, Saskatchewan.  The only new buildings I saw on the reserve.

The trailer i lived in, newly trucked in and waiting for insulation and skirting.

The trailer I lived in while teaching in Red Earth, Saskatchewan, newly trucked in and waiting for insulation and skirting.

The housing I lived in was considered “new” housing on the reserve, a used trailer with frustration already punched into the walls. The gas for the stove came from a big propane tank that looked like a bomb at the edge of the clearing, beside the tree that the bear liked to maul. Our neighbour in the next trailer had a small gas explosion after he came home and lit the pilot light.  The hospital was over 80 km away, but luckily his burns weren’t severe.  And we were teachers, told that our housing was “nicer” than most of the residents.

As the seasons turned from Saskatchewan prairie summer to fall and then winter, I came to know more about the resiliency of the people who held on despite the incredible patronizing system that kept the once vibrant community dysfunctional for decades. I can relate to how Halleberg-Campbell photographed both the life-threatening poverty, the trauma and the beauty of the gentle souls in Attawapiskat.

Horses were still part of the treaty agreement, and they mostly ran in a herd fending for themselves against wolves and bears.  The Cree at Red Earth still rode them, just had to round them up first.

Horses were still part of the treaty agreement on Red Earth 29, and they mostly ran in a herd fending for themselves against wolves and bears. The Cree still rode them, just had to round them up first.

All those years ago I was shocked at discovering the biggest “secret” in the Canadian family closet.  The missionaries of my childhood church had us folding bandages and diapers, collecting school supplies and donations for Africa.  Our grannies should have have been knitting and praying for those on the reserve I worked at. I didn’t know third world conditions existed in Canada.  Our schools should have told us about contemporary “Indians.”  Our treatment of them remains appallingly political and needless to say, less than christian.  As a direct result, I became a feminist, an atheist, an activist.

The medium gallery is part of a community economic development project in the Old East area of London, Ontario, where a large percentage of the residents are also struggling with neglect, poverty, mental health, drugs and prostitution.  The anti-poverty advocacy group, Life*Spin has spear-headed this new development.  Their neighbour, Artisan Bakery, also opened on the same night.

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Dissecting style, a t-shirt intervention

There was a nice green t-shirt in my dresser drawer.  Nice, but I never wore it because … well … I didn’t like it.  An indefinable not-liking.

It became unwearable last November when I dissected it.  By picking apart the features that bothered me, I hoped to learn more about its character and nature.  The colour was great.  But not the band around the bottom and not the little gathered bit in front.  Surely there was a better way to put this garment together.

The interesting thing about dissection is that one knows it won’t go back together the same way. Ever. It’s like getting the recipe for a favourite dish a friend makes, and you have all the ingredients, but it doesn’t taste the same as your friends when you make it.  It’s like when a friend, spouse, family member shares something that’s normally hidden.  You can maintain the routines and habits, but the person is different, the relationship is different.  It’s risky to share, to look at the underside or inner workings.  I could truly wreck the t-shirt, but that was cool.  It was stuck in a drawer anyway.  Although, Goodwill or some other recycling enterprise might have found a better home for it.

So a choice had to made:  throw it out or reinvent.

And there the green tee sat on my workroom table next to a bright green and orange print fabric from already cannibalized blouse which had three really cute, tiny covered buttons.  The t-shirt sat for the whole month of December in the flurry of holiday card making and last minute sewing, flirting with the green bits in a brown print skirt, destined to be remodeled in 2013, or 2014.

Same nice t-shirt as the green with the original styling.

Same nice t-shirt as the green with the original styling.

Reinvented, and should be a bright Kelly green as you'll see from the sister tee beside it.

Reinvented, and it really is a bright Kelly green as you can see from the sister tee above.

So as the snow fell in January, the plain, proper, nice little t-shirt was reinvented into something a little different.  I will wear it now because it’s gone from nice to being fun.  It has some depth.  And if it had a voice, I could hear it praying for me to finish the brown print skirt, which was finished but also in need an intervention and became another victim of dissection by seam-ripper.  The skirt was nice, but not fun. Not flirty, or flattering … or interesting enough to wear.

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Escaping the Studio: a marriage proposal pops up

I like to escape the studio, even though there’s a comfortable chair and a huge  table.  It’s good to get out.  I take my writing or sketchbook and “work” in public spaces.  A good way to get some things done.

Covent Garden Market, London Ontario
Mezzanine

On Friday afternoon I was having tea by the huge beautiful windows upstairs at the Covent Garden Market.  A group of teenage girls began to gather and  practice dance moves in the space beside me.  I had my Mp3 player and ignored them.  More and more girls came, but I shrugged, thinking they were practicing for the Fringe Festival which had started the day before.

A friend spotted me and we moved away from the growing commotion so that we could talk. It soon became clear that something was up.  At some point, the practicing stopped and the girls scattered among the tables.  Ah, a flash mob. Sure enough, the music started up and a couple of girls got up to dance, with more girls gradually joining in.  But they kinda swarmed a woman who was not part of the dancing group.  And there to save her was a man.  That man handed her a gorgeous bouquet of red roses.

Out came the tissues.  It was a marriage proposal.  She must have said yes.  Confetti cannons went off.  Then more tissue therapy, for her this time.  Her guy just hugged her, seriously smiling.

This kind of thing never happens in my studio.

Love,

Laura

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