Material Witness will focus on extreme textile process. Images will be posted here showing the history of my work, new work, developing projects and inspiration.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Rose Petals

I have a new kimono jacket that is silk velvet devore. It is dyed various shades of rose, peach and violet. The burnout on the cloth reminds me of blood cells or falling rose petals. Somehow, quite magically, it brings out any peach left over from my former peaches and cream complexion. The rose enhances anything blond left in my shortened mane.

Today I will dye a silk crepe and make a sheath dress to go with the jacket. I will climb out of my artsy fartsy but very practical black for just a little while.

Once I made a cloth from rose petals, acrylic medium and plumber's cloth. It looked like worn buckskin when it was finished and I made little boxes from it to use in my gulf war embroideries. The roses came from an ancient variety in the little back garden of this 100 year old tiny cottage. The roses still have long spikes and actually have a strong fragrance. The name is probably in the house records.

There is a collection of awful old rose chintz cloth in the cellar. It has been moved to one trunk now. Individually they are not very attractive but look amazing as a pile. I thought they were similar when I found each one of them but they are all different. They have been accumulating since the sixties along with a collection of old hankies. I think I was making quilts and hippy clothing from them and waiting for a daughter. She never came but wonderful nieces did.

Many women I know started dressing with vivid colour during meno-pause. Almost scary garrish. Tim's mother dressed in bright orange , wines and greens. She was so tiny and draped herself in colourful caftans and almost disappeared. My mother started dressing in jewel tones of red, emerald and electric blue. Both these women looked wonderful.

I always dressed in black. I indulged myself with black lace, leather and velvet when I wasn't wearing the dreaded t-shirt and leggings or jeans. My secret indulgence is red flannel nighties. I'd never get dressed if it didn't scare Tim and my children!

I just never wear roses.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Barney Nichols will now become someone I remember.

He has been my friend for more than 20 years. He died quietly in his sleep yesterday curled up under his quilt. His house was orderly and he had a glass of water before he climbed into bed.

My other old friend Peter Lowery found him after he didn't show up at a brunch they had planned. Barney was always on time.

I loved Barney. He looked like Michael Caine and spent years married to my friend Lou Lou. He could wash socks cleaner than anyone I ever met.
He knew everything about cleaning textiles and always gleamed with cleanliness.

He taught my son to wait on tables, full French service, when Bren was 3 years old. Bren walked around with a napkin on his arm for years. He also imitated Barney's precise Anglo-Montreal way of speaking. He knew Barney had class.

Barney had a deep drum of a voice that put shivers down my back in that good way. He was Irish Montreal and he could drink beer most properly.
He made everything just a little more fun .

When I got so sick I ran into Barney on Commercial Drive when I was going for a kill cancer walk. I was hairless, puffy and breathless.
He saw me and collapsed in tears. He shifted from foot to foot and finally just hugged me. A big fearless Barney hug.

That's what I'll miss the most.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Squiggly Wiggly Hats

Ana Voog makes hats I'd like to wear to a parent teacher's meeting.

The hats are made with crocheting run amuck. The colours are everywhere and so are the constructions. They have little octopus like suckers and horns and stamens and everything fetid that I can think of mashed into a hat. They are ovulation run wild!

I would love to have a grumpy science teacher just try to explain any of my creative children's inadequacies while I face them. I think I would like to hum and twiddle my thumbs and watch the teacher very carefully for an understanding that other things are important to me.

Despite dire warnings my children have thrived. But I wish I'd worn a hat like this.

I was taught to crochet succesfully after many failed attempts by a lovely young woman who had "Downs Syndrome". She told me I had to try and stop thinking like a "normal person" and just relax. She also told me that if I couldn't do it the way they showed me maybe I could do it her way. I think we might both crochet backwards but we both crochet all the time.
She crocheted "pieces of cloth" for her mom. Sometimes they were big and sometimes they were little. Me too!

Neither one of us crocheted as much as Ana Voog. Maybe nobody has!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Messing With Spiders

Mended Web #8 1998

Nina Katchadourian interfers with nature in the most delicate way.
She has spent some of her time repairing spider webs or embroidering messages on them. She even has a web mending kit.

The spiders rebel and tear apart her needlework to restore and repair with their own vision and instincts.

Her idea from this came after she read a Swedish nature book and discovered that spiders will occassionally wrap up their prey amd give it as a gift to another spider. She also discovered that the word gift in Swedish can mean poison!

Katchadourian fended off a spider with tweezers and embroidered words in her web. The spider dismantled the work and repaired her web. The words took on new forms.

I work in an obsessive way and have always been intriqued with the efforts of spiders and ants. I admire persistence because I sometimes lack it for long periods of time. Imagine taking tiny stitches and messing with nature. I respond to the miniature and microscopic.

Perhaps a new direction in my quest for working in different and more compact ways.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Not Studioless Yet!

Jeina e-mailed me to let me know that the initial application process for our studio business permits should take a few months. Each one of us at William's Street Studios will have our spaces "inspected" by the city and then after a time will have to go through a building permit application.

This is causing less panic for Jay and I but she is leaving for Guatemala in a few days and I am leaving for Europe next month. Hilary and Adonna will be using the studio when we are gone and will be given instructions on who to call to get packed up and move.

This has prompted lots of discussion on working art spaces. It started with panic and then Abigail Doan sent me some wonderful information regarding using alternate spaces,freespacing and municipal space sharing ideas. She introduced me to Austin Thomas whose philosophy is to usurp public "freespace" for art makers using spaces like laundry rooms, atriums, hallways and other non standard public zones for art places. Check out her blog at http://atfreespace.blogspot.com/. Abigail reminded me that with a little thought and community that creative people can find solutions. For example the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council at http://www.Imcc.net made arrangements with buildings and realtors to identify spaces in the urban areas not being used at all or that have been vacant for long periods of time. They partner with these owners and create artists residences/ studio workspaces.

The result of this is that I have really been considering how and where I do my work.

Currently I work in an old industrial building that was used for clothing manufacturing. It has huge windows and 20 foot ceilings. It is on a busy street and close to transportation. The best sushi guy in the city is just down the road and there are hundreds of artists within a stone's throw of the studio. I can walk there from my house. The artists in the building are civilized and considerate. It has 3 clean bathrooms and a little shared kitchen and a lounge. I like it because I have 24 hour access and have worked in there until dawn.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Turkish Shawls, Tandori, and Beer

Grotesquetory at the Cobalt

I had my birthday yesterday and it was lovely if for no other reason than I got to have another one.

I was spoiled rotten and my sweetie pie brought my mother and youngest son out with me for the most luxurious Indian dinner at Palki's in North Vancouver. We ate coconut shrimp, gobi aloo, tandori lamb and butter chicken with the biggest, most delicious garlic naan and pakoras. All topped up with Indian beer. Ahhhhh!

I waddled back to the truck clutching my very full belly and was gifted with organic garden seeds, a beautiful woven shawl my mother brought me from Turkey, an inspiring book from Nick Bantock from my son and a collection of the Dropped Threads essays from my sweetie.

When we arrived home there were lots of calls from my musically challenged friends and family, singing one by one, that birthday song that has no real tune. Karen sent me a hilarious collections of photo booth photographs from my 14th year. It shows a collection of "little angels" doing naughty things in a very small space. Lorilee, Jacqueline. Karen looking so naughty and me looking truly prim. No wonder I never got blamed for the escapades I planned.

And my vacation time has been confirmed for my trip to Europe. So I will be hitting as many flea markets, textile galleries, fabric and embroidery stores as possible. Wahoo!

Best yet...Keri Ann is now going into labour and I will be gifted with another little boy relative by the weekend. All this crocheting will keep a little someone warm. Once again I become Aunty Cousin Patsy to another little person.

Tomorrow Nephew Cousin Ryan Batten from the death metal band "Grotesquetory" is doing laundry here and serenading me with the "sweet trills" of his Tibetan chant-like songs. They really are so cute at this age.

I am so very thankful for all this extra time. I felt very well all day and plan to until my next birthday.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Lichens 2007 Jane Kenyon Machine Embroidery

I have just had a chance to look at some of the new work Jane Kenyon has done for her show at 13 Moons Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico . It is a new direction for her. The imagery is even more challenging and the stitching is dense and purposeful.

Jane Kenyon is one of my favourite embroiderers. She is the personification of work ethic. Her labour and sheer determination are the reason we are gifted with the beauty she creates. She really studies colour and works so very carefully with the imagery she chooses.

I remember my first introduction to Jane when I was at Capilano College. She was showing students her painted warp weavings which were beautiful. She had just finished her City and Guilds embroidery courses and was already showing remarkable work.

Now that work has just got better and better and her direction is so very clear. Her new lichen embroideries are gorgeous. Her palette is becoming so subtle and earthy. Her topics are so full of environmental conversations.

It is such a wonderful pleasure to have Jane floating in the same circles that I do. I am happy to know her and work on some of the same projects.
But I always feel like such a lazy artist when I do.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Irish Dancers doing a 3 Handed Dance
When did Disneyland replace Ireland?

I had to hide yesterday as I was assailed with loud banging, screeching, and vomituous green beer.

Leprechauns have been replaced by Irish dancers with red headed wigs and silly skaters costumes. These dancers are now leaping about, high kicking and prancing in an imitation of old country dances. Hundreds of dollars spent on the wigs and garrish costumes to rival any Goofy or Mickey Mouse.

Funny that the dances were really imported from England and America. The straight backed kicking was much more modest considering it was supervised by the priests for any hint of sexuality.

Irishness has become the most adolescent imagery that I can think of.
Horrible little angels, leprechauns, and sparkling shamrocks have become a parady of my own roots.

My mother's family come from Wexford and Cork. My paternal grandfather came from St. John's, Newfoundland. Both my grandfathers were toe steppers and played penny flutes. On St. Patricks Day the Protestents threw bags of flaming manure from windows above parades organized by the Church. Catholics returned the favour on St. George's day. Churches were burnt down in Peterborough, Ontario until the 1970's. Children knew what side of the street to walk on even in my prairie town.

The irony is that Saint Patrick has not really been recognized by the church as a saint for decades. Same ironies exist in Christmas celebrations.

People have forgotten, I suppose that the reason for such sloppy sentimentality and adolescent imagery is that most our Irish ancestors came here when they were adolescent. The vast majority were kids under the age of 24. They were without restraints from family and church and formed their own little gangs and communities for survival in the harshest circumstances possible. In Ireland on St. Patrick's Day people went to church and came home to a nice meal and a cup of tea. They certainly, until recently,didn't get dough faced on Green Guiness.

Yesterday I rebeled and ate a little dinner of game hen and stuffing. The only green at the table was the broccolli and green onions. It is the first time I haven't made my Broonie or Colchannon.

I love my Irish heritage. I love the story telling and the music. I own beautiful pieces of whitework embroidery and prayer books. But I can't ever forget that the people celebrating St. Patrick's Day need to remember that this holiday is really one of the marks of division for the Irish people. St. Patrick wasn't a leprechaun. He was a priest. He wasn't even Irish!

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Reading Jackie Orr

I have just heard a performance by Jackie Orr from Syracuse University.
She is exploring the manufacture and encouragement of "Panic" in post war North America. She is an academic and a feminist who has looked at issues related to "hysteria" and "panic" in a very holistic way. She actually included herself in a drug study for a medication for panic disorder and studied the researchers.

Her work draws heavily from the kind of information that I was spoon fed as a child. She reads through recordings from my childhood that were constantly reminding us to "duck and cover". There was one recording with cartoon like music that I remember very clearly telling a child what to do if they were alone when the nuclear bomb went off.

She has compared the manufacture of panic by the American government at that time to the ridiculous panic encouraged after 9-11.

I have lived through both times. I was born into the "Cold War" and spent my young childhood learning safe routes out of the prairie city I lived in.
My school regularily sent us scrambling home to the sound of air-raid sirens. My mother had emergency bags packed at all times and nearly everyone with a new house built a bomb shelter.

Worse yet...nuclear bombs were tested in Nevada and the "nuclear winds" blew over our city a day or so later. We were warned to stay indoors and not to eat the snow! We are refered to as "downwinders" and many have contracted cancer including me.

No bomb ever came except from the American nuclear testing.

Jackie Orr has documented and analysed this time in the most complete and sensitive way. Her book is Panic Diaries:A Genealogy of Panic Disorders Durham, NC Duke University Press. Feb 2006.

No wonder I burn things when making my textiles.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Imagining Spaces

I have decided to become more optomistic and hopeful regarding where and how I work. There are people all over this little world who are able to create even without a designated space.

I think it may be selfish to hoard space just for art making. Today I went for a walk and Ben, a homeless man in my neighbourhood, was busy making a chalk drawing on the sidewalk. He was taken away with the delight of mess making and the images coming from him. I just watched and decided not to become a trauma victim even if I lose my studio.

I remember Yvonne Wakabayashi, the incredible shibori artist and teacher, showing me beautiful pictures of textile masters throughout Japan creating in the most tiny and organized spaces. Charlotte Kwan, the MAIWA founder, told me that when she went to Behar in India after the terrible earthquake, the artists where managing to work in the streets and requested supplies to be able to continue to rebuild their lives. I have worked tiny in the past with far fewer challenges and can always do it again.

I have also run into artists like Abigail Doan and others who are very carefully considering environmental concerns regarding work and space.

I think that designated working spaces for arists should always be shared and always try to do that with the places I have been lucky enough to have.

Don't get me wrong. Artists do need places to work. Perhaps there are other ways to think about doing this.

Any ideas?

Thursday, March 8, 2007


Jay was in the studio and an inspector from the city dropped by to let people in our wonderful studio know that the place had never been registered as anything but a clothing factory.

Jeina e-mailed to let me know that the studio will require a full inspection and we will require business licences in the future. We will also probably require liability insurance etc.

There are so few spaces for artists and working studios in this expensive city. I have so much stuff and so many pieces that I have to store . What will happen to my library, supplies and equipment?

I am a bucket of anxiety. Thankfully Jay and Jeina are so very Zen!
I will hope for the best. I can't imagine finding better people to get to work with.