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.

Friday, November 30, 2007

After Garments

There is an entire world of garments that I didn't know existed.There is a fashion world for the dead. Garments to be worn for burial and cremation. These garments are available through every funeral director.

I first ran into the idea of burial garments when researching vintage patterns for infant wear. I didn't realize that an entire fashion industry existed for the dead. I thought everyone was like my family where upon death a family member was dispatched to the deceased closet to retrieve a favourite garment. My granny was beautifully dressed in lavenders and pinks. She had chosen a a pink colour scheme for her funeral in the same way a bride would for a wedding. Granny had every detail planned.

I know that I thought about which songs would be played at my memorial. Janis Joplin would belt one out for me. This gave some comfort to mourn myself when I was sick. I wanted to be buried with my boots on. My father had fantasies of us hoisting him up a mountain in a cardboard box and dumping him over some cliff. His ashes are still rolling around my brother's truck waiting for the perfect forest trail or fishing trip. My Newfoundland family told stories of old men propped up in the corner of the parlour with a beer in one hand and passing gas one last time.

"Near cleared the house, we ran in every direction. Jesus, Mary and Joseph... we's sure he'd come back to life!"

I always imagined them dressed in smoky, green cardigans
There are now beautiful and serene outfits for the deceased including false fronts and capelets.
There are men's and women's garments that are offered in a wide range of colours including a powerful, raging red. There are even a range of coverings with choice of puppy and kitty patterns for your beloved pet. Babies can wear halos if you want.

Gone are the days of the plain pine box. No more ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Now there are "fashion" consultants to dress us for our special day.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Mummified Baby from China

Crocheted outfits made for dead babies include "Angel Dolls"

Very tiny booties

Everything strangely perfect

There is this strange culture of attachment that we seem to nurture as human beings.

While looking for baby clothing patterns I ran across this site. Crochet Patterns Central in a section called burial garments.
There are a group of people, mostly women, who want to make sure that infants who died in late term pregnancy or as still births are given lovely wardrobes. They need the small "sleeping babies" to have warm, crocheted sweaters, blankets and little outfits to keep them warm and to comfort the grieving parents. The outfits are made for "Angels". They offer patterns to volunteers to make up the clothing and tell them where the clothing is needed. The sizes are called ultra preemie and would really fit a doll.
I have been with friends and family when children have died. My nephew Christopher died as a small child and the grief was terrible. His parents chose to dress him in his tiny leather jacket while wearing his favourite cool guy shades for burial. Tim's mother lost a baby in late term pregnancy and kept it in a pickle jar. She was very upset by people's shocked reaction to being showed it. She kept it for awhile because it was so "perfect" and she couldn't figure out what killed it. A more "scientific" interest took the place of her grief.

I feel very unsettled by this attachment to the departed. Even more so with departed pets. Maybe because I spent so much time hovering near death. I know that it has always been this way. Even ancient people kept remains of loved ones and mummified tiny, premature babies. It just seems very, very strange to me.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Baby Bunting

Juliet, my lovely friend , is expecting her little baby in a few more days and I need to make a baby bunting and a few little outfits. I also want to make her a little swaddling blanket of soft material.

I have found a few patterns for all but am wondering where more are.

Swaddling cloths aren't used much anymore or are called receiving blankets or something.
There might be something in the stash of baby clothes left over from the boys. There was a little nightie with long sleeves that had a drawstring at the bottom to keep wee feet warm. The pattern was Irish and about two hundred years old but it is stored away somewhere safe to be found years from now. My mother's friend Liz drew it for me when Dane was a baby. I hope it is still around.

I will crochet some Irish lace booties and a little bonnet from another old pattern.

As soon as I get the CSI's finished. Maybe the baby will be a little late to give me a bit more time. There is always a rush for due dates and deadlines.

Extreme Process

The hooorooorr!

My house is an example of extreme textile process. There is debris and torn paper everywhere. The living room is the most organized and I can't find the floor yet.

I worked in both the house and the studio for the last two months almost without a break.
Tim and I tore paper, made emulsions and glues, did the paper mache and the burning here.

The house has actually got soot on the windows. There is glue on the living room floor where we watched t.v. and movies while doing the paper mache. The gut dried better in the house so it too is stuck to surfaces.

Ryan, my death metal relative, arrived for a visit in the middle of all the production and left taking all his stuff from the last visit. This means I can find storage for some of the remains of the shows and for supplies next time. I just have to play Rubik's Cube for awhile to figure it out.

I met with some Guild buddies yesterday to plan a new project and they commented on how organized the studio looked. They would have fled if I had invited them home.

How do you get glue off an old wooden floor anyways? Perhaps a blow torch will do!

As soon as I get my CSI stuff finished and mailed to Arlee!

Wrapping It Up

Inspirational Objects collected through my life.

Celine discussing my work with a Tibetan Monk. An amazing conversation!

The "Wonderland "show at Numen Gallery has now been dismantled and hauled to the studio and home. The globes are like little abandoned beings looking out from glass cases, pouring out of bags and sitting on shelves without context.

Only a few pieces sold at the show. Most were small and not expensive. The difference between showing in a small gallery and at a huge event like the East Side Culture Crawl.

No matter because this was my favourite show. The experience of getting to know Scott and Celine, the thoughtfulness and care they put into installation, the interest and professionalism Celine maintained during the show was wonderful. It was exciting and an honour to be the first show in a brand new gallery.

I loved the work by the other artists in the Numen Gallery. It has also been carefully selected and presented. The space itself has been constructed to be a serene oasis. There is a presence of calm and beauty. The kind that lingers after the door is closed and the lights go out. The calm that stays with you and is savoured for later.

A few globes have been invited to stay at Numen. They will nestle there with the other work and look out on the excitement of the next show.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


White Diana in a white room in the Louvre. Photo Tim G.A. Hurley

Peevish, prissy, controlling and pedantic. I have trouble navigating through some personalities. That personality is the hardest for me to deal with. In art and in life.

It is interesting to me that some of the most productive and successful artists I know are not like that. They are productive and generous. They produce work that is precise and careful but they allow for growth and change. Experimentation is an important part of what is needed to create work that is leading edge.

What is the difference between art and craft?

There may not be a large difference, these days, with so many artsits and crafts people blurring lines. But there are still artists who don't take time to master any technique. Those who focus on concept alone and lose capacity to communicate to others in the process. Then there are crafts people who are obsessed with traditional process and precision who communicate nothing at all but a catalogue of techniques.

I have noticed that the public is sometimes prepared to settle for little because they are mystified by process. They lack a basic education about how to interpret what they see.
They have been overexposed to the "church basement craft fair". I also see artists willing to exploit by taking advantage of that ignorance. Craftspeople who use commercial products and patterns that they parade as their own.

One of my favourite experiences was a show held at the American Folk Art Museum in New York. There was a room full of quilts that were all worked in white. The room danced with difference when the eyes adjusted. Each quilt was white cotton or linen stitched with white threads. Some were precise and some wild. Not one of them was prissy, pedantic or controlled.
Every quilt expressed personality and originality.

I want to strive for that white quilt but never the pristine.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Small globes without encrustation on Mermaid Cloth Patricia Chauncey 2007

Numen Gallery has just contacted me regarding my smallest globes. Wahoo.
They are still intricate and take a fraction of the time to create. People seem to like them because they are palm sized. Three were stolen at the Crawl.

I sold three larger works last night and they have a good home not far from where I live.
Three larger commisions from the East Side Culture Crawl are still in discussion. They are custom work, more complicated and expensive.

Yesterday I spoke with another documentary t.v. person about my work. I have known her since she was a little girl. Her mother is an amazing activist and academic who encouraged me to think about going back to school to study textiles. I would love to work with her on a project.

Things have gone so well that I fly solo in the studio in January. This decision was made over the last few weeks and solidified through the weekend. The time for cowardice is gone. It is also time to concentrate more on my own work and less on petty interactions.

My studio sublet, Jay Rudolph, has been offered a shared studio on Granville Island at the Silk Weaving Studio. I am thrilled for her because I know this will serve to enhance her craft opportunities and reputation regarding her lace making and weaving. She has just returned from a teaching gig in New York. Self reported as very successful.

Naughty Peter keeps sending me very funny posts this month. He dropped by the Crawl and made me happy. Some people thrive when in difficulty. "Up for the scrap", my Irish granny used to say. The same one used to say, "Better strife than boredom!" Hmmmm?

I just hope we all have less!

Maybe I should call my next large embroidery "Better strife than boredom!"

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Finished Crawling

What can I say?

I am not sure when I will stop floating on air. The East Side Culture Crawl went far better than ever imagined. There were amazing people, wonderful feedback and a fistful of dollars. There are really so many opportunities that have come from this that I have to sit down and make choices.

Tim and I sat down and made some decisions about what direction to travel. Decisions always require changes and leaving what exists to move on to what will become. Bravery is required. It is easy to be braver when there is enough security to do that.

I asked some hard questions about what I require for my process and creativity to thrive, about how to improve my work and how to plan ahead. Some answers came easy. Other answers will take a little more time.

My life changed drastically when I stopped working to survive cancer. I never thought that my career could or even should continue in the same direction. But kissing something goodbye isn't always the end of it. Sometimes opportunities come back and are greater than they were when left behind.

Sometimes people return and touch you again. This weekend two important people returned.
One was a wonderful comfort and my muse. The other almost fainted and collapsed for awhile because she really thought I was dead. She had buried me and put me in the place of memory. Only I was standing in front of her and making noise and leaping about. I had also let her go because she had moved to Europe and had gone on to the most wonderful things. But there she was!

So today I start working with the gifts that are new and the ones that return.

As soon as my poor head stops spinning!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

East Side Culture Crawl

This weekend is one of the biggest weekends for artists in East Vancouver. Many studios are open and the community is invited in.

People are very excited about having the chance to talk with artists about their work and techniques. I am always delighted by how thoughtful the questions are and by how carefully most people treat the objects.

How lovely to have the opportunity to be there while people interact with my work.

I will be at the studio today from 11 until 6 and again tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


This is a picture of Jane Garten Swinney. I am trying to figure out how old she was in this picture. She was born in 1801. She was my Great Great Great Great Grandmother. Her parents were Griffith Garten and Hannah Killer. She was the mother of 11 children. She was described as a good and useful woman. She was also cared for nursing babies for 25 years which would make her a wet nurse.

Her mother was named Hannah Killer. She was Dutch.

Hanging Shows

I am not very perfectionistic about most things but I am really fussy when it comes to hanging shows.

Celine Rumalean is even more so and really helped me concentrate on what look I wanted for the exhibition at Numen.

This weekend Jay, Hilary and I are hanging the show for the East Side Culture Crawl. Hilary has spent lots of time considering how her work will be displayed. She has considered each unit for her installation. I have purchased glass cases and am showing in containers similar to a "Cabinet of Curiosities". I have perspex frames for each piece and also show in shadow boxes and frames.
Only a few things are loose.

Jay had beautiful framing for her tapestry weavings that were shown at the Craft House . I know she has delightful pieces of silver lace that she has bobbin woven and some pretty opera shawls. She is also planning on doing some demonstartions through the weekend. Her lace making equipment is quite exciting to look at.

I am always afraid that more than one artist in the studio will make it take on a craft fair feeling, which I hate. Textiles need to be displayed with respect to help people understand they are a serious art form. The studio is designed with walls that cover existing shelves and with movable pony walls. Our equipment and materials will go behind the false walls and disappear.

I hope that, despite group think, it will look serious and contemporary. We got many compliments last year.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Well...holy s..t!

I have 2 days until the TV interview and 4 days before hanging the East Side Culture Crawl and my sewing machine crapped out, threw sparks and died a not very elegant death. I guess it had a problem sewing through animal bones, the skins and poly plastic dripping with silicone. Maybe it was the cement powder or the stinking latex. Who knows?

Well there is no time to stress out over it and another plan must be made. Suicide is not an option. No one here is impressed by my tears.

I am hand sewing pupae cases. Hand rolling hems and wait for it....doing embroidery by hand.
I dragged everything home tonight and will attempt to do my devore from the house, roar up the washing machine for dyeing and pole wrap until I faint. Pole wrap not pole dance!

Tim has kindly offered to do some papier mache and his is much more precise and far smoother. I almost don't want to coat it with the emulsions but something must be shown with expected crustiness.

I am still an adrenalin junkie. This is all kind fun!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Crawling Forward

The Crawl is now a week away. The energy at the Williams Street Studios is at an all time high. The activity and social interaction is everywhere. People are buzzing with effort and adhesives which were so strong that I could even smell it.

My studio was full of activity today. Jay has filled the place with beautiful shibori shawls and hand made silver lace jewelry. My area is crammed with projects and remnants of the last months activities. Tina's machine is throwing sparks'

I looked again at my CSI challenge pieces which are supposed to have something to do with the plaques of Egypt. Not as bad as I remember. Little pictures were loaded into frames because they sold well at last year's crawl. New globes got started.

Gut globes and baskets are also covering my dining room table. I didn't bring them into my studio today when I met with Lyn Fabio and her partner Norman. Because I forgot them.
Lyn was so sharing and told me so much more about working with gut. She uses up to twenty layers and builds supports. She introduced me to new preservation techniques. She encouraged me to talk about my own process and inspired me all over again. the gut world needs to know two words...paste wax!

Lyn functions at a very high level in her thinking about art and textiles. She is often isolated in a world of Quilty people. She takes the time to educate herself and attends the Surface Design conferences in Kansas. She knew about the Korean shows and compared some information.
I am so excited when I speak with her. It is more so in the meetings we have had.

Lyn may have an opportunity to travel to Russia and workshop with people in Siberia. They don't have access to hog or sheep gut. They have offered her reindeer gut. Wow. She has already been invited to use gut from musk Ox, walrus and seal in Alaska. The Yukon people let her try some whale gut which is highly prized as food. It didn't work very well. She has also tried caribou and is using fish skins.

I really need to make an effort to stay in touch because we have so much to share.

Her wonderful partner Norman made contact this time and let me know that Lyn was going for surgery. She is so healthy in other ways that I know it will go well tomorrow.

Lyn is a choclatier and a chef, just to put icing on her cake . She left me with beyond delicious handmade chocolates which I ate and used as bargaining chips with Jay, LaDonna and Tina today. Oh good God!

Good Luck tomorrow Lyn.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Gut Instinct

Lyn Fabio has come to town. She taught me how to work with gut a few years ago.
She lives and works in Whitehorse and has now been published in the Surface Design Association Magazine.

She makes the most spiritually charged vessels using a variety of guts and fish skins.
Her aesthetic is ancient and contemporary at the same time.

She is here for hip surgery and will actually give me some time before she goes in on Friday. I will pack her up some inspirational books and supplies for her hospital stay. She can aslo dig through my studio and occupy herself while I am working.

I think I have convinced her to come back when she is well and do a gut workshop for us southerners (in a Canadian sense). she is a very good teacher.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I have just heard that a local T.V. program is interested in doing some filming of me working in the studio and showing my work for the East Side Culture Crawl. They did a broadcast call for 6 artists but they asked for me! I didn't put my name forward.

How exciting!!!

This means I have to get work finished even earlier and set up the studio again...Gaahh!

Richard Nicholsen was once volunteering for me when I was doing anti-poverty work.
He put up a sign above my desk. I have used it as a motto since that time.

It goes:

When in panic,
when in doubt
run in circles
scream and SHOUT!!!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Awful Warm in Here

Vented full body fetish suit by Wolltraum.de from Germany
Full Suit including Balaclava from Wolltraum.de from Germany

Naughty Peter sent me this hilarious imagery this morning.

The women who knit this imagery are a knitting group from Germany and they range from 26 - 86 years old. They knit everything from "willywarmers" to full "fetisch" costumes.

I have made "willy warmers" since I was a teenager. My Grandfather's naughty girlfriend Mrs. MacGregor showed me how. Mine are crocheted and even more accommodating.

The full body suits remind me of a Canadian prairie childhood. Children were so confined and bundled up in knitted sweaters, snowsuits, mits, scarves and balaclavas that they could barely walk. If you tipped over you might never get up again. Everytime you got fully dressed reminded you that you had to go pee. My poor mom had four children! We were taken outdoors everyday.
I killed myself laughing at the little vent. It just reminded me of long underwear "union suits"
that we also wore in the cold winters. Ours had trap doors.

Now some fetishes really are very practical after all.
Check out the ladies website at http://wolltraum.de/index/html

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Lukit the cute lil babies

Babies Oliver and Jasper at the first of many modeling gigs.

New York artist Abigail Doan's twin boys, Oliver and Jasper, have already been published.
They are cuddled up in sustainable baby gear.

Lukit those lil faces. I am completely in love.

Check out Inhabitat's weblog. The article is Inhabitat for Inhabitots!


It is November third. I have a little more than two weeks to prepare for the crawl.

I am bone tired.

I am going to move from making the globes to making the skins I have been working with.

It goes like this...
1. Lock myself in the studio with frantic Jay and frantic Hilary.
2. Ignore Tim's pleas for companionship.
3. Ignore any exciting invitations out for tea or lunch.
4. Take Vities.
5. Find people to order around if I start to fall behind.
6. Look longingly out of the studio window.
7. Remember that this is a choice and not a sentence!

Saturday, November 3, 2007


The lovely Celine answering questions about my process asked by a Tibetan Monk who works with the Dalai Lama. He asked very challenging questions. He is dressed in full robes.

Jay Rudolph asking me an interesting question at the Numen Gallery Show. Her questions are always thoughful.

The really interesting part about showing my work to the public is the questions that are inspired by it.

The funniest one today was from a couple looking very interested in the work. They had that look. It is slightly apprehensive and a bit furtive. They stepped forward in unison. Both looked directly in my eyes and said,"Where is the shoe repair guy who used to be here?".


The other funny thing is that people constantly suggest that if I change my work I can start to attend craft fairs. Seriously. I love the fact that they have no idea and can't imagine that it took years of attending craft fairs in drafty church basements to get to the point where I can show in real galleries and charge real prices for my work. I can make 100 little items and make about the same price for one item made in the same amount of time.

The other question that may be strictly Canadian is "I'd like you to tell me exactly how to make that so I can make one just like it."
Answer is a big "No, I can't without having you spend 20,000 dollars or more in education fees and without having you spend years in practise. Oh and if you copy my work exactly that is called theft!!!"
I love sharing skills with people and I never mind talking about how my work is done. You just know I will never tell you everything. Not even when I'm teaching workshops. I think people just want to share their own experience with art and textiles. People making textiles are mostly alone when they do it. They spend time figuring out how to stitch and how to untie their own knots. They also invent just by the very act of stitching. They need to have their learning honoured.
Some of us, after all, just can't help poking sharp things in cloth.

Friday, November 2, 2007


"What Are You Aiming For?" Kirsten Chursinoff 2007

"What's going To Happen To All Those Eggs?" Kirsten Chursinoff 2007

Kirsten Chursinoff work in progress

Tonight Tim and I ventured across the bridge to the hinterland of West Vancouver. We live in East Vancouver. Dan Rather is in Vancouver tonight filming "the underbelly of the city". We live in the "underbelly'.

West Vancouver is where the wealthy people live. Really wealthy people.

Kirsten Chursinoff has a show in the hinterland and that is why we drove across the bridge to the "other side". Her show was at the West Vancouver Library. The library has a very dedicated group of volunteers who run a gallery in the library community building.

Kirsten always has the best shows because she is so very thoughtful with her presentation.
Her work is gorgeous and her palette is pleasing. She is brave enough to evolve with work that is already successful.

Two works stood out for me. One was called " What will happen to all these eggs?". It was a beautifully composed work with very cellular forms and very biological imagery placed in a
linear composition. Each individual component worked for me. That is really hard to accomplish. The other work was called "What are You Aiming For?". It was a more simple palette using black, reds , grey and white. Again the design relied on linear components.
It was reminiscent of a MacIntosh design but stitched with precision by both machine and hand.

Kirsten has also stitched a series of work that shows her incredible eye for colour. Check out "Sea Stars in the Garden". Tiny pieced applique and patches with graduated colour. Beautiful composition and precise hand work.

All in all work worth traveling to the scary part of town for!
Check out the lovely website at www.chursinoff.com


Needleworker in Kutch, India KVMS project Maiwa Foundation Photo

I went to a really inspiring talk at the VGFA meeting last night after a frustrating day of trying to construct my CSI challenge pieces. There is nothing like extraordinary examples of textile work that is done in the most extreme conditions to make me stop whining.

Ros Aylmer brought beautiful examples of traditional and non-traditional work and very instructive slides back from her trip to Bhug, India. Her presentation was thoughtful and informed.

She was able to get photographs of the nomadic people in the region. Thier camels were fully loaded and travelling through the desert. It reminded me that we really need very little as human beings and that we can still create beautiful objects to decorate our bodies and our environments.

Governments internationally are not respecting this ability to survive in people. They have been trying to get nomadic people to settle all over the world. Children are placed in schools by well meaning groups like UNESCO. What is happening however is that knowledge is lost. Sustainable practise is lost. Beauty is disappearing and being replaced by uniformity all over the world.

I watched slide after slide of people teaching Ros and her daughter skills that have existed for four thousand years or longer. I touched the quality of the cloth and examined closely the incredible intricacy and beautiful designs that will be lost very soon if they are not protected and encouraged.

People who live with little and can pack everything they own on the back of a camel have so much to teach the rest of us about protecting this earth.
Tonight is Kirsten Chursinoff's opening at the West Vancouver library.