Friday, January 28, 2011

Positive space, negative space

The blue/green blanket stash

I've been on a binge of building up my materials stash for all the work I have planned for the coming months. I've been buying blankets in many colours, and a whole kilogram of wool roving for felting! It usually comes in 5 gram packs so this was a major investment. I also bought a new set of felting needles for some serious needle felting and every now and then I think I might have enough embroidery floss to keep me going. But I use it up so fast I always seem to be running short of one colour or another.

After a very slow start on my big iceberg, its starting to become an object instead of lots of half worked pieces. The base of the iceberg is momentarily shaped a bit like a hat. Unlike a hat, this is a very solid piece and will end up quite heavy, so I'm reinforcing the blanket stitch and needle felt with some invisible internal sewing to hold it all together when its hung. It's becoming a very substantial object.

The very base of my iceberg, just starting to spread out and change colour as well as shape.

In contrast, I'm also starting to make pieces that are hollow, cutting away and stitching up from the inside instead of down from the top. It's taken me a few experiments to get this kind of negative space working the way I want. The brown piece is my latest, most successful, experiment with results encouraging enough for me to launch into making it for real, in the materials I've intended all along.

Experimental tunnel

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thrilling Science Reading

Bibliophilia has become a bit of a misnomer for this blog over the past few years as book arts have taken a back seat to textiles as my favoured form of creative expression. But my love of reading books has not diminished. This year I intend to start sharing more of my reading with my blog readers, not least because books are by far still the most influential media I consume.

My summer reading so far has been mostly guided by what catches my eye on the Public Library's science shelves. These casual choices have kept my brain bubbling with unexpected connections, new insights and revived enthusiams. As a result I'm getting more purposeful in my book choices. Here is one strand of thrilling reading, I will share others soon.

The first frisson came near the end of the Kathleen Crane's riveting memoir of life as a woman oceanographer, Sea Legs. She underwent some incredible challenges to break into the all male world of oceanography, and had some incredible adventures on the high sea. Her passion for the deep sea floor ignited a spark in my imagination: can I use bathymetric data to make emboidered blanket representations of the bottom of the sea? This riveting idea led me to seek out an Philips Atlas of the Oceans so I could look at bathymetric maps, and the contour lines. Suffice to say I have started buying up blue and green blankets and I expect I will be blogging more about the sea floor.

My newfound passion for the deep drew me to Deep Blue Home by Julia Whitty. Julia Whitty writes nonfiction prose like a poet and savouring a few chapters before sleep each night is one of my great pleasures at the moment. Here is her describing a close encounter with an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland:

Its skin is wind-polished to the luster of diamond, water -sculpted to sapphire, its form purely feminine, purely voluptuous, curves hewn hard in the foundry of the far north. Although the air termperature is cold enough to make us shiver, it is not cold enough for this relic of snowfalls past to survive, and a silver cascade of meltwaterpours from its summit down a chute of polished translucent turquoise. Crystal by crystal, its ice diminishes, collecting in a pool on the iceberg's saddle, where Arctic terns dip and splash, unfurling freshwater rainbows.Deep blue veins and track marks of gravel scar the ice, records of good years and bad years in the glacier world.

Can you see why I am in love with this book? I will be chasing up her other books as well, not only for their sea content, but for the delicious writing.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Six Years On

Oil slick on ice

This week marks the beginning of my seventh year blogging on Bibliophilia. Some 750 posts over six years have traced the development of my creative passions from book making to letterpress printing to hand stitching textiles. Many posts also share stories from the rest of my life, other creative pursuits, friends, travel, play, all of which form a context and narrative to make sense of my life as an artist.

The nature of blogging is that only the most recent material is visible to the casual viewer . The disadvantage of this is my art-focused blog is not always presenting an art-focused face to a first time visitor.

However, since my original gallery website was lost many years ago when the long forgotten hosting service disappeared, I've relied on Bibliophilia and my Etsy shop to represent my art on line. Though each is wonderful in its own way, neither adequately does the job of a gallery website.

While I gradually work on overcoming my internet intertia as well as technical and other obstacles on the way to creating a gallery website, I have started a new Facebook page for my art: Meliors Simms- Handmade Art. I know that there are still admirable hold-outs who refuse to go near Facebook, and others who avoid it as much as possible, so it is not a long-term solution. But its free, its easy, its wonderfully interactive and for now, the best way of plugging my online gallery gap.

This Facebook Page will be a web site that is all about my art. Photos of all my work will be easily accessible by theme rather than chronology. I will also post links to the best from Bibliophilia's archives because I believe the knowing context of my work is crucial to appreciating the images.

This is a new project for me, and there's not much on the Page so far, but if you 'like' it, your Facebook wall will be updated whenever I add new material. Oh, and please share the link with your Facebook friends.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Sewing Marathon

i love my collection of old wooden spools, even if the thread tends to snap on the machine

Here are the results of Thursday's 12 hour marathon sewing bee with Anna. It was a hot humid day so we took frequent breaks in the paddling pool to cool off. In fact we spent the whole day in our swimsuits and sarongs, which is the perfect summer sewing outfit as you can try on half-made garments for fit without having to change.

When I arrived, the machine was already threaded with turquoise so I jumped right in with altering a skirt into a dress, inspired by Bored and Crafty. The beautiful bright skirt which my Aunt Laura gave to my mother and she eventually passed to me was originally made by sewing circular tiers so there are no vertical seams. I've never seen a garment made like that before. It was a wonderfully full skirt, so when I trimmed the bottom 25cm, I had enough fabric to make the whole top of the dress, a matching hairband and still have some leftover for future fun. The finishing touch to my new dress is a beautiful embroidered applique flower from the amazing box of goodies that Helen sent last month.

This white skirt has been altered twice before at sewing bees and ended up shorter than I really wanted so this round of sewing bee the objective was to lengthen. I bought some bridal veil, cut it into two different widths and sewed them inside bias binding so I could attatch it to the skirt lining without getting the open weave of the veil tangled up in machinery. I also trimmed the outer skirt's hem with some ribbon to cover up the ugly yellow overlocking that I did last time. I'm not too keen on how the ribbon looks, so this long-suffering yet much loved skirt may yet return to a future sewing bee for more attention.

In an unprecedented flurry of attention to clothing I made a pair of shorts as well. These had been bright blue trousers which I cut off just above the knees and trimmed with part of an orange flowery skirt from Helen's magical box. The rest of the skirt I made into a drawstring potato bag.

set of four vegetable bags

In fact I was on a bag-making roll. I tentatively made a few net vegetable bags to take to the greengrocers and store fruit and veg. They are light enough to not add to the weight of my purchases, reusable, washable, pretty, close securely and open easily! They were also super quick and easy to make and I wish I'd bought more of the nylon net so I could have made a full set for myself and some to give away.

Inspired by the double drawstring technique I was using for all my pouch style bags, Anna was easily convinced she should make a lettuce bag. She used a wonderful handprinted Pacifica print tea towel and used it straight away to make our lunch salad.

Anna's lettuce spinning and storage bag

Anna spent the day altering patterns, cutting fabric and overlocking. I think she was deliberately staying off the sewing machine because I was in my usual obsessive focus and running the machine hot. I'd done most of my planning, cutting and pinning in the days before our bee. At Anna's suggestion I have discovered the wonderful world of free sewing patterns on the internet. I'm all keen to make this pouf, as soon as I find the right kind of fabric, but in the meantime I was looking for a peg bag pattern and found this.

I made three little blue baskets from scraps of quilting fabric passed on from Anna's friend Tai, decorated with sweet wooden hand buttons from Helen.

mini peg bag

I altered the basket pattern to make a slightly taller peg basket (it wouldn't hold a normal quantity of clothes pegs but I don't have very many). Anna was cutting out shoulder bags from these gorgeous floral print linen tea towels and offered me the offcuts: just enough for a short little peg basket.

It was a long, busy, fun, productive day and I finished ten separate items, almost all repurposing old clothes and off cuts. I also harvested yellow and purple beans and two kinds of peas from Anna and Chris' vegetable garden. We have gone in together to buy a freezer, so I have blanched the beans and frozen them into one- and two-portion sized bags to grace our shared freezer. Which is already well on the way to being an overflowing cornucopia of summer harvest: Anna and I picked about 8 kg of blueberries the next day, and Chris went fishing and caught four fish!

beans in a net vegetable bag

Pretty Chutney

I made eight jars of chutney using the plums from my parent's tree. I'm not sure the chutney is going to taste so great, but I really like the labels, and the circles I cut out of a fallen-apart picture book to decorate the lids.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The gift of the blue knife

I was given a beautiful, blue, very sharp, paring knife. It puts all my other knives to shame, so yesterday I cut my finger while peeling potatoes a little carelessly. It's a shallow but long and wide flap right across the side of the first joint of my right index finger.

Turns out its pretty much almost impossible to cook, clean up, eat or anything else without bending that joint, so it didn't stop bleeding (and throbbing) until I went to bed. This morning I built a little splint for my finger which is working a treat and allows me to type and do most things without pain or blood.

But not stitching. Yesterday morning I'd been out shopping for some long-awaited iceberg supplies and was raring to get back into my project. Before that had been several days of no stitching, partly because I decided it made sense to take a real break and rest properly but mostly because I didn't have all the materials or tools I need to move forward.

Now my break has been involuntarily extended because I just can't hold a needle comfortably or control it reliably. I could feel frustrated but I don't. I have plenty of time to complete the iceberg, there's no urgency driving my desire to work on it. Besides, it's really too hot to be covering my lap with wool blankets right now.

Luckily I can still wield scissors, so today I have been cutting and pinning in preparation for my next sewing bee with Anna. I'll be altering some clothes, making net vegetable bags (no more plastic!) and some other bits and pieces. I'm excited about trying new ideas and using some of the pretty fabric I've been given.

It always feels so self indulgent to use time to make personal and domestic things when I could be working on art to exhibit, so I tend not to. Today, this time out from hand stitching feels like a delightful gift from the blue knife.