Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Granny Squares

I rarely do any stitching purely for personal purposes. It's so time consuming, and when I'm working on big art projects with deadlines it just doesn't make sense spend hours of stitching time crocheting myself a hat.  But sometimes I do make an exception for my most beloved darlings: especially my daughter, who had a birthday last month.

I've had granny squares on my mind for a while because a) they are quite fashionable so I keep seeing attractive photos of granny squares and b) they are fun and easy to crochet.  I'd love to make a vibrant multi-coloured granny square-something one day, but for Louise's elegant taste I restricted the palette to blue and grey. I knew she wanted a small blanket to keep her lap warm while studying in her cold Melbourne flat, and I hoped I could piece it together with op-shop wool because I was really broke.

I had the blue mohair, and some bits of grey wool already in my stash and I became a determined searcher of op shop wool baskets for a few months.  It was only as I came to sewing up the squares that I completely and utterly ran out of wool and had to go buy a whole skein new.  It was surprisingly difficult to find a warm grey in a light weight even once I broke down and started looking at yarn shops as well as second hand. Apparently no one makes hand knit boys school uniform jerseys anymore.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Yummy Yellowcake


I sort through bags of yarn passed on by a family friend clearing out her craft stash.

Ugly yellow acrylic sits on top of my reject pile while I'm telling my mother about the book I'm reading, Uranium: war, energy and the rock that shaped the world by Tom Zoellner.

I've been thinking about how I could make nuclear power or a radiation leak for a long time, at least since the Japanese tsunami.  That's where my thinking about clouds started before veering off into Dispersant.

Yellowcake, I say to mum, such an innocuous word. Yellowcake is the standard form for safely transporting uranium over long distances from mine to enrichment plant to be converted to fuel pellets for nuclear power plants.   The yellow yarn glows at the edge of my vision.

I sneak the yellow yarn into the bag of wool I'm taking home with me.  The yellow is too bland in its brash brightness. I dye hanks of it in tea, taking some out in minutes, leaving others in overnight so that now I have five subtle shades looking more interesting all together.

I've been thinking about stitching mines straight into plinths and blank stretched canvases.   I can try it out with my ugly yellow wool on the little square canvases in my cupboard.  I start sketching scrabbly and powdery piles and films and cakes of dust.


How will I stitch my yellowcake? I need a whole new technique.  I get another book off the shelf, The Art of Embroidery by Francoise Tellier-Loumagne seeking inspiration and find it in couching.

I have never couched before, but I don't read the directions, I just look at the photo for a while and then I do it. Which is usually how I figure out new stitches. Why is it so easy for me to learn textile craft techniques and so difficult to learn other useful things like science or accounting or colour theory?

A scattering of uranium

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Making Many

A new project in memory of the 29 miners who died inside Pike River Coal Mine two years ago and whose bodies still lie buried in the dangerously gassy tunnels, to the great distress their families.

I'm making 29 of these mounds, small versions of Spoil which was also about coal mining. I've completed six so far. I can make one in a day which makes a nice change from my other long slow projects.  

My thoughts as I stitch these pieces are less about environmental impacts and more about the social costs of mining, one of the most dangerous industries in the world.  An estimated 5000 miners die in Chinese coal mines every year.  Over history, New Zealand has had several mining disasters which have reverberated widely through our small population.  The lies that communities are told about the wealth that mining will bring to locals must be cold comfort to families grieving for their men or caring for loved ones disabled by the job.  The imperative for mining companies to return increasing profits for shareholders is too often at the expense of safety.

Its a sad somber project but also very peaceful to work on. It fits on my lap and there are no tricky design problems to solve. Just the soothing steady push of needles into wool and through blanket.   I turn to this work for relief from the challenges of my other more technically demanding projects and gradually the collection grows.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Last glimpse of the back

One of my projects at the moment is tidying up the back of Just a Little Spill. This involves fitting a backing cloth mostly to help bear the weight so that that the hand embroidery at the top is doesn't tear from the pressure of four kilos of blankets hanging below.  As usual I'm quite fond of the back of my work and like to document it before it disappears.    

The other job is blanket stitching a line or two on the back around the whole circumference, to try and keep the wayward black roving in check. My felting is pretty loose on this piece and it has a tendency to shed black fluff from the bits not held down with blanket stitch.

Just a Little Spill is so big (2.5m x1.5m) that its all but impossible for me to work on in my tiny studio.  My friends Bethwyn and Steven are very kindly letting me come round and use their large living room to spread Just a Little Spill out and work on these finishing touches.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Just a little challenging

Me and Just a Little Spill (to give you a sense of scale)
Last week, in a mad rush to finish the stitching on my big black oil spill, I spent ANZAC Day sitting on my bed embroidering for 12 solid hours.  As I stitched I watched the entire fourth series of Mad Men on DVD on my laptop.  I enjoyed Mad Men very much. I finished Just a Little Spill which was very good. And I fried my laptop which was very bad.

The mad rush to finish Just a Little Spill was due to tomorrow's deadline to submit an online entry for it to the National Contemporary Art Awards.  An online entry requires one to have a computer and right now I don't have one.  Thanks to my mother letting me use her Macbook I have been able to submit the entry in time but its been extremely stressful to prepare.

Thankfully I'd already organized with photographer Craig Brown for him to photograph Just a Little Spill in his big studio. I found Craig online and chose him because he is the only local photographer who specializes in photographs of things (like cars) rather than people. He was an excellent choice, not only because he had the space and all the gear to manage my enormous black on black on grey, very difficult to photograph, work, but because he is very patient and experienced.  I'm so pleased with the pictures he took for me. Since I didn't have access to my own photos or Photoshop it was a great relief to have such a good full image that a detail view wasn't really necessary.

I've ordered a new desktop computer which will be more impervious to my studio's constant cloud of blanket dust (the original source of the overheating problem that after a year finally fried the laptop beyond repair).  My computer guy thinks he'll be able to retrieve about 95% of my data from the laptop, which will hopefully fill the two month gap since my last backup (let this be a cautionary tale that makes you do a back up right now!).  With luck, I'll be back online at home within the next few days.