moving on to the past . . . in a new way

A departure to a past love, thanks to Karen Ruane‘s online course Swathed in Stitch and my imagination.

Machine and hand embroidery set in a puka leaf.

Machine and hand embroidery set in a puka leaf.   The leaf measures 28 cms or 11 inches in length.

Because I regarded the setting as an experiment and temporary, I didn’t treat the leaf in any way.


A change in colour after a few days.

A change in colour after a few days.  I like it more each day.

At this point I decided the setting might be permanent . . . or somewhere between temporary and permanent.  I coated the top with Mod Podge and as much of the reverse as I could reach without touching the fabric.

Machine and hand embroidery detail.

Machine and hand embroidery detail.

I am now eyeing up the puka and looking at the few yellowing leaves.

creating womanhood

I’ve had time off for frivolous behaviour with the grandhearts but now it’s back to some pleasurable work.  When I have time out, it gets me into my head and thinking overtime which is not always a bad thing.  This implies that sometimes it is but that topic is not the subject this post.

I was cruising Facebook and looking at all the lovely art and couldn’t help noticing all the pretty young female faces with model proportions in the work, vapid faces I thought, and for the most part exaggerated in their appealing features . . . big eyes, full lips, long flowing hair, a body that doesn’t reflect the norm.  Now please don’t misunderstand me.  I have nothing against these images as such and most are beautifully executed however it was the images that got me thinking about how women are represented in the media and how we accept and sometimes perpetuate  expectations and myths about womanhood.

As a child I thought I was something less, less that worthy and the measure of worth was masculinity.  My mother always said she should have been a career woman but was not allowed to work . . .  she grew up in a time when her parent believed that ‘ladies’ don’t work.   Strangely, I was one of the few children in my class who had a mother who did work, who had her own business.    This didn’t mean that she embraced gender equity she unconsciously perpetuated the gender stereotypes of her time.  Males ran everything and if a woman had managed to accumulate any power it was done by stealth or she was an exception.   My mother was an exception, she could swing a hammer alongside her carpenter brother and led me to believe that if a male could do it then so could I.

Before this turns into a treatise on the roles we are socialised into let me give you a couple of examples of how women are still put down and how we put ourselves down.

If a woman is strong and assertive she’s often described as a bitch.  I’m strong and assertive when I need to be but I don’t have enough nipples to be a bitch, although my very sweet-natured dog does.  Quinn McDonald wrote a post on her blog  recently entitled Words Worth Dumping where she talked about a couple of terms that de-value women and that confirmed for me that it’s about time we started protesting about their use and certainly stop using them ourselves.

A while back a blogger, I forget who, talked about her need to develop more courage and strength and ended by writing she was going to grow a set of balls . . . I was appalled!  Grow a backbone yes, but why balls?  Was her goal to be more masculine or to be a strong woman?  And believing that men have some superior source of inner strength is ludicrous!  I’m sure she doesn’t but she has, by her language, said that as a woman she isn’t as worthy as a man.  And no, I am definitely not anti-male, I love good men in the same way I love good women and what is more I raised a very good man.

As a child I hated being called a tomboy, a Jack of all trades, told that I should have been a boy.  And why was I?  I loved being outside, climbing trees, playing up on the hillsides near our house, messing around in the vegetable garden with my father, using carpentry tools . . . but I was not a boy nor did I aspire to be one so why did adults define me as some almost-boy?    Even then, as a quite young child I was aware that 1) language was powerful and 2) gender bias was not weighted in my favour!

And don’t insult elderly women by calling a dithering, ineffectual man an ‘old woman’ nor a boy who can’t throw a ball well that he throws like a girl, nor a sensitive young man a ‘girl’s blouse’ (I’ll accept that one is seldom heard these days but there’s bound to be a modern equivalent).  Have you seen this video?  It tells us that young girls believe in their strength but women collude with the lie.   “Throws like a girl” is a cultural bias, one women perpetuate against their own gender, and one that the MythBusters spent time disproving.

It is only by standing tall, learning to do things for yourself (I had a colleague who couldn’t even screw the inside of the french press back together when it worked itself loose because her husband “did that sort of thing” . . . that sort of thing?  Practical, basic, screwing a small part back together?  Give me strength!

So, my point.  Watch your tongue, listen to how you and others language your gender, be proud to be a woman (I am not a girl, I am a woman and woman friends, not girlfriends) and please, include mature faces, not the rich and famous cosmeticly enhanced but real, woman-next-door faces in your work.

And here’s a little reward for reading this far: a not-yet-complete free motion embroidery experiment.   I’d hate you to think I’ve only been walking the beach seething.

free motion embroidery - a not-yet-complete experiment.

free motion embroidery – a not-yet-complete experiment.


space issues

Yesterday I was looking for my black gesso and not finding it in the right spot was driving me nuts!    Perhaps I need to explain that to find anything in my office, something else has to be moved.  It’s not that I don’t have shelves and drawers etc, it’s just that it is only an office. It’s about 4.3 square metres of strange shaped, not enough room to swing a cat, even my dog sleeps out in the hall and won’t take her changes by my side, could barely fit a single bed in it, office.  And although everything has a place and I periodically put things back, not much has to be out of place for it to be a complete and utter shambles.

This morning I awoke knowing where it would be and found the gesso but only AFTER I had moved on to another project, got my sewing machine out and no longer needed it. I guess there’s always today but . . . my sewing machine is still out using all the available space!

Yeah, yeah, I could take over the rest of the house but the place gets so disorganised and I can’t function in a mess.  Maybe if I just did one thing instead of dabbling here and there?  No, I’d be bored by the end of the first week.  What I need is a studio with space to be able to leave out my three or four current works in progress.

And talking of works in progress . . .

A work in progress . . . exploring options.

Making mesh, a work in progress . . . exploring options.

Making mesh detail . . . unfinished and full of promise.

Making mesh detail . . . unfinished and full of promise.

And next time I lose something?  Perhaps I should just go and take a nap.

faffing around

Faffing around is a bit different from simply messing around, for me at least.   Messing around is a bit like what Tom does in How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen (by Russel Hoban and illustrated by Quenton Blake).  It is perhaps my all-time favourite children’s book.  You see Tom’s fooling around, thought to be a senseless waste of time that looked too much like play to his aunt, Miss Fidget Wonkham-Strong (who wears an iron hat and takes no nonsense from anyone), was very useful when it came to challenges.

Similarly my messing around has always been playful but usually has a purpose.  It may look decorative but more often than not has a purpose . . . well the garden sculpture that blew down in a gale twice, not so much, and maybe not the pumice stone carvings although you could use them to get all that hard skin off your heels if you wished.

Small carved pumice stones.

Small carved pumice stones.

And all those stones I covered make great door stops.

A stone from the local river covered in knotted harakeke/flax, embellished with beads.

A stone from the local river covered in knotted harakeke/flax, embellished with beads.

Faffing around is messing around with no end purpose in mind.  So now, having signed up for Swathed in Stitch with the wonderfully talented Karen Ruane, I have this lacy stuff (for want of a better word) and no earthly use for it.  Yes it was a bit of fun and with some practise I could make something rather lovely, but I sort of don’t do rather lovely without a purpose any more that I do tea-stained faux Victoriana.  You know what I mean, all that delicate embroidery that takes forever and looks gobsmackingly beautiful.  Already I’m trying to break some rules in what I’m learning (can’t help myself really) and stretch boundaries . . . and I like it!  But what the hell am I going to do with it?

Machined lace . . .  with a feather

Machined lace with a feather . . . or an attempt at a feather.

I can't take any credit for the starfish, but I do like the foamy, delicate edge I achieved here . . . but what will I do with it?

I can’t take any credit for the starfish, but I do like the foamy, delicate edge I achieved here (by accident but next time on purpose) . . . but what will I do with it?

Until I have a reason to do more, I probably won’t.   I’m sort of thinking myself into a hole . . . actually lots of holes . . . with beads.

Machined lace on muslin with quartz beads.

Machined lace on muslin with quartz beads.  There are another four holes to edge and weave into but why?

You might well ask “Why are you taking the class?”  I’m taking it so I can learn about design, stitches, techniques, materials and watch an expert at work . . . and then I want to incorporate it into work that is more along the lines of Jude Hill‘s yet mine, not a poor copy.   Did I mention I’m doing a class with her?  Small Journeys?   Small Journeys is different . . . it’s like getting to sit beside her and listen to her process, how she thinks about a piece in development.  And have you seen her work? Check our her photostream on Flickr.

Now don’t get me wrong, all of Karen’s work is useful and so is Jude’s . . . it’s just that me and an embroidery hoop?  I used one for the very first time today and it felt weird, like I was channeling someone else.  I’ve just got to face it, as much as I think Karen’s work is divine, Junko Oki is much more cup of tea, sort of messy . . . and I do like to mess around.

So that’s why I feel like I’ve been faffing around for the last two or three days . . . and don’t go and give me the ‘it doesn’t have to be useful’ or the ‘you’re too much of a perfectionist’ lectures.  I’ve heard them before.    If I could just work out how I can use all this prettiness . . . or how I can make it more . . . edgy?   (Insert a very big sigh here.)

a handmade journal

Now that Christmas is over and the new year well and truly begun I can show you the journal I made for my daughter.    For obvious reasons I couldn’t show it before but now . . . here it is!  And very pleased with it I was too as I entrusted it to the New Zealand and Australian postal services.

Paint applied to calico with a roller, embellished with stitching, washers and beads.

Paint applied to calico with a roller, embellished with stitching, washers and beads. Bound with waxed hemp thread.

Interior page with commercial paper strip sewn on.

Interior page with commercial paper strip sewn on.

Interior pockets with tags and single page signature sewn on

Interior pockets with tags and single page signature sewn on

Small page insert with tab.

Small page insert with tab.

I really enjoyed making the cover, just stitching, embellishing and letting one addition dictate what would happen next.  And while my bullion stitch bridges are a little wonky . . . I’m rather pleased with them.  No doubt I shall improve with practise now that Karen Ruane‘s course Swathed in Stitch has begun . . . I would imagine it isn’t too late to join in and I heartily recommend it.

Most importantly, my daughter was impressed with her present!

it’s raining

That straight down, slightly chilling, but not enough to light the fire kind of summer rain.  The rain that quenches the garden, that makes you want to curl up with a good book (I have one), the rain you don’t want when you’re on holiday and camping under canvas but are tents ever made of canvas these days?

On Saturday at the beach, a dog that my grandhearts had thrown sticks for on a pervious occasion, walked past and the youngest threw her plastic spade into the stream and yelled ‘Fetch!”  Unfortunately the dog didn’t have its scent and perhaps didn’t even see it being thrown such is the pace and attention of a dog enjoying the beach.  A 6 year-old with a good arm can throw quite a distance so it ended up in an inaccessible part of the stream . . . inaccessible because the water is still very cold and the far side of the stream a tad swampy.

Three days later the spade was still there but I’m afraid this rain will wash it out to sea where it will join all the other bits of plastic . . . and I’m feeling guilty because I didn’t want to get cold and muddy.

When I explained that dogs need to be forewarned about sticks (and spades being thrown) my grandheart said no-one tells her these things and cried . . . and I’m feeling guilty.

Tomorrow, or when the weather has cleared, I will go on a spade hunt but I think I have left it too late . . . the opportunity, and the spade will have gone for good.

There is a lesson in this for me . . .

Rombuk, Tibet. June 2007

Sometimes you have to make an effort to go through a doorway.   Rombuk, Tibet, June 2007.


I’m fed up with being asked, have you retired?  I’m not sure how to respond . . . it’s easier to say yes but that’s far from true.  If I say no, I have to explain and I have an intense dislike for explaining or justifying myself.

When you check the definition of retirement the meanings are all basically the same . . . no longer being involved.  Whether it’s going to bed, retreating from a battle, leaving your job or withdrawing for rest and seclusion it’s all so, so similar . . . so no, I haven’t and won’t be retiring any time soon even though I have chosen not to work at the job that gave me so much satisfaction for most of my working life.

Just because I decided to become gainfully unemployed for the time being does not mean I am retired.  In fact I’m not withdrawing from anything, rather I am propelling myself toward so many new adventures, some of which may yield income and some not, that I’m spoiled for choice!  I still have an interest in education (my former profession) but my focus is now, quite simply, elsewhere.   I am not financially rich neither nor financially poor . . . I’m somewhere in the middle I guess but I am richer now in ways that I never have been before in my life.

“The cure for boredom is curiosity.  There is no cure for curiosity.”   This wonderful quote by Dorothy Parker seems to indicate I have a condition for life . . . no retirement for me!  So no, I have not retired and while my brain functions, my heart beats and a desire to be creative and curious continues to be part of who I am, I never will be.

When I now longer act or think creatively . .  perhaps I will have retired.

When I no longer act or think creatively . . . perhaps I will have retired . . . and perhaps not.  We will just have to wait and see, you and I.