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.


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!

another obsession?

Over the weekend I attended a Journey Journal workshop with Carole Brungar and 9 other women, two of whom were friends who stayed for the weekend . . . what a lovely way to spend my birthday!  Carole will be posting more photos of the wonderful creations from the weekend on her blog in the near future.

I’ve made some small journals, usually with blank paper or lightly printed for someone else to write or draw in but not a journal such as we were making. Mine morphed into a journal for one of my grandhearts and another is going to be made to celebrate the passing of the older grandheart’s first decade.

The girls are wonderful as all children are especially when they have received conscious parenting, are not overly indulged but loved unconditionally. They’re intelligent, inquisitive, creative and a constant source of pleasure and pride: they are my muses.

At 7 Jeanne described her little sister as “awesome” and “definitely as cheeky as a monkey with a banana full of extremely funny medicine” so the book I deconstructed was perfect for Meg. Some pages in progress . . .

The cover has been embroidered in much the same way as the knees of her tights are repaired.

The cover has been embroidered in much the same way as the knees of her tights are repaired.

Monkeys are intelligent, playful, curious, thoughful, creative and endlessly entertaining . . . just like Meg

Monkeys are intelligent, playful, curious, thoughful, creative and endlessly entertaining . . . just like Meg

Hasn't every little girl dressed as a fairy?

Hasn’t every little girl dressed as a fairy?  And sometimes they pull faces to show their monkey side as she did in the photo inserted in to the pocket above.

Ready for images and text.

And in Brazel the say, “If you like bananas, you are a monkey.”

Some more pages ready for text and images.

Some more pages, pockets and flaps ready for text and images.

I’m still here

I know . . . it’s been forever and I will explain it a little but just not this morning.  This is the teaser:

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading – Lao Tzu

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined – Henry David Thoreau

Put your ear down to your heart and listen hard – Anne Sexton (via Quinn McDonald)

Each is true and each is what I am thinking about . . . as well as working full-time and spending an extra 2.5 hours a day commuting in my car.

A recycled jersey, now a dress for my granddaughter – a little hand-sewing (so unlike me) and thinking (too much like me)

Now . . . I’ll be late for work!

a pair of bears

There is a small bear on the couch complaining that it feels neglected – such whinging you never heard from a bear!

I washed both bears’ clothing and started darning the moth holes in one bear’s pants – before I knew it I was running amok with embroidery thread.   I managed to stop myself short of adding beads and sequins as I think the bear, formerly referred to as he,was about to undergo a gender reassignment operation for which I don’t have signed consent.   It now looks decidedly androgynous.

Well, the mended bear has a friend who is feeling out-of-sorts – I am being accused of neglect!  He(?) has very plain clothes and is beginning to insist on a make-over.   He doesn’t mind his worn face and paws, however he feels a little bare and would like to have some jazzy clothes to wear just like his friend.  I though at first he said he felt a little bear and told him to leave his friend alone but he soon set me straight.  He says that just because he’s getting older, that’s no reason to be drab and I must admit I feel much the same way.

Small bear - as a boy

small bear number 1 – before, as a boy bear?

after being mended – with friend

The pink arms are the fabric the body is made from – I seem to have misplaced the green jacket that, although stained, is to be replaced along with that stunning, perfectly matched, pair of buttons in the photo.  If I can’t find the jacket I will make some wonderful sleeves out of the same blanket ribbon I used for the bow.  The second bear, as you can see, is looking a tad grumpy.

These bears could both end up without an identifiable gender but I’m sure they won’t really mind too much.

how I darn moth-holes – is there another way?

I set out to do a sympathetic restoration but somehow . . .  I’m reasonably sure my mother, who made the bears just over 35 years ago, would approve.