Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A Brief B.C. Blog. Blog 11.

A Visiting Thread


I looked for her in the bottom of kitchen cupboards underneath stained cheesecloth, between the pages of cracked books, under the house in the layer of the fine dust that had formed over the pickling jars, in a cigar box of faded embroidery thread... I looked for her but I could not find her. What are these useless things?

I found her in the sleeping garden as the raven’s wing cut the wind overhead. She revealed herself in the tips of peonies already emerging in the January cold. I found her in the sighs and comfort of her friends, the wringing of hands, the pained embraces. As I moved through the space she once brought to life, I found her in the sadness of my father’s eyes, watching me.

I found her and I lost her and I found her again. Repeat.

Tender Pender


The flower lady holding court at the Pender Farmer's Market.
One block this blog. Maybe one of my favorite Mom t-shirts ever, art by local Frank Ducote once again, this time I kept the t-shirt image pretty much intact. The Pender Island Farmer’s market is where my mother sold her incredible flowers, fruits, and vegetables for many years. I remember visiting and working along side her, cutting and clipping and arranging flowers for rock bottom prices that you would never find elsewhere. Line-ups would form for her arrangements and she had no use for impatient city folk who could not take the time to wait for her personalized bouquets. It was the act of putting them together that was worth waiting for.... the choosing of colours and sizes and smells. My mother the flower-lady-superstar, performance art at it’s most pungent.


Pender Island Farmer's Market t-shirt block.
I have sat in the comfort of my mother’s home and embroidered some of my quilting fabrics (pinned in the photo) onto this block. Sewing by the wood stove, I can hear her questions, criticisms, and glorious praise for my not-so-fine and not-so-even stitches. And who would have thought that this big city girl with her busy career and fancy Toronto house would sit by the fire in the sleepy Gulf Islands to sew, by hand, one small story at a time?


Quilting.... Eek!


Two more blocks and then sewing the this whole mess together and then the job of actually quilting. Almost forgot about that!
Photo of Barb's quilts as notes for the next steps.
Quilt guru Barb with a bouquet from Mom.

My trip to the West included a couple of too short days with my favorite quilting guru on Denman Island. In the comfort of the little round house, I tried to absorb as much as I could about the styles, will, and wherefores of the quilting process. Wool versus cotton batting, hand versus machine. The quilts were pulled down by ladder from the loft and flipped and examined and photographed and slept with as though, like learning a language, I could absorb some quilting know-how in my sleep. 

I limp along, literally and figuratively, trying to catch up.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

A New Year. Blog 10.

The Time of the Dinosaur

Before photos of the thin t-shirts.
Paper thin... even thinner, so thin they have runs in the fabric like cheap nylons, the dinosaur t-shirts date back almost 30 years. My girlfriend, Barb Mortell, and I hand-painted the t-shirts used in these blocks. In the years leading up to movies like “Jurassic Park”, Dinosaurs were IN and, as we were fresh out of art school, we thought we’d cash in big time at our own ‘hand-painted t-shirt cottage industry’...  or maybe we were just doing them for fun.... money didn’t matter so much then, fun did. There was the dinosaur t-shirt series, a bird series, and a floral series. The colours haven’t faded much and I imagine it is because the fabric paints that we used were fairly toxic. Looking at them now, I am even not entirely sure which one of us painted these particular dinosaurs... feeling like a bit of a dinosaur myself. I think it was Barb, a phenomenal quilt and fabric artist who now lives in (and on) her own piece (and peace) of Denman Island in B.C. We have continued our friendship, Barb and I, despite distances and time with a colourful and painterly quality.

One of the dino t-shirts was pulled from my mother’s drawer, the famous pile of sentimentality in the form of worn and stained and faded t-shirts that I came upon in the summer... that same famous pile which is down to only three t-shirts now. The other dino t-shirt was brought back this past November from Costa Rica by my father. Really, one of the dinosaur t-shirts was his and one was hers but as their lives were so intricately entwined, it does justice to the over fifty years of togetherness to have my father’s dinosaur t-shirt become part of the Tekla quilt. It was time for the old boy to retire... no, not my father, but the dino t-shirt. My father, alive and invigorated, continues to evolve, not a dinosaur at all. And with this evolution, I dedicate the dinosaur blocks to him and to the great love and care he gave to our mother, especially through her devastatingly brief and aggressive illness.

The four dinosaur blocks, two from each shirt.
Some words stick with you... for me, my mother was, well... my mother, nurturing, nutty, occasional girlfriend, occasional fiend, but mostly just Ma, Mama, Mom. When my father referred to her as a “Lady” in the palliative care ward (as we ushered out some visitors to allow the nurses to attend to her), I saw for a brief moment my mother through my father’s eyes. A Lady is noble, honourable and honoured, elegant, holds her head up and is respected... those were qualities that my father saw in my mother. Qualities that, even as she lay there in her last days, I had only begun to know. That almost archaic word my father used, a word that makes one think of a 40's musical... “Lady”... it struck a note with me. A Lady wears her hair up. A Lady receives guests politely.  A Lady smiles through pain. A Lady dies with her dignity intact.

It takes a gentle man to see all that.
Some of the famous painted t-shirts: parrot, dinosaur, and flower.

A Ukrainian Thread

Details of my embroidery attempts.

Winter holidays meant leaving my quilt behind. It was too much to bring the sewing machine, fabric and cutting board with us as we traveled to Montreal and Vermont. I brought some knitting, a book that’s taking me months to read, the banjo I keep trying to play, and my computer. At the last minute, I threw in some of the blocks onto which I intended to hand appliqué pieces. Like quilting, I have never really embroidered. I quickly emailed myself a few embroidery instructions, knowing we’d be without internet at the old farmhouse we had rented in Vermont. As I started to chain stitch with the colourful thread, I thought about embroidery as such an important part of Ukrainian identity. 

Growing up in the prairie farmland of Saskatchewan, my mother’s first language was Ukrainian. My Baba, her mother, was a farmer and quilter and maker of some of the tastiest Ukrainian perogies known to the prairies. The simple and colourful threads and my attempt at fine, even stitches paid homage to both my Mother’s, my Baba’s, and the rest of the family’s Ukrainian culture and background. My embroidered stuffed garlic, although puckered and not entirely successful, reeks of Ukrainian prairie farm goodness.

Hard working Baba and Geido with their children: late '50's and early '80's. Tekla in centre behind her mother.


Limping, Walking, Downward Dog, and the Napoleonic Wars


How does it feel to walk again?.... a little sore, a little wobbly, scary on ice, and absolutely amazing. After almost four months of crutches and knee walkers and rolling chairs and whatever else I could do to keep off my fractured left foot, I walk with very little grace and agility but I walk... and each day is an improvement. Slowly moving my foot in ways that I will never take for granted again... that complete bend of the toes in downward facing dog is a yogic impossibility right now... soon, though, soon.

Napoleon's infamous surgeon, Jacques Lisfranc, and his battlefield.
And for my functioning left foot, I would like to thank science, technology and modern medicine. Named after the pompous and bellicose (yes, I had to look that word up) surgeon, Jacques Lisfranc de St. Martin, the self-dubbed Lisfranc injury became a regular occurrence during the Napoleonic Wars. In Battle, soldiers would fall off their horses, feet caught in stirrups while the horses kept running through the war torn fields... you can almost hear the twisting and crunching of tiny foot bones, metatarsals, and ligaments. The medical treatment by Napoleon's famed surgeon at that time: amputation of the foot. Need I say more? I would take my not-so-pompous and hard working surgeon, Dr. Johnny Lau, over the celebrated Docteur Jacques Lisfranc de St. Martin anytime, with no apologies to Napoleon Bonaparte whatsoever. 
And, yes, born in the right era, for sure.

Dr. Johnny Lau, Superstar of Foot and Ankle, and his battlefield.

Happy for a New Year

2012 will be a year to never forget. Losing my mother, breaking my foot, middle age hard upon me. Still, in the creases that have formed around my eyes, there are no truly sad stories. I am one of the lucky ones. 2012 saw children shot dead, women savagely raped, homes destroyed, fires burned, poverty, war, hatred, bigotry, violence. I know none of this. The cherished life of ease and entitlement that I have... living in this place, at this moment, is something I entirely take for granted. For it is in this luxury of time and space, as I sew and write, that I realize that I have not entirely lost my mother in so much as I have found her in myself. A rich life lived by her, has been gifted to me in my pampered and peaceful existence. Although my sadness is real, I know no unbearable pain. 

Still... high hopes for 2013 to be a better year, if not for me, for the rest of this beautiful and pitiful human race.

Three more blocks to go.