One of the most important activities that we have undertaken since arriving back in Newfoundland has been to visit with our dear friend Colette, who was diagnosed with late stage cancer about six months ago. Colette has been more than a friend - I think of her as my art world older sister. She is an inspiration in how to Think Big, and then, Make It Happen. Truly, were it not for Colette, I would not be sitting in this house right now. I dared to buy the house and make my project (are you nuts? buy a house in Newfoundland?) when you could still do such things for the price of a used car. Still, it felt like taking a step off the cliff into the emptiness of the unknown. When I would feel lost and have doubts, there was Colette, doing her thing with an easy laugh and some generous words of encouragement. She has always been the perfect example of how to live the dream, with her grand vision and her ability to make stuff happen in a way that is simultaneously totally outrageous and modestly self-effacing.
Now, Colette is surrounded by a lot of love and support so my ability to contribute to her care has been small. She and her sister did ask me if I would make a burial shroud for her. It is a Newfoundland tradition to have a plain cotton burial shroud with a pattern of cut-work on it. I have seen only one photograph of one (here is a photo in the middle of a blog post - scroll down a bit). I think the fact that they were buried with the person they were made for is part of why there are not a lot images or examples of them. Colette will not be buried - she wishes to be cremated - but she will have a wake and she wants this shroud for her wake.
I am speaking of it matter-of-factly because that is how Colette speaks of it, but of course the process of making it has been fraught with a lot of emotions. I thought I would share some images of the process here, in part, because of the lack of information about Newfoundland shrouds. But also, it is a beautiful thing that has been made for a beautiful person who is approaching her death with a grace and fearlessness that we all should aspire to have. She is teaching us a lot.
Colette and her sister started with a drawing:
The flowers would be made with the cut-work. They found a piece of off-white raw silk to be the main shroud and a simple cotton sheer will go underneath.
I did some sample cuts in a scrap fabric to get the hang of it. Er.....not so easy! Every petal was a different size and it felt totally out of control. I decided that a stencil was the only way I could make the pattern look (relatively) uniform.
It seemed a little brazen to write on the fabric, but I forged ahead.
I had some assistance in laying out the pattern.
The first cuts were a bit tentative but I soon got the hang of it. Borrowing from my experience of making my rakusu recently, I tried to bring my love and caring for Colette into each cut of the scissors. I tried to only work on it when I was not rushed or distracted and to catch myself when I got into a how-many-more-to-go mindset.
Each snip = sending love to Colette.
Yes. Sending much, much love to Colette.