Friday, May 31, 2013

Making A Newfoundland Burial Shroud

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.


Elisabeth said...

This is going to be a beautiful shroud! And what a wonderful tradition - worth keeping alive. Looking forward to seeing continued documentation of this shroud made with LOVE FOR COLETTE!

Another friend of Colette from Ontario,
Elisabeth Feryn

Patti Blaine said...

Thank you, Robyn. I feel as though I'm sitting with you as you make the cuts. xoxo

bluebird of paradise said...

Robyn, what a lovely thing to be doing. I love this idea and I also love that Colette requested the shroud. What an amazing woman she is and how wonderful that you are here to affirm her life and contribution to Art in our province.

Robyn said...

Hi Elisabeth, Thank you so much for your comment. Unless Colette says otherwise, I think it is finished. It isn't intended to be very fancy or look very finished - it is supposed to go with the person into the ground after all. But I still have to show it to Colette and see what she says...

Marilee - Yes, truly she is an amazing person! XOX

Taos Sunflower said...

The word that comes to mind while I am writing this is grace; Colette sounds like a class act. What an honor, both to have such a friend and to share in this part of her life in this way. I'm sure she will feel all the love you put into it.

Stone Angel said...

Tears of sadness and happiness are streaming down my cheeks - what love you have in you - Colette is so lucky to have you and others like you in her life.

Anonymous said...

oh Robyn, {{hug}} oh. Robyn. I don’t know what to say. There are no words. This is beauty and heartache occupying the same place. Sending love to all of you.

Fire and Light Studio said...

A beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. I have found very little on the web about modern shroud making. Thank you.