Monday, November 25, 2013

We Are What We Sew?

During sesshin, we spend about 1.5 hours each day doing "work practice".  The question becomes, how can I continue my mind of zazen while engaged in activity.  Also, we need to do certain tasks to keep the place running - there are bathroom to clean and vegetables to chop - so it is a beautiful melding of practical necessity and practice.  I freely confess that I love work practice, even when my job is shoveling shit (ok, it is really just compost), as it sometimes has been.  For me, the bareness of the silence and stillness in zazen is far more challenging than being present while I slice up apples for the next morning's breakfast.  Often my work practice seems more about letting go of work practice and my opinions about it - how I look forward to it and how I wish it would last just a bit longer.  I even have had thoughts like, "we should have a sesshin that is all work practice!" until I realized that sesshin that is all work practice also could be called ordinary life.

Ah, well...

This past week, however, my job was to learn how to make a student robe.  I had essentially one pattern piece for the top of the robe and a closet of existing robes in various sizes as my guide.  It was a little like showing someone a picture of a house and giving them a pile of lumber and saying, ok, now make a house!

At first glance, it was an impossible task.  I had the measurements of two new students-to-be so this exercise was not just theoretical; real people will be wearing these robes for as long as they are students.  But, you know, no pressure.  I definitely spent the first day somewhat overwhelmed with the task.  Then I took a deep breath and thought about how even the most complicated project (oh, say, like, you know, realizing one's own true nature perhaps?) is really just a series of steps taken one at a time.  How could it be anything else?  So, I thought about what I did know, what I needed to figure out and what the first step needed to be.  And that told me what the next step needed to be.  And so a conversation began between me and the fabric that wanted to be a robe.

This conversation was not all easy nor pleasant.  The reality of fabric and thread isn't quite as smooth and simple as the idea of it, so I ended up tearing out almost every single seam I stitched in.  But I learned a lot.  And yes, I did wish I could have kept working each day.  And yes, I did spend some time during zazen thinking about what I needed to do next and surreptitiously checking out the robes of the people sitting around me.  Why does she have six little pleats in back and he has only four?  There were so many questions to be asked.

By the end of sesshin, I had most of the top of a robe completed and all the pieces cut.  More than that, I actually had a pretty clear sense of the order of things and the robe, that looked so impenetrably complex on Wednesday morning seemed much, much simpler by Sunday morning.  But as I sewed and ripped out and sewed and ripped out, I began to wonder about the person who would receive this particular robe.  He will be wearing all my mistakes - mistakes that were corrected! - but still.  What will his practice be like in that robe?  Was I stitching in good jou-jou - patience, perseverance, and a good dose of humility?  Or was I guaranteeing that his practice will just be one mistake after another?

I guess it will be up to him.  Meanwhile, I will definitely be (secretly) keeping an eye on him to see how it goes.

Monday, November 18, 2013

One Thing Leads to Another

What?  Were you trying to do something?
Because the pinnacle of human achievement maybe the internets.
Because the internets were invented to post Kute Kitty Kat photos.
Because I have actually been selling some yarn (and batts!) lately.
Because selling yarn then means needing to buy envelopes, printer ink and a trip to the dreaded Sunnyside Post Office.
Because the Sunnyside PO has improved, ever so slightly.
Because these errands are still extra taxing as I am preparing for a week of sesshin.
Because I always put off today what I can do tomorrow.
Because I can not do them tomorrow, I must do them today.
Because I will be away starting this afternoon.
Because I want you to know this - have a wonderful week!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Helpful Hint #1749

If you have a jar of dye made from marigolds sitting on your counter for well over a month, do not open it up, pour it into a pot and heat it up.

Oh, my dear.  I have been in public latrines at bus stops in India that had a more kindly fragrance than what emerged from that pot.  I am still slightly stunned.  The kids may never speak to me again.

Yet, it was all in service of intensifying the colour on the recycled silk that I dyed a while back.  I knit it up into a cowl that will be a gift but once I decided who would receive it and for what, I realized it needed a bit more snazz.

Or, rather, it will be a gift if I can make it smell less appalling.

It is very pretty, no?

But it's also a bit stinky.

Update:  Some lavender essential oil seems to have done the trick.  Now it smells like lavender instead of rotting corpse marigolds.  I hope the recipient likes lavender!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fair Trade

After packing and unpacking three times in three weeks, I discovered that I am a little disorganized.  I thought I was holding on by a hair's breath (hare's breath?  Are hares particularly breathless?) but today I had to admit that I was not holding on at all and things have pretty much fallen apart in certain areas of my life.

But!  But I did finally find one of the several items that seem to have disappeared mysteriously, which is the cord to my camera that connects it to my laptop.  So, now I can show you some pictures.

These particular photographs are of two items that I acquired in Sackville at the Heart and Pocket Revue as part of A Handmade Assembly.  I acquired them through trade, which is a most excellent way of acquiring things in my opinion.

First up are a bowl and cup made by Kaeli Cook.  She does all sorts of fibre-y things, including knitting amazing socks, and she also makes beautiful pottery.  The bowl has become my go-to bowl for everything because it is so beautifully simple and elegant but also because it is deep.  I didn't realize how much I wanted a really deep bowl but now I know that I had been hungering for such a bowl all my life.

This is the cup made with a design of birch trees on it.  I have noticed that I have to be quick in the morning to claim the bowl and cup before Fin and Lucy get their paws on them.  I take it as a sign that these are welcomed additions to the household.  In exchange, Kaeli received a skein of handspun which she promptly turned into slippers.  May they keep your multi-talented feet warm, Kaeli!  Thanks so much for trading with me!

You can get your own Kaeli Cook bowl or cup by visiting her etsy shop here.

My other trade was with Rilla Marshall.  I own one of her scarves and I had been jonesing for another one for some time.  I had my eye on one particular one all day at the H&PR and I finally worked up my courage to ask Rilla if she would be willing to trade yarn for a scarf.  She said yes!  And fortunately for me no one bought my scarf by the end of the day.

It is silk and wool.  She weaves it then felts it so the wool shrinks creating a great shape.  It is warm and soft and so, so beautiful.  I love it.  Thank you, Rilla!  I promise that I will not lose it at the post office or anywhere.  I promise!

You can buy a scarf or other woven item from Rilla in her etsy shop here.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

One Word

When I wrote the other day about feeling not completely at home in the craft-only world nor in the art-only world, a person commented and asked me to say more.  Well, you hardly have to twist my arm to get me to say more (it is far more challenging to say less!), so I will do my best to explain further and clarify what I was getting at.

My thoughts were sparked by a question that someone asked at the closing remarks of A Handmade Assembly, which was, can you describe in one word what is different about what we are up to (if I may use the word, "we") as opposed to any other artist.  People came up with all sorts of replies, mostly more than one word but some of the words that did get spoken of were: sincerity, attitude, honesty.  I especially like attitude.  Maybe I would add: generousity.

But it is a slippery slope.  Everything we said also could be applied to painters or others who use "traditional" art materials.  It clearly isn't the materials that make the difference.  "Attitude" resonated well with me.  One of the moderators made a comparison of what we had been doing all weekend to people who engage with a church community - get together to do things, have meals, discuss ideas, tell stories, and generally appreciate and honour what we were all doing.  He was going out a limb to use a religious metaphor in that crowd but he had a point.  

I am not afraid of religious talk, so I could see what he was getting at and I think he isn't far off.  In the end, I don't think there is one word that can be said to sum up whatever difference there is between those of us who take up handmade as part of exactly what we want to talk about in our work.  

As I worked in my studio yesterday, I felt something that felt like an answer to the ongoing dialogue about this that has been happening in my head.  It didn't come out as words exactly.  Well, it did come out as words but not answering kind of words...more questioning kinds of words.  

But who wants answers anyway?

Saturday, November 02, 2013


It has been quite a week of border crossings.  Last week, I was in New Brunswick for A Handmade Assembly and this week, Lucy and I went to Toronto so we could attend the opening of Colette Urban's retrospective exhibition at Museum London in London, ON.  Colette died before the exhibition opened, making the experience quite sad even as it is a beautiful celebration of her life and talent.

We found a very inexpensive place to stay in Scarborough via airbnb.  We feel right at home here because Scarborough is to Toronto what Queens is to Manhattan.  It is where many new immigrants land.  Here is Lucy at Bismillah Pizza.  How could we not have a slice at such an authentically Italian sounding place like that?

It was actually not too bad.
 Then we drove out to London for the opening.  We shall not speak of traffic or poor google map directions.  Suffice to say, we made it and joined a throng of people who we have only seen in Newfoundland.  A funny and wonderful mix of people that only Colette could have gathered together.

Some of her performances were re-enacted throughout the evening.

Her last drawings, which were very much about her bodily experiences of cancer, although made before her diagnosis.

I think Colette would have approved of this!

Feeling her presence so strongly, it was hard not to wish her presence was really there.  She has left such a large hole...we scrambled to fill it with talk and laughing and reminiscence.  But....

I've said it before and I will say it again:  we miss you, Colette.