What Is Wrong With Just Looking Within For Inspiration

This is a corner of my booth when I was in Southern Highland Craft Guild. I think this was my last fair with them and it wasn’t too many years later that I turned in my membership. I was making layered papers jewelry, cards and collage. If you were to step back from my booth, it looked like I was all over the place. The jewelry and cards brought in consistent funds but the collage was where my interest truly lay. With these I could add whatever felt right to tell my story…..and I never lacked for a personal story.

And that sort of brings me to something I saw this week. Someone posted a picture of the worn and patched clothing of Bernuthsfeld Man…a discovery in 1907 of this fellow that lived somewhere between A.D. 660 and 870. Her goal is to match the fabrics as best she can and patch her own garment in the same way. I don’t know if her intention is to wear it….I am not sure what her intention is.

Of course when I saw her drawing of all the shaped pieces in place all I could think of was, “Here comes another pattern”. Remember those early folk wear patterns? Authentic clothing that we could all make if we cared to. I think reenactment costumes was where they were used the most. Much as I loved the Turkish Coat, I knew it was not only difficult to make but had limited use if one was the least bit self-conscious.

Anyway, before I get too far off the track here, let me say I succumbed to making a comment. Somehow it struck me as a bit of appropriation if her intent was to create patterns for sewing circles looking for something different. After all it might just have the appeal of the popular boro stitching craze happening now. And then there is the Kantha stitching from India that is commonly used among textile workers.

And I have used both. First the boro one. A friends sent me a boro coat that was completely patched with many worn through places. I could smell its history. If I wanted to I could hang it on the wall, which is where most of these pieces end up. But I wanted to feel it on my body like its intention was to begin with.  I reworked it in the way it was originally done. I added my own old clothes in places and made it fit my body. I love wearing it.

Here it is being modeled.

And I used the Kantha stitching in this piece yet to be finished.

On this piece I was taking scraps of cloth colored with the soils of where I live here in western North Carolina and torn up old clothes that felt lovely and worn. The running stitches reinforce the cloth as well as keep it attached to the worn shirt that is the base.

Both of these pieces are unique to me. They tell my story. The boro piece demanded that if I wanted to wear it, some serious restructuring had to be done. Keeping with its tradition, I used my own old clothes to expand it after taking the bottom of the coat, cutting it into two pieces to add front and back centers. The Kantha stitched shirt brings back so many memories through its frayed cloth patches.

So back to Bernusthfeld Man. She probably is not going to make a pattern. There probably is not going to be sewing circles all sharing cloth so they can create their own tunic-like garment. But then again maybe there will be.

Here was my immediate response:

I am not so sure of this idea. It seems like an appropriation of some sort. Old worn and patched clothing has its own history of necessity. Like boro and clothes of my childhood patched to continue its usefulness. This does seem contrived to imitate those necessary and needed stitched stories of history.

And the response to that comment made me continue…..

 I suppose that the familiarity of the garment pictured and its purpose of prolonging life and function is something a bit sacred in my life and memory. Thanks as ever for the expansion of my own awareness of how others see an intricate part of history, mine and those from long, long ago.

There was a lengthy response to my comments that ended with the thought that the author of the article on the Bernuthsfeld Man clothing might just be “looking for meaning”. And that we are all part of a big story.

My response which seems to be where the conversation ends was as follows:

I remember a mentor I had about 30 years ago who questioned a fellow student as to why she was making “fragments”. She (the mentor) said, “Why? Aren’t there enough of them already in existence?” I suppose it is only a matter of time before people will gather to follow a pattern for the Shroud of Turin. And then maybe a book titled, “Finding Your Creativity Through Other People’s Stories”. Just some further thoughts here. Please keep posting the things that I am missing out there. It makes me think and that is the best part.

And I have been thinking about it. I never took a “creativity” class. It seems like there are more influences that are prescriptive and limited to the instructor’s path as well as the influences of pre-selected materials. Keep in mind I am not talking about a technique/process class where things are meant to be limited to learning a particular process with particular materials.

I am thinking about how many of us see something. Like it. Want to make it and lose sight of the fact that it is really not our story. We are making things to look like someone else’s story because we like how it looks.

Why don’t we spend time looking at what matters to us. Then go through our collected materials and build with our own learned technical processes, a visual representation of our own story.

I suppose this looking at something so personal as cloth that covers a body and carries the imprint of that body is the same as an old photograph. So many makers of things will easily collect these old images of a captured moment in someone’s personal existence and make it into something never meant to be. I always, without fail, feel a sadness when I see these photographs used out of time and context.

I am now going to search my blog library for some textile….one that is ugly and personal but shows promise to start to tell a story that is strictly my own.

And you know what? Looking at it just now, I think it could be the third and latest layer over large paintings coming back from a gallery that is closing. A half gallon of tinted gesso might just be the place to start. And these random stitches on the back side of a desperate attempt to hold things together could not be more autobiographical.

I will come back to this later.

Thinking About Clearing Space in the Studio

Sunset. Another day goes by and I have done little to get rid of things. A gallery is closing and I will get the works back that did not sell. More things piling up. I need to make some decisions here.  One of the problems is when you work in “mixed media” everything has potential.

This is the latest of the boats done for an exhibition in March.

It is bigger than the last one. And instead of having a bell that rings in a memory carried in the anchor, this one has several jingling bells in the hold. Just rock back and forth and you can hear them. The passenger is safely tucked inside wondering what to recall next.

His attic is full of stories….his and others. The rocks are the important thing here. Images of them on the boat as well as the house’s footings. And those that create a path along the deck of the boat. Here is where they came from.

It is an old cigar box with stones that I collected from a dear friend’s driveway in a town where we raised our children. Pacia lived to be almost 100 years old and I would stay in her house ( a converted train station) every time I went back “home”. One day I simply had a need to take a bit of the place with me. I have dipped into this box often.

Also in there are scraps of sandpaper the men taking wood working classes would give me when I was teaching at Arrowmont. I like those bits of used sandpaper. I like the sound of them. I like how they are supposed to smooth things over while irritating the heck out of it


Here are some of the stones as well as the sand papers in my tai chi figures. There are fourteen of them that take their poses as their burdens get less and less in each one. Here is the first one of the series in an earlier work. Now they just march along a wall in the studio reminding me to take the “focus breath”. I should pay attention.

The shot into the shoulder has helped and I will be able to get back to doing my tai chi and yoga stretches. I do them here in the studio and not in a class setting. That was only to learn the moves and the breathing.

All the works for the other exhibition are packed with their artist statement. Someone will get them to Chattanooga for me.

I am enjoying looking at just the sixteen nails on the wall. How long I can not hang something there is a good question. Someone I admire in the art group showed very large mulberry paper works. I loved the paper and assumed I needed some….just five pages that are 55″ x 27″. Those and a detail brush that “can paint cat whiskers” made from rat hairs. It was only five dollars and seemed like a good idea to have one. Besides it was a supplier I had never ordered from before that carries mostly Asian arts materials.

I am not being very successful at ridding myself of things. But I will get there. I just need to figure out how. I do know one thing. Once it is out of the studio, I don’t miss it.

Someone told me that she got rid of 100 things per week. I think it was each week. But she counted scraps of paper in that one hundred things. It might be a place to start.

Til next week.


Moving Right Along

I reworked this boat about memory loss and the drifting in circles. Now it is mounted on a nice river. Still only has one oar, probably to keep it off the rocks. Still has its memory bundle and not so many fish following along. I like it.

Then I took a good look at the River Lethe Boat full of passengers and decided to give them a bit of a break. I remounted the boat on the plinth and tied a rope up to a dock of sorts. Now titled, Waiting for the Ferryman. Maybe they will get some different water to drink while they wait and their memories will return.

And then on to making new boats with the same theme of memory. I revisited the boats done for an exhibit about remains and especially loved this one housing an old friend.

The house part was to hold small bits of memorabilia about the person whose ashes are in the hold.

But on my new ones that I am making for the exhibit, probably just four total, the house holds the passenger. Here are some views of the first one.

The anchor attached to a piece of written on shifu thread holds the small jingling bell that jogs our memory. It can be moved to the front of the boat or put in the “water”. By moving it about you hear the bell.

The mica window on the house part obscures the passenger inside. He/she is going it alone in this series.

And in the hold are the fragments of the passengers life or they could be ferrying other peoples’ stories along with their own.

All in all it was fun to put the papers made in Claudia Lee’s class to some good use. Making something that did not look like Claudia’s work. I also used some of my own chemically rusted papers. It will be interesting making three more of these that have the same theme, similar papers and good stories.

I am still thinking about how to rid myself of so much stuff in the studio. When I return from Australia I think I will be ready to throw out not only earlier work but a good part of what I used to call “inspirational parts”.

Part of my tidying up this week was “unfollowing” some people on social media. I am seldom interested in reading their self promotions that read like marketing themselves, or their workshops, or their books, or, or, or…..

Of course, that said, I actually was tempted by India Flint’s new venture about making bags. I think it is because I have so much respect for her, number one, and her integrity is pretty hard to beat. Plus I was thinking how nice to belong to a group of women who stitch bits together and chat about it when they feel like it.

Then I had another thought….what if I am expected to perform something in order and on time and answer questions!

So I am not doing it. I am not purchasing her lovely new workbook. I am just going to have to realize that I am beyond paying attention to anything other than what I think needs doing at the moment. My moments are getting pretty precious.

Not only that, but I am well stuck into the fourth of six Karin Fossum books on the kindle. They are like an Australian licorice to me. But I am pretty sure that the Darryl Lea brand no longer is in business down under. Last year I ordered a box of bags for my husband from Amazon and was told that they could no longer get it. And Karin Fossum really needs to stop writing such good Inspecter Seger novels.

Reading this blog over, it seems a bit scattered, a bit out of control. Well that’s the week. Next week I will do better. Art Group tomorrow, (they will set me straight) and a cortisone shot in the shoulder later in the week.

For now I will tidy the studio, AGAIN, and go back to my kindle with wine.

Til next week.


Getting Some Control – Some

These are my new tools, compliments of the physical therapist who is trying to get rid of a bad shoulder/muscle ache. About three months ago I noticed the pain, stopped boxing the bag at the gym, then stopped doing upper body work…..hoping it would just disappear. That is not the way things go any more.

Losing myself in Karin Fossum crime novels, I found this bit of dialogue between a young policeman and an older woman. He referred to her as being in her mid-seventies. That is close to my age. He must have asked her about getting older and she said, in part, the following:

“It is a gradual decline. An insidious, almost unnoticeable process that you only discover at sudden, shocking moments.”

That is a very accurate observation for Ms Fossum to make via her “older woman.” Finding passages like this make me sorry I have her books on Kindle. She has some good bits in the novels that could use a mark in the margins.

I think the shoulder is getting better and have been told that my patience could use some work. Do all the exercises and do them with patience. Focus on healing. Fine.

Aside from that I have dug out some of my favorite tools in the studio. Both are helping me do the finishing touches on work I plan on entering for juried exhibitions far away.

First off is the Harbor Freight belt sander.

When I saw this at a friends studio out near Seattle, and realized it only cost $49, it seemed a must for my own studio. It grinds away things I don’t want on the surface and helps to shape soft foredges of books, etc.

And then that wonderful burning tool I bought after a weekend class on finishes at Arrowmont a couple of years ago.

With the different tips and the speed with which it gets the job done, I am glad to be working with it again.

My new work in collage is all finished and framed for the exhibit the River Gallery in Chattanooga later this spring. And just the other day I received a request to be part of another one toward the middle of the state. They wanted my sculpture works. This will give me a chance to return to boats.

It feels appropriate to go back to boats. They fit me right now. Drifting. Floating. Waiting to get somewhere. Anyway I like the boats of my past.


Even this sorry little linen one with bits and sticks tied or stitched on.

I will rework the River Lethe one below. I might build a water line between the boat and those forgetful passengers below decks and loose the monument part they sit on. Sort of make them a river to float through. This one is definitely a reference to dementia. The passengers share fragments of what might or might not have been while other fragments float away. They have stored their “baggage” in the hold overhead before taking their seats below.

In the same vein of “drifting” I think I will put in the piece I made this summer with sticks and papers made in Claudia Lee’s class. The Lethe boat just floats back and forth. This boat turns in circles. In it I carry a bundle of memories wrapped tightly, am given one oar and a rock to remind me to get there quickly. The fish tag along in anticipation. All that and it still makes me smile.

I will definitely make some Sanctuary House Boats. Safe little floating spaces that can only hold one. A place to meditate and tune out distractions. Places to get away from that woman’s “sudden, shocking moments.”

I will be back next week with news on how that is going.