in common

Category : Farm, Kitchen, Nature, Textiles
Date : July 31, 2017
Comments : (4)

Sometimes the most wildly different can be the most similar. What do the minimally elegant garments worn by Georgia O’Keeffe and the wildly exuberant clothes of the Counter Culture have in common? The clue may be found in the subtitle, “Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture.” Yes, the handmade. Both O’Keeffe and members of the Counter Culture movement used their hands to make their garments.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s hand sewn silk garments.

 

Recently I had the fortune of seeing Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at the Brooklyn Museum and Counter-Couture at the Museum of Art and Design. When one enters the first room of the O’Keeffe show, there are four white silk dresses, and upon examination, one may see the perfectly tiny, couture quality stitching. All made by O’Keeffe. Throughout her life, she continued to sew her own clothing. There is not much pattern found in the O’Keeffe clothing, mainly black and white and the occasional rainbow of color in her wrap dresses, yet the opposite rules for the counter-culture: pattern upon pattern, jubilant tie-dye, proliferating embroidered floral motifs, wildly textured crochet – vividly, abundantly they exploit the hand-sewn in their garments.

Garments on view in Counter-Couture

 

The Counter-Couture wall text states:

“The works on display reflect the ethos of a generation of makers and wearers who-against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement–rejected ideals of the American Dream, which they identified as rooted in consumerism and waste, social conformity in personal appearance and behavior, and a political establishment invested in maintaining the status quo. They embraced a vision of a new, homegrown civilization rooted in self-reliance, resistance to mass-market consumerism, an affirmative connection to nature, and forms of communal engagement to forge new relationships between self and Other.”

Step back. Look. Examine. And now ponder self-reliance.   In one of the exhibition videos, O’Keeffe talks about growing her own food and working hard to make a garden, so she would not have to undertake the long drive down the mountain to purchase food. We see her kneeling amidst the rows of food and picking lettuce, carefully placing it into a folded newspaper. Similarly, the Counter Culture was rooted in the Back-to-Land movement, growing their own food and living off the land, often residing in communes practicing “sustainable agriculture and permaculture, bartering, self-reliance and pacifism.”

Georgia O’Keeffe’s sewing kit

 

How did we go so wrongly awry from these self-reliant times in the 1960s and 1970s? Furthermore, how did we get so far from making and growing to boxes of sugar-laden cereals on the store shelves and cheap t-shirts bearing company logos made in sweat shops in other countries? More importantly, where can we go now for inspiration and guidance?

The newly formed Food and Fibers Project asks us to question where our food comes from, who makes our clothes, and how we can better connect both fiber and food to the land. Their mission states, “There are so many intersections of food and fashion, from the soil that grows our food and fiber, to the plants we can both eat and dye textiles with, to the political acts of cooking our own food and mending our own clothes.”

Garments on view in Counter-Couture

 

Summer seems the ideal time to start on a new path, making ‘re-connections’ as Food and Fibers states. Shop at your local farmer’s market, filling your basket with greens and fruit for your next meal. Make a garment from organic cotton grown in the USA with a pattern from Alabama Chanin. Visit a sheep farm and purchase yarn to make a hat or pair of socks for cooler days to come. Fire up a dye pot from plants grown on the land and re-dye faded, stained clothes from your closet, rendering anew. Mend those blue jeans with the holes in the knees instead of purchasing a new pair.

Each and every time one contemplates a purchase, ask who made this, or where was it grown? The time to ponder and choose is now.

Quoted text from exhibition wall text of Counter-Couture Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture, Museum of Art and Design. On view until August 20, 2017.

 


Ideas and Influences on Two Coats of Paint

Date : April 16, 2017
Comments :

Recently, Sharon Butler of award wining blog, Two Coats of Paint, asked me to compile a list of ten current “ideas and influences.”  The text of the blog is below. Please visit Two Coats for the full post with images.

page from my grandfather’s herbarium

 

“Artist and citizen naturalist Brece Honeycutt lives in Massachusetts, on a colonial farmhouse in the foothills of the Berkshire mountains. Fascinated with the history of her home and the surrounding land, she reads handwritten antique diaries at the local library, gathers old textiles, and creates natural dyes from the plants she collects on her morning walks. During her walks, she closely observes changes to the landscape, making notes that become the basis for new projects. On the occasion of her solo show at Norte Maar, Honeycutt has compiled the following list of ideas and influences that inform her work.”

1. Henry David Thoreau. “It will take half a lifetime to find out where to look for the earliest flower,” noted Henry David Thoreau in his journal. [1] For seven years (1851-1858), Thoreau walked his environs around Concord, MA and recorded his observations noting when plants sprouted, trees leafed out, and birds returned.  An inspiration for us all to be become Citizen Naturalists.

2. Citizen Naturalist. Recently I started participating in the USA National Phenology Network as a Citizen Naturalist, using Nature’s Notebook app. Phenology, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (as in bird migration or plant flowering).” In fact, Thoreau’s findings have become the basis for comparative studies being conducted by the scientist Dr. Richard B. Primack that demonstrate climate change and how the warming of the planet is affecting the cycles of our environs.  Daily I note the returning ducks and birds, the flowering coltsfoot and the occasional spotting of a bobcat.

3. Emily Dickinson. Like Thoreau, Emily Dickinson was a keen observer of plants and a magnificent gardener. I wondered what plants were found in her area of Massachusetts in the 1800s and might we have them here?  Dickinson wrote to her friend, Mrs. A. P. Strong, in 1848, “The older I grow, the more I do love spring flowers. Is it so with you? While at home there were several pleasure parties of which I was a member, and in our rambles we found many and many beautiful children of Spring, which I will mention and see if you have found them–the trailing arbutus, adder’s tongue, yellow violets, liver leaf, bloodroot and many other small flowers.” [2]

4. Spring Ephemerals. Indeed, all but the trailing arbutus are found on the grounds of Bartholomew’s Cobble (Ashley Falls, MA). In a few weeks, the Spring Wildflower Festival will begin at the Cobble and for the second year, I will be leading tours. I am busily reviewing my notecards, guidebooks and poems that I will read to the guests. The most important “tool” is to go and walk the trail, slowly, ever so slowly. Stopping, and really looking around. As Thoreau noted, the earliest flowers are the hardest to find.  Spring ephemerals–plants that grow for a short time span due to the intense sunlight and the particular soil found at the Cobble–are fleeting and glorious.  This year I want to embark on a project, “To know you is to draw you.”

5. Herbariums. Plants & Place, Deerfield. What did that particular plant look like when it first sprouted? Gardeners, Citizen Naturalists like Dickinson and Thoreau made Herbariums to both identify and document their native flora and fauna. Each year, I vow to start my own Herbarium and to jump start this year’s process, I look forward to the upcoming symposium at Historic Deerfield–Plants and Place:  Native Flora of Western Massachusetts. We will review various herbaria, including the early collected plant pages of Stephen West Williams.

6. Susan Howe. I had the pleasure of attending a lecture at The Morgan Library with Susan Howe and Marta Werner regarding the current exhibition I’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson. The exhibition catalog is a treasure trove of essays and images including a conversation between Werner and Howe, “Transcription and Transgression.”

Werner asks Howe about seeking “small, out-of the way archives.”

Howe responds:  “Yes, I also enjoy small local libraries. Usually they have local historical collections where you will find things that historicists have neglected, or you find an old book with the odd spelling from seventeenth century. I don’t know. It’s the peace found in the landscape of place.” [3]

7. Webster’s Dictionary. Howe discussed also that Dickinson used a particular dictionary, Noah Webster’s 1844 An American Dictionary of the English Language. In a post-lecture conversation, Howe said that not only were Dickinson’s words defined by this exact dictionary, but that her gaze across the pages of the dictionary influenced her writings. I procured a facsimile 1828 Webster (also found in the Dickinson home) and have been looking up words found in her poetry, Thoreau’s writings and even to see if a spring ephemeral can be found on the pages of this book, evidencing that a plant was very much in residence. What a treat to read Jennifer Schuessler’s article “A Journey into the Merriam-Webster Word Factory” in the March 22 edition of the New York Times.

8. Mending. Sewing. Georgia O’Keeffe. Alabama Chanin. The current exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at the Brooklyn Museum charts her life through drawings, paintings, photographs and clothing. Her friend Anita Pollitzer noted that O’Keeffe was “extremely industrious, her hands are seldom idle. She loves to sew—not fancy things, but Chinese silk blouses and loose clothes that become her.” One wall label noted her to be a “conscientious mender” of clothes.

Inspired by Alabama Chanin a few years ago, I found the determination to make some of my own clothes. Stitch by stitch.

9. Clean Air. Clean Water. Rachel Carson. Where will we be without clean air and clean water?  After watching PBS’s documentary American Experience:  Rachel Carson, I sought the pages of Silent Spring, first published in 1962.  Carson’s intensely factual, yet lyrically written, scientific book exposed the devastation occurring from the use of synthetic chemicals on all living beings.

Carson states:

“If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.

“I contend, furthermore, that we have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no advance investigation of their effect on soil, water, wildlife, and man himself. Future generations are unlikely to condone our lack of prudent concern for the integrity of the natural world that supports all life.” [4]

10. Wendell Berry. Now. Wendell Berry asks us to remain in the present with our actions in regards to climate change and land abuse. He posits that if we are only thinking of what can be accomplished in the future, we are missing the opportunity for what we can do right now. He invites us to “save energy now for the future” by beginning with small acts today. Berry states,

“….so few as just one of us can save energy right now by self-control, careful thought, and remembering the lost virtue of frugality. Spending less, burning less, traveling less may be relief. A cooler, slower life may make us happier, more present to ourselves, and to others who need us to be present.” [5]

Footnotes:

[1] Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau’s Wildflowers, edited by Geoff Wisner, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), pg. 16.
[2] Emily Dickinson, The Letters of Emily Dickinson, 1845-1886, Google Docs, page 38.
[3] Susan Howe and Marta Werner, “Transcription and Transgression,” The Networked Recluse:  The Connected World of Emily Dickinson, (Amherst: Amherst College Press, 2017), pg. 135.
[4] Rachel Carson Silent Spring, (Greenwich: Fawcett Books, 1962), pg. 22.
[5] Wendell Berry, Our Only World Ten Essays, (Berkeley:  Counterpoint, 2015), pgs. 174, 175.

“bewilderNew Work by Brece Honeycutt,” Norte Maar, Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, NY. Through  April 23, 2017.


poetry month

Category : Textiles
Date : April 15, 2015
Comments : (1)

Textile terms are often linked to writing, and in particular, works of women’s words.

Theodore Roethke sets the stage for his glowing review of the poet Louise Bogan (1897-1970) by starting with a contrast, stating that women poets are often accused of ‘lack of range” exhibited by “the spinning out; the embroidering of trivial themes.” He concludes his review by noting: “Her poems create their own reality, and demand not just attention, but the emotional and spiritual response to the whole man. Such a poet will never be popular, but can and should be a true model for the young. And the best work will stay in the language as long as the language survives.”

Perhaps Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672), the first poet of the Colonies, set the standard and bar for women poets in her poem, The Prologue:

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue

Who says my hand a needle better fits.

A poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong;

For such despite they cast on female wits,

If what I do prove well, it won’t advance—–

They’ll say it stolen, or else by chance.

Indeed, needle and thread did function as a stylus for many a young girl on the canvas of her sampler as evidenced in the recent exhibition, Hail Specimen of Female Art! New Jersey Schoolgirl Needlwork 1726-1860 held at the Morven Museum and Garden. Over 150 samplers lined the galleries, almost overwhelming to the eye, but reassuring and fortifying for both the scholar and stitcher alike.

Young Anne Rickey (1783-1846) stitched/wrote on her sampler:

Hail specimen of female art

The needle’s magic power to show

To canvas various hues impart

And make a mimic world to grow

A sampler then with care peruse

An emblem sage you there may find

The canvas takes what forms you choose

So education forms the mind.

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The poet Dara Mandle links weaving, writing , technology and preservation in her poem, Looking at Burden Baskets in the Smithsonian:

Was the weaver’s art so different

from my picking apart?

 

She peeled cedar shoots for her daily tools,

I recorded the music of bracken fern

 

and sumac. On the page, I threaded

wild rye with river cane, she used

 

a loom to coil deer grass around yucca

Why did I stare? I didn’t imagine her

 

in a museum inspecting my laptop,

its plastic mouse holy as a scarab.

 

April is poetry month, and seems only fitting for one to venture forth and hear words read from pages of books by their writers. Dara Mandle will be reading from her newly published chapbook, Tobacco Hour (art by Brece Honeycutt), along with writer John Talbird (art by Lesley Kerby) on Sunday April 19 at Luhring Augustine Bushwick from 4-6pm. This event marks the 10th & 11th writer/artist/poet collaborations initiated and produced by Norte Maar.

Psyche The Feminine Poetic Consciousness An Anthology of Modern American Women Poets, edited by Barbara Segnitz and Carol Rainey (Dell Publishing, 1973), pgs. 11, 12 (Both Roethke and Bradstreet from the introduction).

Theodore Roetheke, “A Memorable American Poet, The Poetry of Louise Bogan,” reprinted from the Michigan Alumnus Quarterly Review, December 3, 1960, Vol. LXVII, No. 10, accessed online April 15, 2015, http://www.lsa.umich.edu/UMICH/hopwood/Home/Lecturers%20&%20Readers/Hopwood%20Lectures%20PDF/HopwoodLecture-1960%20Theodore%20Roethke.pdf

Linda Arntzenius, “Hail Morven’s Latest (Landmark) Exhibition”, Princeton Magazine, February 2015, accessed on line April 14, 2015, http://www.princetonmagazine.com/hail-morvens-latest-landmark-exhibition/

Elaine Showalter, A Jury of her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, (Virago Press, 2009), pgs. 99-100.

Dara Mandle, Tobacco Hour, (Norte Maar, 2015).


needlework tools

Category : Textiles
Date : February 5, 2015
Comments : (2)

This coming Sunday marks the Hari-Kuyo broken needle ceremony–a 400 year-old Buddhist tradition originating in Japan that honors the implements used by needleworkers. For this event, attendees are invited to bring their broken or bent needles and plunge them into blocks of tofu. In this action, they send their tools off to the next world in happiness and for success. The blocks of tofu, laden with needles, will be blessed by Buddhist priests as part of the ceremony.

As I look around my studio, there are many types of needles–darning, bookbinding, sewing machine, knitting, crewel, embroidery–as well as books about techniques and histories of needleworkers and stitchers.

Therese de Dilmont states in her introduction to The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework that “Furthermore, in whatever circumstances of fortune one may be placed, the ability to sew well will always be useful. On the other [sic] hand, a practical knowledge of plain sewing enables one to appreciate other people’s work at its true value, and on the other hand, it enables one to produce strong and lasting work should the need arise.”

one of the 'scrap' quilts made by Nannie

one of the ‘scrap’ quilts made by Nannie

Over the past week, my beloved aunt and I have been reminiscing about sewing, for she along with my mother and grandmother were keen sewers. As a young girl, I adored going to the fabric store and looking at not only the patterns, but also the fabric and notions. The sewing store in Hickory, NC was a wood building with proper screen doors and the interior was clad in wood paneling. Hung high adorning the walls were posters of current fashions alongside sewing ephemera. Bolts of fabric were stacked around the room and there were large cutting tables, racks of thread and buttons, pattern books on large slanted tables, and women eager to help you with your project.

My aunt tells me that she made her children’s clothes but did not use patterns. Instead, she designed the dresses in her mind, purchased the fabric and notions, and went home and made them. This is awe-inspiring to me, and as de Dilmont says, it makes me appreciate my aunt’s skills; in order to sew successfully, one must not only understand the physical nature of the cloth, but how it will work with the design. These are skills that I am now learning with some difficulty, so I wish that I had paid more attention to the sewers in my family.

a pink quilt that was on my bed as a child made by Nannie

a pink quilt that was on my bed as a child made by Nannie

The numerous garments that my aunt made as well as the ones made for me are long gone, given to other children or donated to church jumble sales. Fortunately, my grandmother also made quilts from scraps and remainders of sewing projects, and on one treasured quilt there are squares made from my school dresses. When I crawl under this quilt, I am reminded of walking into school on an early September day proudly wearing my blue dress with patterns of flowers and birds, sewn for my by the hands of my grandmother.

Therese de Dilmont, The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework, (Running Press, 1996, Third Edition), pg. 11.

Note: One may attend a Hari-Kuyo Ceremony this Sunday February 8th at 4:30 at the BF+DA, Brooklyn, NY. For further information, http://bkaccelerator.com/engagesingle/nyfw-bfda-hari-kuyo/

 

For further reading about needlework:

Marla R. Miller, The Needle’s Eye Women and Work in the Age of Revolution, (University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 2006).

Jane Brocket, The Gentle Art of Stitching 40 Projects Inspired by Everyday Beauty, (Collins and Brown, London, 2006).

Roderick Kiracofe, Unconventional and Unexpected American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000, (STC Craft, New York, 2014).

Cassandra Ellis, Cloth 30 + Projects to Sew from Linen, Cotton, Silk, Wool and Hide, (STC Craft, New York 2014).

Natalie Chanin, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns (STC Craft, published in 2015).


busy hands

Category : Textiles
Date : January 23, 2015
Comments :

On a recent subway ride, I watched a woman crochet a colorful hat surrounded by riders tapping away at their ‘smart’ phones. Busy hands. All hands were indeed busy, but sometimes juxtaposition says it all. The woman will have an actual useful object to show for her time, but what can be said of the others?

Are we truly busy when scrolling through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? Does one’s mind settle down as it does whilst knitting, as Cat Bordhi revealed in her essay, “A Guide for Bringing Knitting and Spinning into Elementary through High School Classrooms.” Secretly, she had her students knit and spin during her humanities class without first obtaining permission from the administration. When the district superintendent stopped by unannounced, her students’ hands were busy knitting, spinning or winding wool, whilst listening to an audio-tape. She feared repercussions, but the superintendent later reported “that what struck him first as he came through our door was that every single student was productively and positively engaged as a member of a thriving community of learners, and that he had rarely seen a classroom so attentive on so many levels: listening, working with the hands and helping one another.”

Working with one’s hands yields compound results. Monica Moses’ editorial in the February/March 2015 issue of American Craft cites multiple studies equating using one’s hands as a tool to combat depression. The actual ‘act’ of making not only brings happiness, it also fosters the human spirit. Stephen S. Ilardi notes “that people whose lifestyles more closely resemble those of our ancestors–for example, the Amish, who make their own furniture, sew their own clothes, and drive handheld plows–experience significantly less depression.”

Jean-Francois Millet, Shepherdess Seated on a Rock, 1856 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Jean-Francois Millet, Shepherdess Seated on a Rock, 1856 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Knitting was a skill that both boys and girls learned in earlier centuries. Larissa and Martin John Brown report that in the late 1700s, villagers from Dentdale, England, men women and children, came together at the end of the work day for a “sitting.” They posit:

“It’s tough to imagine that world now, when you can buy a ten-pack of factory-made socks for a few dollars, but this was a time when the vast majority of socks, stockings, and gloves in the Western world were not just knitted, but knitted by hand. They were knitted because knitted fabric has properties of stretch, shapability, and seamlessness that make it superior to woven and sewn work for those garments. They were knitted by hand because knitting machines, though in existence from 1600s, took centuries to overtake hand production.”

My first major knitting project was a pair of socks on four DPNs (double pointed needles). I had no idea how to construct the heel flap and then turn the heel, but then found helpful resources and fellow knitters to guide me along. I had almost finished one sock and slipped it on. It was huge, so off I ventured to my local yarn store for a consult. Deb, the owner, confirmed that the sock was too big for me and too small for my husband. So as I gulped, we ripped it out and I started again on a circular needle. Now, thanks to her, I knit two socks at once and enjoy wearing my hand knit pairs.

Maybe someday, I will board a subway car and there will be a “sitting” going on — many of those in the car knitting or crocheting. What if more people started knitting their own socks, hats and gloves, not only to quiet the mind, but also to connect, with making and with others? Trust me, tucking a ball of sock yarn and a pair of circular needles in one’s bag is easy.

Cat Bordhi, “A Guide for Brining Knitting and Spinning into Elementary through High School Classrooms,” www.catbordhi.com accessed in July 2011. Her essay as well as a lesson plans may be found on her website. The lesson plans are a history of civilization told via fiber.

Monica Moses, “Making it Better,” American Craft, February/March 2015, pg. 10. Moses cites the research of Stepehn S. Ilaridi in her editorial.

Brown, Larissa and Martin John Brown, Knitalong: celebrating the tradition of knitting together, (Stewart, Tabori &Chang, 2008), 42.


presents

Category : Textiles
Date : December 20, 2014
Comments : (1)

Tis the season, as they say, and many are rushing around trying to find the perfect gift. One might suggest that presents often don’t come in the form of an actual object, but instead as a memory that returns to the forefront while your hands are busy knitting, for example.

A few weeks ago, I attended a knitting afternoon arranged by my fiber friend extraordinaire, Abigail Doan. She wanted to introduce a group of us to the “Turkish slipper.” After consuming soothing cups of tea, we seated ourselves in a circle, and received our kits containing the pattern for the “Sifa Silver Turkish Slipper” and balls of Figgi yarns.

Abigail explained that the pattern is designed by Catharine Bayar, a textile expert living in Istanbul, and is based on the traditional slippers her husband’s female relatives knitted for generations. Furthermore, the yarn, made from delicious, durable Turkish cotton, includes a strand of silver and is called sifa defined as healing in Turkish. We could not wait to start, and all cast on and began to work.

A pair of knitted lace Turkish slippers. Photo by Abigail Doan.

A pair of knitted lace Turkish slippers. Photo by Abigail Doan|Lost in Fiber.

When the event finished, we packed up our work and headed off, with promises to be wearing our slippers soon. I am adoring knitting my slippers, not only due to texture of the yarn in my hands as I work combined with the stitches that create the lace work of the pattern, but for the memory that it sparked, and this present to me is invaluable.

Knitted slippers. Like a bolt of lightening, I recalled Nannie, my grandmother, giving us presents of her hand made wool slippers at Christmas time. Each year we received a new pair, sometimes with pompons, others with reinforced-soles, always knitted perfectly in bright color combinations, and so warm.

It is a long way from Hickory, NC (Nannie & Papa lived there) to Istanbul in real time, but in memory time, the distance is quite short, linked for me by yarn. This holiday season, I am thankful for the cherished recollections of time spent with Nannie, especially when watching her hands transform yarn into slippers or sweaters and crops into delicious dinners. And I am thankful for my friends and their experiences and memories. A true present indeed.

Pattern for Turkish Slipper maybe found on Etsy.

Information on Figgi Yarns found here.

Information on Bazaar Bayar and their knitting retreats found here. Perhaps, this is something to put on your to-do or wish list for 2015!


sky strainer

Category : Textiles
Date : December 9, 2014
Comments :

The ephemeral often becomes useful–milkweed silks for candlewicks, cattail fluff for pillow stuffing, and spider webs for staunching wounds—as well as inspirational.

Glimpsing lacelike spider webs, fluffy cattails and silky milkweed on my morning walks spurred me to re-examine strands of fiber and sparked a series of work. The sculptures in sky strainer series are made from my handspun wool in the knotless netting technique. Some of the pieces are nestled in tree branches or suspended from the ceiling, as one might glimpse a light orb or a spider web out of the corner of one’s eye.

IMG_0019

In his book, Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting, Odd Nordland examines ancient textiles, including the beautiful milk strainers made from cow tail hairs gathered in the fall after the cows no longer needed their long tails to ward off flies. He further examines the many uses of the cow: for food (both meat to eat and milk to drink, often out of the horn of the cow), and for skin and sinews (providing material for sewing, often with needles carved from cow bones).

It is not only the magnificence of the lacelike milk strainers that influences my series, but also the industriousness of the farmers that used them. Early farmers depended upon their cattle in a wide variety of substantive ways. These cows were not being raised on industrial cattle farms and being fed corn and antibiotics, but instead were eating native grasses under the stars and sky.

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In our over-mechanized society, we can draw inspiration from the ancients who exemplified such resourcefulness and directness in their daily routines. Be it from the turning of the spinning wheel to make the yarn, or the slow methodical movement of the needle twining through the loops, the sky strainers hearken to an earlier age and push forward.

Odd Nordland, Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting (Studia Norvegica No. 10, Oslo University Press, Oslo, 1961), p.93.

Note: sky strainer #6 is currently on view until January 31, 2015, in the exhibition Circle Round at the KNOX Gallery, Monterey, MA. https://www.facebook.com/knoxgallery?sk=wall


mended

Category : Textiles
Date : November 19, 2014
Comments : (1)

The thermometer’s mercury slid to a new seasonal low this morning, 16 degrees F.  Thankfully, outdoor chores—putting the garden to bed, storing onions and garlic, drying goldenrod and mugwort, raking leaves, and storing hoses, etc.—have been completed and my mind turns to the roster of indoor tasks: mending, sewing, weaving and knitting.

My friend Audra Wolowiec sent me a treasure in the post—a piece of fabric purchased at a yard sale with lovely mending. What causes one to repair, and once darned, to save, store and cherish? Earlier generations were trained to mend and darn; an exquisite 1711 darning sampler found in the Cooper Hewitt’s collection provides visual testament to both skill and beauty. The description reads like a poetry: “…fifteen mending crosses and two corner mends, with picot edgings, a center GD 1711, surmounted by a crown.”

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Even though I received my Girl Scout badge for sewing and attempted many embroidery stitches as a teenager, my hands lack the skills to complete the delicate inter-lacings of thread. Proudly, I recently completed my Alabama Chanin D.I.Y. skirt, and although there are thousands of stitches on this skirt, their lack of consistency compels me to become more proficient in the needle arts. Where do I find a school that will teach me the stitches outlined in Catherine Beecher’s 1843 book, A Treatise on Domestic Economy:

“Every young girl should be taught to do the following kinds of stitch, with propriety. Overstitch, hemming, running, felling, stitching, back-stitch and run, button-stitch, chain-stitch, whipping, darning, gathering and cross-stitch.”

If I lived in United Kingdom, I would register for Tom van Deijnen’s darning class in just two day’s time in Dalston, London. Van Deijnen started The Visible Mending Programme, which:

“…seeks to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind the garment and repair, the Programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment, leading to people wearing existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn being worn as a badge of honor.”

Indeed, why not accent the mending on one’s beloved sweater, for example, with contrasting thread, thus reinforcing both metaphorically and literally, its importance? After all, does a garment really need to be discarded due to a hole or rip?

“Darning Sampler, 1711.” https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18345433/, Accessed on November 19, 2014.

Mirra Bank, Anonymous Was A Woman: A celebration in words and images of tradition American art—and the women who made it, (St. Martin’s Press, 1979), pg. 24.

“About Tom Holland.” http://tomofholland.com/about/, Tom van Deijnen, accessed on November 19, 2014.


revolutionary actions

Category : Textiles
Date : August 8, 2014
Comments :

Revolutionary actions take on many forms. The colonists started by tossing casks of tea into Boston Harbor; in turn, this action spiraled outward to spinning bees on town greens and the production of “homespun.”

On January 1, 2014, a ‘revolutionary act’ took place in another Massachusetts’ town—The Tailor Project. Can you imagine not buying an item of clothing, a pair of shoes or any jewelry for a year? Amy DuFault, fed up with the ‘fast fashion’ industry, decided to take on the challenge. Armed with clothing already in her closet, she teamed up with her local tailor, Kathryn Hilderbrand, of Stitched. Over the past months, Kathryn has been giving new life to garments–nipping, tucking, revamping, redesigning and tailoring them to fit Amy.

Does your town have a tailor and if so, have you ever taken a garment there? In previous decades, tailors or mantua makers were an essential part of the community.

“The early dress-makers were known as mantua-makers. Their work was supplemented by the seamstress and the tailoress. In “Recollections of Old Boston” a woman born in 1848 states, “All dresses were made in the household; the stuffs were bought in the shops…” “Sewing-women came to the house, and worked as seamstresses do today, but these women not only made the dresses for the women and girls of the household, but a tailoress came also who made the coats and trousers for the boys.” “One good dress of silk or satin or damask for best (which usually lasted for many years) and a very meagre wardrobe of gowns for daily use.”

Marla Miller describes the ‘interconnectedness’ of communities in her book, The Needle’s Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution:

“In the give and take of rural exchange, New England needleworkers, as much as cabinetmakers, housewrights, and headstone carvers, created and sustained communities of commerce imperative to the continued health of that equilibrium, to systems as important to continuity and change in the social, economic, and cultural order as that which existed in the larger commercial world.”

The Tailor Project is both a small town and global project. DuFault seeks to bring attention to the way our clothing is made (“…garment workers rights, fast fashion, toxic effluents in the waterways, textile waste, pesticides…”) and by whom. She invokes “…a call to arms for old friends, new friends and colleagues to join in supporting their local tailor, a profession being pushed out for cheaply made and priced clothing that are much easier to throw away than to mend.”

Aren’t our closets filled to the brim? Take on Amy’s challenge, ‘shop’ in your closet, visit your tailor and sport a garment, perhaps “used” and then fitted for you. Moreover, when purchasing any new item, take note of where and who made it, and only buy from designers that support fair trade and wages. Changes in the industry and our habits start with us, one garment at time.

 

b(RE)ce for The Tailor Project

b(RE)ce for The Tailor Project

NOTE:  Recently, I participated in two Tailor Projects. First, Kathryn shortened a dress purchased in a thrift store years ago, but I had only worn once or twice due to its length. Now, it is one of my summer go-to dresses. Secondly, I eco-dyed a silk shirt for Amy, dyeing it with natural dyes.  This shirt falls into a project that I have been working on for the past two years–b(RE)ce:  the revamping of thrift store garments through the act of eco-dyeing (using homemade natural dyes with hand gathered leaves and flowers).

Elsa Shannon Bowles, Homespun Handicrafts, (Benjamin Bloom, Inc, 1972), pgs. 108-9.

Marla Miller,  The Needles Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution, (University of Massachusetts Press, 2006), pgs. 228-9.  Miller thoroughly examines the global trade world in the last chapter, The Romance of Old Clothes.

Amy DuFault, http://www.amydufault.com/?p=137529, Read on 8/8/2104.


bundle up

Category : Textiles
Date : January 19, 2014
Comments : (4)

With the next polar vortex bearing down on us, it is time to gather one’s warmest clothes and prepare to bundle up for the daily chores—fire stoking, chicken feeding, wood chopping, egg gathering.  What did the women of yore wear in the bitter winter?

Recently, I saw a painting of Mrs. Richard Bache (Sarah Franklin, 1743-1808–Ben Franklin’s daughter) wearing a crisscrossed shawl and it occurred to me that shawls for women were the equivalent of waistcoats for men.

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A shawl—a very large triangle—worn over the shoulders and crossed over the chest, can be tied in the back.  The shawl is now secure and one does not have to concentrate on holding it closed or worrying about it falling off.  Thus, one is able to move about freely and accomplish needed tasks.  Furthermore, the trunk of the body is warm, just as if one was wearing a modern day vest.

In the recent movie, Camille Claudel 1915, Camille (played by Juliette Binoche) wears a very large shawl, and throughout the movie, the shawl takes on many uses—as a large scarf bundled around her neck, as a shawl draped over the shoulders, and as a ‘waistcoat’ wrapped and tied around her waist.  In contrast, the character Griet, in the movie Girl with a Pearl Earring, merely drapes her shawl around her and holds it closed with her arms, thus not allowing the body freedom of movement.

After seeing Juliette wrap, drape and enfold her body with her knitted shawl, I decided to make one.  I discussed this with one of my colleagues and fellow knitters, and there was a twinkle in her eye.  The next day she brought me the perfect pattern—‘A Sensible Shawl’ by Celeste Young.  My shawl, finished just in time for the last polar vortex, has been keeping me warm as I move through the day’s chores and at night whilst I am knitting socks or stitching my Alabama Chanin DIY swing skirt.

Wrap up and keep warm.

Mrs. Richard Bache, 1793, by John Hopper (British, 1758-1810), oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


town meeting

Category : Textiles
Date : November 20, 2013
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Recently, we had a special town meeting.  In the state of Massachusetts, towns having less than 6,000 citizens utilize the open town meeting format.  The warrant for our town’s first town meeting was issued on January 11, 1733.  Our annual town meeting occurs every May, where we vote on the yearly town budget and other matters in the form of articles (in modern terms, we vote on the budget line item by line item).  In this instance, the Board of Selectmen issued a special warrant that listed three articles and summoned the town to a meeting to vote.

The meeting was charged with energy, for the articles were surrounded by contentious debate.  I packed my knitting, knowing that it would be a long evening, and indeed it lasted almost four hours.  There were a few other knitters in the crowd.

my stocking, Brece Honeycutt work on paper, 2007

my stocking, Brece Honeycutt work on paper, 2007

Idle hands are the devils playground, or so it is said.  And I was happy to have my knitting to occupy mine.  My mind time travelled and I wondered what women of the past would have done at a town meeting.  Women would probably not have gone to a colonial town meeting, since they did not have the right to vote.  However, most women would have carried their handwork with them wherever they ventured for hands were never idle.  According to Larissa and Martin Brown in their book, Knitalong, everyone knitted.  “Some families had a quota that girls and boys needed to finish each day—an inch of sock or even a half a sock.”  Furthermore, women often worked together in the form of “bees” in order to get fiber chores completed.

“After I was married and the children were growing up, I was never without a pair of needles in my hands,” reminisced Elizabeth E. Miller, born in 1848 in South Ryegate, Vermont, when she was interviewed by a government folklorist at ninety years of age. “When I went out to a sociable or a farmer’s meeting in the evening I always took my knitting.  We had a spanking pair [of horses] then and when we were out in the  [wagon] I knit up the hill and down…my knitting went everywhere but to church.”

As a child, I watched my grandmother knit and stitch in the evenings after the daylight chores were completed.  I thank her for her inspiration, for her hands were never idle.

Lillian E. Preiss, Sheffield Frontier Town, (Sheffield Bicentennial Committee, 1976), pgs. 19-20.

Larissa Brown and Martin John Brown, Knitalong Celebrating the Tradition of Knitting Together, (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2008), pg., 44, 45.


needlework

Category : Textiles
Date : November 13, 2013
Comments :

My grandmother and mother worked with their hands and made beautiful embroideries and needlepoint textiles.  When I was a child, they encouraged me to pick up the needle, and for a time, I embroidered on my jeans but always found that the thread became tangled; I quickly became frustrated.  Perhaps I did not ‘love my thread’ enough, as Natalie Chanin instructs one to do.

This weekend, Historic Deerfield embarks on a new program “which connects careful object looking with artistic project making.”  For this, participants will examine linen textiles from the collection, learn about production, and embroider one of their own.

The process of looking at older objects and gaining inspiration from them is not new to Deerfield.  In her book Poetry to the Earth: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Deerfield, Suzanne L. Flynt documents the founding of the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework, by Margaret Whiting and Ellen Miller, in 1896.  Whiting and Miller established a village industry and “employed up to thirty local women to stitch embroideries that were inspired by colonial New England embroideries found in the local historical society.”   Patterns from the colonial women flourished on the new textiles—Lucy’s acanthus leaf, Aunt Beck’s fantastical flowers, vines and pears, Polly Wright’s Parrot, and Ruth Culver Coleman’s carnations, for example.  The embroideries produced by Society of Blue and White were prized not only for the materials used (fine linen cloth and hand dyed linen floss) and the interpreted designs, but also for the quality of the stitches executed by the women.

Whiting and Miller also collected stories about the women who made the colonial embroideries and included both the name and a story with each newly embroidered piece.  The bed hangings of Lucy Lane (1752-1803) were the first embroideries to provide inspiration: “Part of a set of linen tent Bed Curtains and Counterpane carded, spun, woven and bleached by Lucy Lane.  She also made and dyed the floss and embroidered the whole in 1760-1765.”

The Society of Blue and White Needlework strikes me as similar to the contemporary cottage industry of Alabama Chanin, previously described in my blog post ‘duds’ of September 19, 2013.

My thanks to the stitchers of the past and present for their continued inspiration to me as I seek to stitch without tangled threads.

 

Suzanne L. Flynt, foreword by Wendy Kaplan, Poetry to the Earth The Arts and Crafts Movement in Deerfield, (Hard Press Editions, 2012), pgs 11, 85, 84, 90, 88.

Historic Deerfield’s Art and Craft : Embroidered Linen, November 15, 11am-1pm. For information contact their website.

Note:  For an in depth view of the life of Aunt Beck aka Rebecca Dickinson, read the newly published book by  Marla R. Miller , Rebecca Dickinson: independence for a New England woman, Westview Press, 2014.


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