Sunday, February 5, 2023

Weekend Review: Mystical Stitches


Mystical Stitches / Christi Johnson
North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, c2021.
197 p.

This is a book that feels fully authentic to the author's personality and practice. If you've followed Johnson online at all in the last few years, you'll know her distinctive approach to embroidery. It incorporates spirituality and 70s aesthetics into a free-form and representational style, where every stitch has meaning. 

The book lays out her approach to embroidery clearly. She starts by summarizing her own story and how embroidery books from the 70s got her started in this field (and one of those OG authors writes the intro to this book as well). She explains her use of symbolism and a full chapter goes over the various signs and symbols she uses and suggests that you can incorporate into your own work, depending on what you'd like to say. There are 7 chapters in the book; the first is the intro, and there are two other chapters in the book that also talk about intention and ritual, more of the making meaning parts of this school of embroidery. The other four chapters are straightforwardly technical - materials, stitch guide, collection of symbols and motifs, and instructions for each one. 

It doesn't have an overwhelming amount of detail in it despite all that. It's more of a reference book, and as such has clear stitch diagrams and motifs, and many colourful photos of a large number of the motifs as they appear on clothing and accessories mostly. And there is guidance on how to stitch on clothing successfully. She's not big on decorative hoop embroidery in the way that many modern embroidery books are -- it's more about the practical use of embroidery as embellishment in your daily life. The style is a lot of full coverage, chunky stitching; if you like this style you will find much to inspire you here. 

I thought it was well put together and quite different from many other contemporary books. Give it a flip through if you also have this one in your local library!

You can find this author at her website Mixed Color. And if you're interested in learning more about this author and her embroidery and textile practice, you can also listen to her episode of  Love To Sew. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Weekend Review: Hester


Hester / Laurie Lico Albanese 
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2022.
322 p.

I picked this up because of the beautiful cover, and because the main character was described as a seamstress and embroiderer. I discovered that it tells the story of Scottish born Isobel, who arrives in New England in the early 1800s with her new husband -- and meets Nathaniel Hawthorne, at that time a young moody writer skulking around town.

Isobel feels a connection to him right away, despite being married to an older man. But her husband goes off on an expedition with the ship's captain who brought them to American, and she is left alone in this new and unfamiliar settlement. Her Scottish heritage and her red hair mark her out as 'lesser than' to the Americans already living there. And then she finds that her husband has taken her small savings with him, leaving her literally penniless. She has to turn to the needle to survive, and the descriptions of her embroidered gloves, and eventually more clothing for the women of the settlement, are beautifully done. Her needle is enchanted, stitching images with hidden words and a feeling of power. But this isn't something that will be of much benefit in a place that's suspicious of any inkling of enchantment. 

She is helped by her landlady, an old woman known locally, half-seriously, as a witch. And she's also helped by her nearest neighbour, a free Black woman named Mercy (who is Isobel's inspiration for the powerful hidden words in her work; Mercy did it first). Both of these long-term residents know that the community is not friendly to unusual women, and they reluctantly help Isobel even when she's headstrong and behaves in questionable ways. It doesn't help, either, that Isobel has synesthesia, like many women in her family, and has embroidered her family's story into a cloak that she wore upon arrival, arousing more suspicion of being uncanny. 

Isobel, lonely and young, is swayed by Nathaniel Hawthorne's gothic moodiness and obvious attraction to her. They begin an affair, which Isobel thinks is serious even when the reader can tell it isn't, not on his side. He comes across as entitled and petulant, weak willed and selfish, which is a problem when you are using real people as characters in your fiction. I've mentioned my distaste for real people as fictional characters before, and this book just squeaks by for me due to its other strengths. And the fact that I'm not a huge Hawthorne fan, I guess! 

The writing is rich here, particularly when describing Isobel's childhood and Scottish life. The toxic relationship between the two main characters goes on a little too long, and the outcome is easily predictable, sadly. But I enjoyed the ending, as Isobel ends up in Atlantic Canada with a decent man. The book is presented as a possible backstory for The Scarlet Letter, but I can see connections to novels like The Witch of Blackbird Pond or the more contemporary The Sea Captain's Wife, as well. I actually thought it was a pretty good read, compelling writing with some dual timeline backstory on Isobel's witchy ancestor, and a strong thread about slavery's evils with complex characters inhabiting that story alongside Isobel's own.

(this review first appeared at The Indextrious Reader)

Friday, January 27, 2023

Thinking Ahead to February Sewing Challenges!

I can't believe it's nearly the end of January already. Time has simply whizzed by and I feel like I turned my head and two weeks have disappeared. I'm still working on the one project I have started in January -- nearly done now and looking forward to sharing it soon! 

But as I draw close the finishing this item, I'm also thinking about February. I have lots of my own plans, as evidenced by my Make Nine; however, February is full of great sewing challenges. One of my favourites happens every February, the Black History Month Pattern Designers Challenge. It's run by Nateida of SewNaturalDane, and features all sorts of Black pattern designers - for sewing, knitting/crochet, bags, fabric etc. The challenge is to make something by a Black pattern designer between Feb 1 & Feb 28, and share it following the rules on the website/IG post. It's always great fun to discover new designers and see all the projects coming in. Really interesting every year. 

I'm thinking about what I will make this go round -- I have a number of items in my pattern stash that would suit. Two which I bought last year but haven't made yet  are from two different Indie Black designers. I picked up the Temi Top/Dress by Sewphilia, and the Nikki Blazer by Style Sew Me. They are still on my to-sew list, especially the blazer as it really fits in with my wardrobe plans currently.  

I also picked up a 1979 Willi Smith pattern at the thrift store a while back. I love the blouse, but I would have to grade the pattern up since mine is a 12, so not sure I'll get to it in time. And of course I have many Khaliah Ali patterns in my stash too! 

Another temptation is this unique pattern I came across recently. It's the Girma Dress/Top from Les Lubies de Cadia. It's a French pattern company but seems to have English instructions too. I love the wrap style and the cute side pleat feature. 

I'm kind of spoiled for choice for this challenge, the difficulty is in deciding what to make!

The next big thing that's happening in February is the start of the Pattern Review Sewing Bee! Well, it actually starts Monday, Jan 30. This is such a fun event -- the first round is open to everyone and then you get selected (or not) to move on through other rounds. I've been knocked out in first rounds before, and made it to the third round last year. If the first challenge is something that appeals to me I might jump in on this year as well. I don't like to spend my sewing time making things that I will never wear though, so it'll have be something within my sewing preferences to make me jump in. Either way it's fun to follow along and see what people are making for each rapid challenge! 

Other February plans are to continue with my stash cull and reorganization, and to work on at least one project from my Make Nine plans. Let's see if this short month will be full to bursting with sewing!

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Weekend Review: Points of View


Points of View / Valerie Hearder
Woodinville, WA: Martingale, c2007.
96 p.

Another art quilting book for today's pick - this one is from my local library, and despite it being an older book I'd never really noticed it before. It is a great find! 

The title makes the focus of this book clear; it is all about creating varied landscapes with fabric. But there are a variety of views and ideas here. The first section is all about technique - from choosing fabric to construction and pattern-making tips, paints & other ways to colour your fabric, embellishing it in various ways, and a clear and useful section about finishing and mounting/framing your work.

The second section includes 9 step-by-step, illustrated projects. Each one shows you exactly how to use a certain technique, so that you can get some practice with these ideas before you set out on your own. And the intention that you do go your own way is clear; section three is called "Beyond Patterns", in which there are design and collage guidelines and a gallery of other work. 

I found this book full of neat ideas and useful tips. I'm not much of a pattern follower when it comes to textile art, but I liked how each of the small projects in this book were created as an intentional teaching piece, with many of her design tips and guidelines from the first bit incorporated in each one. Great for learning the technique! 

And the first section is so full of great info. She mentions unusual things, like colouring with regular crayons on to paper and then ironing that as a transfer on to a ground fabric (which has to be synthetic for it to really work). It's a different way of creating a base design, and could be fun for those without huge stockpiles of more expensive paints and dyes. Aside from this kind of surface design there are tips on applique and embellishment which also appeal to me, and the parts about finishing and displaying your pieces are thorough and useful to add to the arsenal, too. 

Although I don't often make landscapes I may try a few samples to experiment with some of these techniques. They are laid out and explained in an easy to follow style, and could be attempted by a beginner. I had fun going through this book, and hope that some of my experiments will work! 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Weekend Review: Art Quilts Unfolding


Art Quilts Unfolding: 50 Years of Innovation
Edited by Sandra Sider. Written by Nancy Bavor, Lisa Ellis, and Martha Sielman
Atglen, PA: Schiffer, c2018.
351 p.

It's a new year, and I'm back with some more book reviews! Today's pick is one that I've been poring over and enjoying over the last couple of weeks. This large and lengthy tome is an overview of the field of art quilting from the 60s to recent years. It's produced by SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) -- this group is one of the top in this subject, with tons of resources for members and lots of exhibitions going at all times. 

This book delivers on the promise of the title. It's broken up by decade, from the 60s to the 2010s. Each chapter talks about the state of art quilting and its development in that decade, has a short piece about or by a museum, collector, or organization that was important at that point, and then, of course, the highlight -- there are a bunch of art quilts shown by a wide variety of artists, all in full colour. It's wonderful to see the styles and techniques, and there is such a wide range that you are sure to find some to interest you. There are also a few deeper artist profiles in the chapters as well, for some of the biggest names in the field. 

Because of the size of the book and the range they're covering, the text is by necessity limited. The essays can't each be 10 pages long. However, it provides a great overview for anyone interested in this aspect of the art quilt world, and also lays out numerous artists, organizations, and publications to look into further (this could take you a while!) It's a wonderful survey course for the reader new to this world. 

And it's inspiring for an aspiring art quilter, when you see the huge range of styles, sizes, techniques, themes and so on. There really is room for everyone's art. That said, most of the artists shown are from the USA -- that is where SAQA is based. There are a few from elsewhere -- Canada, Japan, and Denmark for example, and a few other locations sprinkled in too. It's intriguing to see how each artist's background, ie: did they come from fine arts to art quilts, or home sewing to art quilts, shapes the way they create their work. Definitely one that you can look through over and over, and learn a lot along the way. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

More (and Theoretical) Make Nines

IF I were going to make even more sewing plans, I have enough that I want to make to fill up multiple MakeNine grids. But I don't want to overschedule myself with things to make, I like to go with the flow of inspiration when it comes to my sewing. Nevertheless, these plans are awfully entertaining to put together, so I'm just making a couple more of these grids for fun.

IF I had decided to make a sewing plan just with my Burda magazine TBS (to be sewn) projects or from my stack of vintage patterns, they might have looked like this! 

From l to r, and top to bottom, here are my what-if Burda plans:

1. 104/03/2021 - dress

2. 102/09/2022 - sweater

3. 112/01/2022 - cropped blazer

4. 120/11/2020 - dress

5. 106/09/2022 - vest

6. 119/01/2022 - dress

7. 114/01/2022 - dress

8. 117/12/2022 - skirt

9. 116/09/2019 - blouse

And as for vintage/retro patterns, I have a fair number! This year, for some reason, blouses are catching my eye. My lists are usually all dresses but there's a mix of tops in this potential plan. 

Some Blouses

Some Dresses

And the Blazer from this one!

How about you? Do you make multiple plans just for the fun of it? I hope I can get at least one item made from all my real and potential Make Nine grids this year. But as always... we will see how I feel as the year goes on :) 

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

It's Curtains for Me

I'm not a huge fan of sewing home dec, but I've been meaning to replace my kitchen curtains for well over a decade. Just after Christmas I decided I had the time and motivation to do it, so my husband and I went down to the fabric store and picked out some new drapery fabric, and I whipped them up in two days. So much for waiting for so long! 

We chose a traditional print that picks up all the colours in our kitchen, and it works really well. I had a queen size sheet that was perfect for the lining - these are simple pocket top curtains, although of three different sizes! 

Anyhow, the hardest part, after the cutting, was just the endless pressing of long hems. But they are finally done, and I have remembered why I don't enjoy home dec projects ;) But I do like the finished thing, and they really make our kitchen feel warmer and cozier. Now I won't have to make more for another decade!