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While Yoko was producing the beautiful pages in the ‘[amsterdam]’ notebook of our long-distance MUJI notebook collab (featured in this post a couple of weeks ago) I was enjoying working in the other / ‘[tokyo]’ notebook. Yoko had previously provided this trigger for my next entry…
… and I leapt at the opportunity to raid my stash of postage stamps amassed over the decades – soaked off correspondence received from distant friends and family, flea-market finds etc. While sifting through this trove I restricted my selection to stamps with animal or vegetable themes and collaged them onto the notebook’s left page.
notebook [tokyo] – work in progress
Then I chose eight of my favourites (chosen for their excellent animal subjects and not, in the case of some, for the pernicious colonial legacies they represent) to use as the basis for a series of black and white ink drawing exercises exploring pattern, texture, positive/negative space… and fun!
bull-headed shrike (japan, 1998)
7th century celtic dog (ireland, 1971)
sloane’s viper fish (congo, 1961)
chameleon (ghana, 1967)
gologolo / sun squirrel (malawi, 1984)
To give my failing eyesight a fighting chance I made the drawings at a larger scale than they would finally (re)appear in the notebook… then scanned, scaled down, printed and ‘stitched’ them back into the notebook using bright embroidery thread.
notebook [tokyo] – work in progress
notebook [tokyo] – work in progress
notebook [tokyo] – work in progress
notebook [tokyo] – double page spread | back side of stitching
notebook [amsterdam] denotes the notebook that started its life in Amsterdam, and notebook [tokyo] denotes the notebook that started its life in Tokyo.
Since making my ‘Curiosity Cabinet’ repeat pattern design and having a test length of fabric printed by Spoonflower w-a-y back in their beta days (2008!!), I have received lots of positive responses from kind folk, and requests to make the fabric available to buy on Spoonflower. I hadn’t been completely happy with my original test piece so before making it available for purchase I wanted to tweak the design to incorporate some different creature drawings, and to make some minor colour adjustments (for better light/dark contrast when printed).
I finally got around to making these changes towards the end of last year and was very happy with the new test print I ordered from Spoonflower. The fabric shown in the four pictures above is printed by Spoonflower on their ‘silky faille’ – I chose to test print on this fabric (despite it being 100% polyester – my preference ordinarily being natural fibres such as cotton and linen) because I was advised by another Spoonflower user that dark/light colour contrast works particularly well on it. And indeed it does! (thanks Chris, a.k.a. pricklymonkey)
I have also experimented with a dusty, teal-y blue colour variation (above), although this is not currently available to purchase as I have yet to order a test swatch (a Spoonflower ‘quality control’ requirement). If you’re interested in purchasing the blue (which you can find here >>) let me know, and I’ll do what’s necessary to make it available to buy.
And if you do make anything using this fabric I’d love to see some pictures of your completed project(s)!
hmmm… tasty, individually packaged critter snacks!
now… how do i get into this jar?
Yarn-y goodness at Purl SoHo, NYC
While in New York back in late April I visited the much heralded Purl in SoHo… as a sometime-crafter (sort-of) it would’ve been daft not to, and I was not disappointed! They have a great selection of fabrics of which I was especially drawn to the designs (new to me) of Etsuko Furuya, and in particular this wonderful ‘Bat’ design…
I couldn’t resist buying half a meter of it with a view to turning it in to a couple of cushion covers. Finally, almost two months later, I found a spare several hours (I’m not a quick sewer!) to do just that. I’m very happy with the results because I cannot help but smile every time I see those nifty bats flitting about in their turquoise sky (and sitting on the floor – often my preference – has become even comfier :)
Here are some more of Etsuko’s beautiful, quirky fabric designs…
‘Leaf’ in (l) grape & (r) grey
(l) ‘Flower Bed’ in aqua blue & (r) ‘Bird to Hang’ in oxblood
(l) ‘Animals’ in raspberry & (r) ‘Cobweb’ in black
(l) ‘Bus’ in natural & (r) ‘Camera’ in turquoise
I’m particularly keen on the designs combining creatures and slightly abstract, organic shapes (like the ‘Bat’ design!) but you gotta love the old-school cameras and buses too!
And Etsuko’s fabric design website can be found here >
This project has been a l-o-n-g time in the making!
I block printed the fabric at the end of April, after being inspired to do so by a ‘happy accident’ encountered when I made these at the end of last year.
After heat setting the printed fabric I put it away and forgot about it for a time. In mid June I hauled it out again, cut some of it to size for a 50×50 cm (± 20 in) cushion cover and started to embroider a sparse little forest of winter trees (once again, as per these, and perhaps inspired by these).
I haven’t attempted embroidery for many moons (apart from adding details to the faces of a peculiar little gang of reprobate cats I made several years ago – which, against my better judgement, I’ll show you tomorrow :)… but I digress) and wasn’t sure how I’d take to it. I remember hating embroidery when made to do it as part of ‘needlework’ classes in junior school (a long time ago!) but this time around I found it a very enjoyable activity – the gentle process of (essentially) drawing with hundreds of tiny stitches is very meditative and relaxing… as I hoped the finished design itself would be.
Once the trees were all stitched I braced myself for the final hurdle – inserting a zip! I’m an extreme novice sewer and have never worked with zips before, and for some reason I’d built this up in my mind as an impossible and insurmountable task.
I won’t say it was a breeze but will say, for anyone reading this who might’ve similarly convinced themselves of the impossibility of inserting zips, that it wasn’t that bad. *
Zips!… not as gut-wrenchingly terrifying as I thought
‘Winter valleys’ cushion cover… finally completed!
And (below)… looking almost summery :)
* Zip help:
I followed instructions in the ‘New Complete Guide to Sewing’ (which is a great resource, albeit with some dodgy 80’s styled photos) and a photocopy, which my Mum brought when she was visiting in June, from (I think!?) the 1977 publication ‘The Reader’s Digest Family Book of Things to Make and Do’ (I have very fond childhood memories of this book! Sadly long out of print). My Mum also talked me through the process while she was here, which was no doubt invaluable in making the actual doing a few weeks later less scary.
A little while ago I visited Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum for the Vodou: Art and Mysticism from Haiti exhibition. I didn’t know a great deal about Voodoo (or Vodou, as it is known in Haiti) and, like a lot of people, had a fairly one-dimensional and clichéd idea fuelled by the misrepresentations and sensationalism of Hollywood and its ilk. Although my knowledge is undoubtedly still hazy I now understand that it has its origins in the displacement, fragmentation and violence of the African slave trade. Many different cultures and ethnicities were uprooted from Africa (in this instance mainly from Western and Central Africa) and forcibly transported to the island then called Hispaniola (now Haiti & the Dominican Republic). Under slavery African culture and religion was brutally suppressed (as was that of the island’s indigenous population, the Taíno), and on the plantations people were routinely worked to death.
Over time people pooled their disparate religious knowledge to form a new unified religion which, by a process of syncretism, combined (and morphed) the spirits and beliefs of many different African cultures, of Taíno culture, and along the way incorporated elements of Roman Catholicism. (Initially the slaves were obliged to disguise their lwa – spirits in the vodou pantheon – as Roman Catholic saints because their ‘pagan’ religion was forbidden… and some of these saints stuck).
Of course religion has always been, among other things, a way of seeking solace or refuge and has provided many peoples with a coping mechanism in times of struggle and adversity, but I was struck by what a crucial role Vodou played in the lives of the oppressed, in the first slave uprisings, and in eventually achieving independence (in 1804). During the 18th Century Vodou societies played an important part in the uprising of the slaves against the French, imbuing people with the strength to pursue (and fight for) their freedom, and the Bizango ‘secret society’ was one of the most important in this struggle.
The exhibition consists of approximately 250 artefacts and works of art drawn from the collection of Swiss-born, long-time Haitian resident Marianne Lehman and includes some very beautiful embroidered & sequinned flags, clay and carved wooden sculptures representing various lwa (two pictured above), a fascinating array of pake (packages of herbs and other materials wrapped in cloth, stitched or bound with ribbons, usually associated with cleansing and healing powers), and an extremely compelling army of life-size Bizango warrior figures.
These figures represent the powers, and in some cases the spirits, of the Bizango freedom fighters. They are sewn in predominantly red and black cloth and carry the traces of wounds, as serially inflicted upon the slaves; ropes and chains are symbolic of the bonds of slavery but also restrain the terrifying fighting powers that are contained within the figures (which should only be unleashed with purpose and care!); the heads are real human skulls covered in cloth; pieces of mirror sewn into the eyes and on to the figures’ garments protect against harm & evil but also refer to the spirit world. These smoky mirrors, oxidised over time, reflect mysteriously and certainly contribute to a powerful sense of being in the presence of some sort of gateway between worlds.
Standing ‘alone’ in the dark amidst this army was a deeply moving, if unsettling, experience. If you’re in Amsterdam I would highly recommend a visit to this exhibition, on until 10 May at the Tropenmuseum. If you miss it in Amsterdam there’s plenty of opportunity to catch up with it: after May the exhibition moves on to the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg, in 2010 it goes to the Ethnological Museum in Berlin and finally in 2011 to the Űberseemuseum in Bremen. At the end of 2011 it returns to Haiti, where it will be given a permanent place in a new, planned museum.