Blog post – 2012

For the fourth year in a row, my partner John and I have spent the winter in South Eastern Alabama. We rent a cabin in a state park on a hill, in the long leaf pine forest, beside a large lake and a National Wildlife Refuge. It is a quiet and beautiful space, a good place to work and restore the inner workings of my creative life. Life in the Deep South moves at a slower pace than I am accustomed to. I feel like I am in an exotic locale, yet it is one that does not appear threatening. Away from my complicated life and schedule in the Big White House, I feel able to consider my life and creativity and ponder how to approach some aspects of my work in a new way.

I especially like the quality of the light here. The sun is so much stronger than in the north, and the air seems clear. Colour is always important to me and I can approach and appraise aspects and contexts of colour work bravely. My studio here is in a very bright room. Many days I can work outside on the picnic bench or on the veranda.The sunlight energizes me.

I have met very friendly and helpful people, both among the locals, and my fellow winter-Alabamians. There is a quirky aspect to people here, some kind of individualism that I don’t completely understand. Let me say, there is also lots of comic relief, both in trying to understand dialect, accents, and the reasons people do things the way they do, This process goes both ways. I think it is fair to say that they find me equally incomprehensible at times. The relaxed social context is another gentle, encouraging and stimulating aspect to my winters here.

This winter I have been working on some rag work. That is, weaving with coloured string and strips of cloth. This is an occupation that my grandmother, who was a weaver from Finland, used to help support her immigrant family in Northern Ont. She wove and I weave placemats, rugs, table runners and dresser scarves. I enjoy this process very much. As in pieced quilts, in many different cultures and over centuries, women have re-used scraps and pieces of cloth to create a practical and possibly quite beautiful new rug or blanket. I especially like, in the weaving, how the colour of the string can influence the overall colour of the finished piece, much like a colour wash in a watercolour painting.

It is a long process. I cut up shirts, sheets, anything of cotton that is a beautiful colour and something that is not useable in its present form. As any quilter knows, very beautiful cloth pieces, even when used in narrow or very small shapes, somehow show the care that went into patterns or colour combinations. Friends save me their worn Laura Ashley dress or Ralf Lauren sheets. The beauty comes through! I almost never purchase new cloth. This would be prohibitively expensive, and also, not so ecologically sound.

Cutting the strips is a nice job, sitting on the veranda in the sun. Then I mix and match the scraps. This is no haphazard process! Lots of decisions have to be made to satisfy my exacting colour standards.

Some weavers knot the cloth together, or sew the pieces together. I prefer to do as my grandmother did, to just overlap the edges as I weave them together. That way I can adjust the length or width of each stripe. Again, just as in quilting, colour density, and size of colour piece is important. I love working on this here as my mind feels unhurried and I can thoroughly give myself up to the process. People wonder why some rugs or runners are the length they are. This often depends on how much cloth I have in a particular colour.

As well as with the weaving process, I find the peace and quiet here help me make decisions about which venues I will frequent in the coming year, I can also research materials and processes. I gather up the 12 to 18 inch pine needles for my basketry classes back at home. I am thinking of felting a group of soft sculptures, I have a perfect concept for a large piece, but have some more thinking to do on it. Maybe this will not be made this year.

I feel very fortunate to have this chance to change climate zone and geographical location for a portion of the year. People call it a holiday, but that is not the word I would use. I can’t really think of a word for it, but know it is a valuable and restorative period for me.

I look forward to seeing you over the coming season. In the meantime, you can email me or leave a message with my house sitter at the regular phone number.