Friday, November 23, 2018

WAR: A Personal Response, Body of Work, Home Comfort

Home Comfort
Wool, cotton, plastic; hand knitting.

Chrome Island as seen from Blue Shift's deck

2 years ago my husband and I took a month to sail around Vancouver Island. I took a knitting project to work on every day. I wanted to feel what it was like for the ones who stayed at home to be encouraged, implored and urged to use every spare moment to knit garments for those fighting overseas.
In preparation for the voyage, I went through my stash gathering up all yarns in 'serviceable' colours resolved to use only what I had to follow the wartime mantra of 'making do.'

Provisioning and refueling stop.

During WWII, the Royal Airforce put out a call out for more scarves for plane crews. Planes were getting larger, flying higher and for longer creating long periods of bitterly cold conditions for crew members in cramped, noisy quarters. My grandmother Florence must have been pleased to be able to make something to help her 3 boys in the airforce, something to help keep them warm and comforted knowing someone at home was thinking of them.

Another provisioning stop is a chance to lay out and see what I have knit so far.

I had in mind to make one long, long scarf to suggest the idea of 'mindless knitting.' When both hands are engaged in an activity the mind is free to wander, to get into the zone where there is a comforting flow back and forward between both sides of the brain. In this state, the emotions are calmed and one loses the ability to keep track of time. Knitting becomes a soothing, timeless activity.
Florence would have found great comfort in getting lost in such a revery where she could process her trauma, calm her grief-weary mind and take comfort in caring for her boys while publically appearing to support the war effort.

Knitting is one of the few activities that can be picked up and worked on when it is smooth sailing and can also be thrown down without harm when there is a crisis to manage. 
I can knit when it is cold and sunny though every so often I need to hold a hot cup of tea to warm my hands.

I can knit when it is hot and sunny. 
The wool doesn't mind getting wet with rain or salt water.

The colours I work with have several layers of meaning. During WWI and WWII each military force had its own distinctive colours: airforce blue, navy blue which is almost a black, and army khaki yellow. In European cultures, black is the colour of death, grief, and mourning and blue is associated with depression. The personal levels of meaning are black for Florence's grief in losing her husband, eldest son and a brother-in-law to war, airforce blue as a reminder of her 3 sons risking their lives in the airforce, Khaki yellow of infantry man's uniform is a reminder of her fiance away fighting.


I had in mind this endless knitting would unroll throughout the room I created. But no matter how I placed the knitting it didn't work. It didn't create the mindless knitting revelry feeling. I ended up stacking up folds of knitting on the ground in front of the chair. It gets the idea across but I must admit it does not have the impact I thought it would. I thought this work would be the strongest one out of the 10 items in the room. As it turns out, and to my surprise, other works have a stronger impact which I will talk about in later posts.

Here is the Home Comfort story from the booklet produced for this exhibition.

The WWII War Office's request for knitted garments known a 'home comforts' provide Florence with the opportunity to publically appear to be supporting the war effort. Privately, knitting gave her time to grieve over her family's decimation - the death's of her husband and eldest son; the absence of two sons away at war. Florence worked in a conflicted state to rationalise and emotionally resolve the duality of supporting the war effort while sacrificing her sons. She had to come to terms with enabling her children to put their lives at risk while battling the strength of the mother-child bond. Florence took to knitting to physically keep her sons warm, emotionally connect with them, do her patriotic duty and provide a means of processing the traumas of war. Endless knitting became a repeated prayer, a meditative chant of 'knit one purl one,' a mantra to calm a battle-weary mind - a home comfort. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

WAR: A Personal Response, Body of Work, 'Grief Redacted'

Grief Redacted
Vintage linen tablecloth, cotton thread; hand embroidered.
For my installation in Articulation's 'WAR: A Personal Response' exhibition I have recreated my grandmother's living room to reflect her mental state during WWI, WWII and the following years. I believe she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) most of her adult life. The room I have created tells her story.
Grief Redacted is a tablecloth laid on a table set for tea. The colour of the embroidery chronicles her decline into PTSD.

Stitching on a boat.
The cloth chronicles my grandmother Florence's life so I decided to make it a part of my life. I took it with me where ever I went and worked on it whenever I could.

Stitching on the Coho ferry en route to the USA.

Stitching on a riverboat in the Malaysian Highlands.

PTSD symptoms unrecognized and untreated can be passed on to future generations. Florence's great-granddaughter Elizabeth added her stitches to the cloth. In total nine of Florence's descendants worked on the cloth to illustrate the wide-ranging and long-term effects of PTSD within a family.

The brightly coloured flowers reflect Florence's happy relationship with her high school sweetheart until he headed off to war. The flowers turn black from worry as she waited. After his joyful return, their marriage and the births of their 4 sons, the colour returned to flowers. Following the tragedy of her "shell-shocked" husband committing suicide, three sons joining the Air Force and the oldest son dying in a plane crash, she stitched only in black. Guided by her religion, bound by nationalistic cries of 'for God and country' and deep down being tormented by humanist feelings of guilt and shame, Florence suffered from PTSD as the battle raged within her home.

Links to works by other Articulation artists in the 'WAR: A Personal Response' exhibition:
Donna Clement here
Wendy Klotz here
Amanda Onchulenko here

Friday, September 28, 2018

WAR: A Personal Response Exhibition by Articulation October 16 to November 29th 2018

Articulation is very pleased to be exhibiting in the Sidney Museum, Sidney, British Columbia from October 16th to November 29th, 2018.
The exhibition coincides with the 100-year commemoration of the signing of the Armistice Treaty, the official end of World War I in Europe.
While the museum will feature displays full covering Canada's history of involvement in wars until the present day peacekeepers, Articulation will be taking a more personal look at war.

Unlike other studies where Articulation members research together, this war project research was done in their own time. It involved talking to family members to gather war stories and searching through family archives for war-related memorabilia.

I found other source material in many different places.
War displays started popping up in front to me when I wasn't expecting them such as the informative war display in the Mary Winspear foyer, in Sidney.

Around Remembrance Day there were moving displays to think about.

I studied uniforms in military museums.

I photographed war memorials whenever I saw them. This one is in Blenheim, New Zealand.

I caught this one in passing on a rainy day.

                           I began to recognise their familiar shape and looked out for them in every small town we passed through.

I was particularly interested in the airforce because my uncles enlisted.
Google is a treasure trove of early war photographs that say so much.

I visited war museums in England, New Zealand and Canada because they all played a part in my family's war stories.

I was particularly interested in learning about the Lancaster Bomber because my uncle flew one. I visited the Bomber Command Museum of Canada link in Nanton, Alberta. They have one of the last Lancaster Bombers and allow the public to climb up inside the plane. I was able to sit where my uncle would have sat. 

I began to focus on the textiles of war. It was something I could relate to.

I found the uniforms most interesting.

I studied the materials, the construction and how items were attached.

I read a number of books and watched many documentaries on war.
It became overwhelming. I let ideas percolate and captured them in a large notebook. In time a theme emerged. 
I began developing my ideas while collecting materials. I asked people to help me collect specific items. Carol bought me auction lots of military buttons and uniforms. Barbara gave me her husband's airforce uniform to work with. Friends gave me their husband's and father's worn and stained handkerchieves. I live in a very supportive community for which I am so grateful.

I do hope you can make it to the exhibition in the Sidney Museum where you will be able to see how all 6 Articulation members went through a similar process before they were able to begin to tell their personal war stories.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Nana Knitting: New Body of Work Begins with an Announcement

The first project for my Nana Knitting body of work began after a thrilling announcement.

Daughter Katherine made a surprise visit for my birthday. I opened her gift which included a card with the note - "I need this by July 2018." Inside were 2 skeins of yarn. Distracted by the prospect of a new knitting project I think I was the last family member to 'get it.' Katherine was pregnant and due in July. Our first grandchild, how exciting. 

And so my 'Nana Knitting' body of work began. 
I made the rabbit hat using the Rowan Kidsilk Haze yarn in my gift box but combined with an ancient skein of Lavenda 3 ply crisp crepe wool from my sock yarn stash.

I used the Ancient Arts Hat Trick Semi-solid, Ride the Pine skein in my gift box to make a jacket. 
Here it is washed and blocked.

I made up the checkered pattern to give it texture. The pattern is designed with ties at the back. Even though I made thin ties I still don't think it would be comfortable for a young baby to lie on the open back. I suggested to the mother it may be more comfortable worn with the opening in the front.

With the leftover yarn I made a pair of booties with rabbit fur lining the insides of the soles and a pompom for the toes.

Katherine loves rabbits and has had a number of them while growing up. Recently Katherine and Sebastion had a much-loved rabbit called Mango, hence all of the rabbit references.
With outfit #1 made there is no stopping me now. I feel as though the start flag has been lowered in front of me and I am off. There is a lot more Nana Knitting to come off my needles.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Garden Report: Spring Growth while I wasn't looking

While I have been away the garden has been at work doing what it does best - growing.
I have officially declared the Gravel Bed Garden test a success. Plants are growing and flowering profusely, much to the insects' delight. I will continue planting according to the plan.

I have left several parsley plants to go to seed.  I am hoping to transplant lots of parsley seedlings next spring.

The Globe Artichoke plant has come back again this year, evidence our winters aren't too cold for a lot of hardy plants. I have planted 2 more mainly because they provide a mulch cover for soil I haven't planted yet and supply a lot of biomass when they die back. I'll leave this top bud to flower because it will look magnificent standing tall in the bed and the insects will enjoy visiting it. We hope to catch the other buds before they open and enjoy eating them. Everyone will be happy. 

Wikipedia says, 'The jostaberry is a complex-cross fruit bush in the Ribes genus, involving three original species, the black currant R. nigrum, the North American coastal black gooseberry R. divaricatum, and the European gooseberry R. uva-crispa.'
I have planted 2 shrubs and they are doing well. I am looking forward to tasting jostaberries for the 1st time.

The potato patch is telling us it is ready to harvest. This is a self-sown patch grown from potatoes I inadvertently left in the ground after the last harvest.

I bought a number of Borage (Borago Officinalis) plants as annuals. Here in our garden they are happy and acting more like perennials by growing back each year. The insects visit the flowers constantly. With the last of the flowers, I am now cutting these large plants back and placing them on the soil as a mulch layer. They will start to grow back again in a few weeks.

Swiss Chard/Silver Beet is another plant I am experimenting with leaving to go to seed. The plant is over 6 feet tall and I'm not sure it has stopped growing yet. I am waiting for its seeds to mature before harvesting them.
There was lots of action in the garden beds while I was away. It is time to give the plants some attention which I am very happy to do.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Pathways Exhibition by Vancouver Island Surface Design Association - VISDA

During the Vancouver Island Surface Design Association (VISDA) 'Pathways' exhibition in the Portals Gallery, Duncan, a member sat in the gallery each day.
When it was my turn to sit with the exhibition I had a lovely day. 

When I wasn't talking to visitors I had time to look at every work, then I had knitting to get on with.

'Memories of Place: A Chromatic Narrative,' Sarah McLaren, left.
'Life is s Spiral Pathway, Not a Straight Line,' Donna-Fay Digance, right.

'River' Laura Feeleus, left.
'Deer Trails,' Jean Cockburn, right.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

New Work - Geography of Memory, Beginnings

This new work began when the Vancouver Island Surface Design Association put out a call for entry. They were looking for an interpretation of 'Pathways' in a 60" x 12" format.
Sarah McLaren and I had been focused on colour for many months and were both inspired by the colour work of Jean-Philippe and Dominique Lenclos. This couple research the colours typical to a specific place in the world.

New Zealand Forest
Sarah and I have both lived in a number of different places over our lifetimes. We decided to show our memories of those places through colour with each inch of the work representing one year in our lives.

I began by making a life-size sketch then started sampling. My visualisation of this work was so clear my first sample was enough at this stage of my design process to be able to move on to the next step.

I made the base for the ground from a mix of upholstery fabrics heavy enough to support all of the stitching I had in mind.

Next step - deciding on the colour scheme, which was easy because of my strong colour memory of each place I have lived.
Picking the right ground fabrics took a little bit longer even knowing most of them would be covered they still had to be right. 

The base fabrics are bonded to the upholstery fabrics in the right proportions.

Painted bondable webbing ... match each place's colours.

Ironing the painted bondable webbing in place.

Adding snippets of threads, yarns and fabrics to build up the complexity and texture of each section.

Selecting the right coloured nylon scarf from my stash.

Bonding the snippets and nylon scarves in place using parchment paper to stop the iron's sole plate from getting gunked up.

I sprinkled a few granules of 007 Bonding Agent to make sure thicker areas of snippets stuck well. It takes a higher heat setting on the iron to make these granules melt but once they have they stick very well and become invisible.
This is an old and well-used method for building a ground before stitching begins. I learnt this during my City and Guilds days and still go back to it because it is so effective and versatile.
Next step - the stitching.