Material Girl

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I was talking with a friend two Fridays ago about some of the ideas about ‘stuff’ that have been buzzing round my head for the last little while. She has been reading a book I probably would like, The Sacred Year, by Michael Yankoski, and quoted a line that I just loved. To be anti-consumerist, you have to be a materialist. Isn’t that profound? Valuing stuff means, well, valuing stuff! For her, this answered the creeping doubts she had had about the worth of her ongoing efforts to keep a beautiful outdoor dining table safe from the sun and rain. The shine and lift of wood grain cared for is a beautiful thing. Not to throw away something that becomes difficult to care is no less beautiful.

That is my very roundabout introduction to my little ‘material girl’. There is a second hand shop up the road that had a stash of beautiful cotton and linen doilies, table runners and napkins all cotton and linen, hand embroidered or lace edged. I came home with a little treasure trove of them. I barely managed to wait for them to dry before beginning this little doll. As you can see I have guessed and sketched a pattern – so I hope that she works out! So far she is very sweet, with her little butternut squash shaped body and tiny embroidered tummy tattoo. I am not sure why exactly a doll. Perhaps she speaks to my love of the material world (no pun intended!). Perhaps she is a creative, ‘making’ style response to my learning and churning over the ideas of the sacredness of stuff and our embodied lives. Or maybe she is just a pretty distraction from my homework. Maybe, but I would like to think there is more substance to her than that!

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Stitching soul to body

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So my quilt is finally finished. It is even on the bed (never mind that the water washable quilting maker hasn’t quite been washed out yet, that will come, one day, hopefully before the sun disappears with the imminent arrival of Fall!). These past few weeks have seen me hunting and gathering layers of textiles for our bed to make a new little nest here. The dappled crew is topped off with this pieced quilt, itself a mixed bag of carefully chosen scraps. I love them all. The layers. The meanings. The way they are precious because I put them together.

In one of my Food Studies readings last year I came across Meredith Abarca’s ‘Kitchen Talk’ chapter in Voices in the Kitchen: Views of Food and the World from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican American Women. I just loved the following passage;

“Speaking about Puerto Rico’s history, Levins Morales says, ‘Let’s get one thing straight. Puerto Rico was a woman’s country … we were never still, our hands were always busy. Making soup. Making candles. Holding children. Making bedding. Sewing clothing. Our stitches held sleeve to dress and soul to body. We stitched our families through the dead season of the cane, stitched them through lean times of bread and coffee. The seams we made kept us from freezing in the winters of New York and put beans on the table in the years of soup kitchens’. In Levins Morales’s description, women speak with their hands and a needle”  

These women are speaking to a time and a place but there is something universally true there. Something that I resonated with. I want to stitch souls to bodies, to speak with my hands and a needle just as powerfully as with my mouth.

Bibliography
Abarca, Meredith E. “Kitchen Talk,” in Voices in the Kitchen: Views of Food and the World from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican American Women. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008, 109–34.Welcome to EditPad.org – your online plain text editor. Enter or paste your text here. To download and save it, click on the button below.

Quilt-Maker

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I am almost, almost finished a quilt that I have been working on for the last few years. I began mostly to keep my hands busy while I listened to university lectures and tutorials online. I collected up a number of used business shirts from opportunity shops in different blues and cut squares till I had enough to cover a bed for two. As I snipped and stitched life continued; lectures and lessons passed, our wedding came and went. We moved. We moved again. Slowly it took shape and, motivated by a third move, I am trying to get it finished. Pieced together as we were, it seems right that it comes with us to our new country as a piece of our history, our story. We may just need to cuddle up in something familiar and warm when we are far away.

My stitching reminded me of the Luci Shaw poem called Quilt-maker based on “a prairie woman in [who made quilts] ‘… warm to keep my family from freezing; … [and] beautiful to keep my heart from breaking’” (Shaw 2002, 88). Warmth and beauty, woven, stitched together. Mine is simple, mundane even, but carefully and lovingly put together, kind of like a family.

Quilt-Maker

To keep a husband and five children warm,
she quilts them covers thick as drifts against
the door. Through every fleshy square white threads
needle their almost invisible tracks; her hours
count each small suture that hold together
the raw-cut, uncolored edges of her life.

She pieces each one beautiful and summer bright
to thaw her frozen soul. Under her fingers
the scraps grow to green birds and purple
improbalble leaves; deeper than calico, her mid-winter
mind bursts into flowers. She watches them unfold
between the double stars, the wedding rings.

Shaw, Luci. 2002. “Beauty and the Creative Impulse”. In The Christian Imagination, edited by Leland Ryken. Colorado Springs, CO: Shaw Books.

Shaw, Luci. 1990. Polishing the Petoskey Stone. Shaw Books, 33.

Skirts and Sewing Circles

A cozy sewing circle gathered in the little dinning room at Grosvenor Rd a few weeks ago. A little band of family surrounded the busy HSC student who was diligently (and only slightly desperately!) working on her Major Textiles project. The sea scape inspired piece of textiles art she was creating kept her, and her textile-teacher cousin (me!) busy, while our grandma gave my mum advice as they tried to figure out how to move a knitting pattern I’d attempted (and given up on about a year ago!) along! My aunty, mum to the slightly stressed teenage seamstress was there for support; moral and otherwise … and last but far from least, was the littlest sister. Miss Lily has watched on while Ally and I have sewed for most of her life – collaborating to create colourful skirts on summer holidays when she was very little. After checking in with her mum that the colours I’d found would be well received, I got to choose the fabric and then it was up to her. Deciding where the trim should go, how long to make the skirt and sewing nearly all the seams – it was really up to her this time. Didn’t she do a wonderful job?

The first time; three years ago …

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This time; in the holidays just past … (the shoe was missing so she didn’t speed on the sewing machine!)

 

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Here is to a HSC Major Textiles Project handed in this time last week! Hooray! Great work Ally!

Regular Onions

This was a piece of textile art I began in 2012. I attended a natural dyeing workshop with Kristen Ingemar through an organisation called The Australian Forum for Textile Arts and dyed a piece of silk with onion skins and cotton (a couple of pegs were the resist that made the lighter coloured square shapes). We were given a chance to sit quietly with one of our pieces and make something more of it. I was given the word ‘regular’. Onions are quite regular. They are used in nearly every cuisine in the world today. They are bulbs that grow up from the ground and nourish and bless our plates with flavour.

At the time I had also been reading a book called The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon, an Episcopalian Priest who loves both food and it’s Giver deeply. He writes a poem in Chapter 5 ‘Wave Breast and Heave Shoulder’ that takes the reader on a journey through creation … mineral, vegetable and animal, seeking to point out that sacrifice of life begets new life. This is a truth deeply embedded in the Christian understanding of the human condition and most fully exemplified in Jesus’ life. Capon insists that somehow, Jesus is both Lion and Lamb, priest and victim … and that is how life is to be lived. Taking in creation that it might be offered back to God and others in sacrifice.

It is a wonderful poem but now back to my onion. I had been asked to reflect on the word ‘regular’ and had this onion-skin dyed cloth and so, I reflected on the very ‘regular’, very ordinary nature of soil sustaining plants, which sustain human bodies, physiological beings with spiritual life intimately connected to our physical well-being. The words ‘tov, tov, tov’ are also a quote from Capon, the Hebrew declaration of the goodness of God’s created world that is both deeply physical and deeply spiritual all at once (this time from a different book, The Third Peacock.

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