textiles · exploration · misadventure


On Art and Self Doubt: August, 2015

Poppies by Brenda Higginson


You are wishing to create. This wish is an exhortation, a command from deep within you. It cries out to be realized, it demands that you serve your own purposes… ~Fearless Creating, Eric Maisel

This text from the first paragraph of chapter one is just too dramatic for me, and a little cliché.

Also, some of the author’s terminology turns me off. He calls one of the first tools hushing. I don’t know why it bothers me so much, but I really can’t stand the word. Nevertheless, I recognize that it is a good tool: allowing ourselves a quiet, meditative time for ideas and connections to float to the surface of our minds.

I do tend to do this by default. I sit on the porch, hold my book, and think about what’s next with the textiles, layer on another layer, complexify, complicate.

I used to do that in my writing program at SF State. I’d begin an assignment, and before I knew it I’d be building in layers, sometimes so many of them, or on such complicated themes, that the whole was incoherent.

In textiles, I think it’s harder to achieve incoherence. Or at least, the layers I’m currently exploring tend to complicate the working process, but seem to me to be evolving towards a coherent whole.

For instance, I am a hand-spinner. I have A LOT of yarn lying around. When I injured my elbow and needed some non-taxing textile enjoyment, I decided to build my dyeing muscles by using some of the dye plants available at my own home.

I knew that mordants could change the color of a dye, so I decided to try rounds of dyeing with bougainvillea, rosemary, and coffee dyes using alum, brass, copper, and iron mordants. I spent weeks collecting the mordants from salvage yards, and in the meantime started envisioning what I’d do with said dyed yarn. I’d sit down for five minutes, and the plan would evolve, new directions and possibilities would emerge.

I’m learning to quilt, and thought something handmade and hand-stitched would be nice. I envisioned a beautiful pillow for the couch, but once I started reading India Flint’s EcoColour, I started considering a garment.

I found a favorite skirt, traced the pattern, and started sewing a new one. In the process, I decided I wanted a wrap-around skirt with a tie at the side instead of zippers and buttons. To do this, I have to learn to make a skirt-waist. Then I decided I also wanted an embellished underskirt, so I’m sewing that too.

Honestly, the last two changes came about from mistakes. First, when I traced the pattern I failed to include the seam allowance, so it was too small. In order to make it larger, I’d need to add an extra panel, which would ruin the bilateral symmetry… and make it perfect for a wraparound. The underskirt came about when I understood how truly thin the fabric I’d chosen was, and realized it would need a slip. Ruffled underskirts are way better then slips!

For me, the mistakes illustrate how necessary flexibility is, the ability to make a general plan, but then play it as it lies instead of sticking rigidly to protocol. A certain improvisation seems important to me, and in that sense the hushing seems to work well for me. (I’ve got to find a better word.)

Because the skirt is cotton and I’m currently test-dyeing wool, I’m adding cotton dye and mordant tests to my process. Cellulose fibers need different mordants than animal fibers, so I’m exploring soy, gelatin, and others. (I honestly regret not bringing home any elk dung, I swear. I asked Matt what he would say if I tried to stuff a sack of elk poop into the trunk for the six-hour ride home. He said, “Baby, I would have been fine with the elk poop.” Can you believe this guy?)

In the meantime, I went to Humboldt and raided a friend’s backyard for new dyestuffs. And there’s all of Twin Peaks to explore and prune of fennel and ivy invasives, so I might play with those possibilities.

Once the skirt is sewn together, I’ll dye it, embellish it with the yarns, and perhaps some beads I’ve picked up at salvage yards too.

So you see? LAYERS. Complexity.

Desire. Lust. Satisfaction.

One process after another, complication that hopefully results in a solid, hand-made whole. I cannot describe the satisfaction I derive from thinking this through, from taking each step, even when that step is cracking acorns and grinding them to meal to leach the tannin to use as a mordant. Levels of drool and lust are off the charts, I’m happy, I’m at peace.

I’ve gotten away from the subject of rhetoric here, but really, I think that’s the point. To interpret the rhetoric in a way that works for me, to use it as a jumping off point from which to explore, within my mind, on paper, in what I do, and what I try.

I have a feeling some of the author’s other rhetoric or word choices may put me off. Nevertheless, it’s not really an obstacle. I’m good at renaming things in my head to make them work for me, and the author encourages his readers to do that, if any of his word choices don’t appeal. I think that’s a really smart tactic.

I look forward to reading more, and seeing what else I learn.

For a full list of all articles on art and self doubt, look here. At this point, the list is short.

Image Credits:
Painting, Patchwork Poppies, by my college roommate, Brenda Higginson. Brenda, your work has always stunned and moved me. I’m privileged to own two of your paintings. They make me very happy.
Photograph: Of Patchwork Poppies and granny squares, by curvylou.