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 revery 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. 

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

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.



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.

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 …
…to 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. 



Opening Night – ‘Colour: A Personal Response’ at Place des Arts, Coquitlam

Sarah and I are so looking forward to the January 12 opening reception for our exhibition ‘Colour: A Personal Response’ at Places des Arts, 1120 Brunette Ave, Coquitlam. 7 to 9 pm.
Two other exhibitions will be opening the same night:
‘Lyrical Expressions’, abstract acrylic and oil works by Jane Appleby
‘Balance*’, abstract fibre works by Mardell Rampton
We are looking forward to meeting up with friends and to connecting with new people.
If you can’t make it to the opening we hope you can get in to see the exhibitions sometime over the month they are on – January 12 to February 10th, 2018.

‘Colour: A Personal Response’ Exhibition is Hung in Place des Arts, Coquitlam

Sarah McLaren and my ‘Colour: A Personal Response’ exhibition is on the road again.
The day before we loaded up the car…it was really full…

…and caught the first ferry the next morning.

We drove through Vancouver’s persistent rain to Place des Arts Art Centre and Music School in Coquitlam. Conveniently there was dry underground parking with an elevator beside the entrance. It didn’t take long to unload the car and get the work up to the main floor.

We laid sheets on the ground against all of the walls where our work would be hung. As we unpacked each work we placed it according to our layout plan.

There are 3 galleries in Place des Arts. We had been assigned the light-filled Atrium Gallery, much to our delight because it suits our body of work’s concept so well.

Marziya and Jimmy are Place des Arts student volunteers who were ready to do anything needed. Once Sarah and I had decided on putting the 3D parts on plinths under glass, Marziya and Jimmy got to work putting them in position and removing the plexiglass covers.

The took on the challenge to assemble the colour cards on turntables which tested their colour wheel knowledge.

Then they replaced the covers.

The turntables full of colour cards and the framed collection are presented differently this time around because of the nature of the gallery space. The Atrium is a multifunctional largely unsupervised space used for musical events, dinners, a waiting room for parents and siblings while children attend classes, a meeting space… All of the small 3D items need to be protected which makes them no longer interactive but still interesting for people to look at.
Marziya cleans every single mark off the covers.
Challen and Joseph are a volunteer team that has worked together for 2 years hanging all Place des Arts exhibitions according to the Canadian National Art Gallery standards.

And they are good.

They hung every work perfectly and with well-rehearsed speed.
Don’t you love the way their t-shirts match the artwork?

View from the upper level as we were about to leave. 
Sarah and I left the staff, Bali, Josephine and Lidia, to spend the rest of the week making and mounting labels, adjusting lighting and setting up the gift shop. Sarah and I return to the galley on Friday for the official opening which is going to be fun – Friday, January 12, 7 – 9 pm.
We reloaded the car with the empty boxes…

…and caught the next ferry back to Victoria.
All of the Place des Arts staff were so helpful and supportive things went smoothly and we were home again by early evening very happy with the way the day had gone. 
Do check out Sarah’s blog to get her take on the day here

Green Shed Activity: New Singer Sewing Machine and 40 Meters Khadi Fabric

I got a new sewing machine for my birthday. 
It is a Heavy Duty Singer that can sew thick and fast.
Image result for bernina 830 record
My new Bernina 780 is not up to sewing thick layers of fabric, something I have had to accept after giving away my 40-year-old Bernina 830 Record which could handle everything I gave it.
The Bernina 830 Record is known as a workhorse. I did 4 years of City and Guilds courses on this simple, non-computerised machine. 
Ron has been getting a hard time from his buddies about giving me a machine so I can once again do canvas repairs on his boat, something I couldn’t do after I got the Bernina 780. This Singer can sew 3 thicknesses of canvas but I haven’t tested it to its needle breaking limits yet.
It comes with a needle threader, a thread cutter, 18 built-in stitches, 2 different buttonholes, can be threaded for a twin needle and the feed dogs can be dropped for free motion work.
All this for $149!
I won’t tell you how much this baby cost. It was a graduation present after I completed a BA (Hons) Embroidered Textiles.
The Bernina 780 is an amazing machine but it does have some problems the company has not fixed and they have stopped making this model. It is so highly computerised it self-corrects the tension even when I want a loopy stitch. I can’t work cable stitch using thick threads in the bobbin because it self-corrects. 
My new birthday Singer can make loopy stitches and it sews fast.

40 meters of lightweight fabric just washed.
I bought this Indian, handwoven cotton cloth from a favourite shop, Knotty by Nature Fibres,  here in Victoria. 

It is a jacquard woven, light-weight, narrow cloth that I think would qualify as Indian khadi cloth.

I ironed the 40 metres while still damp and while binge-watching Vikings. 

At this stage, I have no idea what I will do with 40 meters of fine white cloth. It is all washed, ironed, folded and put away in the Green Shed to wait out the ‘Percolation’ stage.

1st Time Teaching ‘Mindful Colors’ Workshop

Sarah McLaren (website) and I taught our new ‘Mindful Colours’ workshop to 24 people. 
It was important to have 24 people because we sat them right in a colour wheel to involve more of their senses as they explored their own personal responses to colours in a mindful way.
Most colour workshops start off with making the ubiquitous colour wheel. Our workshop was no different except we encouraged people to intuitively and mindfully pick their favourite color from each tray. at the same time we didn’t want them to overthink it. The idea is based on the way Johannes Itten worked with his students by encouraging them to isolate and work with their own personal palettes.
It was very interesting to see the variation in colours different people picked to make up their personal colour wheels. We encouraged them to write about their choices.
Sarah led the group in an exercise on value.
We also had exercises to explore other characteristics of colour – temperature and intensity.
The last exercise was based on pulling together what had been learned to make an abstract colour image expressing an emotion, feeling or visual experience.
It was so interesting to walk around the room looking at different people’s colour wheels with their abstract picture. For a lot of the participants, it was only when they stepped back and saw their own colour choices besides others did they see how distinctive their own work is. 
We asked every person for an evaluation of the workshop. We were delighted with the feedback we received. Sarah and I sat down for a couple of hours while going through the comments and reworked parts of the workshop based on these comments.
Now we feel ready to go out into the world with our ‘Mindful Colours’ workshop.
We had such a fun time teaching it we are looking forward to our next booking – more on that later.

Colour: A Personal Response Workshop, ‘Mindful Colours’ by Sarah McLaren and Lesley Turner

Ready to teach our workshop on colour.
‘Mindful Colours’ by Sarah Mclaren and Lesley Turner 
But before that, there were many hours of planning and preparing of workshop supplies.
We dug deep into our fabric stashes to find as many different variations of colour as we had. We asked friends to donate fabric scraps to broaden the range. Many thanks for donations from Bryony, Lori, Laura, Louise and Lesley. Your contributions filled in some gaps we had.
We cut hundreds of squares for each of the 24 colours according to Joen Wolfrom‘s colour system.
Sarah and I had a number of coffee shop meetings to plan the workshop exercises and logistics. We also met up several times to collated and organise the workshop materials. 

Several people had asked if we taught workshops related to our ‘Colour: A Personal Response’ exhibition. We got the message that people really were interested in learning more about colour. 
After planning the workshop we decided we needed to trial it to get feedback and then make improvements. We approached Isabel Jones and Alison Kershaw with their connections with Friday Fibre Friends, Sew ‘n’ Sews and Deep Cove Weavers and Spinners groups. Between the 3 groups, they signed up 24 participants – the exact number we needed to pull the workshop off.
Thank you, Isabel and Alison, for taking on this part of running a workshop and allowing Sarah and I to focus on the teaching.
Here are Sarah and Brigitta setting up the tables and covering them with white cloths.

We set up tables to work at and we also had 2 tables of activities for people when they first arrived and during the break.
These are my small colour books where I ask people to write how they feel about that specific colour.

The other table had a few of Sarah and my favourite colour reference books to look through.
With everything set up to our satisfaction, we were ready to trial our new workshop.