Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Proud to present

Last week I finally got around to finishing the 3D-beaded necklace I wrote about earlier. I am very contented with the end result and got nice comments from my husband, my children and a co-worker! In the previous post I stated a lot of thou-shalt 's and I-should 's ... I can't say I have completely let go of these notions, because they are so deeply ingrained into my being, but I have to say that posting about this necklace and thinking about the witnessing comments brought me closer to being able to go with the flow.  So now it is with great proud I present to you (note that in the pictures the colours seem much redder that they actually are):

It was made in tubular peyote stitch using 11/0 Miyuki delicas only, one bead at a time. It was a growing proces, and as with the jewelry I have done before, I am sure I will not repeat it. That poses the question: why? What does this tell about me?

I am a person that in normal day life thrives best on regular routines that have proven to work. I am not the kind of person that likes to change her schedule just on a whim and without preparation, although I do like evolving the skills I need to do the things I want. A steady, sturdy flow is what I need to feel at peace and comfortable. In my work I sometimes have to repeat the same answer over and over again, still being patient with every customer that calls in. And I can say (without becoming too arrogant) that I manage to do these things quite well.

Apparently there is another side to me that is not that steady, that does like change at least to a certain amount. A side that likes surprises and new things, that is eager to learn, experience and has the ability to stand in awe. And somewhere the two fall together, as I think is the case in this project. Let's call them the woman and the artist for practical purposes.

Before I started this project I was totally overwhelmed by the possibilities of 3D-beadwork as I encountered them on the website of Jean Power. I fell in love head over heels with her Collar For A Rangoli Girl (a rangoli is a colourful design made on the floor near the entrance to a house to welcome guests in the Hindu tradition). The artist screamed out at the top of her voice: "I want that!" She sometimes can be a little child wanting to touch everything her eyes see. It took some time for the woman to find courage and order the whole set of geometric patterns. Being more practical she thought: "Oh, why not all. You might never know when it comes in handy." Thus satisfying her own needs, and the needs of her friend the artist. The woman built a bridge knowing that learning new skills would make them both happy, no matter what the outcome would be, as would holding a beautiful piece of jewelry. All in all, it was the artist that initiated this project, but is was the woman who finished it.

So it is safe to say that I need both. One for inspiration and initiation, the other for patience and perseverance. As I come to think of it this way, it sounds quite beautiful. Still I haven't answered the question of why I don't think I will redo this project. In fact the answer is quite simple: I started beading to give the artist a chance to find her voice and be able to express herself. When following a pattern, even if it is my own interpretation, the woman takes over the minute the artist gets bored. And she does get bored as she is constantly looking for new insights, new possibilities, new anything... Maybe one day she won't be as dependent on the woman to bring her ideas into reality, but as of now: if it hadn't been for the woman I would have had just unfinished jewelry projects lingering around. On the other hand, so far I have experienced that when I do have a bead embroidery piece at hand, working on that prevails above any other beading project that I have left unfinished. It somehow calls to me and feels free. That is what I intended to find when I opened that chest of possibilities called beads&beading. That is what my artist is looking for: freedom of expression, letting her own voice be heard and giving way to all that she is. Today I can safely say that I have come one step further on my beading path and it sure feels good!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Old traditions die hard (part I)

It is that time of year again, the greatest friend of all children is coming to town... Sinterklaas. Why are we all so excited and who is this bloke with his long beard, all dressed to impress and why are we full of anticipation about it? Today I want to share an age-old tradition with you, that bares a lot of resemblance to Santa Claus. In fact, our Sinterklaas is his predecessor.

It all started about 1800 years ago when a little boy was born into a wealthy family, was orphaned at a young age, became a priest and later in life a bishop in  Myra. Many legends are told of him, starting from his birth. They all have a great compassion and generosity towards others in common and a great will to live a spiritual life. Although no one knows exactly when he was born or died, it is an accepted fact that he died on december 6th sometime during the 4th century in Myra where he was burried. Later on his bones were stolen from the original tomb and relocated to Bari in Italy where a huge crypt and ditto cathedral were built.

As with any Saint, there are lots and lots of stories told about Nicholas, but two of them lead up to why he is seen as a protector of children and giftgiver. The first of the most widely known legends is that of the 3 children or students murdered by an innkeeper and put in a pickling tub. When somehow Nicholas gets hold of the meat, he brings the boys back to life. Another story tells of a widower with 3 daughters for whom he can't afford a dowry. In those days, this meant that it was impossible for the women to marry and they would probably end up slaves or prostitutes. When Nicholas hears of this, he secretly throws 3 pieces of gold through the open window on seperate occasions, thus providing the dowry and saving the life and honour of the young women.

These are the most important ingredients for the main festivities: Sinterklaasavond or Pakjesavond. On the eve of december 6th Sinterklaas visits our homes with his helpers and brings us presents. Some of which have not changed over de years and still remind us of the ancient stories, for example:  chocolate coins, wrapped in gold or silver foil as a reminder of the dowries or a large, gingerbread man reminding us of the students he brought back to life or the possibility of a good marriage candidate. As was the case with the coins he provided for the girls' dowries, he is usually not seen, but simply leaves a huge sack of gifts on the doorstep.

But the tradition doesn't apply only to the evening of december 5th. There is a building up to that moment, full of anticipation. To understand this, you must know one more important story of how Nicholas once rescued his ship from a heavy storm when traveling from the holy land back to his home after making a pilgrimage. By praying he was able - or so it is told - to calm the waves and let the winds subside thus saving not only his own life, but that of the crew as well. This made him the patron of sailors and voyagers.

Every year in late november, as the Pakjesboot - the steamboat - arrives in a harbour somewhere in the Netherlands it marks the start of a festive season. Sinterklaas is everywhere: in every store, home or school. Everywhere you can hear the childrens' songs that are only sung during this season. Also, another tradition starts on this day: children putting a shoe in front of the fireplace or the doorstep (most houses lacking a fireplace nowadays, this is a practical solution). It is believed that at night, Sinterklaas roams the roofs of our homes mounted on his horse, assisted by one of his helpers. The children usually put an apple, carrot or some hay in their shoes for the horse to eat, which is then exchanged by a small gift. This custom might have something to do with the legend of the dowries, as some versions state that the coins landed in the shoes of the girls that were set in front of the fireplace to dry.

Today our season has started, he has arrived and all are filled with joy and anticipation. So far I have just talked about the history of the feast. But there is so much more to say about the inner meaning of this time of year and its relation to the upcoming christmas season. This post would become way to long if I wrote about these aspects too. Let me close by saying that to me, the most beautifull aspect, and the purpose of the giftgiving, is the fact that it is a challenge to find gifts that meet the needs - not merely the wants - of others. I believe, that when you are forced to really connect to one another, to find out each others needs, you are doing justice to yourself, the other and a higher cause. This connecting is what makes this season so festive, warm and loving.

A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC-65) Roman philosopher and playwright.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Done and new lessons learned

I am done with my Staphorster Stipwerk trial-piece. It doesn't resemble the real work, but I had fun working on it and have yet again learned some valuable lessons.

It all started out with this:
You might remember I wrote about not liking the Lacy's Stiff Stuff. Well, I have not altered my opinion. Working with a backing that won't give way when held, doesn't appeal to me. It has happend that I had to pull the needle out of my work and try to pierce it again and again through the LSS just to come up at the spot I wanted it to come up.

lesson 1: The backing
For the BJP I need fabric that feels comfortable and is pliable. My first work I did on felt, which I liked very much for its warm touch and easy to handle qualities.

This is what has become of my endeavors
Even though it has not turned out a Stipwerk, I do like it. It has the contrast between the black background and bright colours that the original work has. For the jewelry I make, I work more in shades of one colour. I guess it has to do with not wanting to stand out to much. While working on this piece I realized that it can be a good quality to let some parts stand out, backed by a solid background.

lesson 2: Speak out
I can play with brighter colours without my piece becoming blatant.

The real Staphorster Stipwerk, being a very mathematical and precise design, is not easy to duplicate by freehand embroidery. I didn't draw any markings on my LSS before starting to work and didn't keep any physical example at hand, just the image in my mind that I posted above and in previously. The reason behind this being I wanted not to pin myself to an exact design but let some flow into the work. Ha! I was mistaken: freehand and preconceived design don't mix to well. At least not for me at this point.

lesson 3: Make a choice
I will have to make a choice between pre-designing a piece or really embark in freehand embroidery. For the first I will have to mark my backing so I will be able to make it more exact. For the latter I will have to really let go of any prejudice and let the muse(s) speak to me. For the BJP I have already made my choice: I want the pieces to be real journals. I don't predesign my life, so I cannot predesign my pieces either.

If I don't want do think about the outcome of my pieces beforehand, I will have to find a means of letting the inspiration come to me. A little help was in this project, as I also experienced that working on a plain background doens't offer much inspiration. 

A few ideas that popped up:

I have previously printed images on special transfer paper, that allow you to iron an image to for example a T-shirt. I could easily use that and try it on felt. The only thing is that I don't want to make large pieces, and you can only print the paper once. Some thinking needs to be done on waste-management.

I could use printed fabrics and attach either a total surface or just parts of them to felt in some manner

Lots of roads yet to be travelled, new horizons to be discovered and beads, trinkets and fabrics to be packed to continue...
You cannot travel on the path until you become the path itself.

Buddha (563 BC-483 BC) Founder of Buddhism.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Where am I from?

I have told you a bit about my home in my post Where am I? This post was mostly about the country I live in, but didn't adress anything personal. Today I want to tell you a little bit about where and when the seeds of my creativity were planted and how they were thriving at times and wilting at others.

Before I could even hold a spoon, my education and upbringing as a music-lover started. My mum claims she sang nursery rhymes for me even before I was born. I cannot recollect, so I have to take her word for it. If you see my efforts in the picture here, she must be right. I was about 4 years old and seem to be reading the words of the back of the album cover, but that's only to impress. In fact I could not read a word yet. I knew the songs by heart though, this (christmas)album being one of my favorites, or so I was told.

If you have read my previous posts, you might have guessed already I am a great lover of classical music, and that love has never ceased. At about the age of 6 my parents took me to a classical concert. Of course I don't know what was played but it is our family history that from that day on I wanted to be a musician. Not just any instrument was good enough, no I was very persistent about wanting to play the harp.

Not so lucky me found Rules & Regulations on her way that stated that any child wanting to learn to play an instrument had to have had 2 years of prior, general music lessons in order to learn how to read notes, sing, play the recorder and develop a feeling for rythm. So by the time I was 8 I enrolled and learned all that. Then I first learned how to play the piano to start my harp lessons at the age of 11. See? I told you I was persistent!

In total I played the piano and harp for about 7 years and then went off to college, but not to become a musician. I just wanted to enjoy making music and didn't feel the drive and ambition I would have needed to become one. Why would I want to be better? Still, creativity and art to me are not about competition, but about sharing what is dear to me and close to my heart. After a couple of years I missed my music an was lucky enough to be able to pick up piano lessons once again for another 7 years.

As any other kid I loved to draw and paint, though music has always been my number No 1. There is hardly any handcraft in the world that I haven't been able to try out. My mum being a very curious person in nature wanted to try out different techniques for herself and shared them with me and my 2 younger sisters. The amazing thing is that in my family we al have a "creative coming out" of sorts, after the age of 40. My mum started a career as a painter after that age, my dad's mom started making bobbin lace after my granddad retired, who himself picked up painting at that time, and I only remember my mom's mum busy with crocheting or knitting. The only one that started earlier in life I assume is my grandfather that I never knew. He is said to have been a gifted amateur piano player. It is sad that I have never had a chance to listen to him play, but he somehow  must have passed on his love ...

So in addition to making music, I learned how to knit, crochet, weave on a loom, spin, make bobbin lace, do thread embroidery, sew... Not that I know how to do all those things these days, nor that I am an expert at any of them. The richness is in the fact that I have at one time or another been able to try so vastly different skills and find out what I liked most: working with thread and fabrics. Not on a machine, but with my bare hands, feeling the touch of the cloth, seeing the work grow before my eyes, living the thoughts and emotions it brings up.

When my life was on the drawingboard, a great love for arts must have been etched into my soul. I really cannot imagine a life without music or some kind of craft. Due to hearing problems I am now no longer able to enjoy making music, but still have not lost the joy of listening. On my search for new experiences I stumbled upon beading and bead embroidery last year. My heart leaped for joy and I have felt drawn to it ever since I saw Robin Atkin's beadwork and the Bead Journal Project she started in 2007. Now I feel doubly blessed to have tried out so many different crafts, as it will enable me to really find my own voice over the coming year. For I know one thing for sure: I have never felt more alive then at the moments I was creating.

I have often thought the best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it comes upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: ''This is the real me!''.

William James (1842-1910) American philosopher and psychologist.


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