Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lasting Impressions of Iceland

I'm finally posting again but this time from the green and verdant shores of Saint John River in Gagetown, New Brunswick. What a contrast in landscape! We arrived in Halifax, Canada on Thursday night, picked up the rental car, and drove 2.5 hours to Annapolis Royal to spend the night with an old friend from Vernon. After a glorious morning and lunch in AR, we drove to Digby to catch the ferry across the Bay of Fundy to Saint John, NB, and drove another hour north to Gagetown, arriving about 8:30 PM. Saturday was spent wandering this beautiful village of artists before driving to CFB Gagetown (in Oromocto, NB) for Lloyd's nephew's wedding. The wedding was a wonderful family occasion--a good time was had by all.

Back to Iceland and my lasting memories of the diverse landscape--I've already commented on the enormous lava beds and bleak black sand and ash deserts. Interspersed can be lush farms with lots of sheep, dairy cows and/or horses. The sheep and horses are Icelandic breeds which can be traced back to the original Viking settlers. Indeed, my understanding is that no new strains of sheep or horses have been allowed into Iceland for several hundred years. The sheep have two coats--the tough outer hairs which shed the water and a soft inner coat which keeps them warm. Both parts of this fleece are incorporated into the Lopi wool which is used in all Icelandic knitting. The sheep can come in all colours from white, grey, brown (light to dark) and black. We saw lots of ewes with twin lambs, and it wasn't unusual for the twins to have different coloured fleece from each other and their mother. The horses were like that too--brown, black, white, and spotted or not. We saw newborn foals just figuring out how to stand on their legs, and older foals running and jumping.

I really enjoyed exhibits on the archeological digs ongoing in Iceland. One exhibit at Reykholt discussed climate change, and how Iceland is a good study in human impact on the local environment. For example, within a few hundred years of settlement, most of the trees had been removed (for fuel and building) and the people had to start burning peat--archeologists can tell when this happened by the type of ash in the deposit layers.

Last Wednesday we drove down to the southern most tip to the village of Vik. It was a rainy day and the landscape was obliterated with low clouds. We knew we were close to the volcano with the unpronouncable name however when we came to a river valley that had obviously just been flooded--the surrounding fields were full of black silt, gravel and ash. The first explosions of this volcano back in March had created huge havoc with flash floods that wiped out lots of pastures and road approaches to bridges. These approaches have been re-established, however there was still lots of heavy equipment dredging the river beds. By the time we'd had lunch and wandered around in Vik, the rain had stopped and the sun was out. Our drive back was such a different experience--we could see the mountain tops and the glaciers which are now black with ash.

We visited the main geothermal plant for Reykjavik--a new plant which also generates electricity with steam turbines. Icelanders are understandably proud of their green energy and lessening dependence on oil. Geothermal hot water is piped into all cities and towns--every home is equipped with a heat exchange unit to heat their domestic hot water. And a side benefit in Reykyavik is that the hot water pipes under the sidewalks keep them free of ice and snow in the winter!

It is still such a contrast to be looking out this window in Gagetown to lush green grass and lots of big trees--this was a rare sight in Iceland. Icelanders have been so tenacious to survive amidst volcanoes and hot springs for over a thousand years. It isn't any wonder however that there has been a lot of emigration to greener pastures where making a living is a little easier--even Manitoba was an easier place to live than Iceland a hundred years ago.

Once I get home and sort through my photos I will post some of my more evocative images for you to enjoy. That should be in the first week of July. We're now headed off to Lloyd's nephew's home for lunch and to get to know his new wife a little better...and then to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredricton later this afternoon--remember that recent court case successfully proving that Lord Beaverbrook did indeed gift most of the paintings to New Brunswick? We're going to see some of them.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Adventures with an Icelandic keyboard...

I have been enjoying myself immensely exploring this beautiful city of Reykjavik, and Lloyd has enjoyed the deep-sea biology conference. It´s quite amusing for other conference delegates to find out that we live in the interior of BC--"So what deep sea biology do you do there?" is a common question! To which Lloyd answers that he teaches entry level biology and comes to these events to get excited about topics, and in turn get his students excited about doing research. These PhD types all love that answer.

On Wednesday we joined the excursion organized by the conference, and hopped aboard one of seven 4x4 Mercedes Benz coaches to be driven about 4 hours into the interior. Quite a change in scenery--we drove through the greenhouse area not too far from Reykjavik (lots of greenhouses heated with geothermal power) and then inland into a vast black and bleak desert just west of Hekla, a volcano that erupted about 10 years ago. We were taken to Landmannalaugar where all 300 of us were discharged to hike or soak in a hot spring. Lloyd and I wandered up through an old lava field and he was excited to see all the obsidian--black volcanic glass. We hiked further up a valley gorge to some steam vents and then even further uphill to enjoy gorgeous views of the surrounding orange, grey and red hills. The only greenery is around the hot spring and the steam vents--otherwise it´s all stone and gravel.

To the Icelandic keyboard...because there are a few more letters in their alphabet, these have been added to the edges of the qwerty keyboard. For example, this letter þ is where my right baby finger expects to find the question mark. And this letter ð is to the right of the P. One keystroke that I am having to get used to is the apotrophe. I should be pressing shift first--otherwise I get an accent which only appears once the next letter has been typed, e.g. this "don´t" has the accent. And quotation marks are shift 2. To get the @ sign, I have to press and hold Alt Gr (do we even have that key?) and press Q.

To Joanne's question about flying with knitting needles--fortunately Canadian security allows them and has done for years (except for some hysteria just after Sept 11). I do take bamboo needles which I am not afraid to lose however!

And speaking of wool--this is indeed a wooly country. It's quite wonderful to see the array of woolen goods for sale, altho' the heavy circular yoked sweaters are a little too ubiquitous. I am enjoying the new designs--there are many shops highlighted Icelandic designers and they´re doing very adventurous things with knit yardage, felted wool, and other fabrics. I´ve bought 8 balls of Lopi wool (the fine stuff called Kambgarn which I haven´t seen in Canada) and tomorrow we´re going to the Alafoss Lopi outlet store in the nearby town of Mosfellsbær. (There's another Icelandic key æ just to the right of the L)

I've been immersed in learning about the Icelandic culture by visiting the National Museum, the Settlement Exhibition, and the Culture House. One interesting fact is that genomics studies have shown that 80% of male settlers were Norse and 62% were Celtic (mainly Hebridean). The sanitized descriptions describe the original female settlers as wives of the Vikings, whereas other (probably more realistic) information describes them as slaves!

That's enough typing for now... I'll post again in a few days.


Monday, June 7, 2010

We have arrived in Iceland

We landed in Iceland about three hours ago. The flight across the north Atlantic was beautiful. I had a window seat and enjoyed the night skies...the sun was setting as we left Toronto and very quickly there was a sunset that stretched across the sky in stripes of orange, yellow, pale blue and deep blue. This lasted about an hour and then it was pitch black for about an hour, followed by a sunrise which was very similar in colour, lasting only about half an hour before the sun popped up above the clouds.

I have a new sock knitting project with me--some toe up socks from Lucy Neatby´s Cool Socks, Warm Feet book--so I cast on somewhere over the Atlantic. I happily knit my way to Iceland.

The landscape around the Keflavik Airport (the international airport for Reykjavik) is bleak and beautiful...lots of rock and carpets of purple lupins. Every now and then were stone assemblages, almost statues--stacks of big and small boulders which looked very human...

We arrived at the Sunna Guesthouse at about 8 AM. They were fully booked last night and so our room won´t be ready for a while. Meanwhile we were able to have some breakfast...our first "Skyr" which is a low fat yogurt and delicious with granola and fruit. There was an array of breads, cheese, ham, hard boiled eggs, and fresh fruit as well. Lloyd has now dashed off to the University to attend the opening session of his conference, and I´m waiting here in Reception with the bags. Which is why I´m using the time to write on the computer available for guest use. The weather is typically marine--low cloud and mild. It just might burn off later. I really would prefer to be crawling into bed right about now, but might have to go for a walk instead!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Jude has received her stole!

Here's the e-mail I received from Jude this morning:

It is with tears of gratitude in my eyes that I write to thank you for creating my beautiful stole. As I opened up the box, the tears started to fall. The beauty of this stole literally took my breath away.
Everything about it captures the very spirit of my ministry. That's me! Full of life. Full of beauty. Full of color. Full of love. It has Reverend Jude stitched into the very fabric of the design. And should ever I forget who I am or what I have been called to do, I only have to look down at the stole I'm wearing to be reminded.

Unfortunately, I'm home alone and have no one to take a proper photograph. But I couldn't resist sending SOMETHING to you! Here is the stole and robe - minus me! :-)

Thank you also for so beautifully including my mother in this piece.
My journey began with her, and it's so fitting that I will be taking her with me as I do my work.
(Note from Janet: Jude had sent me a photo of herself and her sister with their mother
asking that I incorporate it into the label. I superimposed the photo on an image of the heart from the back of the stole--using Photoshop--and printed the label on fabric.)
Feel free to include any of my words on your blog. May my words touch the hearts of your readers so that your work will continuing to touch the world.

Much love and many blessings,

Friday, June 4, 2010

The 12th Annual Okanagan Knitting Retreat

The latest knitting retreat at Sorrento Centre was a big success. For the first time we scheduled three concurrent workshops--each of the 56 participants chose one workshop for the whole weekend--and the choices were Contemplative Knitting, Knit Until it Fits and An Introduction to Lace Knitting.

I have opted to post images of close-ups of hands knitting--I just love looking at the different ways that people hold their yarn and needles.

The next retreat is scheduled for May 26 - 29, 2011. The most likely theme is "Socks", and again there will be a selection of workshops--for example, perfecting the fit, different heels and toes, and knitting from the toe-up or cuff-down.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jude's "Heart" Stole is Finished

I finished Jude's stole last Thursday, and then loaded up the car to go to my 12th annual Okanagan Knitting Retreat at Sorrento Centre on Shuswap Lake. I'll post some images from that great weekend by the end of this week. I shipped Jude's stole to her Monday morning.
I hope she'll get it by Friday. I'm very pleased with how this stole turned out, and am looking forward to getting a picture of Jude wearing in on her ordination day in a few weeks.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Progress yesterday and today

I've made great progress this weekend, starting with the placement of the heart on the lower left panel.

The green, blue-green, and purple strips of necktie were stitched in swooping lines around the heart and then up towards the shoulders.

You can see that I piece most of the fronts and part of the back before cutting up the centre to separate the panels.
Tomorrow I'll make and attach the piping and lining.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Another heart and possible designs

Got out my coloured pencils and started playing around with some flowing lines. Sent these to Jude last night, and her feedback is:
"You are absolutely getting it! I absolutely love what you're doing. It feels as though you've gone right into my head and seen the picture that's been sitting there.

Colors are perfect! The blend and ratio of colors is me!

Regarding the sketches - they're both so beautiful - hard to choose. The only thing I would say is to put the heart on the left side of the stole - my heart side."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tying up Loose Ends

First of all, an image of Chrissy in her stole presented to her by her family on graduation day May 10, 2010. Chrissy has just been appointed to a position in her home church in West Virginia. Congratulations Chrissy!

Secondly, the white stole has arrived at its destination in Georgia, and the feedback is positive. They think it is absolutely the most beautiful stole they've seen and that it's a work of art. That's all very reassuring to me working at a distance as I do. However I must also add that these stoles are rather like one's children--they're all favourites and beautiful!

Thirdly, I have started gathering materials and thinking about the design for the next stole. I'm happy to be working in my favourite colours--fortunately these are also the favourite colours of the wearer! Here are the neckties pulled from my collection to use:

Jude has asked me to use less blue and more purple and green (just like my hair these days!) and I'm happy to oblige.

Jude will be ordained from the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York City ( in June, and has a growing ministry for weddings. Check out her website to learn about her very collaborative process helping couples plan their services. Since this stole will be worn primarily while officiating at weddings, she's asked for some irregular and suble hearts on the stole. Here's an image of my first attempt at piecing a heart using my bias strip piecing method:

I'll make another sample that's taller and thinner to fit on the front panel. This first one is too wide for the front.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Celebrate--the white stole is finished!

And shipped!

You can see that I opted for the gold lame under the battenberg lace--I wasn't comfortable with the copper. I realized that I was trying to make the copper work because of the copper threads drawn from a table runner supplied by the family. I used the copper threads to wrap the piping--and was using it because it had been given to me, rather than because it had any intrinsic merit. The gold lame really is more suitable and appropriate.

A final touch are the pockets on the lining at the lower edges. I was provided with a lot of lacy placemats, and it seemed a good idea to use a couple pieces as pockets for cards, house key, driver's licence, tissue...

The last image is a miniature piece that will be a keepsake for the bride and groom. Richard (the minister and the father of the groom) will be using it during the service--he will wrap their hands with this while talking about their theme scripture "A cord of three strands is not easily broken." (This might be an origin for the phrase "tying the knot"?)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Trying out some embellishments

I've made yards and yards of white satin piping for the edges. On all the edges of these three samples, I have wrapped the piping with either copper/metallic yarn or gold ribbin. I've also used underlays of either gold or copper lame under some of the Battenburg lace motifs. I think the copper might show up better at a distance which might be best for this stole. I do like the subtlety of the gold however.

Do you have a preference?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Piecing the white stole

I was able to spend a good amount of time at the sewing machine today, and pieced the two fronts of the white stole. I've opted for the more vertical design, inserting lace edgings into occasional seams.

My stategy is to piece the two halves of the stole as a single unit up to the chest area. I then cut the resulting fabric into two and add enough foundation fabric for the shoulders and back.

The second image shows the two halves, completely pieced, but not trimmed.
My next step is to determine any further embellishment, e.g. couched gold thread or machine embroidery. That's a decision for tomorrow!

Below is a detail view of the piecing with lace inserts.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Detail views of the white stole samples

It's a typical spring day here in the Okanagan...some welcome rain showers and a little sun, but mostly a high bright overcast--great for photography, especially of whites! So, in between showers, I went outside to take some close-ups of the stole samples that I posted last night.

Again I'm using my favourite "bias strip piecing" technique. That means cutting all the fabrics in strips on the bias (30 - 60 degrees or so) and then stitching them in gentle concave or convex curves to a foundation fabric. My favourite foundation fabric is unbleached cotton (a.k.a. muslin or calico if you live in the US or UK!) In these samples, I've inserted the lace edging (which of course is not on the bias) into some of the seams.
To see larger views, double click on any image and your screen will be more than filled.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A New Stole in the Works...

Here are three samples of designs for the next stole. This stole will be worn by a minister officiating at his son's wedding at the end of May. Most of the materials were table linens and fabrics belonging to their grandmothers.
A white stole is worn on holidays like Easter and Christmas and celebratory occasions such as weddings and christenings.
In terms of designing this stole, an absence of colour means that texture comes to the fore. In this case, much of the texture is provided by the lace edgings and the brocade weave structure in some of the linens. The piecing pattern also provides some texture--whether I run the pieces in a chevron pattern as in the two samples in the centre and the right, or vertically as in the sample on the left.
Do you have a preference?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Deacon stole is finished!

I finished the stole this afternoon. Here it is on my mannequin. The edges are piped with two of the neckties provided by the family, and I had a little bit of piping left over to convert into covered cords for the "closure" at the hip (see the lower image for a close-up).

A friend dropped by this afternoon and said the swirling lines of blues and greens reminded her of the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. Well, having been out of the country for the Olympics, I missed all that stuff. Apparently these colours were on all the Olympic paraphernalia as well as surrounding the hockey rinks and other venues. I can't claim to have been influenced by the Olympics! This design is a result of e-mails with the future deacon's mother who suggested the "water" theme, and the neckties and fabrics that she collected from family and friends.

I bumped into another friend in the library just after I'd been to the post office to confirm the shipping options, so I showed her...and she asked if this was my favourite one yet. Well, that's a bit like asking who your favourite child is! None-the-less, I am pleased with how this stole turned out. I'm looking forward to hearing about the presentation and to seeing their daughter wearing it. That all happens on May 10.

Now to turn my attention to the next stole which will be all white--what a change!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Next stages...the fit...

My 5'8" friend came over tonight to try on the stole and help me with the fitting. I received one other important measurement today--the robe that this stole will be worn over is 51" in back length. Pamela's dress in these pictures is 52". So, I'm able to shorten it from the shoulder and I've decided that I will round the hem. I'm ready to go now...should be finished this week!
The ordination is May 10 so this will be plenty of time. Whew! Long distance fitting is challenging!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Piecing is complete

Here's an image of the front of the stole, in process, on my cutting table.

I finished piecing the front about a half hour ago.

I wrapped my mannequin in some white fabric, and placed it on a foot stool to mimic the 5'8" height. Here's a view of the "finished" front pinned to the form. "Finished" meaning that the piecing is complete, but there's still a lot of work ahead (shoulder seam, piping, lining, hip attachment, label...) I positioned the mannequin in front of my mirror so that a bit of the back shows as well.

And a side view of both front and back showing off the spirals.

And finally, here's me in my new dress from India feeling pretty pleased with how this looks so far!

My 5'8" friend is away for the weekend, so I can't do any more until Monday. Then I expect to try it on her, and figure out the ideal length from shoulder to hip and from hip to the lower edge. I've left these edges unfinished until then.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Continuing with the back of the deacon stole

I feel I've made good progress with this stole over the past two days in spite of unavoidable appointments, a Hospice commitment, and several long telephone conversations with friends (all satisfying!) These images are of the piece which will become the back of the stole. The top two were taken when it was on my cutting table. The bottom two images were taken when the piecing was complete and hung vertically on my design wall. I'm struck by how "serpent-like" the sprial is (and I wanted it to represent water!) I browsed in the reference section of the public library today (so much more satisfying than using an on-line browser!) and found several books on symbols. Here's what Miranda Bruce-Mitford had to say about spirals in The Illustrated Book of Signs & Symbols: "Energy was once believed to flow in spiral form. The spiral symbolizes masculine and feminine energy and the energy of both sun and moon. It is the great swirling force of the whirlwind and the movement of the heavens. It is a manifestation of the energy in nature, and is related to the powerful imagery of the serpent. The spiral also symbolizes the circlings of the soul, which eventually return to the center, or truth."

Isn't that a wonderful sentiment?

Another challenge I'm having with this project is the fit. I'm sewing this for a woman who is 5'8" tall, and it's a surprise. Her mother has measured her, and I in turn measured a friend who is also 5'8"...well, their measurements from shoulder to hip aren't the same! That's a critical bit of information because the front and the back of a deacon stole are joined at the hip. I also wonder if the join should be at the hip bone (e.g. where the pelvis can be felt) or lower down at the widest part of the hip (which is where a dressmaker would measure the hip). Any ideas? Does anyone have an opinion about how far from the floor the lower edge should be?

I had thought that I would have to make these decisions at the outset, but I realized yesterday that I can adjust the length from the shoulder or from the lower edge. I've therefore cut the foundation fabric as large as I think I would need, and can trim as necessary.

Here are some more interesting quotes about spirals. Jack Tresider writes in Dictionary of Symbols, "The spiral as an open and flowing line suggests extension, evolution and continuity, uninterrupted concentric and centripetal movement, the very rhythm of breathing and of life itself." Another author, J.E. Cirlot, in A Dictionary of Symbols, writes "...most theorists are agreed that the symbolism of the spiral is fairly complex and of doubtful origin. Its relationship...with water has been provisionally admitted. Going right back to the most ancient traditions, we find the distinction being made between the creative spiral (rising in a clockwise direction...) and the destructive spiral like a whirlwind (which twirls to the left...)"
I am so happy that my spirals are twirling to the right and thus indicative of creativity!! But it probably has more to do with the fact that I'm right-handed, and this is how I naturally doodle and draw spirals!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Continuing with spirals...

I thought I'd start this posting with more explicit images of the actual stitching process which I call bias strip piecing. I stumbled onto this technique in the nicest possible way, meaning that I felt like I had discovered it myself rather than learning about it in a book or in a workshop. I had been cutting up neckties to make vests and other things for a few years, and was increasingly frustrated with trying to sew straight lines--I'd baste every seam before carefully and slowly stitching the bias fabrics. I had an "a-ha" moment when I realized that if I didn't baste or pin, and just let the fabric "find its own way", I could create curves. I can manipulate the narrow strips of bias to curve right or left as you can see in these images.
To curve to the left, you have ease in extra fabric under the presser foot as you sew. To curve to the right, it helps to pull the fabric, holding it very taut. Obviously this takes a lot of practice, and I've been playing with this now for about 10 years. My favourite fabrics are silk neckties--those little bits of gorgeous fabrics that are already cut on the bias.

So, it's a little different from cutting cotton fabrics in straight lines with a ruler and rotary cutter. Lining up points and seams is not an issue with bias strip piecing--it's quite freeing!

This is the first time I've created a sprial with this technique (I've crocheted spirals, plus I've appliqued a tri-spiral onto the back of stoles) and it's taken a little play time to feel comfortable maniplating several small pieces of fabric at once. However, I'm pleased with the results so far. Here's the spiral I made today for the other end of this stole.

And here's an image of the two pieces hanging together on my wall.

Donna has made an interesting observation about the spiral as a religious symbol. I've never thought of it as particularly religious although a version of it is called a Celtic spiral (from New Grange, Ireland) which I have used on a couple of stoles. I know that it's been carved in rocks and walls for eons, and is a common symbol on pottery and textiles around the world. The spiral may well mean different things in different cultures. It is probably a wonderfully universal symbol!