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Words on Work

I write and collage; I knit and spin; I carve, shape, throw and play. Sometimes the practices overlap.


Birch grow tall and straight and prefer northern climates, temperate summers and cold, crisp winters. Horizontal lines on their skin stand out like healing scars left by a clean, straight cuts, stitched closed. Their smooth bark peels off in great sheets. You could write a spell or a story on them. If you pull back the white sheath, there is a beautiful peach-colored layer underneath. And another layer underneath that. Occasionally the sheath pares off in spirals.


On top, dusty, sage-colored lichens grow, Hypogymnia Pysodes. Lichens are symbiotic souls living mutually together: algae and fungus. Fungus collects moisture and provides shelter; algae performs the miracle of photosynthesis, nourishing the fungus. Their shapes mirror seaweed. They lie over each other, smaller versions under larger.


The birch and lichen are mutual abiders. In a single standing tree there are many layers of community.


I have fewer words of advice these days. I find I want to sing, I want to dance. I know what I don't want.

There is a wedding announcement and I get to make the cake! So cake not clay for that period of time. A potter on Zoom yesterday said that potters are excellent cooks. Makes sense. Many of us make things for food. 


I had my tarot cards read the other day. She kept going back to the idea that you have to look back to move forward. There was a part of me that kept yelling, “haven't I done this enough, can’t I just move forward?” My past is definitely cutting off the circulation to my ankles; it is wrapped so tightly. 

So how do I shed it or just put it away under lock and key? I have been practicing making pretty objects. Pleasing vessels, bowls with decoration that doesn't distract the eye from the food, mugs with handles that are smooth and curved just so, to accommodate the hand in a pleasing and comfortable grasp. I make safe objects: things that won’t show people the uglies I have inside.  But those uglies create a solid wall in my solar plexus. Breathing deep is always an effort. 

I spoke with my muse about letting my uglies out in my work. I made two oversized daruma dolls (my clay version of Japanese paper mache good luck charms, a small hollow sphere atop a larger sphere). They both have physical attributes of my parents. I wrote all the things I was angry at them for and put them in the dolls. When they are fired to a crisp, I will hurl them at a wall. Perhaps the wall in my solar plexus will begin to shatter as the pieces hit.


Using Sashiko Patterns on Clay


In Mumbai I visited Mugs Mast, a quilter, who employed eight women from a shelter to sew for her. She threw her quilts out on the floor and they were made of boring factory fabric with old fashioned American patterns and quilting. Before she left India, Mugs introduced me to local fabric suppliers and left me responsible for employing the quilt makers.


One of the fabric suppliers was Hansa Javeri, a single woman who owned a business named Kasab. Thank goodness for my driver Sheik. I never would have found the shop on my own. It was in the back of a low apartment building that was covered in scaffolding the year and a half I lived in Mumbai. In the back, you went up some concrete stairs, and into an immaculate, air conditioned shop full of piles of vibrant fabric.


All of the textiles Hansa carried were either hand loomed : Ikat (When they dye the threads before they weave them but know what the pattern is going to be), Bandhani (they pinch small pieces of fabric between their fingers and then tie string around the little bunch; it is very fine tie dye) or block prints. I still have an ikat sari from her shop. It has little red fish in a vibrant teal background. I designed quilts using Hansa’s Indian fabrics and based on old embroidered holiday costumes and patterns I had seen in India.


While my husband and I lived in Mumbai, we went on a trip to Tokyo. I discovered Sashiko. Often it was applied to indigo fabric with geometric patterns sewn by using a dotted line of white thread. I was so excited to find embroidery that looked contemporary. I brought pattern books back to Bombay for my needlewomen. One of my favorite quilts from that time is in three shades of hand loom burgundy sewn in squares and quilted with a sashiko pattern of interlocking crosses.


Recently, I began mending old torn Levi’s for a friend who has a clothing shop. I start playing with the handloom I had brought home from India and Sashiko patterns. I was lucky and found some stencils with the patterns in them so you can just pencil them on to the fabric. 


During one of my forays into instagram I came upon a potter who used crushed clay to lay on top of a different color clay. Then she would write something in the dust and make something with the patterned clay. I transferred my use of Sashiko from fabric to clay. My clay is black and I had some leftover white porcelain from a workshop. I grated it into crumbs and then used the Sashiko stencil to pattern my clay and made cups and trays.


How to Make a Cup with Secret Powers:

  • Throw on the wheel. Imbue the piece with peace. 

  • Carve facets as if they were cutting precious stone. 

  • Apply secret patterns to those facets. 

  • Bless the cups with fire to harden and destroy wickedness. 

  • Paint wishes and dreams in front and behind

  • Fire once more to seal the spell.

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