Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thoughts on needlework....

I have been thinking a lot about various things regarding my needlework activities.  I came across a quote I had read many years ago today which propelled me to write today's entry on my blog.  I hope this inspires you... to try, to venture into areas that might feel uncomfortable at first - the nice thing about needlework is that the techniques are multifold and most intriguing, learning them is exciting and pleasurable, your own applications of techniques once mastered, are infinite... AND most of the time, needlework can be reversible.  It is one area in life that you can control, redo, perfect and play to your heart's content... practice makes perfect and time is 'relative'. 

The quote is attributed to Plato - it is an old 'friend' that I had forgotten about but rediscovered again today - always liked it, still do :
"Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow. "
Reading it again today reminded me of a story I was told at one of the classes at the Japanese Embroidery Center.  As many of you know I have learned most of the needlework I have shown on this blog on my own, mostly from books; my early introduction to the world of needlework was initiated by my grandmother and mother showing me some of the basics stitches of embroidery (cross stitch, stem and chain stitch,  lazy daisy, french knots), needlepoint, knitting and crochet.  I will always be thankful to them for this and remember fondly the long days of summer holidays trying to work things out.

The only 'formal' needlework education I have received is my training in Japanese embroidery and I will always be indebted to Mr and Mrs Tamura and Kazumi for 'putting up' with me during the year and half I was cruising through the initial ten phases and their continuing to support me in my endeavors today.
At the Japanese Embroidery Center each class starts with a 'morning talk', followed by a 3 minute quiet 'meditation' period... I truly appreciate this time... I rarely stitch much during class - too busy just taking all the information in and getting distracted by everyone else's 'stuff'.  The actual digestion of everything comes in the wee hours of the night and early mornings at home.

So, at one of the morning talks, they shared a story... it was a mixed class - people were working on different difficulty levels of projects... some of the beginning students were perhaps 'intimidated' by the higher phase students, the higher phase students in turn were perhaps 'intimidated' by others who were attempting more advanced 'challenge' pieces etc. etc.  I am always curious and inspired by what we can achieve if we focus our minds - so this idea of intimidation is really 'bugging me'. My ideas on  blogging about some of my needlework projects is truly because I believe in sharing, it is not about intimidation or boasting etc. - there are many, very talented people 'out there' and some of your emails and comments are giving me a lot to think about.

Anyway, the 'story' that morning was about a time long time ago, when the late Master Iwao Saito
 (founder of Kurenai Kai- the professional guild in Japan) was reviewing the apprentices of that year.  Most apprentices that year were young and unmarried, and quick.  There was one apprentice who was married, a bit older perhaps, and slow.  Many thought that he would not 'get to be a good embroiderer';  Master Saito, however, told them all to just let him be and supported each of his apprentices in the best way he could.  Time passed, Seasons changed, and years later, this 'slower' apprentice became the most exquisite embroiderer, and in time became the head of the workshop!  I have never met Mr. Yamashita personally but have seen pictures of him - in the workshop conducting organizational large projects and sitting at his frame, embroidering.  From the pictures of him embroidering,  I see a person totally engrossed in his work - his hands, his entire body is poised and focused on the embroidery in front of him...  I have never seen his embroidery 'in person' but recognize his hand - his work has a 'light/shine' all its own... it is what really embodies another well known phrase of Mr. Tamura "Hands are the Exit of the Spirit".  A few years ago, during Teacher's class, Arata-san shared with us the more recent pieces Mr Yamashita had been 'busying' himself with... his mastery of the techniques are widely accepted I think, he continues to head the workshop but now, after all these years, he wanted to see if Japanese embroidery could be more 'expressive'.  He set about trying to show the feeling of freshly fallen snow in his embroidery we were told and then a picture of his embroidery appeared on the screen... he had achieved his goal and he had 'broken' some of the rules of traditional Japanese embroidery techniques.... 'broken' was the word used but in my mind, a true indication of mastery in any field is to know when and how to use the rules and then apply your skills to move beyond them.   In embroidery, the medium of needle and thread then becomes the vehicle to deliver the message, achieve the goal.... it is something I aspire to in all aspects of my life.  Understanding the basics, appreciating the more delicate aspects of any field, learning more advanced techniques to then someday be able to go 'beyond just techniques' and  be able to make your mind and hands deliver a result you thought was possible, is what makes life so exciting for me.  Shortcuts or using other stitches because they are 'easier' keeps us in our comfort zone and makes us feel good BUT there is no harm in trying, failing, trying again with more insight, getting better and enjoying this process... it opens up a world and takes me on a journey I could not have even imagined.  It is worth all of it... in every field - at least in my opinion. 
Hope you all do not mind this type of a post... my hope is that it propels you to just 'try'... and learn to enjoy the process....     

Saturday, November 15, 2014

About plans, UFOs, new starts and honing techniques...

I have recently read many blogs discussing the merits or non-merits of unfinished projects; lots of discussions of if it is worth finishing things if one has 'gleaned' the information one needed from a class etc.  While this is an entirely personal decision, the one point that I would like to make is that there is merit in finishing a project even after one has perhaps moved beyond it technique wise over the years it languished in the unfinished project drawer.  It hones your skill, teaches patience and strengthens discipline and best of all refines your skill and deepens your knowledge... all important traits for any 'current', more difficult project that you might be involved with presently AND if shared with others brings pleasure to friends and family even if you personally may have moved beyond it.  My blog posts since April of this year where my frozen shoulder side lined a lot of my current projects are perfect case in points... I am glad I was fortunate to have  'UFO drawers' with a variety of different types of projects to keep myself busy over the most painful months this year.
Now that I am starting to feel much better about my frozen shoulder I am starting to refocus my thoughts on my current projects and hope to delve into them fully by December.  My shoulder is still 'frozen' but in the absence of pain for long periods of time, I am gaining the range of motion and stamina back little by little.
So, this is the status - I will continue working on Tree of Life by Lynn Payette but will not show various steps here on my blog like I have with the other projects - mainly because I have emailed and called Lynn but have not heard back from her and do not know how she feels about my 'blogging' about her projects. I have decided to keep that project around for the the days that I am too tired to work on something else since all the 'fun stuff' is already done and now I just have to 'finish' some of the branches.
Yesterday, I tried once more to work on my silk embroidery but was not too settled with it yet... so, I looked through all the things I planned to do ....and found three projects that I had prepared, kitted and put together to be worked on at some point.  It is amazing how fast time goes by - they were at the time I kitted things up fairly challenging for me years ago... now they will still be good to work on because they address techniques I want to hone anyway but at the same time I will be truly tracking how long it takes me to work on each element for the first time.  This should give me some insights on my pace which is not fast at all... I will be working them in front of the TV so there may be a bit if time spent being distracted but that is okay.  These projects are all from the textbook the Royal School of Needlework published many years ago and I was lucky to buy it at the RSN shop when visiting Hampton Court then.
One technique that always fascinates me is realistic technique so that is the project I decided to start yesterday.
This is a picture of all the preparatory work I had done years ago:

For those who were hoping for more pictures on the Tree of Life design - I will post a finished picture in the near future.