Archive for the ‘sustainable living’ Category

Old to you, new to me…

November 7, 2009

Lookingforbeauty and her friend Carole are doing a timely bit of business together. They are holding and Art and Antiques Sale at LFB’s house. They have been preparing for this sale for about two weeks, dusting, washing, polishing, displaying and pricing wares they have obtained by various means during the past 20 years and which they have been amassing and stockpiling due to their true nature as magpies. Magpies love shiny pretty bits of things, and true to their nature collect little caches of found treasure that attract and please their eyes. These two ladies are truly the magpie Sisters. And now, they plan to divest themselves of these treasures, and share them with others.
There is a lot of “stuff”, objects of desire, if not always of utility, circulating out in the world. Daily more and more stuff is created to add to this mass of materal goods. There is always something new to seduce the eye, the desire for novelty and luxury and to stir a lust for acquisition or gifting.
Over my lifetime, I have successfully resisted the siren call of goods. It is not that I do not admire beauty, utility or clever and ingenious design, it is simply that I have not the need, want or desire to weigh myself down with things which give momentary stimulation or which must be stored, guarded or maintained. My possessions must not define me; I resist the pigeonholing one must submit to in order to allow possessions to signify who I am. This may be a form of perversity, of my constant need for rebellion.
One of my great pleasures is to go about looking at everything, considering the importance of things in the scheme of existence. Old stuff is fascinating; they give clues to ideas about what constitutes a good life as expressed through material accumulations, what is valued, at what level of valuation as signifiers they sit. Old stuff gets passed from generation to generation; their value being association and sentiment which have uncounted value and yet propel forward as weight which is carried and then added to with new stuff to create even more weight, impediments and preventers of a baggage free life. At once a blessing and a curse, we pass around compilations of goods to benight the next generation. I am not exempt from this behaviour.
Last evening, I braved blustery fall weather to nip over to LFB’s house to peruse the offerings she and Carole had displayed for today’s sale. I pored over the goods with the same zeal that I had demonstrated while digging in the backwoods middens of early BC settlement at Wells some 20 years ago. What treasures might beckon my magpie eyes? What wonderful objet would call out to me. “So, or so might enjoy having this for themselves?”
Well. A mold made glass plate, an example of Depression glass, caught my eye. Martha would enjoy serving pickles from this at one of her many buffet dinners with which she welcomes guests. Only $5.00. Done! I set it aside. Of! Look! there is a bisque porcelain pelican, the one I have been admiring, while it was sitting on top of LFB’s linen press for several years now. Barb loves birds and loves intricate and delicate detail and a lovely surface. This is perfect for her Christmas present this year. has Barb ever seen a live pelican? Maybe a well crafted stand-in would do, in case she never has set eyes on this wonderful bird, or may never, in her lifetime. Set it aside!
Oh, yes. YES! There is a set of beautiful etched drinking glasses, each one a different colour of glass, each one decorated with a lush exotic bloom. Lucky would enjoy handling these and serving sparkling mineral water from them to her family. Put these aside on the pile, also!
I meander around, looking, considering, wondering who had handled these during a life at which I can only guess.
There are baskets of silver, polished for presentation. Ah, but look – there is a pile of odds and ends sitting in a box. What stuff is in there, jumbled, ready to be discovered by the curious eye? What is this black and red square of about 1 inch proportions? I poke around and lift this up. It is an enamelled ear-ring, of 60’s beatnik vintage. Poke, stir, turn… aha! here is its pair.
I get a moment of flashback and nostalgia to the mid 60s, when my friends Myra, Terry and I used to go to artsy craft shops and admire goods for sale. We never had enough money for any more than our bus tickets to and from such places. But we handled and admired the hand-crafted offerings. These ear-rings might delight Our Lady of Perpetual Crisis. She loves hand-crafted ear-rings, especially arty ones. Place them in my pile of findings.
Poke around some more in the box from which these ear-rings came. Yes! A primitive looking fish pendant! It’s made of aluminum, I think and say so to LFB. “Nope!” she comments, “that is Pewter.” I scratch the back of the pendant with my fingernail, and announce to her that it is aluminum. We haggle; LFB being the friend she is lets me have it for a half-price reduction.
This one is perfect for Emma, my niece – she is a Pisces. I put the pendant in my growing bit of stuff. But I am not yet done.
Stacked by the fireplace are piles of old books. I kneel down and start to read the titles on the spines. There is a slim volume in a dustjacket. It is a 60s compilation of aphorisms on the French take on Love and Life. I open it and begin to peruse the contents. Some great stuff in here. I say to LFB, “Are you sure you want to sell this? There is a huge possibility for you to work up a Conceptual series of drawings from these. Wouldn’t those be fun to undertake?” LFB gives me a considering long look. “Okay,” she finally mutters, ” I guess, now I’ll have to keep this.” She sets the book aside on her kitchen counter, so she can give this idea more thought.

And then, I find the perfect treasure for myself. It is an olive coloured, leather bound book – its front cover loose and detached. It has a gold-embossed laurel wreath with ribbons swirling from the wreath. On the ribbons is engraved “Palmam Qui Meruit Ferat.” I hold it in my hands and feel the buttery soft binding. Turn it to look at the highly decorated spine – Land Surveying, the author, HJ Castle. On opening the book, a series of chapters on mathematical and trigonometry problems, introduction to the theodolite, leveling and surveying complete with illustrations appear, and at the end ofthe book a table of logarhythmic sines and tangents and traverse tables. For some reason, this book appeals to me – I must have this for myself. I have long been fascinated with geometry, topography and about these concepts. Illustrations explaining mechanics of breaking down information I have long considered an art form. So, this is the finding which I was happy to come uon for myself. LFB said that the book had been one of her Father’s text-books from Upper Canada College. Her dad had been a professor of Civil Engineering at UBC. His old textbook was new to me. I plan to reattach the cover and interleave its pages with appropriate diagrams I will most likely find in my peripatetic way of uncovering information – maps, graphs, photos having to do with terrain, the landscape.

It is my hope that the treasures I have obtained from LFBs magpie collecting will have the effect of novelty to the people to whom I plan to gift these.
Of course, they may not really like to be further burdened with additional stuff, however, if they so desire, they can pass these things forward. Old stuff can in this way remain new.

The Green Dress…

February 11, 2009

Twenty-three years ago, after seeing an afternoon client, I made my way to the fabric store to browse through the selection of swing-season fabrics. These to me were fabrics that might see one through Spring and Summer, of the colour temperature suitable for those burgeoning, bright and longer days. “Saturated, jewel colours” I kept in mind as I parked my Toyota Landcruiser a block from the fabric store.

It was the beginning of February, which up North meant sunny cold days, hoarfrost on the trees, with a hint of the promise of lengthening days and hence the arrival of Spring. Third Avenue was slick with ice. The berms at the side of the parking spaces had much reduced due to alternating days of warm and cool. A habitual hangover from driving lessons more than twenty years before, I turned the front wheels of the truck toward the edge of the sidewalk, disembarked and walked in my mukluks up the block to the only fabric store in town. The sky toward the west had a warm glow. It promised another clear and gorgeous winter day for tomorrow. The street was mostly deserted of pedestrians, and on my brief walk I ruminated over just exactly what I wanted to buy.

I had earlier determined that I wanted to make two dresses to serve as a sort of formal uniform for dress-up occasions. I hated the selection available at the local dress shops. They had nothing to suit my austere taste. I liked clothing which skimmed my body loosely, allowed for free movement, a certain modesty, simple details, well made, of beautiful colours. No elaborately opulent patterns for this simple middle-aged woman, Thank You. I also like materials which were of good quality and had good weight and drape.
This was a tough call for a Northern City, where most of the stores had the recent styles on hand, but little of classic nature which might outlast the switching diktats of the fashion world. The closest one could come to acquiring this kind of clothing was to find a skilled dress and pattern-maker, cloth of good quality and have something tailor made. I didn’t have a lot of money to hire this chore out, so decided to wing it, buy and alter a pattern, myself, and do the cutting, fitting and sewing over a period of months.

Once I entered the fabric store, I headed directly to the pattern section. I liked Burda patterns at this time, and spent some time browsing the selection of dress patterns available. The right design presented itself, fortunately, and it promised to be one which could be altered in different ways, as a sort of variation on sleeve lenght, neck detail and skirt length. It was classic, subtly constructed and attractively austere. It just needed the cloth of the correct weight and drape and colour.

It took me less than 5 minutes to find the correct cloth. Beautiful mid to light-weight rayon, solid coloured in the most delicious jewel colours. I stood and drooled over the colour selection, playing with the drape and the sizing in the fabrics. In the end a marvellous Winsor Blue solid and what might be called a Grass Green solid were the ones I selected, hauled up to the cutting counter and presented for measuring into the needed lenghts. I also found some muslin which I bought in the same amount. I needed to make a muslin variation to practice altering and revising the pattern before committing it into the final versions. Then found some thread and zippers, interfacing, buttons and seam binding to match both colours of cloth.

I was so thrilled to have this project to begin working on. Rumpole and Renaissance Man were treated to a fashion parade of me, flouncing about, bedecked in the two fabrics. The Grass Green fabric was for a dress to be worn for weddings, engagements, bridal and baby showers, and the Winsor Blue was to be made into a dress to serve for more emotionally somber occasions – funerals, memorial services, retirement parties, partner dinners. I figured to have my formal dress needs looked after for the next fifteen years.

Diagnosis and treatment for Leukemia (AML) intervened and put stop to my sewing plans. However, two years later, after we relocated back to the Lower Mainland, on a sunny February morning, I pulled out the pattern and the muslin and coloured fabrics. I took and noted my measurements with my Anyu’s help, and began cutting and constructing the muslin version of the “dress”. Lots of pinning, unpinning, altering, basting and pulling of stitches – until a pale facsimile of the dress took form. And – it fit and flowed and draped beautifully, reassuring that the making of the Green Dress would result in a successful Garment – one which would have an extended and valued life.

By the end of March, the dress was complete, with an inside worked by hand to be as beautiful as from the outside. It gave me enormous pleasure to work the unseen parts of the dress, and the pleasure of hand-stitching a beautiful edging repeated in the observation of the same. The dress, finally hemmed and pressed, was beautiful. It hung from my shoulders gracefully; draped over my poitrine modestly; flowed with movement and its hem was a perfect edge.

The following summer I wore that green dress to two weddings; the following fall to a memorial service. Every year for the next fifteen years, that Green Dress took me to many weddings, christenings ,bridal and baby showers, summer trips to the theatre.
I always felt like a million dollars in it. I dressed it up with inherited jewelry, scarves and costume jewelry from second-hand stores, shawls and a variety of shoes to suit the occasion.

Finally, last year ,my body had changed enough in its conformation that the dress no longer looked so great on me. My breasts had settled to a lower part of my torso, and the fit of the Green dress no longer seemed the same. The fine handwork I had done on the unseen side of the dress had held up well during the many years it was worn. The cloth also had maintained well, and still hadn’t broken down to seem old. I took the dress down to the Salvation Army Store, hoping that some younger woman might see in it a labour of love and good use, with still some useful wear in it. It had served me well, as the only Spring, Summer and early Fall dress that I owned and wore for well over a decade. I loved that dress, and then released it.

The beautiful Winsor Blue material I made into a cullotte and blouse outfit. That lasted me for fifteen summers, before being relegated to the resale aisle of the Salvation Army Store.

I have always felt that clothing was to serve as a beautiful second skin; that it should be comfortable enough to forget while wearing; that it make us add colour and pattern to the world in the manner of butterflies and; that they should be made beautifully and last a long time. The Green Dress saw me through a period of my life – from the age of a young matron of 43 to an older woman of 60. it was time to let it go, and for me to find a new uniform more appropriate to my current chronological age and my ageing physical appearance.

Now I am on the hunt for a pattern and colour of a dress to make as a uniform to last me into my mid seventies. This is my February and March Challenge this year. And I look forward, with the help of Rumpole this time, to construct this new all-purpose dress.

I figure owning two dresses in thirty years is an accomplishment of a modest sort.

What is liveable…

October 3, 2008

Yukon homestead, circa 1983

Yukon homestead, circa 1983

(more…)

Gift giving and Gift wrapping…

August 5, 2008

June and July have been the gift giving season for us. Several family members and friends have had birthdays; this involves gift giving, and the inevitable gift-wrapping that accompanies it. This year for the Junior Rumpole family, Renaissance Man, Glasgow Girl and Mousey the gifts involved artisan-made or artist-made ones. Why not support the creative community, I figured.

The giving of gifts necessitates camouflaging them with wrappings to make them a ‘production’ of a present, to add glamour and mystery to what may in the end turn out to be an ugly pair of socks a recipient might only use to dust ceiling corners in perpetuity. There have been volumes of books published which are devoted to the fine craft of wrapping presents. The whole procedure becomes a painful chore to which proles, like yours truly, carry a life-long deep-seated antipathy, never being interested in developing refinements, which, when considered in seriousness, border on the frivolous, excessive and wasteful. Conventions of gift presentation carry with them a whiff of the bourgeois.  Ever conscious of my ‘pinko’ characteristics, I have made many attempts to down-play gift-wrappings, by giving presents which are awkward to box, bag or otherwise wrap.

Why, once, I decided to gift my younger sister, Margaret, with a lilac shrub. This item is rather challenging to camouflage. Rather than festoon it with wrappings of hideous patterned gift wrap paper, I chose to go ‘au naturel’, as in “what you see me dragging in is what you get so be prepared to do a superlative bit of acting and look absolutely surprised AND delighted”. Once I had arrived at Margaret’s house,  wrestled the shrub out from the car’s back seat, fluffed it up a bit to negate the dishevelment it had suffered during a twenty mile drive, I presented it to her with a flourish from behind my back ( as if she missed identifying the shrub as it poked out around my blocky body). Ta Daa! Surprise!!! Margaret can give Meryl Streep a run for her money as an actress, she faked surprise and pleasure so well. And the lilac has grown to monstrous proportions in the intervening years. It has given her scented blooms for her vases, or for her afternoons out sipping tea in its magnificent shade. And no gift wrap had been wasted or sent to the land-fill.

I was thinking back on this while considering exactly how I was going to ready the Junior Rumpole gifts for this year’s presentations. Renaissance Man’s gift of a silk-screen print by Anarchist Artist of the ‘Battle of Seattle’ was a cinch to prepare. I slipped it into a huge archival plastic envelope, one of those I use to store large drawings, rolled it into a large tube and wrapped a strip of fine drawing paper around its middle. A small tidy snick of tape to secure the paper strip, and it was good to go. Renaissance Man shares with me a mania for collecting art works on paper, so he will make good use of the archival plastic envelope for his own storage purposes. He didn’t seem crest-fallen in receiving a gift so casually presented. Score: proles

Glasgow Girl has enough residual bourgeoise tendencies to want a somewhat more fussy presentation. Eage to oblige, I scratched my grey head while considering solutions. Her gift, of a pottery serving-bowl, was a tad too small to place inside a flowery pillowcase and enclose with a length of ribbon from my sewing stash. Of course, I could have stuffed the pillow-case with shredded bills from the paper shredder, to disguise the contours of the gift, however it did not seem appropriate to accompany such a lovely present with slivers of paper bearing hidden evidence of my family finances, so, instead, I opted to use furoshiki.

For those unfamiliar with this term, using furoshiki involves wrapping and carrying objects inside a knotted, square, patterned cloth of cotton, rayon, or silk. I have long admired Japanese craft, aesthetics, and their national tendency to marry practicality with beauty. This seemed a perfect solution. I remembered that somewhere in the distant reaches of my bedroom closet was a box full of new, never used silk and wool scarves that I had recieved over the years as gifts. You don’t know what to get a man as a present? heck! Buy him socks – he always needs them. For women the equivalent of socks-for-all-occasions of gift giving must be scarves? However, for me, once I became aware that my idol, Isadora Duncan, had met her untimely and dramatic end by being choked to death when her long scarf wrapped around the wheels of her Bugatti, scarves had lost their lustre and glamour. Into the closet box all scarves were relegated, and some were real beauties.

So, out came the box of scarves, from which I selected a delicate orange and yellow silk one with sketchy flowers. I wrapped the pottery dish in several layers of newspaper,ensuring the wrapping had square corners, placed that bundle kitty-corner onto the silk square and alternately square-knotted opposite corners, leaving a lovely four-square petal of cloth at the top. It is possible to carry this package securely and without disturbing the decorative top by slipping fingers through the top knot. Glagow girl was delighted when she received this bundle.

“How on earth do you come up with these ideas?” she asked. “This looks too elegant to open.”

“Oh, the internet,” I said, modestly casting down my eyes, “but, do open it and see what’s inside.”

She opened the knots and unveiled her present. Then she asked what she should do with the scarf, as she, herself, didn’t wear them.

“Well, you can keep it, and use it to wrap a gift for someone else. That scarf should get around some!”

“You know, I have a huge stash of scarves, that just keeps growing yearly,” she commented. “This is such a perfect use for them.”

I ended up doing a same kind of wrapping for Mousey’s birthday present of mother and baby opossum hand puppets. She happily unwrapped her gift, and then toted it off home in her scarf furoshiki.

The other day when Jeanie was here for dinner, after we polished off a bottle of wine, I showed her how wine bottles can be wrapped singly or in pairs for gift-giving. She practiced furoshiki wrapping bottles on the coffee table and pronounced her results ‘brilliant’. She was going to drag out her collection of scarves, once she got home, and practice on all kinds of things to wrap up.

I feel I have been doing my level best, in an underground sort of way, to kill off custom for Hallmark and other purveyors of gift-wrappings. While I have never watched Martha Stewart’s shows and learned of those  modes of presentation which she pronounced “Good Things” this one might be right up her alley as a purveyor of domestic niceties.  Furoshiki – a good custom to practice.