Saturday, May 28, 2011

Be yourself ...

Children are very good at being themselves.
They have not yet succumbed to the artifice of being something they're not.

"This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
- Shakespeare, Hamlet.

"Be yourself". Two powerful little words I wish I'd heard more of when I was growing up.

Thinking back in my life to the people who stand out the most as having influence in my life, they are the people who spoke into me, who saw the good in me and believed in me, yes, even when the exterior was saying otherwise, they chose to believe for the good in me.

And the ones who did the most damage were the opposite. They criticised me and continuously pointed out what was wrong with me and what I needed to fix. Don't get me wrong, I needed direction and correction, but I also needed encouragement and praise for the bits I got right.

The CEO of Macintosh Computers and Pixar amongst other things gives a resounding speech of his own journey to himself and the importance of doing what we love. Go hear his entire speech over here. Its 15 minutes that won't be wasted. STEVE JOBS, Stanford Commencement Speech.

"Your time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of others peoples thinking. Don't let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
- Steve Jobs, CEO Macintosh, Pixar.

this is my life ...

Our three sons playing on the steps at church.

Our lads with friends Rimu and Kakati

My incredible self-styled Marcus (8) showing his thrifted clothes. Hat, jacket, wallet, t-shirt, $15!

My youngest son and I thrifting at the big clothing warehouse Savemart.

The only creative work I get to do these days is building towers and cities with my baby.

I am recovering once again from another viral hit. It feels like I have been unwell for the longest time. Anyone with a long term illness or condition will know that sometimes daily it is a battle to pull up, hold onto hope and faith, and believe that things will get better. But that is my intention and conviction. No matter what happens, I'm trusting God with my outcome.

In the meantime, the challenge is to find the joy and beauty in my everyday. Because someday's I cannot leave my bed. And when I can, sometimes I cannot leave the house. And when I can, I am so very thankful for the smallest things. Like taking my son to his playgroups and sharing adult conversation with others. Like looking in the cupboards and seeing food is there and provisions have been made for my family.

I walked along the beach with my youngest last week for about ten minutes, selecting stones together to make a gift for someone with. I have not been on the beach for longest time and I really miss it. Its my special place, where I can think and talk to God, and puddle around looking for treasures.

I was stirred this week to read on another blog something that I too have found challenging but didn't realise until I read this person's words. I have been unhappy with my home. And I realise now that I have been saturating myself with all the amazing design blogs and websites online, dreaming of my 'ideal' house which is miles from my reality. So I'm letting go of my 'ideal' in my head and looking at what I am and what I have and thinking about the possibilities I have right in front of me. Its odd how that happened.

I'm also tired of the staged photos I see online. Perfect homes with not a hair out of place. Collections of thrifted things that almost seem abnormal in high end homes. I know I run the risk of sounding like a reverse snob but I'm realising I too have fallen into that trap. Feeling that unless I do something artistic or have found something worthwhile, then my life isn't worth blogging about. How dumb is that. Its my blog. And I'm gonna be me. So that's me telling myself to stay real. I've always op-shopped because its what I can afford. I always have long before I blogged. I made things before I ever blogged.

I became more intentional having read Ornamental blog by Nina Bagley and decided to go to art school to develop what I felt I had inside. It flopped mainly because I didn't understand what they wanted and I couldn't find my own voice there. I've had a better time without it finding my own pace and route. No doubt, I've got things that need to be fine tuned. Processes I still need to develop but I need to hang those things up for a bit and focus on who I am right now.

Some things that have worked is a small community craft group that I established together with long time friend Cleo. We gather once a month to share stories, show and tell about our projects, and enjoy each others company. We have all become friends and its been a positive outcome.

I need to be careful not to be seduced. Inspired yes but remaining true to my own artistic voice. There are so many amazing websites and blogs that its easy to become influenced by what I see. So instead, I'm drawing a line in the sand and reminding myself to stay true to who I am. To finding the beauty in my everyday and in my own surroundings and experiences. To not be so harsh on myself and making unhelpful comparisons.

Be yourself. I say that to my friends and my sons all the time. To my husband. Its the most freeing thing really. Because I can be a great me. Or a poor imitation of someone else. There's no choice is there really. I'm blessed to be surrounded by so many friends and people who are also free being themselves. I've positioned myself well in my community, with enough reminders and inspiration that I cannot be anything but what I am. Warts and all.

So today I lie here under a handmade quilt a friend offered me a few weeks back. Her nana made it and she knew I'd appreciate it. I had homemade chicken soup for lunch. The sun is streaming through my window. And I'm heartened greatly by Mary Oliver's poetry today. My favourite all time poet. A woman whose words resonate in my very innermost. This one struck me as apt considering what I was thinking about. I hope wherever you are, that you are warm and well too. x

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

© Mary Oliver

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Corners of home ...

I love handmade things that's no secret. Thanks to a crafty grandmother who made things, made do and mended when I lived with her as a child, I've got the bug now. Both my mother and my grandmother op-shopped, thrifted, and frequented fleamarkets. Back then, a fleamarket actually meant tables of secondhand personal belongings.
In Auckland, this was the Otara fleamarket. We would get $5 which would buy us a big piece of pineapple pie and a bag of Cook Island donuts for breakfast as well as a big old paper kleensak full of clothes and knic knacs. I was the only kid at school wearing a leopard fur coat, red suede winkle picker boots, net stockings and mini skirts. I had a plethora of bracelets and rings on both hands. I've not changed and having a small child is the best excuse this mama has to indulge in such passions (although the stockings and mini skirts no longer appear in my wardrobe).

The two knitted toys in different colours were thrifted gifts from Aunty Cleo for Xmas. The green knitted toy is from Wellington hospital when my son was admitted for meningitis. There were a whole lot of donated new toys but we (ahem, me) picked this one. Knuckles wasn't even born then. The pink toy with blue face is made of recycled fabrics with a knitted face and machine embroidered details also made by Aunty Cleo.

The quilt you can glimpse is a thrifted Xmas gift from my mother from an opportunity store for $5 in Brisbane. It has the softest flannel backing and is our baby's favourite blanket. The little sun is a thrifted musical mobile, just $1 that I bought from the Sallies when I was pregnant. I usually have a thrifted embroidered or quilted pillowcase but he's snuck his brothers pillow in here. The new cot was a gift from his Nan, our last child has also been the most resourced and well equipped.

This giant felted stitched butterfly hangs above his bed picked up at a local secondhand Plunket sale for $5. The old print of this Picasso was $2 from Trash Palace, our city recycling centre by the rubbish dump.

Not a great picture but this handknitted bunting was gifted to Knuckles and I from our knitting whizz friend Betty-Ann.

Embellished with embroidery and vintage buttons this two metre long wonder also made an appearance on our craft stall last year at Pataka art gallery.

My mother is an accomplished painter. She started this painting when I was in labour with my first son almost 15 years ago.

Niwa is short for "Aniwaniwa" which is the Maori word for rainbow. I named my second son Niwa because I really love the story of Noah's Ark and the promise God made with man to never wipe the earth out again. There are also motifs in the rainbow that are from my husband's Pacific cultures and my own Maori culture.

Some wee hand stitched creatures made by the boys from old woollen blankets, a small creature made by our small friend Phoenix, a felted tiny monkey I made sitting in a little thrifted egg cup. These critters live in the kitchen ...

... On this shelf with a bunch of other curios including:
a felted and dyed stone created with friend India Flint;
a old green glass dish full of sea glass from walks along the beach with the kids;
a clay head made by friend Cleo at art school;
a chinese plastic Koi fish from Asia Gallery;
a small Asian teapot and jug thrifted for $5 from the Sallies;
a wooden and brass crucifix from my mum;
a kitsch Hawaiian tiki jug;
a wooden puzzle made by our retired neighbour Keith who does all sorts of
magic with wood;
an old wooden saw I found in a thrift store for $2.
an old glass measuring jug & a duck egg blue thrifted ceramic cup full of souvenior teaspoons and other odd utensils found thrifting;

some small vintage Doulton china (a child's tea set);

and, a set of weird nesting cat dolls found at Trash Palace also for $2.

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sock and glove .. .

'Sock and Glove' by Miyako Kanamori has been a good investment. Since giving up art school and being a full time mama, I've found a lot of fun inspiration and projects in various books. This one has been used many times to create gifts for new baby's and even big kids. For about $25NZ, that's great value.

The gloves themselves are really inexpensive. Because they are for babies, I have a thing about using new or quality used things. So a new plain cloth pair of gardening gloves set you back about $1 a pair depending where you shop. A multipack of 6 pairs costs about $5 at Pete's Emporium in Porirua. Then you just need some stuffing. For baby toys, I use the new polyfill from Spotlight. I have been unable to source a more environment friendly filler but if you know of one then let me know.

I also have used second hand gloves and socks, washed well of course. Rugby socks, college uniform socks, and work socks all provide interesting textures and distinctive colours, as do stripey or handknitted ones. Its just a matter of preference. I have a good selection of both new and old that I collect and keep an eye out for. I've also found the odd mitten and glove about town lying forlorn and forgotten on a footpath or in some forsaken place. I pocket orphans happily knowing they will become colourful

I knit the ear warmer and little green scarf, the crochet flowers are trims I've collected over time. I really enjoy the white and black theme, and those marle gloves make cute dogs. I hand stitch the details but machine sew the bodies and heads wherever possible when . You can make the whole puppy or rabbit very low tech, handsewing them. Each one takes one pair of gloves, some trims or buttons, and basic stitching (in and out will do) making them ideal for kids or beginner sewers. The every step is illustrated and the instructions are very clear. It only takes a couple of hours to make your first one if your new to sewing.

Because my city is cold, I knit them all accessories and used bright colours, crocheting small noses and eyes to stitch on, using a variety of bright buttons to match. I always make the sample ones in the book to start with, then when I get the general idea, I try and depart from the main idea of the author to create bunnies and puppies that are really mine. I've made several batches of these, and enjoy the making process a lot.

I think because I have three sons plus am constantly surrounded by their friends, and thus live in a fully testosterone loaded environment, I get the odd rush to make something feminine or girly. This is about as cutesy as I get. Having a toddler and children helps disguise that really, this whole exercise is more self-gratifying. A salve to my girl self living in a male dominated house.

These odd creatures are my own creations called "Maori boys". The Maori people are the indigenous peoples of New Zealand. These guys, with their brown 'skin' and big lips made it very easy to name them. I don't usually have strong Maori themes in any of my work, preferring to just think of myself as a maker and artist who is Maori, rather than trying to force culture into my work. The fact that they are made from woollen work socks also refers to many of the brothers who work on our roadworks teams and the Maori wave (lifted eyebrows and slight uptilt of the head) whenever they make eye contact with me or other Maori on the roads.

These two are made from one $2 pair of work socks from Pete's Emporium. The vintage buttons are from my favourite stash of very old buttons from Asia Gallery. I was challenged to stitch a tiki doll but this is what I came up with instead using what I had.

These two leaning against the fence remind me of my cuzzies at the marae. I am happy to take commissions for my toys. I'm also happy to have these very affordable gifts to fall back on whenever a baby is born in my family and community. They are always welcome, these Maori boys of mine, wherever we go. If only they could play the guitar.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

a little sewing box ...

A gift from my husband to me last year was this wee sewing box from Asia Gallery. Its got so much charm and what's more, it was filled with treasures. When I got home, instead of cleaning it out and putting my own sewing items in it, I sorted through the ephemera inside. Come have a look at what lies within those little drawers and even a hidden compartment. I'll post more treasures soon.

Polished to a high gleam with Asia Gallery's owner, Paul's homemade wood polish. The smell was amazing. There are many more sewing boxes and large chests of drawers as well in different bespoke styles starting around $100 upwards.

Knuckles toy matchbox car to give you an idea about scale.

The wood grain is awesome too.

Little brass handbeaten handle.

A replacement handle. I love all these handmade touches.

Even the hinges are attractive with their teeny tiny nails and organic shapes.

Inside were ... these two pencils, a tape measure and two metal rings, one looks silver and one looks handforged.

Yes, all these buttons came with it.

Close-up of buttons found in the sewing box.

A few wooden medallions and a teeny tiny silver tin.

My favourite buttons are mother of pearl shell buttons. There were so many in this case.

So they get special treatment and a drawer all to themselves.

Small drawers and compartments are utterly beguiling. I'm a sucker for such things. Simple things.

A few photos and receipts. These two lads look rather serious. One reminds me of my friend Stefan from Melbourne.

This one shows a group of people gathered drinking tea. Perhaps a family picnic or community gathering.

And these people all look like they've just finished work.

Just one of many receipts

A wee drawer of fabric remnants and threads, etc. I had a lot of fun discovering these bits and pieces

A packet of double pointed knitting needles (bamboo), some threads and a small pack (green) or old stitching needles.

Detail of sewing ephemera.

There are many different kinds of boxes in Asia Gallery here in New Zealand that range from about $120 onwards.

More treasures and sightseeing soon. I hope you're enjoying visiting these places with me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Asia Gallery (Part One)

One of my favourite places in Wellington. Asia Gallery is a favourite haunt of mine for amazing recycled Asian fabrics and lots of other treasures. Many textile artists, as well as collectors and lovers of all things Asian and old, know about Asia Gallery. Its still a well kept secret. These photos were taken on my batphone, so are not great quality however I really wanted to show you inside this treasure trove of goodies where I find so many pieces that end up in my work.
Down an alleyway in Kilbirnie, stands an unassuming shop, Asia Gallery.

Exactly why I love using their fabrics because they already have a story and history. The owners make several trips to Asia every year to stock their Aladdin's cave of kimono and relics.

A box of buttons is always hard to resist. Glass, shell, ceramic ... this is vintage at its best.

For me, the older and more worn and marked, the better.

Why go to generic stores when you can own beautiful things with a history?
Many are handmade and hand painted? Ceramics starting at just $5.

If you spend any amount of time with me, you'll see me handstitching bits of fabric together. This jacket is a classic example of boro. For more information on older Asian textiles, go to Sri Threads website to discover the wonder of Boro and so many more handmade, hand woven, and hand dyed Asian textiles.

Detail of Boro Jacket. This patched way of reusing cloth over and over again, to serve the purpose of layering cloth for warmth and function, used by peasants in Northern Japan's bitter winters, has influenced my work in honouring women's handiwork from all over the world. This idea of "making do", remaking and being resourceful for functional purposes resounds in every culture. Boro provides beautiful examples of women's capacity to make something from the barest of resources to provide for one's family and is a symbol of women's wealth during a time when women were not able to own land or assets and her wealth was her handmade textiles and goods.

For information on BORO, follow the link. Thanks to Sri Threads for comprehensive research of Asian textiles. Thanks also to Paul and Dau for allowing me inside their store, cups of green tea and sharing these images with you all.

To be continued... xxx