different kinds of simple

What makes something simple? Minimal colour, minimal texture, big details or small? Clean lines, perfect angles, closed shapes? Archetypal symbols, personal interpretations of symbols, no symbols? (That’s a non issue the “no symbols”: somebody somewhere is going to read something into it.) One swoop on a colour field? No flowers, frillies or lacies? One technique? Maximum  ℑ/⊇/ℜ**** techniques (that merge, don’t fight)?

This is simple:

Original Truths, detail 2, hand embroidery on cottons, natural dyes and rust processes, 20×31″

So is this:

Winter Prairie, detail, 2012, rust cotton, hand embroidery, 18×26″

And this:

Lady of Sky, indigo and Procion dyed cotton, ecoprinted cotton, naturally dyed and commercial threads, 9×24″, arlee barr©, in private collection

So too are these:

I find myself fighting with things, trying to be more direct. Ideally, the goal is that last simple dotted circle: THAT is the kind of minimalism i desire, but it’s not as easy as it looks, having a harsh Inner Critic.

Spent three hours on this today (base with minimal work SO FAR in photo):

To the left, i scattered three hot pink dots, and then ripped out four versions of stitching around them–flowers yes, but i want simple, not foofy. Sometimes i see too much in these, then overwork, then rip out, start again (or toss aside). How’d i let myself be distracted by all the jeuje-ing of colour and texture?

Actually, the above started like this:

Because what i WANTED to start with, i think i threw out when we did the Big Move downsizing in September and October of last year:

I’ve torn apart my whole studio trying to find it. I wanted to cut it into at least 3 parts, then use the offcuts in a fourth piece, but. But but but, the one i came up with is not even near what i wanted, or expected of myself.


Each interpretation/mistake/solution-change-fix though does usually lead to other work being “easier”. Maybe that’s the point.

****imaginary part/superset/real part symbol

the DillyDally coat

My muslin base, a heavier weight than i would have deliberately chosen, but since it came in this form and was scrounged for free, it is what it is:

Whomever had made this originally obviously got confused about seaming for right side/wrong side, but since it will all be covered, it doesn’t matter.


I’ve been “mapping out” what i need, as *i*am larger 🙂 😦 and the muslin base needs to *be* larger than it is. Wow, tried it on, it’s fine except that it needs some underarm gussets and a bit of sleeve widening so i can wear things under, and a 3″ extension on either front edge so i can wrap and tie. I’ve decided to keep the colourway in the terra cotta, red, orange, redder browns range with flashes of yellow, and indigo as an accent. Linen, a bit of velvet, some cotton certainly, i’m looking through what i have, and will also rev up the natural dye pots again–i adore the terra cotta resulting from madder over marigold (top of the photo above).

And pockets, gotta have pockets!

I want to try a few things i haven’t ever done, and a few that i haven’t done in awhile. Because OMGZ, i was so bored i dug through a box in the studio that i hadn’t seen in years (HOW did i miss that in the move??) and it was full of ideas, sketches, photos, instructions, patterns and ephemera from both my Cap College day in ’93 to ’95, but my first year in “Deadmanchuk”*** (’03) and WAHOO! I love lush surfaces, both visually and as tactile texture, so some bits that were previously done as “samples” (ie bits that never made it to finished work, or were aborted work!) may show up, along with new ones. (AND I FOUND MY YULE GHOUL PATTERN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)




***Deadmanchuk (also Deadmonton, Edmonchuk, The Chuck)–slang for Edmonton Alberta, usually used by people who hated living there…..

dillydallying as productive time

Not all of us will learn 6 new languages, make sourdough bread, write an opus for the ages, or invent a new way to weave gnat’s ass silk during these “lockdown” times, but it’s still a good and necessary thing to have SOME “busy time”.

My own busy-ness has been less than productive, because i’ve had too many busytime days instead of just relaxing and trying out things just for fun: 11tybajillion starts and 11tybajillion ideas don’t always mean actual finished (or pleasing!) work done–i have a lot of what i now realize are samples though! So whadda ya do with samples? You can stick them in a book, you can file them in boxes, you can sometimes incorporate them into future work————————

AHA! OR! I like Jude’s current project/teaching, kind of a “coating a coat” idea 🙂  and i’m going to haphazardly go as it goes. I happen to have an old muslin coat base in the dyeables bin and also stumbled over this from 1983 (a photo of only, think i lost this actual piece in the 2013 Calgary flood).

Very Yvonne Porcella inspired as that was the first time i had seen that people actually did these wild and wonderful things with fabric!

The base muslin coat i have is too small but very unfinished as to edges and shape, so i’ll add, adjust and correct as needed. Today i’ll be digging through all my unfinished bits and samples and stuff, finding hopefully a common denominator, then start laying down some spackle 🙂

deadline, schmeadline, back to stitching

Since i so rudely interrupted myself with all the thread dyeing, i now have (counting today) 25 days to finish a piece for a group show. But i *did* need those threads as the tub was emptying!

Looking rather a bit strange, but that’s how they start sometimes.

I had started with this sketch as the inspiration, but knew along the way that it would interpret itself for a new piece.

I’d also chosen that fabric behind, but realized it had spandex in the blend, which is sticky about needles and threads pulled through….

So, it became glorious pile of this:


It morphed smaller:

I tried to stare it down every time i walked by it, didn’t really like it, and it was saying nothing. Pretty but nothing.

Yesterday i took it down to the Dye Dungeon (where my studio is), and cut a piece out of it, then pieced back in some madder/marigold dyed linen. It’s started to sing now.

There may be a bit more radio silence here than normal, as i meet that pesky deadline.

two and a half weeks of rainbow

I ♥♥♥ variegated threads. I used a lot of commercially dyed ones with earlier work ( pre 2017) but when i switched completely to using naturally dyed, there was a dearth of them available anywhere, and i was petrified at the thought of doing threads! I have since refined my use and skill level of natural dyes, and while i had successfully dyed solids, i hadn’t really thought about variegating any, beyond the simple step of post modifying dipped areas.

Last week i had shown photos to an acquaintance who waxed so eloquently rhapsodic about the colour breaks in these little leaves:


They aren’t variegated threads however; they were “orts” (scraps, ends) of naturally dyed solids that i couldn’t bear to throw away. Just as i have found a use for one inch squares of naturally dyed velvet, so too do i save bits of thread that are at least 3″ long!

But i started thinking about this. Much of my work is finely detailed and there is no way to get such tiny breaks of colour, unless one becomes really neurotic about the method. (Yeah, yeah, i know: some many  a few think i AM neurotic but i ain’t that much…) But, never say never. While i will not attempt breaks of 1/2″, i can do 1″. Some of the colour combos too are practically impossible: i’ll never get a half inch of green on a predominantly pink, purple, blue thread, but i can get close in each colourway. And then use 3″ long bits, NARF.

So, for the past two and a half weeks, i have been working with thread instead of fabric, playing and testing, using different combos of 4 dyes (madder, osage, cochineal –that old moldy one STILL!–and indigo) and overdyes, post modifiers and timing and got these results:

The above are two colour breaks, pretty basic, but lovely nonetheless. Obviously, indigo over anything makes magic 🙂

And a mix of the 2 colour variegateds and solids from this work, thrilling to say only 3 dyes, and some indigo :)!

I dyed many of these in larger skeins so i can divvy them up, some for me, and *some* of these for the shop, in 10 yard lengths. All are cotton, except for the three in top photo, the bright red, bright yellow and salmon, towards the right of the photo.

Next i’ll be trying 3 colour skeins and continuing this way, i’m hoping to get to 5 colour breaks, something that my tired brain actually has to draw out to figure the correct sequences.

One thing that made me really happy was that i finally got a lavender/lilac/wisteria/whateverflavour you call it in your palette (centre of bottom photo). This one is NOT going to be anything but what it is, no modifying, no other colour additions. (Until the next time.) Again, from the moldy old cochineal. I’m not saying the mold had anything to do with it, just that there is no reason to waste a dye because it’s gone off, looks funny, or is fuzzy. Yeah, if it was completely foosty, but not as a surface deal 🙂 Obviously, if this happens to you, do some tests first with a small amount, don’t just take my word for it. *Your* mileage vary vary greatly.

I must now get back to a piece that is slated for a show, due March 31st–hurry, hurry, hurry hard!!


no manual included

Trees and moons and Spring are on m y mind–though *that* is far away right now, with -21C to -25C projected for this coming weekend. (My son has been in Uganda since the beginning of November–is he gonna get a shock, trying to climatize again to Alberta weather, after almost 2.5 months of African heat!) I’ve picked an indigo overdyed osage cotton, 2 different velvets for another blue moon, a previously screensprinted and then stencilled indigo cotton, and a hunk of the most wonderful chartreuse velvet i only hope i can replicate again! That one is the right side and you may notice a funny bit of photo editing to show the correct colour, a square of green set in the yellow–it ain’t yellow, but the studio is so wrong for photographing colour, and i was too pooped to drag everything upstairs and anyways, it’s a grey snowy day, so bear with me 🙂

Here’s the indigo over osage:

Above is the piece of cotton i will use as the background (has bluer tones), below is a larger piece (greener tones) that i am drooling on and fondling:

I had revved up my indigo vat again on the weekend past. (Actually i had to start from scratch as the originals had to be dumped for the move…..too little to save, and too much chance of spillage or oxygen overload as it sloshed on a truck!) First results were not encouraging, but after asking in an indigo group what the problem might be, have concluded it might have been the tannin premordant, *and* the cutch, which is *also* a tannin. See the grey around the darker marks of indigo? (All photos in my posts are clickable for larger viewing.) I like the effect, but if it doesn’t “stick” well, it’s not a good practice if i wish to flog my goods later! (It also appears to have stripped the madder…)

Apparently tannin repels the indigo, something a lot have discovered with indigo and ecoprinting. Of course, checking my Boutrup/Ellis book, i should know better anyways and do the indigo first, THEN the mordanting, then the overdyeing. The two osage/indigo pieces mentioned above were done after this debacle, and though of course they were premordanted with tannin and alum, they don’t have as much tannin as the tannin/cutch piece, so the indigo struck properly!

I’ve been meaning to add less expensive, ready to use items to my inventory as well. Here’s the first test piece, a cotton neckscarf, clamp shibori-ed, and modelled by the ever silent Madame LaToussa.

I do like that, if i say so myself! The only problem is that the scarves were obviously hemmed with a polyester thread, but it’s not obtrusive enough to bother me (or probably anyone else) greatly. Barely noticeable.

I also have today clamped a shibori indigo dyed very hairy very scarey very contrary chenille scarf, ready to overdye, and as i mentioned in a previous post, i will do a post about that. I’m pretty sure it’s a failure, a funny one, and probably still wearable, but definitely a failure. You can judge for yourself at the time of showing 🙂

I’d have a nap now, but Greyman will be home in several minutes.

I will have a nap now.


planning the plans to plan

I don’t know how other full time artists handle the tasks associated with making a living in the studio, but i’ve decided i have to treat this like a “job”. I don’t mean cut and dried “you MUST do this today” or “from 211:315AM to 32:3719 PM, you will be weaving gnats hair into celestial robes” kind of job, but being serious about what i want to do, need to do and would like to do. It’s too easy to get side tracked when the studio is “in home”! There’s always a dog to walk, a dish to wash and “Oh look! Cat barf! Goody! Gotta scrub that.”

Hours, how do we manage this? It’s easy to say it could be a 9-5 job (Oops better write this fast as it’s now 10 minutes to 9!), but i think a *little* flexibility could work 🙂  I wrote a post last year (gah, last year seems so far and so close away already…) touching on the subject (3rd paragraph) and parts of it will work, but as i mentioned: tangents! possibilities! potential! As a natural dyer, there *are* certain things that *must* be done; scouring, mordanting, dyeing, the winding of thread skeins (running really low on those to use), the labelling and storage of, and the decision on what to sell and what to use.

On my work blog (private, neener neener neener) i have draft posts with each week’s dates, but not so neurotic that any but the first are lists of what the plans are. Sample, this week Jan 6-10:

  • mordanting! (some are pre-tannined already: linen, chenille scarf, get them in alum)
  • new indigo vat needs starting  DONE ON WEEKEND!
  • dye with indigo, madder and weld: velvet, linen, trims
  • trees for moon pieces–smaller than done before, and larger
  • ORGANIZE studio better…… UN-ENDING JOB!!!
  • wind threads, scour, mordant, dye, combination colours
  • chair cushions-indigo (there has to be personal things made too)
  • finish chenille scarf (a test, post about that later)

I also realized through December that while i can work in front of the tubage, and don’t need to concentrate fully on what i’m doing in the stitching corner, that it *does* slow me down, just enough that i start feeling pressured IF i feel i have set a deadline. I can wind threads, but not embroider with them with “Stumptown” or whatever on  …… Instead, i talk to the DogFaced Girl……

But, not all studio work is Work either. There has to be time to make the art, the pieces that are in our hearts, that are sketched out excitedly and that the stash is culled for. Play it by ear: this week is that list above, but the week after can be the Art Part, because those listed things HAVE to be done or nothing gets done.

I do also stop for lunch, coffee refills, bathroom breaks and skritches for assorted animals. 🙂 I have too, lately, cleaned up the work space every night–not cleared completely of course, but at least organized and tidy for a fresh start the next day. *We’ll see how long that lasts, as i usually end up with “inspiration” and “possibility” piles everywhere! Sometimes there are going to be days when i just go in and “WOWZERS what happened, it was a GREAT DAY” without even noticing what time it was. Sometimes those days are like this:

See the teeeeeny little green buds on the stems? I cut these raspberry canes two weeks ago, thinking it was a futile exercise to save some of the raspberry bushes from the old place. (Remember i live in Alberta and it’s ^%$#ing cold and snowy in the winter. I never managed during the move to dig up even a small piece.) Last night, we noticed GREEN. That’s sometimes how things go in the studio, indeed in life also: hopeful, life affirming, chance, luck, caring.


How do you deal with time management? Any tips?


a little R&D never hurts

Research and Development, or Refresh and Dive in 🙂 We all have favourite things we’ve done, but i know *i* sometimes forget i’ve done them!

Can you believe it’s almost 2020? How did that happen? I remember dating a school book 1963 and suddenly it’s 2020??? Anyways, i’m starting to plan for this next phase in the studio, even though i don’t believe the flip of a calendar page is magic. The last week of each year however does bring a certain amount of introspection and wondering what’s next. Here’s my first mashup inspiration, with lots of colour and texture and a few techniques i’d like to meld. There’s an old “scroll/shine book” behind everything, lots of blingy beads, gorgeous silk velvets, bits of embroidery in unfinished projects, old drawings and lots of hope. Who knows what will result?

Because we recently packed up, and then unpacked (which somehow has taken much longer than we thought it would…….”what a drag it is getting old”, as the Olde English Poets sang..), i’ve been reminded of some of these things.

Above, scroll/shrine book from 2009,

below ecoprint bags with machine lace from 2013. (These were a FB FybreSpace give away a few years ago, so not in my mashup 🙂 )

I’m out of practice too, so had to get in some “scribblin'” time with this old technique! EEEUUW, i need a LOT of practice again, won’t even show you what i did–Lalage has never been the best of machines, but but but!

The gorgeous silk velvets i’ve done the past year:

I still love hexes:

And the Suzani inspiration:

Looking at old drawings

I’ve promised myself this coming while too, to use more of my bead stash. There’s NO earthly reason why they can’t be combined with natural dyes and hand embroidery because after all, (while beads then were stone, bone, shell or metal) they were used historically as well. Sequins too!

Above, detail of work on Hoodoo Sky, 2009

Life has started going back to normal after our sudden big move, so it’s time to buckle down and get at it!

no scrap left behind

I come from a long line of Sensible Savers and Scroungers. While most of my line put the scraps in the ragbag, and none were really stitchers, small pieces came in handy for cleaning with or patching. I learned to sew on a machine when i was 5, creating barbie clothes (of course) (though my Barbie wasn’t a true Barbie, just a knock off) with scraps saved from Mom’s making of our pyjamas and shirts. In my early early teens, my uncle Ron did window dressing for big department stores as part of his Arts program, and brought me bags of bits i didn’t even know existed: pink sparklies and gold lame and screenprinted trees and red fake fur. (Shoulda seen the hotpants i made from those!)

When i became a single mother, i scrounged old clothes from the Free Box at Gordon House, a neighbourhood community organization in the west end of Vancouver–BLISS! (And wow, it’s still around, in a shinier location now, with a thrift store instead.) There were barkcloth muu-muu’s, “old lady suits” of metallic brocades, Hawaiian print shirts and plenty of odd 70’s cast offs that no one would be caught dead wearing in the 80’s 🙂 I STILL HAVE SOME PIECES!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I made a LOT of patchwork then, having discovered quilt magazines too. That was a skill no one had in the family either, with the exception of ONE quilt made in the 30’s by my Great Grandmother, which i still have.

Now these velvets, these natural dyes, oh my. Seems such a waste to toss the little bits, and realizing as i was cutting more moons, that there were still “useable” bits. So i  made *more* moons *from* them, and i have a list of other little things i’d like to make too.

That was the first batch above, but then i started really piecing, using some of the off cuts from them:

(Two of the three from the “Thorntree” series, still in progress, these will go on backgrounds as well.)

Of course, with velvet’s slurki-ness, some scraps are too small, so they will either be stitched raw edge on something else, or (becoming a neurotic masochist), i will hand stitch. There IS a limit though 🙂

But then i remembered these from 2012, which became the “juice moon” series:

OMG how would these look in VELVET????????????????????????

I think there’s at least one more series with that idea, and then i must rest–and get back to some Samara stitching–lots of ideas for *her* background. (No bling though 🙂 )



elves? hell YEAH

My Mojo has been a Nogo for awhile. If you’re read previous posts lately, you’ll know why! I’ve diddled about with bits and pieces, but nothing really exciting, or terribly productive happened, small projects that will get done, but not honestly that i feel terribly interested in.

This morning i buckled down. I’ve wanted to do elves again for the last four years or so; i say “again” as they were a bread and butter item i made in the 90’s. All were very glitzy, and had green “skin”, so a late friend i miss still had dubbed them the “Yule Ghouls”. I made and sold probably 4 or 5 dozen of them, named Ruby, Amethyst, Sapphire, Emerald, etc etc etc all depending on the main shiny fabric i used (ha, i LOVED the glitz synthetics in those days) but alas along the way, i lost the original pattern. I have a few lousy photos of them, but they’re so lousy i won’t dig them out.

Of course, me being me, i thought i could immediately jump in and start pumping them out. No pattern though. Sooooooooooooo, brushing off basic skills again, i made a mockup in some cheap cotton, made some notes, adapted my pattern and started the first prototype.

It took 4 and a half hours from first pattern and the cotton test subject (right in photo below) to the first prototype (left). Still needs arms and legs, and the embellishments, but i’d say my Mojo is now a Gogo 🙂

He’s a little shy at the moment. “Mockup says my ears are too big, my nose looks like a squashed potato, and how am i going to get anywhere with no arms or legs?” (Note: snarky Mockup has only one of each so he can only go in circles, i guess.)

“He’s just jealous ’cause Mom loves me better, even if he was here first.”

Arms, legs and facial features are coming up next, beading, hand embroidery etc–though i will keep it simple. The velvets, silk and lace i used are of course naturally dyed with quebracho rojo, madder and sandalwood. I was fortunate too that late MIL had bags and bags of stuffing, gawdz knows why though as she did nothing “crafty”. Finished size will be approximately 15″ head to toe.


I have so many velvet scraps in different colours that i’m quite excited to give some personality to them!