The Consolations of Creativity

Yes, still mucking around with the felt shapes! I am playing with the heart shape, now. Kris rolls his eyes in disbelief… he’s never seen me work with hearts before; it’s not a typical motif for me, admittedly, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. I’m actually just daunted by the symbol: it’s so old and so universal that pretty much anything you could think of doing with it has been done. Trying to find a way of making these felt hearts that doesn’t look like everyone else’s felt hearts can be challenging. I threw myself into the task today, cutting 100 heart shapes out of felt and playing with colour combinations (limited, because I have a very small felt stash of odd colours that I didn’t give much thought to when I bought them; my self-imposed rule is that I have to use old materials up, not buy more!) I braced myself with lashings of black coffee, and music from the 80s. It is such a joy to be able to spend the days this way: intense, busy, engaged, mindful…but doing what I love, and making things that I love.

I started reading Alain de Botton‘s The Consolations of Philosophy last night…no doubt the last book I’ll manage to squeeze in before the year ends…and it would have to be the most enjoyable book of the year, too, wouldn’t it? When you find yourself giggling over a book about the ideas of Socrates, Epicurus and Seneca, you know you’ve got a very special philosophy book in your hands, and have found a very special author. Alain de Botton’s humour is so gentle that it works on you slowly, and at first you don’t know whether he’s being funny, or you are. *pregnant pause* This is where I warn you that mine is a black and evil heart, and I have a taste for the funny that runs to morbid. There, a caveat.
The book’s six parts detail philosophy’s consolations for Unpopularity, for Not Having Enough Money, for Frustration, Inadequacy, a Broken Heart, and Difficulties. Part of what I thought was so funny was having to agree with the author (and his philosophers)that “Yes, we humans do make a big technicolor drama out of some ridiculous things, don’t we?” Fifteen pages into the book, I had a silly smile on my face…and by the time I had read halfway, I was laughing out loud. Kris kept looking up from his drawing to check that I was still reading the same book, he couldn’t believe that such a title was making me chuckle. The ideas, of course, are delightfully presented, too…applied to modern life, clearly outlined and presented in a levelheaded way, this is a good introduction to a handful of Western Civilization’s greatest thinkers.

Kris Larsen's With Mermaid Up A Moonberry TreeOther books I read in 2010 were: Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and The Discomfort Zone and How To Be Alone; Edward de Bono‘s Six Thinking Hats; Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Everything is Illuminated; David Malouf‘s Ransom; John Banville‘s The Infinities; a whole bunch of books from The New Glucose Revolution series; Martin Versfeld’s The Philosopher’s Cookbook; DBC Pierre‘s Ludmilla’s Broken English; Plain Anne Ellis by Anne Ellis, and my partner, Kris’s, second book, With Mermaid up A Moonberry Tree (which made me cry buckets, but only because it was about the way Kris and I used to live)…and I can’t remember if I read anything else.

Sure doesn’t seem like much! I really hope I manage to do more reading next year…I had a reading list in 2009, but I don’t think any of the books I finally did read were on my list! I find that life very often leads me to, or presents me with, the books that I need to read…do you get that? When something you pick up and start reading speaks directly to who you are, where you are, at that moment? That wouldn’t happen if you were just going down a list and ticking them off as you went, would it? There are advantages to allowing serendipity to choose your books for you. I think I’d like to read more nonfiction next year, but no idea which ones. Mainly books about how to live well, that sort of thing. Like a more gentle, garden variety philosophy, for days when you have your period and can’t focus on Socrates.

What was your favourite read for 2010? Have you got a reading list for 2011, or do you just read whatever comes your way?

The End, part 1:: Stay Changed Always

Each year receives a name at its end—a word or phrase to hold its essence, a name to remember it by. So much has happened this 2010 that it’s hard to settle on a name…I’ve decided on something very general, though it really does gather all of the year into one firm hand:

The year of change

On Christmas day of 2009 I found a lump in my breast. It turned out to be nothing, however the full medical check-up I underwent at the start of 2010 disclosed that I was pre-diabetic (blood sugar levels not quite diabetic yet, but getting there,) had hypothyroidism, an unusually low blood pressure, and was overweight by 23 kilos. So I committed to making some big changes in my life:

I quit smoking. Initially I found ii-ne-kore’s diary of a quitter inspiring, but as she slowly slid off the wagon and gave up I turned to, and got real help, from QuitCoach.

I read dozens of books on pre-diabetes. The New Glucose Revolution and all the other titles in that series were the most helpful; I learned how to make better choices from among the foods and ingredients that I liked, instead of going on some sad, unrealistic diet of deprivation—like the truly hair-brained “Lemonade, Sea-water and Laxatives” diet that some misguided family members talked me into doing for 10 days in 2007!

I went to a dietitian and a diabetes educator for advice (and then I followed that advice!) and joined the local diabetes health organization.

I switched to a low GI and low fat diet:
I turned my back on potatoes, on bread, pastries and all flour-based foods, on rice (an Asian who can’t eat rice! Still, my days of creativity and life are worth more than all the world’s bowls of freshly steamed rice…)on candies and jellybeans (not a problem, I never liked them) and anything made with glucose (Greek Halvah, alas!) Said goodbye to all noodles (except soba and bean thread,) to processed meats, to butter, and to all but a thin sliver, a mere shaving, an occasional crumb of cheese.
I still enjoy beautiful food. I have turned to pasta with elaborate sauces of roasted tomato, grilled eggplants, basil and kangaroo fillets…to bulgur as tabbouleh or as a spiced bed for fiery vindaloo…to rich dhals of chickpea or split yellow pea or mung beans…to avocado and smoked salmon on a mound of fresh salad sprinkled with toasted seeds and walnuts…to bowls of fruit tossed with pure floral honey and yogurt. I watch my portion sizes. I don’t feel like someone on a strict diet!

I started taking the daily hormone for my hypothyroidism.

I went to a doctor and paid her to design a workout program for me. I enrolled in a good gym, and went there three days a week. I also asked my husband to build and install a simple workout bench on the deck of our boat. I bought several pairs of dumbells and a yoga mat. I use them on the days that I don’t go to the gym and it isn’t pouring rain.

The results? I’ve had 6 or 8 cigarettes in the past year. I no longer dream that I am smoking, either. In October I had the blood sugar of a normal person (no longer pre-diabetic), my thyroid antibody levels were down, my blood pressure was unremarkable, and I had lost 13 kgs (28 lbs). Needless to say, I really do feel very good, and I’ve gone from a size 18 to a 12 (at some shops I’m a 10). So yes, it did pay off in a very satisfying way, and my initial success has done wonders for my willpower and self-esteem. That sounds like a mouthful of New Age crap, but it’s true.

It doesn’t end here, of course…I know I can never go back to living the way I used to…and why would I want to, when that way obviously wasn’t working for me? I haven’t had this much energy and verve for years.

I don’t know where the strength to change so many things, so quickly, came from, but I am grateful that it came, and that it stayed with me through the year.
Fear played a part: that lump that started me on my journey of personal health. Nothing like the hint of cancer to make a girl sit up and take notice.
Honesty, too…my grandmother and mother both developed full-blown diabetes—my mother is now blind in one eye because she ignored the many, many years of warning signs, and lived as though she believed she was somehow above it all, or that it would, in passing, spare her for some special reason—and I had to finally face the hard fact that I had inherited the tendency to become diabetic; that, unless I made special efforts to avoid it, it would come for me, too, and that I would suffer as I got older.

And having reasons to live and stay healthy will often help turn a sea of unresolved grays into clear black-and-white choices. Kris, my partner and best friend, whom I love more than I love anyone or anything else in my world, is an active, adventurous, healthy man full of passion for life; looking after myself is one way of loving and respecting him, as well as being able to accompany him and share those adventures.

Also, there is that joy beyond words—the ardour, excitement, and intense satisfaction—that I get from other people’s art, and from making things, myself. I love getting up in the morning and taking a book of poems from a shelf, to enjoy with my coffee…or sitting in the dark with my headphones on, adrift on a sea of music… almost as much as I love being able to spend my days in my studio, deep in creative mindfulness… wholly engaged in the playful act of making something, where there was nothing.

These are my reasons for changing, and hoping to stay changed. How could I keep following my old ways, when there was so much beauty and joy and love at stake?

book 892 :: Allium

Gardens are also good places
to sulk…
in search of medieval
plants whose leaves,
when they drop off
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they
plop into water.

…Even the prick of the thistle,
queen of the weeds, revives
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt
there is a leaf to cure it.

excerpt from “In Perpetual Spring
by Amy Gerstler

Another journal finished today.

The Embroiderer's Floral by Janet Haigh on Amazon.comThe fabric cover is hand-embroidered Indian cotton with foliage and flowers stenciled in metallic green fabric paints.

There are three embroidered Allium flowers in improbable hues (but then the Allium DOES have such an improbable flower, to begin with, doesn’t it? I love their big, starry balls of vivid color!) were worked using a technique I learned from Janet Haigh’s book The Embroiderer’s stitches and French knots, mainly, on felt bases.

The journal’s binding is flat-backed, case-bound, with a hand-stitched headband in variegated shades of greens and blues.

Dimensions are W 12cm. x H 17 cm. x D 4cm. Textblock is 200 leaves (400 pages) of Edición 110 gsm in avorio (ivory), endpapers are in aubergine.

Purple Ball Flower (Allium giganteum) by wadester16 on Wikimedia Commons

The generic name Allium is the Latin word for garlic (Allium sativum), though not all members of the genus are as flavorful as garlic, onions, leeks, scallions and shallots. Some Allium species, including A. cristophii and A. giganteum, are used as border plants for their ornamental flowers, and their “architectural” qualities.

I’ve popped this into my shop…only the second thing I’ve ever put up for sale! Patience, grasshopper! Slowly I will get the hang of this selling handmade things online…

As seen on CraftGossip.comPostscript: Many thanks to Denise Felton, of CraftGossip.Com, for mentioning our Allium journal on her extensive craft blog! A craft tutorial for probably everything ever created? I reckon Denise has got it. So many projects and ideas over there that if I don’t limit my visits to a couple of days a week, I’m soon overwhelmed…so many lovely things to make, so little time!

book 891

…her granddaughter gigs with Fire ’n
Ice, a skinhead punk-grunge group that performs in sheer
black nighties and clown wigs—she plays mean electric hygrometer
in the first set and then, for a twofer,

(very American, that) plays paper-and-comb. Far
out. She’s so fluent in various World Wide Webbery that nitrogen
in a thousand different inflections is her birthright, and almost any translation,
mind to mind, gender to gender, is second nature. “I earn
my keep, I party, I sleep” is her motto….

excerpt from “Sestina: As There Are Support Groups, There Are Support Words” by Albert Goldbarth

A new journal, finished today.

Covers are hand-painted in acrylics. Flat-back, case-bound, with headband. Closure is a neodymium magnet in the hand-stitched tab, and a thin piece of steel (mosquito coil holder 😉 ) recess-mounted in the front cover board.

Dimensions are W 12cm. x H 17 cm. x D 4cm. Textblock is 200 leaves (400 pages) of Edición 110 gsm in avorio (ivory), endpapers are in aubergine.

Hey, this is the very first item to appear in my shop! Quite nervous about this whole selling online thing…there’s so much to learn and read up on, I’m feeling overwhelmed. How the hell do others do it?

Nothing else to say for the moment…I’m in my making zone and nothing else matters right now. What are you hanging around for?

Go! Make something beautiful…it is later than you think.

sewing : : a Spool bird softie

I guess I could’ve/should’ve used the sewing machine to make this, it would’ve gone faster. But I couldn’t be bothered, this weekend, to fire up the petrol generator (I live on a solar-powered boat) and make all that noise + use fuel, just to stitch up a soft toy–so this has been stitched by hand.

It’s my first attempt at this pattern, and one of the few times I’ve attempted a soft sculpture, so consequently it’s a little bumpy and puckered…I just wanted to see what making it felt like before I committed myself to making two dozen of them (I have two little girls in mind)

I found the pattern for this gorgeous little bird on and am grateful to the folks who have shared it so freely. I love the smooth simplicity of the form even better than if it had been more realistic (with wings, eyes and such, which idea I considered, but rejected in the end).

This prototype goes in the post to my husband, who is currently cycling from Darwin to Adelaide on his own, without GPS or technology of any sort. She’ll be his “direction-finding dove” (named after Michael Leunig’s “Direction-finding Duck”.) She fell breast-first into the coffee cup after I took this picture, so she’s been Colombian-coffee-christened (and scented), which only means he’ll love her even more…

There’s a Flickr group just for these birds, so if you download the pattern and try your hand at a Spool bird, remember to share it with other enthusiasts!

Bird Mobile from
Bird Mobile from

via Spool Sewing » Blog Archive » Bird Mobile.

One more time, with feeling.

A thousand pardons if this looks like something from mid-2009…I made the original version of this embroidery for my exhibit, Encarnación, and when it sold I was commissioned to do another, which I have just finished.

This embroidery is based on a drawing of the Philippine tree shrew, Urogale everetti. They are rodent-like animals, but are actually classified as primates (along with apes and man) and they numbered in their tens of thousands where Kristian and I used to live, on a remote beach property 20 kilometres outside of El Nido town, on the Philippine island of Palawan. Their local name was bising, and they were like a plague in those parts, doing serious damage to crops and orchards, and incredibly noisy while they were at it.

One of the cats (Bastet, it would have to be, since Piggy was terrified of everything) got this one (a rarer occurrence than you’d imagine…Bastet was on the fat side of catness), but when he didn’t eat it Kris took the body and buried it in a quiet patch of sand. Six months later he dug up the skeleton, left clean by ants, and we made sketches of the various bones and bits (in the spirit of scientific research, you understand!)

I like drawings of animal skulls because they are familiar (as skulls), and yet alien to look at. Nobody could make out what this animal was (might have something to do with the Urogale everetti being endemic to the Philippines, though…*wink*)and it was funny to hear the guesses. Unlike the unmistakable message that human skulls send (“Memento mori,”) animal skulls are open to a little bit more interpretation, less clichés.
The embroidered felt “pebble” measures about 6 inches by 4½. It is worked on acrylic felt, with a single skein of coton a broder, using backstitch. I machine-stitched the front and back pieces of felt, right sides together, and then cut a slit in the back to turn the work right-sides-out and stuff the thing. Stitched the hole in the back up with Cretan stitches.