Monday, March 12, 2018

Morocco: in the Medina

I learned a lot of new words in Morocco. Words like "souk" (marketplace), "kasbah" (fortress or fortified city) and "medina". Our itinerary mentioned visits to several medinas, which I learned referred to the old, walled city existing within the modern parts of a city. The Medina Of Fes, for example, was built in the 9th century, is the largest Medina in the world and also the largest urban area with no automobiles in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a totally amazing experience. You enter, through a large, arched gate into a different world of narrow, winding passages, claustrophobic and confusing as you make your way toward the center of the maze. In places the passage narrows to a width that accommodates only one person and if you meet someone coming from the other direction, one of you must step back into a doorway or alcove to let the other pass.

Just when you begin to worry about the walls closing in, the passage begins to open up to areas of small shops, gathering spots at fountains and wells and people bustling about, making deliveries, shopping, selling, socializing.

The streets, if you can call them that, are too narrow for trucks or cars, so everything that comes into, or goes out the Medina, including building materials, arrives on backs or heads, in small handcarts, on motorbikes or the occasional small donkey. The shops include all manner of goods for sale and many are workshops for craftsmen doing metalwork, leatherwork, sewing, dyeing, etc, etc, using mostly well-used traditional tools.

The food shops offer beautiful displays of candies, olives, vegetables, fish, sheep heads and pyramids of beautiful spices

Rugs, Ceramics, Jewelry, textiles, artwork in tiny shops line the inner streets of the medina. All prices are negotiable through a predictable, polite and usually friendly bargaining ritual. I'm very bad at it. At one shop I saw some beads I liked and asked the price. "What price will you pay?" was the response. "I only have $10," I said (which was true). "Oh, no—beautiful beads $40." I repeated, "I only have $10." "35" he said. I showed him my $10—"really, this is all I have..." he took a deep breath and patiently explained, "you are doing it wrong. I give my price, you give your price. I lower price, you raise price..." he waved his hand in a circular motion as if to say, "now, do you get it?" At this point I was embarrassed and handed the beads back to him apologetically and turned to leave. He thrust them back into my hand, sighed deeply, grimaced and said "OK, give me money." I felt a little bad about the whole deal despite getting my beads so cheaply. Usually these negotiations conclude with a smile and a handshake—win-win, everybody's happy. After that I made sure I had enough money in my purse to play the game correctly.

The medina is a world unto itself, sounds of metal hammering, jingling bells, children laughing and chattering in Arabic and stringed instruments and little hand drums; smells of spices and orange flower and grilled kabobs; men in striped jelabas and women in silk headscarves and long black dresses, brilliant colors of rugs and ceramics and Berber beads and carvings and brilliant textiles fluttering in the breeze. Has it changed in all the hundreds of years? It seems not. Though I suspect that the deep pockets of those traditional clothes might conceal cell phones, I don't remember seeing them. The medina is the essence of Morocco—timeless and wonderful in every way.

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Friday, March 02, 2018

Why Morocco?

I've been to Morocco and now I'm home.

When I told people we were going to Morocco, the most common response was "why?" Good question. It wasn't on my list or even really on my radar, but last July I got a text from my friend Muriel that started, "wanna do something wild and crazy....?" She was going to Morocco in January with a group. There was room in the group. Would we want to come along? It was such an unexpected idea we had to think about it, and watch some videos and read some books and check the savings account and look at each other and say "Morocco? Really?" More than once. And before we knew it it instead of "why would we go to Morocco?" We were saying "Why would we not go?" And miss this?

Or this?

Alas, by the time we'd decided, Muriel's group was at capacity, so we enlisted our friends, Sue and Jerry and we all signed on for the next trip, and last month we embarked on a grand, often thrilling, always beautiful Moroccan adventure. We got home a week ago and I'm still making my way through hundreds of photos and I plan to share some in the coming weeks. Here are a few to whet your appetite, if you have a taste for history and exotic beauty and color and amazing food.

And more to come...

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Tuesday, January 02, 2018

My word for the year

This is what I've been doing for a lot of years now. I choose a word to guide me for the new year. Then I make a tiny little banner to remind me. New Years Day is a good day for doing this.

Last year my word was "resist". I tried. I think we all tried and it was a year of resisting, but it's been a tough year in lots of ways and at the end of the year it feels like lots of things are broken. It's easy to forget that things broken can be mended. Physical things (like eyes healing following surgery), maybe even what seems a huge, ugly rip in the fabric of our society. So "mend" is a hope as much as an inspiration. Hasn't it been a hard, chaotic year? It was for me. Maybe mend follows resist. And I was recently reminded that there is a Japanese method of mending broken pottery called Kinsugi where the mended area is filled with gold, making it both beautiful and stronger than it was before. So I'm focusing on how we fix what's broken, how I can do my small part and how we bring strength and beauty to the healing/mending process.

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Memory of Summer

Here is the finished piece, A Memory of Summer, 16" x 23". When I posted it, this week, on Facebook, there were questions. I'll try to answer them here.

I'm pretty happy with this piece, especially my decision to change my mind about appliquéing those branches and instead, embroidering them directly on the pieced background. It worked well and did not take as long as I had feared. The branches were done freestyle—I just made them up as I went along, after studying some real branches and getting a feel for branch structure.

The bowl and the berries were embroidered on separate pieces of fabric, then appliquéd onto the background. I did it this way for a couple reasons. First I wanted them to really sit in front of the background, without being affected by the texture of the background and second, to incorporate an outline of darker fabric around these pieces.

The bowl was cut from white fabric, minimally attached with washable school glue to a dark gray fabric, then backed with tear away stabilizer. I used three shades of perle cotton to embroider the bowl, again in an unplanned way, shading inward from the edges.

This part was pretty labor intensive and done over many evenings in front of the TV. While I am pleased with the result, I'm not sure it was worth all the hours spent. I have some ideas for different, less intense, approaches to something similar.

This photo illustrates how I made the berries (rose hips?). The shapes, cut from fabric, were lightly glued to the gray background, backed with stabilizer, then embroidered over. I cut them out, with a gray margin around each, then stitched them in place on the branches.

This uses ideas I want to continue exploring. I was able to avoid, or work around, many of the problems I am still experiencing with my vision, except that my attempts at clean, accurate machine quilting of the background fell somewhat short of my usual proficiency. I need to rethink that part. Rather than being a stumbling block, I am finding a joy in discovering that I can still work at something I love, and rediscovering something I have always known—there is no one right way to do something.

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Trial and error, moving forward

I am working on a new piece, using the same general scheme as my last—the pieced background with embroidered elements as foreground. In my last post I showed what I had started for this new one. I was embroidering branches that would be embroidered on a separate piece of fabric, then cut out and appliquéd to the background. I was doing it this way, rather than embroidering directly on the background to give it more dimension and in order to create the dark outline I so love. I spent hours and hours on those branches and then when I started appliquéing them on the pieced background they looked terrible.

They are thick, hairy and clunky. Not at all what I was envisioning. (You can also see, in this closeup that I am still having vision problems. Machine stitching is still so hard to see as I work...)

I remembered that on the previous piece I embroidered the roots directly on the background, so I tried a bit of that.

I think I like it much better! Will it work with the berries that I intend to add later?

Yes, I think so!

I am working in a new way that seems to accommodate my current visual limitations and I am enjoying the challenge! Maybe we all need to get thrown a little off balance occasionally in order to exercise our ability to adapt and find new ways of doing what we do and being who we are. That is really what life is, right? Two steps forward, one step back is still progress!

And sew it goes...

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

My new piece for Cloth in Common

This is the piece I was talking about in my last post and now I can post it. It is my response to the second challenge for the new online group, Cloth in Common, that I joined. You can see and read about all the responses to the "touch" challenge on the group blog here. It is shaping up to be a good group!

I found this piece to be a real joy to work on and am working on another using traditional piecing and embroidery techniques. I will be posting some photos soon. Meanwhile, here is a shot of some of the embroidery I am doing for the new piece. I might have been overly ambitious about this part of it. It's going to take me awhile...

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