Monday, August 26, 2019

Sea Shell Collecting

Imagine a late summer's day spent on the back porch sorting sea shells from your trip to the beach.  A perfect day in my opinion, and I got to do just that this week.

I collected all of these shells on our trip to Isle of Palms, SC this summer.  One of my absolute favorite activities was to walk up to the top of the island where the inlet waters flowed between our island and the next.  The first day I walked I started to notice I had a definite preference for three types of shells, Lettered Olives, Moon Snails, and Channeled Whelks.   (I didn't yet know their names, but my friend Melissa lives in Charleston and she politely told me their names over and over.)

There is something truly magical about shells.  If someone had told me when I was a child that there was a place you could go where the universe deposited new, incredibly beautiful treasures every single day and that anyone could just go and pick them up, I wouldn't have believed them.  Think about it...every single day totally unique works of art are left by the ocean.  Not only do their smooth bodies feel lovely to the touch, but their spiral forms are truly stunning.

“The world is full of magic things,
patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” 

― W.B. Yeats

As I sorted the shells I had so much fun choosing different combinations of color and form to photograph.

Of course, it wasn't just me who was interested in the shells.  I had a very curious helper who had to smell all the shells.

The Moon Snail was one of my absolute favorite types of shell.  It is also called Shark Eye and the animal that used to live inside is a marine snail that eats bivalves by boring holes into their shells and then digesting the contents.  I LOVE the smooth surface and round shape of these shells.  Plus this shell is all about the perfect spiral.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the shell below is a knobbed whelk.

The two photos below contain Lettered Olives.  I could have spent a LONG time photographing just this type of shell.  I love the open "mouth" hole at the tip of some of them and imagine them emitting some sort of lovely ocean tones when they crowd around together to sing.

Midway through my photoshoot, yet another helper came to investigate.

Below is a photo of a sea urchin shell.  I wasn't sure what species it was, but love the radiating nubs.

The photo below is the only shell I collected from a crab.  I thought the spotted pattern on its back was stunning and the round shape of its body so interesting and balloon-like.

The theme of this blog is about noticing the beauty and magic that surrounds us everyday.  And if I had to come up with the perfect example of this it would be shells.  The very act of collecting shells is a practice in noticing what draws you.  What is it you love?  Do you like the smooth or rough texture?  Grey or pink shells?  Tubular or shallow?  Open or closed?  As I walked along the beach, a smooth spiral would catch my eye from a distance.  I would alter my path and make my way over to it to see if it had what I considered to be the perfect combination of elements.  And therein lies the beauty of collecting.  No one else can tell you what you just know.

The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all,
and then stands back to see if we can find them.

— Elizabeth Gilbert

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Weaver - Linocut Embroidery

“Who is She? She is your power, your Feminine source.
Big Mama.
The Goddess.
The Great Mystery.
The Web-Weaver.
The Life Force.
The first time, the twentieth time you may not recognize her.
Or pretend not to hear.
As she fills your body with ripples of terror and delight.

But when she calls you will know you’ve been called.
Then it is up to you to decide if you will answer.”

― Lucy H. Pearce, Burning Woman 

“My Mother is both within and without this phenomenal world.
Giving birth to the world, she lives within it!
She is the Spider and the world is the spider's web that she has woven.
The spider brings the web out of herself and then lives in it.”

― Sri Ramakrishna, The Brahmavadin

The Idea

Ever since I made this print I knew I wanted to embroider something in the dark cavities of the acorn caps.  I also knew I wanted to embroider something with lots of arms to play off of the many arms of the acorn caps.  So when I was thinking about many-armed options, the Hindu goddess Durga came to mind.  I have been fascinated by this goddess ever since I had a dream about an eight-armed green goddess that both held and destroyed me with those arms.  Durga is the feminine Creator and Mother of the universe.  She both created and pervades the known universe.  Hence every form in existence is, in essence, her body.

When I was thinking about what to put on the opposite side I came across the second quote from above that describes the Mother of the universe as a spider that both creates and lives in the world.  The metaphor was beautiful.  Plus, I loved that it referenced yet another eight-armed being and the obvious connection to the medium of embroidery thread.

As I was playing around with the idea of a web I also recalled a beautiful story about the Jewel Net of Indra.  As described in the quote below, at each node of Indra's web hangs a beautiful crystal.  And each crystal reflects every other crystal so that a change in one reflects a change in all.  I love this idea that we are all infinitely interconnected.

“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out indefinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel at the net’s every node, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that the process of reflection is infinite . . . it symbolizes a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos. This relationship is said to be one of simultaneous mutual identity and mutual intercausality.”

―  Francis H. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra

After researching Indra I also discovered Indra was considered the king of heaven and one of his main symbols is the thunderbolt.  The thunderbolt is also called a vajra.  When I looked up vajra on Wikipeida it described it as "a weapon used as a ritual object to symbolize both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force); the Sanskrit word has both these meanings."  It "is considered as one of the most powerful weapons in the universe" and is used to cleave through ignorance (  As you might imagine, I was very excited when I realized I could buy a vajra bead!

One last side note about Indra!  I also found out that his female counterpart in some traditions is a goddess called Tripura Sundari.  This goddess is considered one of the ten divine facets of the Divine Mother.  I liked the idea that the embroidery on the two acorn caps would reference both male and female.  Because we live in a world of duality it seemed appropriate to have both.  Because herein lies the beauty and the struggle.  Between apparent opposites lies a tension, a magnetism, and the mystery.  And the presence of one is often the doorway to the other.  Out of darkness comes light, out of nothingness comes abundance, and out of oneness comes duality.

The Embroidery

Embroidering on paper is different than sewing on fabric because you can't just push the needle up through where you think it might need to go.  To embroider on paper it is necessary to plan exactly where the holes will be ahead of time.  In the sketch above you can see where I planned the location each hole.  The following video shows the process of making each hole with an awl.

After making all the holes it is then possible to embroider through the paper.  It was a bit difficult to embroider such a big piece of paper because I had to keep flipping half the paper over and under my arms to pull the needle through.

I was inspired by images of string art I saw on Pinterest to try making the "green void" with a slightly more difficult stitch.  I don't know the exact name of this stitch but instead of sewing directly out one hole and in the next, each thread is caught and pulled by the thread before it before it enters the paper.  It somehow seemed a more appropriate stitch for a void.

I also wanted to try using a center ring instead of a hole for the hair of the goddess.  The center ring is only held in place by the tension of the threads across from it.

The Framing

Because framing such a large piece would cost an arm and a leg I decided to try and frame it myself.  I am a detail-oriented person, but I think framing takes a special kind of precision.  My hat goes off to all the framer's of the world.  My hat also goes off to my neighbor Mark who let us use his amazing Festool miter saw even though he was not feeling well.  Thank you!!!

In order to build the frame I purchased a Logan studio joiner which inserts v-nails into the back corner of the frame.  It was very satisfying to pull down the lever that inserts the nail.  Here is a video of that process.

Below is a photo of the Logan clamp and George and me holding the giant frame.

The day before I was supposed to drop the piece off I was cleaning the front of the plexiglass when I noticed a rather large beard hair (and several cat hairs) beneath the glass.  My heart sank.  George and I just spent a month making this thing and it turned my stomach to think about opening it up.  But I quickly ran through what was necessary to get the hair out. . . remove hanging hardware, cut off paper backing, unscrew the offset clamps that held it tight, pull out the foam core, and remove the hair, put everything back together and re-glue the paper and re-place all hardware.  I figured it would take about two hours.  Instead of focusing on how long it took us to build the frame and that we might ruin the whole thing, we focused on the two hour task at hand.  We took the frame to my neighbor's cat-free house and project hair removal was successful! (Thank you John!)

The Weaver

When I was thinking about naming this piece the first title that came to mind was "Duality."  I liked the reference to the two acorns and spirituality.  But I also liked the name "Poly" which played with the idea of having many arms and many facets.  In the end I went with the "The Weaver" because I so love the image of Ma, the Great Mother, weaving the world into being.

When I look at the final piece I am reminded of the play between form and the formless.  I love the exquisite contrast between the black void and the abundance of arms emerging from that void.  If I am honest I have quite a preference for form.  I am in awe of this world, the trees, the acorns, the sky, the sun, the moon, the plants, the flowers . . . I could go on and on.  If everything in this world is the body of the goddess then, as Ed Sheeran puts it,

"I'm in love with the shape of you
We push and pull like a magnet do
Although my heart is falling too
I'm in love with your body."

A giant thank you to my husband George.  Without his love and support none of my crazy projects would be possible.

This piece is currently available for purchase at