Sunday, April 29, 2012

Beadwork, Embroidery and the Lost Art of Handwork

Being quite disorganized this week, one is only now scrambling for ideas for this week's post at 9:00 p.m. on Friday evening (fully realizing one should have thought about that before  spending the last two hours laying on the couch watching Sons of Anarchy). A rather one-sided debate was held as to whether one should even bother writing at all this week, before reaching the conclusion that should the weekly posting routine be disrupted it would be a slippery slope towards its inevitable decline, with it most likely ending up in the same To Do List with the rest of the commitments that one should accomplish but really has no desire to - things such as daily exercising, healthy eating, lessening one's consumption of alcohol, etc. And so the hastily cobbled together post for this week is: Beadwork, Embroidery and the Lost Art of Handwork.

The insomniac  has always been interested in sewing and, more specifically, the adornment of sewn items with beading, embroidery and the various other artistic embellishments that were practiced by women in an era when full-time employment didn't suck up one's time like a Dyson vac. In her vast lifetime, the insomniac  has attempted many different styles of handwork. Back in the Day when she hung with hippies and bikers, many a denim shirt and pairs of jeans were embellished with DMC multicoloured floss; a well-worn book entitled Native Funk & Flash by Jacopetti and Wainwright ca. 1974 being the source of much inspiration.

The only piece still in existence from this era has been exhumed from the spouse's closet today - a shirt created for him during a month long rest in the Psych Ward. Of course, it didn't hurt that while in the ward, one's entire day could be spent embroidering without having to worry about going to work, making meals, or any of the other menial tasks that consume a person's day IRL. The only drawback being one had to ask the attendants for the needles and scissors which were, not surprisingly, kept in a locked cupboard.

Based on an album cover, if one remembers correctly.
Which seems fairly unlikely (no thanks to Lithium) ...

For a while, the insomniac  actually considered moving to the United Kingdom and attending the Royal School of Needlework to improve her skills. But by then she and the spouse had purchased a Home and some Harleys, with the resultant Mortgages and Loans, and the dream was put on the back burner. With the arrival of the offspring, the dream was definitively laid to rest. During this span of her life, her creative endeavors were limited to glancing through her rather large library of Victorian handwork books, and marking the pages of projects she would like to attempt should there ever again be any free time available for such luxuries as sewing.

The Offspring in their Younger Years

Obviously taken on a day when they
weren't trying to annihilate one another ...

While the offspring were growing up, the insomniac  retired for the first time in order to stay home and raise them. During this era, a small business called Night Bear Designs was conceived, whereby the insomniac  created goods inspired by native clothing and regalia from the early 1900's. Beaded buckskin jackets, mukluks, moccasins and the like were created for sale and even for Hollywood movies, such as a beaded knife sheath for Shanghai Noon (which one had to pause and rewind at least a dozen times before catching a glimpse of it) plus various other small pieces for the many Westerns shot in and around Calgary. This Iroquois inspired outfit was one of many created for the Western Design Conference in Cody, Wyoming in 2002, at which one was fortunate enough to win the “Best Adaptation of Materials” award.

Black Velveteen Dress
Glengarry Bonnet and Purse

The style of beadwork on the above outfit was a favourite as it worked up fairly quickly, as far as beadwork goes. The same stitch is used in the collar below, the recreation of which is on the other  To Do list, which includes all the things the insomniac  is actually looking forward to accomplishing at some point in her life.

A Victorian Collar

Shortly after winning the award, when the children were older and didn't particularly want to have their Sainted Mother around watching their every move, the insomniac  closed down the Night Bear website and returned to the regular work force, which certainly pays a whole lot better than sewing but is nowhere near as satisfying creatively (the word “soul-sucking” springs to mind).

For now, she contents herself with sewing an occasional piece for her close friends, who understand they will have to wait seemingly forever until said piece is eventually finished but who - for the most part - are okay with that.

Tyrel's Coat with Soutache Braid

Kat's Purse with Bleached Out Bits

The terrible picture can be blamed on one too many
bottles of Apothic Red that Christmas Eve ...

Garfield's Box Blankets,
seven of which were created for his mother's potlatch last year ...

But even though a steady job suffocates one's creative spirit, the steady paycheque allows for the accumulation of masses of Victorian mourning trimmings, antique beads, buttons and fabrics, which shall one day be put to good use when the insomniac  retires for the second and final time, and is once again able to return to her sewing, provided her eyesight hasn't completely failed by then, that is. And thanks to the multitude of images available on the World Wide Web, the other  To Do List grows larger by the day, a small sampling of which is shown in the following pictures ...

Victorian Mourning Coat

Another Victorian Mourning Coat
(because just like a bottle of Apothic Red,
one is never enough) ...

And Yet ANOTHER Victorian Mourning Coat ...

Victorian Mourning Cape (for a change of pace) ...

Aesthetic Gown
(no handiwork as such, but my goodness - those sleeves!)

Upon proofreading this week's post, it would seem the title should have been more along the lines of “Who Has Time to Actually Be Creative in this Workaday World Anyways, or Good Heavens Where did the Time Go?”, although perhaps that's a tad too long-winded and maybe even a touch negative.

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams ... as for herself, the insomniac  plans to take a short trip down Memory Lane before retiring by thumbing through her tattered copy of Native Funk & Flash. And should time permit or sleep elude, perhaps a quick glance through the Encyclopedia of Victorian Needlework, Volumes I and  II, as well. Goodnight, my pretties.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Taxidermy & Gothic Decor, or Every Gothic Mansion Needs Some Dead Things

The decoration of one's Gothic estate cannot be considered truly complete until a few animal corpses have taken up residence, helping to create that lovely funereal atmosphere we're all so desperately trying to achieve. And while the insomniac  would love to own so many taxidermy pieces that it would be impossible to turn around without bumping into some cadaver or another, as usual, the teeny tiny budget always manages to cramp the expression of one's true style. The Gothic Mansion has a few crows, a magpie, a jackdaw, an antelope, a wolpertinger and some antique Black Forest antler mounts, chosen not so much for their aesthetic appeal but more so because they happened to be a Good Deal.

The antelope, whom we decorate at Xmas and
call by the name of  Rudolph ...

The Mansion's resident pair of crows are named Huginn (from the old Norse for Thought) and Muninn (Memory) even though technically they should be ravens. They generally live on top of the piano, in front of the statue of Odin (who is probably just some random Viking but we've elected to call him Odin - if one can take liberties with the naming of the antelope and crows, then one feels it's acceptable to take liberties with the Viking also).



The fascination with taxidermy started when, as a small child, the insomniac  saw her first piece at the Banff Trading Post. Not that one would care to own this particular piece, much preferring taxidermy with fur or feathers as opposed to those with scales and mummified faces. The insomniac  has enough sleep issues without having to lay awake worrying whether this horror is dragging itself up the stairs of the Gothic Mansion in the middle of the night ...

Fiji Merman, Banff Trading Post

Taxidermy of the vintage and antique variety, complete with cobwebs and a slight glaze over their glass eyes, is the preferred style in the Gothic Mansion. An aunt in Zurich has a mounted crow in her hallway that sports an absolutely magnificent coat of dust, which has greatly influenced the insomniac's  decision to never, ever clean her taxidermy in order to achieve that same Gothic ambiance.

Already well on its way to Gothic Gloominess.
Can one actually dust fake ivy and twigs?

Most of the taxidermy pieces in the Mansion have names, as the insomniac  would like them to feel like part of the family. And because one can't be too careful about such things, any taxidermy that is for sale is never, ever stored in the basement, to avoid any possibility of a malevolent uprising in the middle of the night when they all wake up from the dead, hell bent on wreaking revenge for their banishment (by now, it must be quite apparent that certain people have seen far too many horror movies).

Corvus monedula, which is a hard name to remember
or even pronounce when making introductions ...

It seems like the best taxidermy pieces are always discovered while on vacation, when the practicality of hauling a piece home in one's suitcase is, well, not practical at all. Many moderately priced pieces have been passed up for this very reason. Why, in the past year alone, a fox (Brooklyn), an owl (Bavaria) and a dove (Bruges) have been left behind with much regret at their respective flea markets. Last fall, a wolpertinger was discovered at a Munich  market and being of a reasonable size (and equally reasonable price) was purchased and transported home in an old biscuit tin bought especially to ensure its safe journey home in the bottom of the suitcase. The wolpertinger was originally acquired for resale in the Attic until one of the offspring announced she would be very  upset if the little fellow were sold, at which point it was given a permanent position on the hall table, cheerily waving a greeting with its wicked little talons to all who enter the Gothic Mansion. Because one doesn't like to upset the offspring for exactly the same reason one doesn't wish to tick off the taxidermy - to avoid malevolent uprisings.

Adorable, even with the murderous stare,
dagger-like claws and sinister looking fangs ...

The insomniac  has become so fond of the wolpertinger, she decided to commission one for the Attic from the same taxidermist who does the crows (and also the jackdaw, which just arrived this week). It is currently in the finishing stages and will be winging its way overseas very soon (just so we're clear, it will be winging its way in the belly of an airplane and not using its own wings). And after its completion, the insomniac  is quite sure the taxidermist will request she never, ever contact him again.

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams ... and sincerely hopes the dead things in your  Gothic Mansion are all sleeping peacefully as well. Rest easy, my pretties. Mwahahaha.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Glorious Garden Gryphons & Other Gothic Goodies

After managing to refrain from referencing the Attic even once in last week's Easter post (as the mixing of Religion and Commerce seemed quite inappropriate), the insomniac  feels completely justified in shamelessly promoting the first shipment of garden decor that arrived this week. Although at the time of this writing such is the view from the windows of the Gothic Mansion, an indication that perhaps one might have been a bit too hasty in ordering the springtime items and should have been concentrating on cocooning, comforters and hot cocoa instead.  

Springtime in the Rockies

To start, small French cast iron urns in black, that being the insomniac's  favourite colour. But certainly available in white or brown and in larger sizes, should one prefer.

Petite Black and White French Urns

Large Brown French Urn

Next, some antique style zinc bowls in which one could place small clay pots filled with greenery, or better yet, black river stones and a decapitated cherub head! Alternatively, it also looks pretty good holding small tabletop votives, displayed with their matching hanging version. The insomniac  contemplated setting up a small arrangement in the garden to photograph some of these new items, but scrapped the idea when the snow started again on Saturday. One will just have to be content with the catalogue images.

Tabletop Votive

Antique Style Zinc Bowl

Hanging Votive

Impatiently awaiting a catalogue in the mail that has the most beautiful cast iron gryphons and Gothic style garden furniture. While one realizes that mail delivery between the United States and Canada is terribly slow, a month does seem rather excessive. Hopefully it will arrive fairly soon so the insomniac  can swiftly make up her mind what should be ordered, place the order and then pray the aforementioned order will arrive before the snow flies once more, which if we're extremely lucky might not be until August.

Cast iron garden furniture in black ...

Isn't he magnificent ...

The dark coloured foliage in the background of the above did remind the insomniac  to order new seeds to replace last year's crop of black Hollyhocks, Columbines and Poppies which were consumed by the expanding brood of bunnies that live around the Gothic Mansion and eat everything that isn't nailed down.

Alcea Rosea

Aquilegia Vulgaris

Papaver Paeoniflorum

And wouldn't this lovely little nymph and her dragonfly look enchanting nestled amongst these flowers when they finally bloom. Perhaps one will attempt to procure a picture closer to the end of August - provided the bunnies don't eat all the new growth and we don't get frost in July.

3'7" Cast Iron Nymph

Although the following items were not in this week's shipment, they can be special ordered and shipped directly from the manufacturer, as can many other items too large to be stored in the Attic such as the dragonfly nymph above. If you are looking for something specific and having difficulty finding it, please feel free to contact the insomniac  and she'll do her very best to help you with your quest.

Rusty White Acanthus Urn

Cast Iron Buck Head

Iron Terrarium

Rusty White Planter

Oval Metal Planters

The next few weeks will see the arrival of metal wall baskets, wire cloches, iron tables and rusty lanterns, in short, everything needed for the creation of your own Gothic Garden except for the good weather, which is obviously in short supply around here.

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams ... and don't pack away the down comforter just yet. Goodnight, my pretties.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter! A Photo Album of the Crucifixion

This being Easter week, a short reflection on the crucifixion seemed to be just the ticket. The insomniac, despite not having attended a church service in years, does gather great comfort from the teachings and included on every yearly vacation itinerary (besides the compulsory visits to the most popular cemeteries) are tours of as many churches and cathedrals as possible. Lamentably, the insomniac's  long-suffering spouse does not share her enthusiasm and will submit to, at the very most, two of these church tours per trip, thereby spending a substantial amount of time waiting patiently outside while the insomniac  tries to capture a few decent photos in gloomy church interiors. Due to the substandard quality of the current point-and-shoot camera, one can well imagine how this could consume a great deal of time. Long-suffering and perhaps even a candidate for sainthood ...

The astute reader will recognize a different version
of this photo from the insomniac's first post.

Sorry for the repetition, but it is an all-time favourite ...

Cemetery, Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

Perhaps if anyone out there is knowledgeable about such matters, they might offer a suggestion for a better alternative to the point-and-shoot. Not to mention that the purchase of a new camera would give the insomniac  a perfect excuse to revisit Every Single Place She's Ever Been in order to retake all the pictures properly. Which couldn't possibly be construed as compulsive behaviour, could it?

And as an additional bonus, a good quality camera would eliminate the excessive Photoshopping that is required before posting, as is perfectly exhibited in this next picture where most of the facial detail is lost and no amount of mucking about with Brightness or Contrast or Shadows seemed to improve it. Normally, a photo as poorly done as this would simply be eliminated, but the angel's pose in the rear struck the insomniac  as quite humorous. Not that one is implying there's anything even remotely funny about being crucified.

Charles Bridge, Prague

From the pose, one fancies the standing figure
is saying, “Oh dear.” 

Not being fluent in anything other than English definitely poses a problem when trying to acquire any sort of factual information about the subject one is trying to capture. Which is why one is quite mystified as to the reason that Christ's face is black but the rest of his body chalk white in this next photo. One could probably resort to Google for the answer but the insomniac  is rather lazy about that sort of thing, much preferring to fabricate her own stories than make any effort to get the actual facts. One simply has to hope that whomever one is fabricating the story for is just as much in the dark about the subject matter, thereby avoiding a potentially awkward situation.

Name of the church is lost in the murky depths of
the insomniac's
  mind, but definitely in Krakow, Poland ...

Same church in Krakow ...

The following photos are from the Asamkirche in Munich, Germany. According to the guide books, “this 18th century Baroque church leaves no surface unadorned” and was built by the Asam brothers who obviously felt that ostentatiousness was next to godliness. Even the insomniac's  spouse agreed it was worth a trip inside and those words, uttered from his mouth, are quite the endorsement. One has to look very closely above the round window to actually pick out the cross in this photo, being that the guide books are dead-on and there really are no unadorned surfaces, anywhere.

Asamkirche, Munich

One confessional is wrapped in a gilded snake (apparently symbolizing sinfulness), the second has a winged skull, and a third has a gilded laurel wreath representing saintliness, which the insomniac  didn't even bother to take a picture of since there were no skulls involved. This is, after all, the blog of an Elder Darkly Inclined Person, or Elder DIP if you will, although one has doubts that acronym will catch on anytime soon.

Confessional I
Confessional III
Confessional II

Lest you feel the insomniac  has an overabundance of vacation crucifixion photos, wait 'til she posts her photo albums of Madonnas, Gaudily Dressed Skeletal Remains of Saints and her all-time favourite photo subject, Cemeteries. A mistake generally made only once by an unsuspecting friend is to ask the insomniac  to share pictures of the latest trip.

Practically 100% sure this is in Nürnberg, Germany ...

Pietà - honestly, can't remember which church in Munich ...

Extremely fond of the skull and snake in this next photo; not so enamored with the flags, spotlight and address signs, the removal of which was well beyond one's editing skills.

Hdracany District, Prague

To end, a more pleasant image - minus the graffiti, which was Photoshopped out. Peace be with you this Easter, dear reader.

Bratislava, Slovakia

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams ... and for your bedtime reading enjoyment, might the insomniac  be so bold as to highly recommend the book “Lamb - The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal” by Christopher Moore, a suitably appropriate read for this Easter week. Goodnight, my pretties.


PostScript: The insomniac  sincerely hopes somebody out there is actually reading these posts (somebody other than her long-suffering spouse, family and close friends, that is). The statistics say there are actually hundreds of you, but the lack of comments would suggest otherwise. An observation of any sort would bring about great jubilation in the Gothic Mansion, even if it's along the lines of  “Quit writing such drivel - you're wasting our time. You suck.” Thank you.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Vanitas - All the Pretty Skulls

The insomniac  is especially fond of skull paintings, more specifically the genre known as Vanitas that was perfected by the Baroque Dutch Masters in the early 17th century. Vanitas paintings displayed a collection of objects that symbolized the inevitability of death and the impermanence and vanity of earthly pleasures. They included allegorical references to man's mortality such as human skulls, extinguished or guttering candles, watches, hourglasses, decaying flowers or rotting fruit. Not only meant as works of art, they conveyed an important moral message: the trivial pleasures of life shall be permanently brought to an end by DEATH. Nothing like a light-hearted message to add some spice to the artwork.

Following are a few favourites, the insomniac's preference being the ones with big, blowsy flowers as opposed to rotting fruit, feeling that there should be at least a modicum of beauty in a painting bearing such grim revelations.

Hendrick Andriezsoon

Adriaen van Utrecht

Simon Renard de Saint-André

Simon Renard de Saint-André

The following “Self-Portrait with Vanitas Symbols” is from 1651 but with the self-portrait portion omitted, as the insomniac didn't care for it. Call it artistic license, if you will.

David Bailly

Franciscus Gysbrechts

Franciscus Gysbrechts

Pieter Claesz

Nicolas de Largilliere

Currently tossing around the idea of small pocket mirrors with the next two images on the reverse, in keeping with the “transitory nature of beauty” theme. Watch for them soon in the Attic. Seriously. Not even kidding.

Herman Henstenburgh

Herman Henstenburgh

A contemporary Vanitas painting entitled “Non Omnis Moriar”. Nice to see the genre is still alive and well, so to speak ...   

Stephanie Henderson

At this point, an apology for the brevity of this week's post seems to be in order. Three weeks of poring over street maps and inventory lists has apparently sucked the life out of the insomniac. Scatter a few fading flowers and some rotted fruit around her, and she would make an excellent model for her very own Vanitas self-portrait. Neverthless, one wishes to emphasize just how grateful one is to have been re-hired for another three months because moral messages notwithstanding, the insomniac  does relish her earthly pleasures, none of which come cheaply.

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams... of all the glorious (but trivial and meaningless, of course) indulgences of life. Goodnight, my pretties.