Sunday, January 12, 2014

Work-in-progress: Deep Freeze Fest lamppost cozy

Before Christmas, I submitted an application to create a lamppost cozy for the Deep Freeze Festival with some friends, which we installed this yesterday morning at the first day of the festival. We used a mixed-media approach, with a combination of dyed, sewn, hooked, luceted, embroidered, and felted motifs. If by some long shot we are chosen for prize money, it will go to this fundraising campaign to build a local makers' shared workspace (which will have a different emphasis and equipment set than the also-awesome newly-opened makerspace at Edmonton Public Library). (Update: we won first prize, *and* the people's choice award! Thanks to anyone who took the trouble to text in a vote!)

This year's festival theme is "Here Come The Vikings!", and I knew almost nothing about actual Vikings, so I spent a couple of weeks doing research and creating a pinboard of visual references to help with the design process. Despite the elapsed millennium, there are a lot of Viking-age artefacts and archaeological sites which have given us a fairly good idea how they lived, and a lively community of re-enactors committed to recreating the smallest detail of their lives with authenticity, in addition to all the myths and legends and recent Hollywood films and television series - so, there is a lot of material to draw on, including information about period textiles. Some intriguing recent research suggests that Viking women may have fought alongside men as shieldmaidens and travelled alongside men in the invasion of England, and that they were directly involved in trade, suggesting a more egalitarian relationship between the genders than previously thought. I was also fascinated with the so-called Valkyrie figures, female figures in dress similar to that reconstructed from other archaeological finds, carved on runestones or cast in metal, holding shields and either a sword or a drinking horn. I felt that these images could represent shieldmaidens, and could also be adapted to represent traders and weavers and Skadi, the goddess of winter. In the end, this piece will celebrate strong women, winter, and the creative spirit!

First draft, shieldmaiden, modified from a 9th-century Valkyrie figurine found in Suffolk. I really wanted an authentic medieval feeling to the design, at least as a starting point.
Final concept drawing, winter goddess Skadi as a shieldmaiden.
I adapted our design from the outlines of Viking-period Valkyrie figure artefacts, got some feedback from my collaborators, enlarged the final version to fit the scale of the lamp-post cover (six. feet. tall!), and then began making textile magic! Here are some photos of the process from beginning to end:

Drawing enlarged to full size to create pattern (which was transferred using interfacing as a substitute for red dot tracing fabric). Jute backing sewn to size, edges whipstitched, and some snow hooked in using wool roving. The braid is a mix of woolen fabric and yarn, made as a four-strand plait then knotted as seen in the original Valkyrie figurines.
Making lucetted square cord using a beautiful handspun yarn from another local artisan (it's Alliston Findlay's Yeti blend, so lovely to work with). This cord was used for the drinking horn, and similar cord made from a machine-spun pure wool yarn was used for the bowstring.
A length of indigo shibori I made in the surface design course I've previously described, accordion-pleated and sewn - at which point I realized it needs to become the front panel of a skirt for me.
Luckily I had another length of shibori that was much better suited to becoming an apron dress and having the entire middle section covered by a shield. The pleats at the bust really worked beautifully with the large-scale mokume at that end of the fabric. Also, this pale indigo approximates the woad thay would have used during the period in western and northern Europe. The straps and trim are grey woolen fabric that I overdyed to green using acid dyes, in a shade that is also true to period. They were eventually embroidered in a woad blue yarn from Briggs & Little.
Making progress: helm in two colours of felted woolen fabric, braid, skis, and apron dress all sewn in place.

Tearing off the paper pattern after thread-sketching the faux quilting onto the sleeve (Yes, she is m'lady Greensleeves!). This project was my first try at both applique and thread-sketching, although I've been sewing off-and-on since forever.
My final photo at home before the installation. Shield cut out by Marissa and sewn by me after her first attempt went sideways - I love the shimmer and texture that her fabric choices added. The leather boots and needle-felted hands are by Jasmin. Cheesecloth added under the the skirt edge and at the top of the apron dress to represent the linen kirtle, bow and drinking horn in place, details embroidered on apron dress, and the fur cloak is hooked in a mix of fabrics (and not quite complete, but time's up!).
Installed on Alberta Avenue for Deep Freeze Festival 2014. Brooch and beads and needle-felted-embroidered-and-button-embellished face by Jasmin. Face and hair sewn in place by Marissa.  You can also watch a Vine that Marissa made to show all angles of the completed lamp-post cover - well, almost all angles.
Photo via Marissa of our team posing with the completed lamppost cover.
I've titled this post work-in-progress, partly because I actually would still like to do more hooking and add more details to the background, despite it having already hung outside all weekend. (It was right beside one of the firepits, too, so it smells of woodsmoke!) This will probably be on permanent display in the makerspace when it opens, with the intent that people working in the space can continue to add details to it.