ACTION 11 – Learning Through Mapping

So I am finally moved into the studio on campus. Just in time for the semester to come to a close. This week was marked by several mapping activities, I think as a way of trying to make sense of the semester. Making sure I knew what I had done when I had done it, and where I want to go with it when we jump into next semester.

Research framework revisions

Mapping time

It finally happened! I started to weave! For a week now I have been coming in and laying down colour. Each sitting is usually one colour or pattern block. I also confirmed this week that I have definitely over retted the flax. So to grieve my mistake I started taking the stems and embedding them into the pattern. I am not sure what will happen, they will get crunched and crushed, and the chafe will flake away, I may be left with gaping holes in my cloth. Or perhaps the fibres will reveal themselves. Short and imperfectly processed. I will just have to wait and see. It felt good to use what I had harvested, and who knows something beautiful might still be possible with the crumbly mess I have made. If all else fails I can always return the stocks to the garden, let them decompose into soil, and start over again in the spring. I haven’t worked with data much this semester, not using the usual qualitative methods, but these passes of weft through the loom feel like a kind of data, an accumulation, a thought, a podcast, a conversation with my mom. The pattern emerges, then completes itself, telling me it is time to get up, to move around, to go do something else for a while. I am mesmerized by the cloth. It feels like it has the potential to hold so much meaning. I am excited to see how my mind is shaped by the act of weaving.

Oh yeah, and it broke down again. The elastics holding the pedals to the sheds disintegrated, so I played around with the tie-ups until I arrived at this solution, hitching a few pieces of rope to the posts, half over and half under seemed to keep it balanced while treadling.

Acts of Making

I have been rattling around with this idea since earlier in the semester, that as designers our acts can be qualified as replicating colonial oppressions or working to dismantle and decolonize. I also had the opportunity to do one more peer engagement, and like Garima, I wanted to use the time to engage the class, to help me sort through my thoughts. But before subject my classmates to an activity, I needed to work through the activity for myself to see if it was worth pursuing.

I started by listing every act of making I had employed during the actions this semester. I decided to set them on a continuum to explore my initial response to the definitions of making I had read earlier in the semester. I came up with a list of potential continuums to map looking up the antonyms to words online, I realized I was mapping language. After a conversation with Garima, I decided to split up two of the pairs and use violence and nurturing as the poles. Then I plotted my acts onto the map. Something happened when I did this. I realized I had made the assumption that violent acts of making were inherently harmful. It was only when I placed things on the map that I realized that transformation is usually the result of a violent act: boiling, crushing, cutting, but these transformations through violence did not feel harmful. I had the opposite realization when I plotted fixing on the nurturing side of the spectrum. Fixing something or someone takes away their autonomy, it is not inherently helpful. Likewise, I had assumed maintenance was a positive act, but it is devastatingly harmful if you are maintaining a system of oppression. When I wrote my list of acts, ‘do nothing’ was the last one I wrote. When I placed it on the spectrum I put it exactly at the neutral point between violent and nurturing. By now I had also started to think about adding a second axis of positive/negative outcomes. I realized that doing nothing could be placed in any of the four quadrants and that it would have a different impact depending on the context. Doing nothing could be healing and positive in the sense that to maintain our health, there are times where we need to unplug, relax, unwind, and do so without judgement. There should be days where we don’t put on pants. But also, standing by and doing nothing while witnessing acts of oppression is not okay. There are days where we should put on our pants and our masks, and be a part of enacting change, in whatever form that may take.

Group mapping as my peer review

I ran the exercise as a group engagement the following day. With a few tweaks. I kept nurturing and violent acts of making, but switched out the north/south poles, I originally was going to use positive and negative outcomes, but on my walk to school, I decided that futuring and defuturing were more appropriate. I learned quite a lot from the engagement. Firstly that there were no right or wrong answers, that acts could occupy various or multiple spaces on the map depending on their context. Also, it was important to be specific about whether it was a futuring/defuturing act or outcome, and that it was important to ask to whom was the act violent/nurturing. From the designer’s perspective the act of carving could be soothing and nurturing, from the wood’s point of view it might not be. I am not sure where this map leaves me, but I feel like I am more at ease with the results than I was when I deliberately tried to enact in a decolonial way. What does decolonize design even mean. I think I began to realize the acts themselves were not inherently futuring or defuturing, but that the context in which they were enacted, and to whom they were enacted upon and by whom, with this additional information it may be possible to determine if an act will lead to a colonizing or decolonizing outcome.

Participating in classmates mapping projects

I think quite a few of use were venturing into mapping and visualizations. Here are the contributions to mapping I made as requested by my peers. I really enjoyed the bottom one in yellow marker, Garima asked us to map a moment of joy. This was from the big snowfall last January, I had been working like mad to pull together a portfolio submission for the MDes program, I think it was due the next day. Bill decided I needed a break to have dinner, so he coaxed me out of the house. As soon as my feet hit the snow I turned into a giddy monster. I started running and skating down commercial drive, sliding on the fresh snow. I got so excited that I lost Bill, and then realized I was lost, I couldn’t remember where we were going, didn’t have my phone on me, and was completely disoriented. It was pretty weird getting so lost within 5 blocks of my home, after about 20 min of running back and forth up and down the street Bill and I were reunited, he got me fed, and I made the submission deadline.

My community map

So this one goes back to some of what I did, but maybe didn’t show in action 4, I was thinking about it for the video sketches, but didn’t do it, and it came up for me again when I was out walking for action 7. I have been going for walks around the neighbourhood, harvesting materials, looking at trees, mushrooms and mosses. I’ve been searching for something. This is the action that feels incomplete still to me. I have been looking for the invisible beings that inhabit certain places. You might call them gnomes, or faeries, or spirits, or beings, or invisible people. I don’t really know what they are called, but there are places I’ve been where I am certain a being must exist. I felt compelled to attempt to map out where they might be. I am not fully satisfied with the result. The scale was wrong, and I think it’s the wrong kind of map. I’m glad I did it, but I think I need to explore other modalities of mapping for these invisible beings to emerge.

I think this action requires more field work. I need to be in a place, sketching, listening. I am pretty sure the air smells differently in places invisible beings inhabit. I am not certain that paper is the right medium either, perhaps cloth or audio recordings would work better. What senses do you have to employ to detect what you cannot see?

Mapping though stitches

My explorations with embroidery started a few weeks back when I started repairing the blanket my granny made for me. It was a special item, she made it from my gramps old trousers, and had embroidered vines and leaves and flowers on it. It was the last one she made, and you could tell her skills were deteriorating, the stitches became simpler in sections the embellishments less, but she made it for me when I moved away to go to university for my bachelor degree, and it is one of my most valued possessions. Over the years some of the stitches have come loose. The moths have also taken a liking to it, and eaten away at it, leaving blotchy holes. So it is a piece I could spend a lot of time repairing. But I wanted to be able to replicate some of the more detailed areas my granny had done when her eyes and hands were more capable. So I started a little swatch, a map of the semester, a sample of different kinds of stitches and effects. Some stitches were improvised, some were taken from a book granny gave me long ago when she stopped embroidering. Before this semester I thought of myself as a pretty competent knitter and crocheter. This was something I shared with my Oma, she never taught me, but exposed me to it, I think I started in 2005 crocheting a hat, then knitting a sweater while commuting to school. This semester l dove into embroidery and weaving, which connected me to the skills of my Granny and my Great Aunt Norma. It’s not a map, map, but I like to think of it as a living map, the three matriarchs of my family have each passed me down a skill, and my work in these mediums can be traced back to these three women.

My classmates explorations with embroidery

A few of us got together this week to hang out over zoom and embroider together. This was one of my favourite moments of the semester. I had been trying to teach myself until this point using a book my granny had gave me. Which was really useful, but sitting there sharing techniques with each other and just talking was a far more engaging way to learn. I felt more confident with what I was doing, and inspired by the work being done by the rest of the group. After spending so much time interrogating acts of making, I am starting to think the acts themselves aren’t inherently anything, but that the context in which they are enacted is what embeds them with meaning and attributes. We were piercing, and cutting, and splitting, and talking, and bonding, and sharing, and learning, and we were doing it together.

I also went back through the blogs of my classmates and realized that embroidery/stitching has come up a lot this semester. Here are some samples of the work my classmates have produced. I am not exactly sure why I felt compelled to share them, except that I have an inclination that there is something meaningful happening, and I want to acknowledge it, and also maybe explore it deeper. Perhaps next semester I will take some to sit and stitch and have some deeper conversations with my peers. Below are 2 photos of Meghna’s work with typography, 2 of Angela’s learning leaves and making for Eve, Charles’s explorations of symbols and language, Kimia’s act of puncturing linguistic erasure, Garima’s stitches of healing, and 2 of Elhams acts of translation. There is a theme emerging for me – stitches and mark making as acts of language, visibility, and communication.

Mapping identity

One more act of mapping this week. In the winter I volunteer as a mentor with a program called CHILL, it is a board sport program for underprivileged youth. This year they set up an Equity training program for staff and volunteers. As part of the workshop we mapped our identities to share with the group. I have spent a lot of time thinking about my positionally this semester. It felt apt that I should end the semester with this kind of exercise. I appreciated the care with which the session was facilitated, and that we went from mapping, to sharing experiences with each other, to practical ways to address inequities in real situation on the mountain, in a space that is very white, male dominated, and wealthy. It made me reflect on why I volunteer in the first place, and I think its because I have gotten so much personally from board-sports. It’s the centre of my mental health, it built my confidence, I learned how to teach, engage, facilitate and coach through this sport. Being on the mountain kept me centred during the toughest periods of my life, and taught me how to work through fear. It has also been a source of income, and helped me pay for university. It’s also fun, joyful and exhilerating. By volunteering I am hoping that those gifts can be passed along to more than just the wealthiest kids.

ACTION 10 – Pulling Through

Pulling It Together

Ever feel like it’s all getting to be too much? This was a grind of a week. I tried to pull it all back together by going through and trying to organize all the stuff around my desk, deciding what should go to the school studio and what needed to find a place at home… Nomi clearly was unimpressed. Bill was pretty skeptical: “how long are you going to leave it like this?” Sometimes you gotta make a mess to get organized. Or at least that is what I tell myself. Apologies to those of you who have organization figured out and are horrified by my process. Please cover your eyes.

Threading the Heddles

I was hoping to have the loom ready to go by the end of last week, but just preparing the warp, and attaching it to the back beam took up all of last week. It worked out well though because I was able to take a bit more time thinking about what pattern I would use going through the heddles. I went through the reference books and found some really beautiful options, but decided on a simple twill pattern, which basically means over two under two. I think that’s the pattern they use to make jeans. The Dorset loom is a direct tie-up (don’t worry if this doesn’t make sense) so that meant simply going 4,3,2,1, 4,3,2,1, 4,3,2,1, etc. I had started working with the number 12 when I was making the warp, so the pattern of four was easily divisible into the pattern. I have never been particularly good at counting or match, I get distracted easily, and always write the numbers in the wrong order, but I am good at patterns, proportions and fractions. The spatial part of math. The patterns made sense, even if I could barely remember what Aunt Norma had shown us, it felt really natural to move from intension into the framework offered up by the floor loom. It also made me think of playing the piano: 4,3,2,1 4,3,2,1 4,3,2,1. I could hear the arpeggio in my head as I pulled the threads through.

One of the other pleasures of this task was that my hands were busy, but my ears, voice and mind were available for engagement. Over the week I spent approx. 20 hrs. listening to podcasts, and chatted with my mom over video calls. The phone rested on the top of the loom with the camera pointing down at my hands as I worked, and the screen facing up so I could see my mom on the other end of the call. Our longest conversation was 4 hours long. I have a feeling that these kinds of conversations will be a part of my work moving forward. I also spent some time working at the Modes of Production garden in North China Creek Park harvesting nettles. I am hoping to learn how to turn the nettle into fibres I can work with in addition to the flax fibres, which I realized this week I have over retted. I will try to salvage what I can, but it looks like I have to wait until next summer before I can harvest the flax. It’s a pretty big disappointment. I was hoping I would get to making some cloth with the linen this semester. I have been thinking a lot about time scales the past few months. Especially in terms of learning and unlearning colonial ways of being. Industry drives us as designers to be working on quarterly times scales, the school has us working on a semester system of time, but the flax gets harvested in the summer. It’s on a yearly scale. So with this failure, I will have to wait, and adjust my expectations and framing of time to match the seasons of the plant. It isn’t that bad to wait. I can work on weaving, dyeing, harvesting and processing other fibres, planting and growing, composting. There is something available and in season right now, and plenty to learn.

Slaying the Reed

The next step was pulling the threads through the reed. I had some math problems here, I was trying to figure out how dense I wanted the cloth to be, and how wide I wanted the cloth to be. It was all somewhat arbitrary because I skipped the first step Aunt Norma had drilled into my mom and I when we attended her weaving boot camp. Dear Aunt Norma, if you are reading this, I apologize. You taught us how to measure our materials, to record our threads per inch, and weigh our materials so we could calculate how long to make our warps and how to use our materials as efficiently as possible. I skipped that step. I got excited. I wanted to see how much I could remember, so I just went for it. The table legs I made my warp on determined the length of my cloth, and I figured if I was using a 12 dent reed, I could do two threads per dent, getting 24 threads per inch. With shrinkage, I figured I’d get a cloth that would be about 6 inches wide, and that I could use the cloth to make nice little fanny packs and pouches that were around 5.5×8 inches. While I worked I regretted this, because I realized it would have been more efficient to make a wider cloth. Fortunately this all worked out, because I counted wrong at some point and I actually had 312 threads instead of 156. So I ended up with 13 inches sleyed through the reed, which would shrink down to 11-12 inches. Maybe I’ll have to make side bags instead of fanny packs… I probably should have done a better job planning. Next time Aunt Norma! That being said, with every mistake I make – and I make at least one mistake on pretty much every step – I am learning how to recover and adapt, and what the meaning is behind each step. With each mistake, I begin to understand the loom better. We are getting to know each other better me and the Dorset loom, and I am also getting to know my cloth really well, every step requires a decision, and every decision starts to shape the outcome of the cloth. There are so many variables and opportunities, that I can see a lifetime of exploration stretch out before me. I think Aunt Norma will be proud that she passed her craft down to me.

Tying On

I was really excited to do this part because tying on means you have dressed the loom. The warp is on and you are one step away from actually weaving. My mom wasn’t kidding, weaving is the 10th or 11th step of making cloth. Not to mention the steps of harvesting fibre, all the steps to process and spin the fibre into thread, and all the steps that go into dying a fibre. It blows my mind that you can buy a sweater for $20 at the mall. It doesn’t quite add up, does it? Tying up is a pretty important step, it doesn’t take very long to do 20 min for a beginner like myself, if you do it well you will have good even tension throughout your cloth, if you do it poorly it will show up in the final product, or you will try to compensate in how you through your weft. So I went home and went to bed. It’s a good thing I did it was late that night, but after I finished the tie-up I discovered a mistake in how I sleyed the reed, two threads were crossed, so they sheds wouldn’t open, so I had to undo it and retie it again, that took more like 40 min to fix, so I was happy that I started fresh after a good nights sleep. Good thing too, because – spoiler alert! – I found one more mistake…

Taking Out the Lease Sticks

So finally after 3 weeks of preparing, and 3 weeks of mistakes, I am ready to take out the lease sticks, to begin throwing the weft, and to become a weaver. Finally!! So I grab some scrap yarn and start weaving a plain cloth pattern, 1 over 1, and that’s when I spot it. Another mistake. In around the middle of the cloth. For two dents in a row, I put only one thread per dent. and you can see the effect in the cloth, I had originally planned to have some spaced single and some spaced double, but that was before I realized my cloth was going to be 12 inches wide. I didn’t want it to get any wider. I also wanted the colours of the warp to come forward. You can see in the photos, that where I made the error, the black weft was coming forward more. On that third tie-up, I decided to only re-tie half. Bill was waiting for me at home, and friends were dropping by with a surprise, so I had to rush. The surprise was freshly harvested chanterelle mushrooms!!!!! I have no regrets, but now the left side is tighter than the right side, and I won’t know until I remove the cloth from the loom what effect that will have. This left me thinking about how every action leaves a mark, visible or invisible, the twists and tensions have an effect. It makes me think about people, how we interact with one another. I wonder how many marks I have made, and what marks people left on me that are still reverberating.

Can you see the error? Two little threads misspaced. Part of me wishes I just left it. The other part of me is glad I went back for the correction. On the next project, I definitely want to explore different spacings in the dents, I really like how it changes the emphasis from warp to weft.

ACTION 9 – Time Warp

Wrapping the warp

So normally you use a warping board to set up your warp, but I didn’t have one, nor did the soft shop. I could have made one in the wood shop, but I got impatient, I wanted to get to the weaving part. So I used what I had available to me, table legs. I am not sure if my Aunt Norma would be proud of me or horrified. She had taught us how to measure the threads per inch, to use a chart and a project plan to calculate and project how much warp we would need, and then to weigh the threads to reduce wasted yardage and materials. I did none of this. I don’t even know how long my warp is. Its on the small side. It’s one table longwise and one table width wise, and the cross is not as close to the end as it should be, it is where the table legs allowed it to be. I have a vague idea of what I want to make with the woven cloth. I have this fanny pack I love to use, and some extra zippers stashed away. I figure I can make a nice series of fanny packs to give to friends, or maybe sell if people like them.

I was thinking about data while I was winding the warp, particularly inspired by Chloe’s work, and her ability to take her personal data, filter and interpret it through experiential actions. Garima is in the studio the day I wind the string. We talk about data, computation, and critical fabulation. There is something so mathematical about planning a weaving project. We talk about the validity of data, and Garima points out that I am making decisions to change the colour at certain points. There is a rationale behind the colour changes. I am not translating a data set into the warp, but the warp itself is becoming the data-set. There is a proportionality I am maintaining as I wind. 24, 12, 6, 4, 3. somehow the pattern relates back to the number 12, divisible by/into, or adds up to 12, I have decided to use a 12 dent reed, which is the smallest I have, that means I can have 1 thread per dent, and get 12 threads per inch, or 2 threads per dent and get 24 threads per inch. Or I can create a pattern where I make the weft shift from tight to open. I probably should have planned more before I started, but I like that I am learning by doing.

Time all by yourself

I enjoyed the process of dressing the loom but realized that this work would definitely be easier with more than one person. I felt pretty fortunate to have this book in my collection. I also had a DVD that I could play at home on Bill’s Xbox with tips on how to dress a loom, and my notes from 4 years ago when my mom and I were being taught by my Aunt Norma. I did start to feel a bit of anxiety, because I assumed I could get the loom dressed in a day and start weaving right away, Instead the week came to a close and I had gotten as far as making the warp, getting the warp tied onto the back beam, making new lease sticks to replace the ones that got lost in shipping and getting the threads spaced through the rattle. I started to wonder though, in this project and the dying project, and even with the embroidery I have started to do, I keep referring to books. I think I am afraid to proceed without doing my homework/research first. Sometimes I wing it and improvise as I go, but I keep noticing a tendency to want to check-in and make sure I am doing it right. I think in non-pandemic times I prefer to learn from someone. To watch how they do it or have someone there to ask a question when I get stuck. I wonder if this is a colonial way of learning, and want to bring more awareness, spend more time noticing when I hold back and wait for confirmation before proceeding. I admire the trait in others where they just go for it and develop their process as they problem-solve along the way. Maybe I am overthinking it, I had books to reference, but I still made lots of mistakes, and I still had to improvise along the way.

Spacing out the threads

So before I could untie my warp and start spreading it out I had to make some new lease sticks, there is this amazing trick of putting a cross in your warp that helps keep your threads in order while you get it onto the loom . The lease sticks help you maintain your cross through the next bunch of steps dressing the loom, you only take them out at the very end right before you start weaving. The rattle is a cool step too, it helps you space out the threads, and keep them in order while you wind the warp onto the back beam. I remember Aunt Norma saying that keeping good tension through this phase was important. So, I try to work steady and methodical. I also have to make some decisions. How wide will my cloth be, what am I going to do for the tie up pattern, and threading the heddles, I really don’t know what I am doing. My mom is a beginner as well. She doesn’t have answers for me, but talking it through with her makes me feel more confident. Its actually pretty nice, I spent a lot of FaceTime with my mom this week. I think she enjoyed hearing from me, and seeing what I was up to. As I worked, I started to come up with ideas for modifying my tools and process, for the next warp, I would like to build a new rattle. My mom built that one to go into the beater bar, but I think I want to build one I can clamp to the the top castle bar. That way I can work standing up, I think it would make the next step of threading the heddles easier too. Or not.

Crunching time

The tobacco leaves had dried out and become crispy, it seemed like a good time to process them. I still had no idea what I was doing, but knew they should be cured, so I got a glass jar, and started breaking the leaf matter away from the stems to fill the jar. I couldn’t believe how much tobacco I had harvested. In order to keep making space in the jar I took a wooden dowel and used it to crush the leaves further. It was messy, it made a satisfying crunching sound, similar to eating potato chips. My fingers got sticky from the tobacco residue. I am still curious, why is tobacco used as a way to show gratitude when harvesting. I know that nicanoides, a type of insecticide, are made from the nicotine in tobacco, I wondered if it is the insecticidal properties that in small doses increase the health and well being of the plants and ecosystems being harvested from. Next year I will move from drying to curing a little faster. The smell I associate with tobacco has just started to form, and is still pretty faint. I wonder if I let them dry out too much before transferring to the jar.

ACTION 8 – Invisible Work

Backyard Bolonaise

So, I had ambitions of doing a whole bunch of dye work this week. Last week I had spent time out in the neighbourhood gathering and harvesting. I have a giant pile of acorns now. But realized that there is a bit more that goes into dying than just the colour. This week I learned about the invisible work that goes into dying the fabric, the scouring and mordanting. But before that work begins, time for dinner.


So I gathered up all the samples of fibres I had around the house, as well as the linen that I purchased. It might be a while before I have the skill to turn flax into the fabric, so for now, I will have to purchase the linen I want to work with. I weigh all the fabrics and calculate the amount of detergent and soda ash I should use. This is where I get the most confused. Every source I look at says something different. Some say absolutely not to use regular washing soda, others say they do. I find myself in a holding pattern for a few days, I decide to not use the washing soda and instead order in the soda ash. For some reason, I am finding it hard to act. I have no idea what I am doing and wish I had someone with more experience to turn to. I seem to have this tendency, this desire to learn from someone. I have to push back against that tendency, and just dive in. There is no risk here, any mistakes will be a part of the learning. I remember my Aunt Norma telling me to keep detailed notes about my textile projects so I have something to reference. I figure if I am going to be making a bunch of mistakes, it’ll be good to have a recording so that I have a starting place of what not to do the next time. I am listening to Robin Wall Kimmerers audiobook, where she narrates Braiding Sweetgrass. She talks about her role as a teacher, and as a student. She talks about her students becoming her teachers, and about the plants as teachers. She describes in one chapter on basket weaver how an elder teaches the young children. He makes a horse for them as an example, places it before them without instruction then leaves them to figure out how to make a horse for themselves. I realized at that moment, that I have enough information to move forward with, even if I don’t have all the answers. This helps me mobilize again. Unfortunately the weather has shifted, I missed the window for working outside on a sunny afternoon. Everything takes longer than I expect, and I spend the next few days working in the dark, and setting up tarps to weather the rainstorm.

Batch 1 – in the dark

So I probably wasn’t as efficient as I could have been. I washed the fabrics in detergent at my sibling’s house (Bill and I don’t have a washer or dryer). But the soda ash didn’t arrive until the next day. Carolyn had a bunch of work meetings, and their place would be unavailable until the weekend, so I decide to use the gas burner that we use for beermaking and canning in my backyard. Unfortunately, my pot was too small, so I could only do half the material at a time. The soda ash is amazing it pulls so much out of the cloth, everything comes out a different colour, a colour that looks like it wants to be dyed. And the smell was lovely. The boiling cotton and linen had a warm earthy smell. But it took a long time to get the water to a boil and keep it at a boil for a full hour. By the time I got it rolling the sun had set, and I had to finish in the dark. Still, I was thankful for the excuse to be outside and away from my computer!

I woke up and the first batch was dry, it was crustier now, not brittle, but had this crunchiness to it. Especially the linen yarn. Maybe I didn’t rinse it enough, but linen gets softer with time, so I’ll just wait and see what happens after mordanting, and the dye bath.

Batch 2 – covered up

So with all the delays I missed the good weather, it was cold with a heavy rain. I started earlier this time, so I wouldn’t have to finish in the dark, but the wind was strong and the rain was making the pot take longer to get to a boil. So I grabbed a bunch of containers from around the yard to create a wind break, and pulled a tarp out from our camping stuff, stringing it up from the corner of the two houses. Somehow this made it so much more fun, it reminded me of building blanket forts with my cousins at Granny’s house.

I knew what to expect this time, and felt far more at ease than I had earlier in the week. Again the smell of the boiling fabric was wonderful. I also had Robin Wall Kimmerer’s narration to keep me company. As well as Mimi Gellman’s Braiding Sweetgrass bookclub.

Invisible work takes time

So, this prep was supposed to be done in a day, so I could move on to mordanting and dying all within a week. Why does everything take longer than I expect it to? I was disappointed that I didn’t get to the fun part, the colour. But on reflection, I decided it was good to curb my expectations, to allow the process to take the time it takes, and to adjust my plans as things unfold. I forget that inexperience is a factor that slows everything down, but also slowing down makes the experience more enjoyable. I had fun this week. I felt good about what I achieved. Listening to Braiding Sweetgrass while outside doing the work felt more meaningful than it had in previous weeks. I had done the invisible work, the unexciting part, and when it is time I will be ready to add colour to the cloth. Well, actually I still have to figure out the mordanting process. I wonder what else would be categorized as invisible work, and when I encounter this kind of work, will I remember the lessons I learned this week?

Final note

The loom arrived this week. My mom sent me her Dorset floor loom for my birthday this year! I am so excited. I think I may have to take a break from the dye project while I get the loom set up!

ACTION 7 – Going Out & Reaching Out

This was a turning point for me, there is nothing super significant in what I did this week, other than I left the house. For the past few weeks, I had been stuck at home, operating in a 5′ x 7′ space. This week I walked. I took my phone with me and snapped some photos, I took a bag with me and collected things: acorns, needles, mushroom spores, pokeberries, madder root. I walked and I saw, and I stopped, and I collected, and I met people. Mostly still through zoom, but it was a week of engaging calls: DESIS, Design Justice Network Vancouver, I keep encountering another Emily Carr student named Morgan on all of these zoom calls I am attending. I made it to Mimi Gellman’s Braiding Sweetgrass book club, I attended Leslie-Ann Noel’s guest lecture in Dimeji Onafuwa’s class on the pluralverse. I started to feel connected again and that I was on the right track. Oh, and I got mail, Jenna’s zine series – Atrocities Against Indigenous Canadians arrived, I ordered the whole series again because I had given away all the zines I ordered last time. I have to remember to get out and walk more. I also met Sharon Kallis from EartHand gardens. She was attending Mimi’s book club too and described the Means of Production Garden. By her description, I was pretty sure I knew which one she meant. So the next day I went to check out the garden at China Creek Park near the school. It was great I met another Emily Carr student as well, Naomi. Sharon has great energy and was really receptive to my questions and inquiries. I explained that I was trying to understand colonization and decolonization by working with flax, she didn’t bat an eye. It turns out she works with flax, hemp, nettles and more, spinning, weaving and knitting with them. She also grows the materials for fabric and natural dying in the community garden. I stumbled upon a group of people already doing the kind of work I wanted to be involved in.

Reminder to self

When you are feeling stuck, just get up and go out for a walk. Pick up the phone and call or text someone. Or walk to a friends house just to say hello. The world will open up, and you will have positioned yourself where you need to be to see the opportunities. Also, Lesley-Ann Noel had so much to share. Go look up more of her work and lectures.

ACTION 6 – Re-Defining

I discovered in action 4, that I was not satisfied with the definition of making, or the role of the designer as a maker. That language shapes the way we perceive the world and the way we act within our understanding, and so I began to redefine the terms of what a designer does. This week I began to explore what it would look like to act out those words.

Caring for

It’s that time of year, the weather is cooling off, and it is time to get the plants back inside before the first frost. During the transition time I like to give the plants a re-set. I look for bugs or disease and try to treat it or trim it out. I give the leaves a nice shower, and sponge them down. removing any dirt or build up, and I like to repot them, washing each pot as I go, giving them fresh soil. Nomi loves to hang around when I am working with the plants. I think she likes the sounds and the smells. She also prefers to drink water from the saucer instead of from any of her water dishes.


Next, I tried out the action/word repairing, I took a pot I broke the day before, and got some aquarium safe epoxy from the hardware store, and tried to put the pot back together. It reminded me, and everyone I showed, of the Japanese technique of Kintsugi. I was really happy with the aesthetic of the repair. I also enjoyed working with the epoxy putty, even though the smell reminded me of burnt hair, and it was sticking to my fingernails, I was afraid to eat chips after because the epoxy residue might mix with the chip flavour and come off in my mouth. But, I wasn’t sure if the pot needed repairing. If I had disrupted the life cycle of a pot by putting it back together again. I can’t communicate with pots. Did I take away its autonomy by assuming the pot wanted to hold soil and roots and moisture once again? Nomi was pretty fascinated with the result, so maybe I was still on the right track.


I have this lovely blanket my granny made for me when I moved out west to go to university. It was one of the last ones she made. All the grandchildren got one after we were born, and around the same time she made this one she did one for her great grand-duaghter Olivia. Granny used grampa’s old pants for this one, and embroidered plant vines and leaves. I love this blanket and decided to put some time into mending it. This was the most rewarding action of the week. I was worried that my patches would take away from the blanket, but instead it added more value for me, I liked the way the patches became embellishments. I like that there was no pattern to the moth holes so the patches would be irregularity spaces, and I was learning how to embroider for the first time which made me feel even more connected to my granny. Working on the blanket made me think about my granny, so I called her up for a conversation. She seemed to be doing better than the last time we spoke. I was glad to hear her voice.

Final thoughts, or are they…

I am not sure where this action left me. I don’t think I got what I was hoping to out of it. My thoughts still feel unresolved. Perhaps I just need to do more. Or approach it differently. I’d like to see what happens when I plant that pot if that will change how I feel about it. I will definitely keep working with the moth holes in grannies blanket. Taking care of the blanket made me feel closer to granny, and knowing that she is 93, and that because of covid I may never get the chance to go home to see her again, well it felt significant to build on her work, and maintain this connection between us.

Note: grampa passed away several years ago, but I used my own trouser material for the patches, so maybe I am connecting with him too in a weird way.

ACTION 5 – Video Sketches

So this one was fun, but I definitely didn’t go with my initial ideas…. I have been looking into pre-colonial practices and ways of knowing from the Netherlands, Scotland, and Ireland, and I keep bumping into the notion of tree beings, invisible people, gnomes, or tree spirits. It’s something I always believed as a kid, and I thought I was appropriating it from Icelandic culture, but it turns out there are similar beliefs all over Europe. So I thought I would make a film about that, still might, and definitely wish I had, but time pressures hit and I shifted into something a slightly more concrete. Instead I explored the idea of what my design practice might look like after I am done the masters program at Emily Carr, using the sketches as a speculative fiction, hoping to better understand what I am practicing for.

I started by reviewing the work I had already done in previous actions, and then pulled out a few threads I wanted to keep exploring. I got the final idea when I went back and re-read the PDF on Ways of Making from our course resources. I was struck by how forceful the definitions were. I was reading the colonial nightmare: coerce, compel, force, prevail, strong-arm. So I started making an alternate list that answered the question, what is a designer’s work if they are not making new things. Then for the sketch, I chose a few to illustrate and put together a shoot, my kind sibling mustered up their high school drama training and deserves much credit for playing the role of design client in my imaginary, futuristic, plural-versal, one-stop, design shop. aka. the 4′ x 6′ space between shelves in the living room, that is my classroom, gym, office, dance studio, library, art/design studio, which I am also sharing with the loveable kitten Nomi, and approx. 26 houseplants.

The second video I tried based off some feedback I received from Zach about exploring how I might define ritual. Originally I wanted to show several rituals, but in a way where you could see what was common, and what was unique to each of them. In the end I choose the disco workout. Mostly because I had to embed so much ritual into it, to create the motivation to shift my behavior towards being a person who works out in a steady kind of way, instead of my preferred states of either doing a lot of a physically strenuous activity, or moving very little, staying cozy, comfy and close to home. This was also an nice build off ACTION 2 – where I show both my lazy and active side through my oatmeal routine, and where I first started to realize there was a ritual aspect to my approach. Zach had also said something that stuck in my mind, that maybe I didn’t have to focus on creating a product with my explorations, but that I could focus on creating experiences for people. I guess that is something to keep in mind for future actions, how can I create actions for others to enact, and is that something I want to do, given that I want to be exploring power dynamics in participation.

When I started exploring rituals I did notice some particulars that were in all of them. For example, I usually had a type of clothes I would wear that was suitable for the routine – workout clothes for sweat, loose drapey old clothes for gardening that didn’t matter if they got dirty, kept the sun off my shoulders and included a belt for holding tools. There was an element of external cueing I would use to start the action – timer for the lights shuts off indicating bedtime routine. Bill’s March birthday indicating planting time. My October birthday initiating the closing of the garden and the bringing in of houseplants. There was a seasonal element, a knowledge of the indicators from other plants and animals, forsythia are blooming, put out the mason bee cocoons, the countdown till august when the bindweed really takes off, unless I pull all spring, then it never gets too crazy. Or how to extend the weeding season of the buttercups by ripping off all the flower heads every few days, giving me enough time to dig them out by the roots before they spill seeds everywhere making my entire weeding effort moot by the following year. There is also the kitten factor – Nomi initiates most morning routines with first a cuddle, but when that’s over for her a scream in my face, not because she wants food, but because she wants to ensure I will get up and walk her out of the room, and if I go back to bed she will return an hour later to scream again until we have kitty playtime before morning class!

Finally, I wanted to include here a bit about the soundtracks for my videos, they are both by the artist Sylvester, a gender-fluid, black man, immersed in San Francisco’s queer nightlife scene. Sylvester’s music is for celebration and is a tonic for trauma and dark days. So dig in and enjoy.

Thank you Sylvester. So grateful for the music you put into the world.

ACTION 4 – Going Out, or Staying In…

After the emotional energy I put into Action 3, I found the directions for Action 4 hard to follow. I had already expanded so much, that I had the urge to contract not to go out… I attempted to do some experiments but was not very satisfied with the results, so I also left this one unfinished, and open-ended. I have had it playing on a loop in the back of my head this whole time. Here’s where I ended up with it. And I couldn’t have been too far off track, because Nomi was really into what I was doing, and that usually means I am on the right track.

I had decided to spend more time with Robin Wall Kimmerer’s chapter the Honorable Harvest. I ended up carving a quote out into lino, remembering that carving causes tendonitis to flare up in my forearms. I also realized that I made a rookie mistake when I did my carving, I forgot to flip it, and carve the mirror image, so that the ink would transfer onto the paper in the right way. I decided to go ahead and print it anyway because my wrists were hurting too much to consider carving it again. The act of working with the words, and the english language in this way though it did something, each letter was 3-6 digs with the carving tool, straight gestures were easy, but curved letter required a twist, a turn of the work, a twist, a turn of the work, and then back the other way – turn, twist, turn, twist – I was able to get the text complete in two evenings. I purchased the audiobook of braiding sweetgrass, so I could listen to Robin narrate while I worked.

I decided to go ahead and print them, knowing that the action taken was the important part, and I would discover what I needed to in the act of doing. Once the paper was on the inked up lino block I realized I needed something to add pressure to the back of the page, I tried a few things lying around I think it was my charging block for my iphone that worked the best, it was glossy and had generously rounded corners, but that’s where I got the idea. I realized that to get the result of readable text with no computer manipulation I could simply do a rubbing. Down below are some of the computer-flipped images. They have beautiful texture and I may come back to this at another time.

While doing the rubbings though, I discovered something else. The reveal. as seen below, the words just began to reveal themselves, it was as if the conversation was unfolding before me. I was actively listening while simultaneously rubbing the words into existence. Much like the recordings in action 3, there was something happening as I embodied the action, the alchemy wasn’t happening in the first translation, or the second, but somewhere in the third translation it became something else. It made me think about the role of designer, often we are tasked with communicating as clearly as possible, but maybe there is something to being a part of the translation, to finding the action that reveals, but how does power and participation fit into this. I know this action asked us to go out and involve more people, and I am feeling the tug of why. But I also have to recognize that I was in a moment of contraction, and that my process may not align fully with the intentions of the school. I think that is a decolonial act to recognize the deadline as neither important or urgent, just a guide post that I can challenge when needed.

I did experiment with different ways of revealing, I tried spraying water which saturated well, but the words are harder to see, I used conte, and charcoal, with ink and without ink, with used ink. In the end, my favourite method was with ink – because it helps the paper stay in place, and it bled through ever so slightly adding depth to the rubbing and to each letter – and for the rubbing, a regular office pencil, that I shaped and kept sharp with a knife. I got 8/25 printed. Pablo, I know you read all the blogs, I am planning to have one for each of our class members, when you all finally arrive.

ACTION 3 – Honourable or Dishonourable Harvests

PART 1 – Building Relationships >> This action began at the grocery store, well actually it might have started in the spring when I planted 7 tobacco seeds, but on Wednesday after class I was ‘harvesting’ groceries, there was a sale on cheese, so I gathered plenty, stocking up and planning to stuff the extras into my freezer when a man in a yellow jacket entered the isle. I recognized him, we had met a year before at the Why I Design event at the museum of Vancouver, and this summer I took a course with his wife Ta7talíya Michelle Nahanee called decolonize first, I reference that course a lot, so don’t be surprised if I bring it up and share the link to Ta7talíya’s workbook resource. Lloyd mentions that he had just performed a healing ceremony for 250 people over zoom, I’m amazed and intrigued to hear how ceremony adapts to the digital realm we all live in now. But also, it has been on my mind lately that I have grown all of this tobacco, a surprising amount, and that it might be of value to Lloyd, he is happy to receive the leaves I harvest but that I should keep some for myself. He explains briefly to make prayer bundles, but I am left to myself, and the internet to figure out how to harvest, dry, and with the question, as a white person would that not be appropriation to make a prayer bundle?

PART 2 – From Action to Reflection >> Cutting the tobacco, well it felt kinda violent, I did the immersive reflection afterwards, the stickiness of the leaves and the sound of the shears cutting through the stalk started to haunt me. Did I do this wrong, was there a protocol I was supposed to follow? What do I do now that I have all these leaves? How do you dry them? How do you cure them? How long does it take? How do you know they are ready? So much uncertainty made me think of a resource: there is a chapter in the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer called the Honourable Harvest, I hadn’t ready that far yet, but my sibling kept saying she thinks of that chapter when working with data and doing research, now was the time, the book was calling out… but then another book grabbed my attention — My Conversations with Canadians by Lee Maracle — I had chosen the word Decolonize Design from the lexicon, who better to turn to than Lee. She had been referenced by Rita Wong and Dorothy Christian in Downstream – Reimaging Water, which I read during ACTION 1 – and she was also the first author I read after the truth and reconciliation report came out which was perhaps when I first decided I should be working towards reconciliation with my design practice. I am not sure exactly why I did this — the prompt of the assignment to get off screen, a feeling that I didn’t want to read the words on the page, but hear the words, feel them and their meaning in my body — colonization upholds the written word as the word of authority, so why not try to challenge this way of knowing and doing — I turned on the recording device and started to read the first chapter outloud, unrehearsed — 32min — I took a small break, then sat down again, this time with the honourable harvest — 1hr 21min — exhausted and a bit dehydrated I went to bed.

Reading – Lee Maracle’s My Conversations with Canadians – Conversation 1: Meeting the Public
Reading – Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass – The Honorable Harvest
harvesting the leaves
bundling the flax, and tobacco leaves

PART 3 – the kitten was really interested. I figure I am on the right track if Nomi is intrigued. I forgot to mention this in the first action, but I went down a how to do ASMR recording rabbit hole when I started playing with audio recordings, Nomi loves it, rustling of paper, and the sound of flax so far are her favourite. Back to the honorable harvest…. I had a chance to do things differently with the grapes, so I went out and introduced myself. I spent time walking around and observing to know if it was time and I took what seemed like a reasonable amount, not all. I have tended to this grape vine for years now, it used to get cut back every year by our land lord, now it has had a chance to grow back, it provides good shade in the summer the birds love hanging out in it. So I begin to pick, and while I pick I just spend the time thinking, and enjoying being outside with Nomi nearby and am grateful for the cider I will be able to make… perhaps this year I will try turning the wine into vinegar. With the rain coming in and a good number of grapes picked I head back inside to continue to work on my response.

Part 4 – I want to explore the voice recordings in a different way. It was so visceral and physical when I did the readings, but now I want to explore discomfort, what will happen in my body if I play them back to myself, create and internal, external, mediated dialogue with myself. I brew a batch of coffee, I set up my ipad so it can sit across the kitchen table from me and record my reactions as I listen back to the reading of Lee Maracle’s work. I sit down and I listen. I don’t fully see myself, there is a crockpot between me and the pad screen, but the camera has a good angle, so if fully captures the scene. I try to think about sitting around the kitchen table in the way Maracle described, I think back to last summer the trip Bill and I did up to Fort Vermillion to visit his grandma, the whole trip was sitting around the table drinking weak coffee. I wondered if the coffee was brewed weak on purpose because we were going to have at least 5 pots from morning to bedtime. I also found a picture of my dear friend Jenna that I took back in highschool, we spent a lot of time hanging around the kitchen table then too, our trip to Trail to see Bill’s dad, was a lot of hanging at the restaurant drinking coffee. When I had spent enough time conjuring up the feeling it was time to hit record.

I have two videos to go here, they are currently too big, so i have to set it up as a link or change the size and re-export. Open to suggestions. video1 – me listening to the recording of the Lee Maracle reading. video2 – video I shot while I was doing the reading.

Listening back, especially while recording my reactions was uncomfortable. Which is what I wanted to explore, I was fidgety, there were interruptions, it was hard to sit still for the 32 mins, it was completely different to how i felt when I was reading aloud. Then I was focused on the words and my voice, I didn’t notice if my body fidgeted or not, but when listening back I was acutely aware of every ache or discomfort, I felt less focused on the words, and less connected to my emotions. Reading, performing, listening, they all evoke different sensations in the body, and maybe I could listen differently if I practiced more. Maybe I wouldn’t fidget so much if I was better at sitting up in a chair, had better fitness or posture. I don’t know,. Maybe it was that it was hard to hear, or that it was my voice reading Lee’s words, not Lee’s own voice. Maybe it was the content of Lee’s writing that I was uncomfortable listening to. What surprised me was that I had a different reaction again when I played the recording and the video for the class during my peer review.

Part 5 – so, honourable harvest or dishonorable harvest. I have all this tobacco, and don’t know how to dry it or cure it. I looked online and found large scale commercial strategies, and websites about the cultural importance of tobacco to some First Nations, but no practical guidance on how to process tobacco on a small scale. So I will just have to try to see what works, I peg some, I use a needle and put a line through some, I hang the one I cut as a full stock on a clothes hanger. I lay some flat, I put some on top of paper, I was left with a feeling of uncertainty and a wish that someone could show me what to do. I didn’t want to mess up the harvest, or make a mistake by not processing the tobacco well. But I am committed now. So we will wait and see how it all turns out. Hmm the other thing I am noticing is that some of the actions I take are not actions that necissarily fit into our one week due dates. Instead it is a start or a portion of an action that I have to work with, that there is time and process that go beyond what our class affords.

My final note: when I presented I felt that this was an inaction over an action, i didn;t design or produce, but in listening to people’s responses maybe I did produce something. One classmate said that my voice, thoughts and emotions were the materials. When thinking about decolonization, or decolonizing design, maybe that is part of it, resisting the urge to make or produce the tangible because you are a designer or artist, but to make the intangible more real, more felt, more embodied.