Silk painting commission

Some months ago I noticed I was getting a fair few comments from Brenda, in Oregon, USA. She appeared to be reading my blog (all 750 or so posts) from start to finish, and commenting on several. I was flabbergasted. Most people treat a blog like a magazine or newspaper, reading the latest posts, but having very little time for the old news. I am like that myself. Even with the blogs I enjoy I rarely go back to the very beginning, although of course I do search or read back as my interest takes me. But I was so touched by her interest, and commitment, that I emailed her directly, and we started “talking”. Mainly about our printing, dyeing, surface decoration experiences. She, for example, has lots of knowledge about eco-printing with leaves and other plant matter, natural printing techniques, and quilting and sewing and knitting. And as we talkied a bit more about ourselves I found her an intriguing and kind person. I followed her on Instagram @bmarksor. So it was a bit of a shock when she wrote to tell me that she had breast cancer, and that she would be off line for a while. I wished her well and hoped for the best.

My internet friend Brenda

Well of course I carried her in my mind for a week or two as I knew she was waiting for detailed results, the prognosis and the treatment plan. Although I have never had cancer myself, like many people, I have been close to lots of people who have. Surgery, chemotherapy, tests, sickness, pain, worry – much of our experience with cancer is negative. So after a week or two I reached out to ask her how she was doing. Thankfully Brenda was happy to talk about what was happening and I appreciated her openness and willingness to share her horrible experiences in a way that made them bearable – for herself, her family and her friends. And she allowed me in, and we have continued to talk about losing her hair, and feeling exhausted, and preparing for surgery, which will take away her breasts.

During this time she has displayed a very strong character, a scientific interest in the treatment and its effects on her body, the social and personal issues associated with her condition. She has a very positive view of life and her future that I find encouraging and inspiring. And in the midst of this she has been focused outwards, and amongst other things has been following my SWAP plan!  She wrote offering me some beautiful fabrics that she had bought to make smart work wear for her job as a lecturer. She is off work at the moment and is probably thinking that even if she goes back to this job she won’t want to dress so “corporate” in future. So she kindly sent me swatches of all her fancy fabrics (about 10 of them) and asked me to take them all, or to select which I would like to receive, as a gift. I was overwhelmed but I offered to pay for the postage as I had a feeling that it would be prohibitive.

In between her treatments Brenda went to the post office and weighed her parcel, and gradually we agreed to take out items that were too expensive to post. Instead I proposed that Brenda, when she has recovered, comes to stay with us in London, or by the lake, in England. I hope that she will do this – it was not an idle offer! In the meantime we agreed I would make her something and she suggested that I paint a piece silk, so that she can make up a special outfit for afterwards. Last week a parcel arrived that included a beautiful piece of blue wool to make trousers for Gus, some high quality natural silk, inspiration pictures and some stones. I will write about the stones, and the blue wool, on another occasion.

Brenda will be a different shape after the operation, and the chemo has diminished her appetite, but Brenda is able to think positively about being cured, and putting some creative energy into making a new wardrobe. In the same way that when she lost her hair she made some lovely hats she plans to make a special dress that will flatter her and make feel good about herself. And I get to help and play a part in that! What an honour. But also, what a responsibility!

My task is to use these pictures as inspiration. The Alabama Chanin stencil designs are, as she notes, “botanical, movement, medium scale, could be beautiful in brush strokes”. I find these images a bit scary – for my attempts at stencils see here. I generally paint flowers (and leaves, but they are a supporting act for me), but the AC seems to be more about stems and leaves. And the patinated copper jewellry (which I love) is also leaf shaped, and the peacock feather motif is elliptical. Again my natural shape when painting is somewhat rounded.

The colour inspiration is also a little bit worrying – I think we are going for green and purple scheme, with brown, blue and turquoise. But also there is something in that first swatch that is talking to me which is the warmer gingery brown/beige and the cherry red. I think these two colour provide a useful bit of contrast, alongside white. Brenda can certainly wear deeper cool colours but I also want to get some lightness into it as it is silk.

I am excited about this commission which will be challenging. I want to create something that Brenda loves and can use to make a gorgeous dress. At the moment she is suggesting I create the bodice and she will create the skirt, but what I am thinking perhaps is to paint say half the length of the fabric, then batik wax the painted areas, and dye the fabric say dark green, or brown or navy, so that there is a nice plain section and the patterned section with the same background colour. I think it would be easier if I knew the pattern or shape Brenda was planning for the dress but it may be too soon for her to decide.

I can’t wait to get started but I will let it brew in my mind for a little while.


31 Responses

  1. Brenda

    Oh, Kate! Thank you for posting about my situation and our friendship. I am truly honored. I sent many pieces of inspiration hoping one would resonate with you. The stencils somehow reminded me of silk roses you painted for a SWAP. In any case, I’m impressed with all of your surface design efforts, and I’m sure I’ll adore whatever you create. No pressure, really. 🙂

  2. Marianne

    What a beautiful post, Kate. Best proof that internet friendships can be real and valuable treasures. I’m wishing Brenda all the best and I’m sure the two of you will come up with a stunning dress!

  3. Jenny (the lilac cat)

    A lovely story about how friendship grows round common interests and a personal connection develops. Another blessing of the internet! This collaboration will be a fun one to watch. Wishing Brenda all the very best with the demands of the treatment and I agree with her that the posts on your blog are very moreish….

  4. SewRuthie

    Leaves are my motif and I doodle them on notebooks without thinking. It’s very very simple double curve but I love the way they can twist slightly one way or the other. The copper verdigris is particularly lovely the way the shiny copper gradually becomes that matte soft green, sort of the reverse of Autumn where the green leaves turn to copper!
    Wishing Brenda good health.

  5. Catlinda

    A few coincidences here, I too read your posts from start to finish a year or two ago (also Carolyn and Ruth’s) , I’ve been through breast cancer, chemo, radiotherapy, mastectomy and tamoxifen and am well out of the other side (diagnosis 2000) . Brenda has selected my favourite colours and I think your idea of the copper would be great. When I look at Alabama Chanin I also see circles and spirals which I imagine are in the stones also there is the symbolism in these shapes.
    I look forward to seeing the fabric and the dress. Enjoy

    • fabrickated

      Well, well, well Catlinda! I never knew that you had been quietly reading away. Also good to hear your BC success story. And that you for mentioning the symbolism of the shapes – its an appealing thought. Thank you so much for commenting.

  6. Seamsoddlouise

    Brenda, wishing you a speedy and quick recovery from all the surgery. What a lovely idea for Kate to paint the silk. Something creative and new that she will enjoy doing and special for you to treasure too. Those rocks look beautiful, the kind of thing your hand just longs to touch.

  7. Evelyn Andrews

    Hi I’ve just joined your newsletter and cried whilst reading this. I wish Brenda well for her surgery and a long and happy life. I really love fabrickated and what you do it’s really down to earth. Your knitting items have given me the inspiration to start knitting for my first grand daughter which is due in April.

    Thanks for all. Xx

    • fabrickated

      Hello dear Evelyn, and thank you for following. I cried while I wrote it. And when Brenda’s parcel arrived. How exciting that you have a grand-daughter coming along – I love my grandsons beyond measure but I wish I could make dresses for them!

  8. eimear

    The very best to Brenda in her recovery, and I am fully charmed by the way blogging and sewing groups connects people. I was trying to explain it to a colleague in work and I am not sure if they ‘got’ it, looking forward to seeing the painted silk! those colours are beautiful, and I always think of silk as a ‘kind’ fabric (although probably not for the silk worm) as years ago I used mind a baby, and she would always fall asleep in my arms in minutes when I wore a silk scarf and if it was next to her skin.

    • fabrickated

      What a lovely story about the silk and a sleepy baby. Our skin has its own memory I think – I wonder how the person who was the baby feels about silk now. Meeting people like you, Brenda, Mary Funt, Catlinda, Ellen, Jenny, and Ruth and everyone else who comments is just a joy unlike any other. Somehow, whatever the differences, we get each other. We have an understanding that surpasses distance, race, taste, shape, background. It is quite a phenomenon and one I find very interesting. As traditional communities are in long term decline these new communities do meet a deep human need.

  9. Mary Funt

    What a wonderful friendship! It’s amazing that the world of blogging and sewing enables us to have friends all over the world. I too wish Brenda a speedy and complete recovery. The inspiration images are lovely and I’m sure you will create an amazing piece for her. Thank you for sharing this story.

  10. birdmommy

    If you’re looking for stencil inspiration, I’ve found cake stencils to be interesting. There’s usually a linear and a circular pattern that co-ordinate, and there’s all sorts of different styles. The designs themselves are too small to use as is, but they’re a great starting point.

  11. Anne

    I agree the it is so lovely that sewing and blogs can lead to international friendships. I wish Brenda the very best for a full recovery. I look forward to seeing what you end up creating.

  12. Sue

    This is indeed a responsibility, but a wonderful, positive one. If anyone can meet this brief Kate, you can, and you will help Brenda create something stylish that she will enjoy wearing for years to come. I am excited to see the outcome. I also wish to send Brenda strong vibes for a quick recovery.

  13. Melissa

    Thank you, Kate, for your kindness and support for my dear friend Brenda. You are so generous, and I am looking forward to seeing what you design for her! And I do hope that she will come to visit you, I think that would be really lovely for both of you.

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