It’s a story decades in the making and deserves to be recorded. I’ve been “commisioned” to create the ending of it. A label is simply not enough in this case.
For decades she sat there
Feeling the flow of the warp and weft
Lost in the motion of weaving
Ruby Marsh became a master weaver. Born prior to the dirty thirties in South Saskatchewan she understood making do and making things. She and her husband, Fred, lived in remote British Columbia and raised a family there. Introduced to weaving during these early years she spent the next 51 years creating, teaching and perfecting her skills. Her obituary talks about her passion for this creative endeavor.
She was my Aunt. My dad’s baby sister. The distance, back then, didn’t allow for a lot of visits but the connection never broke. We did visit them in Needles once, alas my only two memories are of the trip on single track mountain roads with no sidewalls and the subsequent reactions of my mom and middle sister. Strangely enough I don’t remember the visit at all just the road trip. Although recently I remembered their big dog!
Upon her death there was much sorting to be done. Two looms to pass along and a large box of samples. My cousin Jean at this point had a “flashblack” to my attic and some of my projects she had glimpsed. She reached out and asked if I would consider creating family treasurers from these pieces. I didn’t hesitate to say yes but I did, many times in the creative process, question my ability to do them justice.
I sorted samples and pondered. I colour coded them and I pondered. I asked for the reciepents colour palettes. I had been asked to make 3 but the quantity (and quality) of material spoke and said make more. I asked Jean if I could create 3 additional ones for specific people and the answer was a definite yes.
Those were easy ones as my aunt wove a piece of the Saskatchewan tartan. I cut 2 in the shape of Saskatchewan’s straight man-made borders and attached them to ivory samplers. I added my Aunt’s label and my initials. My dear cousin (who’s also my older cousin and I never resist a chance to say that but it should be noted she is also a very dear one) was the first recipient. I made a second one, very similar, for myself as a reminder of our connections. These were good learning opportunities.
Then I took more pondering time and during that time I created one for my oldest cousin. She has lived in Alberta for a long time but loves her home province so I did the Saskatchewan tartan in the shape of Alberta. I had to be more inventive with the background fabric as I was running out of bigger woven pieces. There was a delicately woven one with a long run of warp in between the two woven pieces. So on the top one I added a heart. My lovely cousin phoned me in tears when this surprise parcel arrived. Hit the mark there.
I should back up and mention that my dad married late. His sister was younger than him by quite a bit. His nieces, my oldest cousins, spent a lot of time with their Aunt Ruby and have many memories of times together at Nanna and Bompa’s house. Hence why I created a wall hanging for each of them.
So a couple of easy ones done. Then the fabric “spoke” to me. The colour palette in this one was very unusual for Aunt Ruby and it stood out. They have a long history of summers at a remote lake in British Columbia and so I cut out letters from a different piece of woven fabric and stitched them on. I used blue and green thread in a wavy stitch to signify water and trees. The angled position of the words mimics the road to Whatshan.
Then I found a large woven piece that was the perfect colour palette for my cousin’s daughter. Thinking about a grandmother’s love for a beloved grandchild the design of this one was obvious. I created a heart from a complementary colour and stitched it on In retrospect I should have hand stitched it as it didn’t lay flat but live and learn.
On each one I was able to attach a label “hand woven by Ruby Marsh” as I had found these labels in a small wicker basket that had belonged to my Nanna and had been gifted to me after my Aunt Ruby died.
So 5 labels gone and 2 major wall hangings left to do. I looked for inspiration and thought about the love of gardening that Jean shared with her parents. This grew into The Woven Garden. I used a combination of Aunt Ruby’s woven material and dollies from my collection to create the flowers. I hand died the big flower from white into a lovely purple colour(it’s much more vibrant in real life than the picture shows) from saskatoons that I picked from our land. Having learnt from the previous hangings I hand stitched each item into place always keeping in mind that the back is not hidden like it is in a quilted wall hanging. I learnt new embroidery stitches and my understanding of woven fabrics certainly increased. As I was writing this up and inserting pictures I finally realized why I disliked the labels. I did the blanket stitch backwards 😳.
Then I pondered and pondered and pondered. I sorted through the samples again. Then I pondered a bit more. Brian loves biking, building and is a quiet laid back guy. He and his wife Corky have a lovely home right along the Columbia River. It’s a very tranquil setting and I finally let that be my inspiration. Using the same background fabric I had used for his sister’s tied them together. I eventually realized needed to turn the strips to become part of the landscape. Then I enlisted the help of a young artist to sketch their house to help me with depth perception. Then I pondered again for quite some time, like a month according to the photos. I wanted to paint the background mountains and finally sucked up my courage to just do it!
My procrastination didn’t work out so well. It meant that I was upstairs, doing the machine stitching necessary before you can cut the fabric, in the heat of the day prior to us leaving for B.C. I spent a significant amount of time hand stitching in the vehicle which is not near as easy as on the veranda. I struggled with a couple of spots and collective heads were put together to solve issues. If I had felt more confident in my embroidery skills I would have added a bike leaning against the house.
The delivery of the gifts was timed to hit Brian and Jean’s respective summer cabins for family time. The big reveal found me nervous as all get out but everyone loved the creations that interwove their mother’s story down through me to them.
The post is brilliant! It brought tears to my eyes. Like at “the great reveal”. Mum would be so pleased. Thanks again.Jean
I know, it was a long read. Kudos if you stuck with it to the end and aren’t a family member!