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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


cropvia a ftblogger's self care channel here's a gorgeous sitar vid by Anoushka Shankar.

If you're feeling a bit stronger on the activist side, Earth Day (& marches for science) are tomorrow. I've never really understood the divide between science and art, as the former is a huge enabler of the latter. But as an artist always wanting better & cooler art supplies & tools (never mind the whole clean water/cures for infectious diseases/communication tech...) I am all about funding science. For those not into crowds, the nice thing about resistbot is you don't even have to talk to people. I gather you have to give it both your full name & title (the latter is a bit problematic for me, as there isn't really one in English I'm happy with....)

I'm going out of town shortly, and so blogging is gonna be light to non-existent for the next month or so. But we've got all those pretty spring colours to look at in the meantime:)


cropSo I thought I'd take a break from all that old stuff, and talk a bit about some of my more recent researches: today's textile is not a braid (technically, braids are an oblique interlacing, i.e. a sort of weaving) but instead merely a 4 strand twisted fiber, like rope or multi-ply yarns. Though handspun yarn can be single ply, it's not as durable as multiple, which is also why rope is traditionally at least 3 plies.

Plying allows for some fun visual effects, such combining strands with long and short colour repeats, a technique handspinners call fractal spinning; knit up, it uses optical blending to make more softly transitioned stripes. I, of course, have been fascinated by ombre yarns for a long time—somewhat for embroidery, but especially for kumihimo. As it turns out, though one can purchase reproductions of circular sock knitting machines, no-one, unfortunately, has gotten around to reproducing the equivalent 19ca braid making machines, which to be sure, have a lot more gearing; even the sock machines were, according to the 4th generation machinist who makes these things, no picnic. So if I want to, say, prototype hand-dyed string to see how it might look in braids, I'll just have to settle for using my bradshaw winder:) —which actually would be a pretty decent mockup, at least for spiralling striped braids such as kongoh.

So today's post features a bradshaw wound cord, as opposed to a braid.


cropIt's taken several run-ups to get going again, and the post below, written in Dec15, kinda shows why. Wish I could say it was now totally outdated, but if anything, the situations referenced have gotten worse. Le sigh.

Well, my goodness, in the last week or so we've had yet another Planned Parenthood clinic shot up (and this essay is all I have to say about that); more mass shootings; plus of course the ongoing syrian refugee crisis, the US reaction to same in contrast to the season (not to mention our country's—and, particularly on the patriarchal side of the family—own founding) being so appalling hypocritical that I just had to take a break.

I've also been struggling with the resurgence of a persistent cold, which, while not particularly serious, has certainly been sapping my energy. I read somewhere that depression may possibly be a screwed up immune response, a shutting down to redirect energy to getting well. SAD would seem to support that hypothesis, since a lot of animals do ‘power down’ during the winter.

Regardless, when low on resources, one of my little strategies is to step back: I can't do this big thing (that I ought to be doing) but is there some little task I could do? And I suspect, entries for this week, if they appear at all, will be smaller criticisms. Or, hey, mebbe just kitten cuteness on the interwebs, or equivalent.


cropJust for a change, today's intro is recent (actually written the day before!) but the page for the braid was written a couple years back.

I have been trying to write a review of the new live action Beauty and the Beast (which I consider Dizzy's very own St Patty's Day prezzie to me:) but it keeps getting reaaaallly looooong, cuz I love this story this much, and there's a lot to unpack I could go on forever I'll put y'all three (3) of my readers to sleep.

Briefly, however, I don't know that the new version is any more feminist than the old (which mostly suffered from the 3:1 male to female ratio, and the assumption that men have careers, while women merely need romance & marriage) excepting perhaps that it's less homophobic (fear of the queer being mostly a subset of sexism). Certainly its more obvious efforts to be ‘feminist’ fall flat, particularly making Gaston an overt abuser, as opposed to a quite believable entitled & oblivious asshat he was in the original.

In a lot of ways, I think the film is more easily examined under a marxist (or, in my case, a pseudo-marxist lens, cuz I don't have the same grounding in that theory as I do feminism), and in that it definitely fails (to be sure, most versions of B&B simply sidestep the class issues, the Beast's wealth being infinitely & magically produced. And seeing as our current prince president is, ahem, dropping giant ass bombs on people (this is the sort of thing that causes me to take months-long hiatuses, btw) I think that's a worthwhile task.

(I was never happy with Obama's drone strikes either, and couldn't for the life of me why a seemingly sensible guy would do such a heinous thing, until I stumbled across an of-course unsaved post from somebody or other basically explaining this as his compromise with the juggernaut that is our military-industrial complex that is bound and determined to prosecute wars, presumably until China does something to put the fear of god into us, which I could understand but would rather they didn't, as dying in/living through WWIII was never on my bucket list.

The strikes are still wrong, though.)

Aaaand on a more cheerful note, this art project brings back happy memories of Amsterdam even though we skipped the Hague to go to Bruges/Brussels instead. Despite not really caring for either De stijl or Mondrian. It's just so much more what I wanna see as a government initiative, yanno, celebrating one's own culture—instead of tearing others’ down. Let alone killing them.

Make not take, pls.


Continuing with the kumi theme, today I've a got a post on some kumi books, as well as a review on the new anime Your Name, in which kumi plays a fairly significant role.

In one of those synergies that make the intertubes so wonderful, I happened to casually email someone whose much-greater understanding (than mine) of what I think loosely as the ‘mechanical world’ —which, given our current society, would be most of it—because he mentioned making kumihimo braiding machines.(0) Alas, they're quite a bit more complicated than they appear (there are a lot of gears involved, and even to make the simplest of braids have to switch directions constantly—kind of like single needle right angle weave, for you beadweavers out there) but he did put up a post summarizing what's out there, from a very cute lego device all the way to the beautiful machine Makiko Tada helped to design.

One of the commentariat chimed in with the differences between hand-braiding horse-hair (something I'd love to learn...) and using braiding stands, to which I responded, and yet a different commenter added a follow-up (possibly because I mentioned the various sorts of braiding stands) that kumihimo played a plot point in the new Japanese anime, Your Name.

Oh? My Japanese Son for the Year had mentioned this movie(1) to me months ago, when he joined us in December; I had been keeping an eye out for it, and now, finally it was evidently playing in the US. In fact, it opened last Friday (as I write this) and kumihimo being mentioned was a cherry (or sakura) on top. Since it's a limited engagement, I was very grateful for the heads’ up, as I might possibly probably have missed it otherwise.

It's gotten splendid reviews, and one can see why: it's an absolutely beautiful film, with a seamless blend between hand-drawn and CGI animation (the latter used to excellent effect with the screens of digital phones the characters use to guide each other. The story is classic, basically a retelling of the red thread of destiny myth: two teenagers in very different circumstances, are connected by longing and dreams (& a red thread, in this case, represented by kumihimo.) I've loved this story since childhood (though I'd forgotten the red thread part)(2); I encountered the concept again several years ago at ArtPrize: one of my favourite pieces incorporated the ‘red thread of destiny’ as a theme. I mean, as a braider and all-around lover of coloured string (not to mention being a sucker for this sort of story) how could I not (or knot, for the punsters...)?

The kumi & background knowledge lent extra meaning, but the film is a pleasure for anyone to watch; besides the sheer gorgeousness, braiding together the storylines, which cut back and forth between the protagonists while also moving about in time makes for a more participatory experience while watching the film. I also couldn't help speculating, just as whether part of the reason audiences are finding Baby Boss more appealing than the critics is because its themes (if not the one-joke storyline) are plucking at societal anxieties about our current administration, that at least on a subconscious level Your Name resonated with Japanese audiences not only for its celebration of modernity, as represented by Taki, and its deep love of tradition, embodied in the grandmother, Miyamizu Hitoha, an expert braider(3), and who, presumably, also instructed her granddaughters in the town's festival ritual of making kuchikamizake, but also because of Fukushima disaster, transmuted here into a comet that becomes a small meteor.

Certainly, it's interesting to note that this misalignment of the stars, embodied (as Bujold notes) literally in the word: dis-aster, took place 3 years before the beginning of Taki's main timeline; bearing in mind that the film took two years to make, and was originally released in 2016...that puts us back in 2011. In any event, I'm surely not the only one entranced by the mountains, traditional shrines (not to mention houses, not only with tatami mats, but real shoji screens), and forests & rivers shown in and around the country town of Itomori, most beautifully represented by red maple leaves floating on water, one of the most lyrical scenes in the movie: a way of life there, as here the barns and small farms in the midwestern state where I reside, that is slowly retreating.

This faint sense of melancholy, along with the dreamlike perception of each other by the protagonists, is what keeps the film from being hopelessly sappy, just as the braid-like plotlines keep one's expectations engaged. Plus, of course, kumihimo, though it embaresses me to admit that while I think the grandmother was using a takadai, I can't be positive. (Having looked up some youtube vids, and finally gotten it through my thick skull that an ayetakadai is basically a takadai with the feathers (hane) added to the front, all you need to do is look for them:) Certainly she was doing mostly takadai movements; and though both she and Mitsuha were making flat braids, I couldn't identify either one (though at a guess, I would say Mitsuha was using 24 tama—and if you'd like to get a sense of how marudai kumi works, this beautiful video of sakura/cherry blossom braid shows both rotational and across-the-mirror movements.

(0)The blogger's request to link back to this site got me posting again, yay, though I apologize for the glitches that kept posts from migrating over from the sandbox version for a couple of days.

(1)The word ‘kumihimo’ is so much of my internal vocabulary that hearing the word, while seeing the translation ‘braided cords’ was actually disorienting. I can only imagine JSftY's reaction to hearing his primary language, suppressed for months, while reading English subtitles, of a film he'd not seen & been anticipating: it opened after he left Japan. (Kind of the opposite for one JDftY who got to see one of the Iron Man films here before it opened in Japan, so she was one-up on all her friends:)

(2)I actually liked better the version I encountered earlier: as a sixth grader, because I remember the classroom I read that Fairy Tales of the World collection... In that version, the man falls in love with his prospective bride, but she feels she can't accept his suit because of the scar in her eyebrow (he evidently only seen one side of her face, peeping over or through a wall in a way modern feminism rightly derides but which nevertheless seems more honest on her part, leaving aside the whole beauty as a stand-in for virtue or kindness). When he learns her story, he tells her since it is his fault she has the scar, he can't reject her; and each day, draws her eyebrow on with ink as his way of making up—a variation, if you like on that Beauty and Beast story I like so much, though even then I thought it silly that an eyebrow scar could really damage one's “perfection”. I suppose this little footnote is also the place to point out that the film is mostly free of those annoying fanservice tics to which anime is sadly prone—Taka grabbing the breasts of his newly female body gets old after the first time, but at least there's only one panty shot. Le sigh.

(3)None of my ‘Japanese Daughters’ really knew what kumi was, or recognized the equipment to make it, except in the vaguest way. Pointing this out, JSftY assured me, ‘Well, Your Name will change all that!’

Just to make it obvious: link to kumi book review:)


cropContinuing to mine all that 2015 stuff...

So at the MarySue they have a series going over comics/graphic novel classics and whether they're relevant to the modern reader. This time they picked Watchmen, and since I mostly didn't like it the first time I read it, I read the review (and comments) with a good deal of interest.

I definitely belong to the older generation of readers who remember the cold war, and the fears it fostered throughout society, so that resonated; at the time, there were fewer women created or centred sf&f (the story is technically an alternate history) so I grit my teeth over the sexism as a matter of course. What I remember not liking was the draftsmanship, the coloring, and, to a lesser extent, the grittiness, because by the time I read it (probably early 90s but certainly no earlier than ’88, because I read the collected version, and it wasn't finished till then) I was living in a rundown Detroit neighborhood in which breakins, gunshots and staying indoors after dark were facts of life. Had I lived my entire life in pretty, protected suburbia, that sort of angst might have appealed.

As it was, I wanted a little more joy with my escapism.

In the Watchmen universe, ‘superheroes’ are common. My favourite character, or at least the one I identified with (or remembered with slight fondness, at any rate) was Night Owl, who as I recall relied upon his inventions to aid him. He and his cohort were the ‘ordinary’ superheroes of the time (as opposed Dr Manhattan, who had what we think of as the more typically American-style Superman comics ‘superpowers’). I appreciated that these people had problems and interactions.

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's fantastic Black Orchid was still on my horizon, but I had already encountered ElfQuest and likely even Colleen Doran's A Distant Soil (in its earliest, pencilled incarnation), two women-created and very feminist comics. Dave Gibbon's classic ‘American style’ (as I thought of it) couldn't compete with Pini's manga-inspired line, let alone Doran's gorgeous, shojo-influenced pencils; and since I'd given up on the mainstream superhero comics years ago (again, as much for what I saw as crude art as for the stories) the sophistication of Moore and Gibbon's multiple cuts and involved plotting went right over my head as something special, since of course novelists have been doing this sort of thing forever.

After all, the New Wave had hit sf&f books years ago, and I didn't really appreciate it, either. Nor, since I had just given up ever becoming a sf&f cover artist and was focusing on beadwork, did I have reason to really dissect Gibbon's famously structured layouts (which have never been my strong suit.) His drawing, on the other hand, came straight out of the american style, which I didn't like; and for similar reasons, I didn't appreciate the colours, which again came out of the historic limits of early comics. (There are some prints with the old-style and new, modern computerized colour; I like the old version better now, because, as the Mary Sue commentariat pointed out, the comic is interesting as a classic; that is, for its history. So of course, the old-style colours are a part of that: I have enough familiarity with stuff from that era to appreciate the constraints, both time and technology, imposed on this book.

Also somewhat unusual, many of the older readers had forgotten the Pirate subplot, whereas that really struck with me, because I thought it was a very inventive and subtle way to insert some meta-commentary on the superhero tropes: in a universe where superheroes are common, there are no fantasies about them; instead, pirates fill that role, and the plotlines are just as overblown (though the part with the bloated corpses rising and carrying the raft of a survivor remains one of the most vivid images I have of the book—Night Owl looking out some large airship being the other). I was really impressed with this bit of alternate worldbuilding, even though the pirate thread itself didn't particularly appeal. (IOW, it was as a potential comics creator that the concept hit a nerve— not so much as a reader.)

Some people speculated that once the story ages a bit more (say, for the next generation) it will come back into fashion as this cool, historic influential thing; and I suspect they're right. —In much the same way, I'm reading Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash for a proposed book club. I haven't finished it yet (the appalling sexism would have—and may very well have—caused me to put the book down in the first five pages, but for the desire to trash it at the book club:) and it's newer, but it's not at all aged gracefully; yet it was considered an important part of the cyberpunk movement, which has been hugely influential. This podcast is worth checking out if you'd like a thorough critical analysis.

But, yanno, Stephenson, though as of Anathema was still rather sexist, he's gotten hugely better. And just as Pini and Doran were creating feminist comics alongside Watchmen Joan Vinge, Vonda McIntyre and Lois McMaster Bujold were writing feminist sf&f alongside the New Wavers—so I'm disinclined to be as generous as I could be.

So things were better than in the 70s (let alone the classic stuff from the 50s I was still reading in the 70s); and they're continuing to improve (with, it must be admitted a good deal of pushing, and sturm und drang from folks still wanting their fiction white, male and het.)


And, um, here's a not-as-fugly-as-it-could-be braid.