Archive for October, 2009

My beret

To complete the outfit for Charlestown’s Gala, I also bought the beret shown on the model in the catalog. It looked like this.


I decided to add beads, inside each chain stitch. Then it looked like this:


The tiny seed beads were barely noticeable, after the hours I spent attaching them without allowing the thread to go through to the reversible side.

So I decided to add larger beads between the chain stitches. Then it looked like this:


I was happy with that effect.


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Day of retreat

On Saturday I went to Bon Secours Spiritual Center for an all-day retreat on Thomas Merton and the influence of icons on him, as well as a presentation on iconography in general by Jim Forest, whose talk was based on his books: Living with Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton; Praying with Icons; and The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life.

Bon Secours Spiritual Center, about 15 miles from Charlestown, sits at the highest point of 313 acres of pastures and woodlands adjacent to Patapsco State Park and it commands spectacular views of some of Maryland’s most beautiful countryside.


Below is the entrance to the Peace Garden, where anyone may come to spend quiet time in a beautiful sanctuary.


At the Center I had my first opportunity to walk a labyrinth. Theirs is quite large, as you can see in these pictures.


It is based on the design of the Chartres Labyrinth, laid in the floor of the Chartres Cathedral around 1220. Walking the labyrinth is a long mystical tradition, being rediscovered in our time.

There are three stages of the walk:

First, as you enter the labyrinth: Purgation. Release and let go of the details of your life, the cares and concerns that keep you distracted and stressed.

Second, as you reach the center: Illumination. Stay there as long as you like. This is a place for clarity and insight. Receive what is there for you.

Third, as you begin the path outward: Union. Bring back to the world a renewed vision and refreshed spirit.”


A labyrinth is not a maze; there is only one path into the center and back out again. I walked it twice. The first time, in the morning, it was cloudy, dark, and dripping a little rain. I walked very slowly, as I do in walking meditation. The second time, in the afternoon, the sun was shining; I walked at a normal pace; and I had just been looking at images of icons for an hour. I didn’t have an epiphany, just a profound sense of peace and stillness and Oneness.

Below is a view of the pond, just outside our meeting room.


Here is a view of the chapel.


In the meeting room, Jim showed us icons in photographs projected on to a large screen. Below is one of the icons that Thomas Merton had in his hermitage.  It shows Mary as protector. I had no idea that every aspect, every bit of the icon has meaning. Everything about an icon is symbolic or emblematic. One has to learn how to read them. Since I wasn’t taking notes, I am unable to tell you all the meanings in this icon.

Merton icon

Here’s another. According to tradition, this icon was painted by the Gospel author Luke. That does not mean that this particular icon is from Luke’s hand. Great icons are reproduced over and over. This most famous version, the Vladimir Mother of God, was given to the Russian Church in about 1131. Battered though it is, it reminds the viewer of the love of Mary for Jesus and for all of us. To me it represents wise compassion, and the Feminine.


This next one was painted about 1425 in Russia. It depicts the Holy Trinity. To me it says, “One in the many; many in the One: the communion of all that is.” And I love the colors.

Holy Trinity

When he was 18 years old, shortly after the death of his father, Thomas Merton, not particularly religious, went to Rome and visited the oldest churches there. Viewing the ancient icons in these churches profoundly affected him, leading to his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

Brought up Protestant and iconoclastic, I had no idea of the symbolism, the vast meaning, in icons. Most icons are painted in a style so different from post-Renaissance Western art  that we may not be able to see their beauty. Nevertheless, my study of Tibetan Buddhism, with its iconography of thangkas (paintings on silk used as wall-hangings), mandalas, and sand painting prepared me for the revelations of Christian iconography.

By Buddhist teachers, I had been taught to practice visual meditation—meditation on an image or on a visualization created mentally; and so I understand the practice of praying icons. It is not a matter of worshipping the icon or the image. It is the practice of internalizing the meaning inherent in the image, incorporating into my own self the values, ideals, and aspirations represented by the image.

During the morning presentation, I noticed four young women seated at a table away from the one where I was. Although I had traveled to the Center with nine other Charlestown residents, I was determined to try to have lunch with those younger women. They graciously welcomed me to their lunch table, where I found that one of them is a professional iconographer. Two of them had been students of hers, and a third had recently done a nine-day pilgrimage, I believe to Santiago de Compostela, The Way of St. James. Wonderful, exuberant conversation! Oh, what a treat for me! And an escape from Charlestown.

You can see some of Jody Cole’s icons at her website. As a gift, Jody gave me three of her icon note cards. Here is one of the note cards with her icon of the Archangel Gabriel, the messenger who told Mary that she would bear the Son of God.


It was a joyful day, for which I give thanks—to Jim Forest for his presentation, to the Bon Secours Spiritual Center for its remarkable facilities, and to the delightful young women I met and with whom I hope to stay in touch. Maybe a pilgrimage to Charlestown?

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Cold weather wardrobe

Having lost 60 pounds during my recovery, and now leaving our apartment to go places (to the Verizon store for a cell phone battery replacement Friday, a memorial service downtown Saturday, a Baltimore Symphony concert Sunday), I need a whole new wardrobe. In the spring I bought warm-weather clothing. Now I’m having fun choosing cold-weather clothing for the new me—115 pounds, size 6. I’ve already received a shipment from Marketplace India. Here I’ll show you one outfit I bought and what I’ve done with it. From the catalog:

Marketplace India

The appliquéd petals had raw edges. Naturally, even when gently washed, the edges frayed. Maybe that’s the look the designer intended, or maybe she didn’t know that the fabric would fray.

It looked like this:


Ignore the colors. The true colors appear in the catalog copy. I just wanted to show you the frayed edges.

Unacceptable to  me.IMG_0079_edited-1

I decided to turn the edges under. You can see that the petals have already been stitched in place with running stitches. I wanted to get a hem at the edge of those stitches. The technique I planned to use is called needleturn appliqué. There’s a good tutorial on this technique here. As you can see in the tutorial, the pieces to be appliquéd are free and they have nice clear edges. I had loose threads around already attached pieces.

Needleturning simply did not work. I could not capture the threads and tuck them under with my needle. So I resorted to my embroidery scissors.

IMG_0096 After painstakingly pushing a few threads underneath, I stitched them down with tiny invisible stitches. Since I couldn’t bring the needle UP through the frayed threads, I had to use stab, rather than sewing, stitch. After one or two stitches, it was back to the scissors.


I pushed a few more threads under with my scissors.


Bringing  the needle up just outside the turned-under edge, I took a tiny stitch down through it. I was working with magnifying lenses.


It took 12 hours to hem all the raw edges in this manner. Here’s the result.



Now the motifs, the petals, really pop out. But I was unable to stop there. You see, I plan to wear this outfit to the Charlestown Gala. So I added beads to outline each petal.


At Flickr you can see the embellished top enlarged by clicking on this image.

And here’s a detail, slightly closer, so you can get a better look at the beaded outlines.

Although I didn’t keep track of the hours spent beading, I think it must have been around 12 hours, as well.

Now it’s back to shopping the Deva and Lands’ End catalogs.

More new clothes to come.

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