TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Honey Island", A Yo-Yo Textile Piece by Rayela Art

"Honey Island", a Rayela Art textile piece.

I actually finished Honey Island last November, but hadn't photographed it. I have a basket of circles that I've cut out to make yo-yos when I want something to do with my hands, watching TV or a movie... I kind of went overboard on it and have hundreds of these circles. For those of you who have never made a yo-yo, there is a tutorial here that uses a plastic mold, but I make mine the old fashioned way, turning the edge in as you sew, and pulling the thread to close the circle.

Close-up of yo-yos, stitching and cowrie shells.

Once I had a pile of yo-yos done, I thought they might look good appliqued on to contrasting circles that I had in my basket. The yo-yos shrink to half the size when they are closed, so the background fabrics were the original size I started out with for all the yo-yos. I used 32 discs for this piece, 3" in diameter, all hand-sewn, stuffed with polyfill, and then roughly stitched together with embroidery thread.

I used high-quality specialty fabrics from my "new fabric" stash. There is something wonderful about recycling salvaged fabrics into something new, but the fresh, bright colors worked well on this piece. I've been exploring textural dimensions in fabric and was really pleased with the results on this piece. I covered a piece of wood with fabric and stitched on some photo hangers for both stability and a way to hang the piece.

Back of "Honey Island", yo-yos made into wall art.

When working on the piece, I didn't really have anything in mind. No message, no hidden meaning. But, once it was finished, I felt the tropics come to me, bringing memories of the past. "Honey Island" a translation from the Portuguese "Ilha do Mel" is a beautiful island off the coast of Brazil. I have been there twice, but my first boyfriend, Toti, spent every moment he could there. The island finally caused his death. Toti and I grew up on the same street and had been friends since we were kids. I came back to the US for college and a life here, while he went on to become an environmentalist, fireman, physical education professor and life saver. The island was his haven. A skinny drop out type when we were teenagers, Toti grew into a strong, athletic, and powerful man. He could swim for miles and was a black belt in Tai-Kwon-Do. Think nature, green, vegetarian, earthy, smart, holistic, and loving and you might touch Toti's spirit.

Aristoteles Cesar Lamartine Melo in Rio, 1981

One day on Honey Island, Toti stepped on a rusty nail. He went off the island for a tetanus shot. It didn't take and within three days he was dead on a hospital table in our home town. Total organ failure. After all these years, his death still seems illogical to me. But, when is an early death ever logical? I was in Chicago when he died and several months later, I also stepped on a rusty nail. I was in the process of opening a gallery, Dara Tribal Village, with my former partner, Abdul. The building had been a meat packing warehouse in the early 1900's and we had been gutting it, painting, sanding the floors, and all that good stuff. I was alone and it was 1 AM. I called my nurse mother in a panic and she told me to go down to Cook County and insist I get a tetanus shot, which were actually in a national shortage. My shot took and I survived.

Honey Island, a small tribute to connections.

Toti didn't get to live to be an old man, but his life had been a full one. As I looked at my yo-yos and my stitching, I thought about Honey Island and in all the mysterious ways we are all connected, both in life and in death.


  1. Rachel! What a wonderful piece!

  2. You write so beautifully,you've brought tears to my eyes!
    I love this piece you have created.
    Bless you Rayela.


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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