Anyone who follows my blog knows I teach workshops for a living. As a matter of fact, I spent the first of April teaching a lovely group of women from a Maryland American Sewing Guild Chapter how to weave trim for garments on an inkle loom. We had a blast, in spite of facility issues, and there are now a number of new weavers out there. It was fun to see them all try something new, something out of their wheelhouse, and to watch light bulbs going off all over the room.
Since I’m always on the road teaching, I almost never think about taking a workshop myself. Workshop season is upon us, this is fiber conference season, and yes, I’m teaching at two of them, Midwest in Indianapolis in June, and New England Weavers Seminar in July. It is all part of my job.
As I redefine my life however, I’m starting to see that taking workshops myself is actually a great way to challenge the way I think about things, be a student again, sometimes actually struggling with techniques that aren’t familiar. There is a social part of it I miss being the instructor all the time. I have decided that moving forward in my newly redefined life that workshops are going to be an important part of what defines me.
I’m signed up to take a five day water color painting class at Peters Valley this summer. I haven’t really painted since college. I’m rusty and blank paper shy.
Last weekend, my guild hosted Tom Knisley, well known and respected weaving teacher, extraordinary person, and fantastic rug weaver. He has published a number of books, videos, and writes regularly for Handwoven Magazine. He came to teach a three day class in Krokbragd rug weaving techniques.
I don’t weave rugs. I don’t think I’ve ever woven a rug, except for a couple of pile weave tapestries back in the 70’s in college. But I signed up for the class, because I need to expand my brain, my knowledge of rug weaving, and because, this is my goal, to learn new things, and be a student once in awhile.
What a blast. My daughter also took the class, and it was great to watch her run with every technique she tried. I wasn’t in competition with her, and I was happy following my path, exploring the medium, and of course Tom makes every class informational and inspiring. Tom and his daughter Sarah have opened a fiber school near Harrisburg PA, called the Red Stone Glen, and they offer regular fiber classes in just about everything you can think of. I can’t wait to go take a class there.
I learned that rug weaving is very slow. And that it uses up a lot of yarn. I didn’t have much fat stuff hanging in my studio, but I brought what I had and I used a lot of it. I am really proud of my sampler. And no, I don’t think I’m now going to become a rug weaver. Though I’m thinking of just tossing a warp on one of my 25″ table looms and puttering through a throw rug that will use up my 1980’s stash of Harrisville Shetland yarn.
The thing that intrigued me about Krokbragd is figuring out how to make units symmetrical. We worked off profile treadlings, something new to me, but I found that some units didn’t reverse well, as in this pattern. The lower part was blocky and the upper part contiguous.
But if I wanted both the bottom part and the top part of the design to be contiguous, I had to work at it a bit. I spent Saturday morning deep in thought, working out how to get the design to flow, and of course my daughter would look over my shoulder and point out what to her was very obvious, but I wanted to work it out myself. And I did.
There was something really satisfying that comes with that fist pump/Ah-ha moment. I was proud of myself. I see that kind of personal success in my students, but it is harder for me to experience it on a regular basis. I don’t push myself into areas where I’m not familiar and experience the joy of new found knowledge.
I have an intern for the semester, from the local community college, she is learning all areas of fiber arts, and has really taken to weaving. She acquired a used loom a couple weeks ago, and has that wonderful enthusiasm of youth that reminds me that none of us are ever too old to learn new things. I let her weave off my remainder of the warp from the weekend workshop. She was so happy.
Meanwhile, I finished up a vest sample illustrating a technique in garment construction, from leftover fabric from a mohair coat I wove, for an article for a fall issue of Threads Magazine. I turned the fabric so it would read more of an ombré effect. You can see the original coat here. Of course, I finished it up on a day when it was close to 85 degrees. Hard to work with mohair when your hands are sweating and it is way too early in the season for air conditioning.
And so, I’m looking forward to what I can study next, what workshop I can take and where. Perhaps something in music. I always wanted to play a stringed instrument. Perhaps because I play with strings all day…
Because you can is not a reason to do something. I’ve used this adage in many applications in my life. I told my surgeon after my mastectomy many many years ago, that because you could reconstruct a breast is not necessarily a reason to do so. I was done with surgeries and wanted to get back to what I loved and the people I loved. She didn’t agree or understand, but she is a surgeon. I am a creative person. My missing breast didn’t matter to me.
I used this same adage, “Because you can is not a reason”, when I gave a lecture following a fashion show at a regional conference, after I had given out the awards. They asked me to say a few words, and I found I returned to my favorite saying, because in any creative endeavor, there is the tendency to throw everything you have at it and not then carefully edit what really doesn’t have a point or place in the work. Because you can cover something with goo-gaws, handmade or not, might not be in the best interest of the piece. I heard this sentiment reiterated many years ago in a workshop I took with Nick Cave, the famous performance artist from Chicago, well known for his sound suits. In the workshop, where we had to deconstruct a man’s three piece suit and recreate it into something else, he would say over and over, “Why did you put that there?” And you had to know why. Because you could, because it was in your box of embellishments, because it was there laying on the table, those were not reasons.
Same thing in critiques when I went to art school. Because I like fiber rather than painting wasn’t a reason for working in a particular medium, if the content could have been voiced just as effectively in paint or photography, why spend the 8 months doing all this in tapestry? You may argue, but there is some validity to this, and I’ve used it thoughtfully throughout my career and my life. I’m even using this motto while I slowly redo my house, room by room. Just because I have a box with 37 framed family photos doesn’t mean they all need to be displayed. Sometimes less is more.
So there is a point to this. Really…
I have been largely in hiding the last few weeks, working hard on a six page article for Threads Magazine for one of the fall issues. I won’t go into too much detail, you’ll have to wait for the publication, but the basic point of the article is to talk about the guts of what goes into a tailored jacket. I haven’t done rigid traditional tailoring in many many years, so this has been a great exercise, even though my poor hands and fingers are a mess from the hours of hand sewing/pad stitching/basting, etc.
Although I tailor (pun intended) my life around the adage “Because I can” is not a reason, “Because I want to see if I can” is a very very good reason.
The issue here is a felted undercollar. The underneath part of the collar in a traditionally tailored jacket is often made of felt, which has no grain, and does not fray. Being of wool it can have tremendous shaping abilities. Seam allowances can be removed, the undercollar handstitched down, and there is much less bulk. Because the editorial decision was made to tailor the sample jacket, half will be completely finished and half will be deconstructed to show the “guts”, in an off white wool, I had to purchase the “guts” in the lightest and most inconspicuous materials. That wasn’t a problem for the silk organza, the hymo hair canvas, the cotton tape, and the flannel interlining. But the felt for the undercollar was a problem. I could only get white white, and it was a 12″ square, and it was too small and too white for the jacket and the three pieces necessary for the undercollar.
I kept thinking, you know, if I had some natural colored Merino…
I had this vague recollection of being given a small bag of white Merino, which isn’t really white of course, and I dove into my cabinet with all the spinning/felting supplies. That was an adventure and a cabinet that needs a major cleanout. But I’m on deadline. It will have to wait…
I did find, buried in the back, a small bag of natural Merino wool, from Spinner’s Hill. So I wanted to see if I could felt a rectangle of fabric suitable for an undercollar.
I kept the layers thin, and started the felting process in a large plexiglass tray I rescued from an artwork that needed to go away.
Once felted, (even Merino takes a long time and a lot of muscle, I am not a fan of the felting process…) I had a pretty nice chunk to work with. The color was perfect.
I found a spool of Piper’s Silk in my lace making supplies box, and lacking any other silk thread in the house, I went ahead and used that and did all my pad stitching and shaping of the undercollar pieces with the silk. The undercollar is stitched on completely by hand. I’m pretty darn pleased with myself. Because I wanted to see if I could, and turns out I definitely could, I got something way better than what was available to me for this particular purpose.
So I’m adjusting the motto a bit, “Because you can is not a reason, unless the reason is to see if you can, then by all means go for it!”
Back to endless hand sewing…
I am never more motivated than when I have a deadline looming. Pun intended.
As it turns out, I’ve had a bunch of deadlines, 3 or 4 the beginning of February, and numerous deadlines this past week. I’ve been furiously juggling contractors swarming around my house, with trying to finish my own work, photograph it, and sit at the computer and apply to four different exhibitions. In between all that I actually managed to create a new piece from yardage I got back a couple months ago from the Blue Ridge Fiber Show in Asheville, NC. This is all handdyed raw silk, in a twill variation, bamboo weft, made into a tunic, a reworked pattern from my 1980’s craft fair days. I loved the idea of mitering across the bustline, the stripe really lent itself for that purpose, and I had just enough in width and length to squeak out the tunic.
That tunic along with the formally photographed tartan coat, handwoven plaid with insets of navy camel hair…
…and this yardage I set up back when my husband died in June, when I was desperate to focus on something, anything other than death, all three pieces were sent off for an exhibit application. I also managed to apply to Small Expressions, a show that usually alludes me.
Meanwhile, deck guy is completely finished with the exterior decks at my house. He has been here for a few months, dealing with weather issues, thrilled to have had such a mild winter. It is too cold to do a final shot of the deck complex, this will have to do…
And the painter guy finished my daughter’s old room, which had black molding and wine red walls, courtesy of a decorating decision about 15 years ago when it was my son’s room. It is quiet, serene, and I’m just waiting for artwork to be framed at Michael’s, which I’ll pick up Thursday.
Painter guy also finished the guest bathroom. I had to remove the wallpaper with a razor blade and a sponge soaked with white vinegar, it took a whole weekend, and the painter guy had to spend days repairing the walls, many layers of primer to restore the surface. Apparently I knew more about weaving back in 1982 than I did about wallpapering, note to self, if you ever feel the need to wallpaper again, which I won’t, never apply wallpaper directly to new drywall without priming first. New fixtures, lighting, faucet and shower head still to be installed, but it is so fresh and clean and inviting.
Meanwhile, I have been “persisting” over a piece of Russian Bobbin Lace I started more than 10 years ago. I am determined to finish up over the next few years, many of the bobbin lace projects I’ve had on my numerous pillows, and I finally, little bits every week at a lace making group, finished this hankie, of silk, linen and embroidery floss and metallic cord for gimps. I have it pinned to a piece of linen, eventually I’ll sew it on.
I spent most of this week finishing up the manuscript for a six page article for Threads, due out in the fall, and a laborious couple of days applying to a major conference next year, using an online application service, some 30 fields of data per proposal, only to find out that my ethernet would crap out intermittently, knocking out my data fields, and making me lose my mind. I finally called in tech support, and it turned out to be a bad ethernet switch in the basement. I spent the rest of the afternoon finishing up my proposals, and then I cooked myself a lovely dinner of sauteed broccoli rabe, mushrooms, and scallops, with white wine. It was delicious and I feel ready to tackle the next set of deadlines.
In the next three weeks, I have another exhibit to enter, I have my taxes to gather and all the bookkeeping for my business to finish off, a task I’m dreading because it is the year my husband died and I can’t even begin to know where to begin. I do have a good accountant lined up, but I’m thinking I just have to call and make an appointment and work like crazy to meet that appointment deadline. Meanwhile, I have to tailor a jacket for my Threads article, due at the end of the month. No pressure. I start teaching again April 1st and have to make up 20 kits for a one day inkle weaving class for an American Sewing Guild chapter in Maryland.
My life is full of people, craftsmen, tradesmen, opportunities, and deadlines. My dogs would get me out of bed anyway in the early morning, but I jump awake around 6:30-7, already lining up everything that I have to accomplish that day. It keeps me busy and energized. I have a number of passions and trying to fit all of them in is a full time job! And I already have a job.
I’ve been asked a lot how I’m doing, considering what a tough year it has been, and I’m feeling like all those who have left me, really left me with the skills and means to carry on and do what I need and want to do with my life. I wake each morning so grateful that I have more things I’m passionate about than I have time for, that I get to create something or pay somebody to create something every day. That is truly a gift no one can take away. Thank you for your patience dear readers, I know I don’t blog very often anymore, but that’s because the days fly by so fast they almost take my breath away…
If you are a spinner, you know that the whole point of what you do is to make new raw materials from old raw materials. You take fleece, and then spin it up into a usable yarn. But you still have to do something with it.
Fiber is a pretty labor intensive passion, and for many of us, the end product is not nearly as relevant as the journey to get there. My favorite place in the world, Peters Valley, had a poster a number of years ago, which hung proudly in my studio for awhile, “Process not Product”. It is what makes us jump out of bed in the morning and dive into what we can’t see ourselves not doing. The fact that I have a closet full of show stopping award winning garments, that are completely out of place in my everyday life, does not deter me from diving into the next great garment.
I love to weave. And I love to sew more. So weaving for me has always been more about making something to sew, weaving yardage that one day I’ll cut up into a very cool garment. Both are processes that happen independent of each other. I love to knit. And occasionally spinning my own yarn to knit with is actually pretty cool.
I love to combine color, especially with yarn, but too often, I find that what’s on my shelves is pretty limiting. A pound of this, a few ounces of that, stuff I picked up in my travels, all valid, but very limiting. I’ve just had the best time in recent years taking the white yarn off the shelves, and I have a lot, like a real lot, and winding it off into 2-400 yard skeins including colors I don’t like that I want to overdye, and tossing a bunch into a dyepot, maybe a pound’s worth, and seeing what I get. If I have 10 different cellulose yarn skeins, cotton, rayons, combinations, Tencel, etc, they all take the dye just slightly differently, and the results are a wall of inspirational color.
But all that takes a lot of time. I’ve been pretty steadily working over the last six weeks, winding skeins, paying a friend to wind skeins, making my poor intern from the local community college wind skeins, until I’m at the point where I never want to see another white yarn again. A pound a day over a six week period, is a lot of yarns. I have a lot to show for my efforts. I even painted a couple of warps while I was at it.
Again, all raw materials, turned into different raw materials. I can’t wait to see what I end up doing with this gorgeous wall of yarn.
I gave a lecture about my dyeing adventures, a Visions Corning Dutch Oven full of cellulose yarns with Fiber Reactive Dyes, and a crock pot with wools, and old Cushing Union dyes that were hanging out in my cabinet from probably 20 years ago. I was running two dyepots a day, and so I did a mock dyeing lecture for my weaving guild the beginning of January, and showed them how much fun I was having. You can tell how much fun I was having because these are the best photos anyone has ever managed to get of me in action. Usually my face is all contorted because, well, I’m animated when I talk.
A couple years back, I had the crock pot going with handfuls of fleece, dyeing them also with that huge box of Cushing Union dyes, and I am thrilled to say, the box is getting smaller. I took those dyed bags of fleece, and used a carding machine and made huge stacked bats of fleece. Then I felted the bats all together. I cut them on the crosswise, into colorful strips, and it gives me something to play with, a new raw materials I can play with to become something else. And play was one of the goals of these few months at home before I start traveling again.
Urged on by a couple of exhibit deadlines, I played until I actually got a few pieces, which I took to my critique group. It was nice to have something to show them other than clothing. I found as I played with this pile of raw materials, hand dyed wet felted stacked bats, cut into strips on the crosswise, that as I needle felted the strips onto a commercial wool felt backing, I kept finding that political themes kept creeping into my subconscious. How could they not? That’s all that’s out there in my news feed, the news paper, news programs on public radio, and anywhere else I hear about the vitriol and unease in the world. I feel like we all need to go back to Kindergarten and learn to play well with each other again.
And so this piece is called The Wall. I’ll let you dear readers decide what kind of wall this represents. There is more than one right answer…
This piece is called Climate Change. Obvious title.
This one is from the Chromosome series I did a couple of years back, but never finished the piece, it is called Union.
And this one has a more complex title, “e·vis·cer·ate, verb, deprive of vital or essential content”. I love this piece. It says all that I’m feeling about the current state of affairs.
And so I continue to make more “raw materials”, because it gives me more creative options down the road, and because I can, and because it is the process that draws me to what I do, not the end product. In between entertaining a crew of contractors that are crawling through my house, having taken advantage of a very mild winter, I hang in my studio with my dogs, and just make stuff, that will eventually allow me to make other stuff. In between, I sort, rearrange, toss out, and simplify my life. I’m having fun in spite of the chaos around me.
Tomorrow I will attempt formal photos of all these pieces, trying to figure out how to use my husband’s equipment, since he left me no instructions. There is Google for that. And since we are suppose to get a foot of snow, I’m not planning to go anywhere, and as far as shoveling, I have people for that now. I get to just sit in my studio with my dogs, and make more raw materials.
I’m not even sure where to begin this blog, I’ve wanted to write something for a couple of days. I will not write on current events, politically or otherwise, I swore I would never make this blog about anything other than my life as a fiber artist. And I’m sticking too that. Though, I’m currently playing around with a body of art work and themes of the current political climate are creeping into the titles and the shapes of the pieces. I will blog on that at another date, kind of cool stuff, but what I want to talk about here is the ending of an era.
Like the 1970’s era.
The 1970’s were probably the most defining decade of my life. Yes the 80’s were all about my career, and the 90’s were all about raising children, etc, but the 70’s were a time of change, great change for me, I grew up, finished High School, went to college and studied art, weaving and fiber. I met my future husband and we married in 1978. I met my fiber professor and she stayed on as a friend and mentor until her death a few weeks ago. I made a lifelong friend of the Swedish Exchange student who lived with us in my senior year of HS, allowing me to travel many times to Europe to meet up with her and her family. She died three weeks after my husband last June. But the path of my future as a handweaver, educator, in fact my entire career started with the acquisition of my very first loom, a Tools of the Trade, 45″ 8 shaft with a double sectional back beam, in 1978 with a small inheritance from a deceased grandmother. $1000 went a long way back then.
That loom took me through my entire career first as a production weaver for someone else, and then ten years of production weaving, selling my work in craft fairs. That loom saw many many yards of fabric roll onto the cloth beam.
I acquired six other Tools of the Trade looms, and I seem to be the go to person whenever someone in the world Googles a question about the loom. And truth be told, that loom was way more loom than I need right now. I never weave 45″ across anymore, and it is a big, heavy, solid rock maple loom and my joints are getting a bit old and weary. I made noises once of finding another home for it, and my daughter threw a fit, insisting that would be her loom when I die.
Fast forward to last Sunday. My daughter got a new job at a vet hospital an hour west of here, and though she loved the job, she found the commute tiring. Especially with the winter weather. If it rains here in January, it is usually snowing there. And we have had a lot of rain this month. So she put out a call to the members of one of our weaving guilds, asking if anyone knew of a place to rent, only requirements besides cheap, were she wanted to bring a loom and a puppy. I won’t comment on the puppy, but last Sunday, I took apart my beloved loom, carefully preserving the warp on it, don’t ask how I managed that, and hauled that 500 pound monster down the stairs with a lot of help, into the back of a truck, and up the flight of stairs in her new digs over the garage of the home of a weaver of course. I called a guild member who lived close and also owns a Tools of the Trade loom, and she came over and together we reconstructed my loom, now my daughter’s loom, in her new apartment, and when I drove home that night, I realized that all of the things that defined my course in life from the 1970’s had gone on to new places, and my studio and my life are feeling a little empty.
I will be really honest here and share that there were a few tears when I went in the studio Monday morning. I have lost a lot this year. I have lost everything that defined me and my future from the 1970’s. They were good years. But all of those people and that solid rock maple loom built a foundation that has stayed with me for four decades and will continue to influence me until I move on from this life. It is all good. Really. And it didn’t take long to spread out and fill the space in a meaningful way. My fear is she will move back and where will I put that monster.
I took advantage of the additional space and started weeding through my bobbin lace pillows and materials, also refugees from the 1970’s. I have not only my collection, but that of my mother in law’s, who has been dead for 10 years. I donated a car load to the local lace making guild tonight. It felt really good.
I have spent the last six months beginning the process of redefining who I am moving forward, and passing this equipment on to a new eager generation means a lot. Of course I miss my daughter already, but I know she is where she needs to be and I will be fine. She comes home briefly tomorrow night to pick up her new puppy from a local breeder/friend. Don’t ask…
I’ve lots more to tell, but I’ll end tonight, because I’ve had trouble all day with my domain/blogsite, webstore and website, and it has been a very frustrating day with technology. I want to make sure this loads and you dear readers can actually access it.