One of the biggest parts of my job as an educator and a writer (’cause those are the parts where I actually get paid) is the development of new courses and content and samples. The same goes with writing articles. To articulate what I know in my head, mostly from personal experience is a great exercise in solidifying that knowledge, not because someone said so, but because testing and trial and error make it so.
During the handwoven yardage class I taught last May at Peters Valley Craft School, I spent the evenings while students worked, prepping the design and samples that I wanted to use for the Beginning Weaving workshop which I’ll also teach at Peters Valley the end of August. It is always a nail biter to get the content to match the skill level of students, in this case they have none, and be able to accomplish the goals within the time frame set by the workshop. In this case, it is five days. The goal is to have students become familiar with setting up a multi shaft floor loom, learn to read a draft and understand structure, and go home with a finished product. And of course, want more…
I already teach a beginning class, a one day exploration of the loom using my little collection of Structos (I have 14), and I took that content and expanded it to five days and a much bigger project. The threading of the loom involves a straight draw, with both solid warp and stripes, and a center section of Traditional Bird’s Eye, 1,2,3,4,3,2,repeat. (I apologize to the non weavers who have no idea what I just said. Take the class!) I expanded that to become a handtowel width, about 18″, about 350 ends in 5/2 cotton sett at 20epi, because I think that’s about as much as a brand new weaver can tolerate for a first project.
The idea is to create an environment for exploring treadlings on those threadings, and then select from that sampler the best or most effective and weave a couple of actual towels.
And so, I set up the loom well before I left for vacation.
Right before I left I managed to create the sampler, it is pretty cool. I tried different treadlings and different wefts, all 5/2 cotton.
Then I looked at the finished sampler, still on the loom and decided to weave two towels, one with a complementary weft, rust against the blue, in a twill treadling, and the other with a darker weft, actually brown, in a bird’s eye twill. The photos are reversed.
The towels are finished, washed and dried, and hemmed. I’m smiling. I think this will work.
My friend and fiber buddy John Mullarkey arrived Sunday evening, fresh from the New England Weavers Seminar conference. He was full of stories, and it made me really glad I was still a bit on vacation, and not heavily subscribed to the summer conference scene this year. I have enough on my plate.
But whenever I’m with John, I have great fiber adventures, and when my daughter is along, the sparks turn into fireworks. (That’s a good thing).
Because my daughter Brianna had a day off from her job at the vet hospital, we all loaded into the car and drove into Manhattan to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Truly one of my favorite places on earth. If I ever had to leave NJ, I’d miss this museum the most. Each exhibition I see there pushes beyond anything I could possibly imagine.
The main reason for going, besides an outing for John and my daughter, was to see the current exhibition, “China through the Looking Glass”, which has been extended to September 7th. This exhibit is actually worth getting on a plane for, I was completely blown away by the “more than 140 examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear alongside Chinese art. Filmic representations of China are incorporated throughout to reveal how our visions of China are framed by narratives that draw upon popular culture, and also to recognize the importance of cinema as a medium through which to understand the richness of Chinese history.” (If nothing else, spend some time looking at the images from the exhibition on the MET website.)
I grabbed a couple of photos, these do not in any way do justice to this huge installation.
The Chinese silk embroideries along would have been worth the trip.
We grabbed something to eat, saw a couple of additional exhibits, and headed back to the car park. On the way we stopped by my two favorite galleries, the Roman Sculpture plaza and the Oceana wing. The pieces in this wing always make me smile.
Back home John showed an interest in learning bobbin lace after looking at a couple of pillows with work in progress in my living room. Of course I’m always set up to teach just about anything, and I pulled out Pillow 1, which John mastered in about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, Brianna wanted to learn card weaving, so he set her up and she caught on in about 5 minutes. I just sat watching the two of them. Like minds.
I pulled out Pillow 2, and John got the hang of it pretty quickly, though found a couple of areas tricky and there was a lot of frustrating un-lacing going on. I predict he will master this pattern and move onto Pillow 3 just after breakfast. The dog wanted to learn as well.
And me, while all this fiber stuff was happening in my dining room, I finished up my newest sweater. J’adore. Pima cotton and tencel. Premiere from Classic Elite Yarns. Pattern is the Zoe Tee from C 2 Knits.
I can’t remember when I last had a real honest to goodness vacation. Not a trip with lots of sightseeing, not a break from work, a real vacation. With no agenda, with no rules, with no stress.
I grew up vacationing at the Jersey Shore. We would head down to Longport, NJ for four weeks, my dad commuting to Philadelphia to work, and staying with us during the weekends. We sat on the beach, ate ice cream, played miniature golf, played with kids we met at the pool, learned to swim… All those things that make summer the best part of growing up. My parents maintained a house at the Jersey shore until a couple years ago, and though thankfully it was sold before it flooded in Hurricane Sandy, which was a good thing for my mom, I still miss it.
When I was in high school, we had a Swedish exchange student live with us. We have maintained the friendship for more than 40 years, and have connected with each other often since then. Annika’s family owns a summer home (actually two) on the island of Ven or Hven which is in the Øresund Strait dividing Denmark and Sweden. The only way to get there is by ferry, on the Sweden side. There are only about 350 inhabitants, many of them farmers. The main mode of transportation on the island is the bicycle. Annika and I both turned 60 within four days of each other, back in May, and for my birthday, all I really wanted was to spend it with Annika back on the island I visited last in 1977 when I graduated from college.
It was the perfect vacation. I had no goals other than to rest, eat well, exercise well, and be with my real sister and my Swedish sister. I met every goal. Yes I brought along my Kindle, and read two books, and I did a lot of knitting. But I did not go looking for nor expect to find any textiles, art, gardens, or anything that would tie into my already overflowing life.
We flew into Copenhagen, via Geneva, took a train to Vedbæk, where Annika picked us up in her little speed boat, suitcases and all, and we zipped across the Strait to the island.
We rented bikes and road all over the island. We found a woman selling her mother’s handwoven rag rugs, laid out over the bushes. My sister and Annika bought five rugs between them.
We hiked along the dirt paths, through fields of poppies, along the coastline…
We saw the most amazing architecture, many cottages from the 1800’s. Many had thatched roofs.
We saw the most amazing gardens…
We met Annika’s friend Inger Palmstierna, an internationally known horticulturist who has written a number of books on gardening, some translated into English. I immediately ordered her book on Greenhouse gardening on Amazon and it was waiting for me when I came home. She lives on Ven and her gardens are gorgeous, of course.
She told us about a place on the island where there was a weaver. Hven Vävstuga which means weaving cottage on Hven. Karen-Agnete Alm runs a weaving school and teaches rag rug weaving. She has a little shop where she sells the rugs and we got to peek in the barn where she has all the looms ready for her students.
Her lawn decoration was the best.
We got to eat en plein air, for almost every meal. We all pitched in and cooked, stopping at the one market on the island to see what fresh vegetables they had. I ate a lot of fish, and remembered how much I liked pickled herring.
We ate out twice in the ten days we were there. There are only a few restaurants on the island, and they did not disappoint.
We took the boat over to the Denmark side and walked to the Louisiana Art Museum. The Louisiana is a world class museum, with a number of current exhibitions, one featuring one of my favorite sculptors, Alberto Giacometti who is actually Swiss. (I always thought he was Italian)
And we saw an amazing retrospective of paintings and prints from an artist I had never heard of but will never forget. Peter Doig. He was born in Edinburg, but lives in Trinidad and spent time all over the world. The paintings are huge, and gorgeous, and there were about 20 of them in the exhibition. The colors and textures and themes were breathtaking.
We actually attended church services twice while on the island. The church, St. Ibb’s, is about 1000 years old. The services were of course in Swedish, so I understood nothing, but I got to feast on the interior of something way older than anything we have in this country. The altar was colorful, and as I listened to the sermon in a language that was beautiful but meant nothing to me, I focused on what looked like from the pew where I sat, a lace trimmed altar cloth. It looked hauntingly familiar. I stared some more. I nearly came out of my seat when I realized that the lace was not only bobbin lace, but the Danish Emperor’s Crown pattern that I have on one of my own pillows. I found a photo of me demoing on that very pillow last year at a local historical event.
I learned one very important lesson on this trip, that it is really really critical to actually take a vacation every so often, one where you unwind, turn off the connection to the real world, and just be. Many days we walked more than 12,000 steps, my phone kept track because it does that, and though I have a few friends who would say, “Only 12,000?”, that’s a huge amount for me, since I’m mostly sedentary in the studio. I am rested, refreshed, well fed, tanned, and ready to tackle all the stuff in my inbox, waiting for my attention. Another article to write for Threads Magazine, workshop preparations for Sievers, Peters Valley, Fiber College, and Harrisville that are all coming up in the next couple of months. But for today, I unpacked, cleaned my house, caught up on laundry, picked all the overripe produce on the vines, grocery shopped, enjoyed catching up with my children and their busy lives, and prepared for a house guest, coming in tonight, my Battle of the Bands buddy John Mullarkey who is enroute between the NEWS and MAFA fiber conferences. He will spend a couple of days here, I hope to get into NYC to the Met tomorrow, and then back to work and more regular posts I hope.
I know it has been awhile…
It isn’t like I haven’t been busy.
I polished off two articles for Handwoven Magazine.
But I can’t show you. They haven’t been contracted and finalized yet.
I warped a loom for a sampler and two dishtowels for the beginning weaving class at Peters Valley the end of August.
But there really isn’t anything to show yet. Just a warp on the loom.
I am preparing proposals for a series of articles for another magazine. Nothing to show.
I am finishing up a piece on the table loom. I can’t show you because it is a gift, and most likely the recipient reads this blog.
I spent the week cleaning out the old attic, tossing a lot of trash. The kids were amazing. We had our airconditioning system replaced. I doubt you’d want to see pictures of my old attic with the replaced airconditioning. But it is nice and cool in the studio now.
While the air conditioning guys were up in the attic, I noticed a beautiful sunbeam pouring into the attic. Lovely as it was, that isn’t a good thing. I had to call a roofing guy to come in and patch the missing shingles on the ridge vent. While he was up there he noticed this, and fixed that as well without charging me extra. Yes, I know I need a new roof. It is on the list.
I weeded about 8 hours this week. You don’t want to see pictures of piles of weeds in the compost bin.
I started a new sweater, actually a knitted T-shirt. It is pretty. Pima cotton and tencel. Premiere from Classic Elite Yarns. Pattern is the Zoe Tee from C 2 Knits. But it is only just started. There really isn’t anything to show.
I played Baroque recorder on the porch today of a historic home in Montclair for a townwide music event with the Montclair Early Music Society. There are probably photos around, but I couldn’t take one of myself while I was playing.
So you’ll have to settle with the fact that I was really busy doing an assortment of things. Truth be told. The days are lazy and lovely. A much earned break from my spring from hell. In all fairness that’s probably a poor choice of words. The spring was hugely busy and fantastic and I taught a lot of people and went a lot of places and saw my daughter graduate and my son return home from a deployment. I had a fabulous 60th birthday but I’m very very tired. And wisely I didn’t book anything for June, which was a blessing since so much work had to be done around the house. And I’m really really excited because I’m going to leave next Monday the 29th for a real honest to goodness vacation. The lazy kind. The kind where you decompress, chill, read, knit, chat with friends, and just enjoy a good long rest. I’m going to an island. Really. Between Copenhagen and Landskrona, Sweden. The island is called Ven. I’m going with my sister and we are staying with my oldest friend Annika, at her family’s summer home. Annika was a Swedish Exchange student that lived with our family when I was in High School. We have stayed in touch. We have seen each other many times over the last 35 years. And I have been to Ven, in 1977, when I graduated from college. It has been on my bucket list to return. So one of my sisters is going with me, and we are flying into Copenhagen via Geneva, and we are heading to Ven by boat. I hope to come home rested and clear headed and ready to tackle the late summer and fall schedule. And getting estimates for a new roof. And cooking up all that produce from the garden…
My days are slowing down. This is a really good thing. But of course, I’ve been putting out fires for so many months I’m not sure exactly what I should be doing now. One would think that would not be a dilemma in my life. I’m not teaching for two whole months and I don’t quite know where to begin.
I’m trying to attend to my house and yard. They do need occasional attention, and with my daughter home, and all her stuff, we are choking in the detritus of life and so a bit of a clean out here and there is inevitable. Weeding and garden care are important, as are dusting and vacuuming, especially in shedding season. And if I’m not careful, I’ll lose the balance and busy myself with busy work instead of what I really want/should be doing which is enjoying my studio. Which is very hot at the moment, the airconditioning system is needing replacement, and the guys come Saturday to do the look over before they begin. I don’t envy that job in the summer.
I’m booking lunch dates with old friends. Friendships need maintenance as well, and getting together with people I love makes my spirit soar.
So attending to what has been sorely neglected these last six months, my family, my home, my gardens, my friends, my music, in no particular order are important, but so is making stuff. Keeping my hands busy and out of trouble makes the rest of me function more normally. If that makes any sense.
I have a number of piles around the studio, small unfinished objects. Yet they weren’t my unfinished objects. I have a beautiful silk chiffon scarf from my mother-in-law, sitting on top of my loom, which is at the moment storage space, and I’ve pulled a couple of bags of merino/tencel that are gorgeous with it, and I think felting it into a panel and then ultimately part of a garment sounds like a plan.
There is a handwoven dress and a pair of wool crepe pants whose colors long to be put together, and I think a summer dress, recutting the original which is a throwback from the 80’s, is definitely in order.
But the one that jumped off the pile first, was a partially knitted white cotton lace throw my mother in law started way too long ago, and there it was, unfinished in her stash when she died in 2006. I looked at it everytime I searched through the attic for something. I did drag it out a few years ago, and had a knitter friend help me figure out the lace pattern. Lots of yarn overs. I knitted a couple rows, and then pulled them out, my gauge was definitely not that of my mother-in-laws.
And there it sat in a basket in my living room for years. I shook off the dust and looked at it again. It was a generic white cotton flake, I could undo the whole thing, but I have so much light colored cotton flake on my shelves that it would be a waste of energy. I could toss it. Which just seemed wrong. I woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks ago with an idea. The throw was a yard wide, and she had knitted about 22″. I wrapped it around me, under my arms like a bathtowel. It just met at the side seam. Hmmmm…
And so I started to knit, just leaving out the lace pattern, and continuing the garter stitch ground, I made armholes and necklines. It didn’t take long to turn this partially finished throw into a gorgeous summer tunic, which I’m wearing as I type, on my way out to a luncheon with a couple of really old best friends. Old meaning friends for a long time, they are both younger than me.
My mother in law is smiling and I’m pretty proud of myself.