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.
I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. I sort of feel that vowing to make a resolution means you are vowing to change something that maybe you need to change, and I’ve always been of the mindset that if I didn’t like the way I approached, did, thought, ate, etc I’d fix it, I don’t need a new year to act differently.
Well this was no ordinary year. And my life is anything but static. I’ve lost a lot this year, and yet, there is something promising about the future as I discover all the things that I didn’t know I was missing. My late husband wasn’t big on the kind of adventures I like, and truth be told, I don’t really know what kind of adventures I like. Sometimes doing them with an enthusiastic buddy is just the best, and my husband wasn’t the enthusiastic sort that would slog through museum mile in NYC or seek out that cultural experience. He would rather have been skiing or doing some risky sport thing.
I’m developing a different circle of friends now. They are just falling into my life in unexpected ways. Who knew there was a spinner just a block from my house, I walk by her condo whenever I walk the dog. She has been there for 15 years. I had no idea. She is interested in a lot of the things I like to do, or I’m discovering I like to do, and we have already had some pretty fun adventures together.
I was asked by a group of women in mid December to accompany them to the holiday boutique at Lambert Castle. I’ve lived in this area since the early 70’s when I attended Montclair State, and knew of Lambert Castle but had never been. Shame on me. We had a blast and I’m looking forward to going back to take a tour of the actual castle, not when it is hosting a holiday boutique. I’m really interested in the history.
Likewise, my new friend in the condo’s and I went to the Stickley Museum, which I’m completely embarrassed to say is 15 minutes from my house and an absolute marvel of a place. We took a tour, the Sunday before Christmas, it was unbelievable. I would go back in a heartbeat.
And the next day, I met up with my husband’s cousins from Texas, who were in Manhattan for the weekend. We went to see a Klimt exhibit at a Gallery called the Neue Galerie, which turned out to be four blocks north on 5th Avenue from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is actually the Ronald S. Lauder Museum for German and Austrian Art. I had no idea this museum was even here, it was breathtaking in its scope, and I can’t wait to go back. The German restaurant in the basement was excellent. The Klimt exhibit was pretty amazing as well. Suddenly there is a big world out there and it was right here all along but I never had the time nor took the time to look.
And the day after that I got in my car and drove two hours to Newtown, CT, home of Taunton Press, publisher of Threads Magazine where I was invited to their holiday party as a regular contributor. An old friend who had been widowed many years before me told me during a breakfast we had together, to always say yes to whatever you get invited to. It was a way of relearning the world without your spouse. She was so right. The Threads Party was a blast. The facility was beautiful, and the editors, whom I’ve had tons of correspondence with over the last couple of years, were just as gracious and fun in person as they are to work with professionally. I look forward to writing more for them.
About 10 years ago, my husband and I took the kids to see the holiday train show at the NY Botanical Gardens. It was incredible and I’ve always wanted to go back. My new condo friend has always wanted to go so in the next week we will be heading to the Bronx to check it out before it leaves on the 16th. I remember that every historic miniature building or site was built out of plant materials. My husband took something like 3000 photos 10 years ago. Most likely I will not take any. Because you can look it up on the internet.
And so I’m making a resolution this year, to find out all the things I was missing because I was busy raising kids, or traveling, or didn’t have someone to go with, or was too lazy to get on a bus, or drive to wherever. Life is short, as this year has shown us all. Seize the day and make it count.
And I even signed up for a five day watercolor class at Peters Valley this summer. I’m vowing to take a class out there in something, anything, each year, to keep me fluid and looking at life in different ways. I’m going to be a student again.
And even today, there are two fibery women I am good friends with, who live in different states in different parts of the country. But with a group facebook message, we talked on and off all day, sharing what’s on our looms, in our dyepots, and on the spinning wheels. It was like going to a virtual guild meeting.
So celebrate that you made it through a particularly tough year, and hold hands and cross the street together as we head into 2017, which by many estimates will be a complete leap of faith. Read more, weave more, take time to see the things that have always been right under your nose. Learn something new, cook something new. Make a new friend.
I actually got to go into my studio today and work. I got to sit at a loom and weave. This is really huge. This is amazing. Because my life has been reduced to the care and feeding of my house. Hourly things go wrong. Really wrong.
So the past couple of weeks have been nothing but a parade of contractors in and out of the house. There is deck guy, and tech guy, and plumber guy, and tree guy. There is landscape guy and garage door guy, chimney guy and lawn maintenance guy. Pond girl is missing in action and it is 17 degrees.
My son complained, “You know mom, they all have names”. Yeah, I know, but most of them are named Jim. I can’t keep them straight. I like my “guys” just fine. The good news is I’m slowly finding solid competent people for all those stupid things that go wrong, and I’m starting to think, and actually say, “I have people for that…” The bad news is that everytime something gets touched it is like opening a can of worms. Deck guy turned off the hose spigot, at the actual spigot, like he should have, instead of the diverter, like my husband always did, and it started leaking. Profusely. In search of a non existent main shut off for that line going outside, I discovered a leaking galvanized end cap on a copper pipe that went nowhere in the ceiling of the basement. It has been dripping rusty water for a long time. Might explain my water bill? Plumbing guy is amazing. Done and done. (And now I have an actual shut-off). Chimney guy notes that my 125 year old chimney doesn’t have a liner. Not code and not good. Chimney guy lines my chimney and notes that my hot water heater has a 3 inch vent pipe, not a 4 inch, which is code. Now it does.
Tech guy spends hours figuring out my wiring, Ethernet, wi-fi, cable feed, etc. We removed bags of surplus wires and cables. The main cable from the box to the switching hub in the basement disintegrated as he was trying to figure out why I had no internet. Really old cable… One of the originals. Wouldn’t support the 100 mbps I’m paying for. Now it works. I have jacks in the walls, instead of a vomit of cords coming from holes. I know where things are. And so does my tech guy. Done and done…
And on and on and on…
The biggest work was on the front entrance of my house, time was of the essence to try and get the foundation laid for a retaining wall for the original crumbling slab on my front porch. It is getting colder and concrete work can’t be done when it is 17 degrees. Yesterday the steps were installed, and the railings framed. He delivered the black aluminum balusters and will install them when it isn’t 17 degrees.
Then the garage door opener failed. It isn’t worth having a garage door opener repaired that dates back to the late 80’s. Garage door guy comes tomorrow to install new openers. Apparently you can work them from a phone app.
My town building inspector has been wonderful. It is great to have officials on board watching out for you, lowly homeowner. And of course they all know me there, my husband was on the planning board for 25 years. It takes a village, and my goal is one day to have this house a well oiled machine. Right now, I wake up early because some contractor/repair guy is arriving at 7:30am to repair something or other. And the days slip away and I accomplish little. Or so it seems…
Side bar… I play recorders with a couple of consorts, I’ve mentioned this before. This December, the Montclair Early Music Consort had their Winter Solstice concert in a gorgeous church build in the late 1800’s, but we had to wear Renaissance costumes. Which I really didn’t own. So I spent the last couple of weeks scrounging through my vast stash to create something that would celebrate my creativity and look the part. I pulled the petticoat from my wedding gown, and promptly tossed the rest. Really, it was poly charmeuse from the 70’s. Princess Di style. We are never going back there again…
I whipped up a blouse from some silk dupioni I got from a recent trip to Tennessee. I trimmed the neck with some really pretty bobbin lace I had on a bobbin lace pillow. I cut apart a gold skirt from Chico’s and overlayed a silk broomstick skirt I’ve had for about 10 years. And the vest was from a friend from a craft fair, didn’t fit, but I edited the front so I could breathe in it and added the lacing. The headpiece was a bit of creativity as well. Made a tube of bias cut from the end of a sari my husband brought back from India. I think I’m not getting anything accomplished and then I end up with this.
I still have to figure out how to keep the elastic in the skirt from separating from the vest… An engineering question which I’m still mulling over.
And there is the letter. Yeah, I write that Christmas letter every year. Have been for more than 25 years. Sort of a tradition. I wrote it, printed it, had my son stuff 146 envelopes while I hand addressed 146 envelopes because I could not figure out how to get labels from my Google Contacts. I tried for four hours and gave up. Every year I go through this and my husband always figured it out somehow, but could never document how he did it. He just kept clicking on stuff ’till it worked. Last year I did manage to take three pages of notes, but tech guy installed Office 2016, at my request, and of course, now my notes are useless. They don’t relate to the mail merge in Word 2016. Sigh… I have a pretty hand crafted pen I bought at the Morristown Craft Market in October and I sat and wrote out 146 names. It was kind of fun…
Just in case you weren’t one of those 146 names, and want to read the letter, click here. I swore this was my last letter. It was important I do one last one, in honor of my husband and because there are probably people who don’t know he died. My kids are pretty much grown, and I’m trying to simplify my life.
And of course the annual holiday towel tradition continues. I put a 12 yard run of dishtowels on the loom last month, and managed to weave off 13 towels, a baker’s dozen, while fielding contractors/repairmen/and all my “guys”. The stack is washed and cut apart, and waiting on pressing and hemming.
And there is the new dog. Stupid dog. Totally in love with this dog but can’t leave him unattended for a minute. He is the one on the right. Thank goodness for crates. He managed to do this…
It is now repaired. I still had a small ball of yarn, and I picked up and re-knit the left front, and re-connected the shoulder. I was NOT a happy camper.
And yesterday I attended the funeral of one of the most beloved people in my life, Carol D. Westfall, my professor, my teacher, my mentor, my friend. I met Carol in 1974, six months before I met my husband, she was my fiber professor at Montclair State College in the 70’s. We have had many wonderful adventures over the last 40 years. She taught me that it didn’t matter if you knew what you were doing. Just figure it out as you go along. It is not lost on me that two of the most important people in my life outside my blood relations were my husband and Carol and I met them within six months of each other and they died within six months of each other. This year can’t end soon enough. I can’t take anymore losses.
Seriously, I”m just testing a PHP upgrade. There is nothing of interest today, except I’m spending the entire day with my computer guy… You can’t even imagine…