Snow days 2.0

I’m going to be perfectly honest here.  This has been the best couple of weeks.  And I learned something really important.  The last three weeks have been dotted by four nor’easters as we affectionately call a weather system on the east coast, one that comes up from the south, bends around and hits us from the North East causing tidal flooding and all kinds of nastiness.  One of the storms produced two feet of snow, and another produced almost a foot.  I did a lot of shoveling.  I was lucky I never lost power, many of my friends in the area were without power almost as long as we were during hurricane Sandy.  I never lost cable or internet, or Verizon, I just sat in my lovely snug house and studio, and took advantage of all the snow days that happened when everything on my calendar was cancelled.  Everything.  I actually got stuff done.  I went to my studio and I made stuff.  And when the last storm hit, I made even more stuff.

This is a pretty big deal for me.  It has been a long time since I was able to do what I do best.  For many reasons, mostly not things I had control over, but in reality, this series of storms showed me I had a lot more control than I thought.  I belong to a lot of groups.  I have a couple music groups with occasional performances, a local art critique group, a sewing guild, a knitters group, a lace makers group, a couple of weaving guilds, I go to a yoga class, and get asked to volunteer for various things all the time.  Mostly I’m out every night.  It has become apparent that although I love the camaraderie and opportunity to learn and interact with my peers, and stretch my skills and be a better person, I’m failing to acknowledge what I love to do most, and that is make stuff.  I’ve been so focused on getting the business end of my classes under control, getting content up on my eStore, getting class patterns and handouts updated, and all the paperwork that comes with running a house, and a business, and fielding contractors and tech support, taxes and technology, I’ve failed in the most basic way to honor that which got me where I am.  And it took a bunch of nor’easters to point that out.

My calendar runneth over and not in a good way.  I’ve already started to back away from commitments I just blindly attended because I felt like I should.  And it isn’t because I didn’t enjoy it.  I can’t do everything.  Really.  I mean really really.

When we last left off, I had finally after two and a half years, finished off the Bubble cloth from the Karen Donde workshop.  After ruining the fabric I was preshrinking for the body of the garment, a rare event for me, I selected something different and spent one of the snow evenings cutting out.  Once everything was cut out, it was just a matter of figuring out how I wanted to put it together.  It needed a closure and I grabbed the new Lucet I got from Weavers Guild of Greater Cincinnati a couple weeks ago, (because my daughter stole my beautiful wood one) and whipped out a cord for a closure.  This is a great vest pattern for using just a scarf for a pretty border.  It is one I use in my classes.

Exactly a year ago, I was felting the undercollar for a Threads Magazine article.  I had the cutting table cleared off, and covered with plastic, and I had the olive oil soap and hot water and when I finished felting the undercollar, I tossed a large chiffon silk scarf I found in my mother in law’s closet after she died, and put a bunch of wool fleece on top, in careful layers, trying to match up the floral design of the scarf.  I felted that baby, and then looked at the finished piece and tossed it on my shelf until I could figure out what to do with it.  

So the other day, during the latest storm, I pulled it off the shelf, lined up the yokes of my new collared vest I talked about in the last post, and outlined the neck and armhole areas with basting threads.  I sliced down between the armholes, left the sides intact, no side seams, and then peeled away the silk chiffon from the wool, as best I could, it was pretty felted, cut away the felt, and then created this wrapped edge bundling the silk.  I used an alpaca tencel mill end from WEBS to do the wrapping.

I added a zipper because I love simple warm vests that zip up the front.  This little vest, fits like a glove, is super warm, and other than two small cuts down the armholes, I did not waste a single thread of the silk scarf.  

I’m sort of embarrassed about yesterday.  While the rest of the world was out marching for their lives and the importance of keeping the dialogue going about sensible gun control, including many of my close friends and my sister and her family who were in DC with 800,000 other people, I was viewing art with alumni from Montclair State University at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.  It was an absolutely awesome day.  The Barnes has been on my bucket list for a long time.  Stupid I know, I live less than two hours away.  If you don’t know what the Barnes Foundation is, look it up.  They have the largest collection of impressionist art in the world, 181 works by Renoir alone.  We had a private tour, and a beautiful luncheon.  A lovely lecture by the administration at the University, keeping us up to date on what’s happening at the University and of course a plea for more money, but the Barnes collection just blew me away.  Room after room of African antiquities, PA Dutch works, 14th century paintings and illuminations next to impressionist works and modern paintings, up to the 1950’s, all on the same wall.  Paintings and object d’art, were stacked to the ceiling.  The name of the painter was almost invisible, a tiny little plaque at the bottom of the gilt frame of the painting, because Barnes believed that the painter, the title, the year it was painted were all irrelevant.  It was only about line, color, shape and relationships between artworks.  There was a symmetry to how everything was displayed, and I discovered painters I’d never heard of, seen works I’ve never seen before, not even in books. The Barnes collection never travels. I was safe in my world of art, while a battle raged on in the outside world, and I spent the day in an art museum, and loved every minute of it.  I will say that I’m a voter, and I pay attention, and there are many ways to make a difference in the world.  Knowledge is a wonderful thing.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  And please note…  this is my blog, my post.  Do not get into a political discussion on gun control, I have a delete key and am not afraid to use it.  My blog is a safe space where all were welcomed and accepted and encouraged to be part of the fiber world and there are plenty of other venues for that.  

And while I was mindlessly eating dinner tonight, my daughter began to leaf through the new Peters Valley brochure and when she came to the fiber section, she squealed and held up the lead page and there I was, with the cutest picture I’ve seen of me in a long time.  I was weaving, and making stuff.  It is what I do best.  I hadn’t seen this photo before.  I almost spit my wine across the page.  It made me really really smile.  I’ll be teaching two beginning weaving classes at Peters Valley this summer.  And next week I’m heading out to assess the condition of the weaving studio there after a very long hard winter in northwestern NJ.  April 14-15 is clean up day prepping for the season at the valley and my daughter and I will be there most of that weekend (except for a few hours Saturday afternoon when I have to attend the bridal shower for my dearest friend’s daughter, there are some things that take precedence, family is one of them.) Come if you are in the area, all of the studios need cleaning up and prepping for the summer workshop season.  

Stay tuned…


Looking ahead!

I’m not sure whether there has been some cosmic shift or it is all just the coming of spring (however delayed it is in NJ), but the last week has been one of more ups than downs, and I feel like I’m finally coming out of winter and looking towards the future.

First, there is the annual attempt at clearing the looms.  This off -season for me had me doing everything else but that.  Though I did get a major warp on my big loom, I have lots of smaller ones languishing with dusty forgotten warps that usually don’t get woven off until I need the loom.  With all the other stuff going on in my life, large articles for Threads, the upcoming jurying for the Reno Fashion show, a brief vacation to Cuba, creating a new silhouette with ten samples and 19 pages of illustrated directions, not to mention the effort my assistant and I have put into creating digital content up in my online shop, yeah, weaving off old warps wasn’t at the top of the priority list.  

So I stupidly signed up for the swatch exchange for my guild, we have a year to weave samples based on a five card design challenge draw.  I got black, metallic, checks, and rep, and a card that made no sense, but referred back to black.  So by the June meeting, I need a loom cleared, new fabric designed, and samples woven and mounted for the guild challenge participants.  What was I thinking…

Meanwhile, the beginning of May, my guild is hosting Heather Winslow for a workshop on Millennial Fibers.  I volunteered the additional loom, besides the one I’m bringing, because Heather likes an extra loom in a round robin.  Which is an outstanding idea I might add.  If I taught weaving in a round robin (you weave samples on all of the different looms people bring)I’d make them provide an extra.

So I have an additional two looms to make ready for those warps, which I got in the mail this week, the warps, not the looms. 🙂 

We are on target…

Problem for me, is my upcoming schedule, which is pretty tense and dense.  This all has to be done now, not two months from now, because well, life always gets in the way.

Last week we had a two foot snow storm which basically shut down every calendar event on my packed calendar and gave me the longest snow day I’ve ever had next to the 10 days without power during Hurricane Sandy.

The first loom I needed to tackle was the small floor loom.  I probably mentioned it in my last blog.  This loom had a workshop warp on it, left from last October from a Kathrin Weber Workshop, the handpainted warps are all hers, there were four different warps involved including the black one.  First we sampled plain weave, twills, rep and then turned Taquete (summer winter). I took advantage of the lengthy snow week, and steadily wove off the fabric, in the turned taquete structure, with a tencel weft, and got an amazing fabric.

I washed it, laid it out across my cutting table, extended as far as I could with stuff propped under it to give me more surface area and laid out the cloth, and the pattern pieces, cutting doubles of each section.  I cut the yokes crosswise.

And though I didn’t have enough for the collar, I split the collar in two, and used the rep sample area, with a seam up the back, and made a coordinating collar.

The vest is from my newest pattern, and this view on the pattern has the lining (black linen here) as the seam finish, meaning the vest fabric doesn’t have to have any seam allowances.  The directions can be downloaded here for free if you want to see how it is done.  I also wrote about it in an issue of Threads Magazine last fall. 

Anyway, this was just the most fun thing I could make during this long snowy wintry week.

I planned the warp for the swatch exchange, designed, yarn pulled, and now I’ll have to wind that and get it on the loom.

The next loom I needed to clear had a warp that I swear was like that “song that never ends…”  I took the class in fall of 2015, right after my husband was diagnosed with cancer, so I don’t have a lot of recollection of the next bunch of months, but the loom seemed to go with me whenever I had to demo, whenever I had a few minutes to kill (hahahahaha) but I never felt like the end was in sight.  I was determined that by the time the week was out, I’d have this bloody thing off.  It was a four yard warp to start, in a round robin class, and for some reason, mostly involving time, almost no one in the class wove a sample on it, leaving most of the warp intact still on the loom.

I found a gorgeous khaki colored wool on my shelf and my plan was to make one of my other vests, the one with the armhole and neck bands, and use the fabric from this loom, assuming there was enough, to make the bands and really show off this fabric.  The fabric was from a workshop called bubble cloth with Karen Donde, and it involved units of teal tencel and rust colored merino, which when vigorously washed would give different shrinkage to the units.  The sample from the class was actually really lovely, but I had no idea how much fabric was left on the loom and how much it would actually shrink down.  

Meanwhile I tossed the wool for the body into a bucket, like I always do, in hot water to pre-shrink.  And I found a really pretty subtle hand painted yard of silk charmeuse in the right shades, and tossed that in the bucket as well, I figured they were both in the same value range, it wouldn’t be a problem.  I right away saw some bleeding happening from the dye in the handpainted silk, (I didn’t paint it, it was a remnant, I’m not sure where I bought it), and I should have pulled it from the water and gotten another bucket.  But I was, I admit, lazy and thought, it won’t be a problem.

It was a problem.

Alas, I can’t use the wool.  I thought about trying to use the transferred dye which absolutely would not come out no matter what I tried) in some sort of design on the back of the vest, but after looking at other options in my stash, I decided to use this gorgeous brown melton, a gift from a student, probably a better choice anyway, and I can still use the lining, though 15 washings later there is still a touch of red still coming out, and of course the lovely fulled finished length of fabric, which I screamed for joy when I saw the knots come up over the back beam.  I have enough length to get the front bands, and two slightly narrower armhole bands.  I can’t wait to sew this one.

And as a huge nod to the future, I had a fantastic experience this morning.  I, sitting in bare feet at my desk in NJ, gave a lecture to Weaving Indiana, right from the comfort of my own home.  Yep, it was terrific.  Just like I was there, at least it seemed to me.  I heard the tail end of their business meeting, and then I was on!  I could see their group and they could see me, and I gave a slide presentation, projected on their end on the wall screen, and they got to ask questions, and it was a fantastic two hours.  Here are a couple of screen shots, they could see me in the upper corner and I could see them.

I was hoping this would work well, you don’t need much to do this.  The most important thing is internet access, I’m using WEBEX conferencing software, which I will invest in if there is interest in doing this again for a guild.  There is nothing but an app to load on the guild end, I pay for the use of the software.  All you need besides internet access, is a computer, with external speakers and a projector, the camera in your laptop is enough for me to see your guild, and I have a camera on my end.  This guild had a really fancy tech set up, with a camera mounted up on the screen and a speaker system, which is why it took a bit to get it all synced, but tech guy Josh was there on their end, and I had my office assistant here on my end, and it worked.  It really worked.  I can give a lecture to any guild across the country as long as they have internet access and a laptop, projector and external speakers.  Email me if you might be interested and we can talk more details.  I’ll eventually put up a section on my workshop listings of what lectures would be suitable for this format. Basically anything, because I use so much PowerPoint.  Imagine the future where I lecture to Indiana in the morning, from NJ, get to eat lunch in my own kitchen, put up a blog post, and go and walk my dog.  That future is today.  

I’m heading out to walk the dog.

Stay tuned…


This and That…

What a couple of weeks this has been.  Last Thursday, I was on a plane to Cincinnati, to give a lecture to the Weavers Guild of Greater Cincinnati, followed by a two day workshop on fit.  The workshop was everything I hoped it would be for a number of reasons.

My flight was uneventful, which was important because I left as a major nor’easter was brewing in the North Jersey region, so I missed the brunt of that storm.  I am teaching this particular class at Convergence Reno in July, and wanted to get a feel for the timing and what would happen if I added the additional silhouette, which I killed myself creating all of February.  I made 10 sample vests, wrote the handout, and made multiple copies before I flew to Cincinnati last week.  I blogged about that in my last post.  The vests worked well, and a number of students traced the silhouette in addition to others, I have a lot of options, and right before I left, my trusty office assistant Cynthia helped me upload all of the directions for my patterns onto my eShop, they can be downloaded as PDF’s for free.  Don’t get too excited, they won’t help you because they don’t include the pattern, which you have to take a workshop with me to actually be able to get, but the directions are there, which will cut down on my printing costs, and those who traced an early version of the collared vest last year, can actually see how it is put together.

I did get a feel for the timing, and though I’ll have a lot more students in Reno than I did here, 20 vs 13, I know how much pattern paper to bring, and having the directions for free in my shop will help with printing costs.  And I reconnected with a guild I haven’t worked with since 2005.  Back then I did a jacket class, and Judy Dominic, one of my favorite people, and an outstanding fiber artist, came to that class with a basket of odd things and declared she wanted to make the jacket out of what was in the basket.  It was and still is one of the most challenging jackets I ever had to help a student through in the course of a workshop, and I was thrilled to see it again, it still looks great on her.  The back and fronts were tapestries that she had woven, too thick to seam, and the sleeves were painted cotton, which I had her quilt to counter the weight of the tapestry.

Before leaving for Cincinnati, I spent hours updating my website.  When I was in Cuba the end of January, one morning at breakfast, I was talking with a potter who was on the tour with me, and we were taking advantage of having internet access and he was showing me some of his work.  I went over to my website to show him some of mine, and it was to my complete embarrassment that I hadn’t updated the garment part of my gallery since 2015, and the artwork part of the gallery hadn’t been updated since 2011.  And the opening collage of me and my work, on the home page, though it looked pretty, was of work that was more than 10 years old.  It has been 10 years since I did the Convergence Fashion Challenge. That piece didn’t need to be front and center.   So I freshened everything up, I still have to upload photos of my paintings because when I’m out and about, that subject occasionally comes up and it is nice to be able to go to my website and show them off.  I’m going to train my assistant in updating things on my website and I’ll have her work on the paintings.

My daughter has come home to live for a few weeks while she does an unpaid externship for school.  She went back to school to get her vet tech license, a two year associates degree program, which is stretching into three, since we all lost a year or more with my husband’s illness and death.  She brought her cat home with her, which has been an adventure, he is adorable and constantly in your face, and all over my studio, which is just the best place to hang out.  I love him but will be glad when she goes back to her apartment.  Everything takes a lot longer when there is a cat involved.

In addition, she brought her dog with her, mostly he is boarded because he can’t really live at her apartment.  Though he got along mostly with my dogs, they are all the same breed, it took much of my day to deal with crowd control while she was at work.  I told her that it wasn’t realistic for me to have all three dogs, and she would have to make other arrangements.  I’m sure there are those who think I’m a bad mom, but I was getting nothing accomplished, on deadline for Cincinnati, and not in any kind of mood to train another dog.  But the picture of my daughter and the three of them in my living room is the picture of domesticity.  Trust me it was not.  My Ranger is in the window seat, and my princess Saphira is on the couch to the left.  Brianna is petting her dog Trygve.  They are Norwegian Elk Hounds

Did I mention that though I missed the first nor’easter that happened last Thursday into the weekend, I didn’t miss this one.  Fortunately we never lost power.  I don’t know why we were so lucky.  There was close to two feet of snow, 26″ recorded in the next town over.  It felt like it.  But this snowstorm was gorgeous.  Heavy, wet, damaging to trees and shrubs, but gorgeous. 

Storms like this are mother nature’s way of saying, I’m cancelling everything on your calendar and you are getting a much needed rest.  Yes, there was a lot of shoveling.  But the kids were here to help, and it wasn’t icy, just wet and heavy, and we did it in stages, a half foot at a time as it came down.  Meanwhile, with all my meetings cancelled, guilds, knitting groups, lace groups, etc., I decided to sit at a loom, it has been so long, and weave.  This warp has been on the loom since last October, it was from the Kathrin Weber workshop I took with my guild.  I’m hoping to have enough fabric  to make a collared vest, shown above, Kathrin and I have been trying to collaborate on a silhouette and I think this will really work.  Stay tuned for that.  The color was a lovely antidote to the whiteout of the storm.

Meanwhile, the latest issue of Threads Magazine arrived and in it was my four page article on putting in a centered zipper.  I made the dress last fall, from a coral stretch denim, they chose the fabric and the dress, and I got to keep the extra material and made a lovely skirt, my new favorite, which I wore in Cuba.  I had my doubts when I was making the dress, but it looked great in the photo with the article.  I’ll take a photo of my skirt and a lovely charcoal linen top I knitted to go with it, eventually.


And I just got word today that my next article, for issue 197, will be 8 pages.  It is a complete step by step to make a bound buttonhole.  I worked all of January on the jacket and some 25 step by step samples, and I can’t wait to see it.

Stay tuned…


6 down, 4 to go…

I do this to myself, embark on a Herculean task that no sane person would even try, and then put a deadline on it.  I’ve no one to blame but myself.  

First off, I waited until the last minute, the day before the deadline for an exhibit, to photograph the garment for said exhibit entry, and of course had all sorts of technical issues, including a failing card reader in the computer, note this is less than a year old.  I eat card readers for lunch.  The expensive lovely one I had purchased before my husband died, got fried last year when my computer went haywire and I had a new system installed.  Sigh… The new expensive one is due in tomorrow, and then I’ll have to call my tech guy in to install it.  It is always something.  There are days when I feel like nothing will ever go smoothly again.  But that’s a silly poor me thought, because truth be told, just about everything in my life goes smoothly, I have a lot to be grateful for, and the end result of all the shenanigans on Wednesday, was this…

And this…

The vest wasn’t actually for entering the show, but I never formally photographed either piece, and that step is really important.  Both pieces represent new silhouettes I offer in my garment construction classes, especially the five day retreats.  The swing coat is a deluxe variation of the Daryl Jacket, lots of darts, a shawl collar, and a longer swing version with side pockets.  And piping, and bound buttonholes, and a lining, and this is a lot of work.  But gorgeous.  I’ve had great response to it.

Because someone will probably ask, I hand painted the warps myself, and wove the fabric, it is mostly rayon.  The weave structure is original, a combination of plain weave and twill on 8 shafts.

The collared vest came out of an article I did last year for Threads Magazine, issue 193, Oct/Nov 2017, on using the lining as seam finish under one of their columns called Sewing Saves.  I taught the technique for years, but hadn’t really done a newer more updated piece with it.  I used the leftovers from this coat, turned crosswise to make more of an ombrĂ©, and I loved the effect. The vest is lined with black corduroy, and the black lines across the yoke and side and shoulder seams are the lining coming through to the front.   I’ve had the vest at the last few classes and students really really wanted the pattern.  It is a variation on the Daryl Jacket, but with the collar change, and no band, the fit and configuration were enough of a difference to need a complete redraft off my regular Daryl Jacket pattern.  And then there was explaining how to do it.  

So, spending all of January building the samples and the jacket for a summer Threads Magazine article on making bound buttonholes, followed by the trip to Cuba, we are now getting dangerously close to spring and the start of my travels, I’ve accomplished nothing of what I originally thought I’d do this winter in the studio. Getting this vest pattern into production was really a priority.  I want to offer it for students to trace in my two day fit workshop at Convergence in Reno in July, but I hate to go to Convergence with something untested.  And so Cincinnati, you get to try it out.  I’m heading there March 1, like in a week, and I’m desperately trying to finish grading all sizes, making all ten sizes into samples that students can try on to determine size, and then writing the extensive handout with all the illustrations, that has proven to be quite a challenge.  There are some tricky techniques to construct this thing, and to make it more difficult, a couple of options or views.  

Anyway, I’m getting close.  All of my garment samples use old bedsheets, because the fabric is very stable and will stay true to the original pattern size, and because they are fairly lightweight and will pack down nicely with the other 50 some samples I have from the vest with armbands, walking vest, swing coat, tunic, and three variations of the Daryl Jacket.  

I just finished vest #6 tonight.  I have four more to complete.  But I have to order more zippers from WAWAK.  I went to Joann’s today, and not only was the selection terrible, but one zipper was $6, and WAWAK has them in 26 colors for about $1.15 each.  Fortunately they ship quick.

I spent three uninterrupted days this weekend hand drawing the little illustrations, bringing the handout to about 19 pages.  I  wanted to be able to follow it, proofing while I completed the remaining vests, and have already found many errors, some silly, and some critical.  I surprise myself sometimes…

So I check things off my to do list, and more things to do quickly fill up the paper.  I keep thinking, if only I can get through this event, or this project, or this article, life will ease up.  So far I’ve been miserably wrong about that…

Meanwhile my trusty office assistant and I have created digital downloads of many of my monographs and they seem to be selling well.  It is lovely to get an order and not have to stop what I’m doing, print and ship.  I’ve already saved a ton of ink.  I’m now thinking about offering the extensive handouts for each of my pattern silhouettes as digital downloads for free.  For each pattern you trace in a workshop, you need the bound book of directions.  That’s a lot to print and ship ahead to a workshop on speculation, and if I decide to tweak a sentence or two, the extra books are then obsolete and throwaways.  Having digital versions means that the download is always the most current version.  This is what I think about while I’m sewing endless collared vests…  

Stay tuned…


The road less traveled…


From the hotel room

We sat around a dining table over mojitos, a couple of my tour mates and I, one of the last evenings of our trip to Cuba.  I asked how my fellow tour mates planned to respond when the casual friend or acquaintance wanted to know how the trip to Cuba went.  All of us agreed that you can’t just say, “Oh it was really fun, or it was a lovely vacation, or it was warm and sunny and beautiful”.  None of those adjectives even begin to tell the story that is Cuba today. 

I will say that if I had to summarize my experience, it would be life altering.  I learned so much, appreciated so much, felt the Cuban pride all around, met the most resourceful and resilient peoples I think, in the world.  In spite of overwhelming poverty, crumbling infrastructure, lack of supplies, credit, minimal access to the internet, they hold their heads up with pride. There is no violence, little crime, free health care, women’s services, maternity care, maternity leave, free education, and equal rights and equal pay for women, and they survive.  They have survived for 450 years having some country or other occupy them, they have survived numerous invasions and slavery, yet they have held on to their arts, music and culture in whatever form that takes, and they do what they have to as a community to thrive. 

There is little crime in Cuba, no guns.  Though to be fair it is pretty easy to police that on an island.  But people don’t need guns.  Drugs are not prevalent because no one can afford them.  The Cubans are educated, well dressed, work hard at whatever they do, and make do.  It was a privilege to spend a week on their island.

You cannot begin to understand Cuba without a background in the socio-political history from the time Columbus landed (FYI, it wasn’t in the actual United States) and wiped out the indigenous population and the following Spanish invasion. Then the British invaded, and back to the Spanish in exchange for Florida.  A series of rebellions ended Spanish rule and then followed US military occupation.  The slave trade in Cuba was huge, necessary for the production of sugar, and slavery ended about 20 years after it was outlawed in the US in the late 1800’s.

Cuba gained its independence in 1902, but with that came political corruption and crime and gambling and control by the mafia.  In any case, that was how it was explained to me.  Cuba is mostly defined now by the 1959 revolution when the people took back their country and drove out the gambling, the wealthy, the crime and started to live as a socialist country under communist rule.  With the collapse of the Soviet block in 1992, the Cuban’s entered something called the “Special Period”. They are sort of adrift, especially since the US embargo, which has been in place since the revolution in ’59, has prevented them from benefiting from the global market we all take for granted.  Yet the people we talked to, listened to in lectures, professors, leaders in the community, urban planners, artists, writers and architects, all told the same story.  They put one foot in front of the other and make do and celebrate what they have and what they can do with it.  Tomorrow is completely unknown.

The printing school of graphic arts boasts a press from the 1700’s.  Everywhere you look are cars from the 1950’s in showroom condition.  You know they don’t have access to parts, they figure out how to make them from whatever they can find. 

The buildings are all made of concrete, plaster and brick because that can be made on the island.  There is little wood, small tropical trees don’t produce what would be necessary to build a house, maybe just the front door. My understanding is that there are 3.1 building collapses a day in the country.  Yet there is an amazing respect for the standing infrastructure, no graffiti, no trash, no money to repair, restore or replace, yet they make do with pride. 

Streets are made of cobblestones, actually rocks used as ballast in the 17-1800’s from sugar deliveries to New England. Ships needed ballast to return safely to Cuba.  Rocks from Massachusetts.  They have lasted for a couple hundred years.  They will live on.  The Cuban cab drivers bicycle their passengers over the rocky cobblestones with grit and training and raw determination. 

On every corner, in every restaurant there are musicians.  There is a musical pulse to this country.  Everywhere you look there is art and sculpture. Some of it is good art and some of it is not great art, but it doesn’t matter.  Everyone is encouraged to contribute somehow, to be creative, classes are set up in community art centers for kids to come after school,  classes in dance, music, theater, pottery, painting drawing and printmaking.

It is not lost on me the irony of some of the fans of the Eagles Football team that just won the Super Bowl Sunday night were looting and burning their city in celebration of their team’s win.  Why do people do that?  I was struck by the incredulity of the wealth of the Europeans that had established palaces and estates in Havana prior to the revolution, that imported the best of everything, Sèvres Porcelain, Aubusson Rugs, Baccarat Crystal, Czech glass, Chippendale furniture, and when they fled in 1959 during the revolution, the citizens didn’t loot and destroy or sell off a bloody fortune in antiquities, they kept the buildings locked and when the wealthy didn’t return, they converted the buildings into museums.  Like the Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas . The next time I’m at the MET in the European rooms, I will shake my head at the rival collection of antiquities I saw in the museums of Cuba.  Life has been frozen in time on this beautiful island, and most of the buildings date back to the late 1800’s.  Except the cars.  You have to love the cars.

Nothing is wasted here.  Some of the way junk is reused just makes you smile.  It is a painters paradise, to bring out an easel and paint would have been a dream come true, but when in and out of a tour bus for a week, there is little time for such a luxury.  So I will settle for some beautiful photos that I’m hoping I’ll be able to paint one day.

Cuban Educational Tours (CET) organized the trip for Peters Valley.  The tours and lectures were designed for the group that came, we were mostly crafts people, artists, or people that supported artists like spouses.  It was bittersweet for me at times, this being my first solo trip without my husband, because I found myself thinking, Kevin would have loved this, he would have taken a gazillion photos of this, he would have had so much fun doing this.  But he wasn’t there and I was and I was surrounded by the most interesting and creative and thoughtful and educated people.  Conversations on the bus alone were worth the trip. 

We saw dance performances of traditional African movements, celebrating the traditions of the slaves,  and a performance of Don Quixote with the Cuban National Ballet.  OMG!  The talent, the training, the commitment, the professionalism blew me out of my seat.  We saw a percussion/dance troupe, using chairs as their instrument, the sound was clear and rhythmic and beautiful.

We listened to Troubadours, and Cuban musicians, and we danced (fortunately I have no pictures of that) and we loved and yes, we bought the CD’s.  Carefully wrapped in paper and stapled.  There were rarely CD cases.

We ate amazing meals, lots of rice and beans but fish, chicken, pulled pork and beef.  There was lobster pizza and of course free flowing rum, and the island drink Mojitos.  That green is muddled mint.  About every 15 minutes we were handed another bottle of Ciego Montero, “the No 1 en Cuba” bottled water and were told that in reality, it is the only bottled water available in Cuba. 

We visited a pottery studio, a print making studio, heard lectures from Nationally respected artists, and got an art lesson from one of the professors in the University.  Even having to have his words translated, he made more sense in 10 minutes than the four years of my fine arts degree.  To have an idea come to fruition, you need the time, resources and repertoire or skillset and there is a constant flow of adjustment that moves back and forth from these concepts that result in the final work.  You can’t design an idea for 16 shafts when you only have 8, unless you have the skillset or repertoire and time to do pick up.  We visited an arts academy, created from an abandoned pre revolution golf resort, and we visited a trade school that trains youths in restoration skills in plaster, concrete, brickwork, plumbing and electricity and ironwork.  There is a lot of need for these skills in Cuba, as you can imagine.

Our accommodations were really lovely.  We stayed four nights in the MeliĂŁ Cohiba hotel in Havana, and two nights in Casa Particulares or private homes in Trinidad, a beautiful crumbling city on the southern coast of Cuba.  There really isn’t a hotel infrastructure that can support of lot of tourism, but resourceful Cubans have opened their homes to let outsiders come and stay with them. 

Bathrooms were an adventure.  I’ve talked to many friends who have traveled to Latin American countries and nations that don’t have the toilet infrastructure system we do here in the States.  I found myself really appreciating a basic toilet seat.  We had them in the hotels, and maybe a couple of the restaurants, but mostly, no.  Sometimes no running water, the toilet lady, who collected a coin to give you a couple sheets of toilet paper (which you weren’t allowed to throw in the toilet) would have to manually flush the toilet with a bucket of water.  I don’t know how she managed that, and I didn’t want to know.  You learned to carry tissues and wipes with you (which you couldn’t throw in the toilet) and hand sanitizer.  And in spite of judicious use of sanitizer, we all managed to pass around a wicked stomach virus with the results I’ll leave to your imagination.  I was one of the lucky ones in that when it hit me, I was safely in the hotel in the middle of the night where I had a toilet seat and toilet paper I could flush.  Gratitude. 

There is so much we take for granted here in the States.  We have known no other way of life.  I am truly touched by the generosity and resilience of the Cuban people, the way they talk about each other with pride.  They way they listen to every word coming out of the US because the US controls so much of their destiny.  They have five TV stations, one is from Venezuela, the others State owned.

Oddly enough, one of my favorite tours was to the Christopher Columbus cemetery.  The guide was hilarious, spoke perfect English and the stories of the dead were just the best.  And again, the wealth prior to the revolution.  There was an exact replica of the PietĂ .  Yeah, that one.  Life size and perfect.  Because they could.

And we visited a tiled city started by artist Fuster, and enthusiastically embraced by the whole community.

I understand Peters Valley is sponsoring another tour to Cuba in November.  Go.  It should be required for every US citizen.  Go before the embargo is lifted and Cuba becomes America’s playground.  You won’t regret it.

Enjoy the rest of the photos…