Mea Culpa…

Please Forgive me dear readers, no wonder I’ve been getting letters to make sure I’m still alive… I remember well Saturday night Catholic Church confessional when I was a kid, “Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been six weeks since my last blog post…”

At the beginning of the month I caught this horoscope in my newspaper. Once in awhile I’m brought up short.

I need that reminder frequently.

I’d love to say that life in retirement is blissful and easy and boring. Yeah, no. I only retired from teaching on the road. I didn’t stop my calendar from filling up. I wanted to avoid this photo below, a photo I shot before I loaded my car to teach 8 classes at the NY Sheep and Wool Festival 9 years ago. It popped up on Facebook as a reminder…

I need these constant reminders that as chaotic as my life is now, it was much much worse…

I did take on a number of private students this fall. I’m pouring a lot of money into producing the YouTube videos, and paying my daughter a salary to make them happen, and I could use the income. (No, I don’t make anything off of YouTube, I’d need a couple million subscribers.) And I wanted to see what it was like to be in my space, using my equipment and supplies to do what I love.

And I’m enjoying the experience of having students in house. Cooking for different types of diets is a bit daunting, but I’m managing that, good skills to develop. But the calendar is rather full, one group leaves, another one comes in. That should slow up in another few weeks, but I also, in my quest to learn all the things, signed up for things I didn’t really have time to fit into the schedule. They were remote right, so they should be able to just fit right in… Between the student on Saturday, and teaching in Michigan on Monday and Ontario on Tuesday… I’m finding the need to print my schedule out hourly. That’s a first.

Still, no regrets… My guild was sponsoring a workshop with Jennifer Moore, whom I adore, the expert on double weave structures. For those that aren’t weavers, double weave means you are weaving two (or more) layers of fabric simultaneously, one over the other. There are advantages to this, but our focus was on weaving blocks, where the layers could change place, side by side. And the warp was her famous Rainbow warp, I used 4 ends of 8/2 Tencel as I moved through the color wheel.

Though I did have experience with double weave, this was a fun and challenging workshop, and I finally was able to get a warp on the new to me 25″ Macomber that I rescued and rehabbed. It wove like a champ…

And while I listened to a guild presentation last week, a different guild than the one that sponsored the double weave workshop, I sat and made cordage from leeks (the green parts), which I had sliced very thin lengthwise and let dry, giving a little spritz to soften them up when I was ready to use them. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to make cordage for basketry.

And in my spare time, I’ve been mulling over a draft I got from a friend, it has been making its rounds. This one is for something called Drunken Squares. It is a wicked cool fabric, and the draft was sent to me in the form of a profile draft. If you aren’t a weaver, skip this paragraph, it won’t mean anything to you. If you are a beginning weaver, this is a profile draft, meaning it isn’t something you can weave. You have to substitute each block in the threading and treadling with an actual structure. Each block is a unit. What you put into that unit depends on what structure you want. And since this is a six block structure, I thought I could do it with my 12 shaft loom. I tried, for a month. I got it to 10 shafts, and then when I spent another week or two I realized I could actually do it on 8. Most of my friends have done the draft effortlessly with 16 shafts. I don’t have that many. I plugged the profile draft into my weaving software (Fiberworks) and went to the block substitution tool. I worked for hours. I ended up with a tied weave, on 8 shafts, but it needed 14 treadles. I have 10. So I worked for hours more… In my spare time.

I got something I thought would work, 8 shafts, 10 treadles using more than one at a time. And no, I’m not ready to share the draft. I worked too hard on it.

I wound the warp, and went to my small 25″ 8 shaft Tools of the Trade floor loom, and looked at the treadles, and decided that this poor little loom, which I’ve had since probably 1982, could use a really good treadle scrubbing. I used a magic eraser, they are amazing for removing years of gunk, and gave the treadles a good polishing with my go to loom feed, Howard’s Feed and Wax. Even though my poor little loom still has its nose a bit out of joint since the acquisition of the Macomber, my treadles are very happy.

I beamed my warp. This is 10/2 perle cotton, in colors I had on the shelf. I had to drop one stripe to fit on my 25″ loom, but that’s OK.

And I got everything working and started to weave. I did it. There is such a personal triumph when you focus on something really challenging, determination keeps me going. I refused to admit defeat. And it worked. I did it. The drunken squares are really drunken rectangles, but I didn’t care.

While I was working on the loom next to it for the doubleweave class, I glanced over and thought, duh, just change the size of the blocks… ’cause that’s what we were doing in the doubleweave class. There are days I’m freakin’ brilliant, and there are days when I think, where did I leave my brain?

So I did another block of the repeat, and now I have real drunken squares. I remember years ago working on a two shuttle structure and having the shuttles constantly falling in my lap. And I designed a fix… This is a small loom with a small weaving area. So I took the second back beam (there is a second warp beam which automatically comes with a second back beam) and I slipped the cover on it I had made years ago, inserted a 5″ wide plastic ruler, and slipped the whole thing on the front to make a shuttle rest. I’m amazed I found all the parts considering the studio move.

And we are back to filming videos again for my YouTube channel The Weaver Sews, after a 6 week hiatus. Each video takes about 20-25 hours a week between my daughter and me, to produce. In my spare time… hahahahahah!

I finished filming the videos for my summer shirt. Just in time for fall, which has been delightfully summer weather… Handpainted skeins circular wound into an ombré effect warp. I sell this draft on my website… Also, the pattern is my 1000 swing dress cut into a shirt length, with the neck and in-seam button-down placket (no buttonholes to make!) from my 700 or 1700 Tunic. Those patterns are available in my eShop. Videos will soon be released on how to do the collar and armhole facings, last week’s video drop featured the in-seam buttonhole placket.

I planned this fabric from a few handdyed skeins while my husband was dying, worst week of my life. Took everything in my brain to focus on anything but what was happening to our lives. I’ve held onto this fabric for five years waiting for it to tell me what it wanted to be. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this shirt. I did add shoulder epaulettes, since I couldn’t get the shoulders to match. It is one of my favorite cheats. The contrasting fabric is a heavy weight linen. Here is a photo of the original skeins I used to create this fabric. I called the fabric Chaos. Fitting…

And so my retirement life isn’t any less chaotic. And as I vacuumed and dusted my weaving studio this afternoon, I thought about how much, as chaotic as it is, I love my life. There is always something calling to me, wanting to be designed, engineered, played with, created, or even cleaned, cooked or washed. And now as I cook I think, gee, can I use this for making a basket? Will it make cordage? And the animals always demand time. I’m never never never bored. There is a lot of life to cram into my remaining days and I want every minute I can get. Because we never know. I want to learn all the things, do all the things, and be all the things, in my spare time…

Stay tuned…

Hurricanes and Vines…

Grab a cup of tea, or your liquid of choice (go for the wine) and grab a seat, it is going to be a long one.

So much for retirement! If these last couple weeks have been any indication, I’m toast! Almost all of the events of the last couple weeks have been ones I chose, ones I intentionally put on the calendar, and I don’t have a single regret. But I’ve worked hard…

At the end of August, shifted by a few days for a scheduling conflict with one of the students, I had a couple of, I really can’t call them students as they are at this point old friends, come for a five day retreat to sew their pile of patterns, and garments from their handwoven cloth. These are friends who have studied with me for years at one of my regular venues. They immediately found the part of my property where they loved to sit and rock and have wine at 5 o’clock. Friends help me find new ways to enjoy what I have, in the studio, in my yard, and in my house.

They came with an agenda, and I’m happy to report that they accomplished everything they had on the list, and then some.

One of the students brought pieces from a handwoven coat, she had made years ago and never liked, and using my 1800 zippered jacket pattern, created this variation. I’m always thrilled when I or one of my students repurposes.

This student brought a dress from commercial fabric she made on her own, but didn’t like the way it fit. We were able to take up the whole dress from the shoulders creating a more attractive neck. The pattern is from Merchant and Mills, the Dress Shirt

She also tackled a piece of loosely woven handwoven fabric, which we saved by using a fusible underlining to create the start of a dress, The Augusta Dress from Grainline Studio. She is experienced enough at this point to finish the dress on her own. It was a complicated asymmetrical neckline, but she pulled it off.

The other student started with a handwoven fabric from her stash of Zephyr Wool and Silk from Jaggerspun. She created my 200 Jacket with a shawl collar, and used this wickedly cool silk lining she had in her stash. And she spent the first day learning to insert a perfectly matched welt pocket.

She also fitted and sewed up a really cute summer cotton top from a crinkle fabric she had in her stash. The pattern is from Simplicity D0676.

And then she copied my 1000 swing dress, with the A-line variation, something I cover in my YouTube Videos, The Weaver Sews. I think it was the episode on Combining patterns. She had a length of handwoven fabric she had woven a few years ago, and decided that everyone needs a brightly striped dress for the summer!

So mid week, we had another visitor named Ida. This visitor wasn’t part of the agreement and was definitely not welcomed. My sewing studio is in the basement, and through the years I/we took steps to mitigate water issues, new gutters, a sump pump, and a replaced retaining wall under the front stoop, keeping water running off the street in an exceptional situation from entering the foundation. This is a 100 + year old house with poured concrete over a dirt cellar floor. There are cracks and in the boiler room where we ripped out the old oil, converted from coal furnace back in the 80’s, there are even holes going down to the dirt. The floor is porous, but I rarely have issues. I did design the studio just in case, to accommodate a bit of water, just in case.

So Wednesday night Ida came to visit, wrecking havoc in NJ and NY, and of course all the states in its path. When we moved here in the 80’s we knew that more than half the town was in the flood plain, but we were up on the hill, so we knew we wouldn’t be flooded at least by the river. We have watched our neighbors in the flood areas of town lose everything many times over the years since we have been here. It is always devastating to see. The flooding here was catastrophic. Because I am higher up, river flooding isn’t an issue, but 10″ of rain in four hours is too much for the storm drains coming off the hill, and if it hadn’t been a hurricane and dark outside, I would have loved to have stood in the street and watched rivers of water come cascading down my street, jump the asphalt curb and run right into the front wall of the foundation.

I would have been teaching up at Harrisville this week had I not chosen to retire. And had I not had students, I wouldn’t have been in the studio late to turn things off and move a few pieces of sensitive equipment like sewing machines off the floor, just in case. The sump pump was happily humming along, so I was pretty confident I’d be OK. I turned to walk down the little hallway in front of the boiler room, which is walled off, to head upstairs and I was horrified to step on a mat with water squishing out everywhere. I yelled for my daughter, and thus began our evening, finding every towel in the house, because, yeah, we had a mess. We opened the door to the boiler room and were appalled to see water just pouring in the front wall of the foundation and actually seeping up through the floor. I stood looking at the water and said to my daughter, what did we have in the house that could suck up water, because I had given away my shop vacs, as I didn’t need them and needed the garage storage space for my 39 shaft looms. She looked at me, without batting an eye and said, “A Turkey Baster”.

For the next four hours, I sat on a stool, after channeling the water into the holes in the floor, sucking up quarts of water into yogurt containers, and Pyrex glass ware from my dye studio, while she hauled wet towels to the upstairs laundry and dumped the containers of water. All the dry concrete in front of me had been covered in water, so this was no easy feat. I’m glad I’m a textile artist with a lot of bath and beach towels.

We won. I’ve never been so tired in my life. When the rain stopped at 2:30 in the morning, the water stopped entering the basement, and I took a load of newly washed and dried towels and covered the area and went to bed. Class started again in a few hours and teachers gotta do what they gotta do… My students slept not knowing what was happening two floors below. I’m grateful I was home, I’m grateful my daughter was here, I’m grateful for a lot of towels, I’m grateful we never lost power, and I want to bronze that turkey baster and frame it as a reminder that sometimes the simplest thing can save the day. I will though, buy a new one for the kitchen, should I ever need to baste a turkey.

My students left on Friday night, and early Saturday morning I headed out to Peters Valley School of Craft for a five day basket making class using foraged materials. Because Peters Valley sits in a National Park Recreation Area, we weren’t allowed to forage for the actual materials, but the teacher Steven Carty, brought a van load of materials, bark, vines, tools, and everything we needed to create baskets from stuff found in the wild. (Note: they have closed the physical shop, but maintain a Facebook presence and have mail order basketry supplies available.)

My purpose in taking the class was to begin to identify what I had in my yard, what could be a basket making material, how to harvest it, store it and actually use it. I found out pretty quickly that almost everything out there is usable. I have to have a talk with my yard guy since I mostly pay him to rip out invasives, but now I need to harvest them and I have a lifetime of materials right out my door.

I discovered I had vines that I never planted, Bittersweet, and Akebia, and this one that has just the coolest leaf structure called Crossvine.

Anyway, we started with a simple garlic basket from rattan so we could learn to twine, and then he showed us how to make cordage. Which is something I always wanted to learn. I made a lot of cordage stripping the bark off wisteria runners.

Day 2, I made a basket with Arborvitae bark staves and wisteria runners, the bottom tier had the bark stripped which I twisted into cordage. The top tier has the vine with the bark intact. The rim is cedar bark and the lashing wisteria bark from the runners.

Day 3 we learned how to create a bark basket, scoring the bark so it folds into a container shape. This is pretty cool, but I don’t see myself traipsing around the woods looking to fell young hickory or tulip poplar trees. I don’t want to work that hard in my old age. We scraped the bark from cedar strips and used it for the lashing.

I spent the morning of Day 4 researching what was in my yard. I brought a few samples of the vines from my yard, and used his reference books and a couple of phone apps and Google to help identify what I had. So I started this basket, using more of the tulip poplar strips as staves, and started twining my vines, still green, so a bit fragile, because I wanted to see how they worked and how they dried. I started with the bittersweet at the very bottom, used trumpet vine, which was pretty fragile at the joints, and ended with the Akebia 5 leaf, also called Chocolate vine. That was great to work with green. I added a cedar rim, and that night I challenged my daughter to figure out how to end the staves, and she slit them lengthwise and braided them into an interesting top rim. The afternoon of Day 5 I made a few yards of fine cordage from Dog Bane, also called Indian Hemp, which I then used to lash everything together.

My daughter had assisted this instructor back in 2019 for a basket making class when she was the fibers assistant at Peters Valley. She loved making baskets and was really jealous that I took his class, and pumped me for information each evening when I came home. I saved some of the lashing work to do at home and I had lots of help from the cat. He happily stirred the soaking water for me. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that wasn’t necessary.

The morning of the 5th day, the class when on a nature hike through areas of Peters Valley, protected of course because it is federal property, and Steve showed us all kinds of flora and fauna, edibles, plants for dye stuff, vines, invasives, and I thought he would have a heart attack when he found a lone hemlock tree. Gave a new meaning to the word Tree-Hugger. Our goal was to reach a rock formation I did not know existed, dating back centuries, hidden in a part of the Valley off the road to the Thunder Mountain studios. It is called Bevans Rock Shelter, and there are even traces of early ochre paintings.

We took a class photo with our baskets.

When I got home last night, Brianna had already begun to harvest stuff from the yard. We rigged up a storage system in the garage studio, for some of the wisteria and English Ivy vine I brought home from class. I long ago committed chemical warfare on the wisteria that had invaded our property in the 80’s. This morning she went out and harvested more bittersweet and some really out of control rose runners that I swear grow 6 feet overnight. She can’t wait to tackle the gazebo.

The first morning of class, when I stopped to check in at the office, Jen the person who keeps the Valley humming along, excitedly pulled a handful of magazines out of a box that had just come in, a free publication for the tri-state area (NJ, NY, PA) called the Journal. It had just been delivered the day before, and there I was, or rather my daughter, wearing one of my handwoven coats from a number of years ago. My daughter modeled for me when she was something like 11 or 12. She is now 28. The publisher of the journal had reached out to me a month or so ago, and asked for a piece on creativity, tied into Peters Valley, and what it was like to be a fiber artist, and for lots of pictures of my work. I was hesitant at first, I live in a different county, and I’m no longer teaching on the road or selling my work, but she insisted that I had a story to tell, and they wanted to publish it. The issue is full of images of my most colorful work over the years, and my daughter is beside herself that she made a cover, even though she was only 12 at the time. You can read the early Fall issue of The Journal here.

And so, I actually get to take a mini vacation, I’m heading down the shore Saturday morning with my sisters for a three-day getaway, which I sorely need, and Brianna will hold down the fort and be with the animals. All seems to be quiet in the Atlantic, let’s hope it stays that way.

Stay tuned…

Life has its ups and downs…

This has been a challenging week, oddly stressful, but also successful. I’m trying to find the balance and some gratitude, things could have been so much worse…

If you follow me on Facebook, and I post most things public, since I’m inundated with friend requests that are very suspicious, (I’m rarely accepting new friends), I posted over the weekend the joyous feeling of seeing the knots appear on the back of the loom. Lots of you responded with glee, with questions, with comments, and with support. That’s Facebook at its best.

I had considerable annoyances at the end, like anyone weaving anything, that last yard…

I had visitors…

I ran out of a couple of the three dozen yarns I was rotating through, forcing me to try to quickly dye a few dozen yards to get me to the end, and I did a head scratch to figure out why since I had calculated so carefully, and I’m pretty accurate. What I didn’t count on was stupidity… Yeah I know…

So this fabric is a repeat across the warp of three distinct color blocks, A – B – C – B – A – B – C – B – A. Simple enough. So I draft this with weaving software, to Weave as Drawn in, including the colors. So far so good. Except that when you weave a specific repeat, you always leave off the last pick, or block or whatever so that the structure just continues. Like a repeat of A, B, C, B,… Repeat. Unfortunately I did all my calculations on the warp repeat, meaning I had two block A’s together and I figured that out almost immediately that I had to knock out the last A when treadling. Except that I had calculated on more A blocks than I needed, leaving less yarn for the B and C blocks than I needed. It was a dumb mistake, but fortunately I’m resourceful and I have lots of things I can squeeze in as a substitute and it is yardage which will eventually get cut up and you will never know… Unless I point something out. And you won’t hear it from me…

OK, I’ll admit, I did something I know is probably risky. Each of the different color blocks was a different group of protein yarns that I knew would probably behave differently when washed. But I’m a risk taker and love the challenge of figuring it all out in the end. The color blocks C, of which their are two across the warp, were probably some alpaca/silk that didn’t really shrink the way the other blocks did in the wash. So sadly, those color blocks, running the warp and the weft, are bubbling up in an interesting seersucker effect, not what I was going for. After pressing it is still a problem and I’m busy figuring how to get out of this one. Never fear… This is stuff I live for…

Meanwhile, I finished a series of videos on my YouTube channel, The Weaver Sews, on how to construct my 800 Zippered Vest, and created two of them with slightly different variations, the white one has side vents. I finished them on Sunday. I took some photos today and stuck them in the closet. Winter is coming. I want to say how much I love making this particular vest pattern. It is like a puzzle and all the pieces end up fitting together nicely.

The blue 800 Zippered Vest is from the scrap I found in the attic of an old piece I featured in one of my Monday mini videos on my Arctic Sky Jacket.

Arctic Sky Jacket circa 2009

The trim is a piece of Wool Bubble Crepe. I put welt pockets in, which is an add on to my patterns.

The white vest has a more interesting story. My late mother in law died at 99 about 15 years ago. She was a weaver, spinner, lacemaker and one of my best friends. I cleaned out all of her things, and absorbed all her craft supplies, including this handspun (I believe), wool twill skirt she wove back in the day, and assembled it completely by hand.

It really didn’t fit me and wasn’t my style but I really appreciated the piece and held on to it. I thought I had enough to make an 800 Zippered Vest, and carefully laid everything out.

I needed some pretty lining that would serve as the seam finish, which was part of the video how to’s, and found a vintage wool square, designed to be a shawl but never hemmed, in glorious fall colors that was from my mom’s stash when she sold the house I grew up in in 1987. I inherited a lot of her stash as well. This is just the softest wool challis, in a beautiful color and I was able to squeeze out what I needed to line, seam finish, and create bias for the perimeter trim.

Since a number of my students insisted that I create side vents in this vest, I added that to the video on sewing the perimeter binding, mitering the corners, etc. That video dropped last week.

All good right? Well that was Sunday. While I was finishing up the plaid warp, we had a hurricane outside. In the northern part of NJ where I live, we were on the outer fringes of “the cone”, so no wind or major issues, just a really pretty steady rain.

It kept raining…

Monday morning I got up but really struggled to get out of bed. I had been more tired than usual, actually falling asleep in the middle of a couple of Zoom lectures. I headed to the sewing room in the basement and started designing a summer top I think I want to use for the next round of videos.

I looked down at the industrial mats on the floor and was surprised to find wet foot prints… Yeah, I took water in the basement and hadn’t realized it. It is exceptionally unusual for me to take water, but not impossible. I yelled for my daughter, we worked like crazy people trying to get mats up and outside to try to scrub with the hose, up on the balcony, dodging more rain, and on my way into the house for some cleaner, I slipped and went down on the deck. The good news is no damage to my person, I was really lucky, it could have been a lot worse. So I scrubbed mats, and scrubbed the deck, and got more exhausted by the minute. I was not in a good mood and felt lousy. And a chunk of my town was now flooded and still is.

There was no damage in the basement, and in fact I had designed the space with the contingency that I might actually some day take water, so everything is up off the ground and we let everything dry out for a day. I installed an expensive air purifier, which I needed anyway, and I thought Tuesday that all would be well.

I had developed a headache over the weekend, concentrating very hard on the fabric, trying different glasses that would keep me from squinting, my progressives don’t always have the right focal length in the right place. By Monday I was having real pain in the right side of my face. I had seen the doctor the week before for an unexplained rash and swelling under my eye, and she put me on an antibiotic just in case. Things got worse. I saw my dentist Monday afternoon, still wet from the basement adventures, and he ruled out any tooth that could be causing the face pain. I called the doctor back and she wanted me to immediately go in to see an ophthalmologist to rule out anything with my eye. So long story short, I have shingles… Yeah, not what I expected in a million years. And no, I never got the vaccine because every time I thought to, I was going to be traveling and didn’t want to deal with side effects, and when I finally had a block of time back in 2019, the vaccine was in short supply. I couldn’t get it. 2020 I wasn’t going out in public for any reason. So no, I didn’t get the vaccine, for shingles anyway.

So antiviral meds are a wonderful thing. I feel almost normal today, and was able to put in a full day, mostly paperwork, the kind of stuff that would put me to sleep… I have students coming in next week to study privately, and I follow that immediately with a basketry workshop at Peters Valley School of Craft. And Brianna heads up to MA to visit an old college roommate who is holding loom number 39, a 4 shaft Structo in beautiful condition, picked up in a thrift store. It is going to be a busy few weeks, so I decided to put the YouTube channel on hiatus for those few weeks. I’ll be back, I have a lot of videos still to shoot, but I need to spend time on some catch up and designing a couple of new garments for the next set of videos.

This has been a challenging week, both national, international news, heartbreaking for someone who lived through the Vietnam war and has a son in the military and has gone through two deployments. My stress level is higher than I would have liked going into this part of my retirement. But things on a personal front could have been so much worse. I escaped relatively unscathed through this latest hurricane, I’ll take a little water in my basement. And I escaped health wise with a mild form of shingles which antivirals took care of promptly. I’ll be fine. Meanwhile I’m busy thinking… always thinking… stay tuned…

They gave me a party…

Back in March of 2020, I spent time with my hostess, while I was teaching at my last venue in Oregon, part of a 10 day tour, or something like that, and I asked her how you make a decision to stop doing something you’ve been doing for 35 years. I so remember going through this when I was burned out of doing craft fairs in the 1980’s. Both craft fair bookings and teaching on the road bookings are often booked 1-2 years in advance. Fast approaching my mid 60’s, all my other peers, who are not artists, were retiring from their lengthy careers, moving to warm climates, and sitting on a beach. That’s not my style, but I was getting tired. Not of teaching, I love that, but tired of being away, hauling crap around the country, missing my animals and my studio and my routine, and yet, at the time I was booked well in 2022.

My hostess listened kindly and said encouraging words, and assured me that the time would make itself known. Back in 1989, when I decided I just couldn’t do another craft fair, I miraculously found myself pregnant in my mid 30’s, and had a glorious excuse for never setting foot again in a craft booth except as a buyer. I do remember a huge fight with my husband, who didn’t understand how I could just walk away from a career, he didn’t have that option. Fair point.

But artists don’t retire. They just reinvent the way they express themselves creatively. I’ve reinvented myself so many times over my 66 years, and always because the universe threw me a curve ball and I caught it and ran with it.

I returned from Oregon in March of 2020, and of course, the universe had other ideas, and all of my teaching on the road was basically cancelled. This was not lost on me, definitely not a coincidence, and I will tell you that one by one, as the cancellations came in, I smiled. Requests to rebook were put on hold. I was able to accommodate some of the lectures and workshops remotely, which was pretty cool. The best of both worlds, but really, as the pandemic wore on, I did not miss the travel and thought to myself, this is the first time in a gazillion years I am really hunkered down and enjoying the creativity of just being alone in my studio and making stuff.

I did have a contract with Peters Valley School of Craft, for a couple of in person classes, but that was way in the future and so by summer of 2021, I’d probably feel differently. Yeah. No…

But professional that I am, I would never cancel the two classes, and the beginner workshop in June of 2021 was only three days, and I team taught it with my daughter. I actually commuted, so I could sleep in my own bed at night. Brianna stayed to help the students in the evening.

Last week was the second workshop I was scheduled to teach with Peters Valley. It was a more challenging class, my five day yardage class, mask restrictions were back in place, and because of a couple of reasons, Peters Valley was no longer offering its dining options like it has done for the last 50 years. So I’d have to fend for myself for dinners. And I was solo teaching. So I precooked all my meals, and stayed on campus keeping the studio open in the evenings for the students until 10 or 11 at night. It was tiring, but that’s what I do.

I ended up with seven students. One had to cancel last minute from Covid exposure. I was more confident back in June about the direction the virus was going, now, not so much. I was living in a house with four other faculty members from different states, working closely with students, even though I was masked. I ate with students and others from the Valley, so I couldn’t wear a mask while eating. I was nervous about being exposed to Covid even though I’ve been vaccinated for many months.

And I thought, how ironic that my very last venue, before I retire from teaching on the road would possibly expose me to Covid after being isolated for the last 18 months.

But weavers valiantly carry on, and my students did as well. I started them with color exercises and yarn wraps, which as they began to narrow down the possibilities, I had to figure out how to get images of the wraps into my computer since there was no WIFI. My assistant Carl pointed out that my little Microsoft Go computer had a camera in it. Good to know.

So I took pictures of the wraps with my laptop, brought them into PowerPoint, which is my favorite way of manipulating the wraps, it is easy to copy and paste and rotate and scale and flip and create what looks like a wide warp, with only a small 2″ card.

Students could see what happened if I repeated, or flipped on center, and one student even added an additional element and after seeing it repeated on the screen, decided to stay with her original design. It was really fun to see their eyes light up.

Having Fiberworks weaving software on my computer, I could then match colors and quickly put in the draft, adding twills in some areas, supplemental warps because, well, it looks cool.

Then we had to figure out how to get a copy of the draft since I had no printer and no wifi, and the office wouldn’t recognize a .dtx or .wif file anyway. Cell phones. And Verizon. For the win. We took “screen shots” with the cell phone and emailed them to the office and they came back printed and everyone jumped in to work.

This is a five day class. To design and warp a loom with five yards of fabric, test wefts and weave off four yards is pretty challenging especially when you aren’t physically conditioned for it. To get 7 people to do it is even more challenging. But we did. They did. It was pretty awesome. I’m proud of all of them. Around 4pm the last day, knots started coming over the back beam and if you are a weaver, you know what that means.

So here is a look at what they produced…

And this one just made me smile. I adored this student, she had a cotton warp with some texture, which you might think, oh, dishtowels, but she ended up on an amazingly inspired choice weaving with lavender alpaca. I can’t wait to see what this fabric looks like washed.

So the morning of the last day, I got a huge reminder that the Thunder Mountain studios of Peters Valley School of Craft, where the weaving studio lives, is within a National Park Service recreation area. It is remote and the wilderness and wildlife will encroach on your space effortlessly, because really, you are residing in their space.

I pulled into the lot beside the weaving studio about 45 minutes before class, figuring there would be early risers that wanted to get to work. I saw this through my windshield.

I smiled. This big old black bear, looked at me and then climbed up that little tree, all 1000 pounds of him, ripped a big old branch out of the tree, climbed down and proceeded to strip the berries out of the branch, sitting on his butt, having his morning snack. It was glorious to see. He eventually sauntered off, down past the wood studio, and I went on in to open things up.

At lunch time the last day, Peters Valley has an auction, things donated by the assistants, instructors, friends of the Valley, and money made goes directly to help the studios which provided the items. I of course donated one of my handwoven scarves. Just before the auction started, the director Kristin got up to make an announcement. And she called me over. Uh-oh…

Yeah, so one of my students, whom I’ve known for a very long time, arranged for the biggest sheet cake I’ve ever seen, to celebrate my retirement. Really. I never in a million years thought I’ve get such a send off, because each place I taught at over the last 35 years was just a brief stopping point in my journey. Except Peters Valley. My career and that Valley have paralleled and became such an important part of my journey it wasn’t lost on me that my journey would end there.

Of course artists don’t retire. In fact I’ve never worked harder in my life. My YouTube channel The Weaver Sews consumes much of my week, writing script, creating samples or garments, rehearsing, and of course the actual production. I think we are up to 53 videos. In between I have stacks of drafts I want to put on my 39 looms (#39 is waiting for us in MA, my daughter will head up there to pick it up in the next couple weeks. A small 4 shaft Structo in perfect condition, found by a former college roommate of hers in a thrift shop for $50. Yeah, I know…)

I’m having so much fun, and working so hard, and for the first time really enjoying my home, gardens, studio and space, because they are mine and they suit me and I’m very very grateful.

I have a number of students who are flying in to take private and semi private classes with me throughout the fall. I’m looking forward to that, because I do like to teach. But I don’t have to load another suitcase ever again. And that makes me really smile.

The first night of the workshops, Peters Valley traditionally has the instructors for the week give 10 minute presentations about their work, and now they are simultaneously streaming them over Zoom, and posting the recordings on their YouTube channel. So here is my farewell speech about my work, it is 10 minutes starting at time code 10:17.

And so, I guess I’m officially retired, considering I had a party and all. But there is no beach or yacht or even a row boat in my future. Just lots of looms and yarn and fabric, and things to explore, classes to take. Actually I’m returning to the Valley the beginning of September to take a five day basketry class. That makes me smile… much more fun to make baskets than sit on a beach… though I could get into making baskets with a margarita…

Stay tuned…

Technically Tedious…

My lovely daughter is off on a holiday, taking a jewelry soldering and finishing class at Peters Valley. She sent me a photo of a lovely ring she made, and when I asked her what was the stone, she said it was a micro chip from a RAM card… Yes, that would be my daughter…

We raced to get the video for my YouTube Channel The Weaver Sews that was to drop on Friday edited and rendered and uploaded before she left on Thursday. We thought all was well, it looked good when we proofed it, but when it dropped at Midnight Friday morning, the first comment was, “What happened to the rest? Will there be more?”

??????????

So I sat down to watch it and to my shock and dismay, the last couple minutes were not there. I stopped talking in mid sentence and then nothing…

So my daughter drove the hour back from Peters Valley Friday night, and spent a couple annoying and expletive laced hours trying to figure out what was wrong. After a forum search, she discovered that her hard drive was full and so the video couldn’t completely render. Or something like that. I’m a bit clueless as to how all this happens, I just write the script, make the samples, and act in front of the camera.

And so there is now a properly rendered video, on creating a neck and armhole facing for the 1000 Swing Dress and how to install it.

That finishes up the dress videos and now I’m on to the 800 Vest and tutorials for the challenging parts of that vest construction. I’m creating two vests at once, both with welt pockets, one dark and one light, each with slightly different options, and after last Wednesday’s shoot on layout and using the lining as a seam finish, I need to get both vests to the next step to create a video for the collar application. So I spent the last couple days in the sewing room sewing my little heart out, while her sad and stressed dog clung close to me, because, well his mommy wasn’t there…

My last blog post I mentioned that I had set up an inkle loom with a draft from a new book from Annie MacHale, on 3 Color Baltic Pick-Up.

I’m fascinated with the technique, I already am pretty proficient at Baltic Pick-Up (I actually sell a monograph on advanced Inkle Weaving techniques) and have developed my own notation for what has to move within the pick-up area. The red boxes mean I need to pick up a pattern thread, and the X’s mean I have to drop the pattern thread. It made a 19 thread pick up like this a breeze and I had it off the loom in no time.

But 3 Color Baltic Pick-up is different. Pattern threads rotate between the three colors and there is only Pick-up, no dropping of the pattern threads. That seemed pretty straightforward, but I really struggled with the draft, since it wasn’t easily translated into my standard notation.

My apologies for the non weavers among you, hang on, because the point here is that I was determined to achieve something technically and I’ve been thinking about it for days. With my daughter gone, and a heartsick dog following me around, I finally sat down and tried to figure out what I needed the 3 Color Draft to do.

My drafts show what threads move. So all I needed to do was take the draft from the 3 Color book (there is an online link where you can customize the colors of any draft in the book) and indicate what threads are picked up, everything else is static.

I found a Silver Sharpie in my magic box of Sharpies, and that worked on the red and black yarns, so by adding a little dot of silver, I could glance across the row and quickly identify only the threads that had to be picked up. And in addition, I vaguely remembered my mom giving me a line magnifier when I helped her move in January, she used it for Counted Cross Stitch which she didn’t think she’d be doing anymore at 90. She has more fun quilting.

I had tossed it in a drawer, and I was so proud of myself for quickly finding it, and discovered it was magnetic and would easily line through the next row of pick-up, holding my place brilliantly. The draft is on top of one of those metal sheets you use for knitting patterns. So the magnets keep it secure. And I actually found it is still for sale on Amazon. Of course…

And so what took me a tedious hour to do a few rows just starting out, I’m down to half an hour for one black triangular motif. Yippee! And the yarns here are all hand-dyed silk.

A number of readers/viewers/followers on my YouTube channel, have expressed frustration at knowing they watched something on one of my videos and have no idea where it was, or how far into a video it was. Yeah, I get it. I’m getting confused as well. I have 51 videos as of this morning’s launch. Or re-launch as it were…

And so, I may regret this, and I put a self imposed deadline of September 11, which is the anniversary of my first video launch, to create an index of everything in my videos with the time codes. Yeah, I know.

To achieve this, I’m limiting myself to one video a day, starting at the beginning, checking for Closed Captioning typos, and there are a few, and watching and re-watching and pausing and jotting time codes and putting it all into an Excel Spreadsheet. So dear readers, I’m trying… Be patient.

The good news, I’m pretty proud of those early videos, obviously my daughter and I have improved tremendously, and now use a teleprompter, so I’m not glancing at papers all across the cutting board and losing my place. But the content is good, and I covered what I intended, and it seems clear and I can’t ask for more than that.

I’m using my few days without my daughter to focus on this tedious kind of stuff, getting in a morning walk, and cooking from the garden. The days go quickly, and I’m constantly busy. Which is good for me. I bought new sheets from Target made from Hemp, after hearing a lecture on the attributes of hemp as a fiber at the MAFA conference last month from Joan Ruane. Can’t wait for bed to try my new sheets…

I can’t believe summer is half over. Stay safe everyone, stay creative, and stay in the moment… And stay tuned…