Life altering experiences…

When a student leaves my class, and hugs me and says, they had a life altering experience, I know I’ve done my job and all of the sweat and prep and worry has been worth it.  When more than one student says it, I think there has been some cosmic intervention that is way greater than me.

For those of you who know me and follow me professional, you know that I’m mostly a teacher of garment construction.  It is what I do best, I’ve perfected the art of teaching garment construction over the past 30 years, and I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it.  My students return year after year, and that makes me happy.  Some of them have become my best friends.  Though I’m a handweaver, I’m really a garment maker first, and I just happen to use handwoven cloth.  I almost never teach weaving, there are so many weaving teachers out there, and I’m happy to let them take the load.  

That said, Peters Valley School of Craft, happens to be in my back yard.  I live an hour from this life altering kind of place, located in northwestern NJ, tucked into property that is part of the National Park Service Delaware Recreation Area.  That would be Delaware river, not state.  The Delaware River divides NJ and PA (and ends in Delaware the state) for those of you who aren’t familiar with the geography of the northeast.  I’ve been involved with this place since I first went there on a field trip in college, not long after they became a thing, in the mid 70’s. Peters Valley is rapidly approaching their 50th year.  It is a place where I find my creative spirit renewed, no matter if I attend a fund raiser, an opening, have work in a group show, or attend a presentation.  No matter if I teach a class, take a class, or just sit and be.  The place is old, most of the properties are listed on the historic registry and since they are owned by the National Park Service, they are in constant need of repair (because the Park Service is the low man on the funding totem pole).  It is sort of like a time warp being there, when cell phones were not a thing, and life was simple in the rural rugged parts of NJ (yeah we have them still) and you could walk away from life for a week or two and breath air that is clean, and see wildlife, and trees and water, and feel renewed.   

I’ve sat on the board of directors of Peters Valley, and so has my late husband.  I’m committed to this place, and will do everything I can to keep it viable.  If you have never had a craft school experience, no matter what you study, what your skill set is, workshops at a major craft school can be life altering.  There are five craft schools in the consortium of, Arrowmont, Haystack, Penland, Pilchuck, and of course Peters Valley.  And there are plenty others not in this wonder consortium, like John C Campbell, where I’ll be next month, Harrisville, where I’ll be at the end of the month, Sievers School of Fiber Arts, where I’ll be at the end of September, and smaller private venues and knitting/weaving shops, like Red Scottie Yarns in the Ozarks in Arksansas, where I’ll be in October.  I know folks who are committed to at least one craft school experience a year, it sure beats sitting on a beach getting burned, or sitting in the rain, like this past week!  A week at Peters Valley is less than half the cost of a week at the Jersey Shore!  And it doesn’t matter if it rains.

Like I said above, I don’t as a rule teach beginning weaving, I actually don’t usually teach weaving at all, since there is only so much of me to go around and my strengths are in garment construction.  When Peters Valley asks me to teach a class, I always try to fit it into my schedule.  This year, they asked me to teach two beginning weaving classes, a 2 day and a 5 day.  They have a very well equipped studio, with eleven 8-12 shaft Macomber looms.  These little work horses, which are actually not so little, are refugees from the 1970’s and probably earlier, from a local University, and they do their job.  Until something breaks.  I’ve become something of an expert Macomber tweaker.  I can tweak brakes, and sheds, and beater positions, and sticking shafts, and I know these looms pretty well.  I wasn’t prepared to deal with this.  

This is a cast iron part for one of the front beams.  It sheared off.  Do you know how fast your brain has to work to figure out ways to keep a student working when a major Uh-oh happens?  Fortunately, since all of the looms are the same make, and many of them are equipped with second warp beams, I was able to, with the help of my intrepid and amazing assistant Jamie, and the head of operations at the Valley, Campbell, who can fix anything, we managed to retrofit one of the second beam gears onto the loom in trouble and the student was back up and running the next morning.  I understand from many responses on social media that this was a poor casting and a faulty part, and we will be in touch with Macomber for a replacement.  Stress failure in a cast iron part is pretty unusual.

We had 10 students for this class.  All but one loom got a good workover.  I had taught a two day class back in June, so I knew that 9 of the 11 were working well.  The class held here the week before moved heddles and shafts around and made for some really stressful moments in the beginning of my class because they hadn’t been moved properly (Note to all handweavers…  Heddles should all cant or face in the same direction.  You can’t just pull a bunch off, and willy nilly put them back on a different shaft in any old direction.  Really…)

My students ranged from my age and beyond, to early 20 something art students, and I adored the range and interaction of the generations.  Places like Peters Valley are great for offering scholarships to art students, who can’t afford a week like this, but desperately need these skills and opportunities to round out their art educations, especially in fibers since very few universities have fiber programs anymore.

The studio itself is in a historic house called Hilltop.  It sits on a hill and is magnificent in its paint peeling decay.  I painted this building last year in my watercolor class.

There are three rooms of looms, and they were all humming!


The goal here was to learn to weave.  I developed a draft for a pattern and color gamp, that teaches students to explore color interaction and pattern, using both straight draw and point twill threadings. They got to pick two colors of 5/2 cotton before the class began, so they worked with what made them happy.  Once they wove the sampler, they could pick a couple structures or combination of structures and weave two additional dish towels.  Here are some of the fabrics.  They were colorful and glorious.

My students were wonderful.  Patient, curious, focused, especially the young ones, head phones on, some listening to white noise, some listening to music, some listening to pod casts and at least one student was listening to lectures for her architecture degree.  

And the fabrics.  They were gorgeous.  They wove through about 3 yards of fabric, from winding the warps, sleying, threading and dressing the loom.  Not everyone liked the “fiddly bits” as one student called the warping process, and it was 90+ degrees with only one airconditioner to service this entire studio, but they kept going. 

Two of my students finished the whole project one or two days ahead, and they dove in and wove a whole second project.

Their faces were just priceless when they showed off their fabrics.

And the exit photos.  I had five in the first group of finishers, and then Rickie in the middle who had to leave before the last group had their photos.  These fabrics will be cut into 3 dishtowels, and they will remember this experience every time they do the most mindless of household tasks.  As it should be.

And now I have only a couple of weeks to prep for Harrisville, which is a garment construction class.  NO pressure!

Stay tuned…


In the perfect world…

I daydream of the perfect life, we probably all do.  The perfect balance, where everyone we love is healthy, happy and productive.  Where our lawns stay green, with the perfect amount of rain, nighttime of course, and the days are mild and gloriously sunny.  Yeah, and I weigh 125 pounds and fit into a size 6.  Since none of that is attainable, or at least I haven’t figured out how so far in my 63 years, I take each day as it comes just trying to get through without any disastrous maladies, with as much grace as I can muster, with as much joy as I can glean from the most minor of things.

In the perfect world, I do a yoga practice every day, and draw or sketch for a few minutes each day, and play music, practicing my recorder.  Sadly none of those things have become routine for me.  The goal is not to make them into a routine, but to make them into a habit.  I have taught myself to stand up out of bed each morning, and turn and make the bed before I do anything else.  It has become such a habit that I even do it in hotel rooms.  I can’t stand an unmade bed.  I’m getting much better about moving from room to room with a water bottle, staying much more hydrated, and my kidneys are thanking me for it.  I do study yoga once a week, at a venue in my town, when I’m not traveling, and though that’s better than nothing, with the internet and some fabulous courses in yoga online, many of them free, what is my problem?  I do though, spend a few minutes each day working on a puzzle.  And I do read almost every day before bed.  There are some habits I’m rather proud of, but there are some I just can’t seem to make stick, and I don’t know why.  The puzzle corner is my favorite place in my house.

I just spent the last five days at Peters Valley, one of my most favorite places on earth (the others are in my own house, like my studio).  I took a water color class with Jane Brennan, one of my favorite people, and this is the second time I took the class.  I appreciate when students take my classes over and over because each time I took the class, I defined just a bit better what I wanted to learn, and did.

Last year, I posted about the class here, I was just curious to see if I could still paint, see, draw, and participate without totally embarrassing myself.  Which is just an incredibly stupid reason to take a class.  And I’d chew out a student, and I do, who is worried about what other people think.  I should have been taking the class for shear enjoyment and learning the medium, and exploring the possibilities of two dimensional work.  I actually accomplished though, what I set out to do.  I can still paint, draw, and though it takes effort, I really did enjoy myself and actually framed a couple of the pieces I did for the walls in my home.  But it takes effort.  Because I hadn’t done it since art school in the 70’s.

Moving forward, I had grand visions of spending a few minutes a day sketching, doing a small water color, making painting a part of my routine.  Yeah.  Over the past year, I did 1 1/2 paintings.  On the same day.  I made this little pear, testing some technique I read about, and can’t remember now how I did it.

And I started this wonderful painting of tomatoes, from a layout in Real Simple Magazine, and I never finished it.

So I took this class again.  This time, I knew the routine.  

We started with just simple washes over the paper.  Then we were left to just make something out of it.  I don’t do well making stuff up.  I need to see something in front of me.  This was challenging and not what we did last year.  I struggled, but then stood back and was pretty impressed with myself.  My son loves this picture best out of everything I did.  And I just made it up in my head.  Go figure.

Next came the dreaded still life.  She had watermelon and some lemons. 

Not great, but a passable attempt.

Then she brought a huge planter of some kind of flower I couldn’t identify.  

Not my favorite of the things I’ve done, way more tedious than I like and I started to dread starting a new still life.  Which was weird.  I wanted to be able to draw/paint/sketch quickly, throwing down color and line rapidly, not belabor for hours over a painting I’m not particularly enjoying.  And that’s probably why I didn’t make this a daily habit over the past year.

I pulled out one of the photos I loved from my Cuba trip, and though I love what I painted, it was tedious and not inspiring.  I did get to finally experiment with masking fluid for the grill work.

That basically ended the first day of class, and I had four paintings to show, but what I really wanted to do was explore working in a sketch book.  Last year I brought a brand new little sketch book, something like a 6″ x 9″, because it was on the materials list to bring, and I follow those to the letter.  I didn’t put one mark in the book during the class, nor through the entire year that followed.  I wanted to start a real sketch book, so I brought it to class in the morning of the second day, even though it wasn’t actually water color paper, and I set out to attempt to sketch with something I had a small set of, and had used periodically during my tenure as features editor of Handwoven Magazine when I wrote the color forecast column, but haven’t touched since.  Water color pencils.  You draw first and add water later.  I used a small set of Prismacolors, just the basic colors.

I drew this.

I really liked this.

I went back to the original planter of flowers, still set up in the room and zoomed in and actually studied the plant.  I still don’t know what it is, but I drew it with a lot more detail.  In water color pencil.  I started to add water and then we went out on location for the afternoon.  I was sort of liking this medium, it was tedious in a different way, one where I had more control, ( and isn’t it always better when you are in control?)  And I liked that.  And threading 4000 ends on a loom is tedious, but I like that kind of tedious. I finished watering it later in the afternoon.

I wandered around Peters Valley, settling on an old red barn, but instead of drawing the whole barn, I zoomed in on just the lower corner where the wood was rotting away and the foundation slipping.  It was gorgeous in its decay.  And I’m really happy with the painting.

These little drawings are about 6 x 9, and in a spiral bound sketch book.  They are my treasures.  They make me smile.

I wandered over to the pond where everyone else was happily painting.  I painted this pond last year, and didn’t enjoy it.  I wanted to see how fast I could put something down on paper. I used my cell phone camera to zoom in and crop a manageable amount.  I worked quick, and though I’m not drawn to trees and scenery, I was happy with what I put down in a short amount of time.

It was getting really hot outside, so we gathered back in the studio, and I grabbed what I thought were some lemons and was frustrated that they just weren’t responding to all my yellows and that was because they were really clementines.  Duh…  I had found in my art cabinet at home the night before, a brand new untouched tray of 72 Derwent water color pencils.  I had six shades of yellow to choose from.  And they turned out to be orange clementines.  Still laughing.

Before I left for the day, I started on this little avocado, from a photo in a Real Simple Magazine.  Day four I finished it up.

Then I started on some cherry tomatoes, also from a photo, inspired by a botanical drawing book by Mindy Lighthipe,  (who used to be a weaver on the craft fair circuit in the 1980’s). Don’t worry, I’m not ready to give up my day job.

I wanted to see what would happen if I did a water color wash background and then used water color pencils to trace in some details.  Another picture from my imagination, but pretty limited.  I did figure out what I wanted to know.

So we left again, on location, this time to Walpack Village, where we went last year and I spent hours painting the church.  I wandered up the street and took some photos.  Again, I wanted to see how fast I could get something on paper, trying the same technique of putting in watercolor wash areas, and they quickly applying details with pencils, using them wet, another technique.  An OK effort, but I found out what I wanted to know. I particularly liked the road with the double yellow line.  That should be the name of the painting.

Back at the studio in Peters Valley, the morning of day 5, I decided to be really brave and try figure drawing.  I used to love that back in the day, but I’m really really rusty and wasn’t sure I could get something worthy.  I leafed through a couple magazines and found a photo of a woman on a beach towel poolside.  I dove in. Pun intended.  Not bad considering I haven’t done figure drawing since the 70’s.  I miss working with a live model.

Jane brought in some fresh still life combinations and I decided to just sketch with water color pencils and see where it took me.  I am so loving this medium, especially with 72 colors to pick from.

I did this.  I particularly liked the wine bottle.

Then I did this.  Those begonia leaves were a challenge, but my trusty box of 72 colors was up to it.

I came home feeling like I might be able to see myself sketching something small on a daily basis, even if from a magazine or photo. I immediately set up my easel in the corner of my bedroom, facing out the balcony. 

I will remember to pack my sketch book tomorrow, I’m heading back to the Valley to teach a five day beginning weaving class.  The class is full with 10 students.  It will be an intense five days.  I’m determined to sketch something each day.  And do a daily yoga routine, and lose 10 pounds.  And I’m bringing my knitting, and lots of computer work to do.  You’d think I’d be heading out for a week at the beach…

Stay tuned…


Please be pat ient…

…with my technical glitches. Please bear with me as I try to navigate all this. I’m trying to see if the emails to subscribers is working. I’ve reverted back to the old system. Sigh…


This is a test take 2…

I think I am doomed to spend my life in technology hell. Yet another redo of my subscriptions and my beloved subscribers after my host company shut down my blog last night. You don’t want to know. I have a new way to subscribe, there is a page on the blog for subscribing. Hopefully all of you who have already subscribed are still intact. Hopefully. So we are testing the new service, if you get notification of this post via email, please leave a comment, if you get this post via RSS feed, no need.

Crossing my fingers…


And so it begins…

Travel season is officially here, and I’m pretty much on the road from the end of the month through until November.  I have one more getaway planned, a five day watercolor class at Peters Valley, though I decided to commute instead of staying out there since I have a one day turn around before I teach a five day class there in beginning weaving, the first week in August.  Final plans for that class are on the to do list along with about thirty other items added since I returned from Reno.  I’m good at all this, and lists are what holds me together.  As long as it is on the list for me to glance at and deal with from time to time, I don’t have to keep it in my head.  There is something wonderful about the fact that a piece of paper can substitute for your brain…

I have a lot of updates to do in my files, my prospectuses, my digital files and downloads, I spent the day today updating all 17 project files on my website because as I lay awake Thursday night, with a very sick dog, actually sleeping outside with him to prevent him from getting sick in the house, I realized that all 17 project files had no attribution nor copyright information on them, 10 years from now, no one will remember where they came from nor whose draft and details they should be attributed to.  There are days when I’m really not the brightest crayon in the box.  I’m not the dullest either.  Which is comforting…

Anyway, the great thing about digital downloads is I can correct files, and if you click on the download link again, the one you received when you purchased them, you will always get the latest version.  If you’ve bought a project file from me, you might want to check to see if I’ve updated anything, especially those who bought them early on.  I’m a tweaker of the first degree…

I left for Reno carrying most of my new work, since it related to the patterns I use for my classes, or I had made it to wear to events like the fashion show and the keynote address.  When I went on stage after the fashion show to give out the awards, I asked how many people in the audience were wearing something that came from their hands and half the audience stood up.  It was so incredible.  As if on cue, and this was not prearranged, the house lights came up and I really saw the amount of handweavers out there who wore something they made.  There were more than 600 people at each of the fashion shows, so that says a lot.

I’m always reluctant however to travel with new work that hasn’t been officially documented in some way, so I was glad when all my work came home with me safely and Saturday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, I ripped apart my studio to turn it into a photo session.  It requires shifting looms, moving furniture and equipment, but it works well, and takes me about a hour to set everything up.  I take a few photos, run over to the office down the hall, check what I have, see stupid stuff I didn’t notice when I was shooting and go back and tweak.  Did I mention I am a tweaker of the first degree…

And this is the result.  I realized I didn’t shoot the back of this jacket.  It has a pretty yoke cut on the lengthwise grain.  I’ll have to go back and shoot that next time my studio is rearranged.  The jacket is a version of the Collared Vest pattern combined with the jacket pattern for the armhole, sleeves and pocket variation.  The class directions for making these garments are available for free on my website, but you have to take one of my classes to get the patterns.  I have not figured out a way to market them.  Nor do I want to until I stop teaching.  I wove the jacket from Noro Taiyo Lace knitting yarn with a Shetland warp, and cut it on the crosswise.  

Then there was the Autumn Patchwork duo, the duster and the tunic, both from the same length of hand painted and handwoven cloth.  There was a lot of yardage there.  The tunic is from my class pattern, and the duster is a very long version of my jacket pattern with optional shawl collar.  The Autumn Patchwork draft is available here.

I used my Jumpstart vest pattern to make this brown melton vest trimmed in the length of fabric I wove in the Karen Donde Bubble Cloth class I took awhile ago at my guild.  It just occurred to me I forgot to shoot the crimp cloth vest I did from the Diane Totten class I took.  Damn…

And I made this vest from my Collared Vest pattern, from the turned taqueté fabric I wove in a class with Kathrin Weber using her dyed warps.  And I used the same pattern minus the collar to make this small piece of felt laminate I did with an old silk scarf from my late mother in law’s stash.  There are no side seams.  

I cut up my old handwoven gown, and ended up with this lovely top, which I wore to the keynote address, though I sat in the back and few people saw it, I was too tired to interact with anybody having taught all day and then given an hour and a half lecture as the juror of the fashion show.  The lower part became this lovely bias top.  I can see getting a lot of use out of both of them.  The draft for the Frosted Florals fabric is here.

I found some extra fabric from a tunic I made awhile ago and made another bias top, I wore both bias tops at the conference and they were so comfortable.  The pattern is a bias variation of my collared vest pattern, but I haven’t written the page yet that explains how to convert the vest to the bias top.  It is on my lengthy list to draft all the bias top sizes, to save students time.  The draft for the Pacific Sunset fabric is here.

I also made this tote bag from a Krokbragd sampler I did in a Tom Knisely rug workshop.  This is the front and the back.  You decide which is which.

Then I made this long walking vest with a shawl collar, from a fabric I had done for a potpourri grab bag exchange at my guild.  Guild events and workshops are always great for taking you out of your wheel house.  I hope that Convergence does that for all of the attendees.  The draft for the fabric for this potpourri walking vest is here.  I combined my Jumpstart vest pattern, walking vest version, added the optional shawl collar, and overlaid it with the jacket pattern for the armhole opening, and drafted facings.

And last but not least, I made six of these gradient scarves, I may offer a couple of them for sale in my web shop, but they were from my hand dyed yarns, using the Down on the Farm palette from one of my handwoven forecasts long ago.  The draft for this scarf and other color variations is here.

It was a remarkably successful weekend, I’m completely exhausted, but feeling like I’m seeing the shoreline from treading water in the middle of the lake.  I have an emergency article to write and get to Threads Magazine before I leave on the 27th for Peters Valley, so that’s next up, I’ll put my office assistant on the job of updating all my downloads and print covers and handouts with the correct phone number.  I’m happy to report the dog is much improved, back to his old bratty lovable self.  And it rained all last night, a much needed lovely rain, which made everything green again, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Stay tuned…