Lessons from a housewife…

My 88 year old mom (I think she will be 89 on the 2nd) lives in an upscale senior living community in a Maryland suburb of Baltimore with her husband of 13 years.  A few years after my dad died, mom went to a high school reunion and reconnected with someone she dated in HS, and within the year they were married.  A fairytale in her mid 70’s.  No one thought that they’d both still be alive 13 years later.  I know my mom gets frustrated, her eyes aren’t what they use to be, she barely quilts anymore, and her arthritis in her hands keeps her from doing many of the crafts she loved, but she is safe in her little apartment with her husband, and they go up to the center a couple times a day for companionship and fabulous meals.  ( I can attest to the quality of the food, better than most restaurants I eat in…)

Anyway, mom usually calls me Saturday mornings.  Oddly I didn’t hear from her and I worried.  I know they are on severe lock down in her facility, no one is allowed to leave their apartment except for medical issues, physical therapy, doctors appointments, etc.  They get meals delivered, and can supplement with groceries, which my beloved sister, who lives about 45 minutes away from them delivers whenever mom asks.  My sister can no longer even bring them to her door, she must leave them with the staff at the center and the staff delivers them to my mom.  

Anyway, last evening around dinner time, I called my mom to see how she was doing under lock down.  It was the brightest and most confident voice that greeted me on the other end, I almost didn’t recognize her voice.  She was cheery and chipper and when I asked how things were going, expecting to hear sad tales of how hard it is to be quarantined, she was all over the situation, taking charge and doing what she has done best for most of her adult life.  

Mom was married at 19, in an era when the goal for most women was to marry, raise a family and care for that husband and family with everything you had.  It was her job, it was her only job, and she did it exceptionally well, I never heard a complaint from her, she was a master at keeping a spotless house, keeping three nourishing meals on the table within a tight budget, making all of our clothes until we could make our own, and even sewing all of the drapes and slipcovers when necessary.  My dad wanted for nothing.

My mom now lives in a center where meals are provided, housekeeping services and laundry in their apartment are provided, and none of the things that defined her for most of her life are needed anymore.  I never really thought about that, sort of like really retiring and having all those things available to you, must be, I don’t know, the ultimate reward?  Maybe not…

So imagine my shock when mom was telling me with all of the enthusiasm of a 60 year old, not an 88 year old, that meals are now delivered, she makes sure they always include the soup, which she then stores for the next day, and with half a sandwich each, she can make lunch for both of them.  She now has to clean her own apartment, because sending in housekeeping is too risky.  She was all over that, “I clean one room a day, very manageable.”  She told me that they deliver the bed linens now, but they can’t come in and make the bed, but that’s not a problem.  She certainly knows how to make a bed.  I have this vision of my mom saying, “Hold my beer, I’ve got this…”

I’m really proud of my mom, she has amazing life skills, and even at 88, she knows how to be organized and work with what she has.  I have been haunted by her enthusiasm and her ability to take charge of a situation and have replayed her upbeat and confident conversation many times in my head.  I want to be her when I grow up.

As long as I stay away from the news and social media, I actually can function as if life is moving forward.  I’ve always been the kind of person who does best with intense pressure.  Probably my most creative award winning fabric was designed the week my husband was dying, because I was so desperate to do anything to distract me from the tragedy that had befallen my family, I grabbed yarn off the shelf and turned on the computer and designed like my life depended on it.  In a way it did.  (You can buy the draft on my website, click here.)  The piece is called Chaos.

I’ve said in the last couple of blogs, that in all of this chaos right now, death toll in NJ is up to 4,200, that I’m very very grateful for the gift of time and the ability to stay hidden in my lovely studios and 1) Make stuff, and 2) Work feverishly on digitizing as many patterns as I can before the quarantine ends, travel starts again, or I actually succumb to this virus.  The bias top is up on the site, the vest with armhole bands is almost ready to launch.  Just waiting on final edits on the directions.  I hired a friend, who has written sewing manuals and edited a sewing magazine, to proof all of my documentation.  She is thorough and sharp.  I feel like I have a great team on this, and my daughter is just miraculous, even though she gets really cranky when I tell her stuff still isn’t perfect.

We started this weekend on the dress.  The directions are into the third rounds of edits before they go out to the proofer, and we just did the second round of edits on the pattern.  

And I took all the leftovers from the dress I talked about in my last blog post, and cut out a motorcycle vest.  The leather was a bit challenging, and I made a major mistake this morning, connecting the wrong edge of the armhole bands together.  With leather there are no mistakes.  Fortunately I had enough leather left to re-cut the right armbands.  I was annoyed with myself.  I told a friend that I’m use to making stupid silly mistakes that can easily be fixed, but I rarely if ever make mistakes that cost me fabric, especially leather.  I was dwelling too much on my conversation with  mom?

Anyway, I finished the vest this evening, except for anchoring the leather facings inside, so they don’t move around, that has to be done by hand.  And it is wonderful.  I tried on the original again, as I was starting to sew this one together and realized that I’ve put on a few pounds, oops, and so I tweaked some of the seams to give me a squish more.

Though I’m hiding in the basement, I’m still able to connect with people, there is this blog of course, I cherish all of your comments.  The board of directors for my guild was able to meet, virtually (I’m the treasurer so on the board as well), we used Zoom and I gotta say, I really liked the format.  We had a preprinted agenda, we followed it, I didn’t have to drive 45 minutes to the president’s house, and sit and look at delicious baked goods and dips and cheese and crackers for the 3 hour meeting and try to show some self restraint.  I sat looking at the computer with my tea, might have had a little wine, and we accomplished what we needed to do.  

I also had a Zoom date with my 81 year old musician friend, we set up our phones near our music  stands and played recorder music together.  It wasn’t the same as in person, but it was great to play with another person.  And last night, we ordered chicken bacon ranch pizza from the local restaurant in town, they are doing pick up and delivery only, and the driver came, left it on the porch, and it was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, I enjoyed that so very much, and the margaritas we made helped a lot!

I’m sure my house isn’t as clean as my mom’s, and I really have to get outside and pick up all the dog poop, it is getting bad out there.  But I vacuumed my bedroom this morning, and cleaned my toilet and sink.  And I keep the kitchen clean as I go.  The kids, well, their standard of cleanliness and order is very different from mine.  They are much more their dad, so sometimes it is a battle, but I feel like I was trained by the best, and I’m embracing this, because of course my housekeeper can’t come and clean, but I’ve got this…

Stay tuned…

Entertaining at home…

I spent a glorious weekend with my sisters “down the shore”, and if you are friends with me on facebook you will have seen all of those very cool photos of us having a Jersey shore experience.  This morning when I woke up I had a bunch of pictures in my inbox from Ann Marie Soto, extraordinary member of ASG, or the American Sewing Guild, editor of the former Notions Magazine, and luckily for us in the area, member of the North Jersey Chapter of the guild.  

A week ago Saturday, one of the ASG neighborhood groups, the Sewphisticates, who are primarily focused on clothing, chose a studio visit and trunk show with me for their September meeting.  A half dozen members crowded into my studio to have a look at what I do and where I work, and a peak into my “closet” of handwoven clothing.  We stood around the table, and I got rare photos of me actually talking and explaining and telling stories, and this morning Ann Marie sent them along.  They are colorful and fun and though I took not a single image the whole day, she captured some lovely ones.


We started in the studio, gathered around the couple of looms with stuff actually on them.  Few had any real weaving experience, so understanding how cloth was woven is an important piece of information if you sew.

We looked at yarn, the beginning of ideas for how my designs are planned.  These are all hand dyed wools and mohairs.  I’m itching to figure out something that will celebrate these colors.

I showed them some yardage, and of course, Chaos, draft available here, designed from some random skeins I had used as dye mops (soaking up leftover dye from another job) and included a warp chain made from a similar dyed “dye mop” skein ready for the next yardage on the loom.

I showed the Autumn Patchwork duster, along with Chaos, which had just returned from an exhibit in Tennessee.  The colors are pretty impressive when I look at them in this kind of photo.  When I’m working on something, I get too close to it, and don’t realize the bigger picture.

We all headed to my office, where I had another loom, with yardage using Noro Taiyo Lace as the weft, and I unrolled it for them to see the beautiful color gradations.  

Then we headed down to the dining room, where I had set up a half dozen Structo’s and gave them the basics of how thread interlacement works, plain weave vs. twill, and they were soon weaving away.  

We had lunch on the decks and by the pond, and then I showed a number of my garments so they could see construction and finishing techniques.  We had a wonderful time.  I was so thrilled for the opportunity to show off what I do all day, to have an excuse to actually get out of my pajamas and entertain.  The animals were adorable if a bit obnoxious, Ranger just didn’t know what to do with himself with all these ladies around!  Very large frozen marrow bones helped keep them outside for a good chunk of time…

Anyway, I’m appreciative of the lovely photos Ann Marie sent, and that I was actually around to be able to host a neighborhood group of the ASG.  They do some lovely field trips, and I was glad I could be one of them!

Heading to the Pacific Northwest at the end of the week!  

Stay tuned…

When it rains it snows…

Just once I’d like to go to bed at night and think, “What a boring uneventful day.  Nothing happened, no major weather issue, no major political headlines, no one in my family had any drama, nothing went wrong with the house, or the dogs or the people I love.  Nothing.”    Hahahahahahahahah…

So it is supposed to be -20 tonight with wind gusts of 45 mph.  Everything has a coating of ice from all the rain yesterday.  Hahahahahahahahah…..

For now, I have power, and internet, and I’m going to try to post this way overdue blog, because, it isn’t like anything important happened this month…  I read a lovely funny meme on Facebook, 30 days hath September, April, June and November, all the rest have 31 save January which has 374…  I use to love January, it was dark and cold and there was no travel, and no drama, and I got to hunker down in my studio and just make stuff.  It has been that way since I started doing craft fairs in 1979.  I loved January because it was so dark and uneventful.  I didn’t want it to end, because that meant February and craft fairs started with the ACC show in Baltimore.  This is 40 years later, and nothing has changed, I get on a plane next week for the first trip of the season, to Southern California for a five day garment construction class.  

This January was an anomaly.  Just like everything else in life.  It goes from 40 degrees and raining to -20 overnight.  The world is an anomaly.  My family is an anomaly.  My life is an anomaly.  But I finally broke through all the things that were pulling at me preventing me from doing what I love and buckle your seatbelts, its going to be a wild ride…

I finished the first draft of my article for Heddlecraft. 16 pages. Toughest article I have ever written.  Meanwhile, I had applied to a number of exhibitions last fall, and not only was I accepted, I received the print copies and found out I had won an award.  At the Blue Ridge Fiber Show, when the work was returned to me, there, attached to my yardage, was a third place ribbon.  This was the yardage, Chaos, the draft is available as a download from my eShop.


And of course I already knew that my other entry, the duster, won the HGA award. The draft for that is available as well. 

And the latest Fiber Art Now magazine arrived  within days, featuring the Annual Excellence in Fibers Catalog, an annual print exhibition.  There I am on page 63.

And then a few days later, when I dropped my artwork off at the Montclair Art Museum, they handed me the catalog for the exhibit, New Directions in Fiber Art, 2019 NJ Arts Annual – Crafts.  The exhibit runs through June 16, 2019, unfortunately I’ll miss the opening Friday night February 8th, because, well I’ll be teaching in Southern California.  I hope it is warmer than 20 below.

I loaded the car with my 16 Structo looms and set off to teach a one day Learn To Weave class for my guild.  It was a nail biter, the weather was iffy right up to the day of the class, with a major storm due in late in the afternoon.  The governor had already called a State of Emergency.  I’m happy to say, there ended up not being a major weather event, you might say the afternoon was uneventful, except that there were more than a dozen new weavers and some very happy people.

I said goodbye to my son, he is off to war, first to Texas and then onto a location in the middle east, which I can’t name for safety reasons.  I’m very very proud of him, I wish his father could have been there.  Meanwhile I put all his stuff in storage, vacating the basement apartment he has inhabited for the last 14 years.

I had my handyman come in and paint and fix up the basement space.  My daughter is slowly moving in down there.  She has stuff all over the house.  Way too much stuff for a 26 year old.  But she is the creative sort and so everything has potential use in some grand piece of artwork.  I totally get this.  Which is why I’m working with stuff from my stash for my current project that dates back to 1981…

Meanwhile, the last big project I wanted to do on the house was to have the wood stove removed and replaced with a similar stove except gas fired.  No mess, no chimney cleaning, no wood to haul, no ashes to clean up.  The installation was completed last week, and I’m just waiting for the rest of the inspections before the final hook up.  I want to curl up in the living room with my dogs and my knitting, flip on the fire, and then when it is time to go to bed, flip it off.  

Meanwhile, once I finished the first draft on my 16 page article I promised my fiber friend Linda, who sponsors my wonderful five day retreat in the Outer Banks the end of October, that I would make her vest for her, that she wove out of Kathrin Weber Blazing Shuttles warps, in exchange for a pair of clogs from Chameleon Clogs, using a gorgeous hand dyed Tencel scrap from one of my students, Victoria Taub.  I love my clogs and Linda loves her vest.  Done and done…  (There might still be a spot or two left for next year’s retreat, leave a comment if you are interested…The vest is one of the options to make in my workshop)

I will say that one of the major obstacles in my life right now is the inability to function in my studio.  When my daughter moved back home to take a job closer to me, she brought four looms with her (leaving one with a friend), more yarn than any 26 year old should have, and a cat.  The two 8 shaft 45″ looms had no where to go but into my already too small studio, the one I just had renovated.  I struggled for a few months, falling over equipment, barely able to lay out a piece of fabric and the plan to move one of them to the basement once she settles down there, is still probably a couple months away, because there is a huge warp on it that has to be woven off first.  I’ll keep my original 8 shaft, the first one I bought in 1978, and work around that in the studio, but the second one is making me nuts.  I got a brain storm yesterday, since we hadn’t moved the second bed down from the attic to the guest room she just vacated, and in a fit of shear craziness, with help from my willing studio assistant Cynthia, we folded that baby up and pushed it right across the hall into the guest room.  Done and done…

Now I can actually move in my studio.  It isn’t great, but I can function in it.

So with my new found freedom of space and major projects crossed off my to do list, I dove in head first.  My looms are screaming at me to put warps on them.  They have been naked for months.  I have requests to exhibit work this summer and I have no new work.  I bought some new fiber reactive dyes from Dharma a couple months ago and want to see what’s inside.  So I started up the dyepot again.  First batch is something called Mars Dust.  Gotta love the name.

Second batch is drying, called Muir Glen.  I misread the calculations and put 3 Tablespoons instead of 3 teaspoons.  Hahahahahaha….  I’ve never gotten such a gorgeous deep gray before.

Third batch is in the pot, called Kingfisher Blue.  Meanwhile, I started winding a warp.  Way back, a couple of years ago, I bought some Noro Taiyo Lace on sale at a knitting shop somewhere in the Pacific northwest.  I made this jacket from the cloth I wove using one of the colorways.  

I still had four balls of a different color way, and I’ve been dying to weave that off into a similar kind of fabric.  

So I looked at my stash, and I had about 21 ounces of Harrisville Shetland Singles from my early craft fair days, circa 1981 or 2.  They don’t even spin singles anymore, well actually they do, but they ply the yarn and don’t sell it as singles.  I wound a seven yard warp until I ran out. 

Then I looked around for something else since I wanted the fabric wider than the 14 inches I would get from the Harrisville.  I found four 2 oz tubes of Maypole Nehalem, a 3 ply worsted very close in grist to the Harrisville, and in a close enough color to blend.  So not ask me how long they have been in the stash.  I think I inherited them.

I got about 6″ worth of warp out of those babies, and then sat down at the computer with my trusty Davison and picked out a draft where I could use the two warps most effectively.  I chose a Finnish Twill, page 37 if you have the book, and figured out exactly how to use what I wound.  I love to wind first and then decide what to make later.  

Meanwhile, my studio assistant sat all day perched on a stool winding 2 yard skeins of some of my vast stash of dyeable cellulose yarns.  She wound a lot but didn’t make a dent.  I have hundreds of pounds of natural yarn.  Don’t ask…

And between us we cleared a lot of cones.  Unless you are a weaver, you don’t understand the importance of a trash can that looks like this…

Because I was running around like a distracted crazy person, enjoying the space in the studio and finally getting to do something fun, and running back and forth to the dyepot and the washing machine which I use for rinsing skeins, I did the most stupid thing a weaver can do, I don’t think I’ve made this mistake in 40 years if ever, I forgot to tie off the cross of the first bout of warp.  If you aren’t a weaver the magnitude of this mistake will be lost on you, trust me, it is a big deal.  Fortunately it was only the first 6″ bout, and each 1/2″ was carefully marked, so the warps won’t be too out of order.  But this is a sticky singles warp, of all warps to screw up…   Sigh…

I am going to curl up now and watch the next episode of Project Runway All Stars. And hope that the rest of my life will be uneventful.  Or maybe just tomorrow.  Or maybe just get through tonight and hope the pipes don’t freeze or my trash cans don’t blow down the street…

Stay tuned…