Mom of 3000…

Mother’s Day is tomorrow. I honestly don’t pay too much attention to Hallmark holidays. This time last year we were in Japan. My daughter bought me flowers last night, and a small piece of my favorite cake, Tiramisu. That’s a holdover from my late husband, something we both loved… And she made these tiny arrangements out of a Lego knock-off that are lovely and will sit in my window in the kitchen. My son is half way across the world doing military duty. I wish he were home.

This has been a crazy few weeks. I wanted it that way. With my son away, and drama all around me, I wanted big projects to stay as busy as I can to focus on that which I cannot change.

Everything came together in the last week. Last Sunday my music group, Montclair Early Music had their spring concert. Called Myth and Magic, it celebrated the Renaissance, and fantasy, video games, and Harry Potter. I borrowed a dress that was more fantasy than Renaissance. So I can now cross that off my list of things to focus on.

I finished the cat appliqué quilt block number 4, and this one was really really hard. All that feathery cat fur was very challenging to appliqué.

I’m working on block 5, my goal is one a month and finish by the end of the year when I can give it to my mom. It was her project, quilt block of the month from Maggie Walker, purchased in the late 90’s. She asked me to make it for her since she is in her 90’s and her eyesight and arthritic fingers make it too difficult for her to work on. I found the endless stitching to be centering, soothing, and really really good for my mental health.

This past Thursday night, my retrospective at County College of Morris, in Morris County, NJ reopened. Though the magic of the first opening will never be matched, a number of my guild members came and we had the most lovely time, chatting, talking about weaving, and we met a new fellow weaver wearing an awesome handwoven scarf, which we were all over, and convinced him to join the guild. Which he did. Our numbers are growing…

Monday I give the keynote address to the Morris County Teen Arts Festival, and then that will be behind me. The exhibit will be open through the summer, now through August 22. Hours are M-F 9-6. There is hope that there will be Saturday hours, but a lot of people have to agree, including security, and they aren’t always on the same page.

Meanwhile, this week, my landscape designer, who has been here for more than a month, finished planting more than 3000 perennials, with a couple dozen bushes and trees, almost all native, and designed to attract pollinators, and bloom from early spring into late fall. I have so much to learn. But I’m starting with something.

My job is to keep everything alive for the next few weeks until root systems are established. A couple hours of watering a day will be required. I knew what I was getting into, but what I didn’t know, was how magical early mornings are, with robins, and butterflies, and bugs, and nature all doing its thing. I’ve never spent so much time outside. There is a robin that comes and finds me every morning. And a pair of cardinals that lurks nearby. And there is a painted lady butterfly that is checking out all the new plants. I’m learning each type of plant the designer put in. We went around today and labeled things so I’d be able to learn to recognize plants from their earliest spring sprouts through blooming, and dying back in the fall. The ponds continue to be a challenge, but they are full of happy fish.

The designer laid two palettes of gorgeous bluestone. Some of it is surrounded by grass, but the rest will eventually be buried in beds of phlox and violets. All those little plugs will fill in and there won’t be visible dirt to weed.

I’ve had well meaning friends wonder why I don’t just invest in sprinklers. Not only is that an indiscriminate waste of water, but what I water and how much depends on each plant and its location. And if it rained recently and how much. This is sort of like having a new baby, scant directions, developing new instincts, flying by the seat of your pants, because you have little idea of what you are doing. But I’m trying, and hoping to keep my 3000+ charges alive. And make sure the southern Magnolias and American Holly don’t get root rot.

And I’ve been clearing a decent size bed, between my property and the edge of the backyard next door, of bags full of Creeping Charlie. And other invasive nasties. I’m thinking this is where I want to put my dye garden. I just have to look up what to plant. I’m going shopping next week! In search of dye plants… And maybe start a watercolor gardening journal, there are some really beautiful things in my yard…

I’m doing what I love, learning something new. Discovering a new magical world. And I am willing to work hard to keep it all alive. We didn’t kill all the invasives, there are still a lot on my property. Mostly what’s left serves a purpose, privacy, screening, shade, beautiful fall color. Bit by bit, as the newly planted trees and bushes grow, I’ll be taking a lot more out. And I’m finding things I didn’t know I had, violets, fleabane, and some other cool things the landscape designer identified, but I’ve already forgotten. And yes, that is an Alaskan Weeping Cedar, and no it is not native to NJ, but as my landscape designer said, it is a really cool tree…

So Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, and everyone out there who cares for something, whether it be a child, a dog, a cat, goldfish in a pond, or a tree. There is something healing about caring for something outside yourself. It takes a village, it takes a planet.

Stay tuned…

While I was planning something else…

Most of you know at this point that my son has been deployed to a place in the middle east that is challenging. My goal this year was to stay so busy I wouldn’t have time to think about that challenge. And so far that has been my life saver. The exhibit was one of the greatest things to happen to me professionally. It is down now, or rather the 41 dress forms have been moved to a smaller gallery, the Titan Gallery, around the corner from the main gallery. That leaves the main gallery for their end of semester student show. I had wanted to get there to see it. At the beginning of May, the full exhibit will return, exactly the way it was, to the main gallery, with another reopening May 9th, coordinating with the Teen Arts Festival. The exhibit will remain up until the end of August. I expect to be there the final couple days before reopening to check that all the labels are correct and all the clothing hanging the way I like it. Lots of zhuzhing up…

Here are a couple images from the Titan Gallery.

The show will reopen with a formal opening from 6-8PM on May 9th, that’s a Thursday, and the hours of the show, from what I understand, are M-F 9-6, and probable Saturday hours, but that’s not confirmed.

The response has been overwhelming, carloads of friends, guild members from across three states, friends from my High School in South Jersey, I’m touched and honored at the support. What a beautiful way to end my professional career, allowing me to do fun things that retired people do. Like weave, knit, garden, volunteer, you know. Have fun…

I made the decision last fall, that I really needed to remove the invasives from my property, and so I hired a fantastic landscape designer, highly recommended, to basically redesign my property. I mentioned this before in my blog. She has been remarkable. Covered in mud at the end of the day, she is out there with her one helper, hauling dirt, hauling trees, moving boulders around my yard. This is just one area that she has cleaned out and reworked, and the hundreds of plugs of perennials will eventually be added. My entire property will basically look like this but full of perennials. My only job is to keep this watered and weeded until everything is established. No problem she says with complete confidence…

Meanwhile, I had this beautiful vine covered gazebo that became invaded by a horrifically invasive Akebia vine. Which I did not plant. It killed everything else, except one pocket of cross vine, struggling for any kind of survival. I gave my daughter permission to start ripping. 11 bags later to the brush recycling, and the structure had been so compromised that we decided to purchase a similar domed structure that would help support the crossvine and any new ones we planted, and anchored the two together. It will be a few years, but I’ll have my gazebo back.

So while all of that is happening, I signed up for a three day workshop through my guild, with Rosalie Neilson, on Rep. Rep is a warp face structure, with alternating thick and thin wefts. It is great for rugs, and bags, and I just wanted to hang with my weaving buddies. Day 2 was entertaining in that we were about 15 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake that struck western NJ. It was felt up into Boston. They are still talking about it. 4.8 magnitude. Not common on the east coast. At first I thought the building had been hit by a truck, but the rumbling and shaking kept happening. It took us a long time to figure out it was an earthquake, and so we ran outside. I have to honestly say, it was an incredible experience to feel the earth under my feet swaying back and forth, like waves, subtle but very intense. I’ve never felt anything like it. It was a powerful thing to witness. We stayed outside for about 15 minutes and decided we were cold and went back to the workshop. No discernable damage, we kept close watch on our phones for any updates. There have been something like 85 aftershocks, none of which I felt.

We ended the workshop on Saturday, and though I still have warp left, I cut off what I’d done, and we all got to take pictures. I’ve done rep before, so I understood it, but I had never tried Warp Floats, which is a sort of turned Honeycomb structure, except both sides are the inverse of each other unlike weft Honeycomb. I want to try more of that.

Sunday, one of my guild buddies and I headed into NY to the NY Botanical Gardens Orchid show. It was of course gorgeous, and I couldn’t take enough photos. Their infamous glass house of course had other types of plants, and I’m always up for cactus and succulents.

Lots of inspiration here, especially for dyeing…

Meanwhile, because I’d pulled a lot of old work and scraps from the attic looking for things for the retrospective, I had piles of scraps, still, from the production years in the 1980’s. I hate to just toss all of it. I keep thinking that there has to be some fun thing I can do, some patchworky thing, besides all the ornaments, bags, totes, greeting cards, etc., I do already for my guild sale. These are not my best fabrics, these are plain weave, mixed warps, all from the early and mid-1980’s. But they are still valid fabrics. So I thought I might try my favorite sweater jacket pattern, and maybe a larger size, so someone bigger than me can fit into it at my guild sale. I started to lay out the fabrics in a blocky random way.

I have lots of colors in scraps of silk noil, that I made into bias tubes to put between the butted handwoven scraps, which were fused onto a backing. I added a layer of punch needle fleece, so when I stitch down the bias tubes, I’d be essentially quilting the jacket.

I wasn’t sure at first, but now that I see the back finished, I’m really liking it and can’t wait to see it as a finished jacket. There is a four part series of this piecing technique on my YouTube channel, The Weaver Sews. They were some of the last ones I recorded.

Meanwhile, I’m continuing work on the cat appliqué quilt blocks my mom gave me last year, something she wanted to start in the 90’s, but never got around to it. She asked me to make it for her. I was horrified at first, but then started playing around with it, and truth be told this is so much fun. I love watching each cat build from the fabrics they give you. This one is particularly challenging with all the fringy fur. But I’m finishing up quilt block 4 of 9. Blocks 1-3 are in previous blog posts. This cat is a Persian, and all that is left is the face, which has something like 35 pieces.

And in between all of that, I’m rehearsing for a concert in May, with my early music group. I love the music, Renaissance music is fun and fun to play, and this particular concert will also include music from video games like the Legend of Zelda.

I should have been at rehearsal tonight. But life sort of got in the way. You know, things happen when you are planning something else?

So Tuesday, I was running around shopping and packing boxes to send to my son overseas. He asked for some things like K-cups and snacks, and I’m a good military mom, and got right on it. Trying to fit everything into one box proved challenging, so I went out to our recycling bin for a second box. I was running up and down between floors, my house is 125+ years old and there are practically steps between every room. I came down carrying the second box and missed the last step and next thing I knew, I’m screaming in pain, and the indignity of it all, and please don’t let it be broken.

I did manage to get to the post office, to ship two boxes of stuff to my son in parts of the world that are challenging. I left the post office and knew at that point that it was broken. Three hours in the ER confirmed. I’m pissed of course, because I’m having fun, and keeping busy doing the things I want to do. I want to be in the gardens. I want to be at music rehearsal. I want to be weaving, and planning, and volunteering. The diagnosis is a cortical avulsion fracture at the dorsum of the navicular, with a possible fracture at the lateral aspect of the cuboid. Or in simpler terms, I broke the top of my foot.

They gave me a temporary splint, and a pair of crutches, and may I say that giving an almost 70 year old woman a pair of crutches is pretty dangerous. I almost killed myself a half dozen times on the way home.

I saw the foot specialist today, and in the corner of the waiting room was this really pretty fake hydrangea. I got a picture of it. I loved the colors. I’m already thinking it will be my next warp. The foot specialist put me in a boot, but wants an MRI, scheduled for Monday to make sure I didn’t tear the tendon coming from my ankle. I doubt it, and I’m in absolutely no pain. There isn’t much swelling, and I’m learning to navigate with this giant thing on my foot. Please don’t tell me I’m doing too much. There is no way I can sit on the couch with my feet up for anything longer than an hour or two. I just can’t do it. There is too much going on, animals to attend to, and too many fun things I want to do. So I will find a way. My next goal is to figure out how to get out in the garden, sit my butt on a cart, and continue pulling out invasives. A broken shoulder two years ago didn’t stop me, and a broken foot won’t either.

So I’ll be at my opening in a boot, I’ll give the Teen Arts Festival keynote address in a boot. I’ll perform at my early music concert in medieval garb, with a boot. I’ll take a workshop in natural dyeing at Peters Valley in a boot. And I’ll drive to a farm in south Jersey for a lecture on growing dye plants, in a boot. And I’ll do what I always do. And if I have to weave on a floor loom, I still have one usable foot. Mostly I’m working on table looms, so that isn’t an issue at the moment.

I’ll post the updated promotional materials for the exhibit once I have them, and I’ll keep you posted on the gardens and all my other adventures. The pieced jacket will probably be on hold a bit, because when I build these pieces I stand at the cutting table. Standing is a bit challenging at the moment, but I’ll figure out a way.

Enjoy your spring my friends, heavy rains due in tonight. Everything will get a good drink of water.

Stay tuned…

What do I want to be when I grow up?

This is going to be a long one… Sorry… With lots of pictures… Not sorry…

I went to a concert today, called a cabin concert, popular with singer songwriters, in someone’s house, way out in the woods, where people gather, to listen to invited artists play. It is intimate, and entertaining, and I usually enjoy myself when I go. One of the artists featured today is a good friend. She is a wonderful song writer, her songs are based on things that happen to her in every day life.

I sat next to a woman, who is also friends with this artist, though we didn’t know each other. When in musical settings such as this, there are standard questions, “Are you a musician yourself?”, and other kinds of openers. I shake my head, and mutter something about playing recorder with an early music group, but I was there to support my friend, and enjoy the afternoon. The conversation kept going, and this is always where it gets awkward, because what I really do for a living is very complicated, there are no easy ways to describe succinctly. I mention I’m in the arts, or I’m an artist, and right away, there is the assumption that I’m a painter. Which I’m not. Eventually I mention I work in fiber, and that sets off a whole other series of questions, ending with I’m a weaver. Well what do you weave? Clothing. The conversation with this fellow concert goer then dropped into amusing territory, huge assumptions on her part, and I end up just smiling as this person has no clue what I do and what I’m interested in, and I’m really not in the mood to explain. Since this person has experience with reenactments, of all sorts of wars, she felt certain that I’d make a killing taking my handwoven clothing to reenactments, especially the one in Fredericksburg, MD, where there are knowledgeable people who want handwoven anything, and are willing to pay for it. Sigh…

I’ve come across many people in my career who think that they know what’s best for me and my work. Who wouldn’t want to make a killing in the right market? I was glad the music started up again, because the thought of setting up a booth with my handwoven clothing, which I did all through the 1980’s, made me slightly nauseous. This is definitely not the direction I am headed.

So where am I headed…

I’m in a unique position where I’ve done a lot with my life, and I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’m proud of the students I’ve empowered to create from their hands, and I’m really looking forward to fiber as a hobby. Imagine that…

I live in Suburban Northern NJ, about 20 miles west of Manhattan. I have a small half acre of land, which my husband and I meticulously landscaped in the late 1980’s after we added a sizable addition to the house, and needed to create decking and tiered plantings, and so we hired a professional landscaper to draw out plans. We did the work ourselves, but what plants to plant where, was all designed by this professional. I need to mention that in the late 1980’s, landscaping took on a completely different direction, because all the new exotic imported plants from Japan and Asia were becoming available and they created lovely color and texture all year round. We planted profuse amounts of Japanese Barberry, Kousa Dogwood, Burning Bush, Continus or Smoke Bush, and a number of other things that now are considered invasive, not native, and in the case of Barberry, destroying the understory in all of the forest parts around where I live and really, the planet. The push is on to remove everything that is not native.

I recently attended a number of lectures, and listened to a few podcasts, all on invasive species. Some of the lectures were on foraging these materials for textile use, making baskets, weaving, eco printing, natural dyeing, and even papermaking. Some of the lectures were on planting native pollinators to attract caterpillars which attract more bird species because we all know the planet is in trouble, and all I can do is fix my own backyard. I went to a lecture last Sunday at Greenwood Gardens, an estate garden open to the public in Northern NJ, featuring author Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware Professor of Botany and other things.

Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard  by Douglas W. Tallamy 

It was probably the best lecture I’ve ever heard and I came home miserably depressed because my beautiful yard is destroying the planet. Well I’m being overly dramatic, I can’t fix the rest of the world, but I can try to fix my own.

So this is just one corner of my front yard. Note that every other bush is a Japanese Barberry. I have a gardener, and I’ve finally convinced him that each bush eventually has to go, but in it I can research native plants, and possible plants that can work for natural dyeing, basketry, weaving, eco printing, etc. So I have the smallest of hope here that I might make a difference with my little corner of the planet and add to my textile fun.

I’m pretty expert at making handwoven clothing, but I’m enough of a novice at everything else to know I don’t know anything. Except what we touched on in college in the 70’s. So I’m taking things very slowly. My gardener removed two of probably a dozen Barberries this week, and I’m getting opinions as to what to replace them with. Meanwhile, he has a black walnut tree in his front yard and brought me a huge bucket of black walnut hulls. I made a dye with them. Both skeins are dyed with black walnut hulls, the darker one on the right has an iron modifier, rust water from a bucket of rusty iron found throughout my house added briefly to the end of the dyebath.

And I did scamper across the street, to a huge patch of overgrown weeds between two properties, and didn’t think anyone would mind if I stole all the pokeberries from the two bushes there. And yes, I do know that anything purple with anthocyanins is not light fast and will fade with washing over time. Still, it was fun, and for now, I got a really pretty magenta on this skein of silk and wool.

And another area, which has always fascinated me was plant tinctures, because before big pharma, we had herbal medicine. I usually obtain Sweet Annie (Artemisia Annua) tincture from my herbalist friend (coincidently the singer songwriter I heard at this afternoon’s cabin concert, who wrote a song when her Artemisia didn’t come up that year) but this year, she gave me a couple of plants and apologized because it will take over my yard. But I made my first tincture from Artemisia in 80 proof vodka and it is sitting on my counter curing. I look forward to my home remedy for curing colds, flu, and I’ve even heard it is great for Covid. (I did use it when I had Covid this time last year, and my symptoms were so mild I didn’t realize I had it, which could be coincidental)

I took a class last weekend in Eco Printing through my guild, using the dirty pot method. I’ve taken workshops before in Eco Printing, and am a fan of an iron blanket, but this was the workshop, and the results were OK, I wished for more clarity in the middle. The scarf blank is a silk/wool from Dharma Trading.

We also, while the bundles were boiling in the dirty pot (a pot of water, preferably aluminum, with iron chunks, and a copper pipe, and some onion skins, and whatever else she dumped in there), played around with flower pounding. I’ve never done this before, so this was fun and entertaining. I had an old cutting board and a hammer and we were given cotton towels, pre-mordanted with Aluminum Triformate, and I got a bit carried away.

Of course when I went to wash it a couple days later, after I heat set it with an iron, all the purples (from anthocyanins of course) washed out. Still, I have a fun dishtowel, and I can still see the ghost outline of the amaranth.

And we experimented with a heat press, pressing leaves and flowers onto treated watercolor paper. I don’t own a heat press, and have no intention of buying one, but it was fun to experiment. I have seen more interesting prints from Jane Dunnewold, but I love first time trying anything… You never know.

I went back to Greenwood Gardens on Wednesday, for a day of artistic sketching, painting, and photography. Bring any medium you like to work in, and park yourself and your easel and get to work. I picked the hardest building on the property, the two story summer tea house, with stone wrap around steps down both sides, and all sorts of sculptures, and proceeded to sketch.

I work in pencil, mostly because I’m rusty getting proportions right, and I erase a lot, and then I ink the important things. Then I use water color pencil, and later add water with a fine brush. Here is the result and it was a gorgeous fall day and I met so many interesting artists, oil painters, watercolorists, and a woman, probably in her 50’s who has been journaling every day since she was 10. I envy her commitment to a daily practice, though I’ve been writing this blog since 2008. With more than 900 posts, I’ve done OK for myself. I don’t care who reads it, because it is a personal journal that happens to be full of pictures and is available on the internet.

Anyway, the discussion of native plants and pollinators was part of every conversation with people involved in gardening. Turns out woman with the journals has a neighbor into natural dyeing and they just did some indigo. Small world…

Meanwhile, I have until the 24th to finalize all the stuff I’ve made for the Jockey Hollow Show and Sale, November 3-5. That’s when I submit my spreadsheet and get my bar coded tags back.

More bunnies…

More bear ornaments…

Zippered kit bags…

Zippered regular bags…

A Ginger Jar…

Tote bags…

And I’ve found an easy way to insert a separating zipper in the top without feeling like I’m wrestling an alligator…

And of course I have my constant companion laying in the middle of whatever I’m working on…

So what do I want to be when I grow up? A good steward of the land? A weaver that uses what’s available and is constantly learning new fields in botany, chemistry, and medicine, all with what’s available in my own backyard? It isn’t important for me to define my goals at all, because I’ve always been about the journey, and this is no different. I’m using up stuff from my old life, and repurposing it and creating something to help support my guild. What doesn’t sell will go to a pop-up shop in the theatre lobby of the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ’s final production this December. Giving back is important to me. I try to walk into town every other day, pick up the groceries for the day, and carry them home. The other morning, in a foggy dew, the spiders were busy creating webs for Halloween, captured by the morning sun. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I’m going to be ripping all those plants out…

Stay tuned…