Keeping very busy…

It’s what I do…

There have been some pretty dark times in my life. We all have them. And we all have different ways of getting through them. My way, is to stay so freaking busy I don’t have time to dwell on anything I have no control over. And so that will be my solution to the darkness that has set over my small family, with my son’s deployment to Syria.

NJ is sending 1500 troops from the 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, their largest deployment since 2008, to bases in Iraq and Syria. I am heartsick of course, and will worry constantly for all 1500 of them, because right now, that part of the world is in crisis and no one knows how to fix it. Mid month I joined my son in Trenton for a large send off, speeches by our Senator, Governor, and all kinds of higher ups that said meaningful things, in support of our troops.

My son is the bald guy right in the middle.

At this point, he has deployed, first through Texas, and then will be making his way to Syria. I won’t know until he can get word that he is there, and I don’t expect to be able to hear from him regularly. Internet is poor, and of course Verizon doesn’t have a cell spot in Syria. He dropped his jeep off for safe keeping and final hugs on Saturday, while I was teaching a two day remote workshop, with the Baltimore Guild, each participant making a vest over the two days. While the workshop was wildly successful, I’m glad they didn’t see my tears when I came in from outside, because my glasses had turned dark from the sun. And I’m incredibly glad I was in the middle of a workshop, and had no time to grieve.

Mid January is my guild, the Jockey Hollow Weavers’ Learn to Weave class, which I teach, along with my daughter. I bring 15 Structo Looms, and the weather cooperated. I bring prewound warps in 8/4 cotton rug yarn, and they set up the loom in a pattern gamp. They get to weave all sorts of structures with different wefts to experiment with color interlacements. It was a really fun day, and I’ve passed on 12 of the Structos to another guild member that would like to carry this forward.

I signed up for 8 workshops this year at Peters Valley School of Craft, because they all interested me, and because, I’m trying to book myself into oblivion! The first workshop took place over the last two Sundays, and thankfully it was recorded since I missed the second installment as I was teaching. The class, taught by Natalie Stopka, who is one of the best teachers I’ve ever taken a class from, was on Natural Dyeing, and it was remote. In January. I have never worked with botanical powders, and couldn’t have been more pleased with the results. My dye kitchen worked extremely well, I didn’t have to buy any new equipment, and the kit Natalie sent provided everything I needed for a successful natural dye experience. The second session was working with a fructose indigo vat.

So these are the results. I dyed the samples with madder (salmon color), weld (bright yellow color), logwood (purple to black color), and of course indigo (the chambray blue color). On silk…

On cotton (Note that I also played around with resists with items included in the kit.)…

On wool yarn…

Ombré effect on a silk scarf from my “to be dyed” stash…

Ombré effect on a cotton scarf provided in the kit. I used the indigo to overdye the weld producing a pretty aqua color in addition to the blue.

And to exhaust each of the pots, I used up the remainder of the dye with skeins of silk and wool. The blue indigo is still wet.

There is something about creating color in January that just makes me come alive.

And of course, it is not lost on me that the mother of all projects fell in my lap last fall, a retrospective of my work over the last 45 years, at County College of Morris in their main gallery opening February 29th. There was some major divine intervention that allowed this huge project to absolutely consume me in one of my darkest months since my husband died. I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other to get this all organized. There are something like 90 works involved. The really cool thing is that I’m pouring over archives, storage, attic, scraps, closets, 40 year old slide images, searching for each of the components I need to pull this off. I spent two hours the other day on the floor of my late husband’s closet looking for an image from 1994. I was just ecstatic when I found it.

And in all that I found a few things I’d completely forgotten about. Like this handspun sweater I made from cashmere, somewhere in the 1970’s. It’s been in the back of my closet since then. Miraculously it fit, and I like it, and it is unbelievably warm. It is my new favorite thing to wear. Go figure…

The gallery staff requested I have handling swatches with each garment. I know the public really appreciates it, most weaving conferences require it, and I spent at least five days rooting through the archives, attic, basement, and even my teaching bags, which I no longer need, and my design journals looking for a scrap of the original fabric. I found all but two maybe?

My guest rooms are packed with dress forms, which come in weekly. My cat Mulder of course likes to help whenever he can, especially if there are boxes. And there are a lot of boxes.

Each form is bulked up with bubble wrap because the forms I purchased, which were very inexpensive, have hips that are only 33″ wide. I don’t know anyone with 33″ wide hips. There are no words… But the forms work for me, and bubble wrap adds the additional couple inches I need to fill out the work. I’ve had to do repairs on some of the pieces, especially ones I wear a lot, and even had to reweave a small area on a major piece when I discovered a cigarette burn all the way through. That was one of my more impressive feats. So one of my guest rooms is pretty packed with forms, each one ready to display, with handling swatch and temp label. The permanent labels will be fixed to the wall.

The college van comes Friday for the first load.

And I think the universe is sending multiple angels to help support me, suddenly people who have been off my radar are popping up in unexpected places and encouraging me to get out, meet up, do lunch, and just be with people. A former guild member reached out to see if I’d help her jumpstart back into spinning and we had such a delightful morning, as I dusted off my wheel, my old Ashford Traditional which I bought after my freshman year of college and still gets the job done, and we sat together spinning, and decided to do this weekly. It felt amazing. I think this is handpainted merino but I’m not completely sure…

And so dear readers, know that I am really fine. There will be moments of course, and all I can do is hope that all 1500 return safe and can get on with their civilian lives. I have people who are watching out for me, and I hope that my late husband is watching out for my son. Thank you for all who reached out privately, I know I’m not alone, there are 1500 other families who are in the same boat. I have turned off notifications on all of the news feeds I subscribe to, I can read the local paper each morning and that’s it. I cannot follow the news 24/7.

Back to writing artist statements and dressing forms. Stay tuned…

But mommy, I want him…

I’m continuing on my attic cleaning and making more stuff for the guild sale with my mother lode of scraps of handwoven fabrics from the archives. I made two more squirrels, from leftover bits of mohair, and while I was working on the second one, I plopped the other one on the ironing board.

Mulder the studio cat of course had to check out something that looked suspiciously like what he hunts in the middle of the night…

And typically had to check out the back end.

Satisfied said squirrel did not pose a threat, and being of a soft mohair and cuddly surface, Mulder decided to curl up next to him.

The face pleading, can I keep him, can I?

Sadly he can’t keep him, because the dogs would destroy the squirrels and anything else I have that’s stuffed in about 10 minutes. They gleefully dive right into anything with stuffing. So Mulder can’t have his little buddy…

I’ve been able to create another jacket from the mohair scraps of a different colorway. I had a well meaning friend tell me they were really ugly, and that kind of stung, I rather liked them, and they were fun to make, and super functional, I’m hoping there is someone who will appreciate them at the guild sale.

Almost ready for the final pressing…

I worked out an alternative to the white mohair stocking ornament tops. I ran out of the white mohair fabric, so found a soft white yarn and just crocheted round and round…

And I cut out a dozen little bear ornaments for the guild sale. I spent hours looking through my vast button stash, trying to find three of something that would work for each of the bears, and getting them sewn on, making little “kits” so I can sit and put them together while on zoom meetings or listening to a podcast, or Textiles and Tea, whatever…

Of course my trusty studio assistant had to leap onto the ironing board and keep everything in order… Sigh…

I managed to make two of them…

On Sunday, a local sheep farm, part of the NJ Fibershed, held a community dye day. A lot of work for the teacher Pamela Jenkins, a natural dyer from Maryland, and we had dyebaths to use with our pre mordanted yarns, (alum and cream of tartar) plus a station for botanical printing (results were disappointing, I think better compression would have helped) and a chance to use an indigo bath using Polygonum Tinctorium Indigo, which can grow in this climate. Interesting thing was using fresh leaves, and puréeing them in a blender with ice. This is appealing to me, since I never wanted to start a fermented indigo vat. I don’t have indigo on the property so I’d have to plant some. I waited to rinse my skeins which were 65% silk and 35% wool, for about 48 hours, a suggestion by the teacher. They are now dry, and some of the color did wash out, but I’m sure the volume of dyestuff vs the amount of yarn/fabric we dyed, really wouldn’t yield strong results. Still, it is a pretty palette. Willow, fresh indigo, butternut husks, elderberry, hollyhock flowers, and artemisia.

The day after I posted my last blog I got this gorgeous bench in the mail. Or rather shipped. I ordered my custom bench from Walt Turpening exactly a year ago. I wanted the gradation in the woven seat. Walt custom winds the cotton cordage to achieve the gradation. We spent a lot of time with measurements, loom and body, to determine the best bench height. Unfortunately the two looms I expect to use the bench with, are both empty. It is on my list this winter to get them both warped so I can try out the bench.

Meanwhile, I did finally clear the table loom with the Bateman blend. I didn’t get a lot of yardage, and it was really tedious. I’m happy with the results, and am thinking of designing a laptop slip case. I have one from Peru and want to copy how it was done.

The loom next to it had a 4-shaft doup leno structure threaded on 8 shafts. I wrote an issue of Heddlecraft Magazine, (Issue #19) on doup leno, a technique where using half doups on shaft two allows the loom to crisscross certain threads creating an open airy structure that is very stable. The warp and wefts were hand-dyed cashmere so this is super soft. It seemed like the warp that never ended, and I finally got up and looked at my original drafting notes and realized I put five yards of warp on this little loom. Nearing the end of the warp, and wanting to squeeze in a couple fat yarns for headers, I discovered this cool tool that now I can’t live without. It is called a “Poke” Shuttle. I never heard of such a thing, but they were selling them in a few lengths at Red Stone Glen for their open house last June, made by Bluster Bay Shuttles. They just felt so lovely in the hand I bought three. The yarn just grips around the end of the shuttle allowing it to be able to poke through the narrow shed. It may have a different purpose, but I loved it for this task, and of course all Bluster Bay shuttles just melt in your hand…

I managed to get a long scarf and a pretty cowl from the handdyed cashmere.

Meanwhile, my daughter is finishing up the edits in a video we shot last month, a one hour studio tour, which can be shown as a guild program. I wanted to recreate the studio tour I did for the HGA back in the fall of 2020 for Spinning and Weaving Week 2020, and wanted to document all the looms with warps. I am getting frequent texts with screen shots from my daughter down the hall with absolutely hilarious Transcription malfunctions. She first allows Adobe premiere to close caption the video, and then goes back and corrects. Textile terms in a transcription program are absolutely hilarious, looms become loons, and limbs, and lamps. Really, my diction is pretty spot on, you just have to increase your vocabulary sir! But the best Transcription malfunction I’ve ever seen is this…

It is supposed to read, “I would have sectionally warped 30 yards of mohair at a time”. There are no words…

And to wind up this blog post, I’ve had a lovely wonderful thing happen this past week. Something I can’t even wrap my head around, and keep pinching myself to see if I dreamed it or not. Long story short, assuming this all happens the way it is spelled out in the contract sitting on my desk, next spring, County College of Morris will feature my huge body of work both artwork and garments, dating back to the 90’s in their Main Gallery, a retrospective of sorts, along with video, audio, and a hands on component (aren’t you glad I have all those Structos) for about 6 weeks, transitioning to a smaller gallery for their year end student exhibition, and then back to the Main Gallery to coincide with the Morris County Teen Arts Festival in May, where I am to be the keynote speaker. Then the exhibition of my work will continue on until the end of August. It is especially lovely that this is my county college, and that both of my kids took classes there, and I even taught there for a semester way back. I have hosted two externs from there as well. So this feels like a perfect conclusion to a lifetime of work in the field. I’m especially touched that they asked me to give the keynote to the next generation of creative people. I have a lot of work to do on that address.

I hope the fall brings you beautiful colors, cooler weather, fun things to do with fiber, and friends to do those fun things with… And no Mulder, you still can’t have the squirrel…

Stay tuned…