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…

I’ve seen the future…

This past month was pretty intense considering I really haven’t left the house in 16 months. I was reminded how crazy my life was before the pandemic and I kind of didn’t like what I saw. I had a couple of rapid heart beat panic attacks, trying to keep everything straight, and yeah, I don’t want to go back.

I was contracted to teach two in person classes at Peters Valley School of Craft this summer, one the beginning of June, and one the beginning of August (don’t bother to check that class is full!) The June class was beginning weaving, and when I had originally submitted the proposal, quite awhile ago, the world was normal and I planned to team teach with my daughter.

And so after having to shut down for 15 months, the Valley was able to reopen, and kudos to the fiber fellow and her assistant for a Herculean job of cleaning out a weaving studio that had been sealed up for that length of time, up in the mountains of rural Northwest NJ, in the National Park Recreation area. You don’t want to know what took up residence…

The Macomber looms mostly survived, I had a part in replacing all the heddles of all the looms with inserted wire eye, back in 2019, and that process did get completed. Each time I work with those looms, I find more things that can be tweaked and replaced. And I’m happy to do that for the Valley. Keeping looms in top condition is always important to me as a handweaver. I have another huge order into Macomber to upgrade some of the parts for the Peters Valley looms.

Meanwhile, the class happened, we all wore masks, and there were some changes and challenges to the way we use to do things, but nothing that couldn’t be worked out. The class seemed to have a wonderful time, learned a lot and produced some pretty great samplers/towels for their first time at the loom. There were a couple of weavers with some experience, but they were happy to actually learn some basics that they never got since they were self taught.

And of course Peters Valley has an extensive textile library, and in my quest to own all the books, any break I had I left Brianna in charge and sat in the corner checking out what I don’t own and placing a hefty order through Amazon, Biblio, Thriftbooks, and whoever had what I wanted at a price under $900! Seriously, some of these prices for used books is positively hilarious. It would appear that my book collection is worth way more than my 37 looms…

Anyway, I got through that weekend, first time away teaching in a long time, and realized how much I’m not going to miss in person workshops. I have one more to teach and then I’m retiring from traveling. I want to learn all the things. I want to be the one to take workshops, explore new things and play with all my 37 looms and my ever growing yarn stash and textile library. There is some pretty cool stuff out there to try…

Mid month I started a four week online class in Botanical Printing with Kathy Hays. I’ve always loved her work, and she has a self guided class, actually a number of different level classes available online. Always thinking of ways I can alter the surface of cloth for things like linings, and having an extensive property with gardens and ponds and a little paradise here, I wanted to see what was readily available right here just outside the door.

And so the first batch of homework netted some pretty lovely results. The second batch of homework is in the pot simmering as I write…

And then there was the conference…

Did you ever feel as though you are in the middle of experiencing something or some event that will eventually be life and history altering and make the world a better place as a result? This past weekend was the Mid Atlantic Fiber Association Conference, MAFA for short. Every couple years, the regions in the US hold regional fiber conferences, I’ve probably taught at them all, many times, given keynotes at many of them, and I had been originally contracted to team teach a workshop with my daughter for the 2021 MAFA conference, traditionally held at a University in PA.

Obviously that never happened. But most regional conferences either chose to not have a conference this year, or simplify it to just a couple of speakers over a couple of days over a Zoom format. Which is all fine. And I signed up for a couple of them, because why not?

Except MAFA had a very enthusiastic board of directors and a cracker jack team, headed by one of my favorite people, whom I have had the pleasure of working with in a number of classes over the years, decided to attempt what many people thought impossible. They hosted a full on full scale fiber conference, with 840 registrants, over 80 classes, all virtual. There was a virtual towel exchange, a virtual fiber exhibit, and fashion show, there was a virtual vendor hall, speakers, classes, hands on classes, morning coffee, a keynote, evening gatherings and social time, and even chair yoga twice a day. With barely 15 minutes between events, though everything was recorded for viewing later, I barely had time to pee, let the dogs out and back in, and grab food or tea or whatever else I needed before the next event. We started at 8am, and I finally logged off about 9 at night, for four days straight.

Yes, it was exhausting, but not in the way I feel when I do an in person conference. I loved this. I loved everything about it. I wish all conferences could be remote (I know that isn’t a universal opinion, cut me some slack, I’ve done more conferences in my 40 years on the road than you’ll ever do) but I got so much out of this because I could participate in everything. Yes, I taught four classes, two lectures and a two session hands on class in what to do with scraps of handwoven or other fabrics, and students created mats. I got images of many who finished.

I also got to take three lectures, one on botanical printing which was great since I got to see a different focus than the class I’m currently enrolled in, one on ice dyeing which I can’t wait to try, and one on selecting and harvesting basket making materials from your own back yard. I discovered that yes, my yard is full of stuff I can harvest, process, and store for making all kinds of baskets, but that it is all way more work than I probably want to do at this time.

The lectures between the sessions were all fascinating and eye opening, who knew that hemp was the main crop of the early United States, and that Sprang was the textile technique of choice throughout the world prior to the industrial revolution. And Jane Dunnewold’s Keynote address was hands down the best keynote I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve witnessed a lot.

I’m only just now tapping into all the recorded sessions with the vendors from the virtual vendor hall. There are a lot of new products out there that are catching my interest. And books, yeah, that Amazon truck is showing up daily…

And the fashion show made me smile. All the entrants, including myself, prerecorded a video, submitted it, added images of the process, and gave a lengthy backstory for each submission. It was all put together into an amazing presentation that sets the bar very high for any future in person fashion show.

Yes, there were technical glitches that occasionally happened, but the team did an unbelievable job keeping everything moving forward and I was truly grateful to have witnessed the future of how we can as a community do things bringing people together for a common goal. The technology can only get better.

And so dear readers I’ve seen what we can do as a community, and what technology allows us to share. A year ago I could never have imagined I’d have a YouTube channel with a ton of videos and a lot of followers. A year ago I couldn’t imagine my creative life and one that didn’t involve me going on the road. A year ago I had just moved into my new studio spaces in the house and just started discovering all they had to offer. And the emails are coming in fast with those who want to come and stay for a five day private class in weaving or sewing, airline tickets are booked, and yes, that requires a trip for me to Newark Airport, but I get to then drive home with the student and teach in my own studio, sleep in my own bed, and be in my own creative space and give each student some one on one, personal time. As one person said to me recently on a Zoom gathering, “You mean, no more Daryl Alert?” (You won’t get the reference if you haven’t taken a workshop with me…)

So I’m slowly rewriting my workshop offerings, cutting out those that require me to be somewhere other than here, and though I’m still happy to do the occasional remote lecture for a guild, and possibly a one or two day remote workshop, I want to be here and creative and curious and stress free… I earned it…

Clap on 1, on 2, on 3…

I’m slowly learning a new language for podcasts, videos, recordings, and one of them, that absolutely delights me is when the cameras and audio are rolling for our Friday shoot for the YouTube channel, The Weaver Sews, and my daughter says, “Clap on 1, on 2, on 3” and then I try to clap as loud as I can. We snicker when I do a pathetic clap, and cheer when I do a loud crisp clap, that is perfect for aligning the audio and video tracks. It’s the little things that we hold on to for entertainment in these trying times…

I talked about the design inspiration and how I got to decide what components to use for the vest I videoed the last couple of Fridays in my last blog post. This is my 500 vest pattern, and I used handwoven fabric I wove for this vest, called Shadow Tapestry, which I developed for Silk City Fibers since they comped me the yarn, to see what I could do with it. The draft is free and available here.

I finished up the vest this weekend, and I’m more than happy. For the closure, I ended up making a twist ply rope for a button loop, and using an industrial epoxy to glue a flat button on the back of a piece of Polyform clay that use to be a pin, purchased sometime in the 80’s or 90’s, when Fimo was a thing, and it has been sitting in my box of oddities for many many years. I like my oddities box.

This morning I woke up to an Instagram message that a podcast I recorded a few weeks ago had dropped, and we had such a good time and we talked for such a long time, they made it into a 2 part podcast. Part two airs next Sunday. The podcast was from a group called The Professional Weaver Society, and I’m episode 42. I started looking over the Professional Weavers who have recorded interviews with Tegan and Eric, the brains behind the podcasts and I was stunned. There are some amazing interviews on this podcast, and I have a lot of listening to do. Tegan took a workshop with me at Harrisville Designs a couple years ago, and she was such a delight, grilling me with questions on marketing, selling, and general questions about doing this whole weaving thing for a living. She so reminded me of myself at that age. She is an amazing powerhouse of talent and energy, and her guy Eric is a huge support.

Meanwhile, I listened to my episode today while I finished up the vest. It was a cold rainy day here in NJ, and the flowers and lettuces were loving it. Even though I know how the story turns out, obviously, it was still hilarious listening to myself talk about how I got to be who I am.

And while I mull over the topic for next week’s shoot, I started on a massive project for the loom. This is one of the more ambitious things I’ve done, and it all started with this odd pile of hand dyed wools, mohairs, and odd protein fibers, some of which I can’t completely identify, but they took an acid dye well (Cushings) and I’m including all of it.

I love giving myself really tight parameters. Toss some yarn on the table and see what I can do with it. I’ve got empty looms, and lots of yarn. I spent the better part of this past week doing careful calculations on what’s in each skein, how much, and how far it will go.

I calculated a 55/45% split, and decided, even though I love single shuttle weave structures, that I wanted to do another plaid, like this one, which will be featured in an article in the next Handwoven Magazine.

So I sat down tonight on my computer and carefully plugged in a plaid, using all the yarns from the pile on the table, and got this. When I told the software to “Weave as Drawn In” and selected the Colors and the Draft, I squealed in delight as this popped up on my screen.

Only problem is, I need to put this on my 36″ loom, because my daughter is hogging the two 45″ looms we have, and I don’t have a 6 dent reed for the 36″ loom. Which means I have to buy a new reed. Which means this project will be delayed, but I can still wind the warp and get it ready. The sett will be 12 epi, and I’ll sley two ends per dent. (If you aren’t a weaver you have no idea what I just wrote. I’m sorry…)

I know I’ll probably regret picking a project where I have to change the weft every two picks or so, but I like challenges, and it is such fun to use up stuff that is just sitting in a basket calling to me every time I go out in the studio…

I also mentioned in the last blog post that I had donated a handdyed and handwoven scarf to the Shakespeare Theater of NJ for their spring virtual auction, which is happening now. I promised to let you know when it was available for bidding. I love this theater company, and right before the pandemic hit I was volunteering in their fabulous costume shop, and loving every minute of the experience. I’m doing everything I can to support them and my other favorite arts organization Peters Valley.

I get my second vaccine on Wednesday, and hopefully that will keep me safe, especially since I have my last two in-person workshops scheduled at Peters Valley this summer. They are both weaving workshops and I believe both are filled!

The trees and bulbs are spectacular this year, I’d like to think the superior air quality and lack of pollution from last year contributed to this glorious spring, I don’t really know since I’m not a scientist, but they are spectacular for whatever reason.

Enjoy spring, wherever you live, there is light at the end of this long endless tunnel. Stay tuned…