Slow, hot, summer…

And here it is July.  And no end in sight to the world’s catastrophic situation.  I’m really sad, because NJ and NY were hit really really hard by the virus back in March-May, and no one listened.  I saw friends post things on social media that made it seem as if we were overreacting.  They turned it into a political stunt.  I almost never ever comment on anything political or otherwise, I’m a moderate, centrist, and each side has a point.  The truth is somewhere in the middle.  Yet on the spread of Coronavirus, NJ has close to 16,000 dead. And yet the internet is full of people that think this is all a game, a political stunt that will all miraculously disappear in November.  There is nothing I can do but stay home, stay masked, and try to do something constructive with my life.  At this point, I believe that all of my teaching work for the year has been cancelled.  I’m scheduled to start traveling again in January/February with two trips to the West Coast.  I have no idea if the world will be safe.  I can’t even think past this month.  This is a true test of living in the moment.

The good news is we are rapidly perfecting the art of remote learning.  I’ve been approached about teaching online, including online guild lectures, trying to wrap my head around what’s possible with the equipment I have, because purchasing equipment for streaming is problematic, it just isn’t available. I’ve edited my website offerings to indicate which lectures would work perfectly for remote learning.  

Peters Valley has been one of the mainstays of my creative life.  A School of Craft in northwest NJ, I’ve been closely associated with them since the 70’s.  This year was to be their 50th celebration.  That’s on hold, but they are hard at work trying to keep the craft community together.  Traditionally, each week of instruction at the Valley would be spearheaded by an evening lecture featuring all of the instructors teaching that week, brief presentations in an old church down the road.  That has continued, remotely, even though the entire season of workshops has been cancelled.  Every Friday night I get to tune in for free and watch 5 fine craft professionals share their work/studios/philosophies/inspiration wherever in the world they are, and they are all over the world, and I get inspired.  The series runs through the summer and they are archiving the past Friday night lectures on their You Tube Channel.  

Peters Valley, in partnership with the Pike County Library in northeastern PA is also featuring a lecture series, and they actually managed to get a grant to continue that series, which is a more in depth look at an individual craftsman, held every two weeks on a Wednesday night.  I was the featured lecturer July 1.

I will say, though I’ve given this particular lecture many times, and as recently as March for the Portland guild, stood up in front of hundreds of people during a keynote address, I was terrified.  I was terrified because this technology scares the heck out of me.  Stuff goes wrong.  All the time.  A typical summer late afternoon thunderstorm can cause the power or the internet to go out and you are screwed.  Even a drain on bandwidth can cause the sound and/or video to lag and become unintelligible.  And when something goes wrong, I’m so untrained to fix it.  

So at the appointed time, even after a rehearsal, I logged in and I have to give credit to my late husband who must have been watching from above, because the thunderstorm headed straight for us split and moved just round my town, all went perfectly, and you can view the archived lecture here.

Meanwhile, my daughter and I are finding our groove so to speak.  She is becoming more aware and more involved in running the household.  We have a routine with the animals, she monitors the vegetable garden and the ponds, picks up dog poop in the yard, and is happy to do Home Depot, Shoprite, Post Office runs wearing a mask, and grabbing what we need to stay comfortable.  We are changing up our routine for eating, she is becoming more involved in meal selection, we cook together, and make enough for multiple meals of leftovers, which is convenient for lunches.  My son moved out, found a place of his own, and we are constantly finding things to put in the “give to Eric” box by the door.  Last Saturday after being really annoyed by how often she had to rebuild one of the ponds because her four legged child kept chasing frogs right into the pond and completely destroying the plants and the rock wall borders, she went to Home Depot and bought garden fencing and out we went and within a couple of hours we solved the problem.  There is nothing like motivation.

And we continue on the current major task of digitizing all of my patterns I use for my classes.  The swing coats 300  and 400 were launched a couple weeks ago, and we are finalizing the 600 walking vest as I write.  Just waiting on the final edits on the directions.  Once the 600 walking vest is released, we only have two more to do, the 800 zippered vest and the 1200 zippered jacket, variations on one another, and I can move on to making support videos.  This gift of time has allowed me to do a task that 6 months ago I didn’t think would ever be possible.  As always, the directions for all of my patterns are available for free here.

The days are quiet and easy (well maybe not so quiet, we have lots of dogs…) and I’m hunkered down and for now I’m safe.  I have a beautiful studio, one for weaving, one for sewing, an office with solid equipment (except a working webcam for my desktop, there isn’t a Logitech webcam available in this country except for a ridiculous price, I’m looking at you Walmart…) but we are resourceful my daughter and I.  We also have a woodworking studio, a metals bench/craftroom, and my daughter has all her knitting machines in her bedroom.  We have a craft school right here on the property.  All to ourselves.  And still, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the creative things that make me sing.  Oh yeah, and there is music too.  A couple of friends, one on recorder and one on cello are coming tonight to sit on the deck, amongst the fairy lights and play a Brandenburg Concerto we have been working on diligently.  I’m the other recorder.  We keep our distance, drink wine, and play our hearts out.  My daughter added fairy lights to the gazebo down the path.  My property is magical and this is the first summer since forever I’ve been able to really enjoy it. 

 

And we always have an ongoing puzzle to make. 

 

Instead of telling my friends and kids when they leave, “Drive safe”, I tell them now, “Wear a mask!”.  It seems more fitting.  

Wear a mask, stay tuned…

Change is inevitable…

I swore I would not go to bed tonight until I put up a long overdue blog post.  I’ve been through a lot of drama, trauma, challenges and difficulties in my life.  And I’ve survived them all, mostly.  As a matter of fact today is the 18th anniversary, 2/22/2002, of my breast cancer diagnosis.  18 years of huge changes, my children grew up, for better or for worse.  My son became a soldier.  My daughter survived a wicked illness, went into the sciences and now she is in the arts.  My beloved husband passed away almost 4 years ago.  I was widowed at 61.  

After my husband died, I thought I’d give myself 5 years to clean out the house, make all the extensive and necessary repairs needed, and figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  So many things happened to so many people I love, and they all played a huge role in where I am now. So almost four years in, I made some huge decisions that have brought me to where I am right at this moment.  

Back in the late fall, I became increasingly aware, that it would make sense to hire my daughter and try to slowly back away from the only life I’ve ever known, that of being a fiber artist in whatever form that took, whether it was craft fairs in the 80’s, or learning to teach in the 90’s while trying to deal with toddlers, conferences, exhibition work, and of course writing and publishing, though it all, I had the support of my husband while I raised our kids and though there were lean years, there were also years where I was a complete crazy person with so much work I had no idea where to begin.  

The problem was, the studio which I’d known and loved since we built it in the mid 1980’s was too small to accommodate both my daughter and my equipment, and yarn and looms and other fiber related paraphernalia kept appearing almost on our doorstep.  We have something like 37 looms between us.  And that’s just the shaft looms.  It was getting harder and harder to work,  and I was getting more and more cranky and frustrated and early one morning around the end of October, I woke up to a voice in my head saying, “Just renovate the garage”.  Was it my late husband?  I can’t say for sure, but I mulled it over in my head, was it even possible?  And of course if that’s the studio, what happens to the existing studio?  And the basement where my daughter is living?  This is a hundred plus year old house.  The basement is really a cellar with a poured concrete floor.  What about all the crap in the garage, and the woodworking equipment, and Brianna also wants a fine metals bench, and all her craft supplies…

It was suggested that we rent a space off site.  I immediately dismissed that idea, I’ve never “gone” to work in the last 40 years, unless it involved getting on a plane to teach a workshop.  I have always had the luxury of being able to juggle office tasks, household tasks, errands, creative work, meal prep, laundry, and social time with people I care about without having to do a 9-5 thing.  Sometimes I work well into the night.  Sometimes I put in 16 hour days.  Sometimes I don’t work at all.  Sometimes my butt doesn’t get out of the chair at the computer desk, like today.  I talked to my handyman.  I talked to my sister the architect.  I talked to my plumber guys.  I talked to garage door people.  I talked to friends on facebook.  I talked to anyone who would listen.  

And so it began.  The garage, which needed to remain a garage, for tax purposes, and I kind of like the warehouse sort of look anyway, needed to be cleaned out, and cleaned up.  I needed lighting, heat, air conditioning and the decision was eventually made to install a dye utility sink with cabinets and counters so I wasn’t mixing dyepots anymore in the guest bathroom.  

Meanwhile my beloved studio became a trash heap.  

Slowly things began to shift, this couldn’t move there until that was clear, that couldn’t be installed until this was painted.  This had to shift to get that moved to over there.  Brianna called it a parking lot, I called it a giant game of tetris.  We have been playing this for two months.  And all this time I’ve not really been able to work.  Though I had a handyman who hung lights, painted concrete and installed cabinets and counters, it was Brianna who assembled probably $3,000 worth of IKEA storage units.  I couldn’t have done any of this without either of them.  We hauled 72″ wall units down the balcony stairs in the snow, into the back door of the garage.  We packed yarn, we moved yarn, we reset yarn on shelves.  I spent evenings rolling fabrics and tying them in bundles.  We moved looms, we moved cabinets and storage units, and slowly we saw it all come to life.

My old studio became a proper bedroom for Brianna.  She built a huge floor to ceiling PAX closet system from IKEA with glass doors, and except for falling off a stool she was standing on and nearly breaking her ankle, we survived.  We compared bruises, cuts, aches and pains.

The trash men and recycling DPW guys hate us.  

The basement would ultimately become my sewing room, we realized pretty quickly that no matter how big a space you think you have, it isn’t enough.  So the garage would be the weaving studio and the basement would be the sewing studio.  ULINE mats tetris’d all over the concrete floors in both the garage and basement.  There is still so much crap in the garage, looms are on top of looms and the shed out back will eventually be a small wood shop once I repair the electric line that no longer works.  

Meanwhile, the two largest looms couldn’t move to the new space until the fabric on them was woven off, because the looms had to be dismantled to get them down the back stairs and through the doorways.  So this happened.  8 yards washed.  All of the mohair and wool warps are hand dyed.  By me.  In the old guest bathroom.  The other loom is waiting for Brianna.

Meanwhile, life happened.  I had a family funeral last week in Maryland.  My mom’s sister passed, and though it is really  hard to say goodbye to the generation ahead of us, it was glorious to reunite with cousins I haven’t seen in years, and meet their grown children, the next generation.  Bri and I were asked the Tuesday before Valentine’s day if we would be witnesses at an impromptu wedding at Luna Parc on Valentine’s Day.  Ricky Boscarino would officiate, and it would just be Brianna and me and the bride and groom.  The bride was Beth Schwartz whom I’ve grown to love like a fiber sister, she is in charge of among other things, the weaving/fiber studios at Peters Valley.  It seemed fitting that Brianna, who worked for her at the Valley all last summer, and I would be there to see her get hitched to her guy David.  And as a thank you, she gave me the most perfect lovely leaded glass panel to hang in the new weaving studio.  

And still, we carried on.  I built and gave a guild lecture on my trip to Morocco in January, and we taught a Learn to Weave class for the Jockey Hollow Guild at the end of that month.  16 new weavers!

I built and gave a lecture on Doup Leno, a lace weaving technique I wrote about in Heddlecraft Magazine, to a different guild in February, and Brianna built and gave a lecture to the first guild that same month, on Krokbragd, a Norwegian rug weaving technique.  Last week we gave another Learn to Weave class for Silk City Fibers at the Lion Brand Yarn outlet in Carlstadt.  18 new weavers!  Those little Structo’s are getting a workout.

I also had to have an emergency root canal last week, apparently a previous root canal started to abscess, and it turned out that there was a rare hidden third root in the molar and by the time I had the emergency procedure, my face was in such pain it was hard to accomplish anything.  I appreciate gifted medical people.

And still we carried on.  Last Wednesday my first private student in the new sewing space arrived in an UBER, this had been booked for awhile, five days of private sewing lessons.  Meg was a joy to work with, I feel really lucky that we finished the sewing studio in the basement in time, and that the space really really worked.  Meg is making a basic jacket from a gorgeous wool she picked up at Mood Fabrics in NYC.  She will be back Monday and Tuesday to finish.  I had my son pick up a door mirror today from Target, you can’t have a sewing studio without a full length mirror.  Duh…

Wednesday my new carriage style garage doors will be installed.  They will be a better R value and have little windows across the upper section.  Somewhere in there I’m hoping to have the split ductless HVAC system installed as well.  Of course all of the looms will have to move out of the bays for the garage door installation, I’m hoping it isn’t raining on Wednesday.  Thursday I drive to Lancaster PA to give another guild lecture, home Friday.  The following week I leave for 10 days of teaching in Oregon.  Boxes are being filled as I write with the materials and handouts I need to ship ahead.

And Brianna stopped at some point assisting in the move, to create work to take to the Baltimore Craft Market, happening this weekend.  She is one of the emerging artist exhibitors under the banner of Peters Valley who has a display at the Craft Market.  She has become quite proficient on the knitting machine, and since all of the looms except the Structo’s have been out of commission, she focused on creating the most amazing dragon shawls and cowls to display.  Of course all last week, every horizontal surface big enough in the house had dragon shawls with a two yard wing span, drying and blocking on cutting boards all over the house.  Here is one of the prototypes.  A couple of photos showed up on Facebook of the Peters Valley booth at the craft market, and I caught a glimpse of her work and of Brianna wearing one of her shawls, in bright blue wool crepe.

This is where the weaving studio/dye area stands at this point, I can’t wait to have the garage doors installed and some heat in there, we have done all of this with a couple inadequate space heaters, in our down coats, and thankfully this has been one of the milder winters I’ve ever witnessed. Behind the white cabinets with all the books, is a hidden hallway for all the yarn.  

 

Some of the take aways here, 

I am never ever moving from this house.  I will die first.

A good puzzle and a glass of wine will get you through just about anything.

We have an enormous amount of textile equipment and will be able to teach most everything and anything you could possibly want to learn.

The two double hung windows in the garage completely frame my husband’s beloved ponds, so I get to see the waterfalls and the fish while gazing out the windows while I weave.

My daughter is a rock star.

My late husband had a hand in this whole affair, I’m sure.

Skilled craftsmen are priceless.

Obviously I’m not retiring anytime soon, I have a couple of big beautiful studios and lots of fiber to play with.

And I’m never ever moving out of this house.  Did I mention that?

Stay tuned…

Weaving Yardage…

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know how much I love Peters Valley School of Craft.  It is part of the Craft School consortium in the US, with Penland, Haystack, Arrowmont, Philchuck, etc.  It is within an hour from my house, located in National Park Service property, and I support them in many different ways.  Taking a workshop at any of these places can be life altering.  I try to take a workshop every year at Peters Valley, but I also get to teach there occasionally, this year I did a Designing and Weaving Handwoven Yardage class.  5 Day.

First let me say that this class is intense over only a 5 day period.  It is hard to make anyone, no matter how old, sit at a loom, sleying, threading, beaming, weaving for 5 days straight.  As a matter of fact, in my early days of writing for Handwoven Magazine, I wrote an article back in 2002 called “Lose Weight and Reduce Stress” after I taught a similar class back in the summer of 2001 at Peters Valley.  I remember then editor Madelyn van der Hoogt asking me on the phone if I had any ideas on how to boost readership, and I snarkily responded, “Just put something about weight loss on the cover!”  So she said, “Great, write it.”  (Jan/Feb 2002)

Designing, winding the warp, and all that handwoven yardage entails is tough work for anyone.  But the studio and condition of the looms was fantastic, best I’ve ever worked with.  The move to the newly renovated weaving studio, adjacent to the surface design studio at Peters Valley’s Thunder Mountain campus was the best thing they could have done for the students and for the looms.  It was bright, the best air conditioned place on the campus, which was really important since we had a 100+ degree heat wave in the mountains along with monsoon rains every evening.  The light was fantastic, and my daughter, as the fiber assistant was really instrumental in getting all the looms in perfect working order.  I took advantage of the space and tables in the adjacent surface design studio to put out all my yarns, show slides, and give students a space to do preliminary design with color exercises and yarn wraps.

Once they had the yarn wraps finalized, they started winding warps.

Once the warps were wound, they started sleying the reed, in levels.  

On to threading…

And then beaming…  I brought a couple of Harrisville Tensioners from my own studio.

And then ultimately weaving four yards of yardage once they tested wefts.

Everyone was thrilled as the knots came up over the back of the loom, most of the fabrics were combinations of plain weave, twill, and supplemental warps.  Since all of Peters Valley’s Macomber looms are at least 8 shafts, this is easy to accomplish. And Dee’s fabric really showed the influence of the photo she used for inspiration.

A very happy class!

One of the students, Ginnie, had flown in from Michigan, we have become really close friends as she is one of my regular students at Sievers School of Fiber Arts, I think she has taken my garment construction intensive class at least a dozen times.  I’ll be teaching that class at Sievers in October.  Anyway, she asked me in a conversation if I ever thought about teaching weaving, since she was mostly a self taught recipe weaver.  I mentioned the Peters Valley class and she signed up immediately.  She stayed over an extra day before flying home, and I took her into NYC to see the Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibit at the MET.  It was worth the traffic and drive into the city as exhausted as we were.  What a fabulous exhibition.  

And so I now play catch up, balancing house stuff, (yes I had to call in two repair/handyman/contractors when I returned home because well stuff breaks while I’m gone), bill paying and bookkeeping, and projects with fast approaching deadlines.  And starting prep for the fall marathon…  I did manage though, to continue working on the stuff in my basket, finding out how many 4.5 yard ends I could get from these two skeins if I circular wound on a warping board into an ombré effect.  The answer was 76.  

And I leave you with two funny pet pictures, because I missed my furry creatures while I was gone, and they do keep me laughing…  They seem to have an appliance fetish, the cat’s favorite perch is the coffee pot, so he can see out the back door when I’m dining by the pond, and he and one of my dogs lay in wait for the Roomba to start.  They haven’t figured out yet how to start it on purpose…  I just think it would be so cool to say to any of my animals, “There is dog and cat hair all over the place, please run the Roomba…”

Stay tuned…

All over the place…

I’ve been back from my last conference about a week and a half.  I leave next week for another venue, this time a five day class up at Peters Valley.  This isn’t one of my regular offerings, this one I do as a favor to Peters Valley, since they have a great facility, with all the equipment, looms, some yarn, and since I can drive there, I can bring some of my own stash for students to use.  The class is Designing and Weaving Handwoven Yardage.  I’ve refined this class a lot since I started teaching this there in the mid 1980’s.  Since it isn’t something I do regularly, and I’m always coming up with new ways to teach things, I have more than the regular prep, so I was grateful for some downtime in between.

I’ve actually had fun this last week and a half, moving from one project to another, catching up on things, weeding the vegetable garden, you don’t want to know, doing some minor household repairs, though I still have to change the fridge water filter.  That warning light annoys me every time I open the fridge.  I’ve had the opportunity to do a couple of social things, a luncheon with old friends, a couple theater experiences, all which constitutes a balanced life, which is the thing I strive for most and the thing that alludes me the most.

I’ve taken care of bookkeeping, filing quarterly sales tax returns,  applying to various events, and the regular stuff that businesses are made of.  

More importantly I’ve been able to play.  First up was to clear a loom that had yardage on it, because well, I could use the sample, fresh off the loom, and since I’m going to be teaching a yardage class…  I was thrilled when the knots came up over the back beam.  The cat was watching…

The yardage turned out beautifully, all washed and rolled up.  This is mostly rayons and rayon cotton combinations, an odd assortment of things on my shelf I combined in a repeated pattern.  It is my most favorite way to work.  This was just a combination of plain weave and twill, on eight shafts, one of the things I’ll be discussing in the workshop next week.  I think I’ll call it driftwood…

Meanwhile, I’ve had a number of requests from younger students, who tell me that they only want to make and wear things with hoods.  I’m laughing, not a silhouette I ever considered adding to my vast offerings, but when the 5th or 6th person asked, I thought to myself, self, you could easily add a hood to the tunic pattern.  And I’ve also had enough guys in my classes that offering more of a men’s shirt sleeve in the tunic, essentially a drop shoulder, could easily be an option, so I thought I’d draft both onto my existing fit model.  The current tunic has a set in sleeve, the same one I use in my jacket patterns. 

The newer version ends up looking more like a man’s tunic.  Though I realize the line between gender specific silhouettes is blurring so much it is often indistinguishable, offering two different types of sleeves is not a big deal.  As a matter of fact, the original tunic I made had this sleeve.

I spent a few days drafting and testing the new version of the tunic.  And of course the cat couldn’t have been more helpful.

I made up the sample, in a bed sheet, in a fuller size so my daughter could try it on, because she is of the generation that prefers hoods on stuff, I’m not a good judge.  She loved it.  And she declared that the hood size was perfect.  She likes them big so she can cocoon or nest in them…  Whatever…

The patterns are drafted, notes taken for how to alter the direction sheet, adding probably another half dozen pages to the handout.  I’m still working out a few of the finishing options, I’ll probably make a sample to fit me out of real fabric, but the main part of the work is done and I have it drafted in all sizes.

Of course there is still the button down version with inseam buttonholes…

Meanwhile, as I was hanging out at the cutting table, I was also thinking about the sequence of what I’m teaching next week, because I needed to create an extensive handout, and design slides would be important.  I thought about some of the demos I’d do and that led me to look at my shelf and start designing the next yardage to go on the loom.  You know, since I have a now empty loom and all…

I gathered up things I thought might work in this new yardage, small bits of this and that, handdyed skeins I could demo with.  I found a half dozen spools with the remnants of a handpainted rayon from a challenge project I did back in 2007.  The spools were dusty but very usable.  Time to clear them.  I prewound a circular warp to show the students how to line up variegated yarn for an ombré effect.

My daughter came home the other night with a new basket she had made, as the fiber assistant at Peters Valley this summer, she gets to sit in on all the classes and the one this past weekend was a basket making class.  I immediately claimed it for my own.  Well the cat did first…

Meanwhile, I finally sat down to start weaving on the dishtowel warp I put on last month.  Too many empty looms lying around not doing their job, and so I got a head start on the dish towel run for the year.  The draft is an alternate colorway from a draft from Webs, the Kaleidoscope towels.  Loving this.  I’ll do a few with a black weft and then change to something else.  I usually design my own structures and warps, but once in awhile, it is just a peaceful and gentle choice to buy a draft and weave someone else’s work. Sometimes it is lovely not to have to think so much…

Meanwhile I’m steadily working on a 165 slide program for an early music group I belong to, Montclair Early Music.  This one involves works of Rembrandt and music from the 17th century.  It is a huge project, one I reluctantly agreed to, but now that I’m in the middle of it and most of it is in place, just the timings and the commentary and the captions on the slides to finalize and polish, I remember why I agreed to do it.  I’m really good at this sort of thing.  I like researching stuff, and have plenty of references in my vast library of art books, and I’m learning a ton.  I’m not a huge fan of 17th century Dutch masters, but the geo political situation, fresh off the Spanish Inquisition, is just too interesting.  Imagine no more commissions by the church or the aristocracy, where artists had to rely on common people for commissions and revenue.  Sort of like things are today…  Makes you think…

Meanwhile, the latest of my videos on Threads Insider is available, this one on covering and installing shoulder pads.  It is weird watching yourself on TV so to speak, but I’m really happy with what they’ve done, and what I said, and what I showed, and I can’t wait until they put up the rest.  Threads Insider is a subscription service, if you already get Threads magazine, it is something like $12 additional for the year, but well worth it, the videos are wonderful, short about specific techniques, and there are lots of ideas there which I know have influenced some of my work.  

Stay tuned…

Morocco, land of pattern and light.

I’m starting to get letters.  Everyone wants to know why I’ve been home almost a week from a fabulous 10 day vacation in Morocco and haven’t posted a blog or single photo about my trip.  Well…

  1. I took 1400 photos.  Where to begin…
  2. I had about 50 emails waiting for me including two articles to proof and contracts and all the crap that happens when you run a business and put people off for 10 days.
  3. Half way through processing said 1400 photos my keyboard died.
  4. Replacement keyboard from Amazon turned out to be faulty.  I picked up a replacement for the replacement at Best Buy this morning.
  5. My birthday was Wednesday and my sister surprised me with a glorious two day visit, which I wouldn’t have traded for the world.
  6. I found out that the class I thought I was teaching in Montana next weekend wasn’t the class I thought and I have 52 students and each one needed a 35 page bound handout, which will be followed by a three day jacket class in Idaho.  I spent more than $1200 on ink in the last 48 hours.

So this is why you haven’t heard from me.  Just this morning I spent two hours driving all over creation trying to figure out how to get a box, ground shipping, to Montana before next weekend.  So there is a holiday in there, which screws up everything.  And unless I FEDEXed it three day for more than $120, it wasn’t happening.  So I came home, repacked everything in 4 more priority boxes and they are on their way.  Good old post office…

And so now, the blog post everyone is waiting for…

Traveling outside your knowledge and comfort zone is truly a gift, not everyone has the resources or time to do a trip like this, so I’m super grateful that the opportunity presented itself, through Peters Valley, with a really respected tour facilitator Distant Horizons, and off I went with 17 other people to Morocco for 10 days.  I didn’t know when I booked this that it would be Ramadan, which probably meant much less crowds, especially in tourist heavy areas, but it was inspiring to see the dedication of our guides who fasted from sun up to sun down, not even a drink of water, in 107 degree heat.  An unusual heat wave descended upon Morocco, and bringing only “modest” clothing as instructed, it was pretty freaking hot.  But we stayed hydrated and didn’t miss a single planned event or tour.

I’m not even sure where to begin, except when asked last night at a rehearsal to name the thing that stood out the most, I immediately said, the patterns.  Everywhere you looked, there were patterns.  The stairwells (I think I took probably 100 photos alone of stairwells) the tiled floors and walls, the carved wooden ceilings and carved plaster lintels and door frames.  I was so very inspired.

 

We ate amazing meals, the Moroccan’s loved to show off their cooking and every meal was four course.  Good thing we walked a lot.  I ate lots of creative desserts and had my share of Tagine, the famous ceramic cooking vessel containing the famous Moroccan stew.  Most of the meals were plein air or Al Fresco, we dined outdoors, mostly in the shade as umbrellas provided.  The evenings provided some fantastic Moroccan wines.  They have really good wineries.  And those are chocolate buttons topping that decadent chocolate dessert.

Because we were part of a craft school, we had many tours of craftsmen, traditional crafts, women’s cooperatives, and even some hand’s on experiences.

We visited weavers and rug makers.  We smiled at the woman with orange hands from the dyepots.

One of the last cooperatives we visited took us down a hillside, across the river on a wooden bridge, and back up the other side.

We saw embroiderers, those who did the beautiful stitching and handworked buttons on the traditional dress of Morocco, the djellaba. 

We saw potters.

We saw tile makers and had a great hands on experience.  I assumed that the exquisite tiles we were looking at were inlaid like mosaic, but in fact, craftsmen sat all day long with very sharp chisels, knocking the sides off the little tiles to create a pyramid shape on the back so the tiles could be laid in upside down.  We all got to make a little tile with plaster on the back so it would set quickly.

We visited a tannery, walls and walls of leather goods.  We smiled as our guide told us that they used natural dyes for the leather goods.  Poppies for red, saffron for yellow.  Yeah, no…  

We had a fantastic lecture in Islamic Geometry, build off the Golden mean Sacred Geometry, with nothing but a compass and a ruler.  I seriously wanted to go back to 9th grade geometry and pay better attention.   Our instructor Hamza El Fasiki, a professor, who founded Craft Draft, and will actually be teaching a week in August at the craft school Haystack  in Maine, assuming his Visa comes through because, well that’s a complicated thing in this current political climate.  He is a brass worker but the geometry of the 12 point motif was found in every craft we saw.

We visited some gorgeous gardens, the verdant valleys and Mediterranean growing conditions made for some beautiful spaces and wonderful fresh foods.  The cactus was blooming and the fig trees heavy with fruit.  There were fields of poppies and olive trees, wheat and barley. 

We visited the Marjorelle, a garden restored by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé.  And we toured the Yves Saint Laurent museum (No pictures allowed).  We also visited Anima, a sculpture garden designed by André Heller.  

We saw some remarkable historic sites, including Volubilis, the ruins of a Roman City, 2000 years old, with an aqueduct and sewer system modern for its time, and 2000 year old mosaics from real colored stone, like Onyx and Cobalt.  No wonder they lasted.  

We wandered the medinas of Fes and Marrakech.  A medina is a walled city, where place of worship, schools, shops, places of business, and homes were all safely contained.  The medina in Fes was the largest in the world, 9,000 streets and alleyways creating a labyrinth that you would never find your way out of without a guide, or a GPS app on your phone.  We went with a guide.  There were craftsmen, food vendors, stalls of everything imaginable, along with mosques and homes.  Wandering the alleyways and streets while thinking that all this was built in 800 AD, and that the lifestyle hadn’t changed much since then was beyond anything I could comprehend.  There were no cars of course, streets weren’t wide enough, but freight was transported by donkey or motorbike.  Or a strong back.

  

Our hotels were 5 star and very accommodating, all had outdoor dining and a central tiled courtyard.  The courtyard was a central architectural style of the Riad, an upper middle class home. 

And the approach to our last hotel, the Bab Ourika, high in the Atlas Mountains was quite the trip, narrow roads around hills and mountains with no guard rails, the final approach one car lane wide, with only a couple spindly trees keeping us from slipping off the mountain.

We also had many lectures and discussions on the geography and political history of Morocco.  I was blown away to discover that the Appalachian mountains that run north south through Pennsylvania close to me, were connected to the Atlas Mountain range where we ended our trip.  Back when the continents were connected, Africa to the United States, the two mountain ranges were side by side.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around that.  About every hundred years or so some warring tribe or faction came in and there was a dynasty change, a common occurrence in that region.  There is a lot of respect for the current king who holds them all together, and keeps all the different tribes and factions working together in peace.  We talked a lot about the tradition of crafts in Fes, and that there is a decline in skilled craftsmen because of a 1997 UNICEF convention on child rights.  Overnight all the apprentices were removed from their places of work and sent to school.  Now craftsmen don’t start their training until their late teens.  Many of the skilled craftsmen are dying out with no one to replace them.  It is a complex situation.

And the sheep were everywhere…  And goats and camels…

I’ve come home rested, inspired, eager to paint, draw, explore, and of course, I hit the ground running and life smacked me between the eyes as soon as I touched the ground at JFK.  I am reevaluating my life of course, and reassessing what I want from it.  It is something we all do as we near retirement age.  Except artists don’t retire, they just shift their focus to other areas and explore new venues.  So I’m finishing up prep for my next trip, and the conference that follows two weeks later.  Both articles have been proofed and contracts signed.  I’m almost finished knitting a summer top, I’m hoping to tie in the ends tonight.  I’ll take a picture…

Stay tuned…