And now for something completely different…

I can’t seem to stop tatting these little leaves!!  And I don’t even like tatting.  I’ve known how to tat for nearly 20 years and did it a lot in graduate school, but since I learned to spin and weave, I’m usually not drawn to it.  Lately, however, my Guild has been just crawling with tatters and they keep proselytizing others.  I hate to believe I’m giving in to peer pressure…just want to hang with the cool kids!…but here I am!  My husband keeps walking by saying, “but I thought you hated tatting.”  And I say, “I DO!” and then I make another leaf.

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I’d rather think this obsession is a result of the excruciating 95 degree weather…EVERY DAY…in SEPTEMBER!! These little leaves are my plea for Fall to please fall soon.  My fingers finding something completely different to do is an attempt to get the weather to now do something completely different…

(even made a little acorn, although that is not as fun since despite the weather, my deck is still constantly full of acorns, if I have to fight acorns I should be able to do it without heat stroke:)

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Two Hands

I just finished weaving a bunch of sweet dishtowels.  They need hems and a good wash/dry before they are ready for their close-up but I’ll post them soon.  It’s nice to be back at the big loom again.

As I woven off the last towel, I was listening to the album Two Hands by Leon Fleisher, one of my favorites.  In 2016, I actually had the privilege to see him in concert (he played “Sheep May Safely Graze” and I thought I’d explode from happiness).  I’ve been an admirer since my husband was a student at the Peabody where Fleisher taught for many years.  If you don’t know the story, Fleisher was a child prodigy, playing with the New York Phil at only age 16.  He was called “the pianistic find of the century”.  Then at age 36, he suddenly and mysteriously lost the use of his right hand.  For the next 40 years, he played the repertoire for left-hand only while searching for an explanation and a treatment.  In 2004, some new experimental injections lead to regaining the use of his hand and he released the album.

I was immediately taken with it because at the time, my husband was still striving through graduate school and his doctorate.  There were times when I really didn’t think we’d make it and when I didn’t know what the other side would even look like if we did make it.  Fleisher’s album was so beautiful and so hopeful that I would turn to it for reassurance that one could persevere.

But let me be clear what the album means to me.  It isn’t about hanging in there until you finally get what you want, it’s about hanging in there even when you don’t think you’ll ever get it.  It’s continuing on even with loss.  We live in a world of loss and getting older is defined by it.  When the album was released and everyone was so amazed that he could play with both hands again, I just remember thinking, “it is wonderful, but it’s not like he hasn’t always been a pianist.”  In a way, it hadn’t really changed anything about how I saw him.  The profound part of the story to me isn’t the album with two hands, it’s the 40 years with one; it’s that he continued to do what he loved even if he didn’t actually “fit” the definition of that activity.  It didn’t stop him from being what he wanted to be.

I use two hands to weave and like piano it might seem like a necessity.  But as I wove and listened to Fleisher play, I knew it wasn’t my hands that make me a weaver and if tomorrow I were to loose the use of them, I’d still be a weaver.  My love of doing fiber and the friends and community it has created in my life wouldn’t go away.  Some day, even without some traumatic event, I won’t be able to weave any more.  I’ve noticed my hands starting to look old and feeling achey way more often than I want to admit.  Beethoven wrote music long after he could hear it, Fleisher played piano for years with only one hand, and I will dream color and texture and pattern long after my hands won’t be able to do it.  I will still be a weaver.

5 out of 5 Points

I did a pop-up Market in the 5 Points neighborhood this afternoon and loved every minute of it, from the awkwardly interesting location inside the UPS Store to the sweet folks who stopped by to say hello!  The organization who put the event together had all the artists/makers inside local shops and restaurants.  It was a fun idea although I hadn’t expected my booth would end up next to packing supplies and copiers!!  Can I get a Jim and Nick’s embed people? Can you say cheese biscuits for jeekeehoo?!!

Despite the distinct lack of snacks, it was still a really fun experience and I’m excited to do the Market again on Sept. 15th!  Come on out…no one can stop you from getting biscuits…and bracelets!IMG_8641.JPG

grommets

I have nothing to show at the moment. Nothing. to. show! One of the reasons I love handcrafts so much is that it actually creates something you can show. A real, tangible result you can hold in your hand, wrap around your body, snuggle with on a cold night.  All that seems very far away on these record-breaking hot summer days.  Everything basically grinds to a halt this time of the year because I serve on a committee that organizes a July 4th Celebration in my little home town and there is much work to be done. But as I’ve been doing my jobs this year, I realized that there is an amazing connection; both my fiber work and the work of putting on this celebration are “hand-made”. The marks left behind by the hands that have come before me are incredibly precious.  The instructions they’ve written, the decorations they created are all the markers, the material culture, of the folks who created these jobs and who did them for years and years as part of the generous, patriotic, community spirit that drives this little town.

This celebration has been going on for over forty years and many of the original committee members are no longer with us. Many jobs that were once done by others have fallen to me.  One of the recent tasks I’ve started doing is placing bunting on the outside of our 1930’s era Town Hall.  It’s made of local stone, sits on the side of a hill and hanging bunting on it is more of daunting task than you might believe.  The system that was devised to make the work possible is something I marvel at every year. There are wooden frames that attach to the build by fixed bolts; the bunting attaches to the frames with little screw eyes through the grommets in the bunting.  Each frame is labeled and each piece of bunting is too, so that the right bunting goes with the right frame.  I never thought it made much difference if I matched them up, but this year I noticed that one of the frames had an extra little washer on one of the little screw eyes.  I almost took it off but thought, the people that came before me weren’t the kind to have an extra washer if it wasn’t needed.  And sure enough, when I got to the bunting that went with that frame, the grommet was gone.  Without that washer, the little screw eye would be useless and the bunting wouldn’t have stayed on.

 

IMG_8237.JPGI know it’s silly, but I was so moved by that little washer!  I loved seeing the handwriting of whoever had labeled that frame and that bunting as both belonging to the “up creek, back town hall” (only in a town this size could you indicate which side of the building by referencing the little creek that runs through town:) because without those labels, it wouldn’t have worked. On an incredibly hot day, when extra work was the last thing I needed, I was so appreciative of their amazing system.  Everything they did was always so precise.  That little washer was a tangible mark of the folks who came before, their whole story and the legacy of what they have left for me and this town.  It isn’t even something that will show.  Their legacy is in the small, unseen details that make everything work.  I’m thankful to them that they cared about me and this town – that they wanted to celebrate the ideals that this country tries (and often fails) to live up to – that despite challenges and obstacles and imperfections, they kept going forward.  Some of these folks are still in town but aren’t doing well, some I see and hug on a regular basis, and some have passed away; I could list all their names here to honor them but I think, for me, that perfectly placed little washer in the absence of a missing grommet says it all.

design and disruption

Summer is lovely and beautiful and we are extremely blessed to spend it in the old farm house surrounded by the people we love.  Every morning I light the stove (luckily that means just light the gas burner with a match and not actually build up the wood fire from the day before!) and make my morning tea.  This is my morning view.

IMG_8183.JPG You can’t quite see it but out of that flower box clad window is a cellar house and on it is a little bird house where a tiny wren builds a nest every summer. As I make my morning tea, it is usually perched on top of the box singing its happy, sweet, “this is my place” song (and sometimes, more forcefully, fighting off starlings twice its size that somehow think they could get through the tiny little hole to the nest!).  The little wren’s joy (and ferocity) really resonate with me.  We’ve come here every summer for four years now and it is a disruption, a happy disruption, but a disruption.  It comes at a cost of leaving our house and sweet friends to be here; it takes some work on our part to fulfill our responsibilities from here (and on my aunt and uncle’s part who do so much work to give us a home in the farm house each year); I guess it asks a little ferocity of will.  But most mornings I just want to join the little wren and sing from the rooftops my joy at being so blessed to be here.  We do it freely by design and the benefits and rewards far outweigh the disruption.

It all got me thinking about design and disruption. We make plans in our life, think things will work a certain way by our design and then find that the disruptions that occur are potentially more joyful than our plans. I had never anticipated living a life split between two states, but it happened. Design and disruption happen in so many ways in my life, especially my fiber life. How many times have I planned something only to have the plan go wrong and realize that the disruption was actually something better than my design.  Or that by setting out to do a particular task, I’ve disrupted other things that also needed done or were also good but that now have to be put on hold.

Recently, I finished two coverlets for my cousin.  I freely planned to do them and the whole experience has been nothing but wonderful, absolutely wonderful.  It also took me far longer than I had planned and disrupted some other plans for weaving I wanted to do before I left my big looms for the summer.  Oh well! Design and Disruption!! I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Here they are!  I finally found the time amid the disruptions to post a picture of them here.  I can’t wait to give them to her.  And I get to spend the summer dreaming of all the fabric I’ll weave when I return to the big looms in August.  (In the meantime, I’m designing and weaving on the most portable of looms – ME!  As we all know, I’m in love with back-strap weaving.  Again, there have been many disruptions to getting any of that done, but at least I can do it here with no other loom.)

Back strap weaving in the rocker on the porch with the barn and pet horse in the view…pretty hick.

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AND, I’m spinning like crazy.  I realized when I began to write this post that while I had designed this to be a blog of my spinning and weaving, I’ve never posted anything about spinning!  Weaving is such a disruption!!

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Or maybe, flyer photos just aren’t all that interesting.  Oh, look, a flyer with yarn on it.  woop.

I am actually knitting a project out of some handspun yarn I just finished last week and it is very pretty and much more photogenic, but every time I go to take a picture, I get interrupted by something…maybe when the 38 year old pet horse isn’t asking for his afternoon cookie or my daughter isn’t catching fireflies or my family isn’t getting out the guitars and banjos to play music together…maybe when all these “disruptions” stop I can get a picture…or not:)

Go big AND go home.

I’ve been weaving another large coverlet project.

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Weaving on that big scale was something I hadn’t done in months and months.  I was afraid that going back to big weaving after all the tiny little bands (have I mentioned the tiny little bands….

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(I might be quite obsessed)…anyway, I worried it would feel strange after so long away but when I sat down and threw that first long shot across the race, I actually felt my whole body relax.  It was like coming home.  They say you have to go big or go home but not this time.  And I’m going home in another way too.  A week from now, I will be reveling in my yearly pilgrimage to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.  This will be my 18th consecutive year at the Festival and while there have been small changes over the years and while it’s certainly grown, the essence of the Festival is exactly the same.  Slipping inside the Fairgrounds is as familiar and comfortable as sliding into a favorite chair.  I will see incredibly special friends AND baby sheep!  Nothing could be better.

I recently wrote a little letter as the President of my Guild that was about spring and sheep and growth and since it seems appropriate here too, I thought I’d share:

Spring has sprung and sheep are in the air…ok, that’s ridiculous, I know. Anyone else have an image of flying sheep from Monty Python in their head now? Still, I really mean it. It’s not the lovely aroma of flowers (or the curtain of sickly yellow pollen) that fills the air for me in spring, it’s the lovely sound of little lambs voicing their surprise at suddenly finding themselves in this amazingly vibrant green world. I love baby sheep and the whole beautiful new birth and growth that spring brings.

I just finished a book that explored the impossible path that a seed takes to becoming a tree (trust me it was way more interesting than it sounds) and, especially in this season, I’m amazed at how resilient plants are at spreading and growing when there is so much working against them. That was really the theme of the book because the author, as a female scientist, has had a lot working against her career as well, but she can still write with such joy about her growth and even her love of teaching others. She says, “Researchers generally love their calling to excess and delight in nothing better than teaching others to love it also; as with all creatures driven by love, we can’t help but breed.”

We may not face the obstacles that little lambs or tiny seedlings face as they try to grow and thrive in this world, but as fiber folks who also love our “calling to excess”, we certainly relate to the idea of “breeding” — wanting knowledge and joy of the craft to spread and thrive.

The right way…

I teach handcrafts fairly often and I suppose the question I get asked the most is “Am I doing this right?”  Implicit in that statement is that there is a “right” way.  Is that true?  This could become a huge existential discussion real fast:) but I’m interested in the more modest arena of handcrafts specifically.

I’ve been working with tiny backstrap weaving this week, a type of weaving that is controlled mostly by using your body as the “loom” that tensions the threads you are working with.  I had the most fantastic teacher (go find everything you can on Laverne Waddington, you want to) who has travelled the world learning and passing on what she’s learned about this ancient style of weaving.  And do you know what she never said once in the whole time I was with her, “this is the right way to do it”.

Love this.  I try to avoid similar language when I teach.  My answer to questions about how a student should do a specific task is usually “it depends…” on so many things – the weaver themselves, what they want to accomplish, how they would like the final weaving to look!  I’ve taken great liberties with the backstrap weaving this week, starting with never once using a backstrap!!  I’ve tied the weaving onto amazingly varied parts of my body and contraptions in my house to get the tension.  In trying to find what I like and what I want, I’ve rivaled the greatest contortionists of history.  I love crafts, especially very intimate, person crafts like weaving because they leave room for exploration, expression and invention.

However, I’ve found, once again, that it would be nice to just have a backstrap!

Meaning, while there isn’t a “right” way, possibly there is an expedient way?  One of the amazing joys of the handcrafts being a folk tradition that is passed down informally from generation to generation is that so many people before me have learned that using my toe instead of trying to tie it to my knee is going to make me happy, that it’s called backstrap for a reason and that no, the cat is not a good anchor point even if my daughter does call him “Cat of Knowledge”.  Not that my toe is the only place to tie it and not that trying it another way is wrong or couldn’t work, but in learning and practicing it the way they have is honoring the inherent knowledge that has been hard won over the centuries.  That isn’t confining or repressing, that is beautiful and lovely, connecting me to a past that deserves respect. Laverne knows that and passed it on to us wonderfully.

So, while I will continue to answer my student’s question “am I doing this right?” with the question “I don’t know, how does it feel to you?”, I will also still humbly offer them the wisdom of tying it to their toe.

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