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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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yowza

The whole month of March?!  Really? Seriously? It’s just gone?…whoa.

So, I’m learning a new weaving style called “back strap”, (the loom is literally a strap you put around your back, of course, hence the name!).  I’ll admit I took the class to be social (peer pressure! if all your weaving friends were jumping off a cliff…?).  I didn’t think I really wanted a new way to weave; I love the weaving I do so incredibly much. However, I thought it would be an interesting intellectual exercise (which it was), I’d learn something about how another culture has traditionally done weaving (which I did) and then I’d move on (which I have NOT).  HA! So much for that theory.  I have found that I really like it just for itself and can actually see myself doing it in the future.  How fun!

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(Don’t look too close, it’s pretty wonky and I was taking the picture myself so everything except the band is actually in focus!)

I promise, though, tomorrow there will be huge coverlet weaving.  So, be warned, totally adorable cute little band.  No matter how much you taunt me from the other side of my fiber studio, I will not succumb to your sweet seductiveness, you wonderfully compact, instantly gratifying tiny weaving process.  I want to manhandle a 56 inch, 8 harness loom…

of warping and platitudes

“Life is a journey not a destination.”  “Enjoy the journey.”  “Stop and smell the roses.”

Platitudes.  I’m not very good at them.  Granted, not as bad as a dear friend’s mom is at idioms which she mixes in the most delightful ways (“you made your bed, now eat it” AND “you buttered your bread, now lie in it”:).  I’m mostly not good at them because, while by definition they are supposed to be concise and witty statements of truth, they, also by definition, are pretty low on the complexity scale.  So, when I use them, I tend to, unhelpfully I admit, follow them up with a paragraph of words trying to get at what I think I’m really trying to say, eventually so bogged down that I’m not clarifying anything at all. I suppose I just need to learn to get on with it, which is rather the idea of this post.  What does it mean to “get on” with it? What is the journey?

For the last two weeks, I’ve done NO weaving. none. zilch. My crafting life was totally and completely taken over by the Winter Olympics and a follow-a-long event with my Guild.  We all picked projects to complete during the weeks of the games, trying new challenges or facing old defeats!  I could have chosen a weaving event, but decided to knit a sweater and try steeking (google that, it’s cool) for the first time because that was more portable, increasing my chances of success.

It was great fun; however, in the back of my mind, the whole time, I kept thinking, “but what about that next weaving project I’m supposed to be doing?”  Platitudes like the ones above came to my mind.  I wanted to enjoy the Olympics instead of thinking, “if I can just get this project done, then I can get to the next one”.  It’s the same advice I used to give myself back when I hated warping the loom (getting it ready for weaving).  Usually, warping a loom takes FAR longer than actually weaving the project.  I had even naively said that I would never weave because setting up the loom looked like such devious torture invented by fiber masochists.

So, I would try to enjoy the journey.  I would tell myself all the right things.  Look at that massive, beautiful warp just waiting there, so full of potential and possibilities, imagine what it will turn into once you weave it.  Think about the fantastic final cloth.  Warps are the very epitome of newness and transformation and metamorphosis – enjoy it!  And I was successful in these thoughts?…

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…uh, nope.  Still just looked like work to me!  So instead of thinking about the warp as a journey I tried to think of it as the destination.  Trying to enjoy the journey is still thinking of it as a “going to”. I don’t think I would have ever learned to enjoy warping if I’d only thought of it as something that got me somewhere else. Even when you know that the getting “there” can be completely enjoyable, it still isn’t “there”.  Enjoyment finally came when I realized I would warp a loom even if I was never going to weave that warp at all.

I suppose, ultimately, that’s what people really mean when they say, “enjoy the journey.”  I’ve once again spent many paragraphs bogging it down.  Time to get on with it.  Let’s go warp that loom.