Stonier, Nuttier, Cloth-ier

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I was comfort watching old episodes of Nigella Lawson’s Christmas Cooking Specials thinking that I might be inspired to get into my old holiday baking, wrapping, decorating frenzy (. . . or maybe just watch Nigella do it and weave instead . . .) and she said something that caught my ear. She said that according to the Russian formalists, the purpose of art was to make “stone stonier”, and she was (amusingly) applying that principle to toasting nuts, i.e. the purpose of toasting nuts is “to make nuts nuttier”. I found the passage she was referring to:

If we start to examine the general laws of perception, we see that as perception becomes habitual, it becomes automatic. Thus, for example, all of our habits retreat into the area of the unconscious automatic…[Art] exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make an object “unfamiliar,” to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important. Viktor Shlovsky

and of course my mind went immediately to cloth and weaving.  I have always loved and been inspired by cloth in general, but I marvel at handwoven cloth (and even more so hand-spun/handwoven cloth) and have wondered why it has such a different impact on me.  This quote helps me get closer to an answer. To me, handwoven cloth is cloth-ier than it’s commercial/industrial counterparts.  The best handwoven cloth has an organic quality that subtly reveals the hidden process of it’s creation.

I was trying to think of other material items that are also made “more so” by being non-industrial/machine made.  Have you ever seen clapboarding on very old houses?  It isn’t quite uniform, there are very subtle undulations in the lines of the boards that immediately bring the woody origins of the clapboarding to the fore. I see clay and process in my handmade ceramic mugs every day, and the hand cuts on the beams in my old, old barn, not only draw me into their origins as trees, but to the hands that shaped then over a hundred and fifty years ago. Napkins off the loom Cottolin and Slub Cotton Towels Ice Flower Tuna Blanket finally off the Toika Fiona finding her joy Ugly Napkins . . . fail! Cool scientific add-a-weight for improvised templeRigid-heddle Tote

Do you know the art class exercise, where they make you draw a chair? You are asked to draw a chair that has been placed before you.  You draw.  Then you are asked to turn the chair upside down and draw it.  It is kind of a parlor trick because inevitably the drawing of the upside-down chair is much better.  The reason for this is because if you’re asked to draw a chair, your “chair assumptions” take over, i.e. “I know what a chair looks like” and you stop observing.  If trying to draw an upside-down chair, you actually have to look and draw because most of us don’t have a firm image of an upside-down chair in our minds. I think hand-woven cloth may have a similar effect.  There is a quality about the best of it that doesn’t quite fit our assumptions about “cloth”.  It is mysterious. This goes double for cloth that is handspun and handwoven. And maybe this is why hand-woven plain weave cloth is often magical to me.  Because I don’t go into structure analysis mode, instead, I simply marvel at the clothy-ness of it.

Cloth Conversations

I recently participated in the Working Weavers Studio Trail.  I was surprised and pleased that we had a very busy weekend with a non-stop stream of visitors.  The majority, I believe were fellow weavers.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to set up a display of my work and “talk shop” with weavers from near and far.  One conversation I had, however,  was a little disconcerting. I quickly forgot, having to prep for a class I was scheduled to teach in Canada (side note: fabulous, fabulous Huronia Weavers Guild!).  The conversation came back when I returned from Canada, and had a conversation with another local weavers who repeated the disconcerting sentiment, having apparently spoken to the first weaver about me.  So, the theme of the message was that, “I wasn’t a towel weaver.”  I was too confused the first time to respond, but after it was repeated to me, I wanted to try to understand what was meant. My response upon hearing it a second time was, “What do you mean? I’m a weaver.” I don’t only weave towels, but I do weave towels, and the whole thing brought up an idea that irks me when I encounter it in my weaving community. That is the impulse to restrict and narrow weaving and to try to impose “a way” when one of the most wonderful aspects of weaving is that there are myriad “ways” in which to be a weaver. My impulse, and I believe our duty as modern hand weavers is to open and broaden the “conversation”, not try to restrict and narrow it in any way.

This brought up something my son said a few years ago while he was in art school.  He said that while an artist/craftsperson must have a strong internal vision/aesthetic, you must also recognize that you are part of a conversation. The conversation is multi-faceted. You are in “conversation” with your materials, your tools, your peers, your predecessors and the swirl of  image, color, style that inspire and influence you daily.  And just like regular conversation you have to listen, absorb and then speak your mind.  Your experience and knowledge makes you a more interesting conversationalist, and having an open and inquiring mind keeps the conversation lively.

This idea reverberated in my mind when I was told that I wasn’t a “towel weaver”. I think I am simply “a weaver”. I weave to explore structure and technique, I weave because an irresistible yarn talks to me, I weave because making and using handwoven items gives me great pleasure, and I weave because I can’t imagine not weaving.  And I believe that whether you weave tapestry, rugs, scarves, blankets, yardage or simply weave to weave you are a weaver.  If you choose to self identify as a  “rug weaver”, “tapestry weaver”, “production weaver” or “towel weaver”  . . .  absolutely your choice. Open up the conversation folks – don’t impose artificial boundaries on a craft that spans continents, millennia and pretty much every culture. And finally and more importantly, don’t let yourself be boxed in – you are the one putting weft to warp in any style you choose.  The two criteria for weaving cloth as far as I’m concerned is that it hold together (if you want it to) and that it be beautiful (if you want it to be) – everything else is up for grabs.

I wrote the above just before taking a class with Suzi Ballenger on “Loom Hacks”, specifically using the rail reed/open-top reed/fan reed and shaped beater to modify your loom. The class was illuminating in many ways that coincided with my blog post, and Suzi’s attitude was inspiring.  She not only defies “the grid”, she seems to see any imposition of boundaries in weaving as a personal challenge.  I have been a long time fan of defying the grid structurally, but it was eye-opening to see all the ways weavers have conspired to override the restrictions of the loom beyond structure. Suzi made the point that many of these “innovations” aren’t really new. Weavers have always been problem solvers, and solving the problem of the limitations of the loom or grid has been part of weaving forever, whether it be pick-up, hand manipulation, space-age polymers, or loom hacks.

 

 

So the title of this post may be Cloth Conversations, but it could well be Breaking Boundaries, Cracking Categories, or Defying Definitions. In any case, the message to myself and anyone interested is that the limitations in weaving are often self imposed, and trying to break out of the limits/constraints of one’s own imagination is hard enough without having limitations/boundaries/categories imposed on you from outside.

Treadle to the Metal

Apologia

Hello fellow weavers. Needless to say I have been a negligent blogger.  I used to tell my kids that apologizing for doing something without the intention of changing one’s behavior is not really an apology. So starting every belated blog post with an apology seems somehow creepy.  I have a choice: stop being a negligent blogger or stop apologizing  . . . but it makes me realize what may have been going on with my kids . . . meaning I intend to be a responsible blogger every time I apologize, but then find myself caught up in the whirlwind, and 3 months pass.  So, I intend to be a better blogger, I apologize, and I sort of recognize that the next post could be in a couple weeks or maybe a couple of months.  I hope you bear with me . . .

I have been doing some weaverly stuff. I was hugely privileged to teach at CNCH (Conference of Northern Californian Handweavers).  The setting was Asilomar, the scenery was awe-inspiring, and the weavers were talented, enthusiastic, smart and funny. A true joy. I had Lillian Whipple in my class, and I can’t describe the weird mix of excitement and terror there is in sending a warp and weaving instructions to one of your weaving idols.  Lillian turned out to be absolutely wonderful, humble, charming and lovely in every way (now even higher up on my idol roster).

After CNCH, I had to dash home to prepare for upcoming classes at Vavstuga, JC Campbell and Triangle Weavers in Chapel Hill.  But I did have time for a quick jaunt to NYC to see my best friend’s daughter KILL it as Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, and my son’s partner’s paintings in the Whitney Biennial.

Kaileela Hobby before her performance modeling one of my cowls.Two paintings by Julien Nguyen at the Whitney Biennial

I then joined Becky at Vavstuga for our super-fun Kitchens class.  The new design of the class allows all the participants to choose colors for the warps they want to weave.  They then weave at a variety of widths to produce apron fabric, towels, runners, placemats, etc.  The products are gorgeous and the participants are gorgeous too!!After Kitchens, I got ready for a trip south to teach at the Triangle Weavers Guild. We wove in what I called the “weaving cathedral”. Oddly, when I posted this pic on Instagram my mom commented, “it looks like a weaving cathedral!”  I guess it’s an apple/tree situation.And I got to stay in the area for a few days thanks to a lovely weaver Alecia Willis who opened her home (filled with looms and fiber, so I was really at home) to me for a couple of days before I headed to Brasstown and John C Campbell.

My weaving buddy Mary Lou Splain joined me in Raleigh and we drove into the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to arrive in Brasstown for a week at John C Campbell. I have written about the Folk School before, but this visit confirmed my previous perceptions – it is a magical place, – the vibe is relaxed, supportive and creative, the weaving studio is absolutely fabulous and the weavers are a wonderful blend of hard-working, creative, good-humored and companionable.  A really good experience all around.

An amazing fungus that looks ready for S’mores near the folk school.When I got home I taught a couple of days at the Fiber Frolic at Vavstuga. A week-long festival of creative fun for kids who learn to spin, weave, sew, dye.  An amazing experience with a group of wonderful kids and fellow fiber enthusiasts.When I got back home I had a deadline for a Handwoven project for the upcoming issue on Eco-yarns. I got the privilege of using Eco-wool from Cascade for a double-width blanket. So much fun to design and weave – highly recommended!

A few moments to enjoy summer in New England . . . And work on a present for my niece’s wedding – yummmmy – cashmere

I used the leftovers to mess around with some doubleweave ideasThe day after my niece’s wedding I flew off to Texas to help my mom. My dad’s health had taken a turn, and we wanted to take a short family trip to Marfa TX – a place that held very fond memories for my dad. Both because of the desert scenery and the Judd art oasis. We stayed in vintage trailers at El Cosmico, and saw some amazing desert wildlife. My wonderful weaving buddy Karen who lives in Marfa met us there and was our true angel. Karen and her partner Paul brought us a fabulous dinner including gin and tonics  featuring her homemade tonic!! Weavers are magical people❣️

Once we returned to my parent’s house we made a heart-breaking discovery in their garage. A tiny kitten we named Hubcap who was dehydrated and starving.  We fed her and she immediately plumped up and was a complete balm on our sad souls. We kept her for several days while putting the word out in the neighborhood. After several days two neighbor kids came by to claim her.  💔 💔

After we relinquished Hubcap we mourned for a week or so, but then found a little darling at the San Antonio rescue center. We were at a loss for names, and I sent a text to the family for ideas. My amazing little cousin (aged-4) immediately piped up with “Rycroft” – we have no idea how she came up with it, but it immediately stuck and little Rycroft went on to win our heart thoroughly.  Back to weaving ( I could fill this whole blog with cute kitten pix, but will restrain myself) On the eco-weaving front, I put a warp of rep placemats on the loom in American Maid  color-grown cotton.  Slow weaving, but serene and therapeutic. I got the mop cotton in Tennessee for $16 . . . lifetime supply!

Throw back to I don’t know when – hemp/linen towels and napkins for my other niece’s new apartment.  I love the rustic look of this combo . . . more to come (I hope!)

And I am finally back home and back to my looms for a couple of months with a couple of exciting events coming in the fall.  One is the Working Weavers Studio Trail.  A group of local weavers have come together to create a studio tour on October 14 & 15 2017. Please visit!And some fun stuff in the works: A large delivery of color-grown cotton from Eco-butterfly arrived . . . oooh I haven’t decided what my first project will be . . . but I am so excited to start winding warps. Ideas welcome . . . it’s 10/2 btw.

Another cashmere blanket rarin’ to go on the toika . . . A long warp of linen, eco-cotton napkins on the rigid heddle . . .

If there is some cohesive element to this post – I can’t find it except that life is complicated – filled with joy and sadness, and throughout all of it I find that my looms, weaving and weaving friends make the joy more joyful and the sadness less overwhelming. Treadle to the metal.

“I Have a Beaver Problem . . .”

“I Have a Beaver Problem . . .”

This was the statement that my husband made to the very suspicious dispatcher at our local animal control center as I was unhelpfully and immaturely giggling helplessly in the background. But we did!  We have a very old 3 story barn that is built into the side of our road.  There is an odd sub-basement in part of the barn that we think was used as a kind of manure catchment area. It is composed of 5 foot-high concrete walls, and the odd part is that there isn’t an opening which one would think necessary to get the manure out. Anyway, it is an “attractive nuisance” for local wildlife because little critters find their way in, but then can’t get out.  We discovered this years ago (by following our noses) when we found several desperate skunks trapped. We created a ramp for them to get out and haven’t had a problem since . . . until two day ago.  Fiona was losing her mind, and dragged my husband back to the aptly dubbed (by my son) “skunk dungeon”, where he found two frightened and desperate beavers.  They are BIG, and couldn’t or wouldn’t use the skunk ramp to escape.  Hence my husband’s call to animal control.  After a day spent lowering buckets of water and tender birch limbs to the forlorn pair, a team of heroic animal control officers came to the rescue.  Getting two angry, 50lb beavers out of a concrete enclosure with no door wasn’t for the weak of heart. One of the officers started by using one of those dog-catching “catch poles” with noose-like loop on one end to catch the female beaver, but she yanked it right out of his grasp forcing him to climb into the dungeon. Yikes!! Anyway, after quite a bit of wrangling the two were freed and the male dashed right back into the marsh at high speed. The female was strangely hesitant to follow, so we searched high and low for beaver babies and found none – maybe she thought the dungeon was a potentially safe home, especially with food delivery . . .

In weaving news, I just finished teaching a beginning weaving class at WEBS.  What a wonderful crew of new weavers.  It is so much fun to be a part of someone’s first steps into the wonderful world of hand weaving. Even after all these years, I feel such enthusiasm for the whole endeavor, and am elated when I meet new recruits.  Of course my dark side emerges, and I find the creepy ditty from the oh-so-horribly-retrograde 1930’s horror movie Freaks that I saw in the 70’s playing in the back of my mind, “we accept you one of us, one of us, one of us . . . .”

This was a sample scarf I made as a demo for our final project – a 4-shaft twill scarf using alpaca-silk.  I played with using multiple rows of Philippine edging instead of fringe.  I like the knitted look.

And I used some mill-end slubby, singles from WEBS in a warping demo for a friend from TX.  I just used an old favorite draft for the demo, but the singles added some pep that I like. They also made the 10″ wide (in reed) scarf 5″ wide when washed.  Serious springiness!

And on Easter Sunday, with no small children or grandchildren, sigh!  (do you hear that sigh kids?), I gave myself my own version of a spa-day, stayed in my PJs and wove some napkins on my rigid heddle until dinner time when we had a lovely Easter dinner (I did change out of my PJs for dinner – just so you know).

I’ve been experimenting with a few more of the “cowl herd” – different size yarns and block arrangements.

And in an epic fail, I tried one in a finer Malabrigo, 4 yards , un-skeined, wound, threaded,sleyed, wove, washed, and washed, and washed, in hotter and hotter water with more and more soap, then put it in the washer, then put it in the dryer . . . and only then did I look at the label. You guessed it- superwash. DOH!!!!!!

And I put Fiona on a pedestal

Ans spied some fungi

My fungi hunting got me into hot water (or cold water) because while trying to take a picture of a particularly interesting specimen on a fallen branch that was precariously poised over a vernal pool, I dropped my phone into the pool!  I had to jump into the deceptively-deep pool to retrieve it, filling my boots with very cold water, and sending me squelching dejectedly home without any audio to keep me company. I have to hand it to Apple though because even though my speaker didn’t work, my phone still did, and after a day of healing it completely recovered! I scanned my camera hoping for an accidental underwater shot – no luck . . . too much to ask?

And on to plain weave. I love it, I have always loved it, and though I can’t keep complex interlacements from creeping into my fevered brain, I am a plain weave woman at heart.

Here is a series of hemp and linen towels that I just finished hemming.

And I have another series just off the loom, ready to be cut apart and pressed.  I planned for 6, wasted a little warp with a tie-up error mid-warp, and finished the 6th towel by the skin of my teeth.

Happy weaving, happy spring, and if you aren’t already, we will make you one of us . . . .

And I had to edit this post to add this gem I just saw on FB.  Listed as Princess with Weaving Wheel. The FB poster Heather Hutchinson added, “maybe I’m doing it wrong . . .” and made me spew my coffee.

The Foxy Weaver

I had a lot of time to think on my drive to and from Memphis recently (over 40 hours on the road by myself – I knew I had gone a little loopy when I heard this sentence from my audiobook, “she felt as frail as a week-old baby” as “she felt as frail as a weak, old baby” and couldn’t stop giggling for half a state), and one of the things that was rolling around in my untethered mind was how weavers are so camouflaged. I have been teaching quite a bit around the country, and one of the things I have noticed as I have traveled from Winter to Spring, from mountains to plains, rural to urban is that weavers, who are of course a diverse lot, have something in common (other than a bit of fiber obsessiveness), and that is that they always surprise me. One of the great pleasures I encounter in my workshops is that I get to meet people who may on the surface be, like me, fairly unassuming middle-aged women, but the minute I have a chance to talk, I find these amazing depths. Depths of accomplishment, adventurousness, experience, intelligence and humor.  In one of my recent classes, I met a woman, as nice as could be, provider of delicious baked goods, conservative in dress, but who made the most sharp and hilarious comments as she sat sedately at her loom, and when it came to color, she was a complete renegade! It reminded me how important/wonderful it is to over-turn my own assumptions.  My kids “help” me with this all the time, but somehow it is even more surprising and delightful to have someone my own age send my unconscious generalizations/prejudices toppling with a sly aside or a revelation about professional accomplishments or astounding adventures.  It makes me love my weaving brethren (sistren) even more to know that these women who may look to the world like kindly grandmas inoffensively knitting on the porch are smart, rebellious, creative, hilarious powerhouses who handle their complicated lives with competence and sharp intelligence.  So be aware and beware – what may look like a brood of hens is actually a skulk of foxes!!

Fiona’s favorite odorama

Fooling with fulling

Tiny bobbles

Hemp Spider weave

Merino scarf, pre-bath

Amazing Memphis mamas

Lotsa looms!!