And Also…

I bought a new iPhone 7 so I could give my Dad my old one. To my surprise, Bloglovin’ doesn’t have a version that works with iPhone 7. So I’ve downloaded Feedly. Unfortunately it wants me to upgrade to a pricey paid version in order to follow any blogs I search for, rather than find them via the hashtag search, so there are some blogs I couldn’t put into my feed. Any recs?

Learning, Teaching and Fixing

A few weekends ago I started the four shaft weaving certificate course I signed up for. The first class was both fun and interesting. Though I know most of what was covered I also learned several new things – and got an answer for something that has puzzled me for some time.

Once at home I finished warping my loom and got weaving, finishing most of the exercises and leaving a few for the next class, as requested. I also typed up my notes and sourced articles and books that covered the topic (twills). I’m not entirely sure how to approach these notes. Do I just type up what I copied down from the board in class? Do I add more to that, based on the articles and books I found? Do I comment on what happened when I wove the sample? It’s been decades since I did anything resembling notes for a course, and even then the classes and subjects I studied required very little in the way of written work.

The student next to me was pretty new at weaving, having only done the Introduction to Weaving course prior to this one. I offered to tutor her if she needed it, and she came over yesterday for guidance on warping up her loom. She also brought an old Dyer and Phillips loom she had been given. Paul replaced some missing and rotten pieces of wood and I re-stringed the shaft-to-lever mechanism. It should have been useable at that point, but I found the shafts kept getting caught on each other. A closer look revealed that the shafts weren’t the original ones. They were aluminium rather than steel, and while the design was clever they were 1 1/2 times the thickness with protruding bolts – the source of the problem. So Paul and I brainstormed the problem and he decided to get larger screws, cut a thread into the holes and countersink the screw heads so nothing would protrude.

In the meantime I cleaned and oiled the loom. It had a warp on it that had been separated with newspaper – nowhere near thick enough for the job. We had to remove the shafts to fix them, which meant removing the warp. When I smoothed out the newspaper much amusement was gained. And I didn’t feel bad about cutting up and tossing a dusty, nearly 40-year old warp into the compost!

Five Years

That’s how long we have lived in this house. I still love it, though the garden is waaaay more work than I need. I’d be very sad if I had to move out – and Paul would certainly have a lot of trouble downsizing.

I wouldn’t have thought much would change in five years, other than the renovations we’d planned. We’ve both discovered new interests since we moved here. My back has deteriorated and the frozen shoulder I had for the first half of the year (nearly healed) made me realise I need to store my yarn somewhere lower than the top shelves of a wardrobe. And the way we use the house has changed.

When we first inspected it house, the idea of me using the entertainment room as my studio was considered, but it was such a great space for gatherings ite became known as the Party House. Over the last couple of years, however, our main circle of friends has fragmented due to various reasons and I started to find all the partying exhausting. We’ve used the entertainment room less and less and I began considering the studio idea again. The problem is where to put the sofas. And bar. And guests, the rare times we have them.

Last Sunday the solution hit me: I’ve been looking at the wrong room! The guest room also isn’t used much any more. One of the smaller bedrooms, it has a sofa bed for people staying over and a tv with dvd player for the children of visitors. It also stores bed linen and party costumes, and my Passap knitting machine. And the clothes airer.

So I did a mental reshuffle. Where could the sofa bed and chest of drawers go? The entertainment room would work just as well for overnight visitors. Linen? Cull and move to the entertainment room too, and make space for it by culling party supplies we no longer use. Costumes? Cull and move what we keep into our wardrobe. That leaves some shelving that came from my workroom at the last house. The tubs I keep my yarn in were bought to fit it, so that solves the yarn storage accessibility problem.

I ran the idea past Paul. He saw no problems with it. So we got stuck in, culling and moving things. And then, as if making space finally made it happen: I bought a floor loom.

But that’s another story.

Acceptance & Adaption

When you’re young you feel invincible. You look at people older and frailer than you and think ‘that won’t be me’ and believe that you’ll eat healthier, exercise, keep mentally active, and get things checked out by the doctor before they become serious. You assume medical technology will improve well enough that anything that does become a problem can be dealt with, and between it and your determination you will turn into one of those older people who is fit and sharp-witted and celebrating their 100th birthday by running a marathon.

The truth is, little of this is in our control, and what is isn’t as easy to control as we thought (like not having that cupcake or cocktail, or going to the gym). I’ve eaten pretty healthy most of my life, but information on what’s healthy has changed dramatically in that time. I’ve exercised moderately when I could, but half the time it led to some sort of overuse injury. Medical technology prevented me going blind, but drove it home that such interventions always come with compromises. I’ve found the medical profession often hasn’t got a clue simply because the human body is a mystery.

What I learned during my middle age is that there is a point where acceptance makes a great deal more sense than fighting on. Acceptance is different to giving up. Acceptance is acknowledging reality and working within it. Or as Kurt Fearnley said in a recent episode of “Who Do You Think You Are”: you don’t cure disability, you adapt to it.

I’ve had the luck and privilege of being able to work hard at something I love and be rewarded for it. There’s been a physical price but I don’t regret that. I accept it. Just as now I’m having to accept the consequences – that the career I love will come to an end earlier than I anticipated.

Fortunately, my career isn’t the only source of creative fulfilment in my life. That’s the advantage of being a creative fidget.

For while now I’ve thought hard about what I’d do if I had to quit writing. Friends have suggested I teach art, but I don’t feel I have a broad enough experience or qualification in it. I considered teaching writing, which I’ve done before, but it involves too much computer time. That left weaving, which appeals because I think I could make a greater impact. There’s no shortage of people writing and doing art in the world, so knowledge of either is not in danger of being lost.

So I’ve signed up for a year long 4 shaft weaving course, starting in August. Just one Sunday a month plus homework. If that goes well I’ll do the 8 shaft course the following year.

I’m also exploring the idea of teaching rigid heddle weaving, both beginner classes designed to introduce people to weaving, and more advanced classes to show how versatile those looms can be.

Prep for both means weaving off the projects on my looms. My Katie loom still has the warp on it from Kay’s summer and winter class, so I’ll be weaving the napkins I’d planned to do before I ran out of time. The knitters loom has a honeycomb scarf on it. The floor loom has the clasped weft runner on it, which is slow weaving – but that’s okay as I shouldn’t need that loom free for the course or classes.

I have a few months to prepare for the course and I’m feeling excited about it. I’m ready to transition into a new phase of my life, and for once I’m feeling good about that.

Vale Kay Faulkner

The relationship between a student and a teacher is usually fleeting. Sometimes it transforms into an ongoing bond between novice and mentor. I’ve only experienced the latter once in my life. My painting teacher, Carol, was as much a life coach as an art mentor. In the last three years, I felt like a similar link might be beginning between myself and a wonderful weaver named Kay Faulkner.

I had plans to fly up to her studio once my current work commitments were done, and do a workshop. Every time I learned from her I made huge leaps of comprehension. We also planned for me to try out the floor loom models she thought might suit, and perhaps I’d order one from a loom maker she knew. I was also going to offer to help her update her website, to make it more mobile/tablet friendly. We’d drink wine and eat chocolate and talk about living a creative life.

I was really looking forward to it.

Last week I learned that she was in hospital, in a coma. A few days later came the news I was fearing: she had passed away.

It affected me more than I expected. After all, I’d only known her for three sets of about five days, on top of a few email conversations. I don’t make new friends that quickly these days. But there was a feeling that here was someone who ‘got’ me on a certain level, and perhaps I had a bit of the same in return. And, well, she was a really nice person.

So after feeling a bit lost for a few days, I worked my way through lamenting missed opportunities to being grateful for the ones I’d been able to take, from worrying that so much of her knowledge would be lost to wondering if I could help spread and preserve it. The undeniable truth is, I could never, at my age with my physical limitations, catch up with such an accomplished weaver. But I can, in my own small way, introduce more people to weaving – and maybe a young student will go on to make a career out of it and become as knowledgeable as Kay was.

So I returned to an idea I had several months ago, to teach rigid heddle weaving. I’ve been making notes and considering buying another, different model to the one I own. As for getting an eight+ shaft floor loom, it’s tempting to think the fates don’t want me heading in that direction yet, but Kay would have wanted me to continue learning, so I’ll just have to keep looking for one.

A Bath for Birds

Funny how the mosaic project that involved using a hammer to smash the tiles unsuitable for the swimmers clock was finished first. It really was quite therapeutic! And it fixed the problem of the bath’s mysteriously pitted inner surface.

I’d set up a folding table in Paul’s studio to do the swimmers clock, and then this one took over the space. Once I’d grouted the bath I moved it into the garage for sealing when I got back from Fibrearts. Then I cleaned off the folding table and asked Paul to vaccume the studio while I was away. (Having a sore shoulder, I wasn’t keen to do that bit myself.

I kinda hoped the vacuuming would lead to some cleaning up, and it did. I also hoped it might lead to some photography-related activity in there. It didn’t. Instead, Paul spread his diorama-making out onto the folding table. This meant I going to have to tell him to remove it or resume my mosaic-making elsewhere. Probably back to my area of the garage, where I used to do it. Which isn’t a big problem except when it’s really hot or really cold. Which seems to be most of the year, these days.

Could I possibly set up in our laundry? Paul has not entirely satisfactory ways of using it as a darkroom. Perhaps we could build a darkroom into the back of the studio. I raised it with him one morning. He didn’t like the idea. He said: “Do you really think you’ll continue with mosaics?”

After a shower and a think, I asked pointedly: “Do you really think you’ll continue making dioramas?” He conceded that his question – or rather, the way it had been phrased – hadn’t been very fair.

Because it was a relevant question for both of us. We’ve both have adopted a new hobby since moving to this house and modifying it to suit the hobbies we’d had at the time. We need to consider how to most sensibly incorporate our new hobbies into the space we have, and consider how much time we actually spend on each of our hobbies, not how much time we wish we did.

And perhaps even more importantly, how much stuff we store that relates to them.

Creative Fidgeting Consciously

So my thoughts about the sustainability of making had me opening my visual journal and exploring the “eco-ness” of four of my hobbies: craft, art, cooking and gardening.

Gardening was the least worrying, as I like to repurpose things, grow food, buy organic weed killer (in bulk to reduce packaging) and put plastic pots in the recycling. I’d already decided to switch from plastic to cane or fabric carriers for weeds. I think I’m doing okay there.

Cooking produces a lot of packaging, but I’m already reducing that as much as possible and making my own nut butter, crackers and other things you can’t easily buy without non-recyclable packaging.

Craft has some issues – mainly the use of toxic dyes and inks – but I probably buy second hand materials and repurpose things as much as, if not more than, new. In fact, reusing, repurposing and refashioning is pretty much a hobby in itself. Even my mosaics have mostly been about fixing or repurposing something.

Art is… actually quite problematic. Natural pigment isn’t always better than synthetic – cadmium is carcinogenic, for example – but (I think) synthetic comes from petrochemicals. Stretched canvasses are so cheap these days I wonder if, like cheap clothes, they’re made by underpaid workers, I hate to think where the wood comes from as most cheap wood is stripped from old growth rainforests, and I have no idea what the fabric is made of (probably plastic – and the surface coating repels watery paint, so it isn’t gesso). Then there’s waste. I’ve alway struggled to decide what to do with artwork that doesn’t turn out well. Doing something frequently enough to get good at it can leave you with lot of unwanted work headed for landfill.

Thinking about this, I realised that working on paper more might be better, as it can be recycled. Oils are still better than acrylic, since I work with a spatula mostly and wipe the excess on rags. When I do use brushes I let the turps I wash them in sit until the paint particles settle, then tip off and reuse the turps. I keep old brushes for rough work, then stirrers. In the past I’ve taken the canvas off unwanted paintings and sewn it into bags, then recovered the frame with new cotton or linen canvas, which makes stretched canvasses more reusable than canvas boards. However, making my own canvas boards may eliminate the possibility I’m using wood stripped from rainforests or plastic fabric. I even thought about weaving my own canvas fabric, but it would be slow and occupy the loom when I want to weave other projects.

After my brainstorming session, I went out into the studio and considered the art supplies I have. I realised it will take quite a while before I need anything new. So there’s not a lot I can do to make my art practise more sustainable right now. I’ll keep these ideas in mind for when I do run out of materials, and reach for paper based art methods over canvas more often.

Thinking Time

So it turns out I have tennis elbow as well as a return of RSI. The term ‘tennis elbow’ annoys me somewhat, since it makes it sound like I developed it because of a recreational activity, not work. I got to thinking, after a friend suggested I come up with better names, that I would rename my maladies more accurately. So I have Writer’s Wrist, Editor’s Elbow and Novelist’s Neck.

Or maybe that should be Weaver’s Wrist. Hmm.

Resting my hand and arm meant finding occupation that didn’t use it. I turned it into planning time. Getting out my entire stash, I plonked it on the office floor. Then I printed a pile of project sheets. Then I went through the ‘ideas’ section of my weaving folder, my stash spreadsheet, visual journal, notebook on my phone and the Craft To-Do list on this site, and wrote a list of projects, ideas and weaving structures I wanted to try.

A big mix and match session followed. By the end of the second day, I had twenty project sheets partially filled in and a list of 15 less developed project ideas.

Part of the motive behind this was that I never did get all my stash to fit in the wardrobe after my big craft room cull, and I hoped a reshuffle would fix that (it didn’t, but there’s now only one bag of yarn hanging off a door handle). Another part was a feeling that’s been growing these last few years, as I learned more about issues with ethical clothing and waste in general, that there’s an obvious conflict between constantly making stuff and not filling the world with more trash and toxins.

Both had me determined to use what I have. Also, as I considered each project, I asked myself the same question I do when considering buying clothing: “Do I really need this?”. It was a sobering question, as the answer was pretty much ‘no’ for all of them. So I asked: “Could I gift/sell it?” but that was followed by: “Am I then just filling the world with stuff nobody really needs?”.

I’m a creative person. I’m not going to stop making things. If I gift or sell them, I can’t know if the person who owns them really needs them. Heck, I can’t guarantee if a gift recipient, whether from me or a buyer of my things, will even like them or, if not, pass them on to someone who will not toss them. But I can try to reduce the impact of the making of those things by making sure the materials, tools and methods are as sustainable as possible.

Fortunately I don’t need to change much to do that. Since my interest in fibre arts began when I was broke, I have a long-standing habit of seeking out second hand materials. I prefer natural fibres and, when not second-hand, I go for as locally made as possible. The challenge will be to do this with the fine cotton yarns for weaving, as there’s not a lot of choice new and I’ve rarely seen them selling second hand. Hmm, time to do some googling…

Oops, I Did it Again

RSI is back:

My wrist started hurting during the cutting up of strips for the rag rug. Though I finished doing that a few weeks back, work has involved a bit more intense wear on the hands lately. I’ve been doing stretches and using anti-inflammatory cream, but I think last Monday, when I pushed through to meet a deadline, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.

I’m a third through the second half rag rug. I can’t do the knots entirely left-handed, but I’ve minimised the right-hand involvement enough that I can weave a bit at a time. Mosaic work is not possible, however. Those tile nippers are hard on the hands. So what can I do? Machine knitting? Probably not. Spinning? No. Sewing? Maybe, if there’s no hand sewing involved. Frame weaving? Nope. Inkle weaving? Only with no pick up patterning. Jewellery making? Definitely not! Printing? Yes, but not carving stamps.

I could do some project planning. When at the guild last weekend I bought two books on rag weaving. I want to try sakiori, using a kimono a friend donated to the rag rug, but that I didn’t end up using. I reckon I could wind a warp – maybe even dress a loom. But I only have the rigid heddle free right now as I’m saving the Katie for an upcoming workshop.

There are some things waiting to be dyed.