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.

Happy New Year

This time of year always has me thinking more about where I’m at, have been and want to be. Usually I’m happy to think back with gratitude for the good and be philosophical about the bad, and have no trouble being optimistic and enthusiastic about the future. This time, however, I struggled to be positive as the year crawled to an end, and so I’ve been trying to put my finger on why.

Looking back, I can’t point to any particular big bad thing that happened last year. There were annoyances, frustrations and ongoing worries. There were successes and moments of joy, too. But all in all, I rated it 4 out of 10. As I’ve been saying to friends, 2018 has been a little bit shit. Not terrible, not great either.

So I examined all the different parts of my life and concluded that most of my anxiety concerns the future. Some of the activities that used to give me joy no longer do or are becoming too physically challenging. Our health and fitness needs more attention. I worry about my elderly parents. I’m concerned about our friends. I fear for the planet.

My priorities shifted. Health move to the top because my back doesn’t have to get much worse than normal before it affects everything. Work and family are next, thankfully not yet conflicting. General domestic and financial chores, house and garden maintenance follow. Only when I’m satisfied these things are in order do I think of art and hobbies. It’s not that I don’t recognise that art and hobbies are good for my mental health, they just shouldn’t come at the cost of work, family and generally having my shit together.

Fortunately, once the new year arrived my mood lifted. Without seasonal obligations creating such a mental load and time suck, I’m finding time to be creative again (more about that in the next post). These words popped into my head a few days into the year:

“Don’t expect everything that gave you joy in the past to do so in the future.”

Gosh, I can apply that to so many things. Work, hobbies, friends… And thinking about how some things may be heading out of my life, I wondered what was coming in. It stirred up favourite saying of mine:

“There are enough unwanted challenges in life, so it’s nice to add a few wanted ones.”

So I considered what new challenges I could set myself for 2019. I decided on two things: to try arranging a pool party for every warm weekend, and to start going to workshops at a local artist society/association. The first idea pretty much flopped on the first weekend thanks to what I call the New Rude. (In this case, people accepting invites then either not turning up, or telling you at the last moment that they’ve got something else/better planned now). Oh well, maybe challenge #2 will prove more successful. I’ll have to wait until the new term starts to find out.

Time for the Yearly Review

Time to sum up what I made in 2018!

January
In the beginning of the year I posted a lot about Vari Dent reed projects, most of which I had done in the previous year. Then I did a Sewing for Handwovens workshop at the HWSGV and…

February
… that led to me tackling two past projects and two wips. First improving the Glamour Shawl, then turning the Olive Handspun Jacket into the Greta Cape.

I finished weaving my first floor rug using rug yarn.

I made mosaic patches for the gaps where the old heating system vents went in the kitchen.

March
I finished the Taupe Jacket

The Kay Plus Fun weaving workshop I’d organised happened, and much shibori fun was had by all.

April
I wove the Honeycomb Shawl

And started a sampler containing all the drafts in the first chapter of Strickler’s A Weaver’s Book of 8-Shaft Patterns.

May
I sewed up a doorstop.

And remade some straw hats.

And I finally used the weaving sword to make a cowl.

Then finished the Pinstripe Skirt.

June
By then I had the sewing bug, and made a black denim skirt out of two pairs of jeans.

I bought a cheap circular knitting machine, and saw the potential of them so I ordered the two Addi machines.

July
And got the knitting machine bug. I made the Green Stripes Jacket and Dusk Jumper on the Bond and some scarves and hats on the Addis.


I did a stash review and discovered I had waaay too many cone yarns. I decided I had to get my stash down to 35 kilos before the Bendy Show. I did manage it, by culling and machine knitting and winding warps. Then I noticed that some of the culled yarns looked great together, so I wove a Stashbuster Shawl.

I went to the Bendigo Show.

August
I finished the Chequerboard Rug.

The first sampler came off the Katie loom.

The War on Waste got me and many of my friends inspired to reduce, reuse and recycle.
The Fancy Log Cabin Baby Blanket came off the loom.

September
Twill Sampler 1.2 came off the loom.

I helped out at the weaving open day. In preparation I’d made an upsized pin loom for weaving rag strips. Using it, I went on to weave lots of seat pads.

October
I finished the Gardening Hat and turned a bag I’d woven into a cowl that matched rather nicely.

I made a chunky recycled yarn hat on the larger Addi.

And I finished the Red at Night Cardigan, after many weeks of sewing up.

Finishitis struck. I finished spinning and plying some yarn I hadn’t touched in ages…

November
… and started working on the Swimmers Clock again. I made a silly Christmas Tree out of a hose, plant stakes and car wheel.

And wove a cowl for a friend’s birthday present.

It was a time of much reflection and contemplation… of quitting Facebook and retiring.

December
Still working on the Swimmers Clock, I ran out of blue tiles and discovered they were discontinued. So the only creativity I expressed was in Christmas party decorating, where I made bunting out of drop sheets and ways to display a whole lot of wrapping paper trees made by a friend.

I did start a house number mosaic, but it probably won’t be finished until after New Years Eve.

Art
This year, once I finished a couple of larger portraits, I started painting heads-only smaller portraits. I got eight done over the year.

And while I was on Flinders Island I did some painting.

Retiring

I read somewhere that the average number of careers people have these days is three. That has been spot-on for me. I was an in-house graphic designer, cartographer, illustrator and occasional visual merchandiser first, then a freelance illustrator, cartographer and occasional designer second, and writer third.

The first paid a good wage but felt limiting and was not always fun. The second was fun but didn’t pay well. The third was enjoyable and paid well and has, much to my surprise, lasted the longest.

However, the third is causing physical difficulties that I’m barely managing to keep in check and will eventually force me to stop. I don’t want to stop writing, but unless some miraculous cure for diagnosing and treating severe neck pain is developed, I will have to. Probably in the next few years.

The difference between semi and full retirement is significant, not just in income. Scarier to me is the prospect of not having a big task or creatively fulfilling project to occupy my mind. Oh, there’s heaps I’d like to do, from a degree to pursuing art to smaller writing projects, but they, too, would be limited or prevented by the same chronic back problem.

The five month break I took last year proved to me that my back gets better when not doing the things that cause pain. By the end could re-introduce some activities I could do at the beginning. So the key may simply be time.

And That Time of Year, Too

End of year restlesness. Usually it doesn’t set in until after Christmas and is gone by New Year. Now it seems to grip me earlier and earlier each year.

Last year I got fed up with how much time I was spending on my phone and set out to de-phone my life. I made some changes that proved to be beneficial and became permanent, though I do still use it more than I feel is healthy.

This year I’m thinking about social media. Facebook in particular, but also social media in general. I would love to quit it all, particularly Facebook, which is the only one I use regularly now. I don’t like how it works or how it eats up my attention and time.

For years now I’ve looked at alternatives. I tried Ello twice, but there was never much happening there. Vero looks promising, but when I contemplate joining I realise that I’d likely just be swapping one data mining company for another.

I want to leave all social media completely, but I hesitate. So I’m going to consider what I’m afraid of losing, and see if it’s really worth worrying about.

1) The connection to friends and family.
My family doesn’t use social media, so I lose nothing there. My friends do, but they don’t share much about their personal lives, really. At every FB scandal they interacted less. I can’t help thinking that if my friends dump me because I’m not on FB they’re not my friends. There are other ways to keep in contact, even when you’re a long way apart. I have text and Messenger conversations with my closest friends. Yes, the latter is a FB product, but it’s not a social media.

2) The ease of organising events
But not the unreliability. Recently I tried to organise a couple of events within a group of FB. After getting only one response I checked the post to find that only that one friend had seen it. I asked in a general post if anyone else in the group had and a few people said yes but they hadn’t responded.

Not responding to event invitations or only doing so at the last moment is being noted as a new kind of rudeness. I suspect what happens is that when people can’t answer a question on the spot (say, they have to consult their calendar or spouse) they move on to the next FB notification and forget all about the invite. So no, organising events is not easier, in the long run.

3) The calendar reminders
To be honest, I’m not that worried about this. I bought a small diary last year and it has been so much more useful than the FB or phone calendar. It doesn’t, for one thing, lose past events. I note the birthday of friends in it who are close enough to me that I’d wish them well on or near the day. Not using FB would release me from those awkward moments on FB when you ignore a birthday notification because the person really isn’t that close to you.

5) A diary of your life
Yeah, nah. There are plenty of alternative ways to record your life. Even public ways. (Blogs, anyone?)

6) Showing people your holiday snaps, or other pics
These days when someone goes on a trip or has a party they put pics and anecdotes on an event or group page so as to not annoy everyone in their feed. It’d be just as effective to put them on a website and provide a link. I like to remind myself of a trip by looking through my diary and photos, but I don’t if they’re on FB. I write a physical diary most trips, which I read later. We don’t get around to making physical albums any more, however.

During the last trip I deliberately didn’t put anything on FB, and it felt weirdly liberating. It was like saying “FU Facebook, you won’t be earning money from this bit of my life.”

7) Another way to contact friends in an emergency.
If you can’t get in touch via a phone call or text, then perhaps you shouldn’t be relying on that person in an emergency.

8) Promoting myself for work
The only reason I didn’t leave Twitter completely last year was because it was the only way readers of my books could contact me, once I had to shut down comments on my blog to stop the endless stream of spam. But I don’t use Facebook for work (not for lack of trying… long story!) so there’d be no loss there.

Well, that’s a fairly thorough examination. I’ve decided to do what I did with Twitter: take Facebook off my phone so I only use it on the desktop computer. I only turn my desktop computer on a few times a week. That means I’ll have Facebook-free days. If I don’t miss it between now and New Year’s Eve I’ll delete it completely.