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.

That Time of Year

No, not the pre-Christmas craziness, as that’s only just starting. It’s Spring that is the culprit. Whenever I have a spare day on a weekend I end up weeding for a few hours, after which I want to rest.

The result: very little craft happening.

However, I have managed to fit in a bit here and there. I’ve made progress on the mosaic clock.

And after volunteering to host the extended family Christmas gathering I realised I don’t have any decorations. Not wanting to buy more plastic crap, I whipped up this ‘tree’:

And I’m thinking of making salt dough decorations, so they can be tossed in the compost heap after the event.

Social Isolation

We just got back from a short holiday on an island. Well, not an island with palm trees and resorts and beaches but an island with farms and mountains and beaches. And not all holiday either as we were there to help a friend who lives on the island celebrate her birthday as well as take a few days to look around.

It was exhausting. And relaxing. I wasn’t there long before the real world and my life at home felt like a distant thing I couldn’t easily bring my mind back to. Yet where I was felt dream-like and unreal. I was a visitor, welcomed by those who lived there, but I wasn’t at home.

The people there are isolated but social. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone looks out for everyone. Everyone gossips about everyone. That’s so different to where I live, in a city with lots of people but I’d have to drive for 15 minutes to an hour see any of my friends and I’ve only talked to three neighbours since I moved here four years ago – and only once to one of them.

I’m not sure what I’d prefer.

Because to be honest, I’m not that much of a people person. Oh, I like people, some very much… so long as I get to spend heaps of time alone. It’s curious to me to come back from such an isolated place all peopled out.

And yet it was a great trip. We really enjoyed ourselves. I think I have a bit of culture shock, though. In a good way. Travel lets you see other ways of existing and surviving and seeing the world. Before we left I was a bit wistful, thinking that in a few days life would be back to normal, but now I’m home I just want to settle so I can get the things done on my to-do list.

Though I suspect the to-do list felt just as overwhelming before we left anyway.

Finishitis, Stash Acquisition & Stinky Yarn

The Guild recently held their annual Textile Bazaar. I rocked up right as the doors were open and left with almost more yarn than I could carry. No cones this time. I wanted two things: rug yarn and maybe some knitting yarn to use on the machines if it took my fancy. I found both.

However.

Most of it stank of moth balls. The stinky yarn got wound into skeins then soaked in woolmix and left to dry and air. The big batch of caramel brown knitting yarn came up fine. The rug yarn utterly reeked, and while it was drying the whole house smelled like a chemical factory. I had to put it in the bathroom, turn on the fan and leave it for a day. Thankfully it’s much better now, though still with a faint mothball odour.

In the meantime, I’ve leafed through my books, to-do list, stash spreadsheet and visual journal and felt only a few little sparks of interest. Whenever I’ve had time for craft I’ve fallen back on existing projects. I’m all out of inspiration.

I got to wondering if am in the throes of a very long bout of finishitis. So I decided to go with it. I finished spinning the yarn on my wheel – some lovely camel fibre – and I plied some banana fibre I spun a while ago with some overlocker cotton.

The third iteration of the twill sampler came off the loom. When I labelled it I discovered I’d completely missed one of the drafts. No idea how that happened. I’m not going to warp up the loom for one 10cm sample, though. I’m not even sure if I want to finish the chapter, to be honest. I have all the two-colour warp ones to do – 27 in total. The realisation that it would take me 20 years to get through the book at this rate was rather off-putting. Maybe I should do something more achievable, like picking ten drafts from each chapter.

All I have left on the WIP list is the mosaic clock. It would be nice to wipe the slate clean, I suppose, but it would also be nice to feel the excitement of starting a new project. For the moment, however, I’m giving my creative brain a rest. It will fire up again when it’s ready, I’m sure.