ANWG: Day Three

Today there were no classes, and what a good thing that was.  I  needed a day of rest after all the excitement of the previous two days.  I didn’t just lounge around, however, I was taped interviews with Kris Abshire and James Koehler.

I gave a brief 15-minute talk about online media for weavers at the end of the ANWG general meeting.  I mentioned WeaveCast and WeaveZine, of course, but also talked about all the other great resources for weavers online, such as, the Yahoo groups and, the upcoming launch of Weavolution, artist’s websites, etc.  And I pointed out that for a lot of the younger generation, if it’s not on Google, it might as well not exist.

WDL After that I went back to my dorm and ran into Jannie Taylor field-stripping an AVL workshop dobby loom.  It was an amazing site to see the dobby head taken apart and watch the solenoids click into place.

After that, Jannie gave me a quick demo on how to more efficiently design summer-and-winter designs on my computer.  It was WAY faster than the laborious hand-entering I’d been doing.  Hooray for the Interleaved Paste function in Fiberworks PCW (Jannie first showed me the method in WeavePoint, then we figured out how to do the same thing in the software on my machine.) She’d heard my plea on the latest WeaveCast, and I truly appreciate her sharing her knowledge in such a wonderfully generous way.

That’s one of the wonderful things about a conference like ANWG, you never know who’ll you’ll run into and there are all these opportunities— both scheduled and not—to learn.

Dinner that night was a treat, a whole group of us went out for Asian food at a place called the Mustard Seed.  It was yummy and the company delightful.

ANWG: Day One

It’s after midnight on the first day of ANWG, and I am happily exhausted.  It seems as if at least two days worth of stuff has happened since I walked over to breakfast with my podmates Jan and Joan,

My first class of the day was how to create cartoons for tapestry.  The teacher is James Koehler, who was a benedictine monk for eight years (and a trappist monk before that.)  The tapestries he creates are luminous, layers of monochromatic colors and texture that draw you in further the more you look at them.  He told a story about weaving in the monastery, and how weaving became his meditation practice.  When the rules at the montastery changed, he was supposed to sit still like the other monks for contemplation and found he just couldn’t do it.  He ended up building a pipe loom and sneaking it into his cell, because that was the only way he could find contemplative peace.

That story made me so happy.  I’ve never been sucessful at sitting still and meditating, and have long thought it a personal failing.  But I can reach a meditative state while spinning, weaving, or dancing.  In that classroom today I gave myself permission to never sit cross-legged and try to clear my mind.  It’s so much easier to weave and find that state of happy mindlessness.

But personal spiritual revelations aside, James talked about weaving things that are meaningful to you, not just weaving a pretty picture.  He talked about art, and meaning.  I found that terribly fascinating.  I’ve always considered myself more of a craftsman than an artist, but I must say, the idea of communicating through the things I create has an appeal.

We practiced tracing details from French tapestries to study how cartoons fit together.  I took copious notes; so much of what he said was new to me, as a person who’s never actually completed a tapestry.

The design I came up with started with the simple expedient of tracing my hand (since that was easier than drawing, and I hadn’t brought any images to trace.)  From there I thought abouth the things that were meaningful to me, the symbols that keep recurring in my life.  The images turned into a mood, a story in my mind, and the design has lots of areas where I can play with color to create the illusion of transparency, which is something I’ve wanted to do since seeing Sarah Swett’s work.

Here’s what I came up with.  It’s not terrible sophisticated, but it speaks to me, and I want to become a good enough tapestry weaver to be able to weave it.  James’s comment, “That’s a good design.”  Hearing that from an artist who’s woven tapestry for 30 years and whose work is in the Smithsonian?  I was over the moon.

I lucked into a quick demo of Arahweave by Sheila O’Hara.  She uses the program to design her jacquard weavings.  I’d asked her a bit about ArahWeave, and she was kind enough to invite me to a 20-minute ad hoc demo she was putting on for one of the other instructors.  It was mind-boggling.  In Jacquard weaving, not only can you layer color upon color, but also weave structure upon weave structure, since in a jacquard loom, each thread weaves independently.

I missed the fashion show, but got to spend some bonus time in the dealer’s room.  Here’s a picture of that foot-powered skein winder.  Check out the shape of the treadle; it’s a carved foot.  Is that cute or what?

Well, I better get some rest, tomorrow I have a class about how to weave a four-selvedge textile like Navajo weavers do.

ANWG: Arriving

It was a beautiful day for a drive.  Washington is an unusual state: the western side (between the mountains and the sea) is rainy and foggy, the eastern side is desert.  As I drove I passed snow on the ground at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass, and a few hours later was in high desert with Canyons.

One of the joys of traveling by car is that you can take little side diversions.  This is the Wild Horse Monument.  Up at the top of this ridge are a line of giant metal sculptures of wild horses running.  I didn’t linger too long, because I wanted to get to ANWG!

Gonzaga University is in Spokane.  (The name makes me think the college president should be a wild-haired muppet with a hooked nose, but I may be dating myself a bit there.)  It’s a private christian college, judging from the icons and statuary.

As was walking to my dorm, I was struck by a wonderful smell and realized that there lilacs blooming!

The dorms we’re staying in have these amazing open-air common areas on every room.  The rooms are very dorm-ish.  Plastic-covered mattresses, particle-board furniture, and the funk of academic desperation.  One of the two beds in my room is set up loft-style, about four feet of the ground.  I dithered for a bit over which bed to take, and decided to opt for the adventursome option.  If I fall out of bed one morning, I’ll let you know.

The folks running ANWG seem very organized and friendly.  They got me squared away in no time.  I put my name down on the list for internet access.  I should have a password sometime Friday, according to the student host.  I arrived too late for the cafeteria dinner, and by the time I carried my luggage up to the room and checked the schedule, I discovered that I had time to either (a) go get food before all the restaurants closed or (b) check out the dealer’s room.  Which would you choose?

Yep, me too.

I chatted with the friendly folks at the Glimakra Booth and checked out the two-heddle set up on their Amelia rigid-heddle loom.  I met two new woodworking vendors with lovely wares.  Northwest Looms had teensy shuttles and beaters for fine-silk tapestry, and Hokett Would Work had an innovative skein-winder that you drive with your foot!  I drooled over the yarn blockers at the Bluster Bay booth (I love the finish they put on their wood) and checked out the fine hand-dyed silk (60/2 and 120/2) at RedFish.  I told the Just Our Yarn folks that some of their varigated 60/2 silk had totally saved my bacon on my sample exchange project for the Complex Weaver’s Fine-Thread study group.  Then I had a delightful exchange at the Village Spinners and Weaving booth with Jennifer Moore (who weaves doubleweave) and met Sheila  O’Hara who teaches Jacquard weaving and had some of her artwork with her.

As for shopping, I confess that a 24-dent reed jumped into my bag as did a very nice book on tapestry.

Tapestry is my focus this conference.  I have signed up for three classes: One on designing a cartoon for tapestry (because my designs to date have been surprisingly hard to weave), One on a four-selvedge Navajo warp (because I don’t know how to do that and four selvedges sounds intriguing), and a multi-day workshop on tapestry techniques.  I’m going to get over my fear of tapestry this week, or decide that tapestry weaving is not for me once and for all.

P.S.  I got lucky on dinner, Pita Pit was having their summer hours and was open late.  I got a Babaganoush pita with Taziki sauce.  Yum!  The place was like a cool, hip Subway with healthier options.  Why don’t we have one of these where I live???

What is JCCFS?


signThe John C. Campbell Folk School (JCCFS) is a world apart.

The first thing you notice when you get there is its natural and rustic beauty. There are trees everywhere and at this time of year, the rhododendrons and mountain laurel are blooming.

The buildings are charming, too. They range in age from the orginal farm house built in the 1800s, through the community lodge and dormitories built by students and volunteers in the 1920s, to a new dormitory built last year. All of them reflect an Appalachian aesthetic that makes them blend in with nature instead of competing with it. Antiques and hand-crafted things abound, giving the place a very human feel.

But it’s not just the stuff that’s different, it’s the people too. I’m not sure if it’s the beautiful surroundings, or because folks come to the school to persue crafts they’re passionate about, but people seem nicer here, more polite, more helpful. Everyone pitches in when there’s work or clean-up to be done. Over the week, it starts to feel like a community, as you get to know people over meals and stop by and see what they’re working on in the various studios.

I’ve heard JCCFS described as sumer camp for grown-ups. That’s not a bad description. Everyone eats meals together and bunks together, and there are processes and procedures to help keep things running smoothly. For example, at meals one or two students from each table take the dirty dishes to the kitchen, and their reward for this is getting to bring dessert back to the table.

There are evening activities of concerts and dances and readings. Then there are the unplanned nighttime events (like the Raku pottery students and their impromptu fireworks run.)

One of the best parts for me is that it feels like a safe place: safe to try a skill you’ve never attempted before, safe to wander the woods alone at night, safe to leave your door unlocked, safe to take creative chances.

I also very much enjoyed the fact that there are classes in several different disciplines going on at once. There’s something wonderful about realizing that makers are all the same, no matter if it’s a big burly blacksmith or a prim and proper lace lady taking a tatting class. For example, one morning the woodturners were chatting in the library in the community lodge and one rapsodized about a pile of seasoned mahogany he’d seen at this one lumber yard. I was struck by the fact that he could have just as easily been a weaver describing handpainted silk they’d seen at this one yarn store.

It seems to me there are two kinds of people in the world: those that get that making things with your hands is necessary and good, even in our current Walmart era, and those that don’t. Some folks just aren’t happy unless they’re creating something. For me, it’s less about what I’m making than the act of creation itself.

There’s a drive in some people to express themselves creatively. To leave a part of themselves behind in a physical thing that says, “This is who I was in this moment. I made this. I was here.”

My Secret Weapon

I love the planet: I recycle, I compost, I wander around a 60-degree house all winter in a sweater to conserve electricity.

But after three days of waiting, I’ve had to face an unpleasant truth.

In the Pacific Northwest, the thirty skeins I handpainted for an upcoming rigid-heddle class at the John C. Campbell Folk School aren’t going to get dry on their own.  After three days of hanging in my bathroom, they’re still damp to the touch.

Fortunately, I have a secret weapon.

secret weapon

When our dryer died a few years back, I researched all the options and features that were on the market and discovered an amazing innovation: the shoe dryer.  It’s a shelf that fits into your dryer and creates a non-rotation platform on which you can put things.  Said things then get engulfed in gales of hot air and dry quickly without tangling, er…making a big thumping noise.

I told Eric I’d picked the best option for our replacement dryer.  Unless he reads this, he’ll never know what the deciding factor was.  ;>

I feel a bit guilty about the energy usage; when I lived in Florida, things hung outside dried within hours.  On the other hand, up here I don’t run an A/C in the summer, so I guess there are some compensations.

And it’s a heck of a lot better than the time I spent the night before a class blow-drying skeins in my hotel room with a hair dryer…

Inexplicably Happy

Ever have one of those days where you just wake up and find yourself happy for no reason whatsoever?  I’m having one of today.  Nothing about my circumstances has changed: I still have deadlines hanging over my head, the laundry hasn’t magically cleaned itself overnight, my inbox is still scary-full, my workouts haven’t turned me into an amazon, and I have no idea what I’m making for dinner.

And yet…I’m spending the day walking around smiling at folks, chatting up people in the grocery store, and generally spreading sunshine wherever I go.  Why could that be?

Hmm.  The only thing that’s changed lately is that I’ve started spinning and weaving again.

For a while after the WeaveZine 2.0 launch I was so busy that my own artistic pursuits got pushed to the back burner and eventually fell off the stove altogether.  It was darned ironic, let me tell ya, to spend all day working on creating weaving media and yet have no time to weave.  I love the work I do on WeaveCast and WeaveZine; it’s very satisfying, but just there’s something magical about getting your hands into fiber and thread.

It started with the Eastside Spinners.  (I blame Marie, who is a total fiber-enabler.)  Hanging out with them got me started spinning again, and relit my obsession with charka spinning.

What happens when you get obsessed with cotton spinning?  You end up with a lot of fine, singles, hand-spun cotton.  It took me a while to get my skills back, but several spindles on I’m back to spinning a fine even thread.

hand-spun cotton

The pirns above are destined to be weft on an upcoming project.  I’m not sure what yet.  I’ve admired khadhi cloth in the past, so perhaps that.  Or maybe I’ll try to do something interesting with the inherent twist of the cotton singles ala Eileen Hallman.

So after things settled down with the website, and after I decided that for my own mental health and fun of my family, I would start taking weekends off from any kind of WeaveZine work: suddenly I had time to weave again!

I struggled for a while with my weaving.  At first I was going to reprise the overshot bookmarks that were published in Handwoven, but nine yards of 2-inch wide overshot was just daunting.  So I wound on an additional six inches of 140/2 silk warp to make a scarf width.  I planned to weave words in summer-and-winter…only the phrase I’d picked out was long and the weave drafting quickly became boring and redundant.  And you know what?  After many boring hours of laboriously filling in little boxes in Fiberworks PCW, I just didn’t think my phrase was that clever any more.

So I repurposed that warp a third time, working on a project that currently has my little geeky heart aflame.  I’m so excited about this one, that I blew through the drafting (taquete this time, instead of summer-and-winter.)

I’m almost done threading, even after having to start over half-way through because I forgot to go over the back beam.  (How is it possible that an AVL production dobby loom doesn’t have a “get out of forgetting to go over the back beam free” feature like my Baby Wolf does?  Hopefully this got fixed in models after my 1984-era loom was built.)

threading 1


This project I’m working on is for the Complex Weaver’s fine-threads study group (one of the deadlines, BTW.  Don’t none of ya’ll tell them I’m still threading, kay?) so I’m keeping the draft mum so as not to spoil the surprise.  But here’s a shot of the work-in-progress.

threading 2

The take-away?  Spinning and weaving can’t fix the circumstances of your life, but they sure can fix the happy!


P.S. Please forgive the grainy cell-phone pictures.  My main point-and-shoot is having issues with its battery and doesn’t want to recharge.