This Would Be Great, Except . . .

“Being a college professor would be a great job . . . if it weren’t for the students.”

I’ve heard these very words spoken, and have uttered them myself, if only as a joke. After all, if there were no students, there would be no job, no need for college professors, right?

All jobs, no matter how fun and fulfilling, have their downsides, I suppose.

In all my years teaching, it wasn’t the students that were the problem for me—I liked the students. It was the grading I hated.

But teaching, at least in American higher ed, means grading. Without students and without grading, there wouldn’t be a job.

In every craft I’ve done, there are tasks I dislike.

Making yoyos is great, if it weren’t for sewing them together.

Quilting is great, if it weren’t for the basting. Ack—I hate basting.

Making jewelry is great, if it weren’t for the polishing stage.

Weaving is great, if it weren’t for winding warp/sleying the reed/ threading the heddles/finishing the fabric off the loom. This whole topic of unpleasant tasks is actually on my mind right now because I face a day, or more, of hemming eleven towels and tablecloths. I have been postponing this for a while!

And, yet, without these tasks would the craft be the craft?

Without sewing them together, yoyos are just a pile of useless, albeit cute, pieces of fabric.

Without basting the quilt top to the batting and the backing, there is no quilt, just a piece of fabric of no particular use.

Without polishing, jewelry is just, simply, ugly.

Without all those steps of weaving, no weaving happens, no fabric grows.

When I was first learning to weave, I read a book where the author’s response was very clear, to a student who hated to wind warp.

The student said, “I just want to weave, not do all this other stuff.” She meant she just wanted to throw the shuttle.

The author’s position was that, when you wind warp, you are weaving. When you sley the reed and thread heddles and otherwise prepare the loom, you are weaving. It’s all weaving.

All the aspects of any job are critical to its being done.

So, if we care enough about the making, and the finished product, we learn to manage the bits that we find difficult or tedious.

I suppose, in some cases, we find more tedium in the craft than joy, and that may explain why we give some activities up and search out new creative outlets, to find the ones where the tedium/joy ratio is more to our liking.

For me, and the crafts I continue to do, I’ve either looked for ways to make the process more enjoyable or tried to re-frame my attitude.

I found a technique for basting quilts that works beautifully for me and, while I still don’t look forward to basting, I do it with much less gnashing of teeth than before.

For the yoyos and the weaving, I have simply (or maybe not so simply) changed my thinking.

Sewing the yoyos together remains a drag. But the only really unpleasant part is the longer stretches of stitching and it’s those longer stretches that also provide a sense of how satisfying the finished project will be. I keep my eyes on that prize and take time to step back and see how lovely this will be!

With weaving, I’ve found that many of the steps I used to hate get less soul crushing as I get better at them. Winding warp used to be my bête noire and now I have no trouble, although it’s still tedious.

I’ve come to grips with other steps by treating them as challenges, as fights I must win. Can I thread the heddles without mistake? Can I get the warp wound on without major tangles? I think I can, I think I can . . .

And along the way, I tell myself that, no matter what stage I’m in, I’m weaving. I am touching the threads and enjoying the textures. I’m watching the colors shift in the light and planning how they will come together. I’m doing some task that is integral to the making. It’s all weaving.

I wonder why we don’t talk about all this more often. I can’t imagine that we don’t share some frustrations about our crafts, as beloved as they are, but we spend our time talking about the fun parts and the finished projects.

Will you tell me about what you don’t like in your craft or in a job you’ve done? Or do you relish every step? Have you found ways to make the icky parts more fun?

“It’s All About Me” Monday: The Basket

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I’ve always had an “I can do that” attitude about making things (as contrasted with my “I could never do that” attitude about sports!) I just go into a new craft with confidence and sometimes things work out well and sometimes they don’t.

Even when things work out fine, though, I have been known to drop the craft abruptly after just a short dalliance. Some pastimes stick like Velcro, others fall away.

Basket making just fell away. My mom and I got all het up about it one summer a number of years ago; as I recall, my husband was right in there, messing around with it, too.

We made a few baskets, piled up a lot of supplies and books and tools, and then never touched any of them again!

Here’s the lowdown:

Basket making is messy. You have to keep the materials wet so they are pliable and that means you’re always wet, too. I remember working on this basket, out on the lawn by the lake, and freezing, even on a warm day, because I was so wet and there was a breeze.

Basket making is hard on the hands. There is a great deal of tugging and pulling and wrestling the materials into submission. Even then I felt it in my hands and I suspect now, with twinges of arthritis, I’d really be aware of the toll it was taking. And that doesn’t even take the splinters into account!

Basket making is a summer-only activity, at least where I live! No way could I imagine dealing with the mess and the wet and the achy hands during a long winter in upstate New York.

So, that was that for basket making.

We have kept the baskets around that we made. Of them, this is my favorite and definitely the best one I made. I like the wrapped handle and the twill design running around one side.

It’s a good size to carry sewing supplies out to the lawn by the lake, where I can stay warm and stitch with dry, splinter-free hands!

So, enough about me! Let’s talk about you. How do you like my basket? Is there a craft you tried and were pretty good at, but just didn’t enjoy?

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So Lovely and Yet . . .

A beautiful damask bath towel, probably part of a hope chest.

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A gorgeous goose eye twill weave.

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Elegant hem stitching, done by hand.

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Satin stitch monogram; again, done by hand.

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But an unfortunate monogram.

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Was the young woman dismayed at the image her initials brought to mind?

Or did it make her laugh, because she knew she was no such thing?

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The Music of One’s Life

In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man’s skin,—seven or eight ancestors at least, and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is.   –Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love this image of our ancestors as the musical notes that make up our own songs.

My song is the song of the farmer, the maker, the student, the teacher.

It’s an American song, but it was begun here in this land before it was America. It’s a song with Dutch notes in early Manhattan mingling with solemn Puritan hymns in New England.

My ancestors must’ve been adventurers or at least seekers, coming from Europe to an unsettled unknown. They knew how to pick stones to tame unwelcoming soil and to stay warm where warmth was hard to come by.

They must’ve been loners; they seem to have sought isolation. While some lived in New York City and Boston, they did so when those were very small towns. Then they moved on to the reaches of northern New England and New York, barely settled then and sparsely populated even today.

I recently spent a few days with a favorite cousin and learned the source of another note in my personal song.

I always knew that part of my song included the lilt of Ireland. I could feel the Celtic in me but that’s the side of the family about which I knew the least.

My cousin shared what she knew about my paternal grandfather’s line. She gave me a copy of my grandfather’s grandfather’s marriage certificate, from Kilcluney, in County Armagh.

William Agnew was married in 1848, to Sarah Gray. I still don’t know when they came to America or why but I learned something that thrilled me no end.

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William was a weaver.

So the special rhythm of the shuttle being thrown is added to my song; I always sensed it was there!

My song is northern European and rural. It is work music, the music of those who live close to the land and make for themselves. It also contains the strains of art music, as so many of my ancestors sought education to improve themselves and the lives of their children, and to teach the children of others.

My song is rare and unique and mine alone.

And so is yours.

What notes make up the music of your life? Can you see how your melody comes to you from your forebears?

The Endless Project . . . Is Ending

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Have you ever had a project that seemed endless . . . and you liked it that way?

I have been making fabric yoyos for just about two years. It began as a portable project, born from a long airport delay when I had nothing to do.

I hated having nothing to do so I created a little kit to make yoyos, with no long-term plan for them.

The fabric yoyos became a constant in my everyday life.

The yoyos have gone on many trips with me.

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They have become part of my evening routine, as I did my stint of 10 a night, every night.

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Many of them were sewn at a table with members of my weekly sewing group, a project that could be done amid lots of chatter and snacking and pleasant distractions.

Somewhere along the way, as people continually asked me what I was going to do with the yoyos, I decided I would make a coverlet for a daybed we have on our porch. I made a diagram on graph paper and did the math and found I would need over 1300 yoyos.

That number was daunting but I liked it that way. I liked making yoyos and didn’t really want to stop. The yoyos were a comforting part of my daily life.

I figured 1300 yoyos would take me far into the future . . .

But then, recently, I made an assessment.

I had reached my goal of 1300 and surpassed it.

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I was dismayed! Truly, I was a bit undone.

So I measured the daybed again and found that what I needed, really, was to make the coverlet bigger! I needed more yoyos after all!

But, now, I’ve completed even those. I have about 1500 fabric yoyos.

They weigh over 3 pounds.

They are cute and perky and . . . finished.

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Ick.

I’ve been working on a system for sewing the yoyos together and it’s slow going.

In sewing the yoyos together, the project becomes less portable, more unwieldy, altogether less fun.

I miss making yoyos.

I suppose I could simply keep making them and piling them up but the practical side of me scoffs at that idea. They need to be made into something; they need to have a purpose in life.

So I will keep sewing them together and make the planned coverlet and report back to you when it is done.

And I’ll be on the lookout for the next comforting, soothing, endless project . . .

 

The Vavstuga Way

 

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My husband and I spent last week at a most special weaving school and were introduced to the Vavstuga Way. Vavstuga was founded on the Swedish and Scandinavian styles of weaving and teaching, and offers a number of really cool workshops each year. We were there for Weaving Basics.

What is the Vavstuga Way? Well, by the numbers:

One excellent school, in two locations, in one small town in rural Massachusetts. One pretty river runs through the town.

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One incredible teacher, Becky Ashenden. Becky is the founder and the heart, the soul, the electricity, the flame—choose your favorite metaphor to convey “life force”—of Vavstuga.

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Eight students in a Weaving Basics course. Six women, two men, some very experienced, some completely new to the craft. All congenial and happy to be sharing the week together.

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photo by Bettie Zakon-Anderson

Five days of weaving, for 10 hours a day.

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Eights looms. Four projects for each of us to finish—two towels, a small tablecloth, a wool throw.

 

Three times a day the bell rang, to announce yummy meals provided for us.

Swedish fiddlers—two; dancers—several.

 

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Almost too many to count:

  • Lovely handwoven items to use and learn from
  • Choices of colors in threads of cotton, linen, and wool
  • Tools and gadgets to purchase
  • Books to peruse and inspire

Innumerable

  • Mistakes made by students and fixed by Becky
  • Confused looks during drafting lessons
  • Laughs
  • Aches and pains
  • Doubts about finishing
  • Sighs of relief at finishing
  • Thrills at bringing our work home

The Vavstuga Way, by the impressions:

Maybe there are really two aspects of the Vavstuga Way. One is based on the use of a specific kind of Swedish loom and the details of using them—setting them up, adjusting them for ergonomics, weaving on them successfully.

My husband and I don’t have this kind of loom at home so some of what we learned will go unused.

But far more important than the specifics of looms and loom dressing is the other aspect of the Vavstuga Way. I see it as an attitude toward weaving.

I brought these lessons home:

  • The equipment and materials should be treated with respect but not awe. We learned to be less obsessive about each tiny detail of weaving and to focus on the larger process—good technique, quality materials, solving problems in ways that work for each of us, and our individual styles.
  • Natural is better. We used only the sorts of natural fibers that have been used for millennia—cotton, linen, wool—and to fully appreciate the qualities that have guaranteed that longevity.
  • Simple is beautiful. We did some of the most straightforward kinds of weaving possible and used color and thoughtful, consistent weaving to make lovely items.
  • Upbeat and energetic saves the day. Becky, our instructor, taught by example. Nothing fazes her; no mistake can’t be fixed; no frustration can’t be leavened with a quick joke and positive action.
  • I will worry less in the future about weaving the “right way” and using my loom the “right way.” I feel much more willing to re-think my system, to see what works for me, and be creative about what doesn’t.
  • What we make is meant to be used. We slept under handwoven coverlets, wiped our hands on handwoven towels and napkins. Every meal featured different handwoven table settings, each lovelier than the last. The curtains at the windows, as well as the tieback ribbons, the cushions on the benches, the rugs, our teacher’s clothing . . . all woven by hand, all being used with respect and enthusiasm.

Our intense week at Vavstuga is over and neither my husband nor I have touched a loom since we got home. But we spent much of the drive home and our time since talking about weaving, thinking about it, planning for more. And we’ve admired our work repeatedly!

And, of course, we are already thinking ahead, looking at the course listings for more advanced weeklong workshops, to continue our exploration of the Vavstuga Way.


For more information about the Vavstuga Way, visit their website and the blog Tammy Weaves, written by a member of the inaugural session of the Vavstuga Immersion program.

 

“It’s All About Me” Monday: The Sampler

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You know the old joke—the vain, self-centered woman talks endlessly about herself, her accomplishments, her fashion sense. Then she stops and says, “But enough about me, let’s talk about you! . . . How do you like my hair?”

I feel this way about a lot of my blogging. Although I try to provide something of value to the reader, so much of what I write is all about me.

And it’s going to get worse! I have this desire to post about some of the things I’ve made in the past, a series that will be unapologetically self-centered (well, I’ll apologize now and then let it go).

I really want to do this, just for me, as a repository of some of the things I’ve made over the course of my life. As I wander around my house, I find things I’ve made in almost very room, a wide range of crafts I’ve made over the years. Some of the crafts have “stuck,” and I still do them today, but many have been dropped. Some of the things I keep around have been unfinished for 35 years or more!

First up, is a cross stitch sampler. I started this when I was about 20. It was a kit and the pattern was printed on the fabric—the days before counted cross stitch became all the rage. I liked everything about it—the alphabet applied to food, the rhyming words, the simple graphics. Only two embroidery stitches are involved—cross stitch and chain stitch.

I know I started it when I was in college because, at that time, I worked as a docent at a local historical house museum. I can remember sitting on the bench on the porch at the Kent-Delord House, in my 1970s prairie skirt and peasant blouse, stitching on the sampler while I waited for people to come to take a tour.

I was in grad school by the time I finished it and my grandfather framed it for me.

The sampler has been in my kitchen since, in several apartments and houses. I still like everything about it.

So, enough about me! Let’s talk about you. How do you like my sampler? Do you still have anything you made this long ago and still treasure?