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.

IMG_2243

 

IMG_2244

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

IMG_2151

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.

IMG_0791

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

IMG_4582

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.

IMG_2155

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.

They need to be sewn together.IMG_6265

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

 

IMG_0080

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.

IMG_1854

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.

IMG_2066

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.

FullSizeRender 7

photo by Bettie Zakon-Anderson

Five days of weaving, for 10 hours a day.

IMG_1872

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.

 

IMG_2133

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

IMG_1390

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?

A Tangled Yarn

I started as a tidy skein in rural Vermont. I lived my early days there, in a shop, with others of my clan.

If I’m honest, though, I thought I was special. I was silk and wool and soft. I felt pretty.

Then, one day, a lady came and chose me. It was very exciting but I was nervous—what did she want me for? What would become of me?

I left my sisters and brothers and went home with her. She stuffed me in a big plastic bin with others I did not recognize and she left me there, in the dark, for a long time. I was sad and lonely.

The, one day, she came and got me! I was so excited to be out of the box and chosen!

I did not know what was coming. I did not know there were things worse than being sad and lonely.

She left me out on the counter. She told me she wanted to ponder my future. She forgot about me.

Her kitten found me. It was obsessed with me and would not leave me alone. Its claws tore at my neatly-wound perfection. Its tiny teeth nipped me into bits. I was a mess, physically and emotionally.

IMG_1430

I thought that was the end for me. Who would ever want me now?

But then one day the lady came back. She felt bad about what had happened and she said she still thought I was beautiful.

She spent hours with me. I tried to make it easy on her but, the truth is, I was all tied up in knots. I couldn’t help it.

She was gentle, she was kind. She did use shocking language occasionally but I just closed my ears. I could tell she was going to make me whole again so I could forgive her foul mouth.

And then that kitten came back!! Oh, no! Oh NO!

IMG_1433

But the nice lady made the kitten go away—she shut it on the porch!

Haha, kitten! I win!

Eventually we worked it out. I relaxed and she untangled me. I was wound into a big, neat, and tidy ball and was myself again.

Except for those little pieces of me that had been broken.

IMG_1429

The lady wound me into long threads on a board and then put me in a loom. She used my broken pieces, too!

My colors looked prettier than they ever had before!

IMG_0025

She added some other colors, just a little to make me sparkle, she said, and she wove other threads into me. They’re a part of me now.

I used to be a ball of yarn—pretty, but of no real use in that form. Then I was a tangled mess, not even pretty anymore.

But now I’m a piece of fabric! I’m an actual scarf! My life has meaning!

IMG_1770

The lady says she loves me and I wrap myself around her throat and promise to keep her warm and make her pretty, too.

Because I feel pretty. Oh, so pretty . . .

IMG_1775

Egg Money

file000369727419

My grandmother kept hens.

I sell on Etsy.

Two women, separated by years and changing times, earning “egg money.”

The concept of “egg money”* (or butter-and-egg money) derives from farm life, where the woman of the farm typically took care of the chickens. Any money she made from selling the eggs was hers, to use as she wished.

Egg money could be set aside for emergencies or could be used for something a woman wanted but didn’t need. A little luxury, a special treat for a child, a gift for one’s husband that wasn’t purchased with “his” money.

In a lot of ways, egg money would seem to be an outdated concept. Like so many women, I no longer live on a farm, don’t raise chickens, had my own career and made a good salary of my own, so why would I still think in these terms?

I don’t know but I do! When I consider my motivation to keep going with my 5-year-old shop on Etsy, selling vintage linens and handmade chocolates, I always think in terms of egg money. Around here, we call it Etsy money.

When I began selling, it was not with the idea of making money. I had a huge collection of vintage linens, almost embarrassing in its scope, and I wanted to lighten that load while finding good homes for the pretty things.

Similarly, I had taken up candy making as a hobby and was enjoying trying all kinds of concoctions but I couldn’t justify doing it just for my husband and me.

Both endeavors also gave me focus and purpose in my new retirement, when I was trying to figure how to focus my energy and use my time with purpose.

So, I didn’t start out to make money but . . . along the way, I’ve made quite a lot of money, much more than I would ever have expected.

My husband and I have kept this money separate from the “real” money of the household, our savings and retirement incomes.

And I think we’ve treated it exactly as egg money has traditionally been used. For fun, for the frivolous, for pet projects.

As a couple, we’ve used Etsy money to fund our travel, to Boston, to Maine, to Ireland, to Scotland. It is sending us to an upcoming weaving workshop. When a friend’s cat needed thousands of dollars of emergency vet care, Etsy money was used to make the donation to her GoFundMe account.

We could’ve done all of these things with “real” money but we might have hesitated more and wondered if it was practical. We might’ve worried about unpredictable emergencies to come and decided to forego our desire to spend in favor of frugality.

Having the Etsy money is wonderfully liberating. It really feels like free money, even though I’ve done real work to earn it. It’s money I enjoy spending, instead of feeling a little guilty, a little profligate, a little reckless.

And I know I’m not alone. One friend teaches piano lessons and pulls out that cash when we go out to dinner. Another works as a substitute librarian and the money is designated for fabric purchases. Many of the women I know, it seems, although they had careers and have retirement incomes, also relish the guilt-free freedom provided by egg money.

Do you know this freedom? Was there a source of egg money in your foremother’s lives? Is there in yours?


* “Egg money” is different than “pin money.” Women earned egg money but pin money was an allowance given by the husband, intended for a women to use for personal needs.

 

The Wind She Blow . . .

IMG_1614

The wind she blow on Lak’ Champlain

By’m’by she blow some more.

You’ll never drown on Lak’ Champlain . . .

So long as you stay on shore.

–(to be spoken with a laconic and wry French-Canadian accent)

It’s inevitable.

Whenever the wind blows strong at our house on Lake Champlain, someone recites this old folk rhyme.

Take yesterday, for instance. Most of the rest of the United States was basking in spring warmth, enjoying outdoor activities, and doing garden chores.

On Lake Champlain, we were watching, in awe, as the waves crashed on the seawall and ice built up on . . . everything.

At least it wasn’t snow . . .