Tools, Glorious Tools

toolsI love tools.

Truly, I do—I love the tools of almost any trade. I love hardware stores and catalogs like the ones I get from Lee Valley Tools and Rio Grande and the Yarn Barn.

In history museums, I love to look at rusty tools from the farm, the sawmill, the kitchen, the workshop. I like the familiar tools and the mystery tools, the ones now obsolete, where you can only guess what their work once was.

One of the best parts of starting a new craft, for me, is the necessity of accumulating the tools of the trade—poring through catalogs, searching eBay, poking through garage sales, coming up with elaborate ways to justify the cost.

As I’ve thought about the crafts and hobbies I’m most drawn to, I’ve noticed that I seem to gravitate to the ones that take the most tools. I wonder if the reason I’ve never really connected with knitting and crocheting is because the basic tools seem so few and, well, basic?

I also realize I like powerful tools—they make me feel competent. One of the primary appeals of jewelry making, for me, was that I got to use acetylene torches and wield big hammers.

And I love specialized tools—the tool that does one thing, perfectly.

I love expensive, high-quality tools because, if you can’t trust your tools, you can’t do your job.

And, if I can get a tool that is, itself, handmade and beautiful—well, that thrills me no end.

I love old, well-loved tools that show the evidence of the work they’ve done and human hands upon them—the wooden spoon that’s getting a little flat on one edge because it’s stirred the soup and scraped the pan so often, the worn spot on the hoe handle, where the hands always grip.

I find myself consciously appreciating certain tools, almost petting them. Just off the top of my head, I can think of favorites for almost any activity I engage in. When I find these favorites, I keep them safe, and I keep them close.

I think I may tell you about some of my favorite tools, at some point, partly because I love them so, but also because I want you to think about the tools you use and rely on and, yes, love.

Just off the top of your head, do you have special favorites? A paintbrush that’s special? A crochet hook? A fiddle, or trowel, or shuttle, or pair of scissors?

. . . At Home

sangers w viewHas your blog developed the way you thought it would?

When I started writing, I intended the emphasis to be on “loving hands” but, now, almost 18 months later, I’m amazed at how often I focus on the “at home” part of my title.

By sharing some information and impressions with you, I’ve realized that I have more affection for my home region than I ever knew!

People hear “New York” and they think “Big Apple,” Empire State Building, Broadway. My New York, the “North Country,” couldn’t be more different.

My home is in upstate New York, about 60 miles south of Montreal, Quebec, and 45 miles east of Lake Placid, where the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games were held. The nearby town is Plattsburgh, represented by the back dot in the map. I have to drive due south for over 5 hours to get to New York City, which is at the bottom right here!

New York

I live on a lake that forms the boundary between upstate New York and Vermont; Lake Champlain is 120 miles long and runs north into the Richilieu River and the St. Lawrence.465px-Champlainmap.svg

The lake is in a valley between the mellow, old Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont, which are part of the Appalachian Chain.

Our combination of water and mountains, rural farmlands and small towns, makes this part of New York feel much more like New England than like the New York that pops into most minds.

This is a land of sugar maples, oaks, birches, and pine trees, which give us our fall colors, the fragrant litter of pine needles in the sun, and the “tock, tock” of acorns on the roof.

This is a world where French-Canadian roots run deep and the map is littered with place names like Point au Roche and the Boquet River (although the latter, strangely, is pronounced “Bow-ket.” I’m told the old-timers called it the Bow-qwet.) One’s friends have names like Benoit Lafave and Andre Delorme and, when they swear, they say “Sacré bleu!” or, even better, “Jeezum crow!”

Similarly, one can never forget the Native American inhabitants, the Ganienkeh, the Awkwesasne, the Abenaki. Words from their languages name mountains, rivers, and towns. Even “Adirondack” is supposedly a Mohawk word used to insult the Algonquins. The word translates as “bark eater” or “eater of trees,” and was an insult to suggest the Algonquins were not very good hunters!

The history of European settlement of this region is very old, by American standards. Samuel de Champlain reached the Champlain Valley in 1609. The region was under French rule, then British rule, and then played a role in the outcome of the Revolutionary War.

My people came here in the late 1700s and carved a farm from the rocky soil on a big hill overlooking the lake. They fought in the American Revolution and watched from the hill as the Battle of Plattsburgh, in the War of 1812, unfolded in the valley below. The photo at the top of the post shows my family, when we were still living on the farm, with that valley and Lake Champlain behind us.

War and national defense have always figured prominently here. When I was a kid, Plattsburgh was home to a Strategic Air Command base of the US Air Force. Fighter bombers and huge cargo planes were so commonly above our heads that we simply no longer heard the infernal noise they made.

I moved away from this area when I was in my early 20s, to go to grad school and to teach college elsewhere.

But I never really left. The lake and the mountains and my family always drew me back. Every summer of my adult life has been spent here, on Lake Champlain, at “camp.”

And now “camp” is home.

It was odd to come back here full time, after so many years. I’m forever meeting people who worked with my father or had my mother as a teacher in first grade. My favorite story came from a woman who lives down the road. When she heard my name, she told me that her father and my grandfather shared tractor tires during the Great Depression. Tires were expensive! So, even though the farms were about 12 miles apart, they alternated the tires between the two tractors and made do.

I love that story. I love feeling connected to a place, knowing the short cuts to get anywhere, recognizing names, and being able to say, “that’s where I lived,” “I learned to ski there,” “I think we went to high school together.”

I’m honestly not sure how much of this I would ever have pondered, if I wasn’t writing to you. Writing about where I live, telling you about it, makes me appreciate it more.

Thank you for that.


What makes your home special? Have you written about it? Can you leave me a link to your post?

Florida . . . Yes!

If you live in the northern hemisphere, you might need a break. I know I did.

At our house, right now, it’s 15 degrees Fahrenheit (about minus 9 Celsius), with a forecast of colder temps and heavy snow in the next few days.

But that’s okay. Because I just had my mid-winter break in Florida and filled up on sun and sea, good food and beautiful sights. Even better, we had 12 days of time with family and dear friends. So, in spite of the weather outside, my inside feels warm and cozy. Maybe these photos can warm you up, too!

Florida can be annoying. Too many people are loving it to death. We all want what Florida has to give and we all want it in the same three-month period. That makes for hellish traffic, ugly strips of chain stores, and garish tackiness.

And yet . . .

IMG_1953

Florida still retains its considerable charms.

Amazing wildlife. We didn’t see dolphins this year but we saw lots of birds! (Click on any photo for the details)

Lots of vintage linens! I found a lot to love in the historical village on Sanibel Island and in the town of Arcadia, where there are dozens of vintage/antique shops in a two-block area.

Sun. Sand. Glittering turquoise water. Flowers everywhere. The beaches on the Gulf Coast, on Sanibel and Gasparilla Islands and at Longboat Key, offer miles of aimless walking, with nothing more important than looking for shells.

The perfect antidote to winter.

Miles of perfection

Miles of perfection

The Unbearable Coolness of Weaving

IMG_3330Want to know something really cool about weaving?

You can do the hard work of setting up the loom once and get lots of very different- looking products out of it!

The long vertical, or warp, threads are set in one pattern of color and a base pattern that governs, to a certain extent, what you can do.

Just the warp threads

Just the warp threads

But depending on what you do with the horizontal, or weft, threads, you can get multiple looks, and they can be quite different from each other.

For instance, here’s the dishtowel I showed you a while ago. Green, brown and tan stripes in a herringbone pattern. Nice! The weft (horizontal) threads are all done in the tan thread.

IMG_1924

Herringbone

I finished the length I wanted for that towel and then decided to switch the way I was pressing the treadles of the loom. My second dishtowel looks like this:

IMG_3333

German Bird’s Eye

It still has the green, brown, and tan stripes running vertically. I’m still using the tan thread for the horizontal weft. But now I have a bird’s eye pattern! How cool is that?

In fact, if you look carefully, you can see that, in between the first pattern and the second, there’s another simpler variation. I wove that in as a section I can cut and hem when I’m done, but I think it’s attractive in its own right.

A third, ridged, pattern at the bottom of this photo

A third, ridged, pattern at the bottom of this photo

I should also point out that, if I changed the color of the warp (horizontal) thread from tan to, say, dark green, the look would change dramatically again!

All told, there are five different patterns that can be achieved this threading of the loom, called German Bird’s Eye. I expect to do at least one more of them for the third dishtowel on this warp. Maybe I’ll change the color of the warp thread, too!

I think you know that I won’t be able to resist showing them all to you when I’m done!

The Craftsman’s Creed, in the Depth It Deserves

I hold with none who think not work a boon,

Vouchsafed to man that he may aid his Kind

With offerings from his chisel, wheel, or loom,

Fashioned with loving heart and loving mind.

 

All of the fine traditions and the skill,

Come from my elders through the long line down,

Are mine to use to raise our crafts’ renown

And mine to teach again with reverent will:

 

Thus do I live to serve,

With fingers which are masters of the tool.

–James Parton Haney

I’m always trying to articulate what draws me to the work I do, how craft differs from art, what is motivating to the makers who devote time and energy to making items that are both practical and beautiful. I first saw this statement of a “craftsman’s creed,” a set of guiding principles for makers, in of one of my weaving books. It has given me plenty to ponder.

The book contained, as it turns out, only part of the original the creed and it was attributed to “anonymous.” But since we live in a world graced with the internet, I was able to track down the author with not too much trouble.

James Parton Haney, an art educator, first offered the creed as a code of belief and conduct in 1913, according to an obituary for the man published in the ‪Bulletin of the Art Center, New York.

Haney’s words and teachings seem to have been well-respected and circulated in his lifetime. In fact, I found a reference to the Philadelphia Club of Printing House Craftsmen singing the creed at their 1918 meeting. But, by 1956, the Christian Science Monitor published the poem without attribution. If nothing else, this post returns credit to the man—and I think he deserves to be known for this fine statement of what we do!

I like a lot about Haney’s statement of what it means to be a maker:

I like that it’s written in lofty terms. It may be true that this is partly a function of the fact it was written over a century ago, but the language used seems to be more formal and grand than what would have been considered everyday talk, even then.

The language Haney used makes it a little harder to read and digest the creed but I’d say that’s a good thing. It asks us to slow down and really think about what it means to call ourselves craftsmen.*

The grand language seems designed to elevate what some might have dismissed as a humble undertaking, mere “craft.” Those who embrace the creed are asked to see craftsmanship as not merely the use of tools to make the stuff of daily life, not a lesser undertaking than art, but its own endeavor, with its own passion and criteria for excellence.

I like that the creed focuses the maker’s work on connections with the past, the present, and the future equally.

For me, one of the most compelling aspects of learning a craft is that every craft has traditions; the work we do we grows from the work done by those who came before us. We learn from them; we draw on accumulated knowledge and technique; we take the next step in the journey of advancing the craft. Haney’s creed acknowledges and honors this connection to the past. We are the latest members of a family of makers.

The creed also focuses on the present and the day-to-day satisfaction that is to be derived from making a thing of beauty and usefulness. When Haney describes work as a boon, done with loving hand and loving mind, he focuses our attention on the satisfaction we get from our efforts—we are making not only because the product of our labors fulfills a need, although it will, but because the act of making pleases us.

Haney’s creed also makes references to the equal partnership of heart, hand and mind in making finely crafted work. He speaks of love, of skill, and of the thought that go into the work we do. Could we call it craftsmanship without any one of those elements?

Lastly, the creed makes the case for an obligation of the craftsman to the future of the craft. The future of the craft depends on each of us feeling an obligation to teach our skills to others, so that the craft continues to flourish.

On this topic of sharing what we know and teaching it, I also really like that Haney gives such short notice to the topic of making money from the craft, unlike a more modern craftsman’s creed offered by Josh Kaufman. Of course, many craftsmen are concerned about making a living but Haney’s creed seems to assume that, if the tenets of the creed are upheld, the making of a living will follow. Just as the Hippocratic Oath of Physicians states that, “If I faithfully observe this oath, may I thrive and prosper in my fortune and profession,” Haney’s creed expects the work of the maker, in service to the craft and to the well-being of others, to ensure thriving and prosperous business.

One more aspect of Haney’s creed that really speaks to me is his casting of craftsmanship as a boon to be thankful for. The full text of Haney’s original creed (see below) makes reference to craft skill as gift from God. You can do with that what you will. I am happy to consider my skills a gift given by nature, nurture, my teachers, my own hard work.

But, whatever the source, it’s a gift that one should recognize as such and be thankful for and respectful of. Sometimes I forget to stop and think about how lucky I am to have the opportunity to do the work I do. Sometimes I get so caught up in making quick, little projects—something I can give away as a quick gift or, yes, blog about—that I lose track of what my real purpose is. And that purpose, for me, is to make the best quilt, or set of dishtowels, or peanut butter meltaways I am capable of, because these are my crafts and I owe them the respect of doing them well and striving to do them even better.

James Parton Haney’s Craftsman’s Creed is far more, to me, than a nice poem, a pretty summary of what I like to do. It’s really more of an inspiration. My tendency is toward being a “Jill of all trades,” toward racking up one craft after another, and then moving on. My life has sort of epitomized the “been there, done that” school of crafting.

But pondering Haney’s words makes me want to expect more of myself and to honor craftsmanship, to challenge myself to focus, learn, learn more, become as expert as I can in one area.

Will I do that? Will I choose one creative outlet, to the expense of all others? No, not likely—that’s just not me. But Haney’s words can still inspire me to give my different crafts my full focus, each in its turn, and, instead of jumping on the next bandwagon, to push myself deeper into what I already do.

And what about you? How does Haney’s creed represent your experience in crafting and commitment to your craft? Does the creed articulate what motivates you, in your quilting, your knitting, your baking, your gardening, your work?


* Does the gender-specific word “craftsman” bother you? It does me, sort of, but I strongly dislike “crafter” and haven’t come up with other suitable options. I’m hoping the whole discussion can be shelved for another time and not take away from the meaning behind this creed.


This is the creed as Haney wrote it. It contains a reference to pay and the last lines about God (as marked) that don’t appear in the version I’ve seen published more recently and attributed to “Anonymous.”

THE CRAFTSMAN’S CREED

I hold with none who think not work a boon,

Vouchsafed to man that he may aid his Kind

With offerings from his chisel, wheel, or loom,

Fashioned with loving heart and loving mind.

 

All of the fine traditions and the skill,

Come from my elders through the long line down,

Are mine to use to raise our crafts’ renown

And mine to teach again with reverent will:

 

Thus do I live to serve, though least for pay,

With fingers which are masters of the tool

And eyes which light to see the pattern’s play–

As it unfolds obedient to each rule of our dear Art.

 

So all my craft is praise to God–at once part homage and part song.

My work’s my prayer, I sing the whole day long

As Faith and Beauty shape the forms I raise.

The Craftsman’s Creed

Does the following creed address what you do, as a maker of lovely and useful things? More on the subject soon . . . .

THE CRAFTSMAN’S CREED

I hold with none who think not work a boon,

Vouchsafed to man that he may aid his Kind

With offerings from his chisel, wheel, or loom,

Fashioned with loving heart and loving mind.

 

All of the fine traditions and the skill,

Come from my elders through the long line down,

Are mine to use to raise our crafts’ renown

And mine to teach again with reverent will:

 

Thus do I live to serve, though least for pay,

With fingers which are masters of the tool

And eyes which light to see the pattern’s play–

As it unfolds obedient to each rule of our dear Art.

 

So all my craft is praise to God–at once part homage and part song.

My work’s my prayer, I sing the whole day long

As Faith and Beauty shape the forms I raise.

–James Parton Haney