The Squee Factor

When we show off something we’ve made, we get all sorts of reactions. People might gasp in wonder, sit back and whisper “wow,” or ask “how long did that take to make?”

And then there’s the squee factor, the little detail or special extra that makes viewers squeal with delight. Usually the squee factor applies to a little frill that might go unnoticed and is probably unnecessary but is so darn cute that people just react by going “squeeeeee”!

My latest squee love affair is with handwoven hanging tabs for the towels I’ve been making. Towels don’t really need hanging tabs and they certainly don’t need handwoven ones, made on a special separate loom that cost money and takes up floor space.

And yet, when I make them, with the same colors used in the towels, and I carefully sew them into the towels as I hem them, in my head, I’m saying “squeeeeee.”

I got this band loom, made by Glimakra, when I was at weaving school.

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It came with the world’s worst directions for assembly and no directions at all for use but my weaving friend got one, too, and, together, we managed to figure them out. We were helped immeasurably by this blog post by Karen Isenhower, which, serendipitously, came out the very day we purchased the looms (squeeee!)

So now I can weave ribbon.

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Why, yes. Yes, those are the toothmarks of a Satanic kitten in the paper quill.

I wander around my house, looking for places that need ribbons. My curtains could use tiebacks, I like to hang my small scissors around my neck when I sew, maybe my white button-down shirt could use a pretty placket of ribbon . . .

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And under my breath, I’m saying “squeeeee!”

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?