We Have So Much . . .

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Oodles of creative energy and desire. A strong desire, the impulse to make, to create . . .

And no resources. No thread, no yarn, no fabric. Nothing to turn my hands to. I can’t imagine . . .

A lot of my recent pleasure in this complicated world comes from my poor power to make something. When I get too overwhelmed by the news, I can turn away, pick up a rainbow of pretty threads, and play. And heal.

I’m reading a book that helps me realize how very, very lucky I am to have that outlet.

The book is Homefront and Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War, Madelyn Shaw and Lynne Zacek Bassett. It was published as a companion to a 2012 show that was organized by the now-defunct American Textile History Museum. The show traveled to other museums, including Shelburne Museum of Vermont, where Don and I saw the collection a couple years ago.

The show was spectacular, using “quilts, textiles, clothing, and other artifacts to connect deeply moving and insightful personal stories about the war, its causes, and its aftermath with the broader national context and public history.”

I didn’t write a blog post about this experience, mostly because photography wasn’t allowed and the impact of the show was visual—items included the hemp rope said to have been used to hang abolitionist John Brown, quilts made for soldiers to carry with them to battle, and all manner of personal textile items—knapsacks, clothing, and “housewives”—small sewing kits made for soldiers to carry with them in order to do their own sewing repairs.

Seeing these items moved me greatly and brought the reality of the Civil War to life for me, and I bought the well-written and beautifully illustrated book so I could learn more and have the photographs of the wonderful artifacts. I would recommend it to anyone interested in textiles, domestic social history, and human resilience.

I’ve been re-reading the book lately, in another time of American upheaval and uncertainty. Sometimes, as I read, I almost envy the women left home during the Civil War—they were full of a sense of purpose and knew exactly what they could do to make a difference during difficult times. They sewed, they knit, they wove, they quilted, and they sent the product of their labor to the soldiers whose lives were made substantially more bearable as a result.

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from the website of the American Textile History Museum, athm.org 

In these times that try one’s soul, as I turn my hand to weaving, sewing, quilting, I have no such sense of broader purpose. I am doing what I do for myself and my own state of mind. Making is a balm.

Yet, reading Homefront and Battlefield also encourages me to think about how lucky I am, and not just in the obvious ways—we are not engaged in a war with ourselves, I am not sending sons to battle to fight and kill their brothers. I am not burying the silver in the yard to hide it from the enemy.

I am lucky, too, in that in my need to make and to turn my hand to a job of work, I have unlimited power to do so and unlimited resources to draw from.

One of the points made in the book, and something that had never occurred to me is that, often during years of the Civil War, women had nothing–nothing— to work with.

As a result of any number of realities of war, there were no raw materials to be had. No cotton because it was all diverted to the war effort. No wool because sheep were killed to feed troops, rather than kept for their wool. A Georgia woman described the plight in her diary, saying, “There is no cloth to be had and no thread, no yarn—nor anything to do with. Time passes heavily under such circumstances” (164).

Indeed, it would.

No cloth? No thread? No yarn?? Just worry, and a frustrated desire to turn hands to fruitful labor, to make something that could help.

I have worry. But I have yarn and thread and fabric. I can sublimate my worry, my agitation, into something positive.

I read examples all the time of women channeling grief or anger or worry into their craft, turning to the soothing rhythm of knitting needles clicking or the needle and thread purring through cloth . . .

Can you imagine not having that outlet?

The Circle of Life

The rituals of life are wrapped in cloth.
Louise Todd Cope

Swaddling clothes, receiving blanket, christening gown

Hand-me-downs, Easter bonnets, first high heels

Prom dress, graduation gown, hope chest linens, wedding veil, satin sheets

Cocktail napkins, Thanksgiving tablecloth, Christmas tree skirt

Maternity top, “mom” jeans, apron strings, easy-care clothing, sensible shoes

Electric blanket, moth-nibbled cardigan, hospital gown

Coffin cloth

. . . . . .

Swaddling clothes . . .

Celebrating the Process, and a Giveaway

The process or the product? The doing or the done?

Have you considered where you get the satisfaction in your making? Whether you bake or garden or write or craft in some fashion, do you do it because you love the doing or is it the finished product that thrills you?

I’ve come to realize that I’m process-oriented, perhaps to an unusual degree. I love the doing and seem to care little for the done.

When I recently wrote about finishing the marathon yoyo coverlet, many readers asked what I was going to do with it. I was stumped. The absolute truth is probably nothing much.

Part of that is purely practical—the texture of the coverlet would make it a magnet for my cats.

But it is also true is that I’ve already sort of lost interest in the coverlet.

It was interesting as something to do, to make, to immerse myself in, but now it’s just another quilt in the house. Even my all-time favorite quilt, the 1812 cot-to-coffin quilt, is simply folded up now and stored in an armoire. The wool throw I wove? It’s in the cedar chest. The silver jewelry I’ve crafted? Tarnishing in the jewelry box.

The bottom line is that it’s the process of making that engages me, challenges me, makes me feel alive. The products sort of seem like just more things in the house–pretty things, but things nonetheless.

It’s the interacting with the materials, the touch, the skill, the focus, that I love.

The yoyo coverlet will get dragged out for the biennial show of my quilters’ guild, because I like warm fuzzies as well as the next person, but it will probably live in a cupboard or cedar chest until then.

I think this is also what leads to the Etsy shops I have. I love the process of making chocolates but don’t want to, and shouldn’t, eat all of what I make. What to do? Give some away and sell the rest.

I love weaving but one person can use only so many kitchen towels and scarves. But I feel driven to weave—I love the process. What to do? Give some away and sell the rest.

So, in support of the idea of giving some away and to celebrate the opening of, and the first couple of sales in, the newest Etsy shop, Woven Together, I’m going to have a random drawing for a handwoven kitchen towel.

So far the towel looks like this.

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Do you love it?

The winner of the drawing will be asked to tell me what colors s/he would like to see added to the towel and, when all the pieces on the warp are complete, I’ll send the towel to the winner! It might be a few weeks before it’s finished . . . because I’ll be enjoying the process.

Anyone can enter, from any part of the world. To enter the drawing, I ask you to tell us, in the comments, whether you are process-oriented or product-oriented—what motivates your making/doing? Try not to just say “both” . . . .

And, if you’re inclined, visit Woven Together, and give me some feedback about what you’d like to see more of in the shop. This latter is optional, though!

The deadline will be midnight on Tuesday, November 8. As our Election Day, that’s a very important day here in the US. I will be voting, to enjoy the process and also, I am hopeful, the product of that particular action!

A Week Away, Weaving

Whew! We’re home again, mentally exhausted and physically sore, but full of ideas and enthusiasm for a craft we love.

And you, too, can achieve all this!

I have one purpose in writing—to encourage you to go away, to find an intensive learning experience in your favorite craft, whether it is cooking, knitting, writing, gardening, quilting . . . just go.

Not a mellow retreat, not an afternoon crafting with friends, although those have their place.

Find yourself an opportunity to spend a week, or more, undistracted by daily chores and obligations, to work really hard, with nothing more important than immersing yourself in something you love.

Our week at Vavstuga Weaving School felt, at times, like boot camp. But, like boot camp, we came out stronger and more confident, and ready to move to a new level of weaving.

The course we took was Nordic Classics and, because I know there are weavers reading, I’ll give an overview of what we learned. For non-weavers, feel free to skip the details and just look at the pretty pictures. But, as you look, also imagine what you could make, in your own chosen medium, if you gave yourself the chance.

The Nordic Classics workshop focused on 6 weaving techniques associated with Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway.

We had taken only the Weaving Basics course before (I wrote about it!) and this was much more difficult weaving than that course, or any weaving we’d done on our own.

Our classmates, the other 6 people in the workshop, were much more experienced weavers than we and I was a little unnerved at first. But, with skillful instruction and guidance, as well as encouragement from the others, we were able to do work we’re very proud of!

We took on 6 different projects in what amounted to 3.5 days of actual weaving so we didn’t come home with finished projects. We have, in most cases, good-sized samples that can be turned into finished projects.

An overview of what we made:

Leno lace

This lace is made of fine linen thread. I was familiar with Leno, from working with vintage linens, but most lace like this, when done at a loom, is done with a very time-consuming technique of manually picking up threads, twisting them, and then holding them in place with a weft thread.

The technique we learned was treadled Leno, which while still fiddly, was much faster and more efficient than the traditional method. I was able to weave a 31 by 17 inch piece in about 3 hours.

Our instructor, Becky Ashenden, had come across this method in an old Swedish weaving book, and figured out how to make it work. I won’t try to explain it here—I’m not sure I could!

We cannot use this technique on our home looms—we can’t approximate the setup used—but the experience taught me about creative problem-solving! It also gave me a better appreciation for all the handmade lace I see.

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My lace–all the samples looked the same!

Enkel skillbragd

This weaving is done with two shuttles in wool over linen, the way much overshot weaving is done. I found it very scary to try because it looks so complicated but it turned out to be a joy to weave! The setup is not difficult—we can easily do it at home—and there are really only three possible “building blocks” of the design that are combined to create all the different patterns.

Enkel skillbragd is Norwegian in origin and the weaving was traditionally used as coverlets, lined with sheepskin. I brought home a piece about 24 inches square, perfect for a big sofa pillow.

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My enkel skillbragd

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Don’s enkel skillbragd

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Each with our own–don’t these people look like fun?!

Halvdrall

Halvdrall seems to mean “poor man’s damask” in Swedish but the structure creates a rich product! This is pretty straightforward to weave, with two shuttles, but looks so impressive!

Half of us wove on a warp of varied blues and the other half wove on soft autumn tones. We chose our own weft colors and the outcomes were so different and all gorgeous! Don and I brought home one of each colorway—they will make nice table squares at about 20 inches.

The technique was worked in a cotton and linen blend and would be great in placemats, towels—so many uses!

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My halvdrall

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Don’s halvdrall

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A variety from the group

Danish twill

This pretty twill can be done in innumerable designs, as we learned. It’s fairly straightforward to weave but is done on 10 shafts. That’s fine with me—I just acquired a 12-shaft loom! And I love twills!

We wove this on a loom that was quite wide and a little finicky. The weaving was accompanied by the sounds of shuttles crashing to the floor and muffled swear words . . .

None of us did very large samples of this—mine is only about 10 inches long. I like it a lot, though, and will find something to make of it. If I only knew how to put in a zipper . . .

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My Danish twill

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Don’s Danish twill

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A variety from the group

Gagnefkrus (Honeycomb)

Look at this texture!

I thought this looked so difficult but by the time I got to this loom, late in the week, it was like a walk in the park!

The fabric, even on the loom under tension, has a neat texture, with those cells of fine thread surrounded by thicker threads. But, once it is washed, it becomes even more 3-dimensional and interesting. It would make wonderful fabric for upholstery or pillows. At 26 by 15 inches, my sample could be a small pillow . . . we’ll see.

We made this with fairly fine cotton, what’s know as 16/2 weight. It just so happens that we inherited huge cones of 16/2 cotton with one of the looms we bought so I see honeycomb in my future!

Opphamta

I loved opphamta and am sorry to say I can’t do it on my home loom. Or maybe there is a way to do it but only one that would be more fiddly and time-intensive than the way we learned.

Opphamta is Finnish and there are all kinds of these designs that look like cross-stitch patterns to me. It’s done with fine linen and the colors and fabric are so crisp and clean . . . My sample is fairly small, 11 by 26 inches, but I WILL find a way to use it at home!

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My opphamta

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Don’s opphamta

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A variety from the group

Don and I left the studio at 6 every day, exhausted. We covered the same projects over the course of the week but didn’t work on them on the same days so we compared notes and shared advice. We had a quiet meal, a strong drink, and fell into bed.

We didn’t stay at Vavstuga’s dormitory this time, which meant we introverts had more quiet time to re-group between intensive weaving sessions.

But it also meant we didn’t get to know our classmates quite as well as last time.

And they were wonderful classmates—upbeat, passionate (!) about weaving, and all so funny and fun. But, by staying in a B&B, we did get to know an equally wonderful pair of quilters who were in town for an intense and demanding quilting workshop, and loving it.

Which brings me back to my original point. These hard, demanding, stretch-yourself-to-the-limits experiences are amazing.

To be among like-minded people, to be a little afraid and to overcome that fear and meet success, to share advice and tips in a generous way, to come home re-energized . . . priceless.

To encounter a teacher who will give guidance into difficult concepts and just assume you can keep up, who will answer even the nuttiest questions and fix the stickiest mistakes with good humor and good sense . . . all priceless.

Priceless, but they come with a price, as do all things we value. These experiences don’t come cheap—they take valuable time and money—but they are so worth the expenditures. We have all been known to spend our money and our time on endeavors worth far less than what can be gained at a workshop designed to make us better at the thing we love to do.

Let it be known, I will follow my own advice. I’ll be going back to Vavstuga.

I hope you’ll find the opportunity to go somewhere similar, to go away, to dive in, to surround yourself, immerse yourself, indulge yourself in what you love.

Our Weaving Ways (Summer 2016)

The weaving continues, con brio.

We’ve made an addition to our pride of looms. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it came from a good friend who’s an excellent weaver—great karma! It’s not the loom’s fault that I feel a little intimidated . . .

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Since I’ve indulged my ego in my most recent show-and-tell, I’ve woven quite a lot.

A bunch of cotton towels like this, with varying bands of varying colors. Many of them have already been given away.

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A set of these towels, heavy on linen, to practice some of the skills I learned at weaving school. You can see one of the handwoven hanging tabs that make me go “squeeee!”

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A blanket and coordinating pillow for a baby girl who was so excited to see the gifts that she came 5 weeks early!

And this set of Monk’s belt towels and a runner—you got a glimpse of these when I cut them off them loom.

My husband, Don, has been weaving, too. He made this pretty runner and has two more huge and gorgeous runners waiting to be hemmed and wet finished.

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He wove part of the baby blanket, too, since it was a gift from us both. He has been spending a lot of time on a big, non-weaving project that I’ll show you soon!

So many projects, so many plans . . .

Did you have a productive summer, doing your favorite things? Have you done your show-and-tell? If so, leave a link in your comment!

“It’s All About Me” Monday: The Unfinished Object

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Is there a crafter alive who has finished every project she has started?

If so, I’d like to meet her; I’d like to shake her hand, and celebrate her fortitude and single-mindedness and self-discipline.

In the words of the legendary Bob Dylan, “It ain’t me, babe. It ain’t me you’re looking for . . .”

I’ve left so many things undone. Some have been too hard for me, some too easy, some just didn’t take. Some have been around so long that the colors and style are sadly out of date and some have been attacked by insects or mice or something else unthinkable. Some have simply fallen by the wayside when another shiny-new, exciting project has come along.

I’m not proud of this so most of my unfinished projects have been disposed of, gone and forgotten, so they can no longer haunt me and make me feel undisciplined.

But one piece endures—I love it in spite of its unfinishedness. I think it’s lovely just as it is.

This kit depicting scenes from Aesop’s Fables came out in 1979, the same year I finished a cross stitch sampler. I imagine I felt flush with that success and wanted to keep the feeling going.

This was back when crewel embroidery was cool and you could buy beautiful kits, complete with good instructions and quality yarns.

This project was big and ambitious and gorgeous—I thought so then and I still think so 37 years later.

And yet I didn’t get far with the project. I can’t remember why but it was right when I started grad school and had bought a spinning wheel and . . . who knows?

But I got far enough that I have thought this unfinished object was still worth seeing. It doesn’t make me feel bad in its incompleteness. In fact, I kind of like the effect of one bright, embroidered panel against the subtle line drawings of the other panels.

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It’s been with me all these years and has hung on a wall most of that time.

I’ve never intended to finish it and wouldn’t have known where to begin, even if I was inclined.

And, yet, weirdly, recently, even as I had the idea for this post in mind, I came across a plastic bag, in a plastic bin, in an overcrowded garage, along with other unfinished projects.

And look what was in it . . .

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Yes, the directions and the yarn. Is this a sign of things to come?

But, enough about me! Let’s talk about you. How do you like my unfinished object?

Do you finish everything? Do your unfinished projects ever make you happy, just as they are?

A Moment . . .

. . . I’ve been waiting for!

cutting off loom

When you’re immersed in a project, do you have a favorite moment? Is it casting off the last stitch, putting the finished cake or flower arrangement on the table, sewing the binding on the quilt?

Or is there a step along the way that gives you the biggest thrill?

For me, and I suspect a lot of weavers, the best moment comes when I cut the warp off the loom and unwind the long, long piece of fabric.

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So many steps remain before anything here will be finished! Ends need to be woven in, hems turned and sewn or fringe twisted, various stages of wet finishing and pressing.

But right now, I can see what I have, what I have been working at for these last weeks. Much of what I’d woven had been hidden from me, wound onto that front cloth beam.

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I’d almost forgotten what the first section looked like so this is a sort of unveiling, a revealing of work of my hands.

This length of fabric will become a runner, two towels, and, my favorite, the random-sized piece of cloth at the end. Because it’s random, “extra,”I felt free to play and, off course, I like it best. It’s too small for a towel . . . maybe a bread cloth?

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Now that this project is off the loom, I can get ready for my second most favorite moment–the fresh, tidy new warp, ready for the shuttle to be thrown and the web to be woven.