Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The last bits of childhood

Over the holidays, my sister instigated a little rummage through the basement at our parents house. After all the toys and dollhouse furniture for the kids was found, this box surfaced.

There were many things in that box I had long forgotten about. I had written off the school yearbooks as lost and thought the book collection had gone to a library donation. But there they were. Eleven yearbooks and the full set of Little House on the Prairie. (I was especially thrilled about those as I just finished reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's annotated autobiography, Pioneer Girl. I know. Geek.)
I thought perhaps those yearbooks might contain some good blackmailing material, but alas, the yearbook photographer (me, for a few years), was too conscientious about choosing photos that didn't look completely stupid.
Sixth grade...
Apparently in my senior year at Gallup High School, I won a couple band awards. I have no memory of this at all. But there they are. Photographed and ready for recycling in my father's woodshop. What I do wish is that I had a kindergarten diploma. That is the kind of thing you want hanging next to your college diplomas. Actually, I don't even know where my college diplomas are. The kindergarten one is probably the most important. What we learn there is what gets us through life, right?
I played the clarinet. It is upstairs in the closet. I still remember how it sounded when I was good (for a high-schooler). I don't get it out now. I don't want to go back to junior high ever, even in my mind. But here is a flashback for you that I use in my ergonomics for fiber artists lecture. I am the slouching blonde with the 80's feathered hair. The other blonde is my younger cousin Molly. She went on to be an outstanding violinist and is now my most favorite children's book illustrator, artist, and superb art teacher to inner-city kids ever. If you want to see her work, her name is Molly McNeece and her website is HERE.
I had some trouble with my wrists from playing the clarinet. That is why this photo is part of a class I teach called Creating without Pain: Ergonomics for Fiber Artists (see my YarnFest schedule if you want to take it). I translated the musical interest to weaving drafts and eventually to tapestry weaving. Yep. From nerdy clarinetist to super-hip mid-life tapestry artist.

The digging in the family basement went on for awhile. The cool metal and wooden toys we played with surfaced, now adored by my nieces. This playhouse circa 1976 also emerged... and was set up for the little ones. The good thing about it is that it is entirely cardboard and can be recycled when my sister is tired of tripping over it.
My brother-in-law has a new chocolate lab. Six weeks old and cute as a button. I think there is a family conspiracy to drive his wife nuts by calling the dog by the three-year-old's name for him. "Woop" is a great name for a dog, right? (His real name is Luke, but who wants to call a dog that? Three-year-olds can't say the L very well.)

Somewhere in Kansas the gas is $1.49/gal. Makes you feel like you're in high school again and filling up the car from the money you earned working weekends at the fabric shop.

If I haven't told you yet, Happy New Year. (a month late)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

So Warped. Startitis for weavers.

Kathe Todd-Hooker sold these bumper stickers at one point.
Knitters talk about startitis. It is that thing that happens when suddenly you have to cast on another project even though you have four projects you're willing to admit to in your knitting basket and five or six more in the back of your closet that you're not. I had a similar affliction last week on the weaving front.

I warped three looms. Sometimes these things just happen... and looms get warped. They were all small projects as the big lifeline project on the Harrisville is not done yet. Maybe I just needed something small to work on until that big thing in the studio is finished. Something I can wrap my head around. Something simple.

Loom #1
I warped the big Macomber for some samples for the Simultaneous Contrast color class I'm teaching at YarnFest this year. I'll be trying some new color combinations for examples in this fascinating perceptual thing that is color. It is all rather Itten/Albers, isn't it? The exercise below is a value study. I bet you can see where I am going to dye another step in the grayscale?!

This loom is a 48 inch Macomber floor loom, 16 harness (of which I only ever use four). It is the only jack loom that I currently recommend for tapestry weaving.

Loom #2
After reading Sarah Swett's fantastic blog post about four-selvedge warping, I had the bug to try it myself. I had been putting it off until I make a pipe loom, but decided that since I had some empty Mirrix looms sitting around (the "empty" part being fairly rare), I should just try it now. That project involved a trip to the fly shop. Not being a fisherman, it was quite the adventure. I thought for a second I had wandered into a bead shop with the rooms full of little boxes with little things in them! (turns out those were flies for fishing, not beads) At any rate, the men working there were not so sure what I was going to use the fly line backing for, but the word "weaving" seemed to ring a bell.

After the fly store, I made a trip to the hardware store for some PVC to make a jig. Worked like a dream. With computer next to me, following Sarah's instructions, the deed was done.

Here is the problem with the way I warped it. Usually on a Mirrix there are two complete layers of warp. For four-selvedge, the two layers of supplemental warp have to be pulled together and the fat beam at the top of the Mirrix means that the shedding device isn't going to work at the top of this piece. And I even put the short extenders on this Little Guy loom. Next time I do this on the Mirrix, I am going to suspend a thinner rod under the top beam. This will mean I can't use the coil for spacing, but in this case I think it will be a worthy sacrifice. Or this would be a case to consider using the long extenders (which I do not own yet).
Here is the work so far! This is the late-night magic weaving this week I talk more about in my newsletter today. (Sign up here if you haven't already!) It kind of looks like magic, doesn't it?

Loom #3
The third loom was the baby Macomber. This was my grandmother's very first loom which she bought after seeing a cottage neighbor at Eight Point Lake weaving. It is a very old piece of equipment (and still going strong, BRAVO Macomber!) I warped it for an experiment in Swedish weaving I participated in at Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins in Boulder last weekend. Joanne Hall was teaching. This is a linen warp in three colors, three ends woven as one.
I went to the workshop hoping to broaden my horizons with some options for my own work. I found that I was frustrated with the chunky nature of the weave. Joanne presented some excellent reasons why you might want to use this weave structure for very large pieces. It is lighter than a weft-faced work would be (I'm not actually positive this is true since there is so much more yarn going in there even though it isn't packed as tightly) and it is faster to weave (this is absolutely true--it flies off the loom).

I took a class from Helena Hernmarck in 2013 and you can see the images from that class and Helena's show HERE. This class was not like Helena's class and I struggled for the take-away. I'll let you know what I come up with.

Three different warping methods. Three different weaving methods. Mixed results in all cases.
The possibilities in tapestry weaving are many! I think we may only be limited by our imaginations.
No more warping until I finish the big tapestry.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Snowmageddon showed up after all

I am always amazed at how freaked out people in Colorado get at the threat of a little snow. I expect it from people in the South or even in New Mexico (where it does snow sometimes!). But I really think Colorado should be able to handle the white stuff.
I blame the hype entirely on the media. Days and days of, "the world is going to screech to a halt as a massive storm slams into the Rockies undoubtedly stopping the world on its axis and causing your corner supermarket to be out of white bread. Prepare yourself! (here is how to do it... watch Channel X news continuously for the next week and talk endlessly with your colleagues about how horrible it is going to be and maybe we should just stay home)"

When the promised storm brought little snow on Sunday, I scoffed. But the hype continued.
Yesterday it started snowing.
And it didn't stop.
And I shoveled.
And still it didn't stop.

I went to the grocery store.
There was still white bread, but I was hard pressed to find Swiss cheese.

I got some unexpected help from TWO neighbors with snow blowers at dusk last night. Turns out the 40-something dads who have kept that old rusty thing in the back of the garage for the last five years unused, will bust it out when the snow total exceeds 10 inches. Or maybe they just felt sorry for the sweaty lady with the deep corner lot.

And still it didn't stop.
And today Colorado State University and all the schools were cancelled and the roads were quiet except for the snow plows.
It has stopped.

I gave up the shoveling effort after two-thirds of a two-car driveway and 50 yards of a 200 yard sidewalk.
I'm hoping one of those neighbors gets frisky with that snow blower again.
I'm going back to weaving.
Because that is my post-apocalyptic life skill.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

That sign with your name on it in the airport greeting area.

You know that thing when you come up the impossibly long escalators at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport? The one where you've just told yourself thirty times not to look behind you because it is a long way down and you're not sure the 100 people behind you on the escalator are going to appreciate you toppling them all like Dominoes (but you can't hold on because of GERMS!)? That thing where someone is standing there with a sign with your name on it waiting just for you and you are so relieved because managing two carry-ons and two suitcases big enough to fit small children in is always more adventure than you want after a three hour flight? I didn't either until my last trip. It made me feel kinda great in that rather self-conscious way. I mean, who gets a greeted with a sign upon arrival? Unless of course you're returning from a tour of duty for the armed forces or you've just had a new baby or something. Those people totally deserve it.
(Thanks for the sign Molly. Next time I'm taking a picture to prove it happened!)

Today I was updating the Reviews page on my website. This is the place I put the kind words people send me about my online courses. The comments make me feel kind of like that sign at the airport. I mean, I work really very hard at making my courses the very best I can, but still... the review page is a little embarrassing. The comments are wonderful and they keep me working hard at new content and at updating the current courses as I improve my video and technical skills. There are so many comments that I now have to rotate the ones I leave up. I have enjoyed teaching these online courses every single day. And I have learned more than I will admit to so much from all of my amazing students.

If you want to see some of the great things they have said about my current two online courses, Warp and Weft: Learning the Structure of Tapestry and Color Gradation Techniques for Tapestry, you can find the good stuff here:


Thanks to everyone who has contributed and for being willing to share your work in the videos I make. The variety of work that comes out of these classes astounds me. And that is what makes me get up in the morning. Well, that and the fact that no one really probably needs more than 10 hours of sleep a night.

Once my brain clears, I have had my green smoothie and a cup of tea, and I have a little sit-down at the loom myself, I am curious to see what new marvels these students will have created and sent me photos of. They never disappoint! In fact one of them was just accepted to the American Tapestry Biennial 11. I am in no way taking credit for that one. She was always awesome. But still. Pretty cool.

Thanks to all of you!

If you're interested in either of my online courses, you can find more information here:


Look for the links at the top of that page for even more information about each class.

I just opened some new classes for 2016 and they are waiting for new ideas and energy.
I'll see you online!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

An experience of northern Georgia

I haven't spent any time at all in Georgia. I've flown through Atlanta a few times and marveled at the size of the airport. But I had never left the airport bubble until last week.

After teaching for the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild in Atlanta, Tommye Scanlin* picked me up and we had a wonderful adventure in northern Georgia.

Remember that I am from the American Southwest. I am used to adobe and sand and canyons. North Georgia is a place of big trees, rolling hills and mountains, houses with big porches and white columns, and an accent that I love to listen to.

We started our adventure with a visit to Patricia William's Communion Tapestries at Grace-Calvary Episcopal church in Clarkesville, GA. The church is a beautiful old white building tucked into this little hillside town. It is the oldest church building still in use in north Georgia, dating from 1838.
Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church, Clarkesville, GA
The tapestries are a set of five panels installed as communion kneelers. Yes, the fact that people actually kneel on them makes me gasp. But they have been in use for quite a few years now and they look fantastic. They look like they are woven at 8 epi and shaped are to fit the curve of the kneelers. They are themed for the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. In typical Pat Williams whimsy, they tell the stories well.
Pat Williams Communion Tapestries
Pat Williams Communion Tapestries
Here are a few details.
Pat Williams, Communion Tapestries, detail of Easter panel
Pat Williams, Communion Tapestries, Christmas panel
This detail captures the wonderful movement Pat has in her work. It is so engaging. I would recommend visiting her tapestries wherever possible (she has one in the upcoming American Tapestry Biennial 11) including a stop at this church to view this series.
Pat Williams, Communion Tapestries, detail of Pentecost panel
From Clarkesville, we visited some wonderful residency centers: Lillian Smith Center and The Hambidge Center. Inspiration winds its clever way through both of these places and I will be drawn back in the future.

We went to John C Campbell Folk School. Unfortunately the weaving class was not in session, but I was able to get a good look at the studio through the windows. What a wonderful place.
John C Campbell Folk School
John C Campbell fibers building
After a very chilly walk around the grounds (who knew I'd need my warm winter coat in Georgia?), we stopped in at this wood-fired cooking class. They didn't have samples for us, but it was very warm in there.
cooking class at John C Campbell Folk School
The stairs are steep in parts of the folk school!

This is another place to which I would like to return.

We passed the Appalachian trail a few times on the trip. I have read many books about this trail and perhaps will return one day to hike the whole thing. My favorite recent read about the AT is Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery. If Grandma Gatewood can walk 2,000+ miles on that crazy-difficult trail twice in her late 60s and continue hiking for another decade all over the US, certainly I can manage it once.

The most amazing things I saw on this adventure, I don't have images to show you. Tommye Scanlin's tapestries are endlessly inspiring. I was able to see her workspaces and learn a little more about how she achieves the effects she does in her work. Tommye also has a piece in the upcoming American Tapestry Biennial 11 and I got to see it in person. It is a stunning piece. You won't want to miss Because of Memory.
Tommye and Rebecca out for a walk in the woods in north Georgia.
Thanks for the wonderful time Tommye!
*If you are not familiar with Tommye or her work, make sure to visit her blog. It is a rabbit hole you won't regret jumping down. Works in Progress. Tommye is the best sort of fiber person. She is gracious and giving and her skill in tapestry weaving is incredible. She was an art (and fibers) professor for over 30 years and at her "retirement" party a few years ago, when asked what she wanted to do now that she was retired, she said, "Teach!" She continues to teach workshops and I highly recommend any time you can spend with her. I know she has some wonderful workshops coming up in 2016 and 2017.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A visit to the south... tapestry weavers of Atlanta, Georgia

I had a great trip to Atlanta. I'm completely busted-up tired today. I kept struggling and struggling and finally admitted that I was not superwoman and that I perhaps needed to have a bit of a rest. So I'm ensconced on the couch with a glass of wine and my Beatrix Potter biography. As soon as I catch you all up on this part of my trip, I'm back to the fascinating land of Peter Rabbit and the Lake District of England.

Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild is a great group of weavers. I gave my Creating Without Pain: Ergonomics for Fiber Artists talk to the group and then the tapestry-dedicated among them joined me for two and a half days of intermediate tapestry techniques. Here is some of what they did.

This table of yarn explains my massive suitcases. Every single time I flirt with that scale at the baggage counter. Southwest Airlines will let me take two suitcases under 50 pounds and I push it to the limit. Even yarn is heavy in mass quantities.

The class was Intermediate Tapestry Techniques and I encouraged them to bring their design ideas to class and to think about which of the techniques I was presenting would best be used in their work. There was a wide variety of responses to that from Jean using alternative materials in eccentric weaving to Holly's work with water in different seasons.
Molly's value studies, transparency, and Jean working with raffia and eccentric weaving
Nancy's gorgeous color gradation with some pick and pick variations following
Katie's excellent value study resulting in come color gradation, eccentric weaving, and color blending.
Milissa's eccentric weaving. 
I really had a wonderful time with this great group of people. I had an opportunity to visit some of northern Georgia following the workshop. I'll tell you more about that tomorrow!

Rebecca Mezoff lecturing for the CHG workshop; photo: Terri Bryson

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A sense of place means you bring the right shoes

There are places that resonate. Places that make me want to come back and experience them again and again. Most of those places for me are in the western USA. I grew up here. They are familiar. I love them deeply.
Emily has a sense of place rooted in the Mississippi Delta. I have the feeling it is also a very deep sort of place, but it is as foreign to me as an island in the South Pacific. I don’t know the culture or have an affinity for the smells or the bugs that are still around at New Years. I am not used to the mud and the water that is everywhere, and I don’t know what shoes to bring along.

The holidays went on for a very long time this year. We visited my childhood home in northern New Mexico. This is a place where I know I will need tennis shoes for the sand and some Gore-tex boots for the few inches of snow that will fall and then melt the next morning. I know I will find myself out on the desert or high on the hogback watching the light and the long coal trains flying down Route 66. And I know what the wait staff at any restaurant means when they say, “red, green, or Christmas?”

I try to find the same thing in Mississippi. I search Google for any place where there might be a trail in the woods and I do find one about 30 miles away on a wildlife refuge. It is only .9 miles long and the 9-year-old we take along is, though he grew up here, perhaps understandably afraid of cottonmouths. From the trail we Google a picture of them and decide we would probably see them among the leaf litter before we stepped on one in this winter-bare landscape. He is brave and we do get a walk.
But it isn’t my place. I also try to be brave and pretend that it doesn’t matter that I don’t understand the food or have the right shoes or even know what all the words I hear mean.

Now on the way home, somewhere in Arkansas, I have just finished James Rebanks’ second book, The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd. His first book, The Shepherd’s Life, was probably my favorite read of 2015. And I think it was because of the sense of place. Rebanks is rooted to his land in the Lake District of England. That deep sense of attachment is something I think we all need.
Having a sense of rootedness in a particular place is what makes me feel safe in the world.

It helps that I know what shoes to bring.

What about you?