Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tatting in the woods: the backpacking fiber craft

I learned to tat in the late 90s from a wonderful woman named Barbara. Tatting is one of those "dying fiber arts" and Barbara was keen to pass it on to a young soul (I was fresh out of graduate school, not even thirty). I hear people tell me tapestry is a dying art all the time (I choose to think they said dyeing art), but I don't believe them. [I'm] Not Dead Yet!
The story goes something like this. My boyfriend had left me in our house 50 miles north of Reno, NV (yeah, I know--40 acres, 11 miles from the pavement, pack rats big as my dog, no neighbors to speak of) while he went to New York to visit his mother for Christmas. Being new to the area, new to my rehab hospital job, and fairly pissed that I was alone very far from anyone else with just a dog and a neurotic cat to keep me company (well, there were the pack rats), I volunteered to spend Christmas at the hospital visiting with the patients. Barbara was one of my patients during the week. She was in her 90s, lived independently, and had broken her hip. On Christmas there was no therapy so all I did was sit in her room and talk. Turns out we had a lot in common and she taught me how to tat.

Barbara's tatting
 We had quite a few conversations about fiber during her stay at the hospital and after she went home she invited me to visit her in Carson City. I drove down to see her and she sent me home with more tatting patterns. Over the next few years I left my boyfriend and got a dog of my own. I visited her a few times, and to her eternal 90-pound-soaking-wet credit, she loved my huge clumsy shedding labrador who must have been a rambunctious puppy at that time. Her vision decreased quickly due to macular degeneration and she asked me to visit so she could give me some of her fiber art supplies. I did and she showed me her new vision toys which helped her read but didn't allow her to knit or tat any more.
Not long after that I received a letter from her niece that Barbara had died and had wanted to give me all of her remaining fiber and yarn. I was happy for her collection but mostly sad that my friend had passed on.
I recently saw some beautiful tatting being sold on Etsy. Tatting is not a dead craft, though I'd say it might be struggling more even than tapestry. The tiny shuttles and thin thread require good eyesight and a lot of time. But the results can be beautiful. I like to take tatting on backpacking trips. There isn't a lighter smaller project to be had. I took my tatting along on a day-hike last weekend. Here is a little video in case you've never seen someone tatting.

Thank you Barbara for your generous gifts of teaching and love.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Growing up on the edge of the Navajo...

I gave a lecture for Las Tejedoras Fiber Arts Guild on Saturday morning. I had a lot of fun putting the lecture together and it was well received.

I was talking to a group of fiber artists, many of whom did not weave tapestry. So I wanted to give a talk that told them something about myself, my experiences growing up in New Mexico, and my evolution as an artist. I was reading Stanley Crawford's book River in Winter recently and the first essay in it is about various sorts of lines in Northern New Mexico. It starts like this: "As a straight line person who has settled in a crooked line region, I think a lot about lines." And it goes on to talk about the curved lines of the first acequias and then the introduction of barbed wire and private property:
There are two ways lines have been drawn in Northern New Mexico, to two purposes: one, to draw a circle, to enclose a community, much in the way an acequia flows out away from the stream or river and then arcs back to it; and two, to section up the land in angular grids for the purposes of quantifying property, the better to speculate in it or market it.
There is of course another way, a primordial way, the way that nature draws lines: the edges formed by streams and rivers, ridges, escarpments, mesas, and lines of vegetation that shadow contours of geology and altitude, and the tracks of creatures and the trails of men and women on foot that interconnect campsite, spring, forest, meadow, and river. It is places like this we go when we wish to escape our own too straight and too confining fences, and the sharp pointed barbs of our quantifying civilization [...]
photo: Emily Haire
I love the native concept of circular time. I feel somewhere deep within that it is very important and that my linear, stress-driven world is somehow way off the mark. There are things about New Mexico's "land of manaña"* status that drive me crazy in my anglo, straight-lined head. But I have to say that when I sit still and feel the places that life really speaks to me, time feels circular. The times that are most like that for me are when I am weaving a tapestry or out in the backcountry hiking for days and days.

I grew up attending a mission school on the edge of the Navajo reservation. I was a white girl in a sea of otherness. And I think in the long run, it did me a lot of good. Learning about feeling different taught me how to find ways to belong. And those skills I learned as a kid have come in handy lately as I face the struggle of being a tapestry artist in an art world that doesn't recognize tapestry as an art form.

Growing up among Navajo kids also jump started my fascination with the weaving traditions of New Mexico. The first tapestry techniques I learned were traditional Hispanic Rio Grande-style tapestry though I left the program after a year, feeling like I needed to make my own kind of art. My own weaving traditions, even though my grandparents were weavers, are far less defined than especially the Navajo way. Perhaps so many anglo people are drawn to Navajo traditions because we lack or don't understand our own.

I can't weave in the Navajo or Hispanic ways because these are not my traditions. I don't have the necessary spiritual or cultural background to weave "Navajo style" as I often hear classes in such techniques referred to. I love my Navajo colleagues and I hope that through collaboration with each other we can learn new ways for all kinds of tapestry... but I'll still listen for the thunk of the Navajo forks when I wander across the rez.

Piedra Lumbre, Cerro Pedernal, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico     photo: Emily Haire
manaña is the Spanish word for tomorrow. Sometimes in New Mexico it feels like things will only ever happen tomorrow... and tomorrow never actually comes.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Penland School of Crafts with James Koehler

I'm currently working on a lecture I have to give this Saturday and in preparation for it, I was digging through some old discs of photos looking for some images of my first tapestries. It is amazing what you can dig up on such an expedition. One thing I found on a disc labeled "July 2005 pictures to print" was images from my two weeks at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. (But beware when taking such a journey. There were some other photos on that disc I would have preferred not to see again. It was a long month.)

I took a two-week color and design class from James Koehler in the summer of 2005. I think I can safely say that that experience was life-changing. From that time, I realized that I loved weaving tapestry so much I would do it 16 hours a day and that I wanted to make contemporary art tapestries.

James, for whatever reason, wove a piece during those two weeks. It was wonderful to see him working there for the first time. Here is one of the Ensnared Light pieces coming off the loom.

These pictures are somewhat remarkable because it is the only time I saw him cut a piece off the loom. He would finish a piece in the studio while there were students and apprentices working, but he wouldn't cut it off until everyone had gone home. We would come back the next morning and find the finished and steamed piece lying on the glass-topped studio table. Sometimes it was even already hemmed. James always said he didn't like anyone else to see the piece when it first came off. And as you can see in the photo below, immediately after he cut it off, he rolled it up. I seem to remember he let us look at it in more detail the next day... after he had done some initial cleaning-up. He was not a "cut off party" kind of guy.
Oddly enough, I went to someone's house a few weeks ago on some studio business... someone I didn't know at all, and she offered to show me her James Koehler. This piece was hanging in her bedroom. It was good to meet it again 9 years later! You never know where different life paths will cross I suppose.

Here are a few other assorted photos from my weeks at Penland. If you were there or know someone who was, send them the link to this post! I'd love to hear from them. I met two of my good weaving friends, Betsy and Klaus, in this class.

As a weaving studio, we decided to participate in the auction they have during each session. The class wove this piece, and we were so pressed for time that these two were weaving at the same time! We each wove a fish and James filled in the background.
Mine was the "chili fish"... being from New Mexico and all. I think it was supposed to have an eye on it but clearly I didn't weave it in. You really have to coordinate as you change the sheds when you have two people weaving on a loom like this at the same time!
This is the Lily Loom house. The entire second floor is the weaving studio.
The class at work.
I was a lot younger then... and it was hot.
Some of the session's work hanging for discussion. I wove the tumbling triangles in the top middle and the green and orange piece to the right of it.

Penland was an inspiring place... and so was that first class with James.

By the way, if you're interested in hearing the lecture I'm giving on Saturday, it is at 9:30 am at Westminster Presbyterian Church on the corner of St. Francis and Manhattan (841 W. Manhattan) in Santa Fe. It is a lecture for the Las Tejedoras Fiber Art Guild but they welcome anyone to their meetings.