Monday, November 30, 2015

Okay Monday, you win

This is what I thought as I lay in bed this morning a full hour after my alarm went off (oops): "Okay Monday, you win."

But then things didn't go so badly. You see, I have decided to let Monday be what it is. What it invariably is is a day full of computer work to catch up from the weekend. My inbox can be staggering and there are always more questions from the online courses.

But today, though there were a lot of them, the questions were excellent. I made a video for someone because I realized my original explanation wasn't all that clear. I think it helped. I made some new illustrations and this evening I'm going to make a video about how to do a set-in that a student has been struggling with for a week. Sometimes the only thing that works is video.

I had a lovely email from a gentleman who wanted to get his wife a tapestry course for Christmas, and then he did! (I hope she is thrilled. There is nothing like a partner who understands a good fiber fix for the holidays.)

I got a flat tire on the way home from the post office, but it was just as I was pulling into the driveway. Serendipity or a message from the universe? (This old Volkswagen is NOT going to get new tires for Christmas.)

The day I decided to let Monday be itself and stopped fighting it by wishing it to be something that perhaps contained some time at a loom, Mondays started going a lot better. I still have to change the flat, but that old car and I know how to get it done.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Privys, marmots, and holiday skepticism

This is the moment, isn't it? When we feel Christmas roaring down on us like a freight train?

I am determined to stay calm this year. I have a few gifts and ideas for various nieces and nephews and a group project for everyone else. I also have an understanding with my family that Christmas need not contain gifts, though chocolate is always welcome. I'm going to sit back and weave (with some knitting and spinning of course) for the month of December. We're going to visit family and I'm going to let the nephews beat me at video games (Okay the truth is, I'm not allowed to play. They ask if I want to "watch them" play. They learned years ago that I'm hopeless... Lots of knitting gets done. They do have an ancient arcade version of Pac-Man I'm hoping to get to play this year. That statement dates me, though the youngest nephew will obliterate me anyway.)

I have had quite a year of work. I accomplished a lot and have a lot left to do in the next month. But I am a wee bit tired.

This time of year can feel crushing. I want nothing more than to do some weaving and enjoy some time with my family. I don't want to buy things (despite the need for a new set of wheels) and the birds at my feeders are grand enough entertainment for me. I do like some holiday lights and a little snow though.

Below is your public service announcement for the week... if your toilet is outside in marmot country that is. (Which isn't so far fetched in my world really. This one is in Rocky Mountain National Park. There is no roof on this privy which explains how the marmots get in there in the first place.)

May the marmots stay out of your toilet. Really the biggest problem is for the marmot I think.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Wool comes from sheep you know.

I have read two marvelous books about sheep lately.

The first is In the Footsteps of Sheep: Tales of a Journey Through Scotland, Walking, Spinning, and Knitting Socks by Debbie Zawinski. I talked about this some in a newsletter recently. (If you missed it, you can see it HERE and make sure to sign up for your own copy!)

I spotted this book in one of my local yarn shops (Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins in Boulder) and snatched it up almost before it had a price tag on it. This book is one that you must have a non-digital copy of. The photographs are gorgeous and the story kept me reading until the book was finished. Debbie says this in the introduction:
The idea was not a new one; not to me that is. The seed had been sown years previously; a chance remark; a flash of inspiration; I don't remember now. It had taken root without me really being aware that the idea was still there, growing quietly in the corner of my mind: a journey around Scotland spinning and knitting the fleece of the Scottish sheep breeds in their native haunts.
And she does just that. By foot, car, train, or boat, she searches out the native sheep of Scotland and collects their wool. She spins it into fiber that she knits directly into a pair of socks that represent her trip. The book also contains many patterns for socks which she designed for the people she met along the way.

There are many words that I didn't know in this book. Words that are common in Scotland apparently. Fortunately, there is a glossary. After all, it isn't every day that you climb the cleugh back of the croft, crossing bothy and tump searching for henty lags.

The other book I ran across in Barnes and Noble (surprisingly) while waiting for a dinner reservation. It is called The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book also grabbed me and wouldn't let me go.

He divides the books into sections for the seasons of the year. He describes his life in these sections from a small boy learning about farming from his grandfather and father to his current life with the sheep and, surprisingly to him, an Oxford education. His descriptions of the Lakes District in England and the way of life there make you feel like you're on the fell hearing the shepherds calling the dogs as they bring in the herds of Herdwick or Swaledale sheep. He is a masterful writer.

Both of these books are well worth a read. They are about the people of northern England and Scotland with a fair bit about the sheep thrown in. They definitely made me want to learn more about different sheep breeds and gave me a great respect for these farmers.

These books came in handy as I started wondering what these sheep really did look like and why I might want to meet them or their fleece.

Treat yourself to a good read!
No one can be sure, but there is a suspicion that the fell people just go on, beneath the waves of "history" that fill the history of England. It sometimes feels to me like, as the tide of the north receded with the melting ice, it left us in place in the hills, little islands sticking up from an encroaching sea of southern civilization.   
                                                                --James Rebanks, The Shepherd's Life
I'm off to read The Shepherd's Life for a second time.
Note: If you were interested in the Vermont 2016 retreat, the newsletter with a link to the information and registration went out Monday, Nov 23rd. If you didn't see it, check your junk mail! The retreat is filling up quickly.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Vermont 2016: A Masterclass in Color and Design

I will be hosting a tapestry masterclass in Plymouth, Vermont June 9-13, 2016. Full details will be released to my mailing list soon. I am giving first priority to the people on my list, so if you have not already done so, you can sign up for my newsletter HERE.

This will be an intimate group of students meeting in a gorgeous location with housing and meals provided. Don't miss this opportunity to join me for this unique masterclass.

Though this class is not for beginning tapestry weavers, it is designed to meet the needs of any weaver who is interested on advancing their design and color skills (you can even choose to focus on one or the other). Don't let that word "masterclass" scare you! I chose it to emphasize that we will do some focused work, but each student will have the ability to work with direction at their level. The class is open to anyone who has the basic tapestry techniques under their belt to advanced artists. And it is going to be a great deal of fun!

Final arrangements are being made and all the details will land in your inbox soon.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Weaving a new set of wheels

I have been thinking about this little tapestry made by Sarah Swett the last few days.
Sarah Swett, four-selvedge tapestry
You see, Sarah and I had a conversation about her search for a new car when she was in Colorado this past summer. She had worn her car all the way out and was in the midst of the difficult process of moving on.

I have been dancing around that decision for a couple years now. I will reach a moment where I am sure that I need to get a new car and then I'll decide that it doesn't matter if the door gaskets leak on me in the rain or that the air conditioning only works when the car is moving or that the paint is peeling off in sheets now. My mechanic has consistently told me it is safe and I have believed him.

Until Friday. My ride to the mechanic had just pulled away and the news across the desk was emphatically (from three different men with a liberal amount of grease under their fingernails) that I should not drive this car until they are able to work on it again next week. When three different people who really do seem to know something about cars tell you this, you have to listen.

And with the rest of the news about the parts attrition which happens with advanced age and mileage, the thought of getting a new car now instead of waiting just "one more year," suddenly became a reality.

The thing is, I really like this car. I've had it more than 16 years now and it has given me surprisingly little grief. It kept me safe when I skidded off the road on black ice at 50 mph. It witnessed the entire life of my 14-year-old yellow lab who died two years ago now. It carted a 28 inch 8-harness Macomber and boxes of books and yarn along with me, my dog, and what clothes I could cram between the harnesses of the loom on multiple traveling therapy assignments. I love its 5 speed engine and the way it performs on icy roads and steep hills. And I love that for 16 years it only left me stranded at the side of the road one time (well, twice... but the time I busted the oil pan on a rock driving up a rural Colorado 4WD road can hardly be held against it). I never wanted the green color which was all the dealer in Reno, NV could get me in 1999, but this Volkswagen Golf never held that against me. She has been a gem of a car.

But all mechanical things do come to the end of their life at one time or another. I'm not sure I'm quite ready for it, but somewhere I'll find the courage to go car shopping. Perhaps I need to follow in Sarah's footsteps and weave my new car into existence. I took Emily's car to the grocery store yesterday and was so delighted that there were both electric windows and a cup holder. Perhaps change won't be so bad after all.

There is a great photo on Sarah's blog of her little car weaving at Buffalo Gap National Grasslands in South Dakota. I don't know what car she actually bought, but I hear it all turned out okay.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Still love weaving? Take care of your body.

Over the last several weeks I have mentioned the weaving classes I'm teaching at YarnFest 2016 in Loveland, Colorado.

The third class I am teaching is just three hours and it is called Creating Without Pain: Ergonomics for Fiber Artists. This class is for all of you. I spent 17 years as an occupational therapist and much of that work involves body mechanics and learning to live without hurting ourselves.

What: Interweave YarnFest 2016
Where: Loveland, Colorado (believe me when I tell you, and I know because I live in Fort Collins which is just a skip north of Loveland, the view of the Rockies is wonderful)
When: March 31 - April 3, 2016
Why: Because we love yarn and we want to keep working with it for the rest of our lives.

This is the course description:
In my first career as an occupational therapist I taught many people how to use appropriate body mechanics in their everyday lives. Now I apply that knowledge to fiber pursuits. This lecture reviews some basic anatomy and talks about body positioning, common injuries, and pain mechanisms for all kinds of fiber arts. How we treat our bodies is extremely important if we are to pursue our art and crafts for many years to come. I include a discussion about best practices for maintaining your most important tool including stretches, proper lighting and positioning, and when and how to take breaks. This class is not just for weavers. It is for all fiber artists.
Let me just say this again. This class is for all fiber artists. We all need to learn to take care of our bodies to avoid repetitive stress injuries and to maximize our health for the long term. I don't know about you, but I don't ever plan to give up making stuff with yarn and in order to keep myself healthy and out of pain, I need to follow some basic principles.

We'll talk about different challenges for all fiber artists and specific problems with some practices, discuss some of the reasons we injure ourselves with repetitive tasks and how to prevent this from happening, and I'll send you home with some stretches and ideas to improve your relationship to creating to keep your body in great shape.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mix in some brown

I spun the roving I hand-painted and here is what happened.

I like it! I have picked up various tips about color in spinning from Deb Menz's book Color in Spinning and Ply and Spin Off magazines lately. I know a lot about dyeing with acid wool dyes, but mixing color for spinning brings it to a whole different level than dyeing solid colors.

I used a strips of brown and white roving painted with the same colors in generally the same proportions to make this. When mixed, the brown helped tone down the much brighter colors on the white. I am going to use the same formulas and paint some more so I have enough yarn for a small garment.

My next plan is to track down a fiber that I can use for tapestry singles. This BFL commercially prepared top is soft and lovely, but it is too squishy for a tapestry yarn I think, even if I spun it worsted.

If you know something about spinning, what are your best suggestions for a longer staple fiber (3 inches plus?) that is less fine than BFL which I could use for tapestry singles? And do you know of a source of commercially prepared top? I love prepping the fiber from the fleece, but for large quantities of tapestry singles, I'm interested in getting to the yarn faster. I will leave the hand preparation for my knitting yarns.

Here is what that roving looked like as I was painting it. Quite a transformation, right?

Monday, November 9, 2015

The simple joy of making color

I love dyeing my own yarn. I love it so much that I just don't understand when people say to me, "I don't want to learn to dye." How can that be? You can make any color you want!! And if you run out, you can make more if you took good notes and were careful.

(Any color you want!)

To each their own. There are perfectly reasonable reasons not to be a dyer.

Dyeing can feel like hard work especially when in the middle of a big run. At some point last year I cut way back on the hand-dyed yarn I bring to my workshops and that has made a significant difference in my dyeing joy. Now the pots only have about 4 ounces of fiber in them, sometimes less. I rarely need more than that of a single color. And pots with small amounts of yarn heat up much quicker. And so I can dye more colors in a day. And that makes me happy. Oh I'll still bring some hand-dyed to my workshops, never fear. But much of that work is now done by someone else. (And how many people really noticed they were working with hand-dyed yarn that I created, lifting endless very heavy pots in the process? Not many. 10 gallons of water weighs about 80 pounds. I may not be as strong as I was, but my back is happier.)*

I tried something new this week. I am working on new ways to manage colors in tapestry weaving and have done some experimenting with handspun. I bought some white and brown roving when I just happened to be in was in the yarn store the other day and with the help of the most excellent Deb Menz**, I did this.
I was pretty skeptical about it at this stage. I was sure this was going to turn into two big globs of brown as the dye was setting in the steam pot. But I was wrong. It isn't perfect, but it is a skill worth perfecting.
I will spin this before the next dye trial... and I will also choose my colors a little differently next time. If it spins well and I didn't felt it, this idea will undoubtedly find its way into a tapestry soon.

I also finished these samples for the big dye run I am now doing. I dye samples in quart canning jars so I can do many at once. The first run produced this.
This was the point where I stood on the deck looking at those colors and I thought, I have finally become a dyer. I know what I'm doing and I can pull this stuff off with very few mistakes. While I will tell you that dyeing with acid wool dyes is very easy (it is!), learning what dyes to combine to make a certain color and in what proportions takes a bit longer. After ten years I can say, I'm good at this! I totally know what I'm doing.

I had to tweak about 6 colors and then I had this.

The larger amounts are being dyed now and might even be done by tomorrow. There is just that one little problem of the big tapestry still occupying the loom upon which I want to weave the next piece. It'll take me about 80 hours to finish weaving that one off. Just a few more colors in the dye studio which sounds cool but is my garage, I promise, then I'll be back to weaving... really.
* One of the great things about acid wool dyes is that all of the dye ends up in the fiber. The water is completely clear (though acidic!) when a color is finished. I can use that water over and over again for subsequent baths.
** By the way, if you want to try doing some hand painting of yarn or roving, I recommend Deb Menz's book, Color in Spinning. It is magnificent. Even if you only dye yarn and don't spin at all, this book is fantastic. In fact, I recommend everything Deb Menz has published. She is something of a color genius.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

It's a major award! ...or the value of juried shows

Rebecca Mezoff, Emergence VII, 45 x 45 inches, hand-dyed wool tapestry
It has been awhile since I won a jurors choice award in a show. My piece Emergence VII was chosen as the juror's choice award in the Handweaver's Guild of Boulder show, Conversations. And I will admit that that made me happy. It also made me think again about the value of juried shows or shows of any kind.

This is what the juror, Jo Fitsell, had to say about my piece:
This show well represents both the way boundaries can be pushed and the intense beauty of working within them. The one piece which seems to bridge both worlds, Emergence VII, bravely struts out on its own with plenty to say. Yes, the shapes are large and graphic, but the artist also includes shadow with the power, and captures intrigue by communicating through color. A very powerful piece.
 So thanks for that! It is quite an encouragement to keep working, these little bits of recognition.
I have been thinking a lot about juried shows lately. There are moments where I am quite sure I'll never enter another one, though I've always changed my mind in the long run. This particular show was a local thing and I entered thinking that it was a way to show support for my local guild and to get tapestry out into the community.

I do think that shows are one of the things that can help us push back against the resistance that comes with being an artist. (See Steven Pressfield, The War of Art for a great description of resistance.) For many of us, having a deadline like a show we want to be in actually makes us sit down at the loom every day and produce inches.

Unless it takes us farther from the most important thing--our experience of our creation. I have also found myself working toward some specific show and losing track of what it was I was actually trying to express. I can't let the thought of my piece hanging in a particular venue shape what it is I'm actually working on. And to be honest, not once when I started working on a piece for a specific show did I get in.

I also think a lot about multi-media shows versus tapestry-only shows. When you go to see art, you don't usually see a whole gallery full of the same medium. I think tapestry-only shows are a bit odd actually. I do appreciate being able to go to a tapestry show and having so many examples of wonderful work to study and learn from. But when I stand back and think about the impact of the whole gallery, I wish for something else to challenge my interest somehow. Of course shows could be designed or curated in such a way to address a certain idea all in tapestry, but likely that wouldn't be your general-entry sort of experience.

All I'm really saying is that I think tapestry artists need to broaden their horizons. Let's enter shows about something and that likely contain various art media. Lets put our work out there where artists working in other mediums will see it. Where curators and dealers will notice it and say, "Hey, I didn't know anyone wove tapestry anymore. This is good!"

And if we continue tapestry-only shows, let's consider loosening the guidelines a little bit. Who cares if the warp shows? Isn't the idea the piece is expressing more important than that it follow a particular definition of tapestry? Let's be more human and open up conversations about what we make.

But above all, let's keep making things. Maybe we'll even win a major award!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Still love yarn? What color is that anyway?

Last week I told you about the Tapestry Answers class I'm teaching at YarnFest 2016. I am teaching two other classes there.

On Saturday of YarnFest I'm teaching a color class. It is called Simultaneous Contrast: What Color is that Anyway?  Look HERE and scroll all the way to the bottom. The Weaving classes are last, but we're the best!

Don't be too afraid of that color theory language ("simultaneous contrast"). What it means in reality is that every color influences the colors around it. We are going to play with that fact using yarn and tapestry! Color use is something that often stumps fiber artists. I'm not sure if that is because our color comes in the form of yarn so we can't modify the color or because we just don't have enough experience mixing colors. We are going to use both paper and yarn to learn to mix colors more effectively. We'll look at the amazing things that happen to colors when they are placed beside other colors. And hopefully we'll learn to make better color choices for our tapestry weaving.

What: Interweave YarnFest 2016
Where: Loveland, Colorado
When: March 31 - April 3, 2016
Why: Because we love tapestry weaving! (And also, we love yarn. And there is a whole lot of yarn at YarnFest.)

This is the class description:
Tapestry is a weft-faced weave and so we do get to work with solid blocks of color. Knowledge of color theory can be very helpful when learning to shift colors next to each other in different directions. This class will play with that concept using both paper and woven examples. We will learn how to make adjacent colors look warmer or cooler and how to shift the look of a color based on what is next to it.
This class doesn't require much weaving experience. You should have a little experience weaving tapestry, but the skills needed to weave colors next to each other are something anyone who has done a bit of tapestry technique can handle.

Hint: The red-violet squares are the same

I wrote about the Tapestry Answers class HERE last week and next week I'll talk about the class I'm giving Sunday morning. It is one we all should take, me included.