Sunday, February 28, 2016


When is procrastination really resistance? Most of the time, I fear.

I am a big fan of Steven Pressfield's book, The War of Art. In it, he talks about the ways we prevent ourselves from making art or doing any other number of things we feel called to do in this short time on earth we are gifted.

Today, I am determined to get my taxes ready for the accountant. I have too many things to do to get ready for a trip this week to drag it out any farther. So instead of reconciling the numbers, what am I doing? Writing a blog post. I believe that is resistance right there. At least I'm resisting something that I can't possibly be expected to enjoy instead of avoiding making art.

Here is a little classic Pressfield for your Sunday:

Resistance feeds on fear. We experience Resistance as fear. But fear of what?
Fear of the consequences of following our heart. Fear of bankruptcy, fear of poverty, fear of insolvency. Fear of groveling when we try to make it on our own, and of groveling when we give up and come crawling back to where we started. Fear of being selfish, of being rotten wives or disloyal husbands; fear of failing to support our families, of sacrificing their dreams for ours. Fear of betraying our race, our 'hood, our homies. Fear of failure. Fear of being ridiculous. Fear of throwing away the education, the training, the preparation that those we love have sacrificed so much for, that we ourselves have worked our butts off for. Fear of launching into the void, of hurtling too far out there; fear of passing some point of no return, beyond which we cannot recant, cannot reverse, cannot rescind, but must live with this cocked-up choice for the rest of our lives. Fear of madness. Fear of insanity. Fear of death. 
These are serious fears. But they're not the real fear. Not the Master Fear, the Mother of all Fears that's so close to us that even when we verbalize it we don't believe it. 
Fear That We Will Succeed.*
If I don't finish my tax preparation, I risk that success, don't I? But if I never sit at the loom, I risk it even more.

I run into this resistance all the time. Every day in fact. I suspect we all do. It helps to be able to label it. I do forget, over and over again. It is a hard lesson to learn, to recognize resistance. I think that is because it is propelled so strongly by fear. Fear of not making a living. Fear that the tapestry that took a year to make is going to be complete crap, fear that my life will fly by without me paying attention. Fear that I won't be able to go back. Back to the comfort of a regular paycheck and health insurance from a job I was good at. (I can't go back, but that doesn't stop the fear or my continued license renewals. At least not yet.)

So today was a good day to pull out Pressfield. If you haven't read this book, get a copy. It might just remind you to move past the fear and do something you knew, underneath everything, you could do all along. I thought for seventeen years that I had to work in health care because that is what I trained so long to do. I wanted to be an artist, but that particular career comes with massive piles of fear, self-loathing, and resistance. Not to mention the constant question from society, "Can you really make a living making art?" My spouse frequently gets asked what I do and the next question, 99% of the time, is, "can she make a living doing that?"
Seriously, that is what they want to know.
The 1% who want to know what my medium is, what I am working to express, whether I am in love with the world... those are the people to get to know.

Wishing you courage for a day of creating. I'm off to finish the taxes, struggling against the resistance at every turn.
Ask me tomorrow if I succeeded.

Bobbin by Bobbin Boy; tapestry by yours truly... see it woven in THIS video.
*Pressfield, S. (2002). The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. New York: Grand Central Publishing. (p. 142-143)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Getting ready. Staring down the runway at a fresh set of teaching trips.

Today is one of those days I'm doing the background work for the workshops I teach. The in-person, I-get-on-a-plane-and-come-to-you workshops. This involves a lot of paper shuffling, but it really makes me feel good when I'm finally ready for another trip. It isn't like I can just hop on the plane and go after all. There are lectures to tweak, handouts to update and print, looms to warp, folders to put together, lots of yarn to choose and pack, and if I've been really crazy motivated in my proposals, sometimes new classes to create. The last trip I took I even bought some new clothes. (And for my online students in the know, they didn't come from Eddie Bauer!!)

And of course there is the luggage. I like to think of myself as a traveling light kind of gal, though my spouse would disagree if you saw our car packed for a camping or road trip. But when teaching, I have to max out the luggage. This was the last trip with the old luggage system.
Last trip with old bags. Michigan, June 2015
I have since taken the great advice of an experienced spinning teacher, Beth Smith, and bought myself two of those swivel wheel roller bags that stand upright. What a difference!

I'm headed to Minneapolis for a Color Gradation Techniques workshop next week (if you still want in, there are a couple spots left--contact me as registration has closed). Also, if anyone has an in with whomever controls the weather (God, a meteorologist, the Air Force, United Arab Emirates...), can you put a good word in for no snow in Denver or Minneapolis late next week? I have a lecture to give on the same day I'm flying. Gulp.

After that trip to the hopefully un-snowy north, I'm headed to YarnFest 2016. This is the second year of Interweave's YarnFest in Loveland, Colorado. Since I live just up the road in Fort Collins, I can vouch for the beauty of this part of the country. True, you'll be out on the plains at the edge of the Rockies, but if you leave yourself an extra day or two, Rocky Mountain National Park is only a half hour drive up Big Thompson Canyon.

YarnFest is a conference with a fantastic vendor hall, an amazing line-up of teachers, and some fun extra activities. Clara Parkes is the keynote speaker, just for example. Some of the classes are full, but many are not yet. You can take classes from spinners, knitters, weavers, and a few other techniques.

All the details are HERE.

I am busy putting together handouts, tracking down and warping looms, and winding balls of yarn for you to use. My old ball winder finally gave out, so there is a Nancy's Knit Knacks electric winder on the way. I'm quite sure those of you who saw the video at the bottom of the page will be pleased by that. I'm sure I'll have a nice plug for my new piece of equipment in my Creating Without Pain lecture. Who winds hundreds of balls of yarn by hand anyway? (besides me)

I am really excited to teach one of my favorite classes at YarnFest. It is called Tapestry Answers: Do I Want to be a Tapestry Weaver? I get piles of email from people asking about looms and yarn and how tapestry really works. These are questions that are difficult to answer for yourself. This class is meant to address them. We look at what you can create with tapestry weaving in slides, diagrams, and some actual weaving (yours and mine). We try out different looms and I show you photos of even more possibilities. I talk about why some looms work well for tapestry and some don't. And we talk about yarn and tools. Some people are surprised that using the old (or new) knitting yarn in your closet isn't the best way to be successful in tapestry. There are good reasons for this! I'll tell you what they are.

I will bring various tapestry yarns with woven samples so you can actually see what the differences are between them. And you can make your own weft yarn card with small samples to bring home for future reference.

This class is for anyone interested in tapestry. I usually get a good number of people who have woven tapestry for awhile but have not gotten these kinds of questions answered. If you'd like more information about this class, take a look at THIS blog post. And here is the secret about this particular class. Because I am driving there from my studio, I am bringing stuff. I can bring all the examples, tools, and looms I can fit in my car. This doesn't happen often! Usually I'm limited by the bags pictured above.

I am teaching two other classes at YarnFest. The other tapestry weaving class is called Simultaneous Contrast: What Color is that Really? This class addresses one of the most amazing properties of color. Colors next to each other interact with each other and the color you perceive changes. Sometimes the effect can be profound. We'll play with this both with paper examples and with weaving. There is more information in THIS blog post.

And for all of you fiber artists, I'm teaching my class, Creating Without Pain: Ergonomics for Fiber Artists. There are more details in THIS blog post. I recently wrote a guest blog post on the Mirrix blog and gave an interview to Wellness for Makers. This class starts with the ideas I present in these two examples and goes into much more depth. We all need to be careful to take care of our bodies so we have a long and healthy making career. This particular class is FAR down the list of classes on the Interweave website, so keep scrolling! I'll send you home with concrete things you can do to improve your studio situation and make sure you are taking care of your body.

We are now past the cancellation date, so all the classes you see listed are going to happen. There are a few spots left in my Tapestry Answers class, so act fast on that one. There are a handful of spots still open in the Simultaneous Contrast class. And in the name of all that is healthy and good, I can take as many people who want to sign up for the Creating Without Pain lecture. Just do it!

Come to a beautiful place with a lovely view of the Rockies. Take classes in tapestry weaving, spinning, or knitting, and make some new friends. I'll see you there.

Friday, February 19, 2016

That first four-selvedge tapestry triumph and the subsequent fall from grace

Of course I've heard a lot about four-selvedge tapestry weaving over the years, but it took a demonstration and blog post by Sarah Swett to get me to try it.

Susan Martin Maffei is often cited as the genius behind four-selvedge weaving. She didn't invent it. The Navajo have used this kind of warping for centuries. But Susan is definitely a master. What is marvelous about the way Susan and Sarah warp is that you can get a shed to the very top of the piece. No needle weaving (or swearing) necessary.

Sarah taught me a little different approach with some modifications of her own and Michael Rohde's. She describes it perfectly in THIS stellar blog post.

After a trip to the fly shop and hardware store, I had a jig and some fly line backing.

I headed home, and computer beside me, I used Sarah's post to help me set up for my first little four-selvedge piece (with a few modifications of my own as I was using a Mirrix).

The jig came right out, I tightened the tension, and I was weaving.

Four-selvedge weaving from the back.
Four-selvedge weaving from the back, almost complete.

The thing turned out square and the warp loops were almost perfectly even.

Thinking I'd like to use a colored warp that wouldn't show at the edges so much, and not being up to dyeing that particular day, I pulled out some 12/6 cotton seine twine in blue. I wanted to make a much narrower piece that was also shorter. I made some new pieces for the jig and warped up again.

This time I used another piece of rod at the top of the Mirrix to narrow that top beam. I also added very long extensions to the loom. As a final touch, I installed an electric treadle.

Disaster. I don't even have a picture of it it was so bad.

I don't know if it had to do with the extra length of the loom (probably not), the thinner rod on top (probably not), or the electric treadle's speed and force in shifting the shed (probably), but the warps "walked" immediately making the cotton warp I was intending to weave very uneven after the first change of shed.

I warped up again. The same way. Didn't change anything.
Guess what?

Same thing happened. Isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

This photo is the one I took after I tried to even out the warps again and right before I turned out the light and walked away.

I will try again tomorrow. But this time, I'll modify some variables in hopes of a better result.
It just goes to show you that we might look like a freakin' genius on the first run through, but we shouldn't get too cocky! Expertise comes with practice, not luck.

Have you tried weaving a four-selvedge tapestry? Do you weave Navajo-style or do you use some variation of this idea? Leave a comment below!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How long did that take you to weave?

I get that question a lot.
How long did that take you to weave?
Sometimes the question is half-shrieked. The silence as they wait for an answer feels a little tinged with anxiety, perhaps fraught.

The answer in the past has always been some vague statement about the process being more important than the time it takes. There is undoubtedly some actual number of hours that a tapestry took to produce, but frankly I have little idea what that number actually is. One time I kept track on a medium-sized piece and the number was 210. But I didn't subtract the trips to the bathroom or the making of tea (those two things are related). And I never to counted the months of designing or the weeks of dyeing yarn and winding balls. Or the finishing or photographing. I'm getting a little woozy thinking about it.

All in all, a tapestry takes a long time to be born.

So I have a new answer to that most troubling of questions.
The answer is, "It depends on the number of decisions I have to make." (Frankly it also depends on the number of cups of tea I drink because of the bathroom thing and how many times I get interrupted by annoying life details which usually involve email or money.)

Decisions. Of course they all have to be made at some point. But I can tell you that if I'm in a stretch of weaving where all the colors and forms have been decided, the weaving flies by. So a piece that is part of a series might actually take a lot less time if it is related to something I've done before. I've already made the decisions.

I'm pretty sure most tapestry weavers hate the "how long did that take" question. We're not sure if it is better for it to be a small number or a large one or if the person asking even really understands what any number at all means anyway. Until someone sits at a loom and experiences the placing of pick after pick themselves, the way time flows while weaving won't be something they understand. Time is different at the loom. It is both slower and faster.

And so the length of time a tapestry takes is the time it takes. But I maintain that number of decisions play a big part in it.

There is always that person who won't back down until a they get a number. I now just say something like, "It took 593 hours to make this." Then I smile sweetly and walk away. They shouldn't argue with the price after that.

Don't waste your time with explanations: people only hear what they want to hear.
 -- Paulo Coelho                            

What is your experience with this question? I'd love to hear it in the comments.
If you liked this post, please share it!
You can follow my daily process photos on Instagram at @rebeccamezofftapestry. I am almost done with a big tapestry. No, I don't know how many hours it took. Probably 593.

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.