Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Sunday, 14 September 2014

49 Reasons Not to Meditate (With Thanks to CS&N)

49 reasons, all in a line.
All of them good ones, all of them lies. (49 Bye-Byes, Stephen Stills) 

Over the years, I've heard many reasons why people don't meditate.  Here are some of them, with brief counter-arguments:

  1. Meditation is weird. (It's more common than you think. Most cultures do it in some form.)
  2. I don't have time. (Yes, you do. You're alive, aren't you?)
  3. I don't have space. (You can learn to meditate anywhere.)
  4. It's against my religion. (Most, if not all religions integrate meditation into their philosophies.)
  5. It's too religious. (There are secular meditation practices.)
  6. I can't sit still. (Sitting, standing, walking, lying down: these are the times to meditate.)
  7. I meditate when I knit and spin (or whatever). (You probably are relaxing; it's not the same.)
  8. I'm too lazy. (Are you breathing?)
  9. Meditation is for slackers. (Meditation is simple, but not as easy as you may believe.)
  10. I don't like zoning out. (Meditation is zoning in.)
  11. I like zoning out. (You can relax and meditate, perhaps just not at the same time.)
  12. I'm too tired. (Meditation can improve your energy levels.)
  13. I'm too young and inexperienced. (No time like the present.)
  14. I'm too old. (No time like the present.)
  15. My body is too stiff. (You can meditate lying down.)
  16. I'm too sick. (Meditation has been clinically shown to improve health and well-being.)
  17. My kids won't let me. (Have them join you.)
  18. My cat/dog won't let me. (Close the door. Or meditate on the cat/dog experience.)
  19. My partner doesn't like it. (He/she doesn't have to approve.  How do you know this?)
  20. It's boring. (Is breathing boring? Do you like chocolate?)
  21. I forget to do it. (There are apps for that.)
  22. I don't know how to get started. (Find a teacher, a book, an app.  Or just try sitting still.)
  23. I'm afraid. (Like any new thing, meditation can feel strange at first.)
  24. I don't like stealing from other cultures. (See #1.)
  25. Meditation is for spoiled, rich people. (Meditation is accessible to everyone.)
  26. Meditation is another way to oppress the poor. (Have you heard of Mr. and Mrs. Gandhi?)
  27. I don't like to chant. (I don't either.)
  28. I'd rather sleep. (Meditation has been shown to improve sleep patterns.)
  29. There's too much going on in the mornings. (Practice before you get out of bed.)
  30. When I get home, I just want to eat, relax and go to bed. (You can meditate during the day.)
  31. I'm in too much physical pain. (Meditation can alleviate pain and suffering.)
  32. I'm in too much emotional pain. (Proceed with caution, but see #31.)
  33. Meditation is a cult practice. (Which cult is that, again, please?)
  34. I'm afraid I'll disappear. (It's true: your ego may soften and you may become more open.)
  35. If I meditate, I won't be able to act normally. (Meditation helps you act more naturally.)
  36. I can't meditate alone. (Find a group.  Or start one.)
  37. I can't meditate with other people. (You can practice by yourself.)
  38. Meditation is for losers. (Meditation can help anyone. Even you.)
  39. I'm not enlightened enough. (Are you ever too dirty to wash?)
  40. I'll lose my job. (Really?  Perhaps you need to find another job?)
  41. I'll lose my friends. (I hope not, but see #40.)
  42. I don't like change. (Change happens constantly, whether you like it or not.)
  43. I prefer social action. (Meditation helps you engage with the world. See #26.)
  44. I'd rather spin, knit, run, whatever. (You can turn these actions into meditation practices.)
  45. I don't like feeling high. (You probably won't, unless you're very experienced or very lucky.)
  46. I don't want to add to my "to do" list. (Practice meditation as a hobby, not a chore.)
  47. Meditation has nothing to do with real life. (Meditation is about experiencing life as it is.)
  48. What's the point? (To learn to live Now not relive the past or anticipate the future.)
  49. I don't need to meditate. (Yes, yes, you do.  Whether you will or not is up to you.)
Congratulations!  If you've made it through this list, you've just completed a meditation practice.


Saturday, 6 September 2014

Time of the Season: Deep in the Emerald Green Forest (That's a Wrap)

I love autumn weather. It's not officially fall, yet, but I can feel the crisp chill in the air in the evenings as the dew comes down. The moist air hangs heavy on the rooftops and grass when I haul myself out of bed to feed the animals after the sun comes up, which happens a wee bit later each day. Autumn is the time when I pack up my dye tools, finish summer projects and scout about for new things to explore when winter sets in and the snow is deep.

I finished my Emerald Green Forest Shawl yesterday.  The high twist in the spinning and plying made for very firm knitting and a very shriveled piece of work (Remember, you can click on the photos for a closer view):

My decision to fractal spin the tops for this shawl was a good one; the stripes show nicely here. The unblocked measurements of this shawl were 17 inches x 41 inches. I gave it a good soak in hot water and Eucalan and then pinned it out to its maximum size to block.  On the board, it measured 28 inches x 60 inches.  The relaxed measurement is 25 inches x 60 inches:

Here's a detail of the simple short row lace patterns:

It's been a productive summer.  I dyed many kilos of fleece, yarn and fabric and finished 3 wraps (2 from scratch in the past few months and the dyeing of the cashmere shawl). 

It was in assessing the summer's work that I came to an understanding of why I might be so obsessed with twist in yarn this past while. Although they are all protein fibres, the yarns in these shawls are very different in terms of twist, which affects their wearability and durability. The cashmere wrap on the left is made of a low twist hand spun singles-it has a luxurious hand, is the most comfortable to wear and has the most "street appeal;" this is the piece that people will touch and ooooh and aww over.  It is also the most delicate.  I'll have to warn people to be careful of their jewelry when they handle it and I'll have to be mindful of zippers and my earrings.  Any snag might break a thread.  

The middle wrap is knitted from a 2 ply hand spun Merino with more twist than the cashmere yarn. The Merino is still soft, but the addition of a ply and firmer twist means the shawl won't snag as easily or pill as badly as the cashmere will, although it is still quite fragile. Changing those factors means that this wrap will not be as luxuriously soft as the first one. 

Then we come to the Emerald Green Forest shawl. I spun Blue-faced Leicester tops for this yarn and I put a lot of twist in both the spinning and plying. I wanted to find the twist maximum in this piece, i.e., the point where I could add the most twist to the yarn, yet not have it be unwearable. I wanted to knit a wrap that will travel, something I could toss in a bag and not worry about having it pill or catch or, if it did snag, the yarn wouldn't break.  I wanted a shawl that, in theory, could survive a trip through the washing machine and the dryer without being destroyed, which would happen to the other two pieces if they had such an unfortunate adventure.  I think I've done just that-the shawl has a very firm hand, but it's not scratchy.  While it's visually appealing, people who touch it will get a surprise, because they'll expect it to be softer.  If I intended to sell my work, the Emerald Green Forest wrap would be the one languishing on the sale table, because people would think it too harsh. On the other hand the shawl will do exactly what I expect it to do and that's the point of all this testing for twist business, is it not?

You can see the shifts in yarn twist in this closeup of the wraps  It's a nice bit of serendipity that the three together remind me of the lovely fall colours soon to come:

If the last few posts about why I approach spinning and fibre arts in the way I do were confusing for you, perhaps this post and the accompanying photos explain my thought processes better.  When I make an effort to keep an open mind about the yarns I make and the ways in which I use them, I avoid being caught in expectations such as "Shawls, or lace knitting should be this or that." From a yoga perspective, practicing with an open mind and an open heart to all possibilities in the small things in life helps us to develop open minds and hearts to larger matters.  

I'm nowhere near that larger acceptance in most of my life, but I'm working on it.  When I pay attention, I sometimes get a glimpse of what the Dine/Naabeeho people mean when they speak of "Walking in Beauty." 

In beauty may I walk
All day long may I walk
Through the returning seasons may I walk
Beautifully will I possess again
Beautifully birds, 
Beautifully joyful birds
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk
With dew about my feet may I walk
With beauty may I walk
With beauty before me may I walk
With beauty behind me may I walk
With beauty above me may I walk
With beauty all around me may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty. (Navajo Prayer)

There is much joy in this.


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Way We Do Those Things We Do: Moving Towards a Yoga of Fibre Work (Why I Blather on About All This Stuff)

I've had a number of responses and questions about my last post on twist and measuring yarns.  Some of them make me wonder if I'm simply trying to set straw men/women/spinners on fire because it seems that other spinners haven't experienced situations where twist and yarn measurements haven't been clearly explained nor has it been suggested that the way we measure twist in yarns is set in stone. To those people, I say most sincerely, "Wonderful!  Glad to hear it! May you always have such positive experiences." People have asked me why we don't generally list TPI as a range; others say that people most often do just that.  (I've asked for examples.) Others don't understand my math. (I don't either, sometimes.) It's been suggested that I may have misunderstood writers like Peter Teal because his later work argues in favour of using TPI. (I haven't checked this out. There is so much material on measuring yarns out there that I've only reviewed a tiny bit of it. If I've misinterpreted someone's results or intent, I apologize and stand corrected.) I'm going back and forth on common yarn measuring systems with my very knowledgeable Master Spinner fellow spinning geek, Coleen. Every comment, contradiction and unanswered question means that I need and want to explore spinning further. I will continue to do this, but for now, I've decided to change directions and lead you back to the path I was walking when I first began this blog.

Apart from attempting to understand the practical applications of spinning theories, my main goal in my explorations in fibre is to contribute to a clearer language for those of us interested in discussing our passions.  I'm not a big fan of dichotomies; I don't tend to believe much in "I am right and you are wrong." (Except when I am convinced that I am right, of course.  I am exquisitely human and very capable of spouting off while standing on my favourite soapbox, which usually means that I will get knocked off of it. Sometimes, that means a hard and very public fall.) My biggest pet peeve is that people tend to accept what they are told without investigating things for themselves, which might not mean much in the fibre world, but which can lead to a world of hurt in larger perspectives. (I've witnessed a few epic battles in the fibre world, too.) My second largest pet peeve is with those who undermine (which is not the same as questioning and challenging) other people's work or beliefs or experiences without recognizing how their personal biases, actions and make up might influence their own conclusions.  As I noted in the post on twist, it's not always a case of right and wrong.

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, there are passages which discuss Right Knowledge and Wrong Knowledge.  (I'm stating this very simply here.  The study of yoga is complex and just as open to debate as spinning, if not more so.) Right Knowledge means that we know things which can be verified through various systems:

1.7 Of these five, there are three ways of gaining correct knowledge (pramana): 1) perception, 2) inference, and 3) testimony or verbal communication from others who have knowledge. 
(pratyaksha anumana agamah pramanani) 

Wrong Knowledge involves working with false perceptions:

1.8 Incorrect knowledge or illusion (viparyaya) is false knowledge formed by perceiving a thing as being other than what it really is.(viparyayah mithya jnanam atad rupa pratistham) 

We come to Knowledge in various ways (Click here for one explanation of these systems.), but the best way to attain Right Knowledge is to practice direct experience, reasoning and then validation from authority. These 3 paths must converge in order to attain Right Knowledge.  Wrong Knowledge arises from, among other things, shifting perceptions, relationships with other people and entrenchment in beliefs. If we cling to what we are told or think is true, we are likely on the path of Wrong Knowledge.  Testing one's assumptions is a first step in moving back to walking towards Right Knowledge.

Here's a visual example.  The first photo shows a section of one of my small tapestries:

Pretty simple and easy to understand, no?  It's likely that you see some kind of floral image. Now, suppose that I begin shifting the framework and filtering the original image, like so:

Although you can still get some idea of my original weaving, the layers I've added distort the image so that we may no longer agree as to exactly what is shown here.  The more layers I add, the more our perceptions of the original image will shift.  You may believe that you prefer one image to the other. The original weaving remains the same but our experiences of that weaving diverge as soon as I photograph it, and increase with each filter I add.  Well, life is exactly like that: we have an experience, but instead of appreciating that experience, we begin to add layers of meaning and filters which we've acquired through the stories we tell ourselves. Those filters are there whether we are examining yarn or discussing politics. Having filters isn't wrong, but our refusal to acknowledge them can make it very difficult to find, let alone walk on, common ground. (A very heated public battle over a local barbershop and its practices comes to mind as a prime example of how filters affect our perceptions.)

If this discussion is getting pretty weird for you, you have my sympathies. If it bores you to tears, I get that, too. It's not often that a fibre person works to unite yoga with spinning. (If you're out there, please let me know. I'd love to chat. For everyone else, well, I do warn you what this blog is about in its title!) It's important for me to apply my yoga/meditation practice to my life; yoga, after all, seeks to unite, not divide.  If yoga doesn't have practical applications in even the smallest areas of life, it is simply another way to exercise (to quote Sarah, my teacher).

So on I go, searching and searching for Right Knowledge in every space in my Universe. Sometimes, this makes life difficult and I get a practical lesson as to why Colin, another teacher, warns people to be careful in starting down the yoga road at all. On the other hand, the more I apply a yogic system of seeking knowledge in my life, the more I discover that opposing viewpoints are simply matters of perception, not actual conflicts.  Working within this perspective means there are fewer schisms among people.  You may be right; I may be wrong or vice versa.  We may also both be wrong or both right.  By accepting these possibilities, maybe we can begin to understand why we do those things we do in the way we do them.  If we start small, with our hobbies, vocations and passions, perhaps we can expand such shifts in perspectives and apply them to the larger world.  Think of the possibilities.


Monday, 1 September 2014

Twisting the Night Away: Myths and Secrets of Measuring Yarn Twist (Or How a Fibre Geek Enjoys Her Long Weekend)

I've been spinning and ciphering, measuring and mulling over metres of yarn the past few days.  It began with a question and then some comments on a fibre internet site and a discovery on my part that not all spinners measured their yarns in the same way.  I realized that for all the time I've been spinning, I'm still making assumptions about yarn and its properties which I have not tested for myself.  This will not do.

So, out came the reference materials, stacks of books and magazines back to the late l970's and '80's.  I read about twist and twist calculations, thought about theories and mathematical formulae by such spinning luminaries as Alden Amos, Rita Buchanan, Allen Fannin, Anne Field, Mabel Ross, and Peter Teal.  I looked up practices by contemporary spinners such as Jacey Boggs and Jillian Moreno. Since I'd always been told that the formulae for calculating twists per inch in hand spun yarn were based on industrial standards, I looked those up, too.  (Yikes, by the way!  If you're a math geek, which I'm not, you'll love clicking to this site.  Me, not so much.) I spun some yarn, measured it, finished it, then set up a laboratory of yarn measuring tools on the kitchen table and measured again. I checked and rechecked my calculations. I called in a consultant-Mr. DD, who knows very little about yarn twist, but who does know a lot about tools-and I asked him to do some yarn measurements based on the instructions given with a particular tool.

These are the yarns I spun, using generic wool roving in black and white.  From left to right, there is a skein of white singles, with a black tracer yarn, a black singles with a white tracer, a 2 ply spun with equal amounts of spinning and plying twist, a 2 ply with twice as much plying twist as spinning twist and a 2 ply with half as much plying twist as spinning twist.  All yarns were spun Z and the plied yarns were plied S.  While I didn't spin to a standard, I did measure my drafting length (12 inches), and my treadle count (4 per drafting length for a theoretical twists per inch of 3 (4 treadles x 9 turns per treadle) divided by 12 inches = 3 twists per inch of yarn).  I used a short backward draw (my default) on a Lendrum Single Treadle with a 9:1 whorl.  I spun a basic beginner/intermediate yarn, the kind of yarn a spinner might make during a session of casual spinning, after which she decides she likes what she's done and would like to make more for a project.

This is my sample sheet. If you click on the photo, you should be able to read my calculations, so I won't relist them. In general, I aimed for 3 Twists Per Inch (TPI) in my yarns; in most cases, I was out by .25 to less than .5 turns per inch in the finished yarns. I used Mabel Ross's formulae for calculating TPI in yarns, because hers is the most common way to measure TPI in spinning programmes and literature.  Mabel's theories make sense on paper, but what I discovered was a bit of a surprise-although I'm an experienced spinner and do a lot of calculations on hand spun yarn, no matter how carefully I worked, my results did not always line up with the given equations.  They were closer when I was spinning a more or less balanced yarn, but when I began playing with the amount of twist, all bets were off, even using Ms. Ross's calculations for fancy yarns.  Not only that, TPI, like so many other things in spinning, was affected by finishing (in this case, a hot soapy wash and hot rinses), shifting the TPI from .25 to .75 turns per inch. While a .25 variation in TPI might not be noticeable in a yarn with more twist, it's certainly noticeable in such low twist yarns; a .75 variation in TPI is a large difference in these types of yarns.

Hmm.  Using TPI as a measurement system was not working out well for me, which could be for several reasons: a) I wasn't careful enough when spinning and measuring (I did my best and measured each yarn 4 times in 4 different sections); b) I don't know how to measure yarns (I read the books and practiced, practiced, practiced.); c) TPI measurements work in theory, but may not work as well in real life.

Next came Wraps per Inch (WPI).  In the upper left hand corner of the above photograph, you can see my standard method for measuring WPI-I wind the yarn around the one inch segment of an embroidery thread holder.  (Actually, I wind the card to wrap the yarn in order to maintain twist consistency.)  I measured the yarns again, using a Spinner's Control Card and the iSpinToolkit on my iPad.  (That's a tricky one: much as I love this app, if you load it onto an iPad mini instead of an iPod or iPhone, the scale changes.  The TPI gauge becomes a 2 inch x 2 inch square, rather than a 1 X 1, so you have to divide everything by 2.  Not only that, the instructions for calculating TPI from your measurements are incorrect, or at least, open to interpretation.  Most spinners will catch the shift in scale, but may not catch it on the WPI gauge where the WPI count at least doubles, i.e., the 7 WPI I wound on a card became a 14 WPI using the app, which would be a major problem if you didn't know or didn't catch the change. Just to throw a bigger wrench into the system, the Angle of Twist calculator on the app is accurate.)  The WPI count between the cards and the Spinner's Control tool were very close for the balanced yarns, but way off for the overplied sample, with my wrapping giving me a count of 8 WPI and the tool a count of 12 WPI.  (Mr. DD points out that holding the yarns "taut" as instructed in the control kit is open to interpretation, because he tended to stretch the yarns out more firmly than I did, which would affect a lively, overtwisted yarn more than a balanced yarn.) So, I either improved my accuracy in measuring yarns with WPI or measuring WPI is a more consistent way to measure yarn size, although it doesn't help for measuring how much twist is in a given yarn, which calculating TPI is designed to do.

For my second attempt at measuring yarn twist, I turned to Angle of Twist (AofT). The theory here is simple: if you line those yarns up against a protractor or an angle guide so that the angle in the plies (or the tracers in the singles) align with the angle on your guide, you'll have the AofT which tells you how much twist you have in a given yarn.  You can't compare yarn size with this measurement, because yarns of varying sizes can have the same AofT, but you can judge relative firmness or softness in your yarns. I used a clear plastic protractor and the Angle of Twist guide on my iSpin app.

This calculation is where my measurement skills truly shone.  Either that, or measuring AofT is an accurate guide to yarn twist, because I was just about bang on every time I measured my samples.  My measurements using the protractor were off by between .1 and .4 of a degree compared to the measurements on the app.  (Mr. DD's yarn measurements using these tools were dead on.)  Yay, me. All this ciphering had done me some good.

Well, perhaps.  Perhaps several decades of calculating yarn measurements had been improved by a day's worth of careful calculations.  What I suspect is more likely-I'm open to debate on this one and will do further testing-is that TPI, which is used so much in the spinning world to compare yarns, in reality, may not be a very reliable method of measuring yarn twist.  It has its uses; like WPI, your practiced TPI counts are likely highly accurate when measuring your own yarns; however, if you or I are measuring and comparing one another's yarns, our calculations may vary widely and not necessarily because one of us doesn't know how to do math. The theory behind it is great and is useful when you are spinning your yarns, but as a system of measuring those yarns, a combination of WPI and AofT calculations might allow us to compare our yarns more accurately.

Spinners look for a common language to compare our yarns so that we can better understand how other spinners (and commercial mills) design and spin their yarns and how we can control and improve our our work. It may not be that one spinner is correct and the other is wrong in the way we measure yarns.  Like language, there are nuances, subtle differences in how an individual speaks about the yarns she makes. The language of yarn and the differences among us are affected by simple things such as the way we hold our wrists when spinning, how hard we push on the treadles, the tiny shifts in drafting length we make as we spin and spin and spin.  Our yarn measurements may change with the degree of pressure in our winding or the way we lay our yarns under a tool or even with what we expect to find as we do those measurements. This doesn't mean that we should abandon our calculations and our measuring tools.  It may just mean that we need to learn to sing and dance with our yarns differently.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Blue Goes For Down (With Some Thoughts on Yarn Twist)

Summer either came to an abrupt end on the weekend or it went into a bit of a lull.  We're hoping for the latter, but the weekend was wet, cold, windy and, oh yes, did I mention it was wet?  And cold? And windy? Apart from teaching a yoga class, I stayed inside, sorting out my fibre room and tagging my dyeing experiments of the past two months. It was also a good time to knit, so I worked away on a new version of my Prairie Sunset Shawl, using the handspun I made from my Wacky Windmill purchases. I spun the yarn very firmly, more than you would expect for a knitting yarn made of BFL, but I know that my knitting style removes a bit of twist as I work, so I wanted to compensate for that. I'm pretty tough on my knitting and am not fond of wools which pill. Extra twist in the spinning and plying helps mitigate that. Washing in Eucalan and blocking tends to soften up the fibres.  I considered all these factors when spinning up the preparation, but if you handled the wrap now, you'd think I've overdone it with the extra twist. I may have done just that, but I'm looking for the upper limits on twist as it relates to comfort in this wrap.

The expectation these days is that yarn should be soft; that's true for next to the skin items, but softness comes with a cost, which usually means sacrificing some durability. Historically, yarns intended for daily duty were firmly spun and plied.  This included sweaters, hats, socks and gloves. Tight twist is common in weaving yarns, but if you ever have the opportunity to handle historical every day textiles, especially from countries as Peru, you may be surprised at the amount of twist and the tight knitting in the garments, which could block cold and wind and shed water. If you were making yarns for bags, there might be so much twist in the spinning and plying that a wool yarn could feel like barbed wire. The amount of twist might also be a design element, causing tracking or puckering in the weaving and deliberate skewing in the knitting.

The above photo shows the shawl in progress.  (I apologize for the slight blurriness of the pictures and the shift in the colours, which are far deeper and richer than I was able to capture today.  My photo skills this afternoon consisted of yelling at Morris to get out of the shot.) The stripes created by fractal spinning are working quite well.  The wrap will have a sideways knitted on border, so the striping should continue along the bottom edge. I'm knitting in garter stitch, so I expect the shawl to block out to nearly twice the size on the needles.

The small bag holding my shawl yarn is an experiment in working with overtwisted yarns.  I spun and plied Romney singles several times over to produce a yarn which is unwearable, but which wears well, so it's perfect for bags or rugs.  It's knitted in a twisted stitch to accentuate the yarn twist and it will not felt, despite several trips through washer and dryer. Unlike many of my other experiments, I expect this bag to outlast me.  By the way, it's dyed with indigo, lichen (the pink) and marigold in an iron pot (I think).  

Above the bag is my basket of yarns I dyed using the indigo vat.  With the shift in the weather, the vat has remained blue, even with the addition of more chemicals.  That usually means that the vat is too cold and since I can't bring it into the house or keep it warm outside, it may mean that I'm done with indigo dyeing for the year.  This is likely a good thing, since in addition to the yarns shown, I've dyed about 2 kilos of raw fleece and several metres of cotton and silk fabric. 

The lighter blue yarns in the next photo are the skein of commercial silk noil singles, commercial wool yarn and a commercial 2 ply alpaca.  The rest are skeins of hand spun singles and plied yarns, including wools, llama and alpaca, most of which have more twist than other spinners add, for the reasons listed above and the fact that some of them will go into tapestries.  Tapestry weaving produces a lot of wear and tear on the yarns, both in warp and weft.  You do not want your warp to break and, while tapestry wefts don't require as much twist, they do need to be able to withstand passing through the sheds and being packed into place. 

There's been a lot of buzz in the spinning community these days about the proper amount of twist required in hand spun yarns and the ways to accurately measure that twist once it's in there. Some spinners don't worry about twist control at all; they prefer to judge a yarn by sight and feel and skip the math all together.  Others concern themselves with precise details as to how much twist is required for any given yarn and cite all kinds of mathematical formulae and theories to support their claims to precision.  In between are most spinners, who may want to know a bit of twist theory, but don't want to get too bogged down in details.  It's a good idea to know the basics of twist calculation and yarn measurement (TPI, WPI, Angle of Twist, etc.), but the best way to determine what twist is required for which yarn is to experiment in the fibre preparation, spinning, fabric construction and finishing.  

My closest spinning friend (my closest friend in all things, really) tells her students to, "Assume nothing; Believe no one and Check everything."  That's excellent advice-you can read all you want about spinning, but in order to be a spinner, you must spin.  In order to know how to produce the yarns you want, you must practice and test every theory and assertion, no matter what you may have heard from any other spinner, including the masters.  Don't get caught by your own assumptions, either.  What you think you know is not always so. 

In the end, spin for joy and practice for the pleasure of the practice, then apply what you've learned.  Once you're comfortable with what you know, challenge that knowledge.  It's easy to become comfortable with our own certainty, but as Pema Chodron tells us, the trick is to be comfortable in uncertainty. The truth is out there, maybe, but it may not be what you think it is.


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Indra's Net, Reaching Higher: Practical Ethics in Textiles

My last post talked about one author's attempts to align her ethics with her passion for fashion. For many years, looking stylish has been very far down on my list of priorities; ethical sourcing, comfort and durability are the things I look for when buying clothing. (I hope those who know me were sitting down when they read that, because I realize a statement like that from me comes as a horrible shock.) I'm all about wearing natural fibres, as close to the source of the plant as I can get. I'm fortunate, in that I can spin those fibres and shape them into cloth, but for most people, this is not an option and, even for me, wearing only what I've made myself would leave me very scantily clothed indeed. No one wants that. Although I am not given to wearing runway fashion, I do like to to be presentable and wear attractive, casual clothing which meets the higher priorities on my purchasing list.

With current economies structured the way they are, it's virtually impossible to "do no harm;" every choice we make as textile consumers has a cost.  Sometimes, the best we can do is aim for "least harm." As I continue to research textile fibres, I've come to believe, for the moment at least, that hemp fibres and textiles are among the best sources for ethically produced clothing. You can click on the italicized links for more information, but here's a good summary (with a bit of advertising adornment thrown in) of why people might want to consider wearing hemp:

Hemp, the first and strongest natural fibre to be cultivated, is considered to be nature's most valuable, versatile and reusable natural resource. Unlike cotton, hemp can be grown in most any conditions without chemicals and pesticides for uses such as clothing, paper, food, medicine and cosmetics. It has long been known that hemp fabrics provide many distinct advantages such as comfort and feel, easy care and excellent durability. Hemp's resistance to mildew and bacteria as well as its high protection performance against UV rays means wearing hemp benefits both skin and health. ("Why Hemp?" Clothing Label, Effort Industries Inc., Toronto, Canada)

Unfortunately for many of us, hemp products can be difficult and expensive to find, so it's wonderful to find local shops which specialize in ethically chosen and sourced goods with products you like. One of these is Hemp Haven. Not only does this small shop supply hemp clothing, fabric, yarn and other products, Travis, the owner, is also a fibre craftsperson who specializes in crocheting hemp hats for sale in the store. While the hats are made from 100% hemp yarn, pure hemp clothing is rare, so most consumer can only buy hemp/cotton blends. (Look for blends made from organic cotton.) The clothing sold in this store is made from heavy, closely woven or knitted fabric, at very reasonable prices.  (A bunny hug/hoody costs around $40; prices for T-shirts range from $25 for short sleeves to $30 for longer sleeves, comparable to what women pay in many retail chain stores for often shoddy goods.) The fabric is extremely durable-pants and T-shirts I bought 3 years ago, wear regularly and launder without particular care still look good.

Travis doesn't maintain a website and told me he has no plans to start one. He prefers to keep his shop small and local, so you'll have to do a bit of homework to buy from him. There are shops like Hemp Haven across the country and you'll find hemp products in unusual places-the first hemp clothing I bought was in a yarn shop in Revelstoke-so if you're looking for casual, durable and ethically sourced products, do some research and you'll be pleasantly surprised at the growing number of suppliers. If you're interested in high end style, hemp fabrics are increasingly used by fashion designers, although the farther away you move from the retailer and supplier, the more difficult it becomes to determine whether or not your products are ethically produced, so keep that in mind when you make your purchases.

The world has lost several respected and admired people in the last few days; yesterday, one more was added to the list: the great guru of yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar died at the age of 96. These spirits came from disparate paths in life and worked in vastly different fields, but I see some important connections among all of them. Each of them, Spirits Living in a Material World, lived Life to the fullest, explored their interests to their highest potential and took their practice out into the world for the benefit of others. I've paid personal tribute to one of them; none of the others need my words added to the outpouring of respect and love heard round the world, but it is from people such as these (and many more who are close to me) that I build my own practice and make an effort to apply it for a larger purpose, although I will never be more than a shadow following in the shadow of Great Spirits. All of us can walk in the footsteps of giants and we can begin by taking our best baby steps towards an ethical approach to our daily choices.

Washcloth knitted from hand spun 100% hemp fibres.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Indra's Net: The Ethics of Fashion and Textiles, A Book Review of Greta Eagan's "Wear No Evil" was passed on in wills,...or used in political power plays between rival rulers.
Living as we do in a post-industrialized world, fabric has become ubiquitous and inexpensive. Most of us are very distant from its production, and the magic of cloth-making has thus for the most part become invisible; few who have not witnessed the laborious processes and multiple steps that go into making even the simplest cloth realize what treasures they be wearing or hold in their hands. ("Why Textiles Matter," in Textiles: The Whole Story, by Beverly Gordon, preface, p. 6)

One of the joys in my yoga practice is discovering ways to take that practice out into the world.  (That's how this blog came into being-as an exploration in combining the things I love into a cohesive, if somewhat inconsistent, way of living.)  One of the joys in practising at my yoga studio is that there is a focus on teaching and practising yoga as more than asana/poses and exercise.  This philosophy and the connections it brings pop up in unexpected, often delightful ways. You might think that it would be quite a leap to connect my love of textiles and yoga, but yoga philosophy is full of textile imagery.  We speak of the sutras, literally, threads, most familiar to us in Patanjali's works of yoga philosophy. In Vedic traditions, there is the metaphor of Indra's Net which expresses the interconnection of the universe.

The other evening, as I was wrapping myself up in my stay-away-from-the-sun garb, Scott, a teacher at Bodhi Tree Yoga, and I discovered that we shared some common interests in textiles, namely, a love for the master of draped design in fashion, Mariano Fortuny, and the artist/fashion designer, Erte. We chatted a bit about Fortuny's passion for pleats and the Erte paper doll books we both had, but had never had the heart to cut out of the books.

Those who know me now may be surprised (and very amused) about my hidden passion for fashion.  My current style is, ahem, casual, bordering on sloppy a good part of the time. People sometimes comment on my clothing, but it's usually to point out that my skirt is tucked up in my underwear or that I seem a bit overdressed when the weather's hot.  (The sun and I have an agreement.  He can shine as intensely as he wishes; I will either stay inside or cover up in a tent when I go walk about during the days he feels like displaying his glory.)  Once upon a time, being fashionable mattered to me.  Now, not so much.

A few things happened to bring this about: I had children.  It was somehow sadder to scrape poop and baby puke off silk clothing than it is to launder cotton T-shirts. I switched jobs to work in an art centre, where dressing up was not only not necessary, it could be downright hazardous. One should not wear long, flowing outfits when working around hot stoves and with moving equipment. Keeping up to date costs money; as a stay-at-home mom working as an artist, I had lots of creative opportunities, but no money.  I was making cloth or string every day and the more I delved into the history of the textiles I was shaping and decorating, the more my conscience began to poke at me about the way we undervalue and waste the fabrics we wear and use.

Because of the intense labour required to produce them, textiles have always had an ugly underbelly lurking below their glorious surfaces.  Textile production has supplied employment for much of humanity. While in many cases, such as tapestry weaving, the technical and design skills required to make cloth were honoured and respected and a skilled weaver could command decent compensation, unfortunately, so many people were needed to spin and weave in order to keep the world supplied with the materials required for every facet of life from clothing to sails, that yarn and cloth production did and does rely heavily on slave and child labour, low wages and hazardous working conditions. The demand for cheap cloth has resulted in a loss of land for food production and the heavy use of pesticides and water.  (Cotton requires some of the most voluminous use of pesticides and water known to humankind.)  We have to wear clothing, especially in climates like mine, so what do we do when our consciences, our yoga practice, conflicts with our desire to look stylish, or if not stylish, at least presentable?

Greta Eagan thinks she has found part of the answer to that question.  Her 2014 book, Wear No Evil: How to Change the World with Your Wardrobe, provides a guide to ethical practice in buying clothing.  By using the ethical guidelines most important to the reader, Eagan helps you to set up what she calls the Diamond System of choosing fabrics and clothing to transform you from an unmindful clothing consumer to an "Eco-Citizen" to an "Eco-Warrior," into an "Eco-Guru." The book is basic, written in that familiar self-help style found in bookstores everywhere; if you're looking for a place to start practising ethical fashion, Eagan's system can help.

What I like about this guide:

  • The first chapters in which Eagan discusses the shift from cloth and fashion as luxury for the rich into mass production of cheap, disposable fabrics provide a lot of information on how the clothing and fashion industry exploits labour for profit. She also provides statistics on pesticide use and water waste in textile production.  
  • Eagan's Integrity Index compares fibres and processes in order to help the reader develop an understanding of the various factors competing for our attention in choosing ethical clothing.  She isn't afraid to challenge assumptions-her discussion of animal leather versus vegan leather/pleather is in itself worth a read.
  • Her applied system for buying clothing ethically can be personalized to the buyer's priorities.  The system is simple enough to apply as you buy.  There's no need to flip through pages of choices when something catches your eye in a shop or online. 
There are a few problems with the information presented in Wear No Evil, including the implication that textiles made from bamboo, soy, corn and milk are "natural" products. While these products may have originated from plants or animals, the chemicals and processes used to transform them into cloth leave them with no resemblance to their original sources. The textile industry played so fast and loose with labelling bamboo products as green and natural that many countries now require labels specifying that bamboo cloth is "rayon/viscose produced from bamboo."  There is much debate about the ethics of moving products which supply much of the world's population with food into clothing and fuel production.  Currently, soy, corn and milk "fibres" don't make particularly good fabrics; corn dissolves under fairly low heat and both soy and milk products break down quickly, which may help out in landfills, but which encourages more waste.

Eagan's statement about Ahimsa/ethical silk is downright silly: " Regular silk production kills the silkworms in the process. Look for Peace Silk to ensure that the garment you are purchasing is made without harming the silkworms so they can go on producing more gorgeous fabric for you (p. 52)."  While it's true that the chrysalis inside a silk cocoon is stifled to prevent the moth from breaking the silk filaments, only some of the hatching moths go on to mate before they starve to death because they have reduced or no mouth parts and do not feed. It's also debatable whether or not the ethical silk you're buying is actually that; as is sometimes the case with "Green" labelled products, some manufacturers have been known to call their silk "ethically produced" when what they're selling is regular silk with value added by the addition of that ethical description. 

As a natural dyer, one of my pet peeves is the use of some food products for dyeing. Eagan does a good job of explaining the processes involved in using natural products as colouring agents; however, she promotes designers who use such things as berries for colour on their textiles.  Berries produce stains, not dyes which bond to the fabrics; as such, they are better used as food.

Aside from these issues, Eagan's book gives great advice, listing forward thinking designers and fashion brands working towards ethical practices and style advice for both men and women.  Eagan also has a website: Wear No Evil, with updated newsletters.

Yoga teaches us that everything is linked, that the choices we make affect all that is in this world and beyond.  It can be a daunting, if not impossible task, to take the steps which allow us to move our yoga into the world, to mindfully choose the threads which bind us to each other and the universe. We don't have to do it all at once; our thoughtful choices, woven together one by one, can work to weave a beautiful cloth of harmony and ethical practice. Through our practice,  Indra's Net links us all; Wear No Evil can help us get there.   

Eagan's book is available in bookstores or at your local public library.