Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Saturday 17 October 2015

Good Times, Bad Times: Sometimes You Write the Story; Sometimes the Story Writes You

One of the most interesting things about writing is that the writer, who thinks she's in control of the story, always discovers that point where things get away from her. A fictional character changes her behaviour and becomes someone else; a memoir or tale of one's life takes an unexpected turn. That shift is what keeps a writer going. We never know how the story will end. That's the excitement and adventure of it all.

After we returned from Kelowna, after my climb up Black Mountain to see what I could see, I had a few days of feeling well. We cleaned out the trailer and stored it for the winter. Mr. DD worked around the yard, preparing for cooler days ahead. I caught up with housework. But, somehow, things were not right. My energy levels were low. I had trouble eating and sleeping. We (me, family, doctors) all suspected that the anxiety and depression which nags me from time to time had returned, but nothing seemed to ease it. Then the story changed, Dramatically.

At the end of September, I was admitted to hospital where a CT scan of my belly showed a bowel obstruction. That scan showed something else - the breast cancer that I had worked on healing the past five years had returned. One month to the day before I was to receive my five year clearance and discharge from the Cancer Clinic, I learned that cancer had spread to the lining of my stomach and small bowel, into the bones in my pelvis and the lower spine. There's a strong likelihood that the new tests I'm scheduled to have this week will reveal more cancer. 

When I was initially diagnosed, I had hoped to be the poster girl for healthy living, meditation and yoga as a treatment for cancer. After all, medically speaking, I shouldn't have cancer at all - the women in my family are strong and long-lived; I eat well, live well, practise my yoga and walk everywhere. All through surgery, chemo, radiation and hormone therapy, I practised. I received my 300 hour yoga teacher training certificate. Most days, I felt great. Although the overwhelming dread that comes with a cancer diagnosis always haunted me, I thought I knew how the story ended, with a full, long and happy life.

But. . . . Now, I'm facing that mountain again, preparing for the huge climb that will determine whether I have several years left to me, or a much shorter time. Facing one's own death clarifies the mind, but still, I can't imagine myself in non-existence, a non-being. No yogic or meditative training can prepare you for more than the theory of non-existence. Decisions must be made, based on how one wishes to live the rest of her life, whether treatment options will help or hinder that quality she wishes to have and how it will affect her determination to have a dignified death. Right now, I've decided to go for full on treatment. There are two small, unfinished tapestries I'd like to complete. There are projects my children have on the go that I'd love to see to fruition. There are a couple of projects of my own I'd like to be around to see through. 

Besides, I like it here. I'm not much for thinking that death takes us to a better place. I may be wrong and I'm willing to take my chances on that, but HERE is a pretty good place to be. Right now, the last of the autumn coloured leaves are falling from the trees, carpeting the nearby park I call my Sanctuary in brilliant reds, golds and oranges. The air smells crisp and clear. I've climbed a few mountains and I'd like to climb a few more, actual ones, not metaphorical. I've walked in icy mountain lakes and talked to ravens. I watched wheat fields sprout, ripen and turn to chaff again. There were bluejays outside my living room window this week (and they weren't playing baseball). I think there are things I can still offer as a teacher and a writer. I'm not dead yet.

I'm not dead yet, but the story has changed and, by necessity, if not by choice, so will this blog. I'm not sure how often I'll write. Although writing keeps me grounded, there are days when I have only so much energy to spare and I must choose my tasks wisely. The work I wish to do now has a greater sense of urgency to it, but reporting on it does not. I'm also not big on "poor me" stories, so if this blog threatens to become that, I'll let it go.

In the mean time, I'm still not dead yet. (I have been resting a lot, although not on a perch.) The story has changed; I'm not getting the lines I wanted, but there's still a story. Every day, I look out my window and am amazed at the beauty of the world. Every day, friends, some of whom I didn't even realize were friends, support me and my family and renew my faith in humankind. 

I've already cast my ballot for Monday's federal election. I'm hoping to see an evil force driven out of our country so that some sense of balance and community can be restored. The thing is, no matter what fortune brings me, there is always work to be done, the work of my conscience and my spirit. Everything depends on taking it one breath at a time. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you."



Thursday 24 September 2015

The Sound of Silence: A Different Kind of Journey

It's been a long stretch of silence on the blog for me. We headed out to Kelowna in early September, to visit Young Ms. DD. Mr. DD packed his fix-it gear and his plans to work on Ms. DD's new home. I loaded the camper with spinning, knitting, crocheting and art supplies, intent on completing a number of projects while we were on the road and visiting.

I headed into the Rockies with expectations of how things would be.

I can plan all I want; the universe waits and chuckles. Whether it was the 3 day ride in the truck or the hours of crocheting a winter cap or a combination of both which set me up for trouble, the day after we arrived, I was hit with a most exquisite pain flare up which left me flat in bed for another 3 days. Nothing I did or took eased the pain; all I could do was stay still and breathe and know that, eventually, things would change. On Day 4, I was able to get up and about a bit, but I realized that, if I returned to my plans of working my way through my visit, I would be inviting another round of suffering. 

Despite all the time I've spent practising yoga and meditation, it remains difficult for me to do Nothing. I know that Being is important, but in reality, we are trained to believe that if we are not active, if we simply stay still, breathing and waiting and experiencing the moment, we are somehow doing something wrong, even if the situation that gives us the condition of Not Doing is beyond our control. I spent the first day in bed scolding myself for not taking longer breaks on our trip, for being obsessed with finishing a hat that, really, wasn't that great, for causing concern in my family, for not being stronger, better, whatever. Eventually, my yoga training kicked in (I'm a slow learner sometimes) and I was able to accept reality, to remember the wise words a cousin told me - "Rest and meditation are healing, too." - and focus on working with what was happening, not what I wished to be. I spent a lot of time working with being attentive to each breath, noting how pain changes and flows. I did the Ten Mindful Movements in my mind. I enjoyed the cats who curled themselves around me. I rested. Sometimes I cried.

Clouds on the mountain.

Slowly, slowly, I began to feel better, physically and mentally. (Pain tends to come with an extra bonus of a downward spiral into depression and anxiety, which is often more difficult to deal with than the physical sensations.) I was able to sit in Ms. DD's backyard patio, in the shade of lilacs, cedars and oak trees. In good moments, I practised the Ten Mindful Movements with my body and mind. I took photographs and painted in my trip journal. I stayed away from fibre work, but I did a lot of project planning. One brave day, I walked up the mountain to an apple orchard above my daughter's neighbourhood and I enjoyed the view from the top of the hill. I spent most of my time observing, feeling and hearing the breezes blow through the trees, smelling the crisp, fresh fall air and appreciating the ever changing colours of autumn. I lived a lot of time in silence. 

At the top of the mountain, Kelowna, B.C.

Beauty in small things: Artist's Bracken on a burned out log, Williamson Lake, Revelstoke, B.C.

Strange as it sounds, I was able to enjoy myself in the moments of pain - not the pain itself, but the experiences given to me because of that pain. I would have much preferred to travel without pain, to do the things I normally do when I'm in my favourite places. No Pain trumps Pain every time; however, when I'm stuck with discomfort, I am reminded that the value yoga and meditation has for me doesn't lie in being able to do complex asana or having out of body experiences. Yoga and meditation support me in times when things are not going well. They help me to work with my In Body experiences. Yoga teaches me that it really is about the journey, not the destination.

We're home now and I am healing, although I'm moving quite slowly and staying away from too much activity. Every time I'm tempted to move into high gear, I stop, breathe and listen, to the world around me, to the world within me. Yoga teaches us that we are Nature, sitting, waiting, experiencing what comes and what changes. It's a simple path, sometimes not so easy to to travel, but here's the thing - we don't need to Do anything to learn the lesson. We just have to Be.

Obstacles in the water make the lake no less beautiful.


Sunday 30 August 2015

Smoke From a Distant Fire: Sea of Joy Continues

I live nowhere near a forest, except the urban one planted by my house, but this has been a summer of haze and smoke. The northern part of the province burned earlier this summer. British Columbia, Washington and Oregon are burning now; the smoke from those fires has made it difficult to be outdoors for days at a time. We do not suffer like those caught in the middle of the disasters, but the smoke is a reminder that everything on this planet is connected and that we would be wise to acknowledge and accommodate this. 

I've spent the last two days hiding from the smoke, heat, humidity and mosquitoes, which means full days of working on "Sea of Joy." She's coming along - there has been some unweaving, but only a bit, and I'm past the quarter mark of the piece. Here she is after Day One:

The little Sea Creature wasn't working. He looked rather frightening, a strange head stuck on a different body and he didn't flow the way I intended:

So, "Off with his head!" Here is he now, much better, I think:

There were some problems with value; The lighter green of the long vine disappeared into the light blue behind it. I spent part of this morning cutting out the light blue background and needle weaving in a darker blue. 

I'm working more embellishments into my tapestries - stitching small details onto the work to highlight images and add texture. The catch is not to use embellishment as an excuse for laziness or to fix something which doesn't please me. Anything added to a piece must add to the design.

In addition to viewing each day's work in black and white, it's important to study it as it will be presented. By flipping the image on its side, I can see what will need to be reworked: 

One of the things which delights me about tapestry weaving is the way it demands my full attention. Sections of the cartoon which seemed fine in the drawing surprise me when they're woven. If my mind wanders, if I shift into lazy weaving, it will cost me hours of unweaving. Tapestry weaving is always an exploration, an excitement about the process. In "Sea of Joy," my willingness to weave on the fly gives the sense of movement I'm looking for here. Whether or not my weaving is a success matters less than the fact that I have fun while I'm doing it. I make my best effort in every piece I weave and that's enough.

As I weave the images into this tapestry, as I connect foreground with background, I'm reminded that, on a tiny scale, I'm giving physical expression to the connection of all Life. What happens any place on Gaia drifts into and affects everyone. Which is Figure and which is Ground? Yoga tells us that they're One and the Same.   


Friday 21 August 2015

Sea of Joy: Expanding Horizons

I ventured out to Open Fibre Night last night. My friend, Michele M-H, started this event a couple of years ago. OFN is held monthly; it's free, open to anyone with an interest in fibre work of any kind. I haven't attended for some time and there were many new faces among the group. (Then again, perhaps I was the new face. It's always a matter of perspective.) Another friend, Carla D, drove halfway across the city to transport me and most of my fibre room contents, or so it seemed. I'm moving away from using commercial yarns, so a few skeins for dispersal came with me and I decided to work on my tapestry, which meant packing my 16 inch Mirrix and a basket of singles weft yarns. This smaller Mirrix is designed for workshops, but compared to knitting or spinning on a spindle, taking it on tour is a big deal. (Getting everything back home is just as fun - Young Mr. DD found two balls of yarn beside the house this morning, escapees from my basket. Fortunately, he discovered them before Morris did.)

As it turned out, I didn't get much weaving done. There was visiting to catch up on, admiring of completed and new projects, demonstrations of unfamiliar techniques and snacks to keep us energized. I came home with two garden cucumbers, one for Mr. DD and the other for Morris, less yarn than I arrived with and a few passes completed on my weaving. I was out past ten o'clock, an outrageously late night for me and while I'm dragging my butt around at the moment, I'm feeling reconnected with my fibre world.

I warped the loom for a larger version of "Sea of Joy" earlier in the week and have been making steady, if slow progress. Here's the the basket of yarns I've chosen for the project. Behind it is the loom with the hem and a double row of twining in hand spun linen in place:

Here's the story so far:

Here she is on her side, as she will appear when completed:

At the moment, I'm not loving the larger version. It seems less spontaneous, joyful and free than the sample. I often have this reaction when I expand a small thought into a larger idea and it's really too early to judge what will happen. There may be a problem with the values; the images may need more contrast. Actually, they most certainly will require stronger value shifts, but since this piece will be approximately 12 inches x 24 inches or slightly longer and I have but a couple of inches completed, I have plenty of time and space to introduce what's needed. This is how the values appear now:

You can see by the ink on the cotton seine twine warp and the scribbling on the cartoon, that I'm revising the images as I go. I love this part of the process - never knowing whether my ideas will work, exploring the interactions of the colours in my weft, discovering what works in a cartoon and what does not.

In a recent blog post, Rebecca Mezoff says this about tapestry:
 "For me, it all comes down to this. I can't NOT do tapestry. I suspect the answer, for those of us who choose to spend our days making and teaching tapestry, is the same. It is what we do because we love it and we can't imagine using another art form."  ((Linked here. You should read it.),
Rebecca's words resonate with me. For me, it's always about the journey and never the end product. Even when I had a long stretch of non-weaving, tapestry informed my choices in spinning and design. I never lost sight of the road to returning to this process and I'm happy to be back on the path. Meditation and yoga influence my weaving, but for me, tapestry weaving is both meditation and yoga. When I'm in the process, time stops. I become one with the materials and the medium, a small speck of the universe united with all the other specks of our existence. I can think of no better place to be.


Saturday 8 August 2015

Sea of Joy: A Small Study, a Big Change and a Glimpse into the Process of Designing

I finished another small tapestry this week, "Sea of Joy," a study from a tiny sketch I'd done years ago while drinking white wine and listening to CBC Radio. She's approximately 7 x 7.5 inches, slightly larger than the pieces I've completed this summer. I'm pleased with her; she's telling me she would like to be a larger work and the ideas for a cartoon, what size best suits her and what yarns I should use for warp and weft are rattling round in my head. At the moment, I'm thinking that she should be a companion piece to "The Garden," woven on my 16 inch Big Sister Mirrix Loom in a cotton warp with hand spun and dyed wefts and that she's likely to be around 12 x 24 inches. With those things settled, I'm now waiting for my drawing skills to kick in so that I can work out a cartoon. This may take the rest of the summer, but I've learned that there's no use in rushing. As I wait, I can admire this little piece - her colours are vibrant and her composition is strong, although not perfect. Overall, the tapestry works and she is worthy of a larger weaving:

One of the best ways to determine if a tapestry is working is to take black and white photos of the weaving as it progresses and when it's finished. Removing colour from the equation, especially when the colours are as bright as they are here, allows me to spot areas where I may need more contrast or sections where my composition is weak. In this case, my composition is stronger than I had anticipated. My contrasts are good, although I may need stronger contrast in the small sea creature at upper left. I'm undecided about that now because I rather like that the creature isn't readily apparent and only shows up after closer viewing, just as a sea creature would if she were camouflaging herself among the flora:

This is the back of the piece. I have a few ends tied off and there are several knots, but overall, I like my tapestries to be reversible. When I do mount my pieces (another summer project), I find that a smooth surface on the back of the work gives a flatter, more finished appearance on the front:

With two small studies completed and a larger piece ("Battle Fatigue") still on loom, I'm feeling another strong calling, one outside my comfort zone. Something tells me it's time to begin a large tapestry, much larger than I usually weave and to do it in natural colours of hand spun wools. Yesterday, I hauled out my large Zeus Loom:

This Big Boy, a gift from Mr. DD many years ago, will weave a piece up to 35 inches wide and 61 inches long. I've woven on it twice. The first piece was the banner I use for my blog, a study for the larger rug I wove next on Zeus. I seldom weave large pieces. The biggest tapestry I've ever woven was "Yellow Leaves Hang From Your Tree," started in 2005 and completed in 2008. She was woven on a loom made of iron plumbing pipes: 

Commercial wool singles warp, commercial mixed wefts, hand spun and dyed wool wefts. Approximately 24 x 36 inches.

After she was completed, I stopped weaving for a while. Since I've begun weaving again, my tapestries have all been small, bits of ideas worked out (or not) on simple frame looms. Now, all this summer, I've had the urge to resurrect Zeus and weave another rug/magic carpet. The images for that are coming as flashes in dreams, as I meditate or sit at my spinning wheel. There's nothing to draw, yet, not much of an idea as to what warp to use or how large this thing should be. She just sits and waits and nudges me. At first, that nudging came now and again, but in the past few weeks, she's been poking  and whispering at me on a daily basis, so yesterday, I gave in and did some spinning for my potential, future work:

That's 8 ounces of Icelandic singles spun up, along with a bin full of other weft yarns, from black to white. There's another 36 ounces of Welsh Mountain top on its way here. There's a voice, stronger and stronger by the day, saying "Weave me." We shall see where it all leads.


Saturday 1 August 2015

Badlands: Continuous Strand Tapestry Weaving

I finished weaving my Badlands sample last night. I'm pretty pleased with it at the moment. The colours are lovely and the spontaneous design worked out nicely. I can see things I wish I'd done differently and areas which could use improvement, but that's always the case, is it not?

The interesting thing about this small tapestry (approximately 7 inches x 5 inches on loom) is that it is woven with a continuous strand of yarn from a single ball. When I speak of "continuous strand weaving," I don't mean to say that the yarn was never broken, as I needle weave using short strands of yarn. Continuous strand weaving - I haven't found a better term, yet - means that I weave with the yarn using the colours as they present themselves, either from the outside end of the ball or the inside of the yarn package. I align the colours in the order they come and I don't remove any colours which may be problematic. If I were to unpick this weaving and rejoin all the ends, I would have a ball of (very knotty) yarn whose colours would be the same as the original skein.

Just to remind you: I wove using the outside end of the ball to start, then worked with yarns from both ends of the package, transitioning into weaving with the yarn from the inside of the ball:

I've searched for information on other weavers who use their yarns in this fashion. Although there are many sites and works on weaving with hand spun and dyed yarns, including a few which demonstrate judicious placement of the colours, I haven't yet found a source in which a tapestry weaver worked using a continuous strand. I'm sure there must be others who have tried this and I'd love to hear from them/you.

The question which arises from this study is, "How will this technique work in a larger piece?" I have a frame loom warped with cotton which has been waiting for a project for a while now. Perhaps I've found one for it.


Thursday 30 July 2015

Somewhere Over the Rainbow 2015: Controlling Colour Placement in Tapestry Using Hand Spun Singles

Yesterday, I discussed how I use my multi-coloured singles weft yarns to build a tapestry design. This style of free form weaving is relaxing and fun - I begin to weave and see where the yarn takes me. Weaving this way is truly "playing with string." Most of the time, though, I have specific designs in mind and I weave with a cartoon behind my warp. This watercolour was the starting point for a piece I wll discuss here, "Study for 'The Garden':"

I've lost the cartoon for this weaving, but my practice is to translate such paintings into line drawing cartoons, like this one:

How do I use my hand spun yarns to build a controlled design? A weaver can work mathematically, planning the colour changes in her spinning based on some calculations in a woven sample. Let's say that she knows that a 10 inch (25 cm) wide x 1 inch (2.5 cm) high block of colour contains 36 picks per inch (PPI) and that she has approximately 10% take up in her weft yarn with each pass. Each weft pass then requires 11 inches (27.5 cm) of yarn. She would multiply 11 x 36 for a total of 396 inches, or approximately 11 yards (10 metres) of yarn per block woven. Working from this, she would then spin 11 yards or 10 metres of each colour she wanted per colour block (or she could be wild and spin 11 inches of a variety of colours 36 times to mix her colours in that same block). There will, of course, still be some variation in colour placement, due to differences in take up, yarn grist, techniques used and the touch of the human hand, but overall, a spinner could make weaving weft this way and be fairly confident as to how the colours would weave in a given section.

Apart from the challenge presented, I have no interest in working this way. Spinning precise colours into my yarns doesn't strike me as an effective use of my time, given that I can use traditional weaving techniques to place my colours where I please. Instead, I use my experience as a dyer and spinner to blend colours in my yarns; my experience with tapestry weaving allows me to decide how best to place the colours. The short version of this is that I work intuitively, but I also pay attention to the shapes in my cartoons and how to build those shapes with my yarns.

In "'The Garden' Study," shown here as woven and turned to show how the final weaving is presented, I built shapes using both discontinuous weft tapestry techniques and the colours in the yarns:

You can see the traditional way that shapes are formed in the small flower at the lower left. The stem and leaves are woven with green yarns in eccentric weft technique and the bud is a separate shape from a different yarn placed between the leaves. The Snake's body and the right side of the large flower are woven with continuous yarns (each from separate balls). The natural striping of the yarn forms the stripes on the Snake. (For some reason, I always think of this image as a "he" and always in capital letters.) That colour way begins with the pink at his underbelly and continues to the tongue, orange stripe and eye, which are woven in separately, then the main yarn continues into his head to the top of his body. The large flower is woven the same way, beginning with light pink for the stem (right side, lower photo), into the purples and fuchsias of the bud. The left side of the stem is woven in the same fashion with a different multi-coloured yarn.

You can see the same effect in this detail of a leaf from "Chakra Roots." This shape was woven from a continuous strand of yarn, the leaf from one end of the ball and the soumak from the other:

Working this way is not an all-or-nothing process. Whether I use a fairly solid colour or a multi-coloured yarn depends on what I believe best suits my design. For example, in "The Garden," the rounded shapes are woven with solid singles, while the background combines various gradient singles combined with slits and eccentric wefts.

Weaving with multi-coloured singles reduces my weaving time by allowing my yarns to mimic some classic tapestry techniques. It can also enhance those same traditional ways of weaving. Working with such yarns extends my design possibilities - I can allow the yarn itself to determine my design, as I did in "Badlands" or I can use that yarn to highlight shapes in my cartoons. Best of all, weaving with my hand spun yarns combines my love of dyeing, spinning and weaving into a single fabric. There is a meditation in this practice as All becomes One.