Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Roadie: Heading Out on a Quick Trip

By the time you read this post, I'll be riding in a van packed with guitars, drums, amplifiers and various other equipment, heading out to Kelowna with two musicians to participate in a benefit Young Ms. DD has organized for The Okanagan Humane Society. We're driving out; Son Howler (aka Young Mr. DD and his drummer, D) are playing for the evening and then we're driving straight back. I'm supplying support and silent auction items. I've promised not to sing. Or dance. Or otherwise display my lack of musical talent.

I'm not the best traveller, so it may be a gruelling trip, but I'm excited to go and how many women my age can boast about being a roadie for a rock and roll band? It's an opportunity to visit with Ms. DD, whom I haven't seen since Christmas and to discuss her plans for her new home, which we'll get to see next month on a return visit. I'll ride through the mountains I love so much, smell the forests and hear the ravens call.

When I get back, I'll be planning for Level 4 of the Olds College Master Spinner Certificate Programme. It will be all Level 4, all the time, so I appreciate these breaks to the mountains perhaps more than I usually do.  The mountains and forests are healing places, places for the body, for the mind, places of my heart. Perhaps I'll see a bear or two, maybe glimpse a big-horned sheep, watch the rivers run. Perhaps I'll sleep in the darkness through the entire trip there and back. No matter. All will be well. (There will certainly be some flowers.) See you when I get back!

(Happy Birthday to my dear Young Mr. DD! May you be happy. May you be well.)

Thursday, 16 April 2015

It's In The Bag: Suggestions for a Travelling Tapestry Kit

A friend and I like to get together for communal fibre work. She weaves miniature cut pile rugs while I weave tapestry. I don't drive and looms are heavy, so for many years, I've carried around a makeup bag set up for weaving (and sometimes, spinning or knitting). I've been inspired by the recent rounds of photos in which artists display what's in their drawing kits and thought I'd show you what hides in my weaving bag.  Here's a photo of the bag, a zippered case with handles, cloth exterior with two large zippered plastic pouches inside. The exterior of the bag measures about 10 inches x 13 inches x 3 inches and it expands when packed:

The bag, opened and packed to go:

I've pared the contents down to my essentials, but the case holds a lot of materials and tools. At the moment, I'm working on my Don George loom, about 10 inches x 10 inches in total size, and the maximum size for this bag. In the photo below, you can also see a small cardboard bag loom, for sampling and plain good fun. The lower right side shows my collection of combs, wooden tapestry needles, a small zippered hand spun, hand woven bag which holds the combs and tapestry needles, an old knitting needle which I sometimes use as a shedding device, a dental pick for packing and lifting sections of weaving and scissors with blunt ends so they don't snag the tapestry or my yarns. Above that are my design tools: a tiny sketchbook, matchbook sized kit of drawing pencils, a permanent marker, a black pen and an old, old small format tapestry weaving book which I sometimes use to refresh my memory on weaving techniques. There are also a couple of spindles, including a toy wheel spindle which I made for travelling and a teeny, tiny Snyder turkish spindle which is really impractical, but impossibly cute, perfect for those times when I feel like yarn doodling. Next to the gold spindle is a container of coloured pencils, with a sharpener in the top:

Not shown are the yarns I use for weaving and my spinning fibres. They go in the bag last, as padding for everything else. Filled to capacity, the tapestry kit weighs under 2 pounds, so it's light and easy to carry. If we're heading out in our camper, I toss in a box of watercolour paints,a pad of watercolour paper and I'm good to go for a couple of weeks.

So, there you are: "Have weaving, will travel." If you have travelling tricks of your own to share, I'd love to hear about them. Thanks to Janette Meetze, a tapestry weaver who inspires me with her lovely, detailed sketches and whose work was the motivation for this post.


Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Sample Mix: Testing Ideas

A while back, I was sorting through my sketchbooks when I came across this 4 inch x 6 inch drawing:

It's labelled "Drawing from Tasare Tapestry India, July 17/09," and I have no idea what inspired it. A Google search of "Tasare Tapestry India" yielded many strange links and a few images, none of which remind me of this drawing. I suspect I intended it as a cartoon. Six years seemed long enough for it to be waiting for its transformation, so I hauled out one of my small Don George looms, enlarged the drawing and planned my weaving. The loom holds a piece that's approximately 8 inches x 8 inches, a nice sample size:

I've been sampling for a writing project and wanted to test a piece in which I used hand spun warp and wefts. The warp I used is a Romney singles, sett at approximately 8 epi; my wefts are my usual wool singles, with a bit of silk/wool thrown into the mix. For the twining, I used a 2 ply S/Z linen yarn, shown here as a singles, then after plying:

This is the first completely hand spun tapestry project I've done in a long time. The warp is holding up well, withstanding several false starts for warping and some restarted weaving. Reversing spinning/plying directions to S/Z, recommended when spinning flax, was a mistake for twining. Over the 16 inch span of the two rows of edging, the plies split so that it looks as if I twined with 2 singles. I won't do that again. I also won't use the pale green wool/silk blend in a larger piece, because it's too elastic and soft for tapestry weaving. It bounces in the shed as I'm beating and if you look closely, you'll see that there are little bubbles of weft poking up through the warps, giving me an unanticipated and undesirable textural effect. Overall, though, I like the design and see possibilities for a larger piece.

I've written about my casual, rather haphazard approach to weaving and design before, but the one thing I don't neglect is sampling for tapestry. Weaving small pieces before I tackle a larger tapestry has saved me a lot of time and trouble. Sampling shows me what will likely work - there are no guarantees - what needs modification and which should be abandoned. (Chakra Roots is the latest example of a larger work that isn't going to see the light of day any time soon.

I like the design of this small tapestry, tentatively titled, "Sea of Joy."(Young Master DD says it's "trippy." I told him that this was the stuff running around in my head all the time.) I'm not sure if I'll use a hand spun warp for something larger, but I now know that I can. I'm discovering which of my yarns to use on a larger scale and which to avoid. If there's a problem with a yarn in such a small sample, I can be sure the problem will be magnified as the piece gets bigger. I can see that there are flaws in the cartoon that need modification, but right now, my sample tells me that this work is something worth pursuing. 

By the way, if anyone knows what fascinated me about the elusive "Tasare Tapestry of India," please send me a link.


Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Wanderer: A Bit of a Meandering Post

Once in a while, the world spins far too quickly for me. I'd love to put out my hand and just stop the commotion for a bit, let things settle, catch my breath. These past few weeks have been like that - one minute, I'm Up; the next, everything comes crashing Down. Good things have happened. Other events have been not so pleasant. This is the usual stuff, of course, but when the waves come pounding, it's hard to keep myself on an even keel. I know that change will come, that change is a constant, but sometimes, it's hard to weather the storms.

Usually, when I feel out of balance, I write, but writing hasn't comforted me lately. Dark thoughts written down deepen into complaints, a lack of gratitude and discontentment, which seem more solid when I record them in a journal. Since writing hasn't offered solace, I've turned to other trusty guides - my feet, my mat and my wheel.

I discovered long ago that one of the most effective ways to cope when depression rolls over me is walking, or rather, wandering. Wandering, which is nothing more than walking without any purpose other than to put one foot in front of the other, soothes me in a way like no other physical activity. When I'm down, if I can push myself out the door (sometimes, that's a struggle), I roam our nearby park or scout through city streets. There's no destination, no plan. I walk, for hours and hours, if possible, but even a short jaunt helps. If I head to the park, I may take my camera to record some of the things I observe in what I've come to think of as my Sanctuary. Mostly, I just walk.

Quite often, I end up at the yoga studio. This week, I longed for slower, more gentle classes, so I wandered over for Renew and two meditation classes, one a Yoga Nidra and the other a class in which I absorbed the sounds of students playing meditation bowls. I crashed another Yoga Nidra that Donna was teaching at the university. When I was at home, I meditated before I rolled out of bed in the morning. When I didn't feel like hauling my butt off the couch, I meditated there. As my mood began to lift, I wandered again, this time into my fibre room where I spent a lot of time at my wheels, playing.

I'm preparing to teach Level 4 of the Master Spinner Programme at Olds College in June. When I was hired as an instructor for the programme, I decided that I would work through each of the workbooks in the five levels, so that I would have a thorough understanding of the requirements. Each level is intensive, with homework that requires many skeins of yarn to demonstrate one's competency. Over the past year, I worked on Levels 1 and 2. When I was asked teach Level 4, I went straight to it, only to discover that I can't do my best job of this level without working on Level 3, so I'm in the middle of a crash course on both. This involves a lot of sampling and calculating. Counting treadles, twists and wraps per inch is like counting the breath in meditation - they help me focus and stay present. If I want to do an accurate measure of angle of twist, I have to pay attention to the yarns in front of me. It does no good to dwell on past mistakes; I can only use them to improve the next batch of yarns. I could fret about the time constraints I'm under, about the deadlines which beckon from an ever closer horizon, but that doesn't get the work done. Staying in the moment and working through each requirement is the best way to head to shore.

The world is still spinning wildly, churning up the waves, knocking me about in my little boat, but I feel as if I'm regaining a bit of control over my reactions to being tossed here and there. Eventually, the waves will settle; life will calm again and we'll continue on our way. Until the next time.

Level 4 Samples: Base Yarn of 2 Ply Alpaca/Wool (Bottom); Tufted Yarn of 2 Ply Alpaca/Wool with Mohair Locks (Middle); 2 Ply Boucle of  Mohair Locks plied with Wool Singles


Saturday, 21 March 2015

Alive/Awake: Moving Into Asana

Application of  Signage Systems
Symbol for "Namaste"
(Google Public Domain Images)

I've been away from asana practice for a while. My body is transitioning - muscles are adapting to other muscles which are missing or have been shifted and every one seems to be protesting the changes. Even the mildest of poses has been causing interesting muscle spasms, which are triggering even more interesting chain reactions throughout my body. As much as I wanted it not to be true, I had to admit that yoga was making things worse, not better, so the sensible thing to do was to stop.

After several intensive rounds of physiotherapy, my therapist suggested it was time to test out yoga again. "Go to Colin's noon hour class," she said. "It will be a nice, easy transition back in yoga. See how it goes." So, off I went to a 45 minute asana practice. I'm used to 1.5 hour classes with Colin. 45 minutes would be a cake walk, or so I thought. Little did I know that he was on a hip kick and in pretzel mode to boot.

At the first class, a couple of weeks ago, everyone was either a yoga teacher or a teacher trainee. Sarah's and Colin's children were also there; although they're very young, they're also very familiar with yoga. Perhaps we inspired Colin, because we hit the ground twisting and by the end of class, I was in knots. My legs were in positions I never thought they'd go and then, to add to the fun, Colin gave me an adjustment, just because he could. I've never been in a yoga class with so much moaning, giggles and laughter. All I could think of (when I wasn't focused on the pose) was that, if Tracy the therapist could see me, she'd be thinking that this wasn't the nice, easy yoga class she'd imagined for me.

Yesterday was more of the same - a room full of teachers and trainees, with a new practitioner or two thrown into the mix. More hip openers. Intensive twists. More moaning and groaning. I tapped out a few times on poses. At one point, after coming out of a deep, seated twist, I made a face and Colin started to laugh. He interpreted that face to mean that I wasn't a fan of the pose, but that wasn't the issue. (I love twists.) What I was really thinking was that I was glad there was an emergency room doctor practising just in front of me, because I was beginning to feel that I'd need his services before class was over. We all made it through in one piece. (I was very grateful that Barb had offered to drive me to and from class. She dropped me off a few short blocks from home, but at that moment, home seemed miles away.) I slept all afternoon.

At the end of class, Colin spoke about the meaning of "Namaste," of the part in us that is always Awake. Yoga helps us discover our Awake Essence. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes painful, exploring Awake/Awareness is an essential part of allowing us to be Alive. We push our limits to stay focused, but it's important to know when it's unwise to push further. Sometimes, that's the hardest part of yoga.

I'm fine this morning, a little stiff in spots, but I feel better than I've felt in weeks. I smile every time I think of Tracy advising me to transition slowly back into yoga. I smile when I think of how deeply I was able to get into most of the poses, especially given my physical challenges. I know that going deeply into asana isn't the point, but it's fun to challenge yourself and be pleasantly surprised. It's great to give myself a "Yayy, Me!" once in a while. It's good to be Alive.

As Colin said, "Namaste" acknowledges that part of us that is always Awake, always Alive. "Namaste" bows to all Awareness in one another. So, thanks to all of you who help me in my practice - Colin, Sarah, Heather, Tracy, Alisa, Donna, Barb, all teachers, all fellow students. "Namaste" to you, my friends. Have a great weekend!


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Shiny, Happy People: On the Value of Not Presenting Our Best

Not long ago, someone asked me, "Why do you post your less than successful work? Why not post only your best stuff?" In the ensuing discussion, I came to understand that this person thought that my tendency to include samples of fibre work that just miss their marks in my blog was unprofessional. Professional people never display their failures, their unpolished drawings, paintings, the garment or tapestry that didn't quite work. We shouldn't see the false starts and discarded efforts it takes to get to a successful completion of a project. To do so is to give the impression that we don't know what we're doing and that just shouldn't happen.

After taking a few deep breaths and stifling my initial, defensive reaction: "It's my blog and I'll do what I want!," I came to the conclusion that this person's reaction was not unreasonable. We live in a time and place where social media allows us to present our best selves, real or imagined, as we omit the mundane, foolish and sometimes embarrassing moments of our lives. (We also live in fear that someone else will be more than happy to post those moments for us.) If we take Facebook at face value, we all live in lovely, polished homes, dine on stylish, healthy foods and travel to exotic places, as we soothe our social consciences by posting relevant click bait of war zones, natural disasters and animal abuse. We know perfectly well that this isn't the case. Life can be complex. If we choose not to dwell on every day ordinary or misfortunes, that's perfectly understandable and perfectly human. What we need to acknowledge is that this tendency to present nothing but our best faces builds false perceptions and unreasonable expectations for ourselves and others.

People are spell-bound by work done to perfection and rightly so. Producing a masterpiece in anything is inspiring and admirable. I'm a process person, though, so that final piece of perfection isn't enough for me. I want to see more of the path that led a teacher to that ability to teach, the struggles with paint and ink and fibres an artist had to resolve in order to attain her artistic goals. I love to see work done by those with passion - those who are not necessarily the best at what they do, but who are forever learning, testing and challenging their limits. I want to see the Beginner, not the Master, or, at least, I long for a glimpse of the Master when she dwells in Beginner's Mind.

I meander down whatever roads catch my attention. I present my failures, my not quite right works, along with my successes. I do the best I can to pull it all together and, if my weaving is not gallery quality, if my writing is unpolished from time to time, if things don't come together just so, that's fine by me. In yoga, every pose has a beginning, middle and end and each of those parts is equally important. If we want to apply our yoga to our lives, then acknowledging each of those segments can only help us grow.

Masks are necessary, but if that is all we display to the world, we'll lose sight of who we are. People will miss out on that shining light that is our True Self. Let the masks slip once in a while. Show some of that less than perfect work. Your Ego may take a bit of a beating, but allowing more openness into the mix will present a fuller, richer concept of the complex, perfectly imperfect humans that we are. Art and Life are messy. Embrace that.

Beautiful, but what lies behind the mask may be just as interesting.
(Google Images, Public Domain)


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Chakra Roots: A Study

Years ago, when I was studying drawing, we were given an assignment to choose something from a well-known draftsman (no women were mentioned) and copy one of his drawings. Never one to back down from a challenge, I selected a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci (or perhaps the unknown Cesare da Sestos - attribution for this drawing is tenuous). It was a deceptively simple looking work, as I discovered, but the effort required to reproduce it taught me many things, not the least of which is that I do not care to replicate work, never mind how great the artist. On the whole, though, I did a not bad job. There's an issue with scale and proportion, which bothered neither me nor my instructor at the time. I discovered Leonardo (or Cesare) has nothing to worry about from the grave:

As I was told later, one of the goals of this exercise was to be able to step back and evaluate your own work, which was probably the most valuable thing I learned. I can look at my drawing dispassionately, measure its flaws and assets, and take note of ways to improve.

I've been meaning to apply this same exercise to tapestry for quite some time. Late last year, I discovered a small acrylic painting (18 cm x 23.5 cm) tucked away in a closet, which seemed to call out for duplication in tapestry. I jumped into the process, rather too hastily, which resulted in a host of problems as this post describes in detail.  I finished weaving on the weekend; the piece came off the blocking board this morning. Here's the original painting:

Here's the tapestry after blocking (35 cm x 44 cm):

Chakra Roots: A Study
Hand spun and dyed singles wool and mohair weft on commercial wool warp.

The weaving is not quite as distorted as it appears here, but it's more irregular than it should be to suit my tastes. (Tapestry weaving should either have enough distortion that it acts as a design feature or so little that it's non-existent, according to Dragondancer's Gospel of Weaving.) What does please me is how close I got to duplicating the painting, although you can see that I wandered off the path at the far right of the tapestry, which was the last bit to be woven:

I surprised myself with many amateur mistakes in this tapestry - I should be past inconsistent warping and lice (bits of warp showing through the weaving), but I also surprised myself with the close match in colours and the textural effects I achieved with soumak and knotting.

I'm glad I didn't follow my first thought, which was to abandon this project, because I learned many things from going back to Beginner's Mind, not the least of which is how much further I have to go along my weaving path.

I have two small looms warped and ready to go; I'm mulling over my next challenges, which will not include copying another painting, because, you know what? Copying is still boring, even if it's my own work. One of my teachers once scolded me, "If you're going to draw or paint, then draw or paint. If you're going to weave, then weave." Sounds like a plan.

Chakra Roots: A Study


(Happy St. Patrick's Day to my family, who are probably still sitting in the bar celebrating and thinking of you, Dad, ten years later.)