Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Your Body is a Wonderland: On Practicing Safe Fibre Work

For the past few days, I've been following an on line discussion on spinning and posture. It's a lively discussion and several comments have caught my attention. There are suggestions for wheel selections, debates as to whether one should use single treadle or double treadle wheels, treatments for pain that spinners have found useful. There's a lot of anecdotal chat (which I do not dismiss, since experience can be a very effective method of scientific discovery), a bit of medical advice. While I am not a medical practitioner of any kind, or even a yoga therapist, I do have some practical experience and training in various ways of dealing with pain, posture and strain on the body.  Because of this, I want to address a few of the points that came up in this on line conversation and give some tips that may help in our practice, whether that be fibre arts, yoga, meditation or anything we do on a regular basis.

Although physical problems can and do occur because of genetics and factors beyond our control, many of us tend to think of our bodies as objects to ignore, units which contain problems which can be discounted or pushed through, instead of celebrating our bodies, all of our bodies, as the wondrous vessels they are. We ignore what hurts until we no longer can.  We assume all our good intentions will keep us safe, that doing what we love is healthy, until those good intentions lead us down the road that is the special kind of hell in the form of repetitive stress injury, chronic pain or illness.

I was surprised at the claim that spinning does not cause poor posture (rather, it brings poor posture to light), because, in fact, anything that we do which rounds the upper body, puts strain on our spine and keeps us sedentary for long periods of time can and will cause deterioration in our posture, if we do not practice with care and attention.  We tend to forget that these things we do for enjoyment-knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving and the like-were (and still are) considered hard work which wears the body down. I sometimes wonder what our ancestors, the people who had to do fibre work in order to survive, would think of us if we could tell them we find so much of this stuff "fun."  I suspect they might question our sanity and who could blame them, since some fibre activities were known to be hazardous, if not life threatening. (My physical therapist can tell when I've been weaving tapestry because everything tightens up, despite the fact that I pay careful attention to my posture and I stretch and take frequent breaks when weaving.  Tapestry work is hard, physical work which constantly constricts muscles, particularly in the upper body and, as a result, can restrict breathing as well, which is seldom a good thing.)

Another comment that caught my attention was one from someone who could spin 8 to 10 hours without pain, because, well, I've been that person.  In my early spinning days, my husband went off to work one morning while I was sitting at my wheel.  He arrived home, 8 hours later, to find me sitting at my wheel. When he asked me how long I'd been spinning, guess what the answer was?  Yup, 8 hours.  I had been so immersed in spinning that I hadn't stood up from the wheel for a snack, or a glass of water, or, more remarkably, a bathroom break. Nothing hurt then, but it took me several more long, continuous spinning sessions before I made the not so amazing discovery that the fact something doesn't hurt at the time does not mean it isn't going to cause physical problems down the road.  I've had to learn the hard way about taking frequent breaks, practising to relax, shortening my fibre sessions, staying hydrated and testing spinning ergonomics in order to continue my fibre practice safely.

The third point which seems to escape many of us is that most fibre work is sedentary.  As much as spinning and weaving and the rest make our hearts sing, they really don't have direct benefits for cardiac fitness, or joint mobility or breath movement, unless we consciously practice to make that so. Fibre people don't like to hear this, but, if your life consists of sedentary activities such as sitting at a computer or behind a desk and your down time consists of sitting at a wheel or loom or with needles or hooks and string, you can be increasing your chances of excessive weight gain, decreased joint and general mobility and restricted breathing, all of which feed into one another and can potentially lead to health problems. Yes, fibre work can be good for you, but there's is always the possibility of harm through doing too much of a good thing. We all need to get up, get out and move our whole bodies from time to time.  If you're going to sit constantly, then plan some time for a walk or a yoga class or other exercise.  Better yet, walk to that yoga or exercise class!

So what are the solutions to the wear and tear caused by fibre work?  There are many, some medical, some therapeutic, some common sense. Most of these are well-covered by chiropractors, physical and massage therapists and yoga therapists and others, so I won't repeat them here. Carson Demers. a physical therapist, gives excellent advice on spinning safely in every issue of PLY magazine (full disclosure: I sometimes write for this magazine); he also offers classes in ergonomics for knitters.  Personally, I think his articles alone are worth the price of the magazine.  If you are having massage or physical therapy or seeing a yoga therapist, be sure that your caregivers understand exactly what you do in terms of fibre work-take your spindle or photos of your loom with you to treatments and/or demonstrate your habitual practice.

In addition to a regular yoga, breathing and physiotherapy practice, I do have a few tools which have helped me stay relaxed, aligned and comfortable when I weave or spin or knit.  (Most of these were suggested by therapists, so ask yours about these things, too.) Among the least expensive, most effective, portable therapeutic devices is a racquetball. That's right-racquetballs,which usually sell in sets of 3 for about $10 a set.  You use the racquetball for massaging fascia, muscles, etc. and working into deep tissue. Rolling on a racquetball on a regular basis is a bit like carrying around your own personal masseuse. There are techniques for rolling the feet (wonderful!), the back muscles-don't roll along the spine-and into the glutes. You can also work the front of the body and the legs with a racquetball, or sometimes, two taped together.  (Tennis balls work, but not as well, because the tennis balls are not firm enough.  Don't start rolling with street hockey balls-they work well, but can be too intense at the start.)  I get students rolling on the wall with racquetballs and once they accept that sometimes, working on those "juicy spots" (as we like to call what other people might refer to as "pain)" can actually be beneficial, as long as you don't over do it.  (Usually, once I introduce people to racquetballs, the only way I get them to stop rolling in a class is to confiscate the balls.) The beauty of racquetballs is that, unlike larger, more expensive equipment (like a physio roller, which is also a great tool, but harder to carry around inconspicuously), you can toss a racquetball into your spinning kit or knitting bag without taking away space for that precious project.

A more recent tool in my kit is a Gaiam Restore Strong Core & Back Kit.  (I don't usually endorse specific products and I haven't tested similar items, but this one works for me.) The kit, which runs around $15, comes with a dvd exercise programme (which I haven't watched), a pump (which didn't work, so I used a bicycle pump) which is used to inflate what Mr. DD described as "a strange-looking bumpy green peanut."  Rather than use this device for exercise, I use the peanut as a substitute for sitting on an exercise ball (which I also have and curse because it takes up so much space in my fibre room).  I pop the inflated peanut under my butt and centre my sitz bones on it when I'm weaving or spinning. This small thing has done wonders for my posture and for strengthening my lower back muscles, all of which opens my chest and improves my breathing, especially when I sit at my tapestry looms.  The Gaiam peanut can also be tucked into your fibre kit if you're heading out to fibre nights or workshops where the chairs are guaranteed to be uncomfortable and ergonomically detrimental to safe fibre practices. (I checked with my physical therapist about the efficacy and safety of using the Gaiam peanut.  It works for me, but like anything else, you should check with your health practitioner before using or doing anything in the way of therapy.)

These are a couple of practical tips for improving and maintaining good posture and decreasing strain while spinning, knitting, weaving, etc. Like anything else, fibre work can help us or harm us, depending on how we practice. Knowing how to sit well can make a huge difference to our bodies and minds. Another bonus to good, well-structured fibre practices is that comfort and care with our bodies and minds will transfer into improvement in our yarns and textiles.

It's great to explore the Wonderland of our bodies!


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

On the Knitting of Socks: A Western Interpretation of Karma, Jnana, Bhakti and Raja Yoga

The yoga socks are coming along nicely, although the search for the elusive Noro Bonbori yarn is not. Helpful strangers have pointed me in the direction of various sources, but these stashes are only available in the United States or the shipping fees and extra charges applied at the border make the cost of the yarn prohibitive.  I've found a couple of substitutes, themselves discontinued. (Ah, Noro, you try my patience sometimes.) None of them are perfect; a few contain silk, which some people don't like to wear; others are just that much thicker or thinner that I have to rewrite my pattern for each yarn. I have a batch of another Noro yarn on its way, which may prove satisfactory, although I'm sure I'll have to modify the sock pattern yet again to use it.  It's keeping me busy sampling and the sock pile is growing quickly.

In my post containing the plea for more Bonbori, I mentioned that knitting these socks was part of my karma yoga practice.  Because of that offhand comment, I've had a few people mention that it was nice that I "knit for charity." I was surprised, because I don't see myself as a  charitable person, or at least, not as a person who does charity knitting.  I realize that the common assumption is that "karma" means doing good deeds or that the actions we take will bring about equal reactions or consequences in this life or another and that we need to concern ourselves with that. This is not quite what I had in mind when writing about a karma practice and it makes me realize that there are other yoga terms I use liberally which people might misinterpret.

My understanding of yogic terms come from my limited understanding of the Eastern roots of yoga, filtered through our Western experiences and minds. In truth, although I've studied yogic traditions and Eastern philosophies, I can only practice yoga through my own Western perspective. (I used to get annoyed when the Dalai Lama was quoted as saying that Westerners need to look to their own cultures for their belief systems, rather than looking to Buddhism, but I may be getting a glimpse into what he means.) I still use the terms "karma," "bhakti," "jnana" and "raja" yoga in my practice, partly because I appreciate the links to history and tradition and partly because these were the terms I was given to explain a deeper yoga practice. If I'm going to use those terms, it might be a good idea to explain what they mean to me and how they apply to what I do.

In Eastern philosophies (as I understand them), "jnana" is the yoga of knowledge. Someone who practises jnana yoga is a person who studies and researches, deeply and fully. In traditional yogic practices, this means studying philosophical and religious texts.  A jnana yogi may study yogic texts and practices, but at a deeper level, as in all forms of yoga, she is studying these things in order to study herself.  At its core, jnana yoga seeks to discover our true nature and its connection to all, which leads to contemplation and introspection.

For my purposes, jnana yoga means the study of my fields of interest.  If I am working on yoga, then I immerse myself in the texts of that practice, without attachment.  When I learned to weave, spin and knit, I absorbed every work I could find, taught myself as much as possible and took every class, every workshop I could manage.  At first, I did these things so I could Know, but gradually, it occurred to me that I can never know it all, so now practising jnana yoga means that I discover some things only to realize that there is so much more that I will never know.  Rather than letting that discourage me, this type of practice allows me to see that I am part of a larger whole. To give you a really simple example: those yoga socks I knit are worked from my own pattern, but a quick search turns up thousands of people knitting the same kinds of socks, in various ways. Although I cannot possibly knit all those patterns (nor do I want to),  knitting socks makes me part of a community of sock knitters, a tiny piece of a larger whole where people who may never know one another personally have connections beyond the personal.

"Bhakti" yoga is the practice of devotion, usually in service to the Divine, which may take the form of traditional god/goddess worship, service to a particular religion or cause. Bhakti is often spoken of as "Love," in the sense of a higher emotion, beyond our ideas of love of family, friends, country or wherever our attachments lie.  If I apply a bhakti practice to my fibre work, then I am devoted to that work.  I do it day in and day out. That practice alone is simply habit; bhakti applies when I realize that my ability to do what I do comes from something deep within and beyond me.  I'm not one who believes in higher powers in the traditional sense, so bhakti involves acknowledging all those who came before me and all those who will follow, each carrying the thread of our work through time.

The most common Western belief about karma is that "karma" involves judgement or values-"Karma's a bitch;" "That's some good karma she's got going there." In reality, "karma" simply refers to "action."  Karma is neither good nor bad; it simply is. We do something mindfully; we do our work, whatever it is, without concern for the consequences of our actions. (It may be that Newton's Third Law was pressed into play here:"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." If that's so, we could be in trouble, because, well, what is the opposite reaction to doing good? "No good deed goes unpunished?")

So, when I say that knitting is part of my karma yoga practice, I simply mean that I knit.  I knit, spin, weave, teach, because that's what I do, what I must do. The socks may warm my feet or someone else's; they may end up stuffed in a drawer or packed off to a thrift shop or even (although I hope not) in the landfill.  I knit and there are socks.  I teach and then I've taught things. I do these things to the best of my ability, mindfully. That is all. If pride or the urge for self-promotion sneaks into the mix (and it always does), then it's no longer a karma practice. These things mean the Ego has landed and I have to work to get it back in flight and on its way again.

Finally, "Raja" yoga is "the yoga of Kings."  The practice has a literal connection to monarchs and royalty, but beyond that, raja yoga might be thought of as the over-riding principle of all yoga.  If we practise to apply all of the paths of yoga to our lives-jnana, bhakti and karma-it may be that we are practising raja yoga, the yoga that will lead us to meditation, to glimpses of how all things connect.  If you are making an effort to "Live your yoga," or "Live your beliefs," or however you place yourself in the larger context of all things, then you are a raja yoga practitioner.

Whew!  I can see the eye rolls from my house-this is all deep stuff for something that involves sticks and strings.  If it reads as pretentious to you, I understand, because this is what happens when I write about things which can only be explored in action. What all this boils down to is that I am a perfectly human being attempting an imperfect yoga practice. What started out as an asana practice has grown into something larger, with many more paths to explore.  Most of the time, I don't think about the connections.  Most of the time, I just do my thing, knowing that I may be full of shit about all of it. That's how it should be. Most of the time.

In the mean time, I have socks:


Monday, 13 October 2014

Tiny Dancer: The Story of a Repurposed Jean Jacket

Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the bands 
Pretty eyed, pirate smile, you'll marry a music man. 
Ballerina, you must have seen her, dancing in the stands. (Bernie Taupin/Elton John)
I've been on the hunt for a jean jacket lately.  Call it nostalgia, call it practical, but for months, I've had an urge to find a well-worn, broken in, comfy indigo dyed jacket, just like the ones I wore through my teens and twenties.  Those jackets are long gone now, worn to threads, cut to shreds, one of them chopped to pieces for recycled paper.  Jean jackets are back in style, but they come with a stylish price tag, too, and they're not nearly as durable as the ones I used to wear.

Two weeks ago, when my sister heard of my request, she offered me her old jean jacket. Although she was wearing it at the time, she said this was a rare event and that she was happy to find it a new home. I was happy, too, because I had a plan for that jacket, a plan which involved combining recycling and finding a home for my growing pile of tapestry samples.

I have tapestry swatches and diaries all over my fibre room.  They're stashed away in closets, rolled up on shelves and hanging from empty looms.  Most of them are small, records of certain times or places, memories of practices I wished to explore.  I have exactly one tapestry mounted on the wall of my room and I have been feeling increasingly guilty about the rest of the pieces which seldom see the light of day.  It occurred to me that, if I didn't care to frame tapestries, perhaps I could find another purpose for them.  That's where the jean jacket came into play.  I've mounted earlier tapestries on bags; denim in particular seems to suit the colours and fabrics I weave.  If I stitched some of my work to a jacket, I could cover quite a bit of territory at once: my work would be displayed; I'd have a customized piece of clothing and I could salvage something that was destined for the bin.

So, here she is, my reused, rejuvenated jean jacket, courtesy of my sister and some old (one really old) woven samples.  Both the panel and the band are woven in wool.  The Lotus panel, woven this spring, is hand spun, hand dyed wool on a wool singles warp.  The band, my first Winter Count diary, which looks as if it was planned for the edge but which was actually woven over a decade ago,  is commercial 2 ply wool woven on a linen warp. They're sewn to the jacket with commercial cotton thread.  I pinned the pieces, making sure they were flat, then I stitched them using large overhand stitches which will not pass a seamstress's critical eye, but which will make the weaving easy to remove when the jacket needs cleaning.  It will need cleaning, because I intend to wear it, regularly and often. I may add more samples as they are woven or as I rediscover them in my house.

If you're like me and unmotivated to frame and display your tapestry weaving, but would like to show off your work from time to time, this could be the way to go.  Wash the jacket, be sure the tapestry pieces are clean, then patch the tapestry on to the jacket and away you go.  It's rather fun.

I am very grateful to my sister, Annamarie, for the gift of this jacket. When she saw her old jacket yesterday, she told me she'd like it back.  I told it that it would be in my will. I mean it. Right now, I've made it mine.

Photographs courtesy of my niece, Kasha.


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Lament for a Sock: A Shameless Request

Dear Readers,

As some of you know, as part of my karma practice, I knit yoga socks.  I usually give them away because people who want and appreciate them can't afford to pay the $120 for a pair, which would be the genuine price of these socks, considering the cost of the yarn and 8 hours of knitting at minimum wage. (Truth in advertising: the socks are not quite "free;" if you get a pair, it usually comes with a lecture as to why it costs $120 retail.  I'm hell-bent on educating the public about the cost of knitwear.) I work from my own design; the pattern is here, if you'd like to knit your own.  I love knitting these socks and the yarn, Noro Bonbori, is perfect for the set.

So, what's the problem?  Well, all good things must come to an end and Noro is famous for ending many of its yarns on a regular basis.  Bonbori is no exception-it was discontinued a while ago.  I was able to round up a few balls from Ravelry stashes, but sadly, I'm down to my last two, not-the-same-dye-lot balls and each pair takes two 50 gram balls. I haven't found a satisfactory substitute for the 94% wool/6% nylon blend.

Yes, I know there are other yarns.  Yes, I realize I could spin my own yarn.  There's just something about this Bonbori, though, that has me haunting the internet, searching websites for stray balls of yarn.  I no longer care about colours or having two the same, since Noro yarns are also known for long colour runs which don't match easily.

So, here's my plea: if you or anyone you know has stray balls of Noro Bonbori tucked away and you'd like to sell them, please let me know.  I will be forever grateful, perhaps grateful enough to knit you a pair in exchange for the goods or information leading to the acquisition of the elusive yarn.  (Yes, the socks will probably come with the lecture.)

If I don't find the yarn, the world will not end.  In fact, not finding Bonbori will be an excellent lesson in non-attachment, albeit one I would prefer not to practise at the moment.

In the mean time, here are the last sets of socks. Same dye lots, knitted from the same end of the balls. No two alike.  Isn't Noro just grand?

P.S. I'm keeping these because I realized that I kept one short, stray pair for myself; the rest are gone.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Process: Harvest Home Soumak Study

I walked today.  We're experiencing unusually warm weather, 22C/71F at the moment, and I knew I'd regret it if I didn't take advantage.  So I wandered and roamed and tromped about. After more than 3 hours of jaunting, pretty much continually, I stopped in at our usual coffee haunt and was very glad to see Mr. DD, who had taken Morris out to the farm for a run in the summery weather.  I'd had enough walking and so had my feet, so home we went. I had a few destinations in mind for my walk, but the journey was mostly about getting out in the fresh air and enjoying the day.

The walking cleared my head and made me wonder more about Process. I'd spent the past few days clearing off my tapestry looms and exploring soumak weaving, a style of knotting on the loom which adds texture and line to tapestry.  (Click on the link for images.)  I had been wanting to work through Jean Wilson's Soumak Workbook, (long out of print), but I had never started.  There are better sources on soumak, but Wilson's writings came to me at a time when I was new to weaving; her books were fearless and explored fibre in refreshingly naive ways. So, in the category of "High Time," I set out to use up the warp on my copper pipe loom, the one given to me by a friend who has moved on from fibre (and who is now an accomplished painter and photographer), the loom still holding my "Winter Count" tapestry diary from the early months of 2014.

I had no plan for my soumak study.  Well, I did: I had intended to weave using only one yarn, a 2 ply hand spun Romney with flecks of dyed colours, but my coloured yarns soon came calling, so into the piece they went, along with bundles of raffia I've been waiting to test.  I did not stick to a pattern or cartoon and it shows-there is really no design here and only one excellent spot in this little piece.  The rest is, quite frankly, a mishmash of knots, built as I followed Wilson's book page by page, or as close as I get to following a straight path. When I cut the pieces from the loom, I was rather embarrassed to discover skips over the warps on the back of the soumak areas.  I take pride in having the backs of my pieces as clean as the fronts, so this was a reminder to take more care and use the mirrors I keep stashed in my weaving supplies.

Despite the lack of visual appeal in this piece, I learned a lot.  I take many notes when weaving and here are a few verbatim excerpts:

October 5: Wilson says (p. 21) that the appearance of open vs. closed is the same.  What she doesn't mention is that Z/S yarn doesn't twist up in the open fashion, making the texture feel softer/thicker.*. . .Using raffia in plain weave leaves warp showing...2/1 with 1 ground weft does twist yarn, probably because you are working in the same direction...(October 7): p. 41, Half-hitch Soumak, Single (Swedish Knot): Love, love, love this! No sheds, no needles, no background threads needed.  I can place the single knots wherever I choose and stop at any point...Wilson says the ribbed side is the top side, but I prefer the texture of the knotted side...*Note that the warp shows through on ribbed side in some places, even though it's completely covered on knot side....(October 8) Note how Wensleydale wool highlights more matte Romney in orange leaf. Beautiful! *The leaf segment is a tiny, perfect fragment....(October 9): The back of this piece is a disaster. The front (in terms of design) is no screaming hell, either.  That orange leaf surrounded by knots is still lovely.

Harvest Home is finished and will soon join my notebook full of weaving samples.  As a weaving, it's less than an unqualified success.  As a study in soumak, it's more helpful.  By the way, there were two happy accidents in this weaving process: the orange leaf and the Winter Count tapestry, which sat patiently waiting for me to finish weaving the warp.  It turned out to be a nice piece, worthy of framing (And, yes, the back is as clean as the front):

The "perfect little leaf."

Winter Count (4.5 x 11.5 inches)
The art of Process is difficult to explain, for, of course, when we attempt to put action into words, we lose Process.  Process simply Is. It exists only in the moments of our Doing. Process is the Yoga of Action and Activity; in trying to capture those moments, something is invariably lost.  I'll leave you with this, a short video of photographs I took along the way in my soumak exploration. It doesn't capture Process, but it may give you a glimpse into how my Process flows:



Thursday, 2 October 2014

Journey: Tapestry, Life in Process

Peter Collingwood was one of the foremost textile experts of his time.  His books on weaving and textile construction remain among the best sources for fibre artists.  In one of his works, The Maker's Hand, published in 1987, Collingwood presents examples of beautifully constructed textiles. The photography is spectacular; the power of the human hand is inspiring (and somewhat daunting); Collingwood's examination of each object is precise and detailed. It's a treasure of a book, but I have a confession (sorry, Mr. Collingwood)-after I studied the book, I put it away, and haven't looked at it much in all these years past. The problem for me, you see, is that the precision in these pieces makes them, in the end, rather remote.  I admire the works, and I'm impressed by the skills involved in their making, but ironically, these textiles are so well-done, so perfect, that the maker's hand, rather than being in evidence, actually disappears. I stay on the surface of the pieces rather than engaging with them. There is no sign of process, no flaw in the fabric that traces the mark of the maker's hand.

Don't misunderstand me. I enjoy the mastery involved in perfection. Several people I know produce works of such precision and beauty that I am in awe of their abilities and I know full well that I have neither the vision nor the sight (nor the patience) to make such textiles. I approach my own work quite differently. I like to draw with pen and ink because once a mark is made, there's no turning back. When I knit, I don't use other people's patterns; I devise my own or knit free form pieces where I set myself a rule that there is no ripping out, only building stitch upon stitch. My tapestries loosely follow simple cartoons or simply grow. Everything I do is an experiment. If I ever achieved perfection (which is simply not possible for me, thank goodness), I would have to stop doing that thing that attained perfection.  I don't want to stop. For me, Process IS the journey, the goal and the destination.

There are problems with this approach, of course. Things never go quite as I expect.  I have many discarded pieces and, sometimes, my work looks downright sloppy. There are times when I've lost out on opportunities because juries, experienced textile people, have shaken their heads and wondered, "What on earth was she thinking?" I no longer do commissioned work because every time I did, my clients have been disappointed; I'm unable to translate my pieces into the images they see in their heads. My works languish in the closet; I never quite get around to displaying them because once a piece is complete, I can't be bothered to hang it.

Despite the drawbacks, I love working this way.  I want people to look at my tapestries (on the occasions when the pieces do make it to a wall) and discover the glorious mess of Process.  I want the observer to wonder, "Why did she do that? What WAS she thinking?" I hope that you or anyone can look at my work and think, "I could do this." Because you could, if you wanted to, not as I do, but as your unique self.

The Garden Tapestry is done. She turned out quite well, especially given the fact that she sat on the loom for six years.  (She was the last piece I was weaving when I had a sharp shock to the head, mind and body.  For many years, I couldn't bear to touch her again. In these past few months, her appeal became irresistible and I rediscovered how much I love weaving tapestry.) She held a few surprises for me-she literally changed direction, which seems appropriate for a piece whose images are lively. The comic-like images I drew became slightly more serious, although still playful, probably due to the changes I've had in my life.  She's full of flaws.  I won't point them out. If you're not a weaver, those flaws won't matter.  If you are a weaver, you'll spot those flaws right away. A weaver will notice my experiments within the piece; she'll see what worked and where something didn't quite go the way I planned, but decided to let the misplaced marks stand. She'll wonder why I used the yarns I did or what happened to that bit over there.  I doubt that she'll find my technique inspiring or be impressed by the beauty of my edges, but she may look at the work for a while and explore. In other words, she'll pay attention. She'll engage. At least, I hope she will.

I weave the same way as I practice yoga or meditation or life, really.  I never seem to take the straight road or the smooth path.  If there's a fork, a side path or rocks to scramble over, I find that way too enticing to ignore.  Off I go, sometimes stumbling, sometimes crashing to the ground, battered and bruised. Sometimes, I leave a wreck of something behind. Sometimes, I discover hidden beauty. Whatever I discover, good, bad or indifferent, I'm practising to be content with what is. It's not an easy practice, but I'm convinced it's worth the mess.

My yoga informs my tapestry weaving; my weaving (and spinning and knitting) informs my yoga. It's no coincidence that I began to work with both textiles and yoga at the same time. It's no coincidence that I'm still intrigued by both paths. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, when you don't have a destination, just think of the places you can go!

So this journey ends.  I have some thoughts about the next one, but there's no plan at the moment.  I will sit and wait.  In process.  In Being.  And all will be well.

Front of tapestry before finishing

Back of tapestry before finishing

Back of tapestry after finishing

The Garden (11 in. x 22 in./ 28 cm. x 56 cm.)
Hand spun wool, mohair on cotton warp

The Garden: Detail Front


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Feeling Groovy: An Interview with Leslie Charlton of Groovy Mama

I've been on a bit of a quest these days, looking for people in our community who take their yoga out into the world. Simply put, I've been talking to people who make an effort to practice what they preach and who make the world a better place, one small step at a time.

I met Leslie Charlton many years ago when she was a student in the SIAST Weaving Programme in Prince Albert. In her years as a weaver, Leslie was recognized by the Saskatchewan Craft Council for her beautiful woven rugs. Today, Leslie is the owner of Groovy Mama, a boutique store for parents and children. Leslie opened Groovy Mama with a mission, to bring high quality, preferably Canadian made, supplies to parents which would help to reduce consumer waste and promote local products. Recently, I interviewed Leslie in her store. Here are some excerpts from that interview:

Leslie: I've been a knitter since I was a kid and a sewer all my life but mostly since Grade 8 Home Ec. when I started.  I made most of my own clothes when I was a teenager and in my twenties and took the weaving programme at SIAST.  I moved to Prince Albert to take that.  It changed my life, for sure. It was a great programme.  It got me collecting onion skins for the rest of my life!  Garbage doesn't look like garbage anymore. Funny how that happens. I was just thinking, too, my Grandma was a big fibre person, big knitter, sewer.  I think I take after her.  I love to make things from garbage. What appeals to me always is to look at the thing that nobody else sees and know that you can turn it into something else. That’s always been what turns me on, my excitement. I’d rather start with a pile of rags than start with beautifully hand spun yarn that somebody else did.  And everybody has her own ways of doing it, but that’s more my thing.  
A friend said to me one time, “It doesn't matter what you knit, as long as you start with gorgeous yarn. It doesn't matter how good you are because it’s going to turn out gorgeous.” I said, “But doesn't that seem like the work is done for you already?"  I love to take something that nobody would see the value in and turn it in to something beautiful, whether it be a fleece or old rags or burlap bags. Whatever. If it’s garbage, you make it into something and divert it from the landfill.  To me, that’s the. . .You’re not buying a product to make another product. Most real fibre people can understand that, I think. (Laughs.) What’s a real fibre person, anyway? 
I knew I wanted to open a business all the way along but when I had my daughter Evelyn, the stage was set that this would be the kind of business that I would open and in 2004, I opened Groovy Mama. My intention was to help mothers get through the hard times of postpartum or pregnancy or whatever, but it’s morphed into other things, too, like more baby products than I originally intended, but it’s good.  Cloth diapers were always something that I absolutely wanted to do and they should have been more accessible than they were at the time.
A lot of people have given their power over to marketing, though, you know. I give away a lot for free.  I see that as a difference, because I see myself as a retailer and maybe a mentor in some ways to customers. To have people buy a product, but leave feeling empowered and leave having learned something would be better than just to make a sales pitch and sell the product. I've insisted that classes remain free, even if it means me paying an instructor to come in to give the class, so it’s not a money-maker for me. 
And just because something sells, I’m not going to sell it. I've dropped many a product because it was made in Canada and then after several years, they decided to go offshore. And I don’t care how popular it is or how much money I make, there are lots of products I've never brought in as I thought that they didn't seem safe or they didn't seem sensible even though I get asked for them every day. 
Dragondancer: Do you get a chance to do your art and craft? 
Well, I don’t get as much of a chance as I thought I would. I remember the ladies at Traditions who originally owned it. They said, “Never open a store. As soon as you open a store, you’ll stop weaving.” And I thought, yeah, right, as if that would happen to me.  I opened the store and I stopped weaving. So I haven’t touched my looms in a while, but I’m building a weaving studio in my backyard.  I think I’m going to turn my office here into sort of a mini-studio that I can work on slow days on a few things. 
I always have big plans. I make some of the clothes for the store from old discarded clothes. I sanitize them and make baby shoes and sew things like that and knit baby hats.
D: You've been doing that for a while.
Leslie: Yes, and I can take that anywhere and it’s really simple knitting. The sewing needs a set up a little bit more, but that’s my thought with a little studio here in the back of the store, I can do it a lot more. And not buy anything. Just make it out of discarded items. That’s my thing. I don’t want to buy anything. 
My original intent was to sell something, you know, it was to be the anti-Walmart. It was to buy less. You come and you buy it once and you’re done. Like the whole idea of cloth diapers or a good baby carrier. I said, “I’m never going to sell the brand names.  And I’m never going to. . . .But it catches up to you. And it’s not that I've really bowed to it, but for example, people decided to become collectors of cloth diapers. And now, people are collectors of baby carriers. Consumerism discourages me. I find it really scary. When you've shopped for what you need, you find other things to shop for. And I’m just as much guilty of that as anyone else, but I think about it all the time.
We all do because you can’t get away from it. It’s just what I've seen. I wanted to make a place where you came in and you bought fewer toys because the toys that you bought were good quality. I try as much as I can. I try to say when somebody’s buying a new baby carrier, “ You’ll probably go online and somebody will tell you that you need 6 different carriers for the 6 different walks that you take with your child.” And I say, “It’s not true. You can do a great job with one. So don’t fall into that.” I try to tell people that. So maybe, I've kept a lot of things out of the marketplace and out of the landfill.
I was reading something, the Government of Canada allows something like 1500 new chemicals to be released into our marketplace every year and in the US, it’s about 2500 every year. Brand new chemicals that were never allowed into the marketplace. And I’m thinking, regardless, if I sew something with an old pair, an old set of curtains from Value Village that are 30 years old, it doesn't matter if they’re not organic. There’s not going to be a whole bunch of chemicals and Monsanto-ism in that fabric that would be in the fabric of today that’s not organic, fair trade. It’s good to divert that stuff from the landfill and make something better.
It’s unbelievable. All the new stuff just keeps getting made and made and everything else is just getting, I don’t know, it’s a little mind-boggling.
I can see that I’m headed for something. I’m going to make it a year of just making or buying used, my clothes. That’s my plan. Just to try to get it back. To get creative with it again. Fibre will be my thing again in probably about 5 years, it will be my full time job. It will make me zero money.
 Life is big and complex and there will always be another thing, but, I'm trying to shop a little less, be a little more careful, teach my kids a few good ideas. I tell them not to have as much stuff. So, maybe. . . 
I've become really good friends with all my competitors. There’s no feeling of “How dare they do this?” That’s been my favourite thing, I have to say. It’s just getting to know people and treating it like there’s something bigger, like you can actually still make a living and not make enemies.
And really, if we’re up against Walmart taking over our world, would it not be better to band together and make the experience with small business better for local people?
I think, if I had a civil servant job, I wouldn't take just because I could. I wouldn't go into the store room and take pens home just because they were there for the taking. At my shop, there are other ways that I could be making money and other things I could be selling, but  if it goes against, “Would I buy that for my child or am I just trying to con someone into getting this whether they need it or not, is that any different from just going into the supply room and taking the pens?” At the end of the day, you don’t just do it for the sake of doing it.

Leslie in Groovy Mama.  Stop by and say, "Hello!"