Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Friday, 18 April 2014

Oh, The Weather Outside is Frightful!: Weaving April's Diary

I've been working on a Tapestry Diary Weave Along project the last while. I joined the Ravelry group in February. This group inspired me to finish Raven, but the last push to complete yoga teacher training put everything on hold for March. After a couple of weeks' rest, I was looking for a way to celebrate both the end of training and a return to tapestry weaving.  I'm still unable to work on my larger piece due to physical constraints, so I warped up my small Forsyth frame loom and wove on it.  I love this little loom-it fits in a large makeup bag (which wouldn't know what to do if it actually encountered makeup), along with the tools and yarns I need, plus a spindle in case I run out of yarn. (Unlikely, I know, but one must be prepared.)  I carried this project to and from Coleen's house, as we met to work on our weaving projects.

I've been so happy getting back to fibre work that everything else around the house has been neglected. Not only are the dust bunnies breeding, both Morris and Mickey excel at tracking mud and leaves throughout the house.  Our living and kitchen floors look as if I've stencilled paw prints on them. So, I had a plan for today. I was going to open up the house and do some long overdue spring cleaning.  That plan went down the tubes this morning when I woke up to snow, sleet, rain and howling winds.Time for Plan B, which meant weaving.

Armed with coffee and a cat perched beside me, I spent seven hours pushing to complete "April."  Here she is on the loom:

Here's a detail-the colour is more accurate in this photo.  I was not going outside today to take photographs:

Off loom, from the front and the back:

The size off loom is 17.5 cm x 20.6 cm.  I used a singles commercial wool warp (which was too fine for this yarn and sett) and hand spun, hand dyed wool singles for the weft.  I worked from a cartoon and wove sideways.

Tapestry weavers and designers will quickly spot the flaws in this piece.  One of the few rules I have for weaving tapestry diaries is "No un-weaving." I do this because these pieces are meditation/concentration tools. They remind me to consider consequences before I act. They demonstrate that although I will forever make mistakes, the end result can contain sparks of beauty. They show me a path to the next step on the journey.

It was a day well spent, much more fun than cleaning house.  As for those dust bunnies and paw prints-I'm sure they will wait until tomorrow.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

You Spin Me Right Round: A Bit of Spinning Spring Cleaning

In theory, Spring has arrived.  By mid-April, it's reasonable, even in this cold region, to expect a run of warm days in which we can begin to tidy up yards, flowerbeds and gardens. This year has caught us once again, with a long, bitterly cold Winter which refuses to let go and which, last night and this morning, brings snow and well below seasonable temperatures once again.

Yesterday evening's meditation practice was about "Waiting."  Heather drew our attention to the time we spend waiting for things to happen-we wait in coffee shops; we wait for people to change so we can be happy (haha to that!); we wait for the snow to stop and the weather to warm up, all in anticipation of something better around the corner.  As a result, we fail to enjoy Now.  "What would happen," she asked, "If instead of filling the time, we decided to accept Now, stop waiting and be happy with what is?"

It's an interesting question and timely, too, because, as I shift back into fibre mode, I've turned my attention to using fibres and yarns I have on hand, rather than buying more in anticipation of a nicer yarn, a perfect project which awaits me in the future.  I started by hauling out my cotton yarn samples.  A while back, I emptied my bobbins by plying cotton singles together at random, which resulted in a small stash of nice, if knotty, cotton yarns and blends.  This week, I knit a couple of washcloths and a long, long sideways scarf from these scraps.  I promised myself I would use only what was on hand and resist the urge to spin more yarn.  As it happens, I had just enough yarn for two washcloths, but ran out on the bind off for the scarf on the last few stitches.  I decided to take a note from weavers, who often weave Spirit Lines or obvious mistakes into their work, in order to let the weaving spirit move from one project to another or to acknowledge that not one of us is perfect. As a result, if you look closely, you'll see a shift in the edge of the scarf at one end, but I'm betting that no one will notice unless I point out that shift.

My next step is to use up a batch of hemp and linen yarns, some of which have been sitting in my stash since-get this-1989.  Talk about waiting!  I've cast on with the hemp and am sampling another washcloth, which is likely to be a super scrubber and exfoliating piece of fabric, judging from the hand of the sample.  You can see it on the needles in the photo below, along with the linen yarns above it:

The linen yarns are at the top; the skein on the right dates back to 1989.

What I discovered while using up the stash was that, rather than being bored with what was available, focusing on what was here stimulated all manner of possibilities.  That pile of hand dyed, thick and thin wool yarns I made while playing with colour and plying may be a blanket; there's another wrap in the huge skein of purple wool and silk yarn.  I'm not waiting for that to happen, though.  I'm happy with what is on my needles now.


Sunday, 13 April 2014

Footloose: On the Value of Cutting Loose and Letting Go

Yesterday was a good day.  I overhauled the fibre room, clearing out extra yarns, art supplies and assorted things belonging to the category, Things Which No Longer Serve Me. There was a point where, when Mr. DD invited me out to The Church of Robin's, I was not quite sure I'd be able to exit the room, so surrounded was I by Stuff.  (I found a path. Nothing gets between me and my coffee for very long.)

By late afternoon, I had reorganized the area so that there was actual bare space on the floor-not much, but enough that I could walk around my yoga mat if I wished.  In celebration, I spent the evening practising meditation painting, which involves putting on loud music and laying down watercolour brush strokes to the beat of whatever is playing.  No purpose, no goal, just me, my paints and pens and the music. In this case, it was Harry Manx and Friends Live at the Glenn Gould Studio, which was perfect, because that particular album contains a lot of Indian teental beats, which are perfect for  random, but mindful, brush and ink strokes. (There was a time when I danced kathak. Badly. Very badly. My dance career ended abruptly, when my skirt fell off on stage during a group performance. I was in my 40's at the time; the display was neither cute nor charming.)  Later, after an encounter with The Tedeschi Trucks Band's Everybody's Talkin', in which Susan Tedeschi sings the best cover of John Sebastian's Darling Be Home Soon I have ever heard, I had a fit of nostalgia, which may or may not have involved listening to Crosby, Stills and Nash's Greatest Hits while sipping an entire half glass of wine wine and working on a neglected pair of hand knit socks.

I danced.  I sang.  I pranced around my room (as best I could, given the limited space) like a kid in high school.  In kindness to Mr. DD, I did shut the door, but my antics were lively enough that Mick the Cat abandoned his post and sulked off to sleep on our bed.  When things got really wild, Morris barked from the living room in a kind of "Hey, you!  Settle down!" tone. It was silly and fun and exactly what I needed, after a long winter of bitter cold and hard studies.  

Why do I think this is worth a mention?  Well, here's the thing: when's the last time you let loose and let yourself Be?  How often do you practise the saying, "Dance as if no one is watching."?  I know it's been far too long for me.  Most of the time, I live in self-consciousness, wondering and sometimes worrying about what friends and family think, what people think, what I think of myself.  From what I observe, I'm not alone.  As we move more and more into long hours of work, ever at the beck and call of social media, always aware that one slight slip might be enshrined in the public arena, we lose our sense of play. Perhaps if we spent less time immersed in the external world of Selfies and more time in the world of humans, Being, we'd all be better and happier for the shift.



Monday, 7 April 2014

Riffin' the Night Away: Random Thoughts on Chris Grasso's "Indie Spiritualist"

"Say 'Nevermore,'" said Shadow.  "Fuck You," said Raven. (Neil Gaiman, American Gods)  
I laughed when I read this quote. I wish I’d written these words.  I’d have them on my tombstone, except that there won’t be a tombstone, because there won’t be a grave.  There’s a jar, with a large dragonfly on the lid.  I hope all of me fits in that jar, but if not, no matter.  There are more jars and I won’t be in any of them for very long.

I digress.  I’ve never read Gaiman, but I think it’s time.  I suspect he might have something to say to me.  I came across this quote by him while reading Chris Grasso’s, Indie Spiritualist, a hallelujah to rebels and misfits and independent travellers on the spiritual path. (Click on Grasso's name to link to his website.) I know little about Grasso, although I know more now, but I couldn’t resist someone who counts Pema Chodron, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs among his treasured authors and who has high praise for Sigur Ros (or as Mr. DD calls them, “The Band of the Endless Chord”), a favourite of my son. Gaiman I don’t know at all, except that he’s a well-rounded, popular British author, mostly of fiction, which may explain why I have read nothing by him. I will now.

About that quote: Grasso opens a chapter, “Ignition,” with it, a chapter about sitting in sorrow, with loving kindness and full attention.  Grasso has spent his life refusing to be what others expect him to be, often in very destructive ways.  That’s left him with a pile of baggage to sort and much healing to do.  These days, he channels his energy into spiritual matters, but never takes the easy, well-travelled path.  Where once his response to convention may have been reactionary, now it’s considered, because he believes that each being’s journey must be his/her own, not bound by the expectations of others.

Grasso points out that we prefer our heroes and our rebels neat, clean, pretty, young (or at least, well preserved) and nicely packaged, because, among other reasons, it’s safer that way.  Rebel-in-a-box fits our capitalist, consumer society; step too far outside that box and you’re something to be feared, dismissed or scorned.

Consider this: that guy who hangs out downtown, sitting on a grate, rocking back and forth while holding a coffee cup for change-while we may feel compassion for him, do we ever think of him as a rebel?  Surely, he is one, no matter what has led him to his present condition, no matter whether he suffers for it or-the unthinkable-whether he’s content to be as he is. As we ignore him, or throw something in his cup, do we consider the possibility that he has something to teach us and that something might not be just about charity and loving kindness?  As Grasso reminds us, that being is just that, a Being, One of Us and We are One.  While it may be easy to see our connections, our humanity with others like us, it’s not so easy to connect with the Unlike, the Unpleasant, The Whatever-Label-We-Give-to-Others, let alone see them as part of ourselves, or as teachers who might guide us on our own journeys. It takes a lot of work.  It may take many lifetimes.

That’s what Indie Spiritualist is about, a guide to finding the unique path which only we can walk, that path which leads us back to All. That guide shines light on ugliness, despair and death, as well as joy and delight and transcendence, for they're all part of our spiritual travels. It’s not an easy trip, and it would often be more comfortable for everyone if  Rebel or Raven would just give in and say, “Nevermore.” To do so, though, might mean she/he is sacrificing a Truth, the honesty of Raven’s own flight.  For Ravens, and Indie Spiritualists everywhere, that sacrifice is not worth the risk of losing one’s way.

Sometimes, Raven has a story to tell. Sometimes, Raven laughs.  Sometimes, Raven just squawks.  How would we have it otherwise?


Monday, 31 March 2014

Free Bird/Fragile Bird: On the Importance of Allowing Space

When I hauled myself out of bed this morning and checked, the weather office had posted that the temperature was -17C/-25C windchill. I grumbled.  Those winter clothes I had packed away-out they came again and on they went, as I bundled up once more and headed to the yoga studio.  Despite these bitterly cold temperatures, there's a shift on the wind.  The sun is warmer, fire bouncing off ice.  The days are longer; the smell in the air has a faint scent of loam and the grasses to come.  Birds are singing.  As I continued along streets and through parks, I could feel my mood lighten and lift.  After months of tense, tight, hunched shoulders, I felt-Space.

That same sense of relaxed openness was Colin's theme in our class today.  He talked about stretching and wondered whether stretching actually does much good.  After all, it can take a good hour or two to stretch out our bodies, only to have that stretch undone with worry or with the first time we slip on the ice. Undoing the stretch would take all of 10 seconds, so which was more important, he asked, the stretch or relaxation? For the next hour and a half, we explored moving in non-yoga-tradition ways, stretching, slipping and sliding, with our socks on and our bodies off our mats.  It was a very giggly, wise-cracking class (Bert was there), so much so that Colin assured any newcomers that he did in fact teach traditional yoga poses in other classes.  This was his pre-April Fool's Day Special.  (I will not tell you what his actual April Fool's Day plans are.)

It felt wonderful to move again, after months of winter, study and post-surgical recovery.  As I wandered home, I thought about how important it was to allow spaciousness into the day, how remaining relaxed and open might affect our perspective on everything.

For the past few days, I've been spinning yarn samples for an upcoming article. The fibre I'm using is a soft wool top, likely Merino, dyed and prepared by a yarn company famous for its soft yarns in gorgeous colours.  Coincidentally, I've been reading complaints about this particular preparation, from experienced spinners and novices alike, who have found this top difficult to spin.  Although it's not my favourite fibre option, I haven't had trouble with the spinning.  I knew this wasn't because of my spectacular skills; far more masterful spinners than I have had a lot of trouble with the fibre.  As I read about their struggles, it occurred to me that at least some of the problems in spinning this yarn might have been mitigated if the fibre had been allowed some Space.  It's a cottony, short wool, sold in a tightly braided package. Many of those having trouble with it had opened the braid and started spinning without allowing the fibres to relax. I had undone my bundle, set up my wheel and then left the fibres overnight, which loosened them up and made for much easier drafting. (I'd like to claim this was a light bulb moment.  Truth be told, I simply got distracted by some other shiny, pretty thing-darn that Raven!-and wandered away from my wheel for a day or two. When I returned, the fibres had transformed.)

I also noticed that several spinners had trouble spinning the fibre when they used Short Forward Draft, which, for many spinners, is the default spinning style for this type of fibre preparation. Some spinners use only that technique for spinning worsted yarns, because, they've been told, that is the correct way to spin this yarn. My default worsted drafting style is Short Backward Draft. It's a sometimes controversial technique (yes, there is such controversy in the spinning world), but I find that the sliding motion of that technique (instead of pulling forward as in SFD) can help the yarn form more smoothly. Depending upon who you ask, there are reasons to use it and reasons not to use it, but refusing to consider using it at all closes off my spinning options.  It takes away Space.

I won't show you the yarn in progress, because it's reserved for something else.  I'm not really talking about yarn, anyway.  Instead, I'll give you another example of the way in which allowing an open approach to possibilities might affect our perspectives.  Dallas Green (City in Colour) is an artist, a great songwriter with an incredible voice.  His "Fragile Bird" speaks to me, musically and lyrically.  Yesterday, I went poking around on YouTube and discovered a mini-movie for the song and another version in which Dallas sits in what appears to be a guitar shop and simply sings.  Version 1 gives you a script for the song.  It sets the theme, the meaning and the emotions for that version of "Fragile Bird." In Version 2, Dallas plays his guitar.  He sings.

When I watch the first video, I'm just that: The Watcher. With so much information, my experience of the song is much smaller. I observe. The second version leaves me with a song, my imagination and room to grow.  I become that Fragile Bird.

Sometimes it feels right to work from set patterns or scripts.  You know the moves, you know what's coming and how things will end. At least, you think you know. Sometimes it feels good to jump into Space and see where you land.  If it doesn't feel like the time to jump, then sit.  Sit and and move and "sploosh." Open up into Spaciousness.  Practice relaxing.  Because, as we know, Practice Makes Perfect."


Saturday, 29 March 2014

Persephone and Demeter Wrap: What to Do With Art Yarns

In Greek mythology, Persephone, daughter of Demeter and Zeus, was kidnapped by Hades and taken to the Underworld, which enraged Demeter so much that she refused to bring forth the seasons of growth and fertility to the Earth. In order to heal the devastation this caused, Demeter was allowed to return to Earth; however, because she had eaten six pomegranate seeds while trapped in the Underworld, she was sentenced to return there for six months of the year.  Demeter, the Crone Mother, mourns her loss every year, which brings on the Winter season. Each time, her mourning ends. Persephone rejoins her Mother. Spring returns.

We are on the tail end of one of the coldest winters in our history.  We've been tempted with the promise of Spring several times, only to have Winter return.  Demeter must be very unhappy this past while.  It's difficult to know what to expect when we venture out (or stay in, near drafty windows).

A batch of art yarns has been calling me.  They're the result of my experiments in spinning stable super bulky yarns from soft, soft fibres, including Merino wool, silk, cashmere, camel and alpaca. The yarns are heavy and luxurious, the kinds of yarns which beg to be worn next to the skin.  Their texture and bulk precludes fancy stitches and there is just enough total yardage to knit something small.  I cast on 70 stitches on 12 mm needles and knit in garter stitch, picking up yarns as they spoke to me, changing from one natural colour to the next when it seemed the time to do so.  The result is this wrap, which reminds me of the Persephone/Demeter myth.  The heavy yarns in whites and brown belong to Winter. The openness of the stitches wrapped around large needles make the fabric warm but light enough to be worn outside on early Spring days or in the house when the weather turns cold again.  The wrap is simple and will suit many bodies, from Young Maiden to Crone. Persephone has an alternate name, "Kore," which is a nice bit of serendipity, because the yarns in this wrap include thick and thin, cabled, felted singles and core spun techniques.


I'm not providing a pattern here.  I had about 500 grams/250 metres of bulky yarn on hand. I cast on 70 stitches on a 12 mm needle.  I used straight needles because that is all I had, but I strongly encourage you to use a long circular needle, because cramming and knitting that many stitches on a straight needle is no fun. I knit until I ran out of yarns.The gauge is about 1.3 stitches per inch.  The knitting is loose and open, so stability in this piece has to come from the yarns. Spinning stable yarns from soft, often short fibres can be difficult; make sure to spin and finish your art yarns properly to prevent excessive stretching and pilling. Rather than making button holes, I made 6 twisted fringes from the yarns left as I changed colours, 1 fringe for each month Demeter rules.  Persephone is represented by 6 pomegranate seeds I embroidered with hand spun yarn on the back side of the wrap. The 3 large seed pod buttons were a thrift shop find; I rescued them from a worn out piece machine knit from acrylic yarn.

Close up view of the "pomengrate seeds"

(Congratulations to all my fellow graduates in the Bodhi Tree Yoga Teacher Training Programme.  I'll see you tonight at our Celebration, the yogic version of "Prom Night!")

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Shakti Shakes: A Little Spring Wrap

This little wrap has attracted much attention since I first wore it last week.  I've had several requests for the pattern, so here it is.  The first photograph, taken by our lovely Michele at Open Fibre Night, shows me wearing the cowl as intended.  The second photograph shows the erratic colour shifts in the latest sample that makes Noro my favourite commercial yarn.  

I designed this wrap because I needed something to cover my shoulders while teaching in yoga studios with fluctuating temperatures, something that would ward off a chill while leaving my arms free to move. With the coming of spring, I wanted to knit with bright colours, quickly, before the weather became too warm for wool.  Noro Hitsuji, bulky 100% wool, is the perfect yarn for this piece, whose name was inspired by Noro’s bright, often unpredictable colours.  In Hindu and yoga traditions, Shakti is primordial energy, the personification of divine feminine creative power.  Shakti is associated with bright colours, movement, and fire.  Shakti does the unexpected; her talents burn bright.  

Knit in the round, the wrap is easy enough for experienced beginners—there is a provisional cast on for the neck and optional short rows which move this out of the “Simple” category; however, you could skip the provisional cast on and knit the whole thing from the top down, omitting the short rows.  In that case, the wrap would be suitable for a knitter’s first knit-in-the-round garment.   It’s a one size fits all pattern; however, if you are broad across the chest, you may want to add more increases in the body.  Taller knitters or those who want something below the elbows should add more length.

As usual, I’m providing a template rather than a pattern here.  There is a link to short row instructions; a good knitting guide will take you through any terms you don’t understand.

Shakti's Spring Fling Wrap

Yarn: 3 balls Noro Hitsuji, 100% wool, 100 metres per 100 gram ball.  Buy more if you prefer a wider or longer garment.

Supplies:  1-60 cm circular needle, in a size to give a gauge of 3 stitches per inch.  I used a 6 mm needle; Noro recommends 6.5 to 8 mm needles with this yarn.

1-60 cm circular needle, in a smaller size, for bottom ribbing. 1-40 cm circular needle, for neck ribbing.  I used 5 mm.  I recommend a needle one or two sizes smaller than your body needle.  I use Knitters’ Pride interchangeable knitting needle tips, so I simply switch out the tips to the sizes I need.

Scrap yarn for provisional cast on; markers, blunt tapestry needle, scissors.

With scrap yarn and larger circular needle, cast on 60 stitches.  Cut scrap yarn and change to Noro yarn.  Knit across the provisional stitches, place marker and join in a circle.  Knit 4 rounds.

Increase by *(K2, m1)* around (90 stitches).

Knit 16 rounds or to depth just above the armpits.  Increase by *(K2, m1)* around (135 stitches). If you require more width, you can add increases as you need them.  Just be sure to knit several rounds between each set of increases.  (For example, you could increase after 8 to 16 rounds past the 135 stitches by doing another (K2, m1) which will give you 203 stitches. You can adjust the number of increases as you wish.  Just be sure to end with an even number of stitches before you knit the bottom ribbing.)

Continue knitting around until approximately 5 cm/2 inches before required length.  For my wrap, this was about 30 cm/12 inches.  Optional Short Rows can be added here.  You will work across the back of the wrap, knitting 33 stitches past the marker, wrap and turn for your short row, purl back to the marker and to 33 stitches past the marker, wrap and turn for the end of that short row, then continue to knit in the round. Instructions for short rows can be found here: Interweave Press Free Tutorial on Short Rows  I added one set of short rows to add approximately 1.5 cm/1/2 inch of length in the back.

Change to smaller needle tips or smaller needle, decrease one stitch (134 stitches).  K1, P1 ribbing for approximately 5 cm/2 inches.  Bind off loosely.

Neck:  With shorter, smaller circular needle, pick up the first round of stitches worked into the provisional cast on (60 stitches).  Note: Pick up the stitches in the Noro yarn, not the stitches formed from the scrap yarn.  Knit one round.  On next round, decrease by *(K3, K2tog)* around (48 stitches).  K1, P1 for ribbing to desired depth (5cm/2 inches).  Bind off loosely.

Darn in all ends.  Remove scrap yarn from provisional cast on.  Wash the wrap in a no-rinse woolwash product.  Remove excess moisture by rolling the garment in a lint free towel.  Block to size and dry flat. 

©Deborah Behm  March 2014
(Photograph of me wearing the wrap © knittermichele)

P.S. Here’s a note for the very brave: I leave these wraps to dry flat overnight and then throw them in the dryer for 30 minutes on medium heat to full the fabric.  I know my dryer and my fabrics; I like the look of the finished garment.  If you try this, please do a test run first and please don’t blame me if your wrap felts.  It’s definitely a trick for the bold and not one you want to try first on an expensive yarn like this.