Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Wasn't That a Party?: Fibre Week 2015

Coleen and I arrived home from Fibre Week 2015 early Friday evening, both of us looking like wet dish rags that the cat had dragged in. I'm sure Mr. DD wonders why we do it every year, given that we return exhausted and I have to hide out for a couple of days just to recover from the experience. The fact is, that our appearance belies all the fun we have spending a stretch of time among fellow spinning nerds in a beautiful setting, where the conversation (fuelled by cider, soft drinks and tea) turns to topics such as, "Where does the twist really stop in a yarn?" as we gather round and watch YouTube videos of Peacock Spiders doing their mating dance.

Teaching Level 4 was a new experience for me. I teach beginners. That's my thing. I love coaxing novices down the rabbit hole that is the spinning world, or any new world, for that matter. I was nervous about moving away from my fledglings and towards advanced students, but everyone was patient and kind and once again, I found myself working with a great group of people. "Working with" is the operative phrase - many of these students know at least as much as the instructor about certain topics. Student occupations outside the spinning world run the gamut from project managers, mathematicians, artists, farmers to journalism majors. I'm learning that the trick to teaching upper levels is to step back, to utilize everyone's talents and to allow the students to tell me a thing or two or three.

Excellent math skills came in handy on Dye Day, when the assignment was Percentage Dyeing with acid dyes. By the end of day, the chart of percentage calculations on the board was a work of art. I couldn't get a decent photo of it because my camera didn't like the poor lighting in the machine shop, but this will give you some idea of the work involved:

By the end of day, the board was covered in calculations for each colour dyed, weights of fibres, stock solutions and the amounts of dye solution required for each colour. One of the assignments was to dye a 12 step colour wheel; one of the teams expanded that to 24 steps. Another group played with ombre and injection dyeing. The last assignment of the day was Rainbow Dyeing on fleece, which involves stuffing raw wool into a dye pot with some water and vinegar, sprinkling dye powders and top and then walking away with poking at the mix. The colours for that were fantastic; I am looking forward to stuffing a pot of my own.

Tending the pot

Jennifer with some of her skeins
 Assignments for this level include spinning line flax, working with bison, cashmere and camel fibres, blending fibres on combs and hackles and silk reeling.

We were fortunate this year to have two renowned silk reeling experts on campus - Michael Cook aka Wormspit and Coleen Nimetz, my travelling companion and the Level 6 instructor. Michael was our roomie. Most of the time, I sat in our townhouse with my mouth hanging open, as he and Coleen discussed the technical details of various silk moths and the fibres they produce. When Michael explained something to me by quoting a phrase in Latin, I knew I was out of my league. When he pulled out his tablet woven band with that same quotation woven into the pattern, I was done. (Old style Catholic masses and high school Latin classes just weren't enough to keep up.) I was toast and I knew it, but Michael is a friendly, gentle person who shared his knowledge generously. Both he and Coleen invited me to observe their reeling classes; Coleen kindly allowed my class to observe her Level 6 reeling. (I was happy about this because I've reeled silk three times in my life; once with Michael in a mini-workshop and twice with Coleen. Silk reeling is not applicable to tapestry weaving, at least not the tapestry weaving I do.) Because we had access to the experts, I had planned to skip the hands-on demonstration in class, but it became apparent that this would be a mistake, so I turned the assignment over to the students who did a wonderful job at reeling despite having a less than cooperative crock pot, makeshift equipment and a teacher (me) who was clueless in the art of silk reeling:

As always, the Olds Campus grounds are beautiful. I visited my poppy beds:

A large Raven was nesting on top of the veterinary clinic on campus and protested loudly every time I walked by. On the last day we had a lengthy conversation, as she squawked at me and I squawked back. (I hope no one saw me, because I'm sure I appeared quite mad.)  She would not allow me to take her picture.

The evening light at Olds confuses me every year. Olds is not that far north of my home, but it stays much lighter in the town than it does back in Regina. Here's a shot from our townhouse, taken at 9:43 p.m. on Wednesday evening. It's no wonder I can never sleep at Fibre Week:

That's it for another year. Thanks to everyone who made it such a wonderful experience, yet again. A big "Thank You" to my class, Level 4, 2015:

For fellow spider aficionados, I leave you with the video of a dancing Peacock Spider, courtesy of Michael Cook:


Sunday, 14 June 2015

Memories: A Tapestry Diary of a Different Sort

I love weaving tapestry samples. Nothing gives me more pleasure in tapestry than working on technical, colour and design challenges. I'm so in love with weaving samples that most of my work consists of bits and pieces of cloth, invariably tucked away in bags, in closets, out of sight, out of mind. (Have I told you lately that I'm a process person?) Those bits and pieces accumulate over the years. Eventually, they sulk, calling to me, "Do something with us, please!" I had an idea or two in mind, but, like so many things, I needed to get one of those handy aroundtoit's before I started.

Last fall, on my way to the yoga studio, I saw something in a designer clothing shop which intrigued me. In the window was a jean jacket. The back of the jacket was painted, boldly, with flowers and scrolls and curlicues and one other thing - the word "Artist" in dynamic letters above the flowers. How interesting, I thought. Who would buy such a jacket? Surely, an artist would design her own jacket; besides, most of the artists I know couldn't afford the many hundreds of dollars for the purchase price. Who else besides an artist would want such a garment? I never discovered the answers to my questions. The window display was changed and the jacket vanished - sold or not, I never knew.

That jacket started something, perhaps something unintended by the original maker, but a something for which I'm grateful. I'd been toying with the idea of stitching my tapestry samples onto garments, but, well, see the first paragraph. Adding tapestry to a jean jacket was my favourite notion. I'd worn jean jackets in my younger days. There's a bit of a rebel image attached to these garments which still appeals to me, although those younger days are long gone. Practically speaking, jean jackets are sturdy, able to support the weight of tapestry. They don't required continuous cleaning, so I wouldn't have to remove my work very often. The more I thought of that painted jacket, the more the idea of a tapestry jacket appealed to me.

Soon after I saw the store display, one of my sisters gave me an old, worn jean jacket. I took this as a sign and began adding samples. These are the first swatches I attached. (Thanks to my niece, Kasha, for the photos of me modelling.)

Each piece holds memories - the lotus was woven to mark the completion of yoga teacher training in 2014. The bottom band, "Winter Count," was a diary woven for my fortieth year on the planet. Many of my swatches resemble landscapes, perhaps because I feel most at home in a field or a forest, near mountains or water.

This is a work in progress - I'm adding swatches as the mood strikes. Although I play with the placement of each band, there are times when the design will be balanced and times when it will not, which, of course, is exactly how life goes. One day, the original jacket will disappear, buried beneath the fragments made by the weaver's hand, leaving behind marks of collected memories. Just like me.


Thursday, 11 June 2015

Times They Are A'Changing

I taught my last Renew for Cancer class yesterday. After three and a half years of teaching yoga for cancer classes, it's time for me to step back and renew myself. Renew classes are rewarding; the students are wonderful. Teaching and participating in these classes have given me more than I will ever be able to give back and I am most grateful for the opportunity. Teaching Renew is also challenging - for the most part, people do well, but sometimes, they do not. Their struggles become your troubles and a teacher has only so much to give before she needs to replenish her resources. A step back and a summer break will give me time to restore compassion and bring new ideas to the programme when I return to teaching in the fall. With that in mind, I am stepping out of the yoga world for a bit and back into the world of full time fibre work.

Plans for Fibre Week 2015 are coming along. I think I have all the fibre I need for teaching Level 4. I had a bit of a surprise on the weekend, when the seven students I thought I had became eleven and I had to scramble for more supplies, but that's sorted. I've reviewed the workbook and my class plans, packed my equipment. (Navajo spindles are great tools, but the fact that they're the size of Jedi light sabers means they don't fit anywhere.)  I've been brushing up on my dyeing - in general, I work with natural dyes and a take a "happy accident" approach to the process. In Level 4, we work with precision dyeing using acid dyes, so I need a bit of a refresher course.

Yesterday, I did some rainbow dyeing on mohair (no precision required, just sprinkle the dye powders into the bath):

The colours are more jewel toned than is evident in the photo. Today's work will be picking and teasing the fibres to open them which will allow them to dry more quickly and avoid matting.

After that, I ombre dyed a batch of commercial wool singles:

Ombre dyeing is a gradient dyeing process; as you can see in the photo, the colours deepen from right to left. It's a simple procedure; however, it requires the dyer's full attention, as the colours are controlled by removing the yarns from the dye pot at regular intervals. You can try ombre dyeing yourself: wind your skeins - I made six of them - and label them in order from 1 to 6 (in this case). The skeins do not have to be the same size. I wanted most of my yarn to be dark, so Skein #6, the last to come out of the dye bath, contains 100 metres, while Skein #1 contains only 20 metres. Set these aside to soak while you set up two dye pots. One pot will contain hot water and the chemicals and dyes needed for colour. The other pot, your processing bath, will contain hot water only. Prepare your dye stock solution. (I was using left over dyes, so I didn't mix a stock solution, but working with a stock solution will give you more control.) Add the dye, the acid (white vinegar) and salt as a levelling agent to the first pot. Add the wetted skeins to the dye pot. Do not boil the water in either pot. The temperature should remain at a simmer. Use a candy thermometer to assist in maintaining a consistent temperature.

Every five minutes, transfer one of the skeins in numbered order, 1, 2, etc., to the hot water processing bath. When you reach the final skein, you can leave it in the dyebath or transfer it to the processing bath, as you choose. Once all the skeins are transferred to the processing bath, continue to simmer them until the required processing time is complete. Check the instructions with your dyes, as processing times vary among manufacturers. Turn off the heat source, cool the skeins in the bath, wash them to remove excess dye and hang the yarn to dry.

You can play with the intervals between transfers. In the Level 4 exercise, we remove the first skein after 2 minutes, #2 after 5 minutes, #3 after 10 minutes and so on. I used a consistent five minute interval because I wanted very subtle shifts between skeins and because I wanted to turn my dye session into a mindfulness practice. Rather than setting a timer to remind me to remove a skein, I found tasks that I thought would require five minutes of attention and I removed a skein after each task. All those years of meditation must be paying off - I was able to time things precisely this way for every skein.

Who knew that mindfulness meditation could make me a more careful and attentive dyer? All sorts of wonders connected to meditation are mentioned in the Yoga Sutras, but I don't recall honing one's dyeing skills to be one of them. ("Dying," perhaps, but certainly not "dyeing," unless Patanjali couldn't spell.)


Friday, 22 May 2015

Got Rhythm? Sometimes Not!

I plan my travel knitting carefully. I choose something simple, in hand spun yarn, suitable for knitting in all kinds of weather. The stitch pattern must be simple, familiar, easily worked while sitting in the trailer loft/bedroom or in a campground or while visiting. I throw in a back up project (always a simple sock in self-striping yarn) so that I avoid boredom. I've done this countless times over decades of travelling to conferences, campgrounds, family visits. I'm a seasoned pro who could organize travel projects in her sleep. My system is fail proof.

A few posts back, I talked about choosing this road trip project, a simple lace wrap. I've knitted it before. There are four rows in the pattern, including two purl rows and one knit row. Row Three is an easily memorized pattern of yarn overs, two stitch stockinette columns and a few Purl 3 Togethers, which should be no challenge for loose lace knitters (or lace knitters who knit loosely). The borders are garter stitch. Nothing to it, right? "Ha!" said the Knitting Goddesses.

Apparently, the KG's have snatched away my ability to count to three. Or five. Expecting me to get through one row of fifty-one stitches without ending up a stitch short or over seems to be out of the question. Even garter stitch alludes me. It may look as though I've made progress (and I have, I guess):

The problem is that the piece should be twice as long. When I'd knitted about 25 cm, I discovered two things: a mistake in the stitch count which misaligned the columns and a dropped stitch, at about 10 cm, which didn't ravel until I stretched out my knitting to check the approximate size. Then, the stitch kindly made itself known by running back as far as it could get. (Lifelines? I don't need no stinkin' lifelines!) There was nothing for it but to tink back to the beginning of the run at about the 5 cm mark. Sigh. Meditation Wrap, indeed.

The problem was discovered on Day Three and repaired on Day Four. It's Day Ten and I finally mustered up the courage to pick up where I left off. (Of course, it's been too hot to work on the fuzzy, woolly sock I chose for Project #Two.) Things seem to be going well. There may be a minor error about 8 cm back, but I'm choosing to ignore it on the grounds that it is really a blocking issue. (It will be, one way or the other.) My daughter's neighbours may be wondering why the newcomer on the patio counts continually and in such a strange rhythm: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5," for the border; "1, 2," then silently to myself, ending with a triumphant "51!" and another count of five when I manage to keep the stitch count straight, or a muttered curse when I do not. Perhaps they'll be relieved to discover that I'm not a permanent fixture.

On the other hand, my tiny travel book of watercolour paintings is coming along splendidly, perhaps because I have no expectations when painting. I'm an amateur and content to be so. Unlike knitting, flaws are an expected part of the process. When watercolours run in a rhythm along the paper, they are known as "Happy Accidents." The same does not apply to my knitting:

I can't be too upset, though. Not with a view like this, of the night sky, as we sit with our ciders outside our camper door:


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Down Dog!: Meditation Two

It's a beautiful morning. While Mr. DD and his daughter ran errands, I have been in charge of Morris. We headed for the backyard, which has become Morris's favourite spot. I practised The Ten Mindful Movements and some gentle Sun Salutations and other asana on the patio until Morrie decided I needed coaching. Since his idea of encouragement is to lean his full weight up against my body while I attempt to balance in Vrksasana, yoga came to an end rather abruptly, although there was something fitting about my Tree toppling in such a lovely urban forest.

I sat. I did nothing - no writing, no painting, no photographs. I listened to the birds - the resident mourning dove, a few quails, a raven who stopped to chat. I watched yellow butterflies the size of small birds waft their way through the yard. The neighbourhood is always busy with people attending to their properties, so I concentrated on incorporating the sounds of mowers, weed whackers and chain saws into my practice.

I watched a dog worry a stick. Morris has claimed a large branch cut from Young Ms. DD's lilac bush. For the better part of two hours, he chewed and carried and worried that branch from one end of the yard to the other. He brought it to show me. He balanced it on my chair for better chewing action and, sometimes, he tried to balance it on my leg, which is not a great idea, given his big, sharp teeth. (He's not very good at playing fetch; he knows how to fetch, but doesn't like the concept of "Drop It!" He let me throw the stick 3 times before that game ended. It might be a record.) I sat, while Morris remained focused on that stick and I reflected on what it must be like to give something such undivided attention.

I became aware of the beauty of the neighbour's trees, the smell of the neighbourhood, the buzz and hum of the few mosquitoes out and about. I noticed the lichen on the lilac bush and recalled that the presence of the increasingly rare, slow growing lichen is a sign of clean air.

I saw a small, tattered butterfly decoration tucked in another bush and I smiled. It reminded me of myself.

Just for a moment, I felt my heart rest. Just for a moment, all is well.


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Cloud Bustin': A Meditation

We made it through the prairies and the Rockies to the gentler, more distant mountains of Kelowna. The week has been busy with moving Ms.Young DD, cleaning (new place and old), unpacking and keeping multiple cats and Morris separate. (It's working well: the cats are inside and pouting, while Morris has a big back yard to patrol as he supervises Mr. DD's handy work.) There have been trips to home suppliers, meetings with the neighbours and even a spa morning for Mother/Daughter pedicures. (Thanks, Young Ms. DD!) Outings must be planned more carefully; what was a ten minute walk downtown is now a forty minute bus trip one way, although it's a cheaper ride than home and a pleasant, scenic tour at that.

I've been the slacker of the bunch. Mr. DD is always happiest when he has projects on the go and Young Ms. DD wants to organize her own household, so I've continued to write and paint and read while I stay out of the way of the busy ones. Today, though, there is work for me. Level 4 of the Master Spinner Programme is a month away. I have supply orders to finalize and class plans to outline. There are changes to the Level 4 requirements which will be implemented this year; emails have been flying back and forth to reach consensus on that. So, here I sit at the computer, procrastinating - er, contemplating - before the work begins.

I think of our journey and the wonders of mountains and wildlife. There are flowers and shrubs and trees in bloom on every corner here. Roses are popular hedges of choice and the colours are spectacular - reds, and pinks and yellows, highlighted by fluorescent green-yellow bushes whose colour sears your eyes in the sunlight. I've spent every day watching the shifting skies. Days begin with clear blue; clouds build and billow and darken, bringing downpours and then rolling out again over the mountains. Photography doesn't quite capture the poetry of it all. I've turned instead to my tiny sketchbook and watercolour set to record my memories. The paintings are nothing much (and the photos of them are a step down from that), but they remind me that change is constant and, no matter what, change carries a beauty of its own:

We rolled across the prairies, watching the expanse of skies.

When stuck in traffic in the Rockie mountains, what better thing to do than record the scene?

Kelowna mountains remind me of the Qu'Appelle Valley back home.

Huge storm clouds build on the mountain tops.

By mid-day, the sun sears everything with a shimmering glow.