Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Sunday, 29 July 2012

A Momentary Lapse of Reason: Cotton Spinning and Summer Changes

First went the hair, then the beard and now the boy is gone, back to the West Coast in search of shelter, employment and time to pursue the things he loves:

The energy level drops as soon as he goes.  Morris and Mickey mope and Mr. and Mrs. DD are a bit sad, too.  Young Mr. DD is doing exactly what he was raised to do-build a life for himself and, above all, follow his bliss.

I've been working on my bliss the past week, finishing up the 100 gram bag of hand painted Easy to Spin Cotton I bought from Celeigh Wool at Olds Fibre Week.  Here she is, all 560 metres (about 600 yards) of 2 ply, sorta, kinda, fractal spun yarn:

530 metres/100 grams is fairly fine yarn, but not frustratingly so.  I'm torn as to what she'll become; right now, it's a toss up between a shawl and a light, short modular jacket for travel.  I'm not sure I have enough yardage for the jacket, although the design I have in mind is knitted very loosely and ideally, should weigh next to nothing.  I do have bags of other naturally coloured cotton ready to go, so I could make a jacket using those.

It's usually a good idea to boil hand spun cotton as a finishing bath.  Boiling cotton removes the pectin, along with the grime.  It can shift the colour of the natural cottons dramatically. Past experience with overheated finishing baths for variegated dyed wool yarns made me suspect that boiling this dyed cotton might not be a good idea.  Even if the dyes are well set, the heat can reactivate the dye molecules and turn all those pretty colours to mud.  I decided to give this skein a hot wash in EcoMax laundry detergent first.  My suspicions proved to be correct.  This is a photograph of the skein in the final rinse water after 3 hours of repeated washing and rinses, in attempts to get the dye to stop bleeding:

This is the skein in the same water this morning:

I'm not taking any chances.  I may wash the skein one more time with Synthrapol. The finished product from this yarn will be washed in cold water, perhaps with some salt in the wash and rinse (which sometimes helps to prevent bleeding).

I discovered that my Louet Victoria wheel works wonderfully well for spinning cotton.  (Note that in the review that comes up when you click the link, Abby did not test spin cotton.)  My Bosworth charkha would have been a good choice, as would my tahkli, but if I used those tools, I'd be spinning cotton for a long time. I'm not a fast cotton spinner and there would have been many, many joins in the yarn.  This cotton was started in Olds; I spun the yarn over the past couple of weeks.

By the way, that "momentary lapse of reason" mentioned in the blog title?  Well, that occurred when the end of the last rewound bobbin of fine singles cotton snapped and buried itself into the layers of thread, just because my attention drifted for a brief second.  The end was well-hidden and there was a slight (uh, huh) moment of panic. I knew that the end would be a bit fuzzy; that it was purple and that it would sit on top of all the other layers of thread at some point.  A good light, tweezers, patience, attention and a bit of calming breath work were required, but the yarn end resurfaced after a minute or two.  Just in case I hadn't learned my lesson about allowing my attention to drift, the only break I had in this yarn happened when I looked away while plying.  The yarn caught on something and "snap!" both plies broke. It was an easy repair, but I didn't lose my focus again!

Safe journey to Young Mr. DD.


Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bear in Mind: On Managing Stress

Colin's Level 1 class at Bodhi Tree this morning focused on relaxation and stress.  As Colin noted, stress is like a bear.  Long ago, we had real bears on our trail.  (If you work in the BC forests, you may still have real bears tracking you, but this is a rare occurrence in a prairie city.)  In some ways, dealing with real bears was easier, because the outcomes were predictable.  The bear chased you; you chased the bear; it got away; you got away; you ate it or it ate you.  Problem solved.  You (or the bear) had only to manage what was happening at the time.

Most of us now must learn to deal with the stress bears, the ones that live inside our heads. (I am fortunate.  I don't live in a war zone, or in acute poverty, or in physically dangerous locales.  My bears are different than the ones that dwell in those places.  That doesn't mean that my stress bears don't exist, only that I must deal with them differently.) In a consumer society, we are taught that what we are is never good enough.  There's a temporary fix for that, in the form of a product, but the product never satisfies.  That's a stress bear--we never measure up to impossible standards.  Add to that the constant barrage of negativity we hear and see all around us, as well as past traumas and uncertain futures and we are open invitations to be bear fodder.

An event can be stressful (good or bad), but it passes.  The bear wanders off and we're safe again.  Perhaps we learn a valuable lesson, but the long term effects of the encounter don't stay with us.  It's when the bear stays with us that it becomes dangerous, moving into the spaces inside us and refusing to budge.

Sometimes, we continue to search for the bear, long after she's departed.  Where is it?  I know she's around here somewhere.  Over my shoulder?  Under that rock?  Behind that wall?  Over my shoulder? She's probably behind me, right? Anxiety is like looking for that bear. We may have good reason to expect the bear's return, but if she's not here now, we're suffering from what she hasn't done, yet.  That leaves us on constant alert, flooding our bodies with adrenalin, telling our bodies that Something is Wrong!  We're running away without actually getting anywhere.  We tense up.

When we're depressed, it's as if the bear already has us or is approaching and there's no escape.  Might as well give up, now.  There's no hope for us.  Our serotonin levels drop. Our energy declines and we become sad and sluggish.

We are stressed.  Our bodies react by becoming tense and sore.  We're angry and frightened, but we can't admit this, so we say we're "fine."  We're fine, until there are so many bears inside us that they crowd us out or we feed one bear so much that it becomes huge and roars.  When that happens, we can cause ourselves and others some serious harm.

Stress contributes to illness, but it's important not to get upset that we're stressed. Everyone experiences stress.  Stressing about stress makes things worse.  What we need to do is find a way to face our inner bears, tame the beasts, avoid overfeeding them so that they become manageable.  In an ideal world, we are able to send them back to their natural home of The Past.

So what did we practice in class?  Not much.  Simple things.  We drew our attention to our breath. The breath is always there.  It's automatic, but we can control it. We breathe in the present; if we focus on the breath, we are in the Now.

We combined breath attention with slow, easy movements--paying attention to how our shoulders move, how we sit, how our hips flex, what happens when we invert our bodies.  No drama, no hurry.  He explained that this work was rather like shining a light on what is hidden.  We may not like what we see, but the light shows us where we need to do work.  If there are bears in the corners, well, knowing they are there helps us to build a plan to move them out.  This may not happen quickly and it may be painful, but as long as you're paying attention, there are solutions to the problems.

I've been dealing with more than a few bears the past while.  I had and have good reasons to fear them, but now that they're gone, I continue to search for them--anxiety.  A couple of rather large, fierce bears have appeared in my world recently and it took me some time to realize that, in backing away, I'd done the right thing.  These weren't my bears to tame. When fear rose up and I could feel the bears poking around, I knew what to do.  I faced them, went to ground for a while.  I followed my breath.  I meditated, in sitting and in spinning.  Slowly, slowly, the bears are wandering off and I'm ready to stick my head out of the cave again.

This morning's class helped with that.  So, "thank you," Colin, for reminding me on the proper techniques for dealing with stress bears.

P.S. I'm told that dealing with real bears by moving slowly and mindfully works, too.  When all else fails and the bear attacks, you whack them with your tree-planting shovel. When Matt told me that, I responded that the bear would likely see that as pre-dinner entertainment.  There are some things you just shouldn't tell your mother!


Public Domain Image

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Silver Threads and Golden Needles

Well, not really.  Still, the silk I bought in Phoenix this spring is spun:

I plied it on my Majacraft Pioneer.  The 3 ply skein came out to 200 metres and weighed 57 grams:

Even though I know it will happen, especially with fibre dyed in complementary colours, I'm always surprised at how toned down the finished yarn becomes.  The scarf is very subdued, reminding me of the desert sands we saw in Arizona, fitting enough, considering where I bought the tussah roving:


The colours are much tamer than I usually wear, but I did want a quiet little neck piece.  The hand and drape of the fabric is lovely.  If I decide the colours need perking up, there is always the dye pot!

Later in the day, on the way to visit my godmother, I stopped by a garage sale this afternoon and found this:

It was a new, tags attached wallet.  I wasn't looking for a new wallet, but it was a mere $5 and I have been keeping an eye out for a case for my Knitters' Pride interchangeable needle set:

The original KP case for the Special Set (shorter needles and 16 inch cables) was adequate, but didn't hold the accessories I need and it certainly wasn't as cute as this wallet.  Even with my limited (i.e., non-existent!) sewing skills, I was able to hand stitch dividers for the needles.  I used upholstery thread for durability, hence the non-matching thread and the noticeably uneven stitches.  The case is compact, with a secure zipper and it's tough enough to protect the needle tips.  There are lovely ready-made cases available for interchangeable needles, but the zippered ones seem to be expensive.  I'm not complaining, because there's a lot of work involved in the design and sewing of this cases and I think artisans deserve a decent wage for their work.  It's just more fun to adapt something myself.

It's been a productive day.  This evening, I'll knit or spin a bit more, enjoy a glass of wine, toasting to a successful Sunday.


Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Boy is Back in Town!

Fresh (well, after he'd showered) from the mountains of Northern BC, Young Mr. DD has arrived.  Some members of the household were very happy to see him.  Morris was especially enthusiastic:

Mick displayed better manners:

Not to be outdone by a mere cat, Morris politely extended a paw:

Then he restaked his claim:

The Boy is here to be groomsman at his friends' wedding this weekend.  They made him promise not to cut his hair or shave his beard until after the wedding photographs.

There's so much more positive energy around the house when one or both of the children are home.  Their presence just brightens the day.  They are, after all, perfect people!


Monday, 16 July 2012

Summertime: A Brief History

I've been practising rewinding bobbins, at Doglover's suggestion.

50 grams spun of the luscious, Easy to Spin Hand Painted Sea Island Cotton, purchased from Celeigh Wool during Olds Fibre Week 2012:

And 50 grams more to spin:

When I've spun enough for the day, there's always reading to be enjoyed:

On rainy days, I stay indoors, catching up with my dvd collection:

Mabel Ross was utterly charming.  I would have loved a class from her.


(DaigleD, if you're out there, please contact me!)

Friday, 13 July 2012

Something in the Air

The last few days, our city has been blanketed with a haze of wood smoke.  For many of us, the smoke combined with heat and humidity makes it difficult to enjoy the outdoors. We wait for the winds to blow the smoke elsewhere and restore fresh summer air.

I live on the prairies, nowhere near a forest.  (The imaginatively named "Sherwood Forest" lies just outside of town, but would only confuse any lumberjack who strayed there.)  This smoke came in from forest fires in northern Alberta, a thousand or so kilometres away. News reports tell us that far away Vancouver is suffering from smoke arising from fires in Siberia and that some US states are affected by the Canadian fires.

Recently, the Harper government gutted, or "streamlined," to hear his politicians tell it, environmental impact assessment reviews. Among other things, new laws limit review submissions to those from people who will be directly affected by a given project.  Its definition of "direct effect" seems to mean that you'll have to be living right beside that pipeline in order for your voice to be heard.  You must also not be a "radical."  Or a scientist who works for or is connected to government or its funded agencies.  Or anyone who might caution that pumping oil, bitumen, whatever fuel, through and around fragile lands to load onto ships which will sail across oceans to foreign lands, may not be the best solution to our fuel consumption problems.

A bit biased, am I?  You're absolutely right.  You see, all I have to do is walk outside and try to catch my breath in that smoke from distant fires.  Or read about the debris drifting from the 2011 earthquake in Japan and wonder what else may have drifted over from their nuclear meltdown.  Or remember that I was pregnant when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred and how worried we were about drift from that event.  The truth is, we live on one beautiful planet.  What happens in one place affects us all.

What does this have to do with yoga?  Yoga means "yoke/union," and not just of Mind/Body/Spirit of an individual being.  We are linked to one another and to this Earth.  If you believe, as I do, that the body is not simply a part of this planet, this universe, that we are the Earth itself, then it just may be in our best interests to be skeptical about current claims that pipeline projects and the like can be done swiftly and safely, with fast-track approval. (Even if you don't share the same view, Google "Enbridge," "BP Oil," "Exxon Valdez" and "spill," if you want just a taste of what can go wrong.)

Sooner or later, that oil, that nuclear fuel, that "stuff" we demand unceasingly will end up flowing through us, with consequences we can't afford or be able to ignore.  My proof?  Go outside. Breathe.  That smell, whatever it may be?  Mother Nature is doing her best to warn us.


Monday, 9 July 2012

Good Enough

Washing and blocking finished pieces works wonders.  After an overnight soak, a severe pinning out and two days of drying, my little woven sampler was much improved.  When I compare it to an earlier weaving I'd done in Terri Carefoot's class, I can see that my beat is more consistent in the latest swatch, which evens out the fabric.  The stripes are straighter. The draw-in was just under 1/2 inch, which is too much, but less than in my first pieces. (The finished size after blocking was 9/9.25 inches x 15.5 inches.)

Here's the weaving after blocking.  This is the side away from the weaver:

Here it is, beside the sampler I wove several years back:

I'm a process person; finished tapestries usually end up in my closet, to be hauled out for teaching purposes.  Most of them aren't good enough to be given as gifts, so I've acquired quite a stack of "samples." Sometimes, I wish that I could do the weaving without ending up with a product.  If I can make something practical, I tend to use it more.  

In many cultures, it's traditional to make bags from your practice pieces. These bags often hold your tools, your combs, your needles, perhaps a spindle.  Rather than toss this work into the closet, I decided to turn it into a small bag:

I played with various trims and finishes.   I bound I-cord to the seams.  I added pompoms, buttons and beads. Nothing looked quite right.  In the end, I decided that a simple piece should remain just that, so I sewed a bit of hand-braided trim to the edges and added a felted button I'd made years ago.  

Nothing innovative, nothing fancy, just a plain little sack to carry some lovely tools:


Friday, 6 July 2012

The Weaver's Path: Finishing Off

As you near the end of a continuous warp weaving, things change:

The shed sticks become progressively thinner, until you remove them all together.  You lay aside your large comb:

You move to smaller tools:

Mickey stands guard (yes, he really is that big-all 20 pounds of him):

That small line to the right?  That's the Weaver's Path.  Depending upon your tradition, it's there to allow the bad spirits to escape or to provide a path to the next weaving:

You weave warp by warp, until you are certain you can't pack in another row.  Then, you weave in several more rows:

When the work is finished, you release the tension on the loom to let the weaving relax before you cut it from the frame.  While you're waiting, you chill a bottle of wine for the traditional cutting off ceremony.  You remove the cords, tidy the weaving and inspect the work.  That thing which appeared large during the process now seems rather small (9.5 inches at bottom/9 inches at top x 15.5 inches before finishing):

The weaving will spend the night soaking in a warm, soapy bath before I block it.  I may have a soak myself.


Thursday, 5 July 2012

Everything: Going Away and Starting Anew

The boys are out at the farm. I'm at home with Mickey, enjoying the sunshine, the sounds of birds chirping, children playing outside, the stillness of my fibre room.

Olds Fibre Week always makes me reflect on where I am and the direction I would like to go.  One thing which called to me at Olds was weaving.  I've been away from my looms for over two years now.  I had been working on a tapestry when I was hit with a major life crisis and I didn't have the heart to pick up where I left off after life settled.

Until now.  A few weeks ago, my cobbled together Navaho-style loom came home, after spending several years in a dark basement.  It sat on my front step for another two weeks, while the sun, wind and rain cleaned away the inevitable grime that results from storage.  Once it was inside, I had choices to make: should I cut off the work that I had left behind or should I finish what I'd started?

I knew that, if I discarded the weaving, the loom would go with it.  Perhaps I'd never return to the tapestry weaving I'd once found so calming.  I'd warped the piece as a study of stripes.  There was no plan to the weaving, colour placement or design-stripes are difficult to weave consistently and I had needed the practice. Before I tossed the lot, I had to know if I could still find peace in the steady beat of comb against weft, packing into warp.

I began again:

The weaving had stopped at the second to last (from the top) deep blue stripe.  You can see that the stripes aren't level.  There are broken warp threads pinned back in place.  That random rectangle in the middle is woven in double weft interlock, because I forgot how to weave single interlock.  What began as a 9.5 inch wide sampler narrowed to 9 inches, then 8.75.  (Note to non-tapestry weavers: this is disgraceful.  The goal is to maintain your weaving width.  Narrowing one quarter inch over the length of this piece might be considered acceptable.  Narrowing 3/4 of an inch is not.) You can see the inconsistencies clearly in black and white:

It didn't matter.  Once I re-established my rhythm, once the comb was in my hand and I remembered Terri's advice never to put it down, sitting at the loom began to feel "right."  I felt James K.'s watchful eye over my shoulder, as he whispered encouragement from wherever he may be, now that he's left the planet. As I sat, working out solutions for uneven tension, fuzzy warp thread and an unsteady beat, Mickey kept watch over it all:

After finishing one pot of green tea 

and one Ben Howard cd later (Every Kingdom.  Go buy it.), I was here:

There are still many flaws that even washing and a severe blocking won't cure.  

No matter.  I'm home.


Monday, 2 July 2012

Just Like Starting Over: More Thoughts From Olds Fibre Week 2012

Yesterday was a quiet day of reflection.  I unpacked, did a bit of housecleaning, laundry, sorted things back into the fibre room and thought about the classes I had taught, as well as one I audited for a few hours.  I haven't seen any evaluations from participants in my classes yet, although I've received a few emails about the Yoga for Spinners sessions, so I wanted to post my thoughts before I read what others have said.

"My" spinning corner in the townhouse.

Yoga for Spinners was well-received.  People enjoyed the sessions and learned a trick or two about keeping themselves safe and comfortable while spinning or doing other fibre work.  Apparently, the shoulder adjustments I gave were worth the price of admission to most people.  (You can't do these yourself.  This is unfortunate because I really, really need one and the yoga studio is closed until tomorrow.)

Word got around that yoga may not be what people think it is.  I need to work on descriptions and promotion for these courses, so that people understand that there are simple, effective ways to adjust your posture in order to spin without compromising your comfort and health and without bending yourself into a pretzel.

In hindsight, I probably asked too much of my Spinning as Meditation Practice participants.  They were models of patience and grace under pressure, doing all of the strange things I asked of them.  It is remarkable that they stayed for the day; not one jumped ship.  (It wouldn't have been the first time that happened.)  A full day meditation workshop of any kind can be exhausting for someone who has experience with meditation, let alone for someone with none.  I've taught this course as a full day workshop, a four week course and a half-day workshop.  My inclination is to remove the full day course and  stay with weekly sessions (at home) or a two or three hour class.  I look forward to comments from participants.

If you ever want to experience incredible teaching moments, be sure to take a class, any class, from Jen Black.  Jen has her Master Spinning Certificate from Olds College.  She's taught some of the levels for the course, but as someone remarked, she really came alive in her class which was the aptly titled, "Spinning For Fun."  Jen took things she learned from her studies and demonstrated that achieving spinning excellence can and should be fun.  Her class learned to spin everything from alpaca to cotton to yak.  Her students discovered that anyone who says, "You can't do that!"  is probably mistaken.  I would be happy to follow Jen around her classes, just to soak up a bit of her wealth of knowledge and her teaching skills.

Jen's in-depth certificate study was on spinning cotton and she knows a thing or two about cellulose fibres, including how to grow a boll-producing cotton plant in sunny Edmonton.  I'm intrigued with cotton at the moment, but I know that I can spin it much better than I do.  Jen had some advice for me.  

The small, light brown piece of yarn at the bottom is my original yarn.  The skein at the top is the same yarn after I had re-plied, washed and boiled the yarn under Jen's tutelage!  Amazing, isn't it?

Sometimes, working at staying in Beginner's Mind has its benefits.


Sunday, 1 July 2012

Home Again: Postcards From Olds Fibre Week 2012

We arrived back home from Fibre Week 2012, safe, sound, a bit weary, but happy.  Olds College is a beautiful campus, full of flower beds and foliage.  It stays light there very late this time of year.  This is the view from our townhouse door between 10:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. (really):

 First timers, Hilary and Susie, had a great conference. Susie loved her wool judging class; so much so that she volunteered to help with the Fleece Show and Auction.  I'm thinking that her husband may want to be checking for woolly creatures in the backyard.  Hilary took the Beginning Weaving course with teacher par excellence, Linda W.  For her first 4 shaft loom project, Hilary wove a lace dish towel.  This is Hilary, winding bobbins:

This is her gorgeous towel:

This is Gretchen, their charming room mate.  Gretchen's smock is her own design.  It tempted me to take up sewing again (even though I'm allergic to sewing); we've planned a pattern swap:

Everyone was very, very busy.  Judi D., the Volunteer Coordinator, who drives from Calgary every year, just to help out, is a wonder of organizational skills and diplomacy.  It's always a pleasure visiting with her.  Donna F., Kathy P. and other spinners whose names I don't remember, did a bang up job with the Silent Auction, which raises money for Fibre Week. Birgit R., one of my room mates, instructs the Master Spinners Level 3 and 4:

Here you see some Master Spinners programme participants hard at work.  Sue, at right, brought me beautiful brown cotton bolls, as a Random Act of Kindness.  A few of the bolls went to Jen B.'s Spinning For Fun class (not many, because I am not as kind as Sue).

Ruth B., at left, in blue and white, advises Level 1 students:

I'm in serious destashing mode, so I made an effort not to buy very much; however, a lovely BFL fleece from a sheep named Elvis, owned by Linda W. (another Linda W.), found its way home with me, as did a bit of Merino/cashmere/silk from Fibres West and this lovely spindle-the only one I purchased-from Twist of Fate and made by Erynn's dad:  (The spindle bowl is from Heather E.  It joins the yarn bowls I bought from her last year.)

There was fibre, string, string and more string.  Birgit's class reeled silk cocoons.  Students dyed hand spun flax:

So many people give generously of their time and effort to help make Fibre Week the success it always is.  Once I've collected my thoughts, I'll post more about the workshops I taught and observed.  For now, I'll leave you with this image, one of the spectacular poppies from the bed I look for every year: