Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Mother of Invention: Kerry's Clever Chart Keeper

One useful accessory when working with two colours is a chart keeper, a magnetic board which helps you map the rounds of your pattern.  There are various styles of these devices; I use one from Knitter's Pride.  It's convenient, because it folds into a compact book size and has snaps which allow you to prop it up on a table.  Mine is a smaller version of the one pictured above (available online at WEBS).

Unfortunately, my knitters were unable to find any style of chart keeper in local shops. Since class ends next week, there wasn't time to order the boards to use them in class; however, during the week, Kerry played a bit and designed this:

Thanks to May for taking the photograph.

It's a metal dry erase marker board, complete with marker (attached at the top).  Kerry found some magnetic strips and she was set.  Not only can she track her pattern, she can make notes on the board as she knits (which I can't do with my commercial board).  The board came from Staples and cost about $12; you can buy the magnetic strips in rolls for a few dollars.

The board is longer and narrower than the chart keepers--perhaps 15 cm x 35 cm/6 inches x 14 inches, still small enough to fit into a knitting bag, although it might need a cover to keep everything in place.  It's sturdy, but light, so it's easy to transport to class. There you go-a home made chart keeper that works as well as the commercial version, with a note-taking function, too.

I learn so much from my students.


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Alive! Approaching Life as a Child

Last night marked the last Tuesday evening classes of the current yoga session.  Those classes are marked by Yoga Party night and Heather was in a mood to play.  That seems a strange thing to do in a Breath and Meditation class, but Heather encouraged us to return to a time when everything was saturated with a sense of wonder.  Like children, we were asked to explore the question of "Who am I?" Every time we thought we had an answer, Heather's questions showed us that, whoever we believe ourselves to be, there's something much deeper.

Then, it was off to Heather's Level 2, where playfulness opened up to the physical. We spent most of the evening doing poses like these:  Upside Down on Ropes.  I held the ropes and walked myself up vertically on the wall until I could, well, just hang out. We practised Yogic Flying.  (No, I won't explain how it's done.  You'll have to come to classes.) It was exhilarating, life affirming and just plain old fun. We finished the class with a round of Om's. The energy level resonated throughout the room and our Selves.  Everyone noticed the power.

I slept well.

More often than not, this exploratory approach to Life is missing from our daily routines. We become caught up in our jobs, our images and our possessions. We forget to notice what is truly valuable.  We forget to play.

Children can help bring us back to that sense of play.  This morning, I was reminded of children's wonder while I watched the students at Prairie Sky School work on their weaving. Here is K., who has never sat at a large loom before, beginning to weave our group piece. With just a few instructions, he was manipulating the warp threads, finding the sheds like a pro. He made choices, asked for guidance when he felt it was needed and then he allowed the weaving to happen:

S.'s bag shows her wonderful colour sense.  She chooses the colour that calls to her and works with those:

Once in a while, give yourself permission to play. Don't try to control every situation; you can't, no matter how you try.  Let things be. Work with that dropped stitch in your knitting. Explore spinning unusual fibres.  Make Ugly Art.  Think "Free Form" and go with that. Most importantly, think back to when you were a child.  Take a breath, let go and then Be.

What happens when you allow your knitting to Happen?


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A Pile of Knots: In and Out, Up and Down

I'm approaching the final chapters of my tapestry diary.  Here's a back view of Days 12 and 13:

Again, look what happens when you turn things around:

Those lines across the back become knotted pile, a slow, meticulous rug weaving technique still done by hand in many countries.

Many of you will note that the back view of the pile shows lines which veer from the horizontal.  This is due in part to the fact that I am working on an older warp and tension problems not apparent initially are now making themselves known, but the main problem with the piece is that I am out of practice.  Many of the "flaws" in this little cloth will resolve themselves when I block and finish the tapestry, but, even if they don't, I'm not concerned.  I think of the techniques here like notes on a musical scale.  On their own, they are not particularly lyrical, but we practice scales because we know that doing so will help us when we learn a larger work.  So it is with these diaries or samplers-the more of them we weave, the better our planned pieces are likely to be.

I made this same connection again with my yoga practice yesterday.  Colin stressed the importance of paying attention to what happens in your body with each shift in movement. Rather than working towards a goal (getting up into Pincha Mayurasana), we were to focus on the energy, feeling and attention required for each step of the asana.  In doing so, I discovered that I was able to move a bit beyond what I expected.  By paying attention to what my body was telling me, I didn't suffer the stiffness and pain that can come with repeated arm and shoulder poses.  My asanas were not things of beauty; they didn't have to be.  What mattered is that I took the time to observe and move into my practice, not my pose.

One of the textbooks in yoga teacher training is Erich Schiffmann's Moving Into Stillness. Schiffmann's description of yoga practice is poetic and speaks to what I believe "real yoga" to be:

Yoga is a way of moving into stillness in order to experience the truth of who you are.  It is also a way of learning to be centered in action so that you always have the clearest perspective on what's happening and are therefore able to respond most appropriately. (p. 4)
Think of your body as a musical instrument, a wind instrument.  Your breath, accordingly, is the wind through the instrument. (p.47)

It is only by constant attention to our practice in whatever we do, be that weaving or musical scales or poses, that we will move our yoga off our mats and into our world. We may not understand the value of each strand of weft, each note in the sequence or each breath in the pose, but each small step in our work will build on the fabric of our Being and we will become Whole.


Sunday, 14 April 2013

Some of These Things Are Like the Others

A full day of teaching and a yoga intensive training session left me exhausted and dealing with a bout of fatigue.  We were discussing the Gita and my yoga nerdiness came to the fore, so much so that I got carried away (who, me?) to the point where my passion may have been mistaken for anger and hostility, which wasn't my intent.  It's not only asana practice that challenges me.

When I disregard the signals my body sends, in this case to ease up on my intensity, that same body turns up the volume until it has my full attention.  Usually that means I get a final warning (the fatigue) before I'm forced into bed for a few days to recover.  I'm slowly learning to listen to these signals.  When the fatigue comes, I don't push through it.  I simply submit, stay home and stay quiet, resting until my energy returns. (When I grow up, I want to be the person who listens to her body before the fatigue knocks her over.)

Part of my retreat means returning to my tapestry diary.  The rhythm of the weft packing into warp, the slow advance of the cloth as it builds brings me back into focus. If my attention drifts from Now, the simple movement of "one over, one under" is broken, the weft sequence is lost and the cloth becomes unstable.  Starting again at the point of the error is the only way to draw things back into line.

I've completed Days 10 and 11.  There was no weaving yesterday.  Each day is divided with a row of twining; missed days are marked by a single twined row.  I'm approaching the end of this journey-the plan is to end on Day 14.  Day 11 felt like a soumak day (click the link to see the potential of this technique).  This is the back of the piece:

From this side, the knots blend into the weaving, adding a bit of texture to the flat weave. Turn the piece around to the front and you have something different:

(This specific soumak stitch resembles knitting, which may be why I enjoy it so much.  For me, it's further proof of the links between the crafts I love.)

As a meditation exercise, soumak is a concrete example of how things which appear so different are actually the same thing.  The differences lie in our perspectives: if I stand Here, I see This.  If I shift my gaze, This becomes That, although I know this is one technique, woven in one warp, using the same weft threads.

It's easy to see the disparities between opinions and people. It's much harder to stand back, take a larger view and realize that those two or three or millions of apparently disparate bodies and minds are bits of weft in a larger picture, each piece connecting to build a cohesive cloth. I'm working on it.


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Just Another Day

On a day in the spring that will not visit, I'm off to teach a new knitting class and then to a day of yoga teacher training.  The knitting class is a course on "Two Colour Knitting," and the students will begin with this sampler:

After they have knitted and finished this tube, I am going to ask them to do unspeakable things with their knitting.  Some may be horrified, others delighted.  All will survive.  Let the fun begin!


(Happy Birthday, Sarah!)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

It's In the Bag: Weaving at Prairie Sky

I had a lot of fun this morning, my first day at Prairie Sky School, teaching 13 children how to weave tapestry.  Many cultures have a tradition of weaving a bag for a first project, so this is what we did. I can't show you their faces, but these are some hands, hard at work:

There were some big grins behind these looms:

Everyone made a good start.  I'm looking forward to see what will be woven before I return next Wednesday.

As for me, here is Day 7 of my Tapestry Diary:

And the entire piece so far:


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Hide and Seek: Tapestry Weaving Diary Days Five and Six

The week began with adventures in Colin's Level 1 and 2 Yoga class.  Colin is a great story teller and uses those skills to guide us into asana sequences.  Monday's "play time" was a game of Hide and Seek: exploring the integration of body and mind, taking peeks at where our fears, joys, limits and possibilities might be, having a general look around.  We moved from Downward Dog into Upward Bow in a series of small adjustments and transitions.

Although I haven't done Upward Bow for decades, I was willing to give it a try, with Colin's support.  I didn't quite make it-my hips got stuck when it came to rolling over.  (Apparently, I have been spending too much time with Morris, the bull terror, who wouldn't roll over on command for anyone else no matter how many cookies you tossed at him.)  The attempt and effort was fun. My intention is to try again soon.

Between the back bends and the time spent dancing around the studio working out a movement meditation for spinning, I was more than a little "up" for most of the day.  Body, mind and mouth were full of energy; when early evening came around, I was exhausted from the adrenalin surges.  I'm still tired today, so I slowed things down a bit by working on the Tapestry Diary.  It felt like a good day to practise weft interlocks.  I do not enjoy double weft interlocks, so that is where I brought my attention.  Day Five and Six:

Double weft interlocks can appear rather raggedy when you weave them. This is what the double weft interlock looks like from the back:

When you peek around to the front side, things smooth out.  Hidden away in those jagged efforts are lovely transitions of colour, each block securely integrated into the next by attention to the joins.  (If only my asana practice would move so smoothly!):

I start my contract at Prairie Sky School tomorrow morning.  I'm looking forward to introducing the children to the wonders of tapestry weaving.  Who knows what we'll discover when we play a game of Artful Hide and Seek?


Sunday, 7 April 2013

Random Thoughts While Waiting for Spring

Another day, another snow storm.  Friday morning brought several more centimetres of wet white stuff.  There was more last night and again this morning.  Sigh.

I spent yesterday at TrueKnit7, a local craft sale, sharing a booth with my friend, Candace. I enjoy the social aspect of sales; it's always nice to chat with people I haven't seen for a while and to experience the work of new craftspeople. I managed to find a few birthday gifts. I'm pleased when I can buy pieces from local artists. Here's a shot of our table:

Candace is Candy Apple Red Knits.  Her work is to the right side of the photograph.  I had a few skeins of yarn and some art batts for sale, shown on the left.

I spent Sunday morning at the studio, working the desk and "spying" on the second day of the Robin Golt workshop.  This afternoon was a time for my tapestry diary. This is the section I wove today:

Tapestry is like yoga, in that it requires much effort for seemingly small results, but practice and time bring progress. I've finished Day 4 now, each day's segment marked by a row of twining:


Friday, 5 April 2013

Time Passages: Weaving A Tapestry Diary

The wind is howling through the trees in our front yard, protesting another storm which delays the promise of spring.  I'm holed up with a coffee and my weaving, on Day 2 of my tapestry journal.

A tapestry diary is the weaver's way of sketching and note-taking.  Rather than scribbling in a journal, tapestry weavers track their days by weaving small segments of a larger piece over a given period of time.  There are no rules for tapestry diaries, but here are a few I've set for myself:

  • Of primary importance is the intention to weave every day.  I can weave for 5 minutes, or 5 hours, but some bit of string must go into the piece on a daily basis.
  • The weaving is freeform, i.e., I don't use a cartoon or plan.  There is no theme, although one may develop.  I approach each day with fresh eyes.  This may result in a mishmash, a pedestrian tapestry or a masterpiece.  It doesn't matter. The goal is to weave.
  • I can weave what I wish, change things as I please and correct errors on the day I'm weaving.  Once that day's weaving is complete, I can't go back and undo what I've woven.  Just as I scribble, scratch and erase in a journal, so I weave my diary.
  • No judgement.  
With these markers in place, I track my path.  Day 1:

Day 2, today, felt like a soumak kind of day:

There you have it.  Nothing special, no revolutionary weaving happening here, just the pedestrian ploddings of someone who's been away from her looms for a very long time.  It feels good to be back.

There are some beautiful examples of tapestry diaries on line, woven by talented, dedicated tapestry weavers.  You can google "tapestry diaries," or click on the names below to see some of this work:

  • Janet Austin
  • J. Meetze
  • Tommye Scanlin.  I love that Tommye inserts pieces of cardboard into her warp on the days she hasn't woven.
  • For a spectacular version of a diary combining both written and woven diaries, see the work of my heroine, Sarah Swett.  Yes, those "words" are woven. Go to her site.  You will be mesmerized.


(For those of you in town tomorrow, visit me at the TrueKnit7 craft sale.  I'll be sharing a booth with Candace, of Candy Apple Red Knits.  I may be working on my tapestry diary.)

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Strange Brew: Sun/Moon Coming Out

Something strange is happening.  Everything in yoga teacher training is a struggle at the moment: my asanas are abysmal, my focus is scattered and my ability to retain the Sanskrit and anatomy I'm required to know is, well, to put it kindly, soft.  My ego is taking quite a beating as I watch others practice with apparent ease, even though I know all this is illusion. It sounds as if I'm complaining, but that's not how my heart feels.  I prefer challenges; they make me feel as if I've earned whatever goal I've set out to attain when I get there.  Every moment I spend in the studio is a joy, even when I'm grumbling about the effort.

Right now, the struggle is not what interests me. What has caught my attention is a "Strange Brew," a mix of moments of creativity and energy and questions which the teacher training has brought back to my life.  For years, I've immersed myself in art and craft; besides my fibre work, I loved to draw and paint and play with various media.  I lost that a while back, partly due to circumstances beyond my control, but mostly through neglect. "Use it or lose it," holds true with almost anything we encounter and it was certainly true of my creative skills.  I could hear that small voice calling, "Come back.  Take a look.  Just a peek." but I've been ignoring it as best I could.

No more.  In the past months, I've stopped my usual habitual practice of copious note-taking in favour of drawing stick figures in my yoga journals. Our assignment to study the Bhagavad Gita has lead to a couple of  doodled books for my (grown) children.  While I'm making an effort to learn the muscles and bones involved in particular poses, something keeps telling me to look beyond the structure, to discover, well, what that is, I'm not sure.

I may not ever be a "real" yoga teacher.  I don't know what that would mean.  I do know that I've swallowed a concoction that's bringing me back to what I've been missing for a long time.

This morning, I started a tapestry diary.  The light keeps changing:


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

In and Out: Meditation and Tapestry Weaving Adventures

Twenty-four cardboard looms for bags, 2 larger looms for students and 1 for my samples, a box of pretty wool yarns:

I've been preparing for a project I'm starting next week at Prairie Sky School, a Waldorf-inspired  school for grades K to Five.  The school received a Saskatchewan Arts Board Grant to fund a curated project with assistance from a spoken word artist, a photographer and a fibre artist. The director hired me to organize and weave tapestry, which will be displayed in a grand finale Showcase in mid-June.  There are 18 children who will be working on this project, ranging in ages from 6 to 12, so it will be challenging and exciting.

The students know how to spin; volunteer Mar Craig has had them working with spindles for quite some time, so in addition to the yarns I'm providing, we hope that everyone will be able to use her/his hand spun yarns in the projects.

These are some of the samples I'm taking with me:

The little bag in the lower right hand corner is the first project.  It's woven on a cardboard loom, in the round, so it comes off the loom finished, with only a few ends to weave into the bag.  This one is woven from hand spun, natural dyed wools.  

After that, the plans are fluid: I hope to have the students design the main project.  Their theme is "Spirals in Nature," so we'll work with that.  The goal is to have at least one of the larger looms woven in time for the showcase.

Tapestry weaving is simple.  It's plain weave, over and under, in and out, back and forth. The warp, consisting of those white cotton strings you see in the photographs, is completely covered by the weft, the coloured yarns in the box.  Because of this, the simple weaving is exceedingly slow.  It will be a challenge to finish these small pieces in a time frame of 20 hours over 10 weeks, even if students weave in their spare time.  We shall see what becomes of this.

As I was warping the last frame loom this morning, I was reminded of how much I miss tapestry weaving.  It's been a while since I've worked on my last project, which hasn't quite reached the half-way mark.  I was hit with a major life crisis as I was weaving that piece and I seem to be blocked from taking it up again.  It sits there and calls to me, more strongly as time passes, so perhaps this will be the incentive I need to resume my work.  Tapestry (or other fibre work) doesn't spoil.  You don't lose what you've made when you leave off working. You may not remember where you were, but taking it up again will trigger your mind and body.  The knowledge is there and it will return.

If this sounds familiar, you may have made the connection between tapestry weaving and meditation.  Perhaps that is why I loved weaving  tapestry so much-the slow, steady pace helps me focus and brings me into the present.  Tapestry weaving is a concentration tool for mindfulness, just as effective as gazing into a candle or counting the breath can be in meditation practice.

I've been asked to team teach the Breath and Meditation class at the yoga studio tonight.  I consider this an honour and a challenge: Heather is an amazing teacher, the "real deal" when it comes to living her practice.  I don't know how else to explain this-she just gives off an aura of "Being Present."  (I can hear her chuckling at the New Age-iness of that statement, because she's very funny, very down to earth and doesn't take herself too seriously, but there you have it.)  My co-teacher will be Donna, another teacher trainee, my yoga buddy in classes.  Donna is grounded, able to cope with my airy, sometimes out-of-focus reality.  We seem to work well together and, although I'm not sure that the two of us will in any way equal one Heather, we'll do our best.  Our practice is there.  What we know will come to us, as we weave through the challenge of teaching a meditation practice, back and forth, in and out, over and under, breath by breath.