Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Wheelin' Right Along: Charkha Spinning as Yoga Practice

The intensity of teaching (or studying) at Fibre Week can leave everyone pretty tired by the time all events are over, so I've spent the past few days hiding out while I transition from my roles as teacher to that of a student.  My yoga studies are calling: there are books to read, classes to attend, much work to be done.  What better way to move from one mode to another than to haul out my charkha and spin some cotton, as M. K. Gandhi encouraged his country people to do?  (Thanks to Joan Ruane and Jill Holbrook, whose own enthusiasm for spinning cotton reminded me how much I love working with these fibres and tools.)

I started spinning cotton 25 years ago, on a tahkli spindle.  A few years later, I ordered an Indian book charkha.  As part of his programme to encourage all Indians to return to spinning cotton and weaving khadi cloth, Gandhi promoted the design of a new style of charkha, small, compact, portable, efficient and within the budget of even the poorest folk.  (Contrary to popular belief, Gandhi did not invent the book charkha and there is some discussion as to how much influence he had on its final design, but that's a discussion for another time.)  The book charkha came from this and, despite its rough manufacture and appearance, it does a bang up job of spinning fine cotton threads. I used to spin on my charkha as I sat on my front steps; my neighbour, V., who died this past winter, would sometimes visit, show me how he spun with Gandhi using the book charkha and tell me tales of life in his native India.

A few years ago, I had the chance to purchase a Bosworth Book Charkha, which is a masterfully engineered and crafted wheel.  Unlike the quirky Indian book charkha, the Bosworth needs little coaxing to work its magic.  It's also very expensive, so when one became available, at a very good price, I bought it.  My Indian charkha went to another spinning enthusiast, who can make it sing much better than I can.  Now, I work with this:

That thing to the right of the white fluff on the left side of the charkha is the spindle, as is the metal shaft holding the cone of yarn in the wheel box.  I turn the large wheel as I gently hold the fibres in my left hand, drawing the cotton fibres slightly down and to my left, at an angle to the spindle tip:

You can see the angle here.  I'm actually clutching the fibres too tightly to draft well.

The Indian charkha is designed to be used while the spinner sits on the ground.  That's how I worked with my book charkha, but the Bosworth seems better suited to be used with it sitting on a table top. Traditionally, the charkha is used to spin singles for weaving, with no need for plying.  The spindle would go directly into the weaving shuttle to be used at the loom; sometimes, the yarn would be skeined for dyeing.  Using high twist singles for knitting can be interesting, so those yarns are usually plied.  Plying with the book charkha is inefficient, so I wind my singles onto plastic bobbins to be plied at a treadle wheel later. Apart from that, I use the techniques shown by spinners in India, who know far more than I how cotton should be spun.

There are many videos available on working with charkha.  Here are a few I love.  (This is a news report from India, showing women teaching children how to spin using tahkli and charkha.  It's not in English, but you don't need to understand the words to understand the process.)

Mrs. Gandhi, spinning:

A display in the Indira Gandhi Airport, with a quote on spinning by the Mahatma:

Gandhi spinning:

As well as using spinning as a means of protest against British rule, Gandhi used the charkha as a meditative tool.  He was so enamoured with the utilitarian and meditative effects of charka that he referred to it in his interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita.  Although not meditative in itself, spinning provides the pathway to concentration which is required in order to reach a meditative state.

As the thread winds through my fingers, my heart opens, my mind settles and my body unwinds from the frantic pace of teaching.  Spinning with charkha soothes my spirit and moves me into yoga, which at its core, is meditation and, perhaps a union of body and mind.


Friday, 28 June 2013

Just Came Back: Adventures at Olds Fibre Week 2013, Part 2

For the past few years, I've taught yoga for spinners and restorative practice for fibre artists at Fibre Week.  For five days, before and after the regular classes, people have the option of attending a forty-five minute class in gentle yoga and meditation.  (I'm beginning to think the classes should be called, "Yoga Light," and "Meditation Light.")  The morning class, which begins at 8 am, at the start at what is a very long day, is designed to help attendees keep themselves safe as they spin, weave, knit and felt all day.  Long hours at loom, wheel or bent over tables can cause many problems, so the morning practice works to correct that. This was our yoga studio:

Pretty fancy, no?  That's Kathy in the photo, an early arrival to morning class.

The 4:45 pm session, which starts shortly after classes end, is a gentle stretching class, with simple meditation practice.  For many people, yoga is scary stuff and meditation seems further out on the spectrum of actions they may wish to try.  I coax them along; Legs Up the Wall, Shoulder Rolls and Chocolate are part of that process.  At an event like this, with full day classes, a rush for meals, social events and shopping, it is difficult to fit in everything, so I was very pleased that I had somewhere around 30 to 35 visits minimum in the sessions, with several repeat participants.  (I arrived to practice on Sunday morning to 8 eager yoga students.  This was after the big Saturday night social activities so I was gob-smacked that they had hauled themselves out of bed that early, assuming they made it to bed at all.)  

I may or may not have visited the vendors:

Left to Right:  Hound Design Top Whorl, John Shannon Top Whorl with Turquoise Inlay,  a Tabachek Bottom Whorl, and a Danware Plying Spindle, made by Vanessa's father.  Vanessa attended my yoga/meditation sessions every day, despite the fact that she was in Level 3 of the Master Spinner's Programme, a very heavy level.

Lonna's book on supported spinning will get new support spindlers off to a good start; Lonna also supplied me with wonderful fibres for my Beginning Spinners' class.  Jill Holbrook made the turquoise support spindle, with sea shell; these were spindles designed for her classes in spindle spinning.  The pottery dish was a gift from Joan Ruane, my room-mate and a wonderful teacher.  The dish keeps my tahkli spinning nicely.  The beautiful sample niddy noddy is a gift from my friend, Roberta, who came for a visit.  She showed up with a copper pipe tapestry loom which she was giving away.  It's on its way home to me, courtesy of my patient and kind friends, Jeremy and Susie, who hauled supplies from home for me.  (I had promised not to send them home with my stuff. I lied.)  

I visited the college greenhouses; I walked the grounds of the campus and photographed the flowers.  These are "Catch Fly" flowers (the photo is hazy because of the rain).  Apparently, they work only on flies because the mosquitoes on campus were prolific:

I am in the process of transitioning into teaching the Master Spinner Level classes.  The "Rah, Rah, Let's Go!" teaching style I use for my beginners' classes won't work for teaching to a curriculum, so I spent Monday and Tuesday visiting the Level 1 and 2 classes, instructed respectively by Dora and Leslie.  Here's Dora's Level 1 class, opening a Shetland fleece:

I flew home on Wednesday, tired but happy.  All was well at home.  Morris marked my arrival by throwing up in his crate; Mickey attacked my feet in my sleep, so things are getting back to normal.

I thank all the people who welcomed me with open arms and made Fibre Week such a wonderful experience for me and so many others.  You know who you are.  (Hey, Jean!) I would especially like to welcome the young people who are moving into the fibre arts.  They include, but are not limited to, my friend, Susie, who helped with the Fleece Show, and who is a very talented spinner, knitter and teacher, Noor, who taught the Beginning Weaving course for the first time, and managed to keep 12 new weavers on track, and Lena, who raises her own sheep, including Yvetta, a Jacob, whose coat is now travelling back to my home, where I will put it to very good use.  

I am grateful for all the pleasure, challenges and learning opportunities that Fibre Week has brought to me over the years.  Congratulations to the Master Spinner Programme on its 25th anniversary.  May it have years of success to come.


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Just Came Back: Adventures at Fibre Week 2013

We had an uneventful flight to Calgary last Thursday-clear blue skies with lovely cotton clouds, no signs of the disaster that was about to hit Calgary and many areas of Alberta. By the time we arrived at Olds College, the troubles had begun. Olds is the evacuation centre for Sundre; the College is the gathering point for evacuees and we had to explain our presence on campus before we were allowed access.  Several concerned families could be seen on site, but I understand that Sundre escaped the worst of the disaster and they were able to return home in a couple of days.

On Friday, the sky opened.  We were sitting in the cafeteria at supper when noise on the roof became so loud that we couldn't hear each other across the table because of this:

There's hail in that storm, a lot of it; by the time the roaring stopped, that picnic table top was covered in it. So it went throughout the week, although not as intensely.  People became convinced that the rains knew when we were without our umbrellas, so we took to carrying them everywhere.

Some instructors and students were late in arriving or couldn't make it to Fibre Week because of the storms, flooding and slides in the mountains.  (One student in my class was unable to attend.)  Those that did make it to Olds experienced a week of fibre fun.  Olds Campus devotes itself to fibre aficionados that week-we take over the classrooms, the dorms, the townhouses and the college bar. This is my Beginning Spinners' class, slaving away at their wheels:

None of them were raw beginners, which wasn't difficult to figure out, given work like this:

That's Carol's exercise in gaining control over your yarns; the assignment was to spin a yarn, record the wraps per inch and then do a yarn twice as fine as the original.  Carol's fine yarn was 52 wraps per inch, which (in case you're not a spinner) is pretty fine indeed.  Later in the week, Carol continued on to Level 1 of the Master Spinner's Programme.  The other students did not, but they all did equally well with their spinning and seemed to have prepared themselves at the vendors for their home spinning practice.  I loved teaching them and I think they enjoyed themselves; they look pretty happy here, at the end of Day 3:

Evenings for the first three days were devoted to social activities in the campus bar.  There was music and laughter, a few tears, visits with old friends and new, a graduation ceremony,a retirement and some unexpected fireworks on Saturday evening which were the best I've ever seen.  I won't fill you in on all the details of our adventures-what happens at Fibre Week stays at Fibre Week-but if a woman named Dorothy tells you that I lost my top in the college bar, you may choose not to believe her version of events.  (Thanks to Dorothy, I will never be able to look at certain hand positions again.  I also desperately want to meet her Mom and hang out with the rest of her family.)

The Master Spinner Programme celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, which brought many former graduates out in full force.  This year marked Otto Pahl's retirement from Olds College staff.  For many years, Otto has coordinated and devoted his time to making Fibre Week the wonderful event it is.  His patience and ability to problem-solve is impressive and he will be greatly missed.  His assistant, Melanie S., is also moving on to other things. Melanie is another staff member who keeps Fibre Week running smoothly, working tirelessly to help out in any way she can.  She will also be missed, as will Judi D., aka sheepless in suburbia,  Judi is the Volunteer of Volunteers. She oversees the registration desk for Fibre Week attendees, coordinates the general activities, organizes the other volunteers and acts in whatever capacity may be required, all from her love of fibre.  Judi will be exploring other fibre avenues.  I will miss our chats in the Land Sciences Building and hope we meet again.

I made new friends at Fibre Week, including the remarkable Joan Ruane, who was one of my room-mates, along with the lovely Birgit and my amazing friend, Coleen, who gave the keynote address on her silk road adventures in Asia.  On Monday, things quiet down, as the general fibre programmes end and the Master Spinner Programme begins.  More on that later; for now, I leave you with some more photos:

Current and Past Graduates of the Master Spinner Programme with Otto Pahl

The gorgeous Kara, wearing an equally gorgeous wrap spun and knitted by  Donna R., as  part of  Donna's In-Depth Study.  The wrap is made from beaver down (you read that right) and is incredibly soft.  Donna's research on beaver fibre is remarkable.

My friend and spindle "dealer," Edward Tabachek, modelling the handspun, handknit hat and scarf he made.  His wife, Jo-Anne, graduated from the Master Spinner Programme this year.  Her IDS, on spinning designer yarns using spindles (Edward's, of course) was truly masterful.


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Goin' to the Country: On My Way to Fibre Week 2013

I leave tomorrow for Fibre Week 2013 at Olds College, in Olds, Alberta.  It's an action-packed week for spinning nerds, I mean, er, um, aficionados.  We spin, we knit, we play with string and fibre for a full week.  We trade our stuff and buy more stuff. It's great fun. If you are a spinner, make an effort to attend one year.  It's a smaller conference than many of the better known events, more intimate, which allows everyone to interact with other students and instructors.  There's a slight chance that I will come home with more of these:

A few of the Tabachek spindles from my collection.

I've attended for a number of years, as a student, instructor, volunteer and general hanger-on.  I always learn so much from fellow participants.  I travel with good buddies, visit with long-lost friends, many of whom I see only at Fibre Week.  We work hard; tears are sometimes shed, but most of the time, the sound ringing through the campus is that of laughter.

I'm teaching my yoga and meditation classes and a Beginners' Spinning class.  Earlier this year, Olds College re-organized the Master Spinners' Programme and opened the hiring process for instructors to those whose training came from outside the programme.  I had the honour and great good fortune of becoming one of those instructors, so this will be my first year teaching in that capacity.  The beginners' class is outside the actual Master's programme, so it's a good way to get my feet wet and transition into teaching Levels.

Olds College campus is beautiful, a peaceful setting in what's become a bustling town. (This year is Olds College's Centennial, so the place will be very busy.)  We wake to the sounds of cattle lowing--sometimes, we stay awake because of that!  If we need a break from the day, we can wander over to visit the horses or visit with the dogs who are cared for at the on-campus vet clinic.  I love staying on campus; it adds so much to the Fibre Week experience.

The poppy beds on campus are stunning.

My trusty laptop stays home, replaced by a spinning wheel.  My camera comes along; although I'll be "off grid" for my time there, I'll have lots of photos and things to post about when I get back next week.  I'm packed, prepared and ready to head to the airport tomorrow morning.  Wish me luck!

We stay in these student housing townhouses.

You'll see plenty of this during Fibre Week!


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Sanctuary: A Touch of Blue

I found this lovely object yesterday, as I wandered home from the yoga studio:

Somewhere in our neighbourhood, another nest of robins is being cherished by its parents, until the occupants are ready to take flight and set out on their own.  No doubt, some of their food supply comes from the masses of Western tent caterpillars crawling down the city streets.The squirmy creatures are heading for tree trunks, but they take strange routes sometimes. I caught this guy just now, as he retreated from the yoga mat I'm drying on the railing:

For you, Coleen, a ladybug, nestled in the cat mint between the two fading old fir trees in the front yard:

And here am I, behind my camera, a part of it all:

(All best wishes and good thoughts for you today, Edward.)

Monday, 17 June 2013

Slip Sliding Away: Shifting Perspectives

We had our yoga teacher training intensive this weekend.  I was still tired from the rush to finish the tapestry project, so my plans for the weekend didn't go as smoothly as I hoped.  I was exhausted to the point of feeling ill, couldn't practise asana and faded out on the anatomy lessons for most of Sunday morning. It's embarrassing to find yourself having to nap during classes and to have the instructor check on you, the way teachers do when you're in grade school.  Everyone who notices your predicament is thoughtful, kind and concerned, but your ego cringes at bringing that kind of attention to your little Self.  A while back, I would have left class, frustrated and annoyed, cursing the fact that my mind wants to do things that the body can no longer do.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, there's been a shift in my perspective, a shift which I think has its roots in yoga and which is coming to fruition because of practice.  Despite the frustration of my limitations, I ended each day thinking that it had been good.

On Day 1, I couldn't practise asana, which gave me the opportunity to observe how things changed when people followed Colin's instructions about particular poses.  The movements became much smaller than we usually see in a regular yoga class.  It was very clear that, if you were working to do the pose as asked, you could focus on nothing else.  I could see bodies work; I could see minds work.  I had an opportunity to bring attention to practice in a way not normally open to me, an opportunity that I might not have had if I'd been feeling well enough to join the practice.    

Sarah taught anatomy on Sunday.  Anyone who has the opportunity to study anatomy with Sarah should seize the chance because she knows more about this subject than any medical personnel I've met.  It's her drive, her passion, and it shows in her work. Anatomy fascinates me, but even the gross details of the body don't stick in my head these days, never mind the finer points.  Anatomy also repels me.  Circumstance has given me opportunities to become very familiar with certain parts of my body.  Studying anatomy can be a trigger for some unpleasant flashbacks to past experiences.  It was a struggle to bring attention to the lessons.  That struggle failed in the morning, when my body checked out of the experience.  My mind was still there (for the most part), so I absorbed some of the lecture and by mid-afternoon, my body was more accepting of the lessons, too.

It's crucial to understand how the body works and what we need to do and not do in yoga to heal, not harm, so these detailed lessons expand our practice vastly.  Because my body felt unwell, I was able to experience a practical application of how the mind affects the body; had I been feeling better, I might have missed the sensations that hearing about how the body works actually causes in my body.  For a time, I became a bit of an experiment and, although it wasn't pleasant at the time, I could appreciate the opportunity.

By the time I arrived home Sunday evening, I was feeling much better.  A nap, some supper, and I was back up to speed by the evening, at least enough to watch another episode of Fringe, our current Netflix sci-fi viewing.  (As an aside, if you're a yoga practitioner and you haven't watched Fringe, you might consider doing so.  The show takes some of the things known about the mind and body through current scientific study and runs with it, posing the question, "What happens when science, technology and imagination allow us to do what we could once only dream?"  I find it very "yogic," but then I find most things yogic these days.)

Just as I was about to fall asleep, it occurred to me that-maybe, just possibly, I'm not quite sure, but it could be-this weekend may have shown me what it's like to experience a bad situation and not suffer from it.  It's not that you transcend the experience.  Everything about it was still unwelcome and unpleasant and I was not happy to be in it while I was in it. On the other hand, I didn't let my emotions and thoughts carry me away to a higher degree of discomfort.  At the end of the training session, I could appreciate the benefits of my experience.  I wasn't "making lemonade out of lemons."  (People who know me know that I'm not a Ms. Sunshine person at the best of times.)  There is a chance that I'm learning to open to the possibilities in whatever happens Now.

I may be full of it.  I may just be rationalising, telling myself that it was okay to feel badly. Maybe not.  Maybe this weekend was a gift.  Maybe my practice is allowing me to discover that.


Saturday, 15 June 2013

Oh, What a Lovely Evening! Prairie Sky School's Gala

Last night's Gala, "Tapestry in Nature," at Prairie Sky School was wonderful.  There were hands-on displays, performances, food and drink for all.  Margaret, the show's curator, students, teachers and staf, arranged the show to its best advantage.

I enjoyed my residency at Prairie Sky very much and hope to continue working with these children and others in a similar capacity.  For now, I'd like to show you some of what went on through the year and last night.  Best of all, with their parents' permission, you'll see some of those faces behind all that impressive weaving:

The tapestry with all of our bags.  This photo does not do the pieces justice.  They were stunning!

Mar taught the children how to spin.

While I wove with the older children, Anna worked with the kindergarten students.

Mar sewed pocket dolls with the children.

Isaac with his beautiful, colourful bag that reminded many people of the prairies.

Isaac, showing his father how to weave.

Finn, who, besides being a weaver, is an accomplished pianist.  He just won two scholarships from the Royal Conservatory of Music.  Congratulations!

Emma, so happy to have completed her bag!

Duncan, who is a passionate spinner.

Alex, who loves performing.

Shakti.  We discovered that Shakti's grandmother, Carol, attended my spinning classes. Now, Shakti has learned to weave.  How cool is that?

Andrew, who took charge of the free-form tapestry.

Mahalia (aka Mint) posing with her bag.

Zeke, with his bag.  Zeke wove a good section of the  large tapestry 's sky.

Kaz, who took the lead on weaving the large tapestry and who has a great future as a fibre artist, should he choose to take that path.  

Some of the students were not in attendance, while others were too busy having a great time to have their photos taken.  So, in addition to thanking Kim (the school's director), Jodie, Eagle, Leah, Kendra, Shawn, Shayna, all the other artists, teachers, staff and parents who were involved in the project, I'd like to give special thanks to Mihailo, Rosco, Thais, Anna, Matthew, Aiden, Gwen, Marcus, Ethan, Phoenix, who all helped out in making this project the success it was.


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Free Bird: The Final Weaving Session at Prairie Sky School

The push was on this morning at Prairie Sky School.  This was our final tapestry weaving session.  We wanted as many completed pieces as we could manage, so that Margaret, the show's curator, could hang them for Friday evening's gala.

Besides the show, there will be hands-on displays.  The boys took charge of working on the free-form tapestry.  With this piece, anything goes-the design will evolve as it's woven:

Every bag has cord edging sewn to it when it is finished.  Making these takes a fair bit of time and attention, so students who have completed their bags help out by twisting cords for other bags:

At least half a dozen students finished their pieces this morning.  By the time I left the school, we had 10 finished bags and 3 which just needed their cords:

K's bag:  Note the pile knotting.  The lighter blue knots were made by finger knitting yarns and then knotting them into the bag.

The large tapestry?  Here she is.  I think the children are pleased; I know I am:

I'll be at Friday's event; after that, it's on to other things, for students, teachers and me.  I'll let you know about the Gala evening in a few days.


Saturday, 8 June 2013

Hands Across the Weaving: Finishing Our Prairie Sky Tapestry

We had our final weaving sessions on the larger tapestry this week.  There were many hands at work:

This is where we stopped before I took the tapestry home:

Our work met with Mickey's approval (and, yes, I chased him off, pronto!):

I finished weaving this afternoon.  The tapestry rested on the loom for a few hours before I removed her from the frame.  (You'd want to rest for a bit, too, if you'd been in traction for two and a half months):

Here she is, shown from the back, on her way to a nice warm bath (again, she needs it):

A.'s bird and S.'s insect/butterfly/dragonfly are two of the nicest images I've ever helped to weave:

The tapestry is now drying, pinned out on my blocking board downstairs.  When she's completely dry, she'll be hemmed for hanging rods and labelled with the names of everyone who worked on her.

The final weaving session is Wednesday, two days before the Showcase.  We'll be busy, completing the bags and organizing our displays.  Stay tuned!