Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Monday, 29 December 2014

The Long and Winding Road: Looking Forward to the Tapestry of a New Year

Over the years, I've built a lot of superstitions into the coming of a new year. The tree must be taken down, ornaments packed away and the house swept and returned to its natural, messy state before December 31. I allow myself as many sugary treats and wine as I care to consume between December 24 and January 1, but I go back to my usual eating patterns after that. During the week between Christmas and New Year there's a tendency towards idleness, although I prefer to think of it as quiet introspection as I stay tucked inside my warm house. As I sit, sometimes meditating and sometimes just sitting, I plan the ways I would like to start the new year. I gave up on resolutions long ago, but there is one thought which stays with me: "Begin as you mean to leave off." I'm not sure where I first heard this advice. Perhaps I read it or perhaps it was said to me, but wherever it came from, it stuck and since the idea was planted in my head, I've done my best to follow it.

So it was that yesterday found me warping a tapestry loom in preparation for a new weaving. I've done this many, many times - I teach the process, in fact - but with this warp, I managed to make every rookie mistake that could be accomplished. When I plan cartoons, I draw them specifically for tapestry, but this time, I decided to translate a small painting into yarn. I dusted off a loom I haven't used in ages and used a wool warp I haven't worked with before. I didn't expect trouble, but trouble I got. The cartoon was perfect, exactly the way and size I wanted it to be. Too late, I realized that I hadn't allowed for hems (Rookie Error #1). Oh, well - I have woven small pieces without hems before and had always intended to try this on something larger. Apparently, now was the time. Problem solved.

With this loom, the warp is continuous, but it's wound one thread at a time, with each thread sitting side by side, regularly spaced. I don't know what laws of physics were in place yesterday, because it should be difficult to cross warp threads (Rookie Error #2), but cross threads I did. Several, in fact. The fix for that is to unwind to the crossed threads (which are always in the middle of the warp) and rewind the warps. Error #2 corrected.

After two hours of winding on 114 threads, I was ready to tighten the warp and twine across the top and bottom of the warp ends to ensure that each warp is regularly spaced. It was at this point that I discovered Rookie Error #3. This error is the Mother of all Errors and really, should always be considered Error #1, but I didn't notice it until I had taken care of the first two problems. Veteran weavers will laugh now: I didn't check the level of the loom. That's right; despite the fact that there are marks cut into the wood of the adjustable bar at the top of the loom, in spite of the other fact that I own several levels of various sizes, most of which are right beside my weaving table, I failed to notice that the top loom bar was crooked until I had the loom warped. For the non-weavers among you, this is a really, really big deal. It causes tension problems. It distorts your weaving. Your finished piece will not block square. (At this point, Mr. DD came upstairs to find me laughing rather hysterically. When I told him what I'd done, he agreed that this was definitely the Error of All Errors. He did ask why I was laughing, which was a fair question. I could have flung the loom across the kitchen, cursing as I launched it. I took the high road instead. That's my story. I'm sticking to it.) There are two fixes for this problem: either unwind the warp and begin again or release the tension, level the loom and then adjust the tension on each warp end by hand, pulling the loose threads towards the warps on the tighter side and going back and forth until the tension is evenly distributed. I chose the second option, so the next hour was an experience in warp tension adjustment, but I did manage to fix Rookie Error #3.

After that, it was smooth sailing. I began twining with hemp cord across the bottom of the piece. Twining helps to space the warps; I use purple hemp in lieu of a signature on my tapestries. I decided to use two rows top and bottom, to help secure the warp threads which, hemless, would be left without much support and might shift when I cut the piece off the loom. The two rows at the bottom presented no problem; however, when I turned the loom over to twine the top, I discovered - a fricking, fracking crossed warp thread, Rookie Error #4. Worse yet, that warp thread wasn't just crossed with its neighbour. Oh, no. That would be too easy. This meandering warp decided to cross with another 3 threads over. The fix to that? Removing the warp and rewinding everything was an option, but I was beginning to think that, if I pulled off the warp, I'd never rewarp the loom. If that happened, in light of my superstition about beginnings and endings, I might not weave at all in the new year and I wasn't having that. I took the only other option I had, one which I haven't done in decades: I cut the misplaced warp thread and added a new one, tying the old and new together at the back of the loom. (This also means that my plan for using the back warps as my tapestry diary is going to be problematic.)

Last night, I began weaving. Apart from having to push the cloth back in place because there are no hems to support it, things are going well. I can't and don't want to match the colours in the painting to the tapestry. Some of the nuances in the painting, textures which can only be achieved by brush strokes, will be lost (which is why when I paint, I paint and when I weave, I weave), but the weft yarns are providing interesting textures of their own. If the weaving doesn't work, if the whole project falls apart, it will be okay, because I look on everything I do as an experiment, but right now, I think things are looking up.

What this says about how the New Year will start for me, I'm not sure. I've decided to take my mistakes as reminders to stay in Beginner's Mind, that challenges and problems always have solutions and I should plan to expect the unexpected. All those errors could also simply indicate that I'm a bit careless, but, hey, at least I'm weaving.


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Home for the Holidays

Iceland's Yule Cat on the Prowl
(Google Public Domain Image)
The energy level in our home has shifted, as our young adults return home  and bring new perspectives to life. There has already been much joy and laughter in the household, along with some sorrow and a few tears, as friendships and life choices change and goals diverge.

Ms. DD arrived safely in the wee hours of the morning, bearing birthday and Yule gifts from her trip to Iceland. Among them were balls of Icelandic wool yarn and knitting tools for me and a book about traditional Icelandic Christmas trolls. They include an ogress named Gryla, with a taste for dining on naughty, lazy or rude children. One of Gryla's sons, Stekkjarstaur, "The Sheep Worrier," is known for sneaking into sheep pens and attempting to suckle from the ewes. (He fails because he's too stiff to bend. Perhaps yoga would help?) Stekkjarstaur is kinder than his mother and leaves a small toy, a piece of fruit or some sweets in a child's shoe. If the child is naughty, she/he gets a potato. Icelandic children are also familiar with the Yule Cat, " a grossly overgrown housecat turned feral...cold, mean and ravenous." Yule Cat delights in eating children, "choosing those who haven't recently been given something new to wear!" (The Yule Lads, Brian Pilkington) I'm told that people knit up a storm there and that, even today, all good parents make sure that every child receives a pair of socks or gloves, preferably hand knit and, once upon a time, hand spun, to ward off Yule Cat as he comes prowling.

Tonight will include visits with family and friends, our traditional Christmas Eve feast of nachos, as we watch A Christmas Carol (in black and white, with Alastair Sim, of course) and later, a visit from Santa, who will always believe in you as long as you believe in him. There will be five of us at Christmas dinner, although we will feel the presence of all those who have gone before us. Mr. DD will cook and I will make the cranberry pudding. We will talk until late, packing in as much time together as we can, before Ms. DD flies back home on Boxing Day. There is never enough time. All is as it should be.


Friday, 19 December 2014

Open Your Hearts, Part 3: I'm Looking Through You - Social Responsibility in Governments and Corporations

Google Public Domain Image

Over the years, there's been a shift in social perspective, away from the expectation that governments can and should provide for those who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances involving their health, employment or living situations. Corporations are given tax breaks while service costs are shifted onto the middle class and working poor. Despite all evidence to the contrary, there is an expectation that private resources will provide whatever is needed. There is often another undercurrent of belief running through this narrative - an assumption that the poor and the suffering must somehow have brought their circumstances upon themselves.

When our local governments hold Housing Summits in which they tackle homelessness by redefining the parameters of what constitutes affordable housing and claim success because there are or will be a handful of living spaces available for purchase under $150, 000, when American Walmart executives believe that it's perfectly acceptable to hold food drives for their own employees while refusing to pay living wages or provide benefits or decent working conditions, something is terribly wrong in the system.

In my last posts, I've written about ways in which each one of us can help others with small acts of kindness. Such individual acts do not absolve governments or corporations from social responsibility. Even if every person with means was able to provide for those less fortunate, our governments and the businesses which rely on the fruits of our labours have a duty to give back to the community.

Businesses exist to make profits. There's nothing wrong with that; it's what businesses do. When businesses and corporations claim status as citizens while mistreating employees and laying off people to add to already huge shareholder profits and executive bonuses, it's past time for some push back. Here's where our individual actions can come into play.

Corporations speak in dollars, so the advice to "Shop Local," and support small, personal, family run businesses is sound, but there is more that we can do. We can call out corporations who disguise advertising in the form of donations and we can insist that our governments fund the services we need, rather than hiring consultants to study problems yet again. We can pressure these institutions directly, in writing. We can lay out our cases to the media. We can protest on the ground. We can educate ourselves on the actual costs of corporate and government models for P3 partnerships and use that education to question those who provide us with statistics which don't ring true. We can continue to call for clean air, for clean water, for the preservation of our planet. We can demand that every being is respected, regardless of their gender, race, culture, spiritual beliefs or social circumstances. We can and we must let our voices be heard.

I believe that these three segments of society - individuals, government and business - bear responsibility for the support of the entire social system. When we shift the weight of social responsibility from one or two of these segments onto a single support, the entire system is in danger of collapsing. Balance requires cooperation among all three.

There is no new insight here. I am simply restating what has been discussed for decades, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't continue repeating the message. We may think that our voices will never be heard, but that's the nature of Karma Yoga. We do these things because they are necessary. While we hope that our words and our actions will bring positive results, it is our only reasoned, moral, conscious action that is required. At the very least, we can practice "Doing No Harm." It's a start.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Open Your Hearts, Part 2: Just a Little Tenderness

We often think of charity or philanthropy as existing only in the big picture. Media call attention to the grand gesture - someone donates a large sum to a worthy cause or knits 4000 hats for the homeless and the press is right there. A corporation provides matching funds to a food bank drive and its logo is plastered all over the promotional material. Once in a while, someone runs a story of the small act of kindness, such as the recent story of a local man who bought a cup of coffee for someone suffering in the cold, but it's easy to form the impression that only acts of largesse are worthy of attention or have an effect. Direct acts of generosity are most often presented as exceptional, rather than things which all of us can do. We seldom consider that, if everyone did one small act of kindness every day, those efforts just might grow into something larger. Better yet, they may help us connect on a personal level.

Unlike big fundraisers, where those who donate may never personally cross paths with the people they are funding, personal acts of kindness always require engagement with the people they affect. Working in a soup kitchen means you see the effects of poverty and homelessness up close. Buying a coffee and a sandwich for a street person requires you to make the purchase and hand it to the recipient and, perhaps, engage in the exchange of a few pleasantries. The act of giving a $5 bill (the scene I witnessed yesterday) may mean that you have directly provided a meal for someone who desperately needs it.

It's not that we should abandon our larger charitable efforts. Food Banks need those sums of cash and food donations. Corporations should give back to those who provide company profits and to those who are not fortunate enough to reap the benefits of free enterprise. If you don't have those big things to give, never think that your heart-felt act of kindness has no effect. Every gesture counts in building the human connection.

As well as donating what extra cash we have on hand to worthy causes, we can begin to think outside those charity boxes. This past spring, young Ms. DD took a turn at helping to walk a homeless couple's dogs while the woman was in hospital and the husband wanted to sit with his wife while she healed. (That one made my heart sing. I'm one proud, proud mother. She'll not be happy I've told you about this, as she'd rather not be mentioned in my blog. I'm making an exception.) It takes little effort to tuck some chocolate or a granola bar into your bag and offer it to that person sitting on the street; knitters and crocheters can do the same with hats and scarves. Ask someone if he would like a meal, buy it and bring it to him. Not everyone wants your help, so always be prepared to accept the refusal of your offer with the same kindness with which it was given. If you can do nothing else, a warm greeting and a sincere smile as you pass by can do wonders in acknowledging the humanity that we all share.


Google Public Domain Images

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Open Your Hearts: A Brief Tale About a Different RAK

Image from Google Public Domain

There’s a shopping centre near my home. It’s a typical neighbourhood mall, with a gas station, restaurant, doctor’s office, grocery store and a liquor outlet. Every day I pass by or through it, there’s a line of men, always men, on the sidewalks outside. They ask for change or busk for coins. The days that I stop in the liquor outlet, there is often a line of some of these same men inside.  Like the rest of us, they’re buying what comfort and cheer they can afford, something to take the edge off or dull the experiences of their daily lives or simply to make the day seem a little bit better.

These buskers and beggars stand in the sun and the rain and the cold, day in and day out, never bothering people with more than a quick request, but they annoy many of us who would rather not be bothered with these people at all. We sometimes assume that there is something different, something better that these men could be doing with their time, that the money we give them will be wasted on drink or drugs or cigarettes. Such thoughts may not be charitable, but they’re human, a way to protect ourselves, to convince our egos that we would never be in such a position, asking for money in the streets and parking lots of a booming city.

This morning as I headed into the grocery store, I passed a young man at the entrance. His head hung down and his hand shook as he held out a stained paper coffee cup. He said nothing, made no eye contact, but in the time it took me to enter the store, several people muttered disapprovingly at his presence so close to the doors. One woman did something different; she tucked a five dollar bill into his cup. She smiled as the young man thanked her and blessed her and wished her a “Merry Christmas!” Then, she, too, carried on with her routine.

I either give or don’t give money to people.  I make an effort not to question what they might do with the few coins I drop into their cups. A gift is a gift and their spending choices are not my business, but, oh so very humanly, I sometimes catch myself assuming that whatever I hand them will soon find its way into the tills at those nearby liquor stores. This was my first thought when the woman gave her gift. I was instantly ashamed of that thought and worked at replacing it with a more generous hope for the young man and all like him as I bought the day’s groceries.

When I left with my purchases, the young man was nowhere to be seen.  It flashed across my mind that I knew where he had headed and then the thought was gone. As I walked towards home, I turned a corner and there he was, sitting on a bench, eating from a box full of chicken and chips. He’d used his money to buy food; the shaking I’d witnessed was likely from cold and hunger. My heart sunk a bit at the carelessness of my assumptions.

Just as I realized my error, the woman with the five dollar bill came past me. The young man recognized her and smiled. “Thank you,” he whispered. The woman said nothing; she simply bowed her head, smiling again as she nodded. In that moment, I was witness to the human connection we acknowledge every time we bow to each other in our yoga/meditation classes, as we chant “Namaste,” a connection we so often find difficult to put into practice as we go about our busy, busy lives. For an instant the open-hearted woman and the young man were One.

As I headed for home, my eyes began to water. It must have been from the cold and wind.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

Sanctuary: Random Acts of Knitting Sightings

A friend and I spotted these lovely things when we were out for walk today. Someone's been busy!

Sir John A. got into the act:


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Violette: A Last Minute Gift for You and Yours

The stockings are hung; the tree is beautifully decorated; the solstice log nestles in the fireplace, waiting to warm celebrants. Each handmade gift is finished and lovingly wrapped, ready to hand round to family and friends. You’re done your holiday gift-making! Congratulations.

Shortly before the Big Day, you remember that your niece is visiting from overseas. A last minute gift exchange name draw happens. Somehow, in all the rush, you managed to leave your sister off the shopping list. What on earth to do?

This simple headband knits up in about 3 to 4 hours and its retro style is sure to please any recipient. This version, with its vintage ceramic button, is decidedly feminine, but if you omit the button and the finishing trim, it will suit anyone. The stitch pattern resembles a tiny cable - it’s actually a member of the family of travelling stitches and is a great introduction to working stitches out of order. The twisted stitches make the band slightly thicker and warmer than traditional K2P2 rib stitch. Apart from the twisted stitches, the band is knitted in basic K2, P2 ribbing, so it is easy enough for an Advanced Beginner.

I knit this band in a firmly spun and plied hand spun Merino, with approximately 15 twists per inch in the singles, 5 in the 2 ply yarn. The angle of twist is 30 degrees; wraps per inch are approximately 17 to 18. This firm yarn is soft, but shows the twisted stitches nicely. Substitute any similar commercial or hand spun sport weight yarn of your choice.


Violette: The Pattern

Approximately 50 grams of sport weight yarn.  I used about 22 grams of a 100 metre/44 gram skein.

1 pair of 3 mm straight needles or size needed to match gauge.

Tapestry needle, scissors, and vintage button (optional).

Gauge: 8 sts per inch/2.5 cm. over twisted rib pattern before blocking.  (Multiple of 4 stitches + 2)

Size before blocking is approximately 2.75 inches/7 cm. wide x 18.5 inches/46 cm. long. The band blocks to about 4 inches/10 cm. but will draw in again when worn. You can widen the band by increasing in multiples of 4.

Right Twist: Knit into the front of the second knit stitch on left hand needle, knit into the first stitch on LH needle as usual, drop both stitches from LH needle after working.

Left Twist: Knit into the back of the second knit stitch on left hand needle, knit into the first stitch on LH needle as usual, drop both stitches from LH needle after working.

Cast on 22 stitches, leaving a long tail for sewing.

Row 1 (Right Side): K2, P2

Row 2 (Wrong Side): P2, K2

Repeat Rows 1 and 2 twice more for a total of 5 rows.

Row 7 (RS): *RT, P2*across row, ending with a RT

Rows 8 to 12: Work in rib pattern (as in Rows 1 and 2)

Row 13 (RS): *LT, P2* across row, ending with a LT

Rows 14 to 18: Work in rib pattern. There are 5 plain K2P2 rib rows between each pattern row.

Repeat from Row 7 to 18 until you are approximately 1 inch/2 cm. short of the required length when the band is stretched around your head (approximately 17 to 18 inches/42 to 44 cm.). You want the band to be snug around your ears and head. The band will relax after washing. End by working a pattern row.

Starting on the WS, work in pattern for 6 rows, binding off on Row 7 and leaving another long yarn tail after fastening off last stitch. Wash and block the band before sewing.

Using mattress stitch and one long end of yarn, stitch the Cast On and Bound Off edges of the band together from the right side, matching knits to knits and purls to purls. Secure yarn end.

Finishing for Violette: (You may omit this cinching.) Thread the tapestry needle with the other long end of yarn. Run this yarn through the tops of the knit stitches on both sides of the seam. Pull the yarn up firmly to cinch up the middle of the band. Secure yarn ends and sew on button.

For an even faster, more casual style, work the band on 14 to 18 stitches in a heavier yarn.

©Deborah Behm
December 2014