The Fireside Effect

Fall is here. After a hot summer that seemed to go on, and on, and on, I am loving the cool. I feel best when I am cool, just at the edge of cold. At this temperature I can gleefully think of snuggling in woolies: handknit sweaters, hats, scarves, mittens, socks, handwoven shawls. The love of fiber comes raging into full body contact. This is the Fireside Effect, this desire to sit, wrapped in warmth basked in the amber air of firelight, hovering near the edge of cold, spinning and weaving through the long sleep of nature.

And in truth, wool and the feel of natural fibers worked by hand echoes back to my earliest memories. Prepare yourself. My mother had two Vicuña pelts. I know, shocking, right? She always had a very guilty pleasure of the pair, passed down from her grandfather. One one hand, she was truly distressed that the endangered soul-filled dark-eyed little creatures (wild ancestor to alpacas) lost their lives for the prize of their coat. On the other, her fiber inclined fingers sought out the fibergasmic feel of them. One of my earliest memories is of her laying me down on one of the hides, naked and just out of a warm bath. The utter comfort, exquisite softness, and weightlessness of that singular physical sensation is with me still. I feel it every time my hands come in contact fiber – whether it is sheep’s wool, alpaca, yak, silk, cotton, or a blend thereof. The feel pulls me along from my beginning. So, I recreate that thread, that tie that bound, spinning weaving knitting the fabric of my every day.

Somewhere between chilled and the too chilled state that sends me skipping for the closet for a wool wrap or a sweater, I am in seek of hot tea. Hot tea joins with wool in winter when the Fireside Effect is at its height a couple months from now, hands ever seeking warmth and texture. I yearn to look up and see fat snowflakes silently falling, gathering over trees and ground, the loudness of quiet growing, everything softening as the snow deepens. But for now, I sip my tea and watch the leaves turn, wondering at how to image in tapestry, how to imagine into wool.

Toika Looming

Weaving, in observation and practice, has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. One of the few vague memories of my childhood is the visual memory of lying next to my mom’s big floor loom, watching her pass the shuttle back and forth from below.

Fast forward 31 or 32 years. I decided to start weaving and my mom gave me a Christmas-Birthday-Christmas-Birthday present (literally, it was my present for the next 2 years of gifts) of a Harrisville 8-shaft jack loom. I taught myself how to weave and one of the first projects I completed was a commissioned table-runner with 20/2 cotton. I loved every moment of the experience of weaving that piece and decided to backtrack a bit and took a weaving course at Lambspun in Ft. Collins, CO to “learn the how-to properly.”

I was just out of college and working at a credit union in Laramie, WY and had very little money at that time. Just affording the cost of the course was a big deal, so I had to be very modest in my choice of materials. I chose basic cotton in a few colors and decided to focus on weave structure rather than material to stave off the perceptual despair of financial limitation. Meanwhile, the other women in the course were buying all kinds of lovelies (Lambspun is a smorgasbord for the fiber-holic) and I was surrounded by what I perceived to be more creative, more innately talented folks.

One woman in particular was throwing her wallet at the loom in an unsuccessful effort to align materials with vision. Her frustration was abundantly evident by the end of the first day. Meanwhile, I proceeded with my pauper’s choice of cotton … purple, red, golden-yellow, and hunter’s green. When I arrived for the start of the second day of the course there was a buzz about the room. I settled my things and turned to find a gathering of women around me. The instructor, Shirley, came forward with a bag full of goodies and said that the woman who had tried so hard to come to grips with weaving had decided to leave the course – and left all of her materials for me! (She didn’t provide contact information, but I arranged with Shirley to forward a note of boundless inexpressible gratitude to her.) I was stunned. That bag represented a fortune of material and a much greater gift of belief in my potential. It was the first message of ”You go, girl!” that I received from unexpected sources.

I went home and continued to cultivate all things weaving. Yet more books on weaving techniques, spinning, tools, etc. Then, around 2006, I took the plunge and bought a 16-harness Toika from WEBS. I was in love. I still remember the day that beauty arrived on a huge pallet drop-shipped from Finland. I set it up in a dedicated room and oohed and aahed, running my hands over it, dreaming of what I could make. I bought weaving kits utilizing different weaving techniques. I purchased fibers for future projects and carefully marked them with the intended project information, I bought more books, I read voraciously. I moved to Humboldt County, California.

In CA, I had a loom room with all things weaving. Materials, gorgeous tools, books, all centralized and adored. I discovered ever more fibers and tools, and, and, and … I received another message of validation from the Universe during my travels to my second hometown of Philadelphia to assist my grandmother in closing her house. While there I met one of the neighbors who was shifting her creative energies away from weaving and had already downsized her studio. The next day she arrived on my grandmother’s porch with a bag of the most extraordinary cache of silk hanks in what I termed ”Monet’s garden” of colors. There were so many, and so much of each. I was dazed and stunned by her generosity.  My eyes glazed over and my mind churned with possibilities.

When I returned to CA, my cultivation of all things weaving continued. I joined the fiber guild in Eureka. And I loved my Toika. Then my mom offered the gift of the computer conversion for the loom and I could feel the realm of possibilities expanding. Barbara and Art Elkins of WEBS even traveled to Humboldt County to help me set up the conversion – at no cost – part of the fabulous service offered by that company. I was out on the tarmac, positioning for takeoff.

I traded spaces with the master bedroom and loom room. The master bedroom was by far a larger room and allowed for more expansive work space, to include my sewing machines and a work surface. I wanted the loom to be in contact with me, and as I passed through the room all the time on the way to the bathroom, it was more omnipresent in my visual environment. Then, I moved it into the living room where it was the first thing I saw when I came in the front door. It was fully visible from the kitchen. It was closer to the hub of the house. It was more intimate. It was always there. I was living with it.

And here’s the rub. During all of this time, I was. not. weaving. Not a thread. Not a single pass of the shuttle. I never put a single warp on that beloved Toika.

Then my life fell apart and I entered the sometimes extreme hormonal and mental murk of perimenopause tumbling into menopause (still in the tumble, in all honesty. Although, the aforementioned insanity might suggest I was already there.) For more personal reasons than I care to go into, I was careening out of control. In the middle of all of this upheaval, and precisely in reaction to it, I had the genius idea to re-marry and move to Germany. I sold everything. The Toika went, accouterments and all – by then worth many thousands – to my mother who has been gleefully and prolifically weaving on it ever since. If I’m not mistaken, it is now her favorite loom. I sold all of my other equipment, fibers, yarns, most of my library, – everything – in a studio sale. Word of the quality of the sale spread like wildfire in the Humboldt weaving community. People showed up in batches to pick through my excesses and walk away with incredible bargains. I felt lighter with every sale. I was becoming free. The shuttle of guilt was passing out of the warp of my life.

But still, weaving haunted me. I permitted myself to bring only 4 boxes of books with me to Germany. Of those, one was all weaving. I was still obsessed. Not surprisingly, my ill-advised marital relationship fell apart with me in rage at myself for the damage I had inflicted on my life. And through it all, weaving echoed.

Quite by accident, through Facebook posts about various fiber arts, I started really looking at contemporary tapestry weaving. Joan Baxter and Maximo Laura emerged as early sources of incredible inspiration, followed in short order by many others. Sarah Swett, Gabriela Cristu, Eva Ek, Susan Martin Maffei, Rebecca Mezoff, Joan Griffin, Barbara BurnsGerda van Hamond, Thoma EwenElizabeth Buckley, (the list goes on and on, but you get the idea)… Wait! Back the Fun-Bus up! Rebecca Mezoff offers online courses in tapestry weaving! Very consciously, questioning my commitment at every step, I dipped my toes in the water. And it was fine and lovely. I finished the first course. I signed up for the second. I am weaving every day. I am obsessed. Weaving was always it for me, I just hadn’t discovered my medium within the craft. Now, I have. My soul is fueled.

Not only have I taxied out on the tarmac, I have taken flight with my wheels just now lifting off. I have a long, exciting journey in front of me and I am embracing the process at every step. I am flying into the unknown of the creative landscape. At the junctures where I question “will I be any good?” or battle with the eternal “I can’t” of my life, I remind myself that I am only at the beginning. Page one. Just breathe. I have given myself permission to fail and that is a success in of itself. In so doing, I sprouted butterfly wings. (I wonder how many tapestry weavers will catch that pun?)

I am weaving on the Harrisville Jack loom, but it is not my primary focus. I also still have the silks from Nicole and will use them in my tapestry explorations.

 

 

 

 

“And yet, she persisted”

8 July 2017

I begin inspired by something that a very dear woman in my life said to me today. I knew it for truth when I heard it, and hearing it from her has given me some indefinable last permission needed to fly –  a visa for Artistic, you know, the intangible Land where creativity thrives. This is hardly surprising. Arlene has been in my life since I was 8 and has been nothing short of a loving, devoted mother. She has stood by me through some rough seas, many violent storms not of my making and many that were. She has loved me unconditionally, and I her. And in so doing, she has birthed my spiritual self. She has given me artistic permission and license through her mother-self role-modeling. She gave me a lifetime and a moment of such “Mother” as to be a tremendously transformative person in my life.

This is as much a story of spirit and artistic cultivation as it is of “woman” and all aspects thereof (we are, truly, as deep as the ocean and as Broad as the sea). I have drunk the complicated but thirst quenching brew of some very defined and powerfully provocative women – good to a one and beautifully wrought – throughout my life. Like ripples in a pond ringed in green and bloomed color reflections, every one of them has had a powerful impact in forging me into the caliber of person I now know myself to be. The ripples that made it all the way to the center are a precious handful, but the well-spring is beginning to overflow due to newcomers. Running Arlene at the beginning of the story is a story of this moment. And she is all that, I’m here to tell you.

And I am writing in the time that Woman is rising. Our stories matter – our truth matters. Our issues are human-rights issues. “And yet, she persisted.” This is my perspective;  this is how I cope with the avalanche of our current news cycle.

Anyway, to get back on track (off-track will happen and it’ll be bumpy at times while the wheels reconnect …).

My family is burgeoning with talented people and I apparently come to my inclinations through genetics. Nature. As for Nurture, I am fortunate to lead a life filled with and significantly enhanced by many wonderful, precious, creative friends so I’m in good company. And Arlene writes. When I read her stories recently self-published in Amazon, I could hear her voice as I read. The texture of her, the distinctive narrative like a favorite blanket wrapping around me.

So, here’s the deal. I am going to share this artistic endeavor – my fears of failure, fears of success, and all that will actually happen. I want express my truth, as it is in the moment; I will persist. I may butcher grammar, wreak havoc on punctuation and own up to the nickname my grandmother gave me, “Madame Malaprop.”  I will post pictures of my baby-stepped successes. And my face-plant failures. Undoubtedly, the voices of historic editors who have until now shamed me to silence will speak up only to be ignored. I am exposing myself in the hopes that the fear will sculpt my craft, my expression. “And yet, she persisted.”

All of this puts my feet in the river, the flow. ATM it feels like I’m a novice kayaker who just found some rapids and is frantically paddling away wondering if I’ll see the rocks in time and miraculously figure out how to navigate. By the way, I’m splashing about in a Tapestry kayak, weaving my moves as I go, panicked over actual success. Flip-coined, I feel like I have come home, like I have found the bag to hold all of my scattered, multicolored and cracked marbles. I finally found where I can rest. Which is really ironic, because intuitively I have found the place where I can take off running, wherever the journey leads. No goal in mind, only whole-cloth exploration. Me, giving myself permission to simply show up is what Arlene has given birth to today. And beginning this blog is me simply appearing. Be gentle. I’m new here.