Post #3248: Fridays in Summertime

Working Fridays in the summertime should be optional really. It’s so hard to care about spreadsheets and data analysis when I’m looking out the window at the sun glinting off the ocean. My peek-a-boo view is enough to make me want to retire early and get on with a swim (though it’s a little windy at the moment).

Today marks the very end of the hiring process I started last September, with the final person from the process starting their job today (start was delayed due to a lapsed security clearance that needed redoing). Ten months is light speed where these things are concerned – but even so, I’m glad that it’s all wrapped up now. I’m onto other projects, which are pretty nerdy (user feedback, surveys, user data, interaction modeling) and focused on creating a continuous improvement cycle for our website. It’s pretty important work, but I’m having a hard time getting excited about it because I’ve been down this road before and disappointed by a lack of digital maturity in my organization time and time again.

As I noted yesterday, things have been pretty quiet around here most of the week with Brian in the city and the small family away. It gave me a chance to relax into my studio work and catch up on my sleep. I even took a couple of days off weight workouts to give my body some deep rest which felt necessary. I did get back to the weights yesterday though because the longer I stay away, the more arthritis creeps in. The only thing keeping aches and pains away is a regular workout routine, so as much as I would love to skip it many days, it’s really not in my best interest to do so at this stage of my life.

In the last couple of weeks we’ve managed to visit family for the first time in months. Everyone in our lives is at least one vaccination in (some have had both shots now), which has relaxed interactions all round. After such a quiet winter and spring, it’s more than a little welcome. Last Sunday we saw Brian’s family (and meet the newest addition who is only 7 weeks old), the weekend before it was mine. I’m looking forward to more regular visits with our families over the next little while.

We’re hosting our first house concert at Birdsong next weekend – which is now allowed under the provincial guidelines of 50 people outdoors. We won’t have had our second shot by then, but with good practices and distancing, I’m not too worried about covid exposure. Our second shot is coming up at the end of the month, which I’ve allowed some recovery time from before we host our next concert in July (I’ve heard the second shot can be a real doozy).

As of yesterday’s post, I have finished tying up the 20+ system on my loom and now it is ready to have a warp put on. At the moment I am warping one of the other looms, so I won’t be getting to this right away, but I am confident I have the cords on and in the right order. That’s 160 cords threaded and pegged – with the promise that I will never have to tie up my treadles again (just adjust them from the back). Sometimes it seems like half of weaving is equipment maintenance!

But that is a big job done, and a lot of dyeing prep is also done – which means more weaving and actual fibre dyeing are on their way soon, as are my additional days off which start on July 2nd. I’m looking forward to having more time in the summer for textile exploration as well as just unwinding after weekends of hosting concerts. It might not be Fridays off work all summer, but Mondays are better because I’ll actually use them in the studio (as opposed to in the house, preparing for weekend hosting).

So let the summer begin! Textiles and swimming and visits and dinners and friends and a cabin on another island – it’s all just around the corner šŸ™‚

Post #3247: Summer Textile School, Week 3

Things were really quiet around the house this week with Brian away for work and the family that has been living with us (until the end of the month due to a housing crisis) away. It was glorious and I spent every extra minute in the studio getting things done. I’m still really in prep stage – so I don’t have much in the way of pretty pictures this week. The most exciting thing that happened was the installation of the 20+ system on my loom which is close to being complete (see picture above). This is going to make my weaving life a whole lot easier.

Dyeing Activities

Water

  • Tested Ph levels of my tap water (well) and cistern (rainwater)
  • Got organized around hauling and filtering cistern water so I can be sure my water is iron-free.

Dye space and materials

  • Found a working electric roasting pan at the recycling center. It’s never been used. Years ago, someone told me that these roasting pans are great for dyeing in as they hold temperatures steady over long periods of time which is required in scouring, mordanting and dyeing stages.

Materials prep

  • Scoured, mordanted wool/silk for weaving project (colour gamp in reds).Did half in alum and half in oxalic acid to experiment with colour differences. Used all cistern water for wash and mordant.  Currently winding hanks into 100-yard skeins for dyeing.
  • Scoured and mordanted 300 grams of cotswold/romney yarn from Gabriola. Not sure what I’m using this for. Oxalic acid mordant. 
  • Scoured and mordanted some cotton yardage, used alum instead of alum acetate (in error), but read up on it and apparently it’s okay.

Weaving Activities

  • Installed all the hardware and the peg box for the 20+ system on my Berga Savonia loom. Got the cords on all the lamms and now I’m just tying the whole thing up. I made video segments for each part of the install so that I can put something together to help others who are planning on buying/building and installing a 20+ on their countermarch loom. It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but step by step it came together!
  • Weaving on J-made loom – thinking I’m going to turn the fabric into a couple of sewn cowls.Ā 
  • Watching Season 2, Episode 2 of JST Guild materials and working through exercises
  • Warp forĀ Episode 2 sampleĀ (Asymmetry) beamed and sleyed. Threading next.Ā 

Post #3246: Art and Craft

A few years ago, not long after I moved to Gabriola, a friend of mine stood in my weaving studio and said, “You should just be glad you are not an artist.” He was reflecting on his own struggles as a painter and installation artist, somewhat bitter about his lack of recent art practice and a career that had taken off and then faltered mid-air when his ability to produce new work waned in the face of family responsibilities many years ago. As far as he could tell, making “things” was a fine hobby, but it wasn’t nearly as important or torturous as making art. Or at least that’s what came across to me. He wasn’t in a great frame of mind at the time, and so I didn’t let him know that his words landed with me as an insult. Not because I consider the work I do “art”, but because the delineation between art and craft is something I have struggled with ever since I first started putting fabrics and yarns together to make clothing and household goods, but especially since learning to weave a few years ago.

Last night, in my twice-monthly creative process group, the art versus craft distinction came up in conversation. Although I have wrestled with these terms on and off over the years, I haven’t thought about it for awhile. I make things, useful and beautiful things, and I don’t worry too much about how it gets categorized. While there was once a time when I was insecure about my “right” to make art (write, play music, experiment with textiles), I now realize that just the act of doing is what matters to me and how others regard it isn’t as important as it used to be.

Even so, I surprised myself in the conversation when I said, “It’s up to me to identify where I fall in the lineage of creation – artist, craftsperson, maker. I define that. No one else does.” Because it wasn’t just that I said it. For the first time in considering this question I felt it right down to the bottom of myself and I think that’s because of where my own process of inquiry has gone in the last few years. Which is, from making things as replicas (using a known pattern to make a piece of clothing as an example) to designing my own textiles to weave and learning more about structure, form, and colour in order to do so. Although I am taking an online course which requires the weaving of prescribed samples right now, I’ve come to realize that I’m happiest when I’m weaving something of my own design process. Weaving samples is a means to an end in terms of learning about structure, and it’s good for my learning – but I’m only interested in it as a way to expand my understanding and repertoire for projects I will go on to design later.

Some might say – well that there – is the definition of art versus craft. To go from replicating to innovating is the core of what art is. But what if I’m innovating to make fabric for a tea towel? Well, then we’re back in craft land because art, by some definitions has no end use whereas craft does and so on. Some people suggest that art evokes emotion whereas craft doesn’t – but I hardly see that as true when I think of the range of emotional responses I’ve had to so-called artisinal goods in my lifetime (I once cried over a dessert of spruce-tip ice cream, so evocative of the forest of my childhood it was).

When art versus craft comes up casually as it did in my studio a few years ago, it seems to be code for “your work isn’t good enough to be considered.” To which I ask – considered by who? Perhaps my work will never hang in a gallery, but that’s true of many people who engage in classical art such as painting or sculpture. Perhaps my work has an end-use, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t start with open inquiry or from a place of emotional resonance.

Even so, I prefer the term craftsperson because it is less loaded, less snobbish and exclusively held. It denotes exactly what I value: the honing of one’s tools and skills against the resources of the world around us. An artist does this as well, of course – and again, we collapse the separation between the two. It’s not really something I’m caught up in these days though, mostly because I’m so content in the work I’ve set out for myself lately that there is no time or energy for fretting about what people say or think outside of my studio.

Post #3245: Summer Textile School Weeks 1 & 2

These posts may be of limited interest to some who read this blog, but since I use this space to document my own process, I will be posting “Summer Textile School” updates for the next couple of months.

To recap: I am spending the next 12-15 weeks with an intensive textile focus using study materials from The School of Sweet Georgia for Natural Dyeing and Jane Stafford’s School of Weaving for Colour and Design experimentation. In July and August I have taken additional days off work (mostly every Monday, with some others thrown in here and there) to spend focused time in the textile studio.

Each week I will find some time to post my activities here, with photos of what I’m working on. This is as much a record for me as anything.

Dyeing activities

Dye space and materials

  • Set up outdoor dye studio
  • Gathered all materials from my cupboard stash and organized them
  • Bought some second-hand pots and stainless steel spoons, a gram scale, and a laundry rack as well as some dowelling and PVC pipe which I will use to create a yarn-drying station.
  • Organized all natural dyeing books, dye and weave notebooks, and old textile course materials into one crate for easy reference
  • Ordered a bunch of bare wool/silk blend yarn for projects
  • Watched two of three modules of caitlin ffrench’s Natural Dye Workshop.

Materials prep

  • Scoured and mordanted with alum a number of mini-skeins of handspun Merino wool that were in the stash (Brian spun these several years ago)
  • Scoured, mordanted, and wound Cotswold wool warp for eventual hand painting
  • Next: Scour and mordant hemp/cotton yardage and some white/off-white cotton for experimenting with.

Rhubarb leaf mordant

  • Harvested rhubarb leaves and simmered them into a vat of oxalic acid.
  • Read about the dangers of ingesting oxalic acid so I would have a healthy understanding of the poison level. It’s very high! Made sure I used mask, gloves at all times and scrubbed the hell out of everything when I finished cooking and straining. 
  • Next: decant into glass jars and calculate percentage of plant to water.
Weaving activities
  • Watched Season 2, Episode 1 of JST Weaving School materials and inventoried 8/2 cotton for projects
  • Picked up old (and not awesome) J-made table loom from a friend who borrowed it two years ago and stored it in an outdoor shed over the winter. Cleaned it up with Feed n Wax.
  • Warped J-made loom to see if it’s usable – turns out it could work for sampling, and also I forgot that it’s one I like weaving while standing up (it has treadle attachment)
  • Currently watching Season 2, Episode 2 of JST Guild materials and working through exercises
  • Winding 6-yard warp for Episode 2 sampleĀ (Asymmetry)
  • Next up: Wind 6 yard, 400 end cotton warp for hand painting – in 50-100 end bouts

Post #3244: A letter

Yesterday I posted an open letter about the failures of reconciliation in Canada that left me feeling vulnerable because I was using my voice as a civil service worker and union leader in a really public way – something I don’t normally do. The original draft of the letter was very angry, but I toned it down in the final version to increase its accuracy and also the reception of it. I was talking online with my friend Sharai about it afterwards and she said, “I think anger is great for the fuel to get things started. To get the fire lit, so to speak. Then it’s important to get the flames under control so they don’t scorch everything around it and it keeps us warm and secure.” Which is a brilliant way of thinking about it if you ask me.

On Facebook and other social media I don’t do a lot of “hell ya” petition sharing or public outrage. Occasionally it creeps in, but as a street-protester/community organizer from way back, it feels too easy to click and share – too performative over anything substantive. A click and share takes up our attention, but not our time. It demonstrates that we care, but not enough to put our bodies in the way. Of course some people do both! But since I’m doing less of the latter these days (my volunteer time being focused on advocacy through my union position) I am acutely aware of the hollow feeling of click/share activism.

Although a public letter is only one step above clicktivism, yesterday was an exception to my general position on performative action. Following the news of the Kamloops Residential School gravesite, the fact that the Government continues to fight claims of cultural genocide in court, and the lip-service being paid to reconciliation, I figured it was time to at least add my voice, a voice that represents a few hundred people, to the growing chorus of shame at the lack of government action on reparations. I didn’t write that letter because I thought anyone in the government would care much. I know how letters to ministers get answered (by people like me who have a block of key messages to draw from). But I hoped that in doing so, I would encourage other non-Indigenous folks to at least take a moment to think about what decolonization means, and to write a letter of their own. One letter isn’t listened to, but tens of thousands are.

Although I felt some discomfort about posting the letter, it went away as soon as I had done it and realized that there was no risk to speaking my mind at all. I’m not sure what form I imagined that risk would take, but all shadows of it evaporated after I had posted online. Since then it’s been shared by my union, and a number of friends all over the place – so apparently it did strike a chord with some people, as momentary a gesture as it might be. It seems insignificant in the face of the terrible colonial legacy in Canada, but even worse to say nothing at all.

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