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.
The California lilacs in and around my yard are in full bloom and buzzing with bees from five in the morning until 9 at night. A sure sign of summer on the horizon even it looks like June-uary might about to roll in for a bit.
These last couple of weeks have been very textile-y as I got my outdoor dye studio set-up last weekend, wove fabric for four tea towels off my loom, and put together a belated Mother’s Day gift (I’m seeing my mom for the first time since February this weekend). I’ve also decided to create my own “Summer Textile School” out of Sweet Georgia and Jane Stafford courses – and scheduled Mondays off work in July and August to bring some focus to advancing my learning this summer. There will be much weaving, dyeing, and probably even some sewing as I allow myself more time and space in the studio over the next sixteen weeks.
Last Friday was a Comfort for the Apocalypse drop and marked issue #20! That is 20 mini-essays and 20 recipes, not to mention all the other bits and pieces I include in the newsletter. Though I keep feeling the pull of a longer/larger writing project, it seems that all I can sustain at the moment is short pieces – so I’m going to keep working on those as I stick with the monthly email and the blog.
Despite not feeling quite ready for the post-vaccination shift, we are starting to open things up around here and will be hosting our first house concert (outside, in the yard) near the end of June. I sent out notification about it today, and have already had quite a bit of response on the RSVPs, which tells me that there is a lot of interest in getting out and about safely in my community. I am hopeful our vax rates will continue to go up as more young people are eligible, and have started hearing about local folks getting their second shots in the next couple of weeks — according to the BC health app we should be eligible for ours by the end of the month!
Despite the re-opening, we intend to spend our summer really close to home because this is our favourite time to be here. In addition to being around for Summer Textile School, we will be hosting house concerts and our annual long weekend party (within all local health authority parameters), and I hope to get out on the water lots and make day trips to see family and friends on the big island. I have one trip away with a friend – to Cortes – which will be a nice scenery break. In the fall Brian and I have a plan to go to Saturna, and we will do some kind of outdoor trip with friends in early September. Our world has gotten a lot closer in the last year and I am perfectly fine with that continuing on, but a few more social occasions are welcome.
The last few days have been pretty warm, making me realize that I might not really be up for running in the summertime afternoons. I’m either going to have to run first thing in the morning, or switch over to more weight lifting, especially if the summer turns out to be hot and smoky as it winds on. For the next couple of weeks I am going to try adding one more strength-training day, with some interspersed cardio to see how that feels – running on dusty roads and trails wasn’t really doing it for me this week. The strength program I follow just switched training block focus and I am feeling really strong in my power lifts again. This summer might be a good time to start pushing those numbers upward again. I am going to start going to the gym one day per week again, just to get access to some of the equipment we don’t have at home.
This weekend we are heading down island to see parents, brother, niece and nephew for the first time since February – which feels like a ridiculously big deal after so many months. I’ve got gifts and baking all ready to go, and tomorrow morning we will be off for an overnight with some errands sandwiched in between the visits. Perhaps this will give me more to write about next week as I am fresh out of new insights this afternoon!
Yesterday I received an invitation to a June 2022 wedding in New York, one that was delayed due to the pandemic and is now rescheduled. Though I knew it was coming (my friend had told me on a phone call), it still felt shocking, and I couldn’t tell whether the tension that followed came from a place of anticipation (the novelty of a different vista!) or fear (omigod, I can’t ever get on a plane or go to the US again!) I expect it was a mix.
I clicked yes on the e-post RSVP, but I won’t make the actual decision and reservations until sometime next spring. With new variants kicking around, it still seems impossible we will ever travel further than our bioregions again. And to be honest, I wouldn’t be all that sad about it. Travel is the thing I’ve missed least in the last fourteen months, even as much as I’d like to see faraway friends and family again.
Every summer since we’ve moved here, I’ve decided that *this* is the summer I am going to set up an seasonal dye studio under the eave of my sewing/weaving/home office space, and every summer I get way busy and it doesn’t happen. You would think that 2020 (when visitors were far fewer and travel non-existent) would have been the year but I had a bit of pandemic-depression and very little happened in my studio at all except a bit of sewing.
This year, however, I have a place to start and a focal point as Felicia Lo from The School of Sweet Georgia (and Sweet Georgia yarns) has announced a Natural Dye Study group which will commence in June. The study group will combine the classes of caitlin ffrench (available through the School) with some additional online workshops, and has an online forum for sharing and asking questions. Though I tend to be bad with following through on online instruction, a time-bound learning period and real-time virtual community are things I know will help me stay engaged. I do think this summer will be a tad busier than last, but still we will be sticking pretty close to home as we won’t be fully vaccinated until August or September.
The photo at the head of the post is the spot where I plan to set things up – it’s become a bit of a furniture repository lately and I plan to clean that up next weekend. The wood chest is going to my brother, the barstool into the shed for now. To the right, there is an old office hutch not included in the photo. It’s been sitting outside for five years and I’ve been meaning to move it, but good thing I didn’t because it will be perfect as shelving and storage for supplies. This whole area is covered by a broad overhang, so things stay really dry here and there is enough width to set up a work table.
Because I’ve been thinking about doing this for so long, I’ve got 90% of the supplies I need including mordanting agents, natural dyes, and basic equipment, plus a ton of books. I just bought a single electric burner for easy water heating, and am hoping our recycling centre and store will open again soon so I can try to source a couple of large stainless steel pots. I do have some fibre and fabric for dyeing, including a huge cone of merino and mohair that I had spun from some fibre given to me a few years ago.
My intention is to dye materials this summer for fall/winter weaving and sewing. I am particularly interested in setting up and learning how to hand-paint warps, but also plan to work on a colour gamp shawl in reds, as well as a shawl in shades of indigo. I have some bleached hemp fabric to dye for making a shirt and am considering purchasing enough linen for a hand-dyed dress. I would like to use what I have on hand as much as possible. If for some reason I don’t take to dyeing, it would be nice to use materials that are taking up space in my cupboards.
But if I do take to it, I’m interested to learn more about natural dye plants in my local ecosystem. I purchased the prepared natural dyes I’m getting started with, but lobster mushroom, dyer’s polypore, tansy, marigold, willow, and blackberry are just a few of the plants and fungi which grow here and can be used to dye protein and plant fibres. There are quite a few people on Gabriola who wildcraft and grow dye plants, including at least one person I know who grows indigo! I am really hopeful that in the future, I can source quite a bit of what I want right here and will start this summer by harvesting the tansy that grows in the ditch in front of my place. In the meantime, there is Maiwa and Sweet Georgia, which are both local-ish to me and selling natural dye supplies.
I am pretty excited to get started but I’ve got a couple of other projects to finish before I do. As soon as I can though I’ll be cleaning my studio deck and getting rid of the extra furniture, getting some kind of curtain closure going to make a cupboard out of my shelving, winding up some bouts of wool/mohair yarn to prep for dyeing, and ordering the rest of the yarn that I need for my projects on payday. Progress photos will be posted here and on Instagram!
I would have never remembered to post here today if it wasn’t for another blogger who posts on Fridays. Her post reminded me that it’s the end of the week (and a long weekend for me). Somehow I’ve been drifting along this week, the days slipping by without getting much done. Suddenly it’s Friday and I don’t have much to show for myself!
Last Friday was Brian’s birthday which is where the photo above comes from. We slipped off to a little secret beach spot and had a picnic which included iced tea in china cups. The weather was really on side and it inspired us to commit to trying to get out somewhere together – for a picnic, kayak, walk – at least once a week this summer. We’ve fallen into a routine since moving here of spending most of joint time at home, which was never the case when we lived in the city. Difference in an urban area is there are all sorts of places to go and have dinner, drinks, etc. Where we are, it’s outdoors or nothing – save for a handful of restaurants and a new food truck that just opened up.
The fantastic weather has brought a bounty of local food back into production and this week I got my first community-supported agriculture box of the season from the farm down the road. That is probably the most excitement I’ve had in ages. Neighbours! Conversation! Bags of Greens! I now have enough rhubarb to make my first batch of rhubarb ketchup for the season which will be one of my projects this weekend coming up.
In the textile studio this week I’ve been working on samples. Over the last several years of weaving, I’ve somehow not made napkins yet, even though we use cloth napkins every day at the dinner table. There are lots of recommended patterns out there for napkins, but I have discovered recently that I get a lot more enjoyment out of a project when I figure it out on my own from beginning to end. So I got to sampling this week, with various permutations of cotton, linen, and cottolin (a blend of cotton and linen) and I’ve decided on napkins in the three primary colours with a cottolin warp and a 9/2 linen weft – sett at 18 epi with 2 dents skipped every inch. If you don’t weave, I know that sounds like a foreign language – but what it translates to is a napkins that is floaty and rustic at the same time. You’ll see when I show them to you when they are done.
For my next project I’m putting on a set of tea towels in blue and white. This project is straight out of a pattern inspired by Finnish weaving, and I’ve noticed how reluctant I am to get on with it. It’s what has made me realize that 90% of weaving fun is designing my own fabric and projects to go with them. I see all these amazing fabrics on Instagram and in magazines and I think I want to replicate them, but what I really want is to be inspired to create something new. Even a basic plain weave napkin can be “new” when I make all the choices – yarn type for warp, yarn type for weft, spacing in the reed, how hard I “beat” the fabric, how I finish the item and so on. Because of all those factors, the chances are good that when I experiment with all the variables I will end up with a fabric I’ve never encountered before – and that is interesting to me.
I have made a couple of investments this week in loom-land. I mentioned last week the 20+ system which I went ahead and ordered this week (an extra cheque came in for some weekend union work which gave me to boost to go through with it). I should have that delivered and installed by the end of June. I also decided to try out something called a warp wrench – which is made by some enterprising weavers in Wisconsin – it is supposed to help tension a warp during wind-on so no extra hands are needed. The current iteration of the warp wrench will fit my small loom, so I thought to give it a try. I won’t put long warps on at the moment due to difficulty keeping tension during the wind-on – but this tool might allow me to put on the 13-yard warp I have stashed in a cupboard finally!
I think the only thing really inspiring me at the moment is weaving – everything else just makes me feel tired. I’m not sure why the malaise when it comes to writing and music, but it’s where I’m at right now. Even as I commit to putting in the time for practice – which is how I get through these times without giving everything up (except sometimes I do give everything up) – it feels like a lot of effort and I don’t feel like I’m making any headway. At least with weaving I can *see* the progress on the loom as I work. And even when I’m exhausted from working all day, I can still sit down and thread a few strands into the heddles, something that writing doesn’t allow for. When I’m tired, my output on that front is zero.
With the long weekend ahead of me I’m hoping for some sleeping in and some outdoor visiting with folks in addition to lots of time in the studio and garden. I’m in need of something for sure, and I’m pretty sure I’ll find it in one of those places! At least the weather looks to be fantastic and Brian will be home from the city soon to eat homemade pizza with me.