Post 3181: Breathing in a bit of new decade

Weaving on the loom

So here we are. January 2nd 2020 – and I am feeling all the energy of a new year and a new decade as I do a massive studio purge and set my intentions for this first quarter and the year beyond it. The intention-setting is something I do annually, the studio purge just came on me with a bit of frenetic energy the other day, so I’m going with it.

In the past week I have gotten a lot of things out of cupboards and sorted them for selling, giving and recycling. What remains is being returned to the cupboards organized, in labelled bags (scraps for bag making, scraps for underwear making). I have a spinning wheel and fibre to drop off with someone on the weekend, and a garbage bag of brightly coloured chunky weight yarn set aside for a felting friend on the island. (Much of this material came into my life unbidden when I bought my big loom years ago and the seller forced me to take garbage bags of fibre along with me. It’s been taking up space ever since). While I am making a little bit of money towards the purchase of a new loom, it’s mostly just a relief to make space.

Which is a lot of what fueled the studio frenzy in the first place. I have decided on a new loom – a 10-shaft Woolhouse Gertrude with 60 inches of weaving width (the flying shuttle attachment makes it closer to 80 inches across). Although I don’t have the money to purchase it right at the moment, I decided to act as though I am getting it and make sure my space can accommodate a loom of that size. Short answer: yes. It did require that I rearrange my space though, and make better use of some aspects of my storage. It also required that I rethink my need to keep all the scraps!

Although I have been hard at it, I feel far from done with my purge – so my plan for January is to keep chipping away at it with a goal of having it all cleaned up and out for the end of the month. I also have cleaning the zendo and the pantry on the agenda for the next few days – as well as a weekly trip to the recycling centre penciled into my calendar so as to make getting things out of the house part of my weekly cleaning routine.

In previous years we have done The January Cure but now find that a lot of the daily assignments are chores that we have integrated into our regular life so it no longer serves our needs. However, in the spirit of the cure – which is to help us clear our space for a new year – I have created my own calendar that reflects my need for renewed and breathable studio space. I haven’t filled in all the blanks yet, but I’m sure as I continue along in the process there will be at least one task for each day.

I do love the energy around the new year, the cleaning and intention setting really works for my personality. It’s not that I think my life is deficient and needs fixing, but that I get a chance to step back and say “what is”, letting go of “what was”. That is a necessary breath to take every once and awhile. We don’t get a chance nearly often enough.

Post #3180: Better weaving

Up until this last week I had convinced myself that I was no longer interested in weaving. I warped my big loom with a blanket near the end of the summer, but the loom wasn’t really co-operating (I still use that loom sans brake with weight-tensioning instead) and rather than spend the time to figure it out, I let the project languish. And because that loom was warped and I wasn’t weaving on it, I somehow decided that I didn’t want to weave at all.

Flash forward to last week when I drew for the prize I had offered in my monthly mailing – a hand woven tea towel. I had wound the warp chain for this back in October, but it sat on the loom without action after that – until I was confronted with the draw and the fact I had a winner to weave that tea towel for. It took me a few days to warp the loom, and less than one day to weave off the three towels you see above. In that time I realized that I do enjoy the weaving process from start to finish, but I really don’t enjoy my bigger loom. I don’t enjoy weaving on it or setting it up, and the lack of brake is really more of a drag than I want it to be.

Now, I could spend more time fixing that loom than I already have (you may remember that I restored it over several months when I first moved to Gabriola after purchasing it for very little in Vancouver). During that time I learned a lot about looms in general, and countermarch looms in particular – so in that way it was a great learning experience for someone new to weaving. Sadly, no matter how much I’ve done, there’s always something new showing up to aggravate me. The frame is slightly warped so the beater doesn’t hang straight. A brake kit would cost me a couple hundred more dollars. The treadle tie-up is from another age and more fiddly than it needs to be (and is a constant source of frustration). And, ultimately I want a loom that can handle wide widths for blankets and coverlets (of up to 60 inches) and this one will never be that.

So, while happily weaving these tea towels (so pleased with how they turned out), I turned this over in my mind and realized that it’s probably time to cut my losses on my first loom. I’ll fiddle with it enough to weave off the blanket I have on there – and then start to figure out how to get rid of it. It’s not easy to sell a big loom, so it will definitely go for less than what I put into it – though I really do think of it as a master class in loom repair and maintenance and so it’s not a loss no matter what happens. The thing I worry most about is that no one wants it, even for free, and I end up having to take it apart and store it or even destroy it. Whoever takes it would have to be willing to do more work to get it really functional and I’m not sure there’s a lot of those folks around these days (I walked into this project blind, thinking I had purchased a functional loom and then finding out too late I had not and trying to salvage it.)

In any event, I will weave off the blanket and then find a way to store this loom until it finds a new home and in the meantime I’ve got the word out in weaving circles about what I’m looking for. 60-inch, 8 shaft looms aren’t the most common thing out there (that would be 45-inch, 4 shaft looms), but they aren’t terribly uncommon so there’s a good chance I will source something suitable in the next month and at a reasonable price ($1500 or less).

In the meantime I’ve started warping my small Julia loom again – with a bath mat this time – in order to keep myself going now that I’ve rediscovered my enjoyment in this textile form.

One thing I noted when doing the tea towels is that my skills have improved quite a lot over the last year, even with the big break these last few months. I picked up a couple of techniques that *always* work to produce even tension, and I’ve gotten a lot more patient with warping so I actually fix mistakes at that stage rather than weaving them into the final fabric. These plain weave towels had little draw-in on the loom and my beat was even throughout. I’ve learned not to over-beat my cloth, and I throw and catch my shuttle properly most of the time. Weaving is really something that takes a lot of repetition to get good at, so getting projects on and off the loom is the only way forward.

Now that I’m unblocked, and because I am not sewing clothes for myself at the moment, I expect the deepest winter will find me weaving in my studio, and perhaps setting up a new-to-me loom. There are worse ways to spend the colder months for sure.

Post #3179: Quietly frustrated, a little bit low.

We’re putting together a sauna kit at Birdsong this week, or I should say, I have some guys putting it together for me. Fingers crossed that they show up today to keep working on it. What you see above are the inside walls, after which a waterproof membrane and exterior cladding go on before I can get my electrician to come over and wire the heater. If all goes well I’ll have a sauna by the weekend, if not, then I have to talk to my friend who I hired to do the job again. He’s been delinquent on the whole project – a two day job stretched to seven and counting. We’ll see what happens next.

Given the cold snap the last few days I am really looking forward to a winter with a dedicated warm room! (And summers, coming back from ocean swims to a heated sauna also). We decided to go with an electric heater rather than wood due to the convenience factor, and also because in the summer, burning wood is really frowned up here. Even though it would be technically legal, the smell of woodsmoke upsets people out during drought and fire season (for good reason). The heater we chose is a traditional (not infrared) sauna heater, which handles water so we can sauna wet or dry.

Besides this, things have been a bit low key here lately. My husband, Brian has been away longer than normal – he usually goes to the city for work Tuesday to Thursday, but because of a work trip in between he’s away for eleven days straight. I’m okay with the time apart until about day five, when I feel like it’s time for him to be home. As a result I’ve been in a subdued, weird headspace since the weekend. When we are apart for too long I start to think about what my life would be like without him – and that just freaks me right out. I don’t write a lot about my marriage here, but my partner is one of the greatest things about my life, an unexpected fluke of a meeting in my mid-thirties that has resulted in entirely different pathways in my life and my brain. And so. Brian comes home on Thursday, and then things around here will feel right again.

We’re hitting that time on the island when things slow down, even with the Christmas fairs and so on. A lot of people leave around now to go south, and all the summer people are gone by mid-October. If it wasn’t for the neighbour blowing leaves next door my ‘hood would be utterly silent right now. I suspect that’s also part of my weird feelings these last few days – as much as I love this time of hibernation, it’s also a shift to darker, quieter days. I’m feeling the weight of that today for some reason, wanting to curl up and skip my early evening yoga class even though it’s probably best that I don’t. Probably best I do the things that get me out of my house a little bit every day so I don’t get too alone in all of this wintry space.

12:50 and the guys have not come back to work on the sauna today. So typical of workers here (to not show up, to show up late, to botch half a job and then walk away from it). I’ll cross my fingers that they come back and finish it tomorrow!

Post #3178: The unfinished, the untidy, the end of the year purge

One thing I haven’t written about here lately is the fact that I’ve been on a bit of a journey to lose some weight/get back to the gym. This is a lifelong struggle for me and thus, not so interesting to write about, but some recent moves (intermittent fasting, lower-carb eating, weight lifting) seem to be taking effect and I’ve shed about twelve pounds since late summer. At 46, I have no expectations to lose weight quickly, and my motivations are about not developing type-2 diabetes in my fifties (a pattern in my family) so anything feels like a small victory right now.

I’m at the stage of feeling like some of my clothes are a tiny bit too big, and items made earlier in my handmade wardrobe journey are starting to fit a bit better – which is awesome. I have a particularly rad dress that I haven’t been able to wear for the last twenty pounds and I look forward to having it back in circulation next summer. On the other hand, I was all prepped to work on a new winter coat that I have fabric and pattern for, but earlier this week decided to shelve it for the year. While skirts and dresses are pretty straight forward to take in, lined winter coats are not, so I’m going to wait and see if this body shape continues to change before committing all that fabric and time.

This has brought me to reconsider sewing garments for a bit. I have one dress cut out, underlined, and ready for the machine so I’ll go ahead with it (adding half an inch to the seam allowance to make it a bit smaller), but otherwise I feel like it might be time to put away the plans for jeans, Persephone pants, and anything else hard to alter downward. It’s time to make do with what’s in my closet until we see where this whole fitness thing lands.

This would feel a bit depressing (I do love making new clothes), except that I have a 3/4-finished quilt, a cross-stitch xmas table runner I started six years ago, a loom that needs dressing, a blanket half-woven, and numerous other unfinished items that could use my attention. Earlier this week I went through the studio and picked out all the “quick hits” I could spy – finishing off four items in less than two hours. That’s right, some of my projects only required 2 minutes of weaving in ends, but still they languished for months.

It’s not unusual for me to focus on the unfinished near the end of November – heading towards the new year and all that – so the next few weeks will be spent on “old” projects and cleaning out the build up of stuff in the studio. I got rid of some upholstery foam that was taking up room this week, and I have a box of fabric that will find its way to the thrift shop at some point in the near future.

Now – if you do want to see a finished garment:

This is the finished samue set that I made for last week’s meditation retreat. It turned out to be a dream of a garment – and I wore either whole set or just the jacket every day. I think it’s a bit too heavyweight for a summer retreat, but it was perfect (and comfy and warm) for late fall. I would like to make a spring jacket (for regular wear) out of this same pattern I love it so much – but again, nothing new for awhile so we’ll see what happens in the new year.

Post #3177: Handmade life

I find when talking to non-meditators that I really can’t explain the appeal of a zen meditation retreat. They can be tedious, painful (emotionally and physically), and often cold (or too hot – really there’s no perfect temperature when you are sitting on the floor for hours at a time). There are weird rituals around everything, and all that empty time allows one to pick apart whatever the mind latches onto (the food, the teacher, the person you are sitting beside, your life choices).

And yet. Our retreats fill up year after year with people who “get it”, who understand the power of sitting with other people in stillness and how that has to unfold over hours, days, and sometimes weeks to really penetrate the noise of everyday life. 

As I wrote in my last post, I am still working on my samue set with a goal of having it finished and in the wash by tomorrow. I got the jacket done on Monday and it turned out beautifully. Now I’m working on the pants which I feel confident about, having made the pattern twice already in test versions. This is the second set of meditation-specific clothes I have made, which is still not enough sets for a 7-day retreat, but really, only one more set to go and I will have a full “wardrobe”. That third set might be practice robes, but I have a bit of an aversion to wearing those, and they take 8 yards of fabric, so it might just be another samue set. We’ll see.

This retreat I will also be sitting on a meditation bench that I made a couple of years ago. I’m not a woodworker, so the finish on it isn’t very good, but it’s become the only bench I can sit on for any length of time so it’s coming with me to this retreat. 

This process of making things for daily and ritual use, is like the retreat experience in which I have a hard time explaining to non-makers the satisfaction of building one’s own material life. Sewing, weaving, woodwork are all sources of great aggravation to me. I get frustrated and make frequent mistakes, turning out items that are far from perfect. I am not always graceful in accepting the learning curve that each skill takes (just ask Brian about my sourdough bread meltdown on the weekend).

And yet. Each time I reach into my wardrobe, kitchen towel drawer, or quilt chest and pull out an item I’ve made, no matter how imperfect, I experience a small pleasure in the object I am holding. In the mornings, when I tuck my meditation bench underneath me, I feel supported by the product of my own hands as well as my daily practice. The home-canned goods in my pantry feed our household, and our community.      

I’m not going to gloss over the fact that there is a tremendous amount of privilege in being able to devote time and resources to my life in this way. I have a job that only requires 37.5 hours a week and remunerates me properly, I don’t have kids at home, I have stable housing and live in a place with clean food and water.  All of this is true.

But what’s also true is that there is room out there for many of us to make small choices towards a life that we understand through the lens of our own labour. It is as simple as canning our own pasta sauce or sewing a tote bag out of an old pair of blue jeans or fabric from the thrift store. To be fair, this won’t change the world one bit, but it will change your life. In ways I can’t really explain, but that penetrate deeply. 

I have work to do, pants to sew, and a walking date later this afternoon. There’s such a bigger conversation here I want to have – about the future of the planet, about how we don’t see the truth of how we live  – but I’m thinking about all of this as I sew. Thinking about the world I would rather live in and breaking my consumer impulses in favour of making my own life one small item at a time. 

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