We are getting our annual three days of snow here on Gabriola Island, and since I know it will be mostly gone by the weekend I can say – sure is pretty. (If it were to go on any longer, I would become irritated – so it’s a good thing I live in a mild climate zone).
The photo above is from my studio, looking down at the house, the sauna and our California lilac bushes. When I look out the window from my work desk, this is what I see in front, to the left I get a peek-a-boo view of the grey ocean. Either way, it makes me glad that I work from home most of the time and that I have no plans to go anywhere today (except maybe the gym if the roads aren’t too bad this afternoon).
Since the Christmas holidays I’ve had a really hard time getting back to my regularly scheduled meditation and writing in the mornings, not to mention the fact that work is a big ole’ drag and I’m procrastinating on a number of things I need to get going on. The only thing that seems to have my attention at the moment really is weaving.
On Sunday night we had a ferocious windstorm which took out the power,, phone and Internet. While our power came back by Monday morning, the phone and Internet were out until yesterday (Tuesday) morning. That gave me a bit of a work reprieve which I used to finish winding the warp chains and get the shafts onto the loom for my latest project. I am in the process of putting heddles onto the shafts now – and then I will get to start dressing the loom for….. Sauna Towels!
This is a bit of an epic project for me as it involves all 8 shafts, the full width of my loom, and 780 ends that all need to be threaded through the reed and heddles. At 26 inches wide, these aren’t even as wide as I would like them to be, but it’s an experiment in what kind of lightweight toweling I can make that would be appropriate to a sauna. I’m using 16/2 cotton, finer than what I use for tea towels, and am setting it at 30 ends per inch in a twill pattern which will make sturdy but drapey cloth – or at least it should. I’m guessing at the weight inspired by a Turkish bath towel I was gifted (my husband is jealous of it whenever we have a sauna together and really wants me to weave him one).
Experienced weavers will tell you that if you don’t enjoy the process of setting up and dressing the loom, you can’t really enjoy weaving; after all, dressing the loom with a warp can take more time than weaving it off! Since taking up weaving again these last couple of months, I have found a mindset that really works for me in this regard which includes:
For all that weaving is thousands (perhaps even tens of thousands) of years old, it is still a strangely experimental process for the individual weaver at home. There are so many differences in equipment, fibre, what works for the individual body, set-up and so on – that pretty much everything in the weaving books and articles is just a guideline. A lot of it comes down to figuring it out yourself. This is something I did not realize in the beginning and was frustrated when things didn’t come out “just so” each time. Now I see that with persistent practice, I am getting a much more consistent warp and ultimately, a more consistent weave.
So as the snow falls here I am going to return to the side of my loom where I am counting out the last two shafts worth of heddles and then perhaps this evening, if the power doesn’t go out again, I’ll start to sley the reed. Given my measured pace, I might have this warp on and ready to go by Sunday.
Last week, on January 2nd, I did my Year Compass to close out the old and ring in the new year. This was the fifth year I’ve completed the booklet either before or just after the new year, and I definitely find it a helpful framework for thinking about my life.
The culmination of the workbook is a word to guide your year. Last year my word was Radiant. This year my word is Rooted. While last year I wanted to put myself out in the world, this year needs something different: my feet planted firmly where I stand, my hands reaching out and up, deepening my connections and feeling the connection with the elements. “Embodied” was another contender this year, as I’ve been so physically focused as of late, but rooted feels more encompassing of what I want and need to work on as we collectively face some pretty challenging times.
What follows are twenty goals and projects I will work on in the next year. Some are very specific (my dead lifting goal), others are more general (walk weekly). Some are space clearing/fixing while others are about technique and form. What I wanted to do was come up with a list of achievable items, within my control, that help deepen my relationship to people, my body, my spiritual and creative practices, and my home. Let’s see how many of these get done as we move forward from these early days of 2020:
There are of course other goals for 2020, like eleven more issues of Comfort for the Apocalypse, daily meditation, working out 3-4 times per week – but this list focuses on specific things with more intention. Simply doing this exercise (and the year compass) is a reminder of what it is that I value and need more of in my life, as well as what I can let go of.
So here we are 2020, let’s see if we can plant our feet firmly to withstand what’s coming.
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.
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.
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!