Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Road Trip

 


Heading east we saw the top of Mount Robson, which is usually covered in a cap of cloud.  

We made the journey in 11 hours, barely stopping along the way.  It was lovely to see the mountains again, but my body just doesn’t travel well and I knew I was facing a hectic week.  

And so it was.  Hectic.  Intense.  Pressured.  Firehose.  Lots of anxiety, but also?  Willingness to learn. To try.  To see what happened, when…

But I just don’t have the stamina anymore.  The only reason I was able to cope at all was because I had an assistant who jumped in and helped answer questions and assist the students.  And naps.  I took naps at lunch.  

Tomorrow is the final day so I decided to start packing up tonight.  With two helpers it didn’t take long.  There is still more but the bulk of it is ready to be loaded up tomorrow after class. It won’t take long to finish up and move out.  And return home Friday.  

And the students go home to tackle their homework.  

I have a busy week when I get home and then the focus will be on the next classes for the School of Sweet Georgia.  And keep weaving tea towels.  

Keep on keeping on.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Road Trip

 


getting the kitchen stuff for the townhouse ready - cooking utensils, food, etc.  Yes, the stack of plastic bins is full of food and kitchen things


Class supplies and equipment - yes, everything in this photo except the loom and the spool rack is going into the back of the van

Getting ready to teach at Olds takes times and effort.  Quite a lot of effort.  

This year is especially difficult because of Covid.  So I have cut back on a bunch of things I would normally bring, and added in more equipment.  The less the students have to leave the classroom, the 'safer' it will be.  For me.  But also for them.

What isn't in the photo is the room air filter.  We are bringing our personal HEPA filter for the classroom.  I'm hoping to get a large classroom, but with a smaller class (9 as of last email from the college) I expect we will be in one of the smaller rooms.  However, the smaller rooms do have windows that can be opened so we plan on having windows open, door to hallway closed with the filter running 24/7.

In addition, there will be masks for anyone who wants one and we have accumulated some rapid tests if anyone wants to test.

Given my compromised immune system. we will eat in the van, not in a restaurant during the 11 hour drive.  If the weather is nice we can sit outside, but it looks like potential for rain.  At Olds we will not be eating in the dining hall or any of the local restaurants, so we have to make sure to bring cooking pots/pans, utensils, dishes and as much food as we can.  We have a couple of large cooler bags, and Doug will go to the grocery store for things like meat or fresh veggies.

I have my N94 mask which I will be wearing.  Given the lifting of most mitigations I may not feel safe enough to remove my mask - at all.  

Because people keep telling us that we must do our own risk assessment.  Given the close quarters with 10 other people (I have a volunteer teaching assistant), and many of them travelling long distances to get to Olds, I am leery of the students encountering covid during their journey and arriving with an unwelcome passenger.

I had hoped that by now we would be in a trough, but as of this morning the 'trough' was still too high for my comfort.

So this year at Olds is going to be extra stressful for me because I have to meet the needs of my students, but I also feel the need to keep me, AND them, safe as can be.

The good news yesterday was that my eye continues to heal, but isn't quite there yet.  It's been 5 months of aggressive treatment.  The last thing eye doc said to me was "Don't get worse!" and that she wants to see me again in 8 weeks.

However, she has cut back on my eye drops, which will make teaching a lot easier.  I can now schedule them for non-class times.  

Today Doug will finish packing up the dry goods and we will both work on our personal stuff.  He is picking up a couple of books on hold for me at the library and then I will pause the rest of my holds until we are home again.  I hope to get a lot of reading done on the trip.

Our house minder has the keys to the house and will take care of things while we are gone.  Doug has cut the lawn so it shouldn't need anything until we are back.  Our housing at Olds has been arranged and Doug has a stack of books to read, too.  Fortunately he can entertain himself because I am going to be BUSY and then too exhausted by the end of the day to do much of anything except veg.  I will bring the bin of hemming, just in case I feel able to at least do that.  

This year Olds will be bittersweet.  Sweet to teach.  Bitter at how stressed I feel given my compromised immune system and the risk of covid. 

OTOH, I have some nice things planned for the week after I get home - a friend asked if we could do a Zoom catch up (yes, please!) and a weaver has asked to talk to me about the business end of weaving (yes, of course), plus the guild is trying to get a social organized so we can discuss the future and how we can move forward with events for the members, given the continuing presence of covid.

Living with covid means protecting our vulnerable members, not tossing all mitigations to the wind and telling everyone to just 'get over it'.  

Currently reading Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby van Pelt.  This is her first published novel, the first of many, I hope.  

Monday, June 13, 2022

Economic Reality (TMI?)

 


promotional material done for the gift show we used to do

Yesterday I posted about the fact that my weaving income would not qualify as a 'living' and someone asked if it had ever been our 'living'.

The fact is that technically, for about 9 years, we had no other income than weaving.

Would I call it a 'living'?  I suppose so.  Except that for that entire 9 years our combined income was below the Canadian level of poverty.

So living?  Technically yes.

BUT.

We had no children.   When the dog died we did not replace it.  Because we couldn't afford the vet bills and food.  We have universal health care, which meant we didn't have to worry too much if one of us got sick or needed health care.  We did still have to pay for medications, but not the doctor or any hospital stay.  

We had both grown up in low income families and knew how to pinch a penny multiple times before spending it.  We stopped buying season tickets to the local playhouse.  Stopped going to concerts.  Took no holidays.  ALL of the trips we did in that 9 years (and before and after) were business related.  And hardly 'vacations'.  (Except for the year Doug's mom was dying.  He went down to see her and talk with his sister about what needed to be done for their mother on several occasions.  But those weren't 'vacations', either.)

My work day would generally begin at 1 pm (I took care of personal errands and appointments in the mornings), and continued until 9 pm - or later depending on deadlines - with breaks for dinner and to rest my aching muscles.

Doug did much the same.

He wound 100 yard beams on a second warp beam while I wove down the one on the loom.  He did inspection on my work, marking any issues that needed to be repaired.  He wound pirns on the industrial pirn winder.  He did pretty much all the wet finishing of my product including the pressing.  He repaired my equipment, made improvements, built small tools or other things, like craft fair booth structures.  He travelled all over BC and Alberta to sell to gift shops and did the craft fair circuit - Prince George, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, while I stayed home, wove, shipped him inventory as things sold.  Then he would come home, do laundry, pick me up and we'd do Edmonton together.  By the time we got home mid-December we were exhausted.  Only to begin again.  Then we added in the biggest gift show in western Canada, where he would go, write orders and I would begin planning my production schedule based on what he'd sold.  We promised six week delivery and then we had to scramble to fulfill those orders.  He nagged customers to remind them payment was due.

In my 'spare' time I wrote for publication.  I worked on the GCW tests.  I even taught workshops, at first 'locally' where I drove, then flying, which meant 6 am flights going, midnight returns.

For at least 8 months out of the year I was weaving approximately 240 yards of fabric, at 20 or 24 epi, ranging between 14 to 24 ppi.  My minimum daily goal was 10 yards of fabric woven.  With the next beam ready to go when the current warp was woven, my turn around time on a 49 or 60" wide warp at 24 or 20 epi was 24 hours.  We would swap out the empty beam for a full one, I would thread (60 inches at 20 epi or 49 inches at 24 epi), sley, tie on and be weaving again.

I took care of scheduling, inventory control, ordering yarn in advance of needing it (mail order from Quebec to here was about 10-14 days).  Doug took care of pulling orders and boxing them up for shipping while I did the invoicing.

Doug repaired the washing machine and dryer several times because we couldn't afford a repair person and he had the skills.  He maintained the loom and other equipment, made sure the vehicle was in working order for the regular 500+ mile trips he made while I borrowed a vehicle to get to the bus depot to deliver the latest shipment to the fashion designer.  Eventually my mother pretty much just handed me the keys to her car when she knew Doug would be out of town.  And she took to taking us out for a meal once a week and then I would drive her to her medical appointments and shopping, in the morning on my 'personal' time.

I had to budget very tightly because income was not guaranteed.  It varied according to the season and how many people bought my stuff at the craft fairs.  So at the end of the year, I'd have money and then I had to figure out how to make it last until June when we started getting income from the orders we wrote at the spring gift show.  And of course all those shows we did in the autumn?  Wanted their money/down payments by April.  With zero income until Oct/Nov/Dec.

I tried to book teaching gigs between Jan-June as a way to keep a little money coming in, submitted articles to magazines.  And if I had a few days, working on the GCW tests.  Which also required a financial outlay of yarns for the test samples.

Until I had to 'fire' Doug and told him to go find a job where he could actually cash his paycheque.  Because by that point the market for my line of place mats and table textiles had collapsed and there simply wasn't enough money coming in to pay him a 'wage' and cover the costs of running the business.

I kept going for as long as I could but in the end had to take time off to recover from burn out.  And reassess my life and work as a weaver.

In the end I decided that I had to keep weaving.  After about 20 years being self-employed I was pretty much useless as someone else's employee.  And I slowly began re-building my life - and business.

We are now in our 70s and due to some good luck (so to speak) and good planning we are in a position where we are managing, even on our tiny state pensions.  We still pinch pennies several times before we spend them.  We don't buy season tickets, but before covid had been splurging on concert tickets - usually as birthday or Xmas gifts to each other.  We no longer go out for meals because of covid, but will bring a meal in once a month.

And through it all, I was able to weave.  Good health.  Bad health.  Chronic pain (from injuries prior to taking up weaving, then repetitive motion stress *from* weaving).  

For me, weaving was never a hobby that morphed into a job.  It was my profession from day one.  Only now can I say that it's a 'side hustle'.  Because I have multiple stashes to use up - my teaching stash, my writing stash, my production stash, my 'ooo - I want that yarn to experiment with' stash.  

I am facing up to the fact that while I can still weave, the writing is on the wall.  There will come a time when I will no longer be able to.  My body has been rode hard, put away wet, far too many times.  

In the meantime, my goal is to teach as many people who want to know what I know as I can.  So I gear myself up for the stress of teaching a very intense 5 day class where I will be on my feet far too long.  And recognize that it may well be my last time.  And then I will focus on teaching online in hopes that people will learn and be able to go forward in the direction they want to go with fewer problems.  Because weaving is full of physics and if you don't understand the physics, you will constantly run into problems.  I don't usually use the word 'physics' though, just talk about principles.  Somehow people seem less reluctant to learn principles than physics.

But understanding is what I hope to help people achieve.  And where they go beyond me, I will watch and support.  

So yes, weaving has been my life.  But economically?  Not so much a living, but a passion that, once found, I could not deny.  And that is why I never stopped but kept finding new ways to earn an income, keep going, pay the bills, pinch the pennies.  Weaving a Life.  

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Plodding

 


Recently I was asked to talk about my journey as a weaver.  Thinking back over the past 40+ years brought back many memories.  Too many to include in what was meant to be a short 'article'.  I've written - something - and now need to choose photos to go with it.  I can choose three, although they may not use all of them.

And, true to form, I went over the word count they wanted.  Not by a lot, but still...

Discovering weaving was a huge turning point for me.  At the age of 24/5 I was looking for work that was a lot more satisfying than what I had been doing since graduating high school.  I wanted something with an element of creativity.  Something where I could make my own goals and priorities.  Something other than office work, which felt like it was sucking the life right out of me.

Add to that the fact that my father was in the late stages of terminal illness and I was made all too aware that life is short, sharp and not to be squandered if that could be avoided.  So yes, there was a part of me that wanted to make some sort of positive contribution, some how, some way.

To say that the universe worked really hard to get me in front of a loom would be an understatement.  When I look back it all seems so clear that events kept pushing me in that direction.  Kept bringing me opportunities to learn more about it.  

One of the things I recognized right from the beginning was that to earn an income* by weaving I would have to work hard.  Really hard.  I would have to get right out of my comfort zone as an introvert, because I would have to market myself and my textiles.  This was probably the most challenging aspect of being a weaver in the 20th and 21st centuries.  I've gotten pretty good at it but it's still not really very comfortable.

But the actual weaving part?  That, too, is hard labour.  Really hard.  In my prime I was throwing the shuttle approximately 10,000 times a day, some days more than that, if I were under the pressure of a critical deadline.

I wove my own designs, of course.  But I also wove for other weavers, and for 9 years I wove for a fashion designer.  That was probably the most challenging part because there was no (or very little) creativity as I wove to her specifications and I wove under extremely tight deadlines.  She would fax me instructions and expect me to get the fabric onto the bus that day or the next.  And sometimes she would change her mind part way through the day and change her instructions - after I'd filled pirns enough to weave the original faxed instructions.  And I'd have to stop, fill pirns with different yarn, then weave like the wind to get the fabric woven.  

But!  She paid me well and for those 9 years I had a steady income* which allowed me to do other things, like work on the GCW test program, do my own work (in between her warps), travel to teach, write articles.  It was no different from working as a temp office worker and I was actually still weaving and getting paid for it.

There is no perfect 'job' anywhere.  Every job has aspects about it that require one to just get on with it.  Things that I would rather not do, but need doing.  Plod.

And no matter what I wove, I paid attention.  My 'plodding' became a working meditation, where I was watching what was happening in the loom, and - for my own work - what happened in the wet finishing.  (I didn't do the wet finishing for the fashion designer, she had someone else to take care of that.)

As I slowly shrink my efforts, I think - a lot - about my journey.  I think about how many days I went to the loom in pain.  I knew that if I could get weaving the physical activity would generate endorphins and the pain would be less.  That is still true today.  

I came to weaving with injuries and consider it a 'win' that I was able to weave thousands of yards of cloth in spite of those injuries.  I learned how to minimize further damage.  How to work ergonomically and efficiently.  And much of that was because I was willing to plod.  Willing to work hard.  Willing to learn.

So as I pack up for Olds, I think about these things.  And I aspire to pass on some of what I've learned.  Because in reality we all learn in our own time, the lessons we need to learn.  My journey will be different from every other weaver who comes to me to learn.  But I also know at least 3 other weavers who have had similar paths to what I have taken.  And every one of them agrees:  weaving is hard work if you are doing it to make an income.*

*note that I say 'income' not a 'living'...

Thursday, June 9, 2022

The Persistence of Water

 


My mother always used to ask me where I got my 'bull-headed-ness' from.

Pot calling the kettle black but also?  There is the persistence of water.

Astrology tells us that people are born under certain signs.  Mine is Cancer (the crab) and I'm 'water'.  While I don't ascribe to much of what astrology says is true for people born under these signs, in some ways I do.

Take persistence.

When I grab hold of an idea it takes a lot to get me to let go.  Very crab-like.  When obstacles arrive in my path, like water I seek a way beyond them.  Sometimes that means I divert my course of actions around.  Sometimes I go under.  Sometimes?  I simply rise up and go over.

As I look back on my life, I see how many times I have approached my career in weaving with just this strategy.  Just keeping on, keeping on.  Wearing away the obstacles.  Tunneling below, slipping around, or pulling on all my strength and energy to rise up and simply flood them out of my way.

This is not always a good strategy.  I did a major burn out/depression doing just that.  I hated to let go of something I'd invested a lot of time, effort and, yes, money into.  

When I finally sought help, the doctor said that it will take the exact same time to recover as I spent digging that hole I'd dug myself into.  And she was right.  During that nearly 18 months of recovery I spent a lot of time examining my tendency to persist.  Persist until I'd buried myself in health issues.  

So now I try to remember that lesson.  Yes, it's good to have a plan.  It's good to have an alternate plan if the first plan doesn't work.  It's good to persist.

But when the well of energy runs dry, it's time to stop.  Maybe let that project go.  

So it was with my second self-published book.  I let go of it multiple times as I dealt with other things, like the house renovations, my mother's ill health and death.  And my own ill health.

But apparently it was meant that I complete it.  I just needed to conserve my energy and stop and rest, replenish when I ran low.  Eventually it would start reminding me of all the work I'd put into it already and if I just kept on going, I'd have a book.

In the end, the persistence of water won out.  And I have two self-published books.  I also have 40+ years of teaching, writing, weaving/selling my textiles.

Now I'm hitting another milestone in a month and coming to realize that my well of energy/water is not able to replenish as quickly as when I was younger.  A sign of aging.  A level of acceptance I am working on.

And yet, I persist.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Shoulders of Giants

 


In many ways I consider myself a self-taught weaver.  But if that were the only part of my truth, I'd be ignoring the work done by my ancestors, my mentors, the teachers I learned from along the way.

But in many ways, it is *also* true that I learned a lot on my own.  Does that mean no one else before me didn't also learn the same lessons?  Of course not.  It just means that weaving is vast and it is complex and there are a multitude of things to learn.  And sometimes?  We need to figure things out for ourselves.

But it helps to be able to stand on the shoulders of giants - the ancestors that lived, worked, and figured things out before we came along.

It will likely sound rather egotistical to declare that in many ways I have gone far beyond many of my teachers when it comes to *some* aspects of weaving.

But there are also great gaps in my knowledge, where I know a little bit, but not nearly enough to be considered any kind of 'expert'.  I won't list them - they are far too numerous.

And that's the thing.  Weaving is vast.  Weaving IS complex.  And learning can continue for so long as an individual cares to carry on with their digging, their experimentation, exploration.  Learning.

One of the reasons I want to keep teaching (for now) is to take people who have the basic elements, who have taken the time to begin to learn the language of the craft, and want to fine tune what they are doing.  To grasp the principles and better understand the craft.

My personal interests in the creation of textiles continues to be ergonomics and efficiency.  I continue to explore the aspect of wet finishing, particularly fulling.  I have, in fact, arranged to run an experiment during my time at Olds to see if something I have heard has any teeth to it.  I have a 'partner in crime' who jumped at the chance to help with the experiment and it may be fodder for at least a blog post if not something more extensive.  Time will tell.

Mastery of a craft is not something that someone achieves and then they are 'done'.  Mastery is the spring board by which an individual can continue to peel back the layers of complexity and learn more about a craft that is thousands of years in the making and as a 'modern' weaver I can only imagine what my ancestors have done.

Because the archeological record is threadbare*.  Textiles made from organic materials return to dust and eventually the only record we have is the impression of the fibres in things like clay.  Or in tiny sculptures (the Venus goddesses).

So yes, I have a piece of paper that says I'm a 'master' weaver.  Am I done learning yet?  No.  Absolutely not!  It is one thing that keeps me getting out of bed in the morning.  And I love that some of the weavers I know are ready, willing and able to jump into the experimental pool with me.

I also love seeing new weavers fall down the rabbit hole.  I would just like to remind new weavers that while in large part they will need to create their own learning journey, please remember to avail yourselves of the shoulders of the giants that came before us.  Pay attention to what has been done.  It may - or may not - be applicable to your own practice.

Pretty much every experienced weaver I know sees their students surpass them in some way and we applaud.  Because the life so short, the craft so long to learn (paraphrasing Chaucer).

*pun most definitely intended...

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Selvedges

 The bugaboo of so many weavers - their selvedges.



2:2 twill


16 shaft 1:3-3:1 twill


16 shaft fancy twill

New weavers will often times get tangled up in the fact that their selvedges are not 'perfect'.  They hear that there *must* be a plain weave interlacement at the selvedge or it's 'wrong'.  Or that there cannot be any draw in.  Or you have to pluck your selvedges (and then wonder why the selvedges break).  Or you can't possibly get good selvedges if you don't have a floating selvedge.  Or use a temple.  Etc.

Sometimes people will ask on a group how to get 'perfect' selvedges.

Sometimes I'd like to just point them to the thousands of words I have already written on the subject.  Because just like with everything about weaving, the reason why selvedges are 'bad' depends.

There are multiple reasons for selvedges to be 'bad'.  And new weavers who don't understand this want a magic potion solution.  There isn't one.

Getting 'good' selvedges doesn't depend on one answer because there are multiple causes.

Sometimes it's the yarn.  An elastic yarn will behave very differently from an inelastic one.  What process does the person use?  How consistent are they in applying it?  Do they understand the role of tension in warp preparation?  Or in the weaving of their cloth?

So if they don't give an example of how their selvedges are 'wrong' there isn't much I can say other than play 20 questions with them.  Or point them to my previous writing.  Or my bookOr my on line classes.

So, to new weavers who are having issues with 'bad' selvedges?  Pay attention to what you are doing.  Then, one by one, try different solutions.  Perhaps the warp was beamed with too little tension.  Or you are weaving with too little tension on the warp.  Or too much.  Or too much draw in.  Or not enough.

Or, or, or...the list does go on.

Sometimes the solution to 'bad' selvedges is in dressing the loom in the first place.  So it doesn't matter what you do while you are weaving.  You have to FIX THE PROBLEM THAT IS CAUSING THE ISSUE in order to get different results.  Applying 'bandaid' solutions won't always work because the problem happened before you started throwing the shuttle.  Sometimes it is the throwing of the shuttle.  And on and on.

If you don't want to pay someone for their expertise there are plenty of weavers who have written extensively about this issue - because it keeps being a problem.  I've linked some of my blog posts on selvedges in the first sentence of this post.  You can read what I've written here for free.

But each person must do the work of figuring out what is happening, then changing what they are doing to solve the problem.

A lot like life, honestly.

(Other 'experts' you might like to pay attention to:  Jane Stafford, Janet Dawson, Jette van der Meiden - spelling may not be correct, sorry), Peggy Ostercamp.  Each of us has unique experiences and may have different solutions to try.  Because we weave different things and have different perspectives.  Above all keep trying.)