It’s the simple things

“It’s the simple things”.  That phrase has been reverberating in my brain since I returned from Guatemala in October.  It’s the simple things that made me so happy to be in Guatemala and it’s the simple things that make me happy to be home.

Out in a community of basket makers

Out in a community of basket makers

For a weaver and a lover of textiles, Guatemala is paradise; a 24/7 museum of living color. Where other than the Guatemalan Highlands could I walk down the street and notice that almost everyone is wearing locally produced handwoven clothing? There are skirts of indigo or skirts of  jaspe (ikat) with its threads tied by Guatemalan families, probably in Salcajá, and woven by men on old wooden floor looms. The intricate huipiles (tops) are woven by women on ancient backstrap looms and many times embroidered over exquisite weaving.

Sweet babies carried everywhere.

Sweet babies carried everywhere.

What a feast for the eyes, everywhere, even without going to market.   Even folks dressed in Western garb may still carry colorful bundles that reflect their heritage. So complicated and yet so simple, to wear garments that have been woven for centuries and more. To wear items that can be made in the family without need for fashion designers or shopping malls.

On my last night in the Highlands I walked 5 km along Lake Atitlan to the town of Santa Catarina, named for my own saint.

Approaching Santa Catarina Palopó walking from Panajachel above Lake Atitlan

Approaching Santa Catarina Palopó walking from Panajachel above Lake Atitlan

When I asked how to find a tuk tuk ( tiny open 3 wheeled taxi) to get back, a shop owner, (and subsequently his wife and kids) hung out with me on the curb so he could stop a truck for me because he said tuk tuks were rare. He was curious where I came from and why I was in Guatemala. I spoke of the beauty of that country and he commiserated, he had heard that the US was all streets and tall buildings, without mountains. Such a wonderful simple thing, to be happy where you live.

Solola waterfall

Solola waterfall

Volcano over Atitlan

Volcano over Atitlan

Getting home to California life was filled with undone work and adjustments, but mainly I noticed the simple pleasures: family, walking my dog, and good plumbing.

Outhouse

Outhouse

Water for washing

Water for washing

It’s only the lack of good plumbing that really makes me notice really hot showers, potable water from the tap to drink and brush my teeth and toilets that can accept toilet paper. These simple things make me very happy. To be in my own home is so easy, with my family and friends nearby. Home is much simpler than traveling and I am enjoying it.

A weaving community.

A weaving community.

I went to Guatemala to visit women who make gorgeous pine needle baskets, but were   beginning to complain of hand problems. The plan for my trip was to investigate and teach. Fortunately, only the older women who had been making baskets the longest had significant chronic injuries.   Most women had simple musculoskeletal issues caused by unvaried work, poor posture while working and poor ergonomics. From a medical perspective the solutions are simple adaptations.

Another group of basket makers

Another group of basket makers

For the women, the things that I think are simple were either wild revelations ( you don’t have to put up with pain, you can change things), or ludicrous claims ( you need to work less now in order to keep working and earning in the future). What I ended up teaching was muscle and posture awareness, as in “This is what your muscle feels like when it’s tight and this is how it feels if you stretch it”.

Shrug those shoulders. They thought it was hilarious!

Shrug those shoulders. They thought it was hilarious!

Stretch those arms.

Stretch those arms.

” If you raise your work and don’t hunch over a basket in your lap, your neck and shoulders won’t hurt as much”.

Raise the work up rather than bending to meet it.

Raise the work up rather than bending to meet it.

Even simpler ace to keep the wrist in neutral .

Even simpler ace to keep the wrist in neutral . Finger cots protect from finger strain and cuts.

Simple splint

Simple splint

So much simpler than what I had hoped to teach, but these are simple, free things that have potential to change how much pain the women suffer.

For me it was a privilege that they shared their world with me and I hope these little changes with time will make their work simpler, easier.

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In Memoriam

Much of my fiber work is re-work. Repurposing worn out objects, remaking things from estate sales, using up yarns that were intended for another purpose. At sixty-one I find myself surprised at how many pieces of my work are memorial pieces. Memorial because the person just died and I need to do something in their memory. Memorial because I keep their work alive by using their old yarn or equipment.
Jodie was a remarkable member of the Golden Gate Weavers who fought against cancer for many years. When there were no more ways to conquer the cancer, she just kept on with her life. She continued weaving. She produced pieces for a guild show. Weeks before her death she joined us at CNCH 2013 in the Sierra Mountains that she loved. And then she was gone.

When her family gave away her belongings, a student of mine purchased her loom and I was able to help install it in a new home and help my student warp it. I took a selection of her old wool yarns without a clear idea what I would do with them. Some have gone to my students for their first samplers, but the white and brown yarns asked to be turned into something special. The white mill ends ended up in an indigo dye pot last year. Now a beautiful blue, they coordinate with the heathered brown yarn. For years I had been planning to make a yoga bag for myself and I thought Jodie would approve. I found a gorgeous undulating twill and with the brown warp and blue weft quickly wove up pieces of the bag. 20140420-201332.jpg  
Unfortunately, my enthusiasm outweighed my sewing skills. I had no idea how to actually make pockets for my yoga blocks. The newspaper mock-up I’d earnestly made did not prepare me for the problems of making mitered corners on handwoven sewn onto mitered corners of cotton lining.   My inexpensive sewing machine actually broke when I tried to sew velcro onto this heavy handwoven.

Note to self: Do not use sticky wool when trying to learn backstrap weaving.

Note to self: Do not use sticky wool when trying to learn backstrap weaving.

The strap was my first attempt at backstrap weaving.

Still, I struggled along sewing by hand until I had a product I could trial. It was fun to load my blocks and mat and strap and socks and eye-pillow and shawl into the pockets of my misshapen bag and go off to class.

Yoga bag

Yoga bag

Now to test the true brilliance of my design: The bag could be completely opened and refolded into a pad to sit on or kneel on.  And that part worked beautifully. But it hadn’t occurred to me that this would mean unloading all the things I had carefully packed into the pockets. Somehow the serenity of my space in yoga class felt disrupted when I had “stuff”  lying all around me.  Back to the drawing board.

I rewarped and created a separate bag for my eye pillow, wool socks, yoga strap and all the accouterments of a luxurious yoga class.

Little yoga bag

Little yoga bag

Now after nearly two years of work and multiple tweaks, “Jodie’s bag” is fully functioning, week after week at yoga class. The use of her yarns, my persistence and energetic pursuit of creative pursuits, these are my tribute to Jodie.

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Aranas y #/*!! Polillos : A Weaver’s Dilemma

This is a post from 2014, never published because I can’t get good photos. But the sentiments remain.

My studio has never been airtight. It is old and the windows don’t fit tightly and even if I didn’t weave with the door wide open, bugs just find their way into the studio.
A couple years ago I had a major battle with moths. I had to take every skein of yarn out in the sunshine and comb through it looking for larval casings. I had to wash every woolen textile in hot water and dry it in the sun. I had to take all the beautiful wool sitting on shelves and lock it away in ugly plastic boxes filled with moth balls.
And I thought I had things under control
But I can’t have all the wool locked away. There’s the wool warp on the loom; the nicely wound bobbins of my current project; tidy cones waiting to be wound off.
Recently I noticed that if I weave in the evening I tend to have a few moths flying drunkenly (a sign of clothing moths) around the studio. I swing at them and kill a few. Nothing in my moth pheromone trap, but I suspected I might be in trouble again.
This was a shocker: Looking around the window bay, my local friendly araña webs had half a dozen little moths carefully tucked away for a winter dinner. They may not look like moths when they have dried out, but I first saw them they were obvious freshly dead moths.
Now my dilemma. The araña is my friend. We weavers are almost a species onto ourselves. She’s my sister, my colleague. The moths freaked me out. Even dead. But could I deprive her of her dinner after all her hard work?

Today the vacuum came out and I started with corners where the webs were old an abandoned (I thought). I always have cobwebs in my studio. But this time, since I was looking closely at the contents of the cobwebs, I saw not only more dead moths, but also tiny spiders that crawled out of the web looking for protection when I got near with the vacuum. I vacuumed around the webs. I vacuumed other debris. The internal struggle continued. Was I really going to leave webs filled with gross clothing moths. What if they had eggs in them that somehow survived? What if? I tried to gently suck the moths off the web and partially succeeded. But then I broke down. I sucked the portion of each web that had dead bugs and left an anchoring section for my spider friend to build a new one. I figured I was supplying her with lots of food and she would have the strength to replenish her home and her larder. It didn’t make me happy but my cozy little studio cannot be home to moths. #*!# polillos! Dead or alive they have to go.

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Fragile Threads

I didn’t post about an annual event that enriches my life, in part because I am not sure about sharing photos. This month, for the third year I joined a dedicated group of volunteers at Camp Sunshine ,

Watching a newly released Monarch

Watching a newly released Monarch

a weekend sleep over camp for children who have lost someone significant in their lives. The camp designed by grief counselors at the local hospital is packed full of activities to help children process, grieve and heal. It is SO overwhelming to think of the losses these kids have suffered; some of them have lost multiple family members. It is equally impressive to watch how seriously little kids can engage in processing grief.
I have the best job in camp. My spinning wheel and I sit on a deck overlooking Lake Tahoe for a couple of days.

Drought stricken Lake Tahoe with beach that should be completely under water.

Drought stricken Lake Tahoe with beach that should be completely under water.


In the beginning kids just watch me spin, but I invite them in and as soon as they see other kids spinning they want a chance. Some want two or three or four chances and we have to take turns. Such concentration to produce a yarn of soft, brightly colored wool. Such pleasure as they wrap it around wrists or present the gift of a “necklace” to family members who arrive at the end of the weekend.
Each year I “camp out” at night in the comfortable home of my friends Virginia and Norm and we companionably trek off to camp each morning. Each year amidst the stunningly gorgeous setting of Lake Tahoe, I mourn the losses in my life and in the lives of everyone around me. Each year I go home feeling better.

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Pleasure trumps exhaustion.

Woke up today to a post from one of my sisters who had seen facebook photos of my weaving class at Super Cool Summer School in Kentfield. Hope the link lets you see the smiling faces of  seven brand new weavers.

Teaching three classes of knitting and one of weaving is a wipe out, but this morning, the photos banished my fatigue. Monday morning we start another 2 weeks with a whole new group. 2-3 dozen kids each session in the knitting or weaving classes, will go back to school in the fall with a new skill; with the knowledge that they can be Makers.

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Dancing with the threads- translation: don’t push the river

In the three times I heard my friend Rocío give a presentation on the Tintes Naturales Project, ( see prior post), there was one line that never failed to elicit a response from the audience. She did a good job talking about the dyeing project and fair trade, but she also made the women and their lives very real to the audience. She spoke of their closeness to nature and their philosophies of life. I’m paraphrasing, but she said the women told her the threads can tell when we are rushing or in a bad mode and they mock us by getting all knotted up. When we are in a good mood then we are dancing with the threads and everything goes well. We finish quickly.

That story aways elicited sighs and laughter of recognition.  Who hasn’t been there? Maybe it’s called being in the zone; maybe the concept is to not push the river, but every craftsperson has experienced being in the flow- dancing with our medium. And each of us has pushed or rushed and ended up with a mess.

For thirty plus years I resented the process of warping the loom. I struggled and the threads mocked me. my friend Deb told me warping is just a chance to fondle the threads and another spoke of warping as quiet meditative time. I am trying really hard to learn and re-frame, and just in time. I started this week by warping 6 frame looms in one long night, and now I have 10 days to warp 6 or 7 table looms before Instart teaching knitting and weaving in a kids summer camp. The process has bogged down several times. Little looms I borrowed from my guild were grubby with the finger prints of hundreds of school children and the wood frames needed sanding and oiling. A little metal Structo has defeated me and I have to take it to my friend Virginia to learn how to remove the harnesses and move the heddles. I am working on serenity. How beautiful it is to sand down rough spots and restore dry wood to health. A friend gave me an old warp that has sat jumbled in a bag for a year. As a compulsive re-purposer I need to use this, but each color needs to be separated from a terrible jumble before I can use this thread.

  
When I remember to dance with the threads I enjoy making six 4 yard warps for the table looms. I enjoy that I am re-using old yarns and they will be put to good purpose permitting 24 kids to make their first weavings. It’s a discipline to remember to stay present and relaxed, but in weaving as in life, it is a much happier path.

   

A little help from my friends certainly made the work go faster. 

 

Finally on the loom. 

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Feeling Warped. 

Ok-The ten days are up. Tomorrow is the teacher prep day  for summer school and starting Monday every day for the next four weeks I’ll have 3 knitting classes of 7-12 year olds and one beginning weaving class.

Six little frame looms are ready. Another six  table looms have nearly 4 yards of warp each (a total of 3 pounds of warp!!).

Probably only a weaver can appreciate what it took to get  SIX little looms warped.  Not to mention organizing 22 pounds of yarns for weft; untangling threads and cleaning, sanding and oiling various looms.  Feeling virtuous and exhausted.

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