Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Threads: A tribute

Had I known but yesterday what I know today,
I'd have taken out your two gray eyes and put in eyes of clay.
And had I known but yesterday you'd be no more my own,
I'd have taken out your heart of flesh and put in one of stone.
-Tam Lin, from Carolyn Parkhurst's Dogs of Babel

a wee punch-needle snowman, punched by Nova Jean Scott

I do not know how many years ago it was, but the memory is as clear as if it happened yesterday. I showed up at the door of a woman who I was told was a rug hooker. She had invited me over for an afternoon of hooking. She opened the door with a look of surprise. She was wearing a sweatshirt that read “Will Hook for Wool”. “I like this lady!”, I thought to myself. Nova would tell me later how she went to the door expecting to see a French woman and saw me standing there, a girl of undetermined Asian descent. She wondered to herself who I was and whether or not I had the right house. (Oh, the folly of married names and first appearances!) Well, she still let me in and (this should be a warning to you all), I pretty much never left.

Yesterday, in the same room that we spent that first day together, I said good-bye to my Nova. In my grief, I am reminded of how very privileged I was that our paths crossed and that we recognized in each other a kindred soul. We were both born in the year of the Monkey, just 36 years apart. We were happy hookers together. She was my ally. She was my cheerleader. She was my strength. She laughed with me and cried with me. She knew me. And, still, she invited me in and let me stay awhile. 

I came to rug hooking in a circuitous way. An article in Country Living magazine about Liz Alpert Fay led me to sign up for a class at the Arts Center in Orange, Virginia. The class was cancelled due to lack of interest. But that winter, we had temporarily relocated to Florida, so not having the class to attend, I decided to check out books on rug hooking from the local library. One book had a dedication sticker inside: “From the Strawberry Rug Hookers, In Memory of Julianne White”. That little sticker led me to the lovely Joyce Frauenfelder and a great group of hookers who met at the Planteen in Plant City, Florida. Through the Strawberry Rug Hookers, I had a wonderful first rug hooking teacher in Mamie Adair. Mamie showed up with a biscuit tin full of gorgeous hooks turned by her husband Jim and a pattern for a primitive rose with precut strips on burlap. Jim passed away some years ago, but his perfect hooks warm my hands as I work on my current piece. Another teacher, Sarah Paddock, sold me my first Pittsburgh rug frame and guided me through choosing and hooking my first background. The portable rug frame sits at the ready for whenever I want to take my hooking on the road.

When we came back to Virginia later that year, I didn’t have a group to hook with and soon detoured into weaving. Hooking sat on the backburner until that day I walked up the steps at Nova’s house. (I will be forever grateful to Kim Argenzio for the introduction, even though I only met Kim once, on a hot July 4 in downtown Fredericksburg.) I found out that first afternoon with Nova that Julianne had been a dear friend to Nova. How the world shrinks when interests and passions coincide.

Last year, Nova gave me her collection of Threads magazines. She had been a subscriber from the inaugural issue. The inaugural issue’s cover story was about the Scheuer Tapestry studio that operated in New York City from the early 1980s until the mid-1990s. I took a tapestry weaving class from Joan Griffin in Charlottesville in 2004 and, from Joan, learned about the American Tapestry Alliance and Shannock tapestry looms. In 2005, I found a wooden Shannock loom for sale on eBay and later that year purchased the remaining Shannock looms and yarns of the Scheuer Tapestry Studio from Ruth Scheuer (now Rudi Dundas). And so my tapestry journey began.

Whenever I had a project that required wool, Nova would invite me to what she liked to call her “bodega” and we would rummage through her boxes of wool (she told me that a neighbor girl once came to visit, reporting back that Mrs. Scott had 28! boxes of wool in her basement…sorted by color! Don’t we all??). A few years back, Nova gave me a partially-hooked rug that she said she wasn’t going to finish. I recognized the value of something more-than-half-way complete, dyed some wool, pulled some loops and finished it. She would not take the completed rug as a gift, saying that she had “wanted it out of the house then and it’s going to stay out!” I wrote about finishing the rug in a blog post here and the finished rug is here.

As I sat by her bed in the sun room yesterday, the rhythm of the oxygen machine our soundtrack, we got the chance to look back in wonder and awe at our connection. We talked about our car trips to hook in Charlotteville with the Blue Ridge Rug Hookers and our drives to many Virginia Rugfests in recent years. We sure did a lot of driving and talking! We laughed about her asking me to help her get started with a knitted counterpane purse and me agreeing to something I did not really know how to do; the blind leading the blind. But we soldiered through the pattern, mistakes and all. She later admitted how much she hated knitting that purse and eventually turned it into one of the fanciest throw pillows around. As we talked yesterday, I hugged it in both hands, my head on her bed. She even suggested that I talk to a mutual friend to help me get through this time, saying “Florence will know what to say. She understands. I've always admired her so much.” Always Nova, worrying about me rather than herself.

I am now working on a few different projects that have traces of Nova on them; wool from her bodega, a dye formula she passed along to me, suggestions of how to hook certain elements, etc. As my hands puzzle through the work I wish to create, I am consoled by memories of her warm heart, her honest laugh and her generous spirit. It is a salve for these fresh wounds to recognize that my friend lives on in this way. Nova taught me about dignity in the face of grave sorrow, bravery in the face of big challenges and laughter, above all. 
How I thank her for that.

the counterpane pillow, knitted and reimagined by Nova Jean Scott

Monday, December 14, 2015

Knitting, to be continued

Some years ago, on a visit to Baltimore, my sister Kwan very generously told me about and came with me to her local yarn store, A Good Yarn, in Fells Point. As a knitter, you always have to appreciate a non-knitter accompanying you to a yarn store. What looks to knitters as endlessly fascinating and enticing looks to non-knitters as, well, just a bunch of string with no obvious purpose. It does not spark in their imagination images of potential dreamy or practical garments. They do not get excited about the downy softness of angora. They could care less that alpaca feels cool and silky to the touch and, while lighter than wool, is much warmer. They do not see the allure and advantages of aloe-vera and jojoba-infused sock yarn. They are humoring you. They are being nice. Be nice back, choose something, pay for it and move along.

That day, I chose two skeins of sock yarn, Trekking and Step. As we walked out to the car, Kwan exclaimed, “that expensive and you still have to knit them!” My first thought was to tell her that the Step had the restorative aloe vera and jojoba in the yarn but I just replied, “Yes, I still have to knit them,” while noting to myself, “no handknit socks for her”. Sorry, Kwannie!

I love my handknit socks and you would think that love would make me want to finish a pair quickly. You'd think that, but you’d be wrong.  (If you haven’t figured it out already, I'm not really an immediate-gratification kind of gal.) Many who don’t knit--and even many who do--will not understand how it can take me over two years to finish a pair of socks. That is the problem with socks, you need a pair to make them complete. (To be perfectly honest, since we returned home from a long trip in September, I have no idea where my current sock project is. But it sure did get me through that 13-hour layover in Abu Dhabi!) For the last seven years or so, I pretty much only knit when I am waiting somewhere---doctor’s offices, at the airport, on airplanes, on the metro or on buses. Transportation where someone else is doing the work of overseeing the conveyance is key. And, for me, it really isn't the completion of the project that is important here, it is in the making and all that comes with it that I find the value. The end product, that's just gravy.

Once, I hustled to start a lace shawl the day before my husband Jean-Francois had surgery for a ruptured Achilles tendon. I knew that I had a lot of waiting coming to me and I didn’t have a project to work on. Now that was stress…not having anything started on the needles. Not finishing that project for a few years, well that was no stress at all!

Over the course of six-plus months, Jean-Francois had his surgery, went to his follow-up appointments and did his physical therapy while I sat by knitting, the yards of the airiest pear-green mohair and a just-challenging-enough lace pattern keeping me calm, patient and productive. I completed much of the center rectangle of Large Rectangle with Center Diamond pattern from Jane Sowerby’s book Victorian Lace Today (the most beautiful and inspiring book, the most boring and unimaginative project name) during his rehabilitation. It really didn’t matter to me that the project sat unfinished once his rehab was complete.* Having a knitting-aided even temperament while the person you love struggles to learn to walk again was gift enough. The knitting had done its job.

During his rehabilitation, which coincided with the snowiest and coldest winter we had seen in years in central Virginia, Jean-Francois came to appreciate fully the pleasures of handknit socks. Years before, I had knit him two pairs of socks, but he avoided wearing them because he deemed them “too good”.  The only shoes he was comfortable putting on after his surgery were sandals. And he totally rocked the sock-with-sandal look with handknit wool socks (one pair in the vivid and energizing colors of Kaffe Fassett and one pair infused with Jojoba!). Cozy feet = happy feet.

So, as a salute to happy feet and knitting that works overtime, I present a parade of a few pairs of my necessary indulgence…my beloved handknit socks. (It has been awfully warm here in December, so I haven’t had the chance to wear these yet, but know the time will come soon enough.)

Pattern: Waving lace socks by Evelyn A. Clark, Interweave Knits, Spring 2004.
She writes the best sock patterns and designed my all-time favorite sock, the Retro Rib sock (not pictured). 

The first pair of socks I ever knit. Knit while Jean-Francois was installing the kitchen in our Paris place, allowing me the opportunity to time how long it actually takes to knit a sock (information that is possibly better off left unknown…about 48 hours of knitting. Per sock. Yep, I didn't need to know that. The kitchen took less time to install, 'nuff said.) They are beautiful socks and, in the interest of making it an improving project, also my first attempt at knitting lace. I love knitting lace and (I fear I'm being repetitive here) I love handknit, totally worth it.

As I knit these, a friend told me they were too pretty for my feet...well, my feet are prettier now!

Yarn: Socka by StahlWoole. Absolutely my favorite sock yarn to knit with for its versatility, wearability and great color. Those Germans know their sock yarn.

Also comes in 50 gram balls which makes for easy transportability. I know that, to yarn companies, 100 gram balls are a simple and efficient delivery system for sock yarn, but they take up too much room in the purse, suitcase, etc. The trade-off with sock knitting is that I have to knit two socks, but I don't actually want or need to carry them both around with me!

Pattern: Fiber Trends Hellen's Favorite Socks with the 3/1 mock cable cuff.

Star toe.  Not my favorite toe, but pretty.

Yarn: My first pair of socks knitted using Step yarn (ALOE VERA  AND JOJOBA-infused!) by Austermann.
For some reason, I have had to darn the socks I have knit with Step yarn more often than others…moth holes or wear holes, I don’t know if it is the aloe vera, jojoba that attracts bugs or what the reason is, but my feet are soft!

This yarn is self-striping which means that the colors change as you knit, making stripes. I prefer not to match the stripes on my socks. This fact is a great bother to many a sock knitter (and, it seems, non-sock knitters, too. There have been instances where someone who doesn't knit socks will comment to me, "your socks don't match". The options for response to this statement can range from "thanks for the newsflash” to "they match on a level that you can't begin to understand" but they all end with a silent, but emphatic, “Congratulations, you've just been added to my no-knit list!”

Pattern: Basketweave Rib from Charlene Schurch's book Sensational Knitted Socks, my favorite sock resource book. (I believe that my current sock-on-the-needles is in the Openwork Rib pattern from this book. But I couldn't locate the sock to confirm. It'll turn up, eventually.) 

Yarn:  Sockin' Sox by Plymouth. A wool/bamboo blend yarn, very nice to wear, not as nice to knit as wool sock yarn. (Something about the yarn name also keeps me from lovin' it; maybe it's the apostrophe standing in for a "g" and  the use of "x" rather than "cks". I'm weird like that.)

The first sock was knit with a "Princess" foot in reverse stockinette stitch, so the inside stitches are the smooth knit stitches that touch the sole of your foot and the outside are the bumpier purl stitches. I couldn't be bothered to purl the foot of the second sock, so I just knit a regular foot. I do regret it and feel only half a princess when wearing these.

Left toe is a little more of a princess than right, but pills more easily. Ah, trade-offs!

Pattern: Erica Alexander's Web Sock in Fancy Rib. An Interweave Knits webKnits design. Not a very stretchy rib, but the fancy makes up for that.

Yarn: Socka by StahlWoole. Again. This time with a little shiny bling added to the wool. Makes the gray not so gray.

* I did eventually get sorted out enough to knit on the lace edging, which took me just over three months, and complete the project…a full two years, two months and six days after his surgery (I know because write things like start, re-start and finish dates down on my patterns). The morning I finished it, not bothering to weave in the ends, I threw the shawl over my shoulders and went to vote. I got a compliment on it from one of the volunteers at the polls. That’s my kind of instant gratification!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Paris Journal: "Tai Tai": textiles in the city, aka my new favorite place

The amazing thing about cities is that you can turn the corner and find a treasure of a store, one you never noticed before (or wasn't there the last time you walked this particular direction). Right there in your proverbial backyard!

I went to buy yarn this morning at my somewhat local yarn store (LYS) Chatmaille in the Marche St Pierre area. I wanted to buy an alpaca sock yarn, but they didn't have change for my 50 Euros, so I left and went looking for change. I can't call them my LYS since they've never really been very nice or welcoming and this morning's visit was no different.

I walked down rue Andre del Sarte and found Tai Tai Boutique. This store is a treasure trove of finds! Tai tai means little sister in Mandarin.

This is where you can toe socks to wear with flip flops! Forget the sock knitting required.
A selection of handwoven hemp fabrics in natural and indigo.

Reversible, indigo dyed, cotton batik yardage 

Xiao Hua Albert showing off an exquisite iridescent Miao fabric
The selection of fabrics here is very impressive. The Miao are an ethnic minority in China. I have only seen the Miao iridescent fabric once or twice before and it was so prized that it was not for sale. The sheen comes from repeatedly beating the eggwhite-coated dyed fabric against a stone slab. The depth of such luster pounded into the fabric is really amazing.

All fabric is sold by the meter and very affordable!
Beautifully decorated boutique, all for purchase!

Clothing for fancy and casual wear.

Photographs from Canton, China, lining the walls.

Covet-worthy display of fabrics and embroidered Mary Janes
The Panda table!

Little books and other treasures for everyone on your gift list.

More socks and coin purses in great fabrics. 

They have supplies for Chinese calligraphy and painting

or you can buy the art itself!
Tai tai is really a gem of a store. I am so excited to have discovered it and bought some textile treasures.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Dovecot Tapestry Studio

I was so lucky to be in Scotland and visit the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh. The tapestry studio is housed in a building that was once a Victorian swimming pool/public baths.

The airy entry has a nice selection of books, supplies and fiber-centric gifts.

Kon-Tiki Guys, tapestry woven by Freya Sewell (former apprentice)  and  WRRTBCHT, tufted rug by Dennis Reinmuller

The weaving studio entrance (closed to visitors).

Studio through the window.

Some tapestry education before the entry to the viewing balcony.

Imagine it ....the viewing balcony runs along the perimeter of the studio space which is where the pool once was. Truly spectacular. Every weaver wants a studio like this!

That's a ginormous frame for rug tufting...and the scaffolding for the one who is tufting!

In addition to the weaving studio and gallery, there is also a cute little cafe that I long to spend more time in.

A great rug in the cafe, described below.

It is such a lovely, wonderfully-renovated building, well worth the visit if you're in the neighborhood. If you can't make it there, the Dovecot website also has a catalog of their tapestries for sale that is very much worth a browse. Especially fun to see are the tapestries that were inspired by Dovecot's swimming pool past.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Owning your work aka weaving that looks like it's yours

Last July, I was fortunate to take a tapestry weaving workshop from Sarah Swett in lovely Garden Valley, Idaho. What a treat! Sarah is a weaver of words, an imaginative powerhouse and an absolute hoot. The class focused on four-selvedge tapestry weaving and the value of value. Sarah weaves with a wool warp and weft and washes all of her tapestries. They have a really fluid, beautiful drape that really adds to the appeal. 

After warping our copper pipe looms following Sarah’s four-selvedge warping technique, our first exercise was to weave a small four-selvedge piece, paying particular attention to value…light to dark and vice versa. Sarah provided scrumptious hand-dyed and hand-spun singles yarns for us to work with and they were an absolute joy to weave.  After taking my loom back to my cabin at the Wander Inn and working on my piece in the evening, I returned to class the following day, shared my little tapestry and wondered aloud: “Why is it that everything I weave looks like I wove it?" Sarah laughed and replied, "Isn't that a good thing?" My short answer was that I didn't really know. 

My little value tapestry taking a bath.

I was reminded of this as I finished weaving my little tapestry for the American Tapestry Alliance's small format unjuried show, “Untitled/Unjuried”. My tapestry study group decided on a theme of "Virginia Blues", so I gathered up some variegated blue handspun and other tapestry yarns in blues, purples and greens and wove some windblown, leafy shapes. I had a loose idea of the shapes but didn’t really bother to follow a cartoon as I wove. Wouldn’t you know it, but it turned out looking like I wove it...and I’m still not sure that’s a good thing.
"So Bleu", wool weft on cotton warp, still on the loom.
Once off the loom, I decided I liked the green leaf on the bottom and flipped it for presentation.

Back of the tapestry, little stitches holding down warp threads. Archie Brennan taught me this technique.

Beauty shot. For the first time, I used a crochet chain of handspun to begin and end the piece. 

I have always admired the work of accomplished tapestry weavers whose weaving has such a specific voice and look that I am able to identify the weaver just by looking at the piece. These weavers have a body of work that expresses their individual style, be it in theme, technique or subject matter. I have long felt that this is what all weavers strive for.

Now that I am weaving what I recognize to be from my hands, I am left a bit conflicted. It is sort of like catching a glimpse of your reflection and thinking to yourself, “is that really me?”

I am having an especially difficult time with the piece that’s on the loom right now. What I see sure does look like I wove it and I am simply not happy with what I’m seeing. It is in time out right now. I haven’t done any unweaving yet, but that still might happen.  

There is a quotation from the singer/songwriter Bill Withers that I seek out at times like this:

"It's okay to head out for wonderful, but on the way to wonderful, you're going to have to pass through all right. And when you get to all right, take a good look around and get used to it, because that may be as far as you go."

I've been on this road to wonderful now for the better part of a decade. My steering can get iffy and I might veer off onto the shoulder for a spell or even make a huge detour but I guess sometimes I have to be content to just be on (or in the vicinity of) the road. Cheers to others on the same journey!

“Untitled/Unjuried: small format tapestry 2014” will run until August 8 at the University of Rhode Island FeinsteinGallery, 80 Washington St, Providence, Rhode Island with a reception tonight from 5-9 pm. I won’t be there, but my tapestry will!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Crownpoint Navajo Rug Auction

The Crownpoint Weavers Association holds a monthly rug auction in Crownpoint, New Mexico, every month. Here, Navajo weavers bring their rugs to auction directly to the public. 

Held at the elementary school in Crownpoint, the auction gives buyers the most direct access to rugs from the Navajo weavers. With no middle man taking a cut, the auction purchases benefit the buyers and weavers alike.

The drive to Crownpoint is one of the loveliest in the state.

Crownpoint Elementary School. Don't bother to arrive before 4 pm.
They really won't let you inside earlier than that. 

Weavers registering their rugs for the auction.
Each rug gets a lot number and is labeled with the weaver's name and where they are from.
Once registered, the rugs are then sorted by size and put on different tables for buyers to touch, measure, examine and admire.
Things are piling up on the medium-sized rug table.

Little treasures on the small rug table.

Inspecting the rugs. Canny buyers come equipped with measuring tapes to check size and notebooks to note lot numbers so they can be ready to bid when their desired rugs are on the block.

The XL rug table holds room-sized rugs that will become the centerpiece of any decor.

A contemporary design in a modern colorway is coveted by many.
The young weaver is there to tell her story and add some nice history to the rug.
More weavers waiting in line outside to register their rugs for the auction.

Buyers examining the rugs while weavers await the auction on the bleachers.

See anything you like? 

There's a style, size and colorway to please everyone!

The auction begins at around 7 pm and continues until all lots are put up for auction. The weavers put reserve prices on their rugs, so they are sure to get a minimum for their efforts or the rug is withdrawn. It's a lively Friday evening and worth a look for anyone who appreciates expert weaving and textiles.