Eye Candy (and how it got that way)

There’s the visible, and then there’s the hidden.  Today you get both.  The images are all of recent work, photos taken by the inestimable Michael Stadler, who has perfected the art of photographing textiles so that every aspect is crystal clear, including the dimensionality.  Interspersed among the pretties is my long-promised narrative on how the basic design and planning proceeds.  You can skip that part if you want — there’s basic math involved.

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For the sake of discussion, let’s say I decide to make a series  of three scarves, finished size nine inches by six feet (72 inches), plus fringes at both ends about three inches long.  Simple math ahead . . . . First, I need to calculate the length of the warp threads I’ll put on the loom that will give me that result.

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First, add up the total number of inches required for one scarf — 75 inches (a bit extra is added because when they’re off the loom, washed and ironed, a bit of length is lost) plus two times four, for the fringes.  That’s 75 + 8 = 83″ for one scarf.  I want three, so it’s 83 X 3 = 249″.  Then, for my big computer-assisted loom, I add 27″ to allow for what’s called loom waste.  Thus, 249 + 27 = 276″.  To convert that into yards (which is the way yarns are measured), divide by 36.  So — 276/36 = 7.66667, or 7 2/3 yards.  I would probably round that up to 8 yards, so I have a bit extra to play with, maybe make at least one of the scarves a little longer.

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Next step is to figure out how much yardage I’ll need in total.  I’m going to keep it simple here, in contrast to how I rather frequently play with it in real life.

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In order to end up with a scarf 9″ wide, I’ll need to make the warp about 10″ wide, to allow for what’s called “draw-in”, which is a normal result of the weaving process as the weft (crosswise thread) goes over and under the warp (lengthwise) threads.  And, adding another variable, I’ll stipulate that the warp yarn I’m going to use is optimally (in my experience) spaced at 20 threads to the inch.  That means I’ll need 200 warp threads to make up the width.  So far so good.

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An important consideration at this point is to be sure I have enough of my chosen yarn to make up the entire warp, so I simply need to multiply the number of threads by the length — 200 X 8 = 1600 yards required.  Essential information.

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By now, I will have designed — or chosen from the several hundred that are stored in my computer — the pattern(s) I want to use for this series.  Rarely is it the case that the pattern repeats in the threading come out to a nice neat number like 200, so I’ll need to be flexible and tweak a few things.

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So, just to add a little difficulty, let’s say I want to use a pattern that has a repeat of 85; two repeats across would be 170 threads, but that would be too narrow.  Three repeats would be 255, and that’s too wide.  I could use two, and add partial repeats on each edge, or I could use three (a more interesting possibility due to the axial symmetry) and subtract some threads on each side.  But the most intriguing approach (in my experience) would be to use two full repeats plus 30 threads of the third, and make the design asymmetrical and off-center across the width of the scarves.  All three options are good; the third strikes me as potentially the best from a design standpoint.

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In decisions like the above, there are no “right” or “wrong” choices — all are good, and it becomes a matter of personal preference (or foible) as to which one selects.

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In the example I’ve been using, the calculations were based on  using only one yarn in the warp.  I more often use multiple yarns, using one as the “main” or “background” yarn (usually a multi-colored hand-dyed yarn) and one or more secondary yarns as accents, both in terms of color and texture.  These turquoise/teal/lavender scarves are an example of this practice.

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When I’m using more than one yarn for the warp, the total number will need to add up to the number of warp threads I’ve decided upon for this particular series.  So, going back to my example above, if I decide to use the main yarn (130 threads),  and two additional ones, the secondary ones will need to add up to 70.  I’d probably do 45 of one and 25 of the other, and then space them each randomly across the ten inch width so as to make the cloth more interesting and surprising than if they were precisely and equally spaced.  It raises the degree of difficulty, but that’s what I most often like to do.

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These Heart-Throb scarves are an example of a still-different approach, where I kept tweaking the pattern on the computer till I had the elaborate design perfectly symmetrical and balanced, with the number of total warp threads that I had decided upon for the finished width I wanted.  Kind of a hybrid approach, which worked out splendidly.

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After all the number-crunching, the real work begins of preparing the warp to go onto the loom, and everything that follows after that.  What I’ve outlined here is only the bare beginning, both with respect to the process and to the time expended.

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Spring Vibe

You may have noticed that I skipped a week appearing here.  My baby brother (two years younger than me) came for a visit from his mountain stronghold in Truckee, California, and I pretty  much gave myself over to spending time with him.  We had the best time together in many years.  Maybe ever.  As children, we fought a lot — the outcome of adults around us unthinkingly pitting us against each other.  It took long years, really until less than ten years ago, for us to be friends and to genuinely enjoy and understand each other.  That’s not to say we don’t still go head to head sometimes; we do, but now we’re able to step back and ultimately chuckle at our respective intransigence.  I love the guy a lot.

The work on “Departure” continues, and as of today is in the homestretch.  In my last post, I showed you the first scarf in the series, but will show it again here to have most of them all together.  So here’s #1 ~

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The weft yarn in that one is a pale green tencel, and in the second one (below) the weft is a pale pink tencel called “Apricot Blossom”, a fitting name ~

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You’ll notice that some of these photos seem warm in tone, and some quite cool.  The warmer ones are more accurate; the cooler ones were taken on cloudy days, so there was no ambient sunlight to warm things up, literally as well as figuratively.

Here’s #3, woven with pale silver grey tencel, very subtle ~

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You can see the wonderful texture contributed by the oddly-spun rayon secondary yarn; it’s likely to be even more obvious after these are off the loom, washed and ironed.

Finally, #4, woven with a fine pale lavender pearl cotton called “Orchid”, another fitting name ~

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Bonus points if you correctly guess the name of my feline quality control supervisor.  She was a bit irritated at being disallowed to do testing on the weaving rather than near it.  I was firmly unsympathetic.

There’s one more to be woven — the weft will be an ivory tencel, which is likely to accentuate the subtle colors of the warp rather than blending with them.  Photos next week, along with the previously-promised explanation of how I go about planning and designing a warp.  Be prepared for some mathematical calculations, albeit relatively simple ones!

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Still Going . . . .

Today’s weather has been quintessentially Spring-like — cloudy, sunny, strong gusty winds, pouring rain.  Some of those conditions have been sequential, some simultaneous, and the changes appeared rapidly and at short intervals.  My afternoon walk began in a light drizzle, which quickly devolved into a drenching downpour blown almost sideways by the wind.  My head and torso stayed dry beneath my bright yellow rain jacket; the rest of me got soaked.  I love this weather!

Here’s the last of the “Kilauea” series of scarves, woven with a soft orange tencel in an advancing twill patterning ~

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All three came off the loom yesterday — Leap Day — and were immediately washed and hung overnight to dry just to the right dampness for ironing.  Their completion before month’s end gave me a total of 23 yards woven during February, I believe a new record.  My production pace has been quite gratifying.  And surprising.

Meanwhile, on the big AVL, there’s a new run of work in process, a series of five scarves I’ve named “Departure”.  (I’ll be interested to see if any of my readers can figure out why I came up with that name.  There are actually two reasons, which gives you more opportunity to guess correctly!)  Here’s the hand-dyed bamboo/hemp main yarn, ready to go onto the loom ~

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The next three images were shot with my smartphone, the first time I’ve gotten good enough shots to use.  (Let me know if you think they’re of similar caliber to the ones taken with my camera.)

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The secondary, highly-textured yarn is a shiny rayon with odd long bumpy areas; the weft in this scarf is a pale green tencel.  Shimmery finished cloth is pretty much guaranteed.

A different angle, taken with the camera ~

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Finally, a sneak preview of the new warp ready to go onto the lovely cherry Baby Wolf loom.  This will be another series of three scarves, as yet unnamed.  Very shiny hand-dyed rayon and the accent threads of a lustrous pearl cotton.

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The recent weeks of unusually dense work-time resulting in substantial finished work look like continuing.  Completed designs and tantalizing ideas beckon me onward; March is likely to give February a run for her money.

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Firing on All Cylinders

For reasons I’m unable to comprehend, my production pace this month has been steadier and faster than maybe any time ever.  As of today, it doesn’t feel like it’s letting up, which suits me just fine.  I know that at some point I’ll step away for a little bit, or find that I’ve over-committed myself to “outside” activities of various sorts.  Such periods always sneak up on me, so for now I’m delighted to ride the wave of excitement and creative intensity.

And it’s Spring.  In earnest.  Which means Winter  is effectively over (though we will surely still have lots of rain), which is too bad, as the chilly rainy months are always my most productive.  I’m hoping this year to avoid the outdoor distractions for longer than usual.

So here’s the proof of last week’s work — it’s a series of three amazingly lustrous scarves in tencel and hand-dyed rayon, titled “Corruscation”.

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And the second one ~

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Finally, the third one ~

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These three, plus the three Heart-Throb scarves and some additional recent work, were photographed today by Michael Stadler in his studio — always a revelation to me.  I’m so accustomed to seeing my work up close; when they’re being shot in the studio setting with great lighting at some distance from my eyes, I see them freshly and with an entirely different perspective.  I always feel like that view is a kind of final farewell to them, even if they’re still in my possession.

You may remember that I now have a second loom in my tool kit.  That one too has been hard at work.  I may have showed a couple of pictures of it some time ago, but now there’s real progress on the warp I have on it.  It’s a hand-dyed tencel from Kathrin Weber of Blazing Shuttles fame, and because this is a mechanical loom (in contrast to the big computer-assisted behemoth), I needed to keep the patterning relatively simple.  (You may not think so, but I know otherwise!)  This will be a series of three scarves; I’ve titled it “Kilauea”.

Here’s the first one ~

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And the second ~

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I’m at the midpoint on this one, and when I go back to it tomorrow, I’m going to reverse the treadling so that the pattern goes in the opposite direction for the second half of the scarf.  Thus, when it’s worn, the two ends will mirror each other.

Here’s a look a few steps back so you can see the loom itself — it’s a lovely, well-built tool which is a pleasure to use ~

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A couple of days ago, I was telling a friend about the design process I was working through for a new run of scarves which will be woven on the big loom.  It occurred to me that the mathematical and pattern considerations I manipulate to slowly develop a finished design — all done before working with the materials themselves — are a hidden part of what I do, one which I rarely mention much less write about.  Next time, you can expect to get an explanation of that part of my process.  I anticipate it’ll be somewhat of a struggle to attempt.

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Hearts & Flowers (but no chocolate)

The customary celebrations of Valentine’s Day have long since vanished from my life.  What has taken their place is celebration of a different sort.

Here in the Maritime Northwest, the Spring season is already well under way this year.  You’ll see photographic evidence of that here and there further down, interspersed with evidence of how I chose to observe the public holiday.

For a number of years, I’ve had in mind to weave a series of Valentine’s scarves, having found in a weaving publication a project that contained representational hearts which looked pretty good.  But I never got around to it.  Until this year, about two weeks ago, when I embarked on a (relative) frenzy of design and weaving.

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I took the original weaving draft (pattern) from the article I’d saved, entered it into my design program, and did a substantial amount of revamping and redesign until the result suited my vision of a woven Valentine’s card, complete with  lacy borders.  Using silk noil and tencel in equal amounts in the warp, I raced through the warping process.

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And the weaving.  First, with a fine purple pearl cotton.

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And then, because I wanted the two ends to be symmetrical, I reversed the pattern precisely at the middle ~

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The second in the series was woven with a shiny silver-grey tencel ~

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A different angle on the cloth gives a fresh perspective on both pattern and color; this is why I persist in using shiny yarns which reflect light in interesting ways.

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The third (and last) scarf in this series — which I’ve named “Heart-Throb” — was woven with a deep red fine bamboo, less lustrous and more textured than the tencel, and therefore resulting in quite a different effect than the two previous ones.

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The finished dimensions of these three are about nine inches by 78 inches, plus fringes.

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Finally, a glimpse of a feline rendition of the generally-accepted meaning of this holiday ~

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And a last floral treasure, a bouquet of seedling hellebores, for you.

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On A Roll

During the first few weeks of a new year, my practice has long been Getting Things Organized (or Reorganized).  This past month has fit perfectly into that pattern, and by now a number of tasks which have awaited my attention are crossed off the list in this year’s work plan.  Satisfying indeed.

What has received rather less of my effort has been the weaving itself — the center around which all else rotates.  Still, on January 31, I completed the newest series of designer kitchen towels.  Lovely soft rich colors, interesting patterns, no two alike.  You saw the first two last week; now the other five can take a bow.  (I’m showing two photos of each, because the patterns show up quite differently in different color sections — which to my mind makes the whole enterprise both more intriguing and more seductive.)

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A couple of caveats — these photos are all process images, taken while the work is on the loom, so the pieces are all under tension and therefore devoid of textural interest.  That will show up nicely after washing and drying.  Second, some of the  patterns are difficult to see well, due to the low contrast between the warp and weft colors.  This was intentional (a design decision), as I wanted a blended effect for this group rather than strong contrast (which would have shown the patterns much better).

Next up — a series of three Valentine’s scarves in silk noil and tencel.  Bright red.  Hearts.  I have the warp ready, and will begin putting it on the loom tomorrow.  Ready to go “awwwwww”?

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Warm Winter

The temperature outside as I write is 53 degrees; it’s 8:30 in the evening near the end of January.  Mild as springtime, and the garden is showing it — hellebores blasting into bloom, tiny hardy cyclamen strewn fuchsia and white all through the big central garden bed, rose bushes popping out scarlet leaf buds, and one indefatigable heirloom rose in a giant pot staunchly blooming through two days-long cold snaps.

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Indoors meanwhile,  the work on the big loom makes reference to the burgeoning world outside.  This series of designer kitchen towels is named “Living Earth” — the rich, soft colors remind me of those of soil, vegetation, water and sky, flowers and fruits.

As usual, these towels will each be unique — no duplicates in the run of seven — partly due to the ever-changing flow of colors in the hand-dyed warp threads, and partly to the variety of patterns I’ve designed.

Here’s a look at the first one ~

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And the second one ~

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There’s a particular pleasure in weaving my way through the hand-dyed warps I buy from Kathrin Weber (Blazing Shuttles); it’s impossible to become bored with the work.  The colors  keep moving forward as I weave, and areas where two colors blend are especially interesting.  The sight of a fresh section coming over the horizon (as it were) is impetus to continue on, if for no other reason than to see how the solid-color weft yarn in this particular pattern looks laid over those pristine warp threads.

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Kicking Over the Traces

A few weeks ago, a friend invited me for a weekend visit in Tacoma, about 75 miles south of here.  The hesitation I felt surprised me, and it took me a day or two to identify the source — I had not left Whidbey Island in at least two years, and had not been to the Mainland in far more than that.  Short day trips had taken me north, to Anacortes, or west to Port Townsend.  Nothing had persuaded me that going to “America” (as we islanders fondly refer to it) was either interesting or compelling.  Clearly, I needed to get outta Dodge.

The most surprising moment came when I went to the storage shed outside to get my small suitcase.  As I picked it up, it occurred to me that it likely hadn’t been used since a trip to San Francisco for a family visit in March of 2006.  Ten years.  So I loaded it up, and hit the road last Friday morning — the first time I’d done freeway driving in what felt like forever.  This was a huge step off some edge I hadn’t foreseen, and I thought steadily about my theme for this year of thoughtful pursuit of risk.  This was a type that hadn’t occurred to me.

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My arrival at my friend’s condo presented me with this spectacular view to the north and west, looking across the shipping lanes toward Brown’s Point.  At this time of year too, it was a rare treat to have such a brilliant day, though there had been patches of rain on the way south.

For the next three days, urban life gave me people and experiences that were both new and sharply in contrast with my rural lifestyle and social occasions.  A noisy neighborhood pub visit the first evening was hard on the ears, but an opportunity to meet and become acquainted with interesting, clever, funny people.  Preparing and eating foods which I rarely even think of was a joy.  Attending a large Saturday night contra dance — held in a splendid church hall — with three hours of great music and fascinating dancing was an entirely new experience, one which I loved.  One element that struck me over and over was the shifting patterns of the dances — it occurred to me later that the ability to recognize those patterns is closely related to my approach to weaving.

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We spent part of one afternoon driving through different neighborhoods of the city, discussing styles of houses and the evident economic or class differences that the architecture implied in the context of the city’s history.  Part of that drive was along the waterfront leading to the port itself; we were just above the water level, struck by the utter calmness of the bay under the gentle rainfall.

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It was a wonderful visit, an re-introduction to a world and a way of life which used to be mine but no longer is.  Elements of it appeal to me greatly; others I’m glad to have left behind.  Most of all, the decision to step out of my familiar, known community and daily life has increased my awareness that it needs to be done more often, that to stay safely in my insular world is not providing opportunities to stretch and see freshly.

 

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Playing Catch-Up

Because I took such a long, unplanned vacation from this blog for the last three months of 2015, there were several events of note which haven’t been mentioned here.  The most significant was the decision to purchase a second loom — an eight-shaft Baby Wolf made of cherry, with a matching bench.  Meet Beulah, who arrived in late September ~

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The Baby Wolf is far less complex than the big AVL production loom, yet will still give me many opportunities for designs both simple and complex.  It feels small and friendly, and has the loveliest oil-finished smoothness on every surface.

Because it is a traditional loom, the body mechanics of the Baby Wolf’s use are very different from those on the AVL.  That’s a good thing, as the repetitive motion of weaving — as well as the scritchy postures often assumed during threading — are hard on one’s body.  Being able to switch back and forth between the two looms makes it more likely my body won’t develop significant problems.  Since I already have an underlying neuro-muscular condition of many years’ standing, I’ve learned to adapt and to coddle where necessary.  Varying the tools I use to do this work makes longevity in the craft far more likely.

The second significant event of the fall was a five-day weavers’ retreat in early October, of which I was the organizer.  We gathered here on Whidbey Island at Camp Casey, near Coupeville — fourteen people (including myself and instructor Kathrin Weber from North Carolina) from places scattered around the West and Southwest.  I’d never organized such an event before, but with a few minor exceptions, it went off without a hitch.  Plans for the 2016 event are already well in hand.

Below are some photos from that week, both weaving and dyeing.  You can see that no one was shy about the plunge into intense color.

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It was a wonderful event, with women who mostly hadn’t met before, yet who all have a deep and abiding love for this craft.  The new friendships formed during that week, and the continuing connections we enjoy, enrich both the weaving we do and the commonality we share on so many levels.

For me, the underlying motive that persuaded me to take on this sometimes-challenging project grew out of my awareness that weavers — like almost all artists and craftspeople — generally work in solitude.  The creation of a community of weavers who know each other, depend on each other, encourage and inspire each other, has long been my dream.  That week, and the one coming later this year, represent (among other things) my ability to shift the dream into reality.

 

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Begin As You Mean to Go On

As each year approaches its end, my long-time practice has been to conduct an informal mental review, to capture an overall sense of how it’s been.  At some point in this process, I refer to my written work plan to gain a more concrete picture of what I’ve accomplished as measured against what I’d planned.

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Tied in with that review, I also begin mulling over plans for the new year, always aware that last year is — at least in part — the springboard for this year.  As the “fresh start” becomes clearer in my mind, I write down elements as they occur to me.  When it seems like I’ve covered all the bases of both my work life as a weaver and my day-to-day life as a (mostly) sentient being,  it all gets organized into several categories and written down in the blank back pages of my calendar.  It’s easy and accessible to refer to as the year passes, though I rarely do that.  Once the exercise of writing it has taken place, the main elements cling like fruitbats in my mind, inescapable and unignorable.

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Last year, for the first time, I established a theme for the year — “Consolidation Year” — which turned out to be spot-on in several ways.  I’ve been thinking about whether I sense a theme for 2016, and today one occurred to me.  It’s a phrase I came across in a comment written on Facebook by John Graham some weeks ago; it has been reverberating within my mind ever since.

” . . . . the serious, thoughtful pursuit of risk and excellence.”

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The one word in that phrase that feels like a stretch is “risk”.  What could be construed as risk in this work as a weaver?  What might represent pushing a technique or a material so far that I’m facing the possibility of falling off some edge I don’t see or expect?  How can I know if — or whether — I’m nudging up against a barrier that I don’t recognize, or accept?  Yet this is where I intend to place myself, and my work, at least some of the time this year.

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The categories in last year’s plan were ~ the work itself; health and well-being; relationships with family, friends and self; and miscellaneous matters in the house and the garden.  Those will remain the organizing principles for this year as well.

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Each year, usually in the first week, I get together with my friend Anne Belov (painter, printmaker and cartoonist) who follows a similar process.  We eat our lunch, and then take turns reading out loud our respective work and living plans.  I believe we’ve been doing this for about ten years; it serves the purpose not of accountability (we’re both quite disciplined and organized) but of having one person who has a good idea of what we’re up to through the long slog to year’s end.  Sometimes we check in with each other, sometimes we don’t — but it’s always an option, and there’s always a sense of support in simply knowing.

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I’ve already begun on this year’s weaving.  There’s a glorious scarf series in process on the new Baby Wolf loom, and I’m setting up the big computer-assisted production loom with another designer towel warp.  Those two series will take most of this month to complete, and I’ve mapped out perhaps the first several months worth of this year’s weaving.

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My annual principle of “begin as you mean to go on” is actively in place already; the year has begun in just the way I intend.

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