Alice in Weaverland

Nearly three months ago, on the evening of the last day of a tapestry weaving workshop, I landed in the ER at Baptist Hospital and didn’t come out until three weeks later. Much like Alice in the story we all know, it felt like I dropped down a rabbit hole into a strange, albeit familiar, world of beeps and alarms, uniforms and white coats, pain and medications. Another hole opened up in my small intestine just a few days after extensive surgery to repair a closed loop bowel obstruction caused by adhesions from previous surgeries. The fistula (the medical term for this hole), though it has healed much, still has a ways to go. And if it does not heal completely, surgery (again) will be needed to fix it. This is a long, slow, tedious, and sometimes uncomfortable process.

The evening prior to slipping down the rabbit hole, I began a small tapestry to try to work on some of the concepts I was learning from Tommye Scanlin in her workshop on Design in Tapestry. I was so fortunate to be able to attend this workshop and learn from one of the masters in Tapestry Weaving today. I chose to begin an abstract piece based on paint explorations we had created in the workshop. Cropping and rotating what we have drawn or painted can offer interesting subjects to weave. I plunged in…warping the small loom with cotton seine twine, weaving a header, working a couple of rows of twining and establishing the first few rows/colors of the design. That was all I could do in an evening on the couch.

A couple of weeks after arriving home from the hospital, I picked up the little loom and tried my best to wrap my head around what I had been doing. I just couldn’t. Whether it was the fog of medications or the weariness of my body and mind, I just wasn’t able to hold in my head or in my hands what I needed to do to weave. I set the loom back in its protective bag with all the yarns for the project, and picked up my knitting which was simple enough to do. But I remember thinking that this geometric abstract design was not what I wanted to weave. There would need to be flowers…organic flowing shapes of design-heavy florals. Yes. This was certain. Some day.

About a week ago, I pulled out the loom to give it another go. I was feeling stronger and hoped that I might be in a place to tackle the small tapestry. I looked at what little bit I had woven and saw the beginnings of stems reaching up to flower heads, pink petals and green leaves growing from the square and rectangular beginnings. A small portion was unpicked as I knew the color would not be needed for this new design, and a cartoon was drawn incorporating the established shapes and colors. A total re-routing of an original plan. I liked it a lot and had the mental and physical ability to begin working on it.

It occurs to me that the healing I am undergoing is much like this tapestry and tapestry weaving in general. This health crisis has certainly been a total re-routing of an original plan. Healing from it is slow, very slow and tedious and even (when I sit at the loom for too long) uncomfortable. As I weave a small tapestry, the work is not linear as weaving cloth is. Tapestry rarely allows for a yarn to be woven straight across the warp, back and forth, back and forth. Rather shapes are being woven, section by section. Negative spaces between the shapes must be filled in before shapes are completed or new shapes begun. It is a like a puzzle…working a bit here, then over there, then back again to fill in and finish that area. Healing feels like this also. Especially with a fistula.

The surgeons speak of a fistula that is healing by saying that it “stutters”. It will seem like the fistula has healed for good and then it starts to leak again, and back and forth for a while. They say this is a good sign. My fistula has been stuttering a lot. The back and forth nature of tapestry, the leaving a leaf undone while I weave a stem, all of this seems a bit like stuttering my way through a design. It is a very different process from any of the other mediums I’ve dabbled in. And while I know that my design will be complete one day, the process of creating it is nevertheless full of fits and starts and sometimes unpicking.

(Morning light on work in progress…makes me so happy!)

I am trying to rest in the process of healing that my body is still undergoing. Nightly nutritional tube feeds and protein feeds during the day are all designed to aid the fistula in its healing. I must stay the course even though I can’t really tell whether there has been improvement lately. This too is like tapestry where at the end of a session of weaving it doesn’t look like I’ve accomplished much. I must trust the process, keep doing the daily work, in hopes that it will all resolve in due time.🙏

**Special Note: Many of you reading this have been sending healing thoughts and prayers my way and I am so very grateful for them all! This is a “marathon” unlike any I’ve experienced before and I’m so glad for comrades along the path. 💖

The Power of Play – Take 2

After the previous post went out, it occurred to me that I didn’t exactly get around to writing about how creative play has a subtle power to change, move, ignite and inspire us to more creativity. I became enamored with my new word SWOODLE, and well, that was that. I kept on swoodling in my sketchbook (swishing paint and doodling with pens, markers, and pencils) through last week, and lo and behold… I began to weave a little tapestry.

That last statement might not mean much to you. Might seem a bit like “duh”…of course you would Jen! But here’s the beauty (and power) of it all – I had been, prior to playing in my sketchbook, in a creative slough. Now there’s a word for you: slough. Pronounced sloo.

The word slough has two listed meanings. 1. Swamp. 2. A situation characterized by lack of progress or inactivity. Both are apt to describe how I was feeling as an artist in the “middle” of her life. I cannot say that playing in my sketchbook has completely pulled me out of this swampy bog and set me on a sparkling new path. But I can say that swoodling in the swamp sparks something within me akin to embers glowing and cool spring breezes. The very unstructured, unabashed, free of restraints, trying-new-things playfulness shifted something in my brain, enabling it to open to so many ideas for small tapestries. The even greater benefit of it is less in the plethora of ideas (which I often seem to have aplenty, bordering on too many!) but rather in a “why not” attitude heavily doused with “let’s just see what happens if…”

Here’s a little secret…shhh…I might chicken out before I type it here for you…there’s a little voice inside my head that says I’d really like to be a tapestry weaver. <gasp> When I watch videos about the Australian Tapestry Workshop or the French Tapestry tradition or Dovecot studios in Scotland…I begin to slobber. Oh wait, let me say rather…I start to swoon. There it is again…Swoodle, Swamp, and Swoon. If you find yourself in a Swamp, Swoodle for a while and soon you will Swoon into action! Ha! OK…I’m digressing again!

What I want to leave you with is the idea that creative play, the kind that makes you feel all giddy inside, or feel like you want to skip down the sidewalk or draw with chalk in the driveway…it will do something in you. It can unlock what has been stowed away for a while, namely a child-like sense of wonder. I want to maintain that wonder as I weave tapestries…to keep weaving images that my inner serious-minded-artist says are juvenile and childish. I want to weave with all kinds of fibers instead of restricting myself to only one type of yarn. I want to weave lots of luscious colors instead of forcing myself to use “grown-up” colors, whatever that means. I want to weave colorful shapes and not feel pressure to always have form and shadow. I want to just place colors in between warp threads and watch a picture grow. Like a garden. Perhaps that is actually what I want to be when I grow up…a Yarn Gardener. Spinning wool into yarn and Weaving yarn into pictures. Maybe at my age it isn’t too late! Maybe, just maybe I could do that.

I think I already am. 😃 At least I’m at the beginning of that journey. I lose my way sometimes. Life has a way of weighing in and swamping me. My sketchbook is a life raft…a place to hang onto and swoodle whatever I want with no rules, no pressure, no drama or trauma. Just play. It’s powerful.

*******

Hey! Did I also mention that one of the first things I did in between sketching sessions, was to pick up a spindle and start spinning bright colorful wool? Yep. Toys are so fun…twiddling a whirly-gig that makes wool become yarn is just way too fun! One thing leads to another and to another. Keeping it fun and free!

The Power of Play

I have long known that there is a little girl inside me who loves to open up a sketchbook, pull out crayons, pens, paints, and have a go at whatever strikes her fancy. She gets huffy when there’s any suggestion to stick with one way of doing things, or to make proper grown-up art, or to get serious about art making.

There have been years when she was ok with sharing her drawings with others through a gallery or art exhibit. But lately she has been pleased as punch just to doodle and draw, splash on a little paint, or swipe a creamy oil pastel across a white page.

(Gouache & Oil Pastel)

Play, for creatives of any kind, is crucial. It’s my favorite place…playing with art mediums, or fibers, yarns and spinning tools. The Wonder that any of this “play” turns out to be a cool picture or some yarn to knit with, is icing on the cake. It’s the playfulness, the chase of “what will happen if I do this?”, the simplicity of time spent exploring and just being ok with whatever comes out on the page. There is certainly a time for “applying oneself”. But in my recent shenanigans on paper lately, it somehow feels like deliciously applying myself to the world of PLAY!

I can play with imagined landscapes.

Or with drawing real-life events right out of my head, not from a photo.

Or I can play with different materials.

Or switch up the colors in rendering what I see in a photo or directly from life.

Or I can just swoodle all around the page! (Swoodle shall be a new word…it is a mash-up of swish and doodle, as in swish paint around then doodle with a crayon 😁) It is my firm belief that we ALL need to swoodle whether we are artists or not!

Give it a try! Sit cross-legged on the floor with some paper and crayons or big markers, maybe some large brushes with tempura paint and SWOODLE to your heart’s content!

******

💖What do you do for “play”? If you are a maker of any stripe, how do you unplug your “make proper grown-up art” brain and just let-go? I’d love to hear!

A Time to Draw

In that drifting place between awake and sleep, I wanted so much to draw what I was seeing…to see if I could draw dark upon dark…shapes and shadows lovely in their streetlamp glow. I hovered there taking it all in, relishing the abstractness of night, but willing myself to stay right there and not go downstairs to grab my sketchbook. I fell asleep content that I even have this desire to draw, and glad for tomorrow…a chance to drawcument moments , sketch small inconsequential things.

There is a time for drawing. And there is also a time for desiring to draw. I suppose one might say that all of life can be seen through the binoculars of pen and paintbrush, whether they’re being used or merely resting on my drawing table. It is not the drawings themselves that are noteworthy. It is the whisper that comes through them, a voluminous assurance that all is well and all will be well. I cannot tell you how this is.

In attempting to tell you I might say that the act of sketching in a sketchbook is a bit like the dandelion I saw yesterday morning on my walk. Truly it was (or seemed to me) the only one growing along the sidewalk. I snapped its photo, intent on drawing it later, savoring the golden ruffle of petals in a sea of green and purple weeds. Today, as I walked, the entire yard of that same lone dandelion was dotted with so many of them, I wondered if I just hadn’t taken the time to really look yesterday! They were everywhere…as if the one brave dandy had told them all that it was safe to come out now. Golden gumdrops all waving their pretty little heads at me as if to say, “Draw me next!”

That’s how it happens. One sketch opens a doorway to so many more! I am thoroughly enthralled with lines and dancing colors on white pages and am now in that familiar state of quivering-with-delight-bordering-on-anxiety that I won’t be able to sketch them all! This kind of overwhelm threatens to shut me down completely, and has on many occasions. But I know how to work with it. I know what to say to the clamoring though cheerful dandelions. It is to sit down with them, each in their turn, and to assure them…”All in good time, dear…all in good time.” Then to walk away relishing the desire to draw as a good and perfect gift from above.

I will not be able to draw them all. Nope. Not even remotely. I share with you just a few of the recent “golden dandelions” in and around the yard of my life. There are more to be sketched. And many that will not make it into my sketchbook. I will still treasure them and listen for the whispers they send me…words from an expansive world of light and loveliness, so needed in my day to day comings and goings, tragedies and triumphs.

I’m off to live the day. There’s a pen and sketchbook in my purse. Ready for drawing a dandelion.🌼

My Tea Garden

I am a tea drinker. Yes, coffee in the morning…but tea the rest of the day. Hot tea, even in summer. But I do love brewing tea and then pouring it over ice on especially hot days. All kinds of teas…dark and caffeinated to light herbal teas, green teas with a touch of lemon or ginger, peppermint…well, it’s all delicious!

Except for Lapsong Souchong…nope…don’t like that stuff…tastes like a mouthful of smoke. Blech.

But I digress…what I’m so crazy excited about is my newly established Back Deck Tea Garden! I’ve been dreaming of it for a while now, got a book about how to start one and what kinds of plants would yield what kinds of teas. Of course, doodling ideas in my sketchbook was a must to work out what I might like to start with, what I already have on hand, and how it might grow right there on my deck.

You see…I’m not very much of a gardener. Oh I have all kinds of grand visions of gardens and I can plant them in the ground. But then I say to the little plants “Grow and Flourish” and I walk away. If I don’t see them, I tend to forget they need watering and tending. Come mid-summer they are wilting and gasping for water. But if plants are on the deck, right where I can see them out my kitchen window, I tend to them much better.

So here’s my little Tea Garden in its infancy. Of course, I have flowers in and around the herbs. Some of the flowers, such as Bee Balm (which is actually Bergamot!) and Tufted Violets were listed in my Tea Book as lovely plants from which to harvest flowers and leaves for tea! Planted in and among the other flowers I have lavender, rosemary, peppermint, basil, another kind of mint, lemon balm and I hope to have some chamomile I’m trying to grow from seed. A good start I think!

I’m dreaming of sipping freshly made teas from my little garden all summer and then drying them for fall and winter tea. I’m also planning on lots of drawing and sketches from the flourishing plants!

Now to go water them and whisper to them to grow, grow, grow!

Taking Hold of A Line

Before Lent began, a dear friend and I decided to walk through Lent with a sketchbook in our hands. This isn’t radically different from my normal everyday practice, but I had been sporadic with sketching, especially as a long, rainy & cold winter had all but sapped the color from my eyes.

The benefit of seasons, both in nature and the church calendar, is that they afford us an opportunity for change. I know I was parched for the nourishment of my sketchbook, but I don’t think I realized just how much so. Committing to a daily drawing (or two:) in a sketchbook, actively seeking something of note either mundane or magical, sets in motion a rumbling akin to Springtime…a quiet steady blowing on near-to-dying embers.

At first, weeks ago, I drew from my imagination, interior conversations, fantastical landscapes filled with color which I long to walk in. I also drew happenings, actual walks around Salem Lake and elsewhere, silliness with my daughters, the college world that is in my home.

For the first couple of weeks it was enough to just make one drawing, or two each day. Now I am filling page after page and my head is filled with far more drawings I don’t have the time for each day but am planning to sketch them soon! Photos are good for this…snap a photo and draw later from that if I’m unable to draw from life.

I’ve certainly experienced this before, but it is a wonder and a delight to pick up my pen and feel the taking hold of a line. Then soon having that line wrap itself around me and pull me along showing me all the things, places, events I can draw in my sketchbook! Drawings beget drawings…always! Ahhh… (contented sigh😊)

I have realized in writing this post, that I have far more I want to share with you through the lens of my sketchbook. So I will do so in shorter posts in the upcoming days. There are too many sketches to cram into one blog post! And I’m hearing my sketchbook call out to me just now as the blooming pear trees in my neighborhood are bursting like popcorn in a kettle!

Must go draw…but I’ll be back to share the findings!💖

The Woven Way

From where I sit, walking the treadles, threads reach out in front of me…a long narrow path, open to possibility, unknown, undiscovered.

Rolled up underneath this path is what I wove yesterday. I can’t see it. I try to remember the colors and textures of days gone by. Some I remember vividly, others blur and fade. I wish I could go back and see if it all works together, what I was weaving with then, whether I am weaving today what will complement yesterday.

(selecting colors to begin weaving)

The open warp threads have always been exciting to me…like blank sketchbook pages, the open sea, a wide expanse of meadow. I have yet to walk into them, sail into their uncharted waters, make colorful marks on the white pages.

As I peer through the heddles I wonder what these threads might bring. Difficulty, pain and loss are surely bound up in what’s to come, just as it has before. I can’t stay there long, peering beyond the reed…I must return to what’s right here, in front of me, today and its open threads.

(Small freeform tapestry on a frame loom)

It is here, in these moments of weaving color and wool, ribbon and locks, that the path ahead and behind me falls away and I can sink into what is happening here between the warped threads. I reach for what I’m given, work with what I’ve spun, passing a shuttle full of joy through the open threads, as if I’m feeding a mouth hungry for beauty and truth.

I know that one day the cloth will be unwound and I’ll get to see its entirety. I have a feeling that I won’t see it as something entirely woven by myself. I imagine that as I’m shown the cloth of my life, I will see it as woven by another’s Hand, a path that I surely walked, but which has been transformed into something far more than what I could ever have woven. The dark, tear-stained colors will serve to enrich and enliven the joy-filled filaments of light. Woven throughout, I’ll see the Golden thread given to me to follow to the end of the cloth.

(previously woven handspun cloth)

I like to think that it is this very cloth which will become an imperishable robe of sparkling threads. My reverie of future transformation must somehow be brought into walking the treadles of today. So I lean into the warped loom, pick up a bobbin full of color and pass the shuttle through.

***** Do you have ways that you bring the hope of future transformation into your daily life? I’d love to hear about it if you wish to share! ❤️

Cloth

The making of cloth is an enchanting endeavor.

Somehow…with the simplest of ability and materials…something soft is created that warms and mesmerizes.

Enchanting cloth begs to be shared. Check out all the handwoven scarves/wraps I’m sharing in my shop!

Perhaps you’ll find something enchanting there. 🙂

**Dear Reader…Happy New Year! Ha! It’s a bit late, and I can hardly believe January has already flown by. Here in North Carolina we are having some wintry weather days and I’m always eagerly anticipating whether we will actually get some accumulated snow. Hope springs eternal in my heart for SNOW! I realize that some of you may be getting way more snow than you’d like. I’d happily take some of it off your hands (or rather, from your yards/driveways :).

Anyway…I am in the process of resuming my newsletter and blogging a bit more regularly. I sincerely hope you are all enjoying many creative endeavors from playing the harp, to mosaics, to sketching and drawing, to knitting, crochet, spinning or weaving! Here’s to a year filled with making! I hope to inspire and encourage you along the way!

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

Growth

A tapestry grows much like a plant does, or a tree…from the bottom up. There may be rare times when a weaver might work a few passes of wool up higher on the warp. But most of the time we work from a foundation of warp-spacing weft and the building of over-under color, tamped down tightly, to create a strong fabric for the image to evolve. Sometimes the image a weaver creates is sideways, but they nevertheless weave from the bottom of their loom to the top. Different from painting, tapestry is the creation of the canvas and the painting at the same time. Pretty cool stuff if you ask me.

The first time I heard the word Ekphrastic, it was in relation to poetry written based on visual artwork. For this piece I was asked to create a visual work based on a poem. I relished the opportunity to imagine how words someone else had written might translate to a pictoral language. Familiar with the biblical story of the Root of Jesse and the new life growing from a cut-down family tree, I wanted to see if I could weave this image in wools, both my own handspun and mill spun.

What grabbed my heart in reading Randy Edwards’ poem, which is based on the Antiphon titled “O Radix”, was the idea that this new branch from Jesse’s tree grew into a cross. Of course this is far more subtly related in his poem, but I wanted to depict the idea of a new dawn, new growth, foreshadowing what is to come…a promise fulfilled in Christ’s death and resurrection. Advent holds all of these things in beautiful tension even as we await celebrating a babe born in a manger.

I used to love working with soft pastels to create images on paper. Unlike all other “paint” mediums, I could manipulate color and create images directly touching the medium, spreading color around, smooshing pigment into the slightly toothed surface. No need for a paintbrush or pen. Just me and the stick of pigment.

Tapestry has that same incredible feel of direct tactile enjoyment, but without the messiness and dust of soft pastels. I get to enjoy spinning the yarn, choosing the colors, and then building the image, one pick at a time, over and under the vertical warp. I may use a plastic hair pick to tamp down the weft, but most of the time I just use my fingers to do this. Tactile work at its finest!

I am only in the beginning years of learning to weave tapestry. I am learning so very much and relishing the process. There has certainly been growth thus far, but there is more ahead as I weave one yarn at a time. What once was created in paint or pastels, I now love attempting to create in yarn. It is a medium which, in and of itself, is one of the most enchanting and delightful substances around.

”O Radix”. Jennifer Edwards. 2020.

To end this slightly rambling post, I have taken heart in the image of a grand tree which has been cut down bringing forth new life and growth. I’m holding to this idea as 2020 has dealt us some pretty hefty axe blows and 2021 is slated to bring us a glimmer of hope . I must remember that growth , just like tapestry weaving, is very slow. The promised new branch, meant to save us from this devastating virus, will take a long time to bring about its desired effect. We must hold onto hope as we exercise patience in our waiting. That’s how growth happens…one pick of over-under color at a time.

Close-up detail.

Here is Randy Edwards’ poem on which I based the tapestry. This is taken from a post in 2016, when he first wrote the poem. You might enjoy following his blog as he is creating short videos of the art exhibit which includes artwork from several artists and voice readings of the poetry by Ed Pilkington. You can find the first of these posts here.

*****

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.”

Isaiah 11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a
Branch will bear fruit.

There is nothing so hopeless as a tree’s
Stump whose root has been lopped of green
Cut down, left lifeless, without its leaves
To lie in lament, to sorrow only cling.

O Root of Jesse, the stump from which
Buds our righteousness, joy, and peace
Who makes the scorned, the cut off rich,
Who were despised, hated, counted least.

O how may hope from this lifeless wood,
This cursed, crossed tree raised above,
Hanging with death, certainly no good,
Could spring in new life, sing wondrous love.
Come quickly Root of Jesse, deliver and bring
The peace which the nations long and sing.

© Randy Edwards 2016This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.

Spinning My Wheels

I stepped into an elevator. I was the only one in it and as the door closed I looked for a button to push. One single silver button was barely visible in the oddly painted interior of this elevator. I pushed it and immediately I began going up. But not for long. The elevator stopped. I pressed the button again and it began to go down. Or at least it felt like “we” were going down. The elevator stopped again and while searching for the button to push, I realized you couldn’t really tell where the door was due to the all over sponged paint job inside the elevator. Finding the button, I pushed it and once again I could feel the elevator going up, the familiar whirring sound of gears and machinery, letting me know I was indeed moving. Or was I?

This time the elevator didn’t stop. It just kept right on going…up…I felt sure. I began to hear voices outside the elevator. Two men. One was perhaps an elevator mechanic, the other the owner of the building. They seemed to be discussing what was wrong with the elevator. Theories and possible solutions were being bantered about as I continued to go up and I began to worry that the elevator might not stop, like the one in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

I looked up and saw that there was no ceiling to the elevator. There was however, a roof belonging to the building but I was in no danger of busting through the roof because the elevator was not moving after all! There was the sensation of movement, the sounds of an elevator working, but in fact “we” weren’t going anywhere…stalled at the ceiling while others tried to figure out how to fix it.

This morning’s dream seems all too true as I have found myself saying to a friend or two that I feel like I’m “spinning my wheels”. Each time these words have inadvertently flown out of my mouth, a little grin begins at the corners, for I realize that indeed I HAVE been spinning my wheels, and my drop spindles and support spindles. I typically think of this expression – spinning my wheels – as a description of being stuck in a muddy hole and the vehicle’s tires being unable to get any traction. Going nowhere fast. All the work and daily grind, but no forward movement for all our efforts. My elevator dream was in fact a fairly accurate depiction of how life feels for many of us during this pandemic.

Sitting on my desk is a lovely pile of freshly plied yarn. I have left it sitting there, instead of putting it away in a ziplock bag (on account of the cat), to remind me of a simple truth…

Spinning my wheels will, someday, in the end,

yield something beautiful and useful.

I’m holding onto this Golden Thread because most days feel a lot like sitting with wool twisting in my hands over and over and over again. And though I dearly love that repetitive work, it helps me to remember that bobbins are being filled and beautiful yarn is, despite everything, being made for use later. I do look forward to a day when we will be able to see some positive outcomes of our daily “going nowhere” in the elevator of COVID 19.

*****

Dear Reader…I’d love to know how you are holding onto a Golden Thread? What is helping you through the uncertain days? ❤️