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 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.

The Land of Yarn Drobe

I am the happy recipient of a magical gift! My son has been working on repurposing an old gun cabinet into a yarn display case for my studio. It was to be my birthday gift this summer, but has just recently been finished. Knowing that I would not house guns in it, he and our neighbors, who are in the business of upcycling furniture, added shelves and painted it the perfect color for holding yarns in my studio. I could not be more delighted with it!!

The wonderful thing about a gift like this is that it sparks the imagination. As soon as the small cabinet was situated in between two picture windows in my studio sunroom, I saw it as a magical wardrobe, much like that of C.S. Lewis’ in the Chronicles of Narnia. The blue cabinet sat empty for a couple of days as my busy life prevented me from filling it. As always, the busy-ness of life allows for ideas to percolate and simmer. While on my morning walk yesterday, the whole story of this Land of Yarn Drobe unfolded with each step and I worked all day, in between laundry and the daily to-do list, to complete it.

Macy, Purl, Marisol and Clarissa the friendly Cat, had been eagerly waiting for me to finish filling the beautiful blue cabinet so that they could enter and have a look around. Here is a brief account of their first venture into the Land of Yarn Drobe.

**********

All you need to enter the enchanted world of Yarn Drobe is this magical key. As the door creaks open you will shrink in size so that you, dear human, may romp on the hills of woolly color, climb spindle trees, and meet the big, tall, but NOT terrible giants of the land. Yarn Drobe is a place where sheep roam the hills and birds spin the wool into swirly nests of yarn. There is even a twinkling spindle tree to light your path.

Those who enter this magical world have a difficult time leaving, as the cheery colors and soft fields of wool soothe their hearts and inspire their imaginations. Macy, Purl, Marisol and Clarissa the friendly Cat ventured into Yarn Drobe warily, not knowing what they might find. But when the giants, Mortimer and Millicent, greeted them warmly and the spinning birds pulled up woolly nests for them to sit upon, they soon felt they could stay here for many seasons. They passed the day with their new friends touring the colorful landscape and spinning to their hearts’ content.

As evening fell, Macy began to wish for her own cozy bed back at the Spinning House. Purl and Clarissa decided to go with her, albeit reluctantly. Marisol, however, knew in her heart upon entering this magical land, that this would be her home. She bade her friends farewell for now, with many hugs and kisses, inviting them to return as often as they wished. She made sure to point out to them where the key was located and that they were always welcome to come walk and play on the woolen hills, spin yarn, and sit under the light of a spindle tree.

**********

And so begins the adventures of Marisol the Mouse

in the Land of Yarn Drobe.

The Magic of Morning

Out here on the deck, still feeling the traces of a weary fog, I am enveloped and enlivened by what I can only call pure magic. Perhaps you have felt this too? The titter and chirp of birds and crickets singing a song of hope for the new-made day. Their chatter is a lively conversation of what we might do today, what we could make, how we could repair and revive, what needs to be done, and what loveliness can be spun all around the daily-ness. We long to keep the crickets chirping and the birds singing their hope song.

At some point they will go quiet, giving way to the sounds of cars on a nearby highway, a train in the distance, neighborhood lawn mowers, and the voices of those with whom I live. I will spin today. I already have and I plan to spin more for it is bringing me so much joy lately. As the loose fibers are strengthened by a dance of twirl and twist, so too I am strengthened. Solace, hope, joy, color, excitement, purpose, and a useful work, are all granted as I spin. How this is, I cannot say, for I do not know.

I imagine myself sometimes as others must see me…a middle-aged woman standing with a spindle twirling suspended from her hand. Or an outdated snap-shot of a woman at her spinning wheel, albeit a brightly painted one. It must be odd to see an artist who once twirled paint on paper to be twirling colorful fibers in a similar manner. It doesn’t really make sense.

Perhaps it doesn’t make sense for any of us to do the creative things we do when we look at it from the outside. Yet from the inside we know who we are. We enjoy life a bit more when we are making things. We see things differently. We carry that making-magic into all that a day brings us. We consider how we might spin softness and color into every mundane chore and challenging situation.

This is why we create. Whether it is spinning fibers into yarn or words into story; swirling paint on a page or clay on a wheel; stitching wool into socks or thread into quilts…we are bringing the magic of morning into the rest of our day, spinning hope and a new song as we go.

Encounter

It was so brief! Hardly long enough for it to register in my brain. A blink, and he was gone. Yet for those few seconds of the buzzing, hovering dance, I held my breath and didn’t want it to end.

It was evening a few days ago and I was in my studio spinning to unwind the day. The thought to go out on the back deck to spin Wool flitted through my mind. There was much to keep me indoors…heat, mosquitoes, end-of-day weariness, just plain laziness. But something drew me outside and the moment I breathed in the fresh air and began to twirl my pink spindle, I knew I needed to be there. Plein-aire spinning is the best!

Instinctively I pulled my hands away from the large, buzzing visitor. He hovered a second and I knew it wasn’t a bumblebee. The hummingbird must have thought my spindle was a flower and wanted a closer look or a place to land for some nectar. I could hardly move a muscle as we stood face-to-face for just a few seconds before he flew away.

I gathered up the yarn and wound it onto the shaft thinking how cool it was to have encountered a hummingbird whilst spinning. Thinking that had I not stepped out onto the deck, moving out of my comfort zone, I would never had had that encounter with such a lovely creature. Thinking that a spindle truly is a flower, the colorful wool is the nectar, and I drink deeply of its nourishment every time I spin.

I’m headed out on the deck! Won’t you join me? We just might have a visitor. 🙂

YARN LOVE – a song

Well, this is a bit out of my territory but a fun thing ( I hope) for everyone who loves yarn. Whether you knit or crochet, spin or weave, this song is for you!

But first…a little back story…💖

I have the privilege of teaching ongoing small groups of women who knit and crochet. Several of the ladies also spin and weave and felt and batik…its a very talented group of gals from all walks of life, all ages and levels of expertise from beginners to life-long knitters. The groups (which I like to call knitting communities) meet in a fabulous yarn shop every week. I think of myself as a cross between a cheerleader and a fix-it gal. We inspire each other, do knit-a-longs together, have yarn parties and all sorts of fun and engaging things.

Just a few of the lovely hands that make beautiful things.💖

A couple of years ago, I wrote a little song to the tune of a well known camp song called Pass It On. These ladies indulged my silliness and we learned it together and sang it at one of our evening parties. Here we are singing the YARN SONG, complete with harmony and all!

My original idea was to also make a cool video of us singing the song, share it online and maybe even sing it at that year’s Southeastern Fiber Festival in Asheville, North Carolina. But I never quite got it all together. We have sung it once or twice more at other parties just to keep the song alive.

But it was intended for everyone…for all yarn lovers! So here it is…

a PDF of the YARN LOVE SONG for you to print off the words to the song and share with a friend.

And if you can stand to listen to me singing it here, then perhaps between this and the one of all of us singing, you can learn the tune as well! I hope you have fun with this and of course…

PASS IT ON!!!🧶💚😍

Revolution

It takes 365 days for the earth to make one full trip around the sun. That’s 8,760 hours. Or 525,600 minutes. Or 31,536,000 seconds. Small increments, tiny moments, so many ordinary events which create one revolution.

Birthdays remind me of this. One more turning of the years has been made up of many days and minutes lived. There have been more breathtaking, joy-filled days than I can count. There have also been days of heartbreak, fear, and concern. This is living. This is revolution.

I suppose for both the American and the French, their Revolutions were also preceded by numerous days and moments, small yet not insignificant actions suffered and endured, which turned the wheels of decision, adding strength to what would become historic events. A spinning wheel will likely not bring about such history-making. Nor will spindles of all kinds—Turkish, Russian, Tibetan—create monumental, earth-moving events. But they do remind me that it is in the tiny, inconsequential turning of our minutes that a Revolution is achieved.

There are now 54 such revolutions in my life to date. I am grateful for each and every one of them! I am also a bit wary of those to come…the unknown daily turning and spinning on this beautiful planet. What will this year’s spinning bring? My usual hope is that it would bring good and happy things. But a revolution is taking place in my heart where I am hoping more for strength and grace to meet the moments of the coming days.

As I spin, I watch the lovely light-filled fibers twist into a strong line, which will bear the weight of far more than its substance. The resulting yarn may or may not be called upon to carry heavy loads. But if it is…it’s ready and able. Once it is plied with another strand, it’s strength is even greater. And a chord of three strands is not easily broken.

Sitting here at the end of one year’s revolution and the beginning of another, I see sitting on my desk, an exquisite pile of gorgeous hand spun yarns. Rich colors, varied and textured, have been wrangled into skeins of yarn ready for making into something else. They are not the final result, even though I do think they could be set in a frame and hung on a wall, just to look at and admire in hank form. But they beg to be fashioned into something else…a weaving perhaps, or a knitted garment, or a crocheted piece.

I too am a skein of hand spun yarn. I’ve been and am being spun by Loving Hands which are adding strength even in the twist of my life and daily living. I need not worry about the coming revolutions or how many I and my loved ones have left. He will use what He is spinning for His glory and purposes…and all of it for my good.

Today, on my 54th birthday, I will spin on…creating with my hands in the trust and knowledge that strength and grace are being wrought.

 

Notice & Observe

Here we are…again…at the starting gate of a New Year! All the hopes and fears of all the years (or at least those of 2018) seem to gather together in a clump as we look ahead, hoping the New Year brings less difficulty than the one before, and fearing that it might not. The temptation for me is to rally all my best efforts to keep things running smoothly, without wrinkle or wrench. I know by now this is an exercise in futility. Life brings to us each day a panoply of blessings and challenges…both of which I want to be in a position to notice and observe.

The lovely thing about a New Year is this turning of the number, or page, on a new vista of days, weeks and months. It can feel fresh and clean, unfettered by previous months’ busyness, waiting with anticipation for us to walk through it, holding promise and positive outcomes almost as carrots to lure us into the days ahead. I love this fresh feeling and the excitement of good things to come. Yet I also know that 2019 may very well hold some difficult, painful and confusing things for me as well. I neither want to blindly march into the year with a pasted grin on my face, nor do I want to wallow in future castastrophising (dreaming up all manner of trials and tribulations that may or may not happen). It would seem that “Que sera sera” might be a good tack to take…whatever will be, will be. Though helpful in some ways, this forward thinking version of “It is what it is”, doesn’t carry me through a New Year in the way I wish to experience it.

What I need this coming year, and what I intend to uphold as often as I am able to do so (no goal setting or resolution here), is to meet the New Year moment by moment by Noticing and Observing. To Notice is to say “oh look here at this little (or big)  thing”. To Observe is to pick it up and to ask questions like “I wonder how it got here?” or “look at the colors within” or “see how the shape is so lovely” or “does it have a purpose or is it simply a gift to enjoy?” and so on. Though I have had a good many years of Noticing and Observing, I still need this practice of meeting each new day with space to consider the small moments of my life. A sketchbook is a wonderful tool for Noticing and Observing.

On the 20th of December 2018, I began a new sketchbook which was given to me by a dear friend. To be sure I had not finished the 2 or 3 other sketchbooks I have going, but I had been wanting a book of days, one without a spiral in the middle, one in which to drawcument the days as I notice and observe them. It was also to be an anchor for me as I faced the craziness of the holidays. It has indeed been that anchor.

It is perhaps not a proper watercolor sketchbook, as in having the precise paper on which watercolor shines. But I love the almost cloth-like feel of this paper, and the handmade look of it with fabric cover and twine stitching. It is made by Anthropologie and I do hope they are still making these when I finish this one. Another will surely be in order. The very best thing is that my favorite markers, both fat and thin ones, do not bleed through the other side, thus allowing me to draw on all sides of the woven pages.

To Notice & Observe, is like dancing in puddles. When life gives us rainy days, as it has in abundance here in central North Carolina, it is best to notice where the puddles are and dance in them. Drawing and painting are perfect puddle activities, as are any other creative endeavors. Knitting, spinning, weaving and the like are all beautiful ways to notice what’s going on in your life and to observe it from a place of beauty. Writing is also excellent…I write every morning all the noticings and observations of both my interior and exterior worlds.

There is something amazing that happens when we Notice & Observe. Somehow, our hearts are lightened a bit. Perhaps it is in the lines and colors of pen, paint and wool that weaves into our eyes a renewed palette for the day. We also receive insight when we Notice & Observe. There is a direct connection between the lines on the page,  the strands of yarn and wool, to our minds and hearts. We receive hope, clarity, lessened anxiety and so much more in the act of making something with our hands. I look forward to this blessing today and on through the New Year. I wish it for you as well.

Happy New Year to you!

May it be filled with many moments to Notice & Observe!

Artfully yours,

Jennifer