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

The Brink of Something

I have wakened, as I do every morning, to the blissful sounds of a quiet house. Of a coffee pot gurgling. A fridge humming. A clock ticking. In this pre-dawn deliciousness, I feel poised on the brink of something…

…a day

…a holiday

…days off from the norm

…a barrage of emotions which accompany being with lots of family

…creative hopes & dreams.

This “brink of something” is a familiar place for me. Don’t I experience this at least once, no five, even ten times in any given week? Don’t I find myself, as it were, perched at the edge of a glorious view, on tippy toes, arms outstretched, ready to leap and fly?

I think this is the truest index of my real situation. This “brink of something” is what gives me the delight, joy, excitement and wonder in my life. Yet it is also the culprit for much confusion, inner turmoil, even sadness and downheartedness. I often waken with the dindle and twitter of that ready-to-fly feeling…and then the day gets rolling and I’m left scratching my head wondering –

Is this it?  Was this the grand landscape into which I jumped?

The view from where I land each day isn’t so exciting or glamorous. And I haven’t landed in that “something” I thought I was in line for. By day’s end it all feels like the same mish-mosh of emotions, sad news from a world of woe, unrequited creative plans and dreams, weariness from slogging it out in the highways and byways of living.

Yet I awaken the next morning and there it is again… the desire to put on my jumpsuit and wings.

I could even go so far as to say that this has been my experience for all of my 53 years. Give or take a few mornings where grief and difficulty, or just plain ole monotony, have taken the wind out of my wings completely, I can see that this is the near daily ebb and flow of my life. To begin each day with such an exquisite hope, such a childlike desire to don my cape and wage the war of life with my paint brush, needles and wool…this is a brink I hope I always waken to.

The difficulty however is this — how does one live “on the brink” day in and day out? How do we, despite what life holds for us moment by moment, maintain an attitude of hope and expectation through it all? I write this not to offer a step-by-step  how-to. Although in just writing those words, I can see the hint of a path through.

Here, poised on the brink of this holiday season of Thanksgiving and then Christmas , my wings are more glittery than my average everyday wings. Woven with tinsel, rimmed in twinkly lights, they are fluttering with the anticipation of a kid on Christmas Eve. Yet 53 years has thankfully taught me a thing or two.

The real joy and delight of this season is not found in tinsel or lights (although I love festooning my home with them!) It is found in turning around from the edge of an imagined stunning vista, to view my life. The work I have daily, is to bring that dindle and twitter of anticipation to bear in my every day world. To stand on tip-toes with arms outstretched and to lean into whatever the day brings. My work each day is to walk step by step into it , wings unfurled, with the full knowledge of what this season is all about —

Gratitude that  I am not alone for the Christ child is coming and has come into our world.  Though I will one day stand on the brink of that heavenly realm, today’s work is thanksgiving for the view I have right here in my life.

May each of us embrace the now-and-not-yet-ness of this season. May we not lose heart in daring to stand tippy-toed on the brink of our days, anticipating our wings taking flight in all our joys AND in our difficulties and sorrows. May we brandish whatever swords of love we have been given, be they pens, paintbrushes, voices, instruments, yarn, clay or fabric.

And remember… you are not alone! I am on the brink here too and the Christ Child has paved the path before us, while also walking hand in hand , step by step, Emmanuel, with us.

Twist

I’ve been mulling over, spinning ’round in my head and heart, a thought. I don’t know if I read it somewhere, or if it just floated into my head like a bit of woolly fluff. It’s one of those thoughts that brings both a sigh and solace. It winds and weaves its way into the moments of my days, both pleasant and difficult. It is this:

Strength is in the twist.

Spinning one’s own yarn speaks to me. This is no surprise, as drawing and weaving and stitching have done so as well. Creativity in general is a strong teacher in my life. The process of making can bring clear and concise help on days that are less than sunny, and can magnify the light on bright days. This one, this clear yet colorful thought, gives me hope in the ongoing whirl of life.

Spinners know that fiber must be spun in order for it to withstand the pull of weaving it, knitting it or crocheting it.  Without twist, a fiber can be pulled apart, and more-so the thinner the strand of fiber. A thicker strand requires less twist, but the thinner you go, the more twists it needs to be strong. And for even more strength, two or more strands are plied together. This last statement deserves its own post and I shall save it for another day. It’s this twist idea that holds such hope for me.

The way spinners speak of this is to say that as we spin, energy is being added to the fibers. Whether you drop spindle or use a wheel, you add energy into the fiber and then release it to creep down the drafted bit of wool, thus securing and adding to its strength.

I may be hard-pressed on busy and difficult days to feel that energy is being added to my life. But it heartens me to think that in the torque of living, in the ongoing revolutions around the sun and even in the hour hand moving ’round in circles, strength is being worked into the fiber of my being.

I am grateful that strong, loving, Masterful hands hold me as my days go spinning by. I  can trust that strength is being wrought into my weakness, one twist at a time.

‘Round the World & Going Again

When I was a young girl, my dad had a sing-song chant he would say every now and then:

Jennifer, Jennifer my girlfriend…

‘Round the world and goin’ again!

I loved this little ditty and I looked forward to actually traveling around the world someday. Though I have not traveled nearly as much as I had once dreamed, I do feel that in some way, I get to go ’round the world through my passion for all things yarn.

From knitting pursuits that take me to Norway, Scotland, England and elsewhere through Fair Isle stitching…

…to Guatemala, Bolivia, and other places where the Backstrap Loom thrives…

…to New Zealand where my Rigid Heddle Loom came from…

…to Japan where Saori Weaving originated. And to Chapel Hill, NC where I learned to use a Saori Loom just a week or so ago…

…to numerous lands and cultures, even Native American, where the drop spindle is used…

…and to dreaming of supported spindles and their origins in Russia, Tibet and elsewhere. I also think it would be fun to make yarn on a Turkish spindle. Who knows where else I will get to travel  from the comfort of my studio in North Carolina?

So you can see that my Summer of Weaving continues to enchant and inspire!  I did have a momentary itch return to my fingers yesterday for knitting fair isle mittens and holiday ornaments. There was something in the air, quite literally, as it sprinkled rain and a few leaves were falling from our birch tree. A first whiff of autumn. And I still have my little twiggy tree adorned with the Arne & Carlos Julekuler I knitted last year. Making & creativity have always, for me, been inspired by the seasons. It all comes full circle, with new adventures along the way. Yes indeed…for this yarn and fiber loving gal…Around the World and Going Again!

The Summer of Weaving


There once was a girl named Jenny

Whose interests were varied and many…

Crochet and knitting

Stitching and spinning

Drawing and painting aplenty.

***

To choose only one of them filled her with gloom.

There must be a way to give all of them room.

So lines and colors

Fibers and textures

She wove all together on a loom!

***

Her sketchbook remained like a song’s refrain-

The common thread keeping her sane

Through all explorations

Ideas, iterations…

Her sketches were the heart, that was plain.

***

But her loom was a canvas, creativity rife-

Weaving fibers she’d spun without tears or strife.

Over and under

Back and forth.

Learning to see through the warp of life.

-jpe

In April, as I anticipated summer’s arrival, I began to think of it as My Summer of Weaving. It seemed crazy and began quite suddenly when a friend shared with me a book she had of amazingly colorful weavings created on a rigid heddle loom. Thus began what has been a delightful foray into weaving cloth!

I have also enjoyed making some tapestry weavings, tried a few bracelet/cuff thingys, and am now dreaming of a larger rigid heddle loom (wider…24″ or 32″…ooooohhhhh:).

I have also gathered the supplies I need to try backstrap weaving. My next step is to warp the sticks and have a go at this amazing style of weaving that truly has me in awe. I was mesmerized by this video of Guatemalan women working magic on such a simple loom. And I found an amazing blogger who shares how to make your own backstop loom. I’m not as interested in weaving a tiny strap, so my sticks are wide and will hopefully allow for a wider cloth. Ideas, ideas, ideas….my head is quite full and happy.

 I have even been offered a Leclerc Floor Loom to bring home and give it a try. I’m not settled about that one, as I simply do not have the space for it. But boy does it seem fun to try out. Well, not the warping part…that completely overwhelms me… the thought of warping a big floor loom. My 16″ Ashford Sample It rigid heddle loom is so accessible and easy to understand. I’m not in any rush with this weaving path I’m on. Slow and steady wins the race and will allow me to relish and savor the learning and enjoyment of weaving.

Spinning goes hand in hand with weaving, as I so love to create yarns to either weave or knit with. For now, I seem to want to add into the weavings all kinds of yarns with lots of texture and color! So I haven’t woven with purely handspun wool yet. Perhaps I will try that in future. But my recent excitement was in discovering how to ply two handspun yarns together! My family can attest to my crazy delirium over being able to do that!

Of course, there are project bags in the works filled with knitting and crochet projects! And though I am no longer doing my morning #100DayProject pages, I continue to drawcument life, often doing so in the mornings and evenings as a way to greet and end the day.

Heart full. Hands open to receive. This artful life continually calls to me. I am consciously working to slow the pace of making so that I can just relish living artfully. I don’t know if this makes sense. But I’m finding goodness in just sitting for periods of time WITHOUT MAKING ANYTHING. Just to be in the presence of the One who made me. Just to be present in my life with wherever it is I am at the moment. It feels restful and slower than my usual. It is summer. And I am so grateful for this Summer of Weaving!

The Gift of Weaving

Over the years of drawing & painting, knitting & crocheting, I have found insight and wisdom for daily living in and through the process of these endeavors. Much like trail markers, they offer direction and assurance for whatever I’m needing at the time, and they guide me in my personal life. Weaving is no exception.

When I draw, I start with a blank page. Nothing is there and it is up to me to begin to make marks on that page, wherever, how-so-ever I like, to create an image. With knitting or crochet it is much the same…only a hook or needles and some yarn to begin making a fabric. Yet when I weave, there is already a structure there. The warp is set in place. There’s really no changing the warp threads for the duration of that weave.

I am finding in my 50’s that weaving speaks so strongly to what I live everyday – the warp has been set. Indeed they were (and are still) matters of choice at one time. Husband, three children + son-in-law, home, faith, teaching, community. These are the vertical threads that set the structure of my life, over and under which I create. Yarns and fibers, threads and textiles of great or little beauty in and of themselves, are woven daily into the warp of my life. I do have choices to make each day, as to the daily weft. Yet some days I’m given a thread to weave that I may not particularly like. Somehow, and this is the glorious bit, somehow it is beautiful in the mix of a lifetime of woven colors.

I can weave with confidence, knowing that somehow all will be well in the end. I can receive the ugly, unwanted-in-the-moment threads or interruptions knowing that they will add their own depth to the overall piece. I can weave tapestries or cloth that display this truth – that the vertical, earth to heaven warp, is just as much a part of the tapestry, as the daily horizontal yarns and textiles. This has been a gift to me recently. I relish each creative outlet I’m granted for the wisdom it offers, and I look forward each day to the colors that will be woven.

Wishing you an Artful Day!

Jennifer

Weaving Gratitude

“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”

― Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy

It seems necessary and good to stop for a moment here in the middle of the #100Day Project and look around me, take stock, and share with you, dear reader, the landscape from here. I am not entirely as Instagram would portray. We know this (or should certainly remember) that behind all the pretty pictures is a human being whose life is likely not so tidy as the feed might suggest. I have recently found myself in a wood of busyness and have stopped to scratch my head and ponder how did I get here and what is the way out?

The month of May always finds me gasping for breath, scrambling to find minutes here and there for making, dreaming of long lazy days to create to my heart’s content. But it is always, every year without fail, a time of intense activity and just plain ole “living”. In scratching my head and pondering how I got so deep in a mire of grumbling about it all, I realized there has been a significant lack of gratitude. Picking up again Ann Voscamp’s devotional of 1,000 Gifts, has served to help center my thoughts on being thankful for even the smallest, perhaps even unwanted, gifts in my days. I’m finding this discipline to be a straight way out of the dark wood of grumbling and resentment.

This is not the kind of thing where you put on those waxy red, smiling lips and go about your day calling every pothole a beautiful thing. No, it is a commitment to getting down on my hands and knees at the edge of the hole and really looking into the lumpy abyss. To ask for sight in order to see. To plead for glimmers of light in and around the edges. To sit with the potholes of daily living, (the things that trip us up, interrupt our plans) and to receive it as a thread, a yarn being added to the warp of my day. It is a discipline of trust. Trusting that what is being woven on the loom of our life will not be for naught. Grateful now, to have set off on this old and familiar road of counting beauties in my day (the pothole variety too!) I’m experiencing a diminished level of grumbling and an ability to just lean into the warp of my life as it is right now. Over and under, around and through. Here in the middle (ish) of May, I can relish the colors, as they mingle on the page, as they interlock on the loom.

The base note of all my grumbles is exactly this: I do not have life on my own terms. Somehow I imagine, that having it on my clock, my design, would grant me a more beautiful, peaceful, and therefore more joyful life. I have only to look back on the previous 50 mark-making explorations to see that despite the busyness, the endless driving, the myriad of things that living requires, beauty was at hand! And though I may not be able to weave as much as I’d like, there have indeed been lovely yarns laid down over the warp of a 52-year old wife and mother who forever fancies that her “true art” is just around the corner.

My ” true art” is actually this – to see beauty in everything. To be thankful for it all. And to lift my hands in gratitude by making things.

There it is. I have found, once again, the “straight way” and can continue into the next 50 of the #100DayProject, weaving marks and colors on the page. And on the loom.

Connections

I am realizing a connection between my current mark-making sketches and the weavings I’m enjoying lately. The scarf that recently came off the loom holds threads of all kinds – thick ones, thin ones, novelty yarns, handspun wool, cotton, and so many colors. They are woven across a variegated warp in undulating waves, circles, stripes and varying bands which sometimes end on the edges and are tied together for a random fringe.

The abstractions for the #100dayproject are not dissimilar…there are typically lots of colors, multiple mediums threaded and woven, over and under each other in a seemingly haphazard way, but which, in most cases, hold together cohesively.

It has also occurred to me that these works speak of my life currently. It is multi-faceted, verging on chaos, numerous threads, lines, and colors winging in various directions, Some days I do not have a sense that it is holding together as a complete entity. I have to trust that it is. I have to lay my head down on the pillow each evening and let the day’s events be as they are. I have to stop weaving, stop painting, cease trying to wrangle all the disparate elements into a cohesive unit. I have to allow rest of mind and body to gather it all up, winding the loom for another day’s weft, turning the page so that I can start fresh again the next day.

The understanding I gain from what I create eases the confusion and restlessness inside. As each day on the calendar seems to flip by with increasing speed, the moments I’m able to add yarns to a warp, or make marks on a page, help me to see all the comings and goings of a day as a beautiful whole that may or may not be complete, but is moving toward that end one yarn at a time, one line and splash of color in a moment.

I cannot imagine moving through life, with all its ups and downs, all the over and unders, any other way than to create!

And you? Do you find connections between the different things you make with your hands? Or can you see a connection between your making and your life? For instance, do you find that you tend to choose really soft yarn to perhaps buffer the hardness of life? Do you draw detailed scenes to try and go deep into the tangle of your life to make some sense of it? Do you choose bright happy colors because, in general, that is how life feels to you? Or maybe because you need the bright happy colors to lift your day? Whatever it may be, there is almost always a connection? Looking for it and discerning what that is, can be very helpful in your everyday life.

Have a beautiful artful weekend!

Jennifer

Spinning My Wheels

I sit at a wheel

running hither and yon over miles

of asphalt ribbon

Some so worn and shredded with potholes my car can scarcely

bear the beating.

***

Mile after mile, driving me from word

to endless words..

I can hardly think, let alone tap into any source

of light, joy, meaning.

I sit at another wheel

wool running through my hands

and meaning begins to soothe my potholed heart.

Fibers – cleaned, combed, carded, and dyed, form

into a ribbon of color and softness

that makes more sense to me

than the asphalt.

Couldn’t I remain here?

Couldn’t I have whole days of fiber, wool, spinning ,

and weaving it into the landscape of my life?

I try. I grow weary in the trying.

That other wheel shreds all sense of sanity and rootedness. Will I ever be free of it?

***

If only I could sit at that wheel

and see a golden thread being spun of all the miles,

the stopping and starting, the car’s cutting me off, the backed-up traffic.

Would that I could spin color and blessing

rather than frustration and cursing

at the wheel of our Mazda.

Would that I could live all of my life knowing

that He who is at the wheel has it firmly in hand

and is spinning something of beauty

with the asphalt and frustration.

***

Can I lean into this thought as I’m spinning my wheels today?

*****

Wishing you a day of beauty no matter what sort of wheels you spin. I’m inspired by this fiber artist – Stacey Budge-Kamison, also known as the UrbanGypZ.  You will want to watch her videos on spinning and weaving, and there are so many others to indulge your fiber love.

I’m also continuing the #100DayProject and loving every minute! I’m actually a bit surprised that my typical flighty creative self hasn’t wanted to jump ship and set sail in a different direction. Of course, I am always doing multiple creative things so it all stays fresh and joyful!

A Return to Weaving

It was a year ago, just after finishing a series of nine tapestry weavings for Lent through Easter, that I packed up my weaving supplies and had no intention of revisiting them. I remember wondering why this was so. What had begun in January of 2017 as a total and complete love of weaving  (which I had never done before) simply seemed to vanish into thin air. I also remember carefully putting away all the handmade frame looms, the rigid heddle loom that was given to me by a friend, the yarns, ribbons, lace and wondering if I shouldn’t gift it to someone who might be able to use them? I stowed all the bamboo stalks, the driftwood, the wooden dowels (fun stuff for hanging weavings upon) in the garage and felt it was just taking up space.

But there was something that kept me from getting rid of these items. Whatever that was, I am so glad! I now have a small frame loom warped and already growing nicely into something which remains in my head with only a rough sketch in my sketchbook. I just dove in. Once again.

This time I gathered some of my handspun yarn. Yummy colors spun on my drop spindle or on the wheel I acquired for my birthday last summer and promptly painted. Just the colors of the wool  gave inspiration for a whole stack of weavings! My hope and intention is to slowly work on them, one by one, bringing them to life.

I truly get so excited about things like this! A fresh direction, a new path. Even if it is a medium I’ve explored a little before, it still seems so new to me. I had only scratched the surface of what can be done with tapestry weaving,  during those few short months in the spring of 2017. I have a few things I’d like to try now. Some things I want to do differently. The number one thing being to keep it light, slow, easy going and always always, from henceforth, to weave with colors I love.

I have often wondered, in considering why I abandoned weaving so abruptly, if I didn’t just burn myself out. I loved creating the concepts, the ideas, and bringing them to the warp of my looms for that series. But there was a time frame involved, deadlines for hanging them each week. Even though I did work ahead of schedule, the final week, with three tapestries for that week, was crazy. For a few of the weavings I felt I needed to use colors and textures I wasn’t very excited about in order to convey the idea and message I wanted to come through the fibers. This perhaps took a heavier toll on me and my artist child within. I probably don’t need to tell you how much I love bright, happy colors.

Well, whatever the reason for not weaving, I am a firm believer that these things are often good for us. A break from a particular technique or method of creating, or exploring a new medium, can usher in renewed vision for when you return to something you have loved in the past. The crazy thing is that I almost feel prepared for this return to weaving. It’s almost as if flower petals have been dropped along the route in this past year that I can now pick up and follow back, or off in a new direction with the tapestries. One of these “petals” is finding an artist on Instagram who draws and weaves. Her name is Sarah C. Swett. I followed her a few months back delighted by her “comic drawings” as she calls them, and the mini tapestries she weaves, marveling at their compact and lovely simplicity. I am only now beginning to visit her website and read her blog, which is jam packed with incredible tapestry artworks and how-to information. I am truly inspired by her work!

Another “petal” along the way was found last week as I went to lead one of the knitting workshops I have at a local yarn shop. The same friend who gave me the Rigid Heddle Loom put in front of me a small but delicious looking book by Alison Crosthwaite, titled Fibrefrenzi Artweave. I’m not sure where to obtain a paper copy of this book, but I will be searching for it soon as it too is packed with gorgeous tapestry and garment weaving and know-how. Alison’s color palette is bold and saturated…so much to love!

So when your heart is already being tugged back to the loom, and such beautiful petals are pointing the way, the sane response is to begin. I’m a bit farther along on this first-return-to-tapestry than you see here in these photos. But I shall save further reveals for another post. I love the fact that so many of my creative loves come together with weaving! Drawing, spinning yarn, even crochet and knitting have come into play with some of my tapestries. Color, line, texture and shape are all employed in these in these artful fiber works.

Feels a bit like I’m weaving my sketchbook. And I like that. We shall see what’s in store in the coming weeks. And I am glad of your company, as always, on these creative adventures.

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

P.S. We had a gorgeous day for the JDRF Walk for the Cure in High Point, NC! A couple of lovely friends joined me to walk 3 miles in honor of my daughter Maddie who lives with T1D. We have almost raised our goal amount and are so grateful for all who have donated to this worthy cause!

Thank you!