Friday, July 24, 2015

Farewell, My Friends

In spite of perceived weather-weirdness, (and I can't tell if this has been a particularly cold winter, if we had more cold days but not at significantly lower temperatures, or if it's just me,) I've been making steady progress in the garden. That's steady, as in I go out and do stuff, but so far this winter it's been limited to the "outside my kitchen window" area, which is about one-seventh of our vast estate. (It used to take a couple of days to tidy this area Pre-Convolvulous.)

Nevertheless I had a mini goal of finishing this little patch by a certain date, the third or fourth revised date having been today. Then yesterday morning, my beloved 17-year-old leather boots decided to retire and let me know by allowing two of my left toes to slip outside the boot while I perched on a slope lifting a few unsmall citrus/camellia/name-unknown branches/trunks we pruned last November and left on the ground to rot; they prevented surface weeds smartly but not the C-word, so I've been moving them to a temporary heap and digging all week.

When I got a small hole in one of the soles I bought some expensive, bouncy insoles which made these boots the heavenly, never-before experienced comfortable footwear, and watertight. When I got a small tear near my left big toe, I brought it to the local shoe wizard to have it resoled, but the leather on the sides were too far gone for repairs. Still, they lasted further six-to-nine months until the recent up-and-down with heavy load. Channeling a little VvG.
I got these when I had an office job and a cold office. The first year I wore them at work, the second year, as they started to get scuff marks, all the time, and by the third, I wore them everywhere but work. At some point, especially since the third pair of gum boots intended for garden work that didn't fit, these became my Go To guys. The leather is now so soft I can sit down on the ground the way Japanese ladies do in their kimonos, on my knees. And I can't conceive of throwing them away. But I need a new pair so I can climb the slope without half of my left foot coming out of the boot.

Never did I wished I could drive like yesterday morning; I could have gotten a new pair and carry on as if nothing happened, even though new ones would have been rather stiff. Or I could have carried on, finished yesterday's job, then gone into town. Heck, I could have done the morning's job, as I did, then taken the bus to go into town, and then I wouldn't be posting pictures on a blog this morning but would be nearly finished with this patch by now.

But I didn't. I was tired yesterday afternoon, so planned to go into town with Ben this morning, but had I done so, I would have watched a movie, walked around town, and wasted a whole day as I tend to on these occasions, so I changed my mind; that I could have gone into town, gotten a new pair, taken the bus home and get back in the garden by 11AM did not occur to me. So I sat at the kitchen table pining to haul half-rotting tree trunks and dig nasty roots, thinking of how many centimeters in which direction to move one seedling that is too near another, and planning how to proceed with the next patch.

Oh, well, we'll probably go into town tomorrow, get boots, maybe brunch or coffee and pastry, check out the bookshops, maybe the Saturday Market, maybe get some herb seedlings, and gypsum at the hardware store.

It's not that I haven't worked at all, but the house has been too cold most mornings ergo the steady gardening. Plus things haven't gone as planned.
I started threading a cotton warp, alternate 2/20 and 2/60, intended for a commission wall piece, (in spite of my repeatedly telling the client I don't do wall pieces,) but I keep changing my mind about the sett and now I think it'll be too narrow for a wall piece. It'll make a few interesting scarves, but now I may need a new warp for the said commission, and I've felt a little discouraged, let's just say, to keep warping the 1424 ends, half of which I can barely see.
I threaded a cashmere/angora/something warp of alternating native and overdyed-with-walnut-shells pale pink camel, and it was so so so fuzzy my eyes and sinuses had a hard time just with the threading, so I'm dreading the weaving. This is for one commission, one Thank You, and one merchandise. If I live to tell the tale, it should make wonderfully fluffy pieces, if not somewhat shed-y.

And I found a somewhat new obsession in the form of hellebores, but that's for another post.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

More Words

We've established inexperience/ignorance, fear, laziness/expediency are why I judge my weaving based on technique in the first instance.

It dawned on me my appraisal of technique may have inflamed my perception of the chasm between art and craft. Though I still don't like post-1980's (??) art education that produces work heavy on concept/theory and light on technique/execution.

After my second and third viewing of Agnes Martin's vid, I didn't know why/where I thought she and I shared so much sentiment towards making. Initially even her vocabulary seemed to overlap with mine, but now I'm not sure. I think she said, though, painting is how she spends her life, the purpose for which she lives, and I feel the same way about weaving.

One of the biggest difference between what she said and how I work is I don't receive/execute inspirations like her and many writers. (It's incredible how many writers claim they only took down what not-they dictated.) I pick up/out starting points, sometimes visually, sometimes in stories, but from there I work out how I can make these idea seeds into cloth.

Material and structure are so integral to what we do we can't disregard them when discussing weaving, but discussions of paintings are sometimes divorced from their materiality, instead focusing on the painter's intentions, their place in various isms, (which are named/assigned in retrospect, sometimes against the painter's will,) or larger social/historical context. We're not often asked what we'd hoped to express with our weaving, are we? I must not forget, however, paintings do have physical attributes and this is why I can't really experience a painting from JPGs, posters, or even heavy, expensive art books.

I also need to remind myself I often talk directly to weavers and textile artists, or read what they wrote, whereas I read what art critics and historians wrote about painters and paintings more often than not. And we know they are very different stuff.

* * * * *

What, then, do I mean when I say weaving? Some of the components/factors, with some overlap, are:

  • Purpose of the piece - what is it?
  • Shape/size/dimension of the piece;
  • Fibers used and their characteristics and/or suitability to the purpose, (including using unsuitable fibers for non-utilitarian reasons;)
  • Hues/values/intensity or saturation/sheen of constituent yarns, proportion, and overall look/effect/mood;
  • Shape of the constituent yarns, (straight, slub, bouclé, etc), proportion, and physical depth, (flat vs 3D) of the finished piece;
  • Weave structure, scale, combination with hue/value/intensity/sheen, and overall visual impact; 
  • Hand/drape;
  • Main visual elements, (lines, shapes, motif, scale, proportion, balance, hues/values/intensity) and the overall impact/impression;
  • Sometimes price;
  • Sometimes even the suitability of the washing instructions;
  • What else can you think of?? 

(When I use write "impact", I don't necessarily mean a strong impact is better, and I wondered if effect or visual outcome were better. Like intensity of colors, I think the most desirable impact depends on the purpose and the taste of the piece.)

But this doesn't exhaust what constitute weaving/cloth; I would add:

  • My emotional reaction. Is this the same as taste?
  • Mood;
  • Historical/ethnic/traditional context if any;
  • The maker and her/his story;
  • Overall technique and the maker's knowledge. I don't mean, necessarily, selvedge, etc, but I cannot help being impressed when a knowledgeable maker sheds much to concentrate on/highlight a few elements. This is when the piece stands out as a whole rather than the sum, (sublime?) but I don't feel it necessarily means less is more; 
  • Suitability of the piece to the purpose, because let's face it, good exhibition pieces can look like cousins thrice removed by four marriages, and 30 years younger than my fav cashmere; 
  • The piece and the physical surrounds, especially in shops and exhibitions;  
  • Inevitably, in the appropriate context, value for money;
  • What else can you think of, even if only paraphrasing??

Why is this discourse important to me? Well, for one I had thought I wasn't getting enough creative pleasure out of stash-busting making, but I was wrong; I so enjoyed the brown pieces, (the outcome was wonderful,) but not so much weaving with my default yarns. So I'm not so sure what activity/result give me pleasure these days. I also need to not feel so bad about the limitations of my technique, so excuses or not, I need to cultivate a new perspective. But perhaps it's time I lift my game some, to make something a little better than before, or at least please me just a bit more.

With that in view, what do I aim for with my weaving?

  • Not the approval of experienced weavers, not any more. I know this is as extrinsic to the object as it is intrinsic, and technically I can never meet the old school approval; 
  • I am looking for that one person who wants to wear/hang a piece I made and experience gushing joy or unexpected solace. If I can make a few folks giggle with excitement on the way, that's an added bonus;
  • I want to please/surprise/astound myself with what I can make. At the end of my time, I hope to feel my life had been worthwhile making a few pretty things, that I see some were indeed pretty. I want to know I've worked hard and the effort/result pleases me. In the end, I hope I can approve of myself. 

Enough words; now I weave.

* * * * *

This warped/twisted spiderweb keeps coming back just outside the kitchen window. The first two were blown away in the recent gale winds and this is the third, smaller and less intricate than the first two. A wink/nod my way?

* * * * *

Young Annie came over on Wednesday and we powwowed for five hours non-stop. She had tuition from a wonderful weaver, and Annie's knowledge/technique/competence (hemstitching! spinning! dyeing!) are miles ahead of me. Wonderful!

EDIT: Annie was confronted with, "But is it art?" in her first year of weaving; she's better equipped than I, having been to art school, and I wished I remember how she said she responded. I was also a little surprised she's stayed, so far, on fabric-weaving track, as we discussed the art/textile art track as well before we got started. That feels like years ago and just a few months ago at once.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


It is advisable to sit on my thought-y drafts to avoid dribbling verbiage I think I will revisit but never do. I know. Lately I have been more disciplined, to the point most drafts get deleted after reaching a kind of satisfying resolution. Except if I don't write it down I forget where I went, and if I don't map the evanescent path I don't remember the trip, leaving me with that sinking feeling I wasted hours/days/years of my life once again.

There is that counterargument some thoughts are better left not translated into words, at least not prematurely, but the general mood in my head of late is, this isn't one of them. Ergo another "I have no idea where I'm going with this" tautology. (And this'd better be important because I've spent two lovely winter-gardening days pondering.)

It's about technique, aesthetics, value of a piece of weaving, perspective, and whatever else that surrounds them.

Dad, even though he never said it, (which was rare because he was firmly in the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do school,) believed striving is what made life worth living, particularly pertaining to one's study/work. (Being moral/transparent was incontrovertible and never troubled him so he had a lot of time to think of doing-striving rather than being-striving, but his rage/disgust towards those who weren't ate him up, too.) Dad also believed though we can't completely create/control our fate, one can often find room for effort and good planning. I appreciate him as a role model, though now I can't remember if I ever told him.

You know I can never not see my glaring technical weaknesses, nor can stop thinking/talking about them. As I learns more about weaving, about how to solve/remedy some of the technical issues, I see and evaluate my, and others', weaving from this perspective. (And by and large my experiences with the New Zealand guild's education and exhibition focused on this only.)

Except this is not the only perspective. It's actually a bad one in our multifarious post-modern world. It makes easy measurement for those who want to yield authority, to mark/score and rank us, akin to true/false, multiple choice, fill the gap exam questions. It provides empirical got-it/don't-got-it-ness embroidered as objectivity but doesn't reflect our human-ness, the inexplicable whole. Technique is only one part.

When we praise craft in Japan, there is much written about technique and execution, and of course of tradition, but also the unspoken but shared understanding of a something else that please us, that the whole is not only greater but when successful far more sublime and mysterious than the sum of the parts. And that if you don't get it, you're not Japanese enough. Conversely this is probably how we learn what's desirable of Japanese aesthetics, of being Japanese. It helps that the language is not one of exposition but of much implication so simpleton like I am never sure of exactly what I am appreciating, but that I have to be in awe. This loose but sometimes threatening nature of our language, (i.e. thinking,) keeps many Japanese from misbehaving, from being extra-ordinary, but to behave maturely, adhering to common sense. It's hard work.

I can see this something else in other people's work; weaving, pottery, music, theater, sports, life, and sometimes prefer the jagged, bent, skewed or the smudged, but not in my weaving. (It's easier with my drawing.) I keep myself in line by pretending to be a responsible grownup maker, in talking the talk. This is partly due to accepting everybody having different tastes, (taste being perception and preference?) that there is no good or bad tastes. (At least we don't talk about it even though as makers we know best what good taste is!) It's also due to the inside of my head being perpetually disorganized and my not knowing how to remedy, or being too busy weaving to take the time to investigate. It's also due to my lack of self-knowledge/confidence and/or experience in being allowed to choose, having been raised Japanese, female, and Catholic. Even though I'm old, the old Japanese saying, "a three-year-old's spirit stays until 100," rings true in my case. Or it's post-menopausal indecision. Whatever it is, the empirical measurement is instant and easy, and being an impatient person, that is the easiest place to start scrutiny.

More words to come, but my eyes have sunk deep into my head, so I'll close this by introducing you to a short vid of Canadian/American artist Agnes Martin, whom I discovered this week.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Finding the Saddle and Some Thick Skin

Was I in a funk! It was the first time I seriously thought of quitting weaving altogether. I didn't want to think about weaving and didn't go anywhere near looms or yarns, in life or online.

Instead, I was happy to go outside, except we had some rain, another cold spell, (not as big a problem as I waited until afternoons when the frost was gone,) and severe-weather-warming gale winds, which weren't as bad as forecast but was no gardening weather.

I had a secret ambition to spend as many hours gardening in the first half of this year as I did all last year, but May and June weather made that difficult; I couldn't even do 100 hours. Oh, well.

Instead, I read. Fiction. And a lot of websites where writers wrote about writing, and listened to author interviews on Radio NZ and NPR. The book itself was not fabulous, 6.5 out of 10?, a farce about a fictional writers' festival. Now I'm reading another by the same author about writing workshops. I thought of putting in serious effort in fiction writing again, but I still remember why I chose weaving over writing fifteen years ago, and most days I sat and looked out the window waiting for the wind to stop.

Meanwhile, I found interesting what Woodson said about a writer-ly way of reading, as I most definitely am a follow-the-plot reader most days. I also contemplated reading the same book multiple times. The last I did this was with Viviano's  "Blood Washes Blood", which started out as a man's search for his ancestors but turned into Gariboldi and the start of Sicilian mafia. If I were to read a book for a second time from my adulthood, (as I reread and re-reread books in childhood,) I'd start with "The Scarlet Letter" because the first time I followed the rather unpleasant story and still noticed the magical writing.

Thursday would have been the first day I could have gardened, but I went into town to talk to Andrea and show her the pieces I had trouble with. I ended up leaving most at the Suter, because I observed her and a volunteer's reaction and comments. I never bought into it's-handweaving-imperfection-gives-character school of thought; technique has to be as good as I can make it, though that's never been my strong suit. But I decided to try out another perspective. And some thick skin.

It doesn't mean I'll stop experimenting/practicing to improve techniques, but  I want to see what I make more holistically, (is that the right word?). I'm not justifying bad techniques, but trying to think/see outside my familiar/comfort zone.

Weavers will be horrified; I may need to handmade a balaclava.

I also met with Jean for coffee that day, and she asked me what my project/s were for the next little while. I said it's stash reduction, and explained it's not the speed or quantity troubling me, but the back-to-front way of designing/planning. Since Alison told us in 2002 not to look at the yarns on hand first and base our designs on them, I've followed her instructions. Working backwards feels foreign, especially when working with some of Mom's yarns I would never have bought, but this is half a step outside my comfort zone. Shouldn't be a big deal after some practice.

Thursday night I felt excited about weaving again, but Friday morning was more like seeing an old friend with whom I had a big fight. Slowly, instead of white or undyed plain silk I went looking for, I picked a salmon pink silk bouclé weft, and I got back on the saddle. In the first 32 picks, three warp ends broke, (two in the 32nd pick,) and I braced myself for another challenging afternoon but the rest of the 500-32 wove smoothly. Today another 400 picks went without a hitch, and I even started planning/preparing the next few projects while I wove.

Big smiles.
The weft is more pink than orange or brown. I can hardly see the pattern as I weave, but it's a modified version of the second one here. It's thin and delicate but I'm curious to see how it washes. I think I'll call this, "Twin Set and Pearls".