To Bead or Not To Bead

Yes, I have noticed beads have been in vogue this century; in fact probably for over a decade now. And I understand neither you nor I are in the income bracket that allows/requires wearing jewel-encrusted silk/satin gowns, so I agree with you that beadwork, along with hand-embroidery and handmade lace, is at the high end of luxurious garment embellishments. You would like beads in your handwoven shawl, you say...

The problem, for me, is, I have an ethical dilemma when it comes to beads. For one thing, for me, they have to be glass beads to withstand the chemical wear and tear of modern laundry. But glass beads break. So as a responsible 'manufacturer' of your cloud-soft shawl, I hesitate to embellish the selvedge with glass beads lest a tiny one breaks and caresses your face. I take great pains to make the shawl as lovely as your baby's cheeks so if you couldn't enjoy its feel against your face, my efforts will have been in vein.

None on the selvedge, then, but in the fringes? You can still get those fringes caught in the bedroom door as you rush downstairs to greet the babysitter, and crush a few beads. Your daughter can rush up to you, calling, "Mommy, Mommy, please, can we have ice cream tonight?" and again, that rogue broken bead in the fringe might brush against your daughter's face. What then?

What, you don't have a daughter, and you're extra careful with crushed beads, and you gently handwash your shawl as per my instructions, but when you squeeze the water after the final rinse, and if there is a broken bead, I don't want to be responsible.

Ah, you bring up the sparkle factor.

When you catch your own reflection in window at the Opera House and you see your shawl mysteriously sparkle, it can take your breath away just for a moment, and if you happen to catch your husband looking at your reflection, too, it makes the evening a bit more special, I know.

And when your eyes meet those of a tall stranger, three times, and on the third he raises his finger as if to tip an imaginary hat, you would like the last glimpse he has of you to be the starlight reflected in your shawl.

I concede; I like the sparkles, too. But please, please, be extra careful, because the shawls I weave are meant to make you glow, not cry.


Bead Gallery, Nelson, New Zealand, www.beads.co.nz - a real Aladdin's Cave.


Working Alone, Living in This World

For the first seven years of my life, I was an only child; for the first ten years of school, I went to a Catholic school in Tokyo about an hour's train journey each way. So you might say I spent a lot of time in my own company from early on. I don't remember being lonely; I liked deciding what I did when I wanted (as long as Mom allowed), changing rules at whim, and not sharing! That's why I love being a weaver who works alone in a basement studio with two small windows.

Make no mistake, if our house had more room, I would definitely have an upstairs studio, looking to the West and the Takaka Hills, but we don't, and my big loom is too heavy, and the air compressor too noisy, so my basement studio, next to the garage, with the laundry and a small bathroom, suits me fine. Actually, it's perfect, because the basement feels cocooned, shutting out the outside noise and protecting me.

I may be what you call a self-taught weaver, in that I've gone to only a few workshops, and I don't belong to a local guild, but I learned much from books and magazines. I subscribe to a few Internet fora, I communicate with other weavers, and I go to galleries, museums, films and clothes/design stores specifically to find visual images I can work with. And I try to catch as many weaving/textile exhibits as I can.

With my weaving, every single decision is mine, and I alone am responsible for the outcome of every piece. Being a rather boisterous person, even 'I alone' can be a noisy bunch, so I would rather not have to contemplate anyone else's suggestion. Therefore, until recently, I never understood why people say the creative process is lonely.

But I do now, in a way. I have come to love being with other artists, to listen to how they came to their art, how they overcame problems or what they plan to do next. But most of all, I have come to appreciate belonging to the same group as they, a group of people who make things.

Maybe I grew older and a bit wiser, or maybe I have woven just enough pieces to have a taste of 'being an artist', and my few, tiny successes have given me a peek at triumph. By listening to other artists, I found myself, to my great surprise, more focused on my own work, and I even began to enjoy hearing comments on what I do, be they good or bad. And I know, then, I still live in this world.

Thank you, ladyv and jj.


Content and Confident

Today, quite unplanned, I booked a small gallery for an exhibit next February. It will be my first. The gravity of this action may yet come to haunt me, but for now I am feeling a quiet satisfaction with my decision.

This was not done on impulse; I have been playing around with ideas for showing textile in the smaller of the two rooms at the Gallery since December. So, in a way, and totally unexpectedly, I am relieved the project is no longer just in my head. On the other hand, I have no experience and little idea of what is involved in executing an art/craft exhibit, so I am yet to find out all that I do not know.

But for now, I am content, and confident.


The Warp and Weft of Weavers

This is the way I see it.

The warp is time, and the weft, distance. There have been many, many weavers over the centuries, in probably every corner of the world, who wove cloth to make their own clothes, to use in their everyday lives, to present to royalty and holy men, and even to pay as taxes. Many wove to exchange the cloth with other essentials, like food perhaps, and many to fulfill their artistic aspirations; most were motivated by a combination of these and many other reasons.

Some raised (captured?) the flora and fauna which yielded the fiber, some did the same to dye, and some spun their own fiber. Nowadays some buy yarns from lands far away by typing in credit card numbers, and some yarns are even brewed in factories. Some have recorded their work, in bits of clay, pieces of paper, or over the Internet, some just put on another warp and move on. Some worked the entire process; some were taught, (or even born?), to do just one part.

Few were lucky to be highly esteemed, with accolades, gold pieces, or their names in books; some had their work categorized as an example 'from this era' or 'from that region'; most, however, went unnoticed.

And some were men, some were women.

When weavers weave, whether on a 32-shaft compudobby with a fly shuttle in a purpose-built studio, or on a backstrap loom in the shade under a tree, we are in the company of countless weavers across time, and distance. I will never know most of them, but I am among them, and that is a thrilling and privileged place to be.


Why Do I Love to Weave?

My physiotherapist Aramoana asked me why I love to weave. I had never thought about this, but I heard myself tell her, "I get an adrenaline rush," and then, "When I'm weaving, I have to pay attention to so many things, I really have to concentrate."

I have never been a here-and-now person. I measure my life in terms of: "When I finish xxx...", "When I go to yyy...", and my recent favorite, "When I get enough money to buy zzz..." I have always had visions/goals and multiple To Do lists to help me get there, because I was told, "If you don't know where you're going, you will never get there."

However, as I get older, I've become wary these mad dashes hasn't got me where I thought I might be about now, and I don't want my legacy to be a pile of half-crossed To Do lists. But how do I function without them? How do I stop the note-to-self voices in my head? How can I enjoy the moment, instead of turning it into another stop to somewhere else?

When I weave, I watch the tension, the pick, the selvedge, and the amount of yarn left on the pirn or bobbin. I watch my posture (weavers' upper body rock back and forth), the feet (we 'walk', that is, use the left and the right feet alternatively to press the treadles or the foot pedals), the part of the beater I grab (ideally the centre) and whether the lighting is on the correct spot.

And the more I weave, and supposedly the more I improve, the more I notice things, so I cannot concentrate any less. I do listen to music and books on tapes, but I am focused, and when I am weaving, fringing, beading, washing, I cannot think beyond the very process I am engaged in at that very moment.

And I'm seriously enjoying the moment.


Back in the Game

In mid-March, after six weeks of pain, I was told I had tendonitis, and to avoid activities which put stress on my right wrist and lower arm. It took me a while just to identify these activities; washing hair, brushing hair on the right side of my head, brushing teeth, and ironing were among them. And anything to do with scissors and knives. In fact, there was very little I could do. Normally, I love to read, and I look forward to a few days off with a cold every winter, but this time I felt restless and paced like a caged animal instead.

By Easter, I was at my wit's end because I just wanted to weave. I had so many ideas, plans, unfinished projects, all the time in the world, and, of course, yarn. I was especially eager to return to a fulltime weaving routine I established last year. I was cranky. At the same time I didn't want this to be life-as-a-weaver-threatening, so I went cold turkey. Weaving in short spurts, for me, tantamount to being given a chocolate chip cookie after all the chocolate chips have been removed.

But with age does come a modicum of wisdom. After a month of pacing and no chocolate chips, I sensed that if I want to weave to be 90, I couldn't go back to that routine . So I conceded to doing this sensibly.

Today, I wove for one hour. Except for a botched sample weaving in late March, this was the first time I wove since Christmas Eve. I set the kitchen timer for 60 minutes.

I wove on my 4-shaft Jack loom because this is the most comfortable, and it was already dressed with a glorious warp - three reds in shiny wool in a very wide Dornik Twill stripe. I wove three shawls on this warp last year with different wefts, and named them Merlot, Cab Sav and Stawberries and Brut, and sold Merlot at the exhibit in Blenheim. 10 pirns for the shuttle were already wound with red possum/meirno/silk. All I had to do was to tie the beginning and weave.

I felt a bit shy at first. It was like meeting a friend for coffee; a friend I've known for years, who lives not far away, but we were meeting for the first time in a long while. We both felt a bit guilty for not being in touch and sniffed around for safe things to say, but after 20 minutes, the company was as familiar as the scent of my favorite wool wash. The harnesses lifted smoothly, the shuttle glided, and we parted knowing we'd be seeing each other really soon again.

After the hour, still not wanting to leave the studio, I started to dress the 16-shaft compudobby. This is going to be a very narrow warp, only 160 ends of undyed merino, so I can redo the sample weaving. And I'll probably have enough leftover for a short scarf for myself.

It's fabulous to be back in the game.


Secret Lives of Weavers

Weavers share a loving, secret, almost guilty relationship with our stash. Just thinking about it fills us with love, happiness, excitement, and, from time to time, dread. We loose ourselves in a room full of cooler, texture and sheep and dye smells, and caress each skein, cone or ball, remembering the last scarf, or dreaming of the next shawl. This is the ultimate alone time, soaking in the tingly sensation of being with our yarns. We don't even tell our husbands what goes on in there.

We touch our yarns for the sheer pleasure of it, or look longingly for inspiration, or with a loving project in mind. Sometimes we rearrange the shelves so we can see the familiar yarns in a different light, and rediscover yesterday's favorites. Sometimes we move them around to make room for more. But these yarns eventually turn into beautiful textile, so, you see, it's a nurturing, productive relationship.

Some weavers are overcome by a life of pretence and resort to drastic measures; car boot sale, stash exchange, and donation to the Hospice shop. Virtuous ones, like Rose, detox with a week of "rapid-stash-reduction" regime. Ah, but most of us return to our stash to become better weavers.