Friday, February 29, 2008


The "heady" me thinks I live life recklessly and stupidly; the hedonistic me thinks Heady is all talk and no action; the two feel annoyed and embarrassed by each other. On a rare occasion, they agree; in this particular case, they are both terribly embarrassed.

At the opening of Craft 08, I was horrified by the "waves" in my hung pieces. These were woven in frenzy prior to Re:fine selection and I don't remember much about the tension, but I do remember it was terribly humid on the day I pressed and packed them for Craft 08, so I asked if I could come and press the three pieces and hang them again; Deb Hunter said yes.

First thing Monday I went to Refinery to press the three shawls and employ wee tricks to make them appear straight and flat. I was relieved they didn't look as bad as I remembered when I arrived, but it still wasn't a good look. (If you have good tension, and use a drum, you won't know what I'm talking about. Basic stuff, but I struggle with it sometimes.) Deb helped me hang them again, and we got a little trigger-happy and over-corrected them. The two larger pieces seemed to be shouting, "We're terribly warped, so we've been Botoxed," when I left.

I went back today to see how they were doing, and they weren't as bad as I remembered. As it appears often to be the case, things are never as bad as I imagine them to be. Nevertheless, this is an area I desperately need to improve.

That is my ironing board in the corner; these two are awaiting Botox. They are possum/merino/silk both ways, my chunky rugs.

On Not Being an Artist

This is where I'm a weaver/craftsperson/artisan, and not quite an "artist".

In two weeks, I will be going to a weekend workshop on designs. For the course, we've been asked to research a subject, i.e. collect visual material, take notes, write impressions, perhaps even draw or do collages using different media. We are free to choose a subject, but it needs to relate to landscape; it can be an interior, or even an imagined one, but a landscape.

So while I wasn't feeling great, I toyed around with the idea of investigating the interior landscape of a depressed mind. Seriously! I didn't think it would make a visually stunning research, but I thought it might help me understand where I am; you know, along the lines of gathering material from one's childhood experiences or attacking the decline of social mores in one's work. I started reading up on van Gogh and Munch for starters.

Well, that was last week. I think it was a hideous idea, and this is where I'm not an artist but am firmly in the other category: I'm interested in weaving beautiful textiles, not questioning, attacking, demonstrating or otherwise influencing your thinking in any way. I want my pieces to be nice to look at, not trying to get inside your head.

And then I thought, even if I ended up with an ok design, would you ever want to touch a shawl or a scarf, let alone buy it, if I told you I arrived at the design while investigating the landscape inside my head during a depressed spell? Gee wiz.

Artists do strange things. I remember going to our favorite potter in Marlborough. She's known for quirky shapes and bright colors, but one time she had just finished an exhibit and had brought all of her work back. Most were black and white or some such, with amoeba-like designs painted all over them. Now, even though I am drawn to amoebas, the potter made the mistake of telling us she'd been fascinated by illnesses and germs!! Needless to say, we didn't buy any plates or bowls that time; come to think of it, we haven't been back to see her since.

And the landscape research; I haven't thought of anything else yet.

Art-Form Envy

I can't draw or paint, so in my youth I tried photography; I still enjoy it as a hobby but I never worked hard enough to become more than a hit-or-miss armature, and in my pre-auto focus days, my eyesight became too big of an obstacle.

I like the structural restrictions loom-weaving presents and am comfortable working within these limits. Having said that, sometimes I suffer from art-form envy, art forms of the more "freehand" persuasion, and the people who can work in those forms. Initially I envied those who could draw, paint, make prints, sculpt/carve, and make jewelry; then I envied milliners, textile mixed-media artists and felters, but most recently, (though loom-weaving is definitely the art-form of my choice,) I've been envying the free-spirited creativity seen in visual diaries and crazy-imaginative bookbinding, (the last being a composite of visual diaries, scrap-booking and bookbinding.) I have a hard time thinking outside the square, so some of the books I've seen on these subjects boggle this tiny mind.

My visual diaries are practical; they are more notes and doodles to remind me how I did something, or wobbly line drawings of outcome I hope to achieve from my projects. And because I can't draw or paint, my books are bulging with magazine clippings and photographs, fabric swatches, yarn samples, and occasionally, leaves and feathers. Naturally, my books are spiral-bound.

I still pine for those seductive, gentle pages awash in watercolor and drawn in ink, though, and would love to try it. So quite separate from my normal visual diaries, I bought a hard-covered sketchbook today. It might take five or ten years to fill it up, but I think I'll give it a go. Mind you, this is going to be strictly for-my-eyes-only unless I decide I want to give you a good laugh.

Do you keep artwork-like visual diaries?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Liz Kendrick

Liz Kendrick sings with my mate Kath Bee in their adult-contemporary duo Zilk, and in their fabulous foursome, The Nancies. (She's the tall one, in the black skirt.) But she's also a funky jewelry maker.

When she rang last year to order a shawl for a friend and asked if we could do a swap, I was worried (because I don't wear jewelry) and excited (because Liz is so lovely and funky), but I went ahead anyway, because I'd decided I never want to miss a chance of interacting with other artists.

With the shawl, I had a couple of new experiences. The first happened while listening to Liz tell me about the giftee Warren. During a face-to-face conversation, I usually pick up clues from facial expressions and body language, but on the phone, especially with someone I don't now well, I concentrate on the words and the facts. However, even though I didn't know Liz too well, I was so used to listening to her and picking up her voice during performances that I was hearing nuances and I became aware of feeling surrounded by Liz's voice. (And, oh, what a lovely voice it is!)

I took a lot of notes that evening, and doodled a little, but felt overwhelmed by the amount of information; I didn't collect any more facts than I normally do, but the depths of friendship don't come through on normal phone conversations or emails usually. That was Friday night. On Sunday morning, I woke up with the exact picture of the piece, and the rest was almost mechanical. Well, besides the unplanned tension problem. Anyhow, enough about me.

In January, Liz was part of an exhibition called Klustre at the Refinery so I went and had a look at her work. They were funky, styles I would usually not consider, but I was excited about having something made for me that I might never have chosen myself.

I've been interested in brooches these last few years, because they seem most complementary to textiles. We discussed a design for a brooch that won't catch easily, kept the contemporary feel of her pieces in Klustre, and smaller than her normal pieces because I'm short. Other than that, I picked every option that felt counterintuitive.

This week Liz popped into Sue's Gallery with the piece photographed above. The silver is shiny and smooth (the colors seen in the photo is a reflection of the woodwork,) whilst the copper part is dull and spiky (though filed down more than it appears). I adore the amoeba-like center (I've always been fascinated by single-celled creatures as well as deep-water creatures), and the silver bits look like wings. I haven't named it yet, he has a feel of a primordial (and mischievous) guardian angel who is going to lead me into all kinds of artistic (or aesthetic, if you prefer) sideways and alleyways. Guardian devil? Delicious!

And I thought you might appreciate how beautifully the reverse side is crafted.

* * * * *

Liz Kendrick's work can be found at Lustre, on Collingwood Street, which is right next door to Sue Bateup's Weavers Gallery on Ajax, along the Maitai River from the Information Centre, or The Suter gallery shop. If you'd like to contact Liz directly, drop me a line.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Gift

It's the start of autumn here, and the sun is suddenly just a little kinder, and though we have strong sea wind from time to time, even these bring wee gifts.

I like to keep my front door open at times like these. This morning, I thought there were tiny twigs on the floor, but when I tried to pick it up, it was something different. And there was another one.

(I try not to think of these as somebody's former body parts!)

Monday, February 25, 2008

We All Do It, Don't We?

A couple of weeks ago, we were queuing/lining up to get into the Opera in the Park, the biggest music event of the year. This year we had Dame Kiri Te Kanawa as the main guest.

Four or so persons ahead of me was a smartly dressed woman wearing a vivid blue-red shawl. The body appeared to be a standard 4-end Herringbone in fine but not terribly soft wool, but on the ends were this fantastically intricate knotted work, apparently in synthetic cords.

Naturally, once we were inside the gates, I approached her and asked if I could photograph it. She thought it is from Ecuador.

Oh, sigh, oh, sigh.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Weaving Books: What Are Your Favorites?

Halcyon has a book club. Did you know? I had't read her newsletter emails for a while because I've been so busy, but I had to register right away. And there's is a Handweaver's Pattern Directory!! Save me, Weaving Goodess, not only am I poor, but I haven't got any room on my bookshelf...

So, weavers, what was/were the first weaving book/s you bought, or were given, do you remember? I bought my first three from Amazon after I test-drove a few from the North Shore Library in August 1995, and they were:

* Sharon Alderman's A Weaver's Notebook,
* Betty Linn Davenport's Hands On Rigid Heddle Weaving, and
* Susan Gilmurray's Weaving Tricks (1981)

Alderman's book I liked so much I bought three; I gave one to my mother, and had (and still do) her save the third in her house, just in case mine got lost or damaged. My first copy is pretty tatty now, as it lives under my bed.

Davenport's is still good when I want to look up hand-manipulated techniques, though I haven't done them in a long while. Gilmurray's is a used copy even in '95, and has little notes penciled in by the previous owner/s. It saved me from many predicaments in my early days, and still now I love the drawings and the explanations.

At one point I got New Key to Weaving, and upgraded to Key to Weaving, but I find weaving books without photos or drawing excruciatingly difficult to understand, so it sits in the best position in the bookshelf, and gets pulled out whenever someone refers to it, or I have to learn a new structure and other books fail.

When new weavers ask me to recommend a book, it's been Deborah Chandler's Learing to Weave, except I have to tell them to ignore the Front-or-Back treatise until they've dressed the loom a few times.

Madelyn van der Hoogt's The Complete Book of Drafting for Handweavers catapulted me from plain weave to multishaft when I recklessly signed up for a Bonnie Inouye workshop in 2002. I love the graphics in this book. I arrived at Weaver's magazine quite late, (in fact, I paid for my subscription and received two copies before they shut it down), so this and their Best Of series give me a taste of the excitement that magazine must have brought to weavers when it arrived in their mailboxes.

Three books I keep carrying around are:

* Bonnie Inouye's Exploring Multishaft Design,
* Alice Schlein's Network Drafting: An Introduction, and, though less frequently,
* Deramay Keasbey's Designing with Blocks

A short while ago I was invited to join an on-line study group of Bonnie's book, and you know I did. For the first time I'm reading beyond Chapter 1, and it's really an excellent book, but I must admit it's the musings, questions and comments by my "classmates" that help me understand the text. Left alone, my eyes would tend to glaze over the text and settle on the drafts. And naturally I'm quite behind in the study group.

The one I had to buy relatively recently is Carol Strickler-edited A Weaver's book of 8-Shaft Patterns from the Friends of Handwoven because everybody around me refers to it, and it's a great gazing book, as well as to learn new structures.

Don't get me wrong. I have heaps more on the bookshelf, and I've justified the purchases because I learned to weave from books, but I never said I read them all. I think I've read ... four of them from start to finish. Others I've started and put then down, or read only pertinent chapters, but I can tell you I have looked at the graphics in all of them enough times that I remember many; it's almost creepy when I go back to a draft or a photograph and can recall exactly when and where I saw it last.

I have enough weaving (and other) books to keep me happy for the rest of my life without requiring additional purchases. At least I can stay happy reading them for the first time for probably a decade. (I'm also a slow reader.) But since I've been good the last few years, I think I might get a couple more this year. And at the top of the list just now are two conflicting choices: Allen A. Fannin's Handloom Weaving Techology Revised Edition (and there's not a lot of graphics to gaze in this tome), or Matisse, His Art and His Textiles: The Fabric of Dreams, which I had a chance to drool over at the local Polytech library. I think I'll get more enjoyment out of the latter, but I'd also like to learn the type of information inside the former.

For now, Bonnie's study group is keeping me busy. I'm reading it, with the assistance of my new friends, and lots of extra "stay behind class" correspondences with Bonnie. I'm so lucky.

The Inevitable Cloth, Part 2

You know Madelyn van der Hoogt's color/texture vs. structure weavers distinction? Mom and I thought I was firmly in the former, and she in the latter, when I started to weave. And in appreciating other weavers' work, I still am absolutely, undoubtedly and hopelessly in the former, though texture has become just as important as color lately.

However, I swear I read somewhere in Sharon Alderman's swatch book, A Handweaver's Notebook, where she asks, "why not both?" (I've been looking for that passage ever since I started Unravelling, but haven't found it yet, so I might be mistaken about the origin.)

At first, the thought upset me, it was daunting to think of so many variables in planning a cloth, but post-Randy, I agree completely. (Not that I'd ever disagree with the Goddess at any time on any point, you understand.)

Looking back, that we were required to put on a warp with "dynamic proportions" on a loom in preparation for Randy's workshop with very little explanation on "dynamic proportions" was the starting point. Though I'd always designed shawls with the human body and its movement in mind, I never considered an observer's eyes gliding over cloth itself; for now that's my interpretation of "DP".

Then when I did my first Randy experiment and learned abrupt and even not-so abrupt color changes and undulation didn't produce attractive results, I started to look for, make, and save Randy-appropriate drafts.

Now this next bit, I swear I posted once before, but I can't find it, so if I'm repeating myself, so be it.

When I was weaving the Big Ribbon and swapping weft colors, (but in this case, following a loose plan,) I learned that not only do I want to use Randy-appropriate drafts when I changed weft colors, but I needed a certain inevitability in where and how the colors changed. Not by logic, based on color theories, (though I think it's entirely possible, even probable, arriving at the same conclusion from different paths), not by plan or design, but by some overwhelming, sentimental urge or whim or fancy. That's the best explanation I can give you on what I mean by "inevitable". And it's this inevitability I look for.

Perhaps the "IC" are innate in threads we choose, perhaps inside the weaver, or perhaps they float around the Universe and Weaving Angels deliver them to only those who are receptive. (Seen any cherubs with pale blue ribbons in your studio lately?)

As Valerie commented, "Achingly beautiful cloth is not always synonymous with complex cloth." The Alderman book has many "inevitable cloths" in my eyes, and they are not always complex.

Now, there was something Bonnie Tarses said about the three (?) key elements of textile she was taught at Rhode Island School of Design and these, too, helped me develop this concept of "IC", but darned if I can find that particular post. I'm done looking for reference and passages today.

And would you believe this train of thought happened well outside my depressed moments, which is amazing because in my usual state I'm much too practical and can't cope with concepts; perhaps I should read quantum mechanics the next time I sit on my blue couch for hours.

On to the ugly warps.

Truely Laughable

Just to clear the air and my mind, I misread Valerie's comment in my post about raising my game; I read "laughable" not "laudable", even though I went back and checked it half a dozen times before posting my rebuttal. I apologize to Valerie, and to everyone else who thought, "So what high horse is she on now?"

This is typical of what happens to me during a depressive episode, a bad patch, or whatever the correct term. On the one hand, I go deep inside my head though I don't notice it and can become paranoid and overwhelmed. One of the most daunting and tearful conversation at times like these is Ben asking me what I want for dinner because I can't get my head around such weighty considerations. On the other hand, I'm not bothered by the mundane, (the house goes to the pits!) and I do get a few Zen-like moments which help me see things clearly. I mean, meta-cloth? I'm too scatterbrained to come up with something like it in my usual state.

As well, I do so love to learn about how others think, see and work, and I'm not offended by your letting me know that you disagree with me, or that I'm way off kilter. OK, for a short time, I fuss and fume, but not at all offended in the long run. Disagreements and differences makes me try to see how you think, see and work, and force me to clarify my thoughts, and at the other end, I may completely change my way because yours is heaps better.

I make no secret of a life with depression, but as far as the problem goes, I'm at the lightest end of the spectrum, and I have a great doctor who is teaching me to spot the triggers and symptoms, and to learn coping mechanisms. And as I said, I benefit from it by being able to have uninterrupted thinking time. Joy!

So you have been warned; if I get far too conceptual, imagine me sitting on the smaller, blue couch in the living room, not fidgeting or moving at all for hours staring; Imay just be cooking up my next "serious" post for Unravelling.

On the other hand, if you all think I'm way off and too far gone, or just wrong, or if you know a better way, I'm setting you to task to put me right. Please. And thanks.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Inevitable Cloth

The word "inevitable" has been popping up in my journal a lot lately, as in "I want to weave the inevitable cloth, not the incidental". I see conflicting urges in such mutterings.

I want to improve my technical skills so I don't have to worry or spend time remedying mistakes; that's a given. I also want to know more about colors and structures and characteristics of the yarns I use. Beyond that, I eventually want the ability to create optimum color/structure/texture combinations to weave what I call the inevitable cloth. As to what constitutes optimum combination is so personal I don't know how I'll know if and when I happen to weave it/them, but I trust I can start in this direction by studying and weaving.

I've also come to believe in the existence of meta-cloths, cloths where the constituent elements meld together so beautifully and naturally that they are far more than the sum of their parts. I've seen them in workshops by Bonnie Inouye and Randall Darwall. And though people's tastes differ, there is an unspoken understanding and awe of the merit of these cloths.

I marvel if sometimes these meta-cloths come to weavers, not through hard slog, but by some divine impartment. No doubt these weavers work hard, but I can't help wondering if a certain degree of forfeiture of control is necessary to "receive" inspiration and weave such cloths. And in this way, I, too, aspire to be an agent of such fancy.

I see a change in my outlook; weaving and the cloths I weave are starting to invade my personal space. Perhaps this is what is called art-making.

After all is said, I put on another warp on the loom and will be on my merry way. I have two less-than-exhilarating dye experiment warps to go on my 4-shaft tonight, where I'll try to make the unattractive warp colors disappear.

I do show up at work, you know.

The Rebuttal

I was a wee bit taken aback with the strong words in the comments to my previous post. If it's semantics, I can't help it; English is my second language. If it's my Kiwi expressions/sentiments, I congratulate myself in becoming more fluent in my third language. (The fourth word in the first sentence is a case in point.)

Craft 08 is a tiny exhibit in a tiny town at the edge of the world; this is hardly my West Side Story, and in fact the very lack of satisfaction from my pieces prompted me to think.

That we chuckle at the thought of "chunky rugs" is because we visualize the hefty hand-spun-natural-colored cloth I understand were prevalent in the 80's in New Zealand, not because I think my work is better than what he described; in fact, I found the passage rather complimentary.

"Achingly beautiful cloth is not always synonymous with complex cloth." "I don't want my cloth to be a gimmick simply because I have these tools." Same thing.

Whilst I acknowledge the value of showing up at work every morning, and of the basics in color and design, I need physical maps when I travel, and metaphorical maps in life, and I don't apologize for that. I am the kind that creates happiness, because that's how I find it all my life.

We say in Japan, "Ten people, ten colors."

As to "laughable", I'm pleased I've been able to entertain, because it's doubts and apprehension over here.

Most important for me is Craft 08 was the last of a string of exhibitions I committed myself to in 2007; the next time you see my stuff, I hope to show you something one level up.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Raising My Game

While at the opening of Craft 08, I was overcome with an incredible desire to raise my game. As to how exactly I am going to do this, or in which direction I'd like to go, I can only come up with words.

I have been unwell for a while now; nothing serious, only exhausted by the constant output of the last year-plus, with no serious down time to replenish ideas, imaginations, inspirations. And my eyes don't focus well. It's what I call my debilitating laziness.

The cotton pieces, from design to finish, was done on autopilot, and I didn't get the usual satisfaction I receive from the process. I was also unable to press and wrap the six pieces as carefully as I think I normally do, and was unhappy with the way the pieces appeared at the Refinery. (I wonder if Deb would let me iron them after hours.) So this kind of technical/common-sensical thing is easy to fix.

Colors are something I need to be more comfortable with. And dyeing.

I have a 16-shaft, computer-controlled loom, and together with my Fiberworks PCW, I am able to create complicated-looking stuff, but I don't want to end there; I don't want my cloth to be a gimmick simply because I have these tools. I would like the end pieces to be more than the sum of design, texture and colors. I want my cloth to be inevitable, not incidental.

I long to create what Randall Darwall calls "achingly beautiful" cloth.

And that's going to take a few more throws of the shuttle, I reckon.

Craft 08 and Chunky Rugs

With the cottons taking much longer to complete than anticipated, I had to dig up some other work to submit. Luckily, neither of the Pacific pieces had been exhibited before, and coincidentally, I had the two designs in a smaller scale, so those four and the two cottons made up the requested six. They were due 5PM Monday, but I was allowed to bring them at 9AM Tuesday.

This exhibit, Craft 08, was the idea of furniture-maker John Shaw, who got sick of being called an object-maker. He insists he is a craftsman, and he makes furnitures, but no matter what they are called, his work is not subservient to what is usually regarded as objet d'art.

Apparently craft enjoyed a strong resurgence in the 80's in Nelson, and he wanted other craftspersons to join in showcasing crafts that are alive and well in Nelson today. We are hoping this might become an annual exhibit.

So, an exhibition right up my alley.

Painter and curator Deb Hunter opened the exhibit; she's also responsible for hanging my pieces so beautifully. (I must stop telling everybody to go ahead and feel my textile as curators take such care in hanging them beautifully.)

I was so tired, but I am glad I made it to the opening. My pieces were hung in a great position, and I felt a tad more comfortable in the "art opening" environment. Both Ben and I are getting to know some of the "regulars" so we no longer stand in the corner as if we're being punished.

Yesterday, The Nelson Mail did an article on Craft 08. On me, writer Peter Gibbs said I showed "different strings to her bow with chunky rugs in possum, merino, and silk contrasting with incredibly fine gold-colored cloth in cotton."

Incredibly fine? They are only 20/2s... But "chunky rugs"? Ben and I can't stop laughing; we've been saying "chunky rugs" out loud every chance we get.

Weaving with Cotton

Weaving the cotton scarves was, as Kiwis say, a hard slog. With the first scarf I had so much problems with tension, I should have stopped and restarted, but like a machine I kept on weaving. (And I now have a not-so-short scarf-length of cotton cloth, which I'm going to cut up and frame, and from which I will make postcards and little purses.)

The right is the second scarf, which was the easiest to weave; the weft is what I think is a Delft blue, but in the daylight, it looks almost light-blue-brown in combination with the yellow. The draft is a straight twill in network treadling, tweaked to keep the maximum float at around 9.

The left was the last; the weft is in a bright teal, and looking at the warp and the weft separately, I wondered what kind of a deranged mind would use these two in combination, but together, they take away each other's brashness, and take on a copper-like appearance. I was tired and couldn't remember if I had enough warp, so I had to unwind to make sure; I wouldn't have had enough to pull to the front to tie the next one on. This is a plait tie-up treadled in network, again tweaked in the lift plan to keep the float under 11.

The colors are truer towards the bottom of the less-than-exhilarating photo.

This was a labor of love. I loved the way the cloth looked. This is exactly the kind of cloth I had in mind when I "pushed" that stick shuttle for the first time on my rigid heddle in August 1995. I would love to weave a wider cloth of this style and have someone make me a vest or use it in parts of a jacket some day. So in that respect, it was a joy.

But I was unwell, and had little previous experience with cotton, and it was a struggle to push on. And I wasn't sure about the viability of these scarves as a product; they look either traditional, ("waistcoats!" my art historian friend Rosie said,) or South/Central Asian, and I would be competing with the lovely but inexpensive textiles from that area in that case. And the material is cotton, so I won't be able to command as high prices as merino or cashmere. So even if I weave these for the gallery, they will remain a true labor of love.

Not that the others aren't, but you get my meaning.

While weaving the teal piece, I started making a mental list of how many things can go wrong in weaving. I'll post them separately; it was "you gotta laugh, or else you'll cry" kind of a day.

I was exhausted after this, and after finishing the teal piece, I decided not to tie on the second yellow warp, not that there was much left to tie on. In fact, on impulse, I did the sensible thing (I know this sounds strange) and started to partially dismantle the loom and oiled it and washed the heddles.

I bought this loom in July 2002 and it was only the second time I oiled the entire loom, though I had been doing so in dribs and drabs. I thought I better show my appreciation for the hard work it has done for me, especially in the last couple of years.

I was in autopilot after that.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sue Bateup and Weaver's Gallery

I've been struggling with this post since October because it involves telling Sue and all of you what a nasty, narrow-minded, judgmental person I am. But instead of disguising or covering anything, I'll give it to you straight. I just hope I don't shock you too much.

Sue Bateup has had a successful handweaving business as long as I've been in Nelson. She has a lovely little gallery/shop in Ajax Avenue, by the river, just up from the Information Center. She also sells her work, most famously her colorful jackets, all over New Zealand, (and possibly beyond.) Her name is a brand, and is synonymous to handweaving in Nelson.

Sue hand-dyes her yarns, but also has had other weavers help with the weaving and a professional machinist make them up into garments. Hers is a serious and successful business.

It's also a fact people whom I meet casually, as soon as I divulge I am a weaver, all ask if I weave pieces like Sue, if I dye like Sue, do I know Sue, aren’t her colors absolutely beautiful, perhaps I should go see if Sue can give me a few pointers, etc., etc., etc. And though Sue has nothing to do with these people, other than being a reference point for handweaving in their minds, I began to resent the constant and relentless comparison and well-meaning advice.

Since I started to weave seriously, my work have been finer (skinner) and more varied, and more importantly, most of mine are one-offs. I wanted each piece to be special, and "fine" in every way, and a “work of art/handcraft”. (I’m not saying Sue’s weavings look manufactured, though.) I started to feel the success of the Sue Bateup brand cramping my style and not giving any room, for any other weaver's work.

I started to run into Sue in person, in a mixed media drawing class or at Arts Marketing dos, but we rarely exchanged more than a cursory hello. I thought she thought I was beneath her.

I learned she was studying art at the Polytech, and envied the luxury of having others work for her while she closed her shop and pranced around the Poly with a sketchbook in her hand. (She is tall, lean and has a lovely face; can I help it if I thought she was prancing?) She looked a perfect picture of a happy, successful 21st Century art-businesswoman. I knew she worked darned hard, no doubt about that, and I knew I aimed to be a weaver, quite different from an owner of a weaving business or a brand, (and again, I’m not pretending to know what Sue set out to do in the first place, or what she thinks), but every time I saw her I felt quite miserable, as if the sun always shone on Sue Bateup and I stood in her damp shadows.

One day, after my dismal failure at securing any interest at the Art Expo, I had a debriefing with Martin Rodgers at Arts Marketing, and I blew up, shouting something like, "I'm so sick of people expecting all handweaving to look like Sue Bateup's jackets," to which Martin, ever so composed and non-judgmental, said, "but Sue Bateup the person is lovely." In fact, at the Art Expo, she sat with me awhile and complimented me on something I wrote. Martin also told me she'd been sick and that's why the shop had been closed.

Well, that changed things! Whether I like her brand or not, it's good for us weavers to have her shop open in Nelson, I reasoned; she also deserves a little thanks from a fellow weaver for all she's done to promote handweaving in Nelson. (I note another weaver, Susie Lees, helped to keep the shop open for one year previously.) And Sue has a small child; I can't imagine what it would have been like for him to have a mother fighting an illness. I thought about it for a month, but I had to do the right thing. One afternoon I saw the “Open” sign at the Gallery, barged in, and declared I am happy to open her gallery one day a week over the summer. I was so nervous I tried not to look at Sue and was probably shouting.

I haven’t asked what she thought, but as I spoke to her, I saw in big bold letters it was I who had been a real bitch all these years, not her. As Martin said, she turned out to be a truly lovely person, and an interesting artist, just very quiet and very introspective. So I've been there most Wednesday afternoons since the end of October minding her shop and doing my own thing in the back room. And I get to have my pieces in the shop.

I've had to eat many a humble pie, though. Hers is a business, so her products, though lovingly made like yours and mine of good material, are repeatable. And her jackets are amazingly soft and comfortable. Now it was I who pranced around her shop trying on all sorts of styles and colors in the middle of a heatwave.

I also look forward to the solitude of Wednesday afternoons in her creative space. Until this summer, I thought there's nothing better than working at home because I can do most anything any time of the day or night, but I now know how I'm distracted: Internet, dishes, laundry, TV, hammock, popsicles. Sue's studio allows me to work on one idea for long stretches, and I've been studying her colors, if I so chose; or fringe or write Christmas cards (in mid January), if that's what needs doing.

This has been a summer of redemption. I'm glad I finally met Sue Bateup; one of my proudest accomplishment as a weaver. Martin Rodgers is always right.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Artists are Backpackers

In an email communication with Martin Rodgers, I was expressing my disappointment (ok, bitching) I still have a hard time selling my pieces, but was enjoying a growing circle of artist friends interested in what I do. To this he replied, and I know you all would love this one:

"Artists are like backpackers - they discover the next best thing and then the rest of the world follows."

So you heard it here first. I knew he'd find something encouraging to say. Thank you, Martin.

The yellow warp is looking good. After I corrected two threading mistakes (use to make them so rarely!), and two sleying mistakes (used to never make them...) I sampled and love all the color options so much, I've decided to weave three pieces from this warp for the exhibit, and then make an identical yellow warp (something I never do due to extremely low boredom threshold) and tie on and weave four more.

Oh, the invitation to the said exhibit arrived yesterday. I always feel a little uneasy when this happens, but the gallery is getting to know me well, and when I rang they knew I'd be there at 5PM Monday with my goods. I have to say, though, for a show exhibiting "finely crafted" craft work in Nelson, the invite looks a tad drab, wouldn't you agree?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Designing Backwards

So. I cleaned my closet yesterday. I'm throwing away or giving to charity more than I had expected, but far less than I should. I'm seeing a new closet-cleaning trend, too; every time I clean it, there are items which I keep, even though I never wear them (or they are not even mine, but my mother's purchase/tailor mistakes,) because they are made of beautiful fabric.

This has been the longest creative slump I had: for two or three days my mind was totally blank, even during/after cleaning my closet. None of the magazines inspired anything, neither did the weaving books, not my cut-and-paste idea notebooks, not even my ultimate secret weapon, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Christmas gift catalogs. So in desperation, I began designing backwards.

It's been a hot summer, and the exhibit will start in the hottest month of the year. So, cotton.

I like the 2/60, but "around six works" need to be delivered by 4.30PM on Monday, February 11, and it would take too long to warp and thread, so 2/20, which I wove at 30 EPI last time.

The venue is the huge and dark Refinery Art Space, so though my first instinct is to weave 6-inch-wide scarves with this yarn/sett combination, I'll go with eight inches this time. And I'll use the lovely gold in the warp so regardless of the weft or structure, the design stand out and the scarves have luster.

Next, a simple threading; point, just because I don't use it much, but it's quick.

16-end point threading, 30EPI, around eight inches wide requires 241 ends, with eight repeats, plus two on each side as a floating selvedge make 245 ends, though I might later decide to use weft yarns as floating selvedge. Wind eight meters and I should get three or four presentable pieces.

So that's what I did, and was pretty pleased that even when I have no vision of what I'm going to weave, I spent my afternoon productively. What a pro! Next I doodle on the computer, or thread and sley.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

To The Closet

Re designs, my head has been a clean slate, a blank sheet, a void, as if all the wrinkles of my brain has been smoothed out; I can't move on to the next project. So I started cleaning my closet yesterday, (an activity which usually gives me ideas about the kind of textile I want to weave,) and since I hadn't done it in a while, it's taking me longer than the normal 3/4 of the day. I haven't had the willpower to start Day 2 yet.

Yesterday we went to Tim Wraight's place; the primary purpose was to see Tim's latest piece before he leaves for Wellington to install it in a greenhouse, but the evening turned out to be a bit of a monologue by moi about the "how to be an artist" thing, and the money thing. More on this later.

We don't know much about sculptures and traditional Maori carving, except we are quite sure Tim is talented, and hard-working, and we've been mad-passionately in love with Tim's work. We haven't seen them all because many are outside Nelson, one is at Morris Graves Museum of Art, Eureka; and many are on maraes where we can't barge in and have a look. Even so, we saw a possible shift in his direction or style.

Until last night, we were familiar with his ordered, more regulated designs, seen here, here and here, but this is the first we've seen something more organic and flowing. Aptly, the exhibit this piece is going to is called ShapeShifter 2008, and we wondered if he intended the double entendre that Ben and I saw. In weaving terms, he's moved on to network, I guess.

Oh, my rant. Tim and partner/designer Claudia Lacher have been in the art business much longer than I and not only have they been lovely friends to us, and given me valuable practical advice on exhibiting and much more, and most importantly, they act as a compass when I get lost in "being" an artist. Tim and I both turn 50 this year, so it was easy for me to go on about the discrepancy between where I think I should be at age 50 and where I'm at, especially this week when I've been contemplating getting a part time office job, again, to regain some composure.

And in speaking to them, and typing this post, I see once again the quickest way to get out of this rut is to stop thinking and get weaving. Or just ignore that annoying voice that is mine.

I have to tell you this before I go. You know how kids have dreams or visions of themselves as grownups; some of us can't remember what they were, some of us are amazed and even dismayed at how different things turned out to be? Tim is living the vision he had when he was 10; carving, gardening, and playing the drums. And the nymph-like girlfriend has been the cherry on top. Living in this kind of appreciation has got to push his art forward, and I can't wait to see his next piece.

Enough said. I'm cleaning my closet.

Who Would Have Though You Can Laugh So Much At The Mention of Warping Boards

I know it's 11 more months to Christmas, but I just found this at Bonnie Tarses's Weaving Spirits blog. Without her sage advice, I might have lived to be 90 believing it was just a boring old thing with sticks poking out.

But seriously, here's a "food for thought" post that will make me think and groan and ponder for the next few weeks. RISD's textile course must be a whopper of a course, though I wonder what kind of changes in the outlook they've had regarding textile, studio weaving and such since Bonnie attended.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Crisis in Confidence

I had a bit of a rough week where a combination of events, thoughts and big flops on the loom brought on not panic with which I'm familiar, but a quieter crisis in confidence. Martin's advice, momentary rush of income, and making an appearance at the museum all amount to nothing if my weaving isn't any good, and suffice it to say, it hasn't been good. So I needed a breather.

Yesterday I spent the day in town.

I dropped off a shawl in a jewelery store. I met young Rebekah two years ago at the gym, and soon after I found out she has multiple sclerosis. I didn't see her much last year, and I read in the paper last week that she spent six months in the hospital. In that time she did some research and would like to go to Mexico for treatment, and her friends are holding an auction/dinner party to raise funds. Nice to be able to contribute in a small way.

Then I met up with Liz at the Turkish restaurant and gave her the shawl she ordered; she was off to Auckland and I had brunch.

At the spur of the moment, I decided to go to the da Vinci Machine exhibit down the street. This has been going on all summer, but Ben and I promised to go once the school started so we can enjoy it in peace and quiet. I needed a strong dose of inspiration, so I went alone, and had a wonderful time imagining not so much da Vinci concocting ideas, but more the Niccolai men/Teknoart trying to recreate/craft the old-fashioned machines. With the use of electronics, new materials and different energy sources, many of the civil and military technology Leonardo invented or improved seem old. But I appreciate the simplicity of the mechanism, (talk about WYSIWYG) and I felt a smug satisfaction knowing looms and spinning wheels probably changed little since his days, (except for computer-related areas, and we weavers are pretty happy about that. The exhibit has been to Palmerston North, but it tours two other cities after Nelson, and from memory, Dunedin might have been one of them. Da Vinci's biography is something I've been wanting to read for a few years, so I hope I get on to it this year.

Then I went to the gym in the afternoon heat, after spending nearly three hours in the air-conditioned museum; it was hidious, but my head was in a good place, so it didn't bother me much.

All hot and sweaty, I went to buy tickets to two upcoming events; one is Opera in the Park, about which I had to give it real thought. It's not often we have a chance to listen to Kiri Te Kanawa live, but Ben is so not a classical music fan, and the tickets were out of our comfort zone. I read the blurb more carefully, and then broke the news to Ben I wanted to go. He knows I've been particularly enamored by the voice of Jonathan Lemalu, and he's not often in New Zealand these days. So we got picnic seats; we bring our own chairs or blanket, a picnic basket, and our binoculars; we get to take part in a big event without breaking the bank, and the casual dress code is definitely more our style.

The other is As You Like It. Grea Burton is one of two guys who have been working tirelessly to bring theater back to Nelson. (The other is Kim Merry.) In the past, he's put on plays in parks and at the top of Trafalgar Street where we have Twilight Market. He secured an old building last September and now has the consent to turn it into a theater. Meanwhile, this year's production will be held in the garage of the building!!! I got to talking with the woman who was selling the tickets, and I put my name down as a prospective "member" to help them with ushering and such.

I then went back and forth between three bookstores for three hours, and found two books I really wanted but resisted, one I think I should read but don't want to now, and two biographies I intend to read later this year, and then one I didn't particularly want but had to have. This last one is pictured above; it is a tiny, cardboard book for kids, and the story and the colors are, shall I say, unattractive, but I've been hitting my head against a brick wall about the Altered Book/Guild challenge, and thought this book might work. The challenge, according to our newsletter, is this: "Take a child’s book, the thick page variety, with only a few pages in it. With sandpaper, sand the pages to remove the shine, and bright colours.

"Then …in whatever way you want ALTER THE BOOK. Rummage in your cupboards, under the bed, in cardboard boxes around the house, for fibre treasures, with a past and story. Arrange these together, stitch glue etc, and decorate the pages.

"The book must have a name, so that you tell it’s story."

I'm not as original or imaginative as my fellow guild members, so I don't think my plan will meet all these criteria, but I couldn't cope with the freedom of last year's challenge and abandoned it entirely. This year, I decided participating, in whatever capacity, is important, so I bought this ugly book. All I can say now is, doesn't the shape look like a handbag?

Then in the evening, Ben and I went to the Twilight Market as sightseers. And I learned these things from a sightseer's point of view: I like to browse, not necessarily looking for something to buy, but to look for artists about whom I would like to know more or even visit later. If I were to buy something, with my small budget, about $35 was the amount I was willing to part with if I found something especially appealing. But since I didn't know who was coming back next week, if I hesitated and decided to come back to have another look, I might have missed the chance.

Food for thought if I decide to do this again next year, or at another time. It was wonderful to know many of the artists participating and the organizers; I was among friends.

Nine more days before I submit "around six pieces" to the first exhibition this year. And my mind is still a wonderful, peaceful blank.