deep breath, release, go
ah, to ride the wind
from Occasional Haiku
In Japanese, the word for peaceful dwelling is ango and in accordance with my zen roots, ango is a time for spiritual practice and learning. It’s traditionally associated with the rainy season, and where I live, fall seems like the right time for ango. Many Buddhist communities have a period of intense practice and learning from Sept 8 to Dec 8.
Being me, dates are a vague concept and I am better attuned to the seasons, so my time for turning inward begins with the equinox and goes to the solstice. More or less. Give or take.
Zen and weaving are so much alike to me that I feel little difference between time spent weaving and time spent sitting in meditation. My zen isn’t all that orthodox to begin with; I benefit more from the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh than from Dogen. The sangha that I held most dear was the one that met in an ordinary living room in a house overlooking the harbor. Yet, I began my practice in a Soto Zen center. More or less. Give or take.
This year finds me under the Soto Zen umbrella again, not participating in a formal ango, but following along in my own way.
Most days, I listen to a brief dharma talk and then let the wisdom soak into me while I sit on the cushion or work mindfully in the studio. I may go back to my old habit of facing my cushion toward the trees and sky, rather than a blank wall. There is no bell tower here, but the bell tower had no bell, so it is all the same.
I wore autumn clothes for the first time today. Summer has been strange, arriving late and refusing to let go. Maybe Autumn will do the same thing.
There are early fallen leaves on my balconies and deck, crunchy and fragrant under foot.
The second harvest is days away. I am thinking about what I have gathered in, what is ripe and wondrous, and what didn’t quite thrive. In the real garden, all I can claim is a bumper crop of chives, and an odd collection of weeds that look quite pretty together under the magnolia tree.
I have fared a bit better this year, still healing from old injuries, walking more and sometimes breaking into a slow and cautious run. I had no expectations that the odd bit of running would be possible, and never dreamed that it would feel good. My knees aren’t completely on board with the idea yet, but I can deal with their quiet muttering and cursing. They are never completely happy. Nor are the fragile parts of my right foot, but cradled by a good orthotic and promised that we will not walk on unyielding concrete like we did in the city, even they have become more cooperative and less truculent. I think this slow truce with my body comes from the things I have learned from the Dharma, like being present and not having expectations.
My creative harvest is strong and colorful. There have been projects going on and off the looms at a sustainable rate, though I would love to see projects on all three floor looms before the third harvest. It may happen. I am winding a warp for napkins to go on Juliet, the newest Julia, and trying to decide if a winter blanket or a rug will be next up on Per, the big Standard. The blanket makes the most sense, because I have so many partial cones of Colrain Lace that I would like to use up. I wonder if I have enough?
If I weave two panels, there will be less loom waste and I can wind all sorts of random stripes, two cones at a time, and still have a symmetric blanket. I don’t mind having a seam up the middle. No fringe. It tickles the nose, and teases the cats. Hems are more practical.
This is a good mindset for the second harvest, rooted in the present, but thinking about the cold days to come.
I am not good at writing about the odd things that touch me deeply. I don’t always have the words to bring you along on some of the detours on the journey called life. Detours that have made me dance with joy or feel that a deep void has been satisfied. Especially when these oversized feelings are triggered by a small piece of cloth or a cup of coffee.
I mention coffee, because I’m a tea drinker. But, once a year, I have one delicious mug of coffee in celebration of my father’s birthday. He loved good coffee, and now, some thirty-one years after his passing, a steaming mug of coffee is still a strong connection with him. Joyeux anniversaire, Papa!
That wasn’t what I sat down to write. I was thinking about Vävstuga. I spent two blissful days there in July, and haven’t shared a word about it. My class was an independent study in band weaving, focusing on the bands woven in Mora, Sweden, using a loom traditional to the region, and Moraband by Barbro Wallin as my textbook. It sounds dry when I say it like that. In truth, it was two days of total immersion and total joy.
I know you’ve heard me talk about Moraband, mostly in the context of losing the book for months following my move to Buttonwood. It became a symbol of my frustrations with having to spend so much time packing and unpacking when I just wanted to live. I think you know that I finally found the book in a box labeled “night stand” but you may not know that I tried to figure out the process and didn’t quite get it because I was applying it to the wrong kind of pattern.
This is what I wove, to be used as a side border on another band that I have yet to weave. I honestly didn’t see the benefit of using saved pattern lashes, all the more so for a wider band with a complex pattern where the rows didn’t repeat all that often.
I was sure I had missed something. I’m still a beginner when it comes to reading Swedish. I know the weaving words fairly well, but pages of instructions can be daunting and hard to follow. Even in my native English, that’s not the way I learn best.
Thus, the independent study was born. I’d wanted to go back to Vävstuga for another class. Becky Ashenden is an excellent teacher, easing you into an understanding of something, and giving you just enough of a push over the crest of each new concept that you fly down the other side. Whee! She’s the right kind of teacher for a visual or kinesthetic learner, and I am both.
So, with fond memories of my Basics class in mind, I drove up to Vävstuga on a beautiful July morning. The epiphany came when Becky opened the book to a chapter on 15-thread patterns and said that the loom was set up for this kind of design, where the pattern threads were in 5 blocks of 3 threads. An entire chapter of patterns could be woven from this setup. Suddenly it all made sense. Whee!
I wove for two days on the strength of that one piece of information. As I wove, I absorbed how the loom was set up and started making direct mental links between the chart and movements that raised or lowered the groups of half heddles thatmake the pattern for each pick. Wordless links. Instinctive movements. I was exercising a different part of my brain and it felt good. The best way I can explain this is that it is like leaning to sight read music. Remember the thrill when you realized that you could see a phrase of music and produce the notes without thinking about the names of the notes? You just see the image and make its sound.Well, I saw the images and moved the heddles, with no word-like thoughts in between.
Two days of this was exhilarating and exhausting, and it showed in my weaving. My band grew wider and wider as my hands got too tired to tug on the weft and keep the weaving uniform. I made mistakes, saw and acknowledged them, and decided to keep going. This was a learning experience, not a finished product.
That sounds awfully tedious, but it wasn’t. There were other weavers in the studio, and we chatted in that disjointed way that happens when you are concentrating in another part of your brain. We took afternoon tea together. Various alumnae dropped in. Magic took hold of us. Somehow, on the banks of the Deerfield River, in the very New England town of Shelburne Falls, we were transported to a little “v” vävstuga or weaving studio in Sweden.
Being surrounded by beautiful handwovens, big Swedish looms that creak and whisper, and being a part of the unbroken tradition of Scandinavian weaving is magical. There is no other word for it.
Taking what I learned, I set up my band loom at home to match, removing the shafts and the treadles and using what I would call an inkle loom shed. The bundles of yellow, red and green threads are the half heddles, used to raise or lower the pattern threads. This is Moraband. I finally get it. I am weaving my way through the same chapter of the book, taking my time to weave a neat and even sampler band.
This one is for real.
The moments of bliss continue, and even in the quiet of my own studio, I am still wrapped up in the Vävstuga magic.
You don’t really put past victories behind you; they become part of your foundation, a resilient cushion that gives you the security to reach toward whatever comes next. I’ve spoken of my time in these beloved hills as a victory lap, celebrating the big stuff like escaping urban/suburban life, releasing so much of the protective wall that kept me whole during those precarious years. and finding my ‘voice’ as a weaver.
Today, as I enter a new decade, my thoughts are drawn to the question, “What’s next?”
The first thing that comes to mind is that I’m not done casting away stones. There is so much stuff in my life that was once a symbol of the very real things that I can see and touch, every day.
At Yule, I will burn the pine cones that I used to keep on my desk as an antidote to the very artificial nature of the urban Yule. Now, when I go for a walk down the road at home, there’s a tree that drops its cones on the edge of the road. Before the snow falls, I’ll collect some cones in the gathering basket that I wove, and will savor their freshness, redolent with pitch.
Replacing symbol with reality is a major change in viewpoint and direction. Reality is direct, physical, and visceral. Symbol is a construct, a facade that requires effort of the mind to maintain the deeper meaning. Symbol turns us inward and disconnects us. Reality faces outward and simply is.
Thus, I am able to weave cloth that is just cloth, telling a straightforward story. I don’t have to make a statement or defend the validity of what I do. I simply weave cloth.
Ten years ago, since I am thinking in decades today, I was still healing from the terror of 9/11, juggling career and care-giving as my mother’s health was in decline, and feeling my authentic self threatened on all sides. It took two hurricanes to awaken me and shake me from a numb and mediocre existence into a life that has victories, victory laps, joy, and so much that is real. Isn’t it time my things reflected my reality?
It’s time to open the dresser drawers and tumble out all the clothes that I do not wear. Time to reach into the closets and grab the clothing by the armloads. Do I need 26 pairs of black shoes (perhaps an exaggeration)? Can I find something nicer than tatty old tee shirts for summer sleepwear? I deserve better.
I have been reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. The title is a bit heavy and serious for a book that focuses on using the ability of something to “spark joy” as the main criteria for what we keep or discard.
I am embracing the joy of the present moment, and a joyous person cannot be encumbered by too much tired old stuff. Moving house twice in succession didn’t lighten the burden as much as I expected. I was too focused on getting from point A to point B to point B-and-a half. I had no time to prepare what I needed at my destination. Now that I’m here, I think I know.
Now that I’ve shared these thoughts with you, I think I have completed the first step in Kondo’ book, which is knowing why I want to simplify my possessions. And I am giddy with anticipation.
This time, I think I have the right mix of looms. Yesterday, I said goodbye to Honey, my first floor loom and long-time sidekick in this adventure we call weaving. It was time. Looms become sad from disuse, and weavers become sad when a beloved loom sits unused in the corner.
A loom can be an absolute thing of beauty, but not be right for the weaver any more. The last two years have been such a journey of understanding for me. I have a much better sense of how like to weave and what I need in a loom. I’ve learned methods of weaving that are more efficient and easier on my body.
It wasn’t easy to come to this decision. I had been easing myself into it for almost a year now. You cannot imagine my sense of utter relief when my ad was answered by a weaver that I know and respect. That made everything so much easier.
So, Honey is on her way to her new home. New adventures in cloth await us all!
Mimi yarn is labeled as 100% mink, and it is being recalled because a recent lot was tested and found to contain 40% angora, 13% wool, 30% rayon, and 17% nylon. No mink was found in that lot. The actual fiber content of other lots is not known. Contact the yarn store where you purchased the yarn for information about returning it.
I am passing this recall information along because an allergic reaction to any substance has the potential to be life-threatening.
Please share this within your local knitting and crocheting communities.
Even though I spend much time in my studio on the mountaintop, I am not completely shut off from the world. It’s been poking itself into my consciousness a great deal over the past few weeks, sometimes for good and sometimes in a disquieting way.
I feel that the Supreme Court has done the right things this week. I am slightly less worried about the future of our country.
Affordable Care has survived the latest hurdle. It may not be a perfect law, but it has improved access to medical care for many Americans, so it’s a step in the right direction. There’s plenty of opportunity to improve the law, as long as it continues to increase access for those in need.
The ruling on same-sex marriage brings me joy, because again, it’s extending rights and freedoms to even more people.
Both of these rulings may have come from points of law, but they ultimately come from places of love and support for others. That should be the only law.
The tragic hate crime in South Carolina has opened new dialog on the racist code behind flying the Confederate battle flag. I am saddened that nine people died last week, because of the color of their skin, before this dialogue could begin.
The Confederate flag has always made me uneasy. It flew as a symbol of white, male, conservative, christian privilege. I lived in the South for many years, but as I grew up, I realized how uneasy I was with the prevailing values. I know that love can transcend religious and racial boundaries. I’ve experienced it. And because of this, I also believe that love transcends the ‘traditional’ definitions of marriage.
There’s nothing more liberating than an open heart and an open mind. Take a deep breath, let go of your fears, and say YES to lovingkindness.
For now, it is the finest, fluffiest, whitest wool I have had the pleasure to touch. I have been flicking the locks open at each end, creating little puffs of wool that spin up into fine and lofty yarn. That’s not the beginning of the process or even the beginning of the story.
The story begins with Peaches, a Cormo sheep from Ensign Brook Farm, because it’s her fleece. It was the Champion fleece at the 2014 Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival. Since this is the first fleece I’ve processed in over 30 years, I decided to start with something both easy and complicated at the same time. This is easy because the fleece is practically perfect in all aspects, but also difficult because Cormo is a tight fleece, full of lanolin.
I have been washing the fleece a handful at a time, because I want to preserve the perfect lock structure as much as possible.
As I spin the fleece I am being careful to make thin and even yarn that should become a soft and lustrous two-ply weaving yarn. I am surprised how lustrous Cormo can be. I am even more surprised how much easier it is to spin with the Very Fast Flyer on my Lendrum spinning wheel. Wisdom has it that you know when you are ready for this flyer. I think it has something to do with hitting a frustration point with the (not so) Fast Flyer when trying to spin fine yarn.
I am a long way from having yarn to weave, but that’s OK. This is slow cloth, starting with a fleece and eventually creating a soft and warm shawl. This is my personal version of fleece to shawl, not the frenzied competition that creates coarse and heavy cloth, spun by committee and woven under extreme pressure. No, indeed. This is a slow and mindful journey in wool.