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Power and Art

Edward Scissorhands, eat your heart out. 

I have been spinning for almost 14 years; combing my own wool for at least 7. It wasn’t until last week, though, that I tried using English combs. 

An explanation might be helpful here. Wool combs aren’t anything like hair combs, though the principles are similar. Imagine a handle with sleek, sharp spikes sticking up at a 90 degree angle. Now imagine five rows of said spikes, longer and spikier than anything you’ve ever seen, and those are English combs.

I’d never tried English combs before. I’d always used 2-pitch combs (a pitch is a row of spikes) and thought they were fine. The 2-pitchers always cleaned my wool and left it soft with all the fibers parallel. That’s a good thing. I didn’t know what I was missing. Last week I borrowed a set of English combs from my guild … And loved them so much I immediately rushed out and purchased my own set. 

Now for the unveiling. 

  

I won’t bore you with the details of how to comb. There are plenty of videos on YouTube. Suffice it to say, these deadly critters turn this

 Into this: 

Those little nests of fiber are a joy to spin. And the work goes a whole lot quicker than with my old 2-pitch combs. 

The combs are wicked scary. Don’t even think of taking English combs on an airplane. The TSA will come to your house and arrest you. St. Kilda, the patron saint of wool combers, was tortured to death with her own combs. If you were an English wool comber, though, and had to make your living combing your way through mounds of fleeces, you would want mega-spikes, too. 

It feels odd to own such lethal items. I’m a nice person. I won’t let my husband own a gun. It probably took me 7 years to even try these things out because they were too incongruous with my self-image as a nice person.

Power isn’t nice. It isn’t hostile, either. Power just is, with no deference and no apologies. Powerful art also makes no apologies.

It’s something to think about. 

Weaving Again

It takes forever to get a loom set up – or at least, that’s what it feels like to me.

I have a new loom now. It’s nothing fancy, just a 15 inch Cricket rigid heddle. Rigid heddle looms are small, portable looms, built for sampling and travel.

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My first warping effort was a disaster. I didn’t take the time to be sure that the warp was even and stayed even. I tried weaving anyway, and figured out that rigid heddle weaving is relaxing and fun – when the warp behaves itself. Because I hadn’t taken the time and care to warp properly, my warp was increasingly mis-behaving.

I bit the bullet and re-warped. Now it’s copacetic.

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Ignore the mess on the dining room table, please!

I’m also finally weaving on my large loom.  First I had to wind the long, long, long warp – the longest warp I’ve ever done. I took care in winding the warp, so it actually went on fairly easily. Then I had to thread the heddles. (I love the obscurity of weaving language. It’s like a secret handshake that only weavers know.) Once the heddles were threaded, the reed had to be sleyed. (Did I mention weavers have a secret language?) Finally, the treadles are connected, and it’s time to weave.

I’m using a new shuttle – a Bluster Bay end feed shuttle. Bluster Bay makes the Porsche of shuttles, and like a Porsche, it took some getting used to.

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This pic shows the yarn coming off the pirn (a/k/a bobbin – well, not really, but close enough). The yarn loops through the hooks. More hooks, more tension. Fewer hooks, less tension. Getting the tension right is critical, and took some getting used to.

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You can see from this picture that the selvedge is uneven in places. Where it shows dark blue (lower right), the tension was too high and the selvedge was scrunched together. Where you can see the white loops, the tension was too loose, and the weft sticks out on the side.

I’m getting the hang of it though!

 

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The weaving is going quickly. After the pick-up double weave, it’s amazing how quickly this weaving is going.

Happy Easter, everyone.

Labor-Saving (?) Devices

I finished the mystery double weave. It was a pick up tapestry in honor of a friend who is retiring. I got word yesterday that the people who commissioned me to weave the tapestry gave it to the honoree a few days ago, and she really liked it. I’m thrilled.

I also just finished winding my next warp. It’s v-e-r-y long — 11 yards. It’s also all one color, so I decided to try something new – a warping paddle.

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A warping paddle allows one to wind multiple threads at the same time. Since my warp was 618 threads wide, it seemed like using a labor-saving device was a good idea.

Yeah, right.

I did get the warp wound, and it did probably take less time than it would have if I’d wound it one or two threads at a time. Still, what with the tangles, and trying to keep the cross straight, it was not the easiest exercise I’ve ever done. In fact, I didn’t keep the cross straight, which I’ll pay for eventually. I know.

However, enough worrying. I’m looking forward to the actual weaving. I’m making ten towels, all in diaper twill. I’m not sure how diaper twill got its name, or whether it has anything to do with diapers. Diaper twill refers to a twill pattern with contrasting blocks.

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I’m doing mine with blue and white. Pics will be posted once the weaving begins.

The Right Sermon on the Wrong Day

It’s been a while. I’d say, “I’ve been busy,” and I have, but that’s not an excuse. The truth is I’d rather engage in craftwork than write about it. Not that I’ve gotten that much done. I did finish the double weave pick up that was on my large loom. And I have started winding a new warp. On the spinning side, it’s still cotton, cotton, and more cotton. Lucky for me I like spinning cotton.

What’s really had my brain occupied is work. I work for a middle judicatory – in church speak, that means I work for the body one higher than the local church. I am, officially, a bureaucrat, and I mostly enjoy it. However, we had a very difficult, but necessary, decision to make, and in the process, we pissed a lot of people off. I respect the anger, but not the way it’s being acted out. People who disagree are publicly vilified. It’s not necessary, and it’s not helpful, for either the angry people or the community they claim to belong to.

I preached today. When you work for a judicatory, it’s easy to lose track of the church year. We have our own schedule to keep up with, regardless of the church year. So when I decided what to preach, I got my dates wrong. I thought it was the first Sunday in Lent. Actually, the first Sunday in Lent is not for another two weeks. Of course, I only found out my mistake two days ago, when it was too late to change the sermon. And I didn’t want to change the sermon. Not only did I like the sermon, the sermon said things that needed to be said. The church that heard the sermon, other than being normal, and therefore fallible, human beings isn’t guilty of what I’m preaching against. But they appreciated the sermon anyway.

Time to share the sermon. Preaching is a craft, too. The title is “Risky Business,” and the scripture passages are the story of Adam and Eve, as told in Genesis 2: 15-17 and 3:1-7; and the temptations of Jesus, as told in Matthew 4:1-11.

RISKY BUSINESS

         Let me make one thing absolutely clear from the get-go. Women – original sin is not Eve’s fault. Allow me to expand on that statement. Women, even unoriginal sin is not Eve’s fault! I don’t care if your sins are dull or interesting, hackneyed or creative, vanilla bland or spicy, hot, and juicy. It just flat out ain’t Eve’s fault. As a card-carrying member of the female species. I am sick and tired of being blamed for the failings of the universe. It ain’t our fault! Oh, by the way. Men, don’t worry. It’s not Adam’s fault either.

So who’s fault is it? I mean, if we’re going to blame somebody for the fact that the human race seems to be made up of a bunch of selfish, persnickety curmudgeons, who do we blame here? Adam and Eve had it so darn good in Eden. All they had to do was till the garden and keep it. A little light gardening, no big deal. They were young and healthy. Church authority tells us that Adam and Eve walked around naked because they were innocent. Let me add that they also walked around naked because their metabolisms burned calories like a bonfire. Which was a good thing, because just around the corner from the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the tree of chocolate. Milk chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate, chocolate mint truffles with pecan and caramel innards and a touch of hot pepper – yep! Adam and Eve had it all. They were in Eden.

And they blew it. When temptation fluttered before them, when the snake hissed his sibilant question, Adam and Eve blew it. Now Jesus stood up to Satan without breaking a sweat. Jesus was cool like that. But Eve and Adam? What did they do? You tell me. (They blew it.) Yep. They blew it. And popular Christianity has been blaming Adam and Eve – especially Eve — ever since. The serpent hasn’t looked too good, either. But then what do you expect? The serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we look at the choices that Adam and Eve made, let’s look at the choices that Jesus made. The devil dangled three significant temptations before Jesus. Jesus turned them all down. There’s something to be learned here.

First there was the matter of turning stones into bread. Jesus was famished. But Jesus’ hunger was the least of Jesus’ problems. The devil didn’t say, “if you’re hungry eat.” The devil said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” There’s something sly about that word, “if.” The original Greek is slippery. It can be translated as “if you are the Son of God,” or it can be translated as  “because you are the Son of God.” Just what was the devil hinting at here? Was the devil was offering Jesus an easy way to prove his identity? Or was the devil inviting Jesus to explore the perks of this Son-of-God job? “Jesus,” the devil said, “as long as you’re the Son of God, why not take advantage of family connections?” Either way, Jesus took a risk and turned the devil down. “Human beings do not live by bread alone,” Jesus replied.

Then there was the second temptation, where the devil took Jesus to the holy city, to the pinnacle of the temple and invited him to jump. I’m not sure anybody quite knows what the second temple looked like. I’m pretty sure it didn’t look like a traditional white clapboard tall steeple church. But let’s do the tall steeple thing anyway. Let’s imagine Jesus with his arms wrapped around the highest point of a traditional tall steeple tower, hanging on for dear life. The devil, perched jauntily on the weather vane, leaned over and said, “Go ahead and jump, Jesus. Let go and let God. If – or because – because you are the son of God, you’re perfectly safe. You can trust God. You can trust the Bible.”

Clearly what’s at stake here is the fundamental human need for physical safety. Jesus was as scared of dying as we would be if we found ourselves surrounded by thugs armed with guns and knives. Of course we would want God to rescue us, to send holy angels to protect us. We might even feel that God owes us protection — which is part of what the devil was implying. “If – or because – you are the son of God, you can let go.” Had Jesus accepted the devil’s temptation, he would have made himself eternally safe from suffering. What an incredible temptation, when the end of your journey is the cross!

The last temptation, though, must have been the hardest temptation of all. The last temptation was the temptation of power — of control. When I say control, of course, I’m not speaking of mere political power. Neither was the devil. Instead, the devil offered instantaneous total control over everything. This is not the mixed bag of ordinary political leadership. It is not the great power of the presidency or the even greater power of evil dictatorship. It is the all-consuming power of divine totalitarianism.

And I personally think that was the hardest temptation to turn down. Of course Jesus was no Stalin, no Kim Jong-un, no Adolph Hitler. Jesus would never have used his power to degrade or make slaves of people. Jesus would have used his power kindly, to protect people from evil. It was a tough dilemma. Given the horrors of bigotry and prejudice, genocide and terrorism, was Jesus ever sorry that he turned down the devil’s deal, when he could have stopped all evil before any one got hurt?

Jesus made some pretty risky choices when you think about it. One might even call them imprudent. Remember that word – “imprudent.” Jesus turned down the opportunity first, to prove himself, second, to save himself, and third, to save everyone else. Think of how easy human history would have been if Jesus had said yes to even one of the temptations. Food galore, personal safety, peace and security – why, we’d still be living in Eden!

Which brings us back to the Garden. Now if the Greek in Matthew is slippery, the Hebrew in Genesis is even more slippery. Biblical Hebrew is naturally a slippery language. Just about every Hebrew word has a double meaning, positive or negative, depending on the context. Take the word, arum, that’s used to describe the serpent. “Now the serpent was more arum,” says the Bible. Most translations give the word a negative twist. The serpent was crafty, clever, cunning, subtle, and shrewd, a devious manipulator. But arum can also be positive. It’s often used in the Book of Proverbs to describe the behavior of the wise, the ones who, by doing the prudent thing, prosper and get ahead in life. Now in Proverbs, prudence is legitimately a good thing. But in life, many of the – ahem – “prudent” people we know are self-serving and manipulative, subtle, shrewd, and sly. Hebrew made that word double-edged for a reason.

Our subtle serpent twisted God’s words. “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” No, that wasn’t what God said. Only one tree was forbidden. But then, Eve got it wrong, too. She quoted God: “’You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” God did not prohibit touching.

Her attention captured by the fruit, her will distracted by the her own exaggerations Eve proceeded to rationalize, to actively talk herself into tasting the fruit. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.” It was the – ahem — prudent thing to do.

As for Adam, well there’s not much to say about him. Adam was as passive as Eve was active. She rationalized. He took. Adam knew better. He knew the fruit was forbidden, but he took it and ate it anyway. Every time I read this story, I imagine Nancy Reagan hiding behind a bush, hollering out, “Adam! Just say ‘No!’” But, well, prudent people know that to get along, one has to go along, and that’s what Adam did. The serpent tempted. The humans took and ate. Their eyes were opened. They saw that they were naked. So they did the prudent thing and put on some clothing.

The rest is history. God caught Adam and Eve in their skivvies, and asked what happened. Adam was shrewd. He blamed Eve. Eve was shrewd. She blamed the serpent. God, not having any other choice, removed the two of them from the garden.

Or rather, Adam and Eve wrecked their stay in paradise by blaming each other for their failings instead of facing up to what they’d done and accepting responsibility. Adam and Eve wanted the benefits of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Who wouldn’t? But what Adam and Eve didn’t want, what Adam and Eve refused to accept, was responsibility for their actions. So they scapegoated instead. Can people who deal with their actions by scapegoating ever live in Eden?

What an irony. The most common interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve says it was God’s will that human beings live in paradise. Everything was great and wonderful until Adam and Eve – well, you know what they did. They blew it. Human suffering is all their fault. For the first 1500 years of Christian history, the church, run by celibate males, pointed mostly to Eve and blamed human suffering on women and sex. We’ve gotten a little more inclusive since then, and a little less anti-sex, but still, the most common interpretation of Genesis 2 and 3 still blames Adam and Eve for our present circumstances. Or if we’re not blaming Adam and Eve, we’re blaming that crafty old snake. Either way, we’re finding someone and something else to blame for our problems. Either way, we are scapegoating as surely as Adam and Eve were scapegoating.

Let’s face it. Adam and Eve aren’t two historical or even mythical figures who lived at the dawn of time and blew it for the rest of us. Adam and Eve are us. We are Adam and Eve. I don’t know about your sins, but when I sin, its either because I talk myself into something I shouldn’t, actively rationalizing, like Eve did, or because I mindlessly go along with something when I know better – like Adam did. And if I’m caught, I can usually find someone or something else to blame. The story of Adam and Eve isn’t a story about original sin. It’s a story about universal sin. In the immortal words of Pogo, “we have met the enemy and they are us.”

God caught Adam and Eve in their fig leaves. When God asked what happened, they did the prudent thing and scapegoated. We don’t know what would have happened if they hadn’t scapegoated. We don’t know what would have happened if Adam and Eve had done the risky thing, and accepted responsibility for their actions, apologized, and repented. We do know that doing the prudent thing got the two of them into deep, deep trouble. It fractured their covenantal relationship with God, with each other, and with all of nature. Adam and Eve, by choosing prudence over risk, ejected themselves from Eden. And when we’re prudent – which is to say, when we are shrewd and subtle in our own self-interest – we, too, break covenant and eject ourselves from Eden as surely as Adam and Eve did.

We have an alternative. Jesus did the risky thing, foregoing prudence and trusting God, even at the risk of the cross. We are not asked to face the cross, at least not the way Jesus did. But we are asked to face our complicity in human suffering and evil, to repent, and to recommit ourselves to walking with God in the garden. The path that Eve and Adam walked only offers trouble. The path of Jesus, by contrast, promises salvation, transformation, healing, and resurrection.  We can return to Eden, if we’re willing to forego prudence and take the risk. It’s never dull. Amen.

 

 

Merry Christmas!

I can’t think of a better way to talk about the gift of art than to quote Christina from Interweave:

At the time of this writing, I have just taken my last project of 2013 off my loom. It’s a soft alpaca scarf woven especially for my father-in-law. When I cut it off the loom and began trimming the weft tails that dotted the scarf, I thought about how soft it was, how much fun it was to weave, and how much I hoped it would be enjoyed. I barely remembered the threads I accidentally cut during warping, the time spent untangling balls of yarn that somehow became knotted, or the unweaving. All the stressful moments completely disappeared, and all that was left was joy. Joy and a scarf. I think weaving is a lot like life. I know there were times this year where I was tired, sad, and stressed, but as the New Year approaches the memories of 2013 that are the clearest are my happiest. At the end of the year—just like at the end of each weaving—I’m left with joy. (And a scarf.)

Merry Christmas to all!

Slow Weaving

For the last six months I’ve been working on the same weaving project, and I’m only now actually, happily, weaving. Designing the project came easy. I saw a motif I loved and which will be perfect for the person who will receive this weaving as a gift. (There will be no pictures of the project. It’s a gift.) The design all came together in a snap. The weaving, on the other hand …

I first tried a classic doubleweave set up using linen. Doubleweave is easy on my countermarche loom. Doubleweave pick-up, on the other hand, is something else again. In doubleweave,  you’re weaving two layers of fabric at the same time. In doubleweave pick-up, you’re manipulating when and where the layers cross in order to get a design that goes beyond what the loom alone can do. My problem was that a countermarche loom, where each treadle both lifts and lowers harnesses, simply doesn’t have the flexibility necessary for the traditional method of doing doubleweave pick-up.

As for linen, well, it’s lovely, fussy stuff. The warp threads kept breaking on me. ‘Nuff said.

The internet came to my rescue. I found a web page from the Conference of Northern California Weavers about how one can do treadled doubleweave. By gum, it worked! I wound a new warp, this time using pearl cotton, threaded the loom, sleyed the reed, tied up the treadles, and finally began.

The bottom border went fine. When I began to weave the motifs, however, I miscounted my own design, putting the motifs in the wrong place. Once I realized the error, I took out the entire section with the motifs, and began again.

Finally, joy. Everything counted out correctly, so I could relax and just follow my plan. This style of weaving takes intense focus. Top layer, 20 threads. Bottom layer, 17 threads. Top layer,  10 threads. Bottom layer, 2 threads. And so on and so forth. I don’t actually have to do a lot of counting. Once the pattern was established, I could work from what I’d done before. Any kind of distraction, though, could cause me to lose my place. Bottom layer up where it doesn’t belong, top layer down where it doesn’t belong, miss a thread, pick up a wrong thread, all manner of mistakes were just begging to be made. Slow down, pay attention.

Slow down, pay attention. Isn’t that what mystics tell people to do? Stay relaxed. Keep breathing. Enjoy the moment. When I say slow down, I do mean slow down. I was lucky to get an inch woven in two hours. Yet the time flew by. I got into a rhythm with manipulating the threads, picking up, forcing down. As I finished each set of four weft threads (two for the top layer, two for the bottom), I marked my pattern. And then began again with the next set of four threads. I liked what I saw emerging from the cloth. Even more, I liked slowing down and focusing on the present, on the now, filled with color and pretty. I had to focus so intently that the ordinary worries of my life were dismissed to whatever. Weaving, my soul is at peace.

Never mind that doubleweave pick-up is painfully slow. I’m already wondering about fractals.

Fun with Yarn

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Yes, that’s Christmas yarn. Even better, it’s fat, fluffy, low twist Christmas yarn. One of the requirements this year for the Olds College Master Spinner program (I’m in year three) is to spin a fat, fluffy, low twist yarn. And I’ve done it! In red and green merino, none the less!

Spinning fat and fluffy is hard work. When we start spinning, we spin fat and slubby yarn mainly because that’s all we can do. If it holds together, we cheer. I still remember the first time I spun knitable yarn. “I can knit with this! It’s knitable!” I practically bounced off the walls, I was so thrilled and proud. With experience, though, yarn gets thinner. And thinner. And thinner. Until one’s default yarn is what’s known in the hobby as “frog hair.” Then trying to spin thick is an exercise in frustration and failure. The thick yarn we spun in the beginning is an unattainable ideal.

One of the challenges this year is to vary the yarn we spin, from an ultra-thin, highly twisted yarn to fat, fluffy, low twist yarn. It’s all in knowing how to use the different ratios of our spinning wheels and coordinate how quickly we draft with how slowly we treadle. It’s also knowing what fiber to use. My first efforts involved longwools, which are naturally sleek and didn’t hold together. A YouTube video by the Wool Wench (I love that name) convinced me to try a different course. Shazam. Fat and fluffy!

I have far more failures in this project than I do successes, and that’s okay. Learning is all about trying and failing and growing through experience. Thank you, God, for making us fallible. Failure is good.

Enough failures, and you end up with Christmas yarn, ready to use for the office Christmas party.