life in balance

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Boxmaking at Penland: Finished work


The next step towards the small press project has been taken – my two weeks of boxmaking at Penland this August with Sarah Bryant were a big success. We covered a wide range of enclosure structures, some of which I’ll share in their finished format today. These projects will feel more like boxes than enclosures to contain books, but that’s a bit deceptive. In enclosure design, the book often takes the place of the inner box tray or sits within the tray just as any other object would. I could have chosen to build enclosures for books in these formats, but by building boxes for objects instead, I could explore the structures without committing myself to making an enclosure that was a perfect fit for a book form.


One of the things we experimented with at Penland was making our own bookcloth. Though I brought my own fabric, we also had an impressive stack of fabric as part of our communal class supply. The fabric came to us by way of Sarah’s friend David, who was originally supposed to be our studio assistant for the class but unfortunately passed away before the session. My understanding is that his sister gave Sarah the fabric for us to use. I’ve never met David, or even swapped emails with him, but the idea of making him present in class by working with materials he had collected for us had such resonance for me that I set my own cloth aside and worked exclusively with his. One of the projects that came out of this was a series of comic book boxes, two of which I was able to finish in the session. They’re both simple boxes – just a tray, feet and a basic lid – but I love the pop art appeal of them. For the deeper box, I loved the sentimentality of the image of the couple in Hawaii; most of the panels from the comic fabric were somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but divorced from the rest of the panels this one is quite sweet. The shallower box, with its goofier message, got a great reception from other students; it was probably my most popular project despite its simplicity.


We also learned how to insert a magnetic closure, which I fused with the structure of a Japanese bone clasp wraparound enclosure to produce a custom box for a friend’s tarot deck. This box was probably my best from a purely technical standpoint; the wrapper fits very snugly, so snugly that I had to surround it with weights at first to get the bookcloth to relax and allow the wraparound action to happen correctly. Once I did that, it was a perfect fit. I set a linen ribbon into the bottom of the box; it sits under the cards and provides a lift-up hinge mechanism to remove them from the box. I folded under the end of the ribbon twice and machine-stitched it closed for a finished edge once I got home.


My most ambitious class project was a large box a little under a foot square for storing my embroidery projects and unusual supplies. I have several things still in progress from my workshop a year ago with Rebecca Ringquist, but I’ve felt hampered in my work because my supplies aren’t well organized. This box has compartments for pieces of fabric I’ve collected for embroidering as well as my hoop and my current projects, a compartment for my needle threaders, another for my Sajou thread collection, a spot for my needle books, and some smaller compartments for threads I’m using for my ongoing projects so that I don’t have to dig them out of my thread boxes every time I sit down to work. I absolutely adore how this box came out, but it was a real technical challenge. Covering any box this large is an odyssey, especially in an environment like Penland where our glue was drying very quickly. I also built the compartments to various depths – obviously nobody needs a tiny compartment three inches deep for their needle threaders! – which meant building little platforms within the box tray to raise the bottoms of the smaller compartments.


And finally, the wrapper itself was a challenge. I wanted to create a wrapper that would open in the center, but Sarah and I thought that might be tough for a beginner since the lid wouldn’t have much support on the left side of the box, where there are a lot of big compartments and not many walls. Instead I opted for a bone clasp wrapper. In retrospect I don’t think bone clasps were the best choice for this box. The wrapper is double-thick book board, which makes the bookcloth loops for the bone clasps look oddly overstretched. That said, I got a great fit for a box this size, and I think the bone clasps came out nicely for my first time working with them.


You might be noticing there aren’t any pictures of the campus or the studio in this post; this would be because I didn’t really take any. It’s always tough to know what to say globally about an experience that didn’t go well; I’d prefer to avoid pointless venting but at the same time hesitate to paint a rosy picture of a place I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others. I certainly learned a lot about the mechanics and techniques of boxmaking at Penland – though certainly now that I’m home, I’m noticing that I was sloppy on some of the pastedowns inside the boxes, more so than I would have been on a professional project. Sarah was a wonderful teacher and her instructions were just great. Unfortunately, though, the overall experience wasn’t a great one; I found it almost impossible to do creative work at the program and came home drained and exhausted in the worst possible way. I won’t talk too much about the experience of being pregnant at Penland here, but please do get in touch with me if you’re pregnant and considering Penland. There are some downsides that I don’t think a student could know about without talking to someone else who’s already been. I’m not afraid to travel and rough it, even while pregnant, but if I had been fully informed about Penland specifically I would have declined my funding and opted not to attend. That said, I’m so glad I got the chance to work with Sarah and my fellow students, and I look forward to sharing more of my work at the workshop with y’all in the future.

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The August Break: Day 3, Windows

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I leave for my session at Penland on Friday, but I’m squeezing an awful lot of bonus projects into my last week at home, one of which is Susannah Conway’s August Break – a month of photographic exercises, all very laid-back. I’m taking my shots when and if something about the daily prompt captivates me; today’s was windows. Metro trains here in DC are comprised of six to eight individual cars, and you can often get a different perspective on the city via the window at the back of the final train car. Today I bring you two sentimental views of Old Town Alexandria and the Potomac – two places I’ll miss so very much while I’m off in the mountains of North Carolina this August.

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Saying goodbye to a mentor and an inspiration


As I finish this latest warp for Clementine, we’ve moved into the second trimester, otherwise known as “the time when most people believe it’s wise to announce that you are pregnant”. And so I did, and in return I got back some truly awful news; my beloved weaving teacher, mentor and dear friend of eleven years died recently due to an undiagnosed cancer. She passed away suddenly just days before I reached out to share my news.

Normally I really prefer this space to be upbeat, but if you all will indulge me, I’d like one howl out into the void here. Cancer is so terribly hungry; it takes from us so unfairly and it takes so very much. Deb taught me about a lot more than what it meant to weave with dedication and care to my craft – though I will always attribute my attention to my selvedges to her eagle eye in the studio. Nothing stuck out to her quite like a bad selvedge. Some of the things she taught me about how to live in this world are so central to my well-being that there’s simply no way to describe them. She was thrilled for me when I met my husband and thrilled for us when we married. Having known me at a time when I really struggled with what it meant to be a good partner and a good mother, I know she would have felt such joy for me as we welcome our first child. The notion of entering my thirties next week without her in the world is difficult to wrap my mind around.


And thus, this week, I give you: some beautiful photos of this wonderful yardage, and a lot of respect for the woman who got me my loom and enabled me to do the work I do today that makes me so very happy. I know deep down that she would have wanted me to go forward with joy, and so I’m going to try. And I’ll always mind my selvedges. Truth.


Announcing: the small press project


So, today we’re taking an abrupt turn to the left as I introduce y’all to a new project I’m working on this year. I went back and forth about whether I wanted to talk about this before I was ready to fully launch the business; in the end, I think silence on the subject for the year is artificial, the sort of thing designed to make it seem as though this business sprung fully formed from me like Athena out of Zeus, and I’m not interested in that sort of showmanship. So! Welcome behind the curtain; pull up a chair and let’s talk about the small press I’m hoping to be ready to launch late this year.

When I say press, I really mean press; I’m planning to print poetry and short fiction from a range of authors, and will be both soliciting works and accepting submissions. I’m not there yet; for one thing, I’m still drawing up the paperwork, but am hoping for a split that compensates both myself and the writers on fairly equal footing. Certainly we’ll be more author-focused than mainstream publishing! The objective of the press will be intentional production – to create volumes where content and construction are in absolute, soulful harmony. I’ll be working at Pyramid Atlantic, a wonderful, professional space in Silver Spring, on Vandercook presses, typesetting and printing each and every page personally. I’ll be binding all editions by hand, and in boxed editions, I will be handcrafting the boxes to fit the spirit of each edition. We’ll also have the capability to work with artists and include unique printed or hand-drawn illustrations in our editions. I’ve been focusing on self-education this year as I work to make this project a reality, and I’ll be sharing those experiences in this space from now on, starting with this latest class in bookbinding at Pyramid.


I’ve actually got a fair bit of bookbinding experience, but it’s mostly been in pamphlet and kit styles, neither of which is appropriate for a small press edition. I enrolled in this class to experiment with a wider variety of binding styles. We covered coptic stitch, sewing over tapes and working with leather. All three of the models we made are pretty labor-intensive, and some are more appropriate for blank journals than printed books, but I fell in love with the shape and style of the small coptic stitch book and am planning to do an early edition in that format. Measuring in at just 3.5 inches square, this book can expand to be as thick as you’d like; the thicker it is the more charming it somehow becomes.


I was also taken with the structure of the book that involved long-stitch sewing over tapes; in this book, we used PVC glue to attach recycled leather from an old skirt to a flexible pink material for DIY tapes. I like this style of making your own tapes, but don’t care for how the pink color shows up at the edges of the tapes once the book is sewn together. Though I’m happy with my model book, I won’t use DIY tapes like this again unless I can figure out a way around this issue.


I was excited to discover that our last book would be a long-stitch leather journal with a foldover edge, a style I love that I’ve been buying from To Boldly Fold for two years now. The sewing in long-stitch is pretty easy, but cutting the cover evenly was challenging and gave me a new appreciation for how well-made To Boldly Fold’s journals are. I’ve never been able to afford to buy a large journal like this, so I look forward to experimenting more with this style for my own personal journals going forward. I don’t see myself binding a press project this way, but I’m glad to have learned some leather-working basics.


My next instructional class towards the press is an enclosure design workshop at Penland later this summer. I’m so nervous about being away at a workshop for two weeks while I’m five months pregnant (and let’s not get into how nervous he is about it…) but it will be an invaluable opportunity to really sink into enclosures and think about how to present the books the press publishes. Of course I’ll be sharing lots of photos and stories from that experience next month!


Weaving and an announcement


Another baby wrap batch woven and off to Clementine HQ for finishing. There’s something special about this one that I want to share with you all, though. It’s the first batch I wove while pregnant.

Yep – I’m pregnant – ten weeks along with our first child. I know, conventional wisdom has it that I should be keeping this to myself for the full first trimester, but we saw the heartbeat yesterday and got the thumbs up on baby’s health, and it feels artificial to talk about this warp without mentioning the pregnancy. It was absolutely wild to weave with baby along for the ride. The first trimester has been really taxing for me, as I hear it is for many women, and I haven’t been able to do much except watch my belly expand, but for some reason, the baby loved weaving with me. I felt this happy hum all the way through me as we were working; it almost felt as though we were collaborating together on the yardage, which makes me even more excited than usual to see this one going out into the world.


Thankfully my mojo is starting to come back and I’ve had a lot more creative energy in the past week, but seeing this warp move on to other families is making me especially happy this month. The finished wraps are actually up for random draw today over at Clementine’s Facebook page, so hurry on over to enter if you’re interested in this one.


Weaving: Soft rainbows for Clementine


This morning I woke up early to weave the last meter on this, my latest yardage for Clementine Baby Wraps. I cut it off while groggy and in sore need of my morning coffee, and its beautiful soft palette was exactly what I needed to really enter the day properly. Measuring and packing these warps for shipping is quite a challenge; if you saw the photo I posted on Instagram, you might have perceived that these warps come off the loom in a big heap o’ fabric. It’s not really apparent from the photos I share here, but my studio space is quite tiny. I can only walk around half of my loom and there is a wall six inches from the back of my weaving bench, so getting the fabric off the loom and out of the studio usually overwhelms me. But with this warp it was a really soothing process.


The funny thing is that it reads as a spring colorway to me, this warp – and I love it even though I’ve been very challenged by springtime this year. I think I may be the only person in the United States who didn’t want this winter to end. Oh, I know, we’ve had a bad winter, but we’ve had the bad winter I’ve been praying for and I was so grateful for it. DC doesn’t get a lot of wintry weather, which always grieves me. I was born for the heart of winter, always, but this year I had the additional blessing of being truly myself for the first time in close to a decade. The changes I’ve made to my life over the past year have all combined to form a day-to-day routine that’s so true to my core self that it makes me weak in the knees with gratitude. And then the snows came, and I was just full to the brim with joy, feeling that centrifugal force of new work welling up in my heart. That pivotal moment before new life begins; that’s what winter is about for me. The snow covers everything and gives us space to heal and regenerate, and I wasn’t quite ready to give it up.

I thought I had missed the last snow of the season while he and I were out in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago and I was the tiniest bit gutted about it. And then right after we got home, we got a little dusting of snowfall, and it was magical. I love to travel but I had been on four trips in five weeks, which put my head in a blender and brought all my projects to a standstill. Seeing that snow falling as I darted into the DC public library to grab some Yvette Van Bowen cookbooks, I felt as if I was watching a conductor raise a baton. You’re home now; you’re coming home now; begin again. I worked on this warp through that last snowfall and I feel like the sensation of that gentle, new beginning is embodied in the fabric, and this morning as I was folding it and photographing it, it soothed my heart. I hope it does the same for you all! Sometimes I get to see some photos of babies wrapped up in the wraps that are made from my woven fabric, which is always wonderful, and I’m really hoping to see some little ones all safe and cozy in this warp – more than any I’ve woven so far I feel like this one has got some amazing new life energy going on. As always, details will be posted over on the Clementine facebook page when it goes up for sale, so check in there if you’re interested.


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the Sweet Paul Makerie: Food Styling and Photography


I promised last time that I would be sharing more about Paul Lowe and Colin Cooke’s food styling and photography class, and here I am to deliver. The class was my primary reason for attending the Makerie and it didn’t disappoint. A lot of the other students were in the class because photography is in some way important to them financially – either because they want to monetize their blogs and need better shots to do it, or because photography serves as a secondary function of their businesses. I was there purely as an aesthete. I want the shots I share in this space to be the best possible representation of the moment or milieu I’m trying to capture and food photography is one area where I feel very challenged. Paul and Colin really helped me to see and begin to understand the many puzzle pieces I was missing in the process.


Paul’s food styling is impeccable, and take a look at Colin’s portfolio – the man is a pro, no question about it. Looking through his shots before the Makerie weekend, I felt a lot like I did the first time I saw the LSO performing; sometimes when you’re witnessing the work of someone whose expertise comes from countless years of practice, you can just feel that mastery in your bones. Throughout class I repeatedly felt humbled by the gap in skill and experience between myself and our two teachers, and I was reminded again and again of the importance of putting in the time to refine your own aesthetic and approach. As adults we so frequently want mastery to emerge right away – but you’ve got to earn it through hard work. There is simply no other way.


It was actually very strange shooting photos that had been styled and arranged by someone else. I like cherry and other natural woods; I prefer the way stained wood looks as a backdrop and I use it a lot, and shooting on a painted colored background was so deeply weird for me. It taught me in a way I never could have learned on my own that branching out is sometimes necessary to create a diversity of mood and experience in my shots.

I also usually shoot my still life photos from pretty high up, and while there was a stepladder, I just felt selfish climbing up there with so many other people vying to use it – and there were so many of us working with differing ideas about how we needed to move the props around that there were always going to be bodies or hands in the shot anyway. It was more important to me to watch and absorb everything that was happening than it was to shoot close up on the food, so I wasn’t particularly aggressive about getting in there. The one thing I was aggressive about was photographing Paul work, like I was a paparazzi stalker, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember everything he had done without copious photographs of the process. If I posted them all here this post would be heavy with images, heavier than I like, so I’m sharing them as a complete photo set over on Flickr, annotated for your convenience.


The single most valuable thing I learned from watching Colin work is to use my freaking tripod. I have one, but I don’t love setting it up, and I follow a lot of food bloggers who seem to just climb up on ladders and shoot, so that’s what I’ve done for both still life and food. Colin shoots with a remote and a tripod – or at least, he did it that way for every shot he took with us – and I can see how it would be huge in eliminating the camera shake I tend to get with my normal lens. I shoot most of the shots on this blog with a fixed focal length lens with macro capability, a 40mm – it’s not the best lens for the photography I share on this site, but it hit the sweet spot between quality and price when I bought it. The one thing about using it that has challenged me is that its focus is much more specific than the kit lens I initially shot with when I moved to digital, so if I move even a little my whole shot is thrown immediately. Using a tripod and remote instead should allow me a bit of a speed gain – fewer shots needed to get the right one, and also I can be down by my composition with the preview screen angled down at me, allowing me to move things around without having to disengage from my camera. Not only will I be able to recompose my scenes more easily, but I won’t have to relocate the camera when I’m ready to shoot again. Just rearrange, step out of the frame of the shot and hit the remote. I love this idea – it’s going to be huge for me.


I don’t think I could ever begin to sum up everything I learned from watching Paul work. He talked as he styled the sets, and every other minute he was saying something new and fascinating. For instance, that cold and slightly undercooked pasta is easiest to style, and that we could wrap strands around our fingers to form pasta birds’ nests, then rub in pesto with our fingertips for even distribution. The pasta set was possibly the most instructive from a technical standpoint, in that we did more to the food in that set to make it photogenic than in any other.


Paul also taught us that if we want to shoot our food on a bed of ice, that can be done by filling a clear plastic bin with the ice and then setting it down on top of bright blue paper; the blue comes through the ice and makes it look vibrant and cold in the photograph. In general, he stressed balance and composition in assembling the dishes, which I also found interesting as a cook. Those of you who have been following this blog know that a year ago, I could not cook at all, and in the course of my self-education I hadn’t yet begun to think about food this way. Watching Paul work changed something in my brain and taught me at a fundamental level to consider how my dish looks on its plate as I’m preparing it.


The class as a whole was one of those experiences where you’re very aware that the real lessons will continue to emerge as you practice what you’ve been shown and work to deepen your own skill. I’m looking forward to seeing how my photography practice grows and changes as a result of this workshop.


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