life in balance

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Weaving: The last pre-baby warp


And so here we are, a new year come and all settled into our new house in anticipation of the baby’s arrival, and I still haven’t managed to say goodbye to this last warp woven in our old apartment! This warp had two different colors in the weft – dark brown for the most part with a lighter brown at the end. I always enjoy weaving the two-color batches; it’s such fun to see how the different wefts change the colors in the warp. Unfortunately I have no photos of the finished yardage this time; I shipped it out days before we moved and had no physical or mental space to capture the finished batch with photography before sending it up to Boston. Although I had planned to weave one last warp after we moved into our house, I found that I can’t physically put in so many hours at the loom in the third trimester. So this is the last warp I’ll weave for Clementine before the baby comes (though I haven’t totally given up on knocking out a couple of personal projects while I’m on leave from my Clementine work).

I’ll miss the light in my weaving studio in our old apartment; the studio space in the new house is palatial compared to what I’m used to, but the lighting is definitely not as good. The wonderful news is that I now have room to bring in a second loom, which would allow me to work on personal projects in addition to my Clementine warps. We’ll see what the new year and the new baby bring! But for now, a farewell to the old space on the eleventh floor of a high rise that served me so well in 2014.


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Red Fox Retreats


Sometimes I think my heart’s all cartography, that I am a map of all the places I’ve been and loved. There’s such immortality and immediacy in a map, such preservation of the current moment, and some days when I look inside myself those place-moments are all of me. Some part of me will always be up in the balcony at the Paramount Theatre in Austin; some part of me will always be standing on a dock lakeside at Squam. And some part of me will always be in the water at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland with my husband, my hands on his shoulders, my legs floating out behind us. In Iceland over a year ago, that first time, standing on the threshold of all the changes that would follow. Changes that, in just under a month, will culminate with the birth of our first child.


And just like that, part of me will always be waking up in a crisp white bed in an old manor house in Somerset, at Red Fox Retreats, surrounded by a community of women so beautifully brave that it just brought me to my knees with awe. Before I went to Red Fox I remember being so hungry for words, words, words about what the experience would be like. And yet now that I’m home, I’m finding that the experience was one of those strange wordless moments in time, even for someone like me who practically bleeds the alphabet.


So what can I tell you? That everyone was open-hearted in a way that surpassed everything I expected. That Sas, Susannah and Meghan gave us everything, left absolutely nothing on the table, guided and led us in a way that took my breath away. That we talked, that we were vulnerable with each other, that we danced outside barefoot in the rain under the moon late one night. That we walked up the Tor in Glastonbury together; that my body felt safe and protected, capable and whole. That we bore witness for each other. That we all came to heal, and that we took to it like the holy work healing ought to be. And for me, that I felt close to my son again; that I felt once again like I might be on the cusp of making the right choices for us; that I was respected and upheld by the other women in the circle in a way that was both sacred and matter-of-fact. It’s tough to articulate how much I needed it and impossible to express how grateful I am.


We didn’t have photography classes at Red Fox, so oddly enough, I found that one of the most significant smaller moments for me was reaching a reconnection with my cameras. I’ve noticed this year that when I’m feeling creatively stuck, photography is the first thing I disconnect with completely – it’s like a canary in a coal mine warning me when my batteries are on empty. Wandering the grounds and exploring Glastonbury with my mind’s eye on my camera’s lens felt like a homecoming; it was one of the gentlest readjustments I made during our time retreating and yet it had such a healing impact on me.


And Glastonbury itself – well, I hope I get a chance to go back one of these years. One of the best herbalist shops I’ve ever been in, the chance to wander through the quiet ruins of Glastonbury Abbey in the late afternoon sun, and a delicious meal in one of the most fabulous pubs my time in the UK has ever taken me into. Although next time I think I’ll skip the mushroom hot cocoa in favor of something a little less healthy.


Walking around the grounds, that last night, I felt this sense in my bones: that we are here once, that we’ll never be here again in this way. That this moment is untwinnable. Usually I rail against that sense that time is passing, that the moment can’t be held transfixed, but for once, at Red Fox, I was able to just watch the sunset, feel the moment passing on, and grieve, but with gratitude. And if that’s not really everything there is to say about the experience – well, then I don’t know what is.



Fall Squam Recap


We’re close to two months since this year’s fall Squam Art Workshops session now, and I think I’m just beginning to close the books on understanding what this session meant to me. I’ve had a harder time digesting and processing this year’s experience than I think I ever have, including even my first year back in 2012. This session was strange for me; I was still feeling physically weakened from my Penland experience and was afraid to be away from home – a feeling so foreign to me that I had no idea how to begin to cope with it. I went into the woods feeling so vulnerable and with no idea how I would bring my energy to the experience in a way that would do it honor. In any other year I would have said that the classes are really secondary to my Squam experience, and I expected to be too drained to get much out of them this year. In the end, though, they were the highlight of my session, comforting in a rare way, thanks to my two beautiful teachers who just brought such calm, healing energy into their classrooms each day.


My first class, on Thursday, was with Nicola Taylor – an exercise in portrait photography with a fantastical twist. We were posing for our own photographs, which was really important to me but also felt very vulnerable. I was humbled by how everyone in the group really supported me and helped me through the process. When I saw my photograph at the end I was completely speechless at how perfect it was, how powerful and authentically myself it made me feel. And the whole thing was drama free, peaceful and even fun for me, which I never expected. The whole class was such a gift and I’m just so grateful to Nicola for creating the space that allowed this moment to happen.


In 2013, I discovered that it can be important to have one “pure joy” class on my roster – something that doesn’t stress me out at all and feels like a great natural fit. I knew Nicola’s class would be a stretch for me, so I planned to take Ann Wood’s sewn botanicals class as my joy class this year. As usual, the Squam staff somehow put my classes in the exact order I needed, and after a rough morning on Friday I found myself tucked in at Longhouse with Ann and my fellow students. Ann welcomed us to class with simple yet lovely kraft boxes filled with materials, right down to sewing needles and pins, and from the moment I saw the table all set up for us, I let out a deep breath and just fell into the work. It was one of those days where you need to be in a place of ease and somehow everything seems to align itself to comfort you. Ann was such a generous teacher – supplies, time and counsel. After Friday’s class, she offered to host an informal sewing circle in Longhouse on Saturday, and I popped in and out throughout the day, ending up with one finished mushroom and two unfinished projects to continue working on at home.


Aside from the soothing, peaceful rhythm of the classes themselves, I found a lot of comfort in how easy it was for my body to function normally at Squam. Elizabeth was concerned that I would overexert myself and was constantly looking out for me, but the natural structure of both RDC and SAW means that it’s just flat easy to be pregnant there to begin with. There is definitely a lot of walking around in the woods, but I know the paths so well that one night I found myself walking around in the pitch-black dark without my flashlight, and I felt no fear at all that I would fall. Of course, at Squam you just can’t wander around in the dark without a Squammie with a flashlight seeing you and running over to light your way – which absolutely happened. The sweetest woman ever found me halfway through my walk and guided me the rest of the way home, even stopping outside her cabin to hold up her flashlight over the path until I made my way to my cabin safely. Sweetness and light in the darkness – my metaphor for this session.


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Weaving: A wrap for my son


This next batch of yardage is a really special one for me. A couple of months ago, Sarah, the owner of Clementine, offered to dye a special warp for me and to let me keep one of the finished baby wraps from the yardage to use for my son. I was completely bowled over by her generosity; I’ve loved weaving these wraps while pregnant and was just over the moon at not only getting to keep one but also to choose my own colors. That night we sat down together and went through the previous warps for color inspiration and in short order sent our color choices back to Sarah. And this month the warp came up in my weaving rotation and I got to see it realized.


I fell into weaving this time like I never have before. I was absorbed to the point of dropping all other responsibilities and found that nothing short of physical pain or baby kicks could get me off my loom bench. Fortunately the baby started kicking really enthusiastically this month, so there were a lot of baby kicks happening; he never hesitated to give me some good warning thumps when we needed to get up and move around. Such a helpful alarm clock I’m growing.


I found my center in this warp – a calm place of bonding with my child. I’m so grateful to Sarah for this gift. To me it’s more than just a baby carrier; it’s a time capsule, the work of my pregnancy running alongside every pass of the shuttle. I can’t wait to hold the finished object in my arms. For now, here are a few more photos than usual in honor of this special gift. There are a few more wraps in this batch and as usual, they’ll be up on Clementine’s Facebook page when they’re ready for sale.

I also thought it would be fun this time to share a photo of the warp coming off my loom – not a beautifully composed shot at all, more like a real talk image of how big these warps are, especially in my tiny workspace. Below is one final photograph of the warp, in all its “giant pile o fabric” glory.


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Weaving: Pastels


Here I am with another finished warp for Clementine! This warp is my August/September yardage; it took a little longer than normal to materialize because I traveled to my boxmaking workshop at Penland in the middle of my weaving process. I thought I would find it stressful to return home and have a big project still waiting for me, but it turned out to be really good to have the warp to re-center me and get me oriented again to my maker lifestyle. While I was working on this batch of yardage I was experiencing some pregnancy issues; thankfully they’ve begun to resolve, but at the time I was feeling anxious, And so I needed a nice pastel warp to soothe me, and this one was such a treat. I loved the mint green weft, especially against the pink sections. The pastel warps can be harder to photograph, but in some ways I think they’re my favorite to weave; the colors create a really soothing, meditative atmosphere that I really enjoy.


Thanks to my procrastination in posting, this warp has long since come, been and gone to the Clementine Facebook page, but the next warp on deck is quite a special one and I should be posting about it soon.

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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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