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life in balance


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the Sweet Paul Makerie

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I’m just back from a weekend in New York for the Sweet Paul Makerie. What a whirlwind of a weekend – four classes in two days, the most ambitious program I’ve ever attended. We met at a loft space near the Hudson Yards, with amazing views from every workspace and absolute floods of natural light at every turn. I came into the city a day early to settle in and also to spend time at McNally Jackson, my favorite bookstore in NYC – the Strand to me is too crowded, too much a Thing, and McNally has an amazing cookbook section, what can I say? Bright and early Saturday morning – 7am, to be precise – I fortified myself with a pistachio eclair and a rose-elderflower presse from Maison Kayser and made my way north to the workshops.

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We had an intense, busy day Saturday, beginning with an amazing breakfast, which I was too full to eat much of (see above: eclair, but it was worth it) and then continuing on to our workshops. I went specifically for Paul Lowe and Colin Cooke’s food styling and photography class as well as Mimi Kirchner’s Cuddly Night Owls workshop, and I was lucky enough to have Mimi’s class first – what a great way to kick off the retreat. I fell in love with the owl-making process and have been working on three more since I got home – soon I should have a whole parliament of owls to share. After our Saturday classes, we gathered on the roof for a gorgeous dinner, with panoramic views of the city everywhere I looked. The meal was unreal – plate after plate of delicious food, almost Roman in excess. I felt quite spoiled by it all. Dessert was my favorite – a maple panna cotta and a pavlova, both incredible.

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Sunday kicked off with breakfast, this time a huge frittata and bagel spread, followed by my food styling and photography session. What an experience to see pros like Paul and Colin at work. I’m still processing everything I learned from them, and I think their workshop warrants a whole post of its own so I can link to my photosets of the shoots being assembled and talk more at length about the process. The class was worth every penny of the retreat all on its own and I’m so grateful I got to take it.

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I was also lucky enough to take Living Wreaths with Matthew Robbins on Sunday afternoon. I’ve got possibly the blackest thumb around and I was expecting to find wreathmaking incredibly challenging, but it was actually straightforward, a fun and different creative challenge. I was really surprised to find myself using the same principles of composition that I use in photography to assess and improve upon my arrangement; it seems like once you begin to develop an eye for balance, you apply that analytic process everywhere.

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We had an amazing sponsor for the florals and succulents, Flower Muse. In my experience at retreats in general, usually by the last workshop of the day materials are looking a bit thin, but we had so many succulents to choose from that I actually couldn’t incorporate them all into my wreath. They sell boxes of succulents just like the ones we used in class, so they’ll be my resource the next time I make a wreath like this.

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The Makerie and Sweet Paul had lined up such great sponsors for us. We got three incredible goodie bags and so many during-the-day giveaways that I can barely count them all. I think my favorites were the Rit dye kits we got at our Saturday night dinner; they’re incredible, with two colors of dye and color remover and fixative. I also loved (and needed!) our mid-day Saturday iced coffee break from Slingshot Coffee, our kumihimo materials kit from Erin Considine and the felt garland from Mimi, which is now hanging in my weaving area. It has been so much fun unpacking it all this week. I’ve been going slowly to savor it all – not just the goodies, but also the whole experience. I feel like I’ll be mentally unpacking from this weekend for some time to come.

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On the Road: Grey’s Fabric & Notions

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We don’t really have a great contemporary sewing shop in DC, so whenever I travel I search out shops that can sell me good garment fabric or interesting embroidery notions. While up in Boston last week, Camille and I stopped by Grey’s Fabric & Notions to have a look at their space. The shop is great – very modern and stocked with indie patterns and great modern embroidery motifs and supplies, too. Their notions were tempting and adorably displayed – both Camille and I want to make our own color-coordinated St. Germain button jars now! And the service couldn’t have been better – the woman behind the counter was so helpful to both of us, giving us space to browse when needed but also jumping in to help out whenever we needed it.

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I was in it for the knits and I wasn’t disappointed – they had a great selection of knit fabrics in solids and patterns, including an adorable fox print that I had a really hard time not buying. I contented myself with a bottomweight black knit for yoga pants and an orange and grey thin stripe for a t-shirt, but I could have easily bought a lot more than I did. Grey’s is definitely going on my list to visit again the next time I’m in Boston!

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Weaving

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I just finished weaving my first full batch of yardage for Clementine Baby Wraps yesterday. At just under 23 meters, it was interesting to lay out and measure the fabric for invoicing in my small apartment! Since my loom is so large, we don’t even have a dining room table, so I was stuck measuring on my mattress. I thought I’d share a couple of shots and talk about the warp a little today as I send it off into the world.

I spoke last time about intentional practice; one of the results of an intentional craftsmanship process is that I’m really focusing on my working emotions and choosing what qualities I’m imbuing the final product with. When I’m relaxed, it tends to be a very gentle, calm energy, and it all flows without much extra focus on my part. In this case, since this was my first 20+ meter batch I was – let’s go with “not relaxed” – maybe “determined to do a good job” is the right way to put it. I focused on that feeling while I worked and kept my attention on working with positive, determined, strong energy. As I worked I kept thinking that the babies who grow up in this fabric are going to be such little lionhearts! Strong, brave and true are the qualities I’m associating with the finished fabric.

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Once Clementine’s owner Sarah has had a chance to process the fabric and turn it into baby wraps, she usually posts a lottery to buy the wraps on Clementine’s Facebook page, so keep an eye out over there if you’re interested in a wrap from this batch.


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On the Road: Somerville Skillshare

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After weeks of time spent at home, I’m finally on the road again this month, and it feels good. On the first weekend in March I caught the train up to Boston to visit Camille and attend an event she was helping to organize – the Somerville Skillshare. Somerville has one of the highest concentrations of artists in the nation, and the skillshare was organized to provide a free platform for creatives to exchange ideas and knowledge, in the form of both workshops and informal conversation. Though we’ve had skillshare groups in the District before, there didn’t appear to be an active one going this year, so of course I had to head up to Boston to take it in. Right from the start, I was impressed at the scope of the event and the caliber of the workshops. I tagged along and helped set up for the event the morning of the skillshare, and in person I was just blown away by how organized everything was; I don’t ever think I’ve seen a first-time event run quite this smoothly. The group folded me in and welcomed me right away, which was really cool and much appreciated. I loved getting an inside look at the process of putting the event together. So much work and love for the community went into every detail.

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Although I helped set up, I attended the workshops once it hit noon, so I got to sit in on a ton of great sessions. The highlight for me was definitely Emily Garfield’s Imaginary Mapmaking workshop; if you haven’t seen her work, go check it out. I’ve been drawn to cartography, in particular the depiction of emotional space versus physical space, individual memory and perception versus communal awareness, ever since I worked with Rebecca at Snow Farm, and I really wanted to experiment with mapmaking in a pens-and-paper medium. Emily started us out with either blank paper or paper that had watercolor tributaries pre-established, which I loved. As someone who doesn’t feel natively comfortable with drawn artwork, it was so helpful to have a place to jump off. From there we worked with a host of materials, including watercolor pencils and micron pens, to establish our own landscapes. Emily also laid out samples from other artists as well as actual maps; I worked next to another woman and both of us were studying the actual maps to see how city blocks are shaped. It was an interesting exercise to study the map as still life (versus prosaic object). We have a good friend in DC who’s an urban planner and the whole mapmaking exercise made me want to take my sketchbooks to lunch with him and talk about urban growth.

Imaginary Mapmaking; photo by Courtney Frazee

Imaginary Mapmaking; photo by Courtney Frazee

I almost didn’t take the Felted Orbs class and I’m so glad I did. I’ve always wanted to be able to needlefelt three-dimensional shapes, and in just an hour Jodi Colella taught us how to form shapes and (in my case, because I asked) how to join two shapes together. I’m fortunate that I’ve done lots of flat needlefelting and have the supplies at home, so I’ll be continuing to work on my piece from Alexandria. I’m going to model this first piece after Jodi’s work as a tribute and then begin to take the next piece in a new direction that’s all my own. I can feel that this workshop is going to have a lot of reverb for my work this year and I’m looking forward to seeing it play out. Jodi was such an enthusiastic, energetic teacher and her positivity just filled the room.

Needle felting in progress; one of Jodi's pieces in the background

Needle felting in progress; one of Jodi’s pieces in the background

I was also thrilled to be able to attend jewelry making, link stitch bookbinding and urban beekeeping. The former two classes were just total bliss-out maker-fests for me; fun, straightforward and really well taught. In the bookbinding class I saw examples of handmade binding troughs, and I think I’ll be making myself one this year – so much easier than trying to punch uniformly on a flat surface. Urban beekeeping was absolutely fascinating; of course the Boston-specific bits didn’t apply to me, but most of the lecture was globally applicable and I learned a lot of fascinating things. I was very impressed with Jacqueline Beaupré’s level of knowledge about beekeeping; it was an intelligent, articulate presentation. If I lived in the area I would absolutely want to work with Best Bees to start a hive. And jewelry-making was just tons of fun; I got to connect with a couple of other attendees and we all experimented with forming hooped earrings with wire.

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Although I didn’t get a chance to take her workshop, I also got to speak with Miranda Aisling for a brief time; she’s the author of Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something. I love her focus on beginnings, putting in the effort and cross-pollination. It’s an expansion of Anne Lamott’s whole “butt in the chair” concept. She has a TEDx talk coming up at the end of the month and I can’t wait to watch it!

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I missed a lot of socializing and sponsor time because I was so into the workshops – in fact, when the last workshop ended at 6p, I realized I hadn’t stopped to eat all day! Fortunately Camille rustled me up some leftover flatbread (which was, by the way, incredible). I did take a break in the third hour to hang with a few folks in the social space the organizers set aside; I reconnected with a fellow Squam attendee who I met briefly at Taproot Squam, who was working a two-color Nuvem where her color changes were determined randomly using a deck of red and black playing cards. I am shamelessly and wholeheartedly stealing this idea. I also got a chance to chat a bit with Emily and some folks she knew. The exchange of ideas and conversation was so vital; I really felt supercharged in several new directions by the time we were on our way home on the T Sunday night. It was also really wonderful seeing families attend, small kids getting great early exposure to a robust creative community. I really cannot believe the whole event was free; tip of the hat to the Kickstarter funders, sponsors, teachers and volunteers who made it possible.