WFH

When I started working with Peggy the only compensation I asked for was blankets to give for Christmas.  Quite honestly, being there, observing and helping in small ways was really compensation enough.

In one of my earliest posts about Bedfellows Blankets – It’s Always Something – I talked about the problems of badly spun yarn.  There were two jobs that were being woven for the same person with the same bad yarn.  One warp was finished and shipped.  The other has seen an off again on again relationship with the loom over the past 9 months.  Yes, that warp and I have been in close contact since I started going there.  It’s now affectionately referred to as the WFH (warp from hell).  Two hundred yards that have slowly and painfully made their way into cloth.

The pattern for the original job was a twill but had to be woven with double threads to give it more strength.  A little over 150 yards were woven, repaired and brought to the finisher before making its way to the customer.

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There were hours of mending broken threads.  Finally during the summer, with the cost overruns the customer cut their losses and there we sat with 50 yards or so still on the beam.  It sat there for a while.

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Peggy rethreaded it a number of different ways and finally began weaving a few throws when time permitted.  Warp threads still broke but different yarns for weft helped a little.

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It was still an exercise in frustration.  But . . . the finished throws were quite beautiful.  I decided these were the ones I wanted for gifts.  I brought a couple home – one herringbone and one plaited twill and wrapped them for Christmas.   I asked if I got some yarn for weft could we weave one for me.  I got a resounding  “Are you sure?”

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I got some lovely Harrisville Highland which proceeded to cause no end of problems because the weight of the yarn was just a little too much for the bobbin winder.  The temps were subzero outdoors and around 55 in the weave room.  Antique, oil-filled machines do not like cold temperatures so the process was slow.  Finally we were off and running.

Ahhh, I love that sound.  If you turn the sound up as high as it goes that’s what it sounds like with your ear protection on.  I’m not sure why my grandfather wasn’t deaf.

Well, we were stopping every 10 to 15 picks as usual.  The whole process was pretty painful.  Photographing is was – challenging.  During that little video two threads broke that I didn’t see on either side of the frame.  Yup, now I was just thinking about the repairs.

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Knotting the fringe was the final job before wet finishing – into the washer, cold water gentle, line dry.

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The finished throw is truly wonderful.  The yarn fulled as I expected making a soft, thick blanket.  The fringe looks almost like raw wool ( it almost is) because it had to little twist in it.  I probably should trim it and will eventually but I’m just enjoying it for now.

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These past months have given me a new respect for artists who create these treasures.  People will buy them and love them but will never know what went into their making.  The time, the care and often  frustration.

Peggy wove 3 more throws the other day while I was there.  One went pretty well, the other two not so much.  There’s probably another 20 yards on the warp and I asked her when she was going to be done with it – just cut it off.  She told me she was going to continue to work on it.  She did it to honor the wool.  So with time and patience that’s what she’s doing and for me that’s the most important lesson of all.

If you’re interested in one of these throws contact Bedfellows Blankets and ask about the WFH.

 

It’s a Matter of Perspective

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I’ve been reading a number of posts and memes commenting on what a horrendous year 2016 has been.  If I take a quick look back I might be inclined to agree.  This was a year of tremendous loss for me personally.  Four people I loved dearly passed away leaving some pretty big holes.  Then there was the weather – hot, hot summer, not much rain, a garden left to the weeds.  We won’t even go into the news or current events.

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In looking through the photographs of the year I realized that some pretty fantastic things have happened as well.  With the death of my father I was given the gift of time allowing me to be involved in things that are close to my heart.  This brought me into situations where I’ve met some great people and have grown in ways I never expected.

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I’ve expanded my horizons by spending time with some wonderful weavers. They are the most generous people I know.  The weaving I’m doing today and the direction it seems to be heading right now is pulling from the history of the craft.  What began as weaving off a warp on a barn frame loom (a figure it out by yourself experience) lead to the purchase and moving of this type of loom to my house.  A mention of a few of these looms available in New England started the journey into bringing one home.  Snow and miles are not a deterrent to a weaver in search of a piece of equipment.

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This was also a year of reunions.  I’m not sure if it had to do with the loss of mutual friends or it was just timing but I spent more than a few of my weekends with people I love from past lives.  Calls out of the blue from friends I haven’t talked to in decades.  Calls from people on the other side of the world.  Calls to gather and just remember how much we truly like each other.

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It was a year of new-found friendship as well.  Like minded people coming together to work on projects of mutual interest.  Being more involved in a town of this size has brought me great satisfaction, friendships new and renewed and an understanding of the effort needed to keep it all together and keep politics out of it.  No easy feat.

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I think what I really learned is it was is all a matter of perspective.  My photography has helped with that – I’m a glass half full kind of photographer.  I try to share the wonder and beauty around me.  I realized a long time ago that worrying about the big picture is pretty destructive.  It’s not that I have my head in the sand it’s just that on a grand scale I know there’s very little I can to about it.  You can’t spend hours in the day projecting what is going to happen down the road, you don’t know.  Things unfold the way they unfold and it’s always in slower motion than you think it’s going to.

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Going into 2017 my goals are to learn more about the things I love and share that knowledge with those who will listen (and even those that won’t – sorry).  Perfect my crafts and teach others how to do these things.  Be kind and generous with my time.  Stay connected in a meaningful way to my friends – old and new – because you never know who needs what when and sometimes big change can happen by doing what you think is the littlest of things.  Most of all, never lose that sense of wonder.  There is so much to see and learn even in the smallest of things.

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Goodbye Doc

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Photo – Merritt Brown

I lost a very dear friend yesterday.  2016 has been a rough year.

I met Merritt (Doc) Brown 40 years ago almost to the day at Hallmark Institute of Photography.  We were the third class to go through the school with a class size of a little over 30 people.  At the time Hallmark was a different place than it grew into.  It wasn’t accredited, you couldn’t get financial aid, you had to really want to be there.  It was also the first place in my entire life that I felt like I belonged and one of those reasons was Doc.

I am sharing some things here that will probably not mean as much if you didn’t know him but somehow it feels like everyone knew him.  When we were in school I thought he was probably the worst photographer I had ever met – truly.  He understood the process – his vision, exposure and printing – not so much.   I never saw him in any commercial realm of photography (at least as it was at that time – we’re talking 1977) but he had such a passion for what he was doing.  We’d be given assignments and many critiques were cringe worthy.  He never gave up and graduated with the rest of us (although in a recent conversation we both confessed that neither of us knew how he got through).

Now I can’t speak to how Merritt was before the “Hallmark experience”.  I do know that our time in that place changed us all.  It made us understand the value of friendship and the importance of maintaining the relationships you have.

Merritt had more friends than anyone I ever knew.  He maintained them well.  With the advent of social media he really came into his own.  Through it we could see that his passion for photography had only grown through the years.  He shared his images and his sometimes twisted philosophy with so many of us.  Always quick with a smart remark or advice or simple observation I looked forward to his running commentary on my life.  It was always positive.

This past year we had conversed more than usual and more about life in general than photography specifically. We shared the experience of children lost and found, something rather unique in my circle of friends.  I’m glad it was with him because he always could be counted on for truth in any situation.  He could see things as they were and would tell it like it is.  Last week I visited him at home and the conversation was more poignant.   He wished he had more time with his children and grandchildren.  It killed him to know that he wasn’t going to be around to enjoy some of Manop’s cooking. Fishing, he hadn’t been fishing at all this year.  He had a habit of shooting daily, was limited to home but he still had images to share with his friends. Clouds, he could photograph the clouds and since that’s where he was going he wanted to share them.

He knew he was at the end, he knew some of it had to do with the choices he’d made in life but there were really no regrets.  It had been quite the ride.  So this kind, gentle, larger than life soul left this earth yesterday and we are all sitting here in disbelief.  For me it’s left quite a hole.

My daughter-in-law recently commented on how many friends I have.  I’d never really thought about it before.  I do.  I have circles of friends from different times in my life.  I’ve maintained the ones that are most important to me.  Until now I didn’t realize there’s a downside to all of this, you have to move through losing them.

Our friends make up who we are, some more significantly then others, they teach us how to be.  We try to surround ourselves with the people who make us our better selves.  That’s what Merritt did for me, he made me just a little bit better.

Solitary Goose

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Summer is pretty much gone here.  You can see that the trees and grass in the fields are tired.  Gone is that crisp, vibrant green of spring.

I pass this field in Charlemont often.  It’s along Route 2 coming into town from Rowe.  This morning the air was thick and it was raining . . . and the goose was in the field.  I did two separate u-turns to get to the right spot and stood in the rain in front of my car hoping nothing huge would come rumbling down the road to splash water in my direction.  You do what you have to do to get the shot.

Last spring, as all of the Canadian geese were strolling out the new offspring I saw this goose in this field surrounded by a large flock of Canadian geese.  It was odd, and still is. It has been in this field quite often throughout the summer.  It has conjured up all kinds of scenarios about why it’s there but now there are just questions like where did it come from?  Does it belong to someone?  Why hasn’t some fox eaten it yet?  Is it lonely?

Now I’m starting to worry about where it will be this winter, it doesn’t seem to have any friends to tell it to fly south.  Maybe someone needs to round it up although I will miss seeing it brighten up a field on an otherwise gloomy day.

Learning New Things About Old Things

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This morning I was doing some photography for a book that Peggy is writing on wool.  It’s been a long time since I’ve taken photographs for someone else, let alone tabletop items.  It was stressful and wonderful at the same time.  She also wanted a photo of my wool wheel in a specific place.  As you can see I had more than one obstacle to deal with.  He is a master of photo bomb.  I had to physically remove him from the area.

Along with the photographs I took was one I had to scan.

Charlton Woolen Weave Room

This is a photograph of the weave room at Charlton Woolens probably taken in the mid to late 1930’s.  My grandfather’s toolbox is one of many in the photograph.  This photo was one of the many reasons I wanted to experience the Crompton and Knowles power looms. In doing so this photograph is so much richer.  I now have an understanding of what was happening in this room, where the weavers stood, the noise.  I look at this photo and think about how you must have felt the vibrations in your feet and gone home with your ears ringing.  I have a better idea of the kind of job a loom mechanic had.

I’m always amazed at just how long research takes when it comes to history if you want to understand the whole story.  Genealogy gives you the names and dates of the people – the who, what and where kind of thing.  The photographs, when you can find them, begin to fill out the story.  Then there is the living history.  This is far more elusive but when you find it you can put yourself in your ancestors shoes with a little bit of imagination.

Social history is what makes studying the past come alive.  It’s where you begin to understand a little about the way people thought about their world and made their life decisions.  Public records give you clues into things.  You begin with the big stuff – politics and religion and work your way down to minutia.  Things like what were they wearing and how did it affect how they moved and did their work.  You look at how men and women treated each other, how economics made or broke their lives.

I think there’s been an injustice served on the American people in not teaching our history in a way that is accessible to everyone.  I think a lot of the turmoil that we see is a lack of understanding of what has gone on before.  I feel like people are making up things as they go along in a way that is only self-serving. Their knowledge is so narrow.  Maybe because social media has taken over our lives and rather than read a book we read twitter every morning.  I think the idea of knowing our history has been lost.  It’s too bad because some of the greatest stories ever told are true.

I plug along learning new things about old things everyday.  I’ll continue to put myself into situations where I can understand what was going on or the work involved.  One year I dug my garden plot completely by hand so I could feel what kind of work went into putting in a kitchen garden for the women of 1840.  It’s one thing to read about it, quite another to do it.

The real goal is putting the family history into words with understanding.  Not just any story, a story that makes these people human. One that makes you understand that the world could be just as scary a place to them as it sometimes is to us.  History repeats itself, over and over, but unless you know something about it you don’t recognize it when it happens.

 

 

Singing the Praises of Warm Fall Weather

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When I opened my eyes this morning, still toasty under the blankets, the room was aglow with a warm, radiant light.  Recognizing the signs I jumped out of bed (no easy feat with these achy joints) to be treated to another breathtaking sunrise.

Autumn through spring these are expected but every single one starts the day as a huge gift.  I never see them as predictors of the weather, I see them as the beginning of a string of little gifts for the day.  It reminds me to look for them.

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Minutes later the fog was there and the sky had dramatically changed.  The most amazing part was it being so warm outdoors that I could throw on my Mucks and go out in my bathrobe to photograph the changing sky. I seem to recall there being snow on the ground by now last year or at least so cold I would have considered getting dressed first.

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The weather has been unusually warm for this time of year with it predicted to last through next week.  Thank goodness, there is so much garden work to do.  The cold doesn’t usually stop me but it definitely slows me down.  Fires have to be lit – physically and mentally in order to get going in the morning.  This blessed warm weather keeps the heating costs down.

There are a million things I should be doing indoors, this is usually the time of year when the cold weather projects come out.  I look forward to it – the weaving, rug hooking, quilting but it looks like all of it will be put off until after dark at least.  My carrots and rutabagas are still in the ground, the perennial gardens need cleaning out.  More wood needs to be cut and split.  The coop needs to be moved, buildings buttoned up for the winter.  Yeah, time to get moving and mentally sing the praises of warm fall weather.

Gifts of the Garden

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When we first started clearing the property here in Rowe the trees were encroaching on the buildings closest to the house.  The side field had been maintained but the pasture was all but lost.  Our girls were probably in their early teens.

I had been photographing weddings for years before my children were born and they were brought up knowing that the back yard wedding was their only option.  They would look at the backyard here and roll their eyes not being able to see the vision Bill and I had.  I would tell them that someday they would be married here and it would be beautiful.

This past Sunday my oldest married the love of her life in a very intimate ceremony in one of the gardens.  Their being married was something we believed would happen for over 8 years now but being cautious sorts they waited.  Amanda is one who hates to be the center of attention in any situation and they told me about 3 months ago that they were just going to city hall in Boston and getting married there.  The horror.

With much, much cajoling we convinced them to be married here with parents and siblings only.  That was almost too much for them really, the nerves were palpable on Sunday.   For what was to be one of the smallest weddings ever we did everything we could to make it a beautiful occasion and it certainly was.  From Amanda walking down the “aisle” with her father to the tune of her family humming Pachelbel’s Canon to eating al fresco in the field next to the garden it was as perfect a day as it could be for them.  It also allowed all of us to have a very intimate involvement in preparing for those vows to be said.

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Bill and I built a rustic arbor out of trees we cut across the field a couple of weeks before the ceremony and set it up at the beginning of a stone path.  It was a little wonky but fit the bill with our “rustic chic” theme. I ordered baby’s breath and lemon leaves from my niece’s flower shop to augment the flowers in my garden and picked some at my sister-in-law’s the day before.  They were a huge help in the quick planning of this.

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Draped and decorated.

Arbor Flowers

I tried to put flowers everywhere and took a lot of photographs.  Day lilies are so beautiful and fleeting and I knew once the sun set the flowers would be gone too.  Sort of temporary art.

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I had also picked some “weeds” along the power line and in the back forty.  Queen Anne’s Lace and Joe Pye Weed. Places were set with sprigs of herbs that smelled heavenly – pineapple sage, rosemary, lavender, thistle.

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A garden riot of flowers on the table.

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Lemon Raspberry cake made with garden fruit.  Molly Cantor made a cake stand just for the occasion.

Weddings are monumental occasions in people’s lives.  They represent a new chapter for those getting married but also for the parents of the bride and groom.  It doesn’t matter how long your child has been out of the house or how old they are when they marry.  As monumental as this ceremony is it’s just a fleeting moment.  In the span of a few hours my world shifted a little, in a wonderful, beautiful way.  I did what I could to make it a beautiful memory in a place where more memories will be made.

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Everything is now gone but the undecorated arbor and the flowers from the day.  They are taking their time in wilting away, a little gift in a way.  A reminder of an occasion but also of how much beauty is constantly around me that can be pulled together and shared.

 

 

 

 

Take Your Camera for a Ride

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There was a time when I carried my camera with me everywhere I went.  You just never knew when a moment would arise.  These days I usually have my phone but the camera never seems to leave the table at home.  I’m fortunate to have a lot to photograph around where I live but there are invariably those moments as I’m driving that the light is so perfect, the situation begging and my camera is sitting on the table in the living room. Ugh.  The phone just doesn’t cut it.

Last night I was taking photographs for a dear friend.  The sun had just set over the mountain and it was the ultimate spring day.  The weather was perfect, just a slight breeze and the surroundings were defined by the noise – the decided lack of it.  Babbling brook, air flowing through surrounding pines, birds singing their evening song.  There was color everywhere.  The hundreds of shades of green mixed with some still bare earth or last fall’s leaves.  The fruit trees and forsythia showing off.  Bluets everywhere.

I don’t do photography like I used to.  Long gone are the days of proms, weddings and portraits but with that also went the urge to shoot – anything.  I try to make an effort to take photographs for this blog or Instagram but sometimes it just feels like too much effort.  It feels like I have to think too hard it seems.

When I was driving home this spot presented itself.  I heard “Stop! Just stop” in my head and I did.  I stood in the middle of the road and took a couple of frames (are they frames now?).  Got back in the car and drove home knowing that this would be a keeper.

I realized that I really need to just take my camera for a ride every so often – a little after sunset or before sunrise in the morning.  You see the most amazing things and they are quite often things that no one else sees or pays attention to.  So try it, you’ll be amazed at what happens.

 

 

Digging in the Dirt

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Finally.  My sister commented the other day how she felt like she was coming out of a coma.  I understand.

Last evening I did a walk about checking for signs of life.  This the time of year when I’m anxious to see what made it through the winter.  As everyone knows this past one was particularly cold but we had a pretty good snow cover so I’m hoping that insulation helped everything survive.  It’s particularly concerning to me because I put in so many new gardens last summer.  The waiting has only just begun, some plants won’t show signs of life for weeks.

At the end of my walk I saw the leaves popping out of the canes on the raspberries.  My raspberry bed is in a sad state, overgrown with crabgrass (the bane of my existence).  I started to pull things out – dead or alive.  If it wasn’t a raspberry out it went.  Being a spur of the moment weeding event I didn’t have gloves with me.  The soil was the perfect texture – not too wet, not too dry and the perfect temperature.  It’s been 7 long months since I’ve had my hands in the dirt – seven months!  

There’s an article that my sister and I pass back and forth about digging in the dirt acting as an antidepressant.  I don’t think I needed a scientific study to tell me this.  All I needed was a long, cold, sleepless winter.  After just an hour of digging in the dirt I slept like a baby.  I’m addicted to dirt.