The Cloth

I apologize to my non weaving readers for something that may not be as interesting or easily understood but I have to do this.

There are three parts as I see it to this research project on the Satinet Factory in Rowe.  One of the most important to me was the cloth itself.  Having never seen a piece of satinet from 1840 or so I decided that the only way I could get a real visual of what they were making was to weave a piece myself.

I was pointed in the direction of a book titled The Domestic Manufacturer’s Assistant and Family Directory in the Arts of Weaving and Dyeing by J. and R. Bronson which was originally published in 1817.  The book is very informative and once you get the hang of the drafts they are very easy to figure out. This is a 6 shaft satin pattern.

So I did a little math, figured out the tie ups and started winding a warp.   Satinet was woven with a cotton warp and a wool weft.  I think originally it was for economic reasons.  Power carders and spinning were in place before the looms were so the mills prepared the fiber but the satinet was being woven by people in their homes on large barn frame looms.  Subcontractors in 1822 were being paid 10 cents per yard, or about $1.93 per yard in today’s money.  Satinet was also an inexpensive cloth to manufacture and the demand for it skyrocketed in the 1830’s  when clothiers began using the power-loom.

After talking to a few weavers who have an interest in historic weaving I decided that I would use 20/2 cotton and begin with a sett of 36 e.p.i. (partly because I have a 12 reed and the math was easy to do) . . . (sorry, not sorry).

I think cotton makes one of the most beautiful warps.  I love the sheen.  The question came up before doing this little experiment if the fabric would have been yarn dyed or piece dyed.  Everyone I talked to was in a different camp on this one so I decided to do a white cotton warp with dyed wool weft.  This also would make it easier to study the structure and see how the weft was covering the warp at different setts and beats.

Woohoo, tied on and ready to go.  The piece in the loom was 6″ in width.  I used a single ply wool for the weft that seemed about the same size as the warp.  It was a left over warp from Peggy’s mill so I’m not sure of the exact size.   There were some slubs on the yarn which is what you see in the weaving.

I figured I’d start out with 36 p.p.i to make it balanced but found that I had to up my beat to attain 43 p.p.i. to cover the warp.  Also taken into consideration was the fulling that would occur in wet finishing.  I tried setting it higher – to 40 e.p.i. but that made a very stiff cloth.  I wove and wet finished 2 pieces at the two different setts with all different picks per inch, both about 12 inches in the loom.  When finished they both shrank to 5 1/2 by 11 1/4  which was much less than I expected.

The wrong side of the cloth is quite lovely, the fabric itself is soft and supple.  It was used mostly for trousers back in the day and you can understand it.  It has a nice hand but feels like it would wear extremely well.  It was also used for linings in coats and to make jackets.   Civil war uniforms were very often made of satinet as well.  My thought as I handled the samples was that I would love to weave some yardage for a jacket, it would be very comfortable.

My guess is this fabric would have been made with finer thread for a lighter weight but until I actually see a piece of it I won’t know.  The search continues here in town, we have an extensive collection of clothing.  I will also contact a few other museums to see what they have in their collections but at least now I know what I’m looking for.

 

 

 

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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Weaving Inspiration

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A few weeks ago I met a long time friend on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls.  As a gardener I am always amazed at this wonderful place.

I posted this photograph after shooting my way along the bridge and a fellow weaver used it as color inspiration.  I thought I would as well. (Of course hers was finished within days of the picture going up).

I also decided to move out of the realm of safety and work with new materials, sort of.  I’m using 20/2 mercerized cotton and a draft from Twill Thrills to make a scarf.

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I did the math.  Ordered the cotton.  Did the math again.  Then started winding the warp.

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Truth be told this is my least favorite part of weaving and it took me three days to do it because there were a few moments when I just had to walk away.

I finally got it to the loom and threaded it.  It’s an advancing twill pattern at  40 E.P.I.  Yes, forty ends per inch.  At this point I’m saying to myself “You must be out of your mind” but it got better . . .

lrm_export_20161008_204035 I had 32 threads leftover at the end.  Not usually a problem unless you decide to do graded colors, ugh.  Not happy at this point.   It was sort of a random twill so I decided to just to a repeat of part of the pattern and see how it turned out.  At this point I was not going to rethread it.

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Yesterday I began sleying the reed 4 threads per dent.  I got halfway through and decided to break until this morning when the light was better.  Finished an hour or so ago.  I’ll tie it on, spend some time on the floor doing tie-ups and finally start weaving later today with any luck.  Then I’ll be able to see what kind of mess I truly made and if I can live with it or start over.

The interesting part to me is the weavers I have that surround me, that inspire me.  I weave with a woman who weaves nothing but twills.  She threads her loom without a draft starting in the center and working her way to either edge designing it as she goes along.  Her work is amazing.  I felt like I was channeling her as I threaded all of those extra ends.  I don’ begin to think I’m capable of doing what she does but it’s having weavers around me giving that inspiration.  They’re all mentors without knowing it.

I think that’s what makes it so important to show and share your work – no matter what kind of work it is or what your skill level.  You never know who you’re going to inspire.

 

 

 

 

It’s Always Something

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It starts with this.  Poorly wound cones of wool.  Not only are the cones badly wound but the wool is not greatly spun.  There are slubs, lots of them – places where the fiber is not twisted and readily comes apart.  That leads to this.

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The yarn breaks while winding it onto the bobbins either due to the slubs or by catching on the tangles that are on the bottoms of the cones.   Or the bad spinning leads to this –

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Endless broken warp threads, endless repairs.

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I really should have been helping her instead of taking her picture.  The weaving was a real stop and start affair for the past two days.  One blanket wove with a single broken warp thread, the next had over 30 I would guess.  It often looks like this –

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Then you can have issues that cause mechanical failure – there have been a few broken bobbins lately.

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I have to tell you that makes a pretty ugly sound when it happens.  The other day Peggy suggested my next blog post should be titled “Breaking Bad”.  It made me chuckle and it helps to have a sense of humor when things aren’t going along as well as you’d like but then your morning ends with an image like this – wp-1463679844093.jpg

Crawling under the loom is never good (even if it was highly enlightening for me).  The top of a heddle frame caught and broke while the loom was running, number 16.  I stand and watch for broken threads while it’s running and tell Peggy to stop it, I didn’t even see this happen.  There is so much to look at while the machine is running – so much.  We moved the threaded heddles to the frame in back of it (thankfully unused) and took the frame apart and off of the loom.

I learned a lot from this particular incident.  First, experience is everything, Peggy knows where to be looking or knows the sound of a happy or not so happy machine.  Second, this is no game for an older person in questionable physical condition.  I could have gotten under the loom but the question remains, how long would it have taken me to get back up?

Then there is the question of just how long can you run machinery that there are no longer parts for?  With the best running practices things are still going to break.  There are piles of loom parts in the barn where the looms are located but it’s not like you can just order something up on-line when you need to.  I supposed the metal parts could be reproduced by a skilled machinist, but at what cost?  Then there are the bobbins which I daresay were discarded quite often in a running mill.  Who makes those now?

I feel privileged to be able to experience this first hand but am saddened by the knowledge that this is truly the end of the road for this weaving (unless I’ve missed something).  I’m not saying it ends this year or next but the end is visible.  The day you can no longer fix this loom is the day is becomes a ton and a half of scrap metal and that is sad indeed.

 

Calling in the Expert

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With a mechanical problem with a vintage loom there are times you need to have someone look at the equipment that knows it so well he can fix things with his eyes shut (or diagnose it over the phone).

I met Lenny this past weekend when he came over to make a few adjustments that would help with the changing of the bobbins in the shuttles.

wp-1463313840919.jpgLenny is the spryest 90-year-old I have ever met.  Steady, agile, clear of mind and he knows his looms.  He should, he’s been working on them for 76 years.  He made a couple of adjustments, ran the loom a little, made a couple more and made a suggestion on changing how we wind the bobbins.  Today everything ran the way it should.

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Along with the fix we were treated to some serious reminiscing about the mills.  The noise, the work, the different types of looms he had worked on.  Being a loom mechanic or fixer was probably one of the most important jobs in a mill and it takes a person with the right type of mind to be one.

Lenny is different in his love for the machines.  He’s never stopped – loving them, working on them, restoring them.  You can see it in his face when they are running.  There’s the look of delight you so rarely see except in the eyes of a child.

As he was leaving he looked at me and said “Well, that was a bit of fun!”.

We all need a passion in life that does that for us. That one thing that brings a broad smile to our face.  That’s something that has continually evolved for me, I like learning new things – new crafts and bringing them to perfection.  It’s always something with my hands producing something that can be amazing.

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Lenny knows what he knows but he loves what he does and the product it produces.  I think that love is what has kept him so young.

 

 

Loving the Mechanics

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I’ve always had a fascination for things mechanical, things with lots of parts that move together to make something happen.  My father’s sawmill running on steam was a sight to behold – so much motion.

Today I watched the loom in action.  There have been a few minor set backs to this particular job but I love how it makes your brain work to solve a problem or two.  Being able to watch it work was another step towards understanding what it can do.  Everything has its limitations but you have to understand how it works before you can troubleshoot the problems.

As it ran and I observed it almost made me laugh out loud.  So, so many moving parts all working together.  This is a machine that was improved over time back in the day when it was practical engineering minds that were tweaking it here and there or redesigning parts of the whole to make it work better, faster, more efficiently.  These were men whose minds understood gear ratios, tension, pulleys, levers.  They knew how to make things work without a degree in engineering.

I dare say a loom mechanic was not that different from a car mechanic.  They worked on the same machine day in and day out.  Most times fixing similar problems or the parts that typically wore out.  My grandfather’s tool box has all kinds of little things in it that I’m sure were a lot of his job.  There are boxes of bigger parts in the barn here as well.  Until today I didn’t know what they were.

Watching this work is mesmerizing, there is so much going on at the same time.  It makes me sad to think of what younger people are missing with so much now replaced with electronics.

Okay, I’m really going to date myself here but I remember when Bill and I bought our first cd player.  It was another big component to add to the already massive stereo that people had back then.  We put the cd in and listened to the clean sound but we had to come to terms with the fact that we had no idea how it worked – none, it might as well have been some sort of magic.  It was disconcerting in a way to not understand how something works, especially for two mechanically minded people.  We decided to just accept that we were never going to know and move on.

Winding bobbins on the mechanical bobbin winder, listening to the loom running, walking around it to see everything moving top to bottom I couldn’t help but think that this is the magic that people are missing out on.  This is just plain fun to watch.

Divine Intervention

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It all started with a little black book filled with cloth samples and drafts – my grandfather’s sample book.  I’ve been moving it with me since his death in 1976. None of it made any sense to me.

Four years ago a highschool friend posted on Facebook that she had a Harrisville loom for sale.  I had always wanted to learn and it seemed like the right opportunity.  I then went about looking for a weaving teacher that taught on that particular loom.  As luck would have it there was one in a town that was relatively close.  My first visit to the weaving group on Tuesday nights I brought that little black book and told Pam, my teacher, that I wanted to learn to weave so I would understand the book.  She told me that wouldn’t be a problem and someday I might be able to weave my way through the drafts in the book.

I read an article recently about genetic memory.  The basic principle is we carry the ability to do complex tasks around in our dna, handed down from generation to generation.  I’m not sure about people who are born savants but I do know that weaving felt like something I already knew and understood on a visceral level.  It was something that was already there, it just needed to be unlocked.

Now I love to weaving but if I’m honest it’s really about the looms. I love troubleshooting problems.  Figure out how one works and make it work better.  Since I started weaving I have also amassed quite the collection of looms.  All but one are in working order and I use most of them, one is a restoration project without room to put it so it waits.

During this whole weaving learning experience I started to write about it, mostly to spark conversations with my dad about the mills my family members had all worked in.  My fascination for the machinery of the mill grew.  He would explain to me how they worked with vivid descriptions.  If I found a video of a power-loom in action he would point out the things he was trying to describe.  For me it was the sound of the loom running that drew me in.  I have a vivid memory of that sound from early childhood when I would be taken to my grandfather’s mill.  It was loud and amazing.

Well dad is gone and so are the stories and I needed something to keep it alive for me.  Pam asked me to go to a weaver’s guild meeting the week after my father died because Peggy Hart was going to be giving a talk.  I went, for many different reasons.  One – because Pam asked me to. Two – hoping to hear the stories. Three – to meet Peggy, someone my father had repeatedly said to meet because she had the looms.

I met her there, called her the following week and visited her mill a few days later (it’s very close to home, who knew?).  I was there for a tour really and it turned into an apprenticeship.  She needs help, I want to learn to run the machines.

This morning I spent 3 hours or so learning to wind bobbins, putting them into the loom, repairing broken threads and listening to it run.  I can only describe that sound to me as being wrapped in a warm hug.

Timing is everything.  I had called Peggy over a year ago to meet her and see her mill because my father was badgering me to do it.  For one reason or another it never happened.  As it turns out I would never have had the time to give to this then.  Peggy lost her weaving assistant recently (he’s 90) and has more jobs ahead of her than usual.  As I was leaving today we were talking about scheduling and she said, “I think you have come into my life at the perfect time.” My reply, “For me as well.” It feels like divine intervention.

Review 2015

Every year I post a year in review that is largely visual in nature.  It seems that this year may prove to be different.  There have been so many profound changes that the photographs would only just scratch the surface.  I’ll throw a few in for good measure though, I can’t resist.

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After living with my father for a year and a half I put him back into assisted living.  It was a huge learning curve for me – but I learned that I cannot live with negativity day in and day out.  Living under a black cloud only drags you into that black abyss and it becomes more and more difficult to climb your way out.  In my heart I know it was the right thing to do for everyone involved yet on some level it feels like failure.  I’m working on getting over that in ways that feed my soul.

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Living here helped me maintain my sanity.  The close proximity to nature was a balm many times during each and every day.  Being able to see magnificent sunrises so many mornings began my days in a positive way.  It was a summer of rainbows – every day it seemed .  Hiking trails at the park, new trails in old familiar places brought discovery and appreciation anew.  Let’s face it, it’s quiet here, it smells good and nobody bugs you.  What more could the introvert in me want?

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Then there were weddings, lots of them.  My favorite was the marriage of my daughter – here.  Ten people, surrounded by my gardens in full bloom.  My favorite moment – the family humming Pachelbel’s Canon in D while Amanda and her father walked down the little makeshift aisle, thanks Cait for getting it rolling.  Although Amanda and Yusuf have been together for 9 years and we all knew this was coming it still felt like we were giving her away.  It was a line for me, both joyous and sad.

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As if all of this wasn’t enough November 11th was the birth of our first grandchild.  A boy who dear husband Bill never thought he was going to see (and now has big plans for).  Another shift in my life – from mother to grandmother.  I’m not sure how it affects other people but the generational shift has always been a profound one for me.  When Amanda was born it took me a while to wrap my head around going from daughter to mother, I’m still getting use to the idea of going from mom to grandma.  He is wonderful and I’m enjoying watching them grow into a loving family.

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All through this the constant has been craft.  The ability to make and do things with my hands is the thread.  It feeds me – no, it is a necessity. If I wasn’t able to create something, on a daily basis, I would have sunk into that deep, dark hole long ago.  It sustains me.  It seems odd to me in some ways to admit this.  I have been a crafter all of my life.  My modus operandi is to learn a new craft, work it to what I deem the best I am capable of (more of a plateau really) and move on to the next craft.  This year was all about weaving – again.  It was the realization that I’ve been searching my entire life for what my hands knew how to do.  Weaving has connected me to my past, to people I remember and loved the most.  It is something that will probably take the rest of my life to move towards perfection.  Meanwhile it calms me and helps me to reflect on daily life, meditation.  Something we all need and I daresay find in little things we do.  We just need to recognize it.

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The new year is promising in so many ways.  Growth is what it’s all about.  I’ll keep on sharing my skills and insights.  I’ll watch my family and friends embrace the changes in their lives and hold them all close because really, that’s what it’s all about.

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Make Something Beautiful

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A few months ago I signed up for a day long basket weaving workshop with the majority of  my weaving class.  I’ve just fallen in love with these women, all around my age and many in similar life circumstances.  What I really love is they are always willing to learn something new.

Our workshop was with Wendy Jenson in her studio in Monterey, MA.  She is an amazing weaver, her baskets are stunningly beautiful and she is a wonderful teacher.

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I’ve woven baskets before, many years ago.  The real reason I wanted to do this was to hang out with a bunch of creatives, all learning something new.  What’s really great is weaving is weaving.  The concepts translate into all kinds of different things so I think everyone had a leg up on those who have never woven anything before.  That, and these women are game for anything.

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There was a choice of two different basket designs, a Williamsburg or a Carry All.  I chose the latter and was surprised at how the skills learned 25 years ago come back to some extent.  Everyone did a great job on their projects and I have to think we all went home happy with what we learned and what we made.

I really think the most important thing is to make the time to create something out of raw materials.  What started out as a bundle of flat reed was transformed in a few hours to a beautiful basket.  During that time of working with your hands you also work through the troubles of the day, week or month.  In this case with friends as therapists working alongside you.  When finished it feels as though all your troubles and cares have been poured into what you’ve created.  You have a memento of time well spent.

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