Monday, December 14, 2015

Wrapping Up the Year

Number 23 Socks
Number 24 Socks
   The end of the year is approaching fast, and I'm trying to finish the outstanding Works in Progress (WIPs) before midnight on December 31. I'm making headway. The Number 23 and Number 24 socks are finished, although I ended up frogging the Number 23 Socks (that yarn deserves a better sock pattern). I've nearly finished the Winter in California scarf. I'm slogging through the Fancy Twill Napkins: I want that warp done so we can move my workshop loom out of the dining room for Christmas dinner and a holiday open house. There's a warp for a couple of crackle scarves on Mongo, which will be the last project I work on this year.
   Meanwhile, I've baked mountains of cookies. I still need to clean thoroughly, decorate the house for the holidays, write out the holiday cards, mail a couple of packages, and wrap everything that will be under the tree on Christmas morning. I just need to keep plugging away, and I will get it all done.
Crackle Scarves, inspired by
Pride of Madeira

Fancy Twill Napkins

Winter in California Scarf

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Someone's in the Kitchen (and Up-Valley)

   Over the years, I've been in long discussions that revolve around a mental game: Vocation, Avocation, Hobby. Basically, your vocation is what you do to make money; your avocation is what you do for love, but also what you'd like to for money; and a hobby is what you do, but don't love it enough (or love it too much) to get paid for doing it. Most recently, my vocation was teaching (what I did for a living), and my avocation was the fiber and textile arts (what I would be willing to do for money). That has changed, and now my avocation is my vocation.
   That brings me to my "hobby": food. I like to cook. Correction: I love to cook. Not enough to do it for other people--except on an occasional basis--but enough that it's been a major hobby most of my life. I'm also blessed with an excellent palate, a curious soul, and a large collection of cookbooks, so I'm not boasting when I state that I'm a very good cook. My kitchen is lined with framed culinary awards , and I've taken just enough (mostly professional) cooking classes that I can turn out everything from a cozy dinner for two to a sumptuous banquet for two hundred. I also have a great place to "play:" when the house was turned from a duplex into a single-family home, the downstairs unit's kitchen and bath were demolished to make way for a large (12'x18'), eat-in kitchen and a tiny downstairs bath. After living here nearly ten years, I designed a complete remodel of the kitchen and adjoining mud room, and we spent about 10 months creating efficient, comfortable storage and work spaces. It's pretty nice: I have a walk-in pantry with access to the dye yard and the grills; lots of cupboard space (something sadly lacking before the remodel); an 8-foot island with electrical outlets and a small "breakfast bar" for meals; good appliances that can handle my style of cooking; and a French country theme. We have a dining room, but we eat most of our meals in the kitchen.
   At this time of year, the kitchen takes center stage. It begins as the weather changes from October's heat to November's crisp days and cold nights. Like a squirrel preparing for winter, I take stock of what's in the pantry, and what I'm going to need to turn out pies, cakes, cookies, savory delights of all kinds, two large meals (Thanksgiving and Christmas), and the food for our annual "open house" cocktail party. There are lists, and lists of lists, and cookbooks and recipes spread everywhere as I design menus and look for bargains on ingredients. By early December, the pantry cupboards, pantry freezer, and the kitchen refrigerator are crammed, and extra bottles (and cases) of wines and spirits litter the dining room sideboard and window seat.
   The week of Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday cooking. This year, Thanksgiving was just the two of us, so I cut back a bit on the preparations: a brined and roasted game hen, paired with roasted new potatoes, and Brussels sprouts with chestnuts and pancetta. Some appetizers before, and a mince pie (with hard sauce, of course) after, all washed down with a lovely wine (Saintsbury 2006 Brown Ranch Chardonnay), and we had a fine feast.
The old press house, Napa Valley Olive Oil Mfg. Co.
in St. Helena. The old olive press is now used for
displaying flavored olive oils.
   Other people can spend Black Friday in crowded shopping malls: our tradition is to head "up Valley" for comestibles. Our first stop is usually the Napa Valley Olive Oil Mfg. Co. in St. Helena. Tucked away on a side street near downtown, the Guidi family has been making the best local extra virgin olive oil since 1931. They sell it--along with a selection of Italian groceries--out of the old press house. One grabs a little basket and shops: olive oils, both plain and flavor-infused (I'm partial to the garlic-infused); squat bottles of balsamic vinegar; pastas and canned goods from Italy; candies; paper-wrapped amaretti cookies; cheeses; and olives. This year, we came away with two bottles of garlic-infused EVOO, a quart of plain EVOO, a tub of feta cheese-stuffed green olives, and a slab of torrone, that luscious, nut-filled nougat.
   After a stop at
Taylor's RefresherGott's Roadside (OK, who am I kidding--it's Taylor's) for al fresco burgers, garlic fries, and a glass of wine, it's on to Dean and Deluca. That world-famous purveyor of overpriced products opened a "Napa" branch in St. Helena a while back, and it's fun to wander around, watch the tourists spend too much on kitchen gadgets and picnic nibbles, and buy the occasional item I can't get anywhere else. I particularly like their cocoa for baking, so there's a fresh tin in the pantry.
Shackford's. The best place for kitchen stuff in the Bay Area.
   A couple side-trips to wineries to pick up waiting orders or try new selections, and we work our way back down Hwy 29 to Napa and Shackford's Kitchen Store. Let the tourists and wine country parvenu spend their money at Dean & Deluca or NapaStyle: locals know the only place to pick up needed kitchen utensils is Shackford's. Started about the same time Chuck Williams took over the hardware store in Sonoma, Shackford's is what Williams-Sonoma was: a local store that specializes in good housewares at reasonable prices. Fancy and "fou-fou" it's not: cramped, ill-lit, and sometimes it's hard to find things, but if Shackford's doesn't carry it, you probably don't need it. The best time to visit Shackford's is mid-afternoon: the tourists have moved on to wine tastings, and the staff have time to talk, and swap recipes and cooking techniques. This year's haul included three new paring knives (easier to replace than sharpen), two new Y-peelers, a couple small souffle dishes for French onion soup, a new tool for cleaning the microwave oven, a couple of olive wood non-directional spatulas, and "sprinkles" for this year's Christmas cookies.
Sometimes, I talk to grapes. Tast-
ing among the casks of Pinot Noir
and Chardonnay at Saintsbury.
   Some years, our Up-Valley foraging trip includes a stop at the Oxbow Public Market, Trader Joe's, or a couple more wineries. This year, we finished up at Saintsbury in the Carneros. Started and owned by David Graves and Richard Ward, this small winery produces pinot noir and chardonnay in the Burgundian style. Yep--they're that good. We had a half-case of different bottles waiting for us to pick up; after sampling some of the newly-released wines, we came away with more than a case to lay down in the cellar for future meals.
   So here we are, with a well-stocked pantry, spice cabinet, freezer, and wine cellar. I'm ready.

Places I mentioned:

Napa Valley Olive Oil Mfg. Co. 835 Charter Oak Ave., St. Helena. (707) 963-4173.
Taylor's Refresher/Gott's Roadside. 933 Main St., St. Helena. (707) 963-3486.
Dean & Deluca. 607 St. Helena Hwy (Hwy 29), St. Helena. (707) 967-9980.
Trader Joe's Market. 3654 Bel Aire Plaza, Napa. (707) 256-0806.
Shackford's Kitchen Store. 1350 Main St., Napa. (707) 226-2132.
Oxbow Public Market. 610 & 644 First St., Napa. (707) 226-6529.
Saintsbury Winery. 1500 Los Carneros Ave., Napa. (707) 252-0592. (Wine tastings by appointment only, so call ahead.)


Monday, November 16, 2015

Studio Time

   I missed last weekend's post because I've been spending a great deal of time in studios--both mine and other people's. The weekend was...interesting...and pointed up some of the aspects of the local arts scene that drive me right out of my everlovin' mind.
   We have at least three (3) pretty active arts organizations in Vallejo: the Vallejo Community Arts Foundation (VCAF); the Vallejo Artists Alliance (VAA); and the Vallejo Waterfront Artists. All are full of pretty nice people, and all like to put on events to draw attention to the local arts scene, but nobody seems to coordinate with anyone else.
   Last weekend was a great example of non-coordination. The Vallejo Waterfront Artists sponsor the annual Vallejo Open Studios. This is a fairly big deal--most of the artists in town have live-work situations, so their studios aren't normally open to the public--and planning for it starts months in advance of the actual event. Open Studios is normally on the second weekend of November, which is usually a great time for a semi-outdoor event--we're past the heat of "Indian Summer," but the winter rains haven't started.
   Meanwhile, it was recognized by most of the arts community that we needed more than a once-a-year event, so the Vallejo Artists Alliance began the Vallejo ArtWalk in late 2013. ArtWalk is the second Friday of each month, and it usually draws a pretty decent crowd downtown to the galleries, studios, and street artists/vendors who set up.
   Two pretty nice arts-related events, put on by two groups that know each other really well. One would think the two groups would get together with their calendars and coordinate a massive, 3-day arts event. This should be a slam-dunk: it wasn't. Open Studios was held on Saturday and Sunday, November 7 and 8; ArtWalk was held the following Friday, November 13. A lot of people--including artists--participated in one event or the other, but not both. Had everything been on the same weekend, more artists would have had an excuse to open their studios early, or stay open over the weekend. It was a "missed opportunity."
   Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed Open Studios. We started our "arts day" early with coffee at Moschetti's, a local coffee roaster that opens to the public on Saturday mornings. It's become a favorite Saturday morning hang-out for a number of artists, and we usually stop by to have coffee, meet up with friends we don't otherwise see, and maybe pick up a pound or two of their incomparable coffee beans. After coffee, we pulled out our map and started visiting the outlying studios that were open. Along the way, we ran into friends and acquaintances, saw a lot of nice art, got some lunch from Picknicky's (a new local sandwich shop), then went to see more studios and galleries. I was struck by the relative lack of crowds, especially downtown. There are a lot of artists, studios, and galleries in downtown Vallejo, yet the sidewalks weren't crowded. Quite frankly, I've seen more people out during ArtWalk than I saw during Open Studios.
Summer Sunsets,
finally fringed.
   We wound up our evening at the "after party" thrown by the Coal Shed Studios Artists on Mare Island. They're a fun, interesting bunch of artists in a fun, funky space: a "repurposed" historic coal storage building on the waterfront, in the former Navy shipyard. The artists have created studio spaces and a small gallery out of the 8,000 square feet of the building, and this year they simply put the word out that people should bring their leftover drinks and nibbles for a bit of "wind-down" socializing. We brought a couple bottles of wine, and a few more bottles of fancy Italian sodas, and had a marvelous time eating, drinking, and chatting with all and sundry. It reminded me of some of the openings/parties I attended when I still lived in Los Angeles, and was the bright spot of the weekend.
A simple shrug
out of stash yarns.
   Unfortunately, being "out and about" doesn't get the cloth woven, so Sunday (and a lot of the last week) was spent in my own studio. It was a week for finishing things: a shawl that was woven last year finally has twisted fringe; all the towels are neatly hemmed and have their required labels; a "quick" shrug-sweater was finished off and immediately put to use. With those projects out of the way, I can focus on the next projects at hand.

On the looms: Fancy Twill Napkins, out of 8/2 cotton; Pride of Madeira Scarves, out of 3/2 and 10/2 cotton.

On the needles: Winter in California #1 Scarf, out of handspun wool, alpaca, mohair, silk blend; Number 23 Socks, out of Blue Moon Socks That Rock (STR) Mediumweight.


Monday, November 02, 2015

Really Good Stuff

   I missed last week's post because of two Sunday meetings. This week's post is word-skimpy as I don't want to bore with a rant on the commercialization of Halloween. So, it's limited to Really Good Stuff.

   Really Good Stuff #1: The return of Bloom County. Thank you Berkeley Breathed, for not just bringing back one of my favorite comic strips, but allowing it to reflect today's political and pop culture realities. This time around, the strip is only posted to Mr. Breathed's Facebook page (if you needed an excuse to get on Facebook, here it is); more than once, I've nearly spewed a mouthful of coffee onto my laptop when I've read that morning's gem. Life can't be all bad if Bill the Cat and Opus are once again running for president and vice-president.

   Really Good Stuff #2: Water falling from the sky. After four years of drought and record-setting temperatures, I think (along with hope and pray) that we're starting to see our normal winter weather. The pattern has already started: we got enough rain to wet the sidewalks on Wednesday, more rain is forecast for tonight, and another storm seems to be lining itself up to arrive next weekend. I'm more than ready for a cool, wet, winter.

   Really Good Stuff #3: The towels are off the loom. I have 32 towels to hem and label, but that very long warp is finally done. I've already started winding and beaming the warp for a couple of crackle weave scarves, and I'm working away on the fancy twill napkins so I can get them off the other loom pretty quickly.

   Really Good Stuff #4: Stephen's hat and scarf are off the needles. I motored through the scarf, then had enough yarn left over to make a matching hat. I'm on to making a simple shrug to wear in the studio when it's chilly, and to use up some of the millspun yarns in the stash.

On the looms: Fancy Twill Napkins out of 8/2 cotton; Pride of Madeira Scarves, out of 3/2 and 10/2 cotton.
On the needles: Stylishly Simple Shrug, out of EMU Superwash DK (from the stash).

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dogs: Weaving and Otherwise

Scottish weaver Shielagh Tacey's
"assistant," Aggie.
   dog (noun). 1) a domesticated carnivorous mammal that typically has a long snout, an acute sense of smell, and a barking, howling, or whining voice. It is widely kept as a pet or for work or field sports. 2) a warp on a loom that is proving difficult or less than interesting to weave off.

   I am dealing with a dog. I happen to like dogs--we had dogs when I was growing up, and we had a couple terriers for many years. A dog's happy, "Yay! Everything is great!" attitude meshes with my personality a lot better than the "I am ruler and you are staff" attitude of most cats. (Oddly, I've been "where food comes from" for a series of cats over the past 40 years. I may not be terribly fond of cats, but they seem to like me.)
   Dogs usually go with weaving. We trained our dogs to stay out of the studio (and the kitchen), but I could leave the studio door open, and they would lie in the hall, watching me from the doorway. There's just something nice about that kind of supervision--perfectly happy to monitor what I might be doing, but always ready to jump up and go for a walk, even if it was just downstairs to check the mail and get a drink from the kitchen.
Sixteen towels (and the sample).
   However, the dog I'm dealing with isn't a four-legged friend, it's a weaving problem. For some reason, I decided that a 35-yard warp wouldn't be that terrible to weave off. Yes, 35 yards is a bit longer than most of the warps I weave, but I'm limited by what will fit in the washing machine as a single load, and more than 20-22 yards doesn't fit. But this warp is towels: I can cut the woven towels off at some point before I get to the end.
   I put this warp on the loom in July--it's now mid-October, and I'm still working on it. Part of the reason was being laid up for nearly a month with a torn Achilles tendon, but I've been out of a cast for 6 weeks, and I'm still staring at this same warp. Another part of the problem is how Mongo is behaving. I'm having some problems with the friction brake--the cable is binding up and not releasing when I step on the brake to release it--but I've already spent several hours messing with it and don't want to spend more time while I still have a "money" warp on the loom.
   Another part of the problem is the tension: it simply isn't as even as I like. I didn't use the warping wheel to measure out this warp--instead, I used my tension box and creel. It's a quick, easy way to get a warp onto a loom, but I don't don't like the results: the tension is a bit uneven in spots, and while it doesn't affect the appearance of the cloth, it's making me crazy. I don't want to work on it, and I'll come up with nearly any excuse (including doing the ironing, which I detest)
to not sit down and throw a shuttle.
   I'm somewhere north of 65% on the warp: 16 towels are on the cloth beam, and it's starting to bug me that my knees are hitting the roll of cloth. That normally doesn't bother me, but this is a dog, so everything about it is irritating. I'll weave a couple yardsticks into a new header, then cut off and wet-finish the towels. Then I'll get back to work on this dog, and see if I can get those last 8 to 10 towels woven off.

On The Looms: Fancy Twill Napkins and Huck Towels, all out of 8/2 cotton.
On The Needles: Heliotaxis Shawl out of cashmere (lace knitting); My Favorite Scarf out of handspun Romney-Coopworth (drunk knitting).

Sunday, October 11, 2015


A Dam Doll, better known
as a Troll Doll.
   When I was a little girl, I had troll dolls. Nearly every little girl had troll dolls (we usually called them Dam dolls, after their creator, Thomas Dam), and some of my first attempts at sewing and costuming were making clothes for my family of trolls. With crazy acrylic hair and a big grin, they were a silly, cute, part of growing up in the 1960s.
   The term "troll" (and its verb, "trolling") began to get a bad connotation in the 1990s, with the rise of the Internet. A number of academic studies of Internet usage began to document the rise of the disembodied, semi-anonymous, virtual community and what might be considered "bad behavior" in regular conversation: high-jacking discussions; posing a pseudo-question, then refusing to accept an answer from another person, and so on. Today, most of social media recognizes that a "troll" is someone who seems to derive some type of pleasure out of getting people upset or angry. Some social media sites and platforms attempt to control trolls and their practices: most social media sites do not allow anonymous posting or "sock monkeys" (dummy accounts set up with a false name). Unfortunately, attempt to stop all trolling is like using a sieve to carry water--it's simply too porus.
   The usual way to deal with a troll is to deny them that which they most crave: anger and attention because they're being less than pleasant. The most common advice is "Don't Feed The Trolls": don't challenge them, reply to them, or even acknowledge that they exist.
Words to live by...
   I'm currently watching a troll at work. I know she's a troll (a bit unusual--most trolls are male). I know she knows very little about the subject (some arcane aspects of historical costuming). I also know that most of the people in this discussion group have been messing about with this subject for the best part of twenty years on different platforms, and they're all pretty accomplished researchers and needleworkers (I also know some of them personally, but that's another story).
   How Ms. Troll works: She posts a seemingly innocuous question regarding a book of patterns and solicits people's opinions of it. OK, that's fine: everybody wants to know if the book they are considering is worth the money. It's not a book I have, so I didn't bother to answer back but, knowing Ms. Troll's history, I was curious to see how this played out. One person replied that it sounded interesting; another person noted that WorldCat had six copies listed in different libraries. It wasn't until about 48 hours later that Ms. Troll posted that she actually had a copy of said book, that it couldn't possibly be actual original patterns because she knew of only one pattern, and it was in French. Someone pointed out to her that the pattern she was thinking of was actually in English, and published in a well-known source of the period. Another person noted that not has she redacted (the term used for taking an historic pattern, recipe, or object and creating a modern pattern or recipe) that original pattern, and will make it available for people to purchase early next  year.
   At this point, a normal conversation would die out, possibly with a couple of posts from people saying how much they were looking forward to using this new pattern. However, this is not a normal conversation: this is a troll-inspired conversation, so it must take another tack in attempt to stir things up. Ms. Troll proceeded to take exception to the idea that it's actually possible to recreate an historic object from either an original or redacted pattern. This is, of course, nonsense: I've written and tested enough historic patterns that I can duplicate darned near any piece of needlework that I can get decent materials for. I'm not an extraordinarily gifted needleworker--I've simply done enough needlework that I know my techniques, I know my materials, I know my research, and I can put them together to reproduce something.
   I must admit, I'm letting others do the "heavy lifting" in dealing with Ms. Troll--I'm finding it more interesting to sit on the sidelines, and watch how she deals with a plethora of pedantic posts. Most of all, I'm letting others feed that particular troll.

On The Looms: Fancy Twill Napkins and Huck Towels, all out of 8/2 cotton.
On The Needles: Heliotaxis Shawl out of cashmere (lace knitting); My Favorite Scarf out of handspun Romney-Coopworth (drunk knitting).


Monday, September 28, 2015

When Hate Comes to Town

A face of Vallejo: local musician
David Meletiche El and his son.
   I live in what can be considered a medium-sized town in the San Francisco Bay area. With a population of about 115,000 Vallejo is a town with a lot of history: we were once the capital of California (1851-1852), the home of Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINSY), and, More recently, a well-publicized bankruptcy. For most of its life, Vallejo was a "company" town for the shipyard, and when MINSY closed in 1996, the town nearly dried up and blew away. It's now primarily a bedroom community for the East Bay and San Francisco, and is known for it's usually glorious weather (not too much fog, and a nice afternoon sea breeze) and affordable housing. We've lived here more than 20 years, and it's pretty safe to say that we've put down roots.
   One thing that Vallejo has is a successful Saturday farmers' market. Occupying two blocks of Georgia Street (Vallejo's "main street") on Saturday mornings, the farmers' market is more than just a place to find nice organic produce, toothsome baked goods, and fresh oysters--it's a social institution. Local organizations set up booths among the purveyors of eggs, honey, and radishes, and there's nearly as much political activity as there is commercial activity. Everybody in Vallejo goes to the farmers' market on Saturday, and it's common to run into friends, neighbors, and (in my case) former students. It's a mellow place, and a nice way to spend a Saturday morning before jumping into the bustle of errand-running that normally fills my Saturdays.
When Hate comes to Vallejo,
Love goes to the Saturday Farmers' Market.
   Sadly, our little oasis of mellow has been invaded by hate. About four months ago, a group of purple-shirted young men showed up and began yelling three feet behind me as I was talking to an artisanal cheesemaker. Quite frankly, I can't even tell you what they were yelling about--all I remember was that it became impossible for me to conduct business with the cheesemaker until they finally moved on. That was the last time I set foot in our Saturday farmers' market. I don't like someone yelling into my ear as I'm trying to shop, and my schedule allows me to shop at our Friday farmers' market at one of the local hospitals.
   I recently found out who that group is, and what they are trying to do. The group calls itself "Israel United in Christ," and is, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, a black separatist, anti-Semitic hate group. They are, basically, the mirror image of the Ku Klux Klan. Their usual modus operandi is to target a city, aggressively spew their hate, provoke a confrontation, and then sue the municipality over infringement of their First Amendment rights. They have done this in other cities in Northern California, and they've decided that Vallejo's farmers' market is a good target--it's held on public property (Georgia Street is closed on Saturday mornings for the farmers' market), and there isn't an aggressively enforced policy regarding free speech.
   Members of the local arts community is actively concerned about what is happening. Shopping at the farmers' market was becoming unpleasant, right at a time when the farmers' stalls are full of late summer goodness. Also, his is the time of year when the arts take on a higher profile: Vallejo Open Studios is in seven weeks, and four weeks after that is the Mad Hatter Parade. On those Saturdays (November 7 and December 5) Vallejo is full of visitors, and the last thing anyone wants is a hate group harassing people.
   Dealing with a hate group is difficult. On the one hand, hate speech is horribly offensive; on the other hand, even the most hateful speech is protected speech. There is also the danger that the hate can escalate--some members of the group were snapping pictures during the dueling protests, while other members have been spotted in "plainclothes," scouting our local arts education center. There is also a limited amount that the city government can do: they "lease" the space to the downtown merchants' association which, in turn, contracts out the running of the farmers' market.
The best way to counteract hate is with bubbles!
   Starting the Saturday after Labor Day, the artists' community decided to counteract hate with love, by staging the first of a series of "Bubble Love-In" demonstrations in the farmers' market. Using humor, dance, homemade signs, and kazoos, about 30 artists and residents generally herded and worried the purple-shirted members of the group into an area at one end of the farmers' market, and created enough noise to counteract their hate-filled yelling. I contributed in my own little way, wearing silly glasses, a red clown nose, blowing bubbles, and playing a kazoo for all I was worth.
   Were our peaceful counter-demonstrations successful? I don't know. Nobody got arrested, although the local police were in proximity (I waved whenever I saw them). At one point, I slipped away from the group and noticed that, for most of the people at the farmers' market, it was simply another Saturday of shopping. If that's a measure of success, then we achieved our goal. The company running the farmers' market has announced that they will create a "free speech area," which may put limits on hate groups, but also limits other activities such as voter registration and political campaigning. Have we encouraged them to move on? Not yet, but I'm  hopeful that they'll soon realize that there is little to be gained disrupting our farmers' market.

UPDATE: I held off on posting this piece because I wanted to "fact check" my writing with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. Since I wrote this on September 20, the farmers' market association has established some rules (including a form that must be filled out before setting up a booth) and a "Free Speech Zone." The group refused on Saturday to honor any of this, but the farmers' market association refused to enforce their own rules, claiming that it is up to the City of Vallejo to pass a city ordinance. So, it seems that it is up to the citizenry to make it clear that our town is not a place for haters.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Travel Time!

Trinidad Cove
   No post last week because, like many Americans, I was traveling over Labor Day weekend. I went up to Arcata for the Natural Fiber Festival, did some hiking out on the North Coast, and generally had a marvelous time. I came home to a record-setting heatwave, and was ready to go back within 15 minutes of unloading the car. Such is life during "Indian Summer" in California.

After 4 years of drought, nice
grass is a luxury to my feet.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Burning Man Bachelorette

Sunset over Black Rock City.
   Swallows (supposedly) return to Capistrano. Buzzards return to Hinckley, Ohio. Salmon return to the creeks and streams in which they hatched. And, like clockwork, 60,000 to 70,000 artists, friends, and hangers-on return to the middle of Nevada's Black Rock Desert for Burning Man.
   A thimble of history: Burning Man started in 1986 on San Francisco's Baker Beach (which allows bonfires) as an end-of-summer celebration by a small group of friends. The climax of the celebration was the burning of a large wicker man (hence, the name). It was a good party, friends told friends, and the party quickly outgrew the friendly confines of Baker Beach (along with causing the park police a great deal of heartburn). Some of the "Burners" knew of another event--a small, temporary, "radical expression" art festival taking place in the Black Rock Desert north of Reno--and the party moved to the desert. Like Topsy, the festival continued to grow until it's now part of mainstream popular culture: there is even an episode of The Simpsons ("Blazed and Confused"), in which Homer takes Marge and the kids to "Blazing Guy." The attendees are known as "Burners," and, like any interest-related community, they are a tribe, with their own language, customs, and rituals. The event itself is actually an art festival, with a number of large-scale installations, and a great many performance artists.
Lenticular clouds.
   My husband, and a lot of our friends, are Burners. Stephen was originally invited to attend and camp with some long-time friends, and he was immediately entranced with both the mellow attitude and the tremendous photographic opportunities. The dust (the event is in the middle of a dry lake bed) and the heat (it's Nevada, in August) don't bother him as they bother me, so this is His Thing (fiber arts festivals are My Thing), and nothing--not even a major earthquake--is allowed to interfere with his annual trek to the desert for Burning Man. He's part of the "authorized" media, so he and some of his other camp-mates go up several days before the actual start of the event (this year, August 30, 12:01 a.m.).
   Thursday was an...interesting...logistical balance. When I originally was put in a cast to let my achilles heal, my podiatrist suggested six weeks. Fortunately, he's understanding, especially when he has a panicked woman stating that she can't be in a cast after August 27 as she'll be at home alone, with no way to drive and no friends in town that can chauffeur her (they'll all be at Burning Man). He agreed that four weeks might be enough to get it well on the way, so early Thursday morning, I was at the medical center, where one of the technicians freed me from that dratted cast. I was free, and less than four hours later, Stephen was on his way to pick up a camping buddy and head out to the Playa. I was officially a Burning Man Bachelorette.
   Being on my own for more than a week is a luxury, especially as we both live and work under the same roof. I have the entire house to myself, and while Stephen is pretty easy-going about nearly everything, I still feel a certain responsibility to do things like cooking dinner, and not weaving in the early morning while he's asleep (we don't keep similar hours--he's an Owl, while I'm a Lark). For twelve days, I can live on salads and whatever I can heat up in the oven or microwave, and work at the loom at 7 a.m. I can clean, and, if I pick up after myself, the house stays clean. It's really rather nice.
...and so, it begins...
   The only downside to all this solitude is not having someone to talk to. I am, by nature, a pretty social creature: more than three days by myself, and I turn into one of those women who chatters at the grocery clerk. In the past, interacting with students and staff kept that at bay; last year, the earthquake so preoccupied me that I didn't notice. This year, I'm embracing my solitude, and trying to channel all that energy that goes into social interaction into my art. I've nearly finished another knitted shawl, have started weaving off the thirty-five yards of cotton on one loom, and am warping up the other loom with ten yards of brightly colored cottons for a set of fancy twill napkins. I probably won't have both warps woven off by the time Burning Man is over--I'm forced to rebuild my "weaving muscles" and need more breaks from the loom--but there should be quite a pile of Nearly Finished Objects by the time my bachelorhood is over. Until then, a couple a pictures from "the Playa," as Burners refer to their temporary home.
   NOTE: All photos by SN Jacobson, from the start of this year's Burning Man festival. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Holes: Rabbit and Pot

   As I still can't weave (Thursday morning can't get here fast enough), I've started working on the research and writing requirements for Level 1. It seems that all those years I spent in academia are paying off again: as a academician, I don't read words in directions the way many lay people read them. A great example: the very first task is to "define briefly in sentence for each of the following design terms," followed by a list of seven terms familiar to most art students (shape, form, balance, rhythm, etc.). Most "normal" people would read "define briefly" as "a sentence or two," but not me--if you're lucky, you might get something as short as seven double-spaced pages, defining each term, how that principle of design came into usage, and how it pertains to design in general and the fiber arts in particular. Some people might consider all this writing as pedantic overkill, but I see my job as making it so interesting that the reader doesn't even realize that it's seven double-spaced pages.
   A recent email exchange with the HGA bears this out. While no one is ever unkind enough to say, "this is university-level work, so pull your socks up and get to work," that's exactly what it is. Fortunately, I've spent enough time in university classrooms to not be frightened: instead, I relish the opportunity to sink my teeth (metaphorically speaking) into a big bunch of research, and to craft beautiful sentences that demonstrate that I really know this stuff.
   While how to do the research is a pothole I can avoid, my biggest problem is avoiding the rabbit holes: topics that pull me away from my current task. As part of my research, I've been delving into back issues of the major weaving magazines. This isn't difficult, as I have a lot of magazines and journals: a complete set of Handwoven; a complete set of Jean Scorgie's journal, The Weaver's Craft; about a dozen issues of Madelyn van der Hoogt's magazine, Weaver's; and a good many Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot from the Handweaver's Guild of America. Some of my back issues are now electronic, but a surprising number are original, printed paper copies. I like having the "dead tree" version of weaving magazines. They're like cookbooks--I find it easier to turn pages and look through the physical copy than to scan it on a computer screen.
   Unfortunately, digging through the issues, looking for articles on color theory and how stripes are used as a modular unit, leaves me open to all those articles that have nothing to do with what I'm researching. At first, it seems innocuous: an article on how Ada K. Dietz used algebraic expressions in creating weaving drafts seems to "sorta" go with all the other reading I've done on the mathematics of proportion, the Fibonacci series, and the Golden Ratio. However, before I know it, I'm busy searching online for a copy of the monograph Ms. Dietz published in 1949, and wondering how I can incorporate some of her principles into the next warp I put on the loom. I've fallen down another rabbit hole, and my research lies abandoned until I come to my senses and get back to work.
   I used to rely on the threat of a class deadline to get a piece of research or writing finished--I wrote my senior thesis in the 48 hours before it was due in my professor's office, and got an "A"--but this is not a good way to work, especially on something that doesn't have any real deadlines. Instead, I have to set my own deadlines, then try to meet them. Organizing the requirements into an outline has helped, as I can focus on one part and work just on that until I feel I have enough information, or enough to say, on that part. Once that is done, I can move on to the next part. My only real, external deadline is January 2018, when I submit my formal registration for the COE-W examination. Until then, they are "internal," but no less real deadlines.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Getting Ready to Learn

These are just the weaving, dyeing, and
spinning books; the needlework and
costuming books are in other rooms.
   It's been a busy week, even though I still can't weave: the copies of HGA Certificate of Excellence in Handweaving and HGA Certificate of Excellence in Spinning handbooks (along with a small book on fingerweaving techniques) arrived at my doorstep. I took some time to read each, and decided that, as weaving is my first love, the COE in Handweaving is the next series of challenges learning opportunities in my life as an artist.
   The COE in Handweaving is divided into two parts: the first is a thorough demonstration of one's knowledge and technical skills. Parts 1 and 2 are primarily written explanations of everything from design principles to how various loom shedding mechanisms work, along with a 12-color wheel from either yarn or fabric. For someone like me, all this research and writing is a piece of cake.
   Part 3, the Handweaving Techniques, is the part that will test my weaving skills and take the longest. Part 3 is "forty samples"--that sounds easy until you look at what the word "sample" includes: fifteen of the forty "samples" are actually samplers, containing at least 3 different tie-up and/or treadling changes, and another three are full-on gamps (multiple threadings and treadlings). If each threading, tie-up, or treadling is treated separately, it's really about a hundred samples, all ranging from 7x10 inches (the minimum size) to several yards of finished fabric. Needless to say, it's a lot of work, so I'm planning for all this to be finished and ready for grading in late 2017.
   The second part of the COE (and the part that really makes one a Master Weaver) is the Specialized Study. Simply put, it's a thesis, accompanied by 3 to 5 major pieces (and as many samples as necessary) that demonstrate the aspect of handweaving detailed in the thesis. Fortunately, I've been through a thesis process before, so I know that a bit more time spent on thinking about the question will result in a better product.
I have a lot of resources at my fingertips.
   Along with the handbook, and the paperwork to register, is an extensive bibliography. I started to look through it, and highlighted every book, periodical, or article that I already have. I have a lot of weaving and design books (several hundred at last count), and even more magazines and periodicals. There are, of course, some gaps: types of weaving that haven't piqued my interest (soumak; pile weaves) are not represented, and I have a lot of books in other areas (Navaho rugs; historic drafts) that are probably outside the scope of the COE.
   The next step is to identify which books or articles I can obtain from different library systems. My local public library has a decent collection of fiber arts books (one of the librarians was a fiber artist), and I hold a Los Angeles Public Library card, so anything that is available through them as e-media is accessible. Once I've identified those resources, I can start to focus on what I need to acquire for my studies.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Back to School

   August is here, and the entire world seems to be going back to school, or buying back-to-school stuff, or advertising back-to-school stuff. I spent a lot of time in classrooms--1961 to 2013--and I'm like an old war horse: I hear the siren call of fresh books, new crayons, and pristine notebooks, and I start thinking about school. If I was still in the classroom, I'd be finishing up my own back-to-school shopping, and getting ready for professional development and staff meetings before the controlled insanity that is the traditional school year starts on August 19.
   One of the really nice things about having control of my how I spend my time is that I can finally focus on my own educational goals. I started thinking about who I am, and what I want "to be when I grow up," and I've discovered that some goals have changed in the last twenty-five years.
   I no longer feel the need to go out and get yet another piece of paper from yet another institution of higher learning--I've got a Master of Arts and that's enough. I don't even have my degrees hanging in the studio--I think they're in a box in the attic--because a B.A. in History and a M.A. in Educational Technology simply don't mean that much to me as an artist. I don't feel the need to finish up the units (about 30, or a year of study) to receive a B.A. in Art History or B.F.A. in Printmaking. After this many years, I don't need the discipline of class schedules and deadlines to pursue topics I'm interested in, and there are very few programs that will accept all that I've already done (both as a student and as a professional) and simply let me continue to grow as an artist.
   I toyed with the idea of signing up for one of the weaving classes offered by the City College of San Francisco (CCSF). For those unfamiliar with CCSF, it's the largest community college in California, and one of the very few public institutions that still have Textiles programs. The weaving classes were taught for many years by Peggy Osterkamp, and when I started weaving again, one of my dreams was to study weaving with her. Unfortunately, the classes were always during the day, and during the school year, so I was not able to fulfill that dream before she retired. Janice Sullivan has taken over as the instructor, and she's good, but she's not Peggy. There is also the little matter of cost. CCSF isn't horridly expensive (about $50/unit), but the weekly commute from Vallejo to downtown San Francisco is. I ran the numbers, and it would cost me about $100 to sign up for the two-unit "Weaving I" class, and about $400 to travel back and forth. Personally, I think I'd rather spend the money on more books and/or more stash.
   That leaves "distance learning," either through a formal course of study or on my own. Olds College in Canada offers marvelous certificate programs in weaving and spinning, but they are, to me, horridly expensive: $8,000 (about the cost of the entire program including the residency each year) is a lot of money to someone whose undergraduate college education cost less than that. There's also the issue of traveling to Olds College every June for Fibreweek to complete the residency portion of the coursework--it falls right at a time when I have a number of other commitments.
   So that leaves study on my own. I'm familiar with a lot of the guild-offered certificate programs (Handweavers Guild of America's Certificate of Excellence; Weavers Guild of Boston and Ontario Handweavers Guild's Master Weaver certificates), and, thanks to the miracle of modern computing, have downloaded all the information each has on their programs. I've also ordered the handbooks for the Certificates in Excellence for handspinning and handweaving from HGA.
   Looking at these, I can see how much I know, and where there are gaps: for example, I know how to dress a loom; throw a shuttle; weave a nice piece of cloth; and explain the intricacies of color theory; but I don't understand the "why" behind overshot design, or have some practical experience with rep weaving. These are things I've wanted to learn, or to try, for years, but I haven't had the time to really focus on them. Now I have the time, and I have the equipment, so it's time to head back to "school."

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Torn Tendons & "Drunk" Knitting

Life--it happens.
   I don't plan for interruptions in my life as an artist. No, let me correct that: I don't plan for interruptions. I hate nothing more than having several weeks of work laid out, and suddenly shelving it because "life" has interrupted what I'm attempting to get done.
   The current interruption is a large (to my eyes), bright red, fiberglass cast, currently encasing my right leg from just below my knee to my toes. It turns out, I've got a tear in my achilles tendon, and the first line of treatment is to completely immobilize my lower leg for four weeks, to give the tendon a chance to heal. This, definitely, was not in my plan for the month of August.
   Along with the bright red cast came a long list of instructions: Don't drive (well, duh!). Don't walk more than necessary. Don't sit for long periods with the cast on the floor. Don't get the cast wet. Pretty much, I get to spend the next four weeks sitting on the divan, with my right ankle (and cast) propped up on a pillow on the ottoman.
   I am managing to get a few things done in the studio. I finished winding a 10-yard warp for the Gem. There's a 35-yard towel warp on Mongo, waiting for me to sit down and throw a shuttle. However, I quickly discovered that weaving with a cast on one foot is nearly impossible: I can't flex my ankle to reach for the treadles, and the weight of the cast throws me off-balance. Weaving is definitely O.U.T. until I'm free.
   Since I can't weave, maybe I can spin. Spinning on any of my wheels is out: they all require at least a right foot for treadling and, quite frankly, if I could treadle a spinning wheel, I could probably weave. However, all is not lost: I own a Hansen miniSpinner, and that only requires that I plug it in to a battery. I've got some nice black Cormo all carded and waiting for me to spin it, so this is probably the time to do it. I also got several pounds of Corrie pin-draft back from the processor two weeks ago, so I really am not lacking for fiber to spin.
   Since a girl cannot live on spinning alone, there's plenty of knitting to be done. That brings me to the second part of the title: drunk knitting. I'm no prude, but I learned a long time ago that one does not attempt complex patterns such as lace knitting when having a glass of wine or a cocktail, or one later asks, "Who was working on my knitting, and what the hell did they do to it?" I've learned that simple, stockinette-based patterns are best when doing "social" or "travel" knitting because they don't require any real thought--the fingers know what to do, and they do it.
   My favorite "drunk knitting" is socks. I know--most people think socks are hard, but they really aren't, especially when you've knit as many socks as I have in the past ten years. My basic sock pattern is so simple and familiar that I don't even have it written down. Basically, it's cast on a "star" toe with increases to 60 stitches, knit 60 rounds, do the heel, then knit the leg until I run out of yarn. I knit them one-at-a-time, on two #2 circular needles. No kitchener stitches to close the heel, no worrying about whether or not I'll run out of yarn before I run out of foot. They're pretty much fool-proof: once the toe is done, I only need to pay attention when I'm actually turning the heel.
   I had a couple skeins of Knit Picks Felici sock yarn in the Boardwalk colorway in the stash, so I cast on another sock Friday evening. This is the 22nd pair of socks I've knit since 2007--I have an entire drawer of handknit socks and stockings--but I never get tired of knitting socks. Since this is such a bright colorway, I can't do anything elaborate. Instead, I'll just crank these bad boys out, and add them to the drawer for when I can wear pairs of socks again.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Ton of Tomatoes

   It's high summer and, quite frankly, the cooking is pretty easy if most of the ingredients come out of the garden. Of course, this means that time was spent in April to create the garden, especially here in the Bay Area.
   I am the first to admit that I am not a very good gardener. I tend to swing between two extremes--too much care, usually at the beginning of the growing season, or complete neglect because my summer schedule has gotten so tight I don't have time to work in the garden. Add to that poor clay soil, and sometimes strange weather, and gardening--to a kid who grew up in the land of sandy loam and eternal spring--becomes a mystifying chore. As a result, my "farm" is tiny: a bunch of pots for the herbs, larger pots for a couple of tomato plants, and two tiny (2x3 foot) raised beds.
   This year, we tried something new: timed drip irrigation. Due to the ongoing drought, we're on very tight watering restrictions, but those don't apply to drip irrigation. "Drip" also means that water is going to the plants in the pots, and not on the bare dirt pathways, so there is less weeding. We spent a couple weeks laying out drip irrigation and planting this year's vegetables, herbs, and flowers in two areas--the kitchen garden and the flower bed at the top of the steps, then stepped back and waited to see what would happen.
   Included in all that gardening was planting two tomato plants. I hadn't intended on planting tomatoes. Tomatoes are actually rather easy to grow as plants, but getting a supply of fresh tomatoes can be tricky, and last year's crop (from a couple of heirloom varieties) was not very good: they didn't get watered in late June (we were both gone), and the varieties I planted were particularly subject to blossom end rot. Also, we are in a marginal area for producing tomatoes: most varieties need nights above 55 degrees to set fruit, then a long enough period of warm, sunny days for the fruit to ripen. But I got a request from the Spousal Unit, so that "good intention" went out the window.
   This year, I tried something different. First, I planted a variety that I knew was disease-resistant and ripened quickly: Early Girl, which ripens in 50 days. The second thing I did was to pinch off the early blossoms. We frequently get a day or two of hot weather (and correspondingly warm nights) in May, but this  year I wanted the plants to get big and healthy before starting to set fruit. The third thing was putting the tomato pots on the same irrigation schedule as the rest of the vegetable garden, so they are getting a regular supply of water, whether or not I'm around to administer it.
   I have tomatoes. A veritable ton of tomatoes. I stopped picking the blossoms off the tomato plants around June 1, so the calculated harvest date would be this week. I picked a bunch of ripe tomatoes yesterday, along with the last of the basil, and turned some of them into one of our favorite summer salads. This morning will be a tomato and cheese fritatta for brunch, and the coming days will be filled with turning all this bounty into meals.

Marinated Tomato and Brie Salad
4 or more medium-sized ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
8 oz. nearly-ripe brie, rind removed, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped very fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Combine the tomatoes, brie, basil, and garlic in a large bowl. Add olive oil and gently turn the salad to coat everything. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let stand about 45 minutes at room temperature, or several hours in the refrigerator for the flavors to meld (if storing in the refrigerator, take out, stir, and let come to room temperature before serving). Serve with a good, crusty bread and a nice bottle of wine.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Back to the Salt Mines

Mongo with the old 1-yard sectional warp beam.
   After a hiatus of several months, I'm once again throwing a shuttle. There was a good reason for not weaving: I "broke" my loom.
   When I bought Mongo, my big 16-shaft Macomber, it came with two plain warp beams. Now, having two warp beams is nice, but having a sectional warp beam is even better, especially for the long warps I normally weave. I bought a used (well-used, it turned out) 1-yard sectional warp beam, just after we brought Mongo home, installed the sectional warp beam (removing both plain warp beams in the process), and got to work. It was a pretty good warp beam, considering that it was probably older than I am, and I run quite a bit of warp through it during the nearly two years it was on the loom.
   Unfortunately, in early April, like the wonderful one-hoss shay, it finally fell into pieces...about four yards before the end of a warp. My only indications that it was failing were the metallic sounds of the steel section pins hitting the floor. As it occasionally shed pins in the past, I didn't worry until I found that every time I pulled the beater toward me, the entire beam would lurch and advance. Not good. I ended up jury-rigging a couple of weights to counteract the pull of tensioning, and wove off the warp, getting up to removing the weights, advancing the warp, then weighting the beam again. It was a struggle, but I finished the warp, cut off the cloth, then surveyed the damage. Most of the steel section pins were on the floor behind the loom, and the wood friction brake drum was as smooth as a piece of glass. My big sectional warp beam was done.
   One of the great advantages of owning a loom that is still in production: I called Macomber to order a brand-new warp beam. Large pieces for a loom tend to be semi-custom orders, I could pick and choose exactly what I wanted--the smaller, 3/4-yard sectional, with a steel friction brake. Ed (the owner of Macomber Looms) said it wasn't any problem, but he was waiting on his foundry to produce "spiders"--the steel spindle at the opposite end of the beam. He thought he'd have them in by the end of the following week, and he would call me.
Mongo, with the new sectional warp
beam and one of theold plain beams.
   The "following week" turned out to be six weeks later. Occasionally, that's the problem with fiber arts equipment. Nearly all the manufacturers are very small businesses, and their vendors push them to the bottom of the list of work orders because their orders tend to be very small.
   About 10 days after Ed got the spiders, the UPS man dragged a very large crate onto my front porch: I had my new warp beam. We carefully unpacked it, carried it upstairs, and I reconfigured the back of Mongo into exactly the configuration I've always wanted: sectional warp beam (the beam I use the most) on top, controlled by the friction brake, with the plain, ratchet-brake beam on the bottom for when I weave with supplemental warps. I also adjusted the brake so a slight tap releases the friction brake, but pushing it all the way down releases both beams to advance both warps together. All in all, it's a pretty slick set-up.
   With all the preparations and travel in June, I didn't have the opportunity to dress Mongo until the beginning of July, but when I did, I put on 18 yards of natural 8/2 cotton to weave the linsey-woolsey I've been promising myself for the past year. I spun the weft from a Nebo-Rock merino hogget in 2013, and dyed half of the yarn with indigo and the other half with marigolds last summer, specifically for this cloth. The striped indigo was the first piece, and I ended up with nearly 8 yards on the loom. Right now, I'm weaving off the plain yellow cloth. Once wet-finished, the striped will be turned into a late 18th-century short gown, with a petticoat/skirt from the yellow.
My marigold-striped indigo linsey-woolsey. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Packing for Time Travel

   Every time I pack for a trip, I feel like I'm coordinating the invasion of a small country--there is so much stuff I have to drag along with me! A lot of my trips involve camping, so there's all the camping gear--tentage, bedding, cookware, an ice chest or two, food--along with some clothes, and the all-important "stuff" to keep me happy and entertained while I'm in the Great Outdoors. This means at least one spinning wheel, bobbins, a kate, a niddy-noddy, and fiber, along with some needlework project (usually knitting) to work on in the evenings or when I don't feel like spinning. The stuff for a camping trip fills the entire back of my CRV; an extended trip means I have to take some things out (or put them up on the roof in the carrier) just to have room for an additional passenger.
   A "period" camping trip is a bit more problematic: all my gear, clothing, and food have to be as close to the time period as possible. I refuse to be "That Person" (the one who knows better, but doesn't bother), so "time travel" can take days or weeks of preparation.
This year's rendezvous site, on the
Chewaucan River in Oregon.
   I'm in the throes of packing for the 2015 Pacific Primitive Rendezvous, and it's a logistical challenge. First, there's the camping gear: when I go to a modern camping event (such as the Black Sheep Gathering), my tent, canopy, sleeping bag, air mattress, pillows, and blanket take up a space about 3x3x3'. When we (I normally travel with the Spousal Unit) go to a rendezvous, our 12x20-foot canvas bell tent takes up that much space, with additional space needed for the fly, the tent poles, the ropes, and the tent stakes. The Spousal Unit refuses to sleep on the ground, so we have a full-sized "portable" slat bed, complete with headboard and footboard, and a futon that fits in it, sheets, pillowcases, and blankets. We will fill the entire bed of the Tacoma, with the important/delicate items (his cameras, my spinning wheel) in the cab, behind our seats. It will be a tight fit for everything, but we always seem to make it happen.
   Things that aren't "period," but are necessary for safe, comfortable camping (e.g., the ice chest) need to be disguised. I'm making a canvas cover for our ice chest, so it looks like an innocuous canvas trunk; fire irons, the harrow disk-cum-brazier, griddle, and dutch ovens are all in canvas bags; and the other "essentials" (the solar charger for the phones; beer) can be out of sight in the tent, or left in the truck if it isn't too far a walk.
The camp, by moonlight.
   Events like this are the reason I bought a Rick Reeves-built spinning wheel as soon as I got my first teaching contract: my little castle wheel is a close copy of an 18th century spinning wheel, and doesn't offend. I also bought a lot of bobbins when I bought the wheel, so I can take a bunch of the oh-so-fragile bobbins with me and look the very picture of an early 19th century spinster. However, one simply can't sit down and spin--in addition to the wheel, I take along a stool, and a split-ash pack basket full of tools: handcards; a kate; a couple balls of twine for tying up skeins and replacing the drive band; a bottle of oil to keep the wheel running smoothly; and a niddy-noddy for winding the finished bobbins into skeins. I also pack along a Woolee Winder and bobbins for it--while not "period," it's still the best tool around for plying.
   If I'm going to the trouble of packing my wheel, I need fiber to spin. This year, it's the lightest portion of a gray Rambouillet I picked up about 18 months ago and scoured, and some beautiful black Romney. They're packed into cloth bags, both for protection and for easy transport.
   The Spousal Unit also suggested that I take one of my spindles along. Since my favorite Turkish spindle isn't something that would have been seen in the early 19th century (and is currently full of some brilliant hand-painted singles), my tiny low-whorl spindle, along with some undyed top, is packed in a small box. I will come home with skeins, ready for wet-finishing.
   Why go to all this trouble? Because, while the "getting ready" and "getting to" parts are not that great, the actual events are fun. I get to spend a week (or sometimes more) surrounded by beautiful scenery, pretending I'm living during another time. I usually meet a lot of really nice people, enjoy the scenery, relax, and generally have a great time.

This is worth the hassle of packing.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

I Am A Snob

   There...I've stated it out loud, for everyone to see. I am A Snob. No, not that definition of "snob"
"...a person with an exaggerated respect for high social position or wealth who seeks to associate with social superiors and dislikes people or activities regarded as lower-class..."
but this definition of "snob"
"...a person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people..."
   Many years ago, when I was a newly-minted teenager, I had, for eighth-grade English, a newly-minted English teacher. She was probably about 23, fresh out of college, and full of lovely ideas on how she was going to bring Literature to all these poor junior high school kids who had probably never cracked a book. Eighth grade English is where students learn about journals and diaries as literature: a common book to assign is The Diary of Anne Frank, and a common assignment is for students to keep their own journals for a period of days or weeks. However, this new teacher wanted nothing so pedestrian as a diary by a 14-year-old girl hiding from the Nazis for her students. No! They should be exposed to the great minds of...the 17th century. She subjected us to the diaries of Samuel Pepys, an English bureaucrat who kept a detailed diary from January 1, 1660 to May 31, 1669. While some of the entries is Pepys' diaries are fascinating (the coronation of Charles II; the Great Fire), a fair amount is not really suitable for an 8th-grade classroom (Pepys was a philanderer and chronicled his sexual exploits) and the rest can be mind-numbingly dull. However, she was out to prove something, and our assignment for several weeks was to keep a journal of our own lives, the way Pepys did. Since this was the late 1960s, we were encouraged to write how we really felt, and the teacher would collect our journals periodically to give us a grade (remember, this was a homework assignment). Being the good little student I was, I did as I was told, and wrote in my journal nearly every day. Also, being the independent thinker I am, I wrote down my feelings, on journal-keeping in general, and on what I thought of Mr. Pepys and his very dull diary.
   On the appointed day, I turned in my journal, and received the two worst things that could happen to a young scholar: a "D" on my journal, and a telephone call to my mother. Of the two, the "D" was the lesser of the punishments--I had gotten bad grades on assignments before, so I was disappointed but not overly concerned. However, a telephone call home? That was worse than being sent up to "talk to the principal." Whatever had I done to merit that?
   I dragged myself home that afternoon, expecting to be grounded until I graduated high school. Nothing. When I mentioned to my mother that my teacher had told me that she had called, my mom said, "Oh, yes. I talked to her and set her straight." That was it. Weird, but I was willing to let it go. Later on, I got the full story of that call. My teacher was upset by I had written in my journal (I believe I had written that I thought Pepys was boring, and that it was stupid that we had to learn about him instead of Anne Frank), so she called my mother and informed her that I was "an intellectual snob." My mother--bless her--told the teacher that I was brought up to be proud of my intellectual abilities and accomplishments, and, by the way, what was that teacher thinking, in assigning the writings of a 17th century bureaucrat to a bunch of 13-year-olds, then penalizing them for expressing their opinions in their journals?
   I relate this tale because I had a similar experience this week. No, I'm not reading Pepys for an assignment: this time, it was in connection with weaving and the teaching of weaving. I am what some people consider a Traditionalist fiber and textile artist--I got interested in the historical aspects of cloth more than twenty years ago, and continue to be fascinated by it. I am also a traditionally trained educator: I went to graduate school, got California-issued teaching credentials, and spent a lot of years in the K-12 education system. I can write a lesson plan in my sleep, and I know how to deliver content effectively. In a discussion on weaving instruction, I mentioned that there are a couple things I am clear about in my classes, specifically that I don't care for a popular form of weaving known as "Saori," and that I don't rent studio time nor equipment for people to play around. If someone is interested in the former, I can recommend several good teachers; if it's the latter, I used to know of a studio where loom rentals and studio space rentals were possible.
   It seems having an opinion is enough to get people riled up, to the point that I (and some others) were referred to as "elitist snobs." I am a snob because I don't care for the loosey-goosey, do-your-own-thing nature of Saori weaving. I am a snob because I want to be respectful of students' and my time, so I am careful to detail what we will learn before we learn it, then check for knowledge throughout the lesson(s). I am a snob because I expect students to be respectful of each other's time and to be there because they want to learn what I've described. I am a snob because I will expect my students to gain some knowledge. As I stated at the beginning, I am A Snob.
   I'm OK with that. I have more than a decade of high school students calling me shockingly vile names (and getting kicked out of class for doing it), so "snob," is pretty mild. I don't even look at is as something bad: I've worn the "snob" label most of my life, and am, frankly, a little proud of it. I'm still proud of my intellectual abilities and accomplishments, and I'm proud of my skills as a weaver, spinner, dyer, and all-around fiber and textile artist. I have the luxury of not needing to teach to make my bread, so I can smile and send those who attempt to insult me on their way.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Now, Back To Our Program...

   Oops--I did it again. Life got busy, and writing got shoved to the back burner. Then, guilt for not writing set in--along with continuing to be really busy--and more time past. At least it hasn't been years since I last wrote anything.
   What has gone on? Let's see...I broke my loom, and it took 7 weeks to get the parts to fix it. In the meantime, I did a lot of sewing, went to a bunch of arts-related stuff, taught (and played) at Maker Faire, and planted a very nice garden (which needs weeding). I'll write about them in a bit. Until then, here's a picture of me in a new steampunk ensemble at Maker Faire a couple weeks ago.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Every Five Years...

   ...I have to do something about the yard. It's hard to believe, but it's been five years since I really paid any attention to the appearance of our landscaping, and it's been through a lot, including major construction and a drought. I did a bit of work in my herb garden, but the front yard is embarrassing right now. The last major relandscaping was...8 years ago. There's a blog post about it, and how much I hate landscaping, but I'm doing things differently this time around:
  1. I'm starting now. Part of the reason I hate landscaping is that it always seemed to happen in the middle of summer, when it's in the mid-90s. Some of that had to do with my work schedule. Now that my time is, more or less, my own, I can work on the landscaping in Spring, when the weather is cooler.
  2. I'm keeping better records. Rather than start with buying a bunch of plants and then documenting what I've done, I'm working through the process in reverse: I started a garden journal, and drew good layouts of what I wanted to plant where. Everything is organized in a clearly-marked binder.
  3. I'm tackling the yard in sections. Our lot is deceptive. According to the deed, it is 65 by 65 feet. However, when our neighborhood was laid out in the 1870s, the City of Vallejo claimed 80 feet for every street "just in case" they wanted to make that street a main thoroughfare. As a result, we also have a 15-foot "frontage easement" that belongs to the City, but is our responsibility to landscape and maintain. Since we're on a corner, it means our lot is actually 80 x 80 feet, with the house at the very edges of our deeded property, and a big, shallow front yard that doesn't belong to us, but we're responsible for maintaining. It's too much to landscape all at once (especially by myself), so I've divided it up into sections, and I'm working my way around the house.
  4. I'm installing drip irrigation as I go along. It's essential now: we're entering the fourth year of less-than-average rainfall, and while there aren't restrictions on handwatering (just on sprinkler systems), moving everything over to drip irrigation on timers will save water, time, and my energy. 
   The herb garden was the first to get this new, improved, treatment, as it's the easiest garden to work: simply move a few pots, replace the herbs in need of replacement, and run the drip irrigation. I also pulled out the three non-climbing "climbing" roses and replaced them with bougainvillea--they're drought-tolerant, love full sun, grow fast, and have wicked-nasty thorns (good for a boundary fence). I have a tidy little collection of herbs-- marjoram, thyme, sage, basil, oregano, peppermint, Italian parsley, cilantro, spearmint, garlic chives, French tarragon, and lemon balm--and a dwarf lime.
   Next was the small bed next to the herb garden. I planted a couple wax-leaf privets and a dietes bicolor two years ago and they're well established, but there were some holes. Those holes are now filled with a pink-striped New Zealand flax and several "Powis Castle" artemesia. They're small right now, but they'll grow.
   There's a big bed (7'x22') at the top of the steps. It's an important spot, as it's the first flower bed you see when you climb the steps to the front walk. Originally, this was my rose garden and iris beds, but I lost nearly everything when the foundation was replaced in 2011. There are a few irises hanging on, and a single "Ragged Robin" (Rosa 'gloire des rosomanes') I want to save. That's the bed I'm focusing on now. The plan is drawn up, so next will be some plant removal and soil amending before installing new plants (all drought-tolerant flowering perennials).

Sunday, April 05, 2015


   I grew up in Southern California, which means that Easter is normally warm, sunny, and a great day for a picnic or a barbecue. As a result, Easter sorta-kinda marks the start of the summer "let's eat outdoors" season. A lot of picnic foods are traditional: ham, deviled eggs, and especially potato salad.
    My mother makes truly amazing potato salad. She learned to make potato salad right after she and my dad were married, and her recipe came from one of her neighbors, a little old German lady. It's sinful: lots of cholesterol, salt, carbohydrates, not even close to kosher, and guaranteed to pique the most jaded appetite. She taught me how to make it, and I make it for Easter, even though there are only two of us--that just means there's more for us!

Audrey's Amazing Smashed Potato Salad

  • 1 dozen eggs, hard-boiled (I do these the day before)
  • 1 pound bacon, diced
  • 1 big onion, finely chopped
  • 5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease

Fry the bacon until crisp. Set fried bacon bits aside on paper towels to drain, and reserve at least 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease.

Peel and chop the hard-boiled eggs.

Put the potatoes in a large pot, cover with water, then bring to a boil and boil 10 minutes over high heat. While potatoes are boiling, combine bacon bits, chopped eggs, and chopped onion in a large mixing bowl. Measure out the other ingredients and have them ready.

When potatoes are boiled, drain, then dump in the mixing bowl on top of the bacon bits, eggs, and onion. Quickly throw in the other ingredients and mix everything well while the potatoes are still hot. It should be a little sloppy. Taste and adjust the seasonings (I always add a bit more vinegar and salt).

* * * * *
This is good hot, but better at room temperature. Let it cool completely, and cover closely with plastic wrap if refrigerating. It also improves with sitting for a couple hours, as the flavors have time to blend a bit.