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From where I sit at my loom with a view

The sky is grey and I am learning something new…..

Over the past two days we have had rain!!! Now, that might be the opposite of exciting for most people, but where we live it is cause for celebration. Over the course of the past ten days we have had approx 140mm, which is put into perspective when I tell you that for the past three years our annual rainfall has been well below 400mm in total. So, if you hear loud music and a strange tapping in the background as you read this, it will be me dancing on the table in delight.

Even the muddy craters caused by a passing Giraffe can’t discourage the appearance of tiny green shoots in the bare ground

First rains in the bushveld are always special, as the depleted veld suddenly comes alive again. Within hours of the rain starting to fall, the trees start to show signs of life and a faint green haze appears over the ground and by the end of the week our surroundings will look like a parkland and Michael will be servicing the brush-cutter in anticipation of taming the jungle around the house. A whole day of rain yesterday gave me the opportunity to sit inside and do not very much at all, so I took the gap and focused on something that has fascinated me for a while now – I started knitting a sock! Actually it should be KNITTING!!!!! a sock….

Those of you who know me best will know that knitting is not something in which I willingly indulge. I can knit, in fact i can actually knit quite well and can cable with the best of them, but the addiction which grabs so many people just isn’t there. The odd ( usually very odd) scarf is probably as far as I have been with a pair of knitting needles in years, although I have to admit that it is quite nice to have something to keep my hands busy in front of the TV in the evening, but it still doesn’t inspire me to any great heights. The idea of knitting socks though, has long been intriguing, and so, finally I have taken the plunge – on a rainy Sunday in Hoedspruit – and I have learnt a lot, not necessarily about knitting socks, but rather about learning.

When I teach a weaving workshop I try and encourage my students to allow themselves to learn from experience. “If it’s not perfect it’s not the end of the world, because the next one will be better ” kind of experience. Starting off on my sock knitting experiment yesterday, I realized that this is really hard to do! I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist, nor as OCD, and of course I’ve always believed that I practice what I preach as far learning from experience is concerned. Well, my sock knitting day yesterday showed me that I don’t actually do any of the above.

I set out with the best of good intentions and after my first noticeably glaring mistake, pulled it all out and started again. Got a bit further along the second time around and then made another whoopsie. Too fr along this time to pull the whole thing out I tried undoing a small section. Bad light, dirty specs and fine wool and needles turned this into a disaster and out came the whole lot to begin for a third time. By this stage I was beginning to get a bit tetchy you understand, so I walked around the house for a while in a bit of a fog, and made myself a mid-morning cup of coffee. I don’t like it when things don’t go according to plan – I find it unsettling, but in any event I decided to practice some self-discipline and pick the wretched thing up and persevere.

As I went to deposit my coffee mug in the sink I caught sight of a cushion cover on my sofa. Made right at the beginning of my weaving life, donkey’s years ago, it is quite an attractive piece of olive green and dusty brown chevrons on a cream background. People who come to visit often comment on it – it is, after all striking and attractive – and CHOCK A BLOCK full of errors. I remember making it actually, and figuring things out as I went along without much of a clue what I was doing. I finished it off and made it up as a reminder to myself that I was a beginner and nothing was going to be perfect.

Suddenly, my sock-knitting light went on in my head, and I gave myself to be a beginner again. As a beginner sock knitter, my sock was not going to be perfect – in fact it is way off the mark, but when I look at it I will know where the mistakes are, and next time around I will know where I went wrong and what I can do to make it better. But, most of all, I recognized myself in my beginner students – wanting so badly to produce something wonderful without having the know-how to do so . With this little pearl of wisdom lodged in my frustrated brain, suddenly everything settled down and I picked up the project once again, and gave myself permission to learn and to make mistakes, because this is how we learn.

So, apart from learning a few basic principles of sock knitting I learned more than a few much more valuable lessons: that we all want to do it magnificently first time round, that I don’t recognize myself when I see myself in my students, and that by suggesting that they embrace their mistakes and leave them in their work, I am asking them to do something that is almost impossible.

My sock is progressing well, and it is far from perfect, rather like my teaching methods I think. There are a bevy of new mistakes and wrong bits and pieces, but it will, in the end look like a sock, and next time around the territory will be a little more familiar and it’s mate will be a bit better, and eventually, one day, I might produce a decent looking sock. The teacher in me is trying to learn to understand the student who believes that they will produce a first time masterpiece, and if the first attempt isn’t as great as they would like I would like to learn to encourage them to try again and look past the mistakes to the possibilities instead. I like to think that I will no longer discourage them from going back and doing it better before they carry on anymore though, because my sock has taught me that we all want to do it perfectly the first time round.

As a sock its a long way from perfect, but I couldn’t have asked for a better lesson in teaching on a rainy day in Hoedspruit!

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From where I sit at my loom with a view – The cheese is on the move…

GOOD MORNING!

Today I would like to share a fact about myself that most of you might not know – and to put it very simply, it is this: I don’t like change.

I don’t deal with it very well either – well, at least I didn’t use to, but I am getting better at it. Some years ago – in fact, around about the time that the iconic little book that inspired the title of this particular blog was published, I was actually a cheesemaker – ironic though this might sound. It was a business that started as a fascination, and grew and grew until it swallowed me up and one day spat me out. It was a very tough time for me and a wonderful friend gave me a copy of “Who moved my Cheese”, by I can’t remember who, and I suddenly realized a whole lot of things: change is scary, change is uncomfortable, change is also inevitable and, perhaps most importantly of all, that one needs to be adaptable. For someone who is actually very stubborn, it is this last one that I have the most trouble with.

Now, as a result of the events over the past few months, I find that the winds of change are once again blowing a gale – and not only for me, but for everyone, and isn’t that the truth? Our world has changed – some-one in China sneezed and the rest of the world got the Flu and now we have to figure out a way forward.

I have been a weaver for a loooong time now, in fact I was a weaver before I was a wife, or a Mum or a cheesemaker, but all of those things put the weaving on the backburner and it was only after someone “moved my cheese”, that I actually gave myself permission to become really serious about it. For the past years I have spent a whole lot of time away from home, on the road, teaching workshops and sharing my love of the craft and suddenly I can’t do that anymore. Not that I don’t love being at home you understand, and when Mr Bignose, pictured above, peers into my kitchen window first thing in the morning (I think he smelt the coffee), then I know that I am in the right place. However, there is one thing wrong with this picture of domestic bliss and that is that not being able to travel to teach, means that I am not earning an income.

I know I’m not the only person in this situation, and there are many, many people who are far worse off that I am, and I am pre-armed with the cheese-moving knowledge that change is ok and doesn’t have to be terrifying if one is willing to adapt. So that is what I am trying to do. I have totally kicked myself out of my comfort zone and begun embracing things like social media and technology which have always been minefields of terror for me. My on-line shop is once again ‘on-line’ and the two little Facebook groups for my weaving buddies are active and full of questions and discussion and information, and keep me well on my toes. Our bi-weekly ZOOM calls are a wonderful opportunity to catch up on what people are doing, and remind myself what they look like, BUT… the most exciting news of all is that my very own Patreon page will go live later on this month.

Called “The Weaving Diaries”, it will be a chronical of where I live, what I love, what I am working on and a whole host of weaverly information that I am currently unable to share with you in the flesh. There will also be technical studies for the harness weavers and projects for the Rigid Heddle girls, downloadable info sheets that you can print and add to a file for future reference

For me, this is HUGE!Both in terms of a change of direction and in terms of learning something new every day, but I am so excited to be doing this. Hilda from Ilona Slow Life Creations gently nudged me in this direction, although perhaps she regrets it now because I am constantly demanding her attention to fix the technological mishaps that result from my ineptitude in that field, so apologies to Hilda for that.

I am looking forward to this giving me the best of all worlds – in other words I can be at home and teach at the same time, and with your support, also earn a small income, which will, in turn, allow me to invest in more yarn to develop more projects and ideas, and so the wheel continues to turn.

So, just like the little mouse in the mythical maze, I am on the move in search of a new cheese supply and I hope you will join me and share the cheese when we get there.

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On the Road again.

London comes to Clarens. Beautiful Merino split shawl in Karoo Moon Yarn.[/caption]   As always, the long drive became a time for thought and contemplation, and also as always, I wondered about the people I would meet, and those who were booked to attend my workshops. I love the teaching part of my life, and the stimulation that comes with it. People look askance when I tell them that I sometimes wonder who learns more – the student or the teacher. [caption id="attachment_745" align="alignright" width="300"] Proposed cushion covers with log Cabin and Houndstooth central panel detail[/caption] In order to explain this comment, let me explain something about myself. I like order and organisation and I like to be in control – which is not always possible in a teaching situation. In fact the biggest learning curve I have had to face is “Learning to tap dance”. Other people refer to it as “becoming Montessori”, or just plain old “Learning to be flexible”. For me, this has not been a particularly easy road, but in retrospect it is a skill well learned. People who attend these workshops are not booking into the local High School and do not want to be treated as such, and many of them come to a class with a fixed idea in their minds of what they would like to achieve. [caption id="attachment_746" align="alignleft" width="300"] Hard at work, discovering the intracies of Double Weave on the Rigid Heddle[/caption] My first approach to teaching Rigid Heddle Weaving was to design a sampler showcasing a variety of colour and weave and textural techniques that could be completed in the space of a day – by a complete beginner. Very disciplined and structured, and in fact I still believe in this concept, but find that the majority of people attending a one day workshop want to go home with more than just a sampler – they want to make something that they can use. Even more challenging is when someone comes a to a workshop with a definite idea of what they think they should be able to make in the space of a day! Then, after teaching for some time,  I started picking up the problem of people who had done the beginners stuff and wanted to do something more advanced. Oh and the ladies who didn’t want to do anything in wool (or cotton) but preferred to work in cotton (or wool). In other words, my pre-conceived idea of how to teach a  weaving workshop was fast disappearing out of the window. Gradually over the last couple of years my tap dancing skills have begun to improve – well I think so anyway. I advertise the classes as I plan them, and then do pretty much what is required by the students. I’ve learnt that it is entirely possible to teach double heddle weaving alongside a beginners colour and weave sampler. I learnt that people doing  two one day workshops sometimes like to take the second day to weave sufficient length to complete a scarf instead of doing the second sampler, and I’ve learnt that free form weaving can happily happen alongside the more conventional. Most importantly though, I have learnt  that it is important to give people what they want so that they enjoy the experience and go home feeling satisfied with what they have accomplished. Secondly, the more there is going on in the classroom, the more it stimulates the imaginations and intellects of the people taking the class. [caption id="attachment_747" align="alignleft" width="195"] Free form with the focus on texture. Blue and white – always clean and fresh[/caption] [caption id="attachment_750" align="alignright" width="300"] Endless possibility on the versatile Rigid Heddle loom.[/caption] I left Clarens having taught workshops which covered, colour and weave, double weave, finger manipulated lace, free form weaving (using the Vari Dent reed), weft faced weaving and even a tiny little bit of very basic tapestry. The variety keeps me on my toes and sometimes I have to dig deep to keep up with the requests of my students. I try and give them as much technical background as I can to go with their explorations and to guide them towards producing textiles of integrety.  When I put my feet up at the end of the day, I  generally feel deeply satisfied (absolutely shattered sometimes, but still satisfied) and I like to think that the students go home with lots of food for thought and a mind abuzz with ideas for many projects yet to come. By the end of the week my mind too, was abuzz with ideas.  For example, I’m thinking that it will be nice to teach some weft faced weaving for a change – perhaps a set of four mug rugs, each showcasing a different aspect of weft faced. Or what about a one ball  wonder scarf using a multicoloured yarn and featuring a few basic pick up techniques…… Maybe Houndstooth is a bit old fashioned these days? What about a thick and thin Log Cabin place mat? [caption id="attachment_748" align="alignright" width="300"] Free form with focus firmly on colour.[/caption] ………And I had a whole long drive all the way back to Hodespruit to think about it and start planning the next one! [caption id="attachment_749" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Maluti Sunrise – looking forward to next year.[/caption]]]>

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Starting Over

                                                       A new website and a new blog…

First of all, if you are reading this, then you are visiting my new website, so, in capital letters

WELCOME!

Although I have written a few blog posts in the past – nothing of relevance or importance, and largely as a means of letting off steam, I find that it is now time to start getting serious about this.

As the new website begins to take shape and I contemplate the fact that I will have to change my way of thinking about my little (tiny little) business, the things that most worries me is that I will lose the personal touch, which, I believe is an integral part of the way I like to do things. Technology is wonderful (when it works), but I fear it is also largely responsible for the diminution of the all-important “personal touch”.

I always swore that I would never open an on-line shop, and here I hang my head in shame a little, at the thought that I am about to do what I was strongly opposed to for such a long time. However, it appears that this is probably the sensible things for me to do at this stage. My main concern is that people who visit the online shop, may not be entirely sure of the which product would best suit their needs. It is quite easy to “click and buy”, and I’m quite sure that many of us have had the experience whereby the “click” is all too easy to click, and when our new toy arrives on the doorstep – or the nearby Postnet office – we find that it is not entirely what we had in mind, and doesn’t suit our needs.

Spinning and weaving, most especially weaving are relative newcomers in the world of crafting in South Africa. Our perception of weaving is largely dominated by woolly carpets that smell really bad when they get wet, naive tapestries, and enormous looms that take an entire room to accommodate them. This is certainly no longer the case, and the growth in popularity of Rigid Heddle weaving is a testament to this new and modern approach to an ancient craft. Easy to use and endlessly versatile, these simple looms are a wonderful way for any crafter to begin weaving. For the person who is looking for more complex weaving solutions, then the four and eight shaft table looms are a pleasure to use and like the rigid heddle looms, they fold up into a neat little package for easy storage when they are not in use.

Spinning wheels can be both decorative and functional. A beautiful, traditionally designed spinning wheel standing in the corner of a room is always a good conversation starter, but for the smallholder wanting to process the fleece from a small flock of sheep, the “e-spinner” might be a more practical option. Many people are turning back to the art of spinning on a spindle, and the range of Ashford drop spindles ensures that there is a spindle to suit every spinners needs.

My heartfelt advice to anyone who is starting out in the wonderful world of spinning and weaving is to ask advice. If you are at all unsure of your choice, or have any questions about which piece of equipment would best suit your needs, then please, please, don’t be shy to ask. My father always told me that there is no such thing as a stupid question, because if you knew the answer, then obviously you wouldn’t need to ask the question.

My “answering questions” and my “doing my best to help” are as wide open as they ever were. So are my “let me know how you are getting on” and “send pictures” doors.

My new website is great, and the on-line shop might help to stream-line things a little, but even with all these advances in my technical life, the personal touch still remains, and I look forward to continued contact with all my clients, past, present and future.

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