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From where I sit at my loom with a view – the world is full of 50 Shades of Beige.

At this time of the year the weather is Hoedspruit is, in general, just wonderful. Balmy days, cool evenings, just comfortable temperatures providing a welcome respite from the overwhelming heat of the Summer. It seldom gets terribly cold here, but it does get dry….. and when I say dry, I mean bone-achingly dry. In fact I believe that when we receive less than 400mm of annual rainfall, the area becomes classified as ” Semi-Arid”. This has been the case for the last four years, which means that by this stage of the Winter everything is dry and dusty and, as I said – Fifty shades of Beige.

There is light Beige, Medium Beige, and dark Beige. Brown Beige, Grey Beige, and Beige Beige- and I could carry on doing this for a while. Today in particular is really Beige as a result of the August winds which have arrived a month early, and are stirring up the dust and the dry leaves and coating everything in a fine powdery layer of beige.

The weather seldom really gets to me, but the Beige days do, and when the wind is howling, the Beige days become dirty days too which makes them worse. Even the house is Beige – but then it is painted that colour – a Cemcrete coating aptly named ” Winter Grass” – What were we thinking???

And yet, if I open my eyes and look around, even when the world is at it’s most beige, suddenly pops of beautiful colour begin to emerge. Few and far between though they might be, but they are there – the seeds of the red Bushwillow, the dried pods of the Purple fruited Clusterleaf, and the occasional splash of Autumn foliage of one of the many trees whose names I have not learned. It is in the small spots of colour that I find a richness of orchre, and deep red and yellow with the occasional splash of Green to indicate that there is still life in this Beige world of July in the bushveld.

…..for a beautiful Winter landscape shawl in pure New Zealand wool!
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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]]]>