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I haven’t been sitting at my loom with a view…..

This morning I woke up with that feeling that life is not quite complete….. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. We’ve seen our pets in this mood too – they move from one place to another, put their heads up, sniff the wind and move again, never quite settling long enough to relax, or indeed allow us to relax. Well, that is how I feel this morning…. poor Michael – perhaps I should warn him that it’s going to be one of those days!

It has been a really busy month – a trip to the Smelly City to do my distribution, multiple posts and little videos for Patreon, ZOOM calls with my weaving buddies, ordering some gorgeous cottons from Be Inspired for a new project and long walks in the wilderness areas of my estate, as well as the usual nitty-gritty of domestic bliss. Yet, in spite of all the activity, it feels very definitely as though something is missing. This morning I worked out what it is – I am severely lacking in loom time!

“How can this be?” I hear you ask – ” that’s all she does – in fact it’s what she does. How can she not be doing what she does?”….. Well the answer is simple, and I know that it has happened to all of us. The chores and the routine and the mundane take over, and before you know it they RULE your life!

There is more than one reason for this paradigm shift in our lives. In my life I can most definitely think of two without even blinking an eye. The first is that someone has to do it…… this, as every woman who is reading this post will know, is because it is inbred in women that the home must come first. After all if I don’t make the bed who’s going to make the bed? I’ve tried to make it a rule in our house that the last person out of the bed makes the bed – HA! What the person who shares the bed hasn’t worked out yet is that if that were the case and we stuck to the rule, I would be up with the lark every morning of my life and accomplish that much more…….

The second is that what I do – in terms of weaving that is, has to be classified as pleasure, not work, and I was taught from a very young age that you are only allowed to play when the chores are done.

So, with the lockdown and the extended time I’ve had at home one would think that the weaving productivity must have sky-rocketed. Well, “One” thinks wrong, but the bed is made and the house is more or less in order and even some basic maintenance is being attended to, and slowly, insidiously the chores and the desk have taken over my life and my Loom with the View is very neglected.

The on-line aspect of my life has also impacted on my weaving time. I love teaching weaving, and am even enjoying the challenge of doing it this way, but I have to say, that the stimulation of teaching face to face is severely lacking. So is the spontaneity – the questions, which open up a whole new train of thought, and those ‘Eureka’ moments when somebody discovers a different ( and often better) way to do something, and most importantly, the laughs and the banter, are all missing in in the on-line world where things are altogether more ordered and serious, to the point where I feel that what I really need is a jolly good belly laugh. I’m beginning to take myself far too seriously!

This is why I am soooo looking forward to the arrival of a couple of weaving buddies – whoop whoop! Now that the provincial borders are open people are moving around again and over the next couple of weeks, not one, but two weaving buddies are coming to visit and I can’t wait! Before they arrive though, there has to also be some loom time. I have three looms with half woven projects on them and another project in the planning stage, so over the next couple of days, my time at my desk ( and the kitchen sink) is going to be limited and I am going to love my looms. After that I’m going to enjoy some social time and love my looms some more in the company of people who understand the difference between ‘warp’ and ‘weft’ .

What a lot to look forward to – Happy Friday!

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Last week I left my loom with a view….

Well for a couple of days at any rate and headed to the smelly city for the first time since March! A quick ‘splash and dash’ so to speak to finally collect my consignment that has been languishing on the Ashford packing room floor since March! I felt as though I had been let out of jail…!

Driving through the pass for the first time in almost five months felt a little surreal. Nothing had changed, only I was a little disappointed to note that I had missed the glorious Winter colour extravaganza that characterizes the vegetation on the mountains during the cooler months – I can’t say ‘cold’ months cause it doesn’t normally actually get terribly cold there. The Winter colours are something I look forward to on my way back from Clarens in July, and if you drive through the pass at the right time of day, the sun shines on the bush and it is a riot of colour ranging from bright Yellow, through lime Green and Orange, on to deep rich Reds. I always think that one day i will use those colours in my weaving, but so far, i haven’t got round to it.

Nothing much had changed in the Smelly City either – apart from all the semi-hidden faces that is. A quick visit to Eastgate Shopping Mall showed that people are definitely observing the request to stay at home and avoided crowded spaces. Woollies was almost empty in spite of the fact that it is sale time, and the rows of clothing at 50% off, stood neatly and undisturbed, a fact which belied the observation that the traffic was almost as hectic as ever.

It was good to see my JHB friends again – an important part of my life which I have missed, and we also went out for a meal – that was just wonderful! I am so sick and tired of eating my own food that I could scream, so going out for a meal was a proper treat. The widely spaced tables in the restaurant gave a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere to a popular restaurant which sometimes feels a little frenetic and busy, and…. we were able to order a bottle of wine to enjoy with our meal – first prize.

The boxes which were our primary reason for going to the metropolis were duly unpacked and redistributed, and the remaining stock was brought home, with the result that my stock shelves are looking nice and healthy again. It’s all been entered into the shop and now I can focus on catching up on my Patreon posts which took a back seat while I sorted out the order.

It feels good to be back, and for once I’m not planning another trip in three or four weeks’ time. I think that I am getting used to the idea of being more home-bound, and I am certainly more productive this way even though the income is severely diminished. BUT….. my boxes and shelves are well stocked and I can afford to let my imagination run riot with all the new cottons and yarn that is calling me. First things first though – a linen warp on my smallest 8 shaft – first linen in a very long time, and I am loving it, cotton for a ‘Mapron’ on my 70cm, and lots of work to do on Patreon – I’m not going to relax for quite a while yet.

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Cotton Carry-All – round number 2!

I think that one of the reasons I was so intimidated by the second part of this pattern is because I am such a shockingly bad seamstress!

As a little girl I was surrounded by a bevy of highly accomplished Aunts who knitted and crocheted and sewed to perfection. My grandmother was a German lady whose embroidery skills were nothing short of exquisite, and my Mother really enjoyed time spent at her sewing machine making all the clothes for my sister and myself as we were growing up.

My problem was that I am a Leftie and nobody could get their head around how to teach me these basic skills. Even using a pair of scissors was a challenge for me – and bear in mind that this was long before the days of special ‘ Left-handed” scissors – and as for tying a bow – well that was a challenge tantamount to climbing Mount Everest. In fact I hate to admit it, but I still can’t actually tie a proper bow! Of course the fact that I was also a tomboy and a bookworm had a lot to do with my reluctance to embrace the gentle arts and I was far happier sitting at the top of our giant Mulberry tree devouring the latest ‘Famous Five’ adventure! The less I had to do with needle and thread ( or yarn as the case may be), the better.

Of course I regret this now as my finishing of my handwovens always leaves something to be desired – in my eyes at any rate, and the technicalities of putting a good looking bag or garment together often stonewall me before I even get started. To actually try and write instructions then was a huge hurdle for me to approach, and I can only hope that you understand what I have tried to explain here.

The instructions for the straps for the bag are a little bit “bitty” as a result of trying to accommodate three possible methods for the weaving of them, but I think you will find that they work quite well. It is important to take the heddle out of the heddle blocks and move it to the back of the loom because of the excessive draw-in that is required to make the straps a warp-faced structure.

Enjoy! I can’t wait to see the results of our latest project.

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From where I sit at my loom with a view – 3

Winter is with us here in the Lowveld, characterised by beautiful balmy days and evenings cool enough to sit around a fire and enjoy a good old fashioned South Africa Braai while keeping our toes close to the embers of the fire and feeling the toasty warmth embrace us from the bottom up.

The Mohair blankets are almost done, and I am back to my usual season switching as I work on a series of cotton bags for the Rigid Heddle Weaving group which I mentor on Facebook. The first little project bag is natural cotton with a rainbow cotton detail,…..

Rainbow cotton and Natural Basket weave

and the one which is currently on the loom – well – lets just say that I think I chose the colours on a cloudy day – a warm, friendly Orange with a small amount of vividly coloured Yellow which makes me think of Summer days on the beach!. The Lining will be a vivid Yellow Schwe-schwe fabric which I found in our friendly little local haberdashery store.

Beach ready colours on the loom

Perhaps it is the ongoing lockdown situation that is making me think of Summer picnics on the beach. I visualize my little loom-bound bag carrying a bottle of wine and a baguette together with a hunk of serious cheese in anticipation of fresh air , warm sun ( although we have plenty of that here at the moment) and a cool breeze.

The bag itself, is simple and will be of a sturdy enough construction to cope with my imagined treats ( and perhaps a bar of good chocolate for afters?) . One one half of each side there is a simple striped sequence, and on the other half a simple pick up pattern running vertically up the fabric. It sounds simple, and it will, I think, look simple and friendly and unfussy – however, my attempts at writing down the pattern have been anything but simple…….

Who would have thought that it could be so difficult to translate a picture in my head into a project on the loom into words and instructions on a page??? I know exactly what I want to achieve, but trying to put it into words, and analyzing the process has been a bit of a mind-bend. It isn’t a complex project you understand, the point is that I know what is going on in my head, which is fine – but getting it out of my head – well that’s another story……

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From where I sit at my loom with a view – 2

One of my very favourite books of all time is Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries II. I love it – and go back to it over and over again for a number of reasons: firstly, because it is beautifully written, secondly, because his food is clean and simple and respectful of simple ingredients, but most of all I love it because he writes with such passion about his subject. I can see the rain dripping from the eaves of the unfinished kitchen, and I can taste the rich sweetness of the baked quince – clearly I am reading the chapters that focus on Winter, which is appropriate for this time of the year!

Here in the bushveld we don’t actually have much of a Winter. Our days in May and June are mainly warm and sunny, and I have to admit to sometimes craving a really cold day – one where I can bury myself in scarves and shawls, and snuggle up under a woolly blanket with a cup of Hot Chocolate. Summer on the other hand can be ” off the scale” hot, with temperatures regularly rising up into the early forties, and for past few years it has been dry as a bone too, which doesn’t make the heat any more bearable.

It seems to me that I am always weaving against the seasons – weaving woolly blankets in summer and light cotton scarves in Winter as I prepare for the upcoming seasons. It isn’t always easy to look forward to getting mohair up my nose on a sweltering February morning, and cool cotton just doesn’t really deliver in Winter. This year, however, I seem to have finally go it right and I am making doublewidth mohair blankets in Winter. They have been a plan on the back burner for almost two years, and with the current situation which forces us to remain at home, I have finally taken the plunge and am working on what has turned into rather a mammoth project.

After working with boat shuttles, I am finding working with the ski shuttles I am using to accommodate the bulk of the mohair yarn cumbersome and painstakingly slow. The mohair does indeed get up my nose and there seems to be mohair fluff everywhere I look. I should be sweating my way through this project, but strangely enough I’m not. I’m really enjoying pretty much everything about it. The loom is working sweetly and it is easy to establish a rhythm as I settle down for a few hours, and I just love the way the blankets are turning out. They are soft and squishy, and will, I am quite sure , be feather light when they finally come off the loom.

Now that I am into the second half of the second blanket, I find myself taking it all a little slower, as if to stretch the task out for a little longer before I relinquish the pleasure I have found in the intensely rhythmic process that is weaving. When all is working as it should, the process can become almost meditative, and I find myself leaving the loom relaxed and ready to face whatever comes my way. Sometimes finishing off a big project can be almost like saying ‘ Good-bye’ to an old friend.

The wonder of it all is that when these are said and done, there will be another project waiting around the corner for me to fall in love with, and so the weaving will continue through the Winter, and into the Spring and so on and so on.Fo me, my time at the loom feeds my soul. My wish is that I could write about my weaving as eloquently as Nigel Slater writes about food. What I know for certain is that we are equally passionate about our respective subjects.

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From where I sit at my loom with a view

This morning I took a walk to the end of my driveway – I am lucky enough to have a rather long driveway and it was, after all, a beautiful morning. The dust in the road was undisturbed by car tracks, and there was ample evidence of Giraffe and Zebra having moved that way during the night. I looked to my right and caught sight of the mountains – in my neck of the woods, these would be the Northern Drakensburg – in the distance, and they were bathed in early morning colours of pinks and purples and greens – exactly as I imagine that Pierneef would have painted them. There was a cool breeze and the birds were clearly having a bit of an early morning party because there was lots of noise from them to shatter the otherwise silent morning. No traffic noise and no sounds from the trains that go through on a regular basis.

It is difficult to look at so much peace and beauty and then try and comprehend what others are going through at this time. People who are shut up in tiny apartments, who are forced to co-exist in a confined space with a partner they despise or a partner who is abusive, and small children that cannot go outside and run and shout and play just for the sheer joy of doing it.

I know that I am blessed to be in a situation which is not nearly as challenging as some, and for me this time has become one of productivity, experimentation and learning. I am finding myself falling into a little routine of sitting at my looms in the morning and my desk in the afternoon. the household chores are done as the need arises and the evenings are for sitting with Michael and just enjoying being together.

The shop will be back on-line soon enough and for the first time in years ( quite literally), I am able to spend time on my website and also on supporting my weaving buddies through the Facebook groups. I am content and productive and deeply conscious of how lucky I am, not least of all because I love what I do.

I saw a wonderful clip the other day that said: ” Grandma got through the War because her supply chain was local and she could do stuff”! Well I can ” do stuff” too and I think that being able to produce ” stuff” through the industry of one’s own hands, has go to be what is going to keep a lot of people sane!

So, to all my fibre buddies, and anyone out there who can ” do stuff” please keep on going, and don’t only stay healthy and safe, but stay sane too!