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THREAD HANDED – 2022 – report back.

The beginning of this month, saw me, once again heading South, from my beloved Bushveld, towards Van Reenen for another Thread Handed event. Believe it or not, this was our sixth, and our fifth visit to the Green Lantern.

Our previous visit was at the beginning of March 2020. I remember that while we all talked about this virus that was taking over the world, none of us really believed that it would affect us here on the Southern Tip of Africa – how wrong we were! Last year we had to cancel, and so, arriving back at the Green Lantern was more than a little nostalgic.

We were a small group this time around, having decided not to offer a spinning class. I was on my own as Linda, also couldn’t join us, so, good as it was to be back, it was also a little strange.

My first day in Van Reenen was spent unpacking and setting up. As usual, we pretty much took over the hotel lounge, and the staff was ever tolerant and helpful with the moving of furniture and supplying of trestle tables and chairs. By the time people started arriving just after lunch, we were pretty much sorted and were able to relax and catch up before classes started in earnest the following morning. Classes on offer included beginners Rigid Heddle and Harness weaving, as well as a more advanced Rigid Heddle class. Anette Matthews came down from Pretoria to teach a two day, four shaft class on Overshot, and Sue Stevenson from Natal offered a one day introduction to Kumihimo.

Everybody was eager to begin and get their heads down into the work, and Thursday morning was chaotic as the first morning always is. We had people making warps on warping frames, doing direct warps for their Rigid Heddle projects, measuring, cutting, threading, and then suddenly, everything seemed to click into place and we were settling into the programme.

The ladies doing the Overshot class, moved themselves into the small lounge next to the dining room, as they had to concentrate – theirs was all about brain food, and the results spoke for themselves. Anette had devised a really nice project to make potholders from the woven samples, and they managed, all the planning and the prep, the weaving and the finishing in the course of the two days – Hats off to all of them!

Meanwhile the more advanced RH ladies were doing all sorts of manipulations with their warp so that they could weave the warp back on to itself to form the ‘V’ part of their ‘V Cowls’. There was much concentration and more than just a little bit of frustrated muttering as threads escaped and had to be found and put back into place, and threads pulled too tightly or not tightly enough, and in some cases, the last few picks were really a very tight squeeze!

Once again, the results showed the fruits of all the hard work as the pieces began to come off the loom.

Riana, and Elaine, meanwhile, had their noses buried deep in the movements of warp and weft, and Sue, even had enough time to try a little bit of Double Heddle Weaving.

We laughed – a lot…….,  and we worked – jolly hard……,  and all in all we had a really good few days together. Di Kruger stepped in to lend a hand with some of the nitty gritty stuff that needed to be done, and was the best possible PR lady we could have asked for! Ellen Janse van Rensburg, resident of Van Reenen, who brought us there in the first place, stopped by for a few visits and a chance to catch up.

The garden was glorious as usual and the best place in the whole world to relax after a challenging day at the loom!

Looking forward to the next time around!

(If anyone would like more information, or would like to be put on to the mailing list – please feel free to drop me an e mail, and I’ll make sure that you are added)!

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There’s a ray of sunshine on my loom with a view….

The bumpy start to my current project, has, I have to say, not really settled down – although…. and I say ‘although’ with more than a little trepidation, I feel that I might be beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Bigger blocks making a strong impression

The Rep-weave experiment is finally starting to take shape – and, although there are some glaring discrepancies, these are not my main focus as I finally get to grips with the building blocks that go towards making up this remarkable technique.

A few months ago, I watched an interview with Lucienne Coifman, on the Handweavers Guild of America’s ‘Textiles and Tea‘ series. I was fascinated by her work, most of which, she told us is made on a 4 shaft loom (with a lot of pick-up involved…..) her words – not mine. The strength and impact of her designs really made an impression on me, and I think that part of the problem that I have had in getting to grips with my own tiny, little experiment in Rep-Weave is that I really just struggled to get my head around constructing a design that looked cohesive.

My main problem , to begin with and in retrospect, was that fact that I made my blocks too small, and the result was confusing to the eye. I think that this thinking was perhaps the result of the fact that I’m experimenting only on my 40cm table loom. It isn’t really wide enough to provide much scope, given the fact that I am using quite a thick cotton for the warp. If I had used the 5/2 cotton that I had originally planned on using, the possibilities, even on such a narrow warp would have been far greater.

However, as soon as I started to expand the length of the weft blocks the designs took on a greater impression of cohesion. The tiny little turning points in the centre of the first two drafts really seemed to draw the eye in to the design, and acted in the same way as that tiny little ‘pop’ of an unusual colour in an otherwise bland palette.

I think that my favourite design possibility of the three is the one on the right. The other two are still on the loom, and the third is yet to be woven. I hope that I have enough warp left to be able to complete it, as one of the things that I had forgotten about with Rep-Weave, is that the warp take-up is huge! Much greater than the more texturally conventional weave structures.

As usual, when I experiment on this sort of basis, i find that I have way to many ideas for the length of warp! In the light of lessons learnt ( the hard way), if I put up another narrow warp for Rep, I will definitely use a much finer cotton to allow myself more room to play around with. However, if I were to put up a warp on one of the wider looms, I think that the Cotton-On would actually be a good choice as it is of acceptable quality, easily available, and comes in a pretty good colour range

Hopefully I’ll finish off my existing warp this week, in time to photograph it and put up some pics in next weeks’post.

In the meantime – stay safe and stay warm.

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From where I sit at my loom with a view….

The result of the grey skies is now everywhere around me….

One of the things I love most about living in the bush is the startling, almost overnight changes that happen after even the smallest amount of rain. My morning walks have become a treasure trove of little jewels of colour and life everywhere I look, and I am constantly stopping to look and marvel at the richness around me after the good rains a few weeks ago.

The little pink and yellow flowers on the top left are the flowers of the Sickle Bush, a hard, thorny, spikey pioneer plant that grows mostly in areas where the ground has been disturbed. It is a vigrously growing bush which visually has little to recommend it, until these, exquisite little pom-poms of colour take over, and suddenly they are everywhere I look. I call them Ballerina Flowers – not quite sure why, but that’s my name for them.

The little Blue flower is a tiny, low-growing little plant that is easily overlooked, apart from the fact that it is Blue, which is unusual colour for a flower, and this one hides a little secret. If you look below the flower itself in the picture, there is a little Green point which, at first glance, looks like a new leaf, but in actual fact, it is a tiny little pouch which holds four or five drops of crystal clear water, providing a source of water for some of the tiny creatures which so often escape our notice. once the rains have disappeared.

The cluster of Cream coloured flowers is from the Purple cluster leaf, and oh boy, do they smell bad – like decaying meat. Their function is to attract the flies that polinate the flowers, and in the Autumn the bushes will be covered in deep Purple seeds, a little like the seeds of the Combretum.

These long rambles through the bush have eaten into my weaving time lately, but there is so much to see and enjoy out there that I am often out for far longer than I should be.

My weaving life over the past weeks has not really been that productive. Well, that’s not quite true – lets rather say that it hasn’t been visibly productive, but the Patreon page is bursting with posts on Weaving Drafting , and the pick-up study has wound to an end, together with instruction for all the techniques that we covered, many of which will be included in the Christmas Table Runner project.

The temperatures are now in the high thirties almost every day, and outside activities must take place early in the morning. This means that work-time in my studio has become limited. My studio isn’t outside – obviously, but it is quite exposed, and gets very hot during the Summer. This means that my ‘inside’ looms are getting my full attention. The Silk shawls are making progress and I have plans for the next two in the pipeline, but, before that can happen, I am so excited to be going away for my first weaving workshop since the dreaded lurgy changed our lives.

So, watch this space for pictures and stories from our week at the Beautiful ‘Crafter’s Lodge’, starting this coming Thursday…..

I simply can’t wait to catch up with a few of my weaving buddies – I miss them…… I hope that other crafters are able to get together responsibly in small groups and enjoy the social aspect of what we all love to do, a little more than I can!

Till next time then – watch this space…….

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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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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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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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From where I sit at my loom with a view – yes there is actually a view to enjoy……

Winter in the Lowveld

For those of you who have wondered about the ” view” from my loom – well here is the view from the end of my driveway. Granted my loom doesn’t actually sit at the end of my driveway, but when my bum gets numb from sitting on the weaving bench, I can at least take a short stroll and admire ” my” mountain.

I know that it seems a little strange that we actually have quite such spectacular mountains in an area which is usually associated with flat roads, dust, dirt and thorn trees, but our little town sits in the shadow of the mighty Northern Drakensburg, pictured here on a particularly splendid Winter’s day – incredible sky, absolutely clear, not a breath of wind and a window to the world.

Everytime I take to the road en route to a workshop or a market on the Highveld, I drive through the Abel Erasmus Pass, which cuts through the mountains, and is truly, to my mind at least, one of the great mountain passes of this incredible country. The sides of the road through the pass are dotted here and there with vendors selling local fruit and avocados, or wooden curios and baskets – most of which come from Zimbabwe I’m sad to say, but I won’t go down that road right now, because about half way up ( or down as the case may be), there is an elderley Venda lady who weaves grass mats – indeed there is – believe it or not…

She isn’t always there, but when I see her, I take my life in my hands and pull off the winding road into a tiny lay-by and go and say hello, admire her work and give her a little money. Her loom is what we know as a “Donkey” loom and consists of two planks of wood laid parrallel (never figured out the spelling of that word), to each other with a small space in between, and supported on a pair of crossed sticks at either end to raise it off the ground.

Crossing the warp threads over each other – the mat in progress can be seen below the wooden plank

The threads she uses for the warp – in this case usually cheap string, or even bailing twine which has been scavenged from the nearby farmlands, are each wound around a small stone, or an old battery, and one would immediately think of a warp weighted loom but in fact, this arrangement works differently. Her “weft” comes from the reeds which grow in the Olifants River bed in the valley below. The reeds are split lengthways and the resulting pieces are painstakingly wrapped in pieces of plastic – usually what looks like the plastic that is used to package beer or cool-drink ‘ 6 packs’ .

The plastic is scavenged from the surrounding area and cut into strips before being wound around the sections of reed in a colourful cladding which is probably the principle appeal of the mats. The warp threads are laid across the space between the two planks, with the weights hanging over on either side. A piece of the brightly clad reed is placed over these weighted warp threads and the warp threads are crossed over the reed so that the weights now hang on the other side of the two planks. Another section of reed is laid in place, and the warp is crossed over that, and so the process continues…..

The reeds, I must just add, have leaves which are razor sharp and inflict paper-cuts on any unwary fingers, and the split sections are a minefield of splinters. The weaver sits cross legged on the ground (on one of her own mats actually) and manipulates the weighted warp threads in what must be a backbreaking process. It is the job of her daughter to split and cover the reeds, and her young grandchild sleeps in the shade nearby.

I am in awe of their industry. Their life must be beyond hard, and I am sure that she would probably earn far more working as a domestic worker, but she tells me that she learnt her craft from her mother, and her daughter will learn from her, and that is what they do.

I never fail to leave them with a new appreciation for my beautiful looms and the wonderful yarn I am privileged to use. The view from her loom far surpasses the view from mine, but I’m ok with that, because I know just how very lucky I am!

The beautiful bright blue mat lying next to the ‘loom’ now lives in my kitchen!
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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!