Planting The Seeds

Teaching crochet to a group is hard. Not enough of me, too little time, and unrealistic expectations mean that some projects as I envision them can’t be completed. For our second crochet class, I had planned to teach my 12 students how to crochet circles. We would sew two stitches in the circles to transform them into perfect little fortune cookies.

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By the end of class, I had not managed to work individually with each student, and my attempts to demonstrate the basics for the group had left most students mystified. One student who already knew how to crochet helped with fellow students’ questions, but our four hands weren’t enough for such a complex task. A few students doggedly improvised their way into circles, but some left the class with little more than they had before we started.

After class I lamented to a parent that I have difficulty differentiating from my students’ outcomes. This is the most difficult part of teaching. I forget how many countless hours I have spent working on process before creating a successful project.

She reminded me that I’m planting seeds. Some projects will resonate with some students and they will seek further instruction in a method. This class is an introduction to fiber materials and methods of manipulating them. My young grasshoppers have many years to learn, as do I.

Spiders Welcome Here

After working all day to assemble a large set of Feltilocks, I decided to take a break to photograph my gorgeous pile of roving. Nothing excites me like a mess of color. Reds, golds, greens and blues all thrown in together surprise me with their combinations. I set off with my camera and a length of bamboo stacked with roving, looking for the perfect location.

As the light wasn’t ideal in the backyard, I walked around to the front where I hoped to lean the bamboo in a corner of our boxwood hedge. Have you ever walked into something right in front of your face because you were looking into the distance? Watching the children across the street, I walked through one spiderweb, then speared a second, knocking a large spider into my roving in the process.

Isn’t she gorgeous? This is a European Cross, Araneus diadematus, an appropriate name considering the pattern along the abdomen.

I was expecting to have fun photographing the felt, but tracking this speedy little spider was an unexpected bonus.

When I dreamed up the name SpiderFelt, the idea of staging a photo shoot with a live spider escaped my imagination. Who would have thought it could be so much fun? If you are out there Carrie, I was thinking of you the whole time. There may be a job as a spider wrangler somewhere in my future.

Setting My House In Order

fall09_schedule_smThings that are hard for me:

making plans
changing plans once they are made
being late
giving up control
compromise
making mistakes

There. I’ve said it. In black and white. I sound like a real peach don’t I? Wouldn’t want to work for me, would you, or live with me when the stress starts to mount. Me neither.

In order to mitigate the eventual breakdown that occurs in mid-November as I start to realize just how little time is left before my first show, I grabbed the bull by the horns: I made a schedule. It seems like a simple thing, I know. But for me it was a major breakthrough. It meant I was making a commitment, even if it was only to myself. Let’s see how we can get from point A to point B with a minimum of casualties and debris left by the side of the road.

In theory, there are six working hours in my day, once the kids are off to school, a modicum of clean-up is done in the kitchen and I’m dressed. Not typically a morning person, my days need to start slowly, so the hours before lunch are devoted to photography, updating my etsy shop and business. In order to stay current in the Etsy listings, I have begun adding new items to my shop every day, with a few hiccups here and there. So far, so good. The sales have begun to pick up a smidge and new items are appearing in the treasuries.

The afternoons are for production. Monday: felt pebbles, Tuesday: felt soaps, Wednesday: felt scarves, Thursday: felt balls/ornaments/geodes, Friday: felt flowers.

While I would really love to make scarves all day every day, the reality is that I don’t have the energy to keep up that amount of intense felting and I sell far more soaps and pebbles than scarves. So, that means putting my energy where the sales are.

I have two new consignments in the works (a shoe store in our neighborhood and a gallery in Lake Forest Park), a potential spot in an Australian magazine holiday guide, and three holiday shows. If I pace myself, and resist the impulse to race off in too many new directions, I may make it through the holiday rush with my sanity and my family’s affections intact.

Brain Dump

In the last few days, I’ve come across an abundance of amazing events, letters and websites. Since my work at the moment is in a pure production phase, I’m going to share other people’s cool stuff instead.

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Wet spring weather brings out the godzilla slugs in our garden. Before I go to bed, I walk out in the rain to peel them off my tender new lettuce. Despite my dislike of the creatures, I couldn’t resist this felt snail.

I can’t recall what chain led me here, but Gartenfilz von Frauke is only one of many fantastic pieces in the Filz Galerie, a German gallery of felt pieces created by participants in Feltalong. I really, really wish I read German because I want to know more about the other pieces in the blog.

If you want to participate in the Crafster Feltalong challenges, search for ‘feltalong‘ discussions on the Craftster felting discussion boards.

feltunitedGet on board for the International Day of Felt, October 3.  2009 is the International Year of Natural Fibers, as declared by the United Nations. Sign up, spread the word, plan, organize and participate. More details at FeltUnited.

Future Craft Collective is a very creative group of energetic folks working to make something beautiful in community. Two things melt my heart: seeing people make art together and watching a child bring an idea to life. Some lucky folks in Austin may get to work with them in person; I’ll have to settle for admiring from a distance and then continuing to build art in my community.

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The yummy felt bead necklaces made by  Kleas and company for Mother’s Day gifts look good enough to eat. These remind me of the world’s best salt water taffy, but made of wool. What more could a mother want?

Not sure how to describe the next bit, except to say watching this video and getting into the mind of this woman led me to dimensions I had never imagined. See and watch crochet coral as examples of hyperbolic geometry.

paper_boatTime for a slight fiber detour to the world of paper craft. Make some crazy collage, paint some paper, sew some paper together, fold a boat and then mail it to Joanne Kaar. Each piece will  be auctioned in support of Mary-Ann’s Cottage, a living history museum in Scotland. Submission deadline is August 10, 2009.

Stating my intention here,  in the hopes that will make it happen (thank you Future Craft Collective), I plan to embellish paper with the parents and children of Seattle API at the next monthly gathering of the Handcraft Group. Look on theirblog for photos of the oustanding pieces they have received so far.

Hot Rocks

This summer we spent two weeks at my parents’ cabin on Keats Island, a rocky paradise in Howe Sound between Vancouver and Sechelt BC. We played with the children of old friends, made new friends when the old left, discovered hidden paths through the forest, hiked to beaches we’d never seen, jumped off the floating dock, swam off the rocky beaches, and played hours of games.

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Many mornings we spent around the cabin reading, writing, and playing cards waiting for the tides to be just right for swimming. One morning when every game failed to entertain, we decided to try an activity I’d read on someone’s blog in the last year: coloring on smooth beach rocks.

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Collecting the rocks was half the fun. We had to find just the right buckets, skip down to the beach and scour the entire expanse for rocks that were large enough and smooth enough to become a canvas.

At home we washed off the seaweed grit and marine residue. Next we spread them out on an aluminum tray and put them in the convection oven to heat for ten minutes. While they were warming, we gathered all the small bits of broken crayon we could find behind the futon, on the bookshelf, and under the table. When they were hot enough, we carefully extracted the tray and carried it outside to the patio where we could safely spread out the hot rocks without damaging any surfaces.

Before long, it became clear that there was a magic moment in the lifespan of a hot rock, when it was hot enough to melt the crayon, but not so hot that it turned into wax soup. Letting the rocks cool for a minute or two was key, but we were forced to make several trips back to the oven for reheating as our imaginations churned away.

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It was a wonderfully idyllic time spent in a place that holds many fond memories. Thanks Mom and Dad for making it all possible.

SpiderFelt Production Party

Saturday night, a great group of women converged at Space to Create, a wonderful art studio in Ballard for a night of good food, great company and felting. Many, many hands helped build my inventory of felt soaps and pebbles for the upcoming PNA Winter Craft Fair on December 6 & 7 and learn a skill at the same time.

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With soaps and pebbles pre-wrapped in wool, friends began felting at 6:30, stopping to greet newcomers and enjoy the great food. It was a party atmosphere all night, with seats shuffling and tables rearranging as people arrived and departed.

We turned out the lights at 10:15 with a stack of wet towels, 7 dozen felt pebbles, 90 soaps and lots of good cheer.

Thank you to everyone who came to work with sore backs, plates of food and wine, and many other events on their calendar. Thank you for sharing your time and helpful hands.

For those who missed out on the great time, but would like to learn some simple felting basics and take home a souvenir of the evening, we’ll be meeting again on Thursday, November 20th and Saturday, November 29th from 6:30-9:30ish. Come late or leave early, we’ll have the lights on for you, a warm seat and a glass poured. Cheers!

Wordless Music

And now for something completely different. No shop promotion. Just a little music.

Atmospheric, innovative, music expanding, wordless pop music paired with classical chamber music. Wordless Music. On WNYC. Insightful commentary by Jad Abumrad, host of RadioLab and David Lang, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music. While you are at WNYC, download the archive of past RadioLab shows. Your mind will grow.

Modeling in Volunteer Park

More than just a name, I spent a wonderful afternoon in Volunteer Park, one of Seattle’s gems located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood with Paola and her daughter Primavera.

Playful, patient and endlessly tolerant of my adjustments, Paola modeled the latest SpiderFelt pieces while Primavera ran in circles around our feet. Her bubbling personality added an extra special dimension our photo shoot, bringing sincere smiles to her mother’s eyes.

I took over 500 photos in two hours, as Paola modeled twenty-one pieces. I will be updating my shop with a couple of pieces every day. Many, many thanks to mother and daughter for their assistance.

Conveyances or Getting From Here to There

I’ve been reading a great blog called Make It, written by a paper artist building a craft business. A few days ago she wrote an honest post describing her ambivalence about the wholesale/retail model. While I was intending to write a celebration about reaching a milestone, my mood is left a little more contemplative after absorbing her thoughts.

Segue: My brother, TJ Dawe, sent me these three sketches yesterday from Indianapolis, where he had stopped for a single benefit performance before between a week of shows in Orlando and Victoria. When the shows in Victoria are done, he’ll fly to Montreal where he will resume an east-west cross-country Canadian tour of his latest one-man show.

This year marks TJ’s tenth year performing his productions at Fringe Festivals around the world. For the first few years, he toured full time from April to October, and worked odd jobs in the off-season while writing a new show. For the most part, he writes autobiographical one-man shows, couch surfing while he is on tour, living out of a backpack, trying to find a little bit of quiet time to read in the hub-hub that surrounds the theatre festivals. He would probably characterize himself as an introvert with a propensity for storytelling and performance. Being around people in social settings leaves him drained, and yet he writes, talks and dramatizes his own life full-time.

For the last few years, his tours have been profitable enough that he can afford to rent a furnished apartment during the winter months, giving himself the quiet space he needs to write. He is an avid reader, collecting entire bodies of work, re-reading an author’s work after reading their biographies to gain additional insight.

When TJ was 16, he painted an intricate architectural mural on the ceiling of his bedroom, part Escher, part Mad Magazine with connecting stairways to nowhere and crazy characters popping out of doorways. Lying on his back on a scaffolding, working with pencil, sharpie and acrylic paint, it took six months to complete. The size of the work and low ceilings made it impossible to photograph, but its existence lives large in our collective family memory.

Incidentally, my parents sold that house in ’94 and it has gone through two owners since then. TJ recently visited the house to ask the current owners if he could see his old bedroom. The current owners use it to store their hockey equipment, but the mural is there, intact.

This currente series of drawings was commissioned by Anna McCambridge, the curator of the Visual Fringe at the Orlando Fringe Festival. She heard about his murals, but since he didn’t have any prints of the work, she asked him to create something original. He has done a couple of similar pieces for friends when staying at their houses, but this is the first piece he has done in at least five years. When he started to draw, he wasn’t sure what it meant, but like most artists, he had an idea and went with it.

An old friend saw some of the early sketches and offered his analysis: this is all about passages, methods of conveyance, ways to get from here to there. TJ is at a turning point in his career, partly because he is ready to change his lifestyle, but he isn’t really sure what it is going to look like. The three drawings literally run into each other, and can be viewed in any order. However, the items on the edge or fringe of each page are presented in a different perspective from the connecting piece below (or above).

As I look towards the end of the school year, and the slowing down of my production machine with the return of full-time motherhood, I wonder about my business and the passages that have led me here. What have I made this year? What have I sold? What have I learned? Looking back on what I thought I knew at the beginning, and the leaps I took before I was really ready, I think I have gained a lot. But I’m still challenged by the amount of time it takes outside of production to make the business work: correspondence, documentation, packaging, photography, marketing and planning for events yet to arrive. Pretty soon the applications will go out for the holiday shows while I’m expecting to take the summer off for an extended vacation with my children. How much ground have I gained with Etsy and is it worth keeping my shop open when I can’t attend to it regularly? Do I take stock with me as I travel, or just close everything down?

I have been writing less and less on my blog about my process because of the time involved and my narrow focus on getting things made. Tomorrow, I’m hoping to meet a friend who has agreed to model a large batch of scarves. My photography set-up at home drives me crazy and I’m frankly tired of the overexposed photos in the same corner on my mannequin.

Incidentally, Anna was my 100th sale on Etsy a few days ago. My leaf lariat and a felt box are on their way to Orlando this afternoon, along with a fuschia keychain. Thanks to the wonderful customers who have brought me to this point.

Six Word Memoirs

I was listening to one of my favorite programs recently, and heard an interview with the editors of Smith Magazine. They were promoting their new book “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure”, the premise being that reducing our lives to six words encourages us to be realistic about who we are, and the choices we have made (my analysis – not theirs). It got me thinking, hard. How would I summarize my life? What would my six-word memoir look like? Here are some stabs, by no means my final answer:

fiber_lover.jpgIntellectual discovers life and art while mothering.

Loner forced into life by motherhood.

Introvert speared by love, motherhood, art.

Discovered life and art in motherhood.

Mother keeps together body and soul.

Crafter turned knitter, felter and spinner.

Fiber lover gets tangled everywhere.

The editors suggested buying a few copies of the book, and the next time you’re late for a dinner party, bring a copy of this book in lieu of a bottle of wine. You’ll save fifteen minutes and you’ll start a conversation that will open windows into souls.

The caption for this photo should be: Uncontrollable fiber addict spins during St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Vancouver; temperature 42 degrees.