21 August, 2016
Isn’t it funny how certain things make a house feel like a home?
For me, as a weaver, it has to be a loom! The French house in Gascony now has a working loom in it, and the wonderful and familiar smell of wool yarn means that France is now home!!
At the moment, I am in another temporary studio – #3, I think! The salon, which will eventually be our rather lovely lounge (with mezzanine library!!) is home to a new-to-me Louet Spring loom.
You can see a little of the yarn stash I have managed to take over to France against the walls, but there is still a mountain of boxes to shift. We had to buy a transit van to help move my books and yarns across the English Channel and have to be careful not to overload the poor thing too much!! There are quite a few more trips to plan!!
It was great to put the loom together and to try it out, even if the first warp on was a 7.5m exhibition warp for the Nature In The Making exhibition which Agnes and I are doing in the Netherlands in November! This is not normally to be recommended – usually I would suggest several short warps with different techniques to find out all the quirks and idiosyncracies of the loom before putting on an important warp. But still, how many of us actually follow our own guidelines all the time???!!!
Happily, it was a relatively hassle-free introduction. I’ll write more about it on another blog, but suffice it to say that the loom and I are working well together!
This trip to France also included plenty of physical interaction with the fabric of the building!! Firstly, we cleaned out all the remnants of old furniture and tiles that had been left in the grange which will be my workshop, and swept it all through, leaving a blank canvas for the work to start in September.
It is another TARDIS. It doesn’t look very large from the outside but the inside is deceptively large.
Then we removed partition walls in a bathroom to allow for two bathrooms – I’m a wicked sledge-hammer wielder – and took off all the floor and wall tiles. We have also saved all the doors to be re-used.
Then I started weaving, and Graham continued with taking out all the old kitchen, leaving us with a single camping stove, a barbecue and a fridge. The kitchen was somewhat over-engineered, with re-inforced steel concrete plinths for the worksurfaces, and brick walls, but we shall be able to re-use the cupboard doors and the drawer unit as everything is made with proper materials rather than chipboard rubbish!!
I am very excited, despite the ramifications of the vote in the UK to leave the EU which has impacted on our renovations fund somewhat drastically, meaning that we have to cut back on some of the things that we were hoping to do. Basically it means that we will have to do several things in different stages instead of having all the work done at once. Such is life. It is amazing to us that we are actually in a position to live this dream, so if it takes longer to fulfil everything we planned, so be it….
The time spent in France this summer has been unbelievable, with amazing nocturnal natural fireworks on two occasions (electrical storms!), the fabulous array of summer night markets in villages and towns all around this part of France with their local produce and great music and dancing, the socialising with new friends and neighbours – we have landed in a really wonderful area for welcome, warmth and friendship!! – and the beautiful sunshine and views from our house over the changing fields mean that early mornings and late evenings are especially magical times for watching the landscape transform.
We have also been fascinated by the red squirrel nesting in the space between shutters and window in the attic, taking advantage of the woodpecker holes that appeared in the spring. She had several babies and, although she has now vacated her nest, taking her babies with her (I think she didn’t like the demolition work happening a floor below her!), she is in the vicinity and we have been waking up to the lovely scene of red squirrels chasing each other round and round the trunks of trees outside the front windows. Other wildlife has been sightings of two pairs of stunning Golden Orioles who flew in to take advantage of the bounty of our mulberry tree (tasty raspberry-like berries which we eat straight from the tree!). The birds had the top fruit, we had the bottom fruit – a good balance!! Bats are in abundance in the area, woodpeckers too, and plenty of other birdlife.
One amusing incident was when we had our first UK visitors. When we first took over La Tuilerie, we found an old fold-up wooden chair which had been painted and repainted over the years and we decided to use it in our bathroom. Whenever we were expecting visitors, whether Orange France, or friends, we put the chair at the bottom of the driveway, positioned so that it could be seen from both directions. A couple of days before our visitors were expected, we saw a beautiful, but dead, pine marten to the left of our driveway on the edge of the road. Its markings were just stunning – like the snow leopard and silver tabby crossed – although its little teeth were as sharp as needles and would certainly have inflicted a nasty bite! We didn’t know whether to remove or leave it, and in the end decided it would be best to leave it. Our visitors arrived, using the chair as signal locator and we had a lovely time! After lunch, they had to leave and I went down to bring in the chair. It had disappeared!! Zut alors! And so had the pine marten. Had the local council come along, picked up the pine marten and taken our chair thinking that it too was for disposal?
We decided to pay a visit to the déchetterie – the local recycling centre – to see if they knew where the chair was. I went indoors, sat down, and worked out how to tell the ouvrier what had happened. You can imagine the scene – my French is not fluent, by any stretch of the imagination. I practised the sentences for a while – probably at least 20 minutes – rehearsing over and over and changing the order of the sentences, trying to find the simplest way to explain the situation. When I felt I probably had it as good as I was going to, we went to the déchetterie – only to find it had just closed!! Happily we were able to speak to the lady in charge and I managed to make myself understood.
Not that it did any good, mind you…. The council don’t take their rubbish there and she didn’t know where the council rubbish tip was but advised us to go to the Mairie – by then well after 5, so too late for the day. I confess I chickened out of trying to explain it all again the next day, so somewhere in a council tip near Nérac, there is a lovely old decrepit blue folding chair – unless it has found a new owner, of course!!
It won’t be long before you’ll be able to see the renovations in progress. With as much of the preparation work done as we could do, things are now ready for the artisans to come back from their August break and start work in late September, fingers crossed!
It’s lovely being able to share this adventure with you virtually, and it would be wonderful if you could come and experience this marvellous place in real life. In the meantime, until next time,
15 November, 2015
This morning I awoke with some ideas about how I can develop something I am working on. We are often aware of waking up, the gradual accumulation of senses bringing us slowly to consciousness, but not the other way around – or maybe that’s just me. And yet, that area between awake and asleep can often be a very fertile area where our minds are free to wander, sometimes bringing us jerking awake with good ideas or, more often, just slipping seamlessly over into unconsciousness. But how aware are we when we pass from consciousness into unconsciousness when we drop off to sleep? Even if I try to be mindful of the slide into sleep, I just don’t notice it. Do you?
In fact, for me, the only time I can recall the slide is when I was fainting after severely bending back my thumb just before going on to play in a concert. It was my own fault – a group of us (early twenties, – should have known better but still only playing at being grown up!) in a lovely village called Thaxted in Essex, which hosted (hosts?) an amazing music festival with superb soloists and an orchestra of young semi-pro players culled from the music colleges of London (although I hailed from the Royal Scottish Academy).
We had not been required whilst the Labeque sisters did an amazing duet stint, which was followed by the interval, so we had adjourned to the pub across the road and were playing silly jumping games over the churchyard wall which was just over knee high. I was being slightly superior and not joining in whilst the lads did their standing jumps from the pavement over the wall, but goaded and cajoled, finally gave in to peer pressure, lifted my long skirt up to my knees and jumped. It was a clear jump, but unfortunately, I was wearing heels (not a usual occurrence) and my weight toppled forwards. I put out a hand to save myself but landed on my left thumb, bending it backwards beyond even its own double-jointed ability! Oooooooh my word – the pain.
I was assured by the men present that it was similar to being kicked somewhere the sun don’t usually shine! It blossomed like a hot, fiery flower, engulfing me entirely. My vision turned into a red tunnel, then got gradually darker. Once the lads stopped laughing and realised I was hurt, they hauled me into the vestibule of the church and sat me on a bench, head down between my knees. Their voices seemed weird – a long way away and kind of blurry and muffled. The interval was nearly over and they were wondering who they could tell and what would they do – I was the only oboe on my part and we were to play a Tchaikovsky symphony next. I felt sick, my hand was a throbbing entity hanging off the end of my arm and my thumb was in its own kind of hell. Somehow I managed to put my stoic hat on and a voice from the depths insisted I could play. It was my left thumb, right? I didn’t actually have to use it, did I? It’s only the support for the instrument. If I could rest the oboe on my knees, I could play, couldn’t I?
Well, the lads got me on to the stage and I sat down, with my oboe on my knees. I usually play with a very upright stance – arms up, oboe just under a horizontal position – it suits my teeth and jaw shape, raises my rib cage and allows me to get a lovely tone – but this was totally impossible. I had to hunch over, resting the oboe on my knees and trying to focus on producing any kind of sound!! Thankfully on this occasion I was not playing 1st oboe, and Tim who was playing 1st for the day (who hadn’t been part of the madness outside) didn’t have a clue what had happened. He was concerned because I looked a little weird (the cellists who were part of the possé said I looked green!) but as long as I could do the job, he didn’t want to know! Well, it was a waking nightmare.
I played ok, apparently. I don’t remember. All I remember is the music looking a long way away, down this long dark tunnel. I could only see a little bit at a time, and had to concentrate really hard to stay focussed on this tiny circle of music at the bottom of the tunnel and staying conscious. I had to try to push away the awareness of pain and stay connected to that little focal area at the bottom of the tube. I had to breathe and play at the right time, with the right notes in the right order and at the right dynamic. Thankfully, I had played this particular symphony lots of times and knew it well. And amazingly Tim, although casting anxious eyes at me from time to time, was totally unaware of the precarious situation I was in so I couldn’t have done too bad a job!! The cello section kept one eye on me to see if I stayed on my chair as I swayed from side to side occasionally (or so they told me afterwards). I’m sure if there had been time, there would have been a book on whether I stayed sitting or keeled over!! Afterwards, they rushed over to me, packed up my oboe, and supported me to the car and drove me back to London.
That thumb took a long time to recover from its wrenching, and I learned not to give in to peer pressure and do something I thought was stupid in the first place!! But I also learned that I could hang on to consciousness even when close to fainting because I was so determined, at least on that particular occasion.
It’s a weird place to be, between consciousness and unconsciousness. My perception of time totally changed. I can’t say exactly how, but all that existed was that small circle at the bottom of the long red tube, and the black notes that were all I could see in the small circle took all my concentration to keep in focus. My perception of sound also totally changed. I’d never heard Tchaikovsky underwater before, and probably never will again!! It ebbed and flowed like tidal waves of sound, sometimes clearer, individual instruments and musical lines, and sometimes more a wall of sound merging into a mush of aural movement. And the pain. That was like a living, breathing thing, changing in intensity every second, striving to take my awareness away from the little circle of notes, trying to compel me to fall into the embrace of the heat and pulse and shout of pain. I was vaguely aware of feeling very sick all the time, but the focus of my concentration forced that to the background.
What a memory!! Wow! And out of a single random thought this morning about where awareness and sleep align!! So, what are your stories? Are you aware of the boundary between consciousness and unconsciousness? What does it feel like for you?
And, taking it back to where I came in, which is more fertile in your mental wanderings? In the lull before falling asleep, or in the slowly arising consciousness of the morning?
9 November, 2014
I don’t know about you, but I get sent a number of requests from students asking for me to complete questionnaires for their dissertation research. Some of them are not thought through and in that case I reply tactfully that they need to do a bit of basic research themselves before sending out questionnaires willynilly. But this week I have had one that gave me pause for thought.
In my own masters research, I read a lot about the importance of tactility in everyday life and art, as that is something I feel passionately about – textiles are for touching for me, although I respect that many ‘art’ pieces are not designed to be handled. My work is about erosion in all sorts of guises and about tactility and I want people to interact physically with my work. It’s also a medium that, for the handweaver, insists on physical interaction at different times during the making process. In every step of creating a warp, I interact with the materials physically, although the planning is all brainwork and 3-dimensional spatial planning inside my head.
The questionnaire I received this week asked me if I find weaving challenging. This I interpreted two different ways – challenging as in ‘difficult to overcome’, and challenging as in ‘mentally and maybe practically demanding’. The first meaning isn’t so relevant to me, but the second most definitely so. If it is not challenging, I am not pushing myself. Occasionally I do something that doesn’t take too much mental effort but just requires the physical input of weaving – my Xmas cards, for example – but mostly I am challenging myself to develop new ways of doing or learning. Using the natural world as my inspiration I strive to envisage ways of using weave structures and materials to allow me to interpret geology, growth and erosion patterns from flora, fauna and minerals into textural expressions. I use all the things I have learnt previously, and play with them, investigating how I can merge ideas or structures to create a different take on something and make something unexpected happen. Serendipity plays a crucial role but first I have to think things through and move things in a certain direction so that serendipity can have the room to intervene.
Charlotte also asked if weaving is a stressful occupation, and whether it has helped me improve other skills such as problem solving/mathematics/social skills? Well, yes, occasionally I do get stressed when something goes wrong, but it’s usually if I am in the wrong mind-set anyway, or I feel under pressure from outside forces. Where I am the person totally in control of things, then I don’t usually get stressed, even when things go wrong. It takes as long as it takes. But I know for sure that it has certainly helped me improve problem solving – thinking laterally, seeing what is around me that I can press into service when something physically goes wrong with the loom (happily a fairly rare occurance), being spatially aware of how a flat fabric will shape up into a 3-D piece once it is removed from the loom, thinking in terms of numbers of shafts and patterns when working out what designs to create, and socially, well I get the chance to travel and meet lots of people, sharing with them my technical knowledge, love of weave and my particular way of looking at the world…. All wonderful things to be able to do and share.
I also talked about how weaving can be meditation – getting in the zone allows you to drift away from the pressures of everyday life and focus entirely on the moment, what your body and mind are doing right now, right here. It has also helped me work out how to approach difficult situations in my emotional life, moral issues raised by a teenage son, and gives me a sense of perspective when things get overblown in my mind.
The questionnaire went on to ask about other aspects of weaving which also required further thought but I stopped for a while to think about just how important these particular questions are to what we do. We are engaged with our hands, minds, emotions and body, using sight, touch, smell and spatial awareness in the physicality and preparation of weaving. Yet the act of physically throwing a shuttle allows us to engage analytic thought (if we wish!), but also to focus on the moment, awareness of our bodies, throwing the shuttle and moving the shafts, and also, at the same time, the mental distance from everyday things to allow our subconscious minds to sort out knotty and complex emotional and mental issues whilst we are physically engaged in a rhythmic exercise.
No wonder weave is all-engrossing, and that it continues to be a craft form that gains adherents, devotees, and fanatics (I count myself in the latter group!! ), even more as our daily lives are more and more engaged with digital technology. The fact that it is found world-wide, and is such an old craft form, is testament to its endurance as an essential craft for our physical but also our mental well-being.
Thank you, Charlotte, for reminding me what weave means to me.
20 July, 2014
I must admit to being a little shell-shocked with the past 7 months’ activities. It has been a total whirlwind of travelling, teaching, experiencing new places and people and now I have landed back on planet reality!
But time to reflect before plunging into the next phase.
January – completing my masters degree and finding out I had been awarded a distinction! What can I say? Three years of focused learning/investigations into weaving, art history, philosophy, materials, writing essays and fine-tuning things, but most of all, learning about how I think, how others think things through, what art can mean, abstracting ideas and honing in on specifics and details in order to create something that means many different things to different people. I knew when I began the MA that I would learn so much and develop as a person and an artist, but I have truly discovered so much more through this process than I could possibly have imagined. I would encourage you, if it is something you have considered doing, take the plunge.
February – immersed in finalising details for workshops in New Zealand, February swooshed by. Packing my exhibition and teaching materials into two suitcases, as well as a few clothes for a two month visit, took a fair bit of trial and error, and eventual sitting on the suitcases to squeeze out enough air to close the zips!
March – arriving in New Zealand and hitting the ground running. Agnes didn’t give me time to breathe, which was probably a good thing! Straight into the Professional Weavers Network Conference at Coopers Beach, North Island. Stunning area of natural beauty. The first leg of our joint exhibition Nature in the Making at the Earth House, Peria. A huge thank you to Dhaj Sumner, amazing lady and so warm-hearted, who created the Earth House in the first place, and gave us such a welcome! Great reception of our work – it looks like it was made to live here! Continuing preparations for the start of the teaching tour, although a little time to visit a couple of places for geology and relaxation. Then on tour. A series of workshops travelling from North to South, from Oruru, through Whangerei, Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, meeting lots of new people, lovely weavers, stunning scenery and warm welcomes from generous hosts. including an unexpected holiday in Wellington thanks to Robyn and Dave Parker.
April – over the straits to South Island. Workshops in Blenheim, Canterbury, Timaru and Dunedin meeting felters as well as weavers and making new friends all the way. A short break and chill time in Nelson, thanks to Sue and Tom Broad. Setting up for the second of our exhibitions in New Zealand at Arts in Oxford, near to Christchurch. Delighted with the gallery – lovely space and warm people. Special thanks to Rachel McRobb, the gallery manager, and the volunteers, especially Celia for her generosity in sharing her love of local pigments! The work looks amazing in this fine-art gallery space! And thanks to our hosts here, Wilson and George! And in Timaru, lovely Mary and Gary Anderson. Then after the Creative Fibres Forum Festival at Dunedin, a holiday incorporating lots of geology and the west coast. Amazing! Firsts include seeing albatross, Hector’s Dolphins and 3 Keas.
May – home again and trying hard to absorb all the sights and sounds of New Zealand whilst preparing for the Complex Weavers Seminars in Tacoma. Learning how to cut and twist paper for weaving, and busily weaving some more samples to enhance my presentation on textural techniques for 4 – 8 shafts, the month zoomed by.
June – completing preparations for Tacoma, and wondering how I managed to fit all my samples and my exhibition into my suitcases as the samples now seem to be taking up most of my luggage allowance! Then off to the Pacific NorthWest to hang our exhibition in B2 Fine Art Gallery, visit Seattle to see the Chihuly Museum, and travel some of the west coast of Washington State and pop down to Oregon before the whirlwind that is Complex Weavers Seminars. A huge thank you to Gary and Deborah Boone, owners of B2 Fine Art Gallery, and wonderful people, for their support and generosity! Not only did we have an opening ‘do’, but also an artists’ reception and then a very special ‘Nightcap’ dessert reception during Complex Weavers Seminars when the gallery opened especially for the weavers to visit! Then Complex Weavers Seminars! Exhausting, exhilarating, and exuberant! With minds fully overloaded from inspiring teaching seminars, and friendships renewed, new ones made, and amazing sunsets appreciated, it was time to depart.
July – an awe-inspiring trip to Mt Rainier started an incredible two weeks of travelling in Washington and Oregon, visiting geological highlights of Oregon’s coast, mountains, high prairies and river gorges, with huge thanks to Barb and Steve Walker for their hospitality! Big thanks, too, to Suzie Liles, as our exhibition will travel from Tacoma to Eugene Textile Centre for its next showing from 1st August to 11th October!
So now….. getting my head around these amazing 7 months; writing up my notes from the US trip and writing down all those weaving ideas that the inspiring countryside and geology have given rise to, then prioritizing those ideas into things I can instigate immediately, and those that will have to wait a while; preparing for an intensive month of teaching; and also researching possible venues for our exhibition here in the UK. On that last note, if anyone has any suggestions for galleries or museums that might be interested in our work in any country, please don’t hesitate to email me: email@example.com and I will follow up!
Who knows – I might even start blogging regularly again!! :^)) Thanks for bearing with me over the last 3 years!
And Happy Weaving!!
10 July, 2014
It’s not often that I press my nose against the window of a jewellery store and really drool (aural alliteration intended!) but today, in Sisters, Oregon, we discovered a treasure! The window display lured us in and pure seduction awaited us! For rock junkies, the lure was fossilised dendrite slate, stunning lab0radite, agates in rock form, jasper, amethyst, petrified wood, fossils, and the list goes on….. And in addition to these beautiful rocks, set out on other rocks were stunning jewellery which were inspired by the rocks they rested on.
I have never seen such an attractive display of jewellery in my life! The owner of The Jewel, a jewelry arts gallery, was brought up surrounded by rocks in a mining family (hope I got that right!) and obviously absorbed the inner structure and beauty of the rocks in her DNA because the work is so attuned to the natural forms. Peggy, the general manager, was on hand to give some background information and to admit that she has THE best job in the world set in a stunning geologically marvellous place (Sisters is in the geologically active Cascade Mountain range on the edge of Central Oregon surrounded by volcanic mountains which are skiers paradise in winter and the exposed lava fields and flows attract many summer visitors). I can quite see why!! All the staff were really enthused with the work and we left with Agnes having succumbed to a stunning piece of laboradite. Unfortunately (fortunately for DH!!) I already have my full luggage weight allowance and couldn’t indulge!! :^((
But I give advance warning that if I ever am so fortunate as to come to this part of the US again, and Oregon in particular, wild horses would not stop me from paying another visit and buying a gem of a rock to accompany me home. If you are in the area, I would suggest it as one of the top places to visit if you like beauty/natural beauty/jewelry. Inthe meantime, I will just have to make do with the inspiration gleaned from the stunning examples of geology in rock form, and the memory of beautiful wearable rock art in the form of unusual jewellery in a memorable display.
PS The frozen yoghurt shop just down the road is well worth a visit too!! Especially on a day where the temperatures have hit in excess of 96F… :^))
27 June, 2014
When in Tacoma, it would be remiss of us not to visit Mt Rainier, prominent as it is on sunny days in between the various buildings of the city!
It is a veritable feast for the eyes with snow fields and reflection pools which, at this time of year, still have snow and ice covering them but slowly melting. Lots of trees, waterfalls, rock formations (lots of volcanic rock, basalt, lava, huge boulders) – right up our street. It took us a full day and we didn’t cover all the ground! But then, we do travel slowly, taking our time, absorbing the sights, sounds and atmosphere…..
Deborah Boone (B2 Fine Art Gallery) suggested we might like to take a trip upstate to La Connor, a small waterfront town with an excellent quilt museum, so we did just that. La Connor is delightful and, despite not being well sign-posted from the surrounding roads (we avoid the Interstates wherever possible!), we found a bustling historic town and a Victorian building lovingly restored in the last couple of years which houses the quilt museum. Not just a museum, either, but a vibrant and active quilting shop, exhibits, and activities.
With the advice of Kathleen (the curator) and Susan (the sponsor) we took the road across to Whidbey Island and drove down the length of the island, part of the San Juan group of islands. A stunning day, some amazing bridges and beautiful views. Susan had suggested we pop in to meet her sister and brother-in-law, so we did! What a beautiful spot right on the waterfront looking towards the mainland. A lovely two hours beachcombing, heron watching, and seal spotting, was spent with strangers who welcomed in two travellers! Those kinds of memories certainly make a trip! Thank you Marilyn and Jim for your hospitality and company!
6 April, 2014
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Well, ‘Windy Wellington’ did not live up to its name! We had glorious weather for our sightseeing! Whereas most people whizz round places and see lots in a short space of time, Agnes and I prefer to take our time, enjoy the vibe, have a coffee/tea, take lots of photos, look around some more….. you get the picture! So on our first visit to Wellington we managed to take the cable car, visit the Carter Observatory and mooch through the Botanical Gardens, and the second day we slowly strolled along the Waterfront and visited Te Papa, the national museum and art gallery.
Here are a few photos from that day…. a lovely statue to Katherine Mansfield (author), a token tree from the Botanic Gardens – a hugely tall eucalyptus – and water, water, water from the waterfront.
We were photographing some water shots at the end of our day when Agnes and I independently got approached by passers-by asking us what we were photographing. When Agnes explained, the lady looked again and started seeing the patterns, but unfortunately, I don’t think the man who asked me could see what I was seeing – to him it was ‘just water’. Just as well we all think and see differently!!
The clouds weren’t bad either!!
The next day we had a quick stroll around a reserve at Whitby before heading off to catch the ferry. Farewell to the North Island… and hello to the South Island with a little bit of water in between (just for a change :^))
Two Texture Days followed with weavers and felters from the lovely Marlborough textile group before moving on to Nelson across the vinyards of Marlborough, a beautiful river crossing, and the winding mountain pass, into a glorious evening overlooking Boulder Bar and Nelson… One amazing view after another! That’s my experience of New Zealand!!
Hope you are enjoying the trip along with me!