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Welcome to Musings – The Loom Room Blog

9 November, 2014

What weaving means to me

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.

Happy weaving!

10 August, 2014

Weaving as Meditation

It’s been a while since I last sat down at my AVL to weave serious amounts.  In fact, I warped 12 metres on back in February, and threaded up for the Complex Weavers study group samples for Collapse, Pleat & Bump.  Those samples were finally woven in May after my return from New Zealand, and then the warp was left ready for another Growth Form on my return from Washington.

With one thing and another, it has taken me until this week actually to sit at the loom to start weaving.  Having created a new liftplan and decided to change the amount of plain weave in my overshot tie-up, I started work.

Everything started badly.  The paper weft had been left on the bobbin, wound since May.  It doesn’t like to do that!  The yarn had set itself into its tightly wound spirals and did not want to behave.  Rather belatedly, I remembered that I should always wind it off the bobbin once I have finished my weaving if it is to sit more than a night or so before being used again.

Shafts began to play up and not lift when they were supposed to – rather a problem when they cross layers and you are attempting to weave a tube!  I was getting quite frustrated.

Then I realised…..I was trying to weave too fast.

My thinking was all skewed.  I needed to allow myself to slow down, breathe deeply and focus just on the moment, not on how much I had to do and how little time I had to do it.  Get back to basics.  I had to do what I advise my beginning students to do – enjoy the moment and be aware of everything that is happening.  I started to pay attention to the shafts and not expecting the loom to do it correctly every time.  I allowed myself to smile when one of the shafts misbehaved, and to congratulate myself for having noticed the miscreant!  I decided I would weave a certain amount of picks, and not to worry if it took a long time.

Three hours flew by and 1008 picks (the pattern repeat) looked good.

The next day, I set myself the same 1008 pattern picks to weave.  This time, I thought I was already mentally in the right place, but I wasn’t.  My mind was zooming all over the place and I found myself having conversations aloud with myself!  Two hours dragged, and I wasn’t getting anywhere very fast.  So I stopped for a little while and thought about why this was happening.  OK, so we have a lot going on in our lives at the moment….  Who doesn’t??!  So what could I do to quieten my thoughts and focus on the moment?

Weave 12 picks at a time!  One short burst of concentration.  Followed by another.  And another.  Before I knew where I was, I had woven my complete 1008 picks in a fraction of the time it had taken to weave the first 400 or so!

I now have two intense weeks of teaching ahead of me, and when I tell my students to slow down and savour the moment, I shall smile to myself and remind myself that I still need to learn that lesson myself!

Make haste slowly!

Happy Weaving.


20 May, 2012

Weaves That Shape Themselves, Pairings and Textile Matters

What a bumper few days!  A book launch with an accompanying exhibition, the Stroud International Textile Festival exhibition, and a textiles seminar in three days!  Food for the eyes, the brain and the soul!

Taken in the order I experienced them, firstly a book launch at Handweavers Studio in London for Ann Richards’ book “Weaves That Shape Themselves”.  Detailing many of Ann’s experiments and discoveries over a twenty-year period, this is a great addition to a weaver’s library, sharing hints, tips, and lots of very useful knowledge on high twist yarns, weave structures that pleat and shape and finishing processes.  She also includes a number of other weavers who are exploring texture through structure and interesting yarns and processes.  (Hand up here to a vested interest – there is one image of my work in the book – thank you, Ann!)

The launch was attended by a number of weavers whose work is in the accompanying exhibition currently at Handweavers Studio, including Lotte Dalgaard (Denmark), Berthe Forchhammer (Denmark), Fiona Crestani (Austria), Lucia Schwalenberg (Germany), Jennie Parry (UK), Bobbie Kociejowski (UK), Wendy Morris (UK) and me.  Other pieces in the exhibition are from weavers such as Deidre Wood (UK), Geraldine St Aubyn Hubbard (UK), Emma Sewell (UK), Sheila Reimann (NZ), Liz Williamson (Australia), Anna Champeney (Spain), Andreas Moller (Germany), Dorte Behn (Germany), Gusti Austin-Lina (Netherlands), Teresa Kennard (USA), Kasuhiro Ueno (Japan), Noriko Matsumoto (Japan), Junichi Arai (Japan), and Reiko Sudo (Japan).   A wonderful treat!  The exhibition is on for another couple of weeks, so I urge you to go and visit very soon!  And, of course, you are surrounded by the very yarns that are used to create the myriad effects on show!  And you can buy the books….

Secondly, the Stroud International Textile Festival has been running for a number of years.  This year, due to reduced funding, there is just one main exhibition in the beautiful setting of the Museum in the Park in Stroud.  Instigated by Alice Kettle, the exhibition is ‘Select Pairings II‘, the collaboration of different artists, usually in pairs, with at least one of the partners a textile artist.  The artists featured are Alice Kettle who paired with David Gates and Jane Webb; Ismini Samanidou who paired with Sharon Blakey; Kate Egan who paired with Vanessa Cutler; Dawn Mason working with Dr Nigel Hurlstone, Shelly Goldsmith working with Annie Shaw, Jane McKeating collaborating with Jilly Morris, and Janet Haigh with Rachel Kelly.  There were also three individuals whose work was on show – Clair Curneen, Rhian Solomon, and Fiona Haines.

The pieces were varied and interesting, utilising the courtyard outside the museum, the corridor leading to the main exhibition space and the main gallery. This exhibition is on until 27th May, so you still have one week to see it!  I shall be writing a full review for the Journal of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers, and The Weave Shed (where you’ll also find information on Ann’s book) together with photos….

Finally, how to sum up a full day’s inspiration and input from four immensely talented and inspiring weavers from the UK, Japan, and Denmark?  Organised by Tim Parry-Williams with Bath Spa University, and the first in a series (so Tim promised!) of seminars, Textile Matters was held in the incredible surroundings of Corsham Court, the home of the Textile Research Dept of Bath Spa University.  Ann Richards started the day with explanations of some of the concepts behind her twenty years of research and exploration into weaves that shape themselves.  Her clarity and scientifically disciplined approach to her research was inspiring and salutory at the same time!

Ann was followed by Jun Tomita, a Japanese weaver who specialises in ikat art for interiors.  Jun is inspired by walls that are showing the ravages of time and decay – in this he reminded me of fellow weaver Ismini Samanidou – but their approach is so totally different to each other.  Jun uses the most simple of weaves – plain weave – to create his mood pieces through the kasuri technique of ikat.  Spanning his complete career to date, we were fascinated by his development of ideas and the use of warp ikat to convey so many facets of mood, depth and spirit.  It was also fantastic to have a glimpse into his workshop and his method of working.

After lunch, and a chance to buy books from Chrome Yellow (always a wonderful excuse to indulge in some gorgeous books!) and yarns from Handweavers’ Studio, we were ushered back into the colourful world of Ptolemy Mann.  I probably don’t need to say much about Ptolemy.  Her dip-dyed ikats in myriad colours are well known in the design and interiors worlds, and we had plenty of eye-candy to enjoy.  However, Ptolemy also talked about the need for working in different fields (although all stemming from her ikat and colour work), including working with industry and architects, licensing products and doing large-scale public art commissions in the public health sector.  A whistle-stop tour of the possibilities that have led on from her weaving, Ptolemy injected a dose of day-to-day realism in our current economic climate – a way of working that is hard work, and challenging, but ultimately rewarding in many different ways.

Lotte Dalgaard was the final speaker.  Lotte is a weaver of collapse weave fabrics which are mostly for accessories and fashion.  Working in collaboration with a fashion designer, Lotte’s fabrics are developed to become garments that can be shaped in many different ways to create different silhouettes.  A founder member of the Danish Yarn Purchasing Association, GIF, Lotte has helped to introduce many different kinds of unusual yarns to the handweavers market, including many of the high-twisted yarns that she researches and uses in her work.  She published a book called Magic Materials in Danish a few years ago, which Ann Richards translated for English buyers of the book.  This book has inspired a new wave of weavers to work with high twist yarns and will, I suspect, continue to prompt new weavers into trying out active yarns.  One of the highlights of the day was at the end of Lotte’s presentation when she gave a demonstration of how the fabrics ‘do their magic’ when exposed to hot water.  She showed us the woven ‘grey’ state, or loom-state, fabric and then submerged it in hot water where everyone could see it crinkle into its folds.  A magic end to a magic day!

Despite the short-notice of this seminar, the delegates, most of whom were weavers, had a memorable day, energised by their conversations with each other, meeting up with old friends and making new connections, enjoying the incredible surroundings and indulging in some retail therapy, as well as absorbing a lot of intricate and fascinating information.  Even the peacocks were impressed – one showing off his formidable tail feathers – a great photo opportunity for those of us present!!

As I mentioned earlier in the blog, I will be writing reviews for the Weave Shed, and also one on ‘Pairings’ for the Journal of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers which will include photos (after permissions have been sought).  So keep your eyes out for these…..

13 May, 2012

Reverance of age

Filed under: Life,Nature,Philosophy,Psychology — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 5:10 pm

Maybe it’s because of the milestone birthday I’ve reached, or maybe it’s because of studying for an MA and being challenged to challenge and think deeply about everything, but I’ve become more and more aware of how little we appreciate the ageing process – unless it’s to do with antiques, that is!

Why does our Western society worship youth?

Yesterday, a reminder letter arrived from my dentist.  Nothing earth-shattering there – just a reminder to schedule a 6-month appointment.  But on the letterhead was the announcement – in bold and capitals -

COMING SOON – New Service: Facial Asthetics (line & wrinkle treatments)

At my hairdressers, (which I only visit about once a year!), you are urged to take waxing treatments for all parts of your body, electrolysis to remove body hair if you don’t fancy waxing, and botox and other methods to remove lines and wrinkles.

Other societies revere the wisdom that age brings and lines and wrinkles are a sign of a life that’s been lived, with highs, lows, laughter and tears.

Yes, most of us do want to look as good as we can for our age (!) but how far do you go to look younger than your life experience?

My paternal grandmother was 101 when she died earlier this year, and her face showed her longevity and her passion and enjoyment in living.  She had dignity, wisdom, gentleness and steel and all was there to see in her face.  A wonderful book, a fascinating read.

Facelifts create a mask – sometimes like a death-mask, it seems to me!  In the effort to wipe away the trace of the years, life is wiped away with it.  The face’s myriad expressions are paralysed.  Visual expression is vital to our human mode of communication, along with body language and verbal/aural language.  Without the use of tiny facial muscles, how can we communicate effectively?  Lines and wrinkles are merely the result of repetitive facial movements. They express us more clearly than any words.  They can tell the lie behind words sometimes.  Perhaps that is why people want to eradicate them.  Perhaps their faces betray what they really feel as opposed to what they say they feel.

I must confess – I have thought of botox to remove the depth of my frown line.  I frown when I concentrate, and I concentrate a lot, so it is a deep line.  But it is mostly visible to me.  Other people see the laughter lines, the tiny expressions that show humour, passion, love of life, interest.  The frown line is mostly employed when I’m looking at the computer, or reading, or thinking deeply, so is not really an expression of who I am to others.  Would I really contemplate injecting a poison into my skin to remove such a line?  In my less confident moments, yes I would.  But when I really think about it, my face is a record of how I live my life, my communication with others, my outlook on life.  Would I want to eradicate part of my own history?  Remove part of what makes up that entity I call me?

So here’s to lines and wrinkles.  Raise a glass of whatever you like to drink and let’s toast life lived!

6 May, 2012

Resuming posting….

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Psychology,Teaching,Weaving — Tags: , , — admin @ 1:00 pm

Over the past couple of months, life has been challenging in a number of ways.  But one constant throughout all the challenges has been weaving.  Whether teaching, preparing for workshops, or planning and weaving my own projects, weaving has kept my thoughts positive, my mind actively planning, and my hands occupied.

I have come to realise that people with a consuming passion in something, whether it be weaving, family ancestry, cars, bird-watching, have an advantage when it comes to hard times.  That part of the brain is busy and distracted from whatever else is proving difficult, and you can switch to that part of the brain whenever you need to re-charge your batteries.

For me, various deadlines with weaving have proved the anchor to keeping things in perspective, although sometimes the deadlines have also felt a little like a noose round my neck!  Happily, most of those deadlines have been met and I can now relax a little and smell the roses!!  They have helped me stay focussed on things other than my other challenges and kept me in the world instead of apart from it in my own little bubble.

Having students has forced me to stop for breath and concentrate on their needs and, in doing so, has totally refreshed me in a way that I hadn’t expected.  I have always loved teaching, but never expected it to be a therapy as well!! Thanks to all my wonderful students who are now weavers themselves!

I feel so grateful that I have weaving in my life – for my mind, for my soul and for my sanity!!! Here’s to all us weavers – whatever life throws at us, may our weaving prove a solace and help us get through the rough times.

Happy weaving!

30 December, 2011

Are you a seasonal person or a routines person?

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Psychology,Weaving — Tags: , , — admin @ 2:05 pm

I don’t know about you, but around this time of year, I get lots of inspirational emails from online marketers and various business ‘gurus’, some of whom are suggesting ways for me to live my life to be more productive and balanced.  I’m all in favour of balance as I’m a bit of a workaholic.  Well, if weaving is your life, then what a good reason to be a workaholic!!  :^))

I sometimes look at some of these emails and one that struck my eye was from Early to Rise.  The editor, Craig Ballantyne, has a regime of getting up at 5 am, doing things to a routine and going to bed at 9pm.  I know that getting up early is thought to be the most productive thing to do if you want to get quality work done, and I sometimes do, but the more I thought about these regimes, the more I wondered about how many people try to adopt something that really isn’t in synch with their own body clocks.

Craig gets up at 5am every day, whatever the season.  That’s something I can’t do.  I’m a seasons person.  My body clock works with daylight, so in the summer I’m up bright and early and get loads done with lots of energy.  In the winter, my body doesn’t want to get up until it’s light, (just as well we don’t live in the far north!!) and I spend a lot more time thinking than weaving.

I’m also a person who thrives on variety and gets bored with too much routine.  I know, we all have a certain amount of routine in our lives, and it takes me around 2 hours in the morning to do my visualisation exercise, get myself washed and dressed, dog walked and breakfasted before I can get down to some quality work.  I do try not to look at my emails until later in the day because they can be a great swallower of time, and I do try to do the task that is most important to me first of all.  Of course, this can’t always be followed – sometimes you just have to check for an email that you are waiting for, or other stuff arises that just has to be dealt with there and then, but on the whole I do try to focus on the most important thing first.  And it is important to put your head down and get on with things rather than procrastinate.

I have tried various ways of organising my day – weaving in the morning, paperwork in the morning, bits and pieces in the morning – and find that some days I am at my weaving best first thing.  But sometimes, it’s more important to get the paperwork out of the way so that my mind is freed to concentrate on weaving later.  And sometimes you just have to spend a whole section of the day on sending images and filling in application forms.

So for me, it’s horses for courses.  I will continue to listen to my body rather than try to discipline myself into a regime that doesn’t give me the versatility that my brain needs to function at my most creative.  If I am scheduled to get up at 5am and I wake at 2 with an idea that I just have to try, am I more or less likely to get up and try it if I allow myself to sleep a little later on?

So whilst that kind of regime will work wonders for some people, I think I will give it a miss, and continue to allow the seasons to influence my work patterns, just like farmers, working hardest and longest in the summer and relaxing and thinking more in the winter.

30 October, 2011

The ‘Polyanna’ approach

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Psychology — Tags: , , — admin @ 1:00 pm

This week I was called a Polyanna.  It was meant as an insult, but I took it as a compliment and thanked the giver warmly.  A few years ago, when I first heard the term, I had to ask for clarification – I think it’s a US expression more than a UK one – but it basically means that you always look for the good in any situation.  Polyanna was a girl who looked for something beautiful, positive and happy in all the things that happened to her.  This, to me, is a wonderful way to live.

Many of us have been brought up with the message that purely positive people are somehow a little ‘flaky’.  “Life’s just not like that”, is a phrase that I have heard from so many different people from all walks of life, before they moan about the latest thing that has just happened in their lives.

But one thing I have learned over the past fifteen or so years, is that life can be like that, if you choose it to be.

It was a huge breakthrough to me when I learned and really absorbed that it isn’t what happens to you in life that matters, it’s how you choose to respond or react to those things that happen.

We all have things that happen in life that we’d rather didn’t – a job loss, the death or serious injury or illness of someone we love, or ourselves – but rather than think of those as ‘bad’ things, I have been trying to put them into a perspective of ‘things that happen’ rather than ‘bad things that happen’.  The word ‘bad’ is a subjective term, in the same way that ‘good’ is.  We attach those words to circumstances and that reflects how we react to them.

If we realise that we have a choice as to how we react through the choice of words that we use to describe them, then we give ourselves a certain amount of power.  If we try to see the positive impact of something that initially appears detrimental, then we give ourselves energy and power to work through it with a positive attitude.  If we select the negative descriptor, then we drain ourselves of energy and will-power to deal with the problem that is there.

It was a conscious decision on my part to try to learn to harness the positive potential of every situation – even something as heartbreaking as the death of my mum – and it works, for me.  It allows me to break through potential paralysis of emotions and respond by moving forward, accepting there are no bad things in the world, but only my perception of what happens.

I have learnt to see situations from differing perspectives, which is really helpful in trying to understand another person’s view, but it does mean I’m not very good in arguments, as I can nearly always see and appreciate the other views….!!

So, to the person who sought to diminish my enthusiasm and love of life with the ‘Polyanna’ comment, thanks for reminding me that it is every person’s choice how they wish to approach life, and I choose the positive.  Your choices too will give you what you wish for.

9 October, 2011

The Secret Language of Weaving Drafts

Language is such an integral part of our lives that it’s not often that we stop to think about it.  It’s been in my mind recently whilst I’ve been doing some background reading for my masters degree.  One book I was reading (Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, Edited by Stuart Hall) referred to language not just as the verbal and written communications we have in a specific world language (such as English, French, Spanish etc) but also the language of art, the language of performance, the language of culture, the language of music, and so on.  This got me thinking about the language of textiles.

The language of textiles is one that we are brought up with and absorb from the moment of our births until the minute we die.  Occasionally we verbalise it, but textiles are associated with emotional moments in our lives, and also emotional stability – think about a child’s comfort blanket (whatever form that might take).  Think about the significance of a prom gown, a wedding dress, funeral clothes, casual clothes.  We make emotional and rational decisions about textiles our whole day, and our whole lives.  We are surrounded by them wherever we go, whether that be clothing, or furnishings in our house, the textiles we use for doing jobs, and now of course, textiles which have added value and usefulness – the protective clothing used by the armed forces and emergency services which let you know if your core temperature is too high, whether there is toxicity around you, some even have soft switching which incorporates electrical circuits into them for many and various uses.

This weekend, I was showing a student how to read weaving drafts and we had a discussion about drafts being a secret language known only to weavers and how unlocking the secrets of the langauge through its code opens up a whole new world to a new weaver.

I’m a teacher who expects my students to use their brains and I give them the tools to be able to make their own decisions as weavers, right from the start.  To me, unlocking the code of weaving through the ability to read and understand drafts, so that you can relate what you are seeing on the page to what you are doing on the loom, and the relationship between how you thread the shafts and the lifting order you use, is the most important part of my job when teaching.  The wonder and excitement that lights up students’ faces, and the knowledge that they can create their own patterns and share those with others through this coded language is a huge reward to me as a teacher.

As weavers, we may have a secret language known only to other weavers, but the results are there for all to see, in a language which means something to everyone, whether they like what they see or feel, or not.  Textiles is a wonderful field with direct connections to every living person.  The versatility of techniques in textiles, and also the huge variety of techniques within weaving alone, gives us a wonderfully expressive langauge to use to communicate what we wish.  Let’s talk to each other through textiles!!

Happy weaving!

4 July, 2011

Small cogs in a Big Wheel

I spent a lovely weekend with the members of the Kennet Valley Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers.  It was a particularly well-timed visit as they were basking in the success of a mammoth Fleece to Fabric challenge called The Newbury Coat.  The papers made much of the group’s not managing to break the record they previously set 20 years ago, but didn’t state that the coat was for a much larger man this time, and was made without the big carder they had before.  So with more hand-held equipment, fewer spinners, and a larger coat, it’s not surprising they didn’t quite manage the time.

What I think is much more significant is the team effort involved in the whole project.  Obviously something like this requires organisation and precision timing, but the sheer number of people involved in the fleece preparation, the spinning, the weaving, the dyeing and the tailoring, is staggering.  That this was undertaken by the Kennet Valley Guild, with some spinners and weavers coming from nearby areas to assist, is nothing short of marvellous!

They were celebrating the achievement on Saturday with champagne and beautiful cake and it made for a very lively meeting!  With a workshop on texture the next day, I was able to stay over and enjoy some of the members’ company for a second day.

What I want to write about today is the shared experience of being part of something big, like the Newbury Coat.  A project that brings people together with enthusiasm, being part of something bigger than yourself, working as a team for a greater purpose, is something that is so important both to communities and to individuals.  Even though people’s lives are so busy, there are those who will volunteer to help with something that brings people together.

This year, in my neck of the woods, has been a good one for this sense of community this year.  The Royal Wedding was, for many, a great excuse to get together as friends and neighbours to have a street party.  Our village holds an annual rock concert (which was also this last weekend), showcasing our local bands and raising money for the Air Ambulance.  It is always a sell-out family occasion and greatly enjoyed by the vast majority of local folk.  (There are always one or two moaners in every village!!)  And we are not unusual.  There are fetes and fairs all over the country where communities get together.

We live on a road which frequently sees old steam rollers and horse-drawn carriages and curricles going past on their way to a meet or a fete in the summer months.  People have deep love for their hobbies, interests and enthusiasms which is so good to see and enriches every person that takes part.  This diversity of interests leads to motor rallies, re-enactments of historical battles or challenges, getting together for a fete to raise money for charity, putting on agricultural shows, gymkanas, athletics and sports meetings, dramatic performances, concerts, festivals for all sorts of events.  We are so lucky to have this richness and diversity of activities in which we can participate.

But I just wonder how many of us really do take part in something like that?  We all like to enjoy them, but if a few more of us would lend a hand, we would actually enjoy them even more.  The old adage, what you put in you get out, is so true.

It is noticeable that where people volunteer to take on a small part of a big project, not only do their communities benefit hugely from this, so do they as individuals, making connections with people they don’t yet know, building stronger and more resilient communities where people help each other and give mutual support.

The Brits are really good for pulling together in a crisis.  Maybe this economic situation will keep bringing us together more, for the long term, in projects that engage and enthuse us!  What will you do in your community?

26 June, 2011

Golden activities

It’s Wimbledon time again and I’m an addict, so for two weeks in the year, I juggle my time between the studio and the TV.  Not a confession I really like to make, but it’s something that began in my youth, and seems to me to be a connection between my mum and me, especially now that she’s no longer with us.

Also, the tennis has been really good this year.  For the first time in ages, it seems like the women’s game is a bit more open as the Williams sisters have been affected by injury and ill health in the last year, and the men’s game is really exciting and more international than ever.

My particular problem this year is that I am also weaving for two exhibitions with deadlines next week and the week after, and I’m a little behind schedule!  So I’ve been getting up earlier and starting weaving early and then popping in and out of the house to see what’s going on in the tennis whenever my body needs me to take a break.  It works quite well usually, with weaving for an hour, then a tea break to catch up on the tennis and then back to weaving….  It takes the players around 30 mins per set, so I can usually catch up with what’s going on, get a flavour of the atmosphere and how the players are responding, and then leave them to it for a while!

Whenever I stop to watch Andy Murray, I find myself having to go back to the weaving because I seem to affect his performance!  He always seems to struggle with his matches when I am viewing, and gets himself sorted when I’m not!!  Really, I don’t intend to jinx the poor man!!

Anyway, I was starting to feel a little guilty about this ‘leisure activity’ of passively watching the tennis, when I read an article talking about the quality of how we spend our down-time.  This writer was talking about golden, vacuous and vicious pastimes.

The golden pastimes are the times we spend in improving ourselves, whether through meditation, physical exercise, reading quality books, learning about something that interests us, consciously savouring experiences, and sharing quality time together. In other words, positive actions.

Vacuous pastimes are those where we are in our comfort zone and ‘chilled out’, such as watching TV programmes which are not instructional but are not total rubbish, reading books that don’t demand anything from us but which have an interesting storyline, watching films, sharing conversation over a meal together.  In other words, neutral actions.

Vicious pastimes are those which have the potential to do us harm, whether physical or mental, whether through active or passive means.  These kinds of pastimes are watching rubbish or violent TV, going for a blow-out meal or heavy drinking session, gossiping or reading gossipy magazines.  These are the easiest to choose to do, but also the most harmful to our psychological and physical well-being.

I read the article and thought about the content for a while.  It is interesting to realise that the first one is the hardest for us to select, and yet will give us the best physical and mental results, while the second is probably the one that most of us opt for for an easy life.  The third one most of us generally resist, but give in to occasionally, and usually feel really guilty about if we ‘indulge’.

The one thing it really made me do is stop to think what my leisure activities are contributing to my physical and mental health, and although I feel a bit guilty about my Wimbledon fortnight, I know that in general, I tend towards the golden activities.  I like my brain and body to be stimulated, pushed and extended, but I also fall into the second group because that’s often the only way I can spend time with my DH, especially at the end of the day.

Getting back to Wimbledon, just thinking about how dedicated these athletes are and what they put in to getting to the top of their game, and especially how important it is for them to do well at Wimbledon is also inspiring.  If they can do it for their sport, I can do it for my weaving.  So for me, Wimbledon is a spur as well as a pleasure.

Next week – week two!!  Bring it on!!

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