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29 January, 2009

Inspiration and Character

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Psychology,Weaving — Tags: , , , — admin @ 12:48 pm

When you hit the zone and work is easy, isn’t it wonderful?  But what do you do when the inspiration, and the energy, runs out?  Well, that happened to me today – not for the first time, I might add.  Sometimes I just finish the sample or scarf that I’m weaving, and get up and walk away.  Sometimes, I just get up and walk away!!  But sometimes, I continue on, doggedly determined to see it through to the end. 

That’s what I did today.  I’d woven two sets of 4 samples of texture weaving.  I was on a roll.  It was wonderful.  Then half way through the 3rd set, the energy just drained away.  My back started aching, my brain ceased functionally normally (well, at least what passes for normal for me!), and I felt that ‘uhhhhhhh’ feeling.  Should I get up and leave it for today, or should I batten down the hatches and crank up the determination factor?  I decided on the latter. 

Sometimes, that doesn’t work.  You carry on working, but everything goes disastrously wrong.  Then it’s definitely better to take a break and come back when you are feeling brighter and more optimistic.  But sometimes, sheer determination can win through.  The back still aches, but you put the mind somewhere between reality and dreaming, and keep on working.  Yes, it feels heavy – hard work instead of ease.  But by focussing on the actions of weaving with part of your brain, and letting another part drift away, you can work through it. 

My mum said to me once that that’s what makes a person stronger.  Everyone can do things when they are inspired and full of energy, but not everyone can keep going when things get hard.  When energy and inspiration drain away, that’s when character kicks in.  And those who persist strengthen their character, their will, their determination, and they will succeed. 

You see that in athletes and people who excel in any subject.  They are there by sheer persistence, dogged determination that that’s what they want to do, even in the tough times when the body or the conscious mind wants to give up.  That’s what makes explorers carry on despite facing almost certain death. 

Where does this tenacity lie?  Heaven only knows.  I only know that when I grit my teeth and get myself through a difficult patch, I am increasing my chances of achieving my ultimate goals and in the process am making myself a stronger person. 

This doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit, though.  Family and friends and supporters play a huge role in helping people to achieve great things.  Witness the support for the Olympic and Paralympic athletes in 2008.  For me, as a teenager, my first ever time in a canoe was a lesson in more ways than one.  I was in a 5 mile race!!  I was about to give up when another paddler from a different class caught up with me.  He could easily have gone on to finish his race in a good time, but he stayed with me and encouraged me right through to where we could see the finish line.  I don’t know who was proudest of their achievement – the winners of the race or me!  But I do know that without his help, I wouldn’t have made it. 

So if my words can help you get through your weaving problems, I hope you’ll pass it on to others!  

25 January, 2009

Weaving Teaching is Fun

Filed under: Teaching,Weaving — Tags: , , — admin @ 10:31 pm

Now I’m back from the US, it’s back into teaching with a surge!  I love teaching.  I know I’m in a very privileged position because I’m self-employed and people from all backgrounds and geographical reach come to my home studio to learn.  And not just from the far reaches of the UK, either.  It’s wonderful to teach students from the US, New Zealand, and across Europe and each student brings with them their particular outlook shaped by life’s events, and by their culture – from the standard of living their upbringing imposed, to choices of work, ways of thinking and how they live now. 

One of the things I love to explore is how people think.  I know that I have a certain visual acuity, but I love words (although I frequently have to stop to work out what I’m trying to put across <G>).  I can visualise quite a lot where weaving is concerned, and have huge intuitive leaps between things I see and creating an interpretation of that in my weaving.  However, I can really struggle when learning a new field, and sometimes have to work in a comprehension vacuum until my brain filters what it’s trying to absorb, and eventually it gets to that ‘aha’ moment when everything clicks. 

So what interests me particularly is the myriad of different ways our brains process learning.  I know that for a lot of teachers these things are old hat, but even though I’ve been teaching for nearly 20 years, I still find it fascinating.  The student who can’t understand anything until they’ve actually physically woven what you are suggesting, so you need to give them detailed instructions and they follow them through verbatim and then – kaboom – the wonder and comprehension in their eyes when they see ‘in the flesh’ as it were, what was written down.  Other students seem to have an instant fundamental understanding – intuitive - before they get anywhere near the loom. 

People with an engineering bent, or very practical in sorting things out around the house, usually can visualize really easily.  Artistically inclined students sometimes have wonderful ideas but no idea of how they can translate that to the loom.  Some are willing to experiment and push the boat out, whilst someone else might need a lot of encouragement to move away from a published draft.  Some gravitate instinctively towards a particular set of colours, whilst some are in total confusion about what colours to use. 

One thing that does strike me, and this isn’t just through my weaving teaching, is how anxious people are in general about getting things wrong.  We constantly ask ‘is this right?’  or ‘Am I doing this correctly?’.  Therein lies another musing, I think!!  But it is a constant and it shows up very strongly in a teaching/learning situation.  So one of my key things is to re-assure students that in weaving there are no mistakes, only opportunities or possibilities, and that if it doesn’t work for you, then try another way.  These are weaving cliches, I know, but there are as many ways of doing things as there are weavers, and I feel that a didactic approach can hamstring students/weavers into set patterns of behaviour that constrict and restrict them, both in approaching the practical hands-on part of weaving, and the creative designing element. 

What do you feel, either as a student or as a teacher?

19 January, 2009

Support Systems

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Travel — Tags: , , — admin @ 2:54 pm

The first thing I need to do on this posting is to apologise to Jo Earl for giving her a new first name and mis-spelling her surname!!  My humble apologies, Jo. 

I’m still on US time at the moment, despite having arrived back in the UK on Saturday.  My flight was delayed by 6 hours which could have been a real hassle, but I spent some of the time thinking (!!) and some of the time sharing a bottle of red wine with a fellow passenger, so it went fairly quickly.

What I was thinking about was support systems and infrastructure.  In airports, you suddenly become aware of the huge infrastructure supporting this nest of ant planes, and the thousands of ant passengers.  The individual becomes important, but also loses individuality.  What I mean is that you can imagine that on this particular journey you suddenly realise that thousands of individuals are getting up early, out of their normal routine, and setting off on journeys.  They all converge on hubs of activity (the airport), their luggage is sorted, the logistics worked out, they depart in a myriad of directions for destinations all over the world, and along the way, some of those individuals touch strangers’ lives briefly before moving from their new hubs into other destinations.

It’s awe-inspiring really – all the support staff there in place who actually depend on all these individual travellers – the baggage handlers, ticketing staff, shop attendants, cleaners, pilots and air crew, cabin staff, kitchen services, and all the other ancillary staff, air traffic controllers, transfer bus drivers, tanker drivers and loaders.

And each person that you see or pass, or talk with, has their own history – their story of life, culture, geography.

The more I think about this, the more I am in awe.  The sheer logistics of moving disparate human beings around the world.  The sheer amount of individual life experiences walking around.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to glimpse each person’s experience?  What an insight into all sides of life!  To catch an understanding of another’s situation.

How best to put into words the sense of contradictions that travelling brings to my mind.  The insignificance of each individual and yet the total importance to each of those individuals.  Each separate strand seemingly random yet coming together, separating out into clumps that move for a while together, converge with more coming in from different directions, then separate out into other strands, some amalgamated, some individual, until finally each disperses.  Yet this is happening day after day in countless cities in all countries in our world – a continuum, never ending, always changing;  every day every place unique in its combinations yet seemingly the same.

I find this almost beyond words and yet I comprehend it perfectly, like so many things in our world and universe.  So trivial and yet so much an integral part of how the world works.  See it repeated in the beauty of an individual flower, and a field full of flowers; or an individual snowflake and a snow-covered tree or path; or an individual star in among the galaxies in our universe.

15 January, 2009

Creative Intelligence

Filed under: Philosophy,Weaving — Tags: , , — admin @ 5:00 pm

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This week with Alice Schlein and her husband Bruce has been great fun. Alice has organised several things for us to do, including inviting some weavers from South Carolina for a lunch. So we met up with Connie Lippert, Betty Carlson, Jo-Ann Earle, and Margaret Carpenter. Jo is a fellow member of Complex Weavers, and we share a common interest in mathematics and weaving. Margaret, aka Peg of South Carolina, lives 3 ½ hours away in Florence, and is a fellow member of the UK Online guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers, so I took a peek through her blog, and came across the topic of creative intelligence.

To me, that’s what I’m about as a weaver – you know how to control the medium through hands-on experience, but you have to be aware of how the medium controls the art. That’s not to say you have to be constrained by how the medium controls the art, but it’s useful to know the rules and how they are applied before you break them. I’m thinking in particular of Bach in musical terms here – the master of the rules and the master of breaking those same rules to magical effect. In weaving terms, Lenore Tawney and Peter Collingwood spring to mind – especially Peter’s Macrogauzes and shaft-switching principle.

Constraints can be invigorating, as Peg mentions, but as I’m someone who was brought up to play by the rules but spends most of my creative time actually looking to bend them to breaking point, they are like a clarion call to me, daring me to do my worst!! I was fortunate to do the Bradford Diploma of Handloom Weaving in the early ’90s when it was still a 4-shaft only discipline, and we also had to be proficient in spinning, dyeing, braiding and theory, and we had to know about industrial mechanical processes. A very good education and one which taught the rules so that you absorbed them deep into your knowledge base, although even then I was pushing the rules to see what I could do.

To me, the best of all is to mix that solid knowledge background with the freedom of ideas and techniques that today’s students enjoy. For many of them, it’s play without knowledge, which I think can be incredibly restricting, and sometimes frightening, as you have no understanding on which to plant your ideas. But these students have a playfulness which people hidebound by rules cannot reach. A letting go of one or more rules can lead to sudden discoveries which prompt exciting areas of exploration.

A balance of these opposite poles can lead to creative and unexpected directions – creative intelligence in action.

11 January, 2009

Expanding Your Mind

Filed under: Jacquard weaving — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 6:00 pm

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I’m in the US to attend a conference on innovative textiles and digital technology in jacquard weaving. It was run by the Centre for Craft, Creativity & Design at Hendersonville, in south North Carolina and took place at the Blue Ridge Community College.

Inspired Design: Jacquard & Entrepreneurial Textiles featured speakers from the US, Canada, UK, Scandinavia and Australia and presented a wide range of fields across five design growth areas of Smart Textiles, Performance and Interactive Textiles, Textiles for Boutique Clothing, Interior Design Textiles and Corporate & Public Art Textile Commissions. The delegates were largely a mixture of educators, students and professional textile artists. It was an exhilarating and full-on conference with each speaker hard on the heels of the one before, interspersed with breakout sessions between each topic area, and a key-note speaker from different fields on each day. An exhibition including works from the speakers as well as other artists was held in conjunction with the conference, with its own comprehensive catalogue.

Conferences like this are essential, I think, as they pull us out of our daily routines and force us to connect intensively with other ideas, concepts and people in a flurry of activity and connections before depositing us once more in our normal environment but with a brain buzzing with juxtapositions, key phrases, ‘aha’ moments, and many new possibilities. It takes time to filter this intensive experience and to emerge with a path that may or may not incorporate some of the thoughts that arose from this communication with others.

Some of the key points to come across time and time again in this conference was communication, connection, collaboration and disruptive thinking (neat – cccd!) and that was also the essence of any meeting like this. New people to meet; faces to fit to names that you know, have corresponded with, have read articles by; conversations that lead you to wanting to work with someone and a whole host of new possibilities thrown into the arena by inspiring speakers. It’s like a smorgasbord for the brain!

Such over-stimulation leads to sleepless nights as your brain whirls and swirls, trying to make sense of what you’ve absorbed, but it also leads to new work, exciting research, and new partnerships.

To me, as important as the seminars are, the social interaction is as vital a part of the experience. The chance dinner partners, the discussions over coffee, the shared bus rides, even a random comment whilst washing hands in the rest room, can be pivotal in a change of course or the way you might think about something Serendipity plays a big part in these events and can lead to long-term friendship and collaborations.

So a huge debt of gratitude and thanks goes to everyone who comes forward to organise such events; in this case, Dian Magie, Katie Lee, Terri Gibson, Catharine Ellis, Bethanne Knudson, and all those wonderful assistants and drivers, all fellow artists, who made it happen, and to the speakers who gave us so much brain fodder!

The knock-on effect from events like these is incalculable! Wouldn’t it be fun to canvas delegates in 5 years time and see how this event changed lives – artistically or otherwise? Or even an exhibition of work stemming directly from attendance at this conference? I think the results would be fascinating!

7 January, 2009


Filed under: Travel — admin @ 1:40 pm

It’s just into 2009, and I’m in the US on my first trip of the year, to a conference on jacquard weaving in North Carolina.  I’m also staying with weaver, Alice Schlein, at her home in South Carolina. More about Alice and other weavers next time….

I love to travel. Everything about it. I love planning the trip, packing, people-watching at airports, or coach stations or train stations. I love flying, arriving, experiencing something different, reflecting on those experiences, and travelling home again. The one thing I’m not so keen on is the final unpacking and washing at the end!

I love wondering about people’s lives as you watch them walk by, or hugging goodbye or hello. Where have they come from, where are they going, what are their lives like, what do they do? I’m one of those many people who stand in the garden, look up at the sky and watch a com trail wondering about the people on board the plane and their journeys. Sometimes, a certain person will grab my attention and I’ll spend a while making up a life story for them. Then I smile with amusement at myself, and wonder how accurate this history is, and whether they’d laugh out loud at my reaches of imagination!

But there’s more to travelling than moving from one place to another. Are they happy to be going where they’re going or are they leaving loved ones behind? Is this a visit or a more permanent stay? Are they wanting to go, or are they breaking ties? The same thing with arrivals. Are they happy to be arriving, or are they full of trepidation? I think we tend to assume that people are happy to be travelling, but some people are frightened and having to leave all that is familiar to them to try again in another country which is totally alien to them. I had a slight inkling of what that must feel like when I went to work in Oman last year. A different culture, a single woman on her own in a very male-dominant environment. I was excited, nervous and apprehensive all at the same time.

I love the chance meetings you have with people you’ve never met before and chances are you’ll never meet again. How exciting glimpses into someone else’s life can be. It always makes you think that other people are amazing! Then again, it turns the other way, and someone you’ve never met can make you feel that your life is amazing too! That is very humbling and self-affirming and can be an opportune boost to your self-esteem!

I always buy a book at the airport, and have my Zen player and headphones, but spend most of my waiting time in people-watching. I very rarely even look at my book until I board the plane or train or coach. That even includes a lay-over of 7 hours!!

There’s so much to see in people – not least their clothing!

And then the arrival – the excitement of arriving at your destination. Of leaving the transition phase of journey and starting your new experience for however long your visit is. Of meeting up with old friends and catching up on news. Of being with people you like, of seeing new places, learning new things, meeting new people, making new connections.

Yes, I love travel!

1 January, 2009

New Year, Fresh Start

Filed under: Life — Tags: , — admin @ 12:30 pm

It’s that time – a new year, a fresh start.  I love the beginning of the year and what better way of starting out 2009 than with a new project?  Hence the blog.  I’ve been thinking about it for some time, and have read other people’s blogs, and I felt that I could bring something a little different to the mix. 

I’m not one for New Year resolutions, but I do love the chance to review the past year and decide on new directions, or areas of focus.  This time of regular reflection is one that I think most of us actually need, whether we are aware of it or not.  Over the past few years I’ve been learning a lot about managing my time more effectively so that I can fit things that I have to do around things that I love to do.  Yes, that way of putting it is deliberate!

All too often we put the things we love doing behind everything else!  We have a huge sense of duty to fulfil all our obligations before we reward ourselves.  I was brought up thinking that I could only read a book for pleasure once everything else was done and dusted, and how often I ended up totally frustrated that I hadn’t had a chance to read my book.  In the end, I would sneak off and surreptitiously read, hiding somewhere so that I wouldn’t be discovered.  This way of thinking about things that are important to us is the wrong way round, and I’ve only recently realised that.

Now, at the beginning of a project, I like to give a bit of thought as to what I am intending to achieve with this particular project – is it a present, a set of scarves for sale, a series of samples exploring a particular technique, a piece of artwork for an exhibition, or just a ‘what if I do this with this yarn’ experiment?  This gives me a loose framework that I can start with and adapt as I work through the project. 

I know we’re not all the same animal.  I find shortish time-based lists useful, but long rambly lists just freak me out.  Some folk don’t like lists in any shape or form. 

So for an evening, or an afternoon in between Christmas and New Year, I sit down and reflect on what I’ve done this year, what has happened in general, and what I’d love to do at the beginning of the next year.  I don’t know where my projects will take me in weaving or in life terms, but I do love the sense of adventure.  To me there’s something magical about beginnings, and that’s highlighted at the start of a New Year.  So here’s to 2009.