Handmade Espadrilles with Handwoven Fabric!

Doesn’t that sound like an amazing project? I certainly thought so! I am having my first go-round on this idea, based on my local area guild having a workshop on this with Suzi Ballenger. You may know her as the current President of Handweavers’ Guild of America. Yes, I mean that Suzi!

Suzi started making shoes in the early 2000s when she found an article about it in one of the popular craft magazines from the 1980s. The magazine was “Decorating and Craft Ideas,” issue July/August, 1982. She made espadrilles for herself, her children, and other females in her family. Now she’s made quite a few with her handwoven fabric. We are lucky that Suzi lives in nearby Rhode Island, so she didn’t have to travel far to be with us in person. She first ran a zoom meeting to give us background and instruct us on the prep work we’d need to finish before the date of our in-person workshop last week.

We all ordered our supplies from Diegos’ Etsy shop. All the supplies are made in Spain, but they have a warehouse in New York state, so shipping costs and time were reasonble. The soles are made of jute and the bottoms are coated in a layer of natural rubber. If you want to buy material for the uppers, they have power looms weaving quite interesting fabrics. Since I always make a trial run or “muslin” of a new pattern, I opted to buy one of their fabrics. Take a look at their Etsy shop because the choice of fabrics is quite exciting!

Traditional cotton Selvedge canvas made in Spain | Originally used to make accessories and espadrilles | 5.9” (15 cm) wide canvas

This is a weft faced fabric, like a wide inkle woven band. The weight of the fabric feels like canvas.

My supplies arrived quickly from Diegos’ warehouse in Champlain, New York.

There is a page on their website that describes the process of making the soles, making the fabric and putting it all together as espadrilles. I enjoyed seeing the loom that weaves the fabric.

There is even a documentary film to watch that is 8 1/2 minutes

Our espadrille soles have been coated in rubber, and I notice that the video did not cover that. But let’s get down to Connecticut’s Area 4 weaving guild project.

Suzi Ballenger gave us paper patterns to use as templates for our uppers. She suggested cutting out the toe box and heel backs on the cutting lines and finishing all raw edges with double fold bias tape. My bias tape sewing skills are not up to par, so I’ve opted to line my uppers so they have finished edges. I am using natural lightweight linen for the lining, and I’ve put some adhesive lightweight interfacing on the lining. Here are my materials gathered, ready to start.

I’ve added a 1/4″ around all the pattern pieces so that I can sew the fabric to a lining and have the finished pieces be the size of the pattern piece.

I finished one toe box and decided to test it for size.

I am a bit concerned that the upper does not reach far enough back on my instep to attach to the heel piece. Looks like I was right. The upper toe box piece needs to reach back to at least the instep. Back to the drawing board to resize the toe box! I added 1 1/2″ to the length of the toe box, which includes the 1/4″ seam. It’s a good thing I ordered extra fabric.

I wrote all the above about a month ago! Where does the time go? I have my new toe pieces ready to sew onto the sole of the shoe, but I still haven’t done it! Maybe today. I really want to move on to writing about other things, and I really want to wear these shoes this summer!

My Area 4 group got together late last week, and about three people have finished their espadrilles and were wearing them. I hope that’s the impetus I need to finish my own!

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April in New York!

It’s wonderful to be home! I got here in time to see my swathe of daffodils and pick armloads of them. The hellebore are blooming, and the back garden had more celandine poppies than I’ve seen in previous years. I guess they are spreading. The bleeding hearts are starting to bloom. I bought pansies for my window boxes.

But nothing at home beats April in New York, so Bob and I were delighted to spend the Easter weekend with our son Chris and his partner Melody at their home in Manhattan. Central Park, the gardens at St. John the Divine, the peacocks at St. John’s, and the Hungarian Pastry Shop all made for a memorable reunion! Throughout the gardens around St. John the Divine are quiet places to sit.

The peacocks are named Jim, Harry, and Phil. Phil is the albino peacock and perhaps somewhat more famous than his two friends.

I don’t know how to tell the difference between Jim and Harry, but I’m sure others do.

We enjoyed the cleverly written signs throughout the gardens.

The sidewalks throughout the gardens are stenciled with peacocks!

I haven’t been here in quite a few years, since Chris left New York to move to California, about seven years ago. I enjoy taking photos of my loved ones taking photos!

We had breakfast at the Hungarian Pastry Shop two days in a row. That was a rare treat!

Central Park was equally beautiful, but far more crowded, especially on a multiple holiday weekend.

Then we were off to Maryland to visit our older son’s family, where we get plenty of play time with our three grandchildren. The oldest has decorated herself with ‘gems.’

The next oldest, the first twin, has grown weary of listening TeePee (grandpa’s name) read the newspaper.

The youngest of the lot is happy to participate in whatever activity is on offer.

It was a whirlwind week, and I came home terribly sick with a bug from visiting these small germ breeders. These days my bouts with colds and flu are pretty rough. I don’t know if it’s from being isolated for two years, or if it’s the gift of advancing age. I don’t like it!

Now life begins again in earnest. I will be teaching two classes in early summer and it’s time to start getting ready. The first class starts this week at Wesleyan Potters. (I know!–That doesn’t sound like a place that would offer weaving classes, but in fact, they offer classes in weaving and jewelry making as well as pottery.) Then comes a shorter class in July at Hartford Artisans. I’ll be at Convergence this summer too–to talk about Archie Brennan’s book. All good!

The bane of my winter was trying to make a small tapestry for the “Tiny but Mighty” exhibit at Convergence in July, that is hosted by the American Tapestry Alliance. The deadline for registering to participate in this biennial, non-juried event is May 1, today! I managed to finish the finishing work on this tapestry yesterday and get a photo for the registration by last night. This piece is 9″ by 7.5″ and is called “Mind the Risk.”

I’ve always wondered what April in Paris might look like. My visit to that city took place in September a few years ago, and that was quite impressive. There were still roses blooming everywhere, and the weather was mild. The only Aprilgla anywhere near Paris that I experienced was April in Strasbourg, 15 years ago. Storks were nesting on the rooftops, and that was certainly more memorable than either daffodils or roses! –a close contender with peacocks in Manhattan. Happy spring.

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Mother Nature Always Has the Final Say

The pre-modern world is still very much on my mind after seeing that ancient, worn piton and imagining the fearsome sea monster it would have seemed to an ancient sailor. Lately I’ve been thinking how ridiculously removed I am from nature in the modern world. I turn up our heat, turn down our air conditioning without a thought, I store our food in near perfect conditions in our freezer and fridge–even on a boat! I mostly leave home in the cocoon of my little mini cooper, so that there is not much weather that keeps me confined at home. Anyone who camps or lives on a boat knows that weather rules everything we do.

This morning, while having breakfast at a cafe right on the dock in English Harbour, Antigua, we all felt the wind gather speed. One person at every table jumped up to run back to boats to close hatches so our beds would not get wet in the coming squall. Meanwhile, we all continued to sit at our dockside tables, out in the weather, rain or no.

On our sail back to Antigua from St. Lucia we experienced a moment of epic nature that has stayed with me over the past two weeks or so. The low angled light of morning is perfect for watching flying fish jump out of the water as the keel of Pandora slices through their fishy schools. It’s amazing to watch them leap out of the water, their winged fins flapping furiously. In that perfect light their fins sparkle like diamonds and remind me of what fairie wings might look like, similar to a dragon fly’s wings, but entirely white. I’ve never seen a dragon fly with white wings. Some of these fish can fly so far, it is quite remarkable, like skipping stones made of faceted diamonds. I spent a lovely hour watching them glide above the water as Pandora’s bow sliced through the waves. Shortly after the fish started flying we were visited from above by several brown boobies. I thought they were gannets, but I’ve now found out better.

There was such a symmetry between watching the fish glide through the air, skimming over the surface of the indigo water, while birds glided high above us and swooped down so close to our bow and our sails. Those birds are great navigators maneuvering so close to Pandora. I wished I could see in all directions at once to follow the swooping birds and keep an eye on the flying fish. It was not possible. I saw that Bob had our camera out, trying to follow the exciting trail of just one bird.

If only Bob had gotten a photo that showed how close these birds got to us. They are so agile. In this photo you can see the blurry outline of our forestay.

I don’t think I do anything as hard as what the boobies and flying fish were doing as I watched. All that work for a such a small meal of fish with very little meat and so many tiny bones. And all that work for such tiny fish to fight for life–avoiding the giant boat hull lumbering at them, escaping from the depths to be attacked from above. What a hard life!

This has been an exciting season for experiencing nature’s extremes. The cruisers down here have all noted how much windier it’s been this year. Almost all of us have been visited by porpoise on our voyages, and several cruisers have seen whales. Bob and I think we saw a whale breach…in the far, far distance. No photo.

Bob is currently writing about his extreme experiences racing in the Classic Yacht Regatta aboard Columbia. That was extreme sailing! Everyday a few of the crew were swept down the deck by the force of the waves crashing over the bulwarks. The experienced crew were well versed in grabbing people as they slid by. Bob got tossed down the deck on the first day of sailing and was caught by a crewman who apologized for getting so ‘personal.’ Bob was thankful to be grabbed. A friend of ours got swept away on the 2nd day — not overboard, but he did have his pants ripped off entirely, and he got a nasty rope burn down his chest (and etc.) from the line he was desperately clinging to as he made that voyage down the deck.

One of the professional photographers sent these two images to Bob. No one is in charge at all, except the force of nature!

I can’t even tell where the bulwark is in this photo!

The islands of the West Indies are extreme in the best and worst that nature offers, although nature doesn’t make judgments like that. Nature just is. There are volcanic mountains and remains of pitons, rainforests, incredibly blue waters, skies and rainbows, and hurricanes. And when things go down it’s on a different scale entirely than when I decide to head home in my car, park in the garage, and get inside my house for comfort. Safety isn’t even on my radar. I just want to be warm and dry!

And thinking of home, we head home in three days. On Sunday night I’ll sleep in my cloud bed, and when the sun rises on Monday, I’ll be outside checking my gardens. With a little luck my flower boxes might hold miniature daffodils and grape hyacinths. The daffs at the top of our hill might be starting to bloom. I have to start preparing for Easter the things I want to share with our NYC kids and our grandchildren in Maryland. We have a short tour of the Eastern seaboard to take within a week of getting home. It’s all pretty exciting to this weary, and reluctant, sailor.

Earlier this week I looked at a few years’ worth of garden pictures, missing home, but also getting psyched for the return. I found this photo of a bouquet of my first rose of the season, with other spring flowers, from a few years ago–hellebore, tulips, bleeding hearts. I’m looking forward to all of these!

Ever the goal seeker, I have to make an accounting of the projects I have finished during the Caribbean season. I finished that blue sweater, knitted sideways, from cuff to cuff, more than a month ago. I have finished the orange vest, but cannot bring myself to put it on for a photo. For one thing, it really needs wet finishing to complete the look of the knitted lace. And I don’t have the proper clothing to set off this pretty vest! Some time ago I finished a Nanucket basket vase that needs a bit sanding and a coat of varnish at home. Not a bad showing for four months away from home.

The bigger news is that I have completed everything I can do down here on my small tapestry. I now realize that I love embellishing things! The last time I added ‘bling’ to a tapestry was in 2015, when the Wednesday Group made portraits on chop stick warps that Archie made for each of us. I did a triptych of Greek characters: Artemis, Theseus, and the Minotaur. The best part of that project was thinking up non-woven ‘accessories’ to add to the weaving. Now, I am having the same fun embellishing my current small tapestry. I’ve added needle weaving and knitting so far. At home I will make a length of kumihimo in a pattern I know that uses three colors and looks a bit like snake skin. There are slits in this tapestry, and I plan to thread the braids through various slits.

And one final thought on nature. My friend Stephanie on Hero took a photo of this sign we both saw during our time together in St. Lucia. So true.

Homeward bound, back to modern life.

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Disconnected

Every year Bob and I are promised better connectivity in the islands, with promotions from various internet providers. I think I have finally given up hope! This year takes the cake! Moments after getting onboard my iPhone got the ‘black screen of death.’ I googled how to solve this, but without being able to back up my 10,000+ photos and various other things, I decided to leave that job to a professional…and that means waiting until we return home.

So we bought the least expensive android we could find at the Digicel store in Ste. Rosa, Guadeloupe. We were promised that a certain Digicel plan would give us 70 gigs of data for about $40 (US) a month. We could add more, 10 gigs at a time for about $10, and we could pay by automatic payment. The service would work in all the islands from Antigua to Grenada. Sounds good, doesn’t it? We fell for it! So it came as quite a surprise when the phone turned itself off about a month later. In the settings it showed that we paid for the next month, so we didn’t think it was a payment issue. After that we saw the payment on our Visa account. For the next month the phone did not work. We had no hotspot, and Bob’s google fi phone did not have enough data to use for a hotspot. We eventually went to a large marina in St. Lucia where wifi is included with dockage, but of course the service did not reach a single boat on any of the docks, except before 7am. What fun!

Are you thinking we should be less tied to our electronics? Well, sure. But when you live onboard you need more connectivity than if we were just on a two-week vacation. We want to talk to our kids and grandkids, we want to read the news, we want to write blogposts. Bob has managed to keep up his blog because he can take his computer ashore and use wifi there. My computer is now old enough that it needs to be plugged in at all times to work, and I can’t do that ashore on any island except Antigua due to the type of electrical outlets. We left there in January! When we were on the dock in Marigot, St. Lucia, I had electricity onboard, but no wifi. Now we are in Rodney Bay Marina, St. Lucia, and I have both electricity and wifi. At long last!

I’ll stop whining now and move on. We’ve met new friends this year, cruisers who are on their first Caribbean journey. I can tell already that some of these newbies will become long term friends. There are still no weavers who’ve crossed my path, but I have been able to keep in touch with some of my weaving friends at home. In reality I’ve been able to keep in touch more this year than previous years, so some of my ranting above is not fair!

SEA MONSTERS

When we sailed from Martinique to St. Lucia, earlier in March, it was a ‘sporty’ sail. I was seasick and unable to move from my spot on the leeward side of the cockpit. We passed an ancient piton at the southern tip of Martinique that sent my brain to thoughts Scylla and Charybdis from Homer’s Odyssey. The piton we passed is quite small compared to others in this area, well worn and likely much older. As we passed it I was able to see three sides of the rock, and on each side of that rock there was what looked like a fearsome face etched into it. I could not possibly get up from my perch to get good photos, so I got out my cheap phone and did my best through the glass of our protective windows in the cockpit. This is the third side, as we were passing our last view of this piton. I was too sick to make sure the horizon was straight, and since I took this on an android, when all my other ‘toys’ are apple products, I don’t know how to edit this image to straighten that horizon. At any rate, maybe it’s better crooked, since it evokes my extreme state of off-balance!

Can’t you feel the fear some long ago sailors must have experienced as they passed this piton in a gale with angry seas and black skies and wind all around them? It brought these ancient sea-monster stories to life for me. I was so happy to tuck into Marigot Bay after this rather short, but sickening sail. And I’ve been thinking about sea-monster stories since this day.

RESORT LIFE ON ST. LUCIA

While in Marigot we were visited daily by a little Lesser Antillean Bullfinch. He was a cheeky little bird, very used to people and boats. He had no fear of flying down below through our small companion way, and he was not easily shooed out of our cabin! He seemed to know which boats had bananas, so Bob started leaving a half bananasfor him out in the cockpit each day. It was not a good idea because he became a constant pest. If there wasn’t a banana waiting for him outside he’d come below and take a look around.

While trying to chase him out of our cabin he ducked into our ‘stateroom’, aka bedroom. I wish he’d given me time to make the bed before I took this photo!

St. Lucia is a gorgeous island, known for its lushness, its high volcanic mountains, and two striking pitons down in the southern part of the island. Pitons are the leftover cones from ancient volcanos. Here is a view of the two famous pitons (Petite Piton on the front and the larger Gross Piton in the back–I know! The one in the back looks smaller from this vantage point) with the sprawling capitol city of Soufriere just to the north.

Stopping along the roadside to capture shots of the pitons. The roads seems greatly repaired since our last visit pre-pandemic. We were locked down in St. Lucia when the pandemic started, in March of 2020, but we were confined to Pandora, so we did not visit this area that year.

You cannot visit this area with a snap of yourself with pitons in the background!

On each of our visits to this part of St. Lucia we stop for lunch at a beautiful resort called Ladera. It’s at a high elevation with terrific views of the pitons right at eye level. The food and wine is just perfect in this setting!

There is a new game in town, which is a thrill for me. The Rabot Estate that grows cocoa for export, including to supply Hotel Chocolate in the UK, has opened a showroom and bar/restaurant facilities, just down the road from Ladera. They opened two years ago, just as all the islands of the West Indies locked down. Lucikly, now business is taking off, and luckily we were able to participate in their growing success! If you’ve never had Hotel Chocolate, you should! There are some shops in the US (look online). My dear friend Leslie sent me my first taste for Christmas last year. I’m hooked!

Here are just a few temptations on display!

These displays were inside 40′ shipping containers lined up inside a giant tent. It was sleek–very modern. There was a full container of beauty products made with cocoa butter. Here is my favorite purchase from the day.

We almost opened this bottle last night, but decided it would be great share with Chris and Melody over Easter.

This is the resort at Marigot where we’ve spent the past two weeks indulging in pool time, great food and time with friends. I even visited the spa–twice.

Being tied to a dock for two weeks gave us the ability to run our air conditioning, which allowed me to knit my wool vest and work on my tapestry in cool comfort. This “Con Alma” vest is now much further along, above the arm scythes.

One day I tried weaving at the pool, but it was challenging! The wind is always blowing, and at this stage of life, my eyes struggle to see when the back light is so intense!

I finished my Nantucket basket vase! Well, the base and the top rim need sanding and then the whole thing can be varnished. That will happen at home, in Bob’s woodworking shop. (And hopefully, he’ll do those jobs for me.)

After spending so much time in French islands where there are many boulangeries serving up baguettes, I have finally mixed up some sourdough starter. I made the batch with a new friend, Oana, from a giant catamaran that is currently docked in Marigot, and will soon head back to Portugal. Oana found it interesting to be delving into sourdough at this stage of life (a few years younger than I am), when during her childhood in Poland, sourdough bread was the only bread available. What goes around comes around.

There will be a sourdough boule later today, just in time for our overnight voyage back to Antigua starting tomorrow morning.

I’m very glad to be connected to the world today. Life needn’t revolve around connectivity, but sometimes it’s good to be in touch. I’ll be home 14 days from today. New England spring is calling to me!

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Do You Need a Sweater?

Bob asks me this almost every day during the winter when we are in the Caribbean. I answer that I always need a sweater, but that it’s too hot! He is teasing me about all the knitting I do while onboard. I finished my Purl Soho “Cuff to Cuff” sweater about a week ago and have been waiting for milder temperatures in the evenings in order to put the sweater on to take some photos. The almost perfect evening came about two days ago.

I don’t have a desire to wear this sweater again until I am home! It is comfortable, although not so much in 80+ degrees. I think I will enjoy it in the milder April weather at home in Connecticut. I looked at the little thumbnails on our camera and declared that we were done with photos. When I saw the images afterward I realized that there are still a number of locking stitch markers pinned to various places where I was noting the shaping. Ugh! Just my luck! It’s just too hot to retake the photos!

Here is a detail of the side shaping I did. It starts with side slits, then the side seam tapers up to the armhole through the use of short rows. You see the stitche marker I used to keep track of the center underarm. Oh well!

I have been thinking about a collar, but for the moment I’m just going to move on to other projects. I will have the option to add a collar, but in my experience, once I start wearing something I rarely continue to tweak at the design. I brought along a vest pattern and yarn from Kate Davies Designs. The pattern is “Con Alma.” I love the color she knitted for the images on her website–a happy orange that reminds me of the center of a daffodil! I will add a different kind of side shaping for this design. The yarn has wonderful bits of other bright colors, in its tweediness. The yarn is “Milarrochy” which makes me think “Milarkey,” so that is what I call it. The color is ‘Asphodel.” It is knit in the round from the bottom up. Instead of steeking, the pattern is knit back and forth from the armholes upward to the neck. I am enjoying knitting the lace details on the center front.

We are in a small ‘anse’ which means ‘cove’ in French, or perhaps in French creole. I need to check on that (French). The small village is called Grande Anse d’Arlet, and it is somewhat south of Fort de France. There is no hint of Carnivale here, just what we hoped! There are no ferries to rock the harbor every half hour, no drumming, no parades. There is a long beach to walk and some beach cafes. The mountains in the background are dramatic, but not so high as Mt. Pelee, so we don’t get constant rain showers as we did in St. Pierre. We are anchored somewhat to the right of that pier coming out from the beach, although we are not in this image that I got off the internet!

Grande Anse d’Arlet is the blue dot on this map, although the village is name is missing. As you can see, we have moved directly south of the festivities in Fort de France.

I’ve been drawing designs for my next small tapestry. That’s a bit of a challenge–always is. I dread drawing and then after several false attempts I begin to enjoy it, as I get closer to something almost worthwhile. I wish I’d brought some colored pencils, just to get a sense of color and depth. There’s always something missing onboard.

I am ready to weave, but no definite image yet. I want this finished so I can bring it home in my suitcase as a small textile, not as a cumbersome copper loom! So time is short. If my drawing skills were better I’d be weaving already. Meanwhile, in only a month I might be able to wear sweaters again! With luck, I’ll have two new choices in my wardrobe.

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In the Background

There’s a background to every part of our lives, isn’t there? We’re focused on things, but plenty of other stuff is whirling outside of our field of focus. I am on the final rows of my Purl Soho “Cuff to Cuff” sweater in a shade of Mediterranean blue that I love. It conjures up memories of my time in Greece from almost 50 years ago, and it also is the shade of many shutters and trim on Caribbean houses. I wanted to change the silhouette of the design by adding shape to the side seams. My first attempt was a failure!–although I thought it was so clever. I picked up and knitted stitches all around the front and back side seams, and then did double decreases (sl1, k2tog, psso) at the center stitch of the underarm. I did this for 30 rows, and it did not do what I expected. So much knitting, and then I tried it on and sighed. Not good at all! I needed to sleep on that small debacle for a night, then luckily the next morning I woke up ready to get down to another possibility. I ripped it out quickly, and the 2nd idea went much more speedily and looks much better. I did short rows that tapered up to the point of the underarm. It only took about 22 rows, and because of the short rows the number of stitches overall was less than the first attempt. I tried it on and liked the look!

This is the background in which I’ve been knitting. At the point of this photo Bob and I were leaving the tiny villages sprinkled throughout Les Saintes and heading for St. Pierre, Martinique, the home of the infamous volcano Mt. Pelee.

A few more days down the road (uh…sea) finds us now anchored in Fort de France, the capitol of Martinique since Mt. Pelee erupted in 1902, and destroyed St. Pierre (we spent almost a week there). Fort de France is both historic and modern. We are anchored right near the 17th fort of St. Louis. It was started in 1683, and finished in 1710. Bob and friends keep quoting the French from “Mounty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail.” Hmmm….

When we go ashore to the dinghy dock we are in a large park where people gather with their children to use the playground equipment, or they gather at the beach–that tiny strip of sand in the far left foreground– for swimming.

There is a gazebo in the park where drummers gather in a drumming circle every day. We can hear the percussion onboard Pandora, all evening and into the wee hours in our sleep. I think these sessions are practice for Carnivale that starts tomorrow.

I have mixed emotions about being here during Carnivale. Two years ago, this is where we were were, amidst thousands of revelers, when we learned that the world was about to shut down. We sailed south to St. Lucia when all the Windward and Leeward islands closed their borders. If we’d known this would happen, we would have sailed north to Antigua. But we couldn’t know. It took us about a month to get north to Antigua, when the border there opened for a brief 3 days, and then another two months or so to get to the USVI and then to Florida. These are not good memories for me, so being here gives me a certain level of angst. In spite of French curfews here of 11pm, newly extended from 8pm in mid-February, it seems like Carnivale will be just as crowded and chaotic as past years. Will the revelry go on until about 4am, as in past years? I’d rather get out of here to some of the remote coastal villages.

Down here we live with scattered rain showers, especially if we are near islands with rainforest, and showers always mean rainbows. Bob has about a thousand photos of rainbows, just from this year.

Our friends on Hero, Stephanie and Jim, took a photo of a rainbow encircling Pandora. You’d think that might bring us a bit luck, but if that’s true, what we got was a bit of bad luck. Bob lost his wallet in the big city of Fort de France. We don’t know if he lost it on land which could be very bad…. or if it possibly fell out of his pocket while we were in the dinghy. If it’s lying at the bottom of the harbor we are not so worried.

And we thought for certain that this photo, also taken by our Hero friends, with the end of the rainbow right on Pandora, would bring us luck finding Bob’s wallet or a pot of gold. We’d take either. No luck for us! Note the double rainbow which is also a frequent occurrence everywhere in the Caribbean.

So we lurch ahead. Bob has no driver’s license now, no credit cards, no ATM card, and no medical cards. We lost the cash we had, about $200 in euros and a little US cash. It’s inconvenient for sure. Yesterday Bob asked at a hotel if we could have a small package sent by DHL, but the concierge emphatically said, “NO!”–even wagging her finger at him and looking angry at the suggestion. These are trying times for being a stranger in a strange land. I don’t fault the hotel at all for not wanting mail from anyone not staying there. The banks here are only ATMs, with no actual human employees. We’re not in Kansas anymore. My ATM card and credit cards are all the same accounts as Bob’s, so it’s still a dicey situation, but we are going to use them until we can’t. Bob checks our visa account every day to see if there are any charges not made by us. I guess we’ll be holding our breath until May, when he gets home. Although I’ll get home in April, I can’t cancel cards that he needs to use!

That’s all the news from here that’s fit to print, with a bit of background beauty thrown in for fun. It’s a beautiful backdrop to my many concerns and worries at the moment.

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Reality Check

For the past couple of weeks I have been consumed with hearing from folks who’ve just received copies of Archie Brennan’s autobiography/memoir. I’ve been holding my breath on the copies sent to far away places, like Australia, and also following those in the US who pre-ordered the book at Schiffer Publishing and at Amazon. All is going well. It seems like a lot of people have ordered. I sure hope the publisher thinks sales are going well.

Meanwhile, real life continues. Bob and I are spending the winter onboard our sailboat Pandora, after an 18 month hiatus due to the pandemic. This year we will not visit quite as many places in the Eastern Caribbean due to rising cases on some islands. In spite of our best efforts to stay safe, we have been in Guadeloupe now for a week and learned that this island’s Covid cases have been rising dramatically. We first landed in Guadeloupe at a small village on the northeastern coast called Deshaies (pronounced DEH’ eh, or DAY’ A for those who love diphthongs!). I wasn’t particularly worried there because the village is so small. There is an 8pm curfew all over the island these days, so restaurants close up around 7:45 so everyone can get home. We ate a few lunches out because of that, and we did some touring in the area during the daytime.

One day we took a shuttle bus to the nearby botanical gardens that we visit every time we are Deshaies. Luckily the shuttle bus was empty except for the driver and us. One of the highlights of the gardens is their restaurant. Our friend Tom, aboard Rally Point, joined us for the day.

Of course, the main highlight of the gardens are the gardens!…and the birds! They have a wonderful array of parrots in the gardens, both in an aviary well are out in the open (perhaps their wings are clipped). There is also a fenced in area of flamingos. This year the flamingos have great color.

We are staying more connected to our cruising friends this winter, traveling together to different ports. Is this because we all missed each other last year? I’m not sure, but so far we have stayed in a traveling clump. Since the evening curfew makes dinner a bit challenging we have enjoyed a few lunches with our friends. I love this spot in Deshaies called La Mahina. It’s painted white with Mediterranean blue trim and has such lovely views out the unglazed windows!

A few days ago we sailed to Pointe de Pitre, the capitol of Guadeloupe. We’ve never been to this port before for two reasons. It’s a huge port, and it’s industrial. On one side of Pandora we look at a lovely shoreline with only one dwelling and a mountain in the background; to the other side we see a busy port with cranes and containers and ships loading and unloading. The city of Pointe de Pitre is quite large. It’s not our best choice, but we are trying to be careful!

The highlight of Pointe de Pitre is the river that divides the two islands that make up the island nation of Guadeloupe. It’s a navigable river for most smaller vessels, but the two bridges that span the river are no longer operable as draw bridges, so that has closed off travel on this river. The chart below shows the Riviere Salle is in the middle of the two wings of the butterfly that make up Guadeloupe. There is a red triangle showing the entrance to the river where we began our journey.

Cruising sailors can still take their dinghies along this river, along with paddle boarders, kayakers, and small power boats. Luckily the local coast guard patrols these waters to keep speeds down. During our visit up the river, the coast guard stopped two jet skis who were speeding past us.

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We made a day of exploring Riviere Salee with couples from three other boats in our group. The river and the small canals and byways along this river reminded us of so many places. Traveling through mangroves we remembered our winter in Cuba, yet some of the byways actually looked like lakes in the Adirondacks on a summer day. It’s a beautiful area.


As we explored a number of small byways, I was intrigued with the sky and mountains in the distance. It was a wonderful experience! In the middle of the day, we stopped in a larger open space to tie all our dinghies together at the bows, which made sort of a 4-petaled sunflower raft-up. We opened our picnic lunches and relaxed and talked.

It’s quite a contrast to explore these little tributaries off the river and yet be anchored in such a big industrial harbor. Getting back to our boats in the large harbor during the afternoon strong winds was no simple feat. That’s the thing about living the simple life–there is always a price to pay for the good times. Sometimes that price is pretty high.

I’ve been trying to turn my attention to projects. I’m on the last leg (no, really the last arm) of a sweater I’m excited to finish. It’s quite a simple design, from Purl Soho, that is knit from cuff to cuff. In past sweaters of this design I have knit the entire sweater in one piece, but this design is knit in two pieces: a front that is cuff to cuff, and a back cuff to cuff. The two pieces get put together by picking up stitches along the selvedges and doing a 3-needle bind off. Doing this 3-needle bind off gives a smart edge to the seams which you can see in the photo below. I am going to add a long gusset to the side seams, using a technique from one of Vivan Hoxbro’s designs from years back. I don’t remember the name of that knitted jacket, but I enjoyed the clever way she joined the center back. I will pick up stitches at the side seams and do a double decrease at the underarm every other row until I get the A-line shape I want. This has been a slow project because it’s all just garter stitch…ad infinitum. But the finishing details could make it a quite a lovely design. I hope so!

End To End Pullover | Purl Soho

The color I’m using is a slightly different blue than shown here. It’s more blue, less green, but still a warm sort of barely turquoise. I’m almost to the last sleeve which should go quickly.

I’ve made progress on the basket, but it’s still not done. I probably have two more sessions of weaving to finish it. I’m saving that indulgence for a perfect day. It’s so enjoyable to weave a basket!

If I don’t make a plan for a small tapestry soon I’ll be lugging my frame loom home empty! I don’t want to do that! It was hard to get all my supplies onboard this year because I didn’t do it before Bob left to sail to Antigua. I didn’t want to decide what to bring so long before I’d actually be here. But packing two large suitcases of supplies, and schlepping them through JFK twice (due to flight cancellation) was SO not fun. I need to make good use of the supplies I lugged all the way here and with such inconvenience! Wish me luck.

This is my reality right now: living in a tropical paradise, with a good dose of hard work. Today I am doing laundry which will hang out on our clothes line in the cockpit. I know I’m lucky to have a washing machine onboard. Without that, laundry is quite a big chore that I might enjoy describing someday…but not today. I will knit and try to conjure something for dinner on our tiny stove that is now having problems. Bob worries that if I cook too long our last solenoid on our propane tank will melt, making cooking even harder to do. He installed the last spare solenoid a couple of weeks ago, and hasn’t been able to buy more spare solenoids in any of the chandleries along our route this winter. He’s hoping for luck in Martinique, or we may be relegated to cold meals! Fingers crossed. It’s time to hang out the laundry.

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To Sir, with Love…

By ‘Sir’ I mean Archie Brennan. While Archie became an Officer of the British Empire in 1981, he was not technically knighted, so he was never a ‘sir.’ But to those of us in the Wednesday Group he will always be “Sir Archie.”

Thirteen years ago Archie and I began working together on what is now Archie Brennan: Tapestry as Modern Art. After all these years, our book is now winging its way around the world! The pre-orders and the copies I had the publisher send to acknowledge those who helped with the book have mostly arrived at their destinations, including Australia. I’ll admit that I am still a little awestruck that this idea that Archie and I discussed so many years ago really came to be. There were plenty of times when I didn’t think it would happen.

This photo was taken by Bob on the last day I spent with Archie, in 2016. We had finished photographing the works that were still in Archie’s possession. It had been a long day, especially for Archie, who was clearly showing signs of diminished health. Bob and I borrowed photography equipment from Schiffer Publishing. By the time we picked up the equipment and drove to Archie’s house, we’d been on the road for 10 hours. Local friends, Alta and John, not only took care of hosting us and feeding us at their house, but also pitched in to make the process of getting the pieces out of Archie’s attic and into my car, then unpacking tapestries, photographing, recording info, and repackaging the works go smoothly. Really, it could not have happened without their help. John arranged for us to use the social hall at the local fire station for the photo shoot. Thank heaven all those tapestries fit in my station wagon!

This photo of me holding open the book at the image that represents so much to me, was taken by my dear friend LeaAnn. She took it because she wanted to document for me how happy I was that this photo is included in Archie’s story. Near the end of the publishing process my editor decided to delete this photo. I was crushed. Her reason for omitting the photo was that it was just a ‘snap shot.’ She was right, but for me this image represented the culmination of about eight years of work by 2016. And I never saw Archie again, so there was that too. After a week of back and forth, my editor agreed to include it in the book. As it turns out, it’s in a wonderful place, at the end of the index. It stands there as a little sentry, evoking my last day with Archie on the long journey toward this book.

Now the book is arriving in mailboxes all over the US, the UK, and even as far away as Australia. In February it will be available in Canada through Amazon. Weavers’ Bazaar in the UK, is going to carry it, and will have it ready to ship next month. As people have received their copies, they are sending me heart warming messages. I am so moved, I often find myself speechless.

From Julie von Wettberg: It brings together so many threads… weaves them into whole pieces with the accompanying photos you and Bob helped create… and results in such an engrossing story, even from just reading bits here and there.
Your words are beautiful. Your goal… fully accomplished. 

From Anna Wetherell, who has reviewed the book for “Tapestry Weaver,” the journal of the British Tapestry Group: Just to confirm that Archie has arrived. My first impression is that it is a beautiful, well crafted book and I am going to learn a huge amount from reading it! I may well also feel that Archie has arrived in person, judging from Brenda’s introduction…
and from Facebook: It’s superb Brenda! Hugely well done. (being one of the lucky ones to get a chance to review it!)

From Molly Elkind: I LOVE this book! (I reviewed it for SS&D). Tapestry weavers will truly enjoy it and learn so much. Congratulations, Brenda!

From Kay Lawrence, Professor Emeritus at the University of South Australia, and internationally known tapestry artist: The Archie Brennan book arrived yesterday. What a handsome publication and what a massive task! I’m so glad you stuck it through to the end. It will be such an important reference for the development of contemporary woven tapestry in the twentieth century.

To Sir, I miss you daily, and it helps greatly to know that many others will get to know as well as your devoted students have done. You will continue to teach others through those who now teach after being your students, through your video series, and through this book about your fascinating life. With love…

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The Annual New Beginning

The start of each new year coincides with me moving onboard Pandora for a winter of sailing in the Caribbean. We stayed home last year because of Covid. After following the mandates being enforced here and the level of infection in Antigua all year, Bob decided it was somewhat saferfor us to be in Antigua this winter than we’d be at home. (Of course, that didn’t include the absurd crowds we enccountered at JFK airport!–never again!) I was not as confident, but here we are! Happy New Year from English Harbour, Antigua.

I don’t know if we’ll get further down the island chain. Antigua seems to be the safest of the islands at this time.

What is on my mind every time I ring in a new year is how much I didn’t get done while I was home, how many projects on ‘my list’ remain just ideas. I spend some time each January grieving the things I didn’t accomplish because now I have four months with no looms, no sewing machine, no spinning wheel, no marudai and takadai, no lace pillow. Oh, I could on and on about this. I get rather morose at this time of year dwelling on what I’m giving up for the winter months. Those winter months are such a marvelous time to hunker down, almost hibernate, and just create. It used to be my most productive time of year, mingled with guild meetings, which no longer occur, that inspired me to do new and better things.

During the pandemic I have subscribed to a journaling newsletter called the “Isolation Journals,” written by Suleika Jaouad. She is a wonderful writer who inspires me to think differently and to record how my ideas and attitudes might change with her weekly prompts. Lately, I’ve been enthralled by her messages, in both good and sad ways. She is going through the recurrence of some serious medical issues, so her prompts about attitude have deeply affected me. At the end of last week she wrote a message about re-thinking the new year, and her ideas helped me to look at my accomplishments differently. For years she makes five lists around the new year. On the first list she records all the things she has accomplished. That’s what I did yesterday, and I feel a LOT better about the things that didn’t get done. Try it! We all do so much more than we think we do when we reflect on our time. It’s a great idea to list the things. It’s more than you remember until you force yourself to list them all.

I won’t go through the other four things that are helpful to list because you can read the message here. I hope you will.

My grief at leaving home has lessened. I don’t have quite the projects onboard that I had hoped to bring because Bob may not sail Pandora home this spring. After 10 years, he is getting tired of the long journey home each spring and the longer journey here every fall. We are considering leaving Pandora in Trinidad which is outside the hurricane zone. With that in mind, I had to choose carefully projects that are compact enough to make some kind of journey back to me, either by crate on a ship or in various suitcases (that we’ll have to buy!) to check on a flight home. It will certainly be a new hurdle for us, and I’m already worrying about it. I’m so good at that!

My year ended with some wonderful family time, in spite of the pandemic. We are a small family, although my older, married son sees far more people since his children are in nursery school and his wife has a large family. We visited them in Maryland the week before Christmas so that we went ahead of their visits with the distaff side of the family. But, nothing is completely safe these days. On the evening we arrived our son got a message from the nursery school that a teacher had tested positive for Covid and that the school was now closing until the new year. The families of the students were required to quarantine for at least 10 days. That included us since we were now in their house. All went well for us; no one got the virus, although we got a good dose of a different virus! Bob calls our grandchildren adorable virus vectors, and they are!

At Rob’s house, along with nine people, three of whom are still nursery school age, there were three dogs and two cats. Everyone got along well, and mostly the cats just hid somewhere safe from dogs!

Our younger son and his partner also joined us on this early Christmas weekend. It was the first time all our family was together in several years. That is because Chris (younger son) has been living on the West Coast for about seven years. He doesn’t make it home every year. Now he has moved back to Manhattan, and we’ll have more family gatherings as long as we are all well enough to do so safely. This is a wonderful gift for me.

This was a moment I won’t soon forget. Tori and I fell asleep on the couch together at her house. When I awoke she was still sleeping. Is there anything more angelic than a sleeping child? Yes, actually there is! Watching a sleeping angel cuddle the knitted toy sheep I made for her about three years ago.

For the Christmas weekend, Chris and Melody came to our house, along with a dear family friend who has been in our bubble for the entire pandemic. It was a quiet Christmas, but very moving for me.


It snowed on Christmas Eve this year, and Melody got up early Christmas morning to take photos.

When she sent me this photo of Mila from Christmas morning, she added the caption, “Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes!”

One more photo of our oldest grandog, who is only three. We have a family of young children, young dogs, and old cats!

I ended the year with a heart full of gratitude, and with help from the Isolation Journals I’m not beating myself up much about the things I didn’t accomplish this year. This new year feels like a positive new beginning, rather than a time for moping about lost opportunities. That is a huge difference for me. It’s time to knit!

I wish all of you health and safety in this brand new year.

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Life at my Kitchen Table

The biggest news I am compelled to share–a real book! Something I can hold in my hands!

What a thrill it was to find a package from Schiffer in the kitchen yesterday when I returned from a day out at the Wadsworth Atheneum! I thought the museum exhibit was exciting, but I had no idea what further excitement lay in store! The book is a pre-release copy. Only a few were shipped by air to Schiffer for promotional purposes. The rest of the books will arrive by ship whenever that is possible. No one can guess that anymore. The original release date was Sept. Then it got moved to early December. Now it will be sometime in the new year…with luck.

The book is bigger than I expected. I knew it was over 300 pages, with lots of photos, but I didn’t expect it to be this big.

The Schiffer team, headed by senior editor Sandra Korinchak, worked hard to get the colors as close as possible on the photos. I’m sure they were sick of my phone calls and worries, and they had to work with some considerably old slides that have changed color over the decades. Remember Kodochrome and ektochrome? Yep, those were the good old days of film.

I lost a lot of sleep over the images for the book. I am thrilled that they are quite good. The Schiffer art folks had a lot of work to do without ever getting to see the actual tapestries. There was a lot of sleuthing, and although I’m tempted to go on and on about that, for now I’ll spare you. Shortly after I took a quick look through the images, I weighed the book. I was just that enthralled with how heavy it feels. It’s 5 pounds.

It’s strange to be taking photos of the real book. It has only existed in my mind and then in pdfs from my editor. Now a real book is on my kitchen table, where so much of my life takes place. My son calls our dining table “Mom’s studio: the sequel.” A lot of straightening up goes on before we eat dinner here most nights. Now I’ve even placed a couple of small side tables near my chair so I can just move my stuff from the dining table to the little tables. This is what often happens. On this day I happened to be in an online bobbin lace class to study and sample making Ipswich lace, led by Karen Thompson. It was a bit difficult to move this when dinner was ready.

Most days for the past year+ the table has been cluttered with stuff pertaining to Archie’s book. I’m thrilled that those days are past. I got this pre-release copy almost two years to the day after Archie passed away. I could never have imagined how long a process this would be.

Those sweaters I mentioned in my last post have not been touched yet. The pattern for the autumn leaves in Rauma wool is definitely awol. What a shame. It’s going to take some effort to develop my own pattern based on what I’ve already knitted with no records! I did find the stitch pattern, so it could be worse. It’s only a bit of math. I just have to do it.

I should be talking about tapestry, shouldn’t I? I’m just still not ready. It’s like the feeling when you finish a good book or a good movie, and you just can’t start a new one right away. I need a bit of time to process that Archie’s book is a reality before I can focus on my own tapestries. I thought I’d dive right in, but that’s not how I feel right now.

Instead, I’m focused on knitted sweaters, and an unfinished basket, and bobbin lace. I’ve gone down a few deep rabbit holes. Today I saw this sweater on facebook–a sweater that depicts bobbin lace. It doesn’t get better than that!

The pattern is free, so if you’re a knitter go get it! Here is the lace that inspired the sweater (also from facebook).

And now that I’m getting quite off topic from the book, I’ll show you my lace from Karen Thompson’s Ipswich class. Ipswich is traditionally done with black silk — not my favorite look by a long shot. And it’s hard to see. But this class has been a good experience, learning about the first documented lace from the new United States, circa 1789, based on samples in the Library of Congress. Alexander Hamilton (the first Secretary of the Treasury of this fledgling country) kept records of the various manufactured items in the 13 new states, and his records, including samples of about 20+ laces made in Ispwich, Massachusetts, are in the Library of Congress. In spite of the current connotation of the word “manufacture,” remember these laces were made by hand, usually in the home of the lace maker.

Back on track–tomorrow will be the 2nd anniversary of Archie’s passing. I miss him on a daily basis, as you’d expect since I’ve spent so much time reading his words and looking at his tapestries. This year I’d like to think that there’s a little silver lining, that now there is a way for weavers to see so many of his works and his creative thought processes collected in one place. But I can’t predict the future. This is what I wanted for him, a way to connect with all the weavers he taught and befriended over the many decades of his career, and a way for those who never met him to get to know him. That’s my wish. I hope it comes true.

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