Back to School and Projects

That’s rather misleading since most weavers go to ‘school’ more in the summer than the rest of the year. I went to Convergence and to a tapestry workshop in July. In August I taught a workshop. Summers are usually quite busy for weavers.

And now it’s September, so although it is technically late summer, that sense of ‘back to school’ and autumn is quite firmly in our heads. I have only two short months before I’ll be living on a boat again, and the urge to finish projects and get some new ones started (and finished!) is strong.

If only I’d gotten Bob involved in my loom problems earlier I would be much farther along on my fabric projects. I still have all that glorious pale indigo paper yarn from Habu that needs a mission. I resorted to a linen/cotton blend for those no-longer-paper placemats, and the pattern is showing up nicely. I’m just disappointed about them not being paper.

The weft is now Duet from Gist. The color is Chambray. It’s left over from a couple of previous projects, including napkins for our son and his partner a couple of years ago.

It’s 55% linen and 45% cotton. It works beautifully for these placemats, but I am still wishing they could be woven with paper. The important thing is that they work, and I like them! The downside is that of course I didn’t have enough weft, which was one partial cone and one full cone. Now I’m waiting for the arrival of another cone, and it’s a holiday weekend. Ugh. I ordered on the 2nd and got a message that shipping usually takes one day to my address. But as of today my order has not been ‘fulfilled.’ I guess that means it won’t go out until tomorrow, and then it won’t get here in time to meet my self imposed deadline. I hoped to take them to my small area guild meeting on Thursday for show and tell, and then I wanted to use them next week when I have two weavers staying with me. Oh, fate.

It’s lovely, right? I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that I have to tackle making my indigo kit from Maiwa because I want to use this yarn, and it needs to be just a tad darker. I can’t use this color. So I decided to dip my toes in the dyeing process by using a kit I got from Abundant Earth Fibers. They carry acid dyes rather than natural dyes, but they say their ingredients and their process for dyeing is organic and vegan. I bought two colors: sugar snap and moonbow. I decided to try sugar snap first, on some singles wool that I spun for tapestry. It was an easy project and enjoyable on a late summer morning when I was home alone. I started by wetting my wool. No need to mordant ahead of time in this process. The kit comes with a tea bag of dye and a pouch of citric acid.

I used my pour over kettle, which has a built in thermometer, to heat water to 185 degrees F. I heated a bit higher since this kettle does not hold the 10 cups required. I poured the first overly hot water into a big measuring cup while I heated the second batch. I took a video of adding the water from my kettle to the glass jar with the tea bag of dye floating in it.

The second short video is adding the wetted wool skeins to the jar of dye. I had two 50 gram skeins to dye, and each tea bag will dye 100 grams of yarn or fabric.

Someday, if I ever get smarter, I will combine these two videos into one. I enjoyed the process! How could I not? It was simple and watching the color transfer to the yarn was magical, as always. The instructions say to add the packet of citric acid after the yarn is in the jar. Swirl things around to get the citric acid well distributed. That was quite magical because I could see the yarn bind with dye. Suddenly the water in the jar barely had color. The yarn had all of it.

The color of the yarn is hard to show. It’s not the color of young sugar snap peas that I see in my mind. It’s almost as dark as pea soup on the first day you make it. It’s an interesting color, quite complex. Here are my attempts to capture that color.

This is closer.

I also happened to watch a video from Botanical Colors about their new easy to use alum mordant. It requires no heat and can be re-invigorated several times. You have to leave your materials in overnight since it works at room temperature. The upside is there is no trying to keep a pot at an optimal temperature, and you don’t dispose of the mordant liquid until you’ve used it a number of times, adding just a bit more alum each time. I ordered some liquid madder so I can dye something with the new alum product.

I want to ‘up’ my dye game. After I try the aluminum triformate and madder I hope to have the courage to tackle the indigo vat supplies I bought from Maiwa.

Who knows when I’ll get to do this, but I do hope it’s in September or October. After that I will be a sailor’s wife living onboard. I have quite a busy schedule this fall, all of it I am very much looking forward to doing. I am giving a short talk about Archie Brennan on Thursday this week. It will focus on his ability to find solutions. Our afternoon project will be to weave portraits on chopstick looms. This is a project near and dear to me, because all of us in the Wednesday Group were surprised when Archie presented us with little looms he’d made from all the chopsticks we’d used over the years of having Chinese take out together after our Wednesday classes. He was so very clever. We all gave our chopstick portraits to Archie, and he had planned to find a venue where they could be displayed. That never happened, and sometime before he died all our chopstick portraits came back to us. Now I want to keep that wonderful idea of Archie going. So, onward to a new batch of potential weavers.

A fellow weaver has commented on my last post with suggestions for me to consider about how make that paper weft I abandoned work. I’m excited and plan to look into that this morning. I can pursue some alternative treadlings for my Greek key twill and possibly make use of such a subtle color difference between my warp and weft. Thank you, Valerie! Meanwhile, I also want to try dyeing that yarn just a couple of shades darker.

There is a certain energy at this time of year, isn’t there? It’s the beginning of winding down to the end of the year, but it seems that most of us face that with renewed energy to make something, do something, be something. Let’s all get going!

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When It Rains on My Parade

There is a drought throughout most of the East Coast (US) right now, but it’s raining buckets on my parade of projects. Ugh. I know these are supposed to educational moments, but they are still annoying!

When I returned home back in April my combby (read computerized dobby head) on my Baby Wolf malfunctioned. I assumed it had to do with the dobby head not recognizing my laptop because I have this problem often. I have a notebook for this loom with lots of little tips for what to do when things aren’t working. None of those tips worked. I figured the loom was just being cranky from disuse over the winter months when I was away. It definitely has a hard time starting to work whenever I return home from long periods elsewhere.

I tried weaving on this loom in April when I returned, then in May, then in June. I wasn’t home in July, but about 10 days ago I tried again–in August. I am not a techie type problem solver, so at long last I asked my husband to take a look. The first thing he checked was the plug. Whew! Yes, it was plugged in. Still, he didn’t think there was any electricity going to the dobby head. But I did have a little blue light on the connector to my laptop that flashed every time I depressed the treadle to advance the pattern. Bob got out his ohm meter and sure enough, the plug to the dobby head was dead. Well, huh! He said I shouldn’t have left the dobby plugged in for the winter, even though the dobby head was turned off. I’ve never considered this before.

After a search for the proper plug with the correct fitting that goes into the dobby head, he found one by asking our electronic guru, John Acord, where to buy the thing. The plug arrived and I am now weaving. I was beginning to panic because once September arrives it is a non-stop carnival ride to the moment we head south again on our boat Pandora. I have a lot projects in queue and nothing is getting accomplished!

All along I’ve had doubts about my project for new placemats that is currently on the Baby Wolf. The blue Japanese paper weft is very pale. Will the pattern actually show up in the finished cloth? It’s a Greek key sort of pattern.

Now that my loom is working again, I wove the 2nd of six placemats and I’ve become more convinced that the pattern does not show in my choice of warp and weft. Yesterday I cut off the two placemats and serged the ends. To keep from having to retie the warp to the front cloth roller, I have woven a bit of plain and inserted a bar and more plain weave so I can just cable tie the bar with the rest of the warp back onto the cloth roller. Today I hand washed the two placemats since I didn’t have any clothes or towels to wash with it in the machine, but I did spin the placemats in the machine and then dried them in the dryer. I wanted to see the outcome of the fabric in the method that I will likely wash them in the future.

Boy, I am so disappointed that the pattern does not show up, except when viewed from a certain angle with just the right light! Ugh! I am not in love with this!

And yet the fabric is lovely–just like the Japanese paper towels I wove a couple of years ago, when Tom Knisely first tried it himself and wrote about in Handwoven Magazine.

I don’t want to weave another goose eye project, but the pattern certainly shows up on these. They wash and dry by machine wonderfully, and still have a beautiful hand after regular use for the past 18 months. So one option is to rethread the warp in this pattern and continue.

Or… I could take the rest of my Japanese yarn that is such a pale blue and dye it darker in an indigo vat. I haven’t had much success with indigo in the past, but I have an indigo ‘kit’ from Maiwa waiting for me to get the courage to try again. I could also just try to find a darker blue linen in my stash–I know I have some–but I really wanted paper placemats since I’m so happy with my ‘paper’ towels. I’m in a quandry!

Another current project that is challenging me at the moment is a garment that I’m sewing. Every year I try to make one or two sewing projects because someday I hope to have the skills to sew something to wear out of my handwoven fabrics. I’m still not there. I am seriously bummed that I still struggle to do some pretty basic garment sewing. My most obvious problem in my last few projects is attaching a bias binding to the neckline. I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to master this. So, at the moment I have painstakingly picked off the binding and am now hand sewing it in place. I may look up youtube videos to see if I can learn how to do a better job there. Fingers crossed. Whenever I make a garment I think of an upcoming event where I’d like to wear my new outfit. This time that event is on Tuesday! And now I’m hand sewing the binding along the neckline and then I have to hand sew the hem. That’s a lot for me to accomplish by tomorrow. Monday and Tuesday I cannot sew.

The pattern I’ve made is from 100 Acts of Sewing; it’s called Dress #2. I bought the pattern and the fabrics at Clementine in Rockland, Maine. What a beautiful shop! I wish I could go there more often.

The dress is done! I’m not fond of the neckline, and maybe…maybe…think I should shorten the length. Otherwise, I like the fit of this dress/tunic! I still might add the pockets in the contrasting fabric I used on the sleeves and neckline.

Oh! And I never mentioned that I finished my espadrilles. I actually wore them at Convergence in Knoxville and showed them to Suzi Ballenger who taught the technique to my local small group of weavers. She gave me a thumb’s up! I had some mishaps along the way because that’s what happens when I sew, but in the long run I now have a pair of handmade shoes! And they’re comfortable!

The ups and downs of projects. Sometimes things go well on the first try; sometimes they don’t. I don’t like rain on my parade, so I hope I’ll figure out something for my paper placemats.

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Weaving Circles

Such adventures I am having this summer! The entire month of July was focused on weaving, and a lot of it was tapestry. Lucky me! I am indulging in a couple of weeks of recuperation right now, because last winter while I was far from home and missing all my weaving compatriots, I signed up for everything I could find online–and it all happened in July. Now I realize that I no longer have the energy of a 30-something so I need a bit of down time to recharge my batteries!

Yesterday I saw Rebecca Mezoff’s most recent blog post. It’s about weaving circles in tapestry. It was perfect timing for me to see since I’d just finished teaching a beginning tapestry class at the Weaving Center at Hartford Artisans, and we ended the course by weaving part of a circle. I think Rebecca’s idea would work well for weaving a small circle on just a few warp threads. In the long run I think weaving angles, curves, and circles involves a lot of attention to the turns made to create the shape. Turns that occur on low warps, ie an uncovered warp where the turn happens, will make a smoother line.

Some of these circles ‘read’ better than others, and those are the ones that had more turns on a low than on a high. Rebecca also talks about weaving a rather long straight area at the sides of a circle. This is what we Wednesday Group weavers call the ‘ears’ of the circle. If you don’t weave enough of the flat side you’ll end up with an oval when you have woven further up the circle. On the other hand, sometimes those long runs turn into something that looks like ears! Here is a close-up of the ‘ears’ on the pink circle from the photo above.

There is a lot to consider when weaving angles or curves. During my tenure in the Wednesday Group, Archie Brennan made a diagram of the process of weaving a circle for us. I now share it with my students, knowing he’d want it passed on to others. It’s complicated and takes quite a bit practice, but ultimately it’s worth putting in the practice time in spades!

The key to reading this diagram is that a minus sign before the number (-4) means how many warp threads to move over for the next pass. A positive number (+3) describes how many passes to make turning on the same warp thread before moving to the next warp for the next pass.

For beginning students this exercise serves two important purposes. This is the first time students ink on to their warps. Archie always recommended using a Sharpie pen called “Rub a Dub,” which only comes in black. That can be a bit worrisome if you are weaving with a white weft, but I’ve never had any bleeding of ink occur, althought I haven’t woven much white. Archie did use a lot of white and off-white, and that is why he recommended this particular pen. Students learned to ink on in the Gobelins manner, which is to place the warp on a flat surface to bring the warps into one plane, such as placing the portable loom on a book or a piece of wood, with the cartoon situated where needed behind the warp. The process is then to lift each warp thread individually and mark however many dots on that thread are indicated by the cartoon. Then move to the next warp thread. The technique of making the dots is to hold the pen still against a warp thread while twirling the warp thread with the other hand in order to make a small mark that encircles the warp. This way, if the warps should begin to turn during weaving you will still see a clear mark.

The second part of the exercise is to weave the partial circle that is now inked on the warp. You weave the background first, and each turn you make involves a choice of turning on a high or a low. Mostly you’ll be turning on every warp in this example, which has a warp sett of 4 epi. For the flat bottom I’d be sure to turn on a low, and if possible I’d try to move over by an even number of warps for the second turn, so it would also be on a low. That will give the flat bottom that Rebecca mentions in her post. After that I’ll mostly likely be turning on every warp thread, and as the curve gets steeper I’ll be making multiple turns on each warp thread. This is where I will want more turns on the lows than on the highs, as they build. So after a warp that I’ve chosen to weave two passes on a low, I would never weave more than two passes on the adjacent high. Once I’ve got a low that needed three passes I would then be open to weaving three passes on a high. And so on…

This is a lot of information, given quickly. There is always more than one way to accomplish something, but since I value Archie Brennan’s suggestions above most others, I wanted to share this! It does require practice! Have a go!

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Summer of Weaving

Through all of July I was focused on weaving. What an extraordinary time it was! After a winter of missing weaving and all my weaving friends, I signed up for everything that crossed my path on the moments when I could be online in tropical ports. First I went to Convergence in Knoxville, Tennessee. My friend Kari and I went together by car, doing a fun bit of sightseeing along the way. We traveled via Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping to enjoy the views along the way. We spent a day at Monticello. It was a hot one. We would have explored more if only it had been a few degrees cooler. We had some adventures along the way, such as when we were stuck on Skyline Parkway with an overheated radiator. It took about four hours to get help from AAA and get some coolant added to the engine, but during that time we met a lot of travelers who stopped to talk and offer us water and food while we waited. The world is a much friendlier place than shown on the news. But you knew that, didn’t you?

Harpers Ferry
Shenandoah National Park

We left from the Baltimore area and arrived in Knoxville four days later! Hello Convergence!

I registered for three classes–beginning sprang, a lecture on Frieda Hansen by Robbie LaFleur, and a ‘make and take’ Dorset button project with Denise Kovnat. My publisher had a booth in the vendor hall so I was asked to give a short talk there.

Although my talk was not well attended, all the copies of Archie’s book had sold by Monday morning! And the talk gave me excellent practice for an upcoming short talk and chopstick loom workshop I’ll give in early September. All good.

Here Susan Wilson (author of Weaving Crackle and More) and I are petting the Schiffer Stork–an interesting mascot since publishing a book is a bit like giving birth. The gestation period for the Archie Brennan book was more than 12 years.

The sprang class sent me down a rabbit hole I did not expect to go. I just wanted to understand it as an historical artifact and technique. Now I’d like to make things, which will involve learning and practicing–I’m sure a lot of practicing. Carol James makes such lovely clothing in this technique. In September I will start a six-week online course with her in beginning sprang. Sprang rabbit hole, here I come!

Her work in the juried show was so delicate and drape-y and elegant!

She also had work in the yardage show in which she wove the entire alphabet in sprang. It was hard to see, but here is her touchable sample.

The lecture and slide presentation that Robbie LaFleur gave on Frieda Hansen gave me more intriguing ideas to pursue! We had three hours to learn about Frieda and see many images of her tapestries, which are unique for leaving so much warp unwoven. Excuse those bright white dots. They must be a reflection from the screen.

Robbie LaFleur has done quite a bit experimenting with this technique. I thought each woven shape must have been soumaked to hold it in place, but no! Wool warp and wool weft are just clinging to each other in their inherently wooly way. Seeing actual tapestries done in this technique showed how beautifully supple the fabric can be.

Knoxville is a charming city, part of a larger area that includes Ashville, NC, and Gatlinburg, TN, that have many galleries focused on fine craft and art. Walking to Market Square was easy from the conference hotel, and there was much to see! The exhibits that were related to Convergence were “Small Expressions,” hosted by HGA; “Tiny but Mighty,” hosted by American Tapestry Alliance; “Complexities,” hosted by Complex Weavers; and a lovely show works from members of the seven weaving guilds throughout Tennessee. Kari and I spent a wonderful day touring these exhibits. I have loads of photos, but I bet you’ll see a lot of these in the upcoming issue of “Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot.” I can’t resist a photo of Kari and me having a cool adult beverage on a very hot Knoxville afternoon!

I knew that Scottish tapestry weaver Fiona Hutchison was at Convergence, but I never bumped into her during the conference. In March I had entered a lottery to take a workshop with her just three days after Convergence ended–in Massachusetts. It was a hurdle to drive home–not to Baltimore where my friend and I started our journey–but to Connecticut! I had only 36 hours to unpack, do laundry, and gather all my materials before heading out for a 3-day workshop with Fiona at Rolling Ridge Conference Center in North Andover.

Here is our group of twelve lucky participants. Fiona is in the second row, second from the right.

Fiona’s work is so interesting! It was a challenging and inspiring three days making samples of just a few of her many techniques to bring tapestry off the grid and create such interesting fabrics.

Here are some of Fiona’s woven samples of techniques. Here she has taken one warp and woven separate small sections of differing lengths and differing numbers of warp threads. She has left the linen weft ends exposed for a textural effect. Off the loom she pulls the warps to create all these small undulations.

This is my sample of what the weaving looks like before being cut from the loom and manipulated into undulations.

Here are a number of different techniques woven by Fiona, displayed together for us to see.

Twisted warps and supplemental warps make this very interesting sample.

At various points during the day we had time to explore the grounds. We all loved the views of the reservoir.

The Center used to be a Methodist retreat center (perhaps it still is), and there is a chapel at the water’s edge. The workshop was a magical three days of hard work and terrific inspiration, with good food and a picturesque location thrown in for good measure.

Back at home, exhausted from so much artistic exposure, I had only a few days to get ready for my own class on beginning tapestry. I had eight students who stuck with me on the roller coaster ride to learn some fiddly techniques that I call a ” tapestry weaver’s toolkit.” We focused on opposing sheds, making lots of small shapes and adjusting the tension at those little selvedges, then headed into angles, curves, and circles. The students worked hard to get all that info in three long days. On the last day we had a tour of the historic mill where Hartford Artisans has class space full of light and beautiful views out the huge mill windows in Manchester. It’s a room full of floor looms with a great view!

As I’ve been writing this I have received an update from Robbie Lafleur about our Frida Hansen class. She calls it ‘Borders and Edges.’ I’m off to read that and learn more. It’s been a whirlwind, especially during July, but I’m living the experiences I dreamed about last winter!

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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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