Author Archives: ozweaver

May in Japan

May is a beautiful time of year in many places, including my home region of New England. This year I chose to step away from home and visit Japan during their glorious mid spring. It was a journey outside of my familiar Western culture into a wondrous world of traditional textiles that are highly valued, into a culture that celebrates its traditions. It was a dazzling time of year to visit Japan!

I can’t imagine how I would tackle a trip like this on my own, so I felt lucky to take a tour led by Sara Bixler of Red Stone Glen. Sara’s well known father, Tom Knisely, joined the tour, and we had an excellent Japanese guide through Opulent Quilt Journeys, who arranged all our destinations and travel. It was the guide’s first time to lead a tour for weavers, and it was her first time to participate in weaving at the workshops she arranged for us. She enjoyed trying her hands at weaving!

Shortly before leaving home I learned that I knew a number of people on the tour, outside of Sara and Tom. My long time weaving friend, Kari, and I were going to travel together and room together on the trip. Then I learned that another old friend, Joan, would be going. What a trill! I haven’t spent time with her since I moved out of New Jersey, more than a decade ago. Also on the trip were Daryl Lancaster and her daughter Briana. While I’ve known Daryl for several decades, I hadn’t seen Briana since she was a small child. Now she’s well into adulthood and a great weaver in her own right. It was a perk to meet Pat White, of MAFA-founding fame, after all these years. We were a great group of 22 weavers who bonded quickly on this trip. There was one husband on the trip, and one daughter who came to accompany her mother.

There was so much to this trip: wonderful opportunities to try both traditional Japanese weaving techniques or materials, and a chance to weave the modern technique called Saori. We saw silk being reeled and processed as well as dyers doing all kinds of techniques, from stenciling and resist applications, to hand painting and shibori techniques. Often all these techniques are combined on one fabric to make a stunning kimono, like this glorious piece.

Since there is so much to cover, I will focus on the workshops we participated in for this post, and I’ll write about the museums, gardens, and temples/shrines in a following post. Everything we did contributed to a once in a lifetime immersion in Japanese textile culture. I’m so glad I made this trip!

Kari and I arrived in Tokyo two days before the tour officially started. We felt we needed that time to acclimate to the time change, a whopping 13 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Savings time. We arrived at our hotel around 5pm and decided to take a walk to the nearby busy area of Shinjuku Station. It was a step into the iconic culture of busy Tokyo. The station is far larger than Grand Central in NYC, with many shops, fast food joints, and of course, train tracks. As it was approaching dusk the lights of all the computer generated billboards were beginning to glow and the crowds during the evening rush hour were straight out of any images you may have seen of Tokyo crowds. We had never seen so many people in one place ever! They all knew where they were going, so it felt like a choreographed modern dance, with Kari and I being the chink in the cogs. Standing still and taking in the scene, we caused such a ripple in the incredible flow of humanity. Much of the station is underground, like Grand Central, and we were soon lost. We asked a number of times how to get back to the street and got conflicting directions. Finally we asked a woman at a cosmetic counter in a large department store, and she actually left her counter to take us to the nearest stairway to the street level. My big regret from this experience is that I was too awestruck to get any photos of this typical, but nonetheless amazing, view of Tokyo at rush hour. Somehow, I thought to take a couple of photos of the food counters in one department store in the station.

A food stall in a department store in Shinjuku Station, Tokyo

Saori No Mori
The first day of our tour we visited the Imperial Gardens and the National Museum. More on that in the future! The second day of the tour we visited the Saori workshop in Tokyo. This is not the founding Saori workshop, which is in Osaka and still run by the founder’s family, but this Saori location was certainly a large space with lots of looms and yarns. Here is Tom showing his finished piece in front of that wonderful wall of yarn (photo taken by Sara).

At all the workshops we did during the tour, we had to divide into two groups. Here is Group I with their finished pieces. My good friend Kari is in the back row wearing red. Can you find Daryl and Briana?…and Sara?

Group One’s finished work at the Saori Workshop

And here is Group II with their pieces. I’m in the back row, wearing an orange shirt. My good friend Joan is in the front row, 2nd from the left. Pat White is in the front row, on the right.

Group II holding their finished Saori samples

This was a perfect first workshop. As you know, there are no rules to Saori weaving, just experiment and express yourself. It was a relaxing day. Half of us went to lunch while the other half wove. In the choatic streets of Tokyo we all wondered if we’d find our way back to Saori! No one got lost!

We soon began our trek north to very top of the main island of Japan. Along the way we saw both coasts of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan. I got a real sense of how close Japan is to both North and South Korea across the Sea of Japan.

Kasuri Weaving Workshop and Ojiya Chimjimi fabric:
This was the day I’d looked forward to since I first got the agenda for our trip. I have a wall hanging in my stairwell that must be close to 30 years old that is from Kasuri Dyeworks. I bought it at a weaving conference those many years ago, and I still love it. To get to visit this place was high on my list.

Ojiya chijimi is a fiber made made from ramie, a bast fiber in the nettle family which is perennial in this region. The process of making a spin-able fiber out of the ramie is very similar to how flax is prepared for spinning into linen. The fibers of ramie are naturally bleached in sunlight on snow covered fields, and this process has been practiced in this part of Japan (the Ojiya region of Niigata Prefecture) for at least four centuries. Older versions of making fiber from different bast plants has existed in this area for a thousand years. Traditionally there was no cotton growing in Japan, and no sheep, so spinning and weaving involved bast fibers and silk.

This display in the museum area of the workshop shows a woman weaving the bast fabric on a traditional loom that features backstrap weaving on a stationary loom. There is a braided cord leading from the curved bar at the back of the loom to the weaver’s foot. The cord has a loop in the end that encircles the weaver’s foot. She changes the shed by pulling her foot back or extending her foot forward. She controls the tension by the backstrap around her hips which is attached to the cloth beam. In the background is a poster of ramie cloth being bleached in a snowy field. (Sorry about the reflection on the glass display!)

Here is an example of weft ikat wound on a reel. The dyes have been carefully placed to create an image when woven. It’s mind boggling to me to imagine trying to do this.

The workshop space where we got to weave a small image in weft ikat is bright with views of the surrounding hills, terraced with early spring rice sprouting in the patties. The space was serene. Outside this workshop area was a display of the centuries of ramie weaving and ikat techniques.

The Ojiya Workshop for weaving weft ikat.

We had several choices of ikat designs to weave, and we could only choose one! It was a hard decision for each of us. The choices were a lady bug, four paw prints, hearts, a swimming koi, and a maneki-necko (the waving cats of good fortune often seen in restaurants).

Tom is weaving a weft ikat lady bug. There is a sample for him to refer to on the table to his right.
My new friend Peggy is weaving a maneki-necko. That’s the one I chose to weave also.

Some of the looms were set up with complex projects that the weavers on staff were working on. Here is a pattern of butterflies done entirely in weft ikat.

Weft Ikat bundles that depict what they will create when woven in the fabric on the right.

Seeing these weft bundles and the samples they wove made me ask if the weft bundles for our little samples were available for sale. They were! I asked for six sets of the koi pattern, and now I have it. I made a note that the warp was ramie set 10 cm wide on the loom (4 inches) and the warp sett was about 18 epi (71 warp threads in 10 cm width). I’ve now got that info here as well as in my notes. I don’t have ramie for warp, but I have plenty of linen. It will have to do. The photo below shows my woven Maneki-necko and the paper copy template for the six koi weft bundles I purchased.

Each workshop we took got more and more exciting. I cannot imagine a better way of immersing myself in the textiles of any culture than being able to participate as well as learn the history of how and why these techniques were developed.

Shinaori
This was my first exposure to this handwoven fabric. It is made entirely from the inner bark of the shina tree, or Japanese linden. Is that the same as the linden trees here in the US? My quick search leads me to say no. There are several types of linden trees. We saw a display on how these fibers are prepared for spinning and weaving. The inner bark is quite a thick section that must first get shaved down, perhaps similar to the way split oak baskets are prepared, but of course, going finer and finer until you have fine fibers like flax or ramie to spin. The sequence of preparation in this photo starts on the right and moves left.

We enjoyed another bright workshop space with views of the neighboring rice fields. It was a perfect day. At the front the room was a display of a traditional living space for those who worked weaving shinaori in the past. This turned out to be a common display in many of the places we visited. The current workshop might be quite modern, but there was often a preserved area that depicted how past generations of weavers would have lived and worked.

I enjoyed this workshop the most of the various techniques we tried. The linden fibers felt wonderful–sturdy and yet pliable. I loved the resulting fabric with its many subtle color changes. Several of us asked if we could purchase this yarn, and we were sad to learn that it was not for sale. It was a joy to weave!

Busy weavers working with shina fiber, or linden tree fiber.

There were items for sale at most of the workshops we attended. I was so smitten with this fabric I wanted to buy many things–most of all the fiber itself.

I treated myself to a hat! I’ll be wearing the most unusual hat of anyone in the Caribbean next winter, as well as here during the New England summer. Lucky me!

I also happened to do a search on Habu Textiles’ site for this fiber, and they have it. I was shocked to learn that it costs a dollar per yard. Hmmm… I think the prices of the finished goods in the shop were quite reasonable. I couldn’t afford to weave any of them myself at $1/yd. I’m so glad I indulged, and I love my woven sample.

Again, we had to weave in two separate groups. While one group was weaving the other group shopped and walked around the village, which seemed quite remote. I have since learned that there are only a handful of villages that continue this tradition of weaving with this fiber. There was interesting information here. Our workshop was in Sekigawa, one of only four remote mountain villages that continue this tradition. Outside the workshop some of us found a small shrine in the village. It was a memorable experience to be in such a remote area of Japan.

Shrine in the village of Sekigawa, where shinaori fabric is woven.

The next day we took the bullet train from Sendai to Hachinohe, where we visited Lake Towada and Hirosaki, at the northernmost area of the main island of Japan.

Nanbu Sakiori no Sato
Sakiori is a form of rag weaving, and this Japanese tradition shows the height of what can be done with rags as weft.

Sakiori weaving at Takumi Studio, Hirosaki

The looms here were also partly backstrap in nature. There were two shafts on these looms, and the curved beam at the back of the loom controlled the movement of those shafts through the use of the braided cord that leads from the curved beam to a loop the weaver puts around her foot. As you can see, it is a large studio. Still, we broke into two groups for weaving. This was probably due to the number of staff available to guide us.

Here you can see a woman working on her own project. You can see the braided cord that goes around her foot, and you can see the backstrap she is wearing. The warp is striped and the woven fabric has subtle coloration due to the printed fabric strips used for weft.

Every loom had different warp on it, so it was fun to see what each of us got as an end result. We also had baskets full of fabric strips to choose from. There was a man who seemed to be in charge of the whole operation. He stood next to the woman who was traveling with her mother and was not a weaver herself. There was a bit of a learning curve to using these backstrap looms, so it was a hurdle for the daughter. I happened to be sitting next to her as the enthusiastic man would yell to her, “Tension!! Bang! Bang!” He sounded quite aggressive or maybe even angry as he yelled at her, but I’m certain he was trying to encourage her. It was frightful and funny at the same time. Many of us will remember this for a long time.
“Tension! Bang! Bang!

I was so busy weaving I did not get enough photos! –and how I regret not getting a photo of Bang, Bang! man. This photo was taken with Sara’s phone, of the whole group at the end of our Sakiori weaving session.

Sara, Joan, and Daryl in the front. Kari (in the red coat) is behind Sara, and I am to the left of Kari. It was a wonderful day for weaving!

Shibori Indigo Dyeing:
Our last participatory workshop took place in Hirosaki at the top of the mainland island. Here is the workshop entrance from the busy street in the center of town.

This place is well known and popular. The whole time we were there, whether shopping or dyeing, the shop was full of Japanese customers.

There was a display of the items used in making the dye and using the dye. Here is one of the large dye vats not in use. To the left of the dye vat are some dried indigo leaves. It is in the showroom.

Also in the showroom is a large mortar and pestle that was used to grind the indigo cakes.

This is where the fun takes place. We were each given an apron to wear and waterproof gloves. The workers were wearing such creative aprons. This makes me think about what I’d like to do with my indigo vat at home. Indigo dyed aprons might end up as part of future gift giving.

We had a few options on how we wanted to dye our scarves. I chose the technique I’ve always called sand dollars, but these dyers called it fireworks. In the past I’ve always used a chopstick or bamboo skewer to make a point in the fabric and then wrap a piece of seine twine around the skewer a number times. I then remove the skewer and use it to make another sand dollar in a different area of the fabric. In this technique we simply took our wet fabric and twisted a section with our fingers. It held in place as we did another section until we had as many twisted areas as we wanted. Then we ‘scrunched’ the whole fabric together and placed it in a wire cage. Three of us did this together and shared the wire cage.

Wet cotton scarves twisted and scrunched, then placed in a wire cage, ready for the indigo vat.

Each vat had a heavy wooden cover which was removed. The indigo was at room temperature.

While we held our pieces in the vat we tried not to move which would introduce oxygen into the vat. The cages were dipped three times, for 2 minutes each dip.

Once out of the vat, we watched the magic of our pieces turning bluer and bluer as we waved them in the air.

Then came the rinsing party at a clever set up with multiple sinks and drainage.

The lightweight cotton fabric dried quickly on a line in the studio. We shopped while our scarves dried. I bought a scarf and an indigo dyed skein of traditional cotton used in sashiko embroidery.

The traditional noren (curtain) at the entrance to the building.

Each of these experiences is a treasure to me. The ability to weave some small item that is a part of Japanese history, and the ability to learn the origin and uses of these traditional works, has been far beyond what I ever expected. Most of my learning has come from books or from taking a class with someone else who has learned from a primary source.

One cultural tradition from this trip that I hold dear is the act of bowing, and the way all the workers we visited came outside to bow and wave goodbye to us as we left their presence. It even happened at large hotels. The staff would come stand beside our bus and bow and wave to us as we headed off into our future. Eventually these thoughtful goodbyes brought tears to my eyes. Wouldn’t life be sweeter if we all bowed to each other in salute? This particular incident happened at the Sakiori workshop. I remember these weavers with affection, along with everyone who crossed my path on this journey.

Now that I’ve been exposed to an entirely different culture and learned a few things from primary sources, I don’t want to stop. There are so many places to see, so many techniques to learn from all over the world. In my next post I’ll focus on images of the country and the museums and shrines we visited.

Time

Time is so fluid, sometimes so insidious. Some days time moves so slowly and those slow days pile up while I’m thinking about what I’ll do with time when…. when I get home, when spring comes, when I finish this project…

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” Yes, but as someone else said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I’m a much better pilot now that I’ve got so many decades under my belt, and so little time left! This was better said by Machiavelli: “The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.” I’ve got time on my mind because of the slow winter when I kept dreaming of things I’d do when I returned home. Now I’m here and time is flying at lightning speed. How I want to slow it down.

The TWiNE exhibit ends today. It has gotten a lot of traffic over the month that it has been on view at the Barnes Gallery in Leverett, Massachusetts. I gallery-sat last weekend when about 12 people visited over the afternoon.

My three small pieces in this exhibit: Clockwise from Left “Blown Off Course,” “Entangled,” and “Mind the Risks.”

I was particularly thrilled to have some of my friends from the Connecticut guild stop by. It’s a commitment to drive to Leverett and these friends made a day of it. Lucky me that they chose the day when I’d be there. I hadn’t seen these friend since I left last fall to spend the winter living aboard Pandora. Behind us are three stunning tapestries by Minna Rothman. The photo was taken by my dearest, oldest friend who also came to visit the gallery that day. On top of the five friends, there were seven or eight other visitors. Someone did a great job promoting this exhibit!

I had planned to jump right into so many things when I returned home. High on the list is finishing the paper placemats that I left behind last fall. I had carefully retrieved the weft out of the first placemat when I inadvertently ran out of weft. I need to dye it in order to keep going, but I cannot find my indigo kit anywhere. This happens every time I reorganize things in my studio! I have no idea where it can be, and so the project sits waiting on my smaller loom.

To keep busy while I forage for that indigo kit I’ve been doing some sashiko embroidery. This is a project I made more than 25 years ago, when I knew nothing about sashiko and there were no Japanese fabrics or traditional sashiko threads available. I just used some denim fabric, probably from JoAnn’s, and I have no idea where I got the thread. It is thinner than the sashiko threads I can find now, but at least this thread had a wonderful matte finish so it looks quite traditional. Somehow I found these traidtional patterns and transferred them to the fabric before I began embroidering. I have no idea how I did this or how I found about sashiko back then. I made this bag to hold my marudai, and I made a kumihimo draw string for the bag.

Fast forward 25+ years and I have returned to this technique. Now there are books galore on the subject and even online shops that carry kits. What a world! Last fall I took an afternoon online class through Tatter on making this small cross body bag. The teachers were two Japanese sisters from California, Marico and Toshie Chigyo. My stitches are far worse than what I did a quarter century ago. I wish I’d had the option of a cream thread rather than this blinding white. I wish I understood how to transfer the pattern to the fabric. I used a bone tool to impress the fabric, but the impression was not sharp enough for my aging eyes. One of my weaving mentors (Sr. Bianca from the Weaving Center in Tarrytown, NY) gave me this sage advice. She noted that when I did the large bag for my marudai I was a beginner who worked slowly and carefully. I should have had that attitude in returning to this technique. I am still a beginner and should have worked slowly and carefully yet again. She says it looks like I worked this piece as if I knew more than I really do! It’s so true. I also think the pattern is out of proportion to the size of the bag. I should have reduced the size of the sashiko pattern. Next time. And I will take it slowly (speaking of time!). And... I realize I can make my own flat woven braids on my taka dai for future little bags. What a thrill!

Here is a kit I bought from Snuggly Monkey. In highsight, I how know that I prefer sashiko done on indigo cloth with light thread. This kit has a printed design that will disappear when the fabric is soaked in water. It felt like cheating, but I realized I needed some practice. This seemed like an easy way to get that. I have no idea what to do with this little project. It looks like a pillow cover, but I don’t want that! I am considering making it the bib of an apron. I’ll have to back it with much sturdier fabric for an apron–maybe blue mid weight linen.

And the spring gardens are a great distraction to me right now. Spring always passes much too quickly. If only winter could be shorter to allow for a longer spring!

Last fall Bob repotted our collection of amaryllis into three different pots. It looks like he got all the reds together, in spite of not knowing which bulbs were red vs. all the other colors we have.

This morning my newest amaryllis bulbs are about to bloom. These are two bulbs labeled “Chico” and “Wild Amazon,” the only bulbs we have with labels. I don’t know which one this is. I love the varieties that are less hybridized and showy. These look quite exotic with flowers that are a mix of green and burgundy. Tomorrow it should be fully open.

And so time marches on…sometimes far too fast for me, and sometimes drudgingly slowly. It’s Sunday morning, and shortly I will drive back to Massachusetts to the Barnes Gallery for a business meeting of the TWiNE group and then the job of taking down the exhibit. Tuesday I leave for Japan. Yes! Japan! I’m going on a textile tour! I registered for this last November and the time has dragged on and on waiting for the the moment to leave! Now it’s just days away.

This tour is being led by Tom Knisely and Sara Bixler. Will I get a chance to tell him of my paper placemat saga? I hope so! We will be visiting a sakiori workshop, kasuri dyeworks, a workshop where kimono fabrics are woven, and various other sites. When we are not visiting textile workshops we’ll visit gardens. It’s the perfect tour for me and a weaving friend who is also a weaver and a gardener. Last week I discovered that two other good weaving friends will be on this tour! What an amazing time we will have, and especially by being together! I haven’t seen these friends since I moved to Connecticut, 11 years ago. I hope time will pass slowly during May. I want to savor every moment of it.

Retrospect

Today is the last day of March, and even in the Caribbean it is going out like a lion. Tomorrow I will start the new month (fully spring!) by flying home to New England. I’ve been counting down the days for the entire month of March. I’m now at that final number: one day to departure.

Twice a year my life takes a sharp turn from living in a house surrounded by my looms, my spinning wheels, my taka dai, my dyepots, while surrounded by good friends and family, to living on a boat with very little space, no looms aside from a copper pipe loom, a newly acquired tiny e-spinner, knitting and embroidery, and a few friends that are not often in the same anchorage I am. I take stock. Each year in winter I take stock of the things that consumed my time at home, and now at the beginning of spring I take stock of what I managed to accomplished while living on a boat. It’s my semi-annual retrospective of my goals and my priorities.

Meanwhile, the first things I’ll do on my return are thrilling events I’ve been thinking about all winter. Tomorrow my guild’s biennial exhibition will open. I won’t be there, and I don’t have anything in that show, but I am looking forward to seeing all the works when I visit early in the coming week. I will meet my oldest friend there. For several years she had a sculpture studio at this location, the Farmington Valley Arts Center. It feels like a different lifetime when I used to visit her there. I would drive from NJ, where I lived at the time. She had a son, and I had two sons, so getting together was a rather complicated endeavor at that time in our lives, but it was important to both of us to spend time together. I expect we will reminisce about that other life we had decades ago while also seeing the works of many of my dear weaving friends.

The postcard for the Handweavers’ Guild of Connecticut biennial exhibition

On April 2nd, the day after I return home, I’ll drive up to Leverett, Massachusetts, to see an exhibit of tapestries by the Tapestry Weavers in New England (TWiNE) that will be on display for the month of April. I’m excited that less than 24 hours after getting home I’ll be reconnecting with good friends at this event! Due to the generosity of one of my friends, who offered to hold my pieces for the entire winter, I have three pieces in this show.

Looking back is always a bittersweet endeavor, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that. When I left home in December I had one more placemat to weave on my Japanese paper weft project. The biggest hurdle about that is the weft for that last placemat had to be unwoven from a previous previous placemat that was not the color I wanted. I will take that weft and re-dye in an indigo vat that I need to make. I am excited and intimidated about dyeing the re-used paper yarn to get the color of blue I want.

Neither my Caribbean tapestry or this sweater got finished this winter, but they both made progress. That’s all I can say, and I must make peace with progress instead of completion. As this sweater grew it got hotter and hotter to hold it in my lap while knitting, which is the main reason I set it aside.

When it became clear that I would not finish my Caribbean tapestry or the sweater above, I dug out an embroidery I started more than a year ago. I bought this design because of the sheep, no surprise! And that’s all I had finished when I put it away. I have enjoyed the few days that I spent embroidering the poinsettias and snowflakes. Wouldn’t it be nice to have it finished for the holidays at the end of this year? Not holding my breath.

In an effort to look on the bright side of my not-finished Caribbean tapestry, I plan to take it to the TWiNE show on April 22, to demonstrate weaving while I sit the gallery on that date. I’m glad I found a bright side to this disappointment.

The only thing I actually finished this winter was the hot water bottle cover I made from Kate Davies recent design group called “All Over,” a collection of stranded knitted designs. I think there will be some chilly nights at home ahead when I can use it! (Also I finished spinning about 100 grams of merino/silk hand dyed fiber…but I’m not counting that because finishing a spinning project is only the beginning of whatever project the yarn is meant to become!)

Along the way of making projects and fulfilling (or not fulfilling) goals, there were plenty of wonderful distractions, like knitting underway while listening to an audio book, which was only calm enough to do one time, when we sailed down the western coast of Guadeloupe.

Drying laundry while Bob writes a blogpost.

Lunch with friends overlooking one of the pitons in St. Lucia.

So many tropical flowers and animals

Months of beautiful views

And one of my favorite visuals: windows and shutters

Look at the view out the window at the back of the room with the open doors.

This is the kitchen at Fort Napolean on Terre de Haute, Les Saintes–another great room with a stunning window and the stark reality of getting water in the 19th century fort.

And speaking of kitchens, I often enjoyed making dinners onboard. I made a version of Isabella’s quiche (from La Brasserie in English Harbour, Antigua). It’s pretty close to hers–incredibly deep and creamy.

I was overjoyed to find mushrooms–all the way from France!–in Fort de France, Martinique. That called for chicken supremes in mustard/cream sauce with mushrooms. It was a good evening!

It was a winter full of lemons and limes. Everything is better with a little lemon or lime, and fresh herbs which grow in abundance here.

In the balance of things accomplished and things experienced, I guess there was a healthy dose of each. I would have loved more time to work with my hands and experiment with some ideas that are burning a hole in my brain! —but— it’s hard to give up the amazing experiences that kept me from working. The weather did not cooperate much this year. There was too much wind which made travel difficult and working at anchor very difficult. I live on motion sick meds every time we sail to a new location, and that takes a day or so to get out of my system. I am not patient waiting to feel better. On the bright side I listened to some wonderful books. At the top of that list would be Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton.

In retrospect I wish I had more work to show for my time here, and less days feeling the drag of mal de mer. But on the bright side, and thank heaven there is always a bright side, I am filled with ideas to pursue at home and some great memories of time spent with sailing friends and Bob.

Scenes

It’s been a challenging couple of weeks in this part of the Caribbean, with lots of wind and lots of rocking and rolling. I have not been able to weave or knit, and sometimes not even able to read! Luckily I have a long queue of audio books that I often neglect. I was able to close my eyes and listen to a relatively new book, Stolen, recently published in English. It’s written by Swedish author Ann-Helen Staestadius and translated into English by Rachel Wilson Broyles. When I went to find the link I saw that it will soon be a Netflix film. It was good on a number of levels and it helped me pass the time. I am not a patient person when it comes to waiting out bad weather in order to get some work done! Basically, I am not patient when waiting for anything! It’s odd because whenever I demonstrate any kind of fiber work, people always say that they’d never have the patience to do any of that. Well, there are plenty of things I have no patience for doing! Waiting is just one of them!

My mood has gotten darker as each day passed with no way to work on any of the projects I brought onboard this year. Poor Bob. For two days, in Ste. Pierre, the rolling was so violent that we had to lock our cabinets and drawers so that the things inside, bashing against the cabinets doors in one direction, then bashing against the hull, and back again, would not come flying out of the cabinets. We’ve had that happen on passage in the past. One of our drawers once came flying out of its cabinet in the galley, sending forks and spoons and knives flying. We had not noticed that drawer when locking down everything before a passage. These are things we prepare for when we are sailing. This is the first time we’ve had to batten down our cabinets while at anchor.

But, on the bright side, we’ve had some beautiful sunsets. In the Caribbean it’s a tradition to blow your conch shell right after the sun falls below the horizon. Don’t have one? That’s a priority when you spend time in this part of the world. Bob got his during our first winter in the Bahamas. It’s nice tenor conch. Smaller conchs have higher pitches; bigger conchs have a lower pitch.

Since color on different monitors is so varied, I wonder if the green flash will look green on other devices than my own! I hope some of you will weigh in on what you see.

Back in Dominica, we took a tour of parts of the island with our friends from sailing vessels Kalunamoo and Roxy. It was an interesting day. I have always enjoyed taking photos of loved ones taking photos, as you may have noticed over the years. Here is Lynn from Roxy taking a photo in the foreground, as I took the same photo. Maureen and Bill from Kalunamoo are in the front, followed by Bob and Mark (from Roxy.) We’ve been cruising friends for more than a decade at this point.

This is the coast line we visited on the Atlantic side of Dominica.

The hard, smooth coastline here is hardened clay.

There is a rather interesting stairway carved into the rock. I can’t imagine it’s natural, but what do I know? Not much! Mark could not resist climbing down these steps. I was holding my breath too tightly to take a photo, and he got back up safely.

After Dominica we sailed to Ste. Pierre, and somehow managed to spend two nights there, which is where we had the worst rolling we’ve ever experienced. We decided to escape to Fort de France for the beginning of Carnival, but the anchorage was too crowded for us, and it was pretty roll-y there as well. We tried to anchor six times, and in the process bent our stainless steel spade anchor. That will cost a pretty penny to replace, and until we get to Le Marin to do that we have to be pretty careful about anchoring. So, we headed across the bay to Trois Islet. It’s been windy, but the three islands and shallow waters have lowered the waves to a chop. This is the village of Trois Islet–quite charming. This is the Saturday open air market in village square.

When Bob writes his next post there will be some stunning photos of the Martinique Yolo regatta which took place here in Trois Islet, as well as great photos of Carnival in Fort de France. We took the ferry there for Sunday’s festivities. Today is the last day of Carnival, but I’m happy to stay aboard. Our friends from Kalunamoo and Roxy have gone to see the last day’s parade.

And on Pandora, small things are happening. Our little unidentified succulent plant is making babies on the edges of its leaves. Can you see them on one of the inner leaves, to the right of center? Quite fascinating!

And here is my almost non-existent progress on my “Amphora” sweater from Purl Soho. It’s only grown about 3″ in length on the body, below the sleeve stitches that are waiting on spare needles. Slow and steady….can you see the swirls that create the increasing shape of the yoke? That’s what drew me to knit this design! You might have to ‘bigify’ this image to see the swirls.

When we get to Ste. Anne, the harbor should be reliably calm. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, we may stop at Anse d’Arlet for a night or two. I hope it will be calmer than where we’ve been the past two weeks.

News from home: the wonderful volunteers in TWiNE (Tapestry Weavers in New England) have been hard at work toward an exhibition of members’ works that will open on April 1, the day I fly home. I hope to get there shortly after the opening! If you’re in the area around Leverett, Massachusetts, I hope you will visit this exhibit.

So…although there hasn’t been a lot work accomplished here over the past weeks, there have been quite a few good scenes. Hopefully there can both from now on into March.

Working Remotely in Remote Places

A couple of weeks ago Rebecca Mezoff’s email newsletter mentioned that since she traditionally works at home, when she works ‘remotely’ it means that she has traveled somewhere. It’s the first time that I realized I work remotely every winter. Many people think Bob and I are on vacation when he sails south for the winter, but it’s really our ‘other’ home. We live our every day lives, full of chores and responsibilities, from our 2nd home, which happens to float. I always bring ‘work’ with me, and am often disappointed that I’m missing some vital color for a tapestry, or a particular size of knitting needle, or some other item that derails for my plans for work. At my first home I can quickly go online and replace almost anything I’m missing within days. That is never the case here. This is a view from Shirley Fort overlooking Portsmouth Harbor. Pandora is out there!

We are in Dominica now, and have been moored in Portsmouth for the past four days. Bob’s sailing group has arranged for an impressive number of outings on this island, known as ‘the nature island.’ Most of Dominica is rain forest. Most of the hikes here involve hiring a guide. Perhaps the most intensive hike on this island is called the ‘hike to the boiling lakes.’ This hike, which I have not done and Bob regrets not doing, takes people to the edge of the volcanic caldera where the sulfur lakes are literally boiling. It’s not easy getting up to those heights, and this week’s trip was particularly hard for the hikers because it rained most of each day in heavy downpours, which made the paths and rocks quite slippery in addition to being quite steep. The hikers walked along the steep rock walls of three caldera that looked down into the boiling lakes.

From Wikipedia: The Boiling Lake is a flooded fumarole located in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a World Heritage Site on the island of Dominica. The lake, located 6.5 miles (10.5 km) east of Dominica’s capital Roseau, is filled with bubbling greyish-blue water that is usually enveloped in a cloud of vapour. The Boiling Lake is approximately 200 to 250 feet (60 to 75 m) across and is the second-largest hot lake in the world after Frying Pan Lake, located in Waimangu Valley near RotoruaNew Zealand.

In the rainforest people clear small plots to grow all kinds of veg and fruit, and the rest of the West Indies is indebted to Dominica when the supply boat arrives in the other islands carrying produce grown here. They even grown coffee here in the higher elevations. The melons and bananas are unbelievable! I’d forgotten what non-GMO avocados taste like, and these bring back memories of the first avocados I ever tried, as a teenager, years before Haas avocados had been developed. I’m a big fan of the real ones now. And, as it happens, there are numerous varieties of avocados. We’re about to try some that are quite tiny. The one thing I cannot find–and don’t even seem to know how to ask for–is cilantro! There is an herb grown on some of the islands called “chadon beni” that’s pronounced more like “shadow benny.” It does not look anything like cilantro, but it tastes like it! It roots easily, so I was able to grow my own the only year I found some to buy.

I know that some cultures call cilantro ‘coriander,’ which is what I call the seeds of the cilantro plants. At the local Saturday market here in Portsmouth, I tried asking for cilantro, coriander, and ‘shadow benny,’ but I got no hits. I even had an image of chadon beni open on my phone for clarification. The only response I got was an offer of some flat leafed parsley! Oh well. I can’t make the guacamole of my dreams, but I am enjoying eating avocados in other ways, including the way I first ate them in junior high school, with canned tuna salad stuffed into the place where the pit was removed in the big avocados! And when you root one of these avocado plants you will get fruit on your tree, unlike Haas, which are sterile. I am making do quite well with a healthy, rooted Caribbean version of basil which is growing like it’s on steroids.

The Saturday Market in Portsmouth, Dominica

The entire Caribbean is a colorful world, as Bob captured in the fishing fleet on the dock.

At the moment I am licking my emotional wounds that I have a major set back on my Caribbean ‘postcard’ tapestry. I don’t have any white or cream weft yarn to weave the iconic church in Deshaies, Guadeloupe. I have other options, you know, necessity being the mother of all mislaid plans. I can weave a different scene from Guadeloupe to eliminate this church entirely. I’m feeling a bit negative about that since drawing the rough cartoon was quite an effort for me, with no option to resize some of my images with a printer, or even stopping into a Staples store for help. In the end I have four pieces of paper glued together to create my cartoon, and it has angel fish and turtles swimming around the postcard of the church. I just continue ‘to sleep on’ the idea of tossing out this idea.

So I’ve turned to my current sweater in progress, a design by Ainur Berkimbayeva for Purl Soho called “Amphora Pullover.” It is a top/down sweater with fun increases through the neck and shoulders that create swirls. Quite attractive on the model! Now that I have put the sleeve stitches on holders and am about to continue on the body only, I am going to test some ideas of continuing some of the swirls to create a swing style body. I can never just knit a design as instructed. Patterns are jumping off places for adding our creativity to a garment! I hope my idea works.

The “Amphora Pullover” by Ainur Berkimbeyeva for Purl Soho.

Looks like I have an opportunity to start my own small business here in Dominica!

During the past week I have been challenged by an exceptional idea that is currently keeping me awake at night, with all kinds of possibilities running wild through my mind. If you don’t know me, you may not know that I have recently begun teaching tapestry at a non-profit organization in Connecticut that is near and dear to my heart. The organization is Hartford Artisans, and their mission statement is what captured my attention: The Hartford Artisans Weaving Center is committed to being a welcoming, accessible community that actively works to create a kinder and more equitable world for everyone. Our diverse community unites people from different backgrounds and experiences to learn from each other and uncover their own unique skills. We challenge assumptions about disabilities and aging and show that everyone deserves an opportunity for creative expression. We recognize we have a responsibility not only to open our doors wider, but also to understand and work to change the racial and gender inequities that hurt us all. 

The director of this organization recently got a letter from a blind weaver in the Southwest, asking if there were any audio sources for learning to weave tapestry. I have done a preliminary search and found nothing. Yet there is one weaver out there who wants to do this. There is, or was, a weaver at the Artisan Center who wove a tapestry that hangs on display in the hallway. I don’t know whether that weaver is still with the Center, but if so, I’d like to her/him. The piece is more texturally interesting and is not based on imagery. It has striking merits. As we all know, there is no one way to describe or view tapestry, and no one correct way to achieve an idea. While I was thinking through ideas, Bob googled textured tape to see if there is a tape that has bumps or some kind of measurement device done in texture rather than in visual marks. By Jove! There is! I thought about how to describe the process of making an Archie Brennan copper pipe loom without any visuals, how to describe the seine twine I’d recommend for the first few warps, and at some point, how to describe various techniques. I thought about describing the warping process in words only. Are you now thinking too? If so, I hope you’ll get in touch. Creativity should be accessible to all people, and it falls to some of us to make this happen. In the meantime, I’m going to proceed, hopefully talking to some of the visually impaired artisans about what kind of instructions make the most sense to them. I am hopeful.

I’m looking forward to getting back to my ‘real’ home, my first home, where I can be more connected and less remote! I’m halfway there: six weeks to go! And it will be almost time to garden again.

species cosmos in bloom against a wall in Portsmouth, Dominica

Weights and Measures Onboard

Here is my working space onboard. In yacht parlance it’s called the main saloon (I have always pronounced that ‘salon’), and it is the main living space down below on Pandora. It is connected to a small galley, and there is an aft cabin toward the stern, and a ‘main stateroom’ forward of this room. That’s a glamorous phrase for where we sleep. It doesn’t seem ‘stately’ at all.! I am very good at making a huge mess of our limited living space. We had a couple of days of calm conditions in Deshaies, and I took good advantage of it to finish the first part of this tapestry that I started in May of 2020–more than 2 1/2 years ago. My heart has not been in it, perhaps because of some bad memories of that year. The odd thing is, when I sit down and work on it, I enjoy it. Go figure.

Now I am ready to slide the woven section partially around to the back of the loom in order to keep weaving. I hope to do that today, when I finish this post. The conditions in Les Saintes are not nearly as calm as they were in Deshaies, and that is why I have not gotten back to work on this piece. I’ve been lucky to knit, which was only once. Otherwise, I’m just trying to keep my balance onboard!

Weights and measures have factored rather significantly over the past few weeks. First I attempted to weight the merino/silk top I was spinning because I wanted to have an equal amount of singles spun on each bobbin in order to have equal amounts to ply together into finished yarn. Have you ever tried to weight something on a boat? The gentle, and not so gentle, up and down movements on a boat raises havoc with a scale. On the scale the read out for my merino/silk to cycled up and down by about 10 grams. I usually just try to pick the number in the middle. When baking a cake it’s far more important to get it right! Here was my guess for baking a quiche. It was not perfect, but we certainly thought it was good.

I also wanted to measure the length of that newly spun and plied yarn. Luckily Bob found PVC pipe at a hardware store just outside Falmouth, Antigua, and he made one that has a central arm of 18″. The yarn winds four times around that central core, for a total of 2 yards per single go ’round. I was able to measure that my merino/silk skein is 840 yards, plus or minus probably 10%. I can’t measure this accurately until I get home. Winding on a niddy noddy, or anything else, depends on the tension you use to wind. Too tight, and you’ve got quite a bit less yardage than you think. It’s hard to wind too loosely because of the nature of this repeated action. In general, we all tend to get tighter and tighter even when we are trying to avoid that. I took my time and tried to ‘stay loose.’ We’ll see.

This niddy noddy absolutely will not come apart, even though it is not glued. I wonder if that is due to the heat and humidity of the tropics. I padded one of the arms with a folded napkin, hoping that would give me some ‘wiggle room’ to get the yarn off when I finished winding. It worked.

We’ve been in Les Saintes for three days. The conditions here are rough, but the place is scenic. You can’t have everything. Below is a chart that our good friend aboard Kalunamoo created to measure of how UNcomfortable the ‘harbors’ down here can be. Most places are not harbors at all, simply coves or bays in which you can throw down your anchor, but there is no protection from the sea conditions. In Antigua, we were in real harbors, both in Falmouth and English Harbour. That’s a great way to start a winter of sailing, and really quite a come down for the rest of the trip. Deshaies, Guadeloupe is between a 3 and a 4 on Bill’s chart. In Les Saintes, we rarely get a mooring ball right near the village on our arrival, so we have to spend at least one night anchored between the islands of this archipelago. The roll conditions are consistently between stage 5 and stage 7. It’s awful. One night while I was sleeping a book jumped right off the shelf above me and clobbered me in the head! It was a rude awakening. The next morning I discovered that my glasses came down with the book, and I had fairly mangled them by tossing and turning all night on top of them. Bill Woodroffe writes a great blog about the lifestyle of living on a boat here.

Luckily we only spent one night on anchor, and early the next morning we were ready to head closer to shore in the village (Haute de Terre) to grab a mooring from anyone who was heading out. We were on a mooring by 7am.

One thing I measure while we are traveling aboard each winter is the home ports of all the boats that are anchored or moored nearby us. Antigua had a predominance of Union Jacks, in all the varieties that signify the colonies and protectorates of the UK. There were some number of French flagged boats, as well as Canadian, and Norwegian/Swedish/Danish, with only a few Dutch flagged boats. I saw a few Swiss and German boats in the mix. The past decade of sailing in the Caribbean has honed my flag recognition abilities. In the French islands, the French flags outnumber the British, as do the Scandinavian boats. I’m used to looking up the variations of the Union Jack when I’m curious about exactly where some of these boats call home. Yesterday I saw a variation on the Norwegian flag that caught my eye. It is currently the most beautiful flag I have seen!

I know it’s hard to see the detail on the flag. It was waving in a fairly strong breeze, as I attempted to catch it mostly open. It’s a Norwegian flag with a triple swallow tail, something I’ve never seen before. Usually swallow tail flags are associated with yacht clubs. This flag is the ensign of the Royal Norwegian Yacht Club. It’s a beauty, even though the boat is not.

The beautiful center crown and IVI design was Haakon II’s royal emblem, which he granted for use to yacht club members starting in 1906. This image shows a standard flag. The triple swallow tail has the two red points and center blue point with a narrow white outline. This image is from wikipedia.

Identifying the flags of countries in all the places we visit keeps me entertained. In these islands not many natives speak English, so using my almost non-existent French keeps me on my toes, and is something I am attempting to improve–therefore, another form of measurement. Food words are somewhat easier than everything else, since I have a moderate familiarity (and love) for French food! Everything outside of food is quite a challenge for me!

Bob measures more things than I do. He’s constantly tracking how much electricity we have made with our solar panels and wind generator, and when we are motoring, how much power the engine made. He weighs that constantly against our usage. We now have a star link gadget for the internet and that is big energy guzzler. We need to make hot water for showers, we need to make that water (!), and we need lights at night and energy to run our gas stove to cook. It all adds up, and Bob spends a lot time measuring the input and output of energy. He says he enjoys living off the grid. I say give me a light switch and instant access to heat and electricity. It’s quite a process to start cooking on Pandora, not to mention taking a shower or any of the many things we want to do daily. I am not an ‘off the grid’ kind of girl.

Here are some scenes from Haute de Terre, in Les Saintes. This was the view from our table at breakfast this morning.

Pandora is out in the distance. She’s light grey and just forward of the bow of the boat in the foreground

How about a close up?

Pandora has a light grey hull, in the distance, just forward of the bow of the boat in the foreground.

This is an idyllic place, and it would be perfect without the wind and the rolling conditions. Photographs are also a measurement of sorts. We take the ones we love, and sometimes we share them. Au revoir for now.

New Place, New View

We are approaching the last weekend in January, which means I’ve now been a live aboard for a whole month. In some ways it seems longer than that, in other ways less than a month. We have been in the small village of Deshaies (pronounced Day’ay) on Guadeloupe for several days. It is a charming place, if a bit run down. The shabbiness lends itself to chic-ness here. Very French Mediterranean here, in an ‘every man’ sort of way. Although, there is one big yacht that anchored behind us last night. They played some very loud music for less than 5 minutes (thank heaven!), and then turned on these amazing blue lights just as the moon was setting in the West. Those blue lights cast a huge aura around us.

One of the highlights of a visit to Deshaies is the botanical garden that is just outside the village, up a steep hill. Every year at the garden is slightly different. This year the heavier rains have made the place look close to perfect. Even the flamingos have benefitted. Last year we worried that they might not live another year.

There is also an aviary full of parrots.

After walking the gardens, where Bob took a lot of wonderful close-up shots, we had lunch with friends, Lynn and Mark, at the scenic restaurant.

Along the way, Lynn took some photos of us.

On our last morning in Falmouth, Bob walked to the hardware store to by a length of PVC pipe so he could make me a niddy noddy that would allow me to wind a skein of the yarn I had spun and plied on my little Nano 2 e-spinner. The niddy noddy will not come apart, so I thought I’d better pad one leg of it with a napkin to help me get the yarn off when I finished winding.

It worked well! I now have 840 yards of 2-ply lace weight merino/silk blend. I love it!

I’ve been looking for ideas for a short ruana to utilitze this yarn. This will be a lightweight fabric, using stash of my handspun waiting at home, added to this skein, and perhaps some merino/silk zephyr in dark blue. I may weave with zephyr that I have on hand in a lighter, sort of “Wedgewood” blue. This is one image I found online that I rather liked. I will sew the side seams closed on mine, and I simply must have a braid to embellish the neckline. I have also seen (somewhere!) sleeves added to a ruana. I’m intriuged by that. I’ll have to do some sampling.

Now that we’re here in Deshaies I have got a photo of the church that identifies this village for me, and which I’ve wanted to add to my Caribbean tapestry. I took the photo this morning. I will be finishing up on an octopus and a few fish before I tackle my view of Guadeloupe by weaving this charming church. Of course, I need to eliminate all the clutter in the foreground and show the full height of the mountain behind. Poetic license.

I need a photo of myself (horrors!) for an upcoming date on Textiles and Tea. I sent in a photo of me holding the Archie book, in which I was actually hiding behind the book. HGA rejected that, so I’m faced with getting another photo. Bob took this one this morning. I hope it will work. I’m still trying to hide, this time behind my loom, but it’s less obvious.

That’s the news from here. Bring on February, when we’ll head down island to Dominica and Martinique. Before that lies Les Saintes at the southern end of Guadeloupe, which we would never miss.

Views of the New Venue

Like many people, my work space is my living space onboard. I’ve posted plenty of photos over the years of projects underway in the main saloon or cockpit of Pandora when she herself is not underway! I cannot work when we are sailing, only when we are anchored or at a dock.

Here’s a look at how I manage my projects onboard. This is where most of my supplies are stored. This 3-shelf cabinet extends back further than I can illustrate in a photo. This year it is holding three knitting projects–the hot water bottle cover and two sweaters– my little Nano 2 e-spinner plus merino/silk fiber to spin, a rather large supply of tapestry yarn for weaving as well as another pile linen yarns for experimenting on a new tapestry design, and various tools. I have two copper pipe frame looms onboard, and they are stored in the hanging locker that holds Bob’s clothes. They couldn’t possible fit in my hanging locker, and luckily Bob is a very good sport about my need for equipment and stash!

On the bottom right of this photo there is a folded maple contraption that is my new tapestry stand! I have great expectations that this will make weaving onboard more comfortable. There will photos in the future.

Here are two little gems that hold tools. The first is a wonderful woven envelope by Lucienne Coifman (of rep weave fame), who is a member of my weaving guild. I have a number of small items from her that she makes from samples. Her hand finishing is exquisite.

There is a embroidered loop for the button similar to the loops that hold the scissors in the next photo. Lucienne’s finishing work is equal to her fine weaving.

Then I have this small tin full of handy tools.

This is the best small tool kit I’ve ever owned. It even has a ridiculously tiny pair of scissors. Can you see them? On the upper right of the tin, with pink handles. You can see that there is a tape measure, a needle gauge and various needles, along with a small crochet hook for picking up dropped stitches (although I never pick up stitches that way). What you can’t see are various stitch markers.

Having extra knitting needles onboard along with tools is worth far more than their tiny weight and size. Ellen, who started the knitting group, has given me a little envelope of dental floss threaders which will get added to this tin.

We’ve also had a change in venue for two days last week, which merits showing. Life onboard can get pretty small. I’ve always called it “Living small, with a big view.” Back in November when all of the sailboats that rallied together arrived in English Harbour, the national parks administration here threw a celebratory dinner to commemorate the arrival of so many sailboats. You can see some great photos of this on Bob’s blog. At that event the Minister of Tourism gave Bob the gift of a two-night stay at the historic Copper and Lumber Inn that is part of Nelson’s Dockyard. It’s a place where the Tot Club meets weekly, and this is a photo I took when Bob invited the fleet of our boats to be guests at a tot.

Tots take place in the courtyard of the Inn. I have only been up on the balcony once, last year, to get a similar photo before the tot ceremony began. This year it was a thrill to actually get to stay in this beautiful, historic spot.

There were three large double windows, which had stunning views. In the previous photo the drapes are drawn because the light completely washed out the interior. But of course the views were the best part!

Copper and Lumber is particularly beautiful at night. Above the entrance are the three windows of our room.

And back on Pandora, we have some new views this year. I brought one Christmas ornament from home since I wasn’t ready to give up the holiday when we came back here.

We also found orchids for sale at the local market! We could not resist getting one since we left our little family of phalaenopses and a paphiopedilum at home in the care of Melody and Chris.

I’ll close with a video Bob took of how my little Nano 2 spins. I am enjoying it, and I’m using the time to think about how to proceed with the tapestry experiment I want to try. Soon.

Life onboard is well underway this year. I hope it will be productive.

A new venue

As happens every year in January, I have changed venue from my messy studio in Connecticut to a tiny living space and studio aboard our boat Pandora, in the Caribbean. It’s now mid-January, and I have been in Antigua in the West Indies for two weeks.

We arrived by plane on January 30, with one day to move into the historic English Harbour for the annual New Year’s Eve’s fireworks, after first having a memorable French dinner at La Brasserie. English Harbour is where Lord Nelson protected this island’s sugar cane plantations before he was Lord Nelson. He made a name for himself here which catapulted his career. Over the past 60 years Nelson’s Dockyard has been carefully restored and is now a UNESCO site. It’s a dramatic place, and also quite lovely. There is a strong sense of the 18th century here, amidst some modern conveniences, like running water and electricity for the boats on the dock!

Dinner at La Brasserie and the fireworks afterward never disappoint!

But my real story here is how I plan to continue to work while I am living aboard. I often get lonely over the winter because I miss ‘my people,’ those I meet with at groups throughout the year. They are the spinners, weavers, lace makers, and others who work with their hands who inspire me and learn with me. Down here people do plenty of work with their hands. Just keeping their boats running is a huge job, and often there are women who do handwork as well, which includes knitting, crocheting, quilting, embroidery, and other kinds of handwork, and even more pressing work like sail repair and canvas work on their boats. Sadly, in the 11 years we’ve been doing blue water sailing, I have yet to meet another weaver.

This year a friend of mine who is down here for the first time aboard her own boat, with her husband, has started a needlework group that meets twice a week. Now, why didn’t I think of that? Every Tuesday and Thursday we meet for at least two hours. The group changes week by week as some sailors move on to different harbors on different islands, and some new comers join us. It’s been fascinating. We actually have a member who lives here in a house, although she’s also quite an accomplished sailor. I definitely look forward to this creative time with new friends each week. Thank you, Ellen, for making this happen!

The restaurant of the Antigua Yacht Club allows us to use their space to meet. How generous! Our surroundings are amazing so sometimes we just have put down our projects and admire the views.

I have been bringing my tiny Nano 2 e-spinner to some of the meetings. This is my first spinning project on this little gem, and I was concerned about stressing it by filling the bobbin too full or spinning too fast. It can handle anything I’ve done so far, and I think it’s perfect for spinning in small spaces.

The second bobbin is almost full, so Bob will soon be ’inventing’ a lazy Kate for me to hold the bobbins while I ply the the strands of yarn together from each bobbin. I knew I’d forget something! I’m looking forward to seeing how the plied yarn turns out. I believe I know what I’ll do with this yarn when I get access to my looms at home.

This old fashioned hot water bottle cover was the first thing I finished during the first week of January. I won’t need it down here, will I? Still, it was something that caught my eye before we left home, and I enjoyed knitting it! To make the opening I knit one round in waste yarn, only on the front half of the stitches, and then unpicked the waste yarn to separate the front into two pieces for an opening.

As I unpicked the waste yarn I picked up stitches on both the upper and lower sides of the knitting. Then I could knit ribbing on the lower half and ribbing plus a button hole on the upper half.

And here is the finished hot water bottle cover. I just need a button. I will block this on the actual water bottle when I return home.

Yesterday was my birthday, and I woke up to two surprises. One was a decorated main saloon on Pandora! Bob bought these fun decorations in the US before he sailed down here. How thoughtful! It feels like party, although I do not! I awoke on my birthday to some kind of very nasty bug. I hope it’s only food poison, but in the middle of the night for the past two nights I’ve imagined myself dying of ecoli or some other horrible thing. Surely, I’ll be on the mend soon!

And how about these fun knitting inspired presents? I love them! This is a journal in case you’re wondering.

In the meantime, I had a wonderful zoom call with family and a couple of close friends. The joys of keeping in touch with loved ones, from such remote places, is priceless! This year Bob has just installed Star Link. So far, so good! It’s struggling with streaming video so far, and it requires more of our battery power than he realized. Thank heaven for solar, wind, and lithium batteries. I have been trying to catch up on the videos I missed from Giovanna Imperia’s class for the American Kumihimo Society’s recent online event. But I’m not discouraged yet! It’s interesting to hear the small white Star Link disc change direction as Pandora moves to and fro at anchor.

I hope to back to normal soon so I can finish spinning and move on to other projects. I wish you well in your own endeavors in the new year.

The Act of Making

Over the years Bob has described me as ‘goal oriented.’ He seems to think that I am overly focused on finishing things, and even perhaps that I define my ‘success’ in the number of finished projects I complete in a year. I’ve never felt this defines me, and only recently have I realized what might be a better description of my compulsions. I need to be making things. It is wonderful therapy for me to spend a day in my home studio working toward some finished item. It’s not the finished project that entices me nearly as much as the act of spending a day using my skills to make something. It’s definitely the process of making over the having of a finished object that motivates me, but I will admit that finishing things feels great! I have spent a wonderful six weeks this fall engaged in making.

I have been working on some tiny baskets during the past few weeks, each one only 2″ in diameter. My favorite supplier of basket materials is DELS in Freetown, Massachusetts. Their in-house scrimshander (a female, so perhaps scrimshandress?) did the lovely scrimshaw for the handles of my baskets. The scrimshaw is done on old piano keys. The unfinished one in the foreground is one of three I’m making for my three young grandchildren. These did not get finished due to not having enough waxed linen. They are made with bleached staves and weavers which makes them look a little like ivory. I have scrimmed piano keys for these as well, candy canes on the two baskets with red waxed linen, and blue snowflakes on the basket with blue waxed linen, plus the children’s names and the years they were born. These little baskets are woven in 2/2 twill (over 2, under 2) while the adult baskets are woven in plain weave with natural cane and weavers. I only finished two of the three needed for the grandchildren, so these will have to wait until next year. It is what it is!

This year I needed three hand made presents for the various groups I go to throughout the year. One is my lace group, and that was the first holiday party that took place this month. I am the least skilled lace maker in this group, so I certainly wasn’t going to make any lace for a present. Also, I am incredibly slow at making lace! I opted to make a cover cloth which is used to protect lace while you are not working on it. This was a completely machine made item, embellished on an embroidery machine and then machine sewn to a lining. Still, the placement of the embroidered bobbins took me hours to do. That’s another skill I am inexperienced at accomplishing. The embroidery pattern was for one bobbin, and I wanted three placed almost the way I got them positioned on the fabric.

The lining fabric came from Spoonflower and has a wonderful array of lace making images in the print–bobbins, tatting shuttles, bits of lace and tatting.

The small group within my large statewide weaving guild also had a holiday party for which we needed to bring a present. The theme was to make something out of a scrap of fabric. A small treasure bag is what was recommended. Well, since I don’t make clothing, I don’t have scraps! I decided to make a tiny tapestry and a bit of kumihimo and somehow turn them into a bag. This became the most therapeutic process over the span of three afternoons. I enjoyed every minute of making this bag.

The tiny tapestry, sett at 12 epi, uses a technique for ‘couching’ that I learned this summer in a workshop with Fiona Hutchison. Wrapping and couching a larger diameter weft that floats on the surface of the tapestry creates a wonderfully dimensional effect. I’ll be using this technique more and more. After weaving the small piece, I enjoyed making the kumihimo braid and then machine sewing the small bag which brought the whole thing together. I am happy with the project, which is the best part of enjoying the process of making–being satisfied with the end result!

The last thing I made was a set of four pot holders. This was by far the least enjoyable project. I won’t make many more of these, although I am frequently drawn the patterns you can create in a potholder. This was the pattern I made in the “Potholder Wizard” program.

I made four of these, two each with a light background and a reversed dark background. Here are two of them.

And so the holiday season has started. I’m content that I carved out enough time to make things and that these went to people who expected to receive a handmade gift rather than to those who might not want this kind of present! It was time well spent for me to indulge my love of making, and giving the gifts to other makers was an additional perk.

It’s time to head back downstairs to begin wrapping the presents for family and friends. These are mostly bought items. A couple of them are handmade by others, and then there are my tiny baskets which will go to my two sons and their partners, and then eventually the bleached ones will go to my grandchildren.

I’ll close with a personal holiday image. Here is one of our grand-dogs on a walk with our son on the Columbia campus in New York, taken by our wonderful Melody.

Today is the first day of Hanukah, and it’s less than a week until Christmas. Whatever you celebrate in this season I wish you time for making and time for giving. I’ll be back in the new year, in a very different setting.