Sunday, January 31, 2010

weaving, sunday evening, and onions sauteing

from dreadfully cold and frozen kitchen water (hot, actually!) to art show to a bit of art work accomplished, this weekend has been full and productive, a wonderful change for me. an anticipated visit from a friend was snow-cancelled, unfortunately, but we have rescheduled. seems like i've been in a tunnel for a while and have emerged with new enthusiasm and ideas. 
see how fluffy this youngster is? there are two 2009 fawns who hang around my back yard. why? no different food there, but perhaps they like living on the edge. sometimes they dare  wendy who will chase them, but only in an attempt to herd them. wendy will give up after a while in the deep snow. a bit before this was taken the thermometer read 15 below 0. 
this is a modest piece of shifu that will become, i think, a book cover. it is not large, but the bits of japanese green paper that were a gift from carol (of warwick press) which i hand-twisted into short lengths to be inlaid into a plain weave web.
a similar in color skein of spun paper. from the little i have read, shifu artists differentiate between spun fiber and twisted fiber--paper that is prepared for weaving is called twisted. i try to understand the difference, but i actually do not. the twisting seems to me to be the same as single ply handspun fiber, except that the fibers are already made into paper (even if cut into thin strips) rather than being separate fibers that have been prepared for spinning by a combing (or arranging as in flax preparation) or carding process.

my little schacht four harness loom (a table loom rigged up with treadles) is fun to use, but a bit finicky compared to my lovely large floor looms. but it is easy to move around! and it helps to weave shifu on this because i tend to make much smaller lengths on it. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

new book, new show, this week

my dear friend carol blinn sent me a prospectus in the mail. she has a new book called eye story. frieda fitzenmeyer is the actual artist, carol does the work. frieda has been eating lots of bonbons over the years, while carol slaves away, making all of frieda's books by hand. frieda? well, she's a bit ephemeral, but carol assures me she exists! in any case, travel over to and have a look see. and buy this book, it's based, carol assures me, on frieda's real life experiences.

and then there is the photographic essay my daughter hannah calls north country hands at work. this is her senior show from college of the atlantic. hannah and ian followed me around all over the place visiting friends and artists, often for potlucks or a picnic or to gather wild things for dyeing... hannah has distilled this growing up into photos of ten very special people. a silversmith or two, several fiberartists, a calligrapher, a blacksmith, a letterpress printer, a boatbuilder. oh, and me, a papermaker. and she chose to shoot black and white and moody. she also bound one exquisite artists' book documenting the project. so if you're in potsdam on saturday afternoon, stop in at the arts council. i'll be there, too. 

meanwhile, back at the ranch.............some shifu eye candy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the day-to-day

having two children, even grown up ones, is an affliction. they constantly love you, even when you are down or feeling under the weather. they are constant reminders that you love others fiercely. as i said, an affliction. the other day hannah took a series of photographs of me finishing a stump loom shifu piece. nothing special, just a page for a vellum book. but she was able to get me unposed and occupied, so i didn't make a face. or anything too weird.

my son, ian, is an artist, the kind that draws old buildings, and barns, and odd houses, and makes a weird music on an old pump organ that he calls dirges. ian spoke to me about the blog yesterday, complimenting me on it, remarking on what it evoked in his memory (he's been away for two years) of this old farm. below, the back door. where everyone enters.

we had a little new snow today after the big thaw. the watersheds are coursing everywhere, but the temperature has dropped and now it's returned to january cold. i'm back to health again, and hoping to get some real work done this week. today i started two students in the bookbinding activity (class). as i spoke to them about bone folders, i caught them both stroking their chinese-made  bonefolders with respect. anticipation, as we begin with star books.

this old truck is all that's left of the outside toys. ian's, probably; he adored his tonkas and john deeres into total wreckage. hannah's plastic horses survived in slightly better shape. oh, and the bricks? they came from my chimney, the cleanup after an ice storm that kept us out of the house for three weeks until electricity was returned. the old maple in the front yard fell down on it, saving the house, but not the chimney. imagine, trees and bricks raining down.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


elva weaver, my mom. age 13 in the 1920s. after her first bob.
my mom was a weaver, the baby of her family. she made all her own clothes, using the sears catalog as her fashion guide, and sewed everything by hand. she did no fancy work other than embroidery, and she didn't care to quilt. mom taught me to sew on kleenex with thread, before i was allowed to use up rags. eventually i had access to the rag bag to make barbie and troll clothes and whatever i wanted. this meant that by the time i was in seventh grade i was sewing most of my dresses and skirts. i made a quilt for college when i was sixteen. at school i walked past the weaving studio and the looms shouted out to me and i knew i needed to weave. those early connections to textiles are embedded deeply, but also to utility. but i don't often make useful things, even in school my textiles were mostly decorative. 

at sunset today, i was thinking how life moves us in directions we can't even imagine. i came to this northern place, where january really can get drag you down. but all i feel like today is books. books and cuddling up for a nap. 

this small case holds some of my favorite books, several i made, some made by friends. these books were made by carol blinn, aimee lee, shanna leino, roberta lavadour, joanne kaar, amanda burnham, margo ecke, hannah stevens, susan porteous, mark mcmurray. and most of these books hold stories. stories that connect to me through their makers, a thread, part of the cloth of my life. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

two news and weariness

the pomegranate experiment got better as the third day dawned. 

and then began to sadden some. by wednesday evening i was ready to rinse it and the final piece was interesting, but so disappointing in that it's just plain old plain old. very little purple and ochre left... inevitable, but dull.

and this is how it goes. it will be a base for something else, but alone it's quite mundane. however, the pom shapes are interesting. i saved the dye liquor and the pomegranate pieces and put them in a pot on the counter with a scrap of cotton. i added some leftover white wine going off for drinking, but the smell is quite delightful in the kitchen! over at slow cloth on facebook there has been some discussion of ugliness. i will still maintain this: if the work is bad it's ok to get rid of it. it can become compost, buried treasure, whatever. only it should not represent you or the work of hands, nor should it be sold or given away. it should change, burn, bury, or hydrate. you learned something, and now you move on. as a mature artist it's my belief that the bad work needs to disappear. 

but, this week i had a new artist, the latest addition to my class. he made a book and today finished sewing the button closure and tuesday he sewed the signatures onto the spine. he made his own version of linen decorative sewing. when completed, the book was quite stunning.

he has plans for this book and has agreed to bring it in to be photographed in a couple of months after he and his siblings draw in it. 

watching this young man "get" the whole project, from looking at exemplars to his final choice of button for closure has been a pleasure. his hands were confident and exploratory, and while he was working and using the binding tools (including sharp knives) he gave deep consideration to where he wanted the book to go. he didn't need for the pages to be exactly the same size, or sewn in perfectly symmetrically, but he pulled each stitch nicely snug and the book sections functioned correctly. i could have told him the spine sewing wouldn't work, but he pushed it far enough to make it quite exciting visually, without disturbing its functioning. i liked that he'd told his siblings about it and the three of them will draw in it. 

i am doing research on using art/writing journaling with kids to further develop fluency and facility with language (our program's ultimate goal is passing the g.e.d). i would appreciate any leads/ideas/hints you might have. (i teach the kids about dan eldon, danny gregory, 1000 journals, sabrina ward harrison, combat paper, etc). and, by the bye, thanks for the good health wishes. i'm almost back to normal. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

dyeing the slow way

but trying to focus on something of interest. at christmastime i bought two pomegranates. they're not little, but they got overlooked on the counter until yesterday, when i decided to cut them open (dry but a little nice flavor left) and use them on some cotton cloth for direct dyeing. i spread them on a steel cookie sheet loosely bundled. i poured a bit of water on it to soak it and mushed the fruit a bit. then i emptied the water plus all the mineral gunk from the water reservoir on the woodstove. a little yucky, but using india flint as my mentor, i'm mixing the chemistry from my well water with poms grown somewhere way too far away.

that was yesterday. today it looks like this. more darks, more ochre.

wondering where it will go. just observing and letting it be. about all i can muster today since i'm still sick. 

i'm home for the celebration and remembrance of the life of martin luther king, jr. nice to have a day off, better to have his life an exemplar for our culture. best if he'd lived a full life.

Friday, January 15, 2010

middle age

wendy and i are middle aged. it's a weird thing to say, but i like the view from here. but. this week i got a cold and yesterday broke a tooth. last year wendy had a u.t.i. and a facial abscess where a tick had bitten her. and this week my class was either really good, or really rotten. funny how the mid winter blues affects us. today it's warm, above freezing and melting, but dreary. so, after work i took wendy for a treat, we drove through my bank's outside teller and wendy knows that this is good because they give her treats. (i don't buy treats. she eats really good food.) then she got to go to our little yarn shop, linsie woolsie and be top visiting herd dog in the land of wool. she got to take care of two new humans!

you'd think i'd adore this atmosphere, wonderful yarns, knitting stuff. and i do, except i'm not a knitter. oh, i can knit, but i don't have any of the delight my daughter (who works there) has in knitting. following a pattern is excruciating and impossible for me. instead i look at the yarns and marvel at the ways industrially spun fiber echos my handspun, hand dyed, and in some periods of my life, self shorn fiber. i raised a small flock of black sheep, some angora rabbits, and two mohair goats. while i loved handling the animals and working with them, i wasn't much at making the flock pay for itself. all this points to the fact that i'm a process person, not so interested in the product, but the making itself.

and for wendy, it's all about the work of keeping her people safe and happy. she's no angel (she takes unexpected, illegal "toots" around the neighborhood from time to time, and comes home burdock ridden and tired. but she always comes home. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

fine book, lousy binding

this small and huge book, turning leaves of mind is, what chela metzger called, eye candy for book workers. purchased from granary books, the first time i opened it the spine glue cracked crazily, the yellow glue ripped some pages. so i tried with much care to rid it of most of the mess, and as you can see the sewing is fine. the cover is now separate. but oh, my, this is one wonderful book.

the authors nora ligorano, marshall reese structured this book so that the text, a poem by gerrit lansing, meanders around the pages that are photographs of old bindings. the end papers are notes which are a poem of sorts. is it irony that the beauty of this book about decay is itself glued up poorly? 

and, for me, the only readable bits are the poem, all the handwritten words from the books themselves are indecipherable. i study and study it, and find it rich. 

cold night

last night i came home after walking wendy to a gentle sunset, noticeably a bit later now. but it was cold, around 5 degrees, and i wasn't dressed properly. earlier in the day my daughter photographed two yearling deer in the yard, they like the food here in deep snow for some reason. (they have hundreds of acres of overgrown farmland, so why they come here is a mystery.) i talk to them, though. they seem curious about human voices. and last night i realized i have a cold, again, but in my line of work it's inevitable. 

it's my hope to soon post links (links!) to other wonderful places on the web. this morning, early, i got up to make arrangements for a sub, and meandered around the web. a nice way to have tea and toast and homeopathic cold capsules!

Monday, January 11, 2010


i like to find old sewing baskets, and buy them, and take them home. they hold stories, and the ones of thrift and secrecy delight me. they are very female domains, these sewing boxes. in one i found this bundle, sewn together. i kept it intact for a while, then opened it.


Sunday, January 10, 2010


ok, so i have an addiction. i love to get outside in the woods in winter. on skis. and i particularly love being able to ski as hard as i can while doing it. admittedly, i'm slower this year than i was when i last skied two years ago. i have been to two places this winter, only four times out. but yesterday was brilliant sunshine, 0 degrees, and deep, deep snow. we skied to a waterfall and watched the water "boil" as it churned down the drop. ice everywhere. i knew the camera wouldn't be happy, so i left it home. today i skied again and it was warmer, 20 degrees. 

just after this shot, the snow whooshed down on me and i was covered. it looked like i'd been in a snowball fight. the snow that had accumulated for a week was letting go. 

i thought it was funny that there were blue blazes, so it was, i guess, colder than blue blazes.

i worked on shifu and on a tiny bit of clean up for binding. i have been thinking that i can do this blogging thing better, perhaps a series of photos like a thought process or a teaching gig, certainly i can make links that work. (thanks for your help.) i have been waiting for blogger for dummies to be released, it's due out in february. i hate the name, but it looks like it should have helpful stuff for me. i'm happy and a tiny bit achy after the skiing and yoga, but it feels good to work and be more active. it's way too easy to cuddle around the wood stove this january.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


my student loved using the bonefolder! his hands understood why it made folding easier and more efficient. i bought a few for students from a supplier, but my own bonefolders are just some of my favorite tools, maybe because i learned to make them from jim croft and made a passel of them. (i have a few made by jim, too.) shanna leino also makes wonderful folders and steel tools, too. (talas sells these under designer tools and you can purchase directly from jim or shanna.)

photo by hannah stevens
the top one is a multipurpose with a blunt, flat and rounded end and a more conventional other end. it's my favorite, sculpted by accident. the middle tool is a big folder, 9 1/4 inches long, for heavy work. the bottom is deer bone, rather than elk, and quite thin and a bit flexible. these are more ergonomic than the commercially made ones, i thought it happened quite accidentally as jim taught us students to work with the bone and we shaped tools. (of course, jim knew what would happen.)

using good tools, however, cannot substitute for craftsmanship. when i watch my friend carol blinn of warwick press fold up pages, i am in awe, her hands accurately and efficiently fold a pile of paper in a tenth of the time it would take me. her hands know exactly what to do and adjust to fit each job, and for her, a designer, printer, and binder, her livelihood depends on efficient work habits. i watch my students' hands working and am amazed at their various abilities. 

the morning sunshine is now touching the higher ground here, it's been light for sometime, but the sun is dancing on the snow burdened brush. it's been snowing for eight days with one little break. i will ski later, and then perhaps cuddle up with a book or some hand weaving around the woodstove. i am thinking about the making of things, why it is so important to have hand skills, where in my life i can push my skills. the 2010 pbi (paper and book intensive) has posted this summer's classes. i am dreaming about new possibilities. and once i figure it out i will make links. i am a slow learner.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

can't hardly wait...

'till tomorrow. my student took home his distressed leather, a thick piece of deerhide, and emphasized the scars with fire. i shuddered when he told me his idea, and he reassured me he'd be safe-and i had to trust this. i dropped into the program today (i was out for "training") and he saw me and rushed to get the leather to show me what he'd done. he beautifully and tastefully emphasized the scars with the slightest bit of charring. a lovely job. sometimes, this job is really something. tomorrow we choose paper, tear or cut, make sections, and maybe make our sewing template. he gets to use a real binder's tool: a bone folder. 

my favorite elk bone folder that i made with the amazing jim croft
photo by hannah stevens

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

eating paper

i had a reminder just now about eating paper. here's a story. i teach special education high school students english language arts. but i also teach other things, and for over twenty years have been either a parent volunteer or a paid artist in the schools. there i teach papermaking, dyeing, spinning, drawing, and weaving. when i first began teaching gigs making paper, i was at a loss on how much equipment to bring, how to cart it all around, what would be meaningful for kids. i learned after a bit to really talk to them. to show them and let them use real equipment. to tell them exactly what i do and why. no frills, but lots of stories. we live a little north of the adirondacks, and the kids are very familiar with paper mills and logging. even though the mills are dying out, the tradition is still around. so papermaking isn't a completely foreign concept.

one time, before i began teaching in the special education classrooms that have followed, i was demonstrating papermaking with a group of middle school kids, about 12 years old. if you have a group like that there's always one cocky boy, who stands right in front and has a lot to say, mostly seeing how far he can push you, happy if he can get your goat. (but the clue is that he's in front--he's interested, all right.) having raised a bunch of goats (and milked them!) i am not your typical pushover artiste, i've wrestled goats. sheep. and even a gander. 

so this boy asks me about the pulp i had prepared for the demo. i told him it was abaca, also called manila hemp, but really a banana leaf fiber. the other kids were watching him carefully, and i continued talking about eastern and western methods. and then i said the cue: "the japanese say that your paper should be pure enough to eat". so this boy says with a grin, "can i eat it?" the other kids are leaning in at this, and he's got the devil in his eye. "sure", i said. the pulp is a milky soup and in has a few plant bits, ferns. so now it's up to him to save face, and hesitating only a tiny bit he scooped out a handful and popped it in his mouth. the cheer went up, he gulped it down. because i met his dare, we were buddies. and we continued to make paper and the kids all really joined in. 

today i had a new student. i told him we were going to make a book in our art class. after he had a chance to see some books online (thank you moonbindery) he was so interested in the project he wanted to take home his leather piece so he could work on it after school. this is what i'm after in teaching, sparking a kid to want to know more, to explore, to ask questions. i probably won't know all the answers, but together we will figure them out. this is what i love about teaching. working with the kids.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


this is the end of christmas break. back to work tomorrow. no new books. two in the works. 

these two little (less than 3" in any dimension) coptic bound books are not new, but are favorites of mine. they bring together many interests. the pages are all hand made papers, the top book has hosta paper and rust cloth pages, the bottom is a mix of hosta and dogbane. covers are rust and dyed cotton sheeting over davey board. commercial linen binding threads. the plant papers were gathered and processed here. the cotton was dyed outside one autumn. i had hoped to get into the paper mill over break.

and now it's snowing, has been for three days, and no end in sight. the north country.   

Saturday, January 2, 2010

for aimee

there are times when only a border collie will do. some days when the only reason to get out of bed is the little nose greeting me. this is not how it is today for me. but aimee needs a non-allergenic hug.

with love,

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