Thursday, November 12, 2009

These Old Arts

My work, by its nature, keeps me somewhat isolated. People come in, just to look or to place an order; but since we’re a business they don’t usually stay long to chat. That’s one reason I do demonstrations with the Southern Plains Fiber Guild (SPFG) in Ponca City, OK. Another reason is the other Guild members: We do have such fun when we get together!

But the main reason I enjoy demonstrations -- and I think it is true for all our members -- is the sense of passing on our art. Young people are fascinated that these old skills still exist, and older folks are gratified that people still do what their parents and grandparents did, even though the artist may have put a new twist and spin in it.

The SPFG gave a demonstration last Saturday, the 7th of November, at the Pioneer Woman Museum. Apparently we brought in quite a crowd, as the Museum Director wants us to come back and do another demonstration in a few months. We had weavers and knitters, a milliner and crocheters. I took my Louet Victoria wheel (which I love) and did some spinning for those who were interested. I have found it mostly true that women are interested in the fiber and the men are interested in the mechanics of the wheel. Both are interested in the process.

As an artist I have always been about process. Once a piece is finished I am done with it. I am already thinking about the next piece and what it can teach me, about the texture and feel of the piece, and about how I can refine what I already know and distill it into that new piece. An old musical acquaintance of mine once said that to him, each piece he recorded was “just a snapshot in time of where we were at the moment.” That’s how my weaving feels to me: it is a snapshot.

I recently read an interesting review about a glass artist in Taos, NM, in the Taos News on Monday, the 9th of November, 2009. The artist’s name is Michael Miro, and he has revived a glass studio in Taos. The article’s writer, Melody Romancito, cites Miro as follows:

The new art form is going to be about art processes and not the artist’s interior processes…. The form will follow the medium instead of the other way around. Instead of understanding where the artist is coming from it will be about the work. I want to get it back to what the work is. If the work doesn’t speak for itself, no amount of narrative is going to change that.
I agree with Miro (which may have been why I liked the article, I admit). I think process can be a topic that expands artists’ dialog with one another and, subsequently, with their audience. I have talked process with carpenters and actors, bricklayers and jewelers and, of course, other weavers, and the conversations generally start with “This is how I go when I go like this.” Less a conversation about what Miro calls “internal processes” and more about how the art happens.

I think the idea of process widens what we call “art.” Process is valid, no matter to what form it is applied. This harkens back to the sensibilities of the Bauhaus movement, but without its rigidity. It is a newer take on what it means to be an artist and what it is that we produce. For the artist it suggests that art is a new dynamic of exploration. It is also about connections. As artists, we are free to examine the processes, not just of our own art, but delve into the products of the minds of other artists in a way we have never had before.

That is one thing that makes our Guild so healthy and vital. We all achieve our goals with different processes, expanding our skill-sets and pushing the edges of what we can achieve through the examples of others. When we do an event like the one last Saturday, we are literally demonstrating the process of our arts. This is what connects us to the living and expanding new realities of today, while grounding us in the processes of these old arts.

Friday, October 16, 2009

In Praise of Sheep

Wild and Woolly

Sheep are neither stupid nor are they necessarily flocking animals. Tough, resourceful, and resilient, sheep can be found all over the world – a testament to their enduring usefulness. They have fed, clothed and housed mankind for over 10,000 years. Bred to be gentle, biddable, and to flock together, the modern sheep is a far cry from its wild forbearer.

There are a number of different theories regarding the origins of domestic sheep. Most sources agree that they originated from mouflon (Ovis aries). There are two wild populations of mouflons still in existence: the Asiatic mouflon, which is still found in the mountains of Asia Minor and southern Iran, and the European mouflon, of which the only existing members are on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. Some sources hypothesize that the European mouflon are actually descendants of the Asiatic mouflon. Regardless, these two species of mouflon are closely related, with the only difference being the redder coloration and different horn configuration of the Asiatic mouflon. The Asiatic mouflon is threatened over its entire range. They are bred on big game ranches in the US, but are seldom found to be of pure blood as they readily interbred both with domestic sheep and the bighorn sheep.

Sheep were among the first animals domesticated. A statuette of a wool sheep was discovered at an archeological site in Iran, which suggests that selection for woolly sheep had begun to occur over 6000 years ago. The common features of today's sheep were already appearing in Mesopotamian and Babylonian art by 3000 B.C.

From the Acipayam of Turkey to the Zoulay of Morocco, there are approximately 283 named breeds of sheep. Human selection over the centuries -- for wool type, flocking instinct and other economically important traits -- has resulted in these varied breeds. Modern breeding schemes have also resulted in an increasing number of composite breeds, which are the result of a crossing of two or more established breeds.

According to the North American Shetland Sheep Association (NASSA), Shetland Sheep come in 22 named colors and many pattern variations. Many of the other double-coated breeds also come in many different colors. While 22 is the number that the NASSA has come up with, the truth is that sheep come in so many subtle shades of these colors that the range is almost limitless.

The uses that sheep are put to come mainly in three broad categories: wool, meat, and milk. The milk is used in cheese, primarily Roquefort, which is always made with sheep’s milk, and some parmesan cheeses. Sheep meat, when grass-finished, is fine-grained and richly flavored.

But the primary use to which sheep are put is, of course, for their wool. More than 60% of the wool produced around the world is used for clothing. Some less familiar uses for wool include felted padding for piano hammers and even fertilizer.

Sources used for this article include:
American Livestock Breed Conservancy
American Sheep Industry Association
Oklahoma State University Livestock Pages

Saturday, September 12, 2009

On the Mythology of Weaving

“The weavers are striking up the wise shuttle’s song, which wakens those who are asleep.” – Sophocles, The Progeny

When I first learned to weave, my Navajo teacher included instruction in the stories of Spider Woman as well as the weaving itself, as if the two could not be separated. I found her stories so fascinating that as I expanded my interest in weaving, my interest in the mythic side of weaving grew as well.

I learned that while men weave in some cultures, there is, in all the world, no god of weaving -- only goddesses! I found this surprising, but the more research I did and the more correlations I found, it began to make sense. Women, it seemed, were the first weavers.(1)

Both the ancient Greeks and the Navajo have legends of spiders and weaving. In the Navajo mythos, Spider Woman is a beneficent helper who taught them to weave. She also taught them the spiritual meaning of the loom, the warp, and all the tools. On the other hand, Athena was jealous of her skill, punishing Arachne by changing her into a spider when she challenged the goddess too closely.

Often the weaving goddesses are also teachers of wisdom and midwifery. Ixchel is the 16th century name of the Mayan goddess of weaving and childbirth and, it seems likely, the moon. She was worshipped on the Isla des Mujeres (the Isle of Women) and is often seen with a hare.

The people who have become the modern day Berbers, renowned for their weaving, were present in North Africa before the Phoeniceans founded Carthage. They worshipped Tanit as the goddess of childbirth, weaving and the moon. Tanit was later equated with Astarte, the northwestern Semitic goddess of fertility, sexuality, and war.

At least two goddesses of weaving were seen as sun goddesses. In Japan, Amaterasu is the Shinto goddess of weaving and the sun. In the Balkans, it is Saule who spins and weaves sunbeams. However, the usual association of weaving goddesses is with the moon.

Among the ancient Egyptians the men did the weaving, but it was Isis who taught the women to spin, without which there would be no weaving. And one of the oldest gods of Egypt is the goddess Neith, who was a weaver. Her name means “one who is,” and, according to E. A. Wallis Budge, weaving is synonymous with “being” in the Egyptian language.(2)

In Greece it was Athena Ergana who was the goddess of weaving and of the strategy of warfare. In one legend, Athena defeats Ares by weaving a trap and then stretching it across the charging warrior’s path. Those who spun for Athena were the Moirae (the Fates). The Moirae spun, measured, and cut the thread of human lives. They were often personified as three ugly and sometimes lame old women.

In Norse and Viking mythology, the Norns spun and wove the lives of humans. In The Fafnismol, Sigurd asks Fafnir: “Who are the Norns who… the babe from the mother bring?”(3) The Norns almost seemed a class of priestesses, tending the world tree and being of human, elvish and dwarven races. In The First Lay of Helgi Hundisbane they are described as three women who:

Mightily wove they
the web of fate,
While Bralund's towns
were trembling all;
And there the golden
threads they wove,
And in the moon's hall
fast they made them.(4)
Sometimes, weaving goddesses are associated with the stars. In Germanic lore, it is said that what we call Orion’s Belt was really Frigga’s distaff. Holda knew the secret of turning flax into linen, but Frigga (her name means “the Beloved” and we remember her in the word “Friday,” which was Frigga’s day) wove the destiny the Norns had spun and was of help during birth.

The idea of three mysterious women spinners is repeated in so-called “faerie tales” from Germany to Puerto Rico. Although sometimes the girl is a princess and sometimes she is a poor orphan, she is always set to spin flax (sometimes into gold) by a cruel woman. Three grotesque old women rescue her by doing her spinning for her in exchange for an invitation to her wedding. At the wedding, they blame their ugliness on the hard work of spinning flax. This influences her father (whether he be merchant or king) to decree that, to save her beauty, she may no longer spin.

My teacher Sarah is a traditional Navajo and for her Spider Woman is a living entity entwined with her life and her weaving. I suspect that there was a similar relationship between many of the women who wove in these ancient cultures and their goddesses. I wonder about that sense of connection, that sense of belonging to a family with a history of weaving, to the tradition of weaving in general, and a sense that it was in divine order. Maybe our time is too cynical for that now, and I wonder how much we have lost because of it.

(1) Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, Elizabeth Wayland Barber
(2) The Gods of the Egyptians, E.A. Wallis Budge
(3) The First Lay of Helgi Hundisbane, trans. Henry Adams Bellows, 1936
(4) The Fafnismol, trans Henry Adams Bellows, 1936

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Following Your Bliss in Hard Times

Times right now are uncertain: no one needs to tell us that. A lot of people are putting their dreams on hold, if not forgoing them altogether. My own mind is filled with doubt and fear sometimes. “Are we really doing the right thing?” “Do I need to get a real job?” But I have learned that what comes from my mind is not always logical and truth-driven. Frank Herbert said, “Fear is the little death. The mind killer.” Fear gets in the way of cogent thought processes.

Over many years I have learned that the inner knowing, the kind of information that comes from your body, your instincts, can tell you better what you should do in moments of crisis. “Don’t panic,” it says. “Calmness is the way forward.”

We have changed the shop from a knitting/crochet/weaving retail store into a weaving studio. We just invested in a lighted sign for the business. These things have worried me. “Is this right?” “We are moving in new direction. Is the trail ahead clear or does danger lurk right around the bend?” Like most other humans I am not really fond of big changes in my life. Now we are depending solely on finished goods: saddle blankets, shawls, hats, scarves, runners and pillows, etc. -- things we have made ourselves. We can’t hide behind anything, now; it’s our own work or nothing. And that brings up the fear, “Are we good enough?” Which leads back to the all-too-human fear of failure and embarrassment. Our fear gets in our way and, like frightened rabbits, we freeze.

My head is saying, “Don’t! Wait a minute. You can’t do that.” My heart is saying, “Keep going, keep going, keep going.” If I take a deep breath and get a bit more centered I can hear Major Valko, my coach, saying, “With a horse you are always moving forward, even when you are backing up.”

The truth is that we can never stand still or go back. We are always moving in a new direction and danger does lie around every bend. Permanence is illusory. All there is, is change. We must pack up our ideas and move on, leaving fear behind best as we can.

I have been told, that in the Chinese language, the character for Chaos is the same as Opportunity. That makes sense to me.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

101 Rodeo 50th Anniversary Queen's Trophy

Finishing the Saddle Blanket

Over time, I am sure that I will get faster, but right now I am pretty satisfied. The saddle blanket I have been working on is finished. Best estimate I have on time to from start-to-finish is close to 112 hours. That translates out at about 6-7 hours a day for 16 days. It took a bit longer in actual fact, because there were a couple of days I was ill and wasn’t able to work. Weaving always reminds me of my connections with weavers through time. Weaving this blanket has taken me back through my own times.

The blanket is 35 inches wide and 72 inches long. It is meant to be folded in half under the saddle. The half that will go next to the horse is a lovely rich gray color – the natural color of the sheep the wool came from and therefore undyed. That way the horse will have no dye next to its skin. The other half, the half that people will see, has six colors, all hand-dyed in natural substances. The dark blue and the light blue are both done with indigo. The color of the dark blue is so rich it almost glows. Red comes from cochineal and cactus tunas (fruit). Both the yellow and the orange are done with Bidens coreopsis but with different mordants. These colors are light fast. The red will last longer than most red dyes, but really, no red dye is permanent.

The doubled blanket will cushion the saddle for the horse. This will help prevent pressure sores. Wool breathes better than any plastic-based fabric, which will prevent over-heating. It will be cooler than “store bought” blankets in the summer but warmer in the winter. The wool also wicks away moisture, taking up to 31 percent of its weight in water before it even feels wet. This will help a lot when it comes time to cool off the horse after work.

The blanket was woven for the 50th annual 101 Wild West Rodeo Association’s Queen’s Trophy. The lucky winner will also receive a saddle – but that’s just a detail so far as I am concerned! The 101 Rodeo is so-named because of the legendary 101 Ranch that used to be just south of Ponca City. Established by Colonel Joe Miller in 1898, the ranch was named 101 because it supposedly held 101,000 acres. The actual ranch, at its height, was much larger with leased land from several Indian nations.

The 101 Ranch was the home of one of the most well known traveling “Wild West Shows.” It also began the rodeo tradition. One of the greatest cowboys of all time, Bill Picket, worked for the ranch and show. He started the sport of “Bull-dogging,” now called “steer-wrestling.” In this event, a cowboy jumps from the back of his running horse onto a running steer and wrestles it to the ground. This doesn’t hurt the steer – but it can be hard on the cowboy.

Weaving this saddle blanket was a tribute to my hometown and my history in many ways. Some of my earliest memories are from the Rodeo. We went, as a large, extended family (except for one aunt who felt she was far too refined for such common entertainment). We ate corn-dogs and curly fries and cotton candy, snow cones and drank “ice cold” Coke. In those days the Rodeo was held in September, not August and no one had air-conditioning anyway. Some lady from a local church choir warbled the national anthem and we all stood up when the flag came in with the Grand Entry. We saw some of the greatest cowboys of all time, like Jim Shoulders, and some of the best rough stock ever. Both the great bull Twister and the saddle-bronc Widow-Maker came out of the chutes here. Back then, the 101 Rodeo was the highest paying rodeo in the country.

I grew up and grew away from rodeos. But now, having come full circle, I will be thrilled to watch those old, familiar contests and even more thrilled to see the winning young woman receive my blanket when she is crowned Queen of the Rodeo.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Where Did the Walking Loom Come From?

A Short History of the Walking Loom

We already know the Hispanic Walking Loom was not invented on the shores of Mexico. It is universally acknowledged that it came from Spain. But before that, where? Is it indigenous to Spain? Who invented it? It is, after all, very different from the looms used in the rest of Europe.

It has already been documented by Nora Fisher[1] that Don Ignacio and Don Juan Bazan actually introduced the Hispanic Walking Loom to New Mexico in 1807. The Bazan brothers were descendents of a family who had arrived in Mexico from Spain in the 1600’s. Ms. Fisher also points out that the treadle loom was “not in fact indigenous to Europe. Owing to a lack of historical writing on the subject, the treadle loom’s introduction to Europe is shrouded in mystery, but it probably came from the Near East. It arrived in Europe around A.D. 1000 and seems to have formed the technical basis for the tremendous expansion of the cloth trade concurrent with the growth of cities and the rise of the middle-class.”[2]

Prior to the Spanish immigrants to Mexico in the 17th century, two individual populations of weavers were already established in Spain. The type of loom they used is not known for sure, but considering that the treadle loom arrived in Mexico from Spain, we must consider that it was possibly used by one or both of these populations.

The Sephardic Jews[3] have a long tradition of weaving. There is a carpet in the Islamic Museum of Berlin which is dated no later than the early 1300’s, which depicts the Ark of the Covenant as a repetitive design. In the late 1300’s, Barcelona was home to numerous Sephardic Jewish weavers. Scholars have located legal documents dated 1406 which specifically refer to “the Jewish weavers of Zaragosa.” They continue, “By the end of the fifteenth century there were Jewish weavers to be found in almost every small community… and in the Catalayid district the weavers even worshiped in their own separate synagogue.”[4]

In addition to the Sephardic Jews, Spanish Muslims, referred to as Mudéjars[5], also had a strong tradition of weaving carpets. A well-known design favored by these weavers was the “Spanish wheel,” a motif comprised of intertwined patterns, which created a large, central, eight-pointed star.[6] The Mudéjars were also known to copy the patterns of silk textiles, as well as various types of rugs imported from Anatolian Turkey. Examples of their exemplary carpet art from the 15th and 16th centuries show a network of polygons in which fields of stars are contained by distinctive borders.

During the 15th century, most of the Sephardic Jews professed to be Catholic and were referred to as Conversos.[7] For many of them, however, the conversion was only titular, and they still practiced their original faith in secret.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain took seriously reports that some Conversos and Mudéjars were not only privately practicing their former faiths but were secretly trying to draw others back into their previous religious folds. In 1480, the King and Queen created the Spanish Inquisition to investigate these suspicions. During the first twelve years of this new institution, thousands of converted Jews were killed for breaking the law which prohibited practicing Judaism.

In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella completed their Reconquista by forcing the surrender of the Muslim kingdom of Al-Andalus.[8] The surrender of the capital city of Granada placed yet another large Jewish and Muslim population under their rule, and Ferdinand and Isabella decided to act. They issued a decree, The Edict of Expulsion, which was designed specifically to drive the Muslims and Jews out of Spain.[9]

Many Sephardic Jews went to Morocco, primarily to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. These tiny Mediterranean coastal villages were centers of commerce, and the Sephardic Jews flourished in these locales, thanks to both legal and illegal trade.[10] The city of Fez, also located in Morocco, was populated by Mudéjars as well as many Sephardic Jews.

Again, we are not certain of what kind of looms the Jewish and Muslim weavers used during these turbulent times. It is possible that the loom used by at least some of these weavers was a treadle loom. Proof that the treadle loom reached Morocco at some point in time (most likely before the Muslim invasion of Spain in 711 A.D.) can be seen by viewing images of modern-day weavers in Morocco using the treadle loom.[11] I have recently found a photograph of a modern-day weaver, weaving on a walking loom, in Turkey. That picture is at the top of this blog.

Despite the difficulties of travel and communication in the Middle Ages, there was an constant flow of people, materials and information back and forth between countries. A massive emigration of Jews and Muslims occurred between 1492 and 1580, following the Edict of Expulsion. Many Sephardic Jews eventually emigrated from Spain and North Africa to South America, especially the countries now known as Argentina, Peru and Brazil. It is unlikely they brought the treadle loom with them, since there is no tradition of this loom being used in South America.

Just as Jews emigrated to South America, many of the Mudéjar emigrated as well. This population, however, moved to Central America – the exact portion of the New World where the treadle loom eventually took hold and began a weaving tradition that continues to this day in the Rio Grande weavers.

[1] Rio Grande Textiles, edited by Nora Fisher.
[2] Rio Grande Textiles, p. 152.
[3] Sephardic is the Hebrew word for Spanish.
[4] Anton Felton and Samuel Kurinsky, 1999.
[5] Mudéjar is a corruption of an Arabic term meaning “domesticated.” It derogatorily referred to Muslims who had succumbed to the authority of Christian rulers.
[6] It is interesting to note that a multifaceted, eight-pointed star is also a motif often seen in Rio Grande weaving, in the Vallejo style.
[7] Another more prejudiced term was Murrano, which means “filthy” or “pig” in Medieval Spanish. Happily, it is no longer used as a perjorative.
[8] Al-Andalus was established by the Muslims, who invaded Spain in 711 A.D. The Muslim armies were primarily comprised of Berbers from north Africa. By 718 A.D., Muslims controlled most of the Iberian peninsula. The Muslims ruled in Al-Aldalus for 781 years. It was a peaceful reign that encouraged research into philosophy, medicine, and the arts and sciences in a spirit of cooperation between residents of the kingdom. There was no religious conflict between Muslims, Jews and Christians since they all revered the Old Testament and were considered to be “People of the Book.”
[9] In his logbook, Christopher Columbus remarked, “In the same month (July, 1492) in which their Majesties (Ferdinand and Isabella) issued the edict that all Jews should be driven out of the kingdom and its territories, in the same month they gave me the order to undertake with sufficient men my expedition of discovery to the Indies.”
[10] Much of the illegal trade the Sephardic Jews bartered was the booty from the Barbary Pirates. The Barbary Pirates were freedom fighters from Al-Andalus who used raiding in an effort to reclaim Al-Andalus from Spain. The term “Barbary” is a corruption of the term “Berber.”
[11] See “Berber weaving in Fez, Morroco” at

Monday, July 6, 2009

Many Hands Make Light Work

Warping a Loom Doesn't Have to Be a Lonely Job!

This past week, we started warping our big walking loom. Anyone who has warped a loom can tell you that it is the longest, most tedious, boring and yet delicately meticulous part of weaving. They can also tell you that somehow, magically, the loom triples in size during the warping process. It is almost impossible to warp a walking loom this size by oneself. Well… I suppose it could be done; in fact I am sure that it has been done, but I don’t have that much endurance and discipline.

It starts with measuring the warp yarn. Patti spent two days measuring the warp, which she attached to our big horizontal warping mill. Along with our Strauch skein-winder, the mill is probably the most important piece of equipment we have. It is 6’ wide, and allows you to spool out yards and yards of yarn as you attach it to the loom.

That was the easy part. Next you have to pull the yarn through the heddles, one strand at a time. After that you have to pull the yarn through the beater – again, one strand at a time. At that point, you can tie it onto the apron rod. It is an exhausting job, involving climbing in and out of the loom as well as stretching across the front and back beams to reach the heddles. Unless you have the spinal column of a feline (I wish!), you end up with a backache at the very least.

Amazingly enough, even though it was a major holiday weekend, we were so lucky in that we were able to call on an extra pair of hands! Donna came and helped and it was just wonderful. Three of us were able to switch places, catch mistakes before they happened, and most important of all, root each other on as we tired.

There is a marvelous synergy when several people are working on a task. Somehow the jokes are funnier and the work goes more smoothly and quickly. There is a rhythm that sets in and three almost become one. Way back in the days when I was a singer in a rock band, we called it “the extra note.” There was almost a hum in the air during the silences as we slipped the individual threads of warp through the heddles.

After we were done, we checked the time and to our surprise, warping the heddles with three of us had taken less than half as long as the last time, when Donna and I warped it alone. No one was over-tired and we were still joking and laughing when we got done. The task we had all dreaded had actually become fun.

That got me thinking about a book that I read some years ago during a seminar on natural dyeing at Hillcreek Fiber Studio in Columbia, Missouri. The book was Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. As we worked during the seminar to achieve a common goal, there was no sense of competition among the 20 or so women, only that extra note humming all day long. According to Dr. Barber, this is the way that women have always worked together.

Later today we’ll be warping the beater and starting the tie-on process. There is still much to do, and some of it can be done by two people. We are still going to invite Donna along for the ride, though. Even if she works on her own weaving while Patti and I warp, I expect we’ll hear that extra note along with the conversation and the laughter.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Learning is Reward Enough

This is how I go when I go like this…

Intelligence is adaptability. Learning is shaped behavior. The ability to learn is the capacity to accept change of set, which is a function of adaptability.

The most remarkable skills coach I have ever had was Major Charles Valko, a former Hungarian Olympic Coach in Dressage. Every time I try to teach anything to anyone, I am grateful for his guidance. He approached training with a deep upwelling of joy that was infectious. I truly think that anyone who rode for him would have followed him through the gates of Hell with courage and confidence.

Pal, my Service Dog, had a really happy weekend. He got to practice his herding skills three times, and he did very well each time. One new complicated skill was added to his repertoire: penning the sheep after working them, and he did it perfectly the first time. It is wonderful to watch him use his gliding, wolf-like trot to move the sheep around the big pen.

His trainer, my dear friend Terri Wilson at Dixie’s Animal Training in Tulsa OK, is the best dog trainer I have ever seen. Terri does not use punishment or intimidation with her dogs, which is why she does such a great job of training sheep herding to dogs whose prey drive is not as obsessional as Border Collies’. Also, every sheep that gets herded for a living probably wishes that it lived with her – she spoils them rotten! (You can see more of her herding skills and the various dogs she has trained over the years at her website. The picture used in this blog is of her dog, Marco, who was a whiz at anything he did.)

While watching my dog work the sheep I taught my friend Claudia to weave on a small bookmark loom. The method I chose was basically “this is how I go when I go like this.” I would first show her what was needed on the loom, then I would take apart what I had just done and she would repeat the step. Her reward for the learning was the positive experience of success.

Pal’s reward for good behavior in the herding ring is to continue working the sheep.

Both of these efforts share a component of associative learning. The rewards are different, and, of course, the tasks are different, but both share a drive to learn and a positive reward. Major Valko was right – make learning a joyful task and the learner will always be eager to learn more.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Newspaper Article About THWW

Tres Hermanas Wool Works Converting To Custom Design
Ponca City News Staff Writer

Tres Hermanas Wool Works at 314 East Grand Avenue has recently reopened after converting to a custom design and weaving studio. Gloria Galasso said the shop will continue to order specialty yarns and supplies for customers, but the business has changed its focus to custom work.

One project Galasso is working on is a commissioned piece for the 101 Ranch Rodeo's 50th Anniversary Queen's trophy saddle blanket, which the shop is donating. The saddle blanket is being woven with wool yarn in hand-dyed colors.

Galasso said the shop has been reorganized to include a design area as well as weaving stations and spinning stations, where she will spin yarn on spinning wheels. "By October, we will be fully laden with gift items," she said.

Galasso currently is weaving a ranch banner on a Chimayo-style walking loom built by Irvin Trujillo, a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow. The loom style came to Spain more than 1,000 [sic] years ago, Galasso said.

Galasso's partner, Patricia Paterson, also is a weaver and often creates her works on a triangle loom. In addition, Paterson offers custom repairs of heirloom textiles. She has recently repaired an heirloom granny square blanket as well as a linen and cotton filet crocheted piece depicting the Lord's Prayer. Paterson focuses on restoring knitted and crocheted pieces. "I do not do quilt restorations, but I will refer customers to people who do that work," Paterson said.

One of the first restorations was a bedspread that a customer's grandmother had made. The spread was made in panels and Paterson was able to take it apart and repair a large portion of the spread with pieces of the panels that were too badly damaged to salvage.

Both Galasso and Paterson are taking lessons in Rio Grande weaving from Northern New Mexico College.

Galasso also is working on an art called needle felting to create a large carousel with five animals, including a horse which is completed, an elephant which is in progress, a swan, giraffe and lion.
Galasso and Paterson often take time away from their shop to share their work with children at local schools and in demonstrations at festivals across the region.

Cheryl Klein, a teacher at First Lutheran School, brought a packet of photos and thank-you cards to Galasso recently from one of her classes to thank the weaver for showing students what her work includes. Galasso took a portable spinning wheel to the school so the students could see first-hand the process of spinning yarn.

The shop also is committed to being environmentally friendly by reducing its energy use. The wool workers use all-natural yarns that are made in the United States and are naturally washed and dyed.

Published Tue, Jun 9, 2009, On Page 2 A

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dove-tailing Our Business

Dove-tailing one business with like businesses is something we are beginning to see more and more of around our town and state. Probably, if you look, you can find something similar in your area. The quilt shop across the street, Completely Quilted, participates in fairly regular “store hops” in which bus loads of quilters go from town to town visiting several quilting stores. (We are always happy when they do that, as it invariably brings interested shoppers into our store, as well.)

Yesterday, June 6, we got to do something that was lots of fun, and that promotes our business. Patti and I spent 5 hours out at Silvertop Farm and Vineyard during one of their agribusiness bus tour stops. There are four local farms and ranches that participate in this area and it is really coming along for all of us.

The four sites around Ponca City, OK, are The Historic Big V Ranch, Blubaugh Angus Ranch, Silvertop Farm, and the historical site of the 101 Ranch (where rodeo got its start).

The Big V is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The ranch home was completed by original claim staker, W.H. Vanselous in 1903. Vanselous claimed the land during the Cherokee Strip Land Run. He was the largest mule dealer at the turn of the 20th century, providing mules for both the American and the British Army.

Blubaugh Angus Ranch was founded in 1893 by Cletus Blubaugh. Blubaugh lived in a sod dug-out house for seven years. I don’t know for sure but I think he lived in it by himself. I figure he must have gotten a missus around the time he built the home, judging by the number of descendants in the area.

The 101 Ranch Historical Site is on the home place of the old 101 Ranch (so-called because it original comprised 101,000 acres). Time and fires and neglect have pretty much destroyed the buildings of the place. In its day it was the largest diversified ranch and farm in the United States.

Silvertop, where we spent most of yesterday, is a 3,250-acre working farm, that includes registered Shropshire and Hampshire sheep, registered Hereford cattle, small grain operations, hay, pecan groves and vineyards, as well as nature trails and rolling hills. It is a beautiful place.

My friend and student Tori took her sheep over to get sheared by their shearer. Ramsey is a miniature Shetland wether. He is tame as can be and walks on a leash like a dog. We took him home to her in the backseat of our car, where he rode quite comfortably with our sheep-herding Belgian Tervuren (my Service Dog), Pal. Pal does sheep herding for a hobby and is quite good. He has won several ribbons and titles and he will be spending part of the fall with our trainer and dear friend, Terri Wilson at her facility called Willow Acres Dog Training over by Collinsville for much of this fall. We hope he can get some more titles on before the fall season is over. He really loves doing it. However, he was appalled at having to share the backseat with a sheep. Fortunately, Ramsey was equally appalled and they decided to stand looking in opposite directions so that they could thoroughly ignore one another.

Agribusiness is a growing movement in this part of America. This group calls itself “Salt Fork River Valley Ranch and Farm Tours.” They are enthusiastic about their farms and love to show them off to the busloads of visitors. I think that these tours are popular in part because people are beginning to want to understand the foundations of our history. We are very proud to be part of this movement and thrilled to show the visitors how yarn is made and woven.

While your business may not be able to “dove-tail” itself in with agribusiness, by giving it some thought, you might get in with one or another of the tours that do come through your town. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see if they can give you information on local tourism. If nothing quite suits, maybe it’s time you start one of your own.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Three Times Longer and Twice as Hard

My father was a building contractor in Ponca City for some 60 years. He used to say that almost every job wound up taking three times as long and costing twice as much as the original estimate. That was because people kept adding to the list of things they wanted done.

It turns out that he was exactly right.

Wow, does the shop look great! Carl got the lattice up and the back wall painted. Rena, Tori, Donna and the two of us got all the looms moved around and the storeroom straightened up. Then Nora came in and did her decorator thing and suddenly we have this gorgeous, sophisticated studio with weaving stations and a spinning station and the yarn all organized. We hardly know the place.

We can’t stay out of it! What a wonderful place to work. It looks so nice that sometimes during the off-hours we just go out and stand in it and breath deeply.

Last Saturday, the 23rd of May, was our Grand Re-Opening. We had a lot of fun, had a lot of friends and customers come by, and ate more cake than was good for us. Our young friend Amanda ran the shop during the afternoon while we went to the Southern Plains Fiber Guild meeting where Nora gave a talk on Japanese dolls. It went over well and Donna, Tori, Patti and I ate even more cake.

It hasn’t all been perfect, naturally. Yesterday a piece of my loom that wasn’t properly bolted down got sprung. Turned out that it just needed a few more bolts that had somehow been left out in the first place. So it was an easy fix, although Donna did stick her finger in my eye in an attempt to help. (Don’t ask!) However, the eye will be fine just as soon as the swelling goes down. And the loom is fixed.

Dad was right about the time and effort it took to get Tres Hermanas Wool Works Weaving Studio up and running. And we couldn’t be happier with the results!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Use It or Lose It

Panculturalism in Artistic Expression

I had an odd experience at a fiber art show once. I had entered a small, Navajo-style wall hanging, which was rejected on the grounds that I was not Navajo. (How the judge thought she knew this, of course, I have no idea.) An Amish-style piece by a different (non-Amish) artist was accepted to the show, however. The judge proclaimed it was accepted because it was a “tribute” to the style.

At the time, I had not heard the term “panculturalism.” To this date, I have been unable to find a dictionary definition of the term, but to me it means the intersection and blending of cultures, in life as well as art. “Panculturalism” is still not yet widely used, but I think, in our ever-faster evolving modern society, it will become an important addition to understanding artists’ underlying concepts.

Nearly fifty years ago, Firesign Theater, a comedy group with amazing prescience, said “Ecology means echo – everything bounces off everything else.” The same could be said of panculturalism as I understand it. Everything about weaving is borrowed from other cultures, from the spinning wheel to the very idea of warp and weft. Weaving truly is the “tie that binds” all of human society together. Every group weaves, knots, or ties, in some way. In many modern societies, old ways and old arts are dying out. Many artists in these places who do ply these arts are anxious to teach someone – anyone! -- if their own children are not interested. Thus, panculturalism will be the salvation of these arts, which otherwise could be lost forever.

Panculturalism implies a deep and abiding respect for the cultures from which the motifs, techniques, or both are drawn. I truly think that anyone should feel free to use motifs from another culture; and for the sake of ethics, the artist should acknowledge the culture of origin in some way, perhaps in the title. These artifacts are a deep-time part of the human lexicon, many of which are shared unchanged from culture to culture. It is fascinating to see how many similar motifs arise in cultures that are completely separated in time and space. Some must be the logical progressions of the weaving process. Others are more complex, and yet they crop up in cultures as diverse as the Rio Grande weavers and the weavers of the Caucasus Mountains.

For myself it is difficult to know what my true cultural references are. My mother was German, Scots-Irish, and English. My father was half-Italian and half-Melungeon. Even the Italian was diluted somewhere, many centuries in the past, by the Greeks who originally founded the little village of Cisternino, County Bari, where my grandfather was born. My paternal grandmother was a triracial mixture of Black, Native American and White. I think this qualifies me, if nothing else does, for a pancultural approach to art! As I have mentioned before, my Navajo weaving teacher, Sarah Natani, once said to me, “Remember, you are not Navajo.” When she saw how startled I was by this simple, obvious, but blunt truth she laughed and said, “You can use these ideas to weave other things, too.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Work in Progress

There comes, in every project, a point when you look at the chaos surrounding you and say, “What on earth am I doing?!?” Your new work is not yet fully shaped and the shards of the past are all around you. Vision trembles, if it does not fail altogether. Like Sam Gamgee, if you take one more step you will have crossed from the fields that you know into a new and wider country.

I think it takes more courage to take that next step than it did to leave your doorstep in the first place. Our landlord came by today, asking if we are ever going to open up again. We assured him that yes, we certainly are, another week later than we originally thought. We hung the three way mirror today, and the triangle looms are on their hanger now. We’ve got the wall painted and we’ve moved the finishing table. But there are still pockets of uncleared areas all over the shop. They are smaller, but they are still daunting. We are tired of working so hard every day and getting “so little” done.

And yet… and yet, a friend came by this afternoon that hadn’t seen the shop since we got well and truly started on it. She was thrilled with all our progress! She loves the new color on the wall. She loves the door (which still needs a bit of touching up). She loves the new mirror. She loves the new lattice work that separates the house from the shop and creates a barrier to ban the cats from the customers.

Bless her! I think without her encouragement at just that precise moment, I might have just thrown my hands up and said, “We will never finish this!”

We have had so much wonderful help with this huge project. Tori and Donna, two of my students; Terri, Claudia and Linda who’ve had so much input; Naomi, who has given so freely of her twenty years of retail experience; my wonderful sister Nora; Carl and Rena and Amanda who have all worked so hard to get us up and running again. It isn’t just their hard work that has kept us at this exciting task. It is their belief in our vision that sustains us. The encouragement and confidence they and others, like my dear friend Kip, have shown us buoys us up and carries us forward when we feel weak.

We will open on Saturday, May 23rd. Of that I no longer have any doubt.

“A body of work never ceases. It deepens and broadens with every day of effort, but it is never done [and we] try harder, to dig deeper, to discover gifts we never knew we had – to find the greatness that lies within each of us… Don’t stop adding to your body of work because it is never complete… That is what building a body of work is all about – it's about the daily labor, the many individual acts, the choices large and small that add up to a lasting legacy.” – paraphrased from President Barack Obama’s Commencement Speech to Arizona State University, May 13, 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

2009 is the International Year of Natural Fibres

Never Fly in Nylon

We are often asked by various groups to give talks about weaving and spinning through time or some other fiber-related subject. Whether one of us is talking about the history of knitting, teaching a class on needle-felting, or sitting in a museum doing a demonstration, we always find a spot in the proceedings to talk about the value and benefits of natural fibers. Here are some of them, focusing on wool:

  • Wool does not burn. If you drop an open flame on wool the fabric will smoulder. It will really stink, but when you blow the flame out the charring stops. Many fire departments require cotton and wool clothing to be worn by their people. This is particularly important to remember when you are flying. Every airline that I know of uses wool and wool only for their carpets and seat fabrics. You will be much safer if you dress in natural fabrics, whether it is wool and leather or linen and cotton. Most synthetics either burst into flame or melt when exposed to fire. Whatever else you do, gals, never wear nylons on a plane.
  • Wool stays warm when wet. Those Irish fishermen on the North Sea do not wear Aran sweaters because it gives them a "rugged yet traditional" look. They wear them because wool is the only fabric that stays warm even when wet. Wool will hold up to 31% of its own weight in water before feeling damp. Cotton, by contrast, only holds 15% of its own weight before feeling wet.
  • Wool is hypoallergenic. Despite the reputation of being "itchy" (which is actually caused by the harsh treatment fleeces receive in some processing plants), wool is a boon to those with chemical sensitivities. It also resists bacteria, mold, and mildew, and it repels dust mites. Some allergic reactions to wool are actually caused by the aniline dyes, so if you have this sensitivity, try to get wool that has been dyed with natural substances or wool in its natural colors.
  • There is no chemical out-gassing with wool. If the wool dyed with natural dyes there will be no added petroleum-based chemicals to irritate those who are made ill by them.
  • Wool helps with temperature control. When used in bedding, wool wicks away the nearly one pint of sweat the average human produces during sleep. The Bedouin know this. Their wool tents are actually cooler in the summer than the canvas tents brought into the desert by other cultures. Personally, I wear wool socks all year round. They keep my feet warm in the winter and by wicking away sweat they keep my feet dry and cool in the summer.
  • Wool is easy to clean. Because of the scales that comprise the outer coating of wool fibers, dirt doesn't penetrate wool, making it easy to brush off. This same structure allows wool to resist stains as well.
  • Wool is resilient and resists wrinkles. Wool can be bent back on itself 20,000 times before the fibers begin to break. By contrast, cotton breaks at around 3,200 bends and rayon at only 75.
  • Wool dyes permanently. Again, because of its structure, wool accepts dye down into the shaft of the fiber and the color does not wash out. However, no red dye I have ever seen is completely permanent on any fabric or anything else.

In the interests of full disclosure, however, I must admit that wool has a few drawbacks.

  • Moths are attracted to the fabric. However, with proper care, moths will not be a problem. There are wool fabrics in museums that have been preserved for thousands of years. Store wool with cedar balls and/or lavender sachets and your wool garments or blankets will be fine.
  • Bleach destroys wool. A little bleach will remove most dyes. A lot of bleach will destroy the fibers.
  • Unless marked "superwash," wool will shrink in a dryer. This might be a good thing if you are intentionally "felting" or "fulling" a fabric item. It definitely is not a good thing when your spouse puts your favorite cashmere sweater in the dryer. Unless, of course you have a child that likes to play with dolls!
  • Strong alkalies will destroy wool over time. Be very careful with what you use to wash wool. I also recommend not using laundry aids that contain enzymes. The enzymes are designed to remove protein or oil-based stains. Wool is a protein fiber.
  • Excessive heat will harm wool. Always use steam when ironing.

Over-all, for me at least, I prefer to use natural fibers. When I am weaving I use a wool warp and weft because I love the feel of the wool, its looks, and its ability to withstand time. Give the natural fibers a try (beyond your favorite cotton t-shirt). You will not only be helping yourself by being more comfortable, you will be helping the people who grow, process, and create fabric from these ancient choices. Whether it is silk, wool, cashmere or the more humble cotton or hemp, in this International Year of Natural Fibres, it is time to step back and choose a more natural, recyclable, and renewable way to use fabric. You won't just feel good because you are making ecologically sound choices - you will feel good with the way you look, and the comfort these fabrics provide.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Sheep May Safely Graze*

On this Earth Day, while we are remembering the wild places and those who dwell in them, please spare a moment to think about domestic livestock. In our “hurry-up” world we have begun to reduce the types of, for example, turkeys so severely that a single genetic disorder would wipe out Thanksgiving.

And yet, there are several breeds of turkeys, the Bourbon Red, the Royal Palm, and the Narrangansett and more, who are not closely related to the familiar Broad-Breasted White, which could add much needed genetic diversity – assuming the breed is still around when it is needed.

But, you say, I live in town. I can’t breed turkeys! No, that’s true – but you can buy them for dinner. In nearly every state there are small farms which breed many heritage breeds of cattle, sheep, turkeys, chickens, and others. Many of theses farmers are involved in Community Supported Agriculture and other programs to get these animals onto the public’s dinner table. Strangely enough, eating these guys is actually saving their breeds.

There are rare breeds of horses, donkeys, and goats as well, all of which have many excellent attributes now lost among more "popular" breeds.

The American Livestock Breed Conservancy needs and deserves your support on this and every other day. I don’t plan to shill for every charity that comes down the pike, but this one preserves more than just animals. By their existence they are helping American history itself to survive.

"...when the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another Heaven and another Earth must pass before such a one can be again." - William Beebe
* Johann Sebastian Bach: Schafe konnen sicher weiden aria 5 from Was mir beghat, ist nur die muntre Jagd, 1713)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Arts or Crafts or both?

"Traditionally, the term art was used to refer to any skill or mastery. This conception changed during the Romantic period, when art came to be seen as 'a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science'. Generally, art is made with the intention of stimulating thoughts and emotions." - Wikipedia, Definition of Art

The Romantic Period is usually thought of as the period from 1815 to 1910. Another name for this time span is "The Industrial Revolution." In fact, the Romantics opposed the Industrial Revolution, which created the very wealth and leisure time which allowed them to lie around, smoke dope, dabble in poetry, and define art as ethereal and purely useless except for its intrinsic beauty.

This is the period of the great collections that eventually filled the museums of the world with gorgeous pieces of culture (for the most part stolen, figuratively or literally). This is also the period in which the "history of art," was defined.

Today "Fine Art" is basically comprised of stuff with no intrinsic use, created for rich people and wannabees to collect (thus Thomas Kinkade). Sometimes-vast amounts of money are spent on Fine Art created by The Masters. Vincent van Gogh could have gotten the help he needed to avoid cutting off his ear for the price of half of one of his pieces today. El Greco could have had his vision fixed. Did Michelangelo make a living from the patronage provided by the Medici's or a couple of Popes? It depends on what you call a "living." If he knew how much his paintings and sculptures are worth now, he would probably be spinning in his grave fast enough to generate electricity.

"Art" and "artist" must, like everything else, be defined in terms of self and other. These days, many define "fine artists" as only sculptors and painters. All other artists are therefore, by default, artisans or craftspeople -- anything but true artists. By this definition:

  • Cellini, whose works in gold are no less gorgeous than a painting by Raphael, is relegated to the back seat as a "mere" artisan*.

  • The Unicorn Tapestries have become mere "folk art."

  • The Taj Mahal is "just" a really nice example of the mechanics of architecture.
Sarah Natani, my Navajo weaving teacher, raises her own sheep, sheers them herself with the help of her older sister, cards and spins the wool and dyes it with natural plant dyes (also hand-gathered). Only then does she weave gorgeous pieces from a traditional perspective. How is this any less art than Leonardo?

It is my contention that it is not. Sarah Natani's blankets and rugs are every bit as much art as are the works of Leonardo, El Greco, Michelangelo or any other of The Masters. In fact, the quantity or collectability of any creation should not be considered as a part of the definition of "art." Wood carving, goldsmithing, ironworks, architecture -- and yes, my particular bailiwick, fiber art -- should all be considered as fine as any other art.

Many artists of all types complain about making a viable income from their art. One caveat I might make is that few artists who were popular in their own time wind up in museums. On the other hand, our shop has had to convert from a yarn shop with some weavers to a weaving shop with some yarn, due to demand for our finished goods. Our works do not come cheaply. The plainest, single thickness saddle blanket that I make sells for $299. Patricia's shawls range between $200-$600. Does this provide a living? Yes. We are not extravagant people, so we are not making a killing. I would rather make a living than a killing, anyway. Our marketing strategy could best be distilled to: confidence and patience. We believe that wider acclaim will come with time and have no problem demanding and getting the prices we ask.

We are both studying Rio Grande weaving at Northern New Mexico College. We read everything we can get our hands on and have taken many classes with those who are considered maestras of these techniques. There is plenty of opportunity for learning, whether at the guild level or at the level of internationally known teachers.

One can address a further distinction: Are production crafts (which make multiple copies of the same thing) and one of a kind (OOAK) creations both worthy of the distinction "art?" This is mostly, I suppose, a matter personal taste. I rather tend to think that OOAK pieces are art and the other is not (after all, my pieces are all OOAK); but Bauhaus weaver Annie Albers would disagree with me. However, this may be a discussion for another day.

My concern about "the arts" is less about what is or isn't art and more about the discrepancy between what is paid for "women's arts" and "men's arts." That is one of the reasons that the local guild is called the Southern Plains Fiber Arts. We uphold the idea that the fiber arts are that: art. Both the guild and our shop do many, many demonstrations at schools, heritage events and fairs, as well as at museums. We also reach out to younger people who might not find these art forms otherwise. We get a great response.

To me, raised as I was on the particular utilitarian beauty that is known as the American Arts and Crafts movement, I cannot help but agree with the main proponent of the parallel English ideal:

"Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful." - William Morris, (1837-1896)

* Photo is Cellini's "Saliere," a particularly fabulous salt cellar. - Wikipedia, Cellini.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mitochondrial Eve

One of the projects I want to start this year is my series on "Mitochondrial Eve" who was our most recent common female ancestor (MRCFA) some 200,000 years ago, before we left Africa. A very dear friend of mine once said that he admired my ability to think in decades not just days, but it took a lot of thought to wrap my mind around this concept.

Of course, she is not the Biblical Eve (whom I believe to be an entirely metaphorical construct), she is just our MRCFA. Nonetheless, she is the mother of us all, by whom we are all connected - our universal ancestress whether we are Gandhi or Hitler, Obama or Bush, or just some woman in the midwest writing a blog about a weaving project.

This idea intrigued me from the moment I first heard of it. Partly, that's because I have a special fondness for Mitochondria, the little "workhorse" of the cell, a tiny symbiote who took refuge with us almost at the beginning of life and which converts fuel into electricity. We couldn't exist without our little interlopers and they couldn't exist without us. Mitochondria are passed from mother to child, and through mitochondrial DNA, we can trace our female ancestry back to the beginning of humanity and beyond.

Mitochondrial Eve is the hourglass of our past, a metaphor I picked up from the website listed below. She was not the only Eve. She was just the one that survived a constriction in the tree of humanity, be it a climatic crisis or a plague. Her offspring spread humanity into a new tree. There were doubtless other Eves before her, and there may well be others in the future; but for now she is our mother.

I like to think about her and what she might have looked like. I think of her as a slender young woman with a baby on her hip, standing and looking out beyond the lands she knew into the future. She wasn't anyone special in her time. She could never have imagined that 200,000 years later one of her distant daughters would be writing about her during a spring rain, thousands of miles away.

When I imagine what she looked like I can never quite see her face. In my weaving project I plan to use the representational graph to depict her. The backgrounds will change but the graph never will.

To me she is intimately connected with the earth, and I like to think that she would be pleased that many of us are struggling to save her home, her legacy to us all. She is a constant that I cling to, this spectacularly ordinary woman who became the mother of the human race. That makes all of us kin, all of us brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, sons and fathers, all of us one family full of quirky uncles and cranky aunts, cousins of questionable character, and grandmothers who bake cookies best of all.

[For a fuller explanation of the Mitochondrial Eve concept, see this web-site:]

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Weaver's Window

"Life today is very bewildering. We have no picture of it which is all-inclusive, such as former times may have had. We have to make a choice between concepts of great diversity. And as a common ground is wanting, we are baffled by them. We must find our way back to simplicty of conception in order to find ourselves." - Anni Albers, Selected Writings on Design (1937).

A dear friend who lives in Norwich (rhymes with porridge), England, has a shop in a Medieval building, called Inanna's Magical Gifts. The upstairs of the building has a room that was once used for weaving the fabulous Norwich Shawls. In that room is a huge window out of which the weaver probably seldom looked. He would have, like Plato's cave dwellers, faced the wall with the light behind him, facing the shadows. His sons were the draw boys and his wife and daughters did the spinning for him.

The shawls woven in that room were, most likely, beautifully detailed with paisley designs that make my eyes cross with their intricacies. Day after day that weaver worked at the loom and I wonder if he got back pains, if the room was cold and damp in the winter. I like to think that the weaver leaned against the window sometimes, watching the people walking past on errands of their own two floors below. He could have seen customers and wool merchants coming to his shop on the first floor and he would have gone down to the living quarters on the second floor after work.

I wonder if his surname was "Weaver."

In 1983, bicycling through England, I came upon a man taking a bit of lunch. We got to talking and it turned out that he was thatching the roof of the cottage behind him. His father, and his father's father, going back time out of mind, had all been thatchers. He showed me an empty cigarette pack that had been his grandfather's brand, which had been left in the thatching some 40 years or more before. His name was "Thatcher" and he had never been more than 30 miles from his home. He belonged to that place, living and working where he was, in the same way a tree or a stone is fixed in time and space.

Weaving connects me to all those weavers, names unknown, who have come before. I know that I will never fit into a place like Mr. Thatcher did, but I feel like I fit into that long line of other weavers. And through our warps and wefts, we are all one.

"There is more to life than increasing its speed." - Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Green Collar Working

To me, one of the best things about working with wool as a medium is that it is an exemplar of the old "reduce, reuse, recycle" theme of renewable resources. Beginning with the sheep, everything about wool is recyclable, yarn to fabric to rugs. One often hears that civilization was carried forward by the horse, but I think that was made possible by the humble sheep. The sheep is the original "green worker."

Just yesterday we got the Brown Sheep Company spring 2009 newsletter. Once again, Brown Sheep is on the forefront in eco-responsible processing. They have been recycling their washing water for some time now, reclaiming about 90% of the water and 85% of the heat. Mitchell, Nebraska, just a few miles from the Scott's Bluff Monument (and the town of Scott's Bluff) is an incredibly dry place and by saving this much water they were doing a great thing for the eco-system.

Now they have added two new filtration processes to reclaim 18,000 of the 20,000 gallons of water they use daily for dyeing their gorgeous yarns. They are also able to retain the heat as well they use much less energy to keep the water hot for the dyeing. As they say in their newsletter, "Being a good steward of creation is one of our core values and we re pleased to bring you a quality product that does just that."

We value their committment and use their wonderful products in our weavings as much as we can. Here at Tres Hermanas we have reduced our overall carbon footprint from 9.2 to 2.7. We hope to do even better this year by putting in at least one transom window in the studio to add to the air circulation.

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Wowsers! We are going through some major changes here at Tres Hermanas. We are morphing from a yarn shop that had weavers into a weaving studio that occasionally sells yarn.

Our styles come from the Chimayo and Navajo, but we find our inspiration everywhere (sometimes even eBay!). As my wonderful Navajo teacher, Sarah Natani, once told me, "you can be informed by tradition, but not bound to it." Since none of us are either Hispanic nor Navajo, we subscribe to what James Koehler has called the "pan-cultural" pallet. This sets us free to draw motifs from places as far apart as Africa, the Caucus Mountains, Peru and the American Southwest and times from Ancient Egypt to the modern world.

We use only natural fabrics. As a weaver and needle-felter I use wool. Since this is my first post I won't go into all the reasons just now. We buy a lot of our wool directly from mostly local shepherds, especially from those who support heritage breeds such as the Navajo-Churro. The fleece we buy are usually processed by Wooly Knob Fiber Mill (which uses natural methods) and are spun by the Spinnery at Bel Tine Farms. When we buy commercial yarns we get it from the good folks at Brown Sheep Company, J&H Clasgens, or Great Adriondacks.

Most of the heavy weavings (saddleblankets, rugs, ranch banners, etc.) are done on our Hispanic Walking Looms. (Before long I will post a history of these looms which shows that they go back more than a 1,000 years). More delicate things (ruanas, scarves, etc.) are woven on rigid heddle looms. A local wood worker (who has his own sawmill) will be building looms for us and looms to sell on order, made of reclaimed Western Red Cedar and native Osage Orange.

Oops! I almost forgot to tell you that the shop will be closed until (at the latest) May 1st, 2009. We will place orders for yarn and equipment for customers, even after we re-open, but we won't have much in stock. We will teach classes in weaving, spinning, and needle-felting from time to time as well.

Your friendly Fiberista,

Miz G