Intentional Kindness to Strangers

  

the-power-of-love-is-in-our-hands

 

I don’t talk about politics in this space, and I fully intend for it to be a place where everyone who is interested in creating a more thoughtful, joyful life through craft and making will feel welcome, regardless of their feelings about which party is better able to govern. But some things are beyond politics, and that’s what I’d like to say a little bit about here, while I’m very aware that feelings are still running high on both sides. Maybe we can start by agreeing that it’s been quite a week?

I made an intentional choice quite a while ago to not hold back from sharing, here and elsewhere, how much I care about preserving our planet, and nurturing our relationships with natural systems. Whether you believe that it’s God’s creation, or that we are here by an entirely random, incredibly lucky chance, surely we can agree that life on this Earth is a gift, and it’s up to us to take care of the environment and the other creatures here, if for no other reason than that we are the ones who have the power to protect or destroy, and it is so good for our own spirits to engage with nature. I hope we can also agree that every human being has a right to live free from fear and hate, and no matter how far from reality that may be right now around the world, we can work toward that goal.

After the election, I started looking around for things I could do to make a difference, anything I could think of that might bring us together and let us start to talk about where we can find common ground and move forward, rather than demonizing the other side and driving us even further apart.

One of the first things that occurred to me was to be kind to the individual people I meet as I go through my day, regardless of how much or little I know about them, or the judgments I’m tempted to make when I first see them. I’m not alone in thinking about this. I’ve heard it spontaneously both from friends of mine via text, and from people I’ve never met speaking on the radio. Somehow it seems to have been an available, actionable idea in the minds of a lot of folks, which must be a good thing!

For me personally though, I was really surprised at the actual power it has. Like a lot of writers and creative folks are I think, I’m a naturally shy person. I’d rather be quiet and observant, especially in strange or complicated situations, and I don’t usually want to engage with strangers. Until last week, I wasn’t fully aware of how that awkwardness on my part can come off as a coldness that the people I meet can sense, making our encounters strained. The most amazing thing about having the intention of kindness is that I don’t even have to do anything or say anything, so I get to skip what seemed like the hardest part before. If I merely walk into a room or up to a person with the intent to be kind to them, they can sense it (just like they could sense my previous reluctance) and we spontaneously start to have friendly conversations, leading to lovely encounters that brighten the day with a genuine acknowledgement of our shared humanity. I swear it’s true, it just happens! I don’t have to change the way my mind works, I just have to set out to be intentionally kind. I’ll freely admit that in the first week of trying this, some days it’s been easier than others. But I’ve made a personal commitment that I will try to do it every day, from now on. Since I tried it and saw the wholly unexpected beauty there, it might be impossible to stop.

So I’m starting with kindness, meeting with friends, making things, and talking about ideas. I still believe in my bones that all of our actions, all of our intentions and words and the things we make with our hands, these all make a difference, and they all can be a part of building a brighter future.

From my hands and heart to yours!

 

The Comfort of Washing a Rug

And of making a rug, especially with friends.

 

sw rug hanging up

 

I can’t pretend I’ve been unaffected by the news the past few weeks. It could easily start to feel like the world is crumbling around us. It may seem trivial at first to post about anything I usually talk about here. But I believe it’s not. Actually, I believe that we need our creative pursuits, the things that give us comfort and fulfillment, more than ever when times get rough. Even more than that, I believe that by making something with our hands, by sharing it with friends, by just cooking dinner and eating it with people and having a face-to-face, honest conversation, we are making a difference. Taking a small step towards the world we hope for,”being the change,” as Gandhi said.

Last week, during a dry spell in our monsoons, I decided it was time to wash the kitchen rugs. I wove the one shown here two years ago, at my friend Lauren’s house (but never posted these photos). It occurred to me while I was cleaning it that this rug is actually a pretty good metaphor for the value of craft in our lives. All the yarns I put in it are ones I saved from my grandma’s stash after she passed away—a reminder of our connection, the passing of knowledge between generations, and the “waste not, want not” I try to put into practice.

 

sw rug weighing yarn

Weighing yarn and winding into balls, making a plan for the rug.

 

Lauren did the math, wound the warp (for several rugs, not just mine), and put it on the loom, so all I had to do was show up and weave, which was wonderful. We spent time together weaving and listening to music. We lit a fire. I remember other friends were there at least one day while I worked on the rug, doing what women have been doing for millennia: talking, eating, and making things together in community.

 

sw rug on loom

My rug on the loom.

 

The act of weaving brings up all kinds of good memories for me too, of learning to weave with my family and working on my grandma’s big loom. Like most textile crafts, the rhythm of the work is meditative. It calms my mind so that sometimes creative ideas bubble up, and other times I can think less, and just be. I’m coming to believe that just being is an important part of my growth as a human, something I need to carve out distraction-free time for, and practicing in fiber arts definitely helps me do that.

 

sw rug through warp

Looking through the warp at the rug in progress.

 

This week, it rained. The rain falling onto my high-desert home is a miracle of relief. Knowing that the forest will be sustained for a little while longer makes me feel better about everything—even politics, even tragedy. As long as we have the solace of nature, and a way to nurture our creativity, I think we’ll be alright. In fact, more than alright—I believe if we can keep those two things near the top of our collective priorities, we’re still working towards a better world.

Here’s to better weeks ahead!

 

sw rug on floor

The finished rug in the kitchen.

 

PS Karen wrote on a similar theme this week, and I found the comments on her post heartening. It involves seeking peace in the beauty of landscape and sheep …

 

Slow — What it Means to me Now

 

How I think about slowness, and about my life list of things I’d like to make, has changed pretty dramatically lately. I’ve been wanting to talk about it here, and Slow Fashion October has given me the perfect reason.

It started when I learned to spin. Then a little later, I realized how much I really could make, and how little I really needed. That feeling built, fed by the other things I was doing and reading, until the vast universe of possibilities suddenly felt expansive instead of overwhelming.

 

indigo handspunThis is apparently the only picture of my second batch of handspun before knitting.

 

You wouldn’t think that learning to spin would speed up my knitting, but it kind of did. The two batches of handspun I’ve made so far have gone pretty much straight to the needles, partly because I was so curious to see what I would learn by making something from my own yarn. So one thing was obvious from the start: I can spin all the yarn I need to knit with. In fact, if I spun even a little bit every day, I would end up with much more yarn than I usually consume.

 

tasha's quaker yarn stretcher 3It became a Quaker Yarn Stretcher Boomerang, a fantastic fit for the yarn.  I’ll post Details are now on Ravelry, but for now I want to focus on the thoughts.

 

I already have a pair of fingerless gloves, and a pair of dreamy mittens, and that’s really all my hands need. Between (ahem) making them and the ones my grandma wove, I’m approaching more fantastic scarves/shawls than I can actually wear. And then, I can’t imagine I need more than four good sweaters. Actually, my ideal would probably be three sweaters I absolutely love, and one to throw on when the going might get rough. Right now I have the rough one, a thrifted one I think is OK (but Bryan is not a fan of), and some other kind of makeshift stuff. But those got me through all last winter just fine. And my SFO goal is to re-finish one that will hopefully become one of the loved ones. I could make another one next winter or the winter after, and that would be more than fine. There’s actually plenty of time for me to find the perfect fleece, wash it, comb it, spin it …

So need, or maybe it would be more accurate to say lack of need, is a big part of this shift in my head. I find it incredibly helpful and freeing, and it goes something like this: if I already have most of what I really need for this winter, I’m free to spend my time making something really special (no matter how long it takes) or trying something new (ditto).

What I don’t know how to explain (in fact I’m not sure I’m explaining any of this very well) is why spinning in particular set me free from the desire to make all the things, but here I am. Of course, if I didn’t spin it would still be perfectly valid (maybe even more so) to say, “I have the capacity to make so much more than I will ever need.” In fact I think maybe every maker should say this, and see how they feel about it.

I know that time always seems short. I have struggled and struggled with that myself. But I’m coming closer to peace with it, and for me anyway, it doesn’t really have anything to do with productivity, with figuring out how much I can “fit” into a given time, how much I can accomplish or make. Ultimately, a good life isn’t about how much we do. It’s about what we do, what’s memorable, how we shape and enjoy our experiences.

 

tasha's quaker yarn stretcher 2

 

In theory when we decide to sew or knit something instead of buying it, we’re taking more time about it and being more thoughtful. But somehow pursuing a craft can also pull us into a spiral of wanting to make more and more, of making something just to finish it and go on to making something else, because we have so many ideas. Thinking about everything I’d like to make leaves me perpetually unsatisfied, as it always must, since I can think of about a dozen new ideas per day. Framing my making around what I need allows most of those ideas to pop up, get admired, and then just float away. Lovely though ideas are, they should not all be added to a perpetually growing list of things I “must” make.

Ironically, giving up on making all my ideas for the realms I usually work in (mainly clothing) may leave me time to take on things in my wildest crafting dreams. Try making shoes? How about a quilt from those passed-down handwoven scraps? Well if I’m content with what I have to wear for the moment, why the f#^k not?!

 

tasha's quaker yarn stretcher 4

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all kinds of ideas around slowness. I listened to an interview with William Powers and I’m convinced I need to read his new book New Slow City. One thing he talks about is taking time to fully have an experience, just focusing on what you’re doing instead of already planning the next thing you’re going to do after it. I want to do craft like that. This week, I’ve been in the final stages of refinishing a treadle sewing machine cabinet, a project I have probably a months’ worth of total work hours sunk into. Just doing that, and thinking about nothing but that, running my hands over the velvety smooth wood and mulling over all the steps that got me there, it was so incredibly satisfying. Much more so than finishing four little projects and for each one just thinking “oh good, that’s done,” and moving on.

Letting go of a lot of my ideas does feel like somewhat of a surrender, but it feels like the kind when the heat of the day won’t let up, insects drone on, and finally there is nothing for it but to peel off whatever clothes are handy and throw yourself into the nearest body of cool water. Or the end of a long winter day, when nothing feels better than to pull warm cozy blankets all around you, and let your whole body relax.

 

tasha's quaker yarn stretcher

 

So here’s what slow fashion means to me right now: it means I will make just a few things at a time, and I will make them with my whole heart. It means I will allow ideas for things that I don’t need to float away, and concentrate on the projects that mean the most to me and those that will be the most useful. It means I will give myself space to enjoy the processes, the parts that bring me the most joy (like spinning) without worrying about what’s next on the list. And I think it will mean that the more I make in this slow way, the more I will wear my heart on the outside, all over my body.

Anybody else want in? The water’s fine …

 

On Scheduling Less

And what Zen has to do with the infinite list

 

calendar page

 

When I first realized the truth of the infinite list*¹, I knew it was a big shift, but I wasn’t sure what it meant I should do.  I’ve had a few months to think about that now, and I’m ready to put a few ideas out there. In the language of that NPR post*⁶, I’m advocating utter surrender. And acceptance, and curiosity, and a huge sigh of relief. I’m advocating letting go of the unreasonable expectations we hold over our own heads, for whatever reason. Let’s talk about it.

(You may have noticed that I’m going old-school with the citations here.  Otherwise I was trying to jam too many things into one little paragraph.  All the numbers refer to the numbered list at the bottom of the post, you can find more info about my sources there.)

From the beginning of the infinite list idea, I kept wanting to associate it with Zen, or Buddhist ideas, or mindfulness, but I wasn’t quite sure how or why. So I decided to do a little research. The first book I read*³ mentions a cultural idea of “that’s very Zen” which can mean something is minimalist or tranquil, and maybe those were the ideas I had in my head. As I read further though, I found some actual Buddhist/Zen ideas that did have something to do with what I was getting at. (Both of the books I read were by Zen Buddhists, so I’m not entirely clear on where one ends and the other starts … may need more research.)

 

winter in nm 1(These photos are from a winter trip to New Mexico a couple of years ago.)

 

The Buddhist idea that resonates with my ideas right now the most is that of trying to see past appearances and old patterns, into the truth of the moment. I’m interested in choosing what I will actually make next, and making it, instead of spending lots of time dreaming and planning, but not much time making. I’m interested in finding out how much progress I can actually expect, like how many projects can I really do in one winter, rather than fantasizing that I’ll make them all.

I read this quote by Alan Watts earlier this year*⁵, and it was the best expression of just exactly how I’d like to relate to life I think I’ve ever seen:

“For the perfect accomplishment of any art, you must get this feeling of the eternal present into your bones — for it is the secret of proper timing. No rush. No dawdle. Just the sense of flowing with the course of events in the same way that you dance to music, neither trying to outpace it nor lagging behind. Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present.”

 

It may not seem like it, but this has everything to do with my life as a maker. I spend an awful lot of my time, and thus my life, making and thinking about making. By choice! It’s a major part of how I define myself and what’s important to me, and a great source of joy and satisfaction. But if my making time is crowded with expectations, with piles of projects that MUST be done, one coming right after the other, even with an un-doable number of ideas floating around and tapping me on the mental shoulder all the time, then I’m not present, not enjoying or relating to the moment, even though the act of making something with my hands can be a beautiful expression of myself in a moment in time, if I let it.

 

winter in nm stacked pots

 

I’m scheduling less. I’m vowing to surrender completely to the idea that I can’t do anywhere close to everything I’d like to, and so what matters is what I’m doing now. I’ve been literally writing fewer things on my calendar, and trying to understand how much I can expect to get done in a day, a week, or a month. The longer time frames are the hardest, at least for me, and I’m definitely still working on getting this right. Even so, having a little calendar, weekly goals, and daily tasks which I try to keep at a reasonable level, is helping me feel less overwhelmed and more present.

For a long time I thought I thrived on having a ton of ideas at once, and working on different projects at the same time, a bit of this and a bit of that. It seemed the more ideas I got, the more would appear, and it felt very creative and energizing and full of sparks and life. But lately, partly thanks to Felicia*², I’ve been thinking about focus. That maybe, if I head straight for the things I want, just a few at a time, I’ll actually make more progress? Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a firm believer in taking some little time for creative projects every day, I need it! But I’m starting to think I went too far the other way, until the ideas themselves were at the center, and I was generating more of them and completing fewer. As I’ve been on this journey of working more in the here and now, I find fewer spontaneous ideas popping up into my consciousness, but call me crazy, the ones I do get seem more thought out, more relevant. I like this way much better than a crazy swarm of ideas I’ll never get around to.

I’m letting ideas go. Let’s be clear, I still have lots of ideas that pop into my head, many more than I need. If they seem important/good ones, I try to write them down or sketch them out, to get them out of my head, and have them stay out there until their time comes up, if it ever does. And if not, that’s fine with me too.

Besides the ideas in my own head, I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that more new indie patterns than one person can possibly sew come out just about every month, not to mention all the projects on Ravelry, Pinterest, etc. I do love this digital revolution that’s fueling our maker movement, but I don’t go surfing around looking for “inspiration,” unless I’m actively looking for a pattern or researching a particular thing. This is a really personal choice, and it will be different for everyone. For me, I’ve found that I get much more satisfaction out of sitting down to make something I already have the idea for, than out of looking at new ideas.

 

winter in nm 2

 

Sounds like I’m on the path to crafting enlightenment, right? Well, maybe. Let’s just say I’m still figuring it out. The holidays were a perfect excuse to go back to dreaming of random projects, grossly over-estimating how much I can do in a short space of time, and scheming ways to fit in more making at the cost of other things. But, I made a chicken pattern, and then the chickens! I have no regrets, I loved the things I made, and the results when folks got the packages. At the same time, part of what I’m hoping for from putting this post together is to get back on the path, closer to where I was in November.

 

chickens 2Chickens!

 

So here’s another Zen idea for you: forgiveness, starting over again, and again, however many times it takes.

By the time you read this, Bryan and I will be visiting his family in MI, and then heading to the East coast for an opening of his work at the Griffin Museum, and then a little quality time with one member of my family who I don’t get to see nearly enough. For the two-week trip, I’m taking yarn for a pair of socks to knit, supplemented by a little extra to experiment with, for my upcoming class on socks. That’s it. Ok, and maybe the finishing touches for the mittens I’ve been making Bryan, if I don’t finish them before it’s time to go.  Witness my heroic effort to accept the fact that this, combined with thinking and taking notes about socks for my knitting students, will be plenty (after all we’ll be spending a lot of the time with little ones, who have their own way of taking over your whole life), and that knitting is a really good activity for this kind of time (blogging is not). If I did what I usually do: take my laptop and fantasize that I’ll find time for some research or writing, I’m kidding myself, and that doesn’t help anyone. It just makes me grouchy because I couldn’t realize what I wanted, and then I feel like I’m behind, when in fact it’s a trap I’ve set for myself. This is what I’d like to do with all my plans, not set myself up for disappointment, but focus on what I can do.

By the way, I have no plans at this time to actually become a Buddhist …  But these ideas are pretty compelling, right? What do you think? What path would you like to be on in the next year?

 

Further reading

This post draws on just about everything I’ve read and thought about in the last 6 months, and a lot of it goes much further back. I owe particular debts to:

1. Sarai, editor of Seamwork magazine (and head of Colette patterns).  She asked me to distill an essay about the infinite list from my original post, for the January issue!  I’m excited and proud to be published there, and grateful for the encouragement this assignment gave me to keep thinking about all this.  (Did you know that “focus” was Sarai’s watchword in 2014?)

2.  Felicia of The Craft Sessions, for writing the most thoughtful sewing/making blog I’ve found, maybe … ever?  Seriously, it’s fantastic.  Several of the ideas here have bounced around there first, either in the comments, or in my head as I read what she’d written.

3.  Tell Me Something About Buddhism: Questions and Answers for the Curious Beginner by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel.  If you’re curious too, I thought this was a great book to start with.  Not everything in it made sense to me as I read, but when I started the next book, I realized it made much more sense than it would have without reading this one first!

4.  Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.  Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it contains phrases like “Do not think you will necessarily be aware of your own enlightenment,” I really enjoyed reading this book as little further introduction to Zen.

5. Alan Watts was a British philosopher who was one of the first to bring Zen thought to the West.  I discovered this quote via Brain Pickings.  It’s from a book I would really like to read more of, but my library is lacking so I may have to pick up a copy elsewhere:  Does It Matter? Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality

6. Although not about making, but about taking in culture, especially books, this is totally relevant: The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything on NPR’s monkey see blog.

Also, I’d like to publicly thank my sweet family, particularly the Albuquerque branch, for being spiritual seekers, and introducing me to the ideas that were floating around in my head when I started thinking about all this.

 

Happy New Year everyone!

 

Free Yourself to Make Something Ordinary

 

garment bag stitching

 

Now that I’ve told you a little more about why we travel most of the summer, I can also share some things I’ve made for our trips.

 

Our clothes spend a fair amount of time in a “closet” consisting of a thin strip of wood between the shelves we have built into our truck.  It’s much better than keeping them in a suitcase, but still not ideal since they are unprotected.  At the end of last summer, when we unpacked the clothes from truck to house, I noticed that one my jackets was significantly more faded on one side than the other.  Maybe hanging it with the same side to the skylight for the whole summer was not the best idea?  The same thing happened to Bryan’s jacket, so I’m pretty sure that extra UV light on one side was the problem—combined with the fact that it was warm last summer and the jackets didn’t come off the rack very often.  I had been thinking vaguely for a couple of years about making some kind of garment bags to protect our clothes from getting dirty/scratched up as we move things in and out of the truck, especially as I have started to take more me-made garments on the road.  This was the final straw, I had to do it.

 

garment bags hanging 2

 

I decided to make two, each half the width of our “closet.”  One would be slightly longer than my summer dresses, and the other just long enough to protect shirts and pants.  I traced a plastic hanger for the shape of the sides, and left a split in the front to close with a zipper.

 

This was the perfect scrap/thrift store shopping project.  Since it didn’t matter exactly what the garment bags looked like, as long as they worked, I could use practically anything.  I used the last of some heavy canvas from old curtains that came with our house, plus another small curtain (made out of some great textured blue-green fabric) that I bought at Goodwill.

 

garment bags hanging

 

This may seem like a strange project to wax poetic about, but here’s the thing: as I cut myself loose from trying for aesthetic perfection, not caring what anyone would think of my topstitching or pieced fabric, sewing felt more like sculpting; using what I had on hand, and my hands, and just making something almost like I was pulling it out of the air.  I was free to use my creativity in any way I wanted, to use whatever I could find, odds and ends of colored thread, salvaged zippers (really nice ones actually)—and I started to see an unexpected beauty in my intentionally imperfect stitching, one that I hope comes through in these photos.  I was free to do whatever I wished, and yet cared enough to add little touches and experiments.  I was trying things, enjoying the process, and making something useful as I went.  With enough practice behind me to be comfortable with fabric and thread, I was able to just play, and it felt pretty magical.

 

garment bag snaps

 

 

garment bag corner stitching

 

Around the same time, as we both worked on various projects for the truck and Bryan’s display before the summer season, he was refinishing the director’s chair that he uses in the booth.  He did a really nice job, dissembling and sanding the chair before applying the new finish.  After all that, I decided it needed a new bag to protect it from getting scuffed all over again as it’s loaded in and out.

 

disassembled chair

Chair in the process of disassembly—we’re looking through where the seat would be.

 

I went back to the thrift store looking for something to line my chair cover with.  I loved searching through the housewares section, looking at everything as a material instead of a finished product (always my favorite kind of shopping), and letting the serendipity of what I found help shape my project.  I decided on two vintage towels for padding the front and back, and a second-hand piece of fabric to round out the outside.  I think the green stripes with my other leftover fabrics make it look like something for sailing.

 

When I announced that I was going to spend our penultimate evening in Flagstaff sewing (this chair cover), I got an enthusiastic “Ok!” from my notoriously goal-oriented husband.  Remind me to try this trick again next year . . .

 

chair bag stitching

 

It’s weird, but having all these me-made covers on our travels this season has been quite a boost to my morale.  Every time I see them, or touch them, I’m reminded that I have a spring of creativity and ingenuity which I can use to make whatever I want, and whatever I need.  That’s pretty much all I need to feel good about life in general.

 

How about you—have you done any creative and/or freeing projects lately?

 

Aimee León: Art, Sheep Shearing, and Connections

aimee león at arcosanti

 

A few weeks ago, I got invited at the last minute to go with a couple of friends to a fiber “meet and greet” event, held at Arcosanti (about an hour and a half south of Flagstaff).  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I am so glad I went.  Not only was it fun to hang out with other fiber crafters and get a glimpse of the architecture on a rainy, blustery day in the desert, but the speaker was fantastic.

Aimee León, who is working towards her MFA at ASU in Phoenix, had agreed to come up and speak to us about her felt artwork – for free.  Her talk epitomized one thing I just love about the maker movement and modern crafters; people who are not just looking to make something, but thinking deeply about the connections between materials, handcrafts, and society.

Aimee shears sheep (did you know they can weigh more than 200 lbs each?) and uses discarded wool in her artwork, which reflects her ideas about society and gender norms.  She talked about how much wool is wasted because small farmers don’t have the resources to ship whole container loads to China (!) for processing, and about her goal to bring more of that local wool to fiber artists.  And about the historical connections of wool and fiber with labor, women’s role in society, commodities, and how we think about the clothes we wear today.  One great thing about a small venue is that I had a chance to talk with Aimee quite a bit, before and after her presentation.  There are so many ideas to pursue in these topics that I could have talked much longer . . .

I love thinking about how what I make is connected to the materials I use and where they come from, the historical use and place in society of the materials and the maker, and all the choice that gives me in the modern world.  It just reinforces the fact that the choice to be a maker in modern times is a powerful one for us as individuals, with implications for our broader society as well.

 

arcosanti desert in rain

A desert road near Arcosanti on that foggy wet day

Do check out Aimee’s website, there are lots of pictures of her work and links to other interesting projects she’s working on.  If you live around here and would like to be on the mailing list for this event next year, let me know and I’ll pass your info on to the lovely woman who organizes it, Kimberly Hatch (thanks Kimberly!).

What do you think about art and craft and its potential to change us?  I’d love to know!