At John C Campbell Folk School, and Thank You

 

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Once I start talking about my time at John C Campbell Folk School, I usually can’t stop. So much happened in the three weeks I was there that one story just leads to another … in case that happens in writing too, I want to begin with a heart-felt thank you to all of you reading this. This blog may not have thousands of followers or get major media attention, but it stands out here on the big ol’ web as a picture of who I am, what I’m doing and sharing, and where I’d like to go. The fact that it exists has helped make several opportunities possible lately, including this one. The ties between this space and the real world are many and interwoven. So, thank you all for being part of this piece of my life, which has contributed much to the person I’m becoming.

 

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A heart-felt paragraph is actually a good introduction to this story, since one of the biggest things that stands out about JCCFS is just how many people I met there who were speaking and acting from the heart. My wonderful new friend Becky (who got recruited to be my assistant in the second felting class) told me about another student who had said, “I always knew I marched to the beat of a different drummer, but at the Folk School I met the rest of the band.” I feel more than a little of that myself. Somewhere towards the end of the first week I started to realize that whoever I was standing next to while waiting to go into the dining hall, though they may look like a mild-mannered Southerner somewhere around retirement age, was in fact very likely to be a member of my own quirky maker tribe! And that if I started talking to them, it was also likely that I would learn something really interesting and/or get a new idea. It was amazing. It also made me wonder if part of the reason I’m usually shy with strangers is that I’m convinced they won’t understand me, and if I’m not giving the strangers in other places enough credit. In other places though, it is harder to start conversations with, “Oh, you’re taking blacksmithing, very cool! What are you making this week?”

 

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Part of the view walking from my temporary home to breakfast. The garden is in the left background, hay right background.

 

The physical Folk School is a collection of a couple dozen buildings for classes, housing, and community areas. Some are new, and some are gently worn with the passing of many feet and hands. The campus is out of the way enough to feel like its own little world, surrounded by various hills (which people from lower elevations might call mountains), fields complete with picturesque rolled hay, and lots of greenery and flowers towards the end of summer. There was fog most mornings (which being from a dry place I find exotic and beautiful). The chorus of night insects and frogs stood out to me enough that I made a little recording to remember it. On a few weekend nights you can also hear the distinctly incongruous sounds of a nearby car racing track.

Each day is scheduled with class time, meals, and optional extra activities in the afternoons and evenings. Music and dance are a big part of things; there are songs before breakfast (optional of course), contra dances every Tuesday night (so much fun) and concerts on many weekends. And a dozen or more classes in different craft subjects going on all at once! It really is a lot like my family craft retreat every single week—that much energy, that much community, that much learning, that much working intensely—except that during mealtimes and free times you also see a bunch of other people who are having a similar experience in another studio nearby.

 

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The door through the gazebo on the left goes to the Wet Room, home of felting, dyeing, and other great classes, one of my new favorite places. The door on the right goes to the cooking studio.

 

I taught three classes; two on felting (one was a week long and one was a quick weekend format), and a week on screen printing with natural dye. Anyone who has seen me in person (or even on my Instagram) in the last two years or so knows that I’ve been fairly obsessed with natural dye and printing in particular. So much prep work went into that class especially, because it’s the one that’s the newest to me, and also because of the nature of the subject. What makes working with natural dyes so compelling is the infinite possibilities, the way that every single variable seems to affect the color you get … but that also makes it nearly impossible to feel prepared for class! Nevertheless, we all learned a lot and my hope was that the students would all leave with a solid foundation for their own experimenting. I had had some really lovely students in all three classes, people who were gracious, and helpful to each other, and full of new ideas. I was really impressed with the curiosity and creativity of the students who are drawn to JCCFS. You would not believe how many unique felted objects can materialize (and how much wool can disappear) even in a weekend class. In the week-long felting class we formed such a little community that some of us (including me) cried when it was time to say goodbye.

 

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Felting in the Wet Room.

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Printing in the Quilting Studio.

 

After the classes I taught were finished, I stayed a third week as a student (one of the benefits of teaching at the Folk School is that you get instructor credits which allow you to take a class more or less for free). I’m so glad I did, it was wonderful to experience the place from a more relaxed perspective, to have a week with more time for walking, extra activities, and hanging out with Julie, one of the student hosts who took my first felting class and became a fast friend. I took a class called Sheep to Shawl with Martha Owen, who is the resident artist in charge of felting, spinning, dyeing, etc. (and the person who hired me to come teach felting). We washed and dyed fleece in some gorgeous natural colors (without felting it, which I always found intimidating before), we learned to hand card, and we practiced spinning different styles and preparations. I also got to try out a great wheel, and even spinning the fuzz right off of an angora bunny! Martha is a generous teacher who shared a lot of her life with us, taking us to visit her sheep and her home. She knows/knew many people in the fiber world who are legends to me (like Norman Kennedy and Jim Liles), and her class is full of stories. The whole school actually is full of stories, and connections being made.

 

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Photo of me at great wheel via the JCCFS Facebook page.

 

When I got home I knew I still had some internal processing to do, continuing to turn over everything from a very full three weeks until it started to make sense with the rest of my life. Still, I kept thinking that it was taking me quite a while to get back to feeling “normal” … until I realized that is what it feels like when you’ve left a part of your heart behind. I grew a lot at the Folk School. I left as a better teacher, and as a person more able to be calm and trust that things will work out. I met and bonded with so many wonderful people. I’m surrounded by little reminders of them now; handmade things people generously gave me, and other beautiful things that I bought to bring home, and lovely wool from Martha’s class which I am trying to comb a little bit of each day. At least once a week, and usually more, I get a postcard or an email from one of my new buddies. Even if I wanted to pretend to be the same person I was before I left it would be impossible. Whether or not this turns out to be a “big break” that leads to other things for me, I’m profoundly grateful to have been able to go, to have learned all that I did and made all of these connections, to have been somewhere where I felt so at home that I understand what it’s like to fall in love with a community. As my excellent assistant for the printing class, Sally, says, “The Folk School is the easiest place in the world to practice gratitude.” I will endeavor to practice at home too.

 

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A New Slow Sweater, What it Says, and the Idea of Knitting “And”

  

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You know how sometimes you see someone, a stranger, and without meaning to, you imagine that whatever they’re wearing and whatever car they drive are the things they have chosen out of all possible options, that these things say something meaningful about their personality and their life? And then you look at yourself, your car, and maybe your clothes, and realize how many other circumstances played a part? I feel like we who make our own wardrobes move slowly (slowly, please cut yourself some slack, it’s going to be a process) towards the point where at least for what we wear it’s true: our clothes say exactly what we want them too. (My car is another story, I don’t know about yours. It does say that I would rather duct tape the mirror back on and buy better food than other possible options …)

This sweater feels like a step towards what I want to say with my knitting. It’s made with Mountain Meadow Wool (they’re a woman-owned company using US wool from the West, committed to eco-friendly practices) in a sheep-grown color (“natural dark gray”) which I love. I feel like the message that real wool is beautiful and good comes through, even if you saw me and assumed I bought this sweater (although if you saw my car you’d know I couldn’t afford it). You can also see that I love texture and value detail, and hate being cold.

  

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I’m pretty sure this was supposed to be my One Year, One Outfit project for 2016. I started planning it in late 2015, started knitting as spring came around, and brought it with me on the road last summer, but it took until this spring to finish. This was a long knit for a whole lot of reasons. The textured stitch patterns just take longer; there was more stopping and checking and thinking than with plain stockinette or one pattern all over. Sweaters are big, and pretty soon I wouldn’t necessarily take this one everywhere I went. Making something only loosely “inspired by” a pattern (the Cotswold Henley by Meghan Babin) takes a lot of thinking, and measuring, and planning, and sometimes ripping out and knitting again. All totally worth it, but time consuming, and sometimes I ended up not knitting because planning the knitting was daunting and I was too tired or overwhelmed.

When we got home in the fall, I really wanted to keep making progress on it, so at first I decided I would work on the sweater before bed, instead of spinning, until the sweater was done. I love spinning before bed, and it has to be said that I did not love knitting the sweater during that time as much. Sometimes I would just skip it. After a while I realized that, although I’m not the kind who likes having a bunch of projects in progress, this was a false choice—it’s actually healthy for me to have a little knitting and a little spinning going on at the same time. I also realized something about how I like to work that I kind of already knew; knitting is an “and” activity for me. I love knitting while traveling, knitting while hanging out with friends, and knitting at meetings, but I really don’t love sitting quietly by myself and knitting. I’d rather do something else with that time. So I went the other way; I started spinning at night again, and hauling an extra tote bag full of sweater-in-progress with me to social events and anywhere else I could see that I might have some down time. That worked much better, and before long the sweater was actually done!

  

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I believe that it’s done and that I knit it, but I’m having trouble believing that I get to keep it, if that makes any sense. In other words, I got pretty much exactly what I wanted. Of course there are a few things I’ll change in the next version, but there always are. I’ve decided that just shows that I’m still on a journey.

I started wearing it as soon as the last seam was sewn, and it went on quite a few outings this May, and into June in our variable mountain weather. The yarn has pilled some, but I’m hoping that how brilliantly it held up to being ripped out and re-knit (ahem) multiple times in certain sections means that the pills will be temporary and not terminal. I drafted Bryan to take the photos of it on me on the last cool day we’re likely to have until fall, and then carefully packed it away. Getting it out when the weather turns again is going to be such a treat!

  

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There are two different stitch patterns, but they’re hard to see unless you’re really looking. I possibly should have gone with something bolder/more contrast, but then again subtle is my jam …

  

A few knitting notes: I wanted this to fit over my thickest winter shirt/sub-sweater (I hate being cold). I used Karen Templer’s idea of in-the-round “seams”. This is seriously brilliant as far as I’m concerned. Knitting seems so perfectly adapted to be made in the round, to be shaped organically, to be seamless, and I’ve never been willing to give all that up for the structure that seams can add. Now I just might get both! I made a pretty detailed/extensive chart of measurements for various sections of the sweater when I was planning where the “seams” would go and how big the whole thing should be, based on trying on an old sweater and marking it with pins. I’m really looking forward to having that chart and this sweater for planning future sweaters. I’ll be able to look at them and compare pattern measurements and know how big I want the sleeves, or how wide across the shoulders, etc.

  

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Guts: Picked up stitches around the neck/placket, and where the sleeve joins the body. “Seams” closed with mattress stitch between the two stitch patterns vertically in the body, and horizontally near the bottom of the sleeves.

  

For now, I’m enjoying knitting socks in spare moments. Compared to this sweater, they seem to appear instantaneously! I have a pair almost done already. I think the speed is mostly due to the “and” factor; socks are really suited to occupying my hands while other things are going on. They’re small enough for me to keep the whole project in the bag I usually carry, and I purposefully kept the stitch patterns simple enough that I can keep track without needing to refer to a pattern most of the time—which also means I don’t have to stop much for deep thinking. I could really use some new socks, so I may just make a few pairs before settling down to anything big and complicated again.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you want to share about big versus small projects, or crafts you like to do on your own in a quiet space versus things that are good for groups and busy times, or where you are in your journey of what you’d like your wardrobe to say …

  

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DIY Envelopes

 

Really, why didn’t I think of this ages ago?  But actually, my lovely aunt Barbara introduced me to this idea at our craft retreat, which she in turn got from one of her teachers.  I have made a few handmade cards, and looked for envelopes to fit them, but it never occurred to me to just make one!  And, you can use all kind of cool recycled paper.  The kind that is too pretty/interesting to just put in the bin.  I going to use this map and guide from The Art Institute of Chicago, mostly because it has the word “varoom!” on it in big letters.

 

 

I’ve had this red envelope for quite a while, I love the shape and the old-style closure.  You can use any envelope you like as a pattern, just peel it apart carefully so that you have clean edges to trace.  You can also buy plastic templates in various sizes, or print out paper ones from lots of online sources, search for “envelope template.”  I like using an envelope you already have to start, since it’s right here ready to go.

In any case, check out the placement of your envelope on the new paper to make sure any motifs you really like will be where you want them.  Either use a paper cutting blade (hence my very old cutting mat is my backdrop today) or trace around your envelope and cut it out with scissors.  Use a bone folder, or similar hard but not too sharp object, to score along the folding lines.

 

 

Fold in the sides and stick your envelope together using glue stick, paper glue or ATG (borrowed from the matting and framing part of our studio).

For a simple envelope, you are done!  Just glue the top when you are ready to mail. Ridiculously easy.

 

 

I wanted to recreate the loop and tie closure from my pattern envelope, so marked the position of the circles from the original when I cut it out.  I traced a penny on heavier paper, and used two thicknesses glued together for each circle.  I used metal brads and a bit of top stitching thread, tying the thread in a knot around the brad, and slipping the knot under the paper circle before sticking it through the envelope.  Gluing an extra circle on the back for reinforcement seemed like a good idea as well.

 

 

I also think it would look great to glue or sew on a big snap to close the envelope, or a use buttons and loops, or make a reusable envelope out of something hefty and sew it together, or make your own folders . . . sometimes I think the measure of a good idea is when it gives you ten other ideas at once!

At our retreat I made a big map-velope which has two layers to make it sturdy, plus some small ones, to hold business cards, etc.  And of course you can decorate them!

 

 

I hope this gives you a bunch of new ideas, too!

(If you want to keep up with all my new ideas you can now Follow my blog with Bloglovin  Actually, you could before, but now I am officially claiming it.)