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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News Jan 2016

 

Arizona Fiber Arts Retreat, Things I Forgot to Mention, and More

 
Lately I haven’t been doing as good a job as I’d like keeping you all, lovely readers, updated when I have something going on outside of this blog.  I haven’t wanted to stick random announcements into tutorials or thoughts that will (hopefully) be read long after the news is relevant, but I also don’t want to pepper you with little posts for each bit of “look at this!” type news.  So I’ve decided to do a periodic news round-up when warranted.  Because this is the first one, there’s some overdue stuff as well as some newer items.

 

Old News

I wrote a few more articles that came out in Seamwork magazine this fall, and the latest one in the December issue.  Although I mentioned some of them in passing, I didn’t really point them out.  There’s one on how fabric is woven, and how to use your knowledge about that to improve your sewing.  It draws on what I learned when my grandma taught me how to weave, and uses a toy loom that belonged to my mom as an example.  The latest article is about five essential hand stitches, and it’s just what it sounds like, a tutorial on my most-used stitches.  I’ve been inspired by all the hand sewing and visible mending going on lately, and I’m happy to add to it!  Maybe my favorite article so far is the one on wool.  It was a total blast to research it, and I’m really happy with how it came out.  It covers some of the history and science of wool, and how to use that knowledge when you’re sewing with it. It also features my favorite (super easy) hand-wash method for all your lovely woolens.

As always, you can read any of the articles in Seamwork for free online.  I’ve also added links to the ones I’ve written in my category page (you can also get there by clicking “Sew” under “Tutorials + Inspiration” at the top of my site) so they’re included with the rest of the sewing info I’ve shared.

 

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To wrap up the older news, I joined Instagram this fall, and also never mentioned it here outright.  My inclination at this point is to avoid anything that involves more “screen time”, but there was so much going on there, especially in the fiber arts world, that I decided to try it out.  And I think I like it.  It’s nice to have a place to share quicker projects, things in progress, and thoughts that won’t become their own blog posts.  And there was some surprisingly deep conversation going on there during #slowfashionoctober!  Still I’m determined to use it sparingly.  If you too are on this exciting/elitist/beautiful/frustrating/inspiring platform, do come say hi, I’m @frenchtoasttasha.

 

New News

The winter gathering at Arcosanti has a new name: Arizona Fiber Arts Retreat, and I’m teaching there again this year.  It’s coming up January 22 and 23, and as of this writing there are still spaces in both my classes.  One is on 3D wet felting, and one is making felt cuffs and beads (pictured below) while learning to use attachments, prefelts, and shaping in your felt making.  Click over to their new website for details and to sign up.  Observant readers of this blog may notice my digital fingerprints on the AFAR site, and indeed I’ve been spending a fair amount of time working on that lately.  It’s a bit surreal to be the one in our group with the most web skills, but there you have it!

Knitting classes are also starting up again at Purl in the Pines in Flagstaff.  The first session of my beginning knitting series is this Saturday (complete beginners welcome), along with a “knitting skills lab” where you can get all your questions answered and learn some new techniques.  If you’re interested, head on over to their class page for details.  It’s still snowing like crazy as I type this, but if the forecast holds, the roads should be clear by the time classes start.

 

Felt Cuffs with Tasha

 

I have a more contemplative post for the new year in the works too, but (appropriately enough) it’s taking a while to distill my “Slow” thoughts for that one.  In the meantime, if there’s anything you’d like to see in this space, or for classes etc. in 2016 feel free to let me know!

 

A Peak into Our Creative Retreat of 2013

 

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As most of you probably already know, every year a group of my family (and friends who are like family) get together for a week of creating and sharing.  Different people teach different skills and projects.  Pretty much anything that could fall under the category “fine craft” is fair game, and there’s usually something more “art” thrown in as well.  My grandmother started this idea, and at this point it’s a huge group effort.  My job is to make up the schedule, using the topics everyone votes on as favorites, communicate with the participants before the workshop week, and to try and keep things running smoothly throughout the week.  (Participants, if you are reading this, I’ll get that survey for next years’ classes done, um, soon . . . )

Every year, I leave wishing that I could live in that atmosphere of communal creative energy forever . . . and then I go home and sleep like I have rarely slept before!

 

miette sideThis year, there was actually quite a lot of sewing.  I kind of shoehorned in some garment/project sewing time, I was really excited about sharing sewing with some real-life students again after spending months working on Hello Sewing Machine.  One of my students went to town making drawstring bags, and three made Miette skirts!  I was SO impressed with how hard they worked and how beautifully the finished projects came out.  This is my skirt, which I made as a (definitely wearable) test, to try the pattern and see how the alterations I was thinking of would come out.

 

We also sewed books!  My aunt, who has been making variations of these book binding techniques for quite a while, walked us through the whole process—from cutting board and tearing paper to sewing the whole thing together.  It was horizon-opening for me to take needle and thread to paper—actually, I’m trying to keep that on the back burner of my brain, otherwise I could easily be swamped by more ideas for new things to make than I can handle.

 

sewing wave book

 

If you are interested in trying bookmaking for yourself, our teacher’s favorite resource is the book Books Without Paste or Glue by Keith A Smith.  Quite coincidentally, I came home to find there’s also an article in the latest Threads magazine (September 2013) with a rundown of very similar process to the one we used.

 

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Probably my favorite thing I made all week (ok, tied with a mosaic sea turtle that I helped to make) is this travel book.  I’m soo excited about having this!  I’ve been thinking about it ever since my aunt showed me the ones she made in a workshop with Gail Rieke (check out her site to see some crazy-cool collage and amazing variations on journals).  I totally love it when “real artists” make practical things as well.

 

travel book

 

Sewing meets books, fabric meets glue, my ideas/techniques/background/expertise meet yours—that’s what really makes the magic of this week.  If you have the chance to get together with other creative types, even for just an afternoon some time, I totally encourage you to go for it!

 

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.)

Creative Retreat Projects

So, I thought I would share a few of the projects we made this year at my fabulous family and friends retreat.  Each year all the women in our little circle get together and create and share and cook and eat, and magic happens.  Not like spells and potions (unless you count margaritas!), but a real feeling of this time being more than the sum of its parts, allowing us creative expressions that it can be so hard to find in everyday life.

 

 

This year thanks to the generous donation of time and effort by a friend of my aunt’s, we got to try encaustic, an ancient technique of painting with wax that I have admired in the work of some of our art show friends for some time.  I was so excited to try it out, and impressed by how everyone jumped in and made art.  Really, playing with warm wax is pretty irresistible.

 

 

We also got to make lip balm (beeswax again!) and flavor it ourselves with oils.  Plus knitting, screen printing, a field trip and making envelopes!

 

Even if you don’t have your annual craft retreat put together (yet!), one thing I find keeps me sane all year round is just a little creative time every day.  I started setting aside an hour a day for sewing in college, and I was really shocked how much more I got done.  Now I work on creative projects a lot of the time, but I found that I still need a little bit of the day that’s just for me, that I can spend however I want, regardless of whether the product will ever make money or even appear on this blog.  Even 20 or 30 minutes when I’m busy, to just put my brain on a different track, leaves me refreshed and thinking outside the box again.

What do you think?  How do you structure your creative break time?

 

(PS There’s still time (until tomorrow morning) to win a Fiddleheads hat.)

Summer Spark Batik Dress

 

I finished this dress on time!  Just barely.  I know that sewing on a deadline is not my friend, but in this case I had backed myself into corner, since I really wanted to finish in time for my annual family and friends women’s craft retreat.  You see, last year at the same event we batiked fabric (which was ridiculously fun) and I dyed this panel with this sundress in mind.  I should at least be able to sew one dress in one year, right?  Well, sure, but a whole lot of other projects of various types jumped ahead of it in line throughout the year, until I found myself headed to retreat 2012 with the mostly-finished dress and my hand sewing kit.  I finished the hem in the car on the way over.

 

 

When I got there I tried it on again.  Although I had carefully tested out this pattern in a previous version, I decided that the darts from that version were a little out of hand.  Although I liked the fit, the darts just took up a lot of the bodice, and I thought that they might not look so good with the sparser print of my batik fabric.  So I decided to convert the darts to gathers.  Lesson 1 from this project: darts and gathers are not the same thing!  Although they both take up excess fabric and fit it into a smaller area, darts control the release of the excess up to a certain point, while gathers release it all right away.  Although I liked the gathers at center front, the ones under the bust were clearly not working, they created a big poof of fabric right under (definitely not at) the fullest point of my bust.  There’s no picture of this, it looked ridiculous.

 

 

Since I had already sewn the gathers, and my sewing machine was hundreds of miles away by this time, my idea was to hand sew a few of the gathers closed, essentially creating a few small darts to release the extra fabric where I wanted it, which hopefully would not look too jarring.  I tried it out by basting the darts in place.  Have I mentioned I love basting?  It’s just a collection of fairly loose, impermanent stitches, but it’s one of the sewing world’s most perfect tools.  I truly don’t understand why anyone complains about it, it’s so wonderfully precise and useful, and you can see exactly how something is going to come out before you commit to sew it, without the distortion of pins or clips.

 

 

Anyway, I basted my new tiny darts in place, using the places where the gathers naturally wanted to make a deeper fold.  I tried on again, then hand sewed them in place.  I used all tiny backstitches, which was probably overkill, but for such a small seam it didn’t slow me down very much, and I wanted a similar look to the rest of the machine-sewn seams on the dress.  If I was at home with my machine, I could also have taken out the gathers, planned and measured for the darts, sewed them in place and stitched the bodice down again.  To be honest I’m not sure it would look much better, although it would look more precise and even on each side.  However, I have been comfortable with this dress having a handmade, not-so-perfect look ever since the very first flower I drew in wax (note the splotches/wax drips).

 

 

Checking out the final result, I am overall thrilled.  Probably what makes me the happiest is that I was able to plan the print on the fabric in a way that worked how I envisioned when I went to sew the dress!  It also makes me happy to look at the little bits of hand stitching on the inside, for some reason I can’t explain I love that look, when I worked at a museum I used to spend much longer than necessary checking out hand stitching on antique garments.  I will tweak the bodice a little more in further versions of this dress, it still has a funny wrinkle or two, but as I said this project was not meant to be a showpiece and I think it looks cute.  I wore it all day, on a retreat field trip to the fiber festival at El Rancho de las Golodrinas and then out to dinner with the whole group.  One of my favorite things about custom-fit clothing is how comfortable it is – I could easily have also worn this dress to sleep in, but restrained myself, after all it was pretty dusty out, and the dress doesn’t need that wear and tear.

 

 

 

I realize as I’m working on this post that some of these pictures have quite a different color cast, some are from my iPhone on the trip which may explain it.  If you are curious, the laundry line picture is probably the closest to the real colors.

Although I don’t have a specific project like this to be ready for next summer, I am so hoping I have learned my lesson about timing and leaving things until the last minute.  We shall see.