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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Some Good News for February 2017

 

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This year promises to be a challenging one in a lot of ways, as we’ve seen already. And yet there are good things on the horizon too. Personally I’ve been looking forward to 2017 since about this time last year, when I found out I would be teaching at the John C Campbell Folk School this summer! At last my classes are up, I can tell you about it, and you can go check it out on their website. In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m just thrilled for this!

I have two felting classes, a weekend and a week-long one, both of which will give students an opportunity to sink their teeth into wet felting. In the week-long one there will be lots of time for exploration of your own designs and ideas, with plenty of guidance of course!

The third class will be a full week of diving into printing with natural dyes, covering all aspects from preparing the fabric, making screens and designs, to printing and finishing. A longer workshop is really the only way to cover this whole process, and I’m really looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned over the past couple of years working on these techniques, and having the quality time to grow together with my students! Please sign up and spread the word.

 

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On another note, but related to finding the cracks where the light gets in and finding ways to come together, I’d like to recommend this book to everyone in America (and maybe in other democracies too), especially to anyone who is worried about the direction we’re headed in. It made me rethink what it means to be a citizen, and to live with people we disagree with, in a really good way.

Anyone else have good news to share?

 
 

News April 2016: Flag Wool and Me-Made-May

Hi everyone!  Just a couple of quick things today.

First off, I’m teaching at my hometown wool festival Flag Wool and Fiber again this year, and it’s coming up: June 4 & 5.  I’ll have a brand new class on modern free-form embroidery, and I’ve really been enjoying researching and brushing up my stitching skills for that. I’m also doing a “Knitter’s Toolbox” class that’s intended to take your knitting to the next level. Click through to the festival’s site to read more about both classes.

 

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Second, it’s almost Me-Made-May!  After some debate I’ve decided to pledge to wear only me-made (not just -altered or -repaired) garments this year, with a few exceptions: raincoat (not about to try making one when I have an almost-new one), socks (not enough me-knit ones yet), and then there’s a jacket which I would love to finish by May … but it might very well not happen, so I left myself a little wiggle room (if it’s cold enough for a jacket I’m wearing one, me-made or not).

We’ll see how this goes.  I’m not sure that I’ll feel more self-sufficient wearing only things I cut from scratch rather than things I altered or fixed so I could wear them, and I’m pretty sure there are a couple of garments I’ll miss wearing.  But this pledge seemed like the next logical step in the wardrobe direction I’ve been headed, and I’m curious to see how I end up feeling about it and what I’ll discover.  I’d also like to share (most likely on Instagram) a little more of my MMM than I have in the past couple of years.  Even though that can be hard on the road, I’m going to try.

And launching soon, a project which is actually a fusion of the two items above—I hope you’ll stay tuned!

Grateful and Lush

A quick Me-Made-May ’15 wrap-up, plus some totally unrelated spring thoughts and photos …
Tasha teaching felting Flag Wool

Photo by Louisa Ballard

This shot of me teaching felting at Flag Wool is the closest thing I have to an outfit photo for the whole month of May! I decided not to worry about documentation for MMM this year, which was mostly a good choice, even though I felt a little more alone in my handmade-wearing.  It was such a busy month in the best way, and I just didn’t need any other thing to try and do every day.  Plus I felt like my best thoughts around a handmade wardrobe happened at the beginning/planning stage this year, and once I set it up I basically dressed like I normally would, except for the items I couldn’t wear because they didn’t fit my pledge, which were quarantined in the back of my closet.  I fell back in love with one old me-made skirt.  And discovered that while I may technically have enough me-made or me-repaired socks to make it through the month, I don’t have the will to keep on top of the laundry so that they’re always clean and ready to go … I also decided that any situation which calls for truly expendable work clothes doesn’t count. I was definitely looking forward the end of my self-imposed restrictions by the end of the month, although I enjoyed the challenge. I have a small wardrobe in any case, so maybe my goal for next year should be to add a few more me-made pieces. Also, I’m going to try harder to come up with some kind of documentation that works for me.

This May we traveled out to the Washington DC area for two art shows, and saw a bunch of friends, which has been part of our May plan for the last few years.  But we were also home more than normal, including for the wool festival here, which was super fun.  I had great students, and enjoyed the vendors (there was some totally beautiful handspun, among other things) and sheep as much as anyone.  I also worked on writing & photographing two new articles for Seamwork while we were back—I can’t say much about them yet, except of course that I’m really excited!  I can’t wait for you all to see them too.

Throughout all of this, I felt like I’d fallen into a pond of gratefulness.  Our trip went well.  Friends and family lent me their tools and knowledge at the exact time I need them.  I had enough me-made/altered/repaired clothes to wear for a whole month.  I was in the home I love, working and learning around things I’m passionate about.  To top it all off, that home was not on fire, or anywhere close to it.  We’ve had an unusually wet spring, and it’s mind blowing to think that just about this time last year our neighborhood was under evacuation orders from the Slide Fire.  (It didn’t get that close in the end, but it was such a scary time).  The forest is so lush right now.  Well, lush for here, a little carpet of green grass and small yellow flowers under the pines.  I tried to take a photo, but it just doesn’t look full of water and life unless you live here … but every time I look out the window I breathe a little sigh of relief.

Instead I’ll leave you with a few photos from earlier this spring, near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  Spring anywhere out East still fascinates me, having grown up in a land where a little grass and extra flowers count as lush.  More fiber stuff is on the way!

 

spring mammoth branches

 

spring mammoth ripples

 

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Winter/Spring 2015 Workshops & Announcements

tasha's lupine cowl

Hello everybody! I’ve got some fun opportunities for hanging out with fiber folks and in-person learning coming up that I wanted to share.

I’m teaching felting again this year at the Fiber Retreat at Arcosanti, AZ, coming up this weekend (Jan 23 and 24)!  My class is full, but there are still spots in other classes, and overall it should be a good time, with vendors, a speaker, and lots of opportunities to just hang out and knit or spin.  If you’re in the area and you’d like a little more info, contact me and I’ll send you some.  (Their website is a little sparse.)

And, if you’d still like to take a felting class with me in AZ you may be in luck, because I’m also teaching at the newly revamped Flag Wool and Fiber festival this spring, May 30 & 31st!  I’ll be teaching felted flowers and 3D wet felting.  Details about the workshops should be up on their site soon.

A new year also means new classes at Purl in the Pines.  Beginning Knitting and Sweet Tomato Heel Socks start the last Saturday of January.  Coming February 21st is a class I’m quite excited about, because we’re knitting a pattern of my own design, which I put together just for beginning lace knitters!  It’s called the Lupine Cowl (pictured above).  Please contact the store for more info and to sign up.

I’m also talking with the folks at LocalWorks (Flagstaff’s maker space) about running some beginner sewing classes there, and hopefully I’ll have more info on that soon.

While we’re on announcements, I keep meaning to mention (for those of you reading via email) that I’ve been working on the site slowly, starting this summer, and it this point I think it looks about as good as it’s going to unless I break down and pay someone to help with it (what—people do that?).  There are now category pages which hopefully make it a lot easier to find what you’re looking for, and a bunch of hand-carved stamps and typewritten words which have found their way into the digital world, so if you haven’t been in a while, check it out!

I’m going back to preparing for Arcosanti now, but I hope to see you all soon, either in person or out here on the interwebs!

Learn to Felt With Me, this Weekend at Arcosanti!

arcosanti fiber retreat 2014 flyer

 

If you’re in AZ, come on over to Arcosanti this Saturday and learn to felt with me in person, at Meet & Greet Fiber Retreat 2014!  I’ll be teaching my felt flowers, and answering all of your wool and felt questions.  You can also learn needle felting, or drop spindle spinning and more.  In the afternoon there will be a speaker, Ann Morton.  I went last year and it was great (and there weren’t even classes yet) so this time it’s bound to be a lovely day of learning, fun, and fiber camaraderie.

Visit the Fiber Retreat page on Arcosanti’s site for more info, and RSVP for classes to the email address provided there and on the flyer above.  Hope to see you there!

(If you can’t make it, you can always browse my Felting Basics Part 1 and Part 2, and make your own flowers with my tutorial.  It comes with support, so it’s like we’re virtually felting flowers together!)