Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sugaring Days in Vermont

Lily and Blossom from Turkey Hill Farm

As the temperatures creep up, the snow melts, and the sap starts to flow, you notice trees decked out with sugar buckets here in Vermont. We had a wonderful, very social weekend that included an introduction to sugaring. We started out yesterday morning with friends from Randolph and visited Turkey Hill Farm in Randolph Center. Besides watching their sugar making operation, and getting wonderful explanations about the whole process, we also bought fresh milk from their cows, Lily and Blossom. Since moving to Vermont I have been able to buy raw milk and make delicious yogurt, something I hadn't done since the '60s. It is very easy to do, and I will put my recipe at the end of this post. 

Michael Sacca boiling maple sap

Late in the afternoon we ventured out on muddy roads to visit our friends, Liz Billings and Michael Sacca, and their children (our god children), Issac, Susanna and Mario. I think I have mentioned this in the past, that living near them was key to our move to Vermont. They have tapped trees on their property and you can see Michael, above, boiling the sap down into syrup. It is quite an operation, and takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. 

Then we were introduced to a tradition that we can easily incorporate into our own lives--making fresh donuts and eating them, dunked into bowls of maple syrup, hot from the frying pan. You can see Mario, below, making the donuts and then he, Issac, Susanna, and Mark relishing them. It was definitely desert before main course last night--or maybe desert as main course. I think once a year is enough for this tradition. Otherwise it would totally undue all the good I am gaining by going to the gym.

Mario Sacca making Donuts

Donut Eaters: Mario, Issac, Susanna, and Mark

So I need to label this next part, Two Heads are Better than One! After posting the last entry, with the two weft-backed weave structures, I got a lovely email from Alice Schlein, my co-author of The Woven Pixel, pointing out that I had "put the ties of the back wefts immediately opposite the ties of the front weft...," which puzzled her since I am always saying something like "hide the tacking points behind floats of weft or warp." She thought I had a reason for doing this, but I had just forgotten to slide the tacking points over. So I am posting a corrected version of one of the structures here for you to see. I actually spent today weaving a 208 pick section of my weaving, Intertwined, four times, each time varying the structures--so I could count actual picks per inch, and see how the wefts packed down, etc. When I take it off the loom in a day or two, I will show you some details. I don't know why people think art and science is so different. I think they both are explorations of the unknown. By questioning and quantifying this information, I should be able to design future weavings with more ease.


Here is how I am making yogurt these days. I take half a gallon of raw milk and heat it in a pot to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Then I let it cool to 108 degrees and add 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of yogurt from a previous batch, and whisk it up. Then I pour the liquid into two quarter gallon glass mason jars with wide lids. While the milk is heating and cooling, I boil water and fill a half-gallon mason jar with it and place it into a thermal zippered bag (I have one that I got at Trader Joe's). Then I put the two jars of yogurt in the bag, on either side of the hot water bottle, and leave it for the day, or overnight. So far I have made perfect yogurt, and I definitely prefer this method to my old one of wrapping jars in a sleeping bag and putting it out in the sun.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Finished but Not Cut Off

Detail of right panel of Intertwined on TC-1 loom

I feel triumphant. I finished weaving Intertwined yesterday afternoon. It is still on the loom because I want to weave some small studies before cutting off. I was thinking that this weaving is in the genre of weavings that use intertwined trees as symbols for lovers--but historians will be able to date my weaving by the electrical line running across the image, an item missing in fabrics from the 16th century!

After I do some small studies, I am going to try and weave a piece that ends in cascading warps so I can capture the beautiful area where the current warp was tied to the previous one. I might even include the other join that is further down the warp.

Knots where two warps were joined

I noticed that the weave structure I posted was incomprehensible, so I enlarged it for those of you interested in the technical aspects of weaving to see. I am posting two structures so you can compare them. They are almost identical, but the first one brings the second weft to the face of the cloth, and the one below it brings the third weft to the face of the cloth. I use a method of tacking the back wefts that causes one to lie close to the web, and the others to lie on top of each other so the packing of the wefts can be tight. This method of differential tacking is briefly discussed in The Woven Pixel, though most of the structures we include in the chapter on weft-backed weaves use a more traditional method of even tacking. I will put a translation for the name of the first structure below it, and you can decipher the name of the second structure.

4WB1,11satin 2 to Top
(translation: 4 wefts used in a weft-backed structure that uses a 1,11 satin
 as the face structure and shows the second weft on the face.)

4WB1,11satin 3 to Top

I want to catch up on a few things here. First, Comcast put in a new wire between the pole across the street and our house and everything is working fine now. Second, you can get Apple computers fixed in Vermont, as many readers informed me (everyone spoke highly of Small Dog) but I wanted to go to an Apple Store so they would have access to the records showing all the previous attempts at repair by Apple. Next time I will stay in Vermont for repair--but hopefully there won't be a next time. And some people still can't make comments to this blog. I did go back and check that anyone can post, but if it doesn't work for you, and you want a comment posted for all to read, send it directly to me and I will post it in the blog.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Weaving on TC-1 Today

There is such a fine line between satisfied and dissatisfied. The other day I complained because my designs of tree branches and words seemed too pat, then by deciding to use Nona's recipe as the text I suddenly was gung-ho to design this weaving--tree branches and words. It needed something and in a conversation with Mark, I suddenly realized I could have the background (solid blue in the design below but stripes of two shades of blue in the warp) have damask circles in it. Then I was really pleased with this design and excited to see it as a weaving.

Design of Intertwined

So today I began. I am weaving this as a weft-backed cloth using a 12-shaft satin as the base structure. I have four wefts--black, red, white, and tan--and there are six structures in the design: one that shows the blue striped ground as a 11,1 satin, four structures that show each weft as a 1,11 satin, and one structure that is a 2 up, 2 down rib using the white weft.

Intertwined being woven on the TC-1 Loom

My structures basically show one weft on the face and the other three go to the back. On the front of the cloth, four consecutive picks beat down and look like one line composed of the four wefts. In other words, each weft goes edge to edge but because of the way the structures are designed, they lie on top of each other at the back of the cloth, and show as distinct colors on the front. The difference in appearance between the face and the back of the cloth is amazing.

Back of the Weaving

My design was for 1760 ends, so I am weaving the left half now and then will follow with the right half, since my loom only has 880 ends. In the detail below, you can see the six structural areas, though the 1,11 using the white weft shows only in small areas here.

Detail of Intertwined, a weft-backed weaving

I am putting the structure that brings the second weft to the face of the cloth (in my weaving, red is the second weft) here for you to see. It looks pretty small in this window, but maybe if you click on it, it will open large enough to be comprehensible. I didn't know about this type of cloth until I taught in an industrial program for textile design. It allows you to use one warp (rather than the two that are necessary for lampas or samitum and taquette) and besides having wefts show as distinct colors, you can design structures that blend them or shade them. There is a whole chapter in The Woven Pixel on weft-backed weavings.

Structure for 4 wefts, a weft-backed 1,11 satin showing the second weft on the face

I am almost half way through the left-hand side of the design. The TC-1 is working beautifully and once again I offer gratitude to Vibeke Vestby for designing this wonderful loom and allowing me and other contemporary weavers the ability to create jacquards at home (or at schools, or by visiting someone who has this loom). I hope history recognizes Vibeke and the TC-1 as the current iteration of jacquard technology. You can see a copy of the catalog for Banishing Boundaries, an exhibit of contemporary jacquard work by clicking on the title in this sentence. Digital Weaving Norway, a subsidiary of Tronrud, sponsored the catalog and there is additional information about Vibeke on pages 30 and 31. I was honored to be part of this show, and my work is shown on pages 24 and 25.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Spring

4 Drawings by Mark Goodwin, 2009

Happy Spring! I think the drawings my husband, Mark Goodwin, is doing now have all the joy that comes from anticipating warm days, fresh vegetables, and flowers blooming. His process, which is one of spontaneity and material explorations, is so different than the one I am following for current jacquard weaving. I spent two days working on images of collaged tree branches and words and felt completely disgusted when I went to bed last night. I never liked prep work, preferring to paint warps and respond to what came up with brocading and pickup in earlier weavings, and, as in the recent place mats, to let one study lead to the next. But in jacquard I am forced to decide on an image, then consider the appropriate structures, modify the image down to the number of structures I will use, make the structures (if I haven't already done so--though more than 1400 are available on the CD that comes with The Woven Pixel), apply them, and go to the loom. Since I have the TC-1 right here, I then go to the loom and do a test to count the picks per inch--then return to the computer to modify the weave file accordingly (so my images won't be squashed or elongated). I can change a structure if I don't like what I see, and I have total freedom to change my wefts at any time, but the decision about the basic image is a starting point that almost brings me to tears.

I probably wrote this already--nothing seems important enough. Often my mind is just blank in terms of images--just full of words. Right now I think my head is so dense with thought that it is going to explode in flames. So going into Mark's studio each night and seeing what he has done that day brings on a wave of amazement at his fluidity, appreciation that I get to see his work, and a bit of envy (though he assures me it is as hard for him as for me; we are good examples of "the grass is always greener.") A few years ago I took digital images of some of his small drawings and assembled them into a warp tapestry. You can see some of his drawings below, and then the resultant cloth. Though his shapes are retained, none of the sensitivity of color was captured. His drawings are clearly one species, and the warp tapestry another.

3 Drawings by Mark Goodwin

3 Drawings by Mark Goodwin

Warp Tapestry by Bhakti Ziek based on drawings by Mark Goodwin

Even baking madelines yesterday didn't dispel the blues. Not purely brought on by design process indecision--it hasn't helped that today marks one solid week that our phone and Internet connections go dead for hours on end and Comcast has not found a solution. Today they will try again. I have hopes that as a gift from Spring they will succeed today. I thought you might want to try the madelines yourself--so I took a picture of the recipe that is on my refrigerator door, written in my mother's handwriting. If you can't read it, let me know and I will post Nona's recipe. Oh, and I decided instead of my own writing, I will use this recipe as the ground for my design--so maybe I am making progress.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

TC-1 Going, Woven Pixel News

Although I am having a technologically challenging period, with problems with my computer (though I think they were resolved with the repairs last week), and our Internet and phone cutting out at random times (my theories run all over the place but then get disproved when the next dead time comes; right now I think a squirrel has partially eaten the wiring and when the wind blows the right way, the wire disconnects), still I decided it was time to get the TC-1 up and running. There were some glitches--I insisted the air compressor should be plugged into a surge protector and Mark said I was wrong and it needed to go directly into the wall outlet. When we tried running the compressor with the surge protector, it would trip it. I am so stubborn that I decided I was still right, and what we needed was a super high power surge protector. A trip to the hardware store had the man saying he would sell me a surge protector but I shouldn't use it, that Mark was right. He (Mark) was only mildly smug when I came home and said, "You are right!"

I also had issues with my computer. I am a mac person all the way, but have a PC which we needed to do satellite Internet in New Mexico. I only know how to use it in very limited ways but am glad to have it, since it also runs my Fiberworks PCW program as well as the TC-1 loom and the Louet loom. I had all the connections down pat last time I used the loom, but was slightly foggy yesterday. One of the connecting wires, which goes from serial to USB, I use for both the Louet and the TC-1. So I put it in place and then couldn't get the program to download. It took three trips to the local computer store (I bought, then returned a part that wouldn't work--seems I just couldn't give away my money yesterday to any of the local vendors) to find out that I did have the right wires, and all I needed to do was identify the correct port for the program to find the device.

So you can see, I did get the loom going. The cardboard box around the wire springs that attach to the heddles is there to cat proof my loom. My cats love clawing at the springs and causing them to stretch out. I could ask Mark to make something more elegant, but he already is working on a long list, and right now that means he is painting the dining room (which is looking very beautiful). I am going to design something now to weave for real, since I just used a small circle file yesterday to test the loom.

Here is some Woven Pixel news. Up until now, Alice and I have used a distributor to sell the book. They were mostly good (sometimes strange things would happen, like countries disappearing from the list in order to purchase the book) but it seemed time to take it in-house. Now if you go to the order page, <>, it connects you to a page on Alice's website. (Do you think I have enough links to that page in this paragraph?) You can also see some sample pages from the book if you go to this link on Alice's website. We will be able to take credit card payments using PayPal, and checks or money orders as long as they are in US currency. Here is an image of the cover in case you haven't seen the book. I use it all the time myself, and will certainly crack it open today as I design my first TC-1 image in Vermont.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Aunt Bess

My Aunt Bess, Bess Ziek Shubin, is 99. Music was always the center of her life, and although she is no longer playing, she still talks about it with the greatest animation and reverence. Even though I was a lousy violinist, she used to say wonderful things about my playing. Anyone related to her was always outstanding. She does wonders for my ego, and this visit was no exception. She is staying with her son, Matthew, and daughter-in-law, Helen, for a few months and that is why I took a trip to Rochester, NY--to see them all. I had such a good time. Sometimes Bess' stories get mixed up now--"he" can start out as her father, become her husband and transform again within a story. Probably most of the stories are based on fact, but they can get embellished with each telling. One thing that struck me with interest was that her stories are mostly positive, and it made me reflect on the stories I tell myself, which are often negative. I found her joy in these memories so inspiring that I am going to try and reform my habits and become a hero to myself.

Matthew and Helen have been involved with the Rochester Folk Art Guild for many years. The Guild is an intentional community of people who practice crafts and study the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff. It always sounded fascinating to me, and finally I got a chance to visit and meet some of the wonderful people living there. Walking around the various craft studios, and eating a communal lunch, I kept thinking that this is a place that answers many of the longings of my life. If I wasn't just settling into Randolph, I might be dragging Mark there now. I had a strong feeling that it would fit perfectly into the circuit that exists between Penland and some other craft centers but it would offer a more permanent home to these young artists. 

Here is a picture of Helen, Matthew and their dog Uma. Helen baked the most delicious almond cake and even sent me home with a packed meal for the car that included slices of her cake. 

I didn't want to show up empty-handed, so I brought two of my Flying Monkey Textiles as gifts for Aunt Bess and Helen. Back in 2002, when I left academia, I thought I would support myself through a small business of commercially woven spiritual blankets. I designed these three blankets of Hanuman and decided to limit the production to 108 of each design. However, I only ordered the minimum to begin with--something like 30 blankets each. It quickly became apparent that people who knew "Bhakti Ziek" didn't want weavings with explicit images of this magical monkey, and people who did know Hanuman didn't want to spend the $270 I was charging per blanket. When people said to me, "I can get a throw at Walmart for $60," I would respond, "Oh, can you get a blanket with Hanuman at Walmart?" Wouldn't that be cool! Anyway, although the blankets came with tags that said, "an edition of 108" it really started and ended on the more exclusive number of "an edition of 30." The boxes of blankets are shrinking, but I still have some if anyone is interested.

If you have never read The Ramayana, it is one of the great epics and fun to read (an easy version to read is by William Buck). Recently a friend sent me a link to a modern animation by Nina Paley of this story, called Sita Sings the Blues. It is a full-length animation, so settle down to watch it. Ms. Paley is definitely a creative and generous spirit.  

Hanuman Carrying Mountain

Hanuman Flying

Hanuman Ogee

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cut Off Blues

I have the cut off blues. It happens every time I finish a weaving. While weaving I have this sense of adventure and excitement that builds--without it I tend to be pushed away from the loom and those warps stay on way too long. I felt it with these place mats, some of which are shown above. You can see the kind of path that happens--one idea leading to the next--the last not self-evident in the first. In all I wove about 12 mats, so you aren't seeing the complete path. I was really getting hopeful at the end, and, always a good sign, I was full of possibilities that could not be done since the warp was coming to an end, but could get me to set up a new warp. Slowly I untied the front knots. I have all these ways of postponing looking at the actual woven work, like rolling up the back apron onto its beam, or picking up the thrums that have fallen to the floor. Eventually I have to look at the cloth--and, yes, there it is, the cut off blues.

One of the things that always happens is that disconnect between how the cloth looks under tension on the loom, and how it looks cut off, pliable and mushy. Edges become more distorted and awful. Now I am confronted with the horrible reality of finishing--always a terror for me. In art pieces, I can adjust edges by turning under and even sewing on a backing if it seems necessary, but these place mats are suppose to be functional items. If I consider selling them (not really in the equation yet), then going overboard on finishing will put the price beyond a realistic amount (besides the fact that I won't have the patience to finish each mat). I seem to have a horror of washing my cloth, but since these are to be used, I need to wash them to see what happens. Typically for me, I would now take this cloth, roll it up as a continuous length, put it in my closet, and forget about it. But since these are prototypes for the collaboration I have been discussing, I will need to pursue finishing options.

I think I will ignore place mats for now and set up my Louet dobby loom for napkins or runners. I had fun this summer using the procedures discussed in The Woven Pixel and making dobby designs. I am also going to get my TC-1 going. I have two students coming in a month or two and preparation for them is going to light a fire under me. But first I am off to Rochester, NY tomorrow to see my aunt. I don't like to leave home these days, but I am sure once on the road, I will be fine. A plus to this trip is that there is an Apple store near my cousin's house and I have an appointment to have this computer looked at. The screen pulses and the keyboard flashes on and off. This has been going on for over a year, and the computer has been in for medical attention many times in Arizona and through the mail twice. Since there is no store here in Vermont, I was just ignoring it (if you can ignore a flashing keyboard). I have been an Apple supporter since the mid-80s, so the problems with this computer, and the lack of help by Apple is really upsetting me. Of course the people have all been nice, but none of them seem to be able to fix the problem for more than a week or so. If I could only be this cavalier about my place mats.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple

The weaving above, Chaos and Order - #2, came to my mind after reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. The description of collecting and stacking used tin cans and old newspapers till they filled the parlor spoke to me of a ready-made art installation. Such a heart-rendering book; pages of poetic sentences where I just floated through the imagery not even trying to grasp their meaning, just their flavor, smell, sensations. Whereas this book made me lonely, reminding me of corners of my life that I don't usually peek into, I think my series of weavings, Chaos and Order, are happier interpretations of ways we sort and gather and collect the elements of our lives. I don't usually frame my work, but these small weavings were sewn onto foam board and mounted, then framed without glass. You can see more of them on the website of Hibberd-McGrath Gallery, located in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Yesterday we went to the Town Meeting. Every town in Vermont holds a local meeting on the first Tuesday of March. In some towns everything is done by verbal tallies, but Randolph uses paper voting ("Australian Ballot"). This year they made it possible for people to discuss the items on the ballot, so the meeting went longer than we had anticipated. Being new to town, we didn't know most of the people or issues, and just sat observing how lines were drawn as the meeting progressed. One young woman courageously spoke up, several times, voicing her concerns about the environment, recycling, our future. I was struck by her willingness to be polite, thinking how at her age, had I dared to talk up in such a forum, I would have probably said something like, "F.... you, you are destroying my future!" Then I thought how my generation is now in control, and making a mess of it just like all the generations before us.

This is actually the first time I have ever attended a local government meeting. I think it is one of the aspects of life in Vermont that drew me here. Even if I still have a sense of alienation about me, that will probably always be there, still I know that I am a part of this town now, and being informed about the budget, which is paid for by our taxes, is a responsibility I need to take on. I won't be running for select board (I just wanted to run home and jump into bed and pull the covers over my head by the end of the meeting), but I do want to be a conscious member of this community.

Well, I didn't go upstairs and jump into bed, but went to the loom instead. Yesterday I wove with rayon yarn that has been on my shelves since the late 1970s. One of the parameters I have given myself for my current work is that I must use the yarn I have. I liked it so much, plain weave and basket weave, that I even read the manual for my digital camera to find out how to take a close-up picture that is in focus. The difference in light reflection and scale between the cotton warp and the rayon weft is beautiful to my eyes. It made me think, "Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free."

Sunday, March 1, 2009


In 2005, before I owned my TC-1, while writing The Woven Pixel, I visited Alice and after working on the book all day with her, I wove in the evenings on her TC-1, and produced a series of four weavings, Postcards 1 - 4. Prior to coming, I prepared my warp at home by painting a warp using natural dye extracts developed by Michele Wipplinger. When I tied my warp to Alice's warp, I interspersed thin stripes of yarn that I had previously braided and dyed with indigo. All the weavings were done in a lampas structure, but Postcard-3, pictured above, was also brocaded on the loom. This is one of the advantages of a hand jacquard, that you can do manipulations like brocading or weft ikat that you can not normally do on a fully electronic jacquard loom. Postcard-3 is an apt introduction to this post on reading since it lists my favorite books from that year, still some of my favorite reading of all time. If you haven't read The Beak of the Finch or Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire or Second Nature, I highly recommend them.   

I like to read series of books, and some, like the Narnia series, I read every few years and still find them thrilling. Characters fill my head, become intimate friends, or enemies, and when I come to the end, I inevitably feel sad. Some of the current popular books, where a new one shows up each year, start to irritate me with their formulaic manner and I stop reading them. This happened to me with the Outlander series, but it reminded me of Mazo de la Roche's Jalna series, which take you through 100 years of the Whiteoak family in sixteen books. These are not 1000 pages each--in dire need of an editor, but very manageable swift reads, which often meant starting in the late afternoon and staying up all night to finish. Lucky for me, the Kimball Library in Randolph had most of the books, and were able to do inter-library loan for the few they don't own. I wasn't even sure if these books really existed, but I had a memory of reading them as a child, and the Internet proved that they did exist. On reading them I realize I must have been in high school, or at least junior high, when I first read them. They are definitely not children's books. And the characters are abundantly unpleasant. At the end I could not identify one of them, not one, that I liked. There were moments of course that I had sympathy for some of them, and always I wanted to keep going, to read to the end, but I am glad to say that no one I know is as thoroughly detestable as this family--self-centered, manipulative, shallow. Perhaps that is the appeal, that de la Roche did allow her fantasy family to have all the bad traits and bad luck we sometimes find in ourselves and in our lives. 

The Kimball Library hosts reading groups and I have been following the current one, The Never Setting Sun, which includes these books: A Passage to India, Things Fall Apart, Ake: The Years of Childhood, and Our Sister Killjoy. So far I have read the first three, though I missed the first discussion and will miss the next one. In other words, I have attended one discussion so far, my only foray into book groups. I did meet some interesting people, so I will go back when I can.

My other constant reading is The New Yorker. When we were leaving New Mexico, I let that and my Netflixs subscription run out. In September The New Yorker began arriving in our current mailbox. It is a bit like having north, south, east and west fixed again. I read them from cover to cover so I am always way behind, and partially read magazines can be found in every room of the house. Anyone who reads The New Yorker, or listens to NPR, immediately knows that I am a fan of both, since practically everything I say is a quote from one or the other.

My weaving, Postcard-2, shown below, is a quote, not from either of those places, but from the great Vipassana teacher, S.N. Goenka. Somehow it reminds me of my friend, Karen Benjamin, a wonderful tapestry weaver in New Mexico. We used to go for long walks together, which I really miss, and have inspiring conversations about being content, or rather, why we (i.e., all americans) are never content. So I wove Goenkaji's words as a reminder to myself: "Life as it is, Not as you want it to be."

Finally, to the weaving. The additional warp ends led to a bit of brocading. Not too much, just an accent amount.