Friday, February 25, 2011

That Artful Tao of Shawl Craft: Part II

So, in this second part of my take on the creative process (go here for the first part), I’ll discuss the Taoist five models that one might tap into for creative inspiration. I’m going to use some of last year’s crocheted shawl experiences to illustrate the models:

Crocheted Shawl Lace as Formless Water: Water, as everyone knows, is formless and takes on the shape of the container within which it is found. According to Taoists, water is weak, and seeks the lowest point from which to form. Think about it: haven’t you ever watched water fill up in a pile of dirty dishes? It does exactly that – seeks the lowest point in the sink and then fills itself into the crevices between the dishes. Yet, water has incredible power, not only to clean the dishes, but cut powerful paths in rock over millennia (can anyone say the Grand Canyon?). Basically, water speaks softly and carries a big stick.

So, to, is crocheted lace. My very first shawl last year was crafted from Andrea Graciarena's Twisted Taupe Wrap pattern. Her original was soft, yet sturdy and warm. In my interpretation, I used a larger needle that opened up the stitches, and some kid silk along with some sparkly sock yarn (in pink no less) to make a first shawl that was warm and just plain pretty with incredible drape - sort of water-like. I knew I wanted to donate this first effort to charity, so that some unknown woman could feel beautiful while going through the awful process of cancer treatment. Talk about going against all Western conventional wisdom: I crafted something by hand, for a complete stranger, who was going through arguably one of the worst experiences a person could endure. I am confident that the humble shawl did (and continues to) get the job done. Because that’s what formless water, as well as crocheted lace, has the power to do.

Use the Positive Potential of Emptiness: In the West, we are taught that empty is bad and full is good (the half-empty/half full water glass dilemma), and that we want to know every thing about every situation before we make any commitment. Taoists, however, see only good things in empty: without windows, how would one see sunlight? If the glass is half empty, there’s room for more knowledge and wisdom, unlike a full glass that has no more room (and you get a messy clean-up if you try to add more).

This model, in a nutshell, personifies my third shawl last year – Tracey McCorkle’s Heritage Shawl, which was presented (or more accurately revealed) to the world in a March mystery CAL celebrating 2010’s National Crochet Month. I will frankly say that I was uncomfortable receiving a shawl pattern in bits and pieces, but that’s how a mystery CAL works. The first “clue” in this square, Shetland-type shawl was the main body, and took forever to complete. Frustration definitely set in with most of the participants; in fact, a few called it quits even before the second clue was revealed.

However, I hung in there, and I’m glad I did. Not only did it produce a beautiful lace shawl, but I softly leaned into the concept (in this low-impact situation) of just letting things unfold, not knowing the result. I learned to take crochet direction, yet trust myself to make adjustments if something seems off (because there were small hiccups in the pattern that the CAL participants worked through). I also learned that I am not in love with big, square shawls. Some might consider more than a month’s work on a shawl that’s not really liked a waste of time. Since it was all new to me back then, I didn’t find it wasted energy, but a valuable lesson. Another charity benefited, and I know now what not to do – at least when it comes to big, square, mysterious shawls.

Become more Childlike in the Shawl-making Process: Children, as anyone who has them will tell you, possess boundless spontaneous energy, inquisitiveness, and playfulness. Their wonder and (non-sexual) innocence are some of their greatest strengths. Taoists see the benefits of cultivating and tapping into this energy source throughout life. So much for the sober, Western business attitude.

I absolutely used this in my second shawl, which pattern is a witty play on the four-leaf clover from DROPS Design, and also utilizes basic filet crochet. I increased the width of the original pattern to make it fit better around my shoulders, and absolutely love the fun, four-leaf clover edging. I made it in an apple green color, and it never fails to make me smile when I wear it.

Shawl Design and the Uncarved Block: Taoist wisdom sees the potential in a raw block of material. Think of a hunk of clay, or marble, or wood. None of these are anything worth talking about in their raw, block form. However, put in the hands of a designer or artist to be molded, chipped at and cut into, and they have unlimited potential.

It is the same with yarn, hook and inspiration. My seventh shawl last year, the Rustic Elegance Shawl, was completed in October and was my first original design. The fiber (a combination of one wool strand and one silk mohair strand) was part of the inspiration. I also found inspiration in the all of the varied crochet stitches I had practiced and perfected throughout the year. It was effortless, really, once I had the fiber and hook in my hands. It remains one of my favorite finished objects, not only because it came from my head, hands and heart, but because it’s an incredibly versatile design, having worn it as a shawl, a scarf, and a cowl. That’s a result from raw material to make any Taoist proud.

Shawl Craft and Getting in Touch with the Feminine: Feminine images and references are rife in Taoist principles and teachings. The feminine stereotype of weakness and submissiveness is, oddly enough, one that has been historically fostered in both China and the West. However, Taoist belief says that the feminine, or yin, is also the source of creativity, gentleness, and profound mystery, and should be cultivated in both men and women.
While my fifth shawl, based on Cecily Keim's Rolling Waves pattern, had me using beads for the first time (I’ve learned I love bling), it wasn’t until my eighth shawl, my interpretation of Lyn Robinson's Festival Shawl, that my true cultivation of the feminine manifested. I saw a picture of the shawl in a very raw form, recognized its potential, and asked Lyn for the pattern. Simple in its execution, it is a study of beauty, from its use of color and fiber, to its lovely beaded edge, to the photo shoot of it with an elegant, timeless, wedding gown. It doesn’t get much more yin than that.

In all, eight of the 10 shawls I crafted last year were crocheted; two were knit. Each shawl taught me some thing (big or little) that aided me in the next successive shawl project. I am in the process of crafting 11 more this year. Tapping into that path is a force for good. I look forward to where it will lead.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

That Artful Tao of Shawl Craft – Part I

A series of recent events have had me thinking quite a bit about my own creative journey, especially my crochet shawl-making journey. As regular readers of the blog know, I ended last year with a shawl flurry.

Of course, while I’m focusing (for purposes of this writing) on all of my 2010 crochet shawl-making activities, my greater awareness of crochet and its artistic potential kicked into higher gear in spring 2009 when I attended a Tunisian crochet class, focusing on creating finished objects using three different strands of fiber. Not only was it a fun class, but I walked happily away from it with my imagination brimming with possibility. It also fed my lifelong love of textiles.

After that class, I created a queen-sized bed blanket using nothing but Tunisian simple stitch, a size S crochet hook that I modified with a knitting needle and tape into a longer, Tunisian crochet hook, and the fiber colors I had available in my
stash. That led to a series of paintings, based on the color blocks in the blanket. That eventually led to a few of my paintings being shown in a small, local show. That tangentially led to a personal commitment to craft 10 shawls in 2010 (with a little help from a Ravelry group of the same name, now entitled 11 shawls 2011), even though I had never before made a shawl. That led to a serious passion for photographing my fiber and projects. Oh, and all of that has led to a wonderfully creative daily existence, including writing this blog.

Phew. That’s a lot of thats.

So what’s Tao, and what’s it got to do with art, crochet, and crafting shawls, anyway? Simply put, Tao (pronounced “dao”), is a Chinese term given to, according to Robert B. Zeuschner, author of Classical Ethics East and West, “… a spontaneous, mutually resonating process wherein each individual thing simultaneously creates a pattern and has a place in [a greater] pattern.” As Zeuschner further illustrates, the original Chinese character for Tao means “road,” “path,” “crossroads,” and, eventually, “the way.” See, there’s an organic method to all that madness.

Tapping into all of that, according to Taoists, involves internalizing five basic models, or ways of approaching situations. On Friday (in Part II), I’m going to list them for you, and apply them in some meaningful way to my year of shawls. If one truly internalizes these five models, so the Tao goes, then one can be free of all of the trappings and chaos of everyday life. While I’m not certain I’m that free (cause hey, I need to provide a roof over my head and food on the table), when it comes to crafting shawls, and creativity in general, they’re pretty nifty to have in one’s creative tool kit.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fiber and Inspiration

On Friday, I attended the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat going on through this afternoon at the Hotel Murano in Tacoma. I did not sign up for any courses, but wanted to spend some time with the fiber in the market, as well as attend the Teachers' Gallery and talk in the evening. I was not disappointed.

Initially, let me say that if you haven't been to Hotel Murano, you should, and get ready for a treat. Named for the famous type of glass (and situated just minutes away from Tacoma's Museum of Glass), the hotel is filled with art and glass. Note its impressive lobby and bar/lounging area - which is contemporary, but very warm.

 After a quick coat check and coffee refueling, I headed off to the market. For me, the highlight was definitely my deeper exploration of the fibery goodies produced by Habu Textiles.

Not only are the colors exquisite in this 60/40 silk and mohair fiber, but the packaging is quintessential Habu.

 This 100% merino cone (what a great spring color!) contains a whopping 747 yards.

Finally, Habu takes remains and bits and pieces from across their fiber offering, groups them according to color, and packages them up. I snatched the one below (because it was busy, even on a Friday afternoon), and it will become a nifty little scarf. 

One thing to note about Habu: as is their basic philosophy, they are short on structure, but long on creativity. As a result, I'm not certain exactly which fibers are in my sampler because they're not identified (but know, from the ample time spent in the booth, one is cotton, another linen, and a third is possibly a pineapple plant derivative). While I can go to the website and figure it out, the goal is to just take the fiber and create. I plan to do just that.

Two other highlights:

this awesome super-bulky thick and thin yarn from Butternut Woolens will be a shawl/capelet (yes, what a change from laceweight!), and

this amazingly gorgeous tencel yarn in laceweight will be combined with something else in a project a little later this spring. I really can't wait!

After some dinner (cause, hey, fiber discovery is a grueling thing), I headed back to the hotel for the Teachers' presentation. The guest speaker, Betsy Hershberg, gave a presentation on her own creative journey. Not only do I love her medium (beads), but having just penned an essay on creativity (which you'll read in a post here in the not-too-distant future!), I found her presentation engaging and completely inspiring. She has a soon-to-be published new book, and I wish her nothing but good things with it.

 The packed room then went over to the Gallery and had an opportunity to touch and otherwise inspect the current work of each of Madrona's instructors (as well as talk with them, of course!). What a great hands-on approach, and one that I wish more gatherings would adopt.  

Needless to say, I left feeling totally inspired. I found the fire lit in the front of the hotel on the way out rather appropriate. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Around a Town: #1

This is the first in a recurring series of photographs from around a town ... any town. Where is it? Feel free leave a comment and guess - however, this initial installment should be fairly obvious. Enjoy!

Friday, February 11, 2011

On a Few French Items that Feed my Soul

Jean-Marc Espinasse of Domaine Rouge-Bleu
I was going to provide you with some items to consider for the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday - you know, the ones most everyone else considers right about now.  However, recent events have led me (only slightly) astray. So ... I present to you a few French items that have, and continue to, feed me artistic soul.

Initially, here is the first in what I hope will be a recurring series on the blog – The Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire. In the inaugural installment, please meet someone I consider an artist and friend: Jean-Marc Espinasse, winemaker extraordinaire at Domaine Rouge-Bleu. Or, as his wife has affectionately nicknamed him, “Chef Grape.”

I spent an intense, amazing two weeks at the Domaine Rouge-Bleu farm ostensibly picking grapes during the ‘09 harvest. However, my time in France that summer fed my Canuck-rooted soul in ways I cannot properly describe in words. Happily, I don’t have to try. Since the ‘09 vintage is set to be released, I’ll let the wine do the talking for me. So here, I present a little slice of Espinasse philosophy:

The Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire

Old grenache vines at Domaine Rouge-Bleu
Can you tell us a little bit about your background before you started to make wine?

I fell in love with wine when my uncle decided, 20 years ago, to get three vine parcels in Chateauneuf-du-Pape to re-create the family vineyard, Domaine du Banneret, which originally dates back from many centuries.

As a CPA, I initially made the financial plans for the loans and participated in the first and all harvests. It was during this joyful time that I met with my future American wife, Kristin, author of the blog French Word-a-Day.

I started then to offer my uncle's wines to US importers and then embraced the wine world.

Now, besides Domaine du Banneret where I am also involved in the wine making, I distribute a portfolio of "boutique" French wines in the US.

In my dreams, I have often imagined that running a small vineyard by myself would actually be a realistic project. And whereas I was not expecting it to happen, I was offered in November 2006, 25 acres of old vines with a great potential "terroir". Domaine Rouge-Bleu was born ...

Besides wine, I am in love with Mother Nature, the band U2, and before all my dear family.

When was the moment you knew you wanted to become a winemaker?

When I first started to harvest. I have never questioned myself on the winemaking which is, for me, something quite natural. I have always heard that 99% of the wine is made once the grapes are harvested.

Please describe your personal winemaking philosophy?

Minimum human interaction. Leaving Mother Nature to do its role, which means leaving the stems (in the fermentation process) and minimum pumping-over of the (grape skin) cap (while in the tank).* Also, making sure that the prime oxidation phases (during fermentation) are covered by the minimum amount of sulphur needed.

What is your greatest wine drinking memory?

A ’90 red Ch√Ęteauneuf du Pape from my uncle’s vineyard, Domaine du Banneret. It is also the wine we had at our wedding but at the time, the wine was too young. It is now at its best and carries a lot of spirit.

If you could have dinner with any three vintners, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?

Marcel Lapierre as he has inspired me so much, Paul Draper as he is definitely the best winemaker I know, and Emile Peynaud for his vision.

or Screw cap?

Cork for aging wines and screw cap for drinking wines

It’s your last meal. What’s in your wine glass?

Chateau d'Yquem 1967, the year I was born, and one of the best vintages for this unique wine.

What trait do you most admire in wine makers?

Start over from scratch every new vintage.

What trait do you most detest in wine makers?

People who pretend that technique is the most important thing in winemaking.

You are recommending a gift of wine in response to a friend’s inquiry. Other than your own wines (which, as everyone knows, are very tasty!), what would you recommend?

Ah … ah ... what about the one this friend chooses? I am sure it will be a good choice.

acrylic on canvas

*For those who might want more information concerning the process of which Jean-Marc speaks,  David Bird's Understanding Wine Technology is a great reference; specifically, page 85 discusses pumping-over.

Finally, I had discussed a French package I received here. It was yarn and other goodies from a Parisian Ravelry swap acquaintence. Yesterday, I received yet another package as a result of this swap, which was an amazingly generous surprise! Inside was more yarn goodness – seven hanks of goodness, to be exact. From Filature du Valgaudemar, there were two hanks of angora and merino blend in a lovely mousson colorway, and five (!) mohair and silk hanks in varying fiber weights. My soul is further fed. Thank you!

So, this Valentine’s Day, indulge those you care about with the things that feed their soul.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fee-Fi-F.O. Friday

My Winter Ice Bag
I am so thrilled with myself. I have slayed the hand-sewing giant, and have two new bags to show for my efforts.

Both bags were started last October or so. The knitting went fairly quickly – both are the same pattern, the Silver Lining bag, from Lion Brand Yarn’s Just Bags book. However, I let both sit in the process pile, while other more enticing projects took precedence because I knew I would need to sew. Ugh.

Then, inspiration in the form of a finish challenge appeared from the Ravelry Twist Collective group. A little less than two weeks to get any project(s) of one’s choice finished. It was just what I needed to screw up the courage to face the sewing monster.

It took me long intervals of hand-sewing over a solid three days to get these two bags completed. The Winter Ice Bag was first, and took the first day. It’s smaller (I modified the pattern slightly) and
only needed one lining to be prepped and then sewn to the knitted rectangular body of the bag. Once that was accomplished, I added the handles and snap, and eureka!

The Green over Blue Bag, however, was another matter. Not only is it bigger, but I also wanted to line the knit strap (yet another modification to the pattern, since I couldn’t find suede bag handles) so that I would avoid the stretch that occurs with all unlined knit bag straps. It was a fiddly, painstaking process, which was further disrupted by constantly snapping thread. Note to self: time to buy new stronger thread, pronto.

Nevertheless, determination and sheer stubbornness won the day – and bag number 3 for the year was completed on January 31, right on time for the Twist Collective Finish Fest deadline. And, I crafted from my shelf, since I've had this book since  the 2009 Stitches West event. 

Self-satisfied smiling ensues.

I am pretty proud of these bags. I don’t need to climb no stinkin’ beanstalk – I’ll just display my riches every time I use these bags – because I know what I’ve accomplished.

Accessorize on … and all that.

My Green Over Blue bag