Endless Curiosity

I have inherited the investigative gene in my family, and while mostly just useful, it can sometimes get out of hand. Basically it means that when I find myself interested in a subject, I am like a dog with a bone, and can’t let it go until I am satisfied that I understand it. Right now, I have an endless curiosity about the natural world and its ability to provide for and sustain humanity—specifically, in two areas–with fiber spun into yarn and made into fabrics, and clay formed into vessels for use.

Cups and a water jug
Cups and a water jug still wet from the wheel

So I thought I’d just take you along with me as I try to satisfy this curiosity in my clay journey, just in case you were wondering about it, too.

This all started with my own increasing amazement of our natural resources. I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I deeply appreciate clean water, available food, antibiotics and other advances that have freed us—at least some of us, looking at the world in its entirety—from ills that have plagued humanity through the ages. But, I am fascinated by the dual nature of the natural world. I say “the dual nature” because the natural world is both beautiful in its simplicity to provide, and amazingly complex within that provision.

Take fibers, for example. Linen, flax, wool, cotton, silk—all of these various fibers grow and reproduce, and did so and would do so without any intervention from us. Because of their natural properties—the way a fiber is constructed so that when it is spun, because of its natural design, the fibers interlock, become stronger, and can be made into the myriads of articles we need.

Clay is much the same—abundant in nature, and of such a specific construction in its nature that it is the perfect material for creating vessels—pots, dishes, water jugs, insulators, and even panels on the space shuttle. Clay is another natural material with astonishing properties.

Something Else that Spins!

I started this blog 4 years ago to chronicle a journey though the spinning universe … my first post said this:

“Everything in our universe spins, from the tiniest of atoms to the mightiest of planets. Everything spins. Is this why there is so much peace to be found in spinning wool into yarn? In the act of spinning, are we emulating the Almighty’s act of creating and sustaining?”

I suppose, having had those intense feelings about spinning yarn, it is no surprise that I have now found even more peace and contentment in another act of spinning … making pots from clay on a potter’s wheel.

Potter's Wheel
My Potter’s Wheel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clay is yet another natural substance, like wool, that demonstrates the glory and grandeur of our Creator. It’s very nature and molecular structure (more about that later) makes it the perfect raw material for constructing pots and vessels–just like wool contains within its structure the perfect characteristics for making yarn and fabrics.

First pots are much like first yarns —  uneven and somewhat wobbly, with lots of room for improvement! Arabella’s sage advice about spinning wool — “Good, you understand the basics. Now all you need is time at the wheel. Nothing else can teach you what you need” — also holds true for the potter’s wheel. The only thing that improves first pots is the continuous act of making second pots, third pots, fourth pots and so on.

The journey continues!

 

 

More Thoughts on Gains and Losses

I often think and sometimes write about gains and losses. In my life, globally, as God’s people, and even across the breadth of human history. Maybe especially across the breadth of human history, and specifically post-Industrial Revolution, when oh so many things have radically changed.

I suppose, as one who engages in centuries-old handcrafts, it’s only natural to compare the ancient and the modern. In any case, I just spent a wonderful weekend of creativity and learning at Mary Berry’s Fiber Retreat, and the whole experience brought me once again to these thoughts of gains and losses.

While I am quite glad that spinning wool for yarn and thread is my hobby and not a daily necessity (gain!), the weekend reminded me of the need to purposefully seek out groups that nurture us and foster excitement to learn and create. We can be so isolated in our lives (loss!), and the handcrafts that used to be so very necessary for survival and function are all automated now. Come to think of it, not just handcrafts, but so many other vocations have all been industrialized–from barrel-making to horse-shoeing to iron forging to silver smithing …the list could go on and on.

It’s the slow leaching out of daily creative efforts and the benefits we lose when that happens that gets me. And I do mean slow–such that we might not even notice. The progression has a frightening end, as we are now witness to and a part of — the elimination of the arts from school curriculum and the resulting general neglect of creativity and artistic expression. Which reminds me. Go see The Monuments Men, the WWII movie about the art scholars/architects who became soldiers and went to Europe to protect and restore stolen art. During the last year of the war, they recovered and then returned over 5 million pieces of art that had been stolen by Hitler and the Nazis. This movie will remind you how important art is to the world and to each of us.

 

Spinning = Happiness

My, my, my … how the time does get away. Life intervenes with plans … and even hopes and dreams. The necessity of earning a paycheck often takes up the time we romantics would rather spend spinning, knitting, creating, or otherwise engaging in activities for which we do not get paid. Thankfully, we have friends who can drag us back into the worlds we love!

Arabella encouraged me to go with her to Mary Berry’s Fiber Retreat over Valentine’s weekend. I am so happy that I went! The entire experience was such a reminder how much I need creative input into my life — and I believe this is true for all of us, whether we realize it or not. It can become difficult to set aside the time, but the peace that a creative experience can bring into your life is so worth the effort.

various fibers for spinning
All happily spun during the fiber weekend

 

I LOVE spinning! But I haven’t done much of it in the last two years. The weekend was an immersion in luxurious and delicious fiber–so many types of wool, silk, camel, alpaca–it felt so good to get them running through my hands again. The retreat also included a multitude of workshops on knitting techniques, spinning, weaving and even dyeing. It was a lovely group (I think around 90 women) with knitting needles, spinning wheels and portable looms.

I was able to spin this gorgeous teal skein (top of pic) that I purchased from Christine, who owns Spinning Straw into Gold. It is a 50/50 blend of silk and a material called tencel, which is fascinating! Tencel is a fiber made from wood pulp, it absorbs dye beautifully, blends well with others, has natural breath-ability like cotton but can absorb a lot more moisture, AND it makes beautiful yarn!

I was also able to finish spinning the fabulous Jacob wool that I got from Cindy’s farm (Jacob’s Reward), and a wonderful art batt that Arabella had made.

The silk/tencel was wonderful to spin!

silk and tencil batt
Spinning silk tencel blend

My mom’s blog is great! You might see where I get some of my peculiarities … and wonderings about the world….

Hill Country Cottage Gardener

“Beauty is as beauty does.” This was one of my mother’s favorite sayings–she had a million! I heard this one often growing up in the ‘50s, whenever she didn’t like what I was doing. If I wanted to be beautiful (like MM?), then I’d better “straighten up & fly right” (another one of her favorites).

Image

There is great wisdom in the idea that our outer surroundings are a reflection of our inner selves. But as a pragmatist, I’m more interested in the reverse: how our inner selves reflect our environment. Most of us are more consciously aware of our environment than our inner selves, so let’s create beauty in our gardens and our homes and expect that inner beauty will follow.

Image

If you are not already on Pinterest, you need to get on the waiting list today.  Or, if you have a friend—or a daughter—who is already a Pinner…

View original post 76 more words

“Incurable Whirling Disease”

Over The Rhine — if you haven’t met them yet, go introduce yourself; they are quite friendly, and extremely talented.

Exit

I have to leave the city now, she said,
Or dash my soul against my will instead.

I do not wish to have the quiet part of me
That once could rest (the part
That could just be) tossed
Aside and left somewhere
For dead.

Tonight it seems to me
That what some friends call energy
Is nothing more than a phenomenon of nature known as
“Incurable Whirling Disease.”

Please, take me far from here, she said,
The buildings sting and echo
With the fumy cries of yellowjacket cars.

I took her hand in mine and said,
I’m thinking of a place now
Where I used to have to tell myself
Aloud,
Those are not clouds,
They’re stars.

Copyright 2007, Linford Detweiler

 

Gains and Losses

pilgrim oil bottle
At Plimoth Plantation: A Moment of Clarity photo by Teresa Day

Last summer while working in Plymouth, Mass., I visited Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum set up as it would have been in the year 1629. I walked into one of the tiny Pilgrim cabins and saw the above, pretty much exactly as you see it here. I entered through the door just as the sun was pouring into the otherwise darkened cabin through the narrow chimney shaft, focusing the concentrated light on this small bottle of oil. So striking!

I’ve thought of this image many times over the last eight months or so since I took this picture. The thoughts generally focus on the question of gains and losses…since 1629, we’ve gained so much. A nation! Democracy! Medicine, technology, science…so much! I wonder why I keep returning to the other side of the coin (so to speak)–what have we lost?

We’ve lost the pace of peace, to be sure. All of our modernity, each item eagerly trumpeted as “the latest and greatest time-saving device” has not given us more time at all. As we have regulated all that used to regulate us–harvest, seasons, night and day–we’ve removed the natural barriers that kept us separate from the now constant-fast pace at which we hurtle through the days.

We’ve gained medicine, but lost health through our demand for processed foods and our unwillingness to unplug and slow down. Even when the doctor says to us specifically, “You have to reduce the stress in your life, or you will have a heart attack,” we don’t really believe him.

Nostalgia can be a dangerous drug. I want to be careful not to pine for what’s past as a retro-version of “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

In a sense, though, that IS what we do with our present and future–striving forward with technology and other “improvements.”  Once I get a SmartPhone, I can keep up with email when I’m in the carpool line or waiting at the post office; once I get and iPad and subscribe to the newest airplane wireless technology, I can stay in contact with the office even while I’m in the air; once I get the new 2011 Ford, I won’t even have to parallel park by myself! Once I get…

How do we break the cycle?

 

 

Warm, Useful, and Beautiful…From Wool to Blanket

The mohair is the shiny, thicker single. The merino is the softer, fuzzier single.

Ta da!  The process still works! Take some beautiful, soft white wool from a merino sheep and some shiny, slick gorgeous white mohair from a goat, spin singles of each, and then ply them together for a lovely length of textured and interesting yarn.

Using US 10 (or larger) needles, knit with a pattern from f.pea for a baby heirloom blanket with a lovely scalloped edge. Add some color–in this case, a skein dyed aqua and salmon from Arabella, handspun thick and thin for extra texture and interest. Keep knitting–in airports, in the car, on lovely evenings at home, to avoid housework, when you should be working, etc.

Functional Art-a simply beautiful blanket

Bind off (loosely!) whenever you want to, or when you run out of handspun yarn. You have now participated in the thousands-year-old ancient collective of outfitting your family with necessary material items.

Archeologists seemed surprised to find intricate beauty when they uncover textiles (or art) from thousands upon thousands of years ago. Their surprise is odd to me–because as long as we have been human, we have infused our material objects with artistic beauty and creativity. This is what it means to BE human.

Useful...and beautiful!

“Material” Culture Tells the Story

I’m beginning to believe that history, like art, may be “in the eye of beholder.” And the further back in time we want to go, the more this is true.

Face of Ptolemy II Philadelphos, 285-246 BC

I’m not talking about 100 years ago, or even 400 years ago, and maybe not even 2000 years ago, because we humans have a marvelous proclivity for recording ourselves. We’ve chiseled our likeness on every surface imaginable from a cave wall to a coin; written down our deepest thoughts, ideas, and dictums on animal skin parchment with the ink of berries; even encoded laws on stone and clay tablets. Something very deep inside all of us wants to be remembered.

As a result, the “material” objects left by past cultures really tell us a lot about what they believed about themselves and the world, and what they appreciated and valued. The problem is that the further back in time we go, the fewer of these objects we find, and putting together the “story” behind the material objects becomes something my sister calls MSU. That’s when the lack of facts surrounding an object or idea causes us to Make Stuff Up.  Right?

For example, I can “google” enough subjects surrounding 100 B.C. (About 24,600,000 results in 0.25 seconds) to construct a pretty good idea of  the state of life for the average Roman citizen, or even a barbarian or two wandering around outside the Empire. The basic stuff–the “material” goods of that time: fabrics, jewelry, pottery, tools, art–combined with all of the written works we have from this period

Woven Mummy Wrappings, Ptolemaic Eygypt 323-30 BC

gives us a clear picture….well, we don’t have to resort much to MSU.

But the farther back we want to go to know what we as ancient people ate, drank, worked at, created, wore, cursed over, prayed over, made for decoration or traded for goods, the fuzzier the picture gets. For me, it all sort of runs together with old World History lessons. Since I started spinning, however, I find myself driven to create a better picture of the first fabrics and who wore them, how they were made, and what choices were available. Or at least understand how much of the story we do know, and how much is someone else’s version of MSU–Making Stuff Up.

I am going to start with the timeline I found at The New World Encyclopedia because it specifically marks the find in Israel of the oldest textiles anyone has uncovered. TIME magazine’s description^ of the textiles says, “Perhaps most remarkable are the fabrics, which are woven in eleven intricate designs, some resembling knotted macrame, others fine mesh.” Stay Tuned…

^Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,965493,00.html#ixzz0rMf9uGDt

*Images from www.AncientResource.com. Click on image to go to website.