A Sneak Peek at the First Hookers Circle Project and How You Can Join Us!

Not everyone can join us in the Maine studio to hook together on Tuesdays.  In thinking about how we could create an online community to bring people from all over the country (and possibly the world) together in a common project, I came up with the Parris House Hookers Circle. 

As some of you may know, we shipped the first pattern for the Parris House Hookers Circle in March of this year.  If you’re not aware of it, here’s how it works. Every quarter (March, June, September, December) I will send out a new surprise pattern or kit (you choose!).    You can pay all at once up front and receive a 5% discount on your subscription, or you can pay in installments.  The details are explained on the shop listing HERE.  

So far, we have had three brave hookers sign up, and two of them, Pam Congdon Springer and Carolyn Cooke, have been participating regularly on our Hookers Circle closed Facebook group.  They signed up without having any sneak peek at all at what they might receive, but lucky you, you’re about to get a look at the first pattern we shipped in March and what two of these lovely women did with it.  Keep in mind that they chose the pattern-only option, not a kit with cut or uncut wool, so the color planning was all theirs.

When I set about designing a pattern for the March shipment, we were in the midst of some serious winter storms with spring nowhere in sight.  I thought it might be nice to do a pattern inspired by some of the woodland plants we see here in Maine in spring and then in to the summer, so I chose lady slippers and trillium.  On any hike in the woods of Maine you are pretty sure to see trillium, but the lady slippers are rarer, so much so that it is literally illegal to pick them.  I’m not sure why anyone would, but the state actually protects them as a relatively rare plant.

So here’s what my hookers circle members got in the mail…

Each member received an image of the original sketch as a jumping off point for their own color planning and hooking.

Each member also received a pattern drawn on the grain on high quality linen with 4″ edges all around.

They also received a special little extra in their packages, which for March was a bar of our handcrafted soap.

It took Pam and Carolyn no time at all to get started on their projects, but they posted progress pics throughout their hooking that were fun to see.  We were able to bat ideas around as the projects developed and offer constructive opinions and kudos on the work.  Another benefit of joining Hookers Circle is that mutual support as the projects unfold.

So, what did the finished projects look like?  Of the three members, I have finished pics of two, and permission to post so…without further ado…

This is Carolyn’s finished rug. She chose unconventional colors and a beautiful whip stitched binding that coordinates with the primary background. Her use of purple on the stems of the flowers, and then echoing it in the corners of the design, I thought was brilliant. I think she achieved a really beautiful result here, thinking outside the box.

This is Pam’s finished wall hanging. I absolutely loved the way she incorporated a natural object that you would absolutely find on a walk in the woods as part of the hanging apparatus. She used a coordinating button flaps to attach to the twig and then set the whole thing off with the proddy fringe along the bottom. I think her color choices are lovely. This is another spectacular result I would never have imagined when I was sketching the pattern.

So, this is our fledgling start to the Hookers Circle, a group I hope to grow to at least one hundred members.  No, I’m not kidding.  I really want to get Hookers Circle to at least one hundred members.  I know that that would require employing several people for about a week or so a quarter to draw, assemble, and ship the kits, but I think it would create a big version of the camaraderie that is already developing on our Hookers Circle Facebook group.

If you like this pattern, it will be available for general purchase one year from when it was released, so March 2018.  Hookers Circle members enjoy exclusive access to every pattern for at least one year.  Members can join at any point in the year and subscriptions will run on a rolling basis.  Want to join us in time for the June shipment?  Join here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek at what’s been happening in the Parris House Hookers Circle.  I think spring is finally arriving here in Maine.  There’s still snow on the ground, but I think its time is short, and I will have to start thinking about warmer days and summer sun to inspire the June pattern and kit.

Happy hooking! – Beth

In to the Hands of the Next Generation

Last Friday I left Maine early in the morning to head out to Rochester, NY for the weekend. It’s not a trip unfamiliar to me because my third son, Peter, is an engineering student at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology), but I wasn’t visiting Peter.  In fact, I could not visit Peter this trip because he is on co-op semester working for a company in North Carolina right now and through the summer.  No, I was visiting the RIT Hooks & Needles Club to teach them rug hooking.

Saturday at lunch time I was greeted at the local Macaroni Grill by Mirjam, Felix, Elizabeth, Theresa, and Cathryne, the executive board of the club.  We had a wonderful Italian lunch and got to know a little bit about one another.  One thing that was completely clear was that these young women, from different parts of the country (even the world), studying different college majors, and with a variety of interests were all avid fiber artists.  Between them they knit, crochet, cross stitch, needle felt, and engage in other creative pursuits.  They talked about their oversized yarn stashes (some things are universal) and about what fiber art meant to them in their lives.  By the time lunch was over, I knew I was going to have an interesting and good day with them.

They had reserved a great classroom space for us on campus and they helped me set up the room.  It was Accepted Students Day at RIT, so there were a lot of visitors on campus, and some of the students we were expecting for hooking had gotten commandeered to serve as volunteers for the day.  As a result, our class size was smaller than anticipated, but I did not mind.  The mission of getting rug hooking in to the hands of the next generation is worth the trip, whether there are five students or twenty five students.

I felt that having these young women create their own designs would accomplish two things.  One, it would give them a chance to learn how to get a pattern on linen, on the grain, correctly.  Two, it would guarantee that their patterns were things that they could relate to and be excited about.  Their design efforts did not disappoint.

Brightly colored flowers.

 

A purple goat!

 

A woolly sheep.

 

A pig being abducted by aliens!

 

A design from a popular show (I am dying here that I can’t remember the name of the show now!)

My students immediately realized that the Beeline cutter was essentially like a pasta making machine for wool.  They were somewhat disappointed by the price of such a cutter, but I explained that used cutters are very find-able and that I’d keep an eye out for one for the club.

We only had a single afternoon to try to get in a lot of information and the fundamentals of hooking.  Naturally, the projects were not finished by the end of the day, but we did go over finishing techniques on some example pieces and I have promised them that I will start making videos (which people have been asking me to do forever now) on steaming and on each finishing technique we talked about.

It’s absolutely critical to pass rug hooking on to the next generation, and we have to pass it on in a way that honors and respects the fact – the glorious fact – that they will want to make it their own by bringing their own aesthetics, experimental techniques, and unexpected styles to it.  There is no question that every generation also works to preserve the heritage of any art, but if we encouraged them to do only that and not grow and adapt the art to the modern world, we would be contributing to the stagnation and death of the form.   I believe in teaching good fundamentals so that the craft moves down generations intact in terms of the overall quality of the work, but I do not believe in restricting students (of any age) to one genre, one color palette, or any one anything.   At RIT the students are innovators by nature, and it was exciting to talk to these young women about how they might innovate in their fiber art lives as well.

Toward the end of class, one of the students asked me how I got in to rug hooking.  As many of you know, I took up hooking after my mother passed away and I desperately needed a grounding, zen, creative activity as a mode of healing.  This story opened the door for the students to share what their art had meant to them, and the aspect of healing came up in their stories as well.   What a beautiful thing we have here.  It turns out that art transcends age, especially if we allow and encourage the young to make it their own.

As I was starting to pack up my things, I was presented with an absolutely gorgeous pink crocheted throw that the women had made for me as a thank you gift.  I will treasure this forever.  I put it to use as soon as I got home, wrapping it around my shoulders as I worked at my desk.

It was truly a privilege for me to teach these young women.  I want to give a heartfelt thanks to Mirjam, Felix, Elizabeth, Theresa, and Cathryne for spending their Saturday with me and I can’t wait to see their finished projects.  When I have pics of those, I’ll share them as well.

Who can you pass hooking on to?  Make a list of at least five young people to approach.  Rug hooking can survive for centuries more.  It’s up to us.

 

Always Do Your Best, Even When It’s Not “Enough”

Something happened this past weekend that made me think about intent, process, and outcome.  We can not always control outcomes, but we can control our own intent, our own decision making, our own process.  Here’s what got me started down that thought path.

This is my son Robert’s girlfriend Tracy, getting eye to eye with a stray cat.  While they were vacationing for his 27th birthday in Virginia this past weekend, they encountered a cat by the side of the road.  Being cat people, they stopped the car to make sure the cat was ok.  He wasn’t.  It was clear to them that he was injured and sick.  Because it was a Sunday, they had to search high and low for an animal hospital that was open, and finally found one in Charlottesville.  Transporting the cat to this open animal hospital involved several hours of driving for them (on my son’s birthday), and their feline passenger pooping in Rob’s car.

I wish I could say this story has a happy ending, but it doesn’t.  The cat was found to have FIV, which made adoption by Rob and Tracy impossible because they have other cats at home.  More importantly, the cat had a serious brain/neurological injury from what was likely being hit by a car, along with other injuries.  When Rob last spoke to the animal hospital, it was the vet’s opinion that the most humane thing to do would be to put the cat to sleep.

I felt bad for Rob and Tracy.  They love animals (in fact, so much that they build cat beds for their Etsy shop) and had done everything within their power to save this one, to no avail.  I also felt bad for the cat, because I love cats so much and, of course, we have our own crazy orange tabby, Tesla, here at the Parris House who is part of our family.  I told them that they had at least provided this animal with affection and kindness when he was so sick and injured, and that they had sacrificed their own vacation time in an effort to save his life.

This is just how life is sometimes, and we need to remember it.  If we are always obsessed with a safe and assured outcome, we will never take chances.  Sometimes – often – we’re going to win for our efforts.  But sometimes we’re not, and sometimes there’s no accounting for the difference either.  It’s just how it is.

There is a fair amount – more than we’re willing to admit – of uncertainty in life, actually.  It’s why I hug my sons tightly when we have to say goodbye (which is often; they are all grown men now).  It’s why I drive back to the house if I’m not 100% sure I unplugged the iron.  It’s why I take nothing – absolutely nothing – for granted.  It’s also why I do my best and leave the outcome to take care of itself, because it’s going to and maybe not in the way I thought.

Of course, the flip side to all of this uncertainty resulting in disaster is uncertainty resulting in success beyond our wildest dreams.   Life is filled with those unexpected results as well.  For example, I knew that when we approached Beekman 1802 with our work in 2014, there was an off chance they’d say “yes” to it, but I wasn’t really expecting it.  That trip went, and that relationship continues to go, so well that I could never have imagined it beforehand.  From that one chance we (my then biz partner, Jen and I) took three years ago has come many happy pillow recipients, new friends for me, and opportunities I could not have dreamed of.

The same could be said from my experiences teaching at Squam, or from an online friendship that resulted in the recommendation of a publisher for my as yet still a dream book (the proposal is in though…I’m taking a chance…).

We don’t know what’s going to happen in our lives, good, bad, or anything in between.  But we can control the intent, the process, and our own effort.  Therefore, with this one life – this one, brief, amazing, limited time only life – we have to just do our best.  Doing our best creates better odds for the outcomes we want, and better handling of disappointment when things don’t go our way.  When we do our best we have fewer regrets, knowing we gave it all we had.

Next Monday I’ll have a more fiber art related post (although this topic also applies to the way we approach our art), as I am traveling to Rochester, NY this weekend to teach a pretty large group of RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) students rug hooking.  When I interact with high school and college students I see young adults engaged in doing their best to make their dreams come true, and that’s inspiring.  I’ll have the whole story for you a week from today!

Have a great week, and give it your best.  – Beth

 

Seriously, Yes, You Are, and Yes, You Can.

I’ve addressed this topic before, but I think it bears repeating, and I encountered a catalyst for this post again just today.   At Tuesday hooking group we had the loveliest trio of sisters stop in for the first time.   One of them was looking for applique wool, and another was already a hooker.  As I showed them the kitchen area where we cut wool, have classes, eat, drink, and generally be merry, one of these wonderful women said something along the lines of, “I’m not artistic.  I can’t draw a thing.”

Stop.Right.There.

The answer is always, always, “Yes, you are and yes, you can.”  The ladies pictured at left (a different trio) were students in my design class of just that name:  “Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can.”  It’s a fun, information and skill packed, affirming class in hooked rug design where you start with a sketch of your own creation and leave with a fully finished pattern ready to hook.  I was inspired to create this class because I had, and have, heard, possibly a hundred times or more by now, “I’m not artistic.  I can’t draw.”

It’s never true.  As in…never.  

So, what’s the deal?  Why do people – primarily women – make this self assessment?  Certainly they are not being intentionally misleading.  If only they were.  No, they truly, really, sincerely believe that their creativity is inferior or non-existent.  This breaks my heart, perhaps because I’ve been right there and still struggle with the inner critic who I’m learning better and better these days to shut the  *&#% up.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s important to critique your own ideas and work.  We have to do that to make sure that whatever it is we are producing is something that we feel good about and that we applied ourselves for.  I’ve sold patterns discounted as “seconds” that my customers couldn’t find the flaws in, but I knew.  Likewise, I joke that my eraser is my best friend, because I use it more than I use my sketch pencil some days.  So, I’m not saying not to take pride in your work and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have standards, but I think you know where the line is.  You know when the inner critic is not the voice of your commitment to a job well done, but rather the voice of a bully.  You can sense it, and what I’m telling you is:  shut the bully down.

I don’t want to overstate the role of gender in this problem, but as an example, I also had a wonderful male customer stop in to the shop today looking for a particular blue (which, dang, I didn’t have at that moment).  He had a fantastic rug of his own design with him and I asked him to come in to the kitchen and show it off to the ladies who were lunching.  This man is someone who does amazing work and has a healthy commitment to quality.  I have heard him self-critique his work, but the tone is different from that of most of my female students and customers, and when he showed off his rug today he was able to take the many oohs, aaahs, and compliments in a way that showed a humble yet confident attitude toward his work.  Unfortunately, we don’t have nearly enough men rug hooking these days, but I do believe I notice that they bring to the art a confidence that many women, even the most accomplished, either don’t have or don’t show.

Going too far in to how girls and boys are raised in our culture relative to how they are encouraged to show self effacement vs. confidence is way beyond the scope of this post, but just make a mental note of the existence of these differences, and think about how those differences may affect you when:

  • someone pays you a sincere compliment
  • you are invited to try a new art or craft
  • you are evaluating  your own creative ideas or works
  • you are asked to share your work or teach what you know

Maybe you had parents or other important adults in your life who didn’t affirm your talent in some way.  Maybe you had that art teacher who condemned your efforts because she wanted an outcome from you that fit her limited vision instead of being open to and appreciative of yours.  Maybe you’re just an introvert (hello…raises hand…) who isn’t totally comfortable with the attention your talent might or does attract and it’s more comfortable to be dismissive of yourself.   I’m a major introvert who is learning to be comfortable with putting myself out in to the world for the sake of promoting work that I love.   Maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is that gets in the way of your embracing your own creative potential, it’s important to look at it, move it aside, and give yourself a chance at something you’ve up til now believed you “couldn’t do.”

I am thoroughly convinced that every woman, and the occasional man, who walks through the door at the Parris House has an innate and deep well of creativity within themselves.  I respect and honor that immediately and at face value, which is why I wholly reject any assertion that that person is bereft of talent.   This is not just wishful thinking on my part, or my stubborn clinging to a dearly held belief.  It is evidence based.  I don’t know how many students I have taught at this point, but it’s many, and not one – not a single ONE – failed to reveal to me his or her creative nature.  Further, my students always teach me something in return; everyone has something to offer in a creative context.

We are, by nature, creative beings.  How enthralling is that?  We are made for this creativity thing, and all we have to do is find a medium of expression that suits our individual nature.

To summarize, yes, you are and yes, you can.

To sign up for a creative experience at the Parris House, click HERE and bookmark this page because I am adding classes all the time.  I will be adding another date for Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can and am in the process of arranging for some guest teachers to come in for possible classes in art journaling, the intersection of water color painting and hooking, natural dye techniques, and more.

Happy (and confident) creating!  – Beth

 

 

 

 

Stella Wants My Wifi

Image credit: Wunderground

The weekly blog post is pretty late this week, partially due to my overall work load and partially because I just haven’t been able to quite settle on a topic.  As I sit here tonight working on this post, Winter Storm Stella is popping our power on and off, and my wireless router keeps resetting.    The wind is howling, we can’t keep the wood stoves lit because of the down drafts, and the snow continues to pile up.  I can’t really tell you how much snow there is, because in some places it’s drifted to about three feet and in other places the wind has swept the ground clean.  Corgi Tru couldn’t go out tonight before bedtime until my husband shoveled a way for her.   A window pane blew out of one of our attic windows and we had to take a shutter down that was in danger of being ripped off the house.  In a nutshell, it’s pretty harsh here at the moment.

Our part of the northeast was largely shut down today, but this is Maine; storms roll in, they are extremely unpredictable in terms of actual outcome, and we do whatever we have to do to navigate through them.  We do this more or less from October through April.  We put up with this for the love of Maine…or something.

Always being one to see life analogies in natural situations, I am finding Stella informative.

I worked pretty much nonstop through this past weekend.  My current to-do list includes a super-exciting-project-I-can’t-talk-about-yet, two more design/writing projects I can’t talk about, two classes I can’t announce yet, two to three designs that are still under wraps, a floor sized custom order, an upcoming trip to Rochester, NY to teach college students, an outstanding Beekman 1802 order, continuing to set up my new Handmade at Amazon shop, tweaking Shopify to help our Hookers Circle members have the option of paying in installments, and the every day operations of the existing online shops and the physical studio, which are a full time job by themselves.   Oh, and I’ve also just begun training for a four mile run in May.  😉   There is absolutely nothing unusual about this, not for me, not for any other small business owner out there. We all do it.  We all work this hard or harder.   We’re not heroes.  We just have dreams and love what we do and get a little OCD about it sometimes.

I think we all try to make it look to each customer like she is the only customer we have and that her order is the only thing we have to attend to that day.  My Tuesday hooking group knows better, because they are here in a big group together and sometimes need to wait a turn, or sometimes have to hear me say, “I’m so sorry; I didn’t get to that this week” (which I invariably feel terrible about), or see the projects I’m working on that have to ship the next day.   They see when I mess up, and they see when I pull something off just the way they’d hoped.

One of the issues with online shops is that the context of a business is much harder for a customer to see from the distance and filter of the internet, and the illusion we so carefully try to maintain of any one customer’s order being all we have to do that day is virtually complete (pun intended).  Miraculously, 99.9% of the time, things still go smoothly and to expectation.  (That other .1% tho…) This is where social media comes in, of course.  Business owners use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the other social media sites to try to recreate, in the virtual world, the first hand knowledge that our Tuesday group experiences in the physical world. Unfortunately, I can’t fit a couple thousand of you into the Parris House.  Fortunately, however, you fit just fine in our online community, which I cherish.

So where am I going with this?

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  (Thanks, Robert Burns.)

Stella rolled in here this morning and disrupted everyone’s plans.  She even disrupted the plans of those who had planned specifically for her when she didn’t perform as forecast.  Nature is that way.   Small business is that way too.  I have a planner.  Who am I kidding?  I have several planners for different purposes.   I am vigilant about using these tools to plan out every single day of my business life, and yet…sometimes something akin to Stella bursts through and disrupts everything, whether it’s an actual event that demands the rearrangement of my schedule, or just something that breaks my concentration or flow and throws off the rest of the day.

The lesson here is this:  I can work through Stella, even as she makes a play for my wifi, and I can work through almost anything the serendipity of running a small creative business throws my way too.

What Stellas have you faced down recently that have taught you just how resilient you are?  Because I know you all have Stellas, I’m offering a coupon code in the Etsy shop this week only (ends Friday night at midnight):  MYPERSONALSTELLA.   This will get you 10% off any order of $25 or more.

Happy persisting and happy hooking.  – Beth

 

 

 

 

Why We Hook the Animals We Love

This is my Welsh Corgi, Tru.  (If you really want to get to know her, she has her own Facebook page here.)  As you can see, she was sunbathing this morning while I was putting the finishing touches on the first pattern for the Parris House Hookers’ Circle subscription service, shipping this week.   As I posted on our Facebook page this morning, I am painfully aware that Tru is now about twelve years old, and that most of my time with her is behind us.   I never thought I could love a dog this fiercely until she came in to our lives, but here I am, pondering a post-Tru world even though as of right now, she is still happy, active, and healthy.

For this reason, I have been thinking lately that I need to gather up all the photos I have of her (there are many!), and also sit quietly with her, make a sketch of her sweet face, and hook it.    Now, I have never hooked an animal in a detailed way, the way I want to hook Tru’s image.   I want to capture the glint in her eye that still exists even though I see the encroaching cloudiness of cataracts.  I want to hook the pretty combination of “red” and white and maybe now a little gray that defines her face.  I want to add the teeny tiny white eyelashes and delicate fur in her ears.  I think this project is going to have to be refined and textural and multimedia, but since I can see it, I know I can make it a reality.

Prior to this I have not hooked many animals.  One of the most popular patterns in the shop is “Tesla’s First Snow,” which, rather than a late-in-life portrait, is a depiction of our big orange tabby, Tesla, as a four month old kitten seeing his first snowfall out the window.  After being initially perplexed, he wanted to “catch” the snowflakes as they cascaded down.   I snapped a picture of the scene and the result was this:

As you can see, this is a very primitive rendering of Tesla.  His back is turned to us so that, frankly, I didn’t need to deal with the detail of his face, although that is still true to the photograph.  This was done in 2012.  I learned to hook in 2011.  I was simply not ready to take on the complexities of Tesla’s face!   (In case anyone is wondering, he is named for Nikola Tesla, the scientist/inventor.  This happens when you have four sons who dig science.)

I also hook animals for Beekman 1802, and it is absolutely true that I love these animals I’m depicting.   I actually met Polka Spot back in 2014 on the day Jen and I first presented our work to Josh and Brent.  They kindly sent us on a farm tour with Megan, who was then their artisan coordinator, and we were thrilled to see the baby goats, Bubby the cat, Onder the dog, and, as they say, “every living thing at Beekman farm.”   Bubby passed away since then, and Polka has also “gone to Paris,” but both of them had distinct personalities.  Polka was one of the most regal animals I’ve ever encountered, and it was clear that she took her watch over the goats seriously.  Bubby was just one giant furball of love, demanding our attention while Onder ran in and out of the barn playfully.  Here is the menagerie I hook for Beekman 1802.

Last year I had a major commission for a customer’s beloved Pharaoh Hound.  The story on that is here, and the result is below.

Why are we willing to put so much time and effort in to these portraits of our favorite pets or animals?  Or, if we aren’t artisans ourselves, willing to commission someone else to create them?   I think it’s about the innocence, unconditional love, and nobility of character we so often find in our pets.  I don’t say that to anthropomorphize animals.  As my biologist/ecologist son, James, likes to remind me, “They don’t think the way we do.”   And, of course, he’s right.  They don’t think the way we do.   In fact, it’s impossible for us, really, to get inside their heads.  They are coming from an entirely different reality, biology, instinct than we are.  And yet…it is so easy to make important connections with them, and they with us.  We want to immortalize them in art because we know – we are so painfully aware – that their lifespans are much shorter than we’d like and that our own lives are so much better with them by our sides.

Sometimes they’re exasperating.  Tesla wants to kill my knitting if I don’t put it up and out of the way.  Tru wants to be directly under my feet if I’m preparing chicken for dinner.   Tesla is incapable of having a hairball in any location except on a carpet.  Tru occasionally gets so excited over visitors she pees at their feet.  Yeah.   And the fur.  It’s everywhere.  No vacuum on this planet is its equal.

Yesterday, my oldest son, Robert, shared this picture of his and his girlfriend’s, Tracy’s, cats peering out their apartment window in much the same way Tesla peered out at his first snow about five or six years ago.   They are Valentine and Playdough, respectively, and both are well under a year old.   Just the beginning of another generation’s connection with animals.

I hope you will share pictures of your animals and also pictures of artwork you’ve done inspired by them.  Feel free to tell their stories and what they mean to you.  I look forward to learning all about them.

Happy hooking! – Beth

Tesla one-upping Tru and snagging the sunny spot.

 

“Shut Up and Sing” – A Guide to Why Those in the Humanities Will Not Be Silent

This pattern was the catalyst for several “unlikes” on social media recently.

This post is not overtly political.  I am not asking anyone to believe what I believe, vote the way I vote, or agree with everything I think.  Rather, this post is about the free expression of deeply held beliefs and values and why creative people, especially, are generally not able to remain silent even when others fervently wish they would.

Over the past several weeks I have noticed “unlikes” on my Facebook page, and was even taken to task by a follower on my Instagram page after posting quotes, images, or other content that even subtly reflected how I am feeling these days about what is happening in our country and our world.   With each of these posts I have netted more followers than I have lost, but that is actually irrelevant.  If something I post offends anyone, I am actually very comfortable with that person leaving my online community, because no artisan, no business, no community is the right fit for everyone.  It is not my intent to offend, and in my view, none of my posts are offensive.  People who interact with me in person, especially, know that I go out of my way to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable in my home and at the Parris House Wool Works studio, both of which happen to be under the same roof.

I have a friend who is a musician.  He is not shy about his values and convictions, and sometimes expresses these in public or on his social media sites.  As a result, some people find it appropriate to tell him to “shut up and sing.”   I have other friends with creative businesses that are often in the public eye.  On the rare occasion they post something “controversial,” invariably there are comments pleading with them to “stick to business” or “don’t get political, just tell us about what you’re selling.”  I recently had an artisan instructor tell us at the beginning of her workshop, “I apologize, but I wear my politics on my sleeve.”  I immediately responded with, “Don’t apologize.  We need people like you.”

Outside of my own circle, I still see this every day.   People don’t want actors and celebrities to use their platform to speak of anything that matters – so deeply and at such a core level – to them.   People feel uncomfortable in the art museum when confronted with images that challenge their world view, and judge the artist harshly.  College professors are starting to feel pressure to censor themselves just in case some of their course content is “offensive.”  Religious leaders are asked to moderate their messages in churches, synagogues, mosques, et al, even though the founders of the world’s great religions were by far not people who wanted everyone to be comfortable in their views; indeed, they wanted people to question their views and discern truth.  It is all around us:  people desiring to speak out and others wishing those same people would just shut up already.

For many people, especially artisans, creatives, artists, and people in the humanities, silence is simply not possible, nor should it be desirable for the rest of us.  It is also not possible for many scientists, engineers, and others in STEM fields to remain silent, but for the purpose of this post, I’m speaking of people in the humanities.

Most people do not go in to the arts or humanities to become rich or famous.  Some people do achieve wealth and fame in these fields, but it is a minority.  I love seeing people become rich and famous in these endeavors; it’s well deserved, but I think it’s rarely the goal.  I believe that most people who go in to the arts/humanities do so because they have something to say, something that comes from a place very central to who they are and from which they can not be separated.  This applies to many entrepreneurs as well, who have sought to create something independently because through their venture they too have something to say, something they want to offer to the world, something that matters intensely to them.   Again, here is the critical point to understand about creatives:  what they do can not be separated from who they are.   Asking them to deny that fundamental fact of their humanity by asking them to remain silent is not only unfair and cruel to them, it robs us of their perspective and insight.

Worse, it objectifies them.  When we tell a musician to “shut up and sing,” what we are really saying to that person is this:  “You are an instrument for my entertainment.  The fire inside of you that creates the art I find beautiful enough to pay for and follow is only acceptable when it is channeled in a way that I agree with.”   When we tell entrepreneurs and artisans to only talk about their products, we are saying, “I’m not interested in who you are or what you think, even though you’ve created these beautiful things for me and for the world from that very place within you that wants – needs – to express itself.”  We are asking that artist or business person to cut themselves up and only hand us the pieces that we find useful, that don’t offend us, that don’t challenge us to view something from another perspective.

People with something to say are gifts to us, whether we agree with them or not.   Throughout history, our artists and creatives have often acted as our collective moral compass, willing to point out that our emperors are naked. They have also been the metaphorical canaries in the coal mine, often ahead of most of us in sensing threats to liberty and instances of injustice.   They rattle our comfort zones, and even if we disagree with them vehemently, they exercise and test our ability (or inability) to defend our own positions.

Whether it’s my page or anyone else’s, feel free to engage in constructive debate and discussion, or even feel free to “unlike” or “unfollow,” but please, don’t say “shut up and sing” or its situational equivalent.   The people who make our art, music, poetry, literature, and who start the creative businesses that inspire us are complex, driven, deeply thinking and feeling human beings.  When we seek to silence them or reduce them to whatever we see as their “primary function,” we diminish ourselves.

Get out there and express yourself, as only you can.

 

 

 

 

Lessons from a Weaving Lesson: A Beekman 1802 Artisan Experience with Rabbit Goody of Thistle Hill Weavers

Last weekend I had the good fortune to take a beginner weaving class with Rabbit Goody of Thistle Hill Weavers.  Some of you may know that Rabbit is an extremely well known and highly respected weaver, with an extensive knowledge of her art and so many related topics and disciplines.  For a more complete portrait of who she is and what she has done, click here.  Rabbit is a fellow Beekman 1802 artisan, and it was through Beekman 1802 that this particular class was offered.   The extremely imperfect scarf shown at left was the result of my first go at weaving, showing many errors on my part, but I fully intend to wear it anyway as a reminder of this fantastic experience and some of the larger life lessons it brought to mind.

Rabbit is a generous, patient, and effective teacher.  It is nothing short of miraculous that she is able to take a room full of absolute beginners and, at the end of two days, send them off with wearable, lovely silk & worsted scarves of their own making.  Mine was by far not the best example in the class; one in particular looked flawless to me.  While as a student I was mainly focused on process, not result, I know that when I am teaching I take a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing my students produce something truly beautiful.  I think Rabbit does too, and she certainly achieved successful results.

I think there are often life lessons embedded within any creative pursuit, and weaving is no exception.   Here are just a few that came to mind as I learned the rudiments of weaving.

Small actions can have lasting consequences.   We spent the entire first day of class learning how to wrap the warp and set up the loom.  I had previously known nothing of the painstaking work required to prepare a loom for weaving, and these were relatively simple four-harness looms suitable for beginners.  Once the warp was placed on the loom, we needed to carefully thread each heddle in the correct order, one strand at a time, to achieve the correct pattern in the final result.  Following that, each thread had to come through the reed in the correct groupings.  Needless to say, for a beginner it is very easy to make a mistake at some point in this process, and I did.  A couple of my errors were visible right away to Rabbit, who corrected them, but another was only apparent once the weaving began.   Rabbit was able to fix the latter to some extent, but there is still an imperfection all along the warp in that section of the scarf, a reminder that just one small mistake can have lasting consequences.  But I don’t want this to only be read in the negative.  It is also true that one positive act can have far reaching and lasting consequences for good.  There is a ripple effect in many things that we do, and being focused and present even in the smallest of things can matter a great deal.

Bringing your best to whatever you do is a wise investment and multiplies your efforts.   Rabbit provided us with beautiful silk and worsted thread with which to weave our scarves.  She knows what I also know as a teacher:  if you do not provide your students with the best materials for their very first project, they will not get a result that will encourage them to continue in the art.  Additionally, they may actually have a harder time learning, because cheap, low quality materials do not perform well in an artisan’s hands and can be uncomfortable and frustrating to work with.   Whether you’re a beginner or a master, bring your best to every endeavor and share that best with others if you want your message, your passion, your art – whatever it is – to become a contagious force for good.

Sometimes, we seemingly create something from nothing, and when we do, it is deeply rewarding.  One of the many wonderful conversations that took place over the weekend was about the almost inexpressible satisfaction that comes from having a real, three dimensional, thing of beauty come in to being under your own hands.  Ideas are powerful.  In the course of our weaving weekend, ideas became scarves.  In my own work, a fleeting glimpse of a landscape or the issue behind a protest may take root in my mind as an image or an idea.  From there it will make its way on to paper as a sketch, then on to linen as a pattern, then through wool and handwork it ends up a work of fiber art, tangible, tactile, real.  All it was at its inception was an idea, and it becomes a physical thing, but it doesn’t end there.  It becomes a thing that generates more ideas and feelings, and may even become part of someone else’s story, which may in turn generate more inspiration that becomes some other new thing.   Archaeologists have unearthed woven fabric that is thousands of years old, fabric that started out as someone’s idea.  This manifestation of creative thought presents itself thousands of years after the death of the thinker.  In some ways, creative making is the closest we get to immortality while also being reminded of our own personal impermanence.

Don’t judge anything too early in its story.  The hookers in the audience know that it’s impossible to truly judge a rug prior to the steaming process.  In fact, when I teach hooking, I confidently promise my students that upon steaming, their rug will subtly, and yet dramatically (yes, I mean that contradiction), change for the better.  Imagine my delight to find out that finishing is equally – possibly more – important in a woven piece.  Rabbit taught us a variety of finishing techniques for our scarves.  In the case of mine, she sprayed it gently with water and ran it through a vintage rotary iron.   After the steam pressing, she handed me my scarf and it was amazingly, tangibly, thrillingly transformed.  It was softer, my weaving errors were less apparent, it had developed more of a sheen, and it was just significantly different.  This is a great reminder that often it is best to withhold judgment, especially during moments we are most compelled to judge.  Judging too early can lead to giving up too soon.  It can lead to unfairly dismissing a project, an idea, or at worst, a person, long before we have enough information or legitimate reason to.

Believe you can.  To be honest, when I first signed up for Rabbit’s class I was not at all sure that I would be able to come home with a scarf even as good as the one I have, even with the mistakes its sporting.  Weaving is a precise, intricate, mathy, technical, and yet endlessly creative art form.  It seems to me to require a Renaissance mind, one that is equally comfortable with traditionally left and right brain thinking.  I am infamously weak with mathy pursuits.  I somehow passed calculus in college, but I remember none of it, with the exception, perhaps, of the trauma the class inflicted on me.  I knit…a little…but, oh please, do not ask me to design a knitting pattern or fix an error three rows back.  My chosen art, the one I’m so passionate about, is way more abstract, like painting with wool.  I can handle that with relative ease.  Why on earth would I think I could do something with such strong spatial and technical components?  Well, on one hand, I correctly believed that Rabbit was simply a fantastic teacher and that she’d seen the likes of me before.   On the other hand I simply chose to believe that I could do this.  This is a discipline in itself, and one I learned later in life.  As humans, we really do have limitations, innate characteristics that might really prevent individuals from doing some things.  However, I believe that we have to sort out the real limitations ( I will never be an Olympic athlete) from the lies we tell ourselves (I’m not left brained enough to weave).   The best things that have happened to me in the past several years have come about because I’ve learned to silence the inner voice that fabricates limitations, and listen to the one that objectively recognizes realistic opportunities and possibilities.

Creating things creates community.  This needs very little explanation.  On Saturday morning, we four students and Rabbit had never met before and, except for Rabbit, had never woven before.  By the end of the weekend we had chatted about our lives, our families, things we love to do, and watched and supported one another with the challenges of learning a new art.   We shared our experiences to our wider communities on social media and spread the word about this incredible workshop.  Today I showed my new scarf to our Tuesday hooking group, and the circle became wider.  Humans are innately driven to create and share in the creative process, and I have to think that this is not only because that drive is somewhat evolutionary – a means to physical survival – but also because it binds us together in communities that meet our needs for connection and belonging.

There are so many more lessons within the lesson, but these were foremost in my mind as I drove the six hours back to Maine from upstate New York.  I am very grateful to Rabbit for sharing so much of her time and resources with us, and to Josh and Brent of Beekman 1802 for arranging this experience.  I am also grateful to my three weaving classmates who were inspirational in their own right, creating beautiful things out of “nothing” as well.  If this is something that would interest you also, follow Thistle Hill Weavers on Facebook where Rabbit posts her upcoming classes.   Also follow Beekman 1802 on Facebook for notifications of other upcoming Artisan Experiences as they are offered.

I’ll share some other pictures from the weekend, from Rabbit’s gorgeous studio, and from the Beekman 1802 Mercantile below (click the side arrows to scroll through).  I hope you’ll consider doing something totally new to you this year, and pondering the lessons within the lesson too.  – Beth

 

How to Make Scented Pillow Inserts

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “how to” post even though they always end up being some of the most viewed on the site.  This week I needed to make quite a few scented pillow inserts for our scented hooked pillows and thought I would just document this very simple process and share it with you.

As you can see in the photo above, you will need:  cotton muslin, fabric shears, a ruler, or better, quilting squares, straight pins, a sewing machine, and whatever scented deliciousness you’re stuffing your inserts with.   Please see the end of this post for suggestions on where to buy some of the ingredients.

Before we go further, one of the stuffing materials I use often is buckwheat seeds.  Buckwheat seeds are nice because they hold heat and cold better than buckwheat hulls, and are therefore great for microwaving or freezing once inside your finished pillow.  A heated or cooled buckwheat seed pillow can be used for aches, pains, headaches, or just soothing, especially when scented.  I scent mine using essential oils, or as you can see in the mix in the photo, I also use actual plant flowers or leaves, in this case lavender flowers.    Please DO let your buckwheat seeds sit at least overnight to completely absorb the essential oils.  This way you will never end up with oil spots on your inserts.

A lot of people like to save money by using rice, but I do not think it does quite as well thermally, and I also think rice is sometimes vulnerable to having a latent infestation with critters/moths.  Buckwheat seeds also, vs just the hulls, have a heft to them that I think is soothing when the pillow is in use.   The 6″ x 8″ buckwheat seed inserts shown here today are one pound each.

A second note:  Yes, the table in my work studio is an old air hockey table (although it still works for air hockey) because think about it.  It’s white (perfect for tracing patterns), it has little holes all over it that look like and serve as a grid, and it’s huge.  I hope to look at this blog post five or ten years from now after I have built a beautiful separate building for all of my business and homesteading needs, replete with a custom made table, and have a bit of nostalgia.  For now, though, this is what it is!

Okay.  Clearly you’ll want to measure out your pillows on the muslin.  I find that a quilting square and an art pencil are perfect for this.  The square keeps my lines nice and neat and, well, square to one another and the art pencil makes a very faint line which is less likely to show on the finished insert.  Yes, we turn them inside out after sewing, and yes, the insert is hidden inside our hooked pillows, but I just like to keep even the hidden parts of my work as clean as possible.

I measure the pillows so that the fold is along the longest side, if they are rectangular.  I also leave an extra inch for the seam.  So, in the case of my inserts for a 6″ x 8″ pillow, I measure the muslin 13″ x 9″ (12″ x 8″ with the extra inch for stitching).  If I have more than one insert to make, I draw them side by side.  A note about making these in advance:  I don’t.  I want the scented materials in my pillows to be as fresh and fragrant as possible, so the inserts are made very shortly before the finished hooked pillow is shipped.   Here is what they look like prior to cutting out.

Just cut along the lines you have carefully measured, and then you’ll be ready to fold, pin, and sew.

After sewing, pop the pillow right-side out, like so!

Now it’s time to stuff!  I use a measuring cup and a funnel to stuff the insert when I am working with buckwheat seeds.   Also, when working with buckwheat seeds, I pin TWICE.  I pin once down at the fill line to keep the seeds from wandering up and out while I’m sewing the insert shut, and I pin again closer to the top to keep the ends aligned while sewing.  You can see my finger imprints on the finished pillow where I pressed down on it.  This demonstrates how nice and moldable to your body buckwheat seed pillows are when you are using them heated or chilled.

On the other hand, this IS Maine after all, and sometimes I’m using Maine balsam fir as a fragrant stuffing for our pillow inserts.  The process is essentially the same, except with balsam I tend to stuff the pillows more firmly, as they are not meant for heating or chilling or conforming in any way.  I fill them much closer to the top of the pillow, pin ONCE this time, and sew them shut.

That’s it!  As you can see, this is not hard to do.  However, if you would like inserts pre-made for you, you can buy the balsam inserts on our Etsy shop, and I will be adding buckwheat varieties as well.

Here’s a resource guide for the variety of materials used:

I hope you have found this helpful and will give a try to adding scented inserts to your own hooked pillows!

Happy hooking! – Beth

 

 

Today I Received a Gratitude Journal

I just got back from the gym.  I’ve started working out at the gym again this year because, you know, your body adapts to whatever activity it’s used to and you need to shake it up some.  In my case, my body was adapting nicely to sitting down hooking rugs and working at my desk.  This is an unacceptable state of affairs for a person who was a certified personal trainer and avid runner in another life, and who, for the past four years or so has poured almost every spare moment in to building a business.  For 2017 I have decided I need to crawl out of that metaphorical cave and take care of other aspects of my life, one of which is my fitness level.  To say that I’m grateful to have a nice, clean, pretty quiet gym in town is an understatement.

Last week I saw that the Squam Art Workshops, for whom I had the privilege of teaching in 2015 and 2016, was having a sale on their gratitude journals and the cherry on top of the offer was that all profits were going to a non-profit organization that I am a member of, will be volunteering for, and strongly support.   This seemed like just the right offer at just the right time, because I’ll be honest, I’ve been feeling a bit pessimistic lately.

This morning on the way home I stopped by the post office to drop off today’s shipping and, lo and behold, the journal arrived and it is lovely.  The cover, as you can see, has a dew laden spider web on it, which is a familiar and beloved sight to me when I actually get up and outside early enough to see these in the grass, on my apple trees, or in the nooks and crannies on the outside of my barn.

Contrary to what you might expect, for me gratitude arises less often when things are at their very best, but more when things are not perfect.   Maybe it’s the contrast of what seems very dark with what is light.  Just as in rug hooking we are unable to clearly see an element we have hooked if we put too close a value next to it in the background, in life I think we see the bright spots especially when we are faced with darker challenges.

I plan to put this journal in my 1840 Farm tote that goes almost everywhere with me, alongside my rug journal, and use it spontaneously to record those flashes of light and gratitude that can arise at any moment if we’re really paying attention.   I can see cases where the gratitude journal might feed ideas for the rug journal, and vice versa.  When it comes right down to it, I’m a writer at heart – someone who scribbles down everything from random thoughts, to to-do lists, to sketches of what I just saw in my head, to sometimes rambling blog posts like this one.  However, you don’t have to have that continual urge to document to just take a notebook or a scrap of paper and write down what you’re grateful for each day.

I am grateful for many things in my life, from my ability to go to the gym and run or lift weights to everything I have learned in the world of fiber art over the past five to six years.  I am grateful to you, the people who read my blog posts and support my business.  I am most grateful for my family, my husband, my four sons, and my sons’ girlfriends.   I am grateful for the Parris House and Sunset Haven, these quintessentially Maine spaces I call home.  I’m also grateful to live in a country where my voice can be heard and my actions can make a difference, whether through my donations to the lives of young women, my volunteer work for civil liberties, or my faith community’s commitment to our local refugee population.

One of the tag lines I use for Parris House Wool Works is, “Hook what you love.”  Maybe this year our challenge could also be, “Hook what you’re grateful for.”  I know I will be thinking along those lines as I design this week’s new pattern.  What are you grateful for today?

Happy hooking! – Beth