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

 

The First of Our Hooked Pillows are Up at the Beekman 1802 Mercantile!

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Polka Spot hand hooked pillow. 15″ x 15″ Available exclusively at Beekman 1802.

We’ve been working on this collaboration for the better part of this year, and today is the day the first hooked pillows in our line for Beekman 1802 have gone live on the on-line Beekman 1802 Mercantile.  We are so excited to be part of their Rural Artisans Collective!

We hope you’ll shop the Mercantile, not only for our pretty pillows, but for all of the other wonderful artisanal products that Josh & Brent curate for the shop.  Beekman 1802 is a company with a strong ethical conscience, doing well by doing good.  In other words, a company we can be proud to work with.

You can see our pillows in the Home Accessories section of the shop, or also sort on Pillows.  If it’s hooked, we made it exclusively for Beekman 1802!

There will be additional hooked pillows going up this year, including more scented and warming pillows made with buckwheat and essential oils.

Happy shopping and happy hooking!  – Beth

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Sharon Springs, NY Harvest Festival 2014 – by Beth

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This is my “sign selfie” out at the corner of Routes 20 and 10 in Sharon Springs before the festival. Jen has one too, and you’ll probably see a pic of it on her festival post.

As many of you know, Jen and I attended Harvest Festival in Sharon Springs, NY for the first time this past weekend.  This festival is sponsored by Beekman 1802, and this year they had a special co-sponser, Etsy!  Needless to say, this was an event we were not going to miss, and we are so glad we went.  Many, many thanks to Josh & Brent of Beekman 1802, Etsy and its staff, Sharon Springs Mayor Doug Plummer, and the scores of others involved in making this a truly outstanding festival.

When I first arrived at the festival, I was very interested in meeting the Etsy folks.  I was not disappointed. Although the Etsy canopy was in danger of flying away on this windy fall morning, the Etsy staff was immediately engaging as I approached the table. We met Katie and Amy, who were extremely encouraging of us in our business and who were genuinely loving what they do.  It turns out Amy is a rug hooker!  We had a great conversation with her about the craft, and how to promote it to a new generation.  Etsy had an entire street of Etsy sellers, mostly from NY state, I believe at least some from the Hudson Valley Etsy Team.  The variety and quality of the craftsmanship on display was mind boggling, and made me very proud to be a fellow Etsy seller.

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The Etsy booth early in the morning on the first day. It was very windy and when I arrived the staff was making sure the canopy stayed in place. The second photo is Etsy row.

There was so much to see around the village.  I am not sure how many vendors were there, but it was many.  Every open village space up and down main street had artisans, farmers, artists, and makers set up selling their wares. At the end of the first day I realized we had still not seen them all. We hope to have a table of our own next year, but are kind of glad that this year we were able to just browse and take it all in.

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Top row: 1) Jen buying seeds at Landreth Seed Company on the second day. Barbara, who was manning the booth was extremely knowledgeable and encouraging about the kind of gardening season I’d had! 2) This old building housed a fantastic antique shop. 3) These alpacas were very adorable. Second row: 1) A view of one of the village greens. 2) This is the owner of Cherry Valley Tinsel Company showing us how the tin icicles are made. Third row: 1) The spectacular pastries at the Black Cat Cafe on Main Street. 2) Animals and artisans on the lawn of the Roseboro Hotel.

One of the highlights of the festival is the swearing in of Honorary Sharon Springs Citizens.  Mayor Doug Plummer (co-owner of the American Hotel) arrives in full regalia to preside over the ceremony.  It’s not to be missed. Josh Kilmer-Purcell wrote the solemn (ok, not…) text for the ceremony and I am now a Sharon Springs citizen! I couldn’t be prouder. Jen was sworn in on Sunday.  If you go to the Sharon Springs Wikipedia entry you will see the number of honorary citizens is carefully counted!

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After I was sworn in as an Honorary Citizen, I had to leave to pick up Jen at the Rensselaer Train Station.  She had spent a little time in NYC (which she will tell you about on her post), and had come by train from there.  The building was kind of interesting so I took some photos of it as well. I’m a bit of an architecture geek and particularly like the vaulted ceiling.

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Having retrieved Jen, we both went back to the Festival to party on for the next day and a half…

This is the first year that there has been a main stage at the festival.  This is a brand new pavilion in Sharon Springs, and will be finished out with a cupola, copper roof cladding, and gingerbread to look historically correct in the village.  There were programs going on all day both Saturday and Sunday, but we did not make all of them.  Here are some of the ones I saw, and thoroughly enjoyed.

I am going to do the captioning in text below the photo, so that I can put the appropriate hyperlinks on for you to click for more information.

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Clockwise:  1) Chris Stout-Hazard gave an incredible presentation on interior design and color.  Check out the business he and his husband, Roger Stout-Hazard, have at RogerandChris.com.  2) Josh and Brent of Beekman 1802 demonstrated their Bloody Mary Soup recipe – with vodka!  It was delicious.  Their latest vegetable cookbook can be found at Beekman1802.com.  3) This is Cynthia Falk of SUNY Oneanta giving a fascinating talk about New York barns.  Her book on this subject is called Barns of New York and is published by Cornell Press.  4) This is Rose Marie Trapani and her daughter demonstrating Sicilian cooking.  Rose Marie has a wonderful Facebook page called “Our Sicilian Table.”  Check it out!

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Josh and Brent used some yellow tomatoes in the recipe this time, which gives the Bloody Mary Soup a lighter color. This recipe can be found on page 91 of their Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook.

This is the spectacular American Hotel.  Jen and I stayed there in April, when we first met with Josh and Brent to talk about doing hooked items for Beekman 1802.  Owners Doug Plummer (Mayor) and his husband Garth were so incredibly warm and kind to us, and it’s apparent that everyone who visits gets the same great hospitality. In our case, they were responsible for soothing our frazzled nerves just prior to our meeting with Josh at Beekman 1802 to present our wares. Doug kept us laughing so hard for the twenty minutes we spent in the lobby prior to the meeting, that we realized as we walked out the door that our nervousness was greatly diminished.  They also run a beautiful restaurant in the hotel, which is on our list of places to eat when we return to Sharon Springs.

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The Roseboro Hotel is a very large building on one of the corners in the village of Sharon Springs.  It has recently been purchased and will be undergoing a full renovation.  The new owner had a champagne reception for everyone, which was pretty sweet. I’m not sure how many champagne glasses that is in the photo, but it made quite an impressive display. There were two fewer by the time we left.

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Of course, it was very nice to see Josh and Brent again, although extremely briefly given their weekend schedule, and to shop in the Beekman 1802 Mercantile. We purchased the new Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook, which Josh and Brent kindly autographed for us, and will for you too, should you purchase one through the Beekman 1802 Mercantile.

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For those who would like to see these photos and a few more in larger format, here is a little gallery.  You can hover over the gallery to click through at your own pace as well.

We had a magnificent time in Sharon Springs! If you go to the Sharon Springs town website, you can keep up to date on all of the events there and in the area. It’s a wonderful place to visit, and we are so grateful to have made the associations we have there.