Monday, November 30, 2009


For all the joriki I may have gathered over the past couple of weeks, I am still finding hard to really dig into what needs to be done in order to meet my deadlines. I always have this issue, I suppose.

I don't really think of myself as someone who procrastinates, and yet...

Here is a cool sock project that has been amusing me to no end. The machine knitted piece was hand painted in the design you see. I marked the halfway point and then began to unravel it and knit it up into a pair of socks. The sock colour pattern was a complete surprise. I have finished one but I think the other will have to wait. The deadlines are pressing just close enough that real panic is setting in.

Or maybe not.

Yesterday, instead of working on Knitting Sprawl, which will be seen as a work-in-progress at The Art Gallery of Peterborough in early January, I decided that I had been off the wagon long enough. I got out my wheel and spun up two sets of fibre from Spunky Electic, then plied them to make a light DK weight yarn - over 400 yds worth. It is a combination of merino, silk and BFL.

This is not for Wee Ball Yarns, which I have set on "Pathetic Mode" over there. I am going to knit it up myself. Someday.

For now, back to my maps and charts and ceramic and yarn. Peterborough is calling me.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

An XX Perspective on Sesshin

Over at Dalai Grandma, the author of that blog writes about her experiences studying with Zen teachers who are male and how that can and sometimes has become slippery given the patriarchal history of Zen. It is a problem for most religions, as far as I can tell, but perhaps one encounters it in Zen even more so since the intimate experience of working face-to-face with a teacher is so integral to the practice.

To help shift the balance a little, here is my distinctly female take on sesshin, such as I have experienced it.

When I was in labour with my firstborn, I was scared. I was scared of the pain, the promise of pain and of the whole thing that loomed ahead - the experience of being a parent, a mother. I would go so far as to say that I was so scared of all of it that I was able to will my body into drawing out labour as long as possible. I say this now, in retrospect. At the time I am pretty sure that I thought I wanted it to be over with as quickly as possible but the events of that time seem to suggest otherwise.

I remember hitting a point when things were getting a little hairy and I got into the hot tub at the birth center. This was about 24 hours into labour and after Dan's terrible foot cramp. It is so hard to see the one you love suffer in pain but fortunately he was able to breathe through it. But back to the story...suddenly I realized that, deep down, I had been harbouring a notion that, so long as I promised - really promised - to come back the next day, I would be allowed to go home and take a little rest and then come back and finish this thing up. As I lay in the tub with the contractions hitting me hard I fully and completely realized there was no possible hope of going home, of getting a little rest, of finishing this thing up on my terms. I was there and it was happening. Once I was able to really and truly dispel the idea that I had an out, I was able to just be in my body and ride the waves. I even managed to fall asleep between contractions. Not surprisingly, two hours later, we had a baby.

My experience at my first sesshin was a lot like that. About 24 hours in, as we began the afternoon session, I found myself feeling backed against a wall with nowhere to go. I realized that I had been keeping a little escape plan in the back of my mind the whole time and the moment had come to face it - I could give up and walk out (this is where the metaphor is a little weak - technically I could have left the sesshin whereas in childbirth, one is truly stuck there) but for me, walking out wasn't really an option. I had looked too long and hard for this place and I knew it was the right one for me. So I had to do just what I did in labour - face it full on, no holding back, no escape routes. Ride the waves. I might have slept a little there too, but don't tell anyone.

This past sesshin I had another childbirth/zazen metaphorical experience, along somewhat similar lines. Again, I had been struggling and finally settled down to really be there, really see what was there. What I found reminded me of that moment right before the baby's head comes out. It sometimes is called the Ring of Fire, although I am pretty sure Johnny Cash has nothing to do with it in either instance. That moment in childbirth was one when I felt strongly and powerfully connected to something so profoundly human that it felt almost animalistic. It touched on the thing that makes us human, not in an intellectual sense, but a full body and mind sense. Sitting with the breath and bringing awareness to the hara touched that same place. Only, you know, with less body fluids and no baby at the end.

Amazingly, it was there the whole time, just waiting for me to find it (again).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Knitting Sprawl - Ontario

While still feeling the energy and focus of my post-sesshin buzz, I made my way to the studio yesterday for a couple of hours as part of a ten-hour subway marathon day. My studio hasn't seen much use as an actual art studio recently despite all the best intentions in the world. Last year, it was part yoga studio and homeschooling play rehearsal space. Before that it served mainly as yarn and fabric storage. But given the amount of work to be done (insert whimper here), I have been straining to get there and to start really working on Knitting Sprawl and the other projects lined up on the calendar.

I brought with me the porcelain pieces I have been working on during our weekly class at Greenwich House Pottery. While traveling around Ontario, and for some reason especially while in Toronto, I began to have visions of mixing my ceramic work with my knitting. I decided to make the leap and include some of it in the Ontario piece (or pieces as it is turning out to be).

Here is a sneak peek at what has been cooking.

This is the shape of the city of Toronto. I painted our experiences on it in terms of geography. I like the "terra incognita" reference, as if what we don't see must not exist. This piece will be a stand alone with some crochet added, attached to the holes. I hesitate to say more for fear of botching up my ideas which are still rather fluid. Fluid, but gathering focus.

This is the same shape - the city of Toronto - this time in terms of how the city itself was rather unimportant and served only as a jumping off place to get to the other places. This will be part of a large piece (I think about 6' x 6') that will be knit. It will be connected, via knitting to discs of porcelain that I made for each stop on our Knitting Sprawl tour.

Here is the one for New Hamburg. The clear glaze made the painting a little blurry, but I like that it makes it look slightly aged or something like that.

Here is the beginning of the layout. The final piece will be, I think, shaped like Ontario, with each piece in its relative spot. I made a little star for Ottawa. Ottawa may also get its own separate piece.

I am also working with maps and written directions and the pile of papers I collected along the way - cutting them up, making them into books, etc.

With all the logistics of traveling and the efforts of simply being in one place and then getting to another, I had forgotten about the joy of feeling my hands work.

Monday, November 23, 2009

First There Was A Mountain

Have you ever felt that you have been scaling the mountain, sweating and working harder than you ever have in your life, only to have the fog clear for a moment to reveal that you have only actually reached the smallest of foothills, and that the mountain is still far, far away?

Fortunately the view from the top of the foothill, however limited and tiny, is still pretty damn nice.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


This coming week I will be up at the Zen Mountain Monastery for sesshin. I will be back next Sunday afternoon.

See you then!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hungry For More

Some may know that my brother-in-law, David (yes, that David with the new Ph.D and new sweater) and I are working, very slowly, on a film about grinders.

It started as kind of a joke playing off the fact that I have a video camera and am not afraid to use it and he has a seemingly unlimited amount of knowledge, insight and interest in the topic. I won't insult you with a link or define what grinders are because I know that you know that they are sandwiches made on long bread and filled with (usually) cold cuts and provolone cheese, shredded lettuce and oil and vinegar, among other things. Some places call them subs or submarine sandwiches, some places call them hoagies, some even call them torpedoes (I mean, whatever). In southern Rhode Island and parts of southeastern Connecticut, they are called grinders because they were sandwiches made by Italian immigrants who worked in the shipyards as, yes, grinders. But you knew that, right?

This is Dan with a grinder-like sandwich purchased in Quebec City.  
Pas mal, Quebec, but keep trying.

Work on the film has been sporadic in the way you might expect for two people with rather busy lives but we certainly like to talk about the project and there have been some efforts to commit our passion to film. We even held a GrinderFest back in 2005 in which four grinder shops in Westerly, RI and Norwich, CT participated. Ok, it was really that we purchased grinders from each of the shops and had an official taste test competition involving David and his family, which to our credit, is rather large and could possibly constitute a majority vote in certain circumstances in Rhode Island.

Also, we made t-shirts.

We have actually filmed at three grinder shops: Ritacco's (the winner of the GrinderFest taste tests, btw) and Reale's in Westerly and Antonio's in Pawcatuck, CT. And we have done a fair bit of research into other places in the US where the term grinder is in use. Much to our surprise, parts of the greater Los Angeles area also use the term grinder, as do places in Michigan, western Massachusetts, and rumour has it, part of Ohio. Our dream is to go to all these places to film and really take this topic to the next level. It's not really a dream we ever do much about but, as I mentioned, we do like to talk about doing it.

The other thing we imagine is expanding on GrinderFest by convincing Westerly to host a larger competition involving many of the local and not-so-local grinder shops in beautiful Wilcox Park, which is right in the center of town. In the evening, we could screen our movie that now has the working title, Grinder Sutra. David actually contacted the Westerly town offices with this proposal in mind but got, shall we say, minimal interest.

There is so much to do to bring this important project to fruition and to fully realize the important part grinders play in local, mostly Rhode Island, culture. For our research shows that it is residents of Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut who have travelled abroad to places such as Orange County, CA, bringing with them the grinder recipe and name. Yes, there is so much to do.

It is with this in mind that I cracked open the newspaper this morning and found this article about how New Orleans is preserving po'boy culture with a large festival that expects thousands.

Surely the grinder is as important to Rhode Island's social, economic and gastronomic culture as the po'boy is to New Orleans. C'mon Westerly! We can do this!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Winnipeg or Saskatchewan or Where Ever You Are

I have put my money where my mouth is and booked an RV for five weeks in late May/June 2010. We will head north and then west and finish the travel part of Knitting Sprawl.

After our fall travels, I found the expense of hotels and meals were so great that I needed to look for an alternative way of finishing up the trip. At a certain point the idea of a rental RV crossed my mind and I began to have visions of us as homeschooling hippies: travellin' and learnin' (and knittin' and talkin'). Also, I liked the idea that we would be a little more in charge of our schedule so if something good came up we could take advantage of it, as opposed to be locked into reservations at various places.

Thus, we are officially booked with our Class C vehicle, with generator.

Should be interestin'.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Bumper Crop

While Gillams may be under snow about now, here in Sunnyside we had a glorious day of sunshine and warmth. I took advantage of this to harvest our jerusalem artichoke crop. Why do you have a jerusalem artichoke crop, you may ask. Truthfully, I never really wanted one but when a neighbor plants something new in their backyard, chances are that, for better or worse, we will be harvesting that plant soon enough as well. One of our neighbors many "experiments" was jerusalem artichokes, so now we also have them.

Hey, if you can't beat'em, join 'em.

Here are some heirloom tomatoes that may ripen a bit more off the vine to be a cheery yellow colour.

I think that might be the last of them.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Some of the results of the dyeing workshop:

Black walnut on merino yarn, I used yarn that had been mordanted with alum but I know I didn't have to use any mordant since the tannins in the walnut are enough. I am not a huge fan of brown, but this one really catches my eye.

Some BFL fleece, unmordanted, in black walnut.

Onion skins with alum mordant.

Onion skins with tin mordant. I added too much tin to the pot so while the colour is amazing, the mordant is breaking down the fibre. A stupid mistake that comes from not knowing much about tin mordanting. Now I know.

That fibre in the middle is mohair dyed with tea. I collected every tea bag I used for about a month in a large jar filled with water. It got The results were well worth it, however. The colour is so gorgeous, especially on this glossy mohair. Again, no mordanting since tea also has a lot of tannin.

Such fall colours! Such fun! I want to get back at those dye pots.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Context is Everything

Wave Hill was alive with colour yesterday. Although the skies were grey, the landscape was beautiful and it served as a lovely backdrop to our experiments with colour from the dye pots. A small group that came by for the workshop/demo but, to me, it was just the right size. I had pots of indigo, onion skins, red cabbage, black tea, and black walnut going and people could try out fibre I had or they could bring their own, which a few did. I also had mordanted fibre and yarn with alum and tin so people could experiment with how they create different shades.

Owen, a boy of about seven, came with his parents and stayed the whole time with great enthusiasm. It was wonderful to see him so excited by how you can make colour from ordinary plants and household leftovers. Brece and Helen both came, which also was wonderful because I got to visit a little with them and because they both bring a great deal of knowledge of all things fibre-y so the workshop became a real sharing of information.

The indigo pot did not fail to inspire many oohs and ahhs for its magic but the black walnuts were not far behind. I had them soaking for three days before the workshop and they made an amazing dye - the most gorgeous warm reddish brown. And it was one time when the smell was actually kind of lovely, like taking a deep breath from the forest floor.

I was able to do a little PR for my residency project that will happen in the winter, encouraging interested people to come back and knit or spin with me. The project is growing or perhaps deepening is a better term. I want to explore the mutual relationships between people and the natural environment at Wave Hill and the institutional relationship between Wave Hill and its audience. I think of it as a study of two ecologies that overlap in many ways. While I was hashing these ideas out, I learned that ecology actually means "house study" which seemed very appropriate for what I wanted to do. Thus the project is called House Study/Handmade.

As I have started collecting things to dye, I noticed that the staff have communal coffee and tea and a little kitchen space, so I asked them to save their tea bags, etc., so that I can dye not only with the plants but with the things that the people their use in their daily routines. I like that I am collecting these items, as well as the leaves and twigs, to make a kind of portrait in dyes of Wave Hill. Same thing, only different.

After that day of colour and context, I saw this over on Wild Fox Zen and it could not have been more appropriate.

Remember: don't believe everything you see.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Yesterday, Today

The Mirror Ball Suit was a big success - Lucy hated to take it off. One person even recognized it. Finnian finally decided to be a chef, complete with a slightly bloody butcher's knife. Thus costumed, we made our way to Hoboken, NJ, for a party and trick or treating - a two-hour journey via public transport. I was moaning and groaning about combining two of my least favourite things - Halloween and New Jersey - when Lucy said to me, through clenched teeth, " Do not ruin my Halloween." She was right. I shut up and we had a good time. Although trying to get back home along with about a million people all ready to party at the annual Greenwich Village Halloween parade was not so, whaddayacallit, fun.

Ah, New Jersey.

But today is The Bronx: natural dyeing at Wave Hill from 1 - 3 p.m. Looks like it will be indoors in Armor Hall at Wave Hill House. I plan on having an indigo pot going, along with some other pots of suprises. Emphasis will be on having fun. If this sounds like your thing, then come on over and join me. Plus Wave Hill is looking pretty spectacular in its fall colours. I don't think you can go wrong.