Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tension, Tangles, And A New Language

Does this happen to you? You're working on some fiber technique when bam, it hits you: "This sums it all up right here -- Life, the Universe and Everything." (Thank you, Douglas Adams.)

On Monday, I picked up my new spinning wheel and started practicing. By the time I was ready to change the bobbin, I was feeling pretty good about things. That, of course, is when it all fell apart. I could only produce severely overtwisted stuff (can't call it yarn) that wouldn't feed onto the bobbin. I fiddled with everything that could be fiddled with, and emailed Kathi for help. The main cause of my problem was that I put the new bobbin on (mumblemumble) backward, so it couldn't rotate (my husband hero, Bill, figured that one out). And because it wasn't operating properly, I was getting more and more excited and thus treadling faster and faster.

This is all good, though. I won't make the bobbin mistake again. I have a much better feel for adjusting the Scotch tension on this wheel now. And I'm making my treadling speed much more deliberate. As you can see, all of this is now producing results that I can, in fact, call yarn.

Many of my thoughts this week were as twisted as that mess in my hand. I had some time to try to sort them out, thanks to this week's record number of mechanic and vet appointments, but am still looking for answers.

Daryl Lancaster gave me a lot to think about with two posts. In the first, she shared her excitement at seeing the work of a new generation at the Conference of Northern California Handweavers.
I don’t know if there is a Project Runway influence here as well, but the rectangular shapes of the garments that came parading across the runway were not the shapes of yore…  I’m going under the assumption that since home ec is not part of the current curriculum in most schools in the US, that these amazingly talented young women are learning fashion skills somewhere else.  The influence is pretty clear, since the rectangular clothing up on that stage was thoughtfully draped over someone’s body (a dressform?) and folded and tucked and seamed, stitched and embellished into some extremely creative clothing.
Daryl also wrote a thoughtful post that touched on why she didn't post images of those garments but really addressed the larger issue teaching artists protecting their intellectual property.
More than one of us noticed that as we were teaching, there were small video cameras or cell phones pointing at us and we realized too late, that our seminars were being recorded.  I’m going to assume that because the equipment is so available, just point a cell phone and press start, that no one actually thinks about the long term ramifications of these actions.  I’m also going to assume, at least I hope this is the case, that those who are recording the seminars, are just trying to remember everything that was said, fine points the teacher made that weren’t in the handout, and that that recording will eventually go by the wayside and never be looked at again.  Trouble is, those recordings will now be downloaded to a computer, and will be available for viewing by anyone anywhere for the rest of all time.... And, once a guild has passed around the handout, seen the photos of all the samples, and listened to the video of my seminar, where is the incentive to actually hire me to come out and teach.  This is no different than making twenty copies of the latest sock pattern in Knits magazine, and passing them all around the knitters’ guild.  This is all about protecting those of us who spend our lives providing projects, creating inspiration, and pushing the envelope of what we do all the while trying to eek out a living. It is about having control of your work...
I'm guessing that the students recording seminars at CNCH were probably not the youngest people in the room, probably not meaning harm, probably not intentionally disrespectful of an honored teacher. Hold on. One more thing to add to the mix.

Out of the blue, I got a phone call this week from an artist whose work I've long admired. We have friends in common on Facebook and my name kept popping up on her screen. Her curiosity led to a call, which led to a lovely conversation. Here's the part that relates to this post, heavily paraphrased by me: She developed her unique style in part because Native American elders with whom she studied told her plainly that she could learn but not copy their traditional styles.

As a teaching artist, I'm shoulder-to-shoulder with Daryl. If this were an easy way to make a living, more people would do it. For the most part, students are very respectful of our work. But like those native elders, we may have to more clearly state what behaviors we expect from students. And yet...

We want to see young fiber artists learn, grow, and be part of the community for many years to come. That applies not only to those in the CNCH fashion show, but also to young embroiderers, surface designers, garment makers, knitters, spinners, and all their brethren and sisters.

For the better part of a year now, I've been working to learn new skills I think will be necessary for communicating with learners who are native in a language I still speak haltingly. Communicating in 140 characters or video involves translation, for people like me. While I'm translating, they're designing LED clothing, for pete's sake. I believe their perceptions of media and access to information may be as different from mine as, well, take a moment to reflect on this from Hisako Sekijima on values regarding labor and possessions.

Even when two people or groups treat each other with respect, when you're not speaking the same language things can get messy. Now I've got all this overtwist in my head, and it's not winding on to the bobbin.

How can fiber elders meet the needs of learners who speak this new language? Could fiber teachers make information so available that copyright protection is a non-issue, and still make a living so they can keep teaching and inspiring that next generation? How do we balance all this?

What do you think?


  1. Hello,
    I went to a few of your workshops this spring in Kansas City. I have a question for you. I have a pair of cloth and vinyl sneakers, I don't like the white vinyl and want to dye it another color. I was wondering if there is a brush on dye or paint that is durable for wear. I want to be able to just change the color of some of the vinyl areas and not touch the cloth areas. Any ideas?

  2. Hi Sarah. If the sneakers are vinyl, try a paint like Jacquard's Pinata colors. You can get these paints from Dharma, Dick Blick, or your local hobby store.

    If the sneakers are leather, you could paint or dye them. I've dyed a couple pairs of hiking boots (hard to find scarlet hiking boots) with Angelus or Fiebing's leather dyes. See what they have in stock at a good shoe store, or visit for a big selection of leather dye colors.

    I wonder if anybody still dyes shoes to match prom dresses?


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