The Difference Between Failing, Giving Up, and Stopping Here

I’ve had multiple projects that I just had to call a stop to right where they were, recently. One was not a stop to the whole project, just to that bit. I’ve been carrying a spinning project with my tiny Jenkins Kuchulu in an Altoids tin.

I had meant to keep spinning until I had a good-sized turtle (turtle is what you call the cop on a Turkish spindle) and the spindle started to slow, but the cop got too big for the Altoids tin to close properly, so I took it off and started a new one. The turtle eventually got wound into a skein and washed, and is lovely, but is not so long a skein as I might have liked.

Next, it was the set of straps I mentioned in my last entry. I’d been having trouble with these from the beginning. I had a huge amount of trouble tensioning the warp evenly, which is absurd with a continuous warp, I had a hard time with the string heddles, everything. The weave-along I started them for was long over. They were making me crazy. I finally said Fuck It and cut them off the loom. I got about 16″ of each one, and they vary in width from 3/4″ to 1.5″. One will be a choker for my wife, and the other is tied to my laptop bag, because somebody else at the place I’m trying to get a job at had the same bag. I rather like them, even if they never did turn into what I wanted them to be.

And then I finally went back to the seascape cocoon shrug. Only it turned out that I had forgotten to release the tension, and several of the more delicate warp thread had snapped, some of them in the web. I spent half an hour or so trying to find ways to fix it, but the new threads of the same yarn kept snapping, too.

Finally, when I was nearly crying, my wife suggested I just call this one done, too.

This one was the hardest. I had plans for this. I wanted to make this into something wearable for my mom. I wanted this to be my first Saori clothing project. And I simply couldn’t.

The yarn was easy. I just stopped that skein right there. Fine. Doesn’t matter. There’s plenty more fiber, and I often work in short sections of one yarn.

The straps were harder. I had to give up on the project, but at least it wasn’t an important project. I still want to do straps for sandals at some point, but what the hell, I’ll do them when I get that inkle loom I want.

But this. This feels like a real failure.

I did it anyway. I cut it off and knotted the fringe and washed it and all. But it still feels like failure. And I simply don’t know what to do about that.

Oh well. It’s pretty.

It’s all a lesson in humility.

Too sick right now to start anything new, but next I owe a devotional weaving to Hermes. I think I’ll do that on the frame loom. I’ve been doing some reading on ancient Hellenic weaving, and some vase paintings show really very similar frame looms being used by young women for what is clearly fancy work.

I’ve decided that I’m going to start collecting my loom waste and using it to make offering-weavings to Athene when I have enough, as thanks for the gift of my skill. Also considering dedicated my shuttles to her. Hellenes used to dedicate loom weights to her, but of course I don’t have a warp-weighted loom.

I’ve got some other posts waiting to be published, but I still want to get off WordPress before posting too much more.

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Landbase, Community, and Reestablishing Practice

Literata (ok, that was over a year ago; I’ve been wandering through various people’s archives) talks about a witch’s landbase, meaning the local land in which an Earth-based witch or Wiccan bases her practice, her bit of Earth, from which she draws power, and which she serves.

And I’ve been thinking about it, and I realize I’ve never connected with the land here much. When I started practicing, I was still in high school, living in the house I’d been in since I was five. I knew that land there intimately. I never had to think about a connection with it. I had my bit of beach, my tree in my own yard, my favorite places in the swamp beyond the yard.

When I moved to Tallahassee for college (and then stayed there nine years), I never had much trouble connecting, either. I was still in Florida, even if I was significantly north and in the panhandle, much farther from salt water. (I’ve always connected best to salt water.) I understood sugar sand and sinkholes, live oaks and slash pines. A few blocks from campus and my first apartment, I found Old City Cemetary, which dates back to before the Civil War. It’s a entire (small) block, bounded only by streets. It’s no longer in use, either. Always peaceful. Plenty of trees, old ones. I found a cedar tree there that I loved, and that loved me back. It was a place of power for me. I found a grave with my own name on it — Rebecca Scott, beloved consort of Andrew, who died of yellow fever at the age of 27. (I was even there with a friend named Andrew on the day I found it. And they were from Maryland, which is where I was born. It was a bit much.)

There was the grave of Elizabeth Budd Graham, who local legend holds to be a witch. Her grave faces west instead of east (which every other grave around it does, although there are other graves facing west in other parts of the cemetery). The inscription reads:

AH! BROKEN IS THE GOLDEN BOWL: THE SPIRIT FLOWN FOR EVER! LET THE BELL TOLL – A SAINTLY SOUL FLOATS ON THE STYGIAN RIVER; COME, LET THE BURIAL RITE BE READ, THE FUNERAL SONG BE SUNG; AN ANTHEM FOR THE QUEENLIEST DEAD THAT EVER DIED SO YOUNG, A DIRGE FOR HER, THE DOUBLY DEAD, IN THAT SHE DIED SO YOUNG!

I love an old cemetery, from before modern embalming practices, from before we sealed the dead up in airtight steel caskets and put them in cement vaults. These are places where people return to the earth that gave them life. It’s special to me. It was a quiet place in the middle of the most urban and built-up part of Tallahassee, between the two big campuses and only a mile or two from the capitol building (which, for those that don’t know, is … ithyphallic, shall we say? An erect phallus, complete with testicles). Once, I got there and heard bagpipes. There was a piper walking the perimeter, practicing. Lots of little things happened to me there. I found a branch that became my wand. Other things I won’t mention.

I had a beach, eventually, although it was a longer drive from home to get there. Mashes Sands, it’s called. A long, shallowly sloping floor. I could walk out a quarter mile, and still have the warm water only up to my chest. Sometimes in summer, it had phosphorescent algae. It was magical, especially at night. (I always love beaches best at night.)

And then I moved to Seattle. It’s a far bigger city than I’ve ever lived in before. When I first got here, I had no car, the bus system baffled me (and it isn’t very good), and I got immediately lost whenever I got too far from my tiny apartment. The land and I made a few overtures to connect with each other, but it never really happened. Eventually, I found Golden Gardens beach, which I love, but it’s always so full of people, it’s hard for me to find the peace I’ve always had at the beach at night. The water was cold, and a bit foreign. The Sound is salt, but so far from open ocean that you can’t even see it. There’s no watery horizon, clean of land. I made it out to La Push beach on the peninsula once, which is much more my sort of thing, but it’s a long enough drive to be impractical without an overnight stay, and I haven’t had the time and money at once to do it again. A few years, I’ve been out to a festival at Fort Flagler State Park, which overlooks the Sound and the Straight of Juan de Fuca (sort of), and which, in the mist that’s usually hanging around in Spring when I’ve been, almost looks like there might not be land right there.

I’ve never found a tree to love, either.

My knees are bad and getting worse, and going for long walks to find places to feel happy is less and less often an option.

In Melbourne (where I grew up), I had a circle of friends who would ask me for tarot readings, or for advice on paganism, and such. In Tallahassee, though I never joined any group, I was part of a shifting, amorphous social circle of pagan, semi-pagan, and occultist community of 20-something, and people came to me for help. I gave tarot readings for tips at a local bookstore. I had a community to serve. (Part of my worship of Hekate is to work magic, especially theurgy, for others, and to teach is when they ask.)

I never found a community to serve here, either. I can’t help but connect not having a land-base with not having a community to serve.

I’m renewing and deepening (re-deepening?) my practice after several years of not keeping regular ritual or worship. When I owned a restaurant, that ate all of my life. I still had a ritual room in the house, I still felt my dedication to Hecate and to Dionysos. I designated the restaurant as a shrine to Hestia, and its pilot lights as her eternal flames. I kept a statue of Hermes in the office, and asked him for help with business and money. But I kept no practice that fulfilled me personally.

But now I’ve started doing my morning ritual again, and I’m doing a tarot study as a way of warming up my symbolic-thinking muscles. I’m keeping the ritual of Hekate’s Supper at the new moon, and worshipping Dionysos ecstatically when I need to. I can tell it’s starting to work, because the little synchronicities are starting again. The same topics or phrases coming up repeatedly through a day, a friend mentioning a video I’ve never heard of, then coming home to find it on my Tumblr dash. They don’t mean anything yet, but that I’m seeing them again means I’m paying attention more. It’s a good thing.

I stopped weaving for a while. Ran out of steam on the big piece, focused more on spinning for the Tour de Fleece, then burned out on that. Frustrated. But I’m starting that up again, too. I’m working on a set of Saori-styled straps that were originally part of a Ravelry weave-a-long, which is now long over. It’s not complex, but it lets me flex my intuitive-weaving muscles a bit before I go back to the seascape.

I’ve mostly abandoned WordPress since I found out they reinstated a blog that outed, harassed and threatened trans women — not incidentally, but as the central mission — after WordPress had taken it down for terms of service violation. I’m trying to find another blogging platform that I like, but the platform I did find and was starting to move things to shifted to a pay model, and I simply don’t have the funds at the moment to spend anything at all to maintain a blog. I wouldn’t post this, but I really wanted to put these thoughts down in a space dedicated to religion and magic rather than my personal LJ, and I have this. I really don’t want to generate more content for this site, and as soon as I can, I’ll be moving this blog elsewhere. But this is going here for now.

And here’s a shot of the straps, which are on a backstrap loom I made myself, and made too narrow, so it’s kind of a pain to use.

Seascape Cocoon Shrug

Oh, hey, project picture post time! This is for a cocoon shrug for my mom, and is the one I talked about in my last post, about the ocean. So, from the most recent back to the first, here are the pictures to date:










I’m having fun with it. It’s slow, though. It took something like 14 hours worth of work to get a yard of fabric. It’s those curves. They take forever.

I’m thinking of starting a smaller project on the copper loom, something arty. I’ve been rereading The Orphan’s Tales books by Cat Valente, and may do something inspired by that. I’m thinking about the hunger of the mice. Could be fun. Dye some silk mawata, draft them out but don’t spin them, and use them all fluffy for the colors the mice eat.

On Inspiration and Process

What I’m noticing about my process with Saori is this: I start out with an idea in mind. Not a goal, not a plan, but something around which I build the piece. In the rainbow scarf for my wife, the idea was simply to use rainbow yarns: variegated through a bright spectrum, or multicolored plies, or whatever else I found. The landscapes themselves from the colors as I went.

Now I’m working on an oceanic piece for my mom. I wanted the feel of the warm ocean off Florida (where she lives and I grew up), the Gulf Stream, the Gulf itself, the waters around the Keys. I began to build a yarn stash for it around those colors and those images. Some of them were things I had already in my stash, that I had bought before or that someone had given me (I have a bunch of odds and ends that people give me, actually), and some were bought with the project in mind. I thought a lot about the sea in its different moods as I knew it, in summer and winter, in clear weather and in hurricanes, at the beach and in the deeps, on the surface and below it. I wanted all of those. A light chop, huge rollers, the dim grey waters at the winter solstice (my friends and I used to stay up all night, watch the sun rise on the beach, and take a cold dip), the bright warmth of snorkeling in the summer at Looe Key. I wanted kelp forests and tropical fish, and the light refracting through the water on the white sand below.

So I collected yarn in those colors, and I browsed Google Image for pictures that struck a chord with me. Photos, but also drawings and paintings. Japanese paintings of towering waves and the fish-waves from Ponyo inspired me. So did the art of Guy Harvey (somewhat to my chagrin; he’s a something of a cliche among sportfisherman and sailboat types, but he actually turns out to be pretty nifty). Photos like this one and this one of macrocystic kelp forests. Oh, and pictures like all of these of sunset at Key West. And these, of the beach in the area where I grew up.

I live in Seattle now. I don’t know much about the cold waters around here. I make it out to the beach on the Sound relatively often, but rarely out to the Pacific. It’s beautiful, but not in the way the waters I knew for twenty years were. And it’s not the water my mother knows and loves, so it’s not what I want to make for her.

I’m spending lots of time building small curves and large ones, for the movement of the water. Waving seaweed. Right now I’m working on a coral reef. It’s all fairly impressionistic, rough outlines, swirls, feelings-as-shapes. It’s not meant to be representational, but evocative. I’m using tapestry techniques to achieve much of it, as well as Saori techniques. There’s one of the latter, I can’t remember its name or find the book to look it up, but I think of it as “wandering yarn”, that’s proving to be quite a good way of giving the flavor of fan corals and branching corals. I say that I’m not a tapestry weaver, and I mean that, because I don’t plan what I’m doing more than a step in advance, much less draw out cartoons and then charts. I don’t have the mindset for that. But I can grab those techniques and use them to good effect as impressionistic, evocative images in Saori weavings, unplanned. They’ll never be as precise as a traditional tapestry, but they serve my purpose and my imageries.

My next big piece will be another rainbow scarf, this one for my dad. He asked for one that was “all bright colors, like my wife’s.” Nearly twenty years I’ve been out, and he’s never caught on why I and the women I date like rainbows. That’s ok, whether he knows it or not, he’ll be wearing Pride colors, and I know he’s proud of me.

But I didn’t want to repeat myself, of course. So I started casting about for different inspiration. And I found this:

It’s Jupiter in chain stitch, and it sparked something. My dad has his PhD in astrophysics and cosmology, and he taught astronomy. I remember staring up with him at a clear, clear sky full of stars, while he pointed them out to me and told me about them. As soon as I could read, I started to learn why the stars had the names they had, what the constellations were and what stories were told about them, as well as about what they were and what they did. It led me to Greek mythology, which, in the long run, led to my religion (shhh, don’t tell him that).

So then I started collecting images of the the storms of Jupiter and rings of Saturn, and then I quickly moved further out, finding nebulae and galaxy clusters and voids and things I do not understand at all, but are gorgeous, galaxies, a supernova remnant, this fantastic cone shape that graphs the expansion of space over time, if I understand it correctly. These and more I have stuffed away in a bookmark folder, to look at as I start, and as I look at yarns to buy. More of the Mochi yarn I used for my wife’s scarf, although possibly fatter. Pulled silk sari threads, to spin loosely and deconstruct in the middle of the piece for wisps. Silver filament plied with deepest black, for the billions and billions of stars.

That one is months off, though. I still have Mom’s to get to. I’m one yard into a three yard warp, with ten hours logged, probably another two I forgot to log. Call it twelve hours, over a month. There’s only so much of the delicate, fiddly work I can do at a time. (And I got sick, which means I lost about ten days there where I just felt too crappy to move.) Most weavers want the loom down around waist-level, as it’s most ergonomic for simply passing the shuttle back and forth. But since I’m doing lots of pick-ups and small passes and trying to see which thread I want to turn at this time, I need it closer to my face. I’m now weaving sitting in front of a tallish table, with the front of resting on my (rather ample) chest, just so I’m not bending over it constantly to see and giving myself huge knots in my neck and shoulders, When I finally get a Saori loom, I’ll have to get one of the adjustable ones, so I can jack it up high when I need to. My upper arms do get tired, though, and I may work for an hour or two without gaining more than an inch of fabric out of it.

One of my Rav boards started talking about quotes we found inspiring or applicable for our weavings. This was my contribution:

She became dance’s analogue of the jazzman.

 

 

Dance was, for Shara, self-expression, pure and simple, first, last, and always.
Once she freed herself from the attempt to fit into the world of company dance, she came to regard choreography per se as an obstacle to her self-expression, as a preprogrammed rut, inexorable as a script and as limiting. And so she devalued it.
A jazzman may blow Night in Tunisia for a dozen consecutive nights, and each evening will be a different experience, as he interprets and reinterprets the melody according to his mood of the moment. Total unity of artist and his art: spontaneous creation. The melodic starting point distinguishes the result from pure anarchy.
In just this way Shara devalued preperformance choreography to a starting point, a framework on which to build whatever the moment demanded and then jammed around it. She learned in those three busy years to dismantle the interface between herself and her dance. Dancers have always tended to sneer at improv dancing, even while they practiced it, in the studio, for the looseness it gave. They failed to see that planned improv, improv around a theme fully thought out in advance, was the natural next step in dance.

-Spider and Jeanne Robinson, Stardance

I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a jazzman in that sense, but it is very much how I try to work. A starting point, and improvisation.

Woolly Dionysos

My two patron deities are Hekate and Dionysos. I work with others, but those are the most important to me. I keep altars to each of them in my ritual room, which see regular use. My Hekate altar is small and simple and fairly plain, but has multiple images of the goddess on it. My Dionysos altar is large and complex and has lots of stuff, but no image of the god. (I had one. I took it elsewhere for a ritual, and it broke.) The Zati book had instructions for a doll, so I thought I’d give it a shot. At first he was too Jesusy:

Jesus does not belong on my Dionysos altar. Nope. So I added leaf and grape cluster beads to his fillet, and when that wasn’t quite enough either, I borrowed some Green Man iconography, and gave him a green cloak trimmed with leaves. (Trying to make a felt leopard skin sounded like faaaaar too much work.)

I am reasonably pleased. I want to make him a thyrsos, whenever I find my tiny pinecones. The vertical stripes are meant to represent the pleats in a bassara, the long version of the chiton, which Dionysos wore. (It was usually a woman’s garment, so D was considered to be somewhat . . . gender transgressive, shall we say?)

I’m working on a second doll, this one a Valkyrie, for the Ravelry Folklore and Fairy Tales group’s read-along/knit-along/weave-along of the Volsung Saga. I did go and reread the story, if not the longer translation, and I’d forgotten most of that, but I was surprised to see how much of the rest of the mythology I remembered in the discussion. I ended up explaining the context of the mistletoe dart, and then giving some of the reasons the Aesir lose at Ragnarok, and was able to reel off a lot of it off the top of my head.

I may, if this one comes out well, try doing a Hecateon somehow, the three-form Hecate pillar.

In other news, I treated myself to some fancy wool batts, and am having fun spinning those. I want to chain ply the yarn and send it to my Mom, who crochets, but she doesn’t do tiny fine stuff, so it’s not like I can send her my usual cobweb yarns. So I’m spinning fingering weights, and it’s more fun than I remember. And it goes so much faster! I’d forgotten how fast spinning can go! Whee!

The wool is not as soft as I had expected, which is probably the Coopworth/Romney, but it’s pretty colors. And it’s fun to spin, and I’ll get to practice my chain plying.

Warped

I hate winding warps. I hate warping looms. It’s so boring and repetitive to me. Hating it makes me slower at it. I always want to just dive in and start weaving, doing something where I can see that I’m making something, actually create. It can’t be done, though. You have to lay the foundation before you can start to build.

I’m starting a new piece tonight, a cocoon wrap for my mother, in ocean colors and waves. I’ve never done a highly varied warp before. My wife’s scarf had a little variation, a few threads that were double strands of very fine Habu silk and steel, but it didn’t have a lot of effect on texture. So I’m mixing it up a little, trying to shake it up some, trying to put some creativity into the warp itself, to make it a little less dull, as well as to give the piece more texture and color.

But before I could even start to wind the warp, I had to wind two skeins of yarn — nearly a third of a mile’s worth — into center-pull balls to pull from. I have a ball winder, but no swift (a device that winds yarn into a reel and also allows you to pull smoothly from a skein when winding a ball), and my sweetie wasn’t available to hold the skeins for me to wind from. So I ended up looping them over my computer desk, and unwinding and winding up in sections, and it was a serious pain. Literally. My neck and shoulders are in knots.

I’m just taking a break now, and typing this while I try to loosen up my muscles before I start winding the warp.

=================

The next morning:

OK, ow. I did, in fact, wind the warp, and it was much more interesting than it has been previously, and that is awesome. It also got much trickier to keep the crosses straight (I put one at each end of the warp), because I would stop to switch threads between circuits, and I’d lose track of which way I was going in a way I don’t when it’s a continuous motion. But it was significantly less annoying.

But oh, was I sore afterwards. Unwinding skeins with no swift, winding balls of yarn with the winder off at a funny angle from me to minimize tangling, and then warping, left me with all kinds of knots. So I lay on some heating pads for a while before going to sleep, and that helped.

=================

Later:

It bothers me that warping bothers me so much.

I threaded the reed and wound the warp onto the back beam, but the paper I had for putting between layers (cut from paper grocery bags) wasn’t quite wide enough, and now both edges of the warp are wound wrong. I ordered some craft paper of the correct width, which should be along tomorrow, but once again, warp is frustrating for me.

So I’m taking a little time off from it while I wait for the paper to arrive. In the mean time, I have warped my Zati loom for a receiving bowl in the colors of our cat MacGuffin who died recently, and I finally built my copper pipe tapestry loom and warped that. I have a few ideas for making small panels on it using Saori techniques (including one called WWW+, which if it works, I will post here for all to see) and layering them to make a Steampunk bustle. We shall see how that works.

I’m trying to get more positive about warping. Right now, it’s a roadblock, something that keeps me from being creative, and I waste days between projects, trying to work up the motivation to warp the loom. One of the things I am most looking forward to about a Saori loom is the pre-wound warp. Thread it through heddles and sleigh, tension, and go. Still a chunk of work, but cutting down any of it sounds wonderful.

In the mean time, all I can do is try not to let it slow me down too much.


Warp for Mom’s Seascape


Guff’s receiving bowl


Copper loom, warped with linen thread

Devotional piece for Athene

Since weaving and spinning are becoming a significant part of my life again, my art and my meditation, I have been wanting to do a devotional piece to Athene in her guise as patron of fiber arts. At first, I was going to do a small tapestry, but I turn out to be very bad at the planning stage of that. Really. Bad. Ugh. So I’ve been looking for something else to do.

I found, on one of the Saori groups on Ravelry, the idea of a diary hanging. People with writing words on strips of paper, ribbon, fabric, whatever they liked, and weaving it into the web. So I decided to do that with a prayer to Athene.

Pallas Athene
Athene Ergane
Weaver, Goddess who stands alone, independent
Steady and support my spindle
Let my warp not tangle
Guide my shuttle and my needle
Grant me both inspiration and skill

I am using some of my oldest yarns. A coarse, dark grey wool that was the second yarn I spun when I was learning (the first was a stripy grey-and-white, and I wove it on an inkle loom and turned it into a belt, with a nifty dragon-headed penanular buckle); a green wool-and-mohair that came from a friend’s goat, that had died recently (Vincent van Goat, in fact); the very first cobweb weight yarn I spun, a white wool, single-ply and over-twisted, which had been sitting in a skein for twelve years at least, and was hairy and felted and tangled and broken in many places. I pieced enough of the white cobweb together to make a warp out of, and I wrote out the prayer, line by line, on strips of paper I made. I’m also including the newest threads I’ve spun, reeling silk and bamboo straight of the spindles of works in progress. And I’m using bits of leftover yarn from my last project, the scarf for my wife.

I’m weaving very loose and open, a technique I have not used before, but so far I’m liking it. I may end up backing it with something, though. Which will let me get in sewing as well as the spinning and weaving already there. I might dye the backing myself, too, to get that aspect. I’m also experimenting for the first time with having random warp threads double- or triple-sleighed.

This piece is very much about how far I have come since those first yarns, and how far I have yet to go in my craft. It’s also a sacrifice, not just of the work of making it, but of the thread I’m currently spinning, and of the attempt at new techniques.

The imperfections of the piece are also becoming very important. My ancient wool warp keeps breaking, and I have to knot in new lengths to repair it. I leave long ends on these, and do not try to hide them. Where Arachne the weaver showed hubris in trying to compete with Athene at weaving, I am showing all my mistakes and flaws, in humility. (But now I wish I’d added “or break” after “Let my warp not tangle.”)

The biggest challenge of this piece wasn’t the physical difficulties — although the warp broke, threads from different sheds caught on one another, and both the warp and the weft threads I reeled off the spindles were “energized” so that they kept kinking up — but psychological. Weaving so loosely is very new for me, and the way the threads don’t lay tidily alongside one another, and the uneven beating, and the warp thread that broke inside the web so I couldn’t repair it without undoing a bunch of weaving, and the occasional float, well, they aren’t things I’m accustomed to tolerating in my work. I’m having trouble liking the piece, even though it’s exactly what I set out to do. Hell, because it’s exactly what I set out to do, which was to do something very different for me, to put myself outside my comfort zone, to stretch, as tribute.

Athene has never been a favorite goddess of mine. She’s always seemed very distant to me. As I weave this, I’m finding places where I’m closer to her than I thought. I’m discovering things about her independence, her . . . not quite solitude, but her ability to stand alone, and to be strong alone, that are resonating strongly for me right now.

Most of these posts I crosspost to LJ and DW, but I’m skipping it this time. It’ll automatically be posted to Tumblr and Twitter, and I’ll let it, but I’m also not posting it to any of the discussion boards on Ravelry, not even the one that inspired it, or the pagan one I follow. I’m feeling weird and self-conscious about sharing religious bits again.

If there are tense inconsistencies, it’s because I wrote this in bits and pieces as I worked, and not at all linearly.