What’s Not to Love?

I spent three days with this fabulous group of women over last weekend, weaving this fabulous Tahitian Market Basket out of a beautiful material called Lauhala.  We all came to Shaw Island, and not only did we weave together during the day, we all stayed over at the guest house of one of the women (the only one not in this picture).  So we cooked together, ate together, drank together, worked on the basket well into the night, and got up early to do it all again.

None of us finished the basket completely, so it will be interesting to see how they look once they are embellished with various trims, shells, etc.  But each one already has its own personality, and that will only develop more in the last stages of completing them.  Out teacher, Lei McCornack, is in the middle of the back row.  I have my arm around her in gratitude, love and admiration.  We are a strong and close-knit group of women, and Lei did a wonderful job of jumping in and teaching us this very challenging basket, in her laid back, very Tahitian way.

Challenging?  Make that very challenging.  Many steps along the way.  It’s a double-walled basket which means that you weave an inside and then start all over again to weave the bias-plaited  exterior.  And there is sewing involved.  And trim to be made by hand.  All using this sensual and amazing Lauhala to weave with.  You see it at its thickest on the exterior of the basket, but it can be stripped down to it’s thinnest and will fit through the eye of a needle to sew with.

As the work progressed, we all had our individual moments of challenge.  I hit my own wall at about 3 pm on Friday afternoon while working on the bias-plaiting.  I got incredibly frustrated, and cranky.  I wanted to just rip the basket apart and throw it away.  I wanted to scream.  I hated everybody in the room, and of course, I looked around and saw only perfection in their baskets, while mine was a pice of shit!  I told my dear friend, “Don’t talk to me!”  It was not pretty!  Not pretty at all.  But I went off and sat by myself.  I drank a lot of water, and started to breathe.  I looked at the basket with acceptance, and began to pull and tighten, and pull and tighten again.  Yes, there are some weak areas.  But I began to love the basket in spite of them and maybe even because of them.

And I got to have a quiet little melt down in the midst of one of loveliest, most supportive group of women you’ll ever hope to find.  I got to be real and vulnerable, and that alone was worth it all.  We all got to deepen our friendships with each other, and we all accomplished a Herculean task in making this incredible basket.

Finished!

I was just about to use an unfinished coiled basket for today’s entry when I realized that it would have been the third week in a row that I had used an incomplete piece to express an artistic process or feeling about making art.  It was too weird and too much of a pattern about my life.  In the middle of twelve things, having trouble finishing anything.

Now there can be a beauty and a wonder in the incomplete.  Coincidentally, I was reading an article in Art in America this past week and found an amazing quote from a Chinese Tang dynasty historian named Chang Yen-Yuan.  Here is part of that quote: “From the moment one knows that a thing is complete, what need is there to complete it?  For the incomplete does not necessarily mean the unfulfilled.”

So beautifully inscrutable.  So open to interpretation.  So potentially important to the process of painting (more on this some other time).  But so utterly damaging for completing concrete tasks, and such an easy way out for one who loves to procrastinate, and to procrastinate some more.  Until there are those twelve unfinished projects jamming up my life and my creative process as well.

So I stayed up until 2 am last night and finished this ruffled, peyote stitch, beaded bracelet.  Yeah!  It can be done!

Knitting

Last Sunday, I was watching football (the Championship games) and knitting, and it occurred to me why knitting is becoming such a positive thing for me to do.  I first learned to knit in high school and made a sweater which I never wore.  In college, I tried making a vest for a friend of mine, got carried away, and in the end it was so huge that only a member of the Harlem Globetrotters could wear it.  So I put my needles away and forgot all about knitting and all other craft-related activities, for that matter.

But now that I make baskets and hang around with all these beautiful women in the San Juan County Textile Guild, I see them knitting all the time – at meetings, on the ferry, at social gatherings, while watching TV.  Their hands are always busy, and it has made my hands start to twitch with eagerness to be doing something similar.  A friend of mine was knitting a scarf like this, and she said that it was really easy to do, and that I could do it.  She was right.  I can, and I am doing it.  Just like riding a bike, it all came back to me.

So this is why I am liking this process so much.  I can take it anywhere.  It is a really good way to focus and to concentrate.  For this scarf, it is 8-8-6-6-4-4-20. I need to pay attention, but at the same time it is very relaxing.  When I am nervous about anything, it is very soothing.  I breathe better. Knitting is a good way to hold me in the present moment.  I lose myself in the repetition of doing one stitch after another.  And I join in the archetypal process of all those knitters who came before me.

Best of all, by the time the Superbowl is over, I will have a fun and whimsical new scarf to wear.

A Mini Basket Breakthrough

I made this basket last May in a workshop taught by the wonderful basket maker Judy Zugish. She has great designs and amazing willow that she has grown and prepared herself. But what I loved the most was how she encouraged creativity in all the students. No two baskets were alike, and you’d never know they were even made in the same class.

Originally, I left all the spokes at the top uncut and they completely obscured the opening. I thought of it as mysterious and liked it as a design element without quite knowing why. Then I got a critique from another wonderful basket maker Marilyn Moore who juried a show I entered the basket in. She thought that the top didn’t fit the rest of the basket which was more refined and almost classical. I did see that clearly and resolved to trim all the spokes to a uniform length. But something kept stopping me.

Then last night it finally came to me.  I started clipping random spokes at less than uniform length and only clipped the ones that seemed not to fit, or stuck out too much, or were too twisted, or just “asked” to be cut.  Here is the result of that.  It may not be finished yet.  As I looked at the photo, I could see a few more things that I wanted to do.  But it is getting close to where I want it to be.  Still a bit wild and unruly.  But with some light getting into the belly of the basket, the sense of mystery has really only increased.  As you go around the perimeter, some spaces are more open, some are more dense.  There is no regularity, and that is what I am liking about it.

What made me really happy about this process was that it was one of the first times I felt that I was able to make artistic decisions about a basket in much the same way I would about a painting.  Whether it works or not, whether I like it as much in a week as I do today, whether anyone else likes it, none of that matters.  I had fun with the process.  Taking thirty minutes to clip fifteen spokes.  Time well spent, I say!

 

bubbles

On 11/11/11, I was at a basket making workshop. We made a basket that had a two-twill base with eleven spokes on each side. There were eleven women in the room, including my wonderful teacher Polly Adams Sutton.

For many, it was a spiritual day, and I felt that I spent it in the perfect spiritual way for me, hanging out with lovely creative women, learning, weaving, talking, laughing, eating and sharing.

A small bubble, a small haven, but so important.  Joined with so many other small and wonderful bubbles that I inhabit from time to time, they form my little world.  And I am very grateful for them all.  The eleven-eleven has come and gone.  I am still here, attempting to choose a bright future for myself and for the planet.

One basket at a time.  One bubble at a time.