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Constantly Evolving

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The bug that should not be able to fly...

Most people who know my 'story' know that this cloth was pivotal in my becoming a weaver in the first place.

Over the years, I have evolved.  Changed.  Sometimes back tracked, sometimes taken detours.  But always coming back to weaving.  And teaching.

My mother was a pretty good 'natural' teacher - before she went back to school to get her early childhood education certificate.  But before that, she did a decent job of helping me learn to read when I was four, taught me how to cook, knit, sew.

She ran into a roadblock when it came to my brother, though.  He didn't 'get' fractions and no matter how many times she tried to explain how they worked to him, he just didn't 'get' it.

I was ironing (one of my chores) while the two of them were at loggerheads over understanding how a fraction worked, and I listened to her explain them, over and over, but always in the same way.  As I listened to them get more and more frustrated (to tears, for my brother), I could not understand how they couldn't see the obvious.  The link between fractions and money.

Because my brother had a very good grasp of how money worked.  That 25 cents was a 'quarter' of a dollar, obviously.

Finally, with my brother reduced to tears - and likely my mother - the two of them gave up and my mother asked me to try.

I hung up the shirt I'd just finished ironing, turned to my brother and said "I don't understand why you are having such difficulty with this because you already know how money works."

The two of them gave me blank  looks.

"A dollar has how many cents?"


"Yes.  And a quarter has how many cents?"


"How many quarters does it take to make a dollar?"


"So one quarter is one fourth of a dollar."

I watched his face grow thoughtful.

"How many quarters make half a dollar?"


"So two quarters equal half a dollar, how many quarters to make 3/4's of a dollar?"


"Therefore 25 cents is 1/4 of a dollar, 50 cents is 1/2 of a dollar and 75 cents is...?"


"Exactly.  So you already know how fractions work."

It took me a long time to remember this interaction, but when I did I realized that I already knew how to explain things in more than one way.  So when a weaving student didn't understand something, I always found a way to change the perspective.  I did it without thinking too much about it until a weaving student told me one day that they appreciated how I didn't just keep saying the exact same thing - but louder - and instead had different ways of explaining things to help people understand.

It was only years later when I remembered the fraction story that I realized that I've always done this, only now I do it consciously, not instinctively.

Human beings are not meant to be stagnant in their learning.  The whole point, as far as I can see, is to keep our brains active, to keep learning, to keep developing, to keep growing.

Now that I'm retired (for certain values of) my learning may have slowed.  But the matrix series has certainly keep me thinking.  I've been working with this weave structure (whatever it's called - still not sure what *to* call it - shifted twill blocks seems to describe it best) and still finding ways to manipulate it.  

As I transition from using the mercerized cotton back to all unmercerized cotton and the change in epi, I find myself musing about other ways to push, pull and tug the twill 'line'.  Seems I'm not quite done with this yet.

And that, my friends, is a Very Good Thing.  IMHO.

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5 days ago
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Stories from the Matrix

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Yesterday, someone left a comment that started me thinking.

"It is not the tools the weaver uses, but how the weaver applies their knowledge and manages their tools." This principle needs to be stressed more. I see too many posts from new (and not-so-new) weavers that imply a belief that if one buys the correct product or tool, all weaving problems will be solved. Our brains are the ultimate tools."

Since I happen to agree with the comment, AND it's a message I have spent decades sharing, it is time to once again remind people of my latest book, Stories from the Matrix.

I also finished the last of the marking for Olds yesterday and I gotta say, I am going to miss bringing this message to the students who arrive anticipating - in some cases - that mastery of the craft will mean they don't make 'mistakes' anymore.  That when they achieve 'mastery' everything they make will be 'perfect'.

Um, ya, about that...

Just because you 'master' a task, doesn't mean you won't make mistakes.  Just because you buy the most expensive, most highly engineered tools, doesn't mean you won't make 'mistakes'.  Just because you've written a book (or three) doesn't mean you won't make 'mistakes'.

Mastering a craft is not about achieving 'perfection'.  It is an understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the tools and materials the craftsperson is working with.  It is being able to problem solve WHEN something goes wrong.  Is it the equipment failing?  Or a failure of the weaver to make good choices in their approach to designing their cloth?  It is understanding the relationship between all of those things that go into the making of a textile and what might need to change when the results are not what was desired.

Stories from the Matrix isn't a 'textbook' in the way The Intentional Weaver was meant to be.  It is a more philosophical, shall we say, look at weaving and (my) life.  It lays out much more clearly the things that I believe in.  As such, this collection of essays addresses many different things - part travelogue, part instruction, part problem solving, part speculation.  

If someone thinks this sort of 'message' needs to be amplified, well, there is something that can be done - share the fact this book exists.  Let new(er) weavers know it exists, so that they can chew some of the things presented therein over, and maybe, just maybe, develop a much broader view of what 'mastering' weaving entails?

And yes, I'm still looking for book reviews, so if you've read my blog and appreciate what I write here, you will find that many of the things I touch on in this format are further expanded in Stories, where I was not constrained by the limitations of a 'blog'.  Most are not terribly long - a few pages.  Easy reading if you have a few minutes here and there.  And if you like what I have to say, share a book review with your guild members or on social media.  Or write a letter to Handwoven.  Or book me for a zoom presentation.  Topics are listed on my website.

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14 days ago
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@YomiWrong: RT by @Imani_Barbarin: CRIP CALL TO ACTION: Why disabled people living in the US need to be calling for a long lasting ceasefire in Israel-Palestin…

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18 days ago
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FYI, I’m Writing a Film Column For Uncanny Magazine

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Why? Because they asked me if I would like to, and also, I was a professional film critic and columnist for many years, as some of you know, for various newspapers and magazine and online sites and whatnot. Plus I wrote a couple of books on film back in the day, so there’s that. So it’s nice to get back on that particular bicycle.

My inaugural column is now up on Uncanny’s web site, and is called “Speed Racer’s Long Road”; it’s how the Wachowski’s 2008 gloss on the famous animated series went from being a box office disappointment to a cult hit and a master class on digital storytelling. If this sounds intriguing to you, check it out here. And while you’re over there, check out what else is up on the site. Should keep you busy for a bit.

— JS

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23 days ago
Speed Racer was the first bluray I ever bought. Enjoyable reading some analysis 15 years later
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A New Sickle Cell Cure Could Be A Game Changer For Many Black Americans

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Kevin Wake wears a sickle cell awareness bracelet. He has been treated in hospital emergency rooms as if he were a drug abuser. "I think that lack of education and training in treating sickle cell patients leads to a lot of bias in the medical community and also a lack of appropriate treatment and care for patients with sickle," he said.
Photo: Tammy Ljungblad/The Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service (Getty Images)

Sickle cell disease plagues tens of thousands of Americans every year, and the vast majority of those suffering are Black Americans. Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder where the red blood cells become misshapen, this can cause extreme pain, fatigue, blood clotting, and even death. The only cure for the painful disorder has been a bone marrow transplant, which can be extremely difficult to obtain.

But now there’s new hope for those suffering from sickle cell disease. On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration is reviewing a potential cure that uses gene therapy to treat sickle cell disease.

The gene therapy uses CRISPR, a gene editing tool, to help promote the production of healthy hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells responsible for the complications from sickle cell. Although the technology is relatively new, findings from initial clinical trial of the technique published earlier this year, were promising.

And for Black Americans suffering from this disease, the possibility of relief is a game changer. Roughly one in 365 Black babies born in the United States suffer from sickle cell disease. And a recent study looking at hospitalization rates from 2016 to 2018, found that over 93% of people in the United States for sickle cell disease were Black.

According to NBC News, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to decide on whether to approve the drug in early December. They’re also expected to review a separate gene therapy drug for sickle cell later that month.

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33 days ago
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Material Wealth

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Jack Lenor Larsen's book and Magee Cloth Company blanket

Over the centuries, cloth as been used as a trade good or even as currency - vadmal, Hudson's Bay blankets, etc.

As a new weaver, I heard the opinion that 'all industrial fabrics are poor quality; all handwoven fabrics are good quality'.

Which confused the heck out of me, because the job I quit in order to become a professional weaver was for a custom drapery house and I *knew* that industry produced excellent quality cloth (as well as some cheap stuff, of course).

As a new weaver, I saw lots of lovely hand woven cloth, but...I also saw handwoven cloth that was less than ideal for the purpose it had been made for.

It was, in fact, a piece of commercially woven cloth that actually inspired me to become a weaver.

My goal was to produce the 'best' cloth I could and to celebrate excellence in fabric whenever, wherever I saw it.

Jack Lenor Larsen wrote Material Wealth a few years ago, and I received a copy as a gift from my mentors when I passed the master level of the GCW tests.  I confess, I have not actually read the book.  Every time I pick it up to read I get sucked into the glorious photos of really excellent cloth.  Made by industry.  

Last June, we paid a visit to Macgee Cloth Company in part to deliver the rest of the pirns she had purchased from me in 2020.  I had several hundred that still had yarn on and I said I would give her the yarn as well or if she could wait I would use it up and send her the empty pirns.  She said that she had no use for the yarn (mostly 2/16 and 2/8 cotton) and would have to just strip it off, so I kept those pirns and eventually emptied them and wove it into tea towels.

But we had not had an opportunity to see her operation so we took a 'side trip' and delivered the box of pirns in person.

Pam weaves with Victorian era 'industrial' looms, which are a far cry from today's modern weaving equipment.  Kind of like a Model T and a Rolls Royce.

She has to be textile designer, loom mechanic and weaver, using equipment that is, in many cases, 100 years old.  Which is a challenge all by itself.

It was a treat to walk through her operation, discuss how the looms worked and examine some of the cloth she has woven.  We also discussed wet finishing, and how to do that for a larger scale operation.  

In the end, I came away with one of her blankets, woven from Geelong Merino.  It is subtle and elegant, and luxuriously soft.  It is large enough I could actually wear it like such a cloth might have been worn in ancient times.  Like a sort of cape.  It is supple enough to wrap around my body, and it feels like being wrapped up in a cloud.  Or how I imagine it might feel, to be wrapped up in a cloud.

We tend to forget that even industry requires textile designers and sample weavers.

I have woven a sample for a mill in part because I owed them some money for yarn I had purchased, in part because they didn't want to set up one of their very large looms with a 10 yard long 'sample' warp, but needed samples to show prospective clients.  It was a tartan, with 7 (seven!) colours.  It was technically challenging because I had to be as consistent as possible.

In the end, when I sent the cloth to the mill owner, he emailed and said that 'you would never know the fabric had been hand woven'.  

I took that as the compliment it was intended.

But to say that *all* commercially produced cloth is 'poor' quality?  Not so.  It is not the 'hand' production that makes good cloth, it is the weaver designing and weaving 'good' cloth that makes it good.  

What is good in my opinion?  Cloth that will perform the job it was intended to do.  Cloth that feels the way a cloth of that quality *should* feel.  Cloth that is appealing to the eye and touch.

And I will celebrate such cloth, regardless of the tools used to create it.

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44 days ago
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