Thursday, November 09, 2017

Reluctant countdown

I distracted myself from some work by deciding I had to try backstrap weaving, thanks to Sarah (and finding her thanks to Velma). I didn't have the right clamps but realized that my hanji vat side braces are just over the length necessary for winding my warp. I had made a long length of hanji twine (2-ply) in Belfast 7 years ago while unable to do very good art, sitting at home a little scared with the window shades drawn so that I wouldn't be hassled. I never had a good use for it and decided, now or never!
It's really rough and the warp got confused back there because of various stages of mistakes (I wanted to use a rigid heddle but after I cut the warp I realized it was too thick to fit, so I had to re-tie it and rearrange). I didn't have any great options for the weft in terms of my own paper thread, so I went into an old stash of indigo-dyed Habu paper linen yarn, doubled over because it's much weaker than the warp.
Trim or a belt for a new dress? I don't know. Maybe I'll take it all apart someday. Who knows. It's hard to make the continuous hanji twine, so I get very skittish about using it because no use is "good enough." I'd like to think I can work this into a new garment, though.
In the midst of this was a beautiful vat full of fiber that I had cut, steamed, stripped, scraped, cooked, picked, and hand beaten. Those things happened over a long time but I did the last four steps here, from my first week to just last week, finishing by making about 15 very lightweight sheets of lovely paper mulberry. Obviously it's more work doing it like that but then you control the end product and get something you never could if you skipped steps or let someone else do them.
Last Friday I drove west to get groceries and gas. On the way home I was so startled by the giant orange Hunter's Moon and marveled the entire time. Sadly, this is a terrible picture but it was already setting so I could only barely catch it across the street from the studio.
The following day was a long-awaited and delayed visit to Ken's place right in Albion. An expert in wood fired pottery, he built a huge anagama kiln and subsequently a smaller one, as well as the GORGEOUS studio building adjacent. It's all so beautiful. A real live case of living the dream and making your life. His new intern had arrived with his partner and brought their very own tiny house, cat, and dog! There we are walking through the mud to peek inside.
The smaller kiln, which Ken took apart so that he could rebuild, which is this fall/winter's goal.
The outside of part of the anagama, with ceramic pieces as permanent art.
The anagama!
Even watching the video doesn't properly give you a sense of what it's like inside. I love seeing all of this in this stage of my life. The big kiln makes me think of the big hanji studio I made, and the small kiln like what I'm about to build with my smaller vat. I don't have the perfect beautiful studio and loft space for visitors like Ken does right now, but it's so close to the kind of thing I am working towards. So seeing one person's reality after so much hard work and great relationships with other people in the area and other potters is inspiring because you realize what is actually possible.
My growing stash of varied hanji. My batches are small, maybe 20 sheets at a time, but it all adds up. I have been learning so much now that I have this quiet time and I get to do every step. Of course it's nice to be able to have someone else do the steps that seem the most tedious, but this way, I know everything I've done and in the end I can see why the paper works or doesn't. The magic has lasted to the very last batch that I peeled away from boards yesterday: I had a bad attitude about it from the start of formation, but then thought I could get away with it. It was a mix of mostly abaca, hardly beaten in a Hollander, plus Hollander beaten bleached Chinese paper mulberry. I knew it was a risk because hardly beaten abaca is not that nice and still lumpy and knotty. But the full day of formation went well, and then I loaded it into my press. I took pressure down like I always do but heard a strange squishy noise.

Sure enough, the entire post had blown out and the sides had come out of the edges of the press boards. RUINED! But I thought, instead of releasing pressure and starting over, what if I came down gradually and tried to part anyhow. And just like my first batch that I dropped on the floor, the sheets still parted. Granted, they look terrible, but the sheet formation gives each sheet so much individual integrity that it can survive many assaults.
I started and finished this one before my lecture Tuesday night. I had a fantastic time with a wonderfully engaged group of people who were local and also those who had traveled from afar. Special thanks to the Schleg family for making this program possible each year, in support of the late Marilyn Crandell Schleg. I installed a mini exhibit that day for this audience and finally got around to taking it down today to prepare for my next show in Kalamazoo.
Meanwhile, we are getting into the real cold with real frost. I came out yesterday and saw this everywhere.
Across the street, I saw the ginkgo tree rapidly shedding its leaves. It was like gingko leaf snow, coming down fast. This morning, the entire tree was bare and the leaves in a big circle, like with adjacent trees. I have ONE last big project I am determined to finish here but won't mention it yet because I don't want to set up failure. Time to get back to it now!

Friday, November 03, 2017

Last haul

Mid-week, I thought I'd harvest milkweed on Thursday. But the evening before, I happened to check the weather report, which called for rain. I rushed home to make a quick dinner, checked time for sunset, and drove to David's and Allie's beautiful field to harvest before I lost light and got drenched. For the first time, I thought of Robin Wall Kimmerer's words about not taking the first plant, and not taking all. That meant I got to wander more of the land, and have a different relationship to these plants. I was amazed that some were still greenish and a few pods hadn't even burst. Those that had had a lot of seeds that hadn't gotten far, so I tried to help them along.
It has been really hard this season to forgo seed silks (only because of time restraints), but what bounty I've gotten has been so welcome.
This is just a few pieces of Thai kozo mixed with bleached kozo. It's marbleized fiber! It may be heinous, but beating the tough white stuff actually brings the Thai down faster. Also, the fiber that was cooked and bleached must have been either poorly cooked, or really tought (likely the latter), because it barely comes down with hand beating.
After finding out that I got into the Smithsonian Craft Show for April, I went into a panic and cut down at least 20 big sheets of hanji to start more cords. I know this will NOT get done before I leave, but I have to stay on track for this. I'm going to have to more than double my inventory because of a concurrent large show.
Last night, I realized I had been off since getting back, and that is because I haven't been making paper. I knew my last tiny batch of milkweed would not even charge the hanji vat, so I did smaller sheets on my sugeta. Smart, since I only got about 17 sheets (most of them laminated to embed pieces like what's above). Composing books at the vat has become really pleasurable, and amazingly all of the sheets stuck to the boards so that when I came in this morning, I had 100% flat and beautiful sheets.

I finished the labels for this book, that has been sitting, essentially done, for at least a month. I have two other books that are half finished. I would LOVE to get all the books done before I go. The rest of this weekend will be hanji filled, as long as I can keep up with hand beating!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bright and sunny Tacoma

 Welcome to Tacoma!
My hotel room had a great view of all kinds of fun stuff, mostly Mt. Rainier.
I flew on Thursday and the flight was delayed by an hour but otherwise everything went smoothly in terms of getting there.
The whole hotel's theme is glass and it's so well done. I loved every last detail and was a huge fan of the glass lamp that had a setting where only the base is on for a low purple light.
I didn't sleep well the first night (as usual) but had to present for the first three hours of Friday morning. I left my computer at home (amazing how much weight that removes, as well as erasing the stress of working remotely all the time) so my typefaces didn't transfer over to this computer, but hopefully no one cared that everything was in Helvetica. GREAT group, super engaged, what a rare treat. Thank you thank you thank you to the Guild of Book Workers.
[Chihuly glass bridge] I was so happy to see SO many friends and colleagues and make new ones. I don't know why I forgot that going to a meeting of book folks meant that I'd get to see so many familiar faces. Going first is the best because then I was able to relax. I loved Suzanne Moore's presentation and afterwards was elated when Jessica invited me to a Korean spa to relax that evening.
I slept SO WELL the second night! Soaking and sweating with other fantastic ladies was the highlight of my trip. I treated myself to museum visits (like the glass museum here) and shopping and lots of delicious food so I could take in the glorious weather. Totally clear skies! Blinding sun!
Finnish glass sculpture of birds! Yes, there were ducks, but it's hard to shoot everything in glass cases.
At the Michael Taylor show, I liked the wood maquettes best.
More artifacts from his show. It was fun to see the hot shop as well.
If I hadn't been so tired from being in boots (and if I had more room to fit another pair of shoes! I was intent on fitting as many ducks and hanji pieces into my carry on that I could barely fit my clothes), I would have walked more. I did final shopping with Chandler and Jessica and got their beautiful new-ish book, Dead Feminists.
This hunk of meat was all gone by the end of the banquet on the final night. I got a Melody bag at the auction!
A printer, binder, and papermaker. We met in Chicago (well, I met Jessica in Tacoma, but we share an alma mater) and are still busy doing what we were doing there. I'm back in Michigan, where I was informed by my housemate that there are snow flurries. Reality returns as fall points decidedly to cold and dark. Two weeks left of precious studio time!

Monday, October 23, 2017


Two blobs of cleaned milkweed, and two more of uncleaned milkweed (the lower one was beaten better), after my flurry of night beating yesterday.
The two cleaned batches filled the vat nicely, though there was a pang when I realized I spent a LOT of time preparing the fiber, to only get one charge. That's okay. Those 22 sheets are precious.
I was so shocked that the very first sheet I couched of the clean milkweed went down perfectly: no bubbles, no tears, no stretching, no tears. I've never had that experience when starting a hanji post. So dreamy!
YES, there are some air bubbles, but they are really quite minor. It was a beautiful, beautiful post.
I charged with the uncleaned fiber after lunch. Allie and Jill came over to watch, and then they also watched me fall down from squatting (so more like sitting on my butt, rather than falling from a height) while trying to load the post into the press. It fell but it was already low to the ground and horizontal, so not disastrous. The disaster was believing the gauge, because it came out so overpressed that I panicked and poured water onto it, rather than spraying slowly. That was enough force to shift the pressed fibers into a weird pattern. I can see it in every sheet but it's not the end of the world. YOU LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY.

This has been my dream for five years, if not more. Today it happened! I got to fill my hanji vat with 100% milkweed. Some has already dried and I love it 100%.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Local weekend

I knew this would happen, but it's always a surprise when my social life and life outside of the studio in a place that I've never lived starts to take over. Thursday night, I got to enjoy Kiki Smith's lecture in Ann Arbor with a bunch of new friends and colleagues. As she noted, the universe is so generous to us and it's often a matter of re-framing the way we see the gifts we are given.
Though I was exhausted, the next day I went back to Tim's and Pati's basement to beat my old duvet cover. It came down in 20 minutes (it took 20 minutes to clean up afterwards) and I ripped out a zipper the entire time while waiting. We shared lunch, chocolate, and then a beautiful walk that took us past related horses, milkweed patches, the woods, and their lovely garden. I got to go home with lettuce, peppers, beets, and basil, all gorgeous.
Finally, a chance to use the wove mould I had ordered from Germany so that I could pick it up in Vienna in February. It's great except that pulp gets under the deckle. Still happy with this in my collection.
I didn't bring sizing here, so these are all waterleaf. I was amazed by how the beater room (basement) and my studio smelled like me sleeping, but of course years of using bedding will embed a person into its fabric forever.
I finally started to beat milkweed yesterday, but only got a little over an hour in before I took a break to go downstairs for the artist reception for Angie Redmond's show (an Albion alumna) and enjoy the new faces that were converging on campus for homecoming. The extra treat was meeting Laura Beyer, another Albion alum who then went into the book arts world and now lives and works in the Detroit area—she vacations in Cleveland!
Then I enjoyed Walk the Beat with Kevin and Anne, somehow overcoming my afternoon naptime sleepiness and general lack of fitness to be on my feet all over town, hearing lots of music and running into lots of great people.
Transforming old spaces into new spaces has been on my mind for a while and now even more so, and it seems to be happening all over the place in this small town. This will be a new Albion Malleable Brewery, the name inherited from the old iron foundry that was in town. Once we used up all of our raffle tickets, we had dinner at the Dark Horse Brewery. I thought I'd catch up on work this morning, but instead got lots of goodies to eat in Battle Creek. But it's wonderful to have a fun weekend—the next stop is the library reference desk.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Milkweed mania

I never got past this much cleaned fiber (and will probably combine the left side with the cleaner right side, only to get enough to get the vat going).
I had even considered driving home last week with all of the stalks to process, but didn't. I felt the weight of them not stripped heavier each day, and started to strip as soon as I got back. Dry stripping felt endless, so I steamed and stripped in a rush before heading to a great ramen place last night in Battle Creek with friends.
But that was kind of ridiculous for the state the stalks were in, so I went back to dry stripping today and finished in just under three hours (after stabbing and scratching up my hands and fingers a bit in my haste).
This is the rest of it. After Velma shared a great nettle video with me last week and noted similarities with milkweed, I realized I've been approaching dry stripping all wrong for years. Once I stomped on each stalk with my foot and split them lengthwise, it went so much more easily. The survivalist folks do the same when splitting dogbane for cordage, as they are trying to preserve all the length of the fibers.
Two cooks done today: dry stripped and steam stripped of the uncleaned fibers. Tomorrow I'll cook the cleaned ones and hopefully start hand beating. I am REALLY itching to pull sheets, though I so appreciate all this fiber prep time. It's all a necessary part of the process and provides a lot of time to think and improve each step, plus appreciate all that it takes to do this work.
I had considered doing this for a while, and the trip home was the perfect chance to grab a worn duvet. In ripping and cutting it apart to soak (and beat on Friday), I was glad that I did it, because it's so threadbare! I'm happy to have used and worn it so well; it and the silk blanket inside served me admirably over many years and homes. I'm excited for it to enter its next life.