Caning a chair is nearly a lost art. According to our teacher there are less than 100 full time caners. That makes them rarer than neurosurgeons. I have a bunch of chairs to cane. Lessons! Mine – lower right, right image – and, – left, lower left image, compares favorably with the teacher’s example – left, right lower image. Confused? Colleen’s is quite favorable though she thinks not. Imperfection – it’s common, expected, and accepted in old chairs. OK! Nothing I ever did was “dead on” in neurosurgery. There was always room for improvisation. Not so for Colleen, “perfection” is the word. Therein lies a quintessential difference. I am far more laissez-faire. But each of us, we each fight our tendencies. Funny, ain’t it? And, while you (reader) are still confused, I (too) would be hard pressed to compare and guess who did what – teacher, Colleen, or me? Lest there be doubt, Colleen is perfect! Of course! Me? In the end I am/was “perfect” – the journey is/was the adventure.
During covid I am down to two chief subjects, my cats and flowers. Boring is good. It means we are safe and sound. I have joined Colleen in obsessing over weather. I have four different weather apps open and one beach cam. And we cook and eat. …repeat. Colleen asked me to photograph her handicraft and mine. We completed these projects among others. Spinning fiber to yarn; weaving yarn to material, scarves; weaving Nantucket baskets. I’m not bragging; the girl’s got talent. Me? I’m better than I was but not as good as I’m gonna be.
Colleen made masks. She found elastic and material in her stash. Ok! I’ve only worn a mask (for)ever since I started surgery. I overheard Jess exclaim, who could wear a mask for hours? Ha ha! No big deal. You get used to it. It’s like wearing rubber surgical gloves and doing fine microscopic work. You get used to it. No choice. Now I have a Hawaiian style mask. We never had anything so stylish when I operated. Special! Or, perhaps I have been drinking the alcohol again?
Someone once said to me that the sign of genius is a messy desk. Ha ha! I wish. Nantucket basket weaving takes space and material. It’s controlled chaos. I know where everything is. The tools of the trade are organized so I lay my hand on whatever is required quickly. Piles of material await use. Right!? Really! There is absolute organization. Rims take time and so I let them accumulate. Hence, there are a lot of baskets awaiting the finishing touch. Note: the background is Colleen’s big wheel (spinning, not tricycle) and one of the smaller looms. What else is in the background? …two more regular spinning wheels, finished baskets on the mantle and on the TV cabinet…. Sometimes the lines between worhshop and home blur. It’s ours, we’re fine.
The passion has cooled. One never knows. No no, I still love my (present) wife! (I was once married to someone who was never wrong.) Here, this is the single (to date) Nantucket basket she (Colleen) has woven. I just examined it again. It’s pretty near to perfect. In fact, it is really perfect to my eye. She is a bit (quite) compulsive and follows direction. How? Perfectly! It’s in her nature to always strive harder and to more perfect.
The body of my work by now is far greater in volume. Quality took a back seat to efficiency. I was seeking to hone my skill. Mistakes? Ok, you don’t make an omelet without breaking…. Experiment? Style? Pattern? Color? Yes! It’s a collection where nothing has been the same from the last. That would make it art not production. Imperfect, not too bad, not ready for prime time, but still the body of work is impressive if I don’t point too closely. I see cherry blossoms and don’t seek to find a single perfect bloom.
Looking overall, I see Colleen’s single work in a different light today. It recalls a vascular surgeon named D.r Goetz whom imparted to a raw intern (me), “You can do an operation a hundred times and never know it. Or, you can do it once and it is yours. You choose.”
After my initial spate of baskets, no two have been alike. And the pattern I can create from color… it’s limited by the lack of color weaving cane. But pattern is precise and appealing. I’m much better with pattern than free form creation that drawing or painting requires. No one ever accused me of being subtle. Contrast, bold contrast, that appeals to me.
I’ve been doing (weaving) baskets for a bit more than a year. Yes, they call it “weaving.” And each and every teacher has said to me, “pack, your weaving needs to be tighter.” Ha! Working with a mold, my second try was tight. And my third was so tight I couldn’t get the mold off. It’s a struggle. Darn! I have to back off. Who knew I was tight? Better? I’m getting better. I suppose I should put in a word about keeping your sh*t together? Nah!?
Nantucket basket. They appeal. There’s a certain geometric architectural preciseness about them. I’m not there yet. And, I’m experimenting. I never met a rule I didn’t try to break. So, my baskets will be uniquely me. I’m not ready for prime time. Real crafted Nantucket baskets are expensive. And the Chinese made ones are mere dollars. Mass produce for cheap labor, but don’t denigrate the quality. It’s good. But the whole industry suffers for cheap product no matter how well made. Meanwhile, my second basket has a pattern. I’m totally lost as far as making and designing a pattern. It’s my first solo without instruction. Hey! Raw material to product, it’s quite a career change for me.
We processed fleece. Sheep fleece. It needs to be cleaned and washed. You cannot wash it on the sheep. I wish. And you cannot wash wool in a washing machine. It will felt. That would never do! No, in order to spin and weave you must prepare the fleece. Why? Because it is the beginning of the process, the source. We’d have sheep in our yard but the homeowners association forbids it. Darn! How many fleece and how much? A lot! So much fleece was waiting we were days washing and drying. Hence, the “mess.” With all this fleece ready to be spun, it would be a good long time before you could expect to do much else. So! I have decided to spin. You know, help out. After all it is one very large task. And so I shall/did. And here is the result. I tried drop spindle a good long time ago and was miserable. I didn’t spin good and the wool did not like me. We parted. But now I am spinning. Um, they say your first skein is a piece of work no mother would love. And mine was a work only I could appreciate. Actually, I got the hang of it right away. Don’t be too smug! I was. Looking back it was true. My first effort was laughable. I got a lot of encouragement from Colleen. She’s a truly supportive spouse. And I have to love her dearly for her kind words. We are still laughing…
Third! This is our third. There are defects only the maker can see. Colleen was certain her mistakes stood right out. I failed to see them. But, of course, my mistakes were readily evident – to me. That’s my teacher in the background. I shall remember her as “pack it tighter.” She was always admonishing me – gently – to pack the reed layers tighter. As they dry everything shrinks and loosens. Good advice. I never seemed to be packed tight enough. Maybe I have loose screws too?
We took a basket making class. Don’t ask. I used to joke about basket making as a throw away college course in which to get an easy “A.” Now I have nightmares about the final exam tomorrow in a college course in which I neglected to attend a single class. I’m retired! No classes! Ever! I cannot fail. And I will not take another final exam. Ever! As you can see our work was immediately appropriated and put to good comfort and use.
At a certain age they tell you to downsize. You can’t take it with you. You are allowed to look. How about a Welsh chicken coop cupboard? Never seen one till now. I didn’t know I wanted one. This was a monster piece more than 10 foot wide. Put your dinner in the coop and you don’t have to go out later to catch it. Rabbit, chicken, it’s been done before. They wanted $thousands.
A small town. I can’t remember which. Go there. There is native American art. It’s a town of few stores. Few enough people find it. The prices are high. Why not? There’s simply very little traffic.
Garish porcelain? I neglected to image an oyster plate. We learned they come from France. The valuable collectable ones go for $hundreds. Now you know too. I don’t want one. I don’t much care to eat oysters. Green Hoosier glass? It’s not depression uranium glass. No value. About $9 on eBay. Just looking. I don’t have room on the shelf. I guess I’ll build some.
There is an odd mix of craft that is accepted for entry at the fair. It’s not just sheep. Brooms, wood turning, music, there were vendors of all sorts from source to finished products. You could get elaborate finished wool and fresh off the lamb fleece. There was an odd booth which had products made from old silverware. Nice. The craftsman cut off the handles of spoons and forks and made napkin rings. We were short (only got six last year) and able to get the four more we needed. This year he made a one fingered salute of a pickle fork. Yeah, it kind of reflects the mood of the country right now. Use your imagination; this one doesn’t have a picture to explain. Just hold up your middle finger and look in the mirror.
It’s called a raddle. Yup! It’s for weavers to keep bundles of fiber separated as they prepare the loom for work. I built these. I was experimenting with wood finish. There were a lot of small dowels cut on the chop saw. Oak is the easiest best wood for me to get at the big box home store. Pine and poplar don’t play well with stains. They (raddles) are kind of stunning. They are relatively simple to make. I did it for fun… a relaxing interlude where appearance was not critical. Jewelry boxes are different. Every flaw counts. Finish is key to appearance. Boy, I struggled! Like everything else, “it don’t look bad” from the outside. Indeed, it looks pretty nice! Yup! Consider it art. If they were manufactured like widgets they would all be uniformly the same. Me? I like excuses. Art is where each individual work is unique and has its own flaws which make it “one of a kind.” Ha! An excuse. I’m aiming for perfect and accepting imperfection. My partner, also the consumer and design originator, was quick to exclaim how lovely these boxes turned out. I’m more critical. She’s also gonna be steamed I called her a partner. There’s gotta (gonna) be a better term.
Made it. Me. I made it. Them. I recall the words of Barry Schact of Schact Spindle Company. The company started by making spindles from door knobs. It’s pretty simple really. You need a dowel and a round (knob) object. The funny thing is that we visited The Woolery. They had spindles from $12 to $100. And I am sure they are even more expensive as the intricate artwork is embellished. See: “Golding” (like the Ferrari of weaving gear). Duh! So I got an old spinning wheel part (broken and discarded) and a round disc (Michael’s). The dowels are from Lowe’s. We don’t go to Home Depot anymore. They are bad politically. Hooks too. A little stain and finish, done. I guess the price was about $10 – the pair. Oh! Sorry! I got dowels in Michael’s; these were made from wood knitting needles (Michael’s). Dead simple and eminently more economical. Thank you Barry. (We actually met him in Boulder about this time a year ago.)
I’m doing carpentry now. I got the power tools to do it – chop saw, table saw, router, router table and counting…. I built two drawers. With the power-tools it was a pretty straightforward task. Hanging drawers precisely, is tough. Done. They (drawers) look great. No actual pics. The room is too messy to show them off. I plan to build some cabinets and now drawers are not an issue. It should prove to be interesting as I progress. Meanwhile the first two drawers cost about $750 each. I’d better build a whole lot more in order to lower my cost per piece.
New! We took apart silk worm cocoons. Yeah! That’s an actual worm inside. Don’t ask. PETA will be all over me. I eat meat too. Steak! Ham! Chicken! I’m not against them. (Ambiguous?)
Okay, soak the cocoons and then wind the silk off. I watched the YouTube. And then we screwed it all up. What I know? Wet warm water. A single fiber has great pull apart strength. We started with a couple – three strands and got it up to six or so. It worked pretty well. It looks a mess but in a beautiful way. Now too wash and then process. It’s not over. More to come…
We took a tour of a factory. Schacht Spindle Company started making spindles and are since famous for their weaving products of which they make well known and well regarded looms and spinning wheels. Barry, the President cordially met us when we showed up unannounced. He personally gave us a tour. The hand made products are made and assembled with highest regard to quality. Improvements are constantly being made. It’s a fine operation. There’s something nice about watching the care and craftsmanship so abundantly on hand as we toured. The sheep were photographed, reproduced and later painted from a trip to Scotland many years ago. Many thanks Barry; we were so impressed.