Flutes and Feathers

Starting last year, and continuing into this year has been quite an interesting journey so far, with many new roads and offshoots demanding my attention.

Most of all, I find it hard to write about this subject without feeling like I am being a bit pretentious. After all, I am descended from immigrant Italians. I have no connection to any tribes. I live in the area of the country that has the largest Native American (tribal) population in the United States. I feel honored to be able to try, in my way, to learn this instrument and embrace its culture. I want to do this in a way that does not cause offense. It is time that we, as the uninvited culture, embrace and honor the culture that was here before us.

Since starting on this journey, I have been researching the history of the flute, and there is so much to learn – and unlearn, as well. But, enough of vague commentary.

Most of my technical learning has been through the John Vames’ Understanding the Gift, Volume 1. It’s pretty informative, and good for someone who doesn’t have a very formal music background, like me. I also found R. Carlos Nakai’s The Art of the Native American Flute a must have for understanding how this instrument became what it is today, and how important is to understand its role in bridging between the white and tribal nations.

My practice is sporadic, but mostly because I am caught between following a traditional music theory path, and what some people call an improv path. My guess is that my approach could be somewhere between the two – learning the basics of reading Nakai Tab and traditionally written music, and then playing straight from the heart. I have seen Nakia in concert twice so far. And the impression I walked away with from both venues (one with the RCNQ and the other with MusicaNova) is that RC soars when he plays from the heart.

My very first live exposure to the NAF was hearing Tony Duncan play at a Cave Creek (AZ) Art festival. It was just so beautiful I could only dream of being able to try and play. Yet, here I am, with five flutes to my name, still stumbling my way through finding my voice. That, I understand, comes with time. And the flutists that I have spoken with that play from the heart stress how important it is to be able to separate yourself from the western music style to achieve the real peace and grace that is present in the Native American flute.

That said, here is my first public performance, done on a volunteer basis. There is so much more to learn!

Koko’s Lament by John Vames, played by Claudia Cocco

Playing for the Raptors

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Deflected Hand Dyed – Double Fluff!

This all started with the scarf that Katniss wears in the second movie of The Hunger Games series, Catching Fire. She is hunting in District Twelve, her home district. It’s a really cool design. But the pixel level was not good enough for me to really analyze the pattern, especially since the scarf was all scrunched. Everything old is new again definitely applies to weaving. Patterns pop up in weaving circles like they are the latest new candy, and lo and behold you find something similar that has been published more than fifty years ago. For me, it’s the use of different fibers that makes for fun in the chase, even on the most simple patterns. Hmmm….. But with good friends on the look-out, observation, and patience brought a lot of patterns to my attention, and I started to learn about a new structure (new to me, at least), called deflected doubleweave, also known as integrated cell, and in the case of the pattern I am using for this project, Double Fluff (from Russell Groff, 200 Patterns for Multiple Harness Looms, Robin and Russ Handweavers, 1979). Thank you, to whomever in the Catching Fire production staff that chose that particular scarf for Katniss to wear!

Mary Atwater Briggs has the earliest version that I happened to accidentally stumble upon without realizing what I was looking at (1957). Handwoven has a felted version that has been passed around a lot (January/February 2009, by Barbara Herbster). Weaving Today published a free How to Weave a Scarf e-book with a Felted Lace pattern by Madelyn van der Hoogt (on page 13). Alas, the Catching Fire scarf is definitely not felted. And it’s not really an open windowpane effect. I did try the tie-up and came out with mixed results:

Onward, indeed.

Kudos to my weaving friend Laura who found the real deal. It is called the “Double Fluff”, by Russell Groff, from 200 Patterns for Multiple Harness Looms, Robin and Russ Handweavers, 1979.


There was also the question of which threads I would use, and quite frankly I had been hoping to be able to use the yarn I dyed at my Rick Rao class back in February.  After all, I had handspun silk in there as well as linen, cotton, linen boucle, merino wool and even embroidery thread. It would be a perfect showcase for all the colors that had grown together in Rick’s garden in New Mexico.

I quickly loaded it into my iWeave app to check the draft. Measured the warp, sectionally, and then loaded it onto the beam. My gut told me that I would be better off using my 8 dent reed than the 10 dent I had used in all my calculations.  I just didn’t want to overtax the yarn through a narrower reed. After spreading the warp, I threw two plain weave picks and sewed a hemstitch, then threw four more plain weave picks. Out of curiosity I left a one (1) inch dent, then started the pattern.

At first I thought I had left enough weft yarn from measuring the warp, but the extra spread from changing from a 10 dent to an 8 dent reed through my weft measurements all out of whack. So although I started by using only one color per pattern repeat, I decided to just go with the flow and change colors as I ran out of a full bobbin of any given color, alternating as I wove.

It was a bit hairy at times, but overall it worked out pretty well.

In my infinite wisdom, I decided to repeat the dent and then hemstitch at the originally planned length, 70 inches, not thinking that the wider width (does that sound brilliant, or what?) would require a longer length (so technical!). I left a nice fringe length, and then started another section without a dent at the hem. Instead of 36 inches, though, I only had a weaving length of 20 before I had to call it a day because I couldn’t get anymore shed. Since I was just flying blind anyway, I pulled it off the lo0m and threw it into the washing machine on the delicate cycle with Tide Colorfast. There was no telling how much bleeding might occur, and Tide Colorfast has saved me in the past, and it did very well here. It was hung to dry – and being in Arizona in August, out in the sunshine it went and it was all dry in no time at all.

The length versus width issue was very apparent here. And the wide dent had hemstitch on either side, so guess what? It’s staying all one piece.

Of course I couldn’t have a boring fringe. So I decided to knot a macrame pattern, tying on beads and things on the fourth row of knots, then trimming off the ragged edges. I used charms, beads, feathers, orphaned earrings and buttons – quite a mishmash of memories and symbols.

The beads tingle and ring when I throw the scarf around my shoulders. I hate to think of it lying rolled up in a dark drawer – there was so much work put in this (spinning, dying, weaving and finishing) that I couldn’t bear to think about parting with it. So, when I find the right type of curtain rod, it will be hanging on a wall in my home to I can enjoy it when I’m not wearing it. Deflected doubleweave is currently my favorite structure.




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Study Group Recovery

Study groups can be pretty tricky, no matter what the discipline. Of course, you’d think that creating a group that is smaller than the larger group (or guild) would be able to get some in-depth structure study. The problem is that, over time, it grows too big agin, and then there are too many people with too many divergent opinions about what the topics would be. Then nothing gets accomplished.

So, without saying much more, I tagged along with a topic (network) that was not my favorite. I thought if I forced myself I might find that I would like it and at the least, learn something. I learned that I wasn’t too keen after all. So my four color network project turned into a two color network project and not so informative sample.


I had three yards left on the loom! I tried to recover with a Huck lace pattern from my last workshop. But I think there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and a 100% huck lace structure in a cotton that has a bit of heft didn’t make me very happy either. I think that a looser sett would have been better, it would have turned out less stiff.  Also, I wasn’t consistent on the beating – it’s hard to maintain an even beat when you keep walking away from a project. I did like the color combo:

So, how was I going to get my mojo back??????

Dish towels, 8/2 cotton (thirsty as all get out), colors to match my kitchen granite. Weft woven to match the warp color distribution with a few stretches so it wouldn’t be a square. And hand sewn hems. Spell broken. And now on to my current fascination, deflected double weave. Stay tuned!

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Colour and Design – Another Jane Stafford Textiles Adventure

Hey Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Canada – we’re back! My friend Laura and I returned once more for another weaving adventure with a favorite weaving teacher, Jane Stafford. Colour and Design was offered at the beginning of April, so we coordinated schedules and headed up to the island studio once again.

This time we weren’t able to get a Farm Stay, but ended up with comfortable accomodations down the road at the Green Acres Lakeside Resort, just a short (but invigorating) walk down the road.


Jane had unlimited examples of using division of space, sett, gradation of color, throwing in a color zinger. The sky’s the limit and each example was a springboard for so many more ideas. No way you can write all this down – it’s something that gets absorbed through repetition, observance, and actually doing.  Doing is the operative action here.


One of the exercises we performed was pulling colors from pictures that we found inspriring and/or that spoke to something inside us. Nature has so many interesting combinations of colors that aren’t necessarily intuitive from our cultural training. It’s all a matter of recognizing the box we’ve drawn for ourselves, then stretching outside of the self-imposed limit.  No judgement, no frustration, just observing and reacting. If you start thinking about it too much it just doesn’t work.


My new design tools…..sketchbook, pencils, imagination.


Laura and I made sure to get some outside time on the island – Salt Spring is very beautiful and has many hidden crannies that beg for exploration. Observing nature while taking the class gave us different pespectives on natural division of space and use of color.

As a group we all drove into town to visit a local fiber exhibition, which included work not just from Jane and other local artists, but many former students of Jane’s that went on to become recognized artists.


Here’s Jane demonstrating poper technique when using a warping wheel, one of many tips we picked up during the class.

Here are my samples – trimmed and washed. In each sample, we basically wove the weft in the same color pattern as the warp. It was an interesting study in balance (and being able count, on top of that). It was all in 8/2 unmercerized cotton, which I have to say was very pleasant to work with.  I had only used mercerized before, but liked the hand of this much more.


Airflights are far and few between, so we opted to repeat last year’s overnight stay, this time in Victoria.  We were able to catch a decent ferry off the island, which allowed us to tour the Gardens at the Horticultural Society in Victoria. Sometimes I wonder if gardens I visit seem so spectacular because I live in a desert environment and don’t get to see much green. But, based on my previous lives, I thought this was particularly attractive on its own merits.

Dinner at a Tapas restaurant in town, an evening walk, and the next day brought us back to the airport and homeward bound. Thanks to Jane for such a fun learning experience, and to Laura for sharing it with me!


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Crossing Borders – A Visit to the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland

It had been a dream of mine for quite some time to be able to walk the streets of Europe with my husband, knowing how much he would enjoy the walkable cities that are there in abundance. We finally managed to schedule a trip there, with his brother and our sister-in-law, to take a 19 day tour of the U.K. and Republic of Ireland.  It was booked through CIE Tours, based in Dublin. We had great luck with the weather and our itinerary, and it turned out so much better than we could ever anticipate. Good times, good memories, and a snippet of some of the pictures I took along the way can be found at this link. Enjoy!

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Huck Lace Gamp with Tom Knisely

This year is certainly the time for local workshops – and in March, I was able to attend, courtesy of the Telarana Weavers Guild in Mesa, Arizona, Tom Knisely’s Huck Lace Workshop.

Tom provided drafts for both four and eight harness looms.  Since my workshop loom has four harnesses, that was my choice by default – and what a fun exercise!  This is the first time ever that I have woven a “gamp” ( A gamp is a systematic arrangement of warp threadings or warp color sequences in section of equal size, each section being a minimum of two inches and not more than six, and woven as drawn in.  Thank you, Harriet Tidball via Handwoven magazine!) My excuses were numerous, laziness my driver, but there is always a first time for everything, and an opportunity for the best time to make an exception.

Tom’s a great teacher.  He’s focused, keeps you on track, has a great sense of humor. While he covers the basics and makes sure you understand the concept, he also allows for curiosity of the structure and individual exploration of new possibilities. If you’re a foodie, you can imagine Tom as the Alton Brown of weaving, minus Brown’s (sometimes) annoying theatrics. You can feel the enthusiasm and passion for the craft – Tom loves to weave, he loves weaving, and he loves to share it, too.


Gamp Work on Day Two

There was a change of tie-up in every new section, each section containing at least six treadling variations. I was constantly amazed at how much my interest was captivated. Time flew by, measured by the aches in my weaving muscles that called for the requisite stretching. Two colors in the warp, then one, two or three colors in the weft.  Someone calculated the total number of variations, but I just like knowing that there is an ever-expanding horizon of choice with no chance of getting bored.

One of workshop participants blasted through his warp in two days. That provided an opportunity for Tom to demonstrate how he warps the loom. He shared a lot of interesting tricks of the trade, and gave a new perspective to the warping process – especially overlaying multiple color warps. I believe he has documented most of what he covered in class on his Rag Rug video.

I, for one, muddled along, and in the interest of trying to “square” every sample variation, I finished my warp on the third day, in the morning, with a few of the last variations uncompleted.  But now I have a three yard pallate of amazing huck lace – so many scarves, runners and shirt material, and so little time!


My Gamp, Off the Loom, Ready for Finishing!

My gamp is now washed and hanging in full view in my front room – inspiring me every day and gently reminding me of the great expanse of weaving yet to be done.

A closing note – since The Mannings have closed their shop, Tom and his daughter are working to get the Red Stone Glen FIber Arts Center in Pennsylvania up and running, to continue offering weaving instruction. In the meatime he travels throughout the country, teaching weaving.  He also writes a monthly column Notes from the Fell in Handwoven Magazine.

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Linen and Hemp

IMG_2947There are so many weaving drafts out on the internet, whether through social media or dedicated websites it’s overwhelming at times. Some people like to “design” their own weaving drafts – and I have weaving buddies that do some incredible designing. My needs are pretty basic ( and on an 8 shaft loom). Most times I can take a basic pattern and just by the choice of fiber make it a different animal.

So, to feed my fascination with negative space, floats, and squares, I played with the pattern posted here.  I found it on either Facebook or Pinterest or maybe someplace else – at this point I couldn’t tell you because I can’t remember!  (That is why documenting as you go is so important.) But I had some hemp that I wanted to play with, and this seemed like the perfect draft.

I never seem to follow drafts exactly – and not always on purpose.  Since there was such a difference in texture between the hemp and the linen, I opted for a single color warp and a single color weft. 16/1 linen, sett at 24 ends per inch.  It wove up pretty nicely, except for when the hemp just loved to unroll off the bobbin without stopping.  Kinda like driving on ice. Afterwards some weaving friends mentioned that keeping the bobbin damp would help prevent that in the future. But none the wiser at the time, I persevered, and voila – here is the finished product, after a soak and a tumble.


After an overnight soak in fabric softener and another tumble, it came out significantly softer. Since it is only about 57 inches without the fringe, I went ahead and steam-ironed it straight, leaving the fringe au natural.  It’s a fun scarf, and I am sure I will get a lot of use out of it in the desert.  At some point I will be using this same pattern again, only I want to block the colors as they are in the draft – that would pop the pattern out.  And if I use multiple textures again, it certainly will furl up and maybe then I’ll leave it in a bumpy state.

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Dye, No Tie, Oh My!!!!!

There are so many ways to dye fabric and yarn these days, that it can be overwhelming in picking any one method.  My preference is to handle as few noxious agents as possible. And sometimes that is close to impossible or improbable, even when studying methods from the old days of yore, since where there is dye, there must be an agent to make that dye stick. When the opportunity popped up to take a natural dye class with Ric Rao of Las Cruces, New Mexico, I jumped on the chance and was absolutely enthralled with the process as well as the results.

Ric is always searching out natural dye sources, and also has an extensive dye garden in Las Cruces.  The first day of class we used Black Walnuts, Brazilwood, Chamisa (Rabbitbrush), Cochineal, Cota (Navajo Tea), Logwood, Osage Orange, and Snakeweed (with and without Iron). On the second day we used plants exclusively from Ric’s garden – Cosmos (Yellow and Orange), Hibiscus flowers, Hollyhocks, Madder, Indigo, Marigolds, Pecan and Goldenrod.

It was hot work, but very rewarding. Checking on the boiling pots, checking the process, straining the “brew” and adding the fiber to the pot – lots of heat! I usually do pretty well when I am dying “under supervision”. On my own I tend to overthink the process and get into all sorts of problems. But at this point the lightbulb has illuminated – I have a focus on the type of fiber that I am going to be experimenting on in my weaving.  Also, I really want to focus on the desert palate because it is so amazingly versatile with so many options.

Another intriguing aspect of the day was observing the differences in how the dye took to the sample cards that Ric created for us from each pot compared to the variety of yarns each one of us added to the same pot. Since I knew that I had used different tannins for the cellulose-based fibers, I could see the impact of modifying that step of the process. This can be a never-ending science project! I can really appreciate the effort it takes for people who need to replicate colors consistently.  Now I am convinced that it is a black art – even something as unassuming as the type of water or humidity level can change the outcome.


My Desert Palate

So now I have an amazing desert palate, documented in my notebook for reference when preparing future dye sessions.  I hope to be able to resurrect my favorite outcomes – the Black Walnut, Pecan and Snakeweed with Iron – so I can work those colors into a cool weaving project!


My Dye Notebook

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Woodpeckers Don’t Get Concussions

Sometimes small truths put life in perspective and help us get through the day.  For Leo Kottke, who played a smoking concert at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix last night, the title remark was his concert opening.

Leo Kottke has been at the fringe of my musical attention for many years, but I never had an obvious and realistic opportunity to see him play in person.  Let’s face it – going to a concert these days is an assault on the senses.  It seems most venues continually find ways to amplify music to the point of hearing oblivion, with lights and flashes to amplify the pain to the infinite level. I don’t appreciate walking out of a concert not being able to hear for three days afterwards.  That said, thank god for performers like Leo Kottke, and venues like the MIM, to bring music back to the level where it can be experienced and appreciated in full resonance, enhancing your mind instead of crushing it in your body.

There is something magical in finding a lone musician on stage, instruments at the ready, plying the craft and producing a personal experience.  Back in the day, in Jersey (New Jersey), my high school friends and I would find ways to get tickets to performers at the Capital Theater in Passaic, NJ. It was a triple X theater by day, so you can imagine parental reaction to that factoid. It was there that we saw Melanie, Jackson Brown, New Orleans, Elvis Costello, among others. But it was in that creaky, stale-smelling old theater that I learned the appreciation of listening to musicians tell and sing their stories, with music being the main attraction, in what could idealogically be described as an elegant and intimate space.

I am sure that there are other modern venues like the MIM throughout the country.  My hats off to them, because it’s that experience that will keep real music alive, at least in my life.

And thank you, Leo Kottke, for helping to keep these venues viable.  Enjoyed the performance. And that “song from the 60’s” you hadn’t played in a while but played last night – it was my favorite of the evening. To quote a former boss of mine, if the past memory is bad, go back and change the memory to the present.

Life is good.

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The Weaving Adventures Continue….

For all my weaving enthusiast friends, I’ve written about my recent trip to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. Great place for a weaving retreat, and a fabulous teacher, too!

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