I have just spent two joyful days making bramble baskets in new leafed woodland near Heathfield, East Sussex, facilitated by Ruby Taylor of Native Hands.
The gentle supportive tone and pace of the weekend was set as we were invited to make the short walk into our camp in the woods, silently and to turn off our mobile phones. Each day we joined in the lighting of a campfire, blowing gently to ignite a small spark held in a dry grass bundle to which twigs, sticks and small split logs were added. It became the centre of warmth, support and mindful making.
For our material, we gathered and stripped brambles; a small wall basket with a handle the aim. Each technical step was taught with care and clarity by Ruby. We shared food at lunch times and punctuated our days with plentiful tea and flapjacks. Baskets finished, but not yet trimmed as bramble shrinks, we gathered with joyful surprise at our efforts.
As we contemplated our return to busy-ness, Ruby read The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry to complete a quite beautiful weekend.
“When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
© susy orton 2019
Inspiring books have come into my life these past few months; they arrived in various ways but all with generosity and warmth. I wanted to share them.
The first is by Elizabeth Fisher and Rebecca Fortnum: On Not Knowing: How Artists Think. It’s a chewy book, when slow re-reading and digesting is essential for me. It has chapters like ‘Tactics for Not Knowing’ and ‘Unteachable and Unlearnable’ and ‘Pedagogy of the Not Known’. I am loving it, chewing it and allowing myself to relax a little more into my own puzzles and artistic endeavours.
The second is by Kate Davies: Handywoman. Paralysed by a stroke at the age of 39, Kate’s world turned upside down. Forced to change direction, she took a radical new creative path. Handywoman is not a book about triumph over adversity, rather it is her account of the ordinary activities and everyday objects that stroke and disability made her see differently. Part memoir, part personal celebration of the power of making, it redefines disability as in itself a form of practical creativity.
© sue orton 2018
In 2017 I was asked if I took commissions and I was unsure so. Here is my response…
A commission …… the process of weaving for me, is to walk, to be outside, to find some inspiration photographs, pictures, writing or some thing that intrigues me, moves me, to ponder and to wonder….… then to sketch, to explore shapes and ideas without knowing the form, colour or structure of a piece, until it ‘emerges’ out of my sketch books over time. Once I settle on the feel of a piece, I play with colour, with yarn and with weave structure, make a short warp and sample some ideas on my small loom to see if it works.
Then, when I’m happy I design a warp, wind it and then put it onto my loom before weaving and then finishing it. Sounds simple but it’s a bit more complex than that. The stages I go through are: sketching and designing; developing a colour pallet; selecting yarn; exploring and finalising a weave structure; winding a warp of 500-600 threads, dressing the loom – taking the warp from the carousel to the back beam; threading and treadle setting; weaving, washing and finishing a test section usually 20 cm; adjusting the set as needed or not: weaving full length of about 2 m, and then finishing. This usually takes me a couple of months. The summer and winter are good weaving times as I’m not doing so much learning coaching. In the autumn and spring, weaving is punctuated with coaching during each term.
In December I finished a commission; post to follow this.
© sue orton
Colour and weaving explorations for Peru1. These pictures are from a sample made on my Louet Kombo 40 loom using just 5 of the 8 shafts. The whole process of winding a warp, threading and sleying onto the loom has been a refresher too. It feels like I’m gathering up the learnings from my Diploma again and bedding them in. I’ve been working on designing in the tie-up too which is difficult. I have rethreaded all 8 shafts now and will be looking at new designs.
© sue orton
I have returned to practising Taiji Quigong this week thanks to the brilliant DVD The Road to Health and Vitality with Chris Jarmey and sold for just £5.00 + pp in aid of The Bubble Foundation. He explains the benefits of the practise and then takes you through the 18 movements (about 25 mins) gently and clearly; I love it. If you want one, send a cheque to the foundation + a donation if you wish and they will send you one.
© sue orton
Weaving has taken a back seat through the winter months. It took me a while to revive my creative energies after my Diploma and the fall out from that. I have also been busy with BIMM work mentoring in Bristol, Brighton and Manchester; I love it but it’s a very different energy from the quiet building and concentrated energy of weaving. I’m noticing a transition going on as I move from the design ideas, colours and yarns of 2015 into now explorations. Almost by accident I have just woven a piece which marks this and is giving me pointers for a new direction. My winter beach walks in wind and rain were often raw and seemingly colourless at first, they gave me the design idea. The cloth is an extended herringbone tweed pattern with a mix of left over colours from diploma projects; wool and bamboo; I’m pleased with it as it’s got me back excited about weaving again.
© sue orton
As Paris is the focus for discussions about the world response to climate change this week, two books I have read and am re-reading come to mind.
Landmarks crafted and compiled by Robert Macfarlane is a most beautiful meditation, reflection, verging on poetry, in praise of landscape. It seems we are letting the language of the countryside slip through our fingers and minds, so thank goodness Robert Macfarlane is on the case to help. Gathered over many years from many sources this book is brilliant and we need to keep searching and recording! Here are some gems:
stoach: to churn up waterlogged land as cattle do in winter Kent, Sussex. There’s a lot of this about around here just now.
yark: cold, wild stormy weather, Exmoor.
And a personal favourite which I can’t stop looking out for: smeuse: the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of small animals, Sussex dialect.
If the effects of climate change seem too huge to get a handle on then Adventures in the Anthropocene might illuminate things. Gaia Vince a journalist and broadcaster specialising in science and the environment, wanted to discover the effects of climate change from different communities in the world, so she gave up her job and travelled the world finding out. I am finding it very powerful and inspiring. There’s a guy making small glaciers every year in Nepal to store drinking water for the crops in Spring because the large glaciers have disappeared in his lifetime. Wi-fi is helping local farmers share market prices of their goods before they walk for several days to find it’s not worth it! This book weaves stories from individuals into a astonishing global story and presents a surprisingly positive picture of the world. The book won Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2015.
© sue orton