Monday, February 28, 2011

The latest spin

I am finally getting around to the Shetland I bought at the NY Sheep and Wool festival last October. I bought quite a bit of carded fiber. I've spun Shetland before but it was prepared as a roving which came with it's own challenges. This carded fiber I have now also is not the easiest to spin as it has quite a bit of grip to itself. Very important to find the right direction for drafting! After a few tests I've decided to go with a relatively thin single and 3-ply it. That will help even out the yarn as the testy drafting causes some inconsistency in my single.

It really feels nice to sit at the spinning wheel again. Yesterday morning I put on Bach's Suites for solo Cello and spun away. Gawd, it was relaxing. That's a picture of my little Kromski Mazurka above, I love her. She whispers to me as I sit spinning, waiting for my prince to come along. The picture below is a close up of the Shetland.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Continuing... how I work at the piano... getting a little more candid now about my "process"...

I don't struggle with the piano, I struggle with myself. It's a good and joyous struggle and there's progress in it. ...

A little history.... I spent 6 years going to a Bioenergetic therapist. I like the bioenergetic emphasis on body and mind. Not just mind, not just body, not just soul, but a whole. I read several of Alexander Lowen's books in the early 80s, about the time I started therapy. Lowen was a student of Wilhelm Reich--another writer whose works I read much. Actually, I discovered Reich first and that's what led me to read Lowen. I am especially fond of Lowen's premise that everything we experience and know is through the body, and also his discussions of tension. Unhealthy tensions, that over time, can become chronic. They are great theories and I consider both Reich and Lowen brilliant men, even though they might "not have gotten everything right" as a sociology teacher once declared. But there is lot's to consider in them as they might apply to making music.

The problem I had, personally, with Bioenergetic therapy was that, considering my particular difficulties, the hands-on bit was often just too aggressive for me. I see in retrospect that what I needed first and foremost was to talk a lot. Also there was too much expectation (totally on my part most likely), that something would have to happen. That all got in the way. I care a lot for the therapists I've had over the years though, and I thank them deeply.

Alexander Technique, on the other hand, has nothing to do with psychoanalysis and is a very gentle, subtle attention to the way we use ourselves. It aims to help us become aware of bad use, over use, and "end gaining". Alexander Technique has been invaluable to me as a musician and I highly recommend it to all.

I have found that working at the piano is akin to Bioenergetic therapy--without the talking bit, but I talk to myself a lot so maybe that counts. Actually, working at the piano the way I do stirs up a lot of "stuff" and I find I need "sessions with myself" to sort (sometimes struggle) through it all. Years of therapy have left me reasonably well equipped.

Working at the piano "the way I do" means that I'm continually working at becoming aware of where I "hold" myself and where freedom of movement is restricted. When I discover that the music fails to flow because of some rigidity, I try to pinpoint the location. It can be anywhere, but once that weakness is located I can work on it and hopefully break through.

I especially love pieces of music that challenge my current level of ability and direct me to places of myself that need re-awaking and renewal. Schumann's "Symphonic Etudes" are the ticket at the moment and I declare that they are brilliant!! They are genius. Beautiful to listen to and chock full of absolutely brilliant challenges.

Books I recommend, pertinent to this post, for the music bookshelf:

Bioenergetics by Alexander Lowen, M.D. (c) 1975 Penguin Books
--The book in which he sets forth his theory.
Indirect Procedures by Pedro de Alcantara (c) 1997 Oxford University Press
--Subtitle: "A Musician's Guide to the Alexander Technique." There's some incredibly great stuff in this book, albeit I take issue with a few notions. Overall, it's a treasure.
A New Approach to the Alexander Technique by Glen Park (c) 1998 Glen Park.
Just Play Naturally by Vivien Mackie (c) 2002 Duende Editions
Body Learning by Michael J. Gelb (c)1995 Owl Books
The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser (c) 1997 Bell Tower

Friday, February 11, 2011


The beginning of a ramble which I'll contribute to on and off....

I sit down to practice at the piano and realize the piano isn't going to change. As a well built precision instrument it will do what it has always done, and done well. No. Sitting myself down in front of those 88 keys I come to realize that I have to change.

Learning to play an instrument is a journey of self exploration and inner change, both physical and mental. My universe changes as I practice, sometimes with ease and sometimes cathartically. Mostly the latter. Perhaps this stems from my being an adult student. Maybe. 50-odd years of habit. I've worked through a lot of the habit but realize I have further to go. How many times have I finished practicing and asked myself, "Did I just spend 2 hours being tortured on a rack, or was that really just my piano?" Good teacher, my piano.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Knit-wise... making contact with UFO's

December was holiday knitting. It's over with and so are the large projects of last year. There are a couple sweaters I want to make from patterns I found in a used book store in NH at the beginning of December but these are waiting for me to spin some yarn--Shetland mostly. Love the stuff. I've done a couple experiments and it looks like I'll be spinning a fine single and plying it triplicate.

So just before Christmas I opened the UFO drawer and found a couple lovelies I'd forgotten about. One is a cashmere-silk fisherman's style scarf on small needles (I can't remember! 2's or 3's I think.) which I finished a week or so ago. Mozart was kind enough to model it for me (in front of an appropriately snowy painting by Gary Hamel--my childhood friend of NH). Mozart and I have been spending quite a bit of time together lately, so I asked if he'd oblige. More about that in another post...

It is very light. So light, in fact, that I'm worried it won't hold it's shape in transit, and I may end up knitting a small i-cord border for it. We'll see how it goes once I've worn it for the first time.

Another UFO hovering about since last year is this quite narrow scarf in cotton chenile. Colorful and a little bit unruly to knit, the chenile twists and twists and twists so that I need to take frequent breaks to hold the knitting up by the loose end and let it unwind. Did this on Metro North last Saturday on my way to and from CT and I'm sure it left some people wondering. It appears narrower than it actually is since it's not blocked...

Hooker me... using up leftovers

I'm waiting for some new linen with which to start my recycled shirt project and yesterday I remembered a scrap of linen left over from my last project. The scrap is just enough for a small (12" x 24") rug and today I drew a harvest theme on it. It'll keep me busy for a while. I was reminiscing with my Aunt last weekend about the Grange ( The Grange ) which we both belonged to in our youth and so it's not surprising Ceres (Demeter to the Greeks) would be part of my brain wave. I haven't drawn a border yet but it's going to be very basic.

The design appears in "A Treasury of Needlework Designs" by Martha Rogers Zimiles, (c) 1976 by Litton Educational Publishing, Inc. (ISBN 0-442-29584-7) from which I copied it freehand with a few of my own alterations. This book is a fabulous resource. Originally written for needlepoint and embroidery, I think every single pattern in the book is suitable for adaptation as a rug. It's worth looking for.

I will attempt to use as much leftover wool as possible but I'll have to purchase some for the backgrounds.

By the way, the Grange's motto is:
In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.
That's the sort of thing that a youngster like myself wouldn't pay a whole lot of attention to at the age when I was going to the Grange. But reading that now I think it's definitely worth a second thought. Nice.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hooker me... just for the record

This is my last rug. The hooking was finished just before I started this blog. It is hooked in 100% wool cut to strips 5/32" wide. The design is my own and I call it "Bird Seasons." I may be selling the pattern! :) To compare with my current project...

Hooker me ... recycled shirts

I cleaned out my closet last weekend and in so doing I got the inspiration for my next hooked rug. Several shirts no longer fit me (!? it's inexplicable... it's like they shrank!) so I pulled them out and left them in a pile on the living room floor all week. Yesterday I took the scissors to them and salvaged some wonderful--mostly cotton--fabric. I tore a strip from each and hooked the following palette. I'm going to hook a round rug for the small hall in front of the bathroom and want to do florals. My palette is short on yellows, oranges and greens so I stopped at the thrift store on my way to work today and picked up a few tee shirts. I'm excited and ready to start hooking as soon as I order some more linen backing. This will be very different from my last rug which was all wool, very evenly cut. This rug will be hooked in .5" to .75" widths, inspired by Kaffe Fassett's work.