Fundamentals of Composition: Journey and Pedagogy

lady taste“Always leave something off the page,” ~Madeline Sattler, my art teacher

Certain memorable people touch us on our creative journey, and we will never forget them.  This is certainly true of key artistic mentors on my path, including tapestry weaver Fran Potter (many of you have likely heard me tell stories about Fran!) and my visual arts teacher Madeline Sattler.

Madeline was the mother of one of my fellow Montessori students, and several times a month she would come to our classroom, armed with art supplies, books, ideas, and imaginative exercises.  There was painting, paper cutting, collage, colored pencil, still life portraits (I still remember when we had to draw each other without looking at the page, yikes!), pointillism, ethnic art studies, and so much more.  From grade school up through mentoring with her one-on-one when I was homeschooling through middle and high school, Madeline offered an open door to the world of visual arts—how it worked, how it thought, and how all mediums were worth exploring.  Wherever you are today Madeline, thank you!

As a young adult, I naivelmadeliney thought that everyone had such a background in fundamental arts training.  But as I’ve grown and matured, I’ve found this is not the case!  For some of us, what we’ve been told as a “do this, don’t do that” list is actually harming our ability to express.  For others, it seems like all this is a great mystery that artist are just born already knowing.  The first is a tragedy and the second is, for most of us, a myth.  We can all improve with study and practice!

My own arts training journey continued through visits to museums, watching documentaries, taking additional classes and courses, reading, and being observant.  This means that I don’t have a favorite book or go-to website to hand you all this information.  Instead, I have the synthesis of an artist life, from which this course distills the essential nuggets that will enhance and perhaps even change how you look at and create art.

Instead of treating this material as a set of rules you must follow like a recipe that then equals great art (we all know there’s much more in the mix than that!), I’m going to showcase these pears as essential concepts in art.  Instead of laying them out as cardinal, I’ll bring you on the journey of where these concepts come from, when they were crystalized (plenty of art existed before these concepts were standardized and taught), and how you can use them effectively in your design work.

We’ll also look at examples of forms of art that diverge from the classical, Western theory of composition.  There can be many voices at the table, as my own practice is bilingual between the worlds of fine art and folk art from a variety of ethnicities and cultures.  Both styles are steeped in history, knowing, and legitimacy, and neither one should push the other out of the discussion.

So, let’s roll up our creative sleeves and explore what makes composition “work”—or not—and why.

Learn more about the upcoming “Fundamentals of Composition” course here.

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Embracing the Creative Journey

My first run of “Developing a Designer’s Eye” recently wrapped up, offering an immersive invitation to liberate our creative souls.  Many of the students who participated I’ve now known for more than a year, and to watch them blossom and explore through this journey together was both beautiful and inspiring.

Through the 5-minute timed writing exercises of the final sessions, many were surprised by how much their perspective on being an artist–or even being able to draw–had changed.  Over three gatherings, each a week apart, we had held the space for each other to grow, shift, and thrive.

“Developing a Designer’s Eye” is just one in a series I’m creating on design, with “Fundamentals of Composition” releasing in June.  Another run of “Developing a Designer’s Eye” is also scheduled for May, so if you missed the first one, there is still a chance to join!  Learn more here.

During the final sessions of the course, I participated in the writing exercises as well.  I’m including excerpts from these below, as inspiration on your own journey.  Feel free to try the prompts as well.  Take 5 minutes, keep the pen moving (outpacing the inner critic), and you too may be surprised with what is ready to be heard.

My New Creativity Habits Are (current ones or those you are claiming):

  • Being organized enough so that finding what I need to express myself doesn’t hamper actualizing.
  • Capturing ideas and inspiration.  Even if I can’t act on them right now, at least they haven’t run away.
  • Allowing myself playfulness.  Not everything has to be a masterpiece.  I can try things just to try them without expectations.
  • Learning new things to add to my creative repertoire.  No fun just doing the same thing!  The more tools and ways of expressing I’ve mastered, the more options available.
  • Taking breaks.  I don’t need to flog myself into finishing.  Fresh air and exercise can help me get a new perspective on an idea or project.
  • Being ok with not being instantly good at something.  Beginner’s mind.  Mastery comes with practice and you need to start somewhere.
  • Building nurturing creative community.
  • Staying true to the core of what I love.  Remembering why I love it.  Reminding me and it of its loveliness.
  • Being kind to myself, reframing from overworking myself and therefore squeezing too hard.
  • Celebrating the wins, even small ones.  Finding the good in the situation and cultivating it.
  • Holding my inner peace, even when there is turmoil around me.  Always looking for the way forward.
  • Finding the learning potential in each experience and project.

I’ve Learned to Watch Out For:

  • Being too hard on myself, having too strict of an agenda, demanding top performance all the time.
  • Crazy-makers and naysayers–inside or outside.  I need to create a bubble of safety around my art practice.
  • Not taking care of myself, which is a form of blocking.  If I’m exhausted or ill, I don’t have the connection or aren’t available to creative energy.
  • Sticking to what I know works.  I need to find comfort in taking creative risks and chasing after “what ifs,” even when I’m not sure how to get there from here.
  • “I can’ts.”  Denial of possibilities, especially creative ones is a no-win situation.  Permission, permission, permission.
  • Overworking myself in productivity mode.  Taking time for rest and creativity mode.  Having boundaries for personal space and voicing when something isn’t working.
  • The chewing, gnawing, grasping nature of doubt, which turns into denial, then goes straight for worthlessness.
  • The procrastinator, the excuse maker, the distracted, the needy, the insecure facets that wish to creep in.  I am not them.  They wish to subvert, divert, to convince me that they are reality when they are not my true nature.
  • The clouding of true-sight, of losing a firm grasp of what I love, what calls to me, and my own innate worthiness.  I must hold onto the light, the line, the calling–journeying onward knowing the way will unfold with each step.
  • That which is not my ally or true friend:  the flatterers, the manipulators, the thieves, and the jealous.

I’ve Noticed a Shift in My Perception About:

  • What I can teach.  How this course is the real work to be done, and how that can impact others.
  • The worth of my time and how I manage and spend it.  Time is our greatest asset.
  • How much I am still learning and growing as well, that I certainly don’t have all the answers but know enough to reach out a hand, to invite others to join me.
  • How important it is to nurture creative community, for myself and others.  The notion of the artist as a lone wolf is such a toxic myth.
  • My own barriers and fears, that “not good enough” is just slamming a door to possibilities.  That it’s ok to not be good at something, without it having any relationship to enough-ness.
  • Remembering that my core is as a storyteller, with lots of ways to manifest.  Staying true to that core keeps my light shining.

What does embracing the journey of a life infused with creativity have to offer you?  I invite you to jump in!

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Writing to Access Our Creativity

picasso quoteThis week launched the first of five segments of my courses in design.  “Developing a Designer’s Eye” is all about embracing the creative journey and lifestyle, which is both astoundingly beautiful and tough inner work.

As part of our first Zoom gatherings, I invited the students to use Natalie Goldberg’s tried-and-true method of the timed writing exercise to dive into prompts on creativity that unearthed facets of the gem of what creativity is, what nurtures creativity, and what hampers it.  We only gave ourselves 5 minutes per theme, but what came of those five minutes was powerful magic that sparked conversations, introspection, and clear sight.  What a beautiful space to hold for each other!

I worked the same exercises along with the students, and I wanted to share my writing on these prompts with you as well, as an offering on your own creative journey.  The class is meeting as two separate groups, to accommodate schedules, so I will include my writings from both groups, as they come at the topic from a slightly different slant.  You are welcome to try these exercises and see what comes up for you!  The only rule is once you start the timer, do not let the pen stop.  Whatever needs to come onto the page, let it come.

With my mission of “Liberating the Creative Soul,” this feels like where the real work is happening.

First Prompt:  Creativity is:

Creativity is a journey, it’s the wilderness of expression granted each of us at birth.  It asks only that we show up and are ready, toned, and eager to listen, to see.  Creativity is a river you can dip into, endless and boundless.  We are the ones who become stingy.  We are the ones who deny ourselves access and tell ourselves we aren’t worthy, that we can’t do it.  Creativity is flow, it changes our perception of time and space.  It is incredibly slow and wildly fast at the same time.  The wildness of creativity can find a way to survive in domesticity, but it is not happy there.  It needs times of freedom, of trying out the unexpected, of no longer being penned and hemmed and chained to a post.  It wants to flourish out there and come back to visit, in fact it calls us to join it, not us reeling it in, like a bear on a chain.  It is both so real and yet so intangible.  When you are immersed in its energy, you know it in your bones.

Creativity is a blessing.  It is a stream that flows in our lives, in our unconsciousness.  It is a blooming, a flourishing, a process of bringing to life that which is seeking expression.  It is an aspect of love, of a love of being alive, of being in a human form at this time, at this place, now.  It is a love of both the mess and the serenity and of finding the magical in the moment.  It is hope–it is finding our way even when we don’t really yet know what that way is.  Creativity is expansive, is all-encompassing.  It is a longing for us to join IT, to find our way through our doubts and our habits of self loathing to see that we can be a well-tuned instrument, ready to sing with wood and string and bone.  Creativity gives us energy, keeping us up at night way past our normal mortal abilities.  It feeds us in ways not accessible to food.  It comforts us, allowing us to heal the unspeakable inside.

Second Prompt:  Creativity is Nurtured by:

The act of showing up.  The act of optimism, of being open to possibilities and chasing after them.  Creativity is nurtured by opportunities, of taking time, and of having the materials at hand to express what is trying to make manifest inside you.  Creativity flourishes with good companions that feed the best in you, as well as alone time without distractions.  Creativity is nurtured by letting go of expectations or demanding performances.  It does not want to be squeezed.  It wants “what if” and the permission to chase after it.  Creativity is nurtured through practice, through hope, is even an expression of hope.  Creativity loves to know that you are there for it, that you honor it, that you care to have a relationship with it.  It is like tending to a garden, with all the necessary tasks before any blooms or fruits arrive.  Not all the jobs in the garden are glamorous, but all of them are worthy.

Creativity is nurtured by having someone who believes in you, and that includes you, which can sometimes be the hardest part.  Creativity is nurtured by big questions and diving in, by making gaps in our busy lives for doing just that, by taking a breath and just being in the moment and noticing life in its tiny splendor.  Creativity is nurtured by little things–a beautiful color of yarn, a warm cup of fragrant tea, a soul-cheering chat.  Creativity finds its liveliness in the margins, not center-stage, where it is expected to perform right then and there.  We must build a practice for it, a home for it, a nest.  The tidiness of that nest matters very little in comparison to the value of having the nest at all.  Creativity is nurtured by being ok with not knowing, with suspending judgment and a desire for specific outcomes.  The nourishing of creativity comes with time and care.

Third Prompt:  Creativity is Hampered by:

Creativity is hampered by doubt, by telling yourself that you are unworthy, that you are not good enough.  It is hampered by procrastination, which is one of the masks for fear.  Creativity is hampered by giving the inner critic too much of an ear, of letting it drag you away from your true nature.  We are all worthy; we are all called.  Crazy-makers and naysayers want to block you too, so they feel better about being blocked themselves.  They will gladly eat your soul alive and think nothing of it.  That is a reflection of their own pain, and not your burden to bear.  In the end, though, we are often our own worst enemies in this way, crushing our own tender shoots.

Creativity is hampered by fear–fear of failure, fear of the unknown, even fear of success??, fear of ridicule and persecution, fear of not being enough or of being too much or of being mediocre.  Creativity is hampered by lack of trust, by being gut-punched by betrayal and self-loathing and worthlessness, which is just a mask for the fear of being unlovable.  Creativity is hampered by thinking we don’t have time, don’t have energy, don’t have money or resources.  But guess what, we just need to show up, to move forward in faith and self-compassion and all the rest of it moves as well–moves aside or moves into place.  Creativity is hampered by stinginess, thinking that our perception of not-enough-ness is actual reality.  Instead, we can turn that around to gratitude, to hope, to compassion, even when in our humanness we stumble and fall.  We can ask ourselves, “Can I love myself through this?” answer “yes,” pick up, and carry on.

Carry on my creative friends!



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Reframing Our Relationship with Discipline

I can hear the groan even on mute during a recent Zoom meeting with fellow tapestry weavers and members of the Weaver’s Guild of Minnesota.  We’re choosing our theme for our next Sunday evening gathering, coming up in March.  The discussion prompt I’ve just tossed on the table is on creating a daily practice and building good habits as a tapestry weaver.

“I have so many ideas, I just lack the discipline to do them all!” one member laments with a guilty snicker and obverted eyes.

How many times has your inner critic hurled at you, “Well, you could be good at this, but you’re not disciplined enough” ??

It is unfortunate that our concept of discipline has become as twisted as has our understanding of what an artist is.  Let’s untangle that a bit and see what we can learn.

The word discipline shares the same Latin root as disciple, which connotes study and knowledge.  To be a disciple actually translates as being a student, not being a follower.  Discipline is in relation to the act of being a student, just like disciplines can be used to mean branches of study.

If we take the attitude of being a student of what we love, rather than being a soldier, I find the journey much more enjoyable.  We don’t necessarily have to know where we’re going, but we’re on the trail.  We’re curious.  We’re asking questions and seeking answers.

What are the attributes of this being-a-student-ness, rather than dogged soldiery we should embrace?

  • Dedication to the topic of study
  • Seeking advice from teachers/mentors
  • Researching and asking questions
  • Trying out hypotheses
  • Emulating masters until we find our own footing
  • Pursuing the truth and interconnections
  • Contextualizing the information you’re uncovering
  • Cycling between study and practice (praxis)

As you carry forward on this journey of our creative practices, please refrain from flogging yourself as being not good enough along the way.  Instead, stay the eager student, stay curious, stay engaged.  Ask big questions and chase after them.  Try out concepts in small places like your journal or on the biggest piece of paper you can find.

The journey awaits.  Let’s go.

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Thoughts on Creating “Developing a Designer’s Eye” Course

“Take care of the being, and the doing takes care of itself.” ~Ann Berlage (my amazing mom)

Venturing into the world of design can feel like a forest (or a minefield) of rules.  Do this, don’t do that…  This, compared with the nearly endless panoply of possibilities can leave you feeling frozen, confused, or intimidated in the face of the blank page.  Where does one even begin?

As a prolific practicing artist, the perspective that I’m going to bring to this course is the essential need to step back from the “do this, don’t do that” level of discourse to spend time nurturing your creative being and creative journey.

Being a designer is a facet of being an artist—a lifelong journey and way of looking at and experiencing the world, with its circuitous, cyclical, and divergent ways of manifesting.  The lack of time the art world spends on nurturing the human side of its designers is a travesty, as much of mainstream art education assumes you’ve already worked on this on your own.

We all instinctively know the difference between an inspired novel or piece of music, compared to a formulaic one.  The same is true in the visual arts.  To create inspired work, we need inspired artists who have nurtured and liberated their creativity.

Offering the opportunity for you to embrace that journey is what this course is all about!  So, take a deep, regenerative breath, remind yourself that you are more than worth it, and extend a compassionate hand to your inner artist (often visualized as a young version of yourself).  Let’s take this adventure together.

Here are some of the topics we’ll explore together, accompanied by exercises to engage with your design journal.

  • The Value of Focused Intention and Attention
  • Nurturing a Creative Lifestyle
  • Reframing Our Relationship with Drawing
  • Creativity vs Productivity:  Yin and Yang
  • Building Your Compost Pile
  • Reframing the Conversation on Art vs. Craft
  • Reframing Our Relationship with the Inner Critic
  • You’ll Never Please Everyone, So Do What You Love with Enthusiasm
  • Reframing Our Relationship with Discipline

Every journey begins with a few steps, and it always begins where you are, in this moment, now.  It starts with what you have, and as the journey slowly spirals outwards, you find that new conversations, new ideas, and new perspectives become a part of your world.  There are no straight lines on the journey, but instead the spiral invites us to revisit concepts or situations again, only this time armed with new knowledge, insight, and experiences.

From a cup well-filled and a vital heart well-tended will spring forth blooms and fruits of bountiful creativity.  That is my wish for you through this course, as we do the work within before tackling the next chapters in mastering facets of design.

May your design journal be bursting with ideas, collected treasures, big questions, and joy.

Interested in learning more?  Find class details here.

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New Projects for a New Year

rosepath rug weavingThe New Year is here, and with it a chance to start something new.  In my fiber arts studio, I’m always excited to start new projects (indeed, works in progress are everywhere around here!) as well as share them virtually in Zoom classes.

Earlier this winter, students were nudging me to offer floor loom instruction via Zoom, so they could feel supported as they got their looms weaving again.  I had been offering these classes in-person on the farm before the pandemic but had since shelved the project.  The looms sat on the glassed-in farmhouse porch, waiting.

At first, I wasn’t certain how to make something as extensive as warping and weaving on a floor loom work for an online class, but as my confidence has grown through needle felting, tapestry weaving, loom beading, and punch needle rug hooking mediums, I finally felt ready to give it a try.  The schedule lull over the holidays seemed like the perfect time to begin.

New Years Eve, I shoveled a canyon through the plowed bank, up the couple of steps, and the small deck that leads to the loom porch door.  Inside was a forlorn time capsule from that final class, plus the accumulation of supplies and materials that had simply been stashed in the space.  In true old farmhouse fashion, collected dead flies and ladybugs were everywhere, and it all needed a thorough cleaning out.  I rolled up my sleeves, plugged in the vacuum and started at one corner.

When you look at the whole mess of the problem all at once, it can become exceedingly overwhelming.  We come up to a daunting task, realize the magnitude, and decide that procrastinating sounds much easier.  Instead, resolutions to declutter, to reclaim, or to organize start best at one corner, a trick I doubtless learned from my mother.

Floor looms are hefty pieces of equipment, and I have four of them in the farmhouse porch.  This meant clearing enough space to move a loom, clean its spot, then drag it back.  Piles became organized into boxes, tools were put away, good objects were sorted from trash, which was then removed.

Cobwebs in the corner were demolished, and piles and piles of bugs meticulously vacuumed.  Inch by inch, the space became transformed from chaos into order, from neglect into an inviting, working space.  By suppertime, the space was ready.

floor loomMeanwhile I’d been dusting off and updating the course handout for weaving a rag rug in a point twill style from Sweden known as “rosepath.”  Rag rugs can be quite fun (and fast) just as plain weave (also called “tabby”), but adding decorative designs in the warping and how you weave it makes the process and the project extra special.

I gathered up my materials and tools, stripped up old flannel sheets, and prepared my warp in deep rose colors.  It was time to haul in the recording equipment and film the tutorials that would help students translate the project onto their own looms at home.

Videography instruction was not a hat I’d anticipated wearing in January of 2020, but I’m grateful that I took the leap then, just as I’m taking the leap with floor loom weaving classes now.  With every stretch, we learn so much.  With every stretch, we grow as a person.

Just as cleaning and organizing the space takes time, warping a floor loom takes time and attention to detail.  Once warped, floor loom weaving goes quickly (especially compared with tapestry weaving!), with the tedium spent on threading each warp string appropriately through all the various working pieces of the loom.  Errors in this process will mar the design, so you take your time and double-check your work often.

rosepath rag rugIt’s not about perfection, however.  If we focus on being perfect, we will always disappoint ourselves.  Instead, we can focus on precision, which is a skill we all can learn.  Little idiosyncrasies can often be forgiven in the weaving of a rag rug, just as little idiosyncrasies in ourselves makes us unique and interesting.

New Year’s Day, I filmed warping and weaving on my Macomber 4-harness floor loom.  It was well past dark when I finished.  Today, I’ll weave the header and take it off the loom.  What once was old sheets, spools of cotton, and an empty loom in a musty room will now be a finished, beautiful piece in a working, cozy weaving space.

As you think on your new endeavors for the New Year, remember to start in one corner, take it a piece at a time, let go of perfectionism, and celebrate the wins.  Time to head to the studio to finish filming!

Learn about the class here.

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Hygge Through the Holidays

When you’re little, the holiday season can seem wondrously magical—festive music playing everywhere, sparkling decorations, all sorts of wonderful foods and treats, and presents!  As you grow older, some of that magic is replaced with obligations and running here and there to this and that, making sure that everything is in order and that everyone is happy.  In this hectic state, the holidays are a stressful chore, rather than a magical time to look forward to as autumn wanes.

I recently finished reading Danish author Meik Wiking’s adorable “The Little Book of Hygge,” which notes that Christmas is ranked the most hygge-filled time of the year.  Hygge (said hoo-gah) is a Danish concept for coziness, with layers of comfort, joy, and connection.  You can think of the practice of hygge as an action antidote to the long, dark, dreariness of northern winters and the seasonal affective disorder it can cause.

Hygge is a feeling—something that you make rather than something that you buy.  It can be felt alone or in a small gathering of close friends or family, and it is most often felt in the comforts of home.  “Hominess,” the author writes, is one way to describe the feeling of hygge.

The more I learn about this practice, the more I see that Christmas at our farm fits snugly within the description.  Whether we knew it or not, we were a hygge holidays family!  The beautiful thing about a hygge practice is that it’s not expensive, and you don’t have to go anywhere to create it.  You start with the intention of creating a cozy, homey environment, then support bringing that intention to life.

Here are some examples of how our family has infused hygge in the holiday season.  Feel free to borrow or adapt any of these ideas to make your holidays extra cozy.

Get outside and enjoy nature, then come inside for a warmup and treat.

Mom was the “let’s go outside!” referee of the family in winter.  Whenever anyone was getting grumpy or folks just needed space from each other, it was time to strap on the cross-country skis, snowshoes, or just hit the country lane for a walk.  Bundling up for the cold is extra hygge, especially if you have homemade woolens to wear from Grandma or items you’ve made yourself.  You come back snowy, chilled, and rosy-cheeked.  Our moods would be brightened by the beauty of nature, which is an integral part of hygge practice.

While we were out, Grandma would have set hot chocolate or mulled cider simmering on the stove, ready for out return.  And there were ALWAYS cookies or nuts or a cheese ball with crackers for munching to help you refuel after your woodsy adventures.

Share a task that twice warms.

Another way to infuse the outdoors into your holiday time (especially if the relatives descend) is to share a task where many hands make light work.  It was the understanding in our family as far back as I can remember that the Christmas gathering was also the season for splitting and stacking gathered firewood.

The roaring fire in the fieldstone fireplace felt even more special as everyone had contributed to keeping the cozy fire burning.  Many a wet mitten were dried on the hearth, and we all took turns sitting on the seat-high stone hearth, warming our backs and enjoying the glow of the coals.  Open flame (whether as small as a candle or as grand as a fireplace) is considered essential for creating a hygge-infused environment.

Favorite Family Games

Analog games like board games and card games are the kind to bring out for a hygge holiday.  Our season was not complete at the farm without epic games of SORRY, using the old board and wooden pieces from Grandpa’s childhood, or rounds of raucous Mau-Mau (an UNO-like game).  After dinner was a favorite time for games, with plenty of laughter and cries of feigned despair and angst to ease the mood.

felting a foxHandcrafts and Good Books

The holiday season was filled with long, dark evenings or biting winds that kept us inside.  These were the times for handcrafts.  I can remember each year Mom would find something new for us to learn how to make at the holidays—from folding wax paper stars to stick onto the windows, to macrameing snowflakes for the tree, to fashioning cornhusk dollies.

In the evenings, out would come the knitting, crochet, sewing, or embroidery projects.  It was a perfect time to sit near the fire and work quietly, especially if we were making our way through a good book and Mom was reading aloud.  “One more chapter!” was my or my sister’s favorite refrain during read-aloud sessions, as we tumbled through literary adventures, painting the pictures of the scenes in our imaginations.

Homemade Meals

According to Wiking, anything that takes a long time makes it more hygge.  This is especially true, he notes, with food.  Homemade meals made from scratch that roast or simmer for hours, infusing the home with tasty aromas in anticipation of the meal are essential to the holiday hygge experience.  Mulling cider on the stovetop is a sure way to get started, with the floating stick of cinnamon, star anise, and slices of orange.

Meal-making was a family gathering activity as well, with cookie fashioning and baking being one of my favorites.  I have an early memory of standing on a step stool so I could reach the counter, adding sprinkles to my favorite almondy spritz cookies before they went into the oven.  Of course, I was sure that this would make the cookies taste better, and the philosophy of hygge would agree.  When you give something special attention and time, that makes it cozier.

This week, take some time to destress from the holiday rush and make some time for hygge.

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Return of the Yarn

yarn stashIt feels like an age ago that it was spring shearing time.  Like now, the mornings were chilly but the sun was bright.  The sheep were poofy fluff balls, ready to take off their winter coats in preparation for summer.

For days, I’d worked through the mountains of raw, sticky wool, sorting and pulling out debris, packing it tightly into drum liners before Mom and Steve hauled the load down to Ewetopia Woolen Mill in LaFarge, Wisconsin.  It took more than one trip in our cargo van to deliver all the wool, and sometimes we were having to body slam in the last couple of bags to make them fit.

This spring’s shearing was destined to become yarn, and I had my swatch card prepared and ready, illustrating the desired colors and weights.  My fiber arts students often ask if I spin and dye my own yarn, and I’m happy to admit that this is a task I delegate to folks who really know what they are doing and have the facility to do it!

Kathryn Ashley White of Ewetopia is a fiber artist as well, and she knows her yarns.  She is also an excellent dye artist, and together we’ve been able to craft and build the palette that is the mainstay of my projects, classes, and kits.  I love that my students and I are able to work with the beautiful wool from our sheep!

The process of cleaning and carding the wool, plus spinning and dying takes time, and Kathryn has many orders to fill including yarn for her beautiful shop in Viroqua.  It can feel like a long wait as the wool is being processed, but it’s worth it!  The first round of yarn (lovely aran weight) was finally ready earlier this month—and just in time.  I only had 5 skeins of cobalt blue and 4 skeins of marigold left! punch needle yarn

While spun yarn doesn’t take up as much space as raw wool, I knew we’d still be looking at a significant volume of yarn coming home, as the invoice noted this was 120 pounds of product.  At 4 oz. per skein, roughly, that’s 480 skeins of yarn!  I had to get busy in my studio making space—reorganizing and clearing shelves.  Grandpa had given us one of his shelving units earlier in the year, and we pressed that into service as well.

Upon the return of the trip to the mill, we unloaded eight large bags of wooly color—antique rose, mulled wine, jade dynasty, cobalt, marigold, natural white, natural gray, and sky blue.  Many of these are dyed in a painted skein method, so there are variations in the colors within each skein.  I love how this works up in punch needle rug hooking and tapestry weaving.  The shelves of yarn also serve as my Zoom backdrop.  So cozy!

The arrival of the yarn certainly is just in time, with fall classes ramping up and new kits being released.  If you’re interested in learning about what types of classes I’m offering that use this beautiful yarn, visit

As the nights grow longer and the days chillier, it’s apunch needle sunflowern excellent time to take up wooly projects.  We’re lighting the wood stove in the evenings again, which is an excellent invitation for breaking out the knitting, crochet, weaving, or felting.

Do you have a favorite yarn?  What do you love making with it?  This week, take some time to enjoy your yarn stash or adding to it (no one ever has too much yarn!) and picking up or starting a new project.  Here’s to wonderful yarn, stashed away for the long winter to come!

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Nurturing a Creative Lifestyle

Laura teaching

Photo by Bryan French

Creativity is a beautiful part of being human.  It enriches our lives and the lives of those around us.  Yet, creativity can also be as elusive as a shy creature, leaving us wondering how to tempt it from the shadows.  If you find yourself yearning for more creativity in your life, here are some helpful tips and strategies.

Develop Observation Skills

Just as half of being able to make music is learning how to listen and half of being able to draw is learning how to really look at something, keen observation skills are immensely helpful for a creative life.  In order to pour out creatively, we must continually fill up.  Fortunately, you can practice your observation skills anywhere.  It’s a process of shaking off auto-pilot mode, being fully present, and relishing in the butterfly fluttering in the flower garden, the way the light is coming in through the window, or the nuances of the smell of dinner cooking.

Becoming keenly observant will help you notice moments you want to capture, colors that make your heart sparkle, or stories that can’t not be written.  So much inspiration passes before us each day, but we might miss it.  Becoming more observant can help us really notice those moments and feelings, which we can then channel into our creative practice.

felted hummingbirdKeep It Playful

“But where do I begin?” you may be wondering.  For some, overcoming inertia can be the sticking point.  If you spend some time drilling into this state, there is usually a creative block lurking in the subconscious that is afraid to start something (especially something new) if it can’t be perfect or at least masterful.  Fear of failure kills many a creative urge.  What is the antidote?  Playfulness!  With a playful attitude, we’re not married to being perfect or masterful or anything in particular.  Play is a critical part of the childhood of all animals.  It’s a process through which they learn about their own bodies, the world around them, the nature of a social life, and so much more.

Creativity is deeply linked with younger aspects of ourselves.  Entering the world of playfulness opens up the opportunity to ask “What would happen if…” and then chase after that if.  If you feel fear or anxiety sneaking in, time to grab the playful hat and bring a sense of festive joy and exploration.  When you become immersed in this world, you’ll find that chasing after new ideas becomes the thrill…and finishing projects becomes the hard part.  At this point, don’t worry about finishing stuff.  Just focus on breaking past the underlying fear that has held you back.

loon lake detailRemember that Creativity and Productivity are Different Processes

Sometimes, it can be easy to confuse creativity and productivity.  While I’ve written a story specifically on this topic previously, I’ll retrace the main elements.  Creativity is playful, open, explorative, and infused with divergent thought. It seeks novelty, joy, flow, and possibilities.  Productivity is organized, methodical, results-oriented, and interested in deadlines.  When viewed in this way, it becomes clear that making lots of pretty stuff that gets done on time is not the role of creativity.  If nurturing creativity is what we’re after for the moment, then we need to set the productivity hat aside for later.

Wearing the productivity hat can be very helpful when you are up against a deadline or really want to finish projects.  I’ve found, though, that living too long in this mindset can grow quite dull and grinding.  This is why I always have LOTS of projects going at once.  One might be feeding my creative practice, while another is using the grit of productivity to “get her done.”  If you’re losing steam in your creative practice, check in with yourself and see if you’ve been leaning too heavily on productivity mindset.

hemming a punch needle pieceEmbrace the Journey

Creativity is not about the destination, at least not directly.  Creativity is about the process—that magical experience of flow when either hours pass like seconds or tremendous things happen in seconds that feel like they should have taken hours.  Creativity is consciousness expanding in its nature, connecting us with the vital creativity in all beings and nature.  It refuses to be boxed up in neat packages or tugged on a leash and demanded to perform.  Either of these situations will cause creative impulse to run hiding back to the shadows.

Instead, creativity is an energy to befriend, to walk with in life.  Nurture your creative self just like you would a loved one.  Show patience, compassion, and trustworthiness.  Be encouraging of yourself on this journey.

Let Go of Expectations

canoe trip progressOur modern society is very focused on results, so we can lose sight of or shortchange the journey.  If you start your creative day by inscribing demands of what your creations will be, this leaves no wiggle room for the divergent nature of the creative process.  Often with creativity, something is seeking to be represented, and you and your method of making are the vessel or the vehicle for it, rather than the driver.

Sometimes, the expectations we foist onto our creations come from voices we’ve collected from authority figures in our lives (teachers, relatives, etc.).  Learn to create a sense of sacred space in your creative practice, where these voices are asked to step aside.  Let go of the need to be perfect, to be liked, to be “normal,” or any number of terms or conditions you might add to that list.  Instead, just allow yourself to be in the moment, free of the pull or confinement of expectations.

Give these ideas a try and see what flourishes!

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Introducing Tapestry Prompts

I have many great memories over writing prompts with my wordy friends.  We’d all gather up prompts (as simple as a single word like “red” or as nuanced as “the way the light comes in through the window”) and tuck them all into a basket.  Then we’d pull one out and, without overthinking the process, write like mad for 5 or 10 minutes on whatever came to mind from that prompt and share our work with each other.  It was remarkable how divergent the same prompt could be, given the uniqueness of the writers in the room!

Exercises like writing from prompts helps us overcome the problem of the blank page.  You’d like to write, but you just stare at that sheet of white, not knowing where to start.  An empty loom can be very much like a blank page.  You’d love to be weaving, but you don’t know where to start for your next project.  This month, I thought it would be delightful to kick off a quarterly series of offering tapestry prompts to help kickstart projects that allow you to bring your creativity to the idea!

I’ll be offering the tapestry prompts in a “choose your own adventure” way, so you can snag which elements would best serve your creativity process.  Mix and match or choose what is calling you.  Each season, I’ll release a new prompt, and I’ll be excited to see what you create!

folk rooster designTapestry Prompt Design

The main feature of the tapestry prompt is the design.  This will fit well on a piece of paper (8.5 x 11), as a digital download that you can easily print.  Use this as the cartoon for the piece.  Feel free to embellish as desired!  If the piece is a geometric, it will come on a grid with ledger notes.  For this summer’s theme, I’ve drawn a charming folk rooster inspired by vintage Scandinavian plates.  I can hear him crowing!

Themed Virtual Weave-Along

Looking for community and encouragement while you work on your prompt?  I’ll be offering a more relaxed 6-session Zoom event you can join.  Snag a warping refresher, learn pro tips and pearls for weaving the design, and take on a skill stretch.  For the folk rooster, I’ll be exploring using embroidery stitches on the woven tapestry to mimic the festive Nordic designs seen on the vintage plates.  These Weave-Along will be held on select Sundays from 2-4pm.

rose garden yarnErindale Palette Yarns

For the prompts, you are more than welcome to raid your stash for weaving yarn, or splurge and go shopping if that gets your creative juices flowing.  For folks who don’t have a rigorous stash (or who just love using the wool yarns from our farm’s sheep), I’ll assemble an assortment of bundled yarns that would work well with the design.  These palettes would come with 1 oz. of each color shown, so you can use them in the design as you see fit.

Extra Frame Loom

Already have a project in-process on your loom but want to jump in on the prompt anyway?  You can snag an additional loom kit.  I have 8 frame looms in my arsenal, and they sure are handy for these small format projects.  You don’t have to have a frame loom for the prompts however—if you have another type of loom that you enjoy using that can accommodate an 8.5 x 11 inch project, use it!

Tapestry Prompt Community

I would love to see what you create with the prompt, as I’m sure would my growing community of tapestry students!  That was distinctively part of the fun in our writer’s circle—reading without critique what we’d created.  Not only was it fun to share, but it was fun to learn and gain ideas from each other.  I’ll be sharing mine as I go, and I look forward to seeing and celebrating yours as well.  Happy weaving!

Register and access supplies here.

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