Pushing the Boundaries of Plain Weave Even Further – A Retreat at Jane Stafford Textiles

Right now I am still basking in the afterglow of a absolutely lovely and attitude changing weaving retreat. It’s the fifth day since it ended. My samples are neatly tucked in my notebook – rebelling against being slipped into their individual private sleeves, with all the potential of being forgotten. Yes, my notes still have to be organized and straightened out so I can make sense of all when I reference them for the ideas I noted. And there will be times when I will be roaming through them for inspiration. But I have done researching warping mills, and have woven twenty four inches on the crimp project that was on my loom when I left. I have about 60% left to go, yet it is easier since I am incorporating two techniques I picked up in the workshop. My spirits are lifted and my motivation is jump-started to complete that project, then start working on my workshop inspiration list.

The Journey There

This trip had been a long time in the making, leading to the moment, at 4:45AM on a Sunday morning, when my husband dropped me off at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. People who know me can validate that I am not a morning person, not by any stretch of the imagination. But exceptions must be made, especially if I wanted to make the journey to Salt Spring Island, B.C., and the retreat/workshop held at Jane Stafford Textiles by Jane Stafford, herself..

TSA pre-approved, security was an unusually ho-hum routine and I had an hour wait for my 6AM flight at the gate. The backdrop of downtown Phoenix was lit by the sun – a peaceful and stunning view that changed ever so subtly as the sun rose silently from the east, promising a clear sky and a warm day. I would be connecting through SFO, where my good friend Laura would join me for the SFO – Victoria leg of the trip. We had both done a lot of research to find what we hoped would be the “right antidote” to turn-mill conference weaving classes and overcrowded local workshops. It had to be a small-sized class, not the twenty-plus that we are accustomed to taking. It would have to have the equipment provided on-site (ever try lugging a loom in a car over fifty miles, or worse yet – renting an unknown loom and somehow magically getting it transported from a hotel room to the conference room?). A series of serendipitous events landed us at the Jane Stafford Textiles, and the stars were aligned for a memorable and satisfying experience.

There would be a whole series of unknowns that percolated through my anxiety-driven imagination. What would the other people in the class be like? What should we expect from a class that was built on the plain weave structure? It’s the most basic structure, and both of us had taken advanced classes – Laura has had a ton of experience working complex patterns on a computer driven loom with twenty-four shafts. It had been only two years since I had gotten my eight shaft loom. But there were more pressing issues – how to navigate from the airport to the ferry and then finding Jane for the ride to her farm.

It almost felt like a rite of passage, being processed through Immigration. I requested a stamp on my passport – proof of my visit! Not to worry on the ferry ride – we slid on with no problem (plenty of room) and the ride was as smooth as glass.

My past experience with British Columbia was limited to a day trip drive from Seattle to Vancouver back in the 90’s.  It was during the summer months, and the daylight was long – the sun was only just setting at 9:30PM. Observing the scenery before us, as we were driven across Salt Spring Island in Jane’s car, its tranquility was reminiscent of Europe, Wisconsin’s Door County, and the San Francisco Peninsula – lands that hold a creative feeling where time is not something to push and mold to human whims.

Laura and I had sprung for the total immersion experience – we lucked out and were able to reserve the last room – a double, all meals provided. Dinner would be served at 6:30, so there was time to kill and more students that were also boarding that had yet to arrive. Jane gave us a quick you-are-here tour, and asked if we wanted to see the studio. Yeah. Once that door opened to the weaving studio and store, the intoxicating and heady aroma of fiber transported me to another dimension. A rich combination of cottons, silks and wools filled my soul, pumping me up to get started weaving.  Lots of natural light, nine looms all dressed and calling out – “weave on me!!!”. This was going to be good.

The Retreat

The resident rooster, which would become our built-in alarm clock for the duration, kept us on schedule. We could also hear happy dance clucking sounds the hens make when they lay their eggs. What we weren’t prepared for was all the extra daylight. When both Laura and I awoke, we thought we had overslept – it was more like a 9AM daylight than 4:30AM daylight. So much for no jet lag – this was a real circadian rhythm switch! Mornings with the group were kicked off with family style breakfasts (as would be the lunches and dinners), then to the studio to meet the other ladies that were joining us for the experience. We were nine in total, plus Jane.

Days just flew by – lecture in the morning, weaving rotations in the afternoons. Jane carefully scheduled us across the nine looms, each with a different perspective and complexity using plain weave.  Our lecture time was a revelation – dissecting the structure of the draft and understanding the base structure, and how the overlaying structures built on each other. It was a fascinating perception of structure from an artistic point of view – Jane is an artist by training, a weaver by trade, and it is a formidable creative combination. I have never experienced this approach before, and it was a breath of fresh air.  My past  experience with some teachers who take a very rigid approach and stick to the book.  It is as if they are defensive about their weaving method. When it comes to weaving. Jane has no fear – she has an incredible curiosity that makes you want to delve into the structure and test the boundaries. No right or wrong, no judgment. Just a testing of one approach with another, testing one path against or in combination with another, and using the resulting technique that suits the fabric you are trying to create. Simple yet elegant. Complexity within simplicity.  And understanding the importance of acknowledging the role of technique, and how to adapt it to the situation.

Many times during the workshop I would be amazed at Jane’s infectious motivation and enthusiasm. Jane has a fundamental curiosity and joy. The end result feeds its own energy. I feel the contagion!

During each weaving session, Jane would sit with us individually as we wove – helping with our techniques and reinforcing how to approach analyzing the drafts. My selvedges are now the best that they have ever been. In fact, to prove a point about shuttle control, Jane actually wove two inches with her eyes closed. You should have seen those edges!

One evening I could only watch in awe as she dressed a loom with an eleven yard warp – of linen no less, in about a half hour. And that was with stopping and explaining what she was doing and why. No fancy tools or complicated gyrations, just a no-nonsense approach that worked. I have hopes of really being able to improve my warping time from observing her in action.
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A day into the week the group was privileged to meet the purveyor of our meals, Rosemary. Fresh, simple ingredients creatively melded into satisfying but light meals. Produce from both Jane’s property and the local markets was fresh and full of flavor. Chicken from the farm, local sausage, salmon and lamb were all incredibly prepared. And I can’t say enough about her deserts, which really spoiled all of us. Lisa, the office assistant, was the penultimate for getting all our orders processed and organizing our materials. One cool gal.

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Market Day!  On Wednesday, we were promised a ride into town if we were on schedule with our samples. Fresh goat cheese and a tour, farmer’s market in town – great incentives, both! Salt Spring Island Goat cheese is quintessentially fresh. There’s no gamey taste and it comes in a variety of mixtures.  I couldn’t pass up the goat gelato. Chocolate, as light as a sorbet. It disappeared in a flash.

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All work and no play makes for a dull day. Even though we were pretty much playing all day on the looms, it’s an intensive activity.  There was time in the evening for walks after dinner – after all, the sun didn’t set till almost 9PM.  On one morning Jane drove us shoreside, where we had an invigorating walk before breakfast. The bay sparkled in the morning sun, edged by islands visible in all directions. We watched herons and geese doing their thing. The air was so clean and brisk, it was a real joy and a great start to another full day. What could be better than brisk walks and days of weaving?  And Rosemary’s deserts…..

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Friday came all too soon.  The morning was on high alert as we reviewed our lessons from the week, finished the last of the samples, cut them off the looms, and completed washing, waulking and felting!  A bit of sadness touched our group as we sat together for our last meal. Yet we were all happy in the sense of accomplishment and learning that occurred that week.  Jane empowered us with tools and perspectives that we will carry with us on our continuing weaving journey.IMG_1707

Everyone collected their samples, packed up the cars and headed out to our respective ferries.  As it turned out, we had a mini reunion on the ferry to Victoria – six of us were on the same ride!  One last chat, one more round of goodbyes.  Trudy drove me and Laura to our hotel in Sydney, gave us some tips on where to eat and trails to walk.  Then Laura and I settled in, amazed that the time has passed so quickly, anxious for the preparations for the last leg to get home.

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Sydney, B.C.

Downtown Sidney is a cute little town.  There must be at least six coffee shops within the five street radius where most of the action is in town. Most shopping stores were closed by 5PM. There is a shoreline walk, several jetties, and we managed to get a few brisk miles in both before and after dinner. There was a great view of Mount Baker from across the bay.  Tide was low, with little wave activity.  The Swiss restaurant we chose was cozy.  Crab cakes and lamb schnitzel were an easy decision and fit the bill.

Sydney is about ten minutes away from Victoria International Airport, so in the morning we had plenty of time to catch Saturday street action and get a full breakfast in.  We knew that food would be sparse pickings it being a travel day, especially for me with a four hour layover at SFO.  The hotel recommended a local place three blocks down – the 3rd Street Cafe.  We nailed counter seating in a flash and had a very satisfying breakfast – best hollandaise sauce in North America, made fresh everyday, topped with superb salmon.  I would definitely go back to this place if I am ever in the area again.
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All too soon it seemed we were back where we started – customs at SFO was an endless series of lines and confused navigation. But we got through it, and then had to part, each taking our memories and lessons with us as we re-entered our day to day reality.  Husbands anxiously awaited our return. Laundry and the other demands of modern living re-asserted themselves into our schedules. However, now we are armed with a new sense of freedom when designing and executing our weaving projects.  Thank you, Jane – life will never be the same.  We’re ready to follow that rainbow of possibilities in our craft! Very lovely, indeed.

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5 Responses to Pushing the Boundaries of Plain Weave Even Further – A Retreat at Jane Stafford Textiles

  1. Laura says:

    What a wonderful description of our journey. It takes me back there and makes me want to do it all again!

  2. Pingback: The Weaving Adventures Continue…. | Vairarenbeth's Blog

  3. Hi from Tahoe – Fantastic description. You really should gather all your weaving stories into a book. Your writing is almost poetic. Thanks – I really enjoyed the vicarious adventure. Virginia

  4. We’ve been pretty busy. Last summer we cleaned out and sold dad’s house so now we’re going thru the leftover stuff and starting on our extra stuff. We’re aiming on 2 loads to the thrift store each week. So far only 1/week. Oh well little by little.

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