Tag Archives: journey

From the Woods to the Sea

A Tapestry Weaving Retreat with Joan Baxter

With my travel sketchbook and camera in tow, I wandered down the old dirt road to the sea.  The autumn sun was casting a soft amber light upon the trees as it made it’s journey below the horizon.  The woods suddenly parted and I found myself in a private secluded bay with little waves gently crashing upon the sand.  I climbed up onto the old crumbling jetty and sat on a rock, watching the golden sky fade to dusk.  An overwhelming sense of gratitude and awe washed over me.  I was here in this place of beauty and tranquility, where the woods meet the sea, and about to enjoy five whole days of everything tapestry weaving with one of my most favorite tapestry artists, Joan Baxter.


From the time I met Joan, I felt as though she were a familiar friend, like perhaps maybe she was one of my beloved faculty members from college. She greeted me warmly as she laid out a dazzling spectrum of her gorgeous hand-dyed yarns.  The room we would be using was dark and cozy, surrounded by forests and near to the retreat center’s chapel.  It was in this room, with my fellow tapestry weavers, covered with yarn, books, looms, and bobbins, and fueled by Joan’s tutorials and evening talks, that my imagination sprang to life.


How do the places and landscapes we hold dear to our hearts change with the passage of time?  This was the question Joan Baxter asked us to ponder over the months leading up to our workshop.  Compiling sketches and photos of our favorite place at different times of the day, we were asked to do some color studies.  Using our own yarn, and some of Joan’s, we played with colors of different values and hues.  We also had some of her samples to inspire us.  Joan is a magician when it comes to playing with and mixing colors…



A sampling of Joan’s beautiful samples…



And here’s mine!

During the day, she gave tutorials to small groups of us on how to create dots, flecks, and color blends. She really inspired me to become more bold with my weft colors, and to understand how to carry consistent colors from one area to another, like with a reflection on water or creating transparency.


A tutorial on weaving dots.  Joan enjoys simple weaving equipment like wooden frame looms and pipe looms…



More dots and flecks (and check out that beautiful bobbin!)

For this theme of the passage of time, I chose to visit a small lake by my parent’s house.  I visited many times over the summer, always drawn to the sparkle of sunlight across the water and the forest that surrounded it’s shore.  It wasn’t until the fall, right before the retreat, that I noticed a lone tree that stood out from the others.  It had transformed into a brilliant golden yellow, and I had an a-ha moment: This tree would be the focal point of my composition…




I thought I could weave an entire tapestry in five days! I must have been crazy.  The only tapestry I ever wove in five days is the size of a small photograph! Joan encouraged us to not weave for more than four to five hours a day, so as to not strain our eyes. So we went for walks, mingled and chatted with each other about our ideas, shared books and tips, were treated to several of Joan’s inspiring slideshows, and were fed three meals a day by the retreat staff.  The food was simple and nourishing and I loved that.  I found the simplicity and humbleness of our accommodations to be the perfect backdrop to focus on my art and my time with my new weaving friends.


The view from my bedroom window…

And I noticed my idea for my tapestry was beginning to change and be shaped by the beauty of the retreat center grounds.  I was particulary inspired by Joan to think differently about how to weave water.  I’ve always woven flat, mirror-like reflections, but Joan encouraged me to think about time transpiring and how I could create that.  I began going down to the little bay to observe how ocean waves would rise and fall.  Sometimes I’d go down to the pond and throw pebbles to watch the ripples fan out.  I realized I wanted to capture the multi-dimensional appearance of those ripples moving across the water.  This was my sample of that idea…


This sample was meant to try the techniques of carrying one consistent color throughout the water, capturing the light and shadow of a water ripple, the lines of a labyrinth underneath, and one of my trees golden yellow leaves (which ended up looking like carpet from the 1970s)

I’ve always been drawn to labyrinths as a symbol for personal and spiritual journeys.  I was so excited to see the retreat center had a lovely and simple one created from mowed grass and some shrubby trees.  I also knew I wanted to incorporate this symbol into my final design as well, perhaps underneath the water’s surface…


So after a few days of observing and sketching, I had a pretty solid idea for my Time inspired tapestry.  When the last day of the retreat came, I was sad and yet also eager to get back home to try some of my new ideas and techniques I had learned.  I also had a new appreciation for myself as an artist, and the endlessly inspiring life we artists can live if we just open up to it.  It was an unforgettable experience to learn from Joan, and also it was the first time meeting some of my fellow members of the tapestry group TWiNE (Tapestry Weavers in New England) who hosted this event.  While I still haven’t started the piece inspired by this workshop (I know! I know! I’m getting to it!), I’ve noticed how my design ideas have shifted and finalized in my mind.  I feel ready to at least do some sketching and get the loom warped, and I guess I need to do a few more samples, too!


My favorite weft blend, I love admiring it just on the bobbin…



A postcard of Joan Baxter’s weavings showing her use of dots

If you get the chance I highly recommend taking a workshop or retreat.  It’s a fantastic way to meet and be inspired by other artists, form amazing connections, and learn a new thing or two!

Keep creating!



Reflections on a Life I Love…

I took myself on an Artist’s Date today, after spending some time yesterday evening quietly reflecting on where I’m at in my life. I felt a major shift come over me in terms of the who’s, what’s, where’s, when’s, why’s, and how’s of the life I’m currently living. A good and honest look at things revealed to me many answers to my questions of what is my life purpose, what are my goals, where do I find inspiration, who do I want to spend time with, etc. The questions seemed so big and yet the answers are so simple, it’s just a matter of me living them everyday, and also paying attention to how they show up. I think sometimes I can get so caught up in life and what I want to have that I forget that I already have everything I need. It’s all right in front of me. It’s the essence of who I really am, my source of inspiration and joy.


My favorite view across the lake

This is what led me to the woods today. It’s been ages since I stopped by to marvel at the sweeping limbs of the tall pine trees, to feel the breeze against my skin as it drifts across the lake, to turn off the constant chatter in my brain and tune into the bird songs that fill the forest. It’s all about the present moment and the beauty around me. Being in nature is where I feel like my truest and most authentic self. It’s where all of the drama of everyday life completely melts away, and all that’s left is peace. I can’t believe I haven’t gone on more adventures to the mountains and the forests since I moved back home, but after today I know it’s a priority. I need many more Artist’s Dates to the source of where my inspiration and creativity begins, even if it’s just once a month. My schedule can get filled up very quickly with all of the things I’d like to do (and some I don’t want to do but need to, for instance, adulting), but taking some time away from it all is the one thing that always brings me back home.

Keep creating,



The Social Media Detox

It’s been a while since I was on Instagram, even longer since I took a peek at Facebook, and you know what?  I’m still here, and all is well.  In fact, my voluntary social media detox has made space for the very thing I’ve been longing for: more time for creativity.  But it’s not easy to remove oneself from a community, especially one that is filled with excellent and inspiring people. My fellow fiber artists on IG are wonderfully supportive folks from all over the world, many whom I’ve never even met, and yet we have all spun an interactive web of sharing and networking that can keep us all updated on who is weaving what and where the next great art show is.  I can see how for some, social media keeps them humming along, nose to the grindstone, posting a photo of their latest masterpiece to share with their community.  The scrolling newsfeed of inspiration can keep the imagination flowing, and everyone benefits from the participation and consistent updates of the other artists. For me, however, it ended up turning into a distraction, an excuse to not finish – let alone start – anything, and I only felt worse when I saw all of the beautiful work that others were creating and sharing and I didn’t have anything to contribute.

On top of that, I was going through a dark night of the soul, and my muse seemed to have disappeared beyond my reach.  I counted the months since I had finished my most recent artwork on the big loom; 10 months.  I’m used to doing about three larger pieces a year.  I began to create more excuses; my day job was taking up too much time, I had to make dinner, I needed to knit a new hat, and there was my long Instagram feed to scroll through.  I continued to play piano and thoroughly enjoyed that creative outlet, but I was secretly worried that it was the end of tapestry weaving for me.  My imagination was blank.


I decided that since I wasn’t making anything, and I was checking IG way too much, I would do a detox from the app and Facebook and just see what happened.  Around the same time, I began to pack up most of my things and temporarily live with just the necessities in the upstairs guest room in my parents house until I found a new place. The abrupt change in my physical space, along with the freedom from comparing myself to others on social media, resulted in the perfect recipe for returning to my own authentic creative voice.

In an article for Mindful magazine, Hugh Delehanty shares his experiences of getting back in touch with his creativity at an artist retreat.  After several days of struggling with painting what he felt he should paint, what he would usually paint, he reached a point of awareness to what was holding him back from expressing his genuine creativity.  I’ve read this article several times, and am continually fascinated with how so many artists share the same struggles of censorship, guilt, and trying to create what the world wants to see, instead of the visions that are stirring in their imaginations.  I’m particularly in love with a quote from the retreat instructor, Barbara Kaufman…

“Everything leads us back to ourselves… Sometimes we have to go too far to see that.  But what we usually do is play it too safe and close up.  Once you start opening, you get a sense that you can stretch more, and then you begin to realize the potential that’s available to you at any given moment.  The invitation of creativity is to move beyond the boundaries we’ve set for ourselves.  To allow life to permeate those thick walls that we think are so secure.”

I can see now that I was attempting to create within a very rigid mindset.  What would get me more followers and likes online?  Instead I should be wondering, what is it my soul wants me to create?  What images inside of me do I need to bring to life?  What wants to come forward and play into my work? I got so caught up in posting content that I forgot about the process.

While I was working on my thesis in undergrad, smartphones had just come out and cost, like, a million dollars and I wanted nothing to do with Facebook.  I instead stayed close and honest to the images and artworks I was creating for my thesis.  I had no filter for what I thought the art world wanted to see and instead followed the inspiration and beauty that resonated most within me. My passion and dedication to this vision resulted in a moving body of work that was a hallmark of my college career.  At times, I even surprised myself with what I was creating, and I know that it was because I stopped caring what other people would think. I instead opened up to the vast expanse of my own imagination, and followed it through the whole whirlwind process of completing a large body of work.

This isn’t to say I don’t think that social media is a useful and necessary tool.  As I said earlier, it can bring like-minded folks together to share stories and ideas, and therefore add more beauty and culture to our world.  I do think, however, that there are times when a break is imperative and healing for the soul.  It allows us to get back in touch with who we really are beyond the walls and boundaries we’ve set up for ourselves, and even to dissolve the stories of who we think we are.  Am I leaving social media for good?  Probably not, but until I return I will be putting my energy into getting back in touch with that authentic creative force within me, and creating the artwork I long to make.

Stay tuned, and keep creating!


The Journey of Saying Yes

For several years I’ve wondered what home is, where it is, and what it looks like.  Is it an old farmhouse like what I grew up in, with vibrantly colorful gardens and a little brook?  Or is it a sunny bungalow with a big front porch?  Is it here or there, near or far?  Who lives in that home with me?  A loving partner, a giggling bunch of kiddos, a dog, a cat, a chameleon?  Who comes to visit?  Mary Jane’s Farm magazine contributor, Rebekah Teal, said it best in the January 2015 issue:

“I believe “home” might be a special combination of unique things, things that are different for each person.  When those things come together at exactly the right place and the right moment in time, something fabulous and comforting and almost magical happens.  That something is called “home”.”

Lately I haven’t felt at home in a lot of ways.  I certainly have a fantastic network of friends who give me a sense of home, but my soul is yearning for something else, some other missing piece of the puzzle.  I’ve certainly never been a city girl, but this place has it’s perks.  I can’t think of any other store like The Playful Needle that sells hundreds of colors of Appleton Crewel wool that I use for my tapestries.  Or how about the seemingly endless options for health food stores so that I don’t have to eat another donut from all of the seemingly endless donut shops that keep opening up?  And then there’s the nature and the temperate weather… it’s all kept me here for so long, satisfied and secure.

June 2011 043

And then last month, I realized what my soul needs right now is a return to my roots, to my soil, the part of the earth I grew up on.  I don’t know what I’ll find back there in between the foothills of the rugged White Mountains and the soothing tides of the Atlantic.  Maybe it will be the place I call home, maybe it will offer me some healing, but I know it will definitely give me the space for peace and quiet reflection.  As I’ve put the pressure on myself to find this “home” sooner rather than later, I’ve realized how defining and narrow this goal is.  I’m looking for a place to call home, but more importantly I’m looking for all of the things I can say yes to.

It’s been a heartbreaking past several weeks as more and more friends and co-workers learn of my leaving.  Unfortunately saying yes sometimes means saying good-bye to loved ones as they see you off on your next adventure.  I’ve done this before when I moved here, with no clue how I was going to make it in a place I had never lived before.  And now I can look back with gratitude and awe at how far I’ve come, and the gift the journey has been.  I’ve felt so much gratitude for my job, my boss, my team, my benefits, my amazing friends, discovering my calling as a tapestry artist, the abundance of nature, I almost can’t believe I would ever dream of leaving it.  I actually look forward to going to work because I’ll get to see my friends and nerd out on supplements.  Sure, I’d also really like to nerd out on art and tapestry weaving, but I’ve always felt extremely appreciative of this job I worked so hard to get.  So why am I leaving?  Please don’t ask me, because I’m running out of tissues.

2015-03-05 14.54.56I’m finally back into my meditation routine after several weeks of feeling like I should be spending that special time packing and crying – that was my sign I should have been meditating in the first place.  I’m working on taking things one day at a time.  Instead of dreading my last day of work, saying my final farewells, and that moment when I step onto the plane with a one-way ticket, I’m looking up at the trees displaying their fireworks of blossoms against the bright blue sky.  This spring has come early and with such vibrancy and energy I’ve wondered if it’s just trying to remind me of why I love it here so that I’ll stay.

2015-03-05 14.52.48I’ve been really enjoying my spring cleaning as well, getting rid of so much stuff I thought was valuable to me, but really isn’t.  It’s a wonderful feeling to only own the things that bring me joy, instead of drowning in all of the crap I could… potentially… maybe (never) use someday.  Angel food cake pan?  Haven’t used that in over five years.  The ugly mug I’ve never used?  Gone.  It makes me wonder why I haven’t done this sooner!  It feels so cathartic and freeing, a release of the past so I can step into the new unencumbered and ready to receive the blessings and gifts that life has to offer me.  I’m ready to say yes to this beautiful, sometimes bittersweet, but always inspiring life of mine.