Friday, February 27, 2009

My Trip to AVL

(My feeble impression of Vanna White after 350 miles of driving.)

Yesterday was the most exciting day of my life!

I have engaged in fibercrafts as a hobby for about 12 years, ever since I learned to knit and weave on a visit to a spiritual retreat center in southern Oregon. Last year I was looking for a new direction in my life and hit upon the idea of turning weaving into a serious profession capable of supporting me. After meeting with business analysts and consultants, spending hundreds of hours researching and writing a plan, I decided to skip weaving as a hobby and go straight into business.

Part of my research involved interviewing about a dozen people who have made a living from weaving. They all used AVL looms for their professional work. Several said the exact same thing, “If you’re serious about weaving for a living, you need to have an AVL. The features that hobbyists consider *nice* become essential when you try to make money.” They also tell me that it’s worth the extra cost to get a loom from AVL directly because they offer a generous warrantee and fantastic support even on used equipment. Apparently they can do this because their equipment is so well designed that it doesn’t need much support.

Getting this loom has been one happy surprise after another. I had been watching the
Reconditioned Looms page on the AVL website for months while I begged friends and family for loans and worked to save my own money. Then I saw their holiday sale and couldn't believe my eyes. The loom I wanted had dropped to about 15% of the retail price. I secured it with a downpayment and went into fundraising overdrive! It took two months to get the rest of the money while they rebuilt the loom for me. Pam, the sales rep, was fantastically patient, especially considering that this is probably the cheapest loom she’s ever sold.

At the six week mark I got a call. "Blossom, there's been a mistake. In reconditioning it, we’ve found that the loom isn't exactly what we described.” My heart sank. “It has a heavier, more complicated beater that many people don't like. But it's yours for free if you want it." Well, it turns out that the double-box flyshuttle beater is exactly what I wanted. I was planning to buy it as an upgrade that would cost me about $1,600 with tax and shipping. Mine for free!? Yippee!

Pam told me that the only problem with this enhancement is that it usually doesn't come with the flyshuttles. So, I priced them out: about $380 for a pair of them with tax and shipping. Sigh. I can probably save that much in a few months, but I won't be able to weave wide pieces until I have them. No big deal. I’ve waited this long!

At last the big day had arrived. I finished paying for the loom and had enough money to rent a cargo van. I woke up early to pick it up and drive 175 miles to Chico, CA. I apparently timed the entire trip perfectly because there was no traffic anywhere. Smooth sailing all the way there and back.

Once I got to the central valley, I realized that it's flowering season for many fruit and nut trees. The almond trees were unbelievably beautiful! Miles and miles of soft pink and white blossoms. I opened the window to smell them, but alas, there was no hint of fragrance in the sunny, but cold February air.

I arrived at the factory in the late morning. Everyone was busy preparing for some sort of event. Despite this, they were very sweet and let me wander around and take pictures of their looms so I would know how to put mine together. This was before I saw that their construction manual isn't like anything that I've seen before. It comes in a 3-ring binder because it contains about 200 pages of complete instructions and drawings to illustrate every part of the process.

While I was at the factory, I asked if I could see a flyshuttle in person so I would know just what it is that I'm saving my money for. The floor manager looked at me kind of strangely and said, "I can show you one, but you've got two of your own in the box with the flyshuttle mechanism." Oh, yes! What luck!

And now, just a little background... Weavers have been mystified by the fact that I want a mechanical loom when the computer-controlled looms are so convenient. I explain to them that part of my longterm vision includes spending some time with my loom in the woods, living in a yurt and weaving without access to power. (It will also allow me to honestly use the tag line, "Crafted by hand with wooden tools.") The way this mechanism works is like a music box or player piano. There are wooden bars with holes in them. Into those holes the weaver screws little pegs. The pegs push levers that control whether or not particular sets of threads get lifted for each weft shot. When it's time to change the pattern, the peg patterns need to be changed. It saves time and reduces errors if you have sets of bars already pegged for favorite patterns. With the flyshuttle beater and flyshuttles in my possession, the next thing I would want is a bunch of spare dobby bars so I can change patterns without taking a lot of time to re-peg the bars. Besides, the more bars I have, the more complicated the patterns I will be able to weave. This is one big reason that people prefer the computer controlled looms.

Back to loom pickup day... The crew had packed the boxes into my van. I was ready to leave so I went into the office to say goodbye. Pam was with another customer who was interested to know why I was so excited. I told her that I was buying my first AVL and we talked about which one I was getting. She, too, was surprised that I preferred the mechanical loom and added, "I have a box of dobby bars that I can't seem to get rid of. They're yours for the price of shipping." Wow!! Those bars are $6 a piece to buy and she's going to give me a box of them? I really am the luckist boy in the world!

That's it! For the first time since I started dreaming about weaving for a living and getting the right loom for the job, there is nothing on my wish list. NOTHING! I have everything that I need, and the dobby bars should be here long before I could even use them!

I drove home flying on a cloud. I listened to a few episodes of Syne Mitchell's
WeaveCast and played some very bouncy music to match my mood. Before I knew it the boxes were in my room and I was reading the manual on how to put it all together. Good thing I originally studied to be an engineer! This is a precision machine with lots of interrelated parts, and I'll be building it myself in a space that's barely large enough to accomodate it.

It looks like I've got my work cut out for me!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

From the Archive: A Vision for the Faerie Arts Collective

I wrote this piece for the Convocation of Communities in 2001. I was living at Wolf Creek Sanctuary at the time, but had just flown off to NYC to help people after 9/11. I’ll write a new version to include lessons learned in the last 8 years, but it’s amazing to me how much of it still resonates.


A Vision for the Faerie Arts Collective: September 13, 2001

Let me start by clarifying this piece of writing. It is a vision for a community as it has come to me. Over the last few years living at the Wolf Creek Sanctuary, I’ve come to learn that my vision is only a fragment of a much larger, more beautiful vision waiting to be uncovered when we start working together. I use the term craftwork throughout this writing rather than artwork because I feel that it is more inclusive.


This vision began to come forward for me in 1997 when I began to explore craftwork as a spiritual path. (Of course, I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time.) The following year, a few faeries started talking about creating a collective to help faeries create and sell their work together. It was a loose idea, but one that seemed to have a lot of potential. I’ve been talking with others and working with this vision for the last few years to define a set of goals that we have in common, and refine it all to the point where I can perhaps explain it.

The Goals

  1. Pursue craftwork as a manifestation of the divine act of creation. Create a space where faeries can come feel welcome, and explore the ability to create their own magic in their own lives through the magical metaphor of creating craftwork. Bring the magic of our spirit to the world at large through the energy and beauty of our work.
  2. Create a network of faerie crafters. This network would help faeries to connect with others to learn skills, collaborate, etc. It would also help faeries find others who could create custom craftwork for them.
  3. Create a cottage structure to help faeries to sell their own work from wherever they happen to be. The most difficult part of being a crafter is when the time comes that you want to make it fulltime. Traditionally, crafters need to create a name for themselves and spend the majority of their time selling their work. This method locks people into a “body of work” and does not allow them to change very easily. Faeries and their desires are often more fluid than this allows. A collective should help them sell their work, while allowing them to remain as flexible as they can.
  4. Allows faeries of various disciplines to work together toward common goals. Examples of this were seen in the “Arts and Crafts” movements which saw gorgeous harmonies between architecture, textiles, and many other decorative arts. We can blend techniques from various disciplines in the same way that we now blend our extremely varied spiritual belief systems.
  5. Help faeries transition into a life of craftwork. This might mean assistance in buying equipment, an organization under which they can apply for grants, etc. If a faerie wants to be empowered to take on crafting as a fulltime existence, the collective should be there to help.

What would it look like?

Please keep in mind that this is my personal version of how it might come to be. Of course, it will be much bigger and better when others get involved and round it out.
I am envisioning a place, a sanctuary in the truest sense, where faerie men and women live and work together, pursuing a common goal. This place can house guests who have come to share in the vision. These guests can come to visit for a weekend, a few weeks, months, or join the community to pursue their own aspect of the collective vision. While they are there, they are working with members of the community to create craftwork and bring our brand of magic out into the world through stores and galleries. Everyone involved has access to a full range of tools and supplies from many different artistic disciplines, and people who can help them learn to use these tools.
These people publish a zine that features artists from the farflung and local faerie communities. The zine also contains a directory of faeries who are involved in the collective, and is available at the locations that show or sell our work. It helps faeries find each other, and helps “customers” to find us.
The group hosts gatherings and workshops to help other faeries to learn some new skills, have a great time, and raise some money.

How could we do this?

We all know that crafters are notoriously unwealthy, so how can any of this come to be? Here are some of my ideas on one way that, with a lot of hard work, it could happen.
There are a few distinct stages of development that I can see as possibilities for getting us to a place like I’ve described above.
  1. We start talking to each other. We collect our craftwork together and find “marketing” faeries to help us get it seen and sold. Some of the money goes to the crafters, and some goes to the collective. We use some of this money, and some from outside fundraising, to create the faerie craft zine and directory. This is the time when we start keeping close track of our money because it pays to have clean and efficient bookkeeping procedures early on. We also start defining the policies and procedures that will help us function as an organization.
  2. We continues to bring in the work of new faeries until we have a sufficient number of people involved to really start marketing our work as a collective. The collective then becomes known for whatever it is that we do. As we grow, news will spread within the faerie communities and other faeries will want to join. When we have a steady flow of energy and cash, we can continue to increase our visibility and goals. Perhaps this is the point when we apply for nonprofit status and thereby get the ability to apply for grants - artist and educational.
  3. We start to “clump”. Faeries who live near each other start to combine their resources of tools and spaces in order to work together creating work with the collective. We get to test out some of the processes that we’ll need later on to deal with commonly held equipment and supplies, etc. Perhas we start our own gallery and store somewhere, increasing the revenue coming into our organization. By now, we have met many of the goals set out earlier.
  4. We find land somewhere and create the sanctuary. This gives us a place where we can collaborate freely between faeries of extremely diverse talents and media because all of the tools and supplies are together in one large set of studios shared by one group of people.

This sounds great! What can I do?

  • Sign up. I’m saving money to print the first FaerieCraft zine. Make a donation to the collective if you can.
  • Take my contact information. Write an article that you think would interest other faerie crafters and send it to me for the zine.
  • Start thinking and meditating for yourself on what you want out of the world of craftwork, and be ready to start working with others to express your vision and refine it with us.

Where are you? Why aren’t you here?

That’s a very good question. I feel very strongly called to NYC to help with the work that needs to be done there. I’ve tried to set up the spaces so that the exhibits can flow smoothly, but it’s going to be up to the artists to make the spaces into what they want them to be.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cloak and Dagger Ritual Tools

I’ve been studying knife-making, stone carving, and related stuff with Rob II for a while now. What am I going to do with it? Who knows? Maybe I’ll start making my own weaving tools in my abundant spare time. (Ha!) For now, I’m just helping him with his production in whatever ways I can.

He’s teaching me to carve lots of nifty things:
metal: copper, bronze, nickel
semi-precious stone: lapis, amber, marble, granite, labradorite
tusk: fossilized walrus tusk, marine ivory
antler: elk horn, stag horn, bull horn
wood: purpleheart, cocobolo, ziracote, ebony, canary wood, avocado, holly, boxwood

We’re making knives, pipes, hair sticks, hair forks, combs, and all sort of other cool stuff. It will be a little while before the stuff I make is worth anything. Until then, the things that Rob makes can be found on my Etsy and eBay sites: and It’s all hand made and priced reasonably.

When I get a little time on my new loom, you’ll start seeing my weaving in there, too. Drop by and see what’s available!

Monday, February 23, 2009

I believe it *IS* happening!

When a person is initiated into a spiritual tradition it marks the beginning of a new life, a new way of seeing the world, a completely new way of being. Or so I’ve been told.

This is how I feel right now. My friends have come together and helped me pay for the loom. I will drive up and pick it up this week. It should be set up and ready to go by next week.

The space is cleared, the yarn and fiber stash are organized. There are a dozen designs finished and ready to weave. The online sales channels are setup and working.

Next comes the hardest part: actually doing it. I owe it to myself to keep up steam and stay focused. I owe it to my generous friends to pay back the money they’ve loaned me. I want to show the community at large that my longterm vision of a crafts business is attainable, and that I am the person to make it happen.

Thanks again to everyone who’s helping me to live my dream. Just watch what happens next!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Love for Sale!

Well, past loves that is. Old hobbies. Things I tried, had fun with, and need to move along in order to raise the money and clear the way for the next stage of my life. It’s time to go from “craftwork as a series of hobbies” to “craftwork as a way of life and means of support”.

I am looking forward to the next stage of my life, maybe a year down the road, maybe earlier. In that stage, I will have figured out how to sell my weaving. I will have a steady customer base with whom I’ve developed good working relationships. Then I can move to the country, live in a yurt, tend my garden and weave the days away.

Here are the hobbies I’m getting rid of in order to clear the way:

Glass bead making. This is great fun, but there are two motivations behind leaving it. 1) The equipment is expensive and I need the money, and 2) the beads require a kiln to anneal them properly and I can’t run a kiln in a yurt in the woods. eBay auction.

Glass tile mosaic. It makes tiny shards of glass and would need its own studio completely separate from the fiber. Mosaics are beautiful objects of art that are fixed architectural elements or weigh too much for a nomad to carry around. eBay auction.

Quilting. This is closest to my current area of work, but not quite it. etsy item.

Home office. (This is a steal!) I’ll be making do with just a laptop and a lap desk in my bed. That’s because the loom will go where my current office is.

A couple of lamps. Won’t need those in a yurt!
Icosahedron Hanging Lamp.
Many-crystalled Chandelier.

A rustic Bradford Ax stool.

14 Issues of Organic Gardening magazine from ’72, ’73, ’74.

A bunch of books on

I’ll be updating this page as I find more hobbies to move along...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

So Close!


I’ve fallen silent on the topic of the loom for a few weeks as I wait for checks to come in from people who’ve offered to help. It’s right on the very edge of actually happening!

If 20 people each loaned me $20, that’s all I need to set off on a new life. To read details about how I will repay you, and the various options, read my previous post.

Photo of the Loom To Be
Here’s my baby! (More or less...)