Ways to Study and Learn

On twitter a friend asked, “how have you been learning your Quechua weaving methods? Regular online lessons? Traveling to workshops? It’s something I want to do in the future.

The photo that prompted the question

Start with a Master Teacher

What’s the best way to learn from a Master Teacher? Take every course offered, regardless the topic. No seriously. It didn’t matter if Abby Franquemont was teaching weaving, spinning, or fiber prep, or just giving lectures about textiles and culture–it all fed into my interests for more information.

Let’s start with the three-day weaving intensives offered by Abby Franquemont for the past several years. First, I went to Ply Away in 2017 *because* she was offering an intensive on Andean Backstrap Weaving. She was already my “spinning hero” for her book, Respect the Spindle. Any weaving she wanted to teach? I was in for the ride and I had no idea what I was really signing up for.

After the regular intensive in 2017, she offered two more titles in 2018: A one-day version and a two-day intermediate course. Unfortunately there were some folx who didn’t respect the pre-requisites and so some of the students didn’t have as good an experience as I had. And I think that’s just a shame–the arrogance of closed-minded “I already know what I’m doing” could have soured several people, but I didn’t let it sour me.

Then when Abby wasn’t teaching at Ply Away in 2019, I wrote her to ask about her 2019 travelling and teaching schedule. That’s how I found out that I could head to Prince George, BC, Canada in June 2019. Then an opening for a slot came available for the same intensive in the Boston, MA area in August 2019, so I squeezed that one into my budget and calendar. Didn’t matter if I had to sleep on a floor and eat bizarre groceries, I was going to this event! (Fortunately I ended up cementing my weaving-best-friend out of the adventure, so that was a plus.)

Abby also launched her Patreon somewhere in those years, and as my interest in weaving increased, I invested in taking private lessons online. With Abby in Peru and me in the US, having a monthly check in and status report gave me some deadlines and structure for my self-study pursuits.

Support the Teachers Your Teacher Respects

When I showed up for the Intermediate level intensive, Abby handed us each a copy of Textile Traditions of Chinchero: A Living Heritage by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez. It’s one thing to take an introductory intensive course more than once. But where do you go next in your studies if you’re not embedded in the community and don’t have access to the primary sources? You find every book that has photos of the primary sources as well as rich narratives about all the textiles and cultural context. Not only have I been weaving my way through the examples in Textile Traditions of Chinchero: A Living Heritage (sometimes I label a specific band as from a specific page in that book), but I’m constantly reading and studying any book by Nilda.

These are not your typical “how-to” books with every single step spelled out for you, intending that you can learn just from the book. This weaving tradition comes from an experience of community and so you’re supposed to learn from your elders and weave in the courtyard with everyone else, developing your learning skills and your ability to do trial-and-error, hands-on with strings in your fingers.

Oh, and I hadn’t yet mentioned: You would typically be taught to spin first, as a very young child, before weaving. Because where else are you going to get a stash of yarn ready to weave if you haven’t been spinning it and contributing to the supplies of the community? Hmmm?

So in that vein, I also follow any and all information put out by CTTC in Peru: https://textilescusco.org – The Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco. If I’m not studying the communities and looking to the owners of this cultural wealth of knowledge, then I’m not honoring the cultural heritage that they are representing.

Memorizing the Content

This is a step that can be a stumbling block for quite a number of people. If you come from a literate society that no longer memorizes things, it’s hard to see the value in doing anything by rote anymore. That’s what we have Google for, right? IMDB? Calculators? YouTube?

Except that there’s something amazing about what happens in your learning process when you commit something to memory. You could perform a recitation of a story or a poem, paper in hand. But what if you memorized the whole thing and then got up on stage? You could read sheet music. But what happens when a Drum Corps takes the field with all their music memorized?

You could weave complicated material from a chart and stay glued to that chart. No one would know the difference looking at the finished work. But what if you started to learn to read the patterns in the strings, in the color, and then you wove? From memory?

This weaving style that I’m embedded in comes from thousands of years of community weaving and oral tradition. They could look at existing textiles or they could talk to one another, passing down the patterns. There is *not* a history of drawing up charts. So what if I tried to get to the point of weaving patterns from memory?

Do the Actual Work

The funniest thing was that I used to be slightly frustrated when Abby would ask me, “What happened when you tried weaving it?” for any of my weaving questions. Now I see how AWESOME that question is: Because tons of this learning HAS to be done in the hands, the body, and yarn.

In the stories Abby has told us, typically weaving instruction started with children as young as 5 years old. The first weaving is always the same pattern: They hand a properly warped band to the new weaving student, and everyone learns the same pattern when they start. They have many fundamentals to grasp first before they are taught to measure out a warp for a new band. And by the time you can measure warps and tie the various types of heddles, you have a responsibility to measure and prepare warps for new beginners. You have *chores* to do, to support your community.

That means part of my learning has to also come from creating and supporting new weavers. It’s part of my “teenager chores” to keep making warps for first-time weavers. It’s part of my weaving development to be there for encouraging weavers to go beyond the first lesson and try the second and third lesson. And when you’re lucky enough to have a blossoming advanced weaver trying to keep up with you personally, it means your own goals and boundaries get a great push from the camaraderie. Technically, I should have a weaving partner that I can warp with in person. And while geography and a pandemic have been keeping me apart from any student or any weaving partner, we still have found ways to connect online and spur one another on to better and more ambitious projects.

That means I just have to weave. Oh, and spin more yarn for my stash. Oh, and add twist to “student yarn” and measure warps and send them out to beginners. Oh, and address the issue of tools acquisition. I found some woodworkers who were able to recreate some of the shed sticks (kaulla) I needed, which then I made available to other weavers. I always have a tapestry needle (yauri) at the ready, and buying them in bulk means I can give one to every new weaver, too. I still need to acquire a few more tools for the more advanced work—there’s a llama bone beater (ruki) I really lust for, as well as my need for a serviceable pickup stick (tukuna). And since I cannot stake things in the ground and weave outside in the courtyard, I’ve had to create reasonable equivalents for sitting indoors on a couch and not completely blocking my Sweetie’s view of the TV. (Amazing what you can do with a luggage cart handle and a heavy Sparkletts bottle filled with over 50 lbs of loose coins.)

The TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) summary answer to the original question “how do you study?” boils down to, “In-person, online, with books for resources, and with online connections with a large community as well as a specific teacher.”

So What’s Next?

Who wants a starter warp and some time learning about Tanka Ch’oro, the pattern every weaver memorizes first? Drop me a note.

Where is all starts: Tanka Ch’oro – the foundational pattern

Word of the Year: 2021

It’s funny how many different posts on social media I am tagged in nowadays when it comes to the last week of December and the first week of January. In 2012, I decided that I had a “theme word” for the year rather than a New Year’s Resolution. I’d found a community of dancers and a dance style that truly resonated with me, in June 2010, and I dove in head-first, specifically with the intention to learn and then teach this style. 2012 was deep in the full pursuit of this challenge, and so the theme word DANCE made tons of sense. I was still doing other pursuits, spinning and weaving, volunteering and organizing, traveling even! but as a theme word, that’s where it all started.

Some years, when I chose a theme word, I really pursued it most of the year. Some years, I barely even remembered the theme word as the year got under way. But the process of stopping to think about things has been a process I’ve enjoyed now each year.

Last year, none of us had any idea what was in store for us. I selected the theme word INTENTIONAL as a means to say what I would pursue would be what I *intended* to pursue, not just based out of habit or declining obligations. Of course, as of today, I’m still under work-from-home pandemic quarantine. Today is day number 296 for me, since I was sent home from work. This week, our CEO announced that the two US offices (in CA and in NY) are back under mandatory work-from-home through the end of February (all previous optional come-in-to-the-office has been rescinded). I don’t miss the commute, but it wasn’t originally my intention to remain mostly locked indoors.

Which brings me all to this year. What theme word resonates with me today?

PRESENT

I feel a little bit like a Dickens ghost, the Ghost of Being Present. In the Muppet version of the story, the Ghost of Christmas Present cannot even remember having introduced himself to Michael Caine’s Scrooge, he’s so embedded in the present. There are days when I *only* know what day it is because I keep a large calendar widget on display in my laptop desktop. I have to look up what day it is, what hour it is, heck what month it is, sometimes.

But also, thinking about going forward, I refuse to make long-term plans right now. Until there is mass vaccination throughout our town, county, state, country — there’s no point in making plans to travel and gather. I cannot risk getting infected and being either asymptomatic and spreading the disease or being symptomatic and risking hospitalization or death. Our hospitals are nearly out of oxygen. There’s 8-18 hour waits, outdoors or in your car, until you can be seen (that, or drive two hours to a different hospital two counties away). So I can only live in the present when making plans for “what do I want to do next?”

But living in the Present is also just a healthy approach, too. I want to be present and in the moment with my Sweetie, the only other human I see every day. I want to be thoughtful about my interactions online, over text, or over video. I want to be aware of my surroundings, right now, and be involved in what can be done here, now, in this moment.

Because that’s all I have.

I live right here in this moment, in the PRESENT, and why not take advantage of this opportunity?

Here’s to living in the PRESENT and making the most of it

The Words-of-the-Years List

Word of the Year: 2020

Right before New Year’s, I was pondering words and phrases like “TAKE RISKS” or “STUDY” or even “DECLUTTER,” but these weren’t quite right for my own theme for 2020. As my friends do, several jumped into the discussion to make suggestions or share their word of the year. A few observed that my thoughts sounded like “simplify” or “align” or “nourish,” all of which are very worthy themes indeed.

But since Wednesday, I just keep coming back around to the same word:

INTENTIONAL

The more I settle into the new normal for my age and interests and abilities right now, I am being more carefully INTENTIONAL about how I spend my time and energy. For example, sometimes habit kept me teaching. And while I adore my students and I really loved sharing dance knowledge, it was getting obvious I needed a new training and treatment regimen. I’ve had knee troubles and lately low back pain, and it just didn’t get any better by ignoring it. (Duh.) So I’ve put my dance teaching on hold, a very intentional hiatus, for the express purpose of training my body back into a more healthy state.

My time spent in particular hobbies has changed drastically. Some of my choices have been intentional changes to remove myself from environments that have some problematic community trends. There are times when it’s no longer my calling to fix everything that’s broken in some spaces. And that’s okay. I have no regrets for the years I spent in some activities, and I have grand friendships from the experience. But I don’t have to attend every event to still show love and affection for friends I value. Instead, I can choose intentional interactions with these friends.

My own artistic pursuits are somewhat broader and somewhat more narrow than ever before. And that’s okay. I’m perfectly happy being very intentional about what arts I spend time on now. And this also means that I’m looking for ways to gift some supplies to others who will be more likely to use them in the pursuits I’m no longer chasing. It’s a time to send the treasures to other homes, where they’ll be used immediately.

The past several years, my immediate family at home and I have been watching specific TV shows together in order to grapple with the state of the world and our nation. As we dig into these discussions, I’ve found there are some topics around which I want to intentionally engage with the world. Likewise, I have to choose the audiences with whom I will engage. I’ve intentionally walked away from some interactions because I’ve lost hope that some minds will change. And that’s okay. Not every fight is my fight. But the fights that I want to be intentional about? Those I refuse to be silent out of laziness or silenced out of fear or other pressures.

And there’s just the time spent with family. Rather than allow time to just disappear, I want to embrace intentional time with those I love and that I am closest to.

Intentional. These are the things I *mean* to do. Yes.

The Words-of-the-Years List

Fire Hair: Intentional Use of Color

Family Gift-Giving Day

Our family has the wonderful tradition of celebrating Hanukkah, working through Christmas, and then setting our “family second Christmas” or “family gift-giving day” later, post Santa-season. It’s hard to celebrate when you’re exhausted from working five gigs Xmas Eve and then four gigs Xmas Day. This year, we declared New Year’s Day to be Family-Holiday, even with two gigs on New Year’s Eve.

It was a marvelous day with family. I got to enjoy my annual “wake up early, watch the pre-parade show, make coffee, watch the Rose Parade live, and then watch as much infinite-loop broadcast as my family will allow.” They let me watch one full repeat, and they balked at a second repeat. Boyo was awakened by Santa’s medium-sized jingle bells bandolier, which tickles Papa to no end (after years of tiny Boyo waking a tired Papa way too early for stockings and presents). There were books, electronics, nostalgic toys, silly toys, candy, oranges, clothing, and general merriment. It was definitely a success.

My favorite view on Family-Holiday: Gifts ready and Rose Parade in infinite-loop on the TV

Accounts of #Strengths Today

In the crafty accounts, I finished the over-twist on the last bulky skein during the day on New Year’s Eve, and set up the center-pull ball before heading out for our gigs. Santa visits the good Armenian children on New Year’s Eve, and “Mrs Santa” can ply on her spindle while parked outside, waiting for Santa. Today, while enjoying “infinite loop” broadcasting of the Rose Parade, I finished up the plying and wound it off into a ball and stashed it in the project bag to measure bulky demo weaving warps for later. #crafty #strengths

Then I’ve been trying to get better at using my electronic records to keep from forgetting tasks, plus remember to log to-do lists and project plans. I remarked the other day that I needed a “brain white board” to keep track of “what’s next?” every time I wrap up another crafty task. I finally made a note that’s actually labeled, “Grand Whiteboard of All Projects.” I have several categories and bulleted lists starting to take shape. I love it.

My Google Calendar is also where I have started logging quick notes and reminders for things I should accomplish before specific deadlines. I was pleased to mark a few of them “done” today, as well as reschedule the ones I knew I couldn’t complete today.

Finally, I’ve been making significant efforts to improve my own around-the-house habits (wash the dishes more frequently, pick up my own clutter, put away crafty bits properly). This evening was another successful day for hitting some of those targets.  #organizing #strengths

Word of the Year 2019

What I’ve Been Thinking About This Week

My astute readers will know that I’ve been thinking through my Word of the Year for the past week. In As the Year Winds DownI summed up the past several years’ words I’ve declared.

  • 2018: PRACTICE
  • 2017: GOALS: achieved by finding both TIME and SPACE
  • 2016: HABITS
  • 2015: MASTERY (and COLOR) + “Finish the Unfinished Objects”
  • 2014: CREATE
  • 2013: FOCUS
  • 2012: DANCE

When it started in 2012, making DANCE my word of the year was obvious. I found ATS just 18 months previously, and I was smitten and dancing every moment possible. I had a five-year plan in mind, a first end-goal, and wild dreams. The notion of FOCUS hails back to my SCA mentor in all things artistic, Mistress Tonwen (Rae). When people would ask her was I was apprenticed to her “in” as an area of study, she’d laughingly say, “FOCUS!” I’m still not always completely focused, but it was a good reminder that just wildly chasing all the colors sometimes can result in a muddy result.

CREATE was a very fun year for me. I really did try to post hashtag photos of #CREATE almost every day of the year. It was enjoyable to see how many ways I do create and make things in my regular, every-day life.

Both HABITS and MASTERY (and the illusive “finish the UnFinished Objects” in my life) both speak to me about how one goes from a Wish to a Plan to an Accomplishment. I’m still on a life-long pursuit of improved habits and mastery of skills. I often suggest that someone can start with “Just One Habit” that takes them towards their goals. I would love a clean house, so right now as a family I’ve asked to work on “Just One Habit” and keep the living room couches (and their associated end tables) clean every night before bed. Just one habit: Pick up the living room at night. It’s been working for 9 days so far, and I’m feeling optimistic. Mastery of my artistic pursuits or my business skills—this also requires layering my habits, one upon another.

GOALS and PRACTICE were natural continuations of the same path I’d been pursing. It’s not enough to just build any habit, not without knowing what the GOAL should be. And having set those goals, it’s a matter of practice to get to the level of mastery I’m looking for. I cannot call 2018 any measure of success toward #practice, as this fell off quickly. It’s not that I didn’t practice things, but it wasn’t as powerful a beacon word for me as the months went on. I think I had my attention on “regular life” and keeping up with commitments, more than pursuing practice techniques and time.

But then this week, when I posted Careful What You “Wish For,” I was specifically trying to avoid setting myself up for failure with a Word of the Year that didn’t motivate me, or only set me up for learning hard lessons in weird or terrible ways. By Find Your Strengths I was reminded that my favorite way to improve life is to take what I’m doing well now and apply those lessons to what’s next. Lessons learned are important and should be headed. And the more I considered Strengths and Follow-through, the more I knew what I want is to be reliable, complete, and thorough about what I attempt. And applying those lessons learned is my tried and true method for success in life.

What I’ve Concluded

So where does that lead me? Pedestrian ideas swirled in my head like  “CALENDAR” or “PRIORITIES” or even “TASKS.” But those didn’t seem to tie up the loose ends properly. They also looked like the kinds of words that could go horribly wrong. I mean really, “Calendar” as a word of the year? Please laugh along with me when these things came to mind. I’m laughing at myself. No, it’s much simpler than that.

My Word of the Year for 2019 is STRENGTHS.

  • Play to my strengths
  • Learn from my strengths
  • Apply my strengths to habits I want to develop
  • Use the lessons learned to extend my strengths
  • Build my strengths
  • Share my strengths with others
  • Honor my strengths and make them count
  • Support the strengths of others and lift them up

How do you think of your strengths? Do you honor them? Do you work to build them further? Do you share your strengths? Do you showcase the strengths of others in your life? How do you build toward strength?

Some Fun Visuals

Now, it wouldn’t be an effort of mine if it didn’t have a visual element or a nice tracking system, right? I just recently read about a “Year in Pixels” as a concept. Here’s some links for those who would like to know more.

And while I do like the apps on my phone, I’m also a spreadsheet user and a Google Drive aficionado. So I created a custom file on my Google Drive, with different tabs for different topics to track.

The idea is to fill in a block per day. There’s a column for each month and rows for the day of the month. You decide what color coding system appeals most to you. I love yellows and oranges, so I made the “best” or “highest” value in my color keys into “Golden.” I’ll be able to update my tracking from my phone and make changes on the fly throughout the year. I’ve already added another tab since I took these screenshots, to track spending time on studying ASL on my own.

Templates ready for tracking a Summary of my day, Movement, and Crafty pursuits

In case you’re unable to read the details on the screenshots, here’s my personal scales for tracking (for now).

  • Summary of my Day: Scale includes (1) Golden, Best, (2) Green, Still Good, (3) Meh, Middle, (4) Cool, Could Be Better, (5) Fork in me, Try Tomorrow
  • Movement tracking: Scale includes (5) Five minutes, (15) Fifteen minutes, (30) Thirty minutes, (60) An hour, and (61+) Over an Hour
  • Crafty tracking: Scale includes (5) Just a few minutes, (4) A nice break, (3) A great session, (2) Committed time, and (1) Dude, Whoa!