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Goodbye 2020

Goodbye 2020

October Roses

Where have I been for the last four months, you may ask. Right here at home, of course, like almost everyone I know. Actually, I was already at home most of the time since the middle of last year. I was going to a mixed-media group meeting in a friend’s home twice a month, but that was the scope of my social life until that ended in March this year.

Last winter I had a number of art projects going on which I wrote about on this blog. But as I got into summer, I was having difficulty coming up with things to write about because I was mostly working in my yard. I’d find myself thinking what can I make quickly to blog about, which is not the kind of art or writing I want to be doing, much less putting on my website. And, by that time, there was so much noise on the internet, with people reposting things they had found online, that I decided to just stop for a while.

Summer in San Joaquin County was either over 100 degrees or clogged with smoke, or both at the same time until mid-October. Then it became a challenge to get the summer work done and prep for winter. I’ve been pruning back bushes that didn’t get done in 2019. I’ve been removing some plants that I didn’t like or were in the wrong place. I’m making some changes that I think will make the maintenance easier as I get older.

Watsonia wall hanging

The watsonia “basket” I was making turned into a wall piece, and after a few months I added three natural elements and got it hung up on the wall. I made a basket using some of my weaving yarn twinned around some spokes of rope.

Twinned basket – weaving yarn, cotton rope, sisal rope

My summer activities included cleaning the garage and reorganizing my garden shed where I have basket making materials stored. I brought a few items into the house that I had forgotten I had, but I haven’t gotten to them yet.

In my storage unit I had a shoe box full of colorful circles I made some time in the “80’s. They were to be sewn together to make an afghan, looking like one of those old-fashioned paperweights. I had put the project aside when I took on a part-time job while in Grad school. I brought them into the house knowing I would not make any more pieces and decided I’d sew together what I had. Once I got into this, I discovered that I had started out with six sided circles and at some point, I was only making five sides. This proved an interesting challenge to find a way to attach them.

Crochet circles sewn together

Other than going to the grocery, my main destination is seeing my dentist about every three weeks to get my braces adjusted. I lost a tooth on the bottom right in January, and she saw an opportunity to fill in that space and straighten some teeth that were twisted. We are getting close to being done, I hope. Eating this year has been a challenge!

My friend, Robert, who lives in the apartment behind the garage, has had numerous problems with his wheelchair all this year. He is no longer able to come into the house to cook with his current loaner chair, an activity he really enjoys. We’ve mostly met on the patio, but it’s not the same as eating together and sharing the kitchen. Hopefully his new chair will be delivered soon.

It has been five years since I had a cat, and during the summer I thought about getting a cat, until I remembered how Tommy insisted on being on my work table whenever I was making art. I wanted a cat who would go in and out of the house independently, and enjoy being with me without needing to be in my face constantly. How does one find a cat like that?

Miss Lila

The Next-Door app has people giving away cats (and other things) all the time. Late one Saturday evening about two months ago, I was scanning the latest offerings of free things. There was a photo of a cat who looked exactly like the first cat we had in Virginia forty-five years ago. I read the info: female, about 4 years old, likes to hunt for mice and lizards, needs to be gone by Monday. Sunday, I looked at the picture again several times, and sent a message that I was interested. The family was leaving the state and couldn’t take her with them. By noon on Monday, I was driving back from Lodi with Lila.

Lila – a perfect fit

Miss Lila is a beautiful cat with symmetrical markings, a white tummy and four white paws. She likes about twenty minutes lap time in the evening. She is very smart, understands things, knew what the cat door was and how to use it. She’s not too sure about Robert yet – he sounds like a man, but doesn’t walk like a person. So, some of my time and energy the last two months has been about having a new friend to talk to, watch, and play with.

I have been so blessed by the Lord this year, being content to tend to my yard, learning to make better collages, gifting me with the perfect cat. Even though I am unhappy with the results of the election, I am experiencing God’s perfect peace that events will play out for the good of our nation.

Wishing you good health and a peaceful spirit in the new year.


The Challenge Basket

The Challenge Basket

The program for the January meeting of the Bay Area Basket Makers (BABM) was to distribute materials for making a Challenge Basket. We each brought basketry materials to share, and we each went home with a grocery sack full of everything from waxed linen, to reed, beads, a leather strap, seagrass, yarn, and more.

Materials in my grocery sack

The first challenge for me was getting to the meeting! Last year I didn’t get to any of the meetings for various reasons. I even missed the Christmas party due to neck and shoulder pain from overwork in the yard the day before.

Some of the members got right to work on their baskets at the meeting, but I decided to bring the sack home and do a small amount of planning before I started. I looked through my large collection of baskets I’ve made in classes, gotten from other BABM members, and bought at estate sales for ideas on how to begin.

I knew I wanted to use the twining method of building this basket because it is my favorite technique. I actually discovered I had a basket from an unknown maker that probably was a challenge basket because of the variety of odd materials and the different techniques she used.

Twining requires spokes so the two cords can twist between them. I needed to sort out which materials in my sack would make good spokes. Because of the volume of stuff to work with, it was going to be a large basket. I decided on a length of the spokes I wanted, and cut them from the heavy paper cord and the black plastic strapping in my sack.

We were also allowed to add a few additional materials of our own. I needed more spokes, so I rummaged around in my stash and found some plastic wrapped wire I had from my father’s wire stash which I inherited in 1996 when I moved my parents to California from Ohio.

The bottom of the basket

Starting this kind of basket is the most difficult part, in my opinion. The spokes need to be held together as the first row or two of the weaving elements go under and over each one. It can also be started by plaiting the elements over and under each other, but if they are very different that doesn’t work so well. If the spokes are different, they should be alternated around the basket. I stared by holding the materials together with clothespin type clips and weaving under – over with a thin, coated wire for about three rounds.

I twined with seagrass until the bottom was the size I wanted for the base. Then I did two more rounds of seagrass while bending the spokes upward. At this point I started using the variety of other materials, each for about two or three rounds. After about eight rounds the basket looked like this.

Building up the sides

Some of the materials, such as reed, had to be soaked to make them pliable for twining. The things that came off palm trees were soaked and then cut into thin strips. I decided to knot the ends of yarn together when I got to the end of them, and I left them hanging on the outside of the basket. Reed and seagrass ends were tucked inside. Once I was working on the sides the twining was pure fun! I had forgotten how fast it goes and how much enjoyment this gives me.

One side of the basket

As the basket grew, I needed to add a few more spokes because the spaces between them had gotten too wide in a few areas. Some basket makers work hard to keep the shape of the basket in a traditional shape, but I prefer to see what the materials want to do. Especially when a large variety of materials is used, the basket has a mind of its own.

Detail of the top

As the weaving nears the top of the basket, how to finish the top is the challenge. I had decided as I was choosing my spokes that I would most likely tuck each spoke into the next one over as the easiest finish. The black strapping spokes were turned over the last inside row and tucked into their own space. The wire spokes had little metal connectors on them and I wanted to leave them on the ends as a novel embellishment. I easily wound each wire around a tiny knitting needle for a funky finish.

The finished basket

At this point I still had beads to add onto some ends of waxed linen on the other side from this photo. I also cleaned up loose ends inside the basket, and shortened some of the yarn ends near the bottom. The cork from Robert’s New Year’s Eve champagne was sitting on my work table and got included in one of the early rounds of yarn.  2020 is off to a good start, I’d say.

A Change of Mind

A Change of Mind

On Friday last week, I washed my dirty car and filled the gas tank because I was planning to attend the Bay Area Basket Makers (BABM) meeting the next day. I searched thorough my supplies of cord and wire, beads, and tools I might need for the looping project they were doing this month.

Looped Suncatcher

I have done looping, sometimes called knotless netting, several times before, so I got out a piece I did years ago using wire and beads with some wisteria vine as an example of what could be done. Last year in a workshop, I did a small amount of looping with wire on a piece of jewelry, so I stuck that in my bag as well.

Looped wire over beads

I put my comfortable old lawn chair in the car. I hard-boiled an egg and made egg salad sandwich filling before I went to bed. I wanted to get to bed a little early, but as usual I was doing something interesting, and time sped by.

When my alarm went off at 6:30, I turned over and snuggled in for a few more minutes of rest. When I got up at 6:47, I contemplated the 75 mile drive into Oakland where the meeting is held. Anymore, it’s not the distance so much as the amount of traffic on the interstates, and the cutting in and out by drivers going over the speed limit significantly more than I am.

I used to enjoy the distant views of Mt. Diablo, and the hills on the Altamont. This time of year there is usually a flock of sheep working a field in Tracy. I can’t even glance at these sights anymore. The other cars on the road now require my complete attention, and it is more tiring than enjoyable to drive into the Bay Area.

I have begun to think about how much energy my various activities consume, and I find myself planning what I will do each day on how much energy I feel I have to work with, and how important I think the planned activities are.

Even though I felt some sadness that I would not see some friends, I decided to go back to bed for another hour.

After breakfast and reading the newspaper, I unpacked my supplies and sat down at my work table to see what I could do with them. I had picked out some Rat-tail, a shiny, slippery, polyester cord. I tried tying it to a piece of driftwood, and after two rows of looping, determined that it was not going to turn out well.

But while working with the material, I wondered how it would work on a twinned project like the ChapStick holders I like to make. I used the strips of Rat-tail I had undone from the driftwood. It was difficult to get the holder started because of the slickness, but I liked how the cord was to work with after I had several rounds completed.

Rat-tail cording in half finished ChapStick holder

When I got hungry for lunch I made the egg salad sandwich I had planned to take to the meeting. After eating, I took care of a few little chores I had been putting off all week. At that point I became aware that I had some indigestion, and I was glad I wasn’t in Oakland needing to drive all the way home to Stockton.

A bit of peppermint soothed my stomach, and a nap seemed like a good idea. I can tell you that I know six hours of sleep at night is not enough for me anymore. But, as a life-long night owl, I haven’t mastered getting myself into bed early enough when I want to be somewhere in the morning.

Sometimes a hesitation and change of plans, even when it feels like laziness, is the best option for that particular day.



Two Baskets from My Garden

Two Baskets from My Garden

A month ago, I removed the dried leaves from my Watsonia plant, which grows in the center of my garden. You can see it in bloom with its scarlet flowers in the banner at the top of this page. Watsonia is from South Africa, a member of the lily family which grows from croms, similar to bulbs.

In the Central Valley climate this plant blooms from May into July. The eighteen inch long leaves dry up in the heat of August. I usually wait until January to remove them. But this year, I decided to remove them as I was clearing out other things in that area. As I worked, I could see the tips of the new shoots for next summer beginning to emerge from the croms. I had to be careful not to damage them.

I have had this plant for nine years, and I haven’t dug it up to separate the bulbs because it seems to be fine — “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” — being one of my favorite themes. So it has now become a very large plant producing a huge bin full of dried leaves.

I wanted to sit down immediately and make baskets with these leaves, but the week ahead was full of dental and medical appointments, and urgent home repairs. The desire to work with this material was an actual physical longing to experience handling the leaves.

To make a basket from these leaves, or any plant that has dried, they must be soaked to make the material pliant, so it doesn’t break when handled. I have a small square fountain at the edge of my patio, and when I finally found a day, two weeks later, with time to play, I dropped a hand-full of Watsonia into the water to soak.

Damp Watsonia is very tough. I wove a square base in the center of nine leaves crossed by nine more, with equal lengths of the leaf on either side to make spokes for the sides of the basket. I tried to press the leaves close to each other because I knew they would shrink up when they dried, but Watsonia doesn’t want to be packed closely. This first basket was made to familiarize myself with the best way to use the material.

Sample basket made from Watsonia

I used twining around the woven square to secure the position of the leaves for the base. Twining is using two strands of the material that twist between each spoke, and once you get the hang of how to do it, it is very easy. When I got near the end of a leaf, I laid the cut end of a new leaf along side of the short one and used them together until the short one ended.

On my sample basket, I found that the material did not want to make even corners where I thought it should, and two of them are rounded not square. The first two inches of twining are open spaced, but the rest of the basket has the rows close together.

Tray like basket made from Watsonia

I made a larger basket allowing the nine by nine plaited bottom leaves to space themselves, and began the twining with the expectation that as I worked the Watsonia would pull together into upright sides. By the second day of working on this basket, I realized that steep sides were not going to happen, so I have more of a tray- type basket than I had envisioned.

Finishing the rim can be done several ways. On the smaller basket I bent the spokes inward and stuck them down through several rows of twining. On the larger basket I carried each spoke along with the twinner for an inch or two. Additional finishing involves clipping off the exposed ends where new twinners were added and cutting the ends of spokes after they are secured. On these baskets I left some of the narrow pointed ends of the leaves sticking out to add a decorative interest

Shell Mandala

Shell Mandala

Shell Mandala

A few years ago I stopped by an estate sale near my neighborhood where I spotted this interesting item on a table with kitchen utensils. What attracted me were the Cowry (Cypraea) shells that are found in warm waters with rocky shores. I have some in my shell collection that look like these; I found them in 1981 on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.

There were other items of interest at this sale, and I put it back on the table. By the time I was ready to pay for my other finds, the guy conducting the sale had decided he had made enough already and was giving people grocery bags to fill up with whatever items they liked for a dollar a bag.

I looked at the shell thing again, and although it isn’t the type of decor I usually choose, I decided I wanted to rescue it because I appreciated all the work that went into making it.

Detail of Shell Mandala

It appears that the material used was raffia wrapped around a thin strip of something natural that is strong but flexible enough to make the circles, star shape, and the zigzag inside the outer rim.

The fan-shape weaving is Teneriffe Lace made with thin threads of raffia. I’ve never even contemplated trying to do this, but one of my basket-maker friends does this. She combines it with pine needle basketry and gives them for the Christmas gift exchange.

Detail of gift with Teneriffe Lace


When I got home, I hung this mandala under the wall clock in my dining room where I see it several times every day. I’m referring to it as a mandala because of its circle design. Many different faiths use mandalas with meditation. They are thought to integrate and stabilize the personality. A little of that each day is a good thing, right?



This month, even though I’m still cleaning up the yard mess from spring, my focus is on shells. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of beautiful shells at the 2018 convention of shell collectors at the end of the month.




The Whirlwind at Grandma’s House

The Whirlwind at Grandma’s House

Baskets have been made all over the globe for thousands of years, usually with a specific purpose in mind. Some were for storing foods, used as cooking pots, to separate grain from chaff, or as containers for carrying things from place to place.

Last summer at the Ship Wreck Museum in Key West,

Baskets around jars.

I saw basket covered wine jugs that had been recovered from wrecks. The basketry probably protected the jugs from breaking on the long ocean voyages, and provided a handle.

Traditional baskets were made from whatever natural materials were at hand using tree bark, branches, grasses, and even roots. Today there are basket makers who still follow the traditional shapes and designs, but there are others who use basket materials and techniques to make more sculptural forms that are not intended to be containers that store things.

I usually begin a basket by deciding I want to work with a certain material, maybe yarn, some cord I like, or something I find in my yard or at the beach.

In late summer of 2011, my three granddaughters and their parents made a quick trip to the Bay Area for a family wedding. They stopped by my home for a one day visit before heading back to Camas, Washington.

My granddaughters with their uncle and cousin

My other son, who lives a bit north of Sacramento, brought his family here and we had a cookout.

While the adults sat and talked, the four children ran around my big yard making up games. At one point they asked for a deck of cards. The kids had so much energy, the day went by like a whirlwind.

Walking through my yard the next day, I picked up a long green branch with a few leaves which appeared to have been torn off the sycamore tree. I suspected someone was swinging on it like Tarzan. Then, I spotted four playing cards a short distance away.

Grandma Meets the Whirlwind

Instead of putting the branch into the green waste bin, I wound it around a few times until I had a shape I liked. I inserted the playing cards, still in the shape of my grandson’s hand, between two circles of branch, and named it “Grandma Meets the Whirlwind.”

This is the quickest I have ever made a basket. It reminds me of a perfect day with all my family.

Establishing a Consistent Studio Time

Establishing a Consistent Studio Time

In my mind at least, I have been putting almost everything else first before time to make art. Of course, my sons might have a different perspective on this. When they were little, laundry, cleaning, cooking, gardening, holiday preparations, and church filled my days, while handcrafts were done in the evening while they watched TV. Loom weaving filled any spaces between the other tasks.

The exception was in the summer of 1980, when the boys were old enough to get up, get dressed, and fix their own breakfast. I could hear them in the kitchen below. My looms were on the second floor of our home in Livermore, and the only time it was cool enough to weave was early morning, so as soon as Ray left for work, I went upstairs to weave tapestries. This arrangement worked so well it persisted until 1984, when I became a student at the community college, at which point everything else plus college came before making art.

College led to working, which also came before art making. When I bought a home in Stockton twenty-one years ago, I was no longer married. I cooked and cleaned less, but taking care of my large yard started filling my hours, increasing each year as I planted interesting new trees and flowers. Now the challenge in the garden is mostly physical—can I still manage it.

Originally my looms were in the house and the art studio was in the small apartment behind the detached garage. I rarely worked out there – it was either too hot, too cold, or I didn’t want to be there at night. And I was working full time, plus commuting to Livermore.

In 2009, I moved the art supplies and tables into the house so my son, Chris, could remodel the apartment for my mother and later my friend Robert, who lives there now. If you have read my memoir, “Looking for Connection,” you know all this, but if you want all the juicy details you can get them here.

So, my studio has been in the large room between the kitchen and the hallway to the bedrooms for the last nine years, and I walk through it countless times each day. I’m sorry to say, all the other things still come first. I have failed to establish a dedicated studio time. I can understand why artists set up a studio away from their home, so they are not distracted by the visual “To Do” list.

I have made some art in my space in the house,

Copper earrings with beads

but it has usually been because I was taking a course online, had assignments from a local class, or was finishing a project from a workshop I attended. For example, on Saturday, to avoid an unfinished project, I completed these earrings that I started in Visalia two weeks ago.

I am still trying to establish a consistent studio practice because it is the only way I will use the luscious materials I have accumulated. More importantly, it is the only way I will access the creative energy and burning interest that I need to sustain and guide me through my remaining years.

Studio Report — Why You Should Work on Unfinished Projects

Studio Report — Why You Should Work on Unfinished Projects

Two months ago I wrote about my sudden decision to dismantle my large counter-balance loom, which was taking up about a quarter of the floor space in my studio room, and put it in my backyard storage. If you missed it, that blog was titled: “Catching an Idea by its Tail.”

Into that space I moved my drawing board, rearranged several small tables, and cleaned off my large work table. I now have three good-size work tables where I can make a series of small to medium size pieces of art, or larger items which use the whole table.

Drawing board in center with computer cart on left.

Under my large work table I have a huge basket of fabric scraps, a lidded basket of yarn, as well as smaller containers of natural materials, a box for stencils and other odd things for mark making or stamping.

I weeded my book cases in this room. I organized paper by color and size. I cleaned out several file drawers and shifted things around so I have more space for images I’m clipping out of old magazines.

Twinning project on big table, looking across the room at drawing board



Tall table with wheels next to big table, in front of filing cabinets







In January, once the sycamore leaves were out in the street and picked up, the rest of the yard was calling me. Grape vines needed cutting, three butterfly bushes got pruned, and I took a trip to the dump. This week the sage is getting cleaned out carefully—I encountered two black widows on Sunday.

If I’m spending three hours a day in the yard, I don’t have the energy to start new creative work.

I expected to make art on the days it rained. Guess what? It’s not raining, the sun is out, wild flowers and weeds are on the grow.

By the middle of January, I settled into a pattern of doing yard work after noon, a late lunch, some time on an art project until dinner, then, cutting up old magazines for an hour or so. I want to get images and words for collage harvested out of the magazines so I can use that shelf space to organize the ephemera (junk) I pick up wherever I find it.

I set up an easy tracking system to record what I do in my studio, hoping I’ll feel guilty if there is nothing to write down all week.

I decided to look at three unfinished basketry items I had been ignoring for months. I finished a small knotted item first. Then I took out the much larger twined thing I had started maybe four years ago. I had abandoned the original idea sometime after the bottom was done. About two years ago, I made a new plan and added the spokes all around, worked up about an inch, but put it away because I needed more time to work on my book.

So I’ve been cutting and cleaning in the yard, twinning in the studio, and ripping up magazines before bedtime. The chatter in my head is “the tables are empty, you aren’t making art.” There is this feeling like something is missing. The push to meet a deadline, the drive to complete something (for the writer’s group once a week) isn’t there, and I miss it because I’d gotten used to that feeling. This year the feeling is different, more low-key. Instead of having a calendar of dates to be met to get the book published, I have a relatively open agenda of “let’s see what happens.”

Friday night, I decided to empty out and put away the large carrying basket the twinning project had been waiting in for the last three years. When I got to the bottom, under the extra yarn, I was surprised and delighted to see my scissors with the blue handles that I have been looking for these last two years. Last summer I had declared them lost.

Blue Handled Scissors


So, what treasures might you uncover if you work on your unfinished projects?




Baskets Made with Willow

Baskets Made with Willow

Ten years ago I went to a basket making retreat in Oregon because I wanted to try working with willow. The woman, Jo Campbell-Ansler, who taught the three-day class is from Iowa where she grows and harvests the materials she uses. Not all willows are good for basket making. Several days before the workshop, she arrives with long willow rods from her farm so she can soak them.

I had heard that working with willow is hard on the hands, and I was somewhat concerned about whether I could do it because I’ve never had strong hands.

The first thing we did was work each damp rod back and forth around our knee to gently loosen up the branch so it would be more flexible. One end was as big around as my little finger and the other end was the size of a bamboo skewer.

Our teacher took us step by step to construct the basket.

Willow Collecting Pouch

The willow we used came in a variety of colors from yellow-green, to a brownish-green, and red. The finished basket is very colorful. It is called a gathering pouch.

I found that I was able to work with this material; I just had to take my time and not get frustrated if the spokes didn’t stay where I put them on the first try.

After that first class, I decided to try growing some willow. There is a company that sells shrubs and trees, and they grow a number of varieties of willow, indicating which ones are good for basket making. I confidently ordered four starts and planted them in several places in my yard.

They seemed to grow that first summer, but didn’t do well the next year. Willows like water. Lots of it. That is why I saw them growing along side streams in Oregon years ago. Sprinklers two or three days a week for twenty minutes in California’s hot central valley doesn’t provide enough water. Even my well established pussy willow died in the drought.

About three years later I took another class with this teacher and made a different style of basket. The second class was a one day class and I didn’t finish the basket in the class, but completed it at home.

Willow Basket

I really liked the feel of working with willow and how the rods pack together and sort of accommodate each other, unlike reed which is a uniform size and wants its own space.

I’m glad I did those classes when I did because I don’t think I could work with willow now due to having pain and difficulty with my hands every day.


Oregon Willow

Oregon Willow

About 25 years ago my older son, Chris, and I took a road trip to Idaho. We went through a corner of Nevada and entered Idaho from the south. It was the kind of trip where you stop when you encounter something interesting such as a red house by the side of the road selling antiques.

We stopped in parks and saw fish in the steams. We ate at local diners that had obviously been there for many years.

We only had four or five days and crossed into Oregon near Oxbow to start toward home. Driving along a meandering stream, I saw bushes growing on the banks and I wondered what they were. After a few miles, it occurred to me they might be willow because willows like a lot of water and this was dry area except for the streams.

Finally, I pulled over to investigate. The branches were thin but strong and flexible. I cut a few and picked up a broken branch near by.

Oregon Willow

That evening in our motel, I tied together some thick ends to make spokes, then, I wove a loose, open circular basket, inserting the stick as a handle.

The whole story is one of many in my soon to be published memoir, “Looking for Connection.”