Ode to a Mensch

Turkey Scratch, Arkansas is just a few miles across the Mississippi River from where I am now sitting in Memphis. It is where Levon Helm grew up amid the cotton fields and the fiddlers playing a blend of gospel, country and hillbilly music that would eventually find its way to Memphis and evolve into the blues, rockabilly and rock and roll. Levon and The Band defined the music of my generation in the 60’s and 70’s. He provided the foundation that contributed to my growth as a human being as much as my family of origin did. Growing up near Boston, Massachusetts was as far removed from Turkey Scratch as one could be in 1968. But it was Levon and his generation of musicians that played a vital role in my upbringing.

And it was my brother and the legacy of  his tragic death in 1966 that left me hanging on to the music he loved. The music we shared was a way for me to stay connected to the memory of  our listening to the tinny sounds of Motown and Bob Dylan on his transistor radio. My brother was also a guitarist and I still have and treasure the sheet music that he used to learn to play some of his favorite songs.

And that is how I fell in love with the music of Levon Helm. As I grew up listening to the music that my brother would have loved, I found that I always gravitated back to the sounds of Bob Dylan, and eventually “The Last Waltz” became my favorite album of all time. All the artists featured on the album were those that defined my generation:  Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Emmy Lou Harris. And of course the fine band that played with them.

I regret that I never went to a Midnight Ramble, most notably the Ramble at the Ryman in 2008 just up the road in Nashville. But I was fortunate enough to see Levon Helm and his band, including his daughter Amy perform in Tunica, Mississippi two years ago. And it was a memorable performance.

And so that is how I will remember Mr. Helm. Playful and serious as a performer and always, always talented. Thank you   for the music that will forever remind me of the early days in 1966 – sharing a love of music with my brother that became the seed for embracing the music of my generation.

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They call me Ragmamarag

If you’re on Ravelry.com, then you know me as ragmamarag.  Beside the fact that I am a child of the 60’s and I still listen to Robbie Robertson and The Band, I also weave with rags.   Mostly I use new fabric, and with my rotary cutter and cutting mat, I cut narrow strips about 1/2″ wide.  With a warp of  5/2 perle cotton sett at 18 epi I weave one shot of fabric strip and then a shot of 5/2 perle cotton in a plain weave pattern.   The alternating shot of 5/2 perle cotton isn’t necessary, it’s a design element that I tend to fancy because to me this additional row makes the weave pattern look more consistent, especially if you are using a busy fabric.  In fact, I like to use fabric that has a lot of colors and shapes.  Once the fabric is cut and compressed within the body of the weaving, the original image of the fabric resembles  Pointillism, the Neo Impressionist painting technique where small distinct points of colors  appear to be blended together.

Fabric salvaged from garbage

Fabric salvaged from garbage

Handwoven sample made from strips cut from fabric at left

Handwoven sample made from strips cut from fabric at left

The fabric to the left  is a  colorful cotton fabric printed in Japan.   I discovered it at an assisted living facility where I was teaching a weaving class.  The fabric was slated to be thrown out as its owner was no longer able to sew.  I happily became its new owner!  The woven sample in the photo on the right  demonstrates the “pointillism” effect of this beautiful fabric.  The way the narrow strips of fabric are compressed into the weaving along with the alternating rows of 5/2 perle cotton radically changes the  original pattern of the fabric.  My thanks to Molly my student intern from Memphis College of Art. This was the first warp that Molly put on the 4-harness loom and the first sample that she wove on it.

Molly’s warp was long enough so I could weave additional fabric.  Once the handwoven fabric was finished I sewed them into purses.  Each purse has a textured ceramic button  with a decorative embellishment of some  glass beads that were yard sale finds.

Rag purses handwoven with fabric strips

Rag purses handwoven with fabric strips

Some years ago, I had written an article for Handwoven magazine  describing how to weave and construct this type of rag purse.   There have been many other contributors to the magazine as well  who have written about  variations on this bag, and Interweave Press  offers some  free pattens of rag purses  in their “Bag of the Month” feature.  This is a great resource for weavers of all levels.

The above purses will be sold in my booth, MemphisWeaver, at the upcoming Celebration of Fine Craft featuring artists from Memphis Association of Craft Artists (MACA).  The fair  will  be held at Christian Brothers University on April 17, 18, and 19.  Since the purses came from fabric and beads that were destined for the landfill, they will be sold under my “Rethreads” label which includes handwoven items made from recycled (or upcycled) material.

Rethreads labels

Rethreads labels

I have another warp on the loom now and hope to use up the rest of these fabric strips and plan to make more “rag bags”.  I like to mix and match colors and patterns to really make a funky finished product.  Each bag is pretty unique, and they look nothing like your  grandmother’s rag rugs!

Basket of fabric strips

Basket of fabric strips