Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Square One

It's good, as an adult, and as a teacher of adults, to learn new things every now and then. It helps me learn other ways of teaching, learn how it feels to be a student again, and it also keeps the little grey cells from deteriorating as fast as they might. Or so I would like to think!

I've been learning to sew leather, to make bags, and have chronicled some of my efforts. After many attempts, both by machine and by hand, which were less than stellar, I was determined to find someone to show me the ropes. I've searched for classes, most were far away or inaccessible for some reason or another, but at last, by sheer chance, I found a somewhat local teacher, willing to take on individual students. Local... well, within easy driving distance, and this week I had my first lesson:

Leather stitches

I learned how to hand stitch leather. Or, I should say, "I am learning" for clearly, much practice is needed. But I learned about weights of leather, sizes of thread, thread quality, needle sizes, and other tools, both basic and specialized. I learned more than I could learn, rather, I heard more than I could take in.

Like many hand skills, the basic technique is not difficult, but it requires practice to perfect. My stitches are quite uneven, but as I watched my teacher, and listened to him describe the process, I learned a *ton* that I could not grasp just watching YouTube or Craftsy classes. In person instruction, from a master, is priceless. I am so happy to have found him!

I learned what good stitches look like, even though mine are not there yet. I learn how to hold a tool, at what angle, and how, when the angle changes, the stitches change. As I tried stitching, he showed me how to hold my hands, how to pull the thread, and how tight to pull on the needles. He told me of pitfalls, things to watch out for, ways of working. I need to practice, and I will, and then I will take work to him for critique.

I was boggled by the end of the day. Getting confused. Unable to formulate my thoughts, much less be coherent. I simply could listen, write, and nod. I was tense, my shoulders hurt. Learning a new vocabulary, a new set of tools, new hand movements, a new medium entirely, made for a long day.

So, yesterday I "ran home to mama" and wove some cloth. Handspun cotton cloth, soon to be a garment:

image

It was nice to feel competent again! Bang out a few yards, feel capable, and relax into a well-known groove.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate. May you enjoy good food and good company, and light a warm glow to carry you through, as we head into the dark of the year.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Colorful Fall

Rain this past week and a few breezy days have diminished the colorful leaves, and this year we had some of the best coppers, golds...my favorites. Wednesday I was out, and knew the storm was coming, and that this would be my last chance this year to capture those golds:
golden tree_edited-1

But we can have color all year long! We had a dye day:
Dye day

These are play days, not instructional per se, but I am there to explain which dye goes with which fiber, and how to process the dyed yarns and fibers so the color won't all wash out. Which would be so discouraging!

At any rate, we dyed some warps::

Dye day

Warp painting
Warp painting

These were inspired by a National Geographic publication with a photo of Jupiter:
Warp painting

And, after everyone was done, there was dye leftover. I dyed some silk fabric:
Dye day

It came out nicely:
image

Nothing fancy, nothing unusual. Just a few creative people getting together for a day of color. We have fabric and yarn to remind us....and the leaves will come back, next year:

fall gold

November leaves

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Simple?

Our guild has been fortunate to have Laverne Waddington come, now twice, to teach us backstrap weaving. Some people dismiss such weaving as simple, easy, or beginner level, because the equipment needed is just a few sticks, some string and your fingers (and body!). But the process, and the fabrics produced, while indeed within the reach of new weavers, is anything but simple.

The first session, last May, was basic weave structures, and mostly exercises to familiarize us with the mechanics of backstrap weaving in general, with warping, setting up heddles of different types, and a few "first-step" weave structures:

Brocade and complementary

We used yarn that was easy to see and manipulate: large, multi-stranded cottons. From the left: weft brocade sampler, the second weft brocade sampler I did because I was enamored of this technique, basic pickup sampler, plain weave, and a warp not yet woven.

The idea was to become accustomed to the tools (plain weave sampler) and then to learn to set up various ways to attach heddles and shed sticks, and then use that information to weave a few bands (basic pickup and weft brocade), and finally to set up our own warps (far right) which, sadly, I have yet to finish setting up, much less weave!

Despite my distinct lack of progress I joined the second session with Laverne in October, on pebble weave:
Pebble weave

These are the first two warps: again, big cotton yarns so we could easily see and manipulate the warps, and by easily I mean that in a relative sense. Big Fat Yarn meant our clumsy fingers could find our way more easily than finer yarns, and certainly cotton is easier to work with at this stage in our weaverly development than sticky wool yarns.

We started, again, with warps that Laverne had set up for us. Then we set up our own, and learned how to add pebble shed groups. I know. It was Greek to me too.

See those two bundles of peach colored threads? Those are the pebble sheds. There are 3 sheds on this band: the pattern shed, and two pebble sheds. On the pattern shed, we used our fingers to pick up the design. Some warps are used in both types of sheds: pattern and pebble. To do this type of patterning on a floor loom, one would need something like a draw-loom, or a jacquard loom, or a computer assisted loom: some type of equipment that allowed each warp to be manipulated independently of any other, and in more than one shed. But in this case, we are the computer. You see? Not so simple.

Pebble weave

After a couple of bands in heavier threads (including the center one, above, a single design for the whole length) we moved to finer threads: the two bands on the right and left in the photo above.

The black, white and red band on the right is woven in the finer thread, and I chose to try a plain weave border, too. By finer, I meant finer than the "rope" we started with: these are size 3 crochet cotton, as heavy a fine thread as one could find, I would think. The final, wider band, we chose the colors, warped and set up the two pebble sheds, plain weave border sheds, and the pattern shed. You can see the "saver cord" on the right:

Pebble weave

The saver cord helps with finding the next pattern shed. As one learns to read the pattern from the cloth, the next shed progresses in a, well, "pattern" so that the weaver eventually can work from the cloth, not from the graphed design. A worthy goal, and one that I reach occasionally, for a shed or so, but not all the time. I am still wedded to the graph.

Each day I came home bone tired. It is hard work, and requires concentration and dedication. My body was sore: we were encouraged to stand up every 1/2 hour but we mostly ignored that, searching for that elusive tiny and tantalizing spark of understanding that we knew was just one more shed away, one more pass of the weft, one more beat and shed change away. We mostly sat and wove on. Except at lunch! which was delicious soup provided by one of our group, or, for me, cookie break (morning and afternoon, and afternoon again).

Laverne came with many, many samples: mostly of her own work, which is prodigious and awe-inspiring, but also some from various weavers around Central and South America. While she lives in Bolivia, and has studied with weavers there, Laverne has also traveled to study with weavers in Peru and Ecuador, in Guatemala, has incorporated techniques learned from weavers from Southeast Asia and even the American Southwest. It is wonderful how she combines the knowledge of all these indigenous groups, and can pass that on to us: a shed mechanism from here, and saver cord from there, and she has added some 20th century work-arounds, like bicycle spokes!, rubber bands and pencils! to the traditional tool box of sticks and string. Read her blog, look at the videos she has posted on various techniques, and look at the work she produces. I am always impressed with teachers who bring work of their own to show: their samples give us, a very visual group of students, a tangible example of what we are trying to learn. I am amazed at Laverne's accomplishments.

To master this "simple" weaving requires focus, concentration, tenacity, a good back!, nimble fingers, the ability to use that back and those fingers for long periods of weaving, un-weaving and re-weaving, and the eventual ability to see the patterns develop as you work, to "read" the weaving, as it were, and become free of charts.

I need new glasses. Heck, I need new fingers! and a stronger back... I need to learn to focus for more than two minutes...squirrel!

This past week I beat out a 4 yard warp in about an hour:
Cotton fabric

Simple? yes. But it took me quite a few years to be competent in this, "easy" weaving, assisted by scads of equipment. I have a ways to go before I feel competent in these techniques that Laverne is presenting. But it's fun to learn, feels great when that light of understanding dawns. I want to continue this process: we are building on our skills, and I will learn more if I practice more.... I'll be back next time she comes through town.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tumbling Home

I've been on the road (metaphorically speaking) to some wonderful events. It has been a while since my last post, and I claim busy-ness, and recovery-from as the reasons. Sorry for the lack of images, I have tried to fill in with links where possible. I have just not been in a picture taking mode...

First, I attended a retreat in Wisconsin:
Retreat Wisconsin

yep, hard labor, 7 days, 20 people, good food, good company and a lake! Just looking at that photo gives me a sense of calm, of serenity, of timelessness, and of doing just what we wanted to, for days and days. We all of us had more to do than time allowed, spinning, weaving, knitting, dyeing, stitching, and meals with friends, lingering over conversations, no hurry, and no place particularly to go. Bliss!

Then upstate New York, for a whirlwind visit and fiber festival! And what a wonderful festival it was: big enough to have plenty to see and do, small enough to get around easily, seeing and doing. The weather was perfect, (for me, a bit blustery and cool, but it's Fall), there was very good Fair Food :), and the people I met were more than cordial, they were downright friendly and welcoming. I was given the royal treatment, and a big basket of goodies made by locals: everything from snacks, an excellent local wine (the basket included a wineglass and bottle opener!) to handmade soaps, a spindle!, knitting pattern, dyed hankies and so much more that I can't remember it all:

New York FLFF
(shawl Pattern, Tina Turner Knits, spindle by True Creations, handmade soap, handmade doll, dyed hankies, project bag, and fleece ornament, just a few of the goodies in my basket at FLFF)

Next, after a brief visit home (how odd to say that, but it was) including hosting some friends from out of town, I was off to Baltimore, for a workshop and guild talk. Again, wonderful people, who made me feel not only welcome, but at home. A room full of enthusiastic spinners, for two days, apple tasting and delicious potluck lunches, and quiet evenings. There was a bit of touring around the area, the woman with whom I stayed made sure I saw a few local sights, and a yarn shop :), and I also had a few days between engagements for a two day jaunt to DC, to the Smithsonian and the Textile Museum.

I've been to these venues several times before, but there is always, always, always something new to see or that I notice new, for the first time. Going to museums alone is a treat: all the time you want and need to look closely at whatever takes your fancy, and no concern that your partner is bored or wants to move on. Can you tell that I am slow in a museum?

At the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian, I searched for fine crafts, a part of the Luce Foundation collection, in an adjacent building which houses furniture, craft jewelry, glass and textiles. While the textiles housed here are mostly baskets, I did find a few pieces made by my first weaving teacher, Kay Sekimachi. The two boxes on display (Click on Works in the ollection, then scroll down to Haku #5 and Ikat box) were exquisite.

But the item that stopped me suddenly, had me searching the database for information and images, was a glass vessel by Paula Bartron. As with many things, the photo is a shadow of the Real Thing. In life, the vessel is more red, deep and mysterious, with many layers of color. It stopped me dead in my tracks: displayed beautifully, up high, with light from above, the vessel was glowing velvet, the colors vibrant and extreme. I stared at it, willing myself to remember. Willing my mind to see it forever as it was: soft and lush, not shiny as one would expect of glass, but textured and deep. I am not a glass maker, but I hope someday to interpret this surface, this color, in silk pile. I know I can do it, maybe not on first attempt, but it will be worth the struggle to get it right. Gasp-worthy, that's all I can say.

The Textile Museum will remain one of my favorite parts of all this travel: I attended an event called "Ask a Conservator, Ask a Curator." As a member of the Museum, I have long wanted to attend one of the regularly scheduled events held by the staff and members, events which discuss rugs and textiles from Central Asia, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. People can (do) bring textiles for discussion: where was it made, how was it made, perhaps by whom was it made, and when. The curators/conservators (there were 4) were very helpful with information: how to store, repair, restore and display the textiles brought in, and how best to care for them. They were kind when they needed to be, but honest as regards to value, condition and provenance. It was a treat to sit in the old house for the last time (for me) and listen to people talk about textiles as if they mattered. For we all know that textiles, especially as regards textiles we make, rarely are considered to matter. A very memorable afternoon, a very quiet and understated highlight, for me.

And now? Home, to a busy fall schedule of making, but no travel. In other words, home: to what I love best, staying home. It's hard to describe to an extrovert, but what I need most is time away from people. Long stretches of visiting, despite its pleasantness, leave me drained. I am re-charged by staying home, re-charged by working at making, recharged by long stretches of the dailyness of my life here. I love my life here, my studio, my companions and my friends. I miss them all when I am gone.

I'll be ready next year to venture out once more,but for 2014, there is no more traveling to teach. I am spinning, lots, which is by way of recovering for me:
Cotton yarn

Getting back to some long-neglected weaving:
fire, knotted pile

Knitting a bit, and weaving another baby blanket, this time a pink one :), for a friends grand-daughter...
cotton blanket pink!

Sipping tea, resting, recovering and renewing. The "New Year", indeed, begins for me in the Fall, the season I love best. Happy to be here!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Fear

I am working on a new bag, a common enough design, but not one I have tried before. There is no pattern, so I am making this up as I go.

I am at the "commitment" stage: start cutting and sewing.

Which brings on the "procrastinate" stage. Fear. I am afraid. What if it does not work?? All that thought, effort, hope, and the dream of the perfect finished piece, down the tubes.

I pace. I find other things to do. I even clean! for heaven's sake! And at some point, I give up and begin.

This is even a canvas prototype! What have I got to lose? A little fabric...time. And maybe the whole idea.

That's the problem. Until I cut and sew, the bag is perfect. The idea is perfect. The plan is foolproof. The size, sewing order, color, technique? Exquisite. As long as it's all in my head (and on scraps of paper, and notes in a notebook).

Today. I promise. I shall gird my loins.

In the meantime:
whale trip2

Whales!! We went to Monterrey for a whale watching trip, and the whales were abundant! Pod after pod of them (Humpback). Also? Sunfish! Dolphins, porpoises....pelicans, I love pelicans, it was a grand day.

And me without my camera. I did not even think to bring it: I generally like to look with my eyes, not be fixated on the shot I want to get. And I am a bad photographer, so I trust the event to memory. But. There were sooooo many whales, so close to us at times, that even I thought, hell, I can take time out for a photo! But all I had was my cellphone. That's a crappy cellphone picture: one blowing, one breaching and a tale :). I have several other crappy cellphone pictures, but I will spare you.

Also?
Marin Elsa

I've been to someone's birthday! Someone turned 4! and is dressed up as Elsa. Frozen is a big hit with the little set :).

Last?
Standing Stones spindle

Best.Souvenir.Ever.

On Orkney, there are many standing stone circles. I bought a bracelet, which Tom Golding turned into a spindle for me. Now those stones can be with me wherever I go, and even (heh) should I choose to stay home for a little while...I don't much wear jewelry, but this makes very good use of some of it....and I could not be happier!

Standing stones spindle2

Now? Off to the studio. Maybe first I'll throw in a load of laundry....

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Big Spin

In my younger days, when I had small children, I seemed to get a lot more spinning done. How could that be? Children alone are a full time job, and I had a small family farm to take care of: sheep, chickens, pigs, goats, an orchard and garden. There was canning and cleaning and carpooling....and yet? I spun and wove a lot.

I thought back to how my day was ordered, and the one thing that struck me is that I got up early every day, before the boys were awake, fed the sheep, goats and chickens, and sat down to spin with a cup of coffee and NPR's morning news on the radio until they woke up. About an hour a day. Every day. The wheel sat waiting for me by my chair, and it was my time to myself, before the world woke up and the day went into overdrive.

What does one hour a day mean, in terms of spinning production? This week, I set out to find out:

Spin one hour a day, not speed-spinning or time-trials, just regular, listen-to-the-news-and-spin spinning, and see how much can be done in a week. 7 days. 7 hours.

My spinning wheel in those days was a Norwegian Saxony built by Michael Wilson, long gone, both wheel and maker. I sold it many years ago in my quest for ever-faster spinning equipment. So, to replicate the type of spinning I did then, I chose to use a standard wheel (Lendrum upright) with a regular flyer (actually, I think it's the flyer called the Fast Flyer, but it's not the Very Fast Flyer). Using equipment similar to what I was using in those long ago days-of-remembered-production.

First, I had to clear bobbins:
image

I use this wheel, this flyer for spinning yarn for rugs now: this is Wensleydale from several dyers: Lisa Souza, Gnomespun, Fiber Optics...all spun to use in knotted pile. I have lots of fiber to spin, some of it more for sweaters and mitts and hats, so I would pull some of that fiber out, and set to spinning a two ply yarn for a sweater.

I got out the kitchen timer, and sat down to spin the first bobbin on the first day:
image

Oops. I had unexpected help. I left her there, happily purring away while I spun. This is everyday production, not a speed trial, so we went with everyday circumstances :).

Here is the first hour:
image

At this point I realized I had forgotten to take a picture of the fiber! So, after one bump spun, I took a photo of the remaining 3:

image

I started with 4, 4 ounce bumps of Polwarth, dyed by Schafenfreude Fibers in a very nice coppery gold that I could not resist buying. But then....I also could not resist adding more color: I put all four braids into the dyebath with some violet dye. Crammed into the dyebath, the dye penetrated unevenly, making this nice conglomeration of violet, copper and gold. The plan for the yarn? A sweater, in a 2 ply yarn slightly larger than sport weight. In other words, my standard default spinning.

I stopped after an hour, even though In Real Life I would add more to the bobbin, and took it off, prepared to start fresh the next morning: new bobbin, continue with the same fiber, spin one hour only. Day two:

image

Looks much the same as Day One, perhaps a bit less on the bobbin. There was no obvious reason for that, no cat this time! But energy, thoughts, news and concentration each day is different...

The two days together:
image

Day one on the left, day two on the right. Definitely less on day two.

I spun for five days, each day starting with a fresh bobbin, continuing with the same fiber. After less than six days, the fiber was done:

image

That's one pound, 4 four ounce braids of Polwarth. But on day six, I'd only spun for 26 minutes! So, I got out more fiber, similar in color and fiber-type:

Fine wool, dyed by Chic Thrills, in a colorway that was similar to the Polwarth, and would ply up nicely with it:

image

I spun this during the remaining 34 minutes of the hour on the sixth day:

image

and finished on the seventh day:

image

Seven days, and hour a day, default fine wool singles:

image

The stats:
Yarn measure

I pulled off a meter (thinking I would go all metric, why I do not know) and it weighed in a 0.3gm. That was too small! I pulled off ten yards (now you're talking) (left) and it weighed 0.08 oz. This translates to 2000 yards per pound. 2000 yards! in a week! I am quite happy with those numbers :).

Since it will eventually be plied, there is more time to invest, certainly, but less than seven hours invested so far in the spinning. If it were half the time, (a guess, probably wildly inaccurate) that's ten hours +/- in a pound and a quarter of wool.

One pound, four ounces. No pressure, no goal, just spin and see what happens. I was surprised...I can, could!, spin a pound a week if I just sat down to do it, everyday. Every. Day. Think of it: 52 pounds a year. That makes the stash seem...well, if not realistic, at least less of a monster in bins. Do-able.

The issue is the sitting-down-and-doing-it. Of course, life intervenes, there are times when sitting down everyday is not possible. I'm away from home a lot, now, for example, and in those days of small-children-sheep-and-chickens, I was home all the time. Every day. For years.

But there is hope: a little bit each day, and those bins of fiber? Will spin right up.

But now? Off to the airport! Whoops! I'll have knitting with me :).


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Misty Mysterious Scotland

Apparently I like to travel around with people who know things: where they are going, where to stay, what to eat, the history, flora and fauna, and especially the geography of the places we are traveling, and...how to drive on the left side of the road, and negotiate single track roads with pull outs, car ferries and small planes to remote islands!

OMG. And I don't say that lightly. The trip to Scotland could not have been better. There were beaches and misty mountaintops, windy blustery weather (my favorite!!) and even a thunderstorm or two, plus some sunny spells which allowed easy navigation of Neolithic sites, beaches and a tour of craft galleries.

Also? Apparently I like to photograph windy, cold, beaches, like the beaches of my childhood:

Scotland and Switzerland 043

Achininver

Skara Brae

Brough of Birsay1

No wonder emigrants like my ancestors like the Pacific Northwest: it looks like home.

We had boat rides:

Scotland and Switzerland 094

South Ronaldsay, from Skapa Flow, while on the ferry:

South Ronaldsay

See the sheep on that bluff? They were everywhere! :)

We took plane rides:

Plane to North R.

And yes! I am sitting right behind the pilot/co-pilot seats. There was no co-pilot though, so direct view straight out the windows! Also? The pilot is not actually paying attention, he was reading something. We were on autopilot! at about 1000' in altitude! Everyone else seemed calm about this, so I was too. This route is a milk-run, with stops where needed, so some people got out or on at various islands in Orkney, and we sat and watched the dailyness of people going about their lives when it involves taking a plane to a barbeque on another island, and then heading back home the next morning....all in a day's travel.

The Orkneys are littered with Neolithic sites, and we made a valiant effort to visit many, with such captivating names as Maes Howe, Ness of Brodgar, Ring of Brodgar, Brough of Birsay, Skara Brae....

Scotland Ring of Brodgar

Scotland Brough of Birsay

The people who built these walls were accomplished builders: the stones are laid so as to shed water to the outside, keeping the inside warm and dry, despite the (ahem) "changeable" weather....This month's National Geographic has a cover story and description of the neolithic sites under excavation, and there are many not yet even touched, but known to be on the islands. The Orkney Islands are a wealth of untold stories in stones and runes, of people who were far advanced in organization, civilization and husbandry, and who left the area for reasons as yet unknown.

I must admit, though, most of my photos are of the colors (I buy postcards of the sites. Professional photographers are much better at this than I am):

Scotland lichens

Scotland Achiniver2

Scotland Lion's Mane Jellyfish

Scotland rooftop

Scotland Aird Hill

I have many stories, and more photos, more to tell of the things we did (Switzerland!), but enough! for today, I'll save the rest for another post or two.

Let me end this by saying that I feel so incredibly lucky to have friends who would arrange to take me on this trip, who would drive me around, had vetted the hotels, knew which sites we could possibly see in the limited time we had, and even...understood! when the Scots accent was boggling to me. Thankyouthankyouthankyou! to Sarah and Andy. It's never enough, can never really express my gratitude, but thank you again.