Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Proof of Concept

This past weekend, I attended the Conference of Northern California Handweavers (CNCH), held every year in some form or another. This year was a "retreat" format, which meant a gathering, classes, no galleries of work, and usually no vendors. We did have a vendor, Village Spinning and Weaving, whom I managed to support! But mostly, it was all about the classes.

At Asilomar! The beach! A good-weather weekend at the beach! who could resist? We've had CNCH at Asilomar before, I always enjoy my time there. The food is excellent, the rooms generally have a sea view and a fireplace, so we listen to the sound of the waves all night long. I can drive, although it's about 4 hours, so a bit of a trek for me.

Coptic band

This year, I took a class in tablet (card) weaving from John Mullarkey. It was wonderful in many ways, not the least of which is that John himself is delightful, patient and kind, a good teacher, and full full full of information. His presentation, and documentation is superb: even I could understand it!

We did two bands, Egyptian Diagonals (top), and Coptic Diamonds (bottom):

egyptian duo3

I'd never done Coptic Diamonds and had great fun with it. You can see towards the end (left side in the photo) some of the designs I began to weave "off reservation" so to speak. It is a technique that lends itself easily to variation, designing, if you will, although it is so organic that I cannot believe everything I could "design" has not been done before. The very last motif, bottom band left, was an "S", which worked, indeed, but would be better centered with another row of cards.

So I came home and tried it out:

egyptian duo2

White background with black lines, this time, two "S" motifs, flipping and rotating them. Proof of concept! And...I was able to do it at home, with my tools and in my studio, alone. When I learn something new, I try to repeat it at home, under my conditions, without anyone to ask for help. It's the only way I know I will actually learn the technique....rather than relying on someone else to help me out of a tough spot.

White background and black lines: this just cries out for color! I will weave off the band (this being the sample) with the proper weft (leftover black used here, and you can see it peeking out occasionally). Then...paint? dye? colored pens? Such possibilities!

I do a lot of card weaving. Basic stuff, I know lots of things to do....but John understands what is going on, and can help us begin to understand it too. Card weaving is a complex weave structure, with convoluted thread paths not easily traced or unwoven! should a mistake be made. If you have a chance, take a class from him! You will learn a lot. And get to weave for a weekend, uninterrupted. Perhaps also surrounded by clean air, the beach, good friends, good food...What could be better?!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015



A leather duffel. This is the bag I have been working on for several-many weeks! almost a year, in fact, from conception, purchasing supplies, learning how to use the new tools and supplies, until completion. My son wanted a duffel bag, not the zipper-on-the-top kind, but the one-columnar top-opening kind, still used in the military. I started researching duffel bags, hardware, sizes, materials.

It's been a journey, learning new skills, buying new tools, and learning how to use those tools.

It's been a journey fraught with missteps, false steps, much planning and a certain fear of making (expensive) mistakes. I bought leather that was too thin, leather than was too thick, and Goldilocks! finally some that was just right.

I bought tools. I bought them thoughtfully, with much research, one at a time, with mixed results. I bought a highly recommended awl, for example, and it's a very nice awl...but it's too big for my hands. I bought another awl at a leather show where, in person, I could handle them, and figure out which one is the best for me. Bingo: perfect awl for me! I do now have leather tools plural, for there is a small handful that are the basics needed for leatherwork.


I started with photos of military duffel bags in this style. Have you ever googled "duffle bag" to find out just how many bags are named as such? I'll wait here while you do.

See? Maddening. Top zips, side zips, buckle closures, drawstring closures...almost everything *but* this style. I researched hardware. I bought various grommets and hooks and d-rings, all in multiples of course, and learned to attach them.

I watched duffel bags come off baggage carousels, and tried to sidle up closely enough to them and their owners (usually uniformed military personnel) to get a glimpse of the closures, a look at the handles, an idea of the construction. One really really really does not want to be thought to be stalking military personnel at the airport, so this plan was not the most successful. They were usually really Big People too; and these days, one does not stare too long at someone else's luggage. I was definitely too shy to tap them on the shoulder and ask to see their bags. Did I mention they were Big People?

I bought a canvas duffel at our local surplus store, and made a mock up for a friend, using my sewing machine. That's when I started to worry. I'd traded for an industrial sewing machine to sew these leather bags (this is not meant to be the last), would it work? Would it be suitable? Sure it was a sturdy machine and could stitch through thick layers, but some of these seams cannot be sewn easily on a sewing machine.

I found a saddle maker, and took a class in stitching leather by hand. I practiced on smaller bags.


I'm happy with the result! I love the piped seams, and got better and better at stitching, and lo and behold, I can hand sew through 9 layers (yes! Nine!) of leather. In tight corners. In places where no machine will reach.

The bag is not perfect. I did not solve all the hardware issues, and if ever I can find the hardware I need, I may be able to fix this bag, or make a better one. But I am very happy with it. It is now out in the world, and I am curious how it will hold up to use. I'm a bit worried, because I have never done this before. Not quite like this, not quite in this way. But I know, if there are problems, that I can fix them! Big Sigh of Relief!

Oh! the joy of the journey! The fun of the research, the trying, the mulling and the trying again! Sampling, and thinking and asking for help and finding it out there. Memories: a friend rifling through her leather stash, handing over a pile of it, making sure that I got enough to sew up a bag. 3 somewhat older weaver-ladies attending a leather show at an Indian Casino in Prescott Arizona, among the cowboys and Indians, bikers and buckskin-clad re-enactors, leather clothing makers and ... harness makers.. for people, for want of a more delicate way to phrase it....we were clearly out of place! But it was there I found my perfect awl.

What's next? I've started the next bag. I have at least four more ideas/plans and parts for bags. I don't really need more bags, but why stop now? I'm finally getting to the fun part!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Tired Fingers

I have been doing a dance of making, creating without a map, struggling to learn and become proficient at my new-found skill in leather stitching, struggling to make the reality match the imagination. I've been working every day on a project that is big and uncharted. With every step, I had to imagine the whole: should I do this first, or do I have to attach that before I can sew this and this together?

It has been a 3-dimensional puzzle, and not without a few missteps.

But I pressed on. Haha! there is no pressing leather: there is hammering! Actually taking a hammer to the seams and stitching. There is also glue! Very smelly and causing some light-headedness. As I apply glue and wait for it to dry, I notice very little odor. But woe to the person who leaves and walks back into the studio: you hit the fumes like a wall. I need better ventilation: I have a fan, and some window openings, but I might need a ceiling fan to vent the fumes out of the top. The things that pop up, when you start something new...

I have done little else, these last few weeks. Suffice it to say, I have been diligent. So much so that my fingers ache. They are building muscle strength, they are learning new muscle memory, and they are victims of stabbings and poundings with needle and hammer.

When I take a break, I spin:

Silk and cotton

My fingers "run home to mama", using their already learned skills.

Back soon. With pictures!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Totally Random

Book winner! #16 :) Congratulations "Shirley, surely!" Send me your address, (sara at saralamb dot com) and I'll drop the book in the mail. Thanks for all your comments, and I do hope you all get a chance to read this book.

For the several of you who requested the link to the buy the book, it's in the previous post (link above, click on Schiffer Publishing), or go here. This book will be a classic, it should be on your bookshelf if you are at all interested in textile history, traditional weaving techniques, or bandweaving in general. Heather has done a lovely job of presenting the materials, and I wish her all the success with this book.

This week I was able to attend a lecture in Boulder CO given by Linda Ligon, founder and creative director of Interweave Press, and now a principal in Cloth Roads, a resource for global textiles. Linda's talk, which launched a new book by Thrums Books, was held at Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins, a yarn shop in Boulder. I met up with many people I had not seen in quite a while. It was a treat to see old friends, talk about textiles and their makers, and once again be among people who consider cloth and textiles worthy of study.

We textile enthusiasts are so often dismissed, or worse, overlooked in the general population. Who even thinks about the textiles that surround them? So much in our world today is made of petroleum by-products, including the plastics that make up the bulk of what is sold for clothing, upholstery, household textiles and carpets. Natural fibers are renewable resources. They do not melt in a fire, or off-gas noxious fumes. They moderate temperatures, and grow more comfortable with use. But they are becoming increasingly overshadowed by synthetics: acrylics, polyester, nylon, even rayon and bamboo.

These two publishing companies, Schiffer and Thrums, along with import companies like Cloth Roads, champion the people, the natural fibers of the world, the techniques and textile communities, worldwide and historical, that keep textile traditions and practices alive. They educate us, inform us, keep us abreast of what is happening in far off communities where weaving is a way of life, for subsistence and for artistic expression. I am so thankful that they are able to bring us this information, these textile examples, and that we can still travel to meet people and learn about what they do. Linda's lecture gave us a glimpse of Chiapas, this time, where will she take us next?

Many thanks to those who made my visit possible: Gram and Grandpa Dick, the women at Shuttles, and Cloth Roads, and the weaving community of Boulder who attended with me. It was a lovely break in the middle of a week of childcare, and a reminder of why I do all this textile stuff: the people, the friends, the daily practice of textiles, and the value of keeping these traditions alive.

Monday, February 02, 2015

A Sample and a Book Review

I've been testing a new-to-me loom. I got it years ago! These things take time. First we had to build a room to house it. Then I had to assemble it. Then, and here is where the time got away from me, I had to weave the first sample:


Fire. Handspun pile, a bag front or, actually, a pocket for a leather bag (not yet made, watch this space! wanna lay bets on how long that will take??)

Here is the loom's debut, when I started the sample: two years ago!

knotted pile upright loom

Well, things intervene. I needed to try a sample to A) see how the loom works, and B) check the sett, warp and weft yarns together.

Well, the loom works just fine, so well, in fact that I will be re-homing another upright loom that I have, and using this instead. The sett? Too wide. This is sett at 16 EPI, 8 knots per inch. If you look at the sample, the design is truncated slightly, not square. That big borderline around the center section? Should be square. It's not.

I used two strands of pile yarn for the knots, and it might have been better to use three. But I worried three would have been too much, so I continued and finished this using two strands. It's a sample!

Next up? re-sley and try a sample at 24 EPI, 12 knots per inch. I will do an Actual Sample, little squares with a border, just to see how a single pile yarn works, and then two strands again. I hope this does not take me another two years.... but good things take time.

In the meantime:


I got a new book this week! That's an exclamation point because it's a good book, and I was so excited to see it in print. I met the author Heather a few years ago, at which time she showed us (Abby Franquemont and I)the manuscript for this book. We encouraged her to find a publisher, and luckily, Schiffer Publishing accepted her manuscript and produced this fine book in record time.

This is the kind of book I will keep on my shelf forever: hardbound, it includes a bit of history, culture and traditions in the introductory text, a wonderful gallery of bands and textiles from the Vesterheim Museum, in Decorah, Iowa, and a section on how to weave traditional Norwegian pick-up bands, including pages and pages of graphed patterns.

The section on Norwegian history includes text and photos, describing how the bands were used in Norway, who made them, with illustrations from Vesterheim and the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo. There are many types of band looms pictured: upright, floor standing, inkle style, and back-strap, using a wooden rigid heddle, many of which are also depicted.

The gallery section has a treasure trove of textiles in close up well-lit shots. A weaver could extrapolate the patterns from many of these, but would not need to, given the number of graphs the author has provided in the how-to section.

The instructions are clear, the illustrations and photographs are very clear and close up. A new weaver could start here, and with a bit of dedication be weaving bands from this book alone.

I'm thrilled to recommend this book: some of the paintings and photos are haunting and evocative, and the whole publication is neat, clean and crisp, like the bands Heather writes about. A truly fine book!

And now? The publisher sent me this copy to review, and I will give it away to one lucky weaver. If you wish to receive the book, leave a comment on this post by Monday February 9th. I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner, announce the winner in the next blog post, and you can send your contact information. Good luck!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ten Years

Ten Years ago today I posted my first entry to this blog. 523 posts since, I'm still here. Why? Weaving.

silk fabric3

All those many years ago, 2 friends and I were talking online about how nice it was to read knitting blogs, and decrying the lack of weaving blogs. We decided to do something about it. Marie and Char still blog, although less often. We have all had long or short hiatus, but we are all still here. Ravelry has certainly taken some of the energy from blogs, and yet it is itself indeed a wonderful gift to the knitting, and, by extension, spinning and weaving communites.

Our original blogging intent was to de-mystify hand weaving, bring it out of the closet, and demonstrate how easy it can be. Yes, there is a learning curve, there are frustrations, but that is part and parcel of learning any craft. I think (based solely on nothing but intuition) that more people are weaving now, that knitters have become spinners and spinners are learning to weave. It seems an explosion, lately, of interest in weaving, and very good work is posted now all over; on blogs, in Ravelry and Weavolution, and in print magazines and books.

There are many weaving blogs now, in fact, I think a determined person could learn everything there is to know about weaving, looms, tricks and tips by following blog links, weaving blog to weaving blog! A good thing.There are over 150 blogs on the Weave Ring, I'm not sure how many are active, but it gives one a place to start. Most blogs have sidebars with links to further blogs (I have never figured out how to do this, I use a reader to save my blog-links). Almost-local-to-me-Sharon's blog has a goodly list to start on her sidebar, if you have an interest in finding new-to-you mostly weaving resources.

So how and why have I kept it up? Well, first and foremost, it feels like a conversation. I get feedback, comments on the blog, emails and comments in person from people who are still reading, or who have found me in the interim. I have enjoyed the thinking, talking about, and deepening understanding of this work that I do. In order to put it into words, I have to have something to say. Yes...some posts are merely Look! at! This! picture heavy. But many have required that I analyse what I am doing in order to pass it on. The still-favorite posts every day in my stats are the tutorials:

Inkle weaving 101

Pick-up tutorial

How to make a Shawl Pin

Older posts sometimes do not show up with photos: they are still there, on Flickr. If you click on the blank box that says photo no longer available, it pops up from my Flickr site.

cardwoven bag

But more than just the ability to put it all into words, the blog has brought me a platform for a larger audience. I've been teaching spinning and weaving in Northern California, where I live, since 1980, at first in local weaving shops. The Conference of Northern California Handweavers (CNCH) is held annually, and I have taught there since the late '80's (I could look the exact date up, but I am lazy).I've taught at other regional conferences: ANWG, Black Sheep, MidWest Weaving Conference, CASCH (Southern California, alas, now sadly defunct), MAFA (sadly diminished but still going), SpinOff Autumn Retreat, also now sadly defunct, and at weaving/fiber conferences in Canada, Britain and Australia.

Some of these teaching events happened before I started blogging. But my classes have been easier to fill since the blogging happened. And at least one (Tasmania, the Bothwell SpinIn in 2009) would not have happened at all if the organizers had not been familiar with my work and me, through the blog. Think of it: I was invited to come and teach halfway around the world, all expenses paid plus I was paid for my time there. Who could ask for a better return on the investment of my time writing this blog!?

pile demo piece Tasmania 2009

I've had some amazing experiences, exchanges with people I would not know but that they found me through the internet. I was able to finish this carpet for a weaver's family after he died, leaving it without the last three inches:

rug done2

It was a gift to be able to do this, and also cause for much thought: how much do I want to leave unfinished? Is it important to leave things behind? They are, after all, just things. But, are they a comfort, do they extend your memory into future generations? Is that important or even desirable? Are all these words important to leave behind, or even leave out here?

I've written 3 weaving and spinning books since starting the blog. I am quite sure the book acquisitions department read at least a few blog posts before extending me those contracts: does she know what she is talking about, can she write, is she interesting? :) One book, Woven Treasures is only available new in print directly from me, now, but the ebook version is still for sale by the publisher. Spin to Weave, and Spinning Silk are still in print, and there are DVD versions of the latter two books for the auditory/visual learners.

silk shawl2 April 2007

Ten more years? I have no idea. I am a maker, I will continue to make things. I am still weaving, fabric and knotted pile mostly, for clothing and bags. I am still spinning. More of the same, really. Is it repetitive to keep on? I can only really speak about what I do, and weaving is such a huge topic, no one person can know it all. I certainly have new directions/new projects, traveling and teaching about which I can continue to write. I do plan to claim back more of my time in the future from travels for teaching. I have no thoughts of stopping entirely, either the blog or the teaching, but my posts are clearly less frequent than they once were, too. I have grandchildren (have you noticed?) and prioritize visiting them, or having them visit me:

art show at Grandma's

the artists, one with truck

artist at work

If you have been with me since the beginning: thank you! Thanks for your input, comments, and perseverance! If you have just found this platform? Welcome. Be warned, the posts here are weaving-centric, with a side of spinning, dyeing and now? leather bags! and a dollop of grandchildren. I welcome your input, in the comments or in person.

It's been quite a long trip, so far. How much further? Anybody's guess!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

small things...

Oof! Holidays: hustle and bustle, trying to keep the big picture in mind, all the details! It's all over but the crying now :).

I have mentioned before, and I will repeat, I love the quiet time that is the 12 days of Christmas; those 12 days between the 25th and January 6th, the 12th night, or Epiphany, the day the Wise Men arrived.

These days and nights are the reward for the hustle and bustle: quiet time to ramble through the copious food left from the feast, to still listen to the seasonal music, and to weave, knit and spin what I want to, for no particular deadline or reason:

Silk spinning

Silk! from a bundle I could not resist buying for myself from Spunky. I have Big Plans, of course, for this fiber. I dyed more to go with it:

Silk spinning

and will soon have to decide if I ply these two batches together, or separately, with themselves. Maybe some of both?

Small things dominated the gifts this year:

coffee cozy

First up, a coffee cozy, for a French Press, handwoven cotton lined with wool. It's actually lined with an old wool sweater, intentionally fulled to a solid fabric, for lining things just like this. This is inspired by a tea cozy, made by a friend of mine, that I have used for many years:

Tea Cozy from Deb

It's surprising, astounding really, how long the wool keeps my tea hot. So the lining for the coffee pot cozy was a foregone conclusion, the cotton cover is just for bling! The whole thing should be washable, should the need arise, so practical, useful, small and functional.

The next small thing is The Official First Attempt at Leather Bag:

Tool bag

A tool bag! A small project, but also a good First Thing to practice stitching. It's useful and does not need to be as beautiful as a bag to be carried in public. It will serve a utilitarian purpose carrying tools, be stashed in the back of the car or on the shelf, grabbed when needed, and likely survive lots of use and abuse. As I worked, I imagined this bag in 50 years, worn and scarred, but still holding up, still holding and carrying tools as needed. Leather. Thick sturdy leather. This may be the most durable and enduring thing I have ever made.

I learned a lot, my stitching got better, and I realized I need a few more tools (isn't this always the case?) to finish the next bag better. So I am on the quest for an edge beveler, among other things. My stitching awl is perhap a bit big for my hands. I will look for another haft, that will fit my hand better. We run into this problem often, the sizing of tools and equipment for different hands or bodies. That is why there is no perfect tool; there are many sizes of hands and lengths of legs!

But my stitches improved, while the movements to make the stitches became more comfortable and habitual. The next bag will be better, and the one after that, and the one after that....until I don't think about it anymore, Until the process is second nature, and the product design and execution can be more of the focus.

So. Much. Fun. and something to work towards, something to look forward to!

I also have been weaving on a long neglected pile project, which will indeed be incorporated into a bag (! so single-minded!). I had company while weaving:

Weaving help

Somebody else likes these quiet days after the veritable storm of activity. She has a nice perch right behind the warp, and can keep an eye on me, while demanding pets.

So I stitch on, I spin on, and I weave on, tying knots and petting the cat, in these closing days of the year. May your New Year bring you all that you want and need, although sometimes these things conflict. May it also bring you joy!