Saturday, June 22, 2024

Sampling, in Search of Beautiful Cloth


Way back in the misty past -- that is, about two years ago, my memory being what it is -- I was flying out of Rochester on my way to teach a workshop. As it happened, I had a beautiful view out the window looking east over the Finger Lakes. They're a series of 11 lakes in western New York State that all stretch north to south, long and lean, like fingers. (In the image below, you can see them in the winter and you can sort of see where I live, in Rochester, NY, in the top left-hand corner of the photo, with Irondequoit Bay flowing south and Lake Ontario filling the northern left half of the photo.)

Above, from NASA, a satellite photo of the Finger Lakes region in winter. Public domain.

They really are way more beautiful than this, especially when you're on one, in a boat or on a dock or in the water, in the summer, in a bathing suit on a sunny day. Some of my fondest memories come from these lakes, especially Canandaigua and Keuka, both close to my home, where I learned to waterski, and tried to sail, and swam and floated and tanned and roasted marshmallows and threw sticks -- or stones -- for dogs.... (Our beloved boxer, Bruno, seemed to think he could retrieve a rock after it was thrown into a lake that was full of them.)

But back to weaving. After seeing that view and reminiscing, I opened my computer and started to design a draft with many variations, based on my feeling for the Finger Lakes. (Background: I have a 32-shaft loom and I love designing curves for 4-end parallel threadings with lots of colors.) Here are some of the variations I came up with, all on the same threading. The draft at the beginning of this blog post is my favorite, which I've named "Finger Lakes Summer."

These drafts are, from top to bottom, "Finger Lakes Farewell," 
"September," "Spring," and "Storm."

Finding the right warp has been a real challenge. I started with with 50/2 linen (or something close to that, not absolutely sure) that I dyed in natural dyes to resemble the colors seen in lake water.

Nice, right? Wrong!

This is how they looked when I started weaving one of the "Finger Lakes" designs.

Blah and bland, even when I used red in the weft.

And then, we had a flood in our house. I'm not kidding. How is it that I'm weaving up a warp using water colors, and it doesn't work at all, and a pipe bursts in our house and floods the better part of two floors? Coincidence? I think not.

I'm telling you, this was no fun at all.

You don't know the half of it.

Fortunately, my looms -- and my husband's pianos -- were unharmed. I don't know how that happened, but they were fine. Next, only slightly deterred (and living out of a hotel), I cut off the linen warp, which was a first for me. It just wasn't going to work. I know, it's linen... but I was in no mood to put extra work into this one. So, like Goldilocks, I went in the opposite direction: I wound a new warp in a much heavier linen, 16/1, in much brighter colors.

Nice, right? Wrong again!

Dare I write this? This warp was also a clunker. The yarns were just too heavy for the patterns, although the colors were fine. At this point, I'm realizing just how important materials are to the success of a project....

Not working for me. At all.

Yes, dear reader (if you're still with me), I cut this one off too. That makes the second warp I've cut off in my weaving career. 

By now, these missteps had taken up the better part of eight or nine months, what with living in a hotel for three months, keeping on top of the home repairs, and teaching workshops (mostly on Zoom, during the winter). I'm not sure what possessed me, but I decided to press on. It's not even that I thought these designs were so great... maybe it was just curiosity, wondering whether I could get even one or two good patterns out of the dozen or so I had designed. 

Well, long story short (even though the story is already long, it could go on much longer), I finally went back to my go-to yarn for these 4-color Echo designs: 16/2 cotton (or sometimes bamboo/rayon, depending on what colors are available). The ensuing saga involves tying on a warp, not knowing what I was doing, adding a cross, figuring out that a raddle might be nice, making lots of errors, and having to fix my Megado because shafts were sticking.

BUT, although the story still isn't over, I've at last found one pattern that seems to work! And the warp grist is right and my loom is running fine (thanks to my clever spouse).

I prefer the top part of the sample, with warmer hues in the weft. But not sure. 
Ignore the treadling error about a third of the way up in the photo.

Below is a detail of the drawdown. The pattern is Jin and, while you may not be able to see it, there are actually two colors in the weft, which is not traditional. Typically, there is one color in the weft, but I've learned that using two colors adds richness to the overall color mixing. For the top part of the sample pictured above, I alternated red and golden orange for wefts. 

A detail of the drawdown

The moral of this tale is that you learn a lot from your mistakes. Way more than you learn from success, in my view. I've learned that materials are foundational to what we do. I've learned that it's good to break the rules (in my case, using two colors in the weft when weaving Jin). I've learned that it's OK to cut off a warp (or two).... I've learned that the best-laid plans don't always work out but if you adapt and persist and shift your goals, you might come up with something worthwhile.

I guess I've learned overall that weaving isn't easy! Well, occasionally it is, but you can never tell what the weaving goddesses have planned for you....

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 24, 2024

It's Conference Season -- Which Means Exhibits!

Every other year, in some city in the U.S., weavers travel from all around the globe to attend two of the best conferences worldwide: Convergence, sponsored by the Handweavers' Guild of America, and "Seminars," sponsored by Complex Weavers.

There are classes, talks, gatherings formal and informal, vendors (of course), and exhibits (of course). Among the best-attended exhibits are Complexity, an international show sponsored by Complex Weavers, and the Convergence fashion show. 

And every other year, I challenge myself to weave and apply to both of these shows. (Some pieces are juried in, some pieces aren't, but that's how it goes....)

The piece shown at the beginning of this post is titled "Harriet Tubman Dreams of the North Star," and I'm proud to say it was juried into this year's Complexity exhibit, to be mounted at Mark Arts Gallery from July 7-August 16 this summer in Wichita, KS, where both conferences will be based. Here are a couple more views.

A detail pic of the corner of this piece --
including the beaded fringe, 
which took months to complete....

Here's a medium-range photo of the weaving, 
which also took months 
to design, dye, wind the warps, and weave.

Tubman was born into slavery in 1822 in Maryland and died a free woman at 91 in Auburn, NY, near my home in Rochester. Before the Civil War, she escaped slavery and returned to the South to lead some 70 slaves to freedom, traveling through the night, following the North Star, making stops along the Underground Railroad on their way to freedom in Canada. After enduring the hell of slavery, she faced down unimaginable dangers and terrors to rescue others, leaving a legacy of bravery that inspires and awes millions. My weavings are a modest tribute to the woman who was called the Moses of her people.

These photos of my work were taken by Tim Fuss of Pixelwave photography. We've worked together for at least a decade and he never fails to get the lighting and the setup just right. 

Below are more photos by Tim -- images of another piece that was juried into Complexity 2024, also honoring Tubman and to be on exhibit at Mark Arts in Wichita.

I've named this "Harriet's Shawl," inspired by photos of Tubman wearing a shawl in her later years.

Harriet Tubman, taken in 1885 in Auburn, NY

Tubman at the end of her extraordinary life, 
again photographed in Auburn.

A third piece completed last year for exhibit is a dress I wove on 24 shafts, on a warp of 16/2 bamboo/rayon in orange and purple. I call it "Purple Waves." It was woven in doubleweave on an Echo threading, as one piece of yardage on my loom that was simply folded in half horizontally and sewn only at the shoulders and seams.

This dress will appear in the fashion show at Convergence in July -- an event that is always the high point of the conference. Again, the photos are by Tim Fuss.

Because it's doubleweave, there are two wefts involved. 
For the bodice, one of the wefts is linen crepe, 
which draws in and creates gentle pleats 
that mold themselves over the body above the waist.

For me, it's important to set up a weaving challenge for myself every year or so, to aim for a juried exhibit or a show. It makes me work harder, take some risks, aim a bit higher. Of course it can hurt when a piece doesn't get accepted or there are issues -- which I won't share, it's complicated -- but I keep trying, focusing on the next one. I always learn, regardless. And I have an excuse to attend these wonderful events....

Convergence and Complex Weavers Seminars, taking place this July in Wichita, KS. Hope to see you there!

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Notes from CNCH, the Conference of Northern California Handweavers


Let's start with the photo above: a series of samples woven on eight shafts in deflected doubleweave by Marta Shannon. It's just one picture of dozens of interesting, colorful, and always original samples created by weavers in my workshop this past weekend: "Deflected Doubleweave for Collapse Fabrics."

The goal of my workshop was twofold: 1) to teach weavers to recognize and even design deflected doubleweave patterns and 2) to push the already tactile, off-the-grid quality of DDW by using "energized" yarns such as Colcolastic, metallic gimp, wool-stainless steel, silk-stainless steel, overtwisted linen singles in S and Z twist, overtwisted wool singles in S and Z twist, and, of course, the ever-reliable Jaggerspun 18/2 superfine merino, which fulls beautifully when you give it some wiggle room in the cloth. (Bottom line: plain weave resists fulling and other collapse techniques, because it's the most stable, firm structure of all, while DDW encourages pleating, poufing, and billowing of your fabric because it has warp and weft floats built in, by design,)

That's a lot of words, so here are some photos to give you a better idea of what we were working on.

Some four-shaft samples woven with wefts of both active and inactive yarns. Weaver Rusti Icenogle points to the bottom sample, which pleats vertically because the rose-colored weft is wool/stainless-steel yarn, which fulls and draws the fabric in after it's washed and agitated with hot water and soap.

You know that famous quote, I think it's from Laura Fry, "It ain't finished until it's finished"? We spent a lot of time at the sinks in the ladies' room scrubbing away at our samples, using regular hand soap....

Above, a series of samples woven by Autumn Barr, who was weaving on her brand new eight-shaft loom for the first time. Her warp was 10/2 cotton (brown) and 18/2 merino (white) and she alternated these two yarns as weft also. It's hard to see in this photo, but the sample at the bottom shows lots of horizontal pleats in the brown stripes, which are drawn in as the white wool fulls in the washing.

This sample belongs to Denise Lee, who wove an eight-shaft pattern I call Mardi Gras. For this sample, she alternated green Colcolastic and 10/2 cotton in the weft. The Colcolastic yarn, brand name Venne, has a 20/2 cotton strand combined with a strand of elastic, which shrinks up immediately when washed.

These samples are woven on eight shafts by Colleen Harvey-Arrison. The larger blocks in teal are 18/2 merino, which fulls and draws in the magenta cotton blocks, adding texture and making them curve and flow over the fabric.

The CNCH conference, affectionately known as "Cinch," is held every year in a different area of northern California. It's well worth attending, with exhibits, vendors (including Lunatic Fringe Yarns, Dharma Trading, and Eugene Textile Center), a keynote speech (this year by tapestry artist Susan Iverson), terrific meals, and lots of friendly fiber artists.

Take Sara Lamb, for instance, who is a well-known author, teacher, spinner, dyer, and weaver.

Sara wears a jacket she wove and sewed, of course! Plus the yarns are handspun silk that she dyed, all plain weave in structure -- showing off those yarns to the maximum.

The cloth is warp-emphasis (and is displayed horizontally in this photo).

I got to rub shoulders with other weaving royalty as well: seen below, Ana Lisa Hedstrom and Peggy Osterkamp. I had dinner with Peggy -- during which at least two weavers came up to our table to thank her for her many books that helped them build their weaving skills.

I fell in love with this tapestry on exhibit, shown below, titled "Pandemic Oasis" and woven by Nancy Isaac of the Loom and Shuttle Guild in San Francisco.

I also fell in love with this tatted piece, a work in progress by Nancy Alegria, in which she is recording the temperature and the sunlight (encoded in colors) of every day in 2024.

Even after the conference, I'm still taking it all in. Lots of learning, too many purchases (I won't list them, but there was yarn involved), and great camaraderie. 

Here's to next year!


Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Can You Name Your 10 Favorite Weaving Books? These Are Mine.


For me, hands down, my list starts with this one. Not because this is how I learned to weave or even because this is how I learned that weaving has cosmic possibilities. It's because I can't stop learning from this book and I love the beauty and intricacy of the ideas in this book. Sometimes I can't fathom what she's writing about, but I keep trying.

What's more important: Taking care of a book or reading it a lot?

I spent maybe a decade weaving my way through this one. 

And writing notes on it -- in pen -- which is not very classy.

"Strickler," that's how weavers describe it, sort of like "Beyonce" or "Marilyn" -- a true star. This book is a delight and (in my humble opinion) belongs in your library if you have eight shafts. Maybe even if you don't.

Atwater -- another single-name star.

I think Mary Meigs Atwater single-handedly resurrected the art and craft of weaving in America in the 20th century. This is not hyperbole. We owe her almost everything (again, in my humble opinion). Published almost a century ago, the book is grandly and authoritatively titled: The Shuttle-Craft Book of American Hand-Weaving, Being an Account of the Rise, Development, Eclipse, and Modern Revival of a National Popular Art, Together with Information of Interest and Value to Collectors, Technical Notes for the Use of Weavers & a Large Collection of Historic Patterns. My edition is inscribed "Wayne Baker April 1951," a year before I was born. 

Davison. Now that I think about it, ALL of the weaving classics 
are known simply by the last name of the writer/weaver.

First published in 1944, my version is from the fourth printing in 1947. I treasure this book for several reasons -- among them, it's stamped with the name "Ruth C. Herron." She was a beloved member of our guild and a superb weaver, who continued to correspond with us from her late-in-life home in California, where she died at 107. I think of her often. 

Even Ruth wrote in her books, albeit in pencil.

This book. 
We all have our heroes.

Is there anyone more loved among weavers than Anni Albers? From the Bauhaus to the gold medal for craftsmanship from the American Institute of Architects, the weaver who summoned us to "take a thread for a walk" and continues to teach us to this day. This book is her masterpiece, second only to her art.

Oh my gosh, I'm only at book number five. But this is a good time to pause and qualify my listings, to try and explain why I've chosen them. My list is by no means a "must have" for every weaver, or for beginning weavers, or even for a guild's weaving library. Not at all. These are just the books that I, at this moment in my life and in my weaving practice, love to have on my bookshelf. You might say these are my "desert island" books -- you know, if you were stranded on a desert island and could take only a handful of books with you, what would you choose? I'm also writing this as a sort of dialogue with you, the reader (assuming you've gotten this far), hoping you might, like me, appreciate the weaving books you love and perhaps even consider reading the books I've listed, if you haven't read them already.

(Not that I've read each book cover to cover. I'm really not that kind of a reader when it comes to books about our craft.)

So on down the list. And one more note: This list is not in any particular order of preference or value. It's just for perusement, as libraries themselves are.

I have to include Chandler. May the weaving goddesses bless this book, 
because this is how so many of us learned to weave. 

There was a time when I referred to Chandler as I was dressing my loom, as I learned to read drafts, as I was deciphering how to sley 16 ends per inch in a 12-dent reed, all of the basics. She gave us this gift and this book will always be in my library for that reason.

Wait, what? Not quite about weaving, but this book is 
where I go down my own special rabbit-hole.

If you love dyeing, as I do -- and if you love creating textured weavings using shibori-resist techniques, as I do -- this book is another masterpiece, a weaver's companion. (Detour: There's a relatively new book out there, a brilliant book written by a former New Yorker writer who became a guard at the Met: All the Beauty in the World. You should read it, just saying.) Anyhow, this book by Yoshiko Wada presents all the beauty in the world of shibori. It's a big book, 9 1/2" high by 12" wide, with 211 pages of photos large and small, with information and inspiration about the magic and mystery of the Japanese art known as shibori. 

Three more to go. This is hard and a lot of you may not agree at all. But I will press on. (Get it? Press, as in publish?)

Another book in my own area of interest: Ann Richards's definitive book on weaving dimensional textiles. She approaches her designs with a laser-like focus and creates beauty as a result.

Ann Richards of England is one of the luminaries in the field of dimensional weaving. I traveled to London to study with her, and that workshop plus this book gave me a foundation to build my own textured weavings. The joy is in the process, from start to finish: learning how to tame unruly threads as you dress your loom and then how to give them freedom as you weave so that they have room to move about in the finishing. And the finishing is a joy, as you see a fabric change almost organically in the water.

Sometimes the best books are those that continue to offer up insight and enjoyment well after you've read them -- or rather thought you read them. 

There's a saying attributed to several sages: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." This book keeps bringing me lessons for new techniques -- and I've owned it for at least 20 years.

Ah yes, the old Weaver's magazine, perhaps one of the greatest how-to resources for weavers. Somehow I got my hands on the entire collection (which is another treasure, but not a book, that I could add to this list). Fabrics that Go Bump is a compendium of patterns and instructions that appeared in a number of issues, all focused on achieving bumps, pleats, ruffles, and billows in your fabric. I turn to this book often for inspiration and understanding.

So what's number 10? Stubenitsky once again!

Why? Because it's crammed with originality and innovation 
about one of my favorite techniques: deflected doubleweave.

 Stubenitsky always lays a world before you, this time looking at the graphic, colorful, texture-full world of deflected doubleweave. (The woman is merciless when it comes to writing books: I think she's at five now, if you include Janna Weaves, and they're all abounding with patterns and ideas.) What I like about this book is that she offers a solid explanation for drafting DDW, which isn't as easy as it looks. One of my friends whose work appears in the book, when I asked how she arrived at her wonderful designs, told me she "played around a lot." And I understand exactly what she meant. There is a mystery to creating these designs and Stubenitsky helps de-mystify much of it. 

That's my top ten. For right now, at least. What are yours? If you're like me, you have a library -- some of which you love, some of which you like, some of which you don't like but can't seem to part with. We need them for our work but we also need them as friends, it seems. That's what books are for.

I can't forget to mention my own book, 
which is a favorite because I wrote it ;o)

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 15, 2024

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties. Please Stand By.*

*Warning: This post is just partly about fiber.

Remember those test patterns on your old black and white TV? They were typically accompanied by an ear-piercing alarm to tell us that a TV station (we had three back then) was malfunctioning for some reason or other. Kids like my sisters and me -- who loved watching the Three Stooges and Bugs Bunny and Spanky and Our Gang -- were out of luck.

Truth be told, I'm experiencing technical difficulties right now, accompanied by malfunctions in my weaving, ever since our house was damaged by water -- more like flooded with water -- last September 18.

After the flood

Another water-logged view

How did this happen? I had just gotten back from teaching in Rockville, MD, and had come down with Covid. (First time, so I'm a novice.) My husband and I were quarantining in separate bedrooms and I got up early, around 6:30 a.m., and... stepped in what felt like a deep puddle.

You know how crazy our reactions can be when something weird like this happens? My first thought was, "Larry is going to kill me because I left the window open and it rained last night."

But it wasn't just a puddle. This was a lake. I continued splashing to the bathroom and heard this gushing sound pouring from the sink. An indoor waterfall kind of sound.

The Culprit

That's all it was! A burst tube that connected the water source to the faucet. It was probably gushing for hours.

The next weird thought: We tried to soak it up all by ourselves. Larry went and got the shop vac and I got a bunch of towels. Maybe we weren't awake yet. Or maybe "de-Nile" isn't just a river in Egypt. (Get it? De-NIAL -- as the joke goes?)

We quickly came to our senses and called a company named Jet-Dry. (Shout out here to Walt Latiuk and his team.) They showed up like the cavalry and spent the rest of the day clearing out the house and soaking up the water. I've learned a lot of words since then, among them, "mitigation," which means bringing in all kinds of really loud equipment to dry things up. (About half of the house was affected -- but not my looms and not Larry's pianos, amazingly.)

It took almost a month to dry the house out, using all manner of machines and tubes and mats and fans. We lived in a hotel during that process. (Bonus: We amassed lots of points.)

And then we started the renovations. Here I give a shoutout to Brad Colletti and his crew, who came highly recommended by Walt -- and completely lived up to his recommendation. 

Starting to replace the ceiling in the living room

We live in a house built of concrete and steel. I think that was super-quality construction back in 1929, when it was built. So in this photo above, you're looking at concrete supported by girders and steel struts in the ceiling, newly reinforced by sturdy two-by-fours. This house is built like a battleship. It's hard even to hang a picture on the walls. 

I won't print some of the oaths we heard from contractors who came to take a look when we were asking them to bid. "Wow" was the mildest we heard....

But Brad and his team took on the project and fixed things really fast. 

Ceiling fixed, not yet painted, husband observing (left)

We're pretty pleased with the results so far, although we haven't yet moved back home.

Better every day!

So, back to the title of this post, referring to "technical difficulties." I'm not talking about the disruption and stress of having our home break -- because, unlike so many folks around the world, we have insurance (shout out to Jeff Yorkey at State Farm) and a home to return to and a contractor who was terrific. 

No, I'm not fretting about the house. I want to talk weaving, of course! 

16-shaft Jin design with painted warp, currently on my Toika

All during this craziness, I just couldn't find my weaving chi, you might say (actually it's more accurately spelled qi). It's a Mandarin word that, as I understand it, means vital life force, spirit, energy. Chi can be depleted by illness or stress.

And guess what? When you're under stress, you're not going to do your best work. I learned that the hard way.

I threaded my loom once, in fine linen dyed with natural dyes (in colors based on a water theme, oddly enough), and wove it with less than stellar results.


I actually cut off this warp, something I've never done before, and put on another warp, this one in 16/1 linen in much bolder colors.


So I cut off that warp too (I figure I'm a veteran now) and slowly backed away from the loom. This phase -- staying away from the loom -- lasted a month or two, maybe more. It bothered me, because nothing I did seemed to work. I felt like I couldn't even count (which I often can't, to be honest, even on good days).

But nevertheless, I persisted. (Remember that famous comment Mitch McConnell made about Elizabeth Warren, when she continued to speak after the U.S. Senate voted that she stop speaking in opposition to the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General? It's become a feminist rallying cry.) 

Nevertheless, I persisted. I had a warp on another loom and decided to tackle it.

Long, long story short: After way too many miscounts and re-theading and re-sleying (and re-sleying again), I have a viable fabric (shown in the third photo above and shown in a detail below).

The weaving goddesses decided to give me some slack.

BUT there are errors. (If you look closely, you can see a treadling error in the middle of the photo above.) Quite a few. So you know what I've decided? This piece is for me alone, not for show, not for sale. I may sew it into a tunic and tell people not to look too closely at the fabric.

I might even wear it out of pride, optimistic that I'm starting to find my chi again.


Thanks for reading!

Sampling, in Search of Beautiful Cloth

  Way back in the misty past -- that is, about two years ago, my memory being what it is -- I was flying out of Rochester on my way to teach...