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!


Anonymous said...

Denise, thank you so much for publishing this. I am currently struggling with a project. You have given me hope! And the weft of red and a golden orange looks lovely!

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh we should talk! If you would like to connect, you can find my email on my contact (or “About”) page. I do think these stalemates are not unusual…. but hard to battle through, you know?

Ann Baker said...

Thanks for documenting this process! I admire the patience with which you stayed with the idea (especially given the flooding), and I love the idea that we learn so much from our mistakes. The pattern you ended up with is glorious. Thanks so much for the lessons!

Denise Kovnat said...

I meant BEGINNING a project, not BEING a project....

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...