Friday, April 04, 2014

The Continuing Saga

So I have kept at it, kept sewing bags, with decidedly mixed results:

Bag the first (second? third? multiple many?).

Ahem. Wool fabric, hand spun from my very own sheep. I've had this fabric, woven, for over 25 years! It is thick fabric, not enough for a blanket but too little for a garment. Probably enough for a vest, but really? Thick. Fabric. Fold, put away, keep trying at weaving.

I fulled it as best I could. Washed in a washer, hottest water, dried in the drier. It did not felt into a solid mat even then (probably too closely sett and beat to allow much room for appropriate shrinkage).

But anyway: practice pieces, right? I added zippers with leather plackets, pockets everywhere, and a leather bottom and handle.


What did I discover? My BIG fancy sewing machine (well not so fancy, but BIG!):
sewing machine 001

does not go through as many layers of fabric as I would have wished. There are crap sewing issues throughout. Crap! It looks like a total newbie project (which it is!). Still: my sheep, nice design, and good ideas and much learning!

We moved on:

I totally love it! But it is also full of crap sewing. Crap! There are skipped stitches all over the thing. There are holes where the needle went through but the thread did not follow. Leather stretches in funny ways! (see learning curve), and some of the design issues did not work (see that? cut to the wrong size. Stretch a bit here, fold a bit there, etc.).

You get the picture. Once, long ago in a juried show, the juror commented that my piece was "very creative, not very good craftsmanship". I kept hearing those words in a continuous loop all through the process of making these two bags. The irony? They are going to a show! (Not a juried show) Yes! I am displaying these in public! Crap! With my name on it. My biggest hope is that someone will kindly walk up to me and say: "I give leather sewing lessons and here's my card"!!!

I will have to design bags within the limits of my equipment for the foreseeable future. I think it's mostly user error, and I need lessons. The thing might need a bit of cleaning, or??? I have had to replace the belt, and I may not have it installed properly. I have to hand turn more than is likely. It won't fill the bobbin, so I have to hand wind the bobbins, too. So I think a bit of a learning process using the Big Bruising Sewing Machine is in order.

But... (You knew there was a but). The next bag is under construction. Already! This is such fun!


Friday, March 28, 2014

Earning The Stripes

Stuff does not get done by thinking about it, wishing it were done, imagining it or pretending. At some point, I have to sit down and do it. I have been collecting supplies, ideas, and tools for some serious bag-making for a few months with the goal of eventually working more seriously with leather.

But baby steps:
linen tote
(bead zipper pull made by Selena Wells)

The first bag I sat down to make is linen (mostly). Purchased handspun tow linen hand towel fabric, of which I had about a yard. Enough for a tote bag, and a good first step into the breach.

There are leather parts: the bottom of the bag is reinforced with leather, and the zippers have leather tabs around them. Both of these areas on a utilitarian bag such as this get plenty of wear. I wanted to use leather for the straps, but I did not have any leather long enough, and (duh! this is how we learn) did not think of piecing it!

So I went shopping for red, or barring that, off-white or beige cotton woven webbing. All I could find was dead white. So I went old school and dyed it with tea...

(it was about time to retire these anyway, sad well-traveled little wads that they were: I keep a few extra bags in my carry on for emergencies. There are very few emergencies where tea will not assist).

I heated water and steeped the tea bags, then plopped the webbing in a pan:

and let it soak overnight:


It matches the linen fabric perfectly. Still, a little dull, so I stitched on some red twill tape:

and now had the perfect straps. There are pockets inside and out, some open, and some with zippers (one can never have too many pockets). Of the several in the lining, this one is a favorite...
inside pocket, linen bag
left to right: a flat pocket, then a columnar pocket for a spindle, big enough for a spindle with a cop-in-progress, next there is a pen pocket, and last an expandable pocket.

The top zipper closure was a screaming success on this bag, so I took an older bag, ripped out its less-than-stellar zip-closure and replaced it!
celtic project bag

Two new bags: one completely new, and an older one remodeled and now more useable!

Yes, there was learning. It involves sewing and ripping out, throwing away parts that did not work, and trying again. It's what happens when I try things out. When I have to think things through and just go for it. But now I know lots more! I have more mad bag-making skillz, and have started two more bags... Next post!

I also finished a simple little stripey project bag:
handspun silk project bag

Handspun silk, about 8" x 9", for the bag exhibit at the upcoming CNCH conference in Oakland. Several classes have now expanded space for enrollment, so if you are thinking of weaving/spinning/dyeing and want a class to jump start: now's your chance. There are vendors, and galleries too, if taking a class is not possible right now. It should be a good show (and I will have 3! bags on display in the gallery area. Oh! Maybe 4, if I get busy and get back to work :)!).

Friday, March 14, 2014

Part of the Whole

I've been reading this book all week:

Stephenie's book is the first in a series, mine being the second. We have been communicating about them as we wrote and made samples: one of our most reassuring thoughts was that the title was the "practical guide" not the "complete guide". But Stephenie has gone and set the bar very high: she speaks of each fiber in depth, of course, as you would expect. But she also has lots, and I means LOTS! of information on general spinning: tools, processes, hand movements and yarn handling, yarn finishing and yarn wrangling.

Her book is very nearly complete. I wrote to her and told her how thankful I am that hers is the first in the series. Now, if people ask for basic spinning information after reading my book, all I have to say is "Buy Stephenie's book! It's the first in the series, and has all that information!"

spinner's guide cover

Just talks about silk. Sure, properties of silk, how to spin silk, how to care for silk. But I assumed spinning knowledge of the reader. Stephenie did not. And we all know what assume spells? Yep.

Be that as it may, the time has come. Pre-order time! Now that I have told you how simple my book is, how limited, you are anxious to have it, are you not?


The usual pre-order deal: I pay the shipping free in the US, (sadly, not for Canada or Overseas), I pay applicable taxes, you get a signed defaced! copy directly from me. As soon as I get them. Which is May. I don't have them now, I don't get them earlier, but you will get a book as soon as I do!

Oh, and as an aside, I think the cover is different than that above..on my book. I think the photo changed. But I won't know for sure until the books get here! In May!

So, with humble and multiple thanks to Stephenie, the series is off to a good start. Buy her book too, if you want the complete set! and if you want to spin silk, my book picks up where hers leaves off. I could not be in better company!


Monday, March 03, 2014

Done and Dusted

We've been working on these:

Yep. Dye Sample Books! The Basic Book is ready to ship! We have packed and shipped those already ordered:

We had help:

(Along with the requisite coffee, wine and chocolate!). We have also made good use of the hot tub, after long days slaving in the studio.

It's cold here. Wisconsin. March. How could it not be cold? It's been below zero F most nights, and some days have only been up to the single digits. People live here! They go outside in this!

One memorable evening was clear, very cold, and windy. As we sat soaking, clouds rolled in and it began to snow. The damp, cold and wind turned my head into a snow helmet. Snow. Helmet. We deemed it time to go inside.

It's sunny here today, and up to 2. 2! We started at minus 9... I head home today, and tonight I will be in the land of 40 degrees! Maybe even 50! No more snow helmets...

Thursday, February 20, 2014



Like everyone who works with their hands, I sometimes have stalled projects. I like to finish things, so every now and then I asses whether a project is merely stalled, or I'm done with it and call it good, rip it out or cut it off.

Reasons for dropping a project can come in many forms: I'm bored with it, I have other pressing things to do and it gets sidelined, I don't need it anymore, there is a glaring mistake or I came to a place where there was no resolution, no way forward (often happens when creating without patterns or guidelines), I don't like it, I have outgrown it, blah blah blah.

The photo above is of silk pile, the back of a bag, the front of which was completed and left on the loom since 2009. Whoops! Here's the front, when I started it:

pile bag sept 07

The photo is dated July 2007. Whoops! again! I know when and why I started to weave this: the bag I was carrying, every day at the time, was wearing out:

silk bag front

I'd already taken this bag apart once, washed and re-made it, replacing the band, which had worn out. Now, other parts were also wearing out, and I wanted a slightly larger bag, with a more firm closure. This was completed in 2003, so it stood the test of daily use for a good 4 years, before I started its replacement.

I finished weaving the front of the bag in 2009:


Two years? What happened to make this such a long story? Well, books. This project was put aside when I started writing and creating the projects for Book the First in 2007. I completed the projects and manuscript in 2009, and picked this back up to finish it. I got the front panel done, and started up the back.

Here intervened Book the Second, quickly followed by Book the Third (at the printers now!). This project languished on the loom (a small floor upright loom, easy to push aside and not look at).

Ten days ago I arrived home from a trip, knowing I had only ten days at home before the next trip (hello! today!). It is hard, sometimes, to get involved with a project on demand, in such a short period of time. But, too tired to think of anything new or demanding, I sat down at this loom, and just wove off row by row of the already determined pattern, with the already prepared yarns. It was a perfect activity, mindless handwork, no thought involved. I simply sat down and did it.

As I worked, I tried to remember how I planned to incorporate these panels as a bag, and how I might want to change my original plan. As mentioned before, I have a new sewing machine, and want to make bags using leather and canvas, sturdy straps and more abrasion resistant materials. I have learned a few things about how the bags will wear, when under constant daily use, and some textile components, while fun to make and really nice to look at, are sometimes not as sturdy as I would like.

In the process of weaving, my enthusiasm for this image, this bag, and how nice it would be, returned. I changed the image a bit, to reflect my new plan for it, and I wove on it eagerly each morning.

So the back panel is done, a little finish hemming is needed before I cut it off, and a plan for its construction has been made. I've bought zippers! leather! and linings, and when I get back after this trip, I will sew it all together. It will be a prototype, of sorts, so there may be glitches in its construction, but...that's how we learn. By doing. And doing better the next time, and the time after that.

All this doing, re-doing and doing again requires enthusiasm. Sometimes its hard to ignite that enthusiasm, and with stalled projects, just waiting for enthusiasm to return does not make it show up. Doing makes it show up. I am so glad I had this 10 days, this block-of-time-too-small, and that I was able to work on this and get back that excitement.

Next up:
silk shawl transitions

Handspun silk shawl for Book the Third, which was (sadly) photographed in progress, not finished. I'm not sure I like it, I have a few design issues with it, but I love the stitch pattern and the fabric is very lovely. Do I rip? or finish?

I have not decided yet. I will think about it. It will wait until I return, and we'll see. I will pick it up and start knitting on it again...and we'll see if my enthusiasm ignites.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Small Packages

At her talk the other night, Lisa Sousa gave each of us a small bag of very fine merino:


I spun my sample, both to see how it would spin up, and to test for yardage, should I want to do a whole project with fine merino. This fiber would be perfect for a lightweight scarf or shawl; it can be spun into a soft, fine and warm yarn.

I spun it up on a 3/4 ounce spindle:


It worked perfectly, I don't think either a lighter weight or heavier spindle would do as well for me. If I were doing a larger project, though, more than 4 ounces, I would likely use a wheel; a fast one with a very light tension.

I wound that small cop into a center pull ball and plied:


The results are a skein that weighs 25g (0.08 ounces), and was 608" before washing, 570" after washing (15.8 yards), or *about* 195 yards per ounce (197.5 yes. per ounce):

Merino fine

Lots of small shawls use around 400 yards, so a mere 3 ounces would be plenty! Lots! A Bargain! in fact. Where to buy? My retailers are Carolina Homespun, and Village Spinning and here to find other vendors.

Other small packages this week? I have been babysitting:
Morning play

Friday, January 31, 2014


Whoops! Friday already! Where does the time go? I have been traveling: to Southern CA and back again, much driving was involved. It was very dry, heading downstate, but thankfully, we've had some rain since then (some, not enough, but some!).

I did manage to get some spinning done:


These are the colors of tussah mentioned in the last post. I buy it from Opulent Fibers, and I very much recommend her fibers: it's silk, but dyed before it is prepared, which means that it drafts smoothly, like...well, silk! I totally recommend this! (and there are 80! colors!....) <<< Sometimes I feel like a pusher, but really: this is crack! for spinners. I first wrote that as "spinner's crack", but that does not sound like something I should write on a family-friendly blog... and now? I've gone and done it).

Anyway! These skeins will add to the growing pile, soon to be fabric. This is brown, and wine, each plied on itself, and the middle skein has both colors plied together. Perfect!

There is more spinning, back again on spindles:


because I am headed out once again, this time flying, so the spinning wheel stays home (::sniff!::). More tussah: the red is my own dyed and the purple is Opulent Fibers again. What does not show in the photo is that one strand is multi-colored (red to purple to red to purple...I guess that would actually be duo-colored?). Easy to do, on spindles, just grabbing one handful at a time, and exchanging colors. No need to buy multi-colored or variegated top! The second strand is solid-ish red, so the color should drift in and out of red and purple-red....I think it will look grand in the fabric (unless, alas, I over-dye things, which is always a possibility...).

I did get home in time to attend the guild meeting here in town. Our speaker was Lisa Souza, knitter and dyer-extraordinaire, and much fun. I was very! good at the end of her presentation and let all the other guild members buy what fiber they wanted, and then I went up to help her pack up:


These were left, honestly, sitting right next to each other on the table as if they were waiting for me. How could I not? :) The orange/red/gold is a color I have purchased from her before called Earth Birth. I totally recommend it (and all her colors...I know some people are not as orange/blue fanatical as I am). This is a merino-silk blend, so not for the current project, but enough, if I get them spun up, for a nice travel knit: scarf? mitts? hat? We shall see.

Signing off, and taking off...soon, there will be more photos of grandchildren!