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!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Wildness is happening here!

All of my recent knitting, since February or so, has been projects for publication. As such, I have not shared them online, or even, really, in person. Publications prefer that they get the first crack! at revealing new things, and I am happy to oblige. But this has meant that everything, spinning, knitting, planning, designing, ripping and re-knitting (whoops!) has been done off-camera, so to speak.

Well, I finished the last project on Friday and mailed it in. And then? I started in with the crazy! Mitts? maybe. Gloves? maybe. Mittens? maybe. I don't know yet. Just cast on, grab a color at will, knit on until "done", and then do another. Will they match? I doubt it. Some yarns are variegated, some are not, some are 2 ply, some are 3 ply, fiber content short, break all the rules. Wear them happily when done, or, if they are totally fugly??? Overdye!!

It is such a change from following the plan, writing everything down, making sure things work and are not just fudged for convenience, etc. etc. etc. I do love designing and sharing those textiles, don't get me wrong. I think that's my best-textile-purpose, if I had to define it: sharing what I know.

A few weeks ago, a local friend thanked me for sharing dye information, and also my time and energy. She asked why I did it, without payment, since my time is valuable and we all have busy lives and things we need to get done. I told her I love textiles, I wish more people did, and wish more people understood what makes a good textile, what makes good technique, and in support of that, I am willing to share what I know. I know a very small portion of the textile world, but I know my part very well! It's likely what keeps me writing this blog, that desire to expand our base of spinners, dyers and weavers. That, and the wonderful feedback I get from readers!

Sharing is what we try to teach in civilized cultures. We start children young, in pre-school and at home, showing them, willing them, admonishing them, to share. We preach it from pulpits, the best of us share our time and resources with those who have less, and we know, as adults, from experience, that it feels better when all of us have a piece of the pie, when there are no faces standing out in the cold, looking in at the window.

It's a hard lesson, but I think it helps define us as civilized: not Me First! but We Are All In This Together. Much of what goes wrong in our common everyday lives can be put down to the prevalence of competition for ...everything from food and shelter, to money and power. My piece of the pie. I want what I want and I don't care how it affects you, either the individual or the collective you.

tree hunting

I have a dog in this fight, so to speak. I have grandchildren. I want them to learn that we can share as adults. I want them to grow up civilized, and in a world where people care about each other.

The concept of sharing is weighing heavily on my mind, because I have recent experience with the reverse: someone for whom I did a favor, whom I included in a project, has excluded me. They have chosen not to share. They have chosen to be selfish. It hurts, that a kindness was not reciprocated, but what does it demonstrate? The worst of our culture is the person who thinks of Self above all others, who will not give an inch, even if that means others can be included, who will not share.

My first reaction was to think "wait until next time". But that is everything I don't want these children to learn. That is not sharing. I hope I can be big enough to extend a hand again next time, because their participation, their joy, enriches mine, enriches all of us. Sharing the big events and the small is what makes us a community. I can relax in the knowledge that I did the right thing, no matter what the recipient did in return. This is not a competition. If it is, we all lose.

In this hectic season of preparing for winter, preparing for holidays, of shopping and parties and dark nights and treacherous weather, I wish you the equanimity to deal with the troubles and troubling people you too will encounter.

I wish you sharing and laughter, I wish you peace, and Peace. I wish you grace. I wish you Joy.

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:


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, 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:

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


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!