As the summer comes to a close, the stifling heat and lack of rain, makes going outdoors depressing, I just hang in my studio, where they like me, and I have just a bit of control over something, and all is well.
The interesting thing about control in my studio is that, I’m in control if I know what I’m doing and I’ve done it a number of times before. But I’m crossing into some uncharted territory these days, doing things I haven’t done before, trying out structures and theories and even though things go wrong, the point here is to learn.
I designed a draft, to explore turned overshot. I had finished and delivered a half dozen overshot placemats for a friend, and wanted to explore what happens if you turn a draft. For those who aren’t weavers, this means nothing, I’m sorry. But I know enough about drafting and have weaving software that does the job for me, so that worked fine. I wanted just a narrow band of overshot across one side of my body in an easy summer shirt. No problem. Except, since the turned overshot took up 6 shafts, I had two left for the plain weave on either side of the band. And I’m working with 20/2 cotton sett at 30 epi. Which means that each of the front two shafts has 15 inserted large eyed heddles per inch, making things really dense.
So dense that the warp doesn’t separate when I step on the treadle. So I have to manually push down either the first or second shaft, each pick. Tedious and annoying. And I could have just redesigned the draft to have completely fixed this issue, but that’s why I’m in uncharted territory. To learn.
For a brief moment I considered pulling all 700+ ends and starting over, with a corrected draft that spread the heddles over four shafts instead of two, and just decided to carry on and deal with it.
I’m making progress…
Meanwhile, I cleared the loom of the Iris Leaf Mats I’ve been weaving, cut them apart, and hemmed each one.
Then I trimmed all the stem ends from the back.
I washed each mat in hot water to get the warp to shrink, which it did, and then I hung each one to dry. I pressed the first one, the others are in a stack on the ironing board, and I’m so happy with this experiment. I have to decide if I should harvest another batch for next year…
Tomatoes from my garden in a berry bowl made by my weaving buddy Limor Johnson.
Of course now that I have an empty floor loom, I have to put a warp on it. I’m playing around with combining drafts, which I do all the time in my regular fabrics, but I wanted to see what I could come up with on only 4 shafts. The last fabric I did like this was on the 12 shaft… Since I have a ridiculous amount of 8/2 cotton, and this is going into fall, I thought a small run of dishtowels wouldn’t hurt.
So I wound, threaded and beamed cotton warp for a run of towels.
I played around with a draft combination and worked out an easy treadling.
I finished off the first towel and now I’m starting the second one in blue with a different treadling pattern. The draft is part of a potential article, so I am not at liberty to share it yet.
And there is the mohair that just seems to keep on going. I put 18 yards of mohair on my 45″ loom, actually I squeezed out 46″, but who’s to know… I just finished blanket number 6.
And of course I always have an assistant.
So I’m starting blanket number 7, and this will be the last one, and I’m hoping I can squeak out 60″.
The knots…. The sections aren’t all the same because I pre-wound the 18 yard warp in two inch sections and then wound them directly onto the sectional, each section at a time. Some of the loftier mohairs packed slightly differently, so they didn’t all start in the same place. Still, I’m pretty close. I may have to squeak the short sections by adding a dummy warp to them. Not sure how that will work in mohair, but I’m willing to try anything, because, well, I’m here to learn…
I’m trying to get out a bit more, I met with a knitting group this week, and I did give a remote lecture to an American Sewing Guild chapter in Kentucky. Lovely group. And Friday was the final finishing up of some of the most fabulous costumes I’ve ever worked on for a production of Metromaniacs, at the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ, which opens in 4 days. The costumes are 18th century with an over the top contemporary twist. Lots and lots of handsewing… I hear the production is hilarious. My tickets are in a couple of weeks.
Enjoy what’s left of the summer dear readers. I thought about pulling a couple of my little Structo’s out and taking them outdoors to weave. Instead I just sat in my cozy studio and wove instead. I made some progress on the 8 shaft Shadow Weave on Sisko…
…and the 4 shaft overshot gamp on Riker.
And finally, each morning I grab a small stack of books to enter in my Librarything.com database. My library is called weaversew if you are on Librarything.com. I just hit something like 995 books. I’m working through my dye library and then will start on the sewing books. I look at each book carefully and want to try/do/experience it all. And then I find a gem like this…
Maybe not… My weaving buddies decided that to make a full bust adjustment on this pineapple apron they would probably need five motifs…
Yesterday my latest issue of Handwoven Magazine came in the mail. I had quickly previewed it earlier in the week when the digital version came in, but this morning, I sat at the dining table, with my tea, and started to really look at what was in the issue.
The entire issue was devoted to Cutting and Sewing your handwoven fabric, and of course when I heard the theme last winter, I knew I had to contribute something. I wrote for Handwoven magazine as a regular features editor, back in the day, some 35 issues straight, so I’m no stranger to having my work in print. I knocked out an outline, and sent it off, and was pleased when they accepted it, not as a project though, which was a relief since the materials I had used for this piece were now discontinued, but they wanted it as a feature, much more in keeping with the way I write. I’ve written more than 100 articles and digital content at this point in my career, not including my blog (give or take 900 posts) and the YouTube channel, (80 videos there, not to mention 9 videos for Threads Magazine Insider). I feel like I had a lot to say, and I’m so very very lucky that there are mediums that make that content available on a regular basis.
So of course the first thing I look at when I’m in a magazine, is my article, I’ve proofed it prior to print, but that doesn’t mean things can’t go awry! Handwoven Magazine is usually pretty good, and gets things right.
But this morning, I started from the beginning, read the editor’s opening essay, about learning to sew, and becoming a weaver, and being hopeful that this issue will spark some kind of desire and skill set to combine the two. And then I turned to the letters to the editor. And there, on page 6, is a letter from a reader referring to an article I wrote for Handwoven back in 2011, and how it inspired her to create a scarf based on her trip to the southwest. The scarf was beautiful, shown with a photo from the trip, and a page from my article. There is something very life affirming when you know that you have inspired at least one person to celebrate what comes from their hands.
My article started on page 27, and of course listed my patterns and YouTube channel, The Weaver Sews in the resources. I’m hoping they are helpful for someone reading the article. (There has been a considerable uptick in orders for my 100 jacket, so I’m guessing that’s an affirmative).
I continued to look through the projects, most of them garments. I didn’t recognize most of the contributors, which means there is a new crop of handweavers sewing their clothing and writing about it and I’m so incredibly overjoyed to see this, and all of the wonderful garments they produced. As a writer, it is challenging to make something, and then explain how you did it, including the construction details, all within just a couple of pages.
I came to a project called Stormy Days Jacket, by Annette Swan Schipf. The jacket pattern looked oddly familiar, but it is a basic zip up jacket, so it could have been anyone’s pattern. There is a call out box, where Annette describes sewing tips, and there, the first bulleted item, it says that Annette recommends watching Daryl Lancaster’s videos before sewing your jacket. I started to cry. There is a reference to one of my videos specifically, the one about what to do when you don’t have enough fabric, and then, at the end, in the resources, is the listing for my 1800 jacket pattern. That was my pattern. I cried some more…
Towards the end of the magazine, on page 50, there is a project, a skirt, called Rustic Elements from Peg Mathews. It is a basic A-line skirt, reminds me of one I wore in the 70’s, with very fond memories, and there, at the end of the article, under Resources, is a reference to a PDF available for free on my website, on options to Clean Finish an Edge.
It isn’t that I enjoyed seeing my name in print. I’m long past that. I don’t get that rush anymore when an issue comes out that I’ve contributed to… But seeing others reference the work I’ve spent a lifetime developing, practicing, teaching, sharing and contributing, makes me know it was all worth it. I feel like I inspired others to do what I love most and to do it well. And seeing so many references to the legacy I have left, brings fresh tears. All of it, was worth it.
Which means, my work here is done. I feel like I picked a dandelion, well past the flowering stage, and I blew on it and a thousand seeds took flight in the wind and planted themselves for another generation of weavers! (Remember dandelion leaves are probably the most healthy green you can eat, and dandelions make a mighty fine wine…)
But I’m far from finished. I’ve discovered the joy of handweaving as a hobby and like I’ve said in previous blogs, I want to learn all the things. I want to understand structure and just make stuff. I just finished mohair blanket number 4, and there is still plenty of warp on the loom.
Meanwhile, because I don’t ever focus on just one thing, unless I’m under deadline… (see reference above to the more than 100 articles I’ve written…) I went to my daughter, who will begin her vet tech externship on the 8th, and so won’t be part of my daily weaving adventures, and I asked her to please try to organize the wood shed, before she starts work, which at the moment is impassible. There are some basic wood working tools out there, and right now, you can’t get past the door. She came back at me and said, “Well mom, I can’t really get in there to organize because all the basketry materials you harvested last fall, with the intent of making foraged baskets, are hanging all over the place…”
Well… So for me, them’s fighting words… Meaning that’s the kind of thing that forces me into action.
So I set up one of the empty 4 shaft floor looms with a cotton/linen warp, sett at 10epi. I had seen an article by Rita Buchanan in a Handwoven Magazine, May/June 2009 called Weft from your Yard. It talks about harvesting Siberian Iris leaves, and drying them over the winter. I have an abundance of water Irises in my yard, and the leaves on those babies are often close to 40″ tall. So I filled the wood shed with them last fall, and didn’t do anything, because, well the broken shoulder derailed me from any basketry plans, and actually, I forgot about them.
I laid out a bundle on newspapers, spritzed them with a lot of water, rolled them up and left them overnight in a long plastic bag I saved from a fabric roll.
Once the leaves were soft enough to work, I draped the roll of dampened leaves, still in the plastic, across a couple of adjacent looms, and started to pull them out, one at a time, and wove with them in a 1/3 twill.
For a header, I found a ball of handspun hemp from Nepal, which probably came from a weaver’s estate sale. I don’t really know how half this stuff gets in my studio.
And so, I’m having a blast, making mats from yard waste. I have to decide if I should save this year’s crop or if making a half dozen mats is enough.
Meanwhile, I’m starting to set up another loom with a turned overshot, something I’ve been meaning to play with… Because, having an empty loom makes me stressed… And since I’m up to something like 43 looms, there is always someone needing a warp…
Stay tuned dear readers, there is always a new adventure happening in my neck of the woods…
It has been a dense couple of weeks, lots happening, vaguely reminding me of what my life used to be like. I’m not sure how I feel about that…
I got all of my work shipped out to Convergence for the conference fashion show. The fashion show was this past weekend, more about that in a minute. The cost with insurance, there and back was over $200. I was an invited artist for their fashion show, in fact they asked me probably five years ago. Life was different back then. I declined the opportunity during the Reno Conference, which was 2018, because I was the judge for the show. In the art world, it is considered inappropriate to have your own work in an exhibit that you are curating or judging. So they offered me that same opportunity in Knoxville, in 2020. We all know how that went, or didn’t, because the 2020 conference finally happened this weekend in Knoxville, 2022.
For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, there are others besides handweavers that read this blog, Convergence is the every two years big deal international handweaving conference sponsored by the Handweavers Guild of America. I’ve been teaching pretty regularly at this conference since the one in Cincinnati in 2000. I missed a couple, for reasons that aren’t important, but I’ve been a presence at most of them in the last 20 years. To be asked to show my work as a featured artist is quite an honor.
Lots has happened in the world, and in my professional life since I was asked. I made some new work for this exhibit, what I had planned a couple of years ago, is now old, not my current work. So I sweated over what to send, lined up the images of eight different works, and finally decided on what I thought would work on the runway, hold up while on exhibit, and read editorially in an image in their magazine, Shuttle Spindle and Dyepot. I had lots of friendly opinions to those to whom I reached out.
And so, off my pieces went, at the end of June, they arrived safely. And in addition, Silk City Fibers asked to borrow three works that were made from their yarns. So I was well represented at this conference. But I wasn’t there. For many reasons. That aren’t really that important. Instead, I chose to attend a wedding in Virginia, for one of my oldest dearest friends, someone who had known me since my first craft fair in 1979. Her son was getting married. Family and friends, as we age, sometimes take priority over seeing my work walk the runway.
A huge thank you to those of you who sent me photos and videos Friday night during the fashion show, and afterward when the pieces hung in the exhibition hall. I apologize to those who thought I was actually there, who ran around trying to find me. I was safely in Maryland, having a long overdue visit with my mom, who is 91, before heading down to the wedding. Priorities are personal. I don’t have to explain.
So here are a couple of images from friends in the fiber world, of my pieces. The long vest from the puzzle fabric I did earlier in the year came in as a low res video clip, which showed the model really working the piece. I was unable to extract the video to include here, so there is only a brief screen shot of a moving video, but I included the links for each piece if you want to see more. The theme from what I understand, being the conference was held in Knoxville, TN, was Dolly Parton, Blue Grass, and Country music. I loved the boots.
And here are the works on exhibit.
I wish there hadn’t been a backdrop since the back of each of the works is as interesting if not more interesting than the fronts. I would have been that pain in the ass attendee who went around zhuzhing my work (It is a thing, look it up), pissing off the poor gallery docents, who spend their time yelling at annoying conference attendees that insist on touching everything. In fact, having attended so many conferences I lost count years ago, getting the garments from the fashion show, and installing them into an exhibition space through the night, is a Herculean effort of the highest degree. There isn’t time for pressing and zhuzhing. I’m just grateful to have been asked to participate.
Meanwhile, I had a student fly in and study with me for the week starting July 4th. She was an absolute dream of a student. Sharp, experienced, and actually finished her yardage by the end of the 3rd day. I was able to help her learn some more advance skills, warping with a paddle, and creating a mirror image with a paddle, which is something I hadn’t done in 40 years. I only got a quick shot of her fabric before she pulled it off, so here it is, 7 shaft, combination plain weave, 2/1 twill, and supplemental warps. Her warp sequence was based on Fibonacci numbers so the 2/1 twill made sense.
Once a student is threading and then weaving, I have lots of time to just sit and hang, in case they need me. That’s when I get in trouble…
There is a quote from Peter Pan, that always makes me smile, “Oh the Cleverness of me…” A number of years ago, I attended a workshop with Deb Silver, through my guild, on Split shed weaving. It is a pretty cool technique, and she does have a book on the subject. I documented the class here. (You’ll have to scroll way down to find it). Last year, in an attempt to clear one of my 8 shaft table looms, that had the remnants of the class and a partially finished sample, which only needed 4 shafts, I finally finished the last sample. I cut off the warp, finished off the samples and put them in my book. I talked about that here. Because, who ever remembers what you did in a workshop that many years ago…
The interesting thing is, I still had a couple yards of usable rug warp on the loom, because when a teacher says, put on a 4.5 yard warp, I do what I’m told. Remember the Rainbow Double Weave Workshop? (You’ll have to scroll down for that one as well.) I didn’t want to waste the warp, but I really wanted the 8 shaft loom back. While I was watching my student Sherry, in case she needed me, I got this amazing idea, since I own five of the same table loom, all made by Tools of the Trade, three of them are 4 shaft, and two are 8 shaft. The frames are all milled the same, the only difference is the depth of the castle, and it occurred to me, that I could just swap out the entire back of the loom, with a 4 shaft model, and get the warp on a 4 shaft loom, freeing up an 8 shaft. Oh the Cleverness of me!
I grabbed my tools, and set to work, and within about a half hour, still watching my student who was working about 6 feet away from me, I managed to swap out the two back beam/warp beam mechanisms and I was soon rethreading.
Our handout mostly had the samples worked on a straight draw. But there was one sample, using a different threading, a tied Biederwand, which meant I couldn’t do that sample on the original threading, but I could now since I was rethreading anyway. There weren’t clear directions for what to do once it was threaded, since it was a class handout, but I own her book, which sitting down for a day, I was able to figure it out eventually, design a long cartoon, and gather my weft threads. I did all that part after my student left, but I was pretty proud of myself for having the idea to just switch out the whole back mechanism on the two looms, and then figure out how to do this split shed tied Biederwand. Split Shed work is pretty clever, and I didn’t want to forget how to do it. I made a few errors in the beginning, but I’m well on my way.
So I went to a wedding this weekend. The wedding was fabulous, I saw old acquaintances I hadn’t seen in 40 years. I spent the night at a resort in VA, and then slowly worked my way north on Sunday. I stopped about half way in South Philadelphia, to meet up with a couple of fiber friends from that area for lunch, and to pick up another Structo Loom. They have a way of finding me. I think this is number 20 for my Structos, I’m starting to lose count. And it doesn’t matter now many I have. We all have fun together, and I’m constantly thinking up new things to put on them. They are all named after characters from Star Trek, and this one is Kes. From Voyager I think.
We drove to a corner specialty shop and sat and talked and one of the women brought her knitting and I had my own little conference gathering. I didn’t know that Philadelphia claims that it has more murals on the sides of buildings per square mile than anywhere else in the country. I’d believe it. We saw this…
And to wrap this up, I’ve been slowly weaving off my mohair blankets. I finished up the second and third, and after each one, since each requires long fringe, I’m cutting them off. Less issue with mohair grabbing onto itself with those dreaded tentacles.
I gathered with a knitting group that meets at a neighboring town’s library for the first time in two and a half years. It was really lovely to see everyone again and catch up. I mentioned I was working on this 18 yard warp of mohair and by the time I left, I had two additional bags of mohair to bring home. One of the women had some in her car, on its way to being donated, because the social knitting she does can’t use wools or anything scratchy. I was more than thrilled. It was a profitable evening. Another woman used to own a yarn shop. She periodically brings bins of yarn from storage, and happened to bring a random bin to the meeting, which was half filled with, you guessed it, mohair. I laughed, tossed her some money, and came home with even more.
I’m thinking now that 18 yards is no where near enough warp to use all this up…
So here is blanket number 4…
I’m trying to reestablish a routine, now that I’m back, and still dodge Covid, because there are pretty high transmission rates where I live. I have lots of stuff on my to do list; one is an extensive article for a weaving publication and there are lots of guild assignments. We are soon starting a new fiscal year and I’m the treasurer, so new spread sheets, and budgets and all that stuff I hate but I’m really good at. I said to someone today, I have a lot on my plate, but now at this point in my life, I get to choose the plate.
I truly love my weaving studio, both of my studios actually, but the garage converted weaving studio is my beloved safe space, where nothing can intrude on my life and my looms know me and we have fun together. There is infinite creativity here, and I’m so very blessed to have this space in my life.
But first, the back story… Because you know there is always a back story. I’m a story teller…
When my late husband was still alive, he traveled the globe as a telecommunications consultant. When he wasn’t traveling, he worked mostly from home, in an office in a large bedroom space we strategically divided in half. I worked down the hall in this old house, in my weaving studio, which was created back in the 1980’s increasing an existing bedroom out 15 feet. It worked for me for most of my career.
I will admit that the computer gods and I weren’t friends. Back in the day, I always felt frightened of them, and found them to be rather hostile. My late husband on the other hand, had an intimate relationship with those computer gods, and I knew they loved him and behaved whenever he was around. I had that relationship with the sewing machine gods, just ask any student in a class with me who had a sewing machine issue. But not the computer gods…
It became a joke in our house, that I’d be working on something in the studio, which also contained my office, and something would go very very wrong. I’d text my husband down the hall, and ask him to come to the studio and just stand in the doorway. 30 seconds later, all 6’3″ of himself would appear and he would just stand there. And I swear, whatever was causing me grief on my computer system would instantly start working again. It really became a joke in our house because it happened so often. He wouldn’t even have to enter the room. It was as if they saw him coming and said, “Never mind…”
I even bought this hilarious creation at a craft fair for his desk. It now sits on mine. The computer gods and I have formed a truce. They miss him obviously, we all do, but we are OK together.
So in my weaving studio, whether you think there is any truth to inanimate things having some sort of soul, I can say with complete certainty, that looms, which were once part of living trees, (except the little metal Structos) and all the yarn in my studio, which came from living things, plants and/or animals, that there is a collective energy that makes its presence known. There are days they aren’t happy, and I feel it.
So in the morning, I turn on the lights, and have my smart speaker play some type of classical music, usually WQXR, NY classical radio, or if I don’t like what they are playing, Sirius XM channel 76, which is also classical. I have a few alternatives, like my Pandora account, in case I don’t like either of those choices, but I usually find something that soothes the soul, all of the collective souls, and I get to work. It has become a routine now, that I turn on the lights, and say good morning to all the looms, all 42, and then go about my day. The other morning, I said, “Good morning” and then had a thought, that the collective energy in the room should decide what music to play on the smart speaker. So I asked them. And I instantly got this blast of a voice in my head, “Strings”. Which surprised me, since Sirius XM just started a new station available on the app, called “Strings”, which I only discovered my smart speaker could play last week. So I thought, cool, “Strings” it is. I asked my smart speaker to play “Strings”, which is all violin/cello music, anything of any genre involving a stringed instrument. I started winding a warp for another Structo adventure, using my AVL warping wheel to load another set of spools, and as I’m winding this 20/2 warp I suddenly realized the irony of a group of looms asking for a station called “Strings”. And I started laughing.
I’m sure you are all thinking at this point that I’m completely losing it. Maybe I am. My daughter thinks I need to get out more. But I’m so happy in my garage/studio space, we all get along, and there is always something cool to create, some yarn to play with, some structure to explore. I’m making progress on entering my vast library into LibraryThing.com, and I’m up to 645 books. I’ve just started in on the weaving books. So much to study, explore, I really need 5 lifetimes to make a dent.
So my buddies in the weaving studio, the loom gods, keep me good company, and we collectively finished the first mohair blanket which I just had to cut off the loom. Because I wanted to see one completely finished, and secretly because I needed to resley half the warp because I put two mohair ends in the same dent. No one will know, but I didn’t want to weave the rest with that issue.
I am just so in love. This is what I remembered weaving 40 years ago, and I never had one of my own to curl up in. This one is mine. I can’t wait for winter. Meanwhile there is plenty of warp and plenty more weft in different colorways.
I have a student coming next week, for a week, for a private class in my weaving studio, and I needed to clear the loom I’ll be putting her on. I started this yardage last fall, from a weaver’s estate sale/donation, from some handpainted wool for the warp, along with some alpaca and merino, and the weft is merino for the ground and some 4 ply baby llama I bought from a knitting store. I put on 6 yards of warp, and thought I’d have enough of the llama for the weft. I’m less than a yard from the end, and have run out. So I found a couple balls of a similar weight 4 ply alpaca in a darker brown, and I’ll finish the yardage out of that. Don’t ask what I’m going to make. I never have any idea. (Except for the mohair blankets). I weave because I like to weave.
And I’m making progress on warping up many of my little Structos. These are such fun to work in miniature, and every time I set one up, I hear a small cheering squad in the background. My daughter named all the looms in the studio, and she gave all 19 Structos names of characters in Star Trek. They seem to love having personal identities. It seems to give them a soul, or at least a cooperative energy.
Here is Riker with a four shaft overshot gamp, by Robyn Spady, from a draft in the May/June 2014 issue of Handwoven. 20/2 cotton ground sett at 30epi. Pattern is 10/2 perle.
And here is Kira, with a Krokbragd warp, 8/4 carpet warp, sett at 15epi, from a project in the latest Handwoven magazine, May/June 2022.
It took a bit for me to get the courage to write this blog, because though I’m really loving my happy place, the world right now seems very cruel, uncivil, and just downright scary. I use social media when I have to, I have 2800 friends on facebook, and many, or rather most of them, I don’t actually know. Most are from the fiber community, and I love seeing what everyone else is working on, inspiration comes from many places, and no, you can’t create in a vacuum. But along with that, I have breaking news feeds from about 10 different news sources, some liberal, some conservative, some right in the middle. And the news this past week was about as unsettling as I’ve ever experienced. I’ve tried incredibly hard to keep my personal beliefs and politics to myself, because it isn’t anyone’s business, and I have a lot of students, friends, acquaintances around the world, and even family members who are passionate about what they believe and I have to respect that. As a trained artist, I’m taught to see all sides and perspectives of something, to extract out my vision, and act on it. But so much of life depends on so many factors, where were you raised, under what conditions, and in what generation. Do you have children and how old are they? My perspective has expanded having two children on either side of 30. And one is a staff sergeant in the military. He definitely has an opinion. The other is a member of a couple of marginalized groups, and so definitely has an opinion. Respect, and civility have always been my method for approaching life, pretty critical when you traveled and taught for a living. I tried hard to keep politics out of my classroom.
So this week, the US Supreme Court handed down a number of decisions that were really unsettling. Facebook exploded, and lines were drawn in the sand. And there I stood in the middle, not sure how to respond to any of it, because, though I knew how I felt about gun issues, and abortion issues, many of the people I love and respect, feel very very differently. (On the gun issue, NY and NJ have some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. NJ is the most densely populated state in the country. The Supreme Court ruling knocking down NY’s Concealed Weapon law was at first glance disheartening.) So I spent the last few days, talking to many people who pay attention but feel differently than I do. Creating a dialogue. Because that’s what we are missing in the world today. I did not take to facebook to scream vitriol, I reached out to those I respect who see life differently. I read as much as I could from different sources, keeping in mind which sources slanted liberal, and which slanted conservative. I NEVER watch cable news. Cable news is designed to scare you, get you angry and keep you coming back for more. I read. And talk to people who don’t see life the way I do. It is enough.
I will say, that in 1974, the end of my first year in college, when I ended up with a nervous breakdown, desperately trying to extricate myself from a relationship that was abusive and controlling, spending a week in the infirmary trying to heal physically, and mentally, and just get through my first year of college, that I found myself in a situation where I thought, after everything I’d been through, that I was pregnant. I have never been more frightened and alone in my life. Roe V Wade was newly passed, and I made my way to the nearest Planned Parenthood, and I’ve never been more grateful for anything in my life. Turns out I wasn’t pregnant, just really really messed up, and I began the slow process of healing. I told my mom years later, no one really knew what I went through, but to think that someone wouldn’t have that option, should they find themselves in a situation that there doesn’t seem to be any viable solution to, I’d want them to have that same set of choices. And my heart grieves that in some areas of the country, those options no longer exist.
Maybe we as a country can work together to find solutions that aren’t so black and white, because nothing is black and white in this world. Meanwhile I’ll scroll on past the vitriol on Facebook, look for the really pretty creative stuff, and keep reading and asking and having meaningful dialogue that can lead to some kind of middle ground. One can only hope. Meanwhile, “Strings” from Sirius XM is playing for my looms, and they are happy, and there is life and soul and positive energy in my happy safe space.
When I graduated college in the mid 1970’s, I began my “career” working for a mall craft store, teaching all sorts of craft techniques, while acquiring my first loom, which I still have. That loom arrived in the spring of 1978, and as I slowly transitioned away from my minimum wage mall craft store job, into trying to make weaving as a living pay for itself, the first stop was as a production weaver for a pair of designers who worked in Mohair. Yeah, that really fuzzy yarn that is a bear to work with.
I had answered an ad, looking for a production weaver, and though I had no idea what a production weaver was, I had a loom, and I had the ignorance of youth, to make me think I could do whatever it was a production weaver needed to do. I had the right equipment, and after weaving off a sample of the type of fabric they wanted, my first assignment arrived, a gigantic box filled with cones of mohair, and I needed to turn that into 30 yards at 46″ wide. Which in itself was going to be challenging since my loom technically was only 45″ wide. But the innocence of youth, and thinking there was nothing I couldn’t do if I could just figure out how, allowed me to plow forward, undaunted, and figure out how to sectionally warp 30 yards of fuzzy yarn that had, as my friend Robyn Spady calls them, tentacles that just clung to each other in the most annoying way.
I learned to do a direct tie-up, the only way to get a consistently clean shed, and I learned to warp directly to my warp beam, via sectional, because there was this very visible force field of fuzz, that kept the yarns parallel and apart, and I rigged up a system to go right from the cones to the beam. I had no support from my college professor, I had no support from guilds, or the internet, or YouTube videos. I just had to figure it out. Failure is not a word a 25 year old understands. I was armed with Davison, Black, and Atwater. And I think a book by Regensteiner. I don’t think any of them mentioned mohair. But I had a catalogue from Leclerc, with a tension box and vague directions, and a sectional beam on my Tools of the Trade Loom, not that I had a clue what a sectional beam did, but it was an option and I went for it when ordering the loom, well, because the ignorance of youth?
I wove hundreds of yards of this 6epi fuzzy stuff for this pair of designers over the next couple of years. At the time I left them, part of me never wanted to see another fuzzy yarn again, and part of me did enjoy the luxury that mohair produced. I have no images of the work I did for the mohair designers, it wasn’t my work to photograph. I did though, get to weave/keep one of the coats made from their mohair yardage, and apparently I found an image of a vest I made, though I’m not sure where that vest is, I think it might have been a commission? And I found an image of a prototype I did of a running jacket, of mohair, crocheted around the edges with chenille, as an assignment from the mohair designers.
Over the next few years, as I developed my own line of handwoven clothing to sell at craft fairs, I initially avoided mohair at all cost. It was also expensive, and I didn’t have a lot to invest. And there were other weavers who did handwoven clothing and sold it in craft fairs that wove mohair. Eventually I settled on a mixed cellulose warp, that is rayons, and cottons, and combinations, with a rayon/silk weft. I would put 30 yards of warp on a loom, weave half with the rayon/silk weft, and half with a mohair weft, which allowed me companion pieces. The cool thing about mohair, is that while the cloth is still under tension, before you advance, you can brush up the mohair to get a hazy pile. All those tentacles can be brought to the surface to create a luxury fabric.
Years later, realizing I still had a lot of mohair on my shelves, left from my craft fair days, I decided once and for all to use it all up, and I did a plain weave fabric, different from the 6epi with a doubled weft at 4ppi than I wove for the mohair designers. I made this really lovely cape. I sold it some time ago, and thought my years of mohair were finally over.
But no, apparently those tentacles breed, and I soon realized that I still had a lot of mohair on the shelves. And so I took all the colors, and lined them up in a gradient across the warp, and wove the fabric for this.
By now I just had bits and pieces, odd balls that didn’t really amount to much, and so in desperation to use them up, I created this yardage, which was a plaid, so calculating how much to use in the warp and how much to leave for the weft was challenging.
The last couple of years saw the loss of a number of beloved weavers in the guilds I belong to. Stash/estate sales are great ways of filling in yarns that I remembered from the past, that aren’t available anymore, and picking up some oddities that I might not buy on purpose. Though it is never my intent to purchase anything when I go to these stash/estate sales, often things just follow me home. And apparently the mohair just shows up in my car. (I also blame my daughter here…)
In rearranging my shelves to accommodate yarn I actually purchased, I discovered a ridiculous amount of mohair had somehow repopulated my shelves. And back in December, on a visit to my mom in her retirement community apartment, I noticed a throw on the back of her couch, that I hadn’t remembered seeing in many years. I realized it was one I had woven during my years or just after, with the mohair designers. The sett and picks were the same, and it was still in glorious condition and still warm and luxurious.
I pulled out this ridiculous amount of mohair stuffed in bags, on shelves, and in a wardrobe in the guest room and realized I needed some huge project to use it all up. The great thing about weaving is you can weave yardage. Lots of yardage. I separated the mohair, which was mostly balls and skeins, which are a lot fuzzier than coned mohair, into color combinations.
And I isolated out the most neutral of the bunch that I thought I could create a nice warp that would be background for all the color groupings.
And I carefully weighed and calculated what I had and realized, at 46″ wide, I could put 18 yards of mohair on the warp beam and make a decent dent. (I went back to my original loom, which is still only 45″ wide and it greeted me with open arms. I haven’t woven on that loom for a few years, mostly my daughter uses it.)
So that put me in a dilemma, how to get the 18 yards of fuzzy tentacle laced yarn onto that beam. I had moved the sectional beam down to the lower back beam position, did I want to switch them out? Did I want to wind 18 yards and do a front to back like I normally do, would the tentacles be obnoxious and cling to each other and the reed dents and the heddle eyes? My warping mill only holds 10-12 yards. Should I use my AVL mill, but that may exacerbate the fuzzy tentacles. But I could wind 18 yards on that, two inches at a time. I didn’t have tidy cones to feed right into a tension box, I had a bunch of unruly balls, skeins and only a few cones. And I found out quickly that winding a 2″ wide 18 yard warp with a cross, and chaining it off, created a ripe breeding ground for those tentacles to just latch on to each other and make life really challenging.
So the drama here is I remember being 25 years old, and knowing nothing, and yet in my ignorance, I somehow managed to dress a loom with 30 yards of mohair and create a career. Now, more than 40 years later, I have so many options, and know so much more, and am sort of paralyzed in how to proceed because I know too much. I miss the blind innocence of just plowing ahead because you don’t know any better.
My daughter helped me wind the first bundle onto the sectional beam. It was really problematic. I couldn’t believe this was such a challenge. I just kept thinking how did I possibly make this work more than 40 years ago. Using the same loom. Because the mohair has a built in force field, that keeps the yarns slightly away from each other when parallel, I grabbed a large watercolor tablet and used the heaviness of the paper to wind all 18 yards off the AVL warping wheel, around the tablet, and that kept the mohair tentacles quiet and “standoffish”. Like a force field.
And I could sit on the floor behind the loom, challenging at my age, and carefully wind the warp onto each section, while unwinding the watercolor tablet filled with warp, which I had passed under the loom, to sit on the floor beside me. It was bloody brilliant, and I hugged my 25 year old self and we congratulated each other. I have never been so proud of myself for making this work.
Yesterday I threaded and sleyed…
…and tied onto the front, and started to weave. I even used the same wooden bobbins in the X-Large Leclerc boat shuttle that I had used 40 years ago, and still had the same slicker brush for brushing up the pile. There was a hand memory that even 40 years later, I just knew instinctively what to do. At this point, I’m planning a series of blankets to use up all the mohair, but that could change as I move through the 18 yards of warp. The quantity of mohair in the stash is starting to rapidly reduce. Meanwhile, I really hope that there are no more stash/estate sales in my immediate future.
I do want to mention the passing of one of the greats, Sarah Fortin, from New Hampshire. She was a skilled weaver, especially in double weave, and was my strongest competition teaching garment construction for handweavers. She was really talented, and the kindest and gentlest teacher, craftsman, and human being I’ve ever met. She always came to visit when I taught at Harrisville Designs in NH, and we often met for dinner when I’d be in the area. She was only 71. She had years ahead of her to design and create more incredible garments. I will miss her and her perspective. And it makes me realize how vulnerable we all are to the marching forward of time. The 6 year anniversary of my husband’s passing was Friday. He passed away Father’s Day weekend, which will always haunt my children. He died at 65, the same year he planned to retire and experience all life has to offer. He never got to experience retirement. I wake up each day with a huge gratitude, having been given one more day, especially after my tragic fall in December, breaking my shoulder in two places. I am mostly healed, and was also wanting to try to weave 46″ wide, to really push my shoulder to gain maximum rotation and reach. So far so good.
Stay tuned dear readers, hopefully more to come, but life is short, and we never know… Live in the moment, and make the best of each day.