Loose Ends…

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.

https://www.daryllancaster.com/Gallery_Images6/AutumnPlaidTunicFrontLG.jpg
https://www.daryllancaster.com/Gallery_Images6/ChaosShirtFrontLG.jpg
https://www.daryllancaster.com/Gallery_Images5/WinterFloralsSwingCoatWithHoodLG.jpg
https://www.daryllancaster.com/Gallery_Images6/PuzzleFabricWalkingVestLG.jpg
https://www.daryllancaster.com/Gallery_Images6/MagicalBiasDressLG.jpg

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.

Stay safe dear readers, and stay tuned…

Loom gods and safe spaces…

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.

Stay tuned…

Of tentacles, force fields, and the innocence or ignorance of youth…

Mohair is not for the faint of heart…

But first, a back story…

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.

And then with the leftover fabric, created this with my 800 Collared vest pattern.

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.

Good thing I like hand-sewing…

Today is Memorial Day here in the United States. It is a day to remember those who went to war and never made it home. It is a day of reflection of what might have been if young men (and women) had lived and started families and made a difference in this world. Those who went to war in my immediate family all came home. So this day isn’t about them. My son, who is now a Staff Sergeant in the NJ National Guard, who has done two deployments, came home. It isn’t about him. It is a reflective kind of day, and I’ve been doing a lot of reflection.

Next month, just a couple of weeks to be more specific, is the sixth anniversary of my husband’s death. He died a slow agonizing death from esophageal cancer. There is a lot of time to reflect when you watch someone you’ve spent your entire adult life with, raised two children with, move on to another world beyond, without you. I’ve been thinking a lot about my late husband these last couple weeks when the news is just so horrific, so unbelievable, and so painful to watch.

When my husband was in his final months of decline, we went to a therapist, my idea, to help navigate this whole ordeal ahead of us. I was quite shocked to hear him say to the therapist, that he resented that I hid in my studio all day. I’ve been self-employed since 1978, and that means going to the studio all day, every day. I was still self-employed and had workshops to teach, samples to make, travel to prep for, but he never saw any of that, because he went out of the house every day to work, and came home for dinner. He had no idea what I did all day. In the later years of our marriage, he became a global analyst/consultant for a global telecommunications giant, and traveled the globe, spending months in foreign places. I had no idea what he did all day, and he had no idea what I did all day. We trusted each other to do our jobs. Nothing more.

Once he was forced to be home, because of his declining health, he got to see what I did all day, which was to him, hide in my studio. And I suppose looking back, there was a bit of truth to what he was thinking; my studio is the one place in this world where I have control over anything, not everything, but something. And in the darkest times in my life, going through breast cancer, watching my husband die, raising two children with struggles of their own, my studio was my friend, the one place where I could just be.

Now that I’m not traveling anymore, there are no deadlines, except ones that I put on myself, because I can, I don’t need to “hide” in my studio and work 8-10 hours a day. I don’t need to, I want to. The world is frightening, the complete failure of our elected officials to even dialogue about solutions to global issues is very very discouraging. The news is tragic, social media is a travesty. And that feeling of powerlessness, can be overwhelming. My studio once again, is my safe place, where I get to choose what path I take, figure out when there are problems, find solutions, and make stuff with my hands. And yes Kevin, you were right. I’m hiding. And I’m really happy here. Because out there it is hard to find light in such a dark place.

And so this Memorial Day weekend, I spent alone, in my studio, hemming towels and placemats, spending time in my garden, picking fresh greens to eat, and doing what I can in my small world, because that seems to be all I can do.

My last blog post I talked about the summer shirt I made from five huck lace dishtowels from a remote workshop I did through my guild, with Rosalie Nielson. There was still plenty of warp left on the loom, so I resleyed denser, to 20 epi instead of 18, switched to a darker weft for contrast, and proceeded to weave maybe a half dozen napkins. I really didn’t have many handwoven napkins, I still reach for paper at each meal, and that is so silly. My using a cloth napkin instead of paper isn’t going to affect global warming in the slightest bit, but it is one way I can feel like I’m contributing. Plus they are pretty…

I kept weaving… one napkin a day. I kept looking at the warp beam, seeing lots of paper on the floor, but no knots in sight. I kept weaving. Each new design block, I crawled under the loom, and retied the treadles. I got really quick at it.

I finally saw the knots on Saturday. Spurred on, I wove two napkins. When I pulled the finished napkins off the loom, I was shocked that I had woven 12. All for me.

I had finished weaving the overshot placemats for a friend, earlier in the week, but since I hate naked looms, I left them on. I knew I had a lot of hemming ahead of me, so I decided to cut them off as well. I sat in my basement yesterday, even though it was a glorious day, and most people were out celebrating the holiday, I sat by the iron, cutting and folding hems in 12 huck lace napkins and 6 overshot placemats.

And while I was at it, I had this vague recollection of another overshot placemat, part of a set of 8, that was a result of a placemat exchange through my guild, many years ago (2009 to be exact). The 8th one came in a couple of years after the exchange and never got hemmed. Obviously I never used them. I’m not really sure why.

So as of this writing, the odd overshot placemat is hemmed, and 7 of the napkins have been hemmed. The rest are all basted and waiting for me to curl up again on the couch and continue.

Meanwhile, in my quest to learn or relearn all the structures, to really focus on woven patterns and blocks that I could never really spend the time on in my active days of travel, I’ve set up two additional Structo looms, both 8 shaft, one with a Deflected Double Weave, the draft from Stubinetsky’s Double with a Twist…

…and a Quigley pattern, from Tom Knisely’s book on Table Linens. I’ve been in touch with the woman who designed that project, and she generously forwarded on the class notes so I can spend some time really exploring this very cool structure. I had done some Quigley when I was at Madelyn van der Hoogt’s School of Weaving back in 2018. It was my favorite structure of all the ones I wove that week.

As I set up these little looms, and I have a lot of them, I keep thinking of more things I want to put on them. And I pulled the little 10″ Leclerc with the doubleweave sampler and started trying doubleweave pick-up. I’m using Jennifer Moore’s design from her Doubleweave book I didn’t thread my sampler the way she did, so there was heavy brain work to make the translation. But that helps me learn.

And so dear readers, I consider myself really really lucky. I have a place where I can find some bit of control, no matter what happens around me. I have friends, and people I love. As a matter of fact, last weekend was my birthday, and a long time friend invited me and two of our other mutual friends to her house, on a river, and we sat, four friends who have known each other for 30 years, raised our children together, and we ate, and drank, and put our feet in the cold rushing water of the river. I felt safe, and whole. I wish for all of you a safe place, where you have a bit of control over what happens in your life, a river to put your feet into with friends who love you and give you some clarity and perspective in this tough world.

Stay tuned…

Move Over Scarlett O’Hara…

No, I didn’t make a dress out of the drapes, but I did want another short sleeve summer top, the weather is getting warmer, and that in-between summer and sleeveless, and early spring with long sleeves…

Anyway, I took a fantastic guild workshop this past week, remotely, with Rosalie Neilson, creating blocks using Huck Lace. For the non-weavers, this is a weaving structure that produces lovely lacey designs, with warp or weft or a combination, floats. Though I’ve woven huck lace many times, I was more interested in her discussions of blocks and designing blocks.

So prior to the workshop, I set up the loom, not for the recommended 6 yards, I put on 12, because, why not? Because I could.

Once I got the concept of block design, using her extensive handouts with design pages, and overlays, based on her pricey but incredibly worth it book, An Exaltation of Blocks, which I own, and I figured out how to efficiently transfer those designs to my weaving software, I was like a woman obsessed.

Within the week between sessions, I wove off five towels, each horizontal design across was different. Yes, I had to re-tie my treadles before each new design, and I was worried about my shoulder under the loom, but it worked out perfectly, and I got each re-tie down to about 6 minutes.

The towels were OK, not my favorite colors, and not my favorite proportion. I prefer bolder colors, but that’s what was staring at me on the shelf, so I went with it. I prefer a towel in a 3:2 proportion, usually 30″ x 20″. These were 16″ wide by probably 30″. And I’m not a fan of 8/2 cotton sett at 18 epi. I know that’s the going trend, Rosalie isn’t the only instructor who encourages this sett. I’m a garment fabric weaver, I like my fabrics, and my towels to have meat to them. Personal taste. I’m allowed.

So I had these five towels, which represented a terrific exercise, and I kept thinking, boy, I really could use another summer top…

So Scarlett move over…

I used my 1000 swing dress pattern, cutting the center front and center back on the selvedges, and overlaid the sleeve of the 200 jacket pattern, and used the sleeve for that jacket, cut shorter, to create the top pattern. It has an invisible zipper down the back.

Because Huck Lace can be pretty fragile if you cut into it, I used 3/8″ (1cm) strips of cross wise cut Fusiknit and fused it on the perimeter wherever the cut edges were unstable, like on the sleeve cap.

I basically sewed this top in one sitting. I was definitely a woman obsessed. The photo shows me modeling an almost finished top, just the handwork, and removing all the little red tailor’s tacks. Getting the blocks to match was challenging, since Huck shrinks differently depending on the design.

All the work is finished and it is hanging in my closet waiting for a place to wear it. I’m gathering with a couple friends on Sunday for my birthday. Sounds like a plan.

So back to Rosalie’s book… I bought this book a couple years ago, and I will be honest, I had not opened it. I do that a lot. My one weakness is a desire to acquire all the knowledge, whether or not I ever actually read it, as long as it is here at my fingertips, I’m happy. I’m running out of room for books, and I am acutely aware that I really have no idea what’s in my libraries, because I sent my daughter to an estate sale, lots of weaving and sewing books, and she kept sending me pictures of what was there, and I couldn’t run up and down the three flights of stairs fast enough.

So after she brought home another 45 books, a couple ended up being duplicates, I decided on one of those massive undertakings, which is making me so happy. LibraryThing.com is a site which many of you are familiar with I’m sure; my daughter is guild librarian, and spent a good 6 months entering their entire library. So each morning I enter half a shelf of books. Some are easy and pop right up with an ISBN number, and others are self published and pretty obscure or very very old, and I have to hand enter that data. But the important thing here is I’m handling each book, and seeing what’s in it. Wow, my head is spinning with all the knowledge at my fingertips, knowing I’ll never read most of it, but still, it is a comfort to have it here. Art, fashion, fiber art, and art history books are in my office, weaving books in the weaving studio, and sewing books in the sewing studio. One day it will all be entered and I can sort by tags and authors and subjects. Let’s see, what books do I have on huck lace…

I love these incredibly challenging long term organizational projects.

So with the leftover warp on the loom, remember I put on 12 yards, I resleyed the warp to 20epi, and I’m much happier, but I really won’t know until I wash the cloth. I’m weaving myself a set of napkins, trying some of the 4 shaft textures she suggested, after I figured out how to weave them on 8 shafts. This is really fun. And I changed the weft colors to something more contrasting to show off the pattern.

And I’m down to the last half placemat on my gift for my friend, a half dozen overshot mats to match a runner she purchased from our guild sale. Someone else wove the runner, but didn’t want to weave six mats to go with it. The mats are 20/2 cotton ground, with a 10/2 pattern thread, and I thought they would take me forever. Minimal breakage, usually happens when I have to go back a few rows to fix an error. The 20/2 just gives out. I was worried I would run out of warp, but it looks like I’ll make it!

I have my little daily routine, the days are full, the gardens are lush, and I’m eating salad at each meal. Except we just had a rabbit get in and eat all the kholrabi and dill… 🙁

Stay tuned dear readers, lots more to come…