Castle Notes

A couple of blog posts ago I mentioned I was embarking on one of those tedious, slow cloth kind of projects, that would use up almost three dozen various handdyed mixed skeins of wools, mohairs, and other mystery protein fibers. I did some furious mad calculations, a job that oddly appeals to me, and figured out how much was in each skein, and divided that into a 55%/45% split. I calculated I would use the larger amount for the warp, since there is loom waste, and the lesser amount for weft.

I did a similar project a few years ago, and really really enjoyed weaving it, even though I would be changing wefts something like every other pick. That coat from that plaid I wove will be in the next issue of Handwoven Magazine. Look for it…

Meanwhile, I realized that my original calculations were for a 36″ wide fabric, and the two larger 45″ looms were busy (my daughter commandeered them…). I have a 36″ wide Tools of the Trade, with 8 shafts, so I could spread the warp out over 8 shafts, even though it is a simple twill structure, to keep the warps from sticking to each other.

I calculated 12 ends per inch for the warp, but wanted to put two ends in a 6 dent reed, also to prevent sticking. I didn’t have a 6 dent reed for my 36″ loom. Sigh…

So I ordered a bunch of used reeds missing from my collection from my favorite place to purchase used weaving equipment. Oddly enough I’m a fan of older carbon steel reeds because the steel gauge is pretty substantial. Some of the new stainless steel reeds have a gauge that is too thin in my humble opinion… But I digress…

My favorite place to purchase used weaving equipment is Eugene Textile Center, in Oregon. I’m in NJ, so I knew I’d have to wait patiently for anything I ordered to cross the country. It came by pony express. Just kidding. The package of reeds, (I got a 5 dent while I was at it because you never know, plus some for a 32″ loom that I had acquired a couple years ago), was shipped FedEx Ground on April 19th. Watching the tracking was pretty hilarious. They went from Eugene, to Portland, to Seattle, to Montana, to North Dakota, to Illinois, to Ohio where they sat for a few days, to three stops in Pennsylvania, where they were delayed by some sort of mysterious weather, and then finally on to NJ where they arrived Thursday.

I wasted no time in sleying that 6 dent reed.

I threaded in record time, I mean 12 epi is nothing.

I beamed while teaching a remote three day workshop, I could watch the class on my laptop, and while they were busy working, I could quietly beam.

And then I tied on. I started weaving with some scrap wools I had just to check threading and sett, and I was definitely not happy. My immediate instinct is, “It should have been sett denser”, which is my main motto in life. The next size reed I had was an 8, which would put the sett at 16, and I didn’t want to go that dense. But by the stroke of luck, I had purchased a 5 dent, and three per dent works out to be 15 ends per inch.

So I resleyed the reed, and now my fabric, which used to be 36″ wide, is now about 29″ wide. That’s actually better because I plan to hand feed balls of weft across, I don’t want to juggle about 36 shuttles, and it is easier to reach with 29″ than 36″.

I started weaving and OMG it is perfect. It is exactly what I envisioned and I just absolutely love when that happens. The twill lines are at a 45 degree angle.

So the next step is to carefully plan out the treadling and the reverses and what yarn goes in what pick. There are almost 36 different wefts. And most are only used 1 or 2 times in the weft before changing. This will be very slow cloth.

I printed out the treadling (I’m splitting the shafts between two treadles for each pick so both halves of my body get equal exercise and to further enable the wools to separate easily while weaving.) Next to each treadle pick is a color that codes to a yarn, but some are so close in color I didn’t want to get confused, so I put small bits of the yarn with double faced tape with each weft pick.

I have little treadle notes taped all across the castle (that’s a loom part for you non weavers).

And I have two basket trays of balls, carefully placed in sequence order, so I can just draw the next one, glance at how many picks I need of it, and double check that I’m on the correct treadles. This will be really entertaining to weave. And slow. But I’m not in a hurry.


Because nothing in my life is ever boring…

I got a call last week, that a beloved friend, who had acquired a loom in very poor condition, decided that after a number of years, would never really be able to put in the time to get the loom up and running. I was with him when he acquired it, it is a lovely loom, a full size Macomber with 8 shafts, double warp beam, but only 24″ wide. It had originally been stored and nearly ruined in a screened in patio through a number of very wet and cold winters. It was missing a lot of the beam hardware, and was very very rusty and dirty. He sadly had not been able to do anything with the loom in all the years he stored it. So I adopted this loom.

Yeah, I know… This is number 36…

Though I’ve woven on Macomber looms since the 70’s, I never actually owned one. I rehabbed all the looms that we moved from William Paterson University to Peters Valley probably back in 2014, I know this loom well. And Macomber is still making looms, way up there in Maine, and they are really knowledgeable about the history of every loom they sell. This one apparently was part of a large order from 1970, built for Philadelphia College of Textiles. It has not fared well through the years.

So I put in an order for all the replacement parts I needed, and 800 new inserted eye heddles and a bench while I was at it, and $1000 later, hopefully it won’t take as long to tour the country as my poor reeds from Oregon.

Sunday a week ago, I got a bucket of Murphy’s Oil Soap, and scrubbed this poor child down, changing the blackened water after wiping down every beam. A very generous coat of Howard’s Feed and Wax was applied once it was dry.

I’ll tackle the shafts when I get the new heddles. There is a lot of rust, but I’m confident I can bring this loom back to its original glory. Can’t wait to get a warp on it.

So that’s my week, more to tell, but I’ll save it for another time. I wake up each morning ticking off an agenda of cool things to accomplish, including spending some time weeding the yard, something I’ve never been able to do on a regular basis with all the travel.

Carry on dear friends, I’ve got fabric to weave, looms to rehab, gardens to tend, and videos to produce. My life is full!

Stay tuned…

Coming Home to a Vastly Different World…

I’m not even sure where to begin.  So much has changed since I flew away March 4th.  No one is immune.  I’m almost embarrassed to write this blog post because it is about a time when things were normal, a mere two weeks ago.  None of us has much control over events that are happening right now, except in how we view/deal/or otherwise contemplate current global events.  While the Northern part of NJ cleared out supermarkets and big box stores of everything that wasn’t nailed down, I was blissfully in Portland Oregon, waking to a lovely snow, off to teach yet another workshop and sort of wondering how the toilet paper supply was at home.  Not something I thought to check before I left.  My children eventually responded that indeed we had a 12 pack, certainly enough for a few weeks, but I came home to no paper towels which took a few trips to procure a 4 pack.  

Anyway, I left NJ on the 4th, to Medford Oregon via San Francisco airport.  There were a couple of people wearing masks but nothing that screamed, “Panic!”  I flew in a day earlier than necessary, because I do that in the late winter, snow storms crop up unexpectedly and I wanted time to be able to make it out to the Pacific Northwest should one materialize…  Hahahahah!  Yeah, snow was not even on the radar here this winter in NJ.

The first morning there, I got in a glorious walk along the Rogue River.  Spring was just blossoming there, a few weeks ahead of here in NJ, and the river was clean and fresh and rejuvenating.

I had just the most lovely and talented group of participants in my five day intensive.  We met in a hall, which was dimly lit, but with only seven in the class, the huge brightly lit kitchen was more than adequate.  We all gathered together and I could perch and observe my students, all of whom had mad sewing skills, and slowly they built some pretty amazing pieces. 

About half the fabrics were handwoven, the rest pieces from the Pendleton Woolen Mill outlet, because well, this is Oregon.  Gorgeous fabrics.  Four of the seven participants made swing coats, the three on the left are handwoven…

Two made traditional jackets.  The one on the left is handwoven from Webs Merino and Tencel.

And Deb made a zippered vest, from a gorgeous Pendleton fabric that had a boarder, which she strategically used in the yokes and center fronts.

This is a great class photo, the backs are even better.  Some seriously wicked matching going on here.

I left Medford on the 11th, and headed north to connect with a new driver that would take me on to Portland.  We stopped halfway in Eugene to see the new home of Eugene Textile Center.  All I can say is wow.  Just wow.  Just an FYI, Suzie buys weaving estates, so there are always used looms and equipment to be had, and her daughter is the Glimakra rep for the US, so there is room for that as well.  The dye kitchen is to die for, pun intended, and classroom space is huge and well lit.  There is even a small gallery.  I hope that the current global mess doesn’t destroy small businesses, especially the ones just opening up, consider calling Eugene Textile Center if you are looking for a used part or piece of equipment or used weaving book, Suzie probably has it.  She ships anywhere.

A couple hours later we arrived in Portland, made the baggage transfer yet again, and I settled into my new home for the next few days.  I took almost no photos, I gave two keynote lectures to the Portland Guild on Thursday. Friday and Saturday was a two day garment construction class, mostly lecture and sampling, they didn’t make a garment, and Sunday was a one day beginning Inkle Weaving Class.  I will say that by the time I got to Friday, there was a lot of angst as to whether or not to proceed, possibly cancelling the workshops and putting me on a plane to go home, and though a few people decided it wasn’t worth the risk, most of the participants had waited for me for more than a year and they weren’t letting me go without a fight.  It was a huge dilemma, and only time will tell if it was the correct decision.  

Meanwhile, left and right fiber conferences and gatherings were cancelled, Florida Tropical, CNCH, both of which I’ve taught at in previous years, but thankfully wasn’t booked for this year, because vendors were left with a huge amount of inventory they have no where to sell and instructors were left with no income and airplane tickets that mostly aren’t refundable. I’m protected because my late husband left me with a pension, but there are many in my line of work with no work for the foreseeable future.

And so Sunday night, I boarded a plane in a mostly deserted Portland Airport.  There was no one in line at TSA preCheck.  I had a lovely conversation with the TSA agent, her daughter was getting married this weekend.  Now that is a dilemma that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  I wandered to the United Club Lounge, right across from my gate, and I happily sat and drank wine and knitted for three hours.  I was the only one in the entire place.  The bar staff kept my glass full, changed the channel on the TV for me (I finally asked them to turn it off, I just wanted to knit), and provided me with all kinds of buffet foods, hot soup, cheese and crackers, etc.  The regular food buffet in the club lounge was eliminated for obvious reasons, but all the food was accessible, prepackaged, and available from the bar staff.  My heart bled for all of them.  Unemployment insurance does nothing for Underemployment situations.  I tipped more than usual, but it wouldn’t make a dent towards paying their rent.

I flew home on a mostly empty plane, had the first row in first class all to myself, business class was empty, and economy about half full.  I had a lovely light dinner, and wine and then fitfully dozed until sunrise.  This lifestyle is challenging, but I always thrill at sunrise over NYC when I fly east on a red-eye.

And so I’m back.  NJ is basically shut down.  Stores are struggling with the demand from hoarders.  I saw a post on my town facebook forum someone posted that my local Shoprite instituted a policy of no returns.  People went wild, apparently hoarding everything they could possibly need, and then planned to return what they didn’t use when the crisis passes.  I’m sort of sick with disgust at the hooray for my side and screw everyone else attitude.  I am desperate to find the few who rally together to help each other, because I know we/they are out there.  

And so I’m hunkered down at home.  My daughter is here helping organize the new studios, find a place for everything, label EVERYTHING, and the last of the looms are moved in.  Even without work in the foreseeable future, we have plenty to do.  There are looms waiting for warps, there are workshops/lectures to design, there is fabric to sew, new patterns and directions to design.  Truth be told, this is like a giant snow day where everything is cancelled, except indefinitely.  I’m giddy with the possibilities, I just have to stay healthy to enjoy the time.  My son is an exec at Target.  Right now they have him at the highest volume store in the region.  He describes his 12 hours days as Black Friday every day with first quarter staffing.  He comes home completely spent, unloading 4000 piece trucks hourly.  Retail is trying really really hard to get the essentials out to those who need it.  Please don’t hoard.

One of the greatest perks of my job especially in the years since my husband passed, is that most of the people I stay with on these trips are just slightly older than I am and have walked this path.  They patiently listen to me as I sort out my goals and my future.  I gave myself five years after my husband passed, to clean out the house, downsize the contents, repair and update the house so I could sell it if I wanted to, and figure out what to do with the rest of my life.  We are coming up on four years since his death. Kathy, my first hostess in Medford listened patiently and said, “Make sure you make the time to do the things you want to do, life is short and age is not always your friend.”  Those weren’t her exact words, but that’s what I heard.  Right now, my schedule is booked well in 2022.  At that point I’ll be 67 years old.  Each trip I take gets harder and harder, shipping boxes ahead, preparing and hauling 150 pounds of luggage.  Though I consider myself still strong and healthy, we all know we are one diagnosis away from not strong and healthy.  Both my husband I had cancer, I lived, he did not.  Is this what I want to be doing at 67 or 70?

So I’ve decided to finish out what I agreed to, but not book any additional workshops.  Places like Sievers and Harrisville, and Eugene Textile Center where I’ll be teaching next spring, they don’t decide on the next year’s schedule until the previous year finishes.  I can always tack on a workshop if I’m still up to it.  What I’d rather do, while I still have my daughter in my employ, is begin the long process of digitizing my patterns for downloads, recording videos of sewing/weaving techniques, and maybe even write the most comprehensive book on sewing with handwoven fabrics.  I can’t do any of that while I’m hauling luggage and sitting in airports.  I have two beautiful new studios, and I can’t even work in them because I have to spend the next three days doing my taxes.  They are getting more and more complicated.

Mostly though, I want to invite students to study privately with me.  I live near Newark Airport in a quiet dead end street in a walkable community, in a house with gardens and ponds.  I have a guest room or two and if you want to learn, come to me.  I have everything you need except fabric, and I’m a half hour by bus from NYC and Mood Fabrics.  The week before I left for Oregon, I had a private student for 5 days, she stayed here, we cooked together, we sewed together, we became best friends (I had worked with her last summer at a class I taught at Peters Valley).  My student had never touched a sewing machine and she wanted to learn to sew.  By the end of five days, she had a jacket.  We were both very very proud.

And so dear readers, do what you do best, knit, sew, weave, garden, sing, play an instrument, learn a language, take a virtual museum tour, read a book or two or six.  This is a time of hunkering down, staying as safe as possible, and contemplating what is really important in life.  I hope everyone survives financially, especially the self employed and those who work in the gig economy and those whose hours have been sliced to nothing.  Keep calm and carry yarn…

Stay tuned…