On account of I was dusting…

When I traveled on the road, I had a woman who would come to clean the house every couple of weeks, which was really important. The last thing I wanted to do when I’d get back from a long trip was to clean my house, mow the lawn, and take care of all the things houses need. Mostly I was just getting things unpacked and repacked for the next trip.

When Covid hit in March of 2020, and my entire teaching schedule was erased, of course my housekeeper was the first to go, since it wasn’t safe at the time to even come to my house, as we didn’t know how this dreaded pandemic was transmitted.

My yard crew kept coming, they were outside, and though I tried hard to get out there and weed and do general yard and pond maintenance, I found it impossible to do all that and have a life.

But my house…

I remember talking to my mom in the early days of the pandemic. I might even have written a blog post about it. She is 90, and at the time was dealing with a husband who was gently slipping away, in fact he passed in December a year ago. The facility where they lived could no longer safely send people to clean, make beds, etc. She said to me, “I’m a pro at keeping house. Did it my whole life. I can clean a room a day and keep on top of this place. Piece of cake…” Yay mom!

My house is a lot larger, and I have animals, lots of them, and I have those studios, with lots of looms and stuff. But still. Not being proactive would mean I’d drown quickly in animal hair, dust, yarn bits, clutter, and did I mention animal hair?

So I got a plan. I print out a weekly schedule of my life, and pencil in one room a day, to vacuum, dust and otherwise scrub depending on what the floor surface is, tile, carpet, wood, or a combination thereof.

I’m a tidy person. I have to be. Clutter not only messes with my brain and focus, but it also means I’m endlessly loosing stuff. Not a thing you want to happen when you are packing for a trip to teach. When I shut down the house and head off to bed each night, everything is back in its place.

And so, a couple weeks ago, it was the day where I planned to dust and vacuum the studio. I think it was a Sunday. Personally, as tedious as dusting and vacuuming are, there is a lot of creativity that tends to happen when I just stay in the moment, and concentrate on what I’m dusting. There is always WQXR, Classical public radio station from NYC playing on my Alexa, and I just take my Swiffer on an extension pole and dust every horizontal surface I can reach. It takes about an hour for the weaving studio, more or less depending on how lost in the moment I get. I’ll be dusting a loom and stop and think, gee, I really need to get that warp off… I’ll be dusting a shelf of yarn and think, gee, what would happen if I combine these two together… I’ll be dusting a shelf of mixed fiber tools and supplies, and think, wow, I haven’t done any needle felting, kumihimo, lace making, inkle weaving, wet felting, basketry, water color, etc, in just ages…

There is something zen like about dusting and staying in the moment.

And so as I rounded the perimeter of the studio, before working in the interior on the floor looms, I started dusting the top of the right hand cabinet over my dye sink area. On the top of the right most cabinet is a bag. In the bag are a bunch of 10 yard white warps, give or take, that my son wound for me years ago, for warp painting. I remember being mad at him for some errant teen stupidity, and as punishment, I made him spend the day in my studio winding white warps.

The warps were badly wound, on a mill, but there they were, just collecting proverbial dust.

I thought, gee, I need to dig those out and do something with them…

The next day one of my local guilds was having a presentation by batik artist and ice dyer extraordinaire, Jessica Kaufman of Waxon Studio. Jessica gave the absolutely best presentation on ice dyeing for the MAFA fiber conference last summer and I was immediately hooked. I wrote a post about all the cool things I ice dyed. She taught me to “trust the muck”.

Anyway, I listened to her lecture again, through my local guild, remote of course, and thought, you know, there are those white warps. Why can’t I try to ice dye one of those warps?

I picked a shiny rayon, 10 yards, 512 ends, and found the biggest container in the studio. It wasn’t that deep, but with my trusty turkey baster, I could syphon off any excess muck as the ice melted.

I used a lot of dye sprinkled over the ice. I presoaked the warp in soda ash solution as per her instructions.

I let it sit for 24 hours after the ice melted.

I dumped it in the sink, muck and all and rinsed and rinsed and rinsed and was pretty disappointed. There were a lot of white areas that never got the dye. The exposed part of the 10 yard warp was lovely, but the entire back side, the part soaking in the muck, was still white. Trust the muck.

Once it dried, I resoaked it in soda ash, and then did the whole process all over again. White side up. 24 hours after the ice melted I dumped the whole thing in the sink and there were still large amounts of white areas that just looked like mistakes. I know it was too much to dye at once, this whole process should have been on a warp a quarter of the size I was using, but I’m resourceful…

I didn’t take any photos of that second version because it was still in the stainless dye sink and I remember rinsing and rinsing and then just getting pissed, stopping up the sink, pouring the rest of the soda ash over it, pulling up any white areas I could find, draining the soda ash right out the bottom of the sink, and then just sprinkling dye directly over any white areas my gloved fingers could find. At this point I was figuring the warp as a failure, so whatever…

The next morning, everything looked like a complete grey/black disaster, but I opened the drain, and started rinsing. And rinsing. And rinsing and soaking and rinsing some more…

When I hung the warp to dry, I couldn’t believe what I had. I’m sorry the photo is blurry.

It took three days to dry, and even then, there were spots I just couldn’t get dry so I draped the whole mostly dry warp directly under the split ductless heating system.

I was so excited by this warp, that looked like a complete mess, but the dye chokes held, that I immediately dropped everything and started figuring out what to do with it. I settled on a simple Twill Crackle from Davison, which would use a black weft as pattern and tabby. With 10 yards, I wanted this to be a single shuttle warp.

I sleyed.

I threaded.

I started beaming.

I tied on

And I wove. Can I tell you that this thing, that I can’t reproduce is just smiling at me, no shimmering at me, and that this is a lovely happy accident that happened all on account of I was dusting…

As a matter of fact, once I post this blog, I’ll be heading back to the studio because today’s room to clean is once again the studio… I’m going to see what other trouble I can get into…

Stay tuned…

Instant Gratification

It is no surprise that weavers have incredible patience, we by nature have to be the kind of person to whom process, no matter how slow, is the whole point. I will sit patiently threading 1000 ends, or painstakingly plod along following a complex treadling sequence, or methodically develop a new weaving draft. In garment making I relish the joy of a series of perfect bound buttonholes, a seam well sewn, a zipper perfectly installed. I’m not a stranger to ripping out, unweaving, or starting over.

I started this 3 color Baltic Pick up based on a new book I got from Annie MacHale. It is soooo slow. But with patience, I’ll get faster and really be able to follow the pick up sequence. I might edit the graph to be more in the way I like to follow pick up. Another few hours of work. No problem.

I just finished the third virtual conference in a month. I taught at the first one, the MAFA conference, but also took some classes, and I attended the second and third, the ASG conference with the American Sewing Guild, and yesterday and today, NEWS, that’s the New England Weavers Seminar. The second two were a series of lectures open to all those who signed up. I’m pretty cross eyed from all the Zoom meetings but the wealth of information and inspiration I’ve immersed myself in this past month has felt like I earned a 2 year college degree. So many techniques to explore and think about and appreciate.

When I come across something that makes my heart sing that took no effort at all, I almost feel like I’m cheating. It can’t be that easy…

I’d listened to ice dyeing programs and lectures before and was really curious about the spontaneity. There is nothing spontaneous about anything I do in the studio. Can you achieve anything decent from just tossing cellulosic fibers into a basin, tossing on ice and then some fiber reactive dye and get something that doesn’t look like you did the craft project du jour?

I listened to Jessica Kaufman in a two hour class I signed up for at the MAFA conference. This past week was the first chance I’d had to actually try this. I thought you needed a lot more equipment, set up, whatever. I thought as everything in fiber turns out to be, it would be way more complicated. Jessica is with Waxon studio, and she is obviously a pro at this technique and teaching it, and teaching it online.

I watched the replay mid week before the replays expired, and decided to gather up some yarn, fabric, scarves and an old vintage cotton napkin that I can’t imagine why was in my stash. The yarns were probably cotton, the scarves rayon, and the fabric a couple yards of rayon challis.

All I needed was some buckets, and some ice. Yes, I presoaked overnight, all the fibers in Soda Ash. I keep that in the studio because I regularly dye yarn with Fiber Reactive Dyes. Then I just scrunched stuff up, secured with rubber bands, and laid gently in hospital tubs. I acquired a huge amount of them during my husband’s long illness. The only thing positive about an extended hospital stay is the great tubs they give you.

I picked up a bag of ice at the grocery store, sprinkled some on, and then sprinkled on some fiber reactive dyes from Dharma Trading. And I let everything sit for 24 hours, as Jessica warned, 24 hours after the ice melts. Jessica also said to Trust the Muck. Meaning it is OK if the ice melts and all the dye pools around the cloth. Trust the Muck.

Well, everything was ready to rinse about 1am going into Friday morning. And yes, I couldn’t wait, so I stayed up and rinsed and rinsed and rinsed and then couldn’t sleep all night because I was so freaking excited by what came out.

Here are a few skeins of yarn…

Here are a couple rayon challis scarves…

Here is my new favorite thing in the whole world, my vintage table napkin that I now use with every meal.

And here is the most gorgeous rayon challis fabric, I’m just gobsmacked looking at this across my cutting table, I can’t wait to figure out how to use this, almost too gorgeous to hide inside a garment as a lining, (which was the whole point in trying this technique, ways to get interesting linings…)

And while I listened to lecture after lecture over the last couple weeks, I came across this drop spindle I had tucked in a bag, with an alpaca silk blend fiber that I had started to spin eons ago. The fiber was from Gale Evans at www.galesart.com and I was sad to read that Gale closed the shop in May of this year, to move on to another medium, giving up fibers and dyeing all together. I know how Gale feels…

And I actually finished a garment in the studio. I’ve been slowly working on handwoven garments, bits at a time while I write script and demo the techniques for my YouTube videos. We just finished shooting the last techniques for this dress, installing an invisible zipper which just dropped Friday, and one for next week on installing a neck/armhole facing. So the dress, which is made from the handwoven Antique Jewels Fabric I wove last year, the draft is a free download available here, is finished and I can’t wait to wear this. The fabric was perfect, it held its shape and was a joy to sew. The pattern is my 1000 swing dress. That’s available as a download (not free) here. It has pockets!

And so dear readers, my life is starting to fill up again, and I’m not sure how I feel about that, but the opportunities are just too much fun, and there are too many fun things to do out there. I managed to get into NYC for the day last week, to the MET, and the Jewish Museum, and to meet up with a dear friend and have sushi down near 28th street. Except for when I was actively eating I wore a mask the entire day, and had no problem doing so, even though I’ve been vaccinated for months. Scary times, covid cases are on the rise, and I’ll continue to wear a mask wherever I go.

Stay safe out there, and learn all the things!