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…

The Indestructable Structo!

structosThis is the tale of two looms and a 19 year old who was into me for $300.  The reason he was into me for $300. isn’t important, but as he is trying to work off this rather cumbersome debt, I’m trying to think of things for him to do besides clean my house thoroughly, which he has already done.  I was going to set him to work on the outside gardens today, but alas, it has poured rain steadily through the entire day.  So, that leaves something for me to invent for him to do in the studio.  Enter two small Structo looms I acquired on my travels.  The one on the right is an eight shaft, which had been refurbished, the finish is awful, but all the parts are there and in working order, except the aprons are cut way too narrow for the already narrow little loom.  (For the non weavers, the aprons are the white cloth on the front and back beams that attach to the warp and the finished cloth.)

The second loom was also given to me, and all the pieces to it are sort of there, but many of the cross pins are missing and the loom frame had some creative copper beam replacements.  This loom also had a hex warp beam with four two inch spools that fit snugly on the hex beam, and held a lot of fine warp.  I unreeled one of the spools and pulled off about 20 yards. That’s a lot of warp for such a tiny loom.

PPSpouseI want to set up one of these looms to make more of the little Personal Post series postcards, I’ve had some luck with in exhibits.  The cards themselves are only about 6 x 4″, so having an 8″ wide loom, with a long warp on it should let me weave for awhile and see what I can come up with, without tying up my larger looms.  And the way they were perched on top of two spool racks as you entered my studio made for some dangerous snowball effects when one or both of them caught on someone’s clothing and went careening off their perch.  But I digress…

I technically only need four shafts for the structure for the post cards, it is a Theo Moorman inlay, with two shafts for the ground, and two shafts for the tie-down threads.  The problem is I need a lot of heddles.  And as far as I know, Structo heddles are no longer made.  Someone please tell me if I am wrong on this…  Between the 12 shafts I have on the two looms, I have enough heddles for the job, and I can use 4 shafts for the ground instead of two, because I can.  So enter my 19 year old.  His assignment once he rolled out of bed at noon, was to dismantle both looms, and keep the best parts, and transfer 60 heddles to each of six shafts.  Here’s the thing.  Heddles, those little wire things with eyes, where each warp thread is threaded through, all have to face in the same direction.  Or anyway in the perfect world they should.  Older looms, where heddles have been added and taken away, tend to have a mismosh of heddle directions which is a pain in the neck to thread.  So he worked for about an hour and a half, creating for me a nice eight shaft loom with lots of heddles, all going in the same direction.

avlend of warpMeanwhile, I pulled out the AVL warping mill to see if I could figure out how to wind warp on those little spools that fit on the hex beam.  First the math.  The Structo reed is a fixed 15 dent.  The thread I pulled off the spools, was pretty close to a 20/2’s cotton, which is pretty fine.  And from the quick count I did, they used that thread sleyed double through the reed, at 30 ends per inch.  What I couldn’t figure out was how to put the warp on the spools to begin with.  So I unwound each of the spools, like peeling paint off a house, there must have been about 20 different warps tied end on end.  I got to the end of the spool, and found that the ends of the warp were all glued to some kind of paper tape that then inserted into a metal flange and the way the beam was wound, kept the paper from pulling out.

I dug around in my vast archives of stuff, and found my roll of paper tape, and grabbed the two cones I bought of 14’s linen, (from my trip to Silk City a couple weeks ago), which appeared to be pretty close to a 20/2 cotton, and a small cone of brown serger thread that matched pretty well.  The serger thread is finer than sewing thread, and works well for the tie down yarns.

OK, I’ve never done something like this before, I use my AVL warping wheel for winding sectional warps.  It came with a 20 dent reed, which is really odd, who uses a 20 dent reed, or so I thought at the time.  Turns out that the actual space in each spool is 1 1/2″, and 30 dents in a 20 dent reed is 1 1/2″.  How cool is that?  (If you aren’t a weaver and are reading this, I probably lost you back on the first paragraph.  Sorry, but this is one of those posts that gets kind of technical so you may want to just look at the photos and tune in another time to see what I actually do with all this!)

beamingbeaming2So I wound my 2″ worth of linen/serger thread warp into the warping mill, using the 20 dent reed, which meant the real width here was only 1 1/2″.  Then I beamed one of the spools directly off the AVL mill, right onto the back beam of the loom, which is missing its entire castle housing because my son has it apart on my cutting table.  You can see the band of thread coming through the 20 dent reed.  Each dent has two ends of linen and one end of serger thread.

I used the paper tape and glued it over the ends to start(it’s the kind you just lick, do they even make that anymore?  It’s used for taping up boxes, you can see the little roll to the right of the loom.)  The paper tape held the ends really well, keeping the order, and slipped into the flange of the spool and I just started winding. The warp went on like butter, smoothest thing I’ve ever wound.  The 15 yard warp beamed in about 3 minutes.  I finished winding the warp by putting a piece of the paper tape over the ends coming out of the reed on the AVL mill.  That kept my thread order and allowed me to move on to the next spool.

Everything went well until I got to the last spool.  spools_threespoolsThere was plenty of linen, but the serger spool wasn’t looking like it was going to make it.  Of course it was my only one, and as luck would have it, Coats and Clarks discontinued it’s Tru-Lock serger thread, replacing it with something else, which didn’t come in that color, Chona Brown.

I had overwound the first warp for the first spool by a half dozen dents, so I had pulled it off and tossed it in the trash.  Realizing I was going to be really close, and might make it to within the last half inch of warp, where I don’t really need the tie down threads, I went into the trash and pulled out this mess…

messActually, it was a lot worse, this was what was left after about an hour’s worth of work and having the dog come cruising through the little pile I’d pulled out of the serger thread.  But perseverance is my middle name, after all I am a handweaver and that sort of goes with the territory.  Most weavers I know would take a couple hours to undo a mess like this, and after the serger thread was pulled out and rewound onto the cone, I managed to squeak out the last warp spool on the loom with only the end 1/2″ with no tie down threadsbeaming3.  Which is actually fine.  The problem is, when I wound the last spool on the loom, the 1/2″ without the serger thread was on the inside not the outside of the spool.  So I figured I’d have to do some creative threading, and maybe stretch some of the thread from other bundles, and anyway, it was time to make dinner.

My lovely creative pink haired daughter came into the studio after dinner and asked her usual, “Watcha doin’?”  I showed her my dilemma, and she said, rather annoyed, “Mom, just rearrange the spools on the beam…”

Boy did I feel stupid.  So in about 15 seconds, I popped the four spools off the hex beam, rearranged the spools so the missing 1/2″ of tied down threads is now at a selvedge edge, and all is well.threading

So, now I’m threading my loom, all the heddles are going in the same direction, and life is good.  These little looms are a pain in the butt to thread, but I can put up with anything for 8″.  I tossed out a 1/2″ of tie down threads on the opposite selvedge, so the two selvedges would match.  I’m still not sure that the sett is appropriate for this fine yarn, in what I’m trying to do with it, but I won’t really know until I actually start weaving.  So stay tuned!

If you want more information on the AVL warping mill, the AVL site has lots of information and I also cover it in my monograph, “Warp Fast”, which also covers sectional warping and warping with a paddle.  The AVL warping mill works like a dream when winding the warping spools for the small Structo’s.  And my little Leclerc Structo wannabee, that I’ve been using for the rug samples for the guild seminars, also has an additional hex beam with five warping spools on it for 10″ wide!  Yippee!  And I can more than likely get more heddles for the Leclerc.

OK, so I learned something…

I have something to admit.  When my weaving guild, the Frances Irwin Handweavers, first announced their fall/winter line up for their programming, I was less then excited.  OK, I admit, I was downright disappointed.  I admit it.  I don’t do rugs, I’m not interested in rugs, and ask anyone whom I’ve juried for, sadly I don’t really know anything about weaving rugs.  (This is a bit embarrassing…)

So the programming chair thought a bunch of rug related programs would bring a consistency and longer term study to the meetings, and I will admit, that part was a good idea.  Studying something for more than an hour and a half, is kind of a novel idea, as far as guild meetings go.  Well, maybe it isn’t, I haven’t actually been a member of my two guilds for more than a couple years, I’ve been traveling to guilds all over the country for 25 years, but I’m the speaker.  I don’t know what else they do during the year for programming.

When I got the September Newsletter, I was sort of surprised at how much effort the programming chair had put into this whole adventure, she figured out a way to put on a warp, 10″ wide, and with some minor rethreading (it is only 6 threads to the inch), you could use the same warp for all the fall programs including the December exchange.  How cool was that?  Not wanting to be a party pooper, and admitting that I don’t know everything, and I could really learn something here, I was a sport, and pulled my 4 shaft Leclerc version of the little loomStructo.  I have a Structo, but it was a bit narrow for this project.  The draft we were given could be just squeaked out of the 10.25″ width (I think the requirement was 10.5″).  The loom set up quickly and I went to the meeting.  I blogged about this back in September (it seems so long ago… do I have an out of control life or what? The title of that blog was “Overload”).  Anyway, it was sort of fun.  And the yarn I chose, some hot pink wool that matched my daughter’s hair, and some brown handspun both from my mother in law’s stash, worked out perfectly, though I found out after plying the yarns, they didn’t need to be that fat.

Sidebar: My daughter attends a night class in Japanese, at the local community college, once a week, even though she is still in HS.  Part of a challenge program for gifted students.  She is loving it, but, a) the local community college is 40 minutes away, and b)she isn’t driving on her own yet, so someone has to take her and pick her up.  That someone would be me, unless I am traveling.  So, I bring lots of busy work, drop her at class, wait endlessly for a parking space near the student center, and then haul all my busy work up and wait for three hours.

Two weeks ago, (last week I was traveling), I took my inkle loom, and attracted lots of attention, lots of opportunities to talk about weaving, and theclose-up weaving community.  I feel like the weaving community’s PR person.  This week, I took my trusty little Leclerc’ Structo’ wannabe (but better) and hauled it up to the student center in a big tote bag I whipped together from two freebies right before I left.  That’s the green and purple thing the loom is sitting on.  I just have to pull it down enough to expose the critical parts of the loom, and it acts as a surface protector as well.

So I wove.  I had a woman come up who turns out teaches history in a home school setting, and we of course talked about how fiber can be used to teach almost anything, especially the history of the world.  Every culture has some kind of interlacement process in their origins, and the  United States especially, is full of them.  The conversation would have continued, and I wouldn’t have gotten much weaving done, except a political science class came into the student center to watch the NJ gubernatorial debates on the wide screen TV.  I won’t comment on the stupidity of the candidates in these debates.  Except to say, what happened to our political process when the only way to get elected is to discredit your opponent while not committing to anything concrete you would like to see happen on any of the issues that matter.  It isn’t good enough to just say, “We have to cut taxes…”  Well duh…  Everyone knows that and supports that.  Duh…  The question is how?  No one, except the independent candidate will dare say how they intend to do that, including the incumbent…  Ok, I’m off my soapbox….

What I’ve learned (besides the fact that I hate politics)…

    1. Rug Weaving is sort of fun and uses a lot of yarn…
    2. I found myself actually thinking I’d like to set up my large loom and weave a throw rug…  (I’m actually not going to, I just thought about it.)sampler
    3. I love working on this little Leclerc table loom and think I might even warp up my little eight shaft Structo and see what it can do.  I can actually haul a shaft loom in a tote bag and sit in a student center for three hours and weave.  How cool is that?
    4. I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge the fall programming choice for my guild.  I’m learning a lot.  Now I actually know what Taqueté is…
    5. I’m really proud of my little sampler, and did a computer draft of the five treadling variations on a Summer/Winter rug.

      Now I’m off to rethread my loom for the Double Corduroy program next week…