Monday, September 17, 2018

Under Tension

Over the years I've seen the debate on tensioning or not tensioning a warp during beaming.  One view is that beaming with zero tension is 'equal' tension.

Unfortunately while that may be correct, it is not particularly helpful in many instances.

In my observations, beaming with zero tension may work in a narrow range but may very well stop working when that narrow range no longer applies.  (And yes, I tried beaming with zero tension - once - and it was a disaster.  That warp eventually wound up in the round bin as a sacrifice to the loom goddess...)

Let me give some examples:

Let's say hypothetical weaver has been weaving with 5/2 cotton, mostly short warps - 5 yards and under.  And beams with zero tension and has perfectly satisfactory results.  Let's say that said hypothetical weaver wants to up their game and decides to use that 5/2 cotton and make a run of tea towels, decides to wind a warp of 15 yards and beams it with zero tension.

This may not work so well. 

In my experience, the longer the warp, the more tension it needs during beaming.  I have written elsewhere about my experience beaming 14 meters instead of my usual 11 meters and how tension issues cropped up during weaving as the yarn slithered and slid unevenly as I wove.  I added four cups of water to each jug I use for weight and voila, no more tension issues with the successive warps.  A Swedish friend commented that the guideline in Sweden is that for every additional 10 meters, you need another person to pull tension on the warp while beaming.

In my experience, changing from one yarn to another of a completely different nature may mean beaming with zero tension doesn't work well any more.  For instance, changing from that tried and true 5/2 cotton to, say, linen.  Or silk.  Or a very elastic wool.  Or a very slippery yarn like rayon.  And suddenly, beaming with zero tension may not look like a very good practice after all.

It can also depend on how much tension is applied during the weaving itself.  Something like linen that requires fairly high tension during weaving may mean increasing the amount of tension during beaming.  In my experience, the warp needs to be beamed with at least as much tension as will be used during weaving.

So for those weavers who don't use any tension at all during beaming, be prepared for things to change when the parameters of the 'usual' warp change - like warp length or yarn being used.

In terms of where to start?  I use about half a gallon of water per jug for my 'usual' warp of 11 meters.  I use old bleach bottles because the plastic is a much heavier grade than a water or juice bottle.  In the picture above one of the jugs has to be at least 25 years old, the other is newer because the cap failed on the other one I had been using for about the same amount of time. 

Currently reading Sunshine and Rhubarb Wine - a memoir of a friend's mother who lived for 105 years.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Too Many Irons

"One reference says it has to do with the blacksmith trade. A skilled blacksmith has "a well-trained apprentice who maintains such control of the bellows and the placement of the irons that each is ready in turn at the anvil and hammer...'Too many irons in the fire' would mark an inefficient smith or one with an unskilled apprentice. Figurative use of either saying takes us back only to the middle of the sixteenth century." From "2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to a Song and Dance" by Charles Earle Funk (Galahad Book, New York, 1993)."

As a self-employed craftsperson, I frequently have many irons in the fire.  Just now for example?

Craft fair production.  With the craft fair season beginning in October, I have had to keep an eye on my inventory of hand woven textiles, try to gauge how many place mats, table runners, tea towels, scarves and shawls I might possibly need for the three shows I am doing this year.  I need to have sufficient selection of colours and designs to appeal to a variety of people.  Too little and there isn't enough choice.  Too many?  There is never 'too many'.  Ever. So I am pressing forward trying to increase my inventory of shawls from zero to...something...and scarves to a better selection of colours.

Conference planning.  We have been working on the conference for several years, lining up facilities, lining up presenters, working on event details.  

Teaching.  This year I taught four Olds classes, one on the west coast, two on the east coast, one in Alberta.  There was marking to be done and I am waiting for the last box of homework from 2018 to arrive in order to mark that one.  I also taught a 5 day class on the east coast and will teach one two day class plus guild program next month on the west coast.  All of those classes required preparation, about two days prep for each class.  No matter how many times I teach a class, there is always about two days prep for each.  Not to mention doing travel bookings.

Writing.  I write for this blog frequently - sometimes every day.  I also do the posts for the conference blog and other marketing such as the Facebook page for the conference.  For the past 5 going on 6 years I have been working on the book manuscript.  Right now the ms is in the able hands of an editor I trust, partly because her job is editing technical writing but also because she is a weaver and spinner and will not be gutting the ms of the stuff that I think is important.  We hope to hit publish on Dec. 2.

I have also contributed to a Handwoven 'look book' - two in fact, just submitted an article for SS&D (which may - or may not - be accepted - but I still spent a couple of days writing it) and will have another article in Handwoven's upcoming issue.

And all of the past two years I was dealing with cancer related fatigue, then adverse effects of the 'miracle' cancer drug I am now taking daily.

I have been doing this and many other things (weaving for a fashion designer for nine years, dyeing and retailing yarns, writing and publishing Magic in the Water, achieving the master certificate from the Guild of Canadian Weavers, etc.).  

I call myself a professional because this is how I earn my money.

But.  But.  I am now 68 years old in, shall we say, not exactly robust health.  When I started weaving I thought I would weave and sell my work for 25 years, which would bring me to the age of 50.  Then I would teach for 25 years.  Instead I did both, right from the get-go.  

I find that I'm tired.  I'm tired of being a travel agent, tired of dealing with flights with tight connections, tired of, quite frankly, selling myself.  Taking the cancer drug just makes me tired, period.

But I am also not done with weaving.  I have a stash that seems to go on forever and I really don't want to leave a weaving 'estate' that will be a burden for my family/friends to deal with.  I've heard of way too many stories of stashes that take up entire houses, or that get loaded up and taken to the dump.

I want to use up my yarns, not have them go into a land fill.  I want to see some of the ideas floating through my head come into physical reality.  I want people to find my work attractive, enough to pay for it to grace their homes and wardrobes.

So I have, over the past couple of years, begun removing some of the irons from my personal fire (energy well).  I have begun calling myself semi-retired.  I have begun to conserve my energy for the things I find important, now.

I no longer have to scramble for income every month.  My house is paid for, my wants are few.  

For the next year there will be four classes of homework to mark (I don't expect every person in every class to submit homework, but four classes of 10-12?  That's a lot of marking.)  There may, or may not, be four classes next year (I doubt that all four will proceed to the next level, but you never know.)  There is the conference.  There is Olds Fibre Week - for which I may - or may not - be asked to teach level one again.

One of the things that outsiders don't understand is the level of uncertainty involved in being a professional teacher/weaver.  With such a high level of uncertainty about events going ahead - or not - my strategy has always been to grab onto every opportunity presented to me, then scramble like mad to meet the deadlines.  For the things that get cancelled?  I would focus on the next.  And sometimes be grateful for the cancellation so that I could take a deep breath and carry on.

Well, I am tired of that, too.  At 68, after a life time of scrambling, I get to step back.  I get to step aside and let other, younger, people take on the writing, the teaching, the space at the craft fairs.  Because everyone has something to contribute.  None of us are the same.  We all have different experiences, different approaches to creativity/design.  We all have ourselves to contribute to the community.

It has been a struggle to accept that I am tired.  But I am.  And that's quite ok.  As they say in Newfoundland - it's been a time.  And hopefully will be for some time yet.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Shape of Things To Come

When I helped organize conferences previously (1980, 1985, 1995) there were few resources other than pencil, grid paper and a very large eraser.  By 1995, I had a personal computer, but there were very few tools for conference planning - in fact we had a registration program custom written for us to use.  But spread sheets were rare and we scheduled workshops and seminars the old-fashioned way.

This time?  Things have changed.

We also have more resources on the ground and are taking full advantage of them!

The Civic Centre can hold 500 (plus, but we need to reserve some seats for the vendors and guests) and we are planning as though we will fill all of those seats.

Registration will be done on line, which will take an enormous load off of the committee.  Instead of continually crunching numbers, the site will track registration, give us seat counts for the various events, and just generally make our life a whole lot simpler.

In addition, the site will collect the fees so we won't have to be trekking to the bank to make deposits and such, dealing with foreign currency, etc.

We have spent a good portion of the summer honing the schedule, selecting workshop and seminar topics we think will be of interest to people, scheduling the instructors into rooms at the various facilities.  We are renting workshop/seminar spaces at the art gallery, the library, the Civic Centre and the Coast Inn of the North.  The Courtyard Marriott will have the exhibit and one seminar room, plus some other smaller events, most likely the author signing and special interest groups who wish to meet.

The entry forms for the author signing, the fashion show and the general exhibits are being reviewed and should go up shortly.  With so many people out of town during the summer (some of them simply trying to avoid the pall of wildfire smoke), things got delayed a bit.

But the next meeting to finalize much of these things is Saturday, and hopefully the info on the exhibits and such will be posted to our website very soon.  (We'd rather everything was correct than rush and find out we've made errors!)

Personally I will be stepping back from the conference planning for a few months while I deal with personal deadlines, including (hopefully!) publishing The Intentional Weaver.  Once registration goes live it will be time to start sorting out the fine details and I will be back in the thick of it again.

But honestly?  A friend says that it is so much better to be able to say "I have done x" than to say "I will be doing x".  Yes, I'm looking forward to the conference being successfully complete...

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Special Handling

Yesterday I posted about yarns that are 'tender' and need special handling. 

This yarn is not tender but it still needs special handling.

Even though it was stored in a plastic bag, the bag was loose and during transportation, the coils of yarn around the cone loosened to the point where it was pretty much impossible to find the end of the yarn, and trying to unwind it would have turned into a nightmare of snarls and tangles.

In the end when I gently grabbed the snarl of loose coils and gently pulled them off the cone and onto the table, there really wasn't all that much in terms of yardage - certainly well under an ounce of this 16 ounce cone.

Stripping the loose yarns off the cone took less than a minute, the value of the yarn was very low and many minutes of my time (not to mention the frustration of trying to salvedge it) were saved.

I used to work with this quality of yarn all the time when I wove for the fashion designer.  In point of fact I bought this yarn from her when she decided to retire and close down her business.  So I knew what I was getting in terms of quality - and behaviour.

In order to keep the yarn well behaved I got a bunch of net scrubbies and kept them to put onto the base of the cone.  I cut them long enough to pull up over the cone for storage, but they need to be pulled down to the base or else there is too much friction and the yarn won't feed off without a lot of tension being applied to the yarn.

The scrubbies prevent the yarn from slithering down the cone and wrapping around the base so that as you are winding it catches and snags.  They are also quite elastic and as the diameter of the cone reduces, they simply shrink to accommodate the smaller size.

I finished winding the warp with this yarn with no problems. 

There are other things that can be used in similar fashion - old pantyhose, for example.

Currently reading More Bitter Than Death - remembered to look up the title of the Dana Cameron book I'm nearly finished.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


magnification of seine twine and a 2 ply cotton yarn - seine twine is generally made up of several plys and much more tightly twisted and an 'ordinary' 2 ply cotton yarn

At a recent class I talked a wee bit about working with 'tender'* yarn.  About how more twist will make a short staple fibre (like cotton) stronger.  But that with the addition of more twist, absorbency will be compromised.

What makes a yarn 'tender'?  It depends.  (OK, now you've all had your drink...)

Short staple is one thing that will contribute to a yarn being 'tender'.  A longer staple fibre will produce a stronger yarn - if all other things are equal - than a shorter staple fibre. 

Examples would be things like quiviut, cashmere, cotton. 

A singles yarn will be more tender than a plied one. 

A thinner yarn will be less strong than a thicker one.

So, when working with a yarn that is likely tender, can you use it in a warp?  Well, yes, but you need to treat it more gently than a stronger yarn because it is, by it's very nature tender.

Winding the warp there should be less tension applied (most weavers hold their yarn way too tight anyway, but really important to wind with only just enough tension and not very tightly).

Beaming the warp, wind more slowly, carefully straighten out any areas with slack tension, finger comb gently rather than use a brush or comb.

To weave, set the tension on the warp as low as it can be effectively woven with.  When advancing the warp, try to re-apply the same low tension.

Stay carefully within the 'sweet spot'.  Do not weave too close to the reed as this will place too much stress on the yarns and they can break.

Beat once, gently.  Do not bang away at the fell or double/triple beat.

Keep your bobbins on the skinny side rather than fill them full to maximum capacity.

Use a sizing if the yarn is really softly spun or - if you haven't used a sizing prior to beaming - use a sizing that can be sprayed or painted onto the warp.  The cheapest hair spray works well on many fibres, like cotton and rayon.  I wouldn't use it on silk.

Many yarns have special 'needs'.  Weave a sample before plunging into a long project to find out if the warp chain should be sized before going into the loom, test how much tension the yarn can withstand, find out where the sweet spot is and get comfortable with advancing the fell frequently.

*tender being another word for a yarn that is weaker and cannot withstand as much as a yarn that is more robust - tender is not necessarily a bad thing...

Monday, September 10, 2018

Dates on a Calendar

I keep two planning calendars - one for this year, one for next - to record events and remind myself of deadlines.

Even though I am cutting back on teaching by no longer accepting guild workshops, it seems I still manage to fill my calendar with dates.  These are just the potential teaching events coming up that I know about.  Of course they all depend on getting sufficient students to 'go'.

Olds Master weaving level 2 and 3 in Cape Breton in May, the conference here in June, for which I'm scheduled to do three seminars (in addition to the organizational duties of co-chairing - which ought to be pretty much over and done with prior to the event - one most fervently hopes), Olds level one (I haven't been asked yet, but I'm reserving the dates in case) and John C. Campbell again in September.

In addition to that I have craft fairs in October and November - how many and where are yet to be decided.  I'm old enough now that I tend to reserve that decision until after this year's shows.

Technically I have Jan-April for production for next years shows.  Which really doesn't leave me a lot of time to do much in the way of designing new lines.  So I expect that I will extend the current line of scarves I've been working on, maybe come up with a new kitchen towel design, finish the tea towel warp on the AVL and do another (mostly) natural white warp in order to use up the cottolin (already have that pretty much designed - another Snail's Trails and Cat's Paws to sell at the ANWG conference where I will also have a booth - and thank you to Doug for manning it).

I have come up with a shawl design which I may crunch today even though I have six more scarf warps already wound.  I am 'out' of shawls and really ought to have some to offer.

Today I need to write a 1200 word article for publication.  It has a really tight deadline and I need to find my words rather quickly or I'll miss it.  And it's for a magazine I haven't written for in quite a long while - plus they have agreed to mention The Upcoming Book.  It's an opportunity I don't want to fumble.

But my body is three hours out of sync and I'm feeling tired.  So the first thing I am going to do is carry all my studio stuff down to the studio.  And maybe just beam a scarf warp onto the Leclerc Fanny.  Because that really doesn't take a lot of thinking

Currently reading - oh the book is in another room - author is Dana Cameron.  A 'light' mystery that is just about the right degree of engagement.  I'll look for other of her titles.  Seems she also writes urban fantasy type books, too.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Folk School

morning mist at the folk school

This was the first time I'd been at the the John C. Campbell Folk School in September and it was quite different from the previous times in Jan/Feb/March.

The mornings dawned with mist and heavy dew on the grass, but it was in the 90's(F) during the day and very humid.

The studio is air conditioned and at times, walking out of the studio into the thick air outside was a bit of a shock for this northerner, but the walk between the studio and the dining hall was a welcome break from the thick concentration in the studio.

My cough and voice improved over the week and we decided that I had not actually caught a cold but with all the 'adventure' of the stressful flight, spending hours upon hours in airplanes and airports, then the off-gassing of the new windows and caulking where I was staying, I had been having a massive allergic reaction.  I may have a touch of bronchitis, but will wait a few days and see if it all settles down.  The cough is much improved and I'm hoping that now I'm home it will go away entirely.

Speaking of which, the fire situation is also much improved here and with cooler temps and some rain, the provincial State of Emergency has been lifted.

The class The Efficient Weaver is not a particular topic as such but an opportunity for students to come and hopefully fill in the holes in their foundation of knowledge.  I have been teaching this class in one form or another for the folk school since 2011, I think.

What I present is much of what I teach in level one of the Olds Master Weaving level one.  So if people are interested in upping their game but don't want to take the Olds program, they could come to this class, which is less stressful, partly because I'm not teaching to a curriculum and there is no homework.  Now, I don't cover ALL of the Olds curriculum, partly because there is no curriculum and there is no homework!

What I hope is that students will come in at whatever level of knowledge they have and maybe learn something new to increase their knowledge.  But most of all what I hope is that they begin to think through their process.  The 'think-y' part of weaving as some say.

While it isn't necessary for people to do this, if they are interested in understanding the why of the process, figuring out what is best for *them*, I hope this class will begin to shine a little light and that they can then go home and continue the exploration,.

What I love, and why I keep tackling these long/stressful journeys, is to see the ah-ha moments and the light that shines when people 'get' what I'm trying to tell them.

One student had never studied with an actual teacher, but had only had access to books, DVDs and You Tube.  Her warp was tensioned so tightly you could bounce a quarter off it and I suggested she loosen her tension - by quite a lot.  She was doubtful and hesitated, so I told her to do it gradually, just one notch less each time she advanced the warp, until it was too loose, then start tightening it again until she found a level of tension that worked.

She was very doubtful, but by the end of the week her cloth no longer was so stuff it could stand in a corner, her selvedges had improved and her beat become even more consistent.

Sometimes you just need to have a little feedback and encouragement to try something a little bit different.

So when I left, I had left a signed contract for next year - Sept. 8-14.  Because helping people understand the process and how they can apply it to their own practice is what makes my heart sing.

And in the future I will pay less attention to buying the absolutely cheapest flight and try to find flights with longer layovers for connections.  And avoid O'Hare if I possibly can!