Thursday, July 20, 2017


I'm waiting for an important delivery today, so instead of being at the loom where I might not hear the doorbell, I've been sitting plying the next yarn.  And thinking.  Lots of time to think when plying.

I started thinking about how we 'invest' in our lives.  So many ways to invest our time, our energy, our talents.

For me the investment for the past 40+ years has been primarily in weaving.  To that end I have invested some time in learning more about spinning.  But I'm not 'invested' in spinning the way I am in weaving.

Learning more about spinning, how yarns are created, is more about learning how to become a better weaver, understanding my materials at a deeper level.  I'm not invested in actually becoming an expert spinner, all I'm doing is playing, really.  My understanding of spinning is much more on an intellectual level, not a practical or skilled level.  And my play time feeds into my hobby of knitting.  Creating unique blends/yarns is a colour study in and of itself, watching how those blends spin up and then knitting with them is all grist for the creative mill.

Yesterday I was talking to a (much) younger friend and I commented that I had no clue when I chose weaving the experiences I would have, the people I would meet.  With all the challenges of being a self-employed artisan, trying to design, make and sell my textiles, this career has brought enrichment I never dreamed of.  Or only dreamed of.

In my secret thoughts I wanted to write.  Weaving has allowed me to do that.  In my secret thoughts I wanted respect.  I think I have earned that.  I certainly have an amazing circle of friends who support and encourage me when I falter, paralyzed by...fear.

As a teacher I am not so much interested in making mini-me's who will do exactly as I do but urge students to think for themselves.  "Become your own expert" I tell them.  And I mean it.

So when I mark the Olds homework, I am not looking for people to do the exercises by rote.  I am looking to see what lessons they have learned, what challenges they may have overcome.  I am looking to see if they are exhibiting critical thinking skills, increasing their physical skills (as shown in their samples), understand for themselves where they are weakest and need to invest their time.

The past while has been challenging for me on a personal level.  Trying to also write a book is proving to be one challenge too many right at the minute.  And so I am going to take a little more time before diving back into it, explore some options (I hear you when you say you want a 'real' - as in paper - book), think about the content I have generated so far and what I need to add.  I have not given up on it entirely.  I just want to stop and check I am on the right path before I invest more of my (and my friends) time in it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


My messy life...

I am trying to cross some long delayed chores off my task list, the primary one being getting my ledger entries done, balanced, reconciled to my cheque book and file my GST (sales tax) for the second quarter of the year.  I've got until the end of the month, but I'm due a refund and I really need the money.

My 'dining' room table has become my de facto office.  It is also the hold all for all manner of things.  
The spools of singles - because I ply on the table using a borrowed electric spinner.  Doug's ipad case.  A photo of my dad, brother and me, taken in oh, 1959?  It's a favourite of mine and I can't seem to put it somewhere.  I have another on display, but there is no accounting for emotions...

Contracts for upcoming craft fairs, partly because I need to send new photos to one of them.  And somehow the contracts haven't been filed 'properly' - yet.  Partly as a reminder to actually send the photos...

Doug's tools because he's been getting to a pile of 'odd' jobs that have needed done for a long time, some just since the outside got renovated.  The renovation domino effect has meant that things that we were content to live with have now been affected, or in some cases, new stuff that needs doing.  Like the tile surround in the kitchen that had to be removed to fit the new, larger windows.  Some, like the garage door, needs to be painted, so there is a colour/chip card with our choice of new paint colour.

And on it goes.

I've had little income this year and the usual - indeed, extra - expenses so to add to everything else I'm having to 'finance' the business for the next few months.  All part of being a self-employed weaver - the mad scramble to make things, paying for materials up front but the income from their potential sales months down the road.  Having to pay for travel to events ahead of time, sometimes months before, but not getting paid until well after the event.  With cyclical income streams - in other words, out for months, in for about six weeks in the fall, with a dribble of income from teaching during the rest of the year.

The past year has had 'extra' stress due to the renovations to the house, disrupting my studio with having to make room for the trades to work, plus the noise, dust and general kerfuffle.  Plus mom dying.  I'm also older and not so resilient.

So I have finally embraced the concept of 'semi-retirement'.  But not quite yet.  Because now we start gearing up for the 2019 ANWG conference.  

To that end I have been in touch with instructors.  I have almost filled all the spots, just two more disciplines to find people for - quilting and knitting.  I have some leads, just need to find contact info.  Then, once I have everyone's topics, we will go through them and begin to design an event that will hopefully provide a quality experience, not just for the registrants, but for the instructors, vendors, etc.

In the meantime, I need to be an 'adult' and get my books done...

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mastering Spinning

I bang on about the Master Weaving program at Olds College, but I also want to tell people about the Master Spinning program.

I came to weaving via the orifice of a spinning wheel.  Once I discovered weaving, spinning got set aside because I simply had no time to do it.  Eventually I sold my spinning wheels and moved on.

But about 12 or so years ago, the universe began 'gifting' me with spinning wheels.  A phone call asking if I could come pick up a loom for free, which turned out to be a spinning wheel.  Another phone call asking if I could take a wheel.  And so on.

None of these 'gifts' was quite 'right' for me and eventually I wound up buying a Canadian Production Wheel.  I prefer to spin woollen (supported long draw) from rolags and I really needed a wheel with a higher ratio than most wheels on the market.

I have been happily spinning on 'Larry' for a few years now.

As the 'free' wheels began showing up in my life, I started taking workshops from spinning teachers, not because I particularly wanted to become a better spinner, but because I wanted to be a better weaver.  Having arrived at weaving with a basic level of understanding how yarn was made, and having investigated yarn and fibre properties on my own, I found myself wanting to know more, know my materials better.  I knew that the way to do that was to take spinning classes.

(Note - I always warn the instructor to ignore me because I am there to become a better weaver, not a spinner!)

And so over the past few years I've taken classes with Judith MacKenzie, Kim McKenna, and several from Mary Lessman.

Mary is a graduate of the Olds College Master Spinner program and has now begun teaching classes for that program.

If you are ever in a position to take a workshop from her, I highly recommend taking it.  She is teaching at several venues in the US (check out the off campus link on the college website above) plus she has agreed to be one of the instructors for the ANWG conference here in 2019.

I have lined up most of the instructors for our conference and the conference website should be up by the end of summer.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Eye Training

If you can't be consistent...  Laura-ism #3(?)

Do you see it?  The inconsistency?  The flaw?  (Click on the photo to biggify it - sometimes Blogger cuts photos so you can't see the whole thing.)

Do I make mistakes?  Yes.  Am I perfect?  No.  Do I strive for perfection?  Yes.  But if you can't be perfect...

Over the years I have trained my eye to see inconsistencies.  Imperfections.  And then fix them.

As I worked with finer and finer yarns, those little inconsistencies became harder and harder to see.  Sometimes I don't catch them until I've woven a couple more picks.  Once the float is 'framed' by more correct picks, it shows up better.

But as quickly as I weave and using finer threads, sometimes I have to rely on other sensory input to realize something has gone wrong.

In addition to seeing the actual problem, I pay attention to other indicators.  I watch the top of the shed.  If it doesn't open consistently I look closely at that area.  Sometimes the shuttle will hit an end if the shed doesn't open cleanly, pulling more slack on that thread.  Then it is looser than the ends on either side and may not open all the way so that the next time the shuttle will go over instead of under it.  Which is what happened in the above example.

I pay attention to the working of the loom and shuttle.  If something feels different than the time(s) before, I look more closely.  I pay attention to how the loom and shuttle sound.  

Staying in focus, paying attention to what I am doing, not thinking about other things - weaving becomes a working meditation.  Staying in the now, setting aside the tensions, the stresses of life, help to relieve the stress.  Putting those stresses firmly outside the studio allows me to have relief from them.  I get aerobic exercise, produce endorphins, plus at the end of a weaving session I have produced cloth.

Mindful weaving - it's helpful, healthful - and brings me closer to 'perfection' than not being present in the moment.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Of Knots

"Never use a knot where a bow will do."  Laura-ism #1

I very quickly learned about tying knots and bows.  Knots are good.  Knots are secure.  Knots can be damned hard to un-do.  So I learned to not tie a knot unless I really needed to secure something for the duration of whatever it was I was doing.

That meant learning when something had to be temporarily secure, and when it needed to be secure, period.  It meant I had to think through the process and analyse it to decide which was most appropriate - a knot?  or a bow?

The process of analyzing the the steps involved in weaving also taught me how much security I really needed to do the job.

Like most new weavers I tended to go for lots and lots of 'security'.  I would carefully tie off the four 'arms' of the cross plus the waist, then in addition to the choke tie near the cross and the counting tie at the other end, I would tie off the warp every yard along the length.

But tying all those ties?  Takes time.  Un-tying all those ties?  Takes time.  It gradually dawned on me that tying the waist of the cross meant I was compressing the yarns making it more difficult to sort out the ends to do the next step, plus tying every yard along the length was just adding more labour to what is already a labour intensive process.  

Eventually I learned what worked best in terms of how many ends/inches of warp to wind on my warping mill and/or board.  Multiple tiny warp chains just mean more ties to tie.  More than 15" worth of warp in a chain becomes cumbersome.

What a weaver actually does will depend on so many things - the yarns they are using, the equipment they have at their disposal, and so on.  Ultimately everyone has to figure out what works 'best' for them.  Remembering a few key principles will help guide the weaver in choosing what works best.  Knowing several different ways of achieving the same thing - a warp wound and beamed under sufficient consistent tension - means choosing the correct tool/process for the job.  Bottom line?  If you are happy with your results, you don't need to change a thing.  If you aren't happy, then you might like to try something else.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Analytical Planner

Latest tea towel warp.  I should be weaving the ones already wound, but I couldn't resist this combination.

The other day I was describing myself to someone who knows me but not very well.  I said that I was analytical and a planner, both good traits for a weaver.

Anyone who wants to learn how to weave can do so, some with more ease than others.  It all depends on what one wants to accomplish, why one wants to do it, how much manual dexterity and mechanical aptitude one has.  

Human beings have been playing with string for a very long time.  If it was impossible to learn, weaving (and spinning and felting and all the other myriad textile crafts) would not have grown up around the world, in almost every culture.

But there are levels of understanding.  

If a person is only interested in making 'perfect' textiles without digging into the principles of the craft there are numerous books and websites that give directions, right down to including the colours to use.  Shops will even make up kits with the yarn already included - all the weaver has to do is wind the warp according to the directions, dress the loom and weave, again according to directions.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  We live in a high stress society and sometimes it is rather lovely to just follow directions and wind up with something attractive.  Stress relief may mean shutting the brain off for a while, not taxing it with more questions, more decisions.

Other people find that very process challenging in a good way.  They set aside their stress by focusing on something completely different.  They like to delve into what makes a textile pleasing to them.  They like the 'what if' questions - what if I do this instead?  what if I try that?  what happens if I change...?

Being analytical, those are the questions that excite me.  All those variations.  All those options.  All the different combinations to try.

I am also a planner, so plotting the process from start to end is also something that excites me.   Starting from the colour cards of yarn, figuring out density, weave structure, design - all of that engages me creatively and intellectually.   Having an overview of my year - teaching dates, show dates - planning how to fit production, class prep, marking, travel, into my schedule can be taxing but also exciting.

And I like to challenge myself.  As I mentioned previously, I think, this series of towels has proven to be a real learning exercise.  I'm not an intuitive colourist, I had to work hard to find out what worked - and what didn't.  I still miss the mark occasionally, but less frequently, and not so widely.  I had gotten fairly comfortable working with three colours, then four, but this series has five different colours - four solids and one variegated.  Sometimes that fourth solid is really hard to choose.  

I have just committed to continuing to teach the Olds program - if they want me.  It may not be perfect but they are working on it.  And it is geared towards learning the why of weaving, not just the how.  It challenges the students to consider the what ifs, the what happens when.  Not everyone is comfortable with this approach, but even if the students learn better ergonomics, better techniques, better options - then I feel I have succeeded as a teacher.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Light Duties

Even though I'm feeling ok - just a little sensitive on the left side of my face - it was recommended that I stick with 'light' duties today.  So I am.  

I got a rather long email crafted earlier - needed a lot of thought before I finally hit 'send' but neither did I want to forget to do it while things were still fresh in my mind.  Plus I contacted another potential teacher for our conference.  I kept forgetting - too many things on my mind.

In between I started plying this brick red (mostly) singles I spun up last week.  It may be a gift for someone - if she likes it - otherwise there should be enough for a shawl.  The light bits are angora in a white/grey.

I have a busy day tomorrow with errands but I'm hoping to get the next tea towel warp into the loom so that I can start weaving again on Thursday.

All a bit of a pain, but I am going to be very happy to finally get my mouth fixed.