Thursday, April 27, 2017

Moving Parts

When I ordered my AVL in oh, 1981, a number of weavers informed me that I could no longer call my textiles hand woven.  But I do.  Because the loom does exactly nothing if I'm not there to make it happen.

The thing with a loom with so many moving parts is that it will fail more often than a loom with fewer moving parts.  

After ignoring the AVL for literally months over the winter, the wood had shrunk, nuts and bolts had come loose, and alignment was altered.  

Having a loom such as this perfectly aligned is critical or the loom also makes mistakes for you.  As mine has been.

Over the past few days I have been tweaking it and now it is almost behaving - but not all the time.  As a weaver, I need to be aware and alert for when the mechanics of the loom are going 'wrong' and causing problems. 

Fortunately this warp is long and if something goes awry it's not terminal.  It just means one of the panels may be cut into tea towels immediately.  That means that I can actually have some hemmed well before the conference begins,

So when the loom tosses a cable or a critical piece breaks, I heave a sigh, fix the problem as best I can and see if it is now happy.

Currently reading Swimming in the Sink by Lynne Cox

Saturday, April 22, 2017


I wish I had it - patience.  It's a lesson the universe has been trying to instill into me for a very long time.  Nearly 67 years, I would venture to guess.  

This warp is for the conference here in 2019.  I am weaving towel 'blanks' in the conference colours which will be cut into panels of three blanks each and used to advertise the conference and decorate the hall.  The panels will then be cut apart and sold for souveniers.

But.  But, this warp was scheduled to be off the loom before Christmas and yet, here it is, nearly May, and I'm only at about the half way mark.  

Usually a 100 yard warp wouldn't take all that long to weave off in the normal course of things.  But the past six months or so have been anything but normal.  

Mom started feeling vaguely unwell last August, with non-specific symptoms which got worse over the fall, just about the time the renovations began.  I had had a hectic schedule with teaching in Cape Breton the last week of August (and massively breaking a tooth the night before a 6 am flight - thank goodness Sydney is a small town and a dentist there was able to squeeze me in and repair it).  Then off to the US for a few weeks to visit with friends, coming home to the chaos of construction, the run up into the show season.  Thankfully we had cut our schedule down and only had three shows to do, back to back, not four.

So I picked away at the loom while weaving other things on the smaller loom.  And then mom went into hospice and all the minutia of summing up a life needed to be dealt with and frankly?  I didn't have the mental acuity or the energy to deal with it.  And so - it sat.

But spring is springing and my energy is returning and now I really really want this warp off.  So today I fired up the computer that runs the AVL and managed to weave one 'towel'.  The loom is a bit cranky after being ignored for so long and it will take some time to get it adjusted so that it is happy.  But in the meantime, one more yard is woven.  And it won't take all that long to finish the rest of the warp once I'm back into the swing of it.

Currently reading The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Guest Post - Carol M

Sewing Straight Lines

Before retiring and embarking on the Master Weaver journey, I spent a good many years involved in one way or another with the garment industry. For a lot of those years, I trained sewing machine operators to use commercial sewing machines in performing garment assembly procedures and techniques.

The beginning of this training, after learning how to start and stop the machine safely, consists of sewing straight lines. Straight lines using the edge of the presser foot as a guide; straight lines around square corners; straight lines before and after curves; and on and on until there is a lovely straight line from A to B with no presser foot or fabric edge for a guide. (This is a tapered dart—not used much these days, but important in the learning process.)

The prospect of Master Weaver Level 1 excited me no end. I’ve always been a little compulsive about weaving, starting with the looper loom at age five. After some decades of weaving on a tapestry-style loom, I graduated to a countermarch and ran off willy-nilly trying every technique I could wrap my head and hands around. I had some experience, I’d taken some workshops, I was ready to become a master weaver.

Shortly before the class was to begin, Olds sent out the syllabus. I skimmed through it; seemed like a lot of very basic weaving stuff. I regarded it as background and wondered what we’d really be doing in class.

Lightning strike: what we really did in class was a lot of very basic weaving stuff. Plain weave. Basket weave. 2/2 twill. Weaving with paper strips.(Really? Really weaving with paper strips? Did that at age 6 in first grade!)

Then there was homework. Keep detailed records of what was done. Weave samples in wool of different setts and assess them in loom state and after finishing. Even more basic: find a source for wool yarns and decide which will be appropriate. Weave more samples, in plain weave, 2/2 twill.

Good thing for me that I’m as old as I am. Patience came late, but did arrive. I did the best I could to put myself in the beginner mindset and work through the assignments.

Never having woven with wool before, I experimented with what I could find. I slowed myself way down and observed what was working and what wasn’t. I learned to throw the shuttle carefully, catch it consistently. I realized the need to place the weft with the batten, not smash it into submission. (Not calling it the “beater” helped soften things up.)

In this process, I learned why I always have one selvedge better than the other. When gaily weaving away at speed, I’d never observed that going one way I beat on a completely closed shed and the other on the closing shed. Now I’m working on fixing that, and other bad habits I’d not taken the time to notice.

It was only after hours and months of subliminal grumbling about the simplicity of the Level 1 curriculum that I realized that the simplicity (and the discipline to keep at it through the grumbling) was the main point. Olds Master Weaver Level 1 is the sewing straight lines of the weaving course. It’s not a workshop with some quick, tricky takeaways that feel good but have no lasting effect. It lays the groundwork for all the skills and knowledge that come after. It’s where it would have been nice to be in 2007 when the first countermarch followed me home.

With the Level 1 homework submitted and marked (I passed. Yay!), I have a feeling of solid accomplishment. There is a firm base now from which to build my skills.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Details, Details

I've been working on a research project the past while and today wound the next two 'full sized sample' warps to explore options.

While rough sleying this warp I started thinking but the upcoming Olds classes in Cape Breton and Olds, AB and about how weaving, as such, wasn't all that difficult.  It was just crossing one set of threads with another.  There are many, many ways to accomplish this, from needle weaving, to back strap weaving, to rigid heddle weaving, to floor loom weaving, to draw looms and Jacquard looms.  And a whole bunch of other options.

Recently I was talking with someone who just returned from a tour of India and we agreed that the complexity of the loom wasn't what made great textiles, it was the skill of the weaver using whatever tools they had.  

I have seen amazing textiles made on the most rudimentary of looms.

The difficulty, if you will, in learning how to weave is in the details.  Because when one thing changes, everything can change.

And this is what I am doing with this project.  Taking one type of yarn, trying various options, seeing what happens, then changing one thing, trying that, analyzing the results, changing one more thing, rinse, repeat.

Making cloth is truly in the details.

Whatever equipment you use, which ever techniques you use, really doesn't matter.  What matters is the cloth that comes off the loom.  Learning all the little details makes the task more interesting to me, but really, weaving?  Just crossing one set of threads with another.  With details.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Nothing Ventured

So here is the initial sample I wove yesterday and wet finished.  I gained valuable information from weaving and wet finishing it.  For example, initially I liked the top most bit the best, but after wet finishing it had not softened and felt very plain weave 'stiff' while the lower plain weave bit woven with the hand spun had a much more appealing feel.  So I will be going with that.

I also discovered an issue with the selvedge that required tweaking for the twill scarves.

This is why I sample.  Rather than have the whole project 'fail', I use up a bit of the 'precious' hand spun to make sure I am going in the direction I want to wind up.

The popular cliche is Nothing ventured, Nothing gained.  So I ventured forth, explored some possibilities and now have enough information that I am fairly confident I will wind up with a scarf that I will find appealing to wear next to the skin.

On another note, I received official notification today that there were insufficient registrations for the two Olds classes to run in Prince George.  I hope that anyone interested will look at Fibre Week in Olds in June.  

But again, Nothing Ventured, Nothing gained.  By offering the classes here, more people have discovered the program and will hopefully make plans in the future to participate in the program,

For me, it's back to the studio.  I have other appointments today and, since I want to weave the scarf all in one sitting, I will wind the other two warps and call it a day.  

Currently reading Convergence by C. J. Cherryh

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Learning Curve

All this yarn is part II or maybe III.  It is a research project with two other fibre people where we have each brought our skills, our knowledge, our expertise, to make something that is greater than the sum of it's parts, insofar as we are all benefiting from the interaction of our various areas of interest and expertise.

I know I bang on and on about how everything changes when you change one thing.  In order to make meaningful discoveries, it works best (for me) to make incremental changes, observe how the yarn reacts, then tweak what I am doing.

While I may have been weaving for over 40 years, I long ago learned that I wasn't going to learn everything there is to know about the construction of cloth because there are so many variables.  One person would be hard pressed to try every fibre in every format, every loom, every weave structure, every finishing technique, every density in all of the above.

But it was that very un-knowing-ness - the vast scope and range - of cloth construction that excited me.  It continues to excite me. 

Yes, some of the 'experiments' have been 'failures' insofar as they didn't produce the results I was looking for.  In fact, this current round of 'samples' is barely the tip of the iceberg, scratching the surface.  Whether or not the three of us will continue to explore this area of making cloth or not, only time will tell.

But in the meantime, I ride the roller coaster of learning and try to enjoy the ride up and down and around the curves...

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Labour Intensive

Why do I weave, anyway?

Such a hard question to answer.  All I know is that it called to me, over and over again, until I could no longer ignore the siren call of the yarns, the equipment.

Frankly I could have made a whole lot more money in a more 'traditional' job, one where I got up every day, showed up at work, did what needed doing, collected my paycheque, made pension contributions, had paid holiday time where I actually had a holiday instead of a working 'holiday'.

But that type of job was...stifling.

When I sat down at a floor loom for the first time, it was as though a heavenly choir sang "You're home, You're home!"  It felt butt perched on the bench, feet on treadles, shuttle in hand.

Has it been easy being a hand weaver in the 20th and 21st centuries?  Nope.  Jobs that are labour intensive, especially those done by women (and it so pains me to type that), are generally not much valued.  It has been a constant struggle to justify my prices.  The question most often asked at a craft fair is - you guessed it - 'how long did it take to make X'.  

Thing is, economies of scale mean that I don't sit down and make one of anything from start to finish; rather I work in groups.  So a warp of place mats (shown above) is 10.5 meters long.  From that warp I get one table runner and 12 place mats.  It takes me, say, an hour (probably less, but let's go with that for simplicity sake) to wind the warp.  It takes about 5-10 minutes to rough sley, 10 minutes or so to beam.  Threading might take 30-35 minutes, sleying another 5 minutes, about a minute and a half to tie on and throw the first six picks to spread the warp.

Generally when I'm weaving I do about 30-45 minutes at a time and can weave about 1/4 of the warp in that time (it's fast - there's a reason for that - two in fact).  

If pushed, I could weave off the entire warp in one day.  Since turning 65, plus surgery, I don't usually push that hard much anymore.

So let's say - oh, two days to make a dozen mats and a table runner.  I could crunch the numbers down further to get a more accurate minutes/mat but let's just say two studio days.

The mats sell for (2017 price) $13 each.  The table runner is $26.  That's $182 for two days work.  But wait!  Out of that $182 I have to pay for the materials, the electricity for the studio, the rent for Puff, (the industrial press), and all the other expenses of running a business.  

Even at $91 gross a day, that's pretty low wages, and more realistically, it is much, much less than that.  And of course, there is still the finishing to do...

So...why do I do it?

I do it because I am self-employed.  I get to choose whether or not I work that day (you can tell that I choose to work most days!  I explained to a 19 year old on Thursday that when you are self-employed every day is a potential work day.  Because if you don't work, you don't get anything done, and you don't have any income.)

I wanted something where I got to choose what I did.  To walk to the beat of my own drum.  I wanted a roof over my head and food on the table, but I didn't desire diamonds or gold plated toilets.  I wanted a life that fulfilled me creatively.  I wasn't looking for public acclaim.  The only 'recognition' I wanted was the buying public to pay me the price I asked for the textiles I made.

I am now in the last 'half' of my 6th decade.  I have lived a life that was part hard physical labour, part mental exploration, then follow up in reality to see if I'd got it right.  I have taught and learned from many.  I have - even if I say it myself - left a bit of myself behind in my writings, here and elsewhere.

While I still have things on my bucket list I really want to accomplish, I look back on the last 40+ years with a certain satisfaction.  And, while there are things I would change, I would not change the decision I made lo, these many years ago, to become a weaver.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Rinse, Repeat

When I started this blog in oh, August of 2008, I had no idea that nearly 9 years on I'd still be posting.

At times I feel like a broken record as I tackle the same subject, over and over again, examining it from this angle, then that, summarizing my thoughts, distilling them into pithy cliches.

For a time I felt uncomfortable doing this.  But I had to remember that not everyone who is currently following this blog has been doing it from day 1 or even day 1000, and I am frequently amazed by the number of past posts that crop up on my stats page (where Google very helpfully tells me how many times the post has been viewed and it's original posting date).

Over the years I have also (ahem) changed my mind about things.  I have discovered different ways and methods, tools and techniques.

But that is what life is all about, right?  Learning new stuff, learning more details, learning about the deeper subtleties of the craft and changing your mind!  

Because that is how we grow.  By keeping an open mind.  By fact checking.  By not just accepting what someone tells you, but trying it out.  Reading up on the subject.  Finding out.  Using your critical thinking skills.

And so it would appear that I will continue to bang the drum.  Preach to the choir.  Rinse, and repeat.

Currently reading Vicious Circle by C. J. Box

Saturday, April 1, 2017

April Spools

Following in Meg's footsteps, it is April Spool's Day.

Since my surgery just over two years ago I have been spinning with more regularity.  Therefore today I share with you my spools of hand spun singles.  These have been made from a braid of Corriedale hand dyed by Birthe, blended with some yak/silk dyed by Lynne Anderson and a wee bit of Corriedale and green Firestar.  

I don't weave with these yarns.  They are, primarily, therapy.  I don't sell the shawls etc., I knit from my hand spun yarn but donate them to 'worthy' causes or gift them to friends.

So right now, if someone is looking for a donation from me, they are most likely to get something that I have knit from my hand spun yarn.  

Like many 'creative' people I seem to have a streak of obsessive/compulsive behaviour.  I don't know how long I will spin and knit, but for now?  I find spinning and knitting quite soothing and satisfying.  And I've been hanging out with some (mostly) much younger people during knitting drop in.
Nothing like dandling a new baby, talking with people in their 20's and 30's to keep me 'young' (and remind me exactly how old I really am!)