The Girls in Their Summer Scarves

First off, my apologies to Irwin Shaw and Bruce Springsteen.  Shaw, a noted screenwriter, playwright and novelist is the author of the short story “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses” .  Springsteen in his acclaimed album “Magic” produced in 2007, included his lovely poem about youth and longing, “The Girls in Their Summer Clothes”.  Secondly, I’m taking poetic license with the  term “girls” in referring to women of all ages.  At my age, I feel I’ve earned the privilege to be called a “girl” again!

That being said, let’s get on with this post.  Check out this delightful slide show “On the Street/Muffled” by New York Times columnist Bill Cunningham.  In the heat of August, these images show lovely New York City women  (and one lovely man) sporting an array of elegant scarves over their tank tops, tees  and summer dresses.  Some scarves look like they might be cashmere, some silk or rayon and Cunningham describes them all as  “gossa-meer”. I imagine that’s a reference to their soft and flowing nature.  With warm weather approaching, this is the fashion statement of the hour.  Even Memphis’ own newspaper,  “The Commercial Appeal” featured a fashion article proclaiming that scarves are hot – even in hot weather.

This is excellent news for weavers!  Though I love the look of the lacy and open felted scarves that are so popular with weavers these days, they are just not appropriate for warm weather climates, and certainly not something you would want next to your skin in 90 degree heat.  In recent weeks, my students and I have been weaving open weave scarves out of cotton, rayon, and bamboo yarn.    These scarves were woven on a rigid heddle loom with a warp and weft of rayon flake yarn.

spaced warp and weft scarf on rigid heddle loom
Open weave rayon scarf

When threading the warp, one inch sections of yarn were separated by 3/4 inch sections of empty slots and holes in the rigid heddle.  When weaving, a 3/4″ wide cardboard spacer was used to separate one inch woven sections. In this scarf, spacing occurred in both the warp and the weft.

The photo of the finished scarf was taken before washing.  A gentle hand washing will allow the woven areas to slightly shift so the open areas will look softer and more delicate.  This rayon scarf will drape beautifully after washing.

warp and weft spaced scarf

warp and weft spaced scarf

A blend of 10/2 perle cotton yarns was threaded for this warp spaced scarf on a 4 harness floor loom.  Random warp threads of gold metallic yarn were placed in the warp.The warp was threaded in a point twill threading.  The weft was dyed bamboo yarn with short  pieces of gold metallic yarn placed in the shed at random intervals.  The weft spacing was determined by the insertion of a satin cord which was removed as the weaving progressed, then inserted into the next “spaced” section. The satin cord used as a spacing device in the weft was recommended in Sharon Alderman’s Book,  A Handweaver’s  Notebook.

Sharon Alderman's "A Handweavers Notebook"

Sharon Alderman's "A Handweaver's Notebook"

I also cut a paper template and used it as a measuring device to be sure that each woven section was equal in length.  Because of the twill threading, I needed to add floating selvages and while weaving, I inserted my shuttle over the floating selvage when entering the shed, and exited under the floating selvage in each row.

floating selvages

floating selvages

To weave a twill without a floating selvage, this is what you will need to remember:  when facing the loom, and this is assuming you have a 4 harness loom, thread the left selvage thread of your warp on an even numbered harness (2 or 4), and thread the right selvage thread of your warp on an odd numbered harness (1 or 3).  Then start weaving by throwing the shuttle from right to left.  But I have discovered that this only works if you are treadling a straight twill.  It does not work for a reverse twill treadling.  So, you’ll probably have to deal with a floating selvage after all.  But when using a floating selvage  all you have to remember is enter over and exit under.  Just a few details to keep in mind!

When these warp and weft spaced scarves are washed and finished with neatly twisted fringes, they will feel soft and silky and give a girl just the right look for a summer scarf.

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They call me Ragmamarag

If you’re on Ravelry.com, then you know me as ragmamarag.  Beside the fact that I am a child of the 60’s and I still listen to Robbie Robertson and The Band, I also weave with rags.   Mostly I use new fabric, and with my rotary cutter and cutting mat, I cut narrow strips about 1/2″ wide.  With a warp of  5/2 perle cotton sett at 18 epi I weave one shot of fabric strip and then a shot of 5/2 perle cotton in a plain weave pattern.   The alternating shot of 5/2 perle cotton isn’t necessary, it’s a design element that I tend to fancy because to me this additional row makes the weave pattern look more consistent, especially if you are using a busy fabric.  In fact, I like to use fabric that has a lot of colors and shapes.  Once the fabric is cut and compressed within the body of the weaving, the original image of the fabric resembles  Pointillism, the Neo Impressionist painting technique where small distinct points of colors  appear to be blended together.

Fabric salvaged from garbage

Fabric salvaged from garbage

Handwoven sample made from strips cut from fabric at left

Handwoven sample made from strips cut from fabric at left

The fabric to the left  is a  colorful cotton fabric printed in Japan.   I discovered it at an assisted living facility where I was teaching a weaving class.  The fabric was slated to be thrown out as its owner was no longer able to sew.  I happily became its new owner!  The woven sample in the photo on the right  demonstrates the “pointillism” effect of this beautiful fabric.  The way the narrow strips of fabric are compressed into the weaving along with the alternating rows of 5/2 perle cotton radically changes the  original pattern of the fabric.  My thanks to Molly my student intern from Memphis College of Art. This was the first warp that Molly put on the 4-harness loom and the first sample that she wove on it.

Molly’s warp was long enough so I could weave additional fabric.  Once the handwoven fabric was finished I sewed them into purses.  Each purse has a textured ceramic button  with a decorative embellishment of some  glass beads that were yard sale finds.

Rag purses handwoven with fabric strips

Rag purses handwoven with fabric strips

Some years ago, I had written an article for Handwoven magazine  describing how to weave and construct this type of rag purse.   There have been many other contributors to the magazine as well  who have written about  variations on this bag, and Interweave Press  offers some  free pattens of rag purses  in their “Bag of the Month” feature.  This is a great resource for weavers of all levels.

The above purses will be sold in my booth, MemphisWeaver, at the upcoming Celebration of Fine Craft featuring artists from Memphis Association of Craft Artists (MACA).  The fair  will  be held at Christian Brothers University on April 17, 18, and 19.  Since the purses came from fabric and beads that were destined for the landfill, they will be sold under my “Rethreads” label which includes handwoven items made from recycled (or upcycled) material.

Rethreads labels

Rethreads labels

I have another warp on the loom now and hope to use up the rest of these fabric strips and plan to make more “rag bags”.  I like to mix and match colors and patterns to really make a funky finished product.  Each bag is pretty unique, and they look nothing like your  grandmother’s rag rugs!

Basket of fabric strips

Basket of fabric strips

Spinning Without Sweating

My friend Bill is passionate about spinning.  I share his enthusiasm when he talks about the rush he gets when he spins, how he tries to maintain the same wheel speed for an hour, how much he sweats.  Wait.  He sweats?  Bill spins on a Tunturi in a gym.  I spin on an Ashford at home.  Both excellent pieces of equipment I might add.

Ashford and Louet exercise equipment

Ashford and Louet - exercise equipment?

While weaving is my vocation, spinning is my avocation.  I taught myself to spin over 20 years ago, and try to spin whenever I have the chance.  Spinning is for meditating.  I tried to learn meditation and yoga on numerous occasions, but I just cannot sit still for any length of time.  My mind tends to wander and a movie starts showing on the insides of my eyelids.  Though I admire and even love some people who are able to meditate and do yoga, it just isn’t my schtick. Besides, the grandparents of my generation were always touting “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop!”  Well, devil be gone while my fingers draft the fibers as they twist and the yarn winds onto the bobbin.  Right before my very eyes! Other spinners will agree what a rush it is to see this.

Mostly I have spun merino, alpaca, mohair and some silk.  Blending fibers is also very satisfying.  I like to experiment with fibers and colors , sometimes even adding sparkle, so I’ll be surprised with the finished yarn.  It’s a little like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: “you never know what you’re gonna get.”

skeins of my handspun yarn

Skeins of my handspun yarn

I’m delighted to see a resurgence in spinning.  It’s not seen as a dying art any more where it is only done by ancient and scary looking women dressed in colonial garb at historic sites and re-enactments.   Many have discovered the same passion as I have found primarily because of its meditative qualities.  The regular rhythm of the treadle and wheel moving together also has a calming effect.   And the spinner  gets the benefit of creating beautiful and functional yarn.    In January of 2006, the venerable New York Times ran this article describing  spinning’s revival as a hot and trendy activity that people from all generations come together to do.   So is spinning the new knitting?

Let me remind you too of Mahatma Gandhi.  He said “For me, nothing in the political world is more important than the spinning wheel.” (Hochberg, Spin Span Spun, 1979)   He would spin half an hour each day and believed that with everyone spinning yarn, this would create a “spiritual revolution” that will eventually remove violence from the world.

Wool fiber, drop spindle, handspun yarn:  the tools for world peace

Wool fiber, drop spindle, handspun yarn: the tools for world peace

Back to my own spinning projects.  I still have several bags of alpaca that need to be spun and lots of beautiful hand dyed mohair locks that I purchased some time ago from Apple Leef Farm.  Working with these fibers and a spinning wheel will bring  many hours of calm and meditation.  And hopefully peace.  I won’t need a bike, and I won’t need a yoga mat.

Dyed mohair locks from Apple Leef Farm

Dyed mohair locks from Apple Leef Farm

I just have to find time to do it.  Pity I don’t weave with wool.  Wool scarves make me sweat.

Weavers Need to Eat Too!

I’m going to take a detour from my usual posts about weaving, fiber and book arts.  There’s a restaurant in the Memphis area that makes me feel like I’ve been transported into Chinatown of a city like New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia or Boston.  I’ve eaten in Chinese restaurants in those cities, and New Asia in Exeter Village Center at Exeter and Poplar in Germantown  feels like it belongs in one of those cities.  But  it belongs here in the Memphis area and it certainly looks like it’s here to stay.  We’ve eaten there many times in the last few months.  The restaurant is one huge room with several large tables, bright lights and lots of noise.  The wait staff welcomes everyone with friendly smiles and quick and efficient service.

What you will need to know to make you feel like you’ve been transported into Chinatown is that there are two menus to choose from.  The red menu is the one to go with — this is the “authentic” Chinese cuisine menu.  The other menu, the green one is for Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine.  The green menu has many  lovely offerings, but is not very different from menus of other top notch Asian restuarants in Memphis, eg. Mosa and Asian Grill. The authentic menu includes more traditional Asian food offerings without any “Americanization”.  They are unusual, richly flavored, and have a characteristic feel of Asian “comfort food”.  It’s really hard to explain other than that the food is wonderfully delicious.

Seafood hot and sour soup

Seafood hot and sour soup

To begin with, the seafood hot and sour soup is an adventure for those who love to experience texture.  (Keep in mind this is a weaver talking!) Not too spicy and not to sweet, your taste buds will be surprised by the velvety texture of tofu and shrimp, then followed by the crunchiness of a bit of octopus or squid, all of which are generously ladled in the soup.  Another soup that has a more overall velvety texture is the crab meat with cream corn soup.  This is  more subtle than the hot and sour but still has a great deal of character.

There are few places in Memphis where you can find fresh and well prepared seafood.  New Asia is one of them.  The chef’s special –the whole braised cod in spicy tomato sauce is excellent.

Whole braised cod in spicy tomato sauce

Whole braised cod in spicy tomato sauce

It is beautifully presented, the meat comes off of the bones cleanly and the tomato sauce adds a smooth and sweetly powerful flavor to an otherwise tasteless fish.  The fish itself is huge — plenty for two with enough to take home in your “doggie” bag.

Other highly recommended seafood dishes are the Hot Braised Filet of Sole (served in a sauce similar to the tomato sauce of the braised cod) and the Scallops with Black Bean Sauce. Ordinarily black bean sauce may leave a strange aftertaste, but this sauce is prepared in such a way that you’ll be smacking your lips for more!

Scallops with black bean sauce

Scallops with black bean sauce

Sizzling dishes are always fun to order at Asian restaurants, and New Asia aims to please in this department.  My favorite is the Sizzling Chicken with Black Pepper.  It has a strong pepper flavor complemented by such  tender chicken pieces that they melt in your mouth like “buttah”.  The Sizzling Beef with Satay Sauce surprised me, in that the “satay” sauce was not what I expected.   I was looking for the more traditional satay sauce of Indonesian and Thai origin.  The satay sauce at New Asia was more like a mild black bean sauce — still tasty nonetheless.

Sizzling beef with satay sauce

Sizzling beef with satay sauce

The sizzling dishes are beautifully presented on a hot skillet with a wooden board.

As far as vegetables, pea plant with garlic seems to be a staple of authentic cuisine.  It is steamed with whole cloves of garlic and is similar to escarole with a major kick.  The fragrant eggplant is another crowd pleaser.  Not at all bitter or tough, the strips of eggplant are prepared in a mild pepper sauce with slices of chile pepper.  For the less adventurous, the green menu for Cantonese and Szechuan Cuisine has a milder version of this dish.

The atmosphere of  New Asia is a definite down home type of experience.  Many of the large round tables are filled with families, and groups of people both young and old.  It seems that it is a favorite of  Asian families.  To have an experience like New Asia here in the Memphis area is truly special.  If you don’t have a chance to visit the restaurants of Chinatown in a major U.S. city, then take a short trip down Poplar, you’ll find the same experience there.

A Snowy Night in Memphis

When it comes to snow, I’m not a babe in the woods.  I grew up in Boston and as an adult lived in upstate NY, PA and NJ.  So I have to chuckle when a few inches of snow is predicted for Memphis.  For one, snow here never amounts to the blizzard conditions I have experienced, and it always disappears within a day of falling.  Nonetheless, panic sets in, and there is a run on milk, bread, beer and diapers at the grocery stores.  Streets become gridlocked even before the first flake appears.  Kids are glued to the tv in the hopes of missing a day of school.  In Boston, we rarely had a day off from school.  I remember walking through 2 feet of snow (really!)  to get to my 7th grade class at Western Jr. High!  Of course, the snow plows were plentiful and out in full force, so the gridlock that we experience in Memphis, rarely happened in New England!  But no matter, I’m much older now, and my bones seem to complain with the first mention of snow here.  It wouldn’t matter whether I’m in Memphis or Boston, they still manage to complain.

camellias in the snow

camellias in the snow

It was a pretty snowfall though, while it lasted!  And the best part is that the snow gave me a chance to “hunker down” as they say here and concentrate on being creative.  So I decided to work on some handmade books that I plan to sell at an upcoming Fine Craft Fair sponsored by MACA, Memphis Association of Craft Artists.  I usually sell my handwoven purses and scarves when I sell at shows and fairs, but having done so for thirty years, I decided to expand my horizons a bit and venture into the world of book arts.  Eventually, I would like to incorporate  my handwoven fabrics into my handmade books.

I had taken workshops from book artists in the past, and the process really whetted my appetite.  Currently I am taking an online class from Sue Bleiweiss of  Two Creative Studios.  It is called “More Journal Making for Fiber Artists”.  Here are examples of two books that I have completed in this class:

coptic stitch book with handmade cover

coptic stitch book with handmade cover

fabric covered gatefold journal

fabric covered gatefold journal

With my supply of handmade Thai mango papers and several pieces of matte board, I retreated to my weaving/bookmaking studio (which is a finished room in our attic).  During the snowfall, I produced enough handmade covers to make 11 bound books.  Here are the results.

book covers made with handmade Thai mango paper

book covers made with handmade Thai mango paper

inside of handmade book covers

inside of handmade book covers

The handmade paper is really lovely,  there are actual pieces of mango leaves and stems embedded in the paper, and the paper itself feels soft and velvet like.  I glued various papers to the insides of the book covers.  These include designer wrapping paper, colored card stock scraps from previous book arts workshops and inkjet copies of scenes from nature copied on cover stock. Now I will have to cut paper for my text blocks and add my signature covers.  With so many books to work on, I will have a chance to try out different binding stitches.  I need to work on my coptic stitch, kettle stitch and long stitch.  New stitches I would like to try include chain stitch, French twist and herring bone stitch.  I can see this will take quite awhile.  So, here I am in Memphis with these old bones wishing for snow…….

snow covered lamp

snow covered lamp