Bag It, Gladys

I think I am done. I have been weaving fabric to sew into bags for a number of years now. Probably about 15 years. That’s almost half my weaving life! And I really do enjoy designing and creating bags, but every time I try to sell one I am disappointed. Customers seem to like the style, but it’s not the right color, too big, too small, too casual, not the right strap, etc. And I’m talking about all kinds of bags from tiny, what I call “pick pockets” (TM) for storing your guitar picks to” the mother of all tote bag” humongous bags. Some are for evening, some for daily use, and others are just for fun. Once, and I am grateful it only happened once, a customer was admiring my bags and expressed her approval. But the next question she asked was  “Where do you get your fabric?” Really?

I just can’t help it, it’s a fact that I love all kinds of  purses and tote bags. But the truth is, the current market can’t support the cost that is worthy of a bag made from handwoven fabric, then carefully constructed and sewn with a lining, a pocket and often a hand-twisted strap. The bags I wove these last few weeks will be my swan song.

If you recall my post Back to The Future, there was an image of  the double weave fabric I was weaving still on the loom. This is the fabric now:

Hobo bag made from handwoven double weave fabric

Lined interior of hobo bag with magnetic closure

I have also been playing with recycled fabric and cutting narrow strips from thrift store t-shirts to make my own “yarn”. Here is a tote bag made from strips cut from a neon green t-shirt. The weave is a rep weave which I seem to be fond of!

Tote bag woven in rep weave with t-shirt strips in the weft.

Lined interior of tote bag with pocket and magnetic snap closure.

And here is a photo of the tote bag’s fabric while still on the loom with the t-shirt strips on the stick shuttle. I used a metallic thread called “holo-shimmer” as the alternating fine warp on the boat shuttle to get the rep weave effect.

Tote bag fabric still on the loom.

So now I took the t-shirt idea a step further and added recycled jeans to the mix. These two bags were woven in a rep weave and both have recycled jeans pockets in the interior.

Mini-messenger bag woven in rep weave with a hand-twisted strap.

Rep Weave hobo bag woven as one long strip.

Yes, the fabric of the hobo bag was woven in one long narrow strip, approximately 7 1/2″ wide by 96″ long. I then folded it to create a strap from part of the strip and joined the other sections to make the body of the bag. Blogger Donatella who writes doni’s delis explains it here. It’s quite ingenious.

The interiors of the last two bags were lined with denim fabric and each  has an inside pocket taken from a  pair of  recycled jeans.

Interior of hobo bag with denim lining, recycled jeans pocket and a magnet snap closure.

These bags will definitely be one of a kind, because I am not weaving them anymore.  Though I may still weave one or two just for me, or for my daughter, or for a friend… But maybe not this summer. Definitely not this summer.




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Chagall Windows

The color palette for my handwoven scarves seems to be changing lately. My scarves this spring are not as dark and muted as my previous scarves. This year the colors are lighter, somewhat pastel, but also with a smattering of jewel tones. This change may be due to the fact that here in Memphis, we experienced  unusually warm weather in March. Our azaleas, dogwood and hyacinth appeared suddenly well before the first day of spring.

 My backyard on the first day of Spring

And so in March I have been weaving lightweight scarves that can be worn year round as I prepare for the Spring Show.

Post Card for the Spring Show

Once again our collective of local artists and craftsmen will be exhibiting and selling our work at the Shops of Saddle Creek in Germantown, TN – a location that has worked well for us the past two years. Beside my handwoven scarves, I plan to sell more of my handbound books including  blank books made from 45 rpm vinyl records. And this year, there will be some Elvis sightings. But I digress. Here is the color palette that I have been working on with this most recent series of scarves.

Handwoven scarves for the Spring Show

I’ve seen these colors somewhere before. And I am reminded of a trip I took recently to the Art Institute of Chicago. One of the “must sees” that I had planned on this visit were the series of 3 “America Windows” that Marc Chagall created for the American Bicentennial.

I will need to weave more  blue scarves.

Fruit Fabric

Whenever I  sell my handwoven accessories at a show or craft fair, invariably someone will admire my work and then turn to me and ask “Where do you get the fabric”? They ask, despite the large sign that describes my work as “Handwoven” They ask, despite the hang tags that say “handwoven”. They ask, despite my business cards that describe me as a “handweaver”. It is a puzzle to me that adults do not know where fabric comes from. Do they think that it starts as some concoction that is ground up and stirred in a giant stainless steel vat under great amounts of pressure? Then poured onto a slab to eventually pass through huge rollers and pressed  into a smooth paste? With an end result looking something like . . . . . . . . . . fruit roll ups? Not any kind of fabric I would want to wear.

Fruit Fabric?

And so here is where my role as a teacher comes in. I feel compelled to remind everyone who comments that weaving is “a modern art”, that the oldest known handwoven fabric is cotton cloth that wrapped Egyptian mummies. And that in colonial America, weavers were bachelor men who traveled the countryside with their barn looms strapped to their wagons. And when a family commissioned him to weave their linens, rugs and fabrics for clothing, this gentlemen would become that family’s guest and boarder for the duration of the weaving. And that the earliest computer can probably be attributed to a mechanical Jacquard loom with its punched hole cards to control its sequence of operations in early 19th century France.

I tell my students that there are indeed many steps to weaving, but each step by itself is not a difficult one.  And as their instructor, I guide them through the sequence of steps so that they can weave fabric. And no stainless steel vats, slabs or rollers are involved. Not even electricity nor a computer.

When a project’s  color scheme, design and fiber content are decided upon, each strand of yarn or “end” is measured and wound in a group called a warp. Each individual warp end is the length of the weaving project plus enough for sampling and  waste. Students are often surprised at how much math energy is required to calculate the yarn needed for a project or to know the length for each end.  We are all thankful for the calculators on our phones.

Here are a few photos that show a fabric I recently wove in various stages on my loom.

Partially Woven Fabric on the Loom

Individual strands of yarn or "ends" threaded through the reed which separates and evenly spaces the yarn

Individual strands of yarn threaded through the "heddles", large needles with eyes that determine the weave pattern

Warp of yarn wound around the back beam of the loom

Detail of Handwoven Fabric

Completed Vest Sewn from Handwoven Fabric

The yarn used for the fabric is bamboo – Bambu 7 in several colors including gold, yellow and persimmon.  Randomly inserted in the warp is a nubby novelty yarn by Stacy Charles that carries similar colors to the bamboo yarn. Because of the predominance of the persimmon color, I call this vest “Persimmon Vest”. And persimmon is a fruit, right?

Graduation and Plastics

Does anyone remember the scene in the movie, “The Graduate” where a  party guest says to Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), “I have just one word for you – plastics”? Apparently new college grads awaited a promising future in the field of plastics in the 1960’s. My month long absence from this blog has been due to both graduation and plastics. My son recently graduated from college, and I have been spending a bit of time with him in Baltimore. But more on that later.

My loom has been busy with projects that are woven with strips cut from plastic grocery bags. Students in my weaving workshops love these projects because the material is cheap, easily procured, quick to weave, and the finished projects are often lovely. My handwoven plastic “fabrics” are usually sewn into tote bags and purses.

Handwoven tote bag, woven with strips cut from plastic grocery bags

The project was inspired by a free “Bag of the Month” project from Handwoven Magazine The bag was woven in a plain weave with doubled cotton carpet warp in the warp and single strands of cotton carpet warp in alternating picks in the weft. The plastic bags were cut in 1″ wide strips. They are from The Fresh Market, and the green logo on the bag shows up in random green stripes in the weft. I lined the bag with some cotton paisley fabric I had on hand. It turned out to be an attractive functional bag, and one cannot easily see that it is made from plastic!

My high school age daughter then challenged me to make fabric out of plastic strips that would be suitable for a small purse worn with a shoulder strap. I had only seen plastic strips woven in plain weave, so I wondered, “What if…..?” I threaded my loom in a 4 harness goose eye twill with cotton carpet warp, cut up some plastic bags in red and white, and this is what I came up with.

On the loom: goose eye twill fabric woven with strips cut from plastic bags

The weight of these plastic bags were a bit heavier than the first project, and the look and feel of the plastic material is more apparent here than in the finished tote bag. Next time, I will need to cut the heavier bags narrower than the 1″ strips that I had been cutting. Eventually this will be sewn into a small purse.

And yes, the graduation ceremony was lovely and we are all happy that my son is off of our payroll. He has a job, and it’s not in plastics.

Stop Sign in Baltimore

Park bench in Baltimore

Going Vinyl

Seems I’m always behind the times. Everyone has a Kindle these days but I love the way a book feels, looks, smells, and I just love to turn pages. In fact I love books so much, I create my own.  These are handbound blank books for writing and sketching.

handbound books with long stitching on ultrasuede spine

And everyone is downloading music onto their phones and laptops while I still cherish my collection of vinyl albums and 45 rpm vinyl records.  Thing is, I don’t own a record player anymore and most of the records in my collection are unplayable anyhow because they’ve been overplayed.  So I have a few scratchy and worn down records.

some of the unplayable vinyl records in my collection

There’s a great collection here.  Lots of Memphis music – Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Milton, Isaac Hayes, Johnny Taylor.  Not to mention Memphis labels like Sun and Stax. And lots of non-Memphis music too – Motown, The Beatles, The Kinks, Flatt and Scruggs and the list goes on. But it’s all unplayable and pretty beat up.  I couldn’t bear to throw them away, so I recycle them.  I cut them, preserving the studio labels of course, and use them as front and back covers of a handbound blank journal or sketch book.

Cut vinyl records waiting to be bound into books

Some of the finished books will be sold at the Memphis Brooks Museum in conjunction with their upcoming exhibit, “Who Shot Rock and Roll:  A Photographic History 1955 to the Present”.  This is a traveling exhibit organized by the Brooklyn Museum.

Here are a few handbound blank journals I have  finished.

Handbound blank journals with vinyl record covers

And if you can’t bear the thought of an unplayable record, I also make hand bound blank journals and sketch books with handmade paper covers, silk fabric covers, and covers made from hand printed Indonesian batik fabrics.

Display of my hand bound blank books at The Spring Show

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Blank Pages

Memphis is ranked 58th out of 71 most literate cities in a 2008 study conducted by Central Connecticut State University.  This is based on the community’s number of bookstores,  the number of libraries and the rate of circulation, residents’  book purchases through online sites, number and circulation of local newspapers and magazines, and percentage of citizens with a bachelor’s level education. In this case, 58 is not a number that Memphians should be proud of.  Perhaps not reading literate, we are however literate in the arts, music, theater, fine craft and fine food. Memphis thrives in all of these areas. If anyone ever picks up a newspaper around here, they’ll see pages and pages of music venues, theatre and ballet performances, fine restaurants representing a global diversity and of course, my personal favorite —  galleries, shops and fairs representing the growing number of  fine craft artists in the Memphis area.

This weekend, March 26 to 28, Memphis Association of Craft Artists in conjunction with Christian Brothers University will be having their second annual “Celebration of Fine Craft”.  Over 35 area artists will be showing and selling their work in a variety of media including  clay, wood, glass, metal, jewelry, paper and fiber.

MACA - A Celebration of Fine Craft

If you are in Memphis, please plan on joining us for our opening reception Friday evening (March 26) from 5:00 to 9:00 in the Canale Arena on the campus of Christian Brothers University.  Artists will be selling their work at the reception and then again on Saturday, March 27 from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM and Sunday, March 28 from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

And if you are visiting my booth, I will be selling books!  Yes, hand bound books whose covers and pages are hand cut and then covered with hand printed batik fabric from Indonesia.  Though Memphians may not be writing in these books according to our less than illustrious #58 ranking among literate cities, they may sketch, draw, or paint in them. Use the pages to glue theater ticket stubs, attach photos of local bands, stick wine labels on them, copy recipes, jot down those elusive and growing computer passwords.  Just to list a few ideas…because my books are empty! So, as the title says, “Don’t Judge A Book By Its Blank Pages”.  Same goes for Memphis.

Handbound book bound in "Belgian Secret Binding" , hand printed Indonesian batik fabric cover.

Handbound book bound in "Belgian Secret Binding", handprinted Indonesian batik fabric cover

Inside cover with decorative batik fabric and handmade Thai mango paper lining

Handbound book bound in "Belgian Secret Binding", handprinted Indonesian batik fabric cover

Handbound book bound in "Belgian Secret Binding", handprinted Indonesian batik fabric cover

Handbound book bound in "Belgian Secret Binding", handprinted Indonesian batik fabric cover

Inside cover with decorative batik fabric and mulberry paper lining

All of the above books are bound in a technique known as “Belgian Secret Binding” which is widely attributed to one my instructors, book conservator Hedi Kyle. Apparently this binding is a traditional and historic bookbinding technique which had been lost for many years, and in her research, Hedi was able to recreate it and share it with her students. It is one of my favorite binding techniques because the process is similar to weaving.

The book pictured below is bound in an ancient technique known as “Japanese Stab binding”.  This book is covered in dupioni silk with a decorative handprinted Indonesian batik fabric layered on top.  The coins are from Thailand.

Handbound book bound in "Japanese Stab Binding", dupioni silk and handprinted Indonesian batik fabric cover, coins from Thailand

Don’t be disappointed just because the pages are empty!

Bagels and Batik

I went to Costco this morning in advance of our upcoming celebrations.  It’s a tradition on our family to share nosh and libations on New Year’s Eve and continue into the wee hours of  New Year’s Day to celebrate my son’s birthday who will be 21 this January 1st!  After putting away the groceries I had a well deserved Einstein bagel with cream cheese and Nova Salmon which was part of my Costco haul.

Bagel set on a handwoven hand printed batik table runner from Indonesia

The table runner which the bagel is sitting on  covers my dining room table.  I pass it daily and rarely give it a thought, but today it really made me see what a treasure it truly is.  This is handwoven fabric that is printed in a traditional batik pattern.  The coaster under the water glass is a batik printed fabric as well.  Batik is a wax resist process where a stamp or “tjap” is used to imprint a hot wax pattern onto the fabric.  Once the wax has hardened the fabric is dipped into the dye bath, and the unwaxed areas absorb the dye whereas the covered areas remain untouched.  This procedure is repeated several times until all the colors have been applied.  Contemporary batik fabrics have become extremely popular in recent years particularly with quilters and fabric artists.  Batik as an art form has been around for centuries with its beginnings in the Indonesian archipelago which includes the island of Java where my Dutch ancestors  settled in the 19th century.  Because of this connection, I am the lucky owner of some extraordinary pieces of Indonesian handprinted batik fabrics.

Most of the pieces in my collection are kain (ki-en) which is a piece of cloth measuring approximately 40″ wide and 84″ long.  Kain is worn as a waist cloth, wrapped around the hips and tied at the waist.  This is part of the traditional Javanese costume worn by both men and women.  There are thousands of batik patterns and many represent geographical regions, symbolism from folklore and local floral and fauna.  I know only that  batik fabric is pleasing to the eye, but unfortunately I know very little about the imagery.  The Textile Museum in Washington, DC  this past year had an exhibit of  Indonesian batik fabrics that were part of the collection of the late Anne Dunham who is President Barack Obama’s mother.  A good resource that I have and refer to often is Indonesian Textiles written by Michael Hitchock and published in 1991.  This book is no longer in print, but it can be purchased used at a number of online sites.

Indonesian Textiles by Michael Hitchcock

Below are photographs of the some of the Indonesian batik fabrics from my own collection.

Blue and White Floral print with border

Green and White Oval print with Border

The two patterns above where printed on the fabric bias as they were intended to be sewn into skirts.  The skirts were known as “klokke rokken” or circle skirts in Dutch, and the border print appeared at the skirt’s hem.

Below are three diagonal patterns.

Red and Black Diagonal Batik Pattern

I believe this red and black patterned fabric is the oldest piece in my collection dating to the late 1940’s or early 1950’s.

Blue and Brown Diagonal Batik Pattern

Brown and Black Diagonal Batik Pattern

This dark brown diamond repeat pattern incorporates the image of the Garuda which is a mythical bird in Javanese folklore and also the name of the Indonesian airlines.

Brown Garuda Batik Pattern

The patterns below were printed on fabric squares presumably to be sewn into pillows.

Red and Black Garuda Wing Batik Pattern

Orange Floral Batik Border Printed on a Fabric Square

The fabrics below were floral prints with a diamond, square or diagonal  background print.  Some have a separate pattern for the border.

Gold and Green Batik with Border

Red and Orange Batik with border

Large Brown and Red Floral Batik with Diagonal Background

Large Green and Brown Floral Batik with Curvy Lines Background

Large Purple and Blue Floral Batik with Triangle Border

These last two images were taken from a commemorative fabric printed in honor of the 50th anniversary of the coffee plantation owned by some of my family members in East Java.

50th Anniversary Commemorative Batik Fabric

Detail - 50th Anniversary Commemorative Batik Fabric

The initials “SP” were at one end of the cloth, and “MD” were at the opposite end of this piece of fabric.  I have never been to Indonesia, and I have never met any of my distant relatives who may be the owners of this coffee plantation.  However, a quick Google search of the words “Panca Windhu” and “Kelaklatak” produced this very informative article about this plantation’s thriving coffee business.  Kelaklatak apparently is a village in East Java that is a short ferry ride to the island of Bali.  And the woman who was interviewed in this article is Soehoed Prawiroatmodjo, whose initials are SP.  I have no idea who she is, but her initials are the same as on my batik fabric which also has the name and location of this particular plantation. A very interesting coincidence indeed!

The bagel was very good by the way!