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.




Rep Gallery

The architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright has always been an inspiration to me.  And for many years I have been admiring the handwoven textiles of Kelly Marshall whose rugs and accessories for the home are a natural fit for any Prairie style or Arts and Crafts style home. Ms. Marshall who has been designing and weaving through her business, Custom Woven Interiors since 1992 has work in private residences, corporations, businesses, restaurants and galleries throughout the country. Readers of this blog would know that I lean toward the block type weaves which are prevalent in the rep weave structure which Ms. Marshall utilizes in her work.

In my last blog I described rep weave as a Swedish weave structure also called ripsmatta. It is characterized by densely threaded warp yarn on the loom. The pattern design is created through the colors and sequence of yarn ends in the warp yarn, that is the yarn threaded on the loom. Ms Marshall has just published a book for weavers based on her own creative process for her work in rep weave. The book is as beautiful as the work Ms. Marshall produces and she is extremely generous with her instructions for projects with precise details and clear photographs. I am still in the process of savoring each word and photo of this book.

Custom Woven Interiors by Kelly Marshall

I hope that my weaving will one day aspire to the many layers and complexities of Ms. Marshall’s work. My work is much simpler and certainly not as technically skillful as Ms. Marshall’s. Rep continues to be one of my favorite weaves and I will work on any challenges that will help me get to a higher level of skill. In the meantime, I will end this blog post with a short gallery of my own work in rep weave. The gallery, shall we say will be the baseline for my work so that in another year or so, we can all compare any progress that I’ve made!

Three Irises

Turkish Kilim

Nightcrawlers

Bongo Fury

Curacao Sensivel

Safe as Milk

Electricity

Moonshadow

Jacob’s Ladder

Falling Waters

 

Back to the Future

Yes, May was a busy month with graduations, reunions and out of town guests. June finds me back at the loom, this time weaving something from my not too long ago past. It’s been awhile since I have woven a rag rug. When my son went to college, I wove one for him, and now it’s my daughter’s turn. She and I like to visit thrift shops and look for nostalgia items or clothing that can be recycled. I often buy used  jeans at these shops so I can cut out the pockets. I make a sort of patch from the jeans’ pocket and then sew it onto denim fabric which I use to line the purses that I weave.

Lining pocket from recycled jeans

This lining is from a small rep weave messenger bag that I recently completed.

Small rep weave messenger bag with denim lining

Rep weave to non-weavers is a term that refers to a traditional Swedish weave known as ripsmatta. It is a very sturdy weave as the warp threads are packed close together when threaded on the loom. And so with rep weave on the brain, I warped my Macomber loom with 600 ends of cotton carpet warp for a rep weave rug woven with strips from recycled jeans. This is what it looks like at the moment:

Rep Weave rug woven with recycled jeans

And this is the rug once finished that will go with my daughter to Chicago where as it happens is also the home of my son’s rep weave rug.

Here is another rag rug that I wove some time ago. This one is woven in a point return twill or goose eye pattern. Lucky seems to favor this one.

Lucky on a handwoven goose eye twill rag rug

Detail of the goose eye twill rag rug pattern

Playtime is over, and I am done with weaving with thick weft yarns for awhile. I miss working with fine, smooth and silky yarns. The kind that is soft and that drapes beautifully. Here is another project just completed where I wove two layers of fabric at the same time in a technique known as doubleweave.

Doubleweave fabric on the loom

The fabric on the bottom is bamboo yarn and the fabric on the top layer is a variegated tencel yarn. Both rep weave and doubleweave are slow patterns to weave. In fact there’s nothing fast about any kind weaving. But for me, I believe my future holds the promise of working with finer, smoother and more elegant yarns.

Walking in Memphis

Memphis is hot right now. And I don’t mean just temperature wise. We are getting ready for Memphis in May, a month long celebration on the banks of the Mississippi River. Since 1990, Memphis has been hosting  the Beale St. Music Festival and more recently the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. And The American Queen Riverboat now docks in Memphis. You’ll be able to board in Memphis and cruise on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers with stops in Chattanooga, Louisville, Pittsburgh and New Orleans.The Memphis Grizzlies, our NBA  team are in the playoffs this season. Go Griz! So now is the time to follow Marc Cohn’s advice to go “Walking in Memphis”.

And when you are downtown, check out the storefront at 75 So. Main at the corner of Union. The Downtown Memphis Commission is sponsoring the work of local artists that will be exhibited in downtown windows on the trolley line.  Members of  the  The Memphis Association of Craft Artists are exhibiting their work in the windows at this location. So if you are headed downtown, whether it is to take part in a Memphis in May event, a basketball game, or to enjoy one of the many fine restaurants in the area, take a moment to see what local craft artists have been working on. Here is a glimpse of the work displayed in the downtown windows.

Some of the artists whose work you will see here are textile artist Marilyn League, jewelry artist Mildred Schiff of DreamCasters Originals, glass artist Lisa Butts of Elucido Glass, Cheryl Hazelton of Studio Woodworking, and MemphisWeaver’s own handwoven scarves and handbound books. Many of the other artists whose work are on exhibit in the Downtown Windows can be seen on the MACA website. Indeed, walking in Memphis will reveal the delights of a world class city.

Ode to a Mensch

Turkey Scratch, Arkansas is just a few miles across the Mississippi River from where I am now sitting in Memphis. It is where Levon Helm grew up amid the cotton fields and the fiddlers playing a blend of gospel, country and hillbilly music that would eventually find its way to Memphis and evolve into the blues, rockabilly and rock and roll. Levon and The Band defined the music of my generation in the 60’s and 70’s. He provided the foundation that contributed to my growth as a human being as much as my family of origin did. Growing up near Boston, Massachusetts was as far removed from Turkey Scratch as one could be in 1968. But it was Levon and his generation of musicians that played a vital role in my upbringing.

And it was my brother and the legacy of  his tragic death in 1966 that left me hanging on to the music he loved. The music we shared was a way for me to stay connected to the memory of  our listening to the tinny sounds of Motown and Bob Dylan on his transistor radio. My brother was also a guitarist and I still have and treasure the sheet music that he used to learn to play some of his favorite songs.

And that is how I fell in love with the music of Levon Helm. As I grew up listening to the music that my brother would have loved, I found that I always gravitated back to the sounds of Bob Dylan, and eventually “The Last Waltz” became my favorite album of all time. All the artists featured on the album were those that defined my generation:  Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Emmy Lou Harris. And of course the fine band that played with them.

I regret that I never went to a Midnight Ramble, most notably the Ramble at the Ryman in 2008 just up the road in Nashville. But I was fortunate enough to see Levon Helm and his band, including his daughter Amy perform in Tunica, Mississippi two years ago. And it was a memorable performance.

And so that is how I will remember Mr. Helm. Playful and serious as a performer and always, always talented. Thank you   for the music that will forever remind me of the early days in 1966 – sharing a love of music with my brother that became the seed for embracing the music of my generation.

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.

This One is Circumcised

I just returned from a weekend retreat  at the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tennessee.

Appalachian Center for Craft

I attended a two day workshop presented by Bruce Baker the craft marketing guru whose columns I have read in The Crafts Report ever since my career as a professional craft artist began some time ago. I’m glad I went. Mr. Baker was informative, engaging and entertaining.  Among the pages of notes I managed to take during the workshop sessions, the one concept that stood out more than any other was that we as craft artists need to tell our customers a story about our work. This little exchange of information will make the sale more personal and the memory of it long lasting. So when the piece is admired, the buyer can repeat the story, or if the piece is a gift then the giver can retell the story to the recipient. This is what makes the piece special to the buyer.

I thought about that for awhile, and I realized that I do tell stories about my work.  I often tell my customers about the fibers woven into the scarf, the fibers’ origins and  their sustainability. When customers are interested in my handbound books, I share with them how I use the blank journals. One of my handbound books has pages of recipes that have been handed down from generations. A lovely little coptic stitched  journal has a more mundane task and acts as the keeper of  my passwords to the various online sites I visit. My customers who don’t journal or sketch need to hear these stories to know that there are many ways to fill up the pages of a blank book.

Handbound blank journal with fabric cover and coptic stitch binding.

My father in law, Lou was a great story teller and also used this technique with his customers.  He had been the owner of  several jewelry stores in Brooklyn.    Against his better judgment, he gave his 21 year old son a sales clerk job in one of his stores. This is how I came to know the story, because as it turned out I married his son. On a particularly difficult day, a woman entered the store near closing time.  She asked to look at bracelets. She tried one on, then another and yet another. A small pile of bracelets began to accumulate on the counter top.  None of them seemed to suit her.  Every one that she tried on was too big, too small, too gaudy, not her style, not the right kind of stone and so on. There didn’t seem to be one that agreed with her, but neither she nor my father in law were ready to give up. After nearly an hour of trying on bracelets, she put one on her wrist and turned it a bit and admired it from various angles.  In the meantime, Lou had become exasperated and was about to end the transaction and close the shop for the day. The woman turned to him and said, “This one seems to fit better than the others, why is that?” Without skipping a beat, Lou replied, “Why, that one is circumcised.” Upon hearing that, my  husband who was observing the entire exchange was ready to dive under the counter and become invisible. But he didn’t, because the next words he heard were “I’ll take it!”.

It doesn’t seem to matter what the content of the story is that we tell our customers. What does matter is that whatever we say should make them feel special. And that is the end of the story.

Cream City Ice Cream sign in Cookeville, Tennessee