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.

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Confetti Landscapes

During the holiday show season, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Kacky Walton on Memphis’ NPR affiliate, WKNO-FM. As a listener of her radio program, I always found her to be one of the most upbeat radio personalities that I ever heard. And sure enough, upon meeting her, she proved me right! This was my radio debut and her warmth and friendliness put me right at home.

During the interview, I wore a scarf that I had woven about 10 years earlier. Kacky remarked that the scarf looked like someone had merrily thrown bits of colorful confetti on it. It was a new description of a scarf I hadn’t woven in a long time. But her observations propelled me into re-examining this scarf design and weaving a collection for 2012.

When photographing the scarves in their various stages of production, the colors and textures reminded me of urban landscapes of tall buildings with mirrored windows and banners blowing in the wind.

Hand dyed tencel scarf with novelty yarn on the loom

The warp is a hand dyed 5/2 tencel yarn from Yarns Plus in Mississuaga, Ontario Canada. The novelty yarn is Cancun by Stacey Charles.

Dark confetti scarf of tencel and novelty yarn on the loom

The original 10 year old handwoven scarf that inspired the confetti landscapes

And the wound warp chain that will be the next set of scarves to go on the loom looks more like a high desert landscape.

I am looking forward to seeing the customers’ reactions to these colorful, textured and playful 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?

The Last Picture Show

The annual “Celebration of Fine Craft Fair” showcasing the artists of the Memphis Association of Craft Artists was recently held at Christian Brothers University. Over 35 artists from West Tennessee and Northern Mississippi were represented. Only the third year since its inception, the “Celebration of Fine Craft Fair” educates the community about the wide range of craft media, including clay, paper, metal, glass, fiber and jewelry.  This year several artists embraced the concept of “green art” by incorporating recycled materials in their work. The artists involved are also instrumental in raising money by donating their works in a silent auction. All proceeds from the auction supports the new undergraduate Art Department at the University.

Though I did not have the time during the weekend long show to photograph the overall fair set up, I have included here a photo of my own booth where I sold handwoven scarves, purses and handbound books.  Also a few photos of new work that I created just for this show.

 

MemphisWeaver's booth at the 2011 Craft Fair of Memphis Craft Artists

Handwoven bamboo, cotton and fun fur scarf woven in spaced twill

Detail, handwoven, bamboo, cotton and ribbon scarf woven in spaced twill

Back cover, handbound book made from recycled LP vinyl record and album cover - The Carpenters

Dr. Zhivago, handbound book made from recyced LP vinyl record and album cover

The Way We Were, handbound book made from recycled LP vinyl record and album cover

Love Story, handbound book made from recycled LP vinyl record and album cover

And a poster of the next show and sale where I will be selling my work:

Phase Two

Today is the first day of school in Memphis, Tennessee.  That means that I have larger blocks of time for my creative work which includes designing, weaving, and writing. Yes, this blog has suffered over the course of the summer, but today I will catch you up on the progress of the commission I was weaving for the synagogue. I was commissioned to weave two sets of four prayer shawls or tallitot in a particular style for the three rabbis and cantor who lead the congregation’s services. The first set will be unveiled at the High Holiday Services which begin at sunset the evening of Rosh Hashanah on September 8. This set of four prayer shawls is nearing completion.  My friend and seamstress extraordinaire has sewn together the two panels of each prayer shawl, sewn on the neckbands, or atarot, and lined each one with exquisite Bemberg rayon.

Handwoven prayer shawl, woven with natural tencel and bamboo yarn, and hand dyed tencel yarn

I still need to hand sew four small buttonholes at each of the four corners.  These will be for the placement of the four tzitzit, or ritual fringe that will be knotted and wound according to the instructions cited in  Numbers 15:37-40. The Torah is a scroll hand written in Hebrew and contains the Five Books of Moses:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Those leading a service of Jewish worship read from the Torah. In a synagogue, the Torah scrolls are housed in an alcove or cabinet referred to as an Ark. Above the Ark hangs an eternal light called Ner Tamid. Since the woven design of this first set of prayer shawls resembled a flame, I have titled this set Ner Tamid.

Detail of atarah on prayer shawl, Ner Tamid

For the prayer shawls, I wove a separate neckband, or atarahAtarot are not required of all tallitot, however they are customarily incorporated into the overall design of the prayer shawl and can be woven directly onto the body of the prayer shawl or woven separately and then sewn on in the final construction as in the case of the set I wove for this commission. The atarah above was woven with natural and hand dyed tencel yarn in a combination twill weave.

Currently on my Macomber loom is the second set of four prayer shawls which will be finished shortly after the High Holidays in mid-September. So in the next month, I will need to finish weaving the body of the tallitot and also weave a separate set of four atarot. The second set of prayer shawls will be those worn for every day use, and the tallitot called Ner Tamid will be worn for special occasions such as holidays, weddings and Bar/Bat Mitvahs.

One of four prayer shawls on the loom

Above is the design I am weaving for the second set of prayer shawls.  They are also woven in natural tencel and bamboo yarn.  As with the first set I am weaving two panels for each prayer shawls, and these have been threaded side by side on the loom and woven simultaneously so that the woven color bands will be of equal size. I haven’t named this set yet, but I’m sure that something will reveal itself to me during the weaving process.

As the days grow shorter at the beginning of this school year, I will expect longer and uninterrupted blocks of time so that I can finally finish this project. It has been a rewarding journey, and I am really looking forward to seeing the rabbis and cantor wearing the new tallitot at the beginning of the Jewish New Year 5771.

A Cheater’s Lace

The song says “A Cheater’s Love Will Set You Free”.  Don’t really know if it’s true, but I was thinking of those words when feeling the pressure to produce appropriate gifts for this Mother’s Day show:

The Spring Show

Much of my scarf inventory was diminished with the recent show less than a month ago. And with the weather warming up, tightly woven scarves were out of the question.  So I decided to weave some lacey scarves which really hadn’t been in my repertoire that much.  After much research and deliberating, I settled on a weave pattern based on a modified Atwater-Bronson lace.  The end product was a lightweight airy fabric that draped beautifully and was perfect for cool summer evenings, a rare occurrence here in Memphis.  So this shawl really had to be pleasing to the eyes.

The warp is a 10/2 perle cotton which was sett loosely at 20 ends per inch (epi).  These three colors were used in the warp.

10/2 perle cotton in natural, bleached white, and pale pink

I threaded a simplified variation of the more traditional 6 thread unit of the original Atwater-Bronson lace pattern. I used a 4 thread unit instead which utilized only 3 harnesses on my 8 harness loom. Sweet! Threading was easy.  In a 10 dent reed, I threaded 2 ends per dent and in the heddles, threaded in this order:  shaft 1, shaft 3, shaft 1 and shaft 2.  This 1-3-1-2 threading was repeated for the entire 15″ width of the shawl. Treadling and tie up were even easier.  I used only 4 treadles:  treadle 1 raised shaft 1, treadle 2 raised shaft 2, treadle 3 raised shaft 1 and treadle 4 raised shafts 2 and 3 together.  And so treadling was an easy to remember 1-2-3-4 !

Cotton/bamboo lace shawl on the loom

The weft was 100% bamboo yarn, Bambu 7 from Silk City Fibers. Here is the detail of the lace weave with the Bambu 7 weft of  “Rice”.

Detail Atwater-Bronson Lace weave with Bambu 7 "Rice"

And here is a detail of the lace weave with a weft of the Bambu 7 yarn in the color “Tide Blue”.

Detail Atwater-Bronson Lace weave with weft of Bambu 7 "Tide Blue"

The finished lace shawl on my faithful model Velma who accompanies me to every show:

Handwoven cotton/bamboo lace shawl

So, was this simplified version of Atwater-Bronson lace weave a cheater’s lace?  Definitely yes!  And did it set me free? Absolutely yes! And Velma looked pretty good in the finished shawl.

Shabby Chic

My inspiration comes from my stash. And when I was looking for some textured yarn without leaving the comfort of my home weaving studio, I found this.

eyelash yarn - not recommended for use as warp yarn

My thought was to use a little of this as accent yarn in the warp with 10/2 perle cotton. Of course, this was a mistake.  The hairy characteristics of this “eyelash” yarn made the weaving process a slow and painstaking task which is not ordinarily the case with my weaving projects.  And to add insult to injury,  I was only a few inches short of the end of the scarf, when I ran out of the bamboo yarn I was using as weft.  Luckily, I had a new full cone of the same color, but having ordered the yarns on two separate occasions, of course the dye lots were different.  Yes, even with a bleached white yarn, this makes a difference.

My solution was to dip the finished scarf in a bath of green tea to give it an “antiqued” look and so masking the different shades of white. After the usual finishing of a quick soak and swirl in mild detergent and spin drying in the washing machine, I gave it a go. I added 20 green tea bags to boiling water in a large  stew pot.  I let the tea simmer and steep until the water was moderately warm, then removed the tea bags.  I placed the still wet scarf in the pot and moved it around a bit, then let it sit overnight. Didn’t fret over it.  Had a nice cocktail before bed and slept like a baby.

I was just expecting a softened creamy color, not a harsh brown so I hadn’t added any salt to the tea. (My understanding is that the addition of salt before dyeing would break down the fibers a bit and thus allow the fabric to more readily accept the dye.) And a soft creamy color is what I got the next morning.  After emptying the tea water, I rinsed the scarf   a few times until the water was clear.  In the last rinse, I added a bit of white vinegar and a couple of drops of mild dishwashing liquid.  The vinegar to set the color and the soap to remove any telltale vinegar odor. One more round in the washing machine’s spin cycle and the scarf  looked great as it hung to dry.

The finished scarf looks like a hot little  “shabby chic” number – an accessory for an “urban distressed” outfit.

Green tea dyed handwoven eyelash scarf

And, yes, the green tea dye completely covered any discrepancy in shades of the white bamboo yarn.  Success!