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?

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A Tale of Two Tallitot

Tallitot is plural for tallit.  For those of you who are wondering what a tallit is —  it is a prayer shawl worn for Jewish worship. The shawl has special twined and knotted fringes called tzitzit attached to its four corners. There are more than two tallitot involved here, but I really liked the alliterative reference!

This previous post described one of my long term projects – a commission to weave eight ceremonial tallitot, prayer shawls for a large synagogue.  The project is currently on my loom and looks like this.

Tallit on loom - Right and Left sides are woven separately and at the same time

This is the first prayer shawl in a series of four. These are ceremonial tallitot and so are narrower than standard prayer shawls.  They will be worn around the neck  much like a scarf and with a seam in the back.  The tallitot will be lined and taper to a width of about  four inches at the seam at the back of the neck.  Here is my sketch for one side of the tallit.

sketch of tallit design

The reason that I am weaving a single tallit side by side is so that the pattern bands are equal in length as these will lie in front of the wearer and for the congregation to see. Ideally the pattern bands should line up with each other.   This means that I am weaving with four shuttles at a time:  each side has one shuttle for plain weave and one shuttle for the pattern weave. I will also be weaving a separate neck band or atarah which will be sewn over the back seam and whose design will extend onto the front of the prayer shawl. This is the blue green band that is at the top of the design sketch.

Detail of tallit on loom

The warp and plain weave weft yarn for this project is an undyed  natural 8/2 tencel yarn.  The pattern weft is Bambu 7 in solid colors and also a handpainted 5/2 tencel.  The pattern design is a variation of  a honeysuckle twill.  The weave pattern for the atarah will be in a different design. The imagery of the twill weave reminded me of a flame, and so this collection will be titled “Ner Tamid” the eternal light above the Holy Ark that houses the Torah and thus is a symbol of God’s ever presence.

This first  set of four prayer shawls should be completed by the time of the Jewish New Year, or the High Holy Days which this year occurs the first week of September.  And at this time as well, Lark Books will introduce a new book: “500 Judaica:  Innovative Contemporary Ritual Art.” This is one of Lark Books’  “500 series”  of publications showcasing collections of contemporary design by an international array of artists in varying media.

Lark Books' "500 Judaica"

And it just so happens that four of  my original design handwoven tallitot have been selected for publication in this book. This book will be available in September and can be purchased at all book stores and online shops.  To find out more visit Lark Books.

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.

Planning Ahead

When I first met Mr. MemphisWeaver, one of the things I remember him saying was  “Man plans, God laughs”.  This from a well known Yiddish proverb,  Mann traoch, Gott Lauch. We’re all laughing now, because at that moment we weren’t planning on marrying and being together for at least 26 years.  But it’s true. Yes, it’s true.

And now I am planning ahead for some projects that will keep me busy for awhile.  Short term are two art and fine craft fairs where I will be selling my handwoven scarves, accessories and handbound books.  One is happening this weekend, February 20 at the Hutchison School in Memphis. The second show will be at Christian Brothers University in Memphis the last weekend in March (26-28).

Some of the items that I have been working on to include in these shows are handwoven scarves woven with bamboo, cotton and ribbon yarns, and also a series of handbound books made with hand made paper.  The book bindings are varied ranging from herringbone, coptic and long stitch.

Handwoven bamboo scarves

Handbound books with Thai mango paper covers

The long term projects I will be working on are the eight ceremonial prayer shawls that I will be weaving  by commission for a large synagogue.  The shipments of  yarns required for this project recently arrived, and I will be warping my looms as soon as my production for the art/craft fairs has calmed down.  The warp for this project will be 8/2 undyed natural tencel yarn from Webs.

16 pounds of undyed 8/2 tencel yarn

The background weft will be the 8/2 tencel, and the pattern weft will be Bambu 7 from Silk City Fibers and a luscious hand painted 5/2 tencel from Yarns Plus. The friendly folks at Yarns Plus were especially helpful in guiding me in the preparation of the hand painted tencel, particularly in light of the fact that I will be weaving it with undyed tencel.

Bambu 7 Yarns to be used for the prayer shawl project

Handpainted 5/2 tencel yarn

I’ve wrapped the yarn and color sequence around a foam board as a way of planning the pattern design.

Yarn and color sequence for 2 sets of prayer shawls

The first set of four prayer shawls needs to be completed in time for the High Holy Days in early September. My goal is for this to happen! These are my plans and I hope no one laughs…

Diary of A Mad Weaver

Like realtors whose mantra is “location, location, location”, the weavers’ mantra is “sample, sample, sample”. But as a weaver for 30 years, I’m very bad at this.  I just don’t have the patience to weave a small sample to represent a larger piece, and my attention is so short, that by the time the sample is off the loom, I’ve changed my mind completely as far as pattern, colors, yarn, textures, etc.  With my limited production of handwoven scarves and purses that I sell at fairs and shows, I like to design directly on the loom. This gives me creator’s license to make one of a kind items.  Even though my loom might be set up to weave a dozen scarves for example, each one will be unique.  When I see the weave pattern develop as I  throw the shuttle, that is the time when my creative juices flow most freely.  My stash of yarns is within my visual field while weaving, and my eye always seems to rove in that direction. I see nubby yarns, metallic yarns, blended yarns, exotic yarns, and I like the idea of “contrasts” in my weaving:  dark/light, thick/thin, smooth/nubby, dull/shiny etc.  And so I prefer designing directly on the loom rather than sampling beforehand.

But  (and there’s always one of those) I also weave commissions for the religious community here in the Memphis area.  And because I often work with a committee representing the church, synagogue, or clergy I have to create samples to show before getting a final design approval.  And when I do, I usually go overboard, creating many more samples than necessary!  Currently I am working on a commission to weave two sets of 4 tallitot, prayer shawls with a neckband used in Jewish worship, for a large synagogue.  After a brief presentation with the senior rabbi, I decided to use bamboo and tencel for the warp and weft of the prayer shawls.  My decision was largely based on  the clergy members’ requests that they won’t get hot from wearing the tallitot. So my usual materials of a silk and wool blend yarn was out of the question.  I had previously woven a tallit for a girl’s Bat Mitzvah ceremony with a bamboo warp and weft.

bamboo tallit

Handwoven Tallit (prayer shawl) woven with bamboo yarn

This prayer shawl was woven in a diamond twill pattern.  The twill weave structure really lent itself to the light weight of the bamboo and this combination created an elegant drape – something that would be appropriate and attractive for a tallit.

And so I set out to order samples of both bamboo and tencel yarns in varying weights.

yarn samples 2

bamboo and tencel yarn samples

Sample yarns and color cards began to pour in from a number of suppliers and manufacturers.  There were yarns of several different weights:  16/2, 10/2, 8/2 and 5/2.  There were solid colors, variegated, mill dyed, hand dyed.  It was time to get organized!  No more designing on the loom – I had to create samples and decide on some successful patterns that could be presented to the design committee. All the sample cards were given their own sleeve protector which were all filed in my new loose leaf binder from Office Depot.

I threaded my looms six times to get an elegant twill weave that would also create a natural drape.  Most of my samples proved to be useless – the pattern was too small, or too detailed, or did not match any of my visual preconceptions of a final design.  So sampling turned out to be a good thing!

weaving samples 1

Handwoven samples in twill and overshot weave structures

With the materials I was using- a 10/2 tencel yarn in the warp and Bambu 7 in the weft, a variety of twill weaves packed down too much and became a dense fabric.  Not at all what I was looking for.  With much procrastination I rethreaded my looms once again with a few overshot patterns, not my favorite weave.  But it turned out that I really liked the way the fabric draped and the look of the overall designs.

Here are some of the overshot patterns that I am considering to present to the design committee for a decision on the final tallitot designs.

weaving samples 6

Honeysuckle Twill Overshot Pattern #1

weaving samples 7

Honeysuckle Twill Overshot Pattern #2

weaving samples 2

Double Diamond Pattern

My instructions from the design committee were to make these prayer shawls “colorful” and “grandiose” in a design that would represent this synagogue for the twenty years that they expect these tallitot to last.  Not too much pressure there, right? So as I continue this journey, I will try to post more about this project and possibly dear reader, you will watch me descend into madness…..

Scarf Update

My last post had a  photo of the 5 warp chains that I managed to prepare during my week of being stranded.  I was able to warp my Leclerc 4 harness floor loom with the turquoise warp.  The weave structure is plain weave with warp floats of a bulky slubby cotton yarn.  The warp is a 16/2 cotton that was gifted to me.  I fell in love with the rich turquoise color of this yarn but while warping, several threads broke.  Clearly this yarn was not strong enough to withstand a long warp.  With a bit of tweaking and keeping a close eye on the brake while tensioning, I was able to wrestle control of this yarn. It was worth it.  I used Bambu 7 (there it is again, I love the stuff!) from Woodland Woolworks in the weft.  Bamboo yarn is a bit slippery especially when using it as both warp and weft, but combined with another non-slippery yarn, it weaves easily, and provides a  lovely drape.

cotton and bamboo scarf on the loom

cotton and bamboo scarf on the loom

The warp floats of the slub cotton gives the scarf added texture and color.  The bamboo weaves very quickly.  There is enough warp — 5 yards —  to weave two 72″ long scarves with about 4″ of fringe at each end.  These scarves will be the last projects I will complete before the “Celebration of Fine Craft”, a 3 day show and marketplace at Christian Brothers University in Memphis.  It takes place this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 17 – 19. The hours are 10 AM – 7:30 PM Friday including an opening reception beginning at 5:30, 9 AM – 6 PM Saturday, and 12 PM to 5 PM Sunday.  Memphis Association of Craft Artists is partnering with the University to sponsor the fair with the intention of it becoming an annual tradition.

MACA show and marketplace postcard

MACA show and marketplace postcard

There will be over 35 local craft artists showing and selling their products.  Media represented include pottery, jewelry, wood, fiber, clay and metal.  I will be the only weaver there!  The fine art students will be hosting a silent auction of fine craft items donated by the artists to benefit the Fine Art Department’s scholarship fund.

My next projects are just waiting in the wings.  The UPS truck just delivered this:

11 cones of cotton/rayon flax yarn for my next project

11 cones of cotton/rayon/flax yarn for my next project

And, look at this  fine bottle of wine waiting for me.  Love the graphics on the label!

Luchador, a 2006 shiraz

Luchador, a 2006 shiraz from South Australia

Cheers!

Chains of Woe

When my Volvo died some time ago, I inherited an ancient Ford Taurus from a family member.  It was gold, and I dubbed it “the old man’s car”.  So it was not a surprise that the Taurus took a vacation away from me and spent last week in the repair shop. Being marooned in my home based weaving studio allowed me to prepare a number of warps in anticipation of weaving lightweight summer scarves.

I was able to wind 5 warp chains of 5 yards each so that I could weave 2 scarves from each warp.

5 warp chains for scarves

5 warp chains for scarves

I use a warping reel to wind my warps.  I find that it goes a lot quicker than using a warping board, and there is less of a chance for error.  I also use “pony poppers” to wrap around the entire bundle of yarn before taking the warp off of the reel and before chaining.  Pony poppers are hair accessories that look like elastic bands with 2 beads attached.  They are used for holding pony tails for little girls.  Pony poppers are a lot easier to use for securing a warp than cutting and tying a bunch of choke ties out of junk yarn.  Definitely a time saver.

The scarves are wound from cotton, rayon or bambu yarns with a heavier cotton knitting yarn inserted every 1/2 inch in the warp. Those of you familiar with my previous posts, know that I am a fan of Bambu 7 yarn from Woodland Woolworks. It is soft, lustrous and drapes beautifully.  It is also available in different weights.

These warp chains will eventually make their way to one of my multi-harness floor looms.  My plan is to weave lightweight  scarves with the heavier knitting yarn providing some contrast in both color and texture.  The bright turquoise cotton and bambu warp will be the first to go on my loom. Stay tuned to follow the weaving progress of  these scarves and possibly other tales of woe about the old man’s car!