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!

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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