Weaving Headlines

It always irks me that weaving terms are highlighted in a negative way when used in news headlines. For instance:

DRUNK DRIVER WEAVES ACROSS THREE LANES ON INTERSTATE.

Or,

TOO MUCH TV WARPS CHILDRENS’ MINDS.

Often, “warp” becomes a misspelling of “wrap” such as this headline:

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES WARP UP BUS TOUR CAMPAIGN.

And the one that seems to get the most use:

HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT RATES LOOM AHEAD.

Really, people? Can’t the media see weaving and looms as a positive, creative element in our daily lives? Here are just a few examples of what I’m talking about from our local newspaper, The Commercial Appeal.

Front page news, above the fold

Front page of the Business Section lying on top of a handwoven placemat

Front page of the Local News section, below the fold

But here is a paragraph from an article about a trip to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. The metaphor is a lovely description about a woven tapestry.

Woven tapestry images at Mammoth Cave National Park

So it isn’t all negative, but the positive references seem to be few and far between. Truth be told, weaving just doesn’t make the news. It’s not sexy, weavers for the most part aren’t criminals, and there are no politicians running on a weaving platform.  We seem to be a quiet bunch and manage to stay out of trouble. If there were a headline about me, it would be something like this:

WEAVER UNEARTHS ANCIENT RELIC

Long Lost Butterfly discovered in weaving studio

My cleaning out my weaving studio may be newsworthy, but only to me. And while cleaning I came across this lovely brass butterfly letter holder. I hadn’t seen it in awhile. It was a gift to me from my first roommate in 1973!  I sent her this photo (Yes, after all these years we are still in touch, even though we live a thousand miles apart!) And she replied that she was moved to tears at the memory of this gift as it reminded her of our youthful year together. A sweet headline indeed!

Today, my teenage daughter, who is a Pink Floyd fan, found this, a photo by Aldo Cavini Benedetti which had been altered to resembled Pink Floyd’s iconic album cover to Dark Side of the Moon.

Dark Side of the Loom

The photo is from thisiscolossal.com.  Very clever. Although the title can be a bit misleading. The warp threads seem to be going through the eye of a needle rather than heddles on a loom. But who’s complaining? Loom was mentioned sort of as a headline and in an an interesting way. For Pink Floyd fans, not in a negative way at all. Not at all.

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

KISS of the Weaver

For five years, I had been teaching weaving to senior citizens through Creative Aging Mid-South. The students I have worked with often express their creativity through their lifelong passions and experiences. Students’ abilities have ranged from the completely independent and self learning individuals to those with dementia who require a fair amount of assistance and guidance toward the completion of their projects.

When I work with individuals demonstrating decreased levels of cognitive functioning due to dementia, disease or other illness, I need to structure the project so that the many steps of weaving are broken down into a limited number of  tasks with a repetitive element. For instance, residents of an Alzheimer’s or dementia program will more easily remember the repeated rhythmic chants of  “under, over, under, over” than trying to remember the many steps of weaving with a frame loom such as “raise the heddle, insert the shuttle, beat, lower the heddle, insert the shuttle, beat” and so on. In fact, many of the individuals with cognitive impairments will remember the under and over motion of weaving on a potholder loom, either from their own childhoods or from teaching their children.

In previous classes  offered to dementia groups, I taught weaving on a simple frame loom, or on a cardboard loom where the finished project had to be removed in order to be displayed or worn, such as a woven pendant or necklace. This meant that the students needed to finish their projects before the piece had to be removed.  More often than not, I was the one who ended up having to finish their projects and then preparing them for display or to be worn. In this way, the art work became a piece woven by me and not by the students! And so I had to remind myself to KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID!

For my current class with a group of residents in an assisted living facility which housed an Alzheimer’s unit, I referred to this book for inspiration.

Small Loom and Free Form Weaving by Barbara Matthiessen

The book is Small Loom and Freeform Weaving: Five Ways to Weave by Barbara Matthiessen.  It is available here at Amazon.com. And specifically, I was interested in adapting this altered book project by Ms. Matthiessen and present it to the members of the Alzheimer’s group:

Altered book weaving project idea from “Small Loom and Freeform Weaving”

The author of  Small Loom and Freeform Weaving used the discarded cover of an old book as a loom to weave a non-traditional piece with open spaces in the weaving. In my own studio, I have many sheets of mat board as well as scraps of decorative paper, and so I designed my own mat board looms for the residents of the assisted living facility.

 

Mat board looms in various stages of completion

The looms were made from rectangles of mat board with a decorative frame of scrapbooking paper around the four edges. Carpet tacks were inserted at the top and the bottom of the boards and cotton carpet warp was wound around the tacks. Students used a large wooden weaving needle and bulky novelty yarns in a variety of colors and textures to weave under and over the cotton warp threads.

 

Mat board loom with a wooden weaving needle and bulky weft yarn

For some residents, I needed to begin the first row or two so that they could have a visual image of what their weaving would look like. Once they began  a rhythm of  weaving  “under, over, under, over”, the class was well underway.

 

Selection of some of the yarns students used for weaving

Students most appeared to enjoy the various textures and weights of the yarns, and the brightest and softest yarns were the most popular choices.

 

Weaving on Mat Board Looms at Table I

Weaving on Mat Board Looms at Table II

Ten students joined me in this class and will continue to meet weekly for three more weeks. Many will be able to complete their projects by the end of this time. And the mat board loom will become part of their art creation, because their weaving will not have to be removed from it in order for their work to be displayed! Whether or not they finish weaving, all will have a frame with a woven picture that they can proudly display, and know that they wove it themselves!

And the Beat Goes On

Rosh Hashannah is behind us and the year 5771 has begun. The air is a bit cooler here even in Memphis, which means that there are plenty of  holiday shows to prepare for. But first I want to share photographs of the finished tallitot taken by my friend and professional photographer, Guillermo Umbria.

The project, commissioned by a large synagogue,  began a year ago in October 2009. First there were meetings with the rabbi, then a design committee was assembled and we discussed colors, designs, and various interpretations. For several months I wove small samples of possible designs and in December presented a formal presentation with photographs, sketches and woven samples and yarn samples. The project was approved, and in January 2010 I met again with the design committee, this time with samples of yarn and we held the skeins up to the walls, rugs, stained glass windows, furniture, and Torah covers (mantles) to find the best combination of colors. Once that was decided, the yarn was ordered and all arrived by February including some hand dyed yarn that was as close to a true match to the colors in the Sanctuary as possible.

There was a problem, though!  I had several Spring shows scheduled for March, April and May, so that the actual weaving process couldn’t begin straight away.  I was able to prepare the warps and thread them on the looms by the end of April. And it was at that time that I slowly started weaving the prayer shawls. The weaving picked up during the summer months and the final pieces were delivered the last day in August. Which wasn’t bad, as I had promised them to be finished by the last week in August. Whew! That was close, but I made it. And it was a beautiful sight to see the three rabbis and the cantor wearing the tallitot over their white robes for the first of several services during these High Holiday Days, or 10 Days of Awe.

"Ner Tamid", Eternal Light. High Holy Day Tallit for a Rabbi

Atarah, neck band for "Ner Tamid"

"Sha'arei Torah", Gates of Torah. Shabbat and daily use tallit for a rabbi

Atarah, neck band for "Sha'arei Torah"

As the song says, “And the Beat Goes On”, because I am once again back at my looms, swinging the beater forward, now weaving scarves and fabric for purses. This time to prepare for several holiday shows and classes over the next several months.  I’ll post these as the dates get closer.  Meanwhile, here’s a look at what will be in store as far as handweaving goes for the Memphis market during the holiday season.

Handwoven scarves by MemphisWeaver

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.

When Pork Repeats Itself

A Cautionary Tale
I know I promised you a post about weaving and book arts, but this was something I just couldn’t over look. Just had to write this post relating back to my previous post about ba pao or pork buns.

Pork Buns Ready for Steaming

Seems that another WordPress blogger liked the post so much that she took it upon herself to copy certain elements from my writing, including the title, key phrases and even part of my recipe, most notably my signature filling of Memphis style barbeque pulled pork. And she had the nerve to call it her own.

Now the description of my pork bun with Memphis style barbeque pulled pork  is not a traditional filling for Chinese ba pao often served at dim sum. Generally the pork is cut into chunks and cooked in a hoisin sauce or a sweet Chinese soybean paste. The coloring is usually dark brown or red. This is the steamed bun that I have made with a Memphis style barbeque pulled pork filling:

MemphisWeaver's Steamed Pork Bun

Steamed pork bun with Memphis style BBQ pulled pork filling

On the outside, my pork bun or ba pao may look traditional, but the filling is anything but, as I have incorporated my own smoky pulled pork with my signature barbeque sauce into the filling.

So here’s where I get on the soapbox about plagiarism. As a handweaver, I frown upon anyone copying my designs and products thread by thread with the result being an exact replica of my original art. But also as an artist who blogs, I encourage and challenge weavers to try the designs and techniques I write about and even expand upon them. We all have our own sense of style, our own color and fiber preferences, our own way of handling our looms. My point being, there’s nothing wrong with liking somebody else’s ideas, designs or techniques. But don’t copy them and call them your own, instead be inspired by them. Use what you like about it as a foundation to build upon with your own creative energy so the final product will be yours and yours alone. The final product should bear your own characteristic signature whatever that might be as long as it’s unique and different from the artist/writer/chef who inspired you in the first place.

Footnote:  With gratitude to Heshie for the ingenious suggestion of the title.

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.