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.

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.

Kreativ Blogger

A couple of weeks ago  Bety from Deep End of the Loom nominated me to be recognized as a “Kreativ Blogger”.  It was quite flattering and an honor to know that there are talented fiber artists out there who are reading my blog and may even be getting something out of it!  I truly appreciate that! And I especially appreciate Bety’s acknowledgment of my efforts.

The Kreativ Blogger nomination is an excellent way to share one’s passions with the online community and in turn learn from others.  The origin of this award and it’s logo was designed by Norwegian blogger Hulda who created it in May 2008  from fabric scraps:

Kreative Blogger

Once a blogger has been nominated for this honor, there are 7 criteria that the honoree needs to follow in order to pass this award on to others

1. Thank the person who gave this to you.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link the person who nominated you.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that no one would really know.
5. Nominate seven ‘Kreativ Bloggers’.
6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them.

Now for the seven things about me.  Those of you who have been followers of my writings, rantings, and whatnot, know that I am a fanatic when it comes to music of all kinds.  So in the “kreativ” spirit of this award, I am posting seven  links to seven songs that I think will reveal a few things about me that most of you won’t already know.

1. “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys.

It’s not what you think.  I’ve lived in two countries and fourteen cities.

2.  “Ragmamarag” by Robbie Robertson and the Band

I am a mama, and occasionally I complain.

3.  “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley

I’ve been told I’m paranoid.  And being in Memphis, I had to include one by Elvis.

4.  “Twisted” by Joni Mitchell

Just listen to the lyrics….

5.  “Your Mind is on Vacation and Your  Mouth is Working Overtime” by Mose Allison

Because I’ve been told I talk too much and what I say may or may not be about nothing.

6.  “Red Red Wine” by UB 40

I also enjoy good food and good wine.

7.  “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley

Because life is too short….

That was the easy part.  Now for the hard part.  There are many, many more blogs that I would like to add to this list of seven.  But as I am limited to only seven, here are my nominees in no particular order for “Kreativ Blogger”.

Woven Thoughts – also spinning, and dyeing,in fact anything fiber:  http://www.saralamb.blogspot.com

Mulberries and Dew-ethics, sustainability, weaving, and a love of the handcrafted: http://taliweinberg.wordpress.com

Meridian Jacobs – life on the farm and at the loom:  http://meridianjacobs.wordpress.com

Book Girl-random musings on my bookish (and occasionally other) passions:  http://ashevillebookgirl.blogspot.com

My Handbound Books-bookbinding blog:  http://myhandboundbooks.blogspot.com

Getting Purly With It-adventures and yarn lustings of a passionate knitter:  http://gettingpurlywithit.wordpress.com

Buy-A-Thread-adventures in the skein trade:  http://buyathread.wordpress.com

Congratulations to all the nominees.  May we continue to be honored by your words, photographs and creativity.

Fiber Rush

You thought I was going to write about weavers who get a “rush” from working with the fiber of their choice, right?  Wrong. I am going to tell you about a product called fiber rush.  It is a twisted paper cord used mostly to weave chair seats. It comes in a variety of diameters from the smallest 1/32″ to the largest 6/32″ and it comes in brown, gold or white. I purchased two – 1 pound coils of the smallest sizes #1 and #2.

Baby Fiber Rush

The baby fiber rush as it is often called can be used as a core in coiling baskets and also for small wicker furniture.  I found this at Royalwood Ltd. a source for basket weaving and seat weaving supplies. They are in Mansfield, OH and I also order Irish Waxed Linen thread from them.  I use the thread for bookbinding.

My previous experience with basket weaving was not a pleasant one, and so that was not my intention with the fiber rush.  I was looking for a stiff material that I could use as weft in a rep weave pattern.  I had previously tried weaving with wire but I did not like working with the constantly kinking, curling and twisting wire.   Three dimensional weaving had always intrigued me and I was curious as to how I could weave a bowl or vase on the loom.

The #2 baby fiber rush seemed more stiff than the #1 and thus more suitable to my idea of the final product.  I wound a bunch of the rush around a stick shuttle.  The rush would be the thick rows of weft to create the dominate weave pattern.  For the alternating thin rows, I used a spool of sewing thread which I simply inserted onto the shaft of a boat shuttle. Using the thick and thin wefts, I wove the way I would normally weave a rep weave pattern.  This is how it looks on my loom.

Rep weave on loom, woven with alternate weft rows of fiber rush and sewing thread

My warp is 3/2 perle cotton sett at 30 epi.  I blended various shades of blues and yellows together so the pattern wouldn’t look so flat.  This was a recommendation by Joanne Tallarovic in her book Rep Weave and Beyond. In fact the above pattern was inspired by her “Circle of Life” sash on page 78. The fiber rush in the thick rows can only be seen at the selvages of the woven fabric.

Once this piece is off the loom I will try to sew it into a basket.  I wove two same sized and identical pieces that I will lay flat, one centered and perpendicular to the other one on the bottom.  Then I will fold up the sides and hand sew the corners where they meet.  I will also sew the open ended selvages on the bottom edges of the “basket” and perhaps insert a square of mat board if the piece is not stiff enough.  The actual fabric is not as stiff as I had intended, so I don’t know if this will even work.  I have also woven some extra pieces on this warp, so if all else fails, I will at least have some rep weave pieces that I can use as book covers.

Fiber rush, anyone?

Brand New Day

After finishing that little shabby chic scarf (see previous post), my next project seems to be the opposite extreme.  The characteristics of the scarf that is currently on my loom are  traditional and conservative.  The fiber in the warp is Zephyr, a silk and wool blend made by Jaggerspun. The weft is a wool heathered yarn also by Jaggerspun.  I happen to have a few cones of it in my stash.

Blue heathered wool by Jaggerspun

The yarn was left over from a cooperative project that I participated in with some other weavers.  All of us wove a 20″ X 20″  square of an overshot design of our choosing and we exchanged the squares with each other.  Supposedly to make a friendship coverlet — however some members of this group never quite finished, so I am left with a partial coverlet.

The overshot design I chose was called “Four Leaf Clover”.  Here is a detail of my woven square.

Detail of handwoven square - "Four Leaf Clover" pattern

I’m still wondering what to do with the handful of coverlet squares I do have.  All of them are beautiful, but just not enough to sew into a coverlet.  I may frame them…

Back to the current project. I decided to weave a pattern called “Shaded Twill” which is described in Marguerite Davison’s A Handweaver’s Pattern Book. This is what it looks like on my loom at this moment.

Shaded Twill Weave Scarf on Loom

Very unusual for my handwoven scarves – not my style at all. In my weaving, I tend to favor lightweight fibers like cotton, bamboo and tencel.  My colors generally lean toward the lights and brights, sometimes even neon. And my patterns favor texture often with floats to break up the monotony of a repetitive weave pattern. But I had to use up that wool yarn and I already had a warp chain wound of the natural silk and wool blend yarn. And this is the result.  Pretty pattern with a suggestion of quiet elegance,  and the wool is  soft and comforting as well.  I will weave the one scarf, then I’ll be back to my old funky self – color and texture – the two characteristics that drew me into the weaving process to begin with. But change is good sometimes, and this shows that even unplanned change in a new direction can have its merits.

A Loom By Any Other Name

I’ve always taken issue when the word “loom” is used in a context other than weaving.  For instance:  “A harsh winter looms ahead.” Or “Factory workers’ strike looms.”  It always seems that it’s used in a negative way when weaving isn’t involved.  Deborah Chandler in Learning To Weave defines “loom” this way:

…a device to hold a set of yarns taut

so that it is easy to weave other yarns over

and under them.  (p. 14)

Cotton and ribbon "warp" tied with taut tension to front of floor loom

You Transylvanians are probably getting ready to do the time warp again. And though I’ve waited in an endless line in a raincoat to see “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and thrown toast at the movie screen, this is a slightly different time warp.  In fact it really doesn’t involve time transference except that it does take a bit of time to put a warp on a loom.

Deborah Chandler defines “warp” as this:  the yarn attached to the loom such as the warp yarns of cotton and ribbon tied to the front of a floor loom pictured above.  The warp is always kept under tension during the weaving process. The “weft”, Chandler continues is the cross threads that are woven over and under the warp threads.  “Warp” and “weft” are the essential ingredients of a handwoven product.

Not all looms need to be floor looms like the one pictured.  Here are some simple wood  and cardboard looms.  All of them are capable of holding a tight warp.

Simple wood looms

The loom on the left  is a small sample loom for needle weaving.  The loom on the right is a potholder loom just like the plastic or metal ones we all seemed to have as children.

Cardboard looms made from mat board

Above are cardboard looms cut from mat board.  They are notched at either end and then threaded with a warp of Peaches and Cream cotton yarn.  The two purses are examples of products that can be woven on a cardboard loom.

Harrisville peg loom

Here is a peg loom made by Harrisville Designs. The wooden needle is used to weave in the weft,  in this case fabric or “rag” strips.  The rag purse with braided handle is an example of what can be woven on the peg loom.

Now here is my gripe, other than the one when “loom” is used the wrong way.  If you have ever typed “handwoven” in the search box of an online retail site such as Etsy, you will find many items, most of them lovely.  However, not all have a warp and a weft which is the hallmark of a truly handwoven item. Some are knitted, some are crocheted, some are braided.  Keep in mind that these items are made with sticks, sometimes one, sometimes two.  They are not created on a loom, and they do not have a warp and a weft.  Let me just say, “Buyer beware”.  When you want to purchase a handwoven item, be sure it has a warp and a weft.  This means that it was woven on a loom – any kind of loom, from simple to complex. Weaving is a unique process – it is not knitting, crocheting, quilting, or embroidery although there are people who mistakenly believe so.

As for me, I am lucky to have a loom (several of them in fact) of my own.  And mine comes with a view.

My loom with a view

It’s Supplementary, My Dear Watson

This scarf came about by mistake.  A simple mistake. An elementary one, really.  Against my better judgment gained from 30 years of weaving, I used a loosely spun novelty yarn as a supplementary warp that would sit or “float”  on top of the woven fabric and then anchored down by a weft row every 12 picks.  And of course as I was beaming the warp, the novelty yarn began to break and unravel causing a major headache and a few choice words on my part.  So I carefully removed the novelty yarn and continued to wind the 10/2 perle cotton warp minus the supplementary warp threads which were meant to be spaced at every fifth dent in an 8 dent reed.  The 10/2 perle cotton was sleyed at 3 ends per dent for 4 consecutive dents, then the fifth dent  for the supplementary novelty yarn remained empty.  And so this pattern of sleying continued for the width of the scarf which was 7 inches.

I needed a replacement for the heavier novelty yarn. A quick look at my yarn shelves revealed this little used cone of fuchsia mohair and nylon yarn.

cone of mohair and nylon yarn for supplementary warp

I wound 12 ends of this mohair yarn, each measuring  7 1/2 yards which was the length of the original warp.  The ends were threaded through the empty dents and heddles that were reserved for the supplementary warp yarn. Because the 10/2 warp was already tied and wound onto the the warp beam, I had to improvise with the mohair yarn. The entire length of each of the supplementary warp yarns were wrapped around  small squares of plastic needlepoint canvas weighted down with a washer.  A small “Boston” clip was used to keep the yarn in place and to prevent unraveling. These were hung over the loom’s back beam.

Supplementary warp ends hanging from back of loom

It looked rather messy, but it worked.  This was a true “McGyver” moment! The two film canisters held ends of 10/2 perle cotton that happened to break during the beaming and so also needed replacements.

During the actual weaving, the scarf had a supplementary weft yarn that was inserted  after every 12 picks. I used the same mohair/nylon yarn for the supplementary weft.

Scarf with supplementary warp and weft on loom

Detail of handwoven pattern

The choice of colors to me wasn’t an ideal one, but given the selection of my yarn stash, it seemed to work better than anything else that was at hand. This was a simple and easy solution to a very frustrating problem.  And I was reminded that I always tell my students that 75% of weaving is trying to figure out how to solve a problem.  In this case, the problem was  my mistake and short sightedness.  It’s all supplementary, I mean elementary isn’t it?