Winter Arts 2011

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? There’s a good reason for that! In addition to my teaching responsibilities and a couple of small shows where I have been selling my work, I have also been developing a couple of new products.  In my work with handbound books, I have designed a series that I call “Geometrie”. They are soft cover books with designer fabric sewn to stiff interfacing and a triangular flap that slides under a sewn on fabric strip. The stitching on the spine is a triple chain link stitch which Keith Smith describes in his book “1-2-& 3 Section Sewings”

Soft cover books handbound with triple chain link stitch

And here is a detail of the front triangular flap and closure.

Soft cover handbound book with front flap closure

And my looms have all been seeing a lot of action these past few months. I have been working on handwoven vests and tops as well as more scarves. Most of my work will be included in WinterArts, a six week show that showcases regional artists and their one of a kind work. 2011 will be the third holiday season that this show has been offered to the community and it is now considered one of the most prestigious holiday shows in the Memphis Area.

Poster for WinterArts 2011

The show opens this Friday night, November 25 with a wine and cheese reception. All the 25 plus artists will be present to meet visitors and discuss their art. My space at WinterArts looks like this:

Display of handbound books, WinterArts 2011

Display of handwoven vests and tops, WinterArts 2011

Display of Handwoven Scarves, WinterArts 2011

Again, I apologize to my readers for not posting more regularly lately. And to all, I extend my thanks for your patience and loyalty in following MemphisWeaver’s blog. Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and may this be the beginning of a beautiful holiday season. Peace.

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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?

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.

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:

A Tisket, A Tacket…

Handbound book with tacket binding and fabric cover

A red and black book jacket. My apologies to Ella Fitzgerald.  That’s not how the song goes of course. Tacket refers to a hand sewing method of binding a book. Basically, it resembles a running stitch that is wrapped.  Studio CaiLun has a very clear tutorial using this form of hand sewn binding. The wrapped effect of the binding gives the spine a bit of a jazzed look.

Above is my finished book with tacket binding.  The cover of this book and the Ninja book below is made from cotton fabric purchased from KimonoMomo. The fabric is backed with nylon tricot and then glued onto the book boards.

 

Handbound "Ninja" book with tacket binding

Not sure if I will use a tacket binding for the books that I sell. It is rather labor intensive, as the wrapping takes a bit of time. The end result looks quite pretty, so I may reserve this technique for gift items or special orders.

And while I’m on the subject of bookbinding, here is my attempt at the “Rope” stitching described by Keith Smith in “1, 2, & 3 Section Sewings:  Non-Adhesive Binding Volume III”.

Record book with rope binding

The rope binding is another decorative wrapping technique and done with two needles, one at each end of  a single length of thread. It also lends an attractive appearance to the spine. The record book is part of a collection of  old 45s and 33 1/3 rpm records that I handcut and bind to create a blank journal or sketchbook. None of the records are playable and so they are recycled into another life.

After sewing with the rope binding, I realized that there are many other techniques that can be used in hand sewing a binding. Some that come to mind are used in finishing the ends of a weaving project:  twining, twisting, braiding and plaiting to name a few. I’m sure that tapestry techniques such as soumak can also be incorporated into a bookbinding technique. I really like the idea of  sharing forms from various media, and so my experiments continue.

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