“Plays Well With Others”

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dsc_1061a111At a recent guild meeting we watched a portion of Laura Bryant’s DVD “A Fiber Artist’s Guide to Color.” She discusses how to arrange colors so that they don’t “fight” against each other. That reminded me of elementary school report card behavior comments:

  • Follows directions
  • Completes assignments
  • Expresses ideas clearly
  • Does neat thorough work
  • Plays well with others

Do the colors I pick for any given project follow my mental directions in the warp and weft? Do they express my ideas of what that fabric should look like? Do they “play well with others”?

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Laura took the audience through several exercises demonstrating how our perception of colors is affected by all the other colors around them. Putting a purple patch over a white background or a blue background affects how that purple looks. Our eyes will “see” it as different when it is actually the same.

Watching her exercises, I recalled a “problem child” cone of yarn I have that doesn’t play well with others. It’s called “Bluebird” and by itself, is a delightful purple which leans toward blue. But just try to blend it with other purples or even with reds and it becomes either a bully by standing out like a neon light or is itself bullied into a non-descript gray.

I can blame some of this on my camera or my lighting, but this cone of yarn is often the culprit when I can’t get a towel to photograph well. It’s a case of the background color either highlighting the accent or pulling all the color out of it. What I need to figure out is the happy medium.

I do a lot of color-blending in my warp and it’s fun to see which cones work together and which ones I have to save for another project. That’s what makes each project unique, each towel “expressing ideas clearly” and “playing well with others.”

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Don’t forget the holiday specials going on in my Etsy shop. I am offering 10% off on any orders over $75. Just enter the code HOLIDAY18 at check-out. And if you order on today, November 26, your treasure will ship for free.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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DSCF1027Here we are at our annual day of giving thanks. As soon as November hits, the stores put up the red and green, but I appreciate a day to reflect on all that I am thankful for.

I’m thankful for colors—blues, greens, corals, rubies, golds, browns—oh the richness and variety of browns in the world!

I’m thankful for textures—smooth, silky, fuzzy, bumpy, ridged, sharp, soft.

I’m thankful for handwork—weaving, spinning, knitting, tatting, crocheting, sewing.

But more than all of these, I’m thankful for faith, for family, for friends.

And I’m thankful for all of you who read through my occasional musings on fiber art and who have supported my creative jaunts.

To share my appreciation, I am offering 10% off on any orders over $75 from my Etsy shop. Just enter the code HOLIDAY18 at check-out. And if you order on Cyber Monday, November 26, your treasures will ship for free. Perhaps you’ll find just the right gift for you or your special someone.

Thank you – and Happy Thanksgiving!

Choosing Sides

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Blue towel front and backI stand at the ironing board, ready to press over the hem on the towel. I look more closely, flip the fabric over, flip it back. I pause, indecisive; which side is the “right” side?

Many weaves look distinctly different on one side from the other. Summer and Winter is a perfect example. One side is predominantly light and the other predominantly dark; that’s where it gets its name. Twills can have the same effect depending on the float lengths and colors of the warp and weft.

I weave a lot of twills and when the fabric is on the loom, I get used to the face on top. When the warp advances around the cloth beam to where I can see Natural towel front and backthe other side, it’s can be a delightful surprise. Sometimes I can’t decide which side I like better. Do I want the accent motif to stand out on a uniform background, or is the background itself the star of the show?

As the weaver, it’s really up to me to choose which is the “right” side. Some weaves are pretty much the same on either side. Plain weave is – well, plain. Lace weaves will be opposite but still lace weaves—a weft float on the front will be a warp float on the back. It just depends on what you are looking for.

There comes a moment, though, when I have to decide—which is the front side and which is the back side. Hems have to go somewhere.Red towel front and back

I pick up the iron, press, and pin. Decision made. At least until I sit down to sew the hem and have second thoughts.

Barn Raising

Framed Barn PictureYou’ve heard the saying: “You can take the girl out of (insert your favorite place), but you can’t take the (insert your place again) out of the girl.” Cute and catchy. It explains all sorts of idiosyncrasies we aren’t even aware of, and some we wish we could outgrow, but no, they are part of our make-up.

For me, it’s my rural, upper Midwest upbringing. The way I pronounce certain words (much to my husband’s amusement); my love of cheese curds, brats, and beer; my preference for cool weather and all things “Norman Rockwell”-esque. You can take the girl out of Wisconsin…

I shared in Learning Experiences about this damask barn I was working on that would reflect both my Dad’s dairy farming and my Mom’s quilting. The challenge was getting the woven piece to show the same proportions as the graphed picture.

Five samples later, I took it off the loom, but then had to decide how to frame it. Another month went by before I found an answer in a box of my mother’s old pictures—a frame made by my grandfather. Its dark brown, rustic finish works, although I wish I had used a similar colored thread in the weaving. But then I didn’t know about the frame when I was weaving. Maybe next time.

It felt good and right to hang the barn above my loom, to step back and remember. I’m hoping they would approve.

UFO Sightings

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UFO as in “unfinished object.” I noticed this week how very many of these are lying around my studio waiting to be finished.

I started framing the three damask pictures I wove for family late last winter. In my defense, I’ve been undecided until recently just how to frame them, and now I just have to … finish.

Damask waiting to be framed

Damask waiting to be framed

There’s the basket of cottolin towels woven in…hmmm…maybe May? They are ready to be hemmed, just waiting.

Towels to hem

Towels to hem

There’s also the “new” towel warp put on while I waited to hear about a yarn order. Two towels woven, seven to go.

Two done, seven to go

Two done, seven to go

Then there’s the doubleweave placemats that necessitated the said yarn order. These are on the loom and are my current focus since it’s a set order.

Doubleweave in progress

Doubleweave in progress

And there’s the agreement to weave an opphämta wall hanging with winter motifs, in the vein of the hangings I wove last summer. This one is not even on the loom yet, but it’s committed.

Not to mention the millennial braided rug, visited only sporadically because it is such a learning experience. Or the two knitting projects that sit next to my couch for evening relaxation.

UFOs are not bad things really. Each project moves at its own pace and if I have to wait for something on one project, it’s good to have another to work on. But there is a tipping point. It’s time to wrap up at least some of these UFOs — so I can start some more!

Do you have any UFOs waiting for your attention?

Light, Shadow, and Apples

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Colorful lichen formations

I see intriguing lichen, a stunning sunset, a charming silhouette, and I think “How could I weave that?”

A loom comes home with bells and whistles that I’m compelled to use, compelled to learn techniques that will show the loom’s full capabilities.

Our guild challenges us to create within the framework of a theme, a museum inspiration, a commercially chosen color, a natural phenomenon.

These have subtly influenced my weaving this year.

Last summer’s total solar eclipse loomed large in our community. Everything had an eclipse theme, including our annual guild challenge— “Light and Shadow.”

I put it in the back of my mind, behind the hangings, towels, and blankets in progress. Gradually the idea came into focus, a continuation of my museum inspiration from last year—how highlights and shadows can be woven into a 2-dimensional fabric.

Last year I used undulating twill. This year I used satin damask. Last year I wove scarves, this year an interpretation of a photo, a simple bowl of fruit,

First the photo

cropped for focus and color stripped,

Gray Scale Apple and Peach

leaving a pixelated image.

Pixelated Apple

With each step, I reduced the image further to the bare minimum for single weave units. I graphed out the image on computer, trying to grade the shadows into the highlights. I adjusted the graph squares to more accurately reflect the proportions of my warp and weft.

Apples and Peach off the loom

This was a project for the process rather than the end product.  It doesn’t have a specific purpose—which in itself is a learning experience for me! But as a challenge project, it did serve a general purpose—that of learning more about perspective, shading, dimension in weaving, proportion. I’ll tuck these lessons in the back of my mind until the next warp.

Meanwhile, there are towels to weave and aprons to sew.

Learning Experiences

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We’ve all had them—challenges that derail the day, slow down the process, defy expectations. It’s the picture that turned out squashed. Or the warp that wasn’t quite long enough for that last towel. Or the blanket that came off the loom in a flourish only to reveal a treadling error in the middle.

Twill Gamp Blanket

Twill Gamp Blanket

As I was growing up, I heard more than once — much more than I wanted to hear — “Chalk it up as a learning experience.”

It’s a “glass half full vs. glass half empty” way of looking at things but without those learning experiences, we’d miss so many serendipities!

This spring I’m experimenting with some structures and experiments are all about seeing “what if…?” It’s a learning experience on purpose.

For the first time that I can remember, I actually wove a “gamp.” My dictionary defines gamp as a large baggy umbrella, used humorously. In weaving terms, a gamp is a sampler: thread 4 or 5 different threadings and colors, treadling as drawn in. It’s a fun way to try out different looks. My baby blankets sported 5 different colors in 5 different 8-shaft twill threadings and treadlings. Fun!

Except for that pesky treadling error right in the middle of the middle block! Learning experience. Perhaps that blanket will be cut up into bibs. Perhaps I’ll keep it as a twill reference.

On the drawloom, the barn picture went through several variations. The proportions of first one off the loom seemed off to me. Back to the digital “drawing board.”

I’ve read in Alice Schlein and Bhakti Ziek’s The Woven Pixel (2006 Bridgewater Press, available on Handweaving.net) that to get the woven picture to truly reflect the graphed design, you have to adjust the size of those little squares to the proportion of your weave structure. While their discussion was aimed at computerized weaving, I adapted their advice to my simple sketchpad drawing, making the squares – well, less square. After all, how many woven fabrics are perfectly balanced warp to weft?

After three or four more tries, I’m closer to the proportions I envisioned. And along the way, I played with different elements in the actual design. Slight differences, but all adding to the whole.

Barn in Progress

Barn in Progress

I’m learning to slow down on my assessments. So what if I ran out of warp for a towel? Can it still be woven up into something else—a napkin? A table mat? A wash cloth? It’s a fallacy to expect a project to turn out perfect on the first try.

I share this because I don’t think I’m alone here. As makers, we have this ideal we aim for and if it doesn’t turn out like that ideal, we feel like it’s a failure. Not so! Sometimes we have to walk away from it for a while in order to look at it with different eyes.

I’m learning to walk away for a bit. Give the warp time to tell me what it should be.

Try it with your next challenge. And enjoy the learning experience!

Pleasant Thought

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“Proper ornamentation…is pleasant thought expressed in the speech of the tool.”

Detail of opphämta borders

Detail of opphämta borders

Pleasant thought, the speech of the tool. What a lovely way to describe design well-conceived, craft well-done. Authors from earlier generations certainly had a way with words!

The editor who wrote that line, W. R. Lethaby, is referring to good design. He penned his view in the late Arts and Crafts period in his Editor’s Preface to Hand-Loom Weaving Plain and Ornamental by Luther Hooper (Pitman and Sons, 1925 available on Handweaving.net). It reflects the value of traditional craftsmanship but his premise is still well worth considering.

“Workmanship when separated by too wide a gulf from fresh thought—that is, from design—inevitably decays, and, on the other hand, ornamentation, divorced from workmanship, is necessarily unreal, and quickly falls into affectation.”

Various towel designs

Various towel designs

I can weave warp after warp and be technically sound in the weaving, but if I don’t put some thought into the design—color, structure, presentation—it will inevitably become tired. It’s no longer “pleasant thought.” My weaving has to grow.

On the other hand, if I push experimentation too far, making the “ornamentation” the focus, the fabric won’t serve its intended purpose and sounds a sour note. It is trying too hard to be what it’s not. It becomes “divorced from workmanship.”

There are many definitions of good design. What I consider good design may differ from your perspective, but across the spectrum of definition, something that is well-conceived, well-executed stands out.  The tools we use may differ, but they all express our sense of design.

This concept goes way beyond what to put on the loom next or what to offer in a sale line. This can – and should — inform our whole design process.

My weaving springs from what I find pleasant. My tool is the loom. What tool do you use to express your pleasant thought?

I Wander As I Weave

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We’ve had a lot of icy weather this past month, at least by Missouri standards. Perfect time to retreat to the studio for some serious warping!

Threading inside the loom

Threading inside the loom

During the course of a year, while weaving fabric for utilitarian textiles, I let my mind wander a bit. Not so much that I lose my place in the treadling, but I do dream about what’s next. What can I weave on the drawloom that will use more draw shafts? Do I set it up for shaft draw or single unit draw? What figure can I come up with that will be easy enough for this rookie single-unit weaver?

And following those wandering thoughts led here—inside the drawloom, threading 468 threads for a single unit 8-thread satin damask. This set-up will allow me to lift individual units of threads randomly for whatever figure I can graph out. It’s more free-form than the repeating patterns of shaft draw weaving but if I want, I can work those in too.

There are so many motifs that can be woven, so many designs that show up in embroidery, knitting, quilting—whatever a person can put her hand to. Mediums often cross too, like the quilt patterns painted on barns.

While tossing around ideas for the newly warped loom, my husband suggested putting one of those barn paintings into the picture. A perfect expression of my family’s dairying and quilting backgrounds.

Barn in progress

Barn in progress

Idea met computer sketchpad and after several edits, I took it to the loom. Since this is a learning piece, I’m taking time to evaluate along the way. There will be adjustments if I choose to weave it again, a shadow added here, a line softened there.

And while I weave, I let my mind wander, but not too much!

When My Looms Look Like This….

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New Year, new month plus one, and this is the first week I’m faced with this….

End of the blanket warp

End of the blanket warp

And this…..

Baby bib warp thrums

Baby bib warp thrums

And this…..

Opphämta warp ties

Opphämta warp ties

This can be daunting if there aren’t any projects in the works, but it is also a refreshing point to be at early in the year. What could be better than facing a clean slate in the middle of winter when there’s time to ponder the possibilities?

Many years, January sits on the far side of the holidays and the winter stretches before me in a quandary of unknown directions. Not so this year. The apron warps bridged Christmas and the New Year. The dark aprons sat finished with the blue warp planned but not yet warped. In between came a baby blanket order. Both projects kept me busy in the studio throughout January.

What remains of the January projects

What remains of the January projects

So here I am, aprons and blankets neatly stacked, with that clean slate.

Some years I formally make a list of what I want to weave by when. Other years, like last year, I set out to improve my skills in one area or another.

While I was throwing the shuttle these past few weeks, my mind casually wandered around all the possibilities waiting for the drawloom on the other side of my studio. After finishing the opphämta hangings last fall, it has been patiently waiting for another warp. Maybe I should pay attention to where I’m wandering.

So at least for the next while, I’m borrowing a bit from last year’s challenges. First step is to plan out a warp for satin damask and decide whether to work with 5-shaft satin or 8-shaft satin. Then I’ll need to review how to dress the loom for single unit draw and spend some time graphing out a design or two or three.

I’m not sure just what I want to try first, but it’ll be a pleasant exploration whatever it is.