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?

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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.

A Rose by Any Other Name

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“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare’s Juliet made that argument in “Romeo and Juliet.” I would add, a color by any other name …

Blending colors on the warping board

Blending colors on the warping board

I ran into a color conundrum recently. My husband needed a pair of gray slacks for work to replace a worn pair. I went to a local department store, but all they had on hand were navy, black, and khaki in his style and size. Same story in the other local department stores. You’d think gray was something rare.

Next stop—on line. Ah-ha, “Dark Pebble”! Sound like gray to me. What do you think? I hit “submit order” and waited. When the “dark pebble” slacks arrived, they didn’t look like gray. They looked a little too brown to me; well maybe a little gray, but definitely not the same color as the worn pants. In fact, they were the same color as the pants I call taupe that are already hanging in the closet.

Left to right: Worn grey, worn taupe, new "dark pebble"

Left to right: Worn grey, worn taupe, new “dark pebble”

What’s “dark pebble” to them sure looks like “taupe” to me.

The incident reminded me of the “purple” bedroom in my childhood home. When it came time to paint, my mother chose a lovely lilac for their bedroom. The painter came, a crusty old local contractor. He took one look at the color choices, and shook his head. “Who paints a bedroom purple!” He and my mom went round and round about the color, but my mom insisted and the color did look quite nice when all was said and done.

What’s lilac to one person is purple to another.

Color is very subjective and color names can be misleading. Even something as seemingly straight forward as “navy” can range from deepest dark to decidedly lighter. Add variations in dye lots and it can be quite the challenge matching one yarn to another.

Medium blended blues

The medium blue bands are actually two shades of the same blue

One of my favorite weaving work-arounds is blending colors. On a recent project, I used two yarns of the same name, same company, but purchased some time apart. They looked decidedly different. If I had used first the older cone, then the newer, the change would have been noticeable. To lessen the difference, I wound the strands side-by-side. At a distance, the eye blends those close shades and the color looks uniform.

This also works with different colors of close hues or shades. Blending the colors across the warp adds interest to fabric, and can give the effect of more colors than you actually have in the warp. Combine three colors to make five or six. Multiply five into 15 or more.

Playing with colors can brighten cold, gray days of winter–no matter what color you call it!

Holiday Notes

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In the past, when I worked in an office and wove on the side, all weaving stopped about the middle of November. After our local guild’s holiday show, I had to turn my attention towards preparing for the holidays.

Empty loom

Empty loom

We never knew how many would come to our Thanksgiving table, but I always enjoyed fixing the various dishes my Mom made and adding a few of my own. Gathering, shopping, baking, simmering all kept me out of the studio.

Christmas carries many of the accumulated traditions from my childhood with special holiday cookies, breads, and candies. All that in addition to school programs, gift-making, cleaning, and decorating. There just wasn’t time to do much at the loom.

Times have changed. Kids have grown. The office job is history. Now my studio is my “office” and I get to weave late into the season!

Harvest and Sea colorways

Harvest and Sea colorways

Last week I wound warp for an idea presented to me last month—aprons with pockets. I’ve woven them before, but my latest designs didn’t have the pockets. I also noticed while inventorying yarn that I have a lot of gorgeous 10/2 mercerized cotton. Put the two together and the ideas began to sprout. I have enough yarn for two warps, one that looks like grape harvest to me, and another that is more of a Caribbean feel. These colors will warm the January winds!

Harvest Apron Warp

Harvest Apron Warp

I don’t know if I’ll have time to finish these before Christmas but there’s no deadline. In between batches of cookies and writing cards, I sit at the loom and throw the shuttle. It is such a welcome, peaceful way to ponder the season.

Follow the aprons’ progress on my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/JeanWilliams.JeanWeaves

Design Through the Back Door

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Through the Back Door

Recently someone asked me to design an apron for his business. After some back and forth, I had a clearer idea of what he wanted and started thinking. I pored over graphed motifs from Medieval textiles, paging through for something to start with. Then I worked on adapting the figures to what the customer wanted and what my equipment can weave. All this designing before a thread is woven.

Design is a loaded word.

Design is a verb, “to conceive, to contrive, to invent…to have as a goal or purpose.”

Design is also a noun, “a decorative or artistic work…a visual composition or pattern.”

A design can be a conspiratorial plot or a figure on a business card or a pattern for a dress. Design encompasses every art and craft form, every building plan, every graphic representation. There are whole college programs built around design–none of which I’ve taken.

Planning in the works

Planning in the works

To be honest, design can be intimidating. That’s why I approach it through the back door.

The back door is the service door. It’s the one used to bring in the groceries. It’s the door from the garden, the lawn chair, the grill. It’s the door the dog uses.

Pulling inspiration from the library

Pulling inspiration from the library

The back-door path to design uses what is available and builds on that. It reads whatever books are on the shelf, takes whatever classes or workshops come up, researches techniques that might come in handy.

Then when a challenge comes up, all the bits and pieces of design inspiration quietly come in through that back door, sit down at the kitchen table, and whisper that concept into reality. Design through the back door.

How do you approach your design challenges?

Putting Inspiration to Work

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Last spring, during my week-long drawloom class at Vävstuga in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, the lovely, vibrant, intricate hangings on every wall made my heart sing.  Reds, blues, golds, 8-pointed stars, crosses, and diamonds everywhere I looked.

The hangings echoed the richly decorative weaving of Sweden. Some were in linen, some in wool. Some incorporated Monks Belt, some Smålandsväv, but many were woven in opphämta, a weave in which the heavier pattern floats over or under the plain weave ground fabric.  The motifs are old and found in many crafts besides weaving.

All the way home, the patterns and colors played at the edge of my thoughts. How could I apply the techniques I’d learned to my own weaving? How could I adapt those traditional motifs to the equipment I have, the yarns on my shelf? That is, after all, why we go to classes and workshops—to learn new techniques.

Finally, this summer I wound warp for four hangings without any clear plan on specific designs.  I just wanted to try my hand at wall hangings like those I’d seen. The first hanging features blues and a few bands of rose.  As the patterns grew, it spoke “winter” to me – blue, icy patterns on snow, rose colored sunsets.

"Winter"

“Winter”

After that, the other three seasons just fell into place.  “Spring” with bright yellow and red flowers and light spring greens, “Summer” with darker green vines and bluebirds, “Autumn” with acorns and oak leaves.

"Spring"

“Spring”

"Summer"

“Summer”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The warp is 8/2 bleached cotton—I didn’t know if I was ready for the careful warping linen requires – next time.  The ground weft is linen. For weft, I used what I have on hand—some linen, some cottolin, some mercerized cotton. I used 17 pattern units on the drawloom threaded in a point which results in symmetrical motifs.

"Autumn"

“Autumn”

Of course, as I twisted fringe and assembled the hangings, I already knew things I’ll do differently next time.  There’s always a next time. That’s inspiration being put to work.

Loose Ends, Part 2

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This week has been all about loose ends again, but metaphorically this time.

Our guild’s annual Holiday Exhibition and Sale is coming up in a couple weeks and I have just one more week to finish up those last pieces I signed up to bring: finishing the last of those opphamta hanging cloths – one for each season;

Soaking "Summer"

Soaking “Summer”

fringing and washing said hanging cloths;

Twisting fringe on "Autumn"

Twisting fringe on “Autumn”

sewing on the tags specific for this sale.

Tagging pieces for our local guild's Holiday Exhibition

Tagging pieces for our local guild’s Holiday Exhibition

I move pieces around from one venue to another to keep things fresh and interesting. These have to be retagged and noted in the inventory.

Sometimes I put something in the sale that I’ve had around for a while and now its time may be right, its color trending now more than when I made it. You never know when someone will come in looking for just that color or just that piece.

All these loose ends will eventually get tied down. One by one, I check them off my list, pack the pieces in a box, and hope for the best.

One more loose end I tied up recently was my plan to set up a Facebook page. I know I am late to the game on that one, but two weeks ago I finally launched the JeanWeaves page. There I can post quickly what is coming off the loom, what is available in my Etsy shop, and share other fiber arts links as I find them, while continuing to blog here.

So check out JeanWilliams.JeanWeaves on Facebook. And if you like what you find, follow the page for future updates.

As I’m working on all these loose ends, I contemplate—what’s next on the loom? What direction to I want to head in now? Stay tuned!

Loose Ends

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Kitchen Towel Stripes and Denim

Fold-over hem

Every piece has loose ends. The fabric is woven, the threads cut, but all those warp threads have to be fastened off somehow.

The purpose often dictates how a piece is finished. Most of what I weave needs a durable finish. I don’t want my handwovens to fray away in the wash. Towels, placemats, napkins, anything that will be washed frequently calls for a folded hem.

Black and Burgundy Wool Scarf

Twisted Fringe

I can also twist the fringe. Picture handwoven scarves, shawls,and even blankets, and most often they are finished with fringe. Twisting the fringe controls it. Some yarns have so much life, they just want to tango (or is that “tangle”?) as soon as they are cut from the loom. One of my weaving friends adds beads to give her fringes a little glitz.

And then there is hemstitching. Hemstitching is a decorative finish done on the loom. It binds the warps so when you cut the piece off the loom, it is essentially finished with the exception of washing the piece. The ends can be left to form a fringe or worked with twists, loops, or knots.

When I choose to hemstitch a piece, I leave enough warp at the beginning and end for a fringe. Using weft from the shuttle, I stitch up and over, up and over, across the warp. The first part of the stitch catches the warp.

The second part is worked around the tail of the first stitch to tie the bundle.

Each stitch binds two, three, four or more warps in a bundle.

I use a very simple hemstitch, but there are some wonderfully creative techniques to dress up the hem. Virginia M. West details many hemstitching variations as well as fringes, knots, and added bands in her book Finishing Touches for the Handweaver (1988: Loveland, CO Interweave Press). I know it’s an older book, but so worth it if you can find a copy.

What is your favorite way to tie up loose ends?

Meditations and Quiet Time

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We all have different ways to find our quiet spot: that quiet place in our minds and hearts where we regroup from day to day pressures and those bigger stressors that challenge the community as a whole.

My mother reached for her yo-yos. She quilted and created many lovely bed coverings for her children and grandchildren, but in her later years, she always had her basket of yo-yos. She hand-stitched these small scraps of fabric into circles with the plan to put them together into a larger hanging. Along the way, she made smaller pieces on special themes.

Halloween Yo Yos

Halloween Yo Yos

One of my sisters retreats into her counted cross stitch. Her high-stress career in business management left her drained and with little time to herself. To unwind, she stitched design after design, intricately blending colors in nostalgic and seasonal scenes. It was all in the process.

Cross Stitch Towel

Cross Stitch Towel

I find solace at the loom. The rhythmic swing of the beater and passing the shuttle back and forth, watching the fabric grow with each throw, easing any tensions cluttering my mind.

Depending on the time of the year, making time for weaving can be a challenge. Each season has its own activities, some always a priority, others done because they have to be.

Summer seems to be the best time to visit our children and grandchildren living in different parts of the country. We love to see and hug them all, working around their schedules and ours to make sure we get to see them. Summer is also a time for home maintenance and fix-ups not possible in the winter months. And the summer garden always needs more attention that I usually afford it. Still, in October, my tomatoes continue to bear!

I can tell when I’ve been away from the loom for too long though. The small sense of urgency and tension whispers in the back of my mind until it becomes a priority of its own—I’ve got to get something on the loom!

Autumn in process

Autumn in process

And so it was last month. I methodically measured the warp, quietly threaded the heddles, carefully wound the threads onto the loom. That’s where I found my happy spot. The quiet swing of the beater. Passing the shuttle back and forth, watching the fabric grown with each throw.

Where is your quiet spot?