Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It is the last day of 2008. A quick note as I fly out the door to yet another holiday celebration. The fruit salad is made, the house tidy, the wood stove warm and inviting, the blustery wind howls and swirls the new six inches of snow, and for today, all is right with the world. At least here in my corner of NJ.
I spent the afternoon setting up the draft for an overshot placemat exchange that my daughter and I are doing with the Jockey Hollow Guild. 10/2 natural Perle Cotton warp, and a 5/2 Perle weft, my daughter and I are both participating, each one part of a group of eight. So we will be weaving a total of 16 placemats, I want to get her winding the 12 yard warp we need, so she can get the threading started while still on vacation. She is a new weaver, at 16, and as a member of Jockey Hollow, she participated in her first sample exchange last June. She did an 8 shaft huck sample, nothing like starting out with eight shafts for your first project! She did a great job, and at one point, looked up from behind the loom and said, "Mom, I'm really enjoying threading these heddle things, I've figured out the pattern and this is like a logic game."

The placemats are overshot, I picked a simple overshot pattern, called Dog Tracks, I had done in a class of 18th Century structures I took at the Cincinnati Convergence in 2000. (see above sample in red). I liked it because it was simple, and because my daughter works on Saturdays at a dog kennel.

This was going to be her adventure, but as luck would have it, the placemat exchange had more volunteers than it needed and not enough for two groups of eight. So I agreed to be part of a second team, and thought I'd streamline the process by piggybacking onto my daughter's warp. This is probably a huge mistake, but I didn't want to tie-up two looms all spring.

So my daughter picked purple for her weft, and instructed me to pick something that would work with her purple, as she was confident that when I died, she would get my set of mats and then have 16 total. I love the way teenagers think... So I picked a celadon green, it sort of goes with my dishes, but I know my daughter will want to put them away for her future.
Oddly enough, I've never woven a dish towel. I do yardage, I've always done yardage, and I'm not so much into functional textiles. At least ones that I weave. She is on her way, and I have a suspicion that she will weave her first dish towel long before I do...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The end of the year holiday season is a mixture of endless social opportunities, fabulous food, upset stomachs from too much fabulous food, family drama, unproductive days, and general disruption of any semblance of a routine or schedule. And I wouldn't trade it for the world. My contribution in the studio today was the annoying task of paperwork, and end of the month bill paying, but alas, those tasks are important, and must be accomplished before any of the play time!
After a lovely holiday dinner party last night, with a group of women friends I've had for almost 20 years, and then a quick trip into NYC this afternoon with my husband to see an entertaining holiday musical called 'Striking 12', an original musical by an amazing jazz ensemble called Groove Lily I'm ready for the holidays to be over and get back to some serious work. I loved 'Striking 12', the title has to do with the strike of midnight on the last day of the year, overlaid with a modern day recreation of Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Little Match Girl'. My favorite song of the musical was of course, the original "Screwed-Up People Make Great Art". It was a reference to Hans Christian Andersen's miserable childhood and dysfunctional life and how he produced such timeless stories that have fed generations. It reminded me of one of my favorite NPR quotes, which I've said to myself on more than one occasion in my life, "Nothing bad ever happens to artists, it is all fuel for their work!".
Anyway, after the matinee at the Zipper Factory, which is an old zipper factory turned intimate theater, in the heart of the garment district, (who knew?), my husband and I walked up to Times Square for the most amazing show of the city of NY preparing for the onslaught of the New Year's Eve Celebration tomorrow night. Living in NJ, oddly enough, I've never experienced New Year's in Times Square, only on TV. But seeing the Times Square preparation was an amazing thing, the 2009 was already lit up on top of the tower where the ball drops, and the vendors were out in full force. The police barricades were being installed, and the flood lights in prep for all the Television crews were so bright, you didn't realize it was actually dark outside. We slipped into a Starbucks before heading back to the garage for the car.
The stash is calling, but so is life, and there are still opportunities to do once in a life time things, see old friends, celebrate friendships and family, and end a year that has been filled with drama, both good and difficult, a turning point in the world, with the hope that the new year will bring better times. Stay tuned...

Monday, December 29, 2008

My husband is a systems analyst for a telecommunications company, and travels internationally. A couple years ago, he spent a number of months in Hyderabad, India, and on his return, brought me a suitcase full of silk Saris. I've used them in many garments, as linings and trims, and because of their very long length, and interesting borders, they make a terrific addition to my stash.
My husband made 10 trips to Dublin, Ireland this year, and on one of them, he made a trip into County Wicklow, where he found Avoca Handweavers. According to Wikipedia, it is the oldest surviving woolen mill in Ireland.
My husband knows me well. He skipped all the clothing products, blankets, scarves, and went right to the pre-cut lengths of yardage, gorgeous wool tweeds, and picked out two different plaids to give me for a Christmas present. So, in addition to the six projects I've been outlining (don't worry, I haven't talked about project 5 and 6 yet) I have another mission, to sew something fabulous from the two lengths of handwoven wool tweed from Ireland.
I subscribe to Burda World of Fashion, which comes in monthly. The January issue just arrived in the mail yesterday, and there are a number of great ideas for using these two plaid fabrics. Oddly enough, there is a whole section devoted to the new plaids! I love the design of Burda, and especially love the fact that all the patterns for all the garments featured in each issue, are included in the center section. I now have more than 10 years worth. If I can think it, I have a pattern for it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The last minute scramble is on, as I write I'm still thinking of last minute gifts to wrap, hand-made soap to put out for the postal carrier, (did you know they aren't allowed to accept money for a tip?), (Oh, and don't be impressed, I didn't make the soap, my friend is a bee keeper and makes fabulous soap, check it out on I did work in the studio today, making and finishing up last minute gifts, trashing the studio, working on a collage to celebrate a milestone birthday for one of my friends. I'm finishing up one of the muslins for project one, the frosted florals dress. Pictures will eventually come, but I'm going to take the next few days away from the computer, the blog, the studio, and spend time with relatives, family, friends, and the spirit of the season.
Remember to take time for yourself, time to create, time to celebrate that, for today, you are alive and the stash is calling!

Monday, December 22, 2008

This is a tough one. The components for this project have filtered in and out of my life over the last 12 years. It started with a complex 8 shaft point twill fabric, of which I put way too much on my little 8 shaft loom many years ago. I was doing a sectional warping demo, so obviously a long warp was in order. I wove about 5 yards of the laborious two shuttle fabric back in 1995, and it was exhibited in the Portland Convergence 1996 yardage exhibit. The rest sat on my loom. For years. Fast forward 2002, I am diagnosed with breast cancer, and one of the odd things that came to me as I wandered through my studio, looking at the stash I'd accumulated, at the unfinished projects, at the yardage still stuck on the loom (I had something like 6 more yards to go), and thought to myself, "What if I died from this cancer thing and never actually used any of this stash?" Somehow that silly thought was just what I needed to move into high gear, and dive into my stash and weave/sew with abandon. I had nothing to lose and suddenly, the idea that we are immortal and will always be there to play with our stash was blown away by that one diagnosis, and I thought, how sad if I never got to see where something takes me, to use some of the precious things I'd acquired, and what was I saving it all for?
Getting that remaining 6 yards off the loom became a priority. Besides, I really liked my little 25" 8 shaft Tools of the Trade Loom and wanted to use it for something else. It had been out of commission for 8 years by then.
I did manage to get the fabric off the loom, and obviously, I lived to write this story, and I did make a lovely coat from the fabric, shown above, titled Complex Wanderings, which is an appropriate title given my state of mind at the time. The piece was exhibited at Convergence 2004 Denver.
In 2006, I had an opportunity to take a five day workshop in Florida with Diane Ericson, sponsored by the Surface Design Guild in Tampa. I adore this group, and hopped a plane in February of '06, and played in the sunshine with Diane and the rest of the terrifically talented women in the group. It was up there with my top fiber experiences. I can't recommend Diane enough as a teacher and as a mentor.
I had to bring stuff to work with. Scraps of things, we would be working on many projects over the 5 days, mostly wearables and accessories. To get the most from the workshop I chose to start many projects, and finish them later at home. Some of the scraps I chose, came from the leftovers of Complex Wanderings, the 8 shaft fabric, and scraps of the light blue leather piece. And I searched my stash for other elements that would coordinate. A silk ottoman, a brocade, a raw silk yardage from my mother in law's stash. There wasn't enough of any one thing, but together the palette was beautiful. Using one of Diane's patterns, I started a jacket, just feeling my way along, letting the elements take me by the hand, and seeing what direction they went. While I was in the workshop, I loved what I was working on, and after I came home and put it on the dressform, the momentum was lost. Life got in the way, and I never returned to it until a year later. I just couldn't recapture the direction I was going with it, and put it away for another year. So we are coming on Feb 2009, could that poor half finished jacket be almost three years old? I always tell my students that a piece will tell you what it wants to be, but you have to listen carefully. And it is pretty clear that this piece does not want to go in the direction I had taken it. So, my goal here is to listen carefully, and take this piece to completion, I love the elements, I love the textures and the palette, and I'd like to see something that celebrates all of it, in a playful way, that I will wear and remember a 12 year adventure.
I've included the draft, you have to weave a fine tabby in the warp along with the pattern weft, and it is from Carol Strickler's Book of 8 shaft weaves.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A lovely end to a beautiful winter day. I just returned from a celebration of the Winter Solstice, at a neighbor/friend's house. We played music, (did I mention I play recorder?), read passages, poems, and stories, burned that which we wished to let go of, in a beautiful fire, nestled in the new fallen snow, shared wine, good food, good friendship, and an hope for a better world for tomorrow. I wish you all peace and joy in the simple things, as the days begin to grow longer and the sun shines just a little more each day.

Today isn't really a studio day, it is Sunday, and there are larger more important things in life, like watching my 16 year old, dressed like a donkey, crawl on her hands and knees up the aisle in church, carrying Mary on her back for the Sunday School Christmas pageant. The HS kids are usually exempt from the Nativity scene, but my daughter, the largest kid in the Sunday School, always cheerfully accepts the invitation to play the donkey, she is the only one large enough to pull it off. Afterwards there is grocery shopping, errands, and my wonderful husband stayed behind to remove another three inches of snow from the cars and driveway. My 18 year old son is deliriously happy, the semester is over, and he is on the mountain teaching skiing in the fresh snow, to little kids who aren't afraid yet of falling and getting hurt or looking stupid.
My daughter discovered a recent issue of Martha Stewart Living laying on the dining room table with all the collecting mail and holiday cards, and found the section on holiday baking. Her eyes got bigger and bigger and when she found the recipe for peppermint sticks, real peppermint sticks, not the candy canes you buy in the store (she didn't know there was any other kind), she begged to get the ingredients to try them out, along with chocolate bark and choco dipped caramallows. So last Sunday, we did our Shoprite run, and she happily cooked all day, making candy, melting chocolate, and completely trashing my kitchen. I don't know how the chocolate bark turned out, since she whisked it away and will give it to me for Christmas. The caramallows were a disaster, but the peppermint sticks intriqued her enough to want to make 10 more batches to give to all her friends and teachers for Christmas.
So today, we bought more corn syrup, more sugar, and all the different extracts that we could find at Shoprite. I skipped the rum, but maybe that would have been fun as well. I disappeared into my studio, to finish the Big Sister piece, only five little strips left to insert, and my daughter started on her afternoon adventure. I wisely stayed away...
It is a joy to watch a 16 year old, iTunes blasting in the kitchen, making candy from scratch, like she has discovered a part of the world that was hidden from her generation and is celebrating it with the raw enthusiasm of youth. It is a lot like weaving, a craft that dates back to the beginning of time, yet new generations keep discovering it.
Periodically she would come running to find me with the latest colorful batch, to taste test. They are really delicious, these little hard candies, nothing like the artificial candy canes you buy in the stores. She has the whole routine down to a science, knowing how to handle the hot taffy, and how long to pull before she has to start cutting it into little bite size pillows, how to keep them from sticking to the pan, to her, to each other.
My kitchen is totally trashed. But I'll get it clean again, and she will eventually settle down and study for her big Chemistry exam tomorrow. The holiday spirit is high in our house, a blanket of snow covers the outside, and hot sticky candy covers the inside and though Martha Stewart she is not, my daughter has discovered that what comes from the hands is far better than anything you can buy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It would help explain how I wove the image in the previous blog, if I included the draft. The peach strips of weft would represent the silk strips of the image. When you carefully beat them into place, they slide down to cover the plain weave ground underneath. Hope this helps.

A lovely quiet Saturday, about 6 inches of snow fell yesterday, and another 3 or so are due in tonight. The studio is warm, and my children are out, so it is just my husband and me puttering around the house. These are the easy days, I cherish them when I get them, because tomorrow could be completely different.

I spent some time cleaning up the studio. That is a really important part of my creative experience, to organize and clear away the surfaces, cover machines not in use, carefully return things to their proper places. I'm not so distracted by clutter which can take me away from the task at hand.

I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon working on a piece on my table loom, which is almost finished, using a Theo Moorman threading. I weave about a quarter inch of ground fabric, then lay in on top a thin strip of silk, and hold it down with poly sewing thread which is warped in with the cotton ground. The strip is part of a childhood photograph I printed on 10mm silk Habotai, which comes on a 10' roll, pretreated for ink jet ink, and mounted on paper for easy transport through the printer. I got this from Dharma Trading. By running two or three lengths of this silk, 23" long, I could print a much larger image, since I'm stripping it anyway, it doesn't matter if it is in two or three pieces.

This is a larger version of one I sold, called Big Sister. The photo is from around 1957, of my younger sister and me, caught in an intimate moment. The photo above is the smaller version.

Friday, December 19, 2008

It is days like this that make me love living in the northeast. The snow fell, steady, it was very gray outside, but the earth was covered with a blanket of beautiful clean snow, well maybe not the earth, but my little corner of northern NJ. School had been canceled and all of my daughter's after school activities, my husband was able to work from home, we cranked up the wood stove, and I disappeared into my studio. I worked on the ginger jars, late last night I decided to take the one I made yesterday apart, and rework the top. If I stitched around the top first, and then assembled the sides, the top would be smoother. So I redid the jar from yesterday, and made four more. I think they will make terrific colorful gifts.

In the latest issue of Handwoven, the same one where I read Syne Mitchell's column about creating a blog, Madelyn van der Hoogt's letter from the editor talked about making resolutions to do more of something, like weaving, but before one can do that, one has to plan and prepare the warp and then set up the loom. It struck a chord because I need to do all the pattern prep work before I begin to make garments from the projects listed in previous blogs. I have three more garment projects on the table which I will describe in future posts, but for now, my more immediate problem is the constantly changing body I live in. Let me digress.

I spent five years on Tamoxifen, after my breast cancer diagnosis. Having been thrown instantly into menopause by the chemotherapy, my body changed rapidly from a premenopausal 46 year old, into a post menopausal body, losing height, and adding about 25 pounds. I kept that weight for many years. No matter how hard I tried, I seemed stuck at this new weight, and this whole new, very different body. Missing a few parts, but hey, at least I'm alive. I've been off Tamoxifen about a year now, and I am amazed at how my body is changing, every so slowly back to my original pre cancer shape, slimmer hips, about 10 pounds lighter, which sounds wonderful I know, but besides all my clothes not fitting anymore, because I had to buy all knew ones in the last few years, my dressform needs to be completely refit. The last few garments I made using this form came out much larger than I expected, once I tried them on myself. So I took some measurements, and to my shock, I needed to reshape the hips and drop 3 inches off the form.

Taking advantage of my 16 year old daughter home from school for the snow day, I peeled her away from her computer, and got her to help me refit the muslin cover on my Uniquely You Dress Form. If you have fluctuating weight, this is a great form, since all you have to do is rip open the seams and refit the cover and the form will change with you.

While my daughter helped me fit the cover, she poked around the studio, always a dangerous thing, and got intrigued by the ginger jars I was making out of the shibori papers. She dug through my stash, and my library, and found the book by Linda Johansen on Fabric Boxes. She found a Chinese Food type container to make out of a couple of bandanas. She ran to her room, and brought out her collection of bandanas, and decided to try to make a fabric box with two she had with a breast cancer theme, from a Susan Komen run we attended back in 2003. Two of us in this small studio is something to see. We managed not to fall over each other, I worked on the cutting table while she sewed, and the photo above shows her finished box. I was quite proud of her, and I think she was proud of herself, and for about four hours today, she didn't play on the computer...

And my dressform now fits my body, so I can start working out some of the garment ideas I have for project 1-3.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Today was a detour day. By that I mean, all that I had planned to do in the studio got pushed aside for other more important things that life has a way of throwing you. I started the morning by having a colonoscopy. What, you may ask has this to do with weaving? As a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed at age 46, and having just buried a close friend in her 50's with colon cancer, I am a firm believer that everything in your studio will wait while you do the important screenings that can make the difference between another day in the studio and, well, lets just say for now, I will have more days in the studio. Last month the oncologist gave me a clean bill of health, and my colon is perfect and good for another 5 years. So if you are putting off getting a routine exam, as annoying and cumbersome as they can be, think of all the things you might never get to in the studio... Make it your New Year's Resolution.

All was not lost, I did manage to do a prototype for a couple of Christmas gifts I have to make for some good friends. I've done this technique with scraps of handwoven fabric. There are a number of books out, many by Linda Johansen, on making fabric vases, bowls, boxes, etc. They were the technique du jour in the quilting circles a few years ago.

Last spring, I had done a series of papers, folded and dip dyed, so they came out sort of shibori looking. I wanted to do something special with them. So I dug out my Flexi Firm non fusible thick stiff interfacing, and some Wonder Under, and traced a pattern for a ginger jar from one of Linda Johansen's books. I fused the paper to the Flexi Firm, with Wonder Under, and then started stitching around all the pieces with a zig-zag, catching in a satin cord on the edges. Once they were all stitched, I assembled them into a star sort of shape, and then hand sewed them into the form of the jar. I'm not completely happy with the top edge, I may try to add beads or something, I'll see what I have in my stash.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Project number three is also yardage, this one I've been sitting on for awhile. There is sort of a story behind it. I have a few favorites of all my palettes I created during the years I wrote the forecast column for Handwoven Magazine. One was the Leaves and Berries palette, from Jan/Feb 2005. It was challenging to dye the warps since I am an inexperienced dyer, sort of by the seat of my pants, and I had to mix four different greens from what I had on hand. I used MX Fiber Reactive dyes from Pro-Chem.
I am not a planner. I just happily see where something takes me, and this yardage is a prime example. I dyed three different white warps, unmercerized cotton, cotton tape (which I had to really scour first to get the dye to penetrate), and rayon. They were all different sizes of yarns, and I had no plan, so I just wound 8 yard warps with as many ends as I could fit on the mill, or until the yarn ran out. Painting the warps independently of each other, meant that the colors were all the same, but the placement was random and different on all three warps.
I liked the imagery of berries oozing on the vine, brambles, so lengthwise stripes with twill vine like columns fit what I was trying to accomplish. Once the loom was warped, I started sampling with all kinds of different wefts. I cut the fabric off the loom after about 12" and cut the piece into three different widths. The first I kept in my notebook, the second I gently swished in the bathroom sink with some shampoo. The third I finished securely around the edges and threw into the washer and dryer. So I had an idea of finishing and what each weft would do.
I liked the wool singles I tried, from Harrisville, and I liked one of the black wefts, so I went to the Harrisville site and was sad to learn that the cone I'd been sitting on for 15 years wasn't made anymore. Imagine that. I looked through all my sample books, and found a Mainline two-ply by JaggerSpun, wool, in black, that looked a lot like the Harrisville singles in size. So I ordered it. Weaving this fabric wasn't the easiest, the different size warps, and different structures had different take up, even though I used a second beam for the supplemental warp, I still had to rig up a third beam that was variable, so I could maintain even tension throughout the weaving. Two by Fours can be a wonderful thing!
When the fabric was off the loom, I threw it into the washer and then the dryer to simulate the same finishing as the sample. When the dryer was done, imagine my surprise when the fabric came out looking like the sample on top, and only a bit over 4 yards long. Shock wasn't the half of it. But it is important to not look at something the way you expected it to look and if it doesn't, then you failed, but rather to look at it with new eyes and see what you can do with this new version. The more I looked at it, the more I loved it.
So, now I need to make it into a smashing coat. I have a 31" width, so I'm hoping to squeeze a good size coat from this yardage. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Project number two also involves yardage that was exhibited in Tampa at Convergence 2008 as part of the Ebb Tide Yardage Exhibit. This yardage is called Sandstone Layers, and like the previous yardage both are dyed to coordinate with palettes from my former Forecast Column from Handwoven Magazine. Both palettes were featured in the Jan/Feb 2007 issue.

I only have a bit over three yards left of this yardage, but it is 36" wide. I used the rest of it for a window shade, which also hung in the functional exhibit at Convergence. If necessary, I am quite willing to cut it up for additional fabric to help the cause!

This fabric is handwoven rayon and cotton, from painted warps using MX Fiber Reactive Dyes. Woven on 8 shafts, this fabric is a combination of plain weave, twill, basket weave, and has a supplemental warp. I can see this in a short sweatery kind of jacket. Probably unlined. Stay tuned.

For those of you who have taken garment constructions workshops with me, you know I have always recommended HTCW's Red Dot Tracer as a pattern medium. Sadly it is no longer available, but the good news is, Pellon has re-engineered their Tru-Grid pattern tracing medium, and it is now stable in all directions. I have tried it with a number of patterns and so far been very happy with its performance. I have changed my webshop to make this product available instead of Red Dot Tracer. Thank you Pellon!

I received my latest issue of Handwoven Magazine in the mail yesterday, and found Syne Mitchell's column Weaving the Web, the title this issue is Blog Your Weaving. Syne gave a number of reasons for creating a Blog, and the idea stuck in my head, so much I didn't sleep the entire night. I was so tempted to get up and work at 4am, but I held off, and now, with the blog created, I decided this would be a good opportunity to cronical my creative journey with 6 new garments, portions of which have already been started, I'll outline what I have so far in later blogs, and hopefully inspire someone else to just jump in head first and create with what's at hand.
The first project is what to do with yardage I wove for the Tampa Convergence, where it hung in the yardage exhibit. I have 4 1/2 yards of 25" width, very drapey rayon and silk, called Frosted Florals, woven with handpainted warps, using MX Fiber Reactive dyes, in twill and plain weave simultaneously using 8 shafts. There were three different rayon and silk yarns used in this yardage, giving it a dimensional surface.
The drape makes me think gown/dress, and I've been playing with a couple Burda patterns from my World of Burda magazine that comes in every month. I'm making the garments up first in a commercial fabric to fine tune the patterns and the fit. I'll add photos as I get some one to take them on me.