Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Baby Steps

Thanks for all of your kind words of encouragement for the new, big, fear-inducing project I am facing. It helps to know I am not alone, and I also try to tell myself it is just weaving. Earth will not tip on its axis if it's not perfect. Moving on:

loom warped

Luckily, weaving is a step-by-step process. As long as I think of just the next step, the big projects are less daunting. I love warping too, which helps, the lining up of all those neat little threads, and the still unsullied potential:

loom warped2

I have little nails marking the warp in 1" increments, and a mantra which helps keep the process going (26 down, 10 to go):

loom warped3

The only casualty so far:

warped finger

My thumb. The coarse warp yarn wore a groove in the top of my finger (ouch!).

Most projects start out with hopes and expectations. Many projects finish with a satisfied sigh of completion and a job well done. Some projects either languish, unfinished, caught at a point of dilemma, or are finished having not reached the hoped-for outcome. If I am honest, about 1 project in 10 is really spectacular, and about 1 in 10 is a dog which should never have seen the light of day. The rest are fine, good, serviceable, but not breathtaking: towels, curtains, fabric; good cloth, but not masterpieces.

I live for the breathtaking, the occassional project which has more hopes, dreams and energy attached to it. I plan more carefully for these projects and take the baby steps mindfully so there is a possibility of achieving breathtaking again.

Baby steps: first the warp goes on the loom, then I'll tie the heddles, the re-tension so that every warp is taught and even (never really get to even, but I get close), then some twining, the hem and finally, at last, the knotting. I have lots of baby steps before I ruin begin to weave the Big Scary Project.

Weaving is good with the baby steps. Besides warping, sometimes (as now) directly onto the loom, there is threading heddles or in this case making the heddles, devices used to create the shed, or the space between layers of warp where the weft will pass. Tensioning and tieing-on are the last steps before the first, tentative actual weaving begins: the header, or hem.

So weaving, while appearing to be a daunting process overall, is a series of events, not unlike, say, spinning: first we sort, pick through and wash the fleece. Then we pick the locks, and card or comb the fibers, or dye them and then card or comb them, then oil the wheel, pick up the roving and begin. The hope and potential is kept alive through the several steps which precede the actual ruining spinning the fibers.

Ahem. Working on the attitude here, really, I am.

Starting at the wrong place in the process makes anything more difficult. My friend Sue is weaving again, having bought a new rigid heddle loom. Sue owned and wove on a Harrisville loom long ago but sold it, moved, and spent several years working and away from thoughts of weaving.

Once retired though, an opportunity arose for her to buy an AVL loom for a good price, with attendant goodies like shuttles, books, swifts and assorted tools. She was lured back into thinking of weaving.

The AVL, though, is not a first loom. It was like jumping into the middle of a project, a bit overwhelming. A couple of guild members who own and use an AVL tried to help, but they are long past the Baby Steps part of the process, and only made the whole thing more confusing. Sometimes it is challenging to break a process down into the increments that allow for understanding.

Sue got frustrated and sold the big loom. She tip-toed into shallow waters once again with a smaller loom, a Baby Wolf, but it languished in the corner while she recovered from an illness. She sold it, thinking she'd never have the energy again to weave.

Then, along came BJ, who weaves on and teaches weaving with a rigid heddle loom. BJ is patient, soft spoken, not demanding nor didactic, a good teacher. She was encouraging, and showed Sue all the nice things she (BJ) had woven on her rigid heddle loom.

So Sue bought one, and BJ helped her set it up. When it came time to set it up again, Lindsey patiently worked through the process with Sue, giving her more confidence and a successful second project. Sue warped and is weaving the third project now by herself, having woken up in the middle of the night with an idea of houndstooth fabric.

Baby steps. It is what brought Sue back to weaving. The right teacher, a calm and non-judgemental person, and a good friend who knew a lot about weaving and could walk Sue through it step by step the second time. And now Sue is off and running, weaving again, on her own:

Sue weaving

Baby steps.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


pile yarns June2007

This is seven pounds of fear. Or maybe trepidation, or perhaps just a bit of a case of the butterflies. Whatever. There are plenty of skeins, lots of colors (or rather, the colors I wanted), there are dark and light values, some white, grey and dark (on the left there, hard to see, thank you madam photo-stylist).

Here's another two pounds worth of fear:

warp yarns June 2007

warp yarns. 3 ply, tightly spun, plenty. Fun to spin, so maybe I went a little overboard with the amount.

Starting a new project can be exciting. Planning a new project is fun. Thoughts of the completed object are perfect, every little detail falls into place: the colors are just right, the design flows, the hand is perfect, the project goes smoothly. In thought.

In fact, things rarely fall into place so easily. So it is with a bit of hesitation that I start a new, big, project, despite the careful planning and preparation.

At some point in the preparation, I often realize that I am procrastinating. I will spin far more than needed, because the spinning is going just fine. I will dye enough yarn for two projects, just to make sure.

But when all the spinning and all the dyeing are done, there is nothing left to do but start.

And once that happens, all manner of problems may arise. It is that may arise that keeps me spinning long after I know I have enough. Why court trouble? Everything is going just fine here in spinning-land, I think I'll just stay here.

What do I fear? Well, the inevitable glitch. I know I am resourceful though, and can work my way out of most problems.

So is it the fear that the project won't be perfect? Well, yes, that enters into it. In my mind's eye, it is already done. The real physical project rarely matches that perfect picture. Is that bad? No. It is what it is. Sometimes it is just an indication of my limitations, made real, in physical form. Who wants to be reminded of that all the time?

But if this is what I can do, then I need to accept that. Work on it, Do better next time. All those things I know to be true.

I am my own worst critic. I know where all the skeletons are buried: where the color was not right, but good enough. Where in my mind's eye, that curve, that line was different, better somehow.

I will get over the fear. I will stop with the preparation and just jump right in. I will let go of the idea of perfection and just trust (or, more likely, just think: the hell with it, let's get this over with).

Starting is the worst. Take a deep breath, cut the yarns, and put them on the loom. Keeping on, working on it, are not so bad, once the parameters are set.

The work is fun, the idea becomes real. Having a physical object come to life that was once only an idea is a joy and a pleasure. And maybe, someway, somehow, with work and skill, the idea and the reality will someday match.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Golden Days

Some days in one's memory are filled with golden light, and such was the retreat in Virginia City.

There actually was golden glow to the days: bright sun and breezes (and sometimes real wind), also a snowy day and some overcast. But the golden memory comes not just from the quality of light, it comes also from the quality of the experience, the quality of the people.

There were 17 of us, arriving and departing at various times. We were all there for the Friday evening meal, and the energy then was vibrating. But there were soft and quiet times too, and a slow and steady pace of work, hah! or what we call work when really it is what we do for fun.

First we arrived (after lunch in Truckee and a visit to Jimmy Beans in Reno). There were people to help unload (!) and help they did, with a dizzying speed. Our cars were empty and the suitcases, boxes, ice chests, looms and spinning wheels were stashed in the studio, kitchen and sleeping rooms.

St Mary's Art Center is a three story building, with a wide central staircase. The first floor is up a half-flight of stairs, (mostly sleeping rooms here) and the workroom is up another flight, along with sleeping rooms also. The kitchen was down a flight from the entry porch. The first few trips up and down the stairs were a dizzying game of re-orientation (where am I and where was I going?), but we soon became accustomed to the layout.

The workroom on the second floor has tall ceilings, tall windows and light. We worked on at least seven spinning wheels, 3 floor looms (packed in and carted up to the studio) and an upright rug loom (also packed in), two inkle looms, two copper pipe looms and a Mirrix, a takadai, several marudai, a large needlepoint rug, and a dyepot. There were porches to spin on, two other workspaces set up in a porch vestibule, and long wide halls with couches for knitting and conversation.

I think Lisa was the most prolific. She was doing Nuno felt on silk, and made at least two full garments and several hats (I stopped keeping track). She took these materials:

VC Lisa1

Wool and silk fabric, with the finished Nuno felt fabric on the left.

The wool roving is separated and arranged on the silk base fabric:

VC Lisa2

Here is the first shawl:

VC Lisa4

and a close up of both sides of the fabric (one side was silk, the other wool):

VC Lisa3

Gayle was no slouch though, she warped and wove 6 yards of singles linen, sett at 48 epi in an 8 harness block twill, for napkins:

VC Gayle

Jen worked on a pipe loom with a knotted pile sampler:

VC Jen

And Hazel worked on a beautiful Fireside upright loom, also knotted pile, a meditation rug:

VC Hazel

Julie brought a takadai:

VC Julie

her shirt and scarf match her ribbon :). There was a flurry of activity when Julie realized a necessary stick was missing for the takadai. Suggestions flowed, sticks were tried and found wanting, hands were rung. Undaunted, Julie improvised: she went up to the Chinese restaurant in town and brought back some chopsticks, which she filed down to size in a pencil sharpener, and was in business.

Susanne worked on a Navajo rug, in very fine wool. Each shot beat down to almost nothing, but the finished fabric is exquisite:

VC Susanne

Here is Susanne, modeling a Nuno felt top made by Lisa:

VC Susanne's top

Sue brought some wool to dye:

VC Sue's wool

The roving was the purple color still visible. It's not a good color for her, so we overdyed it with reds and golds, to get an Autumn blend of colors, which I think will be just stunning in a blanket or big cozy sweater.

Ginger worked on a man's sweater for the Winter issue of Knitters. Most of the body was done, so she finished it and knit the sleeves. Here is Sharon, taking a picture of Ginger holding up the sweater, which will also be part of a presentation on designing at an upcoming Stitches :

VC Sharon and Ginger

Ginger goes off again to teach this week at Asilomar, a busy knitter!

There were books to read, peanut brittle to eat, wine to consume and dinner prepared for us every night. Is that heaven? There was always more food than a sensible person should eat, but who said anything about being sensible?

VC brittle

There was help when you needed it:

VC Sue warping

Lindsey and Susanne worked with Sue to put her warp on the loom. And then she wove it off:

VC Sue weaving

A natural colored cotton table runner, on her brand new (second project) rigid heddle loom.

Sharon has more pictures on her blog here. I have no photos of Allison, or Nancy, or Eileen, Gloria, Nisha or Linda. Blame the photographer, I was apparently lazy. Or busy?

It was a grand week. We all want to do it again. It is not easy to describe the feeling and energy of 17 women, quietly working on their own projects, sometimes not so quietly, for days on end. No worries about time or driving, or what to wear or what to eat, no phones (well, OK, some cell phones), no interruptions except a few curious tourists (the building is open to the public during the day). Some moments cannot be adequately described; impromptu conversations while spinning, a late night exchange in the studio, morning coffee, tea and knitting, a few quiet moments with someone, unexpected but precious.

It was like a dream: working separately and together, far away from the hustle of daily life, in a golden light, where there is no time.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


I woke up this morning to my favorite earth smells: we had rain last night. I love a bit of summer rain, it knocks down the pollens and dust, and brings up the smell of kitkidizzie, the fragrant low growing underbrush plant in the forest where I live. It smells sort of juniper-ish, creosote-ish, and spicy. Early settlers here did not like the odor, and called the plant Mountain Misery. Kitkidizzie is the Native Amercian name for the plant, and it is oh-so-evocative: it smells like home to me.

The rain was not entirely unexpected, but I thought it would be later, as in today, not last night. I had dyed skeins *drying* on the line, oops.

A quick answer to a question from Jennifer:

I just bought a lendrum upright! I see your v. fast bobbins in that pretty basket and have a question for you...how much yardage can you fit on one of those tiny bobbins? I'm trying to decide if I need the v. fast flier or not :)

I looooooove, loooove, looooove my very-fast flyer. I don't know how much yardage you can get (depends, the usual answer), but with the fine yarn the flyer is meant to spin, it's plenty. I've had several wheels, in the course of thirty years spinning, some even custom made for me, which I have outgrown in my quest for faster, finer, tighter twist. The Lendrum very-fast flyer still gives great satisfaction. It is fabulous for fine yarns. No affiliation, etc, although my friend Kathryn sells them. She's my dealer, so to speak, and what she delivers is better than crack (I think. I don't really know. Really).

I'm packed again. In fact, the Lendrum is in the car. This time, it's a retreat, no one is teaching anything, we are all just going to hang out and do whatever we want, for 5 days. The Reno Fiber guild arranged for the week at St. Mary's Art Center, originally for a class with Daryl Lancaster. Not enough sign-ups meant the class was cancelled, but the venue was still reserved. They quickly put together a retreat instead, for which 5 of us from here (over the hill, as it were) signed up. We blaze off today like a herd of turtles: late start, lunch in Truckee, perhaps a little shopping at Jimmy Beans in Reno on our way up to the high desert, and Virginia City, home of Ben, Hoss, Hop Sing and Little Joe. If I spot them, I'll take a photo.

What to take? What would you pack for 5 days of just fiber? I had a pile as high as an elephant's eye. I've whittled it down to 2 spinning projects, 2 knitting projects (me! The single-project-person!), well, also plus the sock-yarn-I-bought-in-case-of-fire, three weaving projects (two inkle, one cardweaving), some mending/correcting of errors (this bag), a dyepot, and some books and magazines to share and browse. Any bets on how much I actually get done?

I had more planned. I realized there were only five days, some of which time will undoubtedly be spent cooking, eating and, um, resting, yeah, resting-with-a-toddy.

The clothing is too funny. Around here I wear raggedy old clothes to work in: I'm dyeing, flinging spinning oil around, dripping tea and generally making a mess of myself. I've packed for changeable weather and utility, not beauty. The layers I have packed, if I put them on all at once, will be cause for much hilarity. Who really cares what we look like, as long as we are having fun, spinning and weaving, drinking tea and knitting? Not me :).

I'm hoping for more rain, thunderstorms, cool temps, and fine companionship. Oh, and good food and spinning! knitting! and weaving!

Off to the hinterlands. I'm so damn lucky. And I know it.