Monday, August 25, 2008

When the Stars Align

Sometimes things just fall into place. I know there is preparation: you have to be ready, you have to be willing to listen, you have to be somewhat open minded.

These are hard things to align, I'm sure the stars help out. I'm also lucky (born in the Year of the Rabbit).

Just as I am finishing up a manuscript on beginning weaving, Schacht has come up with a new student loom:

silk pile blogA August 08

This is my first handspun silk knotted pile sample on the Cricket. I am trying out the loom to see if it will be suitable for us to use this coming October at SOAR.

It is. We will.

It's a very small loom (11" x 18") and very sturdy. See those side pieces? Solid wood, strong enough to hold up under the tension required for these projects. It is small enough to work on in my lap, so it can be used semi-upright, a much more comfortable position to weave knotted pile than horizontal.

We get to be among the first to use it, and I am quite sure people will be just as impressed as I am. I'll report back in November!

Here's another view, with a bit of measurement to show the scale:
silk pile blogB Aug 08

We will be switching looms for the cut pile class at SOAR this Fall. Thanks to Interweave for letting me change this particular horse midstream. Thanks to everyone who is willing to experiment, adjust and try a new way. Thanks to manufacturers for coming up with new products with just the right features, size, and strengths as if they were made just for me.

I can't believe how lucky I am to have everything drop into my lap so easily.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Murder of Crows

When I first started weaving knotted pile about ten years ago, it was just for the pleasure of it. I planned to make a bag, one bag, and then get back to what I was doing at the time, mostly fabric weaving and bead weaving.

I found I really liked the knotting technique, really-really liked the end product, and was having fun. I did a few more bags. Then a few more. I put a bag or two in shows, other people liked them. Then someone asked me to show them how.

Well. I was already teaching weaving, spinning and dyeing classes, what's one more class? But the equipment I had for weaving this technique was somewhat specialized, no longer made, or made in far away foreign countries to which I had no ready access. I had to come up with a plan.

The loom needed to be sturdy enough to hold the tight tension required. It needed to be able to adjust the warp, advanced the warp, and make two sheds. Pretty basic. After all, I thought, knotted pile textiles have been made on looms built of sticks and logs, pegged out with rocks and tensioned by sitting on the textile in progress. I should be able to come up with something that would suit.

Sarah Swett came to the rescue: she was using a modified PVC pipe loom for her tapestry classes, and gave me a set of plans. They were based on Archie Brennan's design for a copper pipe tapestry loom.

I modified it somewhat, adding a sturdy heddle bar, and it has worked quite well. For several years, I've been attached to this little loom:

copper loom (2)

I've made several out of PVC pipe for shipping around to classes. I also make them out of copper pipe, and I like the copper pipe version for its gleaming beauty, in addition to its very serviceable-ness. Weavers seem to be able to grasp its inherent utility quite handily.

But. Sometimes warping it is a challenge for people new to weaving, those whom I prefer to teach. Sometimes it is hard for new weavers get the hang of weaving on it. It requires a bit of tenacity to keep the warps in place, to not pull in or out during weaving and to maintain the proper sett.

Several years ago, I taught the pile class at Shuttles in Boulder, and my friend Cindy was in the class.

Cindy is not a weaver (and we had many fun things to find out about how to reach out to people who do not even know how to *wind a skein*). Cindy is a loom builder, she works for Schacht. She and I had discussions on loom building for this technique. Apparently she mentioned using other looms, those already on the market, like a tapestry loom or a rigid heddle loom, both of which I dismissed out of hand as not being sturdy enough. I don't remember the mention of rigid heddle, but Cindy does, and I believe her. This is where the murdering of several courses of crows comes in.

Fast forward a few years, to the process I am currently involved in: the writing a book on these weaving techniques. My publisher did not want the book to be based on the copper pipe loom: they wanted the loom to be readily accessible, something anyone can purchase, rather than have to build. I was disappointed, as I like this little loom, but I acquiesced. We settled on using a rigid heddle for all of the projects in the book.

Whoa! I was very pleasantly surprised. I tried two different versions of a rigid heddle loom, a 16" Ashford and a 15" Schacht Flip. I had to adjust a few things, use yarns that were slightly different from my usual selection, but the looms worked like a charm.

They are easy to set up too, making me start to wonder how I could incorporate them into class teaching. I recruited a couple of friends (read: guinea pigs)to try it out on their rigid heddles and weave some knotted pile:
vc 2008

vc sue's 2008

vc eileen's 2008

This is Sue and Eileen (guinea pigs) and their projects at our retreat in Virginia City in June.

Emboldened, I set up a class at Shuttles, using the rigid heddle loom for knotted pile. Shuttles has a class set of looms, and they are willing to rent looms to students, who will need more than a 12 hour class to finish their projects. Cindy signed up for the class, as did Debbie, two people who had taken the previous version of the class using PVC pipe looms.

This past month I have taught two classes using the newer version of my now-based-on-the-book class projects. At GGFI, we used copper pipe looms. At Shuttles, we used the rigid heddle.

Oh. My.

Now, to backtrack a bit, the warping of the pipe loom seems simple enough to most people, but there are always a few for whom the process is daunting, strange, like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time. It takes a bit of re-orienting, a bit of faith, to believe that the threads are going to do the right thing if you *just go this way*. Two people in five years have actually cried during the process. I try not to make people cry when they are learning to weave. It is bad form.

At the GGFI class (pipe looms) we had a crier. The Shuttles class (rigid heddle) was a piece of cake. The two people who had taken the class before on the pipe looms agreed with me: the rigid heddle loom is easier to set up, understand, quicker and does not cause tears.

I am going to have to think of a way to get classes using the rigid heddle:

rigid heddle loom small

Cindy recently reminded me that she had suggested the rigid heddle looms several years ago.

The crow is delicious, thank you.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Golden Gate Fiber Institute

GG bridge small
We came, we laughed, we learned, we ate well, there were door prizes for everyone, and did I mention lots of laughs? The first Golden Gate Fiber Institute has come and gone, and it was a fabulous time, if I do say so myself.

There was great weather, sun, sea air, some fog and some wind, and did I mention the fabulous food?

People were happy, 6 days of classes and 6 evenings of gathering to spin and knit, laugh and talk, see old friends and meet new ones, and did I mention the door prizes? Vendors of all stripes were very generous: there was fiber, yarn, equipment, spindles, more yarn, and more fiber.

Several teachers were new to me: Loyce Ericson taught felted hats, a new hat every day, and they were wild to subdued: a personality profile of each felter.

Darlene Hayes taught a natural dye class, probably under the most challenging conditions of any teacher there, with grace and aplomb. Here are some of the results:

Sue's Yarn small

Eye popping colors, the full spectrum, all done in natural dyes with afterbaths, mordant baths and pushing the limits of pH. We are planning to have Darlene come up to our guild for a dye workshop, she was just too fun and too smart for words. She's close to us too, though moving a bit further away soon, so we hope to have her come up sooner rather than later.

The party room stayed up late, Christine, Maia, and a few others who escaped notice were paid back though, when we got up at o'dark hundred for coffee and knitting. All in good fun, and a few sleepy campers are to be expected when you get 60 spinners, knitters and weavers together for a full week.

The whole week was more fun than a barrel of monkeys, and the raccoons tried to make us believe an actual barrel of monkeys had been loosed upon us. Thanks Morgaine, and you can be sure I'll be back to camp again another day.