Friday, May 27, 2016


So, months, nay years ago now (May 2014) I took a cotton spinning class from Joan Ruane. (if you get a chance to take her class, do it!) At any rate, I spun some cotton, and wove the first bit up into a shawl:

cotton fabric 001

I like this shawl, the fabric is nice, it's soft and drapey, just what a shawl should be.

I wanted to make myself a jacket, in the standard style I make, and for that, I wanted a sturdier fabric. I began by spinning the cotton with more twist. When I had enough spun, I ran the warps and dyed them, theoretically a dark blue and red. BUT!!

I omitted the boiling part of the "before dyeing" with cotton. As in, I soaked the warps in very hot water with detergent, but did not boil them.

The result? was less than stellar:

Hs cotton thrums and discharged

What I have left of that original color is in these thrums. The theoretical dark blue was "baby blue" and the red was decidedly pink. The gold was nice, but could not save the other colors. Ick.

I set up the warp and started weaving anyway. I tried to tell myself that I would like it woven up. I could hardly weave the thing it was so annoying. I stopped weaving, I started again, I stopped and started again and again, until finally I just got over myself wove the thing off.

I did not like it.

SO! I dipped the whole fabric in discharge solution. That's it, under the thrums, in the photo above. It was acceptable, pale colors, almost neutrals, and I could stand it. I sewed up the jacket.

Turns out, I could not wear it. Or rather, I would not wear it, never chose it to put on. Being almost all white, it just did not look good on me, too pale, too white, too, I don't know: insipid?

So yesterday, I over-dyed the whole garment:

Cotton jacket dyed

It came out a great blue: easy to wear with denim and jeans, and even the stripes of former-pink look good, subtle, but evident, and ... not pink!

Now I think I will be wearing this more. If I were standing in line at the grocery store, no one would ever guess the trauma this yarn and fabric havesendured. No one would ever really guess that this is handspun, handwoven, and (hah!) hand-dyed cotton.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Learning, Practicing, Perfecting

I have been packing and unpacking samples for recent and upcoming series of classes: pack for this class, come home unpack, re-pack for this class, come home unpack and re-pack: lather, rinse, repeat.

ranch fabrics

Also, if you have been reading for any length of time, you will remember that I am learning a new set of skills: working with leather. It has been a little frustrating to stitch leather in small chunks of time. I need longer stretches in the studio, to develop a rhythm to the process. As I sit and stitch in those rare moments these last few months, I know I am improving: my hands move more fluidly and without thought, my stitches are more even, I am more often than not able to stitch a straight line, and a straight line in the correct path, using the right size needle, the right size thread, and sometimes even consistently the right color of thread. The things I did not know until I started down this path are legion.

As it is with every hand craft, it looks easy enough from the outside. Once one starts down the path of learning anything, really, one realizes how very much there is to learn. In making, there are tools and supplies to consider, and then there is the actual handwork: movement of the hands, proper holding of and use of tools, finishing of materials, tips, tricks and alas, simply time, producing a body of work, which one hopes shows signs of improvement as one works. Individual pieces making up the body of work are not guaranteed to improve, or even materialize, merely with the passage of time. One has to put in the hours.

Silk scarf

At some point in my weaving path, I realized I no longer thought at all about the process of weaving: how to set up the loom, which tools I'd need, which steps proceed in what order, what threads I'd use and how to sett them, how wide and long a thing needed to be, which weft would work for the effect I wanted, etc. All of these parts melded into a seamless process of spinning-dyeing-weaving-finishing. This took about 20 years.

That's about the point I started beadwork:
celtic carpet bag in sun

beach bag2

It was easier to become adept, and build up a body of work, because I more or less knew how I wanted to work with color and material, it was a matter of learning the process, then repeating it until it became second nature, and I could instead think of the product's look, form, function, style, color and utility. I was seriously involved in this process for about 10 years.

Then, I started weaving knotted pile:

silk bag front

Much of the graphic imagery I'd learned translated from beadwork, but I needed to learn new hand skills, and which yarns would be best used at what sett, how colors worked in this technique, and refine a few processes of bag construction:

pile bags

I've been at this for 16 years now. I feel pretty confident that I can do the work I want, know the materials and the process well enough.

I got sidetracked for a few years writing a few books. When I got back to doing my own work, I had to ease into it again. After spending several years thinking about how to tell people what I do and why, and then traveling a bit to show them how I do what I do and why, I have to find my own path once again. I am going to close a few doors, stop doing a few things, in order to focus on this.

I realized this month that I have a standard for leather bags now. I did not know that I did, nor was I conscious that I was producing the same bag wearing different colors over and over. Apparently a good bag has to have a front pocket, a zipper top:

opulent leather FB

also a long handle, cross-body and or shoulder strap, preferably adjustable:

borderline knotted pile

and a zippered secure pocket in the back and an open pocket inside:

virgo pisces

Now that I know this about the bags I apparently want to make, I can focus on the process: how to make the bags I apparently want to make: which leather to choose, which thread to use, what materials I should use for the embellishments, how to make the strap just right: the right gauge and length for the project, how to make the pocket(s) big enough, secured or not, and where to place them, etc.

Learning new things is energizing. Being an adult learner can be hard: we are accustomed to being adept. Being a beginner means accepting "less than perfect" for a while. But I know perfection in working. It is that moment when the making just flows through you, without thought. It is then that one can create, be creative with the materials, produce individual work, from oneself, not following instructions or patterns.

Until then, I practice. It's been a couple of years now. I expect a few more in the "practicing" stage before I can "not think about the process and materials", until, in essence, I know the path and my hands know the process, and I make something that is mine. I've been there before. I know how it feels and this is not it, yet. It's still exciting and fun, an adventure and a way to open new doors, if only in my head.