On Tools

Leese sticks, cross sticks, and the raddle that came with my looms all have very sharp edges. So you'd think by now I'd have sanded them down a little. I always intended to, but hadn't. Last week, the cross sticks rubbed against the delicate warp it broke five warp ends when I wound it too quickly.
Actually it's not as if I completely ignored them; back in 2001 when I used to weave for a production weaver in town, I did make a raddle and a set of cross sticks for myself; the problem is, back then I wove on a 4-ply wool warp at around 8 or 6 DPI at work, so the tools I made are extra sturdy and a little heavier than what I need now. (But check out the nice, smooth edges!)

Ben showed me where he stores his sandpapers, and I bought some delicate pine dowels for short cross sticks for the cashmere, so I'll finally sand down some sticks very soon. It's not my favorite job, sanding, especially with the hayfever season just starting now. My warping board had extra rough surfaces, but this, I begged Ben to take care about a month ago, so new warps don't stick to the board any more.

And this is my newest tool, a fringer made by Nelson spinning wheel maker Mike Keeves. I don't know how many weavers recommended this, but I thought it was a great big fuss for nothing. On the other hand, fringing gives me the greatest trouble, (my right wrist), so I had to change the way I worked.

After only two shawls, I can't say using the fringer is quicker, but I get consistent twists to every fringe, and my wrist doesn't hurt. I do love this tool, though; the two handles feel so great in my hand, and I pace around the house trying to come up with a design while twisting the air.

Back to the Starting Point

I bought Bonnie Inouye's book in preparation for her workshop in Murchison in 2002. Back then, it took me quite a long time to get through each chapter, and in the month or so I had to prepare, I reached either the end of Chapter 3 or a few pages into Chapter 4 and gave up. But what little I had read helped me a great. After the workshop, I started again from Page 1, working through the exercises and weaving samples.

I started on Page 1 again last week, hoping to broaden my horizons and trying to create more interesting drafts based on what Bonnie and Agnes suggested recently. I had always believed that my experiments got as far as Chapter 3, but was surprised to find I had so much fun with Chapter 1 I never got beyond it. I'm finally ready to move on to Chapter 2, though; I made a few plaited tie-up drafts today with the treading I used for the last two pieces (seen here) so I can make samples with the yard or so remaining on the loom.

Immediately after Bonnie's workshop, those of us who attended spoke in terms of pre-Bonnie /post-Bonnie methods/work, but I didn't have much of pre-Bonnie to worry about. So for me, going back to her book and recalling some of the things she showed us is going back to my starting point.


Pricing Anomaly

Something has been bothering me a little.

I wove three similar scarves from one warp, in wool, possum and silk. One sold at an exhibit for a price I set. I have another one in a glass box at the airport, along with three cashmere scarves; that one is more expensive, because I set it the same as the cashmeres, which in turn is the same as the cashmeres at the gallery. I tried to make it easier for Arts Marketing people who have arranged for the display, so all four pieces are the same price. I have the third scarf at the gallery, with a price considerably cheaper than either.

To me, all three took about the same amount of work/time to create, I used the same material in different colors, and the prices should be the same. Too late for the differences in the first two, but I think I need to do something about the third.

This is one part I hate about my work: pricing.


May I Humbly Welcome...

All those who visit/ed this blog via The August One's web site, www.RandallDarwall.com, (and isn't that a lovely photo of the man... ), welcome. I just found the link from his place to my blog this morning. If you went to my posts recapping his workshop, please remember they don't begin to convey the wonderfulness of the experience, the camaraderie amongst the weavers that emerged, and the loveliness of Randy and Brian.

Of late, I've come to see a static (non-blog) web site as a necessary evil. As New Zealand weaver Anne Field once told me, you have to have a web site to show you're "in the business". I, too, think of it as a modern day business card, but like printed brochures, I find it so, well, static, I don't feel passionate about updating or beautifying it often. Contents there also feel more permanent relative to blog posts, and since my thinking and my work is always in flux, I don't like to set anything in stone, yet.

On the other hand, I do enjoy posting on this blog, and for the first time, I went into the statistics counter to see where you come from and how you find me. (That's how I found the link.) I checked the stats on my web site and my almost non-existing Japanese Unravelling blog as well, and shock, horror, I even get a few but consistent hits on the last.

This makes it necessary to keep the web site updated, varied and interesting, and, help me, I have to blog in Japanese. Well, not today, though; today I'm working in the basement.



I have nothing on my calendar from tomorrow to September 3; I cleared everything so I can concentrate on the Re:fine work. I'm so excited, I couldn't stop yapping at the physiotherapist's office today. (My left knee is still a little swollen, but I even canceled all physio appointments until September also.)

Georgina's Baby Blanket: merino warp, merino/cashmere mix weft. This one sits on you like a spoiled Labrador; if you like that kind of weight, which we do, it's absolutely irresistible.

Georgina's Baby Blanket: merino in warp and weft. The more familiar, light and airy texture.

The Cost of Inexperience

Looking at the calendar, I think Georgina asked me if I would weave her a baby blanket shortly after she found out she was pregnant. She knew I had an exhibit at the start of the year, and she told me the baby was due in June. But way back, we had agreed the blanket wasn't going to be white or pastel, and she picked out a purple variegated merino to be the main focus. I knew it would make a great warp, so I set out looking for a good weft yarn; I needed something in purple, and somewhere around 110/2 in size, preferable no mohair, and not boucle.

I was dismayed about the closing of Diane Martin's Cotton Wool Company in Auckland, doubly so because I didn't know about it until January; though her wool was coarser than what I was looking for, I love her colors and sheen. Her yarns were definite candidates if I could mix them wight more merino. I had merino and other yarns, but I was not about to expose a newborn baby to amateur dye jobs. I needed some purple yarns.

Then in April or May, I found a thick but delicious merino/cashmere knitting yarn; most importantly, the color was perfect. I had to rethink the design, as now I had a skinny warp and a very thick weft; I settled on a simple 2/1/1/2 Dornick twill to show off the weft. Then I had to figure out the double-width weave, which took several attempts. (It took me one go to figure out the double-width version of a downloaded 7-ender 18 months ago. %$#@??)

The weaving took about an hour, and I was pleased I went with a simpler draft, until I took it off the loom and started fringing; I was mortified with the weight of the blanket, and the thought of my friend's baby being crushed by a baby blanket! I fringed, wet-finished, and pressed it; it looked luscious enough, but was still heavy and the cloth did not full as much as I wanted. So it sat on our couch and I looked at it begrudgingly for a few days.

I must have expected something like this; I had enough warp to weave another, so I wove an alternate; I used the same merino in the warp for the weft, and wove it in a diamond pattern. This of course washed up beautifully; it's softer and airier, and fulled nicely. I was relieved I had two options for Georgina.

Her wee baby girl was born in July, and I left the two blankets with Georgina; I figured if she waited that long, she can test drive both. Ben's secretly hoping she'll go with the merino/merino, so he can have the thick one.

It's the second time I did this. I was asked to weave a man's scarf as a gift, and casually I mentioned I could try alpaca, because I had just seen beautiful grays and a yellow on a sample card perfect for this project, and so an alpaca scarf was commissioned. Except I had never woven with alpaca, and didn't know how unforgiving the fiber is. After ordering the alpaca yarn, carefully planning, and even more carefully weaving a scarf, I came up with a hidious piece of... something that can't even be used to wipe up spilled milk. On that occasion, I quickly put on a cashmere warp in similar colors, and sold the cashmere version for the price of the alpaca. Luckily, it was a big hit, and for me, satisfying, but the process made me realize I'm still a certifiable amateur.

Look, it's 3:00; I can close the gallery now. I lugged my own PC today so I can clean the hard drive, but I spent the whole time posting instead. I'll post some pics of the baby blanket candidates when I go home tonight. Thank you for keeping me company today.

The Re:fine Proposal

Long time ago, in a town called Nelson, there was a fun annual event called the Wearable Arts Awards; it started in someone's paddock in Brightwater in 1987 with the help of locals, most notably Eelco Boswijk. People flocked from near and far in September to see this strange and dreamy extravaganza, but the show became more elaborate and expensive, and finally in 2005, it moved to the big smokes of Wellington. (And pity, the origins are not detailed in their web site.)

In 2005 and 2006, an art exhibit called "Fine" was held in Wellington, at Shed 11, to showcase Nelson artists and their work, to coincide with the renamed World of Wearable Art shows. This year, the exhibit has been renamed "Re:fine", the venue moved closer to the WOW shows, to the lovely NZ Academy of Fine Arts, and I'm taking part in it.

I was at the Expo on Wednesday 30 May; the proposal to be considered for Re:fine was due on the Friday. Of course we'd had plenty of information on the proposal in the preceding months, and I had been thinking about it, it wasn't until the Thursday that I started on the proposal. Typical.

I had never submitted, or even seen, an art proposal, but the TOC given to us was pretty comprehensive, so I wrote some words, and because I can't draw, I cut/pasted images and attached beads/yarn samples. Long story short, I was able to submit a proposal, (though the glue was still wet, and it looked more like a 7-year-old's art project), in time. Except one of the curators had seen my stuff at the Expo, and rather than to create what I had proposed in the proposal, (a one-off, strangely enchanting and decadent red garment based on Arabian Abayeh), she urged me to weave more of the sea/sand type shawls. Easy, I thought.

Well, life, lack of imagination, or bad time management, call it what you will, something got in the way, and then I had "more pressing" projects, and then I ran out of yarn the other day, but later this week, I will be weaving on the first warp I've designed for this exhibit, and I have an idea for the second.

I understand most participants in Re:fine are finished with their work by now. Typical.

My Workshop Experiences Part 3

I found out about the Randall Darwall workshop in February 2006 on the New Zealand woolcraft list. I signed up right away because I vaguely remembered the name mentioned by Brigit after Convergence 2002. Brigit is another weaver I met at Bonnie's workshop and, for whose artistry no amount of superlative is sufficient. Anyone who can impress Brigit was good enough for me, though I got the distinct feeling, from Brigit's email, that anyone who pretends to be a weaver should recognize this name instantly.

I was getting used to the idea of being the least experienced weaver in a workshop. In fact, it's kind of wonderful because others teach me things or give me hints, and if I ask a dumb question, (and yes, there are dumb questions), it doesn't matter because, well, I've not been doing this long.

You all know how the October 2006 workshop went; suffice it to say, it was better than cheesecake with chocolate and ice cream. If you would like to recap, here's the link.

I'm not sure what other exciting workshops awaits me. Like Randy said, I need to do my own apprenticeship. I realize it's almost September, but my 2007 weaving is about to commence. (Do you think I'm still on the American school calendar?)

By the way, Brigit's handout was on why people weave, or would be interested in buying handwoven cloth; I was looking forward to this discussion during the workshop, but alas, we cover it. Randy, you owe me one.

My Workshop Experiences Part 2

The second workshop was Bonnie Inouye's in Murchison in May 2002. Now, big names like Bonnie (and even I knew her name from the various weaving lists and magazines) don't come to this neck of the woods often, so I was keen, and I contacted the organizer immediately. Because Bonnie's stuff is so advanced (multi-shaft, creating your own drafts, etc.), however, and I had only woven two or three twill warps on a 4-shaft, she recommended I look into Bonnie's Dunedin gig, (that's further south of Christchurch); I decided against Dunedin, because of the travel cost. Then, the Murchison workshop needed more headcount, and so I was allowed to join.

I read as much as I can of her book, downloaded a test version of a draft application, and started playing around. I found the concept intriguing and fascinating, in the same way I feel about watching a doco on, say, the bottom of the ocean or planets and stars. The fact is, I got as far as Chapter 3, and I'm still fascinated with the possibilities there that I hadn't moved on since.

I think the workshop lasted about four days, but by Day 3, I was in la-la land, just glad to be amidst weavers and listening in on their sophisticated conversation. I was terribly tempted to follow Bonnie to her other workshops in the North Island, but again, I decided against it because of the cost.

So what did I do after the workshop? I bought a 16-shaft monster instead. And page for page, Bonnie's book has been the best weaving book I've purchased for the amount of excitement and joy it continues to bring.

My Workshop Experiences Part 1

This morning, I'm sitting in Lloyd's office at Arts Council Nelson/Gallery 203, where I had my exhibit this past Jan/Feb. Lloyd is away today, so I'm holding down the fort. I have been back since to view a few exhibitions, and taking ukulele lessons on Sundays, but sitting here in the silence, it feels like homecoming to me. I do like this space.

Anyway, my weaving workshop experiences have been on my mind, so here goes.

The very first one I attended was a workshop on double weave, taught by Australian weaver Kay Faulkner, hosted by the Marlborough weavers. The workshop was in February 2001, so by then I had owned my trusty Rigid Heddle for five and a half years, and my 4-shaft Jack for some time, but I didn't weave much while I worked, what little I wove were all plain weave, and I couldn't read a draft. And I had told very few people I wove. And my sister had Son #2 in December, so in the weeks preceding, I was in Japan being her domestic servant.

On the morning in question, Ben drove me to this church in Blenheim, dropped off my gear, and was about to head back to Nelson; I was holding on to his back right fender, wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. I've not been one to feel lonely or scared on the first days of school or work, but that morning I almost felt sick. That was my coming out as a weaver.

The workshop went well; we had to work hard, but I learned to read a draft in the first 15 minutes, I met the warm and welcoming weavers of Marlborough. In a relatively short time, we learned the many possibilities of double weave.

So far I've only woven double-width weave, and only twice, but time will come when I'll want to make scrumptious multi-layered textiles, or reversible textiles.

That was Workshop One.


Running Out of Yarns...

Well, not exactly. I just ran out of the scrumptious possum-merino-silk in the color charcoal while measuring my warp; 500g gave me just a little over half the width of the shawl I planned.

Meanwhile, I found some more inspirations with the Pacific theme in my friend Maureen's web site; I love the name "Windsands Weaving". Composite images of some of her small items gave me a hint for my next warp instead.

Martin Rodgers' farewell went swimmingly last Friday, and it gave me some kind of a closure, or a sense of inevitability; I just need to cope without him.


Sigh... Oh, Sigh...

Ever the optimist, Martin Rodgers, CEO (for one more week) of Nelson Bays Arts Marketing says Nelson and its arts scene will be fine, but he's off to Wellington, the Culture Capital of the nation, where the Council is happy to foot a bigger arts/culture budget. He will be absolutely terrific for Wellington, and I hope Wellington will be good to him and his family.

Ever the pessimist, I keep reading the headline as "Arts will 'Survive'". We're still receiving emails regarding projects he's initiated, but I am sighing like a teenager with this loss.


On Advice

I want to clarify what I meant regarding advice; I appreciate them, and I go looking for them. I need, however, to be discerning; I need to be selective, and decide when and which ones I take up, and disregard bad or untimely ones without feeling guilty, as if I'm unappreciative. Some advice are great, but come at the wrong time; some appear bad at the time, turns out to be rather great but over time. And even if I don't take them, it doesn't mean I don't appreciate the people who gave them to me. But I, and only I, can decide what to do with my work.

Once again, I'm in a situation where I need to seriously cull extra noise and concentrate on my work. I'm supposed to be making pieces to go into the hither-to biggest exhibition I'm involved with, and yet I'm dithering, putzing around, wasting life. I need to be ruthless and disciplined.

OK, I think I need to lie down now.


Sage Advice

Earlier on, I tried not to listen to anyone's advice about weaving, because they confused me to no end. Lately, I'm not adversed to asking for advice from people whose work I like, or people who have different approaches from mine, and I thought I was settled enough in my work to handle them.

Wrong! I find myself trying to please everybody, my mind's hands are tied and I can't make any decisions of my own. My own "thing" is erased by everybody else's ideas and methods and suggestions, and I can't shut them up.

Time to blast some good music and try some fun-but-mindless time in the basement, methinks.


Meeting Number Three with Megg Hewlett

Yesterday, in heavy rain, at my house, Megg started with her Gem of the Day: "My hands are jealous of all the work my head does," and you know it opened the floodgate of my " Am I a fake?" discussion. I think we agreed one way of differentiating an artist from an artisan/craftsperson/weaver&felter is whether s/he feels the work represents something of the maker, and in Megg's case, they do; in my case, they don't, and as of last night, I reached the conclusion that the best I can hope to become is an expert artisan/craftsperson/weaver. Which is not a bad thing.

But the distinction of art/craft, or more that of artists/craftsperson, just doesn't leave me alone, not because of the perceived status, or prices the works can fetch, but because, to me, art/artist imply a way of life, whereas craft/craftsperson make the act of making sound more like a job. More importantly, to me, artist implies that her/his work changes as the maker changes, whereas a craftsperson more or less sticks to a styles and produces many of that style. Think potter with molded pieces. And it is in this vein that I so long to be an artist.

Which leads to a lot of things I discussed with Agnes while I was up north.

We agreed on a lot of things as regards artist vs craftsperson, and I find her to be an artist because she meets both of the above criteria, and yet she prefers to call herself a weaver, and her studio, a workshop. I have no problems with that, and I used to feel the same; it's also the self-effacing Kiwi tendency to choose the vernacular, to show we are not pretentious, though neither of us were born here. But becoming a member of Arts Marketing made me switch my terminology over time, partially to conform with whatever terms they used, but more to reflect my long-term aspirations and to keep me on my toes and never be satisfied at whatever progress I make. It also makes me feel more responsible for what I make, which, in marketing terms, would be that dreaded term, "professional".

Megg also proposed a third criteria; that if your work (both the end product and the process of making) has a back story, the maker is an artist. This is a more difficult one, because I can go on about the technical process of making a particular piece, but I haven't got much of a personal story as to how I became a weaver, or what part of me is reflected in the pieces I weave, or so I thought. Megg told me otherwise; I'll have to mull over this.