Staying in the Game

I've been weaving at breakneck speed, (with breakneck speed?) because I need to put the elephant warp on. This weekend is a three-dayer, and I shall release myself from self-imposed exile for half a day for a birthday lunch, but otherwise I'll be downstairs. Which I don't mind.

I started weaving this piece reveling in my wise choice of sympathetic colors; it allowed me to stop and observe and appreciate the details, (especially lovely when darker,) and I did this quite often. Came yesterday, it became, dare I admit it, boring. Even though this will be a pretty piece, which, as you know, is paramount alongside good texture. Even though some color combos still look painfully attractive.

Challenging myself is good, but it can be... challenging; for me, who has to see and touch finished cloth to decide, (and even then, sometimes I'm in two or three or a hundred minds,) weaving challenging pieces can be unnerving when I can't predict the outcome. Even knowing there are as many color preferences as there are people.

Either way, if I can finish this today, I'm a day ahead of schedule. 

* * * * * 

More thoughts from dinner with Deb two and a half weeks ago. She asked me if I would be interested in presenting at the Conference. I did at one time, after I had enough weaving behind me. Given prep time, I do OK with public speaking, and can break down specialized topics to the uninitiated when I need to. (I did OK as a computer help desk staff in two countries because I'm not a tech.) And of course with weaving, there is no limit to the possibility of wowing folks with slides; all I needed was content.  

I can no longer remember when it was things started to change. It might have been when Dianne reminded me sometime after the workshop Randy had told me to be my own apprentice. (I was too in awe of Randy I couldn't absorb what he said even during the workshop.) It could have been when I was reading an exhibition review when the concept of "body of work" started to sink in. It could have been when I sought out art school students' exhibition but was often disappointed they were good with talking points, but not so in realization, in their techniques.

At some point I started to seriously look into the quality of my work, of its worth, not monetary value but of intrinsic merit. It probably coincided with my noticing I'd been weaving for however many years and felt my techniques, in the first instance, should have improved oh-so-much more. I remember growing tired of being a loudmouth without the stuff back me up, even though I felt, and still feel, the craft of weaving can do with strong advocates, not just in the anthropoligical/historical/ethnographic context.

Looking inward was easy. I could do it by myself; it's not as hard as peopley pursuits. In fact, the point was to shut out all noise and train myself and improve myself. Even as an eight-year-old I told Dad I wanted to be an expert in one field. I've never been a multi-tasker. And because I was still an abject beginner, I thought assessing my progress would be easy up to a point.

Except I'm still not "there". Getting old and unfit not just stopped me from technical improvements but looking at the past pieces, and the difficulties of the last few years, I'm sliding backwards. This frustrates me, angers me, but also bores me; I was supposed to be improving myself in a different, "higher" way, now, five years ago, even ten. I even gave up on my technique-first focus, (difficult for a Japanese,) but haven't found a new perspective.

There is a lot in Japanese culture tied to one's chronological age. "When you're 30, you must be responsible for your face," is a good one; by 30, you've had enough time to set your own course and experience a few things so you can't blame anyone/anything else any more. I'm 61 now and weaving-wise I'm not where I had planned to be at 50. (There is a list I wrote when 42 of what I thought were concrete goals, but I'm not looking for it lest I'll cringe to death.)

Mom turned 89 yesterday and she's in a nursing home with one tiny frame loom, having given away 13 looms to friends, the very first being the only time by choice, but the rest forced by circumstances related to aging. Even six months ago she was still hoping to make what will be her last memorable piece; I keep encouraging her, but I'm not sure if she enjoys talking about it or feels overburdened. I don't stop to ask her lest it's the latter, and she doesn't stop to tell me, because and if she stops talking about weaving, she feels she has nothing left, and I know it would be another catalyst on my part.

I wasn't especially close to Mom until I first had a go at weaving in 1995 and it's been the only interest we share. My sister and Mom, both athletic, surrounded by lots of friends, were good buddies and I was surprised to see how many photos there were of them physically demonstrating this just this August. But then Sister got married and had kids and perhaps she wasn't as available to Mom, or Mom wasn't as interested in grandkids as much as she was in weaving by then, (her own last kid just having started college, and oldest married and out of the house,) and I stepped in at the right time. Mom is not a cloying person, she doesn't like physical closeness at least with me, and whatever this is was only borne out of taking care of Dad and controlling his diet. Most of my adult life I was acutely aware how different people we were, how exactly like Dad I am. I'm not saying I don't want to be close to Mom, but she, her problems, her feelings, her thought have had undue, almost bewitching, influence on my life for the last decade, and this is not the relationship I foresaw with her. It feels creepy.

And I keep telling myself she's 27 years older than I; whatever she says/thinks fits her but not me just yet.

I don't have the mental or physical stamina I once had. I don't have ambitions. I've been reluctant to, and sometimes even afraid to, set high goals. I miss my younger self with all kinds of ideas and intentions, and the weaving world was a big, bright place. Now that world is in sharper focus, I recognize more stuff, but it doesn't feel as big, and the brightness isn't all around but some ways away from me. I try to whip myself in shape and get back on the loom bench, or in front of my cones, weaving software, sketchbook, but I can't help seeing Mom casting shadows all over me.

* * * * *

I waited for Deborah Silver's book to come out for years but here it is finally. I have it on the coffee table but back in the envelope until I'm finished with two commission work. I know I'm going to struggle with the new technique because I have been following her on Facebook for some years and could not understand her explanations, except that she had different sheds for the picture vs the background. Not to mention Deb's work is so sophisticated/complicated I get visually confused. In workshops she teaches with simpler shapes, which I hope is also the case in the book. 

I'm also looking at tapestries, not learning them, not reading about them, but gazing. I feel compelled to prove to myself I haven't retired from my life. Yet.


Moving On

I finished the purple/pink piece. Un/Fortunately there is warp left for one more proper piece so I started the next. 
These are weft cones. I use gradation often; I know it is a facile way to create a pleasing, (or more importantly for me, pretty) look. "They" say using complementary colors can produce astonishingly beautiful effects, but that appears to me to be a hit-or-miss thing, while analogous colors never fail.  
This is 3/8 of a repeat; the whole piece will need roughly three and a half repeats. Pleasing colors make the weaving go faster.

* * * * *

I spoke too soon yesterday when I said there was nothing else happening. In the tie dye department, progress has been super slow because I prick my fingers too often and I grew tired of it. One of Ben's sleeves even has my DNA to prove it. But I finally managed two more. Stitching/tying I grade myself 7.5/10 but the dye job 2/10 mainly due to my impatience. For starters, I can't even wait for all the dye to dissolve before I plunge the shirts in. Ben is allowed to wear the long-sleeved shirt only with a vest. Get it?
The long-sleeved shirt has leaves traveling up to his neck on both sides. The color is slightly greener.
The short sleeve T with a seven-minute tie/stitch job. Easy but effective and room for investigation.

I have two more short sleeve Ts for Ben and two winter tops for moi.


Living the Life

Of a weaver, that is. It's pretty good, but absolutely nothing else is happening. Love it.
The hellebore warp is hard on the body but I have made progress and will finish after one more sitting. Un/fortunately there is enough warp for one more piece, which will take five or more five days to weave; I shall finish it/them after the elephant blanket is delivered. Apologies about the horrible picture, afternoon light was coming straight in and I couldn't see what I was doing. Suffice it to say, the piece is a little less pink and a little more red/orange.
I made the elephant warp Wednesday afternoon. I always had difficulty photographing reds with my digital cam but now I'm finding this teal impossible, too. It's bluer than this and has yarns from two different dye lots. And the red is really red, even though it contains red and pink ends in equal numbers. 
This is how I get 6m on my warping board. I plan to weave around 150cm in length.
And weft candidates. And I have this Do-I-really-want-to-go-there project brewing in my head using the elephants. (Hint: tied weave!!)



A week ago Sunday we had dinner with Deb Donnelly of Kapiti/Wellington.We had an excruciatingly delightful time, especially considering this was the first time we spoke.

Deb and I crossed paths three times that I was aware of: Randy's workshop in October 13 years ago, (she was the coordinator of the entire program of workshops,) Yoshiko Wada dye workshop October, 2010, (ditto in multiple locations in NZ,) and the opening of Beginnings in October, 2012. (I'm starting to see a pattern; should I book a trip to Wellington for next October now?)

In the last few years, I've been following her on Facebook, learning about her residencies, curation/coordination work, and relationships with artists/artisans in/from Asia and have been mightily impressed with both the scope and depth of them, all the while still teaching until just recently. She was in Nelson to attend the Costume and Textile Association of New Zealand symposium, the conference I used to go to, the one I found was not for me the first time. But I'm not dissing that altogether, and from what Deb told me, it was a good one this year. 

The reason why I thought these conferences aren't for me was because most of the presentations were about labeling/categorizing textile items made by someone else, often historical, sometimes manufactured. (Academic, in other word.) Though I know many of the Masters/PhD candidates/curators who present also make things themselves, the papers didn't reflect that, (which is how it should be,) but dry and meaningless to me. There were also, to my taste, too many young first timers from one Australian institution every time, interspersed with "local" makers seconded to add a bit of color but who had no idea how to present.

So... yeah, a bit harsh, but the conference didn't help me become a better weavers. I felt my time was better spent gazing at images, reading about design, or sorting my stash. Mind you, I did go five times in the first 18 years of this century, because I love lectures, and I kept hoping for a bright new something, and it's not as if there weren't, but for the amount of time and money required, they were... disappointing. I don't feel apologetic, because I haven't had much disposable income in a couple of decades and what I do earn was/is spent seeing aging parent/s in Japan. And I didn't develop special friendships at the conference because... well, I must behave like a hermit. :-D

While explaining all this to Deb, (and golly, our paths had crossed several more times at these conferences without our knowledge,) I felt abrasive dissing the presenters' efforts. Granted, a few could have put in more, but I am a slow learner, a slow weaver, and my energy level having been so erratic most of my life, I want to spend most of my life thinking about weaving, design, colors and trying things out on the looms.

Which Deb got, instead of thinking I'm a brash, opinionated know-it-all because I sound exactly that. As I mentioned, she's taught for decades, so she is used to brash, opinionated know-it-alls, (half joking,) but I was ever so grateful to her for listening my rants (?)... accurately and giving me appropriate feedback. To have been gotten this way was refreshing because I didn't realize until then not everybody gets me in this way. 

Besides, she's knowledgeable, hard-working and well-connected. I like the way she dresses, too; it reminded me about a decade ago the NZ Guilds were telling us all to wear things we made, to dress like the makers; Deb dresses like an artisan involved with Japanese/Asian textiles. Anyway, that was my lovely Sunday dinner with my new art-idol. Too bad I forgot quite a bit about what she said of Japanese textiles, especially regional indigo dye that hasn't died off, but these I can look up or ask, eh.

* * * * *

Baby elephants notwithstanding, I must finish the hellebores on the loom first. Saturday afternoon I had my second sitting since the tension problem emerged, but it got so bad I was spending more time adjusting than weaving, so I cut it off, unwound about 2 meters, (there are too many cotton cones on the floor I couldn't unwind any more,) rewound and resumed operation.

I may come to regret this, and have another whopper tension problem. I'm not sure if I can get two pieces from what's left of the warp, but one piece and fabric will be OK, as is two pieces of fabric with another cut/unwind/rewind in the middle.
This is the washed/dried stage. The green arrow shows where I started to have the problem, the orange arrow shows a stripe I didn't beat hard enough and it is visibly wider/taller. But washed, dried and pressed, it doesn't show too much distortion caused by the drama. Phew.

I've been inconsistent in how I finish my cotton pieces over the years, (all machine-washed but hot or cold; in laundry net or not; "power" or short cycle; one or two rinse cycle/s; and sometimes pressed while wet, sometimes after dry,) so I must fine-tune this. Reed marks are my first concern, but with this 2/20 cotton, sometimes I get a wonderful sheen. (My source sources these from three different countries and told me ages ago characteristics may vary depending on the color=origin.) I need to study what process gives maximum sheen. At 42EPI, I also get a heavy, "semi-pseudo-silk" kind of a hand, but that seems to come after much handling more than anything else, but this is also worth looking into. 

Re. this draft, people with more color skills could make this into a fun piece, but I'm starting to think I may be better off using same colors of contrasting sheen, for e.g., or "single" color warp /weft, "single" being one or multiple colors but uniform across the warp/weft. Even though I reduced the weft colors to eight purples/pinks/reds in the second piece, so far I'm not impressed.

Re. the elephant blanket, I have numbers so I can start making the warp. The four columns of elephants, (each in two yellow greens, two teals, mid+medium-light blues, and either red+pink or two navy blues,) are the main bit, plus a shorter red/pink chain for borders on two of them.

I said if I were to weave the elephants... umm, longitudinally?, weave one piece right side up and the other upside down, but it doesn't work when joining three pieces because the colors in one piece will be reversed: 

Two pieces, one side piece woven upside down: Border-A-B-C-D-D-C-B-A-Border
Three pieces, one side piece woven upside down: Border-A-B-C-D-A-B-C-D-D-C-B-A-Border

So I shall add/move/remove the border portion of the warp as I necessary. There are only 42 plus two for floaters, so rethreading isn't a problem. 

* * * *

Ouch. Just heard this newest favorite merino, DEA's Saxon, ones I'm using for the elephants, is going up 24% in five days; they held off the price hike for two years but they can't any more. I've been carrying around the color samples everywhere for over a month wondering if I should order some now or later as they're not only good yarns but will help me in stash reduction projects as my default warp yarn. In a way they made that decision easier for me. Now where to store them... 



Hi. I'm just thinking out loud today. Ignore me if I don't make sense; it's one of those "I'm not sure where I'm going with this" post.

I have what I call "non-days"; my diary shows a few every month in surprisingly regular intervals. Some days I'm just exhausted; some days I can't decide which project to take up and pace around the house mumbling instead of doing any of them; but other days I may sense my mind thinking/working but I don't know this until a few days/weeks/months later if that had been the case. Non-days are demoralizing especially when I'm working on something time-sensitive, but sometimes I see solutions so simple I want to pinch/punch myself for not noticing earlier, while other times, well, I do come up with options so ingenuous I can even allow myself to be impressed. This one was somewhere between the two.

Wednesday's Town Day, (another tag in my paper diary,) was fun, seeing friends and having a nice lunch in a beautiful setting. And getting a few errands out of the way. But I was exhausted Thursday, all talked out, (because, goodness, I talked a lot!) and as frustrating as it was not getting back to the elephants, I had one big non-day. In the evening, I got sick of myself and started working on the draft.
You know I've decided to weave two skinny, long pieces and join the two in the middle. This was going to be one half, with "red" borders on top, bottom, a wider one on what will be the sides of the blanket, (left here,) and narrow ones for the join in the middle. The second piece was going to be woven upside down so the wide/narrow borders will swap places.
Last night I couldn't sleep because I knew the draft was not right; I don't want a red border in the middle as I wanted the join to be as inconspicuous as I can manage. So today I auditioned seven ways found in "Finishes in the Ethnic Tradition," by Suzanne Baizermand and Karen Searle, 1994. Choosing the right one was easy - one that goes from bottom to top and looks the same on both sides. Right. Then I got to thinking...

I can weave comfortably up to about 60-62cm on the loom, roughly 24-25 inches wide per piece at maximum around 900 ends, which allows only four columns of elephants per piece, eight across the blanket plus borders. After wet-finishing, I'll be lucky to get 110cm width for the whole blanket, which may be OK for a new born, but probably not when the child is, oh, two? And there is a reason I call these "toddler" blankets; I want them in use for some years. (Oh, how I miss the days I could weave just short of 80cm wide!)

But if I turn the draft and weave the pachyderms sideways, width on the loom becomes height of each piece, and weaving length becomes the width of the blanket, and if I'm ready to join three pieces horizontally, the blanket can be whatever width I like, and I can add "side" borders at the start and finish of each piece. But wait, if I can forego weaving in borders, I could weave three pieces as lanned, and join them vertically, and get whatever width I like. Or, weave the two side pieces, take out the border warp ends, and weave the middle piece.

I know the approximate shrinkage when the warp is merino and the weft cashmere. If I am to turn, I'll need to sample with the yarns the other way around and check the shape/proportion. 

The blanket is due the end of the month.

* * * * *

Oh, yes, haven't forgotten about last Sunday dinner.


Let Me Complain about Lack of Access to Good New Zealand Weaving Merino Again

I wove the sample on the left yesterday, tweaked the draft, and wove the pink today. The difference is hard to see, but see the tiny green piece of paper? I extended the bump. As much ask I enjoyed sampling, I hope this is the last to be worked on Klick; easy to dress and mighty sturdy for a tiny loom, but when using more than four or six shafts, it's hard on the back of a short weaver as I'm too short to sit and weave, and have to bend over to reach the far shafts standing for each shed. Anyway, these critters are much larger than I expected at first, (I had in mind each elephant fitting in a huge postage stamp,) I like the proportion and the short, fat look which says "baby" elephants to me. Next up, considering the warp stripes, overall composition, and investigating attractive ways of connecting two skinnier pieces to make one blanket. Making two pieces into one is a first for me.

This sampling process felt long and tried my patience. Weaving on Klick notwithstanding, it was mainly because I was flying blind and was never sure where I was going, what quality I could squeeze out of the yarns I have, and had to try out many setts and combinations in figuring out the warp/weft proportion. All this because I'm trying out new yarns, and that's because I don't have a trusty default merino any more.

I'm geeky and when I get my hands on new yarns with a potential to becoming a stable/default, I sample a half (5 meter) warp, changing setts, auditioning a bunch of wefts, washing/fulling differently, etc, until I really get to know the yarn. I love this process, but more importantly, it educates me on how to make the most of the yarn, and gives me parameters within which to work, eliminating shot-in-the-dark kind of sampling. This project was interrupted by my trip to Japan, and had an approximate deadline from the start, so I had to combine this intro phase with project-specific sampling. (This yarn in the warp is new to me as I've only used it in the weft until now.)

Sad, isn't it? I live in New Zealand and even though there are far fewer sheep compared to when we came here, re are still plenty, yet it's hard to find good and affordable merino weaving yarn, especially the formerly standard 110/2, (roughly 2/17 - this is why I get so confused with yarn sizes!) with our without scale. From my limited experience, it's also hard to find merino knitting yarns without possum mixed in, also. What's ironic is, some of the previously second-tier yarns which disappointed in comparison to what I used to use now feel really good. Mind you  they are not bad yarns, they are good yarns, just not as stupendous as... you get the gist. There's enough for a few years of weaving at this rate.

I'm having lunch with Rosie and Esther tomorrow; first social outing since I've come back. Wait, no, I had a lovely dinner on Sunday. I'll tell you about it in another post.


Baby Elephants

I got back on the loom bench once after the tension problem with the hellebore warp was "remedied", in quotes because it's been a delicate operation, less than ideal, but I shall stay on course for the duration of this piece, unwind the remaining warp, rewind, then weave the second piece. Meanwhile, I've been obsessed with another project, one that was supposed to come after the Hellebores and another; I felt guilty about turning the order around, but it's worked out better. I think. I'm learning about the new-to-me 2/  merino which comes in a few nice colors. Anyhoo, without a lot of blather, I'll just show you some pics.
It's a baby blanket, where of course softness/hand is paramount, and besides my usual complaint about soft NZ merino being unavailable/unaffordable, I have been sampling to see if I can emulate even a fraction of the niceness by doubling/tripling other merino yarns, changing sett more crammed and less so, and aiming for longer floats. My gut feeling is, the process which makes yarns machine-washable take away that dense-tiny-air-bubbles-trapped-in-the-wool feel, but I can't back it up with facts.

This softness problem prevents me from moving ahead; I keep changing my mind about sett and pick, so can't figure out the proper ratio/dimension/size of the baby pachyderms. At least I know the round, fat ones please me more than skinny, more realistic "grownup" looking ones.

Off to make another short warp for sampling.