I posted about the elephants here, here, here and here, but I'm recording the project as a whole, for the record :-D, since it was my first "biggie" in many years. I'm also copying pics from previous posts so you don't have to click. While I work, I think of multiple issues at once, as I bet you do, but I'm realigning these thoughts by issue for easier reading.
Back in June/July Ben's colleague P contacted me about a baby blanket due October for another of their colleague K. I knew K was relatively recently married in his native Sri Lanka because when he returned he gave everybody a key chain with decorated wooden elephants. Ben got two and we've had them in the living room as decoration for fear of damaging the paint work or wood if we used them.
I explained to P about mine not being "baby" blankets but up to toddlers, something which hopefully accompanies the kids as they climb into their first Big Girl/Boy beds. This was OK with her and she gave me a very generous budget, the reason I thought it was a departmental gift at first. It wasn't. She continued to updated me, first that it was going to be a girl, and later her ETA and delays. I thought I'd have plenty of time, then I was away for a month.
After I came home from Japan, I looked up images for "Sri Lanka" and found: 1) Sri Lankan textiles are similar to what I imagine as prototypically Indian in color, particularly the use of saturated jewel tone; 2) Sri Lanka loves elephants as her national symbol; but also, 3) their national flower is the blue water lily. I was weaving hellebores as I researched, so my first instinct was to take on the water lilies. I also imagined elephants would be far more difficult. But I changed my mind when Ben put the key chains in front of me; abstraction of an already abstract form shouldn't be too hard?
In the past I wove every blanket double-width, folded at the left selvedge; in 2004/2005, I could manage <>80cm wide on the loom without much trouble. My maximum width progressively, (or regressively?) narrowed over the years, and these days I try to keep it approximately 60cm on the loom. In double-width weave, this yields mere 120cm before wet-finishing, not a satisfying size for a toddler blanket. Not to mention the elephants would be diluted on eight shafts, as I was not going to weave with two shuttles.
It was, in a way, no-brainer to opt for three panels on 16 and join them, (thought the weaver who never joined pieces before;) on the other hand, scrupulously (or unscrupulously,) reckless because: 1) my weft would probably wet-finish with inconsistent shrinkage as they had in the past, (see more below,) and 2) my beat is reliably inconsistent. But have you known me to be sensible?
I made the warp, dressed the loom, and made one last sample as cloth from the big loom is always tighter than those from smaller looms; this is when I lengthened the legs slightly, which made the elephants look older.
I joined the three pieces with one yellow-green and one teal yarns from the warp. I ignored the start/end of the weft repeats, (i.e. the top/bottom of each row,) but basted, (I thin this is the correct English word,) at the top and bottom of the piece, then the halfway point, then eighth, etc. along the length of the pieces. Then I joined them, picking where the wefts turned, tugging the yarns but not pulling too tightly to make the seam as invisible as possible. Then I hemmed the top and bottom and wet-finished, steam pressed and dried.
I enjoyed being completely immersed in a project for two months, the last fortnight neglecting even the basic housework. I was pleasantly surprised I could slip into this making mode so easily. The physical toll of the actual weaving was a different matter. I found myself monitoring back pain and energy level, balancing the number of hours I worked vs rested. Rugby World Cup was taking place and I even wondered if athletes lived like this all the time, being so aware of one's body. Mind you, in our case, we did the regular grocery shopping but I didn't cook, so either we ate well when Ben cooked, or grabbed the many, many giant bags of potato chips.
My designs tend to be abstract rather than being about something, (at the top of my head I can only recall two instances of heart-themed weaves, but hearts are abstract?) so that was new. Overall, I did a good job of being a head-down-bum-up artisan.
However, techniques have become insurmountable as I age. My vision is narrower, I run out of steam quicker, and I get physical aches from weaving in a fraction of time I used to weave in a normal course of the day. Surprisingly I'm not less patient, but I forget, and I can remember/concentrate on fewer things simultaneously. And yet my creative imagination is ballooning disproportionately. I don't mind so much that I'm slow and I can only realize a portion of all the ideas in my head, but in a way I'm becoming adventurous/reckless in planning and starting projects I don't know how to finish.
I can pretend I'm being unnecessarily critical of my work, or that I'm making "art" rather than craft, but that's, (I'm going to swear now,) pretentious bullshit. I have eyes and I see how things are and how they should be. I don't know how else to work after experimenting over the years with tension/selvedge and beating. Being a short person on a large loom may be part of it but there is no more we can do to modify/accommodate the two floor looms. As a Japanese, technical skill is where one starts and I can't forgive myself for scrappy work. I wish my weaving is all parallel and perpendicular and equidistant, but this problems is my every present albatross, and he's getting bigger and fatter!
And yet, I persist. Eh. I got feed back from P and Baby Mama M, and they repeatedly used the word, "speechless". I am interpreting it to mean, "Good job."
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I went straight into the next project Wednesday after Delivery Tuesday, and even then I was forgetting much about the elephants. That was eleven days ago, and we've had so much spring gale and pollen I've been no good for anything. I hope I covered everything I'd like to remember here, but if not, meh, I'll reinvent the wheel, (or make the same mistakes,) all over again. The End.