Baby L's Elephants - a Long Yet Much Edited Recap

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.
This guy is saturated blue-red; the other is orange. I particularly like the decorative paintwork I've seen on elephants on festive occasions.

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? 
Transferring the key chain elephant on to a grid was straight-forward, but pencil marks are too nuanced. I put this piece of paper next to the telly, and we voted several times, then I replaced it with this flatter version for a fairer representation.  
After a few more votes, we settled on the version with a proportionately bigger head and shorter legs, seen at the bottom. 

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?
The favorite shape was translated into weavable 5-block/3-end patterns. Top row right, second row middle, and bottom row left were ready to be sampled on Klick. 
I auditioned different merino and cashmere wefts while editing the size/shape of the motif for the best proportion. At this stage I was slightly taken aback how big the elephants were, as I had envisioned them to fit inside giant postage stamps. Our favorite, the babies with short legs, is closest to the sample middle of this picture, the upper row in the tall blue and white sample. I also sampled a few different ways of joining pieces.
This is the final shape after I sampled one last sample on the big loom. I made the elephant taller and gave it longer legs to improve the width/height balance, which Ben didn't like; he prefers the shorter legs. I still can't decide if I made the right choice. 
I already had a few cones of 2/30 merino for the warp, but bought a few bright, saturated colors. Because of range of colors and the tried, (only in the weft previously,) soft finish, this was the only warp yarn I had in mind from the start.  
Weft choices followed. I stuck to 2/20 100% cashmere and excluded all other sizes or silk/cashmere, from two sources but manufactured by one company, knowing even with the same size specification, shrinkage and texture varied in the past depending on the color and time of manufacture, sometimes quite a bit. Some had Mom's or my hand-written notes rather than the store label/wrapper so I knew I would have a wide variety of results. I selected the bright, saturated colors and a few pale ones to balance the hue; I had a lot of oranges, reds and purples, not many blues and greens.
In making the warp I avoided colors similar to wefts I chose, to introduce as many colors in the piece as possible. The warp stripes consisted of two yellow-greens, yellow-green+pale marine blue, medium marine blue+teal, two teals, and red+hot pink for boarders. I treated each pair as one end, so 18EPI in the threading, but 36EPI in the reed. 

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.  
This is me selecting the weft colors for the last piece. I loved the orange, third from the bottom, for example, but I was a couple of grams short so that changed a few things. A burgundy went in instead, which caused all kinds of havoc.
I was careful to readjust the water bottle frequently for the border; this paid off as, for me, the selvedges were tidy. Or so I thought.  
I wove the middle piece first, added the boarder to weave the left piece, and finally moved the boarder to weave the right. About half of the time, I weighed the weft used so I can mix even the colors in smaller balls. Throughout I measure the height of each weft repeat, aiming for 14.5cm, which was... hard. Though all wefts were labeled 2/20, there were such difference in the size, (not a rare occurrence from our main source,) in addition to bad beating. Here, the two in the left had hung downstairs for a few days, while the far right had just come off the loom, so it was longer. Even with inconsistent beating, however, I was surprised all three ended up roughly the same length after resting.

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.
A is the rogue burgundy that did not full/shrink, and is more or less wrinkled forever. B is a lovely lime green that did not full much, either, but more importantly it had a lamb's wool-like coarseness; disappointing as I had used this color before with good results, but this ball was from Mom's stash.
Worse, the joins were nowhere nearly as tidy as I had hoped, even though they looked OK before washing. In about a quarter to a third of the seams, the wefts had been pulled towards the other piece.  I've not had time to investigate the reason, but one consideration is different tension as joining was done over three days to prevent backaches. Here you can also see how I varied the beat to try to make each row 14.5cm on the loom, too. Yikes. 
After a good part of a day of shock, horror and much woe-is-me-ing, I knew I had to obscure the original join. My first choice from the sample was simple and looked identical on both sides, but since these pieces were already joined, it didn't look identical and in fact rather disappointing on the back. As well, my problems were caused by joining by looping the weft loops at the selvedge, I thought a stitched that hooked around warp yarns might work better. I joined the A-side with the biggest, fattest stitch from the sample, using red and hot pink cashmere so as to accentuate the join.  
The back, though, is decidedly less attractive and not unlike the back of my favorite stitch.
Tuesday, the day of elephant delivery, (the baby had arrived perhaps a fortnight earlier,) started early. I steam pressed one last time, made sure there were no loose ends hanging, folded and sealed, then realized the piece would fit into one of my calico bags, so I put that in the box as well. (I was going to make a big one and give it to them later.) I did a few more rounds of woe-is-me, and finally took a few pictures. The final size was 149cm wide * 144cm long, though it may shrink just a tiny bit further as it had been raining for about three days, while Nelson is usually extremely dry. 

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."

* * * * *

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.


  1. It's amazing. Lovely. I know you aren't entirely happy with it, but the baby will adore it. It sounds like you and I are going through much the same thing with physical energy - or lack of. :( I had such high hopes for the past few months and achieved nearly nothing. Sigh.

    1. Although, Laura, you're making really big changes in your life, one of the biggest in your adult life, so, on the one hand, no comparison. On the other, as Mom always says, "We are never as young as we are today," so there's that. In my case, I'm also carrying much extra weight, about which I'm not making much of an effort, so that's on me. But golly, this aging thing isn't nice at all.


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