Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Headology Dust

By which I mean, abbreviated, "therapeutic", for-the-record snapshots of my life of the last wee while, stuff I jot so I don't forget how I spent my life.

On the whole we've been having a cool, comfortable summer in Nelson, although windy and dry most public reserves are now closed. We worked in the garden a bit, (well, a heck of a lot for us,) during Ben's summer holiday, so much so parts of our place are taking on the appearance of normal neglect as opposed to... forsaken chaos. I do wonder, though, we host a lot of bugs and even some birds in our weeds and after pulling them out, trimming and pruning "proper" plants, the ground is just dust. Convolvulus come through 50cm of mulching, (we usually dig it up,) so it's hard to know what's good in the long run on a macro scale.

The irony at Chez B&M is in dry years I am conscientious about watering pots with shower and dish water, so them babies are looking good. After years of combating bad bugs with home-made remedies and icky stick plastic things, I started fighting them with their natural predators; eggs come stuck to a tape you can hang from branches. This should be an interesting science experiment, although the first bugs I bought were bees smaller than sesame seeds so I don't know if I'll see anything. 

Post elephant blanket, I haven't done anything with textiles as top priority. I've continued to sample the grownup blanket as you've seen; ruminated on how to approach "Syrie" so the process is as exciting to me as the finished product satisfying, (ongoing;) started/restarted one knitting project nearly three dozen times until I finally settled on a design, size, etc.
At first I thought this would be a gigantic cowl, but looking at Pinterest, it's more a generous medium-size. The yarn is merino of unknown origin from Mom's stash. One of the difficulties I had was this is proper "fat" knitting yarn, and because I'm used to weaving yarns I couldn't get my head around the scale. It is relaxing to sit in the rocking chair in the evenings knitting; I can justify having silly telly on.  

One thing that's sure to come back to bite me is the craft shop carrying DMC needlepoint yarns closed around Christmas. I knew this about a month ahead and intended to plan at least one more project and stock up, but when the time came I had no idea, so I didn't. I don't have enough left to do much of anything. I'm not giving up needlepoint as it's enjoyable, but I don't mind sticking to more tube- and rectangle-knitting for a while.

I haven't drawn, collaged, or printed, but again, not giving up. I have a Sketchbook Project due August, and I've had this seed of an idea, something in a concertina form, but I have to "see" it better before I can take action.

Then came the new year resolution. I love numbers like 2020 and desperately searched for a plan, a project, a goal, something, for the year or the decade, nothing grand but dodable so I can look back and see what I accumulated.

Nothing. In desperation, I decided to read two books a month. Simple enough, yes? Within a day, that morphed into "books or Shakespearean plays". Then I allowed cookbooks if I read them cover to cover, which I do. Then I thought finally taking on Vincent's letters - and how would that fit numerically into the 2 per month, or is it a different project? And should I be taking notes?

It's mid-Feb and I haven't finished one book; I started Romeo and Juliet before a local production but didn't finish; and I started Vincent's letters, dedicated a notebook, but haven't restarted. So, yeah, the resolution is going great. What's nice is I've finally become that person who doesn't feel defeated just because I've mucked up at the start. If I pick up any of these plans, I'll have done something, and that's better than nothing.

Just so you don't think my life has been devoid of "culture", I have been watching vids and listening to audiobooks and podcasts, almost anything relating to Shakespeare/Mark Rylance/Ben Crystal, history/archeology especially those by Tony Robinson, or revisiting Terry Pratchett stories. I know, lot of UK stuff, but, ahem, they make them in English. I'm also seeking out Cezanne's writing this summer. None of these have come to bear any fruits in a creative way, but then I'm a slow learner. We're approaching the 20 year mark since I took my only color study course, and finally I'm starting to see unexpected things happen on the loom, so stick around and be prepared to be floored by the time I'm... 81!

* * * * *

Speaking of not being defeated, I said I'm going to concentrate on the things I do well/enjoy, not the things I should do better but can't: technique.  Laura Fry followed immediately with this, (not claiming causality), she's also talked about unwillingness to learn/change in subsequent posts, and while I wholeheartedly agree with her, and the convent school/Japanese/my-parents'-eldest part of me feel guilty, I also don't want to stay tangled up in other people's expectations and desires, which I've done most of my life. So I'm sticking to my comment to her: "That's me! It's the yarn, the loom, the short body! And I'm thinking of declaring statute of limitation on my improving techniques, and using "self-taught" as an excuse." It's not a personal feud with Laura, but a reminder to myself I need to grow up, and "statute of limitation" sounds apt. Also true, the less I worry about my technique, the tidier my weaving appears. Or that's the story I'm sticking with.

* * * * *   

I struggle with pricing, and went to Stella and Thomas to unload. It was the day I handed over the elephant blanket and went to see some collages they recommended. They told me pricing "art" involves everything that happened in the artist's life up to the point a piece was created, because every experience is a build up to the realization of that piece. Or something to that effect. I thought of how I make my stuff, and fumed once again about the prejudice against "craft". The price of my blanket that took months to make vs two A4-size collages, albeit nicely done and framed, for the same price. Wouldn't you know, this got me nowhere. Besides, I and only I am responsible for my pricing.

* * * * * 

And there you have it. I don't know if you remember, but watches and clocks used to need winding regularly. These posts give me similar satisfaction of regular resetting/maintenance done in time, small stuff, but virtuous nevertheless.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Not a Blanket

We're back to normal transmission, and you know what that means; I'm sampling a lot and trying to figure out what to do next. What I can tell you is I'm not going to weave an adult couch blanket on this warp, but will sample lots, (because this 2/30 count merino is still new to me and I'd like to learn more if I am to make it more or less my default wool warp,) and hope to weave two or three scarves. So, with no particular logical construct, I've been toying with these ideas. 
A and B were threaded at whim, setts between 36 and 54EPI in pairs and triples on the Kilck, woven with all kinds of merino and cashmere wefts. C, D, and E were woven on the big loom, C in 36EPI, D and E in 48EPI. The colors are little strange in this pic possibly because I took it in early evening light; we still have sunlight until 8.30-ish, 9-ish at the moment.

I don't like the warp color distribution, the way/places/proportion I split the "pointed" threading to include three colors in each repeat, moving from a-b-c-b-a to b-c-d-c-b, etc, the main reason I decided not to weave the blanket. At the moment I am thinking of a more gradated look for that project. The client prefers a tighter, symmetrical design, so none of the swirly stuff as in A and B, either.   

Even with the same sett and yarns, samples woven on Klick always washes up softer than from the big loom, or the big loom yields sturdier cloth. In A and B, 48EPI looked nicer and felt "fuller", but I first sleyed at 36EPI for C for this reason. C's texture is OK; nowhere as airy as I expect, but nice depending on the weft, and preferable because this is not a small piece near one's face but a large couch piece.

Between 36EPI and 48EPI there's quite a difference in the visual saturation/concentration of warp colors, i.e. sleyed at 36EPI the colors looks perfunctorily diluted. On the other hand, I like the size of the motifs, visible from across the room, and to that end, 36EPI is good. In fact if I were to weave at 48EPI, I will need four panels rather than three. Interestingly, even with the same yarn, 48EPI produces cloth with almost a wiry feel because of the closeness of the warps; I hesitate to say the merino doesn't have enough room to full, but for now I can't think of other reasons. Neither did it produce the heft I expected.

One easy remedy is to edit the tie up, reduce interlacement and use longer floats. I tried modifying the draft for a couple of days but the design looked so diluted I didn't save any. I can also use a skinnier weft, which will require much longer to weave, but it is a possibility and I will probably prefer the appearance. (Another surprising thing about this draft is, B-side in the cloth is unappealing, but I haven't spent much time reviewing this aspect yet.)  

I have nicer yarns in whites, naturals and grays, and I don't like weaving with black, so I automatically sampled with them at first, but then the client suggested black. I don't have enough of my best merinos, but I found an airy probably-lamb's wool in a perfect size with dull sheen, which contrast well with the surprisingly shiny merino warp. With the black weft, I can't see the patterns while I weave, but the depth the colors create is much more striking in comparison to using lighter color wefts, and sheen contrast makes the design "pop". So much so I can't even look at parts of the samples I wove with white or gray wefts, even though they feel fluffier. They now seem so pedestrian. 

But even with good merino or cashmere wefts, the most surprising aspect of these samples has been their underperformance in the texture. 36EPI is the same as in the elephant blanket and that piece has quite short floats, so this puzzles me, and I have an idea. More below.

The blanket warp will be in these colors, in a more variegated progression, in a similar but probably modified draft, with black probably-lamb's wool in the weft. Unless... I go with a slightly less airy, slightly shinier, dark saturated navy blue wool weft; the value to black is so close it's hard to tell where one sample ends and the next starts, but in this context, if I nitpick, I sense the addition of the blue hue creates better harmony as opposed to black showing contrast. It's really hard to see even in real life and since the client is a big softness fan, I'll probably go with the black, but it's worth mulling over.
Moving on to weft candidates for scarves from this warp and mainly Sample E:
Same merino but used single, (remember the warp ends are doubled up so they move in pairs,) in hot pink, and saturated yellow green. The pic doesn't do justice but I'm smitten by both. The pink hue meld right into the blues and greens and create a deeply satisfying new "color" that increases my heart rate, and I'm definitely weaving a piece with this weft.

I'm not a green person but I have been mesmerized by what yellow greens do. In real life the weft is a dark, saturated yellow green, so unlike the strong yellow it appears here, and the last of a discontinued color. I also have the new color which is lighter, more yellow, but still not as yellow as in the pic. I might audition the new color; I might weave a piece with one of these colors as well.
Same merino, from the bottom, pewter, (a loud mid-gray?) orange, and dark berry. This pewter is one of the examples of how a totally different hue, (or lack thereof,) kills the richness of the warp and why I will avoid naturals and whites in the weft in this series even if they full better. I had to sample pewter because this produces the nearest color to the cushion cover from the client's living room where the blanket goes, but it's not happening with these scarves. The dark berry at the top is OK, it's like the dark navy wool above; it creates harmony but not excitement.

The orange, (and it's not a sad, not "rust", as seen here,) in this context creates a lovely mild-mannered cloth, making us pay attention to every one of the warp color, and unifys without overpowering, as opposed to the pink making the colors pop. I think this one is a must as well.
Giving space, the skinny merino does full, so I'll make better texture by editing the tie up here and there.
The colors look faded here, but from the bottom, merino dark berry single you saw above, another sampling of the dark navy unknown wool you saw above, and then on top, I doubled the warp merino, the hot pink and a cherry red. Both the warp and the weft  a pair of yarns act as one. It gives a meatiness to the cloth, i.e. better texture, but I don't  know if I can't decide if the design is diluted or emboldened, because of the thickness of the weft. I could do interesting things with colors this way, though.
This is the texture "conundrum". A and B are the with-scale 76/2 merino, A in 36EPI, B in 48EPI, C is the pewter you already saw. A is sufficiently meaty but not as fluffy as I expected, B is almost choking and wiry; while C feels i has enough space to spread around and fill in the gap, and as far as textures go, C is the most satisfying. Like the 76/2, cashmere did not full to its potential; without more experimentation I can't tell you the exact best formula, especially because specs here aren't as different from the elephant blanket. Interesting, eh.

Also, do you agree with me that bringing "unrelated" (or absence of) hues in the weft kills the warp? 
Some sampling from Mom's stash, and here I'm showing you the less exciting B-side. From bottom: blue-to-white variegated 100% mohair from France, (variegation not suited to this warp;) lovely navy blue silk/wool mix, (texture, coarse;) and a creamy yellow kid mohair/lambs wool/silk mix from Germany, which surprised me. I wanted to show you the B-side because unlike the merinos and cashmere underperformed, this yarn pry-opened every space it can find and fulled nicely all around, creating a lovely thick fabric. Like the white wefts, it doesn't show off the warp colors in the way hot pink and orange do, but it's not bad in a more conventional way. The texture of the cloth more than makes up for it, so it will remain a contender, especially if I get sick of slow weaving with the skinnier weft. I also included the pewter portion to show you how boring the B-side is, and how the design shows up differently. 

In a more general sense, here are some of my problems/focus/directions:
* I'm focusing on merino at the moment and for that, texture is paramount. (Also, the blanket client is as much a softness nut as Mom and the blanket is where this warp started.) If I were to focus on colors more, I could easily play with 2/20 cottons as well. Now, what do I want to do with this scarf warp? It's been a dry summer here and even though I use oils and moisturizers religiously, my skin is not sensitive enough to detect fine differences in textures at the moment. I keep changing my decisions for best texture, but I also want to start weaving.
* If I like the look skinny wefts crate, which I do, I could also dig into my silk box. Texture then is less important, and I could play with sheen, although I probably have far fewer hues.
* Although I still have loads, I am approaching a point where I have far more of Mom's wools and silks than my own, and hers is... let's just say an eclectic collection in size, color, fiber, origin, whatever-else-you-can-think-of. I can only hope there is enough of each to sample, (there usually isn't), which makes it all the more important I get to know and start to feel comfortable with this merino warp.
* I'm really enjoying experimenting with colors. At the same time, I want to weave this very draft with only one pale baby blue and white, kind of reminiscent of ceramics.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

And I'm Weaving

The act of weaving itself is visually unremarkable in still photos, and repetitive, so this is going to be quicker than you might imagine. Apologies for the dark pics, too; I will discuss this in a later post, not about the pics, but pros and cons about this particular project.
On a foot loom I press the pedal which will raise selected shafts while leaving the other shafts down. On a hand loom I lift levers by hand to do the same. Then I "throw" the shuttle between the lifted and as-are sets of warp threads, e.i. the shed. (Some shuttles you can't throw so you gingerly pass from one hand to the other.) With this project I'm using an end-feel shuttle, which I usually use sideways. Can you see the black weft thread coming out near the right end of the shuttle? 
There it is, the black weft thread left after the shuttle has existed left from the shed.  
I bring forward the reed and push the weft thread in position. In this project this weft will come slightly more forward, leaving, ideally, the same gap as between previous wefts in the patterned, (rather than the plain woven,) portion.

That's it. Sample weave or weaving proper, I repeat this as many times as required by the length of the piece and size of the weft yarn more or less.

I began the warp post with a non-weaver reader in mind without intending to show the entire weaving process. After I weave I might twist fringes and "wash". Unless I have new ideas or good pics, this is the last of the process series.

My big loom has a weird/unique setup because it was a locally made/reconfigured computer-controlled dobby. If you're curious, I have recorded it before, so knock yourself out. :-D 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

I'm Dressing the Loom - The Slow Part

The next step of dressing the loom is slower but I find it meditative, and if it weren't for the physical discomfort, could do it for long stretches. Before I can get into it, however, a brief explanation of how my loom works may be necessary, requiring more weavers' jargon. Sorry. 

I said, "b) the vertical warp yarns are either up or down, and weaving is the simple act of sandwiching the horizontal weft yarns between warp yarns." How do I make some warp ends go up to create the gap, called the "shed", in which to trap the weft?

I have white polyester heddles on this loom, old heddles were made of strings or metal, but they all have "eyes" in the middle to thread one warp end through. Each heddle is attached to a shaft, and every heddle on the same shaft go up together, or come down together, as a group. Since selected shaft/s go up, my looms are rising-shed type. Traditionally two-, four-, and eight-shaft looms were mainstream, but increasingly, 16-, 24-, 32-, and 40-shaft monsters have become available to home weavers since the 1990s. That means, depending on the loom, two, four, eight, etc, sets of strings going up or coming down together.

The order in which warp is threaded, (Shaft 1, then 2, then 3, for e.g,) and which shafts are lifted in a particular shed decide the line/shape of a design, in the first instance. So greater number of shafts, the more complex designs can be woven.

A project requires as many heddles as there are warp ends, or pairs in this case, because every end has got to go up at one time or another, lest it will stay under every weft right the way through the cloth without interlacement, and then that warp end will come away from the cloth after the cloth is taken off the loom. Many looms have many heddles, and they can be removed from one shaft and transferred to another easily if the design requires, as long as there are enough.

Every warp end must be threaded through a heddle eye, so we call this task "threading". Some project are quick to thread, depending on the complexity of the design and number/size/characteristics of warp yarn. This one is has been smooth sailing.
This is my view. (Not my laundry, silly.) I sit on a tiny canvas camping/fishing foldy seat between the heddles/shafts to my left and the warp and back beams to my right.
The heddles are stretched between one of the 16 shafts, Shaft 16 being closest to me at the "back" when I'm at seated at the bench weaving. Below is the threading portion of the draft, (and on this rare occasion, with colors,) I mark off as I thread. Because I thread from the back, I read the draft upside down, but in most if not all drafts I weave, if I mistake the top from the bottom, this is easily rectifiable when I weave.  
Warp ends/pairs are to my right slightly above my head, waiting to be threaded; it's the last 1 or 2 meters you saw danging in the last pic in the last post. Close up you can see the cross, green arrow,  (i.e. the order in which the warp ends/pairs went on the warping board,) between the lease sticks. Seen from the front of the loom I start threading from the left side on this loom, (because the right opening is easier for my unsmall self to get in and out of,) the far left warp end/pair, pink arrow, is the next to be threaded. 
If for some reason I lost this cross, although the warp is already wound on the warp beam, I still have the second cross I made at the top end of the warping board as consolation.
I take the next end/pair, and thread it through the eye of the next heddle in the appointed shaft. One of the worst thing about aging is eyesight; I am severely near-sighted and switching short- and mid-distance is not happening. A lot of weaving, particularly theading, is done by feel. I can see which shaft I'm choosing, and I actually make surprising few threading mistakes, but I sometimes thread not in the eye but the slots above or below them in these modern heddles.   
This is one step that may be unusual. Because my sitting/threading position is uncomfortable, I come out every once in a while to the front of the loom and "sley", or pull a set number of warp ends/pairs through the slots in a reed, a tool that regulates how close warp ends to sit to each other. I find not only is this better for the body, but I have also been able to spot threading mistakes by sleying incrementally.

In the last post I wrote I wanted 20 ends/pairs per inch, but while threading I changed my mind so I sleyed at 18 pairs. This reed has six slots, "dents", to every inch, so I am pulling three ends/pairs into each slot in the order I threaded, starting at the left end of the cloth. I don't know if I should call this 18 "end"-per-inch, ("EPI") or more accurately 36EPI, but higher the number, the more warp ends are used in every inch. And if you thought the weaving width on the reed is going to be ever so slightly wider than in the raddle, well done, pat yourself on the back and treat yourself to a small piece of sometimes-only treat. (And after sampling, I even re-sleyed to 24 pairs/48 EPI!)
After ever warp end/pair is threaded and sleyed, I pull and tug on each carefully, and make a knot knotting together 18 pairs, i.e. one inch in the reed, and lash it on to the front/cloth beam, and adjust the tension. I want even, universal tension, and for this, feeling the warp with the back of my hands with my eyes closed works best.

Now I'm ready to do another of my favorite parts: sample weaving.

Here are some bits I excluded to keep my explanation "simple".

*Some techniques require the weaver to pry open a gap in which to insert the weft, (think prototypical tapestry looms.) On a vertical loom the warps are not up/down but front/back. And while some techniques don't insert one long weft but only portions of it to achieve a different effect, (think cut pile, for e.g.) But the fact remains the weft yarns are sandwiched between and held by the two sets of warp in any shed.  

* There are looms with more basic heddles, e.g. a long string wound around warp ends and a stick alternately, (I've not tried them,) but the theory is the same.

* Rigid heddle looms are two-shaft looms. At the other end of the spectrum, Jacquard looms allow manipulation of every single heddle separately, which is why they can weave oh-so-dreamy pictures. They are the ones to end all shaft-envy. Then there are draw looms, which I understand to be between a Jacquard and a shaft loom, but I've never seen either kind close up to tell you any more.

* All of my looms are rising-shed looms, i.e. the selected shafts are raised while others remain horizontal, to create a shed. There are also sinking-shed looms, as well as countermarche looms where selected sheds are raised while others sink, creating lovely big sheds which makes weaving easier. 

If you are serious about knowing more about types of looms, how they work, etc, there are far better teacher-weavers-explainers online and in books than I. If interested, leave a comment and I'll try to find some, or better yet, look it up yourself, or if you're lucky enough to have either, ask your local weaving guild/group or weaving supply shop.