Friday, November 5, 2010

Once upon a time

Once upon a time, there was this crazy chick (that'd be me) who thought adding weaving to her collection of fiber hobbies would be a Good Thing. So she bought a loom (May 2008).

Blake Checking Out the Loom

With the loom came some cotton yarn. With loom, yarn, and Deborah Chandler's "Learning To Weave" in hand, I proceeded to start to teach myself weaving.

My first sample looked better than I expected, tho' I found it could actually stand up on its own. I did not know I was supposed to wash it when I finished (just as well, it would have turned in to a lethal weapon), and I did not know that one could do anything other than beat the yarn in as hard as one could possibly beat it. I did not know about lease sticks or jerk-and-pull to get the warp at an even tension. I did not know how to fix the warp threads that kept breaking at the edges. I did not know not to run my fingers through the warp threads while tying on. I only know that loom + yarn + something or other = fabric. Kinda.

My second thingie was a little better, but I still didn't know to wash it when I finished, and the edges were still pretty darned wonky.

My next item was a scarf with my own handspun, and I didn't know that it was ill-advised to use your woolen (read: soft, bouncy) handspun as warp yarn. I am gladd I didn't know that bit of info, 'cause I think it turned out great. I ended up with a weft-faced item, and it is one of my favorite cold-weather scarves. I did, at this point, think that washing my weaving when I was done might be a good idea. I don't know what happened, exactly, but that scarf was the turning point for me to suddenly start to do Seriously Cool Stuff, like a wide, warm, purple shawl.

I knew to wash that one, too, but still didn't know why this one worked, or that pressing the yarn together with a heavy iron would be a Good Thing. After this, another scarf-thing was attempted. I never did finish that one. I didn't know (but found out rather, um, pointedly) that using a squishy thing like a non-skid foam pad was NOT a good idea for your warp separator, not if you wanted even tension. I was scarred for life by that experience and had to cut the warp off the loom.

It wasn't until almost a year after I bought the loom that I got to take my first weaving class (March 2009). That was with Judith Mackenzie, and was awesome. As all of her classes are for me. There I learned about gamps, crammed-and-spaced scarves, and got some guidance on how to tension a warp. I learned about how to finish an item (the washing and pressing part of our show) how to do some basic repairs, and how one's emotional state can visibly impact the fabric you are making.

All of that was good, and I did more and more and more and MORE reading and looking at yarns and thinking about weaving, and then in May 2010, I got laid off from my day job. AWESOME!!!! I got serious about the whole weaving thing, and started making scarves and towels for our kitchen. Scarves are great. They are like big sample projects that you can wear anywhere, any time. Towels don't suck, either, 'cause you can really try anything 'cause really, it's just a towel. Go to town on playing with patterns! It's all good.

In August, I got to take another weaving class with Judith, and since then I figured I've woven about 24 yards of fabric and wound on about 10 different warps, ranging from 3 yards to 9 yards long. I have started a business to share the love. I have been a Busy Camper.

And in the end, I decided this was So Much Fun that I got a contract, telecommuting job that would allow me to move closer to Judith so I can take and assist in more classes. I even got my scarves in to a great and wonderful shop to sell on consignment! Really, does it get much better than this?

So, if you're getting in to the weaving thing, BE WARNED! You can get seriously sucked in. And you won't get out again. Here, let me help you select a loom... :-)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Calculating work

Yesterday I took a hike to Second Beach in La Push, WA. I walked for about 6-7 miles. I took over 90 photos that I considered acceptable for posting. Let's do some math.

If only half of those photos were purely inspirational, to give me an idea I could incorporate in to my weaving, that'd be 45 inspirational photos.

If we said that I only got 1 idea from each photo, that's 45 new ideas to play with.

If I incorporated 1 idea in to 1 project, that'd be 45 new projects.

If I managed to get each project right the first time, and each project took my shortest amount of time for an individual project (12 hours), that would be 540 hours of work coming out of these photos.

I was only hiking for 3 hours. That's an average of 180 hours of work per hour of wandering around. Minimum.

I can't stay here much longer or my brain will explode.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where in the world...?

Some of you know me outside this blog, but others, not so much. So, you probably don't know I'm not home right now - I'm driving up the West Coast to a spinning retreat with the inestimable Judith MacKenzie McCuin. It's been great - I went to Stockton to stay for a few days with a friend and then continued from there over to the coast and up we go.

The Stockton leg of the journey was to visit friends and to help with the wine crush. They have a small vineyard and it's That Time of year when they get a bunch of friends (about 50 of us in all) to come pick grapes and bottle last year's vintages. They have Syrah, Cabernet, and Zinfandel, and the wine is quite good. I have a case of it in my car for the rest of the trip.

No blog entry is complete without photos, but for that I'm going to send you to my Picasa site so you can get the whole photo essay experience. Here's the link for the Stockton part of the trip, and here's the one for the Eureka, CA to Newport, OR. I probably won't get more pictures online until next week. The ultimate destination is a place in the middle of the Washington Coast called La Push. It's near Forks. If you are a Twilight fan (which I'm not, never saw it and have only barely heard of it, mostly as people say "Oh, that's the Twilight area!") then that is about where I'm going. There is no cell phone coverage there and internet access is apparently frowned upon where we'll be staying. C'est la vie! I'll still have fun, and I'll post what I can when I start to head back down towards home.

Enjoy the photos!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Some new dyes

So, despite the appearance of having become All Weaving, All The Time, I took a break the other day to try out an experiment with some new dye materials. The experiment actually started back at the end of July, when I took some exotic wood chips and sawdust I purchased from a wood carver (this was his waste material) at a fiber arts conference, CNCH, and put a handful of each in some glass jars and covered them denatured alcohol. The jars then sat in the garage. For a while. I occassionally remembered to shake them. And otherwise they sat with the dye slowly extracting out of the wood.

This weekend, I poured off some of the very colorful alcohol in to another set of jars and added some pre-mordanted silk and enough water to fill up the jar. The water and alcohol fizzled when mixed. Pretty cool.

What we have up there is NOT, as one person suggested, icky bits from a creature being preserved. On my driveway. In the sun. iiiewwwww. No, it's a jar of Brazilian Cherry extract, Black Locust extract, and Pink Ivory extract, with the yarn soaking in the sun.

The colors turned out about like you might expect from the jars above, but just for giggles, after I pulled the yarn out of the jars, I put half of the each skein of yarn in an old iron pot filled with water I got at an antique shop. The shot below shows the yarns (Pink Ivory, Black Locust, and Brazilian Cherry) with the left half of each pair having been dipped in an iron bath and the right half just as it was out of the jars on the driveway.

Pretty nifty, huh? I don't much care for the effect of the iron, but you never know. Sometimes you get some really cool and unexpected effects from iron. Still, I probably won't do that again with these particular dyes.

And that was my break from weaving! Time for me to get back to it - I just put a long warp on the loom, and I think I can get at least 3 scarves off of it. That's the goal, 3 scarves this week, featuring yarn from A Verb For Keeping Warm - that's Kristine's Shimmering Filigree mixed with some undyed silk. I'm going to do some very simple patterns with this - for you weavers out there, it has been threaded as a basic twill and sleyed in a 3-2-1-2-3 pattern. I'll do one scarf as just a nice crammed-and-spaced tabby, and another as a twill (which should give me nice wavy patterns) and I dunno about the third yet. I'm thinking the undyed silk for the weft for the tabby, maybe something crazy like purple Zephyr, or maybe just white. Does white warp ever really work? Inquiring minds want to know! Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Missing from the blogosphere!

Have you ever been so caught up in a thing, which turns in to another thing, which gets even bigger as something else entirely? The last month or so has been like that for me! After I got back from the Golden Gate Fiber Institute (which was fabulous, and cold, and rotten for photography so I didn't even try this time, thus no blog post, 'cause what is a blog post without photos???) I decided it was high time I put more intense effort in to my little Etsy shop. Etsy, for those of you who don't know, is an online shopping site for individuals and mini-businesses like mine that create things. So much art, jewelry, clothing and accessories, more in the way of unique stuff than you an shake a stick at! Anywho, I decided to move away from handspun and in to handwoven scarves. There are fewer handweavers than there are spinners, and I've gotten pretty good over the last year. After gifting a few scarves to my favorite GGFI goddesses this summer, I realized I was really Good Enough at this point to sell luxury scarves.

Of course, that's all well and good except for the fact you can't just say "poof! I'm selling handwoven scarves!" You have to make the handwoven scarves first. And then you have to photograph them well. And then you have to figure out a proper catchy and detailed description to go in the shop, since folks can't touch them online. People are totally reliant on the verbal descriptions, and so if you are selling high-end, those descriptions and photos better be brilliant. But wait, there's more! If you've got your scarves, your photos, and your catchy description, then you have to start marketing. Which means you have to know who your target market is, where they look at ads or blogs or things, possibly get in to neighborhood or group newsletters... Oh, and if you're in a very tactile kind of business (like, oh, say with handwoven fabric) then you might really want to consider doing some consignment sales. And if you're going to do consignment sales (which I am! w00t w00t! A Verb For Keeping Warm will be carrying my scarves when she has her new store opening in Oakland! You know you want to go touch my scarves.) then you have to do some research as to what goes on behind the scenes with consignment sales - what the percentages are, what the agreements need to be to get your stuff back if it doesn't sell, how long the shop owner will have it displayed, where the shop owner will display it, and so on and so forth and suchly.

So, you see what I mean about one thing sort of exploding in to many many many things? And there's more past that, but hey, you get the idea. I have another great independent dyer who is (hopefully!) going to dye some yarn for me and put me in touch with some of her contacts for consignment, and I'm doing some experimentation with dyeing some of my own silks (more on that in a future blog post). There's just so much to do!

Still, it's great to do something I love, and if the business takes off even a little bit, I'll have my all-consuming hobby pay for itself. Particularly now, after a summer of fun and joblessness, that sounds like a really good idea.

At the end of this month, I'll be driving up to Washington state for the first serious road trip I've taken in, um, hmm, a really long time. I'm going to the spinning retreat with Judith MacKenzie, and I'm going to take my time getting there. There is so much lovely stuff to see here on the West Coast, I can hardly wait! I will be taking many pictures, and hopefully posting along the way. I will probably need a break from weaving at that point, but since I want to have at least 20 scarves done this month, I had best get to it! I don't have a lot of time to meet my production goals.

There is so much exciting work to do - the ongoing battle to improve my photography, figuring out my packaging, getting a more polished brand (did that last night - more on that in another blog post), getting out more to show high-end shop owners my scarves and convince them to carry the pretties... I think my kitties miss me being lazy.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More scarves

OK, it's been a while, and I'm overdue for a post, but I don't feel wordy tonight. I've been using the creative side of my brain A LOT in the last few weeks, and that makes language not so much. But that's ok. Look at da pretties!!! (Gotta iron them for their shop photos, 'cause these pretties are gonna be for sale, but I had to share.)

Explorations in Fibonacci - 72"x10.5" 100% silk

Absorbed by Color: 82"x 10.5" with Czech glass beads, 100% silk

It's magic, that's what it is. Thank you, Red Fish Dyeworks, for dyeing up some great colors!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Scarfing it up

Before I head off to my week of fiber-y goodness at GGFI, I went in to a weaving frenzy. The goal was to make scarves for Morgaine and Judith, the organizers and some of my favorite fiber people in the world. These were fun, and I learned a lot from both scarves. Both incorporated swedish lace weave structures, as part of my "homework" from Judith back in March.

The blue scarf is a pure linen scarf with beads every 2 inches. This was a learning experience in a bunch of ways - the incorporation of beads was a first for me, and inspired by the Weavezine article on beads. The use of pure linen was also a first, and made for some interesting challenges in the project. And the large columns of lace, while not a exactly a first, added some issues I hadn't really had to deal with much before hand.

The beads were actually fairly easy, but meant I had to figure out how to deal with a BUNCH of ends. The beads are on the weft, so for each line of beads, I cut the weft so that there were only 2 more passes worth of weft yarn, put the beads in place with a heddle threading hook, and then put that final pass in there to lock things in place. So, not too difficult.

The lace columns, next time I do this, will require a supplemental warp beam to help control tension issues. The tight plain weave adds a lot more tension to the warp than the lace weave does (makes sense if you think about it) but that means over time, the lace warp is kinda like spaghetti and the plain weave warp is as tight as it's going to get. I would have made this scarf longer (it's 72" now) but for that tensioning problem.

As for the linen, it is not exactly the most forgiving of fibers. The edges of the scarf are a little bumpy, since I was having a difficult time controlling where I wanted the yarn to bend and slide against itself. It is also not a soft scarf, no not at all. Linen needs a lot of time and attention to soften up, and while it will over time, it's going to take a bunch more washings to do so. Still, I think the recipient (this one is for Morgaine) will appreciate the effort even if it's not quite wearable yet!

The orange scarf is pure silk, with two lace columns (different type of lace than the linen scarf) was a lot easier to weave, and in fact I found myself having gotten so efficient with tying on the warp and making the samples that the yardage was way longer than I had planned for! The scarf is about 82" long. I had no problem with the tension of the lace part, and the multi-colored warp turned out just perfect with the orange weft. I think Judith is going to like this one. I spent a bit of time making the fringe just right, too. I am pleased and will have to do something like this for my etsy shop.

I think my weaving mojo is solidly in place and ready for my class next week. Between that and the spindle spinning class, my fiber life will be just about perfect!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Be-weave it, or not

When last we left this humble explorer, I'd mostly finished the Master Spinner Level 2 workbook. All that was left was a 25 hour project, using yarn I spun and dyed from fiber I (mostly) processed myself. Anything we learned in Levels 1 and 2 were applicable. So, I decided a name badge holder for next year's Fibre Week at Olds College would be just the thing! Creative, small, and people would get a kick out of it. Little did I know...

So, my first attempt, using Border Leicester and Cormo dyed with yellow onion (for warp) and cochineal (for weft), made the cats laugh. I mean, seriously, they looked and their mouths hung open and they fell over. It was just that bad. I did not take pictures for you - I probably should, as a shared learning experience, but I have some pride.

My second attempt, I decided to play a bit more and instead went with mohair (which I hadn't scoured myself before, so wanted to see how it differed) which I blended with some tussah silk (to lighten it up while still leaving it shiny). I used some teeswater (an excuse to work with that wool, which was new to me) for the braid (which I just learned how to do for Level 2). I decided to use sage (another new thing here for me) for the natural dye, and onion skin with a post-dye iron bath for the braid.

So, structurally, this one works. It is the size I wanted, the luster is still there, and I learned a bit. It is also the most 1970's looking thing I have ever had the dubious fortune to make! I mean, wow, it needs straw flowers or something to complete this look.

The point is to learn something and show your applied knowledge. This covered the goals. And as a totally out-of-my-head design, it could have been worse. Actually, it was worse - that first attempt ... *shudder*. I am not going to try for a third attempt for the homework assignment, mostly because this is a 25 hour project, and I don't want to do this again with the same limitations that resulted from the homework requirements and the tools I had available. I will do it again, however, under my own rules. I'll do it on a rigid heddle loom, which I'll hopefully be acquiring next week, instead of a tapestry loom. I'll be aiming for a tabby weave instead of weft-faced weave. And, I'll not have to worry about ONLY using something I scoured myself. I'll probably do pure-silk for the braid, and maybe try llama for the body. I have to do this at least one more time to see if I can't get it to look like what's in my head.

So, enough of the Master Spinner stuff for a while. I've taken a break from spinning to get some weaving time in before my weaving class with Judith MacKenzie McCuin at the Golden Gate Fiber Institute which is NEXT WEEK!!! WOOHOO! Ahem. Anywho, I've got a painted warp class with her, and a spindle spinning class with Abby Franquemont, and I've been practicing a bit for both. For the weaving, I decided to do some towels. Judith had given me a homework assignment back in March to dive in to lace weaves, so this explored one of the lace weave possibilities as described in Marguerite Porter Davison's A Handweaver's Pattern Book. Three of the towels were directly from that book, and the fourth was something I made up based on what was there. I have to admit being tickled that the fourth one turned out to be my favorite - it's the yellow-on-yellow one below. These are all 8/2 unmercerized cotton, and I kept samples (washed and unwashed) for all 4.

Here's a close up of my favorite one:

And that's been about it. I've been doing a bit more gardening, planted some green beans and have been amazed at my 8' tall Hopi Black Dye sunflower. I wish I had more than one!

Also planted, kitchen sage and pineapple sage, both for dye experiments, and bronze fennel, again for dyeing. The dyer's chamomile is doing ok - I just wish I had more and that I could find the blasted seeds to plant it! The weld I planted is just little green plants, no flowers. I'm thinking they aren't getting as much sun as I'd hoped. I'm not sure where I'll try them next year, but where they are now just isn't going to work. What dye plants will be happy in partial shade?

And to close out the post, thanks for keeping up with my infrequent missives, and I hope you all are having as good a summer as I am!

Monday, July 19, 2010

What do a few hundred hours add up to?

A completed Master Spinner Level 2 workbook! I finished up the various and sundry assignments this morning, and now have the final project to do. This was a lot of work. Seriously, several hundred hours went in to research, sampling, combing and carding, and spinning. There are over 40 skeins in these workbooks, almost all more than 10 yards of 2-ply. When spun, in some cases I spun up to 70 yards to get it right.

It's a LOT of work.

There was textured yarns to create...

Some alpaca to blend and show suitable for a shawl...

Some fiber to blend to make it easier to spin ...

A bunch of dyed fiber to blend to make a full 12-color color wheel...

There was even learning new skills like needlepoint, to show I can spin yarns suitable for it...

(I never said it was _good_ needlepoint. But trust me, that's a sheep. I swear.)

And all that doesn't mention the llama and mohair blends I made, the hours of research in to spinning songs and poems, the wonderful photographs of different spindles, and much more. And just think, this is only Level 2! What body of work will I have created by Level 6???

I was going to go ahead and turn it in this week, but I thought about it and checked with my grader and instead I'll be bringing it to the Golden Gate Fiber Institute this year so folks can see it, learn about the program, and think about all the things they might do with yarn. I'll send it up to be graded August 16.

I really want to take a moment to thank one of my fellow Level Two-er, Kim, for helping tweak my competition bone to make sure I got this sucker finished in a timely fashion. Kim, you are a gem! Level 3 is not going to be nearly this drastic a push to the finish!!!

At this point, I won't be overlapping levels any more. Level 3 is not due until June, and while I want to finish it this year, I won't be starting Level 4 until July. Each level at this point has an in-class component to kick it off, and so I will be paced by the program. Probably just as well. I should finish up around the year 2013.

Next on my list is to just casually practice some of the things I learned in the Level 3 class, like spinning on a quill wheel and supported spindles and whatnot. I'll dive in to the program work after GGFI.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Craft Room Exploded

Or at least, it feels like it! I've been a busy fiber girl.

Last week, I spent the week in Canada at Olds College Fibre Week. I haven't been to Canada in years - last time was a day trip to Vancouver and Victoria. I'm not sure that counts. I took the Level 3 Master Spinner class, and now know how to spin more consistent cotton, how to make silk hankies, and how to get at least 25 colors out of a single natural dye pot. And I understand how to get the twists per inch I want for any given yarn - probably my favorite part. I also know that the days are too frickin' long - twilight lasted until after midnight, and the sun was up before 6am - but I still love it there. I got carded for alcohol!

I did my best to keep my purchases to a minimum, including No Fiber. Why do fiber people do that to themselves? That promise of "no, I won't increase my fiber stash. No, I will not by another fleece or blanket. I shall be a Good and Responsible Adult..." Foolish mortals, the lot of us. So, what'd I get?

LLAMA!!! Suri llama, single coated llama, and it-sure-sounded-like-a-drug-deal llama. I had never heard of suri llama before, and the second place winner was in the auction for something reasonable, so I bid on it. As I was walking away from putting my name down, I was just petting the other llama blankets on the table and I swear, one of them practically grabbed my hand. No one had bid on it, so it was very very inexpensive - $15 Canadian. So as I was pondering that, the shepherd (shepherd? That can't be right. What do you call llama farmers, anyway?) came over and we got to talking about that particular blanket, and after a while she said "you know, if you like that one, come over here. I have something you might be interested in." I followed her to a dark corner (ok, not dark, and only kind of a corner) and she pulled out this 2.5 pound bag with not one but two prime shoulder llama blanket, one a charcoal black and the other a warm black, and she said "I am just cleaning out my barn and I haven't even tried to get the VM out of these. I'll give it to you for $5." I don't think she had ever seen a blanket leave her hands so fast. So, yeah, I ended up with three lovely fantastic llama blankets. I heart them!

I also acquired a few support spindles, a Russian and a Tahkli.

Then of course there was the really interesting cotton blend...

But it wasn't all about shopping. There was the class stuff as well! We did quite a bit with cotton, enough that I finished my homework for the cotton blended with silk noil (the pink), cotton spun from ginned cotton, and cotton spun from sliver.

We also had the "25 colors from a single dye pot" exercise, which involved seeing what we could do with madder. Basically, we brought in 25 sample skeins and left 5 unmordanted, 5 mordanted with alum, 5 with iron, 5 with copper, and 5 with rhubarb leaf tea (a new one for me - this was basically mordanting with oxalic acid). From there, we mixed and matched things in to an afterbath - 5 skeins dipped in citric acid solution, 5 skeins dipped in washing soda solution, 5 skeins dipped in an iron solution, and 5 skeins dipped in a copper solution. I won't go in to all the gory details (yes, there are more details), but it was a pretty cool exercise.

Another exercise which I took care of after class was spinning on a support spindle. I had scored a lovely blend of silk, quiviut, bison, and merino and spun that up for this exercise. It was lovely, and I can't wait to do the rest!

And so now I'm home, and am totally motivated to get my Level 2 homework done and out the door so I can focus on Level 3. I met up with some lovely people (Hi Kim and Val!) and Kim and I are challenging each other to finish Level 2 as expeditiously as possible. Hey, Kim! Here's what I've got spun so far...

And all my book reports and essays are done. :-D

So, that's what's been going on! I had a great time, can't wait to go back, and am finding myself blending and spinning 8-10 hours a day since I got home. Tomorrow I'll take a break and go kayaking with my sweetheart.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer Vacation Continues

With some intentional spinning of a lovely silk and silk/merino blend, which will eventually become an Evelyn Clark Swallowtail shawl...

(that ended up being about 530 yards, 4 oz.)

and the finishing of my second shawl, Brandywine by Rosemary Hill.

I'm most of the way done through a third shawl (yes, I know, what's with the shawl kick? It's a newly discovered joy in lace knitting, that's what) and have a few more planned. Then there's the lace weave towels to finish, a bunch of spinning to do for my Master Spinner work... So much to do, so little time! Next week I'll be in Canada at Olds College for Olds Fibre Week, taking my Level 3 class. Starting with Level 3, there is a week-long in-class component to be done, and I'll be doing that as I'm finishing up Level 2. I have until February of 2011 to finish Level 2, and June 2011 to finish Level 3, so I'm not too terribly concerned about overlapping course work.

Summer vacation will have to come to a close sooner or later, I know, but until that situation has sorted itself out, I can certainly keep myself occupied!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Summer Vacation

You know, I really don't remember my summer vacations being quite _this_ productive when I was a kid! In the last 2 weeks, I've:

taught myself to sew and made a skirt,

Spun up some alpaca, combed and spun some fabulous llama fiber in to both 2 and 3-ply yarns, spun a thin 3-ply mohair yarn, and taught myself navajo plying,

Got over half way through spinning up some lace weight to knit a little shawl called Citron,

Finished knitting my very first shawl, complete with lace edging and feline blocking assistance.

But wait, there's more, and the summer vacation isn't over yet! I've also been out kayaking a few times with my sweetie, cooked my first ever batch of paella, scoured half a cormo lamb's fleece, drove down to Santa Cruz for the heck of it to try out coffee from a reportedly excellent coffee roaster (Lulu's, for those of you interested).

Next on the list includes finishing up the yarn for Citron and knitting the shawl, finish warping the loom for some more lace weaving samples (place mats, tea towels, we'll see how they turn out), some more sea kayaking, Spinning Day at Retzlaff Winery in Livermore, and I'll finish out June with a week at Olds College for Fibre Week.