Answering the Questions

I follow a number of weavers on social media.   Some groups are for troubleshooting the particular looms I have, some are buying and selling equipment, most are weavers interested in the process itself.  My experience has been that weavers are a very generous lot and these groups have really shown that to be the case.

A couple of interesting questions were posted the other day that really had me thinking.  “How often do you weave?  What do you do with your weaving projects once you’ve finished?  Do you make a living weaving?”  Since I’ve begun the post holiday catch up with projects that I’ve promised people these questions really lead to the real question which is why I weave.  This is something that has morphed over the years.  As I’ve grown in my understanding of the craft the reasons for doing it have changed.  What’s different is I realized that weaving is the handcraft I have been looking for my entire life.

I am the type of person that needs to be creating constantly – my hands (and mind) have to be busy.  I am also a perfectionist – born and raised.  When I was younger this presented problems stemming more from a lack of patience than anything else.  I wanted things to be perfect immediately.  As I grew older I realized that perfection was attainable for me in most of the crafting I undertook, I just had to readjust my goals.

I was a quilter for years (and years) and also learned embroidery at a very young age.  I would go to quilt shows and enter my quilts in fairs.  I photographed quilts for the CT Quilt Search Project and delved into the history and process from other women’s perspectives.  The pinnacle for me was entering an embroidered and appliqued quilt in the Vermont Quilt Festival and winning a blue ribbon.  As far as I was concerned I was done, I wasn’t interested in taking it any further.  The same happened with making teddy bears.  I found a pattern in a magazine and made one of the lamest bears you have ever seen.  I told my family that I was going to keep sewing bears until every one I made was perfect.  I made a lot of bears. That lead to designing and teaching adult ed classes to make them.  I learned you can only make so many bears and that was the end of that.

I’ve learned to do so many other things searching for that one craft.  I weave and teach basket making.  I knit, crochet, macrame, blah, blah, blah.  I’ve dabbled in woodworking, rug hooking, pottery, leather work.  Even baking became a bit of an obsession (I make a mean pie).   Some of it I did okay with, most of it didn’t hold my interest enough to continue, a bit of it was so bad that I would tell myself and others it was a one-off, bucket list kind of thing.

Weaving has become the all consuming craft for me and it’s not about perfecting the product which everything else has been.  It’s about the process -from beginning to end.  I love the math, the counting, the feel of the fiber going through my fingers.  I love the looms.  Big looms, little looms, any kind of looms.  I love dressing a loom and having the right amount of threads and the perfect tension.  I love it when I weave the first few picks and there aren’t any threading errors.  I love the meditative quality of the weaving itself when you’ve memorized the pattern and you’re weaving without thinking about weaving.  I must confess that I’m usually thinking about the next project.

That’s where these questions hit home.  I weave almost every day.  The problem is always what to do with what you’ve woven.  I never want to be boxed in to where I have to think about what I’m weaving and it’s marketability.  In my opinion that’s the fastest way to suck the joy out of something you love, monetize it.  What I have done is custom weaving for people to augment my raw materials.  This is what lets me weave at this point.

As for making a living weaving . . . I wove overshot runners for a friend of mine to give to some of her family members for Christmas.  Ten days before the holiday I put on about an 8 yard warp figuring I would weave her three and then weave a few extra for others that have expressed an interest. These runners were beautiful, everything came together and I cut off the ones she needed for the holiday.  I then proceeded to weave off the rest of the warp and finish up the remaining runners.   I realized then I could never, ever be a production weaver, especially working on a deadline.  Some of the best lessons learned aren’t ones you’re looking for at all.

Sometimes questions need to be asked to let you see where you are going.  Most often they are asked in a most innocent way and you hear them at the perfect moment.

 

Loom Move – The Rebuild

 

The holidays are over and the cold snap has broken so I’m no longer hauling wood and loading a stove every hour or so and fretting about farm animals suffering in below zero temperatures.  There are difficulties getting anything done in a timely manner this time of year, not the least of which is the lame internet access available where I live.  Getting media uploaded for publication can take days – yes, days. Consequently this particular post will be without video, bummer.

A few weeks ago began the loom move I wrote about in A Warped Sense of Fun.  There must be something about holiday weekends that attracts us to seemingly impossible tasks, New Year’s  seemed to work for those of us committed to follow through.

Let’s begin by saying it was cold.  Bone chilling, icy, snow on the ground, windy, cold.  Dressed for the weather we arrived at Peggy’s barn to initially figure out how to get the engine hoist where it needed to go.  It was heavy, on wheels and there was nothing but a snow/ice-covered path to get there.

The legs came off and on a sled it went. The beginning of a day of figuring out how to do things with what we had.

A lot of planning and discussion went on with this group.  How to move the base, where to place the head, how to pick it up.  Slow and steady was the call of the day, much different from the last session where everything seemed so rushed.

Planning – tools and parts in place.

Wondering if a plan will actually work.

For as much trouble as we had getting the head off and moved initially things seemed to go more smoothly moving it around in the shop and putting it back where it belonged.  Although about this time I was thinking my father and grandfather would be thinking of much easier ways to do this stuff (or laughing at our ineptitude).  Knowledge and experience, it’s what we’ve lost and none of us are the wiser until we work with things whose time has long passed.

Up and put in place.

Slow and steady.

As this was hanging in midair I couldn’t help but admire the paint Lenny had so painstakingly applied during its restoration.  It was a true labor of love.

Trying to get things put together.

Once the head was on the beater was put in place.

Finally it looked like a power loom again (something I wasn’t sure I’d ever see).

These are the faces of people who have accomplished something.  I love being involved in this sort of thing.  It makes you think until your brain hurts.   Everything you do has risks.  Everyone was thrilled (especially Peggy) that the big parts were all moved and put back into place without anyone getting hurt – the potential was certainly there.

We went in for some coffee and soup once the work was done for the day, a time to rehash what had just happened.  Richard commented on what a satisfying afternoon it had been.  It was a considerably different atmosphere on this workday.  Evenly paced, well thought out.  We did have our token youngster with us, we needed a strong back.  Andy is an old soul though, he seems to be channeling the mechanics of way back.  He gets it and loves it.   He is in this to see it run, not just to get it moved.  Good work had been done.  The loom has a way to go before it’s running but we no longer need a hoist to do the work.

I lost my grandfather decades ago, I was 20 at the time.  There are pieces of him everywhere still in the house I live in.  My father never got rid of anything – he had a desk drawer set up exactly as his father had, with his father’s things – a shrine of sorts.  Family members kept the stories alive.  The woolen mills were there lives.  I am a kinesthetic learner.  Watching Peggy weave, learning to build chain, winding bobbins, fixing broken threads, just listening to the loom run always seems to bring up more questions.  This is a visceral way to learn but it has given me the sights and sounds and smells of something that is part of who I am and where I come from.  Figuring out the mechanics is something we have all done, back generations and it feels comfortable and comforting to recognize that this sort of thing is genetic.  It’s also fun to work with people whose brains work the same way as mine.

 

Sweet

Things have been crazy lately – meetings, working (yes, working), historical society stuff, goats, dogs, house, garden, blah, blah, blah.  I got a message that Lenny was going to be working on the looms with a couple of mechanically minded guys.  The timing was poor but I made it work and was oh so happy that I did.

Any opportunity to spend time with Lenny and the looms is something to be cherished in my opinion.  It’s the closest I can get to my grandfather who’s been gone since 1976.  Lenny is a slight, flirty little man in his 90’s who loves, loves, loves the Crompton & Knowles W3 power looms.  They have been his life.  The look of delight on his face when he is running one is magical to me.

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This event (and it is one to me) also afforded me the opportunity to spend time not only with Peggy but two men who had as high an interest in these machines as I do.  One is a machinist, the other runs the vintage cards at a spinnery in VT.

Mechanical ability is an art in itself and I soaked in that energy like a very dry sponge.  It wasn’t until I looked at the photos/videos that I really began to see mechanics as artists.  The enthusiasm in the room was palpable.  The beauty of this machinery is with a little study they are understandable and magical to watch.  Lenny knows them like they are a part of his being, the others were meeting them for the second time.  They’d already spent time with Lenny and the looms, walked away and had to return – the machine’s magic is seeping into their souls (insert an evil laugh here).  When one of them told me they could watch them run all day I knew he was hooked.  The other, while trying to rig a part that would work said, “I look at the part and think ‘how can I make this better'”.  No sweeter words. . .

Now it has been a while since I’ve had that experience.  It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post. Peggy brought it all together, fiber, weaving, machinery. Yesterday was a nourishing experience and I realize that being  around fellow creatives feeds me.    I slept well, I woke up calmer, I feel the need to sit at the loom and make something.  I realize how important it is to find what does that for me and to fit that into my life.  Everyone should do just one thing that makes them extraordinarily happy, or causes their minds to stretch in the effort to learn and understand something.  A workout for your brain.  It makes everything else just a little bit easier.

Projects Finished and Beginning

It was moving day for Shirley and the walking wheel.  We’ve had these pieces of equipment in our living space for quite some time and moving them out today was quite the change.  There are now big swaths of open space (and endless amounts of dust).

I have finished the bulletin on Rowe’s textile history (a short course) for the Historical Society.  I had to write it in such a way that a layman could understand what I was talking about and keep it brief enough so people wouldn’t fall asleep as they were reading it.  No easy feat for someone who could talk about this until you pass out from boredom.

I had researched this from the 1780’s until 1900 or so in detail, the problem came when I had to put all of the research together.  There was the history of the equipment, the economic history, and the social history.  I had thought that the weaving history would be the fascinating part but found it was the people.  When I wrapped up the writing of the article I realized I wasn’t ready to let go of them, or their way of life.

I have found wonderful diaries, day books, account books from the doctors in town as well as merchant’s account records.  The beauty of this research is that it is in a town that is so small.  I built genealogies of over a dozen families and found out how intertwined everyone was.  With the diaries I learned about how stoic the men could be even in facing the loss of their spouses or children.  One line described what one could only imagine as something completely  life altering.  These books all crossed with each other over a certain number of years so it gave a fuller picture of daily living.  The only way that this could possibly be shared is if I wrote a historical novel.  A Peyton Place sort of thing using the characters in their own time and place.  On the back burner that goes.

With the research and writing done the displays are now being put together.  The Rowe Historical Society will be opening an annex to their museum on July 15th.  It is in an old factory building that was moved and restored for the U.S. bicentennial in 1976.  The building is wonderful and perfect for the large sleighs, wagons and agricultural artifacts.  The trustees are working hard to get the museum in good shape for their opening July 1st.   Having done the bulletin on weaving I decided that I would move the barn frame loom and the walking wheel in for the season and do demonstrations on the Saturdays we are open.  It’s nice to be a part of something that is so interesting and to watch and help it come together.

For the time being I will have to get used to the vacant spaces in the house but I have a feeling I will be seeing more of them in the next few weeks than I have been seeing them at home of late.  I will also finally get a warp on Shirley and run her through her paces. I feel good that this is where Shirley needs to be right now, spotlighting how amazing she was almost 200 years ago.  She’ll be teaching me right along with everyone that visits.

The Cloth

I apologize to my non weaving readers for something that may not be as interesting or easily understood but I have to do this.

There are three parts as I see it to this research project on the Satinet Factory in Rowe.  One of the most important to me was the cloth itself.  Having never seen a piece of satinet from 1840 or so I decided that the only way I could get a real visual of what they were making was to weave a piece myself.

I was pointed in the direction of a book titled The Domestic Manufacturer’s Assistant and Family Directory in the Arts of Weaving and Dyeing by J. and R. Bronson which was originally published in 1817.  The book is very informative and once you get the hang of the drafts they are very easy to figure out. This is a 6 shaft satin pattern.

So I did a little math, figured out the tie ups and started winding a warp.   Satinet was woven with a cotton warp and a wool weft.  I think originally it was for economic reasons.  Power carders and spinning were in place before the looms were so the mills prepared the fiber but the satinet was being woven by people in their homes on large barn frame looms.  Subcontractors in 1822 were being paid 10 cents per yard, or about $1.93 per yard in today’s money.  Satinet was also an inexpensive cloth to manufacture and the demand for it skyrocketed in the 1830’s  when clothiers began using the power-loom.

After talking to a few weavers who have an interest in historic weaving I decided that I would use 20/2 cotton and begin with a sett of 36 e.p.i. (partly because I have a 12 reed and the math was easy to do) . . . (sorry, not sorry).

I think cotton makes one of the most beautiful warps.  I love the sheen.  The question came up before doing this little experiment if the fabric would have been yarn dyed or piece dyed.  Everyone I talked to was in a different camp on this one so I decided to do a white cotton warp with dyed wool weft.  This also would make it easier to study the structure and see how the weft was covering the warp at different setts and beats.

Woohoo, tied on and ready to go.  The piece in the loom was 6″ in width.  I used a single ply wool for the weft that seemed about the same size as the warp.  It was a left over warp from Peggy’s mill so I’m not sure of the exact size.   There were some slubs on the yarn which is what you see in the weaving.

I figured I’d start out with 36 p.p.i to make it balanced but found that I had to up my beat to attain 43 p.p.i. to cover the warp.  Also taken into consideration was the fulling that would occur in wet finishing.  I tried setting it higher – to 40 e.p.i. but that made a very stiff cloth.  I wove and wet finished 2 pieces at the two different setts with all different picks per inch, both about 12 inches in the loom.  When finished they both shrank to 5 1/2 by 11 1/4  which was much less than I expected.

The wrong side of the cloth is quite lovely, the fabric itself is soft and supple.  It was used mostly for trousers back in the day and you can understand it.  It has a nice hand but feels like it would wear extremely well.  It was also used for linings in coats and to make jackets.   Civil war uniforms were very often made of satinet as well.  My thought as I handled the samples was that I would love to weave some yardage for a jacket, it would be very comfortable.

My guess is this fabric would have been made with finer thread for a lighter weight but until I actually see a piece of it I won’t know.  The search continues here in town, we have an extensive collection of clothing.  I will also contact a few other museums to see what they have in their collections but at least now I know what I’m looking for.

 

 

 

WFH

When I started working with Peggy the only compensation I asked for was blankets to give for Christmas.  Quite honestly, being there, observing and helping in small ways was really compensation enough.

In one of my earliest posts about Bedfellows Blankets – It’s Always Something – I talked about the problems of badly spun yarn.  There were two jobs that were being woven for the same person with the same bad yarn.  One warp was finished and shipped.  The other has seen an off again on again relationship with the loom over the past 9 months.  Yes, that warp and I have been in close contact since I started going there.  It’s now affectionately referred to as the WFH (warp from hell).  Two hundred yards that have slowly and painfully made their way into cloth.

The pattern for the original job was a twill but had to be woven with double threads to give it more strength.  A little over 150 yards were woven, repaired and brought to the finisher before making its way to the customer.

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There were hours of mending broken threads.  Finally during the summer, with the cost overruns the customer cut their losses and there we sat with 50 yards or so still on the beam.  It sat there for a while.

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Peggy rethreaded it a number of different ways and finally began weaving a few throws when time permitted.  Warp threads still broke but different yarns for weft helped a little.

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It was still an exercise in frustration.  But . . . the finished throws were quite beautiful.  I decided these were the ones I wanted for gifts.  I brought a couple home – one herringbone and one plaited twill and wrapped them for Christmas.   I asked if I got some yarn for weft could we weave one for me.  I got a resounding  “Are you sure?”

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I got some lovely Harrisville Highland which proceeded to cause no end of problems because the weight of the yarn was just a little too much for the bobbin winder.  The temps were subzero outdoors and around 55 in the weave room.  Antique, oil-filled machines do not like cold temperatures so the process was slow.  Finally we were off and running.

Ahhh, I love that sound.  If you turn the sound up as high as it goes that’s what it sounds like with your ear protection on.  I’m not sure why my grandfather wasn’t deaf.

Well, we were stopping every 10 to 15 picks as usual.  The whole process was pretty painful.  Photographing is was – challenging.  During that little video two threads broke that I didn’t see on either side of the frame.  Yup, now I was just thinking about the repairs.

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Knotting the fringe was the final job before wet finishing – into the washer, cold water gentle, line dry.

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The finished throw is truly wonderful.  The yarn fulled as I expected making a soft, thick blanket.  The fringe looks almost like raw wool ( it almost is) because it had to little twist in it.  I probably should trim it and will eventually but I’m just enjoying it for now.

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These past months have given me a new respect for artists who create these treasures.  People will buy them and love them but will never know what went into their making.  The time, the care and often  frustration.

Peggy wove 3 more throws the other day while I was there.  One went pretty well, the other two not so much.  There’s probably another 20 yards on the warp and I asked her when she was going to be done with it – just cut it off.  She told me she was going to continue to work on it.  She did it to honor the wool.  So with time and patience that’s what she’s doing and for me that’s the most important lesson of all.

If you’re interested in one of these throws contact Bedfellows Blankets and ask about the WFH.

 

When a Project Comes Together

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I had a cone of 20/2 silk in my stash and decided to modify a draft to make it work.  I love weaving snowflake twills and thought the sheen of the silk would work with a tone on tone project.  I was not disappointed.  The photograph just doesn’t do it justice. This is one of those pieces where I wove the first repeat and had difficulty stopping because the results were just so amazing.  This is one of those rare occasions when the vision and results are in line.

It’s a beautiful day out, I need to go vote and then I should clean out the gardens.  This is one of those days where I have to consider weaving a reward for finishing other projects.

 

Weaving Inspiration

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A few weeks ago I met a long time friend on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls.  As a gardener I am always amazed at this wonderful place.

I posted this photograph after shooting my way along the bridge and a fellow weaver used it as color inspiration.  I thought I would as well. (Of course hers was finished within days of the picture going up).

I also decided to move out of the realm of safety and work with new materials, sort of.  I’m using 20/2 mercerized cotton and a draft from Twill Thrills to make a scarf.

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I did the math.  Ordered the cotton.  Did the math again.  Then started winding the warp.

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Truth be told this is my least favorite part of weaving and it took me three days to do it because there were a few moments when I just had to walk away.

I finally got it to the loom and threaded it.  It’s an advancing twill pattern at  40 E.P.I.  Yes, forty ends per inch.  At this point I’m saying to myself “You must be out of your mind” but it got better . . .

lrm_export_20161008_204035 I had 32 threads leftover at the end.  Not usually a problem unless you decide to do graded colors, ugh.  Not happy at this point.   It was sort of a random twill so I decided to just to a repeat of part of the pattern and see how it turned out.  At this point I was not going to rethread it.

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Yesterday I began sleying the reed 4 threads per dent.  I got halfway through and decided to break until this morning when the light was better.  Finished an hour or so ago.  I’ll tie it on, spend some time on the floor doing tie-ups and finally start weaving later today with any luck.  Then I’ll be able to see what kind of mess I truly made and if I can live with it or start over.

The interesting part to me is the weavers I have that surround me, that inspire me.  I weave with a woman who weaves nothing but twills.  She threads her loom without a draft starting in the center and working her way to either edge designing it as she goes along.  Her work is amazing.  I felt like I was channeling her as I threaded all of those extra ends.  I don’ begin to think I’m capable of doing what she does but it’s having weavers around me giving that inspiration.  They’re all mentors without knowing it.

I think that’s what makes it so important to show and share your work – no matter what kind of work it is or what your skill level.  You never know who you’re going to inspire.

 

 

 

 

A Little Bit of Fun

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While helping Peggy mend a couple of long runs of weaving last week she asked me to weave the end of the warp she had on her barn frame loom because she had run out of rags.  She is out west on her own adventure this week so I figured this would be mine.

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I have never woven on one of these looms before.  What I found was once you understand the mechanics of weaving you can pretty much weave on anything.  So in this one spot I’ve gone from crazy power looms to one of history’s finest.

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It has two shafts and was warped for rag rugs, all I had to do is bring the weft.  I hadn’t woven a rag rug before but have seen plenty in progress so I figured how hard could it be?  I spent a few hours tearing fabric (I’m a long time quilter so fabric is everywhere).  It was torn into strips 3″ wide, folded with the wrong sides together and pressed.  Then I randomly picked pieces and sewed them together in flat seams.  I had a 30″ rag shuttle so I added the strips to that.  I really hadn’t looked at the warp that close before I decided to do this so I had no idea how much weft I was going to need.

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There is nothing like a loom you have to climb into.  It’s quite comfortable, so much so that I think I need to build a bench into my Macomber.

There is no shuttle race when you open the shed but the rag shuttle worked perfectly.  I began and ended the rug with a few picks of rug warp and wove to 60″ in length.  Probably a little long but once I started I couldn’t stop.  Advancing the warp was easily done just required a little muscle.

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There’s a window at your back and a nice breeze was blowing in the entire time I was weaving.  It also gave a rather harsh light to the finished weaving.

Time for a confession.  I’m really a control freak when it comes to a lot of things, especially color.  When I chose my fabric for the weft I used a blue that I had a lot of to add to the continuity of the entire piece.  I didn’t really randomly choose fabrics, they were chosen with intent. I knew what the warp colors were so I made sure to incorporate those colors in the weft.  This didn’t go together the way I had envisioned it but I have to say it finished with something I’m satisfied with.

Now I’m dreaming about that rug loom restoration project in the shed and the things I’m going to be weaving on it.  Sometime we just need a little push.

Fair Worthy

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Fair season begins tonight.  All entries for the Heath Fair have to be there by 8:00 p.m.  I finished the bear 10 minutes ago.

Every year as I’m doing whatever project I’m doing I always look at it asking if it’s fair worthy.  Does it meet my standards to be shown in public?  By people who know more about what I’m doing than I do?

This year there are 3 entries for the Heath Fair and the Big E.  The weaving I knew was worthy as soon as the wet finishing was done.  The bear . . . I decided to sew one when I filled out the entry forms weeks ago but didn’t even begin it until last week.

I have a lot of bears that I’ve made over the years but each entry to the fair has to have been completed since the last fair.  I pulled out materials that haven’t seen the light of day for years and started this little project.  I finished his face (so I thought) and put all of his joints together.  Stuffed his body and sat him on the table where I looked at him every time I walked by.  He was off – the eyes weren’t right, the ears were cockeyed, the nose needed work.  He was not fair worthy.  I didn’t want anyone to look at him and wonder “What hack made this?”.

I thought about not putting him in the fair at all but remembered I had until 8 to get there and knew if he didn’t go in there was a possibility of him spending years in a closet somewhere.  I moved his eyes, stitched down an ear in a better position and spent some more time on the embroidered nose.  I  kind of wished I’d photographed him before I fixed him.  He looked at me with gratitude when I took that last stitch and brushed out his fur.

I’m telling you it’s tough being a perfectionist who anthropomorphizes her stuffed animals.

 

By the way – Fair bear really could use a name, any suggestions?