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.

It’s Always Something

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It starts with this.  Poorly wound cones of wool.  Not only are the cones badly wound but the wool is not greatly spun.  There are slubs, lots of them – places where the fiber is not twisted and readily comes apart.  That leads to this.

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The yarn breaks while winding it onto the bobbins either due to the slubs or by catching on the tangles that are on the bottoms of the cones.   Or the bad spinning leads to this –

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Endless broken warp threads, endless repairs.

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I really should have been helping her instead of taking her picture.  The weaving was a real stop and start affair for the past two days.  One blanket wove with a single broken warp thread, the next had over 30 I would guess.  It often looks like this –

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Then you can have issues that cause mechanical failure – there have been a few broken bobbins lately.

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I have to tell you that makes a pretty ugly sound when it happens.  The other day Peggy suggested my next blog post should be titled “Breaking Bad”.  It made me chuckle and it helps to have a sense of humor when things aren’t going along as well as you’d like but then your morning ends with an image like this – wp-1463679844093.jpg

Crawling under the loom is never good (even if it was highly enlightening for me).  The top of a heddle frame caught and broke while the loom was running, number 16.  I stand and watch for broken threads while it’s running and tell Peggy to stop it, I didn’t even see this happen.  There is so much to look at while the machine is running – so much.  We moved the threaded heddles to the frame in back of it (thankfully unused) and took the frame apart and off of the loom.

I learned a lot from this particular incident.  First, experience is everything, Peggy knows where to be looking or knows the sound of a happy or not so happy machine.  Second, this is no game for an older person in questionable physical condition.  I could have gotten under the loom but the question remains, how long would it have taken me to get back up?

Then there is the question of just how long can you run machinery that there are no longer parts for?  With the best running practices things are still going to break.  There are piles of loom parts in the barn where the looms are located but it’s not like you can just order something up on-line when you need to.  I supposed the metal parts could be reproduced by a skilled machinist, but at what cost?  Then there are the bobbins which I daresay were discarded quite often in a running mill.  Who makes those now?

I feel privileged to be able to experience this first hand but am saddened by the knowledge that this is truly the end of the road for this weaving (unless I’ve missed something).  I’m not saying it ends this year or next but the end is visible.  The day you can no longer fix this loom is the day is becomes a ton and a half of scrap metal and that is sad indeed.

 

Loving the Mechanics

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I’ve always had a fascination for things mechanical, things with lots of parts that move together to make something happen.  My father’s sawmill running on steam was a sight to behold – so much motion.

Today I watched the loom in action.  There have been a few minor set backs to this particular job but I love how it makes your brain work to solve a problem or two.  Being able to watch it work was another step towards understanding what it can do.  Everything has its limitations but you have to understand how it works before you can troubleshoot the problems.

As it ran and I observed it almost made me laugh out loud.  So, so many moving parts all working together.  This is a machine that was improved over time back in the day when it was practical engineering minds that were tweaking it here and there or redesigning parts of the whole to make it work better, faster, more efficiently.  These were men whose minds understood gear ratios, tension, pulleys, levers.  They knew how to make things work without a degree in engineering.

I dare say a loom mechanic was not that different from a car mechanic.  They worked on the same machine day in and day out.  Most times fixing similar problems or the parts that typically wore out.  My grandfather’s tool box has all kinds of little things in it that I’m sure were a lot of his job.  There are boxes of bigger parts in the barn here as well.  Until today I didn’t know what they were.

Watching this work is mesmerizing, there is so much going on at the same time.  It makes me sad to think of what younger people are missing with so much now replaced with electronics.

Okay, I’m really going to date myself here but I remember when Bill and I bought our first cd player.  It was another big component to add to the already massive stereo that people had back then.  We put the cd in and listened to the clean sound but we had to come to terms with the fact that we had no idea how it worked – none, it might as well have been some sort of magic.  It was disconcerting in a way to not understand how something works, especially for two mechanically minded people.  We decided to just accept that we were never going to know and move on.

Winding bobbins on the mechanical bobbin winder, listening to the loom running, walking around it to see everything moving top to bottom I couldn’t help but think that this is the magic that people are missing out on.  This is just plain fun to watch.

Divine Intervention

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It all started with a little black book filled with cloth samples and drafts – my grandfather’s sample book.  I’ve been moving it with me since his death in 1976. None of it made any sense to me.

Four years ago a highschool friend posted on Facebook that she had a Harrisville loom for sale.  I had always wanted to learn and it seemed like the right opportunity.  I then went about looking for a weaving teacher that taught on that particular loom.  As luck would have it there was one in a town that was relatively close.  My first visit to the weaving group on Tuesday nights I brought that little black book and told Pam, my teacher, that I wanted to learn to weave so I would understand the book.  She told me that wouldn’t be a problem and someday I might be able to weave my way through the drafts in the book.

I read an article recently about genetic memory.  The basic principle is we carry the ability to do complex tasks around in our dna, handed down from generation to generation.  I’m not sure about people who are born savants but I do know that weaving felt like something I already knew and understood on a visceral level.  It was something that was already there, it just needed to be unlocked.

Now I love to weaving but if I’m honest it’s really about the looms. I love troubleshooting problems.  Figure out how one works and make it work better.  Since I started weaving I have also amassed quite the collection of looms.  All but one are in working order and I use most of them, one is a restoration project without room to put it so it waits.

During this whole weaving learning experience I started to write about it, mostly to spark conversations with my dad about the mills my family members had all worked in.  My fascination for the machinery of the mill grew.  He would explain to me how they worked with vivid descriptions.  If I found a video of a power-loom in action he would point out the things he was trying to describe.  For me it was the sound of the loom running that drew me in.  I have a vivid memory of that sound from early childhood when I would be taken to my grandfather’s mill.  It was loud and amazing.

Well dad is gone and so are the stories and I needed something to keep it alive for me.  Pam asked me to go to a weaver’s guild meeting the week after my father died because Peggy Hart was going to be giving a talk.  I went, for many different reasons.  One – because Pam asked me to. Two – hoping to hear the stories. Three – to meet Peggy, someone my father had repeatedly said to meet because she had the looms.

I met her there, called her the following week and visited her mill a few days later (it’s very close to home, who knew?).  I was there for a tour really and it turned into an apprenticeship.  She needs help, I want to learn to run the machines.

This morning I spent 3 hours or so learning to wind bobbins, putting them into the loom, repairing broken threads and listening to it run.  I can only describe that sound to me as being wrapped in a warm hug.

Timing is everything.  I had called Peggy over a year ago to meet her and see her mill because my father was badgering me to do it.  For one reason or another it never happened.  As it turns out I would never have had the time to give to this then.  Peggy lost her weaving assistant recently (he’s 90) and has more jobs ahead of her than usual.  As I was leaving today we were talking about scheduling and she said, “I think you have come into my life at the perfect time.” My reply, “For me as well.” It feels like divine intervention.

Weaving Wednesday – More Krokbragd

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Today I hit the halfway point in my little weaving project.  A friend’s comment,”Simple to warp, forever to weave” was right on target with this one.

To make my life a little easier I numbered the three shuttles that I am using to correspond with the treadles I use while weaving. Krokbragd, done on three shafts, is threaded 3,2,1,2,3.  The tie ups are 1-2, 2-3, 1-3.  One pick really consists of throwing all three of the shuttles in sequence – you just treadle 1-2-3 over and over again.  This allows each of the warp threads to be covered by the weft.  It is very densely packed, requires a heavy beat and takes forever to do quite honestly.

I’m using Harrisville Shetland for the weft of this mat and have to go through the treadling sequence 32 times to make the 1 1/2 inches for each color sequence.  Next time I will use a heavier wool but this has woven up beautifully.  I thought I’d be crazy with boredom going from overshot to this but I have to tell you this whole process is fascinating and ripe with possibilities.  As usual I’m planning out the next project while weaving this one.

Handwoven magazine has a number of issues over the years with krokbragd projects.  This mat is one of them.  I like to have good instructions when I learn a new structure.  Usually by the time I’m finished with it I have enough of an understanding to begin to run with it.  Sampling always seems to come second with me.

A YouTube video called Talking Threads 17 Krokbragd explains the whole process really well for those of you who are really interested in this structure.  I found it really helpful.

Weaving Wednesday – Krokbragd

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I started weaving camp last week.  This is a short course for the month of August on a technique of my choice (although it was really with the help of my instructor Pam that the decision was made).  We decided to do a rug technique since it is something new to me.  This will be a 24″x 36″mat done in  Krokbragd, a Norwegian rug weaving techniques known for its color and design.

I don’t know what my problem was the past week but getting this project warped has been an exercise in frustration.  It’s 4 doubled epi, so it should have been quick.  Between threading mistakes and a heck of a time sleying the reed (missed all kinds of threads, did it over TWICE) it took me about 8 hours to get to the point of throwing a shuttle.  8 hours – to wind and warp – there must be something wrong with my brain that doesn’t allow projects to happen in August.

Finally, towards the end of class yesterday I began to weave.  I’m using Harrisville Shetland yard so it doesn’t work up as fast as it would with a thicker yarn but oh, is it beautiful.  I chose Shetland because of the colors that were available to me (and I had a lot of it).  I have to say I’m very excited about the possibilities in color and pattern for this.

Another woman in my class woven a runner over the summer and brought it in last week for me to photograph.  It is stunning.

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She started out with a couple of muted tones and then took off with color.  It’s so much fun to look at and so exciting to think this is something I can do that isn’t terribly complicated.

I love it when I’m learning a new structure.  The drive home from class is always filled with thoughts of how to use this new-found technique.  I’m thinking of color combinations and patterns the whole way.  I can’t wait to get back into the studio with a serious block of time devoted to weaving.  Let the magic begin.

Hand Made

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Yesterday the weather wasn’t conducive to gardening, or much of anything outdoors.  Although there was plenty to do in the house (like vacuuming) I decided to finish up the project on the loom.

This is a 72″ runner with a linen warp and wool weft.  I made it for a friend of mine who has been one of my weaving cheerleaders since the beginning.  She has an older home and her love of blue and white traditional overshot drove the project.  I told her last year that I would make her something and that’s what lead me to the linen warp.  It was an experience.

These are my favorite projects, the ones I make for particular people.  It’s a different kind of effort.  As I said before it’s really the process not the project. Once it was off of the loom, fringed and wet finished I photographed it and then folded it and got it ready for presentation.   The gifting is my favorite part.

The end of last year I was weaving some beautiful twill towels with the intention of gifting one of them to one of my biggest cheerleaders.  The intent was Christmas as he wondered how he could get on my Christmas list.  Well, as usual, life got in the way and they weren’t ready by Christmas, or by January.  His health took a turn for the worse after the holidays and in my heart I knew this was the end.  It all but stopped my progress on that project.  It came to a screeching halt actually.  He passed away in March and with that I had to change my entire mindset on those towels.  I did finish them and gifted them to my oldest daughter – they were her colors.  In weaving the last of the warp though he was constantly on my mind.

I don’t know how to explain what happened when he died honestly.  The week after his death I was a total mess, trying to find meaning in what had transpired surrounding it.  After his memorial service I was at total peace.  Not just peace with his passing, peace with everything.  It was as though the moment he died he took all of my lifetime crap with him when he left.  I just had to be quiet enough to see it.  Now I always knew we had a connection and over the past year or two he was more than ready to lend an empathetic ear but this was unexpected.  There is no other explanation, the calm with my life came when he left.  Thank you.

The loss of a dear friend, in the middle of a project like that gives urgency to finishing things when they are made directly for someone.  I really want this to go to its intended home.  Although I have never seen her table I imagine it laying there and the pleasure it will give to its recipient.

Last year, after winning a blue ribbon on an overshot throw at the Eastern States Exposition, Paul wrote on my post about it.  “Hands made this. Hands were used by a person. A person made this. It holds and conveys the sense and feel of those hands and the spirit of that person. Yes, it is beautiful.”  There are people who intrinsically understand this about things that are hand-made.  Maybe it comes from making art of your own because I know many people who don’t get it.

I will continue to weave and create beautiful things and giving many of them away.  I think a little piece of my soul goes with them most of the time and I gift to those that can see it.

Lomogram_2014-07-31_03-28-54-PMThe bonus on most weaving projects is I always warp a little longer than required so I can play at the end.  The photo above is a small table runner I made in a variation of the pattern and that one stays on my table.

 

 

Weaving Wednesday

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I surprised myself with the short amount of time it took to weave this runner.  I wound and warped my loom last Wednesday and took it off on Monday morning to fringe and finish.  There were a couple of rainy days but I don’t think I spent more than a few hours a day on it and not at all during the weekend.

This table runner is 18″by 72″ with a tencel warp and cotton weft with tencel tabby. This particular overshot was easy to do although I must confess I had to make two string heddles to fix a threading mistake.   That’s when weaving lessons pay off – I’ve been taught how to fix some of my mistakes without taking it apart and starting all over again.

I have one class left for the year and some of us will be doing some other fiber related craft since our weaving projects are finished. Meanwhile I’m thinking about what to put on my loom next.

Weaving Wednesday – April Fools

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Last night’s weaving class was one disaster after another it seemed.

My towels were tracking funny in the loom, the more I wove the worse it got until the weft had taken on a decidedly diagonal line.  I asked Pam if I should take off the toweling and tie the warp back on but we started out trying to see if we could just start over again and make it straight.  We checked all of the mechanics of the loom, tightened every screw, nut and bolt.   A few picks into it the problem was still there and it became obvious that the tension was more loose on one side than the other.  I had to unravel a good amount of weaving to save the warp length.  Wasn’t as bad as it sounds, once I got going it was almost relaxing.

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As I’m unravelling my mess, Jan, to my left is having the exact same problem.  It was hard to believe that both of us, doing completely different projects had the same thing going on.  It was true.  After tightening up her loom and measuring and remeasuring to see if it could be anything else she had to unravel her project as well.

As we were rebeaming my warp we found a problem with the brakes on the loom that might have been a factor in my whole fiasco so we had to pay attention to that before I continued.  All in all a rather stressful night for Pam.

While we were talking about warp tension she told me I should post a few photos of another project that has turned into what I would consider a nightmare.  A class member decided she wanted to weave yardage for a jacket out of chenille.  The pattern is lovely and they thought they had beamed her warp perfectly until she began weaving.

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In the process, while moving the warp forward, all hell has broken loose with her warp. This may be the nature of chenille since none of us has ever woven anything wider than 10 inches.

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The only way to salvage this was to use lease sticks in the warp while weaving.  This holds the tension evenly (although I couldn’t tell you how at the moment).

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Every time the lease sticks get to the heddles everything behind it has to be untangled as the sticks are pulled back.

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I’ll be honest with you – this might just be the project I would walk away from.  Or it might have turned into yardage for a vest instead of a jacket.

All in all last night was the first night I might have thought for a second we were the biggest April fools of all.

Weaving Wednesday – Huck Warp

140211 Huck warpThe newest project in class for me is Huck lace.  I was threading the warp last night with 10/2 mercerized cotton.  The pattern is simple although a little time-consuming with so many ends, there are 552 in the warp.  Fortunately it’s easy to stop and pick it up from week to week.  I left class last night with about 50 or so ends left to thread, I stopped there because there weren’t enough heddles on shafts 1 and 2.  I just wasn’t going there once I figured out there weren’t enough to finish threading.

Adding heddles isn’t difficult to do.  I should have counted first and had everything set before I started threading them.  Once you’re in a rhythm in threading you just want to keep going until it’s done.  This is what I love about weaving, there are defined steps that are taken in sequence for the set up to be right.  There are little nuances that make it better or worse and knowing your particular piece of equipment helps.  It’s a long process learning this craft – there is so much information, so many ways to screw up.

Each project I do, whether on my own or in class affords me the opportunity to learn something new (sometimes many things).  I think this is why I love weaving so much.  Other crafts afford challenges but most of the challenges for me have to do with perfection and not actually the mechanics of the craft itself.  With weaving the perfection enters a little but it is really the mechanics that I love.  There are so many things that can go wrong – or right.  When it all comes together I really feel as though I’ve conquered something.

Having an instructor like Pam feeds right into this for me – each project is about a different structure in the weave.  I could see myself doing overshot or twill for the rest of my life because they are comfortable and there are a million ways to change the project within one of those structures.  The classes push me outside of my comfort zone.  It also allows me to do finer work which is a challenge in and of itself.

At the moment I have three looms with wildly different projects on them. Depending on where I am I work on what’s available.  That can be a challenge in itself, but a most welcome one.