Calling in the Expert

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With a mechanical problem with a vintage loom there are times you need to have someone look at the equipment that knows it so well he can fix things with his eyes shut (or diagnose it over the phone).

I met Lenny this past weekend when he came over to make a few adjustments that would help with the changing of the bobbins in the shuttles.

wp-1463313840919.jpgLenny is the spryest 90-year-old I have ever met.  Steady, agile, clear of mind and he knows his looms.  He should, he’s been working on them for 76 years.  He made a couple of adjustments, ran the loom a little, made a couple more and made a suggestion on changing how we wind the bobbins.  Today everything ran the way it should.

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Along with the fix we were treated to some serious reminiscing about the mills.  The noise, the work, the different types of looms he had worked on.  Being a loom mechanic or fixer was probably one of the most important jobs in a mill and it takes a person with the right type of mind to be one.

Lenny is different in his love for the machines.  He’s never stopped – loving them, working on them, restoring them.  You can see it in his face when they are running.  There’s the look of delight you so rarely see except in the eyes of a child.

As he was leaving he looked at me and said “Well, that was a bit of fun!”.

We all need a passion in life that does that for us. That one thing that brings a broad smile to our face.  That’s something that has continually evolved for me, I like learning new things – new crafts and bringing them to perfection.  It’s always something with my hands producing something that can be amazing.

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Lenny knows what he knows but he loves what he does and the product it produces.  I think that love is what has kept him so young.

 

 

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.

Review 2015

Every year I post a year in review that is largely visual in nature.  It seems that this year may prove to be different.  There have been so many profound changes that the photographs would only just scratch the surface.  I’ll throw a few in for good measure though, I can’t resist.

150830 Morning Mist

After living with my father for a year and a half I put him back into assisted living.  It was a huge learning curve for me – but I learned that I cannot live with negativity day in and day out.  Living under a black cloud only drags you into that black abyss and it becomes more and more difficult to climb your way out.  In my heart I know it was the right thing to do for everyone involved yet on some level it feels like failure.  I’m working on getting over that in ways that feed my soul.

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Living here helped me maintain my sanity.  The close proximity to nature was a balm many times during each and every day.  Being able to see magnificent sunrises so many mornings began my days in a positive way.  It was a summer of rainbows – every day it seemed .  Hiking trails at the park, new trails in old familiar places brought discovery and appreciation anew.  Let’s face it, it’s quiet here, it smells good and nobody bugs you.  What more could the introvert in me want?

150726 Amanda's Wedding

Then there were weddings, lots of them.  My favorite was the marriage of my daughter – here.  Ten people, surrounded by my gardens in full bloom.  My favorite moment – the family humming Pachelbel’s Canon in D while Amanda and her father walked down the little makeshift aisle, thanks Cait for getting it rolling.  Although Amanda and Yusuf have been together for 9 years and we all knew this was coming it still felt like we were giving her away.  It was a line for me, both joyous and sad.

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As if all of this wasn’t enough November 11th was the birth of our first grandchild.  A boy who dear husband Bill never thought he was going to see (and now has big plans for).  Another shift in my life – from mother to grandmother.  I’m not sure how it affects other people but the generational shift has always been a profound one for me.  When Amanda was born it took me a while to wrap my head around going from daughter to mother, I’m still getting use to the idea of going from mom to grandma.  He is wonderful and I’m enjoying watching them grow into a loving family.

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All through this the constant has been craft.  The ability to make and do things with my hands is the thread.  It feeds me – no, it is a necessity. If I wasn’t able to create something, on a daily basis, I would have sunk into that deep, dark hole long ago.  It sustains me.  It seems odd to me in some ways to admit this.  I have been a crafter all of my life.  My modus operandi is to learn a new craft, work it to what I deem the best I am capable of (more of a plateau really) and move on to the next craft.  This year was all about weaving – again.  It was the realization that I’ve been searching my entire life for what my hands knew how to do.  Weaving has connected me to my past, to people I remember and loved the most.  It is something that will probably take the rest of my life to move towards perfection.  Meanwhile it calms me and helps me to reflect on daily life, meditation.  Something we all need and I daresay find in little things we do.  We just need to recognize it.

151021 Baskets

The new year is promising in so many ways.  Growth is what it’s all about.  I’ll keep on sharing my skills and insights.  I’ll watch my family and friends embrace the changes in their lives and hold them all close because really, that’s what it’s all about.

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Make Something Beautiful

150531 Basket Workshop (4)

A few months ago I signed up for a day long basket weaving workshop with the majority of  my weaving class.  I’ve just fallen in love with these women, all around my age and many in similar life circumstances.  What I really love is they are always willing to learn something new.

Our workshop was with Wendy Jenson in her studio in Monterey, MA.  She is an amazing weaver, her baskets are stunningly beautiful and she is a wonderful teacher.

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I’ve woven baskets before, many years ago.  The real reason I wanted to do this was to hang out with a bunch of creatives, all learning something new.  What’s really great is weaving is weaving.  The concepts translate into all kinds of different things so I think everyone had a leg up on those who have never woven anything before.  That, and these women are game for anything.

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There was a choice of two different basket designs, a Williamsburg or a Carry All.  I chose the latter and was surprised at how the skills learned 25 years ago come back to some extent.  Everyone did a great job on their projects and I have to think we all went home happy with what we learned and what we made.

I really think the most important thing is to make the time to create something out of raw materials.  What started out as a bundle of flat reed was transformed in a few hours to a beautiful basket.  During that time of working with your hands you also work through the troubles of the day, week or month.  In this case with friends as therapists working alongside you.  When finished it feels as though all your troubles and cares have been poured into what you’ve created.  You have a memento of time well spent.

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Projects Ending and Beginning

150529 Krokbragd (2)

I just realized how very long it’s been since I’ve been here.  Life is full.

The room renovation is almost complete – crown moulding needs to go up and to do that I need to learn to cope.  Fortunately there are only really the four corners to worry about.  We’ll see how that goes.  The room is so much better.  The bad juju has all but disappeared.  Funny what a lot of paint will do.

My latest krokbragd is off of the loom, I’m currently doing a woven edge.  It’s slow going – more so because there are so many other things that need attention.   First a couple of comments on this project.  I used rug wool from Brassard in Canada for the weft in this.  It worked up quickly but didn’t pack as well as the last krokbragd I wove using Harrisville Shetland.  The heathered yarn in this is beautiful though.  I thought I planned this project well as far as color was concerned.  I had everything lined up and numbered, bobbins wound, I was proud of myself because I’m such a wing it kind of person.  Well, none of it really went according to plan.  The time came to change over to the next color and I would just pick something different.  I’ve decided that these mats/rugs are to be woven in a more organic way.  They evolve while on the loom.  I planned on 8 colors, bought 11 colors from Brassard, then a third of the way into it picked up some rug yarn elsewhere to work in.  Because of the weight of the yarn this is definitely something I can see on the floor.  All in all it’s quite lovely – I can live with it.  All of you creatives out there know what I’m talking about, that’s really high praise.

My tomatoes, cucumbers and squash plants are at the end of their hardening off period.  I will probably till the garden for the second time tomorrow (around the rows of potatoes) and plant the beginning of next week.  The weather here has been kind of crazy.  Hot, no rain save a torrential downpour a couple of days ago.  I hate to plant things and have to water them everyday.  Other years it’s so wet and cold I’ve planted things multiple times.  It’s never perfect.  How dull life would be if it was.

 

Weaving Hooks and Eyes

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The last time I posted about this particular project I had left it wondering what the heck I was doing wrong because the pattern wasn’t looking quite like the draft.  My weaving instructor looked at it (under the cloak of darkness) and emailed me that I had been treadling it wrong.  I was close but not quite right.

The structure for this project comes from a back issue of Weaver’s Craft – Issue 11 Vol. 3, No. 1 Spring 2002.  I’ve added a link for my weaving friends because so many people asked me to explain it.  Honestly, I’m not deep enough into the project to do so.  I had an aha moment while I was weaving the other day (and doing it properly).  I realized when throwing the white shuttle that I was weaving the same pattern on the back side.  How cool is that?

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I love the thickness of this fabric – perfect for placemats.  They will be totally reversible, light on one side, dark on the other.

The best thing about this structure for me is that I can use any overshot pattern and weave something that doesn’t have long floats that snag and pull.  Perfect for baby blankets, table linens, anything that will be used regularly.  Overshot has enough complexity to keep me interested while weaving and looks far more complicated than it is.  Threading and weaving requires a little more concentration but it’s totally worth it in the end as you can see.

Some Warping Stupidity

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A couple of days ago I decided it was time to put another project on the loom.  I have a nephew that’s expecting twins in the spring and opted for an overshot blanket.  I wound a 6 yard warp in 5/2 figuring I would weave two in different colors and have some room to play as well.  I was warping the loom this time using a roll of corrugated cardboard.  It went on like a dream, straight, even, perfect tension, yes!

I taped up my draft and started threading my heddles.  Hmmmm, there really didn’t seem like enough threads for the project.  I got halfway through and realized I had miscounted. By half. Ugh.

Now I’ve been known to wind a warp that was twice the number of threads but never under.  So I’m thinking, “What the heck am I going to do now – there’s 6 yards on here and 230 threads?”

It just so happens I was also planning on doing a couple of table runners for gifts later in the winter but there weren’t enough threads to do the ones I intended.  This sent me in search of an overshot pattern that would work for the people the gifts were intended for and spoke about the weaver (this is almost always how my design process goes).

I pulled out Weaving Designs by Bertha Gray Hayes.  This is my all time favorite book of overshot patterns.  I pored through the book for a good long while and finally settled on her pattern Old Fashioned Garden.  It has a 40 thread repeat so I could work it with an open and close of 14 threads and only have 15 threads hanging off the back of the loom in the end.

Today I’ll thread the heddles, tie on and hopefully weave enough picks to see how the design will work.

The babies will have to wait.

150109 Macomber

As a side note I just wanted to share how amazing this Macomber loom is.  The breast beam is hinged and can be lowered.  Great when you’re ready to thread and really don’t want to take the loom apart.  This loom is so high that I wouldn’t be able to thread over the beam comfortably.  There are so many things about this loom that are simply brilliant in their design.

 

 

Two Things at Once

141204 Doubleweave (2)There are some projects that just don’t go the way you expected.  This is another new structure for me – complimentary doubleweave.  I pulled out a couple of cones of 5/2 mercerized cotton using the colors that were in the studioand wound my warp.  I picked a simple overshot pattern, I figured simple would be better since I would be weaving the pattern in a whole different way.

I started Tuesday with what seemed to be little more prep than usual.  The loom only had 3 harnesses on it and all of the harnesses required more heddles.   Things went onto the beam smoothly.  Uh-oh, I just know things can’t go that easily.   The woman on the loom next to mine is doing the same project, different pattern and colors.  She was a few hours ahead of me and started to weave while I was threading my heddles.  It didn’t look the way she had expected.  The weaving was taken out and the sett changed.

I’m thinking this is a good thing.  I changed my sett to what she was now using.  Crisis averted.  I was feeling pretty smug about the whole thing.  I tied the warp on but had a lot of trouble getting the tension even.  I left it at the end of class and figured I’d tackle it today.

When I arrived at class I began weaving and found a couple of threading mistakes.  I rethreaded one and tied a string heddle for the second but now I had to tie on the warp all over again, what the heck?

I wove about 5 inches – two repeats of the pattern – and it just doesn’t look anything like I expected it to.  I took photos and if I squint my eyes it looks like there is some sort of repetition to the pattern but . . .

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Yup, I got up and walked away.  Now I’ll think about it until next week and then we’ll see what can be done with this.  One way or another I will be getting 6 doubleweave placemats out of this but at this point what they’ll look like remains to be seen.

There may be a bit of a problem with weaving two entirely different projects at the same time.  The project on my loom at home is an 8 shaft pinwheel pattern in 20/2 alpaca silk.  It requires a really soft beat in order to keep the required picks (to keep it from looking squished).141203 Scarf (1)

The fiber is more elastic and so soft.  Everything about this has gone smoothly.  Stark contrast to the red and white.

I’m thinking it could be in my best interest to work on similar projects at class and at home.  I have to say at this point I’m wishing I was weaving wool in class but I’m sure after another couple of hours the cotton will turn into something I like and I will be able to flip from one project to the other with ease.  Until then I’ll just fret.

Krokgragd Finished

141118 Krokbragd (2)To date this project took me the longest to complete.  I started it the first week in August and took it off of the loom last week.  It’s stunning and the photographs do not do it justice, you have to feel it.  Wool, there’s nothing quite like it.

Initially I did twisted fringe for a finish and HATED it.  So I took it all out and got out my Weaver’s Companion – almost on the last page they had directions for a woven edge and I knew this was it.  Very easy to do and it’s clean.  I thought the geometry of the piece called for a clean edge and it also tightened everything up at the beginning and end.

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As I probably have posted this color combination came as somewhat of a surprise.  I was using yarn that I had.  When I got to the center I found two other colors in the weave studio I thought would work and kept weaving on.

I love that moment when you cut your warp threads at the end of a project and release the breast beam – the project rolls off and you get your first look at the project as a whole.  I was so please with this.

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It’s finished dimension is 24″x 36″.  From every angle it looks wonderful.  I have to tell you that I don’t think this will be spending any time on the floor.  I’ll keep moving it around until it finds its home.  This is one project that won’t be given away.