Flying!

A few months ago we were in Ireland, and made a point to revisit a lovely old town with a mill of the same name: Avoca. About 4 years ago we’d first happened upon it, and it was maybe the first time I’d ever really seen a loom in action. Much of what they do now is automated, but they still have a few old looms on the factory floor. The weaver was a lovely man who told me he’d been working there for over 30 years and wasn’t tired of it yet.

Watching the weaver on that loom was, somehow, life-changing for me. On the spot I realized I wanted to do that. Not only wanted, but needed to try it. I don’t know why, and I’m not going to worry about it over much – I think that if you feel that sort of urge, you should go with it.

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Later in that first trip, that weaver was still in the back of my head; the snick-snick of the shuttle, the clatter of the harnesses, the gorgeous textiles…. We then happened upon Swallow Studios in Annyalla, and lo! More weaving. This time, Liz Christy’s studio with all of her gorgeous colors and textures. It was such a pleasure to see her work (and to buy a shawl to take home), and to realize that it wasn’t only “factories” like Avoca that had looms.

4 years later, almost to the day, I’m sitting in my home weaving studio. The past four years have been a treasure. It has been, essentially, a dedicated self-directed journey into the art and mechanics of weaving. There isn’t much I don’t like about it, and I continue to fine-tune my practice and techniques. It’ll take me the rest of my days to learn all there is to know and that’s just fine with me. I’m putting in my ten thousand hours, and ten thousand more.

This month I treated myself to a flying shuttle beater.  A very interesting contraption that offers the opportunity to weave more quickly, over wider areas. It revolutionized handweaving back in the industrial revolution, and although I’ve only used it to make one blanket so far, it is having the same effect on my weaving.  Faster, and smoother, but still handweaving nonetheless. I’m keeping my other, sans-flying-beater, loom as well, at least for the moment.

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Yesterday I’d finally cleared the decks enough to try out the flying shuttle, and as I stood there, pulling the cord and listening to the snick-snick of the shuttle and the clatter of the harnesses, I realized that I was doing exactly what I’d seen that weaver  doing 4 years ago in Avoca.

There’s something to be said for listening to that little voice that says “I want to do that”.  Go out and do whatever it is that is whispering to you. Weave, write, make toys…. whatever it is, make the time.

 

 

Anatomy of a design: or, the accidental birth of a scarf

Right around the end of last year I went to my favorite farm wool shop and there was a pile of one of my most-loved fibres on sale. It was deeply discounted, so I grabbed quite a few skeins.

Step 1: Find a sale

Step 1: Find a sale

I do this a lot – I get the wool, and then just kind of play with it – the color, the texture, the feelings it evokes.  There’s a lot of serendipity in it – it depends on what’s available that day, the light in the store, my mood… what’s on sale. This is, in many ways, one of my favorite parts of the creative process . It is difficult to parse the steps in this sort of decision making, but it’s good to learn to recognize that quickening one gets when one is on the right track. I do know that when I ignore my hunches in these matters, I usually end up with something that I do not find entirely pleasing.

With this particular addition to my stash, I had no real idea of what I would do with it, but I had picked up a color I don’t usually use – yellow. That bright yellow skein, through whatever alchemy of mind and memory, made me think of Hudson’s Bay blankets. So I made sure to pick up the other colors necessary for that classic design and decided to create an homage.  I say that because I’m fairly sure there’s a copyright of some sort on using the term “Hudson’s Bay”…. what I wanted to make was something that would evoke those same feelings that the iconic design would do – it’s Canadian, retro, and instantly recognizable.

Step 2: Make sure it's a GOOD sale

Step 2: Make sure it’s a GOOD sale

So, I went home and had those skeins and had an idea, and was inspired. It was glorious, and I knew JUST how it would look and feel to work with it, and wear it. I had images of a whole series of pieces using this theme. It was going to be so great.

Then I went on holiday for three weeks.

Step… on in, the water is fine!

When we arrived in Belize, the palette was completely different. The seasons and plants around me in Canada had been preparing me slowly for the inevitable winter:  greys and browns and muted colours. Indirect sun, the somewhat mixed joys of bright red parkas and new mittens. That’s where I was in my head, and that’s how “Hudson’s Bay” instead of “Sunlight” came to my head when I saw yellow wool.

Belize knocked that right out of my head. All of a sudden it was hot pink bougainvillaea and cerulean sea. Hot blues and greens, bright pinks, reds and warm browns. Coconuts, mangrove deep-greens, and the candy colors of the houses on the street. I spent a lot of time taking photos of things not only to capture the moment, but also to capture the color combinations, the moods, and the surprising mixes of texture. (look for work soon, using this palette)

So. Once back home and happy from the holiday, but a little run down from being ill while away – Belizean germs are tenacious  – I returned to my planned homage to Hudson’s Bay and in a burst of energy (some of it, perhaps, drug-induced?) I warped the loom and set to work.

And here’s the thing. You can have all the inspiration in the world, and have terrific seawool yarn (a mix of merino and sea cell) in the right colors and at the right price. You can have time and space and desire. But unless all of it “works” in that indefinable way that makes something a successful design idea, you’re in trouble.

I warped the loom quickly and with less attention, perhaps, than usual. Hey, I’ve done this a million times….this is old hat, right?

Step 3: don't waste a bunch of time overthinking it. Just get rid of it and move on.

Step 3: Know when to stop. Don’t waste a bunch of time overthinking it. Just get rid of it and move on.

I chose the wrong reed and the warp (the vertical threads) just didn’t look right.

I didn’t think it through, and started weaving – hoping it would sort itself out.

I cut off the weft I’d woven in, twice. I tried different colors, different textures. Nothing looked right, somehow.

So, a third time I unwove (is that a word?), and with very little grace or hope of success I grabbed a giant ball of acrylic (ptui!) that I’d bought at a big box store a while ago. I don’t even know why I bought it – I don’t usually work with acrylic because I am a bit fibre snob and like to use natural fibers. I make a point of looking for locally sourced fibres and get a lot of pleasure out of them. I tend to sneer a bit at acrylic.

But who can resist a sale, right? (see Steps 1 & 2)

I wound some of the acrylic, and wove some in.

Step 4: Try something different once in a while

Step 4: Try something different once in a while

And it worked! It is lightweight drapes beautifully. I made it very wide and so one needs to make sure it will fold and drape without feeling too  inhibiting. it’s warm and drapey and I love this scarf. You will love this scarf. 12″ wide x 5.75 feet long.

Turns out that acrylic ain’t all that bad, especially when you mix it with other nice things and it’s the right weight/scale/texture for the piece. It will also keep the price of the scarf at a rational level.

Huh.

Step 5: finish it, and see what you've got.

Step 5: finish it, and see what you’ve got.

Warm, but lightweight. Drapey, iconic, and attractive

Warm, but lightweight. Drapey, iconic, and attractive

Because I was suffering from a Belize-related lack of focus, this particular scarf is only good for my neck. There are irregularities in the weave, and I had to repair some bits and while I cannot deny that it looks great, you kind of have to… squint, just a little in order to make it so.

However, now I have the code cracked. I love this scarf. If you want one, you can order it here or here 🙂

Zanshi, today’s inspiration

This is what is inspiring me today.

See the tiny knots? Such texture!

See the tiny knots? Such texture!

Zanshi is a Japanese word which means “vestige,” or “leftover”. Zanshi textiles were woven from the extra threads which remained after looming fixed pattern weavings. These limited quantities of leftover zanshi threads were unable to be utilized, because there were not enough of them to make another weaving of the same pattern. Thus, these vestige threads were used to weave wonderful one-of-a-kind mixed threads Japanese Zanshi textiles.

I got all of this from some random internetting… found this particular definition and photo here: https://www.kimonoboy.com/textiles/popup_folder2/zanshi-514.html.

It  made me think of how we can make “imperfections” either a problem, or part of the beauty, of a piece. I love the idea of the thrift involved in Zanshi, the time spent collecting when there is something to be collected. I like the quiet contemplative nature of knotting it all together, of saving the thrums and leftovers and un-knitted bits and pieces.

Weaving has always been for me a type of meditative practice. There is a kind of grace in the Zanshi – the process of collecting over time, before and after other projects, and then there is the knotting, the quiet piecing together from many into one, all of this before sitting down to weave them all together.

The fact that  you then  can make something beautiful and functional out of it… that is  a gift, isn’t it?