Hello, 2021!

2020 brought many things. I actually achieved a sort of calm that I haven’t had in years – something about being forced to be home and having no social distractions made it oddly pleasant. But creatively? It was not great. I had some sort of covid-ennui, not just lack of energy but a lack of focus and desire. It just…wasn’t there. My craft suffered, but other things blossomed. It wasn’t all bad, as awful as it was.

2021 will be, I think, a better year. I’m not sure about it all in the larger sense, but on a personal level I have high hopes. 2020 made me weird: tentative, apathetic, non-productive. It wasn’t a way I like to live my life and thank goodness I’m getting out of my funk.

The past several months have been a time of transition, for Berwick Weaving Co. In mid-2019 I built the studio and got everything set up and I wove in it, but not necessarily with a lot of joy. The building was a fine thing, the fibre was lovely, and the view from my loom was stunning. The actual loom, though, was starting to get to me. When you work at a machine for hours on end, it has to fit. It has to invite efficient and ergonomic movement and processes. Mine did not do this for me. I’d end the day with an aching back, with a lingering irritation over tasks I’d had to do, with growing frustration because getting my tool ready to work on was not a pleasant experience.

Weaving can look – to the outsider – like a tragically tedious affair. Setting up a loom can take a long while, measuring the warp to put on the loom is exacting work. There are hundreds of heddles to thread, tension issues to contend with, the sometimes unwelcome task of a reed to sley… all before you actually start to weave. I’ve always enjoyed the entire process – it’s part of the entire range of activities that make up the art/craft. But I’d started to avoid it. I was feeling almost guilty when I bypassed my Mira ll loom and went to the rigid heddle, or to my Leclerc Compact. I told myself it was just because I wanted to have the relatively calm experience of the rigid heddle, or I needed 8 shafts to do something. But really, it was because I was avoiding what I started to call the “Big Loom”.

A loom is an inanimate object, but as one spends more time with it – with every part of it, checking, adjusting, cleaning, sitting at, crawling under – it takes on a personality. And this particular Big Loom, it seems, was just not my friend. Everything I made on it was starting to feel forced, or not-as-good as I wanted. I was starting to weave my frustration with my Big Loom into my work, and it was starting to show. The joy with which I embarked each day of weaving just wasn’t there. Weird timing, really, because I’d just spent a not inconsiderable sum on a studio to put all my gear in! I thought at first it was the studio – maybe I’d gotten too big for my britches, or I’d built a folly that would become a loom graveyard. Maybe, I thought, I should never weave again.

It was, I tell you, a bit of a crisis. What I finally realized, though, was that it wasn’t me, it wasn’t the studio, it was that my tool did not suit me. Sometimes, you can blame the tool. My loom was too tall for me (I’m approximately 5-foot-nothing). Every single thing I had to do on it and with it took some sort of accommodation for my (lack of) height. The bench was too tall; I had to stretch uncomfortably to treadle, or stand up while weaving (not a graceful position for me). I started to get cramps in my hands when threading heddles. I would sigh with surprised contentment when I sat at another loom. I visited a friend and saw his loom and was surprised at just how…right it looked, at how low and perfect the bench was.

It got me thinking.

I spent hours of my covid-gifted time online, figuring out what kind, how many shafts, etc. It was heady days, really. I talked to people online in facebook weaving groups, I read articles and pored over photos and technical details. I wanted to buy the One Loom To Rule Them All. I wanted something I could sit at happily for hours, something that will accommodate my needs for the next couple of decades, something that would not make me think quietly somewhere down the road that I’d made a mistake. I settled on a Leclerc Nilus (not Nilus ll, which is taller and made for people who don’t need step stools on a regular basis). I got 8 shafts so I have many options for design, and I got a jack loom because I have found that I prefer them. It’s 60 inches wide, and has a fly shuttle, because I like fly shuttles and want the width (coverlets anyone?). I have to thank Nina at Camilla Valley Farm for her insightful and cheerful service. She took care of it all, and Leclerc did a bang up job making this beautiful thing for me. It even came earlier than expected!

It was delivered by a quizzical (and thankfully, strong) delivery guy in 14 heavy boxes, each carefully (over-enthusiastically?) packed and sealed, shrink wrapped and stapled. It took 2 full van loads to the dump to get rid of that packing material, and many days to assemble. Leclerc thoughtfully included a USB stick with instructions – um, I can’t remember the last time I used a usb stick. I don’t even know if I own tech that could read it. There were also written instructions, with charmingly and sometimes unclear hand-drawn pictures. Most of the instructions were in English, but some sentences were in French. But I learned that if you go slowly, and trust the process, it will get done.

In the middle of this I got a new puppy. New puppies are not good to have around when one is emptying 14 large boxes and assembling a loom, just let me say that. Cute though, I’ll give him that.

And you know what? It was terrific. Like, really really terrific. And while I do love new things, it wasn’t terrific because of some consumerist impulse. It was terrific because it made me fall in love with what I do, again. The sometimes arduous task of building that thing was fun. It made me learn things. I know every inch of that loom, screwed in every fastener, took some of it apart and put it back the right way, and my hands touched every single last part of it. I dropped 500 inserted eye heddles on the floor and picked every single one up, oriented it correctly, and placed them on the harness.

Terrific, I tell ya.

Perhaps it’s necessary, this process. My old loom, “Big Loom”, I bought from a very nice woman in Cape Breton. It was disassembled when I picked it up, and the size came as a shock when I finally got it put together. Novelty kept me going with it for a while, and then pig-headedness kept me with it for longer. Guilt followed that, then literally months of avoidance. Then I sold it to a very happy woman who got a great deal, and I cleared out the studio for a fresh start.

Why was putting this new loom together different than Big Loom’s birth after I got it? I think it’s because this time I was aware of what I was getting, had thought about why I was getting it, and I took the time and energy to picture what I needed in a tool and wanted in an…instrument. Big Loom was acquired with much rejoicing, but it was uninformed and I was just so darn happy to have a loom that I didn’t think about the niceties.

New Loom, now, she is quite literally made for me. There’ll be a steep-ish learning curve with some of it (sectional warping is not what I learned when I started weaving, so I’m in the process of unlearning a lot of processes and replacing them with new ones), but it feels SO good. My brain is engaged, my hands are itchy to weave on it, and the studio smells of new wood, wool, and expectation.

It has me back in the studio on a daily basis. I’m excited again about making things. I’m excited about colour and fibre and texture. I’m thinking with my hands again. So, yeah, I got a new loom and it’s very cool, but the BIG news is that thinking long and hard about what I needed; planning and executing that plan; and making friends with New Loom kick-started something in my brain that I needed. Something that was long dormant because I was using the wrong tools and let the tool define my work, somehow.

A classic tail wagging the dog, I guess? Whatever it is, I urge you to take something time to think about how you do things. What tools you use, and why. This has been transformative for me, really.

The art of seeing

Some days, I walk into the workroom and pause. I look around, and I see the tools that I use for weaving, the glorious fibres and colours, the objects that are both functional and beautiful, and I am grateful.

Other days, I take it all for granted – I forget that this workroom (though small and cluttered) is a haven. I forget that all of this work has stretched my abilities, that practice and time invested have made me able to create things that are beautiful, complex, comforting.

Today, I saw it all, and was glad. The studio build continues, and some days have more dump trucks and equipment in the driveway than I ever thought there’d be, but here in my little workroom is a lifetime of colour, texture, and fibre.

The sun is out today, but the sky looks threatening. It’s cold, and the wind is whistling around the house. Later today, in my snug workroom, I’ll start planning my next weave and the next after that.

It’s a good life.

Studio build update:

It’s starting to shape itself into a studio-sized form. Since we moved here in 2003, there was a garden shed, just in front of the new construction site. When it was removed, we realized just how much of a difference it made – they took down the fence, too, and all of a sudden we remembered the size and shape of the yard that was hidden behind that little shed, and bisected by picket fence.

A giant hole. Footings and foundation walls framed and poured.

I’ve begun to think about the inside of that studio too, trying to figure out where all of the stuff will go. It’s not a horrible task to have, and I’ve enjoyed having to think about my practice this way – where do I like the light while I weave? How to arrange fibre (type, colour, type and colour, size?), what makes more sense – a table or a long counter?

Arts & crafts project – a scale drawing with construction paper to-scale looms etc.

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I’ve been spending some time lately trying to make my work processes more efficient. It’s really bearing fruit, too.

Today I warped my loom (meaning I got all the fibre on the beam and rolled up). It can be tricky sometimes – if you are, like I was today, using delicate fibre, or if you are trying to keep the tension  regular throughout and the dog is barking, something snags, the phone rings… or you all of a sudden find that you really need three hands….

I’ve been dressing my looms for years now, but it’s still tricky to me, every time. Sometimes my husband helps, sometimes I just do it myself and muddle through. Weavers are a clever bunch – we use weights, water bottles, hang weights from strings. We use trapezes, friends, dowels, etc. We’re always looking for an easier way to wind on.

Today, though?

I used this lovely tool made by my talented friend Lee Yorke, who made it after  seeing  other tensioning devices online. It’s custom fit to my loom, and even has a spot for me to hang a roll of paper that will magically roll between the layers of warp. It’s quite something.

Here it is, in action. It seriously hastened the process, and was a pleasure to use. I just had to share because I didn’t swear once during the entire process. A miracle!  (Please note, the noise is from traffic outside my window, not the tensioner.)

This warp, by the way, will be jewel-toned mohair shawls, eventually.

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.

 

 

Spring!

I’ve been weaving with a purpose for the past little while. I don’t do a lot of shows, but there’s one here in Berwick on 08 April (this Saturday), and it was so much fun to try to work up some spring-like weaving. I’ve got some “seasonless” shawls – silk and mohair, cotton, merino. I’ve also made something new to me – a few “stroller blankets” – the perfect size for a stroller (hence the name) and machine washable materials.

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The information: the “Swing into Spring” Craft Show is Saturday 08 April, and runs from 10-4 at the Berwick Legion (232 Main Street).  Admission is free. There will be a canteen that will provide lunch and various treats. There will also be a “Kiddie Korner” so the kids can be entertained while you look at 40 tables of local craft and art.  There is an ATM on site (and I take credit cards at my table). Here’s the link to the event on Facebook, so you can see more information about other artisans who will be there. Did I mention 40 tables?

There will also be a 50/50 draw, so you may end up with more than you came with!

As I write this, Spring has overnight come to the Valley. It’s sunny, the sky is blue. There’s been a little rain (it is April, after all). There are crocuses! This is the perfect time to get out of your late-winter fog and come see some colour, and to buy local.

Here’s a bit of a slideshow of what I’ll have available on my table tomorrow. Remember, though, that I do a lot of commission work, and so am happy to discuss with you making just the right thing.

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Looking forward to seeing you there.

January Blues (& Greens, Reds, etc.)

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It may be dreary outside, but these are not.

January is a funny time of year – it’s usually a bit dreary, and we begin to long for Spring, but we know there’s still some winter to slog through. Sometimes there are, say, world events that get us a bit down. We will look away from those things for a moment, and think about ways to cheer ourselves up, right?

To counteract the doldrums, I’ve been weaving with more colour lately, moving slightly out of my usual palette, and it’s been a brilliant move for my own mood. Just handling these lovely fibres makes me happy.

So. If your neck is cold, or you want to warm up a loved one, here’s what I’ve got in inventory. Of course, feel free to contact me if you would like me to make something different up for you to your specifications.

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**SOLD**  Sea and Sky, with some bottle green beach glass thrown in. Wide and slinky scarf, 12.5” x 80” all in a 70/30 mix of super wash merino and tencel. It’s really beautiful, $140

 

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**SOLD**One of my favourites. A large scarf of “peacock colors” – teal, purple, green. Who can resist? Chunky, nubby blue-faced leicester wool, with merino, silk, and bamboo warp. 13” x 68” $100

 

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Stole, in pink/orange/red with some chartreuse thrown in. Handspun weft with multicoloured 8/2 cotton warp. It’s lightweight and gorgeous. 26” x 70” $175

 

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There’s a special buzz that happens when you mix blue with rust/red. I love this mix – cotton and merino warp with a blue faced leicester/merino weft. 8” x 84” nice to wrap around several times. $100

 

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Ravenclaw House, anyone? Made in the Hogwarts’ Ravenclaw colors of blue and bronze, this is for those in your life who are known for their wit, learning, and wisdom. Smaller than my usual, it’s still a good size at 5.5” x 60” and made with a mix of cotton and super wash merino.  $50

Tracking texture

I am always delighted by the alchemy of colours. A pretty multicoloured sock yarn, married to some gorgeous tourmaline- and beet-coloured blue faced leicester (all by Fleece Artist), and you’ve got yourself something quite lovely that you couldn’t really anticipate. Those colours just somehow make something entirely different in the end.

On top of that, with this particular piece, there is an unintended patterning of textures. Can you see it, there in the bottom right-hand picture?  Compare that to the picture, directly above it, of the piece still on the loom.  The finished piece is thick and rustic, and there’s tracking on a large scale.

Tracking is a mysterious event caused by the random (un)twisting of the wool one uses, once the material is wet-finished. I haven’t been able to find an official definition of it, because it’s an elusive effect – one cannot anticipate or plan it. It has something to do with the twist put into the yarn by the spinner, with humidity, with the amount of space you have between rows…there are a lot of variables, and like I said, none of them are reproducible.  In this case I also used a weft that was thick-and-thin, which made some really interesting window-pane type patterns while I was weaving (which are, oddly, pretty much lost because of how the fibre fulled with washing).

Tracking is not always prized by weavers, or by those who buy their wares. Sometimes one wants a perfectly smooth piece of cloth, or you have an ocd-ish inability to live with the imperfections of hand-made textiles and want to press the tracking out (you can’t, btw).  I am of the pro-tracking school – I love what it does, and how it makes something that cannot be reproducible. Embrace it. It’s a unique and completely original thing, never to be seen again.

Tracking is weaving’s snowflake.

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I made this stole on a very simple loom called a “rigid heddle”, and using what is called plain weave, which is a very simple and (I think) under-appreciated  method of weaving. It is a simple over-under, over-under. It is absolutely the most primal of weaving drafts, and the one that I think I may love the most. It allows the texture, colours, and fibre to shine; it is what I always imagined Gandalf’s gorgeous grey cloak to be made with, and Dumbledore’s, Kvothe’s, and William of Baskerville’s….

oldtobygandalf3In fact, you can see it in Gandalf’s cloak, here. There are what look to be diagonal patterns in the fabric, all of which are the delightful collateral damage of the wet finishing process once you take something off the loom.

There are always opportunities to make complicated and beautiful patterns using more complicated drafts, more complicated threading, more finicky techniques. But when looking at this, I want to celebrate the fabulous textiles that we can create on simple rigid heddle looms, with plain weave.

Next time you see fabric – at home, in a store, at a holiday craft fair – take a look at it. Touch it and rub it between your fingers. Look at it, really look and think about how it was made, and by whom. Think about what it’s made from, and in some lucky cases you’ll see tracking, and think about how the fibre was spun and twisted and handled, and made-with.

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Interplay

It’s the beginning of October. The leaves are starting to turn, and my view is full of greens, orange, brown, and red. I don’t want to work, but to play. I’m counteracting the autumn colors with this:

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Two kinds of gorgeous purple merino from Mineville Wool, one more blue, the other with some pink and magenta mixed in. Then some brilliant shots of thick-and-thin turquoise, emerald, sapphire….

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I started to warp this up, and realize I have no idea what this particular piece of fabric will be. I think that I’m going to stay simple with this, just to let those delicious colors speak for themselves. I’ll use my rigid heddle loom and craft a stole, with a thin and simple purple weft – about 14 inches wide, and 6 and a half feet long. I might bead it, I might not. I’m happy to entertain suggestions.

This is one of my favourite parts of weaving – the  interplay of texture, colour, and function. Having a plan is always nice, but for the moment, I’m going to just see what feels right and we’ll see what we end up with. Whatever it is, you can’t really go wrong with those luminous colors, and the fibre is lovely and bouncy and soft.

Whatever you’re doing, remember to play once in a while, eh?

 

Woolgathering

IMG_1291I know I’m probably not the first fibre artist blogger to use the term. I know it’s a bit…obvious, but it’s also exactly what I’ve been doing.

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In the time since my last post I attended the Expo, went to Belgium, Scotland, and Ireland, redesigned my studio, had a lovely bunch of visitors,  and got a (very time-consuming) puppy. It has turned into a bit of an extended hiatus for Berwick Weaving Co., but that’s the beauty of working at your own pace, by your own rules, right?

With the beginning of August, though,  work will soon begin again. I feel a strong urge to get my hands in the wool again, to design and work with colors, to have those stretches of real peace when working with the rhythm of the loom. There’s a quickening, when I think of the work I’m going to really get my hands into this Fall.

All of that reverie, that woolgathering, is where creativity comes from. Without it, I’d be a machine just cranking out woven goods.

Here then, is a gallery of those things that have provoked my dreamy imaginings for the past few months.  Everywhere, there’s a feeling or a colour, something to translate into woven work.

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Lady Weavers

I read an article the other day, about 14 “women artists” (is that like “lady doctor”?) who changed the way we look at design. Regardless of the title, you should read it. Besides being an  great starting point for further research, I just love the portraits of these women in their studios and workrooms, creating.

Like this one, of Lenore Tawney in her NY studio, 1958:o-TRAWNEY-900

I also have a bit of a crush on the work of Dorothy Liebes.

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Much of her work is simple and colourful, but the more you look at it you see just how  surprising it is.  She’s synonymous with mid-century modern  and industrial design, and worked with many of the greats of that era (most notably Frank Lloyd Wright).

Go forth and research – the history of women artists and textiles is long, and full of ingenuity, beauty, and skill.

"Color and personality are closely related, as I see it. I find myself subconsciously thinking of one person as “blue,” another “green,” etc.” -- Dorothy Liebes

“Color and personality are closely related, as I see it. I find myself subconsciously thinking of one person as “blue,” another “green,” etc.” — Dorothy Liebes