Post #3159: Tie-ups and tackling the big loom

Last week was one of weaving and getting ready for weekend guests. Twenty-three for a sit-down dinner on Friday, and a couple of friends from the city until Sunday. You can see up above what I’ve been working on – it’s a sample of an overshot pattern from Handwoven magazine. I’ve now worked the pattern in three different fibres for the weft – and I have enough silver and copper to make a small zip bag as well. That’s three pieces of cloth for my sample book, and enough fabric to make a small thing!

This is overshot, a weave structure I have long been fascinated with but thought would be a bit complicated to weave as it requires two shuttles. Since the whole purpose of sampling is to learn new things, I decided to start with something that really caught my eye and have really felt rewarded by my choice. While it has taken me a bit to really get in a rhythm, I am finally there and confident that if I did warp the loom to make a scarf, I’d get into the flow and be able to get it done without getting bogged down. While it’s tempting to do that, I’m going to be moving onto my next sample shortly in preparation for making a wool blanket.

The friend that was visiting this weekend brought his new partner along – a ceramicist with an interest in knitting and fibre arts. As I was showing her the studio I uncovered the big loom (which sadly, I most often use to hang other projects on). After they left I fixed some cordage on the back I’d been meaning to replace and then left it uncovered. I’ve got a warp that I chained ages ago and I’m going to put it on now to practice warping that loom since it’s been ages – and then once I’ve woven that off, I plan to weave a 36-inch wide blanket out of cotton weft and wool warp.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the big loom because on the one hand I sense its tremendous potential, while on the other it doesn’t have a working brake (I’m using weights instead) and I find it a bit daunting to approach due to its size. As with the rest of my sampling practice, I am going to approach this loom in a few different ways and discover how to make it work best for me. This will involve re-doing the treadle tie-up.

And speaking of treadle tie-ups, I just redid the tie-up on the Julia loom and employed the Vavstauga method and wow – that is a game-changer. Note: I did not buy their kit only because shipping to Canada the last time I checked was a tad expensive – but I would highly recommend this tie-up on any countermarch that can be fitted for it.

I’m back to being weaving obsessed – though I still have many spring sewing plans I plan to take to the machine in the next few weeks which is making me feel pressed for time to work on all the projects!

Post #3158: Making samples

(A photo of my latest make – a new shift dress for spring).

I’ve always been averse to making samples on the loom. So much work to thread, wind-up and tie on the whole thing without having “something” to show for it at the end. But I’ve realized this week that if I want to improve both my technique and my understanding of fabric, I should *only* be weaving samples. Although I learned the basics of weaving three years ago, I have simply not woven enough to become proficient at it – and I believe part of the reason for that is my tendency for project-based thinking as opposed to a mindful approach to developing technique.

Sewing lends itself to project-based thinking and ever since I started to sew I’ve had an eye towards “useful” objects – quilts, household items, bags and clothing. There is nothing more satisfying to me than finishing a dress or pair of pants on the machine and then immediately putting them on or into my drawer for circulation. The very first garment I ever made (a woven skirt with an elastic waist) I wore to work the very next day! While that hasn’t been true for every garment I’ve made – some never do get worn because of mistakes in fitting or fabric choice – my skills have improved with each make, and it’s unusual now to end up with something I can’t wear.

But with weaving it’s a whole different story. While it’s true that I will use even the most error-ridden piece of cloth that I weave – simply warping project after project isn’t helping me improve my understanding of my loom or my fabric production. There’s a few reasons for this I think:

  • putting long warps on (for multiple tea towels or a long scarf for example) means that it takes forever to weave them off
  • because I make errors repeatedly in weaving, I lose interest in my long warps and then they sit for months at a time before I finish or take them off the loom
  • this means that I’m only getting 3 or 4 warps on my loom in a year, which doesn’t help me perfect the warping process
  • limited warps don’t allow for a diversity of projects to help build my skill and knowledge repertoire

When I leaf through weaving magazines or books, I see so many things that I want to make, but rather than sampling a pattern, colour choice, or treadle pattern to see how it works – I have a tendency to put the whole project on at once whether or not I have the skill level to execute the finished look. This has lead to disappointment on a number of fronts.

The currently weaving project on my loom is underway (about halfway woven) and I believe I’ll have it off the loom by early next week. It’s a plainweave rug (of dubious quality since I haven’t woven in months) which I put it on in order to get weaving again. Once that comes off I’m going to set up all 8 shafts on my loom again and go through my books and magazines and pick one sample at a time and get it on and off the loom. I have lots of material to sample with – and I’ve recently figured out a better tie up method for my Julia countermarch – so really, no excuses.

I was listening to an interview with Tien Chu the other day in which she expressed the need to reject the idea that some people are born with creative eye or creative talent. Instead, she says, it’s all about practice. We practice combining colours and we improve our ability to understand how it works. We practice how to weave and we make more consistent cloth. We practice weave patterns and textures and we become more able to design our own projects.

In my younger life (pre-thirty) I believed that I did not have visual creative talents – when really, I did not have exposure to the tools and techniques that would interest me enough to develop them further. Looking back now, I feel so lucky to have stumbled on a book of Celtic cross stitch designs in my mid-twenties, a door that opened unexpectedly and has lead me twenty years later to a textile studio in which to practice, practice, practice.

So practice I will – by sampling. Let’s see if that helps improve things by this time next year!

Post #3157: Loom talk

I started warping my loom for the first time in ages yesterday. Problem is, I decided to use a warping technique I’m not overly familiar with and I made a mistake right out of the gate. Fortunately, my warp chains are salvageable and I’m able to warp front to back which is the way I know best. Though I keep wanting to nail back to front, no matter which way I’ve tried, it doesn’t come easily to me. I think I might just be one of those weavers with a very strong preference.

I’m just hoping that while dealing with my mistake I didn’t get my warp chains too out of order. At least it’s a rug warp, and not delicate if and when I have to work through a tangle.

I haven’t put anything on the loom in several months because it’s seemed like so much work, and honestly, weaving is something I’m not very good at. While my sewing has improved to the degree where I’m happy with my skill level, the same is not true with weaving. I have a throwing technique that abrades my warps and breaks them, and my selvedges are wobbly. And while I know that these things are just a matter of practice, getting a warp on only to have finished pieces come out so-so is a bit of a downer.

So I’ve got to adjust my expectations, step back to see that sewing is something I’ve done for sixteen years now, and weaving not so much.

My plan is to get this warp on by the weekend so I can start weaving again. I’m also inclined to get a warp on my big loom soon since I have only warped it once since restoring it. I’m a bit afraid of it to be honest, and I have thoughts about getting rid of it in favour of an easier-to-warp jack loom. I think I need to work with it more before making that decision.

Post #3156: Things keep happening

You might have missed this on Friday, but I sent out March’s Comfort for the Apocalypse mailing titled Shelter in Place.

If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to do so and to subscribe if you like what you read. The monthly mailing is my attempt at writing longer reads on a theme – quite a different offering than this blog.

The month of March, particularly the latter half was a bit of a rush. I was in Vancouver for a week, then in rehearsals and the studio with Brian (and many others) for five days, I got sick, and then I had a union-related trip to Masset (in Haida Gwaii). I’ve been home for a few days now, with visits from friends, and I am so glad to have landed for a bit! Hearing the sea lions and watching the sun rise from my home office are grounding forces, and what connects me to a feeling of place in this turning of the season.

Through all of this I have somehow managed to keep up daily yoga, and meditation, and to some degree a regular creative practice. At least enough of a creative practice that I turned out an essay this month. My plan for April is lots of textile studio time. I’ve got plans to get one of the looms warped with a simple project, plus lots of sewing and textile collage ideas in mind.

Also – I have a large deck on my studio building that goes unused (except for the occasional time that Brian and I sleep on it). I’m planning to build a couple of work benches that will fit under the eaves and house an outdoor dye studio where I can experiment with plant-based dyeing of fabric and yarn. My goal is to have enough length so that I can paint warps if so desired, but also have a workspace for multiple people to come together for a workshop or learning event. To this end I’m going to build two tables with wheels that are 8 x 3 feet. These will store nicely under the roof overhang for the winter months, but can be pulled out and placed either end to end or side by side to create a long table or a square. Having not done much dyeing, I’m not sure how far down that path I’ll go – but work benches are always useful and all other supplies (buckets, pots, utensils, a coleman stove) are being sourced from the local recycling centre. It’s not a big investment except for in the time it will take to build the benches (a couple of days).

I’m home for all of the month of April (with a couple day trips to Nanaimo/Victoria) – so hopeful I can make some studio headway for the first time in awhile!

Post #3155: Keeping the doors open

This has been a bit of a week, but here I am and it’s Friday and I’m leaving the city in a few hours to go back to Gabriola Island where I will work on a recording project with my husband and others for the next few days. You know, in that other life where I am also a musician.

Yesterday was my union AGM, where I was re-elected president of my union local, and also facilitated the election of a full slate of other union officers. I have a love-hate relationship with this role, but at the moment there aren’t a lot of takers for such roles. We ran elections for seven positions yesterday and every one of them was acclaimed (no one ran against any of the candidates who put their names forward). Such is true of all voluntary organizations these days.

I woke up to hear the body count in the mosque killings in New Zealand this morning and I am really heavy about that at the moment. Such a loss of life at the hands of white-supremacy is shocking, not to mention the despicable nature of shooting people in prayer. Compounding that is what it exposes in a country generally regarded as moderate (I speak as a Canadian here). That is, though we have a surface culture that is polite, educated, and gun-controlling, there are other identities and behaviours seeping around the edges. This is not unlike attacks we’ve seen in Canada – mosque shootings, incel attacks on pedestrians, and the like. To those of us raised in the mores of a liberal and educated population, it feels fundamentally as though it comes from elsewhere. But when we reckon with it, of course we know that it doesn’t.

Working in my union capacity, I encounter people all the time who are struggling. Perhaps they have a pay issue, or a sick kid, are going through a divorce, or have a boss who is harassing them. All of these things arrive at my desk because ultimately they all impact how people generally show up in the world, and that includes work. Almost always I can do a little thing, even if its just lending an ear or providing a bit of advocacy support. Sometimes I can do a bigger thing like save someone’s job. But what I have mostly come to understand in this role is that *everyone* needs help at some point. The people I represent are unionized, have health benefits, and decent-paying jobs – we are privileged in all of those senses – and yet still we struggle, because everyone does. Whenever I get a really sad or difficult case I wonder, “what would happen to this person if they had no advocate, no good job, no extended health benefits to get them through this?” Because that’s most people. Most people don’t have these things and they suffer just the same hurts, but also bear the burden of poverty, social marginalization, exclusion from dignified work and so on.

The level of social alienation that must exist out there is staggering, and its precisely there that hateful and dangerous ideologies take root. Of course, not always, and not even mostly – but when alienation blossoms, it can bear a poisonous fruit. In some way it’s no wonder that these angry white shooters so often attack places of social cohesion – religious centres, schools, etc. While at first glance these attacks are motivated by anti-Muslim feeling (and I don’t want to downplay the racial dimension of this attack), but I wonder how much these are really sprung from a deep lack of connection to anyone else – a sickness born out of profound isolation fueled by Internet rage.

I wish I could end this post with some kind of an answer, a suggestion of where we look to fix this broken thing. Of course it’s not one thing, and it’s not that simple. It’s heavy right now. It’s intense. It’s a world we don’t quite understand anymore. All I can do is keep opening my door to people – my union door, my house door, my creative door, my religious door – and invite them in. There isn’t much I can do about these young men raised on porn and video games, growing up into adults who squirrel themselves away in their bedroom caves only to emerge in self-pity infused rampages. I suppose the rest of us have to become more numerous, more welcoming, and more open – if only so that we can be a majority in loving this world. Easier said than done.

All my love to those suffering this tragedy. I stand with Muslim people everywhere in opposition to Islamophobia and hatred.

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