Life at my Kitchen Table

The biggest news I am compelled to share–a real book! Something I can hold in my hands!

What a thrill it was to find a package from Schiffer in the kitchen yesterday when I returned from a day out at the Wadsworth Atheneum! I thought the museum exhibit was exciting, but I had no idea what further excitement lay in store! The book is a pre-release copy. Only a few were shipped by air to Schiffer for promotional purposes. The rest of the books will arrive by ship whenever that is possible. No one can guess that anymore. The original release date was Sept. Then it got moved to early December. Now it will be sometime in the new year…with luck.

The book is bigger than I expected. I knew it was over 300 pages, with lots of photos, but I didn’t expect it to be this big.

The Schiffer team, headed by senior editor Sandra Korinchak, worked hard to get the colors as close as possible on the photos. I’m sure they were sick of my phone calls and worries, and they had to work with some considerably old slides that have changed color over the decades. Remember Kodochrome and ektochrome? Yep, those were the good old days of film.

I lost a lot of sleep over the images for the book. I am thrilled that they are quite good. The Schiffer art folks had a lot of work to do without ever getting to see the actual tapestries. There was a lot of sleuthing, and although I’m tempted to go on and on about that, for now I’ll spare you. Shortly after I took a quick look through the images, I weighed the book. I was just that enthralled with how heavy it feels. It’s 5 pounds.

It’s strange to be taking photos of the real book. It has only existed in my mind and then in pdfs from my editor. Now a real book is on my kitchen table, where so much of my life takes place. My son calls our dining table “Mom’s studio: the sequel.” A lot of straightening up goes on before we eat dinner here most nights. Now I’ve even placed a couple of small side tables near my chair so I can just move my stuff from the dining table to the little tables. This is what often happens. On this day I happened to be in an online bobbin lace class to study and sample making Ipswich lace, led by Karen Thompson. It was a bit difficult to move this when dinner was ready.

Most days for the past year+ the table has been cluttered with stuff pertaining to Archie’s book. I’m thrilled that those days are past. I got this pre-release copy almost two years to the day after Archie passed away. I could never have imagined how long a process this would be.

Those sweaters I mentioned in my last post have not been touched yet. The pattern for the autumn leaves in Rauma wool is definitely awol. What a shame. It’s going to take some effort to develop my own pattern based on what I’ve already knitted with no records! I did find the stitch pattern, so it could be worse. It’s only a bit of math. I just have to do it.

I should be talking about tapestry, shouldn’t I? I’m just still not ready. It’s like the feeling when you finish a good book or a good movie, and you just can’t start a new one right away. I need a bit of time to process that Archie’s book is a reality before I can focus on my own tapestries. I thought I’d dive right in, but that’s not how I feel right now.

Instead, I’m focused on knitted sweaters, and an unfinished basket, and bobbin lace. I’ve gone down a few deep rabbit holes. Today I saw this sweater on facebook–a sweater that depicts bobbin lace. It doesn’t get better than that!

The pattern is free, so if you’re a knitter go get it! Here is the lace that inspired the sweater (also from facebook).

And now that I’m getting quite off topic from the book, I’ll show you my lace from Karen Thompson’s Ipswich class. Ipswich is traditionally done with black silk — not my favorite look by a long shot. And it’s hard to see. But this class has been a good experience, learning about the first documented lace from the new United States, circa 1789, based on samples in the Library of Congress. Alexander Hamilton (the first Secretary of the Treasury of this fledgling country) kept records of the various manufactured items in the 13 new states, and his records, including samples of about 20+ laces made in Ispwich, Massachusetts, are in the Library of Congress. In spite of the current connotation of the word “manufacture,” remember these laces were made by hand, usually in the home of the lace maker.

Back on track–tomorrow will be the 2nd anniversary of Archie’s passing. I miss him on a daily basis, as you’d expect since I’ve spent so much time reading his words and looking at his tapestries. This year I’d like to think that there’s a little silver lining, that now there is a way for weavers to see so many of his works and his creative thought processes collected in one place. But I can’t predict the future. This is what I wanted for him, a way to connect with all the weavers he taught and befriended over the many decades of his career, and a way for those who never met him to get to know him. That’s my wish. I hope it comes true.

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Life after Archie’s Book

For those of you who got here early you may now see that I’ve changed the title. I thought better of my choice of words almost immediately! Archie Brennan and I started down a path more than a decade ago to create a book chronicling his fascinating life, and that path has reached its destination. Based on what little I knew about him in 2002, when I joined the Wednesday Group, I thought he had lived quite an exciting life. I saw him as someone who took chances, loved adventures. As he hand-wrote his memoirs and gave them to me to transcribe, I realized how limited my idea of adventure was. He led a most adventurous life!

A love of adventure and the unknown is probably a good ingredient for living an examined life. Examining life is a good ingredient for having an open mind while also developing strong opinions about what works in your own life. This is exactly how I view Archie. He was easy to talk to because he was genuinely interested in others, not just artists, not just tapestry weavers. He was fascinated to learn about whatever motivated another person to live the life they lived. Since he felt that his chosen profession was no different, and certianly no less important, than being a farmer or a mason or anyone else who worked with their hands, he was able to listen to others and know them on a level that most people just don’t ever reach.

My journey with Archie to produce his book is coming to an end. In terms of the actual, physical book, it’s done. It went to the printer in late August. The publisher expects it to be available in December. I don’t know what the future may hold. Of course I hope to talk about the book in any setting that might occur. There are over 300 images in the book and wonderful stories. I always knew that this book had to be an autobiography; no one could tell Archie’s story as well as he could. Along with being such a great visual artist that man could tell a good story. He was Scottish, after all.

Now my own future is wide open. I have neglected my own tapestry weaving, along with the fabric woven projects, spinning projects, and countless knitting ideas, braiding ideas and other handwork projects that have defined my adult life. While Archie’s book progressed and stalled over the years, I could not focus on my own work. Today I will sit at my spinning wheel with some natural black Shetland that I’ve wanted to spin toward a sweater that has lived in my mind for too many years.

There are three sweaters taking hold of my imagination, and memory. Two are about 10 years old and are neglected “works in progress.” I began both of them with the idea of celebrating my knitting jubilee. Now I’ve been knitting for another 10 years since then–60 years. It’s time to make those celebratory sweaters. They were featured here in my blog almost 10 years ago.

This is Alice Starmore’s Tudor Rose design. In my own project, I am just above the armholes.

This next sweater is the one that is calling to me to finish first. It’s based on a design by Ruth Sorensen, but I no longer know who might have tweaked the version I was knitting…maybe Ruth herself. It’s been 10 years, and the pattern is now gone from my Ravelry library and gone from my computer files. I’m a bit stumped at how that happened. The pattern is no longer available, so I can’t just buy it again. It’s a dilemma.

I bought Danish yarn called “Kauni Effekt” to use for this design. The brilliance of getting these amazing colors together is buying handpainted yarn and then using it as yarn A and yarn B. I just needed to make sure that each skein started in a different part of the color sequence. No need to change colors every two rows, as in a standard Fair Isle design. The yarn does all the work, and I just knit. I sure hope I can recover the pattern somewhere in my files. There is a slim chance that I printed it, but it is not with the sweater materials. I will have to excavate my knitting notebooks, and that is no small feat.

The third sweater is a new pattern from Sunday Knits called Tia Teva. I really splurged and bought the yarn for it as well. Go me! My sweater will be a medium and light grey/blue.

This is SO totally clever! Don’t you agree? Stripes that undulate to allow for stranded work insertions. Carol Sunday is so creative! I hope I can finish the other sweaters before I start this one.

Oddly, that brings me back to Archie. He had so many ideas in his head at all times, yet he never worked on multiple tapestries at once. He might be drawing sketches for several ideas he wanted to pursue, but he didn’t warp up a new tapestry until the current one had been cut off the loom. I need to do that. I really do. Thinking about that reminded me of a question someone once asked him after a presentation he’d given. The person asked what was the most difficult tapestry he had ever woven. He replied, “It’s always the one on the loom right now.”

I’m excited for this book to become a reality–at long last. I’m also excited to now have time for my own work, with Archie’s wise words scrolling through my head after years of reading and re-reading them, arranging them and rearranging them into chapters. I cannot count how many times I’ve read the manuscript, but his words have continued to remain as fresh as the first time I transcribed them. Now I am free to implement his wisdom into my own work.

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Still Playing with Paper

There is more paper yarn to choose from on Habu Textile’s site. I wanted to see what an indigo dyed paper yarn might inspire. With all the colors on the site, Takako Ueki, the owner, warns that the colors I might choose may not actually look like they do on my monitor. That’s a worry, but unavoidable for online purchases.

Another paper yarn on the site is called “Shigoki” (n-14 Shigoki paper) which comes in some interesting colors including a pale blue called ‘water.’ It is also 100% linen paper, and the put up is 1.7 oz, and the yardage is 285 yards. That seems too heavy for what I hope to do with it. It does not look any heavier in the photo from the website, but I have to trust the yardage.

In the long run I ordered two skeins of n-73 indigo linen paper. The color is “mizu.” I wonder what that means in Japanese. It is dyed with natural indigo, and the put-up is 476 yards for 1.7 oz skein. That’s twice as fine as the n-14, and the color is closer to the blue I envision…at least on my monitor! (Ha! I just googled ‘mizu,’ and it means ‘water.’)

I have to wonder why Shosenshi (n-60), which is 100% linen paper with the same yardage per ounce as Indigo Linen Paper (n-73), is less than half the price. Could it be the dyeing process? Shosenshi is $29.50 per 1.7 oz skein, and Indigo Linen Paper is $67.00 per 1.7 oz skein. My placemats will be very dear, indeed! I justified this by noting that my current blue linen placemats were made in the mid 1990s and still look new. I hope I get as many decades out of this set of placemats!

After quite a bit of thought, which mostly occurred in the wee hours when I can’t sleep, I am going to make the warp out of cottolin again, sett at 24 epi, just like my paper towels. I love the hand on those towels and how well they come out of both a machine wash and machine dry. They will be easy care. This time I will mix the natural colored cottolin with a fine white linen to give some energy to the warp color. The weft will be the paper. I want to make six placemats. If I have more diners at the table I will add in my aging blue linen placemats. I like the idea of a coordinated table more than a perfect match of place settings anyway.

Here are the materials I’ve gathered for this project. The blue is not as pale as it looks here–must be that dark blue background, but I couldn’t resist using an old sashiko embroidered runner that I made almost as long ago as my blue placemats. I have twisted a bit of the white and natural warp yarns together to give a sense of how the colors will blend in the warp.

And here is the draft. I did a bit of searching for a Greek ‘meander’ pattern, without much luck. And I tried designing my own, but found I needed more than 8 shafts, and I had uncomfortably long floats. When I get this excited to begin a project I am not one for sticking with the design process. I want a solution right now! In the long run, I’ve found something in Strickler (#365). The Greek key is on an angle because the structure is a twill. The pattern requires 16 treadles, which is not a problem since I’ll be using the Baby Wolf combby to weave. If I could have designed a Greek meander pattern that didn’t have such long floats, I would have been willing to put this project on my 16S AVL. But to find an 8S pattern with short floats is the better choice.

Here is my draft:

If you are tempted by this pattern and don’t have 16 treadles or a desire to figure out a skeleton tie-up, take a look at #367 which is quite similar and only requires 8 treadles.

I don’t know when I’ll make the warp. I am tentatively planning a week or two away at the beginning of next week. This week I am supposed to be putting final edits into a book I volunteered to produce years ago. It’s been a long project that is finally reaching its end. I need to discuss that in another post. Yet I’d love to have a new paper yarn project on the loom before I leave, waiting for me to begin weaving when I return. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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Weaving Paper! It’s fun!

Did you see Tom Knisely’s article about weaving with paper in the March/April 2021 issue of Handwoven? It certainly caught my attention, as I mentioned in the last post.

Yesterday I finished weaving my own version of paper towels, and I’m very happy with the outcome. In fact, I am smitten with the lovely paper yarn “Shosenshi” from Habu Textiles.

Here it is underway back in May or early June.

Here is the fabric coming off the loom, quite stiff. I love the crispness of the fabric.

The hems are woven in a fine white linen to minimize bulk in this area. I tried plain weave at the beginning of the warp for the first hem, and did not care for it, so I continued weaving the twill for the rest of the hems. You can see my cutting lines for separating the towels in this photo.

It took a leap of faith for me to weave a first attempt at paper yarn in a twill pattern when Tom had wisely tried plain weave for his towels. The 8S goose eye twill I chose has mostly 4-thread skips in the design with a couple of places that have 5-thread skips, and one place in the pattern where the skip is 7 threads. I just held my breath about that. The warp is cottolin from Camilla Valley, and I set it at 24 ends per inch. Those 7-thread skips are between 1/3″ and 1/4″ long. Once I was weaving I began to think that this would not be a problem. Whew!

I have had some distractions this summer (frankly, for years!) that keep me from the loom. Over time I’ve developed the habit of getting projects prepared to go so I can walk away from them for any amount of time. It seems to me that getting a project ready to go, whether weaving or any of the other textile projects I enjoy, is the more challenging part of ‘making a thing.’ If the project is ready to go, I can return to it when I have time and just knuckle down to the process of making.

But back to my paper towel project. I had to set it aside for about a month as I spent time editing the text of a book which will finally get published, and captioning over 300 images. There will be more info on that shortly. I had all of last week to get back to weaving for myself, and I was thrilled! Right as I turned on my ancient (10 years old!) laptop to sync with the combby on my Baby Wolf, I discovered a horrific situation. My computer was bulging like a balloon. Have you ever seen this? Now I wish I had thought to photograph it. The metal case of the laptop was completely distorted. It turns out that Apple used some batteries from 2008 to 2011 that begin to swell with gas over time. Since I had not used the loom in over a month, it had begun to swell quite dramatically, while I never even looked at it since I was busy with other things. The track pad was unusable since it was recessed by the swelling computer case. Apple said they could not fix this problem and offered to dispose of the laptop for me. I refrained from that because I thought I’d better wipe the computer before turning it over to anyone. Then my husband thought we should check with the local computer shop he uses for his PCs. And voila, only four days later, I have a new battery in my laptop, and the swelling is gone. I can’t believe that the computer case ‘deflated’ back to normal! And it synced with the combby the moment I reattached it. I often wonder about my decision to put this combby attachment on the Baby Wolf, but that’s a subject for another time.

I finished weaving the paper towels last night. It was late, but I had to serge the ends and get the fabric in the washing machine. And then, of course I had to wait up and put the fabric in the dryer. After a month’s hiatus from weaving, I didn’t want to wait even one more night to see the outcome of this project. It was 11pm when I took the fabric out of the dryer, and I was so happy with it. Tom Knisely says he washed his paper towels in hot water and then dried them in the dryer, so I did the same. He said the towels softened up dramatically, but somehow I thought he meant after many washings. So I was shocked and pleased to see how soft my fabric became after only the initial wash. Amazing.

I wish this photo conveyed the softness better. I wish you could touch them. All I can say is try it yourself. None of these photos quite shows the lovely spring green of the paper yarn.

I was so pleased with this fabric even as I was weaving, that I ordered another kind of paper yarn from Habu to make some new placemats. I am going to try a somewhat different paper yarn, n-73 indigo linen paper, in a lovely blue called kamenozoki, which should coordinate with my much older linen placemats for those times when I need to seat a small crowd. Remember those times? In the meantime I’ll have a new set to use for our daily meals.

Here is a recap of the paper towel project:

Warp: Camilla Valley cottolin in natural. Warp sett is 24 epi and 20″ wide= 480 warp ends x 4 yd length for two kitchen towels and some practice warp. The Goose Eye twill requires 46 ends per repeat , so I had 10 repeats with an extra 20 threads. I used the extra 10 threads at each end to have one floating selvedge thread, and 9 threads that I threaded in a straight twill.

Pattern: 8S Goose Eye twill:

Weft: Two hanks of “Shosenshi” linen paper yarn from Habu Textiles (item a-60 on the website) in color “Tea Green.”
Fine white linen singles from my stash for the hems.
I woven two inches of hem for each towel with the fine linen singles, and 27″ of twill with the paper weft for the body of the towels. On the loom my towels are 19″ wide by 27″ long, with additional 2″ of hem at each end.
The finished size after washing is 18″ wide by 24.5″ long. The shrinkage in length was more than I expected.

Give it a try in your own combination of yarns. The cottolin and fine linen singles were from my stash. See what you have on hand that will work for you. You will have fun, and you’ll have some luscious paper towels!

I rushed to publish this earlier today, and now I have hemmed the towels. Here they are–finished!

The color is not quite true on this close up image.

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The Thrill of the Finish!

There’s nothing like finishing a weaving project, from cutting it off the loom, to wet finishing, to seeing what the cloth truly becomes when it’s all done. There is a saying about handwoven cloth– it’s not finished until it’s wet finished!

I’ve had a lot going on over the past few months that prevented me from weaving this project on a regular basis. When that happens the long awaited finish is even sweeter. Here is Tori’s blanket.

Some of the details…
–I wanted bigger circles than was possible in the original draft from Handwoven, written by Susan Poague (that would be Handwoven, May/June 2019). That draft used 8 shafts in a structure called ‘turned taquete.’ I enlarged the circles from about 1″ in diameter on 8 shafts, to somewhat bigger than 2″ in diameter by expanding the pattern to 16 shafts. You can find the drawdown here.
–I wanted the blanket to be machine washable and dry-able, so that eliminated the possibility of using wool. Wool would have been my first choice, but I did not want to use super wash wool for a number of reasons. For one thing, I have not found a super wash wool fine enough for what I wanted to do with this project. I used 6/2 unmercerized cotton (Valley Cotton, from Webs) sett at 20 ends per inch. It washed and dried beautifully, and became quite soft to the touch. All good!
–I debated on size. Making it the size of her full bed would have been combersome, although doable. I opted for a large throw so she could use it in a number of ways. On the loom it was 45″ by 66″. After wet finishing it is now 40″ x 58″. I love the way it feels!

Circles are terrific fun! I hope you will check out Susan Poague’s article in the Handwoven issue above, or use the link to my draft for larger circles if you have 16 harnesses. I would still love to try this in wool…maybe 18/2 merino, in colors that would work in my den. I am dreaming of this as a throw for winter nights in front of the fire, in various autumn golds and ochres with a few circles of red and deep green.

Next up on my weaving list is Tom Knisely’s idea for “paper towels” from Handwoven, March/April 2021. The article is titled “Redefining the Paper Towel.” He used 8/2 cotton for the warp sett at 20 ends per inch. He used the 8/2 for most of the weft as well, with a few stripes of paper yarn at regular intervals. The paper yarn he used is “Shosenshi” from Habu Textiles. It is a 100% linen paper….fascinating. Tom used white. Here is the image from Habu’s website.

Since I prefer linen, I have made my warp in natural colored cottolin from Camilla Valley Farm. I am threading the warp in Goose Eye, and I will use a very fine white linen weft as tabby between my paper pattern weft. Habu carries Shosenshi in a lovely spring green which I couldn’t resist.

Tom played it safe weaving his towels in plain weave stripes, and I know I should follow his lead. I wonder if my Goose Eye floats will end up snagging and tearing…but I can’t resist the idea of concentric diamonds in paper, hopefully held well in place by fine linen. I’ll have 4-thread floats all over, with a few that are longer. At 24 epic, the 4-thread floats will only be between 1/8″ and 1/4″. Still, that could be troublesome for the Shosenshi. Here is my draft.

The warp is made and now wound on my smaller loom–the 8S Baby Wolf. This warp is 20″ wide and sett at 24 ends per inch. I am about 2/3’s done threading as I write this. I know this will be a fun project; I just hope that the paper towels will hold up to washing and drying and doing duty in the kitchen! I’ll do a sample at the start and cut it off to wash and use in the kitchen to test the fabric. Stay tuned, and if you also give this project a try, please let me know!

Did you notice that placemat in background of my photo of the yarns for the paper towels? That’s a very old project for placemats made in single ply blue linen with a bit of honeysuckle patterning at both ends in a fine white cotton. These placemats are about 30 years old now, and I only made four back then. I have recently realized that they are the only placemats I ever made in blue! I’m not sure how that happened since my everyday dishes are blue. I guess whenever we’ve had more than four people at the table I have used a tablecloth. Various other placemats I’ve made over the years coordinate with blue or go with my various holiday china patterns, but are not blue themselves. Now I am positively committed to having blue placemats on the new cherry table that Bob made. I want some of that beautiful figured cherry grain to show, no matter how many people we have at the table.

That means I’ve been looking at new ideas for placemats. I would love to weave these again, as they were an enjoyable project all those years ago. I know I would not get the same yarn, and I’m not sure how I feel about trying to find something to coordinate with this linen. It was linen from Finland, possibly Vaxbo, but I didn’t keep a record. I believe it was an 8/1 linen that I used for both warp and tabby weft. I have some thinking to do about this project, but one of the patterns that is quite tempting is from Webs. It’s called “Summer Elegance Runner” that is an 8-shaft overshot in multiple colors sett at 24 ends per inch. It uses 10/2 cotton in various spring colors. I bought the drawdown a while back, and this week I set aside some linen yarns from my stash to consider. It’s a hard decision because I still love my blue honeysuckle mats. I’m sure there will be more ‘thinking out loud’ on this here in the coming weeks.

My possible yarn choices…. the middle color is really a pale green. My main color will be blue.


Got any advice or preferences? Please get in touch!

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The Circle Craze

Did it start in spring of 2019, with the May/June issue of “Handwoven” magazine? That was the first time I saw Susan Poague’s tempting pattern for woven circles. It only took 8 harnesses to make a row of circles offset by the next row of circles. I was crazy for them, and it seemed that everyone else was too! These dishtowels were showing up in guild show and tells and on social media everywhere.

There they are, in the lower left corner of the cover. Around that time I also found them on Etsy, woven by the author of the article herself. I bought them to use onboard Pandora because the colors were perfect for that setting. Here they are on the table of our outdoor dining room.

My friend Marilyn weaves things so quickly she’s done with a project before I finish reading the source where she got the idea. That was the case with her version of dishtowels with circles. She had a whole set coming off her loom while I was still gazing at the photo on the cover.

Susan Poague’s towels on the cover of “Handwoven” and her placemats that were for sale on Etsy are a structure called taquete that she has turned, so that the colors for all those circles are in the warp, and the weaving is done with just the one background color.

When I saw this project for turned taquete I immediately thought of my grandchildren and a blanket. Wouldn’t those circles look terrific bigger and in lots of bright colors? Oh, yeah! It’s hard to make things for three grandchildren who all live in the same family. I generally make just one and hope they’ll share until I get to the next project. Our oldest is four years old, and she deserves the next handmade thing, especially since her first blanket in knitted lace accidentally turned into a doll’s blanket (about the size of a placemat) when it got thrown in the dryer after washing. This blanket will be easy care.

Before I began to work on designing a draft for the larger circles, I thought I’d better learn a bit about taquete. I just happened to have a book on weft-faced pattern weaves in my library, and it just happens to be the best resource on this subject.

The author describes Taquete as a weft-faced compound tabby weave. I often find descriptions and definitions of weave structures hard to understand before I’ve actually made a warp and woven the structure. That was certainly the case with taquete. One surprose for me was that although every other shed in the treadling looked like plain weave, raising all odd shafts, then a pattern shed, then raising all odd shafts, those odd/even sheds were not the plain weave. Plain weave occurred when I raised shafts 1-8 and then shafts 9-16. It was a head-scratcher.

When I looked at a number of drawdowns for this structure I saw parallel threadings. In fact, when I wrote the draft for my circles, I used parallel threadings with one set of circles based on shafts 1 – 8, and the other based on shafts 9 – 16. Hoskins explains the structure further here. Examples of taquete textiles were found in Coptic Egypt from the 2nd century BCE, and in other sites in the Near East. Eva Stossel has a good description of the structure here, as well as photos of her designs. It’s a treat to see what she’s done with this weave structure, for which she credits Bonnie Inouye, and her scarves are far more adventurous than my circles!

So, circles. I wanted them to be bigger than what I saw people weaving for their kitchen linens. I had two options for bigger circles: heavier materials and more shafts. I decided to take advantage of both. Of course I should have sampled, but I don’t have heavy cotton threads in my stash. I had to order a ton of colors for this project, so I jumped in and figured I’d do some sampling at the beginning of the blanket warp. I ordered eight colors of 6/2 cotton, seven bright colors for the circles and a medium grey for the background. I planned to set the warp at 20 ends per inch. The 6/2 cotton (from WEBs) comes on giant cones that weigh more than a pound each, so I am well stocked in bright colors. Next came resizing the circles on 16 shafts. That took some trial and error, and I am so thankful I could do this with software on my computer rather graph paper. I use Fiberworks PCW. The pattern published in “Handwoven” uses 10/2 cotton set at 24 ends per inch. Each circles takes 24 threads, so the resulting circles are about 1″ in diameter. Each of my circles takes 50 threads, and at 20 ends per inch, my circles are 2 1/2″ in diameter. I have 19 circles going across the warp for a total of 950 threads. I had a plan.

Here is the draft I settled on after some trial and error.

The last thread on the warp drawdown is a background color (grey in my design), and the first thread of this drawdown is also a grey on shaft 9. Do not repeat that thread! I didn’t know how to remove it from the document! Mea Culpa!

When I checked my photos I discovered that I warped the loom back in January. It sure took me a long time to get this project going.

Then came threading the pattern through the heddles on the 16 shafts during some snowy days in February.

Next came sleying the 950 threads through the reed, two threads per dent in the 10 dent reed.

And on the very last days of February I started weaving. Voila! Circles.

I am quite happy with this project. Today is March 1, the snow has begun to melt, there is a full moon at night, and I am on cloud 9. I may be the last to arrive at the circle party, but I am a happy to be here. I am a happy weaver.

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And the Books Go on, and so does Weaving

It’s been a long New England winter, and all the new books of the past year are keeping me in good company. Have you read Threads of Life: a History of the World through the Eye of a Needle? The author, Clare Hunter, wrote with such personal passion about her various choice of examples. She has led many community projects in textiles that demonstrate how people from many cultures, male and female, young and old, have a visceral, often therapeutic, reaction to working with needle and thread. The book would be greatly enhanced with photos, but not having them forced me to search online for some of the projects the author covers. I savored the book and hated to finish it.

Now I am reading another book on a similar subject, that is handled so differently. It’s The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World, by Virginia Postrel. It’s also a compelling read, from the point of view of a journalist. The stories of ancient textiles: making string and cord, the dawn of weaving, are subjects that I have loved since early adulthood. There is reasonable evidence that spinning thread and cord and rope is what ‘drove’ humans to invent the first drive band, which means that what the first wheel was used to accomplish. Thread!

It’s fairly likely that I won’t get through all the books I bought in 2020 until sometime after 2021!

I have spent some time over the past few weeks setting up my new-to-me AVL. A couple of years ago I sold my previous 16S AVL mechanical dobby, an FDL (folding dobby loom) with a 40″ weaving width, along with my 8S Toika (countermarche) that had a 60″ weaving width. I wanted to replace these two loom with one computer driven loom with a 60″ weaving width. All of this selling and buying went far more easily than I would ever have imagined. It all transpired in the course of about 3 months. Bob says I’m quite the pessimist, but I see my attitude as positive in a different way. I make peace with what I imagine might be the ‘worst case scenario.’ If I can do that, I can stay the course for however long something takes to achieve. And this whole process of getting rid of two looms to replace with one went surprisingly well.

My current loom has a fascinating history that I knew nothing about when I first pursued getting this loom. The loom does not have have an AVL plaque or a serial number, which means it is a very early model, perhaps from the late 1970s. Marion Scannell, from Waterford, Connecticut was the first owner. She had a weaving shop called Waterford Weavers, and many weavers in the state considered her a mentor. She was generous with both her knowledge and weaving supplies. She wove all the fabrics in her home, from draperies to tablecloths to upholstery fabrics. Boy, I wish I had known her and visited her house! At that point in my life I was living and weaving in New Jersey, so close but so far. She used Fiberworks to run the dobby head. She was instrumental in getting many of the weaving guild members excited about computer driven weaving. After Marion’s death this loom was given to the Blue Slope Museum in Franklin, CT. One of my friends in the guild used to volunteer at this museum and at one point noticed a shuttle with the “Waterford Weavers” label on it. When she inquired she learned that Marion’s daughter had donated a number of weaving tools as well as the loom to the museum. The loom had been disassembled and stored in a barn on the museum’s property. The compudobby box was being stored in the house. The museum personnel wanted to out-place the loom since it was far too modern for the museum’s time period. That’s when the loom came to studio of my friend Janney who just passed it on to me. Janney rebuilt it and tuned it up. She assured me it worked well even after the many decades of its life. She was right, and I am so thrilled to be weaving on it now.

These days my creative time is a balancing act. I have my fingers in a lot of pots. I’ve had to set aside a number of projects in order to get this loom up and running, over a year after I bought it. I’ll spare you the details of why that happened, but many of you know how much of each year I spend living on a boat without access to my looms! I designed the pattern that I’ve put on this AVL, and it has some glitches. Perhaps that was not the best choice for a first project to get acquainted with the loom, but my time at home for weaving is always shorter than I’d like so I thought I’d better jump into the deep end. I hope I’ll be posting photos of my turned taquete circles on 16 shafts soon. It will become a blanket for my toddler age granddaughter. Meanwhile, Mila the husky looks rather posh striking a pose at the loom.

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A few of my favorite things!…Books!

During the year just past, 2020, I bought a record number of reference books on weaving, tapestry, and textiles in general. I started reading one, then another arrived in the mail so I started that one too. This went on until I had about six books partially read, and I realized that I’m not mentally agile enough to read that many books at once!

Threads of Life: A History of the World through the Eye of a Needle is not the first book that arrived in my mailbox, but now it is the one that I have focused on finishing ahead of the others. When I decided to set the others aside and read this one, I became enthralled. I can hardly put it down. The author covers some important historical events where needlework factored heavily, such as the Norman Conquest and its recorded depiction in the well known Bayeux Tapestry. Another chapter covers Mary, Queen of Scots, and her many embroideries used as pleas to those who might give her aid. But what makes this book a page turner for me are the everyday stories of women and men who find solace or find their voice through working with a needle and thread.

The chapter titles are compelling. “Unknown” is about the women (nuns) who worked on the Bayeux Tapestry and whose identities we’ll never know. Other chapters, with titles like “Frailty,” “Captivity,” “Loss,” describe the many ways that needle and thread have assuaged human suffering or given voice to those who felt unseen and unheard. You can imagine what some of these circumstances might be before even reading the book. Jews in camps embroidering messages and emotions on fabric as small and delicate as handkerchiefs, men in POW camps doing the same. Larger works, like banners, express political ideas and personal causes. In 1985, a massive banner of appliques and embroidered quilt blocks, was displayed in Washington, DC, to draw attention to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It was meant to wrap around the Pentagon.

“The Ribbon didn’t just wrap around the Pentagon. It spread across the Arlington Memorial Bridge, around the Lincoln Memorial, down the Mall, around the Capitol, back up the Mall, back to the Lincoln Memorial and the Pentagon.. It was 15 miles long.”

These are just a few of the many stories that the author addresses with such sympathy and understanding. She herself has worked with people who have PTSD or who are imprisoned. She helps both men and women find a non-verbal way to express their emotions through applique, embroidery, and other needle and thread techniques.

The author is well traveled, and she discusses the textile traditions of a number of places throughout the world. In one chapter she describes the traditions of many cultures that save bits of fabric from the possessions of forebears or dear ones, that are then repurposed to make new garments or accessories that are precious to the one who gathered them. I could absolutely feel the truth of this in my own life, in the textiles I have saved from both my grandmothers. In another chapter she describes what clothing is chosen in various cultures to send their loved ones into the next life. Some cultures keep a bit of fabric or clothing to cherish the memory of the departed one, while other cultures hang the clothing of the dead near the grave, out in the elements, so that the clothes deteriorate similarly to the buried loved one.

In my own experience of gathered fabrics, I have almost all of my paternal grandmother’s quilts, and they are precious to me. As a child I have a sense of lying on at least two of the quilts I now have, poring over the many fabrics used in the patchwork. Even as a young child I wondered where all the many, many fabrics came from that contributed to these lively quilts. One quilt is a cacophony of pale floral calicos that were cut into elongated diamonds and sewn together. When I was quite a bit older I realized that this quilt’s pattern is well known, a six-pointed star. It’s a riot of diamonds, mostly in pastel colors that whisper to be noticed. I think I gazed at these fabrics for many hours when she put me down for a nap during the afternoons I stayed with her. This is my favorite quilt. It predates memory. At some point when I was still a young child my parents took the quilt. The last I remember of it before I took it into my own possession was that my parents kept it in the back of our family station wagon for use at the beach, where we lived on Long Island. Even as a child I knew that this was a travesty for such a wonderful piece of family history–all those small elongated calico fabrics that encapsulated an era, probably the 1930s and 40s, in the southern U.S. where my grandmother lived. I knew I had to save this piece of family history and take better care of it than my parents were doing. I still have it. I don’t have it hidden away in archival tissue, but I do treat it gently.

I have a set napkins and a couple of placemats that were most likely woven in the 1940s. There is a small tag on one of the pieces that identifies the piece as being woven in Berea, Kentucky. Although there are a couple of pieces that coordinate with the set of eight napkins, they may not have come from the same weaver or even the same craft school in Berea. They are also precious to me, although I don’t know who wove these. Several years ago I contacted Berea College hoping to learn some of the names of the weavers from those long ago decades, but no one wrote back to me. The lower two mats in the photo are woven in Dukagang, a woven structure that I am particularly fond of weaving myself. The upper most fabric is Monk’s Belt, another favorite! I always use these during the Christmas holidays.

Melody, who is spending the fall and winter with us along with our younger son, expressed an interest in weaving, and I was happy to oblige. This is a photo of her weaving two kitchen towels at the end of a long warp.

Next we may weave some linen bread bags together for our ongoing sourdough bread baking. This is the project I have in mind, from Handwoven Magazine.

Naturally I hope all my handwoven items become heirlooms to my family, although I know this is highly unlikely! With the optimism of a typical grandmother, I hope one–or both!–of my granddaughters will be drawn to my textiles as much as I was to my grandmother’s. Time will tell.

It comes as no surprise that I highly recommend Clare Hunter’s book, Threads of Life!

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Silver Linings

Silver linings have been on my mind for some months now. In spite of the fact that I do not consider myself an overly optimistic person (I live with one, though!), I have found that the small mercies that occur quite often have been a significant factor in my outlook over the past year. I began to think of silver linings more and more as the new year approached. We’ve all got a long way to go before the restrictions we now live with will loosen, so it’s important that we stay the coarse however we can. For me, that will involve gratitude for silver linings.

I’m hesitant to list my silver linings. That doesn’t seem to be the point. The point is noticing them, being grateful for them, listing them privately to myself. Perhaps they have made the difference between madness and sanity.

During a year when I wasn’t certain I’d ever see my home again (perhaps a bit dramatic but definitely a worry), and during this time when my family grieves the loss of Bob’s mother in the last month of the year, there have been other moments that take some of the sting out of the hard things. Life has always been this way, but this year I’ve taken more notice of it.

After Bob’s mother passed he began to search through boxes and boxes of old photos. Together we’ve taken a wonderful trip down memory lane.

Our younger son moved back to the East Coast to live with us in September, after he had spent a long spring and summer isolating due to the pandemic, and being mostly confined indoors in the mildest part of the country due to the wildfires spreading through California. He came to us with his partner Melody and their Siberian husky, Mila. This is the first time in my adult life that here has been another female in the house. What a marvelous addition Melody is! She expressed interest in learning to weave, and since I had a very long warp on my Baby Wolf for making kitchen towels in an Ms & Ws threading from Strickler, I thought she might enjoy trying her hand weaving the last few yards of that warp. She made two towels: the first in plain weave and the second in a straight twill. Next time she’ll make the warp and dress the loom. She would like to weave a shawl while she is here.

I am nearing the end of winding a warp for what I hope will be a fun blanket for Tori, granddaughter #1. It’s a variation on Susan Poague’s draft for circles in turned taquete. I’ve expanded the draft to 16 shafts (Susan’s design is 8 shafts.), and I’ve chosen a heavier cotton yarn for this project to make it a better blanket weight. Or so I hope! My warp and weft is 6/2 unmercerized cotton from WEBs. I’m so excited to get this project going. If it works as I hope, I will post the draft here.

This is Tori, who will get this blanket. Her family is in our small bubble, but we don’t see them too often since they live so far away. They have a lake house that is halfway between their house and ours, so we’ve met there a couple of times. When we saw them last week we celebrated Tori’s birthday, Christmas, and my birthday. It was festive! In this photo she is playing with her first installment of her monthly activity box from Kiwi.

How has the year started for you? Now, more than ever, we need to stay connected and get excited and inspired by the new work that’s out in the textile world. This morning a friend sent a link to this article from Architectural Digest about a new tapestry by Helena Hernmarck. I hope you enjoy it! The photo alone should do that! I hope it gets your juices flowing. I’ve bought almost a dozen new books this year, and I’m so thankful for each of them. In the next post I think I’ll write a short review of each of them. Let’s keep each other engaged!

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Sheep and linen

A sheep farmer in Wiltshire left a message for me here, and when I contacted her privately, she gave me a bit more info about the sheep she raises. I hope we can continue our correspondence because I would love to know more specifics about her own sheep and the situation in the UK in general. It made my day be able to contact her!

The sheep on Margaret’s farm are related to the Wiltshire Horn breed which she told me are natural shedders. Her flock have been crossed now to shed more so that they don’t need to be sheared.

This is such a revelation to me. The earliest sheep were shedders. Women learned to spin wool by collecting the bits of discarded wool that might cling to things where the sheep had grazed. Fast forward many, many millennia to a time still in the distant past, where humans have been breeding sheep NOT to shed, to have many different kinds of fibers to be used by humans for many different products. Now look where we’ve gone–back to wanting sheep that lose their fleeces naturally. Margaret said that shearing her flock would cost three times what the fleece would bring at market. She also said that the cross she raises has coarse fibers which work well in the climate of Wiltshire. That surprised me. I can’t imagine a climate much worse than the remote islands off the coast of Scotland, where those sheep (Shetland and Ronaldsay come to mind) have wonderfully soft fibers for cold weather. There’s a lot to this that I clearly don’t understand. Margaret also told me that this fall has been exceptionally wet in her part of the world–cold and wet. Her sheep need their coarse coats in order to stay dry and warm. I am fascinated by this. If I learn more I’ll share it.

Meanwhile, if you want to read a bit about this history of Wiltshire Horn sheep, you can look here. I didn’t see anything about shearing vs. shedding there, but I intend to keep searching. I found that I could buy a little Wiltshire Horn stuffed sheep here. Tempting.

Meanwhile, my weaving feels like it is moving at a snail’s pace. On the bright side, just a few minutes ago I finally cut off 6 yards of cotton and linen blend fabric that is going to become six towels. The woven structure is in Carol Strickler’s A Weaver’s Book of Eight-Shaft Patterns. It’s #314. I used Jane Stafford’s cotton boucle for the warp and much of the weft. By the time I was truly bored with weaving, and my color options of the cotton boucle were dwindling, I switched to weaving with Gist’s cotton/linen called “Duet.” Maybe I was just so bored with the boucle, but the Duet cotton/linen seems a better look to me. I will keep that towel for myself. I don’t really know why I wove all of these! I don’t know anyone who has a kitchen that calls for out the colors I chose.

I was deeply in need of weaving when I returned home from a long winter away, locked down for months in foreign countries and feeling very much an outsider–an outsider not wanted due to the fear of pandemic we might bring to the small islands we visit each year on our sailboat. When I got home I couldn’t wait to just mindlessly sit at my small loom and weave. I wove off the napkin warp that did not get finished before leaving on the long voyage last November. Then I wove two linen warps dyed with indigo for waffle weave face cloths. Then came the warp for nine (yikes! nine!) kitchen towels with JST cotton boucle. Who will want these somewhat odd colored towels? I’ll keep two, but that leaves another four! Ah well, I needed to make them for sanity, for therapy. Now I can move on.

Next on my list is a variation of the popular turned taquete circles that Sue Poague developed and showcased in Handwoven in one of the issues from 2019. I actually bought a set of placemats from her because I was so intrigued with this weave structure and yet would not be home to weave any for myself. They cheered me up every night at dinner on our boat while we were in far away places. Back home I wanted to plan a blanket for my older granddaughter in this structure, but I wanted the circles to be bigger. I have a larger loom with 16 shafts, so I started trying to expand the pattern to more harnesses. I think I have it sorted and hope to start winding the warp soon. I’ll share the pattern when I can determine that it weaves well. I’ve bought a large selection of 6/2 cotton in eight colors so the threads will be thicker for blanket weight. I’m excited to get started! I have spent more time than I care to admit on color arrangement. I have seven colors for the circles, and the background warp and all the weft will be a medium grey. I need 19 color stripes across my warp and I’m having a devil of time arranging them in what I hope will be a pleasing order. Ugh! Isn’t it the smallest details that cause the greatest delays? I’ve taken multiple photos on my phone of color arrangements, and then I’ve edited those photos to be black and white so I can assess the values of the circles going across the warp. I’m not happy yet.

Looks like summer, right? I now use these when eat outside at home. Well, I hope my blanket will look as pretty as these placemats. I’d better get to making that warp!

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