Work in Challenging Conditions

We are having a rip-snorting winter season in the Caribbean. I would prefer a gentle season, but there is no bargaining with Mother Nature. Actually, I know this weather is not her fault. It’s humanity’s fault, so I am partly to blame. I won’t go into the weather here, but you can see some pretty frightening images and videos on my husband’s recent post on SailPandora. We moved to the mooring field in Les Saintes one day before this storm hit, and it was a good choice for staying safe.

Not many days have been calm enough for weaving onboard, but I am trying. I brought so many projects onboard, and I feel compelled to make progress and even finish a few of them. If I finish two tapestries I won’t have to cart the looms home with me when I fly home in April. That’s a pretty strong reason to get them done!

I am trying my hand at wedge weave, and I started this project back in July under the tutelage of Connie Lippert at the NEWS conference in Worcester, Massachusetts. For some reason my brain gets confused on which direction the wedges travel and when to continue on the diagonal or move across the warp to create a horizontal section. I may have unwoven almost as much as I’ve woven, and I don’t seem any closer to making sense of the angles. Old age? I hope not!

During the July class I added the little gold rectangle woven in Gobelins style. While onboard I wanted to add a more complex bit of Gobelins style, so I wove the square that has a couple of shapes inside it.

Here is the one glorious day when I was able to weave in the fresh air in Pandora’s cockpit.

I have consulted Connie a couple of times along the way recently. Being outside the US makes me feel a bit disconnected which can also make me wonder if I’ve taken a detour away from where I need to go to acquire some skills at wedge weave. I’ve had an impulse to add a circle to the wedge weave. I pondered this, wondering if I’d have to weave an easier shape, like a square, in order to put the circle inside it. But that is not what I envisioned. I wanted a circle with the wedges abutting the edges of the circle. Connie thought I should give it a try.

I now have my circle!…but, my wedges are going in opposite directions. I’m not sure what will happen when the wedges meet above the circle. These wedges are confusing me!

In other news I’ve made some wonderful textile purchases. Bob and I took a day trip with friends while in Dominica, to visit the private lands owned by the Kalinago nation. They are not the original inhabitants of Dominica, but they certainly predate the European settlers. The European explorers named these people the Caribe. Naturally, they prefer the name they call themselves, Kalinago. Bob and I have visited here in past years. I’m intrigued by their lifestyle which makes such good use of plant life for food, remedies, and building materials. They are well known for their baskets, and this is my third time to collect more of their beautiful baskets, which are made from a reed like plant. They condition the reeds in different ways to give color the material. To make black they bury the reeds in a pit where the minerals in the soil darkens the reed. Our friend Bill got this photo of Bob and me trying to decide what to take with us.

Here we are sitting in the shade of the beautiful community where the Kalinago live. Oops! Actually, this is another day we spent together in Deshaies, Guadeloupe! We are with Bill and Maureen from Kalunamoo.

And since I’m adding photos from other days, here is one of my favorites with a number of our sailing friends who gathered for dinner that night.

On several visits to Dominica I’ve had my photo taken in front of a vendor’s stall called “Brenda’s Craft Shop.” This year I got meet Brenda! I bought a finely crocheted wrap skirt to give as a present. I can’t show you because it’s to be a surprise for a dear friend.

I tried my hand at an unfinished embroidery project I brought with me this year. On some days I simply could not line up the needle with the place I needed to insert it because of the rolling waves coming into our anchorage. It was daunting, and I often felt I might become crosss-eyed, but now I am happy to report that this project is finished! At home I hope to try my hand at framing an embroidery myself. This embroidery design is from an English company called Melbury Hill. They have some coordinating designs that go with these bluebells, but for now I need to stick to weaving those two tapestries.

As I write this we are on a mooring in the small archipelago of islands at the bottom of Guadeloupe. The main island is called Terre de Haute, and it has a charming village that entices many French visitors who arrive multiple times a day by ferry from Guadeloupe. There are some wonderful shops and many restaurants.

I must be getting tougher, or perhaps just more determined (desperate?) as I age. I am working on days I could never have worked in previous years. It’s good, and bad, in equal measures. I hope I will be taking a home a number of finished items in April.

In the Depths of Winter

Recently one of my oldest friends starting seeing a life coach. In one of the sessions the coach asked if she’d rather work or go on vacation. My friend answered that she’d rather work! She is a sculptor and painter. When I gave this a mere moment of thought, I realized I would answer the same. So, here I am in the depths of winter, living on a boat while visiting numerous Caribbean islands, and what I want to do everyday is work!

I have more projects onboard than I can possibly finish in the 3+ months I’ll be down here, but each year when I promise myself I’ll only bring what I can actually accomplish, I break that promise. This year is no exception. Somehow I want to finish one tapestry and start and finish a second one, quite small, but still. I brought 8 oz of merino/silk to spin (so far the only finished project!); three sweaters, two to continue and one to make from start to finish (half done with that one); two embroideries, and a basket to start (and finish, of course). I couldn’t complete these projects at home in three months, even if I worked 12 hours a day! But it’s hard to choose what to bring. And don’t you know, even with all I brought, I pine for the things I didn’t bring!

One day recently, when I was recuperating from the seasick meds I take, I lay on one of our settees watching a couple of hours of youtube videos on various techniques in bobbin lace. I know I cannot do bobbin lace on this boat–but that doesn’t mean I can’t wish I had a pillow here to try.

This year, since we have starlink to stay in contact, I have also started a tapestry study group with six of my students from previous live classes. Setting up the scene for doing these zoom meetings is a little more challenging on a boat than at it is at home.

It’s a feat of Rube Goldberg-ness. I have my computer on our dining table, sitting on both a cutting board and a box in order to get it at the right height to see more than the top of my head. My tapestry in progress, which has some bamboo skewers inserted in an empty space in order do demonstrations of techniques, if needed, is sitting on a table top easel on top of an ottoman. In this photo I haven’t yet set up the cable to my mobile phone on a reticulating arm that faces the tapestry as a 2nd camera for when I might need to do demos. Bob had a big hand in gathering all these random props to get things just the way I needed.

Tomorrow is our second session. I am now in a less protected anchorage, and we are rolling sideways quite dramatically. I will try to set up in the cockpit so I don’t get seasick down below. Meanwhile I am a little worried that the students may not feel good themselves watching the horizon roll side to side behind me. Fingers crossed….

Spinning onboard is the easiest activity. I can look out at the horizon and keep myself oriented. I’m using an EEW Nano 2 from Dreaming Robots. It’s hard to believe that something so tiny and lightweight could work so well, and it doesn’t slide around as I draft out the fibers.

I did a poor job winding on my first bobbin. I forgot that I need move the hooks often when I’m spinning without a Woolee Winder which does the winding automatically. My next three bobbins got a lot better!

And those three sweaters onboard… I’d like to finish one of them! The two that were in progress when I put the materials onboard are a design by Martin Storey, which is a summer loose wrap type sweater made with two yarns held together–one linen and one cotton–called “Skylark.”

The other is a Kate Davies design called “Auchnaha,” also a loose wrap type sweater.

It would be wonderful to finish one of these to wear in spring when I return home to New England. On the other hand, it would also be great to wear this vest which I started onboard with my advent yarn from Kate Davies. Can you see the faint ‘shadow’ work in this? This is the left front/back, so I’m half finished with the vest, which is closer to completion than the other two sweaters. The right side of this vest has entirely different colors in it. What you see on the left side of this photo is not the armhole. It’s the neck opening with the collar already knitted into it. It’s a clever design, inspired by a design from one of the most clever knitters–Vivan Hoxbro.

Recently I returned to embroidery, which I haven’t touched in years. When conditions are calm I can do close work. This is a kit from Melbury Hill in the UK. Years ago when I bought this kit I could have chosen any of their designs, which are all Arts and Crafts inspired. I guess I settled on bluebells because I got to see a ‘bluebell wood’ the last time I visited England to see my friend Lesley. A truly amazing sight! I may finish the flowers today. Then I’ll have another completed project under my belt.

As I write this Bob is ashore checking Pandora in to Dominica. We spent almost a week in Deshaies, Guadeloupe, after about 3 weeks in Antigua, in English Harbour, Falmouth, and Jolly Harbour. I miss the calm harbors of Antigua. No wonder the English were so successful there. Calm harbors with great defenses against attackers. I’ve been onboard exactly a month today.

I have done a few things in the category of sightseeing, but since this is our 7th winter down here, I don’t feel compelled to revisit everything. We see rainbows multiple times a day, and Bob records all of them with his camera. We spent a delightful day at the botanical gardens in Deshaies, Guadeloupe. This year I only took photos of birds and fish. I took the bird photos for my friend who has had a Nandico parrot for more than 30 years. If we rent a car while here in Dominica, we will visit the Kalinago community, and I will enjoy seeing their stunning baskets. Hopefully I’ll bring a few home to give to my basket making friends. There is a lot to do here, in the depths of winter, but I’d always rather be making something with my hands most days. I’d rather work!

Janus

Ready or not, it’s 2024. I romped through the fall like a woman with her hair on fire, and I did manage to complete the loom woven projects I was determined to finish. I never managed to touch a tapestry loom. I’m not one who likes to look back and list all the things I didn’t accomplish, but every year I work hard not to do that. Here are some images of what I did finish! And I am celebrating!

For most of the fall I was in a class with Fran Curran to design a project entirely in linen. While thinking about napkins or curtains, or even just kitchen towels I remembered that I’ve wanted to weave some bread bags for a couple of years. Here was the opportunity, which I wrote about in my last post!

I love using these for my sourdough bread loaves.

Since I wove my project at home rather than at the Weaving Center where Fran’s class took place, I finished before the class was half done. So I started another linen project, which is also in my last post. This is a wonderful design called “Meta Weave” by Lisa Hill, which you can purchase her Etsy site. I don’t know any weavers who don’t love a design that looks like weaving within weaving! Her instructions are for kitchen towels, but I decided to make 6 napkins in sets of two colors each. I used blue that you can see above, before switching to red, then green, and I managed to get a 7th napkin in yellow. I also found that I preferred the underside of the design.

Five yards and seven napkins!

Okay! Enough of that. It’s been a long time since I’ve woven a project so quickly. It was amazing to zip through this project, especially after the drawn out experience of weaving the paper placemats that required dyeing twice and unweaving two placemats after they were cut from the loom in order to get back some of the paper weft in order to dye it! That was almost the limit of my patience, but not the limit of my stubbornness, which may actually know no limits!

Then, in mid-November, a good friend gave me a table loom dressed with a sakiori project, also known as ‘rag’ weave. She gave me the loom because she thought I might be able to shoe-horn it onto Pandora. It’s a special loom. It belonged to the oldest current member (96!) of our state guild, whose father made several of these looms for her mother. Sue, our member, had dressed this particular loom with a loosely sleyed cotton warp which she intended to weave with 1/2″ strips of quilting cotton. The loom came with a large stash of cut cotton strips. I didn’t know how long the warp was, but I didn’t want to just cut it off. In fact, I didn’t want to lose all those cotton strips she had cut either. So I felt incredible time pressure to weave it off. And it was enjoyable, especially after I learned the interesting quirks of this little loom. When the levers are up the shafts are at rest. When I depressed the levers the shafts raised. It’s the opposite of any table loom I’ve ever used, and it took me some time to get used to that. In the long run the warp was enough for 3 runners, each about 20″ long by 10″ wide.

I gave away two of the runners, one to the woman who passed the loom to me, and the other to a friend whom I learned had helped Sue dress the loom and cut all the fabric strips. Sometimes things work out just as they should. I have my small runner aboard Pandora now. And how serendipitous it is that the color of the weft cotton strips goes quite well with our onboard decor. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Then, lo and behold, I had the intense desire to weave another sakiori design with my own fabric. Now it was truly approaching time to gather our family for Christmas and get packed to depart. I found some wonderful Christmas-y fabric at a fabric thrift shop while traveling with a friend to see an exhibition in Vermont (Salley Mavor). I wasn’t sure it would be enough, and fate led me to find it on Etsy. Also, it was a stroke of luck that my husband offered to cut the strips! Three yards of 1/2″ strips was no easy feat.

I loved every minute of the weaving. It flew by like skating on smooth ice.

It also worked well with a few of my Christmas runners. Win! Win!

We had a simple Christmas with our younger son and a local family and some of their adult children. Holidays have certainly morphed in new directions since our kids have grown and grandchildren have joined the family, sadly not nearby. It was suddenly time to take down our few Christmas decorations and get packed for the flight to Antigua where Pandora was waiting. That deadline threw me into thinking about what I’d accomplished in three months of weaving, and a temptation to look at the things I didn’t accomplish.

That’s when I thought of Janus and the new year. He is the Roman god of beginnings, hence his placement as the first month of the year. He is depicted as two-headed, each of his two faces looking the opposite direction. This is my Achilles heel (sorry for analogy, but it fits so well). I want to take stock and see my accomplishments measure up to my aspirations. But since they never do….what weaver ever finishes all the projects she plans?….it’s not necessarily healthy to go down this path.

My younger son uses an app called “Notion” in his start up business. I am now trying to learn it because I think it will change my attitude about taking stock. It’s an app for tracking projects and goals, mostly for businesses, but I think it could help me realize that I get a great deal done every year. I’m struggling with the app a bit, but in the long run I think it’s going to be a positive thing– a wonderful way of keeping track of all my aspirations, my progresses, and my accomplishments. Every year there are projects I lose track of, and can’t find, in my over-stuffed work space. This app will remind me of things I started and eventually forgot. If I can just learn the nuances of this application I think I will be thankful to use it. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, it’s the new year, I am now onboard living a very different kind of lifestyle, with scenes like these…

This is the giant mango tree in English Harbour, where people usually meet because it’s such an iconic place to gather.

I have started two knitting projects. The first is a shawl, which typical of me, has already been set aside due to more tempting projects! The yarn is what makes this project a zinger. It is handpainted with long runs of the background color and short spurts of the contrasting colors. The pattern calls for knitting the background color in stockinette, then when you see the contrasting colors approaching the needles, you make a little motif by putting five yarn overs on the next three stitches. On the next row you let the yarn overs drop and take the working yarn to wrap those long stitches, creating a little ‘star’ or ‘butterfly.’ I decided to make an asymmetrical shawl shape with a small Shetland lace border called “iron brand” on one side to continue the asymmetrical effect. I was thoroughly enjoying it until bigger thing stole my attention!

The project that took me away from this shawl was an advent calendar of yarn from Kate Davies Designs in Scotland. She has a yarn called “Milarrochy” that is a single ply, 70% wool, 30% mohair blend. I have used it to make her “Con Alma” vest a couple of years ago. The mohair blooms nicely when wet finished. Well, imagine my excitement when she announced that she’d made up boxes that held 24 small balls of “Milarocchy” for an advent calendar! I could not resist. So fun. The box arrived in early November, and it was hard to wait until December 1, but I did it. Here is a photo of the most exciting day for me. On the last day, the little bundle also held a card with a link to an e-book full of patterns for using this yarn.

Drumroll! I love that last color, a perfect Christmas red.

After a good deal of thought, and a fair amount of arranging the yarns into colorways I might knit, I decided to make a vest using Vivian Hoxbro’s ideas for shadow knitting. I am enjoying the process.

I was quite challenged at first because the only needle I had in the appropriate size was only 24″ long. My idea was to knit sideways, a left side front and back, then a right side front and back which would give me vertical stripes with shadows. That’s why I have the yarns gathered in two sections. The right and left sides of the vest will not match. What a struggle to knit that long run of stitches on a 24″ needle!

I was thrilled to discover not just one but two (!) #3 US circular needles that are 40″ long that I’d already stashed on Pandora earlier in the fall. The knitting is so much easier now. Can you see the shadow effect moving diagonally across the knitting? I am almost done with first left side front/back and am looking forward to starting the 2nd colorway for the right side of the vest.

So, here we all are at the open gate of the new year. Let’s all concentrate on looking forward, shall we? Not only about ourselves and our work, but also everything, from family, to community, to global issues. Let’s make this a banner year in as many ways as possible. That’s my wish for all of us.

Can I Please Stop the Clock?

Today is December 6, and my last post was written on October 5, which is far too long to be out of touch on a blog. A lot of good work, good ideas, and great camaraderie with my fellow weavers have taken place over the past two months, along with feeling that I cannot dance fast enough to accomplish the things that are my highest priority. Are you feeling this way too?

Two months ago I was at a friend’s house with other weavers to spend the day in her beautiful setting mixing and using natural dyes. It was the perfect October day, with the autumn color just beginning to light up the landscape. On the way home I had to stop the car to take a photo of sunlight coming through newly turned golden leaves.

I only brought tiny, 30 yard skeins of 30/2 cotton to dye for use in bobbin lace.

I used indigo and onion skins to make the greens. There is an interesting brown that I now don’t remember. Maybe a mushroom dye? I know it was not black walnut. The red violets are cochineal.

My friend Cindy’s bucolic setting always makes me feel like I’ve entered a fairy tale. She has a huge vegetable garden, and as you can see in the background, a large supply of wood to heat her house. Off in the distance, just to the left of center, is a chicken coop, which supplies her with eggs for a good part of the year. I’m sure it’s hard work to live so simply. I enjoy being in her environment.

I finished the linen bread bags I’ve shown in previous posts, and made a braided cord for one of them. I have a partially made cord for the next bag–each braid will be different. I am happy with the bags. It was an easy project that almost seemed to weave itself.

Since I finished these bags before the linen class was half through, I put on a new warp for napkins based on a design by Lisa Hill that she calls “Metaweave.” They are Brassard 16/2 cottolin set at 24 epi, and the pattern weft is 8/2 cottolin, also from Brassard.

I prefer the underside of this pattern to the front.

I put on enough warp to make 6 napkins, plus sampling. The sampling turned out well on the first try, so I expect I will get a 7th napkin. There will be two each: blue, red, green, and one yellow. The weaving is easy and so enjoyable!

I am ready to start napkin #5, which is the first green. The green I’m using is a great color–sort of kiwi meets avocado. Maybe I can get started on that napkin today.

At last month’s local guild meeting (Area 4, CT state guild) one of our members showed a rag woven holiday table runner that made me want to go straight home and put it on a loom. The problem is that I now only have two looms for weaving fabric and both have projects on them. That led to another member offering me a small 8S table loom–not to borrow, to have! It’s quite a little gem that may need its own post to fully describe and admire. When I picked up the loom I found it already had a warp on it for a small rag woven project. Wasn’t that serendipitous? I wove off that warp with fabric strips that were included, and that gave me a good sense of how the loom works. I now have three small runners, one to use on Pandora and two to give as gifts.

Here is the fabric and yarn I plan to use for the holiday runner. Time is so short now that I doubt I will be able to warp this until I return in the spring. I have high hopes for the fabric strips looking somewhat like the sakiori weaving I did in Japan–little dots of color on a cream/beige background.

The off white yarn is 8/2 unmercerized cotton; the darker spool is a cotton tape. I will either use the 8/2 as warp and the tape yarn as weft, or I’ll blend the two in the warp and use the 8/2 for tabby weft. I have to figure out how to estimate the yardage for the fabric strips, and I’m hoping the runners I made on the previous warp will help me do that. I’ll cut the strips 1/2″ wide, as the strips were that came with the loom. I can then use the woven sett of the rags to determine the sett I’ll weave for this project, adjusted for the width of my project. The fabric was an interesting find. I found about 1/2 yard of it at a fabric remnant shop called Swanson in Turner Falls, Massachusetts. It looks like they will soon have online shopping. I knew I needed more fabric so I googled “Winter Berries” by Susan Winget and found more fabric on Etsy. It’s a win! Now if only I had time to weave it!

This evening I will present a program about Archie Brennan to the Michigan League of Handweavers. I love talking about Archie, and I hope my presentation will spark some weavers to try their hand at tapestry. I’ll be giving a tapestry workshop in Michigan next spring for their annual conference in June. It will be my first time to teach outside New England and the tri-state area–a big deal for me!

As we all get swept full force into the holiday season I hope every one of us can make time to weave, time to reflect on what brings us fulfillment and what projects will best do that, and time to share with others without having our hair on fire. It’s a tall order. Good luck. I’m heading downstairs to start that first green napkin.

Projects Big and Small

It’s now October. I continue to procrastinate on that tablecloth on my Big AVL. I don’t quite know what’s wrong with me because I was on fire to get it on the loom. I was 7/8’s done with the threading in August, and now it’s October and it hasn’t been touched in more than a month. Maybe I’m worried that after all this work it won’t weave well. Yep, definitely worried about that.

On a better subject, I have been weaving my linen project for the class with Fran Curran. I’m more than half done with the 2nd bread bag, and I’ve started the braid for the drawstring. Here is the first design, showing the hemstitching which will be the casing for the drawstring. I designed a diamond with warp-only floats so the blue warp would show up strongly on the surface of the huck lace.

The 2nd bread bag has warp and weft floats. It will be interesting to me to see how they differ after I wash the fabric.

Of the two sweaters I found that I’d like to a) alter, and b) finish, I have started on the blue cabled sweater that was designed by Elsbeth Lavold. I am adding a gusset to each underarm that will continue down the side seam, which I have opened, to create an A-line silhouette. I’m not happy with how the gusset looks. It’s messy. I’ve started over again and am still not happy. Part of me thinks, well, it’s the underarm, so it will rarely show. But…. I know it’s messy! This nagging disappointment keeps me from working on it. It’s not worth a photo at this point.

I tried a tiny bit of Japanese Hogin embroidery and loved it. The fabric I had on hand was finer than what was called for, and I felt I was going blind trying to do these tiny stitches. I love the technique, which is counted running stitches that create simple designs that can become quite complicated in appearance when they are done on a larger scale. I saw so many tiny bits of textile mounted in wooden frames while I was Japan. I bought a tiny temari pin cushion at the Cohana store in Tokyo. There are wonderful sashiko pin cushions mounted in wooden bowls, and there are embroidered brooches mounted in wooden frames to be worn. I was smitten with those. I found someone on Etsy (Artbase) making some pretty brooch frames in cherry.

I’ve already ordered a larger brooch frame for my next embroidery, and I’ve visited my not-so-local needlework shop to buy a slightly coarser woven linen. The one above was embroidered on 32-count linen. Next time I’ll try 28-count. I enjoy doing this!

My next project, which feels both big and small, is cleaning and re-framing a beautiful crewelwork embroidery made by my oldest friend, back in 1981. This gem of a piece is over 40 years old now. It got lost for several years when we made our last move, so when I finally found it in a box in the attic, wrapped in tissue and packing paper, it had suffered some. I don’t know if these brown blotches are mildew, but I hope I can get them out. I am using Orvus paste, recommended by the women at Thistle Needleworks, my not-so-local shop. I was anxious removing this gem from its frame. It’s heartbreaking to see the stains on the fabric.

It looks like the framer used double stick tape to stretch the fabric on the backing. I hope to sew it in place when I re-frame it.

I took out about 50 staples on the sides. I hope I can make this as beautiful as it originally was. Then I’ll feel like a pro and I’ll tackle some other things from my stash.

My new tapestry students are doing a great job. Every class seems to show me new ways that a class can have a group personality and an interesting trajectory. This class is moving quickly, so I think they’ll be doing some of their own designs soon, when we are barely at the half-way point of the semester. I love seeing the colors that students choose. It’s always a visual feast to see all these colors become something real. Students keep me endlessly excited!

I hope I get most of my big and small projects done. There is energy in the air. I just need to harness it!

Rabbit Holes are Really Just Procrastination

For the past several weeks I’ve been deep into some interesting rabbit holes. There are so many compelling things to learn, tips to explore, and amazing images to see. That means I have not touched my tablecloth warp in three weeks. I do feel a little guilty. I am at the point of threading the final border, and it’s the hard part, considering whatever I thought I was doing 12 years ago that I now cannot remember or understand. I will tackle that final area of threading soon, but in the meantime I’m enjoying my rabbit holes.

I went looking for a stranded sweater pattern that I started quite a few years ago. I did not find find it on the first or second go-round, but it finally turned up late last week when I was looking for something else. Isn’t that always the best way to find something? A few months ago I came across this sweater and decided I ‘needed’ to finish it. That’s when I learned I don’t seem to have the pattern! I searched through my Ravelry library, my emails, and even through the printed patterns I’ve collected in two huge notebooks. No luck.

Do you see why I want to finish this? The yarn is a Finnish brand called “Kauni Effect.” I am using two different colorways. One is called ‘rainbow’ and the other is something like ‘autumn.’ Sorry I’m not sure of the second colorway. I’m knitting with one yarn as color A and the other as color B, and the yarn does all the work to create this amazing, glowing, beautiful effect! I know, I’m gushing.

I could not figure out what happened to the pattern. I posted a photo on Facebook, and many people began responding to help me retrieve the pattern. After more than a hundred responses I began to remember a few things about this design. The sweater pattern was designed by Ruth Sorenson, but the stitch pattern was from Dale of Norway. Someone whose name I don’t know put the two together to create this stunning sweater. It was easy to find the stitch pattern on Ravelry. It’s in quite a few people’s stitch libraries…but the sweater is no longer available, and for some reason I have lost it.

When I started googling various ways to get in touch with Ruth Sorenson or to see all of her designs, one of the top hits in my search was my own blog. Seriously? It turns out I wrote about my plans for this sweater here. That was March of 2014. That sweater has been laying in a canvas bin in my wall unit for almost 10 years. Yikes!

One of the 100+ people who responded with help on Facebook contacted Ruth Sorenson and got permission to share the pattern with others. She sent it to me, and by now I’m sure others have it too. Thank you, Ruth! Between the sweater directions and my own notes I plan to get cracking on this sweater again. I won’t be wearing it this fall, but hopefully in fall of ’24.

In the sweater department, there is also this: “Hild” by Elsbeth Lavold, from her Desinger’s Choice, Book 9. I made this years ago and have worn it a few times. It no longer fits, but I still love it. Last week I un-sewed the side seams and am adding gusset to each side. I hope that gives it enough flair for me to enjoy wearing it again.

The sweater bug has definitely bitten me. I haven’t been knitting much over the past several years, but clearly I’m back in knitting mode now.

I’ve started a class with Fran Curran at the Weaving Center of Hartford Artisans. She is leading us in designing a project using linen. We had a short presentation on designing huck lace by Jill Staublitz, and I decided that would be the weave structure I’d use for my project. I’ve woven a lot of linen projects over the years, and a lot of huck lace too. It was hard to decide what my project would be since I have plenty of napkins, placemats, even a couple of linen tote bags with huck lace. Then one evening I remembered that I’ve wanted to make bread bags for a couple of years now, ever since Handwoven Magazine featured a linen bread bag pattern. I fear my bread bag may be a bit over-designed, but I will have fun with it.

I will have a center diamond motif on the bag fabric, surrounded by plain weave stripes and a mix of natural and half bleached linen for the background fabric. The stripe colors are in the photo of the sweater above. They happened to be laying on the counter in my studio where I took the photo. I wanted the huck diamond look particularly blue, so I’ve made sure the huck floats are in the warp, which will be blue in that section. I’m looking forward to this!

Lastly, I have started teaching another 9-week tapestry class, also at Hartford Artisans. I’m intrigued by this new batch of students and hope they will enjoy tapestry weaving enough to continue to pursue it.

My son Chris calls this kind of distracting activity “bike shedding.” He says this phrase came about when a group of engineers were ‘stumped’ on a building design. They decided to design a bike shed for the building before working on the building itself. Who knows if this is true, but it seems to be something I’m rather good at…bike shedding, procrastinating, and going down rabbit holes. I could do worse!

Stretching the Rules or Just Stubborn?

Early last week I spent the better part of three days determined to get a standard warp onto the sectional beam of my BIG AVL (aka BIG ALVIN). The warp is 12 years old! You must be thinking why on earth would I save a warp for that long, and why, oh why, would I then try to put that warp on a loom not meant for it.

A conservative guess on the time I’ve spent so far on this might be 12 hours. And, if you consider that I needed an extra set of hands for some of this (i.e., patient husband) the total hands-on hours is probably 15 or 16. That is just to get the warp onto the beam.

My first attempt involved winding on one of the two warps, using my trapeze (made by my husband). Bob helped with this process, and we had to stop at every set of section dividers to get each section of warp into the proper divisions on the beam. It was slow going, but luckily it’s short warp.

But doing this a second time seemed more challenging for the 2nd warp, so we undid everything and took the two warps together. I divided the whole warp into 2″ sections in order to wind them on one at a time. This horrible sight would give most weavers the heebie jeebies. It certainly felt Herculean to me. It’s two 30″ wide warps that needed to be separated into 2″ sections for the sectional beam.

Why am I doing this? Twelve years ago in May I had a most unique experience–both good and not so good. Some months earlier I had signed up for Vav Stuga’s basic class. I envisioned May as the most perfect time of year for seeing the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, while immersing myself in full days of weaving all week long at Vav Stuga. It should have been one of the most fulfilling experiences. But just a short time before my class began, my father died. It was not expected. It left my mother, who needed full time care, alone. The entire family showed up to be with my father as he was removed from life support, and then we gathered around my mother to care for her and make decisions about her future. I called to cancel my class at Vav Stuga, but it was too late to get a refund. We worked hard to get my mother moved back to New England, where she stayed with me for two weeks before we found a comfortable and safe place for her to live. I took off to Shelburne Falls! During my week in class my mother called me between five and six times a day. She was bereft. She was angry. She was somewhat unhinged. Over time I began fully understand her mental state, but at this time, so early in the process, I was overwhelmed. I could not concentrate.

And yet… I was an experienced weaver of 40 years by the time I attended the basic class, and I had benefitted from some amazing teachers along the way. I completed the various projects in the class in time to be offered the ability to make a warp to take home. My sights were set pretty high! I had seen a tablecloth project in one of the Vava med Hemslojden issues in the Vav Stuga library, and of course, I didn’t want a medium sized, 45″ table square. I wanted a tablecloth to fit my dining table. After all, I had a big 60″ wide Toika that was calling me to make a tablecloth!

I love monk’s belt, and the idea of it running both weftwise and warpwise was a thrill. In the book the colors were all in shades of red and rose with cream monk’s belt, while this photograph shows it in blues and cream. I had big plans for a spring colorway in pale green and soft yellow, with coral monk’s belt and fine stripes between the squares. Sometime in the last decade I sold that Toika and replaced it with big BIG ALVIN, hence the dilemma about how to get the warp on my loom.

All I can say is when I get an idea in my head it is hard to let it go. It was a lot of warp to make in the short time I had left at Vav Stuga, back in 2011. I wasn’t at my best mentally, so I have now discovered that I made a few mistakes in the part of the warp that has the monk’s belt supplemental warp threads. I added those in during my beaming process.

I am quite sentimental about this project. It was a difficult time of my life, and yet this escape to an idyllic location, spending a week with like minded weavers in a wonderful setting, is a memory I cherish. This tablecloth warp is a significant part of that memory. My roommate from that week is someone whose friendship has deepened over the past 12 years. And she is somehow also tied up in my need to make this project a reality. It’s complicated, for sure–both emotionally and technically.

Here are Bob and I, feeling somewhat relieved that the winding-on is done. However, I am now faced with the not-insignificant worry that those sections do not have consistent tension.

At the end of last week, before leaving for a long weekend in Maryland with our grandkids and kids, I began threading. There are 1300+ warp threads. I have made it past the right hand border and the right hand monk’s belt pattern in the warp. I now have a long stretch of the stripes in the middle threaded with monk’s belt as well, but not the double warp threads required in the warp patterned area. Whew!

But other things are now demanding my attention. At the end of the month I will begin teaching two tapestry classes each week through early November. I need to get organized for that. In my own work, I want to try my hand at Helena Hernmarck’s tapestry techniques on a twill ground. I am trying to wrap my head around the instructions she sent me, and I’ve decided to tackle this on a floor loom. Since BIG ALVIN and Baby Wolf have other projects on them, I have rented a small Dorset floor loom from my guild.

To balance the chaos I’m feeling in these projects, I try walk several times a week. My smarty-pants watch keeps reminding me to ‘take time for mindfulness.’ That only makes me feel more frantic! It’s not helpful at all. I feel like a woman with her hair on fire, and that may be why I noticed a sign for a hair salon recently: “Hairdresser on Fire” Would someone, other than me, really go inside that place?

There is a local walk that does seem to take me down a notch in anxiety. I love passing by this house, and think of it as the ancestor of my house. My house is a Dutch colonial with a cedar roof like this one, and lucky for me, better porch railings. My house has a room, our den, that is really the ‘breezeway’ between the house and the garage. I don’t think this house has a garage in that area to the right in the photo, like my house does. My house is also yellow, but with green shutters and door. Anyway, this housenfeels like the more perfect version of my house (aside from those railings, easily fixed). And why not? It was built in 1766. My house was built in 1976, 210 years later with some very nice reproduction touches to make it feel like an 18th c. house. I have sea stars in my windows too! My house is a wannabe of this house. And this house has a beautiful barn in the back and less property to maintain.

This house may be the smallest house in town. Isn’t it sweet? When I pass by I think of sitting in those wicker chairs myself sometime, maybe with a glass of lemonade and my knitting.

And this shed! Whoa! It’s not big enough to be my weaving studio, but I do daydream of spending time in there, doing something creative. It must be that jolt of red in a such a lush green environment that calls to me.

And then there is this big, rambling farm house….sans farm at this point. There is bound to be space in there for an amazing weaving studio. I’d love to get inside to find out where.

And so I’d better get myself downstairs to find the things I need for class and maybe get another inch or so threaded on my tablecloth. I feel the summer starting to wane, and I have much left to accomplish. Soon I’ll know if I’ve successfully bent the rules in putting a standard warp on a sectional beam, or if I’m just hopelessly stubborn. I am hoping for the prior!

NEWS!

It’s summer in New England in an odd numbered year, which means that regional weaving conferences are taking place throughout the US. NEWS is an acronym for New England Weavers’ Seminar. I haven’t attended this conference since 2017. Can you imagine how much I regret not going in 2019, since 2021 was canceled? I could not have predicted what would happen so soon after that 2019 summer conference that I missed.

It was invigorating to reconnect with weavers throughout New England after a six year hiatus. I had five wonderful days of inspiration from other weavers and teachers and vendors! The conference took place at a new location this year. The conference has long been held at Smith College, but this year it moved to Worcester State University. It was a bit longer drive for me, but it had so many pluses. All venues have their pluses and minuses, but I think the pluses at WSU outnumbered the minuses, and I cannot say that about Smith College.

The campus was easy to navigate, even when toting a floor loom with equipment; the food was quite good, and the weather was simply perfect–warm days with breezes and low humidity, cool nights. It was a stellar five days!

The coordinators arranged for a tour of Old Sturbridge Village for those of us not in classes on Thursday. I took advantage of that. We first had a tour of the stored collection of historic textiles. They have a trove of handwoven household items from well known New England weavers, such as Peace and Patience, a mother and daughter whose last names I neglected to learn! There were items from other early colonists as well, but I was too busy gazing at the beautiful fabrics to retain any names. Clearly, I cannot be trusted to listen when in the presence of handwoven goods.

The linen towel on top is woven in twill which was known as diaper cloth, and no!–this does not mean it was a diaper. This is the name given to utilitarian fabrics that were used in household situations, which does include diapers as we think of them today. They are hard wearing and absorbent, as well as beautiful. The wool blanket behind it is wool with natural dyes.

When first entering the storage facility at Sturbridge, we were confronted by high shelves loaded with historical weaving and spinning tools. Swoon!

There are handwritten records of weaving drafts, often written on the backs of paper that had been first used for other purposes.

This towel has an attached fringe. Elaborately knotted fringes were quite popular in the mid-19th c, and they were added on rather than done with warp threads. Since they had been added, if the fringe began to deteriorate, it could be removed, leaving the hemmed towel in good condition.

The museum has record books of payments for woven goods. The weavers were not always paid in currency at this time. This pitcher was payment for the blanket in the background, and there is a record that weaver was not happy with this outcome for her work. The blanket is all wool, with indigo dyed stripes. It is quite large, and pitcher is not!

We also saw a marvelous quilt made to accentuate a beautifully embroidered purse. Purses from this time period were usually drawstring bags that were worn inside a skirt with a slit that allowed access to the purse. Our guide explained that this particular purse may have been a treasured memento to the woman who designed an entire quilt around the purse.

The purse is the slightly more discolored rectangle in the center of my photograph. The quilter has matched the embroidery for the center of the quilt and added borders. I don’t remember the date of this quilt (mid to late 19th c), but it is in terrific condition. It was definitely treasured.

And then there were all the handwoven coverlets, of which we only saw a few! They are stored on rolls on rolling shelving, and there are a lot of them.

For every coverlet and counterpane there is an identifying card.

Upstairs in the collections building were lots of spinning wheels, wool winders and other tools. Our guide was particularly enthusiastic about a flax spinning wheel made by a man named Higginbotham who was from Pomfret, Connecticut and Cranston, Rhode Island, born in the mid 18th c. It is a still a beauty!

A shelf of band looms and a yarn swift.

Our guide told us that most of the textiles seen in the museum are reproductions, not the actual historical pieces. This is due to the fragility of textiles. Many of the reproductions are woven by the weavers at the village. This woman is weaving a patterned linen cloth that can become serviettes (napkins) as well as being pieced together to make a tablecloth. It’s a brilliant idea to warp a loom for the napkins and then piece the tablecloth in three sections. With a warp 24″ wide you can hem for 20″ dinner napkins and then piece three longer lengths together to get a tablecloth in the 60-64″ width.

It was lucky that some of the enactors were also dyeing on the day I visited. Logwood and madder.

After lunch and a time for exploring on our own, we had a tour of the ‘herb’ garden, which is quite large on three terraced areas. The garden includes dye plants, as well as plants that were used in finishing clothing (teasels and soapwort), and plants to be made into cloth, like flax.

Our guide has been working in the gardens of Sturbridge Village for over 40 years. She has been instrumental in changes to the gardens during this period, and since she is also a spinner and dyer she is knowledgeable about gardening as well as how these plants were used. Her name happens to be Higginbotham, perhaps not spelled quite that way. I wish I had asked her if she was related to the man who made that flax spinning wheel.

One thing I saw in the museum that she later talked about was milkweed silk. During this time period women with the luxury of time, or who could sell this product, made elegant wraps out of the fibers found in the seed pod of milkweed. You had to use it before the pods opened so that the silky fibers were still neatly nestled in the pod. Our gardening guide is making one herself. The fibers are bound together with sewing thread in little bundles and then attached to handwoven fabric.

Here are some scenes from Sturbridge Village that captured my attention. It is a beautiful place.

And interior views of the exhibits.

And then the formal events at NEWS started. I took one class that covered the rest of the days at the conference. I had trouble finding enough time to visit the exhibit halls and the vendors. My class was so wonderful that I didn’t mind too much. It was Wedge Weave with Connie Lippert. More on that shortly.

One of the memorable exhibits at this year’s conference was titled “Legacy Weavers,” and it honored the women of guilds in New England who have left us such a wonderful legacy of instruction, woven fabrics, and the memory of their unique personalities. Here is the tribute to Connecticut weaver, Mary Elva Erf. I remember being so thrilled that a member of my guild had published a book (Weaving Shaker Rugs). Now there are quite a few published weavers in the Connecticut guild, including me!

The most moving tribute (for me) was to Sarah Fortin. She passed away far too soon, and she left me marveling at many of the techniques she used. I didn’t know her well, but one workshop I took with her will always be a high spot in my weaving history. I regret that I don’t have a photograph of her tribute board. I guess I was too busy reacting to the loss of her. But here is one of her wonderful dimensional fabrics. She was also a talented sewist.

All the exhibits were well done. It’s been six years since I’ve been exposed to so many wonderful woven items. There were two handbags that I hope will lead me to some good ideas for making one of my own. One member of my Connecticut guild made a dress, handbag and shoes out of her handwoven fabric. It should have gotten an award! Another guild friend got first place in rugs for her rya knotted rug depicting flowers in a friend’s garden.

One of my baskets got three awards: 1st Place in Miscellaneous (I guess that’s the category for baskets!), and two special awards for ‘best historical inspiration’ and ‘best off-loom weaving.’ I am thrilled!

With the ribbons we each get buttons made from handwoven fabrics. It is such a wonderful memento to have.

My wedge weave class with Connie Lippert was a great choice. I’ve got so many ideas swimming around in my head at this point. It is quite dizzying. Not only did we all learn wedge weave, but also how to insert some ‘normal’ tapestry weaving into a wedge weave design, along with a few other intriguing techniques. I now know I can spend the winter aboard Pandora trying out some of these ideas. I am indebted to Connie for her generosity in showing us so many techniques, and even delving into the details of finishing.

This is my piece in progress. It’s not a fast technique, but I’m impressed with how much I managed to do in 2 1/2 busy days. The warp is 12″ wide and I’ve woven about 6″ in height.

In the space of five days I visited airports three times. I’ve never gone to an airport so many times in such short period without taking flight myself! I dropped Bob at Bradley on Wednesday so he could fly to Florida to visit his brother. Later that day I picked up Connie Lippert at Logan. Then on Sunday, I picked up Bob from Bradley as I drove home. What a whirlwind! It was all great. And, returning home I am enjoying the bounty of July in New England. The sunflowers are from a friend and the zinnias and peaches came from our local farm stand that Bob visited this morning.

Now to make use of the many inspirations from NEWS. I hope I can be productive for the rest of my time on land.

Will It EVER End???

It’s those placemats woven with Japanese paper yarn. I’ve hit yet another hurdle. It took me three different dye sessions to get all the paper yarn dyed to a color I like. That means there are three different dyelots, but since each batch was UNwoven from a single placemat I naively thought I would get a new woven placemat out of each batch. I did happen to notice that the yarn was compressed a bit when I unwove it. I didn’t really unweave it; as I showed in at least two previous posts, I cut it out of the warp since the placemats had already been cut off the loom.

It was such a pale, boring blue against the white/natural warp. I was very happy with the newly dyed indigo paper yarn. When I wet the yarn before dyeing it fluffed up again. I’d say it UNcompressed itself, or so I thought.

I began weaving and was zipping along nicely. I allow 1 1/2″ at the beginning and end of a placemat for a turned hem. That is 3″ total. Sometimes I weave the hems with a different weft, but not usually. I did give that a moment’s thought, but I was pretty sure the weft from each placemat would weave a full placemat. Well, it didn’t. And the worst part is that when I ran out of weft I was exactly 3″ short. Just the amount I could have woven as hems with a different weft! Poor me!

Now I’m faced with UNweaving this placemat and starting again with a different weft for the hems. It’s laborious. I think I am about 4 hours into it, and I have only UNwoven half the placemat. I’m treadling backwards, throwing a shuttle, and winding the yarn onto the pirn after every four picks. It’s the most efficient way I could think of, but if you know a better way, please give me a shout–soon! I hope to finish today. So that’s how I’m spending my day before Independence Day. Hmm…

I realize that I am stubborn and refuse to be defeated by this project! The kitchen (paper)towels were a cinch to weave, but that was because the paper yarn was a perfect color for what I wanted. This has been quite the opposite–a nightmare for sure!

But it’s summer and June offered so many pleasures to balance my weaving debacle! My hollyhocks are huge this year! They seem to have taken some kind of steroids over the winter. I don’t know how they got so big. They are same ones I replant every year. I just take the seeds from the current flowers.

The lamppost inside the hollyhocks is six feet tall. The hollyhocks must be nine feet tall! When the flowers began to open I had just discovered ‘the dogwood dyer’ on instagram. She uses flowers to create sharp images on cloth through eco-dyeing. I am intrigued. She suggests drying the flowers first to get sharp images. I have a flower press, but when I couldn’t find it I began to think I may have loaned it to someone–decades ago? So, Bob to the rescue. I now have a new flower press with several hollyhock leaves and flowers being dried. My vision is to have a line of flowers and leaves running up one side of the front of a t-shirt. I’ve got the t-shirt, and I used Botanical Colors no-heat aluminum triformate for a mordant–for the first time. I’m ready to try this technique! I sure hope it’s more successful than my placemats!

Bringing flowers into the house is one of my joys of summer.

This week I cut all the flowers from the nepeta (catmint) and the lavender, hoping to get another flush of flowers in August. The bees were working just ahead of me as I cut the nepeta, and the scent was luscious. Lucky bees!

I saved the lavender and have made little bouquets for the guest bathroom and powder room, and I made a little wand to decorate a birthday present for a friend. It smells great right now, so I hope I see my friend soon.

Ten days ago I gathered my dearest weaving friends together to celebrate our long weaving history, both each person’s weaving history and our history together. Friends came from New Jersey, New York State, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. It was a beautiful day. I loved every minute of it. Personally, I was celebrating my almost-golden-jubilee of weaving. I started weaving in fall of 1975. Struggling with these torturous placemats seems ridiculous after that much weaving history. After half a century things still don’t always go as planned!

Here is most of the group.

I gave books to the two newest weavers in my circle of friends. This is Melody!

My editor at Schiffer Publishing is the other newest weaver. She arranged for Schiffer to send six books for me to give away. Below my friend Judy just got a book on making paper baskets.

Melody took this wonderful photo of my book, which also was given away, with the various bouquets that were about to get placed around the seating areas before guests arrived.

We also had a show and tell. This is Janet who makes bobbin lace and often creates her own patterns.

And Gretchen who wove this overshot shawl

Bob took a photo of most of us gathered on the steps that lead down to the terrace off my studio. What a wonderful bunch of women who have nurtured me over so many years!

I had party favors! Key fobs made from ribbon and webbing from Renaissance Ribbons, cute stork scissors donated by Schiffer, and some bookmarks. Of course I looked for ribbon with weaving images, but this was the closest I could get. Everyone went home with some goodies.

So it’s time to get back to UNweaving. With a lot of luck I might finish today. Then I’ll move forward hopefully for the last time on this project!

A Tour of Textiles in Japan

My trip to Japan in May started in Tokyo and went to the northernmost part of the island, to Aomori and Hirosaki. Over the three weeks of the trip we visited a number of museums that showcased textiles, along with temples and gardens. I’ve already described the hands-on workshops we took during the course of the tour, so now I’d like to focus on the wonderful textiles I saw in museums.

On the first day of our visit we combined seeing the Tokyo National Museum with the Imperial Palace, which are on the same grounds. None of the original castle from the Edo period remains. In fact, where that castle stood is now a traditional Japanese garden, which I enjoyed very much. There was a tale I didn’t fully comprehend about one of the shoguns from the Edo period deciding to have the river re-routed in order to have better views and stronger protection. I struggle to imagine how a river could be re-routed in a time long before modern equipment. Sorry I don’t have the details of this incredible feat. I did try to search online. Hey! If the Egyptians could do it, I’m sure the Japanese could as well.

Of course we all loved the rose gardens with views of Tokyo just beyond the grounds of the Imperial Gardens.

It was the museum that captured our imaginations. The second floor was devoted to textiles.

That is Tom Knisely, center, and other from our group, heading to the museum.

There was plenty of samurai armor on view, and I’m drawn to these wherever I find them. All the cream colored bits (and there is a lot of it, isn’t there?) are silk braids.

How about a closer look?

Here’s another suit of armor done in a mix of colors. It’s hard to imagine all those braids being accomplished before the warrior grew old.

There was this fabric, stunning on its own, embellished with a braid. I love how the tassel at the ends have ‘blossomed’ over time. I’m always overly careful not have the tassels on my braids get disturbed. I think I prefer what has happened here.

Here is another view of this garment showing some hand-painted silk that was braided .

The piece de la resistance in the gallery was this braid on the scabbard of a sword. I have done a similar braid, so seeing this made my day. A touch of the past blending with my small personal history.

And then there were galleries of scrolls and kimono. I find it fascinating that fabric features so prominently in wall hangings that have painted scenes. This is a culture after my own heart. Look at the edge fabrics that frame this scroll.

We visited Sensoji Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, and I was thrilled when I saw these women. I felt lucky to get their photo! Sometime later our guide told us that it is quite a popular tourist activity, even for Japanese, to rent kimono to wear while walking about the temple grounds. I’m am still glad I saw this.

It rained quite hard while we were here, but it didn’t dampen our awe at seeing this marvelous place.

There was an area where you could get your ‘fortune’ for a fee. After you put coins in one end of a large tube, you shook the tube and pulled out a stick from the other end. It had a number on it, and you then pulled a paper out of the drawer with that number. This the paper with my fortune.

My fortune was called “Lowest Bad Luck.” Yikes! When I read it didn’t seem all that terrible. It basically said that my fortune could only go up from here and better times were coming. Well, I was having a great time that day, so if it was going to get even better I felt I was in for some incredible luck! On the other hand, my friend Kari got a card that just said “Bad Luck,” but the description was truly horrible. It was full of doom and hopelessness. She threw it away immediately. I wanted to burn it!

The temple grounds also housed a shopping area. It was such a pretty place, and out of the rain.

I was intrigued with a shop that sold dog and cat treats that looked like people.

After four days in Tokyo we headed north. Our first stop was Kawaguchi to see the Kubota Museum. Have you heard of Itchiku Kubota? I had not, and now I am so glad that I not only know who he is now, but have also seen his work in person, up close. He lived from 1917 to 2003. He was inspired by some dyeing techniques from the 15th c. and he spent his life trying to recreate them and perfect them.

The museum is located where he lived. It includes views of Mt. Fuji, his serene gardens and a wonderful building he designed to house his numerous kimono series. No photos were allowed of his kimono, but we could enjoy the gardens, the tearoom and shop, and take photographs there.

I thought this might be a joke, but it wasn’t! However, none of us saw any primates!

This was my favorite garden of the whole trip.

Can you see the waterfall to the left?

A few us opted to enjoy the tearoom. Our matcha tea came with some confections (on the right) and the tiniest origami crane I have ever seen. I brought that crane home with me!

And the museum was a treasure. I don’t think I’ll ever see kimono as elaborate, intricate, beautifully designed as the numerous series that Kubota made. He had assistants at every stage of executing these designs, but it was he who figured out the techniques and spent decades perfecting the process. The kimono series represent various things. There is a series of views of Mt. Fuji where the famous mountain is shown in every season. There are two series depicting the universe. Breathtaking. Since I could not photograph them, I bought a book, and I will send you to the website.

Here is an image I took from the website. Surely they won’t mind since they don’t allow photography. Isn’t it striking how the summit of Mt. Fuji is in the band at the back of the neck? The kimono in this series are displayed right next to each other, with each kimono sleeve touching the sleeve of the next in the series.

It was hard to leave this museum. I could not comprehend these pieces fully, no matter how long I stayed or how many times I might visit in the future (unlikely). What a rare opportunity to be in the presence of so much technical skill and artistic vision.

The rest of the day we spent at the Fuji Shibazakura Festival. Shibazakura is Japanese for the spring flowers we call ‘creeping phlox.’ It blooms in profusion in this area with views of Mt. Fuji. We stayed for a couple of hours, marveling at the expanse of creeping phlox and also hoping for a view of Mt. Fuji’s summit. The summit was cloaked in moving clouds and we gambled that at any moment the clouds would clear. It was chilly but we were determined to wait for that perfect moment between cloud cover. Our bus driver was on a schedule so our Japanese guide corralled us back into the coach before we got the long awaited view.

Mt. Fuji with its summit in the clouds

The big thrill came when we arrived at our hotel with plenty of daylight left. Our entire group had rooms with balconies that faced Mt. Fuji. Out on the balcony I could see that the clouds were quickly departing. And then there is was!

Kari took my photo to prove I was there, and I took hers! Sadly, my photo is blurry, but I still have to show you! Daryl Lancaster is on the balcony in the background with her camera while her daughter Briana hams it up for my photo. It’s priceless!

The other exciting activity at this hotel was the hot spring baths. Each room came with two kimono for visiting the baths. No bathing suits allowed, but you could bring your tenugui (small cotton towel) that our Japanese guide had given each of us on our first day together. Women entered the bath holding the tenugui in front for modesty, then used the towel the wrap their hair.

Like typical tourists, we took a lot of photos of food, along with photos of our menus in order to attempt to identify some of the delicacies.

It was perfectly acceptable to go to dinner in your kimono, straight from the baths.

Tom Knisely and Sara Bixler at dinner near Mt. Fuji

Okay, I promise no more food shots, but you must agree, it was an amazing dinner. How many people does it take to plate a 9-course meal for 24 people?

The next morning, off we went for Nagano to visit the Okaya Silk Museum, where there is a collection of reeling machines that span a couple of centuries. Here are some silk worms ready to spin their cocoons.

I don’t feel equipped to describe the changes in the technology of reeling silk, but there is one thing I found quite impressive. No matter how mechanized this process became over the centuries, the use of the little brush that is made from something like a bundle of flax stems, continued to be used. Progress with a bit of low tech material that has remained useful to this process.

In the earliest times of silk reeling you’d find a woman sitting over a hot pot of cocoons. She’d brush up a filament from a number of cocoons and begin reeling around a form. Sometime later there was this. Notice that brush in front of the sink. That’s the little bundle of plant stalks that remains part of the process to this day.

Then there was this. Note multiple brushes left and center.

Now we have many more reeling stations with a whole battery of brushes on the right.

And voila! Welcome Industrialism!

Some reeled skeins on display in front of the machine used to create them.

There was a shop! There were a number things we all wanted to buy, and high on everyone’s list was this lamp. How to get it home? Hmm…

I bought a silk fan, and some interesting soap. In the process of removing the sericin which is a gummy residue on silk, the sericin can be used to make soap. We all bought several bars of ‘silk’ soap.

On our way to Matsumoto Castle, which retains many of its details from 1592 when it was first begun, we had to walk a few blocks since our bus could not navigate the narrow streets. During that walk I passed this window.

I was so tempted to just walk in to this shop filled with temari balls! But I knew that our Japanese guide spent much of each day counting heads, and disppearing from the group would put her in a tailspin. I asked her if we could visit this shop on our back back from Matsumoto Castle, and it took some convincing. Since she agreed we all had a fabulous experience, and I hope we made the shop owner’s day.

It turns our this area is known for temari balls. This is when I learned that each area of Japan celebrates its traditional crafts by having their man-hole covers decorated to display the local heritage. Interesting!

Storm Drain?

While heading north each day, we also headed west to the Sea of Japan coast. I had a geographical awakening when I realized how close we now were to both South and North Korea. It was sobering. This is a picturesque area of mountains with terraced rice fields. The views during our ride were so lush with all the spring greens and newly sprouted rice plants flooded with water from the snow melt coming down the mountains. You can read about this area here. Here is a view of rice paddies. We were told that there are no huge, industrial farms as there are in the US. The rice fields nestle into the spaces between residential properties. This is a view in Yamakoshi Village.

We were headed to a kimono factory in Aoyagi. “Factory” seemed a misnomer to me in this place where everything was done by skilled hands. I have about a million photos, and it would take all of them to describe the many dyeing, stitching, stenciling, resist, painting, shibori, and embroidery techniques that happen here. Here are just a few of the techniques happening all through this workplace.

Stenciling
Stitched Shibori
Hand Painting
Fabrics drying overhead in between processes
Stitched fabric ready for air brushing

Here is the large dye room. Notice the barrel in a dye vat in the center of the photo. We watched that get opened near the end of our stay.

The Dye Room

This man is painstakingly pleating fabric and nailing it to the edge of a barrel. It is like the barrel in the photo above. The fabric inside the barrel will not get dyed, and the fabric on the outside will be dyed with the shibori pleats.

Here one of the dyers is twirling a barrel in a hot dye bath. He constantly flips and twirls the barrel to get an even distribution of dye. Every few minutes he must to go a faucet and fill his rubber gloves with cold water to prevent getting burned.

This barrel is cooling off and will soon be opened.

Opening the barrel, you can see how well the colors were protected inside the barrel.

We were allowed to touch the fabric. Notice the resist design on the edge that was just dyed. Was it stenciled with resist?

The fabric was removed from the barrel and rinsed in cool water.

I’m quite certain this fabric has more processes to go through before it’s ready to become a kimono.

In the showroom were a number of finished kimono. Some of them were the designs we saw in process in the work rooms. A kimono made with this level of handwork costs in the range of $10,000. A one of a kind kimono costs more. Here is fabric similar to what we watched being made.

This was a breathtaking and jaw-dropping experience. I can’t even wrap my head around all the processes that create these kimono.

We visited a small koi farm, and outside, near the koi pools, was this bell. The temptation to ring it was pretty strong. Notice the sign in the lower left of the photo. This briefly gave us pause. What did the bee image mean? Beware of bees? Bee kind? In the long run the need to ring that bell won. Daryl did it, and a flurry of bees emerged. I am not afraid of bees and actually quite like them. They emerged sleepy and not at all aggressive. The bell sounded beautiful–muted and sonorous.

The bell in Yamakoshi Village, near the koi farm

Directly after our visit to Kasuri workshop where we got to weave various ikat dyed wefts (previous post about hands-on workshops), we visited a long established shop that sells salmon products that have been cured in over 100 different ways, called Sennenzake Kikkawa. Most of the items were not meant to be taken out of the country, so there was little for us to buy. The visit included a tasting of locally made sake, and we ejoyed them and bought souvenirs!

Sake Tasting
Salmon, well dried

Many of the workshops we visited had a display of what the older living space would have been for the family working in the traditional craft we were seeing. Perhaps in some cases, the actual historic living space was preserved. I’m not sure which were original and which were reproductions. This was the historic living space at the salmon shop.

The lovely garden outside the living space of the salmon shop

We ended the day with a scenic walk along the shore of the Sea of Japan.

Kari is in the center and Tom is to the right.
How convenient to have easy walkways through the rocky shore

The next few days had workshops that I covered in my previous post. It was a time of rich experiences. I am thrilled that we got to try so many traditional techniques, from weaving with ikat dyed wefts, to weaving with linden tree inner bark, trying rag weaving with hand dyed wefts on modified back strap looms, and dyeing with shibori techniques in indigo vats.

When we left the coast of the Sea of Japan, we took the bullet train from Sendai to Hachinohe. Everyone talks about the bullet trains in Japan, and now I know why. That was the smoothest ride I’ve ever taken! I didn’t know that the trains are connected by magnets. We had two trains connected, and the other train disconnected from ours when it reached the track where it would diverge to a different route. I also didn’t know that what makes the ride so smooth is that the trains rise a little above the tracks due to magnet repulsion. I don’t know enough to say more! We glided at very high speeds!

We were headed to the northernmost area of the main island of Japan, to Hirosaki and Lake Towada. Along some of the drive we followed a stream, and I took a video of the lush surroundings. The video is one minute, and the second half is the best part!

We had a boat ride on Lake Towada which was quite a treat.

A small island on Lake Towada
Our Japanese guide, Suka, on the right, and Nina, the one weaver who brought her husband!

We visited Hirosaki Park which rivaled Lake Towada.

One day in Hirosaki we were on our own for lunch, and four of us found a restaurant where there were some handmade dolls right behind my seat. These were soft sculpture dolls, and while I know the Japanese make beautiful dolls, both in porcelain and in cloth, I have no idea what they call them.

While in this northern area we visited the Hirosaki Kogin Institute. Kogin (hard G) is a type of embroidery that involves straight, long stitches. As I understood the guide, this institute is a cooperative of women who want to keep this tradition going. There was a weaver, but I do not think the dyeing takes place. There were numerous embroiderers as well as women who prepared the embroideries for shipping to various places that had commissioned the pieces.

Kogin embroideries being readied for shipping
Weaving cotton fabric for use in kogin embroidery

Here are some of the beautiful designs.

I was particularly enchanted with the little pin/needle holder on this woman’s apron.

Most of the finished pieces were small, to be added in some way to a larger project at the destination where these embroideries were headed. This finished garment was one of the only large items on display. Wow!

This has been a long post, likely the longest post I’ve ever done. Short on words, long on images. We took a longer bullet train from Shin Aomori Station back to Tokyo. Each of us got a lot handwork done during the smooth ride. I made great progress on my second sashiko project.

On our last days in Tokyo as a group, we visited some exciting places for shopping for beautifully handmade items or tools and fabrics to make our own creations. This is the Cohana store which sells tools for hand sewing. I indulged in quite a few lovely treasures.

Treasure boxes with temari for lid pulls.

We visited Toa Textile World and indulged in quite a few purchases there.

We also got to spend some time in a shop dedicated to Japanese fine craft.

And suddenly our time together was coming to an end. We were all a bit exhausted from how much travel we’d done, how many workshops we’d taken, the visual overload of the fine crafts and beautiful countryside we’d seen. But I was not ready to leave. Luckily Kari and I had an additional three days to see and do some things on our own.

Our final dinner on the 45th floor of Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjinku Tokyo with impressive views from every table:

Clockwise from bottom left: Kari, Brenda (moi), Briana, and Daryl
Left to right: Joan, her daughter Diane, and Tom
Our two wonderful guides! Suku and Sara. Someone of our group crocheted that pink penguin for Suku, but now I can’t remember who!

If you’ve made it this far I sincerely thank you for letting me share my Japanese journey. With a little luck and a lot of focus I hope to make use of some of the things I learned and experienced on the trip. I know some of my co-travelers have already dressed their looms and are weaving some sakiori projects with rag weft. I need to focus! Bang! Bang!