Reality Check

For the past couple of weeks I have been consumed with hearing from folks who’ve just received copies of Archie Brennan’s autobiography/memoir. I’ve been holding my breath on the copies sent to far away places, like Australia, and also following those in the US who pre-ordered the book at Schiffer Publishing and at Amazon. All is going well. It seems like a lot of people have ordered. I sure hope the publisher thinks sales are going well.

Meanwhile, real life continues. Bob and I are spending the winter onboard our sailboat Pandora, after an 18 month hiatus due to the pandemic. This year we will not visit quite as many places in the Eastern Caribbean due to rising cases on some islands. In spite of our best efforts to stay safe, we have been in Guadeloupe now for a week and learned that this island’s Covid cases have been rising dramatically. We first landed in Guadeloupe at a small village on the northeastern coast called Deshaies (pronounced DEH’ eh, or DAY’ A for those who love diphthongs!). I wasn’t particularly worried there because the village is so small. There is an 8pm curfew all over the island these days, so restaurants close up around 7:45 so everyone can get home. We ate a few lunches out because of that, and we did some touring in the area during the daytime.

One day we took a shuttle bus to the nearby botanical gardens that we visit every time we are Deshaies. Luckily the shuttle bus was empty except for the driver and us. One of the highlights of the gardens is their restaurant. Our friend Tom, aboard Rally Point, joined us for the day.

Of course, the main highlight of the gardens are the gardens!…and the birds! They have a wonderful array of parrots in the gardens, both in an aviary well are out in the open (perhaps their wings are clipped). There is also a fenced in area of flamingos. This year the flamingos have great color.

We are staying more connected to our cruising friends this winter, traveling together to different ports. Is this because we all missed each other last year? I’m not sure, but so far we have stayed in a traveling clump. Since the evening curfew makes dinner a bit challenging we have enjoyed a few lunches with our friends. I love this spot in Deshaies called La Mahina. It’s painted white with Mediterranean blue trim and has such lovely views out the unglazed windows!

A few days ago we sailed to Pointe de Pitre, the capitol of Guadeloupe. We’ve never been to this port before for two reasons. It’s a huge port, and it’s industrial. On one side of Pandora we look at a lovely shoreline with only one dwelling and a mountain in the background; to the other side we see a busy port with cranes and containers and ships loading and unloading. The city of Pointe de Pitre is quite large. It’s not our best choice, but we are trying to be careful!

The highlight of Pointe de Pitre is the river that divides the two islands that make up the island nation of Guadeloupe. It’s a navigable river for most smaller vessels, but the two bridges that span the river are no longer operable as draw bridges, so that has closed off travel on this river. The chart below shows the Riviere Salle is in the middle of the two wings of the butterfly that make up Guadeloupe. There is a red triangle showing the entrance to the river where we began our journey.

Cruising sailors can still take their dinghies along this river, along with paddle boarders, kayakers, and small power boats. Luckily the local coast guard patrols these waters to keep speeds down. During our visit up the river, the coast guard stopped two jet skis who were speeding past us.

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We made a day of exploring Riviere Salee with couples from three other boats in our group. The river and the small canals and byways along this river reminded us of so many places. Traveling through mangroves we remembered our winter in Cuba, yet some of the byways actually looked like lakes in the Adirondacks on a summer day. It’s a beautiful area.


As we explored a number of small byways, I was intrigued with the sky and mountains in the distance. It was a wonderful experience! In the middle of the day, we stopped in a larger open space to tie all our dinghies together at the bows, which made sort of a 4-petaled sunflower raft-up. We opened our picnic lunches and relaxed and talked.

It’s quite a contrast to explore these little tributaries off the river and yet be anchored in such a big industrial harbor. Getting back to our boats in the large harbor during the afternoon strong winds was no simple feat. That’s the thing about living the simple life–there is always a price to pay for the good times. Sometimes that price is pretty high.

I’ve been trying to turn my attention to projects. I’m on the last leg (no, really the last arm) of a sweater I’m excited to finish. It’s quite a simple design, from Purl Soho, that is knit from cuff to cuff. In past sweaters of this design I have knit the entire sweater in one piece, but this design is knit in two pieces: a front that is cuff to cuff, and a back cuff to cuff. The two pieces get put together by picking up stitches along the selvedges and doing a 3-needle bind off. Doing this 3-needle bind off gives a smart edge to the seams which you can see in the photo below. I am going to add a long gusset to the side seams, using a technique from one of Vivan Hoxbro’s designs from years back. I don’t remember the name of that knitted jacket, but I enjoyed the clever way she joined the center back. I will pick up stitches at the side seams and do a double decrease at the underarm every other row until I get the A-line shape I want. This has been a slow project because it’s all just garter stitch…ad infinitum. But the finishing details could make it a quite a lovely design. I hope so!

End To End Pullover | Purl Soho

The color I’m using is a slightly different blue than shown here. It’s more blue, less green, but still a warm sort of barely turquoise. I’m almost to the last sleeve which should go quickly.

I’ve made progress on the basket, but it’s still not done. I probably have two more sessions of weaving to finish it. I’m saving that indulgence for a perfect day. It’s so enjoyable to weave a basket!

If I don’t make a plan for a small tapestry soon I’ll be lugging my frame loom home empty! I don’t want to do that! It was hard to get all my supplies onboard this year because I didn’t do it before Bob left to sail to Antigua. I didn’t want to decide what to bring so long before I’d actually be here. But packing two large suitcases of supplies, and schlepping them through JFK twice (due to flight cancellation) was SO not fun. I need to make good use of the supplies I lugged all the way here and with such inconvenience! Wish me luck.

This is my reality right now: living in a tropical paradise, with a good dose of hard work. Today I am doing laundry which will hang out on our clothes line in the cockpit. I know I’m lucky to have a washing machine onboard. Without that, laundry is quite a big chore that I might enjoy describing someday…but not today. I will knit and try to conjure something for dinner on our tiny stove that is now having problems. Bob worries that if I cook too long our last solenoid on our propane tank will melt, making cooking even harder to do. He installed the last spare solenoid a couple of weeks ago, and hasn’t been able to buy more spare solenoids in any of the chandleries along our route this winter. He’s hoping for luck in Martinique, or we may be relegated to cold meals! Fingers crossed. It’s time to hang out the laundry.

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To Sir, with Love…

By ‘Sir’ I mean Archie Brennan. While Archie became an Officer of the British Empire in 1981, he was not technically knighted, so he was never a ‘sir.’ But to those of us in the Wednesday Group he will always be “Sir Archie.”

Thirteen years ago Archie and I began working together on what is now Archie Brennan: Tapestry as Modern Art. After all these years, our book is now winging its way around the world! The pre-orders and the copies I had the publisher send to acknowledge those who helped with the book have mostly arrived at their destinations, including Australia. I’ll admit that I am still a little awestruck that this idea that Archie and I discussed so many years ago really came to be. There were plenty of times when I didn’t think it would happen.

This photo was taken by Bob on the last day I spent with Archie, in 2016. We had finished photographing the works that were still in Archie’s possession. It had been a long day, especially for Archie, who was clearly showing signs of diminished health. Bob and I borrowed photography equipment from Schiffer Publishing. By the time we picked up the equipment and drove to Archie’s house, we’d been on the road for 10 hours. Local friends, Alta and John, not only took care of hosting us and feeding us at their house, but also pitched in to make the process of getting the pieces out of Archie’s attic and into my car, then unpacking tapestries, photographing, recording info, and repackaging the works go smoothly. Really, it could not have happened without their help. John arranged for us to use the social hall at the local fire station for the photo shoot. Thank heaven all those tapestries fit in my station wagon!

This photo of me holding open the book at the image that represents so much to me, was taken by my dear friend LeaAnn. She took it because she wanted to document for me how happy I was that this photo is included in Archie’s story. Near the end of the publishing process my editor decided to delete this photo. I was crushed. Her reason for omitting the photo was that it was just a ‘snap shot.’ She was right, but for me this image represented the culmination of about eight years of work by 2016. And I never saw Archie again, so there was that too. After a week of back and forth, my editor agreed to include it in the book. As it turns out, it’s in a wonderful place, at the end of the index. It stands there as a little sentry, evoking my last day with Archie on the long journey toward this book.

Now the book is arriving in mailboxes all over the US, the UK, and even as far away as Australia. In February it will be available in Canada through Amazon. Weavers’ Bazaar in the UK, is going to carry it, and will have it ready to ship next month. As people have received their copies, they are sending me heart warming messages. I am so moved, I often find myself speechless.

From Julie von Wettberg: It brings together so many threads… weaves them into whole pieces with the accompanying photos you and Bob helped create… and results in such an engrossing story, even from just reading bits here and there.
Your words are beautiful. Your goal… fully accomplished. 

From Anna Wetherell, who has reviewed the book for “Tapestry Weaver,” the journal of the British Tapestry Group: Just to confirm that Archie has arrived. My first impression is that it is a beautiful, well crafted book and I am going to learn a huge amount from reading it! I may well also feel that Archie has arrived in person, judging from Brenda’s introduction…
and from Facebook: It’s superb Brenda! Hugely well done. (being one of the lucky ones to get a chance to review it!)

From Molly Elkind: I LOVE this book! (I reviewed it for SS&D). Tapestry weavers will truly enjoy it and learn so much. Congratulations, Brenda!

From Kay Lawrence, Professor Emeritus at the University of South Australia, and internationally known tapestry artist: The Archie Brennan book arrived yesterday. What a handsome publication and what a massive task! I’m so glad you stuck it through to the end. It will be such an important reference for the development of contemporary woven tapestry in the twentieth century.

To Sir, I miss you daily, and it helps greatly to know that many others will get to know as well as your devoted students have done. You will continue to teach others through those who now teach after being your students, through your video series, and through this book about your fascinating life. With love…

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The Annual New Beginning

The start of each new year coincides with me moving onboard Pandora for a winter of sailing in the Caribbean. We stayed home last year because of Covid. After following the mandates being enforced here and the level of infection in Antigua all year, Bob decided it was somewhat saferfor us to be in Antigua this winter than we’d be at home. (Of course, that didn’t include the absurd crowds we enccountered at JFK airport!–never again!) I was not as confident, but here we are! Happy New Year from English Harbour, Antigua.

I don’t know if we’ll get further down the island chain. Antigua seems to be the safest of the islands at this time.

What is on my mind every time I ring in a new year is how much I didn’t get done while I was home, how many projects on ‘my list’ remain just ideas. I spend some time each January grieving the things I didn’t accomplish because now I have four months with no looms, no sewing machine, no spinning wheel, no marudai and takadai, no lace pillow. Oh, I could on and on about this. I get rather morose at this time of year dwelling on what I’m giving up for the winter months. Those winter months are such a marvelous time to hunker down, almost hibernate, and just create. It used to be my most productive time of year, mingled with guild meetings, which no longer occur, that inspired me to do new and better things.

During the pandemic I have subscribed to a journaling newsletter called the “Isolation Journals,” written by Suleika Jaouad. She is a wonderful writer who inspires me to think differently and to record how my ideas and attitudes might change with her weekly prompts. Lately, I’ve been enthralled by her messages, in both good and sad ways. She is going through the recurrence of some serious medical issues, so her prompts about attitude have deeply affected me. At the end of last week she wrote a message about re-thinking the new year, and her ideas helped me to look at my accomplishments differently. For years she makes five lists around the new year. On the first list she records all the things she has accomplished. That’s what I did yesterday, and I feel a LOT better about the things that didn’t get done. Try it! We all do so much more than we think we do when we reflect on our time. It’s a great idea to list the things. It’s more than you remember until you force yourself to list them all.

I won’t go through the other four things that are helpful to list because you can read the message here. I hope you will.

My grief at leaving home has lessened. I don’t have quite the projects onboard that I had hoped to bring because Bob may not sail Pandora home this spring. After 10 years, he is getting tired of the long journey home each spring and the longer journey here every fall. We are considering leaving Pandora in Trinidad which is outside the hurricane zone. With that in mind, I had to choose carefully projects that are compact enough to make some kind of journey back to me, either by crate on a ship or in various suitcases (that we’ll have to buy!) to check on a flight home. It will certainly be a new hurdle for us, and I’m already worrying about it. I’m so good at that!

My year ended with some wonderful family time, in spite of the pandemic. We are a small family, although my older, married son sees far more people since his children are in nursery school and his wife has a large family. We visited them in Maryland the week before Christmas so that we went ahead of their visits with the distaff side of the family. But, nothing is completely safe these days. On the evening we arrived our son got a message from the nursery school that a teacher had tested positive for Covid and that the school was now closing until the new year. The families of the students were required to quarantine for at least 10 days. That included us since we were now in their house. All went well for us; no one got the virus, although we got a good dose of a different virus! Bob calls our grandchildren adorable virus vectors, and they are!

At Rob’s house, along with nine people, three of whom are still nursery school age, there were three dogs and two cats. Everyone got along well, and mostly the cats just hid somewhere safe from dogs!

Our younger son and his partner also joined us on this early Christmas weekend. It was the first time all our family was together in several years. That is because Chris (younger son) has been living on the West Coast for about seven years. He doesn’t make it home every year. Now he has moved back to Manhattan, and we’ll have more family gatherings as long as we are all well enough to do so safely. This is a wonderful gift for me.

This was a moment I won’t soon forget. Tori and I fell asleep on the couch together at her house. When I awoke she was still sleeping. Is there anything more angelic than a sleeping child? Yes, actually there is! Watching a sleeping angel cuddle the knitted toy sheep I made for her about three years ago.

For the Christmas weekend, Chris and Melody came to our house, along with a dear family friend who has been in our bubble for the entire pandemic. It was a quiet Christmas, but very moving for me.


It snowed on Christmas Eve this year, and Melody got up early Christmas morning to take photos.

When she sent me this photo of Mila from Christmas morning, she added the caption, “Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes!”

One more photo of our oldest grandog, who is only three. We have a family of young children, young dogs, and old cats!

I ended the year with a heart full of gratitude, and with help from the Isolation Journals I’m not beating myself up much about the things I didn’t accomplish this year. This new year feels like a positive new beginning, rather than a time for moping about lost opportunities. That is a huge difference for me. It’s time to knit!

I wish all of you health and safety in this brand new year.

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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 cumbersome, 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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