Hearts & Flowers (but no chocolate)

The customary celebrations of Valentine’s Day have long since vanished from my life.  What has taken their place is celebration of a different sort.

Here in the Maritime Northwest, the Spring season is already well under way this year.  You’ll see photographic evidence of that here and there further down, interspersed with evidence of how I chose to observe the public holiday.

For a number of years, I’ve had in mind to weave a series of Valentine’s scarves, having found in a weaving publication a project that contained representational hearts which looked pretty good.  But I never got around to it.  Until this year, about two weeks ago, when I embarked on a (relative) frenzy of design and weaving.

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I took the original weaving draft (pattern) from the article I’d saved, entered it into my design program, and did a substantial amount of revamping and redesign until the result suited my vision of a woven Valentine’s card, complete with  lacy borders.  Using silk noil and tencel in equal amounts in the warp, I raced through the warping process.

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And the weaving.  First, with a fine purple pearl cotton.

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And then, because I wanted the two ends to be symmetrical, I reversed the pattern precisely at the middle ~

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The second in the series was woven with a shiny silver-grey tencel ~

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A different angle on the cloth gives a fresh perspective on both pattern and color; this is why I persist in using shiny yarns which reflect light in interesting ways.

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The third (and last) scarf in this series — which I’ve named “Heart-Throb” — was woven with a deep red fine bamboo, less lustrous and more textured than the tencel, and therefore resulting in quite a different effect than the two previous ones.

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The finished dimensions of these three are about nine inches by 78 inches, plus fringes.

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Finally, a glimpse of a feline rendition of the generally-accepted meaning of this holiday ~

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And a last floral treasure, a bouquet of seedling hellebores, for you.

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On A Roll

During the first few weeks of a new year, my practice has long been Getting Things Organized (or Reorganized).  This past month has fit perfectly into that pattern, and by now a number of tasks which have awaited my attention are crossed off the list in this year’s work plan.  Satisfying indeed.

What has received rather less of my effort has been the weaving itself — the center around which all else rotates.  Still, on January 31, I completed the newest series of designer kitchen towels.  Lovely soft rich colors, interesting patterns, no two alike.  You saw the first two last week; now the other five can take a bow.  (I’m showing two photos of each, because the patterns show up quite differently in different color sections — which to my mind makes the whole enterprise both more intriguing and more seductive.)

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A couple of caveats — these photos are all process images, taken while the work is on the loom, so the pieces are all under tension and therefore devoid of textural interest.  That will show up nicely after washing and drying.  Second, some of the  patterns are difficult to see well, due to the low contrast between the warp and weft colors.  This was intentional (a design decision), as I wanted a blended effect for this group rather than strong contrast (which would have shown the patterns much better).

Next up — a series of three Valentine’s scarves in silk noil and tencel.  Bright red.  Hearts.  I have the warp ready, and will begin putting it on the loom tomorrow.  Ready to go “awwwwww”?

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Warm Winter

The temperature outside as I write is 53 degrees; it’s 8:30 in the evening near the end of January.  Mild as springtime, and the garden is showing it — hellebores blasting into bloom, tiny hardy cyclamen strewn fuchsia and white all through the big central garden bed, rose bushes popping out scarlet leaf buds, and one indefatigable heirloom rose in a giant pot staunchly blooming through two days-long cold snaps.

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Indoors meanwhile,  the work on the big loom makes reference to the burgeoning world outside.  This series of designer kitchen towels is named “Living Earth” — the rich, soft colors remind me of those of soil, vegetation, water and sky, flowers and fruits.

As usual, these towels will each be unique — no duplicates in the run of seven — partly due to the ever-changing flow of colors in the hand-dyed warp threads, and partly to the variety of patterns I’ve designed.

Here’s a look at the first one ~

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And the second one ~

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There’s a particular pleasure in weaving my way through the hand-dyed warps I buy from Kathrin Weber (Blazing Shuttles); it’s impossible to become bored with the work.  The colors  keep moving forward as I weave, and areas where two colors blend are especially interesting.  The sight of a fresh section coming over the horizon (as it were) is impetus to continue on, if for no other reason than to see how the solid-color weft yarn in this particular pattern looks laid over those pristine warp threads.

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Kicking Over the Traces

A few weeks ago, a friend invited me for a weekend visit in Tacoma, about 75 miles south of here.  The hesitation I felt surprised me, and it took me a day or two to identify the source — I had not left Whidbey Island in at least two years, and had not been to the Mainland in far more than that.  Short day trips had taken me north, to Anacortes, or west to Port Townsend.  Nothing had persuaded me that going to “America” (as we islanders fondly refer to it) was either interesting or compelling.  Clearly, I needed to get outta Dodge.

The most surprising moment came when I went to the storage shed outside to get my small suitcase.  As I picked it up, it occurred to me that it likely hadn’t been used since a trip to San Francisco for a family visit in March of 2006.  Ten years.  So I loaded it up, and hit the road last Friday morning — the first time I’d done freeway driving in what felt like forever.  This was a huge step off some edge I hadn’t foreseen, and I thought steadily about my theme for this year of thoughtful pursuit of risk.  This was a type that hadn’t occurred to me.

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My arrival at my friend’s condo presented me with this spectacular view to the north and west, looking across the shipping lanes toward Brown’s Point.  At this time of year too, it was a rare treat to have such a brilliant day, though there had been patches of rain on the way south.

For the next three days, urban life gave me people and experiences that were both new and sharply in contrast with my rural lifestyle and social occasions.  A noisy neighborhood pub visit the first evening was hard on the ears, but an opportunity to meet and become acquainted with interesting, clever, funny people.  Preparing and eating foods which I rarely even think of was a joy.  Attending a large Saturday night contra dance — held in a splendid church hall — with three hours of great music and fascinating dancing was an entirely new experience, one which I loved.  One element that struck me over and over was the shifting patterns of the dances — it occurred to me later that the ability to recognize those patterns is closely related to my approach to weaving.

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We spent part of one afternoon driving through different neighborhoods of the city, discussing styles of houses and the evident economic or class differences that the architecture implied in the context of the city’s history.  Part of that drive was along the waterfront leading to the port itself; we were just above the water level, struck by the utter calmness of the bay under the gentle rainfall.

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It was a wonderful visit, an re-introduction to a world and a way of life which used to be mine but no longer is.  Elements of it appeal to me greatly; others I’m glad to have left behind.  Most of all, the decision to step out of my familiar, known community and daily life has increased my awareness that it needs to be done more often, that to stay safely in my insular world is not providing opportunities to stretch and see freshly.

 

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Playing Catch-Up

Because I took such a long, unplanned vacation from this blog for the last three months of 2015, there were several events of note which haven’t been mentioned here.  The most significant was the decision to purchase a second loom — an eight-shaft Baby Wolf made of cherry, with a matching bench.  Meet Beulah, who arrived in late September ~

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The Baby Wolf is far less complex than the big AVL production loom, yet will still give me many opportunities for designs both simple and complex.  It feels small and friendly, and has the loveliest oil-finished smoothness on every surface.

Because it is a traditional loom, the body mechanics of the Baby Wolf’s use are very different from those on the AVL.  That’s a good thing, as the repetitive motion of weaving — as well as the scritchy postures often assumed during threading — are hard on one’s body.  Being able to switch back and forth between the two looms makes it more likely my body won’t develop significant problems.  Since I already have an underlying neuro-muscular condition of many years’ standing, I’ve learned to adapt and to coddle where necessary.  Varying the tools I use to do this work makes longevity in the craft far more likely.

The second significant event of the fall was a five-day weavers’ retreat in early October, of which I was the organizer.  We gathered here on Whidbey Island at Camp Casey, near Coupeville — fourteen people (including myself and instructor Kathrin Weber from North Carolina) from places scattered around the West and Southwest.  I’d never organized such an event before, but with a few minor exceptions, it went off without a hitch.  Plans for the 2016 event are already well in hand.

Below are some photos from that week, both weaving and dyeing.  You can see that no one was shy about the plunge into intense color.

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It was a wonderful event, with women who mostly hadn’t met before, yet who all have a deep and abiding love for this craft.  The new friendships formed during that week, and the continuing connections we enjoy, enrich both the weaving we do and the commonality we share on so many levels.

For me, the underlying motive that persuaded me to take on this sometimes-challenging project grew out of my awareness that weavers — like almost all artists and craftspeople — generally work in solitude.  The creation of a community of weavers who know each other, depend on each other, encourage and inspire each other, has long been my dream.  That week, and the one coming later this year, represent (among other things) my ability to shift the dream into reality.

 

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Begin As You Mean to Go On

As each year approaches its end, my long-time practice has been to conduct an informal mental review, to capture an overall sense of how it’s been.  At some point in this process, I refer to my written work plan to gain a more concrete picture of what I’ve accomplished as measured against what I’d planned.

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Tied in with that review, I also begin mulling over plans for the new year, always aware that last year is — at least in part — the springboard for this year.  As the “fresh start” becomes clearer in my mind, I write down elements as they occur to me.  When it seems like I’ve covered all the bases of both my work life as a weaver and my day-to-day life as a (mostly) sentient being,  it all gets organized into several categories and written down in the blank back pages of my calendar.  It’s easy and accessible to refer to as the year passes, though I rarely do that.  Once the exercise of writing it has taken place, the main elements cling like fruitbats in my mind, inescapable and unignorable.

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Last year, for the first time, I established a theme for the year — “Consolidation Year” — which turned out to be spot-on in several ways.  I’ve been thinking about whether I sense a theme for 2016, and today one occurred to me.  It’s a phrase I came across in a comment written on Facebook by John Graham some weeks ago; it has been reverberating within my mind ever since.

” . . . . the serious, thoughtful pursuit of risk and excellence.”

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The one word in that phrase that feels like a stretch is “risk”.  What could be construed as risk in this work as a weaver?  What might represent pushing a technique or a material so far that I’m facing the possibility of falling off some edge I don’t see or expect?  How can I know if — or whether — I’m nudging up against a barrier that I don’t recognize, or accept?  Yet this is where I intend to place myself, and my work, at least some of the time this year.

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The categories in last year’s plan were ~ the work itself; health and well-being; relationships with family, friends and self; and miscellaneous matters in the house and the garden.  Those will remain the organizing principles for this year as well.

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Each year, usually in the first week, I get together with my friend Anne Belov (painter, printmaker and cartoonist) who follows a similar process.  We eat our lunch, and then take turns reading out loud our respective work and living plans.  I believe we’ve been doing this for about ten years; it serves the purpose not of accountability (we’re both quite disciplined and organized) but of having one person who has a good idea of what we’re up to through the long slog to year’s end.  Sometimes we check in with each other, sometimes we don’t — but it’s always an option, and there’s always a sense of support in simply knowing.

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I’ve already begun on this year’s weaving.  There’s a glorious scarf series in process on the new Baby Wolf loom, and I’m setting up the big computer-assisted production loom with another designer towel warp.  Those two series will take most of this month to complete, and I’ve mapped out perhaps the first several months worth of this year’s weaving.

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My annual principle of “begin as you mean to go on” is actively in place already; the year has begun in just the way I intend.

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At Year’s End

It was a shock a few hours ago to come here to my somewhat-neglected blog and find that it’s been a bit over two months since I last wrote.  Oy.  I knew it was a while, but had no idea how long a while.  Back in the saddle now, laying track for the year to come — even as I look back over the year just past.  A bit of auld lang syne, for me and for you.

My carefully-kept records tell me that I’ve woven very close to 150 linear yards of cloth over the past twelve months — a new record, and (so far as I can tell) not yet at rational peak capacity.  Here are some individual items in all that yardage ~

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Finally, please say hello to my new tool — a beautiful hand-rubbed cherry 8-shaft traditional loom.  I’ve begun weaving the first scarf series on it, called “Kilauea”.  With two looms to work on, each of them requiring very different body mechanics and closeness of attention, my life as a weaver is on the cusp of becoming both more pleasurable and more challenging.

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And a reminder of the other focus of my daily life this year — the garden.  I’ll leave you with a few reminders of the seasons we’re all now remembering with fondness and anticipating with impatience.

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It’s been a good, satisfying year in almost every respect.  My plans for the year ahead are nearly crystallized.  I’m looking forward to the sense of both a continuation and a fresh start, balancing this evening on the conjunction of the two.

My warm wishes to you for an interesting, challenging, and heartening 2016.

 

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Going on Walkabout

This morning, I took a walk in the fog around my garden.  Here’s some of what I saw; come along with me.

P1020937P1020938Fern-Leaf Full Moon Maple leaf on Fuchsia ‘Blackie’ still blooming.

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P1020948P1020952P1020957P1020958Parrotia persica and Vivax bamboo, with weed

P1020960Parrotia persica and Cotinus obovatus ‘Grace’

P1020961Cornus ‘Wolf Eyes’ and Acer palmatum ‘Viridis’ (at its peak)

P1020962P1020963Looking back at ‘Viridis’ and ‘Wolf Eyes’

P1020965Acer palmatus ‘Beni Kawa’ (left) and Acer p. ‘Trompenburg’ (right)

P1020967P1020971The west maple border, not yet colored up.  Soon, I promise.  We’ll walk again when it’s gone red and gold.

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Inspiration to Execution

Here’s the pictorial view of a recent custom order, finished about ten days ago ~

Judy's choice #2Judy's choice #4Judy's choice #6These plus several other photos, all from Pinterest, were sent to me as a start on color selection for a nine-foot-long shimmery scarf for a friend  who moved from Whidbey Island to Virginia several years ago.

I selected a slightly textured bamboo/hemp yarn for this project, calculated how much I’d need for the nine-footer plus three roughly six-footers, sent the  photos to The Drop Spindle to inspire a custom-dyeing process in keeping with the colors in the photos.  Here are the results — two balls of hand-dyed bamboo/hemp, and a commercial bamboo in a soft deep blue ~

P1020819After deciding on a sixteen-shaft straight twill threading, I got the eleven-yard-long warp onto the loom without difficulty.  Here it is, under tension and ready to weave ~

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#1, woven with burnt orange tencel ~

P1020902#2, woven with midnight blue tencel ~

P1020907#3, woven with deep purple tencel (this is the nine-footer) ~

P1020927#4, woven with red-purple tencel ~

P1020930In a few days, I’ll be sending off the extra-long one to Judy, who — now that the weather is cooling down in Virginia — will be able to wrap and drape it in myriad ways to accentuate her lovely face.  The others are available for purchase.

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Water, Water, Everywhere

A few days ago, the season hereabouts abruptly made the switch from summer to autumn, heralded by the Mother of All Storms on Saturday — packed with rain and high winds.  Each day since, there’s been additional rain, and this afternoon a rare thunderstorm with torrents of water pouring down.  Exciting times.

It seems appropriate, then, to be engaged in working on the scarf series I’m calling Tropical Waters, the components of which I showed at the end of my last posting.  Plenty of progress, albeit slowly, has taken place since then.  First up, the process of getting what turned out to be a tricky warp onto the loom —

Random distribution of the slippery turquoise rayon ~

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P1020828The full effect is better seen from behind the reed ~

P1020830And then came the threading through the heddles, in a fancy complex twill that I’d designed on the computer, after which a day’s worth of winding the ten-yard-long warp from the front to the back of the loom — an exercise in extreme patience due to the propensity of those skinny threads to enjoy twisting around each other and threatening to break.  Here they are between the reed and the heddles, looking oh so innocent ~

P1020839and wound around the warp beam at the back of the loom, everything nice and smooth and well-behaved ~

P1020842Once I began weaving, I found myself treating the warp with extreme caution in fear that some of those fine threads would snap under the normal weaving tension.  Happily, that has not been the case, and progress, though slow, is steady and most gratifying.

Here’s the first scarf, woven with a peacock-blue fine pearl cotton ~

P1020847P1020850And the second, woven with a fine turquoise pearl cotton ~

P1020858P1020860P1020862You can see that depending on the angle of viewing, the pattern looks substantially different.  Seen in person, it’s spectacular, because the entire warp practically glitters, giving the weaving an extra measure of depth and interest.

There will be two more scarves after these, which you’ll simply have to wait till next week to ogle.  You won’t be sorry you had to wait!

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