Friday, July 31, 2015

The wonder of Ikat

The MAFA workshop was total immersion for both yarn and me

Ikat warp on the loom and mini-skeins
ready for the indigo bath
I am deadline-oriented. If it's important, give me a deadline. I'll meet it. 

With my transition to full-time fiber earlier this year, I set two concrete deadlines for for myself. Each addressed a specific goal. The first, which was Stephen&Steven MixTape Tour at my LYS, Woolbearerswas to expand my thinking and approach to knitwear. It did.

The second was to sign up for the MidAtlantic Fiber Association's (MAFA) biennial weekend retreat, also known as MAFA. This goal imposed a deadline for re-immersion into weaving.(Coverage of the event here.) 

Since weaving was my goal, my workshop had to be one that required a loom. I have always loved Ikat, which involves dyeing and weaving, so settled on "Expand Your Design Repertoire with Ikat" with Polly Barton as instructor. It was a good choice.

I hadn't warped my loom I did a trial run on my 
Schacht eight-harness table loom. I forgot to tie the yarn cross properly, but otherwise, the how-to memories were there. The loom is portable, but just barely. It's mostly bulky. It took me three trips to get all my paraphernalia to the workshop room, but if getting me back on the loom was the goal, the weekend was an unqualified success. 

Planning and preparation

The process of making Ikat is not quick. In addition to standard prep for warping, there is dyeing, tying, and overdyeing. Often the processes are repeated. Double that if you plan a complex Ikat weave that involves both warp and weft. 

A design and tying plan for an Ikat warp
There were nine people in my workshop. Each of us brought a warp. Mine was white 5/2 perle cotton purchased from Yarn Barn of Kansas and did not require scouring so one step was  eliminated. As my first project, I chose a straightforward design, tying off the warp at regular intervals as opposed to a  more complex design such as the one shown at left.

Dyed warp
After mordanting the warp yarn with alum, I dyed it first with Shibuki dye. The dye stuff--from wild peach bark--produced a rich yellow gold that you can see at right. Then, after learning the proper tying technique, I tied off the warp at 8 inch increments with Poly Ikat tapecovering about half an inch sections to protect them  from the next dye.

Then it was into the indigo dye bath. This was a new hands-on experience for me. Three separate dips, opening up the fibers between each dip to allow the color to develop, dyed the yarn with rich colors that transitioned from deep green to blue to yellow. I love the resulting warp. 

The bloom of color after each removal of the yarn from the dye bath and exposure to oxygen entranced me. If you are a 'how?' person, J.L. Liles provides straightforward details of the oxidation process in his book, The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Traditional Recipes for Modern Use. 

Next step: Get it on the loom. I warped back to front using a 12-dent reed with a tabby threading on two harnesses. Threads are double-sleyed on the outer two inches and single-sleyed in the center section, which you can see in the photo below.

Ikat warp and weft on the loom

There is a lot less love with my overdyed  weft threads. Time was running short and I shortcut the processes (Do note the plural.) I didn't dye the whole mini-skeins first, so my ties produced a white contrast, rather than a yellow. Second, and even more disappointing, the indigo bath was spent by the time I got to it and even after three immersions, the color was pale blue. But, as Polly noted, the result is very 'Monet-like.' Indeed, it is.

Deadlines met...for now

Now, little more than a week later, my mind is still entranced with the colors and the potential--and filled with 'what if's' and 'how can I do...?' It is a good mindset for me, even if I do wake in the night with ideas!

It has now been six months since my focus on fiber was set in motion. As I tick off projects--and meet self-imposed deadlines--I find that I continue to add projects to my to-do list. Reluctantly, I must conclude that there will never be enough time to do all the things I want 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A fiber bash

MAFA scores 10 out of 10 for instruction and inspiration 

Rainforest evening bag
Charlene Marietti
It was a fiber extravaganza! The MidAtlantic Fiber Association (MAFA) represents nearly 60 guilds in eight states and the District of Columbia. Its regional biennial event, also known as MAFA, is organized and managed solely by volunteers. The workshop weekend, which was held July 16 to 19 at Millersville University (Millersville, Pa.), drew 306 attendees.

Keynoter Jennifer Moore set the tone for the two-and-a-half day event with an inspiring retrospective, "Weaving my way through life." Like many fiber artists, she was 'called' to weaving. Trained as a medical illustrator with a minor in pipe organ, she sees her loom as another string instrument--but one that allows her to create color and design instead of  sound. And she excels in the space.

When Moore hears music, she visualizes colors and images. Look at a musical score, she urges, then compare it to a weaving draft. She is an expert in the ancient technique of doubleweave pick-up, which she often works on hand-dyed fibers. 

To understand see why I'm so awed and inspired, look at her wall piecessilk scarves and shawls, and her Chromatic Fantasy series inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach's 'Chromatic Fantasy' for the harpsichord.

Learning, doing, networking

Internationally-known fiber artists led 34 workshops that focused on broad categories of dyeing, felting, spinning, weaving, learning garment construction, ply-splitting, tablet weaving, tapestry, or temari. I say 'broad' because some of the workshops combined techniques. Mine did.
My Ikat warp

My workshop focused on Ikat as a design tool and involved both dyeing and weaving. Polly Barton, a silk weaver from Santa Fe, N.M., was the instructor. My warp was first dyed with shibuki (wild peach bark), which gave a yellow-gold color, then over-dyed with indigo. I came home with a gorgeous green/blue/yellow warp on my loom--a warp that is purely experimental. I dyed some mini-skeins with different patterns, but the indigo bath was spent and the effect is muted. I'll weave them up any way. Although I have long vowed that I was not interested in maintaining an indigo pot, I've changed  my mind. Now I just need to find a place for it. 

Two not-to-be-missed scheduled events 

A beautiful shawl at the MAFA Fashion Show
Friday evening was called a "Fashion Show," but it's really a show-and-tell. Anybody can participate and--I'm estimating here--40 to 50 people did. It was great fun and some fabulous work was displayed. I shared my 'Rainforest' evening bag (above) and was pleased with the reception.

Saturday evening was 'Open Studio.' This was a chance to see what all the other classes had been doing for two days and talk to the instructors. It took us nearly three hours to do the rounds. IMHO this is a 'not to be missed' part of the event. Workshop highlights included Amy Tyler's spinning and plying; Inge Dam's tablet weaving on a loom; and Anita Luvera Mayer's dyeing and embellishments. Oh, and I drooled over the groups that learned fabric marbling and shibori and.....and many others. Below are three examples of works in progress plus a tapestry by instructor Kathe Todd-Hooker.

And I would be remiss not to mention a very important part of the weekend--and that is meeting and talking to other fiber people. Dorm life is far behind most of the attendees, including me, but staying and eating onsite is a very valuable part of the experience. 

Oh! And I nearly forgot another valuable resource: The vendor hall! Nearly three dozen vendors offered yarn, tools, and equipment.

And last, but not least: Thank you to the MAFA volunteers!

MAFA volunteers did an amazing job and I am grateful to each and every one of them. 

Fabric marbling
Tablet weaving on the loom
Tapestry by Kathe Todd-Hooker

Color work for iridescence

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sheep business

So many choices at Valley Shepherd Creamery!

Bring on the cheese, yogurt and ice cream!

By now you know that I love wool and all its permutations, but there is more to sheep than fleece and lamb chops. A visit to Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley, NJ had been on our bucket list for too long a time. 

It was a perfect day trip. Once off the expressways and spaghetti interchanges, the road took us through some of Somerset County's historic villages and beautiful countryside. 

Set on 120 acres, the Creamery offers tours of its operations. On summer weekends, they're on weekends. Unfortunately, we were there on a day when only the shorter 45 min. tour was available. It allowed us to see the cheesemaking room, the milking parlor and a view into one of the sheep sheds, but was restricted to the main shop building. The website does not provide details, so if you go, I'd recommend a phone call to the farm to find out when the full tour is scheduled as the cost is the same for both.

A day for a picnic

Picnic on the porch
As suggested on their website, we took a bottle of wine and picnic basics, planning to feast on bread and their cheese. We bought an excellent soppressata (not made locally) and Creamery cheeses that would not be on the tasting tray. We tried Oldwick Shepherd, a Basque-style sheep cheese, two goat cheeses--Very Goat and a chèvre cheese--and Crema de Blue, a Jersey cow milk cheese and American Cheese Society award winner. Then we finished our lunch with sheep's milk gelato. Yum.

Behind the cheese case

Valley Shepherd Creamery Milking Parlor
The Creamery has steadily grown since its beginning 15 years ago. It makes goat and cow cheeses, but sheep's milk cheeses are its legacy and at the heart of its artisanal cheese-making business. 

Sheep milk is richer than cow or goat milk and, according to Sheep101yields more  cheese due to its higher in fat content, solids and protein. 

By their own description, the Creamery is a  small operation with a flock of 600 Dutch Friesian Milk Sheep. Ewes are bred in the fall and lamb in the spring. Milking operations begin at that time and last until November, when the ewes stop producing milk. 

The milking parlor, which is described as the only one of its kind in the U.S., was designed by the Creamery's owners, who were trained as engineers. It looks like a high-tech merry-go-round. And it pretty much operates like one.

The ewes enter the apparatus single file. Once in a station, the ewe is stabilized and attached to the milking machine. Pacified with a small amount of grain in the feed bin, they circle on the milking parlor and exit about two minutes later via a second chute.

Cheesemaking central
Compared to cows, which produce between 55 to 100 pounds of milk a day for at least a  year, sheep don't produce a lot of milk. A Creamery sheep averages three to four pounds a day for about six months after lambing. 

When the sheep don't give milk, the Creamery doesn't make sheep cheese. But it also has cows and goats that provide milk to support ongoing cheesemaking.

Friesian sheep are noted for their dairy production. Not for wool production. Ewe fleeces average 9 to 12 pounds, reports, but the average fiber diameter is 29-33 microns, and a USDA wool grade 46's-54's. The farm shears its sheep and, according to its website, has blankets made from the wool. The shop had a few pelts for sale and a few yards of alpaca from their flock.

Farm to market

The Creamery's distribution channel is direct. It sells wholesale to restaurants and has steadily expanded its direct-to-consumer markets in the New York and Philadelphia regions. It has cheese shops in both cities and sells its products at more than 24 local farmers' markets in the region. A relatively recent addition to the Creamery brand is MeltKraft, a grilled cheese sandwich bar.

Now I'm ready for a trip to Reading Terminal Market for a grilled cheese sandwich. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Speaking of spinning

Why spin yarn when you can buy it at the store? 

For much the same reason many people garden or sew or do any number of things that are readily available to buy, We do it for the joy of doing it. 

Spinning fiber is the same. Some of us learn to spin to better understand fiber and its properties and others because the pastime is peaceful and the spun yarn, rewarding. 

Kids are intrigued--and they love to try to make yarn, too. Spinning isn't a difficult skill to learn. Like all other crafts, doing it well takes practice. Lots of practice.

When the Navajo rug sparked my interest in learning to spin, it was the late 1960's and we lived in Ohio. No Internet to support research or speed my connection to resources. I was on my own.

Spinning wheel, c.mid-19th c.
My first wheel came from a barn. The Saxony wheel, circa 1850 or so, was a long-neglected and non-working family wheel that had been stored for years in the hay loft of the family's farm in Hilliard, Ohio. The owner had no interest in it and was happy to sell it.

The wheel needed a lot of restoration. M recalls that a prior owner had nailed a piece of wood to the edge of the wheel where it was damaged to keep the drive belt on and one of the maid uprights was missing. A major problem was the orifice, which was cracked and jagged where the original forge welding had failed. The distaff was also missing, but it was not important to me as I wasn't interested in spinning flax.

M, a very talented woodworker, restored the wheel. He found someone with a metal lathe to make a replacement for the broken orifice, turned a new maid upright, repaired the damaged wheel and replaced the leather bearings and the old, rusty and broken hooks on the flyer. It worked!

Next was wool. I was so green that I knew nothing about sheep breeds and certainly nothing about selecting an appropriate fleece for hand spinning. But that didn't slow me down. I made a trip to the nearby Ohio State Woolgrower's Association and went home with a fleece and a set of hand carders. (Looking back, I wonder where my brain was: If they were selling hand carders, might not they have known a hand spinner?)

I was seriously swamped in wool ignorance. Now I look back on the experience as an adventure in what not to do. First I opened my bag of fleece.....on the dining room table. That was not the smartest thing I've ever done. As you all know, I should have done this outside even if the fleece had been skirted. And it hadn't been. It was absolutely filthy. 

Ashford Traditional, c.1969
Armed with Elsa Davenport's book, "Your Handspinning," I had decided to spin in the grease, so after carding some wool, I got down to business. I sorta-kinda spun some yarn, but my best work seemed to be distributing bits of sheep dung on the wall behind the wheel. Really.

I learned to spin on that wheel--but not particularly well. And with small children, I eventually gave up on the fleece and sent it to an Amish carding mill, where it was made into batting for a quilt. 

I kept spinning and a couple years after acquiring the old wheel, my Christmas gift from M and my in-laws was an Ashford Traditional wheel. Accompanying it was a sheet with assembly instructions and a page entitled, "Home Spinning for Everyone." Scroll down to the bottom for a trip back to the 1960's. (Does the spinner's hairdo date it, or what?)

Recent twists on spinning

I spun over the years and even added a drum carder to my toolkit, but spinning, along with most of my fiber crafts, were relegated to lower priorities with increased responsibilities of a full-time job. 

When my daughter started her flock and was interested in learning to spin, the Ashford wheel moved to Winter's Past FarmKris is an excellent spinner and has been instrumental in my return to the wheel and in improving my spinning. So has M. As CWR (chief wheel researcher), he spends his time at the big sheep and wool shows researching equipment and encouraging me to replace the Tradition with an double drive Ashford Traveller. (It is a good wheel, but do not be misled by the name. It is not a good traveller.)

With a flock in the family, I found myself lusting after beautiful fleeces as they were shorn. Acquiring them was easy. Spinning it was another matter. My intentions were good, but my priorities weren't. When I (finally) retired in January, I had two fleeces--a Coopworth and a Tunis--and a rather large assortment of wool from other sheep breeds.

I made spinning a priority and I have vowed to spin all the wool by year-end. I set up a spinning 'station' in our main living space, which makes it easy to sit down and spin for 15 minutes or so. Then, shortly after the new year, M surprised me with an Ashford Joy--a wheel that spins and travels well. And it really is a joy! 

Ashford Joy Spinning Wheel

I'm not sure I can make my self-imposed deadline. We're at the year's midway point now, and I can't/don't want to devote entire days to spinning. (So much else to do!) But I'm working on the stash--and making progress. 

Thanks to spinning instructors, including Mabel Ross, Nelda Davis and Amy Tyler, and to practice, my spinning continues to improve and my fleece stash is shrinking. 

Coopworth yarn, singles and 2-ply 
Next challenge: Design something and  use the yarn.

Ashford brochure, c. 1970

Friday, July 3, 2015

The magic carpet

Navajo rug, c.1968

The rug doesn't fly but it definitely has magic. 

It has never moved, and yet this humble, handwoven rug was my direct path to the world of fiber arts. It might as well have wrapped me in hand spun, vegetable-dyed wool threads for the ride of a lifetime.

The rug was a catalyst. It sparked interest in new ideas and opened new paths into the many-faceted fields of fiber and textiles. It has been wondrous journey and one I could never have imagined. 

Where it all began

The rug became part of our lives many years ago on a trip to the Southwest. We fell in love with the Native American art of the region. We admired the pottery of Maria Martinez, the potter of the San Ildefonso Pueblo, we loved the beautiful silver and turquoise jewelry, and the Navajo rugsOh, the rugs! Each was more beautiful that the next. And the more we learned about them, the more we wanted one. 

We particularly liked the Two Grey Hill rugs, which feature geometric patterns woven from the natural tan, brown, gray, black and white colors of sheep fleeces, but as young-marrieds, the prices were well beyond our budget.

We compromised. At Hubbell's Trading Post, which is now a National Historic Site in the Southwest's Four Corners Region, we found a Navajo rug that we liked and could afford Handwoven of hand-spun wool in natural and plant-based colors, the design of the rug is a traditional pattern. 

The rug appears to have a weaver's pathway. Also known as a spirit trail or spirit-line (in Navajo, ch’ihónít’i), these lines are composed of a single weft shot or a few rows found near the end of the weaving. They are symbolic and attributed to the release of the weaver's spirit from the woven item. 

Navajo rug spirit trail
You can see the section in the close-up of the top left of the rug, where there is a distinctly darker and different-colored horizontal section that moves from well inside the tan section to the outside left edge of the rug in the photo above. It isn't consistent with any part of the pattern or even with the color in any other part of the rug. And it is not consistent with a typical edge-to-edge weft weaving process. It would have required more work to weave in the small section.

My ride begins

On returning home from our trip, I read everything I could find about Navajo rugs and weaving. But I could never have imagined where the rug would take me!

First I wanted to learn to spin. (I skipped the first step--sadly, no place for sheep!) 

Dyeing quickly followed. I used dyestuffs that were readily available--onion skins, marigolds, walnut hulls, etc. Lots of yellows, tans, and dull greenish colors.

And then weave. 
Yak and sheep wool rug, Charlene Marietti

I am still drawn to handcrafted textiles. And especially those by local craftsmen and women. Be it in the Southwest, Scotland, Ecuador, China, or in my village, I am not only inspired by, but love to use, wear, admire and live surrounded by examples of their work.

And it all started with the rug. 

I recently came across a photo of a rug that I exhibited a number of years ago and was reminded of the influence of Navajo rug patterns on my weaving. 

Do you have a 'magic carpet?'