Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sharing the fiber fun

"Emilia" necklace

Braiding and felting marked the week

Making something out of fiber is self-satisfying, but nothing is more rewarding than sharing knowledge and skills. This was a bonanza week.

A kumihimo workshop at Woolbearers in Mt. Holly, NJ. kicked off the week. I was particularly delighted that everyone could work on marudais. Disks may be fine to try out braiding, but if beautiful braids are the goal, a marudai is a basic tool. 

Traditional braids, contemporary uses

For those of us compelled to manipulate threads, the craft of kumihimo, aka Japanese braiding, provides a versatile tool in the artisan's arsenal. Although its resulting braids may be best known related to Japanese warfare and kimonos, their uses are highly versatile, limited only to the imagination. An added plus is the size of the marudais, which take little space, making them an ideal tool for apartment dwellers. 

Marsha Atkinson at her marudai
Chris Jochem, focusing
on hand placement
And threads! Again, limited only by imagination. Although silk is the traditional thread for kumihimo, all types and sizes of threads and yarn are suitable. If it can be wound onto a bobbin, it can be used to make a braid. 

This kumihimo workshop focused on making a basic eight-bobbin braid as a basis for "Emilia" necklace using DMC No. 8 cotton.

Susie VanEmburgh with her
needle-felted ornament

Needle felting 101

A couple days later, it was on to needle-felting. A friend wanted to learn to needle felt and although I had advised her that she really didn't need someone to teach her, she thought she did. I happily agreed to help her get started.

A starter needle felting kit from Winter's Past Farm provided the basic tools and a colorful selection of wool. She wanted to make a Christmas tree ornament. And just look at the candy cane she finished.

And not only that, I had a grand time catching up with her and her family and just generally having a good, old-fashioned gab session.

Idea reservoirs

Days and workshops like this provide far more than learning skills. They serve as a forum for the creative interchange of ideas. And these afternoons had the creative juices flowing...What if? How about? Did you know?

It was a fun week for sharing projects and ideas with like-minded people. May there be many more.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mongolian threads

Traditional Mongolian deel

Historical textiles and traditional dress

Genghis Khan.The name alone invokes warfare and power. From the steppes of Mongolia, so it is said, hordes of Mongols swept south and west to conquer. And conquer most of Eurasia, they did. 

An exhibit, Genghis Khan: Bring the Legend to Life, currently at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia tells the tale and includes some rather incredible artifacts, almost all of which are from private collections. It would be of interest to know where. 

Among the many treasures, we were particularly impressed with the sword attributed as a gift from Marco Polo, but since this blog focuses on textiles, I'll stick to the wealth in that realm. 

Textiles are a common thread throughout the exhibit and begins at the entrance where a cut-away gur (or ger) provides a view of traditional Mongolian nomad living quarters. Also known as yurts, these portable tent-like structures consist of a wooden frame with felt cover and sides. Beautiful rugs cover the floor.

Mongolian spinning weights. Drop spindle replica (left).

From spinning to clothing

I find early textile tools intriguing and these jade spinning disks, which formed the weight for drop spindles, are no exception. The white jade disk, which is part of a drop spindle replica, is 2,000 years old. The disk on the right, a mere 7,000 years old.

There are plenty of traditional costumes in the exhibit to appreciate and to inspire. Personally, I have always liked the asymmetry of Asian costume such as the Mongolian deel (above, right). That includes their braid-based loops and buttons. (Kumihimo!) (More information on Mongolian clothing here.)
Mongolian mesh armor

Even the structure of Mongolian armor is appealing. In the fragmented mesh armor, at right, I can see a contemporary knit--a sweater or a jacket.

Although the warrior garments are interesting, I find traditional costumes more interesting for their colors and patterns. The traditional woman's costume (18th to 19th century) was well preserved and provides a wealth of design potential. 

Mongolian woman's traditional costume, purse
18th to 19th c
And that little purse! I know. Little purses like this are readily available in Chinese markets, but small purses from all eras enchant me...I'm fascinated by how they're constructed, what they're made of and how they complement the costume. This little gem satisfies all criteria.

Mongolian woman's traditional costume.
18th to 19th c

In the same week, we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art's special exhibit, China: Through the Looking Glass. The two exhibits were bookends. One, the traditional. The other, the influence. 

I've chosen to share the Genghis Khan exhibit now as it's still at The Franklin Institute (Philadelphia). Go, if you can.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fiber festivals and markets

Gleaning data from preferences and purchases.

Winter's Past Farm at Kings County Fiber Festival
From writing a business plan to developing and offering products and services, small business face the same hurdles as large corporations. Where are the opportunities? Who are the potential customers and what do they need and/or want? Bottom line: What will sell?

Large companies spend a great deal of time and money identifying their market as it is key to strategy and to profitability. Small business owners need the same information, but gathering it is a slower and less structured process. No outsourcing, no big data to crunch. 

Pricing is important, but understanding potential buyers comes first. Who are they? What interests them? What will appeal to them? And perhaps most importantly, where are the opportunities? 

Two fiber festivals. Two markets.

Among others, Winter's Past Farm is a regular exhibitor at Garden State Sheep and Fiber Festival, a weekend event in mid-Jersey, and Kings County Fiber Festival, a Saturday event on Columbus Day weekend in Brooklyn. I'm focusing on these two here.

Although only about 50 miles apart the two festivals are very different. 

Garden State Sheep & Fiber Festival 
Type of festival: Hosted by Garden State Sheepbreeders, the event features a two-day sheep and fiber livestock show. A community event that also draws serious fiber folks from an estimated 40 mile range in central New Jersey. 
Date: Second weekend in September.
Location: Set amidst farmlands in a county agricultural fairground's dim and dusty barns
Weather: The 2014 weekend was brutally hot vs. this year, which was beautiful. The crowd seemed smaller this year, but once tallied, sales figures were the same year over year.

Kings County Fiber Festval
Type of festival: Street festival. Lots of families, but far fewer serious fiber folks. 
Date: Saturday of Columbus Day weekend.
Location: Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York
Weather: Comparing year over year, we noted that about half the 2014 vendors bailed out due to heavy rain. However, once the rain cleared, there was a flood of customers and business was brisk. This year, it was a spectacular fall day and all vendors showed up. It certainly seemed that there were fewer customers. Did more people travel over the beautiful long weekend?

As we pondered differences, we also noted different purchasing preferences, both year over year and between the two festivals. For me, the most dramatic difference was the preference between two knit accessories.

I had taken two recently released patterns--The Peacock's Gift, a singular shawl in striking royal blue (below, left), and Jersey Waterways, a versatile cowl in a lightly variegated gray (below, right). 
Jersey Waterways*
The Peacock's Gift*

At Garden State, the Peacock's Gift was the clear attention-getter and the sole source of pattern revenue. There was little interest in Jersey Waterways.

In Brooklyn, preferences were exactly opposite. Interest was almost solely on the Jersey Waterways. I sold out of the printed patterns! (Both are available on Ravelry.

Was it color? The weather--surely a factor but how important? And what about the demographics? I'll probably never know the answers--and there is nothing to suggest that things won't change next year. But I'm reassured that knitters like what I'm doing, so I'll just keep designing what I like--and listening and watching for reactions. 

*Model: Lauren Valletutti. Photographer: Maurice Marietti

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Camp gamps

63 twill variations for weaving ideas and inspiration

Twill gamp #1
Seven weavers each brought a portable loom. Each was threaded with three different twill patterns separated by two threads of a contrasting thread. Those are the vertical lines in the photos. 

As mentioned in my last post, each weaver wove three different treadling sequences, weaving two picks of a third contrasting color to separate one patterns before moving to the next.  sequence. Those are the horizontal lines in the photos.

Two days. Seven samples. Nine patterns on each gamp. Sixty three variations on twill.
Twill gamp #2
Twill gamp #3 (Incomplete sample)

Twill gamp #6

Lessons learned

In the workshop, each weaver tagged her gamp, which brings me to a cautionary tale. If you use white tags to identify designs and patterns, make sure they can survive your finishing method. Tags that disintegrate in water are a big problem for fabrics that need wet finish and/or blocking. 

Twill gamp #7
These gamps weren't woven for beauty. Time was tight and weaving, as quickly as possible. That meant that selvages weren't as tidy as they would be in a finished piece and minor mistakes were ignored. That extra white line in twill gamp #6? I lost my place in the treadling order and rather than undo the picks, I marked the point of error and kept weaving.

The master plan was that weavers plan to weave on their loom last, so that if time ran out--as it did, they could finish the sample at home. 

The gamps shown here have all been wet finished by hand washing (in Dreft), rinsing and ironing when dry.

Evaluating patterns

Some patterns appeal to me more than others, but I can see at least one design potential in each of the gamps. Some, I've discounted due to floats that would make the fabric unstable. (Note the middle section in Twill gamp #2.)

Twill gamp #6, at left, looked very different after wet finishing. Just off the loom, the squares were distinctly square, but not after finishing. Were I to use any of those twills, I'd  need to make sure I either beat lighter or planned for significant lengthwise shrinkage.

Others I'm disinclined to weave because the results aren't significantly different enough to justify weaving a three-pick color pattern. That was true for twill gamp #3 on which progress was slow and I was running short on time. I ended the pain and moved on.

Now that these are finished, I'll put them in a notebook with their threading and treadling patterns and add another valuable addition to my fiber resource library.

*Extra marks if you noticed that #4 and #5 are missing. Time ran short. Number 5 is on my loom to be woven and shared with the person who didn't get to it and #4's loom owner has promised to weave off an extra gamp when she does hers. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Gamp camp

A workshop with no relationship to Sarah Gamp's brolly.

8-Harness Schacht with twill gamp begun
Odd word, gamp. According to and every other online resource I found, 'gamp' is a British colloquialism for an umbrella that derives from Charles Dickens' character Sarah Gamp, a nurse with a large unwieldy umbrella in Martin Chuzzlewit. I found not one reference related to weaving.

Yet gamp is a real word used by weavers to describe a sampler--and samples are as essential to weavers as gauge swatches are to knitters. (If you know the origin, please share!)

On the loom, fibers, colors and patterns don't always behave as expected. And the time to find that out is before the project is warped, the loom dressed and the weaving begun.

Gamp camp in Medford

Last weekend, the South Jersey Guild of Spinners and Handweavers hosted a weekend workshop with Karen Donde to explore the possiblities of color-and-weave effects in twill patterns. Seven of us arrived on Saturday morning, each with a loom dressed with 5/2 cotton in two contrasting colors. There were four- and eight-harness looms, each threaded with three different patterns across the 12 inch width and ready to weave.

Ashford table loom
This was a round robin event, meaning that each person wove a sample on each of the seven looms. For those who didn't own a portable/sample loom, it was an ideal opportunity to try out different maker's equipment. I particularly liked the Louet, which had its own stand, and the Ashford table loom (at right). I have an eight-harness Schacht table loom and stand that M. built for it. (Works a charm, but confused some people because the levers are right to left. Are they still made that way? I don't know.)

Each loom was matched to a treadling pattern with directions for three different treadlings, which resulted in nine different variations for each twill gamp. 

At the end of the second day, the fabric was cut from the looms and cut apart so that each participant several twill gamps. After I secure the ends and wet finish mine, I'll share photos here.
Vintage table loom

Why do this? To find patterns suitable for upcoming projects, of course. Among the nine options, there is likely to be one--or more--that look promising. Gamp are not end projects. Rather, they are resources for future projects. It's a beginning. Most (all?) projects will call for changes--fine-tuning, if you will. Different colors, yarns, beat, etc. 

Weaving a twill gamp is a good exercise. Handweavers Guild of America provides directions for threading and treadling a twill gamp here.