Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Book review: How to spin

Want to learn to spin but don't know where to start?

The soon to be released, How to Spin. From Choosing a Spinning Wheel to Making Yarn, by Beth Smith, would provide a good starting point. Story Publishing has positioned this book as a Storey BASICS Title and a basic inexpensive guide is exactly what it is. 

As a mostly self-taught spinner, I considered this book as I might have many years ago when I was a "wanna-be spinner" and then again, as an experienced spinner. 

There is a wealth of information in this well-organized book for beginners and spinners like me who didn't necessarily get all the fine points related to the craft. I found it a quick read from beginning to end and appreciated some new-found tips.

I particularly liked her chapter on finishing techniques as I think too many books focus on making the yarn and not enough on taking it to the final step of making it into a usable skein of yarn. 

There are excellent illustrations and step-by-step diagrams in the book, but the problem with learning a technique like spinning is that there is no substitute for watching someone spin. Recognizing that a book isn't the medium for this, the author points readers to YouTube videos for some techniques, especially those difficult explain. Hopefully, those videos will remain in place through the life of the book.

How to Spin. From Choosing a Spinning Wheel to Making Yarn, by Beth Smith, is a Storey BASICS Title from Story Publishing. The paperback edition is scheduled to be published March 8, 2016 for $9.95.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A treasure trove

Adela Akers, The Grid, 2008
How have I overlooked Philadelphia Art Alliance?

Maybe because the city is so rich in art and culture? Although true, that's too easy an excuse. I've walked and driven by the historic house on Rittenhouse Square many times, but never entered the historic building, which means I've overlooked its treasures for years. 

No more.

The center for contemporary craft and design, the Philadelphia Art Alliance (PAA) is celebrating its centenary this year. 

For me it's year one.

PAA mounts about a dozen new exhibitions each year and hosts a range of other related cultural events. We took advantage of a curated gallery talk for the current exhibition, Material Legacy: Masters of Fiber, Clay and Glass that honors five Fellows of the American Craft Council. 

Lewis Knauss. First Snow, 2004.
Not surprisingly, I was particularly interested in the fiber artists. 

Works by Adela Akersa Spanish-born textile artist whose career spans the history of modern fiber art. Her work is geometric. In this exhibit, I was most interested not only in the works themselves, but in how they were made. Composed of narrow strips of woven linen that are sewn together and embellished with metal foil, horsehair and/or paint, the whole is greater than the parts. And they are striking. 

Works by Philadelphia fiber artist Lewis Knauss, which are in the upstairs gallery, might best be described most simply as wall hangings composed of natural fibers. But simple they are not. 

Knotting is an important element in many of Knauss' works. Lots of knots. My favorite piece of Knauss' was First Snow, is worked with linen, hemp, paint and fluffy white feathers.  

Warren Seelig. Red Funnel, 2015.
The third fiber artist is Warren Seelig, who is described as an artist working in fiber/architecture. The curator noted that he is a third generation weaver, but I confess that I had trouble connecting weaving to his most of work on display. The installation composed of red monofilament came closest. 

But Seelig's work in architecture? Absolutely. Especially in his "Shadowfields" series in the exhibition. We were particularly taken with Shadowfields/Colored Light, a large work that featured stainless steel and fluorescent plexiglas shapes. Part of the Reading (Pa.) Public Museum Collection, the effect of light and shadows is mesmerizing. Where do the actual shapes end and the shadows begin? It drew us in.

We loved the exhibition, but it ends Nov. 29. If possible, get there. It's worth it.

Warren Seelig. Shadowfield/Colored Light, 2007.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Fashion, craft and fiber art

Fashions may change, but exquisite craftsmanship endures

Detail, Coral-encrusted evening gown. Givenchy. c.1964.
The current exhibition, Immortal Beauty, at Drexel University in Philadelphia exceeded all expectations. For one, I had no idea Drexel had such depth in textiles and fashion. Its collection documents more than 400 years of costume history and holds more than 14,000 garments and accessories.

From Parisian couture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries through to high fashion from the mid-20th century on, the collection is a serious resource for study. Suggested more than 100 years ago by the then Director of the School of Illustration Howard Pyle, a collection of fashionable dress and accessories would support study by Drexel's dressmaking and millinery students.

The exhibit is only a taste of Drexel's large collection, but it is a sweet one. 
Melanie Pascal
dinner dress, c. 1878.

Beginning with 19th century fabrics and garments (and one 16th C textile fragment), the exhibit travels in time into the early 21st century. Garments are complemented by accessories--hats, shoes, handbags and a spectacular parasol--and represent designs by leading designers of their day. The big names are there--Charles Frederick Worth, Mariano Fortuny, Givenchy, Salvatore Ferragamo, Christian Dior, 'Coco' Chanel, Mary Quant, Halston--and many more.

I loved the lacework on the Melanie Pascal dinner dress. Its not likely to find such rich lace these days, but the lines suggest other textural applications in knitting or weaving.

Givenchy evening gown.

But the star of the show is an evening gown richly encrusted with coral branches and embroidery. Donated by Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco, who is known to have worn the dress at least three times. The descriptive video near the end of the exhibit includes footage of her in the gown. The gown, which weighs 15 pounds, is stunning, to say the least. 

I also loved the the evening gown, c. 1926, by Callot Sours. Even on a mannequin, the dress seems likely to shimmy off its mannequin. And perhaps the original owner had a mesh purse, c.1928 like the one made by Whiting & Davis on display. (Both below) Spectacular.

Whiting & Davis mesh purse,
The exhibit is free and open through December 12. If you like and are inspired by costume and fashion, try to fit it into your schedule. 
Callot Soeurs evening gown,

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Two bags full

Carding the brown fleece

What to do with mystery fleeces?

They were left over from a fleece sale in Ohio. No one claimed them and neither had any  identification except for a tag on the brown fleece labeling it 'MED.'

Hand spinners are avid shoppers and will happily spend good money on fleeces but....only when they are 1) well-skirted, 2) clean and 3) labeled by breed. One was well-skirted and clean. The other was a mess.

I started with the brown fleece--the well-skirted, clean one. The shepherd had priced the eight pound bag of medium wool at $88.
Unknown 'white' fleece fibers

I laid it out on the table and was rather dismayed to find that it didn't unroll in one piece like a well-prepared fleece does. It was in chunks, which made for an interesting jigsaw fleece puzzle. 

Next up, the white fleece. The fiber is lovely, with a long staple and fine crimp, but shame on the shepherd. It was a mess from beginning to end. Not only had it not been skirted, it was filthy. The  back end of the sheep was in the middle, which served to spread the fecal material liberally throughout the fleece. And the parts lacking black bits were heavily contaminated with vegetation. 

Only because the wool looked nice, I picked through it and  discarded about half. I ended up with two small  piles, each less than two pounds. One I labeled No. 1 as the best of the lot. The No. 2 might be usable if I can get rid of a lot of the vegetable matter.

I carded a bit of each to see how they would spin and for their felting capabilities. I spun both in the grease and both fleeces passed the tests. So neither graces the garden yet.

Scouring a filthy fleece

The lanolin-laden wash water 
My favorite fleece expert at Winter's Past Farm suggested that I might be able to clean up the more contaminated parts of the filthy white fleece with some heavy duty scouring. I did some research, specifically in The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning," which is a wealth of information on all things pertaining to spinning. Then I got started

Scoured fleece
I filled my roaster with 120 ℉ water and added Tide detergent and Dawn dish soap. I then added about 3/4 lb. of fleece and gently moved it back and forth. After 10 to 15 minutes, I removed it, drained the excess water and then rinsed...and rinsed...and rinsed it. 

After gently squeezing out as much water as possible, I put the fleece to dry on an upside down plastic grid storage cube.

I haven't mentioned the lanolin. I have referred to the fleece as white, but it was so laden with lanolin that it looked yellow. One hot water and detergent bath wasn't enough to get rid of all the lanolin by a long shot, but the results are significant.

The fleece is so much improved that I plan to scour the No.1 fleece sections, as well. 

I haven't decided what I'm going to do with these mystery fleeces, but when I decide, you'll be among the first to know.

Any suggestions?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Nothing beats a fiber guild

Scarves, swatches, and education
Weaving sample and documentation

Since becoming aware of the group at last year's Vogue Knitting Live, I wanted to go to a New York Guild of Handwearvers (NYGH) meeting. Their programs looked impressive. I put their meetings on my must-do list. 

Setting time aside and carrying through is always the challenge. The Guild meets on Saturdays at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, which is very near where I once worked. No excuses on that front. I just needed to block out the day and go. The Pope's visit, with accompanying regional road and transit disruptions, foiled plans in September, but I was determined to go to the October meeting. And I did.

For one, NYGH gets high marks for their 75th anniversary celebration. They set a goal to weave 75 scarves for distribution to the homeless in New York City through Partnership for the Homeless. About a dozen--all different and all lovely--were on display at the their monthly meeting in October. I only regret that I didn't take a photo of a selection when I had the opportunity, which was before I knew what I was seeing.

Organize and learn

The NYGH Swatch Project is a group project that achieves two goals. Structured as a collaborative study group, members will organize the Guild's large collection of swatches. In October, they began to identify, catalog and organize them into notebooks that can be used as resources for guild members. Some of the swatches have been well documented, but many stand alone. No identification, no threading or treadling diagrams. Just a woven square. This is an excellent learning experience for weavers at all levels of expertise.

Daryl Lancaster wearing
her handwoven garment

Document and photograph

Well known among contemporary handweavers for her handwoven garments and custom art-to-wear, Daryl Lancasterweaver and fiber artist, brings her industry expertise to weavers and other fiber enthusiasts through her published articles and workshops.

Her presentation to the NYGH, Photographing Your Work, is self-explanatory and included photographing fiber work for documentation, for the web and for submission to publications. 

Her presentation aimed to help us help ourselves. Beginning with camera basics--aperture, settings, resolution, etc.--she moved quickly to the less-frequently discussed challenges of photographing fiber works. 

Documentation is a must. "To make something and have no record of it is a shame," she said. No model and just need a photo for documentation or blogs? Selfies can work, as can dress forms. (I've tried both with moderate-to-little success, but I'm going to try these options again with her suggestions.)

Discussing the importance of photos to accompany articles submitted to publications, she reports utter dismay at the quality that came across her desk when she was a magazine editor. "There is something about the fiber community that consistently provides terrible images," she said.

I particularly appreciated her tips for submitting photographs of work to publications and her discussion of image editing software. I confess a love/hate relationship with programs such as Adobe Photoshop. I love the potential, but often feel daunted at the array of powerful editing tools. But after this presentation, I'm ready to step up and master the few basic tools needed to improve my photos, both here and as documentation.

(Missed Daryl Lancaster's presentation? You can purchase her monograph here.)