Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Pegs and bars

12-harness broken twill sample on a dobby loom

and a dobby loom

My new old pre-AVL loom is a real gem. This12-harness dobby loom is compact and also known as the Witch Loom and the Original Folding Loom. If you missed the story of the 'find of my weaverly life,' it's here. But that story ended with the loom in the door and I promised updates so here goes. 

That first evening, our first reaction was to call in a knowledgable AVL friend, but by the time Monday rolled around, the beast wasn't looking so daunting. 

I had ordered some resources--Hand Weaving and Cloth Design, by Marianne Straub; Handloom Weaving Technology, by Allen Fannin; and Bonnie Inouye's PDF revision to the first part of her out-of-print book, Exploring Multishaft Design--to help me understand the mechanism and awaited deliveries. 

Some minor mechanical issues emerged but almost all of them were related to the disuse. There was a light rust film on the metal parts and they didn't move smoothly. I cleaned  the dobby fingers and other metal parts with a very light, non-petroleum-based oil and added some graphite to the sliding metal frame on the dobby mechanism. 

Ready to weave

When the peg wrench I'd ordered from AVL arrived, I was ready to peg bars and begin weaving!

I put on a warp, pegged some bars for tabby, and started weaving. This was key to my understanding the loom and how it worked. And it was key to seeing what was simply frozen from sitting and what needed fixed.

As I wove, I found that the Texsolv heddles grabbed and didn't slide smoothly on the harnesses. The heddles maintain the harnesses in position but need to move a little, too, so I lightly waxed the harnesses. Problem solved.

Mostly, it was me that needed to become familiar with my loom and how to make it work for me. My main challenges were how to attach the raddle and where best to sit when threading the heddles. But these challenges aren't unique. They're true for any newly acquired loom.

Dobby with bars pegged for a twill weave
Feeling more confident about the mechanics, my next goal was to figure out how to change the dobby bars more easily. They load from the back underside and I found them fiddly. I may be missing some basic know-how, but still haven't found it. I now use a nylon cord to wrap around the first bar to hold it in a depression until I could move it into working position. 

The original dobby bars use metal rings for connections. This requires needle-nosed pliers to connect bars and change configurations. M solved the connection issue with little cable ties. Perfect. Easy to put on and easy to snip off with scissors. (Visible at right between the first bar at the top and the second.)

I am loving weaving on this little gem and look forward to more exploration of multi-harness weaves! The South Jersey Guild has a study program this year--so there will be more about weaving to come.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Card tricks

Ever woven with cards? 

At the Kings County Fiber Festival in October, a member of the New York Guild of Handweavers asked me if I could do card weaving. I offered to donate cards to the cause, but that wasn't what she was looking for. She wanted someone who could help teach card weaving in a guild workshop. I agreed to help.

Card weaving, also known as tablet weaving depending on where you live, produces decorative bands and requires little in the way of equipment. For those interested in in the dynamics of weaving, card weaving offers entry to the craft for very little investment. Weavers can make their own cards from sturdy cardboard, but they are very inexpensive. Halcyon, for example, offers 12 four-hole weaving for $4.

Historically rich

Inge Dam workshop example, MAFA2015
According to Margarita Gleba in her book, Textile Production in Pre-Roman Italy, and cited on Wikipedia, card/tablet weaving goes back at least to the eighth century BCE in early Iron Age Europe. Historically the technique was used to create starting and/or selvedge bands, to weave decorative bands onto existing textiles and to create freestanding narrow work.

Wool, linen, silk and gold and silver threads were traditionally used as threads, but there are no restrictions. Thread types and size of thread is up to the weaver. 

At its most basic level, card weaving isn't difficult and the simplest designs make beautiful belts, straps and clothing decorations. Of course, added complexity provides more intricate and beautiful designs. 

Lest you consider card weaving to be a craft of times past, consider how modern fiber artists are using the techniques--and be inspired. Master weaver and textile designer Inge Dam, for example, incorporates the cards into her loom-woven fabrics. The results are spectacular. The example at right shows a card woven band in the middle of fabric. (The cards are barely visible behind the reed in the heddle space.)

How it works

Weaving with cards/tablets combines twisting threads with securing the weaving through a shed, which is produced when the cards are turned. It's the twisted threads that add luminescence to bands woven with certain threads.

Learning the technique was a requisite in my City and Guilds of London Institute course at what is now London Metropolitan University. I still have the cards along with samples and directions as well as a definitive book on the subject, The Techniques of Tablet Weaving by Peter Collingwood.

But no investment in books is required to start these days. Online, The Loomy Bin and The Earth Guild, among others, provide clear and concise directions from setting up the cards to devising a way to tension the threads and to finishing the weaving. The Loomy Bin has excellent visuals.
A collection of finished card woven bands
I used my inkle loom for tensioning a test warp of 5/2 red and green cotton on 24 cards. It worked just fine, so I threaded a set of 16 square four-holed cards for the workshop. 

As an afterthought, I  thought I'd be able to use the six-sided six-holed card set by threading four threads on opposites. It seemed like a good idea--but it wasn't. Although the shed was fine on half the turns, the other half were bad. It worked, but on the messy sheds, I needed to pick up the threads on each card. I don't recommend it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Color works

Fox Paws, detail of five color interaction

...or not

It all started with a scarf. The scarf, which was hanging across the aisle from the Coopworth booth at Maryland Sheep and Wool, was tantalizing for one main reason: I couldn't figure out how the design was achieved in knitting. I just couldn't 'see' it. Thanks to Kris, I was gifted the pattern and could figure it out.

The design is a popular one--Fox Paws by Xandy Peters. And it is very clever. Based on multiple increases--7, 9 and 11 stitches--and equivalent decreases, the resulting pattern is reminiscent of intricate Eastern designs. But the cleverness doesn't stop there. The five-color design rotates across several pattern sets to add depth and interest.

Five color combo

The color combination used in the pattern aren't colors I wear. Rather, I envisioned colors typical to oriental carpets. Heavy on dark blue with touches of rose, burgundy, lighter blue and gold. The pattern uses Knit Picks' Palette 100% wool, fingering weight yarn, which comes in a mind-boggling range of 150 colors. And very affordable.

Combining five colors can be tricky. It may be absolutely true that colors can't be selected from online images, but what if there is no alternative? Many people do not live near a local yarn store (LYS) that stocks a wide range of colors. 

I accepted the downside and ordered eight balls. I played with them in my hand and settled on five that worked together. And then I started knitting.
First five colors

I wasn't happy. And a larger swatch didn't make it better. In fact, the more I knit, the more I disliked it. And when I found myself planning to over dye it, I stopped. I knit for pleasure and I certainly wasn't enjoying this process. 

Setting aside the partially knit shawl, I planned colors again. The problem wasn't really the colors. It was the equal dominance of each color due to the rotation of colors. Colors that add dimension in a carpet looked garish in larger sections.

Five colors, more balanced
I was pleased with two of my starting colors--navy and burgundy--and kept them in the mix.  I added a neutral heather with a touch of gold, a muted rose and a purplish blue. Four of the five colors were heathers. I cast on and loved the combination. (The colors used are documented on Ravelry.)

Knowing how the colors were moving, I planned the first plain knit space (most of the piece is garter stitch) but realized while knitting that I wanted to plan the ending colors, too. Another thing to keep in mind to keep the colors balanced from end to end.

Notes on knitting

Due to the large number of increases and decreases, the math for the repeats didn't make sense on my first read. I asked Xandy about it and she replied, "At first, markers seem helpful, but I actually recommend that people place them in the even rows and remove them in the odd rows while counting to make sure they have the right numbers. This way you won’t have to do the confusing movements between shaping rows."

I preferred to leave the markers on all rows, both even and odd. Yes, I needed to move the markers in many of the rows, but I knew that, for example, if I had three stitches before the marker and in an increase or decrease row, I was spot on. The markers kept me on target.

Fox Paws, as a scarf
Size. Some people commenting on the pattern, which is identified as a shawl or wrap, thought the width too wide. It isn't for a shawl or wrap. The finished width of my first piece is 18 inches. I wanted a scarf, so I simply omitted one repeat to do three repeats instead of four. My scarf is 13 inches wide and 72 inches long (and didn't quite finish the balls of yarn.)

Do note: This is not a quick knit! But the final result is worth the effort.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Ahrens & Violette No. 00129

Ahrens & Violette loom, No. 00129

I hit the weaver's lottery!

I've owned four floor looms to date and have experience weaving with jack, counterbalance, and countermarch mechanisms--but I have none--zero, nill, nada, zilch--experience with a dobby loom. Of course, I know of them. I know people who own them. One has just never come across  my path. Until now.

Last month at a guild meeting, an AVL dobby loom was posted as a giveaway. It was free because it was missing key components--namely, the dobby bars. The loom belonged to Sara Henderson, a long-time member and librarian of the Jockey Hollow Weavers. Her family was prepared to put it on the curb and, in the meantime, was offering it free to anyone who would haul it away. 
Ahrens & Violette loom identification

I said yes. Then I went home wondered what I'd gotten myself into. And then I contacted AVL Looms. Bob Kruger responded immediately. Yes, the dobby bars could be purchased and the company sells parts to older looms. I felt a little better about the acquisition. But still, this loom was sight-unseen. I knew about the dobby bars, but what else was missing--or wrong? Still, I was excited at the prospect. 

Before we headed out to pick up the loom, we studied the manual, which is available online from AVL, and I asked members of AVL groups on Weavolution and Ravelry for advice. Following their suggestions, we assembled tools and prepared for a complicated disassembly. 

All round bests for my new-to-me loom

1. Condition. Overall, the Ahrens & Violette loom is in excellent shape. The well-made loom pre-dates the company's name change from Ahrens & Violette Looms Inc. to AVL Looms so is commonly known as a pre-AVL loom. 

AVL Loom's Bob Kruger estimates the loom was made between 1980 and 1982. The number, which is on the brass plate on the castle, identifies it as number 00129. 

2. Provenance. As suggested, the loom came from a school. Specifically, F.I.T. (Fashion Institute of Technology) in NYC. The inventory label from the New York Board of Education is still attached to the castle. There is also a stamped number on the dobby base: 86400H, but I have no idea what that means. 

3. Transport. The Weavolution and Ravelry AVL communities were awesome and provided excellent suggestions for tools and how-to disassemble. Another best: We didn't have to! It fit (just) in the back of our Ford Ranger pickup with cabover.

4. Bench. One wasn't in the original photo so I expected to need one. I don't. The bench was in the bathroom. And it's a beauty!

5. Shuttle. In a box of leftover weaving tools that we left  with was a shuttle--and not just any shuttle. It is the original end-feed tensioned hand shuttle. It still has the Ahrens & Violette label and its inventory number, stamped on the bottom, is the same as that stamped on the loom, '20.'

Dobby bars, extra pegs and pirns

And the best of the best?

In the last 'look' for weaving bits before the estate clearance people came, Maurice found the dobby bars! They were in an Easter basket, along with an extra bag of pegs and two pirns for the shuttle. Up on a shelf, they'd been hiding in plain sight.

The challenging part now is figuring out the mechanism and returning the loom to working order. So far, each day brings at least one new 'Ah-ha' moment. And the clever man who discovered the dobby bars just keeps figuring out things. 

There is definitely more to come.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Spinning wheels

Spinning to learn. Spinning for fun.

My wheel with Corriedale yarn on the bobbin
Several months ago, I signed up for a two-day spinning workshop in Southern New Jersey. It sounded like a lovely way to decompress from a family wedding planned for the prior weekend. It was.

Although I've been spinning for years (and years and years), I am not a great spinner. I can spin. I like to spin, but it's not my sole focus. I tend to spin a little a lot of days and my resulting yarn is  "so-so." OK. Not great. So I'm always interested in improving my skills.

Third Star planned two workshops--weaving with Karen Donde and spinning with Beth Smith. I did Karen's workshop last fall--the exact one--so signed up for spinning. I knew of Beth Smith and had recently used her scouring method to process a fleece. (Heads up: She is on the roster at the MidAtlantic Fiber Association's 2017 conference next summer.)
Beth Smith wearing one of her many crowns

What a fun learning weekend! I did more with the fleece from a greater number of different sheep breeds than I ever have. We prepped--hand carded, combed, teased and flicked. We spun from roving, combed tops, locks, and milled roving in short forward draw, supported long draw and unsupported long draw. I learned....a  lot.

Happy 40th Anniversary!

The Guild was celebrating their fortieth anniversary with the workshops, but they also included public outreach in the mix. On Saturday evening, they held a celebration dinner, made a marbleized silk scarf and mounted an exhibit of guild members' creations. I loved their show and took a couple of photos (below).
Third Star Fibre Artists Guild Show and Sale: ( L) Various guild members. (R) Annette Devitt's work.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Extreme views

From the ordinary to the extraordinary

L. Ralph Lauren pantsuit, 2013. R. British mess jackets
The two exhibits currently a the Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York couldn't be more different. One focuses on the influence of uniforms--school, sports, military, service industry--on mainstream fashion. The other focuses on one woman's collection of high-end couture fashion.

Both are excellent. And both are free.

Fashion inspired by the ordinary

The Uniformity exhibit, which is in the Fashion & Textile Gallery on the main floor, opens with two  British military "mess dress" jackets c. 1900. The  elaborate braid and soutache patterns, which once served as protection in hand-to-hand combat, continue to inspire contemporary fashion designers. One example is seen below in garments by Yves St. Laurent and Ralph Lauren.
L. Yves St. Laurent, 1967. R. Perry Ellis, 1983

With a focus on four categories of uniforms--military, work, school, and sports--the exhibit provides examples and detailed information to show direct relationships between uniforms and fashion. 

According to signage, Yves Saint Laurent began experimenting with military elements in the mid-60's. Re-appropriating the naval peacoat, his navy blue, double-breasted jacket became one of his signature styles. On a very personal note, his 1967 ensemble (left) is remarkably like the navy blue dress and jacket I made for my going-away suit (remember those?) in.....1967!

Most viewers will be familiar with each and every uniform as well as its vestige in modern interpretation. I think the personal connections make this an engaging show and well worth a visit. 

Uniformity runs through November 19, 2016.

Fashion as unique creations

Distinctly different and on the opposite end of anything derived from lowly uniforms are the extraordinary fashions from the wardrobe of Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe (1860–1952). The exhibit, Proust's Muse: The Countess Greffulhe, is in FIT's Special Exhibitions Gallery. 

Based on a Paris exhibition organized by Olivier Saillard, director of the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, which is the repository of the countess's wardrobe, this exhibit is a collaboration of Saillard and Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT.

Unfortunately, no photos are permitted in the exhibit so you'll have to make a trip to personally drool over the truly spectacular garments.

Proust's Muse: The Countess Greffulhe runs through January 7, 2017.

Can't possibly make it in person? Check out the museum's online virtual tours at Uniformity and Proust's Muse: The Countess Greffulhe.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Saturday in Brooklyn

Celebrating five years of friends and fiber

River Valley Farm's paper sheep took shelter from the rain
This was the fifth year for the Kings County Fiber Festival. Held in Park Slope in  Brooklyn, N.Y. on the Saturday of Columbus Day weekend the festival is now a part of family history. Son Steven connected Maxine de Gouttes, organizer of the event and then owner of Stitch Therapy knitting shop in Brooklyn, with his sister Kris of Winter's Past Farm who became part of the first group to participate in the festival.

Each year, more people attend the festival and there are more group activities at the historic Old Stone House in the park. The park is also the site of a children's playground so the area buzzes with activity.

Spin City spinners and weavers
practice for competition
It's here that the Spin City Shawl Team does a practice run for Rhinebeck's Sheep to Shawl competitions. Unfortunately, I'll miss not only the competition, but the group in full costume when they go head-to-head with other sheep-to-shawl teams from the region. (Few things interfere with fiber festivals, but this one takes precedence over everything else. My son is getting married.)

Knitting with hands

Also at the Old Stone House was a large group learning to knit without needles. Lion Brand Yarn donated the yarn--and bags to hold the creations. People of all ages took advantage of the opportunity and some made some pretty large shawls!

Winter's Past Farm booth ready for business

Most of the day was just about perfect for being outdoors. It was cloudy but comfortable until about 3 p.m., when it started to drizzle. Not enough to bail but enough that we needed to make the booth into a three-sided plastic cocoon. By the time it was raining steadily, it was time to pack up. 

It was all great fun!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Warp to weave

Where to begin?

There has been a Weavers' Study Group in The South Jersey Guild of Spinners and Handweavers off and on for years but there was concern that enthusiasm was flagging. The community is great. Study and growth, not so much. 

The study group leader, Helena, and I wondered why. To find out, we surveyed guild members who had indicated interest in weaving. We wanted buy-in and we wanted to know what the weavers wanted to do. And to help plan a program, we also wanted to know what kind of equipment is in use? What are the levels of expertise? What are  comfort levels reading a draft and warping a loom? And what kind of project are members most interested in pursuing?

As expected, we found a wide range of interests, equipment and abilities. So where to start?  Several people didn't feel comfortable reading a draft or warping a loom by themselves and certain, we settled on a program that started with the basics--reading a draft and warping a loom. A weaver can't do one without the other. 

Weaving Basics: Warp to Weave

The resulting program started with drafts and progressed through warping a loom. Helena  walked everyone through reading a draft. She included both commonly found types of drafts, American and Swedish. Then we moved on to warping.

We talked about nitty-gritty preparations ranging from how to calculate uptake, etc. through winding a warp, tying a cross, and securing the warp. And as we talked, we did it. 

An interesting point of discussion centered on calculations and was a repeat of a conversation between Helena and me: How to calculate for take-up and shrinkage in a project's width. For years, I've simply added about 15 percent. Online calculators such as Weavolution also use what I'm calling 'the add-on' amount. But another way of calculating the width is to consider the desired width as 85 percent of the total, which would calculate take-up and shrinkage by dividing the total width by 0.85. 

The numbers don't differ a great deal on smaller items, but on a wider piece could be significant. Of course, these calculations aren't necessary if the diligent weaver has made a sample and processed it. Raise your hand if you always do that. I didn't think so.

When it comes to warping a loom, several participants seemed relieved that the process is not an 'either/or.' In fact, there is only one absolute to warping a loom and that is to maintain control of the threads until they're threaded and beamed. 

Personal preference guides whether to warp back-to-front or front-to-back, too. Experienced weavers more commonly start at the back of the loom but that doesn't mean starting at the front is wrong. It's not. 


As weavers share, each of us constantly picks up tips or a little trick to make the job easier. For me, it was shoelaces. Tying them on the front beam and using them as connectors makes it easy to adjust tension. Great tip. Thank you, Helena. (Click here to see how one weaver explains it.)

We moved on to demonstrate warping the loom. I had an undressed loom and a wound warp and Helena had brought a loom that was mostly warped so we could move from the getting it on the back beam to threading.

If you're in the South Jersey are, join us on the first Saturday of each month. And if not, look for a guild near you.

Click to access the Warp to Weave handout, which also has links to online resources, including one to a video on warping a loom back-to-front.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Shuttle, shuttle

Diversity, purpose and personal style define shuttle types

Sally Orgren's shuttles and shuttle holder at top center
Once a weaver has a few shuttles in his or her toolkit, what more is there to know? A lot, as Sally Orgren proved in the September program "Boost Your Weaving Skills: All About Shuttles," for the New York Guild of Handweavers

Targeted to weavers at all levels of experience, Sally used her personal collection of shuttles and a handout with images to demonstrate different shuttle types and characteristics, as well as proper bobbin/pirn/quill winding, and shuttle handling. 

Match the shuttle type to the loom (shed), the yarn, and personal working styles to improve the weaving experience and the end product, she advises weavers. Consider not only the type of shuttle--stick, boat, ski, rag, etc.--but the unique features of the shuttle. Considerations include:
Sally Orgren winding on a stick shuttle

  • Height of the shuttle. Match height to the shed depth on the loom, which is dependent on the loom.
  • Length of the shuttle. Match length to the width of the project on the loom.
  • Length of the side opening for the weft feed. In most cases, the longer the opening, the more even the feed.
  • Type of weft yarn. Bulky, fine, sticky, smooth.
  • Shape of the nose: Sharp or blunt? Again, important to the loom type and shed size.
  • Open or closed bottom. Mostly personal preference, but heavily loaded bobbins/pirns/quills will drag.
  • Handling the shuttle. Very personal. How does the shuttle feel in the hand when you hold the shuttle to throw it? 
Considering buying a new shuttle? Borrow one from a friend and try it before buying it, she suggests.

The yarn goes on

Sally Orgren demonstrates winding a quill
Obviously, winding the weft yarn onto the shuttle depends on the type of shuttle. Sally demonstrated some winding operations. One was loading a stick shuttle using a figure-eight wind-on to load as much as possible yet keep a low profile shuttle. 

She also demonstrated how to make a paper quill, tips to stabilize bobbins on the bobbin winder, and how to wind on bobbins, pirns and quills. (Want to watch someone do it? Check out The Woolery's videos.)

Invitation to learning

Join the South Jersey Guild of Spinners and Handweavers meeting Oct. 1 for "Warp to Weave," a program on how to get started--or how to improve--reading a draft and warping a loom. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The show goes, no matter the weather

Garden State Sheep and Fiber Festival 2016

Winter's Past Farm, Shelterwood Farm, & Filamenti Co-op 
It was hot, as in, HOT! Saturday morning the temperature was mid-90's and the humidity, absolutely stifling. I don't think I've ever been so hot--not even in the jungles of the Amazon.

I was hot, but certainly not miserable. I shared space with Kris at Winter's Past Farm and Robin at Shelterwood Farm. Serious, fiber-minded people showed up on Saturday morning, but by noon, the shoppers were gone. That left the sheep, who weren't buying. t suppose that was a blessing as I didn't have to move much.

Metis' 3D printer
As always, it was a fun two days, mainly because of fiber friends. Among them were Kae, Pat, Marsha, and Karen who stopped by to chat and catch up. Another highlight was meeting people I've been working with virtually, but have never met in person--especially Elizabeth A. and Pat H. (Check out our work on next summer's MidAtlantic Fiber Association's biennial conference.)

The Skein Competition, which is run by North Country Spinners, is always a big deal, too, if for no other reason than to keep me humble. Very humble. What a high degree of competency these spinners have! Very impressive. My only wish is that names were associated with the entries. I'm sure I know some of the spinners and I'd like to congratulate them.

Metis Industry owners with their printer
And, like fiber festivals everywhere, meeting other fiber-crazy people and seeing new things is what it's about. The title of unique vendor of this year's festival goes to Metis Industries, who make,  among other things, drop spindles with 3D printed decorative top whorls. 

I must confess. I got pretty excited because I have been looking for someone to 3D print some small plastic parts to a small knitting device that is no longer manufactured.

Over the years, a couple of its plastic parts have gone  missing and it's a shame not to have all of the parts. The Metis folks assure me they can print the missing parts--and make the classic machine whole again.

I'm looking forward to putting the device together and sharing this odd piece of recent history with other knitters. You'll see it here first.
Handspun skein competition: Best of Show...obviously (L) and cotton (R)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Granting the gap a name

This month, I had a writing break that was neither planned nor a slowdown. It just was. And because it's August, I'm calling it my ferragosto.

Life slows down in Italy in August. Actually, that's true across Europe and many shops and restaurants, especially the smaller ones, close for a couple of weeks. The Italians call it 'ferragosto.'

Conversely, I haven't slowed down, but instead of blogging, I've been very busy making and finishing things. I've kept my sewing machine humming with some things I can't talk about yet.

Two major unfinished projects have been haunting me. A rug on the loom and about four yards of handwoven fabric.

The rug. I finished weaving it but can't yet call it finished as I must tie it off and finish the ends. More details and photos to come, obviously

Handwoven yardage. I originally envisioned it made up into a coat. Warped with very fine wool yarn, it was an absolute bear to weave. Although threaded and woven to an 8-shaft herringbone twill, it was so sticky that it didn't weave up to my expectation--or satisfaction.

To stabilize the fabric and harmonize the effect, I lightly wet-felted it. This created a nice tweedy effect in which the herringbone is just barely visible. Nice fabric, but not enough yardage or yarn for the coat I'd imagined. I hemmed and hawed and let it sit for a good while while I pondered its future.

Finally, finally I've found a yarn that complements the gray-blue fabric without outshouting or detracting from it. And since finding it, I've been deep in the weeds working out trim patterns. Photos to follow.

So now you're caught up. (Unfortunately, I'm not--and doubt that I will ever be.)

Monday, August 1, 2016

Lemons to lemonade

What to do with troublesome wool?

 Love the natural colors on my new dryer balls.
In my blog last week, I shared my encounter with wool unsuitable for spinning and a real pain in the neck to card. The answer: Dryer balls. 

I have three and love them! They work just fine, but I've been wanting a couple more--especially when one goes temporarily missing in a pocket or sleeve.

People at fiber shows often ask how to use them. Simple. Throw them in the dryer and leave them there where they keep the clothes from clumping together and the dryer dries more efficiently.

Dryer ball recipe

If you already have the wool, you only need the foot and leg portion of pantyhose or knee-highs. The wool can be in just about any form so long as it will felt. Yarn blends are unlikely to felt well, nor do yarns treated to be machine washable.

Knotted nylon full of wool fiber 
Also beware of dyed and colored wool or yarn as they may bleed out on clothing in the dryer later.
Stuff the wool into the foot of one of the nylons. I made a ball with my hands, inserted it and then just added wool until the nylon was as full as possible. If using yarn, wrap it tightly in a ball.

Pull the nylon tightly around the ball and make a knot at the top, as in the photo at right. I had enough to make another ball, so I repeated the stuffing and tying process in the same nylon. 
Then I threw the knotted nylon with the two wooly balls into the washer with a load of towels and the wash water set to hot. I wanted the wool to felt--and felt a lot. The balls followed the towels into the dryer. 

There is no recipe. If the ball doesn't felt enough on the first load, repeat the washer and dryer runs until it feels fairly solid. Not hard. Just firm.

After I'd finished the two dryer balls at the top right, I found some wool that I'd overlooked and added it to a ball that was on the small side. The wool didn't adhere tightly to the felted ball, so I wrapped it with some test yarn that I'd spun and discarded and sent it back through the washer and dryer in my next towel load. It is perfect!

Note: At least three dryer balls are needed for them to work effectively. Five is even better.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A fine fleece

Two types of fiber, side by side
Or not

When the fleece came off the ewe in March, it shone silver gray and lustrous in the sun. I was definitely tempted to take it home then and there, but I had sworn a pact to myself that I would not bring home another fleece. I said, no. 

Later, the fleece came up in a discussion among friends and one immediately offered to split it with me. The fleece came home.

Determined not to let it sit for months, I immediately scoured it using Beth Smith's Simple and Mostly Quick method. When it was dry, I set to work carding it with visions of spinning in my mind.

Gnarly black fibers

A silk purse, it isn't

Were I more experienced, I surely would have recognized the problem, but I'm not and I didn't. 

Putting it through the carder was hard. The licker filled and the drums locked. I attributed it to poor fiber prep and spent too much time going through the fleece, pulling it apart and trying to release any sticky bits with a small comb. 

And I kept trying. But even with all the prep and  four passes through the carder, there were still lots and lots of gnarly, nubby black bits. Clearly, the fleece would not be suitable for handspinning. But what is the problem?

That was when I stepped back and examined the locks very carefully. At the base of most of the locks was a snaggly clump of black fiber. It was extremely hard to separate from the locks. Pulling on a lock did not separate it. Rather, the fibers locked together and felt like wire. I didn't have the black fiber tested, but it looked and felt much coarser than the gray fiber. (Note: These were different from the dark fibers in the photo at top right.)

Gnarls in carded batt
I took photos and shared them, along with questions, with more knowledgable spinners. 

Turns out the ewe was double-coated. She shouldn't have been. But she was. And, interestingly, double-coated sheep are typically described as having a longer, coarse outer coat and a short fine undercoat. This is the exact opposite. The outer coat is long and fine and the undercoat, coarser. Some obscure, long recessive gene had clearly expressed itself. 

Now what?

I finished carding what seemed the most suitable, cutting the base of the locks with scissors. I still have gnarls throughout the batts. And I now have a lot of carded batts with gnarls. Maybe a felting project is in my future?

I didn't even try to card the coarser black fibers. But I didn't throw them away, either. More next week.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

African fabrics and fashion

An example of a Vlisco textile

African fabrics to impress, inspire and surprise

First, the surprise. The wax printed textiles traditionally associated with West and Central Africa aren't manufactured in African at all. Rather, they've been designed and made in Europe for a very long time (and now China and India). 

Currently, five exhibitions at The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) currently has five exhibitions under the umbrella, Creative Africa. Ranging from historial to contemporary, two of the exhibits focus on  fabrics and fashion. 

Vllisco. (de Groot) 2007. 

Dutch fabrics to Africa

The exhibition, Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage, focuses on historical and contemporary textiles from the Dutch company Vlisco. Founded in 1846, the company entered the market in the last quarter of the 19th century--and was the market leader for years. It and continues to influence African fashion in through its its unique fabric designs in 'Dutch wax' fabrics that originate from batik techniques. 

Vlisco textile with scissor design. 
Vlisco doesn't distribute its cloth by design name, allowing African traders who sell it to name the patterns. Such naming practices add a layer of identity, status and value. 

Some designs are drawn from earlier textiles. One example is this swallow design by Marjan de Groot in 2007, an update of a 1949 design by Tonnie Wouda. Both are cotton, wax block prints.

There were shoes, ties, and scissors, to name just a few. Maybe a seamstress would wear the print with scissors?

Traditional textiles

Another gallery showcases the traditional textiles of Central and West African weavers, dyers, and other artisans in the museum's Threads of Tradition exhibit. Strip-weaving, resist dyeing, appliqué, and embroidery provide beautiful colors and patterns.

The colorful man's cloth (above left) was made by the Ewe or Adangme culture, Ghana or Togo c. 1920-1970. According to the label, It is strip-woven cotton warp-faced and balanced plain weave with continuous supplementary wefts and weft-faced rib weave. 

A woman's loincloth or skirt (above right) was particularly fascinating. Made by the Dida culture, Côte d'Ivoire, c. 1900-1950, it is braided of raffia in a tube and stitch-resist dyed--the stitch points can be seen in some sections.

Look Again

Although not focused on textiles, the exhibit "Look Again: Contemporary Perspectives on African Art" is a must-see. This major collaborative exhibition, which is billed as the heart of "Creative Africa," is drawn from the Penn Museum’s world-renowned African collection. Featuring art created in West and Central Africa from the 1500s to the 1900s, the show is impressive.