Monday, June 29, 2009

Maroon Confetti braid, and more on the Sea Shawl

Today I finished up the kumihimo braid that I was working on in the tutorial a couple of days ago. This one really tickles me. I am tempted to cut it up, and sew on little googly eyes and sets of itsy bitsy feet. Doesn't it look like it would make cute caterpillars? Maybe put magnets on their bellies, and have them crawl up and down my refrigerator? Either that, or it would be really cute as piping around a throw pillow. I'd have to find the right fabric. Something warm and whimsical. Alternately, I could see finding the right focal pendant, and turning it into a funky necklace. With matching coils of bracelets.

Ah well, I don't really have time for those projects right now. I'll toss this up in the Etsy shop, and see if someone else can come up with plans for it. In the meantime, I got another foot or so done on the Sea Shawl today. The end of the warp is just rounding around the back beam, so I should be able to finish this up in the next day or two. I think I need to get something on the loom again in fairly short order, though. I really get a kick out of the way the loom looks all warped up, especially in the afternoons when the western sun comes streaming through my studio window.

So, what should be next? I'm leaning toward doing another batch of White Scarves, for the SCA rapier folk. That went over well last time, and I have quite a bit more white yarn to work through. Of course, another bout of warp painting would be fun too. Or maybe experiment with the chenille yarn I've got sitting in the stash? Some soft draping chenille scarves might be lovely. Or...

I think I like planning projects even more than I like making them. I love mucking about in the possibilities.

Quote for the Day

"He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist."

— St. Francis Of Assisi

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How to De-Stash

Today was Fabric War, a local SCA event. Yesterday I talked a bit about needing to de-clutter my studio. Here is my tutorial on how to...sort of...thin out the stash.

First, forget about the event until the night before. Then stay up till all hours, combing through your stash for things you can part with. Get up too early the next day to finish the job. Pack it up into at least 3 totes, drag it to the event, and set up your display. Bring along your daughter to mind the store while you're out having fun.

Now, spend the next couple of hours taking turns with your daughter, and wander up and down the gym making interesting trades with all the other people who brought out their stash. You MUST trade for something smaller than what you are giving away. Unless it is silk. Or that cute scarf. Or the buttons. Or...

Ok, you're running out of time. Figure out what you absolutely don't want to take home with you. Try to give that to unsuspecting victims. Get it out of your house! Wait. That didn't get rid of it all? Ok. Everyone take what you don't want, and pile it in the middle of the gym floor.

Listen to the nice man tell you the rules of engagement. If you've got live steel, take it off. If you have necklaces, take them off. Ladies, be careful of your skirts. If fabric makes it out of the circle, it is out of play. Do not rip fabric off of someone else's body. Other than that, if you can get your hands on it, it is yours!

On your marks....get set.....

Feeding Frenzy!!!

Anything left in the pile at the end of the day gets bagged up and donated to a local charity.

Now...pack up your remaining treasures. Are you leaving with less than you came with? You win! didn't. Well, maybe next year. At least you got some cool stuff!!

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Tour of my Studio

Welcome to the lair of the Fiber Breathing Dragon.

My family giggles at me for how much stuff I shoe horn into my studio. And truly, I do need to do some de-stashing. I'll work on that some tomorrow, at Fabric War. Fabric War is a local SCA event, where everyone brings the stuff that has been sitting unloved in their stash. And then we all trade, and everyone somehow goes home with more stuff than they brought. Anything left over at the end of the day gets put in a big pile, and we have a free for all. Anything left after that gets donated to a local charity.

So, my job this afternoon is to go through my stash, both here in the studio and out in the shed where the gourds and extra boxes of fabric and fleece are stored. Let me give you a bit of a tour of my studio, so you can see where I work, and how much de-cluttering work I ought to be doing.

This is the south wall of my studio, and the one straight ahead of you when you walk into the room. It holds my computer desk, where I am right now. Above the desk is my reference library. To the right is my beading station, which is currently covered with a basket project, and various gourd, dyeing, spinning, and beading supplies that I need to find room for. There are a couple of tapestry and table looms squirreled away under the desks.

This is the west wall of my studio. The sun is streaming through my hand woven curtains onto my floor loom. The loom folds up and takes up less space when I'm not using it. The window leads out to my front herb and flower garden. To the right, you can see my sewing corner.

Here is the north wall and another shot of the sewing corner. That wall of books is my own personal pleasure reading library. I've been collecting mostly science fiction and fantasy since high school. I'm at the point now that if a new book comes in, I need to cull some space on the shelves. I've been using BookCrossing as a fun way to do that. Over on the bottom right, you can see my storage for big items. There is another floor loom tucked in there, an easel, a horizontal warping mill, my weasel, various baskets, an inkle loom tossed on top, and my drawings from art class are tucked down behind there.

And finally, the east wall is my storage closet. My husband put the shelves in for me. To the left is room for bolts of fabric to stand up. The top shelf holds large items, like the kumihimo stand, the drum carder, the bobbin lace pillow, etc. The next shelf down is for long flat items, like the umbrella swift and the loom reeds. I've currently got bags of finished yarn shoved in there too, waiting for them to sell on Etsy. The next two shelves hold my weaving yarn, loosely organized by color. You can just see the next shelf down, behind the roll out cutting table. That has pull out bins for small items like paint. The bottom two shelves hold big plastic bins. Inside the bins are my fiber and fabric stashes. Above on the wall is part of my collection of old weaving implements. I love to collect old textile tools, and put them back to use.

To the left of this picture is the door, with the ironing board, the drying racks, and the scorpion killing staffs tucked behind it. (Yes, scorpion squishing. I don't know that I'll ever get used to the desert Southwest.)

So there you have it. Now you've seen the organized chaos that is my studio. I've really got to do something about this--I'm starting to run out of floor space!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Quote for the Day

My older sister just sent me this quote in the mail. I'm putting it here to ponder for a bit.

"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes,
Art is knowing which ones to keep."

--Scott Adams

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kumihimo Braiding

I have a hard time with just sitting doing nothing in waiting rooms, in meetings, riding in the car. It seems like my hands should be busy, you know? So I'll bring along a little portable project. Folks are used to seeing knitting or crochet...but I have a tendency to bring my drop spindle, lucet, or kumihimo. Kumihimo is a form of Japanese braiding, and has been my current favorite for a portable project. I get lots of questions on what I'm doing. It looks so complex, but the process itself is so simple. Here...I'll show you the pattern I've been working with recently.

First, you need something to hold the threads as you're working. You can get a braiding stand called a marudai, and real tama (bobbins) for your thread. Or you can make your own cheap and portable substitue. Go get yourself some craft foam from your local craft store. I found some that is thin, but has adhesive already on it. I stuck three layers together, then cut out a circle around 4 1/2" in diameter. I cut 24 half inch slits in the edges, evenly spaced around. Then I punched a hole through the middle. There. Marudai made.

Now, find something to wind your threads around. I use knitting bobbins. You'll also need a weight on your finished cording. I use an old fishing weight, dangling from a paper clip. Measure your threads. This last batch was I think 5 times the distance between the arms of the chair I was sitting on at the time. Wind them on to the bobbins, knot the ends together, and shove the knot through the hole in the middle of the foam. Hang your weight from the knot. Arrange your threads in opposing pairs the way they are in the first picture here. Hold the foam in one hand, and let all your threads dangle below. There! You're ready to braid.

I was taught this particular braiding pattern with the mental reminder, "LEFT UP to me it would be DOWN RIGHT fun". To unpack that a bit: look at the pair of threads that is in the 6 o'clock position in front of you. Take the left most thread, and move it up to left of the pair of threads in the 12 o'clock position on your board. That is the LEFT UP move.

Now, take the right most thread in the 12 o'clock position, and move it down to the right of the thread in the 6 o'clock position. That is the DOWN RIGHT move.

Rotate your work counter clockwise, to bring the next pair of threads into position.

Repeat the sequence. LEFT UP...DOWN RIGHT...ROTATE. Keep repeating.

This pattern gives you a round spiral braid. Experiment with type and color of the thread you use, and the starting position of the colors. The same sequence of moves can give you quite different looking results!

Give it a try sometime! Let me know if you have any questions. There are also some very good books on the subject. I can recommend "Braids" by Rodrick Owen as a good one to start with. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Weaving the Sea Shawl

Ok, that was rather nerve wracking. Today I wound up my bobbins, and actually got started weaving on the Sea Shawl. I quickly found that I needed to add a couple of floating selvedges, because the twill pattern didn't always extend all the way to the edge of the fabric. And, my yarn was too thick for the end feed shuttle I had planned on using, so I had to switch over to a more traditional boat shuttle.

Other than that though, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I haven't broken any warp threads yet. (Knock on wool.) The yarn isn't shredding in the reed. The pattern is showing up well. There isn't too much draw in at the edges. There don't seem to be any threading errors. The treadling pattern is dead simple, especially compared to how challenging it was to thread the heddles. And since my yarn is relatively thick, the weaving will go fairly quickly. If I devote time to the project over the next few days, I could conceivably be done weaving by this weekend, and be able to twist the fringe at the SCA event on Saturday.

Actually...maybe I'll twist the fringe as I cut it off the loom. Since the yarn is handspun singles, if I cut just a few threads at a time, they'll pretty much twist back on themselves. All I'll have to do is add the knots at the ends.

I am still worried that I'll run into trouble during the wet finishing. Wool shrinks and felts, and if I let it this might turn into a itty bitty fuzzy board.

Crossing my fingers.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Pop!" Goes the Weasel

"All around the mulberry bush,
the monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun...
POP! goes the weasel."

When I was a kid, my folks volunteered at a restored colonial farmhouse in New Jersey, called the Miller-Cory place. We would go there on Sundays after church, dressed in our costumes. Us kids would basically run around the place, adding color. The adults did demonstrations, and other boring adult things. Some of the adult talks sunk in, though. I remember them talking about the 'weasel', which counted yarn. 40 times turning around, and the weasel would make a popping noise to let you know you had a full skein. I, at the time, was the little monkey that was getting in to everything. :)

Years later, and I am what passes for an adult. I've done the research, and what I knew as a weasel is technically known as a clock reel and may or may not actually be the source of the nursery rhyme. But it is a very useful piece of equipment, none the less! I was thrilled when I found my own weasel a month or so ago, in a second hand store. The poor old lady had been totally gutted, and had plastic daisies coming out of her. Can you believe that?! Screws had been added, so the arms didn't turn any more. She was marketed as a planter, for $27 dollars. Poor thing!!

Well! I rescued her, ripped out the planter and removed the offending screws, then poked and prodded and oiled until the arms spun correctly again. The clock innards are still missing, so unfortunately she doesn't POP any more. But each time yarn winds around the arms is exactly 2 1/2 yards. When I wind my yarn off of my spinning wheel into a skein, I simply count how many times around we go, multiply by 2.5, and I have the yardage in the skein.

I think my old lady weasel is quite happy to be back at her original task. Sometimes, I almost hear a the tune of a certain nursery rhyme, floating through the air...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Deep in the Night

It is after 2 in the morning, and I really should be curled in asleep. But there is something magic about this time of night, and I'm not ready to let it go quite yet. So I'm sitting in my studio with the window open. My garden and itty bitty pond are right outside, and the scent of the night is drifting in. I have my going, and Loreena McKinnet's "Marco Polo" is quietly playing. The house is asleep, and nobody is clamoring for attention. Just me, and the uncluttered evening.

And what am I doing in this rare moment of solitude? (Well, when I'm not typing, that is?) I'm sitting here with my bare feet tapping time on the treadles of my spinning wheel. Soft lofty wool is slipping through my finger tips, magically changing from fleece into yarn, wrapping itself round and round the bobbin. I lose myself in a kind of trance, mind wandering on everything and nothing, breath gradually evening as the rhythm of the wheel takes over my body.

And the night spins away...

Friday, June 19, 2009


I wish my camera was working, so I could show you this stage. (I dropped the camera on the studio floor last week, when I was taking a picture of some handspun. Cameras don't like impacting with tile. Oops.) Well, I can show you what led up to this moment.

We live in Arizona, and periodically drop down into Mexico to visit the beach in Rocky Point. It is amazing what a difference in atmosphere a 4 hour drive can make! The colors of the ocean and sky, the constant wind and never ending sound of the waves, the smell that is so different from Phoenix desert... I've taken many a picture of the place, trying to capture some of the magic.

I was sitting watching the waves one day, and was struck by a bit of inspiration. What if I wove an undulating twill weave shawl, in the colors I saw in front of me? I jotted down the idea in my notebook, and went back to enjoying the day.

Some time later, I was at the Griffin Dye Retreat, and spotted some merino/tencel roving in colors that reminded me of my time at the beach. Beautiful soft shimmery stuff! I couldn't resist. I spent way too much for my budget, and started spinning up single ply yarn for weaving. The spinning wheel even came with me on my next trip to the ocean, so I could sit and spin and watch the boats go by. :)

Along the way in there, I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Sharon Alderman, author of "Mastering Weave Structures". As part of the class work, she helped me draft out my own version of an undulating twill pattern. I made up a small sample in cotton, to get an idea of what colors might work together.

Finally, after spinning on and off (lots of off) for a couple of years, I had all the fiber ready to go.

I did my calculations, and measured out the warp.

And, crossing my fingers, I started putting it on the loom.

Since this is single ply, I was terribly afraid that all I would get was a twisty snarly mess, particularly when I tried to put the warp on the back beam. But yesterday I took a deep breath, and wound it into place. It took a bit of fussing, but every thread is exactly where it ought to be. Today I tied the ends onto the front apron rod, and tied up the chains that connect each treadle to the appropriate shaft.

I love this stage. It is order out of chaos. Every thread is exactly in place. The loom is simply humming with potential. I can see in my mind's eye all the wonderful things that could be, and finally...finally...I can throw the shuttle and potential will turn into reality.

I think I'm going to let it sit, just like this, until next week. The whole studio is holding its breath.

Spinning through the Stash

So, what am I working on currently? I've been spinning up a storm--as much as my lingering tennis elbow will allow anyway. I'm trying to bring the stash down to a manageable level, so I can make room for more. My studio is so crowded that there is hardly room to walk, and I'm taking over the outside shed, too. Time to make some inroads.

Anyway, a few days ago I found a pound of Gotland wool hiding at the bottom of a bin. It must have come in when I was given the stash from the college. Someone had dropped off several boxes of fibery goodness at the local community college. But, they don't have a fiber program, and can't accept anonymous donations for tax purposes. So, since the ladies in the office know I do fiber stuff, they passed it on to me. Serendipity is an amazing thing! It was full of what appeared to be a spinner's stash of this and that. I've been having fun gradually working through it. Now it is the Gotland's turn.

Gotland sheep are evidently the direct descendants of the sheep brought to Gotland island by the Vikings, which makes this probably as close to a period wool as I've laid hands on. It is a beautiful ashy grey color, soft to the touch. Not as soft as Merino, but lovely stuff. It wants to spin finer than the bulky knitting yarn I usually make, so I'm aiming at more of a worsted two ply. I think it would be appropriate for someone working on recreating sprang or naalbinding. I've already got two skeins done, with quite a bit more to go. I'll probably put it in the Etsy shop when I'm done...unless I want to keep it for myself. I haven't done sprang or naalbinding yet...hmmmmmm. That would be a great Arts and Science competition entry. Talk about starting with documentable materials. Hand spun, from the correct breed of sheep.

Not like I don't have a bunch of other projects stacked up to do, before I take up a new form of fiber art. I'll finish it up, and put it in the shop. If it sells before I get around to the A&S entry, well, somebody will be giving it a good home. De-stash!!

Baby Steps

First posts are always difficult things, aren't they? First of anything can be intimidating. Like the first time I put a warp on the loom. Or my first spinning class. Or the first time I got the guts to ask money for one of my pieces. Who did I think I was, anyway? I still struggle with that one. But I'm taking baby steps. And so, this blog. Maybe I'll start with how I got to this particular baby step?

Some years ago, I went to college, and got a degree in social work. Then burn out happened, and marriage happened, and kids happened, and I ended up happily being a stay at home mother of two. I turned to crafty projects to keep myself occupied and somewhat sane. The family also joined a historical recreation group called the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), which studied the goings on of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Basically, if someone in the Middle Ages did it, someone in this group is studying and trying to recreate it, and would love to talk your ear off about it. This gave me a focus and an outlet for my artistic dabblings, as well as lots of positive support. Along the way, I learned to spin, to weave, make baskets, glass beads, how to cook a feast for 75 over an open fire, how to teach, and lots and lots of other bits and pieces. We remade the guest room over into a studio. A loom found me at a garage sale, and then a stash of yarn the following weekend. Eventually I was honored with the Order of the Laurel, the group's highest award for artsy stuff.

Well, that was a wake up call. I didn't think I really deserved such a thing. The kids were old enough now, so I went back to school at the local community college, and started taking more formal art classes. I started branching out beyond the limits of what had been done centuries ago, and started exploring more modern techniques. I began modeling for the life drawing classes, to pay it forward. Occasionally, somebody bought a piece of my art work. And it gradually occured to me that I really really enjoy this creative stuff. Maybe...just maybe...when the kids were old and out of the house, maybe I didn't want to go back and get a 'real' job. Maybe I ought to try making a go of the art stuff. I'd been training myself for 16 years. Time to take that leap.

But leaps are scary things. You have to face the fears first. What if I'm not good enough? What if everybody was just humoring me and being nice? Friends and family are supposed to say good things about your work, right? Like when I would draw scribbly things in kindergarten and bring them home for the refrigerator. Or when Grandma would pin my grade school drawings up on her cork board wall.

What if all I do is 'women's work'? Aren't I supposed to do crafty little bits to keep my hands busy, then give them away? What makes me think that anyone would pay for stuff like that? I'm just a house wife, after all.

What if people want me to make stuff that I don't want to do? What if it isn't fun any more? What if I have to specialize into just one art form? Won't I get bored, and lose interest?

Aren't I just being lazy?

Who do I think I'm fooling, anyway?

I was terrified. Stuck in place. But...I really didn't want to work for someone else. I wanted to create, to grab my daydreams and play with them until I can send them out into the world in tangible form. I decided to build a backlog of stock, for the day that I had the nerve to go through with the idea. I spent a few years at that...then decided it was time to inch forward. Maybe if I came at it sideways, or in little managable chunks, it wouldn't be so hard.

And so, I took single steps. A big one was going down town, and registering the business name "Tangible Daydreams". Then getting my tax number, setting up the paperwork with the state and city. That gave me weird shivers for days.

Another step was getting a digital camera, and the software to work with my pictures so people can see what I do.

I got business cards. Holding those in my hand was a very strange experience. Giving them out made me feel like an imposter.

But folks got interested, and seemed to take me seriously. They kept asking where I sold my stuff, if I had a web page.

So...two weeks ago, I opened an Etsy shop, and started listing items. That was terrifying. Now I'd really done it. Now I have to face the possibility that I'm no good after all, that there are so many other people better than me, better liked than me, better at marketing than me (that wouldn't be hard!), I'll never make it, I'll never compete, I'll...I'll...

I'm ignoring that voice.

And taking baby steps.

I can't see the road as it curves around the bend, but I'm walking it now. One tentative step at a time. My dreams are there, and I want to touch them.

Come join me?