It’s summer time here in Ireland and the living is, well, slightly more laid back than the norm. Having decided to metaphorically kick off the shoes for the month of July, I thought it might be nice just to “see and share ” rather than “do” and this forms the basis of my post.
Before I start on the main focus of this post (my holiday in Italy), I just have to show you a beautiful piece that totally blew me away. Before heading off, I visited Dublin’s Botanical Gardens. Founded in 1795, it is an oasis of calm for any visitor and I would highly recommend a visit if you happen to be in the neighbourhood. While there, I noticed that there was a patchwork exhibition happening in one of their exhibition spaces. This piece just caught me, so I want to share it with you. The artist is Ethelda Ellis and the piece is called ‘Aoife’s View’. The curator told me that Ethelda is a medical doctor by profession. If you would like to see more of Ethelda’s beautiful creations check out her blog: http://ethelda.blogspot.com/
Now, to the Italian holiday. We headed to Como mid-July and, in spite of the heatwave, spent our time sightseeing and eating! Our base was Como which is to the north of Italy, right beside Switzerland. Lake Como is totally dwarfed by the Alps – a really beautiful place.
We called into the Cathedral, the Duomo which was magnificent internally and externally. I reckon that to appreciate all its beauty would take months observing 24/7! I want to share with you a small area of a tapestry which was made in 1610 and which underwent restoration in 1990. It was impossible to get a good photo of the entire masterpiece as so much detail would have been lost. So I settled for a little!
One of our tours took us to the tiny picturesque village of Orta which is situated on Lake Orta. It was recommended that we visit the interior of the local church which was situated at the top of a steep street.
My journey was interrupted by the sound of a piano recital and when I investigated I discovered a rather special textile exhibition happening in the same building. The works exhibited were by Sergio Cerini. The artist merges his early experiences in the Italian high fashion industry with his current artworks, producing beautiful pieces which are in essence a mix of paper mache and textiles. The description does not do justice to his widely exhibited pieces and he was reluctant to allow me to photograph his work. He did, however pose in front of one of the pieces and others can be viewed on his Instagram page @sergiocerini
Since the 1800s, the city of Como was historically the main producer of Italian silk. When ultimately production was outsourced to China, the area was in danger of losing connection with its cultural heritage. The large factory was bought by the Hilton hotel chain. These photos show early paintings of the factory, what it became at the height of the industry and where it is now (apologies for the reflection on the glass):
Rather than allow the old machinery to be lost to history, a wise decision was taken about 10 years ago to set up an Educational Silk Museum to preserve these beautiful machines. Along with displaying the machinery, some of which dates back to the nineteenth century, the museum offers interactive videos and exhibits of high fashion clothing. Unfortunately this section was not open during my visit but I thought it might be fun to show you some of the many machines featured. So please, grab a cuppa, sit back and I hope you enjoy the show. I have included captions for ease of reference.
As soon as I saw what Lyn was setting as our next Challenge I thought “but I can’t do that”. I have always stumbled when trying to understand Design because, although I can see pattern in a lot of things, I fail entirely in translating what I see into my work. I am very literal in my thinking, and when I see abstract pieces (usually “modern” embroidery pieces) based on images of say, a broken brick, or the reflection in a window, or a rusty piece of metal, or a “fractal”, I think to myself “yes, very clever, but why?” and “what would I do with it?” and “I can’t see that on my wall” (and just occasionally “I wouldn’t give that house room!”). This is why I tend to make my pictures or 3D sculptures as realistic as I can.
I was going to just not bother with this Challenge, and then I remembered that some years ago I had attended a course on Design – I had forgotten all about it and it is relevant to this Challenge.
In August 2015 the Association of Guilds of Weavers Spinners & Dyers included in it’s week long residential Summer School syllabus a course by Alison Daykin – “Design for the Terrified” and I was lucky enough to be allocated a place – most courses were usually over-subscribed. Here is the introductory list of available courses from the brochure for you to drool over!
The course was described as offering “help to ‘painting and drawing challenged’ weavers, spinners, dyers, or other textile practitioners, in understanding Design and using this in their chosen medium”. The brochure went on to say: “This course will provide simple, but effective guidelines in design, without the student feeling overwhelmed by theory. The tutor will also leave plenty of room for participants to express themselves in their chosen medium.
“By the course end students will have at least one sketchbook and understand the basics of: colour studies; textural studies; shape; line/stripes.
“Students are encouraged to make samples appropriate to their own textile skills. They may choose to bring their loom or wheel with them, or to develop further sketchbooks if they prefer.”
Frankly this description of the course frightened the life out of me and I nearly didn’t apply, not least because I would be foregoing the chance to take the offered very interesting felt making course. (It’s headline description was “… an ‘adventure with fibres and fabrics’, combining colour, texture and layering to produce felted fabrics for decorative purposes or garments” and that was what I was most interested in at the time.) However after exchanging a few emails with Alison, and reading the three blogs which she sent out about the course I decided to bite the bullet. The first blog post puts emphasis on your “Inspiration” and resulted in a further flurry of emails with Alison, since I had no idea what it meant or what my “Inspiration” should be in this context. She basically said that I should pick a subject which I found really interesting. I was undecided whether to plump for trees, which seemed a very big subject, or sea shells – almost as big but of which I had recently started a collection. In the end I went with sea shells.
The second and third blog posts and a “round robin” email from Alison encouraged us to bring along as many different types of art media as we might be able to lay our hands on, including different types and colours of paper and “mark making” equipment. In addition we were asked to only bring one image of our inspiration, but as many copies of it as possible. (As I hadn’t been able to choose just one shell my image consisted of most of my collection, which also included sea urchin “skeletons”.) We would also need to take a notice board (if we hadn’t already made a mood board – “Er …. what’s one of them?”) so that we could pin up various bits and pieces as we went through the course. We would also need the equipment and materials required to make samples in our chosen technique. As I didn’t know which shell would be my inspiration the “materials” consisted of most of my stashes of fibres, fabric & yarns! I’m sure you’ve all heard of the saying “everything but the kitchen sink” – very apt, my poor car was groaning when I set off with all this stuff plus clothes etc., and I had yet to fit in the friend I was giving a lift to, plus all her stuff and her walking aid. (She was still a bit frail after an illness.)
The Summer School was based at Moreton Morrell Agricultural College in Warwickshire, where (after we got lost twice on the way) I met Alison and the rest of the class members. There were weavers, spinners, an embroiderer and a felt maker – me. Alison showed us her own work, and took us through her process for designing woven fabrics for specific purposes, showing us her mood boards and pictures of finished fabrics “in situ”. Here is a much abbreviated view of how she followed one inspiration from an image of ancient ruins to cloth samples.
She then started us off on our own design journey. Alison suggested to me that I should pick my favourite shell from the picture of my collection and make an enlarged drawing of the shell, both in monochrome and in colour and using different media. I had a go at this, although my drawing skills are minimal. This was before she had found that we would be able to have access to the college’s print facilities, where we could get photographs printed, and colour and monochrome photocopies made on a copier, which was capable of enlarging. We all made great use of this facility – zeroing in on just part of our inspiration image and having multiple copies made on different colour papers as well as plain white – which enabled us to speed up our progress through the stages of the design processes that Alison had mapped out for us.
One of the “tricks” which Alison showed us was to take two images, cut (or tear) them into strips (leaving one side of the paper still intact, and then to weave the two images. This did produce some interesting results.
We also cut strips across an image and used this to reference yarn (in my case fibre) wraps. Using this method enabled us to achieve a colour swatch giving combinations, quantities and placement of harmonious colours.
Once we had all played around with these ideas for a day, we were encouraged to get on and start creating samples in our chosen techniques, keeping in mind how we might use the finished work. As I was interested in making felt for clothing and accessories, I had brought with me copies of designs from specific sewing patterns and tried to pick the patterns that would best suit. I had by this time branched out to using as inspiration two different Sea Urchin skeletons, one Cone shell (and when no-one was looking I did a bit of crochet based on the end of a Conch type shell).
As you can see, I’m still leaning towards the literal/representational side of designing.
Alison also encouraged us to take our cameras and go out around the college grounds and look for more inspirations for design. At this stage we had all got used to looking beyond the obvious and came up with some unusual images. This was the one I chose to do something with – don’t ask me why – it’s just a picture of the wood surround (and my toes) to a raised flower bed outside the portacabin which was our workshop, where we all congregated for coffee, snacks and chat.
Being full of enthusiasm for the project, I cut down the photograph to a corner and then cut out the image of part of the surround.
which I then had enlarged and with several copies started to develop the design
This is the design I finally ended up with.
There are five versions in this picture, the basic design on top with four colour changes of the small “pops” of colour. And here is the jacket pattern and a tracing of the design.
The last day of the course was mainly taken up with visiting the rooms where the other courses had been taking place for a grand Show & Tell. To this end, we had packed up all our equipment and materials and set up our notice boards and work tables as displays of what we had been doing. Here are mine
And here are some of the displays of other class members’ work. Not all of them I’m afraid, I had camera shake by then so I’ve only included the less blurred ones.
The whole Summer School experience was great, with evening entertainments, a fashion show, a display of entries for the Certificate of Achievement “exams”, a traders’ market (I spent too much money as usual) and a trip to Stratford Upon Avon for a tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Theatre with a chance to see some of their costumes “up close and personal”.
We inhabited a bubble, with little contact with the outside world. (There wasn’t even a signal for our mobile phones, short of climbing a hill and standing in the middle of the road.) A wonderful experience and I’ve enjoyed revisiting it.
I am afraid that by the time I got home again I reverted to type and have not made any fabrics, felted or woven, from any of the designs. I just did what I usually end up doing after returning from a workshop – I put everything away and forgot about it! So I still don’t have a 2nd Quarter Challenge piece to show you; though as a result of writing this post and after seeing some of the pieces which FFS members have posted, I do feel better about the possibility of designing from random observations and images.
I am looking forward to seeing what the next quarter’s Challenge will be.
The silk recycling is woven, it’s all done, finished, tutto finito bandito! I actually ran out of the red and orange silk so for the last little bit I had to dig in the bag and retrieve some matching silk with blue, red and orange. It looks just fine. Once the weaving was done I hem stitched the edge, wove in any loose warp threads and washed the yardage.
The whole mass went into the washing machine on a regular cycle, in cool water with my usual detergent. This is the way I plan on washing the finished jacket. I also did this to release any dyes that are lurking in the silk. The jacket will probably bleed dye for the rest of its life because some dyers do not set the dye in silk. The cotton warp took on a slight pinkish tint, so that helped to level the overall look of the fabric.
I plan to hang dry the jacket, so the material was taken outside to hand dry and freshen in sunlight. This proved a tiny bit problematic. The fabric was really, really heavy when wet. This is also when the light began to dawn that this was not, I repeat not, just a four yard warp. I left the fabric to dry on the railing overnight, where it promptly froze into position. Freeze drying works too, so two days later, in it came.
I was able to measure and confirm that this was clearly a massive piece of fabric. Originally, the warp was estimated to be ‘maybe’ 4 yds or 3.5 meters. It was purchased at an estate sale from one of our guild’s best weavers, but the labels fell off and things got a bit muddled when best efforts were at hand. I knew I was taking a risk, even getting it on the loom was a challenge, but I have no regrets. The length proved a great surprise and reward at the same time. It also explains why I ran out of weaving material. There are 8 yards or 7.5 meters, plenty here to make two jackets if I’m careful!
The final product is gorgeous. It just shimmers in the right light and I really want to do it justice. Even though it is a recycled product, or maybe because it is recycled, it’s important that the final result show the very best characteristics of the fibres that have gone into making it.
Our guild has an amazing resource for researching just about anything fibre related. Jan is our librarian. She is the lead book slinger in our heavy rental group called Jan and the Librarians; they have sessions once a month at the guild. I joined in last weekend and Jan supplied me with my requests for information on Japanese clothes, braids and ‘Saori’ weaving.
Japanese clothes design save weavers from the angst of having to cut their beloved fabric. The patterns are usually straightforward, basic, and interesting. I qualified this statement with ‘usually straightforward’ because I had never seen Saori weaving before nor the clothes that have been designed to use the material woven on a Saori loom. the book is in Japanese, the patterns are like origami on crack and they fascinate me endlessly. Until I can figure out the patterns I opted for a very conservative jimbei pattern from the jacket my son lent me. There are examples of simple patterns in one of the books.
This jimbei is meant for hot summer days. The sides are not stitched close but fastened with a cable stitch or stitched close with a decorative embroidery stitch. The underarm is left open, again for summer comfort.
The front is loosely tied or left open as preferred. I was interested in the reinforcement used at the bottom of the sides. These were the same reinforcements I found on the kimonos, so they clearly work.
The female version of this simple jacket has a closed wrist. It’s called a hippari. I might do one of these for winter if I have enough material left. The photos of the jimbei and hippari are from “Make your own Japanese Clothes” by John Marshall ISBN 0-870110865-X, I really enjoyed reading this book, lots of ideas for ways to incorporate the Japanese style into my life.
There are so many new things I will need to explore once I decide to start sewing this jacket. I’m really looking forward to getting the sewing machine out again.
The loom has been sitting there needing attention for ages and I finally stopped procrastinating. Winter is a real challenge to get stuff done. I knew there would be threading errors; there are always threading errors when I do a loom. So I cracked out a good light and checked over the warp and found two. One required that I undo about four inches and re-thread everything, yuch. But the other was much easier. I just needed to move everything over by one thread in the reed. Very easy to fix.
All that needs to be done is wind 4.5 yards of warp yarn onto a bobbin, weight it, thread it through the empty space available in the reed and the harness, and let it hang out the back of the loom. The harness is the part of the loom that goes up and down and raises the threads and has wire “eyes” for each thread. I just use a very lightweight to keep the bobbin dragging a little. In this case, I used napkin rings.
Next, I had to load up the really nice ski shuttle specifically designed for rag and rug weaving. The tools for weaving are sometimes the most beautiful things you can imagine, really beautifully made with an elegant design.
After a few passes, I noticed more threading errors. I fixed them and then noticed another. It became obvious the problem was the lovely ski shuttle was damaging the warp. I did a bit of research online and found out that the shuttles need to be maintained to a very high degree. The bottom of the shuttle needs to be polished and extremely smooth, none of my hand me downs were of that quality. I’ll fix them later, but for now, I needed an alternate solution. Back to fixing the warp.
I dug around in my baskets and found a different sort of rag shuttle along with several stick shuttles. The stick shuttle is a slower method of weaving, but it is all I had. I was really pleased with how well it worked.
The silk is weaving up softer and more flexible than I thought, the colours seem very compatible and I’m pleased with the results. The strips are attached with small knots and these are being used as design elements. I like the way they look when they pop up out of the warp. Because this is an experiment I will try to hold in my optimism for this to become the jacket I had hoped for; that might be too aspirational, but I am aiming in that direction if I can get enough yardage, but for now, I’m really pleased with how things are moving along.
As you may have noticed Ann, Bernadette and I, all belong to the same local guild. The guild has both a studio and a classroom located in Heartwood house, which is the umbrella organization that is Home to 22 Non-Profit & Charitable Organizations. The building we are now in was formally a Giant Tiger store with an attached strip mall and apartments above the mall. Heartwood house purchased the building in 2012 and renovated space for each of the various groups. We all moved in at the end of the summer of 2013. (It was a huge move for the library but that is another story.)
With covid, part of the time the building was closed and no groups could use their spaces. As lock-downs eased, a few people (masked) were allowed into the various spaces (the number depended on the size of the room). We are one of the groups that have been hit hard by the restrictions. Ann and I with help from other members have been keeping the library books circulating (knock on the window and pick up your books by the side door) each month but the weavers have only started to work on the studio looms in the last couple of weeks. We have moved our Monday night socials to Zoom which is fabulous for the easy Commute but not quite as much fun as chatting in person.
Heartwood House has noticed that, with fewer people in the building, the groups are not interacting with each other as much as they would normally. They came up with a plan for festive door decorating and asked the groups to participate. They would bring Coffee and muffins or pizza for lunch to those that did add festiveness to their door.
At our December meeting, the Heartwood house liaison asked if anyone would be willing to decorate our door. I was going to be going in to work on the library anyways so figured it would be reasonable if I volunteered so no one needed to make a special trip in.
The instructions were to decorate the door, something festive. I wanted to represent the main interests within the guild so Weavers, Spinners and Felters (we have basket makers too but I did not have anything in the way of basket-making supplies to represent them. Sorry!!!)
I have never worked in a regular office environment or lived in a cubical world for work so I have never tried to decorate a door before (or a cubical). I had seen two other doors under construction, one was a fireplace with a Santa the other was an upside-down reindeer. Both used construction paper, card stock, stickers, and there was even a garland. The office for Heartwood house had a couple stocking up and looked like something else would be added later.
Scoping out the Neighbours, their doors in progress;
I thought about it for a while and decided on sheep, with a star/comet. Maybe some snow? And some pine trees? As a composition, a door is a tall skinny vertical space. I like long horizontal compositions. Oh well, fewer trees and make it a taller tree. Let’s start on the star! Ann will recognize the cookie-cutter snowflake I used for the star shape.
a quick cookie-cutter shooting star!
(Oh no! The book I was listening to ended so on to the next audiobook)
I used some of the World of Wool, core wool that I had hand-carded and really cheap felt from the dollar store. (This is not the even cheaper felt that may be made of coloured dryer-lint held together with cheap glue.) Other than being extremely thin, it wasn’t too bad to work with. I embedded it into the wool I was adding into the cookie-cutter from one side then the other. I used both the single 36T as well as the 3-needle handle that seems to hold T40’s in it. I focused on trying to get the edges firm but should have spent more time establishing the crispness of the edge shape. My poor little star is looking more like a flower.
OK, now let’s look at the sheep. I kept to the same fibre, made a body, with handspun yarn legs, and felted feet. Hum….. needs a head. I sculpted a head with ears and felting from the back and sides of the neck attached it to the body. I like the head so much I made 2 more of them!
Ok, we have the Felters represented!
At this point the plot of my book got distracting and there may have been a break for YouTube, so I missed the photos of spinning woollen (I usually am a worsted or semi-worsted spinner) while hoping I could make Fluffy Yarn.
For the spinners, I made lengths of mostly lofty 2 ply which I sewed onto a cardboard shape for the sheep body. It was the inside of a Ritz cracker box and worked very well. Sewing the head on was a bit more challenging but I used a curved mattress needle into the center of the poor sheep’s neck and tied it on through the back of the cardboard. I think she turned out to be quite a nice sheep!
For the weavers, I considered a cast-off fragment of weaving I had salvaged from the studio fibre-garbage-bucket. However, it was blue linen and not white like the other sheep. I did not want the weaving sheep to feel ostracized from the flock. So back to the cardboard Ritz box and cut out another sheepish body shape. I had scored some loom waste (thrums) at some point over the last year or so. The warp is a similar colour to the wool I have been working with. I wrapped and taped down on the back yarn over the sheepie shape on the diagonal. If I had done a square or rectangular sheep body it would have been much easier! But it would not look very sheepish. I used a long blunt needle and wove through the warp I had just taped down. After the weaving was done I stabilized the edges and sewed on the head.
I used some of the 2 ply I had spun to make the legs and attached them at the back of each sheep. Now I was all set to head in and decorate the door, well except for a quick stop at Dollerama on the way in for a few more decorating options. (Please don’t be out of Cardstock!!)
Yeah!!! There was cardstock, wrapping paper, glue, foam double-sided tape, wooden snowflakes! I also brought more wool, a foam pad, yarn, as well as thread and needles in case I needed them.
Now the door. With the depression for the window, I wanted to have the cardstock as a base layer. I held up the first blue piece and liked the effect the edge of the door gave. It looked a bit like a matt.
I had to do a bit of trimming so the door handle would fit!
Lise, one of the guild weavers, was in weaving and held up one of the wrapping papers I had selected for the sky. We both liked the effect with the blue background.
Ok, I know what we are doing for the sky, now let’s look at the snow for the bottom half of the door. This would have gone a bit more smoothly with just one more hand but Lise had already finished up her weaving by then and had headed out. Oh well, I managed to get 3 hills in my snow.
I opened the solid green paper and found Christmas trees on the inside….. well I guess I could just use that side and make a forest but the trees are a bit small.
You can imagine my surprise when not only did my solid green have trees but the solid brown has a grid on the inside!
My idea was to make a pine tree-ish shape on the side and have the sheep beneath that. The brown was to be the bark and trunk of the tree. So I squished and folded it length-wise to give it a bit of 3D.
It’s still looking a bit pathetic, better add more green bits. I did debate with myself if I should put the trees on the outside rather than the solid green.
Perfect!! Can you guess what I am making this time? I have the wooden snowflake, some fine wool yarn, a bit of wool and a T36 needle!
Can you see where I put those festive items? No? Maybe a bit more close-up will help!
Yes!! I made Festive sheep Bonnets or maybe they are hats? I will have to ask Ann what kind of festive sheep attire she has for her sheep. If she doesn’t have festive hats maybe we can start a new sheep fashion trend!!!
Now I need a bit more bling, let’s add more of the wooden snowflakes
While I have been setting this up, one of the Guys that works in the Heartwood house Office stopped by to check out how it was coming. He really liked the sheep but said I should put pillows at the bottom of the door in case anyone fell asleep while they counted our sheep! (These must be super strong sheep if they can put you to sleep with only a count of 3!!)
All done now off to home and back tomorrow to work on the library.
When I got in the next morning the snow had melted!! The sheep were in a pile at the base of the door! Now I see why we needed a pillow!! (for the sheep!) It must be the unseasonably warm weather that has made the snow unstable and melt. Change of plan, fix the door then work on the library!
I think I got the middle snow hill upside down but it still looks good (I was rushing!! )
Our Neighbour’s doors
Here are some of the other groups’ doors
I did get a small pizza for lunch (which was delicious) and got some work on the library done. There were a lot of people from the other groups throughout the day checking out each other’s doors. It was a fun event and I think they may do it again next year.
I still have more library work to do before the end of the month and hopefully some felting too! I hope all of you are having fun felting and are enjoying the festive season.
The idea of upcycling and recycling is enormously appealing given the situation we all face. But going back and undoing work from others’ hands is challenging. For those of you who have come late to my adventures in recycling, I am disassembling worn out silk kimono to weave into more modern type of jacket, still with an Asian look, but done in a rag weave. This is part of the Japanese tradition of using materials to their utmost, so I don’t feel too bad about taking these garments apart.
The process of tearing or cutting the fabric is boring, boring, boring and just for a change of emotion it’s frustrating too! I have dulled blades on fabric cutters, dulled scissors and now I’m trying a combination of rotary cutter and ripping, but still I’m not having great success.
Sometimes the silk tears perfectly and the strip can be used exactly as it comes off the fabric, then the next strip goes completely haywire for no discernible reason. These are really old kimono so my suspicion is that they have started to shatter, but that should be working in my favour when ripping, so I’m at a loss.
I have pressed and folded the silk and laid it out on the quarter inch. This is when the straight edge and rotary cutter come out. The silk used here is very fine, from the lining, so the width of the ribbon is a little more than the quarter inch. The poor rotary blade was starting to sound pretty grim after eight deep cuts. I’ll look for a small sharpener to try to extend the life of the blades.
The ribbons are joined into one long ‘thread’ using a split knot. A small cut is made in each end of the ribbon about a quarter inch from the ends.
The right hand ribbon is threaded through the slit in the left hand ribbon.
Then the very end of the left hand ribbon is threaded through slit in the right hand ribbon.
And finally, they are gently given a slow and gentle pull until they come together in a little butterfly knot that will be a design element of the weave. It will be random and just pop up here and there on the fabric.
I find doing this hour after hour nearly mind numbing, and can only do this for a few hours a day or two at a time. I really want to finish this kimono project but it’s getting to be a slog so I have to take breaks. I will finish it, but not in the original time line. What do the rest of you do when you have a project that starts to pale as time goes on?
This time boredom prompted me to crack out the dye pot and do something vivid and cheery for a November day.
A few weeks ago our guild was offered the estate of one of our more noteworthy weavers. She had stipulated that all her weaving supplies and equipment were to be sold and a scholarship be set up to help educate and promote weaving. We were deeply saddened by the loss of this talented woman, who was also a great resource for our guild. Her generosity set a high bar for all of us. I did participate in the fundraising efforts and purchased a cotton warp to encourage me to get back into weaving.
There was only a small problem with the warp; it no longer had a cross. The cross in a warp helps prevent the threads from tangling. This was going to be a huge challenge but one I wanted to tackle along with two other learning challenges.
Because I am self-taught there are huge gaps missing in my weaving knowledge. Some are very basic techniques. I desperately wanted to learn how to make a weavers knot. This is a knot that almost everyone involved in fibre seems to know how to make. Not me. I wanted it to become muscle memory, so I wanted to make lots and lots of knots. Then when the need arises it will be so easy for me to just – poof – make this non-slip permanent tiny little fastener.
Now comes part two of my learning challenge – reusing a threaded warp. If a weaver is careful and doesn’t remove the remnants of threads from the loom, and if they are long enough, they can be used as a labour-saving tool when threading through the heddles. The heddles are the little eyes on the loom. Threading heddles is a bit like threading very big needles and I really don’t like doing it.
I had preserved the previous warp. I knew it was narrower than the cotton warp I wanted to add, but I didn’t know how many threads were in the cotton warp. There is only one way to find out, count them. There are 225 threads by the way.
So I estimated I would need to add three inches of cotton on either side of the existing warp.
Then came the knots. First I just did overhand knots, but I really didn’t like them. They were thick and didn’t look like they would pass through the reed with ease. Then I started working on the weavers’ knots. Online demos are really interesting, but by the time I got back to the loom I’d forgotten how the loops worked and which way the thread wrapped around and it was all very frustrating. Finally, after a bit of digging, I found a printable diagram and that worked like a charm. My biggest concern is that I may not have a true weavers knot. This works, so maybe it doesn’t matter.
I had to thread the cotton through the heddles and Because the cotton along the sides was going to be a little shorter than the wool cotton combination in the middle I added a bit of an extender, sorry I didn’t get a picture of that.
And then it was time to start gently getting everything through the reed and the heddles. This was all done very slowly and carefully so that none of the threads would break. The weaver’s knot worked like a charm. The overhand knot was a bit thick and need some gentle nudging to make it through, but all in all, it worked.
Once the cotton was safely warped on the back beam it was a matter of untangling the threads and winding, untangling and winding. At some point, I was very tempted to just chop it all off the loom and throw it out. It was really getting to be a terrible mess, so discouraging. Then I would look at the back of the loom and see how ordered it was. Everything was coming together as it should, everything was aligned and going onto the beam the way it was supposed to, so I would take a break and come back to it a little later.
And then fairly quickly it was all done. I was a little surprised and definitely delighted.
All this time I had no idea what I was going to do on this warp, not a clue. Maybe make a table runner or some cushion covers. I have some really nice linen to use, some great thick and thin cotton or wool. Then last night it came to me. This lovely textured cotton warp with all its thick bits and thin threads, its ideal length of 4.5 yards (4 m) precise width of 18 in (45cm), it’s ability to take colour like a sponge will be perfect for the recycled kimono project!! Can hardly wait to get started.
I am lucky enough to live in Sturminster Newton, Dorset, England (known affectionately by locals as Stur). One of our Town’s claims to fame is our Watermill. There has been a Watermill on the river Stour here for at least 1000 years. The original mill was a Grist Mill – that is for grinding corn, but in the early 1600s a Fulling (or Tucking) Mill was built adjacent to the Grist Mill. This was largely to facilitate the greater production of a fabric which had been produced in and around Stur since the 1570s. This fabric was called Swanskin. It was a tough, course white woollen fabric, made from locally spun and woven wool, which was then scoured, fulled and the surface teazed and fulled again. Fishermen working out of Newfoundland, many of whom were recruited from Stur, greatly prized the Swanskin for its all-weather, waterproof qualities, as did the British Army and Navy. Originally the fulling would have been done by fullers treading the fabric in troughs filled with all sorts of nasty stuff, including urine. Once the fulling mill was built this hard work was done mechanically. The woven fabric, in its troughs of nastiness, was hammered by large wooden stocks which were driven by gears from the waterwheel. Eventually the fulled cloth was hung out to dry along the river bank, stretched out on tenter frames by tenterhooks. A report about Manufacturing in Dorset dated around 1812 reads:
“There is a manufactory in the neighbourhood of Shaftesbury of a kind of flannel called swanskin, which is a coarse white woollen cloth, used for soldiers’ clothing, and made from 18d. to 2s. a yard; but this is of little consequence to Shaftesbury, the chief trade in this article being carried on at Sturminster Newton, where about 1200 people are employed in it, and where between 4000 and 5000 pieces, containing 35 yards in length, in a piece, yard wide, are annually made.
At present the woollen manufactures are almost confined to Sturminster and Lyme Regis, at which latter place broad-cloth and flannels are made in considerable quantities.
At Sturminster there are four or five clothiers, and about 300 weavers; sometimes 700 or 800 people are employed in the manufactory of Swansdown, (sic.) but the trade is not so considerable as was formerly the case.”
In early 2016 I was asked by the curator of our town’s Museum and Mill Society (now known as the Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust) if I could produce a sample of Swanskin for the Museum since it appears that there is no example of actual swanskin now in existence. As Swanskin was such an important part of the town’s history, the Museum wanted to create an exhibit for future reference. This I did, so far as I could, and I also wrote them a report on the process, which I repeat here – it was of course written for the edification of members of the general public, most of whom would not be conversant with spinning and weaving terms, so please don’t think I’m trying to “teach granny to suck eggs”.
“Swanskin – Experimental Archaeology
“In order to try to recreate the processes in the manufacture of Swanskin some research was carried out by Kathleen Sanderson (a member of the Dorset Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers). It appeared that the likely breed of sheep from which the fleece was obtained was the Portland. This breed was found in fact over much of Dorset in the 17th Century. “Kathleen found however that the fleece from today’s much improved breed of Portland sheep was finer and more delicate than would have been the case in 1600. She therefore blended Exmoor fleece with the Portland to obtain as near as possible the coarser, more hardwearing fibres originally used. Originally the wool would have been spun “in the grease” – that is still containing (inter alia) the natural lanolin. The resultant yarn would have been woven in this state so that the resultant cloth would have had to be washed and treated with fuller’s earth (scoured) to remove the oils and other detritus like plant material and insect life.
“The sample shown was spun after scouring because this had been necessary to facilitate the blending of the two fleeces. The yarn was plied and then twill woven – that is instead of the basic over one, under one, over one – of plain weave, the weft was taken over two and under two on the first pass then over one under two over two on the next. This results in characteristic diagonal lines in the weave. “When “fulled” twill woven fabric becomes denser than would a fabric with plain weave.
“I wove the sample in this fashion on a frame loom. After the weaving, the sample was wetted and fuller’s earth rubbed into it on both sides, just to make sure that all the grease and oils had been removed. This was rinsed out, the sample soaped and rubbed by hand to start the felting or fulling process. “This process would have been carried out by “Fullers” or “Walkers” in the 11th and 12th centuries. Though they would have done it by treading or walking on the fabric in wooden troughs rather than using their hands. At Sturminster Fulling Mill swanskin was fulled at the Mill using water power to move fulling stocks. These hammered the fabric until it was fulled or felted sufficiently to make it water repellent. “The sample was fulled in a washing machine, first at a temperature of 40° with a very hard rubber ball acting as a fulling stock. This was repeated once more and then at a temperature of 90° until the sample was fully felted. When the sample was almost dry it was ironed with a steam iron on both sides and then fully dried. The original swanskin cloth would of course have been dried on tentering frames in the open air.
“Once the Sample was dry it was brushed with a flick carder (the modern equivalent of using a frame covered in teasels) on one side only in order to raise a nap on the fabric.”
The mill was open to the public again this year, after having had to be closed during lockdowns. It is possible that, during the first lockdown, some of you may have seen reports about the fact that the mill reverted to milling flour which was provided to local bakers. Many people over here took to making their own bread so that there was a general shortage of bread flour, and, since approaches were received from people from all over the globe trying to buy bread flour from our miller, I assume that this was the same almost everywhere.
I have added below some internet links about the Mill and our Society (Sorry – Trust!), and some of the news stories from last year – Google has lots more.
Oh and a couple of my felt paintings of the mill – adding a bit of artist’s licence!
In part 1 we saw the history of the guilds’ old 90 and 100 inch loom. In part 2 we chatted about the arrival and unpacking of the new 100 inch loom. Now lets take a peek at the reference binders related to the old looms and consider continuing that tradion.
My hope is that today’s guild members, as they chose a topic, whether it’s a coverlet or blanket or something else to try out the new loom, they look back to the weavers from earlier in the guild’s history. Like these earlier weavers they record their projects and designs, take photos of their weaving so we can get a glimpse of them as well as what they are creating.
In the past the guild weavers have sporadically documented their projects both with the 90 inch and 100-inch loom. I (in my capacity as one of the guild librarians) would like to see a new binder documenting the projects which our modern weaving teams will make with this new loom.
94 The 90” loom Samples 1 May 1973 to 1 May 1974
95 – 101 sample pages from the 90” loom sample binder
102 OVWSG 100” Loom Samples Aug 1982 to Oct 1983
103- 110 sample pages from the 100” loom sample binder
111 OVWSG 100” loom Samples 1987 to 1992 (while the loom was in Donna G’s Basement. Donna also taught the beginner and intermediate weaving at that time with table looms)
112-121 sample pages from the 100” loom sample binder
We have some sample binders in the reference section of the library, including guild projects, workshops and individual members weaving careers. It would be nice to have sample binders from Spinners, Basket makers, Dyers and Felters too. Keeping records in a sample binder is a way to keep track of your work and experimentation. Your collected projects will give inspiration to yourself or others. Try to make your sample binder in a way that will keep your samples safe from damage. (Use acid-free materials if you can get your hands on them, sew in your samples if possible rather than tape or staples) and always take lots of photos as you work to include to show the process you went through to make it!
Weavers have the advantage of pre-made sheets (available from guilds or online) that save the draft or pattern of the weaving as well as noting yarns, yardage calculations and notes. i would like to see a similar collection of information for the other fiber arts. Spinners can keeps notes of what fibers were used, where they were obtained, what spinning techniques were used and what the end use for the yarn will be. For Felters, what fibers and their sources, weight of the fibers used, techniques used, amount of shrinkage when fiber was sampled, note on how the project was made. Photos would be useful to document your project (felt sculptures don’t fit in binders).
Figure out the information that would be useful to have for each project you create. You may want to include not only the date started and finished, but keep track of the hours worked on each project. Or you may be more interested in what fibers are used or what mix of fibers were used and in what amounts. If you have demo-ed you may recall getting asked common questions, how long did that take, where did you get the idea, where did you get the fibers, how heavy is it, how did you make it do that? theses questions mite help direct you in what to include in your binder.
If you make a binder documenting your work it will both keep a record of your artistic career, showing your progress, and looking back through it may inspire new work. I hope you will consider sharing it with other fiber artists too. If you show them yours, they may show you theirs!
122 Part of the Reference Section of the Guild Library
I hope the saga of the large loom has inspired you even if you do not go out and get one yourself! If you are suddenly yearning to weave a coverlet or a lovely warm blanket check with your local guild and see if they have a 100” loom you could use.
The guild both Ann and I belong to had an old 100″ loom at the end of its life. With the greatly appreciated grant assist, we were able to order a new loom that will be much easier for our ageing membership to use. We had our grant request approved so put in our order with Leclerc Looms. We dispersed parts of the old loom, put in a new floor in the classroom and awaited the new looms arrival…..
Unbeknownst to us, other guilds seem to have had the same grant idea! So, the loom that should have been ready for us in a few months, was suddenly delayed, then delayed again. There was a backlog of orders at Leclerc looms for 100-inch looms! Then Covid 19 hit and there seemed to also be a shortage of wood (looking at the packing crates I can believe that!) so 18 months since we placed our order and a couple of grant extensions, our new loom arrived.
Long heavy wooden crates arrived and had to be carried up the stairs (there is a turn in the stairs too) since the 100” loom crates would not fit in the elevator. All the crates and boxes were transported up to the classroom (which is down a long hall from the stairs with a couple more corners just to make it a bit more challenging). That was enough of an accomplishment for the day and a different unboxing date was decided on.
41 – 42 A long way to carry all the heavy boxes up from downstairs
The evening they selected coincided with the day I would be doing the library book exchange, Oct 7th. The guild library during covid has been doing book requests and drive by pick up /drop offs at the side door for our members. It’s a bit more work for the librarians, but it is allowing the members to use the library again. I was finishing with the library and started packing up, as the team of unboxers arrived.
43-45 yes there is candy involved in the library book exchanged!
46- 47 I locked up the library, took the camera and headed for the classroom.
Upstairs in the Classroom, unboxing was already underway! Since we could not all be there to experience the extreme excitement of seeing the 100” loom unboxing I took photos and posted them on our guild face book group page.
48- 51 The Unboxing had begun!
I tried to capture some of the wonder of what is this? Where will this go? Is that a tensioning device for the bobbin rack? OOOH, a counter!!!! What are those extra beams for, are they just deflectors? OOOH, sectional bits and extenders!!!!
That is one big loom!!! In pieces it looks a lot bigger than 100 inches worth!!!
58 – 62 BIG!!!
63 There was ergonomic unboxing while sitting on a chair.
The last long wooden box was the one with the reeds, leash sticks and rods.
64-68 the last wooden crate
You can see the unboxing of the treadles and here is a close up of the treadles.
69-73 that box was the treadles!
You can see the bobbin rack also still wrapped up. This will be a useful addition to the 100 inch since with a sectional beam you will not need as big a team to warp this large loom! I spotted the tension box, a counter and I think a tensioner for the bobbin rack too (COOL! My 60 inch sectional didn’t have one of those!).
74-75 Bobbin rack!!
The loom parts were well packed! The packing crates look like long window boxes!
76-77 well packed
The assembly of this loom will be like a giant 3d jigsaw puzzle! I hope photos will be added as this part is started. This next step might take a number of sessions more to complete. I will check next time I’m in to work on the library to see the progress.
After seeing pictures of the 100-inch loom and the fun that the next assembly project will be, I bet you are glad that felting is just vast quantities of wool, soap, pool noodles, bubble wrap, needles, wire and odd bits of equipment that were not originally intended for felting. (ok, that can take up the same space as the big loom but the wool is lighter to move!!)
Next trip into the guild library to do a book check, pull a couple of magazines and get photos of a couple of reference books, I also went up to see if the 3d puzzle was underway. Yes! It was almost complete!
It looks so shiny and new with its bubble wrap still on the beams! (those extra pieces I wasn’t sure how they would fit turned out to be a rotating breast and cloth beams.) I look forward to seeing if the rotational aspect will improve take up of the cloth or warping the loom.
79-81 the 3D “Kebec II Loom Counter-balance with Pulleys”
The extenders and the sectional parts still need to be added to the back beam but that isn’t too big a job. The bobbin rack is still to be assembled too. But the new loom is almost ready for its first weavers!
82-84 Sectional pices yet to be attached.
85-91Loom close ups
92 – 93 the New loom even makes the Guild’s Grate Wheel look smaller!
Since the new loom is now here, it’s time to start thinking about what exciting things it will be making; Blankets, coverlets, catalogue, curtains, Icelandic blankets?
My hope is that today’s guild members, as they chose a topic, whether it’s a coverlet or blanket or something else to try out the new loom, they look back to the weavers from earlier in the guild’s history. Like these earlier weavers they record their projects and designs, take photos of their weaving so we can get a glimpse of them as well as what they are creating.
Weavers have kept samples binders of there projects with notes on drafts, samples of warp and weft yarn and a sample of the woven cloth. Sometimes there are notes about the designing the project or inspiration that they used. Some have photos of the weaving in progress, finishing, equipment and weavers involved in the project. Sample binders can be a history of a weavers life or inspire other weavers.
We have a few sample binders of previous 90 and 100 inch loom projects in the guild Library. I will show you a few next week. Since these binders are very helpful to weavers; the Spinners, Dyers, Basket makers and Felters may want to make there own versions of sample binders! Have fun and keep felting!