Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Never let it be said we don't take things to extremes...

I know many people observed Earth Hour on Saturday night. We kind of took things to extremes in an attempt to outdo everyone else.

We lost our mains power on Saturday afternoon and proceeded to spend the next 48 hours without electricity, impressing the neighbours with the sheer number of very large vans and trucks that could be squeezed into and parked on the side of our narrow one-way lane (four big vans, a flat-bed truck and a digger at the peak), and with the sheer size of the hole that kept growing in the footpath and laneway outside our house. It turns out the cable had been damaged some years back when cables were laid, and had chosen that moment to give up the ghost.

We also became increasingly amused at the level of distress people experience when confronted with people who can happily live without electricity for a couple of days. They're really not sure what to do, or think. The poor electric board man came back no less than four times to make sure we hadn't come to our senses and decided that we did want a generator after all.

But we were fine. We camp a lot, we're equipped to live off the grid. We'd pulled out the petrol stove and the paraffin lamps, and were living our lives as normal, just a bit less brightly in the evenings. And opening the fridge a lot less, of course. I did, however, have a very long hot shower when the power came back on yesterday afternoon!

I blame Mr. G. myself, because the last email he sent me before getting on the plane discussed buying an old cottage without power for a weekender. In that, he made the comment that the two of us living off the grid was meant to be. We've laughed ourselves silly all weekend. What a welcome home!

Friday, 27 March 2009


My sweetie gets home tomorrow. He's been away for almost six months - five months, two weeks and six days to be precise - and he's been coming home for almost a week. It's a long journey, involving five days at sea, a 19-hour flight and two three-hour bus trips.

The next two months will be a time of celebration, rest and relaxation, involving lots of long weekends, and two separate holidays (one in Wales, the other in Australia). We're not putting in a single 5-day working week during the months of April and May. The celebration won't end at the end of that time, but we will put in a little more effort into making an appearance at work!

I confidently predict a significant slow-down in spinning, weaving and blogging over the summer. :)

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

On colour again

It's an oft-asked question: what do you do with dyeing disasters? The mark of a good cook is how well the bounce back from a kitchen disaster: could the same be true of a weaver?

I hasten to add that this is not my dyeing disaster. Some may argue it's not a disaster at all, but it's a bit busier than I'd normally take a project. This is one of a number of skeins I bought cheaply off ebay from someone who'd tried weaving, found it wasn't for them, and later sold on the stash they'd bought in the first flush of enthusiasm. I've bought some good bargains that way. This skein was worth taking on because it came with a number of other silk skeins which had not been dyed. The base silk is a lovely soft grey, and it's been splodged with rose pink, green and blue.

My usual approach to design is completely instinctual. I do some conscious design, but more normally yarns and drafts are left lying around in close proximity to each other, and finally they group themselves and present themselves to me as a fait accompli. I keep thinking that I ought to approach design in a more conscious manner and occasionally I do, but the instinctual approach seems to be what my brain desires after a day spent doing hard, conscious science. My weaving is, after all, not my day job. For now.

The usual answer to a dyeing disaster is to dye some more. But as I've looked at this over time, I've come to think, can it be made to work? Can the silk be used as it is, making the various colours look attractive sitting beside each other rather than a dog's breakfast? And the answer may be that it is. The trick is to use the multi-coloured stuff as an accent rather than a whole warp, and interchange it with complementary colours. Perhaps use it as the centre of a scarf, with a thin stripe of rose pink and a selvedge of the same grey as the base colour. It could work, if it were woven with a lovely complexish twill patterned draft.

The blue and yellow silk caps are floating around with it to see how they like the idea of becoming a weft with these colours. The blue is saying no, the pale yellow yes - and the pale yellow is also liking the golden yellow silk skein above it. The yellow, a lovely soft colour, is a few silk caps I threw into the exhaust bath of the lovely tangerine dyeing.

There's enough of the syed silk skein there for 2-3 scarves, so there's room for experimentation. This is 1-2 projects down the list, so watch this space.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Photos from the studio

I love poring over photos of other people's studios, so I thought I'd share.

I had some friends around to a party back in January, and one of them had a particularly fine wide-angle camera lens. So here is the most comprehensive shot I've seen of the (very cluttered at that time but at least you know it's being used) torture room. On the loom is one of the fine pink silk scarves, and hanging over the back of it is the hand-painted warp I've just been finishing off.

There's lots of weaving paraphernalia scattered about. The bookcase beside the door, in the left of the image, is actually full of books. This also houses my home-made sectional beaming yarn guide apparatus; the scraps of decking wood and eyelets. I sit cones on the floor to beam on the warp. The one on the far wall houses my weaving stash, all laid out on display to inspire. The cones are (very) loosely organised by fibre type and grist. There's a small worktable in the far corner - actually a Victorian hall table - which houses yarns laid out to inspire for the next project, a big pile of paperwork, my swift and bobbin winder, or a huge mess, depending on the day.

The loom has the sectional back beam of course: the second back beam is still on the floor. I've decided that in complete contrast to strap-on design with which it was made, I need to drill and bolt the second back beam to the loom. That's a two-person job, so I've been waiting for the second person to come home.

The baskets on the top of the bookcases contain more stash - large amounts of yarn for the next blanket project, scraps of tapestry yarn that I inherited and may use one day, and lots and lots of fleeces for spinning. The drum carder is just out of view (although you can see its handle in the extreme left foreground), but my Little Gem spinning wheel and spinning chair are on the far side of the loom. The skein winder on the windowsill is a French antique which I really must renovate one day. You can also see on the windowsill the slate, on which I chalk up projects into the queue as inspiration strikes. I chalk them up literally, using chalk I collected from a field about 5 miles from my house. The window is east-facing and faces the lane, so it's the perfect place to weave in the morning, watching the world go by. I get all sorts go past my house - families on a walk, people on bikes, people on horseback, cars of course, the odd tractor and occasionally a horse-drawn dray.

Why "The Torture Room"? Well, my friends long ago nicknamed the Glimakra "The Medieval torture device" because...well, that's what it looks like. Not "The rack", because that would be too prosaic. The red couch in the right foreground is a futon that doubles as a spare bed, and friends love to tease visitors who have never been to my house before that they have to sleep in the torture room with the Medieval torture device. Some poor unsuspecting souls have nervously entered my house not ~quite~ sure what they've let themselves in for.

When asked why I went for a Glimakra, I often tell people I'm overcompensating. I'm 5'1" tall, and in high school I was 4'10". My father, who has long loved to tease me about my height, promised me a rack for my 15th birthday, and it never appeared...

I'd love to have a manymany-shafted compu-dobby one day, but until I find the space, the old girl works well for me.

Monday, 23 March 2009

That would be a no, then.

This weekend, I wove off the last of the handpainted merino warp. I'd tied this on to the too-soft merino warp, and as I wonve my way towards it, I got to thinking about the sample I'd cut off it. It showed that the sett of the sample had been a bit too tight, and I wondered whether the breakage in the warp had been due to rubbing. I'd not worried about it too much because the back of the handpainted warp had been meant to be for samples: but I got all enthusiastic and decided it would make a short scarf if I worked at it.

As the too-soft merino warp came off the back beam however, I got my answer:

Ignoring the two stripes of extra red warp at either side, every red thread in the warp there represents a broken warp thread. This didn't affect the scarf I was weaving because every break happened past the not of the hand-painted warp (yellow, in this picture):

So each time this happened, I'd tie yet another red cotton warp on, and weight it all down. I got the knots to the back of the heddles, and then lost my bottle. Any further and it would have been too difficult to track down and fix breaks. So then I thought about what to do next. What I really wanted to do was make another pleated scarf - but obviously I couldn't tie it directly on to the green merino warp. Yet it seemed a shame to thread and sley again if I didn't have to. So I decided to make a short dummy warp of cotton and tie that on, as padding between that and the next warp. In addition, for the next few warps, it would be really handy to see at a glance which sections are 3/1 twill, and which 1/3. So rather than just cut this scarf off, I started cutting off just 8 threads at a time, tying on the dummy cotton warp in alternating sections of red and tan - one for each threading block. (Ignore the messy threads in the middle of the warp, that's where I've tied back on the broken warp threads and pulled the excess through the reed).

The plan is to quickly tie that on and beam it so the weak warp isn't exposed, and then make the next warp.

Of course, at that stage I decided that I really needed to go out and enjoy the beautiful spring day we had, so I wandered off to dig a potato bed. That's as far as the weaving got for the weekend!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The magic colour-changing warp

Last weekend, in addition to getting stuck into the garden, I tied on a blue warp to what was left of the hand-painted warp and wove it off as a sample for the next intended project. When I'd woven the blue warp I realised that there was enough of the hand-painted warp still on the loom to make a shortish scarf, so decided to weave that up as well. That may have been a mistake, given it's tied to the too-weak merino at the other end, but we'll see.

It gives a cool effect if you take a photo at the right time though.

The weft for the hand-painted warp is the green silk cap in my previous post.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Lime green and tangerine

(With extra points to anyone who gets the song reference)

There's a post on colour that's been kicking around in my head, waiting for the right moment to get out. This probably isn't it. But colour has been a big part of my musings lately.

We all have favourite colours. We tend to stick to those colours and those combinations that are pleasing to our eyes and our differing tastes. Sometimes that can work us into a bit of a rut. The mossy lime green silk cap above is another example of the continuing series of greens that I've been playing with for the lat six months or so: and I've been weaving it into yet another green/brown/yellow handpainted warp. The tangerine is as well, because the scarf it will turn into will be red, yellow and orange: fun, but predictable.

But sometimes you're lucky enough that something prompts you out of it.

That happened to me a week or two ago. While spinning the tangerine silk cap (not looking anything like it's wonderful glorious brightness in the image above) at Rampton spinners recently, the wonderful scarf in Meg's avatar leapt into my mind. Suddenly I started to see the bright orange silk cap woven with a complex weave - possibly a block-drafted crackle - into a deep royal purple silk warp. The effect would be shimmering. I mentioned this to Meg, and she said that the only reason she had the gold cotton in the avatar was because she'd been sent it by error, and yet it had become one of her favourite cottons. She'd been taken out of her comfort zone and it had worked. I call that serendipity.

Since then, I've been looking at colour completely differently. My brain is brimming with ideas, at various stages of maturity. The orange and purple, which is still germinating in my head. Pale lemon yellow weft into soft grey splodged with rose pink and blue (a dog's breakfast of dyeing someone else did on a silk skein which I've later inherited - I'll take a photo one day). Stripey pleats, making a fabric with two different sides. Soft yellow pleats into dark navy blue, to up the contrast. And maybe trying to do something like watercolours, which change hue with changing perspective.

Sometimes all it takes is the smallest prompt.

Also, apologies for any typos. I think I've caught most of them, but I'm typing with a bandaged index finger due to a minor olive-oil-tin-and-sharp-knife gardening accident last weekend, and the extra bulk catches keys.


Peg has been kind enough to tag me for the Kreativ Blogger award.

Accepting this award means following some rules:

  1. copy the Kreativ Blogger award to your blog
  2. put a link to the person from whom you received the award
  3. nominate 8 other blogs and
  4. link to them
  5. then leave a message on the blogs you nominated
I'm always reluctant to select people for these things, but here goes (in no particular order):


...and anyone else who feels so inclined...

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Moving right along...

It's amazing what a difference a bit of backstitching makes. Not to mention foresight. I decided that rather than go on and do another section of this piece with different colours; it made sense to backstitch the pear tree while I still have all the thread for it spearing the gumnut babies...er, still on the needles in the pincushion, so I can stitch any missed stiches while I spot them. There are remarkably few of those, I'm pleased to say. Leaves to the left of the peacock's head have been backstitched, those above and to the right have not. The difference in definition is clear. It's going slowly at the moment though, as I seem to have done something to strain my hands.

Some people love backstitching, some hate it - just like dressing a loom. Me, I like the process of defining clarity from murk. Gilding the lily, as it were.

Somewhere, there a couple of gumnut babies with a mighty headache.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Rediscovering the pleasure of weaving and spinning.

No photos today, but I wanted to say, what a pleasure it is to weave a warp that doesn't break with every pick. After months of weaving into difficult, weak warps I've rediscovered the joy of weaving. Of having things work as they should, and most particularly being able to develop a weaving rhythym and finish a scarf without a broken warp thread!

I pulled the olive green pleated scarf off the loom yesterday. I don't have photos yet, as I haven't finished it yet - I'd thought to do so last night, but spent the evening chatting online with my sweetie instead (we often do on a Sunday evening as it's a quiet time for both of us, and it's his birthday today). There are two more pleated scarves germinating in the pipeline, extending the idea further.

I've managed to meet the deadline I'd imposed on myself of finishing sewing the pear tree on the peacock tapestry by this past weekend. I also spent a very pleasant Saturday at Rampton Spinners with Ota, spinning the brightest tangering silk cap you've ever seen. It was like a cloud of sunshine. You couldn't help but smile looking at it- it was making us both very happy people!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Moving on with pleats, part 2: sample, sample, sample

I'm slowly learning that it's always a good idea to sample. I this case, I wanted to decide what the best weft would be to use with the handpainted merino warp I planned to turn into a pleaty scarf, establish whether I'd managed to give myself loose pleats with the set I'd chosen, and see how much draw-in there would be. From just under 9 inches in the reed, the finished sample was an average of 5.5 inches wide - about 40% shrinkage.

From top to bottom:
- pale green 60/2 silk
- emerald green 120/2 silk
- soft grey-green 30/2 merino (the same cone as the previous too-soft warp)
- pale green handspun silk cap
- yellow overtwisted handspun silk cap
- olive green handspun silk cap
- a few picks of beige rayon flake thread used as a spacer because it's nice and slippery

There was little difference in the draw-in between the very fine silks and the handspun silk cap (which has more of a 30/2 grist).

The fine silks gave an incredibly soft hand to the fabric, but did give a weft-dominated fabric: not what you're after when you have gone to the effort of hand-painting a warp. The merino, being a closer grist to the warp than the other yarns, pleated less strongly than the silks. It's a nice effect and would give a nice result, but it's not what I'm after here - and the colour is all wrong. Cold contrasted with the warm colours of the warp. The pale green silk cap is too bright. The yellow overtwisted silk cap gave more draw-in and in intriguing result, but again was not what I wanted for this project - besides, I only have a small amount of that left over from one of the crammed-and-spaced silk scarves, and this sample has given me an idea for how to use it up.

The olive-green silk cap, which is what I was using for weft for the previous pleating efforts, is the winner. It's a little variegated, which I've decided to use to my advantage. I've used some of the darker silk to make a defined stripe, about six inches in from the end.

And the changing shades of the handpainted warp have the effect of increasing and decreasing the contrast between the pleats, and the variegations of the warp and weft drift in and out of similar colour tones:

This, too, has fired my mind and given me ideas for the next scarf, which will have more complex colour interactions again. It seems despite myself, my brain is giving me the increased layers of colour I was aspiring to last year.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Moving on with pleats, part 1: tying on a new warp

For the first time ever, I've cut a warp off the loom without making something of it. The olive pleats in this post were looking absolutely lovely - but the beautifully soft 30/2 merino I was using for the warp was far too soft to support any tension as a warp. It was stretching with every pick, and I was averaging a broken warp thread with every pick taken. It made for even slower weaving than the weak 60/2 silk warp and wasn't going to ever turn into a fabric that could be used. So with six inches or so woven, I called the result a sample and cut it off. I finished it, but appear not to have a photo of it. Set at 30 epi, the result is rolling pleats, but a slightly stiffer fabric than one would want to wear.

Not to waste the time I'd spent threading, I chose to tie on a warp I painted some time ago, intending to use for a pleated scarf. The warp is hand-painted NZ artisan lace-weight merino, a bit thicker than the merino I'd been using. I'd used this yarn before, for the multi-coloured scarf so knew it would stand up to life on the loom. It's a bit thicker than the merino in the previous warp, so I resleyed at 24 epi.

The new warp had about 30 more ends than the previous one, so I wound up a short dummy warp in red cotton for each side, to add the extra ends:

Having wound the warp prior to painting on my warping mill, I had a cross tied into each end. I put the threading cross through lease sticks, and tied these to the breast beam of the loom.

You can see my beloved trusty steed in the background. She lives in the studio with me and gives me immense pleasure on the 9-mile commute to and from work.

Tying each thread to the previous warp, I beamed the warp on. You can see in the image above how stretchy the previous olive green warp was: when I tied on, all the warp threads had been cut to the same length. By the time the knots had been eased through the reed and heddles, the wool warp was overall more stretched than the cotton, and some sections of it had stretched more than others. This has had the advantage of giving an attractive chevroning along the warp but may cause problems with tension once I get to the end of the warp. That won't be a problem for the scarf this will turn into, because there's enough length in the warp for the tail end to be samples. I can experiment.

I use the 'water jug' method of tensioning when beaming a warp this way: I tie the warp into a loose overhand knot, and hang over it a half-litre jug of water to weight it. I only beam a few inches at a time, stopping to shake and twang the warp threads into place for the next bit to pass through the reed - never combing my fingers through the warp. That just causes knots.

One the warp was beamed, I lashed the warp on. I always lash my warps on, I find it so much easier to get the warp to tension. I wind the lashing cord on a plastic bobbin, lash the warp on at a relatively easy, loose-to-medium tension, and then run my hands over the lashing cord to even the tension out. I continue to do this, increasing the tension one or two clicks of the ratchet at a time, running my hands over the lashing cord several times with each increase of tension. I find this gives me an even tension across the warp every time with no problems. If I'm not impatient, I'll often try to finish a day with a tensioned warp so I can let it rest overnight and settle before starting weaving in the morning. It means I spend many Friday nights tying up treadles!

More on the weaving tomorrow...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

More of the peacock cross-stich

By popular demand (or, because Meg asked so very nicely!).

This proved quite difficult to photograph, because of the medium tones of the colours. I've uploaded the full, 10Mp images - so if you're on a slow connection, beware of clicking on the thumbnails for a closer look!

Obviously because I'm still sewing, the fabric is a bit crumpled where I've been holding it. Again, this is very very big: I'm sewing this at 10 stitches to the inch. It's coming along. I expect to have the pear tree finished this week, there's only a bit to go to the left of the peacock's head. The rest of the background will take another week or so, and then there's a lovely intricate border, complete with embroidered diamonds and gold beads to do.

A close-up of the peacock itself:

No back-stitching yet. Back-stitching will outline the detail of the work and make outlines much easier to see. I may start on some of that this evening.

Related posts:
Making linen cloth (contains a link to an image of the completed work)
Linen cloth for cross-stitch
Where I was with this a fortnight ago