Sheep to Shawl
Ours is not the traditional Sheep to Shawl competition, where teams race against each other to determine who can finish first, going from fleece just shorn to a woven shawl (while maintaining good craftsmanship). Our guild is too small for that. But we set up stations for every step of fiber production so people can learn what it takes to go from animal to garment. Sheep are shorn outside on the front lawn, twice, at a preset time, for the benefit of the public and especially children who otherwise may not have the opportunity to see a shearing.
There are also outside stations for washing wool and dyeing; carding, spinning, weaving, knitting and crocheting are inside on the ground floor of the Great Hall. There are signs that explain each step in details for people to read; and we provide flyers that people can take, each describing spinning, weaving and knitting.
Still, I do wish we could show all of the steps in dressing the loom and weaving because some take away the wrong impression: they think that all there is to weaving is throwing the shuttle. I have had people being disappointed when taking our weaving class because they thought they would just weave, they didn’t wonder how those threads got to the loom. While demonstrating weaving in the past, I have had people actually ask me “where do you buy a machine with all those threads on it?” And I have had knitters say how much easier weaving is, since all I have to do is throw the shuttle for a complete row, while in knitting they have to work every stitch. Clearly more education is needed.
There is also a children’s art station where the little ones can make something to take with them. This year was Gods’ eyes. Some weavers are generous enough to allow children and adults to weave on their looms.
This year I spun. I keep several of my spinning wheels in the fiber studio for teaching, which is on the second floor of the Craft Center. So I took one of my wheels down for the event. At the end of the day, I brought it back up. As I was coming down the glass staircase back to the Great Hall, I stopped dead on my tracks at this sight:
This little girl was so wrapped up in her work, checking to make sure she had the right treadles, and then carefully throwing her shuttle, while weaving on Guild member Debbie Stringer’s loom.
I stood there and watched. It made the day worthwhile.
The handout – monograph, really – for the Convergence™ seminar “Weaving Errors: How to Avoid them or Fix them” (S-FA067) is finally done – all 117 pages of it!
Are there really that many errors to make? Well, yes and in my nearly 40 years of weaving and over 30 in teaching, I either made them myself or one of my students did. I do wonder whether I covered them all in the monograph and I am counting on the Convergence™ participants in my seminar (33 to date) to let me know any that I missed.
I have talked about treadling errors in this blog before, but there are errors that can creep in at every step of the way: in winding the warp, dressing the loom, threading the heddles, sleying the reed, tying on, and treadling. There are strategies for minimizing errors and to avoid future issues. And some errors can be corrected more easily than others.
Poor tension on the warping board, for example, may come back to bite us when dressing the loom and we may have to make up for it when we tie on. Look at the discrepancy in length in the warp bouts in the picture below. All of that extra length adds up to loom waste.
Threading errors can sometimes be corrected, but sleying? We just have to re-sley, and hope that we don’t introduce a new error when fixing the old.
The most pernicious of sleying errors occurs when we skip a threaded warp end from the denting, as shown below:
The sleying will look just fine, and unless we check from the side of the loom as it was done in this picture, this error will appear as a threading error, since one of the threads won’t participate in the cloth – that will be after we start weaving, at which point everything will have to be undone…….
Scale and Float length
Two weeks ago we talked about the threading that appears below in the drawdown. Three repeats are shown, each repeat is 10-thread long. We talked about scale: if the sett is 10 ends per inch, the repeat will be 1” wide (10 thread repeat divided by 10 ends per inch = 1”).
Related to scale is the length of the float: the larger the pattern, the longer the floats, for any given pattern. We know this, of course, but, like scale, we may forget to consider it. The treadling is needed to assess float length, since the floats are formed in the weaving. We need to think about warp and weft floats.
The drawdown of this twill is shown as tromp as writ. To determine float length in inches (and fractions thereof) first we need to determine thread float length. Drawdown software may provide such analysis, but really, it is rather easy to figure out.
The drawdown shows clearly the horizontal red lines that represent the warp and the vertical yellow lines that represent the weft. Let’s first look at the warp ends. Each red square is a single warp float. Follow the analysis by looking at this section of the drawdown:
The first warp thread is on shaft 1.Only single red squares appear, thus, floats are only one-warp long.
The warp end on shaft 2 has the following floats, starting from the top of the drawdown: 2, 1, 3. Only one repeat of the treadling is needed for analysis, but the joint between the first and second repeat is important; it is, in fact, here that the 3-thread float occurs.
For shaft 3 we have: 2, 3, 2 thread floats.
For shaft 4: 3, 3 thread floats.
Thus, for the warp, the maximum warp length float is over 3 threads.
Next, we analyze weft floats, the yellow horizontal lines; each yellow square is a single weft float. Again, follow the analysis by looking at this particular section of the drawdown:
For the first shot (1 & 2), the weft float length is 3 threads; for shaft 2 only single thread floats. On shaft 3: 2, 1, 3; on shaft 4: 2, 3, 2
Thus, the maximum weft length float is also over 3 threads.
This process sounds laborious, but it doesn’t have to be; make the drawdown high contrast in color and the longest length and width of the colors will become more obvious; focusing on the longest red lines, we easily see that there are no warp floats longer than 3; similarly, looking at the longest yellow lines shows that there are no weft floats longer than 3 threads.
We do have to remember, however, that longer floats may be occurring underneath the cloth. Any time that we have two or more warp ends next to each other, as it occurs in the first shot shown below, there is an equivalent float underneath the cloth, in this example, a two-thread yellow weft float.
If you have trouble visualizing what floats lurk underneath the cloth, do a drawdown exchanging shaft movement: if the original drawdown was for a rising shed loom (as in the case here), repeat it for a sinking shed loom and vice versa. Below is the sinking shed drawdown, the underneath of the fabric; note, at the first shot, the two-thread yellow weft float that we just talked about.
There are no floats longer than 3 threads for either the warp or the weft.
Once we have determine the float length in threads, we can convert it to inches, using the sett for the weft floats and the beat (picks per inch) for the warp floats.
For example, using the sett of 10 ends to the inch we mentioned above, where the pattern will be 1” wide, the weft float over 3 warp threads will be about ⅓”; whether this is acceptable or not depends on the final use of the fabric. At a sett of 20 epi, the pattern is less visible at ½” wide, but the floats are minimal at 0.15”.
We can do the same approximation for the warp floats based on the beat, which may or may not be the same as the sett.
With a little planning, we can get the pattern in the size we want with acceptable floats.
Giving and Taking from Our Fiber Communities
It is my honor to chair the committee planning the luncheon that the Chimneyville Weavers and Spinners Guild is hosting to honor Marva Lee Goodman with a Life Membership. I actually nominated Marva for this honor because I think she is one of the unsung heroes of our fiber community. Here she is demonstrating in a photo just published in the CWSG March newsletter.
It would take many, many pages to even list the contributions that Marva has made to all the organizations she belongs: the CWSG, the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi, Inc. of which she is a juried member, her various sewing guilds, and the Handweavers’ Guild of America, Inc., of which she has been an indefatigable supporter and promoter.
Thinking about Marva Lee, her leadership and the organizations we share, has made me consider the role that we play in these fiber communities, their importance in our lives, and the different ways that people respond to leadership roles.
Members of an organization or community rise to a leadership position in a variety of ways; ideally, it would be the person best fitted for the job, but that’s not always the case; sometimes there is a void that gets filled, other times it’s a matter of longevity, other times still an opportunity presents itself.
But the path to the leadership position doesn’t define how the person responds to the role. Broadly speaking, in organizations and in life, I can identify three kinds of responses. In the middle, we have the well-meaning, but ineffective person who has great ideas, but is either incapable or unwilling to bring the ideas to fruition. In some cases, these leaders think that, having reached that position, somebody else should follow what they dictate. Not a good formula for the success of an organization. As one of my graduate advisors used to say: Ideas are cheap, it’s the work that goes to implement them that counts.
Even more worrisome, and in some cases the cause of the demise of an institution, is the leader who sees this as a platform for self-promotion and self-benefitting. Unfortunately we read a lot about this in the news of government and business, but it happens in our fiber communities as well. In some cases, the person is so self-centered that s/he doesn’t even realize that s/he doing it and is not even aware of what true leadership means.
And then, thankfully, we have the Marvas of the world. The leaders who see their role as that of benefitting the organization, promoting its causes, and making sure that there is a future for generations to come. Marva’s latest endeavor is to teach children to sew with a sewing machine. She has been instrumental over the years to teach children to weave, spin, dye (with safe food coloring or food stuff) and to sew. Indeed, if our crafts are to survive, it will be because we have been successful in passing them on.
If we substitute organization for country, the inspiring words “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” embody what Marva’s work entails. The old saying that “you don’t have to have a title to be a leader, it’s what you do” is the axiom she follows. She can be a role model for us all.
So, think: how do you contribute to the fiber organizations to which you belong? The CWSG is going to have an exhibit soon; I will have two pieces in it. That certainly falls squarely in “what the Guild can do for me” and not the other way around. Teaching and writing fall somewhere in between, depending on the circumstances: they can benefit the organization and its members, but they also may benefit the individual providing the service. Doing the nitty gritty work of committees when people don’t even know how long it took to get to the success: that’s “what you can do for the organization”, that’s Marva’s way.
Why Do I Practice the Crafts I Do?
Did you think about why you practice the crafts you do (as I discussed the last two weeks)? In preparation of the program for the Chimneyville Weavers and Spinners Guild that we have been discussing, I went down memory lane and thought – again – about my reasons. I know that they have changed over the years.
I knit on the road, short or long trips as a passenger in the car, or on plane trips away from home. Knitting was the very first craft I learned, before I even went to school; eventually, though I abandoned it because I couldn’t find anyone to help me progress; my Mom had shown me how to cast on, knit and cast off and that was the extent of her knowledge. So I took up embroidery and sewing at which many of my family members excelled, and later crocheting, mostly self-thought. No idle hands here. In college I found knitters who could help me; I learned various patterns, how to design garments, and later the characteristics of the various yarns. Eventually I realized how time consuming knitting could be and given that I had limited amount of free time after work and family, I preferred to spend that time at home weaving. Still, I enjoy the color interplay of the knitting and designing with squares (see below); it is work that I can do mostly on “autopilot” once I plan it. I don’t leave home without my knitting.
I watched spinning for many years and promised myself that I wouldn’t add one more craft – I was weaving, I continued to knit, I had learned to dye, I was still embroidering and crocheting and I even wove a basket occasionally. But in the late 1980s, a Guild member offered us the chance to learn to spin; she was a terrific spinner, but she had no extra spinning wheels; taking the class meant making the commitment of buying the equipment.
I vacillated, but eventually I caved in, mostly on the encouragement of my husband Terry Dwyer who offered to finish a wheel kit to keep costs down; he figured I could always sell it if I didn’t like it. Spindling never took, but once I started on the wheel – despite the frustrations of a beginner – I loved it. For the next 10 years or so, I took classes at conferences and learned to do all the things that good spinning requires: spinning to a standard, measuring twists per inch, different plies, working with various fibers. With spinning, too, I realized that I couldn’t relax with my husband at the end of the day, carry on a conversation and count treadles; that had to be done at another time, again time when I would rather be weaving. So, now I settle for serviceable yarn – if it doesn’t fall apart, it’s yarn! And I like nothing better to do than spin and sip wine while relaxing with my husband and cats near me at the end of the day. And it’s fiber that I love, I need to try them all (milk protein shown below.)
Weaving, I am convinced, is in my genes. After her death, I found out that my grandmother spun and wove household textiles mostly out of necessity, in pre-World War II Lithuania. As a child in Italy I loved the gorgeous tapestries, but I didn’t even realized that they were woven, I thought they were embroidered. Similarly, visiting the Lithuanian embassy in Rome for special events, I admired the beautiful textiles of the national costumes and thought they, too, were embroidered (Tied-Lithuanian is a tied weave in the same class as summer and winter; floats are formed by the pattern weft).
In graduate school weaving was my sanity. Over the years I took classes whenever I could and tried things on my own. I joked that I didn’t sample, because everything I did was a sample. Once I started teaching in 1981, my weaving was spurred on by my students who kept on asking questions for which I had no answer – but I could find out. The teaching led to writing, and now they feed on each other. Currently I weave samples – true samples – for classes and monographs and one-of-a-kind pieces, shawls and scarves, to apply a technique that I sampled and liked, or to use yarns that I want to try. Below is shawl that was in the leaders’ exhibit at Convergence® in 2012 in Long Beach, using the silk dyed for HGA in the conference colors.
Right now, I am knitting squares in mostly red for a Chimneyville Weavers and Spinners Guild show; spinning a cable yarn from buffalo fiber; weaving silk scarves on the 4-shaft loom, looking at scale when the size of the weft changes; and an 8-shaft pointed twill sampler on the multi-shaft loom, getting ready for Convergence® 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The fun continues.
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