Saturday, July 31, 2010

Plan of Attack

The latest plan of attack is to focus on the Certificate of Excellence in Handweaving. I feel nervous even typing this, but I think it's worth tackling, and I am excited about the research and learning that will be involved.

The odd thing about weaving is that it is an art form, but one that is embedded in precision, methodical planning and execution, and exactitude in implementation. Meaning that you have to do a lot of very careful planning and lots of detailed, fiddly work before you even get close to the craft-art elements. As evidence, a loom on the way to being warped for weaving:
Many small movements are involved: measuring the warp on the warping board, tying it with choke ties so that the threads stay in order, winding the warp onto the loom, threading it through the heddles, then threading it through the reed, tying it onto the cloth beam at the front of the loom, spreading the warp evenly, and then, finally, starting to weave what you set out to weave. And this doesn't include every step, which actually starts with choosing what to weave, the pattern you will use, the length of the warp and the sett, or density...well, it does go on and on.

The ultimate reward is the weaving itself: rhythmic, meditative, and at the end, you have something tactile, beautiful, and useful. What will be interesting about preparing for the COE is learning to have patience for all the preparation involved. And confidence that I'm going about this with some small amount of understanding: there's plenty of interpretation-wiggle room, despite the very concrete specificity of instructions from the Handweavers Guild of America, which sponsors the COE.

So, current plan of attack:
Step 1: start work on the research needed for the written portion.
Step 2: finish warping the loom for the twill variation sampler.
Step 3: start researching materials and techniques for the tapestry sampler.
Current deadline: Fall 2012!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fiber Arts International 2010

I was in Pittsburgh this week, visiting family, and happened to overlap with the Fiber Arts International 2010, held in part at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, one of my favorite places from childhood.

My mom used to send my sister and I there to take recorder lessons and lots and lots of art classes: ceramics and drawing and painting and maybe some weaving, but that I'm not sure about. I really think that sending a kid off to art class is key to turning her or him into a future artist-crafts-person: there's something special and self-esteem-building about learning to make stuff, especially stuff that involves good art supplies and color and texture and shape. I recall spending many un-air-condtitioned days in the classrooms, probably keeping myself busy during summer vacation, but also relishing the independence of walking into the building and finding my way to a table and some art stuff.

Perhaps because of my affection for the building - a large stucco mansion painted yellow and gray and nicely restored within -  and because it was hosting a fiber show, I stopped there with my father and husband - and my sister drove in to meet us - on my way to the airport yesterday. Lovely show, covering the first floor of the building, with some other permanent works on the second floor. (My apologies to the artists, but I didn't write down the names of all of the pieces.)

Here's a quilt of what looked like hand-dyed tea bags. Very clever.
And a close-up:
A piece called Scabs by Emily Barletta:
Very knee-and-elbow fibery scabs, felted and embellished and oval in shape but flattened, just like, well, scabs. Interesting.
A tapestry piece showing the evolution of time: Five Generations of Virtue by Lisa Lee Peterson.

I loved this piece, which, in person, is less photographic and more fibery:
A basket embedded with plastic ties. Hard and soft at the same time.
And my favorite: a tapestry of small pieces of fabric, with an ombre effect from top toward the bottom, more subtle in person than the picture shows.
And Pittsburgh would not be Pittsburgh if not for its many hills. Here's an on-the-fly picture of a hill, but you can find much bigger ones ringing the city. When my daughters were little, we would take them to the top of Negley Hill when visiting Pittsburgh - it's probably a 45-60 degree incline, and say: here's now this is a hill! The Midwest is sadly lacking in hills, and when I come home, I marvel at how flat and dry and yellow our landscape is, compared to the up and down and greenness of Pittsburgh.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sunday Knits

I was moved, as I walked through the Midwest Fiber and Folk Festival, by the number of small businesswomen and men who were carving out opportunities in the world of fiber. I wanted to support every small farm that was raising its own Angora rabbits, or alpaca goats, or even working with a colleague in China to bring Yak yarn, woven by women in the villages, to the market.

But of all the businesses that I observed and the owners that I interacted with, I was most impressed by Carol Sunday and her Sunday Knits booth. She is doing beautiful work, in a style that seems both vintage and modern at the same time. Her aesthetic is both simple and complex - for example, a pullover in just the right shade of tobacco brown, but with a lotus flower intarsia-d in just the right colors of (I think) pink and red. Even the labels on her in-house yarns from Italy ( of which there is a focused number - four different blends - and a focused color palette of soft, rich shades)are elegant but not fussy. This woman has an eye for beauty.
Even her packaging is lovely:

Also, she had the most efficient booth for shopping: samples of her sweaters and mittens to try on; clearly organized yarns with clearly labeled prices; and a welcoming patience as I and another knitter worked our way through several try-ons, including the vest that Carol was wearing. After a bit, we found ourselves (or maybe it was just me?) muttering, "I want everything."

I settled, with the help of my friend, on the Rippling Ribs Vest, to be knit in charcoal Nirvana, a blend of merino wool with a bit of cashmere.  How can there be only 8 projects of this sweater on Ravelry - especially when one knitter notes that this is her go-to sweater for everything?

My other favorite booth was Mary Flanagan Woolens, more for gawking than desiring.
But the main show was the animals, present either in the fur or in the skein. Here's a very large Angora rabbit in the arms of a delighted youngster:

Also, lots and lots and lots of alpaca. This was from a lovely booth, and is projected to be mittens for my older daughter. I wanted to purchase the same yarn in ivory, but as I asked the shop owner, I realized that what I was purchasing was the fiber from the animal, and if the animal didn't come in another color, then neither would the yarn. Very cool. One of the many alpaca booths even had pictures of the goats beside the yarn spun from their fiber.

The festival is open for the rest of the weekend, so if you're in the Chicago area, you should make your way up to see it. And if you miss this, Sunday Knits will be at Stitches Midwest in August.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Enola Holmes

I'm on my way to the Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Festival with a knitting friend. I have a set sum of money in my pocket, and am looking for 10/2 mercerized cotton, and maybe a book or two.

In the meantime, I'm warping one of my looms for a no-thinking project: long warp, simple weave, and yardage either for pillowcases or towels or napkins. Pictures soon.

And while working on the loom, I'm listening to audio books of the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer. Fourteen-year-old sister of Sherlock, searching for her mother, while investigating crime in a dark, dank, class-structured, poverty-filled, nineteenth-century London. Very good. The reader, Katherine Kellgren, has a plummy, Oxford accent and does a great job with voices ranging from Enola's (smart, a little sad, angry, clever) to Sherlock's cool observations.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Transformers 3 in Chicago

Last night we took the train into Chicago to see the Grant Park Symphony at Millenium Park. On the way from Union Station to the park, we walked past an on-location scene on LasSalle Street for Transformers 3.

This picture doesn't show the panorama of burned-up cars, huge chunks of pavement uprooted and thrown about and onto the sidewalk, faux ash, crumpled newpapers swirling about. I didn't have my camera, and in any case, the young techie shooing everyone acorss the street kept intoning, "no pictures, no pictures, keep moving." As if.

The blocks around LaSalle had random movie-type stuff happening, like two guys in black tees labeled Security getting a snack, and a very long, Barbie-pink stretch Hummer limo parked nearby. Perhaps the actors, if there are actors in a movie about large toys destroying the city as we know it.

Here's another view, but it still doesn't convey the post-apocalyptic feel of seeing LaSalle Street after what looked like an end-of-time happening.

In between the rain pouring down at the beginning of the concert (I was touched by the number of older ladies donning those fifties, Saran-wrap kerchiefs to protect their hair, while the rest of them was drenched), we watched two helicopters wheeling across the sky, also part of the movie.

And today, while at the 31st Street beach, we periodically heard the booming of explosions. More Transformers 3, I suspect.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

One Medium is Not Like Another

Last heard from on the weaving front, I was using Ruth Kennedy's Blocks and Stripes quilt as color inspiration for a project for my HGA COE (Handweavers Guild of America Cartificate of Excellence. Truly, a mouthful.)

This is the most humbling of experiences. You know that saying about not realizing what you don't know until you start to think that you know something? (And if that's not the saying, it's what I'm goin' with.) Point taken: I Know Nothing.

Before we even get to lessons learned: I knew, when I opened the box of yarn, that I was already off in the weeds. All of my Sesame Street memories came back, and as I looked at the gray-green that was not the chartreuse I'd thought that I was ordering, or the orange-yellow, which on second look at the quilt, looks much softer and more toward a pure color than an analagous mix. In my mind, I kept hearing "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong."

Now, a few of the lessons.

Lesson Number One: What is a solid block of color in a quilt will not be a solid block of color in a weaving. In other words, very tricky to translate this quilt - which is blocks of solid-colored fabric, predominantly acid-green - into a weaving which communicates that loud note of yellow-green. Because why? 'Cause the medium of weaving, which is based on the interlacements of threads at right angle, presents variables of more texture,  variables of color mixing.

Lesson Number Two: What is the occasional interruption, or note, of analagous and complementary colors (we'll come back to that in a future post - analagous colors are adjacent and complementary colors are on opposite sides of the color wheel, and yes, I had to look up the terminology) in the quilt - those momentary, almost lightning-strikes of blue or burgandy - are difficult to replicate in the twill sampler that I'm working on. Perhaps in a tapestry piece, where I'd keep colors separate and have the ability to insert small shapes of other colors. But not in a twill sampler, where every weft - the horizontal thead -  goes over and under two warp ends - the vertical threads moving from back to front of the loom - pure, clean colors are not happening.

Here's a view of the raddle, at the back of the loom, spacing the 4"-wide stripes of five different colors into 1-inch groups, in preparation for winding the warp onto the back beam. See: not all one color with a little stripe here or there, but large, even, wide stripes of one color. Five colors, yes, but of equal amounts: not one grand swatch of green, with little spots of other colors.
And threading the loom - another view of equality and balance (not the dramatic gesture of a quilt - almost all one color - take that!)

I'm not giving up on the idea of being inspired by Gee's Bend quilts and colors. But clearly, I need to take a little more time (may I say arggh again at this point? where are the blogs and books that support the product-hungry amongst us who have no time for process?) for considering how to transfer one medium into another, without giving up on the qualities - audacious color selection, strength of statement, simplicty and a somehow grounded quality - of the original, the quilt.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Life Lesson

This is not an exact science.
(from Learning to Weave by Deborah Chandler)