40th Birthday: A Crazy Little Idea

The day I turned 30, I had the great good fortune to do so surrounded by the SWG spinner’s group.  I had been a bit melancholy about leaving my 20s behind me, but spending the day with an amazing group of women, spinning fiber into yarn, telling tales, laughing and generally celebrating life, convinced me that the best was yet to come.

They didn’t know it was my birthday, and yet they gave me one of the best birthday parties I’ve ever had.

So, I’m about to turn 40… and I’ve been wondering how I could recreate a bit of that special day to get the next decade launched right.

Here were my thoughts:

  • Weave a communal project, something special and meaningful.
  • Raise money for a charitable organization that helps people in dire need.
  • Make it something anyone could participate in, no matter where they lived.
  • Have a launch party in Seattle, where folks could gather to start the project off with laugher and sharing.

I mulled all this over, and then picked up the phone and called Carol, the manager of Weaving Works, and said: “I’ve got this crazy little idea, want to hear it?”  Carol replied something to the effect of “I love crazy ideas, lay it on me.”  And to my utter delight, after listening to it all, agreed to help me make this happen.

Pitch: I want to weave two blankets, out of threads that represent the weaving community.  One blanket will become my 40th birthday present, the other will be raffled off to raise money for Doctors Without Borders.  One blanket to stay with me and remind me of all the wonderful folks (near and far) who are a part of my life, the other to take that out into the world and make it a better place.

Details: I throw a warping/40th-birthday(1)/launch party at Weaving Works, on Sunday, February 21st, 11am-2pm.  In lieu of gifts, I’m asking folks to bring (or send) 40 yards of a yarn (sport-to-worsted weight, wool or similar natural fiber) that represents them in some way(2),(3).  At the party, I’ll provide a cake, homemade biscotti(4), beverages, and free warp-winding lessons to anyone who wants one.  The party game?  Randomly picking from the pile of yarns, and winding 13-yard bouts of the warp that will become the two blankets.  (Weaving Works has generously offered to let us use their plethora of warping boards(5).)

After the party, I take the bouts home and blog the warping, weaving, and finishing process on my big loom.  (I’ll be weaving it off with a weft yarn that represents me in some way.)

When the blankets are done, I raffle off the second one.  All proceeds from raffle ticket sales will go to the emergency fund at Doctors Without Borders(6).

(Note: If you’re not in the Seattle area, you can participate by mailing in your 40 yards of yarn to WeaveZine; P.O. Box 860; North Bend, WA 98045; U.S.A.  I plan to take pictures of all the contributed yarn and put it in a notebook I’ll keep to record the project.)

I get: The biggest and most meaningful weaving project-kit ever, a fun party, and a warm blanket.

You get: Free food and biscotti, some entertaining blog posts, and a chance to win a really cool handwoven blanket.

DWB gets: Funds to support their life-saving work in the places in the world that need it the most.

RSVP: To help me plan the provisions, please RSVP to let me know if you’re coming.

Syne, age eight.

Happy Weaving!


P.S. You can now see an online gallery of all the yarns that have been sent in for this project.  I’ll keep updating it as more stuff comes in.


  1. A panel display with embarrassing pictures of my childhood is a distinct possibility.
  2. Handspun yarn would be especially treasured, just saying.
  3. (Watching my non-weaving friends and family try to wrap their head around this has been interesting.  Dad’s comment: “I’ll have to give it some thought.  I’ve never thought of myself as…wooly.”
  4. My friends will tell you that, this alone, makes it worth the trek to Seattle.
  5. Another benefit of having it at Weaving Works; yarn is right down stairs.  So if you forget to bring some, there’s a quick solution.
  6. I looked at a lot of charities before choosing DWB.  Heifer International was a close contender.  I decided to go with DWB because: I like the fact that most of the donation will go to actual work, not glossy fund-raising mailers; winning a Nobel peace prize is a strong recommendation; and they help the folks who need it most.

In Memoriam: Russell E. Groff

Once upon a time in McMinnville Oregon, there was a wondrous weaving store: Robin and Russ Handweaving.  It was a treasure trove of weaving yarns at reasonable prices, books (many of them published by the store itself), equipment, and at the center of it all: Russell E. Groff, avid handweaver, author, generous dispenser of weaving knowledge, and the store’s owner.
When I visited the store in the early 00s, it was late at night, about a half-hour before closing, I’d been driving for hours to get there and just barely squeaked in the door.  Russ was working at his loom in the center of the store.  He was weaving dishtowels in fine cotton.  At that point, his health wasn’t good, he was on oxygen, but still weaving away, the tank hovering at his side like a faithful dog.  And I thought to myself, “That’s a real weaver.”

We talked about his project, and he got me browsing cones of 16/2 cotton.  I apologized for coming in at the last minute, and he told me not to worry about it.  I browsed for a bit,  made my purchases, and left, looking forward to my next trip down to Oregon.

Before I could return, however, circumstances forced Russ to close his store.  I still saw him at conferences, selling his yarns and books.  At ANWG in Tacoma, I bought some 140/2  silk from him, and was amazed to see him adding every order up without a calculator, quickly and accurately.  I thought to myself, “That’s a realsalesman.”

When he was selling at Black Sheep Gathering in 2006, I was a very new podcaster.  I screwed up my courage and asked if he’d give me an interview.  The only time he had free was a few minutes before the booth opened.  With his usual generosity, he agreed to share those with me.  My gear was not the best, and a large fan started up in the room during our conversation, but hearing him tell stories about his life was a treat.  You can hear them on WeaveCast 5.5 BSG Confidential.

So it is with sadness that I opened my email this morning to read that Russell E. Groff had passed away on January 3rd, 2010.  He went peacefully in his sleep, ending a long struggle against the fibroid tumors in his lungs.  It is a loss for the weaving world.

As fate would have it, yarn I bought from Russ is on my loom now.  I look at the handwritten details on the cone’s label and feel a connection to a weaver who—for decades—shared his passion for handweaving with the world.  I’ll be sad when this yarn is used up, but that’s part of weaving.  Eventually the yarn runs out.

When the cloth is done, I’ll save a swatch along with the cone’s label and a bit of the yarn.  It will go into my weaving notebook, which will be part of my legacy someday.  And so it goes, the weaving passes down from hand to hand, as it has for at least 30,000 years.

I’m not sure about an afterlife.  But if there is one, I imagine Russ—with all his determination and gumption—has found a way to weave.

Weaving Resolutions for 2010

It’s almost midnight, a few minutes away from a shiny new decade.  I’m excited.  I recall when I was a kid, 2010 seemed impossibly far away.  The year where I’d turn *gasp* 40.  I imagined that there would be flying cars and cloning, and all of humanity’s ills would be solved.

That didn’t happen.  But there have been wonderful surprises along the way.  Like the Internet.  I didn’t see that one coming in my childhood musings.  And my how that has changed the way people interact.  I regularly exchange emails with people all over the globe; it’s amazing!

This just-past decade has been hard, bringing us 9/11, and not one but two major economic crises.  But it’s also the decade I learned to weave, and had my son Kai, and started WeaveCast/WeaveZine, and met a whole bunch of wonderful weavers along the way.

I can’t wait to see what the new year and decade will bring!

And since this is a time of year to reflect on where we are and where we’re going, and for summoning up resolve to fix the errors of the past, I’m going to take a tour of projects currently stalled on my looms, how they got that way, and how to move forward.


Exhibit One: The Big Tea-Towel Warp

Towel warp beamed on

This humble project started off life with gusto and purpose.  I pulled 8/2 and 10/2 cotton from my stash and roughly planned a set of tea-towels that would (a) use up odds and ends of yarn left over from a previous project, and (b) provide me with holiday and hostess gifts for the upcoming season.  From this virtuous start, things quickly went horribly awry:

  1. I decided to use a trick I’d learned from Judith MacKenzie McCuin (and others) and wind a warp twice as long and half as wide and then fold it in half, thus magically enabling me to wind off all my odds and ends colors into random free-form stripes during warp-winding, and yet end up with two identical stripes in the finished cloth.  And yet, I did not put a second thread-by-thread on the far end of the warp, alas.
  2. I had this vague idea of either using waffle weave or some twill points, or both in the stripes.  I still haven’t decided which to do, creating design vapor lock.
  3. It’s sett at 30 epi, 21″ wide in the loom.  That’s 630 threads, which is a lot of threads to be indecisive about.

New Year’s Resolution: Warp the brown sections in wafffle weave (4 shafts), the stripes in point twill (the other 4 shafts) changing the direction of the twill at the stripe color changes.  Weave this soon, or it’ll be next year’s holiday gifts.


Exhibit Two: Tapestry Sampler Stall-Out

Tapestry sampler

This past summer, at ANWG, I took a class from James Koehler, a wonderfully talented tapestry artist.  When I got home, I wove on it for about three hours the first day, one hour the second, and then stalled out on it altogether.

  1. It is very easy to stay focused and on task when someone is walking around and stopping by to check on your progress from time-to-time.  At home, with lots of other things calling my attention, it’s easy to put the tapestry loom in the corner and forget about it.
  2. Tapestry is slow.  To steal a quote from Talladega Nights, “I wanna go fast.”
  3. The abstract design of the sampler is, while technically challenging, bores me silly.  I want to weave a design that means something.

New Year’s Resolution: Set aside one hour every Tuesday after dinner to weave tapestry at the kitchen table.  (Tapestry Tuesdays!)  Embrace the slow.  Give myself permission to call the sampler “done” and weave a design that makes me excited on the remaining warp.


Exhibit Three: Spaced Invaders and the Temple of Doom

Right before the temple-induced breakup

This project started out as a sample-exchange for the Complex Weavers Fine Threads Study Group.  I was tickled pink by the design process, in which I created my first taquete design (Lillian Whipple’s article inspired me) and found the perfect match of colors and yarns to make the design really glow.

  1. Because I so loved the project, I put 9 yards of warp on the loom, thinking I’d weave off the samples for the study group, and then weave myself a scarf.
  2. I did not realize that taquete was essentially a double-weave structure, and that in 140/2 silk, it would take 112 picks per inch to weave.
  3. I put an 8″ warp on a loom with a 48″ weaving width and a big heavy fly shuttle.
  4. I used a temple during weaving, and didn’t have one with fine teeth.  Thinking that wouldn’t be a problem, that the reed marks would come out in the wash, I used a coarse temple.  About 8″ into the cloth, I heard a huge riiiippp! sound and about 48 threads on the left side of the cloth broke and fell out of the reed and heddles.  I don’t think I actually fainted, but I did have to go lie down on the floor for a bit.

New Year’s Resolution: Repair and re-warp those 48 threads.  Build and use an alligator clip temple instead of a coarse traditional temple. (Dream about one day having a rotary temple.)  Add bungie cords to the beater to make it easier to weave with.  Weave on this project for hour each Wednesday evening (Weaving Wednesday!) until either (a) the warp is woven off or (b) I get so sick of this project that I cut off the warp and use it to weave kumihimo instead.


Exhibit Four: Cut-Pile Conundrum

Cut-pile colors

This project was what I worked on at a weaving retreat with Judith MacKenzie McCuin (I get a lot of inspiration out of spending 5 days with Judith, let me tell you!) I wanted to learn cut-pile weaving and wanted to weave silk, since I had a whole pile of teensy skeins of silk from some natural-dyeing experiments.  Judith showed me the basics, and I found that I really like the process of tying the knots.  It reminds me a lot of the needlepoint my grandmother does, and makes me feel a connection to her.  However…

  1. This project was trouble from the get-go.  Don’t talk to me about string heddles, nylon, or 20/2 rayon that breaks.
  2. Again, slow.  But this time I had drawn a design that I liked, tailored to the colors and to symbols that I’m drawn to (ala Mary Zicafoose.)  Having a design you’re excited about really helps you get over the slow.
  3. I chose green spirals on a blue background for the background of the image.  And the blue and green that I used (from my stash) were the same value.  In the cut pile, this meant that you couldn’t see any difference between them.  All that work putting in design with hundreds of teensy knots…that you couldn’t see.  (Note: the camera’s flash actually brought out the colors a bit, under normal lighting you can’t see any difference between them.)

New Year’s Resolution: Purchase lighter-colored green silk that should show up better.  Pull out the current green knots (trying not to weep too much over the lost silk, save for spinning noil?) and re-tie with the new color.  The cool thing about knotted cut pile is that I should be able to do this without having to take out the blue knots or the plain-weave tie-down shots…I hope!  This is a relaxing weave, so I’m going to do it on Sundays, in the evening for an hour.  (Slow-weaving Sundays!)


So there you have it.  My weaving resolutions for the coming year.  Are you making any?  If so, please leave a comment and let me know what they are.

And of course, if you have a magic-bullet fix for any of the above (or a source for fine-teeth temples) please do let me know!