Madrona 2011: eTextiles, Core Spinning, Garments, Lever Knitting, oh my!

I got back from Madrona yesterday.  As always, it was a whirlwind.  This year I ended up teaching two entirely new classes, one with a co-teacher, which was another first for me.  I enjoy working up new material to teach, but it’s a lot more work because all the samples are new, the notes are new, the lecture is new.  It’s a whole frog-ball of new.

All day Thursday Selah Barling and I taught the “Garments from the Rigid-Heddle Loom” class.  In reality, Selah taught the class and I was support and occasional comic relief.  Towards the end, though, I jumped in and started making fitting tweaks and offering sartorial suggestions.

Selah and Syne co-teach

(She looks even prettier with her eyes open, but this was the only picture with the two of us wearing our class samples.)

This was Selah’s teaching debut in this format (a whole room full of students) and I am pleased to say that she was magnificent.  A born teacher.  The basic project was a vest of Selah’s design (that I helped translate into digital format and resize.)  Each student brought in fabric they’d woven before class, made a muslin (which Selah helped them custom-fit) and sewed up the vest.

Selah, teaching and muslins

What was great about the class was seeing how one basic pattern could look so different depending on the fabric and fit customization.  They were all beautiful in different ways.  Here are pictures of some of our well-garbed students.

Friday I got to take a core-spinning class with Jacey Boggs, which was a real treat.  Jacey is a lively and talented instructor.  Laura Fry was taking that class as well, so we sat together and had fun as a couple of weavers visiting the land of knitters and spinners.  I’d brought conductive thread and used that as my core spinning.  Ta-da!  My own handspun, conductive, wool-insulated yarn!  This totally solves the problem of how to overlap traces without having them short out.  And it’s so beautiful that I could hardly stop spinning it.

Another reason that I was in love with core spinning was that I splurged (after several years of scheming and preparation) and bought myself a HansenCrafts miniSpinner.  It is seriously lovely, smooth and quiet.  When I bought mine, Sarah Anderson was in the booth at the same time and when she saw me coming, snatched up the rosewood and maple spinner and clutched it to her chest proclaiming, “This one’s mine!”  (She and I roomed together at GGFI, so she knows my predilection for pretty fiber tools.)

Sarah Anderson

My guess is that when you have to fight the spinning instructors off to purchase a wheel, it’s a good one.  I bought the cherry model.  I looked at all the exotic woods, but I love cherry and how it ages so beautifully.  That and it’s the lightest miniSpinner.  Beth and Kevin Hansen were wonderfully helpful and after Kevin learned that I sometimes play around with microcontrollers (behold my geek fu!) gave me some insider info about the electronics.

Note: an electric wheel is great for learning how to spin art yarns: the orifice is big, and you don’t have to treadle, so you can just focus on what your hands are doing.

Saturday was my debut eTextile class, “eTextiles for Knitters and Weavers.”  I had wondered whether I had enough material for six hours, but by the end of class, students were telling me they would have loved it as a two-day class.  We covered electronic basics, sample circuits with LEDs, electroluminescent wire, and programable circuits using the Aniomagic schemer.  It was wacky mad-science fun.

This is the soldering demo.  Fortunately I did not set off any smoke alarms. (Suzanne, the organizer, really has no idea what I get up to in class, this is probably a good thing.)

soldering demo

Here are some of the absolutely fun things students made: a glowing mobius scarf, LED-enhanced buttons, and an exquisitely knitted hat enhanced with a schemer and programmable light boards.

Schemer hat

Saturday was also my birthday.  Selah and I went out for lunch at a Mexican restaurant.  I discovered that if you tell the waitress: “Es mi cumpleaños” this happens to you.

silly birthday hat

They also sing and provide a sugar-covered deep fried tortilla.  Fortunately I am the kind of person who loves wearing a goofy hat and being sung to (unlike my husband, who would have hidden under the table until they went away.)  After they left, Selah and I examined the stitching on the top of the sombrero, which was lovely.

stitching on the hat

Sunday I finally got to take the “Knitting for Speed and Efficiency” class with Stephanie.  It was grand fun.  Both because of Stephanie’s entertaining ways and because of the fun brain-stretchiness of learning something new: knitting.  This is me wearing a fair-isle knitting belt.  Wearing a plaid skirt and knitting with a belt and hugely long DPNs, I felt that somewhere my Scottish ancestors were doing high fives.

lever knitting

Day Job

2011 is already starting out as a year of big changes.  The biggest one is that, after 10 years of being a work-at-home mom, I’ve gotten a day job…and not just any day job, but one that matches what I’d described as my “best possible job” when I started looking.

I’d been plinking in resumes since just before the end of 2010, with no appreciable results.  Then after the first of the year, I ended up in two different interview loops, both for essentially the same position at rival companies.  Both extended me offers, and after a bit of negotiating back and forth, I landed at Amazon, where I’ll be a technical writer documenting Amazon Web Services.

(You might have to be a geek to understand why that excites me so.  Essentially, I’ll be getting paid to learn about a revolutionary new web technology that I want to learn anyway.)

My work on WeaveZine as a small-business web entrepreneur was, surprisingly to me, a bonus in interviews.  My guess is they were wading through reams of nearly identical technical writing samples and then hit mine, which included things like “Potholder Looms: Basics and Beyond” and thought “at least this candidate won’t be boring!”

So…instead of ending up in a dead-end, mommy-tracked, job as I’d feared, I’ll be walking into a great position.  It blows me away.  Eric says he never had any doubts, that I always underestimate myself.  I guess he was right!

So that’s great news for me.  What does it mean for the website?

It’s going back to its roots: a site run for fun, not profit.

The primary focus will be shifting to reflect that.  It’ll become my personal blog, with occasional podcast episodes.  I’d like to say that the podcast will come out on a monthly schedule, but since I’ve never done the podcast while working full time, all I can say is that there will be more episodes, done as time allows.

All the great WeaveZine and WeaveCast content that’s currently on the site will continue to be available as a permanent archive, and I’ll do my best to keep the URLs the same when I shift things around.

It may take a while for me to get to this, but I will be moving to a different server host, and re-branding the website so the new personal focus will be clear.

I’ve got some existing sponsorship and ad commitments, as those run out, the site will transition to ad-free and donation-free.

I may still sell the occasional pattern or kit in an online store or on Etsy, just for fun, but not in a “this has to support the server” way.

If you have questions or comments about what’s happening, please leave a comment below.

Many thanks for being the most important part of my website—the folks who enjoy it!


Syne with Pink Hair

Syne Mitchell

Programmer-Writer, Weaver, and Blogger

Beamed On

The warp is wound onto the plain beam of my AVL, and awaiting threading.

beamed on and ready to thread

The warp separator I ended up buying is six bamboo blinds from the hardware store, handily precut to 46-inch widths, 2 yards long.  I use pliers to remove the blind hardware and ta-da!  Perfect warp separator.  Infinitely reusable, works a treat, and you don’t have to figure out if it’s time to insert another stick yet.  (This was a tip gleaned from Laura Fry.)

bamboo blinds

Note: See those pliers?  Those are another hardware store find.  You know how Irwin Quick-Grips revolutionized the bar clamp?  Irwin has done it again for vise grips.  These are the 8-inch vise grips ,they adjust beautifully and stay put while you use them without slipping.  Not cheap, but the first vise grips I’ve ever had that actually work and don’t pinch my hand.  These are now part of my loom tool box.

Evelyn suggested that instead of buying warp separator, I simply wind the warp onto the sectional beam, no warp separator needed.  I appreciate suggestions, and gave it a thought, but decided to go with my original plan because the threads are so heterogenous in size and shape.  Some are slubby handspun and some are skinny, and some are boucles and some are smooth.  Also, the warp is spread pretty loosely in the raddle.  If it was a dense, homogenous warp, with smooth threads, I’d have totally given it a try.  But with this warp I wanted the safety net of knowing that there was no way threads from one layer of warp could sneak down past their fellows into the preceding layer.

It’s entirely possible Evelyn’s trick would have worked, I was after all completely skeptical of the wind-two-warp-threads-together-with-a-finger-between-and-they-won’t-tangle thing when Barbara Miller and Pam Howard told me about it.  And that works.  But like I said, this was too precious a project to risk.

Speaking of mitigating risk.  I have now moved from the we-don’t-need-no-stinking-muslins camp to the muslins-we-loves-them camp.  It took one eye-opening experience with my fiber-buddy Selah.  Remember the chenille and the pattern I had planned for it?    She took one look at the pattern and in the gentle way she has, encouraged me to mock it up in muslin first.  Here’s the muslin.

muslin test

Not my most flattering look.  Even looking past the pale, stiffness of the fabric, I realized immediately that it was a design that would look better on an apple-shaped figure, not an hourglass-shaped gal like me.

For comparison, here’s me in a custom-fit garment that Selah and I and will be teaching at Madrona.

kimono fabric vest

Note: This fabric was woven on a rigid-heddle loom, using the 2-3 yard scraps of yarn left over from winding the blanket warps.  (You send me precious yarn; I make sure none of it goes to waste!)

The take-away: handwoven cloth is worth test-driving a new pattern in muslin.  If I ever forget, I’ll just point myself at this blog post.

And the pattern?  I’ll be taking it and the muslin to Madrona.  Hopefully one of the students will be a good body-match for the design and I can gift them the pattern.

Since I’m responding to questions and comments today, Ruth asked me in email whether I was still maintaining my goal weight.  Thus far, yes.  I’m still wearing size 8 clothes and weighing in a scootch under 145, the goal weight I reached in August.  My friend and weight-loss inspiration, Bonnie, warned me that maintenance is in many ways harder than losing, because you still have to eat right and there are no little payoffs in progress along the way.  Tis true.  It’s something I have to think about at every meal, and likely will for the next 5-10 years, or perhaps even the rest of my life.

When the urge to fall off the wagon and into a pile of crusty bread hits me, however, I think about how much healthier I feel.  How much better a mom I am to Kai now that I can run around and chase him.  How laying off the sugar has largely cleared up my allergies.

The toughest part is when I want to reward myself with a little “good-good” for accomplishing something hard.  Right now, I give myself 5 minutes to spin up some hand-painted merino, or if I’m at the grocery store, some bath salts instead of Mint Milanos.

I’m a work in progress, always.

Waiting in Chains

The title of this post sounds like a bad romance novel, doesn’t it?  It’s not, it’s a reference the birthday blanket project from last year.  Remember that?  Things got kicked off with a wonderful birthday party, I came home that night and finished winding the rest of the threads into warp.  And then…the project sat all chained up and nowhere to go.

waiting in chains

The reasons are many, but primarily they come down to:

1. Fear of failure.  What if I try to weave this blanket, with all its tension irregularities from all the different types of threads and things go hideously pear-shaped?  Will I be tarred and feathered by the weaving community?  Will the folks who sent in handspun curse my name?  What about the fund raiser for Doctors without Borders?  If the blanket sucks, will I be letting down folks who really, really need help??

Tension irregularities
2. Moving house.  My husband asked me not to blog about this last year, but when I asked him again this morning while he was brushing his teeth he mumbled something at me that sounded like “whatever” so I’m running with that.  Last year the terrible housing market brought prices down low enough that Eric and I were able to move out of our “starter house”, which after kid and weaving was bursting at the seams, and into a beautifully odd house that no one else wanted but which suits us right down to the ground.  I gained a wonderful weaving studio, but had to break down the AVL and move it and reassemble it, at the same time I was moving every other thing I own and dealing with a rigorous summer teaching schedule.
3. Fear of AVL.  I don’t know if everyone who brings home a used AVL Production Dobby Loom with auto cloth advance, computerized shafts, auto tensioning, multiple beams, and a fly shuttle gets intimidated by it, but I did.  I’m a geek, I love learning new things…but still, this was a quantum leap of complexity beyond my Baby Wolf.  It took me a while, much encouragement from Laura Fry, and nine yards of chenille, for me to feel at home with this beast.

So the good news is that issues 2 and 3 are conquered.  And while reason 1 still holds sway, I figure that it’s better to fail than never to try.  So… after almost a year of “waiting in chains” the 40th blanket project is now getting dressed on the loom.

I absolutely love how all the colors look together in this.  My husband came by while I was enthusing over it and his expression was less delight and more “dang, that’s a lot of crazy to have all in one blanket” so I know it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I think it’s marvelous.

crazy sauce colors

I’ll be weaving two 13-yard warps for this project and piecing panels together to make the two blankets.  The first warp is 42-1/2 inches wide in the raddle.

In the old house, I barely had room to squeeze around the AVL in my studio.  In the new house, the loom has more breathing room, and better still (and don’t tell Eric, but this is one of the hidden “features” that made me fall in love with this house) it comes with a built-in warping valet (non weavers would call this a banister and staircase).  It’s perfect for stretching out this warp and giving the tension irregularities more room to even out.

warping valet

I had to stop at this point in the warping because I don’t have warp-separator that’s 45 inches wide.  Today is an errand day, so I’ll stop by the hardware store and pick some up, and hopefully get this beamed on tonight.

The birthday blanket project: waiting in chains…no longer!