Randy Darwall & Brian Murphy Workshop

Recently I had the good fortune to get into a workshop with Randy Darwall. It was so popular, that I had ended up on the waiting list and didn’t find out until two days before that I’d get in. The format of the workshop is a round-robin critique of people’s work, with an eye to helping them take the next step artistically.

Getting in at the last moment was both exciting and challenging.  When I’d first heard of the workshop, I thought that the project to take for review would be the Birthday Blanket. It’s the most ambitious piece I’ve done color-wise, and I have to confess that I thought it would be a fun way to take everyone who’d contributed to the project with me (or at least their yarn.)

With only two days to go, I threaded the loom and sleyed the reed.  There’s no motivation like a looming deadline.  A trek to Weaving Works supplied a variety of likely wefts to test-drive. If you’ll recall, the thought behind the birthday blanket is that everyone would send me a warp that represents them, and I would pick a weft that represents me.  Apparently, I am either a brown rayon chenille, a burgundy rayon boucle, or eggplant-colored wool.

blanket project sleyed

I wove up the test piece, and had tension problems right away. Some threads just wouldn’t lift right in the cloth and long ugly floats were developing in the cloth. Oh great, I thought, it starts now. With all the different fibers there’s a lot of variation in the stretchiness of the warp. One thing that might happen with this warp is that as it goes on, some threads will become slack while others remain tight. It’s this element of risk that’s kept me too afraid to tackle this project for over a year.

But then a miracle occurred, I looked down into the shafts of my AVL and saw that one frame had gone crooked (which can happen easily with this loom because of the way the shafts are suspended and then held together with metal rods.) I fixed that issue, and all my tension problems went away. It was a good moment.

The next problem was that what I thought was a plain-weave draft (yes, I am weaving plain weave on 16 shafts) actually was only the header of a more complicated twill. So in the middle of nice fabric, there’s about 4-5 picks of weft-faced twill.

I fixed that and started weaving a rich, multicolored fabric that just delights me. The weaving tension was good, the colors mesmerizing, and the meaning of bringing so many people’s threads together so meaningful.

I cut the sample off the loom the night before the workshop and ran up to my husband, “You’ve got to see what I just made!” He looked down at it, rather blearily because it was past his bedtime. “Um, cloth?” This my dears is why you should hold your fiber friends close, only they will get that it’s never just cloth. (To be fair to Eric, he probably feels that I fail to appreciate video games sufficiently.)

blanket fabric

On the loom, I liked the rayon chenille section best, the eggplant wool second, and the rayon boucle not much at all (it was too thin and made for sleazy cloth.)

Of course, you can’t tell what you’ve got fabric-wise until you wash it. After washing the fabric gained texture, all those differential shrinkages coming into play. The color also shifted a bit as the relationship of warp and weft change slightly. The post-washing favorites were eggplant-colored wool (it just felt like blanket to me), and then the rayon chenille, and the rayon boucle did not improve.

Eric and Kai voted for the brown rayon chenille, with Kai even making the comment, “But Mama, that color is you.” It was such a sweet comment that I’m reconsidering brown, but in wool this time.

So I took my ripply, multi-colored cloth to the workshop. I sat next to weavers who’d been weaving for decades, who’d brought their most successful projects with this test sample, full of weaving errors, three different wefts, lumpy and bumpy, and constructed from threads I hadn’t even consciously selected.

Randy Darwall with swatch

What did Randy Darwall say about the blanket swatch?  I’ll tell you next post, I’m blogging over my lunch break and out of time for today.

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