My Willow Empire

I’m a long-range planner.  My husband tells an apocryphal story about the time he caught me furtively looking at prices of mulberry trees online.  As he approached, I was trying to switch screens and go back to the novel I was supposed to be writing.

“Syne?” he said, in a wry tone, “Was that a mulberry tree you were looking at?”
“Um, yeah…”
“Are you planning to buy a tree, raise silkworms, reel your own silk, dye it with local plants, weave it into fabric, and sew a shirt?”
“Um, yeah. How did you you know?”

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Why I Missed Derby Tonight

Quote

Refinished DeskI had a plan, it wasn’t a perfect plan, it wasn’t a well-funded plan, but it was mine and I was determined to see it through.
                                                                                —Syne Mitchell

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Attack of the Giraffe Women

Women on StiltsI love it when life takes a turn for the surreal. A couple of Fridays ago, I headed out for lunch, and while I was crossing the Amazon headquarters courtyard, was suddenly confronted by a pair of slender giantesses, clad in pink and silver skintight spandex, doing a sensual dance number to the tune of ZZ Top’s Legs. Continue reading

Day of Glamour

Bobbie Climer's WebsiteYesterday was a day of glamour. I woke up, bathed, re-colored the fuschia-orange stripe in my hair, painted my nails. This is something I’m not sure I’ve ever done before, spent an entire day just on looking good. Even on my wedding day I was more worried about getting my lines straight than what I looked like.

What brought this about? A day of photography with Bobbie Climer. Bobbie’s a friend who I’ve known off-and-on for about fifteen years. Like so many women I admire, she’s trying to carve out a career doing what she loves. Continue reading

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.

Yarn for Class!

This past Thursday I had lunch with Astrid Bear.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Astrid, she’s witty, fun, friendly, and knows an astounding number of people from many different walks of life. You’d probably like her if you met her, she’s just that kind of person.

Astrid Bear

Among the many hats Astrid wears in life, she’s also an indie dyer, working under the name Damselfly Yarns.  Her claim-to-fame at last year’s Sock Summit was the infamously named featured colorway: “Clown Barf.” It was absolutely the right name for the color, and it sold out within the first few days of the conference.  She told me the name for her featured colorway for this year’s Sock Summit and I’m not giving away any spoilers, but I can tell you my reaction: “I don’t care what it looks like, I want it.” It was that funny.

The purpose that brought us together for lunch was my procurement of yarn for an upcoming class at the John C. Campbell school: May 29th – June 4th.  In the past I’ve always dyed yarn for my classes myself. My thinking was that I wanted beautiful hand-painted yarns for students to learn on, at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, this often meant I’d end up dyeing yarn frantically the week before class, and sometimes blow drying skeins late at night.

This year, I farmed out the work to Astrid. She got a big order, I got gorgeous high-quality yarn dyed to the specifications I needed for class, and students got lower materials fees than if I’d bought retail. A deal full of win all the way around. Here’s a teensy peek into the bag of warp, as a bit of a sneak preview. (You can see more of the colors on Astrid’s blog, but if you’re in the class, no calling “dibs” ;> )

yarn for class, warp

After work on Thursdays is my night to do derby practice with PFM (Potential Fresh Meat, a Seattle skating club.)

Rat's Nest

We practice at the Rat’s Nest, which is the practice rink of the Rat City Rollergirls. For a roller-derby fan, it’s a little like playing pick-up games of basketball on the practice court of the L.A. Lakers.  As we were clearing out, the RCRGs started gearing up for their practice and it was all I could do not to go all fan girl and start gushing and asking for autographs.

I restrained myself and watched a few minutes of their warm-up.  I loved their casual grace and athleticism on skates. It gives me something to strive for.

After my work-out I had sushi with Selah, which in addition to being alliterative, was a great way to end up the day.

Selah showed me a wedding dress that she’d just finished up. The bride was still there when I picked Selah up and she did wonderful twirls that we all enthused over. The gown’s  pattern? Selah’s own creation, and something very inventive and unique. The other piece Selah showed me is a jacket she sewed from Laura Fry’s handwoven fabric for Laura’s entry into the upcoming ANWG fashion show. That was from a commercial pattern, but had been fitted to Laura and was stunning.

Selah is sadly, blogless (I’m working on her about that) so you’ll just have to take my work for it that the work was lovely.

And as a follow-up to a previous post, Kai did indeed wear his shirt to school and do a show-and-tell segment about seeing his first roller derby bout. Apparently it went over well. I asked what he told the class about the game. He said: “Girls skate fast and hit each other!” He said it with glee, and has no concept that an all-girl game might be anything other than a completely valid sport. Have I told you how much I love this kid?

Kai's show-and-tell

The community league I practice with on Tuesdays is starting up a kid’s league. To Kai’s delight it welcomes boys as well as girls. I’ve got him signed up already.

I’m teaching at Sock Summit!

Guess what?  I’m teaching at Sock Summit in Portland!!!

If you don’t yet know about this event, it’s an entire weekend celebrating the hand-knit sock. It covers pretty much every way a sock can be created and is a complete ball of fun. I went in 2009 on the advice of Brenda Dayne and the encouragement of Astrid Bear and had an absolute blast.

(If you don’t already know, I knit a LOT of socks. They’re my go-to carry project when I need to take a little fiber-arts therapy to the doctor’s office, day-long meeting, etc.)

They posted the teacher’s list yesterday so I can finally talk about it. It’s been hard to keep mum while things were finalized. When I read through the list of who else is teaching, I paused. My name, in the same list as these luminaries of the fiber world? It was a moment blended of delight, humility, shock, and a wee bit of fear. The people on that list have set a high bar for excellence.

I’m teaching two classes, Twinkle Toes: eTextiles for Socks and Woven Socks.

See that last class? That’s the only weaving class at Sock Summit. I’m thrilled and delighted to be once again taking weaving where it’s never gone before. Because really, if you love one fiber art, isn’t it likely you’d love another? (1)

And then, when I thought the news couldn’t get any better, I read Cat Bordhi’s Facebook update.

Cat Bordhi on Facebook

How lovely is that?

Do you think one of these days I’ll get Cat weaving? Can you imagine what her brain-sparkly mind would do with yarn and a loom? I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking discontinuous warps and wefts going every which-a-way.

Today I’m having lunch with Astrid. She and I have plans to be roomies (along with two other fun women) at Sock Summit, I can’t wait to tell her the news!

 

(1) I’ll be representing weaving at Sock Summit, but by no means the only weaver there. A lot of knitters also weave, and vice versa. Some day it’d be fun to list all the knitting instructors I’ve met who weave, have woven in the past, or are learning to weave.

Bumps, Lumps, and Roller Derby

I’ve been discovering my inner sports fan. After a lifetime of my father dragging me to football games, and the utter shame of me attending not even one Seminole’s football game during my years at Florida State University, it’s amusing to have this hit now as a 41-year-old.

It’s roller derby.  Which if you’re not familiar with the sport, is a bit like football on skates,    with no ball. The rules are arcane, as with any sport, but the gist of it is each team has a jammer, which is the scoring player, who has to skate through a pack composed of blocking players, racking up a point for each player of the opposing team she passes.

roller derby

(The fact that I just had to cut out a sentence or two that went into further details and elaborations about the game’s rules shows just how far gone I am.)

Roller derby was popular in the 1970s until TV promoters took it in a ludicrous WWF direction. Modern roller derby is the re-imagining of the sport by women who watched roller derby as children and took the best parts of those days (women being strong, fierce, and playful) and made it a serious sport.

The feminist in me loves that when these women reinvented roller derby in their own image, they made it real. There’s amazing athleticism on the field: jammers who whip around the rink at top speed, blocks, whips, jumping over downed skaters.

Despite all that, derby is still playful. The women who skate  take on humorous assumed names. One of the Rat City Rollergirls is “Yoko O’no You Didn’t,” a call out to her Asian heritage and a sassy comment about how things sometimes go during the game. (There’s a complete list of all the registered names online.) And there’s fashion. Because modern roller derby is run “by the players, for the players” the gals often sew their own costumes and get creative with them.

I’ve been skating in derby practices, Bellevue Roller Derby and PFM, but I didn’t expect to actually enjoy watching the game. When I was a competitive fencer, after all, I never got into watching fencing bouts.

All I can say is that somewhere been the opening and the closing ceremonies, a latent “sports fan” gene got switched on.  I hooted and hollered when players on the field pulled amazing stunts. I rooted for the home team and groaned when they didn’t win. I did the wave, I shouted “City” in response to the other side of the arena’s “Rat” and heard an audience of 5000+ people speak as one.

With me at this event were my friend Selah and my son Kai. Selah brought a half-time show in her bag, samples of differential shrinkage cloth she’d woven in a recent class by Ruby Leslie.  They were amazing and soft, and full of textural interest. I’d love to take a workshop or class with Ruby some day if I can get the timing to work out.

Selah also found a bit of time to crochet during the bout. Me, I brought a sock-in-progress to knit on, but never took it out of the bag. (The knitting bag later filled up with T-shirts, patches, and a cow bell, so it was useful, non-the-less.)

Kai was a whole nother matter.  This was his first-ever sporting event and it’s a long six hours. I worried that he’d get bored at some point and that I’d have to walk him around and keep him entertained. When the game started, and he watched with a slack expression and I was sure I was in trouble.

kai and Syne watching the game

Quite the opposite. Apparently the “sports fan” gene is strong with this one. He was the one rushing us back from bathroom breaks and shopping trips at halftime so we wouldn’t miss any of the game.

He bought a “derby brats” (the junior derby league) button and a Rat City Rollergirl T-Shirt. When I looked at the T-shirt, with its saucy logo of a pretty gal with a fierce look and a black eye, and said “I’m not sure that’s appropriate for school.”  He replied, “Of course it is. It’ll be perfect for show-and-tell!” I belly-laughed so hard the other people in line stared. If you take your kid to roller derby, he gets to talk about it. Fair enough.

Kai got the autograph of a Denver Roller Doll. The visiting team was amazing, with great speed and power. I complemented her team and gently teased her that it’s because they had so much extra oxygen playing down in Seattle at sea level. She, like all the roller derby folk I’ve met, was big-hearted and gracious.

denver roller doll

As we walked out of the Key Arena, Kai said quietly, “That was amazing.” I said, “Do you want to go to the next game?” He looked at me as if I was a bit stupid and said, “Yeah. So I can track the scores. That last bout was 96 to 108.”

It was like watching genetic destiny in action.  His granddad will be so proud.

Kai enjoying the game