Why you don’t let your cat help you warp

Maru got excited while I was warping the last of the blanket warp. Given half a chance, he’d run into my studio and full-on attack the warp. Grabbing paw-fulls, and raking it with his back claws.image

Needless to say, he got booted. Not only for the sake of the warp, but for his own. The barbs on a cat’s tongue mean that they can’t spit out yarn. Once they get it in their mouth, they have to keep eating it. Which can lead to wads of yarn in their stomach and other intestinal woes.

So if you have kitties, keeping them away from yarn is a very good thing. Since we got Maru, my studio has been almost pathelogically clean (yarn-wise, anyway.)

I’m currently working on the mending of the blanket. It’s taking longer than I’d like, but that’s how things usually go.

Today’s weaving tip: If a warp thread breaks, fix it immediately. Don’t tell yourself that you’re close to the end and can just weave it in after the cloth is off the loom; you’re not that close to the end.

Cutting off the Birthday Blanket warp

This is what 9 yards looks like, wound onto the cloth beam.image

This is the third warp. I’ve woven 27 yards for this project. The next step is mending, in which I fix any errors and skips in the fabric.

There are a non-trivial number of errors, but not as many as I feared there would be. When I started this project, an experienced weaver told me that it’d be impossible to weave — that all of the different threads, with their varying sizes, fibers, and amount of stretch would create bad tension.

There were only a few threads that needed special handling, those were easily dealt with using some additional weights.


The weights I’m using there are brass weights with hooks on the top. I got them from American Science & Surplus several years ago and find all kinds of uses for them in the fiber arts.

I’m actually looking forward to the mending. It’s symbolic of forgiving and fixing my own errors and flaws.

Madrona 2012: A Very Fine Birthday

Last year, my birthday sucked. I was saying a final goodbye to my dreams of making a living in the fiber arts. It was poignant, because I spent the whole weekend teaching at Madrona, a wonderful fiber conference, surrounded by everything I was giving up. The day after Madrona, I would start full-time work again. A daunting prospect after being self-employed for ten years. My husband was sick and couldn’t be with me. I felt like an utter failure and spent the evening sobbing in my hotel room.

This year was the antidote to last year. I taught at Madrona again, with a room full of lovely women who shared my passion for things that glow and blink. It was a mellow and peaceful class. They gave me permission to blog about derby and non-weaving things. I don’t have to words to explain why that was important (or rather, I do, but it would take about 10,000 of them) but it was huge to me. I’m an eclectic, shy, multi-faceted person, and it’s hard for folks like me to feel 100% accepted, and in that moment, I did.

I had lunch with a friend and mentor, and that was a wonderful treat.

Class continued. We wove. Things lit up. We turned off the lights and there were moments of illuminated beauty. I had a great time, and I hope they did as well.

Eric and Kai came down that evening and injected some family pack bonding into the evening. We ate Mexican food, tussled on the bed, made bad jokes, and I fell exhausted into bed and slept well.

The next day, my actual birthday, I spent taking a class with my favorite tapestry weaver in the whole wide world: Sarah Swett. (I can say this only because I consider Mary Zicafoose a rug weaver.) Sarah combines both being a hoot-and-a-holler as a person with amazing technical skill that takes my breath away. She doesn’t teach often and I consider myself lucky to have gotten into her class.

We wove tapestry bags. Tapestry is something that makes my brain hurt. I’d taken a class with James Koehler, and was blown away by his mastery and technique. But his brain worked very differently than mine, and as soon as I stepped away from his class, his teaching fell right out of my head. Sarah’s teaching settled into my brain like a faithful dog and curled right around my cerebellum. I came away from the class with an enthusiasm for tapestry and a belief that I might actually be able to weave a tapestry I was happy with one day.


Oh, and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (aka: the yarn harlot) is considering taking up an affair with a bad-boy loom. A loom with its brake smack in the center of the warp. With a tricky warp tensioning system that is just waiting to unspool her warp all over the floor. A handsome fellow, dark and mellowed with age, something rare and fine, but temperamental… I worry for her weaving adventures on it. Though I suspect a swat team of Canadian weavers is likely to descend on her if things get out of hand.

Several people asked questions about my unfinished projects, some asked kindly, some more pointedly. Here are the answers, in case you’re wondering, too.

What about WeaveCast? Will there be more?
I don’t know. I hope so. Between more-than-full-time work, family, and doing the things that keep me happy and sane, I haven’t found the time to edit audio. I’ve got several episodes recorded that I’d like to produce, but I don’t know when I’ll get to them. There’s another fibery concern that’s considering doing a weaving podcast–a group that’ll likely do a much better job than I ever did–so even if I don’t get around to it, you still have hope.

What’s the status of the birthday blanket?
The first 13-yard warp is woven. The second 13-yard warp is lying on the floor of my studio on lease sticks, ready to go through the raddle. I really, really, wanted to get it done in time for Madrona 2012, but two other time-critical projects got in the way. One was my producing Linda Ligon’s memoir This is How I Go When I Go Like This as an audiobook, the other is still under wraps. I feel mortified that the birthday blanket isn’t done yet, and I promise that it will be done before I am. My other worry is, now that I have a smaller presence in the fiber world, how will I get the word out when it’s done?

I came away from Madrona 2012 feeling like the fiber arts world was welcoming me back. It won’t be what it was, it’s scaled back from when I was trying to make a living publishing weaving content. But you know, the things that drew me into the fiber arts are still there: the love of making beautiful fabrics, the friendly people, the meditative work.

A lot has happened in the past year: I’ve gotten a new career. I watched my friend Selah birth her son. I took up roller derby and played in a game in front of 300+ spectators. A long-time chronic health issue that has plagued me my whole life was diagnosed and addressed. I’ve let go of a lot of expectations.

For the first time in my life, I don’t know what I’m working towards. I don’t have a master plan. It’s strange to be like this, but also peaceful.

First Birthday Blanket Warp Done!

End of the WarpIt’s a banner day, the first of two warps for the Birthday Blanket Project are done!  Eric and Kai were away for most of the week, and I took the opportunity to weave on my big noisy AVL (the flyshuttle is loud) while they were away.  At first it felt as though the 13-yard warp would go on forever, but at long last it is done!  Huzzah!  Lessons learned include: 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.