Today I started to weave again after over a year. It takes two swifts to hold the skein.
This skein of raw silk from Bhutan has a cross in the middle of it! I’d never seen such a skein before. However it really makes it easy to ball off the yarn because of the cross. This is definitely hand spun and sticky.
Here’s that hand spun yarn woven with my fine silk warp at 125 EPI.
I decided to try a fatter weft so the weaving would go faster. I may have a dog on the loom. I’ve spent so much time already with broken ends I can’t quite give it up yet. I think I’ll use the cloth to dye with my dyes I brought back from Japan. I’m weaving two layers at once. Well since I’m going slowly anyway, why not?
Day 4. We flew to Kume Island for the day and visited a spectacular place where they make traditional cloth from raising the silk worms, reeling the silk off the cocoons, tying and dyeing the warp and weft threads and weaving. It is the Kumejoma Tsumugi Museum.
Here are baby silk worms being taken care of I can’t remember why the women were taking off the worms and putting them in the boxes. I think they were in the process of feeding them. They eat a lot of fresh mulberry leaves and will grow to the size of a thumb.
Here the tied and dyed warp threads are being adjusted so the pattern will be exactly lined up for each and every thread. The little bobbin is putting a bit of extra tension on a warp to keep the thread lined up.
I took a workshop with Yoshiko Wada’s Slow Fiber Studios in Berkeley, California recently. We learned to fold cloth in origami-like ways and then we did arashi shibori (pole wrapping shibori) with the cloth and got these lovely simple patterns. The teacher was Chris Palmer and his book is called Shadow folds: Surprisingly Easy-to-Make Geometric Designs in Fabric by Jeffrey Rutzky and Chris K. Palmer.
I folded and dyed 11” silk squares I got already hemmed from Dharma Trading Company. This was my first attempt at arashi shibori and I used my own indigo vat. I am proud of the results for such a novice. They can be used singly or as a group as pieces for the wall or gifts.
I took small pieces I’ve dyed and made little collage compositions and mounted them on squares of dark indigo linen I got in India a few years ago. We went to see the Matisse and Diebenkorn show yesterday and I decided to call these pieces “My Little Diebenkorns”! They can be used singly or in a group, too. I have put similar pieces in CD cases to present them! They also could be little coasters or gifts.
Finally! I wove a record of 7 1/2 inches the other day–in a 2-hour session. I think most of the repairs are done now and I can weave along. You can see how it is going on the video.
Here is a close up of the cloth with only one broken thread repair–hooray! I think I am finally on my way now. I make the repairs with colored sewing thread so I can see what I’m doing. Usually those threads will continue until the end of the warp so it will be a bit of a surprise to see what it looks like off the loom. I have about a yard done so far with the previous sessions averaging an inch or so each because of all the repairs that needed to be done. For each repair, I have to find the missing heddle and route the repair thread in the exact position where the broken thread was. I join the sewing thread to the silk one and weight it at the back of the loom. See a previous post of my set-up to weight the threads and keep them in order–keeping them in order is crucial so I have a cross on the stand where the weighted threads are.
Each composition is made up of fabrics that were in the same dye pot. The differences in the tones are due to the different fabrics I put into the pot. I love these subtle “colors”. The yellows were from woad plants. The browns were from green persimmons over dyed with indigo. I especially find myself liking things that have almost no color at all. One of these is from oak galls. I can’t remember all the specifics but I like to put dyed fabrics in a bath of iron water to “sadden” the color.
Threading My Loom with Threads that are as Fine as Hairs
I’ve been threading the heddles now for a few weeks—about an hour at a time and when I can get into the studio. It’s such a meditative thing that I wanted to have a film made. I’ve never used so fine a thread before and I hope it can stand up to the tension and abrasion of weaving. This short segment is the beginning of the film I’m dreaming of. I hope we can put together the rest of setting up the loom and me weaving—and an end result. This time threading is both soothing and ‘hair’ raising—you’ll see why in the video. If you’re not a weaver and don’t want details, go to the video now.
The thread is so fine that I couldn’t get it wound off from the skein so I sent it to Japan for them to wind it off (my friend with the equipment in the US couldn’t do it). It came back on about 15 cones—each with a very small amount of thread on it. So even the experts had a hard time—so many cones means that the thread kept breaking and they had to find an end and start a new cone over and over.
I’m planning on 120 threads per inch—the threads in my other sheer warps have been only 96 ends per inch. That gives you an idea of how fine we are talking about—like hairs.
I thought I’d warp 10 cones at a time as I’ve done with the other thread. Well, things kept breaking and threads blew around in the air and I almost gave up. I did end up using 4 cones at a time. I could keep track of those and repair them every time one broke and find its own exact path to the heddles in the heck block on my warping reel.
I didn’t notice that the 4 cones weren’t in position to make a perfect cross so I ended up with a 2×2 cross. You’ll notice that in the video. Jim Ahrens taught us that 2 threads at a time can work but never more than that. (3 or more threads will braid up on one another.) I’m hoping that is true because every thread has a mate in the cross. The reason to use a paddle is so you can always make a thread-by-thread cross. In my case I have a heck block that does that job connected to my reel. I am lucky enough to have a warping reel that Jim Ahrens made.
Well, this job will take a good while, but I think it will work out. In my books I show a trick for threading that isn’t really a trick; it’s a technique I always use. Jim Ahrens taught it to us in our Production Weaving classes. What you do is put tension on the threads so they are taut when they are in the lease sticks making it easier to see which is the next thread. I usually use a 3 ½-ounce wrench for a weight (it lives in my apron pocket). I separate out a bundle of cut warp threads about the thickness of a medium-sized carrot to tension. When you select a strand to thread next you pull it out of the weighted bundle using the threading hook. This is described on page 71 in Weaving for Beginners and on page 51 in Book #2, Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps available now in PDF format. [click any photo to enlarge]
For these tiny threads I used very small fishing weights and tied many ties along the lengths of small bundles just so none of the threads flew around.
You can see them hanging down at the back of the loom if you look closely. ( My loom is folded up for threading.) The fishing weights were from weaving velvet one time.
These photos show the
threads coming out of the heddles.
These fantastic photos are by Bob Hemstock, my miraculous web guy.
I have been fascinated with stiff silk—raw silk—undegummed silk for a few years. These threads and fabrics are not silky but crisp. Silk organza is an example. On a trip to Japan with Yoshiko Wada we found a few skeins of it and I grabbed them. They were lovely in the skeins and I didn’t notice how very, very fine the individual threads were! When I tried to wind the threads from a skein onto a spool it was a nightmare: threads broke, I couldn’t find an end etc., etc. I asked Takako Ueki, owner of Habu Textiles in New York, how to wind off fine threads and she said she would do it in her store, when I got a skein back it was on about 10 cones—I guess she kept starting over and over when threads broke. (It was expensive.)
Now I want to weave with that silk thread. The previous fine silk threads (enormous in comparison) were on spools (much easier) and collapsed when wetted or dyed. Now I want to weave and dye the cloth with indigo—hence the undegummed silk was needed.
I wound my previous warps with 10 spools at a time so I thought I would with this fine stuff, too. Snags, broken threads, cones messed up—all kinds of problems. So I tried 6 and finally ended up with 4 good cones and made a 10-yard warp. I have a wonderful warping reel with a heck block and leaser so winding with multiple threads is efficient. I tied many, many choke ties before I took the warp off the reel—turned out unnecessary for these threads but critical for the previous warps with the threads that collapsed. I decided I had to recalculate the sett because the threads were so fragile and fine so I went from 96 threads per inch to 120.
This first photo shows me loading my 5-dent raddle with 24 ends per dent. I skipped a space after every 2 dents to widen the warp and with more threads in a dent they worked together so that they did not break. For the 24 threads I used 2 raddle groups, each with 12 ends. [be sure to click the photos to see the fine details]
I use a warping drum to hold the warp on tension while I beam. I clamped the raddle onto the loom and left the lease sticks in to keep the threads organized and in order in their groups of 24 threads.
One photo shows a few errant threads but all in all the threads did fine under the tension of the warping drum while winding it onto the warp beam on the loom. The first group of threads was the one where I tried 10 and then 6 cones and had the breakage, etc. I will discard that group I’m thinking—that snarled errant thread shows you why.
The drum is across the room in my studio—maybe 15 feet away from the loom. I have to push a lot of stuff out of the way in the studio to make room for the beaming process. I stand at the loom and turn the warp beam roller and that pulls the warp off the drum under a lot of tension. The warp looks really great on the beam—tight and orderly.
The final step in this part of my saga is at the end of the warp as it came off the drum.
This illustration is from Page 148 in the chapter: The Warping Drum in my Book #2, Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps which is now available again in PDF format. The rope to the drum is attached to the end stick which I put in the end of the warp and the lease sticks are in place—for the tread-by-thread cross. This I did today. Now the remaining part of the warp can be beamed and ready for threading the heddles. I think it will take a couple of weeks for that step—there are around 600 threads and sometimes I can’t even see them—just feel them. Wish me luck.
I discovered these oak galls under an oak tree. I have always thought they were gorgeous—and that they make a nice dye, too. I’ve given away all my dye chemicals and pots but wanted to see what color they would give. I smashed some of the less-beautiful galls and poured boiling water over them and let them steep with a couple of scraps from my boro project—silks and cotton flannel. I soaked them over night and was not impressed with what I found the next morning. So I went to the internet and of course there were entries about dyeing with oak galls (and more about the galls). I discovered I needed to soak the cloth in a solution of rust and vinegar or lemon juice after soaking the cloth overnight in the gall and water solution. You can see what I’ve gotten so far. [click photos to enlarge]
I’m seduced with the subtle colors so far and want to continue experimenting with longer gall-soaks followed by longer rust soaks. So far I’ve just done overnight. The info said I should get black with this recipe but I’m very far from that. Greys and darker shades would be fine. The two darker pieces were light indigo dyed before I did the two oak gall processes. I think they have a lot of possibilities, too.
This before-and-after photo show the silk crepe cloth I wove before and after dyeing. It took the dye much stronger than the other silks. The cotton flannel hardly took any color at all. I think it was darker because the threads were undegummed silk—silk organza is made of this type of silk. I clamped the middle to make the resist that formed the diamond in the center.
You can see my “dye pots”. Dying in my tiny kitchen(ette) in the retirement place where I live is a challenge. I found a chipped latte glass and glasses from Starbucks and The Oakville Grocery. That way I can keep them separate from the glasses I drink from. I heat water in the microwave and stir with a chop stick. This is perfect for the small scraps I want to use in a new boro piece. On the left is a solution with just the pulverized oak galls and galls. The right glass has just the solution of rust and lemon juice (and some water) and some rust before it was pulverized. Getting the rust was a lucky break for me. I told a friend I needed some and her son chipped off a jarful of it with 2 cups of gorgeous rust. When I pounded the rust into a powder it worked much better giving darker results. Rusty nails or steel wool is supposed to work for the rust. Taking the photos was a challenge. Bob, my photographer and web guru, had me lying on my stomach to shoot me pounding the oak galls.
I’ve been using my crepe silk cloth in my small Boro pieces where the cloth is crinkled (collapsed) or shrunk because it was intentionally wetted in the indigo dye vat. I then wanted to show a friend what my cloth looked like before it got wet (off the loom). So, here it is: before and after the cloth was put in water. We show a close-up of both cloths. The original piece I wove was 5″ wide and after shrunk down to 3″. The two photos are super-imposed on each other. To see the change, move the slider back and forth.
Yoshiko wanted us to be able to make our own indigo vats at home and her method seems doable, even to me. I am so excited about what we got in the class (and an extra day on our own) that I will surely make a vat of my own. You can see from the photos why I’m so excited. We did clamping and stitch resist and dipping multiple times. I dyed pages from an old Japanese book I have and scraps of my own weaving and a wonderful white silk cloth that I bought long ago to make an outfit.The picture of the used clamps just look nice and arty, so I included it. More of our dying results are in the previous Boro class post.
Here it is: the video of my ruffle mobile. The three short ruffles are about 18″ long. I like it a lot; however, the juror did not and rejected them. I don’t like to be rejected but like the mobile so much more. Please click the YouTube logo to view in HD on the YouTube page.
It was thrilling to see these little ruffles float and rotate in the air today when they were photographed. I am entering this piece in a show–deadline is day-after-tomorrow. I hope the juror likes it. (I don’t like being rejected). Submitting entries for juried shows is really hard for me. The technology needed to fit all the requirements is daunting. Thankfully I have wonderful help. A video is coming soon. It really looks nice as the components spin around independently.
We left Mitla after breakfast and drove north toward Oaxaca City, stopping at the Tule tree which is the biggest tree in the world and we all believed it.
Then we continued north up through Oaxaca heading northwest turning southwest at Nochixtlan. We were on an old north to south route across Mexico up to Alaska and down to Patigonia.
We stopped at two huge old churches built In the 1500’s by the Spanish. They both are being restored to a point. You can see areas that are gold and very decorative and much area that is just bare walls. Originally the walls were solidly decorated with paint and paintings. One is at the town of Yanhuitlan; the other at Teposcolula. And both are directly related to the history of silk in the region.
The Spanish brought over sericulture (producing silk). Mulberry trees had to be cultivated and raising the silk worms is a time consuming process. There was a huge boom and then bust when much silk was produced in Mexico and then when disease and competition from Asia destroyed the industry. These two churches were built by the Spanish during the boom years. One could only imagine how much money silk was bringing in at the time. High quality silk that was reeled from the cocoons was processed by the indigenous people while only the Spaniards were allowed to weave it. The indigenous people in the area wore silk sashes, however.
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Today we drove two hours on very winding mountain roads to a village in the Eastern Sierra Madre to the Zapotec village of San Pedro Cajonos where they raise silk worms, spin silk thread, dye it and weave it on backstrap looms. We walked down steps on the side of the mountain and came into this room where generations of people were weaving and spinning silk. The pictures of the village don’t quite convey how steep the mountain side is. The girl in the yellow shirt is 10 years old. She was one of the featured children in an exhibit the Oaxaca Textile museum put on two years ago when she was eight. Kids, mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers were all part of the production. What used to be only women’s work is done by everyone now that it brings in money.
The silk worms are raised and the cocoons made and then they are collected after the adult moths emerge from the cocoons. That means there is a significant hole in each cocoon so the thread cannot be unwound in a long thread. Instead the cocoons are boiled then spun. The picture shows masses of cocoons dried after boiling.
Then the spinner takes a cocoon and separates it from the mass and teases it or pulls it apart until it is a mass of silk fiber. Then the spinner spins it using a spindle that is supported in a small bowl. The grandfather and grandmother sat and spun the whole time we were there. The pictures show how both of them went about the teasing and pulling apart and lining up the fibers before twisting them with the spindle making a thread.
After the scarves were off the looms the fringe was knotted in what we call macrame.
We went outside to the dye area where some of the woven scarves were dyed with natural dyes.
They used two types of cocoons. The yellow was a wild silk and the white made by commercially raised silk worms provided my the Mexican government. You can see there are some tiny hatched eggs on the yellow cocoon.
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Saturday night was the opening reception and end of the TSA Symposium. For me it was glorious in every way. My pieces were in the most prime location: in the front window and the first thing to be seen in the show. When it got dark the lighting was great with reflections in the window.
I stood nearby and got lots and lots of nice comments. The nicest part was getting praise from other artists and people who knew me or knew my name.
> click photos to enlarge
I met two former students who are very accomplished.
Serena Lee, from San Francisco, was my Home Ec student when she was in the seventh grade. She is giving a lecture at the symposium about ethnic dress of the Lolo/ Yi groups across the Vietnam- China border. I heard her practice her riveting talk this morning. She leads textile trips to that area of the world and is an expert on the various ethnic costumes.
Laurel Wilson, PhD was my weaving student in New York where she became interested in textiles. Her dissertation is ” ‘De Novo Modo’: the birth of Fashion in the Middle Ages”. She is passionate about her research and has given lectures around the country. Her concentration is on 14th century and how the introduction of the horizontal pedal loom in the 11th century caused big changes in class structure , gender relations, and ultimately the birth of fashion in Western Europe. It was fascinating to listen to what all she had to say.
I sat under an umbrella this afternoon with Zvezdana Dode from Stravropol, Russia who I met on the Italy trip. She is working on a book : ” ‘Silk Horde’: Costume and Textiles of the Mongolian Empire”. She is also giving a paper here at the symposium and was so interesting to talk to.
So, there are a lot of experts here and everyone is passionate about textiles.
Tonight was a reception with the menu planned by Alice Waters. I was thrilled to have the rest of the world experience her local grown sustainable foods. There was an almost full moon and lots of interesting people. It was really nice when someone I didn’t know knew my name.
The TSA show in Los Angeles is getting pretty close. Today we sent off the files for 4 postcards that I can hand out to people at the show and at the conference. We will drive down on September 9 to hand deliver my piece: Four Veils. I’m thrilled with the cards and am getting excited. New business cards are in the works as well.
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The warp was taken off the reel and rolled onto the drum. You can see the ties for the raddle (group) cross dangling at the end of the warp. Then the raddle was loaded. See the rubberbands on top so the threads don’t come out of the teeth.
The raddle was then clamped onto the loom so beaming could begin. The warp comes off the drum under tension, goes through the raddle and onto the warp beam. The drum is essential to keep all the threads under tension while I crank the beam. Directions for building a warping drum are in my book no. two “Warping your Loom and Tying On New Warps”.
Finally I got to my studio and made a warp this week. Another 10-yard one with the fine silk threads I used for the bookmarks, rullfes, and other sheer pieces. Here ae some details and the equipment I need for this fine and kinky thread. It kinks horribly if off tension a second. I warped with 10 spools on the reel that Jim Ahrens built and used. There is also a heck block which makes the path on the reel and makes the cross with two tiny shafts (called the leaser).
Because the thread kinks so much I had to use a creel that holds the spools horizontally. I had this built by a friend. I discovered to keep the threads in order and on tension from the creel to the reel I needed several lease sticks. That way if a thread broke, I could find it, too. I clamp the stick onto two boards coming out of the creel.
The heck block rides up and down on the two poles, attached to the floor and the ceiling.
By the way, the colors are fugitive–as soon as they are on the reel they all are the honey color with a tiny tinge of the original colors.
You can see the drum waiting beside the reel. That’s the next order in the process.
[click on first photo for slide show]
Here is silk thread I bought–and a lovely child’s under kimono. The really rough skeins in the bundle are raw silk made of the waste silk that is on the outside of the cocoons. I got it at a co-op where the framers took their cocoons to be unwound and made into skeins. The silk was reeled off of the cocoons by machines. It was fascinating to watch and the beautiful, shiny silk skeins being wound. I don’t know how the wide silk yarn was made, but I hope to find a way to weave something interesting with it.
I love the little kimono–we visited a woman who researched how the red dyes used to be made. Red for under the kimono was really a popular thing!
I’ve been planning a little lesson for my weaving guild about color—especially optical mixing. I’m going to show color wheels we are used to seeing and talk about using yarns and threads that aren’t on the wheels, per se. That is, not the vibrant, intense colors you see but what I think are more beautiful colors. I’ll show how beautiful colors are made and how to use them, using the information on the color wheels.
Here is my color stash of sewing threads. I just picked spools of colors that I liked when visiting a shop in the garment district of Manhattan on several trips. I expected to mix them together and whenever possible I took colors with different dye lots. Variations in colors make them more beautiful, in my opinion.
I love to knit mindlessly (or nearly so). This sweater I knitted using stainless steel and silk thread and cotton yarn. The yarns and pattern are from Habu Textiles in New York. If you don’t know them, please check the web for amazing things. I thought it would take a year but I’m now sewing the pieces together having begun the knitting in September. It was easy—all stockinet and easy to keep track of the rows for shaping. I hope to wear it to the opening of my show which is on January 8. We’ll see. At first I thought it would be too small, then too large. You can’t tell anything until you start sewing it together and trying it on the body. I think it will be just fine. I can’t decide yet whether to sew the side seams or let them loose. The stainless steel/silk yarn has a wild mind of its own. Any thoughts? Also, I’m not sure if I’ll block the stainless part—so far I only blocked the cotton areas.