Space

My usual morning routine finds me in the studio with a cup of coffee and a knitting project. I love the early morning quiet, watching the sky lighten and the sun rise. And there is almost always some client project on the needles looking for my attention.

But this morning, I decided to spend some time reading first. I’ve pulled back to the top of my reading pile “Master Your Craft” by Tien Chiu. A book that I was very excited to purchase last summer and which has been falling ever deeper into the reading pile since. I had read a few pages when I first brought it home and was enjoying it, but production deadlines pushed it firmly into the “someday” pile.

I don’t know what prompted the shift in focus this morning, but as I read strategies for exploration, creativity and design I recalled that I have been wanting my studio time to be more than just production, more than just pushing out designs that I’ve already developed and refined. But I haven’t yet figured out how to do that. How to explore. It’s so … unstructured. There isn’t a plan to follow. And telling myself to “just play” hasn’t worked out so far.

Recently I was lunching with an artist friend, talking about this same idea and I mentioned that I’ve been wanting to try quilting and had even bought a small amount of fabric to play with. I committed, at that lunch weeks ago, to find the fabric and do something with it.

So after a few sections of the book I wandered into the studio to find the fabric. Finding it wasn’t really the issue, I knew exactly where it was, in a box marked “studio art” on a shelf in the closet. A box I packed up last summer before we moved into the new house. A box of art supplies, design prompts and fabric that I’d not made time for. As I found places for most of the box contents, I moved into a declutter and discard mindspace. I filled a bag with yarn donations from a bin that hasn’t been opened since the move. I found yarn that I thought I’d lost, and yarn that desperately needs a project to use it.

And as I was emptying and sorting and rediscovering, I realized that I wasn’t fretting at all about the production that wasn’t happening. I was allowing myself the space to be with my stuff and think about what it might want to be.

I was allowing myself space to be. To imagine. To not be manic about a deadline. It was an important first step on the way to experimenting/playing. To allowing myself to believe that there is more to my “work” than churning through production. That my growth as an artist requires having the space to try something new. And that the lifestyle I want to have is not that of a one-woman factory churning out the same thing over and over.

The fabric is on the sewing table. I didn’t get to it today, but it is out in the open waiting for me. And I thought, as I sorted, and then moved on to my current knitting project, about what my fabric might want to be.

Design challenge

Inspiration from the yarn stash

A few weeks ago a friend helped me sort through my personal yarn stash. She asked some tough questions about age of stash and intended use. We filled a donate bag and two big eBay bags and when we were done I still had LOTS of yarn. One of my most favorite yarns is Mountain Mohair from Green Mountain Spinnery. I love the colors and the feel. The slight sheen that comes from the mohair. It’s great to knit with and I’ve used it in sweaters and hats. I have a tendency though to pick up one skein of a color that tempts me. Over the years I’ve accumulated a few of these. I’ve added to my stash during their tent sale and, of course, with the leftovers from buying sweater quantities. While it is lovely to have this yarn to pet and admire, might it also be fun to knit with all of these great colors?

Part of the stash-sorting project was matching yarn to projects. Some pairings ended in divorce when I realized either that I no longer liked the pattern enough to knit it, or that I had been slightly misguided about my love for the yarn. But there is no breakup ahead between MM and I.

I decided that what I needed was a bit of a challenge. Sure, I could knit an established pattern. Trust me, I can get lost for hours looking at patterns on Ravelry. But what I wanted was to force myself to experiment a bit. Work outside of the strictures of a published pattern and the designer’s color scheme.

After a few minutes in the MM bin (one 12x12x12 cubby) I came out with 5 colors: Elderberry, Vincent’s Gold, Coral Bell, Partridgeberry and Blue Violet (clockwise from top left). I didn’t play with color wheels, or values or hues. I dove in and chose colors that I thought might work.

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My inspiration

I selected an appropriately-sized needle using the ball band gauge as a guide and remembering that I usually drop two needle sizes to match pattern gauges. My project, my canvas, was a cowl and my design source was Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting which contains page after page of charted designs. My other goal for this project was to gain more experience with two-color knitting.

I didn’t do a gauge swatch. I guessed at how many stitches to cast on, again with the ball band information as a general guide. As this was an experiment I wasn’t too concerned about fit. The important part was to play around without too many strictures. So, armed with yarn, needle, and motif inspiration took off for an overnight with the knitter friend who helped with the stash assessment.  I’d put all this aside for a week or more waiting for this visit and hadn’t looked at it at all.

As I pulled the yarn out to plan my cast on I had a big “what was I thinking?” moment. These yarns are terrible together! This is going to be awful. But I’d decided ahead of time that I wasn’t going to switch anything. I was going to make this up as I went along, choosing the colors I wanted each time I changed motif.

I started with strongly contrasting colors for a corrugated rib. I knit that until it seemed long enough (5 rounds) and then opened Starmore to choose my first pattern.  I wanted to start with a 3 or 4-row pattern then move on to a taller motif.

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Deciding what to do next

As I was knitting along I was willing to consider also that the cowl would not be symmetrical from top to bottom. I was trying to counteract my strong sense of order and balance. But in the end there was only so much of my nature that I could change with this one project.  As I completed the tall center motif I realized that finishing as I had started would give me about the size cowl I wanted, so I repeated the first motif in both pattern and color and finished with the same corrugated rib.

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Far from the disaster that I expected, I have a lovely cowl. The colors work well together and I’m happy enough with this first attempt. My two-color knitting needs practice, the stitches are not as even as I’d like. And I should have worked that first round of corrugated all in knit to avoid the purl bumps (as you can see on the bottom of this picture.)  See the difference as you move into the rib at the top of the picture?  I think I’d also look for a cast-on that matched the cast-off a bit better.

I’m pleased with this. And since I’ve barely made a dent in the Mountain Mohair in that bin I’ll have to see what to knit next.

If you’d like to know more about how color inspires my designs, you can read about the Birds Eye Twill scarves I weave in my latest newsletter.

Avoiding burnout

Scarf production has been in full swing for a few weeks now. I’m weaving for a new show (for me), Craft Vermont, which is the weekend before Thanksgiving. I have just a few patterns that I weave regularly, one being this huck.

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Huck in hand-dyed alpaca silk

I switch up the materials between alpaca silk and tencel. I shift from variegated (as above) to solids with funky accents.

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Orchid tencel with fringed accent yarn

But underneath it all, it’s the exact same weaving pattern. I have the counts memorized. I know how many threads to wind for the warp. I can practically thread the heddles in my sleep. And my feet know how to treadle the pattern repeat.

And suddenly I was bored. No color or texture change was enough. I avoided eye contact with the loom. It holds a warp for 3 scarves in the huck pattern. I wasn’t going to throw away the materials, so I started bargaining with myself.

Just weave those three scarves. They’ll go quickly and then you can do something else. I’ve got two of the three done and it is true that the third will go quickly. Meantime I’ve gotten out the Merino/Tencel yarns and I’m planning the next scarves.

The yarn is soft and yummy with a slight sheen from the tencel. I’ll use it to weave some heftier warm scarves using a Pebble Twill pattern that I really like. Here’s an in-progress shot of one I did a while ago.

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Lilac on black pebble twill Merino Tencel scarf

I still work towards my inventory building goal, but I get a change of scenery in the process. I’m looking forward to watching the subtle patterns emerge.


Mark your calendar to visit Craft Vermont at the Sheraton Burlington, VT November 18-20. Or shop online where the store is always open.

Studio art

Although I claim to dislike clutter I noticed that I have quite a few adornments hanging about in the studio. If I worked in an office they would be cubicle art or desk tchotchkes (and thank goodness for typing hints on that one!)

It’s Labor Day and I’m busy setting up the loom for a workshop this week so I thought I’d just share some pictures.

Knit animal finger puppets
Beaded mermaid
Sheep head “trophy” (no animal was harmed)
Knit bag brought from South America by my mother’s aunt
Chullo hat also from the aunt
Giraffe and lion guard the knitting stash
Knit zebra

Sharing the love

I’ve always found that my fellow fiber artists are a very generous lot. We share knowledge, lend materials, and help each other out.

I’m a member of the Vermont Weavers Guild where among other things I maintain our website and answer the general query email box. Recently we were contacted by a woman who was looking for information on where to learn more about weaving. As I corresponded with her to find out what she’d been doing so far I discovered that she lives pretty near to me.

This week she came to visit. I am lending to her my rigid heddle loom and I spent a couple of hours giving her a crash course in how to use it.  It was my first loom. The one I purchased about 6 years ago when I thought I wanted to learn to weave and didn’t want to spend too much money finding out.

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First weaving project on my rigid heddle loom

It’s a great first loom. Portable. Not too expensive. The loom is designed for weaving plainweave, but with some pick up sticks you can easily broaden your horizons.

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My first project! White cotton warp, navy cotton weft and random stripes woven with self-striping sock yarn.

I was in love, and then the floor looms started arriving. My poor rigid heddle had been relegated to a shelf. I pulled it out rarely to weave samples for a larger piece and it was looking a little lonely.

Now it has gone on loan to a beginning weaver. I sent her off with the loom, shuttles and accessories, operating instructions, pattern books for the rigid heddle so she can experiment, and a bit of cotton yarn to weave with. And a promise to answer her questions.

Today when I go to my spinning group I’ll be hanging out with spinners who have far more experience than I do. They’ll give me tips on wheel behavior and managing the unspun roving so I can spin the thread that I want.

When I go I’ll be returning a knitting book that I borrowed, and receiving back a book that I lent to my friend. We even, sometimes, share yarn. You might think that yarn would be the most jealously guarded treasure but sometimes what you thought was going to work perfectly doesn’t. Or that great bargain at the estate sale — a dollar a cone! Really? Let me fill my bag! — turns into cones gathering dust on the shelf and a weaver muttering “What was I thinking?” to herself. So we offer, we trade, we donate to guild sales.

This is my community. We have a love of craft. A love of fiber. Weavers who spin. Spinners who knit. Knitters who, gasp, also crochet sometimes. And we gather to share our knowledge and our wealth. We welcome newcomers and hope they’ll find the joy in handwork that has brought us together.

 

 

Joy of work

I had occasion recently to visit a museum which contained a small selection of items from the Arts and Crafts era of design. The sign introducing the exhibit section began, of course, with the William Morris quote “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” But the phrase that has stuck with me comes later, in the description of the movement and the artists’ desire to have their creations reflect the “joy of work.”

As I was sitting this morning with a cup of coffee and my knitting I thought about how great it is to find joy in what I’m doing. I love working with my hands. Creating a beautiful sweater stitch by stitch. Or sitting at the loom and watching each throw of the shuttle add another layer of color and texture through my warp threads.

Ok, sure, it wasn’t quite so joyous when I had to rip out 3 rows of 135 stitches because I’d misunderstood the button band instructions. But I’m back on track, and I only lost a little bit of time. Time I’d spent doing something I love to do.

I’m a maker. A handworker. I think about my work as individual items, not production runs. Even when I put on a long warp to weave a dozen dish towels I have no intention that they’ll be identical. As I’m weaving one, I’ll be thinking about what color to use for the next.

And that mistake I ripped back to fix? I don’t just love the process of making, I love pointing to the finished item, or wearing it, and saying “I did that.” It doesn’t have to be perfect, but I always want to be pleased with what I’ve made.

Now, I’ve got a sweater to finish (so I can wear it!)

Studio visit

Recently I had the pleasure  of showing off my fiber studio to a friend. She isn’t a weaver so we talked about the basics, how I get from yarn

Hand dyed alpaca/silk yarn
Hand dyed alpaca/silk yarn

to a finished scarf

Alpaca/silk and tencel scarf
Alpaca/silk and tencel scarf

and how much automation there could be in that process. For instance, I get the alpaca/silk from my dyer in 8 oz hanks. I load it onto the swift and wind it using the electric ball winder. I can set that going and let it run while I do other things, just watching to make sure it doesn’t get stuck. When I did this using my hand-cranked ball winder it would take me more than an hour to wind. The electric winder can do it in about 15 minutes.

Swift and ball winder
Swift and ball winder

As this will be warp, the next station is the warping reel

Warping reel
Warping reel

Then getting the warp onto the loom

Threading heddles
Threading heddles

After sleying the reed, each warp end gets threaded into a heddle, one thread per heddle and on the correct shaft so the weaving pattern will come out right. These steps are all manual, but with my electric bobbin winder I can speed up the last step I have before I can start weaving. I use an end-feed shuttle, so I’m winding my weft yarn onto pirns.

Winding a pirn
Winding a pirn

And finally — weaving

Shuttle with pirn loaded for weaving
Shuttle with pirn loaded for weaving

I love being able to speed up some steps that aren’t so interesting which gives me more time on the loom, happily treading, throwing the shuttle, beating in the weft threads and making something wonderful. I just rearranged the looms in my studio and the loom I use for my scarves now faces my wall of scarf yarns. As I weave I am happily pairing yarns in my mind and deciding which combinations I’ll use next.

wall of color
wall of color