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.

Intermission 

Our move date is nearly here and the house is filling up with boxes. Stacks of empty ones to be filled and stacks of packed ones ready to be transported across the yard to the new house. 

Studio packing in progress

There is much to do still. I’ve not been very organized about this so far so there is much disarray as you can see.

But for some reason the most pressing obligation this morning was some quiet time with my poor neglected spinning wheel. 

Spinning amidst the boxes

Today I was practicing plying. I’ve spun some fun blue and white merino and filled bobbins. I’m plying my singles into a two ply yarn. I finished the first skein a couple of weeks ago and just filled the second bobbin which is ready to wind into a skein.

I made yarn!

But now the packing calls. Quiet time is over and there is work to be done. My new studio awaits.

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.

Back to School

I took a break from making socks and scarves to take a 3-day weaving workshop. The technique was 4-end block weaving and the medium was rug weaving. The workshop was taught by Jason Collingwood and sponsored by the Vermont Weavers Guild of which I am a member.

On Wednesday morning 17 eager faces appeared with 17 looms to be wrestled from cars into our temporary studio. It’s a large room in an old victorian building, wood floors, high ceilings, very few working windows (two gorgeous bay windows at either end.) I mention this because we were working in close quarters, lining three sides of the room and leaving one end for the instructor. It was three days of fairly warm weather, mid-80s, humid and very little airflow. A couple of box fans helped, but it was definitely shorts and t-shirt weather. And so we learned, and worked with wool (of course!). Fuzzy, warm, wool.

Each morning there was an instruction session introducing new techniques. Then we would weave. After lunch break there was a second instruction session, more new stuff, and then more weaving. This was our pattern for the workshop and I confess that I went home each night fairly worn out.

I found the weaving awkward at first. We were using stick shuttles which are not my usual tool. They were completely appropriate for the sample-sized rugs we were weaving, but I hadn’t used them since learning to weave on my rigid heddle loom more than 5 years ago, so I had to reacquaint myself with managing the yarn flow.

Here’s what I did the first day.

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Starting the decorative twined edge right above my header

After tightening my tie-on at the front we wove a header and then had options for twining a decorative edging. I chose to twine with my weft yarns while some of my classmates used the same linen as in their warp.

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Here’s the center of the twined braid. You can see where I changed direction to make it symmetrical.
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Almost to the end of the twining

Now it’s time to weave!

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At the beginning just simple blocks and background

By day two we had moved ahead to more interesting patterns. This was my attempt at log cabin. Had this been my intention all along I would have threaded for a smaller number of wider blocks. This pattern is lost here. But the technique still works.

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The log cabin weaving pattern is barely noticeable in the center block. My side blocks are too narrow to illustrate it.

At some point that day we learned about a clasped weft technique and there was no looking back for me.

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Clasp weft technique

For the non-weavers: you can see that I have gold columns on the right and green on the left, both over the blue background. In this technique I have gold on my shuttle and a cone of green sitting on the floor to the left of the loom. I weave across with the gold, wrap it around to pick up the green and pull the gold partway back through. By shifting where I place the clasp (the gold wrapped around the green) I can have the gold go farther over to the left (look at the upper left ) or the green go into the gold columns (upper right).

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Clasp weft technique at the bottom and clasp with Summer & Winter above the twined divider

You can see above that I attempted some mountains (in green against the gold in the center block).

Over the course of the three days Jason demonstrated techniques on our looms as we all gathered around to observe. Notes were scribbled, cameras were everywhere to attempt to capture examples, whiteboard notes and anything else we were sure our brains couldn’t hold.

It was intense, lots to learn in a short time. There were more techniques than I had time to attempt. It was frustratingly slow at first, but a rhythm finally came along with understanding.  By the end of the third day 1, 134, 2, 234 was more than a set of numbers to memorize. I could keep track of which shuttle held my pattern color and which the background. And best of all, I was starting to be able to look at my weaving and know what I needed to do next. The patterns were making sense.

Here’s my workshop piece:

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Day 1 at the top, day 3 at the bottom

Midway down you can see where I started braiding the ends from the twining. I have more to do, as well as to finish the warp ends (which you can’t see dangling from each end.)

So much fun!