Summer camp with a detour

I sat down this morning to write about my new toy. I purchased a Schacht Zoom Loom to play with.

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I’ve got tons of yarn leftover from socks and thought it would be fun to use it with this loom.

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Getting the hang of it

I’ve got a little corner in my new studio with a view of the pond and the trees that surround it. I’ve been spending a bit of time there the last few mornings, weaving squares and listening to the birds call. I feel a bit like a kid at summer camp. Doing crafts and making something that may or may not be useful when I get it home.

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A finished square ready to pop off the loom
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Fun with color in a 4″ square 

I have no expectations of these squares. No project in mind that they’ll become. I’m just playing. Spending a little quiet time in the morning before I get started with my day.


I took all my photos before sitting down to write, launched my photo browser and nothing was there! 30 or more minutes later I’d checked settings on phone and laptop, consulted tech support forums and stomped around the kitchen muttering under my breath. [Note to self, the latter doesn’t really fix any problems.] Still, no photos.

So on the advice of my expert technical consultant I restarted the computer. A few minutes later the new photos (and a whole lot more I didn’t realize were missing) started trickling in. My blog post is saved. My sanity is saved. I can stop being mad at my devices. I love technology, except when I don’t. It’s pretty amazing what we can do with these powerful computers we carry around in our back pockets. And when it doesn’t work right I just feel helpless and dependent.

Now it is time to put the computer aside and do some work. I’m weaving scarves. On a loom made of wood and metal. Moving parts that I understand how to use and to fix when they get cranky. No computer assist, no wires. Just feet on the treadles, hands on the beater and my imagination to dream up something to make.

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Tencel scarf in luxurious shades of rust, yellow and maroon

When I’m not stomping around the house muttering at technology I make lovely scarves and socks. I play with color and let my imagination run wild. Looking for something low-tech to brighten your day? Check out my Etsy shop and see what speaks to you.

 

Scaling up

I’ve been accepted to a show in November, Craft Vermont, and I need to significantly increase my scarf inventory before then. One way to do that is to wind warps for multiple scarves in one run instead of one at a time. I’ve done this many times before when I weave dishtowels but up until now have preferred to do my scarves one at a time.

This has made sense when I have a limited supply of the warp yarn, or I’m going to use a funky accent yarn. But when I am planning to use the same variegated yarn for the warp and vary the color of the weft yarn, it makes sense to add some efficiency to the process. On the up side, I only have to sley the reed and thread the heddles once. Likewise, tying on to the front and back rods. On the downside, I’m winding a longer warp (10 yards vs 3) for 3 scarves, and managing the length through the process of dressing the loom.

I also needed to know what length to weave. When I set up to weave a single scarf, I typically weave the full length of the warp (minus the waste) and whatever I’m allowing for fringe. I don’t have to measure as I go because I keep going until I can’t. But with a 3-scarf warp I had some figuring to do. I knew how long the scarves were once I got them off the loom, but I hadn’t been measuring the weaving under tension and there’s always a loss of length (the take-up) between on loom and off.

I spent a few hours last weekend with my weaving notebook (notes on all the past projects) and my warp requirements planning spreadsheet and tried to figure it all out. I’ll spare you all the gory details (email me if you really want to know more), but I finally had something I thought would work.

This week I wound a test warp, 10 yards, for three scarves.

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warp chain along with two of the three weft yarns

I can whip out a 1-scarf warp pretty quickly, so I hadn’t thought real hard about how much longer it was going to take to wind this one. Once it was finally ready for the loom the threading went as quickly as ever.

Then there was the winding on of the warp onto the warp beam. There were some issues. The first was a rookie mistake. I hadn’t used the loom since I unfolded it after the rug workshop so it wasn’t quite set up correctly. The rod that’s supposed to go up and over the back beam was instead snugged right up against the warp beam. As I was tying on I kept thinking that it didn’t look right, but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. After tying on most of the warp bundles I realized the problem. I painstakingly untied about 9 double knots, moved the rod into place and started the knotting process over again. (If it had been the loom below, I could have removed the back beam, slid it under the threads and replaced it, but my Baby Wolf doesn’t have that capability.)

Here’s what it is supposed to look like (this is not a scarf!)

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Warp threads properly going over the back beam

Then it was time for the winding on. I warp from the front, so in this step I’m turning a crank and winding all of the warp threads through the reed and heddles from the front of the loom to the back and onto the beam that is covered with cardboard in the picture above. The cardboard (some use sticks or heavy paper) keeps the threads from sinking into the layers of threads that I’ve wound on and thus I maintain an even tension across the width of the warp.

As I wound on, I knew I needed to keep the tension even, but I was using a mishmash of cardboard rolls, some of which were more squished flat than others, and it turns out I didn’t get it as tight as I should have. This was revealed to me only as I was weaving. I’d weave a couple of inches and go to advance the warp and there would be a lot more slack to take up than usual.  I’ve since cut a new 10-yard length of fresh corrugated to use and armed with that and this experience I’m hoping the next run will go much better.

I’m not doing anything here that I haven’t done many times before, but just making the one change, warp length, added some complexities to work out. I do think that in the long run it took less time overall to make the three scarves than if I had made them singly, and as with any process I expect to become even more efficient with practice.

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One warp, Painted Desert, three wefts: Greyed Teal, Taupe and Mineral Green

These haven’t been finished yet, they lack washing and pressing. If they look OK after that, they’ll go into inventory.


And finally, a reminder that the Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival is at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds on Saturday 10/1 and Sunday 10/2. Yarn, fiber, finished goods (I’m a vendor). Equipment, both for fiber processing and for animals. Sheep, alpacas, rabbits, and more. Loads of fun even if you aren’t a fiber person. Check out the website for a schedule of events including sheep herding demonstrations.

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!

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.

 

 

Coincidence

As I work away here in my studio I try to remember to snap pictures of my work as it progresses. I don’t just want to show you finished scarves and socks, I’d like to give you a glimpse behind the scenes to see how it all comes together.

A few days ago I was making socks and snapped this picture of winding the sock yarn onto a cone. [The yarn feeds best into the sock machine if I knit off a cone.]

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Hand-dyed merino wool, cashmere & nylon sock yarn

The next day I was working on my August newsletter (click to subscribe) and used this picture:

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Detail of a huck scarf: hand-dyed alpaca silk & tencel

Later on I finished the socks.

And that’s when I realized I was playing with the same color yarn. But what a difference the medium makes. First you have the slight difference in the color. This is due to a couple of factors. The yarns, alpaca/silk vs merino/cashmere/nylon ,will take the dye differently. And they were probably not dyed in the same batch. Even commercially dyed yarns can have some variations and these were done in small batches by hand.

Then we have weaving vs knitting. The arrangement of the threads is completely different and thus the colors will clump or disperse as they are affected by the length of the scarf or the number of stitches around the sock.

So here you have it: coordinating, compatible and yet quite different scarf and socks.

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Did you ever stop to think?

Or would that just be too scary?

About this time of year, back in 2010, I walked away from what I had always thought was going to be my “rest of my life” career. I’m not a flitter. I didn’t change jobs, or locations for that matter, very often.  I’d worked for the same company since 1981 and had been in the same department there since 1984. There wasn’t anything wrong with the job. My work colleagues were lovely people and the department I managed was doing well.

I don’t think I’d say I was burned out, but somehow I knew that it was time for me to do something else with my life. It was a HUGE decision. Leaving the comfort and safety of a regular job and paycheck. Leaving the structured days behind and walking into the great unknown.

I didn’t have a plan.  If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I am now a small business owner. A weaver and a knitter. I make and sell hand woven scarves and hand cranked socks. I do custom knitting and have a small set of steady clients for that work.  But six years ago the only part of this that existed was the custom knitting. I owned the sock machine but had used it only for myself and family. The last weaving I had done was on one of those square potholder looms that use the stretchy loops.

The current wisdom, the advice to potential small business owners, especially crafters, is to start your business while you still have your full-time job and steady income.  Work nights and weekends on your fledgling enterprise and figure out if you want to do it all the time. Get a good income stream from that side gig before you quit the day job.

At the time I didn’t plan to start a business. I had the casual, occasional knitting commission but I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to turn my hobby into a business. That first month or so after I left was quite a change. It was July in Vermont. The weather was beautiful. I think I spent nearly every waking hour sitting on the porch. Reading, looking at nature, knitting and just being. Free to do what I wanted and as little or much as I desired.

That summer I bought a small table loom, some cotton yarn and a copy of Learning to Weave and figured out to use the loom from the small pamphlet that came with it. I’d always been intrigued by woven cloth. How was it made? How did those patterns happen? The experience with the loom was enough to figure out that I liked it and wanted to do more. So lessons, workshops and floor looms soon followed.

I’m not going to bore you with the full 6 year history. Suffice to say that I soon decided to start my business (6 months or so after leaving) and that’s still what I’m doing today. I didn’t wreck my knitting hobby by using those skills in my business. I have customers. I have products to sell. I love what I’m doing.

I really had no idea six years ago, relaxing on the porch and watching birds and deer in my yard, what the shape of my days would be like in the future. I haven’t regretted taking that big step. Would I have done anything differently if I could have looked ahead? Maybe, maybe not.  It’s hard to say for sure. But I’m pretty sure that I would not have imagined the life that I have now.

Project prep

Today is a project prep day. I got some new colors of alpaca silk yarn from my dyer friend, Ellen who owns Ellen’s 1/2 Pint Farm. I wanted spring colors and these are just what I was looking for.

The yarn comes to me in big hanks.

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Spring Pansy, straight from the dyer.

I load it onto my swift and set my ball winder going to wind into a useable form factor.

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Spring Pansy in a ball

I also got these colors

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Mums in Bloom
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North Pansy

While these are being wound, I’ve been threading the loom for a scarf. This is Blazing Sunshine, another of Ellen’s yarns, and one of my favorite colorways of hers.

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Threading Blazing Sunshine

I’m hoping to have at least a couple of these scarves ready for Farmers Market on Saturday. After that, you’ll find them for sale in my online store.