argos: (white!)
The paper, that is. Early this morning, before going to work, I finally got to sit down with my new art toys and experiment. Using a piece of 80 lb paper that was not quite properly stretched, I fiddled around with a set of Derwent water soluble colored pencils to see just how they work, and did find it interesting. I don't think such things existed the last time I was seriously trying to produce art.

I did various tricks to see how the pencils work when wet, dry, and on both wet and dry surfaces, and how they blend when stroked with a wet brush. I don't think I'll be throwing away my regular watercolors, but I see some potential for quick and easy fun with these. On one corner I did a color sketch of the pepper mill, since I was sitting at the dining room table and it was handy. With some judicious brush work, it turned out quite acceptably.

As for the paper, well, it needs better stretching. I did find and order some of the old water-activated gummed paper tape and it should be here in a week or so. A 600 foot roll is probably a lifetime supply if this is all I use it for.

I decided to try again this afternoon, this time using the pressure sensitive "drafting tape" that Gary picked up at the office supply. This looks like ordinary masking tape or freezer tape, though perhaps a bit thicker. I was dubious, but soaked a sheet of 80 lb. paper in the sink for a few minutes, then shook it out and patted it down with a paper towel to remove surface liquid. Laid it on the board and let it dry for a couple more minutes, then taped the edges down with strips of the drafting tape. I didn't think it would stick to the wet paper but it did. I stood by, pressing the edges down repeatedly for ten minutes or so. Then I let it dry for ten minutes and came back to check. Two of the tapes seemed to be loosening, so I pressed them down again hard. Then I took some push pins and skewered both tape and the edges of the paper to the board. Leaving the whole mess to dry for a couple of hours. It seems to have worked. The paper is now dry and tight as a drum. The tape is still stuck to the paper and the board. I plan to try drawing and painting on it yet tonight, and then in the morning will find out if the tape comes off cleanly.

If not, I think I'll move to some 140 lb. paper for now. That's thick enough not to require stretching to avoid buckling when wet.
argos: (snowy argos)
Well, as if I didn't have enough to do, the art bug is chewing on me again. Instead of reaching for the flea soap I pulled out my box of art supplies and considered my options.

I have most everything I need to do a little fooling around. We'll see how it turns out before deciding whether to allocate regular time to it. The craving is familiar to me.

I've always loved painting in watercolor. Some consider this a most difficult medium, while others treat it as something suited only to children's play. I'm somewhere in the middle on it. What I really like about it though is that you can do whatever you like because there is no "orthodox" way of working with watercolor. Wet, dry, over pencil or ink or by itself, all are legit. Abstract or representational, as sharp and photographic as architectural drawing or as loose and fantastical as Vincent Van Gogh, watercolor does it all. It needs less equipment and is easily portable and easy to clean up after. I'm starting to sound like a commercial, eh?

Anyway, This afternoon I dusted off my drawing board and "stretched" a piece of 80 lb. cold press paper so I could do some remedial exercises to remind myself of various techniques. Stretching is the process of anchoring the edges of a soaking wet sheet of watercolor paper so that as it dries it will pull down flat and taut like a drum head. This keeps it from wrinkling and buckling when uneven moisture is applied during the painting. A slight hitch appeared immediately.

I've always used gummed brown paper package tape to anchor the wet paper. It does the job, comes off cleanly when moistened again with a sponge, and is cheap. Turns out we have none in the house because what they sell now for wrapping packages to mail is that thin plastic stuff. That probably won't work. I tried using it just the same, but it doesn't stick well to wet surfaces. I'm going to have to find some of the old stuff, if it's still made.

Anyway, the paper is [mostly] stretched and drying. Tomorrow, perhaps, the brushes get wet again for the first time in years.
argos: (forest wuff)
So, in a burst of energy, I agreed to participate in a "Friendship Coverlet" project. The way it works is that each person in the group chooses an overshot weaving design, and weaves enough 14 inch squares with that design so that they can give one to each of the other group members. Everyone ends up with a stack of squares, one from each group member and one of their own, that can be assembled into a quilt or bedspread. We ordered the yarn as a group, so as to get the best possible discount and shipping deal.

Of course, in my enthusiasm for the project, I also volunteered to weave double (two sets of blocks in different patterns) instad of just one set, should that be needed to make the total number of blocks add up to a proper rectangle when assembled. So I'll be weaving at least 20 blocks rather than just twelve. I got my pattern drafts and yarn today, to the tune of $95 in cost. But OK, I'm sure the finished piece will be an heirloom worth the price and great to look at. The two patterns I'll be weaving are "The Chariot Wheel" and "Catalpa Flower."

This is a big project. It's estimated to take a year, though I hope to finish my weaving part of it sooner. The likely obstacle to that is that each participant has to measure out wool yarn in their selected color to give to every other weaver, so we weave our block for them in their choice of color. I have a fear that someone will take so long just to do that part that I'll be waiting and waiting for their yarn. But everyone should have all their yarn within the week, so that (theoretically) isn't supposed to happen. We'll see.

Meanwhile I need to weave off the rug warp that's on the big loom, because I want to use it for this project. That's the one that I can warp in sections, making the entire warping process much simpler for me. This warp is 354 ends (separate threads) and 14 1/2 inches wide. I will need at least 15 yards of warp on the loom in order to complete all the required work.
argos: (snowy argos)
It's snowing again. Maybe an inch, they say. The odd thing is it's really cold. Normally we get snow here when temperatures are hovering within a few degrees of freezing, and it stops and just blows around once we get down below 20°F. Not this time, though.

Spin spin spin. Yak down. Yak yuk yuk. Actually, the first time I tried spinning yak I was far from impressed. It looked like dryer lint and smelled like belly button lint from a gorilla who needed a bath. And it was full of dust, on top of everything else.

The second time came after I'd figured out, with considerable effort, how to spin cotton. Cotton and yak share a characteristic: the fibers are quite short, well under an inch and generally close to a half inch (one cm. or so.) This means that everything you learned from spinning wool and flax has to be forgotten and you start over from the beginning. The methods that work with these short fibers are both counter-intuitive and in fact usually won't work with ordinary wool or flax. Using what I'd learned from cotton, I could spin the yak down. It was kind of lumpy looking, and the color was about the same as dog poo, but at least that sample didn't smell like dog poo (or much of anything else.) Still, I wasn't excited about yaks.

In October last year, our spinning study group decided to re-approach cotton. It seems that when we tried it the first time, I was the only one who got lucky and actually developed some proficiency with it. Everyone else sort of got it to work but thought it wasn't worth the bother. Now another member has broken the barrier (by using the same tool I did, the book charkha) and there's new interest.

In the two years since our first attempt, though, I've spun a mile or two of cotton thread. I wanted a different challenge, but one that would apply what I learned from cotton. So... Yakkity yak yak. Fortunately, The Fold has several kinds of yak now. One of them is a natural silvery gray and quite pretty. I thought yaks were only brown or sort of dirty white beige, but I was wrong. I got some gray yak down, and tried it on the charkha. Easy enough, it seemed. So I moved to the spinning wheel.

Like cotton, yak requires a different approach to the wheel. You increase the twist speed up to the maximum or nearly so, and back off the yarn tension as far as you can take it and still get the yarn to wind on when it's ready. And like cotton, yak falls apart if you misstep. As it turned out, I had few mishaps. I found I could use my cotton skills and make a fine, consistent thread. No carding or combing needed, because this yak is clean and fluffy. Just grab a pawful and spin it. Two bobbins now sufficiently filled, all I need to do is ply them together tonight and I'll have about a hundred yards or so of laceweight. By the time I get all four ounces of fluff spun, I'll have easily enough to make a nice scarf or shawl if I knit a lacy pattern. It feels almost as soft as cashmere and just as light. Since yaks are high altitude cold weather beasts, I suspect it will be warm in spite of the light weight.

Conclusion: All yaks are not yuck, but some are yuckier than others.
argos: (white!)
Boxing Day 2009: Road View On Christmas it rained, though not as heavily as first expected. The snow on the ground was largely reduced to a spongy gray mass, though it didn't melt enough to expose bare ground in most areas. By sunset, the temperature was dropping and it began to snow, but just flurries of those flat flakes that look like glitter. We figured it wouldn't amount to much.

This morning we were greeted by three inches of powdery fluff and another inch has fallen since then with no sign of stopping. I guess the blizzard out in the Dakotas has extended its icy fingers all the way to us, hundreds of miles to the east. If so, the effect is much more peaceful and pleasant here. We don't have to go anywhere now, there is nothing urgent to be done other than taking care of the animals, and it looks like a nice, peaceful opportunity to recover from the frenzy and pressure of the last week.

As you can see in the photo, it's pretty when you look out the window. I should be sitting there weaving, in fact, as that's the view from my big loom. Even if you walk out in it, other than a little dampness, it isn't at all unpleasant. The temperatures are in the 20s, there is little wind, and everything is white and peaceful. Happy Holidays to all. Stay warm and safe.
argos: White canine cupcake (pupcake)
Time to howl! (Full moon.)

I've been waiting around for [personal profile] altivo to finish with the NaNoWriMo for this year so I could get back to spinning and weaving. Everything was on hold for most of November.

My spinning study group is working on cotton during the holidays. Since I'm pretty much acknowledged as the best cotton spinner in that group, I could just laze around but I feel obligated to crank out some interesting samples while they catch up to me in technique. I'm using the book charkha to do that. It's a remarkably portable tool, because it folds up into itself to the size of a hardback book. The only thing that would be smaller and lighter would be a drop spindle, and yes, I'm spinning some cotton on one of those too (an ultralight one that only weighs 10 grams) just to see if it works. So far it seems to, though it requires some rather odd techniques that differ from wool spinning on a drop spindle in many ways.

There's also a challenge for wool spinning to spin yarn for and knit a lace cap using a particular pattern. That needs to be done by the end of January and I haven't started yet, though it doesn't look as if it will take too long.

For cotton spinning, though, I find the charkha is the way to go. Once you get used to the technique (including sitting on the floor like Gandhi, which puts my feet to sleep after a half hour or so) it becomes extremely productive. I can fill a spindle in about 15 minutes (about 100 yards of cotton spun to the weight of sewing thread.) Then two spindles' worth get plied back together in the opposite direction to make a strong, fine thread suitable for crochet or weaving. You could knit with it too, but I don't much care for knitted cotton.

I'll see about some cotton photos for next time.
argos: Myself working at the loom (weaver)

Rag rug in progress
Originally uploaded by Altivo
Here is the first rug, about half complete. The finished piece will be 32 x 50 inches, warp-faced, and about 3/8 inch thick. The weft is made of old blue jeans, cut in one inch wide strips that are folded double to put the brighter colored surface outside. These are twisted slightly as they are inserted, so that they pack down in round rolls rather than as flat folds. The color and texture are very appealing to me, and the finished item will be quite practical.

For a larger view, click thumbnail photo.

Click here for closeup of weaving in progress.
argos: (Default)

Sleying the reed
Originally uploaded by Altivo
I finished threading the new warp on the Norwood this morning and, after a break for breakfast and barn chores, returned to start sleying the reed. That's a second step in threading, in which every warp thread is pulled through one of the slots in a comb-like device that is set into the beater. After each pick of weft is passed across the warp, the beater pulls the reed down against the forming edge of the fabric (the fell) to pack the weft down evenly and keep the warp threads arranged at equal distances. For this particular warp, I'm using a reed with ten slots (or dents) per inch, so exactly one warp thread goes through each slot in the reed.

When I had 60 or so warp ends pulled through the reed, I paused to admire the orderly parallel lie of the warp ends and realized that weaving is really about order. The weaver creates order in a chaotic environment, usually a rigidly enforced and precise order. The strength of fabric depends on that order, as does its ability to hold its shape and resist wear. In fact, sometimes we impose such good order that we have to undo some of it in the end to round the corners and soften the edges, so to speak. Woolen cloth in particular is usually fulled to soften it and make it thicker and warmer. This is done by washing and beating the fabric so that the wool fibers slip out of line a bit and contract, fluffing and thickening in the process. For some woolens, we also brush the surface with stiff brushes to pull out the ends of the fibers and make the surface fuzzy and resilient. Blankets are traditionally treated in this manner. Silks and linens are mangled, a process in which they are deliberately abused in order to bend and soften the fibers.

On the whole, though, weavers are creating order, imposing a rigid structure on threads that would otherwise lie limp and tangled. Knitters do something similar, but by a different means.

Spinners, on the other paw, often work to create chaos or disorder first. This happens not so much in the spinning process itself, which does impose a sort of order that is often resisted by the fibers as they try to unwind themselves again, but in the preparation for spinning. Wool is carded not just to make the fibers lie parallel but to make a certain percentage of them lie in random orientation. This produces a fluffier yarn that holds air and therefore insulates better. The garment feels warmer as a result. Wool and other animal fibers are typically washed once again after spinning with the express intention of both setting the twist (like setting hair with a permanent) and of letting the fibers relax and form a halo of loose fuzzy ends around the core of yarn (chaos again.) When we make felt from wool, we are pushing the chaos farther, deliberately tangling those fibers until they can't be untangled without cutting them.

No wonder, I thought, that the Ancient Greeks associated fate with spinning and weaving. The three Fates (or Moirae) were sisters who controlled the destiny of all humans. Clotho spun the fiber of life on her spindle. Lachesis measured and wove the spun threads into the tapestry of life in an orderly and controlled manner. Atropos (whose name can be translated loosely as "Untwisting" or even "Disorder") cut the threads, or sometimes tore or bit them, bringing life to an end and forcing Clotho ("Spinner") and Lachesis ("Measurer") to repair and reweave with new threads always.

Other thought systems often have similar concepts, expressed frequently in dualities in which one force represents creation and order, while the other is destruction and chaos. As a weaver, I have chosen the side of order, but I occasionally wonder if it isn't essential to balance that with some energy from the other side. It's a direction I've seldom taken, but sometimes it's necessary.
argos: Myself working at the loom (weaver)

Threading: front view
Originally uploaded by Altivo
Progress continues apace. I can now say that this method, though it requires some new skills and equipment, is going to be faster in most cases than the old all-at-once method I have used. Threading is moving very quickly. Because there are ten warp threads per inch, and I chose a traditional threading called Rosepath that has a ten thread repeat, checking for errors is particularly fast and easy. Here is the threading for one 2-inch section of warp, with the harnesses numbered from 1 to 4, 1 being nearest the weaver. Each number in the diagram represents one warp thread in one heddle:


4 4 4 4 4 4
3 3 3 3
2 2 2 2
1 1 1 1 1 1

For a rear view of the drawing in, click through the thumbnail at right, and then proceed to the next photo in the set.
argos: Myself working at the loom (weaver)

Beaming a warp
Originally uploaded by Altivo
I am experimenting with sectional warping, one of several common methods for getting a new warp onto a floor loom. This technique requires additional specialized tools, including spools, a spool winder, spool rack, tension box, and a warp beam divided into sections by pegs or posts; but it has the advantage that a weaver working alone can beam a wide and/or long warp without tension difficulties. It also eliminates several steps in more conventional hand warping, particularly the tedious process of pre-measuring all the individual warp threads while keeping them all parallel and untangled. There are five photos in the sequence. To view them all, click through the thumbnail on the right.

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August 2012

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