over spring greens
flourishing in buckets of compost?
as long as I spin with the proper tool.
the precise sett and high tension
of a plastic loom.
about coming to know
when precision matters,
How not to salivate
over spring greens
flourishing in buckets of compost?
Yet another flax distaff
whipped together before the red osier dogwood got its leaves.
works just fine--
as long as I spin with the proper tool.
And experimental linen yarn
doesn't seem to mind
the precise sett and high tension
of a plastic loom.
What's not to love
about coming to know
when precision matters,
and when the half-assed
Standing desks are apparently quite the rage these days,
as a contrary sort of gal
have moved my operation (and my butt) to the ground.
It wasn't a carefully thought up plan,
but rather a happy accident
that resulted from a sudden urge
to clear out the seemingly endless binders
of expensive and carefully collected slides
from back in those pre-digital image days
when the last step of tapestry completion
was a trip to the photographer
and subsequent filing and storage of
the resulting 4x5 transparencies
and sheets and sheets of images in their little plastic cases
that exhibitions and publications demanded.
Since I didn't exactly intend to tackle this project,
I just plunked down on the floor and began.
But of course the sorting took hours
and was somewhat distracting
between 1990 (when I wove my first tapestry),
and 2007 (when digital images took over completely),
I managed to do a lot of weft faced plain weave.
And what an unexpected pleasure
to come upon projects long forgotten
(Scarface was such a great dog,
that carpet bag-on-a-box project was pure fun).
But even more delightful
was standing up afterwards
and noticing the absolute absence
of a nagging hamstring pain
to which I've grown so used
that its absence was more noticeable than its presence.
So not only did I manage to get rid of pounds and pounds of slides
(still have one fat binder for posterity and/or my son to toss after my demise,
but NO discards for future Pinterest-worthy window covering projects),
but was also was moved to remove
the work table in the middle of my studio.
I can now wiggle and stretch
and shift my position as I work,
get to my feet with nary a twinge,
and trot off in the morning,
loose of limb and light of heart.
In other news --
spring is definitely here,
and the new insta-desk (board on books)
has coincided with comic diary #18
to which I added a few sheets of Reeves lightweight
that I had in the basement.
So far this paper is more satisfying to draw and paint on
than the lovely-to-look-at-but-hard-to-use
handmade Mexican paper in the last book
(visible in the running drawing above,
and on the right in the slide sorting comic at the top).
But as with so many things (image storage etc),
only time will reveal the efficacy
of one's seemingly sensible decisions.
Speaking of which...
version four of the knitting project
in all its fat stockinette glory.
Never a dull moment around here.
Can you see it?
It's right there--
in the wrinkled, raveled remains
of the last best idea
that wasn't quite right.
But such a relief.
For the last couple of days
I've caught myself wondering
what the yarn would 'really' become
even as I knit on.
I was, it seemed, in love the idea of the sweater,
more than the garment itself.
Also, I'd put a graft in it, which I was reluctant to undo.
(I quite like grafting, but un-grafting is just not as pleasurable as pure unraveling).
Do you ever have this experience--
continuing to knit
"it'll be all right,"
knowing all the while
that it is not?
If so, you'll understand my delight
I realized that I loved the yarn too much
to 'waste' it on a clever concept
I would never wear.
The yarn is a 5 ply Cormo:
local grey and white fleeces
blended in various ways,
spindle spun over time,
and collected as singles on toilet paper tubes
(not archival but never intended to be).
By the time I brought the whole works to my cabin a few weeks ago.
I had a fat pound waiting to be plied.
Unlike the sweater I just decided to reject,
Plying 5 strands with the Charkha was an experiment that worked,
but only when I turned it into a two step process
like when plying with a spindle:
1. wind the singles together without twisting
2. add twist.
While I wouldn't take this extra step with a treadle wheel
where both hands are available,
with the Charkha, the extra step was worth every second
because there I only have one free hand
many strands to manage
and no tensioned lazy Kate
(though my makeshift multi-mug system pictured above was ideal).
At any rate, I used the Charkha for both steps,
covering the spindle shaft with paper purns (rolled up squares)
that I could hold in one hand as I turned the crank with the other.
The weather that week was very April --
nice enough to be outside whenever it stopped raining,
but cool enough to make the cookstove a constant necessity
for cups of tea
and to dry the yarn after blocking.
You might notice that the drying skeins twist a little --
this is because the yarn sat so long as singles
that the warm water released the stored twist energy
rather than relaxing it has happens when you wet the yarn
closer to the time it is actually spun.
Kathryn Alexander of Entrelac and Energized Yarn fame.
first brought this phenomenon to my attention.
Check out her work.
It truly is beyond anything.
At any rate, the finished yarn was/is YUMMY --
squishy and super soft--
and I started knitting with it
the moment it was dry,
used double no less
with gargantuan needles --
size 9 I think.
Alas, whatever I had in mind then wasn't quite right--
or anyway another idea,
the one I decided against this very morning,
took hold and wouldn't let go
But the yarn is still waiting--
so yummy I can hardly wait to cast on with it again.
And see --
there it is--
the new idea--
"as to myself, my guiding-star always is,
'Get hold of portable property.'"
(John Wemmick; Great Expectations (24.41)
I can't help but agree--
it's nice to have one's treasures at hand.
With no restrictive or fragile mounting devices,
dreams can be carried about, and fondled.
They can be pinned temporarily to a wall,
then tucked in a place where it is possible to
see and feel them on a regular basis--
where they might bring delight to an otherwise
or even serve
as a reminder of relative value.
Where DO I want my money to go?
It is hard to describe the pleasure I find in these tiny works
and I'd love for you to get to hold them too.
To that end,
I've just put ten tiny tapestries in the now open store!
(button in the menu at the top of the page
and hope everything works--
turns out I was not quite as close as I thought last week.).
I'll leave them there for two weeks
with free shipping
to celebrate what feels like
a ridiculously mammoth accomplishment.
Then hopefully I'll get back to making some more --
even as I work on handouts
and Rebecca edits video
for our upcoming class for her school:
Fringeless: Four Selvedge Tapestry with Sarah C. Swett
which we hope will be ready by the end of June (double yippee)!
making it possible for some of you
to weave your own magic
into pieces of portable property
to tuck in your purse.
And once again, I cannot thank everyone enough
for the wonderful support and heartwarming encouragement
in last week's comments.
It's all so much fun with you there.
On 24 April, 2014
I took a deep breath,
gritted my teeth
and pressed "post"
on an image of a tapestry house by the sea.
It was my very first blog entry
on a brand new website,
and it was terrifying.
You'd think I'd be used to such things
as my work has been in cyberspace since the mid 1990s.
My husband-- code writer and web builder--
had thought it'd be a good idea.
"WHY would I want such a weird and public thing?"
"And anyway, who would ever look?"
After all, I only checked my email every couple of weeks.
By 2014, however,
web construction (and my attitude) had changed just a tad,
It was time to tackle the newest iteration on my own.
My wonderful web-savvy sister
pointed me toward Weebly
(a relatively friendly website builder),
and after a few shitty first drafts
and much angst,
the thing came together--
though committing to a blog took a little longer.
"What is the point?"
"Will I be able to sustain it?"
"Will I be able to stop if I want to?"
"Will I have anything to say?"
"Won't the stuff I do seem boring and repetitive?"
"Will it change my relationship to the work if I talk about process?"
"Will the ideas get shy and stay away?"
Well yes, it has changed my relationship to my work --
at least I think so.
Having taken the blogging path
I can't exactly do the experiment of what would have been happening had I chosen the other.
And NO, there has been a shortage of ideas.
Yes, my life is repetitive.
And probably sometimes boring.
But in a compelling way.
A wide open way.
At least to me.
You know --
the freedom of limitation.
Or maybe I just easily amused
since four years on,
not only am I still entranced by weaving tiny tapestry houses,
but I also seem to have had something or other to say
about my boring, repetitive and oh-so-satisfying work
almost every Tuesday since.
I learn something every time I write--
and if not always from the actual words,
then absolutely from the bliss of all of you coming to read,
and from your shared thoughts and experiences.
The last three blog-o-versary's
have slipped right by me.
I guess it's hard to notice the big picture when I write every week.
But this year I noticed
and thought it would be a grand time to try something new,
something I've been meaning to do since I started selling
"How To Weave A Bag On A Box" comic instruction zines on Etsy.
It was time to move the store
Alas, however, I am still just as much of a scaredy cat
about new web-based enterprises
as I was four years ago.
Apparently, I'll tackle a new tune,
a new fiber,
a new pair of shoes,
refurbish an old spinning tool,
tackle an unfamiliar comic-diary-binding-method
embrace a plastic spindle,
embark a giant secret project that I'll tell you a little bit about in my next newsletter,
and even do the laundry--
rather than commit to pushing that 'publish' button.
But I'm getting closer. REALLY.
And if you think of it,
you might check back later in the week,
I have both physical and PDF versions of my comic instructions
(How to Weave a Bag on a Box and Backstrap Dialogues for now),
all loaded up
and once I know how the system works
I plan to also make a tapestry gallery too
(need a tiny house anyone? a large colorful tapestry?),
and my plan is to have free shipping to celebrate.
So stay tuned!
Indeed, I feel myself getting braver by the minute.
But maybe some lunch first.
And a little weaving in the sun.
OH yes, but first I'll push the "POST" button.
Gotta have ‘em!
Fabric store ‘eco-felt’ (from plastic bottles apparently),
that has been languishing in my shoe experiment stash,
plus a scrap of nylon something-or-other
from a failed waterproof shoe experiment,
and the not-quite-worn-out soles
from the now-disintegrating yellow ones,
equals a relatively swift,
and somewhat half-assed,
pair of minimalist running shoes.
Function has an elegance all its own.
Or, as wise women have said,
“Done is better than perfect.”
So what effect does the shape of the distaff
and the length of its 'handle'
have on the spinning--
and thus the yarn?
And what about the relationships between
-the position of the distaff
-the position of the fiber
-the preparation of the fiber
-the positions of my hands
-and the style of spindle?
My first two willow distaffs
(distaves?--my computer thinks not)
are inclined toward narrowness at the bottom--
a bit like a pointed lozenge shape--
causing the ever decreasing fiber mass
to slide down as I spin.
Thinking a pear shape would be better,
I kept my eyes peeled on my morning trot,
and on Sunday spied a couple of likely whips
of red osier dogwood.
(yes - the rain poured down and the path was flooded)
Unlike the willow I used for the first two (which had been drying for a year),
the fresh osier branches are still very flexible --
and also relatively heavy.
The two plants also branch differently --
the willows alternating as they go up,
the osier branches sticking out in pairs,
(what is the botanical word for this phenomenon?)
allowing for distaff symmetry.
I'm not generally all that attached to symmetry.
But I'm pleased with the shape,
though can't so much about its effetiveness
or the increase in weight
since I've only just begun to spin.
And since this box of fleece just arrived
I might get a teensy bit distracted.
Thanks as ever for all the wonderful comments and ideas --
I do so enjoy them even if I rarely seem to answer -- except in my head, alas.
Also -- any thoughts on this combination of comics and 'regular' photos?
Somehow it seems best to me to stick with one or the other--
the transition can be jarring.
But sometimes I don't have enough drawings
for all I have to say.
Hmmm -- a lesson there?
So just as I pushed ‘post’ on last week’s blog,
a package arrived at my door:
two plastic Turkish style spindles (10g and 14g),
3-D printed by my son.
Wetspinning flax is a drippy business
and I didn’t think all that moisture was good for my lovely wooden spindles,
so before tackling my second strick of flax (this one from Vävstuga),
I asked him to make one for me.
He thought I needed weight options, so made two.
Though they lack the romance and sweet hand feel of wood,
both spin beautifully and I don’t have to worry about wrecking them.
Well, that’s not strictly true --
I can’t help but grow attached to most useful tools
(note previous love letters to my PVC loom),
but at least moisture won’t be a problem with these.
They’ve already survived the odd clunk to the floor
and so far are none the worse for wear.
Note: there is open source code (google)
that you can take to your local 3-D Printer
Of course I had to try them out instantly
and as I’d promised myself I’d try ‘properly’ dressing a distaff with this new strick
(before I’d used the strick-wrapped-in-a-towel-and-draped-over-my-shoulder method),
I ran outside, cut a piece of willow
bent a couple of thin branches into a vague oval,
and tied them together with a bit of string.
Though not really like the distaffs described in the books I’d consulted*
it worked astonishing well --
the linen fanned out in thin, curved layers on a bed
just as they all said it should,
and when I’d wrapped the delicate array around the willow,
tied it with a ribbon,
lashed it to my body with an apron and stuck the butt end into my leg warmer
(this last was not described in any my sources but made a big difference for this novice),
the strands of flax poured smoothly down into my waiting hands.
Not that the videos above and below show this exactly --
but take it from me, it felt simply amazing.
The fibers drafted more smoothly and evenly than with my first attempts at the towel method,
and though it took a while to figure out where to put my dish of water
the time-honored and oh-so-elegant spit technique helped me get started..
*Linen: Hand Spinning and Weaving by Patricia Baines (Batesford 1989)
-Your Handspinning by Elsie G. Davenport (1953 and 1964)
-the handout from my 1992workshop with Marge Bentley from whence came the flax I talked about before
-a couple of You Tube Videos on dressing a distaff
All gave essentially the same information,
though the Baines book was the most specific and gave the widest range of. options,
many of which I look forward to trying.
Making these two videos I learned:
1. A belt works better than an apron (and looks classier too)
2. It’s easier to see at that focal length without my glasses
3. I look awfully grim when I’m concentrating.
4. The website upgrade that now allows me to put videos in my blog posts might be a dangerous thing.
The rest of the evening was spent clutching the distaff with my elbow and
alternately filling yellow and white spindles.
I got pretty comfortable with the whole business after a while,
but next morning I strapped the distaff to an old tripod we’d fished out of a dumpster,
and found that this, though still less portable,
allowed for a little more elbow room and general drafting ease.
It also makes it possible for me to spin without a belt,
and with my glasses.
I imagine it’ll be quite some time before I can read and spin flax
as I can with wool,
but next I want to try a hand held distaff and some other ways of dressing it
so I can practice spinning while walking around the yard --
or at least around the studio while waiting for spring.
Drawing the above was a good reminder
of how much pleasure I get from the act of making yarn--
the sensation of fibers in my fingers,
the energy of the twist transforming fleece into wool or flax into linen,
and the subtle vibrations that flow up the yarn and into my hands
from the twirling tool below.
It also reminded me how much I dislike drawing my hair in a messy ponytail,
so this morning I got out the scissors,
and now there will be NO ponytail drawings
for at least a couple of months.
One final note —issue 20 (Spring 2018) of PLY magazine is devoted to flax,
so I ordered a copy and it came a few days ago.
- info about growing and processing, which of course makes me want to do that,
-articles on scouring and bleaching (another fascinating topic)
-a fair bit about working with tow top (which so far I don’t like nearly as much as the line).
-and naturally quite a few very useful discussions on spinning (twist, handling the fiber, water in the drafting zone etc).
The only specific how-to discussion of dressing a distaff is by Hannah Merritt Woods,
and she shows a different method again from the sources mentioned above
(fibers hanging straight down rather than swooping across and around),
so I will probably try that eventually too.
In the meantime there is another freshly sized linen warp waiting on my loom.
Cuz yeah -- there is that cool thing to do too.
despite years of serious misgivings
about mixing wool and linen
I'm doing it anyway.
And naturally, it is a blast.
What fun to poke at my prejudices--
to weave spindle wool and flax
into unwearable sweaters,
on a loom made of plastic?
How freeing to 'hackle' a messy strick of flax,
(using Russian Paddle combs that have been gathering dust for years),
and make deliciously lumpy yarn from the disorganized tow,
then to spin some rather nice singles
from the now silky smooth hackled flax
and ply it for warp for the next tapestry?
note: plying stick HIGHLY recommended for keeping the fine line linen orderly
Then to discover that my wet spinning technique
left much to be desired,
for after plying, washing and warping --
Then to remember that I wanted to try flour and water size
(approx 1 teaspoon flour mixed with water till consistency of thin cream
applied with my fingers then allowed to dry).
Then to find that some of the hairiness returned with all the handling
(perhaps particularly with finger picking?)
but that it all worked fine anyway,
(though perhaps if I'd soaked the warp with size
rather than just lightly coating it,
it'd have stayed glued down?)
Then to notice that I had some selvedge wonkiness --
in part because of my carelessness
(as Susan Iverson says, "if you weave it right you don't have to block it ")
and in part because I wasn't taking into account
the huge differences in the size and properties of my wefts:
--ground: the lumpy tow I showed being spun up above (singles)
--house: leftover warp (two ply wet spun line)
--sky: two strands of cotton I've had floating around for years,
( Sally Fox organic roving spun on a supported spindle
and purchased punis spun on a book charkha--
the latter the source of the black flecks).
But also to notice how interesting it all is.
And how much I want to keep experimenting.
It is worth noting that all three tapestries were woven at 10 epi
but because of differences in grist
between the hand spun warp,
the commercial linen warp in the two pictured at the top,
and all the different weft materials--
the surfaces vary as much as the selvedges.
(Note: Rebecca Mezoff is in the midst of writing
an amazingly clear and useful series of blog posts on the relationship between
sett, warp and weft size.
The photos of her samples make this deliciously clear!)
This is all I can think to say,
at this point on my creative oxbow,
but hopefully there will be more.
There is a fair bit of texture around the studio this morning,
an interesting shadow or two,
and no shortage of neutral/ natural shades,
but not much in the way of bright color.
This should not be a surprise as,
with the odd exception,
an ever quieter palette has been an ongoing trend,
in my yarnish life.
The idea of applying this freedom of limitation
to my comics, however,
came as a bit of a surprise.
But the new comic diary, with its sheets of textured paper
seemed to eschew the pinks and purples and bright greens
that have been delighting me for the last year,
so I thought I'd go with it.
The first idea was to use only Walnut Ink
(though of course I had to debate whether or not
this would include the line work).
But when push came to shove
(or brush touched paper)
I realized that the pleasurable pull
of crow quill, black ink and watercolor
was too important to set aside.
Besides, after trying this Redwood Willow watercolor sampler,
I'd been longing for some indigo watercolor
to go with all the other indigo in my life.
And ever since Jodi
(who made the exquisite tiny watercolor sets I've been using for the past year)
showed me the Greenleaf & Blueberry web site
I had been seeking an excuse (and a spare moment),
to make some of my own.
So....since I happened to have plenty of pigment
(left over from my egg tempera flirtation in 2005)
some liquid Gum Arabic
(leftover from the Chemistry and Art class my husband taught for years before he retired)
and honey (because --how not to have honey in the kitchen?)
I googled 'making watercolor paint",
half-assedly followed some directions I found out in cyber land
and made two colors: yellow ochre and indigo.
I really like how they turned out.
In fact, I liked them so much that i waswas going to use only those two,
but then added two little half pans there were floating around:
first burnt sienna for the reds (and lovely greys with indigo)
and burnt umber because I use brown a lot
and it is easier to use paint than open the bottle of walnut ink.
it's just an experiment.
But experiments with materials (esp those lying around the house), are the best!
Indeed, though many things in the world can induce me to quivering jelly
(elevators, airplanes, merging, politics, Stephen King books, the internet, meanness, movies...),
it is good to know that for some of us
(here's looking at you Nicole and Jodi and Rebecca and Patti and Bonnie and... and ... and...maybe most of you reading this?)
art supplies are our friends.
Of course part of me wants to make a couple of more colors,
but the internal majority is so enamored of this simple set of colors,
that am going to hold off.
At least for today.
Sarah C Swett