My plans for this tapestry included lots of yummy embroidery,
color and pattern all over the place
and a chance to mess around with recent dye experiments.
Then I finished my strand of black
and couldn't add another stitch.
Is it really done?
I have no idea
but have to let it be for now.
This is a little hard as during this absurdly busy season
I get great satisfaction from crossing things off lists.
Packages mailed? Check. Tapestry finished? Check!
Leaving something (possibly) half done makes me antsy.
But in my maker's world the work calls the shots
and my plans don't much matter.
I used different thread this time, annoyed that the synthetic sinew I used to make the shoes and stitch on the new soles last spring was so short lived.
Of course all of this may just have been an inanimate object plot to keep me from messing with the tapestry more than it wanted.
It could also have been a form of procrastination on my part because I really don't like wrapping (or unwrapping) packages,
even with the fabulous collection of handy-dandy-quick-and-dirty-and pretty gift bags my friends and family pass around and around to one another.
But at the moment the reason doesn't much matter.
The shoes are mended for now (Check!) and my feet were dry this morning
despite swirling flakes and unshoveled sidewalks.
So now it is time for presents.
And on this first morning after the solstice
here is one for you, my dear readers,
A coloring page
I believe you can download and print it if you click on the image below
May The Yarn Be With You
PS And tomorrow is first stop on the ATA BLOG TOUR, with the amazing Janna Maria Vallee. Do stop in -- learn some useful tapestry techniques, get inspired, ignore your list, and maybe even win a prize!
My life is terrific and given half a chance I could wax verbose about the amazingness of
food, friends, fire, family, a roof, ice cubes, music, warm clothing, ideas, you...
but I won't because I would get really sappy in short order
and nobody wants that.
And anyway, there are two things I'm particularly grateful for at this moment and I don't want to bore you before I get to them:
information and time.
It hasn't always been like that.
At least the time part.
In my early 20s when I was a caretaker on a ranch in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness,
I got up at 4 AM, even when we didn't have hunters, to spin yards of yarn before the other work began.
Clearing trails for the Forest Service a few years later, my pulaski, shovel, sleeping bag and freeze dried food shared backpack space with elaborate knitting projects. Every break meant I could take off my hard hat
for 15 heavenly minutes and give myself to hand spun wool, sweat smearing the graphite on my graph paper charts.
Neither job was particularly yarn friendly, (nor ice cube friendly but that is a subject for another day). But I had a prized copy of
Knitting Without Tears and from its pages understood that I had a right to my obsession with this work and these materials, and for that I am forever grateful.
Other life changing volumes have shown up over the decades,
some arriving unwanted and uninvited to rock my world.
I was embarrassed to check Understanding Comics out of the library when it leapt off the shelf into my hand. What would the librarians think of me? What would I think of myself?
Thanks to Scott McCloud, however, I think I'm the kind of person who reads, weaves, draws
and (apparently, though this is still too new to confirm), embroiders comics.
I'm only a little bit shy about it.
Other books awash in ideas have also insisted on being in my life,
though it turned out I couldn't read or learn from them
until I started to write the darned things myself.
Why, suddenly, was it imperative, that I spend a bazillion hours tap tap tapping at a keyboard, pouring over Strunk and White and other books on word smithing, only to discover that instead of publishing any of my novels in a conventional way, I must spend four more years weaving a teeny tiny part of one of them into 14 tapestries? Whose idea was that? And when did I agree that such a thing would be worth the time? Is chasing ideas as important as chasing elk out of a hay field?
I haven't the foggiest idea.
But since my job is to chase ideas
and I never know what an idea will demand,
it behooves me to give them some time at the start.
Some are seductive. Others scare the crap out of me.
The best ones usually are scary, or embarrassing, or both at once
and it is imperative to be polite, be they well-groomed or grubby,
essential to offer them tea and cookies if I have them,
and beyond important to not be irritated when the less cheerful ones refuse to go away.
One of the things that keeps my irritation in check ("no, I do not have time for you right now, thank you so much for coming by, but really...."), is the potential for learning tidbits of technique.
The thrill of exploring a new skill, or adding a twist to one I think I've already mastered,
of finding new books or blogs or websites,
of opening myself up to possibility
(including the possibly of being mediocre, or even pretty bad at whatever it is),
is beyond anything I can describe in words.
It's particularly great when it all turns out well.
It's particularly useful, when it doesn't.
Even if I am sure I won't use the information or idea for a while, if ever,
it pays to be polite and listen for as long as I can stand it.
A person just never knows when or how something that has been sitting around for ages,
or shows up out of the blue,
will be exactly what she wants.
All of which is a rather long-winded wind-up to an exciting and unexpected free Christmas present (complete with prizes), the thing I intended to talk about today:
The ATA Blog tour.
Janna Maria Vallee of Vancouver Yarn and chair of the upcoming American Tapestry Alliance's Tapestry Unlimited: International, Unjuried Small Format Exhibition
has created a blog tour with six instructors sharing tapestry techniques.
Click on the links above (or Vancouver Yarn link below) for more details and to see the fabulous promotional video.
The Blog Tour Line-Up
December 23rd: Vancouver Yarn
December 30th: Rebecca Mezoff
January 6th: Terry Olson
January 13th: Mirrix Looms
January 20th: Elizabeth Buckley
January 27th: Sarah Swett
I will be focusing on value in tapestry, a topic dear to my heart and of tremendous importance in most of my tapestry work to date, and though I haven't the least idea what I will actually say when the time comes, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share some stuff I've learned that might be of use to someone. And if, while talking about grey scales and such, I happen accidentally go on about the bliss of a tensioned loom, finger picking or wool warp, please know I can't help it.
You can sign up below to receive weekly updates on the tour
(this is separate from my mailing list)
Now, what is it I'm supposed to do with all these lovely little skeins?
Apparently, my embroidery wants its own style of yarn.
My default singles, spun over months on a 19 gram spindle
then plied to suit for knitting or tapestry ,
has been perfectly satisfactory for years.
Now, however, it seems lumpy, thick and inconsistent.
So exciting, then, to pick up my 11 gram turkish spindle,
bring all my attention to the drafting triangle
and try to produce a yarn that glides through both needle's eye and fabric.
Exciting, that is, until I need it a bunch of it.... now.... and haven't spun it yet--
which was the case with the exhaust baths of last week's lichen experiments,
I much prefer dyeing skeins to fleece. At least I used to.
But it seems to me that one of the great thrills of being alive
is getting to change your mind.
The batts turned out fine.
With virtually no stirring and the most gentle of rinses,
the wool (once dry), was ready to attenuate and spin
to whatever size my kuchulu and I thought we could make.
This was so thrilling that I dumped the remaining lichen liquor into the pot
and threw in some uncarded but clean white fleece (in net bags this time)
to suck up whatever color remained.
The fiber turned out a honeyish yellow slightly darker than I wanted,
but happily that is the kind of thing I know how to fix.
I'm a bit of a stickler for well prepared fiber.
Indeed, it usually works out the best if I do all of my preparation for not only can I tailor the technique to the yarn I want to spin, but there is also no one to blame but myself if I'm unhappy with the result.
Luckily, I love the whole process
and that is a good thing since
the smooth, fine, heathery yarn I had begun to imagine
depended on a fair bit of it.
I teased and carded each color individually
(every batt twice through my Pat Green Drum Carder ),
then tore the batts into strips and blended them with a third (and sometimes fourth) card.
Nothing to do but wind it on a wrist distaff and spin.
Bead or Button +
cord, leather, cord or strip of worn out sheet in a pinch=
Wrist Distaff (indispensable hand spindle accessory)
My first one
was anything but simple:
Hand spun/dyed silk,
card woven into a band,
embellished with a collection of charms from my past
including a tooth to remind me of the days when sawing the jaw off a bear while its fat gently--and stinkily-- rendered into lard on my wood cook stove was all in a day's work.
I have come to realize that all that jingling history
gets jangled with the fiber and makes a mess of careful carding.
Not worth the effort.
What is worth the effort
is pursuing the question of what depth of brown I'll get
from this pot of late season black walnuts,
and how much more of that white fleece I should devote to the experiment.
I want to embroider in dark, dark walnut brown.
There is much to look forward to.
Including, as you can see below, the Second Palouse Fiber Festival
here in Moscow, June 17 - 19 2016
Turns out I'll not only be teaching at the festival
(Weaving a Bag on a Box and simple Indigo Katazome),
but will also have a show at the The Pritchard Gallery a few blocks away
that opens that very weekend.
Be interesting to see what I'll have made by then,
beyond lots of really fine yarn in a variety of earth tones.
How to play:
1. Grab your little sister and the bravest inhabitants of the doll house
2. Hop on a magic carpet (preferably hand knit)
3. Flee to the woods
4. Build a shelter among tree roots (bark and moss are good roofing material)
5. Brew potion (flower petals and lichen preferred)
6. Serve in acorn caps
7. Savour the power
10. Note the expression on your sister's face when you declare the Hilda Game dumb
(She is five years younger and believes in your power,
or at least in your ability to transform a grey day with a babysitter
into something else).
11. Grow up and discover
that the potion had power after all.
Now I have both.
So last week
when my pockets overflowed with wind-blown lichen
after a somewhat scary storm,
I knew what to do.
And where to find help.
Mosses, Lichens and Ferns of Northwest America by Dale H. Vitt, Janet E. marsh, Robin B. Bovey; Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 1988 The Colour Cauldron by Su Grierson; Mill Books; Newmiln Farm, Tibbermore, Perth. PH1 1QN Scotland 1986; Lichens For Vegetable Dyeing by Eileen M. Bolton; Studio Books, Longacre Press LTD. 1960 Republished by Robin & Russ Handweavers, McMinnville, OR 1991
The balance was for the skeins of yarn.
I measured lichen by the hand full.
Note: according to Vitt, Marsh and Bovey, vulpinic acid, the prominent lichen acid present in Letharia vulpina (second from the left above), is in fact poisonous. L. vulpina is also known as Wolf Lichen because it was apparently used in Europe to kill wolves by poisoning them with a rolled ball of Letharia, animal fat and nails. So wash your hands or use gloves for this one.
L. Pulminaria, on the other hand, was prepared as jelly and given to those suffering from pulmonary affections (Bolton).
Indeed, According to the Doctrine of Signatures, which was formulated in medieval times, this lichen was supposed to cure disorders of the lung....unfortunately for us, this cure does not seem to have had any foundation. (Vitt, Marsh, Bovey p.235)
The question for today however (a question to which I do not yet have the answer),
is how to fill that interesting value gap between the rather blah yellow I got from a pot full of unidentified lichens scattered amidst the ones I knew, and the glorious russet reds from L. pulmonaria.
Exhaust bath perhaps?
ps. The lichens named here do not need a mordant on wool
pps Please Note that lichens tend to be very slow growing. Limit your collecting to a tiny percentage of what you find in any given area and learn what you are gathering.
ppps. BOOKS: Truth be told, I have dyed with these three lichens before so though every day, every season, every batch is slightly different from every other, I mostly know what to do and what to expect. It is a treat, however, to open the covers of my old friends and read the names out loud. If you, too, enjoy this or want to explore, learn and identify further, here are a few suggestions:
One of my favorites (currently out on loan so not part of this post) is
Dyes from Lichens and Plants by Judy McGrath
Also, Craft of the Dyer by Karen Leigh (Diadick) Casselman,
Casselman more recently wrote Lichen Dyes; the New Source Book, but I don't have a copy.
In addition, there are myriad natural dye books worth exploring which may or may not talk about lichens.
One way or the other, the Modern Natural Dyer, is on my xmas list.
ppps. Despite my cruel treatment, my sister Lyn
has grown into a glorious adult with magic and power of her own.
Sarah C Swett