A Little Bit of History

For some time readers have asked about my weaving, so as I am pretty much housebound these days, this seems a good time to write about it and weaving in general.  Let’s begin with some background that I hope you find interesting .

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADid you know that that the only surviving being that has been weaving longer than man is a spider?  History suggests that man discovered early on that lacing reeds, grasses and twigs together provided items such as clothing, shelter, vessels  and sleep mats that made life more comfortable. So it is that weaving is said to have preceded other skills such as pottery making, metalsmithing or glass blowing he/she eventually developed.  Knowing something of the history of weaving makes me very proud to continue this ages old tradition.

st-petersburg-191As time passed, weaving became not just practical but an art form.  Skilled weavers were held in high regard among royalty who frequently appointed them to court positions.  Here, weavers created beautiful tapestries that were used for decorative purposes as well as taken to battle where they made encampments more like home.  Often tapestries were prized spoils of war.  Thankfully, many survived various ransacks and have been preserved so that we might enjoy and marvel at the work done by hand in another time.

Now, here’s a little tidbit that may be fact or fiction.  Christopher Columbus’s father was one of those court appointed weavers.  As a youngster, Columbus was an apprentice, and it is thought that his dislike of weaving resulted in his going to sea.  The rest is history!

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While weaving is a respected tradition in other cultures and patterns are passed from one generation to another, in America it is less so.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarly on in this country, hand loomed fabrics were for clothing and bed linens made of wool and cotton spun and dyed by the weaver.

FranklinSlaveholders often had an outlying shed where women and children spent their days weaving fabric for necessities.  

Today, much of what was once handwoven is produced by machinery which contributes to the scarcity of weaving in developed countries. However, language is peppered with references to weaving.   We speak of the tapestry/fabric of life, the threads that bind and tales/lives woven together.  A woman who spun yarn and remained unmarried became known as a spinster.  On an on it goes, but I’ll leave it at that today and come back later with a fascinating look at looms.  

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” The Thread That Connects Us All “

As a weaver, how could I not like these photos. How sad it makes me that so much of this country’s textile industry has disappeared. In fact, there aren’t just a whole lot of us hand weavers either.

mikepillowsphoto

I was treated to an early gift this season… it was a dusty, old, dark, and very magical treat to this photographer’s eyes. The present I am referring to, was my visit to the last intact silk mill left in the US. Built in  1907, and known as Klotz Throwing Company, it is located in Lonaconing, MD which is about a five and a half hour drive from where I live.

On rare occasions, you can feel a presence of history in a place. I felt it instantly, when I set foot inside this mill. What also set the mood was the ambient light I had to work in.  The smell and feel of a past life lets your thoughts drift back to when it was a booming factory. Seeing the thousands of spools, and their links to the machinery, led you to actually imagine the sounds and visualize…

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The Morning After

Feet up in front of the fire. Sipping cappuccino.  Catching up reading blogs.  Remembering the people who wandered in over the last three days.  Thinking of how carefully each person searched for and found just the just right piece.  This is the aftermath of participating in the Artisans Tour in the Camden/Rockport, Maine area, a tiring but rewarding three days.

For weeks my work spaces have been chaotic as new pieces were created and  finishing touches were put on handwoven pieces.  There was a side benefit to sitting, working with my hands for hours on end. I watched all 46 episodes of Breaking Bad on Netflix.  That program is topic for a whole other discussion!

Most of the artists participating in the tour actually host in their studio.  Mine is upstairs in my home and with stairs being a little worrisome, the  entry and dining room  are converted into a mini shop.  Actually, using these areas provides a warm and inviting background for the displays.

Every surface is covered with my work and that of my friend Sasha, a most talented potter.  Our work is complementary, and a special bonus is spending time with her over the three days.  I couldn’t do this without her.

Everything in the house is potentially a prop.  My very high heeled purple, fuschia and orange shoes came in handy

as did the antique spice tins.  They were perfect display units for scarves and necklaces.  Amazing what a little ingenuity can do!

While the primary focus of our show is handwovens and handmade pottery, there are a few little whimsies like these cuddly little blankies and onesies, also handmade.

On the woven front, these hand towels were new this year and sold first thing.  As many years as I’ve been weaving, I’ve never done anything like these, and it was such fun sitting at my loom creating the different borders.  Since this was an experiment, there was only a short warp on the loom, but next time there will be more as there are more borders and colors floating in my head!

For both Sasha and me, this show represents hours and hours of work and a bit of fear over putting it out there.  It is not uncommon for artists to experience some shyness and vulnerability, and it is an incredible reward to receive positive feedback.    It provides the incentive to keep you going.  Any of you who create understand that I’m betting.

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Show and Tell Friday

Antiquing….again

Each August I look forward to the Union Antique Show which is Maine’s equivalent to Brimfield in Massachusetts or Roundtop in Texas.  As you might guess, there are many temptations here.

In a number of booths I spied ironstone.  Loving pitchers as I do it was hard to resist buying one or two, at least until I looked at the prices!  Did Martha Stewart’s Living have anything to do with these sky high prices?

This elegant cobalt blue china from Germany was absolutely gorgeous, and I could imagine what some of you talented tablescapers could do with it.

When I saw this sign, I thought I had found my purchase.  How I would have loved it for my studio, but it was not for sale as it belonged to the weaver whose work was displayed.

Her work was beautifully done in traditional styles that would be perfect in a home rich with warm tones and textures.

Across the way, this woman worked with her hands braiding beautiful rugs.  Don’t you love finding people who continue traditions that are becoming lost to machine made? Hmmm, wouldn’t one of her rugs be terrific in front of this stove?

Speaking of textiles, vintage linens are always worth a peek.  They are one of those things I seldom buy, but I love to look.

 Fun things always catch my eye, and these larger than life fishermen definitely fit into that category.  If only I could have gotten one in the car it would have come home, but then, where would it go?

Also making me smile were these wonderful creations painted on old wood surfaces by a Vermont lady.    One of these would be a great gift for my recently moved to Tennessee daughter who will soon be raising chickens.

Here is the one thing I couldn’t resist, an ice cream scoop from the 1920’s.  How wonderful to find something that is both functional and a thing of beauty.  Truth be known, I would have liked to have the whole collection!

You know, all this browsing wears a body out so it’s time for a stop at my favorite booth where the fried haddock and clams are irresistible.

I hope these guys don’t hope to retire any time soon because they really do make the best fried seafood!

What a very fun way to spend a Sunday.  So, what are you doing today?

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As Good As It Gets

This is it….today’s tablescape, a paper napkin with plastic utensils carelessly thrown on the table.

You’ve been there, an airport cafe where presentation is not the priority, but when you are hungry, you settle. At least here there were tables and a wait person who smiled and took my order.  So far, not so bad, however, when my turkey club sandwich came it matched the table setting.

Cold.  The only difference between it and one out of the cold case? Some crispy lukewarm fries.  Oh well, I was hungry, it did fill the emptiness in my tummy and next time I’ll know to return to Legal Seafood for the usual cup of chowder.

There were a couple of saving graces to the time spent between planes.

Flowers in the ladies room.  When was the last time you saw that, real ones?  If you say never, that was my answer, too, but that is no longer true.

And on the long walk from one terminal to another were  lovely reproductions of an ancient antique scroll entitled Women Preparing Newly Woven Silk. Naturally, anything having to do with weaving caught my eye.

Despite the lackluster dining experience and a long day of travel, the day was not lost.  I arrived safely and on time.  That in itself is something to be grateful for.

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Challenge Met!

When a client asked me to weave a prayer shawl for his friend’s birthday, I said, without thinking much about it, yes.   After all, I have woven a number of shawls so how could this one be too different?  At least, that was my first thought.  Before starting the project I decided to go online and investigate prayer shawls worn by men practicing the Jewish faith.  Thus, began the challenge and my learning experience.

The shawl is called a tallit and consists of two main parts, the shawl itself and tzitzit which are fringes on the four corners.  I began to worry that there might be specific requirements for the size, type of material, color arrangement, etc. and wondered whether or not this was a job for me.  Before becoming totally despaired, I remembered having met a rabbi who also had some experience weaving, so I gave him a call.  He graciously spent the better part of an afternoon educating me about the tallit and assuring that I could do the job or at least the weaving part of it.  If the tzitzit presented a problem he would be there to help me.  What a wonderful person!

The only clue I had about the person for whom the shawl was being made was that he liked blue.  How wide or how long would have to be my best guess.  The weave structure was also a challenge.  I wanted it to be something other than a plain weave without being too fussy.  And, my client asked if I could incorporate the Star of David into it.   OK, by now I’m a wreck, worried the finished product would be less than perfect.

I won’t bore you with all the details involved in the design and weaving process; I’ll just show you the finished product.  If any of you are weavers and want the draft, I’ll be only too happy to share with you. Looking closely, you can see that the points of the Star of David are not real well defined due to the size of the threads and how closely they are packed together.   However, the client thought it satisfactory.  I am going to work on this just in case I am ever asked to do the same again.

The weave structure for the body of the shawl turned out fine, just enough to give the cloth a textural interest.

I had enough warp left on the loom to weave cloth for a pouch in which to put the tallit.  This was that little something extra.

Together they make a very special gift.

I loved doing this job not only because of the challenge but because I learned something new and made a new friend.  In return for his help, the rabbi wants to work with me to improve his weaving and design skills.  To that, I say GLADLY!

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Thinking Ahead

Today is a cold and gray Sunday, a good day to stay inside and get started weaving for a September show.  Yep, September is 9 months away, but it’s not too soon to start creating, especially since considerable time must be invested to create an inventory of handwoven pieces.

Hmmm, what colors inspire me on a gloomy day?

I think I will keep it simple and work with just 2 colors.

Now, it’s to the computer to design.    This is the most creative part of the process because there are so many options to explore.   The only part I don’t like is that the program I use for designing only operates off a PC, and I am very attached to my Apple.  Since I am working with just 2 colors, I think I will play around with shadow weave structures.

The computer can’t totally show how a finished fabric will look, but it gives a pretty darned good idea.

With the design work being done, the next step is threading the loom, not my favorite part of weaving, but you have to be warped to weave!

All is ready, so let the weaving begin.  It doesn’t take long to see the results of the design effort, and with each throw of the shuttle, I’m thinking ahead to what the next piece will look like, a little change here and there with color and treadling order, and I can create a whole different look with this warp.

Creating, not a bad way to spend a Sunday.  How are you spending your day?

Loom: 16 harness, 60″ AVL

Computer Program: Weave Planner

Weave Structure: 6 harness shadow weave

Fibers from Silk City Fibers

This entry is linked to Seasonal Sunday and Blue Monday.

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