Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Playing Catch-up

Good grief, it's been a month since last I wrote. I've been busy indeed, almost exclusively with finishing off some under-deadline work, and managed to avoid any holiday preparation and activity. This bit is being written at home, staying out of the blare of the teevee feetsball game, and I'd planned to load in some recent photos I took of work in progress on the loom, and several completed pieces. Managed to get the pictures into the computer, and also managed to obliterate all of them except one. That's Kimo. He's a beauty, and he and his sister Tita often keep me company at work. Tomorrow I'll take more photos of what's in process right now, and try not to make the same mistake again. I'll also write more about what I've been working on lately, and some ideas I'm developing for the coming year.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Staying Inside

It's a chilly, raw, wet typically November day here in the Pacific Northwest. The meteorological hotshots tell me that the last two weeks of this month have the wettest, nastiest weather of the year. Today is proof positive. Last week was snow and very cold -- uncommonly early but not unprecedented. Just enough white stuff to be beautiful for a day or so and to either keep people tucked in at home or out sliding around on the unplowed though eventually sanded roads. Some folks were without electricity right into Thanksgiving Day, so many celebratory dinners were postponed till the weekend. I love that weather, and am happiest being out in it tromping around. Now if only I had a pair of boots . . . .

The weekend's Anne X 2 show and sale went off hitch-free. Decent traffic on Friday, better on Saturday. We had good visits with a number of friends and supporters, but dang few sales. In the ten years we've been doing this event, this was the poorest for income for both of us, a big disappointment. People love the work, are gratifyingly complimentary and admiring, but the wallets and checkbooks remained pocketed. This is hard on two women who work diligently to earn a living, and there's no graceful way to smack folks with the realities of inadequate income. We're both moderately philosophical about it ("well, there's always next year") but of course that doesn't pay the bills or buy the groceries.

Today I spent a couple of hours at the Big Loom weaving away on the third (and last) Evening in the Garden shawl; it went along quite well, now that I've adjusted a couple things on the loom as well as the way I push down the left treadle. It's the one that signals the computer to pass along the instructions for the next group of lifted shafts, allowing the shuttle to go through with the weft thread. If the treadle isn't pushed down firmly enough, the signal seems to get garbled and lo and behold I have weaving errors!! Aaaaarrrgghhhhhh.

What gets clearer to me is that so much of operating these looms is knowing how they work, and developing techniques in how I move and weave to enable the loom to do what it's supposed to. It's a complex tool, the right tool for me to be using in creating the beautiful cloth I envision, but it does have to be operated properly. I'm still learning that part.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snow Days

The average first frost date for this area is November 15. We got past that with no freeze, and then got slammed. Two nights ago, my bird basins froze solid. Yesterday the temperature stayed at or below 32 degrees all day, and it snowed off and on, accumulating by late evening to about two inches. The low last night was about 19 degrees, and the temperature today won't go above 24 even with bright sunlight. I was up briefly in the night to see clear skies, a light wind out of the North, and bright moonlight. Into my sleepy mind popped the line -- "The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow," and I fell back asleep mulling that over. Tonight is predicted to go down to 16 degrees, and tomorrow perhaps to freezing level.

I love cold and snow, love how the world changes, love the feel of the frigid air and the exhilaration of being alive and active and IN this world. I feel adventurous when I go outside and tromp around with clunky footgear and fluffy clothing, and am unfortunately inclined to look a teensy bit scornfully at those who shudder and squeal at the very thought of cold and snow. It's a character flaw, I know, but I'm unable to help myself.

My studio has lots of windows facing west, so before long the winter sun will be pouring in and helping to warm the space. I love working here in comfort while looking out at the snow, watching the birds busily scooping up the birdseed I put out earlier (extra today because of the cold) under a nearby shrubby willow. The California Quail came in en masse, several dozen of them, ate voraciously, and then hunkered down in the sun tucked into the base of the great blackberry jungle -- protected from the wind -- busily grooming and settling all those exquisitely perfect feathers.

My Anne X 2 show is Friday and Saturday, and with the weather conditions may be sparsely attended. In fact, my Ford mini-van will have trouble getting up the long curvy hill to Annie B's place, so I'll need to get a ride from a friend with a four-wheel drive vehicle. Today's work plan is to make new hang-tags for most of the pieces I'll be showing, and to detail the silk shawl I cut from the loom yesterday and got washed and mostly dry. I'd best get at it, as I plan to leave here by 3:00 to get home before the road surfaces get really slick.

The photo above is of two recent scarves in the "Tapestry" series.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Odds & Ends

Shortly before leaving home this morning to come to my studio, I spotted outside one of my favorite birds -- an Evening Grosbeak -- which I've seen none of for several years. On this windy raw November morning, as I stood transfixed and delighted, the gathering grew till there were at least ten, males and females both in winter plumage, working over the Japanese Maples just off the back deck, plundering the clinging samaras with apparent gusto. Utterly beautiful birds, with their dramatic black, brown, gold and white coloring and massive beaks. They were certainly on their way South from nesting grounds farther North, scarfing down gourmet seeds and washing it all down with water from the hand-carved stone basin under the (now leafless) red maple. Since this species of Grosbeak doesn't nest here, this was a rare thrill. The glow remains with me now in the afternoon, on an especially dreary day.

Just finished weaving the second of three silk shawls on the current warp on BL before taking a break for lunch. Need to do the beaded hemstitching first thing tomorrow when (I hope) the natural light in here will be stronger, and then can move on to the last one. This is the "Evening in the Garden" series, on a hand-dyed silk warp, each with a different weft and a markedly different pattern. Simple 16-shaft straight twill threading, with complicated tie-ups and treadling sequences in the design, resulting in sinuous curves in the cloth. I'm pleased with how they're looking; one is off the loom (cut it off last week so as to have it ready for our Whidbey Weavers Guild annual sale) and is exceptionally elegant.

Next warp onto the BL will be for fabric for a special-order vest plus two shawls, in cobalt blues, indigo, black and grey. Warp yarns specially dyed by The Drop Spindle, and quite glorious indeed. I'll add a couple of stock yarns to pull in additional color and texture, thread a 12-shaft straight twill, and weave the fabric in a lovely swinging undulating twill I've designed.

My sprained left ankle and foot -- result of a nasty fall ten days ago -- are finally starting to ease up on the pain quotient, and the swelling is significantly reduced. Sure has slowed down my weaving output, as treadling tends to cause increased pain and swelling if I do too much without elevating and icing the pitiful appendage. I'll be seeing my beloved acupuncturist this afternoon, and anticipate an uptick in healing speed as a result. That'll be a relief.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Back on Board & 2010 Newsletter

It's sure been a looooooong time since I wrote anything here, though it's not for lack of thinking about doing it. And as we know, thinking about something and by golly doing it are hardly the same thing with hardly the same results. It's unclear to me why I have such a hard time just sitting down at my studio computer and banging out a bit about what I'm working on, or slapping in a few pictures (I can do that now!), or maundering about the latest scritchy behavior of one of the looms. Partly it's because I get tangled up in the knotty idiocy of wondering if what I have to say Means Anything; partly I feel like I'm "supposed" to write something serious or insightful about what I'm doing. Mainly, I manage not to get around to it, because it seems like it's not Real Work, like sitting at the loom and weaving, or designing a new series of patterns, or putting the next warp on the loom. Still, it's an element of my life as a professional weaver I want incorporated into my workday, so I'll persist in aiming at consistency.

For now, my 2010 newsletter (of sorts), as the introduction to the Tenth Anne-ual Anne X 2 Show and Sale, taking place on November 25 and 26 here on Whidbey Island ~

After slogging in 2009 through assembling a new (reconditioned) production loom and beginning to weave on it, I thought I was done with loom purchases and learning curves. That confident assumption withered away when late in the year I realized that the 24-inch-wide computer-assisted loom I'd been using for 18 months wasn't really designed for the kind of production I normally do -- warps ten or more yards long, with a series of related but never identical pieces from each warp. The solution to this dilemma was (rubbing hands together gleefully) to buy another loom, this time a 30-inch weaving width AVL Production Dobby Loom. It was another reconditioned loom, a smaller sister to my 48-inch one, also with 16 shafts, allowing for vast possibilities in patterning. Late last winter, another eight large heavy boxes arrived at my studio -- the new loom, ready to assemble.

Instead of trying to slog through the process alone, I enlisted the help of my friend Janis Saunders and her husband Dave; we had the loom entirely put together and tested for anomalies in a day and a half. That was fun, so a few weeks later I went up to Coupeville and helped them put together her new (used) 30-inch production loom, a sister to mine with a serial number one digit higher.

The 24-inch loom sits in a corner of my studio waiting for someone to purchase it. It was the ideal loom for me to make the giant step from mechanical looms to computer-assisted design and weaving -- anything larger would have scared me into squeaking immobility. Small enough not to be intimidating, it was complex enough to stretch my knowledge and skill to the point where bringing in the production looms was the logical next step.

So I've spent the year learning, working, designing and weaving; the new work is increasingly complex as I move further toward the images I have in mind for the work I wish to produce. In the Spring, I took a three-day workshop with Bonnie Inouye (one of my idols) to learn a lot more about designing complicated advancing twill patterns. In the process, I became more at ease with the design software I use, and created a sizable collection of beautiful patterns which I expect to weave over the next year or two.

Earlier this year, I applied for and received a study grant from the Whidbey Weavers Guild. I'll use it to travel to Chico, California -- the home of AVL Looms -- this Winter or Spring to take a three-day workshop on all aspects of using, troubleshooting, and maintaining the production dobby looms. It's clear by now that my lack of deep knowledge about the equipment is hampering my progress and my production speed. And I feel certain that knowing a lot more about how my tools work will quite simply make me a better (and probably happier) weaver. It's going to be a thrill to be at the factory and to meet the people I talk with but have yet to meet.

Ten days ago, I took a number of new pieces to Michael Stadler, photographer extraordinaire, and we had an enjoyable hour and a half draping and shooting. I don't yet have the final images, but when I do, some will appear here, and before long I'll get my website re-done and they'll be found there as well.

The final element of my workplan for the next period of time is beginning to develop a line of handwoven fabrics for clothing and interiors. These will be woven on the Big Loom, which will, by (I think) Spring, be operated by a weaving assistant. I have a marketing plan in mind, and will be willing to take special orders as well as sell finished yardage to interested parties. The Small Loom will for the most part be dedicated to weaving scarves and shawls, with an occasional run of kitchen towels with my signature use of color and pattern.

It's going to be a challenging and interesting year.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Clearly, my plan to write twice a week is being honored more in the breach than the observance. Still, this makes twice this month, so perhaps that's progress.

However, the forward movement I'm more enthusiastic about today is that I've finally begun threading heddles on Sally, taking a break from awkward posture to hunker over this computer. (I'll need a massage after all this!) It's taken a while to get the suggestions and information I needed to proceed with warping this loom, and Janis Saunders has been cheerfully helpful and encouraging. So earlier this week, I finished sleying the reed, then (after a refresher phone call with Janis) I got the harnesses raised and stabilized so I can thread a sixteen-shaft straight twill, on which I will ring a number of changes, one for each of the five scarves to be woven. I expect to get about half done with the threading today, and should be able to finish on Monday. The rest of the warping is pretty easy sailing, and will probably be finished by the middle of next week, which means that I'll finally begin weaving off this gorgeous series. I've got all the patterns designed, and some of the weft yarns chosen. I'm excited.

I'll write again when the threading is completed.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More progress

The OPEN sign is up, the e-mail was sent out last evening (after considerable struggle to Get It Just Right), a few people have stopped in today.  In the end, I decided to have Open Studio both Wednesdays and Saturdays at least through the end of September.   The studio is neat and clean for the time being –- it took considerable discipline to keep nose to grindstone to accomplish it, however --  and I love it like this.  Orderliness may not be virtue, but I feel virtuous, and there’s no question that I function better when the accumulated clutter is removed.

The first section of hanging racks was installed two days ago, and there are a number of scarves and shawls hanging up now, looking dang good.  Marcia will be here tomorrow to put up the second section, which will be configured differently from the first.  This will give me the opportunity to rearrange both the racks and what’s on them when and as I wish, which makes me happy.  There are also pegs included in the design, so scarves can be draped over them or garments on hangers can be hung on them.  Lots of possibilities for display!

And it’s now time to quit fiddling around and get back to serious and steady production so that I have even more good work to put on these attractive racks.  Beulah (Big Loom) has a dusty teal rayon warp on her, with enough to weave off five scarves six feet long each.  Sally (Small Loom) is getting dressed with an earthy hand-dyed rayon/cotton warp I’m calling African Savannah, which will also produce five scarves.  I’m in the process of designing and planning a run of dish towels (which, in nearly thirty years of weaving, I’ve never done before), striped in about five colors of 8/2 cotton.  I want to have on hand some small, relatively inexpensive items which will still have my characteristic style of color and patterning.

It’s quiet here now, and I’m so enjoying it.  The first real Summer day here in the Maritime Northwest is bright and breezy outside my windows.  I’m glad to be alive and working at what I love.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Things Are Moving

It's yet another in a series of mixed-bag weather-days. I love this time of year for that reason. We get grey clouds, then some light rain, more cloudiness, and oh so slowly a shift as the day progresses to brighter light and by early afternoon or so the sun breaks through, making the last hours of the day a rich spectacle. With the grey light and the cool temperatures (high today will be in the upper 50's), there's a lot of kvetching around these parts (though certainly not in this studio) about all the dang rain and why can't we have summer now that it's June??!! For those who are unfamiliar with the Pacific Northwest, it's important to note that the reason that the predominant color here most of the year is green is because of the soft, grey, quiet rainy days for many months. And for me, those days form the perfect background for the deep and bright colors I prefer to use in my work.

Some of the decisions I've made lately are beginning to appear as done deals. I now have signage for this studio, which is located in the business district of this tiny town but is hidden away off the street. Yesterday Mikie-the-signmaker installed three signs for me which I hope will direct folks here now and again to see my work process and to see and buy finished work which will be on display. I'm calling it RainShadow Textiles, and the signs say there's a showroom. Fancy term, but hopefully intriguing. The signs look great.

The next decision was to nail down one day in my work week when I'm officially open to the public; it's going to be Wednesdays from 10:00 to 3:00. I'll also be available for visitation by appointment. My hope is that this will encourage visitors, but discourage frequent unannounced interruptions. If it doesn't work well, I'll change it. I'll send out a notice this weekend to my list of interested supporters, and invite them to come have a look.

By next week, Marcia will have the first of the wall racks designed and built. I'm hoping at least one can be installed by the end of the week; it's going to be MUCH nicer than the old clothes-drying rack that I'm using now! After all, if I'm calling this "studio and showroom" I want it to look a bit classy. Keeping it tidy but not messy will be an ongoing challenge, and above all the work at the looms needs to move forward apace.
(Image is of Bargello #2. Michael Stadler photograph)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Best-laid Plans

The day after writing the previous entry, I took a nasty tumble smack on my butt on hard asphalt pavement.  Whacked my head too.  (I’ve had a sore head, not been one.)  Primary result, after a few days of no problem, has been a painful lower back.  It’s taken considerable rest and going easy, and several treatments from my friend Bob-the-chiropractor, to put me back in normal working order, largely pain-free.  This has not been fun.  I’ve managed only abbreviated studio time, and no time at either loom.  My only productive work has been continuing progress on a lace shawl I’ve been knitting for a few weeks.  It’s nearly done.  Today, for the first time in ten days, I felt up to a short beach walk, and am hoping for another tomorrow, but must be watchful about not doing too much too soon.

It’s a quiet rainy day, and being here in my studio, mentally revving back up to my normal level of productivity, feels dang good.  Being significantly incapacitated for ten days brought up frustration, discouragement, and sloth.  It’s not pleasant dwelling with those items taking up space in my mind.  Not my natural habitat.

Tomorrow I have a couple of long-distance phone calls scheduled, one of them with my creativity coach.  I’ve been working with her for a number of years; those sessions always goose me up to a new level of excitement and purpose about my work.  This one comes at a most opportune moment.  I plan to put in a full day here, and spend part of it at the big loom, just weaving.  Merely throwing the shuttle and beating in the weft.  It should help to settle me.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Things are looking up

After several weeks of whining and wimping around about the difficulty of warping the small loom in my usual way, and being partway into the process so I couldn’t back out of it, I talked yesterday with my friend Janis Saunders (The Braider’s Hand) about her technique of getting a warp onto her AVL production looms.  Front to back.

(It should be noted here that I’m a self-taught weaver, have always warped my looms FTB because it seems logical to me, and am extraordinarily reluctant – as long as I’m working with a plain, not a sectional, warp beam – to change this practice at which I’m quite proficient.)

(It should also be noted that the reason I can’t do the warping in my “normal” way is not because I’ve suddenly become incompetent but because of the structure of the loom itself.

Janis gave me a description of how she does the job, and we discussed some further variations, and I laughed a lot and felt more than a little foolish and embarrassed.

AND ~ now I can see how to do what I want to do, in much the same way I have previously, though I’ll need to make a few adjustments to my technique which is not necessarily A Bad Thing.  Even at this stage of my weaving life (nearly thirty years in), it’s helpful, even sensible, to be flexible about certain elements of the work.

So Monday I’m going to blast away on that warp and make substantial progress.  Really.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Photo information

It occurred to me that readers might be curious about those two scarves -- fiber content, process, and the like. So here 'tis ~

The warp is a hand-dyed bombyx silk from The Drop Spindle (in California); the warp was 7.5 yards long, enough to produce three scarves each six feet long (plus approximately two inches of fringe at each end) by about ten inches wide. The first scarf above is woven with a fine hand-dyed silk noil, the second with tencel. The patterns are my own design, created using WeavePoint software. The threading is a 16-shaft point twill; the first treadling is a variation on an advancing point twill, as is the second but with a shorter repeat.

After the weaving is done, the finished scarves go home with me for washing and partial drying, then back to the studio for "detailing" -- ironing, trimming of threads and fringes, and making hang-tag labels.

That's it. Simple.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Making Progress

After a number of warm sunny true-Spring days, today we're back to a quintessential Pacific Northwest pattern of cool, breezy, drippy morning morphing into a windy, sunny afternoon. Two days in one -- it's a good way to enjoy the idea of living twice as long.

Progress on several fronts last week -- with my friend Marcia-the-woodworker I worked out the design and most details of wall-mounted racks here in my studio to hang finished pieces, as well as free-standing, portable ones to take elsewhere for shows. Made the decision to name my business "RainShadow Textiles" instead of merely using my name which says nothing about what's involved or what I do. Now I need to attach that name to my website, and get the site itself updated almost entirely. Beginning that this week, which entails substantial re-writing of text and selection of new images.

Loom work itself seems to be on hold while I complain mightily about probably having to change my warping process for the new loom. Front-to-back isn't going to work, due to the structure of the loom. I've always done it this way, and am feeling whiney and petulant at the likelihood that I'm going to have to learn a whole new process (back-to-front) that seems quite frankly illogical to me. My only hope right now is a friend here on Whidbey who I believe mentioned some time ago a front-to-back method she uses which I vaguely remember was different from mine. I'll phone her tomorrow and find out.

I'm going to emulate Laura Fry's practice of noting in her blog books she's reading; it's given me interesting things to track down. My hope is that mine will do the same for others.

Right now, I'm either reading or have just finished:

The World Without Us -- Alan Weisman

Claiming Ground -- Laura Bell

Listening Below the Noise -- Anne LeClaire

Somewhere Towards the End -- Diana Athill

The photo is another Peacock series scarf. Both images by Michael Stadler.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Now Spring . . . . fresh beginning

Four months have slithered by since I wrote here. It turned out that with internet service only at home, being able to sit and write in the evening with distractions, interruptions, and fatigue to impede my thoughts, nothing happened. It was simply too challenging. But NOW I have internet service here at my studio (yup, extra cost), and writing in this blog, messing around with Handweaving.net, and doing business research and correspondence can all be accomplished as part of my work day. Much better!

I'm coming out of a creative slump, aka "fallow period". Not an unfamiliar situation, but one that I am not fond of while it's in process. The best part is this phase, when the slump is shifting and I'm suddenly (it seems) full of fresh ideas and a renewed sense of direction and goals. Already I'm mostly unable to conjure up the internal sense of the slump-time, for which thank goodness. Truth be told, I've gotten a lot of reading done -- some good, some pure lightweight -- and I've spent many hours happily knitting on a number of complicated large lace shawls, some of which are finished. Eventually, I'll have some photos of some of them here and on my website.

The new reconditioned loom I referred to previously is up and running, with a handsome scarf warp going onto it -- a five-scarf series I'll call African Savannah, which should indicate the kinds of colors. Rayon and cotton, hand-dyed by The Drop Spindle. The Big Loom is still sitting with a light teal rayon scarf warp partly woven; I think I'm bored with the colors, which merely means it's been there too long and I need to get it woven off. Both looms are threaded to 16-shaft twills, and each scarf is woven with a different pattern and a different weft, so each piece in the series is unique. (In nearly thirty years of weaving, I have never done the same thing twice.)

In January, I took a three-day workshop (sponsored by my Whidbey Weavers' Guild) taught by Bonnie Inouye, whose work I've admired for years. I spent most of the time working at my computer using her information to develop a lot of new advancing twill patterns. They're all stored in this computer, which is the one that runs my Big Loom, and gradually they'll be used in a wave of new work, some of it luxury fabrics for clothing.

The photo is one of the ones taken in late December; it's a hand-dyed silk scarf, in the Peacock series.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Planning process

Now that the holidays are well and truly behind us, and the weather here in the Puget Sound region has begun to feel like Spring (almost), the movement into the new year of work has begun. My husband has been in Texas with one of his daughters since December 22, and returns later this evening; life can return to its normal routine.

My work plan for 2010 is finished, and reviewed with friend Anne Belov, a painter and print-maker. I just need to write it in ink in the back pages of my calendar, where it's easy to find and refer to, and where it can be readily related to specific dates and events. My first show of the year is for the month of April, a joint venture with my friend Paul McClintock who's a painter and mixed-media artist. Our working title is "Rags", which makes us both smile and jiggles out lots of interesting ideas. My first detailed planning will be to map out how many pieces I want to put in the show, and a timeline for completing them in plenty of time for photography before delivering them to the gallery.

Progress already on some of the goals for this year ~ the first batch of studio photographs of recent woven pieces is complete and on CD, and a preliminary plan of attack for updating my website has been developed. My new reconditioned AVL computer-assisted loom was delivered on the 8th, in eight large heavy boxes now stored in what I call the back room at my studio. I'll finish weaving off the Tapestry series of scarves on the workshop dobby loom, then move it out of the way, and a couple of friends will help me assemble the new 30" production dobby loom. The WDL will be sold, so I'll still have two looms, but both will be true production looms, and once I've hired a part-time weaving assistant, both should be in use much of the time. One of my goals for the year is to produce 50 yards of handwoven fabric (for clothing and/or interiors), ambitious but I think not impossible.

One reason I decided to do a blog was to force myself to learn to take pictures with my digital camera, and post some of them here. It's an area where I seem to go all timid and helpless-feeling, but I figure that if I can learn how to design complex weaving patterns on the computer, I can certainly learn to do this. And I will. I especially want to include photos of the loom assembly process, as well as periodic shots of various stages of my weaving. And maybe the occasional picture of our garden, or the beach where I walk the dogs, or . . . .