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.