Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cold, cold, cold

from the old
to the new

 I was so busy with Bluemont work last week that I forgot to write a blog post! 

Our landlord recently informed us that the building where we have our storage is scheduled to be torn down.  Fortunately, he offered us a new storage location in the old flour mill, just a few blocks away.  We had a look at the weather and decided that Valentine's Day was the best opportunity.

We had to move all the Bluemont storage -
over 100 boxes of file archives,
dozens of event boxes
and signs
and all of the sound equipment.

There was also my Peace Weaver booth - 
shelves and equipment,
about a dozen tubs of yarn
and numerous wicker mannequins.

 As well as a surprising number of boxes
and some furniture we have acquired
from our parents in various moves.
 Lots of stuff.

In addition to my regular work, I made several trips during the week to the old and new storage sites to measure shelves and boxes and palettes and make a preliminary plan on paper.   On Saturday a crew of 8 spent six hours on the actual move.   We had a great group of cheerful, willing helpers.  After a few hours we took a break to warm up and refuel with lunch at Camino Real, then finished the job in the afternoon before the snow started.  I had a lot of sore muscles for the next few days!

My boss and daughter, Lily Dunning, part of our handworking crew
It seems like we spent most of this last weekend trying to stay warm in our old house.  Virginia has been experiencing unusually low temperatures in February and there were high winds all day Sunday, so Peter & I huddled around the woodstove with the dog and cat and I tried to get the den/studio warm enough so I could sew in there.

I am venturing into quilting this winter.  When our daughter & her husband, Hannah and Joe Won announced that they are expecting a baby in July I started planning a flannel baby quilt.  I knew just the fabrics I wanted to use, too - Cloud 9 Fanfare organic flannel in bright, gender neutral colors.  I have been eyeing this fabric line for quite a while but didn't have the right project - yet.

The plan is to have 7" squares of the fox and elephant fabrics with 2" sashing between the blocks and a square of bright solid color at the intersections.  I need to buy a little turquoise and purple solid to go with that citron for the small squares.  I may use grey for the sashing but I may opt for the dot fabric instead.

Even though I have been sewing garments since I was 11, I haven't done much quilting,  I have pieced plenty of log cabin and crazy quilt blocks and I taught a class on a very cool fast & dirty quilting that Bird Ross wrote about for Threads magazine many years ago, but I haven't made an actual quilt.  So, I decided I would get in some practice before I start on Baby Won Kenobe's quilt.  First I stitched up a set of forty 44" long strips into a quilt top.

This was a kit for a 2012 charity quilt from my local quilt shop, Web Fabrics.   I am a little late for the original donation idea, but I may donate it to the silent auction for the Bluemont Country Dances if I can get it finished before the March dance.  First, I need to find fabric for the backing and binding and then get stitching!

There are two other small flannel quilts in the planning stages - one will be pieced much like the baby quilt.  I have been collecting fabrics for this for several years, and I finally assembled the elements on our bed and started fiddling with the layout.  The color in this photo is not accurate, but you get the general idea - rich, autumnal colors.  I'm using a charm pack of 5" squares of flannel in tweed prints like herringbone and windowpane checks for the small squares.

The other is just a patchwork of color.  While visiting Web Fabrics I found this 10" layer cake of Moda flannel, and I loved the color palette, so home it came and here is my preliminary layout. I just want to piece the squares together as you see here and bind it with black or a dark brown.

I have been a weaver since 1980 and the idea of cutting up perfectly good fabric only to sew it back together again still seems kind of crazy, but playing with color and pattern this way is very satisfying!

(By the way, the title this week is from a Little Feat song of the same name.)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Shaker Textile Adventure

My friend Liz and I set out a few days early for the John C. Campbell Folk School last March.  
We made a side trip to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, to visit the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

I have been several times to the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire and to Hancock Shaker Village in western Massachusetts.  I have visited the Shaker Museum & Library in Old Chatham, NY, the site of the New Lebanon community and the Shaker Historical Society Museum in Shaker Heights, Ohio, but I have wanted to visit Pleasant Hill for some time.  It is the only Shaker village museum in the south and there are overnight accomodations in the village.  

We met another fiber friend, Lucy and stayed two nights in a lovely set of rooms in the East Family Sisters Shop.  This is Lucy's room with a double bed - Liz and I had twin beds in the adjoining room and each room had an en suite bathroom.  The rooms were beautifully furnished with simple reproductions and beautiful original built in cupboards.

There are some domestic beasts on the grounds, and it is pleasant to wake to the sounds of lowing cattle.

The Village runs a restaurant in the Trustee's Office which serves breakfast and lunch, and we had several meals there.  The service was excellent, the kitchen accommodated our various dietary requirements  and the setting was gorgeous.


But what we really came for was the old textiles.  I arranged in advance to visit the archives and study some of the textiles.  I teach a class on Shaker Linens and include a Shaker rug in my 18th c. Floor Coverings class.  A few years ago I went with Nanette Davidson of the John C. Campbell Folk School to spend a day in the textile archives at the Hancock Shaker Village - that experience was like opening Pandora's box - it was so exciting so be able to handle and examine these old textiles and there is so much to learn from close examination.

I am very interested in the handwoven linens and rugs, of course, but also in clothing and in knitted and novelty rugs.  I was delighted to find the knitted rug you see above and I hope to eventually reproduce it in some form.

This beautiful little apron was sewn by a 7 year old girl as a gift for another Shaker Sister.   The fabric is handwoven cotton with crammed threads creating the windowpane pattern.  It is elegant in it's simplicity.  
We looked at bonnets, chair tape, braided straw tape for making bonnets, cotton, silk and wool kerchiefs of all sizes and patterns, pen wipers, aprons, socks, sewing boxes, mittens, several dresses, a red wool cloak and a very unusual pair of pajamas in mint condition.

After several hours, we staggered out into the daylight, replenished ourselves with lunch and then returned for more examination, note taking and photography.

On our second day, we toured a textile exhibit and explored the village grounds and buildings.  I was surprised to see signs encouraging visitors to take photographs and share them on Facebook and other social media, as the rules for photography vary widely from one museum to the next.

I had the good fortune to take several weaving classes from Mary Elva Erf when she was still teaching; I took her Shaker Linens class twice and her Shaker Rugs class, too.  At that time she encouraged her students to weave a reproduction of a towel or a rug to donate to one of the Shaker museums, and I eventually wove a fine cotton towel which is at the Canterbury Shaker Village.  It is really exciting to see these reproduction textiles in situ around the museums - as a weaver, I feel it adds so much to the feeling that the living residents have just left the scene.

We spent some time exploring the displays in the Center Family Dwelling and found the permanent weaving exhibit at the back of the first floor, with several looms, a lovely towel display and a number of volunteer weavers busily working away but happy to chat.

The volunteers were weaving blue rag rugs on this old frame loom, using donated hospital scrubs for the rags.  The rugs will be sewn into room size carpets to be used in various buildings in the museum.

Many of the textiles found in Shaker communities were brought into the community by those who joined the movement, and other textiles were woven by Shakers.  The Shakers had 2 and 4 harness looms and wove relatively simple plain weave and twill cloth.  They wove for their own needs but also made items for sale to what they called The World's People.

A free standing warping frame with a skarn or spool rack mounted on the wall

Today, most people know the Shakers for their chairs and possibly other furniture and architecture, but weavers prize the woven tape that was used to weave chair seats, the lovely patterns of cotton and linen towels and clothing fabric and the wonderful ingenuity of their rugs.

The Shakers used cloth strips to weave simple rag rugs, but they also made many rugs with a weft made of several colors of wool yarn twisted together, sometimes in combination with fabric strips.  The yarn and/or fabric would be twisted on the great wheel or walking wheel, turning the wheel clockwise for some of the weft and counterclockwise for some of the weft.  The direction of the wheel creates either an S or a Z twist in the yarn, and when these are used together in a rug a chevron pattern results.

This rug has slightly different colors of wool yarn in the S twist section and the Z twist section, with two different colors of rag strip separating the yarn chevrons - do you see?  There is an inch or so of S twist, an inch of Z twist, a black rag strip, an inch of S, an inch of Z and then a yellow gold rag strip.  I have many photos of rugs from the Hancock Museum archives as well as samples from my classes.

I mentioned the chair tape - here is a Shaker chair with the seat woven with tape.  It looks like a blue and red check from a distance, but when you get up close -

 You can see that the blue tape is a solid color but the red tape is striped red and yellow. 

Some of the chair tapes are plain, but some are quite fancy.  I love the dichotomy of the spare beauty in the lines of the chair and the subtle complexity of the fancy chair tape.

There is something about that simple plain weave checkerboard that I find endlessly satisfying in so many aspects of weaving - it is the basic binary of woven structure,
over and under, over and under,
light and dark, yes and no.

Original handwoven Shaker chair tape, woven into a chair seat

I will leave you with just two more images - a classic Shaker flax wheel and distaff,

and one of the many pairs of staircases that are found in Shaker buildings.  Men and women lived entirely separately in Shaker communities, to the point of having separate entrances and staircases.  I love the lines in these staircases - more S and Z!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

My Fibery Year, Part 1

I also like to look back at my teaching and other fiber events at the turn of the year.  I made a list of 2014 events and then started looking through my photos and quickly realized that this is a bigger project than I first thought, and that some of the classes and events really warrant focused posts. 
So today: a quick recap of 2014 with photos & details about a few classes and a promise of more to come!

2014 Fiber Highlights
January: 18th c. Floor Coverings, John C Campbell Folk School, Brasstown NC
February: Swedish Towels, Blue Ridge Spinners & Weavers Guild, Purcellville VA
March: a visit to the archives at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg KY
April: Handpaint Magic Spinning, JC Campbell Folk School, Brasstown NC
I was a student in Deb Robson's 3Ls and 3Cs class, MD Sheep & Wool Festival, West Friendship MD
May: Peace Weavers booth at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival
Tartan Throws, The Mannings, East Berlin PA
July: Tour de Fleece, which for me means another 3 weeks of my 50+ sheep breed study
August: Peace Weavers booth at SpinQuest 2014, Front Royal VA
September: Tartan Scarves during Scottish week at the JC Campbell Folk School, Brasstown NC
Travels in Colorado & New Mexico, including a visit to Centinela Fiber Arts in Chimayo, NM
 How to Buy a Fleece and Spindle Spinning classes, Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, Berryville VA 
October: a wool waulking demonstration at the Waterford Fair, Waterford VA
Checkmate Fiber booth at Fall Fiber Festival, Montpelier Station, VA
December: a visit to Winterthur Museum to see the Costumes of Downton Abbey exhibit, Winterthur DE

I started the year with a John C Campbell Folk School class called 18th Century Floor Coverings in early January.

This is a unique class that works best in a school setting where there are heavier floor looms, so the Folk School studio is perfect. 

The class includes rugs from  from a variety of different ethnic traditions in North America - (pictured here, clockwise from the top left) Jerga from the Southwest, Scandinavian Boundweave, Scandinavian Drall and a Wool Overshot rug from Nova Scotia; not pictured are the Shaker Rag Rug and Venetian Carpeting.

It was a small but enthusiastic class and a great way to start off the year, spending a week working together in the weaving studio at the Folk School.

To quote a favorite book, 
In February it will be - My snowman's anniversary - With cake for him and soup for me!
(Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak)

In February it was time for my brand new class, Swedish Towels, which I taught for the Blue Ridge Spinners & Weavers Guild over the President's Day weekend.  I have been planning this class for many years, inspired by a stack of old Swedish VAV magazines that Norman Kennedy gave to me.  I love so many of the patterns and structures that appear in these magazines and I decided to assemble a collection of distinctly Scandinavian weaving patterns for a round robin class.  The drafts include some lovely plain and twill weave variations, monks belt, daldrall (overshot), halvdrall, rosepath, crackle and more.

 The twelve students warped their looms for towel sized samples, wove samples on each loom in class and then wove full size towels later at home on their own looms.  I brought an extra warped loom to class and was able to weave along with the students.  After class, I cut each of my samples in half  and washed one of each pair; the pairs of samples are now in a notebook for this class.  Wet finishing changes some materials and weave structures dramatically, so it's very useful to have these pairs of samples.

 As an added bonus, I brought in some band looms and rigid heddles on the second day of class to demonstrate the weaving of narrow tapes to coordinate with the towels. 

Hanging loops are often found on Scandinavian towels.  Tape is usually a basic plain weave with just a few threads and works up very quickly.  Coordinating tape can be woven for garments and other weaving projects to lovely effect.

Every class has an overachiever!  This is Robin and she wove a sample on each loom and then had time to weave off the remaining warp on her own loom, weave a matching tape and sew up her finished rosepath towel.

OK, time for one more class - back to the Campbell Folk School for Handpaint Magic Spinning in April. 

Where the students learned about:

 different ways to work with hand painted rovings: chain plying, fractal spinning, barber pole yarn,

how to paint rovings

and spun some more!  I love the way each student ends up with a nest of color near their chair.

Below on the left you see one student's work for the week, including a baby blanket project begun; one the right each student's set of skeins for the Friday afternoon student display.

I have taught Handpaint Magic Spinning as a half day and day long festival or guild class, but this was the first spinning class I have taught at the Folk School and it was wonderful to have a full week to explore and play and learn together. 

I also have a Handpaint Magic Knitting class that shows how to work with different types of handpainted and commercially spun color effect yarns.  This would be a great pair of classes for a guild weekend, don't you think?

Happy Handpaint Magic Spinners

Next week - Shaker Textiles!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Looking Forward, Looking Back

It's always nice to look back at the previous year and get a sense of what was accomplished.  Although my husband and I have written and sent out an annual letter for most of our 30 years together, the last ten years somehow slipped by.  But this year we got the whole family together for a photo just before the holidays and Peter wrote the letter and I spent a lot of time reconstructing our address list - people move around a lot in a decade! We had it printed, ran address labels and spent a snowy cold day signing our names, writing notes and folding/stuffing/sealing/stamping almost 200 letters.  Done!

 Ravelry, that amazing internet haven for knitters, tells me that I completed 10 projects last year with 5 others that were begun but not completed.  I knit a cowl, 3 shawls, a long cotton scarf,  2 pairs of socks, a summer cardigan, a hat, and one rabbit.   On January 1st,  three cardigans, a Rainbow Afghan and a pair of  fingerless gloves were in various states of progress.  This does not count Old WIPs, just projects begun in 2014.  I have a lot of old works-in-progress, more on some of those later.

The highlights of my knitting year would have to be the two Swallowtail wedding shawls that I knit out of Hand Maiden Sea Silk yarn - one in a natural color for my daughter Hannah and the other in ultraviolet for my nephew Miles' bride, Meghann.  A lot of positive intention was worked into the stitches of those shawls!

I'm also quite pleased with a last minute Christmas gift that I knitted for my son, Robbie.  Robbie's grey pet rabbit, Stewart passed away quite suddenly the week before he came home for the holidays and Robbie was understandingly very sad.  I knew I had seen a good rabbit pattern on Ravelry and I found it in my favorites: Henry's Rabbit by Sara Elizabeth Kellner.  I downloaded the free pattern and looked through my stash listing and decided that to have just the right yarn, I needed to buy some charcoal color Shepherd's Wool Worsted from Stonehedge Fiber Mill.  This is a soft 100% Merino yarn in a worsted weight.  I started knitting on December 15th, squeezing it in between work and all the business of the holiday season and I sewed the last seam and stitched on the eyes on Christmas Eve.  We both cried when Robbie opened that package on Christmas afternoon - he was really touched and pleased and I was delighted. 

Looking forward, I have a number of fiber related goals for the coming year.  I have a weaving related book project that I am working on - I will tell you more about that when I have made more progress. 

In the knitting realm, I will be teaching a new class at the John C Campbell Folk School in October called Knitting Design: Aran & Gansey Style, and to help me prepare for this I just started an Aran Design study with the knitting study group of the Blue Ridge Spinners & Weavers Guild.  I have been leading this group for several years and I really enjoy the opportunities for teaching and sharing at our monthly meetings.

North Sea Knitting Sampler - student & teacher samples
I have designed and knit a number of Aran and gansey sweaters over the years, and I teach a North Sea Knitting Sampler that includes Arans & Ganseys, Fairisle colorwork and Shetland lace knitting, but these are shorter classes with small projects.  One of the wonderful things about teaching at the Campbell Folk School is the luxury of working for 5-6 days on a subject but obviously this also requires more organization, so before I teach a new class there I like to do a focused study. 

For our January meeting, I brought a bag full of sweaters and a bag full of books.  We reviewed the basic design elements of traditional Aran sweaters, talked about choosing stitch patterns that will coordinate and balance and discussed swatching.  Many knitters don't like to swatch - they feel that it is time and yarn wasted when they really long to cast on for the real thing, but a good swatch will give you the information you need to plan a garment that really works and fits.  I talked about practical uses to make swatching more palatable - a swatch can become a scarf, the crown of a hat, a square for an afghan, etc.

Then I gave out a sample pattern for the knitters to take home and work.  I encouraged the knitters to look at sweaters and patterns online and in books and think about what types of cable patterns they like best, and about how they would like to put these together into a panel of stitch patterns for the garment they are designing.  I will report back on how the homework assignments went after we meet in February.

For myself, I would like to design & knit a few baby & child size Aran & gansey sweaters this year as class samples, and hopefully complete a few of the unfinished projects pictured above.  Clockwise from the top: the orange is Thea Coleman's design Dark & Stormy in Peace Fleece Worsted, color Glasnost Gold; the tan is a natural brown sheep colored genuine Aran sweater that I bought in the west of Ireland in 1980; the blue grey is Kristen Kapur's  Dr. G's Memory Vest in Peace Fleece Worsted, color Lakinka Malinka; the red is Juliet Moody's Sparrow cardigan in some Vermont farm wool that my friend Norman Kennedy dyed with cochineal and the brown is Alice Starmore's St. Brigid in Black Water Abbey Worsted, color Chestnut.

What goals are you considering for the coming year? 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I am Unusually Coordinated Today

The weather has been unusually cold in the northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia for the last two weeks.  We live in a 1905 farmhouse with a woodstove for our primary heat, and while we have done many things to help our house heat more efficiently in the winter months, when it gets down into the single digits we spend much of our time at home in the living room near our beloved Vermont Castings Vigilant.  Idgy is demonstrating her preferred nap location.

Today, the temperature will finally get above freezing and the sun is shining again.  I went to my closet and chose an orange corduroy dress to wear, and then I had a look at my vests.  I pulled out a vest to go with my dress that I have never worn before - I inherited it from my mother-in-law, Beryl Smith Dunning, after she passed away last year. 

Beryl's friend Marjorie Manilow made this yo-yo appliqued vest for Beryl as a gift many years ago.  I got to meet Marjorie at my in-law's 50th wedding anniversary in 1990 and we began an occasional correspondence as we both like to make things with thread and cloth.  Marjorie lives in Wales and is a wonderfully creative fiber artist.  Over the years she has sent me photos of her Twelve Days of Christmas Hat Series and the quilted pieces she has made using scraps of woven Welsh Wool coats.  I haven't heard from her in many years now but we are sending out an Annual Letter this year after a lapse of ten years so I am hoping to hear from some old friends soon, including Marjorie.

When I got to the coat closet on my way out the door to work, I grabbed my most recent thrift store acquisition - a beautiful, bright Harris Tweed women's coat that is a perfect match for the dress.

I started finding these Harris Tweed coats about twenty years ago in local thrift stores and I have never been able to pass one up.  As a weaver, the cloth is wonderful and precious and as an added bonus, many of the coats fit me.  I teach a weaving class on District Checks and Tweeds and my coat collection is a terrific addition to the class.  My daughter Hannah took two of these coats with her when she attended college in western Massachusetts, a perfect climate for a good wool tweed!  Hannah chose a great orange & purple houndstooth and a bright green tweed.  She wore out the linings and the hems came unstitched, but the tweed will last a long, long time.

 This second photo of the cloth will show you weavers a little more detail - my iPhone takes better close ups than my iPad2 - but the color is not as true.  The purple color is more dominant in the photo than in real life.  Can you see the colors of the individual threads?  The warp threads are a burnt orange and a medium brown and they go O O B O O B B B.  The weft threads are 4 picks of an orangey red and 4 picks of a magenta purple and the weave structure is a 2/2 twill.  You can see the strong diagonal lines in this cloth.  Many of the other women's coats have a variation of a broken twill.

I started documenting the cloth in my coat collection a few years ago: photographing the tailoring details and the cloth itself and writing up weaving drafts for the color & weave twill patterns.  The color selections are simply brilliant and the sequence of colored yarns along with the twill weave structure creates a stunning fabric.  I have learned most of what I know about traditional tweed from examining the fabric of many, many coats and sport jackets, and this cloth continues to fascinate me.

Next week: studying Aran sweater design!

p.s. I cut my hair.