Saturday, August 23, 2014

"We will use no stash before its time."

     A long time ago, a mediocre California winery ran an entire national advertising campaign (including memorable TV commercials featuring Orson Welles) with the slogan, "We will sell no wine before its time." What holds true for wine also holds true for stash--it needs time to "age" before it gets turned into some glorious creation.
     This time, the stash in question is a large quantity of 10/4 mercerized cotton yarn. It came into my stash when I bought my 4-shaft Gilmore in February, 1995; since then, it's been carefully stored with other cellulosic fibers, awaiting the time that it could be put to good use. There's quite a bit to this stash--all together, it's over five pounds, or about 13,000 yards of yarn. Some of it is dyed, but about 60% (about 3 1/2 pounds) is undyed, some with ancient labels for Royal Society Eversheen and Sunray Knitting & Crochet Cotton. This is going to make great yarn for weaving tapes and straps, but before that can happen, I need to dye.
     As I mentioned above, some of the yarns are dyed. I don't know who the original stash-holder was, but she had a fondness for warm, autumnal colors--nearly all the dyed yarns range from dark cocoa brown, through orange, to gold. There's a couple ounces of mauve, and a bit less of royal blue, but none of the cool greens, blues, and purples I like to use in weaving. There's also no red. Fortunately, I can fix all that.
     The first step is to put these skeins into some sort of usable order. I've "caked" all the colors so they're easier to work from, and turned the most tangled skeins into neat 2-yard hanks for dyeing. I've got the colors I need on hand: clear yellow; bright Chinese red; purple; dark and light greens; more royal blue; and turquoise. All I need to do is soak the yarns, then put them into their respective dye baths. Each hank is 500 yards, so once dyed, I'll have plenty for weaving a bunch of tapes and bands.

* * *

     It took about two days to wind the hanks, then dye them all. I ended up winding about 4,500 yards into nine hanks--I kept finding yet another color that I thought might be pretty. I only have three "smallish" (2 to 3 gallon) dyepots, so I had to dye the colors in relays. Babysitting dyepots is much like any other babysitting--you don't need to be there every single second--so I sat in the kitchen next to my pots and knitted, stopping to stir the pots at the end of each round.
     Once dyed (and rinsed, and rinsed again, and washed in Synthrapol, and rinsed several times more), I hung the dyed yarns out to dry on the upstairs porch. I finally decided on turquoise, yellow, light green, red, dark blue, purple, dark green, periwinkle blue, and lilac (see the photo to the right). This gives me a range of cool colors to work with and, along with all the warm colors already dyed, I'm set for tape and band weaving.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Need A Sweater

"A New Design in Cable Stitch,"
from 1940
     We went down to San Jose for the "Spirit of '45" event at History San Jose last weekend. It was loads of fun--lots of World War II reenactors, veterans, and just regular people dressed up in WWII-era finery. A bunch of friends are getting interested in WWII-era reenacting, especially the British homefront, as members of the Women's Land Army. Personally, I'm too much of an American to be a convincing Brit (I have no talent for accents); on the other hand, having a few things in my wardrobe to allow me to dress up for these events could be fun.
     This idea has led me to the need for a new sweater. Actually, it's the Victoria and Albert Museum's fault--they have made available on their website a number of historic knitting patterns, and there's a darling little cabled cardigan pattern than ran in Women's Weekly in July, 1940. This could be a stunner--knit out of the right yarn, I not only could wear it for WWII "homefront" reenacting but, paired with flannel or tweed slacks, I'd have a nice outfit for vintage "tweed" rides in the winter and spring months. The only downside to this pattern--it's completely unredacted. This means some serious measuring, swatching, and calculating to turn the pattern from a nice little Size 9 sweater into something that will fit my more generous proportions.
     The pattern gives me a few clues to work from:

  • Needle Size: "Size 8 and Size 12 steel pins"
  • Gauge: "8 stitches to the inch with Size 8 pins"
There's a big difference between old UK, US, and modern needle sizes, primarily because the UK system was based on wire gauges, while Heaven only knows what the US system was based on. This has always been a problem, and is one of the reasons that I bought an antique Walker "Bell" gauge (a tool used to check the size of British knitting needles and crochet hooks) many years ago--it's a lot easier to work from a Weldon's pattern if the actual size of the needle or hook is known. Fortunately, has solved a lot of these problems with what I think is one of the better needle conversion charts. This chart eliminates most of the need for a Bell gauge--one simply looks up the needle size, and the corresponding needle size is referenced. In my case, an old UK #8 needle is the equivalent to a modern US #6 or 4mm needle, while the UK #12 needle is the equivalent to a modern US#2 or 2.75mm. Judging from the needle sizes, this sweater is knit with a really firm ribbing at the waist and cuffs, with main parts of the sweater a bit loosely knit.
     But wait--there's more information! The gauge is 8 stitches to the inch with 4mm needles. Normally, 4mm needles are recommended for DK/light worsted knitting yarns, with 21-24 stitches in a 4-inch piece of stockinette; however, I don't think it would be possible to knit 1x1 ribbing out of DK on 2.75mm needles. I know 2.75mm needles really well, as they are the needles I normally use for knitting socks. Dropping down to a sport-weight yarn would increase the number of stitches per inch on the 4mm needles; additionally, I know from experience that it's possible to knit fine ribbing with sport-weight yarn. So, I need a sport-weight yarn that is readily available, reasonably priced, not too scratchy, and in a color I like.
     Ravelry to the rescue! Ravelry has a large database of yarns, so it's pretty easy to put in some parameters and start searching for likely candidates. Most of my usual "go to" yarns are not eligible: Malabrigo Arroyo and Blue Moon STR Medium don't come in solid colors; Nature Spun Sport is scratchy; Cascade 220 Sport is too heavy; Gems Sport is too expensive. A couple possibilities: DROPS Baby Merino, and Cascade Heritage 150. Both are Merino (not scratchy), readily available, not outrageously expensive, and come in a wide variety of possible colors. I'll think about these as I do some preliminary swatching.

CURRENTLY OTN: The second of a pair of blue and green striped stockings, knit out of Louet Gems sock yarn that was hand-dyed with indigo and mullein. After this, I'm done with socks and stockings for a while, as I've also knit 2 additional pairs of socks since the beginning of June.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Leicester Longwool
Black Sheep, Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool?

     I'm baaaaaaaack! The studio has been busy for the past couple of months, so I've neglected to write any blog posts. However, I'm back--in more ways than one--with a house full of fleece and fiber.
     Last weekend was the 40th Black Sheep Gathering. I haven't missed a Gathering since 2007, and the annual trip, which once marked the start of my summer vacation, is still one of my favorite "vacations" to visit my fiber family, learn new things, and shop for equipment and fibers. Some things have changed over the years. For example, I rarely take classes any more, primarily because there aren't that many spinning-related classes that cover things I'm interested in, but haven't learned yet. I also don't take the train: driving has become cheaper, especially if I can find someone to ride along and share the cost of the gasoline. On the other hand, a lot of it is still the same: the location; many of the vendors; the fabulous wool show and sale; and the rain.
     This year, my travel companion was one of my fellow guild members, Robin. She lives in San Francisco, so she (and her camping gear) came up to Vallejo via the ferry on Tuesday night, and we got a fairly early (8:30 a.m.) start on Wednesday morning. The drive from the Bay Area to Eugene is long (500 miles) and mostly boring, so I was glad of the company. We stopped for lunch in Redding, and made it into Eugene about 7:00 p.m. Something nice about Eugene: as a busy college town, it has a lot of pretty nice, not very expensive motels. We checked in, walked down to Falling Sky Brewery for dinner, and generally unwound after the long drive.
     Thursday morning found us at the Eugene Textile Center. I was curious about an Oxaback loom they were selling (unfortunately, it wasn't on display for me to take a look), which was our original reason for trotting over there before setting up camp at the fairgrounds, but Robin had a good time looking at all the different types of looms, and I found a super-deal on 8-inch long pirns for my end-feed shuttle.
A "new style" Corriedale
fleece from Ramifications.
      After our visit, we went to the fairgrounds and started setting up our camp. The camp seemed a little empty this year: a lot of the "regulars" didn't make it to the Gathering this year, and people were slow in arriving to set up their own camps. Finally, there were enough other people setting up that we felt comfortable leaving the camp for a bit and did the market and ice run (Note to BSG campers: Albertsons is stocking 10-pound blocks of ice now.) so that we had food, water, and a way to keep everything cool. We walked down to Hot Mama's Wings for dinner, and I introduced Robin to the delights of deep-fried pickle chips before a companionable evening of talk and spinning.
     We turned in fairly late, and I was a little irritated when I was awakened by our nearest neighbors talking excitedly and moving around at 3:00 a.m. "What the...? It's the middle of the night!" I thought, then I heard It: the tap, tap, tapety-tap of rain, starting to fall on my tent, my canopy, and my favorite spinning chair. I scrambled out of the tent, moved my chair inside to stay dry, then went back to bed, to listen to the rain falling on the rain fly and congratulate myself on buying a new tent. I woke up much later to a drizzly morning, but the sun came out by lunchtime and it was a lovely day. In the eight times I've been to Black Sheep, it has rained eight times--I've decided that it will rain at some point during the weekend, and I should simply "deal with it."
A "classic" Corriedale fleece
from Hub Corriedales.
     I didn't take any classes this year, so Friday morning I hot-footed it over to the "Wool Barn" to check out the Non-Show Fleece Sale. I was looking for something specific this year--Corriedale--and within minutes found two beauties: a nice little 5-pound fleece from Ramifications, and a gorgeous 7.33-pound fleece from Hub Corriedales. The guild needs a Corriedale for a project later this year, and either of these are lovely fleeces for that purpose. Personally, I like the Hub Corrie better, but I told my fellow guildmembers who entrusted me to buy a fleece that they could have first choice, so I will end up with the "other one." No matter which one I end up with, it's going out to be processed into pin-draft. I've found it's ultimately cheaper, time-wise, for me to send fleeces out to be processed, and I'm better about getting spinning up the processed fiber than I am about processing the fiber.
     I did all this fleece shopping--along with picking up a couple of this year's "Mystery Batts" from Fantasy Fibers--because I was scheduled to help out with the Wool Sale on Saturday afternoon. I've helped a little with the Wool Sale in the past--mostly set-up--but this year was the first year I was truly working. It turned out to be a lot of fun! Jeri and Eliza, the two sale coordinators, had everything very well organized, and in spite of the sale starting late, we sold about 300 fleeces in just a couple hours. I went back on Sunday morning to help with the administrative paperwork, and ended up coming away with a third fleece: a nice little Leicester Longwool that is destined to be washed and dyed in the lock, then combed to make a fine, smooth, worsted yarn.
     One of the advantages of driving is that I can bring a lot of fleeces back with me. This year, it was four: three of my own, and a nice Romney fleece for a friend. The downside of driving is that I lose a couple days in the studio (Wednesday and Monday). However, as this is my June "vacation," I try to look at the drive as part of the experience. All in all, it was a pretty good one this year, and I'm already starting to plan for 2015.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Time to Play!

All packed up and ready to go!
     One of the highlights of CNCH 2014 was the chance to take a marvelous 12-hour class with Robyn Spady. Robyn is a great teacher and her class, Exploring Weave Structures On a Single Warp, was an opportunity to do something I haven't taken the time to do in many years: play. I related getting ready for CNCH--registering for the class, warping the loom, etc.--in my last post, so I'll simply pick up the story from there.
     I was a little surprised when my loom, my big box of tools, bobbins, shuttles, and extra stuff, and I made our way down to the appointed "classroom." Fortunately, the conference committee set aside half of the upstairs ballroom for the class, and we needed nearly every bit of the space--there were 31 students, all with some type of multi-shaft loom! I've never seen so many different brands and types of workshop looms in one place at one time--table looms, floor looms, four shafts, eight shafts, name a brand or style, and it was probably represented in that class. Everyone had one of four different threadings, and we each wove at our own looms the entire class, so it was fun to occasionally walk around and see what other people were weaving.
Twill patterns (white)
and waffle weave (red)
     Robyn, equipped with a microphone and an LCD projector, took us through the different weaves in our handout materials: a well-written, well-illustrated 100+ page book. We started off with easy patterns based on huck lace, moved through waffle weave, and on to twills, before class ended Friday afternoon. I appreciated the simple patterns, as they're nearly second nature, and I had time to re-acquaint myself with weaving with a boat shuttle.
     Saturday morning found nearly everyone at their looms by 8:00 a.m., an hour before class was scheduled to start. Once Robyn arrived, we began with overshot designs ("Periwinkle"), learned about weaving on opposites, and spent a bit of time on weaving Monk's Belt before breaking for lunch. It was during this session that I discovered why so many workshop looms have trays attached to the breast beam--I had to keep juggling two boat shuttles, either on my lap or on the cloth, as I was weaving. Add one more thing to the shopping list for the Gilmore. After lunch, Robyn launched us into the more complex structures, with more complex tie-ups. Weaving Swivel took the rest of the afternoon--it's a beautiful weave, appropriate for fancy upholstery fabric (the back has long floats), but it required repegging all eight treadles. I spent 25 minutes lying on the floor under the loom, moving the pegs around, for five minutes of weaving.
We have achieved corduroy!
     Sunday morning came too quickly, and I jumped on as many designs as I could manage before our time ended at noon. I was desperate to try my hand at weaving corduroy, so I skipped a couple designs, set the tie-up for corduroy, grabbed a stick shuttle (for the pile weft), and dove in. Corduroy is a weft pile fabric (velvet is a warp pile fabric), with the height of the pile determined by the length of the weft floats. The floats don't pull out easily because in between each pair of pile weft shots, there's a tabby shot to "lock" them in. Robyn had a carton of hanks of embroidery floss in a rainbow of colors, so I selected two hanks of green that were close, but not identical , then wound them together on the stick shuttle. It was a little precarious--I was juggling both a large stick shuttle and a boat shuttle--but I wove 1.5 inches of the corduroy cloth, then took a quilter's chenille cutter and carefully sliced through the weft floats. A tiny bit of fluffing up, and voilá--I had created corduroy.
     After the corduroy triumph, I had time for one last sample--doublefaced cloth--before it was time to pack everything up and attend a guild meeting. I managed to finish 23 of the 28 samples for the class during the time alloted, and probably could have done them all had I been working with one of the four-shaft threadings. However, it was a great opportunity to play around with an eight-shaft point twill threading, and it reminded me of the importance of play time to keep the creative juices flowing.

The entire sampler.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

A Busman's Holiday

     The Conference of Northern California Handweavers (CNCH) was established in 1953 to further the art and appreciation of the craft of handweaving. As the umbrella organization for the fiber arts guilds in Northern California (from California's Central Coast to the Oregon state line), CNCH is tasked with holding a conference every year for fiber artists. Over the years, this mission has evolved into a biennial "conference" (held in even-numbered years) and an "alternate" retreat (held in odd-numbered years) that rotates among the five different geographic areas. 2014 is the year Area 5 (North Bay to Oregon) guilds hosted the full conference, which was held last weekend.
     I was looking forward to CNCH2014, as I had helped behind the scenes at CNCH2012 and hadn't taken any classes. This time, I was taking a class, and when Exploring Weave Structures on A Single Warp, taught by master weaver Robyn Spady, was announced, I was On It. When registration opened on November 1, I had my class registration completed and my hotel reservations made within the first 10 minutes. About six weeks ago, Robyn sent out instructions on how to warp our looms, and I spent last weekend winding a warp and dressing my workshop loom in preparation for the class. On Thursday afternoon, I--along with my suitcase, my loom, and a tote bin full of supplies--were dropped off at the Oakland Convention Center Marriott. I checked into the hotel a day early, to give myself time on Friday morning to do a bit of shopping before my class started at 1:00 p.m.
     Conference, for me, is a bit of a "busman's holiday." For those unfamiliar with the term, a busman's holiday is when you do something on the weekend that is very similar to what you do for a living. As I'm a fiber artist and weaver, spending the weekend at a conference about fiber and in a class, weaving, can seem pretty boring. For me, however, it's a chance to see people that I rarely see in person, make business contacts with vendors, and (most important) play.
     The Marketplace, though small when compared to a gargantuan expo such as Stitches West, was so laser-focused on weaving and spinning that it took me the entire morning to tour it, and I still didn't see everything. I had an opportunity to talk to the maker of my workshop loom about some modifications and upgrades; a chance to buy another end feed shuttle (because one EFS is never enough); picked up a bunch of nice hemp yarn from an Idaho vendor who I normally only visit online; and got to test-drive AVL's latest loom. I also got to visit with people: people I knew from previous conferences; fellow guild members; and online friends and acquaintances I finally met in real life. The time flew by, as did the entire conference: between classes, a banquet, a fashion show, and a couple meetings, I was on the run until I got home on Sunday evening.
     In spending some time interacting with the wider fiber arts community in real life, I also noticed some interesting developments. The most interesting (and a little scary) is that, for better or worse, I have a little bit of fame/notoriety in the fiber arts community. I was stopped several times by people I didn't know who said,"I'm so-and-so. You answered my questions on Ravelry. Thanks, the information was a big help." It's a little bit disconcerting, but also nice to know that I might have helped someone. This also means that people Know Me, and I have to be on my best behavior: I can't be the cranky, irritable old trout that I sometimes can be (especially if I haven't had any coffee), as it can put people off. I also need to "schedule" a lot more time to interact with people, so I don't have to cut them off because I need to be someplace else.
     All in all, it was a lovely weekend. I came home physically tired, but creatively energized, and ready to tackle my work once again.

(NOTE: I'll relate my experiences in the weaving class in my next post. Stay tuned...)

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Book List

I am a bookworm. I've always liked the worlds reading creates and, when I was a kid, my favorite afternoons were spent with my nose stuck in a book. My tastes in reading were--and are--pretty eclectic. You name it, I read it: history, biographies, fairy tales, mysteries, science fiction, trashy get the idea. I was fortunate enough to fall in love with and marry another bookworm, so we live in a house full of books. If it's true that "books are friends," then we have a great many friends--upwards of 5,000 by my rough estimate.

Presently, space and time are conspiring to keep me from acquiring more "friends": we really don't have space for any more "dead tree" (print) books, and working as an artist means I don't have the time to curl up with a book the way I could when I was a child. However, technology has come to the rescue! The result has changed my book buying and reading habits.

I've discovered that I can get the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), one of the truly great library systems, to store reading materials for me. I've always loved the LAPL, spent many happy hours in the downtown Central Library doing research, and was heartbroken when the library suffered a series of horrendous fires in 1986. I discovered last year that: 1) the LAPL has a really large collection of e-media (including e-books, e-magazines, and audiobooks) that can be downloaded onto any computer or electronic device (e.g., iPhone, iPod, tablet); and 2) you don't have to live in Los Angeles County to have a LAPL library card. I got my library card while in Los Angeles one weekend, and it's been very well used--it's now normal for me to have a couple e-books on my iPad for "bedtime reading," and three or four audiobooks on my iPod.

Yes, audiobooks. They've changed my reading habits. Audiobooks have been around for years, but I wasn't usually a fan--I like being able to pick up and put down a book, to go back and reread passages if I think I missed something, and to see pictures and diagrams. Then, I discovered I could listen to podcasts and audiobooks while working at tasks that didn't require close attention, and I started chewing through audiobooks the way I once chewed through regular books.

I started a list of books I've "read" at the beginning of the year. It's an interesting task that lets me see how much I'm reading, and where my curiosity is taking me. I'll update the list periodically throughout the year.

Goodman, Beverly. Shaker Textile Arts.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.
McCullogh, David. The Johnstown Flood.
Ambrose, Stephen. Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869. 
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II.
Abbott, Karen. American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee. 
Brand, H.W. A traitor to His Class:The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 
Krakauer, Jon. Three Cups of Deceit.
Brinkley, Alan. The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century. 
Ball, Edward. The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures. 
Gaiman, Neil. Neverwhere.
Brinkley, Douglas. Cronkite.
Sherwin, Martin & Kai Bird. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. 
Feynman, Richard. The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist.
Krauss, Lawrence M. A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing.
Feynman, Richard. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Producer

Twenty yards of finished wraps,
ready to go to the customer.
Last week, I mentioned the 25 yards of baby wraps on the loom. They shipped yesterday.

My bread and butter right now is coming from weaving baby wraps. What are baby wraps, you're wondering: basically, four to six (or more) yards of 28-inch wide handwoven fabric, hemmed at each end. They're basically longer, updated versions of the rebozo, that indespensible shawl worn for centuries by Latin American women. There are a couple of companies that mass-produce these things (MobyWrap is the best-known), but there's a real desire for handwoven wraps, primarily because they have finished selvedges (something lacking on 90% of the fabrics made today). Custom designs are even more popular, as customers can buy exactly what they want...if they have enough money. They are, for all intents and purposes, the wedding dress of motherhood.

The design:
Erin's Rainbows
It turns out, I'm pretty good at weaving baby wraps. I have the necessary equipment, namely, a really big loom with a really big sectional warp beam, and an AVL warping wheel, so winding a 20-30 yard warp onto the loom is not difficult. I don't mind the tedious work of weaving 20-25 yards of plainweave--it's boring, but that's what audiobooks are for. I produce beautiful selvedges--important when this cloth can't have turned selvedges. I weave pretty fast. And, I have the design sense and patience to work with a customer to take her ideas and turn them into a working design.

Erin's Rainbows: On the loom
I see a lot of weavers dive into weaving baby wraps, and nearly as many jump back out of that particular pool, once they discover the amount of time and level of tedium involved in production weaving. It is, quite frankly, a lot of work for not a lot of money. I keep my prices toward the mid-range of what production weavers charge, as I like the idea that someone who might never buy art is getting a piece of artwork (I do consider creating textiles to be "art") for a few hundred dollars. At that rate, I'm making enough to cover my costs, along with a small (just above minimum wage) wage for myself. Instead, I get "paid" in the satisfaction of working as an artist (it beats teaching any day), and seeing my artwork make people happy.

Erin's Rainbows:
The finished cloth
Now, I have to get back to work, as I'm starting to wind another warp, for another batch of baby wraps.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Question of Balance

The current warp: 25 yards of
rainbow baby wraps
I can't believe it's Thursday already--it seems like yesterday was Monday. I'm in the middle of a long warp that I want to get off the loom by Saturday, and it seems the clock and the calendar are racing along whenever I turn my back.

I should be further along on this warp, but last weekend was spent away from the loom, and the studio, on the "other" part of being "an artist"--seeing, being seen and promoting myself. For me, finding the balance point between working and being "out there" is the most difficult aspect of my life right now. It's tough: I need to be in the studio to create, but when I'm in the studio, I'm a recluse. When I go out, people remember that I'm here, and they want to see my stuff, but I'm not producing anything for them to see. That balance point is somewhere, but it seems elusive.

Katie & Chris Vardijan of The Hub
Friday night was the second Downtown Vallejo Art Walk and it was, by all reckoning, a success. The weather was perfect--a balmy evening with no breeze--and a lot of artists' studios and galleries were open to the throngs of people strolling up and down both Georgia and Marin streets. We walked the entire area, stopping to chat with friends and acquaintances, pausing to take photographs of the event and attendees, and seeing what artists had on display. I was buttonholed by two different gallery owners about possible future shows. The Art Walk is turning into a monthly opportunity to connect with the larger community of artists in Vallejo. It could also turn into a monthly "pop-up" sales venue, but I need to get far enough ahead to have something to sell.

Shannon O'Hare of
Obtainium Works
and  Angie
After a guild meeting in Napa on Saturday morning and a bit of shopping (I do need to occasionally buy food to eat), it was back to Vallejo and then off to Obtainium Works for their St. Patrick's Day Anniversary Party Fundraiser. Obtainium can be best described as an "artists' collective" that particularly like to build weird and wonderful vehicles ("art cars") and contraptions that are frequently seen at Maker Faires and Burning Man. I am only peripherally involved--mostly, I send Stephen off to work on projects on Sundays while I get a few hours of work in the studio accomplished--but I really like the Obtainium artists, and I have a lot of fun at their events. At this event, I helped out at "the gate," selling dinner and drink tickets. I like doing this, as it gives me a chance to talk to everybody without having to go up and introduce myself. I'm also very, very good at it: my goal is to separate people from their money as nicely as possible. I chatted, joked, smiled, and charmed people into buying dinner and drink tickets, all the while having a marvelous time myself. The food was good, the entertainment was spot-on, and the entire event was a rousing success.

"But, you could have worked on Sunday," you're thinking. Perhaps, but it was time to drive back up to Napa and pick up wines from Saintsbury, along with trying what bottles were open (an excuse to spend some time sitting in the sun, enjoying the garden at the winery). After collecting our wines, we stopped by the Oxbow Public Market to try the Mare Island Brewing Company's inaugural product, Saginaw Golden Ale (a bit more hoppy than I usually drink, but very refreshing), then got lunch at Gott's. By the time we finished, it was late afternoon, we were both tired and crammed full of food, and wanted nothing more than to become couch potatoes for the evening.

So, that was the weekend. Lots of fun, some good contacts made, friends reassured that I was still alive, but no work in the studio accomplished. Now it's back to the "real" work of being an artist: throwing a shuttle.

(Photos by SNJacobson)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stitches: It's Not What You Think

stitches (plural noun)

  1. a loop of thread or yarn resulting from a single pass or movement of the needle in sewing, knitting, or crocheting.
  2. a sudden sharp pain in the side of the body, caused by strenuous exercise.
  3. a really big fiber- and needle-arts trade show.
For the first time in several years, I went to Stitches West last month. For those unfamiliar with the name or event, it is one of four big conference/trade shows put on by XRX Publishing (of Knitters magazine) across the United States at different times of the year. Stitches West is held at the Santa Clara Convention Center each February, and is extremely well-attended by West Coast knitters, crocheters, and other fiberistas.

Handpainted superfine Merino/silk
from Redfish Dyeworks
I hadn't been to Stitches for several years--when I was still teaching, late February was a time when grade reports were approaching. I wasn't interested in taking any classes, but a day (or two) at the Stitches Marketplace would only hurt my wallet, so I purchased a two-day Marketplace pass and made my plans to drive down. I really did this "on the cheap": I packed a lunch and a couple of bottles of water, filled up the car, and I was off on Friday morning to spend the day checking out what the Marketplace had for sale.

My first surprise was when I arrived at the Convention Center. I got there only 15 minutes after the Marketplace opened at 10:00 a.m., and already the "close-in" parking structure was full; we were directed to the secondary parking structure, on the other side of the creek and directly across Tasman Boulevard from the nearly-finished Levi Stadium. I parked the car and walked back to the Convention Center, and stepped into a shopper's paradise of yarns, needles, more yarns, patterns, spinning wheels, needlework-related tchotschkes, and still more yarns. Nearly 200 vendors from all over the U.S. and Canada had spread their wares for the delectation of the yarn-mad masses. Heaven!

"Shadow," a 10-pound
Rambouillet fleece I'll scour
this week.
I went all the way to the far back corner of the Marketplace and began working my way forward. Almost immediately, I noticed how the wares had changed since my last visit to Stitches. Last time, nearly all the vendors were focused on catering to specifically the knit/crochet crowd, with lots of millspun yarns, needles, hooks, patterns, and books. Since that time, there's been a lot of "cross-pollination" in the fiber arts community: knitters now spin; spinners have taken up weaving; and weavers are finding joy in knitting or crocheting. As a result, the vendors and what they are selling has changed. I was surprised to see a number of the vendors I normally see at the Black Sheep Gathering, and Stitches felt more like what I remember weaving conferences being like a couple decades ago, with something for nearly everybody. I ran into a number of friends and acquaintances, and managed to get through the entire Marketplace in about six hours before going back and helping a friend with her booth the rest of Friday and all day Saturday.

Handpainted BFL top
from Kitty-Rabbit Kreations.
Of course, the question is always, "What did you buy?" My answer this year is "Some of this and that." I was very good in the Abstract Fiber booth, and got only a "snack pack" of different dyed tops, and only two braids of handpainted top (one from Kitty-Rabbit Creations, the other from Redfish Dyeworks). Judy's Novelty Yarns had a nice Rambouillet fleece at a dirt-cheap price, and I replaced my nearly worn-out sock needles with some of the new Addi Rockets. My big "splurge" was on a couple of cherry Shaker-style boxes (a "presentation" box and a sewing box) made by a craftsman in Tennessee: they are works of art, and are proudly on display in the living room. All in all, Stitches was lots of fun this year, and I think it may become as regular a part of my time out of the studio as Black Sheep.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Doing...Or Writing About Doing

Has it really been four months since the last blog post?

The only explanation/excuse/reason I can offer is that I've been busy. Very, very busy. I've been doing a lot of weaving, running a business, establishing myself as a full-time artist, overseeing some remodeling work on the house (I finally have a downstairs bath, rather than a powder room), and, of course, the holidays fell in the midst of all this. I am happy to report that the holiday decorations did get taken down and put away before the end of January, and that the house is clean enough that I'm not embarrassed by it if people visit. Even the studio is moderately tidy!

This is the conundrum I'm currently pondering, along with listening to an audiobook and threading heddles on Mongo (my beloved Macomber loom): Do I spend my time doing [fill in the blank] or do I spend my time writing about it? I seem to be having trouble finding the balance point between those two poles. I can't, for the life of me, figure out how Eleanor Roosevelt managed to do it all: travel, lecture, teach, oversee New Deal programs, correspond with a wide group of people, attend meetings, be active in national and international politics, and write a nationally syndicated newspaper column six days a week. I don't think she slept between the end of WWI and her death in 1962. I can't work at that pace: I'm too inherently lazy, and I need to sleep on a regular basis.

On the other hand, if I put something on a regular schedule, it gets done. I've done this with the general housekeeping (Mondays), and the grocery shopping (first business day of the month), so it should work for regular blog posts. Sometimes, it may be nothing more than a pretty picture, because pretty pictures make the day nicer; at other times, it may be a regular blog post, complete with pictures. We'll just have to wait and see what I can come up with.