Wednesday, May 27, 2015

summer reading

Memorial Day is behind us, the weather is warming up and the kids are out of school, or soon will be.  It's time to look forward to lazy late afternoons on the deck, reading and sipping your favorite fizzy beverage.  Here's my stack of summer reading, from bottom to top:

The Coptic Tapestry Albums and the Archaeologist of Antinoe, Albert Gayet, by Nancy Arthur Hoskins.  I've been taken lately by the charm and communicative power of ancient Coptic Egyptian tapestry.  Contemporary tapestry artists admire Coptic weavers for their ability to invent their designs as they wove, without elaborate prepared cartoons.  I want to know more, and this book is one of the few I can find on the subject.  So far it's fascinating. 

Weave-Knit-Wear by Judith Shangold.  I've looked through this book once or twice but I want to delve into it more deeply, studying the instructions for fitting, pattern-making and seams in handwoven fabric for garments.   Beyond scarves and wraps, there are patterns here for jackets, vests, tunics, bags and even a baby sack.  Lots of gorgeous color photos have whet my appetite to finally get serious about handwoven garments.

Simple Woven Garments by Sara Goldenburg and Jane Patrick.  Again, lots of mouth-watering photos for inspiration.  I like how several of the projects in this book offer suggestions for variations in styling and yarn choices. Lots of these projects seem designed for the rigid heddle loom, which excels at using novelty yarns that are thicker or more delicate than those I usually use. Further study is needed here. 

Woven to Wear by Marilyn Murphy.  Are you noticing a theme here?  When I try something new I tend to start by researching it to death.  I've had this book for awhile now and flagged several pages of projects I want to make and nifty tips on weaving and sewing.  There are sections on Yarn, Drape, Designing, Weaving Tips and Techniques, and Finishing.  A nice bonus is two-page spreads about several noted designers of handwoven garments. 

Unexpected Afghans, by Robyn Chaculla.  My dear daughter gave me this book for Mother's Day.  I've been cheating on my weaving a bit with crochet at odd moments here and there, and she knew I was looking for ideas for an afghan that might serve as a bed covering.  There are projects ranging from retro 70's-style granny square designs (only a couple) to elegant, clean-lined modern pieces. I never knew you could do cables in crochet!   Now my problem is, how to choose just one to begin?

A Life in the Arts:  Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative & Performing Artists by Eric Maisel.  Maybe this book will help.  I've started it and stopped it a few times--the bookmark is in the chapter on Blocks!--but every time I return to it I'm amazed at the wisdom to be found.  I've turned down many pages, and underlined and starred many passages.  Encouragement for the journey from a psychotherapist who has specialized in helping artists for decades. 

Warp & Weft:  Woven Textiles in Fashion, Art and Interiors by Jessica Hemmings.  Darling son gave me this on Mother's Day.  (Do my kids have my number or what?  Books always fit.)  I'm reading this now and really enjoying this look at cutting-edge textiles from a noted scholar in the field.  So far I've seen how artists have pushed conventional notions of Threads, Light, Motion, and Sound.  I'm really looking forward to the next chapter, on Emotion. 

Why We Make Things and Why It Matters:  The Education of a Craftsman by Peter Korn.  This was a Christmas gift; it's been on my bedside table for too long now.  Korn has been making furniture for about 40 years, but this is not a how-to book; it's more concerned with how making things can create meaning and fulfillment in counter-cultural ways.  I expect to find more affirmation of the handmade life here.  

The Handmade Marketplace, 2nd edition, by Kari Chapin.  I am always looking for marketing advice.  This book is chock-full of ideas and tips that I've flagged and need to follow through on, from a young DIYer who's much more adept at social media than I am.

Looks like I've got plenty to keep me busy into the fall.  What's on your summer reading list?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Weaving a twill structure gamp

Last week I told you about the color gamp I wove a while back, that allowed me to see how 20 different colors of the same yarn would look when each of them interlaced with every other one.  I have referred to that gamp many times to help me choose colors that go together in surprising and exciting ways.

That was such an informative project that this past couple of weeks I've been designing and weaving a twill structure gamp.  It follows the same principle as the color gamp, only this one explores many varieties of twill structure, specifically the way various twill threadings interact with various treadlings.  Color changes are limited to those that allow the weaver to see easily where the different threadings and treadlings start and stop.  So the warp is all one color (here, white 10/2 Tencel because I had plenty of it), with narrow green 8/2 Tencel stripes between each different threading structure in the warp.  The weft is taupe 8/2 Tencel, again with green stripes dividing each section of different treadling.

loom warped with twill gamp in white with green dividing stripes
So the variables being studied here are the interactions of threading and treadling that create the almost countless various twill structures.  The loom is threaded with 10 different twill structures, each about 1-1/2" wide, from a simple "straight draw" on the right edge, through various standard twills, broken twills, hopsack, and so on,  to a wide undulating twill at the left edge.  The really fun part is then exploring some of the many possible treadling patterns.  To start, I used the threading patterns as treadling patterns (weavers call this "tromp as writ"--don't you love that Anglo-Saxon lingo?), and then I explored some of  the variations on those treadling patterns.  I followed closely the instructions in Janet Phillips' book Designing Woven Fabrics as I planned and wove my twill gamp.

Because my counterbalance loom does not easily make a shed for 1/3 or 3/1 twills, nearly all the patterns I tested were variations on 2/2 twills.  Still, I was able to do 38 different treadlings.  I discovered that in order to try the maximum number of treadlings, I needed to use a skeleton or universal tie-up, with each treadle tied to only one shaft.  Thus, I'd need to use both feet to make each shed.  I was a little unsure about this but I soon got used to it.

Twill structure gamp in progress
One of my goals this year is to become better at designing pieces that combine various twill structures together for a more complex woven surface.  Already this gamp has given me some ideas for the next set of towels I'm planning.  Below you can see a closeup of one end, with hangtags labelling each threading for easy reference.  I've placed masking tape labels along one selvedge, allowing me to easily count the rows of treadling so I can check my weaving records and identify which treadling I did in each row.  In the photo you can see how I've folded and pinned the gamp so the extended twill threading is at the top.  I have decided to make the towels using this threading and this allows me to isolate that column and study each treadling so I can choose those I want to explore in the towels. 

Twill gamp folded and labelled for study
 You can also see one heavy blue thread near the bottom edge, just above the green hem.  That is a "face mark" that tells me this side is the right side of the fabric. 

Completed gamp
I know I will be referring back to this gamp for years to come and using it as inspiration for planning countless pieces.  There are a total of 380 patterns here!  Not all of them will work, but many will. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Weaving a color gamp

This post revolves around a good old four-letter weaving term:  gamp.  A gamp is simply a woven sample or study piece that explores color combinations or weave structures in a systematic way.  In a color gamp,  you typically warp the loom in narrow stripes of many different colors of the same yarn, and then you weave the weft in stripes of the same width, in the same order.

Loom warped with stripes of all my Tencel colors
Every color crosses every other color (twice, in fact), and you end up with a very useful reference for how colors interact when they are interlaced in weaving--something that is often hard to determine by looking at a color wheel or other design tools. 
color gamp woven in plain weave, in 8/2 tencel
If you're a weaver, you may have looked a color gamp project in a weaving magazine or a yarn catalog and thought, Wow, that looks like fun!  And then you looked at the cost of ordering the whole rainbow of colors in the same type of yarn and thought, “Well, maybe later. . . .Besides, I don’t ever weave with those pure, saturated hues anyway. . .”  That was my train of thought until recently.  

For years I have been weaving almost exclusively with 8/2 Tencel and had built up a collection of 20 colors when I realized I could do a gamp using the colors I already owned.  And it would be really useful to me to see the color interactions of the yarns and colors I was using all the time anyway.  I had saved Michele Belson’s article “Color Gamps,” published online in WeaveZine, and I followed her directions.  I wound a 4-yard warp with all 20 of my Tencel colors in not-quite-2” stripes, and wove two gamps, one in plain weave and one in 2/2 twill, following the same color order in the weft as in the warp in each one.  (Michele also includes instructions for a gamp in huck lace, but I did not feel like rethreading the loom to do that one!  Also, be aware that the 4 yard warp length Michele specifies in her article would not have been long enough, at least on my loom, to do all three gamps.  Do your own math!)

Close up of color gamp woven in twill--see the diagonal twill pattern? 
Note that it is important that all the yarns you use are the same fiber and grist (thickness), so that variations in size and fiber behavior don’t distract you from the color interactions.   When I was done, I calculated the cost of the yarns I had used,  and it came to just over $40—much less than if I had ordered many new cones of yarn.  
Even before I began weaving, I found new color combinations simply in winding the warp.  I played with arranging the warp color order in a way that seemed logical and that would distribute the lightest and darkest values pleasingly.  After I cut the gamps off the loom, I was really excited to see so many iridescent color combinations!  Since then, I have referred to the gamps constantly as I have planned projects, using them to choose colors with the most impact, while confident that I know just how they will look once woven together.

Here are a few pieces whose color schemes I discovered in my gamps:

Two reds, two blues and a red-brown hue make this shawl iridescent. 

Silver, blue and gold threads create a glittery metallic weave

Multiple colors in unexpected combinations that I discovered in the gamp
The funny thing is, when I've had my gamp on display at shows, to help explain how I work, people are drawn to its rainbow spectrum immediately, and they seem disappointed to learn that it's not for sale.  One of these days I'm going to weave a scarf or shawl that replicates a portion of the gamp, in that same 2" checkerboard plaid. 

Have you ever woven a gamp?  Or made some other elaborate sample that became a valuable reference tool?  Drop me a line below and tell me how it went.  Next week I'll share the twill structure gamp I'm finishing up now.  More fun!

Friday, May 8, 2015

What do you mean, my handmade scarves won't save the world??

I was startled to see this headline in Sunday's New York Times Sunday Review section

 It's Chic.  Not Morally Superior.

The pull quote seemed to shout straight at me:  "That handmade scarf won't save the world."  In this opinion piece, Emily Matchar sets out to puncture what she sees as the illusions of smug boho consumers who believe their purchase of locally grown and handmade goods is striking a blow for a better world.  She writes,

"In progressive circles, buying handmade has come to connote moral virtue, signifying an interest in sustainability and a commitment to social justice.  By making your own cleaning supplies, you're eschewing environment-poisoning chemicals.  By buying a handmade sweater, you're fighting sweatshop labor.  By chatting with the artisan who makes your soap, you're striking a blow against our alienated "Bowling Alone" culture." 

To which I first want to say, Yes, and You gotta problem with that? 

Ms. Matchar goes on to say that, unfortunately, consumer choices have not always been the most effective driver of social change, pointing out that "Buy American" campaigns did not save either the American auto or textile industries.  Most people will buy the goods that represent the best value for money, and for many that means what is available at the "local" Target or WalMart or their equivalent.  Heck, I've been known to buy clothes at Target occasionally myself.

Sustainable cotton handwoven infinity scarf, from cotton grown in colors (no dyes used). $80 on

It's true that my handwoven scarves, priced at $80 and up, cannot compete on price alone with the very inexpensive scarves made abroad and sold at the big box stores.  Matchar points out that it is possible to find garment factories that pay their workers fairly (she cites Alta Gracia, a unionized factory in the Dominican Republic), and that buying their products is arguably doing more social good than buying from someone in one's own social cohort, the "likeable, just-like-me Brooklyn mom selling handmade headbands on Etsy." Okay, maybe she has a point there.  But as a consumer fingering a scarf at Target, I see a label that says only "Made in Dominican Republic."  It doesn't tell me which factory made it or what their labor practices are.  Whereas the Etsy seller, or the artisan in the booth at the farmer's market or craft fair, can easily share her story, her studio, her materials and her process with her customers.

Alpaca-silk and tencel handwoven infinity wrap (sold) on
The fact is, we don't have to make an either-or choice between buying locally handmade goods or cheaply made off-shore merchandise from big box retailers.  Most of us can, and do, buy both.  Folks who buy my handwovens buy them as special gifts for those they love.  They buy them as a treat for themselves.  They buy them because, as Ms. Matchar recognizes, "It's important to support artisans who retain knowledge of traditional art forms.  Many handmade items are also higher quality than their mass-produced counterparts."  (Why, thank you!)  My pieces are individually designed, finished, and marketed, one at a time, by me alone.  It's not an efficient production model, and it's not making me rich (yet), but this work is a meaningful use of my time and makes for meaningful transactions with those I am privileged to call my customers.

Why do you buy handmade, if you do?    

Friday, May 1, 2015

Get out of the studio!

I know, I know, it sounds counter-intuitive.  Artists are supposed to be IN the studio, making art.  And most of the time that's where I am.  But yesterday I ventured not just out of the studio, but out of my cozy fiber comfort zone, and I went to see the Georgia Watercolor Society's annual National Exhibition, at Atlanta's Oglethorpe University Museum of Art.  A friend who is a watercolorist went with me, and we were impressed by the beauty, the variety,  and the technical excellence of the work we saw.  We spent a solid two hours looking at and discussing the works on display.  Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the paintings that I particularly enjoyed:

Ardythe Jolliff, Me and My Shadow

 I loved the rainbow palette of this piece, the interesting shapes of the shadows, and the flat but lush lapis blue of the sea.  The gorgeous transparent clarity of watercolors is really evident here.

Christine Krupinski, Pomegranates and Grapes
This painting was astonishing for its careful realism, capturing not only the bar code stickers (!) on the pomegranates and the shadows and highlights on each grape, but also the folds and shadows of the plaid tablecloth underneath.  A real tour de force, and a lot of fun to look at.  It won Second Place.  (Apologies for the out of focus photo).

Elaine Callahan, And The Beets Go On
 The texture of these beets was so naturalistic!  And the negative spaces and shadows between the beets were just as interesting as the beets themselves.  Like the still life above, this painting reminded me that ordinary vegetables can merit a second, and a third, look, when they are rendered so sensitively.   This painting garnered an Honorable Mention.

F. Charles Sharp, Coverage May Vary
 This piece was awarded First Place.  My friend and I admired the loose handling of the paint and the way in which the artist used the white of the paper throughout the painting.  The artist's choice of subject was also fresh, even cheeky. 

Kathy Kitz, Quiet and Simple
This piece I loved because its minimal composition truly did impart a feeling of quiet and peaceful simplicity.  I am a sucker for anything with a strong horizon line.   The large yellow foreground showed some subtle variations in texture that were rewarding to discover as well.

Sue Pink, Mr. Bilbo
This piece struck me as an icon of sorts, with its central subject treated in a portrait-like manner, and the inclusion of various symbolic elements like the lettering and the circular shapes.  The mysterious symbols and subject seemed to invite meditative contemplation, much as a religious icon does.  

My photos of these works, with their small size, skewed angles (to avoid reflections) and shadows, hardly do the work justice.  I urge you to look these artists up and get a fuller picture of their talent.

Seeing this show reminded me, again, that it is so important for us working artists to get out of our own heads and our own studios and go look at other artists' work.  And especially to look at work that is outside our own medium.  It is enlightening and refreshing to consider how other artists have grappled with questions of subject, composition, value, color and texture.  And in a judged show like this one, it is thought-provoking to consider the prize-winning pieces and to ponder why those pieces might have been chosen. I always come away with new things to think about.

Unfortunately, this exhibit's run ended yesterday.  But I invite you to grab a friend and go find an exhibit near you that sounds interesting, especially if it's in a medium you're not intimately familiar with.  Look slowly and thoughtfully at what you see.  Suspend judgment for a few minutes and just let your eyes explore.  See what you can learn.  And drop me a line and tell me about it!