A Week Away, Weaving

Whew! We’re home again, mentally exhausted and physically sore, but full of ideas and enthusiasm for a craft we love.

And you, too, can achieve all this!

I have one purpose in writing—to encourage you to go away, to find an intensive learning experience in your favorite craft, whether it is cooking, knitting, writing, gardening, quilting . . . just go.

Not a mellow retreat, not an afternoon crafting with friends, although those have their place.

Find yourself an opportunity to spend a week, or more, undistracted by daily chores and obligations, to work really hard, with nothing more important than immersing yourself in something you love.

Our week at Vavstuga Weaving School felt, at times, like boot camp. But, like boot camp, we came out stronger and more confident, and ready to move to a new level of weaving.

The course we took was Nordic Classics and, because I know there are weavers reading, I’ll give an overview of what we learned. For non-weavers, feel free to skip the details and just look at the pretty pictures. But, as you look, also imagine what you could make, in your own chosen medium, if you gave yourself the chance.

The Nordic Classics workshop focused on 6 weaving techniques associated with Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway.

We had taken only the Weaving Basics course before (I wrote about it!) and this was much more difficult weaving than that course, or any weaving we’d done on our own.

Our classmates, the other 6 people in the workshop, were much more experienced weavers than we and I was a little unnerved at first. But, with skillful instruction and guidance, as well as encouragement from the others, we were able to do work we’re very proud of!

We took on 6 different projects in what amounted to 3.5 days of actual weaving so we didn’t come home with finished projects. We have, in most cases, good-sized samples that can be turned into finished projects.

An overview of what we made:

Leno lace

This lace is made of fine linen thread. I was familiar with Leno, from working with vintage linens, but most lace like this, when done at a loom, is done with a very time-consuming technique of manually picking up threads, twisting them, and then holding them in place with a weft thread.

The technique we learned was treadled Leno, which while still fiddly, was much faster and more efficient than the traditional method. I was able to weave a 31 by 17 inch piece in about 3 hours.

Our instructor, Becky Ashenden, had come across this method in an old Swedish weaving book, and figured out how to make it work. I won’t try to explain it here—I’m not sure I could!

We cannot use this technique on our home looms—we can’t approximate the setup used—but the experience taught me about creative problem-solving! It also gave me a better appreciation for all the handmade lace I see.

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My lace–all the samples looked the same!

Enkel skillbragd

This weaving is done with two shuttles in wool over linen, the way much overshot weaving is done. I found it very scary to try because it looks so complicated but it turned out to be a joy to weave! The setup is not difficult—we can easily do it at home—and there are really only three possible “building blocks” of the design that are combined to create all the different patterns.

Enkel skillbragd is Norwegian in origin and the weaving was traditionally used as coverlets, lined with sheepskin. I brought home a piece about 24 inches square, perfect for a big sofa pillow.

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My enkel skillbragd

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Don’s enkel skillbragd

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Each with our own–don’t these people look like fun?!

Halvdrall

Halvdrall seems to mean “poor man’s damask” in Swedish but the structure creates a rich product! This is pretty straightforward to weave, with two shuttles, but looks so impressive!

Half of us wove on a warp of varied blues and the other half wove on soft autumn tones. We chose our own weft colors and the outcomes were so different and all gorgeous! Don and I brought home one of each colorway—they will make nice table squares at about 20 inches.

The technique was worked in a cotton and linen blend and would be great in placemats, towels—so many uses!

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My halvdrall

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Don’s halvdrall

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A variety from the group

Danish twill

This pretty twill can be done in innumerable designs, as we learned. It’s fairly straightforward to weave but is done on 10 shafts. That’s fine with me—I just acquired a 12-shaft loom! And I love twills!

We wove this on a loom that was quite wide and a little finicky. The weaving was accompanied by the sounds of shuttles crashing to the floor and muffled swear words . . .

None of us did very large samples of this—mine is only about 10 inches long. I like it a lot, though, and will find something to make of it. If I only knew how to put in a zipper . . .

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My Danish twill

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Don’s Danish twill

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A variety from the group

Gagnefkrus (Honeycomb)

Look at this texture!

I thought this looked so difficult but by the time I got to this loom, late in the week, it was like a walk in the park!

The fabric, even on the loom under tension, has a neat texture, with those cells of fine thread surrounded by thicker threads. But, once it is washed, it becomes even more 3-dimensional and interesting. It would make wonderful fabric for upholstery or pillows. At 26 by 15 inches, my sample could be a small pillow . . . we’ll see.

We made this with fairly fine cotton, what’s know as 16/2 weight. It just so happens that we inherited huge cones of 16/2 cotton with one of the looms we bought so I see honeycomb in my future!

Opphamta

I loved opphamta and am sorry to say I can’t do it on my home loom. Or maybe there is a way to do it but only one that would be more fiddly and time-intensive than the way we learned.

Opphamta is Finnish and there are all kinds of these designs that look like cross-stitch patterns to me. It’s done with fine linen and the colors and fabric are so crisp and clean . . . My sample is fairly small, 11 by 26 inches, but I WILL find a way to use it at home!

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My opphamta

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Don’s opphamta

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A variety from the group

Don and I left the studio at 6 every day, exhausted. We covered the same projects over the course of the week but didn’t work on them on the same days so we compared notes and shared advice. We had a quiet meal, a strong drink, and fell into bed.

We didn’t stay at Vavstuga’s dormitory this time, which meant we introverts had more quiet time to re-group between intensive weaving sessions.

But it also meant we didn’t get to know our classmates quite as well as last time.

And they were wonderful classmates—upbeat, passionate (!) about weaving, and all so funny and fun. But, by staying in a B&B, we did get to know an equally wonderful pair of quilters who were in town for an intense and demanding quilting workshop, and loving it.

Which brings me back to my original point. These hard, demanding, stretch-yourself-to-the-limits experiences are amazing.

To be among like-minded people, to be a little afraid and to overcome that fear and meet success, to share advice and tips in a generous way, to come home re-energized . . . priceless.

To encounter a teacher who will give guidance into difficult concepts and just assume you can keep up, who will answer even the nuttiest questions and fix the stickiest mistakes with good humor and good sense . . . all priceless.

Priceless, but they come with a price, as do all things we value. These experiences don’t come cheap—they take valuable time and money—but they are so worth the expenditures. We have all been known to spend our money and our time on endeavors worth far less than what can be gained at a workshop designed to make us better at the thing we love to do.

Let it be known, I will follow my own advice. I’ll be going back to Vavstuga.

I hope you’ll find the opportunity to go somewhere similar, to go away, to dive in, to surround yourself, immerse yourself, indulge yourself in what you love.

A Week in Motion, Making

This was a harbinger for a week of weaving to come:


We saw sheep and we saw wool. And the world’s cutest angora bunny. 


And we had the pleasure of meeting a long-time blog friend, Jennifer, of Heron Pond Designs, selling her beautiful scarves. 


Now, these are some of our creative inspirations for the week:


I hope you’ll stick around! If I can manage this mobile phone version of WordPress, I’ll show you more!

Busy, Busy . . . Happy

Autumn is always this way.

We realize that time’s a’wastin’, that soon we’ll be hunkering down for winter, and we try to pack a lot of living into these perfect days.

Chores abound. The perennials are being cut back. The outdoor furniture needs to be stored.

A quilt is basted, waiting to be finished this winter. The yoyos are almost, almost, sewn together and finished. Two other quilt projects wait in the wings.

The looms are momentarily naked but plans have been planned and one warp has been wound, a yummy wool for fall.

It’s time for chocolate, a new and different venture on Etsy, and, always, vintage linens.

It’s the time for spending quality hours with family snowbirds who are ready to fly away and it’s time for a little travel of our own, to enjoy autumn in New England.

Busy, busy. Happy, happy. And you?

 

Our Weaving Ways (Summer 2016)

The weaving continues, con brio.

We’ve made an addition to our pride of looms. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it came from a good friend who’s an excellent weaver—great karma! It’s not the loom’s fault that I feel a little intimidated . . .

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Since I’ve indulged my ego in my most recent show-and-tell, I’ve woven quite a lot.

A bunch of cotton towels like this, with varying bands of varying colors. Many of them have already been given away.

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A set of these towels, heavy on linen, to practice some of the skills I learned at weaving school. You can see one of the handwoven hanging tabs that make me go “squeeee!”

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A blanket and coordinating pillow for a baby girl who was so excited to see the gifts that she came 5 weeks early!

And this set of Monk’s belt towels and a runner—you got a glimpse of these when I cut them off them loom.

My husband, Don, has been weaving, too. He made this pretty runner and has two more huge and gorgeous runners waiting to be hemmed and wet finished.

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He wove part of the baby blanket, too, since it was a gift from us both. He has been spending a lot of time on a big, non-weaving project that I’ll show you soon!

So many projects, so many plans . . .

Did you have a productive summer, doing your favorite things? Have you done your show-and-tell? If so, leave a link in your comment!

For All It Represents

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I love this dresser scarf. Or is it a table runner? Or a doily?

It doesn’t matter what we call it, I love it all the same.

Do I love it because it’s pretty? Not really. I can see why some people would find it lovely but it is not my aesthetic at all. It’s a little too fussy, a little too pretty and flowery and girly, for my taste.

Do I love it because it’s rare and seldom seen? Not at all. This sort of hand embroidered fabric, meant to decorate a dresser top or sideboard, is pretty much, literally, a dime a dozen. In the world of vintage linens, the only items more plentiful are crocheted doilies.

Do I love it because it’s practical? No. It comes from an era where women seem to have felt compelled to cover blank surfaces with “décor.” Antimacassars, doilies, runners, piano scarves—the philosophy seemed to be “let no piece of furniture go naked.” Some of these items had an ostensible purpose—antimacassers on the backs of upholstered furniture, for instance, were designed to keep a popular male hair product—macasser—off the fabric. But, really, most of these items were just meant to look pretty.

I have lots of reasons not to love this runner and yet I do love it.

I love it for what it represents.

  • A woman seeking to beautify her space. Whether this was made by a Yankee, to hold dark winter at bay, or an Okie, facing dust storms or a lonely road west, this woman wrought her own scene of beauty.
  • A woman with enough leisure to time to be able to think about beauty. Whoever did this piece had done enough of the daily chores, the must-dos, to feel justified in taking her leisure on a want-to-do. I’m happy she found that time.
  • A woman who found a way to “be productive” while sitting quietly and beautifying her world. I can relate to this and I know some of you can, too. If you are a person of action and you like to point at what you’ve accomplished, you relish a job of work that can be done while sitting in the shade and allowing your mind to wander.
  • A woman who took pride in something made by her own hands that would So much of women’s daily work was work that was undone—beds made that were unmade each night, clothes washed and dirtied again, meals made and eaten and made again. To embroider something or stitch a quilt was to create a lasting object, something that might, even, outlive the maker.
  • A woman, perhaps denied other ways of asserting her individuality, finding a voice in her handwork. She chose the pattern, the colors, the embellishment. It was unique and it was hers.

This little dresser scarf packs a lot of meaning for me.

I also love it because I saved it.

Those of us who have pets will probably admit that the ones you saved from a grim fate always seem extra special. The stray one, skittish and fearful, the abandoned one, in pain and alone, those pets have our hearts in particular ways.

This runner came in a box of linens found, as usual, under a table and ignored, at a garage sale. The box actually held many pretty and quite exceptional items but, there, at the bottom, was this country cousin of a runner. And it was stained and filthy. It was a stray, unlikely to be noticed or to find a forever home.

I soaked it for hours in three different washes. I progressed from regular washing through my big guns, the Biz and Cascade combo. It was still stained. I did the Biz and Cascade again and added boiling water to my already very hot washing machine. Finally, the stains faded and disappeared. I ironed it carefully and spiffed it up for its glamour shots.

And now the runner is beautiful.

Was it worth the time and energy? It was not, at least not because it was exceptionally lovely or rare or useful.

But, yes, of course, it was worth it! It was worth it because of all it represents, because of the woman who crafted it and all the women like her, and like us, who make our marks by making a mark with thread or yarn or fabric or paint, or any of a multitude of other media.

I won’t keep this little runner—a person can’t adopt every stray and be fair to them all. I’ll show it to friends and see if there is a worthy home among them. At some point if need be, I’ll list it on Etsy in order to match it up with a good home.

One way or another, I’ll find it a place where it’s appreciated for what it is and for all it represents.

“It’s All About Me” Monday: The Unfinished Object

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Is there a crafter alive who has finished every project she has started?

If so, I’d like to meet her; I’d like to shake her hand, and celebrate her fortitude and single-mindedness and self-discipline.

In the words of the legendary Bob Dylan, “It ain’t me, babe. It ain’t me you’re looking for . . .”

I’ve left so many things undone. Some have been too hard for me, some too easy, some just didn’t take. Some have been around so long that the colors and style are sadly out of date and some have been attacked by insects or mice or something else unthinkable. Some have simply fallen by the wayside when another shiny-new, exciting project has come along.

I’m not proud of this so most of my unfinished projects have been disposed of, gone and forgotten, so they can no longer haunt me and make me feel undisciplined.

But one piece endures—I love it in spite of its unfinishedness. I think it’s lovely just as it is.

This kit depicting scenes from Aesop’s Fables came out in 1979, the same year I finished a cross stitch sampler. I imagine I felt flush with that success and wanted to keep the feeling going.

This was back when crewel embroidery was cool and you could buy beautiful kits, complete with good instructions and quality yarns.

This project was big and ambitious and gorgeous—I thought so then and I still think so 37 years later.

And yet I didn’t get far with the project. I can’t remember why but it was right when I started grad school and had bought a spinning wheel and . . . who knows?

But I got far enough that I have thought this unfinished object was still worth seeing. It doesn’t make me feel bad in its incompleteness. In fact, I kind of like the effect of one bright, embroidered panel against the subtle line drawings of the other panels.

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It’s been with me all these years and has hung on a wall most of that time.

I’ve never intended to finish it and wouldn’t have known where to begin, even if I was inclined.

And, yet, weirdly, recently, even as I had the idea for this post in mind, I came across a plastic bag, in a plastic bin, in an overcrowded garage, along with other unfinished projects.

And look what was in it . . .

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Yes, the directions and the yarn. Is this a sign of things to come?

But, enough about me! Let’s talk about you. How do you like my unfinished object?

Do you finish everything? Do your unfinished projects ever make you happy, just as they are?

Let Us Now Praise Newbies

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“Hi! I was just gifted a loom—I’m so excited to be a weaver! So . . . can someone explain how to weave?”

I am a member of several Facebook groups for weavers, where we go to ask questions and share our work. I have to admit when I see questions like the one above, from rank beginners, my first reaction is to roll my eyes and think, “Oh for heaven’s sake—go read a book! Take a class!”

Then I take a deep breath and remind myself how much newbies, newcomers to any craft or skill, bring to the rest of us.

I have been a complete novice myself recently, in the craft of weaving, and I am still struggling to learn a tiny fraction of what there is to know. My weekly sewing group includes a number of newbies—new to sewing, new to quilting.

Newbies have always been with us but, in days gone by, maybe they weren’t so obvious. A lot of us learned some basic skills in relative private, from others in our circle, by watching and emulating or by taking an organized class or reading. Those were the only options we had.

But now the Internet gives newbies easy access to knowledgeable and helpful people so their questions are public and their lack of knowledge and understanding are on view to us all.

And, though I will always think some newbies are being presumptuous in asking others to explain a difficult process in the space of a Facebook post, I really believe that these newbies are enhancing the craft world.

Are you a newbie at something, thinking about picking up knitting needles or sitting down to a sewing machine for the first time? Trying to learn a new set of skills, like hooking a rug or soldering silver? Surrounded, it seems, by people who already know the ins and outs, know the vocabulary, seem comfortable and calm in the realm where you feel edgy and inadequate?

I want to tell you how valuable you are!

  1. You are a source of amusement

Yes, it probably sounds harsh but let’s get it out of the way first—I am amused every day by a dilemma posed by a newbie. I laugh at the stories they tell about themselves and their confusion. They use the vocabulary wrong and make mistakes of the most basic kind. I am laughing with them, not at them—I see myself in their blunders.

  1. You remind us of the enthusiasm and joy of starting

The excitement newbies feel is energizing. This one just got her first loom, that one bought fabric for her first quilt. They have not yet felt the slings and arrows of outrageous craft fails. They are intoxicated with possibilities—and help me remember that feeling.

  1. You give us a chance to teach and feel smart

With novices, it always seems that, no matter how little I know, there’s someone who knows less. That gives me the heady feeling of having something I can share and teach.

  1. You allow us to feel competent and remind us how far we’ve come

There’s nothing like a newbie to remind you how much progress you’ve made, that you’re learning and growing. When I read the questions asked by newbies, I am pleasantly surprised when I know the answers to questions that would’ve been mysteries a few months ago. I feel competent and motivated to keep learning.

  1. You ask the questions we may not be comfortable asking.

I am one of those people who loathes looking foolish or incompetent. I hate to ask questions, to expose my ignorance. Newbies ask questions with abandon and I sit and listen carefully to the answer . . . and learn.

So, newbies, I say to you—keep starting new things.

Keep dreaming of being good at something that you have never tried.

Keep asking every question that pops into your mind!

Recognize the limitations of learning complex skills from Facebook posts or from one helpful friend and take advantage of all the resources available to you.

But don’t hesitate to start because the people around you seem so sure of themselves and the skills so daunting.

You are enriching the conversation by starting a new craft; you are bringing so much to the discussion.