Process: Part II

A continuation of the warping process:

Four: Threading – Based on your pattern, each individual yarn is threaded through a heddle attached to shaft one, two, three, or four. This allows for different shafts to be raised and lowered in sequence to create different patterns. DON’T MESS IT UP!

Lots of threading

Lots of threading

For this rug project I’m using a 4,3,2,1 threading pattern. Very simple – you can also thread 1,2,3,4 and get the same results. This means you put the first thread through a heddle on the 4th shaft, the second thread through a heddle on the 3rd shaft and so on and so on. I’ve got 266 threads, so it’s a process to get them all done properly.

4,3,2,1...4,3,2,1

4,3,2,1…4,3,2,1

Five: Threading the Reed – In the second half of threading, each yarn is pulled through the tiny slots in the reed, called dents. The reed spreads out the “ends” evenly AND is used to beat the weft (cross-wise) yarns into place as they are woven.

8 dent reed

8 dent reed

Yep, another chance to touch each of the 266 yarns. I only have one reed, which has 8 dents (slots) per inch, so I need to thread my ends in a 1,2,1,2 pattern. One thread in the first dent, two in the second, one in the third, etc. During my weaving class, I couldn’t really grasp the importance of having reeds in different sizes. There was a large selection of reeds in the weaving studio, so I always used the reed most appropriate for my particular project. Now that I’m home, using my one 8-dent reed, I can see how the 1,2,1,2 threading really effects the spacing of the warp during the actual weaving process. Not a big deal for this project, but finer or bulkier yarns and different projects would, ideally, require different reeds to allow for an even weave structure.

Phew! Are we done yet? Nope, nope, nope. I told you this was a complicated process, right?  Next we are on to tensioning.

Tiiiight.

Tiiiight.

Six: Tensioning – small groups of yarns are knotted on to the front beam. This step is my least favorite. Every thread needs to be affixed at the same tension. It constantly feels like by the time one side is taut, the other has gone slack. I am pulling knots for a WHILE, before I can safely tie a double knot and wind around the beam.

Knots and More Knots

NOW WE’RE ready to weave!  I started prepping my rag strips and am about to get down to business. The pattern of my first rug section flowed organically in the studio. I didn’t have a plan and I chose colors and textures as I went along, trying to keep an overall idea of the piece as I wove it. I am going to use a similar process this time. I will refer to the original panel a bit, just so we don’t have large blocks of the same pattern when the pieces are put together.

Let’s do this.

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DIY Roots

A dramatization of what our father may have looked like when he was a young house painter.

A dramatization of what our father may have looked like when he was a young house painter.

Long before Megan and I came along, our college-age dad worked in the summers as a house painter. The skills he learned on those summer jobs have served him (and our family) so well over the years that I was in college before I realized that other people pay to have their homes painted or wallpapered. (It still boggles my mind).

I fondly remember helping my dad soak large sheets of wallpaper in a plastic trough, loving the adhesive slime on my fingers, thrilled when he’d let me use the wide brush to smooth out the air bubbles. My dad smoothed out bubbles much faster, his brush strokes always more percussive. He has always been a DIY dad: I can clearly picture his hands flecked in paint, gripping a utility knife, covered in sawdust, cutting in paint along the edges of window frames.

Still painting the hell out of it.

Still painting the hell out of it.

Some of us went home last week to help my parents fix up our childhood home before it goes on the market. My sister-in-law was cleaning bird poop off the front of the house–I held the ladder for her. We were clumsy; we scratched the paint. We struggled to place the ladder correctly. My dad came outside, settled the ladder in the perfect spot, taught me how to climb up with the paint bucket in hand. To avoid scratching the house again with the metal ends of a ladder probably older than I am, my dad bench pressed me (still standing on the ladder) away from the siding. He’s old school. He gets it done.

Happy Father’s day to the man who taught me about making do, about fixing things, about taking pride in the work of my hands. Love you, dad.

I inherited his DIY spirit and badass posturing.

I inherited his DIY spirit and badass posturing.

My Name is Elizabeth and I’m a Textile Hoarder

Hmong Story Cloth, paj ntaub

All these babies at the watering hole and, guys, I can’t even.

Even though my husband always warns me about buying second-hand textiles, (“Elizabeth, remember how well that worked out for the Native Americans…”) I cannot avoid being seduced by vintage handkerchiefs, tablecloths from the 1950s, hand-crocheted lace doilies, quilt tops, cross-stitch samplers, etc., etc., etc. I dragged Megan along to an antique store today and stopped short beneath a still-crisp, hand-stitched 1930s quilt hanging on the wall. Its careful, painstaking beauty gave me a pang.

Hmong story cloth, paj ntaub

That turtle in the corner is in danger of getting his adorable shell bitten off.

Usually, a good antique store knows what it has. Which means that, when I’m shopping there, I won’t be able to afford whatever textile I happen to be lusting after that day. An expert textile hoarder (on a budget) has to be patient. Resourceful. Has to scour the nooks and crannies of their local thrift stores, willing to elbow someone out of the way to scoop up the most amazing hand-embroidered wall hanging covered in adorable animals, some of which are wildly out of scale.

Hmong story cloth, paj ntaub

In five years, we’ll all either be working for that snail or be dead by his hand.

I’ve been using this cloth as a wall hanging above our bed with no information about it other than that it cost me a dollar at a thrift store and I AM WINNING. Recently, I stumbled on a picture of a cloth almost identical to it and discovered its back story.

Hmong Story Cloth, Paj Ntaub

In all of its poorly-lit glory.

These are sometimes called paj ntaub (pronounced “pan dau”), or Hmong story cloths. These cloths were made by the exiled Hmong living in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp during the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. (For more information about Hmong embroidery and the war experience, click here.) The Hmong people, already tremendous textile artists, used their extraordinary skills to hand embroider story cloths to sell to tourists. Their industry and artistry helped them feed their families, help other refugees, and find better prospects after they were brutally exiled from their homes.

Some of the cloths tell stories: Hmong creation myths, the frantic flight across the Mekong river, snippets of their former lives. Planting. Watering. Harvesting. They stitched it all.

Hmong story cloth, paj ntaub

This kind of embroidery is becoming less and less common among the Hmong immigrants–it takes too much time, the younger generation isn’t interested. This turning away from traditional handcrafts isn’t isolated to the Hmong; there never seems to be enough time or space for making by hand. Thousands of stitches get sold at estate sales or stuffed into dollar bins at thrift stores along with cracked figurines and limbless dolls.

Hmong story cloth

To me, a textile holds stories upon stories. Some are obvious–look! there are rhinoceroses in Laos, they bring good luck–but there are always secrets and quiet tales, too. This is what arrests me in the middle of a day. Who was this particular stitcher? What was the pattern of their days? Maybe if I stare at a stitch long enough, I will know them. After all, stories are sticky things–always twisted in the thread held just so as it is jabbed through a needle’s eye.

Process: Part I

I’ve never really been into the whole rag rug style.  Its a little too country for my more clean-looking, minimalist leanings when it comes to home decor.  But, I decided to attempt a more modern take on the traditional rag rug during the second half of my weaving class.  I am so in love with the outcome:

Section I

Section I

Section II

Section II

Section III

Section III

Section IV

Section IV

One looong rug.

One looong rug.

I used scrap fabric and old clothes.  My only requirement was to keep within a black, white, gray, gray/blue color scheme. Basically a free rug.

Yes, this rug is insanely loooong, and very thin.  No, its not a runner for an extraordinarily long hallway. I purposely constructed this piece to match the width that I’m able to produce on my home loom.  I have a 22 inch loom that doesn’t exactly allow for making an area rug, so I’ve begun with one long, 12 foot panel and plan to continue four (or five) more panels, join them together and end up with an 8 or 10 foot by 12 foot rug.

As fate would have it, my mother-in-law was in town to help me begin warping on the loom her mom worked on for so many years.  She was excited to see the loom in action and I was thrilled to share the steps with her.  We began the process together and here it is:

One: Warping board – you begin by winding the lengths of yarn on a board in order to get the right number of “ends” (individual strings) for your piece.

266 ends

266 ends

5 yards ready to go

5 yards ready to go

Two: Chaining – this is a small step where the warp is transferred from the warping board to the loom. The warp is wrapped into a “chain” to keep the yarn from getting shuffled around and tangled.

Three: Winding on – Warp is wound, under tension, around the back beam of the loom.  It helps to have a partner at this point. One person winds the beam while the other holds the tension and pulls out the snarls in the yarn as it’s being wound.

Hoooold tight

Hoooold tight

Half way there

Half way there

More to come in Part II…

Origins

Weaving is not an easy hobby to get into. There are MANY accouterments needed before you can begin anything; bobbins, bobbin-winder, shuttles, leash sticks, warping board, heddle hooks, and the loom itself. Plus yarn and whatever other fibers you want to use to create your piece. Then the final and most important requirement: KNOW HOW, KNOW HOW, KNOW HOW. I pretty much lucked out in terms of having what I needed and learning how to use everything I had.

angle

Harrisville Designs 22inch 4 shaft loom.

Guess what? Looms are expensive! I don’t think you can buy a floor loom, even the smallest width (which I have) for less than $1200. That’s a lot. That’s not really a sum that most people can throw down on a whim when they want to start a new hobby.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I kind of “inherited” my loom from my husband’s grandparents. They really got into weaving later in life and became incredibly skilled and even traveled around giving demonstrations and teaching workshops. When they down-sized their home and were no longer really able to keep up with weaving, their two looms went to two of their daughters, one in Indiana and one in Utah. I don’t think either loom saw much use for several years. About two years ago, a few months after I had moved to Indiana, my husband and I were visiting his aunt and she offered me the loom. I was ecstatic and honored to have interim possession of such a unique part of family history. I was also gifted with a number of weaving books and thought:

“Sure, I taught myself to sew, I can totally teach myself to weave.”

Lots of pieces to thread through.

Lots of pieces to thread through.

Side view: Looks complicated, right?

Side view: Looks complicated, right?

Now, I’m a smart lady. I pride myself on being able to figure things out, but I just couldn’t do it alone. Even having all of the tools and a bunch of books outlining the set-up, I would challenge anyone to teach themselves to warp a loom. There are too many variables, each loom is different, and you really need to learn by doing in this case. Enter: my local art center. I signed up for a 15-week course and got to warp the loom twice (I still needed help the second time around – there is so much to remember!). Thanks to the class, I was able to warp my loom at home and finish projects there, too.

belowwarp

The remains of the original warp.

View of warp and heddles from back side.

View of warp and heddles from back side.

When I got my loom, it was partially warped. Grandma Barb and Grandpa Lee were getting ready for a new project, but never quite got around to starting. I felt this intense connection to them as I began working. I finished warping their loom, with their yarn, and finished a few different projects on that one warp. The specialness of being able to continue, literally, right where they left off, is what this blog project is all about.  Being able to pass on traditional crafts from one generation to another, keeping skills (and memories) alive, binds us all together. This is what I find so gratifying about the handmade: the connections we forge and strengthen through time and tradition, the human element that lives in the handmade.

barb

Barb and Lee, the OG weavers.

When I first began weaving on the original warp, I sent some pictures of my first project from class to my husband’s aunt.  She wrote back saying:  “Grandma and Grandpa would be so happy to see this. In fact, I just felt a smile from them.”  As I continued weaving back and forth, back and forth, I could feel it too.

A Beginning

About a month ago I showed up to my first local quilter’s guild meeting, sheepishly clutching two of my works in progress for show and tell. When I stood up to show my stitching, I blurted out, “I just moved here and I don’t have any friends to share my quilts with yet.”

English paper piecing hexagons

My 1930s Reproduction Scrap Quilt, English Paper Piecing

“You have friends now!” someone yelled from the crowd.

I was easily the youngest attendee, a fact that several guild members remarked on throughout the evening. “It’s good to have young people here,” one woman said to me later as we examined a needle-turn appliqué piece.

“I don’t know why more aren’t here,” I say.

“Time,” she says.

English paper piecing hexagons
True, most of the 100+ women in attendance are in retirement, have silver hair. A third are sassy, young grandmothers with stylish haircuts. Yes, these women have more time than most to quilt. But I think of the quilters I follow on Instagram, the sewing blogs I search–the majority of these stitchers are in their 30s, like me. They have fabric lines and multiple children. They head families and businesses. Their productivity overwhelms me at times.

Handquilting an Album Block

Of course I have a cat.

None of my friends or family quilt. Most of what I know about quilting (after learning the basics from the mother of a college friend over 10 years ago) has been learned in this online environment of young makers. Their tutorials and blog posts have been invaluable in advancing my skills over the past several years. But lately, I feel like I’ve reached a sewing plateau. I don’t have the money to attend big events like Quilt Con or take classes; all of my sewing at this point is solitary. And now I’m hungry for company after leaving career and friends to move across the country. (Even adventure can feel lonely at first).

So I have a sewing date next week with seven retired ladies. I’ve been invited to their “bee” to see if it’s a good fit. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Begin Where You Are

Full disclosure: I’m a dabbler.  I love trying new crafts, skills, techniques, mediums, etc. The problem is I dabble a little bit here, a little bit there, then I get bored or burnt out, or frustrated that I’m not achieving perfection after trying something a few times. But now, something about where I am right now, I think I’ve found what I’ve always been looking for. Perhaps its the time and place I’m at in my life or the fact that I inherited a floor loom (and finally learned how to use it), I’m hooked on weaving.  I’m ready to dive into this art form and go deep, rather than wide.

Weaving on a four shaft loom

I’ve been at it for nearly 6 months and have finished 3 wall hangings, one giant rug, a smaller rug, and three miscellaneous panels that will become pillows one day.  I’m ready to go, to learn, to grow my skills and evolve as an artist. I began by taking a weaving class at my local art center.  I knew I wanted to start with a wall hanging with a natural background.  I chose these accent colors:

Weaving on a four shaft loom

Prepping my first four accent shuttles!

Then got to work picking designs:

Weaving on a four shaft loom

Weaving on a four shaft loom
Here’s my finished wall hanging of two panels, side by side:

Loom woven wall hangings