Resources for beginning weavers

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vavstuga Basics

Way back in October, when I signed up for my Vavstuga Basics class, I wasn't sure what my expectations should be.

Whatever they were, the reality has blown them right out of the water.  This has been one of the most extraordinary weeks of my life.  For the past week I've been weaving 10 hours a day; and when I wasn't weaving, I've been eating like royalty, devouring books from the weaving library, examining hundreds of examples of woven Scandinavian pieces, or falling exhausted into bed.

I must first start with Becky.  If there were a professional league of weavers (or potential elves), Becky Ashenden would be a first round draft pick.  Not only is she an amazing teacher, she is also full of good humor and curiosity.  Case in point:

ME:  "Uh oh Becky, I found a mistake in my warping."
HER:  "A mistake?  What kind of mistake?  OHHHHHH!  I LOVE this one!  This is a great one!"

Never before have I seen someone so happy about my errors! She's not enthusiastic, she's ENTHUSIASTIC.

My fellow weavers were a diverse bunch.  There were novices (like me, but also someone who has never in her life touched a loom) as well as accomplished weavers here.  We all seem to be having a grand time. Most of us are staying at Vavstuga, which can house 6 people above the studio in a neat little living space.  It's a bit loud up here but I wouldn't want to stay anywhere else.  The studio and living quarters have an amazing view of the Deerfield River, and we are nestled among several artists studios (careful with the checkbook!) and neighbor to the Bridge of Flowers -- an old trolley bridge transformed into a garden.  We are eating amazing Swedish meals -- starting the day with cheeses, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, and hard boiled eggs and ending with salad, bread, a hot dish, and homemade dessert.The living space is packed with handwovens -- rugs, overshot coverlets, napkins, and a different tablecloth every day.

The dining area (made up with another amazing handwoven) looking ou
the Deerfield River and Bridge of Flowers.

The amazing Bridge of Flowers at dawn.
The studio is amazing.  This room is completely full of Glimakra looms, a huge library of weaving books in every language, spools and spools of cotton and linen, and an intriguing collection of tools.  This place is all about Scandinavian weaving, so counterbalance and countermarche looms are our tools.  Having only used jack looms, this is exciting for me.  I'm hoping to not want a new loom after this week, but it may be inevitable.

"Squid towels" in the bathroom.  I'll be making these
cool towels sometime soon!
Our weaving week started with us all sitting down and winding color cards for towels and picking 2 from all the choices to make this week.  (Happily, one of mine got picked -- a design I'm calling "sand and sea".)  We then spent 2 days warping up 8 looms; 2 with cottolin dishtowels, two with linen block weave table cloths (more like table napkins, as they are small), two with cotton table cloths, and two with wool blankets.  That leaves 3 days of weaving; enough time to complete all 4 projects for most of us but some people went on to a bath mat as well.  Every day we had "drafting class" at 11, where we do drawdowns by hand, all based on a theme, and then Becky pulls out dozens of examples of woven items that display that theme.  It's a bit overwhelming to see how productive she has been.  It emphasizes for me how very little I know, but also inspires me to get to work.  I'm thinking I need to just warp up a black warp and do a wide variety of designs on it; rethreading if need be.  Perhaps this fall will be the season of sampling!

Examples of Becky's handwovens.

Yet more examples.  They just never stopped coming.
In the afternoon we also meet to fill out project sheets for our projects; which is great. Although I keep a project book, it's not as meticulous as it needs to be.

Now to the important part:  what I came home with:

My finished products (they just need to be hemmed):

I also left with a bunch of items for my stash; cottolin (actually Bockens Nialin), tow linen in a few color, and some cotton for  napkins.  I was tempted by many weaving tools, but I didn't want to buy things if I had a serviceable tool already.  They have very nice sleying hooks, for example, but I already have a perfectly good one.  Those shuttles, on the other hand . . . .

I'm also leaving with my head spinning from all the directions I could go from here.  I'm not much of a homeware weaver, but I think I will be in the future.  The logo of Vavstuga has three words in it that I think really reflect what goes on in the school:  Tradition, Creativity, and Technique.  All of these qualities will be on my mind over the next few months as I process my stay at Vavstuga -- I'm so glad I went!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mistakes, driving Dr. Chuck, and the Hope Spinnery


It's a good thing you can't reach through the internet and take a close look at this scarf.

I made way too many mistakes on this one.  Seriously.

Here's a good one:  I rolled the warp onto the warp beam, through the raddle, with terrific tension.  Then I removed the lease sticks before I had threaded the heddles.

And another:  once I'd threaded the heddles and sleyed the reed, I realized the warp didn't go over the warp beam.  This meant I had to roll it all onto the cloth beam, cut it, and tie it onto the warp beam.

My tension was crummy (I'm blaming that on having to tie onto both beams.)

Oh yeah, and my sett was pretty loose; I think this scarf is a bit sleazy.

On top of that, someone pinched the scissors off my "studio" table, and I had to use kindergarten scissors to finish up.  (I got them back.)

It's ironic, then, that as I was finishing this project, I listened to a Weavecast episode that featured Bonnie Tarses.  She said two things that related to the project:

but also:

Isn't that wise?  So I'm trying to look at things on the bright side:  I finished my first project on the island.

Driving Dr. Chuck

Yesterday I drove back from Kent Island to Maine to get ready for Vavstuga. Dr. Chuck Huntington asked for a lift. Chuck is a Professor Emeritus, was the director of the field station from the 50's to the 80's, and is 91. This was his 58th year coming to the island. He is an extraordinary ornithologist, and his study of Leach's storm-petrels is almost certainly the longest running longitudinal study in the world. He claims the he's just a bean counter, but his work has led to some very important papers, like this one. Chuck is amazing. I interviewed him to preserve some Kent Island oral history last week. Here's a guy who grew up driving horse and wagon, served in WW2, went to Yale, traveled the world studying birds, was the son of a famous explorer and geographer, dined with Lords and Ladies, met Governor Baxter of Katahdin fame, is still happily married after 53 years, trained some of today's great ornithologists, and on top of all that, is always up for a road trip.

The most direct route is never Chuck's choice; he must take after his explorer father in this respect. So we stopped at scenic overlooks and checked out eagle's nests. Chuck asked me if I'd like to stop by the Hope Spinnery, a wind powered Spinnery owned by his son Bill.

What a silly question.  It's like asking an alcoholic if she'd like to see how gin is made, don't you think?

Along the way we stopped for lunch at a clam shack he'd heard was the best in Maine. (every clam shack makes this claim). Now, I don't eat fried food. But who am I to deny a 91 year old man?

Crosby's Drive-in, Bucksport, ME

Looks good, huh?
Here's the verdict: the clams were very good. But frankly they were no better than the clam shack in our neighborhood. And unfortunately, I felt pretty ill from eating so much oil. Next time I nonagenarian tries to talk me into junk food I hope to have more will power!

Hope Spinnery

Bill Huntington wasn't around when we got to the Hope Spinnery. Piles of his extraordinary yarn were. I have a hat knit from his yarn and I love the colors he produces. Hope Spinnery not only produces amazing yarn; it does it on wind power!

I love the hat in this one.

Waiting to be spun.

Next time you are at a fiber festival, keep your eyes open for Bill's booth, and stop by.

And bring your checkbook.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Voted Off the Island

On the island, I'm a free agent.  I'm not paid to be here, and can pick and choose what I want to spend my time doing. 

Usually that's a good thing.  But sometimes it means I end up doing things no one else has time to do.

That's how I ended up sleeping in my truck Friday night in Seal Cove on Grand Manan.  We ordered a simple solar water system, and given the ferry difficulty the small company that supplies them was skeptical about delivering to Grand Manan.  I was voted to go meet them in Blacks Harbor on the mainland.  So Friday at high tide we pushed off from Kent Island and I was dropped off at the ferry terminal.  With a couple of hours to kill I said hello to our friend at the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station and had some junk food at the cafe near the wharf (I suspend my eating rules while on Kent Island).  Then I took the 3:30 ferry to the Mainland.  On arrival I picked up our vehicle we left over there (given the ferry lines, that was the polite thing to do last week) and immediately got back in line to come back.  This left me with a good chance to make the 9:30 ferry. 

The solar people met me and we loaded up the van with our future luxury -- hot water!  Then it was on the ferry and back to Grand Manan.  I didn't want to spend the cash on a hotel room, so I slept in the back of our truck -- a bit cold and uncomfortable; but that was made up for at the provincial park where I took a hot shower.  Unfortunately I brought conditioner instead of shampoo, so although I had soft hair, it was still pretty gross!

These boxes (loaded in our workboat, the Ernest Joy), hold lovely hot water!
I love this banner.  It was made last year when the old boat was "retired".
No one expected it to come back into service.  I love how the "45" has been
updated to "46" and "2010" to "2011"!

Unfortunately, all this ferrying has left me without much time at the loom.  I have warped Jane up with my somber grey and green scarf, but only a few inches have been woven.  I'm determined to finish this before heading to Vavstuga on Friday; so I hope to report progress in my next post.  In the mean time, I'll be anticipating the set up of our solar water system!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Loom with a View

I've been thinking of this all winter:

Jane enjoying the view

The "Captain Gillette".

From the wharf.  "Rat Shack" is on the left;
"Captain Gillette" in the middle; and "Lower
Lab" on the right.

Threading the heddles -- yes, it's June and I'm dressed for winter!

Everything I need to weave (we hope).  Note the Ipod;
I'm listening to old episodes of Weavecast!

The Captain Gillette must be a hundred years old.  The timber is all hand hewn; and it's post and beam construction by a real craftsman.  At one time this must have simply been a storage shed for nets and boating equipment; now we store things on the bottom floor and have 2 bunks up top.  The plank floor isn't nailed down, because in winter, when the tides run extra high, the Gillette floods.  This was a common strategy in the old days -- rather than losing the building they'd just have a wreck of boards to lay back down.

When our caretaker first started on the island (20+ years ago) the building had been abandoned and was full of birds and guano.  He got a power washer and went at it; it's perfectly inhabitable now and hard to believe it was once so rough.  I'm sharing the space with construction equipment and, well, garbage (note the bins of old shingles waiting to go off island and the stacks of new shingles waiting to go on the side of a building).  Despite the garbage, it's a great place to work, with plenty of light.

And a million dollar view.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Have Loom, Will Travel

Greetings from the Bay of Fundy!

Last week was a frenzy of packing and prepping for our trip up to Kent Island.  The highlight, as usual, was our trip to BJs wholesale club to pick up a bulk order of food.  Ever bought $1200 of food in one trip?  On top of that a trip to the grocery ($300) and Walmart ($100); then we buy about $500 of food every week.  Feeding 20 people takes a lot of supplies!

Loom burrito and a traveling studio.

Jane (my Louet) came up riding safe and secure in our truck -- good thing because it poured buckets first thing in the morning!  I wrapped her in several layers of bubble wrap (a good investment) and then in a vinyl tablecloth -- a loom burrito!  We also took apart her stand and luckily it fit right in my work bin.  Hopefully I have all I need to be productive here on the island.  The trip is like "Planes Trains and Automobiles" -- start by leaving at an ungodly hour (5 am); drive to Bangor and turn right onto the "Airline Road".  They don't build roads like that anymore . . . .  Dodge moose, deer, and bears, then cross into Canada.  Try not to anger the border guards.  (They wanted us to post a bond because we brought so much scientific equipment, but DH talked them out of it!)  Then, it's a mere 3 boat trips and hike across the mudflats to get to Kent Island!
Walking on the ferry while cars are offloaded from the previous trip.

The stern deck of the "Black Ferry" -- an amazingly warm day on the Bay of Fundy.

The north end of Grand Manan -- looking out at the cliffs called "Seven Days Work".

Taking the old ferry, running in place of the damaged new ferry,
meant I got to photograph some of the old signs.  She's a charmer!

The harbor at Seal Cove on Grand Manan.
It's been a busy few days since we arrived -- lots of unpacking, cleaning, and organizing.  Last night I set up Jane down by the wharf, but some further cleaning will need to occur before I get out any warps.  When we say dirt here, we mean dirt.  Makes me appreciate how easy it is to clean with running water and electricity.
One load of supplies coming up from the wharf.
The cottage in the background is where I live -- it was built by
Sterling Rockefeller -- a story in and of itself.
On a last note -- I finished my pinwheel scarf in bamboo!  This was a really fun project and Ihave to say came out beautifully.  The colors were lovely and really complemented my friend's complexion.  Now to see about getting a warp on that loom with a view . . . .

Monday, May 23, 2011

Necessity is a muthah

I leave for the Island in a few days.  In the midst of packing up all the personal gear we'll need for 9 weeks and our science equipment; answering questions from 8 excited young researchers; making a bulk run to BJs; cleaning our house; and taking the dog to her summer home, I'm trying to pack up my weaving.  Who's coming?  Jane -- this is actually why I bought her.  And a bin of items I've carefully inventoried -- shuttles, reading glasses, measuring tape, etc.

Finishing the bamboo scarf for my friend Nancy.
And projects.

I'm going to Vavstuga in late June, so I know I'll come back with some materials then, and I'll be wanting to do some Swedish weaving.  And I return to Maine in July for a week to run a lab for a teacher workshop (human genetics, anyone?)  I'm sure I can rustle up some more projects then.  So I'm trying to be realistic about what I need to take.  I want to wind warps at home, although I got some warping pegs to take along.  This has been fun and I'm in such a hurry I only have time to use my stash -- which is great.  I have a tendency to see yarn and then want to weave with it, but then I ignore the remnants.  Also to buy more than I need when I get to a big yarn shop.  Being forced to work out of my stash has made me work from yarn to project, rather than from project to yarn.  In this case, necessity has been the mother of invention for me.

Three warps are ready:

A leaf-green and white bamboo, for a shadow-weave scarf from Vav.

A somber slate grey and light green tencel, which will be a houndstooth scarf.

And I think my favorite -- this is Madeleine Tosh Prairie and variegated tencel mixed.  This has a wonderful depth of texture and color.  I'm planning on just putting this on and plowing through it with tabby for a quick start to the season.  If the weaving is as easy and fun as making this warp, I'll be loving it.  I'm a little concerned about using the Tosh as warp but we'll see what happens!

FERRY UPDATE:  The ferry that ran aground is going to dry dock.  This leaves the little black ferry to run; it was actually decommissioned in fall in anticipation of the arrival of the newest ferry, planned in July.  So they are pulling her out of mothballs and using her.  This means there will be a long wait to cross to the island; we are going to bring tents just in case we have to camp out on the mainland and wait.  Getting to the island will be a relief, and I'm looking forward to setting up my things and getting to work.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A tale of two shuttles

I am busy this week working on a bamboo pinwheel scarf for a friend leaving for graduate school.  She has that wonderful Irish coloring and red hair, so this should complement her very well:

Working this pattern is really fun.  It's wound with 8 ends of one color, 8 of the other; and the weft is the same.  I'm catching the non-working weft along the right selvedge as I go, which slows things down just a little.  Using Jane, rather than a loom that is not direct tie, means I have to flip multiple levers as I go.  I keep track by using high-quality scientific tape (used to label tubes and samples) that leaves no residue and is very, very sticky. 

I have 2 small shuttles from Schacht for this project.  They look very similar, don't they:

But in reality, one has no bottom and the other does:

And one is an 1/8th of an inch wider than the other:

So the dark shuttle really flies and the light one struggles to make it through Jane's smaller shed.  The nice thing about this pattern is that there are distinct reminders to advance the shed -- every 3 pattern repeats, which equals an inch.  This helps me have even weft and keeps my shed regular.

Beyond weaving, I like everyone else here in New England am wondering when the rain will stop.  I'm thinking of building an Ark and gathering the animals two by two.  It makes for gray days:

Low tide at Wolfe's Neck State Park in Freeport, ME.
But also makes everything wonderfully green!