Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Friday, 21 August 2015

Sea of Joy: Expanding Horizons

I ventured out to Open Fibre Night last night. My friend, Michele M-H, started this event a couple of years ago. OFN is held monthly; it's free, open to anyone with an interest in fibre work of any kind. I haven't attended for some time and there were many new faces among the group. (Then again, perhaps I was the new face. It's always a matter of perspective.) Another friend, Carla D, drove halfway across the city to transport me and most of my fibre room contents, or so it seemed. I'm moving away from using commercial yarns, so a few skeins for dispersal came with me and I decided to work on my tapestry, which meant packing my 16 inch Mirrix and a basket of singles weft yarns. This smaller Mirrix is designed for workshops, but compared to knitting or spinning on a spindle, taking it on tour is a big deal. (Getting everything back home is just as fun - Young Mr. DD found two balls of yarn beside the house this morning, escapees from my basket. Fortunately, he discovered them before Morris did.)

As it turned out, I didn't get much weaving done. There was visiting to catch up on, admiring of completed and new projects, demonstrations of unfamiliar techniques and snacks to keep us energized. I came home with two garden cucumbers, one for Mr. DD and the other for Morris, less yarn than I arrived with and a few passes completed on my weaving. I was out past ten o'clock, an outrageously late night for me and while I'm dragging my butt around at the moment, I'm feeling reconnected with my fibre world.

I warped the loom for a larger version of "Sea of Joy" earlier in the week and have been making steady, if slow progress. Here's the the basket of yarns I've chosen for the project. Behind it is the loom with the hem and a double row of twining in hand spun linen in place:

Here's the story so far:

Here she is on her side, as she will appear when completed:

At the moment, I'm not loving the larger version. It seems less spontaneous, joyful and free than the sample. I often have this reaction when I expand a small thought into a larger idea and it's really too early to judge what will happen. There may be a problem with the values; the images may need more contrast. Actually, they most certainly will require stronger value shifts, but since this piece will be approximately 12 inches x 24 inches or slightly longer and I have but a couple of inches completed, I have plenty of time and space to introduce what's needed. This is how the values appear now:

You can see by the ink on the cotton seine twine warp and the scribbling on the cartoon, that I'm revising the images as I go. I love this part of the process - never knowing whether my ideas will work, exploring the interactions of the colours in my weft, discovering what works in a cartoon and what does not.

In a recent blog post, Rebecca Mezoff says this about tapestry:
 "For me, it all comes down to this. I can't NOT do tapestry. I suspect the answer, for those of us who choose to spend our days making and teaching tapestry, is the same. It is what we do because we love it and we can't imagine using another art form."  ((Linked here. You should read it.),
Rebecca's words resonate with me. For me, it's always about the journey and never the end product. Even when I had a long stretch of non-weaving, tapestry informed my choices in spinning and design. I never lost sight of the road to returning to this process and I'm happy to be back on the path. Meditation and yoga influence my weaving, but for me, tapestry weaving is both meditation and yoga. When I'm in the process, time stops. I become one with the materials and the medium, a small speck of the universe united with all the other specks of our existence. I can think of no better place to be.


Saturday, 8 August 2015

Sea of Joy: A Small Study, a Big Change and a Glimpse into the Process of Designing

I finished another small tapestry this week, "Sea of Joy," a study from a tiny sketch I'd done years ago while drinking white wine and listening to CBC Radio. She's approximately 7 x 7.5 inches, slightly larger than the pieces I've completed this summer. I'm pleased with her; she's telling me she would like to be a larger work and the ideas for a cartoon, what size best suits her and what yarns I should use for warp and weft are rattling round in my head. At the moment, I'm thinking that she should be a companion piece to "The Garden," woven on my 16 inch Big Sister Mirrix Loom in a cotton warp with hand spun and dyed wefts and that she's likely to be around 12 x 24 inches. With those things settled, I'm now waiting for my drawing skills to kick in so that I can work out a cartoon. This may take the rest of the summer, but I've learned that there's no use in rushing. As I wait, I can admire this little piece - her colours are vibrant and her composition is strong, although not perfect. Overall, the tapestry works and she is worthy of a larger weaving:

One of the best ways to determine if a tapestry is working is to take black and white photos of the weaving as it progresses and when it's finished. Removing colour from the equation, especially when the colours are as bright as they are here, allows me to spot areas where I may need more contrast or sections where my composition is weak. In this case, my composition is stronger than I had anticipated. My contrasts are good, although I may need stronger contrast in the small sea creature at upper left. I'm undecided about that now because I rather like that the creature isn't readily apparent and only shows up after closer viewing, just as a sea creature would if she were camouflaging herself among the flora:

This is the back of the piece. I have a few ends tied off and there are several knots, but overall, I like my tapestries to be reversible. When I do mount my pieces (another summer project), I find that a smooth surface on the back of the work gives a flatter, more finished appearance on the front:

With two small studies completed and a larger piece ("Battle Fatigue") still on loom, I'm feeling another strong calling, one outside my comfort zone. Something tells me it's time to begin a large tapestry, much larger than I usually weave and to do it in natural colours of hand spun wools. Yesterday, I hauled out my large Zeus Loom:

This Big Boy, a gift from Mr. DD many years ago, will weave a piece up to 35 inches wide and 61 inches long. I've woven on it twice. The first piece was the banner I use for my blog, a study for the larger rug I wove next on Zeus. I seldom weave large pieces. The biggest tapestry I've ever woven was "Yellow Leaves Hang From Your Tree," started in 2005 and completed in 2008. She was woven on a loom made of iron plumbing pipes: 

Commercial wool singles warp, commercial mixed wefts, hand spun and dyed wool wefts. Approximately 24 x 36 inches.

After she was completed, I stopped weaving for a while. Since I've begun weaving again, my tapestries have all been small, bits of ideas worked out (or not) on simple frame looms. Now, all this summer, I've had the urge to resurrect Zeus and weave another rug/magic carpet. The images for that are coming as flashes in dreams, as I meditate or sit at my spinning wheel. There's nothing to draw, yet, not much of an idea as to what warp to use or how large this thing should be. She just sits and waits and nudges me. At first, that nudging came now and again, but in the past few weeks, she's been poking  and whispering at me on a daily basis, so yesterday, I gave in and did some spinning for my potential, future work:

That's 8 ounces of Icelandic singles spun up, along with a bin full of other weft yarns, from black to white. There's another 36 ounces of Welsh Mountain top on its way here. There's a voice, stronger and stronger by the day, saying "Weave me." We shall see where it all leads.


Saturday, 1 August 2015

Badlands: Continuous Strand Tapestry Weaving

I finished weaving my Badlands sample last night. I'm pretty pleased with it at the moment. The colours are lovely and the spontaneous design worked out nicely. I can see things I wish I'd done differently and areas which could use improvement, but that's always the case, is it not?

The interesting thing about this small tapestry (approximately 7 inches x 5 inches on loom) is that it is woven with a continuous strand of yarn from a single ball. When I speak of "continuous strand weaving," I don't mean to say that the yarn was never broken, as I needle weave using short strands of yarn. Continuous strand weaving - I haven't found a better term, yet - means that I weave with the yarn using the colours as they present themselves, either from the outside end of the ball or the inside of the yarn package. I align the colours in the order they come and I don't remove any colours which may be problematic. If I were to unpick this weaving and rejoin all the ends, I would have a ball of (very knotty) yarn whose colours would be the same as the original skein.

Just to remind you: I wove using the outside end of the ball to start, then worked with yarns from both ends of the package, transitioning into weaving with the yarn from the inside of the ball:

I've searched for information on other weavers who use their yarns in this fashion. Although there are many sites and works on weaving with hand spun and dyed yarns, including a few which demonstrate judicious placement of the colours, I haven't yet found a source in which a tapestry weaver worked using a continuous strand. I'm sure there must be others who have tried this and I'd love to hear from them/you.

The question which arises from this study is, "How will this technique work in a larger piece?" I have a frame loom warped with cotton which has been waiting for a project for a while now. Perhaps I've found one for it.


Thursday, 30 July 2015

Somewhere Over the Rainbow 2015: Controlling Colour Placement in Tapestry Using Hand Spun Singles

Yesterday, I discussed how I use my multi-coloured singles weft yarns to build a tapestry design. This style of free form weaving is relaxing and fun - I begin to weave and see where the yarn takes me. Weaving this way is truly "playing with string." Most of the time, though, I have specific designs in mind and I weave with a cartoon behind my warp. This watercolour was the starting point for a piece I wll discuss here, "Study for 'The Garden':"

I've lost the cartoon for this weaving, but my practice is to translate such paintings into line drawing cartoons, like this one:

How do I use my hand spun yarns to build a controlled design? A weaver can work mathematically, planning the colour changes in her spinning based on some calculations in a woven sample. Let's say that she knows that a 10 inch (25 cm) wide x 1 inch (2.5 cm) high block of colour contains 36 picks per inch (PPI) and that she has approximately 10% take up in her weft yarn with each pass. Each weft pass then requires 11 inches (27.5 cm) of yarn. She would multiply 11 x 36 for a total of 396 inches, or approximately 11 yards (10 metres) of yarn per block woven. Working from this, she would then spin 11 yards or 10 metres of each colour she wanted per colour block (or she could be wild and spin 11 inches of a variety of colours 36 times to mix her colours in that same block). There will, of course, still be some variation in colour placement, due to differences in take up, yarn grist, techniques used and the touch of the human hand, but overall, a spinner could make weaving weft this way and be fairly confident as to how the colours would weave in a given section.

Apart from the challenge presented, I have no interest in working this way. Spinning precise colours into my yarns doesn't strike me as an effective use of my time, given that I can use traditional weaving techniques to place my colours where I please. Instead, I use my experience as a dyer and spinner to blend colours in my yarns; my experience with tapestry weaving allows me to decide how best to place the colours. The short version of this is that I work intuitively, but I also pay attention to the shapes in my cartoons and how to build those shapes with my yarns.

In "'The Garden' Study," shown here as woven and turned to show how the final weaving is presented, I built shapes using both discontinuous weft tapestry techniques and the colours in the yarns:

You can see the traditional way that shapes are formed in the small flower at the lower left. The stem and leaves are woven with green yarns in eccentric weft technique and the bud is a separate shape from a different yarn placed between the leaves. The Snake's body and the right side of the large flower are woven with continuous yarns (each from separate balls). The natural striping of the yarn forms the stripes on the Snake. (For some reason, I always think of this image as a "he" and always in capital letters.) That colour way begins with the pink at his underbelly and continues to the tongue, orange stripe and eye, which are woven in separately, then the main yarn continues into his head to the top of his body. The large flower is woven the same way, beginning with light pink for the stem (right side, lower photo), into the purples and fuchsias of the bud. The left side of the stem is woven in the same fashion with a different multi-coloured yarn.

You can see the same effect in this detail of a leaf from "Chakra Roots." This shape was woven from a continuous strand of yarn, the leaf from one end of the ball and the soumak from the other:

Working this way is not an all-or-nothing process. Whether I use a fairly solid colour or a multi-coloured yarn depends on what I believe best suits my design. For example, in "The Garden," the rounded shapes are woven with solid singles, while the background combines various gradient singles combined with slits and eccentric wefts.

Weaving with multi-coloured singles reduces my weaving time by allowing my yarns to mimic some classic tapestry techniques. It can also enhance those same traditional ways of weaving. Working with such yarns extends my design possibilities - I can allow the yarn itself to determine my design, as I did in "Badlands" or I can use that yarn to highlight shapes in my cartoons. Best of all, weaving with my hand spun yarns combines my love of dyeing, spinning and weaving into a single fabric. There is a meditation in this practice as All becomes One.


Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Somewhere Over the Rainbow 2015: Weaving with a Ball of Hand Dyed Singles

We had two days of much needed rain, although we could have done without the high winds which accompanied it. The weather was perfect for weaving, so I thought I would show you what I do with those balls of multi-dyed singles that I spin. I set up one of my small Forsythe frame looms with a commercial cotton seine twine warp, selected a ball of yarn which appealed to me and began to weave, without a cartoon or any plan at all, apart from demonstrating how I work with the range of colours available to me in a single ball of yarn. In this photo, you can see the variety of colours in a single skein, which I wound into a centre pull ball:

I have several options when using this yarn; I can work from the inside or the outside of the ball or I can select random sections by winding off yarn until I get the colours I want. In this case, I decided to work from the outside and the inside of the ball, taking the colours as they came to me. I began with the outside of the ball. Working across the width of the tapestry produces subtle stripes, as shown at the bottom of the sample (tentatively named, "Badlands"):

Once I begin to work over smaller areas, the stripes become more evident, shifting into blocks of colour, depending upon the techniques I use (slits and eccentric wefts here). You can see this happening on the left side of the tapestry. If I want to emphasize a particular section, I use an outlining technique - in this case, soumak.

For the background colour (the blue shown here), I wove using yarn from the centre of the ball. I prefer to have a clean surface on both front and back of my work, but in order to maintain a smooth colour transition in the sky, I floated my yarn behind the hoodoo image at centre right. The colour shifts from blue to light pink, at which point, I began weaving with yarns from the inside and outside of the ball. The inside yarn is on the left; the outside yarn is on the right:

You can see the hatching in the centre of the piece and my use of eccentric weft weaving to suggest movement in the sky. The hatching is barely noticeable, but there is a clear difference between the left side and right.

There are a few things to remember when working with multiple colour transitions:

  • When dyeing fibres, make your colours stronger and brighter than you require in your yarn. Spinning with multiple colours mutes everything. If your colours are too subtle, especially if you spin using complementary colours, your yarns will appear muddy and will become more so in your weaving. Choose your colour sequence wisely.
  • Stripes become more prominent as the weaving width covered by the yarn narrows, eventually becoming blocks of colour. The longer your colour runs, the bigger the blocks, so when spinning your yarns, pay attention to the length and order in which you spin your singles. If you want precise placements and shapes, you will have to measure your fibres as you spin. This defeats my intent to make less work for myself, so I eyeball my colours as I spin. 
  • If you want to maintain continuity in your colour transitions, the end which comes off the ball last is the end that goes through the eye of the needle (or is the first to be wound on your bobbin or butterfly). This ensures that the last end off the ball will also be the last end woven. If you aren't concerned with maintaining the shifts, you don't need to pay attention which end came off the yarn package last. 
  • Sample. Sample a lot, especially if you intend to weave larger pieces or if you want to weave specific shapes. Designing with the colours in the yarn is not a beginner's practice. It's easy to get pleasing colours when weaving random sections in a tapestry, but controlling those colours requires paying attention to how the yarn is spun and how that yarn is used in the fabric. Transitions are affected by warp sett, weaving width, beat and techniques. All these things and more affect the final appearance of your work. 

I hope this gives you some idea of how to work with rainbow dyed colours in tapestry. In case you're wondering: "This is all very well for free form weaving, but can I do this if I'm working with cartoons, specific images and larger pieces?" the answer is, yes, you can and I will have more on that in future posts.


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Somewhere Over the Rainbow 2015: Spinning Yarns

My last post walked you through one of the dyeing techniques I use for my hand spun tapestry singles yarns. Once I’ve rainbow dyed, washed and dried my Romney fleece, I sort it into locks and more jumbled fibres. Both sets of fibres will be used to spin tapestry yarns, but I treat them differently. Individual locks are divided into colourways for spinning from the lock, either as is or after combing with a dog comb. The rest of the fleece will be carded or combed on wool combs, depending upon its end use.

Spinning from locks retains the beautiful lustre of this Romney fleece and allows me to produce colour gradients, either subtle or distinctive, in my yarns. It is also easier for me to produce yarns which mimic tapestry techniques when I spin from locks. Tapestry woven with lock spun wefts has a smoother surface and higher lustre than tapestry woven with woollen yarns; however, the strength of the yarn and the parallel arrangement of its fibres mean that the wefts don’t pack as well over the warp yarns. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I do a lot of needle weaving and don’t use a shedding device very often, so I sometimes find that worsted singles shred as I weave them over and under the warps, usually when I set up a linen warp. While woollen yarns may pill in the shed, worsted yarns tend to drift apart all at once, so I have to work with short pieces of yarn and overlap my joins well. In most cases, this isn’t a problem – my pieces are small and require only short wefts and experience has taught me to anticipate any yarn drift which I can prevent by rolling the yarn between my fingers in the direction of the twist as I weave.

All of the yarns from this batch of dyeing were spun Z, cut end to tip on a top whorl spindle. This photograph shows Skein #1, spun directly from locks which were opened at the cut end, but which had no other preparation.  This yarn is slightly more textured and fuzzier than the next two larger skeins, which were spun from dog combed locks. Note the PVC niddy noddy – after spinning the yarns, I wind them on these noddies, twist the noddies flat to produce more tension on the yarns, then wash and dry them on the noddies.The locks below are the original colours in this skein. If you are planning a colourway using this technique, remember that the colours are stronger and brighter in the locks. Colours opposite on the colour wheel will blend to produce browns; equal amounts of opposite colours can muddy otherwise clear colours. Experiment a bit before you spin an entire batch to determine which colours work well together and how gradually you want your colours to transition.

This batch of lock spinning produced approximately 475 yards of worsted style weft yarns. You can see the strong colour shifts in the larger skeins. Depending upon the effect I want, I can use these yarns from either end or from the centre to place the colours where I need them. If I decide that I want a gradient shift in my colours without using tapestry techniques – such as winding multiple colours on a bobbin and then dropping or changing out colours as I weave – I spin fewer locks of any one colour and make them into smaller skeins which can be woven as is across the web. (This then begs the question: am I weaving tapestry, i.e., discontinuous weft-faced weave or am I weaving rugs? I’m not a purist and tend to go with whatever works best for me.)

There you have it – step two in the long, but rewarding process of weaving tapestry from hand spun singles.


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Somewhere Over the Rainbow 2015

Late yesterday afternoon, I dyed some Romney fleece from my favourite local supplier, Meegan Linklater, of Rousay Station. Meegan's Romney is always lovely - clean, bright, long stapled with great lock formation and strong. It has a wide range of uses, from garments to tapestry yarns, Although it's quite heavy with grease, it dyes beautifully, with lustre that highlights the silkiness of the locks. It's perfect for rainbow dyeing.

I rainbow dye most of the fibres I use for tapestry yarns. I like the unpredictability of the colours, the way the hues blend and the fact that the colours in a rainbow pot always go well together. I spin singles for tapestry weft. The colour transitions in the yarns often substitute for traditional weaving techniques; judicious placement of multi-coloured wefts can mimic the nuances of hachure, for example. Working with multi-coloured singles can make my tapestries appear more complex than they are and I'm all for using illusion to my advantage.

Rainbow dyeing involves nothing more than filling a dye pot with a small amount of hot water, several glubs of vinegar (or other acid), then stuffing the pot with raw fleece. (You can rainbow dye with any fibres or even yarns, washed or not, but acid dyeing with raw fleece is my preferred method.) You then sprinkle acid dye powders in several places on the fleece, heat the pot to a simmer and walk away. There's no stirring, no mixing of dye powders, no more than a bit of judicious poking if the powders don't dissolve. Once the fibres and dyes have simmered for approximately 20 minutes (which varies according to the dyes you use), you turn off the heat and allow the pot to cool over night. You then rinse or scour the wool and allow it to dry. I prefer to wash this Romney without a cleaning agent as I prefer the feel of the grease in the wool. That grease is removed when the yarn is washed and set, so it doesn't affect the woven fabric.

Once the fibre is cleaned, I separate it into batches of locks and fibres to be carded, then into colour groups. Here's the current batch ready to be sorted:

Here are the locks sorted into colour groups:

What doesn't sort into locks will be spun as is for textured yarns or carded and spun into colour blends:

Of course, I would not be as successful at all of this were it not for the faithful Morris, who watches over all events in our backyard. (Really, he's hoping we'll turn on the sprinkler so that he can play in it, He's broken so many sprinkler heads that Mr. DD designed one specially for Morris, built from a hockey puck and a piece of plastic plumbing tubing. At least now, when Morrie bites at the sprinkler, he won't hurt his teeth.The old boy turned nine at the beginning of the month, but you'd never know it when he's romping around in the water.)