Category Archives: Creative Process

House Blend

One of the problems I’m having in the studio is pacing myself. I want to try everything, all at once, while simultaneously mastering every detail. (I think there’s a contradiction inherent to this sentiment.)

Lately, I’ve been drawn to the allure of fiber preparation. Not having any raw fiber handy, I consoled myself with combing together an ounce apiece of baby camel down and tussah silk. I took to my trusty Ashford spindle with the resulting globs of fluff. I think this will turn into a weft yarn for a warp of some leftover Tencel that I have lying around.

This is coming in at about 45 wraps per inch, and 6400 yards per pound. I think it wouldn’t mind being finer, or being spun on a lighter spindle, but I’m liking this grist.
A plied sample incorporating various grists.

I used a dog slicker for the actual blending. Here’s a comparison of the fibers before spinning:

From left to right: tussah silk, camel down, and a 50/50 blend.

I’ve also been trying to learn different methods of drafting on the spinning wheel. Strangely enough, I’ve got my antique wheel to a point of relative stability, and it’s spinning well. I’m still planning to take the flyer in for a permanent repair as soon as possible, but with a little bit of shimming here and there, things are moving just fine.

I’m comfortable with a couple of different drafting techniques on a spindle, but the options for wheel spinning are numerous and new to me. I’m working my way through the techniques in the DVD A Spinner’s Toolbox, and discovered that what I’ve been doing naturally is actually a variant of woolen spinning. (When I heard Judith MacKenzie say that everyone is either a worsted spinner or a woolen spinner, it was as the footsteps of doom. Worsted spinning seems the logical choice for most of the projects I want to make. But this long-draw thing is… weirdly compelling.)

In fact, spinning with a short forward draw at all presents me with some ergonomic challenges. Why? Well, on my wheel, the mother-of-all on my wheel sits to the left, and I treadle with the right foot. But my hands are used to spindle spinning, where I hold the fiber in my left hand and draft with the right.

How I tried to spin a short forward draw with my right hand in front. Not good: sitting like this makes you twist uncomfortably to the left, no matter how you angle your seat.

The technique I’ve slipped into could be classed as an attenuated long draw. It’s not ideal for what I want to do (spin warp yarn), but it should work.

How I’m spinning now: supported long draw with my right hand in front.

I’ll still probably have to figure out how to draft left-handed– not a bad idea in any case– but I think it will take some time to get my hands coordinated.

How I should probably learn to spin: left hand in front. I don’t have as much control over the yarn like this, but I’m making an effort to practice.

This is the resulting yarn, before washing:

I did whip up a woven sample with some of the wheel-spun yarn. This was a one-morning warping job: 60 ends go fast. I took the opportunity to work on my plain weave, which is a surprisingly challenging thing. Any unevenness in the beat or selvedges sticks out like a sore thumb.

Since the warp was short, and I was weaving at ten picks per inch, I had the sample off the loom and into the bathtub in no time.

I can’t actually wear much wool (due to a strong inclination to sneeze), so this will remain in the Basket of Interesting Experiments, but I do have an official Finished Project to share. I’ve been knitting this hat on the sly as a gift:

Okay, the shuttle is gratuitous. But the light was better on the weaving bench.

I’m surprised to find that I really enjoy knitting stranded colorwork. Innumerable possibilities present themselves.

Now, it’s time to get ready for the Tour de Fleece. More to come!

When it skeins, it pours

I went away to visit family this past weekend, and somehow or other I wound up at the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival. (“Somehow or other”, in this case, involved last-minute rescheduling of the weekend and a frantic bus ride at two AM. You know, these things just happen.)

Actually, it’s been an especially fibery couple of weeks over here, even though I haven’t spent much time in the studio. I went to a weaving guild meeting last week, and am hoping to join the guild in the fall. (Plus, they were nice enough to let me snag some goodies from their book sale!) I’m also planning to check out a nearby weaving conference in a couple of weeks, along with taking some road trips with friends to upcoming fiber festivals. In short, things are great!


At the New Hampshire festival, I found a beautiful cherry niddy-noddy which, incidentally, perfectly matches my also-recently-acquired cherry spindle. I was also pleased to find some Icelandic top and an interesting Icelandic-alpaca blend, each from a different farm’s booth. The latter fiber has a bit more of what we’ll tastefully refer to as “vegetable matter” than I’d like in a processed roving, but it’s spinning up into a lovely glossy yarn.

A very young, slightly overenthusiastic sheepdog and her flock.
The thing about sheep is that they have an attention span of approximately half a second. They’ll look at you with bright-eyed curiosity for just that long, then deem you completely unthreatening, uninteresting, and unworthy of posing for. I had to keep surprising new sheep to get a picture.
It was a terrible struggle not to take this absurd little creature home with me. My dad, whom I’d dragged along, had to remind me that it would be both high-maintenance and smelly. Then the rabbit breeder rushed over and flung one into his arms. A hard sell!

The next day, tired but happy, I went for a walk in the woods with my mom. She brought her dog, and I brought my spindle.

Cartwheel. Technically not a craft picture. Well, it adds atmosphere.

Though I’m not especially surefooted, don’t worry: there was a perfectly serviceable path.

Of course, when I got home, I went and started planning more projects. Because I can’t help it. I’m thinking of a handwoven Go board in an as-yet-to be determined structure (doubleweave?), as well as a pair of nice mittens for myself. Mittens in May? Well, by the time winter rolls around, I’ll be neck-deep in Christmas gifts. For the pattern, I have a copy of Nightingale, which I love– it reminds me of Jacobean embroidery and all things nice– but I’m going to adapt the chart to the Mittens to Order pattern. The Sweet Georgia roving is spinning into a very pretty singles, so I’ll chain-ply it and use it for the birdies against a navy background. I think it should work, but I hope I have the technical skill to pull it off. I’ll keep you updated on this latest insanity.

Nostalgia and New Things

I don’t know about you, but I’m a seasonal sort of person. My life and memories thereof have always been clearly ordered by the different seasons of the year, or at least, the seasons as they occur in the rather pastoral little corner of the world where I grew up. I left home fairly young, but I think the place where you grow up is pretty well rooted in your psyche. The city where I live now does have all the seasons, and in abundance, but they come later and change more abruptly. It’s the delicious in-between times that I miss: the mists and the fog of early spring and late fall, the lime-green rainforest of new leaves and the bite of the cold morning air as you step outside.

This year, in lieu of leaves, I have roving.

The real transition to spring takes place here during the last week of April and the first week of May. As you might have gathered already, I get a bit sentimental this time of year: a degree of sadness tempered by an inevitable burst of energy.

Somehow, that energy has gone and manifested itself in the form of new craft projects.

When it takes you three days to put ten ends on an inkle loom, you know there’s a problem.

Between a stockpile of silk for my spindle, a lengthy waiting list for my looms, and numerous needly things needing attention– on top of, you know, a job– one could almost suspect that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

That little row counter is looking at me accusingly. I know it is.

No, I’m just irrationally frustrated by how slowly things are going. I’ve been spinning and weaving for less than a year, so looking at it in perspective, of course I can’t expect to be efficient or even reasonably proficient yet. That doesn’t seem to stop my brain from zipping ahead to the next project well before time or budget (especially budget) permit. There are so many things I want to do, especially when it comes to weaving. One of these days I want to really Get Serious and study weaving techniques methodically, but I’m a bit afraid to start– and as long as I keep coming up with new side projects, it’s not going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely not complaining about getting to spend some quality time with my favorite fiber. This silk is a little outside my usual color spectrum, but it drafts like butter, and it’s so soft that I’d love spinning it no matter what the color. (Note: upon reflection, I don’t think you can draft butter.)

So, how to cope? Spring might seem like the time to try something new, but for all that, I’m thinking that it’s time to slow down and go back to some old projects: the tapestry on my studio desk is looking awfully sad and abandoned.

Have you ever felt in over your head with your own hobbies?  It’s easy to talk about something like weaving as “just a hobby”, but these things have a way of entangling themselves with your self-image and your expectations of yourself. Not to mention your self-control. I’d be curious to know what strategies you have for managing it all.

Crafting every which way

At last, some finished projects! Enough, I think, to give you a quick update.

The Henslowe is complete. Hallelujah! It took almost exactly two skeins of Cascade Ultra Pima. Unfortunately, by “almost exactly two skeins”, I mean “two skeins plus three yards”.

Oh, well.

I also cut the inkle band off the little loom:

It’s about a yard and a half long– what shall I do with it? I’m thinking it would make a nice summer belt once hemmed and finished.

On the big loom, I’m starting another overshot project. Overshot is really my loom’s (and my) comfort zone. I’ll have to sample for weft a bit more, though: the knobbly purple cotton yarn above isn’t quite bulky enough to get a squared pattern with the 8/4 cotton warp I’m using, no matter how lightly I beat. I think that since it’s actually an unbalanced two-ply, it’s not really as bulky as it looks. Some of the leftover Ultra Pima might be just the ticket, though.

(Also, bad tension. Bad, bad tension.)

In other news, I’m still fighting off the knitting bug, so I’ve cast on another project. This time I’ll be attempting Floating in a beautifully indulgent Tanis Silver Label, but I’m trying to go into the project with a different (healthier?) mindset than I did the last. I’ll consider it a learning experience and will live with any non-structural mistakes, but if the whole thing starts to fall to pieces, then I’ll rip it out and use the Tanis to weave some yardage. Or at least inchage.

I will say that my motivation is increased tenfold by the presence of a flock of little sheepy stitch markers.

(I am a sucker for stuff shaped like sheep.)

Next, I’m anxious to get back to my miniature treehouse. I’ve been gradually collecting materials for a nice long session of leaf-making, and I should be ready to start just in time for spring. Whether this turns into a successful project or, um, comic relief, rest assured that pictures are forthcoming!

Confronting my nemesis with resignation, if not aplomb

I’ve mentioned, probably too often, that I’m not much of a knitter.

My Henslowe is coming along, but it’s not happy about it.

I’ve been fascinated by weaving for as long as I can remember, but didn’t actually teach myself to weave until quite recently. In contrast, I learned to knit many years ago, when my mother taught me to make tiny ski hats. Her knitting didn’t exactly follow a by-the-book approach: more along the lines of “just decrease when it’s time” and “use whichever needles you can find that match”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that– learning to do things by feel gives you a better sense of underlying structure than does following a pattern to the letter, but it’s not the systematic approach that many (brilliant) modern knitters learned.

Accordingly, I’ve often felt a vague sense of inferiority in the knitting realm, not helped by my own lack of dedication. I tend to come down with knitting like a stomach bug: once or twice a year, unpleasant while it lasts, and mostly forgotten once over. When I come back a few months later and pick up the needles again, I’m invariably frustrated that my abilities haven’t magically improved in the interim. (When I mentioned my trouble with Henslowe to chopsticknitter, she was entirely sympathetic, until I showed her the absurdly simple pattern. At which point she observed that considerably less attention was being paid to the shawl on my lap than to, say, our conversation, my tea, and the weather.)

In general, I think I’m a bit disconcerted by textile techniques in which the whole project literally hangs by a single thread. Until the whole project is done, it’s a challenge to relax for fear of making a mistake. (For similar reasons, I’m a much better baker than I am a cook.) With my woefully slow-moving needles, knitting is the most troublesome of such techniques, even though it’s easier to correct mistakes in knitting than in some other single-string techniques. If you’ve ever tried to fix a mistake in tatting once a ring is closed, you will recognize this headache:

I guess you could call these tatting thrums.

But even if you can undo knitted fabric without having to cut it apart (usually), it’s completely unrewarding to rip it out over and over again. Which is what I inevitably wind up doing– or else I decide to live with a mistake and it haunts me forever after. (That said, chopsticknitter also encouraged me not to rip out the lace section of my Henslowe despite the, well, personal touches that found their way into the pattern. Thanks to this helpful advice, I’m nearly finished and think I’ll find it quite wearable.)

Compared to knitting, I find the learning process of weaving much more rewarding, and with every new technique I learn I find that I’m exponentially* more willing to put in the time to study and correct mistakes.

In a welcome moment of peace amidst the knitting wars, I finally got myself an inkle loom (from this shop).

I quickly put on a test warp and am finding inkle weaving to be a pleasant and relaxing experience. I’d never tried this kind of weaving before: my plan for this loom had been to use it for tablet weaving as an alternative to a backstrap, but I’ve also become interested in the idea of pick-up patterning. Though, being freshly burned from the knitting, I thought I’d better master the basic mechanics of this little guy before starting anything fancy.

I guess simple weaving isn’t comparable to complex knitting, but even so– weaving is so much more my thing. I’ll keep struggling my way through the knitting, but I suspect I’ll be much happier if I keep a security blanket (literal or figurative) on the loom.

*Not hyperbole. Only a little, anyway.

Picture of the Week II: A Homemade Turkish Spindle

Very easy to make! The shaft is just a dowel that’s been tapered with sandpaper. Even though I had to get creative with the holes (an awl and a wood-burning tool were involved), you could make this spindle in about five minutes with a real drill. The arms of the little guy above are joined with a simple lap joint carved with a craft knife. However, the spindle is a bit too light for my purposes, so I’ll have to add a bit of extra weight. Either with washers… or some sugru.

Just a quick cop-out post update! Things have been pretty busy over here, so I don’t have a full post for you yet. However, things have been busy on the crafting front.  I’ve been spending too much time around knitters: apparently, these things are contagious! I started a Henslowe of my very own last week, and revived my somewhat stale Ravelry account. There must be something in the air that brings out this interest in spring knitwear. Details are forthcoming.

In other craft news: I’m still plugging away at the experimental warp on my loom, and should be on to more serious projects soon. Spinning is proceeding at its usual leisurely pace. I had hoped to squeeze enough yarn out of the Sweet Georgia roving to manage the Henslowe mentioned above, but no such luck. Finally, the treehouse project and the tapestry continue, although I need a day to sit down at the workbench to make some real progress.

So, enjoy the holiday weekend, and I’ll be back with you soon. Thanks, everyone!

Branching out

We had a gray, cold weekend here, but I’m not complaining: that’s the perfect weather to justify spending time in the studio. Accordingly, there’s some progress on which to update you today.

First of all, I started the treehouse project! At least, I started the tree.

Cold gray weather is not, however, the best for craft photography.

It’s already taken on a bit of a haphazard air. My original plan was to build a wire armature and sculpt around it with air-hardening modeling clay, but the only wire I had around was too fine a gauge and (to be perfectly honest) I couldn’t remember where I’d put the clay. So, Friday night I decided to do a test run in papier-mâché. I built an armature from the aforementioned fine wire, slapped on some soggy newspaper, and was pleasantly surprised with the stability of the resulting structure.

Of course, the next day I located the modeling clay. Since I found that it had only dried out a little since the last time I used it, I decided to coat the tree with a thin layer of clay to simulate a barky texture before painting. Had I thought through the matter properly, this would probably have been an ideal time to add smaller branches to the boughs, or at least to carve out some supports for the eventual treehouse structure. Oh, well. Making it up as you go is half the fun.

In other project news, I’ve decided to try branching out– somewhat less literally– in my spinning. As I’m told is normal for new spinners, my yarn has been getting finer and finer, not by any conscious decision on my part but thanks to the development of muscle memory. While fine yarns are nice to have around, especially for weaving, I’ve been frustrated by my lack of control over the process. I’ve also wanted to learn more about the ergonomics of spinning.

With this in mind, I started reading Respect the Spindle over the weekend. This was cheating a bit—the book was technically assigned to next month’s craft budget*, but the copy I had ordered arrived at my local yarn shop earlier than expected. Much of the material is familiar, but it’s always helpful to see it presented in a new way, and I’ve already picked up some handy tips. With book in hand, I produced a tiny skeinlet of bulky (well, bulkier) yarn. I also used the Navajo plying technique to keep the colors from getting muddled, something I’d learned about but not mastered in my spinning class.

The pencil is for scale. I did not use it to spin.

I also dove into some sugru that showed up in the mailbox last week. As a first experiment, I put it to use as grips for my felting needles. Hopefully this will make needle felting more attractive (and preclude the need to spend money on an unaesthetic and junky-looking pink plastic needle holder). I have so many pieces of fluff left over from spinning– it would be a shame to waste it.

Finally, on the loom, I turned the infamous experimental warp into a doubleweave sample, my first attempt. I’ve only woven a few picks so far—which means about half an inch!—but it is, in fact, two layers of cloth.

Incidentally, the green single you see above is from Brown Sheep. My new goal is to emulate it on the spindle!

So, after a few weeks of slow progress and false starts, the projects are starting to pile up again. Between the fiber arts and the miniature-making, I should be busy enough for weeks of happy crafting. What’s on your spring to-do list, fellow crafters?

*My system for normal months– in which I am not adding to my lap harp collection– is to divide funds more or less evenly between supplies (like yarn, fiber, and glue), tools (like shuttles, spindles, and scissors), and instructional materials (mostly books and the occasional video). Since I started reading this book early, I’ll have to hold off on new reading material until May. That’s where cheating gets you.

Sometimes the magic works…

I am constantly surrounded by a variety of projects in different stages of completion. As much as I try to be conscientious about finishing them, I’m never certain which ones will make it all the way from idea to finished item and which ones never make it past a conceptual stage. The frenzied and involuntary planning mindset that strikes me with a brand new idea is always the same, but sadly, its priorities are often out of sync with what reason would recommend.

A pile of scrapped plans.

When I ordered my nice new kantele, I was planning to construct it a gig bag, a light case to carry it around. Although I had plans and a parts list, this is one of those ideas where time and budget actually made it more practical to purchase a pre-made bag. (For one, I don’t own a sewing machine.) As much as I enjoy creating my own things, I can’t make everything myselfotherwise I’d probably have built the harp, too.

Yeah, I’m all talk.

I console the yearnings of my creative soul by pointing out to it the appealing embroidery on the yoga bag. As far as my dreams of luthiery go, well… I have no consolation, although I did build a plywood lyre for a long-ago Latin class.

Other projects get lost along the way, and find themselves mired in a state of potentially permanent incompletion. I find it a bit distressing to have these lying around my studio and usually find something to do with them, but there are a few that still sit waiting to be put to use. Short, flawed samples of tablet weaving come to mind.

They do make wonderful cable ties!

Another class of projects is that of the almost-finished. The failing here is in discipline more than in craftsmanship.

My first rag rug. One day soon it will be hemmed. Honest!

But there are indeed finished projects, with all of their various levels of success.

I won’t lie: I liked this one.

It’s satisfying to finish a project, but that’s not always why I make things. I love exploring ideas and testing hypotheses, improving my skills and learning as I go. Since the only deadlines and objectives of Crafting Time are my own, I’m able to follow a whim and see what happens. This occasionally means rebelling against the more organized part of my mind that grumbles and demands an orderly step-by-step approach. Sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Thus, I’ve abandoned the long-awaited tambour project. Anyone who enjoys this sort of hobby has to be willing to let go of a non-starter. I suppose that in the abstract there’s no shame in letting go. Of course, it’s not really that easy to give up! So instead of cutting the project off the loom, or simply tossing my efforts in the samples bin, I took the warp in a new direction.

When my crafting buddy came over last weekend, we had planned to spend the afternoon spinning away. Instead, we gravitated to the loom, then occupied by some uninspiring white plain weave. My friend was not yet a weaver, so I handed her a shuttle, and the next thing I knew, she was weaving away like a duck in water. (If ducks wove. What a dreadful simile.)

Since we only had a few minutes for an impromptu lesson, I did the hemstitching and finishing, but the rest is chopsticknitter‘s excellent work.

I taught someone to weave! At least a little bit. It was very very exciting, and my friend’s enthusiasm inspired me to make better use of the warp than simply stabbing at it glumly with an embroidery needle. After she left, I quickly wound some of my handspun onto a bobbin and threw it through a plain-weave shed, just to see what would happen.

Nothing fancy. Actually pretty sloppy. But I’ve decided to devote the rest of the warp to experimentation, and I’m back to my usual excitement about weaving. So I’ve learned two things: that teaching someone a craft you love is delightful, and that in certain circumstances, abandoning a project gives you the creative kick in the pants you need. I’ll let you know what comes of it all.