Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fleece to Fiber Notes, Spinning for Tapestry Part 1

I have joined a fleece to fiber club through the Spinning Loft and the club is currently full but the idea is that we will receive 4 ounces each of two types of raw fleece each month starting in April.  With all the pots I have boiling at the moment I am not exactly sure why I thought this was a good idea but I suspect that is related to one of my favorite books of the past year, the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius.  I have been a spinner for about twenty-five or so years now and love to experiment with different kinds of fibers and it was a natural inclination when I started weaving tapestry to experiment with spinning my own tapestry yarns. Anything I write here though is a result of my own experiments and study and not meant to be complete or definitive in any way.

For this months samples we have received Wensleydale and Romney.  The raw fleece is lovely and even though I have had them since the first of the month I am just getting around to washing them today.  Here is a picture of the raw Romney.

In between 20 minute soaks I am writing this and taking pictures as I go.  Since I am up to my neck in tapestry weaving right now I decided to tie this club work in with my spinning for tapestry weft experiments because it seemed like the best way to get something done.  Both of these samples are from the Long Wool group and should make good tapestry yarn.  The basic idea is to try different fiber prep techniques and types of yarn,as well as different ways to use them like knitting, weaving  or embroidery- make samples and record them in a notebook.  It occurs to me that I could make a tapestry sampler that includes all of the yarn samples from the club as well as some of my own samples.  I know that not all the samples from the club will be optimal for tapestry yarn and some my not be suited at all but in the interest of experimentation and to end up with a complete reference tool I plan to sample all the fleeces from the club in this tapestry.  I will probably put this project on the Big Sister Mirrix loom even though I will have it tied up for many months in this way.  Can you ever have enough looms?  Here is the clean Romney.

Of the two samples this month I have worked with Romney quite a bit.  It is already a favorite of mine for tapestry weft.  I have not had much experience with the Wensleydale so I am hoping to find a new favorite here with some unique characteristics.  I decided to divide the Wensleydale into two different wash bags because there were two fairly distinct types of fiber in the sample.  One is shorter, finer and curlier and the other is longer, coarser and more wavy than curly.  A picture below with the two types separated .

I did two washing soaks of twenty minutes with Unicorn Power Scour and two rinsing soaks of twenty minutes and fifteen minutes.  Finally I did a five minute soak with some of the Unicorn Fiber Rinse added.  The water temperature for all was the hottest my tap would provide.  The Power Scour came with the club shipment and I have not used it before.  It did a good job.  The Fiber Rinse was a sample I had and this seemed like a good time to use it. Here is the Wensleydale after cleaning.

After the wash and rinse I spun them in a salad spinner to get out as much moisture as possible and then laid them out to dry on a screen drying rack.

Once the fleece is dry I plan to try a few different preps like flick carding, and combing and then try some worsted, semi worsted, and woolen spinning styles depending on the fleece.  I will make some plied samples but for the most part I spin a fingering to lace weight singles for tapestry wefts to make blending color and accommodating different sett formats easier.  I will write more about that later.  A list of my favorite fleeces for tapestry yarns at the present time follows, but who knows what I might discover this year.  If you have a favorite not on the list  I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Navaho Churro
Blue Faced Leicester.

Friday, April 27, 2012


I am working on the  "Riverside" tapestry on my Little Guy Loom, 8 inches wide at 10 epi and I am just about to run aground!  It will have wool, cotton, silk, rayon, linen and lurex weft threads and hoping to have it finished soon.  I live close to the Arkansas river and I often walk my dog Laddie on the trails there so I have spent a lot of time observing and sketching the river.  It is as close to the ocean as I can get in Oklahoma and I have always been fascinated by the play of light on water.

Today is the day to finish the warp on Wimsey for the workshop which is coming up the first weekend in May.  I have been waiting on more 10/2 pearl cotton in color 48 Deep Turquoise.  I thought I was being thrifty by using one I already had but it ran out about an inch before the warp was done and for some reason that color was backordered at all of my normal sources.  I ended up getting it from Camilla Valley Farm.  I really like that color so no harm done and I have plenty now.

I have done a few sketches and barely started weaving on the LeClerc Gobelin Loom also known as Collette.  There is not enough weaving for a picture yet but I am sharing one of the rough sketches.  I want to weave this without a cartoon behind but a sketch or two seemed like a good idea to organize my thoughts.  Since I am starting in the middle of April I decided to just begin with some general spring weaving and then maybe I can catch up to the daily calendar idea by June.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tapestry Bobbins

Several years ago when I began to get interested in tapestry weaving I started with using butterflies to organize my weft threads for carrying through the warp.  It is convenient and works pretty well and I was also influenced by the Nancy Harvey books and videos I was learning from.

There are some advantages to using bobbins though as I started to learn as I did more tapestry weaving.  They help keep the thread neatly organized  and this is particularly helpful in working with the handspun singles that I often use.  Also the slight weight of the bobbin can make moving them through the warp threads more fluid and efficient.

At the time I had entered a Long Distance Learning program through the American Tapestry Alliance with Janie Hoffman and even though I was unable to finish it do to some family emergencies at the time I am so grateful for the interest and advice she gave me.  You can see her art work here: .  One of the things she introduced me to was using plastic netting shuttles as tapestry bobbins.

There are many advantages to working with netting shuttles, they are cheap, light weight, come in many sizes from about five inches to thirteen inches long, it is also easy to wind threads on them and the threads stay put when you do. For the handspun they really help to tame those singles and keep them neat.  Their light weight is an advantage if, like me, you tend to have a large number of bobbins going at once and you like to take projects with you.  I have been very happy with them.  You can see them in many of the photos of work in progress on this blog.

One disadvantage is that you can not use them to pack the weft threads as you weave.  For that I usually hold an awl in my hand and use it to pack as I go, in fact I hardly ever put it down when I am working.  You can see the awls above with the netting shuttles that I use most often.  After every few passes I may also take a beater or comb and pack the wefts down again.  See some of the beaters I use pictured below.

After viewing the Archie Brennan and Susan Maffei set of DVDs I am becoming increasingly interested in the brass tipped wood tapestry bobbins that Archie is using in the tapes.  The big advantage with them is that you can hold one tool that will take the wefts through the warp as well as beat them down.  One tool. That sounds pretty good and in the tapes it looks seamless and fluent and I would like to try it. Of course that is due to the expertise of Archie Brennan I suspect.  I have found many sources for these bobbins online and have ordered a few.  I will have to follow up on how they work for me because I don't have them yet.  I did find a wonderful source, John and Joy Moss- wood turners, that make this type of bobbin in several different sizes.  This seems important to me because the size of the bobbin needs to relate to the spacing of the warp threads, the size format you are using and the grist of the weft threads being used.  You can have a look at these bobbins here:

I suspect that I will like them and start using them at least in part but I don't think I will want to give up my netting shuttles especially for work on the go and I will probably always just pull out a length of thread and start weaving for the tight spots and small pieces that I do.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mirrix Looms

I purchased my first Mirrix Loom several years ago, a 32" Joni with treadle and stand and I enjoyed using it so much that I have since added three more looms of various sizes.  Here is a photo of the Joni with a long term project in progress

Next I added a 16" Big Sister loom so I would have something more portable for smaller projects.  Here is a picture of mine with a warp just finished and a treadle attached.  One of the nice features of the Mirrix treadle is that it can be used on any of the looms with a shedding device and can be moved easily from one loom to another.  I have also included a picture of the Big Sister with a project in progress.

The 12" Little Guy came next for an even more portable loom that is great for small tapestries and tapestry  or bead jewelry projects.  I have a picture of mine with two tapestry bead cuff bracelets being woven together.

Finally, I recently added an 8" Lani Loom which is so nice for the jewelry projects and allows me to use the Little Guy for small tapestry projects that I really enjoy!  In one picture I have the loom set up to warp.  I always place the blocks underneath to provide some clearance space for moving the warp thread around the loom. In the other my Lani has a tapestry bead cuff bracelet in progress.

I have enjoyed using my Mirrix looms so much that I have recently become a dealer for Mirrix Looms, and I can order for you and even help you get started weaving on it if you are close by.  I will be doing some shows in the future and plan to announce where and when on this blog.  I will have several looms to show and some demonstration projects going  as well as some of my favorite tools and accessories and tapestry weaving books.

I will be at Route 66 Rendezvous in Edmund ,Ok on May 19th from 9am to 4pm at the Legion Building, 101 E 5th St and I hope to see you there.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Handwoven Sleveless Garment Challenge

Fiddle Dee Dee, my handwoven, handspun vest with knitted trim has been chosen as a semi-finalist in Handwoven Magazine's Sleeveless Garment Challenge!  I have put up some photos, Garment Front, Back Neck Detail and Front Detail.  Now for the paperwork.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Goddess Project

I have a group of friends, Goddesses really, that are amazing weavers and spinners but some of them have not done much tapestry weaving and they have asked me to work up an introductory project for them.  My friend Gina( biologist and natural dyer extraordinaire) helped me turn some of my handspun into a palette of colors from indigo, cochineal,pomegranate, logwood, madder, onion skins and various other plant materials.. Thank you Gina!  My first decision was to work from these colors for the sample.  I like to work with my handspun yarns for tapestry although I am willing to use just about anything that works for me. The yarns in the background of the blog are primarily handspun by the way and that sounds like a future post, Spinning Yarns for Tapestry Weaving. Later.  I have included a picture of the handspun, naturally dyed palette.

The objective was to design a sampler that would introduce some tapestry techniques and then use some of them for a Goddess symbol also in the sampler.  I decided to take some inspiration from an artifact Goddess or Venus of Willendorf and here is an example from Wikapedia.
It seemed like a good idea  to have the Goddess figure throwing her arms up in the air and my working title became, Goddess Rising.  I warped my Big Sister Mirrix Loom with 12/9 cotton seine at 8 tpi , made a few sketches and plunged right in.  Once the sampler was complete it seemed that Goddess Rising felt more like Goddess, Day at the Beach Playing in the Surf.  As one of my friends reminds me though Goddesses need to have some fun too and that did seem appropriate for this group!In an effort to make this project as accessible as possible I decided to try a further sample on a rigid heddle loom. I really enjoy my rigid heddle looms for many things but the obvious problem for tapestry weaving is that they are not really designed to hold the kind of tight warp that is so advantageous for tapestry. Nevertheless the experiment continues. For this sample I decided to return to the earthier Goddess idea. Obviously it is possible to weave tapestry on a rigid heddle loom but it is not favorable for me!  I really missed the crisp feeling and satisfying beat that I get on my Mirrix Looms and will be happy to return to them now.  So the Goddess project continues with the next in line to work up an introductory sampler fit for a Goddess that does not actually contain one.  Then handouts, oh my!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Perfect Workshop Loom

In anticipation of the Tulsa Handweavers Guild coming workshop with Robyn Spady I decided to start thinking about a smaller loom that could be transported in the Subaru.  The first thing that came to mind was the Baby Wolf but even though it is portable it is not an easy tote. Although an eight shaft would be nice I tend not to go for the complex weaves and felt a 4 shaft would meet most of my needs. Finally, I decided on the new Wolf Pup LT and Donna from the Weavery at Indian Meridian (WIM) snagged me a cherry one.  I have named her Wimsey in her honor. Here she is with the first warp, some hand dyed tencel and rayon purchased at Yarn Barn during an annual trip.

The finished shawl is below, an undulating twill with basket weave crossed with zephyr (wool and silk) weft. Now that Wimsey has been tried and tested I am ready to warp her for the workshop.  It is always great to spend a whole weekend with weaving friends, weaving!  More about that later.

Monday, April 16, 2012

New Book

I belong to - tapestry2005- a yahoo group hosted by Kathe Todd Hooker and not long ago read on the list about a new book on tapestry weaving  from black dog publishing in the UK.  Tapestry, A Woven Narrative "is a general introduction to the state of artisan tapestry weaving in the twenty-first century" and I am in the process of reading it now.  It is a visually delicious volume with thoughtful essays and reproductions of historical and contemporary tapestry work.  My dedication to acquiring  books is once again confirmed. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Collette, the 45 inch LeClerc Tapestry Loom above is warped!  I bought this loom from my friend Donna Hilton of the Weavery at Indian Meridian (WIM) a few years ago and have been thinking about how to warp and weave on it ever since.  After reading a new book from Kathe Todd Hooker, So Warped, Warping a Loom for Weaving Tapestry, I was ready to give it a try.  I decided on a narrow warp of about 7 inches just to get a feel for the process.  It was a bit tricky getting the warp on the loom and spread correctly for my 8 threads per inch but thanks to the new DVD set from Archie Brennan and Susan Maffei the leashes went on with no problems and I have woven the hem.  I like using the leashes and find them a very natural fit for me.  I wanted to improve my process of placing the warp on the loom and spacing it so I checked with Tommye Scanlin and she referred me to Rebecca Mezoff's blog where she has a wonderful post on warping the loom complete with step by step pictures! Next time I will definitely use a reed as she has done and it will make the whole process more efficient.  This time I will weave on the warp I have and I am so happy to finally have one on this loom.  I would like to try something like the tapestry calendar idea that I have read about on Tommye Scanlin and Janet Austin's blogs.  I think a Spring theme might be a good place to start and it certainly can be an interesting topic here in Oklahoma!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

 Brushes is a great App and I have it on the iPhone and iPad.  Right after I received my iPad I did the little painting on the right with Brushes.  It was so much fun to do and it occurred to me that I could use Brushes to create a tapestry cartoon and so I did.  I just exported it from Brushes to iPhoto and printed it . When the size was right I used clear contact paper  to cover it and mounted all on a piece of card stock. I started this one on a blank field but you can also import photos into Brushes and paint over them, or you can import pictures of your own sketches or drawings and paint over them .  Amazing!
In this photo you can see the palette I have collected to weave my little tapestry .
Here is the cartoon behind my Little Guy Mirrix Loom, the hem is finished and I am ready to weave!

A few of the bracelets made recently on my Mirrix Loom.  I enjoyed adding some beads into my tapestry and  seeing how versatile the Mirrix Loom can be as I have only done tapestry on it up to now.  I don't think I will be doing a great amount of beading in the future but it might be fun to add some here and there to  other tapestry projects.  The gold plated thread could also be something I will use again.