Sunday, December 12, 2010

Recycled Wool Rug

Now that my Christmas sale weaving projects are finished for the season, it's time to play at my looms.

Recently, friends brought me several bags of selvedge trimmings from the Pendleton Woolen Mill in Oregon. My friend was originally going to crochet circular rugs with the pieces, but decided against it, rather than discard them, she thought I might like to play with strips.

So, this weekend I warped up my loom with multi-colored cotton rug warp, enough for three 25-45 inch throw rugs. And here is the result of my project. The weaving went rather slowly since my LeClerc Nilus loom doesn't make a very deep shed (weaving may have gone more smoothly on my homemade counter balance loom with a deeper shed -- but it is occupied with another project) and the trimmings are quite bulky. My regular rag shuttle was too fat for the project, so I switched to a slimmer ski shuttle. I wove them in a simple plain weave and set the warp at 5 epi so the fluffy edges, similar to a wide, coarse chenille, would dominate.

I cut them off the loom and twisted and knotted the 6" fringes, then washed them with a bit of detergent on the gentle cycle in cold water and hung them to dry. The trimmings have been treated with a rather odorous moth resistant chemical which I wanted to wash away, or at least tone down.

If I weave others, I may set the warp at 10 and take more care in the warp color(s) to create a different effect. I think the pieces can also be woven into fabric for handbags.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

New Crazy Shawls

I just finished weaving three new shawls using thicker chenille yarns than I usually use and several novelty yarns. I started out wanting to weave something outrageous, but the original plan didn't work out. Am filing away that particular inspiration for a future project. It needs to gestate a while.

I don't have cable television, so until this week, I hadn't seen programs such as Project Runway. For fun, I rented Season 1 via Netflix. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the designers develop their concepts to meet the parameters of the various creative challenges. I was also thrown into a wave of nostalgia when I saw it was filmed at Parsons School of Design. Several of my NYC friends attended Parsons back in the 1960s when I lived there while I attended the Laboratory Institute of Fashion Merchandising -- all several lives ago.

Even through my life has taken me on many varied journeys from magazine publisher, journalist, farmer/rancher's wife, mother, English professor, I guess the fashion designing germ is still at work at a base level in my psyche worming its way out at my looms. I feel like I'm behind, however. The last 40 years haven't been wasted, but I've been distracted from some kinds of creative endeavors. Creativity builds upon itself, grows, so we'll see how far I can get on this particular resurrected life journey at my silly age . . .

Saturday, October 16, 2010


The cooler weather of Fall/Autumn brings out my desire to spin wool and make warm clothing items, mainly handwoven scarves and crocheted handwarmers. This year, I am spinning both llama and wool fibers. Taking a pile of freshly sheared wool through washing, carding, spinning, plying, and weaving is a pleasurable, but time-consuming task. This year, however, I found a wonderful company near Salt Lake City, called Spinderella, whom I hired to wash and card a black sheep fleece and some llama fleeces that were given to me. Eliminating those two steps in the processing feels very luxurious. I can now merely enjoy my favorite parts of the process: spinning and weaving.

I plied two handspun strands of the llama yarn together (plying the opposite direction from which the strands are spun) to make a stronger yarn to withstand warp tension on my loom, and wove two scarves. One is woven in a loose, soft, twill weave; the other is softly woven plain weave. Both have overhand knotted fringe. $45 each.

Earlier, I also wove a batch of mixed fiber sparkle scarves in a variety of colors. They've been selling quickly. The only two I have left are gold and red. The red one looks rather pink in the computer's color translation, but is really quite red. $30 each.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I spent last weekend manning a booth at the Sagebrush Arts Fair in Pocatello, Idaho. I had a great time. I saw several people I hadn't seen in a long time and made some new friends. My tea towels sold well as did my scarves. I guess it was still too warm for people to show much interest in comfortable shawls. I'm posting a photo here for when my readers/customers decide a warm shawl on the shoulders on a cool autumn evening sounds nice. Shawls are $80-$90, depending on length.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lots of Tea Towels

Every so often someone asks me "What's a tea towel?" My guess it's an old-fashioned term for dishtowel, a piece of cloth used to dry and polish one's china tea set or crystal glassware so the pieces don't develop water spots. Considering Pocatello's water, it's no easy feat to eliminate water spots on handwashed dishes.

As a weaver, there's something amazingly satisfying about weaving such humble, useful cloth. Even from the very beginning of my fascination with the craft back in the dark ages of the 1970s, I wasn't all that interested in weaving "wall hangings." I wanted to weave useful cloth, pieces I could wear that were entirely unique and household items for family and friends to respect and enjoy.

We treat cloth differently when we put the hours into making it ourselves, a significant lesson in this throw-away society we live in.

But I take pleasure in placing a colorful handwoven cloth over a bowl of rising bread dough. I enjoy lining a breadbasket with a handwoven cloth that coordinates with my dishes and table setting and placing it on my table for guests to enjoy. I occasionally wrap a loaf of freshly baked bread or fruitcake in a cloth and give it as a gift. Just having my cloth hanging on a rack in my kitchen gives me a large amount of visual pleasure.

There's been talk recently about the gulf between the person who works with his/her hands and those who prefer the intellectual life. I posit that it is silly to separate the two. Weaving has been a significant accompaniment to my intellectual development; it's the doorway to learning about the world via anthropology, economics, geography, philosophy, history, etc.

Making things from "scratch" teaches us almost all we need to know.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

New Projects

Much has happened since I last posted. My son, James, was married in a lovely ceremony in the Idaho mountains. At the bride's request, I wove a length of white chenille cloth my daughter, Patricia, made into a cloak for Michelle to wear in the cool evening during the reception. I'm hoping someone will soon give me a photo of it that I can post.

I also wove a length of cloth for Patricia to turn into a tailored jacket, an annual project we do together. She's an excellent seamstress, and we manage to sell these one-of-a-kind handwoven jackets before the next season. I'll post a photo of the cloth drying in my apple trees.

Yesterday, I took three scarves off one loom. Reds and purples and sparkles, loosely woven. I've developed a fondness for glitz. Does the sudden preference have anything to do with age? In my youth, my mother warned me against wearing anything that sparkled before the sun went down. Women who did were considered ... unspeakable ... pierced ears and dangling earrings fit in that category too. Thankfully, fashion these days has cast most of those taboos out the window. Even so, the shadow of that warning lingers in the background of many of my design decisions.

I have blue and white tea towels on one loom, and the other I am warping with black cotton on which to weave a series of cocoons since the first ones I wove turned out to be quite popular. These will be for evening wear, or special occasions. Soft and glitzy. I'm inspired by Art Deco clothing designs and color combinations. I hope they turn out as I'm imagining them.

Friday, May 28, 2010


I finally figured out how to weave and construct a cocoon, a very simple jacket/wrap made from two rectangles of handwoven cloth to be worn over a T-shirt, turtleneck, or simple dress. Without having an actual cocoon in hand, I relied on photos of the design that made it appear much more complicated than it is. Here are photos of my weaving experiments from this past week. These cocoons were woven on a mixed rayon/cotton warp. The wefts are cottons and synthetics from yarns I purchased in a "grab bag". I love the tweed-like effects. All three fabrics washed and dried beautifully. I added a few beads, either glass or wooden, on the cocoons' lapels for fun. Because they're experiments and the yarn was a bargain, I'm offering them for only $85 each.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


It's been an exciting week: my daughter Katie's book arrived in the mail (ALEUT IDENTITIES by Katherine Reedy-Maschner). The Preface is a fun read, has lots of our Croner family lore regarding her grandfather's (my father's) sailing escapades in Alaska and other Pacific Rim locations.

I also received a great picture book, photos of International/Historical textiles. The book documents beautiful blankets, clothing, headdresses, shoes, decorative tent bags from a variety of cultures around the world.

And second best to Katie's book, a huge box of yarn arrived, a grab bag of textures in reds, pinks and purples. I immediately measured a warp to weave a cocoon, a comfortable jacket/shawl fashioned from rectangles. I'll be putting the warp on the loom this afternoon, after visiting with a financial advisor to further see how this retirement business is going to work out.

My other loom is warped in 5 shades of green and I'm weaving another batch of tea towels/bread cloths. A cone of variegated, slub, cotton yarn arrived just in time for experimentation. The plethora of colors blend quite well over the random greens. I think I'll weave several of them as well as use the green yarns to create irregular plaid, Irish-green effects.

A recent NPR program discussed depression; a writer/guest described a peculiar ceremony he took part in in Kenya that was designed to cure depression. The ceremony required being stripped naked and being covered in mud; there was western music and African drumming, and eventually he was wrapped in the intestines of a sacrificial animal which he and the supportive crowd roasted and consumed together. And what amazed him is that he felt better when it was all over having been shaken from the trap in which he'd allowed his mind and western culture to envelop him.

Years ago, I read somewhere, one of those tidbits that lingers in the mind, that Jewish Rabbis are required to take up some kind of craft in which they must use their hands, things like woodworking, gardening, playing a musical instrument, etc., in order to keep them grounded in reality so that inquisitive minds don't run amok into the abstract. At least that's how I interpreted the demand. It makes sense to me. I find I'm most content when I'm involved in hands-on projects. There's much talk about eye/hand coordination, but there is also an important body/mind connection that much of our post-industrial lifestyle has erased. Perhaps too many things are done for us, and as a result, we fail to reap satisfaction from the simple tasks of yore like chopping wood, growing our own food, baking bread and even grinding our own grains. Spinning and weaving clothing and useful household textiles easily fits into this scenario.

As a child I read about Bedouin women spinning and weaving the tents they lived in, weaving the blankets they slept under, the rugs they slept on, the bags they stored their things in, making each item both for the sake of utility and beauty. Making things is a significant element of human nature; it's not by accident that engaging in crafts is relevant therapy in our culture's many mental health facilities . . .

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Keep on keeping on"

Well, I guess it's official. I'm formally retired, the silver pen and pencil set has arrived from the university along with a certificate of appreciation. Kinda cheesy, but OK. It's kind of an odd retirement since I will return in the fall to teach part-time. With this quasi-forced arrangement, I gain lots of personal time, but lose my health insurance. There's no way I can continue to pay for it, and I don't qualify for Medicare for two more years.

Somehow this isn't how I envisioned retirement. First of all, I never expected to retire at all since I returned to the workforce so late in life. And secondly, "retirement" really means I slip back into pre-master's degree poverty, holding my heart in my mouth every time a bill arrives in the mail or I feel a twinge of pain. But I'm not surprised; I knew the bottom would fall out of things once I reached this age. I'm a baby-boomer of course, that generation that gets blamed for all the country's ills of the moment due to no fault of our own.

There are too many of us, babies born in celebration of the end of a devastating world war. Our numbers are sucking Social Security dry, and young people resent having to pay for our menial survival. However, few care to mention that we paid into the system too for this past half century and might deserve some of the benefits as well.

World cruises, sailboats, travel to exotic places, time on the beach won't be what my retirement is all about. I'll be lucky if I can maintain a roof over my head. These unexpected circumstances will certainly force me to keep busy, "busy" apparently being a respected American value since if you ask nearly anyone how they are, their response is "busy."

In the wake of my concern, my oldest daughter said, "You've always been very resourceful," and I guess she's right. I have been, and I'm quite proud of having fed and cared for my kids seeing them safely into adulthood. I'm proud of returning to the university later in live to complete my degrees, and I've enjoyed my years working as a newspaper reporter and college English instructor. I've worked hard and made use of the many disparate things I've learned along the way from farming/gardening/butchering chickens, to running a literary magazine, to writing/reporting, teaching, spinning wool, weaving, playing piano. Some activities that many would dismiss as mere hobbies, have turned into somewhat lucrative projects.

Generally, I enjoy my life. My children are close at hand. My grandsons are wonderful people

So, I guess I'll take songwriter Bob Dylan's words to heart and "keep on keeping on."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Gypsy Caravan Bread Cloths

Crank up your favorite Gogol Bordello CD and cover your bowl of rising bread with one of these bread cloths; wrap a loaf in a cloth as a gift for a new neighbor.

I've always been fond of gypsy fashion and art. As a child in the western Washington woods of the 1950s, Gypsy was my Halloween costume choice. I loved colorful scarves, long skirts and dangling earrings -- still do. Recently a group of dear friends and I watched the 2009 film THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS starring Christopher Plummer in which a traveling troupe of colorful magicians seek love and adventure and answers to the age-old riddles of life.

Costumes in the film are ethereal, glittery, bleeding color and sparkle. The film once again brought out my love for color, music, mysticism, fortune telling. . . I loved the film, even though it is not a box-office hit, but then I rarely agree with critics or the tastes of mass audiences.

Gypsies, Romani, have been either romanticized or vilified over the centuries. Hitler put them in death camps and eastern European governments forbade them their free, wandering lifestyle and forced them into mean camps/villages without decent means of support. According to recent news reports, they are still a controversial ethnic group in Europe and America.

Maybe I was a gypsy in a past life. Who knows?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Adaptation and Adjustment

I am good at adapting to my surroundings. In general, I believe this is a good thing, but there are times when adapting may not be to my benefit. For instance, my "new/used" LeClerc jackloom has developed a glitch in its ratchet system. Every so often, it releases and will not grab back. I examined the device, but haven't been able to understand what is making it misfire. So, I have adapted to the problem. When it occurs, I simply lean over and roll the back beam back until it's firm. This is not a comfortable action.

I've also become aware that when driving I adapt/adjust my speed to the car ahead of me even when the person is traveling several miles below the speed limit. It takes me a long time to realize I'm doing this and decide whether to pass, or merely wait until I get to my turn.

My youngest son is very aware of this trait in his mother. When he was helping me warp one time, he said, "Mom, if there was suddenly no electricity, I know you would figure out how to live without it." "Yes," I said. "While I," he said, "would figure out how to make my own."

Which attitude is the most creative? Both contribute to human survival. It's widely accepted that when change comes about in a human environment -- when people experience of lack of food, climate change, destruction of shelter, war -- humans either adapt, move on or die. But according to my son, changing the environment is also an option. Is this merely another form of adaption/adjustment? Or is it something more creative, actions that are made possible through education and a mechanical mindset and that elusive thing we call "hope".

Today I'm going to ask for help. I want to fix my loom so my weaving time will continue to be comfortable and prolific.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Festive Bread Cloths

Hot off the loom: Festive all cotton breadcloths/tea towels. I use them to wrap a loaf of freshly baked bread as a gift or to cover the bowl the bread rises in. They're also handy for drying crystal glassware. Some people use them under a centerpiece on a holiday table. They are completely machine washable and dryable. They've already been washed once to relax and soften the fibers.

I enjoy making these simple utilitarian household products. I believe that even a humble dishtowel can be special, a work of art. Every one of these towels is unique. I rarely, if ever, make any two items exactly alike. We live in a world of replication, of machine-made copies of copies from mountains identical paper forms to mounds of idential T-shirts. I take pleasure in knowing that I own handwoven fabrics exactly like no others in the entire world.

Stay tuned for my experiments in black.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

This is a photo of one of my favorite handwoven shawls. I no longer own it, but recently came across it draped over a chair at a friend's house. It felt good meeting up with an old friend, and I was glad the shawl had found an appreciative home.
And familiar textiles do indeed become friends; they enrich our lives in many ways. I'd bet most of us have a favorite towel, blanket, or wrap. Babies become attached to the comfort their "blankies" provide. When we come across a swatch of fabric from a forgotten dress or shirt, we are flooded with memories of ancient family picnics, days on the beach with beloved friends, berry picking in the Cascades, our grandmother's capable hands tying colorful apron strings as she prepares the Thanksgiving turkey for the last time. . .
Late last night I finished warping one of my looms with a gold rayon yarn that I will cover completely with intense, jewel-colored chenille yarns that arrived UPS this week: ruby, earthy sapphire, shale, emerald, amethyst. . .
These cones and others are sitting about my living room in groups. Before beginning a weaving project, I spend several days admiring yarns' colors and textures, moving the cones about to discover the most pleasing combinations. I'm often surprised at what "works" and what doesn't. Unlike a painter's palette, unless I dye my own yarns (which I do with my handspun wools), I must work with the colors as they come to me, and it should come as no surprise to other artists that I enjoy the creativity this limitation provides.
So, for the next couple of weeks, I will be weaving luxurious textiles, and I will become attached to each, and with luck, I'll find good homes for them.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Swedish-Bordered Tea Towels

Today I finished weaving Swedish-inspired tea towels. These designs are clean and crisp and make me envision cosy kitchens, homemade whole-grain bread, open fires, live music and laughter.

The border pattern is derived from a simple 4-harness twill/diaper weave, colors, mostly blue, on a pure white background. I used 8/2 cotton sett at 20 ends per inch. I used an off-white (almost super-pale green) plain weave weft yarn with small soft slubs for absorbency.

I sell them for $13 apiece, or three for $35. They make great wedding gifts, or wrap a loaf of bread in one as a housewarming gift for a new neighbor.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spinning Yarns and Weaving Scarves

Last night I watched two of my grandsons while their parents attended a university function. The boys are 5 and 8. After playing a couple of games, eating oatmal cookies and apple slices, and noting there was nothing interesting on television, we settled down to tell stories.
I like to spin wool while spinning yarns.

The classic tales never seem to go out of style, especially those dealing with spinning wheels. I imagine myself an exceptional grandmother, a rare one who can tell the tales of Rumplestiltskin and Sleeping Beauty while actually spinning. The boys listened intently, marveling at the wheel's magic, and added their versions of the stories as the wheel turned and the yarn built up on the bobbin.

When I was a child I wanted to learn to spin so badly, but no one I knew had the slightest idea where to get a spinning wheel or how one worked. All our minds had been pretty much industrialized in the 1950s. Many of the home arts disappeared during that era as we became more and more factory dependent for our food and clothing. In those days, I turned my bicycle upside down and threw leaves on the spinning tires in hopes they would magically turn into gold, or thread, anything . . .

But along came the 1960s and 1970s. God Bless the Hippies and the Back to the Land Movement for reviving so many of the home arts.

Last week, I felt inspired by hints of spring, so I warped up one of my looms with a soft commercial wool and wove tweedy scarves with my handspun, two-ply yarn. (I know, sounds like something I should be inspired to do in the fall in anticipation of winter, but there's little control over inspiration.) One of these weft yarns is made by plying dark gray with light gray singles, the other is two-ply light grey wool. I spin by turning the wheel to the right. I ply singles together by turning the wheel to the left. Plying relaxes the fibers to create a softer yarn, and a stronger yarn as well, especially if it's to be used for warp. Plying also prevents the finished woven fabric from "tracking" or "curling" as well.

The scarves turned out rather well, I think. I gave one to a dear friend and have two more to sell. $30 each, a bargain considering the time involved in spinning, plying, warping, weaving . . . but when does a craftsperson get fully paid for his/her time? Rarely, it seems -- another sad byproduct of our overseas, factory-driven, cheap labor economy.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New projects and old

The responses I've received from the photo of my lovely daughter Katie petting the dead wolf have been odd. First of all, she didn't kill the wolf. It was shot by Alaskan natives. She's an anthropologist conducting an important subsistence survey. I don't know the context for the kill. It's easy to sit in a comfortable armchair and condemn faraway lifestyles few of us know anything about. Americans in general are spoiled by their luxuries and fall easily into the hands of weaselly marketing rhetoric.

Secondly, being able to touch such a creature and feel the texture of its fur is a rare privilege. I deal with fibers daily, animal and vegetable, and the variety of textures are amazing.

I included the photo because I thought it an interesting coincidence that a wolf photo would arrive in my mailbox the week I completed spinning and weaving a wolf/dog hair blanket for a client.

Let's not forget that the earliest clothing in northern climates that humankind donned were animal skins. Arctic natives still use these luxurious furs to keep warm. I guess in the tropics grass skirts would suffice.

We Americans/Europeans have grown used to wearing traditional cotton and linen fibers, then in the last century along came a rash of "man-made" fibers such as rayon (from a wood base), and polyester (from petroleum), but now producers are marketing new "alternative" fibers made from bamboo, seaweed, milk, soybeans, etc. The advertising jargon would lead us to believe these fibers are more environmentally sound because they're renewable (cotton was condemned recently because of the pesticides used in its production--hence the marketing of "organic" cotton), but the reality is that the chemistry used to turn these "new" fibers into yarn may be just as, or even more, damaging to the environment than fur or wool. In my mind, skinning or shearing an animal raised in the wild or in healthy conditions is more "natural" than soaking and retting fibers in harsh chemicals (which are dumped into sewers which eventually make their way into waterways). There is an environmental cost for everything we do.

I love spinning and weaving and use whatever fibers come my way that suit a project, man-made or "natural." My minute two-loom operation has little or no power in the massive fiber markets, and it appears from my observations this past half century that most of the "anti-this-and-that" rhetoric is really just another way to turn our heads from one marketing ploy to another. And, after all, once any fiber has been turned into roving or yarn, it would be wasteful not to use it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Katie and the Wolf

Here's a photo of my amazing anthropologist daughter, Katie petting a freshly killed wolf near Falls Pass, Alaska, this week.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wolf Laid to Rest

Here's a photo of the finished handspun/handwoven wolf/dog hair project with handspun llama wool borders.

I hope the animal owners like it.

Howling at the Moon

I am 95% finished with a project that is unusual for me. A client brought over a large bag of wolf/dog hair they wanted spun and woven into a blanket. It took several weekends of spinning and plying to turn the fluffy hair into yarn. As a result, I will be finding fine, white, floating dog hairs throughout my house and on my clothing for months, I'm sure.

This weekend I completed the weaving on my LeClerc 4-harness jackloom, and the blanket has been hand-washed and is hanging up to dry. The two-ply yarn was fairly thick, so I sett the warp at 4 epi in an 8-dent reed. During the weaving, I experienced a few popped warp threads since some of the yarn was rather soft-spun and slubby (I like to say "interestingly textured") which will require some reweaving as I go over the finished product when it's dry.

Because the project is a simple plain weave and off-white/natural, I decided to add a bit of interest with a couple of brown/black stripes at either end of the blanket -- some handspun llama wool I happen to have on hand.

I'm including a couple of photos I took during the weaving process. I will post a finished photo shortly.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Weaving Dreams

I now officially dream about weaving. This week my dreams were very inspiring, so much so that I got out of bed at 3 a.m. and sketched the designs my psyche created in my notebook. Surprisingly, the sketches still made sense later in the morning over coffee.
I can't get them out of my mind and am eagerly awaiting time and a free loom to get busy.
The project is dresses.
For the past couple of years I've been signing on to to observe French, Italian and New York fashion runway shows all the while imagining my own unique, one-of-a-kind designs draping the models. I think I'm ready to begin designing these dresses now.
Fun designs, even when the ideas appear to fall from the sky, really do not come about so miraculously. A good idea is a synthesis of years of experience, observation, desire, immersing oneself in one's craft on a daily basis.
I know, because I took several years "off" when I was divorced and raising my four children, as well as returning to the university to train to become an English professor. I'm not sorry I did those things, but these past few years of rekindling my love of weaving and fashion have opened my eyes . I see how far behind myself I'd gotten. Ideas build upon ideas and swim out of our creativity like polywogs from the dark and quiet recesses of a stream.
When attending art and craft shows, at least one customer will ask the dreaded question: "How long did it take you to make this?" Initially, my mind would try to add up the hours measuring warp threads, sleying the reed, threading the heddles, rolling the warp onto the back beam, then weaving the cloth, finishing the cloth, etc. But now I say "62 years".

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reinterpreting the Rescue Prince

Feminists have pretty much trashed Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and other cultural tales in which handsome princes rescue "helpless" females from the evil clutches of witches, stepsisters, clueless fathers/brothers, angry dwarfs . . . These heroines are accused of being too passive, of not participating enough in their own rescue. Beauty being their only feminine requirement.

But after listening to an interview this morning with Eve Ensler (of "Vagina Monologues" fame) and reading journalist Nicolas Kristoff (co-author of "Half the Sky") discuss abuse of girls and women worldwide, brought about by war and social stresses warping "natural" male aggression, perhaps the rescuing prince needs further examination. Perhaps we need this guy. After all, we live in a patriarchal society. No matter how we try to write ourselves out of the patriarchy (as Ursula K. Le Guin discovered), we find ourselves steeped in it.

Let's celebrate this story-book rescuer, that variety of male who has evolved empathy for women, who seeks justice on their behalf against the smarmier sides of both genders, who seeks to right the economic inequalities that upset positive gender relationships.

If patriarchy is the "natural" state of our gendered world, then the rescuing prince has a place in it, but that doesn't mean that women should abdicate the powers they've won, or "reclaimed" from a mythical matriarchy. It appears we can, and do, live in the same house.

Traditionally women have been responsible for feeding and clothing their families ("A good wife, who can find . . ." -- Proverbs), planting gardens, harvesting, gleaning, twisting animal and plant fibers into threads, weaving them into cloth, fashioning them into clothing (except for the all-male weavers' guilds in Pre-Industrial Europe who lashed out violently at the factories that took the trade, literally, out of their hands).

Perhaps many of these "olden" tales involving spinning derived from women being bound to their spindles and wheels for hours upon hours because it takes several hand-spinners to supply one weaver with thread. These women would certainly want to be rescued from such tedious labor. If they married a wealthy prince, of course, the servants would be responsible for the spinning (and fantasizing); a princess or queen might engage in some of this labor, but she could perhaps have the option of dressing pretty, arranging flowers for the table and merely being admired.

As you may have guessed, spinning and weaving are meditative arts, and these are some of the things upon which I meditate as I throw a shuttle or ply my threads.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Warped Warps

I'm a self-taught weaver, so I probably perform many tasks incorrectly. Somehow, however, I manage to produce satisfactory cloth.

The way I deal with popped warp threads may present an example of my ignorance. I'm not sure how others handle the problem short of tearing the warp off the loom in a mad frenzy, but after a few years of unsuccessfully tying pieces of yarn into the warp which forces bumps and lumps into the finished product, I now merely thread a new warp thread through the heddle and reed, needle-weave it a few picks into the cloth and secure it with the needle or pin. Then I place the full cone of yarn on the floor behind the loom and hang a weight on the thread that mimics the loom's tension mechanism. As I weave, I merely move the weight clip down the thread as it feeds off the cone.

The little weight I own is an amazing tool that I don't believe I've ever seen in a weaving catalog. A few years ago, I bought a used LeClerc loom that had been in storage for many years, and the weight (a pyramid-shaped piece of lead hanging from a roach-style clip) came with it. The gadget stayed in the tray of the loom for more than a year before I put its possible use together in my head one day while wrestling with a nasty warp. It's also possible to weight as many as 4-5 warp threads with the single clip.

While perusing a book about clothing in the Middle Ages, I read about warp-weighted looms excavated at such interesting archaeological sites as Greenland. Each warp thread on the verticle looms was weighted with what look like stones with holes drilled in them, rather than drawn tightly around bars to create the necessary tension.

I sometimes wonder what future archaeologists will dig up from our era and how they will interpret each item. Will our uncovered looms and spinning wheels indicate failure of the mythical Industrial Revolution to clothe certain human outposts; will handweavers be interpreted as quasi-Luddites skeptical of the demons at work in new-fangled factories; or will we merely be interpreted as humans who needed the satisfaction of working with our hands, of creating unique pieces of cloth like no other in the world, passing on to our children the freedom and independence this magical knowledge gives us, magic bred into us through our oral and written tales.

Think about it: If Sleeping Beauty's father outlawed spindles throughout the kingdom after she pricked her finger and fell into that deep sleep, how did the people acquire their clothing? How long did their towels last? Rugs? Blankets? It must have been a pretty shabby kingdom by the time the prince kissed the princess awake.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Before Christmas I went on a "bag" kick and wove a batch of small 5" handbags with long hand-twisted handles. I used a variety of yarns for weft on an all cotton dark warp. Yarns included colored 8/2 cotton, rayon chenille and a blended yarn of linen/cotton/rayon. I also used some colorful cotton thrums to make a couple of "rustic" bags. I used a shiny gold rayon yarn for the handles and twisted the strands using an S hook and my spinning wheel. The method involves overtwisting several strands of yarn; then the twisted strand is folded in half and twists back on itself. Voila!

The greatest pleasure in making the small bags occurred while I sat in bed evenings watching TV hand sewing the bags together. I added beads, some glass, some wooden. For some reason the intricate, small stitches were very satisfying.

My project at hand, as I've said earlier in my blog, is to weave a small blanket from wolf/dog hair. The spinning has been completed. Now I am plying strands together to make a strong warp. I may have to wait until the weekend to finish the plying. I'm having trouble making the time fit into my teaching schedule and domestic responsibilities during the week.

Sometimes, when I'm totally engrossed in a spinning/weaving project, I dream of having my own full-time weaving business. That would be nice, especially if I had a plethora of customers and a real roomy studio instead of my cramped little Pocatello Westside hovel, but my 100-year-old spaces have a certain charm to them. My friends and family don't mind sipping tea or wine amid a chaos of mannequins, looms, cones of yarn, books and grandkid toys.

And if that ever happened, I would probably miss the pleasure of class discussions with my students who keep me grounded in the real world.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sunday at the Spinning Wheel

A basket of handspun wolf/dog hair sits at my feet. The yarn is thick and fluffy, almost like mohair. The fiber appears to be completely bright white, but while spinning, I noticed black hairs evenly interspersed throughout. I've begun plying the balls of yarn together to get a stronger yarn to warp my loom.

Plying goes much faster than spinning, but even after spending 3-4 hours at it Sunday, the basket is stil 2/3 full.

While my modest Ashford wheel spun round and round, my mind was occupied with possible topics for student papers. I found myself creating sample thesis statements on issues I believe are important, but which most of my young students seem to shrug off.

I may be an old woman, a grandmother with a degenerating skeleton, but I am still capable of moral outrage, the same outrage at injustice I felt when I was 20 attending Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War rallies in NYC in the explosive 1960s. I am amazed at the complacency of the young. Has computer technology completely anesthesized them?

What would my younger students do with some of these working theses:

1. If we refuse to torture prisoners, we set a positive example for the world.
2. It's ok to torture prisoners if they aren't US citizens.
3. Waterboarding is/isn't torture.
4. Torture does not fit most Americans' vision of what it means to be American.
5. Historically, torture is Medieval punishment for heretics and witches, not a tool for an Enlightened, progressive culture.
6. Torturing prisoners puts Americans in the same category as Inquisitors and the KGB.
7. Torture rarely reaps desired results and may actually cause more harm than good.
8. They do it to us, so it's ok to do it to them.

Heavy stuff, eh?

Here are some other thesis possibilities:

1. A large portion of personal survival skills (gardening, animal husbandry, spinning/weaving, cooking, pottery, etc.) humans have developed over millennia have been taken over by machines causing the cultural devaluation of their necessity, rendering them as "merely hobbies."
2. When that giant electric plug in the sky is pulled out forever, will we know how to feed and clothe ourselves?
2. Wealth is always achieved on the backs of an (sometimes invisible) underclass.
3. Americans have given up beauty and personal satisfaction for the sake of convenience.
4. Words like "fast," "convenient," "easier," are benefits listed for many electronic products, but perhaps we also give up something important when we use them.

I'd say I had a pretty productive weekend at the wheel.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Straw into Gold

Cross patch
Draw the latch
Sit by the fire and spin.
Take a cup
Drink it up
And call your neighbors in.
--Kate Greenaway

I overheard my young nieces and friends discussing their "spinning" classes one day, and I was flabberghasted. Come to find out, however, "spinning" in present common usage means stationary cycling, not turning straw into gold. I was disappointed.

Yesterday, a day off from teaching, I decided to make headway on a spinning project-- I opened a huge bag of wolf/dog hair a client hired me to turn into a woven blanket/afghan. It's a soft fiber, mostly, fluffy, with some areas of rougher stuff, some fibers so short and slippery, they're difficult to spin alone, but it's workable.

After spinning it all, I will ply all the yarns together to make a warp yarn strong enough to withstand the tension on my loom. I'm beginning to get anxious about how it will all come together, how it will look and smell (wet dog?) after it's washed and fulled.

My two grown sons showed up while I was spinning. Luckily, it's a task easily accomplished while visiting. Although both boys had watched me spin since they were born, they asked me questions about the wheel (it came from New Zealand in the early 1970s). A weaving supply catalog was sitting on my coffee table; they found the same wheel in it for $475. I paid $50 back then, and there were no catalogs of weaving supplies like there are now. I found the New Zealand address for the Ashford Company in the Whole Earth Catalog, a resource designed by Stewart Brand, et al, to help Back-to-the-Landers find useful tools for work and craft.

Son James was fascinated by all the wheel designs in the catalog. He's a woodworker and is in the process of building a kayak. "It would be fun to make one of these, turn all those spindles."

Ever since reading Sleeping Beauty and Rumplestiltskin as a child, I ached to know how to spin "straw into gold." I used to turn my bicycle upside down and throw leaves into it to see if they would somehow magically turn into something else. Nobody I knew, no grownup, had the slightest clue how a spinning wheel worked. The skill had completely died out. The only one or two wheels around were antiques (with important parts missing, I learned much later).

A year or so after moving to Idaho and marrying my cattlerancher, I heard that some "hippies up the crik" had a spinning wheel and Corriedale sheep. I was on their porch knocking at their door almost immediately. I spent an hour or so with Carolyn Bowler, a fiber artist, learning to spin; the great mystery was solved at last, and the order for my Ashford wheel was in the mail.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to give a spinning demonstration in the lobby of one of Pocatello's hotels during an event. Many other artists, mostly painters, set up their work as well. While I was spinning a little girl, about 6-7 years old stopped to watch. She lay on the floor watching the wheel go round and round. Finally, she said, "When does it turn into gold?"

Spinning wheels do magically turn fiber into "gold." Knowing that I can take a lump of hair or wool or cotton or flax and turn it into yarn that I can weave, knit or crochet into cloth gives me a feeling of security, independence, strength and satisfaction.

Son Edward, a physicist, helped me warp my loom one day, noting that spinning wheels, looms and pianos (my prized possessions) are all human-powered. After a time, he said,
"You know, Mom. I know that if there wasn't electricity, you'd figure out how to get along without it."
"Yes, you're probably right," I said.
"While I, I would figure out how to make my own," he said.

But that's another story.

Spinning wheels, looms, fiber, wood, physics, fun conversations -- definitely straw into gold.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Of Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

As one of my brothers pointed out in a Facebook entry, I'm engaged in a contradictory project. I am spinning wolf-dog hair into yarn, a task usually reserved for sheep's wool.

Most of us are familiar with much of the folklore surrounding wolves and sheep. A wicked wolf slips on a sheepskin and worms his way into fooling a mark. A lonely young shepherd cries "wolf" for attention, and then when a real wolf appears and threatens his flock, no one believes him, no one comes to his rescue.

And there's the frightening story in Willa Cather's novel "My Antonia" in which a groom riding home on a sleigh with his bride throws her to a pack of threatening wolves to save his own skin.

But neither are flocks of sheep always regarded as innocent. Western range biologists and cattlemen often refer to sheep as "range maggots" because they gobble up forage and upset the ecosystem. Yet Judeo-Christian Bible stories elevate the animal as an important symbiotic unit for nomadic human survival. Both food (meat, milk and cheese) and cloth (clothing, tents, saddle blankets, etc.) can be derived from the animal. And because sheep stick together, flocks are used metaphorically to symbolize followers of the Way.

So, here I sit in my tiny Pocatello westside hovel spinning wolf-dog hair into yarn. If all goes well, I'll weave it into a piece of cloth that may well become an heirloom, or a future mystery for an archaeologist to dig up in a forgotten pet-lover's tomb long after my fingers, looms and spinning wheel have succombed to the deterioration of time.