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.