Summer and Winter with Rosalie Neilson

Truth be told, for as much as I have fallen out of love with my transportable LeClerc four shaft, we’re still joined at the hip. That is, for as long as I need it for local guild workshops that require a loom, and as long as four shafts are enough for the workshop requirements.

That said, I am also in the mood to de-msytify how that loom fits into my MINI Cooper – voila!

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All packed up and ready to go. I have the packing-ties down to a science, and it works well without messing up the warp in transit. That hasn’t always been the case, but there you go.

Summer and Winter has never been a big attraction for me. But with a little pressure from my friends, and the recent publication of Rosalie Nielson’s An Exhaltation of Blocks, I couldn’t resist the challenge of attempting something new for me. Besides, it being February (which is such an in-between time of year – post holiday, pre-Spring, you get the picture) a little challenge would definitely keep seasonal boredom from setting in.

At first it was dicey on whether I could participate with a four shaft loom, since the class was based on eight shaft designs. However, since Rosalie is such a gracious and accommodating teacher, she provided four shaft drafts for the two of us who had this predicament. So now, no excuse, and it was off to the workshop – a mere ten mile drive from my home.

Rosalie Nielson is an incredible weaver and a really patient teacher. You never have to worry about being left out or overlooked. And she really explained the whole block concept extremely well. Once in a while an AHA thought bubble appeared in my brain – this picked up a thread of block theory from when I was in Madelyn’s class, and I realized how relevant this was to my fascination with drawloom weaving.

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Rosalie Nielson, the Master at work!

Granted, at the end of the day, there are many limitations as to what you can do with Summer and Winter blocks on four shafts. However, with the block concept, using Rosalie’s methodology and more shafts, there are over one thousand combinations that she was able to discover. Amazing! So Summer and Winter does not have to be boring, and one can challenge oneself for a long time exploring the structure.

Yes, I am really glad I was able to take this class. I finished off my left-over warp in no time at all after the workshop was over, and I have some nice samples to remind me how great weaving is, and will always be.

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Drawloom Weaving with Joanne Hall

There comes a point in time during any weaving experience when you know to either run the other way, or travel down the rabbit hole and learn as much as you can about a new structure. What’s compelling for one weaver may be anathema for another. I have always looked at the drawloom configuration and said – Too big! Countermarche? No way! That said, my friend Laura and I both got the drawloom bug at The Weavers’ School, and we had to pursue it.

The weather was unsettled as we landed in Helena Regional Airport in Montana. Mid-40’s, scattered rain in the distance and big clouds threatening activity everywhere. Montana! Big Sky country! And home to Joanne Hall, drawloom weaver and teacher extraordinare. We were looking forward to three days of devoted weaving, plus two days of actually warping a shaft drawloom in the Swedish tradition.

Joanne’s home is built in the Swedish style, so it is comfortable and cozy. Her studio is filled with plenty of natural light. And looms. Mostly Glimakra, and countermarche. Having learned on a jack loom, I can only say that any perceived complexity in warping a countermarche is more than compensated for in ease of treadling. It’s so light on the knees, I found I could weave for much longer periods of time on the countermarche than I could on a jack.

Drawlooms have two sets of harnesses (a group of shafts). One set is for the ground cloth, the other (located above/behind the ground cloth shafts) is for the pattern. There are two basic configurations for the drawloom – single unit, where you can create tapestries and pictures and all sorts of designs on the fly. The other is the shaft drawloom, where there is a series of drawcords that are organized by units of threads (the number of threads is driven by the quantity of shafts in your ground cloth). With the shaft drawloom, you can weave patterns that repeat, and also modify them as you go along.

Some people modify a countermarche loom by adding “half heddles” behind the shafts, and use a sword to raise the half heddle (imagine how backstrap weavers manipulate patterns on their looms). It was this approach that I used for my first weave structure.

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My repeating circles sample on the Glimakra Julia with half heddles.

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Half Heddles on a Glimakra Julia (photo by Liz Burle)

My next sample was on the single unit drawloom. I have to admit that I had a lot of fun playing around with the different configurations. You can “save” a pattern by using a similar approach to the half heddle method, on the pattern shafts. But those kinds of decisions are driven by which loom configuration you have, and the type of design you’d like to weave. At this point I was just playing. And, having fun.

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My favorite design on the single heddle. The weft is tow linen.

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The single unit drawloom. With drawcords, you don’t need a drawboy as was used in the early days of drawloom weaving.

At this point I do have a slight confession to make. It’s a challenge for me to get a good selvedge on the drawloom. There is a combination of new muscle memory and technique that I found I need to work on. The drawloom shuttle is narrower and longer than your typical Schacht open shuttle with a bobbin. They have quills, and I have never used a quill while weaving before. Always a first! But, as with everything, with a lot of practice comes expertise.

My third sample was on the draft drawloom. At this point I had developed my confidence and was going to town on arranging and modifying the selection of repeats that Joanne had created for Laura and me.

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My draft drawloom sample. What fun!

After three days of weaving and enough lecture to make us dangerous on the looms, we were joined by two more students, and went through the process of warping the draft drawloom. Joanne was very wise to have us review the process on the Vavstuga video before attempting it. Having that information floating in our heads and then grounding it with the actual experience was most helpful and a good learning process.

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Joanne Hall grouping the pattern heddles during the warping process. Not for the feint of heart!

As always, there are always new “hacks” to pick up whenever weavers are weaving together. We learned the most incredible way of tying the warp onto the front beam. It really reduces the warp waste, and quite frankly maintains a great even tension.

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Those five days passed way too fast. I love being immersed in a weaving experience where the demands of our fast-paced lifestyles can be put on hold for just a bit. It’s a renewal for the soul, and I become a better person for following a mindful practice with a satisfying craft. Good food, good company, and even good weather came around and followed us home. Thank you, Joanne, for getting me started on this phase of my weaving journey!

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The view from Joanne Hall’s home and studio.

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The Weavers’ School

Once again Laura and I set our sights on weaving, this time in Coupeville on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Seattle, Washington. I will not lie and say I was in a high state of anxiety. Our instructor was Madelyn van der Hoogt, and the class was Weaving II: Beyond the Basics. Learning from the Master!!!! What was I thinking? But all my anxiety was for naught. It was a great class, with a nice group of women, and we had a fabulous time.

Whidbey Island is an idyllic setting for a weaving class. The crisp October weather is very reminiscent of a Scottish coastline. We had sun, rain, and a few pretty nippy days.

The class schedule was a good balance of lecture and weaving time. Amazingly, there were thirty two looms all dressed and ready to go! With twelve of us in residence, there was ample opportunity to get working on the various weave structures that we were reviewing in class. Madelyn is very good at honing in on the point at hand, and almost has a sixth sense towards her students. You know, like a Mom that has eyes in the back of her head. Anyway, it wasn’t long before she had Laura convinced to try the single unit drawloom, and before I knew what was happening I was on the shaft drawloom happily weaving away. It wasn’t as intimidating as it looked, once I got moving on the pattern. It turned out to be my favorite piece of the class!

I learned the importance of advancing the warp to always weave in the “sweet spot”. And although I had used a temple at home with disastrous results, I finally got the hang of it and now I can use a temple without fear. I also have some really fun samples. It’s really freeing when the teacher encourages you to experiment and see where the weaving takes you.

All in all it was quite the experience. Many of the students are repeat, and sign up for the next available class. Madelyn doesn’t teach drawloom anymore, so Laura and I had our sights on our next weaving conquest – drawloom weaving!  Thanks Madelyn, for introducing us to that world!

 

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Playing for the Raptors

Today was one of those fabulous pre-winter Arizona days. Temps in the lower 80’s, partially overcast sky providing shade in the perfect amount. It was a great day to be outside feeding the raptors in recovery at Wild at Heart right here in Cave Creek, Arizona.

In keeping with my flute journey, today after the 3pm hawk feeding (which includes Kestrels, Turkey Vultures, Harris and Redtail Hawks, a Bald Eagle as well as a Golden Eagle), I pulled out my trusty flute and played for them for a half hour in the outdoor courtyard.

Most of it was improv, some of it was trying to play practiced songs from memory. But it was all for those amazing birds of prey that have fallen victim to the vagaries of civilization. With luck they will recover from their afflictions and be returned to the wild. Some make it, some don’t. But it was my small tribute to help, in a small way, towards their recovery. I sure heard more bird calling then usual, and one of the permanent workers though that she observed some of the birds actually listening. I’d like to hope so!

It has to be shock to be a wild bird and then suddenly finding yourself maimed and then caged. Some are submissive to their fate, others rage against it. But I think nothing can vanquish the drive for survival that these birds have, constantly adapting to the changes we humans force on their environment.

Happy fluting!

 

 

 

 

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More Deflected Double Weave – 14/2 Linen

One goal I had set for myself after my trip to CNCH was to make a sturdy flute bag. I had one false start with all cotton that ended up as two little bags (got some good practice sewing the bag shape – picture at the end of this post). Then my adventure with mixed cotton and linen (in 20/2 and 16/1) ended up purposed as something totally different than what I had intended. So I decided to up the ante and go back to the 14/2 to get the sturdiness that I wanted for the flute bag cover. Jane Stafford Textiles has a great color selection, and in no time at all I had the linen and a warped loom.

Linen so far is my favorite fiber to use with deflected doubleweave. There is something about the crispness while weaving that keeps me thinking that the project will turn out ok, no matter what happens in the meantime. Euroflax 14/2 is a great weight to use if you want to make something sturdy, like a flute cover, for example. It holds the structure really well, with the added benefit of getting softer but not less strong over time. One thing that surprised me about this project was, after washing and sewing, there was still a bit of a drape to the fabric. A nice surprise!

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This is the basic pattern I used. You can tell it was from a book, and now I can’t find it to tell you the name. It’s in a pile somewhere…….

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Warping had its challenges. I managed to get all the color alternation correct except for that one twisted section. I did unwind that section and rewound it, but made the same mistake. The funny thing is that it didn’t impact my weaving, although I did add an S hook towards the end of the warp.

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No accounting for color truth when taking pictures – the lighting in my room is much different between daytime and evening, with no natural light. But you can see the openness of the weave on the loom. It fills in quite nicely after finishing, even with a hand washing.

This was warped at 24 epi – two per dent on a twelve dent reed. 364 ends, roughly 15 inches wide on the loom. I measured a four yard length, and wove about 60 inches, adding plain weave hems. After weaving, I had enough left over for another piece. To my horror, I had made a mistake smack in the middle of the extra piece. Not to worry, it sewed up perfectly into a cowl where the mistake is not noticeable. You could even call it a design separation.

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Finished flute cover, with its owner just waiting to jump in. The flute is a Gm made by Charles Littleleaf from Warm Springs, Oregon.

 

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Ignore the woman behind the curtain – this is the finished cowl. I’m really happy about the drape!

As promised, here is the picture of the cotton “little bag” experiment. I had started at 12 epi, one per dent in a 12 dent reed, then ended up re-sleying to two per dent. End count was 144. I had thought an open sett would work, but I have to re-think the approach on a twill with a plain weave stripe. You can imagine that they are sturdy.

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Sett and the Deflected Weave

Several of my flutes don’t have covers. And they certainly need a cover for safe transport.  I’ve been buying up a lot of 40/2 linen, with the hope of making something pretty grand. And then I noticed I had some 20/2 cotton and a 16/1 linen that would get me primed, so to speak, for working with a finer thread. Grabbing a Santa Fe-ish type draft from Handweaving.net, I found three colors that balanced nicely, and went for broke.

Now, sett has been an issue with me ever since I stared on my weaving journey a LONG time ago. My thought was always to follow the pattern then beat the heck out of it, which resulted in a lot of stiff scarves and miscellaneous projects that never really found a good home. Sampling I can eventually warm myself up to, but I hate making something for the sake of it and then not having a good use for it. That’s one of the reasons why you’ll find so many wall hangings and table scarves scattered around my home. (I am fortunate enough to have a husband who will tolerate this!) With my history of beating it till it’s dead hand, when I see something that calls for a 30 epi sett I cringe on how to proceed. How can that be woven without turning it into a ironing board, even if I have a thin thread?  Trial and error, plus adapting to a new environment are the personal growth phases I have to go through to get confident in establishing sett to get the right drape I am looking for in a fabric. And the experiments continue.

That said, I chucked the planned 30 epi out the window, and went with a 24 epi – two threads in each dent of a twelve dent reed.

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It wove up pretty nicely. At first it took a while to get through one repeat. It’s not that the repeat was long – it was changing the shuttles for each color change. My final technique was to break and tuck the blue linen thread every time its turn came up, but keep the brown and grey cottons, and travel them up the side. Also, I didn’t really have to pass the shuttle through the last block of color on the right side (see Elisabeth Hill’s YouTube video on this selvedge technique) since I broke off the thread for the blue color change. The edges aren’t perfect because I hadn’t planned on them being perfect since my original purpose was to sew a seam along the sides. I’ve been a little nonchalant about my edges (based on the purpose of piece) ever since I watched a Donegal weaver at the loom. Very impressed with his speed, I had the chance to talk to him about edges. He surprised me by saying that he and his weavers didn’t dwell on them since they were making fabric which would be cut so the edges really didn’t matter. Duh. Another myth debunked, and another incentive to go to the next level and create yardage for sewing garments, or whatever. Sometimes the most simple truths can knock me for a loop.

After all that, weaving went pretty quickly. The piece was finished at the planned 60 inch plus hem allowance and ready to cut –  and not a moment too soon, based on how much warp I had left – which was a big fat zilch.  After I washed finished the piece, I found that it had such a wonderful drape that I couldn’t bear using it for a flute bag. My edges really aren’t that bad, either, and they will work for the final re-purposed piece. (Confession – I really do care about how my edges look.)

Look at this drape! I’ll be using the hemming to join both ends, and it will be just long enough to double wrap for a cowl (infinity) scarf. That makes me a happy weaver.

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You can see the plain weave stripe that will be the seam when the cowl is joined. No fringe is visible on the final product (see below).

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All sewn up! Folded so that it is doubled. Love that drape! I added a tie through the seam so that I could scrunch it. It’s a really fun cowl.

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Flutes and Feathers

Starting last year, and continuing into this year has been quite an interesting journey so far, with many new roads and offshoots demanding my attention.

Most of all, I find it hard to write about this subject without feeling like I am being a bit pretentious. After all, I am descended from immigrant Italians. I have no connection to any tribes. I live in the area of the country that has the largest Native American (tribal) population in the United States. I feel honored to be able to try, in my way, to learn this instrument and embrace its culture. I want to do this in a way that does not cause offense. It is time that we, as the uninvited culture, embrace and honor the culture that was here before us.

Since starting on this journey, I have been researching the history of the flute, and there is so much to learn – and unlearn, as well. But, enough of vague commentary.

Most of my technical learning has been through the John Vames’ Understanding the Gift, Volume 1. It’s pretty informative, and good for someone who doesn’t have a very formal music background, like me. I also found R. Carlos Nakai’s The Art of the Native American Flute a must have for understanding how this instrument became what it is today, and how important is to understand its role in bridging between the white and tribal nations.

My practice is sporadic, but mostly because I am caught between following a traditional music theory path, and what some people call an improv path. My guess is that my approach could be somewhere between the two – learning the basics of reading Nakai Tab and traditionally written music, and then playing straight from the heart. I have seen Nakia in concert twice so far. And the impression I walked away with from both venues (one with the RCNQ and the other with MusicaNova) is that RC soars when he plays from the heart.

My very first live exposure to the NAF was hearing Tony Duncan play at a Cave Creek (AZ) Art festival. It was just so beautiful I could only dream of being able to try and play. Yet, here I am, with five flutes to my name, still stumbling my way through finding my voice. That, I understand, comes with time. And the flutists that I have spoken with that play from the heart stress how important it is to be able to separate yourself from the western music style to achieve the real peace and grace that is present in the Native American flute.

That said, here is my first public performance, done on a volunteer basis. There is so much more to learn!

Koko’s Lament by John Vames, played by Claudia Cocco

Playing for the Raptors

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