I left for Convergence on Thursday, July 5, and returned the following Thursday, totally exhausted of seven days of nonstop partying with 1,500 fellow weavers.
I started with the Sheep to Shawl on Saturday, as part of the Black Sheep Handweavers Guild (one of my two weaving guilds). Five spinners, a carder, and me (the weaver) – plus an educator to talk to passersby so the team didn’t get distracted. We had a lot of fun, and finished our shawl well within the 4-hour time limit:
For the unfamiliar, sheep to shawl contests originated when a medieval English lord bet one of his friends that the workers on his estate could shear a sheep at dawn, then wash the fleece, card, spin, dye, weave, and sew it into a jacket for him to wear to dinner. The workers succeeded (which still flabbergasts me!). But remember, these were trained professionals, kids – do not try this at home!
Ah, who am I kidding?? Bring on the sheep to shawl contests!
Modern day sheep to shawl contests aren’t nearly as strenuous. Typically each team starts with a washed fleece, then cards, spins, and plies it into yarn. The team gets to warp the loom before the contest, either with handspun or commercial yarn – so all that needs to be done during the contest is weave the shawl and finish the ends. There are variations on the rules, but the basic idea is to get from a fleece to a shawl within a time limit.
I had some funny conversations about the contest, like this one:
“I thought they were going to start with a sheep!”
“Nah, the conference venue wouldn’t let them have sheep.”
“Couldn’t we have told them they were comfort sheep?”
The day after the Sheep to Shawl, I taught my 90 minute seminar about critique. I’m pretty sure most of the students were expecting me to say something totally different – mostly because we have such terrible misconceptions about critique. The three-bullet summary of my 90-minute seminar:
- Critique is about evaluating your work in order to make it stronger.
- You get WAY more improvement out of taking good ideas and making them spectacular than you do from fixing flaws.
- So in critique, you want to focus on finding the things you like, the things that are working, so you can figure out how to make them amazing. NEVER focus on finding flaws.
There was a lot more to the seminar, of course – I’m thinking of recording it and putting it on YouTube, actually, because I got a LOT of positive feedback on it afterwards. In my copious free time, of course.
(As soon as I find out where I stashed all that free time…let’s see…could I have left it in the studio? Hey, what’s this black hole doing here…?)
Monday I took two classes from Mickey Stam – one about “Weaving Your Passion” and the other about “Opening Your Weaving to New Possibilities”. She had a really interesting approach to brainstorming new areas for exploration and some very practical advice on how to move forward with making, exhibiting, and selling textile art.
And Tuesday night started Barbara Setsu Pickett’s class on velvet weaving! I had been looking forward to this class for months – after Wendy Landry’s lectures at Complex Weavers Seminars 2016, I really wanted to try velvet weaving.
Velvet weaving is not for the timid. You weave velvet with two warps: the ground cloth warp, which weaves the backing, and the pile warp, which produces all those lovely fluffy cut ends.
Here’s how it works:
Weave a header of ground cloth. Then lift whatever pile warps you want to show, and insert a grooved rod. Weave a few more picks of ground cloth (to hold the pile), then insert another rod. After placing three rods, run a razor-sharp blade through the groove in the rearmost rod to cut the pile, remove the rod, and insert it in the next pile-warp shed. The five or six picks of ground-cloth/binder weft will (at least in theory) be tight enough to hold the pile warp in place.
It looks like this:
And here’s a short video of me cutting the pile (with a scalpel taped to a depth where it will cut the pile but – in theory – not your cloth):
Swiping razor blades down a thin groove right next to cloth! Relying on just eight picks of weft to hold your entire pile warp in place! What could go wrong??
But wait! There’s more!
If you want to weave figured velvet – and let’s face it, haven’t we all desperately wanted to weave figured velvet at least once in our lives? – every single one of those pile warp ends needs to be tensioned separately. That’s because figured velvet requires having pile in some places but not others, like this sample Barbara showed us:
Looping a strand of pile warp over a rod takes a lot more thread than just weaving it into the ground cloth. So if you are weaving pile in some areas but not others, your pile warp threads will take up at vastly different rates. So the only way to get even tension is to tension every pile thread all by itself.
At the Lisio Foundation, and other velvet weaving studios, they have huge racks that sit behind the looms. Each rack is full of individually weighted spools. Each spool contains (more or less) one pile warp. Multiply by a couple hundred pile warps, and what do you get?
…a ton of spaghetti (and an entire week of rethreading) if you accidentally cut the cloth, or if you haven’t beaten tightly enough to hold in the pile warp ends when you start cutting the pile.
Whee! Velvet is easy!! No problem!! What could go wrong??
Since we didn’t have giant racks, and some of us (including Barbara) flew in, we used an ingenious device (called a cantra) that Barbara designed for her classes. Here’s what my setup looked like:
In the top of the cantra is a piece of egg crate (you can get it in your local hardware store; it’s used as a diffuser for fluorescent lighting). The pile thread warps go up from their weighted bobbins through the egg crate dividers, up and over, through a little cross at the top, and then down to a stick held over the back beam. And from there to the rest of the loom.
The cantra is about three feet tall – which means you can weave three feet of pile warp before having to stop and unwind all the bobbins. And there are a LOT of bobbins. I wove a finer velvet than the rest of my classmates, so I had 15 pile warps per inch. So all the bobbins you see dangling there were required for weaving a two-inch-wide strip of velvet! For a wider warp that would mean unwinding bobbins for approximately all eternity, every time you need to advance. Better make that cantra tall.
You may have noticed that there appears to be quite a bit of stuff in that photo. I actually had a LOT more stuff than that, since I had to come prepared for the Sheep to Shawl and my own lecture, too. Plus, in a burst of generosity, I volunteered to bring an entire suitcase worth of rayon machine embroidery thread for my classmates to use, since I was driving anyway.
This led to a new linguistic discovery when I arrived. I now know that the sweetest words a bellhop can say, in any language, are “Don’t worry, we’ll deliver everything to your room. Have a nice stay.”
(I was AMAZED that he fit all that stuff on the cart. I later discovered that they take classes on how to load these!)
The bellhop who delivered the loom to my room, however, was apparently traumatized by the experience. He kept saying, “I’ve never had to move anything this big and this delicate before!” I didn’t have the heart to tell him what the rest of his week was going to be like. 🙂 (Though I did tip him $5 to help him get over the trauma.)
And here’s my finished strip of velvet – three days’ work!
I played with short pile, tall pile, cut pile, uncut pile, and all possible combinations of the above. It was a TON of fun, and I want to work more with this on the jacquard loom. I’m already plotting ways to set up a rack of spools behind the loom. Stay tuned!
Sadly, it looks like more travel is not in my immediate future. A good friend is going to Rwanda next week, and I was going to help him with his excess baggage allowance by stowing away in his luggage. Alas, this is not going to happen: The cats have grounded me.
“You have One Job! One Job! And that is staying right here and catering to our whims, not running off to Reno and spending a week partying with your no-good human friends!”
“But you had another perfectly good cat-slave to cater to your whims! And I made sure he understood that he was supposed to give Fritz belly rubs, play with you, and do whatever you told him to do while I was gone!”
“That’s not the point. You had One Job, and you weren’t doing it.”
“Aw, but Tigress…”
“No buts! You’re grounded until further notice. Now go clean your room.”
My cats never let me have any fun…