Tuesday, June 30, 2009

To Weave a Rug

Sometimes after years of exploring the complexities of one's craft, it's good to return to the basics. To examine the simple elements carefully and see new possibilities.

That is how I felt after attending a three day Plain Weave Rug workshop taught by Jason Collingwood at the Yarn Barn in Lawrence, Kansas. Like many weavers, I started my weaving journey with plain weave, but over the years, I gradually added more shafts to my loom capabilities in order to weave all those intriguing and complicated patterns. Plain weave was no longer on my list of structures to use, except for hems or weaving in header. I signed up for the rug class because I'd heard good things about Jason's workshops and because I admired his beautiful rugs. I wasn't so sure about the plain weave thing though, and hoped I wouldn't regret my decision.

I have absolutely no regrets. By lunchtime of the first day, I had learned some valuable tips. Jason covered all aspects of weaving a good rug: appropriate looms, materials, warping techniques, getting off to a good start, several types of twining to use at the beginning and end of a rug, how to tie a snug knot with the thick 8/5 linen rug warp, how to begin and end the multiple strands of wool weft invisibly, finishing treatments, and much more. And there was, of course, the plain weave. He described and demonstrated many techniques, starting with the basic horizontal and vertical stripes, then moving on to various types of crossed wefts, clasped wefts, compensated inlay, and more. He also discussed techniques to eliminate long weft floats at the selvedges.

There were 17 participants in this class with a wide range of weaving experience. I think all of us found something to challenge us and to expand our weaving horizons. At the end of each day, I felt like I'd worked hard but also had gained some new and useful information. Jason was an excellent teacher, answering questions and helping individuals to understand the concepts and methods. He learned his skills from his father, Peter Collingwood, and is most certainly an accomplished weaver/teacher in his own right.

Here's my finished sampler. It was woven from the bottom up. The warp is 8/5 linen set at 3 doubled/working ends per inch. For most of the techniques we used three strands of rug wool on the shuttles. The finished dimensions are 11" x 30", excluding fringes.

In the close-up you can see some of the decorative (countered) twining, which I greatly enjoyed working, as well as a bit of compensated inlay, staggered dots, and a lovely knotted treatment for the warp ends. (Click on the photo to enlarge for a better look.)

Back home in Missouri now, I'm setting up a loom for more exploration of the workshop techniques while they are still fresh. I hope to post pictures and more information in the coming weeks. I must admit that I had a great time getting reacquainted with good old plain weave and now have a fresh appreciation for its simple and not-so-simple aspects.

Before I end this post, I'd like to add how much fun it was to visit the Yarn Barn and to browse all the fiber goodies before and after class. And yes, some of those goodies came home in our car: a nice supply of linen rug warp and a Toika temple for all the rugs I'll be weaving, some lustrous perle cottons for other weaving projects, and even a couple of skeins of Cascade 220 for knitting. Good thing it was only a three day workshop!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Small Gifts

After more than a week of temperatures in the high 90's and high humidity levels, a storm swept through Saturday night, bestowing on us the gift of milder weather. It was a pleasure to work in the garden yesterday. The weeds didn't seem nearly so brutish as they did the day before. In the evening I took my pennywhistle down to the pond dock for a bit of practice. The pond was so quietly resplendent, reflecting every branch and shadow so perfectly that I had to go back to the house for the camera, to try to capture the beauty. Here's what the camera saw...

When I'd finished torturing the fish with my musical noodling, I took a quick walkabout to check on a few favorite wildflowers before the mosquitos began torturing me. This Tall Green Milkweed grows by itself in the middle of the grass. Its flowers are just getting ready to open. I thought that at this stage the flowers resembled the bursting orb-like fireworks on the 4th of July.

Small gifts can be quite ample really ...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Way Out West

Last week we travelled to Kansas so that I could attend a weaving workshop at the Yarn Barn in Lawrence. (More about that later.) On the trip out, however, we drove farther west in Kansas to the Flint Hills area and visited the Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve in Chase County. With temperatures in the low 90's and plenty of wind, it wasn't the ideal time perhaps, but it was still a memorable side trip. Lots of wildflowers were in bloom - prickly pear, coneflowers, scurfy pea and more. But the flower that caught my eye most was this beauty - butterfly milkweed. Sure, we can grow it here in Missouri, but seeing the clusters of bright orange, some large, some small, scattered across the landscape made them seem remarkable, not just another variety of the humble milkweed.

The landscape itself is vast and open. Adjectives fail to capture its true nature. One rolling hill is followed by another. The information in the visitors center said that in the ancient days of the continent, the area was covered by large, shallow oceans. As I turned 360 degrees, seeing endless hills and sky in every direction, the word that came to mind was primal. I thought about how daunting the landscape must have appeared to settlers from the east coast or Europe who were used to shorter vistas and urban settings. And about how daily life without our modern conveniences would have demanded constant hard work and perseverance to survive. Such an awe-inspiring but formidable environment might have fostered great accomplishments in some, yet might have induced depression and despair in others. I was also amazed by the stone fences, hand built from the abundant flint. These weren't just short lengths, enclosing gardens or small pastures. They rolled up and down with the contours of the hills, disappearing into the horizon. How much time and labor went into their construction!

Here's one last picture. We only hiked a short distance up one of the trails due to the heat. At one picturesque spot there were benches for sitting, presumably for taking in the immense view and contemplating whatever one might choose to contemplate in such a place. This bench didn't look particularly inviting!

Next time: Rug weaving in Lawrence

Monday, June 15, 2009

Missouri Trouble

Of the many patterns that weavers have at their disposal, the traditional floatwork (overshot) patterns surely have the most colorful names. These are the patterns used for many old coverlets and are what people often think of as North American Colonial weaving. Names such as Nine Snowballs, Whig Rose, Cat Track and Snail Trail, Lee's Surrender, and World's Wonder add another dimension to the woven cloth. I enjoy weaving the traditional floatwork patterns and feeling a connection to those earlier weavers.

My enduring favorite among these patterns is Missouri Trouble. Of course, living in Missouri, it is fun to weave a pattern with the state name. But more than that, I just think it is a graceful and visually interesting design. The draft I use may be found in The Shuttlecraft Book of American Handweaving by Mary Meigs Atwater. Ms. Atwater calls it "... a very famous old pattern - one of the finest." Each time I weave Missouri Trouble, I think about how the pattern got its name. Was it a reference to the difficult times when Missouri came into the Union? Was the weaver struggling to create a home in the frontier and dealing with the challenges of life in an unfriendly environment? Or perhaps it was the trouble of the design itself. The pattern repeat is large, just over 300 threads. Even woven in fine threads the main motif is around 7 inches by 7 inches. Threading or treadling errors could distort the beautiful shape. (My own weaving students, working with 20/2 cotton for the first time, are quite certain that the latter is the reason for the name.) Or perhaps, it was just a spontaneous name that popped into the weaver's head while working at his/her loom on a hot, sticky summer afternoon - in Missouri, of course.

We'll never know the origins of all these floatwork pattern names, but it doesn't really matter, does it? They just add a little extra zing to our weaving. I chose the name for my blog because both the name and the design give me pleasure, especially while I'm working at my loom on a hot, sticky Missouri afternoon.