Monday, September 28, 2009

In the Beginning

It amazes me still, even after so many years of weaving and so many projects - how a collection of cones of yarn turns into finished woven cloth. I perform the many little steps of the process which I know so well, but seeing the end product still holds a bit of magic for me.

Today's post focuses on how I start a new project. Over the weekend I measured the warp for a series of towels, breadcloths and other household linens. I'll be using a pattern of my own design and 12 different cotton and cotton/linen blend yarns.

For these yarns, I'll have a sett of 24 threads per inch, which means there will be 24 threads in each inch of my warp. This warp will be 21.7" wide. With a bit of simple math, I found that I'll need 520 warp ends for this project. Each warp thread will be 15 yards long. The planning got a bit trickier here because I wanted to arrange my yarns so that there are mainly tans and khakis at the selvedges, shading through some rusty colors into deeper berries and eggplant at the center. I had only small amounts of some of the yarns, so I started planning at the center and worked out to the selvedges. Doing my calculations from the center out allowed me to adjust the warp thread count according to how much of each color I had.

After I got my color arrangement worked out, I measured the 15 yard warp in bundles or chains of about 80 threads each. Measuring the warp took three and a half hours. Frequent color changes slowed down the measuring process somewhat.

Once the warp was measured, I laid it out in the order it will be arranged in on the loom. My first thought was "Wow, that's a lot of yarn!" Just for fun I decided to do a few more calculations to see how much yarn it was. 520 warp threads at 15 yards each equals 7,800 yards of yarn or almost 4 and a half miles, if you stretched it all out end to end. In addition I estimate that I'll use about 6,000 more yards of yarn for the weft. That makes a total of 13,800 yards or 7.84 miles of yarn for this project. That is a lot of yarn.

From all those miles of yarn I expect to end up with approximately 13 and a half yards of woven cloth. It's amusing to think about that mileage scrunched up into towels or runners, etc. This project is especially satisfying for me because all the yarns came from my weaving stash. Nothing extra will need to be purchased. Hmmm, almost 14,000 yards of stash yarn gobbled up by one project. Might even make a knitter overwhelmed with stash yarn consider coming over to the dark side ...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Keeping Time

a true story with a happy ending

This clock belonged to my maternal grandparents, John and Anna Kruse. They lived in the area just southeast of St. Louis, across the Mississippi River in Illinois. Married in October of 1914, they farmed the fertile Illinois land and raised six children, five sons and a daughter. The youngest child, Anita, is my mother. Anna passed away when my mother was in her early teens. When her father passed away in 1959, my mother inherited this clock. She brought it back to Kansas City where we were living at the time. Over the years, my family moved to the Chicago suburbs, and later, when my dad retired, my parents relocated to central Florida. John’s and Anna’s clock moved along with them.

Time passes ... In the summer of 1997, my daughter (also Anna) and I took a meandering road trip down to Florida to visit my parents. During our visit, my mom asked if I would like to have her family clock. I was very pleased to have a physical connection to the grandfather I remembered fondly and the grandmother I had never known, and so the clock came back to Boone County, Missouri with me. When she gave me the clock, Mom said she thought it might need repairing, she didn’t know for sure. Over the years, I’d intended to find someone reliable to take a look at it. Time slipped by though, and I never got around to seeing if it could be repaired.

Now some more years roll by, until it is last month, August of 2009. After vacationing with my sisters in Massachusetts, my mother journeyed back to her hometown in Illinois for a short visit with family and friends. Since she was in our neck-of-the-woods, (relatively speaking) my husband and I drove to Waterloo to spend a couple of days with her. One afternoon we all visited my mother’s brother, Hubert, who lives with his son Hubie and daughter-in-law, Karen. It was a pleasant afternoon, catching up on one another’s activities and listening to my mother and uncle reminisce about their childhood on the farm.

One thing about my cousin's and uncle's home that is impossible not to notice is the extraordinary number of clocks in every room - clocks of many styles and shapes, all ticking and some occasionally chiming. In the past few years, my cousin Hubie has developed a passion for collecting old clocks, and has become very knowledgeable about fixing them. One thing led to another, and when we left that evening, we’d arranged to mail the family clock to Hubie to see if it could be fixed. Within a few days of receiving it, my cousin emailed that he’d adjusted and oiled the clock - and that it was running like a champ. He wondered if I’d like my uncle to refinish the wooden clock case. I remembered seeing all the beautiful old pieces of furniture my uncle had refinished in their home and said yes.

I was so excited to learn that my clock was working and looked forward to its return, especially after Hubie emailed a photo of it, resplendent in its finished state. In the meantime I asked my mother what she knew about the clock and when it had stopped working. She doesn’t know how long her parents had the clock, possibly it was a wedding gift. She did remember that the last time it was keeping time was in April of 1943 when her mother passed away. Imagine! The old clock had stopped working sixty-six years ago. World War ll was being fought, FDR was president, and people gathered around their radio sets to hear the news of the day. Now, like Rip Van Winkle, the clock has awakened in the twenty-first century, where people wear digital wristwatches run by tiny batteries and we hear about current events nearly instantaneously via the internet.

Last week the clock arrived in the mail, safe and sound. Not only does it keep time, it is stunning in its new transfiguration. My uncle removed the dark stain and gave it a lighter warm finish that shows off the beautiful grain of the wood. Now it sits on a shelf in our living room where we can see it from all directions. It has a quiet but distinct “tic toc”. Its chime is rich, mellow and soft. In the evenings its sounds make a perfect soothing background accompaniment to reading and knitting. I’m still musing on its history and thinking about how coincidental yet fitting it is that members of our Kruse clan gave it a second life.

I don’t know... Perhaps it’s the English major in me, always looking for a story. A newspaper clipping or postcard tucked in the pages of a library book, old black and white photographs of stern-looking families strewn on the counter of a flea market mall ... these fragments can set me pondering and speculating. What’s the story here? So now, as I knit or spin, I look up at Anna’s and John’s clock ticking so placidly, and my imagination stirs. What family vignettes did the old clock witness as it quietly marked time and the children grew? And also, why did the clock stop running after Anna’s death? Was she the one who faithfully kept the clock wound? Or perhaps, with the loss of this farm family’s homemaker, with so much to be done and several sons in the armed services, there simply wasn’t time to bother with the clock.

I don’t expect I’ll ever know the answers to any of my musings. But one thing I do know. The blood that flowed through the hands of that earlier clock-winder also flows through my hands as I take on this task. I look down at the little clock key in my hand and then up at the clock’s face. In the reflection of the glass cover, I see my family smiling back at me.

Dedicated to my mother and grandparents.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Delicata ... Deliciosa!

It's only in the past two years that I've become aware of Delicata winter squash. On a whim I picked one up at the farmers' market and took it home to bake, just like any other winter squash. What a revelation! Delicata's flesh is rich and buttery without the somewhat stringy texture of acorn, butternut, etc. After that first experience, I was always hunting for Delicata at the farmers' market when winter squash season rolled round. To my frustration, they were not plentiful, usually only one or two scattered among a few vendors. Even more nettling was the fact that the Delicatas I'd managed to scrounge resulted in such tasty soups, stews and more.

Over the past winter I decided there was only one way to obtain more of this delectable squash - and a pretty obvious solution at that. A packet of Delicata seeds was included in our Fedco seed order. Now I've never been big on growing winter squash. They have no manners in the garden, sprawling all over the place, taking no mind of the needs of their veggie neighbors. And then there's my biggest garden nemesis, the nasty, ugly, destruction-bent squash bug. (Did I mention that I don't like them?) They can take down a squash patch in days with no remorse, leaving more repulsive little nymphs in their wake. However, the siren squash had so completely won me over that I willingly gave over a spot to three hills of Delicata.

Yes, the plants did send out vines in all directions, cozying up to the dill and scallions, sneaking across the path into the tomato rows. Each week I gently lifted the vines and repositioned them back in their allotted space. No, the squash bugs did not do them in. (They were far more interested in the three zucchini hills nearby.) The Delicatas produced first many big showy blossoms, and then to my delight, they began to set fruit. Ultimately the plants succumbed to the prolonged dry spell we've had late this growing season and a powdery sort of mildew I'll need to read up on this coming winter. But a couple of weeks ago, when we gathered up the fruits and cleared out the plant debris, we had a bucket of seventeen squash - far more than we've had from the farmers' market.

Delicata squash are not long keepers like Hubbard and some of the other winter squash, so I'm anticipating a flush of Delicata-centered meals for the next several weeks. The dish I fixed last night was so simple but oh-so delicious.

Preheat an oven to 425°. Slice the squash into 1/2" sections and clean the seeds out of the centers. (A melon baller worked like a charm for this task.) Place the rings in a single layer in a shallow baking dish. Brush them with a mix of olive oil and melted butter. Turn them over and brush the other sides, then sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until fork tender.

That's it! Now eat 'em with your fingers. The skins are so tender that if the squash are organically-grown, you can eat them, skins and all. I think they'd be fun to stack in towers or other imaginative presentations if you're so inclined. For my part, I'll skip the fancy presentations and enjoy the sweet treats as they melt in my mouth.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Well, here are some clues to the answer for my last post. I should have known that not everyone is as "plant-geeky" as I am.

1. These blossoms are both plants in the Mallow family, however, neither are grown specifically for their flowers.

2. One has edible parts. The other bears fruit that is of interest to fiber crafters of many skills.

3. In the bad old pre-Civil War days, African slaves on plantations would have dined on one of these after a hard day of processing the other.

I can't bear to have a post without a pic, so here's an honest-to-goodness flower who is all over our vegetable garden - Grandpa Ott's Morning Glory.

Good Luck!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

September Pop Quiz

Just for fun and perhaps a bit tricky. First person to correctly identify the following two blossoms will receive a small handmade reward. Leave your answers in the comments.

Blossom #1

Blossom # 2

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Weaving Honeysuckle

No, I have not become so befuddled by the abundance of garden produce that I have taken to putting flowers, leaves, vines, or, perish the thought, vegetables in my weaving projects. Honeysuckle Twill is the name of the pattern that I am currently using for a long warp on my 8 shaft floor loom. My source for this small but versatile overshot threading is A Handweaver's Pattern Book by Marguerite Porter Davison. My warp is 10/2 tencel in off-white, set at 24 ends per inch. The original draft is a four shaft pattern. I decided to convert it to eight shafts in order to explore many possibilities.

The first photo is a piece woven in the traditional overshot manner, using two wefts. One weft is the fine tencel and weaves the ground cloth, or tabby, as weavers call it. The second weft, a 5/2 perle cotton in a deep purple, weaves the pattern. If I were to cut away all the purple wefts, a solid white plain weave fabric would still remain. The upper portion of this photo is how Honeysuckle Twill looks woven in its original, traditional overshot manner. In the lower part of the photo I expanded a portion of the design to create a border.

The second photo is of another runner still woven as four shaft overshot. However, I used two colors for the pattern weft (blue and lilac) and I also changed the treadling order, ie., the order in which I step on the treadles(pedals.)

For the next piece I used a very pale blue cotton as the tabby/ground weft and a light spring green 5/2 perle cotton for the pattern weft and again changed the way I was weaving the pattern. This piece is not woven as four shaft overshot but is an improvisation that requires eight shafts. Unlike the previous pieces, the reverse side of this cloth looks nothing like its front.

For the next piece, a towel, I completely abandoned overshot, retied my treadles so that different sets of warp threads were lifted together, and started weaving with just one shuttle. The weft is a light blue 10/2 perle cotton. There is no neutral colored ground cloth acting as a background for a pattern weft. This fabric is reversible. I especially like the arrangement of the large and small blocks of pattern.

The last piece in this post is still on the loom. I'm weaving with a deep berry 8/2 unmercerized cotton. This design is actually a small segment of the previous one, just repeated over and over. It creates a small over-all design. I wanted a daintier pattern because this cloth is destined to be cut up and sewn into treasure bags and other small items. I like the pattern for its appearance, but I also like that it doesn't require as much concentration as any of the other patterns, so the weaving goes faster and I'm not as likely to lose my place if someone talks to me. (This loom is in the studio where I teach.)

For this experimentation with Honeysuckle Twill I put a 13 yard warp on the loom. I think I've used just over half of the warp, so there are still more variations to come. In addition to playing around with changes in how the warp threads are raised, I have a variety of yarns to try out as weft, so most likely I'll run out of warp before I run out of ideas. That's the best kind of weaving - a pattern that leads you down many paths with always one more path to explore!