Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Middle aged white woman in a Mustang

When you fly into Memphis very late at night, Budget may well be completely out of Kias. The agent asked me (rather skeptically I might add) if I could "drive a stick." Heck yeah, I replied. Shortly thereafter I was driving away in a 2016 Ford Mustang headed for the Mississippi Delta. I was a bit self-conscious about the car. I got a lot of looks and most of them seemed to say, "hey, what is that middle-aged white lady doing driving that Mustang?" My brother-in-law did enjoy it during the ten minutes I gave him the keys. (I held my breath the whole time.)

The photo is offered as proof that this story is true.

It was that kind of a weekend.

We went to Mississippi for a niece's high school graduation. I enjoy being part of the couch dog pile since my labrador died a few years ago. Quite literally a dog pile. There were nine dogs in the house while we were there including this little guy who was being fostered until he was old enough to find a new home. His name is Al (or Owl if you're the four-year-old from Nashville).
Family vacations being what they are, I had to make an emergency trip to Oxford which has the nearest yarn shop to the Delta. Three hours alone in the Mustang (no barking, children, or video games involved) might have had something to do with it. I came away with the yarn and a bonus trip to one of the best bookstores anywhere, Square Books.
Most of a hat was knitted over the next day, what with the barbecue by the lake and all. I did stop knitting long enough to steer a canoe around the lake.

On the return trip, the catering truck ran into our plane parked at the gate in Detroit and we got to spend a few more late-night hours waiting for another plane. I can tell you that the frozen yogurt place closes at 8:30, much to my disappointment.

We made it home in the wee hours and I am happy to be back in my studio surrounded by yarn and books and ideas and possibilities.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fine art tapestry: found at the Denver Art Museum and your local thrift store

You don't expect to find fine art tapestry in a thrift store. At least I don't.

But one day last winter, I happened to check my email at 9:50 on a Monday morning and had a note from a friend in Santa Fe about two tapestries by James Koehler that were spotted over the weekend at a thrift store called Look What the Cat Dragged In. After I got over how mortified James would have been to have his tapestries in a store with the word cat in the name, I looked up their website. They opened at 10. A quick call later and I owned this tapestry.
Jeremy Koehler, unknown title, 1995, 60 x 60 inches, tapestry
Let me back up. James Koehler was my teacher. He was a tapestry artist working in New Mexico. He taught me about craftsmanship, honed my dye skills, pushed my design skills, and pretty much made sure I never got lazy. I might have heard a few too many Broadway musicals during those years working in his studio, but I learned to be a tapestry artist. James died in March of 2011.

At the thrift shop, the people who drove over looking for those tapestries that Monday morning were disappointed. The store was in Santa Fe and I now live in northern Colorado. Another student of James bought the other tapestry and I decided that a little pilgrimage to Santa Fe was just what I needed. The next day I drove down to pick up those pieces. My sister has a deep freeze, and after wrapping the piece in plastic, it lived in and out of the freezer for a couple months. It is my policy that anything fiber that comes from a thrift store must have some moth-management before it comes into my wool-filled studio.
I rescued the piece from the freezer in February and brought it home. At some point soon it'll make a trip to a photographer, but for today, the snapshot above gives you an idea of the work.

I love the slight color shifts between shades of blue-violet. In true James fashion, he was using a large number of colors just slightly different in hue and value. Subtlety in color was one of his favorite things to play with.

Yesterday I was at the Denver Art Museum again to hear a talk by a dear friend of mine, DY Begay. While there, I visited the sixth floor to see the tapestry show yet again. The piece in the collection of the Denver Art Museum by James is from the same era as the one I just bought. It is one of his Chief Blanket pieces.
James Koehler, Chief Blanket, collection of the Denver Art Museum. Piece to the right is Ramona Sakiestewa.
Later in the evening I sat and listened to DY Begay speak about her work as a contemporary Navajo artist working in tapestry. DY's work springs from her connection to her home, Tselani, in Arizona. Her process reflects her life as a Navajo woman, and her quiet insistence on her methods of materials collection for wool and dye inform everything she makes.

On my long drive home I thought about how both of these artists working in tapestry exert a quiet, steady influence on my own tendency to follow every little mouse trail off into corners, distracting myself from the work I would most love to do. James was a persistent anchor for years--until he was gone. I realized that I have other anchors now. DY and a few other tapestry friends remind me to follow my call to create woven art. My own practice of tapestry weaving, including designing and preparing materials, grounds my work. The doing of it I mean. The practice becomes its own entity over the years and it becomes one of the most important forces in the creation.

I still don't think James would be happy to have his tapestries sold in a thrift store, but I am grateful that I saw that email and they are now appreciated by two of his former students. This piece, the title of which I have not yet found, can be a reminder of where I came from and the principles that James taught me, both the ones I cling strongly to and the ones I have rejected. It will also remind me of the importance of focus and doing my own most important work every day.
Jeremy Koehler, unknown title, 1995, 60 x 60 inches, tapestry
If you don't know the story of James, he published an autobiography with Carol Greene before he died. You can buy a copy HERE. When he wove this piece in the mid-90s, he was still going by the name he took as a Benedictine monk, Jeremy. a few years later he went back to his given name, James. He did these pieces in series. I don't know if other pieces of this design exist out there somewhere since this was number one. If you have one or have seen one somewhere, please let me know!

Do you have a piece made by someone who has influenced your artistic practice or your creative life in some way? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Rookie mistake

I've been dyeing for a long time--over a decade. I use acid wool dyes, sabraset and lanaset dyes from Earth Guild and PRO Chemical and Dye. They are the same dyes, they just have different trade names. And of course the colors are slightly different. For some reason, the last time I did a lot of dyeing, I decided that I was going to start using just one company, PRO Chemical and Dye. I guess I thought it would be easier and a little cheaper to source my dye from one place and I was using Deb Menz's dye books and formulas for some of my experiments and she uses their dyes.

However, this led me right into this weekend's rookie mistake.
That beautiful blue yarn is made in part with Blue 2R, a dye made by Earth Guild. I have been using this lovely dye for a decade. I love it. Why would I abandon it?

I started dyeing the blues for the next tapestry late last week. As I began measuring the dyes for the first eight colors, I started to panic a little bit because the jar was almost empty. Searching through my two small boxes of dye powders, I realized there was no new jar.

No. New. Jar.

Then I remembered the aforementioned clearly delusional decision to stop using Earth Guild dyes.

I realized I had enough for the eight colors, and thought, oh great, I'm going to make it!
Only to remember that I had nine more blues to go for this piece and there was no way any other dye could be substituted.

And this was all I had left.
Thankfully Earth Guild was fast. Yesterday this little box was on my doorstep and I'm off to dye the rest of the blue.
In penance I promise to continue to use Earth Guild's Blue 2R for all eternity... or at least until another delusion steps in.

Thanks Earth Guild.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Yarny things including sheep, antique knitting patterns, and bagpipes

Last week I had the pleasure of hearing Franklin Habit speak at The Loopy Ewe's Spring Fling. Nope, I wasn't a Flinger (how do you join that club?) and though I sat about 10 feet from Franklin which gave me plenty of time to contemplate whether hipster garb would work for me (I think not), I did not see the Yarn Harlot, my hero. I saw evidence in photographs that she was around, but I did not find her. I am pleased to say that Franklin was an excellent substitute.

Franklin was wonderful in fact. His talk was about antique knitting patterns. He promised at the beginning that he would get us interested in this particular rabbit hole of knitting lore and he almost succeeded in my case.
I did go home and buy his book, It Itches. It is a hilarious collection of cartoons and thoughts about knitting and definitely worth a read.

And he finished off with a lovely night cap pattern. What an enchanting evening, complete with pocket watch.
Fast forward to last weekend...

Saturdays are a good time to run errands--especially when your errands include two yarn stores, one of which is having a fleece day.

Somehow I wasn't surprised when I pulled into the parking lot of The Recycled Lamb and heard a bagpipe. Bagpipes mean Scotland and Scotland means sheep and well, there weren't any sheep on the lawn of the shop, but there were goats and alpaca and plenty of sheep fleeces.
I drove down for the fleece day to find fiber for a project I want to do this summer. Alas, I have been spoiled by Maggie Casey and the fleeces she gets from Sheep Feather's Farm. Nothing I saw could compare and I'm going to have to somehow bribe either Maggie or the owner of the farm, Robin Phillips for one of those gorgeous corriedale fleeces.
The Lamb has many classrooms and they always have classes going on. This one was ready for a spinning class. I bumped into the knitting teacher from my two-at-a-time-toe-up sock class a few months ago and was happy to be able to say that I am just finishing the ribbing of my first pair of socks knit this way.
And the Lamb still had a few of Sarah Swett's How to Weave a Bag on a Box. If you can't get one from them, you can get them HERE. You're welcome.

Yarn-y things.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tapestry process. Design. Dye. Sample. Repeat.

This month I'm working on a design and color palette for a commission. Since having goals and deadlines on a calendar has proved to be a good way to keep myself from frittering away days "playing with yarn", my plan is to start weaving this piece in May. Since May is pretty much tomorrow, I'm hoping to find a wrinkle in time long about Thursday.

While I wait for the client approval on the colors (let's not think about what might happen if they don't like them), I'll show you the process thus far.

After the discussions about design and approval of a preliminary cartoon, I started some sample dyeing. They loved the colors of two of my Emergence series pieces and I started with those.

Dyeing in quart jars is a favorite thing of mine. I like it because I can have 8 new colors per pot in just a few hours instead of eight colors in a whole day. Of course the limitation is the amount of yarn you can fit in a quart jar and with the size pieces I weave, amounts call for bigger pots.

I showed you some of my first colors in THIS post last week.
Here are some of them skeined up waiting for the ball winder.
And after their meeting with the ball winder.
After finishing all of these, I was not happy with the main color for the piece--the deep red-violet in the center above. It seemed too black. In my digging in my yarn samples I found a small ball of the original color from the earlier piece that the clients liked and remembered that one of the dye books I was using back then used a different black formula. So I altered the amount of black and tried again. Perfect.

I wove a sampler showing both of these colors for the client. It turned out so cute I wished I could keep it! The weaving to the left is for the client, the one to the right is a sample for my reference.
I did the finishing, admittedly while watching Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown Sunday night. Gave her a little steam, stitched her up...
...and there you have it.

The old red-violet with more black is on the bottom, the one with less black at the top.
A priority mail box was filled and I was off to the post office.

After the client sees the woven and yarn samples, we get to repeat the process. Hopefully this time with full quantities of yarn.