Sunday, May 31, 2015

The little black dress

I had the opportunity on Thursday evening to be at the opening dinner at the Denver Art Museum for the new tapestry exhibition, Creative Crossroads: The Art of Tapestry which opens today.

The invitation came with the ominous words, cocktail attire. If you know me, you know that if I can't wear "yoga pants," I am most comfortable in blue jeans. I am definitely not someone who pulls off fancy dress easily.

Though I was very excited to be invited to the event, I did put off thinking about what I might wear until Thursday morning. I rummaged in the depths of my closet and found three skirts and four dresses.

I know. I was surprised by the numbers too.

After much debate and a long back and forth between the long printed skirt with boots I really wanted to wear and the little black dress with shoulder straps and a lowish back from my sister's wedding, the black dress won. It seemed to best fit the definition of "cocktail attire" I had in my mind (largely gleaned from movies and not necessarily accurately either considering The Royal Tenenbaums is one of my favorites).

My sister has been married long enough to build a house, two businesses, and two children since the wedding, so you know that dress has been around awhile. And it still fit.

The problem was the undergarments. I have no idea what I wore at the original event, but no bra in my drawer was going to work with that dress. So, two hours before we had to leave for Denver, I found myself at Macys in the bra department pawing through the never-before-experienced land under the strapless sign. I muttered something about how monumentally uncomfortable these seemed to be and the perky young clerk said, "that is the price we have to pay for being women!" I coughed to cover the "bulls***" that involuntarily escaped. I have no problem with blue jeans and cotton pullovers which never ever require a bra without straps. I was going a long way out on a limb in the name of tapestry here and I definitely don't think being a woman should require wearing uncomfortable clothing.

I grabbed the best one and ran when she suggested I try the contraption she wore for her prom, a set of cups that apparently you just stick to your breasts with adhesive. A woman who just went to her high school prom might well get away with something like this, but let me tell you, once that big Four-Oh rolls on by, the girls get a little more saggy and there is no way a stick-on "bra" is going to fly.

The evening went quite well. (Except perhaps for that moment when the tiny purple carrot was a little harder than my butter knife-technique could handle and went shooting into my lap and onto the floor.)

The tapestry show is stunning. I only had an hour to look at it and I will return soon for the full experience.
James Koehler, Ramona Sakiestewa, Rebecca Bluestone in Creative Crossroads at the Denver Art Museum
I was invited to this event because I was interviewed on video about my time working with James Koehler with fellow Koehler-student Barb Brophy. One of his pieces is in the DAM collection and this exhibition. You can watch the video on an iPad near the work.

The event was also a sendoff for the amazing Alice Zrebiec who was textile curator there for 19 years.
Alice Zrebiec and Irvin Trujillo. Irvin is talking about one of the two pieces he has in the show. (second one not pictured)
Alice's dissertation which I ordered a month ago was on the porch on Friday. Evening reading... check.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Color theory for tapestry -- the fun part is messing around with yarn

Though I have been telling people that I have been having a great time playing with yarn and working through color exercises for an upcoming Color Theory for Tapestry class, the truth actually is that I've been trying to figure out how much will fit into two suitcases and a carry-on. The three very different workshops at Michigan League of Handweavers Conference call for fairly different supplies and whatever I can't fit into my allotted two bags, I have to ship. I could, of course, fly with another checked bag, but I will tell you right now that this is absolutely all I can manage alone in two airports at 6 am.

This was the answer to how much to ship (in re-used HD boxes no less--I figured if they could stand up to 40 pounds of yarn cones, they could handle 20 pounds of balled yarn and Hokett looms).
I pretty much just gave up at the end and shoved as much as I could in these two boxes and hope the people who needed looms told me they did already. My suitcases will only hold a few more. Now that that bridge has been crossed I can go back to weaving my samples and reading about color.

Though I have scaled back on how much yarn dyeing I do for workshops, I do feel that a greyscale is important and that I have to make myself. I haven't found a commercially dyed grayscale that doesn't have an undertone of some other color. The Harrisville Designs grayscale is pretty good, but the yarns are heathered and I want solid colors.

So a lot of this got dyed over the last week.
Eventually I lose my grip on the rest of the world and you can find me out in the garage, perhaps having pulled on a dye-proof shirt, just after rolling out of bed something like this:
7 am tapestry yarn dyeing
The call of the dye pots is a weird and constant thing. Fortunately for me and the status of the house and studio, the last four pots are cooling right now and I can return to weaving more samples.

Here is one sample I've now finished having to do with simultaneous contrast. Yes, those two center red-violets are the exact same color.
And all these adorable little balls of yarn are for the student exercises. Aren't they the cutest thing?
Some of the most fun I've had is weaving samples from different tapestry yarns. One of the most-asked questions by people just getting started in tapestry is about weft yarn. I've collected many different ones in the last few years and I'm presenting them in samples and a yarn card in one of my upcoming workshops. *
This is but a few of the examples I'm bringing for them.
They will be able to make their own sample card for reference when they are ordering yarn in the future.

I am endlessly fascinated by color. I love the stories about dyes and the meaning of colors and I love figuring out color combinations that make me smile. And so the stack of color references grows. These are just the ones that were on my desk.
I have one more week before the next workshops and I suspect I'll use most of it savoring these books and learning more about color... though there are those samples to weave. And once I get them woven I'll post more photos here. Many are done but are still on the scattered bunch of Mirrix looms in the studio.

*Because some of you will ask, Introduction to Tapestry at the Michigan League of Handweavers Conference is the lucky bunch who are getting the sample yarn cards. You can thank me June 6th.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

In which the undyed yarn lines itself up on the stairs... and the interminable rain

Things are a little nuts around here, but in a happy, this-is-a-lot-of-fun sort of way. There is nothing better than messing around with yarn and color. Plus I'm not even tempted to take off for a hike in this continuous, incessant, the-sun-is-never-out-anymore rain. (HOW could I complain about that? Maybe the forest won't burn this year. "The rain is lovely", she sobs, hoping for sunshine soon.)

The state of my office and studio has seriously devolved into near-chaos in the last couple weeks. I have started tripping over the stacks of color books on the floor and the other day I spent 20 minutes looking for a color wheel that turned out to be neatly packed in the crate of stuff for the next conference. I'm working on both the presentation and handouts for the color theory class I'm teaching in Michigan in June while making some new samplers and putting together all the little yarn kits for the exercises for the students.
The sticky notes are what hold the whole operation together
In my spare moments I'm churning out some samples. I'll have better photos of these soon. I am reminded how much I don't like weaving tapestry on this little jack loom and wish I had one more Mirrix for these (NO MORE LOOMS!).
Macomber jack loom to the left with tapestry yarn fabric samples and the Mirrix to the right will soon have an complimentary color sample on it.
If my big Macomber in the living room weren't doing such a good job holding the drying yarn (note rain problem), I would use that.
The guest room has become the yarn staging area. (Who am I kidding. We don't have a guest room. That is yarn storage and video-shooting central.)
And the planning of exercises and lectures continues.
And, looking toward some needed dyeing, there are some car/garage questions.
Not only is my elderly car shedding paint at an alarming rate with the added pummeling from the recent relentless perpetual ceaseless rain, but I discovered when I opened the back hatch to load some groceries this morning that the gasket is leaking and the amount of water in the back end of the car is somewhat more than might be acceptable even to me. That said, the old car gets a garage space for the next week while I use the other side for a short run of dyeing.

I will be mostly dyeing the grayscale. Turns out you really can't buy a good grayscale anywhere in tapestry yarn. The colors all have undertones or are heathered. I'm dyeing as much as my biggest pots will take for all those upcoming color classes. That means many days of dyeing but only a couple pots a day. I've used the stairs to the basement to sort things and I'm afraid I'm going to slip and increase the number of scars on my face left from the last tumble down the stairs (which, to my credit, was caused by my dog, not my lack of coordination). I might get blood on the yarn. I think I better get started.
Mezoff yarn sorting area and backpacking equipment storage
Emily just threatened to get tiny goats to eat the jungle that is the back yard (due to the eternal rain I might have mentioned before).
At least the stairs are carpeted.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Nacktschnecke... plus the best yarn photos of the week

It has been raining here in northern Colorado. I grew up in the land of sunshine. I expect Colorado offer up 300+ days a year of the stuff. It has been raining for weeks. Now don't get me wrong. The water is wonderful and my worries about all the forests burning down this summer have decreased drastically, though the worry about flooding has increased proportionally. Clearly I have a long-standing habit of worrying about things I can't do anything about. We are currently simultaneously under a Flood Warning, Winter Storm Watch, and Flash Flood Warning. It is supposed to snow later, so it seems reasonable to just stay home today. The family in the SUV stuffed with camping gear towing a pop-up trailer that just drove by by is going to wish they were sitting on the couch knitting and reading books about color as well.

It is so wet that as I was drinking my tea yesterday morning staring out the slider at the rain, I noticed a little visitor on the other side of the glass.
Nacktschnecke is one of the only words I remember from the brief German tutorials we enjoyed while visiting Erfurt from my friend and colleague Conni Theimer Gardella. I remember because schnecken means something like cinnamon roll which looks like a snail which is schnecke and nacktschnecke is naked snail which is a slug. I think my learning of the German language is pretty hopeless in general, but if I applied myself in just this way, perhaps I could learn some of it. Really I just need to know all the words for my favorite foods, some pleasantries for idle conversation, and all the words for yarn and weaving.

Yarn, weaving, and textiles being the most important things in my current sphere, here are some yarn photos I shot during a brief break in the rain Wednesday.
Yarn is Harrisville Highland by Harrisville Designs
I had the blessing of a friend coming to help me skein yarn yesterday. I was unreasonably, undeniably excited about this. She saved me three hours at the skein winder and seemed to have a great time. I hope she comes back. She is also originally from Germany so maybe if I bribe her with some schnecken?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The value of it all.

Value. I suppose we most often think of that word as referring to what something is worth. But in my world of yarn and dye pots, it mostly means how light or dark a color is. 

We talked a lot about value in the Color Gradation Techniques class I taught last week in Golden, Colorado. This flower was on the porch of the shop and one of the students pointed out what a lovely color gradation it represented. I am pretty sure I couldn't create this with the colors on my shelf, but I think dyeing them might be an upcoming challenge.

I enjoy teaching classes more and more. Either that or this group of people was just extra special. Or maybe every group is extra special. I'm not sure. We had a small class and they were really interested in exploring color gradation ideas and creating effects with the techniques. (Ha! That is probably  why I enjoyed it so much--they were listening!)

When I start seeing things like the photos below, I know we're in for a good time (or that Judy is as crazy organized as I am when it comes to color. It is all about the masking tape.)
Here are a few more photos from the workshop.
And here is a photo of a transparency that Judy did. Her idea came from Josef Albers' book, Interaction of Color. She added a purple to blue gradation on the edges. The bars in the center get lighter, but the red and the edges of the gray bars don't change even though they appear to. Also note the double color gradation in the Greek Key design: greyscale while the background is moving blue to purple.
It is mostly about the value, though being able to tell orange from green is also helpful.

From some of the lovely yarn shelves at the Recycled Lamb...

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Tapestry weft yarn debates and that wheeze in the freezer...

The freezer is doing that weird little barely audible rasp which sounds alternately like the ghost of a bird caught in the ice machine and your grandpa's nose whistle. The sound has become familiar over the last couple days and I have embraced it as white noise.

I'm camped out at a mid-level hotel in Golden, Colorado this week while I teach a class at The Recycled Lamb.

SIX things thrilled me today.
1. The sirachi-flavored turkey on my sandwich was not an abomination as I feared, but tasted quite zingy.
2. My students are absolutely churning out some fantastic color gradation studies. They are innovative, learn quickly, and are having fun.
3. Sweet potato pecan gluten free pancakes are fantastic and I may have to return to Blue Sky Cafe for breakfast again tomorrow.
4. The corner liquor store does carry corkscrews and a trip to a big box store was not required.
5. When you start playing with color in weaving, you learn not only about what weft yarns work in certain situations but how to mix colors to achieve various effects including transparency. By "you" I mean the students in the class. (More on this weft yarn debate thing in an upcoming post.)

And the BEST thing was reading this review of my online tapestry techniques class by the one and only Bhakti Ziek. It literally thrilled me to tears.

If you don't know, Bhakti is a celebrated fiber artist who works in many techniques but is well known for her digital jacquard weaving. Getting this kind of marvelous feedback from someone of her experience and skill is a lovely moment indeed. Just for one example, take a look at THIS commission she did for Princeton University called Stardust.

I like staying at this hotel on the edge of Golden. I love watching people learn how to move color around a surface they are creating in wool. And I love, as we all do, when I hear appreciation for something that has taken a huge amount of dedication and effort. It is a good day.

Bhakti's blog post is HERE.