Tuesday, September 25, 2012

String Theory and yarnbombing Taos

I was passing through Taos yesterday and stopped at the new yarn shop. Yeah! New Yarn Shop!!! Ever since Taos Sunflower closed many many years ago (I know Martie, it was a good decision for you, but your shop was so great), Taos has been without a welcoming yarn shop where they let me pet the yarn and maybe take a few skeins home with me.

I heard rumors about the new yarn shop a few weeks ago. The name is fantastic: String Theory. The shop is still small and they are carrying mostly local yarn at the moment. But they will branch out and create fiber community and it will be fun and lovely. I'm sure of it.

These people are seriously funny. Check out their About page on their website. I met Guinevere who was sitting on one of the inviting leather couches in the shop knitting a bikini for a parking meter. And I already knew Alex from Weaving Southwest, a rug-weaving career cut too short. Anyone who invents a holster for rug shuttles definitely has potential in the weaving community. Alex is fantastic and I hope he gets his own loom and keeps weaving rugs. In the meantime he is apparently a genius crochet-er.

I have in my head an image of Alex standing at one of these Rio Grande looms at Weaving Southwest with big rag shuttles stuck in his pockets. But I can't find the photo. Perhaps I never really took it.

I do realize that my obsession with yarn shops is not exactly natural for a tapestry weaver. After all, most yarn shops are trying to sell to knitters who feel pretty good about a 4 oz skein of yarn costing north of $18. But for a weaver of large tapestries, that is a pretty high price tag considering the distance 4 oz will take you. I think yarn stores are my comfort food. They have beautiful skeins of yarn that have such potential all shiny in their wrappers. And knitting is easy. It is relaxing. It doesn't carry expectations with it (art, financial success, beauty, shows...).

Taos plaza was yarnbombed this week. I learned about it on Facebook (where else?) and was happy to have an opportunity to see it for myself. Here are a few shots of this ongoing project. I think it will be up through Taos Wool Festival.

I love these little guys on the wrought-iron railings.

And this is my favorite. Breath In. Breathe Out. Move On.
I am interested to see the bikini-wearing parking meters.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Knitting at altitude

Yesterday turned out to be quite a day. My goals when I got up consisted mostly of completing some fiber-related tasks and perhaps getting some exercise. I didn't get quite the fiber-related things done that I wanted to, but I did pack some knitting on our little excursion. Since it was such a gorgeous day, we decided to hike Windy Peak in the South San Juans not far from where we live. On the way I even lucked out and found the circular 16 inch, #7 knitting needles I needed for the project of the day. This may not sound so amazing, but it is virtually impossible to buy knitting needles in the San Luis Valley on a Tuesday. Thankfully the owner of the quilt shop in Monte Vista (Shades, Quilts, and Etc.) is smart enough to stock a whole line of knitting needles even though it is clear she doesn't knit herself and it appears that her customers are all quilters.

After watching some cranes (the sandhills are back in the valley briefly on their way to New Mexico for the winter) and slowing down for a coyote crossing the road... and an hour drive up a rocky road in my Volkswagen Golf, we reached the trailhead. Not 15 minutes into the hike we saw this beautiful black bear.

 Made my day. And I was glad he was looking for berries, not my sandwich.

A wooly friend left this on the fence on the way to the top.
Up we went and eventually made it to the top of Windy Peak which is something shortish for Colorado, but still a respectable 12,600 feet elevation. And as it was a gorgeous day, at the top I had the opportunity to sit in the sun awhile and knit on this little hat.

It is blue and red for a Mississippi baby. (I'm told these are Ole Miss colors. I may need some independent verification on that.) At any rate, they go well with the brilliant aspens.
Looking east across the San Luis Valley which was covered in haze. I'm looking straight at a string of 14,000 foot peaks but can't see them through the smudge. I haven't figured out which forest fires this brown air is from.
South San Juans and Conejos Peak from the top of Windy Peak
I love being on the top of the world. It also makes you feel like you went somewhere when your car is a tiny dot far far away.

And it also makes me feel great enough that I don't even feel guilty being up there on a Tuesday.

The aspens are all changing. Fall is here and winter is coming soon. If we have to have winter, may we have a lot of snow, a lot of yarn, some new knitted hats, and a few new tapestries to show for it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Shannock Tapestry Loom of James Koehler For Sale

James Koehler was my mentor for about six years before he passed away unexpectedly in March of 2011. Shortly before his death he was experimenting with weaving on a vertical loom again and bought himself a beautiful eight foot Shannock tapestry loom (100 inch weaving width). The new owner of his studio would like to sell this loom and I am helping her do so.

 My prior blog post about this loom can be seen HERE. There is a downloadable PDF on my website HERE.
The loom is a gorgeous Shannock loom. James modified the standard Shannock raddle by having a special tray welded which holds a reed for better spacing of the warp threads.
James Koehler, opening of Interwoven Traditions in Erfurt, Germany, Sept 2010. Photo: John Hamish Appleby
James' yarn wall, Santa Fe, NM
James at his book signing, Convergence 2010, Albuquerque, NM
James was a wonderful teacher and an acclaimed tapestry artist. His work is known all over the world. This is the last one of his looms for sale. Beyond who the prior owner was, it is an exceptional piece of weaving machinery. The owner is asking $6000.

Please let me know if you are interested in this loom. I will send you a PDF with further details about it. Feel free to contact me with further questions.
James Koehler; Rhythms of Nature III

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Inkle weaving... and an inkle loom for sale

I have a beautiful little Schacht inkle loom that I need to sell. Actually I have two of them. One I am keeping as I use it to weave little things and sometimes for therapy. But I don't need two of them, so this one is looking for a new home. $40 plus shipping.

Here is one of my little weaving kids weaving on my loom. Alas she soon lost interest. Such is the way with the special education kids I work with. Sometime I'll bring some kind of loom they can weave a picture on.

And here is what I tend to do with my inkle loom (if I'm not using it for kids to weave on)... you can weave all kinds of important things on this little loom. This particular band was a proposal of matrimony. Yes, I take commissions! :)

Note 9/19/12: The inkle loom has sold, but if you have a dusty one in your closet, dust it off and teach a kid to weave something on it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


It is raining. I know in my heart of hearts that it is snowing at 10,000 feet and 11,000 feet and 12,000 feet and likely any feet higher than that. And it is snowing hard. I know this in the depths of my hiker bones and I am so very sad about it. I know we need the snow and the snowpack has to start sometime and the sooner the better, but I was still hoping to get up high and feel the above-timberline rush from the high Colorado mountains this year. My brother-in-law and four friends headed up high today for a climb of Kit Carson peak--one of the gnarly 14ers I won't attempt because I'm either chicken or smart enough to know that I am a klutz and when the guidebook says that the hike requires hand-over-hand scrambling up scree and significant exposure (a climbing term meaning you'd better not be afraid of heights), I had better not attempt it. He sent a photo a few hours ago of snow on the rocks. They're camping at 12,000 feet tonight and I can't wait to see the photo of the tent buried in snow.

I keep looking out at the rain and the dye shed in the backyard remembering the yarn prepped for dyeing this afternoon. Starting the dye pots at 5pm in the rain just seems foolish, so I'm going to make muffins and skein some yarn and when I get good and ready I'm going to work on that little tapestry. She is going to be ever so sweet and hopefully lead to a new experiment in weaving for me.

So the answer is that fall doesn't really exist in the high arid regions of southern Colorado. We have lovely summer, then it gets a little cooler for about two seconds, and then it snows. Today we hit the snow, though I will try hard to pretend for a little while longer that the -20 degree (F) temperatures are not going to happen. But the propane guy was just here to fill our tank and since we left the plastic on the windows from last winter, I guess we're ready.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tapestry workshop looms

I have been teaching workshops in a variety of places recently, to guilds, conferences, and smaller shops. Each has their own challenge in terms of looms.  I frequently get questions when posting photos of student looms on my blog. People want to know what others are using and why. Here are my feeling about tapestry looms for workshops. Keep in mind, these are just my opinions and you undoubtedly have your own reasons for what you use... as does every tapestry teacher out there. When I am in my own studio, I weave tapestry on a Harrisville rug loom. Most of us have a small loom we use for carting about and those are the looms I want to talk about.

A tapestry loom has to hold a high tension. A loom you are working on in a workshop is no exception. If you start with a poor tool, you won't be encouraged by your results and won't want to continue working in tapestry. Using a good loom to learn on is important. Tension is one of the biggest issues.

Rigid heddle looms: My issue with most rigid heddle looms is that, in my experience, most of them do not hold a good tension. The shedding device (the rigid heddle) works fine for weaving tapestry, but the tensioning mechanism is usually poor. Many of these looms have a "beam" on each side which just doesn't tighten enough. That said, I have had a couple rigid heddle looms in my classes that worked far better than I expected them to.

Table Looms: I used to have a LeClerc Dorothy loom which my grandmother gave me. It was meant for weaving fabric and actually had 8 harnesses. The beams were tiny though and I couldn't ever get it tight enough for tapestry. I have found that most table looms have this problem. I have seen looms that do work fairly well for tapestry in this category. In the Michigan (Michigan League of Handweaver's Conference) class I taught this summer, one of the students makes looms with her husband and their table loom was not only beautiful, it worked quite well for tapestry. You can see Bruce and Ann Niemi's looms at www.kessenichlooms.com.

A loom that a blog-reader recently asked me about was the LeClerc Penelope II. This link is to a vendor's website. LeClerc has a website but it is exceedingly clumsy (so go to that link at your own risk--you have to download PDFs to see what they sell, though LeClerc does make excellent looms). I have never seen one of these looms in person, but from this photo and the description, I feel that this is basically a table loom tipped upright for weaving tapestry. If you've tried it, let me know!

Archie Brennan pipe looms: These looms show up at almost every workshop and if you want to make your own loom, I recommend the design. Archie has offered the design for these looms for a long time. Here is a link to a place you can order one disassembled or get diagrams for making one.
Archie Brennan pipe loom diagrams.
These looms are made of copper pipe and use threaded rods for a tension device. People use various methods for standing them including Tommye's solution here. I have seen people use inexpensive painters easels also to hold the loom. Of course some people just lay them on their lap and against a table (perhaps not the best ergonomic solution however).
Photo Source: Tommye Scanlin's blog
Another tapestry weaving friend of mine, Jane Hoffman, makes her own copper pipe looms and has made her own shedding device so she doesn't have to use leashes or pick a shed.

The loom below is one that a student brought to the last workshop I taught. The loom is not labeled. Does anyone know what it is or who makes it? It had a beam system for tensioning, though the teeth on the beams were large and I didn't feel like it got a tight enough tension. It used leashes for shedding. The advantage of a loom like this is that you can put on a long continuous warp.

I don't work for Mirrix, but for my money, it has become the best tapestry loom out there that you buy ready to weave on. These looms are pretty much bomb-proof, super sturdy, infinitely tightenable (if you don't loose that little wrench they send with it--seriously, keep track of that!), and come in a wide variety of sizes. I believe Elena and Claudia originally designed this loom for beading, but it quickly became apparent that tapestry weavers were going to love it. The shedding mechanism is easy to install and works smoothly. You can put on a warp that wraps around the loom and rotate it for more length. It uses a spring at the top (and now at the bottom if you choose) to space the warp evenly (yes, you need to take the spring at the bottom out after you have woven a few inches so that you can advance your work).

This is the tightening tool for a Mirrix loom. It is extremely handy and you should not lose it... though I'm sure you could buy another if you did.
I recently read this blog post by Janette Meetze about a recent tapetsry workshop she taught. I looked at her photos and realized everyone in her class was using a Mirrix. I emailed her and turns out she has a stash of them that she uses for teaching. It is an interesting idea to have a set of little looms for teaching beginners. Of course my current house/studio combination being quite small, I think my partner might have my head if I decided to invest in a fleet of new looms. Perhaps one day though.

What workshop loom do you like to use?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Salida Fiber Festival

Yesterday, though I had to work at my "moonlighting" job in the morning, I was free by noon and took a trip to Salida with my family for the first annual Salida Fiber Festival.

 Brooks Farm Yarn from Lancaster, TX was there. I always see them at the Taos Wool Festival and in the past I have succumbed to their beautiful wool and silk blends. I went back three times, fingered the yarn, imagined what great things I could knit with it, and believe it or not? I didn't buy any. I couldn't. I already have a couple skeins in the closet waiting to be knitted and the stash couldn't hold any more. Maybe if I get it out and knit fast I can get some in Taos in a few weeks.

 Woods Canyon Woodworks, the makers of the cactus flower loom were there. I have never used one of these looms, but I have had students who have and really like them. One day I will buy one and try it myself.
 Salida is a wonderful but small mountain town about an hour and a half north of where I currently live (Alamosa, CO). I didn't have high expectations for the first year of a new fiber festival, but it was a wonderful event with a lot of vendors and many people buying yarn. I think they'll be back next year!

This is my favorite store in Salida, Fringe. Penny carries yarn, fabric, and a lot of very cool fun stuff. Her booth was fun too.

 Lots of fiber...

And people spinning...
 But sadly, no animals to pet. Penny says next year.
They did have a wine/beer garden and a vendor selling deep-fried things that smelled heavenly but were decidedly not gluten free.

Here is my niece being supervised by my brother-in-law and checking out a Schacht loom for sale. She didn't quite seem interested enough in the loom for my taste, but she is only 7 months old. And later at Amicas while I was eating gluten free pizza, she was playing with the tie on her bootie in such a way that I am SURE she is going to be interested in fiber.

After the festival we climbed to this great waterfall in the Collegiates. We earned that pizza!  (Though the flourless chocolate cake might have been a little over the top.)

Today I did not get any weaving done either. Instead, I went south and hiked to Duck Lake. I didn't see any ducks, but did see a lot of cows. The lake was beautiful and all the hiking this week has made me feel a little better about the changing leaves.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The need for cupholders

Some days Emily suggests that I get a mini-van. This suggestion seems to be coming more frequently these days. I think it has to do mostly with looms and the transport there-of, though I'm not completely certain about this. It might be that she is just fed up with my little manual transmission Volkswagen Golf. She (the car) is 13 years old now and just turned over 234,000 miles. She has a few issues. The air conditioner is touch and go. As we currently live at high altitude in Colorado I am toughing that one out until next summer (just in case). The antennae for the radio fell off years ago which can get a little frustrating when the only station that comes in is that station that I'm sure teenagers love but I'm just too old for... or Focus on the Family radio. They must have strong signals because NPR NEVER comes in. The locks pretty much don't work (until they do and I set the car alarm off), and the squirter on the back window has emptied the contents of the washer fluid reservoir onto the ground when you turn it on accidentally for about a decade.

The very worst problem though is that the cupholder broke. This happened a few months ago spilling a large soda all over my lap. And I ask you in all seriousness, what good is a car without a cupholder?

So the mini-van isn't a horrible idea, though I have always reserved them in my mind for soccer moms. I completely understand why if you have four kids you need a car with a big side door that opens magically with a remote keychain, a flat floor that is easier to vacuum the cheerios off of, and a long distance to the backseat so you don't get hit in the back of the head quite as often by flying bits of soccer gear. After all, minivans get relatively good gas mileage considering how large they are, they have seats that come out resulting in a large cargo area with a flat floor which would be great for looms, yarn, and other weaving-related items. The slider doors would be fantastic for accessing the tubs of teaching materials or the wet dog, and if I got a newer one, I bet it would have a cupholder. What I'm worried about is that a minivan is definitely not cool for a young(ish) artist... but then is weaving tapestry really cool anyway? Maybe it is a lost cause.

At any rate, this is what is happening in the Southwestern USA right now...

The Hatch green chili is out in huge burlap bags in the grocery store parking lots. And the chili roasters are going ALL the time.

I hiked up to twelve thousand some feet on Sunday and was disturbed to find this:
I know I go through this every year and every year it is traumatic to me. My list of hikes to be completed this year is hardly touched and the snow will fly within the month most likely. The high country will be inaccessible to me by Thanksgiving (no, I don't want to heli-ski or learn to telemark). But winter brings it's own time of growth and I will soon be looking forward to the spring again. Plus the changing leaves are very pretty.

And I am still dyeing yarn.
Sometimes in the rain. (Yes, this yarn is white. It was drying after scouring a large batch. It will be colored soon enough.)

But the best news is that I was able to start a new tapestry yesterday. It turns out I don't hate the LeClerc tapestry loom as much as I thought I would and the little tapestry is coming along nicely. It is so good to weave again. Since I just took a new part-time job in which I have to drive a fair amount, lets hope that (1) the Volkswagen doesn't shit the biscuit, (2) the job is enjoyable and leaves me more time for weaving *it should*, and (3) I figure out a way to fix the cupholder because I am really going to need it.