Sunday, August 25, 2013

Barn Burned Down

I sold a piece in a show in Colorado recently. I actually am quite fond of this piece. It was inspired by a specific moment when I was in Austria in 2010. I was hiking up a mountain and there was an old barn next to the trail. I peered through the slats in the barn and could see the sunlight coming through the other side and making patterns. One day much later as I was working on some tapestry designs, I started thinking about the barn and about a haiku that I like a great deal.

The poem is by Mizuta Masahide, a 17th-century Japanese poet.
Barn's burnt down --
I can see the moon.
For many reasons, this poem has been helpful to me over the years. I think it is mostly a reminder that things change and simplification, even when it seems catastrophic, can lead to better things.

Here is the tapestry. It is called Barn Burned Down (Now I can See the Moon).
Barn Burned Down (Now I Can See The Moon), 5 x 17 inches, hand-dyed wool tapestry
It was bought by a tapestry artist who I respect a great deal. I am happy to think of it being enjoyed by him for years to come.

That piece had a companion piece called (Barn Burned Down) Now I can see the Moon. I don't recommend ever naming two piece with the same words in the same order with only parenthesis as a distinction. I submitted both of the pieces to the show and it was hard for me to figure out which one actually got in! And you can see that if you go to my website which has the names reversed. Perhaps it doesn't matter that much as both tapestries were about the burning and I have yet to weave one about the moon. Perhaps that should be up next on my list.
(Barn Burned Down) Now I Can See the Moon, 5 x 17 inches, hand-dyed wool tapestry
The show was a special event in itself. The link to the show information, Woven Together: Firestorm,  is HERE. There are photos of the show near the bottom of the page in a slideshow. The show was a response to the 2012 fire season in Colorado which was catastrophic to say the least. Fire is a reality we live with more and more in the western USA. We have had years of drought and lots of beetle-killed forests. Things burn fast and hot. People die fighting the fires. Hundreds or thousands of homes are lost in many fires every year.

By the way, I accidentally set the second tapestry on end in my studio one day and a student said she liked it that way. I think I do also. What do you think?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Weft yarn recommendations for tapestry

The tapestry technique book that I recommend to all my students is Kathe Todd-Hooker's Tapestry 101. Kathe is a brilliant woman and knows her way around tapestry. The book is packed with information. I was rather amused to hear from one of these students that in this book which I recommend frequently, Kathe specifically does not recommend the weft yarn that I have used in all my tapestries for a decade. On page 28 she talks about yarns NOT to use for weft and the two she lists are Nehalem/Willamette yarns and Harrisville yarns. I have no familiarity with the first yarn, but I have used Harrisville yarns in Shetland, Highland, and a singles yarn they spin for me since I started weaving tapestry in 2005.

After visiting the mill and having some students use the Harrisville yarns that come on cones, I do understand her comment in the book (p 28). She says
Harrisville yarns look great on the ball or cone, but the colours grey out when beaten into the tapestry and when combined in the weft bundle. This is probably because they are spun in the grease and are very tweedy looking.
Harrisville yarns are spun from dyed fleece. See my lengthy post on my recent visit to the Harrisville spinning mill HERE for photos and more information. The yarn comes to the mill in 500 pound bales of pre-dyed fleece like this:
They mix the different colors to get their yarn and, as Kathe suggests, they do indeed look very heathered. I like this textured look in tapestry and it is partially why I dye my own yarn as hand-dyed yarns tend to be slightly uneven in color. The Harrisville yarns are not uneven, but the mixing of colors in the carding process does create a yarn that does not look like a solid color.

In this instance, you have to remember your color theory and consider what happens with yarn and color which is very different than paint and color. These yarns are made by mixing pre-dyed fleece. The varied effect in the yarn from doing this is very engaging, but it does affect the vibrancy of the color. If you look at the color cards at the end of the post, you can see that the colors are all somewhat muted. When you mix these already-muted colors of yarn with other already-muted colors of yarn, depending on the hues and values involved, you really can create a very subdued palette. Consider what you want to achieve and choose your yarn accordingly.

I buy Harrisville yarns in white and dye them myself. But at my recent workshop, I was able to try out some of their colors. What struck me was the difference in the feel of the yarn. The fleece has been cleaned when it arrives at the mill and in the picking process (see video HERE), some oil is added back into the yarn to help with the spinning. The yarn is never washed again. So what you get on the cones still contains a fair amount of oil. The yarn is much flatter and doesn't really resemble the fluffy, beautiful yarn that I use (which does, after all, come from the same mill). If I was going to use their colors, I would skein the yarn and wash it before I put it in a tapestry. This would restore the loft and it would also mean that your finished tapestry didn't have that oil in it which may be an attractant to bugs. Harrisville Designs actually recommends washing your piece after weaving to restore the yarn's loft. Of course they are assuming you are weaving cloth and not tapestry. You would never wash a tapestry in the washing machine or even bathtub, right?

Another option is to buy the yarn in the 3.5 ounce skeins that are sold as knitting yarn. This yarn has been washed and has much more loft right out of the box. I often buy this skeined yarn in white and dye it myself, but I find that I still need to scour it one more time before dyeing or the dye doesn't take evenly.

Harrisville yarns come in 64 colors. The color range is not designed for tapestry and doesn't have much in the way of color gradation. But the colors they do have wove up beautifully. No they are not bright jewel-tone colors, but they are lovely. For example, this student sample was woven completely with Harrisville yarns straight from the cone.
Here are photographs of the Harrisville color card. You can order a card from them. They weave all the yarn samples by hand so they do charge for these cards. But they are beautiful and durable and worth the cost if you are going to be weaving with their yarn.

Happy weaving!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Studio Opening, September 21, 2013

Cornelia Theimer Gardella and I share a studio in the Second Street art district in Santa Fe. We are having a party! We are so pleased to have this studio on Lena Street and we want to invite all of you to our opening from 4-6 pm on September 21st.

We still have some spots in our class, Successful Design for Tapestry the three days after the opening. There is more information about the class on my website HERE.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Santa Fe Indian Market 2013

 This is the first year I've been to Santa Fe's Indian Market. It was kind of nuts. Here is a picture standing at the corner of the plaza looking north up Lincoln street at about 9 am today.

We were fortunate to get tickets to the preview event last night which was also packed, but it we were able to see some of the artwork up close. I especially liked a weaving in the youth division by Amber Laughing. I couldn't find her today or see the piece again (nor did I take a photo), but I loved her use of color gradation and texture techniques like pick and pick in her sky over monument valley piece. I predict she'll be a great weaver!
I recommend a visit to this booth if you get a chance. DY Begay weaves beautiful tapestries inspired by her Navajo heritage and her own designs. Her website has a great sampling of her work at
She is sharing the booth with her two weaving sisters, Berdina Charley and Berdine Begay, also both talented weavers.
There were quite a few weavers and here is a few very finely woven and naturally dyed pieces by Mona, Charlene and Milton Laughing (I am not sure which piece was done by which weaver).

I think this was Emily's favorite part of Indian Market. That corn was really good.

Indian Market is one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, Santa Fe event. The town is busting. Saint Francis Drive is impossible. But it was wonderful to see all the artwork. I was most interested in textiles, but there was stunning pottery, lots of contemporary painting some of which I would have taken home with me if I could have afforded it, some fascinating beadwork, and of course a lot of great people watching. I've never seen so many white men with bolo ties since I left Gallup for college. It was great fun. And I'm really glad I don't live downtown this weekend.

DY Begay

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What happens when you're not paying attention...

Today was a very rare day where there were no appointments on my calendar besides WEAVE. I have taken to writing that in my calendar as well as having reminders pop up randomly that say "Weave Something." I'm not sure it helps at all, but I'm hoping the cumulative effect of having that word drop into my head every day will remind me to say no to most things and sit at the loom. So I rode my bike to the studio and I started to weave.

However, being a person who has a huge load of things to accomplish in the next little bit (does this ever change?), I was trying to finish a continuing education course while weaving. I have to take 20 hours a year of continuing education to keep my occupational therapy license without which I'd probably be living under a bridge somewhere. My license is up for renewal in September. I need some hours. So I was trying to multi-task and listen to a course about feeding aversion in kids with sensory issues while weaving a tapestry. Perhaps this was not the best combination of activities.

About 3 hours into the tapestry and a couple hours after I was done with the course, I realized I had made a mistake. It was one of those mistakes which could completely have slid under the radar, but suddenly I was sure that if I didn't fix it, this was the piece that was going to end up in the Lodz Triennial or certainly in the Smithsonian and I was going to think about that mistake every time I saw it for the rest of my life. So I took it out.

See it? Yes, I thought you would. I didn't put in the eccentric weft outline on the top of that red shape. This is the back of the tapestry and that line looks much smoother on the front, but still... size smoothness matters.
 I ripped it out to here pretty quickly. But to get that triangle out I was going to have to take out a lot of weaving to the left. And I drew the line there. That color gradation was hard to put in and I wasn't so hip on putting the whole thing back again.
So I did this. And it worked! I had to do a little backtrack there to get the sheds to work out, but the needle is my friend.
So I put it all back in and I have to admit that it is better. So when this piece is hanging in the Gerald Peters Gallery in downtown Santa Fe, I don't have to be embarrassed. I wonder if I had been listening to a course on Attention Deficit Disorder if I would have seen it sooner.  Sigh.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I am Bette

Teaching a class of 16 students for 5 days can be fairly intense. Teaching such a class at a place like Harrisville Designs where the studio is open 24 hours a day and the students are weaving as many as 14 of those hours, increases the stakes. Add in a wide range of tapestry experience, and you can understand that I had a week where I didn't sit down at all. But it was fun. And seeing the student work come off the looms on Friday was wonderful.

Friday afternoon I was trying to get straight in my head which of the three Lindas and two Susans in the class were which. I knew their first names, but I wasn't going to be able to attach the first names to their last names when I looked at the class roster and I wanted to be able to do that when I got home. I knew I was tired when I asked one student (and it should be known that I got her name right all week long) which of the Susans she was. She looked at me and said, "I'm not Susan. I'm Bette." I hate it when that happens.

This class was challenging to say the least. Harrisville was a wonderful experience, but these ladies put me through my paces. They were gracious and excited and they worked very very hard. I have taught many classes with beginners and intermediate students at the same time. This was the first time I had so many though. I think the first thing I learned was that I need to make sure that if I'm trying to teach more advanced concepts, the students take a beginning tapestry techniques class (or two) first. Of course it often is helpful for the people who have been weaving tapestry longer to see the techniques I use which aren't necessarily the ones they are using. The more tools in your toolbox the better.

The studio is a great place to work. It is spacious and they have every sort of tool you could want... including a few I had never used before! (See previous blog post Why I love teaching tapestry so much...)
Over the course of this Color Gradation class I was teaching, I always notice that people start to collect little bits of yarn in colorways. This is always a sign they are starting to understand something about moving color.

As the samplers came off the looms on Friday it was wonderful to watch the magic as people turned them over and saw what they had done over the week.
Bette's sampler ended with a great transparency exercise which was extremely successful. She played with which color combinations she needed to use to create the illusion of one rectangle being on top of the next. It took a little re-weaving to find the right colors, but I think she nailed it.
Here are a few other selections from the samplers.
I especially loved the pick and pick on Deborah's.
And look what else you can do with pick and pick if you're Anji!
To give you an idea of the range of students that were in my class, this is Betsy Wing's work. Betsy and I met in the first class I ever took from James Koehler in 2005. I love this piece. To be clear, she didn't weave it in this class. Harrisville asked the students to bring examples of their work, and Betsy brought this.
Susan Middleton has done some amazing work with natural dyeing. I was absolutely in awe of her samples and the photos she brought of this work. Please visit her website here:

The yarn table was decimated. I completely ran out of the grayscale and I had brought an extra 4 ounces of black. Next time I teach this many students in a setting where they can work 24 hours a day, remind me to bring extras of the popular colors. Of course if I do that, I'll run out of something else!

My aunt Mary Lou has taken classes at Harrisville. Before I went she said, "They have yarn there. You're in trouble." I assured her that I knew they had yarn, but that I ordered their yarn for my tapestries and that I wouldn't be buying any while I was there. Apparently she knows me well because I did buy yarn. How could I resist trying Nick Colony's new Watershed? I have a hat by Steven West in mind already.
On the last morning I was in Harrisville I walked to the cemetery. I had previously kayaked by it but I wanted to see who was buried there. I did find the guy who founded Harrisville, Bethuel Harris.
And here is a photo that was taken by Linda Whiting late at night of the old mill, now the weaving studio and Harrisville store, reflected in the canal. Please visit Linda's website at She also does amazing work with fiber.
photo: Linda Whiting
Thanks Harrisville. It was lovely.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Harrisville Yarn Spinning Mill

Last Wednesday was a red letter day. I got to go to the Harrisville Designs (HD) spinning mill. I have been looking forward to this ever since I agreed to teach at HD. I know that makes me a tremendous geek, but I really loved seeing the MacAusland's wool mill Emily and I visited on Prince Edward Island last summer. It is so fascinating to see how yarn is made commercially. And this mill is the one that makes the actual yarn I use in my tapestries. Needless to say I took a ton of photos and video, so here is my little tour of the mill.

We were given the royal treatment by the woman who manages the mill. I asked her what her name was soon after her talk started and when she said Babs, I had to stop myself from exclaiming in delight. What a perfect name. She has worked for Harrisville Designs (HD) for 33 years, since she was 29 years old. She was amazing and clearly knows the process of her mill inside and out. I think it is safe to say that she pretty much runs the place, though Chick Colony, owner of HD might disagree! He says she quits about once a week, but between the two of them they continue to keep the yarn spinning.

The fleece is dyed in Pennsylvania and sent in 500 pound bales to HD for the rest of the processing. This means that the Harrisville yarns are dyed in the fleece and to get the colors they use, they mix the colors from these bales in a big carding machine. This is literally what “dyed in the fleece” means.
500 pound bales waiting to be mixed with other colors
Purple and red fleece mix going into the picker. The yarn goes through here twice.

At the back end of the picker, the wool is sprayed with an oil mixture and then sent up a pipe, shot overhead, and dropped into a bin where it will then go through the picker again or into the carder in the next room.

The front of the carder.

Middle of the carder. (This is one BIG machine--and this mill has two side by side.)

Batt of carded wool coming off the carder.... these thin sheets of wool were so lovely.

Then if I remember correctly, the wool gets carded again.

Then the wool batts get cut by these belts and made into little round strings of roving.

The horizontal orange and green panels you see below shake back and forth and roll the roving into a round shape.

The whole carding machine from the back end looking toward the front.
The rounded roving before it goes to be spun.
Then the fiber can be spun.
This roving is being made into what Babs called a mock twist. It is further spun after this. They can do various numbers of the roving strands to make a thicker or thinner yarn. This machine is doing one strand at a time.
Below is the small carding machine they use to get the yarn mixes correct or to develop new yarns. Nick Colony, the son of the owners, has just developed a new yarn line called Watershed which is beautiful. I will be taking some home to knit with (Don't tell Emily. I am under a strict knitting yarn ban). It is much softer and fluffier than the Highland. Babs talked about how she can take a mix that has been messed up somehow and figure out how to make the correct color by testing things in this carder. This reminds me of how I overdye. You figure out what you have and then what colors you have to add to get where you want to go. Except she is measuring fleece and I am measuring dye.

Babs showing us the color card for Watershed that she made.

The final coning is done on these machines. I think that the yarn is also plyed here, but I am not completely sure. They were not running this when we were there.

I asked how they skein the yarn as I pay quite a bit more per skein to get it this way so I can just retie it and put it in the dyebath and not have to skein it myself. I completely understand why this costs more. The skeiner is a simple concept and they can do 12 at a time. The yarn comes off the cone, runs through some loops and then around what looks like a big warping reel on it's side. Revolutions are counted and at the end the skeins are tied by hand.

This woman was winding tiny little quills of red yarn (see blue arrow at bottom of picture). They do endless numbers of these for the little loom kits they sell. If you wonder why kits are so expensive, I'm here to tell you that it is a tremendous amount of work to divide yarn into little bits to sell as such.
 Washed skeins drying. I have also used this trick with the fans to increase speed of drying.

Of course all the yarn has to be labeled, boxed, and shipped in various quantities. Babs also demonstrated the machine they use to twist the skeins before they can be labeled. This is seen in the video.

Someone sits here and puts the labels on the knitting skeins.

And then they are shipped off to many places. This mill does the Harrisville yarn line as well as several others like Jared Flood.

Here is a video of the process.