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.

Monday, April 25, 2016

That moment when you know you know what you know

Ever had that moment when you knew you nailed it? When you had the skill, understood what was happening, anticipated results, made it work?

What does it mean to say you're a professional anyway? I don't know if the answer is the same in every profession. Probably not.

When I was an occupational therapist I pretty much knew that if I could manage to keep a head injured combative man from punching me, transfer a 150 pound quadriplegic by myself, and not break down in tears when I had to clock out and still had two hours of paperwork to do at the rehab hospital all in the same day, I was a professional... or at least had done it long enough to avoid the tears part.

Later in my career when I got smarter and left rehab, I did things like help moms learn to facilitate movement in their low-tone babies, teach calming techniques to grandmothers of drug-exposed infants who screamed all day long (those women are going to heaven, no questions asked), and get an autistic kid to follow a one-step command with a smile (!!!). Professional.

But what does it mean when you work in your studio which is in your house and you wear your home pants* most of the time and some days you feel that if you don't at least get to the grocery store so you can chat up the employees (always pick your checker carefully on those days) you might go a little crazy. I think being a professional artist has many definitions. I saw it just a moment ago when I went out to the garage dye studio to give the yarn on the stove a poke and knew just by the feel of it that it would come to temperature in about 40 minutes, that the dye was taking up evenly, and that it was going to be a perfect hand-dye.
I get the same feeling at the loom fairly often. It is just something in your gut that knows that that curve isn't going to look right unless you add one more sequence or take the corner off that step or change that color in the weft bundle for one bit of hot pink. The fingers that know I've missed a warp thread and have started to take the pick out lest I cause a float before my brain recognizes what I'm doing.

Is that just the definition of practice? Or is there some way to actually quantify what a professional in the field of art is?

I'm not really sure that I should be calling myself a professional here... after all, we haven't decided on a definition and didn't your conservative Christian elementary school teach you not to toot your own horn like mind did? But I feel pretty good about using the word today. Even if I am wearing my home pants.*
*home pants. What you call the yoga pants that are really just a half step up from pajamas because it isn't right to wear pajamas all the time.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dyeing in the sunshine, NO WAIT!... snow

Oh Colorado in April. How we do love your sense of humor.
One day I'm dyeing a pink gradation in 70-degree sunshine. The next, I'm cooling my jars in the snow.

I am deep into the dye sampling for a new project. I've spent the last week finalizing the design and talking to the clients about colors... and frankly, reassuring them that I would dye beautiful colors since my computer graphic skills are admittedly poor. The mock-up looked a little like I used spray-paint on the side of a train car perhaps while high on acid. (Don't worry Mom, I just made that up. I've never spray-painted a train car.)

I really love doing the dye sampling. I can test out 8 colors per pot which makes me feel rich at the end of the day. It takes forever to set those pots up, but all those colors are done at once. Unfortunately I can only dye about 30g in a quart jar so the amounts for the full tapestry will have to be done one pot at a time.

And here are the adorable little skeins. This gradation was one I had done before but it has been awhile, so I wanted to make sure I still liked the colors. 

For this project I'm going to need to do some sampling to send to the client for final color approval (see spray-painting on acid above), so having small samples was necessary anyway. This one came out great on the first try. No modifications (that never happens).

One of my Instagram followers asked me about dye sample books. I use three different dye sample resources. The first is my own books created as I dye. Every time I do a dye run I write down the formula for each color on a piece of card stock and put a piece of the yarn next to it. Simple, but effective.
I have two other books. One is by Ginny Phillips. I love this book and have used it heavily for a long time. Ginny is no longer selling these books and I doubt you'd be able to find one anywhere. I now keep mine in a locked fire safe, so don't think you're going to find it!

The other resource which you can access is by Deb Menz and Sara Lamb. They produce a set of dye sample books which you can find on Deb's website. They are called Color by Number. Yes, they seem expensive at first glance, but think about the time it takes to dye hundreds and hundreds of colors and then loop each piece of yarn through holes on card stock printed with the formulas. Just doing the initial research for these books makes it incredible that they even exist. This is a priceless resource if you are a dyer. The only other way to get this information is to dye all these colors yourself. 

Oh, and in case you were still worried about my tax day fun, it turned out okay. Well, the bottom line wasn't fun, but the taxes did get done and submitted on time. Whew.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Be prepared!

Obviously I never qualified to be a boy scout, but my father was one and I grew up with this motto running through the back of my head.

It means that I carry tire chains in my car in the winter.
I have back-up water treatment and a warm jacket in my backpack when in the mountains.
When on my way to a meeting that might cause anxiety (or boredom) of any kind, I grab my knitting.
And my carry-on bag always has an extra pair of underwear, a drop spindle, and a good book. You never know when an overnight at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport is in the cards.

Be prepared.

This tendency also means that I like to have my taxes done not hours, not days, but weeks ahead of time. I just feel better having the last year all buttoned up and put to bed.

You might imagine I was less than thrilled to get an email from my accountant at 7:43 this morning, the very day taxes are due, asking for the password to my Quickbooks account. She has been particularly difficult to get ahold of and I have an appointment in an hour (!) to sign the return. I'm afraid I'm zero for two in the accountant category in our new city. I'm tempted to go back to the CPA I had in Santa Fe.

Some people pull stuff off marvelously at the last minute. I'm keeping an open mind... sort of.

After I survive the most anxiety-producing meeting of the year (I would bring knitting but she only scheduled me 15 minutes, so what would be the point?), I'm back to working on my dye samples.

This commission is due in the fall. I am going to be prepared.

As for the accountant, I'm reasonably sure it'll work out. I do suspect without an extension it is a wee bit late to find a new one for the 2015 tax year though. 

UPDATE: For those of you who have expressed concern about my struggles with business accounting, it worked out okay. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to jail and the CPA pulled through at the last minute. The consolation was that she charged me less than half of what the guy did last year and he was not a CPA.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Dye sample books. Just do it.

I have enough yarn for another big tapestry.
I know this because I just spent all afternoon organizing it and making dye reference cards.

Let me back up.

I finished a big piece a few weeks ago. I know there are many of you waiting to see a photo of it, but you'll have to wait a little longer. I'm still doing the finishing and then it has to take a trip to a very busy photographer.

In the meantime I'm busy dyeing samples for the next piece. I have to make room in the studio for the new set of yarn and so it was time to pack up the yarn from the Lifeline piece. It had migrated into every corner. I gathered it all together and organized it, thanking myself for taking the time to write the dye formula on every ball as I was winding them last year. This will allow me to use this yarn for another piece. There is plenty! (honestly, maybe two pieces. big ones.)
Had I not written the formulas on every ball, I might not be able to tell which gradation they went with and would be much less likely to use the yarn in another piece despite all the work that went into dyeing it. Odd balls without the rest of the set quickly make their way to tapestry workshops to be used by students. Not a bad outcome, but why not use all these great gradations again?

It ended up being 90 colors plus another handful of accent colors pulled off the shelf.

Ninety colors is the number I dyed for that piece.


Each color is dyed in its own pot and each pot takes several hours start to finish. As I was making the color cards I started fantasizing about how wonderful it would be to just order a truckload of yarn from Weavers Bazaar all dyed up and ready to weave. But I fear my process would be missing something vital if I didn't dye my own yarn. For whatever reason, it is what I do.

As a dyer, one of the most important resources you can create for yourself is a file of yarn samples with the dye formulas used to get them. Sometimes it can take many days of sampling in jars to come up with the colors I really want. To have to repeat that work again because I didn't take a few hours to cut pieces of the yarn and write down the formulas would be silly.

So the afternoon found me on the floor of the studio cataloging the yarn for my sample books.

I make a set of cards for each dye project which is usually for a for a tapestry, though sometimes for a workshop I'm teaching. I simply write the formula and depth of shade next to a hole punched on cardstock and put a generous piece of that yarn through the hole. These cards go in a three-ring binder. These binders along with the dye sample books of Ginny Phillips and Deb Menz/Sara Lamb are indispensable resources when planning colors for a new tapestry.

I'm in the middle of dye sampling for a new piece. Stay tuned for more photos of those gradations.

Now the question is, where am I going to store this yarn until I am ready to do a piece in these colors again? My yarn shelf is almost full. I suspect the student workshop yarn is going to get relegated to boxes. Sssshhhh, they'll never know.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Breaking News: Tapestry artist thwarts hoarding nature to discover priceless drawing

Okay, so the drawing wasn't really priceless, just fervently searched for.

Let me back up a little bit.

I am currently working on a commission and the client really loves a couple of my Emergence series pieces and wants some elements from them in her piece. As you can imagine, designing the new piece with those elements is far easier if you have the original drawings.

That was where I thought my "save everything" nature would help me out. The problem? When you save everything, there is so much stuff that it is hard to find what is really important.

I knew where the dye formulas were. I had them in hand in about a minute. Score!

Next I went downstairs to look for the full-sized cartoons. I knew that I hadn't thrown them out, though I was sorely tempted, when I packed up my Santa Fe studio. I also knew they were in a couple long skinny boxes. Found and found. Two minutes for both the paper line drawing and the acetate upside down weaving copy.
But what I really needed was the smaller original drawings. The ones I could copy and modify for the new work. The new piece is about twenty percent larger than the piece I am sourcing the large forms from, so I needed the originals so that I could reposition pieces of the puzzle and then let FedEx Office do the work of the full-size cartoon.

Searched my one flat-file shelf downstairs. Found some cool stuff I had forgotten about, but no Emergence drawings. I put on some shoes and crawled under the stairs where we have some boxes full of things we'll "never need"... after climbing under tubs of stored yarn and sifting through the empty boxes (stored for the next inevitable move), I realized the drawings weren't going to surface.

At that point I gave up. I sat down to re-create the new cartoon from scratch.

But wait! The term "flat file" jogged something in the back of my brain. I remembered an old plastic file box that was shoved in the back of my closet that had received some papers in the Santa Fe move. After moving a good quantity of spinning fiber, I opened the box and right in the middle was a lovely file labeled "Emergence series". Bingo. The drawing I needed was at the back of that file.
Maybe that hoarding nature isn't so bad. What I really need is organization... and a flat file?
I'm off to draw a cartoon. Dyeing by the end of the week if the client likes it!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Teaching an old art form in an inner city Detroit alternative high school... whoot!

Last week I went to Detroit for two purposes. The first is a secret. The second was a day teaching weaving in an alternative high school. My cousin, Mrs. McNeece, is the art teacher there.

From fairly "short" TSA lines at Denver International Airport, I jumped right into my cousin's car at Detroit Wayne-County and she motioned to the box of 94 cardboard looms in the back seat and said, "Start warping."
We did finish warping all of those looms that evening and they were ready to go for her five sections of art the next day.
Wagon of looms
And who is going to turn down an invitation to be a guest artist in a room full of teenagers for a whole day?
Now to be honest, I'm not the best with teenagers. They move quickly, their behavior is erratic, and they are big. But this lot turned out to be rather enchanting. These kids have been sent to this alternative high school for extra help and support. And many of them are thriving here.
My cousin's husband warned me that morning that I might learn some new swear words. I didn't, but there were a few phrases that definitely needed some translation. For example Duane's, "That shit lows [low key] is hard." I am pretty sure that he meant both that it was hard to do the weaving and that he nailed it. He made one of the best weavings of the day, so we're going with that interpretation.

This is Randall. By the last hour of the day, I was a little fried. This had little to do with the kids and more with a whole day of trying to navigate a new and frankly rather feisty environment. Randall jumped into this weaving project with gusto. Despite the chaos that was last period, he figured out that over-under pattern in short order.
Many of these kids have some motor planning issues and none of them had done any weaving before. I was really impressed at how almost all of them jumped into the project. A few of them even filled their looms in the hour.
And the hero of it all was their art teacher, Molly McNeece. She pushes these kids every day. She teaches them responsibility and how to follow through. She also teaches them about art and that they too can be successful at making things. That knowledge translates to other things in their lives. She often has graduates come back and tell her that her insistence that they do their work was the thing that got them to (and through!) college. That folks, is the definition of success. It does not come without a price. These teachers don't get many breaks and usually when they do, they use them to help whatever kid is in crisis that day. We won't even mention what they are paid, but believe me, it should be at least doubled. Mrs. McNeece's room is a place they can be successful and the kids gravitate to it.
And while I was in Detroit, I spent some marvelous time with my oldest friend. We met in preschool, were college roommates, and still like each other all these decades later.
I also got to snuggle with a couple Rottweilers and hang out with my marvelous cousins, goofiness and all.
Top left clockwise: Me and Tulip; breakfast at sunrise cafe with Molly and Ella; the amazing Bill, master of the double nose-flute; clay faces made by Molly's students; me teaching weaving; center: CJ, the big-hearted beagle.

This is the only hint you're going to get about my first reason for the trip.
Molly McNeece is an illustrator who just published her second book. The first was an amazing digital book called Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse which she created with her husband, Alex McNeece. If you have an iPad or iPhone, you're going to want to get this book. It is sort of a choose-your-own adventure zombie romp and the illustrations are amazing. (Also, it is currently priced at $1.99.) It is so cleverly done. Make sure to look for the extra hidden illustrations. Her new book is Joshua and Jasmine go to Kindergarten, published by Nelson publishing. It will be released any day now. Make sure to visit Molly's website HERE.

"Yo! McNeece!"

Monday, April 4, 2016

People who knit at breakfast

I was at YarnFest in Loveland, Colorado this week. I just pulled out my camera and downloaded my photos only to find I took only a few. But you're in luck because I did apparently take more with my cell phone.

This happens at a conference. I am so focused on making sure that my teaching materials are prepared and that I haven't forgotten something important (like that connector cord from the Mac computer to the digital projector... most important piece of equipment ever).

I was thrilled to be teaching at a venue that was just down the highway a bit from my home and studio. Interweave did a great job putting this on.

I did a lot of prep for this conference... including making looms.
Kathe Todd-Hooker has instructions for this loom in her book, Tapestry 101.

And warping many looms for the Tapestry Answers class...

Putting together exercises and packing it all into the car...

There is the arrival and finding the teaching room...

And the unpacking of all the stuff early the next morning before the students arrive. And then welcoming everyone to a fun-filled day of tapestry experiences.

Ten points if you can tell me who my surprise student was in the Color class (I was secretly thrilled and a little terrified)... of course the points aren't redeemable for anything, but we like to get points here in America.

I only had time for one quick run through the vendor hall, and the most shocking thing is that I purchased nothing. I dare say had I felt a little less pressed for time, that shawl pattern and a few skeins of yak would have come home with me.

This particular hotel had a manger's reception each night. I did manage to sit long enough to have a glass of wine before heading to the Yarn Along on Friday.

I did get to hear Clara Parkes speak on Saturday night and that was marvelous. I stayed up a little too late one night reading her new book, Knitlandia. It starts in Taos, NM and how could I not keep reading?

I did a wee bit of knitting at breakfast one day. There were people with knitting and crocheting and spinning wheels everywhere. These were my people... People Who Knit At Breakfast.

I met a few new instructors and many new fiber enthusiasts. I had time to talk to some editors from Interweave and catch up with a few old friends.
Rebecca Mezoff, Emergence IV