Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Convergence Exhaustion!

Returned home from Convergence on Saturday afternoon and my brain is just now beginning to function again.  This is a conference of fiber artists sponsored by the Handweavers Guild of America every two years.  In addition to a fashion show, tours, speakers, and exhibits, the main attraction for me is a variety of classes on all kinds of topics.

First I have to say a few words about the conference in general.  I have to acknowledge that it is hard work to organize a conference.  Been there, done that.  And it's expensive to rent space, buy supplies, pay staff, etc.  But this year it seemed a bit pricey  and disjointed.

Classes were held in three different locations.  Not a good start.  Instead of one large location where people gathered between events, we were spread all over.  The food services in the conference center were ridiculous.  $4 for a bottle of soda?  Seriously?  Not the HGA's fault, but this type of thing should be considered when choosing a location.

The vendor hall was a slight disappointment.  Not the vendors' fault.  But times are changing and since it's so easy to purchase anything you need over the internet, anything you buy at a conference has to be rare enough or enough of a bargain that you're willing to cart it home.  I think with so many people having to tighten their belts, there were fewer shoppers than could support such a large marketplace.  I would hate to see the vendor hall end, but it does need to evolve.  Since I was driving and getting purchases home wasn't a big issue, I did buy a couple of pounds of reasonably priced roving and some Firestar to use for blended batts.  And some socks with sheep.  Every weaver and spinner should have socks with sheep, right?

 Final gripe before I get down off my soapbox:  the fashion show.  After the Albuquerque show two years ago, I had really high expectations for this year's show.  What a disappointment.  The lighting was bad, the slides crediting the artists were out of synch, and the staging...  Oh, my.  I applaud the organizers for using models of all shapes and sizes.  It's refreshing to see real clothing on real women.  But there is simply no place in a fashion show for visible panty lines.  Most of the models were in black leggings that were far too small (plus one memorable spandex or perhaps wetsuit fabric garment).  Would it have been that hard to provide the models with slacks and tanks that fit well?  I know there is a trend toward tight clothing, but please, let's showcase the artists' garments - not the hindquarters of the models.    I have to say that if my weaving was of a caliber to be featured in a show, I would think twice before trusting the Convergence people to stage my work.

Down off soapbox.  Nonetheless, I had a wonderful time at Convergence.  Met a lot of new people and had a chance to spend time with friends.  And two of three classes were fabulous. 

I took a two-day workshop called Machine Knitting to Dye For, taught by Nancy Roberts.  There were only five students in the class, so we got a lot of individual instruction and whenever someone had a potential disaster (which happens a lot with beginning machine knitters), Nancy was right there to rescue us.  The basic concept is that you use a knitting machine to make blanks in the basic shape and size of the finished garment you want to make.  Then you dye the fabric, unravel it, and knit it by hand or machine into your final garment.  Theoretically, you get more control over the placement of color. And you can get longer repeats of color than you would when space-dyeing yarn.

Nancy brought a lot of sample of her work.

Then we got down to work with the machines.  After just a few minutes of instruction we were making blanks for sampling.  Even with blunders, it was so much fun and so fast knitting with the machine that I had made up my mind before we broke for lunch to buy the machine I was working on.  This is a Silver Reed LK150, an entry-level machine that does basic stockinette knitting.   It also has optional carriages for Fair Isle and Intarsia knitting, which, of course, came home with me.  Like I need any more hobbies.  But I have wanted to use a knitting machine ever since Mom had one in the sixties (which, incidentally, never worked),  This will give me a chance to use up some of the yarn in my stash that I would never weave with. Give me a few more minutes and I will come up with yet more rationalizations for having bought another gadget.

 By the end of the day, we had each made three "sampler" blanks, plus blanks for the project of our choice.  I decided to try the project shown on the magazine cover in the topmost photo of Nancy's samples.  I even had time to knit three more large blanks just for playing with different color combinations.  The blue yarn in these blanks is "waste" yarn for starting and ending the blanks (and sometimes dividing sections).  It won't end up in the finished product.

On day two of class, we started working with dyes.  Nancy presented a simple method of calculating the amount of liquid and proportion of different dye colors for a given piece of fabric by weight, and we made these samples.  The blue on the right here was supposed to be a lesson in controlling the intensity of a single color.  I had a little issue actually getting the whole stripe colored, but lesson learned.  The others were methods of transitioning between two separate colors (browns on the left) and three separate colors (reds and purples on the right).  By the time we got to the three color sample I was getting a handle on painting the stripes.

Finally, we had to choose our own color combinations and paint our blanks.  I started with the blue and green piece on the left below.  Was supposed to be purple transitioning to teal but I didn't like the first set of colors I made and by the time I finished fiddling with them, there was not so much purple.  I took a lot of time painting the stripes.  Even though the colors naturally bleed from one section to another, for some reason they don't like to seep into the dividing rows, which are simply knit with a looser tension.  So there is quite a bit of undyed or very lightly dyed yarn in my fabric, which I actually like.  By the time I got to the second blank, we were running out of time, so I very quickly made up four colors by blending different proportions of red with yellow and slopped the dye on my blank.  And I loved the result.    Next step will be to unravel the blanks and then knit them into the bag.  That's going to be a while.

Mid-conference I had to move to a different hotel.  That was fun.  Had to move out of the Travelodge in the morning and couldn't check in at the Marriott until late that afternoon.  Thanks to Gail and Kathleen for sheltering Big Tom in their room so I didn't have to leave him unattended in my car all day.  (For those who don't already know about Tom, he's my drum carder.)

My second class was in adding electric components to "wearable" art.  Basically, we stitched circuits between a battery holder and some LED lights using silver-coated thread.  When the battery is inserted into the holder, the LEDs light up.   I tried to use a resistor and a light sensor in my project, but they did not allow enough current through to light all three LCDs so I settled for an always-on design where you have to remove the battery to turn off the circuit.  The idea has potential but I wish we had learned more about the different components and basic formulas for figuring out how much load to put on a battery and using resistors properly.

The Clutch Without Battery
Battery Inserted

My last class was Weaving on a Bow Loom, taught by  Marilyn Romatka .  This technique is featured in her book,  Creative Crafts of the World.  This is done in Thailand but has been found in earlier aboriginal cultures as well.  Marilyn was an entertaining and engaging teacher, and I would take another class from her in a heartbeat.  This is a very simple technique that could be taught to children, and the equipment and supplies can be extremely reasonable.  For the loom, a dowel, two paper clips, a piece of fairly sturdy foam, and some electrical tape are all that's required.  For the warp - whatever string or thread you choose, beads if desired, and two more paper clips to hook it to the bow.  And for the weft, again, whatever string or thread.  You are limited to a fairly narrow band of fabric, but the sky's the limit when it comes to colors and bead placement.  The bottom photo here shows of the "bridge" made of foam, that holds the unused beads out of the way and keeps the warp threads in order.

After class, I made one final round of the vendor hall, visited with a couple of friends, and made my way home.   Sat down in my chair with Tallulah and took a three-hour nap.  Woke up long enough to take a shower and another nap till bedtime.  Went to bed, slept till six, got up, and took another nap.  All told, I think I pretty much slept for 24 hours and was still tired.  Good thing I don't have this much fun all the time!

Added 3/5/13:  I gave myself Marilyn's book for Christmas and have been thoroughly enjoying it.   In addition to bow loom weaving, it includes quite a few other folk arts that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.  I've been using Marilyn's book as a guide to teaching the bow loom  as an introduction to basic weaving concepts and it works!  Other crafts include aboriginal dot painting, Viking knitting (aka wire weaving), Huichol beading, natural dyes, weaving on a simple home-made loom, baumschmuck, paper stars, block printing, Pysanky, dreamcatchers, wet felting, twining, Maasai beading, and dragon boats.  I bought this book for my own enjoyment, but encourage anyone who wants to introduce crafts to their children (or grandchildren) to start here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Abby Franquemont Saved My Relationship With Big Tom

I met some superstars of the fiber arts world this week...

Last weekend, I took a couple of classes with Abby Franquemont, author of Respect the Spindle.  Friday's class was on drum carded art batts.  Incredible!  I took my Big Tom drum carder and  in the course of a few hours our relationship changed entirely.  Abby enabled me to overcome Tom's attempts to intimidate me.  As much of an equipment junkie as I am, it was exciting to be in a roomful of all different models of carders.

Just a Few of the Drum Carders at Class
 We experimented with many different types of fibers.  Using different breeds of wool as a base, we added silk, alpaca, rayon from bamboo, firestar, hemp, and even some camel down.  It was pretty exciting to have these smooth and beautifully colored batts coming from Tom after just a couple of minor adjustments in speed and drum position. In the interest of time, we worked with pretty small amounts of fiber, so the batts turned out the size of rovings. 
Tom's First Batt of the Day
Abby Calls This "Yarn Porn"

 The class was so much fun and so inspiring, I packed Big Tom and brought him to Convergence with me this week.  Tonight he has been busy carding alpaca -- after making the licker in go a little slower and the big drum go a little faster, I'm getting the batts I was hoping for.  So far Tom and I have created six batts of approx. .6 ounces each.

But that's not the end of my Abby story.  On Sunday morning, I took another of her classes on spindle spinning for beginners.  I took it mainly out of curiosity, but she made me totally want to learn to use this tool effectively.  First of all, if you have ever seen one of her youtube videos, or better yet, her DVD verson of Respect the Spindle, you know that she is an incredible spinner.  I h.ave never seen anyone who can walk around and spin while talking the way she does.

In the beginner class, we obviously couldn't get that far, but we learned several basic spinning techniques -- enough that I can at least use a spindle now for sampling even if I don't yet have the skills to produce any significant amount of yarn.

Soapbox time:  Sorry I sound like a broken record, but I have to say, if you EVER have a chance to take a class from Abby or any other well-known fiber artist, DO IT!  I love it that spinning and weaving are still relatively niche arts, so our superstars are accessible.  And so far everyone I've had the good fortune to  study with has been incredibly down to earth.  Abby is extremely articulate and funny.  And has a wealth of stories to share.

Stepping down off soapbox now.

Spindle and Yarn from Sunday Workshop
So I came to Convergence with a car full of equipment:  Big Tom, a huge bag of washed alpaca, some beast waste, old silk thread that I'm going to shred and add to some batts, Bunny Watson and her accessories, a box of beads, fishing line, glue, and assorted items.  Oh, and a few articles of clothing.  Begrudging the space they took in the car.

I had planned to come down Monday morning, but had to go in to work for a few hours first.  While talking on the phone with a colleague, I pulled out my hotel reservation confirmation and realized that I had reserved Sunday-Friday instead of Monday-Saturday!  Still trying to figure out how I managed that one.  I hope I excused myself but I have a bad feeling that my adrenaline rush when I realized my mistake caused me to hang up abruptly.

Of course, my reservation had been canceled when I didn't show up.  After I begged and groveled for a few minutes, the hotel clerk took pity and gave me a room for just Monday - Wednesday nights.  Figuring I could commute from home the rest of the week if I really HAD to, I took it.  It was only after I checked in and paid for all three nights (non-refundable) that I though to try priceline.com.  For Thursday and Friday nights, I was able to get a room at a better hotel for just $10 more per night -- and less than the conference rate.  Hunh?   I'll have to move to a new hotel Thursday but it's better than having to commute.  Next conference I go to, though, I'm going to stay in the hotel nearest the conference location and check priceline before taking the conference rate!

I have a bad habit of misplacing my orifice threader, so I've been promising myself to make some and stash them wherever I usually spin.  Since I had a few quiet hours yesterday afternoon, I got out the beads and made twenty of them!  I used 50# test fishing line.  Cut pieces 12 - 16 inches in length, folded them in half and pinched to put in a permanent bend, slid on 2-3 beads, put jewelry glue on the cut ends of the fishing line, then slid the beads down to the ends.   They took only a few seconds to set up enough to stick without holding, and were completely dry overnight.  No more paper-clip orifice hooks for me!  Well, at least for the next week or two.

So today was my first day at Convergence!  I had so much fun volunteering in the vendor hall at Albuquerque, I went down this morning and volunteered to help with setup.  Spent a couple of hours helping vendors carry stuff from the loading dock to their booths, and got to talk with several superstar vendors. First, I met Henry Clemes and his son.  My first hand carders way back in the eighties were from Clemes & Clemes.  What a nice man, and so interesting.  He's just come out with a blending board that I saw on Sunday and that looks pretty interesting.  I'll have to stay away from his booth this week or my budget will be blown!

I also met Morgaine Wilder from Carolina Homespun.  We had been unloading her truck (with all kinds of tempting fibers and equipment) for half an hour before we thought to introduce ourselves. She carries lots of fibers I haven't had a chance to try yet. Can't wait to visit her booth tomorrow! 

Things got slow in the vendor hall, so I walked down to the Aquarium of the Pacific and wandered around for a couple of hours.  Saw a 4-D cartoon starring an anthropomorphic and politically correct turtle.  The fourth dimension turned out to be mostly fog and water sprayed from the ceiling at tactical moments.  But pretty cute film, nonetheless. 

I overcame my squeamishness enough to touch a jellyfish in one of the aquarium's "touching" exhibits.  To tell the truth, I didn't feel anything but the moisture in the tank.  I also got to pet a ray in one of the shark encounter tanks.  It felt like a wet rubber brush with really short nubs.  Could have petted a shark but I wasn't willing to stick my arm in the tank all the way to the elbow.

Back to the vendor hall, and spent the afternoon helping at the HGA booth.  If you notice the sock rack, yours truly and another volunteer priced and hung (hanged?) all those socks!

Vendor Hall in Progress

While today was great, the real fun starts tomorrow!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

TdF, Days 7-8. A Fractured Fractal and Navajo Ply!

 Two great spinning days!

Finished my second project I call “Fractured Fractals.” I used separate rovings in red, gold, and creamy white. Broke the red and gold into two separate pieces each, the white into four. Alternated red, white, gold, white. Divided each one in two lengthwise, so I had two sets of eight pieces each. Spun one set “as is,” divided the other set in two again, giving me sixteen pieces, and spun those in the same R-W-G-W order.

The red and gold pieces were the hardest to draft that I’ve done, and I really struggled to get a consistent thickness. When I got to the white bits, drafting was so easy I got a little sloppy. Even so, I’m pretty pleased with the result and after a break to spin somethings non-fractal, I’m going to make another skein of this. Already have enough of all three colors and might as well get them out of my stash.  Got 96 yards out of this set.

I had quite a bit on my “short” singles bobbin from the tropical fractals set -- so I use the Navajo ply technique on it. This is where you take a singles, attach it to the lead on your bobbin forming a loop, then chain by hand - similar to the way you would make a crochet chain stitch.  The result is a three-ply yarn.  If you watch your singles carefully, you can control your color changes so you don't get barber-poles (see the closeup above for an example) if you don't want them.

The first time I tried to Navajo ply, I failed miserably and thought I wouldn't ever try that again. But this time it was incredibly easy and I actually enjoyed using the technique. After finishing, I have 63 yards of this yarn.  And  I like the result much better than the two-ply fractal skein I finished a couple of days ago.  Plus I think this is my best spinning to date.

This whole thing has been a very good lesson for me in envisioning how the spinning and plying methods used will create quite different results.

The icing on the cake was being able to go to my guild meeting this afternoon.  My friend Carol hosted it in her home and we worked on our projects while overlooking her reflecting pool and outdoor dining room.  A few hours to relax with friends, and enjoy a beautiful day.  It's the simple things like this that make life good.

Bunny Watson Enjoying the View

I started a new braid of fiber at Carol's - this is a merino called "Burning Bright" from Edgewood Garden Studios on etsy. You can see a little bit already spun on the photo above.  Think I will Navajo ply this one too!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tour de Fleece, Days 4-5 I Finish a Skein!

Sometimes I don't mind waking up before the alarm goes off.

Tuesday morning I did some fantasy treadmill walking -- in Holbrook, Arizona.  Because it's very, very flat!  And still had a couple of hours before I had to leave for work.

Finished my first skein of fractal spinning - 200 yards!

The two singles:  Smaller bits on the left, larger ones on the right...


Moving to Thor's reel...

It's all on the reel now...

Washed and all done!

Phew!  On the one hand, I'm pretty proud of the result.  Although it's still uneven, it's much better than my last yarn.  On the other, I pretty much hate the result.  It reminds me of the string they use in those cheap drawstring bags.  Know the ones I mean?

I took it to class Wednesday night and got mixed reactions.  Most of the people reacted like I did.   A couple of them actually LIKED it.  A lot.  I guess there's no accounting for taste.

On to my next project.  I'm calling this one "Fractured Fractals."  Instead of using a space-dyed roving, I selected three solid colors of Merino - red, gold, and cream.  Yes, I know I droned on in my last post about how much I hate predominantly yellow shades, but my school colors happen to be cardinal and gold.  So loyalty won out over personal preference.

I decided to alternate the red and gold with the cream, so I broke the red and gold into two pieces each, and the cream into four.  The repeat will be R-C-G-C..  Split each of those pieces in half lengthwise, and set half of those aside.  The other half I split into four pieces, so there will be two repeats on the first set and eight repeats on the second one.

Pre-drafted the first big red piece.   Not good.  Maybe it's felted a little, or maybe I was just having a bad day, but it felt like the fibers just didn't want to separate.  Finally got it loosened up enough to spin, I thought.  But spinning was just as difficult.  I kept having to stop to draft and also had lots of breaks.  Decided to give myself the rest of the day off -- it was Independence Day, after all.

I may go back and unspin what I did, and try carding it to see if I can loosen up the fibers.  Or shove the whole thing back in the roving bin and work on something else!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tour de Fleece, Day 3

In today's episode of "Where in the World is Bunny Watson," I practiced threaditation and actually reached yarnvana.   And learned a little about how colors affect my nervous system, I think.

At work today, I took Bunny for a stroll, looking for a quiet and shady outdoor place to spin.  No such thing around here!  But I did find a tiny shady corner in a sunny courtyard.  The sides and other corners of the courtyard were packed with chattering (mostly) students.  In my little spot there was just enough room for Bunny and me to sit together companionably.

So I began spinning, and after a few minutes fiddling with speed and tension, I was able to settle down and focus on a consistent yarn.  After a few minutes, I suddenly realize that everything around me has become crystal clear, but separated from me and my little world.  I don't feel any of the aches and pains left over from yesterday's dance lessons.   The conversations around me that were just a cacophony, have separated into distinct voices, and the tinkle of the courtyard's fountain is magnified.  I feel like even my vision is affected -- everything is bright and in sharp focus.  I could get used to this.

Then I notice that the clarity fades in and out as the colors I'm spinning change.  The experience is the sharpest when I'm spinning the purple shades.  Still good as they move through blue, beginning to lose focus going through the green shade, and pretty much out of the zone when I hit the yellow.  Start to relax again at orange, getting more focus at pink, then back in the zone at purple.  I realize that while I pretty much despise orange, my real aversion is to colors that have a predominance of yellow.  Except in flowers and plants.  Is this just because I look awful in yellow tones?  Not really.  This dates all the way back to my childhood, because I can remember not liking the yellow and orange M&Ms.  I remember eating them in order from my least favorites, the two brown ones (those don't count because they're not colors on my personal color wheel), then the orange and yellow, and finally the really good ones, green and then red.  There were no blue m's back then -- as much as I like blue, on a little hard-shelled candy it's just wrong.

This sends me in search of information about color aversion.  As usual, theories abound on the internet.  Some say yellow aversion is a symptom of autism.  Hmm....   A color therapy site tells me that I'm disappointed and bitter, and that I tend to form shallow relationships because of my fear of being hurt.  Another site tells me I may be xanthophobic.  There's even an online test to determine how badly my aversion to yellow may be affecting my life and a home study program to help me recover from it.

Sorry, folks, but this time I think the cigar is just a cigar.  Daffodils, yes.  Raincoats, no.  Lemons, yes.  Housepaint, no.  Yellow is just one of those colors that should occur only in nature.

Yes, I'm rambling, but since I'm the only one who actually reads my blog, 100% of my readership agree that this is ok.

Back to the adventures of Bunny and Me...   When the sun consumes all the shade in my little corner of the courtyard, I suddenly know that it's time to go.  I look down and realize that I have spun up all but the last three colors of the last repeat of this roving.  Wouldn't you know it, two of the colors are yellow and orange.

Here's Bunny on location.  That's kind of a hint but a bit of a stretch.  Not telling exactly where, but that's a statue of Douglas Fairbanks in the center of the photo.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tour de Fleece, Day 2

Second day of the tour, and I enjoyed another vacation from housework!

This morning I finished the third of the four smaller pieces for the fractal spinning.

 Decided to give myself a break and start the big piece on another bobbin.  Finished about a third of it.

Comparing the two bobbins, it's easy to see that there will definitely be some interesting color mixing.  You can see bits of all the different colors in the top photo.  But in the bottom photo, you can see only the last three or so colors spun.  I'm looking forward to seeing the results when these two are plied.

On the fitness challenge side, we took Bunny Watson with us to the lounge at the Bowlium, where we teach a West Coast class every Sunday.  We've just added a half-hour to the lesson specifically for woyking on the basics, and tonight we stayed an extra half hour to let the class practice what they've been learning -- so I got in about an hour more than usual.  Bunny only got to spin a tiny bit while there, but at least she was present while we worked.

Here's Bunny relaxing while we get ready to dance.  No dancers wanted to appear in the photo.

  Today I started using a new battery I bought from Amazon.com -- the Anker Astro3.  It weighs 11 ounces, compared to the 15 ounces of the blue battery I got from a Chinese ebay seller.  It comes with plugs for powering all kinds of phones and small personal electronics -- so maybe I won't be running around with a dead iPhone at the most inconvenient times.  One other advantage to the Anker is that the connecting wires are not fixed to the battery. I worry that the two wires coming out of the blue battery are going to get bent or broken, and then the whole battery is useless.

Comparing the Footprints of the Two Batteries

I had the Anker battery going for several hours.  I ran out of steam before it could, so I can’t say how long the battery life is, but it’s far more than one average day of spinning for me.  And being as obsessive about being prepared as I am, I just ordered a second one.   Next time we have a power outage, I'll still have my phone and my eSpinner.  What else does a girl need?

Don't answer that!