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A Studio Story

1. Why & How My Weavings Developed:

  "Loom-Shaped"? What's that?
    This involves history, tradition, and "Sacred Geometry"
  Is this considered a folk art?
       Well, yes. Though weaving has progressed through many conceptual and experimental directions, my weaving still draws from traditional styles and is updated seasonally. Why? See "a" above

2. Ram, Networks & Webs (vignette)
3. A Studio Story

4. Another Studio Story
5. FAQ : Wool Processing, Loom Processing, Dyes

  • Weaving, The Original Fiber Art
  • " Sheep To Shawl" - How does a fiber turn into a yarn, a fabric, a finished piece?
  • Colors/Dyes - natural or otherwise.
           Ever see a blue sheep? When the dyes are out, you never know what they'll get into.
  • Why Natural Fibers? What are they?
  • Questions from the shows (in process)

 "Loom-Shaped?"   Why And How My Weavings Developed
How are weavings shaped on the loom? ~ This involves history, tradition, and "Sacred Geometry" How are weavings "loom-shaped"? This question often comes up with art show patrons and recently sparked additional research. I was intrigued by the relationship of loom-shaped wearables (or tapestries or other pieces) to geometric forms. The quick answer is, it was all we knew. Weaving, one of the first crafts, developed along with pottery. Early humans needed something to shelter their bodies and something to carry their stuff. Fiber was used to make slings for the pots, cover dwelling structures, and weave clothes. Early looms were simple. A forked branch could hold a web of plant or animal fibers, which were interwoven to create a fabric. The early frame-looms created rectangular pieces, which were scrolled into longer and longer pieces, then abutted side by side with other pieces, and expanded yet again into larger pieces - you get the picture. Early cultures were much attuned to the earth and the natural forces around them. What is now called "sacred geometry" recognizes the power of certain shapes, forms and symbols to create an environment, a feeling, or communicate a meaning. These have been passed throughout our world since the beginning of time. Sacred geometry carries natural vibrations of spirit applied to physical matter. This reinforces the values of the cultures that use them in their designs, logos, everything from agricultural or hunting practices to the homes and clothes that shelter them. It's not only the shape, but the proportions - all in perfect ratios. A circle, for example, is used in structures such as the Coliseum, Stonehenge, or the Native American medicine wheel. Pyramids are renown in many cultures, used for food preservation, restorative healing or spiritual regeneration. The "golden rectangle" is a blend of the forward progressing geometry of a spiral and the stabilizing effect of a "magic rectangle". A "magic rectangle" has an exact ratio of 2 x 3 and when turned at right angles to itself and repeated in succeeding, newly turned positions, creates an outward growing spiral. Surface shapes, (painted or woven) incorporated into the structure of a form, developed into rich, symbolic patterns that identified a certain practice, tribe, or direction. In weaving, this is done with more complex looms that lift only certain sets of yarns, creating a row of ovals, diamonds, or a pattern much like raised shadow boxes, or open lace weaves. These "identities" must be meticulously reproduced by master craftsmen, taught to apprentices, secreted within guilds, and passed down through the ages. Examples are Scottish plaids, Navaho rugs, Hexagonal protection plaques, Scandinavian lace. Individual creativity was frowned on and thus began the distinction, or conflict, between art vs. craft. But back to geometry. Loom-shaped" simply means the size and proportions for an individual piece, such as a size medium blouse, is blocked out on the loom first, then created as it is woven. When fabric is cut off the loom, it's not just yardage but a shaped piece. Very little cutting and sewing is needed because the proportions are already there. This makes selveged edges on most seams; thus a more secure blouse with no danger of unraveling. I'm fascinated by the combination of singular shapes into new, multiple ones, creating interesting and functional garments. The traditional styles passed down since the times of the early, simple looms, carries with them the vibrations of sacred geometry. Natural, comfortable, regenerative. They are both practical (the looms were small, portable, and created uniform squares and rectangles with straight edges) and creative. A choli blouse, for example, is made of two pieces, a long rectangle exactly 3 times the width of a smaller square. The bottom corners of the rectangle are folded into a triangle abutting the top edge to form loose, raglan sleeves. This eliminates any seams and sizing in the back while allowing generous arm movement.
The T-Top is similar, but with two squares forming the front and back. No seams at the shoulders again allows freer movement, but with a more conservative, straighter look. And then there's the Quequemetl, and the Cocoon. Large or small cover-ups formed by abutting rectangles.The ratio of one piece to the other must exactly match for a balanced, comfortable fit. This also makes them easier to fold into a perfect square or triangle for easier storage, rather than molding to a hanger. Notice the symbolism involved in a certain style. Angles and triangles denote action and the styles that use these shapes reinforce mobility and a free-swinging, on-the-go appearance. The rectangular styles give a more stable, and down-to-earth feeling. Even though "folk" tradition governs the styles I use, colors and textures and fiber content are readily adapted to seasonal fashions. Altogether, this makes for a very comfortable and attractive garment.

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"Ram, Networks, & Webs" or,
Isn't it awkward going from fiber arts to graphic arts? Not really. . .

       Two men sit for a break on a park bench. One is computer salesman , one is, well, a farmer. "How much ram you got?" asks the first. "About 200 lbs." "Hard drive?" "Harder than most." My ram is big and white and with no horns, thank goodness, but he can still pack a punch when he "rams" something. Feed bins, small trees, volley balls, li'l lambs, and myself have been the recipient of his punch on occasion. 
        But on the lighter side, this ram can be playful, too. His name is Bambi, appropriately named more for a cartoon punch than the gentle fawn. Often he will join the younger lambs in a game of King of the Mountain.
 Bambi is the mountain. 
       When he was younger, he and Filene, his young partner, often hopped and skipped around the pasture exchanging leads in games of follow-the-leader or tag. But as they grew, Bambi's ego turned every game into a powerplay. Filene eventually became head ewe of the flock and it was she who led the group in their daily meanderings. A loose network of bodies, surfing the turf. Bambi, however, loudly demanded to be recognized as "boss", especially around food. It is he who led the morning charge to the feed trough. Photos of this gentle display of manners were posted at exhibits, along with samples of their wool. A story has also been published about Bambi.       
      After all, it's the wool that is the target of this story. It allows me to "weave the web" into fluffy fabrics and also to weave the warp and woof of this tale onto this other web you are now reading. Ironic how the terms are all connected; the concepts are the same.


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A Studio Story:     My studio is my home, just one room, a loft, and a great wraparound porch. Before I built it I collected salvage materials - large picture windows, antique tile (& seashells), handmade cabinetry, hand-stenciled wall borders, & my own leaded glass lamps. My vision was big, but the lot was small, wooded, and steeply graded. When the foundation was raised, I'd sometimes sleep there, like camping on a large wooden stage under the stars. After that, I insisted on skylights in the loft. The studio is now crammed with the loom, spinning wheel, racks of fiber, color, textured walls and muraled ceilings. The vision is real! In the A.M. when the sheep are loose, as they sometimes are in late summer, the 4 of them come to the front step, turn their heads in unison toward the porch door and BAAAAH loudly for their breakfast. It seems munching on sky-high weeds and pruning 40 roses to the nub is not enough for them. They have a point. Good wool requires good nutrition. In the pm, when I'm working high in the loft, my "quality-checking" cat climbs to the roof, circles 'round to the high window and with one paw on the screen, loudly reminds me of the quality of the supper schedule. She has a point. Intense work and creativity requires refueling. The "PR" dogs are more patient, extending (tangling) the yarns midst their play. Such is the interaction of the animals with my art.
     (Note: terms in quotes, "quality-checking" and "PR", refer to the titles I've given them as my crew.)




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Another Studio Story:    Over the years I've made many wonderful trades of my fiberart for the art or service of someone else. One of my best trades was to a woman who wanted two shawls. She traded me her husband, who would help me build a sheep cote.
      The farmette is on a hillside that slopes down to the woods. The first shelter I built for my first two lambs was just inside the edge of the woods to keep it shaded and cool. With the aid of my traded helper, John, an old carpenter friend, we put together a structure based on the plan of a geodesic dome. It was made of 2x4's bolted into 5 triangles and braced together with a peeked roof. The plan said "two hours" to build the frame; a "nice little pavillion finished in one afternoon". Baah! Just drilling all the holes took two hours.
      The first night, after the base frame was up, I camped out there under the open sky. Just to test it, y'know. See if the lambs would go for it. Or for me, in their private space. Usually at night, they pick an open spot not far from the shed and rest or graze through the night. They like to keep within close range of each other. I wondered if I'd be included in the group.
     The night envelopes the setting sun so early this time of year. It was brisk and clear and I spread out my sleeping bag and a rug for my dog, right in the center of the shed frame. Overhead the stars swirled over the edge of the woods. The sheep did include me in their way. Sorta. They were curious about this strange custom and came a little closer. Then they wandered off again. I read a little by flashlight, then flicked it off and quietly listened to the sounds of the woods. In the distance I could hear the lambs munching their way through the leaves. We were in the area I call the "south 40", which is considerably smaller than 40 acres. Like only two. But it's below the "north 40" (also only two), and includes many different plants from the tree-hugging vines, to wild groundcovers, to the grasses in the open parts. Under the trees it is very dark and I wondered how they find their way around. I picked up the flashlight and got out of my bedroll and following the faint starlight on the edge of the woods, I made my way toward the munching. There they are, just ahead about 50 feet. I flick on the flashlight. They quickly look up, like deer caught in headlights. There eyes glow blue. Not like a dog's amber, or a cat's emerald, but brilliant, cobalt blue. I would find myself coming out many times more in the future, in the dark, to find them with the light, just to enjoy that beauteous blue.
     In the morning when John arrived I'd already gone in for coffee. He eyed my bedroll and the dog's rug, then started unloading tools from his truck. When I came out I said, "When the roof goes up it's going to be dark under there, John. I gotta have light." "Light? What for?" he grunted. "It's a sheep fold." But John was fascinated with the plan and said he spent his evenings cutting out paper triangles and forming them into unique building structures. Five days later I had my new sheep "cote". This five-sided shed has a wonderful open-air feeling and even a skylite.                                                                 
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1. Weaving: the original fiberart.
2. "Sheep to Shawl"
       How does a fiber turn into a yarn, a fabric, a finished piece?
3. Colors/Dyes - natural or otherwise.
4. Why "Natural Fibers"?
What are they?
5. Questions from the shows (in process>

       1. Weaving, the original fiberart, originated with early human necesities: shelter, clothes, carrying satchels, and I believe was inspired by watching the birds, the bees and the animals. Raw wool caught on tree bark from passing sheep is gathered by birds and twisted/spun and woven or pressed into linings for their nests. Some nests woven as a pocket of grasses, much like a basket hanging from tree branches. There are cocoons spun from hairlike fibers, and matted into a natural paper. A silkworm spins round and round lengthening a single fiber into a cocoon. Humans picked up the process and added colors, textured yarns, machinery, and a wealth of creative design. Some terms here are linked to a glossary. (in process)
           a. Dressing the loom: Primitive looms were forked branches holding a set of yarns, or bundles of yarns tied around a tree ("backstrap loom"). Nowadays we have harness looms with peddles and treddles that lift sets of yarns into patterns.. Most looms have a warp (verticle yarns) and a weft (horizontal yarns), even a simple potholder frame. But another type of loom, a triangular frame, combines one yarn into a warp, then a weft, alternately switching from one to the other as two corners of the piece are woven at once.
Yarns must first be measured and wound off on a warping board or reel for the length and width of the piece to be woven. Individual lengths of warp yarns are then sleyed (threaded) onto the loom by pulling each yarn end through the front reed, the heddles (like eyes of needles) on the harnesses, and pulled to the back beam which is cranked, winding the yarns round and round until the entire warp is on the loom. W
          b. Pattern Weaving: Weaving begins by raising one or more of the harnesses, lifting a set of yarns above the others. Weft yarns are now woven horizontally through the shed, ie, between the upper and lower yarns. Depending on which harnesses are lifted (by pressing pedals or pulling handles), the raised yarns create different patterns within the structure of the fabric. Examples: tabby (over/under, over/under,like a potholder); twill (warp yarns lifted in a diagonal sequence, often seen in suit fabrics); satin brocade (an "overshot" pattern, where the weft crosses over more warp than it does under, thereby being more visible on top and creating a "weft-faced" fabric); "warp-faced" patterns are the reverse, showing a verticle direction to the surface of the fabric; basketweave (usually two over, two under, in a diagonal pattern); lace weave (many open-weave patterns -Spanish, Leno, Swedish, etc, that allow more open spaces between warp and weft); and honeysuckle [my fav]( a threading pattern that can create a great many combos of oval/diamond/zigzag ridges). Weaving a length of fabric can be as monotonous as repeating a tabby over and over with the same yarn in the same color. Or a variety of yarn textures and colors, and a multitude of techniques can be used, adding beads on the weft,
including: *lace weave,
         * bound warp,
         * rya fringes,
         * or loops and knots.
c. Finishing: When the entire warp has been woven, it is cut off and the ends knotted, hemmed, or finished in some other way, such as crocheted, macramed, or with sewn trim. Fabric or yardage is styled by cutting and sewing into useful shapes, from simple placemats to elaborate costumes. The fabric may already be "loomshaped" and sized, when taken off the loom, and need very little cutting or sewing. "Fulling", or washing completes the process and can be done at any stage - yarns, fabric, or finished weaving. Yarns or Fabric is preferred because skeins or yardage is easier to handle and "fulls" (fluffs) the fabric before cutting a pattern. Colors can be added to raw fleece (after lanolin is washed out), to spun hanks of yarns (easier to handle), to woven fabric, or to a sewn and finished garment.
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       2. " Sheep to Shawl "

usually refers to a demonstration of the entire progression of processing wool (at museums, festivals, etc.) Shearers shear the sheep with electric or manual clippers, the fleece is "skirted" (trimed of waste) and rolled out into large balls and distributed for processing. A small ewe's fleece may weight about 4 lbs. and be about the size of beachball. A large ram's fleece may weigh about 15 lbs. and fill a large trashbag. Spinners spin the raw fibers, fresh with lanolin, into yarns. Fibers may be spun together into various textures: boucle (loopy), flake or slub (thick/thin), nub (periodic nodules), or smooth worsted. Spinners may also ply or mix in varigated colors, natural sheep colors or dyed. When enough yarns are ready, they are measured and sleyed onto the loom and woven into fabric.

       3. Dyes come from many sources: plants, minerals, shellfish, insects, or synthetics. Most pigments need simmered with an acidic base for wools and protein fibers, or with an alkaline base for cottons and plant fibers. Natural dyes give a wide range of hues from brick red to sunny yellow to indigo blues. None clash together as they are all from the earth. Blues come from the indigo plant by dipping yarns into a yellow dye, then lifting it from the pot to oxidize in sunlight and turn into a medium blue right before your eyes. The blue of denim jeans is indigo (altho most are synthetic) and is a unique American fabric. Only the weft yarns are dyed, woven through a white warp in a twill pattern. Look closely at the fabric - you'll see a diagonal weave, with white threads sticking out in the fringes.
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      4. Natural fibers are native to the earth - plant or animal, and not synthetically created by man. Plants: cotton (usually white, but maybe also be colored greens or pinks), linen (tought fibers beaten from a flax plant and spun while wet), ramie (similar to cotton.). Animals: many breeds of wooly animals, such as goats, rabbits, camel, alpaca, and sheep. Sheep come in many different sizes, breeds, grades and lengths of wool, and colors from white to grey or black and varigated shades inbetween. The softest, finest fibers (Merino, Ramboullet,etc.) are soft enough for baby clothes. The longer, coaser grades (Lincoln, Coltswold) are used for rugs. Some wool is felted into bats (sheets) used for hats, or even houses (the tent-like yurts of the Far East). Some wool is the finest, downiest fiber (Shetland) and is comparable to cashmir. Some wool comes from rabbits (angora), or goats (mohair), and others -llamas, camel, or alpaca. When sheared, wool falls off the animal in a cohesive sheet of fiber. The ragged and dirty ends are scrapped and the neck of the fleece is twisted lightly and then rolled until the entire fleece is contained in a ball, the outside fibers tucked in and the inside showing out for better inspection of its color, grade and texture. Often an orange film is visible on the ends, the lanolin. This rich natural grease is made into skin lotions and in its raw form, keeps the shearer's hands soft. The sheep may not like getting sheared, but they feel great after losing their hot coats before summer, and about 5 - 15 lbs. of weight. Wool is then processed as above, spun into yarn, woven, etc., and used in just about every fabric item you can find in your houses or closets since the beginning of human's relationship with sheep. It also was a great insulation for walls and a valuable mulch in the garden.

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