Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Days of Wind and Fire

Eastertide is coming to a close, and Pentecost is next Sunday. I’ve started the red stole.

“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…” Acts 2:2-3

Here in southern California, we understand the power of wind and fire. Two weeks ago, wind stirred up a fire just north of here in Santa Barbara. Hundreds of homes were lost in the fire. Fire is part of our natural landscape, it burns away old, dry brush and gives a chance for fresh new growth to come with the winter rains.

A few years ago we went camping in Yellowstone National Park. Fires had burned a significant portion of the forest. Dry, old and diseased trees had been burned away, and new saplings made the mountainsides look as if they had been covered with green velvet. The fires gave a chance for new life.

For a stole that gave the impression of tongues of fire, I chose an undulating twill, modified slightly, from “A Weaver’s Book of 8-Shaft Patterns.” This stole is weaving up much faster than the white one – partly because to elongate the pattern, I’ve doubled up the weft thread, and partly because the treadling is straight, less jumping back and forth.

Unfortunately, the picture of the finished white stole doesn't do justice to it:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thoughts On Dyeing

“Of the blue, purple and crimson yarns they made finely worked vestments, for ministering in the holy place” Exodus 39:1

Taking breaks from weaving the white stole, I’ve been dyeing the yarn for the red and purple stoles. Because I am going to weave the red and purple stoles from the same warp threading (different tie-ups and treadling), I want a warp that is a “plummy” red. Then I will use a brighter red for the weft of the red stole and a dark purple for the weft of the purple stole.

I admit it, I am no great shakes as a dyer. In fact the red warp started out as a failed dye experiment. I had several skeins that had been dyed with cochineal and over-dyed with indigo. The result was blotchy and not at all what I was hoping for. The skeins went back into my stash where I didn’t have to look at them. This time round I’m not messing with natural dyes. I’m going straight to the more predictable results from technical dyes.

As I am measuring the dye powder and other ingredients for my Sabrachron F - what you see is what you get - dyes, I marvel at the dedication of those ancient Israelite dyers. On what was, essentially, a forty year camp-out, they took the care to dye precious linen threads – undoubtedly brought with them out of Egypt – blue and purple and crimson for Aaron their high priest to wear in the tabernacle they were building (are Kermes indigenous to the Negev?).

I think on this again several hours later when I’m trying to wash the last traces of red dye from my warp. I gave up counting the rinses. How did they do this in the desert? “Hey, Moses, can you come over here and smite this rock? I need some more water to rinse my yarn.”

To pick my colors, I referred to the sample notebook made in Sarah Lamb’s workshop class at SOAR several years ago. I’ve found this book to be an invaluable resource ever since. I used my crockpot set on “low” for the dye bath, but otherwise followed the instructions on Pro-Chem’s web page.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fuzzy Pink Sweater Re-purposed

It is not true that projects have to “age” before they’re finished. It’s also not true that yarn and fiber have to age before they’re used. But for me they generally do, just the same, if there’s no deadline (and sometimes even if there is).
I come by my stashing and ageing habits honestly – my stash is nothing compared to my mother’s. But then she had more room for her stash – she had a barn!
A few years ago, I helped my mom downsize when she moved into a retirement community. There was quite a lot of yarn in the stash, mostly worsted weight acrylic. That went to the thrift store. But there was some good stuff too, like several skeins of pink mohair. From the wrappers, I could tell that they were probably bought in the 1950’s and it was clear that they were intended for a fuzzy pink sweater.

The fuzzy pink sweater yarn became the basis for the design of two shawls that I started back in November. Because the first shawl was to be a donation to a charity auction, I didn’t want to spend anything out of pocket - at least not out of today’s pocket - so everything else came out of my stash:
  • A good size hank of a two strand yarn, one cream colored mohair and one pink slubby rayon, purchased in the mid-90’s;
  • Two skeins of handspun wool/angora blend that were given to me around 1990;
  • One ball of rayon ribbon also from my mother’s stash;
  • Enough 20/2 unbleached silk to fill out the warp and for the weft, purchased early 2000’s.
In November I warped up the two shawls and wove one. I cut it off for the charity auction, and then didn’t re-tie the warp to the front apron – I don’t know why, I just didn’t. Then I decided to weave the liturgical stoles – a project with a deadline, thank you very much, and that meant finishing the project already on the loom first. I sleyed the warp in my 12-dent reed, somewhat irregularly. All of the yarns except the silk and the pink mohair were a bit bulky, so I left empty dents if two of those were side by side. My goal was to spread each type of yarn relatively evenly across the width of the warp, not too densely, as I wanted the shawl to be light and drapey. At each edge I added several ends of the 20/2 silk, double sleyed, so that I would have a good firm selvedge.
The threading was plain weave. Plain weave is like eating popcorn – it doesn’t take much thought and can be very satisfying, or at least filling. On the other hand a mohair warp requires constant vigilance. The mohair is inclined to make friends with its neighbors, and then you don’t get a clear shed. Keeping the warp really tight helps, but the handspun wool/angora didn’t like that very much, so I ended up with quite a lot of broken warps.
Even so, checking to see if the shed was clear, and sometimes manually separating the mohairs from their neighbors, became part of the rhythm of the weaving. This slowed things down quite a bit, so it took about 8 hours to weave the whole thing.

I'm calling this my “Fuzzy Pink Sweater Stole” in memory of the sweater that might have been. The finished size is a generous 24” by 82”. My goal is to weave a couple more simple shawls and start a shop on Etsy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Weaving in Ordinary Time

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at liturgical weaving, but since my dad, the preacher, retired long before I started weaving, I never really had a reason to.

A few weeks ago we learned that our Pastor is being transferred to another church. It’s a Methodist thing called “the itinerancy” and, being a preacher’s kid myself, I know it means picking up and moving every few years. I’ve decided to weave a set of liturgical stoles as a special gift for Pastor Walt.

This also gave me a chance to think about the significance of the colors associated with various times of the Christian year and to choose weaving designs that are appropriate to the seasons, as well.

For the ordinary days –
the not-short-enough days of winter and the dragging days of summer,
Green to remember that our Shepherd will provide fresh pastures to nourish us,
and still, cool waters to refresh us.

For the days of wind and of fire –
Red to energize, to sound the alarm –
be ready for the gifts of the Spirit!

For the days of anticipation –
Royal purple - you have been called by the High King
to be His steward, and to lead His people in preparation for His coming.

For the days of exhaltation –
White for the blazing light of the star and the angels at the tomb –
He is with us!

For all the days, the grace to say:
“This is the day that the Lord has made.
I will rejoice and be glad in it!”

I decided to start with the white stole, since the yarn doesn’t need to be dyed for this one. I’m using 20/2 spun silk from Treenway – the last of a 1 lb cone that I bought years ago. I’ve ordered more to complete the other stoles.

The pattern I’m using is an 8-shaft “Star of Bethlehem” design from “A Weaver’s Book of 8-Shaft Patterns” by Carol Strickler (Interweave). I thought this would be an appropriate design for the white stole, since white is the one worn at Christmas.

The sett is 28 epi in a 14 dent reed. The great thing about a narrow project like this is that I don’t get bored or tired threading just 168 heddles - and that means no threading mistakes to fix! I’m using the same 20/2 silk in the weft, and, since this pattern also requires a tabby to stabilize it, I’m using some 120/2 silk for that. The 120/2 is finer that sewing thread!

My weave-along music is Handel’s Messiah recorded by the Chicago Symphony. What beautiful and inspiring music to accompany liturgical weaving! I can’t sing along, though, and still keep track of the treadling.

The finished stole needs to be 110 inches and I've got less than 15 - I'd better get back to weaving!