On the brink

DSC02068 Here we are, hovering upon the brink. The past few days have seen a lot of heddle preparation. There are just over 400 warp threads, so that’s a lot of heddles to prepare.

The heddles are on now – with one error that, fortunately, was fixable without too much heartache and undoing. The spacing and heading are just starting to show at the bottom. They need more fiddling, and I am out of patience with fiddling right now, so I am enforcing a break. My fingers itch to rush through the header and get on to the pretty bits, the color, the place that other people call the start. But the weaving would be uneven, cranky, with too much draw-in at the bottom. It’s worth a touch more patience to get it right, so the work will be a pleasure.

Odds and evens

Philippa, who was rarely favoured with the more dramatic ailments of this world, had a head cold of historic virulence.

One of the many reasons I love Dorothy Dunnett, for writing a heroine who suffers from a prosaic cold. I suspect Harriet Vane is, through long line, descended from Phillipa Somerville (though in literary history the opposite is more likely).


There has been progress today, but here it stops until the cold and the fogginess it brings are gone. Mistakes in placing the heddles are disastrous. Each warp thread gets a heddle, but (in this case, and in most cases in tapestry) the heddles are split between two bars. It is essential to pick up every other heddle for the first bar, then the alternating heddles for the second. Make a mistake midway through, and you have to go back and start from the point of the error. Fail to catch the error before you begin to weave, and it’s even worse. It is, without doubt, the most fiddly moment in tapestry warping.

I used a weaving sword and my little shed stick to lift every other warp thread, in preparation for placing the heddles, and I lost track of the number of times I had to go back redo this after making mistakes. Astigmatism makes this process hard enough, but astigmatism and cold-induced mind-fog – not a good combination at all. I believe I have it correct now, but I am stopping till I am clearer.

I’ve completed one other step. On a loom like this, to make it possible to weave a long length on a smaller loom, the warp threads are doubled around. They do not run from the top of the loom to the bottom and back again. They run from a warping rod in the back, over the top and around the bottom and onto the warping rod, then around the warping rod, under the bottom, and back to the top. This leaves one set of threads in front and one in back. The set in front are the ones on which one weaves. Every so often the warp is advanced, with the woven section shifting down and around to the back of the loom, and some of the back threads moving up and around to the front. It can be very distracting to see the back threads when trying to weave on the front – silly and horrible errors can result – so I hang a piece of black fabric off the back of the loom, just in front of the back threads. It has to be removed and replaced whenever the warp advances, but it’s worth the effort.

There’s a metaphor and a meditation in that, too, somewhere, but it’s time for another nap under a warm cat compress.

Warping between sneezes

At lastDSC02056, the warp threads are stretched on the loom. Tomorrow there will be spacing adjustments, putting on heddles, and weaving headers – if I can get through that much.

Alas, I have a cold.

Warp is 2-ply worsted Jaggerspun wool in a natural color. Tapestry is weft-faced weaving, so in the end the warp threads will only show in the fringe – but they will be there, strong and invisible, holding all the patterns and pictures together. So, what, I wonder, is the warp in my life, the invisible pattern under the visible? A meditation for after the sneezing has stopped.

Distractions – and Tool Acquisition Syndrome

I have been Distracted. Distracted by Weaving Tool Acquisition Syndrome.

Tapestry time today was spent in emails with the splendid Jim Hokett of Magdalena, NM, who is about to send me a small tapestry beater in bird’s eye maple and a  Navajo style weaving fork. I have other tools from Hokett Would Work, and the feel and look of them are scrumptious. And how lovely that a splendid new tool can be had for as little as $10.

Shopping. Desire. Also part of weaving.

But I will get to the warp and weft part very soon.

Unearthing tools

[wondering where the weaving is? it is coming soon, probably this weekend]


I am enjoying the slow build up to weaving.

Today was for finding and cleaning a few crucial tools. The only tapestry work I’ve done in the past 18 months was at a class where I used borrowed tools, so some of my tapestry necessities were buried under floor-loom-fabric-weaving goodies. But here they are: my much loved Dovetail tapestry beater; a handy small pick-up stick (for moments when you work against or between the sheds); the all important black cloth to hide the warp threads that run along the back of the loom, making the working warp easier to see; and a luxurious new set of Texsolv heddles, so much easier than the homemade heddles I used before.

Behind them, a special treasure chest. This is the wine box in which the former owner of my floor loom kept her tools. It came to me with the loom. Her last draft is still inside. I don’t even know her name; I bought the loom when her husband listed it on Craigslist, twenty years or so after she died.

I love that she chose a box like this. I wonder when she enjoyed the wine – was it a special occasion? The box is the perfect size; she chose it well. It is long enough for wire heddles and deep enough for warp weights.

When I open this box, I think warmly of the woman I never knew. I want to tell her I’ve been saving, and I am about to buy the final 4 harnesses for our 4-now-4-later Schacht Baby Wolf loom. I hope she doesn’t mind that I keep tapestry tools in her floor loom box. And tonight I clean those tools, and the box, and set everything straight, and make sure her last draft is still safe inside – and I will lift a cup of wine tonight to her.

Ah, books and more books!

imageOne must be gentle with oneself on Go Back to Work Day. Today’s daily tapestry practice involves more book inspiration during lunch break. After all, I work in a library full of excellent textile resouces, some unpublished. Silly to waste them, don’t you think?

Looking over the books is like brushing up on tapestry’s visual vocabulary, like glancing over a phrase book before taking a vacation abroad. It helps to return to thinking in the proper language, rather than translating from one medium to another.

Softer Butterflies

More butterfliesDSC02050 today, this time leftover alpaca naturals. I bought these natural, undyed alpaca yarns a long while ago, and I think they came from Red Rosa Farm. Choosing to use this yarn in the tapestry diary means I have made another choice, that the tapestry will never see heavy use (as in a rug, for example). The alpaca is not nearly as strong as the churro yarn, and it won’t stand up to that kind of use. The loft and bloom of it, though, will allow for some interesting textural changes in the piece. Alpaca yarn bounces like Tigger.

I want to spend more time playing with it, but the work holidays are coming to an end, and lots of niggling deadlines and things of pretended importance are tapping their impatient feet. Tomorrow everything becomes harder again, and I will need some soft alpaca butterflies to cushion my fall.


DSC02049Now, since I set using yarn from my stash as one of the rules, I had better make a little confession. Like most textile addicts, I have gathered in a bountiful stash, and it is possible the yarn is breeding when I turn away for a moment. There are bits from Española Valley Fiber Arts Center and pieces from Weaving Southwest. And somehow over the past three years whenever I’ve found myself at the Farmers Market with a spare $20 or so, I have wound up at the Tierra Wools stall and a skein of hand-dyed blanket-weight churro yarn has jumped into my basket. So I have a few colors. Well, who could resist? The hand-dyed yarns are amazing. They are just what the Industrial Revolution taught us to despise – they are Uneven. They are Imperfect. They have… Variations…. They are IDEAL. They give tapestry work a depth and shading and richness like nothing else. I love them. I love opening the skeins and seeing the subtle shifts in color. As I twist the butterflies, the yarn turns in the light and wonderful unexpected shades and highlights jump out. It’s rich as sinking your hands into a chest of pirate treasure. And they have names, these colors: Guadalupe, anochecer, lamb’s nose, afternoon storm.

Today was about beginning to wind butterflies, and here is a small stash of them. I use butterflies to control my tapestry weft. Some people use bobbins instead. I have a beautiful set of wood bobbins from years back, and I want to love them, but butterflies suit me better. If I ever weave tapestry with very fine yarns, with silks and fine cottons and such, I might try the bobbins again. For now, though, butterflies for me.

Winding the butterflies, making figures of eight (or little infinities) between fingers, across my hand, is meditative, peaceful, delightful. I hope that sinks into the yarn, and carries through to the weaving, all in Beauty.

Butterflies need to be kept somewhere, or they will fly all over the house (usually in the arms of a feline). I brought down my favorite duck basket from the high kitchen shelf and gave it a good cleaning. Where does it come from? I don’t know; it is older than I, so it has simply always been there.

On Beginning


Well, 2016 has arrived, and apparently it is time to Begin Something. This year I will be trying a tapestry diary, or tapestry journal. The idea of making tapestry weaving a daily practice, of creating a daily tapestry diary, begins with weaver Tommye Scanlin, apparently in 2008. In the years since, the practice has caught on and spread far and wide.

What is this practice? It is at heart a commitment to do a bit of tapestry weaving work every day. At the start, the weaver may set certain rules about color schemes, patterns, how to account for missed days, whether to mark out the edges of a day’s work, and so on. Typically, the end result is a tapestry with separated areas for each day or week, forming a mosaic that fills the course of a season or a full year.

Weaving has become an important part of my spiritual work and path as well as a pleasing creative adventure. I’ve had daily spiritual practices for many years, so I hope this will become a comfortable addition to them. While the tapestry itself is the primary work, my mind is a verbal thing, and the images the tapestry work shakes loose will, inevitably, stir up words and phrases and even whole sentences with verbs and subjects. Hence, the blog, in which words will weave in and out of the images and peep out between them from time to time.

And today is the beginning, the arbitrary line when I Start. Except that of course I started about ten days ago when I read about tapestry diaries for the first time and thought “aha!” Or perhaps it was this Fall, when I went to a tapestry class and realized my waywardness with tapestry was caused by a sad collision of trying to work through more European-style tapestry techniques when my heart and soul lean toward the tapestries of the US Southwest, both Hispanic and Indian. One Southwestern style tapestry class at Weaving Southwest, and all the tangles shook cleanly out of my warp, and the way was clear. Except the tapestry really began when I bought my first tapestry loom, about 6 years ago. Or when I first saw someone weave and my hands tingled with the imagined pleasure of it (oh, blessed mirror neurons)? Or when I was born, or conceived, or my parents fell in love, or their parents. Arbitrary things, beginnings. Everything is connected, and the World having been properly woven, there is no tearing it apart. Even if you cut a hole, the yarn always remembers where it was meant to be.

I think most weavers embarking on such a journey start their weaving January 1. I am not. January 1 is when political entities decree the year has Begun, but I celebrate other days that have an equal claim. The real reason, though, is to honor the things that come first. Weaving doesn’t start with the first pick of the weft through the warp threads.

Nothing starts where we think it does. Many years back, while demonstrating ash splint basket making at Washington Crossing Park, I was asked how to begin making a basket. First, grow a tree.

I won’t go that far back, but I am picking another arbitrary point to “start” my tapestry journal practice. Today I start looking through books and devising rules.

  1. My tapestry will be in the mold of Southwest tapestry, a piece woven for use of some kind. It will not be backed and framed later – so it will eventually have all its loose ends neatly needle-woven in, so the back will be as presentable as the front. 2. For the winter at least, it will be wool on wool, weft and warp. I allow myself to re-examine that as the seasons change, but suspect I’ll stick with it. 3. I will use yarn from my stash, not buying fresh. 4. I will use an outline around each week, but not each day. 5. Each day’s weaving will reflect some part of the day itself, be it the color of a feeling, or a shape. I am allowed to miss days, but the missing days will be represented by small black blocks or lines woven in later. 6. Even on days I must miss, I intend to think about the tapestry and take note of it.

Six rules is plenty to be going on with.