Saturday, February 28, 2009


I have been getting emails from readers who can't get their comments posted and I thought I would share this one with you, from Ruby Leslie, a well-known weaver who I have met since moving to Vermont. Commenting on the use of weft materials, she wrote:
"In the early '80's Dini Moes wove a plastic raincoat using saran wrap in the warp and dry cleaner bags in the weft. She wrote up the project in a Weavers Journal back then. I remember seeing the raincoat in a workshop with her when I was a new weaver, and was totally impressed with how unique it was."
I continue to weave place mats. The other morning I was up at the loom at 7:30 a.m. (unheard of for me) and wove two before going to water aerobics (me as Esther Williams). The other day I mentioned being concerned about finishing these mats. I have lots of cloth I have woven sitting in boxes which I intend to "finish" someday but pulling out thread and needle to hem them seems to be very difficult for me. I like weaving cloth that can be used with the minimal amount of fussing and finishing. I seem to be able to do knots, or machine sew a small zig zag, and I can spend days on tops and bottoms of the woven hangings, but the idea of a neat, crisp casing sewn around a place mat will not do for me. I want the selvedge edge to be neat enough to leave alone.

I am a rehearser. I get into bed and go over things to do, worry them into solutions. So I thought about the simple basket weave mat that I wanted, and finally considered using two shuttles. Which I did the other morning and the results were good. I always threw the shuttle on the left first (left to right), then with same shed open, I threw the shuttle on right (right to left), catching it around the first weft. You can see what I mean in the image below, and the body of the basket weave in the image below it. In this case, using two shuttles did make the yarn lie flat, side by side, just as I wanted it to be.

Another person who contacted me because of the blog is an old friend, Fern Devlin. In the mid-80's I did some production weaving for Fern, who creates beautiful scarfs. At first I made the mistake of taking her warps home and weaving them on my table loom. You build up a rhythm of work on that loom--hand up to change shed, hand down to pick up shuttle, throw shuttle, catch shuttle, beat, shuttle down, hand up to change shed--but you can't build up speed. It didn't take long before I was weaving for her in her studio on one of her floor looms. Fern has a very interesting blog, and she referred me to a post she did on a mutual friend, Ann Rosenthal. Ann has always had such a cleaver mind, thinking of games to create and solve in her weaving. I think she showed me how to swap out threads in a warp, and I used this idea in one of my mats the other morning. I wanted these thin black lines added to a white ground, to mimic the incised lines of some of Holly's plates. So I added two chenille black warps into the same heddles of existing warps, connected them to the front with T-pins, and weighted them off the back of the loom. It worked great and I am quite pleased with the results. Here is to old friends, how they continue to educate me. And here is to this blog, which is making new connections and renewing old ones, like a woven web of friendship. 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Paper Weft

I have been weaving place mats--something I never use myself, but they seem like good ground for the collaboration project. Liz and Holly and I talked, and the idea that each place setting could be unique fits my way of working. Instead of weaving sets of one design, each place mat can be different. So that is how I am proceeding so far. For years I have had several types of paper yarn on my shelves, and I decided to try them. The first weft, which I wound on a bobbin that fit in a boat shuttle, was too stiff and unpleasant to work with. I didn't even complete a full mat. Then I decided to try the yarn shown above on flat shuttles. I haven't used this type of shuttle in years and when I was setting everything up in my studio, I admit to thinking, now why do I still have these? So now I know. They don't work with the fluidity of a boat shuttle, but they definitely fit this yarn better than a bobbin. The moral of course is "never throw anything out," right?

At first I was weaving with one shuttle, throwing it again and again for repetitive shots of structure, but then I decided to try one shuttle as a single weft, and the other shuttle with four strands. It made weaving much faster and easier, and I couldn't really see a difference in terms of the yarn lying next to itself. Maybe with a different type of yarn the single shots would have lain side by side, smoothly, but this yarn was not so cooperative.

After weaving with the paper yarn, I looked more carefully at the Mexican bag I have recently been using as a purse. It is woven from plastic yarn. I have new appreciation for the patience of the weaver, since this yarn must have been difficult to use. It probably wasn't woven on a hand loom, but then, maybe it was. I think I got this in Oaxaca in the mid-90's. Thinking about different material for art work, made me remember someone I met in Mexico forty years ago. I have no idea who he was, but I remember him boasting about his work which was woven from film strips. It sounded interesting but I have never been impressed with novelty material as the sole interest of a piece. He must have shown me a picture or an actual piece, because I then became totally dismissive of him and his work. So what if it was an unusual material--it was boring, ugly, uninspiring. On the other hand, I have also been thinking of Dorothy Liebes, who was an inspired and inventive designer. When I taught at Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science, there was a study collection of her work that students could see and handle. Though they often seemed dated to me (a study that was totally innovative in the 1950s had become the curtain treatment of a fast food restaurant by the 1990s), they also offered possibilities for experimentation and creativity to both me and the students.

Some of my concerns with the place mats are important to functional work--how will I finish them? How can they be cleaned? Are they large enough for the plates that will sit on them? Maybe when I do enough of them, I will want to choose one as a production item, but for now, the intrigue remains in the exploration.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dressing the Loom

I wound a warp yesterday of heavy white cording. I think it is cotton but so many of my yarns have lost identification tags during my various moves that I am not sure. (Yes, I could do some tests to find out, couldn't I? That is, if I was someone other than myself.) This yarn has been haunting me to be woven as a basket weave.

I have worked with many students over the years, of varying levels of expertise. It is always interesting to work with people who already know how to weave, because I inevitably learn a new way to do something. I like learning different methods, though I don't always change what I do, even if the new method seems smarter. My advice to students is what I follow myself: try the new way and then decide what you want to do. Sometimes a new method is awkward, but worth pursuing because it does seem better; other times I just leave it alone after trying it. That being said, I do think my way of hanging my lease sticks for threading is very smart. You can see in the image above, that I hang my lease sticks from the castle at the back of the loom--tying the string through the back lease stick. This makes the back lease stick higher than the front one.

You can see from the picture above, taken from the front of the loom, that I can see the sequence of my threads when the lease sticks are hung this way, and choose the next one for threading easily. I always was frustrated by the method I originally learned, which had the lease sticks horizontal in the same plane. The method I use now definitely makes the process of threading move smoothly and correctly.

I thread from back to front now--though I originally learned to thread front to back. My first weaving lessons were in New York City at the Crafts Students League. The teacher was Claire Freedman. I didn't have anything specific I wanted to make, I just wanted to learn everything possible so when I moved to a commune I would be able to weave whatever was needed. She took me through so many processes (tapestry, pile knotting, leno, double weave, twills) and I still have those studies. When I look at them, it seems that I knew what I was doing, but I know I didn't understand them at all--just followed directions. It took years until I really grasped what was going on. I am still learning, and often going back to things I did in the past to do again, and understand better this time around.

So I began weaving. You can see plain weave, then rib, plain, then basket, and then plain. This will be a sample I put in my notebook, along with all the data about this cloth. I have lots of notebooks which I fill up religiously, and then never go back to and look at again.  

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fresh Snow

We got blanketed with snow last night. It makes everything so fresh, and energized me to finish the tax paperwork that has been holding me hostage since late December. I noticed when I looked out Mark's studio window, the old glass caused ripples in the view and made it seem like it had already been "Photoshoped." The table was full this morning, but now it is empty. The paperwork is in the mail en route to the preparer, and I no longer have an excuse to prevent me from weaving. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Setting the Table

This morning I met with Liz and Holly (see previous post) to work on a collaboration we want to do--Setting the Table. We brought work upstairs from Holly's studio that each of us were drawn to, and moved them around on top of studies of weavings that I had done and some ikat fragments and sketches for new ikat that Liz brought. Collaboration can take so many different forms. This was our second meeting, and we are feeling it out, trying to find the format that will work for us. We pointed out aspects of the work that we appreciated, saw how one fabric could bring out the details of a plate, where another would dull it. Finally we came to the conclusion that anything we did would be fine.

Does that sound vain? It was really more about appreciating the way each of us works, honoring our differences, giving credence to the different ways we work--trusting each other. In fact, the attraction we have for each other's work is probably one of the reasons why we want to do this collaboration. So we parted with a date on our calendar in March when we will bring new work together and have a more concrete discussion of what to keep in, what to put aside. 

I have flirted with functional cloth before but never seriously pursued it. Whether my weaving is functional or not, the hard part for me is getting started. I feel I know how to do everything, or at least if I am not sure of something I know how to research it so I can do it, but I never know what to do. What is worth making? If I was a writer, it would be like getting stuck because I wanted to write "the great American novel". You can't set out to do that, it is too overwhelming a prospect. Well, that is what I am like when I approach my looms--I always want to make something terrific, something beautiful, something admirable. In order to start, I have to lecture myself about making and expectations--to leave the expectations aside and just begin work. The work itself usually takes on a life of its own and begins to inform me where to go. When I used to do brocade and would be working with hundreds of supplementary threads, I swear they would tell me, "go left, go right, stop, add more..." There is a dialogue that happens between the process and the artist so getting to work is often the answer to questions of what to do. Begin and the answers will come. It seems always to be plural--never one answer but lots of possibilities, and of course you take one direction and that leads to more possibilities. It is quite a dynamic process, this making something.

In many ways, working with Photoshop with its layers and potential to save all the variations is a similar process of starting in one place and going forward to a point of decision, and then proceeding to the next decision, until you reach a place where you, or the work, says stop. In weaving, which starts at the bottom and proceeds line by line, you don't really have the option to go back (though of course there are people who do unweave; and there is always the option when the weaving is done to change it through other processes like embroidery or painting or cutting and collage). Photoshop lets you save the work at each decision point, and you can return to that after following another path, and try it again. I think it can become an endless loop of variations. One could stay with the same starting point and end up at different end results forever. Just like one could work with plain weave their whole career and never come to the end of its possibilities.

I don't know today where my part of the collaboration is going, but I will post here as it progresses and keep you informed. Someone wrote what a neat studio I have, and it is true, but remember I haven't actually started to work up there yet either. Just had the pleasure of placing things in what seems ideal position for now. You know how work goes though--looms will get pushed out, yarn will come off the shelves, and hopefully the threads will begin talking to me and telling me what to do next.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Report on Party

Our party was a big success. I kept leaving conversations mid-sentence to go greet new arrivals. I hope no one thought I was rude. The day was blue sky beautiful and the house came alive with all the good energy from our guests. Above you see the wonderful platters we used for serving the food. Holly Walker, who is also new in Randolph, lent them to us. Holly moved here from the Penland community and a mutual friend put us in touch. Her friendship has been one of the signs that the move to Randolph was meant to be. Setting the table with her ceramics was a joy.

You can see some of the food and my friend Marianne McCann enjoying herself. Marianne always enjoys herself, it is one of her gifts. We went to graduate school together at Cranbrook Academy of Art. She lives nearby in Tunbridge. Moving to a new town and having old friends who have known us for years has made the move incredibly easy. Then making new friends was icing on the cake. You can see Marianne's work on her Etsy site.

The other family that drew us to Vermont are the Sacca-Billings, who also live in Tunbridge. Elizabeth Billings was at Cranbrook with Marianne and I, and her husband Michael Sacca, and my husband Mark Goodwin, were part of the spouses team then. Now they have three children, Isaac, Susanna and Mario who keep us laughing and on our toes with practical jokes. The table was full of bright little bottles--and when you opened them you could blow bubbles. Now why did it take me so long to figure out who they came from? Somehow they always get me--no matter how many pranks they pull, I am never prepared. If I could give party favors out through this blog, I would hand you each a small bottle of bubbles.

I did find my two small weavings--Recipes 1 and Recipes 2. Each one is only 7-1/2 inches high by 6-3/4 inches wide. These are the weavings I mentioned in my last post.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Party Preparation

Yesterday I baked all day. These are some of the mushroom turnovers I made from one of the fantastic recipes you can find in Deborah Madison's book Vegetarian Cooking for Everybody. I have made variations of this before, sometimes adding spinach, or ham, or cheese, but this time I decided to just follow the recipe. I hope I have enough food tomorrow. I forgot to put RSVP so I am not sure how many people to expect. The weather should be good though, no snow storms in the forecast. In fact most of the snow is melting off roofs and streets since we had warm weather yesterday. It makes entering buildings a bit precarious--you want to be sure a huge pile of snow doesn't fall on you just as you enter. From my seat now, I am seeing big blocks of snow overhanging our front porch, just waiting for a bit more sun to entice them to fall. They aren't over our steps so I don't think I have to worry about lawsuits.

If you squint your eyes at the image of the turnovers, you can imagine what one of the pignoli cookies I made yesterday looks like. Heavenly crisp almond paste covered with pignoli nuts. I would buy these in NYC or Philadelphia, and when we moved to NM I bought three different books with varying recipes for them. Then I never tried making them. I don't know why, but this house in VT encourages baking. I found the recipe in Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook produces perfect cookies. I will post a picture after I set the table tomorrow.

I planned to post an image of two small weavings I did in 2000, when I knew I was leaving Philadelphia and thought I would no longer have access to jacquard weaving. Words had become essential elements of my work and I wanted to find a means of incorporating them without the labor involved in handpicking (age seems to have modified what I am willing to do cheerfully). In reading an old notebook from the early 70s, I discovered some pages of recipes I had written in the tiniest handwriting possible. (A sidenote--when I was still in high school, I won a radio contest of free tickets to see the movie Splendor in the Grass, by writing the title the most times of anyone on a postcard! I couldn't use my free tickets though because we lived on Long Island and the movie theater was in Brooklyn.) Anyway, I was surprised that even then my notebook had pages of recipes. They are found today at the back of nearly every notebook I have ever kept. So I took those pages out, cut them into strips, and wove them into two small weaves called Recipe 1 and Recipe 2. I will dig them out of my boxes and take an image to show you. 

It was a big revelation to me when I realized that words are images. I used to doodle words, not thinking of them as doodles. In fact, I thought, and still think, that I am blank of imagery in my mind. I see words, not scenes. This could be a good time to go on about simulacra, but I won't. (Though that did send me to my bookshelf to try and find the word in print to get the spelling right, and now I am filled with guilt about all the books I own that I intend to read....) It wasn't until after graduate school that I really understood that printed, drawn, written, physical words are pictorial and valid images in my work.

I don't remember anyone commenting to me about this, but pages 201 and 202 of The Woven Pixel are copies of some recipe pages from one of my notebooks. Both the Madeline recipe and the Fudge Cake were given to me by my mother, Nona Ziek. For a year in Guatemala, when I owned a restaurant, the Fudge Cake brought in customers who had heard about it in South America. They were told, on your way home, don't miss that cake! You should try it--it is a perk of owning the book.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I was so happy when I checked my blog and discovered I had my first follower--my friend and co-author of The Woven Pixel, Alice Schlein. Then this morning I noticed my list of followers had shrunk, and she was no longer there. I felt rejected! Then she sent me an email explaining that by choosing to be a follower, but not having a blogspot blog, she didn't get notification of new posts or anything. However, I put a Subscribe To option below Followers which worked for her. Apparently it sends her emails letting her know when new posts have been made to the blogs she follows. 

Since blogging is new to me, this is all very confusing and I tried to figure things out. I like the idea of getting one email telling me when new posts have been made and went to the google site called Reader, which is where you subscribe to get this list. Much to my surprise, when I went there, I found I already have a subscription. It was automatically generated when I entered the blogs I follow on my blog's "complete profile." I can go to the Dashboard of my blog and by clicking on the name of a blog I follow, see the latest entry. If I click there, it brings me to that site. I don't think I get email notification of new entries but this way works well for me.

I am not sure how I feel about having a list of followers on my blog. It kind of reminds me of junior high school and trying to be one of the popular kids. It seems very Facebook, and I have been resisting doing that for awhile. When I go to the info page about Followers on Google they encourage having it to grow your audience. Again, this doesn't convince me that it is something I want. In any case, for now, I will keep it there. But if in the future it disappears, please don't think that I don't want or appreciate readers, I do, I definitely do! It will just mean I have decided to keep the list private. 

I have appreciated the comments posted to my site so far, very encouraging. I am sure some of you will want to comment about Followers and even Facebook, which does have loyal devotees. Any advice about this feature will be welcome.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pictures of House and Studio

This is the house! Of course right now the ground and roof are covered with snow. But spring is right around the corner and we hope to add herbs to the beautiful perennials already there. 

Last Spring, before we moved here, I did a series of weavings of the house on my TC-1 loom. They all used a 20/2 tencel warp set at 60 epi. This weaving was done in weft-backed structures of satin and twill bases using three wefts. I imposed a road map of the Randolph area on top of the image of the house, then converted the roads to phrases.

Three views of the studio. There are five looms up there--three Macomber shaft looms, one 24-shaft Louet Magic Dobby, and my TC-1--queen of them all.

By the way, Carol Westfall and Trish Fowler wrote a very nice article on my work in the summer issue of Shuttle, Spindle & Dyepot. Also The Herald, the local Randolph newspaper, ran an article on Mark and I moving to town. If you click on The Herald in previous line you can read the whole article. The author, Stephen Morris, who is editor of The Green Living Journal, was the publisher of the straw bale book we referenced when we built our house in New Mexico. Randolph is full of "small world" connections.

A New Studio

Maybe I am an urban nomad. I have lived in New York City apartments, mud huts with no amenities in Guatemala and Mexico, small cottages in Kansas, the dark basement of a lakeside manor in Michigan, a factory converted to an artists' cooperative in Philadelphia, a solar straw-bale house in New Mexico, and a bland track building in Tempe, Arizona. The list is not complete. My most recent move was to a beautiful spacious Victorian built in 1900 in Randolph, Vermont. February 14th we (my husband and I) will celebrate one year of ownership, though we didn't actually move into the house until September first.

After settling five of my looms into two rooms on the second floor, my husband suggested we switch spaces and move his studio into those rooms, and my looms to the finished third floor attic that he had been using. What seemed like an easy request turned into a lot of work for him. I pulled up the carpet and he laid a pine board floor. He also removed some walls and plastered and painted the room. Last week we moved the looms upstairs, along with my yarn and other weaving tools. It is a beautiful space, with good light from windows and sky lights. It is the kind of space that draws me to it. It feels good to be there.

So now the question is, when I am going to start to weave? Of course I have the real excuse that I have to do my taxes first. And then there is the preparation for the party on the 14th to celebrate this move. And since we joined the gym at the local college, I have to go to water aerobics three mornings a week....And of course, now I have this blog to write!

This is my first post. I don't expect to actually write here daily, maybe weekly will do. I have lots of plans for the studio and will share the journey, inviting you to join me upstairs.