The Difference Between Failing, Giving Up, and Stopping Here

I’ve had multiple projects that I just had to call a stop to right where they were, recently. One was not a stop to the whole project, just to that bit. I’ve been carrying a spinning project with my tiny Jenkins Kuchulu in an Altoids tin.

I had meant to keep spinning until I had a good-sized turtle (turtle is what you call the cop on a Turkish spindle) and the spindle started to slow, but the cop got too big for the Altoids tin to close properly, so I took it off and started a new one. The turtle eventually got wound into a skein and washed, and is lovely, but is not so long a skein as I might have liked.

Next, it was the set of straps I mentioned in my last entry. I’d been having trouble with these from the beginning. I had a huge amount of trouble tensioning the warp evenly, which is absurd with a continuous warp, I had a hard time with the string heddles, everything. The weave-along I started them for was long over. They were making me crazy. I finally said Fuck It and cut them off the loom. I got about 16″ of each one, and they vary in width from 3/4″ to 1.5″. One will be a choker for my wife, and the other is tied to my laptop bag, because somebody else at the place I’m trying to get a job at had the same bag. I rather like them, even if they never did turn into what I wanted them to be.

And then I finally went back to the seascape cocoon shrug. Only it turned out that I had forgotten to release the tension, and several of the more delicate warp thread had snapped, some of them in the web. I spent half an hour or so trying to find ways to fix it, but the new threads of the same yarn kept snapping, too.

Finally, when I was nearly crying, my wife suggested I just call this one done, too.

This one was the hardest. I had plans for this. I wanted to make this into something wearable for my mom. I wanted this to be my first Saori clothing project. And I simply couldn’t.

The yarn was easy. I just stopped that skein right there. Fine. Doesn’t matter. There’s plenty more fiber, and I often work in short sections of one yarn.

The straps were harder. I had to give up on the project, but at least it wasn’t an important project. I still want to do straps for sandals at some point, but what the hell, I’ll do them when I get that inkle loom I want.

But this. This feels like a real failure.

I did it anyway. I cut it off and knotted the fringe and washed it and all. But it still feels like failure. And I simply don’t know what to do about that.

Oh well. It’s pretty.

It’s all a lesson in humility.

Too sick right now to start anything new, but next I owe a devotional weaving to Hermes. I think I’ll do that on the frame loom. I’ve been doing some reading on ancient Hellenic weaving, and some vase paintings show really very similar frame looms being used by young women for what is clearly fancy work.

I’ve decided that I’m going to start collecting my loom waste and using it to make offering-weavings to Athene when I have enough, as thanks for the gift of my skill. Also considering dedicated my shuttles to her. Hellenes used to dedicate loom weights to her, but of course I don’t have a warp-weighted loom.

I’ve got some other posts waiting to be published, but I still want to get off WordPress before posting too much more.


Seascape Cocoon Shrug

Oh, hey, project picture post time! This is for a cocoon shrug for my mom, and is the one I talked about in my last post, about the ocean. So, from the most recent back to the first, here are the pictures to date:

I’m having fun with it. It’s slow, though. It took something like 14 hours worth of work to get a yard of fabric. It’s those curves. They take forever.

I’m thinking of starting a smaller project on the copper loom, something arty. I’ve been rereading The Orphan’s Tales books by Cat Valente, and may do something inspired by that. I’m thinking about the hunger of the mice. Could be fun. Dye some silk mawata, draft them out but don’t spin them, and use them all fluffy for the colors the mice eat.

On Inspiration and Process

What I’m noticing about my process with Saori is this: I start out with an idea in mind. Not a goal, not a plan, but something around which I build the piece. In the rainbow scarf for my wife, the idea was simply to use rainbow yarns: variegated through a bright spectrum, or multicolored plies, or whatever else I found. The landscapes themselves from the colors as I went.

Now I’m working on an oceanic piece for my mom. I wanted the feel of the warm ocean off Florida (where she lives and I grew up), the Gulf Stream, the Gulf itself, the waters around the Keys. I began to build a yarn stash for it around those colors and those images. Some of them were things I had already in my stash, that I had bought before or that someone had given me (I have a bunch of odds and ends that people give me, actually), and some were bought with the project in mind. I thought a lot about the sea in its different moods as I knew it, in summer and winter, in clear weather and in hurricanes, at the beach and in the deeps, on the surface and below it. I wanted all of those. A light chop, huge rollers, the dim grey waters at the winter solstice (my friends and I used to stay up all night, watch the sun rise on the beach, and take a cold dip), the bright warmth of snorkeling in the summer at Looe Key. I wanted kelp forests and tropical fish, and the light refracting through the water on the white sand below.

So I collected yarn in those colors, and I browsed Google Image for pictures that struck a chord with me. Photos, but also drawings and paintings. Japanese paintings of towering waves and the fish-waves from Ponyo inspired me. So did the art of Guy Harvey (somewhat to my chagrin; he’s a something of a cliche among sportfisherman and sailboat types, but he actually turns out to be pretty nifty). Photos like this one and this one of macrocystic kelp forests. Oh, and pictures like all of these of sunset at Key West. And these, of the beach in the area where I grew up.

I live in Seattle now. I don’t know much about the cold waters around here. I make it out to the beach on the Sound relatively often, but rarely out to the Pacific. It’s beautiful, but not in the way the waters I knew for twenty years were. And it’s not the water my mother knows and loves, so it’s not what I want to make for her.

I’m spending lots of time building small curves and large ones, for the movement of the water. Waving seaweed. Right now I’m working on a coral reef. It’s all fairly impressionistic, rough outlines, swirls, feelings-as-shapes. It’s not meant to be representational, but evocative. I’m using tapestry techniques to achieve much of it, as well as Saori techniques. There’s one of the latter, I can’t remember its name or find the book to look it up, but I think of it as “wandering yarn”, that’s proving to be quite a good way of giving the flavor of fan corals and branching corals. I say that I’m not a tapestry weaver, and I mean that, because I don’t plan what I’m doing more than a step in advance, much less draw out cartoons and then charts. I don’t have the mindset for that. But I can grab those techniques and use them to good effect as impressionistic, evocative images in Saori weavings, unplanned. They’ll never be as precise as a traditional tapestry, but they serve my purpose and my imageries.

My next big piece will be another rainbow scarf, this one for my dad. He asked for one that was “all bright colors, like my wife’s.” Nearly twenty years I’ve been out, and he’s never caught on why I and the women I date like rainbows. That’s ok, whether he knows it or not, he’ll be wearing Pride colors, and I know he’s proud of me.

But I didn’t want to repeat myself, of course. So I started casting about for different inspiration. And I found this:

It’s Jupiter in chain stitch, and it sparked something. My dad has his PhD in astrophysics and cosmology, and he taught astronomy. I remember staring up with him at a clear, clear sky full of stars, while he pointed them out to me and told me about them. As soon as I could read, I started to learn why the stars had the names they had, what the constellations were and what stories were told about them, as well as about what they were and what they did. It led me to Greek mythology, which, in the long run, led to my religion (shhh, don’t tell him that).

So then I started collecting images of the the storms of Jupiter and rings of Saturn, and then I quickly moved further out, finding nebulae and galaxy clusters and voids and things I do not understand at all, but are gorgeous, galaxies, a supernova remnant, this fantastic cone shape that graphs the expansion of space over time, if I understand it correctly. These and more I have stuffed away in a bookmark folder, to look at as I start, and as I look at yarns to buy. More of the Mochi yarn I used for my wife’s scarf, although possibly fatter. Pulled silk sari threads, to spin loosely and deconstruct in the middle of the piece for wisps. Silver filament plied with deepest black, for the billions and billions of stars.

That one is months off, though. I still have Mom’s to get to. I’m one yard into a three yard warp, with ten hours logged, probably another two I forgot to log. Call it twelve hours, over a month. There’s only so much of the delicate, fiddly work I can do at a time. (And I got sick, which means I lost about ten days there where I just felt too crappy to move.) Most weavers want the loom down around waist-level, as it’s most ergonomic for simply passing the shuttle back and forth. But since I’m doing lots of pick-ups and small passes and trying to see which thread I want to turn at this time, I need it closer to my face. I’m now weaving sitting in front of a tallish table, with the front of resting on my (rather ample) chest, just so I’m not bending over it constantly to see and giving myself huge knots in my neck and shoulders, When I finally get a Saori loom, I’ll have to get one of the adjustable ones, so I can jack it up high when I need to. My upper arms do get tired, though, and I may work for an hour or two without gaining more than an inch of fabric out of it.

One of my Rav boards started talking about quotes we found inspiring or applicable for our weavings. This was my contribution:

She became dance’s analogue of the jazzman.



Dance was, for Shara, self-expression, pure and simple, first, last, and always.
Once she freed herself from the attempt to fit into the world of company dance, she came to regard choreography per se as an obstacle to her self-expression, as a preprogrammed rut, inexorable as a script and as limiting. And so she devalued it.
A jazzman may blow Night in Tunisia for a dozen consecutive nights, and each evening will be a different experience, as he interprets and reinterprets the melody according to his mood of the moment. Total unity of artist and his art: spontaneous creation. The melodic starting point distinguishes the result from pure anarchy.
In just this way Shara devalued preperformance choreography to a starting point, a framework on which to build whatever the moment demanded and then jammed around it. She learned in those three busy years to dismantle the interface between herself and her dance. Dancers have always tended to sneer at improv dancing, even while they practiced it, in the studio, for the looseness it gave. They failed to see that planned improv, improv around a theme fully thought out in advance, was the natural next step in dance.

-Spider and Jeanne Robinson, Stardance

I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a jazzman in that sense, but it is very much how I try to work. A starting point, and improvisation.

Landscape of a story, and the stories of a landscape

The scarf from my last post is finished!

This one took me two and a half months. Yikes. Part of this is because of the tension problems I had (I had to rip out the first eight inches or so to try to fix the tension once, but it did a strictly limited amount of good), which were infuriated and frustrating and made things really difficult. I eventually figured out how to deal with it on the fly (those knots from the last post), but even with that, it was a pain in the ass.

But it is finally done.

The original idea for this was simply to weave a scarf for my wife in rainbow colors and black. It morphed into something else entirely, in a very organic fashion. It became all about landscapes, curving shapes, color shifts, and transitions. In my mind, it grew into a series of snapshots of a quest out of a fantasy novel, or possibly science fiction; the last bit of landscaping had the bit from Heinlein about “We pray for one last landing/ On the globe that gave us birth/ Let us rest our eyes on fleecy skies/ And the cool green hills of Earth.”

It was as if an adventurer, finally venturing out of her comfort zone of home, saw incredible vistas and scenes that stuck with her all her life, bigger even than all the wonderful and terrible things that happened to her, simply because she always thought about places, about the land itself and the way it moves and lies, because she connects with that before and after all else. She returns home, and she tells her story again and again, but when she thinks about her journey, the images that come back to her again and again are all about the land and the sky.

This idea of a personal narrative being rooted in images of the earth rather than events connected for me with the way Literata talks about a landbase, and how having that kind of connection being centered in one’s personal world changes how one sees other places as well. To me, the hero of the scarf had, like Bilbo and Frodo Baggins*, never been outside her landbase before this journey, and never had to think about her connection to the land before, but traveling made it really come home to her. She saw all these other places, and they were amazing, and they imprinted themselves on her for the rest of her life — but each of them made her long for her own land again.

It’s also a very narrative scarf. Obviously. So it’s also about the power of stories, the infinite possibility in an outline of a story (how many different stories could be written about the journey sketched in that scarf?), and how the story in one’s head can differ from the story as one tells it to others, and about how setting shapes a story.

I don’t know what she’d think of the comparison, but the emotional, mental, and spiritual process of working on this reminded me of the way Elise Mattheson talks about the jewelry she makes, and what each piece is about, their names, how they tell her what they’re about. I feel like there’s a story in this scarf — no, many potential stories in this scarf — but I don’t need to know them to create the scarf in a way that is true to those stories.

I posted a bunch about this scarf on Ravelry, but never really talked about any of this. It’s a thing I find difficult to talk about in more secular spaces. Which is why I started this blog, really. I feel very deeply about my religion and my experiences, but I don’t always feel very comfortable sharing the details of that. It’s not, most places, that I feel unsafe talking about it, but more that I feel like it doesn’t necessarily belong. Sex, politics, and religion are Not Polite Topics for mixed company, traditionally, but I’d much rather talk about either of the first two in public, unless I’m specifically asked.

There it is. A scarf that’s the outline of a story, told in images of the places it takes you.

The next project will, I hope, be more literally literary, as in I’m planning on weaving actual words into it. If I can ever find the right prayer to Athena Ergane (Athena of the Works, her title as patron of crafts, particularly spinning and weaving). It will also have some of the first yarns I spun.

*And yes, the mountain is a reference to the Lonely Mountain, and that black spot on one side of it is a reference to the Back Door.

Weaving Landscapes (or just curves)

Weaving Landscapes (or just curves)

This is something I posted to Ravelry, at the request of a mod who had seen some of the Work In Progess (WIP) pictures.

Process post! Someone suggested I do one for the curves and hills when I posted this scarf in the WIP thread. I didn’t start taking detail pictures until past the middle, but the technique is the same. (Er, lots and lots of pictures follow.)

I shamelessly stole this technique from tapestry weaving, because one of the awesome things about Saori is that you can do that, and I suck at tapestry, but this technique is pretty awesome.

I’m working on a 15″ Schacht Cricket with an 8dpi reed. The project itself is MadGastronomer’s Kate’s Rainbow [NB: This link leads to a Ravelry page, and you’ll need to have a login there to see it].

So. For this first bit, I already had a hill, and the idea was to build up more curving shapes around it to make a mountain.

To start a new curve, I wove a few passes (four, here) on just a few warp threads (again, I used four). If you want to try it, how many will depend on the size of your warp and weft threads. Fiddle with it. It’s really very organic. I loosed the warp very slightly, opened sheds as usual, and then used fingers or a pickup stick to lift the individual warp threads. You may not want to change sheds, but just use the pickup stick. I sometimes get lost doing that, so I did it this way.

I began moving outwards, one warp thread at a time.

Leaving lots of extra length in the warp, I packed it quite closely, creating the beginning of the curve.

What was I using to beat in such small and irregular bits of yarn? A little pickle fork.

I did several more passes, moving outward from the center by one warp thread in each direction with each pass, again leaving lots of slack in the weft threads and beating them in tightly to get that curve. (You can beat them in more loosely, but this is a warm winter scarf, and I wanted the density.)

Since I was building up multiple curving shapes together, I would occasionally run a couple of passes along the entire shape, to keep things cohesive, once the two shapes met up. I also do this when doing a row of hills.

Then I started building a third shape in the crook where the first two met.

Again, I laid down rows of weft across the entire shape periodically. Since I was using variegated yarn, this became especially important to build up color relatively evenly later on.

And then I started building up more shapes on the other side.

And back to the left.

See what I mean about threads going across the whole thing keeping color relatively even with the variegated yarn?

Then I put a peak on it.

And this is Uther, who wants you to know that he Helped. That’s very important, he says. He Helped.

So, having created all those curves and steep angles, I now had to fill in around them. Which I apparently got exactly one picture of the process of:

As might be apparent, I started weaving on just the outermost two warp threads, just going back and forth and beating them down tightly until I built it up enough that I could reach the third warp thread, and then added that. Again, since I used a variegated yarn, I kept switching sides, to keep the color shift even. I think I did a pretty good job.

…of course, it all came out a bit trippy. A friend commented that the mountain really did look like a Tolkein illustration, and I could not help but respond, “Yep. Complete with the psychedelic colors from the 70s paperback editions.” But I’m pretty pleased with it.

Other things I did with this technique in this piece:

A line of rolling hills receding off into the distance. If you look closely, you can see the texturing in each hill where I decided to make the curve steeper, so I built up another layer of short rows with longer rows on top, basically building a hill on a hill.

A trio of hills, the middle one being done with clasped warp, in a way that manages to remind me of the sheen on an old vinyl record.

And a series of small iterations, building up curves unevenly here and there (again, look for the texturing) to achieve in appearance of a rolling plain and eventually the bed of a river. And here’s the river:

I threw in a few more curving shapes so that the ground under the mountain wouldn’t follow the line of the river exactly.

This technique is pretty simple, and the only real problem is creates is that if a row of weft reaches the selvedge at a steep angle, it can make the edge a little weird and loopy, but what the hell, it’s Saori, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

The real problem I’ve had with this scarf has been tension. I managed to screw up the tension once, and had to tear out about eight inches of weaving and try to fix the tension. Only I still mucked it up. The paper I used to layer the wraps of warp was too crinkly, and I managed to get the threads all crossed and bunched and messed up, so the tension on each thread keeps changing.

I ended up dealing with it by tying knots in individual warp threads as they go too slack. (You can see some of the knots sticking out from the weaving). It got really bad towards the end. I’m sure the finished piece will be all kinds of warped and buckled and weird, but my partner assures me she doesn’t care and she’ll love it. She’s sweet that way.