Wednesday, May 23, 2018


One small corner in the studio.  Squirrel cage swift for coning off skeins.  Leclerc Fanny loom in background with 2/3s of a warp to be re-sleyed and woven off.  Soon.  As in as soon as my teaching schedule allows.  Foreground - a heap of various projects - place mat warps for craft fair season (four more bins of table runners hiding in another corner), book projects, info for warp on Fanny, student homework peeking in from the left hand side.

The entire studio is this kind of mess. 

Behind me is the work table with a dozen skeins to be coned off for Olds.  Behind it are the bins and boxes of class materials for the Olds level one class.  (Cape Breton is all upstairs now, on the living room floor.  Because I leave on Friday.)

The AVL has not been touched in literally weeks.  Months.  Doug got a warp beamed and I just haven't had the time to thread it.  I'm hoping it won't sulk too much after being ignored for so long.

From now until, well, about 15 months from now, I am going to be in a mad scramble.  As usual.

Recently I saw an old Facebook post - a cartoon me in front of a door waiting for opportunity to knock.  My problem is not that I wait for it to knock, I can't say no when it does.

So year after year, I have - in an attempt to earn enough to keep the wolf at the door at bay - accepted pretty much any and every offer that ever came my way.

I have woven and sold my textiles at every show I thought might be suitable - at least once, to see if it really was suitable.  I've sold my work on consignment, with all the administrivia that entails.  I've written articles on spec and hoped the effort I put into them would be acceptable.  In the early days I did them for free, just to get my name 'out there'.

I've ghost woven for other weavers.  I've woven miles (literally) of black fabric for a fashion designer, developed her ideas into something that would work in woven cloth (she was a colourist, not a weaver as such).  I've developed workshops, acted as my own 'agent' booking teaching tours - again with all the administrivia that entails in terms of booking flights, financing them, arranging with locals for on ground transportation, appropriate equipment, sending out the class handouts and yarns for the warps.  Packing it all up and schlepping the boxes to the post office.

Having gained sufficient confidence in technical writing and seeing a crying need for information on wet finishing for hand weavers, I wrote, self published, financed an incredibly expensive publication, marketed it - and again with schlepping the boxes (literally hundreds of them) to the post office.  My dining room turned into a shipping office.

Recently an idea I pitched to a magazine was turned down.  Now, my usual reaction would have been to immediately turn around and offer a different project.  Instead I took a deep breath, thanked her for her consideration, and perhaps another time.

And walked away thinking that I had just dodged a bullet with a deadline of mid-August to submit the woven item and write up.

I realized that I really do not have to scramble any more.  I'm turning 68 in a little over a month.  Many people I know of my age - and younger! - are already retired, enjoying their leisure time, not scrambling to earn a buck or two.

I am getting the state pensions I qualify for - I have a level of financial security I have never had for my entire adult life - or at least since choosing weaving for a career.

So I am looking hard at my calendar.  Blocking out the time necessary to do what I have committed to for the coming 15 months and looking beyond that to a time where I can choose to toss out some hats.  Read the heap of books on the hearth.  Make some jigsaw puzzles.  Spin.  Make lace. 

Stop scrambling. 

I think this is what 'they' mean by 'retirement'.  Because I won't stop weaving.  But I can stop the mad scramble.

Stop the world, I want to get off...

Saturday, May 19, 2018

My Way!

The warp currently on the loom is for gamps.  Colour and value gamps.  As such, the wefts are 20 of the 'rainbow' spectrum, plus 10 shades/tints/neutrals.  A total of 30 different wefts, some of them very very close in hue and value. 

I'm not weaving just one gamp, which I could just go ahead and set the colours out, weave them off and never think about them again.  No, I'm weaving three gamps.  One in plain weave, one in 2:2 twill and one in 1:3 twill.

Not to mention there will be a gap of about four weeks between doing the first (plain weave) and the other two.  I had to come up with a way to keep track of the colours in their order.  At first I just laid them out in their order in the plastic tub, but there are multiple packages of each colour and at times it was very difficult to tell the packages laying next to each other apart.

So I grabbed a box of little baggies, numbered them from 1-20 (for the spectrum - I'll deal with the last 10 later) and carefully laid them out in their order in the bin.  Then I started winding the bobbins/quills (quills because I don't currently have 30 bobbins available!) and have laid them out in their order.  At first I started by carrying five at a time over to the loom but I was still having too much trouble distinguishing the colours, so now I weave one colour (5" or so) get up from the loom, walk over to the work table, put the used quill/bobbin into the appropriate baggie and take the next back to the loom.

It isn't the most efficient, in that I'm doing a lot of walking, but it is being very efficient in terms of keeping track of which ones I've done. 

And Fitbit is loving the 'extra' steps!  Win-win!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Cha, Cha, Changes,

One of the things that one hopefully learns as they begin to master this craft is how things are likely to change when what you are doing changes.

I know I've posted about this before, but that was after I did it 'wrong'.  This time, I'm hoping I will have done it 'right', right from the start.

My usual warp on the Fanny is about 11 meters or approximately 12 yards.  The warp that went onto the loom today is not only longer at 16.5 yards, it is also slippery - mercerized cotton.

A couple of years ago I had a large warping reel and I started winding longer warps - about 14 meters or about 16 yards long.

The very first of the longer warps I started weaving I began noticing weird tension issues happening.  There were areas of inconsistent tension.  The brake wasn't slipping - there were actual patches or groups of warp ends that would get slightly looser, even out as weaving commenced, then a group elsewhere would exhibit loose tension.

It occurred to me that these longer warps required higher tension during beaming.  So I increased the amount of water in my water jugs and beamed using higher tension, and...voila!...everything was just fine again.

So, with this warp of slippery cotton at 16.5 yards, I added four cups of water to each of my weights and got Doug to help me beam the warp.  I could have done it myself except my back and neck aren't very happy with me right now, and having someone else add the warp packing and crank on while I groomed the warp chains made the whole job go a lot more quickly and easily.

This isn't my warp, there is none to waste, and I want to do a good job because these samples are for another weaver to use in her teaching, not mine to do over or make a big mistake on!  I'm just hoping that 4 cups of water was enough.

Time will tell...

Currently reading The Paris Spy by Susan Elia Macneal

Thursday, May 17, 2018

I'm Aiming for a Masters! - Dianne Q

Value gamp by Barbara S

I’m aiming for a Masters.....not in golf or after getting my, I’m working on the Master Weavers Certificate Program. The program comes from Olds College in Alberta but I’m able to get instruction at the Gaelic College (GC). Last June, eight otherwise experienced weavers took the leap into the 5 year program being held in Cape Breton for the first time. We lived for one week at the GC with our instructor, Laura Fry. Most of us had experience with Laura as an instructor before - her tour de force called Magic in the Water and a workshop about Lace Weaves - so her style of practical tips and in depth instructing was not new but, as always, welcome. 

I am a teacher myself. I am the weaving instructor at the GC where the busy summer classes demand an efficiency of style not unlike Laura’s. I’ve incorporated several of her techniques in my practice (using a weaving trapeze/valet, using my hand as a ‘claw’ to thread and sley). The Master Weavers program would, I assumed, test my proficiency to a new level. It didn’t fail.

The week at the GC was jam packed with weaving exercises, lecture time, practice communicating with others, weaving samples, group discussions, weaving colour value samples and, of course, wet finishing. 

The group got to know each other better. Five of us came from the island of Cape Breton, one from the Annapolis Valley on the “mainland” of NS, one from the west side of Newfoundland and one from southern Ontario. 

We were all experienced weavers but it wasn’t crucial to take the course. Indeed, the way the course is set up, a nearly new weaver would gain yards of practical knowledge. You need to know a loom, you need to have dressed looms in the past, you need to be able to work within a time constraint getting those samples done. It was fun, a bit challenging, while reinforcing skills. 

At the end of the week, we went home a bit weary, inspired, focused and ready to take on the homework. Homework! For the next while, the “homework” was frequently on my mind while I did my usual....teaching at the college, preparing for my guild’s fibre festival, attending a workshop on tapestry, selling at market, preparing for Christmas and then finally.....the time slot was there for the homework.

The homework is laid out in a way that takes you step by step through the entire process of making one handwoven piece: tell us how you dress your loom, which of these authors books is good for what you are doing, show a study of colour and your skill at plotting to get what you want when you weave, take a yarn and weave it at several setts to see how it works, look at plain weave and straight twill and how they respond to different finishing techniques, make a scarf or shawl to show how well you have learned all these lessons.

It’s trial and error, it’s stimulating, it’s frustrating, it’s running out of the one yarn you thought would do the job, it’s challenging, it means you have to communicate in writing what you do without thought after years of weaving, it means you have to stay every weft shot, make it fit just like all the other weft shots, drive the family a bit off the rails while you natter on and on about tiny incidentals of your work, it makes you want to do the absolute best, it’s disheartening when the washing machine won’t open at 10 minutes, it’s exciting when the samples and records are all gathered together ready to send for’s even a bit fearful when the package goes into the mail - did I remember everything, did I do it well enough? And then you wait to hear - did I pass?? 

For now I am ready and waiting for next year...1 down and 4 to go.....I’m aiming for my Masters!

 Dianne's final project

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Last Box

Today the 'last' box of homework arrived.  I think this year may have been a bit of an anomaly.  I would have to check my class list, but I think that every student in both level one classes I taught last year submitted (or will) their homework for marking.  Even though Life Happened in a big way for several people they stuck to it and managed to get their homework to me.  Even if it was just in time!  (One has asked for an extension, but is working away on submitting later in the year.)

It is not unusual for one or two people to drop out along the way.  Things happen.  Jobs change.  Life circumstances change.  Some people move.  Others have health issues suddenly crop up.  Some take a 'gap' year to work on what they learned in level one.

One of the most important lessons some of them have learned is that level one may look 'simple' but the nuances of the craft need to be understood and skills perfected.  And that doesn't happen right away.  Even people who are experienced sometimes find that the level one exercises are more difficult than might first appear.  That there is complexity in simplicity as one student put it.  (Search for Carol M's guest blog post for more on that.)

The Cape Breton class was unusual in that there was such a very high level of experience and knowledge.  As expected they pulled off getting it done, even if it was just under the wire for a couple.  This year all of the original students in level one at CB are continuing one to level two, plus this morning I found out that there will be seven in level one.  Dianne wants to continue to grow the program at the Gaelic College and we will be discussing that while I am out there.

Next year is going to be busy for me.  Four classes of homework to mark, plus the conference.  I may need to infuse coffee directly into my veins...

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Direct Tie Up

I am weaving a 'library' of samples right now and this section is alternating between 1:3 and 2:2 twill.

Rather than spend a bunch of time on the floor changing the tie up, I opted instead to just use a direct tie up (essentially a 1:3 twill) and when a 2:2 twill is required, I just use two feet.

Much more efficient than constantly changing the actual tie up and way less time spent on the floor doing it.

Friday, May 11, 2018

And Life Goes On

I came home to a boat load of critical deadlines which took me several days to wrestle to completion.  It was a stressful few days while I dealt with them, several times messing up because I was rushed, or not thinking clearly, trying to bushwhack my way through my must-be-done list.

Lurking in the background was my check up at the cancer clinic today.  Was I responding well enough to the lowest possible dose?  Or not?  If not, what then?  I didn't know.

Turns out I'm doing just fine in terms of keeping the cancer under control.  I do still have adverse effects, although they have reduced somewhat in intensity.  It would appear for the next few years, this is my new 'normal'.

As such, I am now gearing up to keep plodding forward - with a reduced commitment - once the book and conference are done.  Just another 7 or so months for the book - if I can keep to schedule on that.  Just another 13 or so months for the conference.  The wrap up will largely be in the hands of the treasurer so once the event is over with, my input will be minimal.

I have just been approached to teach again at John C Campbell in Sept. '19.  I've said yes.  Not because they pay well, but because it is near friends and I can piggy back a trip to visit with them while I am in the area. 

And because I am just a sucker for helping weavers understand their craft at a deeper level.  In the meantime, I hear there are *already* six enrolled for Sept of this year.  Six spots left.  Just saying...