Thursday, April 30, 2009

First Yardage

It’s finally happening!

I’ve gotten through all the drudgery of setting the loom up for this specific pattern. Now it’s time to weave off the first 15 yards and get the loom into adjustment. So far it’s been slow going as I deal with every problem in the book:
- Loose selvages
- Skipping dobby pegs
- Inconsistent cloth advance
- Broken warp thread
- Binding shuttle thread

I’ve solved them all, though, and it feels like I’m getting close to pulling out the stops and just weaving. Today’s pictures show the fabric finally reaching the cloth take-up beam on the back of the loom. That means I’ve finished two yards.

Here’s an overview of the thread and cloth as they course through the loom: threads go through the heddles and reed. Cloth comes over the front beam and around the rollers on the way back to the cloth beam.

The overview from the front.

It’s kind of exciting to see the threads going overhead and the cloth coming out on the bottom.

And finally, here’s a closeup of the cloth that I’m making. It’ll be much nicer after wet finishing closes up the gaps to make a sturdy fabric.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Blossom the Reed Sleyer

I have Syne Mitchell and WeaveCast to thank for that awesome pun! She did a little sketch for an early Halloween episode. Go check it out by clicking HERE.

When we left things last week, I was threading the loom up for an overall tabby with two stripes of twill near the far edges. The sun shone through my window as I was finishing the threading. This is a rare occurrence, living in a basement in foggy San Francisco, so I dropped my work and grabbed the camera.

The next task is to get all those threads, in the correct order, through the reed. Now there’s no more masking tape. The order is held by the threads and heddles themselves, following a clear threading plan. This is my last chance to catch threading errors before they become a real pain, so it pays to take my time.

The result of sleying is that the right number of threads per inch are pulled through the reed and tied in front. Some spaces have one thread, some have two. It depends on thread count and thickness. With a stripey fabric and threads that migrate in wet finishing, there’s a little fudge room, but not much.

This is how I separate each section out into its pattern repeats. This lets me check the threading and helps me to sley the threads in the correct order. This is the angle that I look most of the time, down into the loom as one hand holds threads and the other grabs them on a hook and pulls them through the reed.

See how tidy it all looks? A mistake would really stand out.

And these two shots show the heddles as seen from the front of the loom, through the reed.

Tonight I will weave a test section, get approval from the client, and begin to produce yardage. Woohoo!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Keeping Threads Organized

A reader of my blog wrote and said “That’s a TON of threads. How do you keep them from tangling?” I’m so glad you asked!

I think that the key to successful weaving is to be completely methodical. Don’t let a thread loose until you’re ready to do something with it immediately.

“A thread under tension is a thread under control.”
“There’s no need to untangle if you never let the threads tangle in the first place.”
“Threads aren’t alive. If they aren’t behaving, it’s because you need to change something that you’re doing.”

This beam is separated into two inch sections. Each section had masking tape applied while it was being beamed. This masking tape holds all the threads in their correct order for threading and weaving. A fabric with this many stripes doesn’t need every thread to be in the perfect location, but if the threads twist around each other or go too far away from their intended positions, there will be tangles and curses later on.
Peacock Beam on My Loom - Version 2 - 2009-04-21 07-58-17

I unwind one section at a time and pull it around the roller to the front of the loom. I then trim the tape so I can pull individual threads out easily, and attach the whole section to the beater.
DSC_0013 - 2009-04-23 08-38-09

You can see here that I’ve threaded half of this section already.
DSC_0014 - 2009-04-23 08-38-34

I hold the threads in my left hand, find the next four, pull them loose, and thread them.
DSC_0017 - 2009-04-23 09-45-33

Since I prefer to hold the hook in my right hand, I thread from right to left. This means that there’s a bit of finagling to get the heddles in the correct positions. By putting heddles into groups of 4, I can easily check for threading consistency and count threads as I go. It’s far easier if I can catch my mistakes now!
DSC_0012 - 2009-04-23 08-37-52

When each section is threaded, I tie it into an overhand knot so that an accident can’t yank them out of the heddles. It also makes it easier when I need to keep count of my threads during sleying.
DSC_0010 - 2009-04-23 12-01-11
Pretty, isn’t it? I wish I could take credit for the colors.

That’s all there is to it. I’ll be repeating these steps for another 23 sections and a total of 1200 threads. With any luck, I’ll be weaving by Sunday.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Setting Up for the First Big Beam

Getting started with this weaving contract looks like it’s going to be a real challenge. This is no surprise. I got the big peacock-colored beam home and on my loom. It’s gorgeous!
Peacock Beam on My Loom - 2009-04-21 07-58-17
Peacock Beam Closeup - 2009-04-21 07-59-20

The first thing I noticed, however, is that it is warped in the opposite direction from how I work on my loom. I re-rigged the tension device on the beam to accommodate this. See how the spring wraps around the end of the tension arm? This is not ideal. I think it’ll work, though. If it doesn’t, I’ll try replacing the entire mechanism with a shorter spring to reduce friction on the tension arm.
Reversed Tension Spring - 2009-04-21 08-20-30
DSC_0013 - 2009-04-21 08-20-55

Next, I noticed that this beam has a diameter 1” larger than my own. It was causing the back separation roller to make contact with the wooden rim. The height of the sectional loops actually prevented the beam from rotating. Oops! To fix it, I moved the separation roller to the lower position. (See how close that upper hole is to the rim?) This means that I can’t set up a second beam unless both beams are of the smaller size. The new roller position means that I’ll have to adjust the beater height so that the lower threads in the shed land properly on the shuttle track. It’s really no big deal for now.
DSC_0011 - 2009-04-21 08-19-53

The auto-advance mechanism is a miracle of modern loom building. It lets me focus on the weaving by advancing the fabric for me. I don’t have to stop weaving every couple of inches and advance it by hand. This makes it dead simple to achieve a perfectly consistent beat and really fall into a yardage-producing rhythm.

When I tried to attach the auto-advance mechanism, I found that the metal plate is too long to be mounted on my loom in the proper way. Instead of two bolts holding the back plate on, there is only one bolted extra tight. I will drill a new hole in the wooden arm to make it fit right. This is one benefit of buying an extremely used loom: it already has extra holes, so a few more don’t make any real difference.

Here’s the ratchet mechanism that will advance the cloth beam a tiny amount (1/20 of an inch) every time I beat a thread into place. That is, after I’ve spent some time getting it adjusted...
Auto-Advance Rachet - 2009-04-21 08-21-32

And here’s how the mechanism advances the beam for me.
Auto-Advance Gear - 2009-04-21 08-29-12

I’m excited to have the parts home and mostly attached to the loom. Next comes the real work of threading the entire width, 1200 threads or so, and preparing to weave...

The Big Trip

This weekend was amazing! I took a couple days off from work so I could go with my friend, Celena, on a road trip to Oregon. She wanted to go and visit some friends and I wanted to go pick up weaving supplies from the weaver I’m starting to work with.

We had originally planned to put two beams of thread into Celena’s little hatchback. Ah, the best laid plans...

This is the big beam, warped with 150 yards, wrapped up and ready to go.
Wrapped Beam on the Loom

...and this is the other beam. This is the one that will make for a smooth transition into this contract because it’s already threaded and sleyed. We’ll just pop the parts off her loom, drop them onto mine and go!
Cardinal Beam on the Loom

Here’s what the yarn storage looks like for someone who’s making a living from it. And don’t worry, Carl, this is not what’s going to happen to our living room...
Shelves of Yarn
More Yarn

We set to work trying to get the loom parts into the car. We got one beam in!
One Beam In!

...and then took stock of the weft thread that would need to go with us.
Boxes of Yarn

...and realized that there was no way that another beam and all the boxes of thread were going to fit. Here’s the end result with only one beam. We tried every configuration that we could think of. It just was not going to happen.
Everything in the Car

...and here’s the beam that was left behind. I don’t know the whole story, but this warp has been so difficult to finish that it has come to be called “The Devil Beam.”

Next time I make this trip, it will be with a truck so I can bring home this beam and a couple more. Poor little guy really does look lonely sitting on the ground there. I’d love to weave it up!

This is going to make my first beam much more difficult. I now have to thread and sley the whole thing myself before I can start weaving.

After loading up the car, I spent a day and a half at Wolf Creek Sanctuary, enjoying the delicious well water and taking in the view. Here’s a panorama photo that I took at sunset. What a beautiful place! Click this image to see the full-size version hosted at Flickr.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Letter-A-Day Campaign

Whew! It's been a wild few weeks.

When I tell people about the progress I'm making on the new weaving business they say things like, "Wow! This is happening so quickly for you. You must feel very lucky!" Yes, I do feel lucky. I also see the wisdom in the phrase "Luck favors the prepared." You may remember that I was looking for production work to sustain me while I develop, produce and market my own line of handwoven goods...

Thanks to many people believing in me, I got my production loom at the end of February. Not being one to count my chickens before they've hatched, I wrote several versions of a prospecting letter, but didn't send one out until I actually had the loom set up and ready to go. But as soon as it was ready, boy, oh, boy! I started an all-out campaign to get work with it.

This campaign was multi-pronged. Each day I went scouring my notes for the weavers I had met at crafts fairs and weaving guild meetings and logged their contact information into the Daylite contact management system. I then went looking for professional weavers that I hadn't met yet. I started sending out one contact a day: an email, a phone call, a letter. My goal was to find production work that would support me so I can reduce the hours at my day job, and eventually quit it altogether and make a solid living from my craftwork.

And then, Lady Luck stepped in. After sending out about 50 letters, I got a phone call from a weaver up in Oregon. She wants me to take over a large part of her fabric production so she can focus on making garments and selling them. This is exactly the scenario I've been wishing for. And, as luck would have it, she was the second person I had reached out to contact. She just happened to be out of town so the letter sat on her desk for a while before she opened it. I guess the spirits just needed to see me do all that extra work to make sure I was serious.

To make things even sweeter, it turns out that this is the exact scenario that *she* was wishing for as well. After years of weaving, she is ready to step back and let someone else do a bunch of the fabric production. She just needed to meet someone who is dependable and motivated. Call it coincidence if you like, but I know that there's a greater force at work here. Many people have said as much since I focused on starting a weaving business last year. "Some things are just destined, and your weaving is one of them," said one of my friends.

I am gratified to see that he single most important factor in securing this contract was my loom choice. That part is not a coincidence. I talked to about a dozen professional weavers to help me decide which loom to purchase. Every single one of them said essentially the same thing, “If you’re really serious, you’ll get an AVL Loom”, “I couldn’t make a living without my AVL”, etc. This new contract is possible because I chose a 60” AVL dobby loom. In order to minimize chances for error, my new client will do all the setup work. She warps the beams, threads the harnesses and sleys the reed. Then she lifts those parts out of her loom and gives them to me. I drop them into my loom and weave the cloth. There’s very little chance for error, and we’ll work with a lot of feedback for the first month to squash the errors that can still creep in.

So, if you were looking at my calendar and thinking about coming to my open studio day next Monday, I’m afraid it's cancelled. I'll be taking a four-day weekend in Oregon to visit the Wolf Creek Sanctuary and pick up a carload of supplies for the first few hundred yards of this big weaving job. I'll take lots of pictures of the experience and post them here for y'all to see.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Dreaming of a Business?

Dear faeries and friends,

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

The last time you heard from me I was trying to raise funds to purchase a production weaving loom and start a new business. Well, I've done it! I sold many of my possessions. Dozens of people each loaned me a small amount, a few people bought my weavings, and I got the money that I needed. I don't have the successful business yet, but I have no doubt that it's coming. After almost a year of working and waiting, the power's in my hands now.

Along with paying back the folks who helped me, I'd also like to make a personal investment in the community that means so much to me.

As I figure out how to turn my passion into a vocation, I'd like to share my journey with y'all. I know that there are faeries out there who've dreamt of doing what they enjoy and making a living at it. Well, what better time than now? We are a richly creative tribe.

Let's come together in a new circle of faeries helping faeries figure out how to build a healthy livelihood by following our passions.

I don't have all of the answers by any means. Nobody does. I am learning, though. As I figure out the secrets of web marketing and get my wares produced and into galleries, shops, and exhibits, I'd love to swap knowledge with others in the tribe. Some of you have gone before me, some are following in my footsteps, but we can all learn from each other.

I have a few specific skills to offer the community:
1. Idea editing. Sometimes you just need to bounce ideas off of someone else who can help you sort out the ideas worth pursuing from the ideas with potential problems that you are too close to see for yourself.
2. Business plan organizing and editing. Let me help you figure out some of the details you will need to think about before you start moving forward. A well-researched business plan is crucial to finding out whether your idea needs a little work or a lot - BEFORE you start spending your energy on it.
3. Marketing. How do you get the thing that you do in front of the people who are looking for it. Maybe I can help you brainstorm some ideas and actions that you might not have considered on your own. Again, I'm no whizz at this, but the more eyeballs the better, right?

How can we make this happen? Drop by my website, look at my calendar of open studio days, and contact me to set aside an hour or two on one of those days.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Finding a Job is a Full Time Job

The economy is in a sad, sad state. Everyone knows it. Reading trade rags of the apparel industry, I see the same thing again and again... Customers aren’t willing to spend. Retailers have curtailed stock purchases and are CERTAINLY not picking up new lines. Manufacturers have scaled back production. Suppliers are left with warehouses of unsold materials.

But, that’s all on the consumer-level retail side of things. Analysts say that we’ve never seen a recession bad enough to seriously impact spending on the very high end. As a cash-poor startup, though, I can’t see myself cracking that market. Not only will it take time and money to develop products, but it will take time and money to effectively market my wares to the purveyors who have customers in that market.

Meanwhile, I tick away the days in a job that barely makes ends meet, and I’m thankful for even that much. To make a living in an easier and more pleasing way, I want to weave for an established weaver. To find them, I’m been sending out prospecting messages every day: emails, phone calls, and physical letters. Not only has it become a full time job, it has thoroughly taxed my ability to track all of the prospects and their status.

Thank goodness for a piece of business management software called Daylite. You can read my review of it HERE. Because of this incredible program, I have actually been able to maintain contact with the people that I need to without pestering them or forgetting them. That said, I still have yet to secure a contract. There are a couple of things in the works, but nothing is certain.

So, if you could use the services of a weaver, or know someone else who could, just drop me a line or forward on my resume, available HERE.

870 South Van Ness Ave. San Francisco, CA 94110