Monday, November 30, 2009

Got To Dickens Fair After All

When I was writing yesterday I thought I wasn't going to see the Dickens Fair this year. Well, I got a call in the afternoon from a fair friend who got ahold of a free ticket for me. I couldn't exactly say no, could I?

It was my first time seeing the things that I've been weaving on display in their proper setting. It's hard to explain how exciting it is, knowing that my skill has turned cones of thread into beautiful cloth. Of course, weaving is only half of it. Annie's textile designs tell me what to weave. The seamstress' sewing turns my raw cloth into clothing.
[A couple views of the booth]

I could only be at the show for a few hours but I made sure to see my favorite thing: the end-of-the-day blowout show at Mad Sal's Dockside Alehouse. Here are a few snapshots to give you the flavor. You can see more photos on Flickr

[Mad Sal herself, looking a little more angry than mad]


[Click on this image and look closely at how much naughtiness they pack into one moment]

[More Victorian naughtiness: literary domination]

Related Post:

Sunday, November 29, 2009


If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area and looking for something fun to do this holiday season, check out the Dickens Fair at Cow Palace. It's an all-day immersion in the fantastical London of Dickens' imagination.

The streets are full of characters from the books, leading you through the various stories as the day unfolds.

Make sure to look at the performance schedule early in the day. The shows are fantastic! My personal favorite is Mad Sal's Dockside Alehouse, featuring a bawdy and lascivious revue (by 19th century standards.)

While you're there, be sure to visit the Shuttle Creek Weaving booth and see all the beautiful garments that I've been weaving since April. You'll see cloaks, shawls, jackets, vests and scarves in a variety of colors and patterns. Annie is an extremely talented weaver. She has designed her sumptuous fabrics and versatile, attractive garments to be very reasonably priced. Make sure to feel the various types of cloth and discover which one is right for you. Oh, yeah, and tell her I sent you.

Unfortunately, I am packing like mad for my move to Oregon so I won't be at the show.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Reality of Starting A Crafts Business

I write a lot about my day-to-day activities, but don't really talk much about my vision for the future. Traveling always seems to stimulate rumination on my place in the world and what I want out of life.

When I started my first crafts business ten years ago I had no idea what I was doing. I bought a lot of equipment and thought I'd just "wing it". I didn't have a clue just how much more it takes to start and run a low-margin business like this.

This time, I wrote a thorough business plan, expecting to take out a loan to get started. (Actually, I did 12 financial projections for different crafts businesses and chose the obvious winner in terms of earning potential and personality match.) The big dream loan didn't happen. Instead, my friends chipped in to support the "skin of my teeth" business model where I barely survive for a while in trade for irreplaceable experience.

Last April I started weaving on a contract, learning the ropes of the production world. In May I quit my minimum wage day job and started getting by on just my income from that contract. My finances have been ridiculously tight as I "put in my time" as an apprentice, gaining extremely valuable experience.

This week, that's all starting to change. I am giving up the San Francisco apartment that has been eating almost all of my income. I'll have spare cash for the first time in years. Well, spare isn't exactly the right word. I'll finally have the money to start taking intentional steps forward. And here's what that looks like:

1. Pay back my loans. People were incredibly kind in helping me to get my loom. I need to pay the rest of them back.
2. Buy a vehicle. I need to be able to transport myself and my weaving stuff.
3. Buy raw materials. I will need huge amounts of yarn to start weaving my own cloth.
4. Show and sell at Southern Renaissance Faire in March. Annie has offered to let me sell in her booth as a way to get started in the Faires.
5. Really prepare for Northern Renaissance Faire in August. By then I'll have an impressive set of merchandise to show, maybe half of the booth even.
6. Find, enter, and sell in a show or two of my own.

From there I'm expecting to keep moving toward my goal of meeting other artists and creating a monastery based on the business of craftwork as a spiritual practice. By that time I will have been living it for a few years. I'm sure others will have noticed, and perhaps a few will be ready to join me.

Does anybody know a gentle, spiritually inclined fine wood worker? metalsmith? ceramicist?

Related Post:
Vision for a Crafts Monastery

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Greyhound, Ugh.

I had forgotten just how badly Greyhound has planned the southbound route to San Francisco. I got on the bus in Grants Pass at 6:30PM and slept maybe an hour, arriving in Sacramento at 2:00AM.

Here comes the kicker: the bus to San Francisco leaves at 7:00AM after a 5 hour layover. Driving from Grants Pass to San Francisco takes 6 hours. Greyhound takes 15.

Sacramento is rough enough that I don't trust that my bag would still be there if I fell asleep. So now the sun is up, I'm still on Greyhound, an hour from SF, and I've only had an hour of sleep.

Thank goodness I loaded up the playlist with Harry Potter audiobooks before I left. They helped to drown out the all-night CNN onslaught in the bus station. "Michelle Obama's important new dress...One year since the Mumbai hotel bombing...Stores expect record-breaking Black Friday..." It's all so inane and meaningless to every day life. Unlike Harry Potter audiobooks. :)

I've kind of gotten hooked on audiobooks lately. After 6 months of production weaving I'm finally good enough that it doesn't require every brain cell at full attention at all times. I sometimes have a little spare space in my head so I can listen to lectures by Terence McKenna and Graham Hancock, old-time radio shows, and audiobooks. It helps me to spend more hours at the loom if my mind can travel while my body works.

I can't wait to be moved up to Wolf Creek and weaving full time without San Francisco rent to pay. Then I can pay off my debts and buy a van, lots of yarn, and some important loom parts. Things are moving now!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Big Move

[Grandad Plum in front of the late-turning cherry]

Today is an exciting day. I'm taking Greyhound to San Francisco, packing up my stuff, and moving to Oregon. Tomorrow night I have Thanksgiving dinner with my magical family in Oakland. It'll make my short time in the city just a little bit nicer.

I was telling a friend yesterday about how I have one of his pieces of beadwork as the only magical decoration on my loom. Here's a picture. Isn't his work beautiful?

[Beadwork by Laine Thom and an earring from Eldri]

Monday, November 23, 2009

More Forest Fun

[Bambi found a Chanterelle! See the chewed stem chunks just above it?]

The other day a few of us went on a spontaneous hike. We got quite a ways down the logging road when we were suddenly inspired to head up into the forest. In about 20 feet I spotted a little hole with chewed Chanterelle pieces around it. As I was lamenting our fortune, Bambi noticed a lump about 12 inches away. When he dug it up, there was a beautiful mushroom. That makes 4 Chanterelles so far this year, dried and stored until we have enough to eat.

[Get your daikon!]

Our friend, Ben, gave us some beautiful produce the other day. Here's Bambi, excited about more yummy food.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


[The cherry tree is giving exciting color to the bleak landscape]

Yesterday was a big day. I had been pushing myself hard to get as much cloth delivered as possible. It's the last batch of cloth for the last show of the year. From here on I'm weaving for next year.

[The first 50 yds of the navy beam and the invoice that will help me move here!]

[Look at the weight difference between shawls and cloaks. The gold wool is the cut line.]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Multicolor Shawls

It's another blog day in pictures. I have lots to weave, but not much to say. It's one more loooong day before delivery.

A couple of the shawls yesterday are a really cool set of colors woven with a slubby rainbow yarn.

[Overall Color Effect]

[Closeup to see the twill]

Here's a bunch of stuff that's not cut off the loom yet: 15 yds of navy, 15 yds of maroon, some shawls in rainbow and some in navy.

[And here's the loom yesterday]

Today I'll weave two more shawls, four ruanas and two yards so I can cut the ruanas off the loom.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Now In Red

[The cutting line between navy and red yardage]

I've got myself down to the wire again. Here are a couple snapshots of the cloth I'm weaving right now. Delivery on Wednesday. Woohoo!

[Selvedge pattern is easier to see. The unevenness lets people know it's handwoven.]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Twill Selvedge

[The problem: selvedge floats]

At the beginning of almost every beam it becomes clear once again that I'm really just an apprentice. This time, I failed to think all the way through the selvedges on an overall pointed twill cloth.

Ordinarily, I would just look for the harness that's always changing when the shuttle is on that edge, and use it as the outermost thread in the selvedge. With a pointed twill it's more complicated because there's no one shaft that fits the bill. The shaft that catches in the right-sloping section is skipped entirely in the left-sloping section. So I decided to add two shafts just for the selvedges.

Then I remembered that a tabby selvedge would not work. Tabby requires more thread, less tension, however you want to say it. I would have ended up breaking threads all the time so I designed a three thread 2/2 twill selvedge to match the rest of the cloth. It has a maximum float of three threads, too. (That's why it's so narrow.)

[My selvedge draft in Excel]

The important feature of this design is that the outermost thread always changes position when the shuttle is on that side. This makes sure that the weft interlocks and doesn't leave edge floats. A few hours after designing this, I had the loom rigged up with two more shafts.

[See the two almost empty shafts? I had to add heddles just to bear the return spring tension.]

It worked! The selvedges are just beautiful - smooth and acceptably even with no floats.

[Woven with the three thread selvedge]

It's not a perfect solution in that it has me lifting an unequal number of shafts on each pick. This makes for muscle strain as I anticipate the weight. It's good enough for now.

Does anyone know of a better solution? This still seems kind of makeshift to me.

[Pretty Navy Twill]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Weaving Without Tying On

Today's blog is a photo expo. It shows how I started weaving a beam without tying onto the apron rod to transport it to the back of the loom.

[Threads dangling down behind the roller. Notice the selvedge weight.]

[A little while later the threads are removed]

[I just deal with it bunching up on my feet]

[And then get it over the treadle mechanism]

[And here's a photo of the finished cloth with a navy weft. Pretty!]

Related Post:
New Pattern: Wow!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Pattern: Wow!

[Pointed twill header. It's OK that it's not perfectly even]

I did get all set up to weave last night. Whenever I change patterns I weave the first few inches with a thin, high contrast yarn. This helps me to spot threading and pegging errors. As this pattern revealed itself I became more and more excited. It's gorgeous!

Complex pointed twills are widely used in traditional fabrics from around the world because they're exciting but easy to weave without a complicated loom. With a high contrast yarn, this pattern looks like Thai silk to me.

[Cheating non-tie-on]

I experimented with another time-saving trick yesterday. Ordinarily I start a beam by threading the apron backwards from the cloth takeup beam to the breast beam, cutting the knotted threading section off, and carefully tying onto the apron rod. This takes about 45 minutes.

[The last beam, tied on carefully]

This time I decided to see what happens if I trust the sandpaper to hold the raw threads under tension as I wove the header. It worked! And now that it's cloth against the beam, the slipping risk is almost nil. So I just need to start weaving the real cloth. I'll feed it through the loom as it's woven until it reaches the takeup beam. Not only does this new system save time, it reduces warp waste by about a foot. That's an extra $25 worth of cloth on every beam, $300 a year. (When I'm not an apprentice any more, it'll be my own money that I'm saving. I'll get there soon enough...)

So now I'm racing against the clock. Every yard of cloth that I weave between today and the 19th will help me to pay for the move from San Francisco. It's going to be tight, but I think I'll make it. Sorry if I skip blogging a little.

Related Posts:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Knots, knots, knots

[Inside the loom, tying lots of knots]

It's been a long few days as I prepare for the next warp, 150 yards of navy blue. It's getting close! Tonight I'll have it threaded and sleyed with the new dobby set pegged and tested. Tomorrow will be the first 10 yards of cloth. I can't wait to see it...

[Some of the 1200 knots, seen from the back]

Monday, November 9, 2009

Meadow Mushrooms

I've never posted a picture of how little loom waste is created with the AVL if you use cords to tie onto the beam. There actually couldn't be any less waste because you need the ends to tie on a new warp and prevent having to rethread.

[About a yard of waste]

In the last few weeks I've been so focused on the prized Chanterelles that I almost overlooked the beautiful and plentiful edible that's growing right in the back yard: Agaricus campestris, the common meadow mushroom.

[Look at them all!]

I am still without my good mushroom books so I'm forced to be less conservative than I would ordinarily be. I know that this mushroom is identified by a dry, bright white top that blushes tan but doesn't turn yellow when bruised, pink gills that turn brown with age, a thin membrane over the gills that turns into a ring on the stem, and brown spores. The last indicator I know of is that it smells delicious when cooked. Even with all these indicators, I'm not enough of a mushroom expert to know if there are unpleasant mimics so I'll probably harvest and dry them until I can get a positive ID.

[Here's the beautiful mushroom. See the pink gills? See the loom oil on my thumb? :)]

[A quick first harvest]

Update: Once these guys warm up, they bruise yellow quite quickly. The crushed stem bases smell phenolic, too. That changes the identity to Agaricus xanthodermis, a related species that causes mild gastrointestinal distress in most people. Ah, well. Guess I'll hold out for the Chanterelles after all.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


[Chanterelle, rinsed and ready to dry]

Today was the day I've been waiting for: the start of chanterelle season in our little valley. I only found one small patch and most of these were buried, but it's a start! It was almost dark before I even made it to the forest.

There isn't enough to eat so I'm drying them until there is. I'll chop the least appetizing specimens and use them to inoculate suitable areas closer to the cabins.

[Chanterelles in the drying basket, hanging above the wood stove]

I should be done tying on the navy blue warp and be started weaving it by Tuesday. I can't wait! That cloth is going to be beautiful.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cloth Swap, Chickens

[70 yards of gold cloth ready for delivery]

Yesterday was a big, exciting day. I woke up early to enjoy my morning tea before driving up to Annie's studio with Jared. There was spotty rain all morning so we packed some plastic sheeting to keep everything dry on the way home.

We got home just as the sun was setting, hauled the stuff into the house, ate a quick dinner and went to bed. (I'm still kind of sick from the gathering.)

This morning I got up and did a bunch of chores before finally opening up the beam and seeing the new colors for the first time. This beam is gorgeous! It's very dark and subtle, but I love the effect. It really feels like Christmas when I unwrap a new beam.

[150 yards of navy blue, freshly unwrapped]

[Closeup of the colors]

While I was showing the colors to Piwacket, our friend Ben knocked on the door. He brought us a trunkload of chickens! We ran down and carried them up to the Coop DeVille.

[Chickens aren't smart enough to get out of a box]

There are 12 new chickens all together:
2 Rhode Island Red
1 Black Astrolorp
8 Araucana
1 Other

[Pretty ladies in a pen full of duff]

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Happy Halloween!

[What a toothy grin!]

Sorry to have disappeared for a while. The gathering was a huge success, peaking at about 120 people. In the last two days there has been an amazing exodus, leaving about 15 people at dinner tonight.

It was an amazing reunion! I saw friends and family that I haven't seen in years. The last we were all together in the same place was at least 8 years ago. I met lots of new people, too. The generations are piling up and I find myself an elder already.

I usually get depressed when people leave after a gathering like this, but this time I have a lung infection on top of it. Yuck!

Tomorrow I have to weave the last batch of shawls so I can deliver cloth on Friday. I'll be bringing about 65 yards altogether. Yay! I really love seeing piles of cloth that were made by my hands.