Monday, March 29, 2010

Rapid Prototyping

[First cuts on my cloth]

Yesterday was another big milestone: the first time cutting and sewing my own handwoven cloth. Before my year of production apprenticeship I was really a dabbler, warping the loom for a few custom pieces at a time and hand binding all the edges on the loom.

I've finally finished weaving the contract work that needed to be delivered before the faire and set up a new sewing table with good lighting. Yesterday and today are my prototyping days. By tonight I will have made some decisions about what styles I'm producing. Then it'll be quick stitching day and night to make enough merchandise for a nice display on the first weekend.

After that, I'll be modifying my designs every week based on customer feedback and producing the new merchandise in time for the next weekend's show. At the end of seven weekends and thousands of customers, I should have a good idea what people like.

Here are a few snapshots of yesterday's work...

[Tobacco Pouch, modeled by Piwacket]

[Mini Tote]

[Shoulder Bag]

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Faire Setup

I've been back for a couple days now, but sleeping or working every minute. I leave again on the 5th to go sell at the faire for 7 weeks. Today I finally woke up early enough to post this blog entry.

It's a little photo essay of building the booth. It took 3 days with two people, and it looks great!

Annie got a few surprises this year. The new booth space means that we have shade. Yay! It also means that we had to build a 32' view block wall, 8' high. In order to maintain the illusion of Renaissance immersion, it's important that visitors can't see the backstage areas.

We got it all done, and from the looks of other construction there, ours is pretty easy.

Now I'm home and working hard to get everything done before a two-month trip to work the faire. Wheeeee!

[The bare booth site]

[Booth and tent in the van]

[One pole is multiply braced]

[End of day 1: tent up plywood painted]

[Building a 32' view block]

[Day 2: view block done!]

[Broom booth done]

[Day 3: all built and secured to sit 'til the show opens]

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Leaving for Faire Setup

[Snowy ridges and flowering trees]

[Reorganized cabin]

Rushing, rushing! Two new roommates have the loft to themselves. My loom, bunkbed, sewing table and all my posessions are downstairs now. It's cozy.

Look at all the cloth on top of the loom! That's gonna be a lot of bags. Leaving now for faire setup.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Beginner's Luck

The cloth is coming along, with 8-12 yards a day woven, washed and dried. I am very lucky and thankful that the tension problems on the beam are not affecting the quality of the cloth.

When I was winding the beam, there were so many factors to consider that I neglected to manage an important one. Since my tension box is so wide and my beam sections are so narrow, I tilted it at an extreme angle to make the threads closer together on the way from the box to the beam.

[Tilted Tool]

This caused the sections to be uneven. The dark threads stood up higher and the light threads felt looser. I still don't understand quite what happened. Maybe the friction on the "entry comb" was uneven? Maybe the threads rubbing on the edge of the box after the "exit comb" made them tighter?

[Uneven beam]

I was worried that the cloth would be affected. In the most extreme case, it could have turned into 4" seersucker. I was ready with a plan: cut it on the tight stripes and make hundreds of pouchy little bags. Thankfully, this isn't necessary. The cloth is beautiful and doesn't show any sign that the beam wasn't wound perfectly. I'll still make some little bags, but not 75 yards worth.

When I talked it over with Annie, she said, "Well, why didn't you just thread it narrower in the tension box?" Of course! That's what I'll do next time. I'm always learning.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Designing Handwoven

Production weaving is a beast all its own. The goals seem completely at odds: make consistent cloth quickly, and make it look "handwoven." In the eyes of the American customer, consistent cloth looks mass produced and cheap. Of course, my tools are mechanical so the result is completely handmade, but it's not hard to end up with a result that is so consistent that it looks "machine made". Here are the tricks I use to make sure the result is immediately identifiable as handwoven and to make it efficient to produce.

1. Warp color stripes. These do a variety of jobs. They hide lost or doubled threads and make reed marks less evident. Color is the most obvious part of the design and gives people something they can grasp. For now, I'm using neutral-colored warps to retain flexibility in my weft choices.

2. Warp grist variety. Using a variety of yarn weights helps enhance the "handmade" feeling along with improving the effect of the color stripes.

3. Plied weft yarns. By winding several threads onto the bobbin together, an interesting effect occurs. The end-feed nature of the flyshuttle loosely twists the threads as they leave the bobbin. This twist creates an appearance that I call "treebark" after the Japanese name for a similar effect in shibori. (mokume) The effect can be subtle or striking depending on the contrast between thread colors. Either way, it helps a cloth to feel more rich and interesting.

4. Slub yarns. Used in the warp, the weft, or both, these give a little randomness and make a cloth feel more "informal" and "natural."

My goal as a designer is to use each of these factors in such a way that they create a natural overall feeling without any one technique becoming too dominant. It's a dance, and one that I can't wait to explore more and more in the coming years.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Finished Samples!

Today I'm just posting some quick pictures and getting back to the loom. I wove a sample piece yesterday and wet-finished it. This is all incredibly exciting to me, the culmination of a year's work as an apprentice. The ability to design a stable and pretty cloth and dress the loom to weave it were just dreams a year ago.

Here are some quick snapshots...

[White weft]

[Multi-tan weft]

[Multi-green weft, my favorite]

[Nubbly burnt orange weft]

[High contrast multi-blue weft]

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Double checking


I did something with my first wide cloth that is helping me immensely: designed for the width of the section. This turned out to make threading and sleying much easier because I have check points in my work.

As I thread, I know that every "white on the right" section ends with 1-2-3-4. Every "white on the left" section ends with 8-7. If I get to the end of a section and it's not right, I go searching for the problem and fix it. When it's right, I tie an overhand knot and move on.

Sleying is made easier, too. This pattern has 39 threads per section. With a six-dent reed, the sleying is 3-3-3-4. That gives 13 threads every 2/3" or 39 threads every 2". If the last dent doesn't have 4 threads, I go back and find out why.

Incidentally, I make use of the Texsolv heddles to speed up sleying. With one hand holding the tension, the other hand slides heddles over in sleying groups, double checking the threading as I go. For each dent, I carefully lay the threads across the top of the harnesses. When they're all laid out, I grab the auto reed hook and use one hand to grab threads from the layout while the other hand pulls them through the reed.

[Ready to sley]

Since my reed is exactly 60", all this accuracy pays off when I reach the edge and pull the last threads through the last dent. Whew!

[The End]

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Maintaining Order

How do I keep track of 1200 threads once they get onto the sectional beam? Here's how...

Remember last week I showed the crazy contraption that pulls from the cones and gets the threads onto the loom under tension? As each section is wound, I capture the order of the threads with masking tape before I cut them and move on to the next section.

[Threads exiting the tension box]

[Masking tape preserves the order]

Then, when they're all wound, it's time to thread. For one section at a time, I pull the masking tape through the loom and attach it to the closest harness. Then I grab the threads four at a time with my left hand before I clip and thread them with my right. If I don't let go, tangles cannot happen.

Repeat the motion 300 times and the threading is done! Thanks to the miracle of tape, the threads stay in perfect order.

[Carried over for threading]

[From here to there]

[Threaded and ready]

Monday, March 1, 2010

Rain and another cloth delivery



The other day we had the largest single-day rainfall yet this year. In six hours, the creek rose two feet and got LOUD. The culvert in front of Garden House couldn't handle all of the water so the road flooded. The area in front of our cabins is an absolute mud pit. For now, I have to carry everything 1/4 mile through the mud because no vehicle can get up here.


It was a trip to Lowell to swap materials. I dropped off 150 yards of cloth and picked up 86 pounds of yarn. My next personal warp will be mostly white.

We had a chance to hash out a lot of the details of the next few months. It looks like I'll be taking a loom with me to Southern Faire so I can weave during the week. And the place where I'll be staying is a nudist resort.

The Trickster is certainly at work here... I'm spending six weeks weaving clothing at a nudist colony! How many people can say that they've done that?

[A big pile of cloth]

On the way down the meadow to post this blog entry, I saw that the Tree Swallows are back. It was a pair of them, twittering and swooping through the air, all blue and iridescent. What a beautiful sight!

[photo from iBird Explorer app]