Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ghost Town of Golden

[Golden Community Church, a multi-exposure vertical panorama]

["Visitors Welcome"]

[The General Store]

[This outhouse is really part of the national monument]

I'm back home and settled in. It really takes a few days to get reacclimated to the pace of life out here. It's so much nicer than the Greater Los Angeles area.

The other day we went on a field trip to the ghost town of Golden. It's about 7 miles from the sanctuary, but I've never been before.

This whole part of the state was shaped by the gold rush, with many 19th century prospectors turning north to the Rogue River Valley from California. There are still quite a few active claims in the area, but nothing like what was in Golden.

The area was mined with hydraulic techniques that washed tons of dirt through sluices, leaving the soil level about 40' lower in some areas. When the gold dried up, they left the town just as it stood.

Nowadays, there are just a handful of buildings left. They are simple, but beautiful in an eerie kind of way.

It's good to be home.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rapid Change

[Tent, half down]

[Tent, completely down]

[Annie's van, half packed]

It's over! The faire was a success. I learned a ton of stuff about the customers, what they want, how to design for them, and how to sell to them. I also have a real idea of the actual amount of money that passes through the booth and how much inventory and variety it takes to make that happen.

We had the entire booth struck, packed, and rolling down the road in about 5 hours. My friend, TJ, had come down from Wolf Creek to bring some of his possessions north. He came by for an hour to lend his van packing skills, and thank goodness he did! Annie's van was packed to the ceiling by the time we were done.

Annie took her loom back, freeing up some space in my van. TJ and I went to Anaheim to get some of his things from storage and fill up that empty space. We were on the road by 6:00, arriving in San Leandro at 2:30 AM. The van is staying out there while I visit the city...

So now, I'm taking BART into San Francisco to help Carl move some of his stuff into storage.

It's a strange culture shock to go from the faire to the city, and then back to the forest. I can't wait!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sewing Outside

[From the loom to the sewing table]

Since Wednesday, the weather here has been spectacular. Highs near 85 and a light breeze have meant that it's nice to work outside.

To that end, I set up a sewing table under the canopy with the loom. There's just something poetic about making the garments right next to the machine that made the cloth. And the view? Beautiful!

[View of the mountains as I work]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mechanical Delicacy

This week has been very strange. This show has taken more energy than I understood. On Monday I did my bookkeeping, bank deposit, and such. Then I took a nap and awoke to rain that continued all the way through Tuesday.

I tried to sew more bags and had a short-circuit in the foot pedal. I took this (and my exhaustion) as a sign that it was going to be another day off. It means I'll be working part of Friday, but I'm OK with that. Thank goodness for the TED Lectures podcast through iTunes. I learned a lot while my body was resting.

Today the sun was shining in my window before I woke up. Yay! It's a weaving day. I'd have a set of ruanas woven, cut off, edged and shrunk before bed. Or so I thought...

The loom has been acting funny for a couple of weeks. Sometimes it doesn't advance. Sometimes it lifts the wrong harnesses. Sometimes it behaves like it's in reverse even though it isn't, but only for one pick and only when I'm not watching it. I've gone over the dobby box with a fine-toothed comb, scrubbing between levers with WD-40 and Q-Tips, checking the tension and alignment of every cable, cleaning, tightening and oiling every single moving part.

Everything I tried made it work a little better for a little while, but the problems kept coming back inconsistently.

Finally today I found a tiny nut on the ground under the loom. When I found where it belonged, it was the moment of realization... A tiny 3" cable had "stretched", causing everything else to go out of alignment.

[The bad cable is pulled out of service and replaced with a chain]

[The lever attached to that cable pulls an aluminum finger which advances the pattern pegs...]

[...which push on levers...]

[...which cause harnesses to lift.]

When the cable went bad it was like losing the timing belt in a car. The finger wasn't pulling the pegs all the way against the levers. Therefore, the harnesses weren't always lifting properly. One tiny bead caused weeks of slow and difficult weaving.

The funny thing is that I found and fixed the problem with only two yards left before I take the loom apart and return it to Annie.

And finally, when the weaving was done, it was time to stitch the ends and shrink it. Then the power went out. I thought at first it was the foot pedal again, but noticed that the light was off, too. I checked and, sure enough! The resort was without power late into the night.

I grabbed a pen and paper and worked out some block twill designs for a new cloth I'll be weaving when I get home.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Stacks of Garments

[Enough for now]

I did it! I learned how to make ruanas fast enough and consistent enough to sell them on weekend 6 of 7. This was the reason Annie taught me to make them, and I'm glad I didn't let her down.

After this show I'll be shopping around for a commercial sewing machine. I love my Singer 301, but it's too slow for production. The features I want most are:
- Extra long arm so I can push yardage through on the right side of the needle.
- Locking reverse. My bags require running the machine in both directions.
- Mounted flush to a table. The Singer sits on top right now and limits the length of stitch runs.
- FAST. I want to line up a seam and go!
-Automatic oiling. Right now I spend about 10 minutes a day oiling it. If I don't, it gets loud and clunky.

Well, I'm off to the show. Let's hope we can sell it all!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Skills Are Exciting!

[Looks like a ruana!]

Today was an exciting day as I learned a new skill: sewing ruanas. Ordinarily I weave the cloth, cut it off the loom, fold it up and drive great batches of it to Lowell. If I see the final result before it's sold, it'll be months after I wove it.

This has led to a strange disconnection for me. Learning to sew ruanas bridges the gap in a big way. I can cut the cloth off the loom, stitch the edges, shrink it, cut it and sew it all in one day. It lets me remember how tight I was beating it, how thick the weft yarn was, etc. and see just how these factors affect the final garment. Overall, I think this skill will accelerate my learning to a great degree if I can make a habit of using it.

And then there's the plain exhiliration of it. I can hardly believe that I'm living my dream. I really, truly have the skill to take ordinary cones of thread and transform them into garments that people drape over themselves and feel glamorous. That is so cool!

Of course, it was slow going today. The first one felt like surgery as I interpreted written instructions and photos for the first time, having never seen the process in real life. I have this voice running in my head that can be overwhelming, "make sure the outsides face each other", "always end with the flat side of the seam to the outside", "mind the pattern placement when you're pleating", "don't stretch the cloth", "clip both threads immediately - snip, flip, snip", and so on. The more I do this, the more I'll be able to run on autopilot and really focus on the craftsmanship instead of the process.

By tomorrow night I will have sewn 8 ruanas and have another 4 woven. Maybe I'll take half of Friday to sew those 4 as well. If I'm that fast by Friday, that is. I do need at least half the day completely off.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sewing Ruanas

The faire is going well. So well, in fact, that we can't keep stocked up on our most popular item: ruanas. Annie sews and ships off a box of inventory every week or so to replenish the stuff we're selling. One thing we can't keep up with, however, is the peacock colorway.

Tomorrow we're doing something new. There wasn't enough time to ship peacock cloth to Oregon, have it sewn into ruanas and ship them back before Weekend 6, so I'm going to sew them down here. This is a big deal only because I've never sewn garments from Annie's cloth before.

She's done an amazing thing, though. She wrote a detailed document explaining exactly how she sews these garments and photographed every step of the process. The first one will be a challenge, of course, but I think it'll all come together pretty quickly. I should have 12 of them woven and sewn by Friday.

[Two batches of ruanas: one fresh from the loom and one stitched and shrunk]

[On the loom: the appearance and feel of a screen door]

[After washing: fluffed up and sumptuous. See how little light gets through?]

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Visiting the Desert Flowers

Today I got up early to weave more cloth that needed to be shipped this afternoon. While I was out, I stopped at Joann's to buy bright blue thread and needles for next week's sewing adventure.

On the way home I spied the yucca blooming in the desert across the street from camp so I took a little break, suited up for tick and rattlesnake safety, and hoofed it down for a closer look...

[Twelve foot tall flower spike]

[New shoot, only six feet tall]

The desert is absolutely exploding from the spring rains. It has turned into miles of ground covered with gold and orange flowers dotted here and there with blue, purple, and every other color. And every so often there appear stands of these majestic white yuccas.

Gold is the theme lately. Here are photos of my two favorite birds sharing the campsite right now. I realize that the photos make them look similar. Their size, behavior and sounds are so different that they couldn't easily be mistaken for each other in real life.

[My favorite bird to watch]

[Calmer, quieter, and beautiful to see]

If you're a north american bird fancier with an iPhone, you really owe it to yourself to get the iBird Explorer app. It contains lots of birds, searchable by location, habitat, shape, size, color, flight pattern, and more. You can the see range maps and photos, listen to calls, and read good information on how to identify the bird in question. There's lots of information on each bird and a built-in browser that displays the wikipedia entry. Once you're sure of the identity and have read up on the bird, you can enter your own field notes.

All-in-all, it's a bird watcher's dream come true. I'd go so far as to recommend getting an iPod Touch on eBay just for this one app. The interactive search makes it better than any bird book you'll ever find, and far easier to carry.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Weaving in the Desert

Doing the books this week has been a sobering experience. I've been going along for a year telling myself that what I'm doing is the best thing I could be doing so it's not worth looking too hard at the details. "It's better to just keep on truckin'!"

Well, now I have choices to make. Do I continue with the plan to buy the booth? How long will it take to raise the money? Could I create other opportunities for myself that would pay off faster? Good numbers will help me make these decisions.

I am more resolved than ever to acquire the services of a good accountant. In setting up my accounts just for the purposes of data entry, I made a big mistake, marking the money people loaned me to buy the loom as an asset instead of a liability. I've fixed it, and it made a huge difference to the net worth graph...

[Net worth, bad accounting]

[Net worth, better accounting]

The first thing to notice is that the loan is a huge liability, worth a large percentage of the rest of my assets, including the loom. No wonder it's been so tough to put a dent in it!

The next thing to notice is the impact of my time at the sanctuary on my bottom line. I moved in August, the first time my net worth raised appeciably above zero. The Artist in Residence program is almost solely responsible for my ability to make it as an artist starting from scratch. I hope that we can keep this program going by finding other artists who could make use of just such an opportunity to launch a fledgling art career.

Even a big planning error that left me without weaving in December didn't drop me down as low as I was when I lived in San Francisco.

Accounting aside, this trip to Los Angeles is doing amazing things for me. Apart from testing my bags with thousands of customers, I'm developing crucial general insight into this customer base and their desires. Every day of the show I get feedback from hundreds of customers who try on garments. They tell me what they like, how much they are willing to spend, and what they'd change with the current line. In the end, they vote with their money.

I'm also learning how critical supply-chain planning is for a business like this. It takes a couple of months to go from a yarn order to a stack of saleable garments. And that's for each colorway. Right now I'm weaving as fast as I can and shipping stuff to Oregon so it can get sewn into garments for another show in a week and a half. Next week, I'll be weaving peacock ruanas and doing the sewing on them myself so that we have them to sell the following weekend. The good news is that this extra work is only necessary because sales are fantastic!

While I was at the loom today, I looked over my shoulder to see a roadrunner watching me from about 10 feet away.

[Image from iBird Explorer app]

I'm really enjoying all the birds down here. This is where many of the pretty migratory birds spend the winter. Right now we've got bluebirds, tanagers, and the noisy and beautiful hooded oriole. Some of them will probably head north at about the same time as I do, about two and a half weeks.