Sunday, April 24, 2011

First Bluebird Samples

Whew! After 90 hours of preparation work between me and Harlan, the bluebird beam is ready to start weaving.

Taking the time to set it up carefully is totally worth it - the ends are all within 4" of each other, there are no threading errors and I've had perfect tension from the very first pick.

I'm trying to decide whether I should keep the scarf with the knotted fringe or try to sell it as a one-of-a-kind process piece. For people who like unique fibercraft with a real story behind it, my first 1200 weaver's knots seems like something to appreciate.

Here you can see the first five sample wefts. Navy is already woven. Royal, teal, fiesta, and slate are lined up with the area where they appear in the warp.

And here's a flash-bulb snapshot after dark. (It was a long day.) You can see the denim, royal, teal, and a little bit of fiesta at the very top. Tomorrow I'll start on yardage and wet finish this sample blanket. Just a few more days before finished garments start going up on Etsy!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Weaver's Knot

My weaving education has been mostly a DIY affair. Even my "apprenticeship" with an experienced weaver was mostly self-instructed. She dropped off a bunch of weaving. I set up the loom myself and we talked on the phone if there were any problems.

I've always just done the best I could. I figured out ways to do things and then always do them that way. Tying knots is one of those things. I mostly just used simple overhand knots.

Now, I was an OCD Boy Scout in my early teen years so I "know" many knots. But knowing when to use them and how to tie them in skinny thread are completely different skills.

Over the years, I've heard of a thing called a Weaver's Knot, but never bothered to learn what it was until this week. Well, it's amazing! It is a tiny knot that can be tied with very short tails. (No trimming necessary!) The small size lets it slip easily through the heddles and reed while weaving. This knot tightens under tension and can be used to tie two different yarn weights together.

It was this last fact that made me remember learning it in Boy Scouts. They call it a sheet bend or a two-end bowline.

Since I have 1200 knots to tie this week, I thought I'd let myself slow down a little in order to get LOTS of practice tying this useful knot. Well, I'm halfway through and loving this new skill.

And here's how to tie the knot and make sure that only tiny ends stick out when it's tight. (You'll notice that I've let my nails grow for this part of the warping. It really helps!)

Step 1: cross the left thread over the right and squeeze them together

Step 2: pass the main body of the righthand thread behind its own end to make a loop

Step 3: bend the end of the left thread down through that loop

Step 4: grab the two ends on the front and back of the loop. Grab as close to the two ends as possible. These will be your tails. Use the pinky and ring finger to secure the loose body of the lefthand thread.

Step 5: gently pull the righthand thread up, making sure the knot tightens evenly.

With lots of practice, you can make these knots with almost no tails. This knot will also allow you to trim the tails almost to the knot itself if you like. Just make sure it's very tight first.

I've tied 600 so far. Another 600 to go! In a couple more days I am going to be so experienced at tying this knot that it will feel like second nature.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bigger Van

This week has been very strange.

I've been trying for months to arrange pickup of a van that recently came to me from a friend in Oakland. It was an offer I couldn't refuse, but I had no way to get it up here.

Why do I want a new van? Well, my current van is mechanically unreliable and very small. It felt downright dangerous pulling a packed trailed with it back in October. I want a van that is long enough to hold full-length lumber and powerful enough to manage the trailer safely.

Well, on Tuesday my prayers were answered in a very unusual way. Someone stopped by the land unnannounced, asking if anyone would like a ride to San Francisco, leaving immediately.

Poof! I had a bag packed in about 20 minutes and was heading down to get my van. I stayed a couple extra days in Oakland, had dinner with my family, and drove home. This is not how I envisioned this week, and I'm still scrambling to catch up.

This new van needs some lovin', and it'll be a few weeks at least before I can pay for the registration. Once she's all polished up, this is going to be a great vehicle for me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bluebird Is Warped

Tomorrow I'll explain why I vaporized for a couple of days and today's post is just pictures. It's good news!

For now, here are pictures of the finished warp. You can tell from the amount of detail in the closeups that's invisible in the overall image... Pictures aren't capturing it very well. There's way more variety in the threads colors than even the closeups show. I'll have to figure out how to photograph this cloth by the time I've got garments ready for Etsy. That's about five days.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Peg Extensions

It looks like I'm going to have tension issues with this warp, too. Laura suggested that the beam itself might be flexing and causing the problem. With two beams in a row exhibiting the same symptoms in the same place, I think she's right. I'll take the beam apart and reinforce it after this batch of cloth. Thanks, Laura. I should have taken your advice before winding this beam.

In weaving it, I can make up for the issues by separately weighting the problem sections if I need to. I can also make the cloth take up the slack itself by weaving heavier cloth first. The higher deflection of warp threads traveling around the fat weft makes tension issues less problematic. I'll weave my lighter weight cloth on the second half of the beam.

In the meantime, I need to make sure that each section has the same length of yarn on it. Since the tension is loosening, it's becoming more difficult to fit it all within the pegs. It wants to spill over into the empty section next to it.

Teresa gave me a great idea on how to handle this. A little piece of aquarium tubing stuck on the dowels will make them longer and able to keep the threads under control. Thanks, Teresa!

For my next beam, I might use this technique across the whole width to give me an extra 20-30 yards without having to buy a bigger beam at this point. Of course I will buy one eventually so I can warp a second project while an assistant weaves the first one, but this shoestring startup can't afford any of that quite yet.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jewel Tone Closeups

Yesterday I wrote about Harlan and all the thread plying he's been doing for me. After that, I thought of a way to show the result of all that work: a closeup of the threads for one section all spread out and separated.

And while Harlan and I were winding, this little guy fell from the ceiling. I just had to see what he looked like next to the warp threads.

Well, my cloth is too cool for his coloration to blend with even the warmest section, which I happened to be winding when he arrived... But, if I warmed up the warp to a golden forest green, he would match perfectly. Thanks to photo editing software, I can try it out.

I've got plans to weave a beam of forest green this year. Maybe an area with warm golds in it would be a good idea. I'll go ahead and buy the gold thread with my next order. I'd better watch out, though! Too much gold and customers tell me it makes them look jaundiced.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Harlan Makes The Yarn

A while back I wrote about the craftsman movement that started over 100 years ago and how it has influenced me to do the highest quality work that I can. (You can read that post here: Als Ich Kann)

Well, that idea has caused me to push myself super hard on this new batch of cloth. I wrote yesterday about some of the subtle design work that I'm doing. I didn't write enough about my friend, Harlan.

Harlan is doing a very important step for me: plying the tiny yarns into a size that's usable. My yarn supplier has offered to ply them for me, but my complicated color combinations preclude us from working that way.

There are no threads in this entire warp that are just one color. Every thread is plied from 3-5 strands of different colors. And this is what Harlan does. Every day we start by looking at the threads I'm currently winding and deciding whether I need more cones of those colors or whether he should move on to the next set of colors.

Then, we make thread combinations:
Navy, royal, seaport
Navy, royal, fiesta
Navy, seaport, denim
Seaport, denim, royal
Seaport, denim, ultramarine
Seaport, denim, teal
... etc.

And then Harlan uses the Silver Needles Cone Winder to wind cone after cone, all day long, stacking them on a new shelf I just put up. When I'm on the floor, placing cones on the rack, Harlan has an extra set of eyes up on the shelf.
"Do we have a four-strand combo that's heavy on teal?"
"No, here's blue with one strand of teal. I'll put the high teal combo next on the list."

By having his help on this important part of the process, I can focus on creating a design that does exactly what I want it to. Without him, it would take me more than twice as long to get this beam wound, and I'd probably make mistakes just from splitting my attention.

So, thanks, Harlan! I couldn't do it without you.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Symmetry In Sectional Design

The design of my latest beam is pushing my limits in many ways:
I've never worked with so many colors.
I've never plied colors to give such a rich effect.
I've only once done a gradient over multiple sections.
I've never used multiple types of symmetry simultaneously.

In the image above, you can see the overall effect I'm going for. The cloth will be dark navy in the center, fading through bright blue and teal to a light, bright grey-blue at the edges. This effect is pretty easy to achieve. Every time I move over a section I swap out some threads from the color I'm fading away from and replace them with the color I'm fading toward.

It's a little more organic than that. When I say "color", I really mean "color group". My assistant is working hard to stay one step ahead of me, winding up cones plied from multiple threads within the color group that we're working on. Each color group has 3-5 colors in it so we have dozens of possible plied combinations. The effect of plying threads and putting them next to each other is a complex set of organic stripes like a forest of saplings. Sometimes similar colored threads end up near each other and create a little stripe of that color. Those stripes are pretty random, being the result of several steps that are too complicated for me to have complete control. And that's just how I like it.

These natural stripes create a fun challenge for the detail-oriented: find the symmetry. Do the stripes repeat? This I where I've added another layer of symmetry: bookmatching. As I move out from the center, I flip each section before I swap out the threads that are getting replaced.

The finished effect will be similar to bookmatched wood or stone. In those materials, a good part of the interest comes from the fact that the stripes are not identical. As your eye moves from stripe to stripe, they are similar enough to catch your attention, and different enough to keep it.

The organic stripes I was just talking about should simulate the grain in wood or the veins in marble and create the same visual effect in my cloth. The color progression should act like the difference in veining from one slice of marble to the next, drawing the eye across the whole piece of cloth.

In order to make the bookmatching symmetry a little easier to spot, I've added a few contrasting threads that will stand out and draw your eye to it. Oh, yeah, and the threading pattern is designed to highlight the bookmatching effect, too. It will be the same meandering pointed twill that I used for the white beam. Since that pattern is mirrored and repeated with each section, it will only increase the similarity to marble veining.

All-in-all, I'm pleased with the thread colors and the progression that is on the beam so far. I can't wait to see the cloth! Just 4 more days of beam winding, a day off, 3 days of knot tying, and a day of sampling. Then, when it's too late to make any significant changes, I'll get to see the result.

Production weaving is not for the impatient!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Weaving Video: Winding A Sectional Beam

This video shows how I wrangle 39 cones of yarn simultaneously as I wind the sectional beam on my 60" AVL production dobby loom.

Thank goodness my friend has started helping me this week. He can ply about 10 cones an hour, while I empty 39 cones in 4 hours. After he finished the first day of plying, we are keeping perfect pace with each other.

And when he's not winding, he can do other things like shoot videos of me doing the various parts of the process. It all started because I was lamenting that I can't sit and watch the cones unwind simultaneously. I'm too busy making sure the threads go where they're supposed to. Once I saw the video, I want to sit and watch it even more. It's cool!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Making New Tools

In winding the last beam, I learned a lot about the process. I've been thinking a lot about ways to speed it up and give a better result. In this case, that means higher and more even tension.

The first thing I noticed on the last beam was how much time I spent unthreading and rethreading the device that I use to feed from the cones. This extra work happened because I reverse the order of the cones after every section to keep the pattern mirrored on the center line.

I brainstormed and found a way that I wouldn't have to rethread the screen or reverse the cones by hand. The new cone rack is on wheels so I can just turn it around. The screen is attached to it so I don't need to unthread when I reverse. Instead, I just turn the rack, tilt the screen, and get back to work.

This will save at least 15 minutes per section, 7.5 hours total.

You'll notice that my 40 cones leave lots of extra space on the device. I'm considering another way to speed up: wind two sections at once, 80 threads altogether. I made the device big enough to handle that if I want it to.

The last beam had tension issues. There is a chance that they came from the beam itself. If this turns out to be the case, I'll pull the beam apart and reinforce it after this batch of cloth. There's also the chance that my loose winding was the cause. The tension box wasn't able to provide very much or very consistent tension.

I built this box several years ago and can hardly believe it has lasted this long. It's near the top of my "tools to replace" list when I have the money.

For now, though, I just modified it again. I added two threaded collars so I can insert two more pegs between the others. This will bring the thread into contact with 6 pegs instead of 3, and should more than double the tension. I'll find out right away if this is too much and back it off if I need to.

The last beam was so soft that I think I'll get at least another 25% on this beam by increasing the tension. That would be 100 yards instead of 80, and would go a long way toward paying for the huge startup cost on each beam.

Once I get into my first sales season, these tools should pay for themselves. I've built them as another investment in the future. The time I spent making them will come back to me with just a few weeks of higher productivity.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bluebird Design Is Done

At last! I've been "procrastinating" this design for almost two weeks as I finished up the white cloth. Partly, I couldn't wrap my head around how to design with so many colors.

Finally, it's come down to the wire. It's going to take several days to ply the threads for the next warp, so I needed that design done today. I tried a new approach and it worked!

Since I'll be plying the threads like I did on the last beam, I decided to test out some plied gradients. I think a simple gradient from darkest to lightest will work well. Since I am plying and can add a single strand of random color here and there, I'll do that. This effect worked very well for the white, so I'm sure it'll work just as well for the blue.

I have a friend helping me with this beam. He's winding cones while I modify my equipment in preparation for winding this next beam. In order to do that, we've had to label all the shades of blue so we can talk about them and be clear what we're talking about.

Next to the plying station, I set up a shelf of sample cones, each labelled with its color name. Along with facilitating clear communication, this little sample shelf is nice to look at.

White Is Off The Loom

The pipeline that I set up to create and finish the white cloth is emptying out. The loom was cleared today, making room to start winding on blue threads. The batch of white that I took off today needs to be stitched and washed. Several other batches have have been washed and cut apart and are waiting to be sewn into garments. All of the photography and listing are done.

At the end of this beam, I can see that my counting mechanism needs a little adjusting. Several sections ran out before the rest. When that happens, I cut them off, tie them up and keep on weaving! I'll decide later on what will happen with the yard of cloth that has extra fringe. I think fringed bags sound fun.

For the next beam, I'll have to focus on using my counting bell more consistently. One yard of waste isn't all that bad, but it's still more than I want.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Etsy Photography: Still a ton of work left

I have a tendency to focus on tiny details, that's why I'm a weaver. With my cloth, I can keep the big picture in mind while I'm doing it, but that isn't always the case in other things.

Today I was looking at other ways that people might find my store and seeing what it looked like in those views.

I tried "Shop Local". And there I am. See that monochrome stripe of brown and white icons? Even if each one was perfect, which isn't the case, the overall effect is BORING!

It looks like time to haul my posing dummy around the land and take a series of location shots to use for main product icons.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Etsy Photos: finally got the right proportions

Shooting photos for Etsy is a tricky process. Even once the lighting, backdrop and product poses are what you want, there's still an art to cropping them.

This last month has been a big learning process as I try to handle it all at the same time. And finally, with the last of my products to come from this batch of weaving. I think I got most of the pieces right.

The trick came in noticing the different ways that main product photos will be scaled and cropped for display in different parts of Etsy.

For a while I thought that squares were the way to go. These are cropped correctly in a store listing, but the top and bottom get cut off when they are displayed as large icons like in the featured items bar or in treasuries. Those icons are displayed at 5x4 proportions.

In the image above, notice that the second item gets the top and bottom cut off when it appears in the featured items bar on top. This makes it look crammed.

The right answer seems to be to shoot the photos aware of a 5x4 rectangle around the focal object, making sure that the left and right sides contain nothing important when the image gets cropped to square.

In the picture above, the first and third items were shot that way so the icons look great to me in both locations. I think this will make my items more attractive to treasury hunters. In the next few months I'll go back and reshoot all my photos with this awareness in place.

Better late than never!