Monday, April 30, 2012

New Product Development: Throw Pillows

When I started making ruanas, I made different decisions from my teacher on a number of fronts. One of them was the uniqueness of my cloth. I design my cloth with much more complicated color gradients. Another was the decision to never weave two garments with the same weft colors. This means that hoods are not interchangeable and that there will always be "left over" cloth when we cut out the hoods. We use the center of the cloth and have a matching pair of squares that remain unused. I've been carefully folding them and putting them in a box, waiting for the day that I can develop a line of throw pillows.

Well, that time has finally come. Today I'm at Select Designs, where Karen and I are problem-solving the development of these pillows.
What weight of cloth should we use for the back?
How much cloth does each one take?
How are we finishing the edges?
Do we need to use bias tape to hide the seams?
How long will it take for each one when we get into full production?
What size pillow form do I need to stuff them correctly?

We're working out the answers to all of these questions today so that I can buy, prewash, and iron the bolts of backing cloth, buy the pillow forms, and have about 30 pairs of them sewn and delivered in time for the UDistrict Street Fair in Seattle two and a half weeks from now.

I think that throw pillows are going to take the place of the scarves that I've been (not) selling. They're meant to bring a different customer into the booth: people who are more interested in adorning the house than adorning themselves. They'll probably be priced about the same as the scarves. It's much less cloth but much more money for other materials and sewing time.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Blog Catch Up: Perfectly Wound Beam

My experience with winding the blue cloth back in March had me questioning my winding procedure. Then I finished weaving the sandstone beam and saw that the problem really was just with that one batch of cloth. The previous beam had been wound perfectly.

Every section ran out at exactly the same time, meaning that every section had been turned exactly the same number of times. My process was more perfect than I expected. This helped to set my mind at ease. If I just fix the loose mechanism that allowed the counter to flop around, then the next batches of cloth might be just as perfect. That's good. It's a cheap and easy fix that will get tested and refined again and again.

You'll notice in these photos that I don't weave all the way up to the heddles like most people. That's because I need a 1-yard "tail" so that I have something to tie the next batch of cloth onto. And, besides, after I pull these tails through the heddles and reed and cut them off, I bundle them up for a friend who does embroidery with them.

UPDATE: I can't believe it took me so long to get these photos off the camera and onto the iPod for blogging. Since then I've wound two more beams with the same old counting mechanism taped like a mummy. It seems to have worked like a charm since the tension on both beams is fantastic.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Whole Day Off!

I woke up yesterday and went into the studio to start my work right on time. But when I got there, I just couldn't do it.

We've had beautiful weather for a few days now and I've stayed inside expanding the usable studio space and weaving just as fast as I can. And today my body said, "get out there and enjoy the nature!" And so I did, production schedule be damned.

It was a whole day of trekking around and exploring the AMAZING natural sights in the area: mountains, rivers, and forests filled with wildflowers. I reveled in the smells of new cottonwood leaves, buckbrush flowers, pine needles in the sun, and many, many more.

I didn't take out the iPod at all except to share one breathtaking sight. At Mill Creek Falls in Prospect there is the most powerful display of the natural power of water that I've experienced in a long time. In the spot where I took this video, there is no fence protecting a person from falling hundreds of feet into the raging torrent. My heart is racing now just thinking about it!

Even the ending of the day, one of my dangerously bald tires finally giving out, wasn't enough to lower my spirits. The day was glorious and gave me the energy to keep pushing through my production catch-up schedule. Just another month of long days and I'll have enough inventory that I should be able to keep up, even while doing two shows a month. And if I run out of inventory at that point, well I'll be "crying all the way to bank", as my dad would say.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Super-productive Day

I used my emotions to make a decision for once, and I think it was a good one. After weeks of dealing with the tension issues on the blue beam I decided to just work super long days and get it done and out of my way instead of sitting there as a constant reminder of the mistake I made back in the old basement studio.

I was reminded of the adage, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" and struck by the passive-vs-active dynamic in the wording. It doesn't say "remember lemonade", "wish for lemonade next time", or "talk about lemonade". It tells us to think of the best result we can achieve with what we have and take action to make it into reality. Action is magic.

The result of my push to do the best I can with the blue beam has resulted in a big bolt of cloth, much of which is in the form of strips with fringe between them. (It's about 30 yards altogether.) I foresee a new line of fringed stoles, dresser scarves, table runners, placemats, and some beautiful long scarves.

Here's a photo essay to show how the end of the weaving went...

I also created a new system to keep track of how much yardage I'd woven in the various colors. The strips of tape have one inch of length for every yard of cloth.

After the cloth was done, I immediately put the remainder of the grey beam onto the loom. Then I went into "new studio setup" mode, clearing out the other loom nook, stapling up the plastic to protect the cloth from fiberglass, vacuuming, and hauling all of the loom parts up the stairs.

And then, after doing dishes, I spent a few pleasant hours sitting in the comfy chair next to a jar of hyacinths brought in from the garden. Simple pleasures like this make it all worth it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Daily Routine

I'm trying out a new concept and a new piece of software to support that concept...

I'm sure you've met people who love their routines. Heck, I've been in our little community long enough that I forget that most of American culture (Western, for that matter) is based on them. Rush hour happens because so many people have the same schedule Monday through Friday. Living out in the forest and setting my own schedule means that I don't have that same sort of structure.

One reason that I'm a weaver is that I like to do the same thing over and over again. How did it take me so long to figure out that I might try applying that to my daily schedule, too?

Well, I'm doing it now and I LOVE it. I've designed a schedule just for me. It takes into account my preexisting tea ritual and the fact that I need more frequent breaks the longer I've been working.

The Daily Routine app lets me create separate routines for different types of days. Office days have fewer working hours and more breaks because it's tougher for me to do brain work for the same amount of time as I put into weaving.

Some of the other types of days have yet to be defined. I just haven't set aside the time to set them up, but I will before the first one of them arrives.

Once the routines are defined, they are then applied to actual calendar days. The method for doing this is a little convoluted, but the beautiful and clear interface makes it pretty simple anyhow. (You can see that I've only been using this since April 17th...)

And once all that input work is done, the app just works. I've told it that all time blocks except sleeping and relaxing should begin by chiming a bell and popping up an alert to tell me what that bell means.

I find that it's making me WAY more productive. Instead of finishing a task and taking a quick break, I look to see when my next break is scheduled and find a task to fill in that time. Fewer unnecessary breaks means that I magically get more done in the same number of studio hours.

I'm especially amused at this last image disclosing my personality type. "11 hours and 19 minutes of fun left." That phrase seems to just suck the fun right out of it, doesn't it? Well, it doesn't really, not for me. I'm OK knowing that my day off consists of sleeping in until 9:00 and then having 13 hours of fun before bed. And since I'm so much more productive in the rest of my days, I've decided to take two days off every month for a while and see how I like it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Changes in the Blog and Newsletter

I've decided to change the approach on my blog and my other social networking efforts.

I love blogging. It's really fun to tell my story for folks who want to hear about the "behind the scenes" aspect of starting and running a weaving business. I've been hearing requests for another type of correspondence. People want to join a list where they can just hear about the products and deals without all of the back story. So, I'm changing things up a bit.

I'm working on a separate blog, Weaving Monk, that will serve just to announce new colors, new products, and special deals.

I'm also reconsidering the amount of focus and interaction that I engage in on my other social networking venues, too. I think that they need more attention.

What does this mean for my main blog? Well, I'll probably be cutting back on my posts here to give me the time to work on other networking efforts. I promise that I won't disappear entirely, just probably cut back to two or three posts a week here instead of posting nearly every day.

As for the email newsletter, it kind of doesn't matter what I do with it since I haven't sent one out since last fall. It will reflect the Weaving Monk blog, focusing on product announcements and special deals, and probably change to a more intentionally sporadic format to correspond with new color rollouts.

Do y'all have any ideas on these changes? Any comments on what else I should put into my new-product-and-special-deal focused newsletter?

"The Goods"

Look at how we unceremoniously haul thousands of dollars in handwoven garments in trash bags...

I went to Medford for the seamstress swap that gave me my first batch of blue ruanas on the afternoon before I left for the show in Bend.

The rest of that afternoon was spent on the floor of the bathroom with sudden and severe food poisoning. After nine hours of painful purging and frightening fever, it rapidly ended, just in time for me to go to bed and wake up to pack the van. Whew! That was a close call!

And see? These are gorgeous garments that wear just like they're supposed to. No sign of the tension issues that caused me so much trouble in weaving them.

The one in that photo is probably the one that I'll keep for myself. The blue areas are a deep cobalt.

Did y'all know that I keep one garment from each batch of cloth for myself? I know that I won't be doing this forever, and I'd like to have some memorabilia from my younger years as a production weaver. And I write off the inventory loss as "marketing" because I will need to have some of these garments on hand to rephotograph every time I shoot a new set of photos for jurying.

Eventually, I plan to do color-specific shoots with blue shot next to Crater Lake, red shot with Autumn leaves, grey in front of a sandstone cliff, etc. I may even enlist compelling models and hire a real photographer. Eventually. But until then, I just keep one of each garment color in my closet.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Miracle of GPS

Last fall I was looking over budgets and trying to cut any fixed monthly bills out of the equation, even if it meant spending a little more money in the short term.

I had been paying $40 a month for portable broadband, using a device called a MiFi hotspot. This was a great deal, but I really didn't want to pay it if I could find a way around it. I looked at the reasons that I had that bill: to process credit cards on my iPod and to give me Google Maps when I was in unfamiliar places.

I started asking other vendors how their credit card systems worked and found a great one: North American Bancard. The fee was the same as I paid to for my iPod-based system, and they don't require you to buy the terminal. When new terminal hardware comes out, you can upgrade for free.

Poof! One reason to keep my broadband bill evaporated immediately. Now, the maps. I decided to spend the money and try a dedicated GPS.

Holy Cow!

I searched around for the best deal I could and ended up getting one from an online electronics company running a hefty sale so it cost me about $150 with no monthly fee. That's less than four months of broadband, meaning that I'd own it free and clear and have an extra $40 in my pocket every month after January.

Now that it's paid off and I've had some experience with it, I'll give a little review.

If you travel to unfamiliar places very often, a GPS is worth its weight in gold. Instead of having to look at a tiny iPod screen while I drive and pull over to get new directions every time I veer from the route, I've got a talking navigator who sees my "variations" from the route and gives me clear spoken directions to get me to my destination no matter what.

It also has a useful feature that helps a lot when I have to make multiple stops along the way. I can program every destination into a "trip list" and it will speak out to direct me to each place in order. Do you know how many times I've arrived at a show site and then remembered that I was supposed to stop at Home Depot on the way to get some little booth part? Well, not any more. The GPS directs me to Home Depot, and when I turn it back on, it resumes the directions to get me to the show.

An added bonus to the trip list is that you can tell it how long you expect to be at each destination, and what time you need to arrive, and it will tell you when you need to leave.

And these time estimates aren't based on things like speed limit. In my understanding, one of the privacy trade-offs that we make in using a GPS is that it reports the actual travel speeds of its users back to satellites. This allows the GPS companies to know how fast people actually drive down every road in their databases. These estimates are continually being updated, giving us incredibly accurate trip timing estimates.

There are other nifty features that aren't essential, but sure are nice to have. If you've read my blog for a while, I'm sure you've noticed my inclination to see as far into the future as I can. When I'm traveling, this means guessing how long it's going to take me to get there (or trusting Goole Maps) and continually calculating my arrival time in my head while I drive. Well, guess what!? The GPS does it for me. It's got little programmable indicators off to the side. I have them set for "Current Time", "Arrival Time", and "Elevation". (This helps me see if the straining sound on the engine is a problem or just the fact that I'm climbing up a mountain that somehow looks level compared to the surrounding mountains. On this trip, the GPS showed me that this is why I had one of my boil-overs last year.)

And then there's the gas mileage calculator. Every time I stop for gas, I fill the tank and tell the GPS how much gas I put in. It knows how many miles I've travelled and calculates the gas mileage for me. I'm always in a hurry, but if I wasn't I could set the GPS to calculate routes based on efficient gas mileage. I did this for a while, but found it taking me on winding country highways to avoid faster mountain passes.

Overall, the GPS is like having a passenger along to help make sure I remember where I'm going, look at the map for me if I get lost, and give me clear directions when I'm driving somewhere I don't know.

In choosing a voice for the device, I went with the highest quality voice that it came with, in this case an Australian man whom I've named Dave. When he gives me bad directions, like the time on the way to McMinnville when he didn't tell me that I needed to merge across three lanes of traffic to get to an exit less than 1/2 a mile after getting onto a highway, I can calmly respond to his direction with, "I'm sorry. I can't do that, Dave."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How I Made My Tension "Good Enough"

I finally have a little bit of time to write about what I did to make the unacceptable tension on this batch of cloth acceptable. There are several things that told me the tension was unacceptable. First, one section was skipping, creating long floats on the surface of the cloth. It's because the beam turns at the rate of the tightest section and everything else is relative to that. That tightest section was REALLY tight. I had to set the beam tension to keep from breaking threads in it.

I added a little weight to the slack area so that I could weave enough cloth to wet-finish a sample. This is the true test of a cloth's characteristics. I needed to see whether I could get away with "sort of wonky" tension or if I needed to forget about having cloth in time for the next show and really fix the tension.

When the sample was done, I decided that I needed to reduce the tension on the tightest section, but that the others would be OK.

The procedure for fixing it is pretty simple. I just removed the tight section from weaving, taped it back into place, and wove off a bit of cloth with the remaining sections.

When the nearby sections are down to the same diameter, or really close, I put those threads back into action and the beam is ready to go!

Rethreaded, resleyed, and ready to start.

The result a few inches later...

Here's the piece of cloth with the section missing. I'll have to get creative to cut this cloth into scarves or shawls with fringe on the long side. Any cloth that's left over will get turned into throw pillows.

To make the tension "perfect", I'd repeat this procedure for the remaining tight sections, removing each one from service when it reached the diameter of the section I just fixed. I'd remove more and more sections from service while continuing to weave until all sections had the same diameter.

This is what will happen at the end. The short sections will run out and I'll keep weaving with the rest until the resulting cloth lies in strips too narrow to use, even for scarves.

There are several differences between doing it at the beginning and dealing with it at the end. The first factor, and the one that kept me from doing it, is time. It takes a long time to capture the thread order and rethread when it's time to begin weaving that section again. Doing it now would have prevented me from having blue cloth for customers who will arrive in my booth on Friday. That date will not change. At the end of the beam, I don't care about thread order. I'll just remove those sections when they run out and rethread them for the next project. It will take less time, and time will be less of a factor then.

The next factor to consider is tension. If I take the extra time at the beginning, the tension will be better for the rest of the cloth. If I don't (and I didn't) the tension will be an issue for the whole beam, finally resolving itself at the point when I'm weaving gappy cloth. And that's the price I'm paying for a simple mistake early on in the winding process. I've already spent about 60 hours dealing with this problem. There isn't enough profit in my production to pay for any more time fixing this cloth. I need to get it woven and move on to the next color. The only people, other than my blog readers, who would notice anything amiss with the cloth are textile aficionados, holding it flat against a wall and looking for flaws.

I blame my muse. Remember how I give credit to the muse when the cloth turns out perfect? Well, the flip side is that I get to share the blame when it doesn't. And perhaps I angered the muse by working on an unnamed loom without a talisman. These will both be fixed before I work on that loom again in a few weeks. Superstitious? Yeah, but to a healthy degree, I think. I recognize that my superstition really just serves to keep me humble when things go well and protect my ego when they don't.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Belated April Spools' Day

I'm running over a week behind in everything right now, including reading the blogs that I love so much. It's funny, starting the day by reading about other weavers and their work helps me to feel like I'm part of a community, even though most of them don't even know that I read their stories.

Meg in Nelson posted a challenge on the first for people to submit photographs of their spools, bobbins, pirns, and whatever else they use to weave with. Well, I guess it's providence that I didn't read the message until today because I finally retrieved the photos of my sample bobbins from the camera last night.

Here they are!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dream Alarm Clock

OK, so in the midst of all the show prep, I heard about a new alarm clock app for the iPod and decided to try it. It is pretty amazing.

This alarm clock uses the motion sensors in the iPod to determine how deeply you are sleeping, and connects to weather services on the internet. This lets you tell it to wake you when certain parameters are met:

1. Have I actually slept enough?
2. How deeply am I sleeping right now?
3. Is it warm out? Calm wind?

You can use all of these parameters to set intelligent alarms.

Here are the setting I'm using right now, and they're gaining me something like two hours a day.

1. It knows whether I've slept enough and wakes me later if I haven't.
2. "around" means that it will wait until it senses that I'm sleeping lightly before trying to wake me, regardless of how long I've slept.
3. The failsafe. If I didn't sleep well and I'm sound asleep, but it's now 7:00, it will wake me anyhow, using a more raucous sound.

At the end of the night, it saves a log of how deeply you slept. You can look back at old logs to remember how well you're sleeping and see if changes in diet, exercise, or something else caused a change in your sleep pattern. Pretty cool stuff.

And then there are all of the other parameters like if someone tweeted you. I can't imagine how to use that, but I'll bet it's useful to someone!

This is a pretty cool app, and has done a great job so far at helping me to wake up after I've gotten enough sleep instead of turning over and going back in to unneeded REM for another hour and waking up late and groggy.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I did it!

OK, so my correspondence is languishing, I haven't slept much the last few days, and I probably don't smell that great, but I delivered the cloth to the seamstress just in time to have blue ruanas for the show next weekend.

And now, to save myself another trip that costs much time and money, I'm going to keep up the frantic weaving pace. When I pick up the finished ruanas on Wednesday, I'll drop off another (smaller) batch of sewing that I'll then pick up in a couple of weeks when I'm in Wolf Creek anyhow.

And thus, the sewing pipeline will be stacked. Every month when I'm already passing through Wolf Creek, I'll swap a batch of cloth for the previous month's finished garments. No more running around like newly headless poultry. At least that's the plan...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Blue Cloth Is Finally Under Way!

After much futzing and cajoling, the blue cloth is finally behaving well enough for now. When I set this deadline two weeks ago, I made sure that it was a little flexible. I would deliver cloth to the seamstress on Friday afternoon or Monday morning first thing. If I weave night and day, I can drive away at 6:00 AM on Monday with 8 ruanas ready to sew in time for this show. I'll weave shawls on Monday and Tuesday, pick up the ruanas on Wednesday and leave on Thursday. Perfect!

Here's my extra-long sample blanket.

And my winding station by the window, just crammed with blue thread.

Friday, April 6, 2012

New Seamstress

I've made a couple of allusions to this, but haven't really talked about it...

Wispr has gone on a vision quest until June, at least. I miss my brother for lots of reasons, but in this blog I'm writing about the weaving business. He's been the one doing most of the sewing for about a year now, and his absence means that I have to do the sewing myself again (in my abundant spare time!) or hire someone else to do it.

Well, I just happen to have some good friends who own a production sewing company in Wolf Creek. They've been the largest employer in Wolf Creek for years, employing more people than the Inn, even during their slow periods. They are called Select Designs, and do incredible work. If you know anyone in the area who needs production sewing done, these are the folks to call. Most of their work is in outerwear: garden hats, raincoats, safety gear, and the like, but they have decades of experience in every type of sewing you can imagine. And they are FAST! That's one of the benefits of trusting a professional. They do not waste one movement or make due with cruddy tools. All of their machines are the best that's available. (They were the ones who sold me the horse-power-and-a-half production sewing machine that quadrupled my sewing productivity...)

Well, we've worked out a deal where they will do almost all of the sewing for me for a decent price, and even deliver it to Medford and save me an hour and a half of driving for each batch of cloth.

We're working on another deal now where they will design and sew pillow covers from my "scrap". I'll let y'all know when that comes together. They're going to be beautiful!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Canvas Heat Wall

The new house and studio is in a beautiful place up in the mountains. And today it's becoming clear that the key word is UP. We're at about 2300 feet.

Two days ago was warm and sunny. Yesterday was grey and drizzly, but today there's snow.

I'm glad today for a change that I made to the studio yesterday. I realized that I was running a little electric radiator to heat the whole space even though I am using only a tiny piece of it right now.

So, I whipped out my trusty canvas dropcloths and fixed up a wall. It's not much, certainly not "well insulated", but it does a good enough job of heating just the room where I will spend another day inside the loom tying knots. It's so much easier to fit inside that machine if I'm not wearing two layers of wool, too.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New Studio Setup

The morning after the move was finished, I needed to get going on the studio immediately. Yeah, I was exhausted and just wanted a day off, but no such luck! I've got shows coming and need to get the cloth done as fast as possible. Which means first getting the studio at least partially set up.

Before picture: the loom frame is starting to come together, but the rest is still just lumber.

As soon as the loom was assembled, I went to work on the lights.

I ended up hoisting an extra set of lights to the high part of the ceiling to give me enough illumination on the backside of the beam.

And this is when I got my first surprise of the project. After a day of working in this space I discovered that I itched. A lot. And then I noticed that the walls and ceiling are unfinished. I mean, of course I had noticed that before, but this time I noticed that what they did contain is lots of raw fiberglass.

OHHH NOOOO !!! I cannot let that stuff get anywhere near my cloth! I was reminded of a story from my grandmother who washed her fiberglass drapes with my grandpa's underwear. The results were disastrous.

I've already vacuumed the floor within an inch of its life and I'll do that every week. As I begin to use sections of this studio, I will need to cover the walls. I started with the first appointed loom nook so that I can get started with tying on the blue cloth that needs to be delivered to the seamstress in seven days.

So, it was more money spent on startup costs, and most of a day to get it bought and installed, but this is something that absolutely needed to be done. I'm talking with the landlord about splitting the costs to drywall this space, even if we don't tape and mud right away. Why would I pay for something that the landlord gets to keep? Well, because I would get to use it myself for the rest of my time here. It sure would be nice to work in a space that wasn't just plastic over fiberglass. It's not required, but it sure would be nice.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Move

Well, the move is done and we have internet service again so I can start catching up on blogging.

The home and studio move were grueling. I packed up the whole studio on Monday and Tuesday, and we mostly packed the moving truck on Wednesday.

Thursday was the marathon. We finished packing the truck, realized that there was no room for the last member of the new household, joining us from Grants Pass. So we came to the new house, emptied the truck and drove out to her place at the end of a 12-inches-wider-than-the-truck, muddy, winding road. On the way out of the driveway, the sun was setting so fast that Arcana had a hard time seeing to direct me over the tiny bridges and through the narrow gates. I've never driven a 24' truck before and I really thought that my heart was going to pound out of my chest.

But we did it, and we did it all in one day. Here are the photos...

This ugly basement storage area was a working studio just the day before.

...and this is where the stuff went. It's in boxes in what used to be the photo studio.

Arcana is the Pack Master. Notice how he has the two looms packed vertically and completely separated from each other? Genius!

...and here's how much space was left after he was done. None, really.

Here's the giant truck pulled up outside the two-story garage that will become the new studio.

Here are the traces of the most harrowing part of the drive up to Hilarey's. As I turned the tight corner, I could feel the back of the very heavy truck tilting and sliding off the edge of the road. I gunned it and miraculously pulled out of the mud, avoiding a slide into the ravine by less than a foot. If I hadn't made it, there's basically nothing that anyone could do. It would probably take a larger truck to pull out a truck of this size, and a larger truck just would not fit down this driveway.

And here's the garage on the next morning with my whole studio stuffed into it along with Hilarey's kiln.

This stuff is going to get organized and split between this space and one just about the same size upstairs. In the end, it will be a spacious and somewhat tidy weaving and sewing studio again.