Saturday, June 30, 2012

Loom Comparison, Part 1: Warp Beam Location

This is the first part in a series of blog posts talking about the differences between two AVL production dobby looms. I'm showing what the different mechanisms look like and talking about how these differences affect production weaving work. If you're interested in weaving for a living, you might like to stay tuned and learn what you'll want to know when choosing a production loom.

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll remember that last Summer I bought a second production weaving loom to use as a warping station for the main loom. The goal was to remove the two weeks' downtime from the main loom while I prepared the next warp.

Then, this Winter I bought an auto-advance mechanism for that loom so that I could put it into production. Well, the time has come. I have a really tight production schedule to prepare for three big shows back-to-back. The main loom (Betty) is warped with black, and the second loom (Abigail) is warped with red. In case there isn't time to finish weaving all of the cloth in time to get it to the seamstress a week before I leave, I want variety in the booth. That means starting on the red before the black is finished.

A few weeks ago I had some apprentices in the studio. It was interesting to watch them and remember how hard this work was when I first got started. Well, this week I've gotten a good dose of that beginner feeling by weaving on a completely different kind of loom. As if the loom differences weren't enough, I also decided to start evening out my muscle use by switching hands on this loom. I now throw with the right and beat with the left.

Today I'll focus on the first big difference that I noticed: the mounting of the warp beam.

For various reasons, it's sometimes necessary in a production studio to remove a loaded beam from a loom. Often this is done with the threaded harnesses and the reed attached, making one sensitive and obstreperous bundle.

On Betty, the mounting of a loaded beam is extremely difficult. The 100 pound beam needs to be passed diagonally through the back opening of the loom to the interior before the ends are inserted, simultaneously, into the mounting slots and locked. During the operation of passing the beam to the interior, we need to be extra careful not to let it rest on the black roller right below it. This part cannot be removed without loosening the whole frame and is not designed to hold the weight of a beam.

The mounting operation requires at least two hardy people and is harrowing to the one who put all the time and money into preparing the beam. And, don't forget that during this operation, the harnesses and reed are usually attached, meaning that some warp needs to be unwound from the beam at the same time as the passing operation.

On Abigail, it's simple enough that I can do it alone: just lift the beam, set it into the mounting slots and lock. If the harnesses and reed are attached, they just sit on the floor while I do this.

You can see in this image how strange it is to have the beam mounted in this location. You'll also notice that there is a lot of other stuff in the way of the mounting operation: weights and the tension arm. This stuff is all removed when loading a beam.

Another thing to consider is how much space is left in the interior of the loom when the beam is mounted. A beam mounted on the back of the loom leaves an extra four inches. This is just enough so that I can sit beside the beam on a real chair for a couple of days while I tie the next warp onto the previous one. It's much more comfortable than sitting on a milking stool with the beam above my shoulder.

So, if you have a choice in your production loom, make sure that the warp beam mounts on the back of the loom.

Stay tuned for the next installment, which is going to be epic: the overhead beater vs. the bottom swing beater... (Epic? I might be a nerd.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Time For Storage

There's a "problem" that I just needed to solve. For the first time since moving to the new studio I am producing cloth faster than I can finish it and send it to the seamstress. The result last week was a massive pile of cloth on the sewing table.

Well, how am I supposed to sew the edges if I can't even get to the machine? I thought I could get by until after the shows in Washington, but this is just not possible.

Last week I scouted a spot in the studio where I thought one of my large shelving units might fit without too much impediment to the workflow. Then I got up on a ladder and clipped up a chunk of my trusty canvas to hang down and simulate the space that would be consumed by the new shelf.

It gave me a good feel for how much room would be left to move around the looms as I did my day-to-day work. It also let me see how the light in the studio would be impacted and gave me a place to put the stuff that would eventually go onto the shelves.

The last time I set these shelves up, I made the individual layers equidistant from each other and ended up with a lot of unusable space. This time I decided to space them according to what was going to be stored on them. I made sure that the main shelf was at "standing desk" height so that I have someplace to do my daily time-and-production-tracking paperwork. I also made sure that this shelf had LOTS of overhead room so that I could easily stack all of my backstock of unfinished cloth there.

Here you can see the cloth workflow laid out in piles.

Wow, this really helps! I'm down to the wire to get all of the cloth woven, finished, and delivered to the seamstress in time for her to sew the garments and get them back to me before I leave for Washington. I process things physically so there's nothing like a real stack of cloth literally moving toward the door as I complete one step after another. It's sort of like a real-life bar chart. No abstraction here!

And here's a photo of the studio, including the latest addition. It's not really as tight as it looks. There's enough room to walk all the way around both looms with ease, even while the warping cart is feeding threads to the setup loom.

And, yes, it took a few precious hours from my weaving time, but the studio organization and management simplicity that it enabled are well the investment.

Loom Comparison, Part 2: Beater Mounting

This is the second part in a series of blog posts talking about the differences between two AVL production dobby looms. I'm showing what the different mechanisms look like and talking about how these differences affect production weaving work. If you're interested in weaving for a living, you might like to stay tuned and learn what you'll want to know when choosing a production loom.

The beater attachment is so important that AVL lists it in their product descriptions. I don't have a specific recommendation for which is better. I think it's a matter of personal preference. An overhead beater is MUCH more stable. It has two arms that come off the back of it and attach to a steel rod that runs through the center of the loom. This causes the two sides move parallel to each other. It's very difficult, if not impossible, to beat an angled fell line.

A bottom swing beater works like those on most smaller looms. The difficulty with it is that this loom is much wider than most home looms. With just the reed and race to stabilize it, this beater flexes quite a bit as it is used. The two sides have no mechanism to keep them parallel. This is amplified by the fact that one side has the auto-advance mechanism attached. It needs to be pushed forward, cranking the breast beam and pulling the whole warp forward a little with each beat. This means that the left side really wants to lag a lot from the right side. It takes work and concentration to get both sides of the beater to contact the bumpers at the same time without banging. But it can be done and eventually feels natural.

There is one thing that affects the actual daily work of weaving and leads me toward recommending it. A bottom swing beater will stay where you stop it. If it's forward when you stop, it stays forward. If it's back, it stays back. With a hanging beater, gravity wants it to rest about halfway between the fell line and the back bumper. There is a latch on the left to allow you to latch it back, but there's no way to latch it forward.

Apart from this minor difference, I really do think that you will be happy with whichever beater style you choose. After a little experience, they each become completely natural.

PS: I lied about today's post being epic. I was confused. It's the flyshuttle post that will require a lot of description. And that post is coming soon. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Red Sample Blanket

After several days inside the loom tying 1200 knots, the beam is set up and the sample blanket is woven.

I'm branching out more than usual with this sample. I realize that many of my customers, especially customers that buy red, want something intense and unusual. Alrighty, then! Here we go!

The most unusual of all, though, is that stripe of pure unsaturated brown in the center. From far away it looks brown. Up close, the red makes the brown look green, and the effect is strange and marvelous. The overall result a fairly subdued cloth that is surprisingly intense up close.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Blog Catch Up: Red Cloth Is On The Loom!

Along with weaving many, many yards of black cloth, we also performed another great feat during "Apprentice Week". Jacob had two cone winders running continuously from sunrise 'til sunset for a few days to ply the warp threads for the red cloth.

As always, there are several inspirations here. One of them is the most amazing sunset I've ever seen in my entire life in the desert in Madrid, New Mexico. I was so enraptured that my hosts offered to let me stand on top of a trailer truck in their driveway to get a better view. I thought that the highway signs depicting scenery in purple and orange were garish until I saw that sunset.

And this sunset came to mind because I'm entering my next batch of four cloth designs. The first batch was based on the four elements: white for air, blue for water, red for fire, and green for earth. The next four were based on scenery at different times of day (progressing backwards, of course): purple for the sky at twilight, grey for sandstone cliffs at noon, blue for a lagoon at sunrise, and black for the sky at midnight.

This next set of four will be the most technically inspired that I've done. The primary goal is to broaden my use of color by exploring color theory in a more systematic way. This first batch is exploring "adjacent" colors. The color wheel is unlike the spectrum in one obvious way: red connects with purple. For this batch of cloth, I'm exploring this connection by starting with red and including generous amounts of the colors on either side of it: orange and purple.

And, as always, red is nearly impossible to photograph. This beam looks like a flat red even though it is nothing of the sort. The following photos show the thread combinations in different sections of the cloth. Even these are flatter that the real threads.

And, finally, here's one extreme closeup to show how varied the thread colors are in each section. See the purple threads popping out of the orange? In real life they REALLY pop.

Blog Catch Up: Black Cloth!

This month has been crazy. After being knocked out of production for six weeks, 1/8th of a year, I had a lot to catch up. The next few blog posts will be short on words and heavy on photos to catch y'all up to date on what's happening in the studio...

Well, the "apprentice on the horizon" came through. In preparation for his arrival, I got the black beam prepared.

This beam turned out exactly like I wanted: five shades of black with other deep shades interspersed for accent.

And finally, here's an image that I had originally rejected because the flash is so apparent in it. Along with divulging the divine inspiration for my work, it also shows how the sample blanket fits into the context of the studio.

Blog Catch Up: Apprentices In The Studio

[Jacob at the loom, photo by Max]

I suppose I should catch y'all up on the story of the collective in order to explain why there are new apprentices.

Well, in April we moved to a new house with a new set of expectations. Wispr, my primary assistant, decided to go on a vision quest with the money that he had earned in the studio last year. His travels are still taking him all over the country where he's exploring just what he wants to do and where he wants to be. This means that he's not here at the moment and not sure that if he comes back he will be interested in weaving.

Jaime and Audrey have decided that country living is not for them at the moment, and have moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Blessings on their journey.

Harlan and Arcana are here, and the focus on their own work is stronger than ever, leaving little time or energy to work in the weaving studio.

Sooo, I've been holding down the fort alone since March, excluding half a quarter of productive time lost to "circumstances beyond my control". Well, my best shows are yet to come this year and my two worst nightmares are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but have the same solution. 1. Sales are terrible because I have little color selection and I return home with lots of inventory left over. 2. Sales are great despite my poor color selection and I return with no inventory and nothing to sell at subsequent shows, perpetuating the "poor color selection" theme.

The solution to each of these is to create two new colors of cloth in eight weeks. Enter apprentices!

Now, these particular apprentices are part of a larger scheme for production expansion. If we can find a loom for Jacob, he and Max will be weaving remotely from Portland or Eugene. Anyone know of a 60" AVL mechanical dobby loom for sale?

[Max at the loom, photo by Jacob]

These guys are amazing. Max was here for four days and Jacob was here for ten. Training was much easier than it might have been because they were able to confer with each other while I worked elsewhere.

Jacob spent three days mostly plying threads for the next batch of cloth while Max and I took turns winding bobbins and weaving. This multitasking meant that the weaving got done at least twice as fast, even while the next batch of cloth was being prepared.

The end result is that we finished weaving most of the black cloth that week. I can hardly believe it. Looking at the calendar, I can see several days where we put in 18-22 hours altogether. And, unlike a regular 18-hour day where I spend half of it winding bobbins, this is something like 18 hours of nonstop weaving. Whoa!

[Piles of cloth waiting to be stitched at the end of "Apprentice Week"]

We also got a great start on the next cloth: sunset red. And after they left I let the rest of the black beam rest on the loom while I got to work full-bore on winding the red beam.

I just checked the calendar and realized that I have only 25 work days before the "big three" shows in Washington. Well, enough chatting then. Back to the loom!