Occupational Therapy Beats Holiday Stress

At last it’s January, one of my favorite months of the year! The holiday decor has been stashed away for another year and the marathon of shopping, cooking, entertaining and visiting is over and done for a while. The stores are calm and quiet now, in transition from glittery displays to resolute offerings exhorting us to exercise more and eat healthy.

Starting with Thanksgiving in late November through New Year’s Day, I spend an inordinate amount of time preparing, cooking and serving an abundance of fattening food. My household is tiny, but I still have to cook the full meal deal on Turkey Day, as well as bake cookies, breads and other sweets throughout the entertaining season.

Besides the holiday weight gain, a major downside for me is restricted time in my studio, where I would rather be weaving, sewing, dyeing, or planning new work. Fortunately, my rigid heddle loom comes in handy for small projects that can be completed relatively quickly. During the recent holiday period, I wove three scarves, using the oven time of baked goods to warp or weave a few inches. I would set the timer and then enjoy 30-45 minutes of rigid heddle occupational therapy before heading back to the kitchen.

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Last year I acquired a few ounces each of three rayon seed yarns in different colors. I used each of these as weft in a scarf, since I don’t want the bumpy seeds to struggle through the holes of the rigid heddle. For the warp, I selected yarns in related colors from my stash. I finished the last scarf just a few days ago, then wet-finished, ironed and trimmed the fringes on all three. What a great stash-busting and stress-busting exercise for the hectic holidays!

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Basket Weaving on a Rigid Heddle Loom

Recently, after successfully busting down my yarn stash, I felt I was due for a reward: more yarn! I cruised my favorite online stores and ordered a few pounds of interesting items. One that caught my eye was a “straw yarn” I found at Made in America Yarns. I love working with unusual cellulose fibers and had to try it, so I ordered two skeins. When they arrived, I realized I now have a lifetime supply – each skein was over a pound! I couldn’t get them on my umbrella swift, so I carefully placed the skein on a table and wound off 14 balls per skein with my ball-winder. This yarn is sproingy and hard to control so I put each ball in a mesh bag to keep it from unwinding itself.

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The skeins explode out of their packaging like a jack-in-the-box.
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One skein wound into 14 balls between 1.5 – 2 ounces each.

The “straw yarn” is actually paper raffia. Unlike true raffia which comes from a particular kind of palm tree, this is man-made to look and act like raffia, but is much softer and it is still a natural fiber. I did a burn test and got a gray ash with a smell of burning newspaper. It is very strong when pulled along the grain, so I thought it would stand up to weaving in the warp. Now how to get this stuff on the loom: I briefly considered weaving it on a floor loom, but decided threading the heddles and sleying the reed would be asking for punishment, so I tried warping directly onto my rigid heddle loom. Surprisingly, it was not at all difficult! Having no elasticity, the warp has to have a little more slack than I would prefer, but weaving went pretty well. I set the yarn at 12.5 ends per inch and wove a plain weave, which gives a slightly warp-faced textile. I think a 10-dent reed would be ideal, but we weave with what we have.

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The basket fabric on the rigid heddle loom.

My plan was to weave a basket in two pieces, each about 9 by 30 inches. I centered them by crossing at right angles and I stitched the two layers together in a square for the bottom of the basket. Then I folded the long sides up and stitched them together, folded the hem-stitched edges down and stitched them in place. The first basket came out rather shorter and wider than I wanted, but it makes a good storage container for the remaining balls of yarn.

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Stitching up the sides of the basket.

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Kitty approves!

The second basket is made of two pieces 8 inches wide. One is about 30 inches long, the other about 32 inches. I made the basket the same way as the first, but left a wider hem on the two longer edges and threaded leather strips through them for handles. My basket is now the size and shape I originally wanted and ready to carry my sneakers, towel, etc. to the gym.

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Ready for duty.

 


 

Inspiration from Mexico

Almost a year ago I attended the 10th International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca, Mexico. I learned a lot, ate well and visited many beautiful and fascinating places, but I did not come home with any Mexican textiles. Not that I wasn’t tempted; there were vendors selling gorgeous textiles everywhere: in the markets and on the streets. The day I left, two other symposium participants stood next to me in line at the airport. I checked my tiny suitcase that I could have carried on board, but for the contraband packed within (a bottle of mezcal). They were shocked that I could leave Mexico without buying anything, even for gifts, if not for myself! But I have too many textiles already, and I keep making more. So I came home with ideas, not things.

We were in Mexico just a week after our 2016 presidential election – like the rest of the civilized world, Mexico was not pleased with the result and consequently the peso dropped against the dollar temporarily, giving us a beneficial exchange rate. I tried to leave some of my good fortune behind by tipping generously and giving money to beggars. The ideas I brought home are starting to manifest slowly. My first one is a variation on a Mexican huipil; by no means authentic in any way. It was simply a starting point for a design.

I wove this (slowly!) on my rigid heddle loom with two heddles and yarn set at 25 ends per inch. The warp yarn is 8/2 Tencel and the weft is 10/2 Tencel. I wove two pieces approximately 49 inches long and a few inches of fringe. Two more pieces are approximately 19 inches long. I centered the shorter pieces with an opening for my head, then stitched the garment into a rectangle with openings for my arms. The seams on Mexican huipiles are covered with bright embroidery thread; I overlapped and topstitched the pieces with contrasting thread and a decorative stitch on my sewing machine. I left about 6 inches of fringe at center front and back, and added beads as I knotted the fringe. I thought it was elegant enough to wear to a party a week ago!

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The two completed pieces to the left of the loom. One of the shorter pieces in progress on the loom. Slow going!
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Knotting and beading fringe.
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About 200 warp ends of fringe, knotted and loaded with beads for sparkle!