Painting on fabric is something I have always loved to do, and in recent years I have tried it with pleasing (to me) results on my own handwovens. I weave yardage with white, light- or natural-colored yarn, usually, but not always, in plain weave. With thickened fiber reactive dye, I use brushes, rollers and sprayers to create abstract designs in bright colors on cellulose fibers, e.g., cotton, linen, rayon. If the yardage is of adequate size, I can sew it into something wearable.
Recently I completed two items made from handwoven and dye-painted rayon. One was woven with a seed yarn originally dyed in a pale sage-green color. The seeds are made during spinning from a shiny rayon thread that is plied and allowed to build up a little bump on another ply; the result is they look like reflective little beads. Another item I made was woven from white rayon yarn in a textured twill, dye-painted and fashioned into a long-sleeved tunic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another project involving woven panels. For this one I made two warps of a rayon/flax blend yarn. I folded the warps into packages, then bound each bundle tightly with plastic strips, and dyed in indigo, for an ikat-like effect. Thinking the weaving would go quicker if I dressed the loom with two similar warps, separated by a few inches, I threaded the loom with side by side warps about 8 inches wide and approximately 4 yards long. Live and learn – this did not hasten the process of weaving, which required throwing the shuttles separately on each warp for every row. I used a navy fine rayon boucle yarn for a textured weft.
This project is similar to the Mexican-inspired one, but I added enough extra warp for sleeves. I wove two long panels and 4 shorter ones: two for the center panels and two for sleeves. I folded over one short edge of the center panels and trimmed the warp ends to an inch. I just overlapped the long edges and zig-zagged with navy thread. The sleeves are made by folding one short edge on a 45° angle and stitching the other short edge to the folded portion of the long edge. See Virginia West’s A cut above: Couture clothing for the fibre artist for an illustration of the technique. The top is soft, drapey and comfortable, and will be cool for summer.
A recently completed jacket made from cloth I wove and dyed over the last couple of years.
A few years ago I acquired some wonderful yarn on sale as a close-out. It is a blend of alpaca and Tencel, both of which are soft (and slippery) fibers. I wove a few yards – enough to cut and sew a jacket, but I learned what other weavers probably already know, which is that alpaca does not full like wool does when wet-finished. The fabric is fragile and unravels easily because alpaca, unlike wool, has no little scales reaching out to grab onto their neighbors. About a year or so after taking the fabric off the loom, I folded and clamped it and dyed it in indigo, itajime-style.
Another year on, I serged the edges of the pattern pieces as I cut them out, but if I pulled a bit too hard on the serger thread, that slipped right off too. I primarily used Vogue 8676, designed by Marcie Tilton, with elements from a couple of other patterns as well. I stitched every seam twice for strength, but that ended up perforating the cloth. This yarn was really meant for scarves and shawls, not tailored clothing. But I persisted toward my goal of a jacket, which I lined with Bemberg rayon, and fitted with snaps instead of buttons for closures.
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!
Friday evening, June 2, 2017, was the opening reception of the PHG Group Show, Fiber Artistry at the Multnomah Arts Center Gallery in Multnomah Village. The well-attended reception opened the exhibit, which features the work of approximately 30 Portland-area weavers and fiber artists. The work spans the gamut from functional items such as scarves, jackets, rugs and table linens to wall hangings and sculptural items. Professional and emerging artists, as well as seasoned hobby weavers, have a chance to show off their work in a beautiful neighborhood gallery, in an exhibit artfully hung by dedicated guild volunteers. Many works are offered for sale; don’t miss it!
I recently finished reading The Amazons, by Adrienne Mayor. What we know of Amazon women comes from Greek vase paintings and Herodotus, the Greek historian. The Amazons were probably Scythian warrior women, part of a society of Eurasian steppe nomads who herded horses, cattle and sheep. Their clothing consisted of coats, long tunics and trousers for horseback riding, and they wore tall felted wool caps with ear flaps. Both men and women wore garments of similar style, and fragments of woven clothing have been excavated from some prehistoric burial mounds, known as kurgans.
Greek vase paintings also show Amazon women wearing close-fitting, highly patterned clothing designs on sleeves and leggings. In the vase paintings, only foreigners wear these designs, not Greek women. However, Greek women are depicted holding frame looms, on which they may have been weaving sprang, a type of textile construction that is stretchy, like knitting, but is woven with warp threads only. Think Mexican hammock.
Dagmar Drinkler, a textile historian who has written about tight-fitting clothing in antiquity, has reconstructed in sprang some of the clothing patterns depicted on Greek vase paintings. While these sprang garments have not yet been found in excavated burial mounds, the reconstructions are startlingly similar to those in the vase paintings. Is it possible that the sheep-herding, wool felt-wearing nomads were knowledgeable of sprang technique as well?
Last November, I had the good fortune to attend the 10th International Shibori Symposium, held in Oaxaca. Three hundred or so participants came from all over the world to gather and talk about tie-dye and related matters. There were exhibitions, demonstrations, workshops, talks, studio tours and assorted opportunities to meet world-renown textile artists, teachers and scholars. After a week of immersion in everything textile, on my way home I felt like excess information was leaking out my ears. Many thanks to the Portland Handweavers Guild for the study grant which helped me get there!
November is a great time to visit Oaxaca, when the tourist load is somewhat lighter, but the weather is comfortably warm during the days and nights are comfortably cool. A lot like late summer is here in the Pacific Northwest. The food was fantastic; I never had a bad meal. Not everyone speaks English, but the locals appreciate when you try to communicate in your rudimentary Spanish, augmented by signing and gestures.
My hotel was two blocks from the zócalo with its restaurants, cafés and nightlife, and directly across from the Museo Textil and neighboring San Pablo Cultural Center, where a lot of the symposium activities took place. I loved being centrally located, within a few minutes’ walk from restaurants, shops, markets and local sights.