50/50 Again

The fabric stash has been growing lately, both due to a few destashes and me buying knits online in order to make basics to replace those that had worn out. I haven’t made the basics yet, but did whip up two new 50/50 skirts.

The first has some destash material on the front. I’ve been craving colour, and it certainly fit the bill.

The second recycles fabric from one of Late Lucy’s old skirts.

Now I just need to get around to making those basics, because they’ll go very well with these skirts.

Daily Art: Nature’s Remnants

March’s theme was all about biological litter: bones, seed pods, shells, fossils, feathers and other remains of living things. Some I’d collected over the years, some I picked up during the month, and some loaned by a friend. Two were fakes.

They were painted with Casein on some kind of particle board (maybe marine ply) I picked up at Resource Rescue and prepared with primer and clear gesso. I set up on the craft room table with a spotlight – one thing I missed from the toy painting was doing interesting shadows.

I didn’t like Casein at first. It’s not as forgiving as gouache, thickening and drying out quickly. When I painted the red-orange leaf I found I could not get the richness of yellow I needed. the set I’d bought contained Naples Yellow, which seemed to create a dull orange when mixed with red. The red that came with the pack is Rose Red which was very pink, and I was glad I’d bought Alizarin as an extra.

Fortunately, I did not need Cerulean Blue for any of these, as it was the colour the shop forgot to include in the package.

I first learned about casein paint in one of James Gurney’s YouTube videos. He uses it as an underpainting for gouache and watercolour because it doesn’t reactivate with water. I found it did. However, in a recent video he demonstrated which paints reactivate and the casein did so. Looking close at the Alizarin tube, which appears to use an older label design, it says that it become “insoluable with time and exposure”.

By the end of the month I liked casein better and felt I had the hang of using it, but I still prefer gouache. Having thirty-one paintings, most of which I reckon are good enough to sell, left me feeling pleased with myself. But I also had a VERY sore back, and I chose the fastest medium I could think of to do in front of the tv for the next theme.

Wonky Blocks

The first warp I wound on my new horizontal warping mill was for a set of Summer and Winter tea towels in 16/2 cotton that I’m calling “Wonky Blocks”. They were to be a Christmas present for a friend. Needless to say, they didn’t get them in time.

The first snag was the realisation, halfway through measuring the warp, that I wasn’t going to have enough yarn. So I ordered more. When the yarn arrived I picked up the cone holder and realised the yarn in it had 8/2 written on the side of the cone. Not only had I wound half of the tea towel warp in the wrong thickness of yarn, I had used this 8/2 cotton with the 16/2 pink for both warp and weft of the pinwheel towels.

Well, the pinwheel towels look fine and maybe the thicker thread will make them thirstier. 8/2 cotton warp wasn’t going to work for the Summer and Winter tea towels, however, because then the ground yarn would be thicker than the pattern yarn. So I set what I’d wound of the warp aside and, starting from scratch, wound a new warp in 16/2 cotton, put it on the loom and got weaving.

For the pattern yarn I wove 16/2 doubled, on my double pirn shuttle. It was a fun weave, but progress was slow. I just couldn’t seem to fit weaving sessions into my days. It seemed like I only made progress during Zoom class sessions. One of the problems was that the pattern doesn’t go all the way to the end, leaving a ten end boundary of plain weave. That meant moving the pattern shuttle through the warp to the top or bottom at both ends of each pick.

This is a six shaft design, so I ought to have put those ten stitches on either side on the last two shafts, but I hadn’t thought of it until I started weaving. When I got to the end of the first tea towel I snipped off those pesky ends and tied on new ones weighted at the back of the loom after threading them through the last two shafts – which meant I didn’t lose any warp length by cutting off the first towel and tying on again.

Weaving was MUCH faster after that. However, I now found that I kept making mistakes with the box pattern. Mistakes that weren’t worth going back to fix, so I decided there was just going to have to be variations between towels. Then it occurred to me that it would be fun to get a dice and roll it to decide the box heights. Numbers 1 & 2 equalled a box 8 picks high, 3 & 4 meant 16 picks high and 5 & 6 were for 24 picks. So for the third towel I did that, though not strictly. I didn’t want really big boxes.

More than three months after I started I was under pressure to finish because I needed the floor loom for one of the class projects. The rethreading and using the dice made it fun, though. Then just like that, they were almost done. I save the last few design rows and the hem until the recipient was here, and could see how they were made. I sewed the hems and gave them to her that day, which meant I had to leave the washing and snipping off of ends for her to do.

I’d definitely weave this design again. If we didn’t still have a set of handwoven tea towels still going strong I’d do a set for us with a red, white and black theme. But we have plenty of tea towels. What I need, however, is more dishcloths. They’re high on the to-do list, on which the 8-shaft course project is the topmost item now.

Before, Now, Later

I know how it looks. All this art and no craft. But you’ll have to trust me – craft IS happening. It’s just not being finished.

I’m still weaving the tea towels on the Lotas. When I tried finishing the Theo Morman inlay project that had been on the rigid heddle loom I struggled with the sticky warp for a bit before deciding the inspiration was gone. The fine warp came off and I’m now weaving a plain white scarf from the ground warp.

Most of my weaving has been class samplers, and I’m not going to post about those again until nearer the end of the course. Which I’m starting to look forward to finishing. It’s not that I’m over the weaving and learning, but just a bit tired of doing a course. I’ve been thinking about why, and I reckon it’s partly because I’m tired of uncertainty. Will my health take another dive? Will my parents suddenly need all my attention? Will WW3 start? I have a strange itch to get it done while I still can.

But then, maybe it’s just because I’m really enjoying art at the moment. Life drawing classes have restarted and I tried doing a nude from life in oils the other day and was surprised to find I could do a reasonable painting in the time we had. Aside from a few back issues, my daily art practise is still going strong. It’s amazing me how all these finished pieces are building up. I’ve gone from two portraits plus a handful of pet paintings per year, to potentially 365 small artworks.

Of course, I already know that dedicating an hour or so a day can accumulate to big achievements because that’s how wrote the first draft of my last few books. The question I’m asking myself now is… what else could I tackle in this way?

That’s another reason I’m looking forward to finishing the weaving course. I want to put what I’ve learned, both in weaving and art, into practise, but I have only so much energy to spend, and a good part of it is taken up (sporadically) by classes and weaving samplers. I am, however, looking forward to doing the final year project, which is a finished object woven using one of the techniques we’ve explored.

That might just take the edge off.

28 Days

Where did they go? It seems like the last month passed in a flash. I’ve thought about writing a post several times, but nothing was quite blog-ready. Not that I wasn’t doing anything arty or crafty, it’s just that none of it was at a good stage to blog about. So here’s my work-in-progress:

Weaving: there’s a set of tea towels on the Lotas, and I’ve done a bit of class work.

Art: the daily art challenge continues. In February I drew cars using alcohol ink markers. It was a big learning curve, but I really enjoyed that. I was pretty tired of cars by the end, though – something I suspected would happen so I picked a short month for it.

March up is “Nature’s Remnants”: shells, seed pods, bones, feathers, fossils, dried leaves, etc., which will be a nice contrast from manmade object. It wasn’t on my list of subjects, but I decided to bring together ‘cats’ and ‘dogs’ and make it a ‘pets’ theme, which will allow me to draw other kinds of pets as well. That gave me room for a ‘wild card’ subject. I’m using casein paint on sealed and clear gessoed plywood boards. I’ve not used casein before, or painted on boards. The first painting was definitely a journey of discovery.

I also tried the local art association’s portrait workshop, which was great. Lots of very talented artists in there.

Sewing: nothing since January, but I’ve done a lot of thinking about what sort of clothes I’d like to make, and whether the weaving course final project will be a garment or not.

Other: I painted a huge backdrop for a James Bond party. It’s too big to keep, so it’s waiting to be dismantled. I’m a bit sad about that, but that’s the trouble with props. If you do a good job, you’re going to regret having to destroy it at the end.

One thing I do remember about the month is lots of garden contemplation. I’m planning changes to make it easier to maintain now I have an unsteady leg and less stamina. There’s going to be some serious landscaping happening in winter to improve access, and the last six months of vege garden failure is an extra motive to simplify that area, too.

‘Adapt and simplify’ is my motto of the year, and the garden is definitely one area that needs both.

Books Read in 2021

Hollow Empire Sam Hawke
We Lie With Death Devin Madson
Clariel Garth Nix
Goldenhand Garth Nix
Mask of Mirrors M. A. Carrick
Rivers of London Ben Aaronovitch
The Bone Shard Daughter Andrea Stewart
Moon Over Soho Ben Aaronovitch
Whispers Underground Ben Aaronovitch
The Fabric of Civilization Virginia Postrel
Broken Homes Ben Aaronovitch
Foxglove Summer Ben Aaronovitch
Mystery of a Hansom Cab Fergus Hume
The Hanging Tree Ben Aaronovitch
What Abigail Did That Summer Ben Aaronovitch
Colour Choices Stephen Quiller
The Furthest Station Ben Aaronovitch
Steal Like An Artist (re-read) Austin Kleon
Absolute Sandman Volume One Neil Gaiman
The October Man Ben Aaronovitch
Show Your Work (re-read) Austin Kleon
Absolute Sandman Volume Two Neil Gaiman
Sapiens Yuval Noah Harari
False Value Ben Aaronovitch
Absolute Sandman Volume Three Neil Gaiman
The One Hundred Nina Garcia
Tales from the Folly Ben Aaronovitch
Atlas of the Heart Brené Brown
Keep Going Austin Kleon

29 books! Compared to 15 last year and 13 the year before. The year before I read 20, which was the year I took five months off so proves that when I don’t write I read more.

The best fiction books of the year was The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart, the best non-fiction was The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postrel, the best conversation starter was Atlas of the Heart by BrenĂ© Brown, and the most motivating book was Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon – which was well worth revisiting.

I’ve given up defeating my to-read ‘pile’ (which fills a small bookcase) and now read whatever catches my eye and keeps me enthralled, though I’m only buying books to complete series. I’ve actually stuck with one author until I’d read everything, which felt like a luxury because I used to only read the first or most loved book or series of an author in order to sampling as many different examples of my field as possible.

I still have enough of a professional interest that I want to try new authors – particularly female Australian authors of fantasy series. It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come in the last 20-30 years.

Projects of 2021

In January I took up the offer of a fresh indigo dyeing workshop with Amanda of @theweaversworkroom which was great fun. Later at home I had a play with indigo that I’d grown.

I ran a pin loom workshop at the Guild. Though I told myself I wouldn’t put in the crazy hours of preparation I did for the rigid heddle loom workshop the year before, I still overdid it. Still, it was an excellent reason to try some ideas I’d had, like tiny squares woven from wire.

Using fabric for a failed all-in-one-piece woven jacket project, I sewed a vest.

In February the sewing continued, resulting in two tops made of woven fabric.

And a skirt to jumper conversion. This became my go-to at home cosy jumper over winter.

I wove the “Owl & the Moustache Scarf” and started the “Wiggle Scarf”, both using drafts I designed after the Denise Kovnat Echo and Jin and Deflected Doubleweave workshops the year before.

In March I converted an ugly old 80s coat into the Flying Fox Coat.

In April I made a pattern from a corduroy shirt I love, and sewed a new one. And a chemise to go with a costume for a Regency Picnic.

I also returned to weaving rag rugs, making two twill flannelette ones and a t-shirt one to use up the warp.

Jeanette at the Guild ran a blended drafts workshop that was fun and a good workout for the brain.

June had me taking two pink flannelette rag rugs off the floor loom and another t-shirt one.

And a clasped warp scarf from the AKL.

Then I sewed a series of skivvies, long-sleeved tops and leggings. And another corduroy shirt.

The sewing continued into July. More leggings, more tops, and a jacket made from an old skirt and jumper.

At the end of July I started the Certificate of 8-shaft Weaving at the Guild, just in time for the long lockdown to begin. I also wove a shadow weave kit.

And finished lengthening a vest.

September saw me finish making two indigo space-dyed chenille scarves and a cowl.

In August I bought a new sewing machine, an overlocker and a coverstitch machine, so in September more garments were made.

Some slubby cotton was woven to reduce the stash.

I also did a seven day sketching challenge, and decided to start a daily art project in which I make art every day for a year, to a theme that changes each month.

In October I wove a pinwheel scarf.

The first daily art challenge was ‘flowers’, painted mostly in watercolour but with a bit of gouache.

Since online shopping was unreliable and the post very slow, I decided to make as many Christmas presents as possible. I sewed some sunhats for my parents.

Inspired by a ‘weaving with handspun’ Zoom meeting with the Guild, I wove two twill scarves.

November’s daily painting theme was ‘toys in gouache’. This was much more time-consuming than the flowers, but I was making much more ‘finished’ pieces that could be sold one day. I haven’t painted in gouache much before and it’s now one of my favourite mediums.

By December I was having health problems including pain and weakness in my left leg. I was only able to weave one of the sets of tea towels I intended to make as gifts.

But the daily art theme of ‘hand and feet in pencil’ was much faster and could be done at night while watching tv.

(Sorry about the terrible photo!)

Between Christmas and New Year not much craft was done but I made a warping mill and yarn stand.

Overall, it was a year that began low and ended high both in mood and levels of stress. That kind of balances out.

Though restrictions had eased, I began the year feeling depressed. Eventually I decided that teaching weaving didn’t suit me – at least not as a regular thing. The summer school workshops I’d done were good but too exhausting and, weirdly, put me off the kind of weaving I taught for several months. Occasional one on one lessons would be fine, I think.

So it was with a different intent that I began the 8-shaft course. The pursuit of knowledge was now for my own benefit only. Meanwhile, the long lockdown brought art classes to an end, and questioning why I didn’t paint at home led to the daily art project and the realisation that art would suit me as a regular thing – so long as I didn’t turn it into work.

Then at the end of the year I learned I have a rare condition that can be quite crippling and might explain the neck pain flare ups that sometimes come out of nowhere and forced me to retire. It made me consider a future in which what I can and can’t do may be very limited at times, and how I might change my surroundings and expectations to allow for that.

Despite this, I am ending 2021 feeling happier than I began it. I am ready to let the past go, and the future no longer seems lacking in purpose. There will be some tidying up and simplifying to be done in 2022, but there’s no hurry. I can only do things at a pace that my body can cope with, and it’s still impossible to predict how Covid will affect everything anyway.

What I do know is, whatever happens, good or bad, there’ll be art and craft in my life in 2022.

Certificate of 8-Shaft Weaving: First Half

Twills
Having used Fiberworks a bit in the gap between the 4 and 8 shaft workshops, I found myself creating the drafts for each of the tie-ups I tried. Later this would lead to me trying out tie-ups and treadlings before weaving when I felt there were too many options to explore in the warp we had.

Waffle weave
I had a bought of fatigue around this time and so wove only the one small section before moving on to the next subject. But I had some warp left at the end of the Brocade sampler and had regained some energy, so I wove another, more experimental waffle weave sampler.

Brocade
I worked out a way to easily design these in Excel, and while that was fun, I got my wired crossed on yarns suitable for the design and woven them all in cotton instead of wool. This was fine until I had multiple colours on the same row, as the cotton wouldn’t squish down and the designs elongated.

Damask
After Brocade, Damask seemed really fast! I’d done the Colour-and-Weave sampler at this point, for which I’d used Fiberworks to try out my ideas first because I had a limited amount of warp. I did the same with Damask, except for the pick-up sampler, which I designed in Excel.

Colour-and-Weave
The reason I did this sampler before the Damask one was because it was intended to be done on the floor looms in the Guild. But since I had the same brand of floor loom, and floor looms weren’t new to me, I offered to do my sampler at home so there was one less students seeking time on the Guild looms.

I added another metre and a half to the warp and wove a pinwheel scarf when the sampler was done.

Summer and Winter
By now I was really confident with Fiberworks, and came up with a couple more designs than what I wound up weaving. Using the program isn’t part of the course but it’s been a great opportunity to get more familiar with it.

The next subject is Doubleweave, which is one of my favourites. I need to have the warp on the loom by the end of January. We can start weaving if we want to. I’m looking forward to it!

Test Run Bags

If there’s a down side to refashioning and recycling it is the tendency to keep things because they might come in handy one day. I should have thrown these away two years ago:

They were from the wardrobe of Late Lucy, which had contained several of these folksy tent dresses. I can think of five off the top of my head, all hand made, of different weights from light summery fabric to warm winter wool. The white flecky one was probably a poly cotton mix, and the olive grey one 100% polyester, so while the prints looked nice I wasn’t going to be making clothes out of them. I guess I only kept them on the vague notion of weaving them into rag rugs.

When my new sewing machines arrived I wanted to get familiar with them by making something simple. Drawstring bags, maybe. When I was considering what fabric to use, these dresses happened to be in line of sight, and I had an epiphany. I’ve been wanting to make cloth bags to replace the plastic bags that organise clothing in my suitcase. Something that could be tossed in a hot wash when I got home to kill off any bed bugs or their eggs. The polyester of Lucy’s dresses was the perfect fabric for this.

Zippers were preferable to drawstrings for this purpose, so I hunted through my stash of habby harvested from old garments and op shops, and found that dress zips were the right size for the big bags. Skirt zips were perfect for the smaller bags. Soon I had a pile of them, and a good start on understanding my new Juki.

There’s still more familiarisation to gain before I’ll be fully confident with the new machines, but I did notice this on the packaging from the shop:

They know their customers well.

Grounded

Grounds are a subject I’ve also been thinking about recently. What happens when an artist and photographer live together, accumulating not just our own work but work by friends and people we admire? And neither of us have the energy to try selling our work except to friends? No wall space left and unhung artwork stowed behind doors and on top of shelving.

Portraits are great in that you can just give them to the subject or their family. Pet portraits are similarly practical in that way. But I don’t want to only produce portraits and pets, so how do I work without this problem affecting what I paint and how often?

By changing what I’m painting on. Stretched canvasses are nice and sturdy, necessary when painting large, but they are bulky. Canvas boards take up less room. Even better, canvas ‘paper’ is no thicker than a thin card. If I’m going to get better at painting I need to paint more, and if I paint more I need to go for smaller and thinner grounds.

I remembered, then, that I had a bag full of raw canvas scraps from when I used to stretch my own canvasses. I’ve always meant to make my own boards out of them. After a bit of playing around I concluded that PVA is the best glue, wrapping the fabric around the card rather than trimming at the edges is better, and greyboard is less inclined to warp than mountboard.

Mum’s old flower press proved very useful for keeping the boards flat while the glue dried.

It was a bit of a shock to realise that she painted this at the same age I am now. Which means if I inherit the dementia she suffers I might have only 20 more years of healthy brain function left. And if that isn’t sobering enough, if I inherit her father’s early onset Alzheimers, I may only have 10.

Pa’s slow decline and death taught me to not wait to do anything in life. And I haven’t. And if it turns out I’ve inherit the brain of my Nana, who was pretty sharp into her 90s, all the better!

Two coats of gesso finished off the boards.

I now have a bunch of little canvasses to work on that cost me almost nothing. The unexpected advantage of this is I have some interesting non-standard rectangles.

The oils came out, and I painted this over a few weeks:

There’s plenty more fabric to use up, so I’ll be making more of these boards in future.