Sew & sew

Lately my morning routine has been: daily art, morning tea, final project for the 8-shaft course. After lunch it varies depending on how much energy I have left, from ‘adulting’ matters like wrangling tradies to a bit of sewing or gardening. The sewing is easy because I’ve made the items many times now – skivvies and leggings – and don’t have to think my way around fit and alteration, though I did halve the height of the skivvy collar for a bit of variety.

I also made a chocolate brown skivvy one but it looks like I didn’t take a photo. Just look at the green one and imagine it brown instead.

A few months ago I saw a woman wearing a denim dress and decided I rather fancied wearing something like that. So I searched for patterns and landed on the PatternReview website, where I found one that had been picked as the best pattern of the year of its type. I ordered a copy.

Then a little while later I picked up a large amount of pinky-red cotton knit, and figured this was a good opportunity to try another kind of dress I’d been thinking of making for a while – the wrap dress. This time I went straight to the website and found a pattern that had also been awarded best pattern.

I haven’t made either yet, but they are next in line. Probably the wrap dress while I’m familiar with the behaviour of stretchy fabric.

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.

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.

Maskery

After more than a year of using our washable masks, they were getting a bit tired. Paul has fewer of them than I, and is not as ‘inclined’ to think of washing them, so he tends to run out. So when a friend friend and I went op shopping to celebrate the easing of restrictions, and we found some quilting cotton, I decided it was time to make more.

That fabric print that alluded to weaving was so serendipitous. And the watermelon print was too amusing to resist. Paul got two more masks – both in the same fabrics as two of mine so we now have His and Hers mask sets. I have three new masks. And I replaced the straps on some of Paul’s older masks that had lost their stretch.

I can’t help wondering if one day these will just be souvenirs of a strange, scary time in our past. Or if they’ll become historic objects. Or maybe one day I’ll be refashioning them into something else.

Floral Corduroy Shirt

Lately I’ve been thinking I may have my sewing mojo back. At least, I seem to be getting the bug more often these days. I doubt I’ll ever be as obsessed as I was in my 20s, or that it will take over from weaving, but it is nice to be enjoying it more.

It helps to have good, reliable patterns. As the long weekend approached and knowing I had a wait before the skivvy pattern arrived, I set myself the goal of sewing a ‘filler’ project. During a recent trip to Spotlight to buy something I needed I bought something I didn’t: navy corduroy with a floral print for another corduroy shirt.

Now that’s a familiar problem – the using up of stash leading to the acquiring more stash. But there was a sale on!

In a couple of days it was all done. It sewed up so fast, I may need to choose another filler project… this time from the stash!

Flower Farm Rag Rug

I picked a rainbow of colours for the rug that would use up the rosepath warp, but decided on the fly to choose two warm analogous followed by two cool analogous colours, putting the darker shades at the ends.

I didn’t have enough of the grey warp yarn left to weave a hem, so I did a braided fringe – which took 1 1/2 times longer.

That makes nine flannelette rugs woven. I’ve kept the first test rug, and one spectrum rug was a birthday present. That leaves seven to sell. I have four batches of rag left to weave: light blue, multicoloured strips, plaids and leftovers. I’d like to use up the warp I have rather than buy more. There’s one and a half cones of black, over half each of the red, orange, green, blue and purple, and a small amount of yellow left.

The light blue batch was supposed to be a rosepath rug. I don’t think the warp I use for it is going to work for any other batches of rag, so it could be a single rug warp in maybe orange or blue, or both.

The multicoloured strips are going to make for a chaotic, bright rug, and it doesn’t need a busy warp adding to the complexity. I have some white rug warp I bought for other kinds of rugs that would suit better than the warp colours I have left. I could do the light blue rug on this warp too.

The plaids are red, black and grey so it’ll have black warp with maybe some added red stripes. Another single rug warp. A colour scheme that’d go in our kitchen, so I may keep it.

And the leftovers… I suspect there’s more than one rug coming out of that. I could split both rags and warp into warm and cool colours and do two rugs, though that would mean two single rug warps.

So five rugs to weave. Though I have been thinking that I could sew the light blue strips together into a quilt. Light colours show dirt more than dark ones, after all, so not as suitable for floor rugs.