Sunday, July 28, 2013

Weaving a Beret without tears

In the last couple of years I have been weaving berets, well thats how they start out. When they are finished its another matter and I have been slapped by the weaving police for not showing the plain weave base. Its based on a pattern thats been doing the rounds here in Australia for a while that involves a one-time cardboard loom, and once the beret had been woven, the loom has to be cut off and the beret extracted.  Results arre mixed and depend very much on how strong the cardboard is. I was sure there had to be a way to make a permanent reusable loom that gave far more dependable results.
If you believe a tapestry beret should not be mixed media, please stop reading now. If you want to have fun weaving, then be my guest and read on.

I originally experimented with a loom made from an embroidery ring glued together, and with nails hammered into it. That was very fiddly as I could only do one side at a time and I had to join the top to the bottom, and deal with a lot of surplus warp threads. this did distort the shape somewhat. This is the first one made that way:

Its woven using many different kinds of woven, crocheted, embroidered and invented stitches I could think of, and embellished with every kind of bead I could lay my hands on.

This was the next beret:

Called Turtle Lagoon, it won a highly commended (equivalent to a 2nd place) in the water section of the Alice Springs Beanie festival in 2011. Underneath that lot is a standard weft faced tapestry beret and it weighed well over 1 Kg! I really went overboard embellishing the coral reef it was based on.

Thanks to an Argentine weaver I met on Weavolution (my apologies, I cannot remember her name, but I am so grateful for this information!), I was given a couple of photos showing a re-usable loom.
This first photo is of a child sized loom that was a give-away with a breakfast cereal in Argentina. Note how the loom is warped by winding the yarn around rather as you do on a daisy or flower loom, only this goes over the rim and winds around the pin before going back to cross the back and wind around the opposite pin:

The Argentine weaver made her own loom, and its 12 inches across. I think she used something like masonite or plyboard:

There are 75 pins or nails around it, roughly between 2 and 3  inches in from the edge. Its warped exactly the same way as a daisy loom. Having an odd number of nails is very important as it allows you to weave over and under in a circular manner and automatically change sheds. You are not limited to plain weave. I have seen berets woven using twill. There are no set rules.

My take on the loom, because no company actually makes one, is a 12 inch wooden bread board for strength (and so I didn't have to cut a 12 inch circle). To make the pegs to wind the warp around, I glued a very cheap 9 inch embroidery hoop together, then hammered 75 nails into it and attached it to one side. To remove the beret, one leaves a slit in it so that everything comes off the loom very easily, and having the odd number of nails allows for changing sheds without problems:

As you can see, its starts about 1.5 inches in, allowing for plenty of ease in removing the piece when finished.

This is the underneath, which also shows the construction, inelegant as it is:

You can also see that my weaving materials are not limited to yarn. I love sari silk and always incorporate ribbons and twisted ribbon yarns into what I am doing. I also weave in small sections making odd shapes as I go. There is never a definite plan, and I don't worry if the colours clash, or the yarn sizes are totally different. There are enough weaving styles to choose from that something will work and fill any gaps. This is free-form mixed media weaving, and has no rules.

Then came the Cactus Flower, the first one on my new loom:

This was woven using rya knots with plain weave in between the rows. I had some sari ribbon bits with warp threads hanging from them so they dangled beautifully, and I threaded beads onto the end of some of the rya. Because the loom is solid, mine is one inch thick, I can really pack the weft yarns together with my fingers so the fabric is quite solid and not sleazy, the main problem with the cardboard loom. I hide the centre point where all the warp yarns cross, either by embellishing it once I have finished, or I crochet a little button to cover it. I make no effort to hide the ends of the weft threads, because I use them as embellishment as well, but you may prefer to weave them back in.

There is no right or wrong way to make a beret. Once you have finished weaving, its easy to lift the beret off the loom, sew the seam up, and then add a brim. You can make one out of stretch ribbing fabric, use an inkle band to make your own, use fabric, its up to you. The ones on these berets are knitted in 2 x 2 ribbing:

This beret also won a highly commended at this years Alice Springs Beanie Festival, for a Friendship Beanie made in collaboration with another person.

The "wig" is made from sari silk fringe, embellished with lucetted braids and sari silk ribbons, and the flowers were created from silk flowers that were remade to remove the plastic. The Hibiscus centres were re-purposed hair ties, and I added a dozen tiny dolls clutching little red puffy hearts. Great fun to make! All the colours should have clashed, but it's glorious in real life and like the Turtle Lagoon, its in a private collection.

I hope this has given you a few ideas of what you can create with a little imagination. My berets are not really made to be worn, though they would not go amiss at the Melbourne Cup and I make them for the sheer pleasure of feeling the fabrics and yarns in my fingers as I work. I use up a lot of scraps of precious handspun as I go. Its soothing and relaxing, and a great antidote to the pressures of modern life!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

altered items.

The comment under my previous post stems from a reply I left here, on a blog post about altering an Uzbek suzani.
We are very used to repurposing older items in our craft work these days - its a good recycling habit to get into and results in some wonderful work.
A suzani is an embroidered piece of cloth used as a prayer mat. These are/were hand embroidered by the women of the household for their menfolk, usually by candle light, and over many, many months, and are incredible works of art in their own right. They can be made up of several pieces of cloth as each woman took a bit and helped with the labour. Many of those turning up on Ebay are from the 60s and 70s and are not of the best quality, unlike those you would find in the Washington Textile Museum, however they are a record of a way of life that is fast vanishing, and are being sold by dealers who see a dollar in them.
Because of their age, the fabric is often faded and some of the embroidery may be torn. Its a bit like the old family bible with its dog-eared pages where our grandparents recorded the family history. Even if we no longer go to church, it has a place in our own family's history, and small folk museums around the western world treasure these items precisly because of this.
How would we feel if someone took that bible and gesso'd over the pages to make an altered book? It becomes a bit of our own heritage that cannot be replaced.
Its the same with the suzanis, and other items coming from what were once Iron Curtain countries. These are not the belongings of princes or presidents, but of nomadic and tribal people who still cling to old fashioned and traditional ways. The younger generations and those who live in the cities have, for the main part, abandoned those ways, and now trade their family heritage often for basic necessities like food and clothing, but sometimes for i-Pods, i-Phones and i-Pads and other western goodies that we have already thrown away because they are not the latest version.
I'm not saying we should never destroy these beautiful fragments of fabric. Its not my place, and I will not impose my values on anyone else, but I do ask that before dyeing, colouring, taking the scissors to, or otherwise altering these items, that we think about their other value, the piece of history we are about to delete, and consider whether using it as a template for what we want to do would be a better option. The imperfections we see in them are part of their value; the fading of the cloth, the stitching that is precariously still holding together, the wear and tear of ordinary life.
We also work with our hands to create things of beauty, using archival materials so they could in theory be preserved for posterity, even though we are quite likely to gesso over that work down the track. But once we have altered a piece of vintage hand embroidered fabric, it will never be the same again, and is just another piece of someone's heritage and craft work that will have gone forever.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Living Dangerously

This has absolutely nothing to do with crafts, or anything much, to be honest, and I can't even claim to be the originator of this particular piece of froth, but lets live dangerously for a few minutes.........................



the five minute chocolate cake in a mug!

4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug (MicroSafe)

Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
Pour in the milk and oil and mix well..
Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again.
Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!
Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.
EAT ! (this can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).
And why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world?
Because now we are all only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night!

Please pass this on to skinny people, and anyone who's diet you want to sabotage.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Too Busy to Blog?

Its not so much I'm too busy, but that by the time I've read and answered emails, caught up with the groups I'm in, checked ebay etc, blogging comes a very poor last and sometimes I think its better not to blog at all, than to babble on about nothing.
So, what have I been doing for six months?
Despite my rushed entry into the Bothwell Longest Thread competition, I managed a creditable 4th with my little toy wheel spindle, which gives me something to aim for next time as I know I can do better - I just can't actually see what I'm spinning! Coloured fleece is a must with my home decor.
I've read a lot of other peoples blogs, and indulged in my favourite blood sport - shopping for books I can't get here in Australia. And in case you think its not a blood sport, you should see the bloody scratch marks down my computer screen when I discover a book-seller won't send over-seas, or makes the postage so unrealistically high, that its far beyond the means of the average person. Trophies include some Harriet Tidball and Mary Atwater monographs, two precious but slim volumes on Nettle spinning, and Weaving in Nepal, Collingwood on tablet-weaving, the new Amy King spinning book, and some past copies of weaving and spinning magazines. At less than AUD15.00 for 4 lbs of books, I made sure I had my money's worth, and am waiting on another batch from my favourite ebay seller:
My "wish list" at Amazon is over 2 pages now, and it doesn't cover half the books I'd love to have on my shelves, like the new Amelia Garripoli book on Productive Spindling. It can be an early Christmas present to me, along with a few more on my "hit" list. You can find Amelia's book at:
I have a new spindle, from a market stall in Bolivia. I can't make it dance yet, but I'm getting better!
and I have a new loom, not one I've made, but the lovely and simple Journey Loom from Weaving a Life:
It comes with a book of philosophy, but don't be scared that this is some crack-pot theory - quite the contrary! This is about grounding yourself, something most spindle spinners do as a matter of course, and finding yourself in your weaving. I'm not into New Age theories, but this is not New Age, its echoes from the past that we instinctively recognise, whether we can put words to it or not. Part of this voyage of self-discovery involves weaving certain "key-forms" and I am on my second. To my delight I have met fellow weavers on Weavolution who are doing the same, so we have an impromptu weave-along!
Weavolution? well, I was coming to that......... Its a new social networking site for weavers, along the lines of Ravelry, and its still only in its beta form, not that you'd notice really! gets you to the front page, but after that you are on your own, it could/can/will become very addictive!
I have also re-discovered an interest in primitive weaving - its how I learned to weave back in the Dark Ages, and to my delight, I still have my old backstrap loom and tablets. We have a lively back-strap weaving group on weavolution, and are planning a weave-along shortly to learn pick-up and double weave, based on south American techniques. Amazon, my book is overdue, grrrrrrr!
So you can see, blogging comes very low down the list of "Must Do's".
One last link: This will get you into the most amazing archives I have come across! Books, articles, videos and home movies on virtually any subject you can think of. The spinning and weaving searches bring up some gems, so if you don't hear from me for a while, you know where I'm to be found!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

spinning hamster floss

I've been busy - family affairs, the holidays (did we all overindulge at Christmas and vow not to ever again in the New year?), re-organising, and for me, a belated entry to the Bothwell Spin-In longest thread competition. I actually started spinning nearly a year ago, just to see how thin I could get my thread. I then hunted out the experts like Sue Macniven who holds the world record on a spinning wheel (and its very scary!), and a wonderful blog on spinning hamster floss.
I also found a very interesting article on-line from Rita Buchanan's husband taking a purely scientific approach to the subject, as well as the frightening statistics on cotton spinning in Bette Hochberg's book on spindles.
I started out using a tahkli in supported mode, which I find difficult to manipulate, probably because of the arthritis in my fingers, but when I used it as a drop spindle the yarn broke very quickly. I felt it was too heavy for what I was looking for, and my fingers soon cramped up. While shopping in a local discount store I had a brain wave and put together a little spindle from the wheel of a doll's mountain bike, with a plastic paintbrush as a shaft, and this little beauty wasn't just light, but very, very fast!
The total weight is 8 or 9 grams including the removeable tyre, and the total length is about 6 inches - did I say it was fast? It spins like those little dust Willy Willy's you get in Australia, appearing out of nowhere, twirling like a dervish, then moving on as quickly as it appeared, leaving a few unsettled leaves in the dust. Give it a thigh roll, and you have to be careful not to overspin, but once I learned its little quirks I thought there would be no stopping me!
When you reach a certain age of maturity the things we all take for granted start to work less well. Eyes are one of those, and it didn't take me long to work out that the lovely merino ram's fleece I had considered for this would be totally unsuitable - I needed to be able to actually see what I was spinning, and with light coloured walls and a spindle?????????? Ten minutes spinning and I'd be so cross-eyed I could no longer see anything else. Family affairs then intervened and I literally ran out of time, the closing date arrived and I only had about 5 grams spun.
Then came an announcement in one of the spinning groups I belong to that the closing date had been extended as there had been so few entries. I had just washed a lovely multicoloured merino hogget fleece from Jane Vandenbroek, a bit on the short side, but sooo soft, just like hamster floss!
Out came the Willy Willy again, and I experimented - provided I could put enough twist in the fibres, I thought I should be able to manage it, and this time I could pretty much see what I was doing - if I squinted at the right angle!
After a few false starts I had spun sufficient thread to ply up and found my lightest John Reeves spindle, the only one I have with a very long shaft, and that could take the whole amount without having to join. Strength testing was courtesy of Pepe, my fibre fiend, who happily swung off the plied fibre as I tried to wind on!

Its not as fine as the invisible thread I was spinning from the other fleece, and I am NOWHERE near the world record, but I reckon if I start now, I might be able to spin enough thread from the ram's fleece to make up 10 grams without going totally blind, and have it ready for 2 year's time. In the meantime I have given myself a bench mark to work from, and have had a huge learning curve in how to spin fine threads.
Now I have to learn to spin yarn again, hehe!

The Willy Willy spindle can be ordered through this blog or from my Ebay store Spinning Down Under

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Have you ever bought a book on-line, then wished you hadn't? I usually read the reviews on amazon before I buy a book, but the front cover of this one  sucked me right in: Pretty in Punk.
Punk rock might have totally passed me by  (wrong generation!) but I was a Goth by inclination long before it became a non-fashion trend, and a free-former before that, so I was hoping for some magical and inspirational patterns that weren't tired old reproductions of tatt you can find in your local thrift shop. And not only that; I was hoping for a US written or published book that acknowledged the existance of knitters around the rest of the world and gave metric needle sizes as well as local ones; that uses non-brand-specific yarn so we don't have to do extensive research and swatching to find a local substitute, and hey! a few measurements wouldn't have gone amiss to make sure that mini skirt at least went around the person it was knitted for as a belt, even if it didn't cover what its meant to cover! Lack of consideration of other readers these days comes across as arrogance on the part of the authors.
I can wear my stupidity in buying it, we all make mistakes like that at some point, but if I sent back the books I have bought that ignore the needs of the vast majority of knitters, who do not use American terminology or American sizing, I would not have much of a library! I would also be better off, and probably banned from amazon!
This is not an anti-american rant, but an anti-editing rant. Its up to the editors and publishers to make pattern books more user friendly. Ok, its a bit  hard if the author is sponsored by Lion Brand or Berrocco, but would it hurt to have metric sizes in brackets beside the US needle size, or give how long a ball or skein is, or how many WPI for the yarn, as well as describing it as "chunky"? Particularly since books are no longer country-specific?
Congratulations to the authors, editors and publishers who do this already. Its those books that get re-read, used and recommended to friends. And as many more authors realise the value of catering for the whole of the English-speaking world, rather than the bit that lives in the USA, I hope my library will continue to increase in size with lots of inspirational books containing patterns I'd love to knit. Pretty in Punk will not be among them.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rainy Day Musings

Its raining today! Nothing unusual you say? We have been in drought in parts of South Australia for several years now, so a whole month's worth of rain, which is what they promised us on the weather forecast last night, is very blogworthy; as rain, or rather the lack of it, affects my spinning.

I love raw fleece, and my favourite fleece enabler is also in South Australia, on the Eyre Peninsula, at Kimba, which can also be very dry.

I have been de-stashing, and washing the fleece as I go along, which is blowing my water allowance to pieces, but the really, really frustrating part is that just as I think the fleece is ready to come inside, it rains. Not a lot, but just enough to make my fleece damp again, and to ensure that the milkweed in my backyard is thriving. It might be summer, but we get better drying weather in the middle of winter!

So while my latest fleece tries to dry in the bathroom (this is day number 3, grrrr, and I got it indoors BEFORE it started raining yeaterday), and while I am waiting for my latest wheel to arrive, I shall update you on Arnie, photo above.
Arnie is the Ashford Country Spinner I acquired at the equipment sale last month - big and heavy like his name-sake. Don't get me wrong - I like the wheel and I love the yarn he produces, but since I spin while seated on the settee in my small lounge room and watch TV while spinning, I have to go with the seating arrangements available. And its all wrong for Arnie. Maybe its that I don't have skinny thighs, or my knees are too big, and I know my feet are definitely far too small, but I like to treadle with both feet firmly on the single treadle. Which I could do with Arnie, if that frame didn't get in the way!

So, I have one foot in front of the other, which puts me slightly off-balance for finding the sweet spot where not much effort is needed in order to treadle, and away I go, and away go my thigh muscles! Which is another reason for calling the spinner Arnie.

The solution of course is to find a different seat or wheel, but I did say that my lounge room is very small, and here in Australia we have been very limited in the style and brand of wheel available. To some extent we still are. Once a wheel is built, it often doesn't move very far because of freight charges, and many wheels are simply too awkward to fit in the back of a car. Even Arnie came home in pieces, and the wheel I am patiently waiting for will arrive in pieces, to be lovingly re-assembled this afternoon. I have already tentatively fixed on a name for her: Mary. (Big wheel keeps on turning and all that!), Since she has a motor, I hope its a good omen for the future!

This won't mean the end of Arnie, because Arnie was bought with a specific purpose in mind: plying fancy beaded yarns that won't go through a regular orifice. I have also discovered that I can control the yarn being spun almost to the inch as I go, which as any spindle spinner knows, is a big, big plus. and the default tension on the wheel is perfect for thick, soft, bulky yarns with lots of loft!