I’ve been working like crazy on Seasons of Creativity – so crazy, in fact, that I haven’t had time to post. The deadline is now just 3.5 weeks away, and I’m just starting to weave the next set of samples. Whew! It’s going to be close. But I’m pretty sure I can do it.
Here’s the one-photo summary of what’s happened to date:
Top left: one of the four sets of laboriously painted wefts. These were knitted into blanks of precisely calculated length, hand-painted in a meticulously chosen set of dye colors, carefully unraveled onto quills, and labeled with the correct ordering. Top right is the four shuttles, each labeled with the number of the weft and the quill that ought to go into it, so I don’t accidentally weave out of order. (There are actually five shuttles, but the fifth shuttle doesn’t have a painted weft and I couldn’t fit it into the photo, so I left it out.)
Bottom, of course, is the samples I’ve been weaving. Here I’ve been working on the leaves. I’m testing a number of things simultaneously: the number of picks per inch, the imagery, and the leaf and background colors. I’d prefer to be able to test all these things separately and in more detail, but I don’t have time, so I’m kind of experimenting with everything at once.
Here are some of the concerns I’m grappling with.
First, I’m in uncharted territory, dye-wise. I have 1500 dye samples, which are sort of useful in telling me generally what color I’ll get if I mix Color X with Color Y. However, they aren’t useful in telling me what concentration of dye I need to get a particular shade, because the dye samples were done in an immersion dyebath and I am painting on dyes. Unfortunately, concentration of dye is critical information – it’s the difference between pale gray and black, the difference between spring green and forest green. So I’m having to “wing it” based on my experience and looking at the dye in the bucket as I’m mixing it, both of which are pretty unreliable. I’m having to settle for keeping meticulous records so I know what to change next time. It’s making me very nervous about whether I can get it right the second time.
Second, I won’t have time to do a third set of samples to refine the color contrast of the background against the leaves and butterflies. So far I like what I’m seeing in the samples, but I’d really like to weave the whole piece, evaluate what I see, and then make adjustments and weave a second piece that will be better. I’m not going to have time to do that, unfortunately. So I will have to do the best I can on the first try. I think it will come out pretty good, but I’d feel better with enough time to do a revision. C’est la vie.
Having said all that…the second sample is GORGEOUS. Here’s a closeup:
The small photo really doesn’t do the sample justice, though. Actually, neither does the larger photo. The background is rich brown-black flecked with purple-brown and metallic gold, the yellow-green leaves have just a touch of iridescent/metallic glitter, the brown leaves are a mix of reeled silk and mercerized cotton and so have some nice glossy sheen. The photo doesn’t pick up the glitter at all. It’s gorgeous in person.
Here’s a photo of the two samples together:
One of the things I’m trying to decide is whether to weave Seasons of Creativity with a painted-weft background that changes colors or with a black background. The stark black background on the far left for the butterflies doesn’t appeal to me, but the one on the far right (slightly sparkly with a metallic silver weft) does. The rich brown-black background for the leaves in the top of the photo looks beautiful in person but washes out the leaves in photos (which is important when submitting for juried shows). Similarly, the blue-weft section (second from the left in the photo) in the butterflies looks beautiful, but I think it distracts from the butterflies.
At this point I am thinking I will stick with the colored backgrounds, but I may weave a section of leaves with a black background just to see which I like better. I wish I had time to explore more options!
Now, some technical explanations, since someone asked how knitted blanks work. I unfortunately didn’t take photos (and honestly don’t have time to explain) to show all the details of how knitted blanks work, down to the knitting machine, but the basic ideas is that you knit a long rectangle of fabric, then dye it, then unravel it again to use in weaving (or knitting, or whatever you want). This allows you to use fancy dye techniques while keeping the yarn orderly.
I knitted the blanks on a standard-bed knitting machine, a Brother KH-830. This is a fancy machine that will take punch-card patterns to do all sorts of fancy patterns, but all I’m using it for is stockinette stitch, so a simpler machine would work just as well. The yarn is a collection of various very fine yarns that together work out somewhere around 20/2 cotton in weight.
I knitted some short blanks, wove some samples, and calculated exactly how many stitches are required for a row that is precisely equal in length to one pick of weft. In this case, it’s 84 needles at a stitch size of 1. This calculation isn’t strictly necessary, but it does make things easier later.
I then knitted a set of blanks, one set for each painted weft, at stitch size 1. To help keep track of where I was in the blank (for dyeing purposes), I added two marker rows at stitch size 7 every 50 rows (the machine counts rows for me), and every 100 rows I added a stripe of waste yarn because I planned to start a new quill (bobbin) every 100 picks. This would help me keep the colors in sync – every 100 picks I discard all remaining yarn on all four quills and start fresh with new ones. So any length differences wouldn’t accumulate and cause problems. Since 100 picks’ worth of yarn is about all I can fit on the teeny-tiny quills that I can fit into the Swedish shuttles that go through the small shed on my loom, this works perfectly.
So the blank looks like this:
The irregularity in the center (the area of larger stitches) is the marker rows, and the black areas are the waste yarn that I put in every 100 stitches. This blank has already been painted, of course.
Most of the blanks consist of multiple yarns knitted together. Some are all silk, but some are a combination of silk and cotton. That was an experiment – I expected the yarns to take up the dye differently, and in fact they did:
The difference looks pretty shocking, but I can’t wait to see how it weaves up – I think it will result in some very interesting-looking leaves. The colors will even out a lot through optical mixing when woven, so the result will be a textured single color.
Here is a photo of all the blanks before unraveling:
It took nearly 8 hours to unravel them all. (Would have been faster if I hadn’t had to sneak around the feline bosses. Good thing they nap all afternoon!)
I can’t believe I didn’t take photos of the wound quills! I’ve already used two of them but I’m going to take photos of the rest as soon as I finish this post. I need them for my records, but I’ll also post them here.
The good news about my sample is that it’s weaving up at 120 picks (threads) per inch, not 160-200 as I had originally guessed. That’s a relief! It means Seasons of Creativity will be only about 6000 picks long, which is much more manageable than the 10-12,000 I had been anticipating. I can weave that in about 15 hours. I might have time for that second try after all.
Off to weave more samples!
Hi Tien, Yes, a challenging project. I have a comment re/ dyeing/painting with dyes. I can’t tell the type of dye that you are using. I switched to plant and insect dyes 11 years ago. Regardless of that, I want to reinforce your meticulous record keeping, an absolute necessity. Also weight – I got a new scale recently that measures to the hundredths of grams.
Thank you for the info about knitted blanks. It gives me a better sense of how to think about the process!
Hope some of your work will be seen at the 2022 HGA Convergence. Are you making a video too?