I’ve just received word that “Goodbye, Ma II” (the phoenix) and “The Tao of Cats” (the cat placemats) have been juried into HGA Convergence’s Mixed Bag exhibit. So if you’re going to Convergence, stop by the exhibit and see them!
Photos, phoenixes, and placemats
Lieven came over last week to do the “official” photo shoot for my show entries, and I got the final shots a few days later. They’re beautiful!
Here are the finished cat placemats (I completed them late so I shot them myself):
And here are the two phoenixes, both full photos and detail shots. I can tell them apart easily, but then, mothers always know their offspring, right? I think it would be hard for most people to distinguish the two, so I’ve titled them “Goodbye, Ma (v.1)” and “Goodbye, Ma (v.2)” It occurred to me after I sent in my show entries that using software terminology for numbering pieces is about the least sexy possibility out there, but oh well. Henceforth I shall name them something sexier, like “Tweedledee” and “Tweedledum”.
I also decided to enter the musk ox scarf and the sea-turtle scarf, and the photos are so lovely I have to share:
And here is a shot of the photographer at work, in my oh-so-glamorous “photography studio”:
And that’s it for now!
Phoenix #4 complete!
I blitzed through Phoenix #4 in just three days! On Day One, I skeined, dyed, and dried four colors of weft yarn, and wound the skeins onto cones and thence to pirns. I also fixed the erroneous warp section that felled the third phoenix. On Day 2, I got up early, scampered over to the loom, wove 1,000+ picks…and then realized that the aspect ratio was wrong – the image was coming out elongated because of changes in the weft density. Nothing could be done to fix it. I’d just have to redo it. So I adjusted the draft and started over. I got through about 1,700 picks (about 1/3 of the phoenix) before my eyes started crossing and I had to quit for the day. And then I finished the remaining 3600 picks today. Whee!
Today I also experimented with a new toy. I wanted to videotape my weaving technique so I could see what I was doing right and what I was improving. So I bought a tripod for my iPhone and shot some fun videos. Here’s one of me weaving with four shuttles:
(If you have an email subscription, you’ll need to click the link at the top of the email to view the post in your browser. For some reason the video links don’t come through in the emails.)
And here are two time-lapse videos of me weaving the phoenix, from two different angles:
And, finally, a video of me weaving, seen from the side:
And here, just for the sake of having a photo, is a still shot of the nearly-complete phoenix.
And what do the cats think of all this? Yawn.
Phoenix re-do (at lightning speed)
About 3/4 of the way through phoenix #3, I happened to look at the piece sideways, at a shallow angle to the cloth. To my horror, there was a clearly visible stripe through the black background! Seen from the front, it was invisible (which is how I missed it while weaving), but from the side, it was completely obvious. However, I wasn’t quite sure whether it was because I had used the wrong yarn to repair that section of warp (which was possible) or whether it resulted from tension differences which would work themselves out in the wash. In any event, I was three-fourths of the way through, and I didn’t have enough yarn left to start over. So I forged boldly ahead, hoping the differences would come to naught.
Alas, ’twas not the case. I had inadvertently used the wrong yarn – a black with a reddish cast, rather than the blue-black I’d used in the rest of the piece. So there was a subtle-yet-obvious reddish stripe going through the entire piece (dead center in the photo):
If it had been a dishtowel I was planning to keep for myself, no problem – but this is intended as a show piece and a gift. A judge would notice the stripe instantly, and I’d feel bad about giving someone such an obviously flawed gift. So, there was nothing left to do but dye another batch of weft yarns and weave a fourth phoenix.
Fortunately, I made a wonderful discovery yesterday: the switches Mike installed have literally doubled my weaving speed! While activating the foot pedal by hand, I was cruising around at about 600 picks/hour (about 6 seconds per pick); using the new switches, I was blazing along at 1200 picks per hour! There are 5400 picks in the phoenix, which means that weaving a fourth phoenix will take just 4.5 hours, instead of nine. And weaving is less strain on the body as well, so I can easily finish the phoenix in a day and a half, even taking frequent breaks.
The switches are actually so sensitive that beating vigorously will activate the switch independently as the beater hits the fell. Since I am beating on an open shed anyway, this is perfect – it means I don’t even have to activate the switch to change sheds. Just throw the shuttle, beat, and throw the shuttle again. Wonderful!
(This may prove to be a liability later – if so, I’ll figure out a way to fix it. Right now, I’m loving it.)
The subtleties of weaving
I finished weaving the second phoenix yesterday – 4800+ picks in just three days! That probably doesn’t sound like much, but it translates to three hours a day of intense concentration. I had to fight through a number of technical problems, too. Towards the end, I had to replace one entire section of sixteen threads, as they had gotten too tight to weave properly. Fortunately, I managed to make the change at the very end of the piece, keeping the repaired bits out of the piece itself. It would have been tricky to change out an entire section of threads midway through the piece without leaving a visible trace.
This phoenix subtly differs from the previous one, looking more opaque and with brighter colors. The interesting part is that this doesn’t grow out of the design, but the weaving process. I made exactly one change: the timing of the beat. On any loom, the sequence of weaving goes more or less like this:
- Open the shed – raise the warp threads that you want on top.
- Throw the shuttle – pass the weft thread through the shed, so the correct warp threads lie above the weft and the others below it.
- Beat. Pull the beater back to push the weft thread against the previously woven cloth, so it locks in place
- Close the shed – lower the warp threads.
This is a pretty simple process, but subtle differences in technique can make a big difference. In particular, the timing of Step 3 is a critical element in the nature of your cloth. If you beat on an open shed, with the warp threads still raised, there is very little resistance to the beat, so your freshly placed weft threads will pack in closer. If you beat on a closed shed, the intertwining of warp and weft will offer more resistance, and the weft threads will be spaced a bit more widely. And then you can beat on a closing shed – finishing the beat just as the shed closes – which gives a result somewhere in between.
I had been beating on a closing shed, because it works better with my weaving rhythm. However, changing the location of the pedal made this physically impossible, or at least very difficult. So I had switched to beating on a closed shed, which made the weft less dense and stretched out the design from my original plan. It also allowed more black to show in the space between picks of weft, diluting the bright colors of the weft. I didn’t like it.
So I switched to beating on an open shed. This packed down the weft about 20-30% more densely. In the sample below, you can see clearly that the white section of the moon in top left is woven more densely than the equivalent yellow section in bottom right, so the white is clearer and purer than the yellow.
Of course, packing the weft more densely meant that the image got compressed by the same 20%. As you can see, the moon looks distinctly squashed in this sample. More adjustments needed!
The resulting phoenix looks brighter than the first phoenix, and doesn’t have the greenish tinge in the body of the bird. But it also looks more opaque – a trifle less fiery in the tail. More subleties!
I unfortunately didn’t have time for more than a quick shot of Phoenix 2 – I was packing for today’s trip to Southern California. But I did get a quick shot of both phoenix heads:
I’m not sure which phoenix I prefer. The first phoenix looks more translucent, so I feel the tail conveys the idea of flames better than in the second phoenix. But the second phoenix is brighter, and its body looks more solid. So there are tradeoffs. But it was interesting to see how much difference timing can make!
Speaking of which, timing can be critical in other things as well. My friend Alfred (the one whose shoes Fritz finds so incredibly sexy) was over the other day, and spent some time in the garage, playing with Emmy (my 40-shaft loom). He left three skeins of yarn in a paper bag for an hour or so, which turned out to be a mistake. Tigress is a mighty huntress with an unerring sense for her natural prey. So naturally, this is what happened next:
Doesn’t she look so sweet and innocent, even surrounded by the evidence?
Fortunately, this skein was one that was already tangled, so (per Alfred) it was no great loss. The remaining skeins have been moved to the garage, safe from the Mighty Huntress.