30 July 2008

New Loom

Usually I stay away from Ebay. For a number of reasons - mainly I like to see and touch what I buy before I do so, However this week I found a Leclerc tapestry loom on Ebay that was too good to pass up.

(Seller photograph)

It came with some other items.

(Seller photograph)

It is a 60" loom, and hopefully Abelisto and I can pick it up on the way back from Chicago this weekend...

25 July 2008

Tapestry Finishing - II

Tonight I took the tapestry off of the loom. Once the piece was relaxed, once the tension was normalized, the selvedge issue became much less obvious. That is good to see.

I tied each pair of warp threads together in square knots. Then I started weaving the loose ends back in. I used the threaders I mentioned before with mixed results. I snapped one right off. Then I tried a twisted beading needle, then a large gauge bead threader. I ended up going back to the punch embroidery needle threader and just being careful, careful, careful as I pull the yarns back through the weft.

I managed to get maybe a third of the ends woven in before I got tired of doing it. I will probably finish weaving them in tomorrow. Then I will have to figure out what to do with the warp ends. Now I am going to finish building the smaller loom and maybe warp it.

Winona County DFL Website

I did not work on the tapestry last night. I had wanted to go to the DFL Tech committee meeting, get lots of work done and then come home and work on the tapestry.

Instead of doing that, I ended up having only one other member of my committee attend the meeting and then staying an extra hour at the DFL to teach someone how to use Google Groups.

Frustrated by the lack of progress and the lack of response to my requests for help with the website content, I decided to do it myself and then bring it back to a few key people who I know will get me the information that I need. When I got home (around 7 pm) I started working on the site. Shortly before midnight I posted the redesign to a temporary location and am now waiting on more information and feedback.

24 July 2008

Tapestry Finishing

Last night I started taking the tapestry off of the loom. Thought I should stop at one point and refresh my memory of how this would best be done. I have decided to weave the loose ends that are sticking out of the back into the weft before going any farther with the cutting down the tapestry. If that works out to be too difficult (given the tension on the piece) I will continue cutting it loose and tying it off and then tuck in the loose ends once it is off the loom. I think the best tool for that would be the threaders for punch embroidery needles that I have. They look like giant sewing needle threading aids. I can easily slip them between the weft yarns, catch the loose ends, and pull them up between the weft yarns in order to bind them in and hide them.

I did run across some encouraging information - since this tapestry is woven with wool it may be possible to somewhat correct the draw-in/selvedge issue by steaming and blocking the piece.

It is worth a try.

20 July 2008

Made a New Loom Today

I did not finish the tapestry this weekend. Instead I did some weaving on it, but I spent much of today building a new tapestry frame loom. I had an idea come to mind for raising and lowering the threads with a frame loom.

I made a rigid heddle that is slightly longer than the loom is wide. If it works I should be able to weave on the frames faster.

This loom has a 24x36" weaving area. It measures 36x47.5" and is built using the same model as the larger frame that I have been working on.

Once the glue dries I will put in the nails, thread this one up and test my idea for using a rigid heddle with it.

19 July 2008

Canon PowerShot SD1100

I have been trying to do a daily photo blog but I am constantly falling behind because of a camera issue that I keep trying to deal with. I have a Canon digital SLR, but sometimes its just too damn big and heavy to take with me. Plus it was fairly expensive to buy (good old student loans!) and I have a couple really expensive lenses. I really have to be motivated to take it out with me, and often when I do, it gets left in the car.

I decided to get a pocketable camera. Abelisto & I went to Best Buy to see what was available. I ended up getting a brown Canon PowerShot. I like my big Canon, it had good specs, good reputation and it was reasonably priced. I am really into brown right now and the fact that they had the brown one in stock clinched the deal. It is actually a rich dark brown, like expensive cocoa, not the muddy taupe color of this image...

When we got home with it I discovered that that Mike & Nova have the same camera (theirs isn't brown though...).

The battery is charging. In a little while I will go out and test it.

18 July 2008

New Blog Design

I just did a major redesign of this blog. I wanted it to more closely match my website. The redesign involved hacking the Blogger template.

I need to be able to do this for the various blogs that my co-workers create for the university. I had tried before but was not too successful at actually modifying the template (instead of just changing colors and fonts) until I found some excellent guidelines provided by Amanda Fazani of BloggerBuster. Now I need to take a look at all the blogs I manage and assist with for the university.

This is the fun part of my job.

Over my lunch hour I might play with different colors for borders and text. Or maybe not...

Tapestry Weaving - II

Most, if not all of the yarn for the current tapestry project came from Christa's Yarn Shop. Christa's is located in the village of Beaches Corner, or Beach Corners - signs on the highway claim both names. Beaches Corner is near Ettrick, Wisconsin, about 30 minutes drive on county highways that wind through areas sculpted by glacial melt.

I learned about Christa's Yarn Shop from a co-worker whose description of the store fell a bit short of reality. She said "There is an awful lot of yarn there..."

Awful lot. There IS an awful lot of yarn at Christa's. In fact, you have difficulty walking through the store without knocking over a box or two of skeins, or stepping on someone else's spill. Basically there are two narrow hallways between mountains of yarn. It is all very wonderfully chaotic and quite beautiful. And Christa is the most beautiful thing there.

Christa is Christa Berg, originally from Germany. My guess - and I will hazard one, although guessing ages is something I am terrible at - is that Christa is in her mid-to-late 70s. Her store is what appears to be an old general store, or perhaps an old hardware store. It has high shelves running down the longer sides of the building, with an abundance of smallish bins - bins that are full to overflowing with brightly colored yarns. There is a narrow walkway between these walls of bins and the old-fashioned glass-front counters that also hold an abundance of yarns and yarn accessories (needlework tools, embellishments for yarn projects and some other really strange items that you might find at a flea market sale). Running down the center of the building is a wide, two-sided shelf area - where the eye-catching consumer goods might have resided in an old-time hardware store. It too is full to overflowing with skein after skein of lovely yarn.

As you stand in the doorway the right-side wall is full of the inexpensive synthetics (acrylics & orlons - discount store yarns) that you could find anywhere. They are all neatly stacked in the bins on the wall and you can tell that no one gets into them very often.

Not so the rest of the store.

The left-hand wall full of exciting special yarns (my last find was a skein of thick, thick singles that resembled dreadlocks - perfect for a sculpture project that I have banging around inside my head). There are jewel-toned handspuns, Italian designer yarns, silks, cashmeres, trendy-or-just-past-trendy eyelash and loop yarns, and buttery-soft wools. Then there are my favorites - the itchy, scratchy wools that are strong and lustrous and perfect for tapestries and sculptural work.

The center aisle of the store is heaped with boxes and crates of mostly wools. Wools for knitting socks, sweaters, hats, mittens, scarves. Wools for tapestry and other weaving projects. Wools blended with silks, wools blended with cashmeres. Handspun wools and wools from woolen mills I have heard of all my life.

You can tell that people come for the yarn in the center aisle and left wall. It's a jumbled visual cacophony as delightful as it is bewildering. Just the thought of pawing through it all makes me happy, giddy, fluttery - and I am by no means a fluttery person. That much yarn to peruse just makes my pulse race.

I have been to Christa's four times. The first time was a few days after a huge snow storm. When we got there Christa was still struggling to get the door open against a foot or more of snow that had blown in under the porch roof and up against the door. Abelisto and I helped her get the snow cleared. Christa reciprocated - I got really good deals that day, and every time since.

Usually when you arrive at Christa's you'll find her sitting in the back of the store knitting or crocheting something - her hands constantly in motion. As she says "It's what I do." She's always more than willing to stop "doing it" and dig through the piles and piles of yarn with you when you arrive.

Christa can (and does) tell you the story behind most of the yarn in her shop. Somehow amid the sumptuous chaos, she always knows exactly where every skein resides. If you say "I'm looking for a bit of burnt umber-colored yarn, perhaps a heavy singles, or two-ply..." she will say "Oh, ya, I got some of that over here" and lead you off on a treasure hunt for that perfect skein of yarn that you "gotta" have.

Tapestry Weaving

Photo of the tapestry (12:14a.m., July 17th) as it is being woven
on a homemade frame loom. You can see the saw-horse leg
brackets at the bottom corners of the photograph. The image
is a bit distorted from the wide-angle lens I used. You can see
several skeins and balls of yarn as well as a basket of yarn on top
of the AVL 8-harness loom behind the homemade frame loom.

Wanted to post a current photo of the tapestry before going to bed. It is late - after midnight here, but I am pretty much fully awake (due to coming home early from work, not feeling well, and making the mistake of laying down for 20 minutes to see if I could get to feeling better. Woke up 2 hours later... so no sleep for me for a while yet. Oh well, I have a good book I would like to finish.)

You can see the shapes and shape-shifts that I am working on, as well as the color combinations (although as always with photographs, the colors are not exactly right, and even if I fix them to match closely on my computer, they won't look the same on any other computer...). The loom is working well. Tonight I put longer 2x4s in the leg brackets and now the loom is at standing-weaving height. Much better for my back, although my feet do not like it much. When they get too fatigued I can perch on the adjustable height stool from the physics lab.

Anyway, as I mentioned the loom is working well and the weaving generally goes fast considering it's all finger controlled. One shed (the space between the "up" warp and the "down" warp threads) is held open with a 5/8" fiberglass rod, the other I use a pick up stick - actually a long crochet hook - to select the opposite up & down threads. Not as fast as weaving a tapestry on a real tapestry loom - one with treddles and harnesses to lift the alternating warp threads - but still enjoyable to work on. Especially with the saw-horse legs! I was truly amazed to discover the difference that made. So much more workable than laying the frame on the dining room table and trying to weave with it, dealing with it scooting around like crazy, with bad ergonomics in bending over it for any length of time, and with the dark warp strings blending in with the dark color of the table top.

Back to this piece. I think I will stop weaving it very soon - striking a line about 1" taller than the tallest part and weaving up to that point. If everything were perfect with it I would fill the available weaving height (around 30"), but I was not as careful with the tension of the warp threads as I should have been. There are sections that are ever-so-slightly looser than other sections and it especially shows on the selvedges. I have too much draw-in at both sides. I should be able to finish what I am planning to weave on this piece over the weekend.

I will probably start another tapestry right away - one with better, more uniform, tension. I want to work from a plan/drawing on the next one. This tapestry has been woven randomly, or perhaps I should say it has been woven as mood and fancy took me, no real plan except to play with color and sinuous shapes.

If I do not do another tapestry right away I will probably work on the fabric-armor sculptures.

15 July 2008

Not quite perfect

Last night I did more work on the tapestry. I have decided that I need to raise the height of the loom so that I can weave standing up. I should have known I would. I do all the weaving at the AVL loom standing up. I started stand-up weaving back when I was weaving fleece rugs.

Fleece rug, woven circa 1998, 3'x5'

I had to weave them standing up because it took a great deal of force to pack the unspun wool tightly enough to form a structurally sound rug. I wove them on an older loom that I did not mind modifying by added 50 lbs. to the beater to add more swinging force.

All the extra weight meant I needed more leverage than was possible sitting down. It also meant that unless I leaned with all my weight against the loom, the act of swinging the beater to pack the wool in would "walk" the loom across the floor.

Tonight I will be modifying the legs of the tapestry loom. I wish I could get better looking 2x4s to use. I bought finished dimensional lumber to make the loom - it seems incongruous to use framing lumber for the legs of it. Oh, well... it's not like there are no other incongruous parts of my art-studio-house-life.

14 July 2008

Working in an organized studio

After Nova and I cleaned and organized my downstairs studio I moved the tapestry from the front room (I hesitate to call it a living room - there is not much in the way of traditional living room furniture in it - three desks, five bookcases, a stereo on an end table, and a printer stand...)

In these photos you can see the progress as of tonight. I will be weaving more as soon as I finish the website work I need to do. You can see the AVL loom that Abelisto bought for me a few years ago. Later in the summer I will be setting it up and teaching a couple people to weave.

It is really nice to have the studio organized and cleaned up. I will need to learn where we put everything. Most of it went into the tall cabinet you can see in the photo below. We got some crates at Target (plastic unfortunately - bad for sustainable living, but the price and availability were right) and sorted things into categories - sculpture-plaster, sculpture-clay, sculpture-found object, fiber work, tablet weaving, adhesives, beeswax & torches, pencils-pens-scissors-paints (non-encaustic),and general/miscellaneous.

Repaired the Sag

Although I did not take a before photograph, I think anyone looking at our back porch project now that it is almost finished would agree that a few inches make quite a difference - especially in curb (or backyard) appeal.

On Saturday Abelisto, Nova, Mike & I replaced the old, rotted-at-the-bottom post holding up (or not holding up) the corner of the porch roof. It was quite a process and involved adding sound wood at the bottom of the old post (after we removed it) and using it as the fulcrum for raising the roof (with a pry-bar) the necessary 3 inches to get the new post up under the roof.

Nova is scraping the old paint today and we will possibly paint it all this weekend - if we don't decide to clean the basement instead. It's scary down there...

11 July 2008

Funny - well, maybe not...

I think my art practice has been depressed lately.

It is funny - or maybe strange - how having some sort of success reinvigorates my practice. I can get so down about doing art, I find myself constantly saying "I need to do some art..." but no art happens because I tell myself I am not in the mood...

It is not that, not really. It is just that when I get out of the practice of doing art, or when I have not had any meaningful successes with any of it, I lose my focus and it gets harder and harder to make art, to get started making art, to even decide what kind of art I want to do.

And of course, this is a downward spiral - I do not make art because I have not made it. I have not made it because I have not made it. And so on...

It is important to step out of that circle and actually do something. The life of my practice may depend on it - and considering the stress relief I have experienced over the last couple days, my life in general may depend on getting out of the morass and making art.

Right now the inspiration for weaving tapestries is flowing through me like a river.

10 July 2008


Last week I made yet another tapestry frame loom. This time I managed to get it right.

It is a large one, 60" x 30" with a 48" x 24" weaving area. I thought it was another less-than-functional loom until I brought up two pairs of saw horse legs (with collapsing brackets) and used them to hold up the loom. In the two evenings that I have worked on the tapestry I have gotten a fair amount done (in just 2 or 3 hours each evening).

Here is the loom as seen from the front side of the loom - the weaving side - which is the back side of the tapestry when it is finished (tapestries are often woven from the back). You can see the loose ends hanging free where I have began new colors or spliced extra yarns into the tapestry.

Here is the view from the front side of the weaving (which is the back side of the loom). Using the flash on the camera makes the actual weave of the piece show up more than it does when you are looking at it. In actuality it does not look this bumpy.

07 July 2008

Catching Up With House Repairs - Porch Construction

Last weekend Nova, Michael, Eli, Abelisto & I began the back porch reconstruction. Nova had torn off all the decrepit screening and rotted wood.

We decided at the last moment to use tongue & groove 1 x 8" lumber for the sides of the porch - mainly because it is more forgiving to work with, and it was on sale at Menards...

We have a bit more to do and then we will haul off the junk and take some photos of the finished porch.

Me using new Sliding Compound Mitre Saw.
Since I was working in the sun so much that day I rigged up a scarf under my hat and wore long sleeves and long pants to protect myself from sun exposure. If you look closely you can see the sawdust flying.

Nova adding siding to the porch.
You can see some of the remedial woodworking that we had to do to correct some of the rotting and shoddy workmanship from the initial porch construction. We will likely end up
painting the entire porch and using indoor- outdoor carpeting on the porch decking.
You can see the corner of Beelandia in the background of this photograph.