Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Workshop Wonders

Yes, I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet, haven’t I? I had a very busy last two days with a wonderful teacher, Catharine Ellis. She is wonderful, generous and giving and I really enjoyed getting back to weaving with the extra kick of finishing techniques such as fulling/felting, dyeing, devoré, resists, and steaming. My brain is full! Even though I only accomplished 4 dinky little samples I learned a lot:

Backing up a bit, my loom was threaded in a 12-shaft extended twill with 20/2 wool (not merino, a significant fact as I later learned). I used a wide sett of 12 ends per inch for the first 2 samples. The blue and white one was first. I wove it using the same wool for the plain weave ground and used a slick yellow 2-ply in some unknown fibre (probably polyester) for the pattern wefts using the middle draft in this post. I drew up the pattern threads really tightly and then fulled the sample on my antique scrub board. I thought I’d over-fulled it but I hadn’t! While it was still tied I added it to the blue acid dyepot we had going in the classroom. Opening it as the ties were being removed was like opening a present. It was fuzzy from the fulling so had to be peeled apart carefully but inside the blue package were the open areas I was hoping for.

The second sample is the plain white one. This one is kind of the opposite of the first sample because the drawn-up ridges are resisted (not fulled) and the interior areas are fulled instead. There are many more steps to put it through to get this effect however. I wove it in “blocks” using two opposite pattern lifts repeated to form rectangular areas. When it was drawn up, I painted it with a sodium alginate (seaweed thickener) resist. Then it was carefully opened up and the resist dried. When it was dry it was dipped for a few minutes in a 10% solution of alum (the same stuff used as a mordant for natural dyeing) which caused the resist to harden remarkably so it could withstand the fulling process. After the fulling the sample went into a bath with metaphos (sodium hexametaphosphate, a chemical most often used in water softening) for an hour to soften the resist so it could be washed out.

Here I have to mention that using a wool type other than merino meant that I had to work a lot harder to get the fabric to full. The effect is also hairier than the merino’s softer but denser fuzz. Others in the workshop had used merino so I could definitely see the difference. Nevertheless it did work as I intended if not quite so dramatically. Note to self: get some 18/2 merino wool yarn or finer.

The loom was re-sleyed to 24 epi before I wove the second two samples. The first of these (light grey) used an “organic” pattern similar to the third draft I posted previously but not as regular due to it being late in the day! You can see the combination of zigzags and larger straight sections. I used a very fine grey “crepe” over-twisted yarn and 6 picks of plain weave between pattern threads. After it was drawn up it was simply dropped into very hot water for about 10 minutes and then dried before the ties were removed. Later I wet the lower section so I could see how permanent the pleats are. The fabric opened up a bit but not a huge amount. I like the slightly relaxed area even better. This sample is actually one of the most exciting to me because it’s so easy to accomplish.

The last sample is the little red/white/blue one. This was woven using EcoSpun (recycled polyester) yarn and a zig-zag pattern. I ironed paper that had been painted with disperse dyes on it before drawing it up and then added another hit of disperse on the ridges after it was drawn up. Then it went into a steamer pot for half an hour to set the pleats permanently. Note that the disperse dyes also stained the wool somewhat though they are specifically for polyester. I washed this sample but they didn't wash out. Also if you stretch it out you can see white dashes where the pattern threads were when the first layer of disperse was applied. After they were pulled out they left the tiny white voids in the dye. Interesting, hey?

Here are some of Catharine's exciting samples that she shared with us:
Here are some of the happy weavers:

L to R that’s Rene, Betty, Jean and Marianna even though you can barely see some of them. (And I'm sure they're happy about that. Heh.) And here’s Catharine working in the dye area:

When not lecturing and answering questions, she kept very busy mixing pastes and solutions and checking the steamer and dyepot. And, although I don’t have a photo of him, I have to put in a good word for our guild’s workshop organiser, Rob, who tried to simultaneously take the class and make sure we had coffee and hot water for tea plus look after Catharine and her husband. He was somehow even in charge of renting the lecture hall. He did an exemplary job. Clap! Clap!

So now I still have lots of warp left on my loom and lots of things I can try still. Some of the techniques that others in the class experimented with were devoré on a silk warp with cotton-covered polyester weft (the cotton burns out leaving the silk and a very thin polyester cloth in the holes) and using wool as the pattern weft on a cotton warp/weft then fulled and the wool left in to create bubbles in the cloth. Another experiment was fine gunma (sericin silk) woven, drawn up and then the sericin removed in simmering water that included a little soda ash. After dyeing the crisp sericin silk dyed much darker than the softer de-gummed areas. As you can imagine it was very stimulating and exciting and my brain is full. I can foresee more warps and more samples in my future.

To ice the cake, last evening I walked over to Heritage Hall for Catharine’s slide lecture. The audience included local weavers and fibre artists plus some of the college-level textile students. I wore one of my two tops with woven shibori but it was a very warm evening and I was sweltering in the hall. It was worth it though when my shirt was complimented by Catharine herself! She was very supportive and, even though she herself specializes deeply in her chosen work, was encouraging in her comments about my scattered interests and the fact that I have no formal education in any of them. I love her.

Several members of the class plus some new faces are working again today and tomorrow with Catharine to explore Taiten, a rare Japanese woven shibori technique. The structure is just plain weave including the tie ends in the warp only or warp and weft. They’ll be experimenting with applying natural dyes and discharge to their samples which they already had woven before class began. I would have loved to take that class too but sometimes you have to know when enough is enough!

Building notes: The plumbers are working in and around the house next door now. The musical choice is rap/hip-hop. Ick. Bet you can guess that they’re mostly white guys. And we won’t discuss what the city guys did to my poppies yesterday when they hooked up the sewer and water. After I told them to be careful I had to leave for my class. William the Conqueror…er, Contractor insists that they will make everything look good again. Yeah, sure. Believe it when I see it.

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