I promise to post a photo of the blanket when the three lengths are finished and seamed.
My studio degrees are in ceramics and metal. I exhibited while still an undergrad and completed commissions. But after I graduated I never really went back to clay or gold. Instead, I went for fabric.
Important influences include Kaffe Fassett’s Glorious Color, Randall Darwall’s breathtaking silk weaving, and my grandfather’s wife Genevieve and my friend Toni who gave me looms.
Kaffe Fassett encouraged use of many yarns and fibers and textures in brilliant colors. Left is a detail of the leopard sweater I knit at least thirty years ago. Alpaca, silk, wool, angora!
Randall Darwall worked in silk—weavings in the richest patterns and colors. I met him and his partner in the 90s in Portland, and they made a silk vest for Gary. At left is a row of Darwall’s vests.
It was Genevieve who put looms in our home when I was a child and gave me a start. She brought me yarn and even though a table loom is nothing like the experience of working on a floor loom, I was kind of hooked as a small child. Weaving was inevitable. In college I took a weaving class from The Factory of Visual Art and later completed the weaving series at the UW under Professor Doris Brockway. I have had as many as four looms in my house, but as our family grew I gave them up because they took up space I could not spare.
Decades pass. The boys are men.
Enter my friend Toni, who was clearing her mother’s home after she moved to senior housing. I happened to mention to Toni that I would like to begin weaving again now that my sons were grown. “You want a loom?” Toni is a weaver too, had never stopped, and was excited to bring her mother’s equipment to her home, but then way back in a corner of the basement she discovered one more loom she hadn’t known existed and did not have room for. What she had and what I wanted were a match.
Toni drove south to Portland; I drove east to Portland. The loom came home with me.
This Schacht loom is lightweight for weaving carpets, which was what I’d most enjoyed weaving in my twenties. But I had something else in mind. I planned at first to weave patterns, particularly twill, and pulled out my old college weaving notebook, set up a sample warp and wove two narrow scarves. I had thought twill, but looking at the results from the new warp, it was something else that caught my eye. I had always been intrigued by a weaving pattern called Log Cabin that plays dark against light—alternating vertical and horizontal bars. I’d pieced a quilt in “Weaver’s Log Cabin” (there is also a quilting pattern by that name). I thought the 2-ply sock wool I’d been stashing might work with the reed that came with the loom. I’d always been told knitting yarn was unsuitable for weaving, that I should never—but I had a few dozen skeins of Koigu (2-ply merino), bought for their stunning colors, and I was so sick of knitting socks!
So I put on another sample warp, of Koigu this time. I found it easy to handle, wove two lengths, cut it from the loom, and wondered what to do with it. The fabric seemed stiff and lifeless. The pieces lay folded for a while in my studio until I remembered an accident from years before.
I had purchased powdered milk paint intending to paint . . . something. My younger son, then four or five years old, found the paper packet of paint and tore it open. He was sitting on the carpet I’d woven in college of Swedish linen and wool. There was deep red powder everywhere on the wool! The carpet was two shades of gray-brown, moss green, and cream. The milk paint was barn red and the instructions said it was activated simply by adding plain water. What to do? I would’ve cried, and maybe I did, but I also took the carpet out to the front lawn and did the only thing I could think of: ran cold water from the hose through it. I figured I might at least save the rug, even if the pattern was stained. Surprisingly, the paint washed right out, even from the linen warp snd creamy wool center section. It dried in the sun and was good as new. Better, in fact. The cold water softened both warp and wool and left me with a more pliable rug.
From college: an homage to “Snowball and Pine Tree,” an early American woven coverlet pattern. Another rug in cream and black and a gray and brown alpaca afghan.
You might guess how earthy my palette was as an undergraduate. That appreciation still lives, but there is an entire color wheel just screaming to be explored. So I do.
People blocked sweaters, didn’t they? I do not recall ever being taught to block a weaving. Maybe I failed to pay attention that day? I washed and hung my new weavings on my wooden rack, and everything about their texture changed—softer, drapier, thicker, loftier. Magic. How had I never known this before?
Weaving the next three warps seriously depleted my enormous stash of Koigu and provided an excuse to buy more yarn. I experimented with commercial blends of wool and silk and alpaca and cashmere. I had a few missteps and some ah-ha! moments.
Eventually, I settled on Koigu as the most reliable and interesting wool. The colors are wonderful and I know I can trust it entirely. But because no one carries Koigu locally, I order from shops as near at Portland and as far as Quebec. Sometimes colors surprise me. Those surprises sometimes push me in a direction I might not otherwise have gone. That is what we call A Very Good Thing.
One thing I like to do is weave multiples that go to family members. At left is a “Baby” blanket. There is a matching “Mama-shawl” from the same warp. I have woven a lot of baby blankets over the years. I like to think they get dragged everywhere.
These days I am committed to Koigu, the Canadian dyer that got me started, and sometimes I add handspun wool for a differing color texture. I often weave entirely with Koigu. I rarely have a broken thread and never with Koigu, the variations in color and the way color changes in the hand-painted Koigu is precious. Sometimes I combine Koigu with 2-ply fingering weight handspun skein I cannot resist—they play well together. Most hand spinners produce a yarn that holds up well.
At left handspun American wool. At right Canadian Koigu yarns*—with a tighter spin but about the same weight. Koigu is rich and wonderfully variable. Some knitters find color variation of handmade yarn frustrating, but I love it!
I thought I was ordering rust and I got flaming DayGlo orange. Yikes! But when I needed to weave an orange and blue blanket—I used it all—pure Koigu, luscious! At left, three lengths woven from the same warp. You’ll have to trust me about the blue. It’s there.
My Baby Wolf. I warp from four to more than eight yards and weave at least two and sometimes four pieces on each warp. At this time, I have finished shawls of about 23″ wide and 72″ long plus fringe in corals, all sorts of greens, dark roses, gold, plum, and some surprising purples.
- Gary suggested I tell more about Koigu. I told him I was sure I had written about the yarn in a previous post and perhaps I have, but I can’t find that post. So here is my story the way I tell it and it’s mostly accurate. I think.
It’s about an Estonian watercolorist and textile artist and her husband, Maie and Harry Landra. They’ve bought a weekend place and he wants to retire to the country. She doesn’t want to leave the city. She finally agrees, if she can have Estonian sheep. That’s fine.
The sheerer comes through and sheers her small flock the next spring and she find herself saddled with a LOT of wool. She hauls it off to the local spinning mill (there used to be a lot of those, but they have been disappearing fast). What do you want us to do with this? She chooses 2-ply sock-weight or fingering. And then shortly she picks up a frightening amount of yarn.
[This is where I have to warn you that I’ve pieced this story together over the years and if there are inaccuracies—and no doubt there are—I am still attached to the way I tell it. Taiu Landra friended me on Facebook while I was still there, but I have never met her so I can’t vet this tale. If you want the official and true story, stop reading and go to their website.]
I always think of a flock of fourteen sheep. [See above.] That’s about three hundred pounds of wool. Or, say, 140 kilos, 2800 fifty-gram skeins, over 390,000 meters of yarn. She might have made a couple of hundred sweaters or 1500 pairs of socks. And they all would have been white.
So Maie orders proper dyes and starts dying wool in her bathtub. Her daughter comes home on vacation from university, looks at the gorgeous colors and says: “I can sell this.”
And six months later Koigu is in Vogue.
It’s a woman-owned company, as are several others I use. I like the idea of women who do not even know one another creating something beautiful. Together-but-not-together-together.
A horsewoman who ordered one of my shawls has written all about it: “Introducing Shawlene, Handmade, Wearable Art”