Risqué Loom Dressing

December 24, 2008


I put that pesky warp for the Summer and Winter samples on the loom.  I may never weave the baby blankets, and it may be wasted effort, but at least it is short.  One might even say ridiculously brief.  At around 57″ it is the equivalent of dressing my loom in a 9″ mini skirt.


So, I have been asking myself: if I love the snow this much, how come I live somewhere that usually doesn’t have a winter, just a cold-ish season between the two squelchy ones?  Good question!

I never thought view from my kitchen window would be able to compete with Jane’s for wintriness, but here are my dead sunflowers wearing little conical hats!


I have only two problems with this weather.  The first is a phenomenon that has been mentioned by a lot of other Pacific Northwestern bloggers, but which bears repeating because it is just so weird.  There are no routines to deal with snow here.  Instead, white stuff falling from the sky prompts an immediate crisis mentality–and not the kind of crisis where people pull together, but the kind where they peek out of their windows at the burning house across the street.  I doubt the city or county even owns a snow plow.  (If they do, we haven’t seen it.)  There isn’t even any guy-with-a-truck-who-will-take-your-money plowing going on!  Taking a cue from the city streets and local businesses, nobody shovels their sidewalk.  Come on, it’s been out there nearly a week!  The School For the Blind shoveled, but that’s about it.  People stay inside Hoping It Will Just Go Away until they can’t stand it anymore or run out of Keystone Light, then rush out to drive like absolute doofuses on the slick, uncleared roads.

This makes great conversation for everyone who has lived in the mountains or in New England.  We get to shake our heads over the wimpiness of the infrastructure and the supposed “outdoorsiness” of the natives.

My other problem is the quality of the snow.  Because of the strange mix of weather systems in play where we live, heavy snow is almost always followed by freezing rain.  This is cruel to the temperate zone trees and shrubs, and has mostly (along with the doofussy drivers and lack of shoveling) kept me indoors.  With layers of ice like frosting between the layers of a cake,  it’s not the kind of snow it’s fun to play in.

But none of this is really a complaint.  Ever since I woke up yesterday morning and thought, “I get to thread today!” I have been wondering why snowy weather is the perfect weather for weaving.  Obviously loom dressing and weaving lend themselves really well to large chunks of time without distractions, and you can set those aside without any guilt when the weather has you housebound.  But I have also noticed that the reflected light from the snow has filled my normally dark apartment with a clear, diffuse light.  Point-source light casts confusing shadows when I am dealing with ranks of Texsolv cords and heddles.  Crawling under the loom and threading were so much easier with the snow-light!

Another thing I noticed was that I was moving my whole body getting around the loom.  Warping takes about the same degree and variety of effort as gardening.  I don’t know of any other way to get that sort of physical activity indoors.  It’s the perfect antidote to the “I have been sitting in this chair too long and I am not up to cleaning the bathroom” syndrome.  Especially since, as with gardening, I get the satisfaction of making something.

No wonder weaving as has persisted so strongly as a home craft in the Nordic countries, where the winters are long and snowy and the traditional houses tend to be short on windows.

Yesterday afternoon I was trying to finish threading before the daylight disappeared.  I just made it!


Now I am going to go sley.



There’s a Cat In My House!

December 19, 2008


Earlier this week I quickly warped up my rigid heddle loom for one last scarf.  The days have been dark, so I wasn’t able to get good pictures before I put it in the mail; it is a Christmas present for my father’s mother, the grandma who compulsively throws valuable things away.

It gave me a little lurch to send it to her because I don’t like to think of it in the trash.


However, the real gift is the experience of opening it up, stroking it, and most importantly wearing it to lunch a few times and getting to brag on it.



Scarf: Gelassenheit

Plainweave on rigid heddle loom

Warp: partial (3/4?) skein of Manos del Uruguay handspun 70% merino wool/ 30% silk singles

Weft: quite old Oregon Worsted wool yarn, Maypole “Nehalem” a fine 3 ply in olive–nice stuff, I wish it were still being made!

Heddle: 9-and-a-bit epi

Picks per inch: 5 3/4

Ends: 52

Woven length (excluding fringe): 49 3/4″

Woven width: 5 1/4″

Finished length (excluding fringe): 41″

Finished width: 4 1/4″

Finishing: Warm hand wash, plenty of agitation, 7 minute soak, dry flat, light iron with press cloths.

Fringe: Hemstitched then plied.

Conclusions:  Manos del Uruguay wool/silk is an ideal warp yarn for this heddle size.  The strong silk keeps it from overstretching during weaving.  At this ppi it has room to get soft, a little curly, and to bury scratchier warp yarn when fulled, without making the cloth inflexible.

For kicks, I was able to calculate my rigid heddle scarf-making hourly wage.  If this scarf sold for the maximum (too much really) it could command in the crafts marketplace? $2.91 an hour.  Then I realized I had forgotten to include the cost of materials.  Or self-employment tax.  Let’s just call it good at 50 cents.

Did I say something about a cat?  Oh, yes…

Yesterday my half-sister stopped by our house after 13 hours en route to my parents’.  She and her grad student husband had been in the car with their 2-month-old baby, their two-year-old daughter, and their adolescent cat since 3 o’ clock in the morning!

“You’ll get to meet Robert!” (the cat), my sister said on the phone, and I had pictured meeting a miserable creature through the bars of a pet carrier.  If they let him out he would only make a bee-line for some inaccessible cranny or streak out the front door and never be seen again.  This is exactly how the cats we grew up with would have behaved.

There was no pet carrier!  Robert rides loose in the car.  “Is it all right if the he comes inside?”  Everyone piled out of the mini-van and into the house without bothering about the open doors.  I asked my brother-in-law whether the cat wouldn’t run away and he said, “Oh, he’s easy to catch.”  Robert and little E started roaming the house.  Robert’s litter box and food and water dishes came in with the diaper bag.

Distracted by the miniature human, at first I didn’t pay much attention to the toddler and the cat.  I guessed they would calm down when they had seen everything.  The toddler did, but not the cat.  Imagine a cross between a grey Maine coon cat and a ferret, with ENORMOUS green headlamp eyes.  Robert dusted the whole house for me, which is to say he covered every patch of floor under every piece of furniture in the first 10 minutes.

Der Mann’s cat allergy is only the hay-fever-like kind, so I wasn’t too worried.  I didn’t think a cat could leave much of himself around our apartment on such a short visit.  Cats just look around and lie down, right?  When I realized my mistake and decided to shut the bedroom door, Robert decided that he needed to explore the bedroom for the twelfth time.  I blocked him with my foot and a big, scary “no.”

He jumped over my foot.  At least our neighbor’s cat Dobo had the grace to look guilty when she was caught, and to argue about her sentence; Robert has the temperament of a commando rather than a petty criminal.  “Verbal commands, feet–pfft!  Shoot first, ask questions later.”  My sister had to haul him out by the scruff of his neck.  The naughtiness only escalated after that.  Robert tried to get back into the bedroom the moment his scolding was over and his neck was released.  Failing that, he stretched himself out in front of the bedroom door like a guardian lion, tail flicking, waiting for it to open again.  He was similarly attracted to the cupboard under the kitchen sink, which does not latch.

Robert scratched the chair, jumped up on the side table, paced and eyed the countertops with feverish intensity; each time it looked like he was finally going to settle down, he switched mischiefs.  It was almost as if he were “acting out,” because he has been trained never to do these things at home.  Can cats act out?  His constant snaky, sneaky monitoring of his surroundings made him look like he was always on the verge of doing something bad. “Scratch?  No, no, not here.  Keep it cool.  Keep them guessing.  Eat a little.  Sit down for a minute.  Play with the string.  Yeah that looks good.”

I jumped up when I spotted him in a pre-scratching crouch inside my loom.  By then my sister and her husband wanted to put him back in the car.  I told them it was okay because really, our place is so small that there was nothing he could do without us catching him at it immediately, and he was mesmerizing, in a way.  I love watching cats.  Even naughty ones.

While we were discussing the question whether Robert could stay inside he started clawing the curtains, so out he went.  My toddler niece cried a little in sympathy.

She was good as gold.  The toy box with the My Little Pony Pretty Parlor is always a hit.  The baby, while much less entertaining than the cat, was much easier to hold and much sweeter-tempered.  The baby has headlamp eyes too, but no fur–you can’t have everything.

We fed them all Mexican take-out.  When they were back on the road der Mann laughed and said, “They’re such a unit!  And they’re all so cool!  E is even a cool toddler!”  He was trying to express something we both found really funny, which is they just sort of function together.  After 13 hours in the car!  Nobody was crabby, nobody was tyrannical or placatory.  Things got done without a fuss.  Diapers got changed, E got to tie a jump rope around her dad’s neck and pretend he was a sheep, the baby got fed, cat litter got swept up . . . and then back into the gypsy wagon; cat, kids, and all.


Three Sisters

December 13, 2008

Here are the rigid heddle scarves I have been working on over the past few months while I give my treadles a rest.  They are made (mostly) from the odds and ends of  knitting wool in my departed Great Granny’s stash.  It was interesting to work with so many strictures: limited quantities of yarn (well, that’s normal; I’m an eeker-outer), two shafts, only one possible sett, peculiar colors.

You may remember my mission.  These scarves are for my mom and my aunts, so the fact that the yarn was my Great Granny’s is pretty much the whole point.  Posthumous granny-gifts.


Auntie Perfectionist, the Master Gardener


My granny thought this yarn had some wool in it.  I’m not so sure after a burn test.  However, Auntie Perfectionist isn’t particularly attached to natural fibers and I know she likes the colors.  I think the yarn was probably left over from something Great Granny knitted for her.  Taking into consideration the fact that Auntie P doesn’t like to wear anything around her neck, a skinny wear-loose-under-the-lapel-of-her-coat scarf seemed like a plan.  The weft is a non-shrinking green sock wool.


To prepare the warp I pulled each individual warp yarn out of the skein and cut it off after one complete color cycle.  This makes the ikat-like striping effect.


Auntie Aesthete, the graphic designer


You know how you can pick out a Frenchwoman or a stylish Japanese just from the not-from-around-here aura of their clothes?  Auntie Aesthete looks like that, and she dresses from yard sales and consignment stores.  She has An Eye.  All kinds of interesting mustards and rusts look fabulous on her.  She wears colors I would enjoy wearing if they didn’t make me look like a radish.


So, it was fun working with the rust and blue, but the check pattern was extremely fiddly to weave without a floating selvedge.  I twined the shuttles and carried the cream and rust threads along the edge, but I didn’t think it would look right to have the blue traveling too, so I cut it off after each blue stripe.  Not an ideal project for a rigid heddle loom without blocks.  The colors are clearer in person.


Mom, the ingenue


My photo does not convey the violent color scheme of this 1950’s self-striping wool.  There was a lot of it, so I think it was even too loud for Great Granny!

I don’t have a handle on my mom’s taste except that it is inclusive.  I remember trying to explain to her as a kid “what was wrong” with things like: a giant impressionistic foral print in khaki, banana yellow, black, kelly green and lipstick red; electric op-art Madras plaids; chinz slipcover lookalikes–in fact most any of the splotchy fabrics she brought home from the 99 cent table at Hancocks.  There was a conversation that went something like, “But don’t you like flowers?”  “I like flowers, just not if they’re too big.”  “This is too big?” “Yes, the blossoms have to be smaller than a quarter.”  Mom recently said that she is glad we are finally on the verge of getting back to the pretty colors and “nice comfy” oversized styles of the eighties.

I wasn’t worried about the Granny yarn being too bright for her, but I did wonder how I was going to put those disparate colors side by side without turning them to mud.

This threading works well for 9-and-a-bit dpi of my heddle:  The multicolored fat knitting yarn goes in the slots, pink baby yarn goes in holes–except when it goes in a slot to replace an end of fat yarn.  Breaking the fat yarn up with the baby yarn makes the fat yarn stripes stand out more crisply, since the ends of fat yarn always rise to the surface of the cloth at the same time.  The extra-fine springy wool weft is beaten at roughly 8 picks per inch.  This picture will probably make more sense than the explanation:


The pale pink stripes in the warp and the interaction with the hot pink weft really transformed the gaudy old knitting wool.  The finished scarf has all the same colors as Great Granny’s favorite pantsuits: mint, fushia, reddish purple, lavender.  I can almost smell the Coty face powder.


–which is what I had for lunch.  Multiple food allergies sometimes goad me into not-too-enlightened attempts at variety.  For curiosity’s sake:

Potato Gruel


Boiling water (fill kettle with enough for gruel AND a cup of tea, which will be useful for rinsing the mouth)

Pat of butter

Instant mashed potato granules



Warm bowl with hot tap water.  Discard hot tap water.  Add pat of butter.  Add boiling water to top of flower design on inside of bowl.  Add potato granules.  Stir.  Cover with plate and let sit for five minutes.  Salt to taste.   Serve with dry celery and scraps of cheese.  Eat hurriedly.


Jane tagged me for the meme where you show the sixth photo in your sixth photo folder.  I think a lot of people have been tagged already.  (Interested, SpinninglizzyJudyHumbleBumble?)  Der Mann is the recreational picture-taker in our house, so almost all the photos on our computer were taken by him.  But the sixth-sixth just happens to be one I took:


Here we see der Mann in a characteristic pose at a viewpoint on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge, on our way back from a wedding a year-and-a-half ago.  We had just moved.  It was our first time driving the gorge to get to my home town, and I missed going over the mountains.  I grew up on the Dry Side longing for trees.

Home For a Head

December 1, 2008

I appreciate your sympathetic comments on my last post.  I’m ashamed how whiney and alarmist I sound–“Waa, I’m afraid I can’t weave!”–when so many of you are already been biting the bullet (and the anti-inflamatories) to pursue the beloved craft.  Forgive me; I ought to give you some context: as someone with a chronic illness, I’ve had a lot of experience with physical things going wrong and not getting better.  It’s turned me into a human barometer.  I’m all about reading the warning signs, catching little problems, and working to forestall them before they take permanent hold.  I have found that if I take ibuprophin and give in to my “bloody mindedness” as Deborah puts it (love that expression!), I have to be ready for it to reach round and bite me.  Sometimes it’s worth it, mostly not.  It’s more of a crap shoot when the problem is an unfamiliar one.

Last week we discovered a possible escape route from our disturbing landlord and his 5:30 AM-on-a-Sunday-morning (sledge?)hammering in the other half of the duplex.  Landlord and new girlfriend are in a frenzy of loud and smelly home improvement, which I think means they are here for the long haul.  –This, and the fact that they have hung shiny new Tibetan prayer flags across the yard at just the hight to decapitate themselves in the dark.  Der Mann says it has spoiled prayer flags for him.

It will be a couple of months before we know whether this escape route pans out, and the strange thing is I don’t really mind one way or the other.  It seems I didn’t need to know for sure we were getting away from here to feel better, I just needed the possibility that we might be living somewhere else in the foreseeable future.

I am half convinced that organizing my weaving area is what brought this possibility about.

I bought a new-to-me weaving cupboard in the spring, but couldn’t use it until I had attached the dangerously balanced hutch to the base.  Since then, “not using” the cupboard has translated into stuffing things into it just to get them out of the way.  You know, weaving things like Chinese face powder (I don’t wear make-up, but it’s a pretty box!) and my chocolate stash.


The more I stuffed, the more I would have to remove when I finally pulled the cupboard out from the wall to attach the hutch.  I was unmotivated.  More recently I didn’t see any point in fixing up the cupboard until we decided whether we were going to try to find a new apartment.

A couple of weeks ago I gave up on finding another apartment; the prospects were too dismal.  I attached the hutch to the base cupboard with metal mending plates and organized all my weaving things inside.





There isn’t much difference between the before picture and the after picture, but it is a huge difference for me, because now I know where everything is!  I wish I could show you the annoying places around the house where reeds, beaming sticks (that’s what the wooden blinds are going to be, too) and the toe-stubbing pieces of my warping reel were crammed.

I’m inclined to see a connection between cupboard fixing and landlord escape because it is an example of something I keep noticing in life, but only ever after it happens: the power of gestures of despair.  When I give up, and take action reflecting the up-givenness, circumstances alter.  It’s not a useful philosophy because it’s not possible to give up on purpose (not the way I’m talking about), but there it is. 

The best part about my reorganized corner is that I now have space for my head, or rather, my father’s head.  One of the most frustrating things about our current cramped living situation is that it has coincided with my grandmother wanting to give me what little remains of my dead father’s stuff (he died when I was 3).  Since my grandmother is at a stage of obsessively throwing things away, when she offers, I take–pronto–or else risk never seeing the object again.

My father carved the head when he was in high school.  For years it sat in the murky top recess of the built-in shelves that held my grandmother’s stereo and TV.  I’m unaccountably fond of it.  I think he had been looking at pictures of the Easter Island heads the night he made it.  Here it is looking monolithic:


And here is its sterner side:


I felt uncomfortable having it sitting on the floor behind my loom.  It seemed disrespectful.  For Christmas, I’m going to dress it up as the Green Man.