22 May 2013

Audiovisual Aid

For years I've wanted to take and post videos of my work with the warp-weighted loom.  Until now, my access to technology required a second person to act as tripod and operator, and that hasn't worked out very well given the relationship that needed to exist between the camera and the work.  But today, thanks to advances in technology, I was able to take my first videos all by my ownself using Google Glass.

Most of what I took today isn't good enough to be postable.  The equipment limits each video to ten seconds in length, and I have to learn where to look and how close to get.  I'll be taking a lot more as I learn about how to take effective ones.

Here is a sample of the kind of videos that will come along as I am able to make them.  This particular video shows part of the dance that occurs in the Back Again (or Return) row of weaving.  After putting the weft through it, the countershed is dropped and the initial resting shed must reassert itself.  I strum the warp all the way across to help the threads shake themselves loose of one another.  This process makes two kinds of noises, the strumming sound and the clink of the loom weights as they rock and settle back into their resting position.

Stay tuned for more videos, hopefully within the week.

ETA:  Technical difficulties solved.


21 May 2013

Baby Steps

Progress! The woven section measures just about exactly half its eventual length.

I only had to repair three threads this time. My speed is also improving as the nuances of the dance return to my working memory. But my stamina is down after so little appropriate exercise. I think I'm going to have brief weaving sessions for a while, just to build up my endurance again. I also need to set up my listening station again so I can have music while I weave. Singing along to something I love is the quickest way I know to get through a lot of physical work.

Almost every thread I've had to repair has been in the center of the web, in that problem area right where the two heddle rods abut. (I think there has been only one exception, a thread that caught by misadventure on a rough spot on the weaving sword.) This afternoon I thought longingly of what I could do if I were only weaving a cloak or a plain peplos rather than a garment with inwoven bands. After I took the piece off the loom, I'd stitch a false seam down that middle inch of problem warp and no one would be the wiser!

Now I'm going to go off and think pleasant math-y thoughts about yarn and dyestuffs and mordants. I was going to do that yesterday, but my scale wasn't working so I couldn't come up with any hard numbers. Now that the scale works, it's time to plot the dyeing phase of the project.

20 May 2013

Refusing to quit

After my last post I went off and looked over my notes to make sure I was remembering the dance properly. I wasn't, and it's a good thing I checked. But then the first time I tried to weave again another thread broke.

I admit it: I walked away again.

Ever since then I've been trying to think analytically about the project. Why is it so hard for me to just get back in there, fix the broken threads, and go back to weaving?

Some of my reluctance comes from the general lack of energy I've had to devote to anything other than interpersonal activity with my family this year. We really have faced unprecedented challenges. All right, acknowledge and move on. What else?

Partly the quality control geek inside me is having conniptions at all the repairs I'm having to do. After all this effort and expense, she says, what am I going to have to show for it? If I'm lucky, I'll have an indifferently made piece that is proof of concept rather than art. The quality control geek is never satisfied with imperfect work; I spend a lot of time squelching her so I can hear the muse a little more clearly. Lately I haven't had enough energy to squelch her, and so I was stuck in a bad place where the work just seemed like it was a case of diminishing returns.

But then the other night ὁ πάτρων (Il Patron) came for a visit. He wasn't there to visit the loom; it was purely a social call, and we all had a really good time watching "Jason and the Argonauts" in memory of Ray Harryhausen. Still, at one point he asked about my progress. Then I watched him walk over to it and gently touch the web. He looked at it with this combination of wonder and longing in his eyes. That right there, that is my antidote to the voice of the inner quality control geek. I had forgotten about the magic in this undertaking, and he reminded me about it without saying anything. OK, great; I'm over the hump of mid-project dejection. What else?

Well, after I got past the "this project sucks" moment, there were really only three other problems I could articulate. They all have to do with the tapestry woven portion of the project.

All my experience with tapestry weaving up to this point has been with small pieces. The piece on my tapestry loom right now, which is half done, is only about 6.5"x13". While I've become very comfortable estimating how much dyed weft I'll need for a project of that size or smaller, I really haven't even been able to face the fact that I have no clue how much dyed weft I'll need for the chiton band. Yesterday, though, an answer came to me: I will apply my mad math skillz!

The piece currently on my tapestry loom required me to dye four one-ounce skeins of weft. The weft I am using is a known quantity, and I've been working with it for years. Since I am more or less at the halfway point in that tapestry right now, all I have to do is weigh the unused balls of weft to find out (roughly) how much weft I've used so far. If I double that, I'll have how much weft is going to be required for the whole piece, i.e., 169 square inches of tapestry. Now, since I already ascertained that the tapestry section of the chiton will be at approximately the same sett as the other tapestry project, I just need to apply that math. I am planning for a band that goes from selvedge to selvedge and will be about 8" long, so I estimate that to be about 585 square inches of tapestry. That means I'll need about three and a half times as much weft for the chiton project as I do for the smaller piece. (Call it four, insists my inner quality control geek.)

Earlier today I went into the dining room to sit down at the table with some coffee and calculate these numbers. I was all excited about getting to do some good geeky textile math. But when I got there, the loom was staring at me forlornly. Was I going to have fun without it, right in front of it? So I decided to take my desire to do this math, to solve this problem, and let the doing of it be my reward for solving the prior problem of the broken warp thread.

Remember that broken thread? I mentioned it at the top of the entry. I fixed it this morning. And then I fixed six more that broke after it. I had to re-knit a heddle and unweave two passes too. But I finally got it all squared away. I wove two passes, a there-and-back-again, without anything breaking. It even looks pretty good considering how much the warp has been stressed lately.

Then I came in here to blog about my progress, which led sneakily to my doing the math live, in real time as I blogged about why it had been a problem. (I suppose that makes this a meta post too.) But I've still got two more points to make.

Another thing that worried me was dyestuffs. I knew I would be using two dyestuffs, one of which is in limited supply because I grew it myself. Yesterday I went looking for dyestuffs in the projects cabinet, the place where we keep all the weird raw materials: jet, soapstone, bone, beeswax, lamp black, calcium carbonate, dried herbs, oils, dyestuffs, that kind of stuff. I found plenty enough alum and dyestuffs to complete a pretty big project. And now that I know the actual size of the yarn pile I'll need to dye, I can relax. I have about twice as much dyestuff available as I will need for this project.

Now I finally have enough information that I can see my path forward, not just on the plain weaving but on the tapestry part. There's a lot of busy work involved in getting the yarn dyed. I can use busy work to progress with the project even on those days when I can't bring myself to weave. But hopefully I've solved enough of the technical problems that the weaving process isn't going to be difficult until I get to the beginning of the tapestry section.

Mustn't think about that yet, though. That's the last problem, the only thing I haven't even got a provisional solution for yet. Maybe I'll find a way to get ahold of the article I need to help me solve the riddle of the transition section.