mud + cloth

While I have been wittering on about braiding, colour and drafts, there is actually a whole bunch of stuff about the Albuquerque trip I haven’t even mentioned yet. One thing that hasn’t had a look in is the class I took in making mud cloth. As you may have noticed, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I am not especially enthusiastic about dyeing. However, I did (a) think that playing with mud was right up my street and (b) want to try things I wouldn’t normally select. So I signed up for Judy Dominic‘s half-day class in “modified bogolan fini”.

If you read Judy’s page about mudcloth you will learn that the traditional process of bogolan fini (literally “mudcloth”) which is practised in Mali cannot be done outwith that region as the precise combination of water, plants and mud simply isn’t present anywhere else. However, Judy has adapted the technique, using skills from her other areas of interest such as papermaking, and come up with a way of making mud cloth wherever you can get mud.

Judy had asked the class participants to bring some of their local mud with them to the workshop — international students were exempted! — so as to get as broad a range of colours as possible. We then played with these colours, painting them onto large white cotton handkerchiefs and t-shirts. Well, other people made shirts; I was so slow I managed exactly one hankie in about an hour and a half! The colours were really amazing though. I can’t remember where the yellowish mud came from, but I used reds from Oklahoma and New Mexico and black from Michigan. Here is the result:

Yes, while other folks were painting portraits and sophisticated Escher-like interlocking fish designs, I was daubing big splodgy circles and feeling quite advanced. The fancy curlicues in the bottom right were from a stencil, so none of my own doing I’m afraid.

The final colours you get using this method are less saturated than the original mud colours, so if you want real richness then you have to apply more layers. However, I am quite amazed that I have as much colour left in there as I do — I had really expected much more to wash out. I am sorry that I wasn’t quicker though, as I would have liked to decorate a shirt. Nothing to stop me doing that at home, except that our mud is just plain brown! I’ll bet you can buy supplies of refined muds from craft catalogues, but … buying mud? I am not sure I am ready for that. On the other hand I did buy a box of ochres for a friend when we visited Provence — perhaps it is time for another holiday down there.

mud + cloth” was posted by Cally on 29 Aug 2010 at

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back-to-work blues

The fact that I have been back from my holidays for over three weeks ought to mean that I have settled down into a proper routine by now, but I still seem to be operating on less than half-a-brain. I am finding myself enormously resistant to anything resembling hard graft on my research:  I have reached a difficult bit so graft is necessary but instead my concentration wanders all over the place. I am not suffering in this way with regard to my weaving, which — on the one hand — is a good thing because I am moving the serious scarves project forward, but — on the other — serves to make me feel guilty that the day job is not getting the same level of mental commitment. Can’t win! I did get an energy boost from a workshop I attended in July, but that has worn off alarmingly quickly… *Sigh* I know the second year is the classic doldrum-time for a PhD — doesn’t mean I am happy with it though!

But why am I grumbling on a Saturday? Here are some progress shots. A couple more wrappings, and some playing:

While these are quite plain and regular, I have scanned them in and can now play around with them on the computer, changing stripe widths, juxtaposing different colours and so on. I will also have a play in Excel. Much as I appreciate the power of Fiberworks in designing drafts, I don’t find it an easy environment for planning colour sequences.

But speaking of drafts, here are two more huck samples on the loom.

I am using leftover weft as well as leftover warp, so apologies for the rather unattractive colours. What would Goethe call this, I wonder? By the way, on the subject of Goethe, I had a sudden flash of enlightenment as I mentioned in a comment on my earlier post. A Journal colleague had emailed me an extract from Goethe’s writings where he is talking about yellow. Reading this…

…it belatedly dawned on me that he was writing prior to the invention of synthetic dyes. All those hangings would have been dyed with natural dyes and his daily experience of yellow in clothing, art and so on would have been quite different from ours.

Using up this last bit of warp has been surprisingly unpleasant. Ends kept snapping all over the place — which I took to be their protest at being suddenly flung back to work after a couple of idle months — to the point where I stopped trying to fix them and just wove to the end with a few gaps. I did say these were proof-of-concept samples, after all.

I also have to tackle an unrelated task: setting up some sample warps on table looms for next week’s guild meeting. I am giving a talk and said I would prepare a couple of have-a-go looms to accompany it. As of this moment all I have ready for either part of this venture is a few scribbled notes, so I need to apply myself Quite Soon.

back-to-work blues” was posted by Cally on 28 Aug 2010 at

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Firstly, I have been practising making my own cord. This has not been an instant triumph, but nor has it been a disaster; I just need more practice. I have set myself up with a peg attached to the shelf of the dresser — those of you who have an Ashford warping frame may recognise it as one of the clamps for securing it to a table — and a hook playing the part of a drill bit in our trusty hand drill. This method (taken from Peter Collingwood’s book The Techniques of Ply-Split Braiding) allows me to make a 4-ply cord that is half as long as my armspan. I have to start with a length of yarn which is twice my armspan, and therefore need to start twisting from outside the loom room, but it really does work.

There are two bouts of twisting involved: first to add lots of extra twist in the direction the yarn is plied and then to ply the yarn back on itself in the opposite direction. My experience is that I tend to be too timid in the initial twist and therefore get a cord that is a little on the loose side. I think we can look forward to some over-compensation and a batch of cord plied very tightly indeed.

And then, having made my cords, I have to practise splitting them. The main difficulty I have had here is a very basic one: getting the light right. Unless you are using rope, ply-splitting is quite a fiddly business and I was finding it difficult to count the twists and the plies correctly. I was angling lights this way and that, but what was right for one move would turn out to be no help at all on the next move. Then, in a completely different context, my sister-in-law mentioned headlamps and I rushed out to the shops. I now have a cheap battery-powered LED headlamp which I wear when splitting plies and it works a treat — the light is always pointing in exactly the right direction and I am never trying to work in my own shadow. I look a bit stupid* and it leaves a red dent on my forehead at the end of the evening, but these are minor tribulations.

This is my first braid made from my own cords. I was trying out a different variant of the single course oblique twining (SCOT) which we learned in Albuquerque. This one involves splitting half the ends in one direction and the other half in the opposite direction; it gives the braid that V-shaped patterning. You may notice that this particular example is following a V-pattern in both its left and right tails, and that is because I changed direction at the point where the braid is folded over. My turning point needs a bit more practice, as does my photography — I did take a picture of it but it is too blurry to be of any use.

Besides the ply-splitting I have also been working on drafts to use with the serious silks. This involves quite a bit of Fiberworks practice as well as some new skills. Another of my US purchases was a copy of Alice Schlein‘s book on Network Drafting, and I have found something in it that I wasn’t expecting. As you may remember (if you have a very long memory and haven’t needed it for anything else) I was learning to use the 16 shafts of my Megado. I am interested in doing more explorations of echo weave, but am not going to pursue that with these serious scarves for simple reasons of economy. Echo weave needs a dense sett and I can’t afford to use that much silk in one go! So following that logic what I really need for my silks is a lacy structure with a nice open sett, and my thoughts have turned to huck. Anyway, lo and behold, in Alice’s book is a section on combining huck with plain weave in network drafted curves.

I have therefore cut off the latest of the curving twill samples…

…and rethreaded the rest of the warp for some proof-of-concept samples. For the moment I have stuck with a straight threading (one 3-end huck unit on each of shafts 3-14 repeated 4 times) and practised cutting and pasting the treadlings together. Thanks to the templates in the book this was a real cut and paste job with scissors and glue, and then I entered it into the computer to smooth out the join between treadling repeats.

I ended up using 78 dobby bars for this pattern and I have observed an Interesting Thing. The twill curves above had a repeat of 64 lifts, and the dobby seemed to be labouring, although I thought this was because I had been away from it for several weeks and the tension might be off. No amount of twiddling fixed it, however. Now I have the 78 bars, which make a chain that is slightly too long and rests on the floor, and the dobby is clicking over perfectly. I thought the floor issue might cause a problem, but in fact the 64 must have been just a bit too heavy without some extra support.

Anyway, while I do trust the guidance of More Experienced Weavers, it makes such a difference to see for myself how the draft works and how the various elements fit together. I did a little bit of huck when I first started weaving and, when I went from four shafts to eight, I loved all the extra patterns I could make by mixing up plain weave and the various huck options. 16 shafts is mindblowingly more powerful. My first attempt (still on the loom, below) is 50/50 huck and plain weave; changing these proportions is my main goal for this last little bit of the cotton warp.

Here, from the archives, is a little bit of 8-shaft sampling:

And I even found a little bit of 4-shaft huck:

*but very amusing if you happen to be a cat.

practising” was posted by Cally on 23 Aug 2010 at

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serious wrapping

Let me tell you about this little wrapping here:

One of the sources which James Koehler drew on in the colour workshop was the picture you can see here — I am not sure what book it comes from, but someone has already kindly uploaded it to flickr with a wee bit of commentary. As I understand it, the characterisations of the colour groups as “lucid”, “reflective” and so on are due to Goethe, and I found them rather intriguing. I would never have thought of yellow, orange and green as “serene” for example, unless the mix was about 90% green and 10% yellow/orange, so I wonder what Goethe had in mind?

Anyway, the way these colours are made is also interesting, and I have tried to illustrate it using Excel (so apologies if the colours are a bit garish). The triangle starts with the primaries (red, yellow and blue – we are talking pigment rather than light here) at the corners and the secondaries (orange, violet and green) in between.

But what happens in those little white spaces? Well, I am going to concentrate on the right-hand side of the triangle, the red-violet-blue, so first of all I am going to drop the yellow vertex as we won’t be needing it. Then I am going to start mixing. The space adjacent to the red will be filled with a mix of red and its complementary colour, green. Similarly, the space adjacent to the blue will be filled with a mix of blue and orange.

If I were doing this with paints I’m sure we would now be looking at shades of brown (presumably Goethe & Albers didn’t have this problem). And recent versions of Excel seem to have given up allowing one to fill the interior of shapes with stripes, which is a little annoying. So what I have chosen to illustrate the result are these rather alarming “gradient filled” triangles.

I think they convey the general idea — somewhere in the middle is the colour you end up with — but for my purposes, actually holding onto the separate primaries and secondaries in the mix is quite useful. We did some wrappings this way at the workshop, and it was amazing how the same selection of six colours became all sorts of combinations in the hands of different students. The five triangles shown above make the colour group which Goethe described as “serious”. They include my favourite purples, so it is a group which rather appeals to me; and I thought I would explore the idea with a small range of “Serious Scarves”.

So I went shopping.

Here are the reds, violets and blues I chose, laid out along the right hand side of a triangle you will only be able to see if you are of royal blood.

And here they are again, with their friends the oranges and greens:

These gorgeous yarns are all 20/2 silk courtesy of the mouth-watering Red Fish Dye Works. I could have just moved in with their fantastic display in the Convergence vendor hall, but I might have dribbled on the yarn as I slept and that would have made them unhappy. Anyway. I have gone for what seemed to me to be quite serious tones of the serious colours — oh, here’s that wrapping again —

but I think that throwing in those complementary colours gives the red-violet-blue combination quite a lift. Plus I am planning to use some very frivolous drafts, which I’m still working on.

serious wrapping” was posted by Cally on 19 Aug 2010 at

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new ideas, version 2

There are more of these than will fit in a single post, I am sure, but I have to start somewhere. At Convergence I attended a most thought-provoking day class with tapestry artist James Koehler on “The Emotional and Psychological Aspects of Colour”, and came away with all sorts of notes and exercises. One exercise I managed to finish in class, one I finished afterwards at the B & B, and one is still unfinished…

James spoke to us about the colour theories of Goethe, Albers, Kandinsky and others, but before I open my mouth on such lofty topics I need to go away and do a bit more reading. To be honest, my engagement with colour is more about experiment than theory: it was the practical exercises which really hit home with me and I loved that we spent most of the day on these.


Now, I first posted this entry a week or so ago, and then it was suggested to me (not by anyone associated with the class, I should add, but by a friendly party concerned to save me from possible repercussions) that in describing the exercise with squares of colour I was giving away James’ tutorial material. I disagreed with this at the time, and on reflection I still do. I always think carefully about what to share when I am posting, because I don’t want to infringe anyone else’s rights, but it is always a tricky business where workshops are concerned.

In the first place, there is the material which has been carefully prepared by the tutor, which belongs to them and from which they make their living. In the second place, there is my experience of the workshop, which is unique to me and — when combined with my total experience to date — may lead me off in all sorts of new directions. And thirdly there is the experience of everyone else in the workshop, which might be quite different from mine. In my blog I always aim to focus on the second item — my own experience — because that is the part that belongs to me and it is the part which will potentially feed into future work and thus future blog entries (oh, and I’ve paid for it too, which is no small thing). On the other hand, if I am going to write about a workshop, or a book for that matter, then there has to be enough general info to put the thing in context, and wherever possible I try to do this by linking to online sources and, of course, the tutor’s own website. [Note to tutors: please have a website! Blog readers want to find you!]

I only wish that my budget permitted me to get to more workshops so that I could practice this more often, because the boundaries of my own experience are difficult to define. Absolutely mine, as far as I am concerned, are those things made by me. If I make them to a pattern, such as the knitted toys from Mochimochiland, then I credit and link to the source of the pattern (usually several times over because I’m a sloooow knitter) and I don’t go trying to pass them off as my original work. If I make them in a workshop, then I will show you what I made (like this bag from way back when) and give some description of the process.

This is where I could potentially run into difficulties. Clearly I am not going to upload the tutor’s own handouts, I am going to describe the experience in my own words. And I am going to stick to description, I am not going to attempt to “teach” the class myself by way of one blog post. But how much should I say? My intention is to say enough to (a) make sense of any pictures I post of my work and (b), if possible, give an insight into what I personally have taken away from the class. It might make some readers think, “ooh, I quite fancy that myself” or it might make you think, “nah, that’s not for me”, but I don’t want to say so much about any one thing that you are left thinking, “boy, I wish she’d shut up and get back to that loom” as you may well be doing now!

One option that has been suggested to me, but which I won’t be pursuing, is that of asking permission from workshop leaders to write about their workshops or sending them text to approve. I practice a certain amount of self-censorship in what I post (so you don’t get the sound effects which accompany broken warp ends for instance) but what I say is entirely said by me, nothing added and nothing taken away — except by me 🙂

So what to do in this case? Well, in a rather weary spirit of compromise, I propose to show you my work as before — just as I would show you woven samples or a finished object — but leave out the description of the exercise. If you saw it, you saw it, but if not… let your imagination run riot. And because I love it, I will include the question “Does anyone have a depressed yellow?” to fuel your imaginings.

new ideas, version 2” was posted by Cally on 17 Aug 2010 at

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