The description of this Nigerian wall hanging explains how the weavers of the Niger region, with their strip-weaving tradition, went to great lengths to apply this technique to patterns of North African origin. But I’d love to know whether the “odd one out” about two-fifths of the way down was deliberate or not. The effect of the one mismatched motif is — to my eyes — rather charming… but was the weaver quite as delighted with it as I am, I wonder?
Public Service Announcement: My main aim for this blog is to talk about weaving and closely related topics (such as cats) so I do try to resist filling it up with other stuff. However, if you happen to like “other stuff” you can see a few miscellaneous photos from our trip on my flickr page. I’ve added two sets so far, and may even get around to adding more.
So… I met loads of new people. I also met loads of new techniques, and there were ten times as many (at least!) that I didn’t have a chance to encounter. No wonder that my head is simply buzzing with it all.
I deliberately chose Convergence classes that didn’t require me to travel with a lot of equipment, and was particularly pleased to find one on making braids of various kinds with only your hands — they can’t confiscate those at airport security. CW seminars are somewhat different in that most are presentations of a technique rather than a hands-on class, although I did pick one with a practical element: ply-split braiding with Barbara Walker. So altogether it turned out that braiding techniques were a significant part of my Albuquerque experience. If the same events had been happening in my locality I would never have chosen braiding over weaving, but of course the result is that I am utterly captivated and now have to plan to weave things which need braids!
There were two techniques which particularly delighted me: the afore-mentioned ply-split braiding and something called fingerloop braiding which I had never heard of until last Sunday.
The tools required for PSB are minimal, although preparing the plied cord is a bit of an undertaking — but Barbara came with beautifully prepared packs of cord and gripfid (the ply-splitting tool) so that we could dive straight in. We began with a practice cord, learning how to do the basic moves, and then went on to make a wave-pattern braid which is incredibly effective for such a simple structure.[I won’t mangle the clear instructions Barbara gave us by trying to interpret them in my own words here; instead I refer you to an excellent introduction she wrote for WeaveZine in collaboration with Louise French (who also supplies PSB tools, so visit her website with care and don’t say I didn’t warn you!)]
Anyway, I spent the next few days surreptitiously splitting a few plies in the hotel bar whenever I had a moment spare… until — oh no! — I ran out of cord and had to stop.
I reckoned that the creation of my own plied cord would have to wait until I got home, but I found some extra-thick kumihimo cord at the Convergence vendor hall and thought it would be worth trying it. The kumihimo cord seemed to be 3-ply, while PSB is usually (but not exclusively) done with 4-ply cord. Well, that just makes it all the more interesting to try it, right? So I bought some 3-ply cord and got stuck in — it seems to work, and on such a small scale as this I find it hard to see the difference between the 1-ply side of the split and the 2-ply side.
More on this will undoubtedly follow, but for now I’ll turn to
This technique seems to have been used all over Europe for hundreds of years, and I had never even heard of it. How shameful.
I’m not generally an enthusiast for recreations of the heritage side of textiles — as if our skills were only things that people “used to do” and not the stuff of right now — but in this case I am very grateful to Mistress Rhiannon y Bwa & Mistress Azza al-Shirazi of the SCA for their fabulous webpages on fingerloop braiding. I have been avidly reading these over the last couple of days and am really looking forward to trying out some of the more complex patterns.
At Convergence we learned some basic moves and started to build them into simple braids. Again, for instructions you really want to look at those fingerloop pages, but here are a few pics Stuart took for me in our B & B in Albuquerque. [The problem with fingerloop braiding is that once you have started, you can’t easily put it down without getting in a complete pickle! However, for practical reasons the length of the braids is limited by the braider’s armspan, so they are also completed quite quickly.]
First you need to cut a number of lengths of yarn, fold each length in half to make a loop, and then tie all the cut ends together in an overhand knot so that you have a whole bunch of loops together. Then you need something to anchor your braid: I was delighted to find a hole in the coffee table and am thinking of taking drastic measures with our own furniture (no need to mention this to S, however).
You slip your fingers through the loops according to the particular pattern you are making, and then pass the loops from finger to finger between your two hands — it is very like playing at cat’s cradle. You then have to flap your arms to tension the loops, so — even though there are no tools involved — I’m not certain this is a technique entirely suited to aeroplane travel. No doubt you’ll be hearing about it in the news if I decide to try it.
This pattern is called a “Grene dorge of vj bowes” or, in other words, there are six loops (bowes) and the pattern is described as a barleycorn (un grain d’orge). Here I used purple for the main braid and a pinky-orangey-sparkly yarn for the coloured strip which runs down the middle. If you use two different colours then they alternate and do look like little grains. My finished braid is shown below, and you can see that I am having trouble getting the tension even. At the beginning of the braid you need much bigger arm swings to pull the braid up tight, whereas towards the end a little movement is enough. Oh dear, it looks as though I’ll need to do lots of practising, doesn’t it?
Aside from braiding, I also have all sorts of new weaving projects brewing, but I’ll say more about that in another post.
I’m not quite home yet, but I am in the next best place — my Dad’s house in California — where I can slob about in sundress and flip-flops while doing laundry and generally getting organised for the transatlantic return. A packing endeavour like no other will be required to accommodate all my weaverly purchases, so it’s a good thing we have a few days to work on it.
Since I’m in marshalling mode, therefore, it seems like a good idea to try and marshal some of my impressions as well. I did the whole Complex Weavers and Convergence weavathon in Albuquerque — seven days in total — so my mind is teeming with new ideas and new projects, but the most fun of all was had meeting people. People who weave! Amazing! So let’s start with those.
CW was first, and of all the people there I think I had only met two in person before, both colleagues on the Journal Editorial Committee, but there were several I had been in contact with: on Journal business, through this blog, through their own weaving blogs and through various online communities. The very first such person I met was actually someone else from the UK: Wendy Morris, who recently became the proprietor of Handweavers and — even more recently — the president of Complex Weavers. I have shopped in her store and she has written for the Journal, but we had to go all the way to New Mexico to meet for real! I also met Stacey Harvey-Brown (weaver, blogger and juror of the Convergence yardage exhibit) having done lots of work with her for the Journal (see forthcoming issue for her really useful guide to types of looms) but never having met face-to-face until last week.
Then there were a few North Americans there too… I think the first of the ‘online’ weavers I met was Alice (in the lift after the plenary talk!), then Barbara, Bonnie, the person I think of as @amyfibre (I had to check: “Are you Amy as in amyfibre?” says I), and not only Sandra but Sandra’s wonderful scarves as well. Of course there were heaps more people whom I had known only as names at the end of WeaveTech posts or who were completely new to me, but all were friendly and approachable and full of enthusiasm for weaving. I was also really touched at how many people spotted my name badge and said, “Oh Cally, I love your blog!” If that was you, then thank you for making my day 🙂
All in all, CW was a great environment for meeting people and it was enormously exciting to be involved in such a passionate weaving community and to be drinking in so much new information. OK, so my overloaded brain crashed once or twice, but it was worth it.
Convergence also brought me into contact with many new people, but overall it was less of a community experience. There were simply so many people there (2,000 is a figure I have heard bandied about) that it was rare to bump into the same person twice. In fact whenever I saw someone I had met at CW, I just about fell on them in relief — new acquaintances were suddenly my oldest, dearest friends! However, there were still some fun meetings: on the first evening I spotted Daryl at the Fashion Show (not very hard, as she was standing in the aisle just in front of me and wearing one of her gorgeous handwoven dresses); an email from Dot gave me an excellent excuse to track down Laverne, who was hanging out at the Weavolution stand; and finally I had a very special rendezvous with a longtime e-buddy, and here is the proof:
I’m not going to link directly to Lynne’s blog as this is a lady who likes her privacy, but she has given me permission to post this special pic — and anyway, if you read weaving blogs and/or are interested in e-textiles, then you already know fine who she is, don’t you? Lynne also gave me a gift to take home, but more on that later…
The camera is not guaranteed, but it may well be present. Or you can look for these brightly coloured legs:
The photo is a bit dark (it is POURING with rain here) but in real life they are pretty bright, so You Have Been Warned. The ties at the sides are a bit flimsy for the job they are doing, but I reckon I’m to be able to get something better in Albuquerque. I’ve heard there may be some other weavers in town and a few folk selling things that weavers like to buy.
For now, I am going to pack.
Having spent the best part of two days with my stripey fabric (shown above before wet finishing), I am finally ready to start assembling my trousers.
The washing led to more widthways shrinkage than I was expecting — from approx 26 3/4″ in the reed to 23″ when finished — but there was still plenty of cloth to play with: more than ample for the width of the main pieces and, in fact, enough left at the sides for pockets and other inside bits and bobs, which was gratifying. First I had to cut a length two trouser-legs long and stitch it to the remaining length leaving gaps for pockets and ties. Then I had to lay out pattern pieces and prepare for the real cutting.
I took some time to read a guide from an old issue of Shuttle, Spindle & Dyepot (Winter 2006/7) on cutting pattern pieces from handwoven cloth, in which Stephanie Corina Goddard recommends outling each piece with fusible stay tape before cutting. Fusible stay tape is beyond the scope of our local haberdashers, so I used a rotary cutter to slice up strips of lightweight interfacing. Tackling one pattern piece at a time, I tucked these little strips of interfacing under the edge of the paper pattern and then pressed them into place. The first trouser leg I did took me about two hours! But, hey, by the second one I had it down to less than 90 mins. Thank goodness for square pockets, that’s all I can say. Once I had cut out each piece I did the usual tailor tacks and notches (although given the interfacing, I cut the notches inwards rather than outwards for a change) and then zig-zagged round the circumference of each piece to secure the edge.
Here is the wrong side of a pocket,
and the right side of the waistband:
So altogether I have a pile like this,
and all the sewing still to do. Nevertheless, I am reckoning that I have done the lion’s share of the work, especially since the assembly is the bit I have tried before so I have already worked out the details of what I need to do.
You may notice, comparing the wet finished pieces with the unfinished cloth at the top, that a slight vertical line in the weave structure has been noticeably strengthened in the washing. This was a surprise to me as it didn’t do this in my sampling. I am not sure how to account for it, but suspect that it could be the result of a treadling error, albeit one that I managed to make consistently for about six yards on the loom! I have to compare what I actually did with what I meant to do… Still, I like the look of it, and the fact that the regularity of the structural stripe contrasts with the irregularity of the colour stripes. You might think, however, that by now I would be able to get a sequence of four (yes, I said four) treadles right, mightn’t you? I really do wonder about myself sometimes. At least you didn’t have a bet on it.
You didn’t, did you?