A Common Thread at the Textile Center, 2017

A Common Thread is an annual exhibition of Textile Center members’ work. I visited today, and here are a few of my favorite things. Click on any of the images to see them full-sized. This is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and author and Holocaust survivor Fred Amran’s yellow star made a strong impact on me.

North House Folk School, the leather tote bag edition

Three years ago, I took a sweet grass basketry class at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota. Grand Marais is on the North Shore of Lake Superior, nearly to Ontario, and a draw for its natural beauty and outdoor recreation as well as its arts. Not as much is open in the winter, but the lake is always a draw.

This time, I made a hand-sewn leather tote bag with Candace LaCosse. Candace has a shop and studio in Duluth, Minnesota, which is about two hours south on the southern tip of Lake Superior. Candace makes and sells shoes and bags, baskets and wallets, and much more through her shop and other venues. We walked into the classroom to piles of vegetable tanned cow hides, which are big and heavy and stiff.

Using a template, we cut out the bag and handles.

You cut a groove into the leather, mostly to guide where you place the prong chisel. This stitch groover tool takes some practice.

Making the holes for the stitches.

The thread is linen, and needs to be heavily waxed. Pro tip: look for beeswax candles on sale!

Beginning to stitch.

Using a piece of leather to cushion the table from the chisel. It gets plenty of use.

The entire first day was to sew the handles, two pieces sewn together for each handle. No one finished; we all took homework back to our hotels to finish stitching. I returned in the morning with the completed handles.

I decided I wanted an interior pocket, an extra…

And, I decided to personalize it.

Sewing the handle on the bag. This was challenging, trying to line up the inner and outer handle ends, sandwiched around the bag.

Here’s all the pieces assembled – the handles are sewn on and riveted, and the pocket is attached by rivets only. I also decided to add a flap closure, which is sewn on.

At this point, I’m running out of time. I have yet to sew up the sides of the bag, and sew the triangles that will give the tote its flat bottom. Basically, there was enough time for one bag extra, but not two. Candace suggested that I start sewing the sides of the tote from the bottom, enough to punch the holes for the stitching of the corners. This, I do. Then it’s time for the long drive home.

On Monday, I sew up the sides of the tote at the shop while waiting for my car to be serviced, and go directly to work. Arriving early, I sew. I finish both of the sides except for THE LAST HOLE. I hadn’t gotten it fully punched.

Later at home, I find a nail and punch the last hole, then sew the triangle corners. Here’s the bag inside out.

This was not easy to turn right side out. Candace was telling us about a style of shoe that you make inside out, and how difficult it was to turn – I bet! I finally grasped the sides of the bag and literally used my foot to make it turn. And, the final product!

The leather will soften and patina with age.

I can picture making something out of leather again. You don’t need to have a lot – the stitch groover and the prong chisel and a needle (and an awl – how can I not have an awl?!) are the only tools you need. Add leather and linen twine and beeswax, and creative options abound.


SAORI One samples and learning

I received my loom about a week ago and began weaving on it the next morning. There is an error in the warp from the factory. Since the idea of SAORI weaving is immersing in the process, with irregularity as “the beauty with lack of intention,” maybe this was on purpose? If that’s the case, why only one? Something to ponder as I weave.

Another color.

I bought four 1# cones of relatively fine cotton. The lime is all cotton, the grey and blues are recycled cotton, with at least 80% cotton. The warp is 6 meters (about 19.5 feet, but I’m going to lose perhaps 3-4′ because of the design of the loom), and I think I’m going to just play with these four colors for the length. I’m trying different versions of clasped warps, where I take the warp across, hook it around a second color, and return while pulling the second color partway, without pressing the pedal and changing the warp cross.

More clasped warps. Alternating the light blue and the grey looks almost like a self-striping yarn.

With the grey and the green stronger-colored stripes, I’m making multiple passes without changing the warp cross. I like it.

I’m into clasped warps.

I have no idea how much I’ve done, and how much I have to go. I’m just weaving. When I went to the SAORI workshop last summer, I wove quickly. Now, I’m working more deliberately, but I’m not planning ahead. That would be un-SAORI of me.

Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue…

I had a lovely, relaxing afternoon of paper marbling at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. The pictures below are first the design floating in the water, then the print on paper. 

And again:

And again:

And one more, just of the finished product:

Honestly, I didn’t think that I was going to be able to do anything that looked this nice. If you ever have the opportunity, this was a lot of fun. 

SAORI loom, some assembly required (but very little!)

I’ve been considering purchasing a SAORI loom since I took a free workshop at a local public library with Chiaki O’Brien of StudioFUN this past June. (A narrative of that is here.) Yes, I bead. Yes, I took up sewing again about two or three years ago. I also work outside the home. I had never woven on a floor loom before this workshop (an inkle loom as a teenager), but I kept revisiting how much I enjoyed this experience, so I took money I had saved for years, and bought the loom from Chiaki.

The loom comes directly from Japan. I took pictures while unboxing my SAORI loom almost exactly two days ago after a late dinner – but the post is today, because I wanted to start weaving immediately! Also, I worked today. The photos are most of the story…

Big box! I’m grateful it’s doubly boxed, as the outer box was soggy in the corner. The inner box is perfect. (Also, I’m still decorated for Christmas, say hi to my light switch Santa.)

Inside is the main loom frame, and the rest of the working parts are inside the box strapped to the loom’s leg.

The instructions for unboxing and assembly are very detailed, including how to open it.

Inner box. In addition to the rest of the loom, I ordered “the book,” and some additional bobbins.

The rest of the loom components, laid out as in the assembly guide, for easy reference.

First part to install, the bobbin winder.

Now, hang the warp set. That’s the rope pulley system just barely in view at the top center of the picture, holding the heddles. It’s really appealing that this comes warped. I bought a serger a little over a year ago, and it came threaded; the same result of almost immediate satisfaction.

Now set up the warp roller at the back of the loom.

The latch and gear system for this works really well. I’m holding the latch up with the heddle hook so you can see the mechanism.

This is the warp control pedal. I will be revisiting this later…

Now setting up the reed.

Tying the warp threads on the tying rod.

All tied!

Hook up the pedals.

Add the built-in shelf.

Look at the “check if everything is set up properly” pictures. I pass inspection with two of them, but I have improperly wound the cable on the warp control pedal. Fixed.

And here is the loom, ready to weave!

It’s late at night by the time I finished, and I started weaving the next morning; I had the day off. I’ll show some in-progress pictures soon. Here’s one of the reasons I wanted this particular loom:

This loom folds quite compactly – but it has a 23″ weaving width, and the ability for about a 15′ warp. I do have a creative workspace, a small former bedroom, but it doesn’t have floor space for a permanent resident loom. I can fold this and put it away in closet, and transport it if desired. It really is an elegant design, and I’m looking forward to future weaving exploration.

O’y ya’h ohdiwena goh: “Through the Voices of Beads”

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a beautiful town in Ontario; it reminds me of Charleston with its lovely old houses. There’s a great main street of shops plus an apothecary museum, and forts to tour – and I saw a mink in the park on Lake Ontario’s south shore two years ago, when I was looking across to Toronto. Here’s a reason to go there now, this traveling exhibition from the Royal Ontario Museum plus work by beadwork artist Samuel Thomas at the Niagara Historical Society and Museum. There are about 30 pieces of historic and contemporary Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) beadwork. The exhibit closes April 30. Read more on Niagara This Week. Even if you miss the exhibit, go anyway. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable place to visit, with lots to do and see in the area.

Six years of updating

That’s a rather grand title, but true: I have added two to three pieces per year of beadwork to my gallery, and changed its format. The new format is easier to view, and will be easier to maintain. It’s interesting to try to determine themes and trends. Blue is one theme! I also use less peyote now than I used to. Here’s a screenshot of about half the gallery:

It’s in reverse chronological order, and pulls out some of the pieces that are significant, or just simply attractive in their execution. Click on a piece for a brief description, and/or click on an item and then through the images as a slideshow.

I updated my “About” page as well, and tweaked the sidebar. My SAORI loom arrives in about two weeks. I’ll be documenting my learning process with the loom, and perhaps that will mean some more changes – a beadwork gallery and a weaving gallery? One can only hope.