Giddy with all the nice comments I have been receiving about my e-monograph on Andean Pebble Weave, here I am back in San Francisco. Ridiculous as this sounds, I have to tell you that my mental image of California has always been freeways and car yards. Don’t ask me why – I guess I have been watching the wrong kinds of movies and TV shows. I have spent the last week since the weaving conference up in beautiful Humboldt County in Northern California with my Weavolution friend Janet Finch. Janet lives and works with her husband Larry on a berry farm up there and I doubt that you could find anything further removed from that ugly freeway image. What a paradise! Now I think my new Californian mental image will be something like what you see at left.
Some of you might know Janet as “Aunt Janet” from the spinning lists and know about the spinning mill that she runs – a wonderful playground for the fiber fanatic – full of warm fibery smells, processing equipment, looms, spinning wheels, yarn and fleece at all processing stages…bags and bags of the stuff and lately it has become the hangout for a bunch of neighborhood backstrap weaving folk. Janet has rigged up hitching posts so that probably up to a dozen backstrappers could be happily weaving away in there at any one time.
So we took advantage of that, spread the word and set up some backstrap weaving for the week that I spent there and it was a lot of fun. It was all very casual – people came whichever day they wanted, stayed however long they liked and wove whatever technique they chose. It kept me on the ball as quite often I was helping people with three or four different techniques all at once!
Linda has a lovely weaving website, by the way, and has a particular interest in natural dyes. She showed me one of her ikat pieces – just simple ikat dots in stripes of various colors but her color combinations and arrangements were stunning. It has really inspired me to give ikat another go but to keep the design simple as Linda did and play with color instead. I have found and bought my cold water dyes and so am ready to go!
So that was our week of weaving and between all that there was plenty to enjoy on the farm…
We were invited by Karen, the nun from Bolivia, to visit the Redwood Monastery and that was a real treat. It is located on a three hundred-acre property where deer, wild turkeys and the occasional mountain lion roam -all very very novel for me and I was quite taken with all the wildlife! The church is decorated in a minimalist style with floor to ceiling windows looking out on the redwoods. Karen showed me the rec room in the weaving house high up on a hill where she ties up her backstrap loom to weave. She ties up to an enormous eight-shaft countermarche loom with a six-foot weaving width and a flying shuttle! Her backstrap sticks cetainly looks very small and humble up against that monster. Talk about from one extreme to the other!
Speaking of enormous looms, Janet’s mill will be needing some re arrangements as she has been recently gifted her own monster loom. Yes – GIFTED!! Her walking wheel and smaller looms will need to find new homes. I know of one loom that has been particularly unfriendly and won’t be missed – Janet has given it a name that I can’t even mention here!
It took two trips to get the loom from a Swedish woman, Siv Berg, who has had to find the loom a new good home as she had injured her arm in some way and felt she could no longer use it. I went along on the second pick up trip and found Siv to be a delightful and interesting person with enormous energy and a desire to tell us stories and share all her weavings . She is a wonderful tapestry weaver who has created pieces based on traditional Swedish and Flemish designs.
And it turns out that her son Bjorg spent some time in Argentina living and working with the gauchos on the southern sheep estancias and he totally blew me away when he appeared with this….
Siv showed us other textiles that she had around her home including a particularly fine huipil from San Antonio Aguas Calientes, where I learned to weave, in Guatemala. It is almost completely covered in double faced supplementary weft patterning and woven on a backstrap loom. She also showed us the complete traditional Swedish woman’s costume that she handwove and embroidered. I am afraid that the photo of her holding it here does not do it justice.
We could have stayed all day with Siv really – she is a fascinating lady and she must be happy knowing that her loom is going to a good home.
So I left Janet’s and headed on down to San Francisco once more and am having a couple of lazy days to catch up on this blog post and do a little online promotion of my e-tutorial. My backpack is somewhat swollen, not so much with stuff I bought at CNCH, but rather with what you see there at left. Janet gave me a whole lot of beautiful alpaca fleece to take back with me. Now you are probably thinking this is nuts – taking alpaca from the US back to Bolivia. Well would you believe that I have yet to find alpaca fleece in my travels in the highlands and that which is processed by the mills is only available for export. Janet gave me a big variety of colors including some incredibly soft stuff which she says is probably cria. I shall have to choose my weaving project very carefully for this lot.
BACK TO CNCH (Conference of Northern California Handweavers)
A little step back in time to share a bit about the cool folks I met at CNCH a couple of weeks ago.
The conference had countless highlights for me. Just one of these was the chance I had to meet people from the Santa Cruz Handweavers Guild who were demonstrating various fiber arts at their Education Booth. I was invited to demonstrate by Bambi who was busily spinning.
The problem was HOW to tie up my loom and I was just lucky that Janet had purchased a new set of wool combs that came with clamps so I was able to put the clamps on a table at the booth and lodge my loom bar behind it. Actually I only used one clamp and it worked really well.
Next to me was Annie McHale who was demonstrating inkle weaving. I have crowned Annie the Queen of Sashes and she has a great website showing her work. We had met up the previous day and she returned bringing me a bunch of beautiful bands to see. She makes the coolest guitar straps and was weaving one at the conference with letters writing a line from a Beatle’s song – what a great idea and it turned out so well!
Ingrid was demonstrating finger loop braiding and her lessons were highly popular and she was on the go all day. She tells me that she has seen my braiding tutorials here and that she is going to make some YouTube videos too to teach her braids – excellent!
One of Ingrid’s students at the show was kind enough to let me film her making a five-strand square braid and so I can share that with you all here – I LOVE finger loop braids – I used two strands of each of two colors and one strand of a third color.
And then there was the shopping. I will just give you a taste of the colors here…
And some other cool people I met…I met Syne Mitchell online last year when I wrote the Backstrap Basics article for WeaveZine and lately we have been in close touch about the publication of my e-tutorial on Andean Pebble Weave which she is selling on the WeaveZine site.
So finally we got to meet in the flesh. Ruth Temple, who I know from Weavolution, was there too. It was actually from Ruth that I first heard about Weavolution – she wrote a comment on it on Ravelry back in the early days.
If you want to see some really nifty homemade looms and learn lots of cool DIY tips, check out Franco’s blog.
Lastly, I will show you a little about the gallery…
I entered a set of three sashes in the wall hanging category and got a blue ribbon 🙂
Finally I would like to introduce you to Kathe Todd-Hooker, tapestry weaver and one of the teachers at CNCH.
I told you all last week about Kathe and Pat Spark’s involvement with the Russian Old Believer communities in Oregon. One of my blog readers was kind enough to embed a video with her comment last week which has a series of black and white photos of various Old Believer communities around the world. I thought it would make a fitting introduction.
The music that accompanies the photos is beautiful and haunting.
Feast your eyes on some of the backstrap woven and braided belts of the Russian Old Believers in Kathe’s collection…
To be honest I think I have rambled on more than enough in this blog post this week!
I still have a lot to tell you about these belts and mostly about the fact that the skills involved in weaving them, at least in the communities in Oregon, are on the verge of being lost forever. Kathe was privileged to have been accepted as a weaving student by one of the older ladies in the community, then in her eighties, who has since died. I gather that it is by no means easy to be accepted and indeed a rare privilege. She was taught to weave a supplementary warp patterned belt and, once that was done, was simply told not to return. I imagine it was hard going as after a short time they made do without a translator.
Kathe is including information on the backstrap loom these weavers use and their weaving tools as part of a book she has written with Pat Spark called “So Warped, Warping a Loom for Weaving Tapestry”-soon to be released.
You can see at left the belts that are now being used. Woven by indigenous weavers in South America, they are brought to the US by members of the Old Believer communities in Brazil and Bolivia when they travel to the US in search of wives and sold for a few dollars.
It seems strange to me that their interest in their traditional costume, in what would probably seem to most of us, garishly clashing colors is still strong. Yet ,what Kathe tells me is the most important part of their outfit, the belt, is neglected. The belt represents the arms of their church encircling them and they seem content with these plain quietly colored versions. Perhaps the skills have indeed been completely lost and they would welcome someone to reteach them. I would gladly oblige!
And speaking of threatened traditions…you may remember this little poppet from a previous post. She is the granddaughter of Luz, my weaving teacher in coastal Ecuador who taught me to weave simple warp floats and spin cotton. Luz and her family are probably the very last saddlebag weavers in the area who still handspin their cotton. Kathie, the anthropologist whom I accompanied on this trip has just uploaded to YouTube a video of nine year-old Melita learning to spin. Although, she doesn’t quite get it all coordinated, I am sure that it is just a matter of time . She certainly seems to be keen and interested and Kathie has played a very large role in documenting the weaving, dyeing and spinning traditions of the region and ensuring that they are not lost by encouraging the youngsters to take them on.
And just in case you didn’t know…
My e-tutorial on Andean Pebble Weave is now available at WeaveZine!
Thank you so much to all who have bought it so far and have mailed me with kind comments 😉
Thursday night..Dallas airport. Ah, the life of the standby traveler! I finally got on a flight to Dallas from San Francisco but too late to continue on to Charlotte, North Carolina and my friend Lisa. A lovely American Airlines lady gave me a cot, blanket and bottle of water and so here I am set up in one of the lounges cosy as can be, laptop set up and getting ready to pass the night. Hmmm…I wonder if there is a place to set up my backstrap loom here. Now if I could just figure out how to turn off the annoying tv!