Aug 17, 2018
Last year I was scanning the shelves of the Providence Public Library looking for books on dyeing and shibori, when a title caught my eye: Woven Shibori. (An aside: PPL has an incredible collection of textile books.) I immediately checked out this book by Catharine Ellis, and eventually bought myself a copy of the second edition, which focuses on natural dyes.
Inspired by the book, I immediately put on a warp and have been experimenting with this technique these last few months. Woven shibori is done by weaving with supplementary weft (I use cotton, color-safe embroidery floss) to make the pattern on the loom. Once off the loom, I pull these weft tight and dye.
With each experiment I’ve learned something new.
Soak the fabric for a few hours before dyeing.
In fact, overnight was even better. Once the threads are tied, the fabric is very tight. Soaking it overnight made sure it was very wet, and took the indigo much better.
Take very good notes!
Why is it that I seem to need to learn this very simple fact over and over again? I recently brought a box of notebooks home that had been stored in my parents basement and was in awe at what good notes I used to take. Woven shibori involves many steps, and each step is another decision. It’s so frustrating to see a finished piece and not know what I did to get it.
Add in elements slowly.
It’s tempting to try and add in many different design elements. An interesting ground weave, an interesting pattern using the supplementary weft, and then there is still dyeing it. I find it’s been better to take my time and add in elements slowly. There are already a bazillion design choices all while only using a plain weave ground! It’s funny how it's often harder to keep things simple.
Woven shibori really is an exercise in patience.
While weaving, I really have no idea how it will look once it’s off the loom and dyed. Will this pattern look good? Will the ground weave work with the pattern created by the dyeing? Maybe this is why it’s even more exciting when I undo the threads after dyeing, there are so many steps before I see what the finish fabric will look like.
Here are a couple examples of the woven fabric off the loom, and the finished dyed fabric. These are all made using an 8/2 Tencel yarn in the warp and weft that I bought from Gist Yarn. This yarn has a gorgeous hand when woven, and dyes beautifully. My warp is set up with a sett of 24 ends per inch.
For the supplementary weft, I’m using an inexpensive embroidery floss. This floss is color fast and won’t bleed when dyed. It’s also very smooth, with helps for gathering, and also ties easily and tightly. I cut off the excess after I tie it to try and get the most out of the floss as I can, as there is a lot of waste otherwise.
On my loom at the moment is a warp from which I’m attempting two scarves. Since I actually took good notes on my last sample warp, I’m seeing if I can recreate a pattern based on these notes. Hopefully I’ll have something new to wear this fall!
May 10, 2018
As we've been traveling over the years, we've been amassing a textile collection. After each trip, I put them away in a box and sometimes don't look at them again until I'm adding to the box the next year. Our trip to Guatemala we came home with several beautiful pieces, and knew we had to figure out a way to live with them.
Our solution was to install a curtain rod high on a wall in our place as a a rotating display area. The first of each month we switch out what is hanging. This is also helping with another task on my to-do list, which is to catalog all the pieces we have.
For May we hung up two pieces that we bought in Peru in August 2015, on my 40th birthday. Both of these pieces were woven on backstrap looms in the small town of Misminay, the Sacred Valley. While on a tour of the area, we stopped in Misminay for a delicious lunch, and a demonstration of their textile techniques.
As the oldest woman in the group started her demonstration of weaving on a backstrap loom, I asked our guide to please tell her I was a weaver also. The woman immediately lit up and motioned for the younger women to let me help with their natural dye demonstration. I love that no matter where in the world we are, if we meet a weaver I feel an instant connection. A language barrier becomes less important, because we can speak weaving.
These two pieces that we hung this month are the pieces we bought following this demonstration. The larger piece is a table runner, and the smaller piece we bought as a scarf for David, but eneded up a bit too itchy for him. These pieces are both made with wool, natural dyes, and are woven with warp faced weave effects.
Apr 17, 2018
I've had a box I've been moving with me for longer than I care to admit. A small box full of fiber reactive dye from ProChem. By now, it's been so long since I packed this box, I'm not even sure what I have, what is still good to use, or (most importantly) how they work. The shibori and ikat indigo dyeing I've been doing inspired me to pull it out and figure out what was inside. Luckily for me, Prochem is located in nearby Fall River and hosts classes and workshops.
Using two vacation days for a workshop felt like an indulgence, but I had an incredibly productive experience with a fun group of women, all learning to dye for different projects. It had been nearly 20 years since I last dyed with anything beside indigo and this class was the perfect refresher.
I had a couple of revelations as I (re)learned to dye.
Color is chemistry.
Whether done with natural dyes derived from plants, or dyes made in a building in Fall River, dyeing is chemistry. Fiber molecules and dye molecules are getting together and the end result is color. Not to mention what you need to make the fiber ready to take color, and then fix the color.
Color science is endlessly fascinating.
As much as I think about color and feel inspired by it, it had been a while since I thought about how it works and interacts. Color matching and color mixing is a delicate undertaking, and how our eyes perceive color adds another dimension. Then factor in how that color will interact with other yarn in woven cloth, and how those interlacings will be mixed by our eyes into yet another color and there are endless possibilities.
Really good notes and careful trials are essential.
I have a lot of patience when it comes to tasks (I'm a weaver after all, this is no instant gratification type creative outlet!) but it's hard to remind myself that learning something brand new is going to take a while to perfect. Dyeing is a science, and it will take a lot of trials and errors before I get what is in my head accomplished. Keeping track of what I'm working on, doing thoughtful trials and noting my process and reflections along the way are absolutely essential for dyeing.
I came home from this class with new dye, all the items in my box labeled, and some gorgeous dyed fabrics and yarns, including a new ikat warp.
Feb 19, 2018
Our first full day in Guatemala, I experienced something very out of the ordinary. No, it wasn't walking down the street of a colonial city while a volcano was puffing out smoke in the distance. It wasn't peering into ruins of a church ruined by an earthquake and subsequently abandoned. It was answering our guide's question, "Why did you decide to come to Guatemala?" and answering "I'm a weaver." The strange part? He was not at all confused. He just answered, "Oh, nice, you'll enjoy all our textiles."
Saying "I'm a weaver" is something I don't actually do that often here at home, because most people are very confused. While many are often interested, it's a novelty. It is never taken as something normal and valued, not like in Guatemala. Throughout our 10 days there, I told a lot of people I was a weaver. And told a lot of weavers, "Soy una tejedora."
My job and career have pivoted over the years, and led me in directions I enjoy, but would never have anticipated. While I've been working on creative projects all along, I always felt like weaving was tied with industry and tied with a job and an income. It's taken me a while to release that.
These past two years I've been weaving a lot, dyeing with indigo, and engaging more with makers and artists. It's been liberating to explore, improve my skills and separate the making from a job. It's been satisfying to know that I don't regret my education just because I'm not working in the industry I trained for. In fact, I'm doing the best work I've ever done at my loom.
I'm a weaver, soy una tejedora.
Feb 19, 2018
When I started exploring indigo dyeing last year, I couldn't wait to attempt ikat, despite knowing that it is an incredibly laborious technique. For those unfamiliar with the technique, the first step is to wind a warp. The warp threads are then bound in a design so that when dyed, the dye will resist those bound areas and the design will be visible. The warp is then dyed, rinsed, and the tied areas are unbound. At this point, the warp is ready to be put on your loom, and weaving can finally begin.
Ikat is a technique used in cultures around the world, with each culture making it uniquely their own. For my explorations, I was looking an examples of simple designs, made with just one dye bath.
During my first attempt, I had used regular household plastic wrap to bind the yarns, which proved a terrible idea. The plastic wrap clings to itself, which is handy in the kitchen, but not so much when binding warp threads. For my second attempt, I used plastic tape that artist and friend Paula Becker passed along to me. It made all the difference as I was able to bind tightly, and work with it more easily. After wrapping with the tape, I reinforced the area with a strong thread to be sure that it was tight and no dye would penetrate.
In my first piece, I used weft that had also been dyed, along with yarn that had been bound for use in weft ikat effects. (Thanks again to Paula for giving me her weft ikat yarn!)
In my second piece, I used dyed yarn as a ground weft, with an inlay technique in areas to make the white areas more white.
I hadn't used inlay much recently, but had used this technique extensively in college. It slows the weaving process down a lot, but the results it yields are worth the extra effort. (It doesn't look quite so slow in time-lapse!)
Lastly, I had threaded my loom with a pointed draw so I could play with twill structures. While I do appreciate seeing the structure more on this piece, I found I prefer pieces woven with plain weave as the pattern already has so much interest.
When binding my ikat, I imagined the shapes would hold together more. Yes, ikat is known for its shifting edges, but my pieces seemed to be shifting more than I expected. I'm not sure if I'm doing something wrong, it takes more practice, or if I should ask a friend to help me crank the warp on next time. Regardless, as I wove my warp, I loved the shifting more and more. The shapes became their own, and I was surprised to find that I felt liberated by that.
Each ikat attempt inspires me to do another and to research more about how this technique is done around the world.
This month I'm making a quick visit to Toronto and am excited to see that the Textile Museum of Canada currently has an ikat exhibit on display. Hopefully I'll come back feeling inspired, with lots of ideas of new projects.
This post was originally published on The Common Thread.