Handweaving, Recycling

In the Frame

A month or so ago I sent two photos of mine away to have them framed as canvasses.

 

Winter Birch - 4

forsythia & goatfell1

 

The birch tree looked beautiful as I had expected, but the forsythias framing Goat Fell were stretched on a frame double the size requested surrounded by flamingos and palm trees. The mistake was acknowledged and I received the size I’d requested. What to do with a redundant wooden frame once the flamingos were removed.

Make a loom of course.

A row of nails hammered 1/2 inch apart along the top and the frame was ready to warp up. I used strong cotton 16/2 rug warp which could handle the tension required and hey, presto! it was ready to go.  I’d had an idea for a weave I wanted to make that echoed the February colours of Goat Fell, black with the merest hint of green with the mountainside etched against the very clear, blue sky.

Hopefully the colours of the yarn convey this idea. As it grows, I think it does. I chose  silk, merino wool, alpaca Aran weight, Seacell (a fibre made from seaweed) and recycled handspun sari silk. I LOVE this stage of the weaving when the canvas is blank and the palette of yarns is endless to receive the desired effect. The frame is just the right size to sit with it balanced against the table and not too long for my arms to reach the top.

I can’t show you the finished piece yet, but here’s the beginning and the yarns I’ve chosen. There’s a definite satisfaction in reusing something so practical and I can promise you the flamingos are recycled as well in a paper sort of way.

 

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Handweaving

Weaving Magic

Rosepath1

I’ve always thought of weaving as a spiritual practice. You can’t set up a loom or weave with anything less than mindfulness, concentrating on perfecting each step in the process, so that the next step can happen. I’ve been practicing walking meditation to aid my recovery from my transplant operation and it struck me that weaving had a similar ‘one step at a time’ aspect forming a channel for my creativity with texture colour and mathematical precision.

There’s seems to be poetry in weaving. Poetry in motion. Interplay and synthesis between warp and weft to form the weave. I wrote in my last blog about The Hopefulness of Knitting. This same hopefulness applies to weaving, even though the process is much more complicated and requires a certain amount of training to get it all to work.

I’ve written a poem to express my gratitude for having gradually become a weaver over the last 40 years, experiencing over and over again the joy and satisfaction of unrolling the cloth from the loom and cutting it off to be it’s own magic. In medieval times cloth was cut off the loom with gold scissors. I can understand why.

We did this when we cut our Arran Tapestry off the loom to send it to China as part of an exhibition “Women Weave the World Together” featured at the United Nations Conference on Women in Beigjing. Our metre square piece was stitched on to other pieces to form several kilometres of weaving, creating magic as it was displayed on the Great Wall of China.

WEAVING MAGIC

 Meditation, alchemy and life affirming

Interplay between warp and weft

Body and loom.

Thinking of nothing but the rhythm of the weaving.

Colours blend creatively

To form new complex colours

Textures add to textures

As the cloth builds on the loom

Row by row, inch by centimeter

Enhancing traditions

Adding new patterns, creating new identities.

There’s symmetry as well, as threads are spaced evenly

On that beautiful piece of equipment called the loom

Which soon takes on the soul and personality

Of the weaver and the two become one.

The weaver shapes the cloth

Making the loom more beautiful for a while

And when the cloth is finished, the cycle starts anew.

Choose the colours for the warp

Wind them and twist them into a chain,

Think of nothing else, but counting threads.

Create order for warping up the loom.

Think of nothing else but warping up the loom.

Spread the warp threads evenly through heddle and reed

Tie the warp to the front of the loom

To form a framework

For the weave.

Choose the colour for the weft

To create a new intertwined colour with the warp.

A synthesis of two different directions coming together.

Roll the cloth forward on the front of the loom

As it grows with the weaving.

When the length of cloth is finished

Carefully cut it off the loom

Say a prayer of thanksgiving that the weave has gone well.

Start the cycle again and think of nothing but the weave

Row by row, inch by centimeter.

Threading the Warp through the heddles and reed

Threading the Warp through the heddles and reed

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The Hopefulness of Knitting

Green Galway Shawl1

Knitting makes me hopeful.

Especially the knitting I’m working on now after my transplant operation. Before the operation I thought I would never be able to knit again.

But now I do. I’m on my second Galway shawl, the pattern for which you can find on the Arran Knitting Company website. I’m working the pattern in plain knitting (garter stitch) so I can concentrate on 1 stitch at a time, row by row. The needles are big, the yarn is thick & soft and the result is a classy, modern shawl from a traditional pattern.

The design is a tribute to my grandgirls, who live in Galway and to the song which the eldest, Blythe, sang for me verbatim when she was 4.

As I slowly knit each stitch and watch the shawl grow beneath my fingers, I realise that knitting has always filled me with hope.

I choose a beautiful yarn and a pattern – at the moment the simplest one so my fingers can cope with the large movements. I cast on the first stitches. Then I am filled with hope that if I work each stitch one at a time, I will finish the garment and have the satisfaction of keeping myself warm, or giving it to someone I love.

In the past I found knitting frustrating at times. The pattern I’d chosen didn’t fit properly. The stitches I’d chosen were too difficult and grew far too slowly. I was impatient.

I lost the joy of watching the piece grow and quite often ripped things out, defeated and envious of other people who’d effortlessly knitted up the same pattern to perfection.

Then I learned to spin. I could create my own beautiful yarns. I then had to learn how to treat each batch individually and create a new pattern each time.

The results of my efforts are now standardised on the Arran Knitting Company site in the Arran Measurement System. It works every time.

The ultimate design experience for me was the Arran pattern, where all my knowledge of stitches, fitting and patience came together in one lovely garment, based on local motives from this island’s fishing tradition. This pattern is also available on the Arran Knitting Company website.

Now as I start again with what I am capable of knitting at present, I revel in the experience, hopeful of finishing my new red shawl and starting the process all over again.

I am contented.

Lynn Gray Ross

The Galway Shawl knitted with Aran weight wool, dyed with madder and indigo

The Galway Shawl knitted with Aran weight wool, dyed with madder and indigo

The Arran Sweater with motives from the island fishing traditions.

The Arran Sweater with motives from the island fishing traditions.

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“”As Ithers See Us” and The Joy of Handspinning

The Joy of Handspinning - 2-ply Madder-Dyed and Jacob Wool

The Joy of Handspinning – 2-ply Madder-Dyed and Jacob Wool

The poem “To a Louse” by Robert Burns is one of my favourites. He watched one crawling up a ladies bonnet in front of him in church, while she was oblivious and unaware that it was making progress even as she sat there.

The last verse is often quoted to illustrate that our perception of ourselves is not always the perception that other people have of us, especially if they can see something that we can’t.

“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!

It wad frae monie a blunder free us

   An’ foolish notion:

What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,

   An ev’n Devotion’

I was reminded of this yesterday when I received a copy of a review of Handweaving: the Basics which appeared in an international magazine for weavers. I thought the review was ‘quietly glowing’, but in case I got too big-headed, the reviewer kindly pointed out that it had ‘just a hint of the 1980’s’. Not really a criticism, and very true because that’s when the basic idea that was Silverbirch Workshop was established. I think of myself as a contemporary person, but I have to admit to having a ‘hint of the 1980’s’ in me.

Then I thought back maybe 20 years ago when a Japanese magazine contacted me for permission to write an article about me to be included in a series on ‘regional eccentricities’. Oo-Kaay.

Add to that a memory from Silverbirch Workshop Archives. I was speaking at a meeting of the Bay Area Guild in Berkeley, California at the beginning of a weekend workshop in handspinning. My topic, as requested was “Making a Living from your Craft.”

I spoke about production methods for handspun wool and types of yarn that were cost effective but still beautiful. I added that you had to look at market research and decide how to price your yarn so that it would sell, but not at such a low price that it cost more to produce than you could sell it for.

In the small auditorium a woman suddenly stood up and shouted at me “All you talk about is money, don’t you ever spin for the JOY of it? I took a deep breath, waited a minute and said to her, “You know, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if I didn’t get such JOY out of spinning that I want to spend as much of my day as possible, creating beautiful yarns.”

End of story.

Yesterday I went round several craft workshops during

Arran Open Studios weekend and I realised again that everyone of us practices our craft for the joy of it, trying to temper that with making a living.

The money, as my Granny Ross used to say “is nice to go the messages with.”

Lynn Gray Ross


					
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SPIDERWOMAN IS ALIVE AND WELL ON THE RIVER THAMES

Scan 19

This story begins in 1977 when Faith Gillespie attended my first residential course on Arran in Natural Dyeing. She was a master weaver in every sense of the word, working from her studio in Wapping on the River Thames in London.

Faith invited me down to London as a guest artist to teach skills in honour of the Navajo goddess Spiderwoman who created the world with spindle and loom.

Enter Sara Bowman, another textile artist and kindred spirit from Australia who had trained in tapestry weaving at West Dean. Sara taught Fashion History at North East London Polytechnic as it was known then.

She was waiting on the Underground platform one morning when she met a friend who had just been up to Arran on one of my courses. She gave Sara a leaflet for the “Spiderwoman” workshops at Wapping.

Instant rapport and a love of weaving formed the basis of a friendship and collaboration with Faith, Sara and me, resulting in teaching exchanges, magazine articles and exhibitions and more ‘Spiderwoman’ workshops on the river.

Sadly Faith died in 1986 , but Sara and I continued to plot and plan together, always aware of Faith’s ‘presence’ whenever we got together.

Sara was diagnosed with breast cancer 13 years ago and I had my own issues to contend with. Chronic liver disease from alcoholism and a liver transplant in November 2014.

We had both hit rock bottom and later discovered that we both surrendered our recovery to God when things were at their worse. This marked a turning point for both of us towards recovery and changed the focus of life for both of us from thinking we could survive on our own efforts to realizing that God was in charge and all we had to do was to let go. During this time of illness we lost touch with each other.

Last week, Sara looked me up on the Web, hoping to find a contact address. I received an email letting me know that she had survived the cancer and I was able to tell her that I was disease free after my transplant.

We spoke on the phone lat night after 10 years. What a joyful experience that was. And there is still much to share, memories as well as new textile connections.

I’m so grateful.

Lynn Gray Ross

"A Clue of Thread" white silk handspun by Lynn Ross, design by Sara Bowman

“A Clue of Thread” white silk handspun by Lynn Ross, design by Sara Bowman

Sara in her Studio

Sara in her Studio

Faith talks weaving

Faith talks weaving

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Straw Into Gold

Preparing flax for spinning -

Preparing flax for spinning – “straw into gold”

I wrote this article in my newsletter Silverbirch Notes in 1986. Finding it again recently, I realised that the things I believed in then about traditional crafts still hold true and I’ve had 30 years of experience since then to back up these ideas in practice. I’ve opened a new Facebook Page  to reintroduce these ‘old’ ideas, brush them off and bring them up to date so that I can share that experience.

BEHIND THE SCENES – Silverbirch Spinning and Weaving Workshop, 1986

The key issues in setting up the workshop on Arran have been

1) Investigating the heritage of the island from the perspective of textile production, which was of course much more a part of everyday life in the old days than it is now

2) Deciding which traditions, such as handspinning, can be adapted to the requirements of textile production today and which traditions need to be preserved through teaching and writing

3) defining how the work that results fits into the economic structure, both at global and village level.

These ideas all have practical implications and that’s what the everyday life of the workshop is about.

The island heritage

The publication of **KNITTING WITH HANDSPUN* was the final step in the first phase of research into the history of textiles on the island. To have been able to include memories and patterns from people still alive in the community was nothing short of a miracle, because so much has been lost through emigration and destruction of the records of the textile establishments on the island.

These included a dye mill and a carding mill, both of them working by water-powered wheels in the last century, and all of them virtually closed down by World War II.

With this small start, other people have come forward with memories and reminiscences from their families and each year we find out a few more facts about spinning and weaving and about the life of the island. These ideas are then incorporated into my designs for yarns and knitwear so that today’s spinners and knitters are working in the context of what has gone before.

Adapting the traditions

One of the hardest lessons has been to learn which traditional methods and designs would adapt themselves to current needs, keeping mind production time and the processing of raw materials. This is a problem for all levels of production, from choosing the fleeces and other fibres to collecting the natural dyes. It also applies to how much the wool needs to be carded and what finishing processes are involved such as washing and winding. We have always had to keep in mind the comparative costs of machine production, always aware that our society does not often value craftsmanship for its own sake and that most people are not aware of the continuity of producing a sweater by hand from local raw materials, rather than by mass production.

Defining the economics

There have been so many aspects of our project which would have given me nightmares if I’d contemplated them beforehand. Everything I’ve learned about the theory of business has come first hand. Everything I’ve learned about the theory of business has come first hand. And now I know what they mean by “low-grade technology textile production”.

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My websites:

The Arran Knitting Company

Scottish Weaver and Knitter

Facebook Page:

Silverbirch Workshop Archives

**Knitting with Handspun (soon to be reprinted)

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What Goes Around Comes Around

In the early eighties, I was invited down to Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, Cheshire to teach a course in hand spun yarn design as a visiting artist.

At that time the Victorian looms were being revamped and brought back into production as part of a project to turn the Mill into a working museum. Part of my payment was a length of cloth which had been woven as a test to make sure the looms were working properly.

I made that cotton into curtains which lasted for 25 years.

I was reminded of this the other day when my daughter and granddaughters visited that museum and sent me photos of the reconstructed  looms, spinning wheels and other equipment that have been in use since the time of my visit.

The fine count of the weave is amazing and you can see how many threads it took to produce one piece of cloth.

The mill was the economic heart of the community and all of life was touched by their presence. This was documented recently in a TV series “The Mill”, the story highlighting the issues that were at the forefront of Victorian industrial England – low wages, unhealthy working conditions and much more.

This was a phase in the history of textile production where mills replaced home production and families were split by the demands of the labour force. Men involved in maintaining the machinery and  women and children minding the looms for long hours each day as they belted out yards of cloth which had previously been produced as part of family life.

Of course when mill production ceased in that part of England, machinery was exported to India and China where labour was much cheaper and the economy in England changed. Nowadays we rely on that cheap production in working conditions similar to Victorian times to provide our clothing, putting at risk the textile knowledge that the museum at Styal tries to document and keep alive. Hand weavers world wide work to ensure that those skills are not lost completely.

Since I went to Styal in the early eighties, the awareness of craft weaving has diminished. There is very little interest in clothes produced by hand when cheap imported clothing from sweat shop conditions is readily available.

It’s fascinating to see the machinery at Styal operating as it used to and that children are informed as to how it used to be. Let’s hope the dialogue keeps going to prevent all of this history being lost. Let’s also hope that the awareness of the value of skills like handspinning and weaving grows and we reach out to that resource for creative satisfaction and a product which is durable and unique.

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For more information see Quarry Bank Mill

Lynn Gray Ross

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My websites

Arran Knitting Company

Lynn Gray Ross – Scottish Weaver and Knitter

Lynn Gray Ross – Scottish Weaver & Knitter

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