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From where I sit at my loom with a view – The cheese is on the move…

GOOD MORNING!

Today I would like to share a fact about myself that most of you might not know – and to put it very simply, it is this: I don’t like change.

I don’t deal with it very well either – well, at least I didn’t use to, but I am getting better at it. Some years ago – in fact, around about the time that the iconic little book that inspired the title of this particular blog was published, I was actually a cheesemaker – ironic though this might sound. It was a business that started as a fascination, and grew and grew until it swallowed me up and one day spat me out. It was a very tough time for me and a wonderful friend gave me a copy of “Who moved my Cheese”, by I can’t remember who, and I suddenly realized a whole lot of things: change is scary, change is uncomfortable, change is also inevitable and, perhaps most importantly of all, that one needs to be adaptable. For someone who is actually very stubborn, it is this last one that I have the most trouble with.

Now, as a result of the events over the past few months, I find that the winds of change are once again blowing a gale – and not only for me, but for everyone, and isn’t that the truth? Our world has changed – some-one in China sneezed and the rest of the world got the Flu and now we have to figure out a way forward.

I have been a weaver for a loooong time now, in fact I was a weaver before I was a wife, or a Mum or a cheesemaker, but all of those things put the weaving on the backburner and it was only after someone “moved my cheese”, that I actually gave myself permission to become really serious about it. For the past years I have spent a whole lot of time away from home, on the road, teaching workshops and sharing my love of the craft and suddenly I can’t do that anymore. Not that I don’t love being at home you understand, and when Mr Bignose, pictured above, peers into my kitchen window first thing in the morning (I think he smelt the coffee), then I know that I am in the right place. However, there is one thing wrong with this picture of domestic bliss and that is that not being able to travel to teach, means that I am not earning an income.

I know I’m not the only person in this situation, and there are many, many people who are far worse off that I am, and I am pre-armed with the cheese-moving knowledge that change is ok and doesn’t have to be terrifying if one is willing to adapt. So that is what I am trying to do. I have totally kicked myself out of my comfort zone and begun embracing things like social media and technology which have always been minefields of terror for me. My on-line shop is once again ‘on-line’ and the two little Facebook groups for my weaving buddies are active and full of questions and discussion and information, and keep me well on my toes. Our bi-weekly ZOOM calls are a wonderful opportunity to catch up on what people are doing, and remind myself what they look like, BUT… the most exciting news of all is that my very own Patreon page will go live later on this month.

Called “The Weaving Diaries”, it will be a chronical of where I live, what I love, what I am working on and a whole host of weaverly information that I am currently unable to share with you in the flesh. There will also be technical studies for the harness weavers and projects for the Rigid Heddle girls, downloadable info sheets that you can print and add to a file for future reference

For me, this is HUGE!Both in terms of a change of direction and in terms of learning something new every day, but I am so excited to be doing this. Hilda from Ilona Slow Life Creations gently nudged me in this direction, although perhaps she regrets it now because I am constantly demanding her attention to fix the technological mishaps that result from my ineptitude in that field, so apologies to Hilda for that.

I am looking forward to this giving me the best of all worlds – in other words I can be at home and teach at the same time, and with your support, also earn a small income, which will, in turn, allow me to invest in more yarn to develop more projects and ideas, and so the wheel continues to turn.

So, just like the little mouse in the mythical maze, I am on the move in search of a new cheese supply and I hope you will join me and share the cheese when we get there.

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From where I sit at my loom with a view – yes there is actually a view to enjoy……

Winter in the Lowveld

For those of you who have wondered about the ” view” from my loom – well here is the view from the end of my driveway. Granted my loom doesn’t actually sit at the end of my driveway, but when my bum gets numb from sitting on the weaving bench, I can at least take a short stroll and admire ” my” mountain.

I know that it seems a little strange that we actually have quite such spectacular mountains in an area which is usually associated with flat roads, dust, dirt and thorn trees, but our little town sits in the shadow of the mighty Northern Drakensburg, pictured here on a particularly splendid Winter’s day – incredible sky, absolutely clear, not a breath of wind and a window to the world.

Everytime I take to the road en route to a workshop or a market on the Highveld, I drive through the Abel Erasmus Pass, which cuts through the mountains, and is truly, to my mind at least, one of the great mountain passes of this incredible country. The sides of the road through the pass are dotted here and there with vendors selling local fruit and avocados, or wooden curios and baskets – most of which come from Zimbabwe I’m sad to say, but I won’t go down that road right now, because about half way up ( or down as the case may be), there is an elderley Venda lady who weaves grass mats – indeed there is – believe it or not…

She isn’t always there, but when I see her, I take my life in my hands and pull off the winding road into a tiny lay-by and go and say hello, admire her work and give her a little money. Her loom is what we know as a “Donkey” loom and consists of two planks of wood laid parrallel (never figured out the spelling of that word), to each other with a small space in between, and supported on a pair of crossed sticks at either end to raise it off the ground.

Crossing the warp threads over each other – the mat in progress can be seen below the wooden plank

The threads she uses for the warp – in this case usually cheap string, or even bailing twine which has been scavenged from the nearby farmlands, are each wound around a small stone, or an old battery, and one would immediately think of a warp weighted loom but in fact, this arrangement works differently. Her “weft” comes from the reeds which grow in the Olifants River bed in the valley below. The reeds are split lengthways and the resulting pieces are painstakingly wrapped in pieces of plastic – usually what looks like the plastic that is used to package beer or cool-drink ‘ 6 packs’ .

The plastic is scavenged from the surrounding area and cut into strips before being wound around the sections of reed in a colourful cladding which is probably the principle appeal of the mats. The warp threads are laid across the space between the two planks, with the weights hanging over on either side. A piece of the brightly clad reed is placed over these weighted warp threads and the warp threads are crossed over the reed so that the weights now hang on the other side of the two planks. Another section of reed is laid in place, and the warp is crossed over that, and so the process continues…..

The reeds, I must just add, have leaves which are razor sharp and inflict paper-cuts on any unwary fingers, and the split sections are a minefield of splinters. The weaver sits cross legged on the ground (on one of her own mats actually) and manipulates the weighted warp threads in what must be a backbreaking process. It is the job of her daughter to split and cover the reeds, and her young grandchild sleeps in the shade nearby.

I am in awe of their industry. Their life must be beyond hard, and I am sure that she would probably earn far more working as a domestic worker, but she tells me that she learnt her craft from her mother, and her daughter will learn from her, and that is what they do.

I never fail to leave them with a new appreciation for my beautiful looms and the wonderful yarn I am privileged to use. The view from her loom far surpasses the view from mine, but I’m ok with that, because I know just how very lucky I am!

The beautiful bright blue mat lying next to the ‘loom’ now lives in my kitchen!
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From Where I sit at my loom with a view – a good week….

I always know whether I’ve had a good week by the energy with which I tackle the chores on Saturday. If it’s been a good, busy, productive week, the energy is good and the chores are done with a good feeling – if not – well, I leave that your imagination…..

Well, I had a very good week, and the house is spick and span, just in time for the thatching company to commence work on our roof – what was I thinking???? Actually I didn’t really expect it to happen quite so soon, but the move from level 4 of lockdown to level 3 means that some people at least, can begin going back to work. Some of us on the other hand, never really stopped – it is just the medium that has changed.

I have to admit to finding the changes difficult. I didn’t realise that I was quite such a people person – perhaps I’m not really – perhaps I am just definitely NOT a technology person which makes me feel like I am more of a people person? Actually one thing that I have learnt about myself over the past few year, is that I am much more of a people person that I thought I was, and goodness knows, I am missing my weaving buddies right now!

I am astonished at how much time the Facebook groups and the ZOOM calls take out of my day, but I am even more astonished to find that I actually enjoy both. Having been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and our technologically driven world, taking years to brave Facebook and Instagram, never mind how long it took me to figure out how to send an e mail (blush)…., I now find myself dreaming dreams of a Computer driven Dobby Loom with many, many shafts! I am after all allowed to dream because I had a good week.

I all started off a little slowly, with the Geriatric Snail Mohair Doublewidth throws on my floor loom progressing so slowly that I felt I was actually going backwards – until, on Friday morning, I moved the measuring tape yet again and found that Lo and behold – the end was finally nigh! That – and the beautiful weather which was just warm enough for me to sit in my studio in comfort – spurred me on and I finally took them off the loom just before lunch-time. HOORAY – AT LAST! And I have to say that they are gorgeous – light and fluffy and cuddly and just delicious – a belated housewarming gift for my son and his girlfriend who live in the currently freezing Cape.

The little Summer bag just the right size for a baguette, a serious chunk of cheese and a bottle of wine is finished – off the loom, washed, made up and living up to my expectations – so pleased with it. The pattern is also underway and will be on the website soon. I do find writing patterns is quite a challenge – not to mention terribly time-consuming, but this was a good project and I have very positive feelings about it.

Roll on Summer (and end of lockdown access to the beach again…)

There is a silk shawl in progress on the sixteen shaft, and the threading for the eight shaft gamp for the Four or More group on Facebook is nearly there. Add two ZOOM calls into this mix, and it will surely show that I have been busy.

Right now my desk looks like this….

Which can only mean that there are new ideas in my head looking for a way out – so keep watching this space.

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Where to next?

Four and eight shafts = endless possibilities.[/caption] I suddenly find myself in the situation where I have two empty looms sitting looking at me with that ‘ You are neglecting me’ look. In the course of the past week, I have completed the two warps that were on my 80cm eight shaft, and my 40cm four shaft  Ashford table looms. One warp was a  serious exploration of the effect of sett on the finished product, and the other was a bit of a flight of fantasy, and the culmination of some fairly in-depth explorations into the much taken for granted, weaver’s fall back – Twill. Weaving is such a vast field, and there are so many techniques and structures to explore that it is a little like being afloat in a vast sea of possibility. I personally have a tendency to lurch from one project to the next, under the often misguided inspiration of something I have seen on Pinterest,  read about in a weaving related publication, or, quite frankly just dreamed up in my own muddle-headed way. There is so much information ‘ out there’ and so many people doing so many different things, that unless I have some point of focus, I tend not to do very much at all. And yes, I am a bit of a ditherer when it comes to making decisions about what to do next. The whole Twill thing happened in a bit of a random fashion. A friend asked me to make her a wrap some months ago which was absolutely plain – same colour warp and weft and no embellishments whatsoever. Very boring prospect I thought, until I started working on the project, and realized how valuable an opportunity it was to take myself right back to basics, and to concentrate on the quality of the weaving, rather than challenging myself with complicated techniques and trying to be smart by thinking out of the box and doing things that nobody else was doing. [caption id="attachment_696" align="alignleft" width="300"] Who said you can’t weave twill on a rigid heddle loom?[/caption] Logically, it seemed to me that the next step must be to go back to Twill basics – only to discover that there is not much that is basic about Twill. Endlessly versatile, I think that this could quite easily become a life study. Bearing in mind of course that on four shafts there are twelve twill treadling possibilities. That doesn’t sound like much until you start to mix and match and manipulate these treadling possibilities and change the threading and turn the draft, and all this before colour has even become a consideration. At some point in my meandering through the myriad of literature that there is available on this, most beloved and versatile of weave structures, I stumbled upon a document entitled “A Twill For All Seasons” by Paul R. O Connor. Well it would have to be a man that went this far……. ! He worked out that on a straight threading over eight harnesses, using only one of the possible tie-ups for an eight shaft twill, there are 40, 320 treadling possibilities!!!! Then he set about eliminating any possible duplicates and came up with 320 possible treadling variations – so, still pretty impressive, but much easier to come to terms with. I have to admit, that this first paragraph of the introduction really made me sit up and think. Sadly the rest of the document ( yes you can find it for yourself  – Google has a lot to answer for), is as dry as a bone. Also, it seems that his calculations were based on balanced twills. In other words, for four shafts he only explored the possibilities of 2/2 twills and neglected the 1/3 and 3/1 variations – although by this stage I was holding my eyes open with matchsticks, so it could well be that I wasn’t reading quite ‘on the diagonal’ so to speak. [caption id="attachment_727" align="alignright" width="300"] Four shafts, two directions, many colours.[/caption] My own twill explorations, were not not so thorough, but I have (and still am) enjoying myself, and some of the results have been interesting and fascinating and have motivated me to get out of my comfort zone and experiment a little more, bend the so-called rules, and just generally have fun. There is nothing in the rules that says that a good old fashioned twill can’t be turned upside-down, or inside out, or round about for that matter. It is indeed a veritable breeding ground for weaving ideas and technical exploration. In fact, I see many, many more twills -straight , fancy, braided, inverted, undulated, blended, shaded – and now I have run out of adjectives – in my weaving future, and I can’t wait to begin the next lot of samples! Important to add of course, that these examples are all on straight threadings – think of the possibilities when the threadings are altered – a whole different way of looking at life in the Twill lane! [caption id="attachment_729" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Twill stripes with tabby separations. Woven on six shafts[/caption]              ]]>