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It’s been a while since I sat at my loom with a view

…. but having said that, I didn’t realize that it had been quite such a long while!

The air of complacency that has prevailed over the past few months, has, as we all know, been shattered as we crash back into lockdown level 4. I had already decided that I was spending the Winter at home this year, and so, I’m not particularly affected by the decision, apart from the fact that my red-wine stash was perilously low even before Squirrel spoke to the nation on Sunday evening.

That aside though, I am loving being at home again for en extended period of time. It is giving me the space to think and to plan and to develop new projects and explore new techniques. Right now, I am working on some Rep-Weave, or Ripsmatta, or Warp-Rep as it is variously known. The warp rep thing is the culmination of our dive into the concept of block weaves and profile drafting that has been keeping us absorbed on the Patreon page: (remember… https://www.patreon.com/weaveatbrooklands is where you’ll find me, or you can just click on the Patreon button on my Home page). Rep weave seemed to be the logical progression after our study and a really fun way to wind things up.

Actually I cheated a little bit, by also including a little bit of a rep derivative for the Rigid Heddle weavers, as we expanded our approach to Log Cabin and ended up weaving a set of Rep based place-mats. Rep weave and log cabin actually ave many similarities – loads of differences too, but plenty of similarities – most notably the threading of the warp. In each pattern block the warp is threaded on two shafts, one colour – call it the main colour on one shaft and the second colour call it the background colour on the second shaft. The weft uses two shuttles, one carrying a thick yarn and one carrying a thin yarn, and the alternation of thick and thin, allows one warp colour to dominate and the other colour then becomes subservient. Weaving two picks, one after the other, of the thin yarn allows the other colour to be brought to the top and become the dominant colour.

It’s all quite logical really – a positive and negative effect on the two sides of the cloth, and a pattern constructed through the use of contrasting colours.

I somehow, fell into the habit of referring to the Rigid Heddle project as either Log-Rep or Rep-Cabin – no prizes for guessing where that name came from and was really pretty pleased with the results.

In all three cases above, I had a very clear idea of what I was hoping for in the end product. My warps were carefully planned, and the colours chosen with care, and yet when I put the warp up, and I saw it in colours I had chosen, they all looked awful – dark and in the case of the seaside colours, even threatening – Rather like an approaching thunderstorm in fact.

It was only when I started to weave that the colours regained some clarity, which was obviously provided by the light colour contrast in almost all the blocks. I have to say, that as I began to weave and the colours clarified, I was hugely relieved, and rather stern with myself for being so silly.

Yesterday I started making the warp for the eight shaft four block Rep-Weave study. I’m not using anything fancy – just good old Elle-Cotton on DK, which happens to suite my purpose right now – and which is easily available, even in our little tiny town. My chosen colours are a dark Teal Green, pale Dusty Pink, a nice clear purple and a bright blue. I also chose a Beige, which I later decided not to use.

Once again the warp looked awful – something like a stagnant pond with a bad case of blue/green algae, when I took it off the warping board, but improved once it was on the loom. Being able to see the definition between the colour blocks really improved the perception.

I started weaving my sample this morning, and there are several issues. Firstly, I need to re-sley the reed. I though I might be able to get away with having two ends per dent for four dents and then one per dent for two dents, but the discrepancy is glaringly obvious now that I have started to weave. The selvedges also, are proving to be ridiculously difficult to control and will need some work.

I chose to use the pink cotton as my thick weft, and now I am wondering whether it might not have been better to use the green, so i plan to sample a little bit with that too, just to see what sort of a difference it makes. The warp is around 4m or a bit longer, so I have plenty of room to experiment, which is the whole object of the exercise, and of course I will keep udating on my progress.

Rep is not a new structure to me, but it is a long time since I have done any, and each time I come back to it, I find myself excited by it all over again. The texture is super, and the possiblilities almost endless. I have the feeling that this might once again be a case of the warp being too short and the ideas too long!

Till the next time.

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From where I sit at my loom with a view….

The result of the grey skies is now everywhere around me….

One of the things I love most about living in the bush is the startling, almost overnight changes that happen after even the smallest amount of rain. My morning walks have become a treasure trove of little jewels of colour and life everywhere I look, and I am constantly stopping to look and marvel at the richness around me after the good rains a few weeks ago.

The little pink and yellow flowers on the top left are the flowers of the Sickle Bush, a hard, thorny, spikey pioneer plant that grows mostly in areas where the ground has been disturbed. It is a vigrously growing bush which visually has little to recommend it, until these, exquisite little pom-poms of colour take over, and suddenly they are everywhere I look. I call them Ballerina Flowers – not quite sure why, but that’s my name for them.

The little Blue flower is a tiny, low-growing little plant that is easily overlooked, apart from the fact that it is Blue, which is unusual colour for a flower, and this one hides a little secret. If you look below the flower itself in the picture, there is a little Green point which, at first glance, looks like a new leaf, but in actual fact, it is a tiny little pouch which holds four or five drops of crystal clear water, providing a source of water for some of the tiny creatures which so often escape our notice. once the rains have disappeared.

The cluster of Cream coloured flowers is from the Purple cluster leaf, and oh boy, do they smell bad – like decaying meat. Their function is to attract the flies that polinate the flowers, and in the Autumn the bushes will be covered in deep Purple seeds, a little like the seeds of the Combretum.

These long rambles through the bush have eaten into my weaving time lately, but there is so much to see and enjoy out there that I am often out for far longer than I should be.

My weaving life over the past weeks has not really been that productive. Well, that’s not quite true – lets rather say that it hasn’t been visibly productive, but the Patreon page is bursting with posts on Weaving Drafting , and the pick-up study has wound to an end, together with instruction for all the techniques that we covered, many of which will be included in the Christmas Table Runner project.

The temperatures are now in the high thirties almost every day, and outside activities must take place early in the morning. This means that work-time in my studio has become limited. My studio isn’t outside – obviously, but it is quite exposed, and gets very hot during the Summer. This means that my ‘inside’ looms are getting my full attention. The Silk shawls are making progress and I have plans for the next two in the pipeline, but, before that can happen, I am so excited to be going away for my first weaving workshop since the dreaded lurgy changed our lives.

So, watch this space for pictures and stories from our week at the Beautiful ‘Crafter’s Lodge’, starting this coming Thursday…..

I simply can’t wait to catch up with a few of my weaving buddies – I miss them…… I hope that other crafters are able to get together responsibly in small groups and enjoy the social aspect of what we all love to do, a little more than I can!

Till next time then – watch this space…….

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I haven’t been sitting at my loom with a view…..

This morning I woke up with that feeling that life is not quite complete….. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. We’ve seen our pets in this mood too – they move from one place to another, put their heads up, sniff the wind and move again, never quite settling long enough to relax, or indeed allow us to relax. Well, that is how I feel this morning…. poor Michael – perhaps I should warn him that it’s going to be one of those days!

It has been a really busy month – a trip to the Smelly City to do my distribution, multiple posts and little videos for Patreon, ZOOM calls with my weaving buddies, ordering some gorgeous cottons from Be Inspired for a new project and long walks in the wilderness areas of my estate, as well as the usual nitty-gritty of domestic bliss. Yet, in spite of all the activity, it feels very definitely as though something is missing. This morning I worked out what it is – I am severely lacking in loom time!

“How can this be?” I hear you ask – ” that’s all she does – in fact it’s what she does. How can she not be doing what she does?”….. Well the answer is simple, and I know that it has happened to all of us. The chores and the routine and the mundane take over, and before you know it they RULE your life!

There is more than one reason for this paradigm shift in our lives. In my life I can most definitely think of two without even blinking an eye. The first is that someone has to do it…… this, as every woman who is reading this post will know, is because it is inbred in women that the home must come first. After all if I don’t make the bed who’s going to make the bed? I’ve tried to make it a rule in our house that the last person out of the bed makes the bed – HA! What the person who shares the bed hasn’t worked out yet is that if that were the case and we stuck to the rule, I would be up with the lark every morning of my life and accomplish that much more…….

The second is that what I do – in terms of weaving that is, has to be classified as pleasure, not work, and I was taught from a very young age that you are only allowed to play when the chores are done.

So, with the lockdown and the extended time I’ve had at home one would think that the weaving productivity must have sky-rocketed. Well, “One” thinks wrong, but the bed is made and the house is more or less in order and even some basic maintenance is being attended to, and slowly, insidiously the chores and the desk have taken over my life and my Loom with the View is very neglected.

The on-line aspect of my life has also impacted on my weaving time. I love teaching weaving, and am even enjoying the challenge of doing it this way, but I have to say, that the stimulation of teaching face to face is severely lacking. So is the spontaneity – the questions, which open up a whole new train of thought, and those ‘Eureka’ moments when somebody discovers a different ( and often better) way to do something, and most importantly, the laughs and the banter, are all missing in in the on-line world where things are altogether more ordered and serious, to the point where I feel that what I really need is a jolly good belly laugh. I’m beginning to take myself far too seriously!

This is why I am soooo looking forward to the arrival of a couple of weaving buddies – whoop whoop! Now that the provincial borders are open people are moving around again and over the next couple of weeks, not one, but two weaving buddies are coming to visit and I can’t wait! Before they arrive though, there has to also be some loom time. I have three looms with half woven projects on them and another project in the planning stage, so over the next couple of days, my time at my desk ( and the kitchen sink) is going to be limited and I am going to love my looms. After that I’m going to enjoy some social time and love my looms some more in the company of people who understand the difference between ‘warp’ and ‘weft’ .

What a lot to look forward to – Happy Friday!

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From where I sit at my loom with a view – the world is full of 50 Shades of Beige.

At this time of the year the weather is Hoedspruit is, in general, just wonderful. Balmy days, cool evenings, just comfortable temperatures providing a welcome respite from the overwhelming heat of the Summer. It seldom gets terribly cold here, but it does get dry….. and when I say dry, I mean bone-achingly dry. In fact I believe that when we receive less than 400mm of annual rainfall, the area becomes classified as ” Semi-Arid”. This has been the case for the last four years, which means that by this stage of the Winter everything is dry and dusty and, as I said – Fifty shades of Beige.

There is light Beige, Medium Beige, and dark Beige. Brown Beige, Grey Beige, and Beige Beige- and I could carry on doing this for a while. Today in particular is really Beige as a result of the August winds which have arrived a month early, and are stirring up the dust and the dry leaves and coating everything in a fine powdery layer of beige.

The weather seldom really gets to me, but the Beige days do, and when the wind is howling, the Beige days become dirty days too which makes them worse. Even the house is Beige – but then it is painted that colour – a Cemcrete coating aptly named ” Winter Grass” – What were we thinking???

And yet, if I open my eyes and look around, even when the world is at it’s most beige, suddenly pops of beautiful colour begin to emerge. Few and far between though they might be, but they are there – the seeds of the red Bushwillow, the dried pods of the Purple fruited Clusterleaf, and the occasional splash of Autumn foliage of one of the many trees whose names I have not learned. It is in the small spots of colour that I find a richness of orchre, and deep red and yellow with the occasional splash of Green to indicate that there is still life in this Beige world of July in the bushveld.

…..for a beautiful Winter landscape shawl in pure New Zealand wool!
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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 – 3

Winter is with us here in the Lowveld, characterised by beautiful balmy days and evenings cool enough to sit around a fire and enjoy a good old fashioned South Africa Braai while keeping our toes close to the embers of the fire and feeling the toasty warmth embrace us from the bottom up.

The Mohair blankets are almost done, and I am back to my usual season switching as I work on a series of cotton bags for the Rigid Heddle Weaving group which I mentor on Facebook. The first little project bag is natural cotton with a rainbow cotton detail,…..

Rainbow cotton and Natural Basket weave

and the one which is currently on the loom – well – lets just say that I think I chose the colours on a cloudy day – a warm, friendly Orange with a small amount of vividly coloured Yellow which makes me think of Summer days on the beach!. The Lining will be a vivid Yellow Schwe-schwe fabric which I found in our friendly little local haberdashery store.

Beach ready colours on the loom

Perhaps it is the ongoing lockdown situation that is making me think of Summer picnics on the beach. I visualize my little loom-bound bag carrying a bottle of wine and a baguette together with a hunk of serious cheese in anticipation of fresh air , warm sun ( although we have plenty of that here at the moment) and a cool breeze.

The bag itself, is simple and will be of a sturdy enough construction to cope with my imagined treats ( and perhaps a bar of good chocolate for afters?) . One one half of each side there is a simple striped sequence, and on the other half a simple pick up pattern running vertically up the fabric. It sounds simple, and it will, I think, look simple and friendly and unfussy – however, my attempts at writing down the pattern have been anything but simple…….

Who would have thought that it could be so difficult to translate a picture in my head into a project on the loom into words and instructions on a page??? I know exactly what I want to achieve, but trying to put it into words, and analyzing the process has been a bit of a mind-bend. It isn’t a complex project you understand, the point is that I know what is going on in my head, which is fine – but getting it out of my head – well that’s another story……