So step one was made, step two was to sort out a time-line – a finished product needed to be done by early summer 2009 – since the friend who was being gifted this woven piece would be going back to Europe by then.
That leaves a person with oodles of time on her hands – but I did take some initial small steps. Since this was to be a special piece I started thinking SILK, fine delicious silk! Ha, so much for that plan, the recipient is allergic to silk in all its forms – oops, now I needed to re-wire my brain and figure out what else could be done.
Since both friends live in close proximity to Blomidon and the sand at the beeches around their cottages and workplace is blessedly colourful and hard to get out of clothes once you have rolled in it I made an executive decision that I would do a mud-dyeing experiment.I found a use for the many, many balls of white cotton in different textures which I had purchase earlier on in my fibre career – at times thoughts of why on earth I had purchased white yarn would make me shake my head but now I saw the light and the shaking of the head which was making my vision blurry instantaneously stopped.
My strong happy man came with me to the beach, with the dog and several ice-cream tubs for scooping special stuff to bring home. Sand, the finest possible, gravel, slightly smelly and very black a little under the redness of the top layer, all went into buckets and I added a few slimy handfuls of seaweed just to get some good plant component rotting in there too.
It all sat in buckets for several weeks in the sun going nice and putrid – oh, smelly when I took the lids off.
Then I wound skeins of cotton, secured each one with lots of loops and dumped them into the muck buckets. The lid went back on and I went away for a few days. About once a week I returned to stir the buckets and check that everything wasn't dissolving or deteriorating completely.
4 weeks later I took the yarns out, rinsed them and marveled at how they looked – there was one pale greyish lilac colour which I had never in a million years expected and it was so delicious I had to take a deep breath in order not to start whooping. Now of course there wasn't enough yearn yet, so I proceeded to mix some other plant dyes which had been soaking in the barn for the winter – more skeins went in and weeks later, more skeins came out, were rinsed off and hung to dry.
There were black walnuts in there too from my own walnut tree – 7 walnuts in all, yielding a nice brown, not too dark and dreary but just right with a bit of light in it. By now the stash of usable yarn for the project had grown considerably and I was was pretty pleased. All the while this was going on, I was busy calculating in my head and discussing pattern potentials with myself.
I ended up deciding on an undulating twill, one that undulated due to the thick/thin-ness of the yarns and the density of the set in the reed.
As I did this I had a pang of worry that perhaps I wouldn't have enough yarn after all, I do like to put on long, long warps you see, 10 meters and there abouts, just to have enough for playing and experimenting with without having to worry about running out.
By now though the time for actually getting the loom set up for the project was getting nearer and this was not a very comforting feeling, how to do fast mud dyeing??? Hm, how about some tea-dyeing – ok, I had lots of old bags of red rose tea, and half kilo of looseleaf green tea which had sat in the cupboard for way, way too long – and so I brewed up another concoction
and left 8 more skeins of yarn in there, both 2/8 unbleached cotton and a good many yanks of a pale yellow cotton chenille which didn't exactly bring my blood to a boil, not to say it left me feeling quite cold and uninspired in its original state.
Into the pot it went, first some initial vegetable matter soaking, then yarn soaking and finally I did boil it all up for a couple of hours on the gas burner in the barn.
I was set, the last skeins were drying and I started winding the earlier skeins onto spool for my warping rack, which I use for setting up my sectional warping beam LeClerc loom – Looking at all the spools was amazing the colours and intensity of each and everyone was quite amazing.
The winding began and a couple of days later it was all on and ready to be threaded through the hedles and finally the reed. I set out, started, and kept going and going and going, the only thing to do when setting up a loom, just keep going.
The astounding thing about weaving (for me) is that I am never really completely 100% sure what the end result is going to be – I have some sort of a vague idea, and I make the warp so there are many possibilities if one idea isn't working after all.
When I started weaving the sampler for the blanket I couldn't believe my eyes how well each and every little thread and yarn end in the whole piece complimented each other. Seeing all the pieces separately is not hard, being able to visualize the finality of the piece before you actually see it is surely not easy either. So my delight when I had woven the first few inches was immense, glorious and full of very thankful happiness. It would work, and it would work nicely.
From there the weaving wasn't particularly time consuming or strenuous, and quickly the first planned piece was done up – then I realized that with my ample warp length I would have enough to weave a slightly smaller piece for the giver of the piece, this was a secret which she didn't know about, just as the first receiver had no idea about the whole project until one day in May when the two of them came for supper and I could finally talk about it to person #1 – the pleasure and anticipation in her face was great and joyful.
In early August 2009 I went for breakfast at Jan's 'box' – she and Sandra were just moving all Jan's stuff to the box for the summer and we had an inauguration feast that morning and then I brought in the blankets, wraps, meditations pads. It was an honour and a great pleasure to have had the opportunity to weave such very intense and thought absorbing pieces for two such beautiful women – their connectedness to the healing powers of their heads, hands and hearts had benefited me greatly the past year and I felt privileged to return some of this healing feeling to them in the blankets.
It was an adventure from start to finish – one which will perhaps be repeated one day – exactly when I do not know, but, definitely there are more paths in there which need to be explored. Everyday brings something new in the weaving world, or I suppose, everyday is just a new day, and should thus be treated with openness and widespread reception of ideas and possibilities.
Thank you Jan and Sandra for this opportunity to stretch myself in the mud =-)