While the last post was an overview of everything Summer School related, this one is a bit more about me and what I did during the week.
I was lucky enough to spend the first part of the week on the Wax Resist on Silk Course with Isabella Whitworth. Theoretically this is well within my comfort zone, I spend all day applying colour to fibres, and do have a reasonable eye for line and pattern. The course was so much more than I had ever hoped for though. Just far enough outside my comfort zone to stretch me creatively, but close enough to my existing skills to make it relaxing.
The biggest learning curve was undoubtably the wax element of the course. In essence it's a form of batik, which is definitely something I'd never done before. Our first test piece was all about learning how the wax behaves with the variety of different tools.
Isabella has a fabulous collection of brushes, traditional cantings, and other found objects all of which can be dipped in to the wax pot and used to make a mark. It quickly became obvious that learning to draw recognisable shapes in 2 days was not going to be my forte, so instead I focused on the more abstract mark making and went with what I know, which is colour!
In my second piece I focused on 2 brushes whose mark I liked from the test piece, and instead got to know how I could build up layers of colour. This piece is actually made up of a series of gradients washed on to the silk in layers.
In this technique you alternate making wax marks with applying a wash of colour, then add more wax to preserve the colour of the previous layer, then add another wash of colour. Repeat until there's no more space! The error with this piece was to start off too dark with my first colour wash, it left me nowhere to go as there's only so much dye the silk can soak up.
I then moved on to a scarf... I've only got this photo of it as it's now living with wriggefingers.
Same principal, different shape this time, lots of overlapping wriggly circles made using a pastry cutter. This time I started off light, so there are a huge number of colours in this project progressing from pale yellow, to orange to deep red, then a final unifying layer of chocolate brown.
For my final piece of work in the class I didn't want to do a scarf like everyone else. I am not a silk scarf wearer, and instead I fancied having something I could use as art. So 4 individual panels were stretched out... lacking in creative juices that afternoon I decided to go for a classic spring, summer, autumn, winter theme. Each panel started out with a very pale layer of colour, each one unique, but I made sure to share some of the colours with other panels so they all tied together.
I carried on adding wax and colour until the silk was full. Then came the scary moment; covering up all that colour with a layer of dark browny/grey. I caused a few panic moments amongst my class mates, some of whom thought I should stop at the colourful stage, but I think I made the right decision!
What I loved about this course was the speed at which your could develop an idea, with every piece you could see how it linked to the last one. It's not something I get to do very often in my other creative outlooks, they're all much more slow speed crafts, you don't get the same ability to test and change ideas.
In the second half of the week I took part in a rigid heddle class with Dawn Willey. This class was far more technical, and was focused on setting up a rigid heddle loom to use 2 heddles. That means you can weave a cloth that is much finer, but also means you can some more complex weave patterns such as double cloth, twill and many more, particularly if you add in pick up sticks and a heddle rod.
The first sample was strips on the same warp at standard, 1.5 and double density. I was using a 8 dpi heddle, with a 10dpi heddle as my second heddle, that's why there are the vertical lines, I had to miss out every 5th slot and hole in that heddle as the dpi's need to match. A second 10dpi heddle is now ordered and on it's way to me.
So in this sample from left to right we have 8epi, 12epi and 16epi
In the next sample we explored more of the complex weave structures, starting with double cloth. In this technique you effectively work 2 layers on the same loom independently. The top colour is worked on one set of warp threads, the bottom colour on another set, and you end up with two layers of cloth. These can either be completely separated, or bound together at the edges depending on how you twist your shuttles at the end of each pick (line of weft).
I also got to have a go at doing twill, this weave pattern creates diagonal lines running across the cloth, and revealed a complete lack of ability to count to 4...
I still have the remains of the test warp on my loom, and a few more techniques I didn't manage to do whilst at Summer School. Now all I need is a time machine so I can sit down at my loom and try them out.
I've not been at home much in August... here's what I was getting up to. It's a long post, but I crammed a lot in to 10 days away from home.
One of the things that makes me happy to working in the fibre arts community is the level of collaboration. They say "no man is an island", or in this case it would probably be more appropriate to say "no woman". This industry is filled with strong, vibrant, creative women, running successful businesses. Nearly everywhere you look there are people offering help and advice. I've lost count of the times I've had a customer referred to me by one of my "competitors", and I try to do the same, if it's not something I sell or can make then I'd much rather see that person go elsewhere and get exactly what they wanted.
While there are certain pieces of advice I won't share because they're things I've spent time and money developing, there are many things I'll happily pass on. There's a world of difference between "what's your recipe for that colour way?" and "I'm after a blue-toned black or grey, can you help with dye companies to try?"
The first will always be met with a polite, sorry I don't share that information (it would also rely on my using recipes, which I don't). The second will be met with try Jacquard Silver Grey, and World of Wool Grey.
As time has gone on I've put together more and more samples. I put a variety of them up on display at festivals, but also have a list of them on the website. They let people get a feel for how the fibres work as spun yarn, and also give me experience of working with my fibres. When someone comes up to me and asks "I want a yarn that has good stitch definition" I can turn around and say "try the Superwash BFL & Ramie".
At first I just picked out patterns I liked from the huge collection on Ravelry, but I was always being asked for printed patterns when I was at shows, so as time has gone on I've developed a slight bias towards patterns that I can also stock in paper form.
With the rise in print on demand it's become so much easier for designers to supply printed patterns, and an increasing number are doing so. Some designers are really great to work with and this post was prompted by a lovely experience with Tin Can Knits last night. I contacted them about stocking the Vivid Blanket pattern.
I made up a sample using my Ceilidh Collection and when mooching around the internet discovered their wholesale pattern page. One quick email and I have printed patterns on their way to me, and access to their industry list so that I can carry on making samples using their patterns.
Such a refreshing change to one nameless designer. I'd purchased printed patterns via the wholesale section of their website, and a month later nothing had arrived. I sent numerous emails which weren't replied to, and in the end had to open a paypal dispute to get my money back... that designer is off my Christmas Card list, and no longer one that I'll recommend to anyone who's after a pattern to use with their handspun yarn.
However, back to the positive, that was very much an isolated incident.
I also now stock printed patterns by Woolly Wormhead. Woolly is a specialist hat designer, with a great understanding of hat architecture, and how to use construction to create different shapes. I love her patterns because they come in a minimum of 4 sizes, so it's very easy to get the right size hat even if your gauge is slightly different to the commercial yarn used. I took along her printed patterns to a workshop I did for Gloucestershire Guild last month and they were a huge success. It's a win-win situation, I get to sell the pattern, Woolly gets some income as well, and gets exposure to a new market who for the most part aren't online, but might now go and buy more of her patterns.
The designer I've had the longest relationship with is Kate Davies. I've sold a bundle of fibres to make the Sheep Heid Hat for a long time as a result of a conversation on Ravelry where a spinner wanted to spin the yarn, but didn't have enough natural colours, and didn't want to buy whole 100g of each colour just for this pattern. I've now sold a large number of the printed pattern, and the kits that go along with them, everyone benefits.
So I guess the general gist of this blogpost is that we all have to work together, yarn and fibre sellers can be a great showcase for designers. We can take their patterns out in to the wilds, it's hard for a designer to justify going to a festival with a stand as they have to sell a lot of patterns to cover their costs, but by supplying yarn and fibre dyers they can still have a presence. By retweeting, and commenting on Facebook, and sharing with different social circles and networks we get a larger community and exposure.
We all do better when we work together.
Miss Penny is being a bit of a naughty girl at the moment. She's been half heartedly playing at being broody for the past 2 months. However when we've actually tried to put some eggs under her she's soon got bored and decided to wander off and get some food. When you next look though she's popped back, until you appear, at which point she's still starving hungry and will stamp her feet until she gets raspberries.
Seriously, she gets on the feed bucket and hops from foot to foot demanding that you feed her. It's hilarious!
This morning, in an attempt to convince her to give up on motherhood I carried her down to the bottom garden for a scratch around in the emptied compost bin. Five minutes later I look down the path and spot this.
A chicken... half way up a verbascum plant. The other flock had appeared, and Penny was having nothing to do with them.
She looked a little precarious, but very pleased with herself!
Verbascum are huge plants, but I'd never really seen them as being a potential chicken roost until now.