Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Weaving in the Heat

Ah, the Texas Folklife Festival!  Three days outdoors, demonstrating in 100-degree heat.  Yeah.  My idea of a lot of fun!  Actually, in many ways it was fun.  We were sweaty and exhausted every night when we got home.  But the response to our demonstrations was enthusiastic.  We could hardly leave the booth.  When one group would leave, another would arrive.
Spinning on the Polonaise
This is the second outing for the new Kromski Polonaise spinning wheel.  She is a joy to spin on.  She looks antique, but she's a beautiful modern wheel.  Since I'm the best wheel spinner of the three of us, I would sit and spin.  The wheel is so eyecatching - as soon as I set her in motion, the crowds would gather around.  After three days, I'd spun an entire bobbin of yarn - and Kromski bobbins are larger than average!!  I'll ply the yarn and dye it this week.  It may be knitted into socks or it may find its way into a woven piece.   You never know!

We also received more requests for photos than we've ever had before.  People seemed drawn to the prairie dresses worn by both Cassandra and myself.  Cassandra looks so natural in her grey dress.  I just look really, really OLD in mine!!  But they are comfortable - or as comfortable as anything can be in this heat!  I insisted that Cassandra put on her bonnet whenever leaving the tent, as did I.  Neither of us burned.  Hey!  Our ancestresses must have known what they were doing!

George got a proposal of marriage!  A charming Czech lady came to the booth to watch us spin.  She had a miniature spinning wheel - most likely a woodturning apprentice's "final exam" piece.  It had been "fixed" by somebody who "knew all about spinning wheels."  Needless to say, the poor thing couldn't spin.  Honestly, it probably never did well, nor was it intended to.  However, George went with her to look at the wheel.  He was able to fix it for her and get it going again.  As if that weren't enough, he noted the red dye on the decorated eggs the ladies had on display.  They told him the dyestuff was cochineal, but they didn't know anything about it.  He was able to fill them in on the story of cochineal.  They were delighted!

Czech Decorated Egg
So they gave him one of the beautiful decorated eggshells, an information sheet about the eggs, a hug, and a proposal of marriage!  Let's see...  He's up to how many wives now??

I've known about the Polish version of the decorated eggs - Pysanki, I think it's called.  I didn't know about the Czech eggs - Kraslice.  Instead of drawing the design on the bare egg with wax, dyeing the egg so the shell takes the color everywhere except where the wax is, and then melting the wax off, Czech eggs are dyed a single color and then the design is scratched off to reveal the egg underneath.  Cochineal is commonly used to get the strong, bright red color.

Fabric View of the Draft
But the excitement for me was the weaving of my very first design!  I've been wanting forever to do the overshot patterns in Marguerite Porter Davison's A Handweaver's Source Book.  But for years they've made no sense to me.  I decided that I would finally come to grips with them.  I chose Soldier's Return (page 40) for my first foray into understanding these drafts.  It really wasn't all that hard.  However, the floats were longer than I wanted.  So I started to tweak.  And tweak.  And really tweak.  And suddenly, I had a fabric that didn't look like the original, exactly, but it looked beautiful!  So I thought, why not?

Why not?  Well, it has to be crazy to use an untested draft at a demonstration with thousands of people watching.  Okay, 99.9% of the thousands of people don't know anything about weaving, so you can get away with some things.  However, your 19-year-old beginning weaver daughter needs to be able to weave this pattern and she's never woven overshot before.  And so???

And so I did it.  And it's beautiful!  People were fascinated with it.  Cassie was able to weave it with no problems after the first repeat or so.

Cassie at the loom
When I took the runner off the loom, I was suprised to see that it was almost two feet longer than I thought it would be.  Hmm...  I'm still not sure how I did that.  It's really too long, but it's so pretty.  I think I'll try weaving it off in a finer thread.  I have a large cone of natural 20/2 perle cotton and a large cone of 16/2 perle cotton coming.  (Excitement!!)

The Finished Runner
Overshot In Color

Overshot In Color Runner
I finished this overshot runner several weeks ago, but didn't get photographs until after the Folklife Festival.  This is a draft from the November / December 2010 issue of Handwoven magazine.  It is a beautiful runner!  Three closely analagous colors are used for the warp and tabby weft.  The warp alternates the mid and light tones of the color while the warp is the darker tone.  This gives the background fabric a depth that it usually doesn't have.  I liked this project so much that I ordered silk to do another "colorwork" overshot piece.  This will be interesting!

And in the meantime?  Well, I'm making up another prairie dress and pinafore for myself and another shirt for George.  When we do these multiday demonstrations, we need multiple outfits.  And it's fun to have costume pieces to mix and match. I found an antique end-feed shuttle in an antique store this week.  The wood is dry and the metal rusted, but I think it can be brought back into service and that will be fun!  And on to weaving off the colorwork pillows I started before the Festival.


  1. Lovely! What pattern do you use for your dress and apron. I haven't found one I like yet but yours looks so lovely!

  2. Both my daughter's dress and mine are Folkwear's Prairie Dress pattern. My daughter's apron is from the same pattern. Mine is a mish-mash of Butterick's 5509, view D and the Folkwear pattern. The Folkwear apron skirt wasn't full enough for the bodice of the Butterick pattern, but I made it work. When I make the next one, I'll add more width to the skirt apron pieces.