This post is inspired by a comment to the last post by “Andy.” Andy and I met in college. We shared a room (poor Andy!). At that time I was a wannabe weaver. Yes, I had woven a scarf and a few other random things on a rigid heddle loom by the time I hit freshman year. I had also done some needlepoint. But I was lacking good tools, good materials and, most of all, guidance. It was a weird period in time in relationship to fiber art. We were past the point where a mother routinely passed on all the skills she learned from her mother to her daughter. They were no longer important. I did not know one girl who learned how to form perfect letters with thread on a sampler. Those things were seen in history museums under glass. It’s what girls did in another time, another century even, sitting in front of a fireplace making lace for her sister’s wedding gown or making a sampler to learn how to correctly use a needle. I suppose someone my age somewhere was learning how to knit or crochet but I didn’t know her and I don’t remember anyone wearing a sweater she had knit. Although, I do remember that my mother knit three adorable red sweaters for each of her three little kids. Each had our initials sewn onto it. And yes, they were lovely. And since I was the youngest I ended up wearing the other two sweaters as my brother and sister our grew them. My initials went from CAC to WSC to PEC. My grandmother knit a beautiful afghan that lived on our couch for as long as I can remember. We must all have memories of a hand knitted afghan covering the back of the couch. Now my couch is decorated with my hand knitted afghan, but I don’t think it’s now a common sight.
My first encounter with fiber and creativity came from my aunt. Her husband was an artist. He created abstract art, which I loved. I didn’t realize at the time why I was so attracted to abstract art. But now it makes sense. I am not a realist in any sense of the word. I like dividing the world into shapes and colors. It’s how I see it: I break the world down into blobs of intersecting color. My aunt did needlepoint. My uncle painted the canvas for her and she turned it into lovely pillows. So many pillows filled with blobs of color. I was in awe.
My parents returned from a trip to Paris with needlepoint kits for both my sister and me. Each kit contained three little squares with printed pictures and yarn. I filled in the first square and turned the other two squares upside down and “did my own thing.” I am sure my own thing was pretty awful. I don’t have these squares anymore. At some point my aunt gave some of her needlepoint supplies to my sister since my sister was the acknowledged family artist. All for good reason. She was (and is) amazing. I have rarely in my life met anyone as good as she is at art. Some of it was realistic, some of it was fantasy. But the fact was: she could draw anything and she drew all the time. In that world the tools for drawing were readily available. All you needed was paper and a pencil and pen. But creating needle art or weaving was not so easy because the tools were not “just there.” Anyway, my sister got the canvas and the yarn and she had absolutely no use for them. I took them. They were meant to by mine! I made quite a few things from these materials which all became gifts for my mother.
When I was ten I received a rigid heddle loom for my birthday. I had seen it at Macys. Yes, Macys! It must have been in the homeware’s department. I wove a couple of scarves on the loom and backings for my needlepoint pillow creations. And I knew I wanted to weave. But I still didn’t have the materials I would need to find out what that really means.
When I arrived at college and met Andy, I knew I was a “weaver” but I also knew I was a fake because my experience was mostly contained within my imagination. I went to Andy’s home during a vacation and met my first real large weaving loom. Andy’s father had built it for her sister. It was gorgeous. I don’t think it was complete at that point and I know it had not yet been used. There I was “the weaver” and I didn’t had the first idea of how one would use that enormous, complicated loom. I was still a “weaver” in my head but the reality seemed far away.
A few years later my brother found a loom in California where he was living. It was a small four harness table loom. He sent it to me. Without any knowledge of how to set up such a loom, I set it up. Somehow I got it to work. I remember taking my food money to explore Ottawa (I was attending my last semester of university there) and find yarn so I could use that loom. I lived in a dark, cold apartment and the only color I saw that winter was in the yarn I was weaving.
It wasn’t until I had my first child (Elena) that I set off to explore weaving. I discovered immediately that I was not a weaver of cloth, that my large floor loom would not be like Andy’s sister’s. I found out I was a tapestry weaver. That seed had been planted when I was 19 and had seen the Unicorn tapestries at the Cloisters in New York City. I was in awe. I stuffed those images in my brain and thought I would never really understand how such things were made. And then I learned on my own for the most part how tapestry is made.
I wove my first tapestries (for two years) on a rigid heddle loom before I bought my first second hand tapestry floor loom. My creative life exploded with the purchase of that loom. Soon after I was teaching myself how to dye yarn so I could get exactly the colors I wanted. That was followed with learning how to spin. I could not be stopped!
I am now surrounded with materials and tools to feed my need to create art from fiber. And these days, things have changed so much for the fiber arts. First of all, we’ve got that word “art” following the word fiber. It’s been given weight that it did not have. It’s no longer a thing women do to pass their time. I guess I was born at exactly the wrong time.
Access to the right materials and tools is essential to create fiber art. I can now get whatever I want, whatever I need to create what is in my head. I am surrounded by inspiring materials. I feel very fortunate to have arrived at this place. And I realize that when I told Andy I was a weaver, I really was a weaver, but mostly in my head. Now I am a weaver among other things and I have allowed myself to put that in the center of my life. It is a focal point. It’s kind of a relief because I could just as easily have passed it while heading somewhere else in my life. Or maybe not. Maybe the pull toward it was so great I would never have passed it. But how lucky for me that it is both my hobby and my work and I can indulge it every day.
I have made it my lifelong goal to give this gift to others as I continue to explore all the aspects of all the fiber arts on my own.
I forgot to mention that when Andy and I were room mates in college I used to demand she pick up her guitar and play and sing for me. Poor mundane Andy, the gifted musician!
I haven’t written a post in a long time. Forgive me. I was dwelling on old things and the day to day of running Mirrix and life. But during that time I have also been making new things. Something I am always doing to a point. Sometimes I am recreating old things, maybe changing them slightly or using different materials. Sometimes I am weaving. But sometimes I am using a variety of other techniques to quench my unquenchable need to create. Something. Always. I carry a big bag wherever I go filled with “my toys.” And yes, sometimes there is a mini-mirrix in my bag.
I tend to overdo everything I do. I can’t just make one of something. I have to keep making that thing until I’ve played out every scenario. Each time is different. Each time brings a slight change or increases my understanding of the medium and/or the materials (which includes necessarily color).
I have been making crochet hand-painted silk bags (some including beads) since a month before Christmas. They were something I could make while doing other things and the colors of the hand-painted silk kept me endlessly intrigued and engaged. It is hard for me to weave while doing anything else more demanding than listening to the radio. But I can crochet and read a book at the same time. I can crochet and watch a movie. I don’t have one of those cool set ups with a big screen and a comfy couch with a perfect table in front on which to place a loom. My entertainment center sits on my desk in the form of a Mac computer. Sometimes I can really kick back in my big desk chair and throw my feet on the desk until something starts to go numb. So weaving (although I have managed it) is not such a simple, elegant thing for me when watching a movie. Plus, I have to think when I weave whereas making a crochet bag out of silk I have already painted is pretty mindless. I also knit and, most recently, I began teaching myself embroidery.
Yesterday, I painted kilos of silk. And it inspired me. The silk now hangs on a dryer in the bathroom because it is too cold to hang it outside in the wind. I keep sneaking into the bathroom to look at it. I absorb the colors and then walk away. Color is endlessly fascinating.
Today I started making a basket from the silk. I am trying to figure out how to incorporate branches or some other material for strength although the basket does seem like it might stand on its own. I used a thread of hand-painted silk and a gold thread.
Now to wind all those kilos of silk onto bobbins! It’s mindless, but I kind of like it. It has its place!
Just for fun! We’ve created a new kit in a basket that is both great for giving to others and to yourself! It includes: lots of beads and hand-painted silk and gold thread and tools and crystals. You can make a variety of fiber and/or bead projects of your own design or following some of the weave-alongs we’ve already posted in this blog.
I have made two of these bracelets (successfully . . . since I made three before I made the one I finally liked) and I’ve finished them both slightly differently although using the same concept. So although I’ve come up with a couple of fun and workable ways to finish them, if you want to change it up a bit, feel free.
Weave 41 sections of the 8/0 bead pattern and end with a row of crystals.
Do NOT cut your piece off the loom. Simply release the tension and slide out the warp bar. Then . .
Trim your ends as little as possible making the ends on each side of the necklace even.
Thread a beading needle with beading thread and tie an overhand knot at the end. You will use this to slide the porcelain beads onto the silk warps.
Divide off four warp threads on one end of necklace and slide on one of the smaller porcelain beads.
Tie an overhand knot. To get the knot snugly next to the bead, stick a needle into the knot and push it toward the bead.
Do the same for four warp threads on the other end of the piece.
Put the two ends of your piece side-by-side and slip another small porcelain bead onto the remaining six warp threads thereby joining the ends of your necklace together. Tie an overhand knot to keep it in place.
Add the last small porcelain bead after the first one.
Tie another overhand knot.
Isolate four (note: this is a correction, it previously said three, sorry about that!) warp threads that emerge from the single porcelain beads.
Using your threaded bead needle slide on one of the long porcelain beads.
Tie an overhand knot to keep the bead in place.
Repeat for the other side.
Next slide crystals (or beads) onto the ends of all the warp threads. You can slide more than one or a combination of beads and crystals. I have used just one crystal for each end.
Tie an overhand knot to keep the crystal in place.
This is how my piece looks!
Wear and enjoy or make a friend very happy. Happy holidays to all!!!!!!!
Before I even finished it Elena demanded ownership of this bracelet. This meant I had to be careful not to make it too long. Elena has the smallest wrists of anyone I know. I used to think my wrists are small. Not anymore. At first I thought I overachieved in the smallness territory. When I removed the bracelet from the loom I looked around for a doll whose wrist I could put it on. I tried to increase the length with peyote. Didn’t work. Hated it. Ripped it out. Then I tried square stitch. Equally awful. And then I said to myself: make the clasp attachment a little longer and it will be fine. So I backed the bracelet with ultra-suede and then sewed beads all around to cover up my lousy sewing and to give it more depth and one more row of beads on either end. Then I suffered over the clasp. Elena wanted a button, a silver button if possible. So I searched through all my s stuff and came up with a few very pretty pewter buttons. Pewter/silver. She won’t know the difference, I tell myself. I wanted to use a silk covered O-ring for the thing for the button to go through because those O-rings make things stay on. Because they have stretch they work so much better than something that is hard and static. But silk covered? There is no silk in this piece. If it had silk (and future ones will have silk AND gold) the silk covered ring would be just fine. Light bulb above my head: what about embroidering beads onto the o-ring. And so I did.
The first attempt at attaching the button failed. Made the attachment way too long. This cuff needs to fit snug. It was going to look like Mommy’s bracelet on her five year if I didn’t fix it. So I went smaller, smaller than I though realistic. And guess what? I got it so right. The bracelet is snug on me but will fit Elena’s delicate wrists just perfectly.
I haven’t had a chance to finish the last bracelet, but you know the drill. It’s finished like the first. My mind started to wander as it filled with some new ideas, and so I headed in a new and surprising new direction. Got the idea as I was trying to wake up yesterday. That process consists of my lying in bed and letting ideas and thoughts float through my brain before the day has taken its toll on my creative thought process. It’s when I get my best and most original ideas.
The genius of this idea came when I created a new batch of bead soup. I looked at all those beautiful beads and crystals and thought: yeah, this is great but in order to weave all these beads you have to set the warp as wide as the longest or biggest bead and some of those beads are really long and really can’t be used. So how do I use all the beads in the bead soup in one piece. I suddenly had this thought: what if one wove beads off the grid or used the warp threads as a canvas that was not dedicated to weaving a row of beads across the warp threads and leaving it at that. I had this image of a bunch of beads that would sit at angles, go on top of the woven beads and in effect mimic the concept of bead embroidery married to bead weaving. And as it happens about one in a hundred times when I come up with some great idea, the image I had in my brain was able to find its way in reality. So I am excited because this is new. I have never seen anything like this before. I had the same sense of AHAAAAAAA that I had when I visualized the tapestry/bead cuff bracelet. I always love to find a totally new way to use the Mirrix Loom, and this was one of them. To accomplish this bracelet one needs a loom that can provide perfect tension so it lends itself perfec
tly to the Mirrix. Plus, there are a bunch of future additions that I can only imagine such as combining fiber and doing a lot of the finishing right on the loom.
I have five inches woven and one inch to go. I am still contemplating the finishing. I think I have it figured out but don’t want to rush it. So for now I will just tease you with the piece on the loom. See if you can figure out how this is done!
So I did weave the bracelet and I did take it off the loom, but the day got ahead (or behind?) me and I didn’t get to add the clasp. That gives me an entire grade off starting at a B although I do like this bracelet better than the first AND the photos are a lot better. At least you will be able to see the detail and get a feel for how this was set up on the loom and how the beads fit in their little places. I have used both 11/0 and 8/0 seeds beads as well as the 4mm crystals. One crystal, three 11/0 seed beads and two 8/0 seeds beads fit in the space between the warp threads. I’ve used C-Lon fine beading cord for warp and C-Lon size D beading thread to string and weave the beads.
Half way there!
Finished on loom
Off loom taking a little rest
Close up of resting bracelet
First thing tomorrow when there is sun I will finish this one and weave and finish bracelet number three!
I do well with goals. And when those goals fit in with what I want to do anyway, there is a good chance those goals will be realized.
I got it in my head that I wanted to weave a series of bead and crystal bracelets. So I hauled out my supply of crystals and 11/0 and 8/0 seed beads, arranged them all over every available surface in my studio and started to ponder my desired results. Of course, I immediately determined I was missing certain colors I absolutely needed. That’s one way to stall! Then I got over it and decided I had actually what I needed and would work with what I saw. That freed me to start working on my first bracelet. And here she is, wrapped around a cone of gold thread. I wish I had a wrist not attached to my body on which to wrap it but my husband’s wrist just would not do!
How hard are these to weave n a Mirrix Loom? Easy. I almost hate to reveal how easy. How long did the actual weaving take? About an hour. Warping? About a minute. You can weave this piece on any Mirrix Loom. You don’t need a warp coil. All you need is a loom, warp material, beads, crystals, a scissor, thread, a good needle, a clasp or some way to create a clasp and you are good to go.
Below is the bracelet finished on the loom. Sorry about the light. Yesterday was particularly grey and dull and light just would not sneak into my studio. The OTT light wasn’t helping much either. But you can still see the overall design. This particular bracelet only uses size 8/0 beads and size 4 mm crystals. All the bracelets will use 4 mm crystals because they take up the space of either two 8/0 beads or three 11/0 beads. I put four warps on the loom for three spaces in which to weave either one crystal or two 8/0 beads. If 8/0 beads and crystals are in the same row the method is to weave the first row, let’s say of two 8/0 beads, one crystal, two 8/0 beads. The next row, string up two 8/0 beads, sew through the crystal and string up two more 8/0 beads. On the return, go through the 8/0 beads and the crystal. The crystal is twice as tall as the 8/0 beads so now your two rows will be the same height. Easy.
For the clasp, I wrapped a rubber O-ring with hand-painted silk yarn. I’ve used a mother-of-pearl button for the clasp. The piece is a tad more than six inches long. The bracelet should fit snugly on one’s wrist. Adjustments can be made by adding or removing beads from when attaching the O-ring or button.
I lined the back with ultra-suede. This allowed me to bury the warp ends behind the piece and also to give the bracelet more stability and a really nice feel on one’s wrist. I sewed a series of three beads around the edges to give it a more finished look and to disguise the stitches that attach the bead piece to the ultra-suede. Those gold crystals are 24 karat gold plated and well worth the expense because I used only a few of them.
Here is a photo of the finished bracelet. Total time to make this: two hours!
Tomorrow’s bracelet (which I wove today!): A combination of 8/0 and 11/0 beads and 4 mm crystals! Check back.
It’s time to whip out your nude loom and that new pretty crystal and bead kit your just bought and find out how easy and fun it is to make a beautiful necklace to keep or to share. If you wear, everyone you know will want one. I hadn’t even escaped from my house with my just finished necklace when it was immediately claimed by a friend.
As I believe I mentioned elsewhere, it took me three attempts to get this necklace just right. I am glad I spent the time because I think this is a timeless and workable design that will be both fun to weave, but fun to change up a bit. You might want to organize your beads slightly differently from the way I do it. Keep in mind that you are going to have to weave the same number of rows of crystals (the kit comes with 100 crystals which is more than you need to weave and finish the necklace if you weave one row of crystals for every four rows of beads) that I’ve woven but you can organize them differently . . . ie., more randomly . . . if you like.
If you look closely you can see the pattern I created. The piece (although you can’t see it here) starts with a row of two crystals. What follows is a solid row of four beads. Then one of those beads, two of a different color of beads and another one of those beads and then the pattern repeated backwards so that you get a square within a square. Next weave another row of crystals and continue with a different color combination of beads. You want to spread your five bead and five crystal colors throughout that piece. But first we need to set up the loom. Don’t worry, this won’t take more than a few minutes.
Extend your loom so that are 18 inches between the top and bottom beam. This is the highest you can extend the 8 and 12 inch looms. If you have a 16 inch loom, you can extend it a little more which will give you slightly more length to your fringe.
You will not need a warp coil (spring) on your loom. Center the piece as much as possible. There will be three groups of warp threads with three threads in each group. Essentially, you will be putting nine warps on the loom. If you’ve never warped before, follow along on our online .pdf warping instructions. Just remember that you don’t need to use a warp coil!
That’s it! Next week we’ll begin weaving!
Janet Austin’s Biography
I got hooked on weaving in 1972, at Massachusetts College of Art. For 8 years I wove functional items for sale, focusing on color and texture.
Feeling trapped in the horizontal/vertical grid, I earned an MFA in Painting at the University of North Carolina at Greenboro; almost accidentally the weaving and painting came together in 1983.
“Out of Chaos”
from her “Chaos” series
more from the “Chaos” series
Joan Baxter’s Biography
After studying tapestry at Edinburgh College of Art and Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts during the 1970s, Baxter spent eight years working as a weaver and trainer in commercial tapestry studios in the UK and Australia, notably working on the Henry Moore tapestries at West Dean Tapestry Studio. She has been an independent tapestry artist since 1987, regularly exhibiting her work in solo and group shows. Among her many commissioned works are pieces for churches, corporate and private clients.
Moving to the far north of Scotland in 2000 to the place that has inspired so much of her output, marked a new chapter in Baxter’s personal work. A Scottish Arts Council Personal Development Grant in 2002/3 allowed her to expand into less traditional approaches to her medium. Although continuing to weave tapestries in the narrative style that she is known for, she now also makes more experimental pieces alongside them. Her imagery has become more abstract, the interpretation more deliberately weaverly, and the materials more varied. This has resulted in a collection of work that pushes boundaries but does not compromise the beauty and expressive power of the traditional tapestry form.