Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Travels of a Fiberholic

As I mentioned in my first February blog post, I weave, spin, dye, knit, do kumihimo, and mess around with just about anything else that one can do with fiber. As a consequence, when my husband and I travel outside of the United States, I’m always on the lookout for how other cultures work with fiber. This type of inquiry can lead me to interesting people and places and can influence how I work with fiber in my own studio.

Sometimes my inquiries can be as simple as finding a yarn store in in a city where we’re headed, as for example when we went to Copenhagen, Denmark. To find a yarn store, I consulted a great website, Knitmap, and came up with Sommerfuglen (which means Butterfly in Danish), a shop I could walk to from our hotel.


Sommerfuglen (Butterfly), a lovely little yarn shop in Copenhagen, Denmark

What I like most to find in shops when I travel is something produced locally. Happily, at Sommerfuglen, I found some undyed locally produced singles yarn (yarn with just one ply). Each package contained two skeins of the singles, which were quite substantially overtwisted. Overtwist yarns can produce interesting effects in both knitting and weaving, but that’s not what I was aiming for. Therefore, I rainbow dyed both skeins, plied them together to make a balanced (not overtwisted) two-ply yarn, and submitted it to our gallery for jurying. Thus, a little bit of Denmark ended up in the Potomac Fiber Arts Gallery in Alexandria, Virginia.

Later on that same trip, we stopped at Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic. Among other things, this island is known for a rare breed of sheep, appropriately called Gotland. Here’s what Wikipedia tells us about this breed. Images of sheep are everywhere on the island, including this:

Gotland-bollard Sheep as traffic bollard. This would not be a Gotland breed sheep, however, because Gotlands do not have horns

I was lucky enough, while in Visby, the capital of Gotland, to find a shop where I could purchase a small amount (500g) of raw Gotland fleece. “Raw” in the context of spinning fiber, means the fleece exactly as it comes off the sheep, with the lanolin still in the wool. Since I’m not fond of processing fleece (scouring, carding, etc.), I sent it out for processing after we came home. Now it’s ready for me to spin into yarn, probably destined to be made into a sweater vest.

Gotland-rovingGotland fleece, ready to spin. Compare this to the photo of the sheep in the Wikipedia article cited above.

On a different trip, we found ourselves island hopping in the Pacific, more specifically in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). One of the islands we visited was Satawal, in Yap State. Yap is the one state in FSM where hand weaving as a day-to-day skill has survived. In addition, spinning a form of twine (for fishing nets and other purposes) is also done. On Satawal, the women weave, and the men spin.

The fiber the men use to make twine is a cocoanut fiber, and the technique they use is called thigh-spinning. The untwisted fiber is held in one hand, and with the other hand, the man rolls the fiber along his thigh to add the twist. As in all spinning, twist is needed strengthen the resulting fiber (twine, yarn, or whatever) and to hold it together.

thigh-spinningThigh-spinning twine for fish nets

Since I spin (on a spinning wheel), I asked if I could try. This led to great merriment among the Satawalese gathered around us because women simply do not spin. Note: I wasn’t very good at the technique.

The spun twine is wound onto a hand-hewn shuttle, which is then used while making the fishing nets.


Shuttle with cocoanut fiber twine

Netting shuttles are used in many places around the world, including in the US. Here’s a model that’s widely used in the US by tapestry weavers.

Both men and women in Satawal wear the same garment, a wrap-around skirt-like garment called a lava lava. Here’s a Wikipedia article on the lava lava. The women weave these garments, and the ones worn by women tend to be woven with bright stripes.

The weaving is done on a back-strap type of loom on a continuous warp, that is, a warp that wraps around the back beam and is tied back on itself. The back of the loom is braced against a wall, and the woman tensions the warp with a combination of leaning back against the backstrap and bracing her feet against the back of the loom.

woman-at-loomBack-strap loom in Satawal. Note the weaver’s foot braced against the loom.

The weaving is done in a communal weaving room, and the women all help one another.

fixing-warp-endA problem that transcends international boundaries: one weaver helps another repair a broken warp thread.

On this wonderful visit to Satawal, I purchased several lava lava. Here’s one that I use as a table runner.

child's-lava-lavaThe narrow width defines this brightly striped lava lava as a child’s garment. An adult garment would be much wider so as to cover the woman’s thighs. While most women in Satawal are bare-breasted, showing a woman’s thighs is inappropriate in this culture.

How might these lovely striped lava lava influence my own weaving? Here’s what’s currently on my loom:

shawl-on-loomShawl warp on my 40-shaft AVL CompuDobby loom.

This warp will produce five different shawls. The stripes will remain the same for each because they are built into the warp, but each shawl will have a different weft and a different treadling. Different treadlings produce different patterns, and different wefts can lend different colors and textures in the cloth. This gives each shawl an individual look.

Are these shawls influenced by the weaving I saw in Satawal? You decide!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February Jury: “Mix It Up”

For the first three blog posts of this month, I’ve been writing about the jury process in our gallery. All of the photos I used as illustrations came from our January 10, 2011 jury day. At the end of the last post, I said, “And guess what? We’ll do it all over again next month!” Sure enough, we did.

Tuesday, February 15, was jury day again in our gallery. The show theme, “Mix It Up,” encouraged gallery members to use two or more different fiber techniques in their work.

After each jurying, the jurors select “Jurors’ Choice” items. We don’t have prizes, but we do put a nice, shiny gold sticker on the wall next to each selected piece.

Here are the Jurors’ Choice awardees for the Mix It Up show:


This fabulous vest (above) is a made in a technique called "freeform crochet." It would look terrific on any model in the Fashion Week shows in New York City this week. The artist is Elida de Souza Moore.

floris-quilt Artist Floris Flam uses monoprinting and stitching to create this softly meditative wall quilt (left), entitled “Blue Hills.” It would be perfect for a nice yoga corner in someone’s home.


Paige Garber is the artist who created this eye-popping wall hanging (right), “Cosmic Confluence,” which incorporates felt-making, stitching, applique, and other techniques. Put it in the entrance hall to your home to give your guests a warm welcome.

In addition to selecting Jurors’ Choice pieces, the jurors for each show write a statement about the show as a whole. Here’s what jurors Ann Liddle and Carol Holmes wrote about “Mix It Up”:

“This was both a difficult and easy theme. Using a variety of fibers and techniques is common among our members. Even so, some lovely examples of mixed techniques and fibers were submitted. We especially liked the color and stitch explosion of Elida's vest, the monoprinting and stitching techniques in Floris' quilt, and the lively but delicately balanced felting and stitching in Paige's wall hanging.”

Jurying vs. Judging

The question has arisen as to what is the difference between jurying and judging. Some artistic disciplines use the terms interchangeably. Others, for example in the world of art quilts, maintain a careful distinction. “Jurying” is the process of deciding whether a piece is admitted to a given show. “Judging” is reserved for deciding which pieces in a given show should be given awards.

To take our gallery’s February show, Mix It Up, as an example: all of the pieces submitted for the show were juried. Most were accepted; a few were rejected. The three pieces pictured above were selected (judged) from all of the theme pieces to be awarded Jurors’ Choice recognition.

Next Post

For my final February post (before I turn the blog over to Larry for March), I’ll be writing about the Travels of a Fiber Lover: how I go about finding fiber shops, what kinds of interesting fiber art I see in other countries, and how the work of other cultures influences what I do.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Jury Process: Part III

“Let us now focus on how jurors arrive at decisions. . . .Just a decade or so ago, jurors were considered to be the enforcers of set standards, the guardians of a prescribed faith. More recently they have come to be seen as champions of new artistic visions using criteria they themselves devise.” Susan Eckenwalder, The Trials of Jurying: A Guide for Exhibition Organizers and Jurors, Ontario Crafts Council, 1989

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, each actual item in our gallery (rather than slides or digital images) is individually juried. How many items are looked at for each show? Theoretically, up to about 3,250 separate items on any given jury day. Our gallery usually has about 65 members, though we can go as high as 70 members. Each member is allowed to submit up to 50 items for jurying for each show (40 items for the always popular and always crowded holiday show in November and December). In practice, however, usually about 40 to 45 members submit items for each show. Most submit between 20 and 40 items, and very few submit the limit of 50 items. A good guess, therefore, would be that for most of our shows, the jurors look at and evaluate well over 1,000 individual items.

judging-for-Part-III Two jurors (at left) evaluate the items submitted for the January 2011 show. One gallery member (center) acts as scribe, writing down the jurors’ comments for the artists to read. Another member (standing, right) takes the items that are accepted for the show into the gallery to be hung or placed on shelves.

There is something of a choreography to our jury process. In the last blog post, we saw that the gallery is completely emptied of work from the previous show by about 10:00 a.m. on jury day. The walls are blank, the shelves are empty, and the two jewelry cases stand devoid of any contents. The question then becomes: what next.

That’s where our choreography comes in. Our gallery has two display managers, members who serve a 2-year term carrying out the job of setting up the new display for each show. In addition, one member who is working in the gallery on a given jury day is assigned to help with display setup.

Years of experience have taught us that the we must first hang the wall art: quilts, framed works, and other pieces that must be displayed on the walls. Therefore, all wall art is juried first.

wall-art Art quilts and framed works form the backbone of our display as a new show is mounted in the gallery

Generally, after wall art, we jury stand-alone pieces that will sit on shelves (fiber sculpture, for example), then garments (hats, jackets, scarves, accessories), and finally jewelry. Jewelry is usually last because, being small, it can easily be worked in around the pieces that already have established places in the display.

In addition, there is the show theme to consider. Each show has a theme; for January 2011, for example, the theme was Hot Tropics. Artists may interpret the theme any way they wish, and it’s the job of the display managers to mount an exhibit that reflects the theme. Not all items submitted for jurying must be theme pieces, but members are encouraged to create items that reflect the theme.

To an outsider, the gallery can look pretty disorganized as the new show is being mounted.

hat-rack-&-display-equipStep stool, bins of display equipment, half-filled hat rack, not-yet-filled back display area

Between shows, we store unused display equipment in bins in our back closets. On jury day, the bins get dragged out onto the floor so we know what equipment is available for displaying different items. Handmade hats (felted, fulled, knitted, woven) are popular items for our shows in the winter, so the hat rack (shown above) is nearly always part of the display when the weather gets cold. In the summer, this rack gets taken apart and stored away till the winter winds blow once again.

half-filled-shelfOther display equipment is beginning to be filled up

As the day continues, items are put out for display on shelves or racks as they come into the gallery from the jurors. Sometimes an item is placed and then later moved to another location as other items come into the gallery from the jurors; the show tends to be a work in progress throughout the day as the display team comes up with the most pleasing way to display the items accepted for the show.

For some interesting tips on hanging an art show, check out this article on And here’s an article on how to arrange a booth at a craft fair. Scroll down past the ads to where it begins with such hints as “Lots of Great Lighting” and “Open Feeling.” We follow many of the precepts from both articles as we set up the display in our gallery.

At last, some six to eight hours after we started (by removing the previous show), a new show is ready for the public to inspect and enjoy.

final-display-for-web Potomac Fiber Arts Gallery, as it looked for the January 2011 show

If you’ve followed this and the previous two blog posts, you’ve now seen our gallery’s entire process for jurying in a new show, from stripping the gallery back to the bare walls, through jurying of each item, to setting up the final display. And guess what? We’ll do it all over again next month!

“One of my early mentors reminded me when I was submitting my work for jurying early in my career, that if [the work is] not accepted, my response would probably follow the usual path. First, she said, you will think the judge is an idiot; then, after thinking it over, you will come to the conclusion that you were an idiot to even submit. ‘This work is so bad,’ you will think, ‘how could I have possibly submitted it?’ Eventually, she concluded, you will realize that somewhere between these two extremes lies the truth; you can then learn from the experience and figure out how to improve. That, she advised, is one of the real reasons for submitting work for jurying.” Marcy Petrini, “Feedback From Jurors,” published in slightly revised form as part of the article “Right from the Start: A Juror Can Provide Useful Feedback,” in Shuttle, Spindle & Dyepot, Spring 2010.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Jury Process: Part II

“Now that you. . .have provided the jurors with a proper Charge. . . what is your role? Briefly put, it’s to bite your tongue. . . .In actual fact, you probably should speak up if a juror is spouting nonsense like, “This is clearly faux marble” when, in fact, it’s real marble. Or, “This is obviously plagiarized from Mrs. Bertha Hetheringworth” when, in fact, it’s an original by that redoutable lady.” Susan Eckenwalder, The Trials of Jurying: A Guide for Exhibition Organizers and Jurors, Ontario Crafts Council, 1989

In the last blog post, I discussed fine art/fine craft jurying in general and a little about how our fine craft gallery handles its jury process. Today, we continue with how jurying proceeds in our gallery.

The first thing we do on jury day is empty the gallery. It’s a pretty hectic process. Every item that has not sold from the previous show must go home with the artist.

packing-up-unsold-items Chaos Time: gallery members pack up all items from previous show that have not sold

The wall quilts and other wall art are taken down from the walls. The scarves (flowing silk scarves, beautiful handwoven scarves, exotic hand knitted scarves) are removed from their racks. The jewelry in the jewelry cases is carefully packed away. Approximately six gallery members work on jury day, and everyone helps pack up the previous show. The goal is to have a completely empty gallery by 10:00 a.m., when jurying begins.

empty-back-side-wall1These empty walls and jewelry cases will soon be filled with lovely items for the new show

While some of us are inside the gallery packing up unsold items from the previous show, others are in the corridor immediately outside with all the bags of new items destined to be juried for the next show. It may look like big mish-mash, but it’s not. Each individual item in every bag and on the clothing rack in the photo below is separately entered on the artist’s inventory sheet with a unique inventory number.

bags-of-items2 Items brought for jurying into the new galley show

Before jurying begins (and, in fact, as it continues during the day) two gallery members carefully check each inventory sheet against the items that have actually been brought to the gallery. We have to be very careful to account for every item. If an item is missing, we have to ask whether the artist forgot to bring it to the gallery, whether it was brought to the gallery but was left in the storage closet, whether it might have been dropped on the street as the artist carried it into the gallery, or any of many other mishaps that could have taken place.

item-checkin1Each item is individually checked in; note the inventory sheets held by the item-checker at the right

For another look at how jurying is done, here’s an article by Barb Macy on jurying for a craft fair. Fairs, of course, are different from galleries, but many of Barb’s observations apply to our jury process as well.

Next blog post: the display managers put up the new show.

If you happen to be at the Torpedo Factory on a Monday morning, and you see a lot of activity in the corridor outside of Studio 18, that’s probably one of our gallery juries taking place. Please stop by; we’ll be happy to explain what’s going on.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Jury Process: Part I

Any good juried show begins by assembling bright, enthusiastic, and resourceful people. . . . The key ingredients are a sense of adventure and mission, balanced by a pragmatic approach to budgeting and grunt work.” Susan Eckenwalder, The Trials of Jurying: A Guide for Organizers and Jurors, Ontario Crafts Council, 1989

Each month, this blog has a new guest editor. My name is Ruth Blau, I’m a member of the Potomac Fiber Arts Gallery, and I’m primarily a weaver. However, like many fiber artists, I do other things as well. I dye (cloth and yarn), spin, knit, sew, do bead crochet, and do the Japanese braiding technique called kumihimo. I’m your blog writer for February.

The Potomac Fiber Arts Gallery is located in the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia (TF). Under TF rules, we must jury in a minimum of 10 new shows per year. Jurying is a fact of life for all artists—those who work in fine art as well as we who work in fine craft—who wish to exhibit their work.

In the case of some exhibits and shows, jurying is carried out by submission of slides or photos on CD. In the case of our gallery, we judge each hand-crafted item separately and in person.

judging-each-itemGuest judge Diane and gallery judge Betty inspect jewelry item submitted by a gallery member for the January show

The gallery has a jury committee made up of eight gallery members. Each year, four members rotate off and four new members join the committee. Every show is judged by two jurors—but not always two jurors from our own jury committee. Under TF rules, five of our shows each year must be judged by an outside juror, someone who is not a member of our jury committee and is also not an artist-in-residence at the TF. Our outside judges are people who live in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area and who are recognized fine craft artists in fiber: weavers, art quilters, felt-makers, fine-craft knitters, and so forth.

All artists (fine art and fine craft) must at one time or another submit their work to be juried if they wish to participate in shows or exhibits. For some, it’s a painful process (the work isn’t accepted into the show), but for others, it’s a growth process. What didn’t the judges like about this piece? Did the piece not fit the show criteria? Or did the artist not execute the piece well enough to qualify? If the latter, how can the piece be improved?

Here’s an interesting article by a painter who has had her work judged and has served as a judge. While we artists are licking our wounds from having our work rejected from a show, we’re not often thinking about the agony the judge goes through in deciding whether to accept a piece. Katie Lee, the author of this article, reminds us that jurying can be a painful process on both sides of the jury table—and also an opportunity for growth as an artist.

Next blog post: We empty out the gallery and check in the items for the new show before handing them over to the jurors.