Monday, July 25, 2011

Fiber Arts in the Online Era

I have been a knitter and sewer for most of my life and a spinner and weaver for a little over 20 years. During the last 15 or so years, I have watched with amazement as the Internet has changed my life as a fiber artist. I want to share some of my favorite sources of information with you. Some you may already know of. Some may be new to you. I hope that at least one tip you read here sends you off in a direction that you hadn’t anticipated.

Let’s start where I started: e-lists, sometimes called “listservs.” The ones I know best are on Yahoo Groups.

yahoogroupsIn the Search field, type in whatever your fiber interest might be, knitting, weaving, quilting, surface design, dyeing, etc. Yahoo will generate pages of e-lists related to your search criterion. For example, I just typed in Crochet. Yahoo returned 11 pages of possible e-lists that I could join (with many e-lists per page) that focus on crochet in general or some more narrow aspect of crochet.

If you don’t want to wade through the mass of information that Yahoo Groups generates, here’s a shortcut. A fiber arts lover named Ron Parker, a transplanted Minnesotan who now lives in Sweden, maintains what he calls his List of Fiber-Related Lists.

ronslistsRon’s list is arranged alphabetically and has everything from AlternativeQuiltList to WeLuvKnitting, and many, many groups in between. As you can see in the screen shot above, you can click on the name of the list or the name of the “list owner” for more information. Ron’s list is a huge resource for dyers, quilters, felt-makers, knitters, weavers. . .anyone who has an interest in a fiber art and wants to communicate with people with similar interests around the world.

Now let’s move on to the biggies. First up is Ravelry. Ravelry is a social networking site for mainly knitters and spinners, but there are groups and forums for weavers, crocheters, dyers, etc.

RavboothTNNA The above photo (photo credit: Ravelry website) is the Ravelry booth at TNNA, a huge trade show in the US for fiber-related vendors (yarn, books, dyes, etc.). Slate, the online magazine, recently published an excellent article on Ravelry. Slate is owned by The Washington Post, and the same article appeared in that newspaper as well.

One of the things that sets Ravelry apart from simple e-lists (though there are many groups/forums on Ravelry that function in pretty much the same way as e-lists) is that it allows individual users to enter their yarns, books, completed knitted items, patterns, etc., into a personal database. For those who have on-the-go Internet access (e.g., with a smartphone), this means that you can tap into your personal database of yarns that you already own when you’re in a yarn shop trying to decide what pattern might work with your yarns, whether you need yet another set of needles to work with the yarns you have, or whether that cone of 8/2 turquoise Tencel has enough yarn left on it for you to use it for a warp for some scarves.

Next up and similar to Ravelry, but designed for weavers, is Weavolution.

weavolutionWeavolution also has discussion groups, pages of drafts that you can use in your weaving, lists of yarns, etc. An innovation that Weavolution began perhaps a year or so ago and that seems to be thriving is online classes, called “Cyber-Fiber.” The class instructors are some of the top weavers, designers, and others in their particular niche of the craft. Participants sign up for the class, and then participate via webcams and microphones. What a treat! Sit at your computer in your pajamas and learn how to dress your loom back to front with Daryl Lancaster as your teacher.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the late Ralph Griswold and his On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics. Before his untimely death a few years ago, Professor Griswold, who believed deeply in making information freely available to anyone who wished to use it, took on the immense task of scanning every weaving publication (books, magazines, monographs, etc.) that was either in the public domain or for which he could obtain copyright permission to post to the Internet. This means that whole books, many of them rare and old, are available as free downloads in PDF format from the website.

The contents Professor Griswold’s website are mirrored on another wonderful site for weavers, Kris Bruland’s The reason for the mirrored website is that no one is quite sure whether the University of Arizona will continue indefinitely to host Professor Griswold’s material. If the Griswold site is removed by the university, weavers will still have access to the information on Bruland’s website.

There are many other delights on Bruland’s site, however. For example, Bruland, a computer programmer, wrote a program that allowed him to generate drafts for everything in one of the great (and possibly most confusing) tomes in the weaver’s literature: G.H. Oelsner’s Handbook of Weaves. Rather than struggling to understand Oelsner’s cryptic methods of presenting drafts, weavers need only plug in the number of the draft from Oelsner’s book, and Bruland’s website will give you a draft viewed as contemporary drafts are generally written.

This is only a small sampling of the many online resources that have become available to fiber artists in recent years. There are hundreds more. Many museums have extensive photos of their collections online and listings of materials held in their libraries. Many longtime handcraft magazine publishers, for example Interweave Press, are dipping their toes into the sometimes chilly waters of online, downloadable magazines.

As Calvin said to Hobbes in the final of Bill Waterson’s great comic strip, “It’s a magical world, ol’ buddy. . .let’s go exploring!”

by July blog editor Ruth Blau

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Spinning a Good Yarn

For many people not close to the world of textiles or textile production, the assumption is probably that hand spinning of yarns went out when the industrial revolution brought in mechanized spinning. But for some of us who live in the textile world, hand spinning can be something we do somewhere between fairly often and daily.

Furthermore, those of us who continue the tradition of hand spinning do not have to spin on creaky, antique wheels. While some very old wheels are still in excellent condition (or can be brought back into fine working order), there are many contemporary wheels to choose from.

A spinning wheel typically has one or two foot treadles, a large drive wheel, and a flyer, which contains the bobbin onto which the yarn is spun. However, this is also a spinning “wheel.”


While electric spinners have been around for many years, the HansenCrafts miniSpinner, pictured at right, is a new addition to the market. It takes advantage of modern technology in terms of circuit boards and other electronics in its design and operation.

A more traditional type of spinning wheel that still has a contemporary look is this wheel (below, left), made by Gordon Lendrum of Ontario, Canada. Mr. Lendrum himself doesn’t have a website, but you can find his wheels at numerous sites that sell spinning supplies, such as Carolina Homespun or Paradise Fibers.

lendrum wheel

Other modern wheels might have a more traditional look, even though it’s a contemporary wheel. Here’s one (below, right) made by the Polish wheel manufacturer, Kromski.

Kromski wheel

Like Lendrum wheels, Kromskis can be found at many reputable sellers of spinning equipment, including The Woolery, the Yarn Barn, and many others. Note that the Lendrum wheel is a double-treadle, and the Kromski is a single-treadle.

What’s the point in spinning your own yarns when you can go to a local yarn shop or go online and purchase yarn? Some of us spin so we can create specialized yarns to use in in our own weaving or knitting. Below left is a lovely, rustic scarf that gallery member Joan Hutten wove using her own hand spun yarns

hutten scarf

Gallery member Jeanne Bohlen likes to make colorful, highly textured necklaces with her hand spun yarn. Here’s a photo (below right) of one of them:

Bohlen necklace

Gayle Roehm, a gallery member whose creativity with yarn knows no bounds, uses her handspun yarns in her knitting. Here’s her handspun, hand-knitted interpretation of Audrey II (below, left) from The Little Shop of Horrors.

Audrey II by Gayle

Finally, a number of members simply sell skeins of their handspun yarns in the gallery so that you, our customers, can use them in your own wonderful knitted, woven, crocheted, or felted creations. The skeins shown below at the right are by gallery members Heidi Moyer and Ruth Blau.


by July blog editor Ruth Blau

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Children’s Touching Basket

A fiber gallery is a very tempting place for children (for adults, too, but that’s a different story). Small kids who come in with a parent (or other adult) are suddenly surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colors and untold numbers of textures that just invite little fingers to touch.

But that’s the problem. Those little fingers. We love ‘em, but they are often sticky from the latest lollipop, cookie, or frozen treat. We don’t want to be the ogres who keep saying, “Please, don’t touch that, sweetie.” Nor do we want the adults who are with the kids to have to police them every time they reach for a nice, soft rayon chenille scarf.

The solution? Our Children’s Touching Basket.

touching basket png

Many gallery members have contributed lovely pieces of cloth to the basket, and as soon as a small child comes into the gallery, we direct the young visitors to the basket. If the gallery member who is on site at the time isn’t otherwise occupied with customers, he or she will generally talk with the child about all the wonderful fabrics in the touching basket—a crinkly piece of shibori silk, a shiny piece of taffeta, a brightly-colored handwoven cloth, a soft felted cloth—telling the child how it’s made or what it’s used for.

In addition to the fabrics, we also keep an outline of a quilt pattern in the basket.

quilt color book png

Children are welcome to take a copy of this quilt outline home with them so that they can color in their own pretty quilt.

Parents are happy to have their kids entertained (and educated about textiles!), and we’re happy to provide the kids with a productive way to keep sticky fingers off the delicate textiles in our gallery.

Come visit us in Studio 18 in the Torpedo Factory Art Center. Oh, and bring the kids, too!

by July blog editor Ruth Blau

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rhythm & Blues

Our gallery has 10 different shows per year, each show having a theme. The theme for the show that runs from June 20 to August 2 is “Rhythm & Blues.” The reason that we have this theme for this show at this time is also the title of one of the focus areas of the Smithsonian’s Festival of Folklife, which takes place on the National Mall in Washington, DC, in late June and early July.

As usual, gallery artists may interpret the theme in any way they wish. Not surprisingly, we had many submissions that focused on the musical aspect of this theme. But equally, we had many members who took the color blue and ran with it. Either approach (or any other) is acceptable in the gallery.

The judges for this show were Anne Sanderoff-Walker and Carol Holmes, both members of the gallery’s Jury Committee. Here is their judges’ statement on the show:

“There were many interpretations of the Rhythm and Blues theme, represented by a wide variety of techniques, colors, and textures. High notes were hit by Anne Buchal with her collection of applique musicians, Paige Garber with her felted wall piece, "Jazz," and Patti Koreski with her painted silk ruana, "Rhythm and Blues".”


The above three wonderful wall hangings are by Anne Buchal, and are called (top to bottom), “O is for Ornette,” “R is for Rollins,” and “I is for Idol.” Here’s what Anne writes of these three pieces:

“These small wall hangings were originally a group of five that were created for a show that our group, FINE (Fiber In Nearly Everything), had at one time. Julie Booth asked us to make an ‘alphabet’ that spelled the name of the show: ‘Color Riffs.’ We drew straws and got our letters. When I later realized that I had something that fit our theme for June, I got them ready and brought them in. They were fun to do.”

Below is another wall hanging, this one a felted work by Paige Garber, entitled “Jazz".:


In the spirit of improvisation that is at the heart of jazz, Paige says of this piece that she “used some blue-green hand dyed wool as background and then I laid down silk fabric cut-out shapes and threads to create motion and repetition. It was all improvised spontaneously, and then wet felted.”

Finally, there is this lovely silk hand-painted ruana by Patti Koreski, entitled “Rhythm and Blues.”

patti ruana png

These are only three of the many works of fiber art submitted for jurying into our Rhythm & Blues show. Visit our gallery in Studio 18 in the Torpedo Factory Art Center to see the whole show. And be sure to visit the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival for a different taste of Rhythm & Blues.

by July blog editor Ruth Blau