Handwoven Potholders – Not On Your Weaving To-Do List?

photo of 3 pieces of fabric handwoven fabric made with twill tape warp with fabric strips for weft.

Handwoven Potholders

They definitely weren’t on mine

And not because I don’t like potholders.
I do.
I like them a lot.
Some of my favorite fabrics are potholders.

Photo of 2 potholders made from remnants of handwoven fabric.

Handwoven fabric remnants.

Potholders make kitchen time less hazardous.
They protect me from flames, scorching heat, sticky boiling baking pan overflow and blistering steam.
I respect the work that potholders do.

I even have some that don’t “do” anything.
They just hang around.

Photo of handmade potholder, quilted with appliqued turkey

A cherished handmade gift from a friend.

Photo of a quilted nine-patch potholder

My own long ago quilting practice.






Maybe the reason potholders haven’t shown up on my to-do list is because of some terrible childhood craft experiences involving metal “toothed” frames and jersey loops.

Maybe it’s because when I started weaving, I never saw any directions for  “How To Weave A Potholder On Your 4-Harness Loom”.

Maybe it’s because I only think about using handwoven fabric for  potholders when I can’t think of anything else to do with it.

Maybe it’s because I have project prejudice.

A handwoven potholder is an afterthought

Or an “after weaving”, if you will.

As in, immediately after  – when I’ve finished weaving what I wanted to weave, but still have several inches of perfectly good warp left on the loom.

Sometimes long after – when a piece of handwoven fabric no longer suits its original purpose.

photo of frayed handwoven fabric, cotton, blue and white checks

After 30 years as a towel this handwoven cotton fabric has potholder potential.

The problem isn’t that I don’t like potholders.
The problem is – I’ve never considered potholders worthy of my weaving time.

Actually plan to weave potholders?

That thought never entered my mind.
Not until this came off the loom:

photo showing the off-loom length of fabric woven using twill tape for warp and fabric strips for weft.

Twill tape warp and fabric strip weft.

This is the result of a desperate need to weave and a willful, impulsive, impatient desire for immediate gratification.

So, yeah, it was a mistake.

But it was a mistake that led to some valuable, mind-altering information.

And it happened because I decided to warp my loom without making a plan.
I know better – but I went ahead and did it anyway.

Because sometimes a weaver just wants to have fun.
(And also – because I was being willful, impulsive and impatient).

What happened was:

  • I ran out of twill tape (warp) after measuring only 24 ends (69.5 inches long).
  • Those 24 ends in the 2.5 dpi rigid heddle allowed for slightly more than an 8-inch weaving width.
  • The fabric strips I chose for weft “told” me what I wanted to know after about 9 inches of weaving.
  • A bunch of different yarns I tried to use for hem sections “told” me they weren’t quite right after about an inch and a half.

And what came off the loom was colorful thick cloth – squares of colored fabric I liked  a lot – surrounded by a few inches of fabric that wasn’t what I wanted at all.

What can you do with squares of handwoven fabric?

If they’re too big for coasters or mug rugs.
And too small for table mats.
They might be just right for potholders.

Not particularly mind-blowing information?
Maybe not.
Probably not.  Not if you’re the kind of weaver who regularly, willingly, and happily weaves samples.
But I’m not that kind of weaver.  I don’t “do” samples.  Not if I can avoid it.
The whole idea of weaving samples makes me cringe.

squares of fabric = weaving samples

And I regularly “pass” when I see projects that include the phrase “you need to make a sample”.

However – I’m quite willing and more than happy to spend time weaving fabric that works the same way as a sample.

And by “works” I mean – in addition to the experimentation, practice, and information gathering – the end result of my weaving time is a fabric I can use.

Fabric I can use is why I weave. 

I want the cloth that comes off my loom to be present and accounted for.
Tucked away in a drawer waiting its turn to be out and about is fine.
Tucked away in a notebook as reference material – not so much.

When I weave I want to make something that has a place in my daily life – where it can be seen, touched and enjoyed.

So why ADD potholders to Your Weaving to-do list?

Because weaving a few 8″, 9″ or 10″ squares of fabric is a great way to “try out” spacing, color and texture.

Washing, drying and “finishing” those squares is a great way to figure out shrinkage and how best to care for a fabric.

And if the squares of fabric you decide to weave are either cotton or wool (or both) – you’ll end up with fabric you can use as potholders.

If  your handwoven squares are thin and drape-y, you can add a middle layer and backing.
If your handwoven squares are thick and bulky, you might be able to use them  ‘as is’.
And if none of your handwoven squares are exactly “square” you can even them up before binding the edges.

Everything you question, notice, practice and think about when designing, weaving and finishing your potholders is why making samples is worth your weaving time.

The recommendation to “weave a sample” is not supposed to act like a stop sign.   

It’s supposed to help you be successful.  To let you know that there are tricky bits up ahead.
Things worth trying out.
Things that  you won’t know until you see (and weave them) for yourself.
Things that if you practice ahead of time – will make you feel more confident, comfortable, and competent when you weave a similar fabric on a larger scale.

If resistance is strong, knowing why something is worth your time and effort might not be enough to convince you to give it a try.
If you resist weaving samples, maybe it’s because you want the results of your effort to “be” something.
Something more than an attachment to a page in a notebook.
Something to have and to hold – or give away as a gift.
Bookmarks, mug rugs, greeting card inserts, towels, table mats, scarves – and now potholders – are all on my weaving to-do list.

Calling the things I weave “samples” still makes me cringe.  But when I change the way I think about them – turning them into practice pieces,  prototypes, and fabrics I can use – I’m much more willing to do the work.  And I’ll be sharing some of my favorite “practice projects” in future posts.

Lately I’ve been thinking about things to weave on a rigid heddle loom.  And wondering about using a series of narrow wool strips – pieced together – for a blanket.

But I don’t know (yet) which of the yarns in my stash I want to use.
I’m not sure how any of them will hold up in the wash or whether any of the colors I like will go together.
I’m curious to see if maybe some of the colors I absolutely hate might work.
I don’t know how close or how far apart to position the threads in order to end up with a weight and thickness I like.
And I’m not sure if it would be better to hand piece the strips before fulling the fabric or after.
I don’t even know if  I have enough yarn or if I’ll need to buy (or spin) more.

But I know what I can do to find out.

photo of handwoven wool fabric, 7 inches wide

I gotta go weave more fabric for potholders.

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio




What Do You Get When You Weave With Thick, Bulky Warp?

Thick, bulky fabric!

Like this:

photo showing the off-loom length of fabric woven using  twill tape for warp and fabric strips for weft.

Off-loom length of fabric made with twill tape warp – using fabric strips for weft.

And this:

photo showing off-loom length of handspun handwoven rug fabric

Off-loom length of fabric made with handspun yarns in warp and weft.

Both fabrics were woven on Ashford rigid heddle looms using the 2.5 dpi (dents per inch) heddle.

And FYI:

  • the measuring stick in these photos is 48″ long
  • it takes me a while to figure out how to get even edges
  • and yes, I use toilet paper for headings

The twill tape experiment came first – using a 16″ loom.

photo showing 16" RH loom set up with twill tape warp, using hand dyed fabric strips as weft.

Twill tape warp and hand dyed fabric weft on a 16″ rigid heddle loom.

Then I expanded a bit for the second experiment – using a 24″ loom.

Photo ofweft-faced fabric on a 24 inch rigid heddle loom using handspun yarn.

Handspun warp and weft on a 24″ rigid heddle loom.

The twill tape and fabric strips became these 3 pieces.

photo of 3 pieces of fabric handwoven fabric made with twill tape warp with fabric strips for weft.

Twill tape warp with fabric strips for weft.

Good examples of what can happen when you get overly excited about the middle of the weaving – and don’t pay attention to the beginning or the end (note the curved hems).  Next time –  I’ll be more careful with the hem sections.

They’re also good examples of what I like to call “prototypes” or, even better –  “handwoven samples you can use”.

photo of handwoven potholders 'holding' pot lids on the stove

So – from my first experiment using thick, bulky warp – I got potholders!  And a lot of information about what to do next time.

The second experiment remains unfinished. Super bulky warp yarns aren’t ideal for a folded woven hem.  And I’m not a big fan of fringe on the floor.

Photo of handspun handwoven twill fabric pinned to the edge of a handwoven rug to test it as a possible finishing technique. fabric

Handspun, handwoven wool binding pinned over the end of my rug-like fabric.

So after staring at it for a few days, (with a piece of leftover binding pinned to the edge) I decided to make more of the same dark brown, handspun/handwoven twill fabric that I used to bind the edges of this piece:

photo of multi-color wool rug, handspun and handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

Multicolored Rug, 41″ x 21″, handspun and handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

The yarn’s been spun.

Photo of dark brown yarn handspun by Joanne Littler

Dark brown handspun yarn for rug binding.

But I want it to be the first warp I put on and weave off when I’m ready to get back to weaving with a floor loom.  So that’s on “hold” for now.

In the meantime, there are a couple more things I want to try with that big, funky heddle.  And I’ve got lots more spinning to do.  Most of it related to my continuing quest to explore what it takes to make a good rug.

As much as I love the thick handspun fabric I wove on the RH loom – I think it’s best to describe it as being “rug-like” – and not what I would consider “good fabric for a rug”.  (More about that later).

The thing about it is, neither project needed to be anything.
Something else was going on.  Something more than any particular handwoven thing.

What I “got” when I wove with thick, bulky warp was (way) more than potholders and a rug. 

Working with those wide open spaces in the 2.5 dpi heddle helped me think about (and do) things differently.
Exactly what I’ve learned to expect from weaving.

I gotta go do my PT for knees.

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio




What’s So Special About This 2.5 dpi Rigid Heddle Reed?

And what can you do with all those wide open spaces?

photo of Ashford's 16-inch, 2.5 dpi rigid heddle reed

If you’ve ever tried to use novelty yarns for warp, (or decided you weren’t willing to take the risk)  you’ll immediately recognize the potential here.

Smooth, even, and relatively small yarns glide through the spaces of most  heddles and reeds – making them an ideal choice for warp.

But lumpy-bumpy, thick and thin yarns often refuse to cooperate.

Sometimes they can be persuaded to do what you want them to – moving up and down, backward and forward – without too much help, if they fit through the spaces of your heddles and reed.

But what about yarns that don’t fit?

Oversize yarns and novelty yarns can cause  problems when you try to use them for warp.

Yarns embellished with knots and beads, hairs and feathers – or other exotic bits and pieces – can get caught, hung up, tangled and stuck.

The 2.5 dpi rigid heddle was designed to solve some of those problems.

And yes, this would be a good place for a photo of some beautifully weird and wonderful designer yarns –  but I don’t have any of those in my stash.

What I have instead are big, thick, super-bulky handspun yarns like these:

And that heddle with those big spaces made me start thinking about big bulky yarns in a totally different way.

Instead of assuming that over-sized, thick materials could never be used as warp – I started to wonder what if?

So I did a couple of experiments.
First, using 3/4 inch cotton twill tape.

photo of a rigid heddle loom warped with black cotton twill tape and hand dyed fabric strips laid in as weft

And then using some of my super bulky handspun.

photo showing Ashford's 2.5 dent rigid heddle reed warped with super bulky handspun yarn

Now I’m looking at several other possibilities.  Things I’ve always thought could only be used one way – as weft.

Whether you have a stash of novelty yarns you’d like to use or just want to try something different, consider adding the 2.5 dpi rigid heddle reed to your  weaving “toolbox”.

You might find yourself headed in a whole new direction.

I gotta go look through my stash.

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio






One More Reason To Love The Rigid Heddle Loom


photo of 24" RH loom with cotton mat project in progress

If you weave with a rigid heddle loom, you already know it’s a wonderful way to weave.

You don’t need me to remind you of all the advantages.

You already know – and appreciate – what your rigid heddle loom can do.

  • You know how easy it is to set up your loom when you’re ready to weave.
  • And you know how easy it is to put it away when you’re not.
  • You know that your loom offers endless fabric-making possibilities.

I know these things, too.
They’re a few of the reasons why I choose to teach weaving with RH looms and why I wholeheartedly recommend the rigid heddle loom to anyone interested in weaving.
Especially anyone eager to explore the craft without having to spend lots of money for a much larger and more expensive piece of equipment.

Rigid heddle looms are affordable, portable, simple, and versatile.

But if someone asks you why you love weaving with your rigid heddle loom you might have more personal reasons.   You might say it’s because:

  • You can take your loom outside with you on a fine summer’s day.
  • You can weave on your porch, under a tree, in a park or on the beach.
  • You can hang your loom on the wall  – and display your handwoven art.
  • You can take your loom with you on vacation or on a business trip.

Maybe most important of all:

You can access your creativity with a rigid heddle loom.

The funny thing is, even though I know and appreciate all of these things, until recently I’ve done almost all of my weaving on a floor loom.

Until recently, I’ve felt more comfortable weaving with a floor loom.

Maybe because I learned to weave on a floor loom.
Maybe it’s just a habit I developed because I’ve spent so much time practicing with a floor loom.
Or maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a loom snob.  Maybe I choose to believe that a floor loom is “better” than any other type of loom.

But maybe the reason I haven’t spent much time weaving with a rigid heddle loom is simply that I haven’t had to.   I’ve had access to (and a definite preference for) a different type of loom.

Funny how things change.

My new reason to love the rigid heddle loom? – I don’t have to use my knees.
And recently, I’ve been having pain in my knees.

Of course it makes me sad not to be able to use my floor looms – dancing on those treadles is part of the fun.
And of course I hope I’ll be able to weave that way again, soon.

But for now, my “weaving way” is moving me slowly and gently in a different direction.

And once I decided to get over feeling disappointed and frustrated, I started to get excited about this new path.

I’m excited about planning projects that – until now – have been outside my preferred (and comfortable?) method of operation.

I’m also intrigued by the appearance of this unimagined opportunity and the impact it has on the choices I make – turning me away from what I know well – towards ideas I hadn’t (and likely would not have) considered before now.

I love weaving.  I love spending time making fabric by hand.

And this change in circumstance reminds me of why, exactly, that is.

Weaving helps me learn about myself.

One thing’s for sure:  if you’ve ever thought (like I did) that weaving with a rigid heddle loom “just isn’t the same” as weaving with floor loom – you’d be right.

There are a lot of reasons why it’s a whole lot better.

I gotta go figure out what I want to weave next.

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio

Spin, Weave, Dye or Blog?

What do you do when you get stuck?

Considering how long it’s been since my last blog entry – it’s pretty clear that  “publish a new blog post”  hasn’t been at the top of my to-do list for a while.

It’s there.  Just not at the top.
Not because I don’t like sharing my work.
And not because I haven’t been working on things I’d like to share.

Like these two rugs

photo of handspun handwoven rug made by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

“Brick” Rug, 31″x 21″, handspun and handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT


photo of multi-color wool rug, handspun and handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

Multicolored Rug, 41″ x 21″, handspun and handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

and this twill tape/binding (the hem sections on the multi-color rug were too bulky to fold and didn’t look right),

photo of twill tape used as binding on multi-color rug, handspun and handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

Twill Tape for multicolored rug, handspun and handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

and another greeting card project with removable/useable mug rugs,

photo of greeting cards with fabric inserts handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

2013 Holiday Greeting Cards, fabric inserts handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

and a couple of scarves,

photo of Yak Scarf , 69" x 3", handspun and handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio,  Fairfax, VT

Yak Scarf, 69″ x 3″, handspun and handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

photo of silver-gray, Alpaca and Silk scarf, handspun and handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

Alpaca/Silk Scarf, Silver-Gray, 71″ x 13″, handspun and handwoven by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

and some experiments dying fabrics and yarn to “go-with” commercial yarn colors.

photo of fabric and yarn dyed to match commercial yarn colors

Matching colors – hand dyed mop yarns and muslin.

The reason I haven’t shown up here for such a long time is that this blog is part of a question I’ve been struggling with –  my “What will I do about building a new website?” question.

And by struggling, I mean stuck.

The kind of stuck-ness that happens when you know something’s wrong with your project.
And you try to fix it.

photo of a film can attached to a warp thread to fix a broken warp during weaving

Is one enough?

But it’s the kind of wrong-ness doesn’t go away.  It just gets worse.

photo of 5 film cans hanging from the back of a loom used to try and fix broken warp threads during weaving

Are 5 too many?

And you start to think it might be better to cut your losses and move on to something else.

photo of cotton threads, cut from the loom

The final solution.

If you’ve ever struggled to understand something and felt like you didn’t  “get it” – If the only thing you did manage to get – from all the hours, days, weeks, (months?) of study, practice, work and effort  – is a feeling of frustration – then you know what I mean by stuck.

Like you’re not getting anywhere.
You’re just spinning your wheel(s) and not making any yarn.

And if you know what that’s like, – you probably also know how easy it is for feelings of confusion and bewilderment to turn into disappointment and doubt.

The problem isn’t that we get stuck.

Learning something new is always filled with challenges; situations, information, techniques, materials – all kinds of things we’re unfamiliar with and aren’t (yet) ready or equipped to handle.  So we ask questions.  Our questions lead to answers.  And the answers help us move forward.

The problem is – instead of asking “What’s wrong with this?”  the question we often ask ourselves is  “What’s wrong with me?”

When that happens – when we interpret our inability to move forward as some kind of personal failure, our self-esteem takes a hit.

Maybe – instead of trying to push harder against what’s holding us in place – maybe what we need to do is take a step back.

Maybe we need to walk away.

It’s not about quitting or giving up.  It’s about checking in with ourselves and reconnecting with what really matters.

It’s about recognizing how we feel about what we’re doing.
And giving ourselves permission to do something else – something that allows us to rest our minds and re-set our intentions.

If you find yourself, like I have, in the middle (or at the beginning?) of a project that isn’t going well, –  if you’re unsure about which direction to take, or what to do next, – instead of beating yourself up about what isn’t working, and what you think you did wrong, – remind yourself that there are plenty of things that you can do right.
Things that give you pleasure.  Things that you can you enjoy.
Things that make you feel successful.

Do some of those things.
At some point, when you’re ready, if you decide you want to take up where you left off, you can do that, too.
Unless – before you walked away – scissors were involved.

I gotta go put on another warp.
Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio







Weave With What You Have

Ribbon Yarns and Plastic Bags

Photo of a ribbon yarn on a plastic grocery bag .

Reduce, re-use and recycle.

At first glance, neither of these two things looks much like the other, and it’s hard to imagine any characteristics they might share. But thanks to some inspiration from a weaving friend along with information gleaned from this free down-loadable project –  it turns out these very different materials  do behave a lot alike.

The original project, designed by Anne McKenzie, is for a tote bag – using handwoven fabric made with weft strips cut from plastic grocery bags.  And it’s a brilliant way to reduce, reuse, and recycle those ubiquitous, fly-away pieces of trash most stores try to give us  with everything we buy.

My friend Barb showed me the two tote bags she’d made using the directions she’d downloaded from Weaving Today. One of her bags was woven with plastic grocery bag strips as weft/filler – the other was woven with strips cut from the bags she gets with pellets for her wood stove.

And as soon as I read through the “project-at-a-glance” and touched/handled the fabric Barb had woven, I knew it held an answer to two of my current weaving questions:  What do I need to do to make a tote bag? and How can I use up some of the ribbon yarn I have on hand?

This project didn’t just speak to me – it shouted DO IT!
So I did.

Photo of Tote Bag made by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, VT - using Deco Ribbon as weft.

Handwoven Tote Bag made by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT.

My version is not nearly as interesting as Ann McKenzie’s original.  I wanted to experiment with construction as well as fabrication so I left out the inserted handles – opting for sewn-on handles;  modified the size and shape; turned it around so the fold is at the bottom and both sides are sewn; and I used 100% cotton yarn for the warp with  Deco Ribbon from Crystal Palace Yarns as weft.

I’ve asked a few of my former weaving students to double-check my notes – if it works for them, I’ll post the details here.

In the meantime, – if you haven’t yet taken advantage of what Weaving Today has to offer, you might want to check it out.  Lots of information and inspiration worth sharing with your weaving friends.

I gotta go finish sewing my second bag.

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio

Do You Have What It Takes To Make Superior Yarn?

Spoiler alert.
Handspinners please note.
If you’re not interested in making better yarn – leave now.
Click away.
Do not read the rest of this post.
Because what comes next will change the way you think about your handspun yarn.

What comes next is a not-so secret formula – written by Lee Raven and published in the Winter 1983 issue of Spin-Off Magazine.

Photo of Spinning Magazine from 1983
It’s both a how-to and a challenge.
It’s a simple equation – and it’s a doozy:

“Good Fibers + Skillful Control = Superior Yarn”

And by doozy I mean game changer.

Because if you read those words and think about how that statement applies to the yarn you make, you’ll start thinking about yarn differently (and not just your own yarn – you’ll probably think differently about commercial yarns, too).

So if you ignored the warning at the beginning of this post, be aware of the consequences.

Everything you know about fiber, yarn and spinning has undergone a subtle but undeniable alteration.

Your brain has begun to reorganize and re-frame all the information you’ve gathered about making yarn –  including what you do, how you do it and what you think about the end result.

You might not recognize the change right away.  But it will begin to show up in the questions you ask.  Questions you might not have asked yourself until now.

Questions like:

  • “What qualities define a good fiber?
  • Are the fibers I usually spin considered good fibers?
  • “What makes some spinning fibers good and others not so good?”
  • ” What do I need to know about fibers so I can tell if they’re good fibers or not?”
  • “What does skillful control mean?”
  • “What skills do I have and how can I modify what I already know?”
  • “What is it – exactly – that I’m supposed to control?”
  • “What skills and techniques can I practice to gain more control as I spin?

If you continue to seek answers to questions like these – and if you incorporate what you learn into the yarn you make, – you’ll know if you have what it takes to make superior yarn.

Let your questions – and your preferences – lead the way.

Maybe you’ve  been wondering how to change something about the yarn you spin – how to make it thicker, thinner, smoother, or more textured?.

Maybe you’d like to try spinning something different – something you’ve heard other spinners say is too hard, or too tricky or too expensive.

Maybe you want to weave with your handspun yarn.

Maybe you want to raise your own sheep but aren’t really sure what breed is best for your purposes.

Maybe you don’t give a rodent’s patootie what someone else thinks is “superior” – maybe you just want to be able to make whatever the heck kind of  yarn you want to make.

So what’s stopping you?
What do you need to know before you can move forward?
What part of that equation don’t you understand?
(I’ll tell you about some of the things I didn’t – and still don’t – understand in another post).
But right now – I gotta go look through a few more of my old Spin-Off magazines.


Open Studio Weekend, May 25 and 26, 2013

Logo used for Vermont Craft Council's Open Studio Weekend events

Looming on the horizon (pun intended) – Vermont’s Open Studio Weekend – is in its 21st year – and represents  long hours of hard work and preparation for everyone involved – especially the  dedicated board members and staff at the Vermont Crafts Council .  These folks deserve special thanks for attending to a myriad of details that go largely unnoticed. (You know who you are – thank you, thank you, – thank you!)

On Memorial Day weekend, visitors will come to our studios from all over Vermont, parts of New York,  New England, Canada and beyond. Craft and art enthusiasts show their support – and satisfy their curiosity – by making Open Studio Weekend part of their holiday plans.

Some people get a copy of the map and choose their route ahead of time – eager to see particular types of work,  and meet certain artisans.

Some people just hop in their cars and look for our strategically placed (?) yellow signs.

Photo of VT Open Studio sign

And some people see the signs – have no idea what it’s all about – but are brave, (curious? adventurous?) enough to come in and find out.

Whether you’re from “away” or just up the road the effort you  make to stop in, say hi, look around, ask questions and generally take an interest in what we do – that’s what it’s all about.

Open Studio Weekend is an opportunity to share our enthusiasm for craft and art – from both sides of the loom – or lathe, or quilting frame or easel or wheel or camera or kiln.

It’s when we explain a process and see someone’s face light up.  It’s when we hear people say  “I can’t believe you do that” or ” I never knew that’s what happened”.

It’s when we demonstrate our tools and equipment – and  (maybe, if it’s safe) let people try it for themselves.  It’s when someone says “I’ve always wanted to do that”  – and they can.

For some of us, getting ready for Open Studio Weekend means sending email to each of the 242 participants with reminders to:

  • pick up your materials
  • keep your dog(s) occupied elsewhere
  • weatherproof your signs
  • put your signs out just before the event (and take them down immediately after!)

It means spending money for ads in local papers and on public radio.

It means asking local shop owners for permission to put up posters and leave a few maps.

It means sending invitations to people on our contact lists, and maybe including a first look at what we’ll be offering in a special weekend sale.

It means cleaning up and clearing out – to make a space that’s “visitor-friendly”.

It means having examples of our work available to bring outside and show to someone in their car if they’re unable to come into the studio space.

It means a lot.
I think it means there are a lot of people who care about art and craft.

People with a profound belief in the value of craft and art education.
People who are willing to actively support events like Open Studio Weekend.
People who are willing to show up.

I gotta go get ready.

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio

It’s Plying Time Again – I’m Gonna Weave You

Eventually, yes – weaving is the plan for these yarns.

Photo of yarns on spinning bobbins, 2-ply and single cotton and single silk/merino, handspun by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT.

Two done, four to go.

But that’s not the reason why I had to ply.

I needed some empty bobbins.   I got myself into a bit of a pickle spinning new-to-me fibers and  ‘forgot’ that in order to make a 3-ply yarn, I would need one bobbin for each ply.  1+1+1 = ?  (Arithmetic – sheesh!)

The thing is, until recently, my preference (my habit) has been to make 2-ply yarns.  With 2 empty standard size bobbins and a jumbo flyer

Photo of the older version of a Jumbo Flyer on an Ashford Traditional Spinning Wheel at Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT.

(older) Ashford Jumbo Flyer on an Ashford Traditional Spinning Wheel

I always have a way to make two bobbins full of singles and ply them onto the jumbo bobbin (plus the added bonus of one big skein/no knots).

But there are differences between Cashmere and the so-called “rug wools”  – beyond the most obvious.  And I’m curious about what it takes to make warp for a rug.  So I decided to explore the potential of having an additional ply (and got pretty excited about the possibilities).

But lo and behold – all my so-called ‘extra’ bobbins were otherwise engaged.

It’s not unusual for me to have several bobbins of spun singles waiting to be plied.  It doesn’t bother me to let them sit there until I’m ready to take them to the next level.  And I like looking at them – all proud and pretty on their lazy kates.

But it’s not considered best practices.

Fibers twisted together (yarn) and wound under tension (into a ball or around the core of a bobbin)-  over a period of time – may appear to have lost their characteristic elasticity.  And appearance is key – because it becomes  difficult to accurately gauge the true nature of that fiber or yarn as it appears in it’s stretched-out state.

What that means is – I might not be able to tell how much plying twist I’ll need just by looking at the singles that I’ve oh so carelessly left sitting on their bobbins for who knows how long.

But here’s the thing.
In my experience, based on what I know about the yarns I spin –

Leaving singles on a bobbin is not the problem.

The question of whether or not it’s “good” for my yarn gets filed into a category I call:  “not important, doesn’t matter, and I don’t care.”

If you’re having a whole lot of fun spinning and spinning – and spinning – you may wind up with a bunch of spun singles and nowhere to move them.

The problem is not having any empty bobbins.

When you’re enthusiastically engaged and eager to continue along a particular creative path (like spinning), it seems to me that “best practices” include being able to keep doing what you’re doing when you’re on a “roll” rather than lose your momentum, or worse – feel frustrated at having to stop.

You don’t have to be afraid that your singles will languish if you leave them on a  lazy kate for a while.  It’s OK to let them wait their turn if you have something better (more important, different or exciting) to do.
Develop your own best practice.
Get into the habit of writing down where the drive band is when you spin. (Which whorl are you using?).
Be aware of your natural treadling pace and drafting style.  (How many times do you push down on the treadle before your newly formed yarn moves through the orifice and onto the bobbin?)

Write it down. Those little bits of information will help you pick up where you left off.

Sometimes what feels like an interruption turns into a good thing.

Photo of 3 skeins of 2-py yarns, handspun by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

2-ply yarns handspun by Joanne Littler

Now I have 6 empty bobbins.   Maybe it’s time to try a 4 or 5-ply?

Now I gotta go weave.


Some Spinners Just Want to Have Fun

Photo of 3 skeins of yarn and their starting fibers, handspun by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

Spun for Fun
3-ply wool yarns handspun by Joanne Littler

When you sit down at your wheel to spin –
You don’t have to know what you’re going to do with your yarn.
You don’t have to have a project in mind.

You don’t have to understand the meaning of twist and grist.
You don’t need to know your flyer to wheel ratio.

You don’t need to know what breed or type your wool is.
Or where the cotton came from.

Some spinners do.

Some spinners start out with a need to know all of those things
(and much, much more).
Some spinners develop an interest in the “technical” side of spinning after they’ve been spinning for a while.
Some spinners learn to use particular bits of information to suit their needs.
Some spinners focus their attention one type of fiber and become experts in that area.

And some spinners don’t.

Sometimes spinners just spin for fun.

All the details, facts and figures don’t matter one bit.  And they might never do. Because they don’t have to.

Because spinning – all by itself – for no particular reason – is fun.
Relaxing.  Satisfying.  Pleasurable.  Off in your own world – creative, happy, mind-blowing honest-to-goodness fun.

However you come to it, whatever you do with it, wherever it takes you – whatever it looks like to anyone else – Somehow, some way, at some level –

We’re all doing it because it’s fun.

We don’t have to pay our taxes in yarn.
(FYI the American Revolution wasn’t only about tea).
We don’t have to make yarn to clothe our families and ourselves.

We spin because we enjoy it.
It floats our boat.
Knocks our socks off.
Takes us away.

Maybe not at first.  Those first few minutes (and hours, and days) of struggling to coordinate hands and feet, fingers and fibers – those moments feel frustrating and tense.
So you walk away.
You take a nap.
And you come back and try again.

Your desire to spin — if anyone asks – may be hard to explain.
Because maybe you don’t know what you’re going to do with your yarn.
Maybe you don’t know for sure which part is called the flyer.
And maybe ratio sounds too much like math.
Maybe you don’t know the difference between protein fibers and cellulose.
And maybe (at least for now) you don’t care.
You just want to spin. Just for fun.

If you choose hand spinning as a way to spend your time, you’re choosing an activity that many people think of as old-fashioned, unusual, unnecessary, and  – different. Maybe even weird.  And yet, you’re choosing it anyway.

Maybe you feel that “it” has chosen you.   Drawing you in, opening up a whole new world of “wonderfulness”.

No matter where you are – new to the craft or an old hand at it – sometimes it seems like there’s so much more to learn, so many interesting avenues of discovery, so many talented and creative people offering encouragement and advice – it almost seems like too much.

Maybe it is.  And maybe that’s the good news.
Maybe that’s when you know it’s time to sit down at your wheel.  Pick up whatever fiber is handy and just spin.  See where it takes you.
Relax.  Enjoy.  And have some fun.

I gotta go spin.