Looming over me

I don’t know if there’s an actual etymological connection between the weaving tool and the expression of doom, but it has seemed more and more likely over the past couple of months. After a loom was passed along to me last Christmas, I put a lot of work into getting it ready to use—assembling it, cleaning several decades of someone else’s basement off it, buying some missing parts, figuring out some light repairs, buying a (very good!) Craftsy class to relearn how to put a warp on—I realized that it had some technical issues I wasn’t prepared to deal with. I reached out to the Textile Arts Center to see if they had anyone who did one-on-one teaching/loom setup and repair, but none of the weavers they passed my request along to ever contacted me. And so the loom sat, taking up a not insignificant amount of space and making me feel terrible every time I looked at it. For months. And since it was set up in our bedroom, it was one of the last things I saw at night and one of the first things I saw in the morning.

Finally, over Labor Day weekend, I was forced to confront the fact that getting the loom into fighting shape and getting myself up to speed with weaving again were going to take time and energy I’d really rather spend on other things right now. So I listed it for donation through Materials for the Arts and someone from a girls’ afterschool program in Harlem came and picked it up today. And I swear the apartment feels lighter and brighter. I’m even breathing more deeply. It’s like the loom was sucking up all the light and oxygen in the room. If I’m in a position where I want to weave again in the future, I’ll take some time to research looms and find one that fits my needs instead of trying to work with something that turned out not to be right for me.

One thing this frees me up to do more of is surface design experimentation, which I’m really excited about these days. I took a great workshop on stenciling on fabric from Anna Joyce when she was in town recently; I made these napkins and table runner with the Schoon logo design.
unnamed-1I’m also signed up for Jen Hewitt‘s online block printing workshop in a few weeks. I’m so excited!—I’ve been a fan of her work for ages and I’m really thrilled to have the chance to learn from her.

Manager schedule vs. maker schedule

One way or another, I recently came across Paul Graham’s 2009 blog post about the difference in how “managers” and makers” prefer to allocate their time and it’s gotten me thinking pretty hard about how I choose/prefer to spend mine. His framework is a little different from mine, since he’s writing about start-up culture and the fact that meetings interrupt the flow that programmers and writers (his examples) need to be in in order to be productive. I tend to roll my eyes at the idea that you can’t create effectively unless you have long stretches of time—I know too many people who write multiple books a year while also holding down full-time jobs in addition to other responsibilities (family, charity work, exercise, seeing friends) to buy into that and I firmly believe that working on something for 15 minutes a day everyday is going to get you farther faster than working on for four hours every two weeks—but then I had a creatively rich and productive long weekend over the fourth of July and I have to reconsider my position.

And here it is: Working on a project for short intervals on a regular basis is exceptionally good for productivity, but only when it’s something you already know how to do. For instance, I do almost all of my sewing in 20-30 minute spaces between getting ready in the morning and leaving for work or between arriving home and when I make dinner. I don’t make a tremendous amount of progress in any particular session, but the cumulative effect is a closet that’s increasingly more handmade than not. But I’m pretty comfortable with my sewing machine and the patterns I’m sewing (which I really should blog about at some point, hmm?) aren’t difficult. I’m using a couple over and over, and even if certain steps are fiddly, I still know what I’m doing. Likewise, I rarely spin for long stretches, but 15-30 minutes here and there will produce full skeins of yarn in a surprisingly short period of time. (I’m in the middle of spinning for a really cool project that I should write about soon.)

Contrast that with shibori dyeing, which is something I tried out this weekend for the first time. I’d ordered the pre-reduced indigo crystals and other supplies a few months ago, so I had everything I needed on hand. The coconut oil I use for soap comes in 50-pound containers that are the right size for a small indigo vat and have a tight-fitting lid. I have a bunch of spares (if you’re local and want one or more, let me know), but first I had to scrub one very, very clean because I assume that any grease in the vessel could interfere with the dyeing action. Then I had to look up instructions for setting up the vat, find and lay out a dropcloth on the deck, measure everything, mix it up, and let it stew for an hour or so. I had to collect the items I wanted to dye and find a tutorial for tying them. (I used this one.) I had to do all of the folding and tying. And then I could actually dye the two dresses and two curtains I’d prepared, which was pretty messy and kind of time consuming, since you have to let the pieces fully oxidize between dips. (I really should do a whole post about this too.) Working on and off at it, it took most of Friday. And it was great! It was CRAZY EXCITING to see the cloth come out of the vat a weird, sickly green and then change, literally as I watched, into a gorgeous indigo blue. And then to undo all the ties and see the cool patterns. SO GREAT.
unnamedSo great, in fact, that the next day I decided I wanted to shibori dye all the rest of the curtains in the house, so I did. (There were only three of them.) And it took maybe an hour start to finish because I had the vat set up already and I knew what I was doing. Shibori is not quite something I can fit into my post-coffee, pre-commute time in the morning (unless I start getting up earlier), but it’s doable in a relatively short block of time, even shorter if I spread the tying part out over a couple of days. But if I hadn’t had a day to play around with the whole process, I never would have gotten to this point.

Likewise, I spent much of Sunday working toward getting the loom ready to weave, which has been a long, drawn-out process that hey! I really should blog about. Short version: the loom I inherited wasn’t in quite as good a shape as I’d been told and I am not mechanically minded, so figuring out A. what’s wrong and B. how to fix it had been frustrating. Also frustrating: weaving is something I used to do regularly and I was good at it, but it’s been 15 years and I have almost zero recollection of how to even dress the loom. I bought this Craftsy class, which has been super helpful so far, and I’m gradually getting closer to being able to make cloth. Again, though, at this point, while I’m (re)learning, I can’t just pop in and out of this project. I need stretches of unscheduled time to focus and start thinking in weaving terms so I can absorb the information.

And that’s the essential point for me. I work well on both Graham’s manager schedule and maker schedule, but for different things. Getting shit done? By all means, break the day up into tiny slots of time and assign something different to each of ’em. That’s terrific. But for learning and stretching and absorbing new information, that doesn’t work. For that, I need to jealously guard my time (I skipped a friend’s barbecue on Sunday that ordinarily I would have loved to have gone to), put my blinders on, and focus. And then I need to step back for a few days or weeks or longer even, and absorb the information before returning to the well. I can already feel myself approaching things differently. I have a goal for this year to improve my photography skills and learn Photoshop. I’d tried to work my way through a lynda.com PS class (free with a Brooklyn library card!) earlier this year and got really frustrated, but it was because I was trying to dip into the course for short periods of time instead of setting aside the time for an intensive study session. Also, I should really get a halfway decent camera, but researching that is a minefield I’ll try to navigate at a different time. A time when I can focus for as long as I need with minimal distractions, of course.

A well-traveled loom

I came by a loom sort of unexpectedly this holiday season. My sister-in-law’s stepmother wanted to clear out some space in her basement, they were already planning to drive to upstate New York from Atlanta for the holidays, and they had room in the back of their minivan for it. All I’d have to do would be to get it home from my mom’s. My mother-in-law was kind enough to bring it back to Connecticut on Christmas Day and then into Brooklyn on New Year’s Eve and now it’s living in our bedroom.

I had a small floor loom when I lived upstate 15 years ago or so and I really loved weaving, so I’m pretty excited to have a chance to play around with it again. However, this one (which seems to be this model) is more complicated than the one I had and getting it set up is drawing on some pretty weak parts of my brain (why don’t I know any mechanical engineers?). I gave the whole thing a good dusting today and figured out how the brake for the cloth beam works and what I need to do for the treadle tie-up. I also figured out that six of the 20 dividers between the harnesses are missing, which is a drag. They’re small—basically pegs—and I could probably find something that would work in their place, but I’d like to try to get actual replacement parts if possible. While I track those down, I need to relearn how to calculate and wind a warp, which shouldn’t be a huge deal, and figure out how to get the warp on the loom, which might.

I’m trying to remind myself that venturing outside my comfort zone is a very good thing, but, man, it’s hard.