The most asked question—and I’m sure other makers get this, too—is “How long did it take you to make this?” I suppose it’s one of those things people are accustomed to asking, like saying “I’m sorry” at funerals or something. The fact is that the length of time it takes to make something doesn’t really tell you anything. The Work says everything.
So let’s just get this out of the way: This weaving project (I’ve been calling it “Pure”) took me six months to complete. That doesn’t mean I was working on this non-stop, it just means that from start to finish it took that long. See? That information doesn’t mean JACK. During the time this was on my loom, I started, completed and sold numerous knitting projects, recycled sweaters, etcetera, you get the idea.
There really isn’t anything all that complex going on in my weaving. I’m still pretty new to the craft, so composition is what I’m really focusing on. I look at the visual elements, and how colors interact with each other to define that composition. That’s pretty much it. In technical terms, this is a plain weave with a few color alternations.
The scale of a piece is something I like to explore in all mediums. Generally, I lean towards light fabrics comprised of finer yarns. Since the sett is so high, minute changes become sharp breaks in the composition. The thin pinstripe wefting is an example of that. I’ve taken these elements a bit further by leaving the ends attached and dangling off the selvedge.
Aside from the straight-forward contrasts and high sett, there are some quadruple strand wefted sections near the center that are barely noticeable. Eventually, these sections will differentiate themselves with their stability while the lighter broadcloth wefts wrinkle around them (or maybe not, who knows).
Overall, the composition consists of an unstoppable deluge of this cool charcoal that borders a desaturated navy, with light gray selvedge that comes in full force at the very end of the weave. This kind of basic two block/two color looks great in monochromes. I like how the charcoal color comes off as blue. I like that it’s faded. You can’t get that kind of ambiguous desaturation very often. Maybe that’s why I like faded blacks and grays so much. They’re ambiguous, and difficult to define.
Recycled from a Gap sweater.
Light Gray Main Color and Light Gray Alternating Wefts section
The armband sections of another Gap sweater I recycled, as well as the seaming thread used on the armbands which was slightly different in color.
Warm Charcoal Block Wefts
The last remaining yardage of the yarn lot.
Something I don’t share very often is my modest collection of batik textiles. They date back to a short span of years between the late eighties, and early nineties. I know this because they belonged to my mother, and that was the timeframe in which she visited Bali and Java. I guess I don’t share these pieces because I’m reluctant to chop them up. That’s pretty much what I’m doing most of the time: I dismantle things, and make new things out of the pieces.
This particular batik fabric was once an oval table cloth. After my mother died, I asked my father to send me her Balinese textiles, and this tablecloth was one of them. Mom liked these things as much as I do, but apparently she was never good at taking care of them. The damage indicated that it was left on the table for a really long time until the table corners ripped through the fabric. I figured this was a good opportunity as any to harvest this fabric, and make something new.
I like long scarves. I’m sure many of you know that by now. Most of the pieces I’ve designed have been in the range of eight to ten feet. Visually, I’m drawn to this aesthetic. I like thinner, finer fabrics with lot’s of area. If I want it thicker, I can wrap it around twice or even three times.
All together there are six pieces in this patchwork, seamed together with running stitches, then triple whip stitched. There was a lot of ironing and measuring involved. You may have noticed that I leave the raw edges. I like them. In time they will fray, but the whip stitching holds things in place. Something else I did was orient the folds of the seams so that verticals sat on one side, and horizontals sat on the other. Again, this was just me celebrating those raw edges. All together, this piece measures 20in (50cm) wide by 108in (274cm) long.
I never saw this table cloth on the kitchen table in our house on Guam. I wasn’t living on the island anymore at that point, I was here in California. But this piece let’s me be there on that hot little island in the Pacific. There were plants everywhere, and a beach down the street, and humidity that would eat your table linens alive.
I think a common misconception about my photography is that I make tutorials. Although these photo essays can be seen that way, that's not really my intention. What I'm doing is sharing my creative process in order to help you develop yours. Explicitly telling you step by step how to make something doesn't really help you do that. And let's face it: creative people don't really need to be told how to do anything. They just need to see that it can be done.
I've had quite a few of these small drawstring bags over the years, but I didn't start really using them until I started knitting. These smaller sizes have come in handy the most since I tend to knit hats. They also come in handy when I need to make room in my backpack. I keep a lightweight jacket in there, and if I need the room, I can stuff it into one of these and clip it somewhere.
The basic design is based on common plastic bags which are banned here in San Jose. The bottom consists of an accordion fold that is sealed together on the sides so that it can open and stand upright. The rigidity of this recycled denim paired with the small size allows this bag to do that whether it is empty or full.
Once again I've used this natural white mercerized cotton recycled from a Façonnable sweater. This is the same thread I split down from a triple strand yarn, and used to make my apron and a tote bag. I've doubled it up to seal the drawstring tunnel, and along the side seams where all the structural strength is needed. The whip stitching was done in single strand to keep the edges as smooth and flush to the fabric as possible. I might add to them later. I like that visual variance between the single and double threading. Maybe that's something I can take into the next recycled denim project.
In the Internet Age, we don't need all that step-by-step. We don't need patterns that tell us what to do. Technical craftsmanship is fully searchable now. There's no reason to get hung up on that. Just focus on what you want to make, and just make it. That journey of figuring things out is part of your individual creative process. Take the time to embrace it.
I don't want to rename this project despite how much I hate the name "Fragments." In part I don't care about names at this point. This was a preliminary exercise at best, a way for me to begin looking at the compositional elements and techniques I wanted to employ. It's a rough draft of what would later become Delete Charlie. However, once all those ideas migrated over to that project, I just put this away, and forgot about it. Then other projects took over, and Fragments was just a pair of handwoven textiles sitting around taking up precious space.
So one of those compositional techniques I wanted to use was this idea of seaming. I really latched onto this idea because it effectively opened up the canvas, but also because there was this sense of randomness which later leads to opportunities for improvisation.
I don't have much control while wefting colors together in a handwoven textile. Keeping a count, and making measurements is all I can do. It's more of a prediction than anything. I'm okay with that. Visually, I want all the weft variations to occur in the middle, and the ends to be as plain as possible. So long as the two pieces are reasonably different outside of that, then it'll be fine.
Once the two pieces are seamed together, there is this sense of displacement created. In effect I'm generating a visual discrepancy by merging the two, then harmonizing the visual whole with sashiko embellishment. The two pieces are already unified in color and texture, but the individual weft compositions are what essentially break the grid. Further, the differences in warp widths add more variation to the visual whole.
In addition to the visual differences, there are some physical discrepancies that occur here. The charcoal gray yarn is a two ply single strand, and the light gray is a thinner two ply that is doubled. While they appear to be the same weight, the light gray is slightly thicker, and therefore wefts itself longer. Ten rows of light gray is longer than ten rows of charcoal by about a millimeter. On long stretches of light gray, that length discrepancy becomes significant, and that is where the sashiko comes into play. By using uniform running stitches, the fabric is gathered, similar to smocking. The resulting texture is what takes this composition to another level.
In general, this piece was more about the finishing than the actual loom work. I spent more time on seaming and embellishment than weaving. As I was working on it over the past few months, I came to realize how much I liked this. The seaming, though mundane, felt strangely satisfying. The sashiko stitching became very meditative. I found myself looking forward to working on it. As I look back on all the progress I've posted to my Instagram feed about this project, I'm a bit surprised to discover that it is the single most posted project to date. I was going to post a recap of all of them, but there are just too many images. But hey, I'm sure you've all seen them already, right?
Charcoal gray cotton blend by DKNY
Light gray cotton blend by Old Navy
Black silk seaming thread by Banana Republic
Oh, and my loom:
Emilia 19" rigid heddle loom by Glimakra
In the previous version's blogpost on Shear Alpha (Four), I didn't really talk about this design, and how it has changed over the course of it's life. I think it's important to shed some light on that because it touches on some aspects of my creative process. A lot of knitters assume that because I design my own patterns, that there are downloadable versions of them out there, but there are not. I don't write knitting patterns, and I am not a knitwear designer. I am a designer. Knitting is just a medium in which I demonstrate my creative process.
With that being said, each hat represents a step forward in that process. Primary designations differentiate the shapes. Shear is the parallelogram. Secondary designations--denoted by NATO phonetic alphabet--refer to variations in stitch compositions that define the shapes, and clarifications to the structural mathematics. Tertiary designations track changes in yarn and color using a number. Every hat I have made represents an exploration of this process.
So let's talk about the Alphas. They essentially represent the bare-bones minimum of what a particular primary should look like. Shear's parallelogram shape is demonstrated with straightforward stitches and minimal deviation. There are also mathematical processes in there that need to be physically demonstrated. This physical manifestation of minimal, basic geometry helps me understand it better, and generates a design foundation in my mind. From this understanding I can follow it with the Bravos and Echos that have branched out into their own subprocesses over the years.
In contrast, the Foxtrots are very rare. They tend to deviate significantly from this Alpha foundation. There has only been one (pretty sure), designated Foxtrot Zero, and it was sold to a private buyer. It is in these late stages where all the improvisation really takes off, and I can put together such incomprehensible compositions, full of production phrases no one recognizes. Such preposterous improvisation could not exist without all the iterations of Shear before it. Maybe it could for somebody else, but I'm the only one living in my head.
Just me. So I guess the reason I don't write patterns is because this creative process is my own. I built it. And to write a pattern for one hat would be like telling you how to carve a wooden stick without telling you it was a rung of a ladder. I'm not interested in teaching others to copy my work. Being truly creative involves developing your own personal creative process.
Here's an in depth photo essay about the recycling of this yarn.
And here's the Etsy Shop Listing. (Item is now SOLD)
Oh, and here's a recap of my Instagram posts on Shear A5:
I've been knitting for five years now, and if my work has demonstrated anything, it is that knitwear design is a personal journey. I was at a craft party recently, hosted by my friend Amy. I got a few people asking me how I got started knitting, and it really was a spontaneous decision on my part. I've always had a visual aesthetic of geometric compositions in mind, and that's what I wanted to demonstrate. Could knitting work as a visual language to communicate that aesthetic? After five years, I can say: yes, it does.
In just this past year or so, I've been pushing out of the confines of my initial design classifications. For example, the Shear Series has always used middle weight yarns of average quality, like lamb's wool, and wools that were semi-soft. Generally, the yarn weights fell into the 'sport' and 'heavy fingering' category, not quite worsted, and not as small as lace. An increase in the yarn weight means reassessing the mathematical parameters that are pretty crucial in my compositions, but weirdly enough, I can handle it. I didn't expect that.
So anyway, that's what happened with Shear Charlie Six. The original sweater sat in my stash for years before I recycled it, and when I did, the yarn ended up being in that range of light-worsted/sort-of-sport weight (?). I didn't know how it would knit up. After one swatch, I just jumped right into this knowing full well it may end up failing spectacularly.
But no, I didn't. I predicted that the subtraction of one repeat would accommodate for the increased weight of the yarn, and I was right. It just so happens that by doing so, the math still remained harmonious. I guess multiples just work like that (well, not all the time, but sometimes). And I think that's where my insecurity lies: that the stability of the tried-and-true math I've employed thus far could crumble if I poke it.
In a way, all communication systems operate in this precarious state. Much like the absolutism of mathematics, I can't really invent new vocabulary, I have to work with the same words as everyone else. But what I can do is pull back, look at the message, omit, clarify, and most importantly: let the work speak for itself.
Green was my Mom's favorite color. When I was growing up on Guam, she had this green Mustang that I wish I had more pictures of. It was totally impractical, but it's one of those lasting memories I had of growing up on a small island in the Pacific Ocean that nobody seems to know about.
Everything was green there. I don't mean that in a charming, "ocean paradise" sort of way. The island stands at the lowest altitude, practically at sea level. The humidity alone was enough to drive state-siders insane. If your clothes sat around too long, they'd grow mold all over them. And there was this algae that would bloom and accumulate in parking lot puddles. It looked like relish for giant hot dogs. There were frogs everywhere.
But it's home. Green reminds me of that place. What a strange association. I'm sure it almost sounds as if I hated growing up there, but I don't. It was a singular experience that defined a contrast between living on an island, and living in California. That contrast helped me adjust to the manic pace of life here. When I think of the color green, it reminds me of home.
I wanted to do that when I started knitting this piece. I started it while helping the hospice nurses take care of my Mom. During quiet moments, I'd bring it into her room, and work on it. If she wasn't too drugged up, she'd ask me about it. It's for my shop, I'll be selling it in the Fall. She didn't understand. Why make it now? I'd explain. She'd float off because of the Oxycodone, or the Morphine, or whatever it was. I'd knit another row.
She didn't linger very long before she passed away. It was about three weeks of hospice nurses, and drugs, and this weird mechanical bed. The days blurred together. But during that time, I worked on this piece. There were visitors, and laundry, and calls from Guam. I had a great conversation with a friend in Connecticut who first met me when I was still in my mother's womb. My first cry came during that call. More laundry, and the garbage cart is already full. The nurses keep getting lost because of the construction at the intersection. Mom wants a tuna sandwich, but no one else can make it but me because I know she hates the white part of the green onion. Someone is watching Game of Thrones.
Such a blur. I'd keep pace with the knitting transitions, staring into this green yarn, thinking of home. When it was done, I decided to keep it. It marks a place and time that no document or picture could. It's the palm trees, and parking lot relish. It's sitting on the table behind me as I hold my mother's hand, two days before she died. It's a writhing wilderness in the middle of the Pacific. It's Mom's green Mustang, baking in the sun.
For one reason or another I haven't knit another Reflect Echo since I introduced it back in 2012. In part it had to do with not having very much of this black merino to work with, but I also knew that the second would be for me (the first one sold rather quickly). Since it was slated as a personal project, it just got backburnered, and ultimately forgotten. I'd pass over this yarn from time to time while digging out other yarns for shop production, and now it's been three years.
I've done a few things differently this time. Firstly I sized up the needles from US2 (2.75 mm) on the original to a US3 (3.25 mm). Aside from making the fabric more fulled, it made the physical act of knitting much easier on the hands. Mainly I just wanted it to be more stretchy, and the four strand structure fluffed out pretty well in that regard.
Another change I made was to the narrow banding. In the original it was a simple band of seed stitch. Due to the angularity of the transitions, the seed stitch bands leaned slightly. Since I found them to be a bit too pronounced anyway, I decided to try alternating purl columns with them in an attempt to keep it all leveled. The result is a more subtle banding that doesn't lean as extremely as the initial version. You can visually tell that there is something different going on in there, but it's not as obvious as the original. I like that. I especially like how the purl stitches align to make thin horizontal lines in these areas.
|Here's a shot of the inside. Note the verticality of the seed bands.|
I've been steadily incorporating this into various designs over the past year or so, and now the technique I've been referring to as the "full trefoil" has been incorporated into Reflect Echo. What this means is that the columns that comprise the crown decreases at the top are carried throughout the knitting process from the very beginning at the brim. In fact, these decrease columns are plotted in the very first cast on row. This creates some mathematical discrepancies that I won't get into, but visually what this translates to is columns that span from brim to crown, and like in all my hats, they are in sets of three. I like to think of them as support columns because they typically carry the pattern stitches found in the central body of the work. In a lot of ways, these columns unify my work as a whole.
As some of you may know already, I live in San Jose, California, and we have a plastic bag ban here. I won't get into why I think that's awesome, but it is. But one thing I noticed is how un-awesome the reusable bags I've collected are. They're terrible. And what's more: the growing collection of them is rivaling the previous collection of plastic bags they replaced. When it comes down to it, I only really need a few reusable bags. I never buy more than a few items when I go to the grocery store because I prefer to go more often. It's an opportunity to ride my bike more often, and I like riding my bike.
This tote bag is about as simple as it gets. And believe me when I say that I demonstrated much restraint in over-embellishing it with excessive ideas. With this project, I wanted to try a few things, but not to the point where I over thought the design of something so simple. As with my previous denim patchwork project (my apron), I use a running stitch to patch right sides together, then a whip stitch to seal edges, and reinforce the seams. However, in that project I was joining three strips of fabric together, where each whip stitch seam was parallel to each other. This time, I wanted to see how this technique would translate to the perpendicularity of intersecting seams. Would it be too thick? Will there be structural weakness? Can I even do this correctly?
Okay, well that last question doesn't even apply. I just do what works, and I needed to do this in order to find out. In addition to the intersecting seams, there was this issue with the bottom of the bag. I knew I wanted it to look and fold like a paper bag, but didn't really know how it would come together until I actually did it. It wasn't hard, I just looked at how a brown paper bag is constructed, and went from there.
Ironing was something I did a lot of throughout the construction of this bag, not just for the whip stitch seams, but also to get the bottom to fold the way I wanted. And when I say 'fold,' I refer to not just the sewing construction, and reinforcement. When the bag is empty, I want it to fold down, much like a paper bag does. So in order to maintain the folds, I whip stitched them into place.
I added the small loop tabs on the edges of the bag for various reasons. Mainly, I wanted to be able to clip them onto the belt loops of my jeans, but they can also be used to reduce the size of the opening, or to secure long, protruding things like flowers or baguettes. Because of this project, I feel more confident with patchwork. It's only the second patchwork project I've done. It's liberating. Now I feel better about chucking some of those reusable bags into the recycling bin.
The denim I used was from two pairs of jeans, each with their own photo essay if you'd like to see them getting recycled, step by step. The lighter blue was recycled from a gigantic pair of Kikwear raver jeans, the darker ones are from Old Navy. The thread was split from a multi-strand yarn recycled from a Façonnable men’s sweater.