Bead Looms

I was just playing around here and at other bead sites (the guests are all gone, the kitchen floor scrubbed . . . on hands and knees and boy is that wooden floor a whole lot of shades lighter now that I’ve removed the ground-in dirt!, the dreaded tax stuff sitting in a threatening pile, the sun bright and waiting for me to take my daily walk to make sure the mountain is still standing properly, etc.) looking at looms. It was mentioned on the Bead Creator blog that there are “lots and lots of manufactured looms out there”, which is indeed true, so I wanted to get a sense for what the looms are, what makes each one different, pricing of looms, etc. What I found: there is a standard model for many bead looms and most are made of wood of varying degrees of strength, beauty, value and a few are made of light metal like the ones most of us had when we were kids. Those looms: 1) allow you to put on one plane of warp or have roller beams so that you can advance the warp; 2) have the warp attached at either end to a single nail or more; 3) provide a spring at either end through which the warp is spread out evenly. Additional features may include: 1) the ability to adjust the size of the loom to accommodate different length weavings; 2) a stand as part of the loom or an additional stand to put the loom in an upright position. And then there are the plastic looms which are more like forms about which you can wrap your warp. There are also “heddle looms” but I can’t find any that still exist. These operate like actual weaving cloth weaving looms and were originally used by Native Americans.And then there is the Mirrix Loom (okay, so you knew I was going land at exactly this spot): The Mirrix Loom is NOT a bead loom (well, it wasn’t at first but it is now). It is a tapestry loom. Its closest relative would be the “heddle looms”. It functions in a similar, but not identical, fashion. (Let me digress slightly here. I want to mention that all those cool beaded purses from the 30s and 40s were in fact made on regular cloth weaving looms. If you look at t hose purses closely you will see a line of thread between every line of beads. That provided stability because two beads lay between every warp thread. The Mirrix was designed to avoid the two bead/one warp/two bead method so that there could be a bead/warp/bead/warp hence eliminating the need for that extra thread between rows of beads.) The only difference between weaving tapestry on a Mirrix and weaving beads is that when you weave beads you put two warps in every dent (the space in the spring) so that when you raise one set of those threads in order to literally weave your beads (Place them between the raised and lowered sets of warps) you end up with a warp/bead/warp/bead, etc. Otherwise, if you just had one warp thread in each dent, you would end up with a warp/bead/bead/warp. Hard to visualize unless you are sitting in front of a Mirrix. So, having designed this lovely tapestry loom to suit all MY tapestry needs (and that is exactly why I invented the Mirrix, not originally to sell it) and finally gone into business with it, it was pointed out to me by some bead folks, namely Ms. Jane from Jane’s Fiber and Beads, that this would make a fabulous bead loom. It would be overkill, of course, because the requirements of tapestry (strength of loom) far out way the requirements of bead weaving. But overkill is good because overkill means the equipment will not fail you and will last forever. (Note here that wooden looms of lower quality wood or particle board will degrade over time but metal will most likely not.) I learned how to weave beads. I didn’t particularly want to, mind you. I was perfectly happy with fiber and dyeing and spinning and all that very cool stuff. Who needed beads? Plus, I couldn’t dye them and I didn’t think there could possibly be enough colors to suit my needs. Wrong, but who knew that then.We discovered that you can simply use the Mirrix to weave beads in the standard way: putting a row of beads on thread and placing those beads behind and in between the warps that are on the loom and then sewing through the tops of the beads to attach them to the warp OR you could use the shedding device and actually weave the beads.So what makes the Mirrix different from other looms: 1) it’s amazingly strong and will stand up to any beading moment you want to throw at it; 2) it’s very adjustable and accommodates two planes of warp (versus looms that only allow you to weave on the front or looms with roller beams which aren’t so great because as you release and roll up the warp you often mess up the tension); 3) it is vertical ; 4) it provides two methods for weaving beads (except for the two smallest ones, which do not include the shedding device); 5) it does not use the nail method for warping which in fact I find very difficult to accomplish; rather it uses a continuous warp which provides consistent tension; 6) it has available lots of spring options for use with any size bead; 7) it’s made of some really serious metal.The Mirrix Loom is a serious bead (or tapestry) loom which is nothing like the other many, many bead looms out there. But it also can be for a beginner. It’s just a great loom. And since I am its Mom, I think I am bragging! HAVE A GREAT NEW YEAR! Claudia

www.mirrixlooms.com

Some Finishing Techniques

Finished bracelet using square beads with button closure.

Finished bracelet using Delicas.
Today, I was talking to one of our recent Mirrix customers about finishing a bracelet. She took notes, but was afraid they might not make a lot of sense at a later date. I promised her I would write a blog detailing how to finish the warp ends of a bracelet and how to create a button closure that will allow the ends of the bracelet to overlap around your wrist and not leave space between the two ends. I am stealing these directions directly from The Checkerboard Bracelet kit.

Before removing your bracelet you need to weave in a header and a footer with thread. This thread can be the same thread you used for the warp. I prefer to use a slightly heavier silk thread (which is included in the Checkerboard bracelet kit). Cut a length of thread about a yard long. Thread a blunt nose tapestry needle. You will be weaving a half inch of this thread on either end of the bracelet. Using the needle, go under and over every other thread (or pairs of threads, if you have used the shedding device), then reverse direction and go under the threads you went over and over the threads you went under. After you have woven a half inch, sew both ends of the silk thread into the woven part so it does not ravel. When you’ve finished weaving your header and footer, loosen the tension on your loom and slip out the warping bar. Lay your piece flat and trim the ends so that you have at least four inches left to work with. Tie overhand knots with warp pairs. When you’ve tied all the knots, trim the warp as close as you can without allowing the knots to be undone. Fold the header (or footer) at the seam where the header and beads meet. Turn the knots under so that they are buried. Carefully sew this header down so that you knots are buried and it looks neat. Do the same with the footer. This will be the back of your bracelet. You want to make this hem as sturdy and neat as possible. Make sure that you avoid covering the button hole.

I also like to add a picot edge to the sides of the bracelet. In order to do this, string a workable length of warp thread (a yard) and sew it through the beads at one end of the bracelet in order to firmly attach it. You will pass your needle through the last bead at the edge of the bracelet, pick up three seed beads and then pass back through the next edge bead. Pass your needle through the next bead so that you are once again working on the edge of the bracelet. String three more seed bead and pass back through next bead. Continue this way until you have come to the end of the bracelet. If you have left over thread, work your way back to the other side of the bracelet and repeat this procedure until you’ve reached the far end. If you have only a short length of warp thread, string a new piece and firmly attach to bracelet. This edging is very attractive as well as reinforcing your bracelet and disguising the warp threads on the side of the bracelet.

Making a Button Hole and a Button

At about row 102, you will need to create a button hole. Continue weaving with your current thread, but only go to the middle of the piece. Weave this half section for eight rows. Start a new thread to weave the columns on the other side of the bracelet. Weave that side for eight rows. End one of the threads and continue weaving a straight row of beads for four or five rows. Weave two rows of a solid color.

The “button” will be created using peyote stitch:

Using cylinder bead color of your choice to make a flat peyote piece that you will sew into a cylinder.

String 12 cylinder beads. Make the piece 10 rows wide. Zip the first and last rows together to form a tube. Sew the tail back into the bead work. Use the left over thread to sew to the sixth bead in one of the rows. You will be sewing this button onto the bracelet at a point that creates the best fit for you. String up three cylinder beads, sew onto bracelet, thread three cylinder beads, sew back through button.

This bracelet will hug your wrist and feel great.

www.mirrixlooms.com

The Day After Thanksgiving

The day after Thanksgiving . . . cold and overcast and feeling like snow is on its way. . . ah, it is here, light dusting on the pasture and making the woods around it look kind of white. I imagine there are people trying to act like this is just another day after Thanksgiving Day, but I find that hard to believe. To me it feels totally different, not necessarily a bad thing. It feels like people are really going to have to think carefully about how and why they spend their money. Since Americans have been on a spending splurg for way too long, buying stuff that I am not sure they needed, and buying lots of stuff wrapped in plastic, and two of everything, it seems time for us to settle down into a different way of being. As we carefully evaluate what we buy and why we buy it, I hope we evolve into a culture that remembers how to conserve, reuse and fix. To that end, I hope we never stop creating, never stop making things. Seems those two concepts are very similiar: making and fixing, creating and preserving.
Those of us who are “makers of things” have a whole lot in common with one another. We see the object in a pile of beads or a ball of yarn or a chunk of stone. We see past and through our materials to the spirit that dwells within. It’s a lovely way of being.
Those of you who know me, know that I live a second life as a politician. I am serving my third term as State Representative. Have no fear though, I always leave home armed with not just my Blackberry, but also my pouch full of beading, knitting and crocheting supplies. The contents of my briefcase are no less than fascinating: a file folder full of legislation, a State House calendar so I know what the heck is going on for the week at the State House, a couple of pouches full of beads and yarn and yes, sometimes even the smallest Mirrix Loom. Sure, I throw in a pen or two, sometimes my laptop, a lipstick!, a notebook, the absolutely required Blackberry, and some tissues. It’s a pretty packed briefcase (actually, it’s not a briefcase at all . . . it’s a lovely big tote bag.) My laptop lives in a handwoven tapestry that I made into a laptop house. It used to hang on the wall, but I needed something pretty a different to carry her in.
While “in Session” I make things. It’s the only way I can listen. Other folks take notes (which they probably never read but the act of taking notes enables them to listen), secretly read newspapers or books or check their email, text message folks, play games on their phones (I am not kidding you!), anything to not fall asleep or start screaming at the person at the podium who could have wrapped up his or her speech in a tenth of the time but loves the sound of her/his own voice. So I make jewelry and I knit and I crochet and I even make baskets. It allows me to listen, to be patient (even though people always say: how do you have the patience to do that? . . . when in reality I don’t have the patience to not do that!).
So on this day of our first snow, on this day after Thanksgiving, on this day when it seems the world is changing even in ways that scare us, in ways that change us (for the better, I hope), in ways that will make us think a little more and maybe consume a little less, let us be thankful that we are given this chance to grow.
One last note: this week the first of our two geothermal heat pumps was hooked up. The other one will be hooked up next week. We will never buy oil again. Our heat now comes right from the ground. I am hoping others will take the plunge and replace their oil driven machines with machines that take their power from the sun or the ground or the wind or the water. It doesn’t just make sense. It is absolutely necessary because even if oil is suddenly cheap today it is destroying our planet both environmentally and politically. We should have done this in the 70s but we all fell asleep suddenly. We cannot do that again.
Now for a walk on my mountain on this day, the day after Thanksgiving.

www.mirrixlooms.com

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Bead weaving with a Cartoon

Although computers and graph paper are great tools for creating designs for bead weaving, there are other options. Designing an image to weave on a bead loom is not as daunting as it seems. If you look around your home, you will find the tools you need to create an inspired and unique design. Crayons, photographs, pastels for example, can hold the key to a great design. Any full-sized picture–tapestry weavers call such pictures “cartoons”–can be your muse.

This advice was gained through experience. As a tapestry weaver who wanted to experiment with bead weaving, I was skeptical whether beads could convey a sense of color and texture the way fibers can. Fiber absorbs light and beads reflect light. Fiber is soft and beads are hard. I was could make my own yarn through spinning and dyeing, but there was no way I was going to make my own seed beads. To get a real idea of the difference in these two mediums, I decided to create a bead weaving based on a photograph of a plate holding pears and peaches, the same photograph I had once used to create a tapestry weaving. I warped my loom to correspond exactly in size to the photograph turned on its side. I pored through my bead stash and found fifty tubes of size 11/0 seed beads whose colors could be found in that photograph.

Keeping in mind the method that tapestry weavers use, I placed the photograph behind the warp of my bead loom. I looked at the photograph and the edge that would be the first row of beads. Then I used my threaded needle to pick up beads that were the colors I saw. I didn’t think about the picture; I just thought about a the colors I was seeing in the first row. The first few rows were not very impressive, and it wasn’t until the tenth row that I began to see shapes emerging. Those little beads became the dots of color in a pointillist painting. Since the picture was on it’s side, I did not allow my concept of what a plate of peaches and pears should look like interfere with the beaded piece my hands were executing.

I used all fifty colors. Some rows contained twenty or more colors. Many colors were closely related, like the five shades of white. After I wove in the last row, I turned my loom on its side. Sure enough, there it was: the plate of peaches and pears in all its glory. I walked across the room to look at it. To my astonishment, the image was crystal clear from fifteen feet away. My understanding of pointillism deepened significantly in that moment. I had been watching the weaving progress from a distance of inches. That the weaving translated best from many feet away was astonishing to me. A four-by-five-inch bead weaving is small format, and yet the beads seemed to speak as loudly from a distance as they did from close up.

After realizing that the tapestry method of using a cartoon could also work for bead weaving, my whole outlook on bead weaving changed. I could use anything as a guide. To prove that this was possible, I quickly made a small abstract sketch with pastels using some very lively colors to contrast with the rather dull colors I had used for the plate of peaches and pears. I used about twenty colors of Delica beads for this weaving. The color areas in my pastel sketch were not distinct. Between a yellow and green there emerged a third and fourth color. By looking very carefully at the space between colors, however, I was able to find beads to match so that the emerging bead weaving had the same feel as the pastel drawing. As the weaving progressed, I was thrilled to discover that beads could capture such subtle blending of color. I realized that any image could be created with beads since beads are simply points of color. If carefully arranged, those points of color can add up to a perfectly shaded, blended, complex design.

You can take any image–from a slice of a picture you’ve taken to the latest crayon creation taped to your refrigerator–and turn it into a bead weaving. Try making a collage of family photographs or finding a picture of your flower. Use your digital camera to take a picture of pebbles or the bark on a tree. Anything can become a beautiful bead weaving because beads make everything beautiful. Tell yourself you are an artist today, and with beads in hand the sim0plest of tools, you can create a masterpiece.

Warning: make sure you use a great loom like the Mirrix!

www.mirrixlooms.com

Tapestry Versus Pattern Weaving

Tapestry and cloth weaving have less in common than their sharing of the word “weaving” would indicate. Both are indeed weaving and share the following characteristics: They rely on the interlacement of warp and weft; the warps (the threads that are attached to the loom) run parallel to each other; the weft (the threads that are woven into the warp run at right angles to the warp and inter-cross. But that is the extent of their relationship since the balance of these two very different weaves produces final products that are radically different from one another.

Cloth weaving can be either simple or complex but the resulting fabric is always somewhat balanced. By this I mean that the ratio of warp to weft is fairly even so that both show, possibly one more than the other, but still creating enough of a balance that the warp and weft are visible. Tapestry, on the other hand, is completely weft-faced. This means that the warp does not show at all. Just this difference alone is enough to set these weaves completely apart. A fabric that is completely weft-faced will be much stiffer than a balanced weave and, because the warp does not show and hence does not affect the appearance of the fabric, the application of the weft is all that counts in creating a design. The difference does not end here. Tapestry involves the use of discontinuous wefts. No given weft ever travels across the entire weaving (generally speaking), whereas in cloth weaving wefts generally do travel across the entire weaving.

Cloth weaving can produce stunning works of art intended for both decoration and clothing, but in general its purpose is to produce functional material. Tapestry has been used to create functional items such as rugs, saddle bags, and other items intended to be sturdy and withstand wear. But tapestry is most famous for the wall hangings created to decorate and insulate the walls of castles. Many different cultures have created tapestries and within those cultures certain techniques dominate, creating some confusion as to the difference, for example, among a Navajo rug and a European tapestry or a Coptic tapestry. The basis of all these tapestries is essentially the same since the warp is covered and the resulting fabric is pictorial and that design is based on the placement of the weft alone.

Although both cloth weaving and tapestry can theoretically be created on the same kind of loom, there are dedicated cloth and tapestry looms that provide certain elements to facilitate the proper weaving of each. A cloth loom does not require the same kind of tension that a tapestry loom does. However, more than two shafts (the movable parts of the loom that hold the heddles and allow for the raising and lowering of the warps in order to create a shed, which is simply a word to describe the space between these two sets of threads) is preferred for a cloth loom in order to produce the stunning possible number of weaving structures. Tapestry, on the other hand, requires a lot of tension but only two shafts (although some tapestry looms, such as Navajo looms, do not have any shafts but rather employ a more manual method for separating the threads). There are looms that will accomplish both cloth weaving and tapestry, but in general it is best to have looms devoted to one or the other. A cloth loom will generally not provide the necessary tension to weave tapestry and will potentially provide options that are not at all necessary for tapestry. A good analogy would be the mountain bike versus a road bike. You can ride a mountain bike on the road but it’s a lot more efficient and faster to ride a road bike on a road. It’s nearly impossible to ride a road bike on a dirt trail. If you intend to do both with passion you are best off owning both kinds of bikes.

I find that the personality that loves tapestry does not necessarily love cloth weaving. I am of that ilk. The same applies in the opposite direction. Cloth weavers are able to patiently set up their looms over the course of hours and days and then quickly weave yards and yards of cloth. Tapestry looms are relatively quickly set up but the weaving takes a very long time. The relative nature of a cloth weaving is predetermined by the threading of the warp. Certain elements can be modified, of course, by the shedding pattern (which warps are raised) and the choice of weft, but since the warp shows its color and threading cannot be changed during the course of weaving, the major elements of a cloth weaving are set in place when you warp the loom. Since the tapestry warp is completely covered by the weft, it can only effect the tapestry by its set (how close or far apart the warps are spaced) and the size of the warp. The warp has to be in correct relationship to the weft so that the tapestry remains weft-faced.

Tapestry is like painting. The warp creates a canvas on which one paints with fiber. But unlike painting, the final and necessary structure of the “canvas” is only created once the weft is applied. Hence, tapestry becomes a very architectural kind of artwork since the structure is created from the bottom up. What was woven at the beginning cannot be changed after the fact. One does not have the luxury of the whole page to play with since the page only exists in the tapestry as the “paint” is applied. It’s an interesting constraint that can create as many mistakes as accidental successes. But whereas tapestry is like painting, it is also still weaving and hence takes its own unique place in the world of art.

www.mirrixlooms.com

Night Beads

It was the first warm day in months followed by an almost balmy night. I went outside to visit with our resident horse, Shasta. We live in a very unlit place. There are no streetlights on the top of this very big hill and the few houses are separated by lots of space and trees. The night sky is not hampered by competing lights from humans. I walked out of the garage and looked up in astonishment. The night sky was a deep blue dotted with stars I thought I could reach out and touch. I felt like a person who had been blind all her life and was for the first time seeing the night sky. There was a closeness about this sky, an intimacy like touch. The branches of the trees created lattice work that connected the stars. I was frozen in place with my vision turning into a physical sensation like touch. It was so intense I had to turn away, and in so doing I found myself looking into the gaping hole that is a garage. My eyes traveled along the surfaces of human made objects in a large, unattractive human made box. It was the epitome of ugliness in stark contrast to the overwhelming beauty of the sky. In that moment I understood the virtue of beads.

Most practical human made stuff is ugly. I am referring here to the practical stuff humans make like shopping centers and ugly couches and demanding signs that obscure the sky. I am not referring to the objects humans make when they create art. Almost everything nature dishes out is beautiful. It’s hard to find fault with her lines and placements. She always arranges everything correctly on the page of our vision. Humans create obscene ugliness with which most of us live most of the time. I escape it to some degree by living remotely and I have the great advantage of being able to focus on nature’s beauty without interruption.

What I understood about beads in that moment of grace with the night sky is that beads are consistently beautiful and uplifting. They are little stars we hold in our hand. They are intimate and smooth and they glow from within. They give us something rare: pure pleasure from a human mad form. They are each perfect little universes. We make things from them and as we do so we soak in their beauty. W are given the opportunity to see and to touch stars grabbed from the night sky. It made sense to me why people become addicted to these beads and why they keep buying more and more. They are filling up their cup with stars, hoping to never run out. The stars must exist in our own cups which is why we must take them home.

Mirrix Looms

What’s In A name

Whether or not an object is art has little to do with materials and functionality and has everything to do with intent and voice. The difference between an object that is craft and an object that is art is not the difference between a basket and a drawing. The medium is irrelevant. In fact, a basket has as great an opportunity to be a piece of art as a drawing and a drawing can be better crafted than a very artistic basket. A quilt intended to lie on a be can be a piece of art whereas a quilt that hangs on a wall could simply be well crafted. So what is the difference between art and craft and why should we care?

We should care because these words and their often confusing definitions leave those of us who practice an art (or create an object) using traditional (or not so traditional) fiber techniques are left without an appropriate way to name ourselves. We live in a world full of names and we are either misnamed or nameless. This is important because it effects the way others view what we do. We must clearly define who we are so that we can clearly define what is we make to the world that is our market.

The difference between art and craft–and hence the artist and the craftsperson–is astonishingly simple. A craftsperson masters a technique and a tradition. It is of paramount importance for a craftsperson to strive for perfection. To paraphrase Plato: ‘If only there were enough time in life to perfect one’s craft.’ As any true craftsperson knows, there is never enough time. Perfection is enticingly elusive and endlessly inspiring. However, the craft alone that we strive to perfect is not necessarily art even when brilliantly executed. Artisits, working n whatever medium, push the boundaries of form, trying to escape from prescribed ideas while trying to express an inward intention. Artists retreat inside themselves for their answers whereas craftspeople explore outside themselves for theirs. An artist’s medium can be anything. An artist is not necessarily a craftsperson. In fact, there are many artists who have not bothered to perfect their craft and therefore, although their work might be inspired, it can be very shoddy and temporary.

This leads us to the third definition of what we can be when we create things. It is this definition that causes the most obfuscation because it straddles the other two. It is also the thing that many fiber artists are: the artist/craftsperson. This person gets attacked from one side for being too technique oriented and from the other for assuming a grandiose self-image. The artist/craftsperson is simply an artist who is striving to perfect her or his craft. The concept is elegant in its simplicity, but it is also very slippery and hard to hold.

When set up on a kind of continuum, the line starts with craft as pure technique and ends with art as pure expression. Those of us who are makers of things necessarily lie somewhere on that line. And often our position on that line changes, sometimes day to day. There are times when we are still perfecting our craft and there are other days when we are passionately digging inside ourselves for the image that defines what we are. That is not an exalted image of an artist. Nor is it hyperbole since the act of creating a piece of art dwells so completely in the world of truth where everything ultimately is exposed. We may borrow techniques from those who have come before us, but when we create what is uniquely ours with the memory of what was we borrow only from the human experience we have shared. There is no confusion over what is art and what is craft. There is only disbelief.

Mirrix Looms

Beginnings

At long last, I begin this blog. This blog is basically dedicated to creativity: mine and yours. The other day a friend asked me: “What do you feel when you create artwork?”
I answered: “Peaceful and present. It takes me to a place that has no time, no starting point, no ending point, just the place in the middle where you want to stay. Eventually, you do want to leave that place. The bliss is vanished and you move to something else waiting for that moment when you will feel compelled to return to that place of utter presence. Creativity is about the present and how you feel inside that one moment as it falls into another moment and another moment without your noticing.”

I then explained that I have seen myself deep in the past as the one who made baskets or pottery. I would have been very content there. I do not see my creativity as monumental. Rather I see it as necessary. It is what I must do to cope with life. It’s my primary escape.

See if you can see yourself in this picture: you are feeling all scattered and out of place. You search around for one of the pieces you are currently creating. You pick one up: the 16 inch Mirrix loom with a tapestry on it. You weave for a minute or so. It’s not centering you so you move through your studio and land on the necklace you are making in herringbone stitch out of those gorgeous rodium plated beads and suddenly you are lost in that necklace, lost in those like bead universes, and you stay lost there for three hours forgetting that you arrived scattered and out of place. When you lift your head and see that time has moved forward without you, you are ready to crawl back into life.

Mirrix Looms