A Quickie Post

I’m slowly getting back into the making groove, and having a couple of deadlines coming up certainly helps. This past weekend, I finished the overshot project on the loom!

I am so surprised at how well this came out and how much I love it. For some reason, for this particular pattern, translating the little picture in the pattern draft book (The Handweaver’s Pattern Dictionary by Anne Dixon) to a larger format just didn’t work in my head. Needless to say, I will be trying other drafts out! I really think the patterns I wove would lend themselves very well to an all-wool scarf. Or several all-wool scarves.

The cloth in the picture is fresh off the loom, but not yet washed. It’s since been washed and dried a couple of times, so the next step is ironing and then hemming – they’re towels (of course), and I think a couple will become gifts.

The next project for the loom is a bamboo sample – it will likely be a scarf. And then I have to get going with some wool for a blanket. The deadline is sometime in September, and I never have enough time to spend at the loom! I am going to be taking a week off from work, so hopefully that will give the project a good start. (And maybe a good finish? I can hope!)

Moving along with friends

Well, I have moved house.

After my diagnosis and ensuing freak-out, I immediately started making arrangements to move in with friends because they offered and I knew I’d need help taking care of myself after surgery.* I asked other friends for moving help, and so many people showed up. It took most of the day, but we managed to get the last bits packed up, everything put into a moving truck, drove to my new place, unpacked the truck, and then had pizza and ice cream. I am so grateful, I can hardly even think about it without crying. So now, I live in a beautiful house with air conditioning, a happy little dog, functional plumbing that never needs fixing (though I could do it if I needed to), a sun room, internet access, and a nice big yard. My belongings are packed up neatly in labelled bins and stacked on shelving in the (very dry) basement. There is no mold anywhere. I want to give everyone lovely handmade things, and be the most useful person I can be.

It’s very strange living with people again – I’ve lived alone for at least a decade, so this is taking some getting used to, but I’m getting there.

The friends I moved in with insisted I set up my big loom, and the sun room was the obvious spot (they said). So, poor me, I get to work in pretty amazing light! I managed to get a warp measured and on two or three weeks ago, but I have no had a lot of time to throw the shuttle.

Firstly, I wanted to do a particular overshot pattern I had woven before, so checked my notes for how many ends per inch were needed so I could measure out the warp properly. I ended up measuring out more yarn, then realized once I had the warp wound on the back beam that I’d been looking at notes for a pattern I hadn’t woven before. So I threaded the heddles for this new pattern, sleyed the reed, and tied on. Excited to start throwing the shuttles, I looked up the pattern in the pattern book, wrote down the treadling on a sticky note to put on the beater, and started in weaving. And the resulting cloth did not look like the pictures in the book. It took me a few days, walking by the loom and thinking about it (I do not have nearly as much time at the loom now), but I realized I’d written down the treadling pattern wrong. So I’m weaving an overshot pattern that I didn’t intend in a way that the book it came from didn’t intend: I made it up. It’s completely accidental, and it works, which I think is pretty lucky? Behold:

So, I was not wild about it at first, but by the time I was halfway through this towel, I decided I really liked the pattern and have tentative plans to mark this one down for a wool scarf. Actually, the subsequent towel, once I had written the correct treadling pattern down, is coming out pretty nicely too, and might also have to be a scarf:

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The diagonal lines are my favourite part. However, it is perhaps important to note that this pattern is being woven upside down and I am too tired to change the tie-up now.

The beat in that pattern is a little wonky (the diagonal lines are not perfectly straight), but hey, I am wildly out of practice.

Gratuitous dog pictures:

That’s Marley. She’s adorable. She chews on almost everything. I do love her, but really hope she starts chewing only on her toys and bones. And not clothing, skeins of yarn, or pillows.

My orchids apparently love this new place. I noticed new shoots on most of them about a week after I’ve moved in. This one is working on flowers!

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This could be a white one? We’ll find out soon!

I am listening to different music in an attempt to Broaden My Horizons. Currently, I’ve got Smetana (in the photo above) and Bartok (not pictured). I rescued a really pretty geranium that was on sale at one of the local garden shops – I have a small hope of revamping the front garden by the walk at this house. It’s a mess right now, full of weeds and grass. I’ve got to find a turning fork and wait for a day when it’s not eleventy billion degrees out with All The Humidity. The stones in the third-from-the-left picture are ones I bought years ago with the intention of making a drop spindle that I could also disassemble and wear: the whorl as a necklace and the stick in my hair. I think that is back on the list. The coffee, oh the coffee. This coffee was advertised as being “espresso roast” on the package. Sigh. Needless to say, it is not espresso roast and was not even drunk.

My making list is full right now: I neeeeeeed to finish G’s jeans, make the adjustments to J’s pants pattern and make a couple pairs of those, finish the weaving project, measure out the warp for the bamboo blanket project for L, finish the photos of L’s art, finish spinning the blue merino (so I can clean off the bobbins and start spinning one of the fleeces I got at Balky Farm back in May), and I need to practice cello way more than I am now. That last one is a different kind of making, but making nonetheless. One day I want to be able to make beautiful music, and that’s going to take many more years of practice.

Happy Wednesday!

 

 

 


*So, there was some awkwardness with the house I was living in as well (<– very understated). In short, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Ever. Sometimes those ‘free’ lunches are more expensive than just paying for a regular lunch.

Back to Craft, Urgently

So a couple of Saturdays ago, a field trip that I organized for my local almost-spinning-guild finally happened. Four of us met at Webs (America’s largest yarn store – and they’re not kidding) for 9am, and we carpooled up to Northfield to Balky Farm, and another of our group met us there. The original plan had been to go see the sheep shearing and then look through/buy fleeces fresh off the sheep. But the shearer arrived on Friday and had brought an apprentice, which meant that the usual two-day job took only one day for all 140+ sheep. When we arrived, we realized this had been completely serendipitous – the shearer, apprentice, shepherd skirting, the sheep and then our group would never have fit in the barn. We would have absolutely been in the way!

Instead, we naturally took up all the space going through the boxes and boxes of fleeces.

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I can’t adequately express how many fleeces there were. Maybe a hundred? Those are my hands and Rachel’s hands inspecting fleeces – picture shot by Liz (thanks, Liz!!)

These fleeces are large. They are beautiful. They are some cross of varying amounts of Shetland/Dorset/Finn/Romney/Cheviot, not necessarily with all of those breeds in there. There were a LOT of sheep, so there were a LOT of fleeces. The five of us went through them all. So. Much. Wool.

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I believe this is one that Liz bought – a Cheviot fleece. Thanks for the photo, Liz!

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I can’t remember whose fleece pile this was, but this gives you a bit of an idea of what we were doing – all these on this skirting table went home with us. (Photo by Liz – thanks, Liz!)

 

 

Stewart sends some of his fleeces to Prince Edward Island to one of the remaining mills there where his wool is processed and woven into blankets. He sells these at the markets he vends. The shears are what the sheep were shorn with –  that makes for very strong hands! And in the bottom picture, you can see many, many happy sheep out in the spring sunshine chomping up new grass. Thank you, sheep!

The shepherd, Stewart Balk, keeps these sheep as a labour of love. He explained to me that his father loved shepherding with all his heart, and Stewart grew to love it as well. He does have another job that I am given to understand pays other bills, and the sales from the farm keep it going. The five of us want to keep this farm going, so we plan to support it as best we can. Very local wool from sheep kept by the happiest shepherd I have ever met, and those of us who visited this farm came away enchanted and determined to make Beautiful Things with the fleeces we bought!

I bought two. I had planned to buy only one, but came away with two. I don’t know what I was thinking. We’ve already made plans to visit the farm next year.

Of course I started to wash them. Yes, I’m packing up my stuff to move in a couple of weeks, but I figured I could at least start washing one of them and see what it would look like. So in went a couple of large handfuls.

 

So on the left, the orange bucket is either the wash water or the initial soak water – I can’t remember, and honestly, both looked very similar when I was done with them. I had started with the white fleece, which you can sort of see a bit of in the bag next to the blue bucket. SO DIRTY. This white fleece is so much whiter than it looked fresh off the sheep. The middle picture shows a bit of clean fleece. I know, I know, it doesn’t look clean, but trust me, it’s squeaky. It no longer smells of sheep, and the remaining vegetable matter is easily combed out. The picture on the right is of the dark grey fleece – I have not washed any of that yet so that luster in that picture is actually mostly lanolin, but watch out. If this cleans as nicely as the white, this is going to be an utterly gorgeous grey.

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I left this picture large so you can see how fluffy this wool is! I combed it, and although there are still tiny bits of VM left, they’ll come out with spinning. This wool is SO SOFT.

Okay, so I just couldn’t wait. I took the top that I’m holding in the picture above and spun it, then chain plied it so I didn’t have to muck about with multiple bobbins and swapping them around (I have a project on the spinning wheel and I didn’t want to change anything). Behold my three ply yarn!

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It’s not perfectly spun – but that’s not the point! The point was to get an idea of what a finished yarn would look like. This yarn is the softest, most delicious I’ve ever spun. See that faint sheen? That’s the luster, and I can promise you that that’s no lanolin shining because I washed it all out. That’s the shine of the natural fiber!

Possibly tonight or tomorrow (in any event, this weekend), I will wash this wee skein. Yes, this wool has already been washed, but after it’s spun and plied, it should be set in some warm water (and sometimes soap or detergent). This causes the fibers to relax into the finished yarn, so there’s some fluffing up that happens called bloom. If there’s any residual lanolin, which is often the case, or other substance (for example, combing milk, which aids in keeping static at bay when you’re combing), that’s the time to remove it. This has neither, but it still needs to relax and bloom. This step can also involve some agitation, which can slightly felt the fibers resulting in a tweedy or otherwise more sturdy yarn. It’s all about what you’re after as a finished yarn in that case. Because I’m pretty sure I want to weave with this yarn, I will probably not add any huge amount of agitation. I love the luster, and there will be further wet finishing when the cloth is woven and off the loom, so.

I promise to take a picture and post it next time! And hopefully, I can get a few handfuls of the grey washed, combed and spun so I can get an idea of what that’s going to look like.

Honestly, creating this wee skein was a balm to my soul. I have so much to do, but took about 30 minutes to make some yarn. I can’t wait until I have a space and the time to have the option to decide to make something on the weekend without a giant list of must-get-done’s looming.

I am still trying to spin for a few minutes every evening before I go to bed to try to make progress on the blue merino wool I’ve got:

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I’ve added a bit of extra twist in here because I know I have a habit of underspinning, and this yarn will be a true three-ply. I have no idea what I’ll do with it! We’ll see what it looks like when I’m done.

I know that yarn looks mighty thin – I’m inspired by my friend Rachel who spins the most gorgeous cobweb-thin yarn. I want to spin just like her when I grow up so that I can weave beautiful, drapey wool cloth!

By the way, if you want to see the size of some of the fleeces and really gorgeous close up photos of the locks, you should ABSOLUTELY go visit Rachel’s Instagram page! Just go. Look. You will not be disappointed. I promise!

The Freak-Out Explanation and Update

So, after three weeks of freaking out, not sleeping, crying all the time, feeling the cold hard edge of panic just a breath away from absolutely slicing me open, I went to an appointment to meet my oncologist. I had thought this was to discuss genetic testing, possibly get blood drawn for that, and to discuss the medication I’d be going on after my surgery.

What happened was that I found out things had been done backwards.

It’s not that I got good news, it’s that I got the news I should have gotten before having the meeting with the surgeon and nurse when I was given two choices: lumpectomy with radiation, bilateral mastectomy. Instead of my radical choice, I’ve been put on tamoxifen for the time being, I will get genetic testing sometime in the next few weeks, and after getting the results I will have lots of time to decide what to do next. The tamoxifen will keep any cancer from progressing and that gives me time. I did not have this exact information before.

It’s been hard to disseminate this information among my friends. I’m so tired and worn out and I just don’t want to talk about it anymore. But I realized after a few people had seemed relieved at this bit of a reprieve, and then said almost as an aside that my initial course of action seemed kind of rash, that that initial decision had not been not received in the proper context. It may be that I will never be able to convey that context, but I thought I should try. I want to be understood, and I want people in my position to be understood. There really is logic behind the freak-out, and I almost feel like some of the comments about my rashness are a bit of a negative commentary on my character.

When I was seven years old, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember the trip to the doctor. My brother and I stayed in the car while our parents went in to the office. It was just about 1980 and kids could stay in the car unattended for an hour while no one batted an eyelash. The one very clear memory I had was of my mother walking out of the office on her way back to the car, leaning on my father, crying her eyes out. She was to have a mastectomy right away. Chemo would come. Radiation would come. My mother, being very conscientious, had me feel the lump she had found before surgery so I’d know what to look for when I grew up. It was about the size of a pea and hard.

The next two years were awful, and I can’t even imagine what it was like for my mother. She went through several rounds of chemotherapy, and a few rounds of radiation. Her right breast had been removed, the lymphnodes removed, and that side of her had been radiated so much that her skin had turned black and blistery. Her hair fell out. She vomited more often than she ate. She slept on the couch all the time, and tried hard not to take the morphine she’d been prescribed because it made her hallucinate. There were special heating pads my father would prepare for her by dropping them in boiling water and then, fishing them out of the pot again, wrapping them in towels to lay on her chest and arm.

She lost weight, became gaunt and slightly yellow, and she smelled different. I realized years later that she smelled sick. I don’t remember her crying as much as you’d expect, and she tried hard to be a good mother to my brother and me even though she could barely get up off the couch.

The cancer spread. I learned the word “metastasized” when I was 8 years old. She would spend a couple of weeks in the hospital at a time. Sometimes a month. She died there in the wee hours of the morning, and her mother, our grandmother who was staying with us at the time, took the phone call. Grandma told my brother and me later that morning when we woke up. It was a Saturday and it was June 5, 1982, and my mother had just turned 42 three weeks earlier.

I was nine years old. I have been worrying about breast cancer for almost exactly 37 years. Since then, I’ve kept my eyes open for scientific articles about cancer, I’ve tried to eat right and exercise, I’ve avoided things that might cause cancer, I’ve just assumed that I would reach about 42 years of age and then my number would be up. I know medicine is much different now – intellectually, I know this. I have read about it, I have read the clinical trial information that had been translated for filing the trial results with the FDA at my last job* (it was for this study), PET scans are a thing now, genes have been found, genomes have been sequenced…but when you’re 7 and you watch the most important person in your life literally wither and die because of a thing called cancer, it changes you on a level that stays with you always. I can’t imagine a different life, and I know people who have not experienced this cannot understand mine. So when I was told I had cancer, and days later was whisked into a conference room with a surgeon, and a nurse, and I was given a choice of what to do with the information I had, there was no amount of “but medicine has come such a long way, you’re not going to die” that was going to quiet the crying, worrying child inside of me. Instantly, I wanted to get that cancer out and all possibility of it ever coming back, so of course I chose bilateral mastectomy. It was visions of my mother’s blackened chest, her sickly smell, and her death that rose up in me when I was told I had to make a choice.

I am not freaking out as much now. The words have lost some of their power as I’ve gotten used to them, and the oncologist’s information was what I needed. I may still get a bilateral mastectomy, or I may just opt for the lumpectomy. I don’t know yet. Either way, I’m on tamoxifen for at least 5 years. I am so tired, and still so sad, and so worried. In between, I am packing to move, and I’m trying so hard to not worry about everything else.

Thank you, dear readers, for trying to understand. I promise to write more about things I am making.

 

 

 

* Although I had read in depth about tamoxifen at that job, I did not fully understand what it did. While I may have read the patient information leaflet original and translation, I sort of think I only read the prescribing information in the clinical trial data, and the treatment results. If you think that’s relevant information for when you get cancer, I invite you to read the doctor information leaflet for ibuprofen that contains all the side effect and adverse event information, and all the statistics – I guarantee you’ll never take it again, especially if you’re not a statistician. And you won’t remember what ibuprofen is actually for because you’ll be focused on terms like “coffee grounds vomit” and “liver failure”.

It’s unfair

Since the last entry, I’ve been working hard to find a house to buy. The weekends have been filled with open houses, drive bys, and going to see other houses with my real estate agent. I’ve been looking in three counties up to within minutes of the VT border to minutes within the CT border. So far, nothing I can afford.

I’ve started knitting socks again because I needed something to do that was fairly mindless when I have a spare fifteen minutes before bed.

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Sock #1 finished. Stripey goodness.

In the meantime, my health has come to the forefront in a very abrupt and startling way. On April 15th, I got an MRI guided breast biopsy – my second in the last year – which was painful and scary. A week later, I got the results: I have breast cancer.

For those of you who have known me for years, you know this is one of my very worst fears. I am trying to be brave. It was caught very early, the prognosis is very good, but I am scared. There are a couple of options for treatment, and I have chosen to get a bilateral mastectomy. This cancer is very much genetic – my mother and her mother both had cancer. My mother died. I want to live. And I don’t want this fucking cancer to have any possible foothold to come back.

Everything starts in about a month. House hunting has been put on hold, I will move to a friend’s house so that I am not alone, where I do not have to worry about house things, and where there’s internet access so I can still work remotely. I am scrambling now to get everything set up: fix my car, get new glasses, find boxes, pack up all my belongings (hopefully donating some), getting things at work ready for me to be out of commission for a while, etc. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is. I hate moving. I hate that I don’t really have a choice about the best course of action.

So this blog will probably not be updated regularly. Or maybe it will? Perhaps I will have enough energy the first month to knit a pair of socks, or draw a picture, or embroider a thing. Something that won’t require a lot of energy. I don’t know. I will gather a small amount of things I think I might be able to work with during recovery and put them aside just in case.

I am scared. I am grieving the coming loss of part of my body. I am so angry that this is happening – I spent the last 30 years trying to avoid cancer by eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, not drinking, not smoking, etc etc. Turns out, even if you do all the right things, you can still get cancer.

 

 

Hard times

I have not really been making much for a while. I knit a cowl last month, and I’m repairing a rip in a pair of jeans for a friend of mine (trying out a version of sashiko stitching). I’m about to rip out that pair of socks I’d been knitting for aaaaages so that I can cast on in my regular, plain-ole vanilla pattern instead, which I can almost knit while sleeping. I knit a hat for my cello teacher because he needed one. I was home sick for three days a few weeks ago, and started spinning a bag of merino that someone gave me because that’s all I could do while sick, but that’s fallen by the wayside, too.

The constant has been cello, which I practice nearly two hours daily during the week and until my bow hand gets tired on the weekends, which ends up being about 3 or 4 hours daily. When I can. This has been the constant because, I think, there are limited materials required, I am very much in the habit of getting up at dark thirty o’clock to practice, and it is a thing I must answer for at my weekly lesson.

My all-encompassing project, though, is finding a place to live, and I can’t really stop until it happens.

Originally, I wanted to keep this blog about making things: the things I am making, the things I made, and the things I want to make. But this is getting to be really difficult. It occurred to me recently that perhaps things that interrupt the making deserve a part of the spotlight precisely because of the interruption.

I suppose I could call it a project of its own, but it feels much to awful for that. Many people would be delighted with this adventure, but I can only say that there is a constant daily dread. Our culture is set up to really cater to couples – my income times two would very easily afford to buy a house in the area I am in now. My single income will not. Or, rather, it might, but the resulting house would require an awful lot of work, which makes it nearly as expensive as a house that does not require so much work. So, I am forced to look outside of this area, and as the market gets more expensive and I am unable to keep up (even though I put away an astonishing percentage of my paycheck every month), I must look further afield. I will still have to buy a fixer-upper.

I dread moving to the places I don’t want to live in. The list of criteria has been stripped away – the important bits now are: heating system, roof, windows, amount of water in basement, quality and current state of foundation, property tax rate. I will don’t want to live in the woods, but I no longer care about the square footage, as long as it’s not over 1200sq feet, because heat is expensive.

Why don’t I just rent? Theoretically, I should be retiring in a mere twenty years (yes, I am looking at a 30 year mortgage, and my retirement account is laughably small), and rents around here are the same or more than a mortgage payment. Why didn’t I start looking earlier? I didn’t start a professional job until I was in my mid 30s, having started college late (finances), and then graduate school late (finances), and then paying off loans (this past August – hooray – more finances). I don’t have a television, so no cable, no internet access, no stereo system, a second hand cell phone on a no contract plan with very limited data, no landline, no makeup, no clothes shopping unless something is no longer repairable, no vacations anywhere, I don’t go to the movies, nothing extra. I fix my own car. “Splurging” means buying a coffee and pastry in the morning at the bakery down the street, or a ball of yarn to knit socks from. I’ve stopped buying weaving supplies unless it’s for a paying job. Which I don’t have time for now anyway.

I could rent. But would likely have to give up cello. Which would allow me to afford slightly more house, but then I would still be without the cello. It would be very sad, but I am considering it.

I need to move. It’s getting really urgent. I’m looking at houses every weekend, driving by on my lunch hour, looking at listings every morning and every evening. No time. Doing chores around the house, trying to do the necessary yard work, trying to sleep enough. No time.

Basically, all of the projects I was working on have come to a screaming halt. I owe people things, and I have no time to work on them. I am so sorry, people I owe things to. I hope you can understand.

And if anyone knows of someone who wants to sell their house for cheap near me in Western Massachusetts to someone who needs one and will really take care of it and love it, I am here.

 

Weavin’, weavin’, weavin’

I’m definitely getting faster at this. Of course, having the “you’re going to get paid for this, make the client super happy” kind of fire under your butt is a pretty good motivator.

Friday morning before going to my day job:

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I got this tied on and started throwing the shuttle Friday morning before work. Sigh – there are so many threading errors.

Friday night, I discovered a threading error. I did try to fix this by making a new string heddle, tying it on, cutting the misthreaded yarn, rethreading it properly, and tying it on to the web. About five shuttle throws in, I realized that I didn’t actually put the heddle on the right shaft. But, I reasoned, this is just a sample and the threading errors don’t actually mean anything. There are plenty of other errors. You are behind schedule anyway!

I continued to throw the shuttle.

Saturday morning, I got up at dark o’thirty and threw the shuttle:

When I’d run out of warp, I cut the cloth off the loom, serged the edges, and took a lunch break. Then drove down to Webs for the cotton I needed for the omgUrgentProject!. (New cotton visible in the right hand picture.)

By Saturday late afternoon/early evening, I had started measuring:

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Compared to the linen, this cotton is SO SOFT.

Sunday morning when the sun was finally up:

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I was measuring the fourth bout when I took this picture.

Sunday about 11:00am:

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The winding begins!

I took a lunch break and started my weekly laundry, and when I was done winding on, then spent a couple of hours threading heddles. This project has 576 ends (yarns), and this step seems to be the longest.

I threw that linen sample in the wash and into the dryer to soften it up. It came out almost opposite of how it went in: stiff and something one would associate with a thin jute mat for the floor to limp, buttery soft, and almost silk-like in drape. It’s not quite what I envisioned it would be (not so fuzzy), but it will still be useful. After hemming, I will use the two pieces as dish or hand towels to see how they wear.

Around 3pm, I sat down to practice cello, and was back at the loom almost three hours later.

By Sunday evening about 8:30, I had completed threading heddles and had about 3″ worth of the warp in the reed, but had to get to bed.

Got up at 5:15 Monday morning, made tea, ate breakfast, and by 6:30, I had the reed finished and had tied on:

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By my own schedule, I’m still a day behind. I’m not sure I can catch up, but that isn’t going to stop me from trying. Last night, when I got home from work, I made a quick supper, and got to work: measure and put on a floating selvedge, add weights to the warp on the selvedges, start throwing the shuttle.

This part is super exciting, because throwing the shuttle is where you finally get to see the pattern happen, but also where you get to see if you made a threading or sleying error. Turns out, I made a sleying error. It was not too hard to fix, but it did cost me about 30 minutes.

By about 8:00 last night:

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I’m very pleased with how this is turning out. I had forgotten how lovely unmercerized cotton is – it’s soft and drapey and very forgiving in the selvedges in a way linen just isn’t. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get one towel woven every evening this week. That may be pushing it, but I have been able to weave a single towel in an hour and a half, and it’s good to have goals, right? I wanted to have all six (or nine, the whole warp) woven and hemmed in time to be mailed on Saturday afternoon, but I may have to wait until Tuesday morning. (Monday is a bank holiday.)

Fingers crossed I can weave like the wind!