Monday, December 22, 2014

I Olive you.

Olives, olives, olives. Over this last month both waking and dreaming life have been filled with olives. This adventure started when after last year´s success with fermented olives led us to pick them again this year. However, we soon realized that we had far too many to ferment when every container we had was filled to the brim with the little buggers. So we decided that picking for oil was probably a good idea, until we realized that the minimum weights the press accepts in order for you to have your own oil were upwards of 300kg. We were looking at a yield of little more than 100kg.  

If we were to have oil as close as ours would be, if we had a greater quantity, we would also have to pick olives from as close to our trees as possible. As fate would have it, our neighbor, unable to pick her own allowed us to pick them. And then the neighbor next to her did the same. All of a sudden we found ourselves working from dusk till dawn atop towering trees that had never once been pruned. It was not an easy task, especially when the surrounding field had been sewn with oat which was already quite tall and our fear of destroying the crop coupled with our fear of falling from the trees made for an extreme olive picking experience. I am surprised I did not dream of porridge.

Each day after picking the olives we still had to clean them of all the leaves and other debris in order to bag them and have them preserve as well and for as long as possible. Experienced pickers with special machines pick over one ton in one weekend, but we actually think they lie when they tell us this is the case. We managed little more than half that in one month. But it was a very productive month and I still managed to weave 5 scarves. I was pretty happy with my efforts.

Much happier still when we weighed our crop and realized we had actually worked quite well considering, and when the oil started to flow it was incredibly rewarding. This year the oil yields were quite low, due to shifts in temperature during the maturation process, so we did not expect to get much oil. We were very happy when we brought home a whopping 75 Liters. This amount is more than enough for us to consume as well as to pay our "bosses" their part.

And as far as taste goes, well… it is outstanding. We have an extra virgin olive oil, with low acidity and with tropical fruit aromas (there is a touch of bananas in there). As far as pungency goes it is a two-cough oil, and because it has not been filtered we also have what is known as a cloudy oil. And just look at that colour. All we need now is some gold leaf flakes to add to it and it will be worth its weight of the same solid metal. We have a small amount of oil reserved for sale and if you are interested in having some of this precious liquid, let me know.

Now we rest by the fire. The one pictured above is not ours. Unfortunately our fire is nowhere near this towering inferno of warmth. And we brace ourselves for the frosty cold weather that will soon ruin almost everything in our garden but the cabbages and some resistant yet to be identified mushrooms.

Needless to say the next scarf woven will be olive inspired.

A merry festive season to all.

Monday, December 15, 2014

More scarves for sale.

As promised here are some more scarves for sale. You can find them at my Etsy Store. Follow the link here.

As per usual I hope you like these scarves and if you have any questions fell free to get in touch.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

New scarves for sale!!!!

I have been very busy with so many things lately that I have not had the time to keep you posted. But not to worry. Here are three new scarves that you can buy for your loved ones this Christmas or for any other occasion you think appropriate. As per usual they have been handwoven using 100% Portuguese wool. If you live anywhere near this part of the world then these scarves will come in quite handy right now. It is very very cold outside and trust me, having to light your fireplace before 10 o´clock in the morning is not romantic. 

As per usual the scarves are for boys and girls. André kindly offered to model the three scarves. Small portuguese country towns are notorious for their lack of models of any kind. Needless to say that the individuals willing to model will do just about anything as you can see from the results and André was wonderful to work with.

You can see more photos of the scarves as well as all the information you need at the Esquilo Handmade shop. Here is the link,

You can also custom order if you have a particular color or size in mind. Send me an email.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Thistle, rug and clogs.

Declared a pest in Western Australia, the artichoke thistle (Cynara Cardunculus spp. flavenscens) is used in Portugal as a rennet substitute when making cheese. The flower of this thistle is very large and in bloom at the moment. It looks just like an artichoke in everyway except for the nasty thorns. Traditionally the bluish purple petals are collected and allowed to dry. Then, in a clay mortar with wooden pestle, the one pictured above was actually used for the purpose, the petals are ground. Some say that the lower part of these petals, the brown seed part can also be used. All agree that you need quite a lot of the plant in order for it to have the desired effect. I collected these for my cousin who has a goat and wants to try making cheese. Perhaps she can use these two flower heads for seed instead and hopefully they will not grow in biblical pest proportions. As an extra note on the wooden pestle, the smaller one I bought from an old craftsman from Salvador, a town nearby. When I asked him what this bit of carved wood was used for, his answer was specific, "a pestle for grinding thistle", not coriander and garlic, "thistle". I thought it was a small rolling pin used to make zig zag patterns on pastry or something like that. I should have stuck to my archaeological roots and said it was used for ritual instead.

I have never been a fan of cheese, but I wouldn´t mind learning how to make it. I imagine it is not difficult, but like anything it would require a lot of practice. After all, the ladies in town that still make cheese, mostly these days with store bought rennet, are 80+ years old on the majority. I estimate that is at least a 65 year cheese making career. They may not be the best teachers, as often is the case when teaching things that are done so intuitively and with techniques and ways that have been passed down through the times that no one really knows why they are the way they are anymore, just simply that they work. And curiously enough these days science always has a good explanation for it all. Science has not yet managed to explain why changing the water of fermenting olives on a windy day is a no no, nor why the wind gets inside the olives and makes them soft. But I assure you that everyone you ask in town will agree this is the case. What say you Science?

The question of whether my teachers will be good or not is irrelevant. I need teachers or I may become one of these fools that Hunter S. Thompson referred to. "He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master".  This does beg the question, can the teachers in turn be themselves self taught. I assumed it was implied that this should not be the case.

A close up of a slice of zucchini, a nice pattern that would make a pretty tile for, say, a kitchen wall.

From one close up to another. This time we have a close up of a small rug I finished today, again made in an effort to better my skills at using and teaching how to use this loom. I threaded the warp incorrectly, doubled up on a heddle, and the result is that white line you see. It was not done on purpose and it does not bother me much, it is very Saori after all, and will serve as a good example to show my future students. I wanted to replicate a small rug we have that has seen better days. I can´t stand T yarn, I know it is a good way of recycling and all that, but I can´t stand everything about it, the way if feels the way it looks… But for the purpose of this particular piece it works perfectly, it is cheap, has the right weight, grows quickly… blah blah, can´t stand it.

My new clogs look quite good on the new rug. I also want to learn how to make clogs. So many things to learn.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Rags and Weeds.

My task of fixing and setting up the loom I told you about in the last post is almost complete. One loom (there are actually 2 to fix) is fully operational now and I just really need to focus on the easiest and best way to set it up so that I can teach those who will be using it. I have been learning a lot, especially about how to set up the loom from front to back. It is true that you stick with the way you learnt first, for me it was from back to front. So it is all a little upside down for me right now.

For a second project on this loom I decided to use more traditional materials to simulate possible future works that might be carried out. I hope I am not conditioning the loom in any way, a bit like growing tomatoes in used tomato cans. I always have lots of bits of fabrics lying around and some really not so pretty ones that are perfect for using in rag rugs. The trick is not to be too lazy like me and tear the strips of fabric as these tend to fray and make the whole process so much slower. I suggest you take the long road and cut with something sharp like scissors. I also used some wool I got from the blanket workshop I did last year as well as other bits and pieces of wool I had left from the scarves. I essentially made a sampler of leftovers. It was also a good opportunity to try out some different finishing techniques. I normally use the Peruvian twining stitch to finish the scarves, I find it is neater, but for rugs hemstitching works quite well.

It is always fun to get my very patient model André to believe that he starting a new trend. Last Summer he wore a thick woolen jacket. This summer he believes rag rugs are the latest in headdress, for the sun conscious. Ah, of course! Who would have thought.

And then there is the light, thanks to which we can see clearly that it is all so worthwhile.

To finish, a nice plate of weeds and assorted greens from the garden. When picking weeds for your next meal, make sure you know what you are really picking. Remember the importance of calling "…each thing by its right name."(Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago) Not doing so, in the weed picking context, could have unforeseen consequences. Eat your weeds. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I´m back.

It has been far too long between posts. But as they say "better late than never", whoever `they´may be.

Back home on the farm and things are moving at a snail´s pace, especially now that the heat has arrived in force and working after lunch with a full belly and tired body seems almost impossible. That said, the mornings have been very productive. Particularly productive for the ants that insist on stealing all the seeds that I sow, single file of no particular style, into some yet to be discovered super secret hideout.

To begin with, a close up of a hand woven bed spread, that was made as a souvenir from a town called Sarzedas. It says "gratidão", which means gratitude. The colours are bright electric and the whole piece  is woven always using the 2 colours meaning the bobbles can be raised on the same warp pass in either green or pink. I decided that because this bead spread was too small for my bed that it would look better hanging on the wall. It has helped reduced the echo in the room and given it a warm and cosy feel. Not sure this was such a good idea going into the warm weather, the room has become far too inviting for naps and possibly a lot warmer than would be desired for this time of the year.

As a goodbye gift, before I left Sydney, my good friend David Loong gave me the most wonderful gift. A pendant that is a small pot for flowers. It holds several very small flowers of your liking and even water so the flowers stay fresh. It is very beautiful. If you like this piece go and check out David´s page on Etsy, where you can see some more original and creative designs. All hand made. I have my eye on a pendant called "squirreling" that has the following, most wonderful, story attached:

"While squirrels enjoy the nutritional rewards that come from collecting acorns, their primary concern is to amass as large a reserve as possible of little acorn hats, which they wear almost every day if possible. Whilst in size this headwear is more suited to young squirrels, at some point in the distant past adult squirrels took to donning acorn caps as a fashion statement, and the trend has continued unabated for thousands of years. As the small size makes them hard to secure, it is very common for squirrels to go through four or five caps every day simply through accidental loss, so gathering as many as possible when they are in season is essential for any squirrel who wants to look good in public." (David Loong)

While in Sydney I came across a wrap around wool skirt by a Designer called Donald Davies. You can read about him at the Vintage Fashion Guild. Most likely my skirt is from the 1970´s. It was most certainly designed for a very tall lady who also very likely wore platform shoes. It actually fits me as a dress! The Davies duo, Mary his wife was the designer, came up with the best color combinations, something that I sometimes get stuck with. I instantly found them inspiring for my rigid heddle loom. The pieces I weave on this loom, as some of you may already know, are always plain weave and so what makes them interesting in my opinion are the color combinations. And so the first pice off the loom was a kind of replica of this Davies design. All the colors are just slightly enough different for it to look nothing like the original, and this is a good thing I guess. I made a small scarf that I gave to my friend who lives in Berlin for her birthday. I am sure it will come very handy in a few months time when she needs to brave the cold weather while riding her bike listening to minimal electro or techno music (take your pick, I picked electro).

I have been asked to help fix and set up a loom. I used this opportunity to try to weave with these grasses that are commonly found around here. The loom I am fixing has 2 shafts and a metal beater and so I can weave things that don´t really work on my loom. I am really happy with the result. I made a table runner that doubles as protector so I can put hot pots and pans on it. That is the plan anyway. The loom is still not fixed and working properly, it has the worst system for raising and lowering the shafts I have ever seen and I will have to be very creative if anyone is going to be able to use it, myself included.

In the background of the photo where you can see the grass runner on the table are two framed prints. These artworks are screen prints by an artist from Porto called Rodrigo Neto. If you like what you see, also in the close up, you should check out his page where you can purchase these prints, t-shirts, prints of his wonderful animal painting series as well as organize to have your work screen printed. Check the Ofi Atalaia shop. Do it. Buy one.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Swedish Pattern, Goose Eye & Mysteries.

Last week I decided to try a Swedish design that Warril from the Guild showed me. The first two photos show Warril´s sampler and the draft for this pattern. I decided to make a table runner. As you can see my experiment is slightly different from Warril´s sample as I simply followed the draft.

Next I set up the loom to make a scarf for my niece. Of course it had to be pink. I chose a goose eye twill, different from the one I had tried for my first piece on this same loom. I like how the pattern looks like small flowers. My niece has not seen her new scarf yet. I have a feeling she will question why it has a blue stripe.

The next, slightly overdue, project will be double weaving. Hopefully, with beginners luck on my side, I will be double weaving like a Bauhaus master. I will be trying to channel Anne Albers. Fingers crossed. 

I came across a book* about an American weaver, Mary Meigs Atwater, at the Guild library. There, in an excerpt from the "Shuttlecraft Guild Bulletin", Mary had written about "The idea of the Guild". She wrote about how in the Middle Ages the various crafts banded together into Guilds or Mysteries. She went on to say that the exclusiveness this created was the eventual downfall of the Guild system. I thought the use of the word mystery was interesting. But then I remembered that pagan rites were also once referred to as mysteries.

Atwater went on to say,"It is unfortunate that many weavers of this modern day have this same attitude toward their art - they wish to keep it a mystery, to keep out others. They refuse to give help or information, and do all they can to make handweaving appear to the uninitiated a very complicated and quite unattainable thing. Nothing, it seems to me, could be more unwise. To my way of thinking, the more people who know about weaving, the better for the craft." I totally agree with this, and not just with regards to weaving. Fortunately for me Guilds have a long way and at least my experience at the Burwood Guild has been far from mysterious.

Share. No one can take away from you what you know.

* "Weaving a Life. The Story of Mary Meigs Atwater", compiled by Mary Jo Retter, Edited by Veronica Patterson, Interweave Pr, 1992.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Autumn and Rosepath.

Autumn has finally really arrived and it has not stopped raining for a few days now. It is a good excuse to get stuck into weaving. The first piece you see was actually woven a little while back now and was based on a sample I got from the Guild that I was curious to decipher.

A trip to Oberon Forest proved quite fruitful and I was happy to see the familiar pine mushrooms that we have back home. They truly are as their name suggestes, "deliciosus". The familiar amanitas were also there and just the most wonderful and vibrant red. What was not so familiar was the forest itself. The pine trees are of a different species from back home and this forest was very clearly planned. Its clear grid and organized structure also made this forest incredibly disorientating. I almost thought I was lost a couple of times and did not venture far from the road. It was nonetheless such a beautiful place, with ferns and moss covered logs and so, so many mushrooms. And the drive back was equally if not more beautiful, with magic hour views of rolling hills in the Jenolan caves area. Brilliant day.

Back to the weaving, the blue and caramel piece is an example of a crammed and spaced 2/2 twill. It was a fun sample to make as it involved a lot more planning than other weaves I had tried till then and I had to do many calculations. In the end it turned out beautiful.

A fine example of a "full bellied" lorikeet.

And finally, the Rosepath, a traditional weave, based on a pointed twill. The last time I visited the Guild, I was given some instructions for the Rosepath and some samplers. The weekend of the same week I was lucky enough to visit Liz Calnan´s studio in Epping. It was a wonderland of looms of all different sizes, boxes and boxes of fibres and so many beautiful things. Liz is a teacher at the Guild and when I told her I was having troubles figuring out how to draw my own designs or copy samples she was quick to help with some course notes. And there you have it, my rosepath sampler.