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I know it’s been awhile, but I’ve been heads-down working on my seminar and workshop courses for ANWG. I’m pleased to say that they’re now complete, and both are going to be fantastic. (Yes, I’m well out of the “worst-ever” phase!)

The workshop course covers color and color mixing in weaving, and the painted warp seminar is an overview of designing with color in painted warps. Both come with handouts summarizing the content, so students don’t have to frantically take notes the entire time.

Both courses embody my “art science” mission, which is summarized on this slide:

I’m particularly proud of my painted-warp presentation. I wove nearly 100 samples while researching painted warps, and while I have by no means exhausted the potential of the topic, I now know quite a bit on the topic. Plus, I have a lot of great eye candy!

I’m planning to develop the presentation into a full online course later this year. Here are a few teaser slides.

This one shows the effect of light wefts vs. dark wefts (click to see the larger version – if reading by email, you may have to go to the blog post on my website – sorry!)

Light vs. dark weft

The brain tends to react to light patches as if they were brightly lit areas, and to dark areas as if they were poorly lit areas. Since, in our evolutionary history, things have been lit from the top (i.e. by the sun), the brain assumes light areas are on top, dark areas on the bottom.

So if you use a light-colored weft, weft-dominant areas will appear to be on top, forcing the warp-dominant areas into the background. If you use a darker weft, it will sink to the bottom, pushing the warp-dominant areas to the top.

The brain is more interested in things on the top (accessible) than things on the bottom (likely inaccessible), so it pays more attention to the stuff on the top.

The practical upshot of which is, if you use a lighter weft, the eye will look at the weft and not the warp.

This slide is a little less intellectually complicated, but makes great eye candy:

It shows the effect of a progressively more warp-dominant draft. Here I’ve taken a warp painted in the same set of colors, and woven three samples in the same threading and treadling, but changing the tie-up to be progressively more warp-dominant to show how changing the proportions of warp vs. weft changes the appearance.

(If you are interested in learning more about what I teach, or want to read some of my free articles about color in weaving, hop on over to my teaching site, warpandweave.com!)

Meanwhile, in total world domination-land (what am I doing wasting time on weaving, anyway, when there are worlds to conquer??), I am almost done with my first round of cross-pollinations – which is to say, I have done two cross-pollinations with almost every plant in my spreadsheet of desired cross-pollinations. Next up is to do the second-tier crosses, the ones that sound interesting but which I’m less sure I want to pursue. Also to check and see which cross-pollinations didn’t “take,” and redo them.

Some of the cross-pollinations, though, clearly did “take”. Like this one:

baby killer mutant ninja tomato!

This one is a cross between plant 280 (which provided the pollen) and plant 295 (the “female” plant, which is bearing the fruit). I use plant numbers to prevent the FBI, the Justice League, and the Avengers from figuring out what I’m really up to and foiling my evil plans. Just kidding! It’s much easier and quicker, and results in smaller labels than trying to write up the entire variety description on a label going onto a tiny flower. (At least, that’s my cover story!)

Looking it up in my spreadsheet, 280 is a 5th-generation plant from a cross that was fuzzy with red and yellow striped fruit. All I know (so far) is that it’s fuzzy and has striped fruit when green. If it turns out that I don’t like the plant for some reason – maybe the fruit taste bad, or they turn out to be an ugly chocolate brown or something – no harm! I just won’t save and plant the seed. But if I do like it…I have a cross between it and Fuzzy Mix to turn loose upon the world. (Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!)

Meanwhile, I have harvested nearly all of my garlic. I had terrible trouble with garlic rust this year, so I harvested early. I don’t have photos of the crop yet, but the bulbs are almost cured, so after I return from ANWG I will take photos of the crop. Despite the rust, I have a ton of garlic (that’s what happens when you plant 20+ varieties), so no worries about shortages this year! I had dreams of a grand garlic taste-off, but an early experiment with a friend led to the conclusion that after tasting four kinds of garlic, the only thing you can taste – even after rinsing your mouth and eating all the bread, parsley, and other palate cleansers you possibly can – is garlic, even if you don’t eat any more garlic for the rest of the day! So there is simply no way to taste 20 kinds of garlic at once. Ah well. I suppose I’ll simply have to enjoy them one by one. Photos once I have cured and trimmed all the bulbs.

Off to ANWG! My flight leaves in a few hours.

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Sorry it’s been so long since the last blog post! An entire week of food poisoning has left me alternately sick and playing catch-up. But I have finally more-or-less caught up, and I have much to report!

First, I have finally finished sewing warp and weft swatches to my painted-warp samples, and photographed all of them with help from my friend/assistant Ruth. And, of course, from Fritz, who helped us set up:

Here’s the finished photography rig:

The lights are LED panels, a mix of yellowish and white LEDs, that allow me to adjust the color temperature of the lighting. For photography it makes very little difference since I can adjust the color temperature in post-processing of the photos, but it will make a difference when shooting video later. I switched from large compact fluorescent bulbs because I think I’ll get more even lighting (with less heat) from the LED panels.

You might have noticed that one of my other assistants was conspicuously absent from the photos. Where was she? Not to worry, she was providing critical assistance by protecting another batch of samples:

We had a fan going in the room, and it would have been tragic if the samples had blown away! So she sat on them to keep them in place, and nicely pressed to boot. Such a considerate kitty!

Meanwhile, you may recall that the tomatoes, three weeks ago, were happy, healthy little tykes. No more. They are now happy, healthy killer mutant ninja tomatoes, chanting FEEEED MEEEEEE!!! as they start flowering and preparing for Total World Domination:

The Fuzzy Mix aren’t quite big enough to start breeding to the other tomatoes, but in another day or two the flowers should mature enough for me to start attempting cross-pollination. This will be an adventure of a new and different kind! I am armed with YouTube videos and an electric toothbrush for pollen collection. All I need now is an “Evil Tomato Breeders for a Better Tomorrow” T-shirt. (Fortunately, I have a Thermofax machine, so I can screen print myself one in no time!)

(And yes, I have completely lost my mind. But you knew that already.)

Some of the tomatoes, however, are microdwarf tomatoes that I got from fellow tomato breeder Dan Follett. They will not be conquering the world through giant growth, but through petite adorability. This one, for example, is a fuzzy fine-leaf microdwarf, and should top out at about 11″ tall. I find the foliage fascinating, and plan to try breeding it either to Fuzzy Mix or Fruity Mix or possibly both. I haven’t anywhere near the space to breed out all these crosses but oh my the temptation and the possibilities!!!

Anyway, I’m still playing catch-up from my week-long bout with food poisoning, so off I go again.

One more note before I go, though – health update is very positive! At my latest checkup with my diabetes pharmacist, she spent twenty minutes raving about how exceptionally well I was doing (“I never see numbers like these!”), and finally said I was doing so well that I didn’t need to see her anymore – I could just get my medication refills from my primary care doc. And I just got my blood sugar tested a few days ago, and my A1c (three month rolling blood sugar average) is down to 6.1, which is well out of the diabetic zone. This means my medication is working exceptionally well. I’ve also lost ten pounds in the last four months, which helps a lot as well.

Despite all that, I have not lost any strength – I can still deadlift 560 weasels (140 pounds), and squat 660 weasels (165 pounds), much to my (and my trainer’s) delight.

So while I intend to continue working at diet and exercise, things are going very well indeed. Hurray for that!

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I just finished teaching my Color Courage for Weavers Workshop course! Or rather, I finished releasing all the lessons and did all the live lectures – some students are still finishing the exercises, and I’ll be giving feedback on the exercises through June. But the bulk of the work is done, and from now on I’ll be working primarily on revamping the current course offerings, developing new courses – and, of course, taking over the world through my killer mutant ninja tomato breeding project.

Which is coming along nicely, thank you for asking!

My Fruity Mix tomatoes were a little unhappy and chlorotic when they were set out into the garden two weeks ago. They looked like this:

Fruity Mix seedlings on 4/6/19

Two weeks later, they have settled in, greened up, and are preparing to take over the world:

Fruity Mix tomato on 4/22/19

These are going to be a little crowded – I planted four per 30-gallon tub. My plan is to keep them pinched back to 2-3 stems each, and grow them up rather than letting them sprawl. My goal here is not to get a lot of fruit but to evaluate each plant for the quality of its fruit. I’ll likely cull a lot of the plants midway through the growing season, keeping only the best plants for saving seed. (And for tasty fruit!)

Because I decided to crowd the Fruity Mix four to a tub, I wound up having more space than I originally planned for. Which of course meant…more tomatoes! (I mean, what else would you expect me to grow?) So in addition to my 32 Fruity Mix tomatoes, I’m growing nine Fuzzy Mix (for breeding purposes…the fruits are essentially inedible), sixteen to twenty varieties for breeding (I kinda lost track of the exact number), and a bunch of microdwarf tomatoes, some of which are cool and exotic, like these:

This is a fuzzy fine-leaf microdwarf. It’s hard to make out because of the fuzziness, but the leaves are very finely divided – beautiful and decorative! And it’s a microdwarf because it will get no more than 12″ tall. It’s a breeding project from Dan Follett – I’m growing it out partly to return feedback (and seeds) to him, but also to cross-breed it to Fuzzy Mix. I think it’s a beautiful little tomato plant! Can’t wait to see what the fruits look like.

The rest of the garden is going well, too. The garlic is growing like mad:

lots of garlic!

The blueberries are blueberrying:

The asparagus is also coming up (in spades!), the aprium is loaded with green fruit, our bird-of-paradise plant is blooming for the first time since we planted it, and the roses are going crazy, but no photos of those just yet…It is full-on spring in California, and I am scrambling to get on top of the weeds, put in stakes and supports, and set up the drip irrigation!

I am also weaving samples like crazy for my painted warp seminar at the ANWG conference in June…but this blog post is long enough already, so I’ll write about that in the next one. Suffice it to say that I’m up to 55 samples already and expect to be well over 100 samples by the time of the lecture…and would like to have 200+ by the time I finish developing the online course. Because one can never have too many samples!

I’ll leave you with a teaser photo of the samples. A cat heightens the mystery!

Tigress helping photograph samples
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The bathrobe is done, and it is GORGEOUS!! It will keep me toasty warm, mentally and physically, all year round:

robes of fire!

I’m particularly happy with how the pattern of the reds and oranges came out. Because I sponged on the red at the very top of the scrunched-up bathrobe, the red patches are centered in the most intense patches of orange, like this:

This gives a really nice effect of real fire.

Compare this to the tie-dye towel from my initial experiment:

I tried the paint the lines to fall in the more intense areas of orange, but as you can see, it’s really not the same, and the bathrobe looks way better. Hurray!

The bathrobe inspired me, so last weekend, I hosted a small tie-dye party for some friends. I spent most of the time helping them with their tie-dyes, but took a few moments to make two scrunch-dyed T-shirts for myself – one in fiery colors, like the bathrobe, and another in yellow, orange, and black.

Needless to say, as soon as I laid down the first shirt to take photos, this happened:

a photobombing cat!

I love the T-shirt! You’ll notice how it has much more detailed crinkling than the bathrobe. That’s because it’s a lighter-weight fabric than the bathrobe, so it holds tight wrinkles better – and thus produces a more detailed dye job. Not better or worse, just different.

The second shirt reminded me of Sharon’s comment on the previous blog post – “I think Tigress was born tie-dyed.”

I laid the shirt on the bed and snapped a photo of it next to Tigress. There is definitely a family resemblance between the tie-dyed shirt and Her Royal Highness – though, of course, there is no question about who is more fabulously beautiful!

Of course, if you take a photo of one cat, the other cat must photobomb. It is The Feline Way:

Fortunately (for the human), His Royal Highness was just a moment too late – I had already taken the photo I needed. But I snapped a photo of him anyway, because how could you not take a photo of such utter cuteness?

And then, of course, he got a belly rub, because I have only One Job.

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Honey, in this household, everything is tie-dyed.

(Except Fritz and Tigress. They run too fast.)

More seriously, I’ve been gearing up to tie-dye that bathrobe I mentioned a few posts back. And since it’s a big expensive project, that means I need to do samples! And what better way to sample for a big, sumptuous bathrobe than by doing some big, sumptuous towels?

I had been considering ice-dyeing this bathrobe, so the first step was buying 80 pounds of ice. 40 pounds for ice dyeing, and 40 pounds for rinsing out the tie-dyes afterwards.

(Dyer’s trick: do the first rinse of fiber-reactive-dyed items in ice water, to prevent unreacted dye from migrating and staining other areas. The ice bath chills the dye to the point where it won’t react in that rinse, and the ice water rinse removes the soda ash, so the dye won’t react in subsequent rinses either. Presto, your white areas stay white.)

I was thinking of two options. One was an indigo blue background and fuchsia/turquoise/purple patterning. The other was my usual favorite, orange and yellow background with red patterning. Ice dyeing would add randomness to the pattern, and variations in intensity – dark and light areas where the ice diverted or diluted the dyes.

Here’s an ice-dyed T-shirt I did in 2016 that gives you an idea of what you can get from ice dyeing:

ice dyed T-shirt from 2016

So I made up a bunch of dyes and did the towels. I did one towel in navy blue, turquoise, purple, and fuchsia, ice dyed in a spiral – navy blue on the bottom and turquoise/fuchsia/purple on top. Then I did two more towels in fiery colors – one in an ice-dyed spiral with orange and yellow on the bottom and fuchsia/scarlet/orange on to. The other I dyed in a scrunch-dyed pattern with orange and yellow on top, and painted it afterwards with a network of red lines.

Here’s what the fiery-color ice-dyed spiral towel looked like after I piled ice on top and dripped the dyes on:

ice dyed towel in progress

And here’s what all three towels looked like when done:

Sample towel #1 – blue, purple, fuchsia, turquoise Sample towel #2 – ice dyed spiral in yellow/orange/scarlet/fuchsia Sample towel #3 – side 1 Sample towel #3 – the other side

Obviously (if you are me, anyway) the choice is #3. A dark blue bathrobe in the dark winter is a nonstarter – I’d want to shoot myself by the time January rolled around. And I didn’t like the cool reds or the way the ice diluted the color. A bathrobe the color of fire would be the perfect thing to warm me up during the (cough) freezing California winters.

So yesterday I soaked the bathrobe in soda ash solution, spun it out briefly in the washer, and arranged it on a baker’s full-size sheet pan. Like this:

bathrobe, ready for dyeing!

Then I poured a quart of yellow dye onto the bottom of the sheet pan. Which vanished immediately.

I scratched my head, and mixed up another quart. Which also vanished immediately.

At which point I poured in a leftover pint of golden yellow. Repeat vanishment.

I abandoned subtlety, and mixed up half a gallon of yellow dye, throwing in another quart of soda ash solution just in case there wasn’t enough. I poured that into the bottom of the sheet pan. Take that, bathrobe!

Finally, I had yellow peeking up from the bottom, as I wanted. I started dripping on the orange dye.

Here’s what the bathrobe looked like now:

bathrobe sprinkled with orange and yellow dye

After sprinkling on the orange dye, I decided not to paint on the red lines but to try an experiment: sponging on just a little bit of red dye to create a tracery of red lines in the center of the most intense orange areas.

Here’s what the bathrobe looked like partway through the sponging process:

bathrobe, sprinkled with orange dye, partially sponged with red dye

And here’s what it looks like at the edge, where you can see all three layers of dye: red, orange, and yellow:

And what does the finished bathrobe look like? Tough noogies, sweetheart – the dyes haven’t finished setting yet, so I don’t know yet. It’ll be another couple hours before I can pull it off the tray start the rinsing process, and that will take another half-day or more. So I’ll be in suspense for another day or so – and so will you.

Perhaps this would be a good metaphor:

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Michael David Crawford, a friend and fellow mental health activist, committed suicide earlier this week.

Michael and I met online a year or so ago, when he posted something about mental illness in a Facebook group for Caltech alumni. He, it turned out, also had bipolar disorder, and wrote about his experiences with mental illness on his website. (Technically, he had bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder, which is basically equivalent to having Type I bipolar disorder and schizophrenia at once. This sounds terrible, and is even worse.)

People who have a mental illness and are willing to talk openly about it are rare – even rarer, if they are still struggling with it, as Michael was. Aside from me and Michael, I only know one other person who is public about having bipolar disorder. (I hope he’s doing okay.)

Michael and I were in many ways kindred souls. We were both intelligent, articulate, creative people; we both graduated from Caltech; we both suffered from severe mental illness and were committed to raising awareness about mental health issues.

But there was one big difference between us. I had been able to find an effective medical treatment for my mental illness. He had not.

As a result, as his mental illness got worse, Michael hadn’t been able to keep his job as a software engineer. He worked as a contractor for awhile, but wasn’t able to keep that going, either. By the time I met him, he was living in housing provided by a nonprofit, eating from the food stamp program. When the food stamps ran out, he would sing for tips on the street – or, if no tips were forthcoming, simply go hungry.

Beyond the mental health problems, which were serious and getting worse, other medical problems were plaguing Michael – painful and potentially lethal ones. He spent a lot of time in the emergency room because it was the only place where – without money or health insurance – he could get treatment. Over the last few weeks, his health, mental and physical, continued to nosedive.

When he committed suicide, I think Michael was tired of fighting. I think he was tired of being in pain, saw no positive outcome, and decided to end the pain the only way possible.

The thing about a chemically driven mental illness is that when it’s with you, it’s with you. Every waking moment. The only ways to stop it are by dulling your brain with alcohol or other drugs, by fixing the problem medically, or by killing yourself. The people who survive are the ones who can suffer the pain long enough either to outlive that period of mental illness (some mental illnesses come and go periodically), or survive long enough to find a medical solution.

I spent six months struggling with continuous bipolar depression in 2003, before finally finding a medication regimen that worked. That took every ounce of my strength; I was within a day or two of killing myself when we finally found a medical solution. I vowed afterwards never to subject myself to that much pain again. I would not do that again, not even for another four decades of life. The pain was unbelievable.

So how Michael had the strength and courage to live with so much more untreatable pain for so long is beyond me. And to do so with compassion, grace, and a sense of humor – he must have been superhuman.

Michael was not a saint, and he had his own share of flaws, like every other human – but he made the world a brighter place, and he helped put a personal face on mental illness.

I cannot help but have spent the last half-week thinking how similar he and I were, and how easily his story could have been mine: “There, but for the grace of a teensy-tiny difference in brain chemistry, go I.”

And I wonder if, had my story been his, I could have handled it with half the grace and strength that he did.

Rest in peace, Michael. The world is a poorer place without you.

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I started recovering from my cold right around the time the weather cleared up, so one of the first things I did was wind and paint the warp for my painted-warp samples. Here it is, festooning our fig tree:

painted warp hung to dry in the fig tree

There are actually two warps, wound and painted together, which will be woven using the exact same threading and treadling. Only the tie-up will be different. But! One fabric will blend warp and weft colors into a single, mixed color. The other will separate warp and weft colors as much as possible. As a result, the two fabrics will look quite different. They should be quite instructive for my students.

Since I had a bunch of leftover dye after painting the warp, of course I had to add a few T-shirts to my wardrobe. So I grabbed a few shirts and used them to soak up extra dye.

(I am infernally lazy about clothing. Since I am 5’0″ with extremely broad shoulders, muscular arms, and weigh considerably more than I should, it’s nearly impossible to find clothes that fit. My solution is to find one type of clothing that fits, buy a dozen of it in white, and dye twelve different variants so they all look creatively unique. Back when I was working in high-tech, it was short-sleeve button-down shirts; nowadays I mostly just roll with T-shirts.)

Of course, as soon as I laid the shirts on the bed for photography, the inevitable happened. Because in this household, cats are always standing by to help!

Fritz, helping out with photos!

Fortunately, a bit of a belly rub, some head scritching, and a bit of out and out cat-treat bribery convinced Mr. Fritz to take himself elsewhere. (Of course, this could explain why cats are so eager to help, but what’s a human to do? Moving the cat would be unthinkable!)

So here are the shirts I dyed. First up is my favorite. Usually I only use two colors with scrunch dyed shirts, but this time I used three colors – a warm fuschia, gold, and indigo blue. I LOVE the results – the photo really doesn’t do it justice:

This shirt, dyed in a mix of indigo, turquoise, and steel gray, came out gorgeous, but a bit too subdued for my tastes (what can I say, I’m a magpie!) Fortunately, my friend Sand fell instantly in love with it, so I gave it to them, and we were both delighted.

I have mixed feelings about the Wild Boar Farms T-shirt below:

The colors are a bit more muted than I had intended – partly because the shirt is 50/50 cotton-polyester, which I hadn’t realized before dyeing. (Polyester doesn’t take fiber-reactive dyes, so the color is less intense than on a pure cotton shirt.) On the other hand…the color is PERFECT for a tomato farm T-shirt, which is exactly as I intended! And it captures perfectly the colors of my favorite tomato variety, Berkeley Tie-Dye, bred by…Wild Boar Farms!

A Berkeley Tie-Dye tomato I grew last year

Meanwhile, the samples Laura Fry wove up for me arrived. I have not yet photographed them, though, because when I tried to take photos, this happened:

Tigress, helping with photos

Since I was out of cat treats (just kidding – the world would end if I actually ran out of cat treats!), I had to abandon the samples to Ms. Tigress and give up on photography for the day. (What? Move the cat? Unthinkable!)

But the samples are quite interesting – looking forward to getting the photos and analyzing the color interactions. Plus, they’re pretty!

I’m also planning another dye day…including not one, but TWO new bathrobes. A big event for me…I only do a new bathrobe every few years, and it’s a big deal because I like huge, floor-length, luxurious bathrobes. They’re expensive, tricky to handle, and soak up a LOT of dye – so it’s rather like trying to dye a giant ball gown. So stay tuned…fun times ahead!

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