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Inspiration: life to art

Updated: May 29, 2021

Tyche, 2017

Last April I had four goals in mind. Two I’d known about for months - heal from a scheduled hip replacement surgery and participate in an online weaving class. I even justified the weaving class as therapy - surely the movement of my feet on the treadles would help bring back muscle tone once I was cleared from surgery? But then two other goals dropped into my planet from left field - one was the Covid pandemic and the other was the diagnosis of fast acting, terminal lymphoma for my 10 yr old Australia Shepherd, Tyche. Why call them goals, I hear you ask? Well Covid quickly became a challenge - how to get thru the isolation, the change in norms, the fear of infection. And Tyche's cancer? Well the "goal" of Tyche’s diagnosis was for us to soak in every remaining minute I had with her. To absorb every lick and snuggle. To try to capture all the joy we had in one another’s presence so it would be in my heart, strongly, forever.

May 2020 planning sheet, Tyche's blanket

All spring I wove through my lessons on Plain Weave and I found myself wondering if I could weave a blanket that would be a tribute to Tyche. A weaving that would showcase her striking colors and provide a warmth I'd wrap around me when she was gone. I drew up possible plaid patterns - testing white, black and tan for her coat with thin lines of pink for her happy dancing tongue. I envisioned using mohair or cashmere so the warmth would be light (as Tyche was on her feet), but always present (as she had been and I wished she'd still be).

First wrap of possible Tyche blanket fibers

Then I heard how challenging mohair could be to weave and I paused. Most of my weaving at that point was with 8/2 Maurice Brassard cotton with a little cotton boucle tossed in for excitement. I rethought my fiber choice - I could do the black, tan and pink in the 8/2 cotton and represent the beautiful thick white hair on her chest with the boucle. I wrapped the fiber in various around cardboard to confirm the design and sett. I felt confident with these fibers and moved forward with my plans.

Tyche blanket draft 2

I put another version of my design into fiberworks - both so I could learn the program and to confirm my ideas. I revised. And waffled. Something didn't feel right. I decided to listen to all my weaving mentors and weave a sample in the cotton - it really would be the best way to confirm the images I had dancing in my head. I wove two small towels - one using boucle and one not - to get the real feel of the design.

Tyche blanket, first cotton sample

I liked the feel of the towels when I was done. I even liked the pattern. But the cotton didn’t provide the warmth that I knew I wanted from any fabric standing in for Tyche. I put all of my ideas on hold for the summer so I could keep learning with the online guild and soak in the sunshine taking more long walks with Tyche - strengthening my legs and doing my best to ward off pandemic depression.

As summer turned into fall I began to mull over my fiber choices, again, for what I was now calling "Tyche’s blanket." I re-evaluated boxes of fiber I had acquired from my local guild; fiber that was from one of their beloved members who had passed and who was a weaver of considerable skill. I realized, from her stash, I had cones of cashmere and fine wool, camel and even yak! I had lots of neutrals and even a bright pink that would work for the zinger.

Final pattern/fibers, Tyche Blanket plans

And then my eyes fell on a unique looking cone - it was a space dyed rayon slub that varied in hue from white to cream to sparkling tan to a soft grey blue. That fiber represented all the colors of Tyche and I decided I could simplify my design. I went back to the drawing board and reworked my design with only three blocks of color in the warp - cream, black and the camel of the rayon slub. I kept the pink zinger. And I re-did my cardboard sample to see how it would wrap. The four fibers could provide, carefully woven, a balanced fabric. So I went with them: a 2/30 Cashwool in black/charcoal; a 1/18 white wool (marked "ramley like"), a 2/20 pink wool, and the spaced dyed rayon slub. Fiber choices done.

By Fall, I’d also completed three seasons in the online weaving class and had joined a local study group. I looked at Season 3’s lesson on double weave and had another ah-ha moment. I wanted a blanket but had a loom with only 24" of weaving width. But what if I wove the Tyche blanket as double weave - learning that structure as I wove and getting a wider width in the final blanket? I was excited to give it a try and planned that I’d work on the project in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when the online class would be on break.

But Tyche had other ideas. As the hip healed, and the pandemic wore on, and the US election cycle heated up and then boiled over, Tyche decided she’d had enough. The Monday before Thanksgiving we said goodbye to our “baby dog,” our family member for a decade, my constant convenient companion. Our long walks without her didn't ease our grief.

First sleying of Tyche's blanket, 2020

By December I realized I needed to weave because weaving would be cathartic. Thinking about the project, choosing the fiber, winding the warp, sleying the reed, threading the loom, winding the warp, starting to weave - all of these were time and brain consuming. I made mistakes each step of the way and documented my errors and my corrections. I learned deeply. Each piece of the setup required my full attention. And when my attention did drift I walked away, acknowledging a gift of the pandemic - time. Each time I took a break I knew I'd be back to the loom quickly - weaving was giving me a break from my grief and a sense of progress where so little had felt productive.

Starting to weave Tyche's blanket, 2020

By January, I was ready to cut the blanket

from the loom. I decided not to twist the fringe - the long threads felt like Tyche’s hairs wrapping in and around my fingers - and I’d hemstitched the edges so I was confident that my weaving would hold. I put in some knots along the finge in case. I washed and fulled the blanket in my new top-loading washer on delicate, leaving it to air dry and then lightly ironing it to push out a few wrinkles. I wrapped up my notes in a binder and took finished measurements. The blanket is 33” wide and 58” long, before fringe.

Tyche's blanket, 2020

It is light and soft and warm. It’s folded over the back of the chair I use at my loom and it's a daily reminder of my missing friend. A way to keep her close even as our new pup, Neva, tries to learn to settle beside the loom. Neva is a Future Leader Dog for Leader Dog for the Blind. If all goes well, we’ll have her with us for a year before she moves on to be a guide dog for someone who is visually impaired.

And yes, I’ve already begun to ponder how I will make a blanket to celebrate Neva. Black on black. Some pink for the tongue. And likely not in double weave. But we’ll see. I’m still in the online weaving class and the support group. Who knows what I'll have learned to do by next winter? Who knows what will feel just right for Neva when it comes time to say goodbye? I have a year in which I'm practicing Tyche’s last and best gift - the enjoyment of every single day last summer. I have a year to do this with Neva, with each other, and with my weaving.

I wish you all the same.

- Nameste.

Neva learning to settle at the loom, 2021

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