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All About Tabby Kittens and Plainweave Cloth Weaving – Weaver Anna Champeney reports

tabby kittensWhat´s the difference between plainweave cloth and a stripey kitten? Not a lot, actually when you find out the origins of the word tabby, which refers both to the silvery brindled patterning of certain cats and also to the simplest of weave structures – plainweave.  But did you know that the same word tabby also refers to a particular kind of watered silk fabric?  Read on….

noun: 1. A domestic cat with a striped or brindled coat, or a  fabric of plain weave or a watered silk fabric

ETYMOLOGY:  From French tabis, from Medieval Latin attabi, from Arabic attabi, from al-Attabiya, a suburb of Baghdad, Iraq, where silk was made, from the name of Prince Attab.

 All this means, logically, that tabby cats should be the natural choice for weavers, in which case, boy, am I a lucky weaver!!!??  For our pet cat Tangula, who as you might remember was just a kitten when I started writing this blog last year (click here to see a blog post with a photo of Tangula when still a kitten last year), is now the proud mother of no fewer than FIVE BEAUTIFUL TABBY KITTENS.  Two will be staying in the village of Cristosende, just moving a few doors down to Debs´ house.   But if you can provide a loving home for one or two of the others and live within driving distance of the Ribeira Sacra, Ourense, Galicia – then – look no further for your kittens.  Just contact us.  They will be ready for adoption by the end of June 2010, and are already toilet trained because Tangula, despite her tender age – is proving to be an excellent, if slightly stressed out, mother!

 Whilst on the subject of kittens, you might find my training tips quite useful – they´re not just for weavers or knitters!


(Below are 3 photos of the beautiful kittens ready for adoption in Ourense, Galicia, Spain – June 2010)

kittens for adoption

Having a new kitten – especially but not exclusively in a weave workshop – presents some, erm, rather obvious hazards.  Linen shawls with fringes are a temptation that no kitten can resist;  and yarns, whether in skeins, balls or on cones – are, for cats, obvious proof of their owners “desire to play”.

I have had a few initial disasters in my weaving studio with cats, yarns and (aaghhh) fine, hand-woven linen shawls, but they have taught me some useful lessons and made me explore useful training methods.  I have written them down here in my blog so that you won´t have to ban your mog from your studio (or bedroom or living room!).  Of course, in addition to training your kitten, you will also find as he or she grows older and “more responsible” they won´t find playing with your hand-wovens such a temptation.

 I have discovered is that it is perfectly possible to train a cat not to destroy either your yarns or hand-woven scarves (and by extention your sofa or bedcover or favourite cushion!).  I can now allow both our adult cats into my workshop and shop, where linen shawls with fringes are well within cat paw height – and have no problems.  All it requires is a bit of patience as kittens need to learn what is acceptable – and unacceptable – behaviour.  A bit of perseverance when the kitten is young will be rewarded later on, when you can enjoy the purr of a dozing cat whilst you weave.

1.  Keep a plant spray handy and stay alert.  A light spray of water when kitty starts to “play” with your yarns is enough to persuade him or her that it´s not such a good idea – without causing any hurt.

2.  Engineer noisy “accidents” which put cats off jumping up onto display areas, shelves, tables etc., where you don´t want them to go.  Once one of our cats jumped onto a textile display area and managed to pull a display bust over, with several textiles.  The resultant clatter, as both bust and cat went down together, was actually very effective shock therapy and he never jumped up to cause problems again.  With a young cat or you can re-create this kind of happening – but less destructive, (to the display bust and textile and cat) – for example – by contructing a tower of empty toilet rolls with some jamjar lids – which will persuade him or her that it´s not such a good idea to jump onto that particular surface.  One cat training book suggests placing one or several traditional mousetraps, upside down, with a cloth over them, so that when a cat jumps up it jumps shut with a loud snap – this is enough to make your cat “jump” and move off the surface.

grey kitten for adoption3.  Use your voice – cats recognize the voice of owner disapproval – so establish a warming sound and use it every time you use the plant spray, for example, so that the sound eventually has the same effect.  Tsss tsss is the sound which now works wonders, at least with Spanish cats – I don´t need to use the spray, just the sound is enough now to persuade our cats to think twice before doing something they shouldn´t.  You can follow up the warning tone with a loving “come over here and I´ll stroke you or play with you” tone.

4.  The best way to train cats to avoid particular places to sleep (like on your sofa or yarn box or on a pile of recently ironed shawls or scarves) is by creating a place they like even better.  For cats are creatures of habit and once they´ve found their “favourite” place to sleep they will return again and again.   A bit of trial and error may be necessary in order to find a location they like (cats often feel more secure off the floor in a higher area) and the kind of surface (one cats usually have a preference for natural fibres).

Weaving Courses and Self-Catering Cottage Holidays with us in north Spain

Adopt one of our kittens

 gatito ourensá

Goodbye to Tracey, hand-weaving pupil and voluntary work experience assistant at Anna Champeney Textile Studio in north Spain

Anna and Tracey, her assistant, with 11 kilos of natural dyed wool and silk It´s time to say goodbye to Tracey, the AC Textile Studio´s pupil and work assistant over the past couple of months.  Tracey, from the UK, first came here to north Spain, with Kathleen McCormick, in 2007, to for the residential 3 week intensive weaving course or “Textile Assistantship” for beginners, offered once or twice a year. 3 years on she decided to repeat the assistantship again in 2010, this time to deepen her knowledge of weaving hand-made textiles and find out more about the reality of earning a living by hand-weaving.

A total of 6 weeks of weaving tuition and immersion in the environment of a professional working weave studio meant that Tracey was skilled enough to help out with some of the professional weaving and other related work of the studio for a further period as a volunteer.   This involved a range of varied work including assisting in large-scale batch dyeing with madder, weld and logwood, weaving up several saquitos, mini-Galician textiles and cushions to the studio´s own designs, cleaning and tidying the workshop, helping out with some computer-based work, yarn winding and helping to prepare looms for public weaving demonstrations and private weaving tuition given to Spanish pupils at the studio.

During her time Tracey wove up some of the Textile Studios own designs such as these mini Galician linen farm sacks or saquitosDuring her time with us Tracey also learned how to photograph her work and the importance of knowing how to develop her work for different markets, how to price her work, and see some of the different options open to professional hand-weavers today in practice – including teaching and public demonstrating at craft fairs.  The world of hand-weaving today is one which offers no set career progression and so anyone wishing to make a career of weaving as a designer-maker or maker-educator needs to be able to be independent and be able to find their own way.  The photos you see here are of the pieces made by Tracey during her time at the studio, and are very similar to the photographs that she herself took during an afternoon textile photographing course at the studio, as part of her training in professional skills and working practices which accompanied the more direct technical and design-based learning.

Tracey worked on this linen curtain project from start to finishPerhaps the most exacting project we gave Tracey was to work on a made-to-measure curtain project from beginning to end, setting up the loom, weaving sample fabric and then adapting the design for specific measurements.  As you can see from the photos Tracey rose to the challenge and you can see the beautiful results in the photo to the left.  We hope that this kind of project – and the knowledge gained in doing it – will stand Tracey in good stead when she returns to the UK – and starts to weave her own designs on her own and face the challenge of creating her own career path in hand-woven textiles.

So we wish Tracey the very best of luck in her textile work in the future, warm thanks for all her hard work., and hope that she´ll come  back to see us in the future.

Casa dos Artesans Holiday Cottage and Craft Workshops – Encouraging a New Generation of Young Hand-Weavers and Basketmakers with Children´s Craft Activities and Holiday Workshops in Ourense Craft Fair 2010

anna champeney con una tejedora jovenIs craft education important for kids? At Casa dos Artesans, the holiday cottage in Galicia (north Spain) with craft activities and courses, we think it is.  I was writing an article, last week, about Lotte Dalgaard (the fine Danish fabric weaver and designer) who learned to weave when just 13 or 14 years old. She was just one Danish teenager to enjoy craft activities for kids and other extracurricular activities at the Danish “After Schools”. Lotte loved weaving as a kid so much that she rebelled against her parents´ wishes for her to pursue a more academic career – and went on to become one of Denmark´s finest weavers. I wonder, had Lotte not had the chance to weave as a child, perhaps she would never have become a professional weaver.

Later in the week, on Saturday 1 May 2010 – I spent the day doing interactive weaving demonstrations for children at Ourense Craft Fair (my local city in Galicia, north Spain, where I live), together with my partner, Lluis, who was offering a willow fish workshop!  Girls and boys – from just 3 years old upwards – flocked to our stand to have a go on my Louet 4-shaft table loom and convert skeins of hand-dyed yarn into balls, using a ball winder and umbrella swift.  Even the 3 year olds were able to pass the shuttle, and in amongst the many 6 – 8 year old boys and girls keen to have a go there were a few who quite exceptional, picking up the skills very quickly and working very well.   You can see in this blog post, from the photos,  just how engaged the children were, and how much they enjoyed themselves.  What I didn´t photograph were the proud parents relaxing in the background whilst watching their children!!!

As for me, I remember my first experience of hand-weaving well.  I was 8 or 9 years old and my art teacher showed me how to weave basic cloth out of a simple frame loom made out of 4 pieces of wood and some nails.  Although craft wasn´t considered (really) a real “career choice” at my school (I was funneled into following a more academic further education) I re-trained in my late twenties and early thirties, to become a hand-weaver.  I do wonder whether it was partly my positive experiences of craft as a child, which led me, eventually, to set up my hand-woven fabric studio here in north Spain.

Offering children the chance to experience craft first hand is important today, which is one reason why we offer activities for families with children who choose a holiday at our self-catering holiday cottage – Casa dos Artesans (Galicia, Spain).

Whether you are a parent or teacher, and whether you see craft as developing children´s co-ordination, providing a more physical and creative alternative to video games and TV, or allowing them to follow their innate creativity, there is no doubt that craft work contributes to healthy development.  But, as parents or teachers, you may also be helping to create a new generation of professional craft makers in the future.  As the example of Lotte Dalgaad and many other makers today shows us;  enjoying craft as a child may open the door to becoming a professional craft maker in the future.

So, well done to Pablo and Javier, Carlota, Eva, Irima, and all the children (and their parents) who had a go and we hope to see you again!