Thursday, July 8, 2010

Black Alpaca Jackets

I've been writing previously about the black alpaca jackets that my friend, Suzanne Philbin, was weaving and tailoring for us.

We modelled them in the fashion show at the Wasoon 2010 conference in Kapuskasing. Wasoon stands for Weavers and Spinners of Ontario North and is an excellent conference that takes place every two years in a different location in Northern Ontario, Canada.

It felt like we were the stars of the show in these jackets. Even walking into the conference hotel with the jacket on a hanger, I was surrounded by conference delegates wanting a closer look and touch. I kept explaining that I couldn't take credit for my jacket, my true talent lies in ensuring that I have a gifted and generous friend like Suzanne.

How these jackets came to be...

I was in possession of a surplus of 100% natural black alpaca yarn. This yarn was fairly coarse alpaca, with no loft and spun fairly tightly. I knew it wouldn't suit a knitting project. One day, I showed it to Suzanne to ask her opinion of using it to weave a jacket "some day". Suzanne is a very experienced weaver and seamstress.

Suzanne said that we should each weave a jacket. Now, this conversation probably took place in 2007.

The yarn went back into the great yarn and fibre bin that used to be our family basement.

Every once in a while, Suzanne would ask "When are we going to start those jackets"?

And is usually my reply..."Oh, in a couple months I'll have time to start...after (the alpaca show, shearing, school starts, fall sales events finish, etc. - you can fill in the blank with an excuse at any time of the year!)"

The Wasoon 2010 conference date was looming and Suzanne wanted to wear that alpaca jacket at the conference.

Finally, in early 2010, Suzanne announced that we were starting the jackets. Realizing that it was going to be impossible to get me to commit to weaving half the warp on a loom sitting in North Bay and understanding that I didn't sew well enough to tailor my own jacket, Suzanne agreed to do the bulk of the work.

Suzanne and I collaborated on the warp, deciding on the on-loom width of 28” and putting a random length of Noro Blossom (wool, silk, mohair, nylon) yarn that I found in my stash.
We spent most of a Sunday at Ralph Johnston's studio, designing the warp and winding the warp.
Suzanne's experience really showed in the warp design - it's so important where the random strands of colour would go...I wouldn't call them random after all. It's in the planning of the material that consideration needs to ensure such things like there wouldn't be a stripe running centre of the jacket back.

Suzanne wove the whole 7 yards in over a week and several excited phonecalls.
I learned just how focussed Suzanne can be over a project...that's probably why she can create so many masterpieces, while I don't.

The project took 22 skeins of black alpaca and 2 skeins of the Noro. Then she handed me the heavy bundle and said simply..."I wove it, you wash it."
Yikes! What pressure that was.
Keep in mind the whole weaving studio community and Suzanne's friends and family were watching this project unfold.
Keep in mind that I've been known to destroy at least one handwoven article in my washing machine!
What pressure indeed. I contemplated how I might recover from a potential laundry disaster of this magnitude.

Happy to say that the material was washed and pressed, with almost 0% shrinkage in the width.

I brought the washed textile back to the studio, gladly announcing to Suzanne "I did it! I washed it!"....
From another weaver came "Well, really, I think it's the least you could do!"

I smiled.

Suzanne tailored the two jackets. Suzanne’s jacket is from Simplicity # 4045. Suzanne made a pattern for the second jacket from an old jacket of mine. In fact, Suzanne made 4 mock jackets out of sheeting before she was happy enough with the fit for my jacket to begin sewing it. What can I say...I'm a big girl with big shoulders.

For both jackets, the trim around the front and neck was knit from fingering weight 80% alpaca and 20% merino. A single strand of the Noro Blossom was woven into the trim to create a finishing touch. Suzanne’s jacket has this trim around the wrist openings as well.

I did knit my front finishing edge myself...which ended up being somewhere around 64 inches of very fine knitting. (Applause here)
See, that's another thing I did on this project!

Suzanne completed her jacket with hand-felted buttons with a knit alpaca clasp. I decided to leave mine without buttons, as it hangs so beautifully at the front and I never button my jacket anyway.

The jackets are important to me and Suzanne not only as one-of-a-kind quality hand woven alpaca garments. They symbolize a very valued friendship which began through fibre arts, our continuing inspiration and knowledge shared through this creative experience.


Wooly Knits n Bits said...

What a great accomplishment! The jackets look so beautiful.

Mona said...

Hi Norma,
Oh those jackets are absolutely lovely! I especially love the trim color. Great job! ~ Mona

Nancy Hutchinson The Alpaca Lady said...

Beautiful Jacket that your younger sister modeling with you? What a piece of art work.

Norma from Misty Haven Alpacas said...

Thanks for the comments. I'll pass them on to Suzanne...who is not in the computer world ;) Probably another reason why she gets so many creative endeavours finished.
I agree, Nancy, now that I look at the picture, we do look alike...well, except I'm bigger!