Photo shoot post 1: getting started

I’ve been saying I’d get some posts up about one of the photo shoots for the book on fibers that Carol Ekarius and I are doing for Storey Publishing. The book is due to be released late in April 2011. One of the reasons I’ve been holding off on these posts is that they’re complicated! So I’m going to break them into sections and I’m not even going to attempt to be comprehensive or particularly coherent in what I say.

The photos that we are producing are gorgeous, and although I say “we,” because I’m contributing some critical pieces to the work, that’s a fact for which I can take no credit at all. I think what’s interesting that I can convey here is the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to create the exquisite and informative photos that will be such a huge part of the completed book.


This was actually the second shoot for the book, and there will be at least one more. During the first set of photos, the art director, Mary Velgos, and the photographer, John Polak, completed the images of the items we’ve collected to demonstrate uses of some of the fibers. I didn’t need to be present for that one. For the technical fiber images, though, I had to be behind the scenes for the whole time.

Who was at the shoot? You’ll see photos of most of us as I write this series.

For the entire shoot:

  • Mary Velgos, art director and photo stylist (also graphic artist and layout person for the book)
  • John Polak, photographer
  • Deborah Robson, writer/spinner

For the first few days:

  • Gwen Steege, the book’s primary editor on the fiber side (the project involves both fiber and livestock divisions)
  • Sarah Guare, project editor for the book

We also had a visit from Pam Art, president of Storey, with whom we got to share what we were up to. I forgot to get a snapshot of Pam, because we were so busy showing her what we were doing. She was there at the end of the third day of the seven in this sequence.


Because of the challenges of everyone’s schedules, I flew directly from Glasgow to Massachusetts for the shoot, after teaching at UK Knit Camp. I carried a few supplies for the shoot to Europe and back! (I didn’t want to trust shipping them.)

While I was teaching, editor Gwen Steege had arranged for two other people to make small swatches with my handspun yarn, to hint at how they would work up into fabrics.


They were simple swatches, either knitted in stockinette or woven on a 2-inch (5 cm) Weavette (Weave-It-type) loom. There wasn’t time to do swatches for everything that could have been swatched. The swatches Gwen brought to the shoot initially were still drying from their light blocking, and more were picked up from the sample-makers between days of shooting. (I’d wanted some crochet swatches as well, and perhaps some basketry and felting, but time and yarn quantities precluded those possibilities. There is at least one crochet swatch, which I made on site.)

All the tiny swatches still needed to be steamed and then put with the other parts of their fibers’ packets.


The labels were written with Sharpie pens on bits of Tyvek envelope, so they would stay intact through washing.


As a control freak, it was hard for me to not do this work myself. Yet the decision to make all the swatches occurred while I was on the road. The best news is that the person who wove all the tiny samples had never done any weaving before, and she came out of this task intrigued and ready to explore the craft more!

I had to ignore the fact that my handspun was being cut into bits (I know, I know: I’m really possessive of my handspun) and I might have made the swatches differently. I have needed to keep remembering that what I’m making here is a book, not any normal textile project. I have more to say about that at a later date . . . possibly much later, since it’s going to take a while just to hit the high points of this one photo shoot. But yes, it’s been hard to be spinning samples for three years and not be able to make anything textile-like out of what I’ve been producing. Even swatches.


As part of the photo-planning process (which has been going on for months), the decision was also made to have each skeinlet of the various fibers consist of five strands, wound on a sample niddy-noddy. Some, but not all, of the skein-winding had been done before the shoot started. Editor Sarah Guare spent a thrilling few days continuing this job (for which her excellent college education was not required). This wasn’t a job I volunteered for, because it involved . . . cutting my handspun into more bits. As long as I didn’t have to do it, or watch too closely, it wasn’t too painful.


I can tell the photo above was taken in the afternoon. Sarah’s hair started the day down, but as the sun came in the windows from the west the studio heated up quite a bit and she tucked it up. She spent hours doing this job.

Sometimes she got to stand up briefly.


(That was a morning shot.)

This went on for a while. Only the clothing and the fibers changed.


Meanwhile, the rest of us were busy elsewhere in John’s loft, the big room where we planned to spend five days getting all the photos done. We spent five days . . . and then added two more, over the weekend, and got the wools done. I’m going back for another four or five days to do the “other critters.”

More in the next installment.


9 thoughts on “Photo shoot post 1: getting started”

  1. Fascinating, indeed!

    I’m working on Shetland lace using different Shetland fleeces and I, too, find it difficult to cut the handspun. It will be useful in the long run – just have to get over the first fence, as it were.

    Looking forward to further installments

  2. Cathy, if I need to separate strands of my handspun, I break them. (Exceptions: wools like Greyface Dartmoor, which would break my fingers if I tried!) With hundreds of skeinlets to be wound, Sarah’s fingers would have been shredded by halfway through the first day, though . . . and for the shots, the clean, short-clipped, scissored ends were less conspicuous.

    I’ve got several installments planned. I hope to get them posted before I fly out for the next shoot–!

  3. Sharpie on Tyvek could, indeed, come in handy for felting. In the past, I've used cut-up milk  and juice cartons with holes punched in them for the ties. That works, too. Again, Sharpie for the writing.

  4. I’m having a head->desk moment. Why did I never think to use tyvek to label swatches? I have a pretty decent store of it as my FIL gave me a ream of three-hole punched “lab paper” that is tyvek and I even have some parent sheets as I like using it as “bookcloth” on handmade journals that are going to get lots of wear.

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