Scratching Beneath the (Textile) Surface

A few weeks ago I went shopping for leggings and some knitwear, and was shocked to find I couldn’t get anything that wasn’t mostly polyester. Then I noticed more people mentioning buying ultra cheap products online from China. Then I happened upon a show on iView about ethical textiles and, though it did not surprise me to find out about terrible working conditions of garment makers, I was excited to learn about the efforts going into tackling them. So I posted about it on Facebook. A friend commented that she’d just listened to a radio interview with a woman who’d written a book on the subject. I looked up the show, found a podcast, listened to it and was so impressed I immediately bought the book.

The book is called Wardrobe Crisis: How We Went From Sunday Best to Fast Fashion by Clare Press. It was funny and tragic, shocking and inspiring, and I tore through it in a couple of days. Then I bought a book mentioned in it, To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? by Lucy Siegle, and absorbed that in a few days, too.

I found it utterly fascinating, from how the fashion industry works now to learning about all the stages, post design, in the creation of a garment. While much of what I learned I already knew, since as a knitter I had made it my business to know all the ethical and environmental issues to do with fibre, but there were plenty of things I hadn’t known on the garment-making side. There’s a lot to be horrified by and yet I came away feeling far more hopeful than I expected.

Why? Because it seems like the garment industry is being taken, sometimes kicking and screaming, in the direction the food industry has gone, with greater awareness and value placed in environmental, social and health consequences of the way it runs. And I can see that the same interest and energy that drives the decluttering and clean living movements could be directed toward people buying, and therefore encouraging the making of, more ethical fashion.

I asked my friends on Facebook if they’ve ever bought really, really cheap stuff and what their reasoning was in order to gauge the sorts of reactions people have for and against ethical shopping. It’s been interesting to see how they regard it. This article investigates people’s attitudes toward ethical products. I was intrigued to see that the people who choose to ignore ethical issues tend to regard anyone who tries to shop ethically negatively – and I’m reminded again of the food movement, and how despite mockery of ‘organic’ products an appreciation for sustainable food practises has grown.

I dove into all this wanting specific questions answered. Why are some clothes now so ridiculously cheap? Is it better to buy direct from China, cutting out the middlemen, or worse? What are the ethical fashion brands and do they make anything that isn’t expensive and dead boring? Why is current ‘fast fashion’ full of dull, unflattering polyester jersey that falls to pieces after a few washes? How should I approach shopping in order to make a difference, even a tiny one?

Most of these questions were answered, and for a few it was easy to extrapolate an answer. But they’ll take more than a few blog post to cover, so watch this space.

Jean Jeany Rug

Back when I was on Pinterest I collected pins to tutorials on hand braiding strips of rag into floor rugs. The techniques used didn’t appeal, however, as they involved sewing, glue or making a wooden framework. I was sure there had to be a way to do it without sewing machine, glue, looms, needles – really, anything more than just the rags and my hands.

I now use Google Images to browse crafty ideas, and recently it led me to a YouTube vid on braiding rag rugs. The method wasn’t quite what I was after, as it still required using needles, but I could see that they were unnecessary. There was a bit of sewing at the start and end, but I could see a way around that, too. The teacher insisted that you could only do it with stretch fabric, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me trying it with the leftover strips of denim from my woven floor rugs.

So a few months ago I gave it a try. And it was so easy! And very, very addictive. This is how much I’ve done so far:

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It’s only the size of a small doormat so far. It’s slow work, but really satisfying. Good for when I want a creative but undemanding task, or something to do while listening to podcasts.

Undulating Twill

For a month or so now, the floor loom has had a project on it. My first one on this loom.

I considered carefully what to try first. Weaving with a yarn I was familiar with made sense, so I knew any idiosyncrasies I encountered were the loom not the yarn. A small project would be good, and one where I didn’t mind if I wasted the warp yarn.

I chose to use another twill project using the same yarns in the Glam Shawl. Yes, that project was a disaster, but it was the one that made me want a floor loom, so it was a good test to see if it did make all the problems go away.

I chose an undulating twill – something I’ve been wanting to try for while.

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The warp yarn is Bendigo Classic 2ply in a discontinued colour called ‘peacock’, which is the same yarn I used for the Glam Shawl just a ply thinner. The weft is – was – the same brand of metallic yarn in another colourway.

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It all seemed to be going well… until I realised I wouldn’t have enough to the metallic yarn. The fabric seemed a bit loose, too. I decided to try to dye some Bendy Classic 2ply to match the peacock colour.

I didn’t get even close. It was more of a Kelly green than a dark teal. I was going to try overdying it with blue, but something about the weaving I’d done so far made me hesitate.

Running my fingers over the fabric, I found it far too easy to distort. It also was a bit scratchy for my taste. Also, looking at my calculations, I realised that I’d sleyed the reed at 1/3 the wraps per inch instead of 2/3. It was way too loose.

I decided that, while it was pretty, I didn’t care for the metallic yarn, nor did I want to sit over a dye pot. I’d use the green yarn as it was. So I untied the warp and pulled simply slid the metallic yarn off the end. Yep, it was that loose!

Then I resleyed the reed and tied the warp back on. Of course, I managed to get two threads twisted to had to fix that. And then as I started weaving I found two threading errors and had to unweave twice – the green yarn showed the twill pattern better and the mistakes were obvious.

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Finally, it was good to go. I love the undulations, the colour combination, and yes, the loom is lovely to weave on.

Prime Failure

The table loom came with a rusty reed. Having spent a lot of time de-rusting the Dyer & Philips reed – and spent a lot of time renovating the table loom already – I didn’t hesitate to buy a new stainless steel reed. I didn’t want to wait!

What to do with the old reed, then? I asked on the Weaving Facebook group for alternative purposes for a reed… and straight away got lots of suggestions on how to de-rust it to use for weaving. Hmm, not what I was asking, but they were trying to be helpful.

Then I picked up a 12dpi free old reed at the guild that I could use on the Dyer & Philips – giving me more yarn options for that loom. I figured if I was going to de-rust that one I may as well do both.

Paul had suggested going to an auto shop and get a larger bottle of rust converter so I could soak the reeds rather than painting it on. They had a spray-on version that contained a primer. The idea of having a thin coat of primer to protect the reed sounded good, so I went for that.

I was SO wrong.

First, I had the reed lying on newspaper. The spray dried onto it, clogging the reed so badly I had to get Paul to use a rotary wire brush on a drill to get the paper off.

Then I reapplied the spray. The remnants of the first and the second coat didn’t go on thinly or consistently, instead leaving bare, rusty patches and globs of primer. I managed to scrape the bigger blobs off, but once I realised that there were bare patches I decided to strip it off and go back to using the old rust converter.

The paint stripper softened the primer, but didn’t dissolve it, so I just wound up with a reed covered in sticky, softened globs of primer. At this point I gave up.

A week or two later I decided to try one more experiment with the smaller reed. The spray advised using acetone to clean up, so I soaked the reed in that. It removed most of the primer… and the coating on the strings that hold the dents in place. The string didn’t come off, thankfully. Most of the primer was gone, but there was a residue left that I am now scraping off each dent with a knife.

So many, many hours labour later I have ruined the longer reed and, hopefully, saved the small one. Though it remains to be seen if the scraping will roughen the small reed so much it wears through a warp.

The old reed from the table loom will get used for something else – maybe a garden ornament. Something a climbing plant to run along, or for water to trickle down.

Lesson learned: never de-rust a reed with a rust converter containing a primer!

Plastic Not Fantastic

Recently I packed away my summer clothes and brought out the knitwear. Looking through the jumpers, cardigans, jackets and vests, I felt a mix of fondness and weariness. There’s a lot I love in there, but I found myself wishing I could pack it back away for a little longer.

I don’t think it has anything to do with dreading the cold months. I like winter. I’m just a little (dare I say it) bored with wearing the same old thing. Not just the knits, but the skivvies that allow me to wear wool without setting off my allergy to it.

Since I’m not constantly adding hand knits to my wardrobe through knitting any more I have to look for other ways to freshen things up a bit. Because I can’t wear wool against my skin I wear fleecy jackets over short-sleeved shirts on cooler summer days, but overall I prefer natural fibres. I have three cotton jackets, but they’re the same design in three different colours so if you didn’t register a change of colour you’d think I was wearing the same garment. Another kind of cotton jacket sounded like a good addition to my wardrobe.

I figured if I was going shopping I may as well tackle another item of clothing I needed. Too much feasting over the Easter weekend meant I wasn’t comfortable in my jeans and pants. I’d wear skirts instead, but because my cat occasionally swipes my ankles, I have to wear them with leggings instead of tights during cold weather. I have two pairs of leggings, and they’re starting to look a bit tired. Still, leggings shouldn’t be hard to find, right?

So I went shopping. And was aghast. I couldn’t find simple black cotton leggings. They were all made of polyester. And the jackets and knitwear – all acrylic. Even the long-sleeved t-shirts and polo-necks had high levels of plastic content. When did this happen?

Well, I dismissed it as bad luck – I just chose the wrong stores. However, when I went to Ishka a few days later, thinking their aesthetic is usually more ‘natural’, I found lots of 100% polyester fabric masquerading as cotton. Ugh!

A friend put me onto a shop that sells cotton leggings, so I mail-ordered four pairs. When it came to the knitwear and jackets, however, I decided to go second-hand and found a casual corduroy jacket and long cotton cardigan at a charity shop, the latter which I dyed. Problem solved.

However, I do wonder if I’m seeing a worrying trend. On a science program last year researches showed how when modern houses catch fire, the fires burn hotter and spread several times faster than they used to, because most house contents are now, essentially, petroleum products.

And in another program, researchers found that most of the plastic ingested by fish in Australian waterways was fibres from clothing.

Personally, I don’t mind polyester for evening wear and travel clothes. Otherwise, my wardrobe is mainly cotton based. I find polyester unpleasant to wear, even when it doesn’t give me a rash.

But I’m disturbed to see how much poly has crept into my daily wear. I’m not going to toss any of it out, but I am going to be more careful about what I’m buying from now on. I feel more justified in buying and refashioning vintage and second-hand clothing, too.

And I have a stronger urge to change my daily ‘look’ to incorporate much more hand woven and hand sewn clothing. My Saori garment design book is looking very interesting right now.

Final Weaving Class

Sunday before last the third and final Intermediate Weaving Sessions was run at the Guild. I’d woven my overshot project until I ran run out of the orange yarn, played a bit with substituted yarns, decided I preferred the orange, dyed more and wove to what seemed like closer to the end of the warp.

I wasn’t sure I should finish it for the class or not, since that could leave me with five hours of nothing to do. I asked Ilka, and she suggested I start another project. I decided to leave myself an hour or so of weaving to do in the class.

After we all went around the room to see how everyone’s projects were turning out, I had lunch then started weaving. It didn’t last as long as I’d hoped, as I ran out of orange yarn again. Here it is after I dyed yet more yarn and finished weaving:

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I was surprised and pleased to find the two lengths of orange pattern were exactly the same length. I must have been beating consistently this time!

With no weaving to continue with in the class, I helped a few fellow weavers, and when I got to chat to the teacher it turned out the project I had in mind wasn’t likely to work. So I switched to my back-up project. Since I’d bought the Katie because it’s an 8 shaft loom, I want to do a project that utilised all shafts. I’ve also wanted to try using doubleweave to make a cloth with solid coloured squares inside squares.

Ilka ran through a method of working out the draft using blocks, which I only just comprehended – and felt like my brain was being stretched into a new shape.

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I took this home, thought about it for a day, then the next night used it to map out a draft on graph paper. A few days later I recreated the draft in Illustrator.

Print

Like with overshot, it’s like doing two things at the same time. Unlike overshot, which is something very simple (tabby) alternating with something more complex (the overshot pattern), it’s a complicated interaction of two moderately simple tabby patterns.

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It is, however, perversely enjoyable. I’m keen to get a warp wound and onto the loom.

Old Loom, Better Stand

Having untied the Ashford Table Loom from the pedals of the homemade stand, then dismantled the stand, I was left with a few questions.

Do I sell the loom?

That was the plan. However, it left me with another question:

What do I do with the homemade stand?

There were issues with it. Now that I had a floor loom my suspicion that the old loom’s stand was too high was confirmed. Added to that was the need to move the supporting beam across the front that made it uncomfortable to sit at. I probably couldn’t sell it as it was, but I could give it away with the loom. But what if a friend wanted to buy it? I’d rather give them a stand that worked well.

After a bit of measuring up, I figured it wouldn’t take much to fix the problems. So Paul and I spent a few hours shortening the stand, adding a support beam under where the loom’s castle sits to simplify the pedal tie-up and a beam under the pedals to make the stand sturdier and easier to transport.

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Now all I have to do is decide how much to ask for it and advertise.

Though I have to admit, I am tempted to keep it. And I should at least try one project on it, to make sure everything works, right?

New Old Loom

Two weeks ago a hole appeared in the craft room:

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And a loom appeared on the dining table:

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Then all these bits and pieces turned up in the garage:

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The scent of rust converter and furniture oil filled the air for the following week, along with the occasional curse and muttered doubt that anyone would remember how all this went back again:

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But it did. Around 15 hours of hard work later what had been a rusty, dusty old loom became a gleaming, reconditioned one with several part replacements, like chain instead of musty old ropes for the tie-up and brake release.

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New aprons were sewn. Heddles arrived before Easter, then today the reed was delivered:

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It’s a bit bigger than the former occupant, but took surprisingly little rearranging of furniture for it to fit.

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Now to plan the first project.

A Touch of G(rrr)lam Shawl

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Sheesh! Did this project kick my butt. What should have been straight-forward, enjoyable weaving wound up being tortuous for most of the project.

1) I didn’t have enough yarn. In fact, I fell so far short I had to combine two cones of Bendy 3ply for the warp and buy a 500 gram cone of black for the weft. I blame this on being too tired and distracted at the time to calculate my way through the project preparation.

2) Black wasn’t really what I wanted, but because Bendy don’t sell 200 gram cones any more and this was a stash-using project, I didn’t want to end up with more purple yarn left over than what I was trying to use up.

3) I ran out of heddles ridiculously early and had to attach about 100 string ones.

4) Because the string heddle eyes weren’t exactly the same level as each other and the texsolv ones, and I’m new to throwing the shuttle, the shuttle kept falling through the warp.

5) I fudged a race, using a piece of my warping board first then, when I needed to measure a warp for another project, swapped that for a long stick shuttle and a metal ruler. This worked, but because my beater swivels from above the race scrapes across the bottom of the fabric, meaning I can only weave 4-5 cm before I have to advance the warp.

6) The metallic thread was a b*tch to weave. It pulled the fabric in, no matter how much extra yarn I left at the sides or angled the weft. Using an extra long stick shuttle, because the yarn ends unravelled and I didn’t want to cut it any more than I had to, meant it kept getting tangled in the curtains on one side.

7) I discovered too late that I made a threading error at one side. Too late because I wasn’t going to unweave and reweave all the metallic thread after all the struggles with it.

8) Thanks to the dodgy string heddles, I have skipped threads at the other side.

9) I didn’t notice I had stepped on three pedals instead of two, not long after the first stripe of metallic, and sewing in a substitute pick didn’t really fix it.

10) Once off the loom I realised I had beat really hard at the start, making a far denser fabric at the start to the end.

Because of all these errors I’ve come to despise the shawl. However, it is lovely and soft, especially after washing, and proof that the yarn is a good one to weave. I kinda want to make another, to prove… something. That I can get it right, maybe?

And the up side to some of the frustrations is it has motivated me to get over my fear of floor looms. Throughout the project I came to long for a tie-up system. Lamms! I want lamms! And a beater that swivels from below, so I can have a race. And a removable front beam or folding back beam so I can thread the loom without hurting my back. I’d had the idea that floor looms were too big for the small bedroom size craft room I have now, but as I looked around I saw that some weren’t much bigger than my table loom and it’s stand combined.

Where that led me, however, is fodder for another post.

Loom Delivery Weekend

Last weekend we headed to Lake Hume:

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I took Donna’s loom, my Knitter Loom and two inkle looms. Donna and her partner, Matthew, joined us in a lovely cottage with a fantastic view. The sunsets were gorgeous:

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In the late afternoons and evenings Donna and I wove. I taught her how to do leno lace on the rigid heddle on the first night, and she produced this beautiful bamboo scarf:

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While she warped and wove that, I started a clasped weft scarf so I could show her the method. I didn’t make a lot of progress because I’d underestimated how much yarn I needed:

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On the second day I taught Donna how to weave on the larger inkle loom. I was quite rusty, and stuffed up the warping on the small loom by winding it around the warping peg, but Donna’s warp was fine. She, as always, picked up everything really fast, and finished this ribbon by the end of our stay:

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We went for a drive around the southern half of the lake on the second day. The lake is really a dam, and it’s very low, so there were old dead trees everywhere. An eerie sight, but quite beautiful:

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By the weir the water was deepest:

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There are signs of a defunct railway line, and these relics from the past:

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It was a enjoyable, relaxing weekend with good friends, and I’d love to go back to the area one day.