First Ever Weaving Class

I’ve been weaving for nearly ten years now, but I’ve never had a lesson. Having a job that goes from steady to busy and back again, with overseas work trips, has meant I could not get to classes that go for several weeks.

Since I got RSI and gave up knitting, a determination to weave my knitting yarn stash down below 10 kilos means there’s been little incentive to try more complex weaving structures using fine yarns. Last year I decided it was time to stretch myself. First I finally attempted the Scary Tea Towels, using ‘proper’ weaving cotton. Then I bought the Katie Loom so that I could attend a class at the Handweavers & Spinners Guild.

The class seemed designed for me. Called ‘Intermediate Weavers Project Sessions’, it gives students the freedom to see a project through from start to finish with the help of an experienced weaver. There are just three sessions, spaced a few weeks apart, and the first one was held last Sunday.

I decided, with the teacher’s advice, to try my first overshot project. She suggested a draft she likes, and it reminded me of peacock feathers, so I selected a range of blues and greens. I was going to add orange, but she convinced me to use it as the overshot pattern weft so as to not muddy the warp colours.

By the end of the class I’d planned out the project and had the warp half measured. While I did the latter the cones were threaded onto a dowel which was suspended over a plastic bowl, which worked really well but swapping over every five threads to another colour was driving me crazy. So I wanted to make a cone holder when I got home. Maybe one that could be attached to the loom. Then I noticed the extra holes Paul added to the table loom stand so I could position the cloth winder wherever I wanted. I found a long metal rod that was the exact length. Five cones fit perfectly along it.

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So I got winding and in no time the warp was done.

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But that’s where I stopped. I want to thread the loom in class, so the teacher can cast an eye over my efforts, correct any bad habits and give me tips. As well as trying a new weave structure under guidance, that’s the reason I’m doing the class.

Handspun, Handwoven, Handsewn

The olive yarn in this has had quite a journey. I bought it at the Handweavers and Spinners Guild in Christchurch in 2009. In 2013 I used the Bond Sweater Machine to make this:

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Which I didn’t like that much and was eventually frogged. Late last year I wove it on the rigid heddle into lengths of fabric. There was no ultimate plan for them, I just wanted to get it out of the stash and have something easy to weave. I got three strips out of it: two the width of the loom, one a little more than half the width.

Using the book Simple Woven Garments as inspiration, I pinned and unpinned and repinned on the dress model. The two wider pieces were perfect sewn together to make a sleeves-front-back tube. By adding a pleat to the back neckline I got a cowl at the front, which I liked so much I decided that whatever else I did had to build on this. I just had to attaching the narrow strip somehow. My first attempt had it flat at the front…

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… and a pleat at the back to make a peplum. But there wasn’t enough fabric to make it peplum-y enough, and it sat too high.

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Next I moved the darts on the back to the shoulders and pinned the strip flat so I could crossed over the ends at the front. (I don’t have a pic, unfortunately.) While this looked better, but it hid half the fringe, and I like the fringe, so I kept experimenting.

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I tried folding the ends out to form fringed pouch pockets at the front.

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Pockets! Cute! However, with the fronts pinned together I couldn’t get it off the dress model. I rummaged through my sewing box and found a short black open-ende zip. Perfect!

So after a bit of sewing while watching tv and some zip insertion, I have this:

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I may trim the fringe a little more, if it’s annoying at that length. And I may decide in future to cut up the centre front to make it a jacket. For now, however, it’s packed away with the rest of my winter clothing. Far too hot for this right now!

Loom Identified!

My neck and shoulders are better, but it’s taken two weeks to get to this point. Two weeks away from computers, looms, crafting in front of the tv, driving, etc. Though I admit, in the last half of this week I’ve been doing short bouts of all but tv craft, to test how well I’m healing up.

Keeping away from computers is not easy, especially when you want to look something up. I turned mine on to do a quick search in eBay and stumbled upon the same model of loom that Paul had rescued. This one hadn’t been renovated ever, from the looks of it. So I downloaded the pictures, and there was a close up of a label.

It said “Dyer & Philip Pty Ltd” and an address.

So I googled the maker and found two blogs by women in Melbourne who adopted the same loom a few years ago. They, too, replaced the string heddles with Texsolv. They also replaced the reeds. I don’t want to spend the money on a new reed unless the loom is nice to work on.

Before my back started playing up I had started putting a warp on it. Since the reed can’t be removed, it’s a bit cramped for warping. Bit by bit – about 16 strands a day in two batches – I finished warping it. On Saturday I finally tried weaving.

Within a dozen or so picks the sticks that hold the heddles fell out of their straps. I fixed that by tying the straps on, but I’ll have to come up with something more permanent.

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So far so good. You need a tall chair to work on it if it’s on an ordinary table, as it sits so high above the table surface. I’ve moved it to the top of my drawing board, set in a flat position, so to put it at a comfortable standing height and to free up my craft table.

It has a nice clean shed with the new heddles. I read somewhere that the best looms for warp rep weaving are those that pull all threads up or down, rather than just raising the ones required. Since this loom does work in that way, the next project I’ll try will be rep with 16/2 or 8/2 cotton I think.

Weaving On, Weaving Off

My old neck and shoulders problem raised it’s ugly head after New Year and hasn’t gone away. The Saturday before last I started driving and within five minutes there was an invisible ice pick hammering the side of my head. The following Monday I sat down to work and the same thing happened. Ow.

I took the week off, spending five days avoiding or reducing to a minimum sitting at a desk or a loom, driving a car, evening craft, reading and even pegging clothes on the line. I massaged my neck and shoulders, stretched, applied anti-inflammatories internally and externally, used a heat pack, lay down flat when it got really bad, double checked the ergonomics of my desks and chairs, and had a physio session at the end of the week.

It got a little bit better. Nowhere near as much as I hoped.

The frustrating thing is, my upper back was in good shape through the middle and later part of last year. Possibly thanks to a month’s holiday followed by lots of short regular stints of gardening. But it’s only taken less than two months of daily work on a computer for that to reverse.

It seems like the benefits I get from time away from work last for a shorter time each time.

Before the week off, I was reducing other activities more and more. I did manage to finish warping the table loom by spending ten minutes here and there, threading 72 or so ends every couple of days. I’d just got to the point of weaving when I had to stop completely.

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This project has thrown up all sorts of hitches along the way. I discovered I had nowhere near enough yarn, but Bendigo Woollen Mills were closed for the holidays, so to keep things moving I decided to use two of the sample colours for the weft and the navy for the warp. I wouldn’t have enough navy, but by the time the warping was done more yarn would have arrived. However, Bendy don’t sell 200 gram cones any more, and if I was going to get 500 grams and have so much left over I may as well get black, which I’m more likely to use.

I’m not sure I like the black as much. It doesn’t go as well with the white gold metallic bands I’m adding at each end of the shawl. But I’m sticking with it.

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I also had trouble with the shuttle falling through the warp, no matter how tightly it was cranked. Looking up advice on Weavolution, I figured it was either bad shuttle throwing or imprecise string heddles, or both. I fixed both by tying a piece of wood to the reed to use as a race.

I just got it working when my back started playing up. Hopefully I can get back to it soon.

Old Timers

In some felt baskets in the craft room I keep ‘lingerers’ – materials that never became what they were meant to, unfinished projects and items too good to throw away that I’ve not had an idea how to repurpose yet. From time to time I rifle through, consider again what I could make with them, then put them back again if no inspiration strikes.

When I was rifling through them recently I picked out a ball of icord I made ages ago on the EmbellishKnit.

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I’d started crocheting it with my giant wooden hook at some point, and I liked the result and thought it would make a great hat, but I didn’t have enough for one. This time I had the idea to make a headband instead:

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I’m happy with how it turned out. It did hurt my hands a little to crochet it, though, so it’s just as well it was a small project.

A top made of two squares of cheesecloth also caught my eye. I made it back when I hadn’t got over my dislike of sewing with a machine, so it was all hand sewed. There are no pics of the original. It was a bit of a dud, and I don’t think it even made it onto this blog. A bit more hand stitching turned it into a boat neck top. I’m planning to embroider all over the front. Not sure what yet. An idea will come eventually.

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Next I picked out this houndstooth wool fabric I made in 2012.

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I’d never blogged about the finished piece because the I’d intended to sew it into something. But I do like it as a scarf. Later wove a small rectangle of log cabin out of the same yarn, which I was going to make into a clutch, but this time I hit upon the idea of adding pockets to the scarf.

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There’s something very gratifying about finding a use for odd bits and pieces too good to throw away, or an old failed project. There’s a hoarder in me that gets to say ‘I told you it was worth keeping’. Fortunately I also gain satisfaction from the occasional cull, or I really would be drowning in craft materials!

Crazy Loom Lady

Our dining table looked like this until last weekend.

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Paul found the small loom on a hard rubbish pile last week, destined for the tip. He lugged it home on the train. I have warned him that looms are like cats. People hear you’ve adopted strays, or ones that the owners couldn’t look after any more, and suddenly you have a house full of them.

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It has two shafts and is a countermarch loom, operated by pushing or pulling the dowel on the top to raise and lower the shafts. After much googling, I found two similar looms: the Brio and the Peacock. The Brio is Sweedish, made of pale wood and collapsible. The Peacock is from the US, made of darker wood and not collapsible. I found a manual for the Peacock, and there are a few differences between it and the one Paul brought home, but it’s the closest match so that’s what I’m calling it.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a free loom. Looking closer, I reckon it was fixed up by someone many years ago as there are holes where bands have been replaced and the project on it had faded quite a bit. It was dusty, and the reed had rusted.

The shed was small, and I had to hold the dowel firmly forward or back to keep it open. Seeking the source of resistance, I eventually concluded that the problem was the string heddles. They were made of a sticky yarn, which created friction against the warp. After removing the project the heddles moved more freely, so I figured all it needed was new Texsolv ones. Nice and slippery.

Which was what the bigger loom needed, too:

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It belongs to my Canberran friend, Donna. It has levers for raising and lowering the shafts, and a nifty back brake release cord that I wish I had on my table loom.

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There’s no sign of a maker’s mark, and I’ve had no luck finding a similar loom on the internet. Anyone know what this mystery loom’s maker is?

Being another ‘free’ loom, the first cost Donna had to bear was an expensive new reed to replace the rusty old one. That was a couple of years ago. I flew up to Canberra help her clean it up and teach her how to warp and weave on it. We removed a whole lot of rusty heddles, which left her with only enough for narrow projects. They’re an odd size, and she’d had no luck finding additional ones. Nothing fit – not even Texsolv heddles. After a bad run in with a shop, she had almost given up, so when she came down to join us for New Year’s Eve I suggested she bring the loom and we’d see about finding a solution.

And we have, as it turns out Paul can drill new threaded holes into metal. I ordered some shorter Texsolv heddles and we changed the frames to fit. And I worked out that the old reed must have been taller, so I raised the new one so the reed doesn’t lean on the warp. It was very satisfying fixing up this loom, as this is a great design.

In the meantime, I’ve been slowly warping up my Ashford table loom for a shawl.

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Once again, I’ve run out of heddles and had to attach a bazillon string ones. Since I was already ordering heddles (from the lovely Glenora Weaving and Wool) I figured I may as well order another 200 for it. And some new bungy cords. So once I’m done with the shawl my loom is getting a bit of renovating, too.

Of course, Donna’s loom will be heading back to her soon. I will try out the Peacock loom out of curiosity because I’ve not used a countermarch loom before, but then I’ll probably find a home for it. Then this can go back to being a three loom household, and my dining table can be used for, you know, eating off, again.

Giotto Scarf

Working out what to do with odd balls of yarn in my stash can be either an enjoyable challenge or a source of frustration. Years ago I bought a ball of Colinette Giotto – a hand-dyed cotton tape yarn. After some false starts I combined it with some plain navy tape yarn to knit an off-the-shoulder top.

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I wore it once, and found it a bit scratchy. After removing the body, the band around the shoulders – the bit made from the Giotto – became an infinity scarf.

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I never wore that. So some time in the last year I frogged it. Because I’d cut the band to make it into a scarf, I wound up with lots of long pieces of yarn. I just tied them together and wound it into a ball.

Needing a rigid heddle project recently, I looked at my stash spreadsheet for inspiration, noticed the Giotto and did a quick google for what to weave with tape yarn. I found this blog post.

The Giotto isn’t a railroad yarn, but I could certainly use it as an interesting warp yarn. And the yarn was already cut into scarf-length-ish pieces. What was a little revelation to me was that the weaver used 16/2 cotton as the weft. I have plenty of that, in blue and aqua. So I dove into the stash and the blue turned out to be the nicest match.

So it wouldn’t take forever to weave, I did bands of closely beaten picks followed by spacing them out.

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It still took longer to weave than I expected, but I figured that was because the weft was so fine. Only when I got it off the loom did I realise the scarf was long enough to touch the floor!

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I could cut it in half and make two perfectly reasonable length scarves, but I won’t do that unless I decide not to keep it, as I rather like it as it is.

Crafty Treat No.1

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I’ve coveted the Ashford Katie Loom since I saw one at the Guild, but always managed to talk myself out of buying one.

I loved the portability. Since we put pedals on the table loom it can’t easily be released and taken anywhere. Like to classes, for instance.

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However, the Katie’s smaller size did make me pause. I had told myself that when I gained enough experience and confidence to try 8 shaft weaving I would simply add more shafts to the table loom. Which would allow me to weave with finer yarns, as it would double the heddles.

But when I wove the Scary Tea Towels earlier this year I realised that I may never have the patience to weave fine yarns in a large piece. It’d take too long to thread the loom. It’s more likely I’ll make small items like scarves and placemats.

So I’m now the owner of three looms: the rigid heddle for simple, speedy weaving, the table loom for large projects using thicker yarns, and the Katie for complex projects using thinner yarns.

(Though if you include the inkle looms I have five looms. And I still want to make a tape loom.)

Portable Weaving

I took myself off to Ballarat for a solo writing retreat last week. It was a nice to not have to restrict myself to a carry on bag and handbag. That meant, of course, that I spent the week before imagining myself packing an unfeasible amount of craft stuff to do in the evenings.

Fortunately, when it came to packing common sense did prevail, and I decided to take a long-neglected inkle band, some cotton and band weaving reeds, a small embroidery kit and some card-making supplies. Though I thought I’d gravitate toward making more cards first, instead I gravitated toward weaving.

I finished the band on the small reed and completed another on a larger one:

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Then I was ready to try something more challenging. I decided to try runic weaving. The instructions in the Weavers Inkle Pattern Directory assume you’re using an inkle loom and have some warp sticks on hand. I just fiddled about until I worked out how to do it using the backstrap method.

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It woke the itch to weave. And a little end-of-year present arrived unexpectedly early this week, so I’ve got bigger plans fermenting in my head for the weekend.

My First True Sampler

Okay, I have made a sampler before. I wove one when I first got my table loom to familiarise myself with it and working with four shafts. But this is the first sample I’ve done one for a project.

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Why? I couldn’t decide which colour yarns to match with two of the three metallic yarns I want to use as borders of a shawl. Weaving a sample helped me work out which combinations appealed most.

The answer? Gold with the redder purple. Silver with the bluer purple.

What it has also told me is that the two purples and the navy look great together. Unfortunately, Bendigo Woollen Mills isn’t selling this yarn in 200 gram cones any more. You have to buy 500 gram cones. And at $35 a cone that makes multi-coloured projects a touch expensive.