Varying the Vari Dent

Ever since Paul gave me the Vari Dent reed my brain has been buzzing with possibilities and wrestling with its limitations. I’ve been looking for ideas, too, mostly in vain. Searching the internet for anything to do with variable dent reeds has had me scratching my head at how little there is to find.

There are three versions out there:

The Ashford Vari Dent.
A search on the site brings up only three entries. One is a link to Wheel magazine, because there is an article in last year’s issue, one is a news item announcing the reed with a few photos, the last is just a link to the SampleIt Loom. There’s one forum discussion on Ravelry begun 19 months ago.

The Schacht Variable Dent Reed doesn’t appear to have a page dedicated to it on their site, but a search for it brings up several three-year-old blog posts, some including projects. A search on Ravelry brought up an announcement of it’s release from four years ago, which also brought my attention to another version made by Majacraft…

The Kromski Weaver’s Choice Heddle is a slightly more complex and flexible system that seems to have been available for a year now. There’s a great video on how it works at the link above. It’s interesting, but not suitable for what I want to do.

The ideas I want to explore require several reed sections of the same size. I emailed Ashford to see if I could buy more and they replied that they aren’t selling reeds individually. Thinking hard, I came up with two other ways to get hold of what I needed (other than buying two or three more Vari Dent kits). The first was to get my own heddle sections made. The second was to buy a full size reed, remove the frame and chop it up.

The first idea looked like the best one, as I have a friend with access to a 3D printer. But after chatting to her I changed my mind. We agreed laser cutting would be better and she suggested a company. I was a bit intimidated, and leaned toward buying a reed to cut up, but came back to laser cutting after considering how difficult it could be to cut it up. So I worked up some files in Illustrator and, since I could do what I liked with the design, I made the heddle pieces even narrower than those supplied in the Vari Dent kit.

I sent off three different sizes of a single heddle as a test: 10 dpi, 12.5 dpi and 15 dpi. This was delivered a few days later:

The acrylic had melted and distorted thanks to the heat generated by the laser. A few emails to the tech guy and we had a possible solution. A week later these arrived:

Almost perfect. The slot gap on the side of each heddle is quite narrow, and makes a half size gap when the heddles sit against each other, but when I warped up the loom it wasn’t a problem. However, my reed hook was a bit thick for the holes, and on the second project one of the reeds broke as I pulled the yarn through. Fortunately I had spares made – and Paul made me a thinner hook out of flattened wire.

The other shapes shown are spacers to use between the reeds, and a wraps per inch guide that I whipped up only because there was a space free.

So far I’ve done one and a half scarves, confirming two of my ideas work. I have a few more ideas to try. When I’m done experimenting I’ll do a separate post – or posts – with photos. And I might see if there is another way to do what I’m doing using just the reeds from the Vari Dent kit, too.

By the Sword, Combined

The Handweavers and Spinners Guild organised a visit from a Japanese weaver a few months back that I wasn’t able to get to. One of the tools and methods Mr Tanji demonstrated was a weaving sword. The piece he worked on was still at the guild the next time I made it to a meeting, and the lovely ladies there gave me some quick instructions so I could try it.

I rather liked it, and decided I would make a sword. As they do, the idea percolated in my brain and reformed itself late one night into this:

Not only could I make it two-sided, but make it the shuttle as well. I felt very clever. Then a few weeks later a search for weaving done with variable dent reeds led me to the Majacraft website and this.

Okay, well, yes, someone has already thought of the sword plus shuttle idea. But I took that as proof there was merit in the idea and made mine anyway. Yet to try it – I have packed away the table loom and the floor and knitters looms are occupied. But I will soon!

The Anasthetic-Brain Scarf & Thrum-Fringed Scarf

When I put a project on all my looms before having eye surgery, this was the most complicated one: two point twill scarves using the clasped weft technique to turn thrums into a side fringe. I did one repeat of the first draft before the first surgery, but didn’t go back to it until after the second surgery.

Oh boy, was it frustrating! My short term memory was completely messed up. By the time I’d done a couple of picks I’d forgotten where I was in the draft. I’d do the same two row three times because I kept forgetting I’d already done them, or skip a couple because I thought I had done them when I hadn’t. Sure, there was a lot to keep track of thanks to adding clasped weft, but it hadn’t been that difficult pre-surgery.

After unweaving and reweaving several times over a couple of sessions, I thought I had about four perfect repeats done. But when I looked closely the first and fourth were different to the second and third. At that point I gave up. I decided I was going to continue with the two up/two down basic twill structure and just shift to the left or right as I pleased.

Oh, the relief! And simultaneously, the project was suddenly so much more fun to weave. The fabric I was getting looked great, in a groovy sort of way. I did have to watch out for overly long floats, but the change of approach made it doable and enjoyable.

A few weeks later, when I came close to running out of thrums I decided to consult the draft again. Sure enough, I had no trouble following it. The affect of the anasthetic had worn off.

I finished it and started the second scarf, attempted the draft I had planned for it. The weaving went just fine. This time I didn’t have enough thrums to do a full length scarf, so after every three clasped weft repeats I did two with the non-thrum yarn going all the way across, leaving enough on the side to make a blue section of fringe. It made for a more ‘graphic’ design.

I’m really happy with how they turned both out. However, I went through my accessories recently and I definitely have more than enough for one person (or two, or three…). A few knitted pieces were culled, unravelled, washed and wound into balls to make into something else. I decided I would try selling all the scarves I wove this year in the Guild’s gallery.

I loved making them, and I’d be very happy if they found a happy home.

Swings & Roundabouts

I’ve had a mild case of finishitis lately. The part of me that wants to get current projects done is winning the battle against the one that wants to start something new. So what do I have in progress?

The Handwoven Skirt
Currently stalled because my back has been cranky, and sewing is worse for it than weaving.

The Krokbragd Rug
Stalled because I’m waiting to see if I can buy some more carpet yarn from a weaver.

Clasped Weft Fringe Scarves
What I’ve been spending most of my craft time on. It’s been… interesting. Is there such thing as ‘anaesthetic brain’? Because my short term memory was atrocious after the second eye operation. I was incapable of following the draft, and after a number of sessions in which I unwove almost as much as I wove, I gave up and just started making it up as I went. Thankfully, the result is good. Kinda groovy.

Taupe Jacket
Mainly weaving this one in the evenings, while watching tv. I’m warping up the Knitters Loom with a natural wool and for weft I’m using stripes of natural through to brown coloured yarns. I’m intending it to become a jacket. We’ll see.

Eye Embroidery
It’s been the project I grab when I need something portable. However, I may regret not finishing it before now, if my eyesight remains bad for close work.

Swimmers Clock
I need to get back to this. It wasn’t warm enough to work out in the garage, and now it’s too warm.

Weaving Bits and Pieces
I’m making a weaving sword, or wavy beater, inspired by a recent demonstration by Mr Tanji at the Guild. Which I didn’t get to, but the Weavers Matters gals showed me the ropes at the next meeting and it was a lot of fun. Also, working on the idea for the Vari Dent Reed.

Falling Feathers Scarf

It’s done!

I wasn’t really up to weaving anything that required memory and focus between cataract surgeries, so I didn’t touch this scarf for about a month. A couple of day before my second surgery I finished weaving it, and on the day after I cut it from the loom and tied the fringe.

It’s a bit uneven in places, where I beat harder or softer depending on my mood. I like the pattern and want to weave it again in colours that are more ‘me’. I’d also like to weave the draft I meant to weave originally, too, but both ideas will have to go down the end of a very long list of weaving projects I want to do.

Vari (And a bit Wonky) Dent

Paul and I tend to throw ideas around for possible presents as birthdays and Christmas near. (Well, okay, I do this and then mostly have to nag Paul for ideas for him.) This year one of mine was an Ashford Vari Dent Reed for my Knitters Loom.

While the advertised use is to weave with different thickness of warp at the same time, it wasn’t until I had some other ideas for how it could be used that I decided I wanted the kit. Some of these idea I tried a few weekends ago, with not much success, I admit, but in doing so I stumbled upon something rather cool. Trouble is, to do this other cool thing would require several of the narrower heddles in the same size, and it doesn’t look like you can buy the Vari Dent heddles outside of the full kit. I’d have to buy four kits in order to get the number I want, and that would be a tad expensive – especially for a concept I haven’t confirmed is going to work yet!

Still, I haven’t given up on the idea. There’s got to be another way. Maybe I can make my own heddles somehow…

Perhaps because it was a birthday present idea, I didn’t do my usual research and inspiration seeking beforehand. When I did, I was surprised to find no YouTube videos – not even by Ashford – for the Vari dent reed. A search for ‘vari dent blog’ brought up very little, as did a search in Google Images. I found two projects on the Schacht Spindle Company website for their version. Ravelry brought up four results for ‘vari dent’ and more if I typed ‘variable dent’, which included other brand’s versions. Weavolution produced two projects in Weavolution, both using a Saori loom.

These scant results did at least flag that some weavers had issues with different rates of warp stretch from using different warp yarns, resulting in uneven fabric. This is a potential problem even when using the same weight yarns made by different makers anyway. One weaver cleverly used this tendency to create a ruffle, and it could be used to make seersucker fabric without the need to felt.

I’ll keep thinking and playing and browsing the internet. In the meantime, I’ve warped up the Knitters Loom with a simple natural wool warp and I’m weaving plain sections of natural and taupe yarns, with the idea of producing some fabric I can sew into a garment. No idea what kind of garment yet.

Oh, and I should mention a little issue I had with the Vari Dent, too, in case anyone else has the same problem.

One of the heddles that was already in the frame was a bit wonky at one end, I suspect by being shipped with the heddle in the frame and the frame screwed together too tightly:

Two of the slots were completely closed at the centre point – the tines jammed together – which would have meant any yarn going through them would be quickly worn through. Of course, Paul not being a weaver, he didn’t notice or know it would be a problem, so it wasn’t until I received the gift and asked him to get it replaced that he took the above photo and emailed the seller.

They didn’t reply. After three or four days I decided to risk a little experiment. I boiled some water and quickly dipped the end of the reed in. Sure enough, the plastic softened up. As it cooled I held the tines as close to the correct position as I could. I got this:

Not perfect, but at least there are gaps now.

So I guess my advice is: if you get a faulty vari dent reed and the seller doesn’t respond to a request for a replacement, you could try this. But it would probably mean the seller won’t replace it if the ‘fix’ doesn’t work.

Saori-inspired Spring Sampler Scarf

Some weeks back when I warped up pretty much every loom I own, I put a simple 3ply wool warp on the Knitters Loom and gathered together thrums and yarns in pink, cream, brown and burgundy. I was inspired by Saori weaving, and hoped that a simple project would be within my abilities post-eye surgery.

As it turned out, I had so much fun that I wove a fair bit of the warp before the surgery happened. After the op I didn’t weave for a few days, but I put the loom near by tv-watching armchair and eventually I gave it a go.

I had a thick cream cotton, three strands of very fine grey, burgundy and yellow-brown boucle wound together, and some handspun to play with along with the thrums. I also used the warp yarns – using up the pink with plain weave sections between each bit of ‘play’.

Initially I played with using the thrums and seeing how the different yarns wove up. I also went through most of the weaving methods on a rigid heddle I’d tried before. Clasped weft, basketweave, thick and thin, rya knots, tapestry, danish medallions, leno and Brook’s bouquet had a turn. Then I began to mix the techiniques. I used a pickup stick to weave plain weave with half the warp as a background for Brook’s bouquet. I wove leno as the same time weaving another yarn over and under the leno twists.

I had so much fun! I didn’t think much about what the fabric would be. I figured probably not a scarf, as it would be one-sided and maybe a bit lumpy in places, and not have an overall even appearance. But when I took it off the loom, I was surprised to find it does make a nice scarf. All the different kinds of weaving hang together well, and the textural elements haven’t stiffened it up or made it overly lumpy.

The colours are not what I usually wear, so I’m thinking I might sell or give it away. But I will take lots of photos, because I came up with some combinations of techniques that I’d like to use in other projects. Also, I had a birthday recently and received an Ashford Vari Dent reed, and I have an idea I want to try with it.

But first, I have three other weaving projects wanting my attention. I want to get at least one of them done before I warp up another one. I’m definitely experiencing the ‘fidget’ part of my blog title!


At the moment, the floor loom is occupied with a Krokbragd rug. Krokbragd is a weft rep technique – rep in weaving is where the yarn going one way along the cloth completely covers the yarn going the other way.

That might be an overly simplified explanation, but it’ll do for this post. I’ve tried warp rep twice before, and hated it. (Though technically inkle weaving is warp rep, and I do enjoy that!) But I like the look of warp rep. Weft rep turns the pattern of crammed threads on its side, which means there are far fewer warp ends to thread and there are no cranky, sticky shed problems, so I’ve been wanting to try a form of it for ages.

I’ve been seeing lots of references to krokbragd lately. There’s even a Ravelry forum weave-along happening at the moment. The last Ashford magazine I saw had an article on doing krokbragd on a rigid heddle loom. Earlier this year I found a pile of carpet yarn in an antiques and second-hand market. A lot of it was moth-eaten, but I bought the least damaged cones anyway. I washed it, wound it into cakes and froze it for a month in the hopes that would take care of any moth larvae. I found some more of the same yarn at the Guild Textile Bazaar this weekend, too.

When I wove denim rag rugs some years ago I wound up with an extra cone of thick cotton rug warp. I put that on the floor loom, wound some of the carpet yarn onto rag shuttles, and got weaving. The first attempt was Not Good. Though the pattern was coming out fine, the selvedges were terrible, even though I was using a temple and ‘bubbling’ the weft. On closer inspection, there were even a few threads that doubled back on themselves, missing the floating selvedge, and where I’d bubbled the weft loops had formed.

I unwove it and started again, this time concentrating instead on making sure the yarn always caught the floating selvedge. The selvedges looked fine. I bubbled the picks again, but each time I pressed them in gently with the beater, checked the selvedge and for loops, and corrected if necessary before closing the shed and beating harder to cram the weft in.

I’m liking how it’s turning out so far. There’s a momentum to it, too. Just as I start to get bored with one combination of colours it’s time to switch to the next. I was worried that, what with three picks to a row of pattern, it would take up my floor loom for ages. I suspect that won’t be a problem. More likely having my attention and time split between so many looms will do that!

Do You See What Eye See?

A few weeks back I had a huge bout of startitis sparked by ideas for using up thrums. Just about every loom in the house wound up with a project on it. I finished the dishcloths then a busy fortnight arrived, with an interstate friend staying over and another friend’s 40th birthday party to organise and host, and suddenly I didn’t have much time for weaving.

It was a fun two weeks. There’ll be a post some time with the sketches I did at the Dior exhibition. September had been really lovely, socially. It zoomed past as a result… and possibly because I was dreading today, the first of my cataract removal surgeries.

So there might also have been a bit of “DO ALL THE THINGS WHILE YOU STILL CAN!” anxiety behind me starting so many projects. The thought also occurred to me that if I had a range of projects warped and ready then something might be doable during the recovery time.

So I have:

A clasped weft using thrums twill scarf on the Ashford 4-shaft loom. (Though I need to dye up a third colour to add to the thrums, because I don’t have enough of them to make a good scarf length.)

Krokbragd on the floor loom. I wove a good ten cm but had to unweave most of it because the selvedges were VERY bad! But I consider those cm a ‘sampler’ I was learning on and expect I’ll do better on the second attempt.

A saori-inspired project on the Knitter’s Loom in which I’m using up more thrums as well as some leftover yarn. I’m doing as many different kinds of weaving I can think of. Clasped weft, rya knots, thick and thin, danish medallions, and brooks bouquet have all made it in there.

The Falling Feathers scarf hasn’t been touched since all this thrum-using inspiration hit, I admit. But I haven’t lost interest. Now that I have more time, and so long as my new eye settles in well, I’ll be back to it again soon.

Thrums Dishcloths

I’ve finished using up two batches of thrums!

One was very thick, the other thin. The thick batch had some longer pieces as well as the remainder of the red and black balls. I wove these on a pin loom, using longer pieces to make a warp, then weaving the shorter pieces through that and tying at both ends. I worked out pretty quickly that it was easier to tie two pieces of thrum together before weaving them through then knotting both together on the other end.

The thin batch of thrums was all short pieces, so I used it as weft in a warp of Bendigo Cotton 4ply on my Knitters Loom. I enjoyed coming up with different patterns for each dishcloth. The last one was entirely random.

I’m amazed at how many dishcloths I got out of the thicker batch. We’re not going to run out of them any time soon. Overall, I made some useful cloths out of waste that could easily have wound up in the trash. I’m rather chuffed at that!