Loom Thoughts

A week or two ago I decided to risk buying and downloading an instructional video. The one I had my eye on is called “The Efficient Weaver” by Laura Fry. I’ve hesitated to buy videos because I worry that Australia’s slow internet speeds might mean I wouldn’t be able to download such a big file.

But on Easter Sunday I decided to give it a try. To my relief, the video downloaded pretty quickly and with no trouble. I watched all 1 1/2 hours of it that day, with a couple of breaks. It was very interesting and enlightening. Laura warps from front to back, which I used to do, but with some notable differences in approach. I now have warping valet envy, too.

I was very interested to see that her floor loom has the pedals on top of the bottom front support beam, like my Osbourne did before I changed it. That told me that this arrangement shouldn’t be a problem. She rests her feet where the pedals hinge when not pressing them. That position was quite a bit further forward on my loom, which meant if I rested my feet at the pivot point I’d slide off the front of my seat.

Having gained some confidence around buying videos, I ordered another: Tom Knisely’s “The Loom Owner’s Companion: Know and Love Your Loom”. It came in two parts, and the first downloaded easily. The second kept failing. It took several attempts and most of a day, but it eventually worked. After watching it, I concluded that I didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know, but a few things were confirmed and some of Tom’s tips will be very useful.

And it nudge med into giving the floor loom a ‘birthday’. I’ve had it for only two years, but some parts were a little stiff and a few areas of the wood looked a bit dull and dry. I dusted it off, rubbed Danish oil into as much wood as I could get to, treated the moving parts with WD40 and applied silicone spray to the lamm hooks and shaft runner.

Everything is running smoothly now and it looks great. All in all, I’m rather proud of the fact that it is in much better condition than when I bought it. However, the more I work on the Katie the more I want an 8 shaft floor loom, so I’ve been online window shopping looms and keeping an eye on eBay. And I’m more actively trying to sell the Ashford 4-shaft table loom.

Change may be in the wind.

Mind the Gap

When the Wavelet Scarf came off the loom I was pleased that my idea worked out, but I thought the gaps were too big.

So recently, when I was reassessing the projects I’ve made with the Vari Dent Reed, I considered ways to join the strips at the centre of each gap, where I’d done a section of basketweave. One idea was to do a kind of lace-up effect of criss-crossing yarn. Another was to add beads.

Well, it turned out I had exactly the number of these long beads in my bead stash to fill all the gaps, if I added five to each join.

So I got sewing. It took a while. My back has been cranky lately, so I could only really stitch together two or three joins at a time. But when I was done I was much happier with the way the scarf looks.

I have made a couple more scarves with the Vari Dent Reed testing ideas, but I’m hesitating to post about them. Why? Well, it occurred to me that I have enough ideas now to make up a small book. If that should happen, the publisher (if I don’t self-publish) might prefer that I didn’t share everything that could go in a book on my blog.

And I am exploring even more ideas. This time using a second heddle. But slowly, as the projects on my other looms are distracting me, as is doing a bit of research into looms. And loom benches. And horizontal warping mills.

Planning in Circles

I’ve had some kind of bug this week that had me very tired and with a painful sinus infection. Sinus infections always exacerbate my back problems (I think because the pain makes my neck muscles tense).

It was rather inconvenient. I want to be working. And weaving. Instead I was napping, doing cryptic crosswords and ordering weaving magazines and books.

But I did managed some weaving planning. Since deciding to do lots of samplers I’d stalled at what to do first.

Looking at my weaving books, it occurred to me that some weave structures use the same or similar warp threadings, so perhaps I could explore a couple of weave structures on one long warp without doing much rethreading. I also had the crazy idea of using a white warp, then colouring threads with fabric markers when sampling multicoloured patterns rather than having to tie on a new warp each time.

Or I could weave everything in Next Steps in Weaving or The Handweavers’ Pattern Directory. Either would be a lot of work, and both books have patterns that use only 4 shafts. If I’m using the Katie for these samplers, it would be a shame to not use all 8 shafts at least some of the time.

Both books start with twills. I thought about dividing the warp in half: one side straight twill the other point twill. But what about rosepath? Ms and Ws? Broken twill? Could I fit those in too?

Maybe I should just do a big gamp blanket. I’ve always intended to weave a colour gamp on the floor loom. I even bought a big batch of 10/2 cotton for it a few years ago.

But that’s making a thing rather than just learning. And I’d have to do a gamp on the floor loom, because the Katie isn’t big enough.

Actually… why not make that the next floor loom project, and sample something else on the Katie?

But sample what?

My thoughts had done a circle and I was back where I’d begun. Except I had worked something out. The sampler ought to be for 8 shaft patterns. So I got out A Weavers Book of 8-Shaft Patterns. It, too, starts with twills. The first section talks about how a ‘boring’ straight twill isn’t as boring as it looks, and presents several patterns to try.

Okay then, I thought. Let’s see if that’s true.

So I’m going to weave a twill and colour gamp blanket on the floor loom, and a straight twill sampler on the Katie. It’ll be all twills all the time for a while, but I’ll be satisfying both the need to learn and the need to strike an item off my weaving to-do list.

But gosh, I really need to find a faster way to measure a warp.

Honeycomb Shawl

This project has a history that goes back quite a way. In 2005 I travelled to the UK for the first time. I knit my way around the country, sometimes visiting places just because there was a famous yarn store. In a lovely little shop on the Isle of Skye I bought some beautiful, rather expensive hand-dyed and spun silk. A year or so later I knit the Scribble Knit Shawl:

But the lace weight wool yarn I used for the thin thread eventually went a bit brittle and snapped. I frogged the shawl and kept the silk. Some time in the last year or two I saw a book cover featuring a girl wrapped in a shawl made in what looked like a honeycomb structure, and it got me thinking that I could weave the silk as the feature thread in honeycomb.

I wanted the main yarn to be silk this time, since I’m more sensitive to wool these days. Finding a thin silk yarn to go with it took some time. I bought some online that I thought was black, but turned out to be brown, and I had a sample of another yarn sent to me, but that one wasn’t quite right either. Then a recent sale at Dairing Yarns had me snapping up six balls of a thin black silk yarn. Not a slippery silk, but one with a texture more like linen or cotton. I think I bought all they had left, and when I came to doing the sums for the project I realised I was going to have a fairly slim shawl. Or a wide scarf. That was okay. I’d take either.

I used my new warping board, made by Paul, to measure the warp …

… and threaded the loom. To be honest, I wasn’t all that sure if this would work. I’d not woven honeycomb before, and rarely woven silk. I didn’t have enough yarn to sample. I figured I’d have a go, and unweave if I didn’t like it. Following a draft in The Handweavers Pattern Directory, I got weaving. Immediately I realised I was going to have to do some careful calculations if the slubby silk was going to last the whole scarf/shawl. I worked out that I would get less than halfway through. Having two picks of feature yarn next to each other wasn’t thrilling me, so I tried using the main yarn for one of them instead. It worked – and I liked the result much better. A 10cm plain border at either end would also help stretch the feature yarn over the entire length.

I unwove the test section and started again:

And I really like it.

Rethinking

I’ve never been one for sampling in weaving, but then, in my mind you sampled in order to check whether you were going to get the sort of cloth you wanted. Most of the time I got pretty much what I expected, or else close enough, and if I didn’t I’d unweave and make adjustments or accept the cloth I got.

But there’s another use for sampling which Kay pointed out to me: a chance for experimentation and learning. That’s had me thinking about the drive to make versus the drive to learn. I’ve definitely been focussed on the former more than the latter since starting to weave. If I’m not making something I feel like I’m wasting time.

Yet if I wove to learn more often rather than to produce, not only would I learn faster but it would lessen the problem of having too many scarves, blankets, tea towels, etc. I need to see sampler as beautiful objects in their own right. In fact, what if instead of packing away workshop samples I aimed to fill a wall of my craft room with them, like we did at the workshop?

Inspired, I decided to ask Paul to install a hanging system. To prepare, I moved everything that was in the way. The clutter came off the drawing board, the knitting machines went into the guest room. The floor even got a much-needed vacuum. Of course, we then decided it’d be easier to hang samplers on the doors of the cupboards instead, so I didn’t need to move anything after all.

But I found I was enjoying having a bit more space. Without the knitting machines the craft room was so much more, well, roomier. So I got to thinking… do I really need the Passap? It never gets used nowadays. I primarily bought it to knit socks on, but I still have nearly 40 pairs of handknit socks so I’m not going to run out any time soon. Machine knitting is a sit, concentrate and spend a few hours kind of activity – much like weaving. If I had to choose between regularly spending a few hours of concentration on machine knitting or weaving, weaving would win.

I’ve used the Bond knitting machine more than the Passap. It’s easy to remember how to, and I prefer garments knitted from 8ply to 4ply. So I wouldn’t be eliminating machine knitting from my life completely, if I sold the Passap.

I even contemplated getting rid of the drawing board too. Then I could fit two floor looms in, if the second was smaller. Or I could remove the drawing board and keep the Passap…

Oh dear.

Kay Plus Fun Workshop

Last year, at the end of the Kay Faulkner Play+1 weaving workshop at the Ballarat Fibre Forum, I had a crazy idea. What if I flew our teacher down to Melbourne and held a workshop in our studio? The other students were keen and, after a bit of a delay thanks to the eye surgery, I started organising it late last year.

While the insurance to hold a workshop at the studio wasn’t really high, taking it out for one event wasn’t economical, so I went looking for suitable accommodation. The first place I thought of was Sewjourn, a cottage and studio for rent up in Lancefield. A quilting friend told me about it some years ago and it sounded very suited to our purposes. I made enquiries and booked us in.

Circumstances swung against us for a while, with three out of five of the original students not able to come. So I put the word out among weavers I encountered that we would welcome new participants, and the lovely Kaye (yes, another Kay) leapt at the opportunity to join us. Then Elizabeth and Di were able to make it after all, so we had a group of five.

We arrive at Sewjourn on a Monday. I forgot to take a photo of the cottage, which is lovely. This is the studio:

There was a huge full moon on the last couple of nights. Well, it looks tiny here, as I only had my phone to take photos with.

We had chosen woven shibori as our subject. Four of us began with warp shibori and had pre-warped our loom so we could start weaving when we go there, one warped up on arrival for weft shibori. Here’s my work, with the end of some warp shibori and the beginning of a section of taiten – a form of weft shibori where you substitute a pick with thread.

We’d weave a length of cloth, cut it off, pull up the threads and tie them tightly, then paint with dye. We also did some warp painting. Here’s some of both, hanging on the clothesline to dry:

On Thursday Kay made up a vat of indigo, so we dunked another bunch of samplers in that and watched the colour go from bright green to deep blue black. It’s so magical, you just want to find more things to dye.

We also tried ikat dyeing, where you tie off sections of yarn with tape to prevent the dye penetrating.

This can either be used as warp, with the undyed areas lining up across the cloth – but never goes perfectly so you get that nice fussy edge effect – or as weft, which is what Kaye tried at the end of the week:

On the last day we pinned our samplers up on the huge board that quilters use when staying there.

And laid out our painted warps and ikat yarn.

Kay assessed our efforts, cementing what we had learned.

And then we parted ways, sad that it was over but full of new weaverly knowledge and happy to have spend five days in delightful company and eating some very delicious home cooked meals.

Once at home I unpacked over some days. I had expected to be tired, but a bug I had before I went away resurfaced and left me exhausted and sinusy. Paul also had it, so we were a sorry pair for a while. But mid week I regained some energy and, after rereading my notes and putting tags on my finished samplers, I wove off the rest of the sampler warp.

I took out The Handweavers Pattern Directory and looked for drafts using the extended point twill threading on the loom for the resist thread, and for interesting textures to use for the ground cloth. When I ran out of ideas I decided to see how taiten looked with different width spacing between the resist threads. It’s off the loom now, waiting until I have enough other things to dye to make a session economical.

And the loom is packed away, because I then launched into a big craft room and office tidy up. But that’ll probably be the subject of another post.

Taupe Jacket

The third project I tackled post-sewing class was the Taupe Jacket. When I took it in it was at this stage:

I still had to sew in the zip, I wanted to taper the sleeves and perhaps narrow the waist section and I was thinking of adding a collar. Then I had to decide if I wanted to line it.

Well, I tackled all of the above. Zip in. Collar on. Sleeves tapered. Lining added. I tried a fell seam along the underside of the arms, but the fabric kept unravelling even though it had been overlocked. So I wound up doing a straight seam then using some calico bias binding I made ages ago to finish a quilt to stabilise those seams.

I took a bit of a break before tackling the lining due to feeling ill for a week. I hand stitched the lining in because by then I was a bit sick of the sight of my sewing machine.

It now looks like this:

Am I happy with it?

Yes. But it has reminded me that I like weaving much more than sewing. That’s a bit of a hitch in my plan to make clothing out of fabric I’ve woven. I’m going to hold off tackling sewing the handwoven skirt for a while, or I might end up rushing and taking short cuts to get it done quicker.

Greta Cape

I’ve finished my second post Sewing for Handwovens class project.

Using one of the Style Arc patterns I bought.

I made it in calico first, which I’m glad I did as the instructions are a bit scant in places so I was able to work it out without risking the small amount of handwoven fabric I had. I’d done so because I suspected the collar would be in contact with my skin, and being sensitive to wool that would force me to wear a high collar underneath. I was right, so I made the collar from the lining instead.

Though I used interfacing, the only black I had was a bit thin and the collar could be a bit stiffer. I should have doubled it or bought a thicker one. But the collar hasn’t come out too floppy, just a bit softer than it’s meant to be, so I’m not unhappy with the result.

It’s made from the fabric from the Handspun, Handwoven, Handsewn Jacket, which was already the third garment the main yarn in this had been made into.

The only change I’m thinking of making now is to put trim along the lines where I pieced together the handwoven fabric strips. I’ll do that if I happen across the perfect trim. In the meantime, I’ll call the Greta Cape done!

Pattern Practicality

After the Sewing for Handwovens class a few weeks ago I reviewed my approach to clothing design with handwoven fabric. Until then, inspired by Saori, I’d been looking at patterns that didn’t require cutting the cloth. But to be honest, my taste in clothing has always been toward more fitted pieces.

I have cut my handwoven cloth before. A few years back I made a vest out of fabric I’d woven then felted. I wasn’t really entering the danger zone of fraying, however. Felted fabric doesn’t fray.

But I learned something else from that project: don’t download patterns.

Of the three patterns I’ve downloaded, carefully printed, pieced together and cut out, all came out too big. Sure, I printed out the little one inch square, measured it and changed the scale I printed at, but the square is much too small to really get the scale right.

I’ve now tossed those three patterns in the recycling bin, deciding that I will only buy paper patterns from now on. My local Lincraft is closing down, so I popped down there to buy some commercial patterns.

Ugh! I’d forgotten how time-consuming it is to buy patterns in store. Flicking through six or seven big books, writing down the brand and number, queuing up at the counter and discovering they don’t have the pattern you want in stock. I could have gone back and started again, but Paul was waiting in the car.

Once at home I did some searching on the internet. I wanted a classic denim skirt pattern. An image came up that looked right, and it led to a small pattern company, Style Arc. I expected to find it was in the US or UK and post would cost a fortune and take ages – but no! It was a local company in my home city! So I bought the pattern, and a few others.

I love how they contain a little sample of suggested fabric! I’ve sewn one of them now, and I found the instructions a little bit scant in places, but otherwise it worked just fine. Not for beginners, though. More on that project in another post…

I Fixed It!

As I said a few post ago, I took the Glamour Shawl along to the Sewing for Handwovens class to get some feedback on what I could do with it. I was contemplating cutting it up to make something, with the hope that I could make the mistakes disappear.

But the suggestion from the class was to add surface embellishment to hide the mistakes and keep it as a shawl. I was still keen to make it a garment, and I figured if I cut a hole in the middle to make a neck opening, sewed up the sides and added knitted sleeves I’d have a reasonable garment. So I gathered together thrums of the yarns I’d used, the leftover bobbin of gold thread and some black 8ply yarn. Then I hung the shawl over a dowel to examine it and considered what to do…

… and the first thing that popped into my head was “get rid of that awful gold thread”!

So I cut it all out, leaving me with a section of loose warp. Fixing that was easy, I just used the 8ply yarn to weave three rows of leno twists. That one change made such a difference, and suddenly I liked the shawl and was excited about what I was doing.

The next step was some rya knots along the gap where I’d removed threads to fix a mistake and the weft wouldn’t shift in to fill the gap. I liked this, too. More rya knots followed on the other half, to balance. Then I sewed in thrums and knotted those together horizontally, and found other ways to embellish the shawl. When I felt it was fairly evenly covered, I decided it was done.

It’s now a good-looking shawl. I’m not going to push my luck and risk ruining it by making a garment. I like it just the way it is.