Pause, then Go!

When I started the weaving course I was worried that I wouldn’t have the energy or focus to last the year. Instead I found a deep hunger for learning. I was energised. I couldn’t wait for the next class. Covid could have ruined everything, but lessons continued in Zoom and that’s had some real benefits.

But outside of the class, I’ve been feeling more and more restless. Having to isolate means abandoning plans to teach rigid heddle weaving. Other activities halted and spraining my thumb has limited what I can do even more. Time seemed to be slowing down even as it felt like the weeks were slipping away.

I am clearly not ready to sit and watch the world go by. I need to set my mind to something. I’ve considered making online video tutorials, or vari dent weaving projects for magazines or a book. The trouble is, I need the expertise of other people for the first, and do a lot of computer work for the second. Now is not the time for either.

Then it occurred to me that I had an opportunity, now, to make this part of my life all about learning. The perfect excuse. As if I needed one, but it’s amazing how indulgent it feels to spend time and money educating yourself.

But I stumbled at the question of ‘how?’. I’ve looked for online weaving classes, but most are beginner level and I’ve already learned the intermediate subjects available. I can go back to teaching myself from books, of course, but acquiring them is proving a challenge. A few that I would love to have are suddenly not available in Australia and are VERY expensive to ship from overseas (and aren’t available as ebooks). The second hand markets in Australia – via eBay, Gumtree and bookstores – appear to have dried up. I have managed to track down a few in overseas stores, and I have two orders making their way here. (One, I learned later, is from a store that has some disturbingly bad reviews but it’s too late now!)

The next question was ‘what?’. Weaving is so broad and diverse that studying it all at once would be impractical, and I prefer to focus on learning one subject at a time anyway. That realisation took the decision out of my hands. Studying a different subject to what I’m learning in classes isn’t ideal, so why not go deeper into the subjects we’re learning?

That’s why I wove samples of doubleweave that were beyond what the class instructions directed us to. And it worked. I was completely absorbed in sampling weaves I’d never tried before and writing up notes for a couple of weeks. So much so that by the end of it I needed a day to just sit and read and let my brain recover a bit.

In a couple of weeks I’ll have a new subject to get my mental teeth into. In the meantime, I’m back at the Lotas. The silk I ordered arrived so I was able to start the fabric for the second top. But more on that later…

Familiar Weave, Old Yarn

Doubleweave is the subject of the current weaving class sampler. I love doubleweave. I’ve been weaving it about as long as I’ve used twills.

In our class project we chose a combination of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ colours for the warp, so the top and bottom layers will be more visible. Having established that most of my Bendigo Classic 3ply was a decade or more old and should be used up, I was pleased when it was one of the suggested yarns. I wasn’t so pleased when one turned out to be thinner than the rest, however. I doubled it up with a fine yarn only to find it, and the thin 3ply, had breaks in it and, on closer inspection, were moth eaten. I had no other light 3ply. So instead of having one layer of mid-dark coloured yarns and the other all light naturals, I had to add dark brown. I figured that meant my laters were ‘dark colours’ and ‘naturals’.

After doing the class samplers, I started exploring further. I wanted to try pick-up, so I researched the structure and made myself a picture to weave.

Well, in my defence, a TARDIS has a lot of straight lines. Only the words have curves and by the time I got to them I had a good grasp of the method and the confidence to tackle them.

What next? Well, stitched doubleweave seemed like it might be similar to pick-up. All the information I’d found on it was for eight shafts drafts and I was restricting myself to four, but by using the pick-up method I’d just learned, I was able to get a passable stuffed stitched doubleweave. Then I moved on to try interlocking doubleweave, double-faced twill and colour and weave.

Then I ran out of warp, and wound another ready to try doubleweave blocks. I wove check, colour and weave and tubular log cabin. Then I started playing, doing alternating bands of floats, hopsack, interlocking doubleweave and double-faced twill, and finally wove a net of warp and weft floats with plain weave between and filled the ‘pocket’ with a fabric strip.

Finally I rethreaded the warp with a doubleweave overshot pattern.

“Stop weaving and play with me!”

By this point I’d well and truly exhausted my options and energy for doubleweave. I decided it was time to turn my mind to other projects, both weaving and not. The pantry was looking like it needed a clean and reorganising, for a start…

Cat Mat Sewing

From time to time I wash Slinky’s bedding, by which I mean the blankets around the house that cover his beds or my knees when watching tv. Unfortunately, when they are in the wash there’s nothing to protect his beds or my knees, so I decided to do something about that.

First I made two fitted sheets for the heated cat bed under my desk which, not surprisingly, he prefers at this time of year. He pronounced his approval by vomiting up a tiny hairball that first night. Thanks Slinky.

Then I sewed up a new knee rug using leftover bits of flanellette.

It has proven very suitable, protecting my knees from claws and providing extra warmth for both of us.

One Thing or Another

Nature abhors a vacuum; weavers abhor a naked loom. The Lotus remains idle, but for want of trying to get something on it.

I’d like it to be the rainbow flanellette rug, but there’s still a whole lot of sewing together and ironing of strips to do so I may as well put something else on the loom in the meantime. Recently, I planned out four projects for the Lotas…. and then I had to abandon all of them.

1.

The Little Fluffy Clouds top has been on my to-do list for a long time, and it had a twin: the Seta Soie Silk top. I had four balls of Dairing Yarns Seta Soie Silk in a brown shade and one ball of black leftover from the Comely Shawl. Five balls of the black had made that shawl, so I reckoned five should be enough to make a top. But when the first ball of brown only gave me me a fifth of the warp ends I needed, I knew I was in trouble. I did some mental calculations and realised I only had half the yarn I needed.

How could I be that far off? The answer came when I wound the black yarn. I got 1 1/5 times the ends I had from the brown. I think I bought the brown at a sale, so maybe it was cheap because of a winding error.

What to do? I looked up Dairing’s website and they had the yarn in stock in black but not brown. A quick look at the stash told me I had no good alternative, so I ordered black then hung the warp I’d wound up on the wall, not wanting to thread the loom in case order took a while to arrive.

2.

Next I turned to the curtains project. I’ve wanted to weave sheer curtains for the little window our walk-in-wardrobe since we had it built. Having just done lace for the weaving course, it seemed like a good time to be designing a lace project. Though I hadn’t yet come up with a design yet, I’d done all the calculations needed to wind a warp. But when I started winding, I found the linen I’d chosen felt a bit brittle. Not so much that I wouldn’t ever use it, but I’d definitely want to wait for more humid conditions. Which meant waiting until spring, as our heating system has a nasty side-effect of stripping moisture from the air.

3.

Two idea down, two left. Back at the Kay Plus Fun workshop, Kay had us wind a cotton warp and paint it with dyes. I’ve always wanted to use it in a deflected doubleweave project with a full-able wool. Finding a non-machine washable wool has been tricky, but I recently worked out that I have two small cones of it. But as I contemplated the tricky prospect of combining the painted warp with the new yarn it suddenly occurred to me that I’d be better off weaving this on the Katie or Jane.

4.

That left one last possibility. During my stash review and cull, I decided to keep the Navy Bendigo Luxury 3ply intended for machine knitting after I saw a navy shawl with multicolour stripes in a book. My calculations told me I had enough yarn to make a full size, wrist to wrist, ruanna. But as I considered the project notes I realised that this was going to be a time-consuming project, and I doubted I could get it done before the loom room was painted. While I intended to cover the Lotas and leave it in the room, it would be less of a worry doing so if there was no project on the loom to get splattered, and if I had to move the loom anyway it would be easier if it was naked.

At this point I decided the Lotas would just have to wait for a few weeks before it was clothed again. But at least I have a choice of projects I can start weaving once the room is painted and everything in back in place.

Use it or Lose it

Having gone through my stash spreadsheet to note the yarns that were more than ten years old or were bought second hand, I figured I should examine them in person before deciding whether to use or cull them.

First I said ‘hello’ to a few cones of 16/2 cotton bought new in 2008. We’d been reacquainted recently for Mum’s tea towels and the Little Puffy Clouds fabric. I see myself using them. They can stay.

Next I surveyed the cottons and muttered “What’s with all the yarn for baby blankets?” Most of my friends are way beyond having babies, and while I could sell blankets through the guild I have more exciting things to weave. I’ve adopted waaaay too many possible baby blanket yarns at destashes and op shops, and even new last year. Most of it will be culled.

I have a multitude of cone yarns bought second hand. Most are worth keeping, but I found two small ones of cabled yarns, which is puzzling, since they just don’t play nicely as warp (unravelling fringes) or weft (hard to deal with the ends tidily) have got to go. Don’t know what I was thinking the day I picked up those. Out they go.

Discovering that most of my Bendy Classic 3ply is from 2007 or 2008 was a surprise. It’s a staple weaving yarn, and would only take a couple of projects would use it up. Possibly in the next weaving course samplers.

As I beheld the sock yarn stash, I heaved a melancholy sigh. Most are nine years old. I SO loved knitting socks before rsi came along. I keep telling myself I’ll get the Passap knitting machine going again and remind myself how to knit socks on it… when I don’t have more exciting things to weave. Still, it does make nice scarves so I’ll be keeping most of it, though I do wonder if I’ll ever get around to dyeing that 1 kg batch of sock blank.

Next ‘Hmm’ moment was the mystery yarn for weaving a collapse weave shawl that was supposed to be super stretchy, but isn’t. I think it’s just lace weight. I don’t know if it’s wool or not, so it’s going in the cull pile.

The big batch of Bendigo Luxury 3ply in navy is nine years old. I was going to make a cardigan on the Passap. Really, if I’m not getting around to making socks it’s even less likely I’ll tackle a cardigan. But it is nice yarn and a shawl I spotted in a book the other night has given me an idea.

To the old, slightly very dark brown bulky wool I said “Maybe your role in life is to be rug yarn”. Out of one stash and into another, then.

Uncertainty kicked in when I got to the knitting yarns. I went through them twice. They all whisper ideas for Bond machine knitting, some even have printed patterns with them. I do like to use the Bond, and I might need something other than weaving to do soon, as the loom room is going to be emptied and painted soon.

But the mustard-coloured 8ply should probably go, as it’s so not my colour. I could dye it, though. Well, it’ll be a while until I can find homes for the yarn, so it can sit with the culled yarns and if I get interested in dyeing I’ll sling it in a pot and see what happens.

Post-cull, the stash is 3 1/2 kilos lighter, and a little less deluded, indulgent and potentially decrepit. I only wish it was that easy for me!

The Country Rug

While waiting for my flannelette orders to arrive two things happened. First, I wound up going in person to the shop I’d ordered from. It seems like everyone is coming out of isolation much faster than they went in. Which would be fine, if everyone was physical distancing. But that’s another grumble for another time and place…

I bought a half metre of plain purple and red flannelette as back up, figuring I could weave it as it was, or draw all over it with a black fabric pen to create an impression of pattern. Part of my order arrived faster than before, so I now had three pieces of fabric to cut up and weave.

However…

In the meantime, I’d hit upon another solution to the need for more strips for the rug. The problem with using the rest of the strips I’d already cut was that they were half an inch narrower, so they would form visibly thinner weft. But what if I cut strips half an inch wide and wrapped the 1 1/2 inch strips around them?!! That would bulk up the thinner strips equal to the larger.

I was certain it would work. So I plucked out some strips in colours that would suit – burgundy patterns and a plaid – and sewed those strips together with a thin filler strip at the centre, cut from strips in colours that didn’t match any of the batches I’d put together. Then I carefully folded in the edges and ironed them flat.

I got weaving, starting with the blue batch I’d already prepared, moving onto the burgundy plaid then the two burgundy patterns… and ran out of warp.

I didn’t even get to the point of cutting up the red plaid I’d ordered. And I also found that I didn’t have enough warp left to weave a 15 cm header. So some unweaving began. I removed the first batch of burgundy, then the second as without the first it was too bright against the rest of the rug.

Finally I was able to weave the header and finish the rug. All without using any of the fabric I’d bought. After I cut it off the rom I took it into the kitchen, I flung it out over the floor.

It looked good. I got out a measuring tape and noted the dimensions of the rug, and then the distance from the start to when I ran out of weft the first time. And I discovered that I had stopped a few scant inches shorter than the rug was supposed to be. All the waiting and adapting of strips and buying of more fabric had been totally unnecessary.

How could this be? I had measured the length of the rug on the loom by winding the tape around the front beam following the woven fabric. But I must have missed a round somehow. Such a doofus!

Well, at least I now have confirmed that my maths brought me reasonably close to the actual result, confirming that I can weigh strips to calculate how much square meterage of rug I’ll get from them.

Once I’d sewn the hems, I took a deep breath and threw the rug in the washing machine on the delicates-cold setting. Why? If the rugs are going to be sold, I need to be able to recommend how to wash them, and know whether I should prewash before selling them. The rug shrank about 5% in the weaving and another 5% in the washing. The hems shrank more, but a good stretch while they were wet got them almost back to the full width.

The next rug I want to make will be a colour gamut – a rainbow of warp yarns and a graduating rainbow of weft rags. I’m hoping to get a 2 x 1 metre rug. It’s for a friend’s daughter, either birthday or Christmas depending on when I finish!

OLAD

In Ravelry’s Warped Weavers group there is a subject thread called OLAD – Obsessive Loom Acquisition Disorder.

A few years back I ran into a friend at the guild’s destash bazaar. We were chatting when we came upon a cute 16 shaft table loom going very cheaply but in need of some TLC. I was intrigued but hesitated, as I didn’t (and still don’t) need more looms and my friend was showing interest. When she bought it, I said that if she ever wanted to sell it then let me know as I might be interested.

Some weeks back we were chatting via Messenger or something, and she mentioned wanting to sell the loom as she’d received an Ashford as a gift. So I asked how much she wanted and we settled on a price.

Of course, I couldn’t actually pick it up until now. Still, that didn’t stop me googling 16 shaft drafts. I found that resources are much thinner than for 8 shafts and less. There isn’t a book of 16 shaft patterns, as far as I could see. Of course, I know enough now to design for more shafts in structures like summer and winter, lace and maybe double weave. There are plenty of 16 shaft twills on handweaving.net. And I found echo and iris drafts when I googled.

After I had picked up the loom and set it on my dining table for examination, I was intrigued to find it had four 4-shaft castles joined together. I began considering what I’d need to fix and what I wanted to change, and broke it down into four parts.

The shafts – good design, badly made. Need rebuilding.
The castle – interesting solution, but you can’t really see which lever you’re reaching for and is unnecessarily tall. Wants redesigning.
The frame – front and back are fine, sides are much too short as they were designed with room for only four shafts, and it would be nice if they could fold in for transport. Needs extending and redesigning.
The beater – obviously didn’t come with this loom. Seems to work okay, though. Wants replacing.

After much brainstorming and deliberation, I decided that I had to answer truthfully to one question: How much work is worth doing in order for me to want to use this loom?

And my answer was: too much.

By the time I did all of the above I’d only be reusing the front and back of it. I may as well build a 16-shaft loom from scratch. I already have the most difficult parts to find: two ratchets and pawls, bought at a guild sale a few years back. The rest can be bought online or at the hardware store.

So I will renovate the loom, tackling the parts I decided needed fixing, then sell it.

And then I will build a 16 shaft room from scratch.

Little Puffy Clouds Fabric

Once the Country Rag Rug was off the loom, I started considering what to weave next. Why this can’t be a simple decision, I cannot guess. This time it involved going through my stash spreadsheet and marking everything that I’d bought second hand, or was older than ten years. A blog post by another weaver had got me thinking about old yarn, and the wisdom of “use it or you lose it”.

The first yarn I marked that I had a project I intended to weave it into was the one I chose to use. I didn’t bother weighing up all the other options. I wasn’t in the mood for all that deliberation. Just do it, I told myself.

A bit of yarn matching deliberation did follow, however. The yarn is from a batch I’d bought on ebay of mostly used cones from a mill. It’s a thin blue and white ply, with the white having slubby bits. The wpi was the same as 8/2 cotton, but I decided to wind it with some 16/2 cotton to up the blueness.

This would be an easy plain weave project. The yarn was already complex enough and I didn’t want to lose the effect of the slubby white against the blue, which reminded me of distant clouds. And I felt like weaving something meditative.

I used the same yarn combo for weft. That made it a little bit less zen, as I had to wrangle the inevitable yarn length mismatching on the shuttle and the tension of wondering if the remaining mill ends would last to the end of the warp.

They didn’t, but they lasted long enough to make enough fabric for the top I want to weave. The fabric, off the loom, was quite open and a little hard, but it closed and softened up nicely after a wash and press.

Now I just have to get to the sewing part. I’m in no hurry. Summer is a while off. And I have a naked loom and plenty of weaving projects lined up after reorganising the stash yet again.

Kay and the Universe

Instagram just reminded me that it is a year since Kay died. I’ve never been good at remembering dates, but I knew it was some time in May. I recall having one of the worse bad back days ever, spending the morning semi-conscious in bed waiting for the pain killers to kick in, slowly composing an email to my agent saying I wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue writing as a career, then when I finally managed to get up and download my emails the news arrived.

I recall being seized, afterwards, by the conviction that maybe it was time to head toward being a teacher of weaving instead of a student.

So I signed up for a year long 4-shaft weaving course intending to power on through the 8-shaft one next and get ‘qualified’, such as it is. I got more involved in the guild. I spent months preparing for a rigid heddle workshop for summer school that I hoped I could repeat again throughout this year. I started looking for university textile courses.

And the Covid19 happened.

If I was the sort of person who believed such things, I’d say the universe was steering me away from that grand plan. But then, if I was the sort of person who believed such things, I’d have said Kay’s death and my back issues steered me toward it. Which all confirms to me that the idea that the universe is pushing me anywhere is bullshit. After all, if the universe wanted me to teach weaving it would have ensured Kay hadn’t died so I’d have the chance to absorb all the knowledge she was so enthusiastically and generously sharing.

So what do I want me to do?

Learn – doing the 4-shaft course has reminded me how much fun it is to simply LEARN. It’s been a long time since I felt that.

Teach – I enjoyed the workshop. I enjoy teaching friends. I caught some of Kay’s concern that knowledge was being lost and I want to help preserve it.

Do – I still want to make things. My back issued mean I can’t do it as much as I’d like, and learning and teaching were supposed to fill those gaps.

Adaption and flexibility is how people are surviving these times. So maybe I need to look for different ways to do the above. Go back to teaching myself once the 4 and 8 shaft courses are done. Find ways to teach in person safely, or online. Varying the kinds of making I’m doing to gain more overall output.

When I read through Kay’s blog a year ago, I admired how she had adapted to change. That makes me feel like maybe I can as well. Maybe that’s a lesson she can still teach me, a year since her passing. You just have to find a way.

The Filler Project

I’ve not touched my knitters looms since weaving off the demonstration warp from my summer school workshop. With the rag rug stalled until more fabric arrived, I decided to tackle a rigid heddle project I’d set some yarn aside for back then: a palindrome scarf, where you take a skein of hand-painted yarn and warp the loom with it keeping the colours lined up. I also wanted to try weaving twill on a rigid heddle loom, so why not combine the two?

Lining up the yarn was more challenging than I expected. Direct warping to a single peg made it a bit hard to see if the colours were lining up, so I clamped a warping board to the table so had four pegs to work with. But even that proved difficult (the yarn had very subtle colour changes) so I switched the warping board for a large square nail loom, which allowed me to spread the warp out to one or two threads per nail.

Of course, I was so caught up in problem-solving that I forgot to take photos.

When it came to threading… well, things got even more complicated. It’s one of those strangle little quirks of weaving that twill is one of the simplest weaves on a shafted loom and yet is one of the hardest to achieve on a rigid heddle. And I wanted to weave not just twill, but rosepath.

The instructions I followed were the ones in Inventive Weaving on a Rigid Heddle loom by Syne Mitchell. There are a couple of pages on using three heddles to weave a straight twill sampler scarf, then a couple more on how to convert a weaving draft for a rigid heddle loom. The last page shows an example, which happens to be a point threading and treadling – close enough to rosepath for me.

For the straight twill scarf Syne uses three heddles of the same dpi. I didn’t have three 15dpi heddles to suit the sock yarn I wanted to warp with, but I figured I’d just use two 5dpi ones for the rearmost two heddles than the 15dpi for the foremost as I’d be beating with it.

Well, the first attempt at warping I stuffed up because I misinterpreted the instructions. After the second I discovered the 5dpi heddles didn’t work because they caused the warp yarns to twist around each other. The third time I managed to make another 15 dpi heddle with my vari dent reeds and hoped I could fudge another with a pick up stick… but no, I needed to be able to push those threads down as well as pull them up. So I had to order another reed. Which would take a few weeks as even Ashford didn’t have any of that size in stock and had to make more.

And so I needed a filler project to do while my filler project was on hold. A filler filler project.