Thursday, April 26, 2007

Weaving 101 - Weaving Kivy's Shawl

The shawl is coming along nicely! Here it is on the loom:

Sigh. That flash just kills the true colors of the yarn, but, again, you get the idea.

The pattern will settle and soften a little as the threads shift a bit when I wash it after I take it off the loom, but I am pleased so far.

A few thoughts on technique. The sooner you settle into a rhythm, the easier a project is. My personal sequences tends to be (it's actually kind of hard to think about this instead of just doing it, almost instinctively at this point):

  • open shed (step on treadle)
  • throw shuttle
  • beat (bring beater forward)
  • change sheds
  • bring beater back
  • throw shuttle
  • beat
  • change sheds
etc. This is a delicate project, so I thought I would beat the yarn in with the shed closed, but it's working better on an open shed, actually. I do beat relatively gently, and since I want an even weave, I'm aiming for 24 weft shots per inch. For a woolen rug, or a weft-faced project, you'd be beating the weft in a lot harder, sometimes even using a double beat (beat-beat) rhythm. Whatever works and feels comfortable is my motto.

I also read somewhere or another that selvedges (the edges) come out a lot neater if you can teach yourself to keep your hands off of them as you weave. That can be difficult at first, but it's definitely a good idea. A lot faster and it keeps your hand oils off the yarn, too. Winding your bobbins nice and tight and in a criss-cross pattern helps, too, since the yarn doesn't catch, then, as it's coming off of the bobbin, which puts stress on the selvedge threads and leads to breakages...

My theory is that everyone has trouble with one selvedge edge or the other. Practice really does make perfect (or at least a whole heck of a lot better). I don't even remember which side is my "bad" side anymore. Kind of like skiing, you start off much more comfortable turning in one direction - don't ask me which my comfortable turn used to be though. Probably turning right because your left leg is downhill that way and I'm left-foot dominant - and I'm certainly more comfortable turning to the right on my tele skis, that's true... Anyway, I digress.

Another thought - I keep track of my treadling on a post-it note stuck on my beater. This project has a complicated treadling pattern (123456787656787654321 8765432345432345678) so if I have to stop in the middle of a repeat, I keep a pencil nearby to mark where I stopped. After a few repeats, you can pretty much tell where you are in the pattern just by looking at it, but it never hurts to mark it just to make your life easier. I mark how many inches I've woven on the post-it too.

That's about it for now. I'll weave for ~52" and then weave another 2" for the hem at the other end, throw a couple of shots of the waste yarn to hold the other end, and then it will be time to cut it off the loom, unroll it from the front beam (always so much fun!) and wash it.

Anyone want to see a picture of the part of our fence Carlos repaired?

Can you tell which is the new part? LOL. Doesn't it look good, though? Home Depot only had three fence sections in stock, so that's it for now (there's another new one behind our garage) - we'll hopefully get a few more up this weekend.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Weaving 101 - Throwing the Shuttle, Finally

Time to actually do some weaving! (Though you really have to think of the whole process as weaving if you're going to be a Happy Weaver... Dressing the loom is described in the two posts below this one.)

First, I used a heavy-ish (4/2) blue cotton yarn as a "waste" yarn to weave the header. Before I started to weave, though, I had to check my sheds to make sure they are clear, with no crossed threads, etc., that would indicate a threading error (which I very, very rarely make, thank the high heavens). So, I tromped on my treadle that raises shafts 1-3-5-7:

All set! I checked the shed for 2-4-6-8 as well, coaxing the yarn to separate when I needed too, since fuzzy yarns do tend to stick together a little bit at first.

Time to weave!

Yeesh. That is one washed out photo. But you get the idea. The blue waste/header yarn spreads the warp ends out evenly and gives you a straight edge to beat against. I'll weave about two inches of tabby weave hem with my curry-colored zephyr and then I'll do the tie-ups for the twill pattern Kivy and I chose for this project and get going on the body of the shawl.

(Note for weaving newbies - that's my shuttle in the top left of this photo. You wind yarn onto a bobbin, using a yarn winder - Bella loves to help turn the handle - pop the bobbin into the shuttle, and throw the shuttle through the sheds as you create them. Theoretically the yarn unwinds nice and smoothly from the bobbin.)

So far so good! And so nice to finally be throwing the shuttle on this project...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Weaving 101 - Dressing the Loom Part Two

What a difference a week makes! Well, a little less than a week, but still - it's sunny, about 70 degrees, and gorgeous outside. The daffodils are just starting to bloom, and all my glory in the snow is out, too. The leaves on the lilacs (my favorites) are starting to look like they'll come out very soon...

After a nice walk to the local duck pond, Carlos is fixing our ancient fence (part of it actually fell down in the Nor'Easter last week, good grief), Bella is coloring and Conall is asleep. For about five minutes. If that. Yeesh. (Child takes after his sister and just will *not* nap. No wonder I'm going grey.)

OK, where was I in the weaving process? Ah yes, threading those 1200 heddles.

There we go! :) I grouped the threaded warp threads into groups of ~21 and tied them with a simple overhand knot, close to the ends of the yarn. The next step is to tie the warp onto the back beam - again, I use a simple overhand knot to tie it around the apron rod, trying to keep the knot that ties each group of 21 ends together as close to the rod as I can, just to keep the warp yarns as uniform in length as possible.

Next, you wind the warp onto the back beam, untangling it a bit as you go. This yarn (zephyr) is actually very well behaved, especially for a wool blend (wool yarns can be sticky) and winding it on is generally very easy.

After winding onto the back beam, it's time to tie on to the front beam. I tie on groups that are about an inch wide at a time, splitting the group in two, wrapping it over and around the front rod, bringing the ends up and tying a larks head knot (at least that's what I think it's called - why wasn't I an Eagle Scout like my brothers??). I wrap the end around twice, at any rate, if that makes sense, which is a wonderful trick I learned from Rita Steinbach. The knot is tight enough to hold (it doesn't slip, I mean) but it's also still adjustable. Because the tricky part about tying on the front beam is making sure you have even tension in all of your little groups of warp. If some are looser than others, you will wind up with a real mess.

Another trick I've picked up along the way is to close my eyes while checking tension, which I do by running my hands across the warp. For some reason, I can feel differences in tension more easily with my eyes closed. I spend a bit of time on getting the tension even - with some yarns it feels like you futz around adjusting knots for ten years, but, again, Zephyr tends to behave nicely in this regard.

Once the tension is even, it's time to tie up the treadles....

Different shafts are attached (using those white cords) to each treadle (the wooden peddles in the bottom of the picture), depending on the pattern you're weaving. First I set up two treadles to raise shafts 1-3-5-7 and 2-4-6-8, respectively, so I can weave a header and the hem for this shawl.

See what I mean about set up being one of the most time consuming parts of weaving? Especially when you use a fine yarn, which I do like to do. It all goes a bit faster if you stick with fewer warp ends per inch...

Phew. Enough for this post. I'll talk about actually throwing the shuttle next time!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Weaving 101 - Dressing the Loom

Yeesh, a cold/slushy/rainy day here - I wonder if the Sox game is cancelled? Yup. Not surprising. It would be an awful day to have to play baseball...

Anyway, it's a great day to sit inside, drink coffee, chase the Super-Bella (complete with cape, lol, I love three year olds) around and design another ACEO.

And also to catch up on a blog entry I've been meaning to do forever - a little bit of an introduction to the weaving process. I thought I'd use pictures of the complex twill shawl that I'm making (slooowly) out of Zephyr yarn for a very patient customer. (Hi Kivvy! You rock!)

Warning. Simple math ahead. LOL.

I taught myself to weave from Debbie Chandler's wonderful book "Learn to Weave" and have added bits and pieces of technique that work for me just from reading a lot of weaving books and Handwoven magazine. I highly recommend Debbie's book though, and she teaches classes at Harrisville Designs in New Hampshire if you are ever lucky enough to be able to attend! (Maybe someday when the munchkins are bigger...)

So, I'll probably leave out lots of steps that other weavers follow, but this is generally how I approach a project. First, I worked with Kivvy to figure out what colors/fiber/weave structure she wanted, since this is a custom piece. I did some quick estimates to determine about how much yarn I'd need and ordered it. Then, the next steps were to calculate the warp length, the number of warp ends and to wind the warp once the yarn arrived. Here's a picture of the weave structure we settled on (it's the one on the left - pretty, huh?):

So. Calculating warp length. I'm shooting for the shawl to be about 45" square when all is said and done. So, taking into account takeup and shrinkage (~15% total), I will weave about 53" on the loom. Then, I add in an allowance for hems (about 4") and loom waste (about 24" on my large loom). The amount of looms waste varies from loom to loom - it takes into account the yarn you use to tie on to the front and back beams as well as the length of yarn that will be unweavable as the ends approach the heddles, and you stop being able to create a good shed. Goodness, that's about clear as mud, isn't it? This is harder to articulate than I thought...

In the end, for this project I came up with a warp length of about 2 yards, 8 inches. And as usual I wound it a bit longer than that because I'm paranoid (very bad to run out of warp before your piece is long enough!).

The next step was to figure out how many warp ends I'll need. Again, with a 45" width in mind, taking into account shrinkage and takeup (different for weft, about 10% total), I determined I would make the piece ~49.5 inches wide on the loom. Since I'm using 2/18 Zephyr and am weaving a twill pattern, I settled on a sett of 24 warp ends per inch ("epi"). Sett varies depending on the weave structure you are using and on the yarn that you are using, with more ends per inch for fine yarns and for twill patterns. So, 24 epi x 49.5" width = 1188 ends.

Next, I take a peek at my pattern for the weave structure. It has 42 ends per repeat, so if I repeat the design 28 times and add an 8 end border at each side, I wind up with 1192 ends. Very close to that 1188 mark! That's good! Then I added in two more warp ends that I will use as floating selvedges to make the edges neater. So, 1194 ends! Phew!

Off to fill up the coffee mug and head for the warping board...

I wound the warp in groups of 120 ends, taking them over to my big loom and sleying them as I went, otherwise I'd get a huge old backache trying to sley 1200 ends all at once.... Or someone's diaper would inevitably need changing and this is one of the few steps of weaving where you really can't stop in the middle of it. Sleying, by the way, means threading the warp ends through the reed that is attached to the beater, in the front of the loom. The reed keeps your ends evenly spaced as you weave.

Next step - threading all those ends into heddles. Heddles basically tether the yarn to the shafts of the loom, allowing the weaver to raise the yarn in a set sequence to get a desired pattern.

For example, to create that familiar over-under-over-under weave structure that we all did with paper or on a little potholder loom at some point as kids, you could thread the yarn in a 1-2-3-4 sequence, and raise the shafts two at a time (1/3 then 2/4) to create your shed as half of your yarn is lifted and the other half stays down. Then you throw your shuttle through each shed, beat in the weft, change sheds (e.g. from 1/3 to 2/4), throw your shuttle again, beat, and voila, you're creating cloth with a tabby weave structure.

There are all sorts of techniques that I'm glossing over here - e.g. do you beat on an open shed or a closed shed? how tightly do you pack in your weft? do you want a weft-faced, warp-faced or balanced weave? how do you keep your selvedges (the edges of the cloth) neat? can you manage to keep your hands *off* the darn cloth while you're weaving? - but you get the idea...

Oh, rats. My camera batteries just croaked. I was going to take a picture of the threading I've done so far - I'm a bit over halfway done. Well, I'll recharge the batteries and post a picture tomorrow...

A few notes. I warp from the front to the back. I've tried warping from the back to the front and I just don't like it. Lots of people swear by it - maybe it just depends on which way you learn first? What I do really like about warping from the front to the back is that when you're putting on a multicolor warp with lots of kinds of fibers, e.g., for a fun shawl or scarf or for the double-weave pickup ACEO I'm working on on my little loom at the moment, it's really easy to see how it will look and replace the bits you don't like before you wind the whole darn thing onto the back beam.

I'm also very lax about preserving the oh-so-crucial "cross" formed while you wind the warp. I just pop my fingers in it, cut the end of the darn thing and get it on the loom without stressing out about it. There are probably some more traditional weavers out there howling "SACRILEGE!" but, hey, if it works and you can't tell the difference in the end, why drive yourself nuts trying the darn thing up with lots of fiddly little pieces of yarn? Bah humbug. LOL.

Another thing that I've found really works for me is to keep a weaving journal. I write out all the calculations for a project, take the time to write out the draft of the pattern, etc., estimate yardage, and write down approximately how much time I spend on each step of the process, and tape a little bit of the yarn I used to the sheet, too. And when a project is completely finished I write down it's dimensions both before and after wet-finishing and just take general notes about what worked and what didn't for that particular project. It's great to have a really detailed record in case someone wants you to duplicate something you've already sold, e.g, and it's also an excellent learning tool. I keep design ideas in the journal, too, it's always nice to be able to go back and look at ideas for projects that I've forgotten about when I'm casting around for inspiration...

I keep a separate little journal for color studies and sketches but I'm not as good about keeping up with it. Bad. I should do better! It's also a more recent addition - I really wish I'd been doing
that when we visited the Alhambra, in Spain - talk about inspiration! Wow!

I'll post again about tying on, tension, and starting to weave, as I get to those points in this project. ..

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Weavers' Guild of Boston

Oh wow. I'm feeling humbled. And inspired.

I recently joined the Weavers' Guild of Boston (the oldest in the country!) . I went to a class in the morning last month about constructing handbags, but had to scoot right afterwards (as nursing moms know, it's hard to spend too much time away from the bambino - ouch!), so I missed the afternoon speaker.

This month, I skipped the morning class and went to the business meeting and stayed to hear the afternoon speaker. So glad that I did! I got to meet more folks - including catching up with my wonderful teacher from the Worcester Center for Crafts, Rita Steinbach (she creates gorgeous handwoven jackets). Even met another weaver from my home town. How fun. Sad to say that I was probably by far the youngest person at the meeting - I know there are other young(ish) (lol) weavers out there, hopefully they'll get involved with the Guild as time goes on...

Anyway, the afternoon speaker was Christine Spangler, who recently retired as an Assistant Professor at George Washington U. where she taught textile, interior design and design courses. She gave a wonderful lecture titled "Applying the Principles of Design to Textiles".

Oh my goodness. So much to think about. A lot of the concepts would probably feel basic to an art major, but not for me, really - I was always shunted towards the math/science/college level class tracks, which made sense at the time, but I do feel like there is a large gap in my knowledge at this point. Unlike my hubby - he's an engineer but he had an Art History AP class in high school and he actually *remembers* what he learned 20 years later. Freak. But a good person to have along in art museums.

But, anyway, I think I've gotten to the point of technical proficiency in my weaving and I really need to get going on the creative/artistic end of things. Line, shape, space, motion, texture, color - unity variety, emphasis, scale, proportion, balance, rhythm. So much to think about! And I think it's high time to deliberately put some of theses concepts into use in my weaving. Time to move away from the boring and start thinking about what I want to communicate...

Which seems a little overwrought for a scarf, but, hey, if I'm putting something out in the world as a representation of myself, I should put more thought into beyond just structure and basic color harmony, right?



Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Good grief. It's snowing. Better than sleet! :)

Snowdrops in the snow beside my house. :) There's almost an inch of it out there now, and it's coming down hard - fat, fluffy, wet snow that sticks to everything. It's actually really pretty. Makes me feel like celebrating Easter Sunday by.... Skiing! LOL!

One of my favorite Easters was the year Carlos and I went to Lake Tahoe for the weekend (when we were living in Texas) and skied at Heavenly on Easter Sunday. They scattered plastic Easter eggs all over the mountain for the kids to find, and people would re-hide them so they kept turning up in fun places. I picked one up and rattled it all day, guessing what was inside - a fun/silly game. We opened it on the plane ride home (chocolate, no big surprise, but still, it was fun). Of course, having been back to Tahoe since, I'd choose Squaw over Heavenly any day... But, man, you can't beat the views of the lake from Heavenly, it's a beautiful mountain, though not particularly challenging terrain-wise.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Chocolate Bamboo

Before I post this picture, I just have to say - I love Picasa! Carlos downloaded it for me (from google) (it's picture editing software) and it has made life so much easier. The photos even download waaaay faster than they did when I was using Adobe's software (unless that's my imagination, which is entirely possible).

Anyway, here's a picture of the yummy chocolate/light blue scarf I'm weaving on my little loom:

Hooray! I've actually managed to weave some today while Conall has been napping. Also continuing to wind the endless Zephyr warp....

Kimball's ice cream is open - it's a local institution (with really good ice cream, even by ridiculously high New England standards), my mom used to go there for banana splits when she was a kid. Anyway, we went there last Friday with her (she visits us on Fridays) and again with Papi on Sunday. Two beautiful sunny days, perfect for eating ice cream and watching the goats and chickens (endless amusement for Bella). And now it's supposed to sleet with a high of a whopping 38 degrees tomorrow. Yeesh. All my poor little snowdrops and crocuses (croci? lol) are going to get really cold. Typical New England spring!

Monday, April 2, 2007

1200 Warp Ends...

Yup. 1200. That is a whole heck of a lot of heddles to thread! It's for a custom-request shawl - I'm making it entirely out of 2/18 Zephyr (50/50 wool/silk blend), sett at 24 ends per inch for a complex 8-shaft twill pattern. I've worked with finer yarn, but it's been a while...

Here's a quick picture of the yarn:

The colors are called curry and indigo - I'm using the curry as the warp and the indigo as the weft. It's going to be very striking, I think. Too bad it's so hard to capture how lovely this yarn is on film - it has a really nice slight sheen to it from the silk, which is a nice contrast to the fuzziness of the wool. I love this fiber too!