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. ..


Alpaca Granny said...

Kristin, this weaving experience will be fun to follow. I bought an older 4 harness loom in January and am learning and experimenting..... Doing a simple tabby rug thingy right now. The 7 year old granddaughter worked on it today.
Will be checking in frequently to see what's next.

Kivy said...

I love seeing the process - thanks for sharing!