Fruit Fabric

Whenever I  sell my handwoven accessories at a show or craft fair, invariably someone will admire my work and then turn to me and ask “Where do you get the fabric”? They ask, despite the large sign that describes my work as “Handwoven” They ask, despite the hang tags that say “handwoven”. They ask, despite my business cards that describe me as a “handweaver”. It is a puzzle to me that adults do not know where fabric comes from. Do they think that it starts as some concoction that is ground up and stirred in a giant stainless steel vat under great amounts of pressure? Then poured onto a slab to eventually pass through huge rollers and pressed  into a smooth paste? With an end result looking something like . . . . . . . . . . fruit roll ups? Not any kind of fabric I would want to wear.

Fruit Fabric?

And so here is where my role as a teacher comes in. I feel compelled to remind everyone who comments that weaving is “a modern art”, that the oldest known handwoven fabric is cotton cloth that wrapped Egyptian mummies. And that in colonial America, weavers were bachelor men who traveled the countryside with their barn looms strapped to their wagons. And when a family commissioned him to weave their linens, rugs and fabrics for clothing, this gentlemen would become that family’s guest and boarder for the duration of the weaving. And that the earliest computer can probably be attributed to a mechanical Jacquard loom with its punched hole cards to control its sequence of operations in early 19th century France.

I tell my students that there are indeed many steps to weaving, but each step by itself is not a difficult one.  And as their instructor, I guide them through the sequence of steps so that they can weave fabric. And no stainless steel vats, slabs or rollers are involved. Not even electricity nor a computer.

When a project’s  color scheme, design and fiber content are decided upon, each strand of yarn or “end” is measured and wound in a group called a warp. Each individual warp end is the length of the weaving project plus enough for sampling and  waste. Students are often surprised at how much math energy is required to calculate the yarn needed for a project or to know the length for each end.  We are all thankful for the calculators on our phones.

Here are a few photos that show a fabric I recently wove in various stages on my loom.

Partially Woven Fabric on the Loom

Individual strands of yarn or "ends" threaded through the reed which separates and evenly spaces the yarn

Individual strands of yarn threaded through the "heddles", large needles with eyes that determine the weave pattern

Warp of yarn wound around the back beam of the loom

Detail of Handwoven Fabric

Completed Vest Sewn from Handwoven Fabric

The yarn used for the fabric is bamboo – Bambu 7 in several colors including gold, yellow and persimmon.  Randomly inserted in the warp is a nubby novelty yarn by Stacy Charles that carries similar colors to the bamboo yarn. Because of the predominance of the persimmon color, I call this vest “Persimmon Vest”. And persimmon is a fruit, right?

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It’s Supplementary, My Dear Watson

This scarf came about by mistake.  A simple mistake. An elementary one, really.  Against my better judgment gained from 30 years of weaving, I used a loosely spun novelty yarn as a supplementary warp that would sit or “float”  on top of the woven fabric and then anchored down by a weft row every 12 picks.  And of course as I was beaming the warp, the novelty yarn began to break and unravel causing a major headache and a few choice words on my part.  So I carefully removed the novelty yarn and continued to wind the 10/2 perle cotton warp minus the supplementary warp threads which were meant to be spaced at every fifth dent in an 8 dent reed.  The 10/2 perle cotton was sleyed at 3 ends per dent for 4 consecutive dents, then the fifth dent  for the supplementary novelty yarn remained empty.  And so this pattern of sleying continued for the width of the scarf which was 7 inches.

I needed a replacement for the heavier novelty yarn. A quick look at my yarn shelves revealed this little used cone of fuchsia mohair and nylon yarn.

cone of mohair and nylon yarn for supplementary warp

I wound 12 ends of this mohair yarn, each measuring  7 1/2 yards which was the length of the original warp.  The ends were threaded through the empty dents and heddles that were reserved for the supplementary warp yarn. Because the 10/2 warp was already tied and wound onto the the warp beam, I had to improvise with the mohair yarn. The entire length of each of the supplementary warp yarns were wrapped around  small squares of plastic needlepoint canvas weighted down with a washer.  A small “Boston” clip was used to keep the yarn in place and to prevent unraveling. These were hung over the loom’s back beam.

Supplementary warp ends hanging from back of loom

It looked rather messy, but it worked.  This was a true “McGyver” moment! The two film canisters held ends of 10/2 perle cotton that happened to break during the beaming and so also needed replacements.

During the actual weaving, the scarf had a supplementary weft yarn that was inserted  after every 12 picks. I used the same mohair/nylon yarn for the supplementary weft.

Scarf with supplementary warp and weft on loom

Detail of handwoven pattern

The choice of colors to me wasn’t an ideal one, but given the selection of my yarn stash, it seemed to work better than anything else that was at hand. This was a simple and easy solution to a very frustrating problem.  And I was reminded that I always tell my students that 75% of weaving is trying to figure out how to solve a problem.  In this case, the problem was  my mistake and short sightedness.  It’s all supplementary, I mean elementary isn’t it?

The Merry Weavers of Memphis

Fifteen students were registered to take the “Beginning Rigid Heddle Weaving” class I was teaching at the Lewis Senior Center of the Memphis Parks and Recreation Department. This class is funded by Creative Aging Midsouth, a non profit organization providing entertainment and arts workshops to senior citizens living in the communities of West Tennessee.  Many of the students had never woven before, but everyone completed at least one project which ranged from scarves to tote bags to mini purses to handbags made from rags or fabric strips. Students used both Beka and Schacht rigid heddle looms, and one student had her own Kromski “Fiddle”.

Students threading their warps on rigid heddle looms

Tommie weaving with fabric strips, or rags to make a handbag

Marty and Irene showing off their handwoven scarves

Dorotha and Frances wearing their scarves woven with Peaches and Cream cotton yarn

Marty's third class project on her Kromski "Fiddle"

Senorita with the two small purses and her scarf woven with peaches and cream yarn

Bea weaving fabric for mini purses

Kathryn with her cotton/linen/rayon scarf just cut off the loom

Ola was only able to attend two classes, but she managed to warp her loom, weave a scarf, and cut it off the loom

Everyone seemed to enjoy the class and they all were pleased with their finished projects.  Several decided to purchase their own looms,  and they all have requested another rigid heddle weaving class for early Spring.  It really was a pleasure to weave with these ladies!

Scarf Ace

I’ve always loved those lightweight gauzy scarves that many department stores carry. They look so elegant and swing softly with the wearer, making  every movement look so graceful.  Very chic.  And they’re almost always imported from another country, sometimes India, sometimes Nepal or Thailand. Being a handweaver of scarves here in the States, I cannot bring myself to purchasing an imported scarf.  So when I was asked to demonstrate weaving on a rigid heddle loom for a community event, I thought it would be a good idea to warp something on the loom that might capture the feeling of one of those flowing and colorful scarves.

For the warp yarns, I decided to use two balls of Berroco’s Zen Colors.  This is a cotton and nylon ribbon generally used by knitters.  One ball was a bright multi colored variegated pattern of lime green, turquoise, orange and red. The other ball had stripes of pink and orange side by side.

Berroco's Zen Colors ribbon yarn

Berroco's Zen Colors ribbon yarn

Also in the warp is a cotton/acrylic nylon yarn in light green spun with a multi-colored ribbon.  This is Katia’s Sonrisa.

Katia Sonrisa cotton yarn

Katia Sonrisa cotton yarn

The warp yarns were purchased online from Webs in Northampton, MA during one of their clearance sales. I threaded the warp yarns on a 24″ wide  Schacht rigid heddle loom and with an 8 dent heddle. I have several of these looms that I use in my weaving classes.  They are true workhorses. – built sturdily with indestructible wood.   As I understand it, Schacht is no longer manufacturing these looms, but rather concentrating on their line of  “Flip”, a folding rigid heddle loom, and the “Cricket”, both excellent looms, and more portable than the ones that I have.

I warp my rigid heddle loom using the direct warping method. That is I do not use a warping board or reel to wind a warp chain first before threading the rigid heddle.  I thread the warp yarns directly from the balls or cones to the slots of the rigid heddle.  I believe that Rowena Hart was the first to describe the direct warping method in her book, The Ashford Book of  Rigid Heddle Weaving published in 2002 and recently reprinted.

While threading the slots in the rigid heddle, I started with the Sonrisa yarn and threaded every other slot, leaving the alternating slots empty for the time being. Once I finished threading with the Sonrisa for the width of the scarf which is 7 inches, I went back and threaded every other of the remaining empty slots with the pink/orange ribbon yarn, leaving the alternating empty slots blank for now.  After the ribbon yarn was threaded across the width of the scarf, there were still empty spaces at every fourth slot. These slots were the last to be threaded with the multi colored  ribbon yarn.  Unconventional?  You bet!  But the results were worth it, and the time saved by not winding a warp chain beforehand is priceless!

Ribbon and cotton yarn threaded on an 8 dent rigid heddle

Ribbon and cotton yarn threaded on an 8 dent rigid heddle

Now to get that lightweight, gauzy effect, I decided to use a fine cotton yarn, 10/2 perle cotton in the color Oleandar by UKI.  This can be ordered directly from the manufacturer, www.ukisupreme.com.

10/2 perle cotton in oleander by UKI

10/2 perle cotton in oleander by UKI

The scarf is still on my rigid heddle loom, and this is what it looks like:

Gauzy ribbon scarf on a rigid heddle loom

Gauzy ribbon scarf on a rigid heddle loom

I really like the way some of the ribbons twisted slightly during the weaving process, adding a bit of texture to the fabric.  The scarf looks a bit like gauze and it feels like a fine fabric.  I hope it will flow gracefully once it is off the loom.  I can’t wait to wear it!

Leno vs. Mock Leno

The weave structure ” leno” shares its name with a popular late night tv talk show host. Of course, there’s the difference in pronunciation, and the fact that woven leno (LEE-no) has been around much longer. Though in my 30 years of weaving, I’ve known few weavers who have actually woven leno.  It probably has to do with the time consuming set up on the loom.  Leno, to those who aren’t familiar with the weave, is an open, lacy weave structure that is produced from two or more warp threads that are twisted around each other. There is a very thorough article in the Winter 2008 issue of  weavezine.com that describes the loom set up for leno by using “doups” or yarn loops to wrap around the warp threads and twist them during weaving.

Leno can also be woven on a rigid heddle loom. The leno scarf below was woven on a Schacht rigid  heddle loom.

Leno scarf woven on rigid heddle loom

Leno scarf woven on rigid heddle loom

The warp consisted of two yarns:  a smooth bamboo, Bambu 7 from Woodland Woolworks, and a nubby rayon yarn from my stash.  The weft was the rayon by itself.  I followed Rowena Hart’s instructions in The Ashford Book of Rigid Heddle Weaving to set up the rigid heddle loom for leno lace weaving.  The rigid heddle itself is not used to create the sheds, it is only used to space the warp threads and for beating.  Instead, the sheds are created by using a pick up stick behind the heddle,  and  string heddles  attached to a dowel are used for the alternating shed. The twisting together of the warp threads occur behind the rigid heddle. In this way, the weaving goes a bit slowly, but I really love the open weave and texture of the end result.

Rowena Hart's The Ashford Book of Rigid Heddle Weaving

Rowena Hart's The Ashford Book of Rigid Heddle Weaving

Now I wanted to weave a leno lace on my four harness floor loom, but I didn’t have the time nor patience to try the doup or bead leno technique to twist the warp yarns together.  I saw that in Marguerite Davison’s A Handweaver’s Pattern Book, there was such a thing called “mock leno”.  It is considered a “canvas weave” because the open weave of the fabric resembles needlepoint canvas.  The lacy effect is produced by a combination of treadling sequence and grouped warp threads alternating with empty dents in the reed.

My ancient copy of Davison's A Handweavers Pattern Book

My ancient copy of Davison's A Handweavers Pattern Book

I adapted Davison’s pattern for “Canvas Weave Spots” by grouping three warp threads in one dent in the reed, and threading them through separate heddles in harnesses 2-1-2, then 4-3-4.  There was one empty dent between each group of 3 warp threads.  The tabby structure between the leno “stripes” was threaded in harnesses 2-4.  As for treadling, I followed Davison’s short and sweet pattern of raising these harness in the following sequence:   1-4, 1-2, 1-4 then 2-3, 3-4, 2-3. Easy to remember and made for quick weaving! This is the result — still on my loom!

Mock leno woven on a 4 harness loom

Mock leno woven on a 4 harness loom

The warp here is the same bamboo as the leno scarf, and the weft is the same nubby rayon yarn used in the first scarf. The open areas of the lace are not as open as the true leno woven scarf, but they look more stable.  I also added the tabby sections, because I was afraid that the tension on leno lace stripes would be compromised and become too loose.  I’m almost done weaving this 5 yard warp, and I have had no tension problems at all. The next time I try mock leno I might weave wider leno lace stripes so that the fabric would be more similar to that of the first scarf.

The lacy effect of the mock leno, though not exactly resembling a true leno weave,  does have a comparable look.  The weaving on the 4 harness loom goes very quickly and other than the usual warping process, there is no additional set up while threading the loom.  So for a lacy open weave look, mock leno on a four harness loom is definitely a fast and effective alternative to the more traditional doup or bead leno.

Weaving is Alive and Well and Living in Memphis!

Twenty five.  That is the number of new rigid heddle weavers in the Memphis area.  The Memphis Botanic Garden hosted a one day workshop in rigid heddle weaving at the beginning of February.  Eight participants registered and seven were present at the class.  There is a waiting list of eight more interested students, and the Garden plans to offer another one day weaving workshop later this Spring.  Everyone finished weaving a scarf using knitting yarns.  Some wove faster than others, so in the alotted time, students walked away with seven scarves of various lengths.  Everyone enjoyed weaving in such a beautiful setting.

Rigid Heddle weaving at the Memphis Botanic Garden

Rigid Heddle weaving at the Memphis Botanic Garden

Students wove on Schacht rigid heddle looms.  One enthusiastic weaver purchased a Kromski “Fiddle” soon after the class ended and has started a new project on that.  When she brought it to show me, I immediately fell in love with it! The fiddle weaves a width of 16″ and it has so many options such as an additional mount for a second heddle, solid wooden bars with openings for clamp attachment, and it comes with a shuttle, threading hook and warping peg.  And did I mention that it’s really cute?  Looks like it would be a good loom for someone with limited space or someone who likes to take a weaving project when taking a trip.  At $131, it’s a great price too.

I am also teaching two six week classes at the Tipton County Commision on Aging in Covington, TN.   The first class filled up so quickly that they are now offering a second class.  My class size limit is eight, and so now there are a total of 16 students.  The first class is being offered through Creative Aging Mid-South, a non-profit organization which funds music and art programs for senior citizens throughout the greater Memphis area.   This organization also provides Beka looms, accessories and yarn for students taking this class.  The Commission on Aging is sponsoring the second class.  The Commission owns a few Schacht rigid heddle looms and I am providing the rest.  The theme of these two classes is recycling.  Students are weaving with plastic bags, sheets cut into strips, and used t-shirts to make purses and tote bags.

Kathy weaving with t-shirt strips

Kathy weaving with t-shirt strips

threading rigid heddle looms in the afternoon class

threading rigid heddle looms in the afternoon class

Since the classes are six weeks long, and everyone has proven to be fast weavers, several students are already starting their second projects.  Many students are also knitters with their own stash of yarns, so these students plan to weave scarves as their second project.

But these numbers only add up to 23!  That means that I have two private students.  One student is a junior sculpture major at Memphis College of Art.   About two years ago, the College decided to close their Weaving program and auctioned off all their looms and weaving equipment.  My student Molly had always wanted to learn to weave and the College connected her to me.  It may be that I am currently the only studio weaver in Memphis that also teaches on a regular basis.  I feel very lucky that I have a student intern who is happy to be learning weaving and who is also able to assist me with various projects for upcoming shows.  I am hoping that is the beginning of a new tradition!

The other private student is weaving two prayer shawls or tallitot for her friend’s daughters’ B’nai  Mitzvah ceremony.  I have worked with many students both teenagers and adults from Temple Israel in Memphis in the weaving of prayer shawls either for themselves or a friend or relative.   It is customary though not necessary in Jewish tradition for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah (son or daughter of the Commandment) to wear a tallit during this religious service. Below are a few photos of prayer shawls that I have woven in the past for various exhibits.

Handwoven prayer shawl

Handwoven prayer shawl

Handwoven multi-colored prayer shawl

Handwoven multi-colored prayer shawl

And so, a lot is happening in the weaving world in Memphis, Tennessee.  This is an exciting time for weavers, and all fiber enthusisasts living in the area.  Just because our local schools no longer teach weaving, doesn’t mean that a community can’t rally to revive something truly creative and meaningful!

Weaving on a Frame Loom

So you’ve built your frame loom.  Now what?  Here are the steps to weave on your frame loom using recycled materials.  The class I designed this project for was interested in weaving a sturdy and reusable tote bag out of strips cut from old t-shirts. First, round up some old t-shirts in colors that are compatible with your warp yarn.weaving-on-a-frame-loom-0251 The best ones to use are the shirts without side seams as the seams will add bulk to your weaving.  Now cut straight across the the shirt directly below the sleeves.  You will have a tube.

Place this tube on a cutting mat so that the closed ends are at the top and the bottom ends of the mat.  The open ends of the t-shirt will be on the right and left sides. Now fold the bottom ends toward the top of the tube twice so that you will have several layers of thicknesses at this end.  Do not fold all the way to the top of the tube.  Leave about 1 1/2 inches between the top of the tube and the top of the layered material:

cut-t-shirt1folded-t-shirt2

Using either a pair of scissors or a rotary cutter and a straight edge, cut 1/2″ wide strips through all layers of the t-shirt from the bottom edge to about 1 1/2″ from the top of the tube.  Do not cut all the way to the top edge of the tube.  Otherwise you will have several giant loops of t-shirt tubing!  By leaving an uncut area at the top, you will have one long continuous strip of t-shirt material when you are finished cutting.

cutting-t-shirt-strips

Now, carefully unfold the cut layers so that your t-shirt tube  resembles a hula dancer’s grass skirt.  Next, and starting on the left side make a diagonal cut from the edge of the tube to meet the first cut of the first 1/2″ strip.  Continuing to the right, make another diagonal cut to the next 1/2″ strip. Continue making diagonal cuts to the end of the right edge.

unfolded-strips

You can start winding your long strip of t-shirt material around a stick shuttle.  If you don’t have a shuttle, you can fashion one out of a wooden lattice strip or ruler, by cutting a v-notch at either end and using the notches to hold the t-shirt strip or rag material as you wind.  But before winding, I like to stretch the t-shirt strip a bit to create a sort of knit tubing.  Your rag strip will be better behaved this way as it will be easier to lay into the shed as you weave.

stretched-t-shirt-strips

Now you are ready to weave!  Lift up the dowel that holds the string heddles.  This will raise the layer of warp threads that are held by the string heddles.  The opening that is created by raising these warp threads is called a shed and this is the opening where you will insert the shuttle.  Push the shuttle all the way across the width of the warp, leaving about a 2″ tail of  the t-shirt strip/rag at the edge where you rag-strips-on-shuttle

unfolded-t-shirt-strips

entered with your shuttle.  Now beat — more on that below.

raised-heddles pick-up-stick-shed

For your next row of weaving, you will lower the heddle rod, and now pull forward the pick up stick that was used to pick up the warp threads that were not held by the string heddles.  Pull this pick up stick as  close as it will go to the string heddles, then flip the stick so that is wedged on its side between two layers of warp yarn.  The warp threads that are not raised are the opposite of the threads that were raised in your first row of weaving.  Insert the stick shuttle into this layer pulling the strip of t-shirt material all the way across the width of the warp.  Remember to insert the 2″ tail of t-shirt strip from the first row into this shed before you beat.  Now a little  about inserting your weft and beating…..

inserting-weft tapestry-beaters

When inserting your weft into the shed, do not pull tightly.  Let the t-shirt strip/rag relax against the selvedge end of the warp.  Be sure to place the t-shirt strip/rag at an angle once it is in the shed.  This will avoid “draw in” which is a pulling in of your selvedges (the outside ends of your weaving) due to placing your weft too tightly into the shed.  You will need to play around with different angles to find the one that would work best to keep your selvedges even.  Now you will have to beat your weft down to meet the “fell line”.  This is your last row of weaving.  In the photo above, I have used a wooden Navajo tapestry fork to beat the weft down to meet the fell line.  You can also use household items such as a fork or hair comb or pick as a beater.  The photo above includes two wooden tapestry beaters that can be used.  In addition to the Navajo tapestry fork, the other wooden beater is a weighted beater for weaving heavy wool rugs or tapestries.

an-inch-of-weaving

I have woven an inch on this frame loom  The t-shirt strips/rags pack very well after beating, and so the project will be pretty close to a weft faced weaving.  That is, the warp threads will be hidden by the density of the weft material.  As you continue weaving, the warp may tighten, so be sure to take off the tension sticks that you Velcro(TM)ed onto the top and bottom of the front of your frame.  This will also make it easier to advance the warp (pull the unwoven warp forward) when you will no longer have room to insert the shuttle as you get closer to the heddle rod and the pick up stick.  This project was meant to be sewn into a tote bag once finished, but it can be made into a small floor mat, table runner, pillow cover, or anything you can think of.  Be creative…and Happy Weaving!